World Building Guide. Part 4.

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One of the most important aspects of creating a believable world, is developing a rich and colorful history. It is not enough to create a world, city or village and just expect your players to buy into it. If you look at our own world, you can see parallels in some current things, based on patterns from the past. Cultures grow and change, Forests thrive or vanish and even land masses change. While you may not have to go so in depth as to account for inches lost along the regional coast lines, it is important to create a past for your world.

So far in our series we have been developing a single region. The region contains a dozen or so settlements, a small mountain range to its north, a prominent forest and at least one river. The village of Newton and the town of Heraford (being part of this region) have witnessed many things over the years. So how did these settlements come to pass? what has happened in the region that has shaped the citizens way of life? Lets begin by once again making a few basic observations, and some notes.

Firstly I need to decide on a time line. lets say the current year is 2360. This would mean that technically I have two thousand three hundred and sixty years of history to account for. That sounds like a daunting task, but in reality it is not. History is remembered by its significant moments, and not the day to day actions of the people or the regular daily involvements of nature. What we have to decide is the key moments in our worlds history, and in particular (for now) the ones that pertain to our region. At this point I do not need to create every event in our time line, I only need to think about anything monumental and big enough to have had a direct impact on the region we are developing. I do not want my region to be too new, but at the same time it is clearly not one of the oldest and most developed regions in the world. I am going to make a few notes to help me flesh out a time line at this point.

I decide my region became settled in as part of a conquest. Six hundred years ago this region was populated by only a few tribes of humans and by many more goblins that it has dwelling in it today. I decide that the settlers came from the west, and as such my earliest settlements would have developed in that direction. The city that I placed in my region is in the west, so It makes viable sense that it began as a village six hundred years ago, and has grown up over time to become the city it is today. The settlers spread eastwards and it would probably take a few generations or so before they may have settled where Heraford is situated so maybe Heraford began as a village four hundred years ago. Newton is close to Heraford so maybe it was only one hundred years later when they began to settle on the banks of the river and create a village. This would put Newton being about three hundred years old as a village. Of course during this time they were also spreading North and Southward too. In making these notes I answer a few questions for myself, but raise new ones. For example why did the folk of Heraford branch out and create Newton? Well lets assume that as the original settlement village grew and expanded in the west, some pioneers wanted a chance to improve their lot in life so left and traveled east and settled in a new location. over time this happened again but each time they would not want to be too far from civilization, and the safety of being close to an established settlement. In this way Heraford was created. Discovering the river, and the forest, it was natural for the people to travel (almost a day) to gather, hunt and fish. However the forest being still very dangerous at that time would have dissuaded anyone from settling right next to it. Now over time as the goblins were driven north, and other unsavory creatures became less commonly seen, a few brave folk decided to set up an outpost at the edge of the forest and on the river to help facilitate gathering for Heraford. They would have had several skirmishes I am sure, and it would have been a tough start. Over time it would have became easier, and more and more people would end up staying at the outpost. This is how Newton started out and today it is a thriving village.

You see how this thought process works. If you examine your region and look at the land features, you will see reasons for why settlements should or should not exist. Also about now you may be looking back at some of the original decisions you made with placing settlements or land features and may wish to rethinks a few things. You may also rethink some of the relationships between towns. For example. It would seem sensible to me now that as Newton grew from an outpost that belonged to Heraford, it is logical that the small council in Newton answers to the Council in Heraford. I should also probably increase the number of families that have members in both locations too.

So far we have some local timelines started but we need more. We decided that the region developed and became civilized after a conquest. This would be a major Historical event so we need to flesh that out a little. Six hundred years ago clearly we had a conflict. Who (if anyone) ruled this region then? Who conquered it? Well as we already decided until then, this region was home to only a few human tribes, and many goblins, it would seem logical that the goblins were probably the closest thing to rulers that the region possessed. So it would become clear that the conflict was between some humans from the west, and the goblins. I am going to decide that this region was home to six different goblin tribes, and the largest of which had a king named Rablegash the mighty. The region to the west is large and a domain for human kind. It is (at that time) going to be ruled by Horace Vamillion the third. So six hundred years ago we can say that King Horace came into conflict with the goblin tribes and undoubtedly King Rablegash. Why did this happen would be my next question? I decide that the goblin tribes were growing, and tribal in fighting over territory was becoming more frequent. This lead to the tribes expanding their domains and some of them began to encroach on King Horace’s lands. Initially they were small skirmishes and raids but it soon became to frequent for King Horace to ignore. At this point, King Horace decided that defending his borders was becoming to time consuming and problematic so he decreed that he would route out the goblin menace and crush it at the source. He marched his army into the goblin lands and over a three year campaign he crushed the majority of the goblin menace and saw King Rablegash slain at the battle of  Rocky creek. The remaining goblins fled North or hid in the mountains.

Right their my little story creates the basis the basis for a historical event. It also means I need to add a special feature (Rocky Creek) to my region and ensure that most in the region know its significance. I will continue to come up with interesting historical events in this way to cover the last six hundred years. Maybe one hundred years ago there was a small goblin uprising as some of the goblins left the mountain and had to be vanquished? Maybe this occurred because deep in the mountains the goblins are running out of room? Maybe that deep cavern I added back in part 3 leads to an underground goblin kingdom? I also need to go back further in history. While the last six hundred years will be of most significance to our region, the world was shaped by events and deeds way before that. I should consider developing King Horace’s lineage as part of this too, and there are always notable events in the history of a royal family. I could go on giving examples here, but you get the idea of how to develop a time line by now. If you keep coming up with ideas, writing them down in note form and then answering any logical questions that these notes raise, you will have a good basic chronological time line  which you can continue to develop over time. I always like to leave a few decent gaps between some events, to allow myself the freedom to add historical events later. Some times (during game play) I see an opportunity for a great adventure hook that would benefit from a certain historically significant event, so I enjoy having the freedom to create it and fit it into my time line.

You can see how developing a history lends towards helping develop the current world. These historical events bring the world to life with a much needed sense of depth. The players of this world can draw from this historical knowledge. They may decide to go into the caverns to investigate and see if there is indeed a pending goblin threat, or they may be hired to do so. They may decided to scour Rocky Creek for lost items or may discover that some of the fallen warriors from the battle six hundred years ago have been seen wandering at night. Simple historical additions create opportunities for adventure hooks that can be employed by both players and Dungeon masters alike. In an organic free flowing game or (unstructured game) where the players decide more freely what they wish to do, and adventures are not given to them so linearly by the Dungeon Master, this kind of world development becomes essential. You can not progress successfully to this kind of advanced game play without a well developed world!

In the next part of this series we will look at fleshing out the details of your regions special features…….

Happy world building.

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The one when a riot interrupted the game!

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So lets go back to the early nineties. I had been playing with a particular friend from school for many years. We had participated in many weekend long sessions and had played all manner of Role Playing games together. One day he asked me if I would consider Dungeon Mastering for he and a few other friends he had made in a different social circle. Always eager to run games for new groups I happily accepted so the following week I found myself pulling up on my motor cycle outside the town apartment for one of the new group. My friend had already arrived, and he introduced me to the group. The apartment belonged to a couple (who were both playing) and other than my friend there were two others. He had a huge black board table top, so we used miniatures for this campaign, and drew the floor plans with chalk as we went. The games ran every Friday evening and I have fond memories of listening to “The Blues Brothers” and the “Bonzo Dog Do-Dah Band” in the background as we ran through our table top adventures.

Weeks of play had gone by and here we all were on yet another Friday evening. My group were eagerly wading through a mob of Orcs when we heard helicopters flying over head. Thinking nothing of this we continued play, but the helicopters seemed to keep returning and spending a lot of time directly overhead of the apartments in which we were playing. We decided to look out of the window, and were able to see the police helicopter circling around a parking lot not to far from the building we were in. We could see a group of local yobbo’s gathering in the parking lot and they seemed to be a little high spirited. They were yelling up at the police helicopter and I am sure they were using colorful language and probably not asking directions.  They continued their verbal assault for several minutes, and a few even attempted to hurl rocks up at the helicopter (which was at an altitude far to high to be at risk from the stone projectiles).

It was not long after that, when an East Sussex police van pulled up. Several of the local Bobbies piled out of the back and we could see they were wearing riot gear and carrying riot shields. By now our game had come to a complete halt as the adventure going on outside was far to entertaining. The police began to form a line, but what happended told us they had clearly lost the initiative roll. The local thugs charged with extreme vigor directly into the police line and we saw the police pushed back behind a building, and beyond our scope of vision (much to our dismay). We could hear the yelling and hollering but could not see what turmoil was in fact occurring.  Suddenly the gang of thugs came back into view, and were back pedaling and hurling rocks as they did so. The police had clearly instigated a Bull rush maneuver and were pushing the gang back. It reminded me of the scene in Star Wars when Han Solo charges the group of Storm Troopers down the corridor, only to come running back with them blasting at him a moment later. Now at a range of some thirty feet, the gang continued to hurl projectiles at the police (to no avail due to the additional Armor Class the shields afforded them). The gang at this point realized that they were being forced back towards a brick wall, that had a chain link fence on top of it. Clearly not a favorable position for them to be in. At this point (as if some hive mind was at work) they all scattered in different directions. The boys in blue gave chase and soon they were dodging through parked cars, diving through hedge rows and scaling fences all over the place. We watched as several of the thugs were apprehended in the initial melee, but several had clearly evaded capture.

Soon there was really nothing to watch outside the window, so we tuned into the police scanner that our host owned and listened to the police coordinating their efforts to apprehend the rest of the thugs, on the private police band radio “COUGH”. The helicopter continued to make random passes over head, but by ten O’clock, all was quiet. The police scanner kept us informed of the goings on but by eleven O’clock they had called it quits and the regular weekend chatter of arresting the drunkards or responding to break ins was all that was left to entertain us.

Needless to say very little gaming was done that evening, and the Orcs they were fighting before all the real world excitement kicked in, probably breathed a sigh of relief and crept off into the darkness……….

World Building Guide. Part 3.

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We have previously discussed how to begin putting a world together, and how to build the structure of your first town or village. We also looked at building your Non Player Characters in that settlement as well as their relationships with each other. It is important to not only build the relationships between people, but also between places. Once you have a single village (like Newton) developed, it will need some other places in the surrounding area for it and its inhabitants to interact with. Now it is time to make Newton, the forest it is close to and the portion of the river it sits upon part of a wider area or region. Much like we have counties or Parishes in our world, your world will benefit from similar borders or boundaries to define areas. I do not want my first region to be too big, so I am going to make it about one hundred and twenty miles from east to west, and about one hundred miles north to south. This way it can be crossed within a week by most people. It gives me a large enough area to have several other settlements, as well as a few places of interest for my players to explore.

Let us go back to Newton and make a few more decisions. We already decided that an average days travel for the folk in this area (being as horse and cart would be the standard medium of travel) is Fifteen to twenty miles. This is also the base distance we used when figuring out how large to make the region. We decided that a town is just within a days travel of Newton, so I would begin by creating and building that town. I decide to place it West (along the road). I develop this town in the same way I did Newton. We will call this town Heraford. Once I have completed it and created all the internal structures and relationships, it is time to look outwards.

I now need to look at the relationship between Heraford and Newton. I begin by deciding their social view of each other, and any dependencies they may have. How would Heraford describe Newton and vice versa. Lets start by examining the two settlements. Hereford is a town of three thousand people. It is close to some hills where a prominent ore mine is established, so it is primarily a mining town. It has more advanced building structures than Newton and has a larger population by far. It has a Mayor much the same as Newton, but it has an elected council of twelve people to keep up with the politics and running of the town. It is situated on the western trade road but is closer to a large city than Newton. Newton on the other hand is a village with one hundred and twenty people. It is situated close to a forest and sits upon the bank of a river. Well Newton will rely on Heraford for ore and most of its metals. It also may benefit from some of the overflow trade that heraford may receive from the closer proximity to the city. Hereford, on the other hand, needs lumber for building and in particular for mining. It may also enjoy some of the fresh fish from the river, and game and fur from the forest. We can see that both are somewhat dependent on each other, so the odds are they would have an amiable relationship. Also as we decided the town Heraford, would have a church and that Newton would only have a shrine, It is probable that many of the villagers from Newton travel to Heraford on Sundays or at least for religious special occasions. Also the local priest in Newton probably answers to the clergy in Heraford. Several of the people that grew up in either town, will probably have met and some ultimately married, so it is also a good idea to have some of the Non Player Character bloodlines living in both locations. So as I create the Non Player Characters for Heraford, I will be referencing Newtons populous, and extending some of the families.

This process will go on until I have several settlements in the region I am working on. Each settlement will be cross referenced with the others in its region, and in particular those that are closest to it. In this way we not only build an economy, but a civilized structure for life in the region. we should also then look at how each settlement is run, and decide who is over the region. Is it a local lord or a king? or does every settlement come under the jurisdiction of the city in that region?

Of course some regions you may develop may be less than civilized. maybe it is a vast tundra full of nomadic tribes that war between each other, or maybe it is a vast mountain range and only has a few remote outposts. Regardless the methods described so far will allow you to develop any region.

So lets assume that by now we had about ten settlements in our region. As we built them we noted features we wanted them to be near, some forests, rivers hills mountains etc. Now is the time we are going to look at those chosen features and begin to develop those.

We will begin with the forest outside of Newton. Firstly how big will it be? well I want it large enough to hide a few interesting things but it can not be too large or it will engulf much of my region. about fifteen miles in either direction will suffice. Maybe also at its northern most end it butts up against the foothills to some mountains so I will be considering that too. Also the river runs through one corner of it so that too will have an impact.

Well firstly we can begin by deciding what kind of trees grow in the forest. Is it a pine forest or are the trees more oak and elm etc. Next what natural creatures live in the forest. Well most certainly we will have small rodents, birds, snakes and insects. We will add bears, deer and bore to the mix and maybe even a few bobcats or mountain lions may be wandering (as the mountains are close by to the North). I do not need to add every single critter to the list, but it is important for me to examine the base natural life that inhabits my forest. The river makes it particularly viable for deer etc so that part of the forest would be great for hunting. Bear would come for the deer as would the villagers from Newton. Also bears love to fish. The temptation of the deer may be enough to draw some of the mountain lions further south than normal as well so it may not be uncommon to find those not to far away from the river. We also want to add a few additional features in the forest, such as where a few clearings may be or particularity large or old trees.

With the basic forest outlined we then want to add a few special features. old ruins, caves, caverns, demi human settlements etc. Reminding myself of the size of my forest, I am going to begin by adding a cave or two in the Northern part. The forest undoubtedly rises up to the north to meet the mountains, so this would be a logical place. How deep are the caves? well one is fairly shallow and only goes in a few hundred feet. The other I decide delves way down into the mountains and even meets an underground river at some point. The first cave may be home to bears, or maybe something more exotic. The other cave however gives us some exciting options. I am going to decide to make this somewhere my players are going to want to explore, and I can develop a good dungeon or something equally as exciting here. I may also decide that towards the center of the forest there is a small grove, and maybe woodland Nymphs or Dryads may dwell there. Each of these features is subject to similar consideration as the settlements where. Why is it there? Who or what lives there? What relationship does it have to the settlements? It is important to remember these things as you develop the special features. If I decide to put a goblin settlement inside the forest or perhaps in one of the caves, it is realistic to expect conflict to have arisen with the villagers of Newton. This would change the relationship between Newton and Heraford also, as Heraford would not want Newton to be over run by goblins. The social dynamic is an important aspect to consider when world building, and one that all to few Dungeon Masters consider in enough depth to allow their world to be believable.

We would continue to follow this process through out our region. Addressing the mountains, hills, forests, rivers, plains, marshes etc one by one until we have them fleshed out. Now you notice I did not go into detail about what I was going to put in my second cavern, only that I was going to make it a place that my players would want to visit. It is not important just yet to fill out all the details of each special feature, only to mark the existence of them. We need to be able to have some areas ready to adapt and grow as needed, while others we will want to have fully developed. Before we do to much with these special locations however we are going to want to develop some history for our region. We will look at developing the history of your world, and a chronological time line in part four of this series.

Happy World Building……….

The one with the player plant.

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So at a table long long ago and in a land far far away. Actually it was like twenty years ago and in Hastings England. I was part of a New gaming club that had been created. We met weekly above a local pub, (in their function room) and all manner of gamers came to play. Board gamers, Magic players, Role Players and so on. I was running a new Advanced Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Several of my players from different groups I had previously ran for showed up, and formed as a new player mob. There were five of them in total. We were about to get underway rolling up characters when a sixth long time player showed up. He asked politely If I minded him joining, which I of course said I did not mind in the least. He then pulled me aside and told me that he was moving in five months so couldn’t play long term. Hearing this I saw an opportunity to try something I had always wanted to do. What if one of the characters was a plant and secretly working against the group from the inside? More importantly what if the players never knew, and thought that this was just another player? Metagaming would be removed for the most part, and how fun would it be when the main group of players found out that the very person they were out to stop had one of his best agents infiltrating them.

Well me and player number six rolled up his character sheet, and then made a copy that was slightly altered. Player six had rolled a Lawful Evil cleric of a particularly nasty religion, but on his “other” sheet it said he was a Neutral Good cleric of another more pleasant deity.

With the other players completely unaware of the rouse we were playing, we commenced the first play session the following week, and began the campaign.

The party of adventurers, had been beseeched by a local lord to remove a curse that had befallen his family. Many years ago one of his ancestors destroyed a powerful Necromancer, but not before the Necromancer had chance to enact a terrible dying curse. The curse would cause each and every member of his slayers bloodline (upon death) to rise as a member of the living dead. Each relative for the past two hundred years has risen from the grave as a terrible specter that haunts the remaining living family members. The lord had made it his life’s work to rid his family of the curse, but now in his latter years he was unable to complete the task himself.  He knew of a powerful holy artifact that can undo the curse. It was a holy blessing bowl, that if filled with holy water and poured upon the remains of the Necromancer, would remove the curse forever. He wanted the players to seek out the artifact and then use it to rid his bloodline of the curse.

The party adventured for several weeks, working their way towards finding the artifact, unraveling clues to its whereabouts etc, and all the time unaware that one player is in fact a descendant of the Necromancer, and as part of his lineage has sworn to ensure that the curse does not get broken and that the lords family will forever suffer.

Several situations arose that our evil cleric player skilfully twists to his advantage, and the long and the short of it is he sends the entire party off on a red herring. Now due to the fact that the players do not know that this is going on, he is able to do so fairly easily and no Metagaming comes into play as the rest of the players are blissfully unaware of his actions. A few carefully slipped notes here and there, and discussions away from the table allow him to maneuver and manipulate the situations to his advantage, all the while enjoying the trust of the players and the other characters.

Eventually the players get back on track, and finally we get to a climactic battle where our hero’s are attempting to save the life of a man who is known to be one of only three people that knows the true location of the artifact. He is being held captive by some particularly nasty individuals, and the party is infiltrating their stronghold, and planning a daring rescue. In the final battle just before the party are able to save the man, our evil cleric character kills the man they have fought so hard to rescue. At this point we are only a week away from the player of the evil character from moving away so it is time to let the proverbial cat out of the bag. The look of shock and surprise on the rest of the players faces was priceless, and they absolutely loved the fact that they had no idea for twelve weeks of play what we were up to. The party ultimately killed the evil cleric, and set out to find on of the other two people who knew the artifacts whereabouts, and the campaign went on. This campaign, and in particular the opening three months was talked about for years to come.

There are two points I want to make by telling you this story.

1. You can play an evil character amongst a good group if you play smart and understand that being evil does not mean you have to act evil all the time. In this situation the evil cleric, healed, battled undead and did everything a goodly cleric would do for his party. All of his evil actions were hidden from the rest of his party. The fact that the other players did not know about it made it real, and allowed him the luxury of acting without unfair suspicion. Only the acts that he did in character that were witnessed by the other characters were under scrutiny at any time, and as the players themselves did not know, the  role playing is what mattered with no fear of the Metagame being a problem.

2. Sometimes, no matter how good your players are at not Metagaming, it’s better for them not to know certain things, as not only does it avoid temptation to act on player knowledge, but it also allows them to enjoy the real surprise and shock when certain things become known………