Wednesday, October 27, 2010

GM Mentoring: The Three Element Rule of World Design...

Good Evening, All:

In tonight's game, we moved from the end of one adventure to the site where the next one began, covering several days of travel and a stop at Fellgorge, the City of Adventurers and effectively the Las Vegas of the Madlands Campaign. Everything can be had for the right price. Tonight, I also introduced a new player to the group, who had come to fill an empty chair. In covering his introduction to the group, and moving them along into Fellgorge and beyond to the site of the Black Tower of Father Gaelos, I realized how deep a setting I had created already in less than ten sessions of play. The old players were filling in the new guy on the local customs, some of the stories they'd heard, making some connections with this session's events and some events in previous sessions, and all in all, making me feel much more accomplished as a world designer and Game Master than I had felt going into tonight's session.

Sometimes I surprise myself. Without overly trying, I realize that, at least to this group, I've successfully created and presented a consistent world, and will continue to build on it and add depth to it as we move along in future sessions. I have been developing these skills now for over twenty years, and it is good to see them attain this degree of success without significant effort. I feel that I owe this success to the many DMs and GMs I've gamed with, talked to and read about. There are a great many tips and tricks I've picked up over the years, and I'll try to share them as I continue to blog here.

I think one of the easiest ways to create new locations is to choose three major elements that make the area unique in comparison to other regions, and bring those up during play. Three items allows you to focus on a little diversity, yet still hold these elements firmly in play. As the players pick up on those characteristics, they begin to identify individual locations by their flavor. In time, both you and they will start to expound on the foundation you've laid out, but the region will maintain its consistent look and feel as you go along.

For example, the three elements I have focused on for Fellgorge are:
  1. Guilds control everything. Each major occupation thus has at least one organization dedicated to protecting their business. I can explain any rivalries as being between guilds, or perhaps between guilds and those who violate the guild law. Guilds become patrons for adventures, rivals or enemies for character backgrounds, and can serve as fodder for non-combat encounters that build on the flavor of the city.
  2. Fellgorge is a fantasy version of Las Vegas. Lacking only the neon signs, this city of sin offers adventurers many different ways to separate themselves from their coinage while experiencing any of a great number of vices and other forms of entertainment. There's a strong seedy side to Fellgorge, and as adventurers, the party often sees it, even more so than the average bloke.
  3. Fellgorge is a melting pot. When adventurers from all of the lands north of the Sovereign Chasm come to cross via the Sky Ferry into the Madlands and seek their fortune, you'll find characters of a wide range of races and abilities, more than in any other city in the campaign. It's a great place to introduce new characters into the group, and this melting pot offers a wide variety of rumors, employment opportunities and adventure hooks simply by virtue of the wide range of humanoid character types present within the walls of the city.

By focusing on just those three elements, I can create the illusion of depth for my players. With their own internal associations regarding guilds, Las Vegas and melting pot cities, I find that the players often fill in the gaps with self-imposed assumptions. As they communicate those assumptions through their words and choices over the course of the game, I find that I can either take the suggestion and run with it, or offer a clarified perspective for the player, helping in turn to sharpen the picture for both of us. This works very well with my ad hoc gaming style.

So, how do you make new locations come alive? What suggestions do you have to offer your peers and fellow readers? Inquiring minds want to know.

With Regards,

1 comment:

Kobold said...

Always test the names of NPCs and places by saying them out loud - you have to be able to pronounce the name consistantly, and the players have to be able to spell it. Nothing spoils the atmosphere faster than when the players make a pun of the Evil Boss Dude's name and this is how they remember him for the rest of the game.

Use your senses to establish a location. A dank, dark passage should smell slightly stale, or earthy, you should hear water dripping on stone, the air should feel cold, the characters might perhaps sense, rather than see, the walls and roof of the passage - dark tunnels have a sense of weight bearing down on them and feel claustrophobic.