Generation of the world or universe, the setting, is important to numerous aspects of creating media, from novels to games. Careful design can’t be undervalued.
Whenever I get a chance I make a pointed effort to read about or look at a map of other DM’s and GM’s roleplaying game worlds. I find it fascinating to look at them both objectively and subjectively, to see things that I may never have come up with or elements that are similar to things in the worlds I’ve created. Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a handful of elements that pop up in the majority of people’s fantasy game worlds and these elements have been some of the inspiration for earlier world building posts in my Architect DM posts.
It has been a few weeks since my last Architect DM post, but I’ve been brainstorming a handful of different posts and this one came to the forefront as something I want to discuss. My last post introduced some of my general thoughts about worldbuilding for modern and futuristic games, which is a genre that I plan on talking about more in the future. However, this week I’d like to discuss something I learned in architecture school that can be applied to your games and make your life as a DM/GM easier.
I’ve talked quite a lot about worldbuilding and running roleplaying games in fantasy settings, but I’ve been planning on addressing modern and futuristic RPGs for a long time as well. One of the big hurdles that I have to overcome when thinking and writing about modern/future settings is that they seem inherently more difficult to deal with than their fantasy counterparts. For a modern or even a historic RPG I believe the difficulties come from the game being based in a real world that brings with it a vast amount of expectations from the players. If you’re running a game in these settings and a player at your table knows more about history than you, it can become very intimidating to even try to plan or run the game. Science fiction and futuristic games are a little bit better, but you’re still dealing with a lot of heavy science and realistic elements that can lead to issues where they might not have arisen in your typical elves and magic infused setting.
For well over a year now I’ve kept an eye on the material that our friend Dennis has been producing over at his blog The Spirits of Eden for his RPG setting, the World of Adel. I’ve talked to him a few times about his worldbuilding and the setting that he’s created, and every time we talk I marvel more and more at what he is creating. Today he has started a series of posts he is calling a Worldbuilding Diary and I was instantly impressed and inspired by it.
I am still in the process of brainstorming on the following topics, but this post is an essential part of the process as I express my thoughts so far and more importantly get feedback from others and hear about their experiences. After running an adventure of D&D last week that included our friend Dixon Trimline, he and I were having a post-adventure geek out because we don’t get the chance to talk in person that often. During this geek out we discussed the history of my D&D campaign, specifically the world that has been built before and during the game, when I caught inspiration for an idea of presenting nations and world building as character background “packages” that can be taken by players.
I’m going to clue you guys in to a nifty little secret that I’ve been using for a while now in my RPG encounters – adding height to a tabletop RPG can be one of the best ways to invigorate your encounters. You must be careful, because using something like height in your game can become something of a gimmick or a trick and if overused could become predictable or boring to your players. However, when applied correctly and in the right amount height and depth can create some of the most memorable moments of your game and can also help enforce or dissuade certain styles of play.
Last week in my first post tackling the subject of creating histories for an RPG world I discussed relatively “meta” and experimental concepts. This week I’d like to get down to some specifics and hopefully address the concept a bit more directly. The exact question/suggestion that inspired this topic was worded as, “In my homebrew, creating histories in specific territories is a challenge – particularly linking them to the whole world.”
World building can be one of the most intimidating tasks for DMs and GMs when it comes to running their own RPG campaign. No matter how much advice you read or receive from your friends, creating a world of your own or modifying someone else’s world can still feel incredibly daunting even for people who are experienced at running their own games. In my last solicitation for questions and suggestions to discuss in this series on twitter, clampclontoller said this, “In my homebrew, creating histories in specific territories is a challenge – particularly linking them to the whole world.” Since this is an issue that I’ve struggled with many times myself, it feels like a good topic worth exploring here!