The Mega Man Model

I’d like to make my inaugural World Building post about one of my favorite tools for campaign setting creation. I call it the Mega Man Model.

Playing Mega Man as a kid, I was always blown away by the brilliance of the level creation. They took one concept and ran with it. I remember thinking how the Metal Man and the Heat Man and the Wood Man were all, essentially, the same. Thematically, they were just different flavors of the same idea. Sure, beating Heat Man made beating Wood Man easier, but that just made it a game of rochambeau.

This idea stuck with me, and it’s one I’ve tried to incorporate into much of my campaign world design. If you can create one idea (“ice cream”), and then, flavors (“chocolate, strawberry, vanilla”), you can then run with the idea. Come up with a new idea (“popsicle”), and you’ve just saved yourself some work – you now have three new idea – Chocolate Popsicles, Strawberry Popsicles, and Vanilla Popsicles. You can do it again with each new idea – milkshakes, cake, Charleston Chews… You see where I’m going with this.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten myself a snack, let me walk you through how this works in campaign creation. Let’s take a hypothetical campaign. We’ll call it the Twilight Campaign. The world is governed by three mystical powers – Night, Day, and the Twins of Dusk and Dawn. These powers are Gods, they are the colleges of magic, and so forth. These ideas dominate the campaign setting.

First you build your order of wizards. The Midnight Circle, the Solar Brotherhood, the Dawn Sodality. You create your orders of clerics and warriors – the Knights of Nox, the Paladins of High Noon, the Monks of the Setting Sun. And then kingdoms, and spells and so on.

And where it really gets fun is when you’re rounding out your bestiary. A Night Elemental, a Day Elemental, a Dusk Elemental. Maybe a separate Dawn Elemental. Or dragons. A Moon Dragon, a Sun Dragon and a Star Dragon. Try it out with the cosmology – the Demons of Midnight, the Angels of Day, the Saints of Red Sky. Moon Zombies and Sky Zombies and Grey Zombies. Each idea creates its own twists, one for each flavor.

Now, you can’t overdo it. You don’t want your table to start feeling like a video game. (Well, maybe you do, but I would recommend not.) Your Players will need a little variety. While it can be fun to occasionally break this rule, generally you don’t want your PCs to descend into the Temple of Night, and then the Temple of Day, and then the Temple of Dawn.

That being said, this idea can do wonders for anticipation. If your characters fight a Daybreak Golem, and a Meridian Golem, even if you never show or mention a Gloom Golem, they’ll know there’s one out there, waiting, lurking, to kill them.

And not only that, but the Mega Man Model also allows a DM to occasionally weasel out on the prep work.  If a year ago your players delved deep into the Caverns of Sunset, and last month you had an epic, week long crawl through the Black Tombs, and you’ve got a session planned for tomorrow and no inspiration, well, the Diurnal Fortress it is!

Implemented poorly, this can make your campaign stale and predictable.  Used well, I think the Mega Man Model can form a strong backbone to a campaign, allowing the players to feel like they know aspects of the world without ever having experienced it, allowing both the Players and the DM to more fully engage the campaign.

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2 responses to “The Mega Man Model

  • Tommi

    Implemented poorly, this can make your campaign stale and predictable. Used well, I think the Mega Man Model can form a strong backbone to a campaign, allowing the players to feel like they know aspects of the world without ever having experienced it, allowing both the Players and the DM to more fully engage the campaign.

    That? Very clever. The primary method I had thought of and used for creating familiarity are references to real world cultures (or caricatyres of them). Alternatively, standard D&D dwarves are fairly well defined. Using repetition is indeed a good idea.

  • roleplay

    I like calling it the “Lego” model, myself – modularizing the components of your campaign into little blocks and snippets that are easily recognizable, and can combine together to form familiar aspects.

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