I’m a huge fan of games of every kind, but there has always been a special place in my heart for board games. Whether it is fond memories of coming to blows over Monopoly (I was 17) or never having once lost a game of Clue, board games are one of my favourite means of entertainment. This early enjoyment led, much to my parents' joy, to a love of more advanced tabletop games. They didn’t need to worry about teen pregnancy or drugs with me. I was addicted to games that rivalled meth in prices. Also I had a lot of spare time to make up stories and worlds.
And a lot of them sucked. Horribly. Some of the worst creative moments in my life.
Now why was that? Why did all of these worlds suck? Well, there are a few things that everyone needs to know if they want to do their own home-brew worlds, or even while creating characters.
The first problem was lack of depth. This was both in regard to the world and the characters. It’s one thing to have basic topography or a life story; the problem becomes that many people writing these things don’t properly understand the scale of what they start. Everything, and everyone, has a history and a personality, and it serves well to remember that, even if they are small things; your character chews their long hair when they’re nervous, or has a morbid sense of humor, the city is always quiet and serene on Wednesdays as it is a holy day. It’s the little details that create the most depth, and things that aren’t often thought of, but will always be remembered.
This leads well into the second problem: Over-complication. Quite often people build too much history, or too much of what’s going on. This is a huge problem, even if written down. Now, you’re demanding that everyone in the game needs to learn a whole alternate history where Russia won the Second World War and became the most relevant superpower, hundreds of different battles, and characters. Largely, the history of the world should be clearly defined, but if you find yourself writing a textbook on the entire history of group A, you’ve gone too far. Part of the fun, remember, is letting the world live, and having the characters affect it.
There is also the problem that you should address with your particular group about realism versus the world logic. The world needs to make sense, either to our own reality, or the reality that exists in the world. If magics and gods take a more active and direct roll in this world, keep that in mind. If science and tech are the change makers, keep it in mind. You can see where I’m going with this.
The most important thing is to keep in mind that nothing in any world is clean. History gets muddled, stories go to legend to myth, and people change. Keep these things in mind, as well as what your players think, and get to building.
Photo Credit: Donna Kirby
Michael Houle is an insatiable reader, writer, gamer, and musician, and a critic of everything written, programmed, and performed. He is currently in the process of destroying his enjoyment of everything. Michael has been running tabletop games for years, starting in his freshmen year of high school to the present.