Game Mastering
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October 30, 2005, 11:43 am

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Getting players information... World Packs


World Packs are the ONLY WAY TO GO!

When we read a story, the characters in the story know a great deal about their world. They learn new things over the course of the story, but as a general statement, they know the basics of their world. When we game, we create a story, with the players writing their character’s actions and dialog, and the GM writing the rest and functioning as the editor.  These stories are frequently derailed by players not knowing basic information about the world they are playing in.   (Oh, you’re the prince of my country, the one we are in… Yes, Fool! Take him away… *scuffle ensues*)  Would you enjoy a story where the author made stupid obvious mistakes? Of course not.  Mistakes like this frequently ruin the atmosphere and feel of games, for the GM and the other players.

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. Many standard fantasy worlds (stamped out of the Tolkein/ Western European mold) have elements that go far beyond the generic tropes; complex political situations, religious or mystical issues, or history that is detailed and applicable to the current story line.  Sometimes GMs get too wrapped up in the creation of the world and campaign that they forget that they have to communicate their world to others.

Players need to know that is going on. If you don’t the results… for your campaign can be disastrous, as players will flounder and be frustrated, as the GM will be confused and not understand why the game is not going anywhere, as players will wonder what the heck the GM is talking about.

The best tool for communication is the World Pack. A world pack is a packet of information that explains the details of the campaign and the game setting. One section of the world pack should be dedicated to the game setting, including information that the players will need to know about their character’s world.

When the GM creates a packet for a given campaign, it will include game mechanics as well as setting materials. In many cases, a well crafted game environment may exceed the stated rules of the game being played. Modifications to classes/ templates for each species or group, gifts/ flaws only available to people from a certain region, attribute modifiers for each country, odd skills, and changes in the costs of certain skills, are all quick easy changes tied to the game environment. Always make sure to note in the packet any rule changes from the printed rules.

A good portion of the packet will be information explaining the campaign setting. This should all the information the troupe 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. GMs: Include as much as you are able, as it will save you having to explain things in the future.

One thing every world packet should include is Visceral Elements, concrete things about life in the world. Birth, Death, Eating, Sleeping, Family/ Marriage, and Work/ Leisure, are some of the most important visceral elements. Every world pack should include sections on these topics. Note: Short and brief sections are sometimes better than long, complete entries.

Another component of the pack should give advice on the style of game being presented and the type of scenarios the GM is planning to present.  This way the players, if the GM hasn’t been communicating with them beforehand, know exactly what they are getting into. 

World packs are not the only tool you have to communicate, just the primary one.  Sometimes players don’t know something about the game world and the information is not in any world pack. (Sometimes, the information might be in the world pack, but you want to bring it to the player’s attention.) The GM can start the game with a Narrative Moment. This is a moment in the beginning of the game, when the GM can explain some aspect of the world. They can be little mini-lectures on some aspect of the game environment, or some cultural knowledge (myths, legends, history, etc) that the characters might need to know. GMs: If you make a habit of having narrative moments every game, then the players will not automatically know something is “special” or important when you mention it. Also note what you say in a narrative moment in your notes, so it can be added to the world pack in the future and you won’t contradict yourself in the future.

I personally create a world pack for every campaign I run. These campaigns run from four sessions to six years. The packs ranges from four to sixty four pages. Being of the game designer persuasion, my packets tend to be everything you will need to run the game from scratch (If not they quickly evolve into that as the campaign goes forward.) Overkill? A little. However my players know what the world is like, what is expected of them, what they should expect, and the style of play I am looking for. My games have few, if any, of the issues that most gms have in their games because my players know exactly what is in store for them.  Most have made positive comments about this because there is no period of “trying to figure out what is going on”, they can take straight to the story.

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Comments ( 27 )
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October 30, 2005, 11:44
I agree completely! I know I take a great deal of time designing worlds and I get a lot out of considering the finer points of what life is like in that world. But all too often, players come along and because they're more interested in the game, their style of play is inconsistent with the world setting (e.g. they want to play a powerful time-wizard or paladin in a first-level rural village setting). I try and give them background, but they are often unreceptive and just don't read it (or forget it).

But if you have a good group of players who are interested in the world you have created (and who want to help it develop) then this is certainly the way about it: it provides them with sufficient information to build on during the course of the adventure.

Voted Adel
October 30, 2005, 11:45
I agree also!! I am new to role playing and would find it helpful! after all I would hate to step on anyone toes. I personally prefer to start out from the bottom (with charecters power and such) then my character can allow the expreience she encoutered mold her mind as well as her power! A world pack would also help players decide if this was th ekind of setting and story they might be interseted in joining before they jump in!!!!
October 30, 2005, 11:46
One thing I always wish I could do would be to write a short story set in the world. The players could read the story and get a general kind of feel for the setting and flip through the other information if they wanted to know a specific.
Voted Ria Hawk
October 30, 2005, 11:46
Now that's a good idea, and might be easier in some cases.
October 30, 2005, 11:48
much easier I am sure! Sounds great!!
October 30, 2005, 11:49
Stories are nice... but...

While stories are nice, they have two disadvantages. One, people actually expect plot, characterization, and description, in their stories. So it requires you to have some craft in those areas. It is much harder to write a story than it is to GM it, especially because of those pesky English rules you have to follow. And Two, you can't always include all the information you are going to need in a campaign in a story. You can try, but unless you are writing a travel log, it gets to be pretty forced.

If you have the talent, they are a great thing to add to your world pack. If you don't, let it slide.
Barbarian Horde
July 4, 2008, 0:13
Interestingly, I've been doing something along these lines... except what I'm doing is taking my adventures as the Players are playing it out (Actual Play) and writing those up as stories. You have seen some examples on the LRPGSW, Moonhunter. Those might serve the purpose of introducing the Players to the world.

That said, I also really like the idea of World Packs, and am working on a system for that as well. The tricky part for me is that the GM when creating his world may want to keep somethings private GM Only info, have some things as General Information that all people in the World might know (capital cities, nature of the culture, etc), and then some things that only specific characters know (details of histories, local info, whos-who, etc). I'm working out how to handle that. Your post on the topic has helped clarify some of these issues. Thanks!

Cool site, btw.
July 5, 2008, 2:53
In most cases, I write everything up in a two paragraph kind of format. The first is the general information, the second is the deeper details that the GM should know. Paragraph is an over generalization, it should say section.

The GM pack presented to the players has the second paragraph removed and printed out. The GM packet I use, has both included.

To be honest, I kind have moved past that. Normally the world pack is the world pack, and all the "cool notes" are in my legal pad of gaming notes. (I am trying to make the legal pad into a large computer file, but to be honest, I am more comfortable just writing some of it out long hand.) The cool notes would be the "customization" that any GM would do with a setting, adding their own twist, flare, and flavor (as well as details needed for their campaign).

Again, do what is good for you, your troupe, and your campaign. Your milage may vary.
October 30, 2005, 11:50
This World Pack concept is fascinating and I'm kicking myself for not employing it before now... I'm working on a new setting now and I'll be certain to provide the players with this kind of information.
Voted nitouken
October 30, 2005, 11:51
YAY!!! ::Cheers:: Player handouts on steroids...

MoonHunter, just so you know, I am currently beginning a campaign, and immediately after reading your article, I began writing a WorldPack.
Voted ephemeralstability
October 30, 2005, 13:02
It did not count my vote.
Voted Zylithan
November 8, 2005, 15:40
As a new/future GM I've been building one of these on my own, but I'll make a few changes based on this article I think.
Voted Ancient Gamer
November 8, 2005, 16:00
Game Master 101 Curriculum.
I think this article is good, informative and describe vital principles for World Building GMs.
Voted Mourngrymn
November 8, 2005, 16:04
This is one of the few 5/5 I have given out.

While it gives nothing new, it details out what should be done. Which some of us fail to realize, even when we submit something new to the site. This is a good idea and something that I will be doing in the near future for my personal game. Good job Moon, makes me wish I lived near you.
Voted KendraHeart
November 12, 2005, 0:25
In our RPOL game there were several dozen posts in three threads that outlined the world and the game. I thought that was overkill, but it was one of the things which attracted me to the game.

I am printing stuff out. The pages are messy. I guess it is back to cut and paste.
Voted Roack
December 11, 2005, 20:39
Coincidentally I read this in the middle of writing a world-pack for one of my campaigns. They're a neccesity for any GM that has an even slightly exotic world.
January 11, 2006, 15:34
Having read this yet again and read my previous post I realized that it is still yet another good idea.

One thing I have done to better give my players a better scope of an area that they may know is I created a chart for geographical information depending on certain aspects of their creation and social status.

In a midival environment most people never wandered very far from their homes, especially if they were of the poorer caste in society. This is another way to help players with character information. Give them a range or knowledge about their area of influence and it narrows it down some to help pin point a background and world knowledge.
Voted Cheka Man
March 27, 2006, 13:33
I want to create my own World Pack.
March 27, 2006, 19:21
Cheka... it is not that hard. It just takes a little effort. Start small and begin to expand. After doing a checklist in WB 102 1148, I take it and expand upon it. This gives me the basics of my world back.

I then write it up with the blurbs 1461 and various character conception seeds (including any odd mechanics), plus gifts and flaws that are common or required for characters. Then you get the listings of what the world is like, starting with the viceral elements, then the rest of the checklist. Any magic system changes and combat system elements will then be next

Thus it is done.

PS: Remember to do the concrete basics that will effect the players... food, clothing, housing, and weapons... Oh and weather and environment.. that rounds it out.
Voted valadaar
November 27, 2007, 15:59
Okay, is there a link somewhere to a worked out world pack? I'm curious to see what one looks like.
November 28, 2007, 2:05
I keep wanting to put one up. However, it would be a HUGE submission (much the size of World Building 102 or larger as that is 6 pages). Since huge submission are hard to follow, it would not be much use. And such a submissions would/ should be broken up into four to normal/ good sized submissions of various types. Kerren for example , is a world pack that has been broken up into 10 submissions and is about 1/3rd transcribed. (some of the other subs were just set in the setting

Also an honest world pack would break our general rule of no game mechanics. Pulling out the refrences could be done, but would be tough. It would also pull the some of the bones out of the packet.

If you want to get a handle on what a game pack should be, I want you to think of a smaller published setting book or the small setting materials found in most core rules. It is like that, but with no art, tighter margins, and less fluff.
November 28, 2007, 9:54
Heck, you could put one up on Lulu :)
Voted klauston
April 21, 2009, 21:04
Moonhunter, your articles are exceptional. As a player, I know this kind of information at the beginning of a campaign would help in character developement, having the knowledge gained in the young, pre-adventure life of the character. As a GM, it makes sense helping the characters as already mentioned. I'll be using the ideas in the future.
July 16, 2009, 18:45
Part of an article I did elsewhere, relating to this....

One players guide which has
1) Guidelines for Character Creation for the campaign (which are the best archetypes, which flaws are good idea, which are bad...)
2) Summary of the campaign - so they know what they are getting into
3) Summary of the setting (or more).
3b) any details that might be iviceral, nteresting or important.
4) Any odd rule changes

These can run anywhere from 4 to 64 pages.
Voted axlerowes
October 14, 2010, 15:32

Wow, the only Moonhunter article I thought needed more information, it should read as a list of things players need to know.  Which in a sense it does, but in a long wordy fashion. It doesn't get into what it takes to have a well rounded character or a well rounded world, because he dealt with that elsewhere.  So what this article is getting at is how to present information to your players.  In that respect it fails, the article's only novel note is that you shouldn't be afraid to give out handouts or require reading.  It is great thought if poorly executed, and we should not forget the value of keeping a lot of wet cement in your game, so you can adapt the world to your players as things progress. 

Voted Silveressa
July 24, 2011, 23:03

A handy concept and easy way to deliver info to your players without expecting them to read a sourcebook worth of information, and it gives them a handy set of notes to reference as well.

Voted Cynditjuh
November 13, 2011, 4:19
Only voted

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