World Building – Part 7: Letting Your Players into the World

Now that we’ve examined creating a world by giving it history, religion, geography, technology, magic, people and places, the really scary part comes next. It’s time to let your players into the world! In this final article in the series (Part 7), I share how I let my players into my own fantasy world, before the paint had even dried, with details on the good and bad.

Last year, I decided it was finally time to tackle building my own fantasy world called Vodari. In the past I’ve added details to published campaign settings, but I was a rookie at building a world from scratch. I didn’t let my inexperience stop me from taking our ideas and turning them into a shared world that my players and I are visiting each week. Let’s look at how I went from world building to letting my players into the world for our first session.

Brainstorm with the Players

Back in October 2014 we were closing in on the end of our D&D 4th edition campaign and I asked my players what they were interested in for the next campaign using D&D 5th edition rules. The last thing I wanted to do was go off and build a world they had no interest in visiting. I presented the following options for worlds I was interested in building out and ones they asked for.

  1. World of Islands
    Epic medieval fantasy world where most land was covered long ago in a war between two sister gods.
  2. Western
    Desolate Western world with strong anime influence. Inspired by Wild Arms RPG video game.
  3. Ravenloft / Van Helsing – 5e Gothic Horror
    Some of the players were interested in this, but I knew my strength as a DM was in heroic campaigns kept light with swashbuckling and humor… and this would push me to work on a new delivery style to add in horror.
  4. Space or Steampunk Space
    Thor/Eberron meets Guardians of the Galaxy/Independence Day/Star Wars. This is a lot of ideas. Wow!
  5. Fey Heavy World / See Zelda Hyrule & D&D Feywild
    An ancient world where gods exist and fairy magic is strong and all around. Lots of forests.
  6. Skyworld
    Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword / Bioshock Infinite. Sky Pirates!
  7. Convert Nentir Vale to 5e
    Basically take our current campaign world and run a new campaign in it. We could jump earlier or later in the timeline or continue in the time of current heroes.

The ‘World of Islands’ was the winner and I was pretty excited, since it was my favorite and one of the ones I came up with. I’d really like to look at other worlds from this list too, but not this year. I went off to build Vodari and create a Players’ Campaign Guide while we finished up our campaign. Between the campaigns I took a couple of weeks off, skipping the Halloween session and having one of my players DM a light one-shot using Dungeon Delvers rules.

Player Character (PC) Creation

With the Players’ Campaign Guide in hand, my players started to think about what kind of PC they could create that would fit into Vodari. I was figuring we’d end up with mostly pirates, rogues and swashbucklers, but they came up with a diverse and motley crew of proper outcasts that belonged nowhere but together. I can’t remember if I added sea elves when asked by my players, but sea dwaves was the idea of my player who created Aegor – which I added to the Players’ Campaign Guide. Then I  asked the players who selected Minotaur, Dragonborn, Sea Elf and Sea Dwarf to provide their own ideas on the race they were playing and we added to the background details in the Players’ Campaign Guide.

They decided to call themselves the Water Thorns and here are the original six…

  • Tavyn the Half-Elf Rogue (Thief) – Criminal (Burglar) Background
  • Orenia the Minotaur Barbarian – Outlander Background
  • Grim the Human Fighter – Variant Sailor: Explorer Background
  • Balasar the Dragonborn Paladin – Hermit Background
  • Agis the Quessari (Sea Elf) Cleric (Tempest Domain) – Outlander Background
  • Aegor the Aurirn (Sea Dwarf) – Druid – Outlander Background

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 11.55.31 AM

They didn’t have a true caster, but with six PCs I figured they might survive level 1. They did survive level 1 and they have a Warlock now.

Session Zero and Beyond

I wanted the campaign to start on a small island at the edge of civilization. This would give me time to start with a small town and build out the details of the locations which were only outlines as they visited them. I really liked the style of starting out in a town like Fallcrest (D&D 4th edition) or Sandpoint (Pathfinder Beginner Box). I could have dropped my players in a few places on the map, but I let them decide the specific location based on their backstories during a session zero and they selected a port town on an island called Faraway.

During the session zero we also looked at the PC backstories, ideals, flaws and bonds to find ways of tying them together. I asked each player to try to find a connection for their PC with at least one other PC. The player could refuse a suggested connection or accept it. This avoided shackling a PC with something its player hates.

I used these details my players provided to add onto the campaign notes for locations and NPCs. I also, tried to create various hooks that tied into the background and connections of each PC.

The Session Zero was completed ahead of schedule and I decided we’d get started early on our first adventure. The players decided they had bumped into each other around town and wanted to go to the tavern and talk business. After all my hard work creating a dozen locations for the town, these guys were actually going to start in the tavern.

Here is an excerpt from the recap written by Grim’s player…

These five people all ended up at this tavern, for one reason or another.
Several hours and many drinks later, they decided to form an adventuring group together.
They were looking to join up with a ship, working as sellswords until they could find better work.
The tavern owner brought them two ship listings. She told them a little about each captain.
She then resumed talking to the mayor.

Suddenly alarm bells started ringing and fish people were invading the town! The heroes were off to the rescue. Along the way I tried to:

  • expose their strengths and flaws, in combat, exploration and social encounters
  • let them name locations (Lusty Mermaid), ships (the Dirty Wench) and NPCs (a captured fish person named Zom)
  • slowly bring in hooks tied to their PCs backstory, often with lots of help from my players

So I set up the world and we filled it out together. From Session Zero their group stumbled into the following over the first couple of sessions:

  • defeat the cult of the fish people
  • get hired by Captain Naft as crew
  • survive the weak level 1 of D&D 5e
  • have Grim get arrested by solidiers and a paladin from Taevara
  • free Grim and escape to Captain Naft’s ship
  • fight their way out of port in a naval battle against 2 ships and hit the open sea
  • face-off against pirates, the navy, a kraken and a huge storm

Here is a list of the entire series. I hope you enjoyed it!

The image is from Paizo – Skull & Shackles.

Shares

More Tribality Articles You Might Enjoy

Shawn Ellsworth

Shawn is an author and co-founder of Tribality.com. He first got into tabletop RPGs through ninjas and then by playing a Kender in Dragonlance. Years later, he can be found running games in the Nentir Vale and his own Seas of Vodari campaign setting.