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GameMasterY-World Building : Part One

Updated on September 6, 2015
nijineko profile image

My hobby is World Building. Unusual, but rewarding. I wish to give of my learning and experiences.

There are many stories about how worlds were and are created.
There are many stories about how worlds were and are created. | Source

Creating a World

0.1 Introduction: Depending on whom one asks, "a spear thrust into the muck and stirred vigorously", "there was nothing much, and then suddenly, a big bang", "a continual cycle of creation and destruction", "an egg hatched", "an immortal race of super-aliens pierced the membrane of our universe and tailored it for and seeded it with life", "someone said, 'Let there be light' and there was", might be some of the answers received to the question of how the world was created. But when we ourselves set out to create a world, for most of us it all begins with a thought, which thought is born into a physical reality with the first stroke of the pen or key.

What is World Building? Why do it?

0.2 Concept: At its most basic, the act of creation is something which brings a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. The act of world building can create something lasting, which outlives even the original creator. It is a profound way of expressing the thoughts, emotions, beliefs and ideas of an individual. It is a canvas potentially without limits. Sentience itself might be defined as being something that is aware of the world around it, yet is able to conceive and imagine a world different than that which the senses provide, and then being able to act upon both the perceived and the imagined world in order to bring the imagined thing to reality in the perceived world.

Setting aside all the philosophical musings, building an entire world, or even universe, can be a lot of fun. There is great satisfaction in creating something that is just as you expect and intend, though it is interesting to note that many creators have remarked on how a created world eventually seems to take on a life of its own, and characters somehow do not always do what the creator expects.

No one really creates entire worlds, do they?

0.3 Who creates worlds?: Yes, yes they do. It occurs much more frequently than many might think. Worlds are created every day in books, animation, music, paintings, movies, plays, video games, and most especially, in the mind. Some of the most popular media of the day started with the ideas of a single individual or small group, and have reached, pardon the pun, world-spanning popularity supported by hundreds of thousands of fans and enthusiasts. For example, one world setting in a popular science fiction television series garnered so much support, that network executives un-canceled the series, which eventually continued on to spawn games, movies, other television series, toys, internet memes, cache phrases, songs, and much more.

Worlds are created by authors when they write a book or novel, by an artist when they paint or draw or build a 3d environment, by children when they play with friends, by inventors who design new things, and by scriptwriters when they craft a stageplay, tv series, or movie... among others.

Does it have any "real life" application?

0.4 Application: Yes, yes it does. There are those who may say that world-building is pointless as it has no impact on the "real world" and can't make you money. That is a mistaken viewpoint, though it is a fact that many do not finish their worlds, and many more do not know how to position their creation subsequently to be potentially lucrative. It is easy to point to the big success stories of world-building: popular movie franchises, successful authors, the products of various game companies; yet it is not so easy to claim one's own place among those successful entrepreneurs. It takes not only work, lots of work, but also a love for and belief in the value and worth of your creation.

Most importantly, it is rare that someone will actually buy an unfinished idea. If one wishes to sell a game, movie, play, book, or just about any other form of media... the first thing that will be asked is to see the finished product. An unpolished but finished product will likely get in to more doors than a polished but unfinished product. Though there have been exceptions, one cannot count on being the exception.

How does one prepare to create a world?

1.0 Preparation: Let's start at the very beginning. In this case, with yourself. A space will be needed. For most people this will need to be a space which is clean, orderly, well lit, comfortable to work in, and insulated from the rest of the world. Blocks of time will be needed. These can be small blocks of time, as you have available. Consistency is more important, and generally a more productive method, than marathon sessions, though individual patterns and tastes will vary. A medium to record your world upon, be it paper or computer, is necessary - as is a format such as visual, auditory, written. And an idea to start from is critical. "What if", is a very good place to start.

These form the five basic pillars of creation: space, time, medium, format, and ideas. There are two more pillars to make a world successful: venue and backup. Venue is the means of sharing a creation with others, be it beta-testing, pre-release excerpts for community feedback, selling a book to a publishing house, or any other means of sharing. Backup should be the equivalent of a holy word to a creator, a pseudo-religious practice performed many times each creative session. More than a habit, make it a way of life.

Fill your world with your ideas.

Source

Let There Be World....

1.1 World Theme: Most worlds start with an Idea that can be simply stated:

  • "What if a crucial battle in the first World War had gone the other way?"
  • "Hidden orphaned children of an usurping evil emperor's protege join with a rebellion in order to win freedom for the peoples of the galaxy."
  • "Gargantuan alien space monsters as an immune system seeking to destroy humanity as a virus infecting the galaxy."
  • "Post-apocalyptic mayhem as survivors struggle to control limited resources."
  • "A young man from a poor coal mining town dreams of playing football for a world famous top university.
  • "Pulp-fantasy action set against a backdrop of soaring sky towers."
  • "A woodcutter's youngest of three sons overcomes numerous obstacles to win fame, fortune, and a beautiful princess."

Perhaps some of these seed-ideas will be recognized, as they have been taken from various popular media.

1.2 Key Concepts: After the Idea, the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of the relationship between said initial idea that the world will be built around and those who will eventually observe this world through a venue should be given serious thought to. Even if all of the questions cannot be answered right away, spending time contemplating them can result in a greater depth and verisimilitude to the world.

  • Who will the world showcase?
  • What will it give prominence to?
  • When will the world exist and for how long?
  • Where does this world exist and what unique 'wheres' (locations) will the world present?
  • Why is this world unique and interesting?
  • How will the initial idea be displayed, hidden, or revealed in and by the world? Will the initial idea be the showpiece of the world, or will it be discovered over time?


Method Selection

2.1 Methods of Creation: Once these guidelines have been sketched out, or at least given some serious thought, it is time for expansion. There are three general processes used in expanding upon the initial seed-idea. Which one is used to start off with is a matter of preference and personal inclination. Each method has certain advantages and disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses. As the world building progresses, it will be found that multiple methods are used at various times during the creative process.

Details are important.
Details are important.

Method One: The Micro Method

2.2 Synopsis: This method starts out with a small focused area and builds outwards, filling in details as the focus broadens. This method has two main applications.

2.2.1 Creative application: First, this method is quite useful when first starting out with a brand new group or campaign, and especially when starting with low level characters that have limited abilities and resources. When characters are first starting out, they are typically low on persuasive and manipulative power, as well as low on combat capability. Using the micro method to provide plot hooks, starting adventures, and engaging interaction in the immediate area can get a game going quickly, and can provide a firm foundation to build upon in later game sessions.

2.2.2 Expansive application: The second application is not limited to starting, but can be applied at any appropriate time. Whenever a group of players decide to have the characters engage in a static activity or locale for a time this method can be used to add in extra possibilities and opportunities. It is always important to note, that it is difficult to predict what will catch a group's attention. Flexibility is necessary to adapt plot threads and ideas to the direction that the players take. Using this method is an excellent way to reorient an important planned plot point that the players just skipped, destroyed, or turned their characters away from, all unawares.

2.2.3 Disadvantages: The disadvantage of this method is a lack of forwards and backwards compatibility, especially when used (or over used) in spontaneous fashions. It is all too easy to establish a precedent of some kind that will come back to bite one in the future, and can potentially lead toward adversarial relationships between gamers. On a more immediate level, such inconsistencies tend to break immersion, continuity, and the sense of realism of the game, as well as ruin enjoyment of the game for most players.

A Word of Caution about Details...

2.2.4 Too many details...: When using the Micro method, there is one important cautionary guideline to keep in mind. While details can be good, focusing in on the critical details is best. During the creative process, the question, "Which details are important? Which points are essential?" needs to be asked over and over again.

Producing a mass of details that no other player or gamer will ever see or know because they decided to engage in some other aspect of the story, can be very frustrating for the artistic soul who wants to share the beauty of their creations and witness the reactions to it.

"Detail work" can be very satisfying to the individual world builder. And if self-satisfaction is one of the goals involved, well and good. But be always wary of being caught up in the detail work, lest other important aspects be overlooked, or left undone.

Micro Method, First Example: Just starting out.

2.2.5 Creative application example: The game will start out in a small village where a recent drought has reduced food supplies which has been made worse by a fire which destroyed part of the village. There is no longer enough food or shelter to support the full population through the season. There is disagreement on how to deal with it. Some want the oldest in the village to leave and take their chances in the forest, as they are less able producers. Others want to risk hunting in the forest, something forbidden by the king who has reserved the forest for royal hunting only. A few want to send a delegation to request help from the local reeve, while a few others prefer to chance asking the Druid. Some have decided to seek an opportunity in this difficulty, and to get away from the endless boring round of the seasons and unchanging hardship of village life.

2.2.5.1 Player input: One of the players has decided to play a young man setting out to find fame and fortune, heading anywhere away from the village. One of the other players decides to play an older member of the village, a retired fighter turned woodsman, who lost most of his possessions in the fire, and disagrees with the idea of hunting in the King's wood, as he does not want to eventually give in to the pleas and demands of the other villagers to do so. As a former officer, were he caught, he would be hanged, and anyone associated would be slain, imprisoned, or sold into bondage, something most of the villagers don't really believe him on. Another decides to play the disillusioned orphaned child of a rumored former bandit, who cannot seem to discard or disprove the distrust generated by the rumors about their parent, despite an impeccable life.

2.2.5.2 Complications: In addition to the difficulty of obtaining food due to the ban on hunting in the surrounding forest, the last troubador who passed through left tales of increased dangers on the road due to bandits - mostly others who are suffering from the drought, and an increase in kobold incursions - some say due to the aggressions of the neighboring and hated rival kingdom whom is always trying to lay claim to the valleys near the border as being their possession.

2.2.5.3 GM application: In such a game, the GM might lightly detail the important villagers, noting who has what that is of importance, who controls what, who has dirt and/or influence on whom, which side of the argument they are on, and what they are most likely to do next, pending the players changing things. The GM might also decide to detail the bandit leader and lieutenants and some general information of the band, the constable of the local squad of the King's huntsmen and some more generalized information, and the small spy party from the neighboring kingdom, pretending to be roving tinkers - leaving fake kobold traces wherever they go. The local druid, and the two elven rangers who keep tabs on the happenings in this edge of their claimed domain - along with their dispute with the King over the usage of the forest might get some mention as well.

2.2.5.4 Possible outcomes: Depending on which way the players decide to go, there are a number of options which can be encountered, allies to be gained, enemies to be made, people saved or destroyed. There is a ready made sense of political backdrop and tension due to the King's position on the forest as enforced by the Huntsman and Constable, as opposed to the druid and elves countering position, with the villagers caught in between. The bandits cause trouble for everyone, and the spies seek to. A wandering minstrel, and/or a healer could round out the party, if there are enough players. The older fighter can provide training for the others, and brings some needed experience, skills, and protection to the younger and inexperienced members of the party. This simple starting scenario can easily be expanded into escalated tension between the rival kingdoms with the threat of war, and eventually even beyond that once the reasons behind the tension are revealed to be part of a larger picture of ongoing deliberate sabotage by an evil wizard and various monstrous minions.

Guarding a caravan is hard work.
Guarding a caravan is hard work.

Micro Method, Second Example: Caravan guards.

2.2.6 Mid-game application example: The players have decided to have their characters hire on as guards to a caravan which will enable them to cross a desert to deliver a secret package and vital message about the real causes of the rivalry between the two kingdoms for which they have accepted responsibility on behalf of an old acquaintance. They are to meet with a King's messenger who will take the vital information back to the capitol.

2.2.6.1 Player input: They have also heard rumors of a long-standing rival operating in a town somewhat beyond the caravan destination, a former village bandit who survived to escape in the company of a spy from the rival kingdom and has since gone on to bigger and more extensive crimes. Having escaped justice, and the characters, a number of times, the players are eager to try their hand once more at bringing the scoundrel to justice.

2.2.6.2 Complications: The caravan consists of three merchant families, and a group of about 8 independents. The families are all rivals of each other, united only in their disdain for the independent merchants who tend to keep together in defense. The caravan master is a seasoned veteran of the trails, and has a tough company of protectors who simultaneously are irritated by the constant squabbling and look down upon the soft pampered family guards which the merchants insisted on bringing even against the advise of the caravan master. He needed extra experienced hands to adequately protect the unexpectedly expanded retinue and the characters fit the bill.

This scenario represents a static activity, that of guarding the caravan. As each day progresses, the terrain they pass through varies, storms might occur, one of the merchant families or independents might try to bribe or persuade or or more of the player characters for a favor, an exception to the rules, or to spy upon one of the others. But the main act of guarding the caravan is the same and the caravan forms a temporary, if mobile, 'home base' around which all the events will occur.

2.2.6.3 GM application: In such a scenario, the GM will need to detail the major members of the caravan to varying degrees. If the players begin interacting with one that is not as detailed, take notes on what details are filled in on the spot, which will enable verisimilitude later on in the game. The GM will also need to give thought to any encounters that will occur along the trade route, desert brigands, monsters set upon them by chance or by the evil wizard, or even generated amongst the caravan members themselves.

2.2.6.4 Possible outcomes: The family guards may be prickly about their perceived domain, resenting any intrusion into it by any other "uncivilized and uncouth" protector or hireling. The tough and competent protectors may become friends with the characters, especially if they pull their weight or display competence in an area they respect, though such a relationship will antagonize the families and their guards, but win the respect of the caravan master. This may also include intrigue from the merchant families against each other, or from the independents against the families, a thief hidden amongst the caravan members, a spy who happens to have taken the same caravan - and seeks to get the message/package from the characters - or at least discredit them, possibly even a shapechanging monster infiltrating the caravan by murdering someone and taking their place - who plans to take over the caravan entirely.

A narrow mountain pass is easy to defend... if it is the only pass.
A narrow mountain pass is easy to defend... if it is the only pass.

Micro Method, Third Example: Establishing a residence (temporary or permanent).

2.2.7 Late game application: The King has rewarded the players with command of one of three critical border posts, that of one guarding a major mountain pass into the kingdom, and one through which at least some of the forces of the evil wizard are expected to attempt to enter the Kingdom. Rumors fly and no one is quite certain what is happening in the neighboring kingdom, though it seems apparent from the continuing searches by the wizard's forces that at least some of the nobles of the royal court, and possibly even family members, have escaped capture. Forays into the failing kingdom meet with increasingly stiff resistance, further cutting down available information.

2.2.7.1 Player input: The players have lately indicated a desire for a change of pace, and also the desire for a "home base" to operate out of. The GM finds this to be the perfect opportunity to tie in old threads, bring the characters face-to-face with the true villain behind all that they have faced in this campaign, and to give them "what they want"... with a few catches.

2.2.7.2 Complications: Should the wizard's forces storm the pass, it is up to the players to block those forces, hold out as long as they can, and if possible rout them. This is made complicated by the physical geography of the pass, with no less than two main routes plus a number of other narrow and more difficult routes, the guard will be spread thin, unless something can be arranged. With the constant trickling of survivors and refugees through the pass, searching for spies, and fulfilling orders to extend suffrage to the victims poses quite the challenge.

2.2.7.3 GM application: A static location is the primary feature of this example of the micro method. Details regarding land, geography, and maps become important, as well as details of any local forces that might be allied with, bribed, convinced, or even tricked into helping improve the defense of the place. This is an opportunity for the GM to test the mettle of the players, by giving them a difficult challenge with no easy answer, indeed with no preset solution at all, and encouraging creativity on the part of the players to overcome it.

Some examples of possible allies - and borrowing from previous examples - might include:

  • the successor of the Druid along with the Elves whom claim the portion of the forest abutting this pass - and will assist in exchange for accommodation in the matter of the long standing disagreement with the King over the rights and usage of the forest...
  • The former village bandit, having somehow obtained from the King amnesty for past crimes in the Kingdom for not only self, but the entire band brought along with in exchange for adding the considerable and varied forces to the defense of the Kingdom (and thus having yet again escaped justice, and the characters - they half hope he will slip into some old habit that they can catch him for) cheerfully insists on being placed with none other than the characters as they have had 'so much former business together'...
  • The kobolds who do, in fact, inhabit these mountains may be bribed into assisting with the defense, if the inducement is right...
  • Some of the refugees are the missing nobles and royal family in exile seeking to slip into the Kingdom unnoticed, but they have some secrets and information such that, if they are discovered and handled well, may very well be willing to offer to save both Kingdoms.

2.2.7.4 Possible Outcomes: This may be the climatic moment of the campaign. The players must stand fast, and find a way to defeat the clever and cunning plans of the evil wizard, and all the foul forces of his armies, in the face of difficult odds, with no easy solution. Not even the GM knows if they will be able to succeed or fail.


Micro method: in conclusion...

2.2.8 Summary: As with all other usages of the micro method, starting with where the player characters are, and building out from there is the key to adding detail, a sense of reality, and exciting and engaging plot hooks, adventure seeds, and continuing storylines. As players can be very unpredictable, this method is essential in order to provide ongoing detail in areas where the players decide to concentrate. It is also a very useful skill that can be used to adapt existing story elements and plot threads to the ever changing focus and actions of the players. Just because a player does not go any of the directions expected, do not throw away all that hard work. Rather, edit the original ideas a bit, take the logical results of the players actions, and synthesize a new series of outcomes and encounters. Done well, this will provide players with a sense of real impact upon the world and a sense of being vested in the results of the actions.


Let There Be Another World:

2.3 From another point of view: As noted in previously, there are three general processes used in expanding upon the initial seed-idea. Which one is used to start off with is a matter of preference and personal inclination. Each method has certain advantages, disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses. As the world progresses, it will be found that most methods are used at various times during the creative process. Prior to applying any method, giving serious thought to the seven pillars of creation: space, time, medium, format, ideas, venue, and backup; is very important, and will continue to have defining influences upon the process of world building. Additionally, answering the six questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how about the relationship between world idea and the eventual audience can be of great assistance in laying the ground work of a lasting creation.

Next will be shown some approaches and examples using the Major method of world building.


The big picture yields perspective.
The big picture yields perspective. | Source

Method Two: The Major Method

2.4 Synopsis: The Major method is conceptually the opposite of the Minor method. Where the Minor method starts small, fills in details, and then expands as necessary, continuing to fill in details as progress and expansion occurs; the Major method starts large, establishing the overarching elements first, and then zooming in on the details later. Compared to the old example of the forest and the trees, the Major method is looking at the forest first.

2.4.1 Creative application: There are again two main applications of this method. First, when starting out with a brand new storyline and/or campaign, this method can be used to establish the baseline precedents of the universe and gameplay before the game even starts. Typically, this entails starting with cosmology and the nature and the laws operative in the universe. What kind of God or Powers will exist in the universe? What do they espouse and preach, if anything? Are they active or passive or some combination of the two? Are there limits on their actions, and if so, what and why? What are the universal laws? Does magic exist? How does it work, and what is it capable of? Does technology exist? What level of tech, how does it function, and what can it accomplish? Are there notable differences between the real universe we live in and the created one, and if so, what ramifications do the changes have on daily life? What is the meaning of life, this universe, and everything in it? Does life stop with death? Where do souls go after death and what are they capable of? And so on, and so forth.

2.4.2 Expansive application: Second, when establishing, or altering, a planned story arc, a plot thread, or the master plan for a campaign, this method prevents inconsistencies between the overarching goals, the smaller threads that make up each goal and lead from goal to goal, and the pre-existing history of the campaign, if any. With the large-scale questions already addresses and answered, it can make it much easier to answer any smaller and unexpected questions that arise during game play in a consistent and setting-logical fashion, enhancing the sense of realism and verisimilitude of the campaign world.

2.4.3 Disadvantages: The disadvantage of this method is a tendency towards over-planning, which all too frequently results in a sense of rigidity and inflexibility, both in the options considered possible by players, and in the thinking of the GM who may begin to feel that there are only certain answers to certain plot points. Applying the Major method to the nature of the universe and the pre-history of a campaign world is all well and good, but when it is applied to actions of the players, it may become stifling to creativity, spontaneity, and fun. Too frequent application of the Major method also takes up tremendous amounts of time, and this method is definitely not an easy one to implement in the middle of gameplay in response to a sudden major change due to the player's actions, forcing a reevaluation of where the plot will now go and how that will affect all the adjacent threads.


Major method, first example: Inviolable personal agency.

2.4.4 Creative application example: In this example, one possible chain of decision making and exploration of the logical conclusions of the Major method being applied to the game and setting will be explored.

2.4.4.1 Player input: When creating a new world, or campaign, it is important to solicit feedback from players about previous games, hopes and expectations for the next game, and any other information the players are willing to volunteer singly, or in as a group. This enables the GM to avoid falling into the trap of crafting something that the players don't want to do.

2.4.4.2 Complications: As this example is that of a pre-game preparation, the complications soley arise from the GMs efforts to figure out which concepts should be on which list, and how to resolve or address them.

The GM decides to explore a "what-if" concept and the ramifications it would have upon the world for the next game. The concept chosen is the inviolable nature of personal agency, or in other words, the idea that no outside power can forcibly make a person do something against their will, defined as controlling or changing the mind or spirit. The GM decides to make a list of things that fall into three categories: the disallowed, the uncertain cases, and the allowed. The lists might look something like this:

Disallowed:

  • magical charming
  • mind control powers
  • possession and other "take over" effects, such as ghosts or evil spirits
  • thrall and/or spawn type powers
  • manipulation of the mind or will by the Powers-that-be

Uncertain:

  • telekinesis used to force a person to move
  • hacking a robotic prothesis to ignore the wearers commands and to do things on its own
  • effects that switch minds between bodies
  • lycanthrope and similar alteration type effects
  • mind-affecting drugs
  • illusions
  • something that can trap or hold the soul, such as a ghost-catcher of some kind.
  • mind-machine interface

Allowed:

  • hypnosis, based on the idea that no one will do something they truly object to.
  • lying, threats and other forms of deceit or coercion
  • effects that affect only the body directly, even if by doing so they indirectly affect the mind or will, such as sickness or training by pain.

Major Method: The Next Step

2.4.4.3 GM application: Having made the lists, the GM reviews the logic of each placement and attempt to resolve the uncertain ones. While it is wise to pre-consider these things, such preparations, especially those concerning difficult matters, are frequently put off by GMs, who then find themselves at a loss if it actually happens to come up in-game. This is one of the advantages of the Major method.

  • Magical charming and mind control effects are usually defined as forcibly changing the will, mind, or decisions of the subject, and are thus solidly in the disallowed category. In much the same way, thrall or spawn type effects are generally defined as one creature having complete power and control over another creature: such as a vampire draining someone to cause a new vampire to form from the corpse - where the first vampire maintains influence or control over the second, This would also be a clear disallowed case, as would any direct mental manipulation by any Powers-that-be.
  • Possession seems like an equally clear cut example, but then the GM thought that a believer in a Power-that-is would certainly allow a portion of the power and even the actual spirit of said Power to inhabit or co-habit them. Which leads to the thought that it might be interesting if possession was allowed, but only in cases where the subject agreed to it knowingly for some reason. It could even be a source of controversy between various factions, one of which believes that possession is impossible due to the violation of agency, while the other uses cases of possession (where the subject chose to allow it) as "proof" that they are wrong. It could become a major plot point or story arc for the players to uncover and untangle the truth of the matter. The GM makes a note to change possession to Allowed - but only under the specific conditions that a target must consciously, willingly, and willfully choose to allow it to take place.
  • Telekinesis is trickier, as it could make it appear that someone did something even when it was against their will, such as moving another's body to commit a crime. But it is clearly manipulating the body and not the mind, something which is already on the allowed list. The GM makes a note to consider some kind of minor mechanical or rp limits upon this particular use of telekinesis, such as allowing the target to visibly be resisting despite being forcibly moved; perhaps requiring the telekinetic wielder to perform the actions themselves - puppet master style; even simply not permitting the telekinetic wielder to force the target into doing anything to which they truly object - sort of like hypnosis. Telekinesis makes the allowed list, with the accompanying notes detailing how to prevent it from crossing the line.
  • Hacking a robotic or electronic prothesis at first sounds the same as telekinesis, but after some thought, it is decided that it is much the same as hacking a computer. Such a device should have built in defenses and take the potential for illegitimate access into account when being built in the first place. (See GameMasterY: CyberEthics.) As such it makes the allowed list.
  • Minds switching between bodies has a long tradition in fantasy, sci-fi, and fiction in general, as an interesting plot device and obstacle for protagonists. In light of the theme of agency for this game, it is decided to lump this in with possession, something that can only occur if the targets willingly agree to it (even if they regret it afterwards, or it is not as easy to undo as it was to do). Allowed, with conditions.
  • Lycanthrope (the disease which causes werewolves, and other similarly themed diseases and effects) is another of those double edged swords. According to many of the stories, there is both a physical component (transformation) and a mental component (dominance by the one who infected someone, and the berserk uncontrollable rage wherein they commit so much destruction). The GM decides to be consistent and rule that it works as a disease upon the body, and has strong indirect effects upon the mind. Realizing that with such a distinction, there may be a tendency to take advantage of the rules for mechanical in-game benefit and skipping out on the roleplaying aspect, the GM makes a note to treat this disease as an addiction, and to discuss the ramifications carefully with any prospective players - or to avoid it entirely if there are no likely candidates for role playing this situation as the GM prefers. Allowed, with conditions.
  • Mind affecting drugs are a difficult issue, as they clearly affect the body, but also clearly have a very powerful, sometimes seemingly permanent effect through the body upon the mind and mentality of a person. Due to the latter, the GM considers putting it on the disallowed list. But due to the former, and other previous rulings, it should technically be put on the allowed list. The GM tentatively puts it on the allowed list, but with serious reservations, and hopes that it never comes up in-game.
  • Illusions are a tricky issue as, by definition, they deceive the mind and fool the senses. Using that definition, the GM decides that illusions which fool the body (ie: senses) will be allowed, but not illusions which somehow act directly upon the mind. This, however, raises the issue of mental based senses: ESP, psionics, and the like. After some thought on the various possibilities, the GM decides to treat mental senses the same as other body senses, in that they can be 'externally' deceived, but not 'internally' forced to perceive something different.
  • Soul-trapping is the idea that the consciousness is tied to a non-physical body or soul, which can be separated from the body either by some strange power, or by death; and the capture of that soul by some processes. This is a potential conflict because the soul is largely recognized as the focus of the conscious mental faculties of a being. In many points of view, the soul is the mind of the being. This would generally mean that according to the theme of this game, they could not be controlled, which would prevent ghosts, spirits, and any other non-physical phenomena from being affected by almost anything. Some religions, however, claim that the soul is another body, a non-physical body which inhabits or has (normally) sole possession of a body from birth. Using this idea would allow the soul to be trapped, ie: forced to be in one location; but would not control or change the thinking of the being so trapped. The GM decides to use that idea, as it would allow for some interesting plot points and story ideas.
  • Mind-machine interface is a direct mental link that allows a person to control a machine, usually a virtual environment, computer, robotic device, or vehicle of some kind. The problem with this is the theorized potential for control going the other way. If the brain can be read and decoded, that allows for output, but if it can also be written and encoded, this would in theory allow for reprogramming of the brain - which in many viewpoints is synonymous with the mind. The GM must devise some way of justifying either how the mind is not the brain and can resist any attempted reprogramming not in line with the will and choice of the being (allowed list), or justify how it cannot be accomplished at all and why (disallowed list).

2.4.4.4 Possible outcomes: This series of examples is designed to showcase one possible series of choices made using the Major method to preview and resolve potential conflicts before they happen in-game. The GM may or may not reveal any of these conclusions ahead of time, allow the players to discover it as they go, or may use them to explain why the players cannot accomplish a particular something. This is especially important if the default rules of a given game system allow or don't allow something which the GM's rules will affect, altering how it works, changing the rules regarding that concept, or even reversing the default rule in the game system.


Major method, second example: Frontier town - Peacebonding.

2.4.5 Creative application example: For this particular game, the GM needs to decide how to handle the party taking weapons into the sole spaceport town on a small planet in the galactic frontier. The GM thinks back to the notes made about the interactions between the main government and the various planetary governments. It is recalled that it is too expensive for the interstellar government to patrol every system, only star systems with significant resources or strategic value are regularly visited. The rest of the Frontier has to fend for itself, each planet providing what defenses it can. Bounty hunting and planetary enforcers are the most common form of law. Due to the rough nature of the Frontier, weapons are carried by all as a matter of course.

2.4.5.1 Player input: When considering a major restriction on the players activity: taking away weapons or other equipment, removing abilities, limited the effectiveness of certain talents or skills, or any other major difficulty or challenge that will impact one or more of the player's character concepts; it is important to ensure that the players are on board. The GM decides that it is not remiss to specifically mention to the player or players affected that the GM is aware of how this is impacting the character(s) in question, as well as the rest of the party, and that it will be a temporary situation. The GM is aware that some players thrive on restrictive challenges, seeking ways around or working with the restriction; but others will feel that their character concept has been ruined and that they can't play their character correctly for the duration of the challenge. Communication is key, and knowing the players feelings is critical to a good game. If the GM decides to enforce some sort or restriction, the GM will notify the players in advance to give them time to think of how they will have their characters react. This isn't a sudden capture scenario, after all, so there is no reason to keep it a secret.

2.4.5.2 Complications: Reviewing the notes for the planet, it is recalled that the spaceport on this small town has developed a strategy to balance safety with commerce. They have declined to build a space station, instead requiring visiting ships to either land, if capable, or to use locally provided shuttles for cargo transport to the planet surface- for a fee. The port and town are defended by massive rail guns capable of reaching either of the local moons, which incidentally also provide a defense against MKOs (Massive Kinetic Objects) such as meteors. The town itself consists of the spaceport on one side of the walled city center, and the rest of the town on the other side, with a mandatory clear zone between. Wall mounted installations keep any from traversing the cleared zone. The spaceport itself is patrolled as well, ideally to prevent anyone from leaving to attempt a long circle about. All of this is designed to require everyone to pass through the walled portion of the city in order to get to either the spaceport or the town. As most of the markets and entertainments are found inside the walled city, this usually works.

2.4.5.3 GM application: The GM decides that in light of this information it would make the most sense for the city to require anyone inside the walled portion to have their weapons peacebonded with a screamer tag by the city patrol. Draw and/or trigger the weapon, and it clearly marks you for the patrol's scanners, which inside the walls is cost effective. If legitimate use and/or self defense can be proven, one is usually let go with a caution, but failure to do so can lead to various penalties. This tag can be removed if you leave the walled portion of the city.

2.4.5.4 Possible outcomes: The GM is sure that some of the players will object to having their weapons being restricted in this fashion, and thus makes a note to include it specifically in the informational handout, making a specific verbal reference to it during game-play, such as during the process of requesting landing clearance, and notifying the players about it in advance so that they have time to think about how their characters will respond, rather than be surprised by it.


World Building Methods

What method of world building do you use by preference? Please comment below and expand upon your vote!

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Associative Method

2.5 Synopsis: While the Major and Minor methods are the two most commonly used methods, the Associative method also has considerable merit. This method uses a combined stream of consciousness and free association techniques to generate ideas and related details. The combined techniques can produce a large amount of material in a surprisingly short amount of time. It makes use of the subconscious portions of the mind, opening the way for inspiration and granting a freedom of creation unfettered by either viewpoint associated with the Major and MInor methods. Practice of the Associative method can actually improve the ability to think quickly in tight situations.

2.5.1 Creative application: With the Associative method one takes the initial prep work and begins a brainstorming and free association process in order to generate ideas and concepts that apply to the initial starting point of a game. The results of this organic process are then reviewed, pruned, and honed into a starting campaign.

2.5.2 Expansive application: This process is also great for developing content for unexpected player actions, and new or accidental directions that may occur mid-stream of gameplay. When the players focus on a completely unexpected angle of a plot, or wander into uncharted territory, manage to kill off the main NPC secretly behind the entire plot, or some other random unplanned thing, this method comes to the rescue.

2.5.3 Disadvantages: The disadvantages of this method are that the quality and applicability of the quantity of material produced varies wildly, though the overall value can be improved with discipline and practice. Another flaw is that ideas may come so quickly and jump from idea to idea with rapidity sufficient to make it difficult to record them all, or to get most of the details of any one of the ideas down, though again, with discipline and practice this too can be improved. Finally, what may seem a great idea at the time which resolves the immediate need, there is a much greater tendency for


Associative Method: Backstory creation: ( © Nijineko).

2.5.4 Creative application example: I recall sitting at an off-campus pizza joint with my friend and soon-to-be GM. We were discussing the game system he would be using, as I was completely unfamiliar with it. We were also discussing my character concept and background so he could determine how it would fit in with his campaign and plot ideas. When I sat down, I had naught but a dim idea for a character, simply that of a female martial warrior who fought with ice magic and war-fans. (This was before the release of a certain arcade game that featured a similar concept, just for the record....) As he was questioning me, and I was sitting there trying to think of more than my minimal concept, I had a sudden inspiration.

2.5.4.1 Player input: I thought it would be much more interesting if it was a martial warrior who came not from a monastery or some other isolated school, but rather from a whole culture. An isolated culture who lived to the far north amidst glaciers. Not just glaciers, but a volcanic chain of mountains, a culture living literally between fire and ice. Which fire could be represented by her being a red-head. Organic resources would be scarce and hard won, and the region would likely support a crop of harsh scavengers and hunters, necessitating other forms of weapons, metal and fire from the volcanos, water and ice from the glaciers. This would explain both the metal war-fans and the ice magic. Such an environment of opposing extremes would naturally be reflected in their culture, their clothing, weapons, and lifestyles. The precise combination of fire and ice as represented by the metal war-fans, ice magic, red hair, and oddly cool and detached temperament, could be seen as fitting and balancing to their people - or it could be viewed as a contradiction which brands her for not being single to one aspect or element.

A remote location would seldom be explored or featured in most campaign worlds, making it easy to fit in, and to allow for a number of interesting extras, such as strange crystalline or silicon-based lifeforms that sought to gain mobility and manipulators by infecting more mobile organic life-forms, deep caverns with dinosaurs, hang-gliders made from the skin and bones of predators, and all manner of other strangeness. A culture dealing with the dangers of living in such a location would have a low life-expectancy, and would therefore have early marriages, creche-style upbringing for safety, defense, and to maximize the number of able adults out resource-gathering and defending the people from encroaching dangers of all kinds.

With such an interesting present, this culture needs an equally interesting backstory and history. I had next the idea that their people originated from a very diverse group or groups of people who represented survivors of a war. Banding together for the safety of numbers, they were fleeing some sort of racial and/or ideological purge following the winning of the war by whomever that might have been. They brought the things most precious to them, books, scrolls, learning of many kinds and eventually found themselves in this remote region... perhaps led by a prophecy or divination of some kind. Between finding resources, surviving the environment, and the predators they debated their various philosophies and experiences, eventually reaching an odd hodge-podge merger of cultures, languages, and beliefs of all kinds.

2.5.4.2 Complications: Thus is born a culture full of contradictions and diversity. Women hold an equal role with men, but mothers - nursing, pregnant, or potential (ie: in the fertile portion of their cycle) - are treated as an irreplaceable treasure and are confined to strongholds and fortifications for the duration. They are highly educated in many ways, but live a savage lifestyle with limited organic resources. They prize spiritual accomplishment, but struggle to deal with the physical flora, fauna, and environment on a daily basis. Their language sounds familiar to almost everyone, but no one can puzzle it out. I decided that this diversity and contradictions inherent to her culture are reflected in very blunt, straightforward, and 'act-now' approach to nearly everything - countered by a nearly overriding belief in omens and portents to a degree that it affects almost everything she chooses to do. I also decided that she seldom collects things unless they have a clear application to her abilities and concepts of usefulness, living a fairly austere lifestyle - countered by an obsession to collect resources which her people lack, those she forwards on to her people whenever time, opportunity, or magic permit.

2.5.4.3 GM application: The GM was pleased with this wealth of information to work with, and promptly worked in the location, culture, and almost all that I had come up with into an appropriate corner of his campaign world. He drew upon this information during future adventures to provide interesting encounters, entanglements, and RP challenges.

2.5.4.4 Possible outcomes: I was very grateful for the brainstorming session, but even more so for the GM's enthusiasm and ability to be flexible enough to include almost everything I had come up with. Not all GMs are willing to allow players to contribute to the world building process so directly! As an added bonus, he even played a character from the culture I had created in another future game years later in which he was a player; the sister of my original character in his game, in fact.

In conclusion

2.6 Conclusion: No matter what method is used, Major, Minor, Associative, or some other method, remember the 7 pillars: Space, Time, Medium, Format, Ideas, Venue, & Backup; and the main goal: presentation of the Who, What, When, Where, Why, & How of your ideas to your audience in an engaging and interesting fashion.

With these steps firmly in mind, you will be well prepared with a flexible set of mental tools with which to tackle your next world building project.


In GameMasterY-World Building: Part Two, the various physical, structural, cosmological, demographic, and meta-informational aspects of a world which need to be considered during the creation process will be covered in detail.



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