So you’ve taken up the mantle of game master, either by necessity or by choice. You have your story, but you can’t quite figure out where to place it. In the world of storytelling that is tabletop RPGs, the world setting works as a stage for your players to act on. If your stage is nothing but a wooden floor and a hastily painted backdrop, then your actors won’t have much motivation to go out and explore your world. That’s why world building is so important!
What makes a good world? Well, a rule I follow is if your players are constantly trying to see more of it then it is a good world. First, we have to fill the world with areas that reward this curiosity. For this, I want you to pull out a pencil and paper. Draw a landmass. You can use a real location as a base for this, or just use your own imagination. This will be your world, so if you’re playing with a system that’s more appropriate for a cityscape, then draw something close to a city plan.
Once you have this general area, you can start filling it up. Start marking spots on the map where cities would be. If you’re running the cityscape route, use points of interest such as shops; be sure to put them in places that will help your story flow well. It is quite annoying for players to have to travel long distances constantly, or get to a great part of the story only to learn that they have to travel a further to get to the next point. The more points of interest your world has, the better.
Now that you’ve put down your points of interest, it’s time to figure out what those points should be. For cities, I like to have at least one defining feature per city. One can have a gold dragon in disguise as a leader, another can have members of only one race and be xenophobic towards all others, another can have an arcane asylum just outside of its boundaries, the list goes on. A good way to assign these traits is to take your world map and mark each point of interest with a different symbol. Then take another page and write down these symbols in a list format. Next to each symbol you can list the traits, making for an easy reference sheet that doesn’t clutter your map. These points of interest will help you form your cities and furthermore your world.
With the interest points set we can get to the details of the city. These details include the main purpose of the city, whether it be a trading harbor, a diplomatic center, an entertainment collection, so on and so forth. This is also the time when you will be inserting your NPCs. The most important of these are quest givers, so they should be placed first. Look at your story and map out a line that the story will approximately take your players on. Once you have this line, placing quest givers on that line will be easy enough.
Once quest givers are set, we can move on to the more fun NPCs. These can serve some purpose like shopkeeping or they can just be there for fun. Just pepper them around your points of interest. Keep in mind that you don’t have to fill up cities with premade NPCs, most players are fine with generic citizens that act as filler. Once you have these details set up, then we’re done!
Always keep in mind that a good stage is just as important as a good story and its actors. With this process, you will have a stage fit for any performance. Just keep your world open for exploration, and your players will take the opportunity to take in the wonderful world you have created. And as they explore your world, make sure they keep those dice rolling high!