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Creating A World - Part Two ("Making Your World Matter")

Author: 
The Great Balls O'Fyre

We would all like to create memorable worlds for our players. Like all of the arts, it is easy to "create something". Most anyone can do it. Unfortunately, creating something that is truly excellent and memorable is not an easy task.

All of the arts run into the same problems. Most paintings that artists paint are average in quality. The majority of movies that get filmed are middle of the road, mundane affairs. Being a Dungeon Master and creating your own world is no different a task. The "average world creator" has an dull land, populated with oft seen monsters inhabiting your standard prop graveyard or gloomy stock castle. But it does not have to be this way. The things that "make the difference" between a mundane movie and one that wins an academy award, are often just matters of attention to small details.

So, you say, what do I need to do to make my world interesting and real? I WANT a good place for my hard working players to romp in. Shall I create a really, really big and deep dungeon, with about a million monsters and traps to just challenge the living daylights out of 'em, and make 'em learn the meaning of the word "fear"?

That is the approach of "the many". Like the majority of movies, it relies on heavy handed special effects and action to keep the viewer or player entertained. The moviemaker/DM gets trapped into topping himself with unbelievable action to keep the players/viewers interest, and it is a dead end approach, both to movie and dungeon making.

If you want to DM a world, don't do this. Instead, think of ways to keep your party interested in the day to day goings on in the village and surrounding countryside they adventure out of. First, create just a few truly interesting citizens for them to interact with. Give that Dwarven smith a weird keen sense of smell, or have him go berserk upon hearing the words "chainmail". Figure out a little story about why he has this weird gift/affliction/paranoia. Your players will appreciate this and remember it longer than having 20 waves of mindless zombies tossed at them.

Come up with some NPC relationships in the village. Perhaps Angelica the beautiful but mute maiden is smitten with the noisy, self possessed mayor of the village. He is so entranced by his own words he can't see shes mad for him. Then, after this relationship has been established and the players are very familiar with poor Angelica's problem, she can be kidnapped by bandits as she takes a wheelbarrow of watermelons to her poor dehydrated auntie, and the mayor can be struck by what a fool he has truly been, and hire the party to rescue his newly discovered beloved. Thus are little quests, and bits of care and realism introduced.

Note that the party comes to care about the little inhabitants and their dreams and follies. Players WANT this kind of interaction to think about in the backs of their minds, but very seldom voice it. It makes the dungeons more evil, it makes that sweet village more like home. Try to set a balance between the safety of the village and the danger of the dungeon, and occasionally throw your party for a loop by introducing a dangerous element into the town setting, or a perfectly safe thing into the dungeon.

Another way of giving a sense of "realism" to the game world is to use that thing that the writer Tolkien used so often and well...a sense of "lots of stuff" that you really can't SEE, but somehow you intuitively KNOW is there. Write a couple of simple books to leave in the town hall or inn. Make each book as different as you can, as if they were by different authors. Make the subject matters unrelated to the plot. A treatise on sheepherding, a history of elvish whittling...make them subjects your players don't expect to find. Within the books touch on some historical tidbit from the past. It doesn't have to be something you will use again, make it incomplete and unfinished. "The famous elven warrior Lycos Angelfire was a fine carver of carousel horses, though you and I know him better as the defeater of Rorgg the Merciless.." Put in just enough that your players will feel that there is more here than what they have seen. You will be surprised how long some of the players will remember this information, especially if they can't figure out just WHO Rorgg the Merciless was.

Another nice little realistic flourish to add to the sense of a real place, is to set aside a couple of holidays, The Gnomish Freedom Day, The ChickenPotPie Festival....something based on race, time of year, or political event, and make sure and have the inhabitants make ready to celebrate it on an annual basis. Upon liberating the town of Kiel from Orc marauders, one of my players found himself the basis of an annual festival, "Lasko Day", which the gnomish inhabitants have celebrated for many years. It adds flavor, and a sense of history to the world. Keep a little notebook outside of the game, and jot down your thoughts as they come.

Finally, when your world has grown just a bit, and you have thoughts about a larger, perhaps capital city existing someplace, flesh it out and give your players a treat in the following fashion. Devise a newspaper from this larger town. No doubt the news in it will be old, and perhaps the players will already have seen effects from stories in the paper reflected in their lives..."Oil prices go skyhigh as a result of rustmonster plague on oil wells!" "Ohhhhh...", the players say, "That's why lantern oil quadrupled in price last month!!". Its fascinating watching them react to far away news. Throw in all you can, Medieval Comics, want ads, propaganda. There is no better way to show off the political leanings of your little land than through its newspaper, and the rumblings of far off important events that may someday ruin their lives. And by all means, if you are planning a website about your world, run that paper there on a regular basis for your players to keep up on current events. It will add to the realism immeasurably.

I hope that you find my little bits helpful. Remember, don't be afraid to be different.

Until next time!

Balls

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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