World Building Month: The First Mark on the Map

For the month of July, I’ve decided to try something new.  I’m going to dedicate this entire month to topics around the noble and enjoyable task of world building.  For me, the creation of a fantastic new world is the best part of running a regular campaign.  I know my current game is run in a created setting, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t added my own elements.  I love creating this new, exciting place, where all of the players’ characters live side by side with the things I’ve built.

The most important thing is that first step, the key you use to open that new world.  There are lots of ways to start world building, lots of different first steps to take.  Here are three I’ve used:

  • Place the starting point and spread out.  You start with where the players meet or live before the game starts and work your way out, inventing new locations as you go.  I did this for a campaign I ran where the players started in the farming community of Goldfields.  I sat down and sketched a map, with Goldfield at the center.  The first thing I drew on the map after was the ‘Temple of the Sun Dragon’.  I kept drawing more locations and trails connecting them (or not) to Goldfields.  I like this way of building up things as it gives you a definite mental image of your world.  It gives you places and boundaries.   What I don’t like is this: do you share this map with the players?  If you do, there’s always the possibility they’ll move to a place you didn’t plan for….
  • Let yourself be inspired.  You’re watching Firefly.  Great show right?  You love the idea of a society at the fringe of an empire.  So take it.  You’re looking through your Dark Sun book, thinking how much you love the Sorcerer Kings, use them.  No one ever said it all had to be your creation.  I once created a world called Gotheer.  Basically, I had my players in a fantasy version of Coruscant with the Houses from Eberron.  The players really enjoyed the game (it featured one of my favorite reoccurring villains) and I loved to test the limits of the world.  The upside is putting things together couldn’t be easier.  There is very little work on your part.  The downside is the exact same thing.  You miss out on the joy of creating.
  • Build the world from a single idea.  Sometimes you just get taken by something, a seed is planted in your mind and it grows.  Soon, you become fascinated by the idea and can’t help but use it.  I was taken by the world of Arnor (a setting I’ve yet to use on players) for a very long time.  The world is based off an idea I had of what a fantasy setting might be like were it to take place in something similar to Antarctica. From there I started to think up the threats that would live in this place, the habitats people would create in this world, and how your archetypal races (dwarves, elves, etc.) would live in it.  This is my favorite way to make a world for my games.  It has no downsides, but the upsides are endless.  You create something new and completely your own.   This is the most organic method I’ve mentioned here.
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