A couple of weeks ago I posted my encouragement for any GM to read "Never Unprepared", the very useful guide about getting your prep done. This little book has transformed my hobby in big ways over the last month, reinvigorating my own confidence in my ability to run a game for my friends... even with a 80-hour a week teaching career. If you didn't catch that article then you can read it -->here<--.
|Image courtesy of Sigma Books, used without permission.|
This week I want to pick up on developments within my own hobby as I have successfully begun to build a new setting for a forthcoming fantasy campaign with the Friday Night Roleplay group. In short, it has been an amazing week of progress, fueled by the tips in Never Unprepared, and has taught me a thing or two about what I enjoy about being a GM.
First let me introduce "Heroic Mykenaea
", the setting which has evolved over the last month through a dialogue between the players and myself. A lot of the world is my own ideas, as you might expect, but the direction of the setting has come from the two primary players in the group. You can see the results of the work in progress over on the Friday Night Roleplay site, on the overview page for the setting
Heroic Mykenaea is a swords & sorcery genre fantasy campaign loosely based on the myths and stories of Mycenaean Greece (Achaea). It is a world mixing Greek myth, magick, Olympians, Chthonic Cults, heroic action, and swords & sorcery fantasy themes.
In short, the idea arose out of the suggestion that we could use the real-world maps of Earth to provide a back-drop to adventure. At first, drawing on the interest in post-apocalyptic SF, I found myself drafting an outline for a setting called "Far Fallen
" (the link takes you to the overview I wrote)... but feedback from players strongly indicated that there was a desire to play in a loosely-historical fantasy setting. And so was born Mykenaea.
Brainstorm, Selection & Conceptualisation
The most useful elements from Never Unprepared have proven to be the idea of dividing three processes out of the five the author speaks of.
First of all, brainstorming lots of potential ideas into an app on my iPad (Index Card
) proved highly useful. Without judging the ideas I found myself listing some 50+ items which formed the basis of the setting. Included were suggestions from the player's own comments made to me. From this melting pot I was able to move to the next stage.
Selection of ideas is a separate task in the process. It's a powerful one too. In short, looking through the brainstormed items, I was able to pick out the stuff that I really felt would work. Creativity had provided the sparks but it was down to me to forge them together into something original. Given that I didn't want to overstep the desires of my players to play a fantasy version of Greek-inspired mythology, I deleted the stuff that didn't seem to quite fit. The remaining 42 items powered me into the next creative phase.
Conceptualisation is just the process of asking the five big questions: What, Why, Where, Who, and How? From this basis I opened a new wiki page (on a private, me-only branch of Wikispaces) and started to answer them.
Mr. Winninger's Wisdom
Delving into my archive of useful materials, I also decided to draw upon the wisdom of Ray Winninger's old "Dungeoncraft
" articles (the link leads to an online archive). Using these I was able to flesh out my world in extra detail and work towards my first draft of the Player's Guide
The fusion of these articles with the advice from Never Unprepared was a powerful one. The real strength of this was that Ray's articles augmented the questions above and helped me to dig deeper into the ideas. With just three hours of thinking and note-taking I was ready to draw some maps.
Mapping It Out
Finally, at least for this first stage of development, I need to draw some maps. For the city of Iolkus I decided to commission a cartographer to help me present a really smart map for my players. With a month to go, I hopped over to the Cartographer's Guild
, cap in hand.
More practically, however, the decision to base the campaign in the "real" world meant that I could opt for grabbing a Google Maps
image and using it to overlay my key locations. Although a crude process, which you can see a version
of on the site, it has been a quick and easy way to get my ideas down on paper.
From the map I was able to jot down quick ideas and notes for the key locations. One interesting side effect of using the "real" map of the territory was that certain features suggested ideas for the setting. For example, the lake north of the city of Iolkus, although clearly a feature either created or augmented by modern technology, ended up suggesting rumours of a hidden Sesklo (Dwarven) technology. The three forests on the mountains allowed me space to include ideas about three separate locations, ripe with adventure. You can check out the basic ideas that I came up with in the Player's Guide.
I'm pretty stoked and excited about this setting. There is still a lot to do, not least to start the prep process for coming up with a first adventure... but I have a handle on the prep process which, while giving me structure, has given genuine tools which also generate exciting ideas.
Probably the toughest choice will, as ever, be which system to use to present the setting to the players. As I write we are waiting for the forthcoming playtest edition of the unified Rolemaster
rules... but, if these don't show up on schedule, I would be tempted to run HackMaster
Anyway... I hope that this has been of interest. Suffice to say, even if my own setting doesn't float your boat, I'd strongly recommend Never Unprepared
to any GM.