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Brave, New World

World Building Debate

by Charles Dunwoody
Mar 10,2005

 

Brave, New World

World Building Debate

By Charles Dunwoody

While the voting was going on, Ace Calhoon, a gamer I've only talked to via e-mail, began a discussion about how I was going about the world design. Here're our e-mails.

Ace Calhoon wrote:
"I'm not entirely certain that a one-sentence description would be the best way to start world-design... It tends to make over-broad generalizations, especially about geography, and hides what really makes one fantasy world stand out from another: the details."

I replied:
"I could see your point of view about a one sentence description being too broad. However, let me give you a little more info on where I'm coming from with this design.

First, I don't want to get into details yet, because this world will be created by a group. If every person created a detailed world description we'd end up with a lot of detail that would never get used because we're going to be working on one world only. I'd like to save that creativity for the next step.

We will get to details, very soon. Wednesday, I'll send out a list of the world ideas and everyone interested will let me know which ones sound the best. Once we get things narrowed down to one idea, we'll move on to more details.

Second, when Wizards did their world search they allowed only a one page description of a world. From 11,000 one page entries came Eberron, one of the best worlds I've gamed in for D&D. That one sentence description is a common starting point when picking one world from many to work on.

Hope that helps explain my reasoning for using a one sentence description just to start."

Ace responded:
"Very well, just so long as you realize the obvious difference between a page description and a one sentence description, and the slightly less obvious difference between "what would you like to see in a world" and "create a one-sentence hook for a world."

For example, here's what I'd like to see in a world: I'd like to see a world where creatures that "look like" dragons (six-limbed reptilian predators, possessing two wings, two legs, and two limbs that can be used as either legs or arms), but are more balanced for use by PCs exist. I don't really care if they're intelligent, or can breathe fire, it'd just be cool to be able to have a dragon mount for your paladin or whatnot, without having to do the "appease the gods before bringing unbalance to the game" dance.

Even better would be a smaller set of these "dragons" (small to large, for example), that could be used as player characters (via ECL or, preferably, savage progression) but didn't rely on time-elapsed in game to invest "levels" towards their race (I've never seen a D&D campaign last for much more than a year in-game).

Compressing that into a sentence is possible (a wordy, run-on sentence), but it wouldn't be much of a "hook."

Although, now that I look at it, perhaps this type of discussion is best suited to a later point in the world's development.

And I responded:
"I think we're on the same track now. I know a one page description is different from a one sentence description. In this case, however, we're going to create the one page description as a group, not individually. And to get there takes me to your second point.

If we get into a discussion about what you'd like to see in a world, for instance 'what dragons should be like', we're assuming a "typical" D&D world. What if the world we design has no dragons? Then our discussion wouldn't help our current effort. The same conclusion I assume you came to.

We will get into what you'd like to see in the world once we know what the world is. If we start talking about what you want in your world (Dragon Kingdoms) and what I want in mine (World Without Dragons), but both our worlds are different (dragons in yours, none in mine), then we won't be making any sense to each other!

Your dragon idea was summed up in the hook you wrote: "Here there are dragons: a world with a more pronounced draconic presence".

If we pick this hook, then in step two you can suggest what you mentioned below: 'I'd like to see a world where creatures that "look like" dragons (six-limbed reptilian predators, possessing two wings, two legs, and two limbs that can be used as either legs or arms), but are more balanced for use by PCs exist. I don't really care if they're intelligent, or can breathe fire, it'd just be cool to be able to have a dragon mount for your paladin or whatnot, without having to do the "appease the gods before bringing unbalance to the game" dance.

Even better would be a smaller set of these "dragons" (small to large, for example), that could be used as player characters (via ECL or, preferably, savage progression) but didn't rely on time-elapsed in game to invest "levels" towards their race (I've never seen a D&D campaign last for much more than a year in-game).'

I happen to like the hook very much and I like how you fleshed it out. If we don't pick that hook, however, and dragons are not a big influence in the world, then you could save those ideas for a more dragon centered world.

Please don't assume that our world has to be a "typical" campaign with paladins slaying orcs and dragons sitting on treasure. We can create any world we can possibly imagine and maybe even do some of those things players would like to try but many DMs are reluctant to do in a "typical, balanced" D&D world. That's why I'm getting feedback from many DMs and players, to make the world better than what I could do on my own."

Ace finished:
Yeah, I think I get the idea now. I just needed to figure out the balance between the hook and "what do you want to see in a campaign world?" The hook is very group friendly. Even if it's selected, I might not see the specific features that *I* want, but it is more likely draw ideas from the group as a whole. The specific ideas, on the other hand, could be used to create a world at this point... But would be very difficult to juggle amongst a large group. Okay, I approve. You may proceed now ;)

Conclusion
I really liked to hear Ace's ideas and I enjoyed the debate it spawned. I also need to remember Ace when I'm DMing and actually hear what my players are saying. They may have some really good ideas or points to ponder! Otherwise, in the heat of DMing, I might miss what they have to say.

To create the best possible world requires the best possible ideas. Against the advice I heard in the Army to never volunteer, I volunteered to sort through those ideas, gather a few together in a hopefully coherent fashion, and build a new campaign. Without gamers like those helping with ideas for this column, I wouldn't be able to create a shared world.

May you always roll a 20 when you need it most,
Charlie

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