World Building 102c: Environment building the MoonHunter way Presenting the Environment
Following the steps presented before, you have created an environment. However, if you can't explain the environment to your players, it is as if you never created anything. Presenting the world to the players is crucial part of the game, as you are building it in the minds of your players.
The single most powerful comment on this subject I can make, is also one of the simplest: Be confident in your presentation. If you come across that you are well versed in the environment and you believe that everything you are saying is true, the players will be less inclined to ignore your words and will believe what you say about the setting is true. Never EVER, stammer, go "umm, ahhh, or rrrrr", or look distracted or nervous when presenting parts of your setting (or GMing in general). It lessens the impact of what you have to say. Again, let me repeat, the most important thing to remember when presenting the environment is:
Be confident in your presentation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Campaign Packet/ Bible/ Encyclopedia
If the environment you are creating is a world, major country, space station, or the primary place where your game's action will occur (so it could be a village even), your primary tool for presenting the environment is a game packet. The Game packet, also called the game bible or game encyclopedia, is a formal write up for the campaign that players (and the GM) can refer to for information on the game and is environment. This packet should range from three pages to a twenty-five pages of environment material depending on the environment and your needs (the more unique the world, the more information is needed). If you have been using the checklist the main environment and any smaller areas (cities, villages, moons), you already have short answers that can be easily expanded and made more accessible by some punctuation and spacing. This process places your setting into a more concrete and defined format, useful to set things in the mind of the GM and the players. Note: The rest of the game packet will include rules and requirements for characters, any house rules in work, and campaigning guidelines/ ideals. Give each player a copy of the packet, and make a few extras for references and new players.
Keep the Big and little text rules in mind when creating said write up. Players will care less about your carefully crafted history, than the concrete things that effect their character's day to day existence (people's names, food, clothing, sleeping, and social structures) and general life (Birth, Death, Family/ marriage, Work/ leisure, and Religion as it impacts daily life.)
Note: As the GM, your game packet might have material that is different than the player's world pack. That is because your packet has what is true, while their packet has was is publicly known. Your packet may or may not be as neat and as organized as the players, but it will be crucial to your game.
IN good stories, every aspect of the characters and the world are woven together creating the tapestry of the story. Good games are the same. Character need to be woven into the setting of the campaign. Players and the GM should talk about elements in the game environment that the character can have a connection to: recent history, NPCs, organizations, other characters, or some random aspect of the world. Adding this connection to the setting makes the character tied to the setting, it helps define characters better in the minds of the players, gives the player some options in play, and the GM ways to motivate character in adventures.
It is always best to make a character part of the game world.
One process that helps players learn the world is a character line session. The GM determines all the important elements in the world and the organization associated with it. One session when the players are creating their characters, the GM presents each of them. The players must then decide on their character's opinion and reaction to this important element of the world, and the rational behind it. If the player wants to hate the local religion, they should give a reason why. This series of character lines help build up the character and educates the players in various parts of the world.
Educate your players
The players will need to learn more and more about the world as the campaign advances. Often times they will need to know information before they need it in the game. The GM should foresee what they might need to understand what is going on and give them that information before hand. Game Packet: Did you skip the above section? Shame on you, go back and read it. Introductory moments: Before play really begins, as people are settling in, give them a quick blurb about some aspect of the setting. This would be a slightly expanded version of what is in the game pack. Once you are done and have finished with any questions, ring the bell (or what ever signifies play has begun) and start your game. Introduce it in the story:If you want more of the "show, don't tell" approach, trying introducing characters that are involved with the information you want to convey. Want the players to know there are Elves in your world, have them meet one or meet someone who knows them well. Want your players to know of another country, let them meet someone from that country. Historical markers, local festivals, ceremonies, religious observances, can occur in the game and will illuminate small aspects of the world. Bards: In short, have an NPC in the game tell them what you want them to know. Bard's telling stories, people they overhear at the bar, the local paper, or a weeping widow, will convey information quite nicely, if the players are in the mood to hear.
Pyramid of Support:
This is a tool borrowed from our writer friends. If you want someone to believe something, you have to slowly build up that something. The more powerful something is, the more a GM needs to explain and foreshadow its coming. The thing could be a monster, or an organization, or an army. The players will need to encounter the results of the thing's existence, maybe brush against a minion or lesser part of the thing, or could run into a survivor. The more evidence and support you make for a claim, the more willing people are to believe it. The more evidence a player sees of something's power or influence, the more they will believe it. If you want your characters to respect and fear a "powerful force" show them how powerful it is. Otherwise, they will yawn, attempt to fight it, and then bitch about their characters being dead or enslaved.
Related to this, don't expand your campaign faster than the players can absorb the complete picture of what you are presenting. The story tellers say that players/ audience must hear something three separate times before they really know it. Taking that advice to heart, judge your player's understanding of what is going on. On average, you will find it takes three sessions to imprint something, then move on to a new level of material.
Maintaining the Environment
If you are running a campaign, environment building never ends. In short DiP happens. You will be adding smaller environment as your storylines and campaign continues. You will be expanding the world, major country, starship, or what ever the primary place where your game's action occurs is, as new ideas come to you and old ones are refined. In short, as long as your game is successful, you will be expanding the game environments and the people in them.
When people build game environments, they know all the details (hows, whys, when). This allows them to build up a detailed history. Then the campaign starts and this detailed history tends to stop cold. Unless it revolves around the characters, in most games, nothing else happens. Just a reminder, Change is the only constant. The rest of the world is "in play" as well as the characters. History and changes continue. Note: The player character may or may not have an impact on the march of history. If they want to, GM's should let them.
Smaller environments inside the environment:
As the campaign continues, you will need to expand and detail smaller areas of the main campaign environment. The key bits for these places must be consistent with the larger environment they are in. If one country is a post-medieval England, it would not have a city that appears to be Pacific Islander in lifestyle. Once you have the place's key bits in place, simply go through the process as before, keeping in mind the scale of the place you are creating. Also make sure to make connections between the larger environment and the one you are making.
Note: Johnny Appleseed/ Clairmont approach: Plan ahead for future story arcs, even if the plans are only half formed. That way you can insert the elements you need for the story arc into the appropriate environment ahead of time and even foreshadow the storyarc.
In the vein of Johnny Appleseed or Chris Clairmont, litter the campaign as it goes on, with plot points that are unresolved or things which might become dramatic events later. If the players show any interest at all about that part of the environment (or NPCs), you can work on the additional bits and details needed, inserting them into the setting. The players are then amazed at your ability to foreshadow important events, not knowing that you only put out the hook and filled things in as they took said bait. Remember the Pyramid of support.
Maintaining Process: Talk to the troupe: Every now and again, get more "bits" from the players. Once they have gotten into the game, they will have a better idea of what it needs in their opinions. It is best to collect bits towards the end of any storyarc. Collate info: Collect up all your notes and add any new details them into your original checklist categories. This expands your initial listing. Also put together all the smaller environments you have done over the course of the campaign in. Comb and Refine: Take your expanded listing and go through the environment building process. The environment will get deeper and richer, with more verisimilitude. Expand your game pack to a game encyclopedia: Add more entries to your world pack. Eventually, your pack will give a complete explanation of the world.
No GM is an island:
Some people would say that this is just too much work for one person to do. Who says one person has to do it. If your troupe has players with some expertise, have them write certain sections of the setting environment. Not only does someone who knows something about it writes ups the section, you don't have to AND you will not be surprised by the player's knowledge at the gaming table.
If a person wants a character from "far away" or some area you have not detailed out, have them write up that location. The GM will of course have to approve the submission, but someone else will have done all that work. This will also allow the player to really know their home.
Game environments are not built with a ruler and some tape, they are built with imagination and an understanding of what is needed to make the game environment. That is the purpose of this article, to give you what you need to build a solid game environment. While there is more that I could cover (this article could be 60 more pages long), this sums up the key elements you need to consider when making an environment.
Remember, your job as an environment designer is to create a sense of verisimilitude and to meet your troupe's needs for the game. As long as an environment builder focuses on the Big Type needs and understands there time to create is actually limited, they can stay focused on doing just as much as you need to do. That way a world can be properly fleshed out without taking too much time and effort, no matter how much creativity you need to invest into the world.
Every idea you have for the world does not have to be "unique", "original", "never before seen". In fact, it is probably better it is merely a fresh take on an accepted idea. This creates a more accessible setting for your players. As a designer, do not be afraid to lift an idea from history or other sources. As the Wiseman Bob once said, "Good Gamemasters borrow, Great Gamemasters steal shamelessly." Take it. Use it. Make it your own. As long as you are not reselling it, everything should be fine. Remember the plot of Romeo and Juliet had been floating around for centuries, but Shakespeare took it and made it his own. He did an okay job, don't you think? So will you.
Every part of the environment should be appropriately thought out, be consistent and connected, fit the other Cs, and presented well so your players believe in the environment. This creates the magic of verisimilitude, the illusion of completeness. Remembering that the environment is there for you to tell stories (and play out action) with your friends, will make your work be that much more useful.
So now that you have the understanding, apply some imagination and time and create a game environment of your own.
Tis is the reply to click to respond to this article ->->->->->->->->->->Go to Comment
Kinslayer, do you know how many years it has taken me to collate this article? It is the collected bits of wisdom over decades of world building. It took me nearly four months to get the proper phrasing together to create the first prototype article/ convention seminar. That has been expanded, and expanded again, to reach this current state.
So there we are. I wish I could pop it back in time and support the gaming community. Anyone have the number to Temporal Express, when it absolutely, positively has to be there yesterday? Go to Comment
Here is a worksheet that is fairly complete. From this stage I would generate a more complete write up, including sheets for important regions and such. This would does need a bit more chrome and some interlord conflict to be truely ready, but it is about 70% complete for what it is.
Oh and if I was running this world, it would probably be in Hero System so I could custom all the Noble Powers.
(XX) Sift and sort
(xx) Top down process (__)(__)(__)
(XX) Bottom up (__)(__)(__)
Themes and Images:
The world is built upon the seven elements, each represented by a gem/power stone. (An 8th element exists, as alien force invaded the world). Each stone type glows slightly. It has a base color, with overtones of the second color. Magery is built upon the stone elements, requiring foci. Noble houses are bound to one of the elemental powers, having innate magical abilities.
1) SunStone: Yellow and White swirling mass
2) GreenStone, sometimes called LifeStones. Anchor that of the Sphere itself.
3) MoonStone: White and White
4) RockStone: Brown and Red
5) LightningStone: Yellow and Blue
6) WaterStone: Blue and Green
7) Cloud Stone Blue and White
8) NightStone Black with Blue. An alien stone. Alien invaders from another realm came with this power. Aka DarkStone and BlackStone. Shadi or Shadowstones as well. Anyone who has one can wield a NightStone's power. No binding rite required. More powers can be generated if binding is done.
The world has three continents. The first two are north south axis Asia sized, the last is Australia sized. The last one is the "new world"
We have a variety of terrains in each of the lands.
Fairly Earth typical.
Dragar: Larger than horse sized Dragon creatures. Quadropeds that can run on two legs. Only Cloudtype can fly. Each type of Dragar is alligned to an element. Can be used as warmounts.
There are some other species that are stone alligned. Gembirds (large Falcon) and GemCats (tiger sized) are also elementally alligned.
There might be some other NightStone spawn still in the hinterlands. NightStone monsters were used as shock troops by the Invaders. Some survived their master's retreats.
Other than stones, pretty standard.
Only exception: Orchium, a magical metal. In rawer form it can disrupt magic. In an alloy similiar to steel Oristell, it enhances magical effects.
Races and Peoples:
Each Noble House has its own distinctive coloring and look because of its association with a given stone. Each house will give notable attribute bonuses (and negative mods) as well.
Each region (which each lord-dom will have two or three) will have its own ethnicity. Each region is based upon old kingdom states. Most of these are cosmetic, but some will provide skills emphasis, and a rare one or two will have attribute mods. Yes this is 21 country areas to fill out
One must remember that the Champions originally came from one of these 21 areas.
Yes these 21 areas will be thumbnail sketched. If I was doing this world completely, each would get it own worksheet.
Wizards, those of the magical ability, are a seperate sub-type of human. You are born a wizard, or you are not. They are bald, odd eyed folk, with a thin build. They tend to live in their own quarters. Magic ability is double recessive, so unless both parents are wizards, you won't have magic.
Magical Fedualism. There used to be dozens of kingdoms. After invasion by DarkForces, the set of champions selected by the Grand Wizard became the first StoneLords. They rule by a combination of tradition and mystical might. They are ruled by the GreenStone house. Note: The Dark Forces can only access the world (allegedly) when there is not seven StoneLords.
The world has the late Medievalish set of social classes of Growers, Makers, Wizard, Warrior, and Noble.
Each of the 21 regions has its own little flavor.
There are six months in a year (each Month is two terrestrial months). The year has four seasons. The world has approximately 336 days.
The Moon face changes and revolves in an eight week period. It takes four weeks to move between new to full.
GreenLord's Council- StoneLords (and occasionally their heir or represenitives) sit and debate what needs to be done. Then the GreenLord does it.
Guild Council- every area, region, and lord-dom has one. They run business and business concerns for everyone. They have to defer to GreenLord's council for anything that effects the world.
Wizard's council- The real power behind the world. They are the councillors of every Guild and Noble. They are managing the flow of the world to keep it prepared for the next Shadi invasion. (Of course the public face is that they will never come again, but the wizards know that is a total fabrication).
Laws and Morals:
Moral law: Never wear black. Only those truely EVIL would wear that color.
Laws are fairly standard, punishments vary: Crimes against lower class- fines and embarassing slaps on wrists, crimes against same class- notable fines and minor servitudes, crimes against higher classes- major servitudes and maybe death. Note: Crimes against wizards hold death penalties and worse. Nobody messes with them because they are generally respected and revered by everyone. If you do, well it had better of been worth it because you will wish you had not.
Usual family situation is one or more grand parent, husband and wife, their children. If the family is noble, there might be brothers and sisters of the husband and wife along.
The world has the late Medievalish set of social classes of Farmer, Crafter/Merchant, Wizard, Warrior, and Noble.
You are born into your class. You can only change classes under extraordinary circumstances. After completing training or achieving adulthood, the wizards brand you with your class guild affiliation.
Growers: We Make Food. Tied to your given parcel of land, trading food for protection or craft goods. Farmers also include herders and gatherers. Woodsmen associated with a given green, are generally of the Growers.
Makers: We Make Things.
You are tied to the guild of your birth. You might slide to another guild, but it is unlikely. Some of these folks work villages, but most are in towns. A few are noble retainers, but they are few and far between. After all, hanging around nobles is a good way to get attacked.
Wizards: We Do Wisdom. General magic users. They function as priests, advisors, councilors, and occasionally magic users. While most are associated with nobles, there should be one in each town/ city.
Warriors: We Enforce Order.
These are non powered nobles. They come in two flavors, Sheriffs and Knights. Sheriffs are retainers to Nobles, running a given plot, keeping order, protecting growers, crafters, and towns.
Some are retainers to Sheriffs. These Knights act as the strong arms of the given Sheriff.
Nobles whos bloodline has shifted from the Prime become Warriors by default.
Nobles: We Make Order.
These are the bloodlines descended from the original champions, first StoneLords. StoneLords are SuperHero competitive. Their family and first blood relations have powers, but about half. Two blood steps away have a touch of power. Three or more are nothing but honored warriors. (Bloodline is set by the gender of the StoneLord).
The symbol of their power is their StonePowers, super powers they receive from their association with a Stone's force. The closer your blood tie is to the StoneLord, the more notable your powers. It is easy to spot nobles here.
Stones (as apposed to StoneLords) are normally assigned to supervise the Sherriffs of a given region. In addition some Nobles become Sherriffs.
Note: If someone else was given the ritual of marking/ accension, they would become the StoneLord and their clan would be given the power. While people think the bloodline is important, it is not.
Note that the StoneLords owe fealty and support to the GreenStoneLord. He coordinates their efforts.
Knights keep local order
Sherrifs control areas
Stones control regions
StoneLords control Lord-doms
GreenStoneLord controls the stonelords.
We have a feudal economy. Silver coins find their way to peasants as their basic "rent" in food is minimal per GreenStone Law.
Religion, not a big thing here. One Universal Force/ Diety, wise and unknowable. A vague father figure. The world is nothing more than the interplay of the seven cosmic forces. Wisdom comes from understanding the interplay of the cosmic forces. We have a zen/taoist religion view.
Wizards (who are effectively priests) use their understanding of the flows to do magic, but more importantly guide people to be in harmony with the cosmic forces. Wizardborn (half wizards) and humans who act as acolytes to support wizards.
Wizards are divorsed from worldly affairs. That is part of their problem. They give good theoretical advice, but very bad specific advice. They also view the world with "rose colored glasses." (note, future dramatic element).
Wizards perform Marking ceremonies, where people are magically tatooed with class and or guild symbols. That way you know what everyone is supposed to be.
Technology and Common Power:
Military Weapons and Tactics
Fairly standard fantasy fare. Plate and Chain at best.
Orch steel swords are used by Stone and elite warrior (usually of noble clan) units. This enhances their power.
GreenLord has a unit that is equipped with Orchium shields and swords. They are designed to stop rogue wizards (very rare) and nobles.
Pre-industrial production. The population is not large enough and the economy under developed to have an industrial revolution. Things are created in shops with a couple of guildsmen working together.
This is where the world gets tough. It only has non-magical healing. The wizards are good at this non-magical healing as educated folks. Green Cloaks are the healers here, all taught at a central accademy (at the GreenLord's lands). They are actually better healers and medical personal than one would expect given the world.
Crop Rotation and some land management skills. The world is not quite at full occupancy given its food production.
Wizards have a magical way of communicating (telepathy). Other than that, it is couriers.
Math and Science:
Solid Greek Levels of science. Seems advanced, but really isn't.
They like big flashy structures. Welcome to a world with lots of flying buttresses.
Books. Literacy is standard in the upper classes and very common in the Makers class. Growers tend to be illiterate, but some do know.
Geography and survay work is actually very competent. The GreenLord, working with another lord to be named later, wanted a complete survay of the world.
Solstice, Equinox, and the birthday of each StoneLord in their own lands. NewYears is on the Spring Solstice.
They don't really have a religion to spawn more holidays.
Horses. They have the wheel.
Wizards can teleport themselves and under dire circumstances others great distances (wityh vague targeting).
Wizards run the gate system.This is about as common and as frequent as transatlantic flights in the late 20s. That is to say, not at all, and very expensive.
Songs very common. A Bardic class may be appropriate
I need to work out some classic works. Many sing the praises of warriors who defeated the Shadi.
There is occasionally an organized crime guild, but that is rare and more a thing of myth. They are normally small crime families.
There are still those alligned with the Shadi, those of the DarkStones. They are secret cultists, trading power and position (now and in the future) for assisting the Shadi
The StoneLords will have minor "super powers" based upon their Stone Allignment. Those of NobleBlood will also have weaker versions of these powers, the farther away they are from the Lord by blood. The family chooses the next StoneLord, and in a wizardly ceremony
Wizard can perform minor powers of all stone allignments, in addition they can do meta-magic or things that effect power. They have mental powers (and magic that simulates it). They can sense the future, look at the present, and snoop on the past. They work Orchium and Oristell.
Magic StoneSwords enhance the cosmic magics of the Nobles. If you have a touch of blood, the sword can help you.
NightStone power is somewhat limited due to a binding done by the original StoneLords. It is still there and can be quite effective, but it is nothing compared to its full power. The full power can only be accessed by breaking the binding. That can only be done in a time of transition, between the accension of new StoneLords after the death of another. (SO you can imagine their Shadi agents are working to forment issues to causes power struggles and even civil wars.)
The Shadi are still around in very limited numbers. Those that are here are trapped here. (any travel to the world is one way). They are odd people with green grey skin and huge eyes.
Their monsterous shocktroops were mostly killed off in the way, but a few were left behind when the Shadi pulled out. This monsters still occasionally come out from the hinterlands (or lost eggs) and wreck havok.
Elementals are small handsized critters that reflect the stone cosmic forces. Pretty but have little practical application.
Big War. Other races killed. BlackStone badies invade.
Wizards bring together champions. They allign with the powers of Rythor's stones, and defead the BlackStone badies.
Establishment of the StoneLord's rules.
All the elements have allied powers and antagonistic powers which they have bonuses and mods against. GreenStone has a slight advantage against everything except DarkStone. Go to Comment
The key here is the clear, concise and thorough presentation of the material in the posts. I have used many of these approaches and for those I have not, I soon will. Thanks for taking the time to provide a great compilation of approaches. Go to Comment
This is a nice article MoonHunter. Many experiences gathered and put to text.
If there is one thing I feel missing in the article, it is about the inclusion of player activity in the world building process. You did touch the subject twice (character weave and no gm is an island) (yes, this article could easily be 60 pages long. )
This may be a basic truth but as such it may deserve mention in your article; always let the pc's actions (no matter how small) have some effect on the setting.
Include the PC's. Don't let death and retirement be the end of things. Much later the pc's could read about the loved wizard in a dusty fairy tale book, visit the restaurant of the retired half-orc chef or meet the grand children of that master thief played such a long time ago.
Then with the twists and turns of time details about their pc's could be distorted, roles reversed and facts made false. This could annoy the pc's as the names of their pc's with time get a rediculous pronounciation, etc...
If their characters were epic the entire setting would probably be affected. Nations and provinces, royal lines, etc... The players could leave their marks on every aspect of the setting. Go to Comment
Do you use this worksheet yourself? And if so, do you have any
examples of a filled-out worksheet you could spare? I think it
would make an excellent companion to the article (which I loved,
by the way -- I've started applying your ideas to my campaign
Thanks for the huge amount of effort that went into this
article! Go to Comment
This is probably the most useful world building thing I have ever seen. It is a bit long, but it is one of the most informative role-playing articles I have ever read. I'm using this for my campaign world, Definitely! Great post :-) Go to Comment
this would be much better, even useful if it was written for the task. This is essentially technical writing and thus should use concise prose to communicate points. The first two full paragraphs in the intro could have been two sentences. Go to Comment
I wanted to begin presenting a world, and browsed for articles to help present. I found this and I'm awed. This is an amazingly comprehensive tool which will help shape my works from this point forward. I'm bookmarking it and will be coming back to it often. Go to Comment
On route from Geli to Nekrass the characters meet a peasant boy on the road. He's wandering in the direction from which they've just come. If this seems a little bit incongruous, they may wish to ask him a few questions. He's perfectly willing to talk: he's called Lamish and he's run away because he knows he is the heir to the throne of Geli and his parents didn't believe him. How far is his home? About five weeks walk from here. How much has he eaten? Nothing. Has he drunk? Only from the filthy roadside ditches. In short, it's a wonder he is still alive. And yet he seems perfectly healthy.
Is he a thief, waiting for travellers to trick? Is he lying because there's something more sinister under all of this? Is he telling the truth? And anyway, what should the characters do? Do you take him to Geli? Do you try to find his parents? Or leave him to make his own way?