ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Where oh where am !? Crafting Settings for Role-Playing Games

Updated on April 28, 2015

Previously I have spoken about the core concepts of gamemastering; the broad-strokes of qualities that I value and aspire to as GM. For this article, I wanted to take a more in-depth* look into a singular skill of GM’ing: Setting-building. Crafting the various settings is important for your campaign. After all, how are you going to tell a story without it taking place anywhere? (Not that you can’t do that, but such experimental role-playing/storytelling isn’t the point of this articles). Also, sometimes the very setting is the biggest “selling” point for your story/game for players. After all, players may be looking for something different than your typical hack-and-slash fantasy adventure epic; instead, you can offer them the chance to play in a world where technology reigns alongside magic, while dark and unholy terrors dwell beneath the surface of the world and the nations of the realm war endlessly with one another.

I think I heard about this somewhere . . .
I think I heard about this somewhere . . .

When discussing setting, there are three primary tiers to consider: the World, the City, and the Scene. Each tier presents challenges and opportunities for creative thinking. Also each tier has its place within the greater structure of the narrative that you as the GM will be constructing. And just as a point of clarity, each tends to have equal relevance within the context of a story; depending on the details of your campaign of course.

*Well, to be honest, “in-depth” is a bit of a stretch; more like an overview on the topic.


When it comes to the World, many players will think of your game in this manner (e.g. this is your world). World-building is an exercise in setting the mood, motifs, and other major atmospheric and global themes for your game. The overall world sets the tone for your story; will it be dark and brooding? Whimsical and fun? Gritty and brutal? Or light-hearted and carefree? Many games have a developed global setting (e.g. Ravenloft, World of Darkness) but you still have room to wiggle and adjust to fit your sensibilities and your group’s tastes. You all have found something to be enjoyable about playing in that setting; so you just need to fine-tune it to what your group will find most enjoyable.

How much the details of the World impact your story is really up to you and your players. If they find certain aspects worth exploring, they will do so; and you are going to help provide answers to their questions. As a bit of advice, if you are having trouble coming up with an immediate answer to a player’s inquiry, just be honest and tell them you need a moment; they generally will understand. If it isn’t that vital of a detail, then ask them if you can have some time to think about. This has gone over really well for me in the past because not only am I trying to help fill out the world for them, but I am taking their questions seriously and with genuine interest; which I am.

There is a great deal more to get into here. However, I have already spoken on this topic at length previously. So, rather than repeat myself here, I will just redirect you to the original article on the topic. If you haven’t already read it, in it I cover much of what I said here, plus got into the nitty-gritty details of designing your World and the mentality that may be most productive for what you want.


The next stage in filling out a world is to fill it with cities. Cities come in all shapes, sizes, populations, and cultures. The concept of a City in role-playing games is the major location wherein the story or stories take place. The difference between a World and a City is scale and detail: the players reside in a city and may travel to another one if need be; under most circumstances, they aren’t leaving the World anytime soon. Even if you are running a sci-fi game where the group can planet hop, the idea remains the same; simply find-word-and-replace every instance of “city” with “planet” and you have the same concept along with the World being the galaxy/universe of that campaign.

Besides the breadth of scale, the major difference between City-building and World-building is that of casting. In other words, it is at this level that you (both GM’s and players) are no longer looking at characters in general terms such as race and instead are looking at individuals; going from abstract (game) mechanical concepts and are now looking at specific people within the setting. It is one thing to talk about the United Federation of Planets and the various space stations and space docks within their sectors; it is another thing to talk about Commander Benjamin Sisko or Dr. Julian Bashir on the space station Deep Space Nine. Having a cast is important because these are tools by which you as the GM will most often interact with your players’ characters in terms of the story.

And Quark!  Can't forget about Quark!
And Quark! Can't forget about Quark!

Just as with World-building, there is so much more about building your Cities (or other major locations) that I could go on and on. So, rather than overload everyone with it here, I will get another article up on that specific topic (ideally, within the near-future). So stay tuned everyone!


The final sub-set of Setting-building is the Scene. Scene are the most ubiquitous of settings when it comes to RPGs. Why? Because every time there is any characters interacting, it has to happen somewhere specific. Yes, if characters are just talking in some dank alley that may be just fun; however, there is still plenty of fodder for story-telling and interaction in that scummy alleyway. After all, who else is down there? Why are they there? And many more questions to follow.

Let’s put it another way: if World-building is to City-building as laying-down the foundation is to framing the house, then Scene-building is doing all of the electrical wiring for your house. It is all about utilizing the groundwork already established to provide great aesthetics for your players to work with. At the same time, you are being considerate of the functionality of your scene. You as the GM will develop your skill at Scene-building much more quickly than you will with the other settings. Let’s break it down like this: every time you want to run a different campaign (which may not happen as often as you may think, unless you like switching between games frequently), you will have to devise a new World; each World will need key locations (Cities) to fill it up, but you are only going to need may three or four at the most, depending on your story and campaign; but each and every one of those Cities is going to need multiple (read: countless) Scenes for you to tell the story and for your players to interact. Trust me, you will get PLENTY of practice crafting scenes.

And again, there is still a great deal to get into about Scene-building. And just like with City-building, I will dedicate an entire article to that discussion; there we can focus more on the challenges, rewards, and various techniques that go into crafting your perfect and dynamic scenes for your players and for your story.

In Summation

For Your Players
overall setting
sets tone, atmosphere, genre
draws them into the game
specific location within World
establishes cast of characters
key locations for story
individual settings within City
permits interaction with characters
allows the story to progress


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Kevin Debler profile imageAUTHOR

      Kevin Debler 

      3 years ago from Expansive Highlands of Michigan

      Thank you.

      It is a sad thing to say that I am most likely not attending GenCon this year :(

      If that changes, I will see what I can do to let everyone know :)

    • profile image

      Ryan S. 

      3 years ago

      Hey Kevin,

      This was incredibly helpful. I look forward to reading more of your posts! Hope to see you at GenCon this year.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)