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D&D General World Building

How do you begin your adventure builds?

  • I use my players' backstories to sculpt the start of the adventure

    Votes: 12 31.6%
  • I begin with the idea of an antagonist, and then sculpt from there

    Votes: 10 26.3%
  • I start with an area or ecosystem, and then sculpt from there

    Votes: 24 63.2%
  • I think of a scene, and then start to sculpt from that scene forward

    Votes: 5 13.2%
  • I sew together pieces of published ideas to create my adventure

    Votes: 12 31.6%
  • Nothing. I let my players decide.

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
    38
We've had quite a bit of discussion regarding railroading and story now and other forms of gaming. So, I thought a natural segue would be a question to all the GMs and DMs out there.
 

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Is this for a single adventure, or an entire campaign? I always start a campaign based on an area or specific concept. I'll introduce character background and motivation as the game progresses. Otherwise I'd have to wait until after characters are built before I can even start the first adventure.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Build the place and fill it with obstacles and interesting things to do. Invite the players to interact with or bounce off what’s there.

ETA: Absolutely zero railroading. Whatever story emerges from play is the only story we get. No scripts or pre-planned stories. Only situations and obstacles and villains.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
I sew together pieces of published ideas. I am, unfortunately, not creative enough to world build totally from scratch. Of course, all creative process is ultimately a recombining of ideas from other sources, so arguably everyone does this - it’s just that the sources may be highly diverse and varied, and most likely they aren’t all conscious influences.
 
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Lyxen

Great Old One
I sew together pieces of published ideas. I am, unfortunately, not creative enough to world build, totally from scratch. Of course, all creative process is ultimately a recombining of ideas from other sources, so arguably everyone does this - it’s just that the sources may be highly diverse and varied, and most likely they aren’t all conscious influences.

Same for me, it's more lack of time than creativity but the result is the same, it usually ends up a golem stitched from multiple ideas.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
The thread title says "world building" but the poll only covers individual adventure creation - that's a big difference!

For me it's highly variable but the one quasi-constant is that the first thing I do is map the adventure site out. The inspiration can come from a picture, a BBEG idea, a real-world scene or location, or whatever.
 


Are you asking specifically about adventures (as in a string of related encounters) or worldbuilding?

While the two are related, I don't see them as the same thing.
Sorry about that. I initial thought was about building an world, and then as I was writing the question, it seemed it should start smaller. But forgot to change the title. When I went back to edit, there didn't seem to be a way to change the title. My bad. I apologize.

In any case, it can be open ended. I imagine quite a few DM build adventures after they have world built, and also the opposite, they build an adventure and later stick it in their world.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
Same for me, it's more lack of time than creativity but the result is the same, it usually ends up a golem stitched from multiple ideas.
Yeah, I was being a bit self-depricating with the creativity comment, but time is of course the big factor. I certainly could build a world from scratch, but that’s a lot of time and energy to spend on stuff that mostly won’t be relevant in game play anyway. Borrowing ideas from my favorite existing settings an remixing them in a way I find fun is similarly rewarding for a lot less work.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Yeah, I was being a bit self-depricating with the creativity comment, but time is of course the big factor. I certainly could build a world from scratch, but that’s a lot of time and energy to spend on stuff that mostly won’t be relevant in game play anyway. Borrowing ideas from my favorite existing settings an remixing them in a way I find fun is similarly rewarding for a lot less work.

Pressure of the modern world and all that... :)

Honestly, this is also why I really appreciated the 4e approach to the point of lights settings. It did not require a lot of work up front, and it could then be tailored to the direction taken by the campaign. If I ever get the time to create a campaign from scratch, I will probably start with something along those lines, rather than spend time and money trying to absorb a large setting or creating my own. Start with general ideas about a cosmology and principles, and just a local intriguing setting and see how things develop.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
Pressure of the modern world and all that... :)

Honestly, this is also why I really appreciated the 4e approach to the point of lights settings. It did not require a lot of work up front, and it could then be tailored to the direction taken by the campaign. If I ever get the time to create a campaign from scratch, I will probably start with something along those lines, rather than spend time and money trying to absorb a large setting or creating my own. Start with general ideas about a cosmology and principles, and just a local intriguing setting and see how things develop.
Yep, which is also why 4e’s setting assumptions have a heavy influence on my own Frankenstein homebrew setting. Which, if I were to grossly oversimplify for comedic effect, could be summarized as “the deities and history of the 4e setting, the cultures of the Dragon Age games, and the cosmological model of Chronicles of Darkness, with a healthy dose of “but I think it would be cooler if…”
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
For world-building I start with a very basic idea and build from there. So for example, the homebrew I ran games in from 1989 to 2009 (and a buddy ran games in til 2016) started as a rip-off of LeGuin's Earthsea. A fantasy world of archipelago island nations, where boats/ships are important to the culture, and an Academy of Wizardry is the central political influence on those different governments (save for some on the edges or opposed to them). The world developed in detail as I ran games there that ranged from "this is just a series of adventures from Dungeon and other modules I like" to establishing a premise the characters are built to fit into ("everyone is the scion of a low-birth rank noble in the Magocracy of Thricia").

For my current homebrew that I built to run Ghosts of Saltmarsh + some Dungeon adventures and other modules, started with a basic idea, a still relatively new democracy (less than 2 centuries old) built by the exiles of people from the "Known World" (which I describe as intractable oppressive systems in the form of kingdoms and empires in constant war swallowing each other up and fracturing and most "fantasy" creatures and peoples are either extinct or isolated). That part of the world, where the PCs will arrive from is so distant that the democracy can remain free of its entanglements - and the PCs arrive with about the same basic knowledge of the place as their players. In the case of this campaign, the premise was "make a character who never wants to go back home but would like to make a new one."
 


Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Worldbuilding for me is in a bunch of phases. Here's a "standard" D&D-type campaign, though it can (and always does) vary based on other aspects, like I'm currently running a frontier/exploration game that definitely modified this.

First phase is very broad strokes, view from 50K feet sort of thing. What I want is things made of plot hooks and awesome. I want players to hear about this without being overwhelmed, and be able to go "I want my character to be from there" or "I want to adventure there". Just enough of a framework for them to hang ideas on. Details are my enemy at this stage.

Then session 0 with the players. Where we discuss the world, what they are interested in, and make characters. I give my players a lot of narrative control around their characters and other things. Start of one of my current campaigns, one player wanted an order of knights that guarded these netherportals where you left behind you old life to join. Easy. Another, a druid, wanted the moon to be the skull of a decapitated god and the land to be their body, so that druidic magic literally was a connection with the divine flesh. A little bit of thought if this interfered with anything else, and then sure, why not. Player buy-in on ideas they come up with is very high. Having engaged players at this point is a blessing.

This gives me big vision ideas about the direction the campaign can go. I make sure to tie in what the players suggest, as well as specific character arcs.

As part of that I'm thinking about what types of questions the uniqueness of this setting is good to answer, stories that fit better here then a generic world, especially giving the nature of our protagonists. I start to work out some ideas for those stories, but really just ideas into "Act II" - none of it is true until it hits the table, but I do want things I can foreshadow and have reasons for why. I really do Schrödinger's plots, where until something is established by play I feel free to change things, and I'm not affraid to kill my darlings - in other words get rid of NPCs, plots, scenes and the like that I envisioned but won't serve the purpose of the game as it progresses. I do want things I can foreshadow and have reasons for "why" things happen - even if that reason ends up having been replaced and "never" been true later in the campaign.

I have an idea of the group and how (/if) they know each other, so I can figure out where they are starting. I flesh out the area, adding some details on a moderate-big scale, then more on a smaller scale, and so forth until I have a well fleshed out starting area.

So then I work out some starting adventures, flesh out the world for what I need for those, and work out some character arcs to weave in around everything else which also often requires making organizations, understanding politics and tensions, and otherwise adding details to the world.

Then, as the group adventures I pay attention to what the players seem most interested in. I make sure to seed that liberally into adventures, and further flesh out the world both to deal with their explorations and travel as well as to support stories about their goals and to further their character arcs.

In the end, I may have parts of the world untouched, and others crafted in loving detail. But it really happens over the course of campaign, directed by player interest, character actions, and the consequences of them.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
World-building, as opposed to individual adventure-making, for me always starts with a map. I'll doodle something out and if I find myself instantly imagining what would go where and what could happen on this map, there's my kernel.

Two branches follow. One is the physical setting - more maps, climate, geology, nations, towns, etc. The other is the history - how did things get to be as they are, what are the pantheons and how did they get there, and so forth. This is the long slow part and can easily eat up a real-time year if I'm not careful.

Once those two branches are done I'll combine them and start adding in cultures (though often I've largely pre-decided what cultures are going to be represented and made sure they each have appropriate places to exist). This part's pretty fast.

Once all that's done I'll start thinking of specific adventure/story ideas; also somewhere around here is when I start recruiting players.
 

Lets take them one at a time:
I use my players' backstories to sculpt the start of the adventure
I wish! If I get backstories at all it's well after the adventure has started. Simply not an option. I might add backstory related stuff later, but I wouldn't call it part of "world building".
  • I begin with the idea of an antagonist, and then sculpt from there
Once I started with the "big bad" but it's not something I usually do. The actions of NPCs might affect how things develop, but again, I wouldn't call that part of "world building".
  • I start with an area or ecosystem, and then sculpt from there
Nope, I don't have the time to build stuff the players will never see.
  • I think of a scene, and then start to sculpt from that scene forward
Something I try to avoid, it runs the risk of railroading the players.
  • I sew together pieces of published ideas to create my adventure
I do this. But I don't only do this. I usually use published stuff as filler.
  • Nothing. I let my players decide.
Not sure what you mean by that.

Things I do do:
  • Start with the title;
  • Start with the genre/theme;
  • Insert things I think will appeal to specific players;
  • Canvass the players over what sort of story/genre they are most interested in.
 
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Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
I use a variety of techniques, depending on how the quality of the inpirati9n I’m deriving from them.usually, it’s a mix.

My best EVER campaign as a GM was a supers game set in the Space:1889 setting using 4Ed HERO. When I told the players that idea, they were enthusiastic, and their backgrounds were full of ideas. But I also went back to sources the Space:1889 writers used (I had read most of Verne and Wells), plus found some inspiration from other written, TV, film or comic book fiction set in that era.

And then, I added ideas I got from similar sources that I felt could be easily adapted to the era.

As the campaign went on, though, the PCs’ backgrounds and the players’ table talk proved to be MAJOR sources of inspiration. After each session, I composed a single sheet “inter office memo”/newsletter for the PCs’ organization recapping the news of their escapade, along with reports of other events in the setting. I let the buzz those rumors generated in the players chatter clue me into what interested them the most.

On at least one occasion, I substituted one of their theories for what I had planned because it was simply better. Not only that, the players felt smug about having “read my mind”… 😃

(It wasn’t a magic formula, though. A decade or more later, I tried to revisit the setting in a different city, players, with M&M2Ed…and it flopped.)
 
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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I have my own campaign world that I've used forever, but it's a big world with lots of blank spaces. If I can't get something to fit with the "current" timeline, I'll just advance the clock. Most of the time time advances 20-50 years from the last campaign in case someone wants to play a descendent.

So it's a combination. If it's an established group I throw out a number of ideas and we discuss; overall starting theme pretty much comes from the players and I figure out where and when to start the campaign given the current situation based on either my head canon or previous campaign results.
 

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