GMs love to build worlds, creating places and people, their stories and the details and it’s these things that make a game immersive. Erdela is one of mine and I’d like to introduce you to it as I talk about what it takes to build a world.
- Why build your own? – unique stories and creative freedom
- Inspiration – find something that makes you ask questions
- Make it unique – decide what makes your world different and run with it
- Borrow then adapt – absorb other people’s ideas then create around them
- History and Scope – keep it concise, but give players more than a 2D backdrop
Why build you own?
There are dozens of created worlds out there for GMs to pick up and play so I’m not suggesting every game needs a created world and frankly its a lot easier to run in a world you know well, but there are some benefits too. Personally there is nothing I like more than seeing my players interact with and account for the characters, cultures, organisations, political systems and histories I’ve invented.
There are two other reasons I run in my own worlds; first it means I don’t have to learn a lot of external content. Secondly creating my own world allows me complete freedom to move, create or (importantly) destroy places, people and items as the story needs without fear of bumping into something in the cannon that causes confusion or kills tension.
Imagine a game set in Middle Earth where a thousand orcs are moving across the Brown Lands heading north west. The players are on edge, worried about where this horde will strike.
Then suddenly they look at the map and realise the orcs are heading straight towards Lothlorien. Are they worried about this peaceful enclave of elves? Do they fear it might be burnt to ruin, its people slain?
Lothlorien is known (if you’ve read the books and/or seen the films) to be a place of power with enough might to withstand these orcs without any real difficulty. Even if you did go off script or hadn’t known enough about Lothlorien and have it destroyed, your players would likely be shocked out of their immersion into a discussion of what would ‘really’ happen in this scenario.
The beginnings of a new world are always driven by a moment of inspiration, one that leaves you with a sense of wonder, questions and hopefully some answers.
I’m an incredibly visual person, so an image like this makes me ask questions:
Who is the smaller figure? What is that they’ve awoken? Why did they wake it? How will it react? What happens next? If I’m honest I find the music on this clip a little incongruous, but that just starts me down a different track, wondering how to marry those two different tones.
Erdela, the world I’ve run two long term campaigns in, as well as about twenty one shot adventures started with a map.
Maps are frequently an inspiration to me and remind me of puzzles. The second I saw this one I wanted to figure out who lives (and lived) there, what they want, who’s in charge, what they know, where the dark corners are, what lurks there and the answers to a thousand other questions. For the map of Erdela I have to say a huge thanks to Arsheesh who made it (along with several others) and is happy for individuals like myself to make use of them.
I drew on the borders and named the countries first, but as I did this some of the ideas about how different this world would be were starting to ferment and of course, the beauty of it being my own, I made changes along the way.
Make it unique
Unless you’re going to make changes, what is the point? You don’t have to alter everything, but it’s worth understanding where you’re starting and where you want to make your world unique. This can be as clear as the alternate timeline style of game where one change reverberates over history, a twist on an existing setting or the creation of something entirely new.
However you decide to make your world unique, run with the idea, figure out what the results of the changes or new ideas you’re bringing in would be.
Erdela was going to be used to run Dungeons & Dragons 5e games so there are already a bunch of assumptions built in, but there were some of these I wanted to change. These are some of the changes I made for my world:
- Unique deities and religions
- The Dwarves have gone missing
- The Fracture, a force that changed the cosmology and mythology
Borrow then adapt
Don’t be afraid to take in other people’s ideas, in fact the more creative work you can absorb the better you own work is likely to be.
If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.Stephen King
In a home game straight up copying something someone else created is okay, but why not try to twist, adapt and make that idea your own?
I took ideas from Terry Pratchett, George R R Martin, R A Salvatore, Ed Greenwood and I’m sure others I’m not aware of in the creation of Erdela, but in each case I’ve adapted the concept, refined it and shaped it to make it my own.
History and Scope
Your world needs to have depth, so you want to create some sense of history and change – nothing is the same forever. It’s important therefore to develop not just what now looks like, but also how it came to be. This shouldn’t just be a two dimensional backdrop, but a vibrant landscape filled with forces and beings who move and shake the world.
The counter to that is that you shouldn’t have too much.
You’re not trying to create an encyclopedia or write a novel, but to create a snapshot of what most people know. You don’t need to fill in all the details, its fine to write ‘here be dragons’ in some corners of the map. It will give you room to grow and develop your story, in fact I’d positively encourage it.
What you write should lay the groundwork for future conflict, plots and schemes and your writing should only come to ‘today’ in the world. While you might have ideas for what happens in the future don’t script it out, make room for your players to shape the world.
In Erdela I focused on creating a series of potted histories and a brief description for each geographical area and nation. I spent more time on Benicia as that was where my game began, but some of the things I deliberately created were:
- Elves living in floating cities, one of which had fallen
- Varied political systems and conflicts among the human nations
- Significant lands that are hidden and unknown
More about Erdela
Erdela is my world but I’d love to share it with you. The documents below feature most of the starting lore for the campaign I’m running. Feel free to view these as examples, set your own game in Erdela, or use these as a jumping off place for your own ideas.
Fair warning – if you’re playing in my current game this document on the Fracture contains information you’re not meant to have!