Do This Now Every Session For Easy World-Building

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0811

There’s a doc out there called Tight Dungeon World One-Shots. It’s great advice for running a night’s gaming with no prep.

The doc offers a section called Setting Questions. You ask each player something about their character that relates to the world.

For example:

  • Druid, what is your homeland? How is it beautiful?
  • Ranger, what lands do you range? How are they dangerous?
  • Barbarian, what is this land you have traveled to? How is it strange?
  • Thief, what are your stomping grounds?

You can ask players follow-on questions if you want to flesh out more detail:

  • Bard, when was the last time you were here? What was the place like then? How has it changed?
  • Cleric, why do pilgrims of <cleric’s god> come to this place? Why is this place special to the god of <cleric’s chosen domain>?
  • Fighter, what battle was fought here? Who fought it?
  • Thief, what have you stolen from here before?
  • Wizard, why is this place a place of power? What kind of rituals are held here? What ritual would you conduct here?

This is a great approach for several reasons. But I want to focus quickly on two, one today, and one next Musing.

Bottom-Up World Design

I’ve been researching ways to build worlds and settings faster and better.

Bottom-Up is a common approach where you start small with just a single location from the start of your adventure. As the PCs explore, you lift the fog of war and build for the new areas and details of your world exposed by gameplay.

This is definitely an Agile GM approach. Build only what you need when you need it to avoid wasting time on unnecessary detail. This also has the not-so-obvious benefit of maintaining continuity and relevance without having to refer to a massive tome of information each time.

If each adventure, session start, or location transition you queried your players using Setting Questions, you’d not only get more ideas and details for your adventures, you’d flesh out your setting at the same time!

So, after 10 sessions, you’d have 10 sets of world-building Setting Questions to work with. That’s a lot of fantastic ideas and inspiration coming from your players with little effort on your part!

Here’s how you might approach this.

Step 1: World Gaps

What information are you missing right now about your world?

Do you need names of coins the orcs use? A reason why dwarves fled their homeland? Ideas for what’s on the lost continent?

Figure out where you’d like more information about your setting that players could help fill in for you.

Step 2: Make A Questions List

Grab Campaign Logger and start writing out all the questions you’d like answers to about your world and the adventuring region.

Just brain dump for a few minutes. Tag things as you go to create relationships between your ideas so you can automagically group and review them later.

Ask Why? a lot to get even more questions. Why do orcs use coins? Why is there a lost continent? Why are there dwarves in your world at all?

Build out a big list of questions.

Step 3: Tag Questions For PCs

Group your questions so you can see common themes and where your biggest holes are.

Then tag questions that are an obvious fit for a character. For example, the half-orc could speak about orc money. The dwarf can ponder his people’s existence. The wizard-sage could have research on the lost continent.

Also tag key questions you want answered but aren’t PC specific.

Campaign Logger user Asmor tags in smaller superscript font to group his Log Entries effectively.

Step 4: Pick Questions For Next Session

Don’t waste time over-organizing.

Bucket a few questions perfect for specific PCS or you need urgent answers to, and then queue up one question per player next session.

Repeat before each session. Don’t schedule questions far in advance because things will change and you’ll waste energy shuffling things around.

Step 5: Hook Questions Into Your Adventure

We want questions that help both your Agile GMing world development and your adventure.

You’ll want tight integration between PCs, players, and adventure. Context, hooks, motivations, rewards.

You can use questions to explore whatever you need to make your adventure better and more relevant to your group.

There’s also another ingredient you should consider adding to your Setting Questions. However, I’ll dig into that next Musing. For now noodle on the idea of Setting Questions and whether they could help you build your world from the bottom-up as well as make your adventures more engaging.