There comes a time in every Game Master’s life when they are faced with their biggest fear, world-building. I know when I first started, I was terrified of the idea. All the work, commitment, and worrying and for what? Something that people might not even like. I get it I’ve been there, and it can be incredibly disheartening.
While most games have preset worlds with plenty of written adventures you can run in them, I can understand the pull that makes you want to make your own world and scenarios. So, I am going to show you how. I have created several worlds, specifically for Dungeons and Dragons, but my process should be compatible with any RPG.
The first step is to find what kind of story you’re going to tell, this is where I usually start, and I find it will help shape political climates and civilization as well. It’s good to know where your story starts and build from there. Once the story has a clear path, we can start branching out, fleshing out things like important places and people, but keeping it big picture. Once we have some branches to work with, we can make some final decisions before digging in deeper.
A good story is the base of every campaign, so it would make sense to base your world off one too. I don’t want you to think this has to be a campaign story, it doesn’t. You are using this story to shape the world; therefore, it can be anytime in the history of your world. This story can be anything, it can be an epic war between kings, a national disaster, robots rising, aliens descending, literally anything. It doesn’t have to be incredibly detailed either. We’re just looking for a starting point, something to draw from.
Once you have your story, you can start adding to it. Start by asking questions or having a friend ask you questions, about the cause and effect of this story. Knowing what started the events and what happened after are two great points to build from. Then it’s just about fleshing things out, adding important figures and places, knowing where there is distrust, and what peoples were most affected. These will be terrific for arcs in future campaigns you run in your world. You can make this step last as long as you want. How detailed your world is up to you. Things can always be added later.
Before you start to finalize and make your world it’s good to ask some questions. Will I be using this for long full campaigns, or will this be for shorter linear storylines? If the answer is campaigns or both, then buckle in sweetheart, we have a long road to go, but it will be fulfilling and worth it in the end. If your answer is more linear and short stories, then good news, depending on how detailed you got in the previous step you are nearly done.
In the next article, I’ll show you how to finish up a linear world and how to start laying the foundations for a full campaign world. For now, you can use the above information to start a few scenarios and pick your favorites. It’s good to start with something you have an interest in and enjoy, because if you’re not enjoying yourself, then why do it.