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Thread: Building a World, and a History
- Join Date
- Mar 2012
Building a World, and a History
This world design is going to be...annoying to read. Because I'm starting by throwing out random thoughts and themes that appeal to me and that I want in a world. Only after I've completely thought everything through will I actually go about making the world in a more...formal manner. Essentially, you guys will see this from the drafting stage onward.
Now, I'll be posting whenever I have time, and have things that I thought about. Which means that the campaign setting won't be contained within a juicy first couple of thoughts. It'll be a bunch of silly little nuggets scattered everywhere. Once this is finished, I'll re-post everything all neat and tidy in a brand new shiny thread, but until then I'll just use a table of contents to link to all of the posts with important information.
First things first:
-I'll be using 3.5 D&D as the system of choice. Whatever sourcebooks feel appropriate will be tossed in, and the DM is (obviously) welcome to include anything he feels is missing.
-I really want to avoid making "just another high fantasy setting" where every elf and dwarf nation is identical (or there's just one nation for each race) and the humans have a big old feudal kingdom and then one exotic (yet familiar) culture (e.g. Greek). That isn't to say I won't draw from those cultures - far from it. I just don't want it to be England but wizards, and an elven nation.
-It'll be low magic, or specifically, magic will be rare. This is mostly to avoid any tippyverseness (not to say that the tippyverse isn't wonderful, it's just not what I'm aiming for).
Actual campaign building time!
The first constant I've decided on is a triad, or a quarter, or something like that, of beings who appear throughout history constantly. They seem to be at the center of every major event, never quite the cause, but never completely removed. I even decided on one of them (in fact, he inspired this world building stuff). Trilleno. He always appears as a zanni character, never very important, until he's critically important. Most mysteriously, he exists in history far before the concept of a Harlequin type person exists.
First thoughts: The Beginning of Civilization
My world's Mesopotamia, Indus River Valley, or Egypt. There needs to be some sort of primeval civilization, a root of the world.
Buuuuuuut inventing a culture is hard SO the first civilization wasn't human. It was dwarven. Why? Early "earth" simply did not have any considerable amount of fertile soil, and for humans to create civilization as we know it, they need agricultural. So the first humans are hunter gatherers.
Here comes the dwarves (YAY). Now, I've always liked the idea of a race that spends its time largely underground, searching for precious jewelry and pretty stones, but it's silly that they do it because they think rocks are pretty. Humans think diamonds are pretty too, after all. Rather, in this setting, the dwarves actually eat the rocks. They don't even need to drink water (hence, no early river valley civilizations). Precious gemstones will later become like delicacies for them, but in a primitive world with little luxury time nobody worries about delicacies, do they? Early humans didn't worry about how their food tasted, they just were grateful to eat (as far as I know). So the early dwarves didn't mine for the rocks.
But remember how there isn't any fertile soil? Because the surface of the land where early dwarves and human hunter-gatherers existed was rocky, of course! So the dwarves slowly begin to settle around mountains, tribes begin roaming there more frequently. A couple hundred years, and the dwarves have settled by the tastiest veins they can find. The earliest cities are high up, more or less isolated from each other, based solely on a single food with a single source, and far away from the human hunter-gatherers.
Now, the next thing that happens is, of course, warfare. It always seems to follow settlement. The dwarves aren't particularly...deadly, at first though. Stone is a food. The idea of using it to bash heads in is just silly! People don't thwack each other with stale bread. So the earliest weapons that the dwarves invent are...slightly pointy wooden sticks. And very strong teeth. And they start to fight with them.
But wait! The humans are hunters. Clearly, they have something better then a pointy stick. Why, they have spears with stone tips, and slings, and even the occasional dagger.
To be continued...
Please comment any feedback or thoughts you have! I'm trying to write stuff out chronologically and as it occurs to me, so that the world evolves more naturally but...it's very rambly. Sorry about that.
- Join Date
- Apr 2009
Re: Building a World, and a History
While it is tempting to start a setting at the beginning and see where it goes, my personal experience is that one gets much better results when one starts with a rough idea what the final result should be. And based on that one can add details to the setting that help making it develop into something that fits the goal.
While it's important to start with making a big collection of everything one likes in other settings, I think that it is also critical to decide on a focus and then sort out which of the things one likes actually contribute to the focus and which ones are cool ideas, but don't really fit the theme. I really love yugoloths and changelings, but for the setting that I have in mind, they just don't really fit.
When deciding on the main theme of the setting, I think a good way is to first decide what kind of stories one intends to be told in this world. What would the protagonists be doing. The first reflex is always "everything you can imagine", but that is not how you make a memorable setting. I've seen a number of settings that look really nice, but there isn't really anything to do. And in the case of RPGs, novels, and tv-shows the setting is only seen when there is something going on. The setting is the stage for the action, but the action is what makes you interact with and experience the setting. If all you do is going into random basements and kill some rats for money, all the backstory and such is irrelevant. For the world to become relevant, the protagonists of the story need to interact with it.
I would start with making a list of stories, be they novels, movies, video-games or whatever, which made you think "wow, I really would like to play an RPG campaign like this!".
I like Conan the Barbarian, Dragon Age, The Witcher, Princess Mononoke, and Mass Effect, and I'm very interested when reading about the hints on the distant past of the High Forest and Xen'drik from the Forgotten Realms and Eberron settings. They are stories of tough guys in a harsh world, who do the things that the common people are not able to do. They go to the places where nobody returns and they face the horrible creatures that are from beyond this world. Often making it just barely, and sometimes failing, barely making it out alive.
That's something solid to work with. I know what kind of people the protagonists are going to be, I know what the common people are going to be, how the world outside the towns and villages will be, and what kind of places the protagonists will go to and what they will face there. With that as a starting point, I can go through all the individual things that I like about other settings, like races, monsters, castles, dungeons, and so on, and select which one would fit right in with my focus, and which ones just don't.
The idea of four immortals who are reincarnated again and again for all time is certainly interesting. But what purpose do they have? If you make them that important, it means the protagnists have to interact with them in a meaningful way. Otherwise they are just stuffing at best, or the protagonists are just background characters in the story of the immortals at worst.