Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Creating Worlds

As a DM, one of my biggest problems has always been creating interesting environments for players to have their adventures in. Sometimes I spend way too much time detailing a setting, only to have players fast-forward through all my hard work, and sometimes I go with a bare-bones approach and get bitten when players suddenly want to know what happened to an innkeeper's nephew I made the mistake of mentioning. It's really a balance to try and find out what the players will and won't enjoy.

A while back, once I finally realized this, I wondered if there wasn't something else I could do. Granted, I could use pre-made settings; there are some very cool ones out there, many of them much better than what I could come up with on my own. But I realized that, when it all came down to it, I was generally the only one who had any input into the creation of a campaign setting, and that this might be the reason why I was having so much trouble engaging my players.

So, I looked into collaborative worldbuilding. At its most basic, this is where you essentially allow the players to come up with large portions of the setting - most often, where their PCs come from and where they end up going. This can be a bit chaotic, because you will have a number of people all trying to fit different things into a setting, sometimes in ways that will be highly incompatible. So there are easy ways to direct this. First, tell the players what kind of feeling you are going for with the setting; a nation of carefree, rainbow-worshipping hippy elves wouldn't work very well in a setting of grim horror. Second, establish a level of technology; this will be the highest anyone can have their group/nation/whatever's technology advance to. This avoids things like the laser-blaster-wielding mercenary in a low medieval setting, which would get messy. Decide whether the world will have one or two main groups of deities, or whether they will have separate pantheons by culture. Encourage your players to not put things like frost-bitten tundra next to searing deserts, things like that.

There are a couple of places that would be good resources for something like this. The first is a series of questions about world-building by fantasy author Patricia Wrede; as the page itself notes, not all the questions have to be answered, as they are mainly there to provoke interesting ideas and try and get people to think in the same frame of thought.

Second, and possibly the more fun of the two links I have, is to something of a game in itself called Dawn of Worlds. Essentially, the players of the game get to take turns slowly building a world, each getting a certain number of points on each turn that can be spent on things like shaping the land, altering climate, creating a race, causing catastrophes, and commanding avatars, as the players essentially end up playing as gods. As I said, this can be a game in and of itself, and groups may want to devise some rules about how turns are handled so one player's precious forests are not then inhabited cruelly by the next player's evil serpent-men. It can make for some interesting worlds, and whoever is DMing the game may want to stop when they feel the world has been developed enough.

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