I can trace the desire to create something expansive back to a specific period of my life. It was 2001 and Blizzard Entertainment's Diablo 2 had finally run its course; a magical spell of addiction finally worn off of a geeky 11yr old. And so it has been ever since. I sometimes catch myself scrolling through the 4X strategy tag on steam longingly looking for something that will scratch the itch to create something bigger. A sprawling story that never dies.
Back in 2013 I thought that I had finally found the plug to the hole when jumping back into Warhammer 40000. Ultimately it was just another dead end. You can build a specialized army and think up some fun background for it, but it's all soulless in the end. The story is lived by nobody but yourself, and no one cares.
Then the extraordinary exercise that is WORLD BUILDING and ROLE PLAYING GAMES came crashing into my life. By the grace of Mathew Mercer and Critical Role I was granted salvation. Vin Diesel is totally a heterosexual juggernaut of masculinity who deserves nothing but adulation, and a video of him playing Dungeons and Dragons popped into my suggested video feed on Youtube.
The next 30 minutes confronted me with some very threatening questions regarding my own sexual orientation. However it wasn't ol' Vinny who stole my heart, but this other new guy!
This man eclipsed a Hollywood super star with his raw talent and utter disregard for regular social behaviour. I thought I was merely watching an entertaining video, when in fact I was taking the first step into one of the deepest rabbit holes in which a person can fall.
And I don't ever want to climb out!
So what is World Building? For me it's the thing that itches that itchy itch that always itches. It's a void to throw ideas into, and to be built upon for the rest of your life.
The Lord of the Rings is set in a world which was built by one of the greatest fiction writers to ever do it. To this day I have spent countless hours living in that world watching the films and consuming spin-off media.
Likewise the Critical Role phenomenon is set in a world built by Mercer himself. However it does borrow many bits and pieces from the Wizards of the Coast settings. Many of the gods and races found in Matt's world Exandria are not of his design.
The first step for me (as with diving into any topic) was to search for podcasts on the topic. There are a ton of 'Actual Plays' to wade through, but I landed on The Dungeon Master's Block: a show about how to Dungeon Master games of D&D. After listening to hundreds of hours I can safely recommend this show. If it were not for the first 10 episodes I may not have committed so strongly to dungeon-mastering.
One of the first few episodes tackles the question of starting big and working inwards, or starting small and working outwardly. The two hosts both agree that starting small and focusing on the tighter mechanics of your first session is the way to go. I'm much more drawn to tackling the big stuff - because it's just fun!
Now with a few sessions under the belt I wish I had started even more zoomed out. Instead of asking questions like: Who are the gods? Who are the humanoid factions? What is the "Main Story" about?
I should have been asking:
- What are the Themes
- What pieces of media should I draw influence and inspiration from?
- What is the general attitude of the denizens of this world?
- What are the top 3 feelings I want to impart to my players?
Now that I have these questions answered, I find World Building to be a much more cohesive, focused and fulfilling activity.
I'm not sure if many other World-Builders find this, but for a while I was hung up on the map creation process. While initially I jumped straight in with pencil and paper, eventually I found myself looking to refine.
Using this beautiful man's tutorial I turned that ugly patch of land into this work of art:
If you have never Game-Mastered before, but are looking to get into it then I'm going to tell you something now which (if you're like I was) you don't know. Nearly every source on the topic will talk of the work that goes into GMing BETWEEN sessions; creating NPCs, descriptions of landscapes and designing dungeons all take some careful consideration. That's fine and dandy.
The thing that most sources wont mention is that the GM is also responsible for most of the heavy lifting DURING the session. I'm not talking about rules knowledge, or moving NPCs around. I'm talking about role playing multiple characters with different voices, attitudes and motives. Having a full blown conversation through the mouth of a character mustered from your arse on the fly is difficult. Doing it with any degree of conviction is simply exhausting.
Prior to the first session there was this sense that I was going to dictate the scenario, and the players were going to Role Play. I now see that as the silly notion that it is. Make no mistake about it: the GM is the dancing partner for each and every player 95% of the time. Especially amongst newer players, conversations contained within the party (that is excluding the DM) are quite rare. This means that there are few mental breaks for you as the GM, and over the course of 3-4 hours you can end up quite frazzled.
This is why Mathew Mercer is such a marvel. I thought he was talented before I tried my hand at it, but now with some experience I realize that this guy is exquisite. Olympian level.
In Charcuna (this guy's 5e world) the Gods, time scale and history are all sorted, but I don't particularly want to divulge too much information about them lest one of my players spoil something for themselves.
However as I am a miniature fanatic I will be writing regular bestiary installments and posting them here as I paint my collection. Monsters are a great tool for story-showing, so if you're interested in that sort of thing check back here regularly!