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My kids have complained that they want more back-story on my campaign world and they want handouts (must be genetic or something). So I'm writing a campaign synopsis. I'll be honest I'm very, very rusty at high fantasy.

So far I have a bit on cosmology, world ages, local geography, local ethnography.

What would you include? Any good tips and tricks? I'm especially looking for any good ideas on displaying the information in succinct by relevant ways.

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7 Answers 7

Ask your kids.

Seriously, I'd ask them what they think is cool and then model both the history of the world and also what you include on the handouts after their interests. You could even play an informal high-level story-telling game with them between sessions in which you collaborate on the history or whatever and then roll that into the world's reality.

I also like to do Google image searches for terrain examples and use those.

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Oh my kids are very vocal in what they want. They'd have me writing for the next 5 years if they could. –  anon186 Aug 24 '10 at 14:59

Kids can be very aesthetic. Either draw pictures of places yourself or download them off google to act as a scrapbook of places they've been and things they've seen. Then you can build your campaign background around cool things you've found on google images.

I would leave out anything that is already in the imagination and expand on things that are unique or different. A babbling brook doesn't need much explanation but what's keeping up the floating upside mountain will.

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Thanks for the reminder about visuals. –  anon186 Aug 24 '10 at 15:27

Unusual or unique creatures that various cultures keep as pets. As a child, I was obsessed with domestic zoology, and to this day I think unusual pets like chimpanzees, various lizards, giant tortoises and the like are completely awesome.

Have a town where most families have giant spiders or strange birds as pets. You can even turn those into plot devices later with an organization of poachers, who scour the world for dragon eggs or other creatures for black-market purposes.

I'll even go one step further. How old are the kids? Depending on their maturity, you can go anywhere from "Help this pet store find new animals to stock" to "The mayor's pet crocodile has been killed and used in dark rituals to raise undead/eldritch abominations".

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They'll love this being big Avatar: the Last Airbender fans (and for the record 10 and 6) –  anon186 Aug 24 '10 at 19:07

Trollsmyth develops the background for his game world by answering specific questions. So I'll e-mail him something like "What kind of clothes do people wear in Pitsh?" or "What kind of drugs do people use in your world?" and he writes a few paragraphs (or more) in response. A lot of times I'll then ask some more follow-up questions based on his answer and we'll go back and forth like that a few times. This lets find out what parts of the setting I'm most interested in, and put the most detail and effort there.

You do need a framework of general information (deities, the basics of the local political structure, the basic characteristics of your major races and cultures) so your players have some things to ask questions about, but it sounds like you've got the basics of that hammered out. If your kids already have some idea of what they want then you shouldn't have any problem getting this started. Depending on how old they are and how much of your game material you like to keep digital, e-mail might work, or you could just as easily have them write down their questions on paper. (Perhaps in a notebook dedicated to the purpose, with one question per page, leaving the rest of the sheet for your answer.) If they deluge you with questions, you can easily set a limit that you'll answer per session, and have them decide which ones they'd most like to have answered first.

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Agreed - depending on the age of kid, they may not at all be interested in "ancient history" esoterica. They want to know what kinds of clothes people wear. What people do for fun, or for work. Go for "a day in the life" kind of writeups. –  mxyzplk Aug 25 '10 at 3:40

I've been in the same situation, DMing a campaign for my two nephews, aged 12 and 8. I've often been forced to give them an overall glance at the social and political attitude of a region they're visiting or about to visit (usually through a character like a friendly innkeeper, local sage or town elder), but not without a flat-out "rumor" or two thrown in (which not only provides entertainment for the referee, but often comes in handy later on as an excuse to change some detail or another).

The information can either be general ("Some say the folk of Althamayin don't like strangers, and don't even let caravans stop at their gates") or specific, if you want to be more direct ("They say that Althamayin is under a dread curse set by some foul thing uncovered in the mines of the Dread Mountains"). I've found that the vague route is usually best, since it tends to pique their curiousities the most.

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As a classic bit of writing advice: "Don't tell them when you can show them" If you've got the basics of the setting down, consider playing through some key historical events that are relevant. Pick a scene, tell them the overall plot, and then play through it.

For example: Give your kids character sheets describing deities in the cosmology, set up the conflict and then mediate as they muck everything up. Nudge towards an end-goal, but let the setting become part of their own imagination, it'll stick much better that way.

Another example: play through a crucial part in the government or ruling class hisory, a revolt, a shift of power, a betrayal, a war. Move quickly through the action, the meta-gaming is more important than the details. You can even adjust the outcome after if they're unhappy with how it happened and say something like "And that is how the tale is now told over campfires, but descendents of that family still hide the true knowledge that will not yet be revealed".

Some systems are tailored to this sort of quickly-paced narrative play, and you could jump out to them for history/setting development and back to the action with your regular system. Although I've played neither, it appears that Universalis and Microscope role-playing games are suited to this approach.

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+10 Don't tell them when you can show them –  Sardathrion Oct 13 '11 at 8:55

I'm starting a new game with my kids tomorrow (fingers crossed). I've got several ideas, NPC's, a major town, etc.

But, for the overall history of the world, I'm using "Dawn of Worlds." (I think it is still available as a free download.) I had heard references to it, but this will be my first experience actually running it. It is self-described as "A cooperative system for creating fantasy worlds." Essentially what this means for us, is that me and my two kids each play "gods," from the creation of the world, to birth of races, and the rise of nations and clash of empires.

Start with a blank map, and first player draw a 1" map detail. Mountains, river, forest, whatever. Play in a circle for X-amount of rounds. Then it moves on to race creation. One player puts elves in the forest, another decides on dwarves in the mountains, etc.

The interesting parts come in where people step on one anothers toes. The example in the guide was of one player spending multiple turns building a huge forest, while another just gathered points and waited. Then, the second player put elves into the forest before the forest-maker could populate it. Soooo, the forest maker spends some of his points and sends a plague ravaging through the elves.

Cataclysms, wars, mass migrations, these are the things of history. This is the back-story I'm hoping to build with my kids tomorrow. This way, they, the players, will know much of what the characters should know of general world history, plus some basic politics.

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