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This week we’ll be looking at one of my personal favorite parts about running a game, and that my friends is world building.
The Dungeon Masters knowledge and creativity regarding the setting that their game is set in can make a mediocre adventure into a great one, and a great adventure into something truly epic. Whether you use a pre-imagined world, already rich with lore and history, or make one up entirely new and fresh, world building is incredibly important. World building, is like developing the setting of a novel, it may not be the focus of the piece, but it’s what gives everything around it life. One of the greatest examples of this would be JRR Tolkien’s seminal work, The Lord of The Rings Trilogy. An argument could be made that the plot of these three books was simple, and maybe not the best implemented in the strictest sense (calm down, put down those pitch forks for a second) but the richness, and depth of history that reveals itself through it’s telling makes the Trilogy probably the best piece of fantasy ever written.
As a DM, it is your job to make the world that the characters find themselves in to come alive, and I’m going to give you a few pointers on how to do that.
First, start small. Develop the hell out the first place the characters are going to show up, make it a small hamlet, and know at least basic backgrounds of the towns prominent figures. Maybe the mayor is a bit of a drunk, or a former adventurer (until he took that damned arrow to the knee of course), these little facts will inform how those NPCs will react to certain situations. Give the town some substance, some past event that explains why people chose this piece of land to settle in. From there you expand out to the next town, the next fiefdom, the next empire! Building slowly while giving the illusion that this was all pre-written and thought out.
Second, stay consistent! If you say something works one way, then make sure you always have it work the same, unless there is some other outside force working against the norm. Maintaining a consistent base whether it be a magic system, or history really makes the world feel real. Or at the very least that it “could” be real under different circumstances. If your players figure out how to beat the big baddy before you planned, well good for them! Reward them, don’t suddenly change things that go against what has been explained to them before in order to railroad them back onto your planned path. Hell, if the players are able to figure things out, then that means you succeeded in making a consistent believable world! Reward yourself, crack open a Mountain Dew or something.
Third, don’t fall into the rabbit hole. Everyone loves deep rich lore (They do right? Not just me?) but maybe you don’t need to know the evolution of rat catching in each corner of the kingdom. World building can be fun, and it can be easy to get lost mapping out every little detail. But remember the adventure is the meat of the story, the world is the plate, sure million dollar gold inlay diamond crusted plates are fly and look amazing, but it’s still a plate at the end of the day. Detail is important, to much detail can be overwhelming.
Fourth, sometimes just wing it! I know this goes against some of the things I said earlier, but if in mid session you come up with an idea that would just be…AWESOME, roll with it! Figure out how to fit it in and explain it later, and your players probably won’t know that it wasn’t part of the plan all along. Remember sometimes what seems to be major blaring plot holes to the person telling the story are overlooked by the people that are listening to it.
Finally as always, have fun with it! If world building doesn’t excite you to amazing ends, well one you’re weird, and we can’t be friends. But seriously, if world building isn’t your thing, then I suggest using a pre-made setting, such as Forgotten realms, or Ebberon. Even then though, make sure you know the area you are setting your campaign in, because trust me, one of your players is going to know more about it than you do.
That’s all for this week folks! If you have an idea for a topic put it down below in the comments, and I’ll get to writing, if not…well I’ll write anyway! So there! Till next week!