Sunday, May 3, 2009

World-Buildling Magna Carta

Whether he intended to or not, one of my favorite bloggers Berin Kinsman started something. He takes a writing exercise from Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem! and applies it to fantasy RPG world-building:

In the book No Plot? No Problem? author Chris Baty discusses creating two “Magna Cartas” before tackling a fiction project. One is a list of things you like about the genre, what makes you want to read it (or, in the case of a roleplaying game, play it or run it), the things you’ll want to include. The object is to keep you focused on the things that will make it fun to work on. The other Magna Carta is for things you dislike and want to avoid. You make this list to remind you where you don’t want to go, cliches to resist and paths of least resistance to avoid traveling. It’s a process I apply to worldbuilding and campaign building, and a topic I cover at length in the forthcoming Worldbuilding 101 book.
Because I’m currently working on a 4th Edition D&D campaign, partly as a practical lab to test my Worldbuilding 101 principles, I created a Magna Carta. Here’s what I came up with. Note that there are some system-related things in there, because I will avoid creating encounters that I dislike or find hard to run, and do more of the things I think are fun.
Magna Carta: Fantasy RPG Likes

  • Heroic PCs with a purpose other than kill and loot

  • PCs with back stories and NPC connections

  • Villains with actual goals and motivations

  • Political intrigue and conflict between like-aligned powers

  • Setting-based consequences to PC actions

  • Skill challenges

  • Monsters as PCs and NPCs

  • Scary monsters that are actually scary

  • Magic affecting the economy and ecology

  • Period-appropriate technology — stuff that actually existed

  • Conflict between faiths and ideologies
    Magna Carta: Fantasy RPG Dislikes

  • Yet another Lord of the Rings knockoff

  • All-combat adventures

  • Illogical treasure (how’d the monster get that? Why didn’t they use that magic item against the party?)

  • Kitchen-sink ecologies and economies - everything and anything exists without consequence

  • Too much anachronistic tech

  • Absentee gods that grant powers without reward or consequence
    All of this is written in my purple drakeskin journal, of course, to be referenced and amended as I go along.

  • noisms of Monsters and Manuals fame followed up with his own:


  • Non-European influences

  • Capricious gods, spirits and suchlike

  • Characters who relax the way people relax in the real world (sex, alchohol, drugs)

  • A cold-hearted universe

  • Ancient ruins

  • Mutations of some variety, and/or fear of mutation

  • Good old British fantasy malaise/fatalism

  • Dwarves having disproportionate influence

  • Elves and their imitators

  • Anachronistic real-world modern-day politics/beliefs

  • Characters who kick ass all the time or who are overly awesome

  • Magic item economies

  • Gods who dispense quests

  • Giving new names to traditional fantasy races to try to appear innovative. If it's an orc, call it an orc, for God's sake!

  • Not to be outdone, I came up with my own:
    Magna Carta: Fantasy RPG Likes

  • Dying Earth

  • Intrigue and conspiracies.

  • Episodic sword & sorcery REH stuff.

  • Vancian magic

  • Religions that have differences other than which deity they worship.

  • Non-European influences (yeah, I stole that one) and semi-European influences -- especially Aztec, Mayan, Timurid, Khazar, etc.

  • Making the cryptozoological (i.e. Cameroon Flashlight Frog), Yeti, etc.) and extinct live (i.e. aurochs, mastodons, etc.) and making the living (i.e. horses and their ilk) extinct.

  • Golems

  • Telmarines

    Magna Carta: Fantasy RPG Dislikes

  • Middle Earth. Don't get me wrong. I loved JRRT. But I loathe his imitators.

  • Dragons. Maybe it was Dragonlance overkill. Maybe it was having to wade through too many Pern MUSHes when trying to find a good MU* back in the day. But I prefer my Dungeons sans Dragons.

  • Anarchronisms. I'm not talking about a flintlock or a pocket watch in an otherwise medieval world. I'm talking laser guns and tricorders. I hated Expedition to The Barrier Peaks.

  • Epic quests. I don't mind quests so much, but there's life outside of "The Quest Is The Quest." Right?

  • Idyllic Celtic/Proto-Wiccan cultures

  • Elves and those like elves.

  • Japanese stuff. There is an excellent game called Legend of the Five Rings. If you have a yen for Japanese stuff, go play that.

  • Orcs that don't have snouts.

    Speaking of orcs, Tony DiTerlizzi has a great post explaining the evolution of an orc he drew:

    brandykruse said...

    Good Carta babe! I'm finding the "dislikes" the best half of this meme. I didn't even know I didn't care for dragons much until I read your list, but now that you mention it...

    Love the blog!

    Robo said...


    It really was a good exercise. I've been mulling it over ever since I first read noisms's, but I came up with about half a dozen new things, once I actually sat down to put fingers to keyboard.