GM Help: World Building – Diving In

In part two my World Building series I want to expand more on beginning with an idea and expanding on that. In this case, it’s all about first impressions. Rather than building an entire world from the ground up on those base ideas… I start off with designing the first adventure as a focus for my ideas. I recommend reading “Getting Started” before reading through this part! I am doing this for a 5e campaign, but the same theories should hold true to all systems. 

Trying to build an entire world for players to delve into is a rather big task, especially without any sort of team. One way I like to ease the workload is to go from my ideas, straight into what the characters will be doing from the start. They don’t need to know what the kingdoms are doing if they aren’t taking part in the politics. They don’t need eons of history if their characters never studied it. In essences, I want to focus on the world from their point of view, not my own. Then use that to fill in the details and fluff at a later time.

Just like world building, adventures start off of some idea to go from. I took these basic notes; I looked at them as problems that needed to be solved all in the first adventure.

  1. Need a way to gather the players together in the city.
  2. Players need to be allied with each other from the start before going into The Prime World.
  3. They need to be introduced to how things work in this setting.
  4. They need to learn the most important things in the city and The Prime World.
  5. They need to feel how big and dangerous The Prime World is.
  6. They need to understand that everything is fair game once they leave civilization.

From there, I worked out the solutions to each of the problems.

  1. A lower ranked guild will host a competition for a free sponsorship.
  2. The groups will be assigned “randomly” thus the players will be put together as allies of circumstance.
  3. They will be given a list of things to collect and return with first to get the sponsorships.
  4. The list will clue them in on the need to research things they don’t know, locations, rumors, etc…
  5. Their first venture will reveal the elven created township in The Prime World, and carry them through fungus invested swamps, nasty creatures, facing the terrain.
  6. They will be ambushed for their stuff by another group who wanted to cash in on an easy sponsorship.

By doing this, I have a very solid foundation for the first adventure. I don’t mean that this will take one session. I mean that this is the first start to finish ‘quest’ in the campaign. In one of my previous articles “The Morning After” I explain how I like to handle designing adventures, and sessions. I’ll be using that example throughout this article, as well as tying it into how we are world building.

I found myself strumming through the awesome 5e Monster Manual to find inspiration for what the players would fight during the first session. Without going into detail of the 5e system, I know I wanted the players to have to deal with the terrain of The Prime World and magical creatures. I don’t want to cause moral conflict for the time being so all creatures they fight will need to be neutral or evil for the time being. Based on the potential strength of the party, I came up with the following list:

  • Parts from a cockatrice
  • Particular mushrooms
  • A living, bottled, will-o-wisp

Our questions for the first adventure are:

  • Can the players get the information? Information can be obtained in the city through skill checks or taking time to research, but it’s likely to be slightly outdated or not contain exact locations. Instead it will contain prime habitats. In the township beyond the gate, players have no sponsorship or reputation; so no respect. They would have to pay handsomely for information here, something they can see other ‘fresh meat’ doing.
  • Can players handle their task? Their information leads them to a swampy area not too far from the gate. This will lead them to finding a cockatrice, it is smaller than they expected. Little do they know it is protected by two more, likely its parents. It will flee when combat starts if possible. The parents are the actual fight. After the fight, they will likely have to harvest what is needed on the spot, requiring skill checks as well as covering the scent and all. Several patches of mushrooms are scattered throughout the swamp, the players will have to choose wisely and use some skill to pick the right ones without disturbing the harmful spores that they grow around for protection. Finally, a will-o-wisp will show around here, tricking the group a bit before luring them into a bit of a trap. Perhaps there are multiple, but they just need one. If they can catch it, then…
  • Can they handle the ambush? A rival party of 3-4 people also learned that a will-o-wispwas supposedto be around here, as they frequent areas like this. In an attempt to mooch off of the party’s victory, they will ambush the party and try to steal their spoils. If they can handle that, Then…They will be awarded with the recognition and sponsorship of the guild, as well as a small amount of respect to those who were in the competition. Which means next time… They will learn about hunts, wanted boards, jobs, etc…I haven’t nailed down final details yet, maps or anything like that, but now I have a very solid foundation to start on. On top of that, I have questions that need answering as far as what the players see and interact with.
  • What does the city or town beyond the portal look like? I know it’s elven made and maintained. Perhaps it’s built onto the massive trees to keep it safe from what lurks on the ground. Maybe it is well fortified but small compared to the big city. Maybe it harbors a nice black market, is shadier, and far more uncivilized in comparison.
  • Where do they go for information? What sort of libraries, academies, taverns, and more lie in both cities?
  • How deadly and treacherous is the area around the gate? How far is it considered ‘new adventurer friendly’ when the ‘average person’ would end up dying?

Till next time,

PS: Those of you that are my players, reading this won’t help you. MWAHAHAHA.


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