Thursday, September 15, 2016

Designing Worlds

I revived my old Fantasy Heartbreaker world to play a Burning Wheel game. Ironically, BW does a lot of what I was trying to do in that design, just a lot better. When I break out BW, I go back to this world a lot. I figure why not keep developing this old fantasy world for my own interest.

The world was created for my game The Legend of Yore back in the mid-eighties to nineties, when I was just getting started on this whole game design business, and it’s a pretty derivative fantasy world. It’s got elves and dwarves and wizards, and has great big nation-states that are not particularly Medieval. It’s also super racist and I’m way more aware these days so that’s pretty unacceptable to current me. One of my goals when revisiting the game is to clean this up and be more respectful in the treatment of the non-white nations.

One of the things I’m doing as I dig back into this world is to try to make it more real. How do these magical things interact with culture? In a world where gods are real and manifest, how does worship work and what does that do to society? What about multiple species of sentient beings? How does that adjust and distort the ways people relate to each other? I’m taking a close and practical view of all of this stuff that is normally pretty epic and not deeply thought about, especially in knock-off fantasy game settings.

I’m doing this because it’s fun and entertaining to me to think about. Take a major premise that is sort of standard in fantasy worlds and then figure out what the actual implications of that situation are and how it distorts social order from the ways we do things in the real world, or at least apply real world examples to this big world-changing facts and try to sort out how that would play out in this fantasy world.

When the game hits the table in actual play, all of these details are not dumped on players. Instead, they touch on various things and a deeper history and society are hinted at. That adds depth and richness to a world. You don’t need to explain everything every step of the way, but you do need to let players get a little window into that depth and richness. That’s what all the best story settings do.

There’s a lot to cover on this topic, I’m planning to write a few more of these as time goes on, both to share the stuff I’m coming up with but also as an archive for myself. The details I’ll be hitting are those I’m working on for my Burning Wheel campaign, but also for the game I’m developing that will use a small part of this world, the Art of Power. I did a lot of work on the fantasy gods for the world, so that’s what I’ll talk about next.

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