I find building an "off the rails" world to be a daunting task. I'm trying to find a process to make it more manageable for my NWOD games, kind of like "Agile" process does for developing software. I suspect paying attention to time management and agile strategies will help here, but I'm a bit lost on how to rotate my time through things like locations, major/minor npcs (concepts, virtue/vice, aspirations, "dread powers", etc), fluff writing, etc. Just writing this makes it seem incredibly daunting and that makes it harder to get started. Is there a process I could use to make this manageable?
When writing, it might help to go breadth-first rather than depth-first. That way, you get an overview of what it is you're going to create.
Say your first pass results in a few sentences about the premise for the campaign, some bullet points for each relevant location and three lines for each of the five most important NPCs.
While jotting this down, your head was probably sprouting all kinds of cool ideas, but the trick is to keep going broad, not deep.
Then, do another pass where you go one notch deeper. Maybe fleshing out the premises more will lead to a good candidate for what should be the PCs first adventure. Writing about locations and NPCs will help you plan where the PCs might travel and in which order they might be introduced to the NPCs.
The benefit of using this method is that it keeps panic at bay, because your task is not to write a lot, but to write something about the important stuff. The downside of this method is that it requires some discipline to put on hold the creative bursts you inevitably get when you start thinking.
But that's sort of the idea here; don't produce more information than you strictly need. Incidentally, this is an important principle of an Agile process.
I recently developed a new area of the World of Darkness for my players. We have a long history of gaming together through oWoD and some nWoD, but this is our first CofD experience.
First, the TL;DR:
- Know the theme and mood you want to invoke.
- Start with one of the W’s: Who, What, Where.
- Take development one step at a time, and if you get stuck somewhere, come back to it later.
- Don’t be afraid to give your players some creative control.
- Don’t feel the need to do all the work yourself, or right away. Build a foundation first, then the house.
I started with only one bit of knowledge: I wanted to run a Beast campaign. This told me immediately that I wanted the players to have access to water, for several Beast powers are dependent on or improved by such things.
Knowing this, I asked myself where the campaign would be set. The United States is more or less a given for our group, so that part was easy. I then thought about the geography that would support the mood of the story I was telling.
I wanted forests, mountains, water near an accessible urban area. Some research here led me to the American Northeast.
My group has had mixed success using real-world locations as settings, so I decided to create one of my own. The group would be based in a population center (as opposed to living in the woods), so I needed a size to go with that. Should it be a large city? A small one?
I ultimately decided on a small urban setting. The idyllic nature of an artist community and tourist destination nestled at the foot of ‘Sleeping Mountain’ would contrast nicely with the nightmarish horror of Beast: The Primordial.
Thus the town of Twisted Strand, Maine was born. The real town I used for a basis (thanks, Google!) only had a population of 2500, but I increased this to about 4000 to provide a wider array of supernaturals.
Given my group’s long history, I incorporated some other locations from previous games into the lore and surroundings. Our main city for our Vampire campaigns is sort of a mystery city- it’s a large city the size of New York or Chicago, but it’s never discussed as being a part of a state (if you’ve seen the movie Dark City, then you have a good frame of reference). The town of Twisted Strand was near this city, but not close enough to be a suburb.
I now had a setting, but no detail. I could go in two directions from here: outline NPCs or further develop the setting.
While I wanted to get some NPCs ready, I knew that good locations often make good characters better, so I went in that direction. I came up with a half-dozen or so ideas for places, like the strange standing stones on top of Sleeping Mountain, the old sunken ship that lies beneath Overlook Bay, and the new hipster coffee house / brewery called The Third Eye.
Now it was time for NPCs! A mage would run the bookstore, seeking bits of occult knowledge. A small pack of werewolves would roam the forests (their leader was the local Alpha, for those familiar with Beast). The housing addition built before the development of Highway 3332 failed would be the home of all the PCs, but it was also where Mrs. Perkins, the nosy old lady, made her home.
From here, I knew enough about the setting to run the first game, but I wanted more. That’s where my players came in. We all got together on a Saturday for a character building session (and to learn the rules, since we are all new to both CofD and Beast). From there we developed all the bits and pieces about our characters, but the most important from the storyteller’s viewpoint are the Aspirations and the Concepts.
From the example town, I knew the local government was only a council of three Selectmen. One of the characters ended up the newest member of this highly-placed body (the other two members were actually designed by one of the other players!). Another is a horror writer, penning novels of the macabre (reinforcing the Stephen King vibe of the setting!) and a third is a shy computer technician who wants to start her own business and is learning parkour.
Our first three games came and went and we are all very excited about the next phase. The setting is richer than ever and grows more amazing each game. Eventually, the PCs will grow too strong for their little town, and who knows what will happen then?
Many of these things have been said by others in this thread, and I thank them for that!
Be excellent to each other.
A major principle of Agile is iterative development. In this case, your stakeholders are the players; they're whom you're building for. You have built-in timeboxing based on your game schedule; you know you need to deliver the next chunk of the world by the next game.
Create enough of the world to run a single session. Everything else should be vaguely sketched out. You should know the skeleton of the current "major storyline" so that you know where things are headed, but all you need details about are the premise and the first session's worth of conflict.
Your players' reactions, Aspirations, and direction will determine what you need to prepare next. Don't prepare more than you need, but have something in your back pocket for if they go in an unexpected direction. This backup shouldn't be something to shove them back onto the rails; it should be a tangential conflict that is related to the central one. A major theme of the God-Machine is synchronicity.
If you want to use this sort of world-building, I recommend using an iconic setting (Seattle is the one in the book, I believe) and going for a monster-of-the-week approach. Give them a mystery or a problem that they can solve in a few sessions; what they do along the way should give you inspiration for the next one. Again, make sure that it's all vaguely connected to keep with God-Machine themes.
Agile only works if you have a goal (at least, a way to clearly assess your project). Even if it's off the rails, try writing down some central ideas of your world. Come back to your initial inspiration now and then and see if the current output matches your vision. Use conceptual graphs and maps to help check consistency. Start writing and don't worry -- seeing your world on paper is way more powerful than thinking about it, however good is your idea.