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Pen and Paper: World Building

Updated on June 6, 2014
My go-to source for fun!
My go-to source for fun!

Once you’ve decided on the game of choice, it’s time to world build. If I’ve noticed anything about this process, it’s that GMs tend to overdo it. You want to create a world that’s fun to be in, that that your players will want to keep coming back to, but your world is not the purpose of the game. It’s all about the players, as thankless as that can seem sometime. But, if you don’t world build enough, odds are they’re going to get bored and want to play something else.

For the game I’ve just, I’ve chosen to use Savage Worlds. I know it well and it only took a quick read-through to catch up on the rules. The problem with that choice is that I tend to want to run every setting imaginable; I want to allow for tons of races, all the weapons, every power, it can get out of hand. The first thing I had to do was to sit down and think about my setting.

This is a great example of what I'm doing.
This is a great example of what I'm doing.

My players have never roleplayed before, so I wanted something that would peak their interest. Since Dungeons and Dragons is what comes to mind most when people hear the term “roleplaying”, I wanted to change that idea for my group, especially since not all of them are into fantasy. Deciding elves and dwarves were out, I worked through ideas that I would enjoy playing. Superheroes, survival horror, military, dark fantasy, all of this went through my head trying to piece together a world. I ended up deciding on a pulp World War II setting, in which our heroes were monster fighting monster, sort of a historical Hellboy world. The setting would help the players see roleplaying is more than elves and wizards, and allow them to be based in the semi-real world as well. Importantly, as well, I would want to run a game in that world.

Yeah, I'm letting this be an option.
Yeah, I'm letting this be an option. | Source

Choosing races was the next important factor. If the heroes were monster, I had to decide what they could play. Luckily, Savage Worlds is great at race creation and has plenty of options. Since all you need to do is work with the system’s Edges and Hindrances, you can make a balanced race that fits any setting. I kept the book’s Human and Atlantean races, allowing both to access any powers the rules offer. Looking at the Avian option, I decided to modify it to allow for Fallen Angels as a race. This race gets Miracles as a starting power for free but they player has to choose either the Bloodthirsty or the Pacifist hindrance, deciding between a warrior and guardian angel. Since the Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition allows for androids, I brought that in as well. Finally, I created a werewolf class from scratch, making them more of a rage monster with Berserk. Five races, I figured, would be enough, since there were ways to add variations to them all.

Good source material.
Good source material.

Honestly, it’s a lot like Pinnacle’s own Rippers or Weird Wars settings, only I don’t own those books. The players are now working with The M.A.U., Monster Agents United. They are given missions that deal with problems and creatures the military isn’t equipped to handle. They’re a monster version of the Avengers in a way. This will allow me to send them to all sorts of locations, including the war-torn landscape of Europe. I can have them fight Nazis, robots, aliens, demons, and all around nasty creatures of the night.

The setting takes place at what should have been the final days of WWII. Rumors of Hitler’s death gave hope the war was ending, but someone else seems to be leading the party now. The players, more often than not, will be parachuted into their missions, not unlike the old NES games.

Since I had to run the game only a day before I was ready, I decided to look for a mission online that fit the world. Luckily, Pinnacle Games had a one-sheet adventure called “The Eternal Nazi” that I was able to acclimate. The mission involves a Nazi occultist looking for a fountain with unnatural healing properties in South America. The mission was perfect for a starting game and fit my world like a glove. Of course, for the next game, I’m designing my own mission, but this one-sheet did great in a time-crunch.

Something like this!
Something like this! | Source

It’s always fun building a game, but for me, after I choose the races and the main world, it’s up to the players. I tend to work on a weekly basis, planning each mission one at a time, never wanting to get too locked into a plan. Sometimes that can hurt if they game ends too quickly and I have to work on the fly, but it’s never too big of a problem. If my players want to go rogue, then work with that. I still get to use my world, but they’re having fun (hopefully). It would be easy for me to want to drag them through the game and yell “isn’t this cool!” but they’d pick up on it soon and get tired. It’s better to find the quieter satisfactions while GMing. Besides, now that the world is built, it’s time to make the missions!


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    • Eric Mikols profile image

      Eric Mikols 5 years ago from New England

      Jazzy, I get extremely attached to my characters. When I run a superhero game, it's always in my main universe so I get to keep those characters alive. I guess I've just seen players nod blankly at me as I try to explain world history and moved on. Players are rough customers.

    • Jazzy Quicksilver profile image

      Jazzy Quicksilver 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      This is a great piece for newbies like me, haha. I'm one of those GMs who overdo the world and it's inhabitants, and unless I'm careful I get too attached to the characters I make.

    • Eric Mikols profile image

      Eric Mikols 5 years ago from New England

      Thanks! I'm glad you liked it. I'll definitely follow up with that topic! Thanks for the comment and suggestion!

    • Shane Aronson profile image

      Shane Aronson 5 years ago from Simi Valley, California

      Continue this! Write a "how to gm" article and give examples :D!

    • Eric Mikols profile image

      Eric Mikols 5 years ago from New England

      Honestly, the hardest part with Savage Worlds is being able say "when" and stop working on that stuff. It gets too fun to stop sometimes. Thanks for reading!

    • William157 profile image

      William157 5 years ago from Southern California

      You've left me wanting more. I'm really curious to see how your (awesome) custom setting turned out. I love having the ability to imagine anything you want to play and have it up and running in just a few minutes. Savage Worlds really lends itself to this kind of world and character creation.

      Voted up!