Setting Building
Game Mastering
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December 15, 2005, 6:08 pm

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Cheka Man

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It is a Small World


This article is also know as World Building 1A.

Every GM eventually begins to build their game environment. Even if they use a “canned” premade environment, eventually they will want to put their own stamp on it.  This is a good thing. It takes much less time and effort than you might think, after all authors do it all the time.  Now Every world builders and GM should have this rule in mind.

The rule of Masterpiece:

Only spend as much time on a world, map, scenario, or NPC, as the amount of play and enjoyment it will allow. A masterpiece is not a masterpiece unless someone actually sees it. Spending three months writing a three session scenario is a waste of good gaming time.  This is also known as the Mona Lisa rule.

You see, your job as the builder of a game environment is to give the environment the illusion of completeness. You do not need everything; you need “just enough”. In aspects of the environment that the players will interact with, you will need a great deal of detail. In aspects that players care very little about, just one or two details will suffice.

This can mean vague maps and rough city sketches. If perfect maps are not available, why make them? If you don’t emphasize maps, the players won’t feel required to have them. If you want, there are thousands of historical maps and floor plans out there, adapt them to your needs to save yourself the trouble of making them.

The important things to consider when creating a game environment are: Terrain and Weather, Flora/Fauna, Resources, Races and People, Cultural Overview, Calendar and Holidays, Standards of weights and measures, Institutions (Religions, Governments, Guilds, Large Businesses), Laws and Morals, Family life, Social Classes, Political, Economics, Religion, Technology, Transportation, Arts/ Literature, Shadow (Criminals and those in the shadows of society), Power (Magik, psionics, etc), Paranormal (beasties, monsters, etc), History of the area, and Rule Modifications to accommodate the game environment.

One of the best trick for gamers is to consider the game environment the single most important character in your game. Treat it that way. It needs a concept, a physical description, statistics/ abilities (defining what it can do), and a history, just like any character. Invest the effort to bring it to life. GMs: Each sub-section of the environment (a nation, a neighborhood, a building, a forest) can be considered its own character. The process continues with more “character creation”.

One of the problems with creating a unique game environment, especially a more exotic world, is that you can leave your players “out of the loop” because they do not know the culture and the world. You think the game is whizzing along while the players begin to look at you blankly because they don’t know why things are happening. Sometimes GMs get too wrapped up in the creation to forget that they have to communicate their world to others. They need to create a world pack, or have narrative moments of some kind, to explain these things to the players. 
When setting up a campaign and creating a game environment, a GM should create a world pack. Part of the packet should be information explaining the campaign setting. This should all the information they (the players) need about the game environment and the world it represents. This does not have to be in large, long, encyclopedia like sections. It can be a collection of important pieces of information, in simple short sections- or even one line entries. Focus on the concrete things, such as daily life, food, travel, how the dead are treated, marriage, and some such.  Those are things the players will really need to know.

Include as much as you are able, as it will save you having to explain things in the future. 

Remember that you are surrounded by “experts”. Utilize the rest of your troupe’s expertise and interest. Incorporate those things into your world, and you will a) get work done without doing it and b) no have to worry about the “expert” shreading something of your world because they “built” that section. 

Finally, continuity over a campaign is all important. Building is a never-ending process. During play, many things will pop up about the game environment that was not fully considered during the initial phases of construction. Just fill in the details, keeping in mind the existing decisions about the game environment. Every now and again, do a revamp of the environment. You have added new bits to the top, start from the bottom and build back up.

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Comments ( 3 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted KendraHeart
January 1, 2006, 13:51
Baby steps are good. This is very similar to the thumbnail introduction to game mastering I received a while back.
Voted valadaar
November 27, 2007, 15:56
A nice discussion on world building. I'm an offender breaking the Mona Lisa rule...
Voted Longspeak
February 17, 2014, 19:49
I'm being pulled today from one MoonHunter masterpiece to another.

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Random Idea Seed View All Idea Seeds

Order of the Moonbeard

       By: valadaar

Among the assortment of organized criminals who live in the great city, few command greater fear the Moonbeard Order.

They of course do not call themselves that, but have earned the moniker from their fashion of dying their large beards with lye to produce a distinctive crescent shape running from earlobe to earlobe. This is meant as a taunt for their enemies, for it clearly outlines their throats.

They also wear garb similar to the northern tribesman, carefully tooled leather and showing multiple, colourful glyphs.

They are feared due to the intense discipline that their group maintains, due to their origins as a warrior-sect.

They serve as paid thugs, enforcers and assassins within the city, with the client simply ordering a service from the organization, not hiring an individual. Apart from making the request and providing payment in full in advance, the order completes the assignment themselves.

Their order has many moles through the organizations of the city, and more than a couple of nobles. As such, no organized move has been made against them since their chief activity is directed against other members of the crime world. It is said that their services have been useful for those in power as well, further protecting them from persecution.

Their religion holds that their time in this world is vanishingly brief, and largely unimportant except as training for the Great Battle.

The order is very utilitarian with weapons choice - they simply use the tool needed for the occasion, though not without having trained extensively with it beforehand. Daggers, garrottes, swords, bows, battle axes, polearms, wagons, even siege engines have been used to carry out their contracts.

Encounter  ( City/ Ruin ) | January 24, 2014 | View | UpVote 5xp

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