The Art and Science of Worldbuilding For Gameplay [+]

hawkeyefan

Legend
I think the problem is, if you do this sort of super-detailed design work where you document 100s of NPCs, buildings, towns, locations, and histories/cultures/politics/etc. all in great detail, then when the big change comes along, guess what? Its all swept off the table! The City of Pillars is now in ruins, conquered by the Bat People. The Barber Shop no longer exists, Fred the Barber is no more, or he's a refuge someplace, etc.

This is one of the fundamental things I find hazardous about producing this sort of comprehensive detail. It has a cost, and nobody really wants to write down their investment. The GM is invested in the status-quo and stories in such settings will probably largely consist of "maintain the status-quo" sorts of action. As I described in last(?) post, this often leads to 'small character syndrome' where even if the PCs constantly progress in levels they simply face a succession of landscapes within which they can only have marginal effects. That's not tragic, you can tell stories about people who just accomplish stuff that is relevant to them and their immediate environment, but it IS highly constraining! In a way that I am finding isn't always really acknowledged.

Absolutely. This is why I think that worldbuilding with a mind toward playability should eschew that type of hyper-detailed effort. There's potentially a lot of tension between the GM trying to preserve his creation and the players who are just trying to play the game, and aren't concerned about the setting. It doesn't have to be the case, but as someone who used to do that kind of stuff, I can certainly say that it can happen.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Tolkein would have had to construct yet another conflict of the sort which drives LoTR, and he has a limited pallet to draw from (Sauron is pretty much KIA, so now what, Morgoth himself, that means portraying a final 'Armageddon' essentially). Basically he'd have to one-up LoTR too, or it would simply be an afterthought. He's already explored the theme pretty systematically, so it may be possible to deepen the examination, but it would not be anything like the previous story. For instance he could actually explore Melkor (Morgoth) in more detail. Is he really the abominable monster he's made out to be in Quenta Silmarillion? Is he even ultimately 'evil' or is his purpose simply to help drive the ultimate plan of Illuvatar? He would have to start to engage with these deeper questions about the nature of good and evil. Why does the omnipotent and omniscient Illuvatar have evil in his plans if he is supposed to be good? etc. It sure wouldn't be the same simplistic (though Tolkein certainly isn't simple in many respects) free will vs tyranny sort of stuff that makes LoTR go!

So, frankly, I am of the opinion that ME, as envisaged in LoTR at least in its 3rd Age incarnation, is pretty much a single-use setting. Yes, you can tell small 'fairy tale' type stories, even up to the scale of "fighting mighty dragon Smaug" or something equivalent, but the story of the War of the Ring is pretty unique, it cannot be rehashed within that setting in an effective way. Given that Tolkien already wrote There and Back Again (The Hobbit) as a prior story of that ilk he's got even less space. At best another similar tale has to equal or best Bilbo's tale, which is going to be hard to do. Even if he pulled off such a thing its hard to give it the salience that was retconned into the finding of the Ring and Gollum, etc.

I mean, various RPG authors have produced material/systems for play in 3rd/4th Age ME. In my experience it doesn't come off as an especially great vehicle for that. The authors are stuck trying to provide some adventures that turn out not to change anything (because they don't have the authority or desire to establish divergent canon). Tolkien didn't actually describe ME in much detail either. Yeah, there's a bunch of place names and various things can be inferred or are casually mentioned in passing, but the setting is actually profoundly deficient in everyday 'stuff'. Outside of the Shire we get very little to no examination of everyday life or ordinary people. When you start to inject that stuff it tends to mar the high fantasy feel of the setting. In the end my conclusion was that something like WoG, my own homebrew, etc. end up playing pretty much equally well in practice and I have a lot more freedom in my homebrew to define the major conflicts and the nature and feel of things.

I think trying to rehash or oneup LOTR is the wrong approach.

Tolkiens original idea for the sequel started seeding threads about not just people beginning to treat the past with flippancy (children playing as Orcs, on up to cults to them), but also, at least from my reading, the inevitability that the "Shadow" would always crawl back into the world, even without a Dark Lord to champion it.

I think the main reason this didn't get any momentum going is because it doesn't explore anything new; its just a direct reaction to what occurred during LOTR, and one that merely subverts the triumph it without anything meaty and new enough to justify it.

As such if it were me as a writer, I would concur with Tolkiens idea to focus on Men and how their civilization unfolds, but I would set it specifically amongst the backdrop of the last of the old heroes departing Middle Earth in their various ways, and I think Id incorporate a theme of legacy, and how the old "Stewards" of Middle Earth foster one that'll last...or perhaps not?

I think the principle conflict would actually be who should follow and be followed when the old pass on, and I think in that context, you can justify bringing in those themes about flippancy and the resurgence of the Shadow.

And I think this would work; particularly as it happens to have some happy paralells historically with what happened after (IIRC, might be mixing up my monarchs) Charlemagne died.

I think the challenge of it is still, ultimately, in not undermining the triumph. Despite the coming strife of this story, what the old guard did is still fundamentally important and should underscore the conflict pretty starkly. If it were me, I think I'd try to thread that needle by leaning on another theme of combatting cynicism and contempt; the conflict comes from not regarding the past's triumphs with respect and deference rather than from that triumph being undone.

But that diatribe on my thoughts on a LOTR sequel has to be taken in context with the fact that this is all about how we would do this in a book, not an RPG.

Although, much of the same principles apply as far as laying down the essential hook of an RPG that sought to tackle this question, we'd just have to be far less prescriptive about how the specific themes of the conflict play out.
 

Reynard

Legend
Absolutely. This is why I think that worldbuilding with a mind toward playability should eschew that type of hyper-detailed effort. There's potentially a lot of tension between the GM trying to preserve his creation and the players who are just trying to play the game, and aren't concerned about the setting. It doesn't have to be the case, but as someone who used to do that kind of stuff, I can certainly say that it can happen.
This line of reason is flawed in one significant way: it supposes that the GM and players in question have not had a conversation about expectations and preferences. That serves as a tool to construct all sorts of arguments that just aren't reasonable.
 

This line of reason is flawed in one significant way: it supposes that the GM and players in question have not had a conversation about expectations and preferences. That serves as a tool to construct all sorts of arguments that just aren't reasonable.
I think any discussion in that direction would require a different thread. I can only say that our ideas about both world building and the relationships between and roles of the participants in RPGs differ in certain points. So, we arrive at different world building goals.

That all being said, I think there are fundamentally going to be similarities in approach. Universals are interesting, as they tell us significant things about an activity like gaming. So, for instance I did some basic world building to establish parameters for a milieu for an SF game a few years back. I did develop a number of themes and concepts in order to express the sort of overall thematic direction and agenda. However that was AFTER I talked to the players a fair amount. I'd have to go back and look at my notes to see exactly how much material there was, several pages IIRC.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
This line of reason is flawed in one significant way: it supposes that the GM and players in question have not had a conversation about expectations and preferences. That serves as a tool to construct all sorts of arguments that just aren't reasonable.

No, not really. It supposes that people get attached to things they create. Players get attached to their characters. GMs can get attached to their worlds. It happens, and it doesn’t mean there’s lack of communication, or that anyone is doing anything bad, it means people are people and don’t always behave perfectly.

I’ve GMed plenty of games where I’ve viewed what I’ve created for the game as more important than the player characters. I didn’t do this out of any kind of malice… I did it because I thought it would make for a good game.

I didn’t even always realize I was doing it. It took a lot of consideration of past play and being brutally honest with myself about what was happening and why.
 

No, not really. It supposes that people get attached to things they create. Players get attached to their characters. GMs can get attached to their worlds. It happens, and it doesn’t mean there’s lack of communication, or that anyone is doing anything bad, it means people are people and don’t always behave perfectly.

I’ve GMed plenty of games where I’ve viewed what I’ve created for the game as more important than the player characters. I didn’t do this out of any kind of malice… I did it because I thought it would make for a good game.

I didn’t even always realize I was doing it. It took a lot of consideration of past play and being brutally honest with myself about what was happening and why.
Yeah, it is normal, but also once you're aware it, you can consciously try to avoid letting it affect you. Kill your darlings.
 

Reynard

Legend
It's important to remember that this thread isn't intended to just be about the GM world building for a specific campaign. It's about world building broadly, as done by publishers and designers as well as GMs and hobbyists. It is about injecting playability in.the world. The discussion that is essentially about prep has dominated the thread and limited it in a frustrating way.
 


hawkeyefan

Legend
Yeah, it is normal, but also once you're aware it, you can consciously try to avoid letting it affect you. Kill your darlings.

Some people struggle mightily with killing their darlings.

It took me a long time and a lot of analysis to get to that point.

Is anyone interested in discussing something other than Tolkein-bashing or congratulating each other on being 4e fans?

Are you?
 

Reynard

Legend
Some people struggle mightily with killing their darlings.

It took me a long time and a lot of analysis to get to that point.
On topic, in your opinion, what degree of detail do you think is best for playability in world building. If 0 is no world building at all beyond the needs of where the PCs are right now, 1 is a rough sketch map with maybe some names on it, 5 is a short primers with a paragraph each on nations, religions, factions, etc... 7 is a full primer on each of those things, and 10 is a Kingdoms of Kalamar level of meticulous detail, what numerical value would you give it?

And just to remind everyone, we are talking about world building an RPG setting, but not necessarily YOU doing the work. The scale I just provided applies to something you might make, but might also purchase or adapt from a media property or develop with a community or whatever.
 

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top