Worldbuilding Power: Designer’s Notes

Worldbuilding Power: Designer’s Notes

One of my favorite things back in the day were the “ecology” articles in Dragon Magazine. They would pick a monster and go into detail about how it lived, what it ate, the impact it had on the surrounding environment, and so on. It was all worldbuilding. There were no new powers, abilities, or statistics. Just food for thought, for when you were putting together your own adventures and campaigns.

Those articles, and the philosophy behind them, stuck with me. As the roleplaying world seemed to slide increasingly toward “crunch”, I wanted more back story for the creatures. We had a feel for them, of course, based on their alignment and general descriptions of their behavior. I consider one of the strengths of Dungeons & Dragons to be that it does leave a lot of those details open to interpretation. It was the playground where I, as the gamemaster, got to use my imagination and creativity.

While not every element needs to have special significance, details can add a lot to your game. Changing the main antagonist of a story from a dragon to a member of the undead alters a lot. There are worldbuilding bits that needs to be changed, so the context of the villain makes sense. Characters will have different goals and motivations based on what form the evils in the world take. The story will have different themes and motifs. When you’re mindful of the impact these elements have, you begin to ask a lot of probing questions.

The Worldbuilding Power series was created not to answer those kinds of questions, but to ask them. The scope has been expanded to not only include creatures, but schools of magic and types of terrain as well. Why does abjuration exist in your world, and are its practitioners more or less prestigious than other specialty casters? What role do people from the mountains hold within the setting, as opposed to folk from the swamps? Why don’t we see more celestials in the world’s folklore?

Like the old “ecology” articles, each volume focuses on one topic. It asks you to consider the impact that element might have on your worldbuilding, player character backgrounds, and the adventures you have. They’ve been a lot of fun to write so far. Hopefully you will find them useful tools for generating interesting and original elements for your own roleplaying games.

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