Daunting. That’s what the beginning of this process is. Where does one start? History? Geography? Religion? Science? Culture? There’s so many ways to go it could drive a person insane and make him wonder why he’d ever want to do this in the first place. I want to create so many things, but I have no idea where to begin.
But then I remembered, this world is not just for me. This world is for my players. Sure, I’m building the sandbox and turning some of the sand into cities or monsters or gods, but they’re the ones who jump into the sand and play with the stuff I create. So I figured, before beginning anything in-depth, I would ask them what they love and hate about the D&D campaigns they’ve played and what they want to explore in the future. That way, I wouldn’t spend too much time creating a rich world history full of political intrigue and scandal if they would rather play in a world full where anarchy reigns supreme.
Well, I couldn’t rightly just put my players on the spot and ask them what kind of campaign world in which they wanted to play. Some of them may have never thought about it beyond, “One with my friends in it.” So I thought up some big, general questions that I could ask my players about the world I’m building. I decided the questions should be short in words. Bullet-pointing things makes it easier for folks to answer all your questions. My advice in getting anyone (D&D players or otherwise) to respond to your emails is to keep the questions short, clear, and bullet-pointed. Do that and you’ll have everything answered in a timely manner.
In the case of the questionnaire below, I used Eberron, Dark Sun, and Forgotten Realms to define some of the questions. I picked those three because my players have quested in all of those worlds. You could use anything for an example though, and it can come from outside the world of tabletop RPGs. Video games, movies, books, comics, television, and any other medium that you share with your friends will work. I find people understand better what you’re saying when you ask, “Do you want to play in a world like Lord of the Rings?” as opposed to “Do you want to play in a game with a medium amount of magical technology?” Check out the questions I asked below.
- High magic (like Eberron)? Mid Magic (Forgotten Realms)? Low magic (Dark Sun)?
- Do you like your gods interventional (Forgotten Realms)? Non-interventional (Eberron)? Or Dead (Dark Sun)? Or maybe just on God (Christianity)?
- Do you want a world where most people are basically good?
- What about a world where evil rules (like Ravenloft)?
- What movies should it be like?
- What books should it be like?
- What genre is should this world be?
- If you were to give it a place and time period in history what would it be?
- What is the one thing you must see in the world?
- The one thing you’d hate to see?
- What interests you in a game?
Then I threw out some ideas to get their creative juices flowing. I didn’t throw out every idea I had, just a few – some normal and some weird. This was a two-fold strategy, first to inspire creativity and second to let the players know no idea is lame or stupid. I wanted to hear anything and everything they had to say. Here’s what I threw out to them, letting them know these were hypotheticals that didn’t actually need a response from them since they were so specific. Though if they wanted to comment on any of them it would give me some excellent insights.
- Do you want war to ravage the land?
- A world stuck in perpetual night?
- Hoth? Tatooine? Naboo?
- Are shardminds a playable race? Are they existent?
- Should there be dinosaur riders?
- Should there be volcanoes that spew blood?
The last thing I did was NOT BCC everyone, but rather put them in the TO line of the email. This was also a two-fold in purpose. One, it could inspire some great “reply all” discussions and have my players building ideas off each other. Two, it would remind the players who were straggling to answer that they should do so, as they saw multiple emails of the same subject line fill up their inbox. Any player who didn’t want to reply all had the option of responding to me directly, of course, and I made that clear as well so anyone with any reservations about their ideas had the option of sharing privately.
What followed the sending of the questionnaire email was another 61 emails amongst ten people. I was in world builder heaven. Many of the emails were short, just someone saying, “Oh I like that thing too and didn’t say it in my initial response,” so it wasn’t overwhelming to read. I also found that the players who initially responded only to me, after reading the reply all messages felt comfortable enough to bring their ideas to everyone. So the reply all thing really paid off.
Here’s what I found out about my players.
- They like a world with high magic.
- They like a world with non-interventional gods.
- They prefer more than one religion or pantheon.
- They like a world with blank spots on the map.
- They prefer shades of grey in their morality.
- They want cultures with a rich history and tension between nations because of that history.
- They want complex relationships between cultures.
- They want to see competition amongst nations not just on the battlefield, but in commerce, diplomacy, land grabbing, resources, and other areas where real world countries could get into it.
- They want all races and classes to be playable
Essentially, my players like a world of high magic that feels real in its history and culture, but is still young and uncharted. That’s great direction for me to have and now I’m looking to get inspired…