I’ve begun working on a different type of campaign from what I usually do. It’s based on 3.5 SRD rules with a considerable amount of House Rules modifications, producing something reminiscent to Pathfinder, but not quite the same. More important probably than the rules changes though is the setting and the target play style.
Up to this point most of the campaigns I’ve created have been built around a core story-line of some sort, intended to be focused around a particular dungeon or locale. After polling the players in my current group, I found that they would prefer to play a campaign with a less narrow focus. So in order to accommodate that I’m working on a world map, paying attention to geography and regional relations, and thinking about how free exploration can be made rich, fun, and non-tedious.
The key I think lies in making a dynamic world map. I’m marking off regions of influence, and paying special attention to where they overlap. I’m making note of climate differences, elevation differences, probable trade routes, etc.
There are lots of great tips on RPG resources online about making wilderness encounter tables that are more than just random wandering monsters. I’m reading lots of these ideas and trying to create a solid image of what I want exploration to “feel like” as a player in this campaign. I also want there to be implications to PC actions. If the players slay the dragon that is the core of the region of influence, then something else is going to fill that vacuum for good or bad. There won’t be much “true” wilderness, as in unoccupied territory, but what is occupying the area will vary greatly depending on all the factors I’ve already mentioned.
My world is a bit less Goblin/Orc/Troll than normal 3.5. I’ve added a bit more focus on humanoid animal races, malevolent fairies, undead, and relatively unique big monsters like dragons, hydras, cyclops, etc.
For the time being I’m working on one region of the world map, and fleshing it out in the context of my overall setting. Thus I give you, the Southwest (mostly unannotated for now, because I don’t want to give away spoilers to my players).