Friday, July 18, 2008

World Building

World Building has always been an interesting topic to me. I enjoyed Lord of the Rings for the story on some level, but the real value to me was this false world that was created. You knew, academically, that the time period/world described therein wasn't "real", in the sense of having actually existed, but it felt real. It was fleshed out enough that national relations made sense, people remembered legends without waxing pedantic about them. There were things that happened that arguably didn't relate to what the PCs were doing. The hobbits met Tom Bombadil, for instance. He existed, he seemed to be something strange and nigh-godlike, in a forest-spirit sorta way, but he didn't advance their quest. He was just there.

Campaign settings are similar as well, though with less flair. Too crunchy, and even aside from that, the plotlines are largely DM-spawned. It's rare that a DM can really form a plot, at least in my group, which doesn't either get completely destroyed by the chaotic-stupid PCs, or just doesn't have the kind of life that the campaign setting itself deserves.

Since this blog is largely an attempt to improve my DMing and playing via talking about it at length, in sort of a Rogerian style, I believe I will start a series of articles on world building, as I attempt to create a compelling setting for my next campaign.

My setting generally tend towards high-magic and all kinds of cross-planar invasions and dealings. Last time, I tried to shy away from that and make a more traditional, mundane sort of environment. Magic wasn't unknowable, by any stretch, but the party was mostly kept relatively poor compared to equivalent level for the DMG, and magic weapons were less liberally sprinkled. This worked for a while and kept the chaotic-stupid at bay. That is, until an earth elemental killed the party monk and he rerolled wizard. More on that in another post.

However, I think with this world, I will go for broke and make it a completely fantasy-based setting. Realism has it's place, and it's not in a game where the Gods grant spells on a whim and wizards fling fireballs after escaping goblins.

That is not to say that I'm throwing out simulationism, just any semblance of historical fantasy.

The "Points of Light" idea in 4e interests me in a sense. I like the idea of civilization having not spread over the lands, with huge tracts of what amounts to unexplored wilderness between them. Maybe it doesn't make sense on all levels, but that's what DM bluffing is for.

So, "Points of Light". But like I said, take that and make it high magic, fantastic, and extra adventurous. Instead of "light" in this case meaning effectively "Civilization", we'll make "light" mean "light". Millenia ago, there was some catastrophe, probably the cliché of too much power in the wrong hands, and the then-civilized world fell. The magocracy collapsed, cities fell into ruin, and a black pall spread over the land. It's not important to come up with all the details at the moment, but a thick black cloud spread across the sky and blocked the sun, shrouding most of the world in permanent night. A few wizards of astounding power managed to create safe havens. One such safe haven is where the players start.

These havens are protected by some means from the evil monsters and darkness outside, and the cloud doesn't cover them, allowing life to continue. I think this world has in the realm of perhaps a million total non-savage sapients.

I like the name "Nightlands" for the blighted lands outside the walls. Since we are going with such an on-the-nose naming scheme, we'll have the players start in the haven of "Lumina".

So to get to the setting I'm creating, I've heard that it's best to have a single line or two that defines the world. I'm having some trouble casting that into a single line, but let's see...

"A darkened, forsaken world struggles to restore itself to the light."

More on this setting later.


DocBadwrench said...

This is great - I've just caught up on a bunch of your posts. I am also an impassioned worldbuilder and am looking forward to exploring some of the issues you bring up.

Since you seem interested in giving life to the world you create, I would highly recommend skimming through the ideas of Strauss and Howe - they posit that generations have a certain predictable rhythm that affects civilization.

A good summary is here:

Now, whether you subscribe to the idea is hardly important - it's proven very useful to me, as a DM, in being able to craft quick-n-dirty generational attitudes among NPC's.

Heck, I even whipped up a plausible (though sparse) timeline for my campaign so that I can not only give a sense of place, but a sense of the changing character of its inhabitants, if you will.

Great stuff - very stimulating - I never leave comments like this to found-blogs. :)

David said...

I just noticed your comment, despite it being a few days old. Thanks for the link, it looks like interesting stuff, and I'll take a better look at it once I'm away from work for a bit.

The generational attitudes you mentioned are an interesting addition. I generally tend to picture D&D-era life as more homogeneous with regards to social structure, since freedom of speech was hardly guaranteed back then. However, it's reasonable to assume that the older generations would be more hard-set on tradition, while the younger folk, particularly during particularly rebellious times of life, would be less likely to require the party stick to tradition. For that matter, if the law views juvenile crime with a sort of "Boys will be boys" mentality, kids might be hired to swipe money from PCs, since the PCs can hardly kill one in retaliation.

I'm rambling again. Anyway, thanks for the link, and I'll give it some thought.

DocBadwrench said...

I'm running a campaign for my family and I'm trying to illustrate some of these concepts mainly out of coolness factor as well as educating my son about "the why" of things changing in modern life.

You are quite right though, by ordinary fantasy standards, things are largely unchanging for the people at large. The authors of the material, however, argue that something like this has actually happened, in a less regular form, even in ancient times. However, the cycle was not self perpetuating.

I just posted my application of the concept to my own blog ( Feel free to check it out or ignore it as you see fit.

I love your blog, by the way. You give a lot of attention to fleshing out underlying details with more authenticity than is usual.

Now *I* am rambling, so I'll shut up.