Tips On How To Build Your Homebrew World As You Play It

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0973

Your game world has serious stakes. If your homebrew setting fails to inspire and facilitate the kinds of stories and adventures you want to play, it’s dead in the water.

All that effort down the drain.

Yet, you can’t just change things willy nilly during sessions or you’ll alienate the players. When what they thought they knew changes without warning, your campaign will feel unstable and capricious.

If players are confused and hesitant to use what they’ve learned about the setting to roleplay and make informed choices with, they’ll bail on you.

Here’s how I’m addressing this with my upcoming campaign.

Build-And-Play Faster

We’ve talked about Top-Down-Up world building before. Create your world framework in a few hours. Then start gaming. Fill gaps, cracks, and missing pieces that come up during play between sessions.

We also talked about Campaign Seasons. Carve your campaigns into exciting season plot arcs connected by continuity of characters and world.

(Side note: I’d love to experiment with a 5 “Room” Campaign Season model, but I think 5 sessions could be too short for a season. Thoughts?)

What if there was another way you could build-and-play even faster?

Reskin Your World

Borrowing from the idea of reskinning monsters and NPCs to make new ones fast, you can do that with a world, too.

For D&D and Pathfinder, if that’s your jam, you’ll be inheriting the default setting because it’s embedded in the rules. Spell names, monster lore, cleric domains…a whole bunch of world building secretly hides in your game system already.

I will also be grabbing an existing world and layering that one top so I have a whole bunch of detail ready to go for session one with minimal prep.

I’ll be using the Grand Duchy of Karameikos from Mystara as my baseline.

Then I’ll reskin over time with refactoring between Campaign Seasons.

Here’s how it works.

Campaign Seasons Meet Top-Bottom-Up

Introduce the basics of your world (Top) and play your first Campaign Season (Bottom). Between seasons you refactor your world (Up).

This takes the pressure off having a complete world at start. You take an existing world (Golarion, Forgotten Realms, Mystara, Earth) as baseline, change a few things, and start gaming.

Use gameplay, player questions, and ideas that inspire over time to slowly change the world. No need to close the door for 100 hours up front to design. Launch fast and customize as you go.

The twist comes from the refactor between seasons.

What Does Refactoring Mean?

The end goal is to have a 100% unique homebrew world tailored to the preferences of you and your group. You get the perfect setting to host your favourite style of campaigns and adventures.

At the start of a Campaign Season you run a snapshot of the world in its current condition. Create what you need as fog of war rolls back, but use your baseline setting for quick answers when desired.

You then update and change your world between seasons.

You replace published stuff with your own. You close gaps discovered during play. You build out in places you feel like making your own right now.

Then you spin up a new Campaign Season and play.

You kick-off the season by going over what’s changed. If you replaced a god, added a continent, renamed a currency, you go over these changes with your players.

When you preface Season #1 with a heads-up to your group about how the world will morph over time in small batches of changes, your players will know what to expect.

You can chat about any concerns they have. You can note anything they don’t want radically changed because it underpins their characters. You can enlist their help to tell you when the world is sandpaper to their play.

Change Over Time

Because Campaign Seasons are short, you will get several opportunities to install updates to your world so it becomes more and more yours over time.

Yet, during the whole process your campaign continues on successfully.

Players get input. You have room to GM, test, and tweak.

Each batch of changes occurs between seasons. This helps players stay attuned without overwhelm.

The static snapshot maintained during each season offers the stability players need.

And batching your changes lets you mull on them and plot them out at leisure during each Campaign Season. Minimal prep. Minimal gameplay delays.

What started out as Golarion or the Realms has now become your own sandbox. Your very own world. Your unique and wonderful creation. Tested with gameplay. Tempered with feedback.

Top-Bottom-Up plus Campaign Seasons plus Refactoring.