roleplaying games

To Build a World

I’m preparing for my D&D campaign which is going to kick off on January 7th. A lot of what I’ve done recently to prepare has been connecting the dots around some of my initial mechanical ideas and a lot of the random rolls I made when building out my hexcrawl map. I’m really happy with what I’ve come up with, but ultimately it is a D&D world through and through, albeit one with some ethnography shake-ups and old-school inspiration.

For multiple reasons, I’ve been thinking about other worlds I want to create as I continue running games into the future, and I keep on returning to a very different mode of both world creation and gameplay as I look forward. In an ironic twist, the amount of time we’ve spent playing Star Wars (and mildly related, the degree to which I need a break from it) has made me look at another angle on space opera…or hard science fiction, at least.

I want to create a game which, like my D&D game, is heavy on exploration, involves a new world map with very little filled in, and emphasizes both danger and building this world in the image of the PCs. Unlike my D&D game, I want this to take place in a science fiction setting, pulling in elements from cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic fiction to create a hard sci-fi playground. I’d run this in GURPS…or at least I think I’d run it in GURPS.

Where the line is has to do with the sort of world I’m creating. The problem with exploration games broadly is that when the primary mechanic is exploration, you have a limited palette of external sources of tension. Monsters and encounters do the trick nicely, but monsters aren’t really the primary thrust of a hard sci-fi game. Resource scarcity is an important driver too, but can get both boring and frustrating, especially if you aren’t willing to let things get shaken up.

This is why pulling Cyberpunk elements into the mix allows things to be more interesting…or at least more dynamic. You need some mix of exploration and existing human inhabitation, or you aren’t going to have a lot of conflict. Aliens could serve this purpose, but as I started to get to in an earlier post, that brings along a whole different set of baggage that I don’t think I’d want in this particular campaign.

At the end of the day, this game is a long ways off. It’s entirely possible that the D&D game I am getting ready to run in less than two weeks will do very well at scratching my exploration itch, and I’ll tone down those sorts of themes in future games. I’m also still pondering the degree to which I want to run GURPS and make it pretty gritty, versus the degree to which I want to return to PbtA, either Apocalypse World or The Veil. Hard sci-fi is a GURPS sell I think I could make, but it’s not the only one I’ve been thinking about. Hell, technothriller could be a lot of fun in GURPS, and then I could pull ideas from the Grand Theft Auto games among other places. Not exploration, but a good shot to employ the granularity of the system to good effect.

I haven’t decided anything yet, and that’s a good thing. I have a sprawling fantasy world to construct first, and some first-level characters to terrify.



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