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Chapter 2: Tools / Building Worlds

Design Approach

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 122
World building can be approached in many ways, but it fundamentally comes down to a simple preference. Do you start at a high level and zoom in, or do you start small and build up? This section outlines a largely top‑down approach, but you can design from the bottom up simply by starting at the end of this section and working backwards. Either way, you may find yourself skipping between sections as inspiration strikes—and that’s OK!

When building a world, there’s a risk of becoming overwhelmed by the sheer number of decisions to be made. Remember that you don’t need to make every decision for every aspect of your world all at once. Focus first on the elements you need for your story and the game, then add as much of the rest as you’d like. You’ll also want to allow room for input from your players— gaming sessions are more memorable and engaging when the storytelling experience is shared between everyone at the table (page 32 has more information on players contributing to the narrative).

Before you decide anything else, however, you should establish your concept and your goals. Do you envision a high‑magic steampunk setting where humans are a tiny minority? A world where the only magic derives from squabbling pantheons of gods whose followers are caught up in their wars for power? A quaint town isolated from an otherwise‑unknown world beyond a vast, impenetrable forest of mist‑choked, skeletal trees? Are you designing a world for a multi‑year campaign, or for a fast-paced one‑shot adventure? Having an idea in mind will help steer your choices as you build your world, and knowing your goals will help you focus on building what you need.

Top Down

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 122
The top‑down approach is great if you have a lot of time to dedicate to world building. When designing a setting from the top down, your initial focus is on the big picture. You may already have an idea of the big movers and shakers of your world or your multiverse. You may want to chronicle a thousand years or more of the setting’s history. You may have already sketched out a world map with continents, nations, and trade routes spanning the globe. This approach begins with broad generalities that get more detailed as you design and during play.

Bottom Up

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 122
With a bottom‑up approach to world building, you start small and local. Focus on the starting location and immediate needs of your campaign, then expand outward as the story unfolds. This strategy works well for those with less time to devote to world building, as you need to prepare only the minimum detail necessary to entice your players toward adventure, fleshing out your world only as the campaign requires it.