7 Steps To Create A Gamable Culture With Example: The Hotha

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1106

I just worked on a culture for Duskfall called The Hotha. These folk have tamed dinosaurs and use the creatures as steeds, beasts of labour, and pets.

I’m happy with the results so far as I think they’ll offer great gameplay.

Today, I’d like to share with you the basic steps I took to build these folk for my milieu.

What’s Their Razor?

A razor is Idea X meets Idea Y as a short-form hack to stick to a theme while adding details.

I find Razors save me a thousand words during prep.

For the Hotha, I wanted a faction who rides dinosaurs. That was the initial seed idea that I wrapped the rest of their details around, like how a mote of dust in the atmosphere turns into a rain drop.

For your factions and cultures, I’d start with a single seed, core idea, or hook. Then expand that into a Razor.

In this case, I settled on:

Herculoids meet Druids.

When developing additional details for this faction, I now have a clear guide about what fits.

For example, if I wanted to give them a home base, I would avoid cities because neither the Herculoids nor druids would live in metropolises.

Get Your Names Sorted

Next, I picked a naming style for consistency.

I don’t want one Hotha named D’Aktor’la’Khan and another named Shiela.

When I prep I want to name everything. This front-loads my notes with names so I’m not scrambling during sessions.

Because the Hotha appear in two of my campaigns and I’ll need many names for these NPCs over time, I went further and made a quick name generator for them in Campaign Logger.

If you don’t have Campaign Logger, check out Fantasy Name Generators and select one generator to name your culture’s NPCs.

Create Factions

I’ve got a culture now with a strong hook and a naming convention.

I like to create internal conflicts for cultures for future gameplay opportunities, so I try to break any large group into two or more factions.

A couple words for each faction is all I need at this point because I’m looking for a single key differentiator.

I want a hook for each faction so players can tell them apart and have different choices in gameplay for them.

For the Hotha, I decided they’d have five factions.

I started by naming each faction:

  • The Anonin
  • The Chakta
  • The Bode
  • The Duniza
  • The Natolka

Then I gave each a hook.

Inline with the Razor of Herculoids meet Druids, I gave each faction an identity hook based on nature:

  • Anonin ? Dust People
  • Chakta ? Sky People
  • Bode ? Rain People
  • Duniza ? Beast People
  • Natolka ? Grassland People

Three Line Cultures

My next step was to further flesh out the Hotha and its factions.

I did not have a lot of prep time for this particular setting element, though, so I went with the Three Line Culture tool instead of the stat block for now.

Belief ? What is a central core belief?

Goal ? What does the culture want most?

Rituals ? Traits, traditions, and behaviours.

For example:

The Anonin “Dust People”

  • Belief ? Community is everything. Individual life is meaningless.
  • Goal ? To make The Badlands their exclusive territory. The “recover the holy land” for their tribe.
  • Rituals ? Rituals of Dust that celebrate skirmish victories, assassination of enemies, births, deaths, and marriages.

A Quick Backstory

Four centuries ago a power struggle cleaved the Bode tribe in two. The Auspex and her brother fought to lead and the brother lost.

Rather than accept defeat, Khentikus led his family and supporters deep into the Badlands and declared the harshest, driest, and most dangerous area as their hunting lands.

He named this new tribe Anonin, which means people of dust in the Athot language. The harsh conditions made the tribe stronger each generation. And to this day, the Bode and Anonin are bitter enemies who attack each other on sight if no third party intervenes.

A Secret

Give everything a secret.

I don’t want to give away my campaign secrets just yet, so I’ll keep this vague.

The Athot are actually people from a powerful and ancient culture. This culture harnessed magic in ways now lost to Duskfall.

Further, this culture had a direct hand in destroying a big portion of the continent of Ezoris, resulting in creation of The Badlands where PCs are today.

Historical secrets don’t help much until we can bring them into meaningful gameplay. We want such mysteries to affect player decisions, character actions, and gameplay outcomes.

To support this, the Athot have information about their arcane ancestors and keys to unlock forgotten magicks, but they do not realize it. Perhaps the PCs can put the pieces together and use these revelations to help make The Badlands a better place.

A Special Element

I want to further differentiate factions and cultures with an additional game hook.

For the Athot, I’ve given them magic rituals based on tribe theme that have powerful effects.

Tribals shamans govern these rituals and reserve them for critical situations.

For example, the Anonin can perform a ritual that turns tribe members into wild beasts for hunting, war, and assassination missions.

These rituals are additional secrets, though the intent of adding a special element is to help further drive interesting gameplay options, not to necessarily just add more mysteries.

Putting It All Together

When world building, I prefer broad rather than deep in the early stages.

I like to have an inventory or overview of major people, places, and things first so I can start connecting these game elements together.

Once I’ve got enough elements built out at a surface level, I can do deeper dives between games when it looks like I’ll need the details in an upcoming session.

To quickly build a culture like the Hotha, I performed these short steps:

  1. Create a Seed
  2. Build the Razor
  3. Find or build a naming resource
  4. Create Factions using 3 Line Cultures
  5. Add a short Backstory
  6. Add a Secret
  7. Create a Special Element

These seven steps have brought the Hotha to life in my imagination and give me enough detail to improv better. Try it out for one of your game’s cultures and let me know how it goes.