So I haven’t dusted off my world-building tools in a while, and I’d honestly like to see if I’m still up to snuff on it. Last time I did an article on world-building I talked about the different types of people that exist in an adventuring world and how common each of them are (If you missed that, it’s fairly important to this discussion, so I’ll put a link here). Today I’ll be talking about the how adventurers and heroes interact with the world around them.
Consider: Walking, Talking Legends
So, adventurers and heroes are usually smarter, tougher, stronger, and faster than the average person. At their strongest, your player characters and the NPCs that rival them are larger than life gods who walk among men. This means that if they’re regularly being challenged, you’re in a world that has some serious craziness going on.
Now, sometimes this is written in. Shadowrun is explicitly a world where corporate espionage and even open warfare happen regularly, and half of World of Darkness is keeping normal people from noticing that the world is crazy as all hell. Sometimes, though, it’s not. This is usually the case in games that are not designed to follow a specific meta-plot. If you’re running Savage Worlds or Hero then you’re probably building your own world and the game would feel like it was overstepping its bounds if it told you how people in that world reacted.
What Does this Mean?
People need to react. The characters in your game are like real-life John McClanes, only instead of thwarting terrorism once a year to every few years, they’re having adventures like that every week. If word of their exploits gets around, people should react to them like they’re talking to heroes. They should have fans. And if people like them are so common that they don’t turn heads then that should be something that matters.
The heroes who killed a group of ogres, or a dragon, or anything like that should cause heads to turn when they walk into the tavern. If they don’t, then that should mean something. Maybe no one has heard yet, or maybe beating up bad guys is so common that no one is impressed. Maybe Frank the Magnificent is in the back of the bar like “You did what? Frost giants? Pffft, pu-leeze. I was doing that before I hit puberty.”
Consider: A Whole Lot of Cash
Quick, what’s the standard unit of currency in D&D or Pathfinder? Did you say the gold piece? You probably did, because that’s what players always deal in, but think about how many items have their price in silvers and coppers? Buying a prepared meal (a meal big enough to feed you for a day, no less) is only five silver pieces! Five! So while we treat the gold coin as the dollar of Greyhawk or Golarion in game because it’s what the players deal with, the reality is that the silver piece is a much closer equivalent.
Now think about that in the context of your PCs. According to the wealth by level chart in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook a character is supposed to have acquired about a thousand gold by the time they reach level 2. You can also get up to level 2 within one moderately long adventure, so after their first adventure a character has enough wealth to chill at a nice inn, eating good meals and drinking a gallon of ale each day, for over a year without ever having to worry about work.
Now, let’s assume for a second that that your character isn’t actually hauling 1000 gold coins into town in a sack because that would be ridiculous. They probably find a sweet weapon or a fancy suit of armor or whatever, but they’re still likely to roll back from their first adventure with quite a bit of cash money. And when they roll into a shop or wherever else slinging around their fat sacks of swag money, people should take notice. Even 100 gold is enough to buy a carriage outright, so it’s like rolling around with hundred dollar bills hanging out of your pockets.
So What Does This Mean?
The short way of explaining this is that adventuring is basically the way to get rich quickly. It’s your world’s equivalent of being a professional athlete, coupled with the risks of being a professional soldier during war time. This means that if you’re in a small town, adventurers are very likely to find themselves unable to spend most of their coin loot or sell their gear for what it’s worth past a certain point.
It also means that people should REACT to the wealth that your player characters are likely throwing around. Players casually tipping their servers in gold at the tavern? Those servers should love them. Player carrying around a whole bunch of fancy gear doesn’t tip, or is trying to hard negotiate on the purchase price of an item? They should get a reputation for being stingy, especially if they’re arguing a few coppers while carrying around a magic sword worth the equivalent of $20,000 like it’s no big deal.
Use the fact that your PCs are also rich people to give them opportunities to define their character.
Consider: What Heroes Do
For some game the hero’s non-evil-fighting life doesn’t matter. Feng Shui is modeled after action flicks. Each adventure is a movie and what players do in-between is explicitly not terribly important. John McClane is a cop, but we only pay attention to his life when out of the ordinary stuff happens to him. In games where your characters are explicitly adventurers and heroes, though, it’s important for the world to be one in which that’s a reasonable way to make a living. That means that you need a world with opportunity in it.
For an example, let’s look at one of my favorite JRPGs: Phantasy Star IV. Assuming that the main plot just never happens, there’s adventuring opportunities galore and even a group called “hunters” who do make good money off of it. They fight the monsters (not animals, but legit monsters) that roam the landscape and delve into all sorts of “dungeons” ranging from wizard’s castles, mysterious caverns full of mutant creatures, long-forgotten basements, and bastions of lost technology, and that’s just the stuff that’s there to deal with during the span of the main game.
So What Does That Mean?
If your characters are adventurers by trade then they should live in a world where that is considered a reasonable trade. If they’re not adventurers by trade, then every character will suddenly require some level of explanation for how they got the skills to adventure. If the world IS supposed to be one where adventuring is a reasonable trade, then it should feel that way. It should be represented in the geography and on the maps. There should be unexplored sites, hidden coves, creatures and events of legend within your world’s history to use as plot-hooks.
If you keep these things in mind when building your world you should have an organic fictional environment for your games to thrive in. Players will have their curiosity captured and you’ll be a lot less likely to find yourself short on plot hooks. Oh, and don’t forget to give your world a name, like “World-place” or… you know, naming never was my strong point.
Was there anything you think I missed or disagree with? Did I make you think about something you had never considered before? Let me know in the comments or via facebook and twitter using the links to your right!