Not every D&D campaign or world map includes nations or regions that break the larger mass into more digestible pieces, but this is one of the features that I’m glad I chose to be a primary element of my current D&D campaign. Inspired by a 3rd Edition D&D campaign run by our friend Dennis (aka The Main Event) where the nationality of the PCs became one of the most memorable parts of the game for me and ended up factoring into the ongoing plots in interesting ways, I decided to present my players with a world divided into various nations each with a unique flair and often divided by racial distinctions. However, one of the elements that I failed to strongly present to my players and that I’m going to discuss today is the idea of giving a unique design and feel to each of those nations when it comes to locations and buildings.
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!
As with nearly every topic I cover in this series, I’ve touched on the idea of adding character to settlements and cities before but now I’d like to put it in the spotlight. Let’s face it, your players will only remember select portions of the adventures you run even on the best of days. The elements that players seem to remember the most are specifically striking elements of a few NPCs, villains, encounters, and social interactions. Generally speaking, they will not remember a location very much unless a specific element of that location ties directly to one of those elements. They may not remember a location featuring a really sweet bridge if you describe it to them, but set a dramatic encounter on that bridge and they’re much more likely to remember the details of that location.
In my last post I talked about how the abandonment of locations and their resettlement can be used to influence the way we design our RPG worlds. The discussion led into the idea of technologies that could be developed and subsequently lost along with a civilization, only to be rediscovered at a later date by different cultures. I know for a fact that many people have a mental disconnect when it comes to thinking of “technology” and their typical Dungeons & Dragons game world. I often think of technology in an RPG along the same lines as psionics, there seem to be a lot of people who love to use them and a lot of people who avoid using them altogether.
As a DM that runs a tabletop RPG, it is your right and privilege to strike towns, lands, and whole continents with whatever form of catastrophe or disaster that strikes your fancy. Whether it is a terrible plague, massive tidal wave, or vicious invading army that sweeps through the area and all but wipes out the native inhabitants it is up to you to determine what happens with that location once the initial catastrophe has passed. These events could have happened hundreds of years before the characters were born or they could be the climatic event that finishes off a chapter of your game and opens up a new one. No matter when it happens, it is up to you as the DM to figure out how these events will effect your game world and how the players will experience the event and the aftermath.
If you think about the world around us and how it came to be the way it is, most things you’ll look at are the result of a process. Villages were created out of a need for shelter and then grew into towns and some eventually grew into cities, while natural formations like mountain ranges rise and fall due to the workings of plate tectonics. When we set out to create a world for an RPG, or even for videogames and fiction, we are attempting to create a world that is the result of a process that has never actually happened. Some worlds can certainly have mountains that don’t line up along a range and aren’t even created by plates of earth shifting and colliding, but my personal belief is that if you are creating a world the best foundation you can use is that of the real world that we see all around us.
So far the Architect DM series has focused primarily on locations and building design, but today and over the next few weeks I’m going to take a look at the larger scale idea of world building and some factors that play into designing a realistic and believable world to play your games in. As with many of the design aspects I’ve talked about previously, designing a realistic world can feel like one of the most intimidating and daunting tasks to undertake but in reality if you apply principles correctly it can make your efforts easier and better at the same time.
About two months ago Dave decided to tell you about his campaign – the setting, world, how it all began, characters, planning, and some of his house rules. He set me up to share about my campaign also, as a large part of planning for both of our games was done together. In fact his game is being run in a world that I designed and handed over for him to take and expand upon as he saw fit.
My new Gears of Ruin Clockwork D&D 4e campaign starts as soon as the holidays are over (with a pre-campaign session right before). I’ve spoken a bit about what the setting would be. I’m moving away from my traditional fantasy world and creating a new one based on Clockwork Fantasy tropes (Girl Genius, Iron Kingdoms, […]