Characters first or World first?

Brown Jenkin

First Post
Our group is looking at starting a secondary campaign to give our DM an short sabbatical and a chance to play. The person running the campaign is an experienced DM but is just joining our group and does not show up for our current campaign. He knows several of the players already, but not all. He has asked the players to design our characters backgrounds first and then submit them so that he can build the world around the backgrounds. I normally can write several pages of background but this has proven difficult this time around. The problem I keep running into is that I normally try to attach my character to the world somehow but without a world I don't know what to do. Right now the campaign is in stall mode as I am not the only one having this problem and the DM is complaining because no-one is submitting anything.

We as players could get together and decide amongst ourselves what the world will be and present it to the DM. I am nervous about this option though because I don't want the DM running a world he is not comfortable with. At the same time all of us are worried about designing characters for a world we know nothing about.

Has anyone else tried doing world building this way and was it successful?
 

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Mathew_Freeman

First Post
I've not tried it personally, but I can see that it might seem a little intimidating.

I think, however, your DM in this case has a right to be a little aggrieved. He's made his request quite clearly, and no-one is responding to it. I would suggest emailing or talking to him saying that you're all having trouble adapting to this idea, and asking for a few small plot hooks.

I guess you're worried about the kind of problem where you get characters that you can't see how to fit together. Let him worry about that - after all, it's a secondary campaign so you might have to jump through some mental hoops to get the party together.

Have a try at breaking the ice and just getting something down. You can always ask the DM to revise it with you once he's got the first round of ideas in. If he shares some info on all the characters, gives some idea of where he sees the campaign going, and then asks you all to revise them a little in particular directions, I'm sure it'll work out.
 

BlackMoria

First Post
It can work. The DM is giving you a blank palette to make your characters backgrounds and he will fill in the rest.

In your character background, you can say your character is the unacknowledged bastard son of Duke Wingding, the local lord of Medina province and that you live in Windingoham, a small town bordering on the often mysterious Durthfang Wood, a place rumoured to be the home of mysterious and dangerous fey creatures. Etc, Etc, Etc.

Based on this information, the DM most likely will know he needs to have a Duke Wingding, flesh out Medina province and the rest of the provinces of the kingdom, who the king is, etc. etc. He will need to create Windingoham and create NPCs, business, etc. He will flesh out Durthfang Wood and make it mysterious and put in the dangerous fey. Then he will work outward from there as required for the campaign.

Not the conventional way of campaign building but I have seen it done before and it can work, provided the players discuss their character backgrounds with each other so that they are not all over the map or contradict each other.
 

Tigerbunny

First Post
I generally like to do something like this, although not quite as radical as "players, make your PCs separately, and I'll make sense out of them and build my game plan around that."

Usually I'll pitch a "franchise" or high concept for the game "big half-ruined city, full of mistrustful factions, you'll be a group of 'community organizers' trying to clean up the worst parts of it, bring peace between factions, and generally make things better - as for flavor, think The Wire meets Angel with some gonzo Final Fantasy-style crap thrown in". Then we'll all come to the character-making session with some half-formed concepts in mind and collectively bash together characters. Out of that process, I'll know a lot more about the setting and situation by looking at what the players thought was interesting, and I'll go from there as I build adventures and setting elements in play.

I like my games to feel like ensemble drama, so it's really important that characters all be tied into each other and the setting/situation from day one.
 

Engilbrand

First Post
Create your characters together so that one isn't from a frozen tundra while another is from a desert. I would recommend that they all come from the same area and you each include some things that overlap. One is the bastard son of the duke, another believes that the duke unjustly imprisoned his father.
The thing is, you don't need a world to be creative. You just need an imagination. This is a little like how my campaign is going. I spent a few minutes preparing at the very beginning just to give them a little background, and I let them go from there. Other than that, though, while the overall idea is in my head, nearly everything about it happens spontaneously through the actions of the characters and the ideas of the players. I literally do not write down anything before the game starts. I've only had one time where I created a villain during a 10 minute break. I'll have another one or two of those. They have different villains to hunt down. They went in a different direction than I thought last time, so I now know that I'm going to need my "water" villain in the near future.
Basically, use this as a way to create the surrounding area. If you want it to be a high magic area under an enchantment, then really put that stuff into your backgrounds. You're lucky. I like that way of doing it better than, "You're all from the village Lame. You're a bunch of nobodies sitting around being nobodies when the fate of the world rests on you, rather than all of the awesome things that you see around you that you aren't a part of."
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Yes, I have (not for D&D, but for other games), and it came out just fine.

The main problem I found was that giving people a really open field, where they can create anything they might want, leads to a form of "option paralysis". In my experience, having some amount of structure or framework on which to hang your ideas is a good thing.
 

The Ghost

First Post
Has anyone else tried doing world building this way and was it successful?

Yes, and yes. The good thing about building a game like this is that it lets the DM know where you want to go and what you are interested in. He can then build a world that contains those elements. Hopefully, resulting in an experience you all can enjoy. The downside, of course, is the ideas paralysis that you are facing.

That said...

The best ways that I have found to get by is to just write down a few words and think about them. What connects them. What makes them relevant to you.

For example, take the words Dwarf, Camp Fire, Warhammer, Drow, Saint Cuthbert, King, Plains. How do these fit together? Maybe when your character was younger he would sit around the camp fire listening to tales about a great dwarven king who weilded a mighty warhammer. At the battle of Eklemster Plains the great king fell. His prized warhammer lost. Recently it was descovered that the warhammer has fallen into the hands of the drow. A cleric of Saint Cuthbert has asked you to seek out the warhammer and return it to its rightful heir.

Why is this relevant to you? Maybe as a child you were the small one but had a big heart. You knew that you could be just like that dwarven king if only you had the chance. Now, many years latter, you are being offered that chance.

Pretty simple, eh? Now the DM can look at that and say who was this Dwarven king? I can build around that. Who are these drow? I can build around that. Who is the dwarven heir? I can build around that.

Just get something on paper, no matter how strange it looks. Hopefully, that helps you. :)
 

Engilbrand

First Post
What?! Typical English class brainstorming ideas?! Shenanigans!
Actually, I really like that idea and I'll probably use it in the future for character creation. I might use it in one of my Englisch classes, too.

Random bit of funny: Firefox recognizes shenanigans as a normal word that is spelled correctly. HA!
 

S'mon

Legend
The least the GM needs to do is present a general theme for you to build around. Does he want Middle Earth, Hyborea, the Young Kingdoms, or Dying Earth? A complete blank slate isn't workable IMO. Get him to provide *something* - even a couple of sentences.
 

Drammattex

First Post
I would get together with the group and DM (or compose an e-mail, though meeting in person is far better so that nothing gets misconstrued electronically), and ask each person, including the DM, very generally what kind of game (or character) they're interested in playing right NOW. It's as important for the players to know what the DM wants as it is for the DM to know the players' inclinations.

It's also very difficult to create from nothing. It's like telling an improvisor "Okay, be funny. Now." Or telling a writer "Write a novel about something."

I'd be curious to hear the DM's general preferences for elements he'd like to introduce in the game. That way, you could still define the world by your characters, but you'd at least have a direction. To some degree (usually a great degree), my players' characters build the world around them. But I begin by telling them the general elements, i.e. "This is a world where magic is rare--think very medieval--and you're going to be playing common sorts of people. Plague is common, death in childbirth is common, there are no gods..." or else "I want to do a lot with chivalry in this campaign. So think knighthoods, nobles, warring castles... find a character who would live in that world." This way, your DM has you develop the world, but you at least have a consistent direction to develop it in.
 

Fallen Seraph

First Post
I do a bit of both, I give the players some options on a very, very loose concept for a world. The players go off and make their characters, then I craft it to suit the players.

For example, say a character makes a Eladrin character, but originally I wasn't planning on having Eladrin. I reshape the world to have this Eladrin character make sense. We usually have a second meet-up so can say more of the world/just a bit more how they would integrate their characters. So this Eladrin player for example I would tell him what Eladrin culture is like in this world.
 

GlaziusF

First Post
We as players could get together and decide amongst ourselves what the world will be and present it to the DM. I am nervous about this option though because I don't want the DM running a world he is not comfortable with. At the same time all of us are worried about designing characters for a world we know nothing about.

Best-case scenario: he's comfortable and you go through with characters already bashed together.

Worst-case scenario: he says "sorry, guys, I can't work with this" and then you can use NINJA INFORMATION GATHERING (seemingly indistinguishable from normal conversation but ninjas are sneaky like that) to pry out the things he wants to work with, then revamp.

Middlin'-case scenario: he has trouble working around a couple of points that aren't too important to your story and that you agree to change.

I say, just go for it.
 
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Walknot

First Post
Our ... DM ... has asked the players to design our characters backgrounds first and then submit them so that he can build the world around the backgrounds.

Right now the campaign is in stall mode as I am not the only one having this problem and the DM is complaining because no-one is submitting anything.

I am nervous about this option though because I don't want the DM running a world he is not comfortable with.

You can let loose and really go for it! Sounds like this DM is very flexible and carrying a large imagination. Suppose you make up a background as a flying man/bird from a cloud city, come to the mundane valley on a quest to save your people from a space menace, by locating a time portal.

Might as well give the DM a challenge? She can always tone you back with some of those guidelines, tho you might be suprised and end up playing a trans-temporal game.
 

Brown Jenkin

First Post
The least the GM needs to do is present a general theme for you to build around. Does he want Middle Earth, Hyborea, the Young Kingdoms, or Dying Earth? A complete blank slate isn't workable IMO. Get him to provide *something* - even a couple of sentences.

This is what we have been trying to push for and I could work with.

We are gaming again tonight (just the players, not the new DM) and I am sure we will discuss this more then.
 

apoptosis

First Post
My players generally love this. They can create the countries, areas, customs etc. It really makes them interested in teh world as they helped build it.

My problem is getting them to stop
 

justanobody

Banned
Banned
As a DM I prefer character backgrounds fromt he player first. They may know they are playing in a world that has X regions, but are asked to think in terms of a certain landscape and climate. From that I design the world around what they give to see what I can throw in of their backgrounds for later. Too many game I have seen that have people going all over the world, but the PCs never run across any of their homelands during the game. That sems very odd to me.

So having the backgrounds before fleshing out the world, give me the chance to include their hometowns in appropriate places.

If the players just picked a city to be from or a village they used to live in, then it would tend to offer possible knowledge that the story would not always want them to have.

If the player always lived in Waterdep, or Solamnia then they may have more knowledge of it than the story needs and not offer anything for the other player when they come to that major city.

So having the player backgrounds first, give the chance for adventure there, and allows the other player to not be shadowed by another PC when they arrive at a big place to explore, and one PC already knows much about the area and such.

1-Bit of the world.
2-Player backgrounds
3-Rest of the world is developed.
 

Serendipity

Explorer
When starting up a new campaign in my homebrew, I tend to tinker with the setting a bit depending on what the players want - obviously if the campaign setting doesn't resonate with them, why bother using it.
When I play I need world background stuff too, so I understand the problem.
(Not that any of the above helps....)
 

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