One of the most important things a GM should have is the capability to put together and weave a coherent and at least semi-believable and fun world and game. More often than not worlds and campaigns are actually indistinguishable because they both require some world-building, but on different levels really. My main method is actually just a really common practice for writers known as the Snowflake Method. The method is extremely simple actually, start with the basics, the small stuff and grow out from there.
For the purposes of these blog posts and others I’ll be gradually creating a world and a campaign set into it (to avoid confusion, the campaign construction will occur in a separate post, due to the size of these posts.
For world building the first thing you want to really decide is what the world is, what it’s concept is. This can be anything from a small essay or even just a single sentence. A good resource is this which really gives you a comprehensive pile of questions you can answer but almost anything can work. For my own world the following will suffice:
Corintha is a fantasy world in which magic is a near-tangible law of the world and functions and is organized akin to how science is in the modern era, even with natives going so far as to apply an equivalent of the scientific method to magical experiments. While faiths and religions too have accepted magic in their own way, those who approach it with a non-secular fashion are often the ones who pioneer change amongst the world.
Keep in mind I’m terrible at names, but there you go. A pretty straight-forward concept that expands the magic as science concept to be much much more like science is currently, rather than alchemical. I’m going to call this our keystone, this is the segment that the entire world hinges on and in most cases your setting keystones will be not much but an explanation of how they’re different from every other world or dimension. Afterward you’ll want to expand this into three more concepts, what I do is I start with Continents, Major Forces, and Cosmology. From those you’ll probably want to vary the branching as much as you want as it’s rare for a world to have just three continents (though you can get away with that by only talking about the KNOWN continents, which can spice things up and open up space for later developments, ‘new world’ continents can be extremely exciting especially if the players themselves get to discover and explore them.)
Regardless of what you do though you’ll want to branch out into a number of continents and don’t be afraid to give them a few sentences of description to cover their governments, their cultures, physical characteristics of the people within. For this I’ll stick with these three:
Eredea is an enormous and icy southern land, mountainous to the extreme and carpeted with vast tracts of forest, tundra, and permafrost. Dotted across the land are ancient ruins, far older than the origins of ‘modern’ civilization, and filled with a danger that sharply contrasts with the walled and well-defended settlements across the land. Eredea has been rumored to have been the birthplace of civilization as Corinthia knows it, though this is oft-contested.
Malthesk is a continent that was formed when a meteor struck the world, scattering a good portion of the seas and creating the ring-like landmass that sits there today. Carved into the north-western portion continent are thousands of sinuous canyons buffeted by shrieking gale-force winds. Those that settled this area eventually formed communes in the canyon walls, or settled the few calm spots. The coasts that straddle the southern and western edges of the continent are enveloped in a wasteland, beneath which Malthesk’s largest nation dwells. The south-east is occupied by an enormous mountain range that extends into the water, dipping below it eventually and is nearly uninhabited.
Sremalos is smaller than the two other continents and largely unsafe, populated by deadly flora and fauna of many stripes while its’ many volcanoes are prone to eruption and wiping any sign of indigenous folk that may’ve lived at their bases from the world.
Major Forces is an extremely easy one that you’ll often use to detail anything from the leaders of nations that span far and wide to more unusual concepts (such as Faerun’s Weave.)
The Weird is a group of energies that saturate the world and create varying effects, often dangerous or unpredictable and are the basis for a great deal of Magics amongst the world. Thought to be the byproduct of mankind’s nightly voyages.
The vast nation beneath Malthesk is known as Imperial Dereve and has a seemingly inexhaustible reserve of various guilds of craftsmen with which it uses to maintain a sort of economic control over the rest of the world. Few if any wish to risk the chance of precious tradesmen from Dereve leaving their villages and towns without a chance to export. Indeed Dereve controls almost every line of supply with its caravans, a fact some have decried as sinister at it’s best and scheming at it’s worst.
Mesar’s Plague is a side-effect that harries those who work with the arcane sciences. Most who study it find it interesting as it seems to prey on a magus’ inherent personality flaws, so an obsessive magus will become moreso, quickly descending into madness, while those with less harmful (either to themselves or to others) flaws might remain undetected. The sickness escalates quickly once their flaw seems most exaggerated, increasing the magus’ power as it does so until their final day, whereupon they disappear never to be seen again. Because of this few magi live more than 30 or 40 years, and very few do so sanely. It has been notably observed that these personality flaws also reflect a magus’ magical capabilities, often resulting in formulae that complement their particular madnesses. Named for the first recorded magus who demonstrated drastic changes in their actions and personality.
Cosmology is important on a lot of levels because it can define a great deal about your world in wide swathes without you needing to expend a great deal of effort, which helps your goal of making a quality world with as effort as possible. If you’re wondering ‘what if your world isn’t magical!?’ or ‘what if my world is a universe or galaxy?’ well these are both very valid points, but even the absence of a cosmology, or the existence of false cosmologies is important. Often enough primitive peoples have their own cosmologies and their own set of mythoi and even if they’ve discarded them, a cosmology shapes a culture’s actions, demeanor, and policies immeasurably. For the example setting I’m creating, I’ll be putting together two sets of cosmologies and dividing them into separate categories to give examples of both sorts.
The Dreaming is the shared realm beyond consciousness and rational thought that exists deep within every creature’s psyche. Oddly enough the Dreaming is a twisted and distorted echo of the real one, often giving credence to theories of a certain faction within the Magos Natura who believe that even the inanimate dream but eternally rather than only occasionally. The surface of the Dreaming isn’t the only place either, there are portions that exist at the edge of our reality’s share of the dreaming into the darkness of the starry void above and deeper into the universe’s psyche. Few have any idea that the Dreaming is a metaphysical moebius strip, their minds create the Dreaming but the Dreaming creates the universe.
The Serpentine is another realm though this one is largely inaccessible to anything but nightmares which seem to escape into the Serpentine and.. ferment. Though one can’t observe most of the process the product is clear as the creatures break through the Serpentine’s veil to tear their way into the real world and wreak havoc, inevitably causing lives to be lost. Not even the Magos Animi are aware of why a given nightmare becomes one of these creatures — which have been labelled Daemonica until further notice — but the tears are occuring more and more frequently, which is starting to worry even the most apathetic of the Circles. None know that the Serpentine is a relatively recent construct (within the last thousand or so years) and heralds something more.
Believed Cosmologies or “Mythoi”
There are those that believe that the world was created on the back of an enormous beast, often referred to as Leviathan. It was thought that meteors — thought of as tests and travails the Leviathan had to endure to reach its’ home once again — and the like would crash atop its’ back and creatures and plants sprang from the interaction of its’ humours and the meteor’s, resulting in a quick growth. Eventually Leviathan grew tired of the harassment by the creatures and shook Corinthia off, causing the mass of rocks and plants and water and creatures to crash together and into an enormous meteor, thus sparing the creature another impact and fusing the world with the meteor, creating its’ now accepted ovoid shape. They believe that the Leviathan will come again, and bless the world with a rebirth of sorts, destroying much but bringing more to the world than it had already gained from the creature as Leviathan is inevitably doomed to search eternally for its home.
There are also those who believe that the world sprung from themselves — an irony, considering how close they are — as an akashic consciousness that surpasses barriers and boundries and believe they can use this shared consciousness to enhance their lives and the world at large. It’s notable that they were also one of the first ones to propose the existence of the Serpentine to explain the disappearance of nightmares — often in mid-dream — as a cauldron of the deepest and darkest hatreds of the sentient world, in which horrors stewed and bubbled, screaming to be unleashed. After the first few attacks their ranks swelled as more and more people believed they were on the right track, but were they?
All of this is really just me elaborating on what is basically just this:
The next few posts I make will elaborate on the world (so you can see how granular it can get as well just more or less for my own amusement I guess) as well as creating an entire campaign ready for play in the world. If you’re actually interested in using this content feel free to but please, pleaseee let me know. My ego needs fluffing and shit.