World Creation for RPGs

Different universes and settings are one of the reasons people play RPGs. The idea that you can escape the world you are in and visit another is enthralling. In my last blog I talked about the importance of setting in Table Top role-playing and I mentioned world creation as an option.  World creation for table top role-playing games can be daunting. I have substantial experience that I will share in this blog.

I began world creation when I was six years old. Like most small children, I hated going to the store. My mother tended to be extra harsh on me when it came to being unruly in the store. It became so boring I had to find some way to amuse myself. I began imagining the store as a war front, one where different things were in alliances fighting each other. The clothing was the biggest nemesis because it controlled the center, but most other groups were unwilling to compromise to defeat them. But why were they unwilling to compromise?

These thoughts are what lead me to the very beginnings of world creation. It begins with an idea, something central that starts the world. Small projects, consisting of only a few countries or one country with a few factions are usually centered around the main idea. This main idea is usually the main idea of the quest or campaign. It could be something like “Country A has a monopoly on metals to prevent other countries from rising to military power” or “Magic is a rarity and Country A has more mages born than Country B causing a rift between the countries.”

The ideas can come from anywhere. Once one idea is developed, this idea can become branching to form more groups or more than one idea can be put into the area creating a development of more countries, leading to a world. The ideas can be conflicts or just facts, history or politics, natural or human made. Sometimes there is an overriding ideas, such as magic is rare, and this plays into other ideas that cause the creation of the world.

After establishing an idea, creating a map or at least a general outline of your idea is useful. This is just a reference tool to organize your thoughts and further development. I prefer drawing maps because I like to be able to visualize what is happening and also gives me a sense of scale of my project (current world being created).

Over the past 10 years I have created 12 worlds, with 8 being fully completed and playable. Of the 8 that are completed, 6 of them are specific ideas dictating the entire world which is usually just a few small countries. This means that the worlds are specific and could only be used for a very specific kind of campaign. An example is I created a fantasy world where the sun did not rise and it was forever night. This created a very specific kind of setting that only specific campaigns/quests would work in.

The other 2 worlds are massive playable worlds that have no overlying idea, but many small ideas. This would be more closely related to the worlds created by RPG companies like Paizo. In one world I have over 40 countries each with specific interaction or lack of interaction with the other countries and their own history, politics, geography, and government. These kinds of world are more practical because essentially any campaign can be played in them, and they can be used over and over again. Yet, these also take more time and work.

Based on your idea and needs, deciding between these two different worlds should be made. If you have many small ideas that encompass only a single country (or territory, or continent, or group) then a larger world may fit your purpose better, as it can be added onto. If your idea is an overlying idea for a setting or style of campaign then a smaller world is the better option.

Coming up with the idea, deciding on the scale, and creating a base frameworks are the essentials in starting to create your own world/setting of an RPG. Many things come afterwards, but in my experience starting with these three things make the later process much easier.