Winds and Worlds

Sinbad ship

As I recently posted on (the now terminal) G+, I’ve been toying with a new campaign idea–unfortunately one among many that I’ll likely never have the opportunity to run–based upon the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad films of the 50s-70s with a dash of Borges, Jack Vance, and Hill Cantons thrown in for taste that I’m calling The Sea Beyond Beyond. But a necessary element for getting this right would involve mapping not only the Sea itself but the prevailing winds and currents the PCs would follow in their exploration. Before we get into that, though, here’s the campaign concept itself writ-general:

The PCs in this campaign would hail from a campy, quasi-historical Earth where there’s opportunity to play psionic-powered Greek mesmerists, Arabian seafarers and genie-binders of the Islamic Golden Age, sorcerers and assassins of Khmer, gold and ivory-adorned warrior-princes out of the Horn of Africa, Tibetan warrior-monks, and priests of the Middle Kingdoms of India. Together, they would embark upon a journey to explore a mythical otherworld known as the Sea Beyond Beyond, a kind of hyper-Seven Seas setting that may only be reached by following the fabled Saffron-scented Winds.

Part of the campaign would involve managing the morale of the crew, seeing to the ship’s needs, and possibly forming trade routes, establishing outposts, and other domain-level play as the PCs see fit, but the primary thrust of the action would entail exploration of the lost isles and fabled kingdoms scattered throughout this strange ocean-dimension. In fact, the Sea Beyond Beyond would be a nonorientable manifold, like a real projective plane but simplified like all hyper-dimensional game-spaces like all the fabled attempts at tesseract dungeons you’ll find online. What this means is that sailing across the “edges” of the Sea Beyond Beyond would bring the PCs’ ship back around to the other side of the map except now everything would be reversed as in a mirror. (The details for all of this are unimportant for this post.

The exploration phase of this campaign would run along a point-crawl where the winds/currents would serve as the “connectors” between islands and other, more exotic areas. Once the PCs’ ship arrives on an island, they would be able to explore these areas as bounded sandboxes where they may find jungles of black plantlife haunted by transparent tigers, the aforementioned hypercube dungeon, a neon, onion-domed palace that appears only at night, robot-ruled ruins of cities of jade, etc. The possibilities are endless, of course, and I’d like to generate them using the Yoon-Suin random campaign construction method so that every voyage/campaign into the Sea Beyond Beyond would be a novel experience.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the point here: How do you map the winds?

A lazy Google search of “nautical wind maps,” which is about as technical as my lack of nautical experience allows, gives me results like this:

noaa-chart-130095

While impressive, and I imagine very technical and useful for sailors, staring at this gives me the same anxiety-fueled disgust I felt in Calculus classes in high school. Realism is definitely antithetical, in my mind, to running a fun game. I am too lazy to be a simulationist. So where to turn?

Fortunately, however, reaching back into my teenage years, which were spent cloistered up with that overly wrought work of wonder from AD&D 2nd Ed. titled the World Builder’s Guidebook, I think I’ve found a middle-ground.

(In recent years, since my discovery of the OSR and such great emergent settings as the Hill Cantons, I’ve realized the World Builder’s Guidebook‘s step-by-step process for top-down campaign-setting might be the absolute, totally most inefficient way to construct a campaign setting there is; on the other hand, it’s definitely a great tool for gamers and non-gamers who are simply interested in world-building as the ends in itself, but that’s not really the point here and I’m about to ramble.)

On page 24, Richard Baker describes the need/process for designing the “Prevailing Winds and Ocean Currents” for a campaign setting’s home planet (if you went with a globe, that is, as opposed to the other options like dodecahedrons, cylinders, squares, etc.), which I’ve included here for ease of reference:

 

The most useful part of this section reads: “The prevailing winds spin out of these pressure cells [over land masses and oceans], again following a clockwise motion in the northern hemisphere and a counterclockwise motion in the southern hemisphere. While this is a gross generalization, it’s good enough for you to create some realistic-looking wind patterns for your campaign” (emphasis mine).

So what we end up with here is a great, simple-to-use overview of how to create winds for large bodies of water and continents. It’s the clear, and glaringly obvious thing to do (and kind of undermines the need for a long blog post about it): Just draw long, winding arrows going in circles around the Sea Beyond Beyond and add some less-than-prevailing winds that branch off from the prevailing. I could then populate the Sea with islands the PCs should be more likely to encounter along the prevailing winds and islands, with possibly higher level dangers, along the less-than-prevailing winds. Also, since the the map would be a looping space, the prevailing winds could work from boundary to boundary of the map, circling around due to the higher dimensional shape of the Sea. Of course, this leads to a question of how to include the Saffron-scented wind, which would allow the PCs to exit the mythical otherworld.

Such a map may look like this:

winds

Very rough and non-artistic: To be clear, I don’t know shit about winds, but with the shape of the Sea being a real projective plane, I imagined the prevailing winds working against one another to generate circular bands of winds throughout the Sea. Of course, as I read more, this’ll turn out to be completely incorrect!

What I end up with will likely look drastically different from this, but this is definitely pointing me in the right direction. All of this leads me to consider how connectors work in a point-crawl where the connects are one-directional, as opposed to roads and trails. Rivers function similarly, of course, but winds are also more dynamic: they could change direction or they could stop blowing altogether; plus a crazed wind may blow a ship off-coarse or a sorcerer may bend the winds to his will and send the ship toward some otherwise unreachable point in the Sea.

This is clearly just the first step in the design process for the winds of the Sea Beyond Of course, I might also need to consider changes in climate/weather and its effect upon the wind, as well. This will make things dynamic and aid in non-linear exploration of the Sea.

So, for you readers, any thoughts, ideas, contradictions? I’d be happy to hear any suggestions.

8 thoughts on “Winds and Worlds

  1. Sounds good to me. It will be interesting to see how it it further develops. For an adventure, I worked on pointcrawl of a series of derelicts trapped in a sargasso sea. Every ship was meant to move (really sort of oscillate) over time. I think I decide it was maybe too complicated and abandoned it

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    • A point-crawl with moving points sounds pretty complicated; I ran a short-lived Traveller game last year set in this mega-system of several stars and a few dozen planets that I was treating in a similar way, but fortunately, we never got far enough to where I had to figure out how to determine the positions of planets and star systems.

      Reading more about ocean winds tonight, I see that I totally have no idea what I’m doing, so this’ll probably get revised heavily!

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  2. Your trade winds map is fine and really in an RPG doesn’t have to be too complicated as you want it as a mechanism for defining a direction of travel. It can be countered – ships can sail against the wind using tacks cross the wind- but it would be a slow process adding additional time and taxing the reserves of food and water. Worth noting that coastal winds although influenced by the trade wind pattern differ and provide a route for coast-hugging ships, again a slower journey time and also fraught with coastal hazards. All of which is a way of saying you can give the PCs a sense of being in charge of their own fate but easily having them blown off course into your next sandbox adventure.

    How do you plan to do your PCs? Crew or senior officers with henchmen crew?

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    • This is all great stuff. Thanks for the information. The only major landmass in the Sea Beyond Beyond would be the small island continent of Lemuria, but I want it to be difficult to reach–perhaps hidden away by a magical wall of wind, in the style of Hyperborea.

      PCs would be the principle crew and the rest of the crew would be hirelings/henchmen.

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      • Sounds good; I like the idea as PC’s as principle crew each having their own deck crew to choose from as support for the landing party. Perhaps you could keep Lemuria hidden by the fact that the winds cycle around it (low-pressure point) mists and dangerous rock formations. 🙂

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