Help:GM Workshop/World Building/The Art of World Building

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A Brief Introduction to World Building

Hello, folks. I'm going to try and give some insight into the cool concept of building a world. I have a few years of experience as a DM, and I have worked on "creating worlds" even before I started playing roleplaying games, so I can say I have some experience in it. Nothing I say here is a rule, though; others may have different experiences, and what works for me may not work for you. However, I'll try to give any advice I can.

Worldbuilding is a very interesting concept. It was one of the prime things that got me into DMing; the sheer novelty of building a world, with places, people, kingdoms and events created by me was overhelming. However, building a world from scratch takes a lot of hard work and time. But it pays off in the end. A world that you can call your own, and run you game (or games) in, is priceless. It doesn't need to be the biggest game world out there, or one with a complex cosmology, or one with intricate political struggles; it only needs to be fun for your players, and more importantly, to you. The world is yours, after all, and all that matters is you being satisfied with it. However, worldbuilding is not easy. This is why I'm going to try and help you guys with this article, by giving out some simple advice.

Basic Concepts

Have Clear Objectives

First, you need to set what is the scope of your worldbuilding. Are you creating a kingdom to run an adventure in? Do you need a whole continent, full of kingdoms and countries, to span a whole campaign? Do you want to make a persistent world, to run more than one campaign? Along these questions, there are others you want to ask, like how much "standart" stuff you will use (for example, if worldbuilding for Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, will you use the core pantheon of gods? Or will you create your own as well?), or how much detail you want to put on the world you're going to create. It is very important to have your objectives laid out clearly. If you're only going to need a small piece of land to run an adventure, creating a whole continent is unnecessary work, and if you want to run a full campaign, creating only a small fiefdom will not cut it, unless for very specific campaigns.

Be Organized

No matter the actual size of your world building, if you are not organized about it, you'll soon feel overwhelmed. Surely, some people can go along fine without being organized, but it really speeds things up and allows for a more fluid creation if you organize yourself by writing down what you have already created, separating everything into groups (like, every kingdom already created in a "Kingdons" folder, be it on the computer or a separate folder for your notes). It is also important to mark a file's most important informations in a visible place. This way, everytime you create something new, you can quickly assess what already exists with just a few glances.

Inspiration and Preparation

It's necessary to have inspiration, and to have a clear picture of what you want to create, before going on. When I work on worldbuilding, I go along as I create, having more ideas as I finish parts of the world, but it is strictly necessary to have the mood of the world and at least some basic concepts in mind before starting, else you will soon find yourself creating contradictions or without a clear path to follow with your criativity. For example, while you don't need to have anything settled before starting, it's good to have an idea of how many countries there will be, who will be the major NPCs of the world, and if the setting goes more towards political intrigue type of games or hack-and-slash, for example. This will guide you on expanding your NPCs, organizations and places later on. For example, if it is going to be for mostly hack-and-slash games, you know you'll need to have plenty of dungeons and threats for the players to face. If it's going to be a political intrigue, you know you'll have to create distinct noble houses for each country, each with developed NPCs, intentions and secrets.

Getting the Work Done

Now that you have your objectives laid out, your place to store the information created organized, and the basic mood for the world set out, it's time to actually get down to work on your world. This is pretty much an individual job, since the world is ultimately yours and it will be created the way you want, but I will point out some things that are important to remember when creating your world.

Work from Top to Botom

Some people prefer to work from bottom to top, which means, for example, to first create a city, then move onto creating the kingdom, then fleshing out it's location, etc. I, for once, think it's much easier to work the other way around. First, flesh out the piece of land you want to, be it a continent, a kingdom, a chain of islands, whatever (If you're not going to use the base of a published setting, you need to flesh out the cosmology, the gods and such before,). Get the geography done. Then, move onto creating the kingdoms and countries. Then, mark the most important regions, so on and so forth. This way, if you have the general picture already made, when you get to the specifics, everything will neatly and automatically fall in place, and your world will have an organic and believable feel to it.

Keep it Original

Don't copy other people's work. Of course, you can use other's ideas, and even use something another already used, but don't make a carbon copy of another setting. If your world is just like Eberron, for example, why not just play Eberron in the first place? If it is just Forgotten Realms with another name, then it's better to keep to the original. As long as your world has something original in it, there will be appeal to it, and playing in it will be fun and memorable. If it's just like every other game world, however, then it will be only yet another game world.

Keep things Simple

You don't need to have everything defined from the get-go. Take your time as you create your world. As an example, you don't need to have the whole nobility and aristrocracy of a kingdom defined as you create it; go slowly. Create first the ruler, and maybe his family. Then, as time passes, work on the kingdom. Create one or other influential noble. A family of wealhty merchants. Before you realize, you will have done a lot already, but since it will be a spread out work, it will not be a burden to you.

Don't lose Focus

Sometimes, when you start to create a world, it's easy to be mesmerized and to want to enlarge and expand things, going beyond the objectives first settled by yourself. Avoid this at all costs. Organization is everything. You need to keep by your objectives. If you build more than what you need, it will only be unnecessary work, and you might even end up depressed in the end, if a great deal of things you created end up not being used. So, focus on your objectives, and don't stray from them. They have to guide the whole creation process, so that the final result is exactly what you needed in the first place.

Final Considerations

Never give up, and constantly work on your world. This way, you'll soon have a wonderful place to run your games ready. It can be tiresome some times, and other times you may feel like your work is all crap or that you don't have the inspiration to carry on. However, this is normal. As long as you endure, you'll finish your worldbuilding. (:

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post here. I'd also like to hear critics, both from new DMs and the veterans who also use this Workshop. There's always something new to learn, after all, and seeing other's view points is the best way to increase your own knowledge.

This is only basic advice on worldbuilding, especially since the subject is something so especific that it is hard to have general advice that applies to every worldbuilding. However, I will be here around to answer questions to the best of my ability, and I may also, in the future, work on making a commented worldbuilding, as I build a sample world here and make observations and notes about each step of the process. This would have to wait, though, since I don't have much time on my hands at the moment.