GMs, how much do you handwave when worldbuilding?

Do you go into detail with exact populations and productivity levels of every little settlement in case your PCs decide to build their strongholds amidst their old stomping grounds, or do you tend to just go with a ballpark figure and the market class, or even less?

My philosophy is: Do as much as needed and as little as possible.

I only create the numbers when I actually need them and till then keep it vague.

Me too. Once, when I was a kid and had heaps of time, I did all sorts of prep of the campaign world. 95% of it was never used. I don’t regret it as I enjoyed writing it and had the spare time to do it. Now I make most of it up as I go along.

When I make the region, I make a default stronghold and settlement at each tier that I use if they encounter one that I haven't prepped.

I make trade routes and DMs for Class IV and above settlements. 


since my game is play-by-post, I often have a day or more to provide any particular detail, so the world is a lot of vague suggestions waiting to be nailed down. If I were doing a game in meatspace I could see myself trying harder to nail down facts.

For me, it’s an iterative process. I start with just a name and a market class, then add levels of detail as time permits and PCs show interest in that area.

I do an odd combination of it. I leave it vague until needed unless I am struck with an idea for a town or city. If that occurs I might write down a couple of paragraphs or sketch out a rough map, maybe even end up with a page or two with notable NPCs or special trade notes.

My world building process is very haphazard nowadways. Whatever aspect of the world we’re developing catches my whim, I run with it briefly. Its how I ended up with notes about the various elf subraces for my current world but no players with an elf character.

This makes all of the merchant rules and campaign setup snap into focus.

Does it?  That's good. Help me understand what I clarified here. I know this is an area that lots of folks find a challenge.


Alex, you gave a real world example of how you use your own rules in a campaign setting. That fact alone is very useful.

It is all too easy for people who are creating domains in their own worlds to dig down deeper and deeper, because the rules seem to support that level of detail.

The idea of generating all this level of detail seems almost incumbent upon the DM. It took me quite a while to realise that actually given the mercantile systems involved, only the primary trade centres were actually relevant to understand the flow of merchandise for a domain.

You start out looking at the domain modifiers and thinking that without generating ALL the baronies in a country, somehow the countries trade will be incorrect. Then the sheer scale of doing all that for hundreds of baronies is significantly off-putting.

In reality given the way the system works, you actually only really need the larger markets (as you commented above) as they tend to suck everything towards them and make most small markets have almost the same modifiers.

That point is not inherently obvious however to someone reading the rules initially. In truth unless called for, you do not really need to generate and then modify any of the small markers until a player needs to use them.

The ideal scenario here would be to actually step by step show the design of a kingdom in a campaign. Show the level of detail you would use personally in your campaign and walk through from the start to finish. That could then be cited to anyone using ACKS as a working example.

I hope this gives you some insight into what people find challenging.

What I found challenging is that there is no clear starting place- do I start at the barony level and build up to kingdoms? Do I start at the kingdom level, then go down to baronies? I wish there was a solid random generator for settings, where I can determine how many cities that there are in a kingdom, how many duchies there will be and what percent of the duchies are some subenfeudation, etc.

I usually start from the kingdom level then go down to the county level and below that only for the starting barony. Having a big political and geographical overview of the setting is important, after all.

This chain has been colossally helpful, because these are exactly the questions I’ve been dealing with as a first-time ACKS judge. I’ve been making spreadsheets of political divisions and it’s fun but just too time-consuming to create every single barony. More advice and examples of using these rules for real would be immensely helpful.

Also-- in terms of scale and revenue, barony = domain, correct? More or less?