Recently at GDC the writer and art director for Destiny, the next big thing from Bungie, spoke about their approach to building the world, characters and opponents.
I have quite a library of RPG world building guides. In 50 minutes (forget the q&a at the end) this video rocketed to the most useful resource to date.
Breaking it Down
So you don't have a spare 50 minutes.
Start with a lofty, inclusive and ambitious GOAL
"Let's build a world where we can tell any great story we want. A place millions of people will want to visit again and again, for the next 10 years - and more."
Establish the PILLARS that will support this goal
- The world needs to be Hopeful and Inviting. Players have to want to spend time there.
- Idealised Reality. Grounded in the familiar but capable of accommodating any crazy / genre bending ideas that the devs want to include.
- Filled with mystery and adventure.Reasons to keep coming back.
- Players can become legends. The players can leave a mark.
Use images to develop and define your Pillars. Build a portfolio of images until you have an image or group of images that define each Pillar. These are your Postcards. Think of them as photographs taken within your world.
"They are rare and powerful because they set fire to your imagination. They ask a ton of important questions."
If your world is a collaborative effort or will be published, your Postcards are the most effective way of communicating the essential elements to your collaborators / artists.
Your Postcards will be an anchor for the themes / tropes you will express in your work. You can take enormous advantage of this. In the video they talk about Palette, it is a video game existing in the visual realm. Palette informs the player, preloading the essential consistencies of the world into their brains. Tabletop games inhabit the theater of the mind but Palette is still an effective device for building a style guide to your world. Even better, you can build regional style guides to differentiate your locations.
See these timestamps in the video for more:- 21:05 Palette and 30:55 for the Opponent Mood Board.
FOCUS - Shifting to Production
At this point you have defined your Goal and supported it via your Pillars and based it on a unifying Palette / regional style guide. You have a series of Postcards that communicate all of the above. This is your core World Bible.
If the words you write are a love letter to your world, these words are written on the back of your Postcards and sent to your audience.
33:00 "When you are building a new world you do not want to put arbitrary genre rules around what is possible and what is not possible. For a long time you need to make everything possible."
As you build this world, whether you use a Big to Small or Small to Big methodology, your Postcards and Style Guide will direct you. The above quote recedes in value as you proceed. You will have ideas that don't fit. Either trust that and save them for your next project or reconsider your Postcards.
My key goal in this post was to establish that video game development media has value for the tabletop roleplaying game writer/ user. I also felt compelled to use this video as a starter because it slammed some serious gold into my game development brain. Hopefully, while watching it, you heard the same `kachings' as I did.