Archive for the ‘Collaboration’ Category

My last post got me psyched to start fleshing out this world in more detail. There’s two gameplay guidelines I want to have in my world to help make it feel full and complete.

  1. Every country should have enough ideas for adventure that a party could spend an entire campaign (levels 1 – 20) within its borders and not be bored or run out of quests to discover.
  2. Every country should be interconnected to the rest of the world in enough interesting and complex ways that a party could spend an entire campaign (levels 1 – 20) running all over the world in way that’s not-forced and organic to the story.

This way if my players want to have an entire campaign where my party is helping warforged ex-slaves organize a rebellion in Bragonay and getting into the nitty-gritty details of the caste system they can do that. They can experience an intimate story with some epic challenges even if they stay local to one area the entire time. Or if they want to experience every corner of the world as they battle evil cults in Verda while trying to recover artifacts spread all over the world for a mercenary guild, we can create a story that’s massive and sprawling, but feels just as compelling and intimate as a localized campaign.

Brainstorming Rules

All this is to say you need ideas and lots of them to make compelling, intimate stories and tie places together. There’s no better way for me to generate ideas than to sit down and brainstorm. It’s old-fashioned, but it really works. My incredible day job, working as a television promo writer/producer, involves brainstorming creative ideas every single day. Here’s a few basic rules I like to follow when throwing out ideas.

  • Every idea is worth writing down. This is the brainstorming golden rule. Even if it’s “every dwarf should own a spirit monkey.” When you have those more far-out ideas, get them down, out of your head, and see what other ideas they lead to. Let the trail of ideas take you to crazy places and worry about editing yourself later. Brainstorms are all about idea generation. Quantity is king. Write down all your ideas and there’s bound to be at least a little gold in the pan.
  • Go down the rabbit holes. Some ideas in brainstorms are short and that’s cool. If you simply write, “ancient city swallowed by sand,” that could be it. Maybe you haven’t fleshed out the idea and you just want that as a starting point. But if you there is something more there that excites you, write it all down. So that idea might become, “ancient city swallowed by sand after evil cult performed a ritual to kick up the desert winds.”
  • When possible, have a partner or team. Collaboration during brainstorm can build huge ideas you never would have come up with on your own. Remember to build off each other’s ideas and when you think something is cool or interesting, say so. Don’t shoot ideas down and apply the brainstorming golden rule to others’ ideas as well as your own. Let someone finish a thought before you say, “Yes, and…” to build on his or her idea. You can get caught up in how cool something is and want to jump in before he or she has completed the thought.

The Process

So I got together with my player and life-long friend Andrew to generate some ideas about Bragonay. I picked Bragonay simply because I was excited to work on it and already had a few ideas I wanted to bounce around. Since we both have day jobs, we did the brainstorm using gchat. This was great because not only did it mean we could walk away to do work and come back to the brainstorm more easily, it also means there is a record of our entire conversation saved within my email now. Andrew is a good choice, because he offered to help, I’m already very comfortable kicking around insane ideas with him, we’ve been playing D&D together for more than ten years, and he’s got an academic background in classical studies. Andrew is able to think of a lot of real world allegories for our ideas.

We began by going over what we knew about Bragonay. I had made a list of some specific categories for which I wanted ideas.

  • Caste structure
  • Government
  • Culture
  • Religion
  • Adventure sites
  • Foreign Affairs

When we began to wane in one category, I’d keep the momentum going forward by switching to the next. It didn’t matter if we were in one category and had an idea for another we’d done or hadn’t discussed yet. The whole idea is for everyone to be comfortable. If you’re comfortable your best ideas will come forward. By keeping the train rolling and accepting every idea that comes up, all involved will feel at home sharing.

Results are in

So after about an hour or serious brainstorming, Andrew and I generated a little over 18 pages in Google Docs of gchat. I’d put all the ideas in this post, but it’d be overwhelming. Instead let me give you some of the highlights. This is the stuff I am most excited. Please note, these ideas are by no means complete or final, just the seed of something that I’ll have to grow into the world.

  • The dwarves of Bragonay live in a strict matriarchal caste system, however one can climb through this caste system by switching stations with a dwarf above him or her in an official process initiated by the person of the higher station. This station switch may also be ordered by a dwarf of a station higher than the two dwarfs who are switching. Thus dwarves play out their games trying to blackmail and backstab one another into switching stations.
  • Bragonay’s recent attempt to conquer Findalay ended 100 years ago when their warforged slaves rebelled. Bragonay might have succeeded had they not had to quell the uprising, which destroyed parts of Bragonay’s settlements. The dwarves are recovering and rebuilding, but their economy has taken a huge hit as the other Findalayan nations are wary of trade with Bragonay.
  • Violent warforged rebels live in the desert, attacking caravans and plotting acts of terrorism.
  • Bragonay’s empress has clan chieftains who report to her. Each clan has a specific industries for which they are in charge such as weapon making, armor forging, warforged creation, farming, herding, etc.
  • As Bragonay races to claim lands in Verda, they find they have the least amount of resources to dedicate to that cause of any other Findalayan nation, since their war has impoverished the nation.
  • In an attempted to magically terraform the desert to grow more crops, a village of venerable artisans was swallowed by violent, sentient plants. The plants now covet the artisans’ greatest creations and have scattered them deep within their insane jungle.

That’s just a few of the ideas. You can see how many of them are interconnected or built off one another, thanks to our established brainstorming rules. We went off on some long tangents at some points and at others discussed ideas for the world beyond Bragonay (all of which I’ve written down). More cool stuff to come just from that one hour of gchat.

By the way, if you’re liking the blog, please share it with any of your friends who may also be interested. If you’ve got feedback, leave me a comment. You can always follow me on Twitter @JamesIntrocaso, where I tweet out new posts for the blog and the D&D News Podcast I create – The Round Table. Thanks!

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Daunting. That’s what the beginning of this process is. Where does one start? History? Geography? Religion? Science? Culture? There’s so many ways to go it could drive a person insane and make him wonder why he’d ever want to do this in the first place. I want to create so many things, but I have no idea where to begin.

But then I remembered, this world is not just for me. This world is for my players. Sure, I’m building the sandbox and turning some of the sand into cities or monsters or gods, but they’re the ones who jump into the sand and play with the stuff I create. So I figured, before beginning anything in-depth, I would ask them what they love and hate about the D&D campaigns they’ve played and what they want to explore in the future. That way, I wouldn’t spend too much time creating a rich world history full of political intrigue and scandal if they would rather play in a world full where anarchy reigns supreme.

The Questionnaire

Well, I couldn’t rightly just put my players on the spot and ask them what kind of campaign world in which they wanted to play. Some of them may have never thought about it beyond, “One with my friends in it.” So I thought up some big, general questions that I could ask my players about the world I’m building. I decided the questions should be short in words. Bullet-pointing things makes it easier for folks to answer all your questions. My advice in getting anyone (D&D players or otherwise) to respond to your emails is to keep the questions short, clear, and bullet-pointed. Do that and you’ll have everything answered in a timely manner.

In the case of the questionnaire below, I used Eberron, Dark Sun, and Forgotten Realms to define some of the questions. I picked those three because my players have quested in all of those worlds. You could use anything for an example though, and it can come from outside the world of tabletop RPGs. Video games, movies, books, comics, television, and any other medium that you share with your friends will work. I find people understand better what you’re saying when you ask, “Do you want to play in a world like Lord of the Rings?” as opposed to “Do you want to play in a game with a medium amount of magical technology?” Check out the questions I asked below.

  • High magic (like Eberron)? Mid Magic (Forgotten Realms)? Low magic (Dark Sun)?
  • Do you like your gods interventional (Forgotten Realms)? Non-interventional (Eberron)? Or Dead (Dark Sun)? Or maybe just on God (Christianity)?
  • Do you want a world where most people are basically good?
  • What about a world where evil rules (like Ravenloft)?
  • What movies should it be like?
  • What books should it be like?
  • What genre is should this world be?
  • If you were to give it a place and time period in history what would it be?
  • What is the one thing you must see in the world?
  • The one thing you’d hate to see?
  • What interests you in a game?

Then I threw out some ideas to get their creative juices flowing. I didn’t throw out every idea I had, just a few – some normal and some weird. This was a two-fold strategy, first to inspire creativity and second to let the players know no idea is lame or stupid. I wanted to hear anything and everything they had to say. Here’s what I threw out to them, letting them know these were hypotheticals that didn’t actually need a response from them since they were so specific. Though if they wanted to comment on any of them it would give me some excellent insights.

  • Do you want war to ravage the land?
  • Sea-faring?
  • A world stuck in perpetual night?
  • Hoth? Tatooine? Naboo?
  • Are shardminds a playable race? Are they existent?
  • Should there be dinosaur riders?
  • Should there be volcanoes that spew blood?

The last thing I did was NOT BCC everyone, but rather put them in the TO line of the email. This was also a two-fold in purpose. One, it could inspire some great “reply all” discussions and have my players building ideas off each other. Two, it would remind the players who were straggling to answer that they should do so, as they saw multiple emails of the same subject line fill up their inbox. Any player who didn’t want to reply all had the option of responding to me directly, of course, and I made that clear as well so anyone with any reservations about their ideas had the option of sharing privately.

The Response

What followed the sending of the questionnaire email was another 61 emails amongst ten people. I was in world builder heaven. Many of the emails were short, just someone saying, “Oh I like that thing too and didn’t say it in my initial response,” so it wasn’t overwhelming to read. I also found that the players who initially responded only to me, after reading the reply all messages felt comfortable enough to bring their ideas to everyone. So the reply all thing really paid off.

Here’s what I found out about my players.

  • They like a world with high magic.
  • They like a world with non-interventional gods.
  • They prefer more than one religion or pantheon.
  • They like a world with blank spots on the map.
  • They prefer shades of grey in their morality.
  • They want cultures with a rich history and tension between nations because of that history.
  • They want complex relationships between cultures.
  • They want to see competition amongst nations not just on the battlefield, but in commerce, diplomacy, land grabbing, resources, and other areas where real world countries could get into it.
  • They want all races and classes to be playable

Essentially, my players like a world of high magic that feels real in its history and culture, but is still young and uncharted. That’s great direction for me to have and now I’m looking to get inspired…