World Building

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For most Dungeon Masters, the creation of a world is the pinnacle of our imagination coming to life.  Stories yet to be told and adventures that are all waiting for players to jump in and explore the complex plots you have spent untold hours preparing maps and notes for.

You’ve spent every bit of spare time bringing your inner creative genius to the table.  You set the stage for your heroic patrons to finally have a seat at the table and part take in your final design.

Here is where a lot Dungeon Master make their first mistake.  There is nothing wrong with the world you have spent your valuable time creating.  The political backgrounds and intricate NPC’s you have dreamt of, or the vast unexplored temples and long forgotten ruins they have yet to be explored are not a problem. It’s your players that become an issue.

Not all players are going to enjoy your newly created mega world.

As you can imagine, every player is unique and each one of them needs something very different from the person sitting beside them.   Their dream character they also spent time crafting may not match your new campaign world.  Your world ends before it really gets started.

To resolve the great disappointment you might face I can offer couple of quick tips.

World Building Session Zero

Before you start penning your ideas, sit with your players.  You can do this either as a group or one on one.  I suggest a little of both.  Communicating one on one with each player is my preferred method before bring them together as group.  This way each players can express without influence their own thoughts and ideas.

This session zero idea lets players tell you what they like and don’t like.  Some like horror adventures fill with villains from the underworld while some may like cities to explore.  Perhaps one of your players secretly loves roaming the high seas as his swashbuckling rogue swings from mast to mast battling pirates and sea monsters.

Getting player feedback is one of the most important resources a good dungeon master has.   Finding out what they like and dislike helps you prepare a world filled with player stories.   Make notes and do your best to remember to appeal to each of them.  You are just a facilitator and players are the real story.

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Once you have collected all this information from your players you are now ready to begin creating.

Start Small

You have sat with your players and gotten some valuable feedback.  It’s time to get started on the world you wish to design. It becomes a jigsaw puzzle of different lands and cites mixed in with numerous places to explore and become lost in.   Mystical ruins and coastal cites spring up over a large map.   You have placed dwarf strong holds and Elven tree towns next to the lands of orc and goblin warlords.  Skeleton pirates roam the seas and high kings do what they can to keep the peace while political infighting threatens the very fabric of each kingdom.  Your map begins to become its own monster.

This was also my first mistake.  Where do the players start?  After a year of gaming once a week the players never really stepped out of the area they had started in.  I was left with 80% of a binder full of notes that will never be used.  All the wasted time could have been spent polishing the areas that the players actually started in.

Don’t scratch out that large map you made but at the same time start small.  Polish the starting area.  I mean really polish it.  Add in those important and reoccurring NPC’s and detail the area.   If you leave the rest of the areas mostly open you have areas to adjust to suit the players, and mold it into what they need.

Those character they spent time creating are the stars of the show.

Review those notes from your players and study what they have enjoyed often.  Make a world that will last so the stories told will last decades.

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Happy players are your best reward.  Forget that +1 sword, give them what they truly want.

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2 thoughts on “World Building

  1. I definitely agree with the starting small approach. I was disappointed more than once when players completely disregarded several well-thought-out dungeons and communities that had taken me literally hours to design. Now I generally run things loosely with weak ‘connections’ between locations and major plots, so if folks don’t trigger an exact sequence, I can still plop a pre-made scenario etc. right in place in a way that fits with where the players are currently at. In my newest campaign, a steampunk-ish world, I’m working mostly on these ‘loose connections’ and faction/agendas that are very amorphous and open. I

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  2. I love the steampunk worlds. Jeff VanderMeer wrote a Steampunk bible that was a great resource plus his other books. But my players at the time didn’t like that world. I literately have a small binder of stuff that I have never used. That was the point that made me start asking player questions before worked on anything.

    Thanks for the feedback Jesse

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