D&D General Does a campaign world need to exist beyond what the characters interact with?

Mercurius

Legend
....but unless those rules and truths are needed by the characters, they are not set in stone.
This is key. I do a lot of world building beyond what the PCs will every encounter because A) I love world-building, and B) because a deeper setting usually facilitates a better campaign and more immersion (i.e. it avoids the feeling of "cardboard town buildings" ala old Westerns).

But...even then, if the PCs haven't interacted with it, nothing is set in stone. I will make adjustments that serve the Prime Directive of any campaign: to maximize enjoyment for the group as a whole (including the DM).
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Let's try this again... :)
In a lot of discussions on campaign settings or various facets of.D&D "lore" (cough, Halflings, cough), I see folks focusing a lot on the logical or illogical rules of a fantasy world. How could Halflings societies thrive if they don't interact with other cultures? How could the smithy be a dwarf without there existing large dwarven cities? How could the main city survive without extensive farmlands, and how are those farms not constantly raided by monsters?

I'm always surprised by these issues. I've come to realize it conflicts with a central theme of how I create my homebrew campaign rules:

No aspect of the setting exists if the characters are not interacting with it.

In my campaign settings, I create some very loose ideas about the themes and aspects of the world ("there are vampire tyrants" or "it's all one huge kingdom"). But any specifics are kept undefined unless the characters need them (or unless the players show interest). Though the campaign world looks fleshed out and immersive, behind the characters' backs it's all foggy and insubstantial.
I completely get this - it's an extension of the idea of leaving blank areas on the map to fill in later as required.

But, one thing I've I've learned (sometimes the hard way) is that the hazard with keeping things too foggy and insubstantial is that things in the game world influence other things, and prior knowledge of something's existence may have caused the PCs to have made different decisions in the past than what they did.

For example, at the start of my current campaign there was a big blank area in the map north of what was intended to be the primary adventuring area. Sure enough, before long the PCs went there, so a few towns etc. appeared on the map and that area has since become quite important in the ongoing campaign.

Fortunately, those towns etc. appeared early enough that it didn't matter; but were I to do this now I risk invalidating decisions made ages ago on the assumption there's nothing out that way.
Here's an example of what I mean:

In a recent campaign, one of the characters was a cleric of Arawan, god of death. I made sure Arawan had a presence in the campaign world, but I did not have any other firm truths about religion. (No player showed much interest in religion during character creation, so it didn't get detailed.) During one adventure, the characters came upon a huge turtle in a swamp. I'd decided this was the spirit form of an animal god once worshiped in the valley. The characters were really interested, so after that session I created a pantheon of animal gods. Some were still worshiped, some were forgotten, others were corrupted.

As the campaign went on, one of the players became really invested in these animal gods. He started theorizing that they weren't gods, just powerful beings who had tricked the people of the valley into worshiping them.

Well of course that became the truth!

These animal gods became a very important part of the campaign.
Pantheons are something I always want pretty much nailed down before play begins, in that (thinking meta-game here) if a player wants to run a Cleric it's only fair that said player know what all the options are, and the basics of what's involved with each, when looking to pick a deity to follow during roll-up.

It's only when play moves to a whole new part of the world that I get to dream up new deities for that area.
Meanwhile, other seeds I'd planted for interesting ideas were either ignored by the players, or not interacted with by the characters. I either shelved those ideas, or changed them so they'd come up later. For example, I had a slime-focused dungeon that I modified and leveled up three different times because the characters didn't choose to go into it in the first two locations. It went from a polluted coastal island to an abandoned swamp temple to an ancient alchemy lab. Once the characters explored the alchemy lab, those other potential dungeons ceased to exist.
Where I'd leave those other dungeons out there, waiting for some other group of adventurers - who may or may not be PCs or even have anything else to do with anything - to find and deal with. I mean, hey, you can never have too many dungeons in a setting, right? :)

Perhaps worth noting here that I never assume the PCs are the only adventurers in the setting, as such just doesn't make sense in a setting where adventurers need trainers and PCs might need replacing.
So what do you think? How do you run it? Is your campaign setting realized and existing even without character interaction? Or do you only detail what the characters are interested in?
Neither. I detail the areas and things and some people the characters might interact with, such that if-when they do it's ready to rock and I'm not making it all up on the fly. Further-away things are rough-sketched only, and further-away yet doesn't exist except as maybe the vaguest of ideas in my head.

So, using geography as an example, at the start of the current campaign I had an area well-mapped about the size of Washington-Oregon states combined; and an area less-well mapped that would cover, on Earth, roughly Baja up to the arctic circle N-S and Denver to the west coast E-W. Over time those maps have slowly expanded; the less-well-mapped area now goes way into the southern hemisphere and somewhat farther east and west (particularly north-west) than before, while more and more patches of well-mapped area are appearing as PCs and parties spend time there.

But I've still got well over 3/4 of the world's surface that has yet to be mapped. :)
 



BookTenTiger

He / Him
Thanks for the great posts everyone, this is a fun discussion to read. Some things I've noticed:

Campaign Settings that Outlive the Campaign: I've never had the same setting in two campaigns. Something I really enjoy is building a custom campaign setting that matches the themes of the characters. Because of this, every time we start a new campaign, it's in a new setting. On the other hand, if someone is running multiple campaigns in the same setting, there would definitely be things that exist without the characters interacting with them.

"Improvised" or Player-Serving Settings: There seems to be a misunderstanding that I run improvised settings, or settings that "serve" the players. I don't think this is true... I run settings that serve the characters and grant the players fun, interesting challenges! Usually what I'll do when the characters enter a new setting is that I'll create a list of "truths" about the place. I'll also ask the players for ideas of what might be there, or what they want to encounter ("I've always wanted to fight a beholder" or "we haven't encountered any magic item shops yet" for example). When the characters are exploring and investigating, I'll pull results from my list of truths, or create new truths based on ideas they have.

For example, if the characters are coming to a seaside port city, I might have truths including "ruled by a corrupt hedonistic baron" and "pirate merchants sell illicit goods" and "an abandoned island temple may house a pirate treasure hoard." As the characters talk to NPCs, investigate the city, and as the players ask me questions, I'll pull out stuff from the list. Whatever doesn't make it usually gets tied into the next setting.
 


Oofta

Legend
Thanks for the great posts everyone, this is a fun discussion to read. Some things I've noticed:

Campaign Settings that Outlive the Campaign: I've never had the same setting in two campaigns. Something I really enjoy is building a custom campaign setting that matches the themes of the characters. Because of this, every time we start a new campaign, it's in a new setting. On the other hand, if someone is running multiple campaigns in the same setting, there would definitely be things that exist without the characters interacting with them.

"Improvised" or Player-Serving Settings: There seems to be a misunderstanding that I run improvised settings, or settings that "serve" the players. I don't think this is true... I run settings that serve the characters and grant the players fun, interesting challenges! Usually what I'll do when the characters enter a new setting is that I'll create a list of "truths" about the place. I'll also ask the players for ideas of what might be there, or what they want to encounter ("I've always wanted to fight a beholder" or "we haven't encountered any magic item shops yet" for example). When the characters are exploring and investigating, I'll pull results from my list of truths, or create new truths based on ideas they have.

For example, if the characters are coming to a seaside port city, I might have truths including "ruled by a corrupt hedonistic baron" and "pirate merchants sell illicit goods" and "an abandoned island temple may house a pirate treasure hoard." As the characters talk to NPCs, investigate the city, and as the players ask me questions, I'll pull out stuff from the list. Whatever doesn't make it usually gets tied into the next setting.

I have a big world and centuries have passed since my very first campaign. If I want a different theme I just pick a different place and time to start it. So at times it could be in a semi-arid south overrun by hobgoblins and gnolls set on the edge of a mountains said to be created when Thor sent a demigod giant crashing to earth. The giant is not dead, just unconscious so bad things happen. Or it could be set in a major metropolitan area, the far north, mountain settlements barely controlled by the dwarves and humans or a string of islands ruled by sorcerer kings.

But at some point those PCs that started in the far north may hear of a new emperor in that semi-arid southern area or travel through those string of islands. Then there are the different realms (I don't use standard D&D cosmology) which are worlds all their own.

So I get it. I just don't have to create new settings in order to have different campaigns.
 


Micah Sweet

Legend
No, a campaign need only exist within the confines of the play at the table. Anything beyond that is DM fantasy. Which is OK, but not required.
See, that would be just much too "fake" feeling to me. I don't consider PCs (including the ones I play) so important the world needs to revolve around them.
 

See, that would be just much too "fake" feeling to me. I don't consider PCs (including the ones I play) so important the world needs to revolve around them.
Why would a player even know? Whether my DM has the whole world plotted out or not I have no idea as player. There is nothing fake to interacting with the world you know IMO.

If the DM has an island nation ruled by a dragon king on the opposite side of the world (that we will never interact with) - what is it to me? How is the more “real” to me.
 

pointofyou

Adventurer
"The confines of play at the table" will vary from one GM at one table to another GM at another table. The GM and the players and the game rules will all work to define those confines.
 


SkidAce

Legend
Supporter
both GIF
This is the way...
 

World building is a gift the GM gives himself. There is no need for a world to exist outside the player's perceptions, just like there doesn't have to be downtime between adventures or the need to explain why one week the adventure is underwater and the next is in the desert. In fact, in the early days it was never assumed that the players would be using the same characters from week to week.
 

cbwjm

Legend
I find the world feels a bit more alive knowing what's a bit further than the confines of the campaign area, adds some realism and I like finding out about the world. Currently in one campaign we are travelling around an island canpaign and one section is noted as the centre of an empire, we haven't been there in game, but my background was affected by it, we've interacted with agents from said empire, the politics of the free cities is influenced by it. I think it wouldn't have been as good if this empire didn't exist somewhere over the horizon.

That's not to say that everything on the world needs to be created and set up, but sometimes having outside forces that the PCs will (probably) never visit helps the campaign. For one shots, that's not so needed. Doesn't really matter what kingdom you're in if all you're doing is clearing a random dungeon in a session or 2.
 

Oofta

Legend
Now that i think about it would be more fake to me if the DM had some wildly detailed setting that solely revolves around their ideas. Reality is not like that.
Reality is not like, what now? My reality revolves around what I do on a day-to-day basis, who I know, news and events that I learn about. I know it's a big world and, although our connection to the wider world is much more immediate than it was for previous generations, I assume people knew a bit about far off lands. Those ideas may have been wrong, but people have always known there was something outside their town or valley.

So to me it makes more sense that there's at least general ideas of what that bigger world is. That doesn't mean it has a big impact on the PCs, although it can, it's just that they know there's something else out there.
 

I think whatever you need works. Some people are fine with a quick sketch of information on a piece of paper with some rough maps sketched out as well, some need more detailed material for the world. I tend to like having a solid foundation to extrapolate upon. But it does depend on the type of campaign I am running
 


Reality is not like, what now? My reality revolves around what I do on a day-to-day basis, who I know, news and events that I learn about. I know it's a big world and, although our connection to the wider world is much more immediate than it was for previous generations, I assume people knew a bit about far off lands. Those ideas may have been wrong, but people have always known there was something outside their town or valley.

So to me it makes more sense that there's at least general ideas of what that bigger world is. That doesn't mean it has a big impact on the PCs, although it can, it's just that they know there's something else out there.
My point was simply that the world is not dictated by the ideas and whims of one person.

I wasn’t saying anything about the players have knowledge of the wider world around them. Not sure where you got that idea
 


An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top