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World building

posted Apr 04, 2013 16:54:04 by Antalon
I have just purchased the Kobold guide to world making (find it on Amazon). It's a set of essays by well known industry people like Jeff Grub, Monte Cook etc.

I got it specifically because RQ6 is all about world building: the options, lack of default assumptions, the running examples etc. my own campaign world is I the (slow) process of conversion to RQ6 (from mrq2 and HARP before that).

What I'd like to see from Loz and others who create worlds using the RQ tool kit is some insight into their decision making, maybe as side bars or separate posted essays. I'm really looking forward to mythic Britain as I want to see how some things have been handled, and hope to see these explained.

What experiences have other people had with world building so far in RQ6?

Antalon
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11 replies
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PeteNash said Apr 04, 2013 20:09:50
Well, you won't be seeing many insights into the creation of Monster Island in the book itself, as there's just no space for extra stuff. So I shall try to give a rough overview of my World Building processes.

Some Thoughts Behind Designing Monster Island

When I decided to expand the original concept of a Monster supplement into a sandbox setting, I started off with a few key concepts I wanted to blend together - a small self contained setting, lots of weird and unusual plants and creatures, classic S&S feel in homage to Howard, Smith and Burroughs, ancient civilisations, weird magic, and socio-political conflict.

Starting with the self-contained setting, it was an easy decision to decide it would be an island. An island needs a fair amount of space however, to have room for all the strange and mysterious locations, peoples and creatures it would host. So I gave it a length and breadth of a little over a hundred kilometres, but made it very mountainous - so that it increased its surface area and made it difficult to explore. In addition I wanted the scenery to be dramatic, so I made the mountains extremely high whilst filling the lowest slopes with dense jungles and swamps. A living hell for adventurers! Jungle led onto the creation of its climate and annual weather patterns.

At this point I added some guidance to GMs about where the island could be located, since a tropical climate need not rely on an equatorial location. It could instead be geothermal uprisings from the surrounding ocean, a different star or even simple magic. I then added a section in the introduction suggesting game worlds, settings and time periods in which Monster Island could be placed.

My first real problem was with monsters. Normally the genre or game world tends to limit the range of monsters to a predominant adventuring region, or if an entire world, to separate ecological niches. I did not want to start designing a whole world from the ground up... so I decided to use dimensional gateways through which a never ending supply of creatures could arrive. On the other hand I didn't want the hassle of describing what lay beyond each gateway, thus I decided that every portal was one-way; what comes in never gets out. This allowed me to bring crazy creatures from any genre, environment or time period, and mix them together without fear of an ecological faux-pas. Not only did this solve the inherent food source/cycle issues of island life, but also ensured there was constant conflict and replacement for those creatures that the PCs would invariably butcher on a weekly basis.

The next choice facing me was how to satisfy the tropes of old-fashioned Sword & Sorcery. The selfish, hard-bitten heroes of the genre do not tend to meet hundreds of different sapient species on a weekly basis. Rather the predominant foe is always men. Whilst fellow humans would be a significant source of adventures, I also wanted to include two of the classic non-humanoid foes written by early authors - that of serpent people and lizardmen. I like these two species since they are woven into our own real-world myths, and seemed fitting for other mythically resonant elements I would bring into the isalnd’s history (although I did add an option for converting them to human races). Other tropes were tomb raiding, defeating evil magicians, discovering and solving ancient mysteries, and good old-fashioned pulp action. For these I created around eleven short-scenarios, Loz submitted a further two, and I added another fifteen mysterious locations as scenario settings. Between these and other sections of the book there are almost a hundred scenario seeds threaded throughout.

Next up was turning the serpent people and lizardmen into living, breathing cultures. I didn't want them to be simple cannon fodder - although they can be used in that way if the GM is so inclined - rather I wanted PCs to encounter and learn about the alien societies they met. So they have an entire chapter dedicated to their society, law, taboos, politics, communication, trade, war, religion, and the odd, disgusting or horrific customs they practice. With such a depth of material I hope that PCs will find learning about them as 'people' to be an enjoyable, if frustrating, experience – rewarding too, if they hold off from aggressively xenophobic tendencies.

In addition to describing their cultures, I placed a very definite species delineation between the two. The 'civilised' serpent people being hated by the savage lizardmen due to their use of diabolical sorcery which once enslaved both them and their spirits, whilst conversely the serpent people loath or are supercilious to the savages for the incessant rebellion which brought ruin upon their empire. Whilst the two species are not in outright war, the potential for it to spark up exists. Neither species however, are unified in their outlook; the savages often practising ritualised battles against each other, whilst the remaining towns of the serpent people strive for power by engaging in the subtle arts of politics and assassination... and of course, both species occasionally utilise the aid of their erstwhile enemies to defeat a more threatening foe.

Perhaps the most fun aspect of designing the setting, other than creating perverse societies (all of which are actually grounded on real world cultures of our own history), was showing what could be done with magic. Since I wanted it to have a S&S feel, magic is rare and feared so only professional casters have real access to it; but as a consequence must also suffer the detrimental social issues of such power. Magic is woven into the history of the island, which was once a continent until the gods were called down to manifest themselves in a cataclysmic battle which sunk the land, leaving only the tip of the tallest mountains above the sea.

Using this premise I decided to give the savage lizardmen access to Animism, gave Sorcery to the more cerebral serpent people and left a dubious form of Theism to the human explorers/colonists who teeter preciously in a single settlement on the coast. In each case I wove the political effects of such power into their cultures, so that the Sorcerers of the serpent people actually rule as a mageocracy for example. Folk Magic and Mysticism were not included in the setting as they didn't fit with my conception of the differing peoples, although nothing stops a PC arriving on the island with such knowledge if desired.

To emulate other aspects of the genre, casting times for magic were increased to represent the need to utilise preparation and paraphernalia. Faster casting can be attempted, but at a risk of something going dreadfully wrong. Even worse is that magical energies take a long time to recover, so whilst a shaman or sorcerer can achieve powerful things, they must rest for days after; or perform sacrifices or consume dangerously toxic substances to rejuvenate their strength quickly.

For all three of the magic systems new spells, miracles and spirits were created, along with cults which teach (or restrict) their development. Hopefully GMs will see what I have tried to achieve by binding the development of magical power into society and standing, so that they serve a community purpose - not a self aggrandising one. Indeed, players who like to run magic using characters may find most of the cults weird or 'underpowered' to more high-fantasy settings. This is deliberate, but hopefully far more atmospheric.

Atop the other additions I also added a whole new set of 'gifts' which should allow magicians to replicate some of the more powerful things which can be found upon the island. There are ways for example to create new types of enchantments, without the knowledge degenerating into a runaway method of abuse or turning them into magic item factories.

The last part was ensuring that there was parity between the three main cultures on the island. By this I mean that the book offers opportunities for PCs to work for, or struggle against, the human colonists, the lizardmen savages or the serpent people. No one species, cult or town is irredeemably evil - such things are both subjective and occur on an individual basis. Thus to aid with social interaction I detailed one residential settlement from each culture and included a range of NPCs to show what is important and politically relevant to them. These sorts of things are important for role-playing from which I find players gain far more satisfaction from than simple hack and slash. With all the associated dangers I’ve built into the setting, few adventurers will last long without negotiating or forcing alliances.

At the end of the process what I ended up with is a fair approximation of a sandbox setting in the style of Griffin Mountain. There are things to do, places to see, people to interact with and monsters to fight. Atmospheric magic, cultural depth and random event/encounter tables round off the mixture - which should provide a very solid framework for anyone to start their own campaign. Yes, I deliberately made it very weird, extreme and alien, but that was on purpose. Hopefully it will show what 'can' be achieved with the rules and not to let them hinder you. When using RQ6 the only limit for a GM should be their imagination.
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PeteNash said Apr 04, 2013 20:10:31
Sorry for the wall of text. I hadn't realised I'd written so much... :/
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Antalon said Apr 04, 2013 22:30:30
Not a problem!
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jasonwpacker said Apr 05, 2013 02:14:03
Yes, how terrible - a game designer letting us into his design thoughts and going on a little bit. I'm sure we'll never recover. ;)
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RangerDan said Apr 05, 2013 08:38:15
Thanks for that Pete, good reading.
Also: can't wait for the book :)
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DanTrue said Apr 05, 2013 09:19:10
I've been waiting for Monster Island for something like 3 years... (I think).

So, dammit am I wanting it soon. Especially after getting blood on my teeth with the quality of BoQ (can't wait for BoQ II btw ;) *hint hint*).

- Dan
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RangerDan said Apr 05, 2013 14:18:53
Some BoQ sequel ideas:

Return to the Planet of the Quests
Quest Wars: Jedakiah Strikes Back
BQ2 - Questment Day
Quest Trek II: Wrath of Jedakiah
Book of Quests 2: Quest Harder
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Dreameister said Apr 05, 2013 14:48:11
Here are mine:

J. I. Jedekiah: Retaliation
Spring Questers
After BoQ
300: Rise of Quests
Kick-Quest 2
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lawrence.whitaker said Apr 05, 2013 15:06:04
BoQII - when it happens (and it won't be any time soon) won't be a direct sequel to the current book. It will be different quests, perhaps linked, perhaps not, focusing on a different sort of feel. So while Quest Wars: Jedakiah Strikes Back is tempting and fun, we'll actually be taking a different approach.
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jasonwpacker said Apr 05, 2013 18:42:08
But... but... what of Book of Quests 2: Electric Bakru. C'mon, it just writes itself!
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EricHaste said Apr 05, 2013 20:11:03
Thanks Pete for sharing your insights into Monster Island. Looking forward to buying the book.
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