When making your RPG, a consistent, fleshed out game-world improves the player experience and makes development easier. But where to start? This brief article will you give all the prompts you need to start building something awesome!
How do you make interesting, consistent and vivid worlds?
The layer technique helps you build worlds that players love to explore. Start with the basics and build the world layer by layer. In this way we'll end up with something really special. Each layer will ask you questions; you might be surprised at the answers! The layer model works for any type of world, from galactic empire to small village.
Start with a map. Grab a pen and paper, a cup of coffee and just let yourself draw. This will answer questions about how far features are apart and how long it might take to travel between one place and another. Alternatively go the science route, research how your geography forms in the "real world" and work from basic principles.
When you have a rough outline, ask questions about the terrain formed, where the danger areas might be, where resources are hidden and what makes this geography unique. What features are present on your map that will draw a player in?
The map is the base that the rest of the world is built on; it's worth taking time over.
Economies begin with resources. Where are the resources according to the geography? A resource is something like gold, anti-matter, fertile land, an inlet for easy trade etc. Mark these out on your on map.
Life needs water, energy and space. Where on the map are the niches that best support life? Where is life easy and where is life hard?
Using the map look for the resource sources and sinks. One place might have platinum deposits but be hard to access. What trade routes naturally occur to equalize the sources and sinks? Consider how the geography influences trade routes, routes rarely pass over a mountain or through the sun.
Trade routes and resources predict where cities will form and where they won't. Be aware of the shadow lands, outskirts where outlaws, smugglers and dark things lurk.
Consider Earth, why are we alive on Earth compared to all the other places in our galaxy? Apply the answers to your own world. Then go deeper, ask where did culture first take hold on Earth and why? These questions help you build a well reasoned world.
Geography and economy suggest where cultures are born, as well as their advantages, disadvantages and contact with other cultures.
Land shapes a culture and the things that dwell there. Is it mountainous, forest or swampland? Consider the terroir. Economy tells us if the culture is rich, what ideas and goods are imported and exported through trade routes? Does the current trade situation help or hinder?
Who are the cultural heroes, the myths and legends that shape the culture's world view? Consider how Plato shapes the views of the West and Confucius the East. Certain historical or mythological figures punch above their weight in influencing the global culture. Just ask a Romania about Vlad Țepeș (aka Dracula) or a Mongolian about Genghis Khan! The traits of a cultural hero depend greatly on the source!
History is the chronicle of culture. How do things change over time? How does the geography, economy and culture change and develop?
When is the present day? What great events have occurred; war? disease? climate change - ice age, volcano, meteors? technological change? fantastical events - undead rising, magical portal, magic coming / going?
These questions help position your story in the history of your world.
Society takes us to the present day. Who are the major organizations? Who are the players, leaders and mavericks?
Where does the power lie? Great families, corporations, government cults, secret societies etc. Is there a class or caste system? All this can be related back to geography, economy, culture and history. How have these places of power in society been shaped by earlier layers and how does this layer in turn shape the world.
Go Create Your World
These five layers have hopefully given you some questions to consider. I look forward to exploring the worlds you create!