June 8, 2020

Back to (Worldbuilding) Basics

There are many ways to develop a tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) story. Like painting, dance, or music, there are myriad approaches to creating a wonderful shared story experience for the table.

But like those various arts, there are fundamentals to TTRPG worldbuilding. And today’s post aims to get back to some of the basics and help all those prospective TTRPG worldbuilders out there develop their skills!

It’s About the Table

No better place to start than the Golden Rule of tabletop: it’s about the table! Whatever story you’re planning, whatever its plot, twists, turns, subject matter, role-playing, combat…all of it: it should be designed with everyone at that table in mind.

And that mantra doesn’t mean you the GM are excluded from that calculus either – your wants and needs are equal to everyone else’s. Part of the tabletop role-playing game worldbuilder’s job is to discover that optimal balance between everyone’s ideal played story experiences.

Some folks love combat and aren’t really all that much into role-playing. Others are the exact opposite. And some like a mix of both. Some love complex, intricate character backstories and others want to just jump-in and play. There may be differences in opinions on the various genres – i.e. fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction etc. – which you’ll have to navigate as well. So the best way for you to start is to set the foundation on what everyone at the table is looking for.

Session Zero

Teasing out the players’ various perspectives, likes and dislikes, and goals for the story is happens during what’s commonly called a “Session Zero.” Session Zero is where the GM and all of the players come together and discuss the story, ideas for characters, what they’re looking to do in the story, and what they gravitate toward as players.

There, you’ll be able to talk things through with the players and just generally set the table not for what the story will be but what it should be. Take the time to empower everyone to give their two cents. And if you really want to dive into designing a fantastic Session Zero, check out two of my posts here: https://storytogether.com/2019/12/30/avoiding-the-yellow-brick-road-how-dms-gms-approach-session-zero/ and https://storytogether.com/2019/12/29/session-zero/.

Story Design

With the foundation for your story laid, and everyone’s perspectives taken into account, you can begin to finalize your worldbuilding. Your major story arcs, your scenario designs, your combat encounters, integrating character backstories, and the twists and turns of fate…

To that end, check out my many posts on the topics over the years for tabletop RPG worldbuidling tips, tricks, advice, and best practices: https://storytogether.com/?s=worldbuilding. It’s all in there!

And once you feel comfortable with the process, just have fun. Let yourself be inspired. Invest time, energy, and thought into the process. And if you can do all that – and really get the table investing in one another – I can promise you that you’ll all have an amazing time!