I began enjoying world-building a lot more once I stopped trying to engineer it and starting using it as a place to just hang my monsters.
I really like learning about climate patterns and ocean currents. I like biology so much that I went to college for it. And I really like making maps (when I draw a good coastline, I'm happy all day). But I don't like worrying about them. Yeah, considering the interactions and ecologies can lead to some insights, but they might not be interesting, and your players might not care. So, I guess my advice is to give a fuck or two fewer.
Hell yeah, I'd like to have a big awesome armoire, but awesome furniture isn't as important as the clothing inside it. It's an honest joy to fill it up, too, because once you have it well-stocked you can start imagining all the adventures your friends can have in there as they pass from drawer to drawer. Hopefully they'll find a way pillage the socks without getting eaten by the sweater-vests.
Anyway, this is Centerra, and there's a big, weird island up in the northeast.
The Land of Flowers
It's a beautiful place. The sunsets from the Ox Head Cliffs are said to be the most breathtaking in all the world. The air is sweet and clean, the rains are light and frequent, and rainbows are sometimes doubled for tripled. And the FLOWERS. Fields of them! Hills and valleys of them! Flowers of all colors and kinds! Flowers of every race and creed! Flowers upon flowers upon flowers!
The island was discovered (at least in the current historical cycle) by a certain Captain "Connie" Blythe, who landed on the headlands in 894 TFM. However, the happiness of this discovery was marred by tragedy, as his wife (eight months pregnant) went into labor and suffered a miscarriage only a short while after landing.
Regardless, there was a whole new land to explore and so the crew, being explorers, did exactly that.
There were rivers, swift-flowing and clear. There were hills, round-headed and low. The air was warm and pleasant, like a baby's breath, and so most of the men traveled shirtless when the weather was clear. They were soon delighted by the arrival of flocks of friendly butterflies. The little colorful things were as varied as the flowers, but were uniformly pleasant in their curiosity and docility.
Most of the men had never been this far north, and played like children in the warm drizzles. The ship, called The Proud Nose, had sailed from Teradar, half a world away in the chilly South. (I've marked it on the map with an itty-bitty red star.)
They found a city, built for a scale much larger than theirs. Door frames fifteen feet tall. Stairs that were half as high as they were. Streets fifty feet wide, now choked with flowers. Many of the buildings had collapsed, but interestingly enough, many of the stones seemed to have symbols carved into them. A huge runed pile of huge ruins.
Even more amazing were the tunnels beneath the city. Miles and miles of titanic vaults and amphitheaters.
They didn't have time to explore much of these tunnels, however, since they were running low on food. They hadn't been able to catch any game nor fish, and the flowers proved to be inedible.
And the men were beginning to get uneasy. They hadn't seen any wildlife, except for butterflies, flowers, and flowering trees. No bird sang. No cricket chirped. One man even remarked that he would sleep better if he could hear wolves howling in the hills.
The streams seemed to be filled with fresh and delicious water, and nothing else. Not even algae grew on the rocks.
The men began to grumble about cold coffee. There was little to burn except the flowers. The men reduced vast fields into trampled mud in their pursuit of burnable stalks, but it was too much work to get a big, hot fire going.
And the scintillating clouds of butterflies had become a nuisance. Ever-larger clouds of the things had begun appearing each day. They landed on hair and crawled in jackets. The men tried killing them at first, but them kept coming. Then, when it realized that it made no difference, they tried not killing them, as their buckles and shirts were already sticky with their tiny corpses.
And where did the butterflies come from each morning? Where did they go each night?
It was time to head back to the ship.
An uneasy hike though the hills. Fat-headed tulips bobbing at them as they pass. Their red lips open to the wind. Unending rows of flowers. The men trample the flowers into the dirt, and take joy at doing so. Back at the ship, they compare notes.
The ship's lookouts don't believe the explorers' reports of a lifeless island. Why, the sea is filled with fish. Look, there's a pod of dolphins right over there. And anyway, of course there are animals on the island. They've seen birds.
Did the birds nest on the island? Did they even land on it?
Well, no. At least, they haven't seen it.
One of the lookouts, a sallow mustachio named Toberon (a member of the crew since the ship's maiden voyage, 20 years ago) mentions that he has seen animals.
What kind of animals?
Elephants? When did you see elephants? Where and how?
Last night. There was a whole herd of them. They came down to the ocean's edge and drank.
The crew erupts into discussion. The nights are dark. But Toberon is the most experienced lookout on the ship, and no one doubts the sharpness of his eyes. Toberon admits that he has never seen an elephant, nor a drawing of an elephant, but he claims to know what they look like. Elephants are very distinctive. But what sort of elephant drinks seawater?
Some of the men say that all elephants can drink saltwater. An argument breaks out. The captain regrets not bringing a naturalist.
At night, the returned explorers sit on the deck eating dried fish and hard tack. They notice that the others have brought in armfuls of flowers from shore. Bouquets sprout from the gunwhale. Bushels hang from the yardarms. Without speaking, they gather up all the flowers and throw them overboard.
In his cabin, the captain fucks his wife. Afterwards, she twines her fingers in his beard and tells him that she wants to go home. She doesn't like this place. The captain laughs and reassures her. "I thought all women liked flowers?"
The next day, the explorers set out again.
Over the course of a year, the Proud Nose conducts six separate expeditions into the interior of the island, none of which are longer than a week. The island makes everyone uneasy.
They also sail around the entire island, mapping its circumference. They find a giant-size harbor on the eastern coast and moor their ship there. In the crystal-blue water of the harbor, they can see huge vessels on the shore of the harbor. The smallest of those ships is still larger than their own. Some of the ships look to be made of stone.
The southerners come into conflict with the men of Charcorra, only a few miles to the west. After certain members of the crew steal one of their "cows" (a vast, oily sea slug), a series of skirmishes are fought, in which a dozen members of the crew die on the end of an fired-amber sword. Eventually, a truce is reached, and the members of the Proud Nose trade for their food, instead of stealing it. While their slaves count the gold, the Charcorran merchants smile with their black-lacquered teeth.
The Charcorrans tell the crew that the island is cursed. They call it Takwatothi, which means "open grave". They maroon their traitors there.
In the course of mapping out the island, they eventually discover four more giant cities. Three of these cities have extensive underground networks, the extent of which they never discover. However, in each of these undergrounds, they eventually find crypts.
And the mummies. There are thousands of the things down there. Stacked neatly on shelves like library books. Rows and rows of the things, stretching off into the gloom without any indication that their number is anything less than infinite.
Most of the crypts seem to be sealed from the inside. The captain reassures them, telling them that whoever sealed the tombs probably just left through another tunnel that they haven't found yet.
The men drag out there first mummy. It's fourteen feet long, but lighter than it looks. It burns very well, and the men enjoy their first cup of piping hot coffee for the first time in months.
The Proud Nose eventually returned home to accolades. After the requisite amount of ceremony and discussion, the ship was turned around and sent back to the Land of Flowers in order that it might set up a colony. It would be accompanied by a second ship, The Triumphant.
In the end, two colonies were founded: one at Giant's Harbor and another at Giant Step, two of the cyclopean cities of that place. They brought seeds with them, and enough lumber to build two stories inside each of the huge one story buildings.
The two ships didn't remain anchored by the Land of Flowers. Once they had deposited the settlers, they filled their holds with giant mummies and sailed back home. When studies of the mummies yielded no interesting results, a few of the huge, tarry mummies found their way into museums and private collections. Most of the mummies were ground up to make black paint.
The next year, the ships from Teradar returned to the Land of Flowers. They landed and walked through fields of daffodils until they found Giant Step. It was abandoned. There was no sign of violence. The longhouse was locked, as was the church. The houses seemed well stocked, and there were no signs of anyone packing for a long journey. A single horse was found browsing among the daisies, but it ran off when people approached, and was not seen again. They found farms, but no fields. However, in the overseer's house, they found a journal addressed to them that explained several things. I'll return to this journal momentarily.
The city of Giant's Harbor was likewise abandoned, but unlike Giant Step, there was less mystery concerning where (and quite a bit more concerning the how). In several places, broken weapons were found. Bent swords and shattered spears. In several places, a bit of blood. In one place, quite a lot.
Only one person was ever found. Her arms and legs were found scattered among the lilies. Her torso was found some days later, atop a roof. The pastor reckoned that it had been thrown there. In one place, bloody handwriting on the wall read: "We were wrong about the ghsts" [sic].All of the basements were found to be flung upon. In the basement of every house yawned a huge doorway that led to the labyrinths beneath the city, and their endless tableau of faceless dead.
Horrified, the ships fled the island. Teradar would abandon all plans to colonize the island for almost a century. The bodies of the settlers at Giant's Harbor were eventually found in the catacombs beneath the city, crudely mangled and carefully embalmed, all neatly stacked beside each other on a shelf all of their own.
But all of that was a long time ago. In Teradar and in Noth, the ideas of terror and superstition are losing ground to more modern ideas: manifest destiny and inevitable progress. Ships launch every day for untamed shores to tame them. Their diplomats travel to distant cities that they might pay to move the imaginary lines between countries. Their armies meet new and interesting people that they might kill them. And every half-shaven head in that rainy city that rests upon a rabbit-hair pillow shares the twined dreams of enterprise and empire.
They are going back to the Land of Flowers. A beachhead has already been built, and from Fort Pondermain adventurers sally forth into the flower-choked hills to hunt whatever secret force dares align itself against the march of progress. Once that door has been flung upon, the marines can trample their unknown foe into the dirt and plow the flowers into lines of grain.
That will happen. Civilization is inevitable. But as of yet, Fort Pondermain is a muddy shithole, filled with toothless desperadoes, so-called adventurers, and the crews of Navy ships that have failed so disgracefully that they were assigned here.
Much more is known this time around, mostly gleamed from the journal found at Giant Step.
The Facts Are These
The Land of Flowers is a sterile land. Seeds never sprout. Animals never concieve. Pregnancies will self-terminate (as Captain Connie learned) and normal crops are impossible to grow. Chickens lay empty eggs. The only exceptions are the flowers and the butterflies. The people that live there survive on a wretched diet of dandelions, supplemented with tiny oranges and fish. The fields around Fort Pondermain are filled with huge nets that catch butterflies by the billions. Their wings are pulled off and the insects are boiled into a black gruel that the locals call "butterfly soup".
The elephants are real. Very rarely, the settlers will see ponderous, quadrupedal shapes framed against the stars atop some low hill. More often, tracks are found in the mud, but these seem to vanish near the seashore or the canals. The "elephants" kill people by tearing them limb from limb and trampling the remainder into the mud, although they sometimes pile the corpses together and cover them with yellow flowers.
The deep interior of the island is extremely flat, and is crisscrossed with canals. Depending where you are going, it is easier to travel by small sailboat than to walk. Newcomers are often surprised by the sight of a sail traveling towards them over the fields of bare roses.
No attempt has been made to recolonize the dead cities of the giants. Adventurers frequently retrieve loot and mummies (still the best source of burnable material) but no one ever sleeps there. Giant Step and Giant's Harbor are twice abandoned, with their bisected interiors and howling emptiness. Giant Step has a memorial outside, and is something of a crossroads. Giant's Harbor is untouched: the tunnels still gape beneath the houses and the blood still stains the stone. On some nights, noises are heard coming from the catacombs beneath the cities. Dull poundings or a constant roars. Sometimes the noise is incredibly loud, as if the earth itself were revolving on its axis beneath them.
These unexplained events are attributed to the local boogeyman, "Ol' Breakbones". A feral pack of adventurers might be slouching behind some beflowered hill, making coffee over the burning mummy of an prehistoric giant, and from half a mile away, they hear the dull thunder cycle up beneath the daffodils, who tremble in tempo with the ancient rhythm.
"Ol' Breaky's sure up late," says one of the adventurers.
"Yup," nods another, who sips his coffee and waits for the dawn.
I've never actually had a chance to run any adventures in the Land of Flowers (yet) but I have a pretty good idea how I would run it. I would do my very best to imitate Beedo over at Dreams in the Lich House, where he has a very awesome project called the Black City, which has a lot of themes that I want to plant in the Land of Flowers: the outsiders landing on the shores of a distant, hostile land, the inexplicable monsters, the dead cities with the mechanisms still turning beneath them, and especially the idea of a lawless frontier with virgin plunder.