The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

3 New Theories of World Creation

People were creating game worlds long before any theory described how it’s done. Whether the existence of theories has altered how people actually go about creating worlds is debatable, however what is clear is that existing models do not describe a reasonable way to go about creating a world.

The starting point or the ending point?

Bottom Up and Top Down

There are two basic models for how game world should be built. The first is the classic bottom up (or inside out) model. In this version the world builder starts by detailing a small area, usually a single town or country, then gradually adds more and more areas around this. The second is the top down (or outside in) model. When building a world this way the builder starts by creating an outline of the entire world, then gradually adds more and more levels of detail to it. The fact of the matter is that both of these models are fundamentally flawed.

Bottom Up Leads To Incongruencies

When building bottom up a creator has no knowledge of the big picture, his efforts are hampered and lessened by his inability to understand how the small things he is creating effect the big things he hasn’t thought of yet. At best a creator will find himself with a world not quite as good as he was capable of – a quilt that might have been a tapestry; at worst a creator will be left with a world that is a mish mash of incongruent ideas.

The local tavern is about as bottom as you can get.

Top Down Takes Focus Away From The Game

When building top down a creator isn’t thinking of the world in the way it will actually be played. When gamers interact with worlds it is always on a small scale; characters walk down streets, buy things from merchants and talk to NPCs. When the way the characters interact with a world is added in as a finishing touch, or worse yet an afterthought, the builder has ignored the basic reason for building a world – to game in it.

The Old Models Don’t Work

Luckily most DMs do not follow the two classic models, and as a result many quality game worlds have been made. What I am going to propose now are three new models for world building; models I feel more closely represent the way that world building is actually done. These three models are of my own creation, if they are similar to any proposed by someone else that similarity is coincidental.

1. Convergent World Building

Convergent World Building is taking the two classic models and combining them. In this model a builder simultaneously works on the very big and the very small. In time his work on the small expands in the same way bottom up building expands, and his work on the large becomes more detailed as in top down; eventually the two facets of his work meet at a middle point. This model combines the advantages of both top down and bottom up creation, while eliminating the disadvantages of each – the creator can easily see both the big picture and small scale. If there is any weakness in this model it is in that the builder must work on two different projects at the same time, and furthermore he must reconcile these projects.

2. Divergent World Building

Divergent World Building is the exact opposite of Convergent World Building. In this model a builder starts by creating medium size things then spreads out in both directions; from the middle he works both up and down simultaneously. This model does not have the disadvantage of Convergent World Building because the builder starts with a single project, and even though it is expanding in two directions it always remains a single project. However, the builder does suffer the disadvantages of both top-down and bottom-up world building though he does not suffer either as badly as would if he were following those models.

3. Object Oriented World Building

The previous four models all assume a very organized way of completing the massive project that is world creation, however, creative thinking is often very disorganised. Object Oriented World Building has no relation to the large and small scale created for the classic models. Object Oriented World Building is the act of creating a world around concepts and ideas that pervade many if not all levels of world. The builder starts with one or more concepts and adds everything he can to the world with regards to those concepts. Then he adds another concept, to the world and fleshes it out. The builder continues to add more and more layers until he feels his world is complete. The main advantage to this model is that it allows a builder to see an idea for his world added quickly while it is still fresh on his mind. The main disadvantage is that the lack of structure to the building process may cause some details to be overlooked and forgotten.

Theories Can Be a Good Example

The theory behind world creation may or may not have a great deal to do with the practice, however, a good theory does give potential world builders an example to keep in mind while they practice their art. Whether it be a classical model or one of the three I have proposed, a model can be a great guide to builders, even if the model is over simplified. My point is that many people are full of ideas that would make a good world but lack the knowledge of how to put them together. For some of these people a good model can get them started or keep them going – my hope is that these three models will help a few people the classic models did not.

Good fortune to everyone who is at any stage of world creation.

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October 31, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , | 3 Comments

My Life in Polyhedrons – Coloured Box Set Redux

About the time school started in September 1986 (grade 7 for me), I decided to reread the red box cover to cover, and discovered that how we had been playing was grossly in error. Considering how we considered the rulebook to be king, this was especially horrifying.

We thought King ruled, or rules were king; one of those equally silly things.

After thinking about our situation, I came to believe that the best thing to do was just scrap the game and start fresh and new. After all, not only had we been misinterpreting the rules, but we had created a grossly imbalanced situation that was not fair to half our players.

I don’t remember how I first told the group that I thought it was time to start a new campaign, but I do remember their reactions. Warren had his usual easy going attitude about it, while Dale and Jamie were very unhappy. To be honest this really surprised me, I figured that Dale would agree with me on principle and that Jamie would love to have a level playing field; but both of them only saw what they were losing.

Tensions were high, but what ended it was the ultimatum I gave Dale and Jamie. I wasn’t going to play the old campaign any more, I was going to play a new one. If they wanted to play with me, they would have to make new characters. That ended the game though not the hurt feelings. Perhaps most importantly, for the first time I had asserted the type of authority normally attributed to DMs. From that point foward I was the DM.

This second campaign was a short lived and forgettable one. To be honest I can’t remember what rules we changed that made me so happy other than limiting each player to one character.

The only character I can even remember the name of was mine (Hundra, named for some cheesy fantasy film chick; the first time I had a female character) – she was probably a fighter, but who knows.

The only adventure I remember clearly was “The Journey to the Rock”. Though I am pretty sure we played this campaign regularly for at least two months.

A great adventure? Not really. Yet I have great memories of it.

This game ended, I moved to a new neighborhood, and we started playing AD&D at about the same time, so I don’t really remember what caused what. And despite Dale and I having gone from being good friends to inseparable during the first few months of my D&D career, after this short lived campaign I would barely see him again, and but for a short tournament in high school, never game with him.

October 30, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, My Life in Polyhedrons, RPGs | , , , | 2 Comments

Hey Wizards, Since You’re Going Retro… (Part 4)

Since Wizards of the Coast has been releasing a whole bunch of retro themed products I thought I would throw my ideas out there for retro products that definitely could get my money. (click here if you missed parts 1, 2 or 3)

Long before there were blogs TSR produced a number of books that were little more than helpful advice for DMs. To be honest the content in them rarely had anything to do with the games I ran, but they were so well written it was a pleasure to read through them. I probably spent more time actually reading (as opposed to referencing) the old gray books than any other gaming books, ever.

Useful? Maybe. A good read? Absolutely.

I don’t know how much it cost to make the gray books, or if they were profitable, so I don’t know how realistic it would be to bring them back. But I do know another product, that also was more about the pleasure of reading, which Wizards could bring back very easily…

I loved Dragon - when it was hardcopy.

I get why Dragon went digital, it was a combination of it suffering the ills all magazine are suffering and Wizards wanting to lure subscribers to their online service. But with everything in place already, why not also sell hard-copies? They could continue to fund the writing staff with the online subscription, and charge a premium over and above the online costs to those who, like me, would gladly pay extra to get a copy in hand. Surely a magazine that has its writing costs already covered and sells only based on subscription could find a way to make a profit.

So how about it Wizards? How about going retro and selling me some hard copies of good advice?

October 29, 2010 Posted by | 4E, Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sell Me On It

While playing 3E I started giving players what I called Hero Points as an additional reward system. The idea was they could spend Hero Points to give them a better chance at completing especially heroic moves. The problem was that it was a balanced mechanical system, and it never felt particularly heroic when they were used (and that players tended to hoard them because they could be used defensively as well).

After playing 4E for a short time I found that action points were the same way; they ought to (in my mind) allow PCs to have a moment to shine, but all to often they seemed to be spent on re-rolls when the character missed an attack (and more often than not the re-roll missed too).

So I implemented a system with action points that I had briefly tried with Hero Points that I like to call “Sell me on it”. Basically, when a player says they want to use an action point, they can either use them the way they are intended or they can use them as an opportunity to bend the rules.

In spending the action point the player can propose to have his character do anything; there is no limit on what they can propose as a use for an action point, but whether I agree or not will depend on how in line it is with the character (I really like proposals that are extensions of existing powers), how dramatically appropriate it is, and who benefits from the action.

My favourite example of a player using “Sell me on it” was a way of extending Fey Step far beyond its rule use, yet was something no one would have blinked at if read in a story. Basically the party’s sorceress was trapped and in grave danger, so the Eladrin rogue used Fey Step to teleport in, grab her and teleport out (ala Nightcrawler).

To be honest some of my favourite memories of 4E involve this house rule, so I will have to be sure we bring it back when we start our new 4E game. I will say that’s its one downfall is that it tends to favour players who are playing more for the story; but seeing as they frequently get the short end of the stick, I don’t think that’s a problem.

October 28, 2010 Posted by | 3.x, 4E, Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , , , | Leave a comment

Hey Wizards, Since You’re Going Retro… (Part 3)

Since Wizards of the Coast has been releasing a whole bunch of retro themed products I thought I would throw my ideas out there for retro products that definitely could get my money. (if you missed parts 1 and 2)

Dungeons and Dragons is about getting together with your friends to have a little fun. Sometimes when you get together with your friends you want a huge epic, other times you might want to just kill things, and then there are times that you just want to share a good laugh.

Funniest module ever.

Castle Greyhawk is an adventure with a bit of a tainted history; supposedly it was written as a big FU to Gygax. But whatever the motives behind writing it, playing it was hilarious. The jokes in it are timeless; its one of the few modules where I’ve really been annoyed at players for missing a room.

The 12 levels of the Castle went as follows:

  1. A zoo of misfit monsters gone wild (perfect adventure for 1st level characters)
  2. A massive clan of humanoids are throwing a party for a demon, and don’t actually care that the PCs are there
  3. A bunch of magical baked goods gone wild
  4. An adventure with all the maps shown in side view because the challenge is to travel upwards
  5. A level filled with references to game shows, comics and movies
  6. Pokes fun at the stereotypical undead filled temple
  7. Bizarre adventure involving giant honey bees
  8. Really weird adventure about fast food wars
  9. The name “Vices and Virtues” says it all
  10. Fluffy goes down the drain. Sounds like a typical first level adventure, till it turns out the missing dog, Fluffy, has been adopted by Orcus.
  11. The great Mordenkainen has discovered our world, and now is using his as a way to make cheap fantasy movies.
  12. Ties the whole thing to together with a massive machine that has been causing the chaos of the levels above.

As a serious adventure Castle Greyhawk was full of fail; I could sit here all day listing all the plot holes and inconsistencies the adventure had. But I can also tell you that I have never met anyone who played it who cared one iota about all those – they were having too much fun. So how about it Wizards? You’ve brought back all kinds of classic epic adventures, now how about bringing back Castle Greyhawk?

October 27, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , , , | Leave a comment

Hey Wizards, Since You’re Going Retro… (Part 2)

Since Wizards of the Coast has been releasing a whole bunch of retro themed products I thought I would throw my ideas out there for retro products that definitely could get my money. (if you missed part 1 see it here)

I have a long standing relationship with the B-Series modules. Like millions of other gamers, they are where I cut my teeth. But for me it goes far deeper than that.

Years ago, when it first came out, I picked up the repackaged adventures B1-9 In Search of Adventure. Basically it was the first nine B-Series modules in one booklet, with some interludes to help DMs transition between them.

The best way to kick off a campaign.

I think I have kicked off more campaigns by cracking open that booklet than every other module or self written adventure combined. Why? Because it was a really smart idea. Give a DM a dozen different adventures (I say a dozen instead of 9 because they broke Castle Caudwell into its components). Each of these adventures is completely self contained, and simple to run. Then give the DM tools for connecting these adventures.

The flow chart (which showed how one adventure would lead to the next) was great because even though it showed only three paths, at any time you could leave your current path and start over again at the top. To be honest there was nothing stopping you from running the adventures any way you pleased, but the flow chart was a nice helper to planning.

So how about it Wizards? How about either updating In Search of Adventure to 4E or make a new In Search of Adventure with a dozen adventures for low level characters and ways to easily connect them?

(btw – I am aware that Goodman Games has released a module package titled In Search of Adventure, I actually have been planning on picking it up for a new game I am starting. I was just suggesting that Wizards should look into making such a product)

October 26, 2010 Posted by | 4E, Basic, Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , | 2 Comments

Hey Wizards, Since You’re Going Retro… (Part 1)

Since Wizards of the Coast has been releasing a whole bunch of retro themed products I thought I would throw my ideas out there for retro products that definitely could get my money.

A long time ago I remember reading in Dragon Magazine a certain article that mentioned how much time was wasted flipping through Monster Manuals. Between Monster Manual, Monster Manual II, Fiend Folio, plus modules and Dragon Magazines that might have monsters a DM could spend an hour looking for a monster if he didn’t know where to start. Luckily the article came with a solution, because the article was about the changes coming in 2nd Edition.

The solution was, of course, the Monstrous Compendium. The Monstrous Compendium was an incredible idea; it gave the power of organization in the hands of the DM. If you wanted to put every monster ever in one huge 4″ binder you could do it. If you wanted to put all the monsters you like in one binder and the ones you don’t in another you could do it. If you wanted to organize using a system other than alphabetical you could do it. The idea was a huge break through.

Unfortunately, there were some problems in the execution of the Monstrous Compendium. For example:

  • Some times there were different monsters printed on opposite side of a page; this destroyed the very point of the MC and made alphabetizing a nightmare.
  • The binder it came in didn’t hold up well to the rings being opened and closed a lot.
  • The pages sometimes ripped when being turned.

However, these reasons shouldn’t have killed the idea, they should have just demanded fixes.

  • Every double sided page should have had just a single monster on it; if this means more fluff per monster, even better.
  • Instead of binders, which undoubtedly cost a lot to ship (compared to books), they should have sold decal packs so you could turn any binder into a official looking MC.
  • Instead of the paper they did use they should have prnted on slightly heavily paper.

Put all these changes together, and enforce them in every instance new monsters are being published (so the new monster in the back of a module could easily be added to your MC) and the product would be a winner. So how about it Wizards?

October 25, 2010 Posted by | 2nd Edition, Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , | 7 Comments

Leveled Magic Items – Axiom


Level Requirements Powers
1 None +1 Long Sword
2 Lawful +1 Long Sword, +2 vs Chaotic Outsiders; if user is a Paladin (or equivilent) he may use his detect evil and smite evil powers vs. Chaotic creatures
3 Concentrate skill 3 ranks;
500 XP invested
Protection From Chaos once per day
4 Concentrate skill 6 ranks;
1000XP invested
Order’s Wrath once per day
5 Concentrate skill 9 ranks;
1500XP invested
Dispel Chaos once per day
6 Concentrate skill 12 ranks;
2000XP invested
+2 Long Sword, +4 vs Chaotic Outsiders

*All spells like powers are cast at either the minimum level for the spell, or the owner’s Paladin level – whichever is higher

When Til-Gamir began to prepare for his epic quest to rid the underdark of evil, he turned to his father, legendary craftsman Talith to make him a weapon worthy of the quest. Talith spent three long years fashioning the perfect weapon for his paladin son – Axiom.

Little else is known of the history of the sword for neither Til-Gamir, not any of his followers ever returned from their quest in to darkness. Somehow, in the years after Til-Gamir left Axiom fell in to the hands of the evil Audurach…

October 24, 2010 Posted by | 3.x, Magic Items, RPGs | , , , , | 1 Comment

My Life in Polyhedrons – The Million gp Gem

Of all the absurd moments in that first campaign, nothing stands out in my mind so clearly as the day our characters became millionaires. Dale and I were over at Jamie’s house discussing D&D, when Dale mentioned their was something he wanted me to look at.

A million gp for this?

Dale took out the module The Keep on the Borderlands (which we had already played many times) and opened it up to the minotaur’s cave (which in all our adventures we had never found). Dale showed me the treasure which said something like “and there are three gems worth 1,200, 500 and 300gp”. Dale argued that it was saying that there was a gem worth over a million gp there. I disagreed, but after a very long time I gave in.

As soon I gave in we set up to play the adventure; an absurd notion considering our characters were now around 10th level while the adventure was made for characters of levels 1 to 3. And while the minotaurs cave was suppose to be a hard to find, Dale made it super easy so we could get down to business.

Dale’s one concession that this was too easy was that he increased the number of minotaurs from one to three – but it still was hugely lop sided, and in less time than it took him to convince me to go along with this, our characters were very, very, rich. (and a level higher since colored box rules gave an XP for every gp)

As always we divided the treasure equally amoung the characters, which meant that I got three shares, and Dale two; Jamie got just one. Almost immediately Dale and I started drawing up plans for huge castles we would be building with this loot (having our characters pool their money in such a way was common). Poor Warren wasn’t there that day, causing his character to fall even further behind.

October 23, 2010 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, My Life in Polyhedrons, RPGs | , , | Leave a comment

Need a Fantasy Calendar? Here’s an Easy One!

I long considered calendars to be a huge pain in the games I ran. I was not willing to use the Gregorian Calendar in a fantasy world; to me it just seemed to wreck the atmosphere. But, I had limited success introducing other calendars – be they my own, or part of a published world.

If its not Gregorian players may have a hard time with calendars.

Learning an Alternate Calendar Can Be a Pain

The root of the problem was that players didn’t interact enough with these calendars to learn them. They might hear a date two or three times in a session and that was it. Further, since any mention of a date was always followed by the question “Um, when is that?” there was nothing forcing them to learn the calendar; they would always get the dates they were presented with explained in a manner they could understand.

Faced with a calendar that wasn’t appropriate or a calendar that couldn’t be understood, I decided to create my own calendar that players could remember. When you give a player a fantasy calendar, they are usually assaulted by twenty or more made up words that don’t really mean anything except in relation to each other. What does Wednesday mean other than the day that comes after Tuesday? Months do have some limited meaning in so far as they take place during certain seasons, and this gave me an idea that became the solution.

A Calendar With Nothing to Learn

The first thing I did was I scrapped days of the week. If I need there to be something that occurs regularly (like a holy day) I just make it occur every x days without worrying about naming the days in between. This has the added advantage of removing another tie to earth’s calendars, plus it makes it easier to institute different intervals between holy days for different religions.

Then I scrapped the months. I instead made the calendar work around the reference point I was already using to answer players questions – the seasons. Basically I decided that every season would have 90 days and that dates were always stated as the how far into each season we were. So today would be the 32nd day of Autumn, Halloween will be the 41st day of Autumn, and so on.

Now believe me, in some ways I wish I really could use a full fledged alternate calendar. But I don’t want dates interrupting my game – for me an alternate calendar is only acceptable at the game table if the questions about it are minimal. I have been using this solution for my last several campaigns, and everyone has been happy about it.

October 22, 2010 Posted by | RPGs | Leave a comment