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Let's Talk About RPG Worldbuilding


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Yora

Hero
Well, the worldbuilding is really the foundation for much of a good adventure's design.

What is this place? Who are these people?
Those are worldbuilding elements.
 

Reynard

Legend
Well, the worldbuilding is really the foundation for much of a good adventure's design.

What is this place? Who are these people?
Those are worldbuilding elements.
While it may be adventure design in dependent on world building -- I think some people in this thread would disagree with that statement -- I don't think the opposite is necessarily true. Good worldbuilding is not dependent upon good adventure design. Good world building makes the world worth investing time, attention and play energy into for the players, but that doesn't necessarily translate into "go on an adventure." Sometimes the goal is immersion or verisimilitude or just good old fashioned "that's cool!"
 

pemerton

Legend
My point was that sometimes I do worldbuilding without having an actual group to run it for, as the mood takes me. Maybe I'll end up running it with a group and maybe I won't, but until that happens 1) is not possible as I don't consider there to be any "play" in this context.

However, I still consider that activity to be RPGing.
I'm not a huge fan of self-play anymore, though, so I tend to ease way off the 'things happen regardless of the characters' thing, and just stick to what's going on around the characters. Still plenty deep -- I haven't notice a distinct difference in immersion of my players since I stopped doing solo-play in my settings. So, even there, in the built world concept space, the need for completely disconnected setting that the characters have to find their own connections to is not necessary..
I've come up with the most succint view on world-building that I can, which is this:

World-building is the appeal to authority of RPGing - a circular process by which a GM both invents the need for such authority and then invokes it to justify their ongoing position as the controller of play.
Ovinomancer characterises worldbuilding in the form of a completely disconnected setting that the characters [and players, I think] have to find their own connections to as "self-play" and "solo-play".

amethal characterises a particular case of such worldbuilding - ie in ignorance of whether or not it will ever be used in actual play, with a group - as RPGing but not play.

These aren't necessarily contradictory, because the same words can be used with different nuances. What both posts share is a recognition that there is some sort of meaningful contrast between (i) the (actual or prospective) GM making up imaginary things on his/her own, and then bringing those to the table as a "package" of ideas for the players to engage with; and (ii) the actual process of playing a RPG where the participants at the table create a shared fiction.

How should we think about the relationship between those two contrasting things? chaochou sets out one way: the GM presents his/her package as a "take it or leave it" for the actual process of play. For the non-GM participants, play becomes primarily a matter of learning about, and/or thinking about and talking about, the ideas that the GM has brought to the table.

Is this what worldbuilding, in the context of RPGing, has to be? Is the only alternative to GM-centric RPGing "setting-light" RPGing? Or are there ways that the non-GM participants can be meaningful parties to world-building?

EDIT:
Good world building makes the world worth investing time, attention and play energy into for the players, but that doesn't necessarily translate into "go on an adventure." Sometimes the goal is immersion or verisimilitude or just good old fashioned "that's cool!"
This seems to assume a GM-centric approach. Immersion, verisimilitude and "that's cool!" seem here to be passive responses of the players to the fiction. It seems very close to reading a book or watching a film - ie enjoying the experience of someone else's fiction.

But given the centrality of shared fiction to RPGing, what are the ways we might think about world building that don't frame the non-GM participants as primarily an audience for the GM's ideas?
 
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pemerton

Legend
Entering a chamber full of goodies with various possible PC interactions I find is similar to entering a bustling tavern.
Dungeon play, in its traditional form at least, relies on the GM/referee, during the actual course of play, to be an impartial presenter and adjudicator of the material s/he has already prepared. No dungeon key can be literally complete, but it should include everything obviously salient given the established conventions (eg basic architecture, doors, furnishings are fundamental; whereas the texture of surfaces typically is not). And the GM's extrapolations from the key, when play calls for them, should be as neutral and matter-of-fact as possible.

I don't see how any of this is possible for a bustling tavern. What is salient in a bustling tavern is not the basic architecture or furnishings; its the people and their concerns and doings. It's not realistic for all of these to be noted in a key. And neutral, matter-of-fact extrapolation is also not really possible for this sort of situation - the GM can make decisions, of course, but they're just new fictions. Does the dungeon room have a chest in it? The default answer is "no" unless noted in the key. Can the statue be pushed over? Even if the notes don't say one way or the other, we have the encumbrance rules and rules for opening doors and bending bars to fall back on. Does the bustling tavern have a wheelwright in it? There's no default answer. And will a wheelwright, if present, be willing to come out now, in the middle of the evening, to do hasty repairs on a damaged wagon? I don't see any default answer to that outside of the reaction rules, which in effect therefore become a type of social resolution system which the fiction then follows (eg we know the wheelwright needs a bit of extra cash, because they're willing to take on a dodgy job out of hours).

I do find it incongruent that you're establishing such a specific divide especially with the "too much going on" particularly because your AD&D argument for shared fiction relies on the paladin questing for his horse solely compared to everything else that needs to be included in the setting for material and social terms.
I don't follow this, or what the incongruence is.
 

Reynard

Legend
One thing that came up in my "PlaneJammer" setting development is how I am basing some world building elements entirely on an aspect I want or feel I need in the game and working backwards and forward from that thing.

For example, I want there to be robust, Age of Sail style trade and so I needs goods to move pretty regular through the Astral Sea. That means a couple things, most importantly that there are a decent number of relatively large settlements of people that need food, clothing and shelter (along with other non-essentials). In the canon Astral, people are just thought constructs and they don't have such base needs. As such, I made a couple world building decisions:

A) My Astral Sea is a real place with physical laws (however strange) and not a psychic realm.

B) But it is mutable and collections of beings alter it in the immediate vicinity, so groups of more than a few mortal individuals create pockets of basic need among them.

This latter part has a whole bunch of implications going forward (including my Astral Zombies, which I won't go into here) which I am still working out.
 

Yora

Hero
I think that's actually the best way to get settings that feel unique and meaningful, rather than generic D&D Fantasyland version 14953. Throwing everything you like into a bowl and coming up with context for the various pieces is certainly a way to get a setting, but there's probably going to be very little that distinguishes it from any other generic Standard Fantasy Setting.
Having things in the setting because they fulfill a narrative function helps a lot with creating a world that is new and different. And when you then create new content that builds on those structures, you can get stuff that's really memorable.

I recently realized that in my setting, all zombies need to be smoldering and trailing smoke and embers. Not because it looks cool (which it does), but because several other parts of the worldbuilding say that they really should.
 

Norton

Explorer
My experience is players love to come up with the towns, cities and even nations where their characters come from rather than having to ask the DM, so before the campaign begins I, as the DM, actually do very little world building. I usually just create the starting town and the starting quest.

Then after session 0, I take all of the world building my players have done and start fitting it into the larger world while I add in more details around it.

I also like to world build as I go, using the "leaving doors open" method. What this means is I drop loads of tidbits, hooks and little details here and there, not only to see which my players pick up on, but which ones take my interest later on too. In the first session I added a silver brooch in the shape of a Kraken clasped onto the cloak of a dead Dwarf. Now, 21 sessions later, Kragomandir, the sleeping Kraken worshipped by the Dwarves has become a major part of the plot. I had no idea that would be so when I first put that brooch onto that fallen Dwarf. For me this is one of the spices of DM'ing, I love not knowing where even my own world building will go. :love:

While I generally agree that broad strokes and empty spaces work well for many elements of RPG world building, the place where I have trouble is remembering to write down and then go back and shore up whatever nonsense I come up with off the cuff.
Both of these. As someone who has spent lots of time writing fiction, I'm tempted to lay out something gloriously detailed for players to traipse around in and do heroic things. However, I've come to learn that world building isn't a "build it and they will come" – rather, it's "they come and you will build it". Imagine a film written specifically for the interests of the seated audience present in the theater for that day. All my fingers are wet and in the wind.

But making stuff is too much fun so I develop the overall hook of the world, envision a big place for things to go at higher levels, start with a interesting locale/city, and implant a number of cultures, conflicts and locales into individual NPCs which work great as inspirations and are usually how PCs learn about those things. Instead of scratching out in-depth lore (despite really wanting to) attaching lore to NPCs leaves a lot open for addition and adjustment based on the mood, input and interests of my players. Otherwise, I'm forcing player-shaped pegs into DM-shaped holes and for me, that can bog things down.

TLDR: My players and I write together with my providing the prompts and steering things by small degrees with my "big place to go" in mind.
 


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