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World Building Wednesday: Organizing Your Notes RPG Book Style

Tweet of the Day: Flesh Blood


Ah young eager world builders, you have it all:

Characters and character illustrations.




In depth history, both social and political.



Famous battles.

Military doctrine.

Technological development.

Extensive timelines and calendars.

Secret histories, conspiracies and legends.

You have it all.

And it is all a big mess.

You keep churning out this stuff, because it is oh so fascinating, but where does it fit in the narrative, or how does it create a coherent whole? I’m sure you have it all figured out in your mind, but it will take more than mental gymnastics to transform megabytes of data into a coherent narrative. Thankfully there is a group of people whose job is to create and organize reams of world building information into useful volumes.

Tabletop RPG Designers.

Any well designed game book, such as a rule book, campaign book or module will condense the data into clear format that allows for easy reference. This should be the goal of any world builder, not only for themselves but for their stories as well. A typical (median as opposed to industry standard, which ironically there isn’t any although companies set their own internal standards) “world book” is set up thus:

  1. Introduction/Background
  2. Places of Interest
  3. Adventure Seeds/Introductory Adventure
  4. Supplementary Materials

The opening introduction is the most important organizing element since it gives the flavor to the text, sets the limits of the book and in the case of a writer engaged in world building creates a connection with the story to be written. Remember you’re organizing the elements of the story you’re about to write. Here is a good place to define genre/sub-genre as well.  If you have a time line of events, it usually goes here.

Places of interest is a way of organizing the material according to geographical area. Each location, be it a town, city, country or planet gets a description, along with characters and cultural notes/history. This is also the place to put your visual arts skills to good use with maps, character illustrations and depictions of key locations. These can come in handy when describing characters or remembering not only the location of any given place but its relation to the rest of the world/universe.

Since we are still in the world building stage, you haven’t put pen to paper as far as the story is concern. Perhaps you have multiple ideas, or like to try your hand at some shorts set in this particular world. This is where the RPG designer would put adventure seeds, i.e. ideas for game masters to get them started in creation of their own adventures. These usually come in the form of an open ended paragraph:

The adventurers meet in a tavern when a man with blood in his hands burst through the front door. He falls on his knees in front of the heroes and screams, “They are coming!” before collapsing on the floor….

You could do something similar as a form of in document brain storming. Other designers include a short introductory adventure meant to showcase the setting and the rule set. This might be the place for a prologue or any shorts you create.

The last section is for supplementary materials, such as character sheets, fold out maps, tokens and anything else the designer wishes to add. Since most of this stuff is for your own use, this might be the temporary open area where you put all those eureka moments before breaking them down and placing them in their place.

One interesting thing about game books is that they tend to have areas meant to be read by all the players involved, while certain materials are meant for the Game Master’s eyes only. This might be the best tool in the RPG designer toolkit for world building as far as the speculative fiction writer is concerned. Remember that the bulk of the data you create in the process of world building is background material, that is, only meant for your eyes only. It puts you in the mindset that some information is meant for your readers while the rest is only useful to you. So putting an asterisk on this information allows you to avoid spilling the beans too early and trains you in careful art of info dump avoidance.

I hope this helps you navigate the deep waters of world building.


One comment on “World Building Wednesday: Organizing Your Notes RPG Book Style

  1. Reblogged this on Goggles & Lace and commented:
    This is a fantastic idea for those of us who prance through the realms of science fiction and fantasy!


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