The Bragonay Brainstorm

My last post got me psyched to start fleshing out this world in more detail. There’s two gameplay guidelines I want to have in my world to help make it feel full and complete.

  1. Every country should have enough ideas for adventure that a party could spend an entire campaign (levels 1 – 20) within its borders and not be bored or run out of quests to discover.
  2. Every country should be interconnected to the rest of the world in enough interesting and complex ways that a party could spend an entire campaign (levels 1 – 20) running all over the world in way that’s not-forced and organic to the story.

This way if my players want to have an entire campaign where my party is helping warforged ex-slaves organize a rebellion in Bragonay and getting into the nitty-gritty details of the caste system they can do that. They can experience an intimate story with some epic challenges even if they stay local to one area the entire time. Or if they want to experience every corner of the world as they battle evil cults in Verda while trying to recover artifacts spread all over the world for a mercenary guild, we can create a story that’s massive and sprawling, but feels just as compelling and intimate as a localized campaign.

Brainstorming Rules

All this is to say you need ideas and lots of them to make compelling, intimate stories and tie places together. There’s no better way for me to generate ideas than to sit down and brainstorm. It’s old-fashioned, but it really works. My incredible day job, working as a television promo writer/producer, involves brainstorming creative ideas every single day. Here’s a few basic rules I like to follow when throwing out ideas.

  • Every idea is worth writing down. This is the brainstorming golden rule. Even if it’s “every dwarf should own a spirit monkey.” When you have those more far-out ideas, get them down, out of your head, and see what other ideas they lead to. Let the trail of ideas take you to crazy places and worry about editing yourself later. Brainstorms are all about idea generation. Quantity is king. Write down all your ideas and there’s bound to be at least a little gold in the pan.
  • Go down the rabbit holes. Some ideas in brainstorms are short and that’s cool. If you simply write, “ancient city swallowed by sand,” that could be it. Maybe you haven’t fleshed out the idea and you just want that as a starting point. But if you there is something more there that excites you, write it all down. So that idea might become, “ancient city swallowed by sand after evil cult performed a ritual to kick up the desert winds.”
  • When possible, have a partner or team. Collaboration during brainstorm can build huge ideas you never would have come up with on your own. Remember to build off each other’s ideas and when you think something is cool or interesting, say so. Don’t shoot ideas down and apply the brainstorming golden rule to others’ ideas as well as your own. Let someone finish a thought before you say, “Yes, and…” to build on his or her idea. You can get caught up in how cool something is and want to jump in before he or she has completed the thought.

The Process

So I got together with my player and life-long friend Andrew to generate some ideas about Bragonay. I picked Bragonay simply because I was excited to work on it and already had a few ideas I wanted to bounce around. Since we both have day jobs, we did the brainstorm using gchat. This was great because not only did it mean we could walk away to do work and come back to the brainstorm more easily, it also means there is a record of our entire conversation saved within my email now. Andrew is a good choice, because he offered to help, I’m already very comfortable kicking around insane ideas with him, we’ve been playing D&D together for more than ten years, and he’s got an academic background in classical studies. Andrew is able to think of a lot of real world allegories for our ideas.

We began by going over what we knew about Bragonay. I had made a list of some specific categories for which I wanted ideas.

  • Caste structure
  • Government
  • Culture
  • Religion
  • Adventure sites
  • Foreign Affairs

When we began to wane in one category, I’d keep the momentum going forward by switching to the next. It didn’t matter if we were in one category and had an idea for another we’d done or hadn’t discussed yet. The whole idea is for everyone to be comfortable. If you’re comfortable your best ideas will come forward. By keeping the train rolling and accepting every idea that comes up, all involved will feel at home sharing.

Results are in

So after about an hour or serious brainstorming, Andrew and I generated a little over 18 pages in Google Docs of gchat. I’d put all the ideas in this post, but it’d be overwhelming. Instead let me give you some of the highlights. This is the stuff I am most excited. Please note, these ideas are by no means complete or final, just the seed of something that I’ll have to grow into the world.

  • The dwarves of Bragonay live in a strict matriarchal caste system, however one can climb through this caste system by switching stations with a dwarf above him or her in an official process initiated by the person of the higher station. This station switch may also be ordered by a dwarf of a station higher than the two dwarfs who are switching. Thus dwarves play out their games trying to blackmail and backstab one another into switching stations.
  • Bragonay’s recent attempt to conquer Findalay ended 100 years ago when their warforged slaves rebelled. Bragonay might have succeeded had they not had to quell the uprising, which destroyed parts of Bragonay’s settlements. The dwarves are recovering and rebuilding, but their economy has taken a huge hit as the other Findalayan nations are wary of trade with Bragonay.
  • Violent warforged rebels live in the desert, attacking caravans and plotting acts of terrorism.
  • Bragonay’s empress has clan chieftains who report to her. Each clan has a specific industries for which they are in charge such as weapon making, armor forging, warforged creation, farming, herding, etc.
  • As Bragonay races to claim lands in Verda, they find they have the least amount of resources to dedicate to that cause of any other Findalayan nation, since their war has impoverished the nation.
  • In an attempted to magically terraform the desert to grow more crops, a village of venerable artisans was swallowed by violent, sentient plants. The plants now covet the artisans’ greatest creations and have scattered them deep within their insane jungle.

That’s just a few of the ideas. You can see how many of them are interconnected or built off one another, thanks to our established brainstorming rules. We went off on some long tangents at some points and at others discussed ideas for the world beyond Bragonay (all of which I’ve written down). More cool stuff to come just from that one hour of gchat.

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