As one may quickly gather, we talk about LEGO themes and storytelling (or the lack thereof!) quite a bit around here. Naturally, combining our favorite building pastime with the tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) niche was bound to happen. Some of you may be interested in getting started with your own adventure. So then, you may also want to “build” your own fantasy world to use in a TTRPG? Alright. Let’s see some world building tips from the perspective of the resident LEGO maniac.
Start with the Basics. Really.
First, we need to come up with our world concept. This is usually a single sentence that describes the feel of the world. You don’t need to describe all the various stuff that happens in the world – like two kingdoms fighting or the whole backstory of competing factions – unless one such event changed the world completely, to the point where you can’t speak of it unless you include said event.
For example, the Forgotten Realms, the main setting for Dungeons and Dragons, can be described as “High Fantasy featuring states inspired by real-world equivalents”. This might not be the best representation, but it helps the other person quickly understand that hey, this place has knights and Vikings and ancient Greek-inspired dudes.
For our example world here, we will do “Prehistoric Fantasy”. It’s just two words. But it gets the point across, right? Dinosaurs and early humans is what most of you thought.
Although we’ll use this world as an example when examples are needed, all the basic principles in here and in following articles on the subject can be used to create any kind of world. So no worries if you don’t like dinosaurs (though I may judge you a little bit).
So, coming up with a concept is probably the easy part. You can spend as much as you like coming up with different ones – and you can connect a bunch of them too… kind of like LEGO bricks, actually. But when it comes to actually creating something out of a concept– oh boy, there’s the challenge.
Start Small and Build Outward.
The best way to start is to keep things small and contained. Nobody – and I mean nobody – will care if you explain the history of your world to them year by year, epoch by epoch. Their eyes will gloss over after a while, and that’s a prospective player lost.
By starting small, we can get the hang of things without confusing even ourselves.
So let’s start with the smallest thing – a town, probably of about five hundred people, if that. For our fantastic and glorious prehistoric world, if we want to keep things relatively historically accurate, we’d have a town of about a hundred people, if not less. Of course, we’re combining dinosaurs and prehistoric humans, so all historicity has kinda gone out of the window already, so feel free to do what you like in terms of population in this context.
Now the town needs a name. Let’s call it “Mammoth’s Rest”. It also needs a history – and this is another trap, because you can – and you probably will – spend hours coming up with one. But we have to keep it simple, and so let’s say the following:
“Mammoth’s Rest was founded fifty years ago as a small hunting post to hunt mammoths. In the years since, it has flourished as more skilled hunters have joined.”
That’s it. That’s the entire history.
Next, we need people to live in Mammoth’s Rest. Again, let’s keep it simple. As you play more and more TTRPGs, you’ll realize there’s a handful of folk that need to exist in every city, since the players in your game will often have need of them.
The first of those is the town leader. If you like, you can make up a tribal council, but it helps if the players only have to interface with one member, as it’s easier for you and them to roleplay and remember names and personalities. If you wanna make a game heavy on politics and intrigue, feel free to create a council however – but we’ll talk about types of games and how they affect the world another time.
Next you’ll need a merchant of some kind. This is the first town the players will visit, so no need to have them sell mystic items or high-level equipment. Just the basics will do.
You’ll also need a blacksmith, someone able to sell the players a few weapons and pieces of armor and fix up what they already have if need be.
Finally, you’ll need an innkeeper. How else can people start at a tavern?
You can of course add more people if you feel like it, like perhaps a leader for the town’s guards. But those fundamental four are usually enough, at least at first.
Again, let me stress historical accuracy again here. If you want to be accurate, a blacksmith simply shouldn’t exist, at least not in the medieval sense. Neither should an inn or an innkeeper. And you can definitely make your world not have them, or you can come up with a suitable equivalent. It’s gonna be harder, but you can. However, since this is a TTRPG world and players typically expect some stuff – which also makes our lives easier – we can just keep these dudes and move on.
Visualization – A World Building Essential
So now let’s say we have “Groth” the town leader, “Marta” the innkeeper, “Sorus” the merchant and “Argus” the blacksmith. You can easily use LEGO figures to represent all of them, of course. Not to mention the convenience of quickly swapping out elements for your characters as the need arises. In that regard, LEGO is better than traditional miniatures.
In general, it helps if the players have a visual representation of who they’re supposed to be interacting with – at worse, you should have a sentence of description to say to them. Something like: “Groth is a strong man in his fifties, with graying hair and a small belly” does the job in a hurry.
You also need a small description for your town. Again, keep it simple. “The town of Mammoth’s Rest is made up of roughly fifty clay houses with long straw roofs. As you walk through its streets, you see hunters prepare for the day, while others return with their bounties.”
As with the characters, it helps players to visualize this stuff during play. If you have LEGO equivalents and built scenery, definitely use them of course!
Also, the LEGO or other visual representations of the town, players – and later, monsters – don’t need to be one-to-one equivalents to the descriptions. If your character has grey hair but you only have figures with brown hair, it’s fine. Nobody cares. People just wanna see where people are on a map and know who’s who.
That’s it for this time. By now, you have a small town with a simple description and a handful of NPCs (“non-player characters”, for those too quiet to ask) for your players to interact with. Another time, we’ll see how to develop quests coming from those NPCs, and how to fill out your town and eventually, your world.
How do you build out your fictional world? Do you have a a go-to method that you keep falling back on? Let me know in the comments.
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