As described by Jade at Evil Machinations in this month’s RPG Blog Carnival overview, world building is a huge topic and covers a great range of areas. Originally I had started to write a couple of blogs on the building blocks of worlds such as approaches to designing topography and nations. Although crucial in the greater scheme of things it can be a dry read. So I have changed my posts to look at some of the more interesting areas of world building that often go unnoticed but in my opinion are essential to creating a successful world that players are begging to play in.
So steering away from Macroscopic/Microscopic/Situation-based/Literary & Character-based approaches to building up your world’s landscape I’d like to set aside my next few posts exploring building in details such as history, mythology, and creating a an atmosphere to capture the imagination of your players. To me this is where your world will come alive.
History – ‘before time was time’
Like building the general landscape you can use both Macroscopic and Microscopic approaches to developing a history and if you used one of these techniques to build the landscape you don’t have to be stuck using the same technique when developing its history. As an example to this I used a combination of microscopic and situation-based approaches to building my world but when it came to looking at the history I used a Macroscopic approach as this allowed me to develop a good flow to the world’s history, tracking migration of races across the continents and the fluctuations of nation states. Although this is the approach that I took it by no means has to be the approach that you need to take as you need to find what works best for you.
Now in truth you can actually apply both Microscopic and Macroscopic approaches to building history into your world so from a ‘big picture’ perspective does your world have ages, were there dark periods, were one or two races dominant over others and has this changed as time progressed? Looking at the history of our own world there were defined ages associated with technological discoveries, cultural & religious ideologies and national developments. Periods such as the bronze, iron and dark ages come prominently to mind.
So if you’ve set out the general landscape of your world start to explore its history and what has shaped it into how it will look for the players today, and I’ve used the word explore here as that is exactly what you want the players to be doing. You want the players to explore your world, its history and its secrets. So set yourself into that mindset and develop a history that supports the current state of play.
If you are using a Microscopic, Character or Situation-based method you’ll want to look at the surrounding influences of the area in which the players are having the adventure or campaign set. This is a great way to be able to spend time focusing on the real details in a world and can often prove to be an efficient way to spend your development time for unless the players are going to find the ancient warhammer of King Sulchen who ruled an empire two thousand years ago do you really need an understanding of that history for your sessions. Probably not, so focusing on methods such as looking at the current situation and area, a detailed analysis of the local power factions, influences and their history is a great way to not only generate interest for the players but also to dig up some fantastic adventure hooks.
Look at cultural nuances, why does the predominantly human town play the dwarven game of ‘Stick the Goblin’ and brew good ales? Is it because when the town was settled there was a dwarven keep close by who traded regularly with the town. The keep might now be a ruin as the dwarves disappeared for an unknown reason but their influence remains. This example not only provides the town with some distinctive characters, some of which can be adopted into PC backgrounds, but it also creates some adventure hooks around a ruined keep and unknown local lore.
This method also allows you greater time to focus on NPC’s. I’m not sure about you guys but one of the greatest aspects to playing for me is the interaction with NPC’s. Again as a world builder you need to spend your time to maximise what you produce, as you can spend it doing a huge amount of work that never gets seen in your sessions and miss out on creating what will make a difference for your player’s experience.
With that said below is a handy tip to managing your precious world building time…
Time Management Tip #1
No matter how organized we are, there are always only 24 hours in a day. Time doesn’t change. All we can actually manage is ourselves and what we do with the time that we have.
So with that in mind have a quick think of what really needs to be developed to maximise the playing experience. World history is crucial to provide to players as it shows depth to the world, so understand how you work best and what is actually going to make a difference to the playing experience, then start creating.