The votes have been tallied, and this month’s Patreon poll has produced a winner. The latest dot on the Handbook-World map is the ratfolk haven of Brie! (Better luck next time, warforged village of 01000011 01100001!).

If you’ve never tried your hand at worldbuilding, I suggest you pull out the big box of crayons and give it a go. Some of the most fun you can have behind the GM screen lies in inventing new and bizarre places and peoples. Finding a good starting place can be tough though. An individual building is a bit granular for my tastes, while pulling a whole kingdom out of the aether gets overwhelming in a hurry. Conveniently enough, the classic “starting village” is about the right size for a comfortable worldbuilding task.

For me, the first question is always “what’s different about this place?” Important NPCs and tavern names and quest hooks can wait their turn in the queue. Before all of that wonderful inventing I try and figure out my gimmick. Is this a rowdy pirate town? Are we going for the Shire with undersized everything? Maybe it’s an Ewok village set among the trees. Maybe it’s an cosmopolitan sort of town where merfolk and land-dwellers live side-by-side. As the ridiculously cool Salt in Wounds setting shows, a strong starting concept can lead to all the other jigsaw pieces. To that end, I find that turning a race into a gimmick is an effective tactic.

Take Menzoberranzan for example. It’s been years since I first read about the subterranean city of the drow, but certain details still stick with me. The central clock tower / stalagmite Narbondel is a good case study:

Narbondel was the only unshaped piece of stone within the boundaries of the city cavern and it was used as a clock. At the end of every day, the Archmage of Menzoberranzan cast magic upon the stone to heat it. The heat from the Archmage’s spell formed a band around it and moved up. When the end of the glow was at the pillar’s top, the day was almost done. When the pillar was completely dark, it was called “Narbondel’s Black Death” (effectively midnight).

This setting detail rises directly from the drow themselves. They’re subterranean, so they have no sun to mark the day. That means they need a magical substitute. That means they need mages. The place of magic within the society becomes a question, which gives rise to Sorcere, which gives rise to Tier Breche, the dark elves’ caste system, and all the houses of Menzoberranzan vying for prestige. It’s like getting lost in a Wikipedia link chain, but every “click” becomes another useful part of your setting.

So what do you say to a little exercise in community worldbuilding today? We know that Brie is populated by ratfolk. We know that it produces fine cheese. What else can you tell me about the place?