View Full Version : To Brew or Not to Brew? A worldbuilding question.

King Tius
2011-09-13, 01:13 PM
A fellow DM and I have recently started kicking around ideas about crafting our own homebrewed world. When applying to games on the boards, I usually pass on homebrewed worlds because they all have too many names that start with "A" and I can't keep 10 different alternate histories straight in my head. For our IRL group, though, this is something we could work on for the next few years. How do you typically go about building your world? We have a few ideas here and there and are going to start running mini-adventures with solo players to start to organically work out some of the details, but I figured this would be a good place to drop in and ask for advice.

Do people like reading the new history of each world? Is it better to have the entire history of the campaign setting laid out for the players or to give them only what they need? One way to prevent Wall-of-Texting our players that we've come up with is to get very micro-oriented. Focus on a small town with a specific race/demographic and unveil the world as we go. It may be my dwindling attention span, but when I apply for a game and the DM has 20 pages worth of stuff in spoilers, I lose interest quickly.

Any thoughts/comments/discussion would be appreciated!

2011-09-13, 01:31 PM
I tend to find it better to go the other way around: I wouldn't try DND in a world unless it was already a world I and others liked. For example, my group usually plays Forgotten Realms setting. With the exception of an occasional newbie, everyone's already familiar. It's a matter of liking that world better than the one that the writers chose to be the 'normal' setting.

Now, this is no surprise. FR is already out there in official form. I say this as a thought on why you should work in a homebrew world. If there's a fantasy world out there you like, you could put together a setting without too much trouble. But it's important to avoid that wall-of-text issue-if you want to homebrew a world, that's wonderful. But the stories should come first. Put together a world that interests people and make it a setting later. That way, anyone who's interested can read the background as actual stories, rather than it feeling like a reading list. I can't imagine any turnoff worse than finding out I have to read the aforementioned 20 spoilers before I sit to build my character.

But here's the short version: In my opinion, homebrew is only worthwhile if potential players already like your world. Having to read the world's history first is too much of a turnoff.

Lord Vampyre
2011-09-13, 01:40 PM
I actually prefer homebrew worlds to the standard campaign settings.

You don't need to give the players very much information. Consider this from the character's perspective. Most characters won't know very much about the world beyond what they have seen in their home village. The only news they have probably heard is from travelling peddlers and minstrels. Most of their information is probably rumor and conjecture. This is the picture a character from a small out of the way village would have. You are free to vary this based on each character's situation.

The other wonderful thing about a home brewed world is it allows you alot more freedom to change things that don't work for your campaign, without your players going hey that doesn't work like that. You can even incorporate ideas from your players into the world, letting them help you flesh it out.

Now, when it comes to developing a campaign setting, I tend to be a minimalist. I generally just focus on what the characters are going to need, unless I feel exceptionally motivated. But if I do create something that the players won't necessarily run into, I try to find a way to introduce it anyway. It's probably just my pride, but if I actually go to the effort to detail something out, I am going to want to use it.

King Tius
2011-09-13, 02:01 PM
Thanks for the responses! For our initial mini-vignette-adventures, we actually considered making the backgrounds for the characters but leaving the mechanics to the players. "You are a Paladin working for the Holy Order of the Mist..." so we can add the flavor in without overwhelming the players. The question becomes: how much does a player need to make a character? A description of the town? A history of the Dwarven people? We are debating how far we want to swing from the standard fantasy setting. I think it is a lot easier to make an Elven Fighter in Forgotten Realms than it would be in Darksun or even Eberron, given the specificity of the race and class roles therein. We are definitely focused on the story we want to tell, we've just found that trying to put it into FR or Eberron means we spend too much time warping it to either fit the setting or make it feel like it belongs there.

2011-09-13, 02:16 PM
Before the game: I don't usually make a world any more than a few bullet point for campaign events.

I'll have a general pitch for my players, give a general idea of where I'd like the campaign to start, ask them to throw together a bit of backstory (generally establishing a place or two, a couple of significant NPCs and a tie-in to another PC), and try to build/predict a campaign direction past that. That gives them some knowledge regarding what's in the gameworld without me giving them an atlas to memorize (they've written their relevant parts in, after all).

That's when I start filling in the maps.

Unless I'm playing scifi though, I don't do a lot of world-building. Most campaign settings are alternate history Earth with the serial-numbers filed off. It's easier for me to call my Alternate-History-Thebes Thebes than it is for me to come up with a couple dozen thinly-veiled names and badger my players into learning them.

King Tius
2011-09-13, 02:32 PM
Learning new names is the WORST. Everyone's Capital City/Continent is named Arinath or Azaden or some other horrible-sounding name. I'd rather go with real-world words like Stormwind or Ironforge.

I'm also thinking of making a Wiki as the campaign starts to flesh out, both for the DMs to keep track and for the players who want to know more.

My other big question is geared more towards the mechanics. Look at Darksun: no divine spellcasters, new races, new armors, etc. Lots of deviation from the norm. Eberron on the other hand only adds to the core rules without taking any away. My buddy and I are tentatively looking at something with more of a jungle-focus at the moment so we are debating whether it makes sense for people to walk around in Full Plate. Would you say it is better to simply refluff the mechanics (use carapaces or magically strengthened wood for armor) or to make big changes to the world (no heavy armor, alternate bonuses for classes with this ability)?

2011-09-13, 04:00 PM
Would you say it is better to simply refluff the mechanics (use carapaces or magically strengthened wood for armor) or to make big changes to the world (no heavy armor, alternate bonuses for classes with this ability)?

Define "better." Refluffing is VASTLY quicker, but it can leave picky players with a hollow feeling. Designing new crunch makes the world "feel" more different, but can introduce balance issues (see: Forgotten Realms).

In the end, which is better depends largely on the players involved (as usual). The ones who play for the fiction elements won't mind refluffing to tell a different story, and might be overwhelmed by a few pages of new numbers they need to remember. The ones who play for the game elements will call you a hack for calling a rabbit a smeerp (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CallARabbitASmeerp).

Archpaladin Zousha
2011-09-15, 05:50 PM
I personally like pre-built worlds like Eberron or Golarion. Learning their history and culture makes a great springboard for character design, and gives real bite to the generic races. Homebrewing can be fun, but it's a lot of work, and there's always the temptation to insert something that wouldn't make sense just because you think it's cool, like putting a samurai in what's supposed to be a post-apocalyptic desert world modeled on pre-Medieval cultures.

My brother's the exact opposite. He feels homebrew worlds are the only worlds worth playing him because you can make up whatever the hell you feel like and aren't beholden to the company's vision. He doesn't even play pre-made adventures because he feels there's too much temptation to follow "the script." He GMs from the seat of his pants, making up the adventure and campaign as he goes and using a special GM dice roll for plot developments when he's out of ideas.

2011-09-15, 06:00 PM
I get a little fanatical with my Homebrews, the group of players I've used to test them can probably attest to the fact that about half of the first session involves me laying out the general campaign setting, usually a good mix of fluff and any mechanics changes. I get excited, and it seems to excite them. I don't intentionally do this, but I also usually have at least one or two homebrew Classes that are unbalanced, and looking through these tends to give the powergamers something to do while the rest are listening to the basic setting info.

I tend to loathe preestablished worlds as a DM, but I'm really picky. My homebrew setting has changed several times because I didn't like it either, and I made it! As a player, they're great if I've read the books (either fiction or sourcebooks) but otherwise I have to learn about it anyway, it doesn't matter if it's Homebrew or not.

2011-09-15, 10:50 PM
I don't care overmuch between homebrew and premade worlds when I'm playing - assuming that I like the premade world, of course. There are some settings I just tend to avoid. I'm usually willing to at least give homebrew settings a chance, and unless they're really bad I tend to prefer them. They feel more customised and different, which is probably because they are. Premade settings are easier, so I think they make more sense for one-shot or very short games.

When DMing, however, I vastly prefer homebrew. I always feel like I have to tread very carefully in a premade setting to get the feel of it and the lore and everything right, and get particularly antsy if I have to have the PCs encounter well-known NPCs from that setting. This gets worse the more I like the setting (I'm the worst about it in MERP). So, I just go with homebrew because then I don't have to worry about any of it, and I find the worldbuilding fun anyhow.

2011-09-15, 11:16 PM
When I build worlds, they end up featuring 'K's and 'T's. My main cities, so far, have been Tannistar, Torsia, Karebo, and Khar-Dhak-Nhak. Not sure how to spell that last one though.