While some people engage in worldbuilding as an end to itself, most of the time when we’re coming up with a new setting we’re doing so for a particular purpose. We might need a setting for a game that we’re designing, or we might be writing a book. The process in both cases is similar.
Decide your worldbuilding parameters
If you’re reading this blog post, chances are that you’re at least open to the idea of approaching your design considerations consciously. The first step is to be aware of what it is you’re doing. You don’t need to decide all of it now, but the more you can lay out early, the more guidance you’ve given yourself along the way.
For this worked example, we’re going to be expanding on the setting presented in the Ibu: The Emerald Canopy campaign. The world presented in the book sketches out the “old world” the explorers come from in only vague detail, so it doesn’t provide us with much structure.
So we brainstorm to give ourselves some more guidance. What is it we want to do?
What Kind of Stories do you want to tell?
This is really the key question that will guide every other worldbuilding element we define. If you’re writing a book then your setting has to enable the story you’re using it to tell, and the more specifically it does so, the tighter your story will be.
The same applies to gaming. What kind of adventures are your characters going to have? This does cross over into campaign design a little, and most settings allow for a wide variety of campaign types, but again, the more tightly we can define what we’re going to be using the setting for, the better.
In our case, we’re going to be using this world to play Dungeons and Dragons. No, step back… for the purposes of this series of posts we’re going to approach things in a system agnostic fashion. So we’re going to run fantasy role playing game scenarios in this setting, whatever ruleset we decide upon.
But what does that mean? In practice, not a lot, because you can still run almost any kind of game in any kind of setting. So we need to drill our definition down.
We’re going to be running typical fantasy role playing game adventures. And what is the typical adventure?
A group of Adventurers mounts an expedition into a dangerous place (a dungeon) to defeat whatever monsters dwell there and recover the treasure that lies within.
Yeah, you can do a lot more in a typical FRPG game and we probably will, but that’s a strong enough essence for this specific world. But let’s go one further; we’re going to create a world where that story seed is not only possible, but it makes sense. Maybe it’s inevitable.
This sparks a second worldbuilding idea: we’re going to examine some typical FRPG tropes and mechanic quirks and expand upon them until they make perfect sense in context.
- Alignment: Morality is objective, and a potent spiritual force. Evil exists. Good exists.
- Gods: Priests can literally perform miracles, and do so with a frequency that makes them nearly mundane. This is proof that the gods are real.
- Languages: There is a common tongue that everybody speaks, somehow.
- Dungeons: Places of terrible danger are scattered about the landscape, within a few days travel of major settlements.
- Adventurers: There are wandering individuals of great personal power who are individually more formidable than armies and are not part of the established social order.
- Monsters: Creatures more than capable of wiping out entire towns wander the wilderness with such frequency that you’re practically guaranteed to blunder into one every few days.
- Vaguely European. Maybe with a vague Asian state nearby. Something that’s sort of Egyptian or Persian. Very Feual.
- Multiple sentient species. In fact, a lot of sentient species, some of which are seen as savage and others accepted as civilized. Human dominated areas are cosmopolitan, those of other species are less so. Nonhumans may even be monocultural, with one language, one country, one set of cultural attitudes.
That gives us some starting points. As we delve deeper into our worldbuilding we’ll reject some of these assumptions, and draw others out to investigate the implications of our assumptions.
What’s in a Name?
You should name your projects. Eventually. If it’s a personal project for you and your group, the name can be whatever makes sense. If you’re planning to write a book or publish a campaign setting, there are more considerations.
When writing this post I’d considered using the name Heroic Expeditions because then I could use the product code HEX to subtly tie it in to my Hexbox series. Unfortuantely there’s an old out of print Judge’s Guild supplement called Heroic Expeditions, and without even getting into IP issues and marketing, we’re going to want to be the top google result whenever anyone looks for our project.
So we’re going to tweak it slightly and go with Heroic Explorations. Still gives us that HEX so it’s good enough for me.