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World Building

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Jordan    3

There is nothing more satisfying than creating your own world, your own universe, whether it's for writing stories or for a game. That said, world creation is a pretty daunting task. I myself have started to put some of the notes about a fantasy world down on to paper now that I believe I've found a game system that will do what I want it to.

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So here is my question; for those of you who have done it, how do you go about creating your world? Where do you start? What questions do you feel are most important to ask. Do you create your world with specific game systems in mind?

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Any opinions would be much appreciated :)

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SalmonMax    34

For me, it starts with a high concept that sparks my interest and inspiration.

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Like one fantasy world that I still want to do something with is basically a giant set of chunks, or habitable asteroid type things, suspended in a cluster between a vast sucking void and a bright sunlike object. They each have local gravity, and some of the laws of 'physics' between them are shared..others not so much. It's possible to travel between chunks with the proper techniques...and those who have the means can make a living flying from chunk to chunk, trading and exploring. Despite the seeming astronomical themes, it really isn't 'scifi masquerading as fantasy' at all.

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Sometimes I get ideas from just random visualizations or dreams/daydreams. Other times they start as thought exercises like, "What if there was a world where each person spoke their own language?" And sometimes they just sort of pop up, already half-formed from some apparently under-used corner of my head.

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Sailor OOC    4

I try to think of how I can spin real life into the fantastic. I think also of what genre the world in my head is, then start to figure out how it ticks. Is it a dystopian corporate state? A utopian technocratic society? Some sort of amplified real life? Then I think of the realism of the world. Will it be cartoonish, or realistic? Will it be cinematic or more down to earth?

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Of course... everyone here knows I never Grimdark.

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AceWildcard    0

Basically I work on setting and then go up from there. Also if you do not have an firm ground or bases for your world then everything else will basically crumble underneath it.

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Jordan    3

So once you have your High concept Max, where do you start? As an example, I'm not sure I have a 'high concept" for my world idea But I know there are some things I want in it. For instance I know I want Elves and Dwarfs. I know the Elves had an enormous empire that spanned the known lands but crumbled shortly after facing and defeating "The Enemy." I don't know who or what this Enemy is. I like the idea that every few hundred or thousand years a new "Enemy" arises to bring about upheaval in the land, but I haven't decided why this happens, if they are really unconnected threats or if it's the same Evil over and over again.

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I know I want other races too. Gnomes, Giant-Kin that have a Native American flavor to them, and Halflings. I know I want a "kindgom" in the chilly north that is a mixture of Vikings ruled by a Magistocracy of Sorcerer Princes. I know I want an Expansionist Empire modeled after the Romans that goes through cycles of expansion and internal upheaval. I know I want a feudal kingdom with Knights and Tourneys and all that King Arthur mumbo-jumbo. And I know I want a new born kingdom forged out of strife and shaky multicultural (and racial) alliances that I think will be center stage in the world's story.

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Knowing all that where should I start? Should I work out the cosmology, the ancient history? Or should I start with the modern and work my way backwards? How do you guys tend to start the actual building? Do you go Top Down (starting with abstracts like the gods, nature of magic and all that heady stuff and work your way down to the mundane) or Bottom Up (Starting with the place you know the characters are going to be starting and working up and out to define the world )?

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Oh as a Side note, I am going to use Rune Quest 6 as the basis for the game mechanics. I really like the system and I like how open sandbox it is. Which leads me to another question; how closely do you entwine your world creation with the game system you are planning on using? Do you create your word entirely separate from any system or does the system you plan on running (or simply prefer) inform and influence how you build your world?

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For me, there's usually a situation or scenario that sparks the initial idea. That gives me a rough outline for what has to be in the world, and then I settle in to work on more details. Many times, I compare something to the real world and ask myself "how can I tweak this to be interesting/fresh in the game world and still feel like it's a natural progression from the base changes I've made to the game world?"

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A good example of this is:

  1. The world has magic. -> Major world feature.
  2. Magic is capable of healing people of nearly all wounds and/or illnesses. -> Detail based off 1.
  3. The world is "modern" for general lifestyle. -> Second major world feature.
  4. Because there is healing magic, there has never been a pressing need for medical science to evolve. So, medicine in general is still in the "hensbane and leeches" phase, while those that know healing magic serve as the medical community. -> Detail based off of 1 & 3.
  5. From 4. flows that there is little understanding of human biology, a huge cultural injunction against surgery of any kind, and a religious belief that most illness is a result of disfavor of a diety. -> Further refined details from 4.
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And the implications from 5 would start me off down the road of fleshing out religion, morality, social constraints, etc... If I run out of steam from that, I just go back to the top and decide on the next major feature and follow it through. Usually doing out the details from one major feature will give me ideas on or even determine by implication many other major features.

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In response to your original question, typically I'll draw the entire world first (as a map) then populate it with features. Almost every time I've run a D&D game it's been in worlds I created myself.

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Jordan    3

Okay there has been lots of awesome advice here. thanks guys. I'd like to continue to use this place as a sounding board for ideas, and I have a ton of them.

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One of the things I'd like to do with my world is have different areas reflect different cultures, many of which reflect certain real world cultures. I'd also like to have sort of wild areas as "buffer zones" because I have trouble envisioning a world in which a traditional feudal monarchy shares a border with an Imperial republic modeled after the Roman Empire. Is that a good idea or is that just removing potential for conflict?

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So another question. Which setting of the following most appeals to you. Which sounds to you like something you'd want to play in and explore?

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1. A fairly standard fantasy kingdom, with familiar non human races (Elves, Dwarfs and such). The kingdom would be young(ish) and the land still in recovery from a terrible war with massive horde of (insert favored monsterous race here).

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2. A harsh land of cold and snow, inhabited by an equally hard Viking-like people who are ruled over by Sorcerer-Princes with an iron hand.

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3. A feudal kingdom of knights and chivalry, Dragons and Magic with a strong Arthurian/Fairy Tale vibe.

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4. A roman based empire steeped in politics and war that has just annexed more territory and is working to incorporate it into the greater Empire.

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5. A land of scorching deserts and strange mystical powers (Think the tales of the 1001 nights). Quite possibly struggling against strange foreign oppressors (see number 4).

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All of these are going to fit in to the mosaic of my world somewhere, but I'm struggling to focus on just one area.

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Sailor OOC    4

How about a magical Steam-fantasy style setting? Break a trope and make the region a fantasy republic? There is an example of that in one of the setting books for Pathfinder of a early American-esque democratic republic you can take examples from. Make it have steam technology through some sort of magic.

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Noticed I said Steam-Fantasy, not Steam-Punk. Steampunk is supposed to have a very dystopian asthetic. Steamfantasy (which isn't really a term but it should be) is a more utopian twist.

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One of the things I'd like to do with my world is have different areas reflect different cultures, many of which reflect certain real world cultures. I'd also like to have sort of wild areas as "buffer zones" because I have trouble envisioning a world in which a traditional feudal monarchy shares a border with an Imperial republic modeled after the Roman Empire. Is that a good idea or is that just removing potential for conflict?

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^^This right here actually happens in the game Enchanted Arms for Xbox 360. You begin in the city Yokohama (generic modernesque city), move on to London (quaint industrial town), then to Junk City (an arabic desert town), and then to Kyoto (traditional Japanese). Between each city are huge areas of monster-infested terrain.

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I pick number 5 from your list. Not enough of that anywhere.

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Jordan    3

How about a magical Steam-fantasy style setting? Break a trope and make the region a fantasy republic? There is an example of that in one of the setting books for Pathfinder of a early American-esque democratic republic you can take examples from. Make it have steam technology through some sort of magic.

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Noticed I said Steam-Fantasy, not Steam-Punk. Steampunk is supposed to have a very dystopian asthetic. Steamfantasy (which isn't really a term but it should be) is a more utopian twist.

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I'm going to say no here. the steamtech genre brings with it technology and a mindset that I don't want in my world.

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Dave ST    17

So here is my question; for those of you who have done it, how do you go about creating your world? Where do you start? What questions do you feel are most important to ask. Do you create your world with specific game systems in mind?

I've built many worlds, some were real stinkers while others were truly epic. One of the key things I do is start small. I begin with the area of the world the players will begin in, nothing more. Building a small area of adventuring land is a lot easier than building an entire world from the ground up, after all, the Forgotten Realms started with just the Dalelands. From there an entire world was made, one kingdom or area at a time.

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After you have a small area, sit down at the gaming table with a few ideas (locals, local religions, current events, current troubles) and direction you want the game to flow in and just watch... if your PCs are worth a damn they'll actually help you make the world. Where are they from? Who are their families? Are they noble, peasant? Take their backgrounds and use them to mold the world. If they give you nothing to work with, I guarantee you, the PC isn't worth the paper it's written on and their just going to rely on you to entertain them and contribute nothing to the overall story. But from these sessions take notes and have your players do it as well. Combine those notes and read them over and before you know it you will have guilds, factions, orders, people and places. Reward the players for getting involved and for every useful bit of lore they give you, throw em' a bone of appreciation. You'd be surprised how well it works:

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Player A: "I think we should head to Mythton next, search for my mentor.

Player B: "Mythton? Where'd you get that? What's Mythton?"

Player A: "Just made it up, I figure it's not to far north from where we started, maybe a few days."

GM: "Sounds good to me, Mythton is the next stop. Give me five minutes to jot some notes down about it."

Player A: "I'll help. I'll scribble down a few names and local businesses."

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Just like that, your world is making itself. If the PCs are going to spend time 'living' there, they may as well help with the upkeep right? Besides, small breaks like that help everyone stretch their legs and take a leak, and get a refill on pop. Maybe order the group a pizza. Ideas generally come easiest when they are fresh and you are in the thick of actually using the material you are trying to create. Every find how easy a character idea comes while you are watching a particular show, or movie? Same with world building. You can build the world more easily when you are actually 'living' there during a session. Scribble ideas while you tell the story.

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When you want to try something new, trial run it with the PCs. Let the players know that this week your going to try something new and you want their appraisal of it. Consider a failure to be non-canon and award them something for participation, if it is a success you now have a new area, much like what you started with, and you base your next several ideas from this new locale. Do this enough and the world will come together one piece at a time. After you have some foundations, the politics and the mechanics all start to come together.

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If you try and tackle the whole world, it will be overwhelming. What authors and game developers usually don't mention is that the worlds they create are done one part at a time, a novel based in a different land each time or hours and hours of several teams play testing the rules and politics of RPGs. Authors generally tend to do a lot of research into the lads they want to create, som of those note are novels themselves. It's rare that a man or woman just sits down and produces a fully created world from the top of their head.

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Here are some examples of things I've just dropped into a game that players thought were a great idea:

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A land of perpetual twilight. (Stolen from FFIX, Burmecia was a land of eternal night, I liked twilight a bit better.)

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A flying magical academy that was built on the surface of a sheared mountain top. (Forgotten Realms did this, but I actually stole the idea from the game Lunar: Silver Star Story.)

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A mobile city that was built on the back on a behemoth, immortal ankylosaurus-like creature. (I've seen this used several times, I didn't really steal this one, just thought it'd be cool.)

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...And some bad ideas:

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A toxic wasteland that had so many hazards, I couldn't keep track of them all. (Keep it simple was the lesson there.)

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A tribe of Amazons that were so stuck in their ways that it was impossible for the PCs to get any ground with them since they had free-thinking males in the party. (Always give the PCs a way out, always.)

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The mechanical spider from Wild Wild West... yeah. Come to think of it, anything from Wild Wild West. (Seemed like a good idea at the time, just didn't mesh with the game at all.)

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Depending upon the length of your campaign, you may end up with some players who feel like building kingdoms of their own. I had two 5+ year campaigns of D&D where a few of my players did this. Depending on their level of diligence (or arrogance) they may micromanage everythign right down to the day to day legal minutiae. All a GM has to do is create a free area where such ambition could take root.

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-A land of perpetual twilight. (Stolen from FFIX, Burmecia was a land of eternal night, I liked twilight a bit better.)

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^This threw me for a bit till I realized you're actually talking about Treno. However, it also reminded me of a city in Legend of Mana (called Roa or something) which was also shrouded in night forever.

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Some other stuff that always seems to work are;

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-sprawling underground metropolis (Thorbardin from Krynn, Mythril Hall from Realms, the Great Hollow from Suikoden 3, etc.)

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-submersible city (Atlantis-like things of course, but I thought Castle Figaro from FFVI was awesome)

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-ancient extradimensional highways/bypasses (the realms gives you an excuse to throw PCs wherever you need em by planting portals everywhere, but some other games had this feature too. Ultima: Exodus's moon-gates are a good example.)

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