GM Help: World Building – Getting Started

Before I started the Skulls & Shackles adventure path from Paizo, I had started the Epic Experience articles. I will continue those as I run them weekly. However, I’m constantly looking ahead at where I’m going to take my players next. A new campaign always starts with some idea that I like, or something I saw that I like. So, I present to you my first World Building series. Feel free to follow along and make a new world or campaign with me!

It’s impressive to look through a campaign setting that has been professionally published. They have a whole team dedicated to the creation of one massive world, or worlds. It comes with full history, possible future, artwork, locations, monsters, everything you could want, including sample adventures and the likes. Starting a new campaign can be a daunting task for any game master. I want to share my process from the ground up to help new and old game masters alike. I won’t be really delving into rules systems, though I do plan for my next campaign to take place in D&D 5th Edition. I want this specific series to be universal to all systems and forms of role play.

The Terrasque falls over. It crushes down onto the forest floor, leaving a gaping hole in the canopy surrounding the gargantuan beast. A trail of wanton destruction trails behind its corpse in a ragged line of ruin, rubble, and dust. Civilians, would be heroes, and the city guard cheer as the beast falls silent. A low hum bellows from a massive portal at the heart of the city. Silence washes over, not even a sound from the wilderness around. Bodies, lay strewn about, cries for help begin to echo out of the destruction. The thrill of victory is dulled by the sounds of those that may never be found again.

It was a pretty awesome daydream. The mind of a bored game master is a terrible thing to delve into. I began to browse my favorite art site, Deviantart. I decided to look at various cities and portals, perhaps to find something to bring this daydream to life. I saw this fantastic fantasy city, and then found this particularly nifty portal. After spending some time in photoshop, I came up with…

The Primal Gate
The Primal Gate – where the world beyond meets the here and now.

The gate is massive, rising into the clouds. I figured whatever lies beyond that gate is massive, old, primal. Beyond the gate is a world bigger than any other. As I stared at the image more and more, I began to get ideas about the actual details of the location and what is beyond the gate.

We need to go from idea in our head, to physical or digital notes. Once I get past my idea stage, you know, that one idea you really like and want to work on; I think it’s time to move onto how I want things to play out.

I find a nickname for the campaign, in this case “Primal”. I like to use Google Drive for my notes, but you can use any form of notes that you like.

Primal Notes: (This is mostly just more ideas that I have, at this point in time, anything you think about the campaign needs to just be jotted down.)

  • City was built after the gate was found.
  • The gate has not always been there.
  • There was a war over control of the gate.
  • A treaty was finally reached for equal ‘control’ of the gate.
  • The players will start out some time after the Terrasque incident, it is a rotted out husk, picked nearly clean. A small town has been established in and on the remaining skeleton.
  • I like the picture enough to use it for a location and can base descriptions on it, even use it as a handout or part of a potential player’s guide to Primal.
  • The gate is called The Primal Gate, but the world beyond is called Prime, or Primus something along those lines.
  • This Prime world is rumored to be where all worlds are born from. It is beyond rich in resources. The monsters here are hunted for their resources alone, not to mention what natural resources are here.

That’s good enough for basic notes. But, what about the players? What of their role in all of this? What will the setting be like for them?

At this point I like to look at various things for inspiration, more art, games, books, movies, shows, and music. I like the Monster Hunter games a lot. The new edition of D&D brings a ‘new’ way of using magic items in a tabletop role playing game. What do I want the players to experience or do?

  • Hunt monsters to get better gear. They bring them back, and the parts go to new or upgrading their current gear. Players can take skills to enhance the reward, or to create their own gear and upgrades.
  • Find rare magic items, learn that magic items are too rare to even think of selling.
  • Deal with rival adventure parties, clans, or eventual guilds.
  • Face the struggle of what is right and wrong when hunting these wild beasts.
  • Eventually get into the politics of the city.
  • Learn dangerous secrets and truths about the prime world.

With 5th edition, I can use legendary actions and regional actions of monsters to pretty easily fill various regions within the prime world. In other systems, it’s not that hard. I’d like the players to be forced to explore together the first time around. They are new to the city, as with many other people and adventurers. I think that most new adventurers are put to a test. If they come back with nothing, they get nothing in the form of guild membership or access to hunting boards and information. They will have to pay to get information like that.

As you can see, creating a world is a mess. It’s a blur of ideas, things being tossed around and jotted down. But, for now, all of the ideas are a great thing. The more you write, the better off you are. There is no need to create an end goal. Instead, think of your first impression, your first idea of the world. Focus on the first impression; because that’s what made you love it and want to work on it. Try to get that same feeling down in the notes. That way, when you first start your campaign with your players, they’ll get the same first impression you had.

In my case, it’s the awe of this massive gate looming over the heart of a city. The worlds best adventurers reside here. Embassies from the world’s most powerful nation reside and protect the city. There doesn’t need to be a bad guy yet, there doesn’t need to be a story yet. Just awe, wonder, and a reason to want to play in the world.

I’ve decided on some names now, I’ll share those for now… Next time we’ll look at creating goals for the campaign and story. We will jump from this beginning, straight to the end… You’ll find out why then!

World Name: Nothing yet
Solar System: No name, one home star, six other planets. No names for them yet, or if they are inhabited as well.
Continent names: None yet
City Name: Not sure yet
Gate Name: The Primal Gate
Other World Name: Prime or The Prime World in common, Main’amar (Elvish for Prime World), Khaz Dal’gor (Dwarven for Hall of the Old Beasts)… I haven’t decided on other racial translations yet.

I used this to translate for elvish and this to translate for dwarven

Till next time!



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