How about an article with tips on making what I call “busy worlds”? Meaning bringing your weird fantasy land to life by giving its denizens something to do rather than just hang about? Kind of like the world of Spirited Away vs. the emptiness of Asgard in Thor (the movie). I ran a game once where the PCs went to the fae realm and they basically went from the “forest with weird plants and animals” to the fae court because I couldn’t for the life of me think about what the regular fae folk do all day.
A lot of game worlds are pretty dull when you stop to think about it. There is the place of authority such as a palace, police station, or whatever. There is a place for meeting which almost always is a variation of a tavern. Finally there is a place where the action occurs, which unfortunately is what most GMs put their time and effort into because that is what they have been taught to do.
The rest of the game world? It just appears when needed. The PCs find the blacksmith and get their new weapons without delay after having found some gold. There is always a place to go to get some food and drink when needed. It just sort of conveniently works all of the time in the PCs’ favor.
And if the GM has no idea what to do with the rest of the game world? Suddenly there is a reason for the PCs to go to the castle, or police station. Conveniently there is an NPC that the PCs are told to meet at the tavern. Dungeons hidden from the rest of civilization for centuries are discovered and they are always a mere day’s travel from wherever the PCs are.
Why Have a Village Anyhow?
This is not a sarcastic comment. This is the first question that you need to answer in order to create a more dynamic world. Why is there a village in this particular location? Why do the fae inhabit a different realm? What is it about the location that supports the population?
The village was built because the royal family wanted a wall from which to protect their Northern border against the creatures of the dark forest. A suitable quarry was discovered nearby, and the village began as a camp for the stone masons who were building the wall. As families began to emerge and the wall was finished but still in need of maintenance, farmers plowed the surrounding fields and planted crops. Now the village is still mainly populated by stone masons who still work in the quarry to produce building materials for other projects.
Now we know why the village came into existence. We also have ideas for what surrounds the village and who populates it. There is a quarry, some farms, families which require certain institutions (schools, mills, temples, etc.), and since this wall was built to protect the kingdom from the dark forest there are probably warriors standing guard on the wall against evil beasties. Not to mention a thriving stone masonry economy which is of value to the royal family.
Create a Calendar and Daily Routine
Once you know why the village exists, start figuring out what the schedule is for what it does. Go buy a simple day planner, use a spreadsheet, or write it out on the back of a napkin if that works best for you. Start thinking of events that occur every hour, day, week, month, or year. You can create some exotic calendar or just stick with the good old 365 day routine of the real world. Just start brainstorming and writing it down into a resource that you can easily reference.
Maybe our village of stone masons would have the following schedule:
- every 6 hours the guards on the wall rotate
- the quarry operates beginning at sunrise and the work ends 3 hours before sunset so that the workers have enough light to return safely to the village
- taxes are collected on the first day of the week except for the yearly festival at the end of the first harvest
- all of the inns offer no rooms to strangers on the night of a full moon due to a fear of lycanthropes
- once every season a royal family member visits to make sure that the quarry is operating smoothly
- during the winter months the farmers raise a local type of potato which is all that will grow and everyone is sick of eating these potatos by spring
Now Use Your Reference
All of this work is worthless if you do not use your reference. Do not wait for the players to ask what is happening. Check with your reference at the beginning of a scene and start describing these events.
“Upon returning to the village you hear a group of stone masons grumbling about how the tax collector arrived even earlier this morning than usual wearing that stupid red hat of his with a large white feather bouncing around on top of it. It is rumored that the local blacksmith may be shutdown if he fails to pay this week again for the second time in a row.
It would help if the local militia actually paid the blacksmith for all of the work he has been doing on their behalf, and you see the village elders telling others that the Duke will know about the situation when he visits next week.
Not that the militia is abusing their power, as they have been encountering more ferocious monsters along the wall lately. There is tension in the air until finally the first of many warriors appears upon the trail from the wall. Another shift has returned from guard duty, but it is obvious that they were in battle recently. Seems that the current shift arrived just in time to help them.
You hear a child say “Blech!” as his mother offers him some winter tubers stew. What are the PCs going to do now?
By using your reference proactively you are not only creating a more dynamic world, but you are also providing the players with ways to engage the game world. Now they know about the tax collector, and how to spot him from a distance, or what to expect if cornered by him in a shop. They also know that the blacksmith may not be able to work on their armor and weapons if somehow his taxes are not paid. Not a bad way to gain an ally if the PCs are a bit heavy with treasure.
The PCs are also given clues and hooks for a possible adventure. Activity on the wall is increasing. What might be causing that? The Duke is arriving in a week. Will he need additional bodyguards? An ambitious group can certainly find a way to get into trouble with this sort of information.
Know Why & When, & Be Proactive
That is really all there is to it when you want to create a more dynamic and interesting world. Just think of why the current setting even exists in your game world to begin with, and then devise the routine that the game world operates upon. Use that routine proactively by describing what is going on in the game world before the players ask and you will not only create a more lively setting, but you will have a chance to scatter some hooks with which to catch the players’ attention.
That is all for now. If you have your own ideas on how to make a more dynamic game world leave a comment below, and if you have an idea for my last four articles be sure to leave a comment here.