I was discussing world-building with a friend a recently and he described how he conceptualizes a campaign setting or a world for his games. His process is interesting (and likely will be discussed) but it made me think about mine. I use a general concept I call: worldseeds.
I define a worldseed as a principle idea behind a world. The kernel from which the whole world grows. This idea may or may not have anything to do with the characters or campaign story I am going to run or write about and most often starts with a simple conceit. Sometimes multiple worldseeds grow together. I figured that the best way to share the process was to do it for my readers step by step. So…
Planting the Worldseed
When I know a game is winding down (there are a lot quantifiers here, but lets assume you have a level cap or other enforced limit that you are nearing) I tend to start think about what’s next. I look at what people are playing, what they enjoyed and what people may need to get away from. I will then think about basic ideas that are both engaging (speak to the things they like) and also different (avoid things they enjoyed less or got played strongly). In current games I am playing in I realized that I have a cleric, a divinely inspired bard, a celestial commander summoner, three paladins, and an inquisitor (just one or two per party). It has been a VERY highly religious era for my greater collective group and instinctively I knew I wanted to look at god based worldseeds.
So gods, but what will be different? Well reliable divine casters means reliable gods. So a different feel might arise from a game where gods were unreliable. Where a god could make a mistake. This of course was where I really narrowed down on the worldseed. What kind of mistake was it? Why was it done? Once you are in the neighborhood of the worldseed QUESTIONS start to form. Questions are the steam of the world engine, the fires of creation. A good hour of questions will flesh out things faster than you can imagine.
So I had a need. A mistake for a god. I thought about it and I picked.
Worldseed: The god of thieves stole the moon for the goddess of the sun.
Immediately the questions started: What was the motive?
Why did the god of thieves do it? To give her the only light that was rare to her. To prove that he would go where she could go not for her.
Why was it important?
The moon lights the night. It carries day into night. It shelters the sleepers. A thousand more answers came.
What are the consequences?
You can’t just take a moon, it is too important. Taking the moon left a hole. Endamon, the Moonvoid. Wow. Where did that come from? It was an answer to my questions but more importantly it tells me things. There is a dark abiding in the absence in the night sky of my world and it is a starless void that is likely a source of damage to my setting. It is a bad, rich, crazy thing to inflict on the world but I can taste the story gold here right away. What about the moon? The goddess of the sun was so startled that she flashed her radiance in fright in turn blinding the thief god and causing him to drop the moon, which shattered into pieces. Now the dark Moonvoid in my night sky is haloed by bright shards of broken moon. The consequences now twist magic and moonlight to dangerous extremes.
Does this have cosmological significance?
The Moonvoid and its presence means the divine balance of the game is shifted. Do clerics exist? Probably but they are likely rarer than more “off-kilter” classes like oracles. The absence of true clerics probably impacts paladin orders and the existence of inquisitors. We are suddenly moving into very different territory than my current games. Yet, the Moonvoid is obviously thematically tied to my greater game universe and has strong suggestions about the inter-connectivity of this setting.
What is the merit to the world?
The god of rogues is romantic. That PROBABLY means he is neutral or good and as a roguish sort, likely Chaotic. So our god of theives is probably CN or CN(G). This means thieves in this world tend toward the personal and self-motivated as opposed to the amoral or sociopathic. That means most evil isn’t probably criminal. As we flesh out our myths it might be that the god of secrets told the thief god where and how to find the moon and that sun god would be quite surprised to be given it. We probably have an evil god of secrets. Our magicians might have broken or shattered magic.
What do we know?
We have an oracle dominant divine caster world that lacks as many clear organized religions. The sun goddess is probably Lawful, as the Chaotic Neutral god of thieves is drawn to her and this makes her foil him in a mythic sense. Her faith is probably fraught with parables of self-control and religious discipline trying to overcome the same flaw that the light of the sun had. Eclipses are probably days of great omen to this world. The Shards of the Shattered Moon, likely mean our magic is unstable and fragmented. We probably start to see mechanics for it. The world begins to take shape and we can start to see the stories of other people in the steps of the thief god and his would-be love.
The questions that blossom from core worldseed idea are fast and furious. I highly recommend a notebook or computer to record thoughts as the start to come lest you lose a nation or race on accident.
Tomorrow… Nuts and Bolts.