Talking about world-building in terms of a board game is kind of a strange thing. It’s normally referenced in terms of novels or movies where story is paramount. World-building is all about immersion into the story. The more believable and lived-in a world feels, the more someone can get lost in the story in which the world is set. But world-building isn’t about taking the time to explain every last detail of the world, it’s more about taking the time to set up an internally consistent world so that everything inside that world just makes sense.
And so, of course, world-building is also paramount the realm of the tabletop RPG. Perhaps even more so because players have they opportunity to explore every nook and cranny of the world, so all of those spaces and characters and motives should be filled in. Maybe not before hand, but if a game master has a consistent and fully realized view of the world in their head, they should be able to make up the details on the fly.
Of course, due to the constraints of a board game, world-building in that environment will never be as paramount as it is in an RPG. But if you’re telling any kind of story, it is still incredibly important.
Why are there ruins full of monsters all around this town? Why are the characters there fighting the monsters? Why is the town even there in the first place, and if it’s so overrun with monsters, how does their economy function? All these questions not only need to be answered, but their answers should be obvious with proper world-building.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the best world-builder out there, though. Forge War had more-or-less zero world-building, which I guess is fine since the storytelling is very slight, but I still think it could have benefited from the process. If it was more than just, “There’s a king in a castle, and a market and a mine and a bunch of monsters everywhere,” I think the theme could have been even more immersive than it was. When I sat down to write the detailed descriptions of the quests, I had fun coming up with reasons why you needed an axe and why this quest leg was 3 steps long, but I didn’t have an actualized world to draw upon, which was a bit of a bummer.
But that’s not to say I have no experience in the field of world-building. I’ve overseen a number of RPG campaigns, and I always opt to create my own world rather than use whatever campaign setting the game came with. I very much enjoy building worlds, creating cities and factions and the people that inhabit them. My last and greatest attempt is somewhat detailed in this old post, where I got some input from my players through a game of Fiasco, then set about creating a fully-realized city with no limits on what the players could do. I think it worked out well.
So, anyway, I think I was getting around to talking about my new game? Doing world-building for that is very much still a work in progress, but the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of approaching it like a D&D campaign, building everything from the ground up so that there is always a source from which to draw specific information when needed. Does the town have a sewer system? What is the climate to the south? The answers should be waiting in the wings.
It actually ends up going beyond a typical D&D campaign, though, because even the character classes and races are in flux. Sure, you could go for your standard dwarf fighter and elven archer, but where is there any fun in that? Building a new world means you can do whatever you want to, as long as it is internally consistent. Why would you let JRR Tolkien to do all the fun stuff for you?
One of the first things I did when I realized I wanted to go whole-hog with the world-building was to sit down and create dynamic and unique races with the own philosophies, ideals and specific places in the world. There are still humans, because some players always need something to identify with, but there are also large, hairy guys with horns, a meditative race that grows crystals from their skin and translucent humanoids half stuck in a different plane of existence.
And one other thing that creating your own world does for you is that it makes you excited to play around in it. You want to sit down to fill in all the details and see where the story takes you. And you want to share your creation with other people. Obviously there’s a lot more work to be done before this game finds its way to Kickstarter, but I think there’s enough information in these last 7 posts to coalesce the game into a real thing in people’s minds – at least something more than a canned “Descent meets Pandemic meets Risk Legacy” kind of description would. In a week, I plan on making an official announcement about the game, and then hopefully there will be a lot more people excited about exploring this world with me.
And with that, my laboriously titled series is officially over. I guess I ended up being 140 steps off, but that’s probably for the best.