Creating an RPG Campaign Bible: Origins – Part 7 Episode.067

Chris Perkins’ campaign bible he developed for his world really was a novel idea.  Each section brings life to the world and provided wonderful information for both players and GMs alike.  One of my personal favorite sections is about origins for both race and class.  This is a nice breakdown of the most likely location any particular race may be found.  It further discusses a bit about the actual classes and mentions anything unusual about them that goes beyond the normal rulebooks.  Just like in real life, occupations vary depending on where you are.  A physician in Manhanttan, New York, is going to work and behave differently than a physician out in the bush in Africa.  They have the same education and training, but they have to operate differently because of their different environments.  Having this knowledge for the players is wonderful as it provides more meaning to their decisions when they are choosing their characters.  Perhaps one race is revered among all races while another is not allowed into any city.  One class may be praised as a prestigious occupation such as Clerics more than anything else because of the world they live in much like how doctors are usually appreciated more than other jobs from the lives they save.

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This section is where you can customize your game even more than the world.  Generally you have already selected the rulebook you are going to use to play your campaign.  Nearly all RPG books will have a list of provided races and classes and various stats.  By providing this section of origins, you are taking those rules and making them your own.  You are scooping the normal out and sculpting the uniqueness back in.  Have fun with it, either go crazy or go subtle on your decision.  Try to have a consistency throughout.  If one race is over the top, have a good reason if the other races are fairly by the book typical.  If you make one or two races dramatically unique, you may wind up having an entire party of the same race.  It is also a good idea to make 1 race ordinary in case there is a player who wishes to keep things simple, especially if you have new players.

Here is my list of races and classes, where they are from generally, and how they are tied uniquely to the world.

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RACE ORIGINS

Due to the Chambers being built, nearly all races originate from within now.  That being said, not all races live safely underground and still survive on the surface of Zantra.  Here are some typical points of origin for the different races.  Many of these are based upon Pre-Touch years.

Dwarf, Hill: You grew up outside of the “True” Dwarven Kingdoms as the Mountain Dwarves call it.  Instead of chiseling your fortress out of rock, you built it out of stone.  You’re still an expert in engineering but from a different angle of construction.  Your home could be in the foothills of Valashra, the mountain range that separates much of Zatra from the frozen tundra of the Northern Lands.  Alternatively, you could reside in the warm, temperate marshes of Keldia where you honed your spear fishing skills through practicing the Illouvy, an ancient ability of holding ones breath for hours.

Dwarf, Mountain:  As a member of the “True” Dwarven Kingdom, your blood is linked directly to Doka, the First Dwarf.  You come from one of the three Dwarven Kingdoms:  Gungrak, Solitude, or Balakork.  Each offers a different philosophy and way of living.  Gungrak is built upon ancient lore and discovering forgotten knowledge.  Solitude is more devout and focused on religion and philosophy while Balakork breathes war and fearlessness into the souls of the dwarves who live within its borders.  If Balakork is chosen, you have the option to follow God or Vagnarock while the other two are forced to follow Vagnarock or face possible ridicule of your sacrilege.

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Elf, Sky: You come from the heavens and the clouds.  Your people are the only humanoid race to have discovered the art of flight and levitation.  Among your cities, the crown was K’leshima, a hovering city surrounding a mighty citadel that softly floated with the breeze.  You possess the secret and sacred knowledge of flight and how to achieve it for yourself or for most objects of adequate size.  Your race is the only one who has survived the Touch as your world is high above the tainted lands.  However, sustainability is critical in that all Sky Elf cities must be fully self-sufficient.  They are highly xenophobic and show extreme hostility to anything that ventures within sight of their lands, even mundane birds passing too close.  You either are able to bite your tongue towards other races, or you are among the extreme few who wish to find a cure to the Touch and free your people from their self-imprisonment.

Elf, Earth: You grew up in the largest race variant of the elves.  Your people covered the most of Zatra, reaching from corner to corner and adapting better than any race in the world.  Your keen wit and quick adaptability has led your people to prosperity no matter where you settle.  Although you are not truly nomadic, it is not uncommon for a clan or community to relocate for an improved life.  This can be because of a natural disaster or as simple as a message from cousins encouraging of greener pastures.  Earth elves tend to wed within their clan and not venture out.  This is especially true with other races as they tend to remain pure blooded.  Those who choose to produce half-breed offspring are automatically exiled from the community although it is without malice.

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Half-Elf:  You are almost one-of-a-kind in Zatra.  The sky elves have become xenophobic while the Earth elves practice pure-blood weddings.  You were created because someone willingly or forcefully left their people, usually the latter.  You are forbidden to enter any of the floating cities of the sky elves, and you must obtain sponsorship from either an earth elf or someone with good standing of them.  If you are caught in the former, you will be tried and put to death if convicted by dropping you to the surface below.  Many half-elves either fall into great debt with wizards seeking permanent disguises while others simply wear hoods and keep clean shaven.  You live a life as a second class citizen nearly everywhere, but you have the benefits of both elves and humans.

Half-Orc: You make up 1 of exactly 32 others of your kind.  Centuries ago when wars were fought among kingdoms and orcish tribes, your half-breed race variant was more common through spoils of war.  However, since the Touch, your kind has quickly begun vanishing into extinction.  Because of the imminent doom of your race, the world has openly accepted the remaining few as honorary citizens of all civilized communities.  You receive free room and board at any inn and 50% discounts on non-precious items.  When there were 100 of you left, a ceremony was held, and each of you commemorated the event by receiving tattoos that read “The Last Hundred” followed by a ranking number associated by age.  If you are a half-orc, you determine the number, which will reflect how people honor and treat you.  Those with lower numbers are the oldest of the half-orcs, usually in their elder years.

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Halfling:  You were born to live near the water.  You are an expert at handling small boats such as canoes and rafts, and you have advanced knowledge in navigation and the use of instruments to find your way across any body of water.  You are gifted in the Illouvy, the ability to hold your breath for hours.  This gives you the unique ability to fix ships and boats without the need to dock if the repair is exterior and under the water’s surface.  It is rare that you come from a region that is not beside some body of water.  Hollow Dens are found along them where you live partially underground though your resilience to fear allows you to venture to the surface frequently to garden surface-growing vegetables like lettuce.

Humans: You once were the dominant race in Zatra and aspired to greatness.  Although dwarves and elves constructed cities more elaborately ornate than you, humans were the innovators of the world.  The short life that you live puts a sense of urgency if your choices each day, pushing you to improve upon yourself and reach goals seemingly unobtainable.  You are welcomed among any race, even some orcish tribes.  Most commonly hailing from central, warmer regions of Zatra, a split of your kind migrated to the Northern Lands passed Valashra and is seldom seen.  The harsh, bitter winters there have become extremely dangerous since the change in weather and daylight hours shifted.  As a result, if you come from the Northern Lands, you wear long, full beards, thick manes of hair that reach down your back, and hair covered chests.  You also possess uncanny vision in near white out conditions.

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CLASS ORIGINS

Barbarians: A commonality among humans of the Northern Lands, Barbarians are found throughout Zatra.  These thick-skinned survivalists are among the few who have survived through the Touch by gauging their battles with the Touch carefully and moving when too many threaten their home.  Barbarians are almost all nomadic except one village in the deepest parts of Zatra’s jungles around the central regions.  These people live in harmony with nature and wildlife and are expert hunters and exotic animal trainers.  Magic is not shunned by their people, and every tribe has a witch doctor or shaman that aids them when necessary.

Clerics:  There is but one true god that looks over Zatra, but not everyone believes God is the only deity.  Every Cleric has been given a vision of the truth about deities, the existence of God and Koz, the Five Powers and what they mean, and that other gods reign over other worlds.  This knowledge is highly forbidden beyond clerical practices, and any pious individual who speaks the Truth to any non-Cleric will immediately be stripped of all powers and marked as a heretic.  Those exposed to the Truth and believe it are incapable of handling this awareness and die from an overwhelming pressure.  Despite this, clerics are all that exist for expanding the word of God.  Their powers, however, have diminished in the last 50 years as no prayers have been answered by God and no holy presence has been felt by followers.  Some have believed that the new presence, Koz, has somehow vanquished God, and this weighs heavier on Clerics to assure that God remains despite the loss of presence.

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Druids: The Druids are the more disciplined, even-tempered cousins of the barbarians.  Frequently they are former shamans and witch doctors who sought isolation from their people, setting out among the land to find a deeper connection with nature.  They do not follow God though they believe He exists.  Instead their philosophers of the world, spreading more questions than answers and finding peace among the outdoors.  Their knowledge in practical medicine through herbs and roots are often welcomed greatly among communities throughout.  They have a cumulative mission in life after the Touch formed to eradicate the disease.

Fighters: These disciplined warriors are almost all from either soldiers and militia or knights and cavaliers depending on their background.  The former comes from poorer families while the latter are almost entirely nobles unless one is lucky enough to become a squire during open combat events.  Fighters have a natural born desire to hunt, defend, and, if necessary, to kill.  Therefore they are challenged to keep busy if they reside in one of the Chambers or Hollow Dens.  They are explorers and will be the first to travel through newly discovered tunnels if a Chamber wall collapses or damaged.  These are also the first to volunteer to leave the Chamber and set out on the surface if requested by one of the three kings, but they must be fortunate enough to be living in one of the 3 Chambers that the king resides.

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Monks:  Monks are among the rarest classes in Zatra.  There are imitation monasteries, but only one true monastery produces Monks properly.  It is located deep in Valashra, the mountain range that runs along the northern portion.  All Monks are recruited by a messenger being sent out among the world to locate the chosen one.  Mentors know exactly who this is when they send out the messenger, who is then guided by the magic ki that is tethered to the mentor chosen to train the recruit upon their arrival.  Through their Third Eye, an ancient ability passed down by centuries, which allows them to look upon and follow naturally gifted beings that qualify to train at the monastery.  Due to the isolation and challenge to reach the monastery, along with the incredible special powers that help fight off the Touch, monks still roam the world.

As a true testament to their devotion of ki, all Monks are blinded when their training is complete.  They often will wear an eye patch over one eye, a blindfold, an ornate mask, or they will tattoo their face when they leave the monastery.  Their vision at that point comes entirely from the Third Eye.  With this ability, they see the world without diminishing light – that is they see no darkness and their vision is limited only by the strength of their eye sight, which weakens as they age.

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Paladins:  The path of the Paladin has become a confused and lonely road since God’s presence has vanished.  They are tested more than any religious figure in Zatra, forced to continue their practice and worshipping without any of God’s powers that separate them from Knights.  When the Touch first was discovered, before the world realized its potential threat, Paladins were the very first to respond.  They pledged their lives to saving those Touched and those threatened to be Touched.  There are not many Paladins left in the world as many have turned and lost their faith, many of whom have gone mad.  These ex-paladins now roam aimlessly and often fight with anger in their heart and bloodlust.  Those who remained true to God through this testament find their way in the world by journeying from community to community offering their service until they feel it is safe to venture on.  Because of the growing threat, some of them remain indefinitely as the area continues to be in constant danger from the Touch.

Rangers:  Few people are more respected than the Ranger in Zatra.  Their discipline of wilderness has protected the five kingdoms over the centuries as well as educated those communities or groups wishing to relocate to a safer region.  Rangers bring with them knowledge of survival and have spent the last 100 years passing that knowledge onto as many citizens as possible in anticipation of the Touch dominating the world.  It was the Order of the Rangers that helped organize tens of thousands of people who wished for sanctuary in the Chambers, guiding and protecting them to their destination.  They worked directly with the dwarves in establishing a self-sufficient environment in order for the people to be sealed safely within.  Currently there are no Rangers living in any of the Chambers or Hollow Dens as they are all Hunters of the Touch.  Fearless and savage at times, these lethal men and women search endlessly for those who have been Touched to vanquish them properly from the world and release them from their torment.

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Rogues: A Rogue’s business has changed greatly in recent years.  Since nearly all of the cities of Zatra have been abandoned, there is little for them to seek out there in terms of coin and jewels.  Some Rogues chose to retreat into the Chambers, hoping to acquire incredible wealth from the nobles, but money has lost all value inside as everyone works to produce necessary things in order to live.  They quickly become bored and join in the cause.  Those remaining outside the Chambers now have a new value in life, however.  While there may not be riches to be sought after, important tomes and artifacts that might lead to a cure of the Touch are hidden throughout the world, many of which are well guarded by members of Nub Sumat or monsters.  Sneaking past to acquire any item is a tremendous asset for adventuring parties as survivability in Zatra relies on the least amount of encounters with the Touch as possible.

Wizards:  Wizards are viewed as the blasphemers of the world as their powers are not of God’s Will.  They hold within their Order a mysterious method of channeling into beams of pure energy that flow throughout Zatra, intersecting at points known as Hubs where they are the most powerful.  The energy itself is the fuel for all life, set there by God over a thousand years ago to self-nurture the world as He observed.  By tapping into the flows, which are called Leeways, they are essentially stealing life from the world, which reduces the flow and damages life in some form.  This may result in something small such as butterflies migrating too far north and dying of the cold or something catastrophically powerful as the formation of a fissure.  In light of Koz, however, Wizards have gained some light in God’s Eye prior to His vanishing in that Wizards are strongly against Koz’s destructive methods and use their powers to counter in whatever means necessary.  It is believed that Wizards will be among those who are capable of eliminating the Touch and even discovering a means to sever his ties from this world.  Currently there is an enclave of Wizards who are maintaining a protective shield over an entire city far to the south that keeps the Touch from entering.

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As you can see, each class and race has its own uniqueness beyond what’s in the book.  They adhere to the world closer, giving them a feeling of belonging.  Not only does it make for a good read for the players to immerse themselves in your world better, it provides them plenty of information to help them answer “Why should they play X character?”  It should not be about the stats; it should be because the race or class has an exciting interest to the player so they wish to continue on into the high levels.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Creating an RPG Campaign Bible: Places – Part 6 Episode.066

Next on the list is probably going to be the most fun out of the entire campaign bible: important places and events.  This is where your world will shine the brightest.  You can put literally anything in your world.  Anything!  Don’t let your pop culture knowledge restrict your imagination.  Just because it was in Lord of the Rings doesn’t mean it has to be in your world.  Make orcs civilized instead of barbaric.  Give elves an evil twist to their nature by making them sadistic in sacrificial rituals.  Let the dwarves have industrial technology.  Provide dungeons with spectacular events like the walls, floor and ceiling suddenly breaking apart and floating in a void causing the players to jump along or fall to a lower level.  Bring life to your world by making the decisions you want to do.

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In Zatra, there are already tons of places to explore despite the fact that most people are living underground and sealed in the Chambers.  I want to make each region or location interesting and intriguing to the players by giving a little twist if possible.  The more typical and predictable the region is, the less likely they will want to explore it.


Important Places & Facts

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The Dwarven Chambers.  First designed in 1043 by a Dokaleer architect named Ludvig Shadowholm, Chambers are a complete ecosystem with the purpose of being entirely self-sufficient for living creatures within.  These structures are underground fortresses, chiseled and designed by only master craftsmen dwarves, and sealed off for protection.  The idea was to bring in only those who are not carrying the Touch disease in order to quarantine the healthy and keep the world from being wiped out.  There were originally 30 in total, but rumors have begun spreading that several have been discovered and breached.

Each Chamber has a secret one-way tunnel that leads to an underground cavern that’s connected to the surface.  The knowledge of its whereabouts and the trick to pass through it unscathed is only with the three dwarven kings and their 2 advisors within each of the 3 Dwarven Kingdoms.  These tunnels can only be used once as the last obstacle along the way causes a complete cave in.  Each of the 30 Chambers is governed by a Rystar, or knight, who is responsible for the wellbeing of those residing inside.  Generally communication between Chambers does not occur because of the danger of an outside source intercepting the message and, thus, discovering the location of either.  Only one of the 3 kings can give permission for a message to be sent by means of spells.

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Unhallowed Necropolis.  Formerly called Lut Gotain, it was once the shining jewel of the eastern coast of Zatra in the kingdom of Remes.  Strengthened by the advantageous geography of the land and sea, it remained untouched by enemies for centuries.  It was known to be the wealthiest and most powerful city along the East Coast.  So much so that an enormous vault was built high above the land, suspended by magic and tethered by thick, spell-bound chains.  Anyone passing within dozens of miles can visibly see the floating building waiting for someone to bravely climb the chains or find a means to lower it to the ground.  Lut Gotain was famed for the rich tobacco called mamiya used in meditational fires and smoking pipes.  Another well-known memory of the port city was the high vertical sails of their ships, some having masts over 300 feet tall.  These colossal sails were capable of producing speeds of up to 45 knots on the open sea, which allowed goods to be traded at an astonishing rate.

Sadly the only enemy that ever breached her walls brought her to ruins.  The accepted story is that a lone traveler from the far north brought the Touch unsuspectingly into the city without the guards checking.  Now the city of Unhallowed Necropolis is an extremely deadly location to venture, filled with hundreds of victims who fell to the curse.  It is peculiar, however, in that a rumor is known of a powerful person or creature that took control over the city and found a way to command the Touched to his bidding.  Some believe it is a member of Nub Sumat, but others believe it is another entity unrelated to Koz or his followers.

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Valashra. It stretches from east to west and divides the world into halves by its sheer size and range.  The mountain range Valashra was an unnatural phenomenon, created exceedingly quickly due to a massive explosion below the earth’s surface.  To this day, no one really knows for sure what caused the explosion, but for centuries it is wildly believed that a rare race of gnomes lives somewhere far, far below the surface.  Although some claim to have seen a gnome, most notably the dwarves as they dig forever deeper, there is no documented evidence that they exist.  Scholars believe that if there is a mystical race, they live much farther underground than the deepest the mountain dwarves have ever dug before.

The mountain range has an unusual feature that is found at either end:  a cave entrance.  While the duration has never been fully traveled, it is believed that the tunnel eventually leads from one coastline to the other.  A few tests have been conducted by sending glass bottles into one end and discovering it to exit on the other over a year later.  On one peculiar incident, the bottle was slightly tinted blue and had a piece of parchment containing unknown symbols that have yet to be deciphered.  Copies were made and placed in each of the 30 Chambers as well as several surface cities.  The original copy is on permanent display in Chamber 1 where King Wolvar Thunderharm resides.

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Ming Ki. Very little is known of the monk monastery.  Those unwelcomed attempting to locate it almost always finds their fate sealed before their eyes lay upon the fortress.  It is well hidden among the mountains high above in Valashra for mysterious reasons as no one knows why the monks require such isolated privacy.  Those who leave seem to already have their purpose determined, and none of them ever surrender any information about what went on during their training.  Some people believe the monks go through extremely torturous exercises, fasting for days while being burned or pierced.  The size of the complex is also only rumored.  Many scholars feel the fortress can hold hundreds of inhabitants, but being so high in the mountains, little in terms of vegetation can be grown.  So the mystery continues as to how they provide nourishment.  The only people who journey down from the mountains are the messengers, but they only recruit a new person without acquiring any goods.

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Ulopia.  One of the remaining surface cities in existence, Ulopia is protected by some of the world’s most powerful wizards.  Many of them formed the enclave over a century ago when it was clear the Touch was a global threat.  They were innovative with their spells, fusing and reforming new ones that far exceeded historical expectations.  A dome of energy was created over the entire city, giving off a light pink hue to those observing it from miles away.  The focal point comes from one of the most powerful hubs of multiple Leeways in Zatra, which was a fortunate coincidence to the founding location of Ulopia.  Unfortunately the dome comes at a price.  Within the dome, essentially no energy comes from the Leeways.  This includes all plant life as well as magic.  As a result, farmlands surround the dome.  The engineers of Ulopia designed fascinating structures that allow the fields to be elevated ten feet off the ground to help prevent dangerous creatures from harming the farmers as they work.  Water is drawn up and carried through aqueducts from within the dome to the surrounding countryside.  Still, patrols are on duty all hours of the day outside of the dome on an elevated, circular walkway that follows the circumference.

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K’leshima. Consider yourself lucky if you lay eyes upon the great floating fortress of K’leshima unless you are a sky elf.  This nearly impossibly accessible city slowly floats above the surface of Zatra as the wind blows.  Spiraled in the foundation of the city through solid rock are four massive iron chains tipped with anchors that are lowered to the ground below during troubling winds or storms.  The center point of the city is the citadel known as Malistima (Muh-lee-stemuh), a mighty building of deep historical purpose to the sky elves.    It is here that only the Sacred Nine are permitted to conduct elemental experiments and execute decisions that reflect all people of K’leshima.  Numerous smaller rock formations are tethered to the main portion of the city and hold smaller structures including windmills.  These are powered by the wind as the city travels across the country, fueling the city’s need for advanced technology: electricity.  There is no other race or person besides the sky elves that know how to produce or harness such power.  All believe it to be simply another form of magic as certain spells are capable of creating similar effects but for a brief moment.  Only in K’leshima will you find artificial illumination, and the city is a speechless, breathtaking sight at night as it explodes into a sea of lights that can be seen for hundreds of miles away.  Transportation between the floating islands is conducted either through floating wind- or electric-powered ships or bridges.  Ships ride on magnetic currents from the planet’s core and are capable of traveling up to 150 miles per day without recharging if powered by electricity.  Sailing vessels, on the other hand, are more common but extremely expensive and difficult to acquire.

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Keldia.  Covering a large portion of the southern lands is the bog of Keldia.  Despite the feeling of death and decay throughout, Keldia is home to the hill dwarves and plays a vital role in the ecosystem of Zatra.  The origin of Keldia stems from the hands of the Nub Sumat when Koz granted them the power of weather effects.  But the flooding that created the marsh fields resulted in very soft saturated soil that happens to be ideal conditions for peat moss.  Once cultivated, the peat can be used to produce numerous valuable resources such as luxury sealing wax, growth acceleration chemicals for farming, and the purification of water.  This crop grows for dozens of miles in every direction, giving the residents of the bog a lifetime of work.  The need to purify water came several centuries ago when a contamination directly resulting from a collecting of wizard spells reached a large portion of Zatra.  At the time, powerful Clerics were able to restore the tainted aquifers, but the duration was immensely long.  With the discovery of peat moss being used to purify groundwater, the process takes considerably less time and money.

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Northern Lands. The Northern Lands are not for the weak.  The region is a cold, dark formidable area covered in some areas with over a hundred feet of snow, plagued with white out blizzards that last for weeks, and riddled with extremely dangerous creatures.  Those who reside in the region are among the toughest in the world, capable of withstanding extremely dangerous temperatures and battling the most ferocious beasts.  All of the Northern Lands are covered with some snow or solid ice, and the majority has enough that tunnels are the only means of travel and survival.  These interlocking systems are carved by giant animals or by the humans who call it their home.  It is rumored that the Northern Lands was once home to a thriving civilization not of this world before the humans made the journey over Valashra and claim it for their own.  Any evidence of this ancient people has been buried deeply under the frozen ground.


I’ll cover an interesting section of the campaign bible in Part 7 with character and class origins.  I particularly enjoy this section because it adds a better reason in selecting your race and class during the creation process.  Instead of simply saying “I like playing dwarves and I like playing fighters, so I’m a dwarven fighter,” you can say “I really like the idea of coming from the frozen Northern Lands and being well adapted to survival as well as being a member of one of the barbarian tribes there.  I’ll play a dwarf from there, completely white skin and slightly bluish beard who is covered in tribal tattoos and carries a giant battleax as a fighter.”

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Creating an RPG Campaign Bible: Famous NPCs – Part 5 Episode.065

Up to this point in your campaign bible, you should have a general concept of your world on a macro level, on a large scale.  We have been generally getting more and more specific, a micro level, as we progress.  This is one of two methods you can use to tackle world building.  Some people enjoy looking at the world on a smaller level first, fleshing out a region where the players are going to begin their careers and then build outward as they travel.  While this is perfectly fine if it suits your preference, there are a few things that are lacking by doing so.  One of which is important figures and places that are not directly conflicting with the players at that time but are affecting the world as the players journey through it.  These are famous nobles, politicians, monarchs, wanted criminals, famous bards, and the like.

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A very strong method of bringing more life into your world is to have things occurring elsewhere during their campaign.  I often will provide news and events to the players as we go along, usually in between sessions or prior to just starting one.  This can be anything from an illness in royal family, a major heist that took place in a far off city, an assault on a castle, a war that broke out, or tension that is building between the wood elves and the nearby orc tribes.  It’s important to make notes of these events and not just make them up and forget about them later.  Your players may very well remember them without you and bring the event up some time later when they reach that area.  Don’t underestimate the memory of your players.

For now, I started with the most well-known figures in my world of Zatra, those running the Dwarven Kingdoms.  Since the world has fallen to a horrible curse called the Touch, the dwarves have shown to be the most resilient against it and, therefore, the best place to be protected.  The dwarves in general are governed by a supreme king with two other kings reigning over two of the three kingdoms.  Essentially one rules all of them while maintaining a governing body over a third of the dwarves.  With this, the three kings are vastly critical in the world for two reasons.  First, they hold the knowledge on how to leave the sealed Chambers through the secret passage back to the surface.  Second, they are the only governing body among the dwarves who can grant permission to send messages between the Chambers via a message spell.  One of the options for the players is to have their character come from one of the Chambers.  Since this is the case, they will ultimately have to talk face-to-face with one of the kings, depending on which Chamber they choose.  So it is important to have the knowledge of who the three kings are.

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Important Figures

The following figures play prominent supporting roles or significant peripheral roles in the campaign:

His Grand Highness, Superior Chancellor and King Wolvar Thunderharm.  Although three kings in total reign over the three Dwarven Kingdoms, one of these is King Wolvar Thunderharm who holds total authority over all dwarves.  His words become law, and his governing is overruled by no one.  Few know how old Thunderharm is, but he states claim that he was among the first dwarves on Zatra to wield and strike with a hammer.  If this is the case, he has received special treatment or aid by non-magical or magical means to give him longevity in life as the oldest officially recorded dwarf was 387.  These days, Wolvar Thunderharm spends his waking hours either entertaining his 8xGreat-Grandchildren or locked away in his private library as he pours over volumes of lore that was written around the time believed to be when Koz first became a reality.  Wolvar Thunderharm reigns over the First Dwarven Kingdom of Gungrak.

Her High Holiness, Grand Pontiff and King Syldi Tarndark.  She is one of the three kings that reign over the Dwarven Kingdoms and carries the highest rank within the Holy Order of the dwarven religion, Vagnarock.  Vagnarock is considered sacrilege among all other races in Zatra for they worship an imaginary god.  Syldi Tarndark leads the order and proceeds over laws that are dictated by religion such as time of worship, Sabbath days, official scripture interpretations, and so on.  Her masculine title as king is an official ruling that was added to the Law after equality rights were decided among the dwarves.  The Law can never be changed, but interpretation can be changed by amendments.  In this case, the Law clearly states “Only a king may reside over a Dwarven Kingdom.”  By giving the same title to a female dwarf, the Law is not betrayed.  Syldi Tarndark reigns over the Second Dwarven Kingdom of Solitude.

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His Royal Highness, Battle Warlord and King Krog Dragongrind.  Battle scarred and showing little emotion, Dragongrind has little fear.  His list of battles is legendary, taking days to recite completely.  Beyond military skills in tactics and warfare, Krog is capable of wielding any weapon placed in his hand.  He has Grand Master titles on over 200 melee and ranged weapons.  From a personal level, he does not follow Vagnarock as he believes it is a false god.  His title gives him the freedom to follow his own faith, but most dwarves criticize him behind his back.  There is a very few number of followers of God within the Dwarven Kingdoms, and almost all of them converted to the faith after Krog took reign over his kingdom.  Of those few, all of them reside in his domain.  He will take any opportunity that is given to him to passionately warn that following a false god like Vagnarock will lead to retribution and believes Koz’s existence was the direct result of too many followers against God.  Krog Dragongrind reigns over the Third Dwarven Kingdom of Balakork.

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This list progressively gets bigger and bigger as you come up with more noteworthy figures.  Once the campaign begins, it still will be necessary to continue expanding it to keep track of everyone.  As the campaign gets longer and longer, the list of NPCs will grow substantially long.  Having a nice database of who’s who will help keep the memory of them fresh in your mind.

As I like to keep these blogs around a 2 page length, I will put the important places section on the next blog as my material for it covers 3 pages by itself.  Breaking it down and explaining the section, its importance and recommendations will only add to the already lengthy bit, so stay tuned for Part 6 where I’ll include that section.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Creating an RPG Campaign Bible: Races – Part 4 Episode.065

Today we get into the meat and potatoes of the campaign bible by describing and breaking down the details of the races of the world and adding a little flavor with a custom-built calendar.  It’s always important to add even mundane and routine things into your world because what doesn’t stand out tends to be the things that make your world more realistic.  These are things that we take for granted in real life such as days of the week, typical weather patterns and seasons, food diets, superstitions, implied laws and regulations, etc.

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Then there is the detail of the races in your world.  They can be a traditional lot that are familiar to the average gamer or they can be completely foreign.  If you go the route of the latter, make sure there are some familiar features to give them a foundation to build the idea of what they look like in their mind.  If you create creatures and people with such fabricated concepts, it may be difficult for the players to wrap their heads around and paint a visual in their minds without being confused.  Race should be well established for role playing purposes as well.  There is no law stating you have to make dwarves and elves hate each other.  You don’t have to make dwarves and orcs mortal enemies either.  Don’t be afraid to spice things up and change things that might go against the norm because your world doesn’t have to be the norm.  It’s your world.

Although it isn’t entirely necessary, giving percentages of each race that makes up the whole world’s population can help give players a better way to imagine how populated areas look.  If they know that the majority of your world comprises of humans, when they enter a village or city, they will tend to imagine people milling about in the background as humans to make up the entire scene they just painted.

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Another tidbit of information you can provide your players that will also help you in the long run are names.  Some people have a lot of trouble coming up with a name they like.  Other times they give up and just randomly use a name that they later regret picking.  Whatever the case may be, giving a list of first and last names for them to pick can make their creation process easier.  It can be a nice time saver for you down the road when you have to come up with a non-important NPC on the spot and need a name.  The list you make now can be referenced at a later time.  It is also nice to add a little flavor of the race, too, if there is any unusual features about them such as better relation with another race or if the race has a general preference over a sporting event or deity.  You need not write a novel for each race.  A couple of paragraphs are sufficient for giving players a general idea of what that race feels like.  You’re essentially advertising the races to the players as if they were window shopping for the right one.

To begin with, here is the Zatra calendar.  Unique names for months may be tough for people to memorize although it might not be important for them to do so.  For those who really love becoming fully immersed in the world may take the time to learn the names and even the holidays.  Adding this knowledge into conversation while roleplaying will add that much more realism and excitement into the game.  Besides the names, I included some significant features that occur during that time.  I leave these open and in name only initially to draw interest at a later time.

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The Zatra Calendar

Most civilizations in Zatra follow the first calendar that was conceived by the elves after the year 232.  This follows a conformed pattern of 10 months, each month comprising of 5 weeks, and each week containing 5 weekdays (First Day, Moon Day, Midweek, Week Eve, Final Day).

Month                  Seasonal Significance

Mako                    First month of Spring, Star Harvest Begins

Ramo                   Month of the Spring Equinox, Day of Doka

Endispar               First Month of Summer, Fire Festival

Venispar              Month of the Summer Solstice, Giving of Thanks

Luno                    First Month of Fall, Major Harvest Begins

Luktavo                Month of the Autumn Equinox, Lunar Day

Menzo                  First Month of Winter, Day of Solitude

Tykober                Month of the Winter Solstice, Remembrance Day

Nunober               God’s Day celebrated, First Frost Eve

Umbo                    Soul Festival celebrated, Death Reborn Eve


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The Four Main Races of Zatra

The people of Zatra once were dominated by humans (80%), but since the Touch, they have been nearly wiped out to 20%.  Dwarves now are the majority species (60%) while halflings (5%), elves (10%), and other races (5%),(including half-breeds) make up the rest.  Here are notes and common names for each major race:

The Windemeir (Humans)

The few humans that remain are those wise enough to accept the invitation of the dwarves to live underground and avoid the Touch.  Most of the human race was wiped out due to arrogance and pride, ignoring the imposing doom of the Touch’s spread and not wishing to dwell with dwarves underground.  Interestingly enough, nearly all of the Windemeirs (Wĭn-dĕh-mērz) are from one kingdom of Zatra, called Kindred.  These survivors have traditional first and last names with middle names given to those of nobility descent.

Male First Names: Alastair, Ambros, Andrew, Avery, Barnaby, Bartholomew, David, Eward, Geoffrey, Hugh, Humphrey, John, Julian, Milton, Myles, Nathanial, Oliver, Roger, Solomon, Thomas, Timothy, Wyatt, Zachary

Female First names: Agnes, Blanche, Bridget, Clemence, Dolores, Edith, Eleanor, Emma, Ethel, Florence, Isabel, Joyce, Margery, Marion, Mildred, Molly, Princilla, Rose, Ruth, Susanna, Sybil, Ursula, Valorie, Winifred

Surnames: Andrews, Ashenhurst, Barlow, Battle, Beadows, Berkhead, Blackwood, Blake, Bishop, Bloom, Blunt, Bright, Carpenter, Cartwell, Castledon, Collingford, Crane, Crook, Cunley, Dawnthorpe, Downer, Dragonwell, Dunfield, Elkhorn, Everett, Fitzgeoffery, Fitzgerald, Fletcher, Francis, Fray, Gladdish, Goldworth, Gossingham, Grimmer, Hadley, Hale, Hammersfield, Hargreave, Humphrey, Hunter, Hyde, Ives, Jenkins, Jollybad, Keast, King, Kottlegrey, Lestrange, Leventhorpe, Langford, Lloyd, Mansfield, Merriwethre, Mortimre, Motts, Moxley, Narbridge, Northam, Noyes, Olver, Pallcraft, Payne, Penhale, Polkinghorn, Pummel, Quail, Quillmaker, Ratley, Reeve, Ringer, Rosserford, Rowley, Russell, Sawford, Shivington, Silcox, Smythe, Snell, Stargrave, Stokes, Strangeways, Teague, Tellam, Throckmorton, Thurman, Torrington, Trowbridge, Unger, Uxbridge, Vaughan, Vawdrey, Whitaker, White, Winkle, Wyndham, Yates, Ysterman.

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Random picture of a Mindflayer

The Dokaleers (Dwarves)

The dwarves are a hardened race with a strangely powerful resilience to the Touch (although not immune).  The Dokaleers (Dōh-kŭh-lērz) make up two of the three Dwarven Kingdoms and are credited for proposing the idea of building the Chambers to protect all untainted by the curse.  Their name comes from the First Dwarf, Doka, who was created by God in the 12 year of Zatra.  All dwarf surnames are their clan names.

Male First Names: Arn, Barin, Dolmen, Fargrik, Fyorn, Gluto, Grulf, Haxan, Holst, Illvar, Jokum, Krog, Krune, Kvalgar, Lofgren, Ludvig, Nylan, Rangvald, Stenger, Svensoren, Tarl, Wolvar, Yospur

Female First Names: Bjerke, Dreylan, Falka, Frau, Frunda, Gorana, Grayka, Halskir, Hammelmar, Helvig, Hjork, Lykke, Nessa, Ryngylrund, Rosenklau, Syldi, Vannim, Yilsi, Yuska, Zelga

Clan Names: Axeberg, Barrelmead, Blucher, Copperstein, Crystalbeard, Dragongrind, Dwerryhouse, Emberstoke, Evergulp, Ferrizalt, Grottmund, Hammermain, Ironshoe, Mithralvein, Osterchasm, Rockmantle, Shadowholm, Tarndark, Thunderharm, Tumblecask, Understrom, Vorne, Zonkenlander

The Waterfolk (Halflings)

Halflings are fairly rare in the world as they were more vulnerable than humans to the Touch.  They prefer to live in the hollow of giant trees and soft mounds near a waterfront where the soil is rich and fertile.  They were the first to invent oceanic navigation instruments and build sea-worthy vessels.  Those that remain created smaller versions of the Chambers that are not buried so deeply underground.  This led to a quicker discovery by members of the Nub Sumat though some Hollow Dens (as they call them) are still hidden.

Male First Names: Badger, Bandit, Banzai, Carrot, Charley, Chipper, Corky, Cricket, Dodger, Early, Heron, Huck, Jay, Jester, Louie, Lucky, Moe, Ozzy, Pennywise, Robber, Seymour, Skip, Skylar, Smedley, Squirt, William

Female First Names:  Blueberry, Celery, Claire, Cookie, Daisy, Minnow, Noodles, Peaches, Peanut, Pepper, Petunia, Punkin, Sadie, Sunny, Wendy, Whitney, Willow, Zoey

Den Names: Daggerthwart, Fatpurse, Featherpluck, Fondslinger, Foolspride, Hallowhill, Hawksprey, Honeygrab, Hydenhill, Littlegrift, Meanderstride, Nevercaught, Noosewary, Poundfoolish, Puddleskiff, Rattlekey, Riverdance, Rockhucker, Roundhill, Shallowpool, Tricker, Trufflestuff, Wanderfoot, Whisperhill, Wylde.

The Shastenza (Elves)

The original civilized race, Shastenzas are the geniuses of the world, creating marvels of inventions and discoveries that no other could conceive.  Many of their strange and wonderful devices can still be found operating endlessly in abandoned ruins or isolated regions.  All but a handful of elves remain in this world.  The race discovered a doorway that brought them to another plane of existence where they live temporarily until a cure for the Touch is created.  The handful of elves that remained is among the brightest of their people with a passion to find a cure.  They now reside underground in the Dwarven Kingdoms.

Male First Names: Aravoth, Arthon, Arvellas, Athelon, Balan, Balhiramar, Balthoron, Canyalas, Diron, Erannon, Eruvarne, Filverion, Firavaryar, Ganalan, Harmenion, Hilneth, Iomar, Larasarne, Lovain, Maingalad, Lenaren, Morisira, Pellavan, Senevast, Tarthagol, Valisain

Female First Names: Alonnen, Althirn, Anvanya, Dagor, Eredaith, Eruanna, Firyan, Gwenmirith, Haradi, Lenaren, Morisira, Myree, Nilde, Nimmeth, rainion, Sennemir, Shalmorgan, Sirva, Torduin, Valaina, Varalia

Home Names: Astramordan, Astravelios, the Circle of Ashes, the Emerald Cradle, the Green March, Kvalagost, Misthaven, Summerdown, Thornhenge, Val Andamar, Val Ressarin, the Weird Glade, Winterbane, Woodcrown

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Next part will break the races down further by listing some important figures and also some important locations that the players should know from the start.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Creating an RPG Campaign Bible: Your World – Part 3 Episode.064

What makes your world unique?  It was probably the initial idea that came to your mind when you first thought of starting a campaign based on a home-brewed world.  World builders, as some GMs enjoy being referred as, seldom wish to create something static and typical.  The world must be rich and dynamic, full of wonder and mystery that few have ever heard about before.  Secrets await the players as they begin exploring every corner, discovering new innovations that wow and draw them in deeper.

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Your world does not need to have one large unique aspect to it.  Consider instead the idea of having multiple smaller, “mini-features” that set it apart.  One particular part of the world may have high energy levels of magic that grant anyone in the area to suddenly possess spell-like abilities.   Another region could be riddled with random portals that suddenly appear that either sends your party to another part of the world or even to another dimension.

Try to keep in mind how your idea or ideas are going to truly affect the players both on a short term and long term basis.  There seems to be always one player who is capable of finding loopholes in everything, so be prepared to face a curveball from them at some point that might take advantage of your idea.

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I have seen some GMs run test games with his players using pre-gen characters similar to a convention.  These games are one or two sessions long tops, but they are based on specific circumstances within your world.  If you are worried that someone may take advantage of a region that grants wild magic, run one-session game involving the players randomly crossing over the boundary and see how they react.

In my continuing work of the campaign bible of Zatra, I included a more GM-friendly than Player-friendly section on my overarching twist of my world and what somewhat sets it apart.  Granted, we are all truly inspired by previous experiences to which our original content has reflections of the past, but we make it our own and enjoy it.  In the world of Zatra, it was created and observed by a single god, but a second chaotic god came into existence and wishes to rival him.

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World Altering Events & The Five Powers


The Five Powers is a generalized term used to describe the omnipotent power that God possesses.  In a literal sense, the Five Powers are an unknown force of god-builders.  The god is capable to do everything, know everything, and see everything.  It represents the ultimate sheer control that God contains.  Through these powers, the god can handle their world as they see fit.  Zatra’s God grants life and death and allows the living to determine their own fate and course of action.

However, from time to time, the Five Powers creates multiple deities for a single world.  They are commonly polar opposites in order to form balance, but on rare occasions these deities clash.  One of such phenomenon occurred in Zatra in its year of 920.

About 150 years ago, Koz reached a level of power and influence in the world that he was able to manipulate the very existence of all things throughout.  His powers, however, could only be filtered through the use of mortal pawns and avatars though he would be able to harness the powers himself once he acquired the fifth one.  Through the use of mind manipulation and brainwashing, Koz was able to convince his followers to do exactly as he commanded in using these powers.  His motivations (other than transforming all living beings into victims of the Touch) are unknown.  The potential of Koz acquiring the Five Powers is a tremendous threat as four of them have already been developed and utilized.

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The first power he acquired was in 1051 and allowed him to change the planet’s rotation speed, thereby causing extended periods of darkness.  Although incapable of stopping the world altogether, his powers could create daylight to appear for only a few hours before slowing the motion for darkness to last for days.  When nightfall occurs, the intensity increases to a pinnacle of nearly total darkness with visibility only a few feet away, even with a magical light source.  Some creatures were further granted the ability to see great distances during this period, including members of Nub Sumat.

As the Touch and the awareness of another god’s presence spread, his powers grew in number.  The Touch had a direct link to that power, and either more joined the cause of Nub Sumat or they fell to the Touch.  Soon Koz gained another powerful ability which was to alter weather patterns.  He allowed Nub Sumat to unleash a fury of torrential storms from hurricanes to massive tornadoes and earthquakes that devastated the lands and destroyed many of the cities.  Floods washed farmlands and building debris away, leaving ruins in their wake.  In some portions of the world, blizzards would last for days during the long periods of nightfall, leaving dozens of feet of snow, tunneled out by creatures and travelers still living above ground.

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His third power came in 1154, just 100 years after his first power acquisition.  This proved to be more lethal due to the lack of evidence of its existence.  Throughout the world, pockets would form at random that either contained a low amount of gravity or lacked it entirely.  The latter was particularly hazardous from those without proper magic as victims entering the pocket would rise up to a point in the atmosphere incapable of sustaining life.  Those who managed to manipulate their ascension to move out of the pocket before that point would retain gravity but usually fall to their deaths unless they had a means to slow their descent.  Telltale signs are difficult to spot from an area of a complete lack of grass to holes where young trees were uprooted to floating objects in midair.  Some of the more potentially dangerous anti-gravity pockets have been marked by past travelers as a warning beacon, but these signs are soon destroyed by members of Nub Sumat.

Some forty years after Koz acquired the 4th Power, the snowball effect of the world falling into darkness from the Touch’s spread allowed him to begin minor manipulations of time itself.  These brief spurts could cause time to reverse several seconds, speed forward a couple of hours, or momentarily stop.  These occurrences would not be worldwide but sized similarly to the areas of his gravity manipulation areas.  These moments are completely random and can happen at advantageous and disadvantageous times.  For example, moments after someone falls into a sinkhole, time shifts backwards, bringing them from falling.  Memory and awareness of the time shift seems to remain with the victim, too.

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With the final Power utilized with Koz, he will reach the level to rival God.  All Powers will be capable by Koz directly, and he will progress into the next existence as a deity, which is the omnipotent being that which is God.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Creating an RPG Campaign Bible: Timelines – Part 2 Episode.063

Another feature of the campaign bible that really helps the GM more than anything is a timeline.  This can be very challenging as you have to make educated guesses on when things occur in your world’s past.  Things like war, famine, catastrophes, worldly achievements, and political movements all fall into your timeline, but it can’t all be done in a few decades of history.  Laying out a timeline helps you give life into your world, but it also gives you a better structure when building.  If there really is no rhyme or reason behind your decisions as you create the world, you may find the entire project to be scatterbrained with ideas bouncing all over the place.  Although there is variety in any world, there is also a level of order and structure that ties everything together.  For example, adding a natural disaster event in the past can give reason to an important geological feature in the present.  An assassination of a great king a century ago that wiped out a bloodline leads to a noble house ruling the kingdom today.

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It also gives reason of how your world has risen or declined over the years.  At a glance, you can see the possible golden years or the dark ages and what transpired that led to those changes.  Although your world may not have cyclical events like in real life (things reoccurring over and over in history), it leaves the possibility of reoccurring themes if you are looking to add something to your campaign.

For my world of Zatra, I made a fairly big mistake: I made my history too brief.  I began building my timeline in the year 0 when the world was created rather than basing the numbering like the Gregorian calendar.  From here, I began to think in a chronological standpoint, filling in as the history began to be created.  As I went, I would put random dates down that went in order and were separated with what I thought were enough dates.  As it turned out, I ran out of ideas initially for the history.  I wound up finishing the timeline with the present events only 1,200 years after the world was created.  If compared to Earth’s history, the connection with the Middle Ages is familiar enough with the traditional fantasy setting that my timeline works in that regard.  However, too many things happened in too short of time, and more things need to be added to breathe more life into the world.

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These events in the history don’t have to be ground shattering either.  A merciful and wise king dying of pneumonia isn’t important for the players to fit into the campaign, but it adds more character to the world and offers them opportunity for it to be significant in the future.  They might stumble upon the king’s tomb after it was lost to a mighty rock slide centuries ago.  History does tend to repeat itself although your world may not, but those moments can really become memorable when a player comments, “Isn’t this the tomb of King Gutaliehm IV who was cursed for betraying his wife to a demon?  He went mad and traded his wife off so he would live for another 20 years!”

Here is my timeline that I created which has an extremely short world life (only 1,200 years).  From here, I will go back and add quite a bit more, but more importantly I’ll change the dates to spread them out a bit and have a few thousand years, perhaps from the time of creation to the first civilized city being formed.

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A Brief Timeline


0: God established by the Five Powers and Zatra is created by Him.

232: The first civilized city is formed as elves develop advancements in lifestyles quickest

258: General worldly civilization among the main races form, trading and politics are established

280: Five kingdoms are forged with Archdukes ruling each and one crowned king or queen over all.

372: Oceanic navigation is developed and fully exploring Zatra begins by many cultures

744: War breaks out among the five kingdoms after an assassination on the king

790: The original five kingdoms are reformed and political structure changed

810: The first nobility house takes over one of the five kingdoms

920: The speck of darkness that will become Koz comes into existence

1030: The first documented incident of the Touch is recorded

1037: [Koz communicates with his first follower and establishes his vision and demands]

1042: Touch has been deemed a worldly threat

[Nub Sumat is formed]

1044: The first Chamber is built by the Dwarves

1051: The world mysteriously darkens, the sun appearing for mere hours each day.

[Nub Sumat gains the ability to alter sunlight hours from Koz, darkening the world]

1089: Nub Sumat makes their presence known and spreads the praise of Koz.

1120: Catastrophic weather patterns form throughout the world without meaning.

[Koz grants Nub Sumat weather altering abilities, causing massive destruction]

1135: The last of the Chambers are built

1143: All communication or signs of God’s presence disappear

1154: Light- and anti-gravity pockets form throughout the world, causing unsuspecting victims to rise miles into the air and die.

[The dark god nearly reaches pinnacle, granting minor gravity alterations to Nub Sumat]

1178: Several Chambers are discovered by champions of Nub Sumat and are breached

1199 (Present Year):  People experience periodic time shifts throughout the world

[Minor time alterations are granted to Nub Sumat, Wild Magic occurs]

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Creating an RPG Campaign Bible – Part 1 Episode.062

As a GM, there is nothing quite like that initial feeling you get when you are about to start a campaign with some friends.  You have tons of inspiration that hasn’t been tapped, plenty of ideas, and a feeling of “newness” fills each of you as you begin that first session.  But there is a lot of prep work that is required before you start something like that as a GM.  Although you can begin a campaign on-the-fly during the first session, it’s considerably challenging to devise over-arching plots, side plots, character-plots, cities, dungeons, people, monsters, treasure, weather patterns, geographical landmarks, etc., as you play.  It’s really best (and can be a lot of fun) to build up your world at least a little bit before beginning.

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A few years ago, Chris Perkins, one of the big producers with Wizards of the Coast (and all around tremendous DM), uploaded what he called a “Campaign Bible” that was about 12-pages of information for the players to read prior to starting the campaign.  In the document, players could read up on interesting features that people living in his world would know from landmarks to famous people.  Much like we would in real life, we have various knowledge of the same information in the country we live in.  This information allows players to select the best character that suits their interests and fits the world, and it gives background information that they can use as they play the game.  For example, if they know that the king of their realm is known for allowing anyone to seek an audience with him, day or night, they can automatically make that move when they arrive in the city he resides in without being told in-game by the GM.  It allows players to roleplay their character with knowledge, which in turn gives more immersion to the system.

Creating a bible helps the GM as well in many ways.  You are able to lay out some basic, important information in a well-organized document for later use.  You also can get a good feeling if you’re up to the challenge of running a campaign, too.  Usually these bibles should only be 10-15 pages maximum.  Writing that many pages can be quite a challenge for many people, and coming up with that amount of information for your world will show you if you have the motivation to stick with it.  By filling out a document such as this, you are able to answer the important questions that need to be answered from the start.  For example, you need to know about interesting features of your world so the players have places to go without you railroading them.  Important people need to be created for them to interact with.  A sense of realism needs to be made such as what month is it, how is the geography laid out, how desolate is the world, what is the typical weather like for each season in each region?  You need to be able to provide information on races and classes to the players, too.  Give the races more life by having a short history of each, where they are typically found, how they interact with others, and what are some unique things about them.  If you’re going through the trouble of making your own world, it had better be unique in many ways.  Otherwise you might as well use a published campaign setting that is already fleshed out.

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Currently I’m preparing a campaign as I venture out and search for a gaming group.  I want to be prepared when I find the people who need a GM to run a campaign for them, so I’m working on the concept now.  This is done by creating a campaign bible of my world.  That way when I do stumble upon them, I don’t have to ask them to wait another month or two while I work on concepts.  I can present the bible document to them to read over and see if it interests them.

I’m going about it a little differently because I don’t have a group yet.  If you already have a group and are interested in running a campaign, you absolutely need to consult with them first.  Sit down with them over pizza and ask them as many questions as you can.  What kind of campaign are they wanting?  Combat?  Roleplaying?  A mixture?  Do they like mystery adventures, or do they like to solve puzzles and riddles?  Are they into political intrigue?  Do they like their characters to be in constant danger or dominate from the start?  How often are they wanting to meet (this will give you an idea of how much time you’ll have to work on between each session)?  Once you have your answers, then it is time to make the campaign bible, listing the important information they need to know upfront while they make their characters and prepare for the first session.

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My world is called Zatra, and I begin the bible with an introduction.  At this point, I am writing more information in it than my players will know.  There are facts and knowledge in this that will not be privy to them from the start.  It’s easier to hide that information than have to come up with it in the future.  Over the next few episodes of this blog, I’ll be providing and discussing each section and why it is helpful for the players while giving any possible recommendations or tips on how to improve that section.  For now, here is the introduction of the document that sets the mood and gives the general idea behind what conflicts the world is facing right now (without conflict, a Utopia world would be boring to run a game in).


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the world of ZATRA

Zatra is a realm that is at the end of its golden era, on the verge of falling into total darkness.  What was once the pinnacle of mankind in discovery, innovation, and other advancements has become a realm of fear and terror.  For thousands of years, only one omnipotent deity, known only as God, oversaw and took care of the land, nurturing and guiding those in his favor to the world he envisioned, bringing it into a utopia.  Prosperity abounded.  Yet all was not well as a flicker of darkness had become a manifestation in a direct polar opposite of what the world had become.  This manifestation became a second deity, known only to a handful of people.  Numbering in seven, they were drawn to each other with the influence and guidance of this new figure who they named Koz.  However, the new power was weak and needed time, followers, and self-nurturing before it was ever a threat to God.

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The world is still divided into a five kingdoms, but there are no true rulers over siding them.  What remains is a broken world that is destined for a film of darkness to overcome the lands.  Few civilized races still reside above ground for fear of being infected by the Touch, a mysterious ooze that removes conscious control while granting physical boons and bestial violence.  Those who have avoided the contamination have fled to the Dwarven Kingdoms far below the surface as the subterranean species find a strong resilience to the Touch.  Dozens of sealed vault-like caverns called the Chambers are built for all civilized races who are unaffected by the Touch.  The kingdoms have been reinforced and sealed from the world, completely self-sufficient.  The three dwarven kings and their two advisors are the only living beings who know of the secret chambers that access the surface and how to navigate through them.

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As the group of Koz followers, known as the Nub Sumat, aid in spreading the Touch, Koz grants them more incredible powers that can change the world on large scales.  Time is dwindling for those seeking a peaceful, healthy life as the last remaining outside the Chambers are slowly transformed into the creatures that haunt the world.  Discovering the hidden tunnels that lead to the three Dwarven Kingdoms is inevitable as Koz grows more powerful each day.  But those hiding underground have grown to be xenophobic and shun anyone from the surface suspecting them of contamination.


Next episode will talk about creating a historical timeline for your world.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Campaign Concept: A World of Hope Lost Episode.053

Just a thin mist greets you as you pierce through the old worn town sign, its name long since eroded away.  Crickets and frogs harmonize with cicadas as the crisp but eerie sounds echo off the dark and silent buildings on either side.  Though these sounds fill your ear, the lack of the usual sounds you would expect from a village drowns them out.  This is a town that has been touched by a curse.  Be wary of your footsteps and be vigilant for you are not alone in this seemingly abandoned community.  It is clear the Touch has reached here despite its isolation and remote location closing in on the country’s border.  It would seem the entire country has lost the battle.  You grip the handles of your Warhammer and mace, knowing the things that now dwell here will soon grow bold and come for a closer look of your flesh.

One campaign I particularly enjoy running is those of hopelessness and loss.  I find it more challenging for players and rich for story.  Instead of having champions of some deity or king as the players’ character, instead I set out for creating a low-magic (or low-fantasy) setting where the players are at a disadvantage beyond having a lack of skills and power.  These characters must struggle while they find their name in the world while facing impossible odds.  There is always some form of challenge in every campaign (assuming the GM has an idea), but when you are pitted against the entire world rather than whatever encounter the GM throws at you, then suddenly you approach the campaign with an appreciation and respect.  There are not as many “I burst through the door” moments.  There is a level of cautiousness that allows players to reconsider and form a better strategy before moving forward.

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My idea is not original, but is a concept I have had on paper for a while.  The characters are in a declining world – one where the Age they are in is drawing to a close.  For years, a sickness or curse has befallen the land, causing some kind of change in behavior, looks, abilities, etc. in everyone who succumbs to it.  The plague and zombies are often turned to when campaigns think of widespread epidemics, but I think my campaign would be a different effect.  Chris Perkins, senior producer for Wizards of the Coast (co-creator of 3rd edition), through the unique feature that everyone in his world had Wild Magic that allowed everyone to cast at least 1 spell which would amplify on certain days.  While this would not cause despair in a country, I like the idea whatever the case may be changes on certain days or time periods.  A harvest moon, lunar eclipse, etc., could be frequent enough in the world that it will matter.  The world has become extremely dangerous because of this phenomenon, making monsters even deadlier and mundane people dangerous enough.  Mutations would be a possibility as long as their minds have become animalistic so they act on instinct and anger and have no chance of being talked out of a fight.  This will put the players on guard more and lessen the frequency to parlay with enemies, but there will be moments for that as well.

The premise is the cause is brought about by either one man or a collection of people who are working to gain favor for a brand new god who appeared.  This god has granted a list of progressively more powerful abilities and spells the more the collection of people can convert the world into these creatures or entities the deity is demanding.  There’s a percentage that increases as the players discover new areas have been affected.  This grants the collection more abilities to do on the country that changes the very physics of the world such as sunlight hours, weather, gravity, and time.  These events will occur throughout the campaign to give change and challenge to the players.

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They’ll find towns filled with converted people, mostly seeming abandoned.  Actual untouched people are now below ground.  Somehow the dwarves are more resilient to the Touch, as it is now called, than any other race.  They were aware of the collection of people behind this phenomenon and allowed those unaffected to come into their underground kingdoms.  These areas became sealed vaults to the outside world, completely self-sufficient unless breached.  This concept is directly from the Fallout video game franchise.  I like the idea of the last remaining few to be hiding and the players will have to find certain ones who are key in stopping the Collection.  Some vaults are breached and have been ransacked, though players can venture in to scavenge and find potentially hard to find magical items left behind depending on what creature breached the vault.  The creatures may use the vault as their home now though they have no use for the items left within.

The Touch can’t be lycanthropy or a zombification.  Those are used so much.  However, both have the characteristics I want in the phenomenon: a lack of a conscience mind and some metamorphosis.  Fingers and teeth become elongated or they become ethereal or corporeal.  Perhaps they adapt a black tissue that covers part of their body and causes them to act violently or angrily like Venom’s symbiotic suit.  It wouldn’t be the entire body, pieces of it and different parts of the body.  Perhaps the legs are covered, causing the person to move incredibly fast almost like teleporting that makes him hard to hit.  One arm could be coated which makes the fingers extremely long and sharp.  Their head partially covered over one eye or the mouth brings their teeth longer or their eye to glow red and can see better in pitch black.

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Some could be completely coated, and these have been granted a more powerful set of abilities, perhaps even some semi-intelligence.  The idea of the blackness would be that it is linked to a living creature that is far below the surface.  It’s ironically well protected in the Dwarven kingdoms because it is considered an avatar of their god.  This avatar is actually one of the Collection’s members, having been granted the ability to mimic almost demi-god like powers to fool the dwarves.  This would allow the Collection to send assassins and specially trained creatures and people after the vaults to gain access through trickery.

So the goal of the group would be first to explore the world a bit to understand nearly the entire world is lost to the Touch.  Danger is everywhere now with creatures and people affected.  That would be the first story arc.  The few remaining are hidden in vaults scattered across the land, giving the players things to seek out.  They will encounter random assassins and things working for the Collection, having a rival group especially that tries thwarting them.  Once they discover the dwarves and vaults, they will need to discover the false avatar god tied in with the Collection though they have speculation rather than facts.  This would be the second story arc.  So they must discover somehow that there is a handful of people who possess the ability collectively or the knowledge of locating and destroying the Collection.  The players must locate each one in the vaults (one perhaps not being in a vault, just isolated), and bring them together in a final showdown.

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This is more ramblings of brainstorming, but it’s essentially how I work on brainstorming for a campaign.  I am not scared to steal ideas right from other sources because I’m not selling it for profit.  The familiarity sometimes is laughed at when the players identify a “rip off” segment, but that familiarity allows them to relate to it better and imagine it with a clearer picture.

Having said all that, this is nothing more than ideas that I happen to be interested in.  It’s not fleshed out, there aren’t any villains created, the world itself is not imagined, the cities have yet to be built, etc.  A one or two page idea is one thing, fleshing it out where it’s ready to be run is another.  It’s best to break your campaign into story arcs, that is, little chapters.  Take the first one and focus JUST on that.  Don’t worry about creating the dwarf vaults or fleshing out what avatar the dwarves worship because the players aren’t even going to discover that for a while.  Worry about creating some countryside villages filled with weird strange monsters or people.  For the climax, a particularly large or powerful creature that’s demise would ease a bit of the danger in the area.  Then create a little snippet of information where it leads to them seeking out the dwarves and the vaults (perhaps finding a small nook of a vault with dwarven architecture).  A campaign is made in bite sizes just like you run it in bite sizes.  Otherwise you’ll get overwhelmed and bogged down with too much work and the players will have little focus.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

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Brothers Grimm-Inspired Campaign Setting Episode.044

Much of the forest is foreboding since you stepped foot into its boundaries.  The trees are twisted with roots exposed to look like gnarled toes.  The forest has been too dense to make camp for several hours, and you are becoming weary of your travels.  However, you can see a cottage through the branches just ahead with light illuminating from within.  Thin, wispy trails of smoke slowly lift from the chimney.  Normally you would gladly welcome this sight, but you know the reputation of what lies within this part of the woods as you cautiously sneak up to get a better view.  Through the crack of a window, you peer inside to see three human-sized rats, each holding large wooden spoons dance around a steaming cauldron.  The smell hits your nostrils, and the sensation of vomiting is overwhelming.  The distinct stench of burning flesh rises from the boiling liquid of the cauldron.  They have cooked someone this night.

There is no question that Brothers Grimm’s Fairytales contains elements of darkness.  Although they almost always have happy endings, their lead up to that point often brings the reader into a deeper part where foreboding and uneasiness fills their minds.  There is quite a few that have déjà vu sensations as the structure is the same as many others.  For example, it is often the youngest of a series of brothers who often is the one who succeeds where his other brothers failed.  They usually personify animals, giving many of them the ability to either speak or have logical thoughts.  This is true in Town Musicians of Bremen involving a donkey, dog, cat and rooster who team up to thwart a band of robbers.

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Fantasy Flight Games re-released an updated version of their take on Grimm’s Fairytales around 2008 or 09, I believe, using a D6 system.  The premise, however, was more lighthearted because the players took control over children who explored a more structured world set to Grimm.  The world is smaller, built on a checkerboard area, with boundaries on the West Coast with ocean and mountains on the other edges.  While the premise definitely has dark elements, the use of children as player characters lightens the atmosphere up a bit.  Oddly enough, sometimes a simpler system can release the tension a bit of a game as well due to the relation with “simple games for younger audiences.”  That really is highly subjective, but really if we take the rules of Milton Bradley’s “Candyland,” strip the colorful game away and apply the rules to a sinister themed board game, we still come up with a very simplistic feel that associates with children more.

In any event, Grimm’s Fairytales can really add more flavor to a setting looking to spice things up.  I often look for inspiration from sources while running adventures to keep things feeling fresh.  Although their stories are reflected often in classic fantasy RPG settings such as Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms, the true form of each story is ripe for the taking to make a familiar, yet challenging experience.

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Take Rumpelstiltskin for example.  A miller lies to the king that the miller’s daughter has the ability to spin straw into gold in order to look important.  The greedy king locks her away demanding she produce huge amounts.  A small imp-like creature appears and is able to create plenty of gold strands numerous times, asking for valuables in exchange for the gold.  This leads up to the girl marrying the king by force and giving up her firstborn as payment.  Many already know she had to guess his name to save her child.  However, the general concept of Rumpelstiltskin can be made into a very interesting creature.  Highly intelligent, his entire species has the knack for kidnapping small children.  We could ignore the silliness of guessing their names to win children back because there really is no merit to the challenge in that.  Instead, the creature could be associated with a hell of some kind with sinister plans for the kidnapped children.  The fact he can create gold by magic shows how powerful the creature is, which would hold up as a solid foe.  Place their species in underground barrows where crude tunnels connect large cavities used for horrible rituals, and you have the start of an adventure.

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Let’s take another example, The Seven Ravens.  A couple had 7 sons and one sickly girl who the father wanted to baptize before she passed away.  The brothers went to fetch water, but took too long and tried the father’s patience.  He cursed out for the boys to be turned into ravens, which they were, but the daughter grew well because of it.  When she was old enough, she searched for her lost brothers, traveling to the end of the world where the sun devoured children, then to the moon who was malicious who also tried to eat her.  She met the stars, personified to be kind and able to speak to her.  Giving her a chicken drumstick, they told her it would open the Glass Mountain where her brothers would be found.  This particular story may feel a bit too extreme for most GM’s taste, but the originality and imaginative depiction can really spark a campaign.  The Seven Ravens grows a bit darker as the drumstick mysteriously vanishes, and she has the compulsion to chop off one of her fingers and use it to open the Glass Mountain.  Fortunately a dwarf inside greets her, reuniting the brothers with her with a wish from one of the ravens, and they head home just fine.  An odd ending, but sometimes we just need snippets of stories to get the creative juices flowing.

Sometimes it isn’t so much the plot as it is the character within.  The Town Musicians of Bremen has a wonderful NPC line up of the donkey, dog, cat, and rooster.  They travel on each other’s backs in a sort of cheerleader pyramid, scaring off bandits.  They clearly have intelligence in the story, and they can be reoccurring characters the party meets either in unlikely areas such as dungeons or always out traveling the country roads.  They could have more personality by their distinct harmony they produce when the four sing together as they approach.

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Some players and GMs may feel Brothers Grimm stories are cliché.  In reality, a lot of clichés came from Brothers Grimm.  They lay a foundation of classic folklore that really brings out a different kind of fantasy from what we take from how Dungeons & Dragons laid out for us.  With over 200 stories told, a more accurate representation could be created for a campaign setting.  World building could be created in such a way that all of the characters would comprise into one geographical continent.  It need not feel like a Shrek movie with Mother Goose characters running about.  Bringing the richness of the harsh realities the Grimm boys established in their work easily sets the somber mood in much of the world.  Each story could be its own arc for the campaign, or perhaps one of the longer stories that has more of a significant opposition, be it animal, monster or human, could have a scheme that drives the story along on a grander scale.   Greed and corruption runs strongly in many of the stories, much of which could be fathomed into a central focal point in a campaign.  As quite a number of their stories are only a page or two, several could be referenced with relative ease and quickness to get the ball rolling.  Even purely as inspiration, Brothers Grimm offer great folklore ideas that may surprise you from the lack of sugar coating much of their work contains.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

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Mastering as Game Master: Galactic Building Episode.028

The display panel erupts to life, illuminating the pitch black room with a dazzling array of holographic images moving about.  You concentrate on one, a sphere representing a world that you have looked for in hundreds of galactic charts for decades.  All of the information gathering, the countless hours asking questions of so many, tracking each one down, not to mention the exceedingly difficult task of acquiring the databook that almost cost you your life.  You hope it all was worth it as you send the coordinates up to your ship and order it to begin calculations for hyper space.  Clicking the display panel off, you flick it in the air and catch it on its descent with controlled anxiety and excitement.  Gerosh IV, here you come.

Sometimes having too much material for a GM is too overwhelming and becomes a major issue in campaigns or adventures.  When we are limited to something more confined, such as simply a tavern or minor outpost, although we could design those areas basically anything our imagination will convey, we still have a sort of tunnel vision at times as we perceive just a narrow subject such as a single building or small dungeon.  We most likely won’t worry about the effects of a bog or how a blizzard would render a party vulnerable if we were working on a small dungeon under a castle.

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But consider the possibilities of how much data can be conceived when you create a world!  It could have literally anything imaginable within its realm.  Anything!  A portion of your planet could be a void-like space that has small spheroids large enough for colonies to thrive upon and rely on air ships to travel.  The entire planet could be pure lava with hovering rock formations that are bridged by, shoot, elephants that are gripping the tail of the elephant in front.  Granted, you could say the same thing with something relatively small such as a single city building if you go to the extremes of the imagination in design.  However, it is the amount of information to create that can be overwhelming.

Take a science fiction rpg for example, such as Traveller.  Now it goes beyond just building your world.  It becomes the monumental task of creating….a solar system?  A galaxy?  You’d have to take into consideration the demographics of the inhabitants, flora and fauna, weather patterns, geographical features and layout, economics, politics, social formations, festivals, religion, and its history.  Some of those listed may not be relevant enough to include in your campaign, but even one of those can be a daunting task.

I’ve talked to so many GMs who will mention how each time they set out to tackle world building for their campaign, they work effortlessly coming up with specifics such as names of NPCs, city structure, buildings for an important town, and surrounding monsters typical for the areas.  But soon the foreboding of repetition begins to sink in as they slowly realize the amount of work they poured into pales in comparison to the amount of work left.  What started out as a weekend project has now proven to be a yearlong endeavor filled with drudgery and lackluster enthusiasm.  So, what?, GMs should just forego all world building efforts and wing the entire ordeal?  I’d enjoy seeing you try and not exhaust your resources at some point.

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There are essentially two methods of world building, beginning on a macro level or micro level.  Different strokes for different folks in this case.  You will find your comfort zone taking everything in as a whole to begin with (establishing cosmic entities and ending with small settlements), or beginning with a single planet (perhaps a galactic central capital) and working outward.

For beginners, I would highly recommend taking the macro to micro approach.  Otherwise you won’t get very far with so much area to cover.  I would first settle on just a minor solar system, perhaps of 6 planets total.  Approach it from barely a macro level by creating the names of each of the planets and a brief description of the type of planet such as terra-like, gaseous, greenhouse, molten, or frozen.  Next, think about the most appealing type of world and the possibilities within.  That should be your last planet you develop because it will be the easiest.  Your enthusiasm on filling in the details is strong enough that it will carry you through the end.  Instead, pick a planet that you aren’t too wild about but know it will make for a good adventure or two.  Perhaps all of your ideas are the greatest thing ever and you are beginning to feel that sense of overwhelming odds trying to come up with enough material to fill a solar system.  One suggestion is to either buy a single Composition notebook and put the planet’s name on the front, or open a Word document saved as just the planet’s name.  Nothing else really will go in here other than relationships with other planets that might involve things like trade.  Otherwise, stick with just that planet.  Ignore the others and treat the planet as a campaign that is still in its infancy years of intergalactic space travel.  Even if your planet you are working on is extremely advanced and uses teleportation to other planets now, concentrate just on the planet’s life for now and leave that to the end.  You can use that area as your transition to the next planet.

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Now when you are working on a single planet with the fact you have dozens after it, accept the fact that these worlds are not going to be completely fleshed out like your D&D fantasy campaign setting.  Unless you work fast or spend eons working on it, chances are there is going to be some information you have to leave out in order to have time to fill in the rest.  Consider the 5 areas only at first:

Demographics

Flora & Fauna (macro level)

Civilization structures (countries, kingdoms, etc.)

Political structures (monarchy, democracy, etc.)

Population (categorized broadly as sparse, ideal, crowded, overcrowded)

Don’t go crazy on details yet.  Just brush your planet out in general outline format.  List the various races found on your planet, give some general idea if there are typical animal groups on the planet or if there are any missing (no water so no fish, for example).  If there are multiple politics within the world, list them, but don’t worry about assigning them yet.  Finally, give a moment to consider if your planet’s population is either barely filled or overcrowded or in between.  At this point, put the pencil down or push the keyboard away, and close the book/document.  It doesn’t seem like you did much, but the planet is essentially set up.  You have already described it earlier what type of planet it is, and no you have the basic concept of that planet.  Leave it broad and vague so it hopefully sparks some imagination and creative ideas when you return to it.  Get the rest of the planets established this way, ending with that one you were craziest about.

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Again, with its own book or document, approach the planet one adventure at a time instead of a global entity.  Don’t bother creating the huge, complex city on the other side of the planet if you are going to run the session in the frozen mountains 2000 miles away.  Write a one-shot adventure for your planet.  It’s a more comforting feeling because you are eating the elephant one bite at a time.  You know how to make a one-shot.  Do your typical methods by establishing whatever you feel is necessary as you work on it.  Set aside an area in your book for planetary information on a global scale.  When you write something in your one-shot that reflects a macro viewpoint on the planet or large scale, make note of it in the planet information such as the planet experiences earthquakes frequently that causes enough reverberation that their technology is powered by the vibrations.  Use a highlighter and cross over individuals who are famous or noteworthy.  Start a list in that book of those people, giving a 1-sentence description of the person and the page number they are either first mentioned or first described.

Once you have your one-shot adventure wrapped up, go to the next planet.  It is important not to saturate your planet too quickly with information to avoid fatigue or boredom.  Keep going from planet to planet, even in a particular order, as you cycle through and develop one-shots.  You will find that the information you come up with for your one-shots will greatly reflect and affect your world-wide system.

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On your journey through world building your first solar system, begin making a point to either have a recording app on your phone or bring a traditional pocket notepad and pen for notes because you are going to have them all the time.  If you are finding yourself struggling to come up with information on your planet, try searching online for novels or short stories that use the specific planet you are wanting to develop such as a greenhouse planet.  It may seem obvious, but watching science fiction movies, especially the cheesy ones, will spark your imagination and rekindle your passion.

Keep everything organized.  You will need to be OCD in this area simply because the amount of information you are going to eventually collect is staggering.  Overestimate.  Stick tabs on your notebooks, make bookmarks in your documents, or go full regalia and purchase database world building systems like RealmWorks or something more traditional like OneNote.

Also, take an hour one evening surfing Google Images with sci-fi pics, and save as many as you can that look appealing and interesting into a folder.  Again, try separating them in a logical method such as planet type, biped or animal, artificial or biological, etc.  This will be your library of inspiration when you need it.  Imbed the images into your documents if you’re working digitally.

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Lastly, I would highly recommend getting involved with online discussion boards involving world building.  It is a true hobby for many people, and they have volumes of ideas that go beyond a few pages of a blog from weather patterns to effects of geographical phenomena to alternative politics.  They can also be your inspirational mentor when you need to rediscover your drive you had at the beginning.  Know that this project is not something you should expect to be done in a weekend or a month.  Understand it is a hobby like playing golf, cycling, video games, or photography and that it’s always available and not needing to be done right this instant.  This is a journey that you are supposed to enjoy.  Otherwise the concept would not have sparked you brightly enough to pick up the pen and jot down the notion of creating a world or a galaxy.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.