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Better Nate than Lever

This post has been somewhat a long time in coming. First, the holiday season was hectic, no surprises there. Then, shortly after New Year’s Day when everything was supposed to start returning to normal, I got the Flu. Like everyone else in the country, apparently. Regardless, I’m still alive, and even if I’m not writing, I’m thinking about it.

The worldbuilding post I did a while back seemed to get people’s attention, and I’ve been saying for a while I’d do a follow-up. That being said, the progress I’ve been making on my worldbuilding has been slow, though I have a lot of good ideas. The problem, at least in my mind, has to do with my approach to writing gaming material, and how I’ve always used the worldbuilding process as a springboard for writing a story, rather than doing it in a vacuum.

The title of this post, in addition to referring to my flu-induced delay, refers to what is in my mind the best (worst?) shaggy dog story I know. Though I could pump up my word count posting it, I’ve given away the punch line in the title anyway so I’ll just say it involves a snake and a global apocalypse. Still confused? Go here.

Anyways. Shaggy Dog stories work in their build-up, and though the climax is rarely as much of a letdown in a roleplaying game, I feel like worldbuilding often plays out the same way. You build up and build up and build up, to have a campaign hinge on whatever small part your players latch on to, often having them ignore the world entirely. Because of this phenomena, I find that I write the background and let the players and what they bring to the table inform how I’m going to write the rest of the game. Though I’ve had this work well in the past, what I’ve found is that you really do need a setting to pull from instead of making things up on the fly. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. At the risk of exposing my self as a perpetually underprepared GM, I’ll also say that if I make everything up on the fly but do it before the session, it works just as well as if I had written it before.

What I need is a halfway point. On one hand, I’m not particularly patient when it comes to top-down world-building, even when I have good ideas and want to do something different. On the other hand, by writing fantasy (and unconventional fantasy at that), I need to have the world in order, because my players have nothing to go on.

And in writing that out, I’ve started to figure out what it is I need. By looking at the world from a player’s perspective, and asking questions a player would ask, I have a solid place to start. From there, I can branch out. The only other thing to worry about are the things that need to be set in stone, those which determine character creation and how the world operates. And of course those aren’t in a vacuum, so there’s at least some explanation floating around for why the world works the way it does.

As usual, I never am lacking for ideas about any part of a setting I want to write. To the contrary, having so many damn ideas is what makes writing paralyzing.

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