View Full Version : World Building

2010-03-29, 03:36 PM
This is a problem that I often have when doing a campaign.
Rather then posting specific ideas, does anyone have any advice on how to build a world? I see the incredibly detailed worlds on this forum, with maps, pictures, etc, and I wanna see if I can do something like that.

I know that the good sir Mr. Burlew started to write a process, and made it fairly detailed and helpful, but I was wondering what tips you guys have.

Also, can someone give me links to these threads I'm talking about? Or start a thread listing them?

Thanks for the help.

2010-03-29, 03:39 PM
Well, the easiest way to build a world is to start playing. Let your players have level 1 characters in a small hamlet somewhere. Write up places as they travel. Start with the rural town... Then as they explore the countryside, you keep your maps, and suddenly, you have a small state/nation. Next, you get into bordering nations. Start vague. Their disposition towards the main nation, the border, and the forces they field. Work into more depth as you go.

It takes years, but you do it while you play it. And the players get to help build the world.

Gan The Grey
2010-03-29, 09:27 PM
If you are really wanting to build your own world, but don't want to take the massive amount of time to account for everything ranging from level 1 to 20, I highly recommend taking a long, hard, sexy look at E6 (http://www.enworld.org/forum/general-rpg-discussion/206323-e6-game-inside-d-d.html).

At first, you might be saying to yourself, "Only six levels? But that's totally LAME!" I assure you sir, this is not the case at all. One of the best things about E6 is the ability to make interesting areas that remain interesting for the entirety of a character's life. Plus, PLUS, you don't have to constantly escalate the levels of town guards just to keep your players in check!

Anyhey, the way I do it, is I come up with an interesting history idea, like a big war, a magical event, or something similar and expound on that. Figure out how your different races responded to that event and you will slowly begin to understand how everything interacts in your world. Set the generalities down, and then, once you get an idea of what your players want to do in your setting, flesh out the particular piece of the world they hail from and spread out as you go.

2010-03-29, 09:44 PM
The thing that I found most difficult about world building was communicating the world. I came up with a lot of ideas, but very few of them made it onto paper. Fewer still made their way to the PCs and even less than that was absorbed by the PCs. The result was a bland and generic fantasy world.

I think the best way to overcome this would be to run the same world over several campaigns. Use the story from the last game as history in the current one. You'd start out bland and uninteresting, but eventually build up to something awesome.

2010-03-29, 09:45 PM
My group at the moment is making their own world to game in, it's a collaborative effort which means we can take different parts of it.

And he have a wiki (http://lrpc.wikia.com)

2010-03-29, 09:52 PM
Personally, I take a top-down approach when world building. I might start with a general idea of some sort of unique feature for the world, then I map out the world. From there I place major cities, landmarks, and geographic regions (in whatever order suits me). I continue to refine ideas about smaller and smaller areas until I've reached the level of detail I want.

I sometimes start with a local area and expand things from there, but that's usually if I'm making things for a campaign that will be starting right away.

2010-03-30, 09:46 AM
Way back in the day, TSR had a World Builder's Guidebook (first link Google turns up: http://www.amazon.com/Builders-Guidebook-Advanced-Dungeons-Dragons/dp/0786904348).

They had 6 chapters, each focusing on a different granularity of detail. At the start of the book, they suggested the chapters could be applied in any order, and gave suggestions about which orders might work for different GM needs.

For the top-down approach, they suggested making decisions about the world as a whole (Is it round or flat? How many suns and moons? What percentage of the surface is water?), then making a low detail sketch of the whole world. Pick an area of about 5% of the surface that looks fun to you to narrow in on. In this area, place terrain and then start putting in civilizations, (define an area based on terrain, then pick a race and cultural archetype for them to adopt). Pick one of those to be the civilization the PCs start in, and keep zooming in from there. Place cities and other landmarks for the start civilization, and pick one to detail as the start city or town.

For the bottom up approach, they suggested mapping out the local city, town or wilderness area the first game would take place in, and grow from there. No need to decide anything about the queen when the PCs will only be interacting with baron whose lands hold the local ruins. As the game need to know what's over the next hill, you slowly expand up, in the reverse of how the top-down approach works.

The last chapter was the cosmology of the world, which could be done at any stage. Is there is one pantheon for the whole world? Does each culture gets its own pantheon?

The approach that will work best really depends on how you like to tackle problems. Top-down appeals to me a lot, but I tend to then get bogged down in irrelevant minutia (If the players will never meet the Viking swamp elf culture because said culture is on the other side of the world, I'm probably wasting my time detailing them before game starts)

Tangent: I believe Eberron was designed top-down. We know some details about the whole world, but Khorvaire is the most detailed continent. Within Khorvaire, the 5 4 kingdoms have the most detail. Within those kingdoms, Sharn is the most detailed city. The cosmology very elegantly works with the whole world.

I believe Ed Greenwood has said that he designed the Forgotten Realms bottom-up. One of his campaigns began in the Dalelands/Cormyr area, eventually setting it's home in Shadowdale. Areas were added as needed as plot ideas came to him.

The original boxed set maps reflect this. There were no maps of anything east of Thay. Details on anything south of the Sea of Fallen Stars were very scant. Neither Al-Qadim nor Maztica existed yet, and the bottom-up approach let TSR find homes for them in the same world as the Realms because they only needed to set them down in previously unmapped areas. You couldn't do this in Eberron without adding a new continent everyone "knows" wasn't there before.

The cosmology is a mess, though I don't think that's necessarily Ed's fault. He set down some original gods to be worshipped in the area he'd detailed. It's mentioned, though, that the Egyptian pantheon is worshipped in Mulhorond and other pantheons elsewhere. It looks like different pantheons for different cultures is in play here. So, later authors are able to add more gods ad-hoc. But, the original set of gods also seems to come to be seen as encompassing the whole of the world by later authors, so Mystra goes from being the goddess of magic for the Dalelands/Cormyr/Waterdeep areas to being in control of magic for the entire world (despite not being worshipped as such by the numerous peoples of Maztica, Kara-Tur, Al-Qadim? (I never read it in depth), possibly yet uncharted continents, and by certain cultures even within the areas Ed set out such as Chult and Mulhorand. That's fine. Drift is to be expected when you have a setting this old that so many authors have worked on (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ContinuityDrift).

Totally Guy
2010-03-30, 10:14 AM
I'm with PhoenixRivers on this.

When I run games if a player wants to know something about the world I tell them to tell me the fact they want to know. "Everyone knows wizards wear pointy hats! Therefore that guy is probably a wizard.", I then assume this fact is true and set a difficulty to know it.

If they are successful then they get what they want. "Yes, wizards wear pointy hats. That guy is a wizard."

If they fail then I twist it in a different direction. "Yes, wizards wear pointy hats, but also it's considered fashionable as it's associated with knowledge. So the social elite also wear pointy hats. That guy could be a politician or a wizard, or both!"

Do I have notes on who wears pointy hats? No. It's completely unplanned.

"I think the biggest landowner is Lord Palzar." ---Harder to know, quite specific.
Success "Yes he is."
Failure "Although a significant land owner Lord Palzar donated a lot of his land to the Church. Remember that priest you offended..."

"I think the biggest landowner is Happy Jeff the Urchin." ---That's not sensible. Describe how.
"Jeff has important birthright but he doesn't like responsibilities." ---Very hard difficulty.
Success "Happy Jeff has amazing birthright but turned it down due to too many responsibilities. The government is acting as steward to Jeff."
Failure "Happy Jeff has a secret cult. If you associate Jeff with owning land you might prompt the wrath of the cult that thinks you somehow know too much.":smalltongue:

Of course if it is in the notes, then it works as normal. But this is way more fun.:smallwink: