This is one very large article broken down into three pieces. It is worth the time, just make sure you have said time available.

So lets get to it. .


Your job as a game environment builder has two goals:

The first goal is to give the environment the illusion of completeness. It needs to appear to the players and any observers that the world is fleshed out and complete. The magic word is versimilitude. It is the quality of appearing to be true or real or something that has the appearance of being true or real. They do not need to know about the other sides of the walls with their two by fours holding up the prop walls. You as the builder know how empty the world really is and what is missing, but the players don't need to know. First goal requires the builder to have a basic idea about every aspect of the world, even if that idea is not fleshed out.

The second goal is to include everything the players want and the GM will need for the campaign or scenario. If you don't have what you need at the ready, the game will slow and the versimilitude will break. The second goal requires the builder to think about what the environment is going to be used for. Once that has been considered, the builder needs to make sure that those elements are not only present in the environment, but fleshed out and ready to use.

The job does not change depending on the size of the environment. In fact, size does not matter. The same process is used for creating a galaxy, a planet, a continent, a country, a city, a neighborhood, or a restaurant. It is just a matter of scale of description. When designing a galaxy, do not bother to detail a specific city, it would be like building restaurant and detailing out the salt shaker in description, game mechanics, and its origin story. When you are building big places, use big strokes about big organizations and things that fill that place and are important. When you are building small places, use big strokes about the organization, things, and such that fill that space and are important. Notice that the same same advice holds for the different scales. That is because the size of the game environment does not matter, it is the same process at any scale.

The job is not overwhelming. In fact, a good builder must live by the following creed: Do just as much as you need. You are not MA Barker or Tolkein, nor do you have to be to run a game. This brings up to golden rules that are useful in environment building.

The Rule of Masterpiece

: A masterpiece is not a masterpiece if no one ever sees it. Finish as much as you can and go on. Lavishing details will only bring heartache, if nobody ever gets to appreciate them.

The Mona Lisa rule

: Spend only as much time on a world, map, scenario, or NPC as the amount of play time and enjoyment it will allow. Two years for six hours of play is not a good investment. Invest a few hours into the environment for a few hundred hours of gaming fun.

So to recap: You only have X amount of time, spend most of it on play rather than prep work. Just make sure what you need is done before you need it.

How to build a game environment- The Process

0) Learn the process

1) Interface with the players. Also known as 'know your audience'.

2) Determinw the Key bits: Those important for the Genre, Setting, Scenarios Types, Story Arcs, and PLAYERS.

3) Brainstorm for more bits

4) Build from the top down

5) Build from the bottom up

6) Repeat steps 3 to 5 until environment is smooth and developed

7) Check Checklist

8) Formal Write up

Bits are ideas, pieces of detail, images, chunks of game mechanics, and brief answers to checklist areas.

Key Bits are central bits, the sparks or inspirations that define the environment's conception.

The Seven Cs

The seven Cs are the seven key points that you must keep in mind when designing an environment. They form a way of looking at things, generating specific questions in the builder's mind. Those questions will lead to better results. These ideas are key to making the process work.

Primary Cs

Key-Consistency makes the game more real.

Each environment is defined by some key ideas. Every part of the environment must be in line with the key bits- what the GM is trying to do with the environment. These ideas do not have to be totally consistent with reality (though it helps), but they have to be consistent within themselves.


Key- to every action this is a reaction or response

. Nothing happens in a vacuum. All elements of an environment are interconnected. This web of interconnection helps simulate the real world... granting versimilitude. While sometimes the connections are vague, they do exist. An idea or technology that is useful in one discipline is often usable in another. If you are building a smaller environment, make sure that there are connections to things outside itself.


Key- A touch of detail goes a long way

. Little things can make an environment seem real to the players. Slang, weird names, outstanding figures, unique complications, twists of fate, and things out of place (but still consistent within the environment), and other quirks make the environment more memorable. The more things stand out, the more real they seem.

Secondary Cs

Key- All things have a cycle of some sort

. food chains, water cycles, weather patterns, tides, moons, seasons, are all cycle examples. The physical cycles and people's actions in relationship to them (the build up towards something, the doing, and the afterwards) are key to life. Keep in mind the ebb and flow of human history is a cycle. Those who don't learn from the past will be doomed to repeat it.


Key- No conflict, no adventure

: Without risk, danger, need, or conflict, there is no purpose to adventure. Make sure there are things for the players to be opposed by. A paradise makes a crummy place to adventure.


Key- All things have limits

. Games that have few limits become boring once the novelty wears off. Limits make things interesting and more challanging, as there are things that need to be overcome. Without limits on power items or power itself, the characters become draft beasts for their equipment. Control applied maintains consistency.


Key- Building is a never ending process

. During play many things will pop up about the game environment that were not fully considered during the initial construction. Keep in mind the other Cs, the key bits, and fill in the details to make the situation work. Every now and again, do a revamp of the environment, using the original bits and the new bits you have developed during play. Only a bad game environment admits no modification, so don't have a bad one.

Develop the Environment

You can NOT design an environment without knowing what kind of game you are going to run in it. If you do, you will have to rework everything and your results will be choppy. Don't do it.

Okay tinker with it if you must, but don't set things in stone until you know what kind of campaign will be run.

Some people out there are saying, I don't have to develop a gameworld. No matter if your campaign is based in 'reality' or created from scratch, your game is set in a world of your own devising. It is based upon your personal interpretation of the world around you and how you see things.

Some people out there are saying, 'that's wrong, my world is Earth, Today'. To them I say, 'How many KGB agents do you know and will be including in your game world?' You are going to add things to the world as significant as a secret society or as trivial as a placement of a Starbucks. So while the world will basically be Earth today, it will not actually be the world no matter how much of a stickler for details you might be. Some people will be saying, 'but my world is Amber post the Merlin Series'. They get the same treatment as the Earth folks, it is your interpretation of the place. Embrace that truth that your environment will be different from other peoples and move on.

You are making the world. Just make sure your players and you are on the same page about what is going on.

Interface with your players, your audience
It is best if you can know your players fairly well before you make a game environment for them. Even if you do, you will still want to run thought the following steps.

Learn what they like. This sounds pretty basic, but people keep ignoring what their players want in a game. So find out by talking to them, by seeing how they play, by asking their other GMs.

Check out what they reading and watching. This will give you an idea about what their current tastes and interests are. If your friends are going to the John Woo marathon, and checking out old Bruce Lee Movies, it is time to run something with a martial arts orientation.

Get five bits from each of them. These bits could be genre elements, setting elements, types of characters, plot lines, enemies to fight, and so on. By taking many of these bits and using them to build the , you bits that are practically guaranteed to please your players.

These stages are mostly used when creating game environments that campaigns are set in. This information will impact smaller things you create as well, so keep them in mind. If one player always wants pretty barmaids, then make sure to create places that have pretty barmaids.

If you don't know your group fairly well, get them all together and get to know each other. Gather the information you can and proceed from there.

Determine the Basics
These are the basics for the campaign you will be running. The campaign impacts the setting greatly, so not having a rough idea for the campaign when you are creating the setting. These ideas can be very rough, and be revised often. You can refine your campaign another time, right now we are only interested in the things that impact the setting.

Once you have all these, or the campaign is in motion, these steps can be bypassed.

Genre: By definition, a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, marked by a distinctive style, form, or content. There are many genres available to you Fantasy, Sword and Planet, Modern Horror, Pulp, Espionage, Alternate Historical, Rockets and Rayguns, Noir, et all. The exact divisions of genre are messy and subject to all sorts of opinions. It will define the types of action and settings possible for you. In short, it help defines the campaign's and the settings conception.

Every genre has certain tropes (important aspects) which are needed, a given tone and feel to their stories. The GM needs to make sure that these things are supported in the game environment.

Background: This is the kind of setting for the campaign. This decision impacts every building decision. It also determines what things become important. If you have a horror campaign that is going to be set in the wild west (or something like it), you will need to add important wild west elements like horses, sidearms, frontier elements, and natives.

Story Arcs: What is going to be the 'big story' you are going to tell with the game? Is it 'Defeat the Empire?', 'Find the True Ring', or 'Thwart the invasion of Evils?' There should be more than one, even if the campaign is only going to start with one. Once you have determine at least one Big Story you want to tell with the campaign, you now know what things will be important to your campaign and MUST be in the setting.

Scenario types: Related to story arcs, are the types of adventures that you are planning on running. Are their going to be murder mysteries, military action, exploration, retrieving lost artifacts, or what? Once you have an idea on the types of adventures being run, you know what things should be and should not be in the environment. If you want to run murder mysteries, having a corp of mystics who can see the past, present, or future might not be a good idea to add to your setting.

Interface with the players again
Now it is time to let the players know what kind of campaigns you are thinking about running and get a feeling for what they think of it.

Campaign Trailers:
For every campaign you want to run, create a 'title' and some 'copy'. The title is akin to a book or movie title. The copy is like a book blurb or advertising text for a movie, describing a bit about the campaign background and story it will (try to) tell. Present the trailer to the players. If there is a campaign already going, think of them as movie previews at the beginning of a game. The trailers help to build interest in the possible games. Take the time to judge their responses and interest in various types of campaigns. You can then tweak the trailers to match their responses (planning appropriate changes in the campaign). By the time the campaign is ready, the players are excited about the new campaign, just as if they were excited about a new movie.

Once the players have accepted the new campaign and setting, you can begin to build the setting.

Mini-campaign: Another way to see if the players are interested in a particular campaign is to run a mini-campaign. It is a scaled down approach, meaning you will do everything need for just the scenario, ignoring much of the setting. If the players like this break from their current gaming, go through and work out the entire setting and campaign and go from there.

Next, Building the Environment


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World Building 102b: Environment building the MoonHunter way

Build the Environment -Process

1) Review the 7Cs. This is where you will be using them. A lot.

2) Environment Conception: Like a character, any game environment will have a conception. An environment's conception is best described by the key bits- the themes, images, and ideas the GM chooses to build the environment around. The conception defines the major controlling ideas, visual images to be incorporated, determining key important ideas, and bits of chrome to be added. Make sure that most of the key bits you have received from your players are incorporated into the conception. Once you have a conception firmly in mind AND feel comfortable with it, proceed.

3) Generate initial bits: This is a brainstorming process. Simple think about the setting and jot down any idea you have about the environment. Sometimes source books and historical/ technical resources are useful at this stage. If the flow of ideas needs some help, ask yourself these questions 'What do I need?', 'What do I want?', 'What is cool?'. Jot down the ideas on a pad, 3x5 cards, or a text file, what ever is comfortable for you.

4) Sift and sort: After you have a good comfortable number, stop and look at them. Select the ideas you like AND are in line with the key bits and conception, discard the rest. Using the Creation Checklist (which will be presented below), organize the bits you generated and key bits. This will show where you might still need work.

5) Top down process: This process is summarized as 'Big Ideas to small ideas, new ideas branching out'. Start with your most important ideas, then branch out from there by determining the impact of your important (big) ideas upon the setting. Do not forget the impact of the important ideas upon other important ideas. The Seven Cs are used on this step to help you generate new ideas (small) that fit with what you have. Look at an idea, and see how each of the seven Cs apply to it. Work with the new/small ideas the same way until there seems no where new to go.

6) Bottom up: This process is summarized as 'Foundation ideas building upon a skeleton'. Start this step by sorting the Important/Big and new/ small ideas again, as you did in step 4, using the checklist. Using these ideas and the checklist as a foundation, build upon them by following them to their logical conclusions. You can check each idea or important element against the seven Cs to see what is applicable.

The bottom up process allows you to close up gaps and add the details and connections to make the world more real. The bottom up process includes determining rationales/ reasons behind 'the way things are'. Again, the seven Cs are your friends in making the foundation work strong.

7) Sort and Polish: Check all the ideas and world elements/bits you have. Make sure they are complete and well formed in your mind. It is easiest to sort them by the checklist, as it will make referencing the materials easier. Remember all things added to the game environment must match the controlling ideas/ themes/ images. They must not be added no matter how cool they are.

If after your sort and polish, the environment does not seem complete, repeat steps 4 through 7. Go to step 3, if you are highly dissatisfied with the results. Two or three times through the process is quite normal.

Author's note: My personal record is five times, so do not feel dejected if you are not satisfied with it all after the first run through.

8) Formal Write up of your notes: Organize and clean up all your notes. Put them in a useful order. I recommend typing them up on a computer, so you can manipulate and reprint them when you need them. I then put the formal write ups in my GM campaign binder, so they will be at hand when I need them.


The checklist is here to increase your verisimilitude, by reminding you what to cover. As you remember, your job as the builder of a game environment is to give the environment the illusion of completeness. You do not need everything, complete and whole; you need 'just enough' for you and your group. In the aspects of the environment that the players will interact with, you will need a great deal of detail. Conversely, in aspects the players don't care about, you need very little... just one or two vague ideas will suffice. The checklist is here to make sure you cover every aspect of the environment.

In addition to explaining what each checklist item, I have included what you might want to consider in that area.

Themes and Images: Major controlling ideas, visual images to be incorporated, small important ideas, key bits, the most important world themes.

Worlds Specs: Planetological lists... if needed.

Terrain: Major terrain features, environment, climate, appearances. Remember that cities and even buildings have terrain.

Flora/Fauna: All things alive (or independent ambulatory) be they domestic, wild, predators, or just important to people.

Resources: Things both renewable and non-renewable.

Races and Peoples: Descriptions, coloring, profiles, and modifications to any rule mechanics. This includes ethnic/ subtypes of peoples as well.

Cultural Overview: This is the culture in broad simple strokes. Major themes of the culture. Languages/ Morals/ Common Beliefs/ the Unknown/ Needs

Calendar/Standards: Weights, Distances, Measures.

Institutions-Major: Areas of control and Power. These should be the important groups for both the setting AND the adventuring characters.

Laws and Morals: Legal rules/ responses/ punishments/ and manners. Social and moral rules are often more strictly enforced than laws.

Family: Types/ Sizes/ Values

Social classes: Formal and Informal/ Birth and Earned.

Political Power: Institutions and groups of political/social power, control, and who enforces the control. The power structure of the area.

Economics: Money/ trade/ value/ subsistence/ working/ monopolies

Religion: Beliefs/ Organizations/ Groups

Technology and Common Power: (Using Clarke's law and that power is just a technology in many environments)

Military Weapons and Tactics

Industrial/ Production




Math and Science: Math Engineering, Algebra. These things are the foundation required for other cooler sciences and building projects. Many 'primitive peoples' had more complicated math abilities than we have today.


Information: Writing/ Printing/ Processing. How does it get moved?

Other Knowledge:

Holidays: Historical, Cultural, Religious, Political

Transportation: Land/ Sea/ Air(?) and other

Arts/ Literature: Forms/ Usage/ Needs/ Ideals

Shadow: Criminals/ Assassins/ Deceit/ and those on the margins of society.

Power: Magic per type, Psionics, Other. Notes on users, attitudes towards it and practioners, and prejudices.

Paranormal: Weird beasties, supernatural entities, spirits, demons, Gods, the Unknown.

History Brief: Every world has two histories, the actual one and the one that people believe is true.

Rules: Special modifications in game system needed to accommodate the world. This could be a power system, special skills and races, and items.

Build the Environment -Things to consider

Big and small text: This is an idea borrowed from technical writers. It is a tool for making sure the project gets done. Big text is the important, large, and visible aspects of a subject. Small text is all the details that are not as important, that simply fills out or illustrate a big text idea. Focus on the big text initially for all checklist areas. Only work on small text of the most important areas AFTER everything else is done. If it is not an area that will impact the character's lives, avoid doing the small text for it.

Paintbrush tool: The paintbrush tool is a trick borrowed from computer uses. Find a time/ place, fictional or real, that is similar to your game environment. It does not have to be a perfect match, just close. This is your 'paint'. You can then describe things with the phrase, 'It is like X, with these differences Y'. Using the paintbrush technique, you can describe things in one line that would of taken a paragraph.

Note: This is mostly for your own use. If you are going to describe things this way to the players, make sure they know the time/ place/ piece of fiction you are painting from. If they don't you are going to have to give the complete explanation.

You can even have multiple 'paints' if your game environment is complex or diverse enough.

Once you have your 'paint', you can use it multiple times. If there is an area you have not worked out, dip into this other place and paint it into your own world, copying much of it whole cloth from this other time/ place.

Originality vs. Accessibility: Remember to balance originality and accessibility when creating a game environment. New and original environments seem more exciting and novel. If follows for some people that adding more and more new and unique elements will make them more exciting. If the environment is too exotic or unique (or just plain weird), the troupe may not have a frame of reference to understand it. This could make for too steep of a learning curve required for players to play. If the curve is too steep for 'just a hobby', they will either lose interest in or become frustrated by the scenario or campaign. Either does not bode well for the campaign. You do not need to be Tolkein or MA Barker and create your own alien world from scratch.

One issue that can come up when creating a unique game environment, especially a more exotic one, is that you can leave your players 'out of the loop' because they do not know all the myriad little things about it. The GM will think the game is whizzing along, but the players begin to look at the GM blankly because they don't know why things are happening or why people are doing what they are doing. This can be corrected by making sure the players and the GM are 'on the same page' about the setting, by checking along the way that they have 'absorbed'/ understood the setting information the GM has provided.

DaS vs. DiP (Development at Start versus Development in Play):

There are two basic methods of environment development. They are two extremes, DaS (development at start) and DiP (development in play). The extreme DaS would be to make up EVERYTHING about the setting before ever playing that setting; the extreme DiP would be to start playing without even having a basic idea about the environment, and just make it all up as you go along. While there are those who champion the extreme positions, most gamers favor a mixture of the two. This gives you a strong foundation (DaS) to build upon as the game progresses (DiP); at the minimum starting with some strong ideas about the environment and leaving the minor details to be filled in later as needed. Find a comfortable balance for yourself and stick to it.

Knowledge is Power: While there are no special fields of study required to create a game setting or environment, ignorance will not help. A little bit of knowledge will go a long way in making your game environment more interesting and complete. Learn a little bit about what you want in your setting, so you can make the best choices for your setting.

How to acquire said power of knowledge? Consult the Tomes of All Knowledge. This is also called the GM's reference section. This is where you should go to get all the information you really need on a subject.

Children's Books: That's right. They are quick, simple, easy to read, and have lots of pictures you can show your gamers. Unless you are building an epic masterpiece, they will probably fill your needs.

Almanac: Tons of facts in one handy book. The highlights include a summary of history, conversions, distances, maps, and lot of weird details you can use.

Encyclopedias: They have half to two page explanations on a variety of subjects applicable to settings.

TV: With the hundreds of channels available in most areas, some of them will have educational programming. Sit down and watch a program about history, or how a city works, or how police do their jobs. A little information goes a long way to create verisimilitude.

The Internet: Somebody has probably done all this work before and has posted it up on a site.

Fiction books with similar settings: The author has done all that research before you and applied it to their story.

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.

Character Weave:

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.

Character Lines:

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.

The March:

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.

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