My main writing project at the moment is Song, but I am also cooking up a new roleplaying setting.
Much of the detail of the setting is still in flux and I won’t write about it in the specific until I’ve actually played it through with my group, but I am doing a bit of world building and I wanted to talk a bit about the process.
The game I am wanting to run is a supers game.
If you read comics, you will find that each character or book has its own world rules. Things get pretty interesting when those world rules collide (look at The Avengers/Avengers Assemble, for example) but generally you’ll want some underlying principles to guide the story and setting rules.
As an example, lets posit a world in the future where humanity is in reduced circumstances: climate changes triggered by profligate fossil fuel combustion and misguided efforts to recover methane from deep water methyl hydrates have made temperatures climb; shifting water mass (melting ice and deeper seas) has changed the pressures on continental plates and triggered increased volcanic activity; the seas have risen and weather patterns have thrown agriculture into chaos. People live in sealed cities, or high in the mountains away from the plants.
Ah yes, the plants.
With the increased temperatures, plants have run rampant. Long-suppressed genes for ambulatory motion and other predatory behaviours have expressed, and the herbivorous biosphere is generally in the business of eliminating large animal life. Humans are still high on the food chain, but the top spots are taken by plants.
From this seething, super-evolving biomass emerges superhumans, people who through weird genetic accidents exhibit abnormal abilities: some are expressing long-suspected genes in human DNA, some are mixes of humans with animal or plant.
So what powers can these people have?
The answer of course is pretty much anything, but looking through a list of superpowers in a game manual will allow you to cross off obviously infeasible abilities. Time travel? No. Flight is possible, but the flier would need wings. Enhanced senses are fine, as is telepathy, but any technological powers are off limits.
Once the world’s limits are defined, we can get down to generating stories. These are some of the questions which I have found most useful:
- how do the heroes meet? Why do they want to fight together? Depending on the setting, this is something you can pull the players in on.
- what or who is it that they are fighting? This could be obvious from the outset, but building suspense and holding the interest of the players suggests that there should be layers.
- what are the goals of the team? Is it just to stop the bad stuff from happening, or do they have any deeper motives?
- given those constraints, what kind of missions would the players go on? There’s no requirement that the game be episodic, but having a series of short term objectives which build to a larger conclusion is a good storytelling technique in any medium.
So, let’s continue with the future hostile planet setting.
I’m going to say that the heroes all grew up in a mountain village. They have know each other for years, but one night there is a sudden storm filled with weird thick rains and strange green lightning: their bodies are changed somehow – awakened. Their powers manifest.
The goal of the team is to find out what happened to them, but the immediate objective is to save as much of their village as they can – the storm did tremendous damage to the buildings, and they use their powers to save their friends and family. Some of the others in the village were not so lucky – their bodies changed, but they died in screaming agonies, or simply melted into the ground.
Once that is resolved, they learn from a village elder that there is a weird building on the other side of the valley which might have some clues to their transformation. But they’ll have to travel through a teeming jungle to reach it.
From there, the characters learn of changes occurring in the atmosphere which are going to make more of those strange storms. The go on to find the source, a mad scientist who wants to awaken all of humanity to their full potential. The heroes take on the mission to stop this crazy man, to protect the life they have.
World building is fun. Telling stories and playing games in those worlds is fun too.
Do you make your own worlds for roleplaying? Are there any favourite settings you have played?