What’s Your World’s “Only Factor”?

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1003

What facet of your world affects gameplay in a way no other setting does?

Two key pieces here.

First piece: your world needs at least one unique factor or you might as well save yourself the time and use a published setting. Why bother putting all that creation work in?

What’s only in your world that’s not in any other setting?

Second piece: it must affect gameplay.

If players don’t notice this unique aspect, then it’s effectively invisible and not worth your time designing.

Try to craft multiple “only” factors, but design one at minimum.

The Dusk Lords

For Duskfall, I’m borrowing from Birthright. Monsters rule large swathes of the world as queens, khans, and emperors.

Men, dwarves, and elves have become slaves and sycophants to these foul villains.

Evil is winning.

I call monstrous these rulers Dusk Lords.

That was one of the early hooks I wanted to explore while world-building.

But it’s not so unique.

Here’s my twist on it.

In D&D 5E, major monsters get bonus powers and actions when at home.

These are called Lair Actions.

In Duskfall, the Dusk Lords get Realm Actions.

Followers who have sworn fealty or allegiance to a Dusk Lord get a boon – the Realm Action. The more powerful the Dusk Lord, the more powerful the boon or the more boons minions can earn.

Also, the more important the follower, the bigger the boon they can receive.

The King of Colossi

The Colossi are a group of humanoid clans. I call them Greenskins in Demonplague and renamed them Colossi for Duskfall.

The King of Colossi, Anguvol, worships the Dusk God Wezhou, god of war and night.

Wezhou is pleased with Anguvol and has granted him a Realm Action of advantage during the night.

When Anguvol’s minions wage war under the night sky, they get advantage on their attack rolls.

Lieutenants and favoured champions of Anguvol receive advantage on damage die.

And the most favoured of Anguvol receive double advantage on attack rolls.

How This Design Loops Back Into Gameplay

I believe Realm Actions are not original. And I’m pretty sure other GMs have elevated Lair Actions in D&D 5E into larger scale house rules, too, though I have not encountered that idea online yet.

But this design works for Duskfall and my campaign in several ways.

When I say evil is winning as part of my world’s razor, it gives that some mechanical teeth.

It also lends itself to wonderful theming. NPCs will be scared of the night. They will beseech PCs not to go outside at night. Homes will have charms, blessings, and rituals for protection.

This Lore (flavour and theme) will match with the Law (rules and mechanics).

And players will have an interesting choice: loyalty to Anguvol for this powerful boon or be prey to his minions. The classic D&D choice of good versus evil.

Should a character choose evil, there’s a penalty. They get equal disadvantage under the day’s sky.

So now we open gameplay up to strategy. Lure Colossi into daylight and press your advantage. Likewise, do not fall for clever Colossi tricks to get caught in the open at night.

Such motivations now guide my GMing of the Colossi. No longer do random bands of goblins and giants wander the countryside looking for trouble.

Instead, they pursue missions for Anguvol with strict time limits to follow else they suffer.

Another game design factor went into this mechanic for the Colossi.

Speedy combats involve increasing damage, as per my course. More damage to foes finishes fights faster.

But Law cannot exist in RPG without good Lore. Disassociated mechanics render your wonderful world just a board game.

In Duskfall, the Colossi exist for war and combat. They breed to battle. Their King worships the god of war. And Anguvol wants the entire world to worship him and be at constant war.

Here the game design matches mechanic to theme, Law to Lore.

I believe such design makes a game world more rewarding for players to explore, discover, and understand.

Players learn Colossi are strongest at night and strategize accordingly.

Characters learn the legends and stories are true and to avoid encountering the monsters under the moons and stars.

The Meta Law Makes Your World Unique

In Birthright you run domains and they run you.

In Dark Sun magic eats the world.

In Star Wars the force commands empires and fleets.

My Realm Action idea is not about a single gimmick.

It’s not that just some monsters are tougher at night.

Instead, it’s a container for multiple ways to bring unique Lore and Law into gameplay. Each Dusk Lord gets their own shtick. That trickles down to the foes PCs face.

Advantage in fights is just one implementation. The Realm Action allows me to design many more such things. And each changes Duskfall, like a stone carver chipping away at the rock to reveal a fine, sharp, new side of the die.

 I encourage you to design something unique like this for your world so it’s not just another generic fantasy or sci-fi universe.

And ensure the unique element ties into Lore and Law, and that it drills down into gameplay so your players can experience the wondrous new experience your world has to offer. What’s your world’s only factor?