Who’s in charge around here?

August 26, 2016 at 5:44 pm

“To rule is easy, to govern difficult.”

— Goethe

Nebukadnessar-II-coinRegardless of how involved the gods are in your game world, your players’ characters will undoubtedly interact with powerful forces of a more earthly sort. I’m talking about ‘the man’.

Governments and other power blocs are an important part of most campaign worlds. Unless your heroes are exploring an unknown land of glaciers, or are deep in uninhabited space, they are bound to come across someone (or something) that claims to have authority. But who are they?


Myth Conceptions

August 9, 2016 at 7:58 pm

“Ray, when someone asks you if you’re a God, you say yes!”

— Winston Zeddemore, Ghostbusters


ZeusIf you are running a fantasy RPG, its only a matter of time before before someone call out for divine assistance. Even in games without specific rules for divine magic, there still might be devout characters or villains in service to dark entities from beyond the veil. The question is then, who are these gods and what is their relationship to those who worship them?

Five-point Foundation

August 2, 2016 at 3:45 pm


“We need the tonic of wildness…at the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things.”

— Henry David Thoreau


Probably following the arc of expanding power in many zero-to-hero role-playing systems, most GMs have said the scope of their adventuring world grows as a campaign continues. This is commonly called ‘bottom-up’ design, where you start small and build up as the players explore further and expand their knowledge.

This is probably the most time-effective way to go about it. There’s only limited value in detailing the lands and cultures of the reptilian swamp satraps when the players’ immediately set off for the mountains. This also lets you react to your player’s individual interests and gives them input into the shape and color of the world.

Village Idiom

July 21, 2016 at 10:58 pm

“Civilization is a race between disaster and education.”

— H.G. Wells

villageFollowing the conversations across Facebook and the web, it seems that those who don’t carve out complete continents and ages of history before they unleash players into their creations like to keep it small. So let’s do that.

The idea here is to create a ‘starting point’.  Like a player who comes to a first session with a fully fleshed out backstory featuring years of adventures, great deeds, and tragic mishaps; you don’t want to create a starting village that is already at the end of its story. You want just enough to fire the players’ curiosity and encourage them to explore further.

Land ho!

July 14, 2016 at 5:02 pm

“Maps codify the miracle of existence.”

― Nicholas Crane

compassAlright world-builders, lets get to work. We’re looking to put together a fantasy setting with a bronze age feel built from the shell of a titanic primal turtle’s shell. And we’re gonna need a map.

How do we go about it? Old school gamers have a real fondness the paper and pencil approach, but there are a number of online generators who can create randomized maps based on your input. There also many repositories of maps online for you to use and customized to your needs. Regardless of your artistic abilities or technical aptitude, your fantasy world map is not far away.

Sparking a Big Bang

July 8, 2016 at 10:00 am

“Since the dawn of man” is really not that long,
As every galaxy was formed in less time than it takes to sing this song.

— ‘Big Bang Theory’ theme

Why do it at all?

81148f0fea9fe357242f9af3081a4c3fStarting with a creation myth is by no stretch the only (or even the best) way to start word-building. It is the toppiest of top-down design design approaches. However, I think it has some advantages.

First, I think its a good way to set the tone and major themes of a campaign. If your major conflicts are between good and evil, you can set them up from the very beginning. If you want a more nuanced political situation, you can bake it in to the universe.

Second, it helps justify the choices you’ve made in world-building. If magic works a certain way, it can be reflected in the very makeup of the universe. Want dwarves to hate elves? Have the gods give the surface to the elves and depths below to the dwarves and let conflict ensue. Also, its a great backdrop element to drop in plot clues and campaign goals. What if the garden of Eden was real, and the tree of life still bore fruit? Wouldn’t intrepid adventurers want to take a bite?

So call it cleverness or conceit, but that is where I am starting.

To recap, we are building a fantasy campaign for The Fantasy Trip rules. It is a roughly bronze/iron age environment with no connection to our historical Earth. Our civilizations are relatively young, as the world has recently faced some kind of cataclysm destroying all the previous societies and structures (but leaving behind tantalizing treasures and profound mysteries).

System Informs Setting

June 29, 2016 at 9:19 pm

“A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.”

― Sidney Sheldon


blankscrollOur readers are looking for a game that is easy-to-run, but we don’t want to throw away good crunch just for simplicity.

So now we start moving from theory into practice. We’ve chosen a game system (Metagaming’s The Fantasy Trip), but what does that tell us about the world? TFT is a very simple system with only three character attributes and only two classes. It grew out of a pocket game of gladiator combat, so it has a fairly detailed combat system, and the magic system is pretty direct.

Getting to the Nuts and Bolts

June 24, 2016 at 11:08 pm

“The medium is the message”

— Marshal MacLuhan

28528-nav_backstaffOur polling samples show that most of us like to build from scratch, so lets do that. There is a world of inspirations, so why be limited to a specific backdrop borrowed from somewhere else.

One other major determination that needs to be made before you sit down to create an RPG world is the system you will be using.  Some systems nearly require a set world, while others claim to be universal — allowing you to play in an any and all environments with the same rules.

Preparing for Launch

June 21, 2016 at 3:56 pm

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

― Abraham Lincoln

booksIts been widely reported that a world can be created in less than a week, but my experience has always been that it takes much longer. I might even go as far as to say that it doesn’t end until the last player leaves the table, and the last Cheet-oh is swept off the floor.

As the “world” includes everything that is not a player character, its a hefty load to bear. Luckily for us, at any moment all a PC needs to know what is in their immediate vicinity. The rest can be filled in when needed.

In the Beginning

May 19, 2016 at 8:11 pm

“If we don’t play God, who will?”

— James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA

planet182I suppose it only makes sense to start this out with a statement of purpose: I intend (with the help of collaborators and blog readers) to explore the process of RPG world creation and development in an effort to share inspiration and collectively gain a better understanding of how it works. And hopefully end up with a game work that can be used and across the digital void.

But why would anyone want to do that?

A quick internet search will reveal a huge number of fully fleshed out settings for a wide array of genres and systems. Why not choose one of those, and get the advantage of the work of team of developers, or respected novelists, or squads of movie and TV writers? That’s a darn good question, but who wants to read about how I bought the ‘Forgotten Realms’ box set and sat down to play.