Building Avendar: The Fortfo Estuary, Part I

I write for Avendar MUD, a text-based online game. Building requires game design as well as descriptive writing.

I was asked to add detail to an existing area, the Sea of Lidreau. The Avendar team wanted a section of the area to be dedicated to low-level characters, with new creatures, items, and merchants.

First, I visited the area in question. The southeast corner of the map had been designated for this project. The location had a path along the beach, a path into town, and some ocean. Nothing else. I considered the possibilities, and drew from my personal familiarity with coastal habitats. Tide pools! Sand bars! Those swampy areas where fresh water meets the sea… and so on. Amid thoughts of anemones and stinky seaweed, the Fortfo Estuary was conceived.

For there to be an estuary–the location where river meets sea–a river needed to be invented. I dubbed it the Fortfo river. At long last, the town of Gaald would have a source of fresh water! I also drew a map.

 [                                        ]
 [       FORTFO ESTUARY OF GAALD          ]
 [                                  |     ]
 [       S   ~     ~    ~     ( R   P     ]
 [       A      ~    ~     ~  ( O   A     ]
 [  _    N   ~     ~    ~     ( C   T     ]
 [    \  D      ESTUARY    ~  ( K   H     ]
 [    |  B   ~     ~    ~     ( Y   |     ]
 [    |  A      ~    ~     ~  C ~ BRIDGE  ]
 [    |  R   ~     ~    ~     (     |     ]
 [    P  *   TIDE POOLS  *   *  BIG |     ]
 [    |    *   *   *   *   *   ROCK |     ]
 [  --+- F ----- P A T H -----------`     ]
 [    H                                   ]
 [                                        ]
 |  P: Picin's Seafood Stand  |
 |  F: Fila the Beach Trader  |
 |  H: Hyadth's Stables       |
 |  C: Cmajia the Historian   |
 |  Ilniaf: on the Big Rock   |
 |  Gaandin, dog: by Ilniyaf  |

This map helped me decide which rooms should be which terrain type. Terrain type has mechanical effects for some classes. For example, rangers can mire their enemies in swamps to cause them to lose attacks. The path is ‘road’ terrain, the rocks ‘hills,’ and the estuary ‘swamp.’

Some of the final, in-game room descriptions:

A Well-Trod Shoreline Path
   Waves crashing on the rocky shores of the peninsula far off to the north
 and south permeates the air with moisture, while the mixture of sand and
 rock surrounding the beaten path makes the ground here rough.  Far to the
 east, the massive Yagash mountains dominate the skyline, and to the north of
 them, a dense oak forest.  A number of different tracks and markings have
 been left in the path below, most notably those of large caravans carrying
 goods to and from the town far to the west.  
A Rocky Peninsula
   The rocky shore here has been eroded by the wind and waves.  Deep
 crevices and hollows make foot-travel difficult, but it is possible to pick
 a way through.  Below the tide line, barnacles coat every surface with their
 white, conical shells, and tide pools cradle abundant sea life.  Giant green
 anemones blossom within the pools, pale mint-colored tentacles wafting
 gently.  Tiny sculpins dart between hiding places, and small, varicolored
 sea spiders graze on seaweeds.  Sea stars cling to the rock, traveling by
 inches, outpaced by relatively speedy snails.  Urchins and larger sea
 spiders brave the land, ranging from pools down to the estuary to the north,
 where the Fortfo River meets the Sea of Lidreau.  Directly to the north, a
 sandbar, dotted with elephant seals, protects the estuary, and far to the
 west the city walls of Gaald are visible.  Nearby to the south, more even
 ground opens up to a rutted path. 
A Misty Sandbar
   Whitecaps break on the west side of this sandbar, the waves erupting on
 the rocks in lacey sprays.  Mist pervades the air, suffusing the atmosphere
 with salt and dampening all things brought here.  On the sodden sand, tracks
 from large animals lead into and out of the sea, sweeping clean the
 ubiquitous prints of webbed feet.  Trickles of seawater gently flow eastward
 to the estuary, where the Fortfo River meets the Sea of Lidreau.  Further
 east, a shoreline path can be glimpsed through the mist, and beyond that,
 the looming shapes of the Yagash mountains darken the horizon.  The sandbar
 continues north.  The land slopes upward to the south, growing rockier, and
 tide pools abound on the barnacle-crusted rise.  The path continues along
 the peninsula, eventually reaching the town of Gaald to the southwest.