Category Archives: World Building

No two see the same Maro.

I stopped playing Magic: The Gathering a long time ago. Most of my time playing the game was in middle school. I picked it up again for a few months my sophomore year of college, when a dorm-mate of mine had such a monstrous collection of cards it was hard not to get into it. (And, admittedly, when I was in middle school, I was always wowed by gold cards, no matter how useless they might be. And my sophomore year happened to line up nicely with the Invasion release.)

Anyway, it’s been years since I played. But I still head over to the website, once a week, every week.

Why?

Mark Motherfrackin’ Rosewater.

Maro, the Magic CardHis column “Making Magic,” which comes out once a week every Monday, is a treasure trove of useful ideas. His column is useful even if you’re unfamiliar with Magic, because, unlike the other columns posted on the site, many of Mark’s columns are only tangentially related to the card game. Many of his posts are about game theory and game design in general. And these are things that are useful for any DM.

While Mark may be referring to restrictions breeding creativity in regards to the five colors of mana in Magic, the general idea allows me to examine my own campaign, looking for ways to turn what had previously been restrictions into opportunities for exploration.

His reference to game space may actually refer to the library, the hand, the graveyard, but from it I infer a greater relevance to my campaign setting, looking for areas of the setting or the system or the Players own quirks that I haven’t diligently explored and ruthlessly exploited.

Virtually every article Rosewater writes gives me some inspiration for my current campaign. Even when he’s really, really in the thick of the Magic, and not so much in the middle of the game design theory, I can usually glean one or two tidbits for use. Sometimes, I get nothing more than the artwork for a card he references inspiring one or two truly epic encounters down the road. However, other times, I use an article of his as an outline for an entire series of adventures, a campaign within a campaign, if you will.

I haven’t figured out how to add these articles to my RSS feed. I don’t think I can – I think they want you to go over and read it and maybe click on some links to other things they sell. That’s okay. Do it. Go over there and read Making Magic – it’ll be one of the best free investments in your Dungeon Mastering creativity you’ll make this month.

Overall – 5 out of 5 mana! A must cast!

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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.