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Zeful
2009-01-31, 07:21 PM
I'm currently working to design my own setting, because I don't have the money to buy the setting books, or can't get into the setting itself (Faerun). Does anybody have any advice for building a setting?

Dublock
2009-01-31, 07:23 PM
Read the Giant's World builder articles. They really do help :)

Zeful
2009-01-31, 07:34 PM
Read the Giant's World builder articles. They really do help :)
I have, they really didn't help me. Mostly because I get way to bogged down in irrelevant history (3+pages on the universe's creation seems a little much).

kamikasei
2009-01-31, 07:45 PM
I have, they really didn't help me. Mostly because I get way to bogged down in irrelevant history (3+pages on the universe's creation seems a little much).

Well, it depends.

This may be personal bias speaking, but if you try to make a setting based only on the things you want to be in it you will rely too much on cliche and standard tropes to fill in the gaps for you. If you want a setting with internal logic and coherency such that you can deduce an answer to any random question from the players that you haven't anticipated and have it flow naturally from what you've already worked out from the setting, you need to put a lot of thought into background elements that they may never come in to contact with directly.

What are the gods? What was their role in the creation of the universe? What are the fundamental forces of the setting? How do they interact? What impact has magic had on the history of the world? How have the races interacted throughout history? And so on... Obviously you don't want to write up a hundred-page saga of the creation that the players will never see or care about, but answering some of these questions that they might never ask will help to make the answers you do need come easier and hang together better.

My suggestions? Think carefully about the internal consistency of the world. How available are various types of magic and what effect will that have? Do the social structures you have in place make sense? What is the life of the average inhabitant like? What are the strata of society? What are the geopolitics like and how does that affect the kinds of adventures that are possible? What are the things that people depend on? How will the players be viewed?

Dark Knight Renee
2009-01-31, 08:07 PM
My first advice is thus: Make sure your world-map is properly scaled. I... didn't once. :smalleek: Traveling from place to place was not fun, even with high-level spells.

Second: If you restrict magic in some way (low-magic, or very limited NPC level), make you you understand the implications of this lack of availability. The game with the bloated world the size of Neptune also lacked NPC casters above 10th level, while the PCs were high-level but sometimes lacking important things. It did not go well.


I tend not to put much effort into creating detailed worlds, since I usually just play by ear and the PCs world-hop regularly. However, one place I often start is whipping up a pantheon of gods for the setting. Sometimes I don't even bother to make up new ones; just steal ones from somewhere else, mash 'em together, maybe rename them. If the pantheon is smallish, expand their portfolios to compensate.

I then figure out if the setting has lots of large nations/kingdoms, or is mostly filled with city-states and towns, or if lots of both, which type of area the game starts in.

Next, how do the various races interact? Do they mingle freely and regularly? Are they insular, or even at war? Are there any non-standard races that are especially common or relevant (are kobolds, orcs or goblinoids among the civilized races? Changelings? Warforged?), or any standard races missing (gnomes? half-orcs?)?

Another related step is determining prejudices. Aside from the tensions or lack thereof between major races, how are minorities treated? Tieflings, half-orcs (or even half-elves), and in some settings undead, changelings, warforged, etc. How about gender equality in parts of the setting? Are magic users normal, worshiped, feared and hated? These can vary considerably between parts of a setting, and add flavor that the PCs can interact with.

And if you know your players well, think what kind of game they like. If they like or expect dungeons, it's often a good idea to have a history of fallen empires that came before, and/or a proliferation of subterranean races.

Thane of Fife
2009-01-31, 11:12 PM
Most of my general thoughts can be found in this thread (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=99344) (also check out Lappy9000's post).

In general, the following advice:

Know the type of game that you want to run. If you want dungeoncrawling, make sure that you've got ancient ruins and lots of monsters. If you want intrigue, then having cities and kingdoms will be better than points of light. If you want travel to be important, make the world big. If you like sailing, put down lots of water.


I highly recommend looking at this (http://www.strolen.com/content.php?node=1148) bit of world-building stuff. Top-notch.

afroakuma
2009-01-31, 11:14 PM
Well (here it comes) you could always look at Vote Up A Campaign Setting to see what we prioritized and how we handled things.

Archpaladin Zousha
2009-01-31, 11:26 PM
Make sure you plan adventures before you even begin to THINK about a greater setting. My brother and I developed a complex and unique campaign setting with a history spanning millenia. It wasn't as big as Faerun, but it was pretty big.

The problem was, I didn't even bother to plan the adventures and encounters beforehand, and therefore the massive, epic, continent-spanning campaign fell flat on its face because I had no idea how to get it started or how to run it.

I think my brother's mostly forgotten about it, which is sad because he was the most enthusiastic about it, due to his everburning hatred of any predeveloped material or settings like Forgotten Realms or Eberron.

Zeful
2009-02-01, 12:21 AM
Well, it depends.

This may be personal bias speaking, but if you try to make a setting based only on the things you want to be in it you will rely too much on cliche and standard tropes to fill in the gaps for you. If you want a setting with internal logic and coherency such that you can deduce an answer to any random question from the players that you haven't anticipated and have it flow naturally from what you've already worked out from the setting, you need to put a lot of thought into background elements that they may never come in to contact with directly. Yeah, I really don't like winging it anymore. It's caused to many problems.

Thane of Fire: What you posted in the Homebrew thread is pretty helpful. Though that link to the other site is just depressing: It focuses on the players, which I don't have, as there aren't many places to play D&D where I am (and I'm in a big city to boot).

Afrokuma: No offence, the VUaCS isn't helpful because you didn't make any of the Important decisions that I'm stuck with.

Zousha Omenohu: I need a setting before I can start worrying about adventures.

Prometheus
2009-02-01, 12:28 AM
I'm currently working to design my own setting, because I don't have the money to buy the setting books, or can't get into the setting itself (Faerun). Does anybody have any advice for building a setting?

I generally always start with a map and a theme. As for the map, it's as simple as drawing dominate geographic features (mountains, rivers, coastlines) and then logically blending in the features in between (plains, swamps, desert, tundra, floodplains, forests) - so long as you don't put a desert and tundra or a desert and a swamp right next to each other, you are probably good. Than I add the nations of the world (usually this comes in the form of cities which have their own government, but occasionally I'll encircle a region in which a nomadic race lives or make a large nation out of several cities and borders). Than you add enough flavor to the map that you have something to work off of and something to tell the players about these distant lands (these swamps are rumored to be haunted, that island city is well-known center of trade, the folks of that plains city are superstitious and opposed to magic). Finally, you'll want to add fine details to cities you expect the players to travel in within the next session. In addition to quest hooks, you'll want to place some NPCs in there (even if you are just naming minor characters), flesh out the culture and demography more, and separate it into sections or factions.

As for a theme, it's usually either a main overaching conflict, or a peculiarity relative to the known world. Here are some examples I've done in my own campaigns, or built for later use: 1) The world has recently been overcome by a mysterious and debilitating illness. 2) The world is essentially your 'regular' medieval fantasy world, except that it's fate lies in a convoluted and dark legacy of the Ethereal Plane. 3) The world is covered in snow and fog, psionics is much more common than magic, and magic-users, especially arcane magic-users, are hunted and feared. 4) A decade or so ago powerful and enraged monsters left the wilderness and destroyed as much as they can - the people cling to a corrupt but powerful dictator for security (feudalism). 5) The politics of the world are dominated by the eternal war between two (relative) superpowers and surrogate/neutral nations (also, there is the discovery of a new continent which they fight over). 6) Trolls (and the many varieties of trolls), rather than humanoids, make up the majority of civilization on a large portion of the map. Common options to consider are climate, technology (guns?), magic variant, cosmology, demography, and conflict.

Lappy9000
2009-02-01, 12:42 AM
Afrokuma: No offence, the VUaCS isn't helpful because you didn't make any of the Important decisions that I'm stuck with.What important decisions do you need to make? I think Vote Up a Campaign Setting has done a really great job developing a campaign world.

I personally try to pretend I was writing it to be published. I try to fill out the world with any random cool ideas I have, then leave plenty of blank spots to fill in later. For example, in any given nation, I usually only have about one third of the cities actually descriped, although every city is listed. This way, I'm not shoe-horned into a corner if I want some more wiggle room with my plot.

Those blank areas are also great if anyone else wants to use your setting (if they do, I say let them; it's a great honor to have someone like your world that much). Eberron does a great job of this. Even if you don't like the aesthetic of Eberron, there are more than enough blank spots on the map for you to do your own thing and still have most of the background completed.

...and *sigh* I have a setting too. You can look at it in my signature if you think it will help.

Edit: Oh, and Tears of Blood (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=12173) is a little disorganized, but the ideas started (alas, little has been finished) are incredibly imaginative and cohesive.

afroakuma
2009-02-01, 12:46 AM
Afrokuma: No offence, the VUaCS isn't helpful because you didn't make any of the Important decisions that I'm stuck with.

:smallconfused: Such as?

And I agree with Zousha - you need to know how you want to play before building the setting.

TheOOB
2009-02-01, 12:53 AM
I have found this to work well for myself.

Come up with a general theme for your world, a basic template. Shouldn't take more than a page.

Then work from an outside in approach, start with the setting for your first adventure, then grow out from there. Build new towns, traditions, dieties, ect, as they become relevent to your game. If something comes up a lot, flesh it out more.

But here is the trick, each week also design something not related(at least direct ally) to the adventure at hand. So for the session this week, you might design the hamlet of twoson and the dark lightning god that the cult there worships, but you might also design, and introduce, the basic calander for your world that day. On your next session you could design the town of Threed and how the undead work in your world, and also introduce the history of a recent war the shook the kingdom.

In this way you organically flesh out your world over time, but also don't get these huge missing patches because something didn't come up.

Zeful
2009-02-01, 01:02 AM
:smallconfused: Such as?

And I agree with Zousha - you need to know how you want to play before building the setting.

Genre, Thematic elements, Religion, Cosmology, Politics, Magic Level, PC races, and so on.

And I already know how I want to play, which is why I'm trying to build the setting.

afroakuma
2009-02-01, 01:10 AM
...I'm sorry, you're telling me those aren't important? Or you're telling me that I, personally, did not select from the lists presented?

Zeful
2009-02-01, 02:04 AM
...I'm sorry, you're telling me those aren't important? Or you're telling me that I, personally, did not select from the lists presented?

That you didn't, personally, pick the results. You've supplied the lists, and worked on the final product (which you've done a remarkable job with by the way), but you didn't pick those elements. I have to make a conscious choice about everything you put up to vote. The results of those votes don't really help me, because my situation isn't like yours at the moment.

Lappy9000
2009-02-01, 03:14 AM
That you didn't, personally, pick the results. You've supplied the lists, and worked on the final product (which you've done a remarkable job with by the way), but you didn't pick those elements. I have to make a conscious choice about everything you put up to vote. The results of those votes don't really help me, because my situation isn't like yours at the moment....So how can we help you, then? Those decisions are pretty much personal preference, and I doubt anyone here can convince you of something one way or the other.

bosssmiley
2009-02-01, 09:19 AM
There are two ways of doing this systematically: 'top down', or 'bottom up'.

In 'top down' world design you start by generating the cosmology. Then you generate the gameworld in something like Fractal Mapper (http://www.nbos.com/products/mapper/mapper.htm) (if the setting is an Earthlike world). After that you pick a part of the world you're interested in, and fill in the map with cities, countries, weather patterns, tides and currents, etc. Then you drill down to a local level and add sufficient detail to play in.

In 'bottom up' design you start with 'the dungeon' and 'the town', then you add elements (the big city, the crawling rift, the swamps, the forest, Uberwald, viking country, Stanistan, etc.) as required by the plot. That's largely how worlds like Greyhawk, Blackmoor and Titan came about.

There's also the third way of 'sandbox-style' design. That's where you take a blank sheet of hex paper and either roll on random tables (http://kellri.blogspot.com/2008/12/fantasy-random-terrain-generation.html) or choose what goes where. Then you dump the characters down in a hex and let them wander the map seeing what there is to see.

General universal rule of setting design: lead with fun and exciting adventure ideas; the more, the better. Everything else will flow from there.

Speaking personally I'm a top down/sandboxer. I like to sketch out the cosmology and structure of the world (wacky and preferably riven with planar portals, time holes, and pocket universes). Then I think up (or shamelessly steal) ideas for cities, ruins, natural wonders, cultures, villains, etc. Then I get my hex paper, draw a wiggly coast on the map, add some mountains, rivers and such, and slap the fun stuff down wherever it seems most interesting.

edit: free generic fantasy setting (http://www.goodman-games.com/downloads/4380-PDF-Preview.pdf) from Goodman Games. Minimal system cruft. Massive opportunities for DM tweakery.

afroakuma
2009-02-01, 10:12 AM
That you didn't, personally, pick the results. You've supplied the lists, and worked on the final product (which you've done a remarkable job with by the way), but you didn't pick those elements. I have to make a conscious choice about everything you put up to vote. The results of those votes don't really help me, because my situation isn't like yours at the moment.

I did not intend to direct you to the results, but rather to the tables themselves, and the order in which they were presented, as a suggestion of what parameters you will need to work with and how I suggest you prioritize.

Zeful
2009-02-01, 11:54 AM
I did not intend to direct you to the results, but rather to the tables themselves, and the order in which they were presented, as a suggestion of what parameters you will need to work with and how I suggest you prioritize.

Ah, I see. I apologize then, I didn't understand what you were getting at.

The Glyphstone
2009-02-01, 11:59 AM
Have some way to motivate yourself to keep writing even if it feels like nobody cares about your hard work.

:smallbiggrin:

But yeah, my custom setting is currently stagnating due to lack of ability to really focus on it. It might be good to set deadlines if you can afford them - give yourself a week to decide what races you want, two weeks to plan our your cosmology, a week to map the geography, etc. This helps keep the project on task, and as an added bonus, you get to create as many deadlines to blow off and ignore as you like!

Zeta Kai
2009-02-01, 12:06 PM
I think that the VUACS method (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?p=5265922) is a sound one, but it seems that you're tossing it out without understanding how to use it. With VUACS, you can ignore the votes themselves & just focus on the aspects. Each decision leads to the next, & alters the available parameters. For example, the first aspect is genre:

{table=head]Genre|Votes
Classic/Low Fantasy|
Epic/High Fantasy|
Arabian Nights/Desert Fantasy|
Age of Sail/Pirate Fantasy|
Sci-fi Fantasy|
Space Opera Science Fiction|
Cyberpunk Science Fiction|
Modern/Realistic|
Western/Frontier|
Victorian/Steampunk|
Realistic Medieval|
Stone Age/Ice Age|[/table]

Now, as we know, Arabian Nights/Desert Fantasy won that vote, & so the next aspect (Thematic Priorities) turned out like this:

{table=head]Themes|Votes
Multiculturalism: segregation of diverse cultures in close geographical proximity|
Mystique: genies, priests & sorcerers, talking trees & animals|
Tradition: kingdoms & caliphates, bazaars & caravans|
Travel: journeys out of known lands to places of wonder|
Classic Threats: undead, vicious giant beasts, vengeful godspawn|
Fate/Destiny: self-fulfilling prophecies, divinations, causation & coincidence|[/table]

Of course, we originally thought Victorian/Steampunk was going to win, so the Build Team prepared the following Thematic Priorities instead:

{table=head]Themes|Votes
Phantasmagoria: mediums, ghosts, & sťances, spiritualism, the occult, & exploitation of the Final Threshold in scientific applications|
Mechanisms: clockwork & steam-driven technology|
Gothic Horror: vampires, gargoyles, & werewolves|
Travel: exploration, exotic colonial lands, & the fear of the unknown|
Academia: printings, dusty tomes, forgotten lore, the written word, detective work, & informed research|
Gas-Lamp Science: exploiting alchemy to craft pseudoscientific marvels|[/table]

So, with the Thematic Priorities set, we moved on from there. With this method, you can quickly lay out the parameters for any campaign (even quicker than we did ,considering that we had to wait for the votes to come in & get tallied).