Worldbuilding can be a complicated and twisted journey. Dropping something you made at the table for a group of murder hobos to tear through can be an incredibly satisfying experience. As I have been making and playing “The Far Away Planet” I have learned a lot. The biggest part of making my world is how much it is a living document. Of course I have made other settings and quick quests that are pretty generic, but creating something rich and vibrant can go a long way towards enriching a play experience. As I’ve been going through making “The Far Away Planet” I started with the idea of the hero’s journey in the setting and now I will move into the details that should be considered in a session to session setting.

With all the work that is put into a setting and all the different ways to run a campaign I will try my best to avoid any approach to running the game and talk more about what makes an interesting and compelling setting.

The first part of your setting you want to ask yourself is “What is the function?” Any designed space in a game needs to have a function and can go a long way to directing a session. Ask yourself what is going to happen in this room. Even if your players do not go into a room, if it belongs to a king it will most likely be regal. If your players enter a dungeon that was made by cultists over a hundred years ago it might be dingy and tight. If your players are infiltrating a corporate headquarters in order to expose a conspiracy then they will be surrounded by new age architecture, or whatever design the bad guy chose when making his skyscraper. Start with the interactions you expect players to have in the area and start planning around those encounters.

  • When designing a space your job as a GM is to put players in that world. Consider using the old elementary school questions of who, what, when, where, and why when planning the use of a setting.

Now you have the types of places you want. Scary catacombs, grandiose airship battles, cityscapes that put New York to shame, or whatever you want. Now it is time to start making some cold hard facts. In a narrative system you may not needs to know how many feet wide your hallway is, but dont let that make you feel like you can ignore the details. It’s important to know some rough estimates to keep gameplay flowing. The more details you know the more immersive the experience. First build off of cold hard facts. A zombie infested space station will have narrow halls with right angles and ambush points. Sketch out how tall, wide, and long different rooms and hallways are. Start with the hard architecture points. Narrative games do not need in exact feet measurements like other crunchier games so an easy question to ask is “what is the biggest thing that can fit into this space?” A whale can fit in a large room. A creepy hallway can only fit two people across maybe. The airship you are in can house a hundred and fifty people. This is a very easy form of scaling and can go a long way to determining character actions in fights. More exact measurements can be made off of the same question, but in this case more math and research needs to be asked. Think of mechanical questions like the width of a fireball or the space needed for a shooting action. This will help you create the needed shapes and dimensions.

  • Even if you do not make a graph paper layout of the whole map, try to sketch something out. When an idea is in your head it can change without you even realizing it. Putting an idea to paper helps cut down confusion.

The next thing you are going to do is flavor blast those shapes and measurements. This part is wonderfully simple and will probably take the least amount of time. If you can answer these five questions about a room then you are ready to go. What does the room look like.

  1. What can players see, not see, and notice if they are attentive. This can include the number if things in a room, or the colours and textures that are obvious without touch. Does it look wet and slimy? Does it shine with a futuristic cleanliness? Are the colours rich and vibrant, or muddied and monochrome? Close your eyes and imagine just what you could look at.
  2. What does the room sound like. Absolute silence can be crushingly loud. Especially in a busy crowded market or lively forest. The dripping sounds of water in a dark cave can add ambiance. The sound of a sword leaving the scabbard can alert players. Sound plays a huge roll.
  3. What does the room smell like? Imagine a large dining hall with a grand table going down the center. There is laughter and happiness and you see a rich mahogany color to all the painstakingly crafted woodwork. You can hear the sounds of an active kitchen just one door away and everyone is dressed to impress. At the head of the table is a stately man who is brandishing his new gifted dagger from a foreign politician. Now read this over with the following the sentences. “The room has a deep aroma of succulent meats, gingerly crafted fruits and vegetables, and the sweet smell of arranged flowers and other fragrant things”… “The room smells of a terrible rot. Every dish has an unnatural tinge of some meat you have never smelled. It is pleasant but the aroma gives you goosebumps. Something’s not right here” one sentence is a happy feast. The other sentence is who knows what. Maybe cannibals, or vampires. Smell can not be overlooked and can really give players clues as to where they are.
  4. What does the room taste like. Now do not underestimate your players. Senses are our key to perception and therefore reality. I will guarantee to you that some player will try to taste something to identify it. Our creepy or fancy feast that we used in the last example lends itself to taste, and already having that description at least will add a lot of flavor to your world.
  5. What does the room feel like. The touch sensation is not to be overlooked as well. Keywords like “a biting cold” or “a sweltering heat” are major keywords to players. You can pick up a sword or as you lift the sword you can feel it fit into your well worn calluses as its warm leather touch quickens your heart. With the heft of your old familiar friend, you know, it is time for battle. Pump your players up and give these objects good touch textures. Smooth, rough, cold, hard, slippery, and so much more can add to the immersion in a game.

  1. What can players see, not see, and notice if they are attentive. This can include the number if things in a room, or the colours and textures that are obvious without touch. Does it look wet and slimy? Does it shine with a futuristic cleanliness? Are the colours rich and vibrant, or muddied and monochrome? Close your eyes and imagine just what you could look at.
  2. What does the room sound like. Absolute silence can be crushingly loud. Especially in a busy crowded market or lively forest. The dripping sounds of water in a dark cave can add ambiance. The sound of a sword leaving the scabbard can alert players. Sound plays a huge roll.
  3. What does the room smell like? Imagine a large dining hall with a grand table going down the center. There is laughter and happiness and you see a rich mahogany color to all the painstakingly crafted woodwork. You can hear the sounds of an active kitchen just one door away and everyone is dressed to impress. At the head of the table is a stately man who is brandishing his new gifted dagger from a foreign politician. Now read this over with the following the sentences. “The room has a deep aroma of succulent meats, gingerly crafted fruits and vegetables, and the sweet smell of arranged flowers and other fragrant things”… “The room smells of a terrible rot. Every dish has an unnatural tinge of some meat you have never smelled. It is pleasant but the aroma gives you goosebumps. Something’s not right here” one sentence is a happy feast. The other sentence is who knows what. Maybe cannibals, or vampires. Smell can not be overlooked and can really give players clues as to where they are.
  4. What does the room taste like. Now do not underestimate your players. Senses are our key to perception and therefore reality. I will guarantee to you that some player will try to taste something to identify it. Our creepy or fancy feast that we used in the last example lends itself to taste, and already having that description at least will add a lot of flavor to your world.
  5. What does the room feel like. The touch sensation is not to be overlooked as well. Keywords like “a biting cold” or “a sweltering heat” are major keywords to players. You can pick up a sword or as you lift the sword you can feel it fit into your well worn calluses as its warm leather touch quickens your heart. With the heft of your old familiar friend, you know, it is time for battle. Pump your players up and give these objects good touch textures. Smooth, rough, cold, hard, slippery, and so much more can add to the immersion in a game.

  1. What does the room sound like. Absolute silence can be crushingly loud. Especially in a busy crowded market or lively forest. The dripping sounds of water in a dark cave can add ambiance. The sound of a sword leaving the scabbard can alert players. Sound plays a huge roll.
  2. What does the room smell like? Imagine a large dining hall with a grand table going down the center. There is laughter and happiness and you see a rich mahogany color to all the painstakingly crafted woodwork. You can hear the sounds of an active kitchen just one door away and everyone is dressed to impress. At the head of the table is a stately man who is brandishing his new gifted dagger from a foreign politician. Now read this over with the following the sentences. “The room has a deep aroma of succulent meats, gingerly crafted fruits and vegetables, and the sweet smell of arranged flowers and other fragrant things”… “The room smells of a terrible rot. Every dish has an unnatural tinge of some meat you have never smelled. It is pleasant but the aroma gives you goosebumps. Something’s not right here” one sentence is a happy feast. The other sentence is who knows what. Maybe cannibals, or vampires. Smell can not be overlooked and can really give players clues as to where they are.
  3. What does the room taste like. Now do not underestimate your players. Senses are our key to perception and therefore reality. I will guarantee to you that some player will try to taste something to identify it. Our creepy or fancy feast that we used in the last example lends itself to taste, and already having that description at least will add a lot of flavor to your world.
  4. What does the room feel like. The touch sensation is not to be overlooked as well. Keywords like “a biting cold” or “a sweltering heat” are major keywords to players. You can pick up a sword or as you lift the sword you can feel it fit into your well worn calluses as its warm leather touch quickens your heart. With the heft of your old familiar friend, you know, it is time for battle. Pump your players up and give these objects good touch textures. Smooth, rough, cold, hard, slippery, and so much more can add to the immersion in a game.

The next piece of the puzzle is how far away things are. Moving from point A to point B should cost some sort of resource. Gas, magic spells, and health points should all be considered when getting from point A to point B. The journey is where the effort in your game is, and the destination is the reward so find out how much the journey should cost.

You’re ready to populate your space now! Consider all the previous work in making your place and throw your baddies in there. By baddies I mean traps, monsters, corporate pigs, Imperial huntsman, reward gold, and terrible necromorphs. The setting challenges players and these challenges often have mechanical consequences. Choose what you want to attack your players with and how these items should challenge them. Then throw them through the five sense test and stick them in your room.

At this point you have a happy and healthy mission setting that can be applied regardless of your gameplay style. I think personally that for the session settings the five sense are the most important questions but be sure to use every one of these to plot your settings!

Thank you for reading my article about settings today. I will most likely post more stuff about the more macro aspects of a setting and maybe even go into these points later on in the future, but for now let us know that you like our work by checking out some of our other articles. You can also check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and Patreon @nblogcollective. Let your friends know about us by sharing the links below, and as always…

Happy gaming.

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