Best Worldbuilding Tips for Your RPG
How to Create a Believable and Epic World
There are three pillars to have good worldbuilding, for RPGs and any other types of media. The first is believability (i.e. if the rules of the world make sense, if the conflicts and society seem convincing enough, and if it feels like a place someone could live in). The second is the level of thought that was put into the rules of this world. How things work, and if they make sense. The deeper the layers of this lore, the more interesting it gets to spend time in this world and understand how it works. The third is originality: if the world is not unique, it should at least be capable of handling well-known events and common concepts with a certain level of twists or with an interesting approach.
However, knowing that doesn’t lessen the challenge of creating an entire world and making it compelling. Or getting rid of creative block. For some, it’s easy to get lost in the fun part. And that delays the inevitable of making rules for the world to make any sense. There are tools to help speed up the process, organize tons of work that would be impossible to do on pen and paper, manage multiple characters and plots, and give a little push to ignite the creative gears again. This guide will help the DM find that spark once more to improve their world!
Start by setting the core pillars of creation. These pillars are loose themes that serve as guidelines when creating a cohesive story (e.g. a pillar can be “terrible survival conditions”). When building the world, rules will gravitate towards these pillars, helping the DM filter what to focus on and why they should create that. If anything in that world strays too far from the established pillars, then it’s time to evaluate if that thing matches the world the DM is creating. Remember that these are simply guidelines for helping to make a more believable world, it’s ok to create exceptions.
Aside from the obvious sources of inspiration (i.e. movies and books), the DM can get inspired by anything that speaks to them, even music. Write a tale about a song played recently, make a playlist of thematic songs to get inspired while writing. Music changes the writer’s mood and is common practice for some. You can read about the impact of sound and music on RPGs here. In any case, take the time to let all the new ideas cook for a moment, if necessary. Perhaps a character can be recreated for a different setting.
Even bad movies can be inspiring to rewrite their plot in a better way! However, the best tip for an already ongoing world is to remember what made the DM want to write about it in the first place, and what was compelling about that world. If that idea is not interesting anymore, some bits can still be salvaged or used as a base for a newer version. Remember that, real-life and historical events can be research material for creating epic fictional ones. Play small campaigns and one-shot adventures to exercise thinking about what could be different, or better suited for the DM’s world.
Escape Tedious Tropes
There are some exercises to help the DM when they’re out of ideas. One of them is blending two concepts and then writing a creative and believable explanation for that mix. The results can be surprising and add more to the story than what the DM originally envisioned. Let’s pick an overused trope like zombies, for example. Now, let’s pick fire breath as an unusual concept to mix with zombies. Then, think of an explanation for why these two concepts are mixed and write about it:
“Legend says that an old circus burned to the ground, with more than a hundred people inside, in an accident caused by one of the newcomers. A tragedy, to say the least. Locals swear that every second solstice a group of undead is spotted on the road, wandering the land with their ragged strange clothing and spitting fire through their mouths.”
Remember that a world doesn’t have to be accurate to be believable. And you can apply the rule of cool to creation as well. Having a world that is cool and makes sense based on its own rules is more than enough if the rules are solid. When in doubt, research how things work in real life, then reinvent it and bring it to the fantasy one.
Creating an RPG world requires a lot of work and planning. Luckily, there are ways to make the process simpler and more organized. World Anvil is the most famous of all, working as a full RPG campaign manager. Users can create wikis, timelines, family trees, diplomacy webs, interactive roll tables, and a lot more in this all-in-one tool. The downside to World Anvil is that the tool can be overwhelming at first. Users may need to watch several tutorial videos to fully understand everything the tool has to offer. Another point is that the private option, along with most of its features, is behind the subscription plan. And that starts at $7 per month.
Campfire is a World Anvil’s competitor that is a lot simpler in both visuals and how it works. It doesn’t require tutorials to learn. Users have their projects set to private by default, and all features are available for free accounts. The downside is that Campfire might not have as many features as World Anvil, but it’s a nice alternative. Keep in mind that Campfire and World Anvil cannot create maps, only make them interactive.
Inkarnate is an impressive map-making tool capable of creating highly complex and jaw-dropping maps for any fantasy RPG setting. The tool allows users to create world maps, regional maps, cities, battle maps, and building interiors, counting on a vast asset library while supporting custom assets as well. The downside is that its free version is incredibly limited. The Pro version, however, costs only $5 per month and is definitively worth the price.
Donjon is a DMs’ dream come true. This website has powerful and flexible generators that can create world maps with randomized important locations. Besides, it can also create a calendar system, simulate a medieval demographics calculator (i.e. every statistic of a medieval settlement and its population), generate the basic plot of an RPG campaign, generate an entire adventure storyline, randomize dungeons and town maps, create random encounters, and more! Donjon is a top-tier place to get inspiration from or just use the results as they come.
Fantasy Name Generators
Fantasy Name Generators is the place to go when someone or something needs to be named, from creatures and characters to places and items. The way it works is that each generator has a set of specific rules to create lore-friendly names based on a theme, teaching the user its patterns by natural process. Patterns are not too repetitive and can give a fair variety for the user to experiment with. Mix names, change parts for better phonetics, or use them as they come.
Timeline is a free downloadable application for creating and navigating events on a timeline. Timelines usually describe the sequence of events that helped to shape a world as it’s known today, keeping track of major twists and shifts in the story. This tool lacks the glamour and visuals of World Anvil and Campfire’s timeline but rivals them in functionality. The installation is fast and using the tool is fairly intuitive. Additionally, if the user knows how to program, they can improve features or create their own.
Anyone can create an interesting universe given the right amount of passion and dedication, or even expand on existing ones (e.g. D&D, Vampire, Blades in the Dark, Journey to Nidavellir), as creating a world from scratch can often feel like reinventing the wheel. Using an established world as a base for the DMs own creations is a great starting point to later create a unique world. Bring creatures from one world, take the classes of another, reinvent races, and create new spells and alliances. Anything can be a source of inspiration. Pre-established worlds will help with setting what works and what doesn’t, testing parts of worldbuilding instead of every aspect at once. You can even level up your world setting with some voice-acting, ‘cause why not? After all the magic is done, it’s time to call for adventurers!
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