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.”
While last week I talked about letting your players help design your game’s/territory’s history and using your previous campaigns to build history, but today I’m going to discuss some ideas about creating histories for a new game world without relying on players to help you out.
Don’t Worry About Creating Less History
For a little bit of guidance, I asked Dave (the Game, my first DM, most likely the biggest influence on me as a DM) what advice he would give on this topic. His answer was, “Don’t build too much in advance, build it during play based on the needs of the story and the characters.” For me this advice is spot on because one of the biggest road blocks a DM can hit when planning a campaign is feeling like they are under-planning and that they are not prepared enough for their own game. There is no rule that says you have to have ‘X’ amount of back story prepared for a game or that you must have fully fleshed out histories for every single city and region that is on your map.
Don’t let getting stumped on creating a history for your game stop you from planning for the ‘present’ that the players are going to experience. If you feel like you’re starting an adventure without enough history of your game world planned, then the odds are you’re doing it right. This advice is the root behind my suggestion in the first post for letting your players help you design the backstory of your game.
I’m Looking for Advice on Creating Histories, Not Advice on NOT Creating Histories
Okay, I’ve covered the “less is more” aspect of this topic enough. There are plenty of situations where you will want to create history for your game world, and this is where Dave’s second bit of advice on the subject is spot on, “Look for opportunities for stories and interesting developments instead of focusing on minutiae that may never come up.” When you are designing histories for regions, territories, or worlds always keep in mind how the details you’re designing can add to the story of your game and how they can be developed through the player’s actions and decisions during the game.
When establishing a basic history for a territory in your game world, start with the physical features of the region and consider how those features would impact the people living there. If you have a region with mountains on both sides, then the odds are that region will have more dwarves than other realms and also that the territory will be rich in stone, minerals, and gems. Fortresses built of large stone and walled in towns might be common in this region, whereas a grassland or forested realm would have less stone but more wood construction.
Interacting Histories Make the World Richer
Developing the region further, a large part of its history will have depended on the resources available to its people and those in bordering regions. A territory with abundant horses and livestock might support more spread out towns and at the same time be able to trade more easily with those around it. While you’re developing the history for each individual territory, you can also work on how they have influenced each other over time and end up with a group of regions linked better with the larger world.
When you’re thinking about how the various regions in your game world would interact, consider what certain regions would have an abundance of and what others might be short on. As you continue to develop the map, look at which regions are adjacent and hopefully you’ll start to find some connections that make sense. One nation that needs stone separated from another rich in stone, and a region good at trade between them, and you have a strong connection between three regions that benefits each of them equally.
How Does All of this Apply to History?
Using the same three regions described above, you have one region that’s history focuses on their mining of stone and exporting it, another that focuses on peaceful and beneficial trade between two of its opposite neighbors, and a third region that relies heavily on both of the other regions for its development. If we go back to the second bit of advice from Dave, you should begin to imagine a slew of story and development ideas that can come from these connections. What happens when the third region loses its source of stone? How can the players’ actions effect or influence the mining and exporting of stone from the first region? What might happen if the second region is disrupted by outside influences and both of the other regions find themselves without the middle man they so desperately need?
Already we’re beginning to develop a fairly interesting set of regions, their histories, and a collection of locations and adventures that the party can experience. All of this came from just the resource of stone and its trade between regions. Once you consider a handful of other natural or even unnatural resources and continue to develop each region, you should have a fairly well developed game world and a detailed history that enriches the game and provides plenty of hooks for your game.
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