June 28, 2009

How I design a Game : Setting

Filed under: Games — bilbo @ 9:57 am

With a setting it usually starts with some sort of inspiration or a desire to play in an environment. So, with Tales of Gaea it was Tolkien, Earth Sea, and general fantasy. With Shades of Earth it was Indiana Jones and the 1930s in general but also my childhood games of Chill and CoC. Nebuleon was about any sci-fi setting/story you can imagine with a lot of Star Frontiers and to a lesser extent Traveler. Roma was mostly about my love of the Roman history. Supers Inc was all about what I think is cool about the super’s genre mixed with a rejection of over the top super heroes. Squirrel Attack! is my love of olde tyme fairy tales mixed with my own brand of weird free association.

So, that is my motivation but how does it get formed? Well, moving from the initial idea, the very first question I ask myself is “What do the characters do in the setting?”. If the answer is “I don’t know” then the idea gets catapulted off the bridge. If the answer (or better yet several answers) leap to mind then I start documenting them. I then move into an outlining phase building around the “What do the characters do” question and building on it. This allows me to build a setting with little extraneous fluff. However, I usually keep a bible on a setting allowing me to track things like what type of pottery does a race use and what does their language sound like.

The next part is fleshing out the setting. Some things, necessarily, are not about what the characters do in the setting so much as who they are. Races and culture are very important to me, both as a player, GM and designer. For this, I usually look to what would interest and inform the player about who their character is and the world that they move through.

Finally, I add points of interest in the world, people of interest, major foes and allies and the various dressing elements. These are most likely in mind and forming as I do the other parts but in this phase I am able to actualize them in a format that the reader can relate to.

In the end, I usually have 100-150 more pages than the final book will be. The editors cut it down to size despite my best efforts to be succinct and I imagine that is how it will always turn out. 😉


  1. Interesting, very interesting
    I like your approach

    never realised that Neb was so heavily influenced by Star Frontiers though (I used to own that one too:.)
    I can see that it isnt heavily Traveller based though to be honest (not a bad or a good thing just means its
    its own game, which is good:.)

    Comment by Alan HUme — June 30, 2009 @ 1:14 am

  2. Oh, there are the bones of SF there if you look hard, though personally, I think it much improved.


    Comment by clash bowley — July 9, 2009 @ 7:48 pm

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