Initial Thoughts On World Building

These next few posts will be about world building. As I preparing for my next game, I am working on the world building. I will be sharing what I am thinking through as I create the game world.

What is the ideal fantasy roleplaying world to play in?

The first consideration would be whether to use a highly-detailed setting or not (such as Golarion or the Forgotten Realms). Generally, I would advise against using a highly-detailed setting, because either the GM will care too much about the setting or the players will. When the GM cares too much about the setting, he or she will try to force the players and their actions into the setting. The players may not understand what it is going on, or care. If the players care too much about the setting, they will nitpick any deviance from the published setting. Personally, I have been both of these. I have been the GM that cared too much about the world and I have been the player that thought, “Wait…that’s not right in this world”.*

Is it possible for both the GM and the players to come to some sort of truce about a highly-detailed published setting? I suppose, but it depends on knowing yourself and your players well. If both the GM and the players can have fun in the highly-detailed setting without arguing over minutiae, go for it! Otherwise, stay far, far away.

The second consideration would be whether to use a more “generic” setting (such as the Points of Light world from 4E or the Greyhawk-with-the-serial-numbers-filed-off world of 3.X). I would say “maybe”. By giving the GM some of the broad strokes of the world (religion, planes, and certain assumptions about the kind of game it will be), it can make game preparation a little easier for the GM, but it still leaves a lot open for the GM and players to create. If the highly-detailed setting is a map with everything filled in, the “generic” setting is a mostly-blank sheet of paper with the outline of a continent and the interior just says “Here Be Monsters”. However, if the setting has the wrong themes, it still might not work for your game. If you want a high-fantasy game full of heroic characters and gleaming magic castles, a gritty, sword-and-sorcery “generic” setting still may not work.

The final consideration would be whether to create a world from scratch. It can be a lot of work for the GM, but it can be the most rewarding. The key is to remember that you do not need an entire planet mapped out. Do it as you go. Start with a small region. Maybe a small town, a forest, and a couple dungeons. From there, create new places for the characters to explore. If the players never want to go north of where they start, don’t create anything north of that starting point. In fact, let the players help you create the world. If someone wants to be a Viking-type character from the east, you now know what lies east of the small starting region!

Another advantage of creating your own world is that you can decide the cosmological and religious realities of the world. If, like me, you are a little tired of the 37 different gods of each alignment and race, you can create a monotheistic world. Maybe you could decide that faith has some power of its own, so even false gods could have clerics. The monotheistic deity maybe is so holy and powerful that clerics can only channel some of that deity’s power, which is why a 3rd level cleric of the one true deity is just as powerful as a 3rd level cleric of a false god. It’s your (and the players’) world, so have fun!

And remember, you can always plunder aspects of more detailed settings for your own setting. Really like a region or NPC from Golarion? Nothing is stopping you from sticking them into your world. Want to nab a deity from the Forgotten Realms? Go ahead and commit that act of god-napping!

If you have the time, I highly recommend creating your own world. It is what I am doing.

*I have repented of both of those sins.


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