World Building

A problem a lot of DM’s have (myself included) is how to make their worlds come alive for their players.  To be perfectly honest this is, I feel, one of my greatest weaknesses, but one I hope to correct in the future and hopefully get a lot of the ideas I’m mulling over out and working by putting them into cohesive sentences.

First off, I’ve spent the past week or so pawing through quite a few blogs and trying to see what I can learn from other people’s experiments, musings and successes.  One thing I’ve really taken into heart has been the Macro-Micro/Micro-Macro build style, where you either start with the largest parts and work down to the smallest or visa-versa.  This build style really seems to make sense, where you hit all of the points that make your world what it is and then build upward with the people, places and creatures.  Another question is WHAT makes your world what it is?  The easiest way to pull a group of players into a new world is the environment of that world.  Sounds, smells, the climate, local flora and fauna, and the landscape itself bring the players into the world around them and brings a greater life to your table and adventure.

The best way I think you can go about this method of building is to make a table of climates ranging from most extreme to least extreme (and back again in actual WORLD building) and plot your cities or notable locations in the appropriate climates.  Not only does this help to determine what sort of people you will have in each location, but also the kinds of creatures and plants local to the area.  Even after that, you can draw your landscape around the points you’ve plotted to create a rough world map to work off of.

Another idea that REALLY intrigues me is to bring the party into the world creation, as described in the Dresden Files RPG.  With this method, the first session the party plays is a world building session, each player sitting down with the game master and hashing out where they are, why they are there and what is going on around them.  Even after that, the players assist in creating the local NPC’s, choosing their traits, personalities, affiliations and occupations.  I’m honestly considering redoing my entire campaign in this style as it not only lets the players create a world that they truly want to live in, it also forces them to create links in the world, as they don’t just create the people they meet, but the place they take in with them.  It promises to be very exciting and very interesting to see just what your players come up with.

Beyond that, fall back on the old stand-by of pulling a world out of your butt.  Sit down with a sheet of graph paper.  Put your pencil to it and jerk your arm around some.  Hopefully this has created a rough line or shape.  Voila, your first continent.  Add some lines and splotches on it.  These are lakes and rivers. I think you can take it from here. After that it’s just a matter of coming up with some interesting locales, and people to put in them.

Now, as for cities, there’s a way I always start and that’s by deciding what sort of government this city has.  Is it a mayor, chief, council, high-order, or some kind of feudal caste beholden to a nearby lord?  This has a major impact on how your characters interact with the leaders.  Perhaps they have to convince all seven council members to let them into the ancestral tomb and retrieve the artifact within, or perhaps the local magistrate is under the thumb of the thief-lord, making him a puppet figurehead.  After figuring out who runs the joint, it’s nice to then figure out what makes this city special.  Is it set into a jagged cliff-side, or perhaps nestled in a temperate valley?  Is it a bustling port city or a dark mining town, or perhaps a simple farming village?  Even more fantastic, perhaps it’s an Elven city high in the treetops, or a Dwarven fortress built deep underground, perhaps even a hidden city that fell through the sky and crashed, covered for hundreds of years. The more engaging your city, the more you have to play with for your NPCs that inhabit the place.

NPC’s are the ale and bread to the meat of the adventure, always on the side and ready.  Now making a really interesting NPC is as simple as a few die rolls on a random table, but to bring them to life it takes a bit of dedication and some creativity.  If you’re just making NPC’s to fill in the spaces, such as barkeep, town crier, secretary to the high magi, or even that urchin who pick pocketed the players as they came through the gates, the random tables and trait/quirk/personality tables you can find all over the internet and in the printed material are invaluable resource.  However for more important NPC’s it’s better to flesh them out a bit more, even still using the same tables a few extra rolls might give you enough personality points to work with to expand the basic NPC into a full bodied character.  Another great way to make deep, multi-layered NPC’s is to write a back-story for them just like you would your own character.  Not only does this make them feel more three dimensional to your players, but it also offers additional story arc ideas for the game master by opening an entire new branch for the players to investigate.

In truth, no one persons’ way of building a world is the best, but pick and choose what suits your style and what suits your game.  That’s what Dungeons and Dragons is all about, playing the game YOU want to.  And if you can’t find it? Make it.

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~ by darkpatu on May 5, 2011.

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