The world of Hydro Hacker Operatives resides mostly in my head. The rules for how to play Hydro Hackers (H2O) have been well enough documented on paper for the game to be run in a playtest capacity. But right now, I am the only person who can GM H2O because no one else fully understands how the world works. The truth is, I don’t fully know either. I have just enough of a world built for playtesting to work. Which was fine when I was more concerned if the rules of the game made any sense, but now that the game has survived several playtests and looks viable, I need to turn my attention towards making a fully fleshed out world.
Design vs. Building
As a GM I have done plenty of world building. I have crafted countless worlds across an array of genres, and honestly, I am pretty good at it. Since my players have had some wonderful experiences in my homebrews, I fully expected to breeze through this part of writing the game. So I was a bit surprised when I found myself with a certain amount of mental resistance to working on this.
As a productivity geek of many years, I know that if there is mental resistance to a task, it is because you are not sure how to do it or you have not thought through the work that needs to be done enough. So I took some time to reflect on exactly how I was going to get this done, and started to realize that there was more going on than coming up with a homebrew world.
The challenge that I was running into was that designing a world was a different process than building a world. In world building I need enough details for me (the GM) to be able to portray the world at the table, and enough consistency to convince 4-5 players—who are more than likely to just go with what I come up with because they want to play the game. In designing a world, on the other hand, I need to explain the world with enough detail that someone else reading it (without me there) will understand the world enough to convey it to their players, who are total strangers to it as well. Also, I am somewhat limited by page count—I do not have an infinite number of pages to dedicate to this, since every page published has an associated cost in editing, publishing, shipping, etc.
Once I came to that realization I was able to get moving on the work again. It also made me realize that I needed to do some more thinking about the world, because I was going to need to design it to support the game mechanics as well as be entertaining and engaging.
Eating The Elephant
In the early stage of design you don’t worry about length, you will get to that part in later passes. The first thing you need to do is just get ideas to paper, good or bad. After that, you can get picky about making things fit, and what to keep or delete. For this I was going to need to do some brainstorming. I have a number of favorite ways to brainstorm, but I realized I was looking to brainstorm in a certain way. I needed to explore the ramifications of the world based on its central premise.
In very many ways the world of H2O is a science fiction story, in that it posits a change to the known world and then explores the consequences of that change as they affect technology, culture, etc. For H2O the central premise is that: There is an extremely limited supply of fresh water, controlled by a major corporation.
What I wanted to do was to look at how the world would be different if this was true, and I needed to think about it across a few different areas and build outward. For that kind of thinking, I would utilize one of my favorite brainstorming techniques, the Mind Map.
For those not familiar, the mind map is a brainstorming exercise where you start with an idea in the center of the paper and you draw lines outward to different ideas, building outward as well as interconnecting various ideas. You can Google mind mapping and you will find a ton of resources.
While there is software that does this kind of work, my favorite types of mind maps are done by hand. So I got my Letterforms dry erase notebook and got to work.
When doing this kind of exploratory mapping and hypothesizing it’s important to consider if you have any sacred cows; that is parts of the world that are sacrosanct and won’t be touched nor will be changed for any reason.
For H2O the main one is that the water cycle is broken. There is no source of pure water on Earth. The only fresh water comes from ice mines on Mars and Europa. What that means is that there is no way Earth scientists can purify water totally. The best they can do is to treat water to make it somewhat drinkable. The other is that the Great Lakes were turned into a reservoir for the freshwater mined off-world.
I don’t care how scientifically possible or not either of these are, they are the sacred cows of this game, and they are just true. When we get to talking about writing up the world in a future article, we will see I address this.
What Got Mapped?
So with those sacred cows in place, I got out some markers and sat down to do some mind mapping. Branches of ideas began to form, and branches began to grow. When I was done putting down ideas, I then went and drew some boxes around some of the topics to indicate where chapters or major sections would need to be written.
Here is what the map looks like (forgive any spelling and penmanship…I wasn’t writing it for showing anyone at the time):
From Mapping To Writing
With the mapping done, I took those boxed sections and entered them as cards into Trello. The next step is to start writing those sections and start to design this world. We will talk about the writing process in a future installment. Also, I am starting to playtest the campaign features of the game, so we are going to be able to talk about that as well.
Until then enjoy the water…while it is still pure.