Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Homebrew Campaigns

Although there have been plenty of industry created campaigns, usually attached to a specific setting, if the ability to add up all the campaign settings that exist, from the past, to today, and into the future, I have a feeling that the homebrew campaigns will far outnumber those made by the industry. Notice that I said industry made, not professionally made, because while many homebrews are made by amateur developers and designers, much of their work happens to be as good as if it were made by folks in the industry. Also, some of the most famous settings came from someone's table, first, before it came from the industry.

But, my focus today, is on the allure of designing your own world, crafting a world within which player characters explore and adventure, a dungeon/game master to narrate, and for evil hordes and righteous armies to march across and do battle while the heroes clandestinely save the day. The idea of all of that occurring withing something created by a fan of the genre, system, or what not, has always impressed me, even if I rarely did it myself. While I am a creative person, I sometimes struggle with motivation, more so because my brain often looks at all that lays ahead, instead of focusing on starting small, thus I handicap myself when it comes to world creation.

Whenever I talk with game developers and designers, with respect to what it takes to design a whole world, I have often been told to start small and work my way outward, as if I was walking the paths of the world its self. It seems almost antithetical, starting on a small level, since you feel like you need to make the world first and then the location, but it's the opposite, so I have been told, so I thought I would give it a try myself.

Recently, after I moved back to Oregon from Idaho, I found myself without a gaming group, but eventually I met game from EN World and we decided to form a group and use 4e as its ruleset, since I had played it before and he was really interested in playing with it. Once I had set my mind to work on designing a campaign to use the 4th Edition of D&D, as well as polled some folks at EN World on advice, I decided to create my own homebrew world, give it a shot and see if the "start small" method worked.

So I started off with a geographic idea in mind, a secluded valley with two major ways into it and a handful of minor ways, with mountains to the southwest, southeast, east, and northeast with some minor and major lakes, nearby but out of side, that feed into a major stream to river tributary system, which made it easy to pick the location of the main village. Plus, it made it easy to fix some locations for the various races, including both kinds of elves, dwarves, dragonborn, and so forth. After awhile I looked at the map, seeing where everything was, and realized that by keeping it small I made for an intimate world that had 30 to 40 miles between one small village and this trading post or that keep, with the larger enclaves of the world known to be hundreds of miles away, and it gave the map this frontier feel that reminded me of Keep on the Borderlands, which was cool.

Plus, it left me with the one thing that I loved the most about Greyhawk, which was all of this territory that was left for the players to discover and illustrate more with their action and adventure, it gave me this world were I felt more in control, for obvious reasons, but also this sense of there being so much more to discover. It was then that it hit me, I was only working in an area of a thousand or so square miles, an area roughly the side of Rhode Island, so of course I felt like there was more to discover, because there was a while world out there to work with and it was all mine.

When I thought about the way I use to try and make worlds, by making all the planets and continents first, I realized that, at least for me, I was making it harder than it needed to be. Sure, there is more out there, everywhere, but why should I focus on their being so much for the players when, at first, I can just give them this hint of flavor and start them out hungry to find more. Cosmopolitan worlds can be fun, with thousands of peoples and cultures mixing together, but, I realized, so can wilderness campaigns of seclusion and remote dangers, too.

But, that's been my experience, what's yours been like?

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