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World building ideas to use for the setting of your game

A futuristic city

Set your game in a futuristic city?

When you create a new role-playing game, you’ll need to think about the world that your characters inhabit. This world can be anything you want it to be, it can be a period of time in history, or it could be a totally alien planet with a very different ecosystem.

Make sure all members understand your world

Because this is a role-playing game, your world needs to be well thought out before you start, as you characters are going to explore this world, and it helps if all the members in your game fully understand the world. Otherwise they could create inconsistencies which could lead to arguments. It’s best to write some documentation about your world, just so that all members know everything about the world. This could be as detailed as you need, but don’t make it too long and boring or your members might ignore it!

Some things you might want to think about in your world are:

  • What time period is it set?
  • What is the climate like?
  • What kind of creatures inhabit the world?
  • What are the important cities/places in the world?
  • Who rules the world? (or who rules each country/kingdom in the world)
  • What is the level of technology in the world? (for example are your enemies going to be throwing spears, fighting with swords, or shooting you with machine guns?)

With these things agreed between all members, everyone should have a basic understanding of the world, and should be able to write comfortably in your game. There might also be some things which directly affect your characters, for example:

Who are the enemies in this world?

It’s usually best for your characters to have some enemies of some kind, which make an obstacle in the way of achieving quests, otherwise it would be too easy. Your enemies could be monstrous creatures, or a more intelligent enemy from a distant land. They could be an entire different race of creatures (Orks?), or just people with a different agenda (Nazis?).

There may be many different types of enemy, and you don’t have to introduce them all at once, you could discover more as your game goes on. It always helps to describe these enemies as best as you can, so that when one of your members starts to write about them, they’ve got a good mental picture of them so can accurately write about them.

Do your characters have a headquarters that they keep going back to?

Regular locations are quite important because your members will feel comfortable writing about a place where they’ve visited before. Also it’s very handy to have a place to start your adventure from and return to afterwards, showing that a story has come to an end. This will help if you ever decide to turn your posts into a downloadable story, book or audio podcast.

Are there some special rules which your characters have to obey?

Depending on the world and what job your character has, there might be some rules that they have to obey. For example if your character is a Private In WW2, he will have to take orders directly from his commanding officer and not be able to do what he wants to do. This might mean your character will be in a lot of trouble if he breaks ranks. Or if your character is a religious monk, he won’t be able to chase women like his mercenary friends.
There might be some broader rules, like the oppressive government in your world forbids people to walk the streets after a curfew at night, or superheros are forbidden to use their powers in public, or a religious regime forbids people to show their faces, or a more simple rule is that it’s against the law for people to carry guns in public. These are all factors that your members will have to think about when writing about their characters travelling around the world.

There are many standard settings that you could use as a starting point for your world.

Some common world examples:

Post-apocalyptic

The world in your game could have been ravished by nuclear war or disease, leaving only small pockets of humanity left. Your characters live in an underground bunker which they return to at the end of each mission. The landscape is littered with broken cars and ruined houses, and dangerous mutated creatures roam freely, making it dangerous for anyone to leave the bunker.

Medieval

Your characters could be Knights to the King of Queen of an old Kingdom, and use their swords to slay rebellious peasants, or invaders from another Kingdom (Norse? Goth? Norman?). They live in a castle, and in their downtime practice jousting.

Jurassic

Your characters might be time travellers who have accidentally travelled back to the Jurassic period, a time when dinosaurs ruled the world. They have no way of getting back, so have setup their home in a cave with a door made from dinosaur bones to keep out the ferocious lizards. Every day is a battle for survival as they have to fight dinosaurs for food to stay alive.

Futuristic

Many TV shows and films have showed us examples of a futuristic world. Yours could be an optimistic utopia like the Jetsons and Star Trek, or it could be moody dystopia like Blade Runner. You could base your world on one of these worlds, or make up your own which is totally different. Your characters could live on a spaceship in deep unexplored space, or in a technologically advanced city on Earth, or a totally different planet.

Pirates

With Pirates of the Caribbean and Monkey Island as a template for this world, your characters could be the crew of a Pirate ship, and you raid any ship that comes near whilst avoiding any ships that are hired to catch you. Or if you want to be more legitimate, you could be a simple trading ship which moves from port to port transporting cargo, and avoiding being raided by Pirates. Or you could take on jobs from port Sheriffs to track down and destroy all Pirate ships that are causing problems for other ships.

Wild West

Your characters could be mercenaries in the old west, riding horses and capturing criminals who are causing trouble in your town. A common place they would come back to would be the town’s saloon, which could also be the setting for fights, and meeting people who want your characters to do missions for them.

Alternate history

Imagine any period of history, and add your own twist. A common twist is that there’s more advanced technology than there should be. An example of this is “Steampunk” which is a setting similar to the Victorian era before the invention of the petrol engine, where all machines were powered by steam. Steampunk is a way to get more modern technology like aircraft and computers into the Victorian era.

World War 1

In WW1, trenches were built on the front line to hold the ground. Your characters could live in these trenches, under constant threat of bomb attacks from the Nazis, or being poisoned by gas. Also WW1 was the first time aeroplanes were used for combat. Rickety biplanes were flown over enemy ground to bomb the enemy, as well as dogfighting with other enemy pilots. Your characters could be ace fighter pilots who are given missions to attack key enemy targets.

World War 2

There’s many films and computer games set during WWII because it has as massive scope. Your character could be anything from infantry, to a tank driver, to a bombing pilot, to a medic, and stationed in any country. Or you could be military intelligence, stationed back home with a big map relaying enemy troop positions. The most exciting would be for your characters to be an elite squad of special forces who go behind enemy lines and take out special targets, like destroy gun embankments, blow up U-boats, and assassinate Nazi Generals.

1984-style dystopia

A world where the government oppresses everything that you do. If you’re a fan of George Orwell’s 1984, V for Vendetta or Equilibrium you might like this setting. Normal people are forced by the government to conform, and your characters might have to break free of their control and try to bring down the government. This sort of story has a clear ending, because once the government is brought down, there’s no story left.

Modern, suburban town

Think Desperate Housewives, your game could be as simple as a neighbourhood where drama happens. Each character has their own house, or lives with another character, and domestic disputes happen all the time.

1950’s or 60’s

The 50’s and 60’s were optimistic times in America, which becomes very affluent after WWII. We see the introduction of mass advertising campaigns, and the beginnings of women’s rights. The time period is very different from today, there were no computers or mobile phones, and practically everyone smoked and drank. The 60’s saw hippies and attitudes to drugs and sex changed, with “free love” being popular.
Your characters could work in a 1960’s office, like the TV show Mad Men or the police, or even be criminals.

Romans

The Romans lived about 2000 years ago but were in some respects more civilised than some civilisations that came after. They were wealthy and lived in comfort, but also had a thirst for blood. They loved to watch Gladiators kill each others in amphitheatres like the Colosseum. Their military was one of the best in history, and they waged war throughout the entire of Europe.
Your characters could be part of the Roman army, waging battles across Europe, where they could increase in rank over time. Or they could live in Rome, where they might be involved in the politics of the senate.

Some examples of great world building in films and TV

You don’t even have to use your imagination much to see these worlds, as there are many films and TV shows that use these world ideas as a setting. Instead of creating your own world, you might want to pick one that exists already and use that, it would make your game a sequel (or prequel?) to the film.
Doing this means you don’t have to write so much explanation of your world, as you can just tell your members to watch the film! See my article with examples of great world building in films.

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