Worldbuilding is about telling stories. Storytelling and worldbuilding flow from the same spring. When no one knew what lay on the far side of the hills or across the wide river, any story about those places was set in an imaginary land that could be as fanciful as the storyteller cared to make it. (“Snakes there have two heads, fish speak in riddles, and the people walk on their hands! I have seen these things, and I tell you they are true!”)
When beginning to sketch out a new world, the first question I ask is not about cultures, races, geography, politics, science, or gods. All of those come later. Question #1 is, “What happens here?”
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I usually do not find that a world has to be tailor-made in this way, but maybe that is my preference for sand-box games showing. Generally speaking, a sand-box type world can simultaneously support the first three modes of play you describe, it just depends on what the players want to do. The last mode is a bit less likely, but it is possible for the player-characters to trigger a world threatening event, which gives them a rather good reason to try and undo the potential damage.ReplyDelete
I see that as the difference between a sandbox world and a kitchen sink world. IMO, even a sandbox should have a theme, a hook that gives players something to focus on. For example, I was and am a big fan of Andy Leker's world Jorune. Its one weakness was that it left players and GMs scratching their heads, looking at this wonderful, exotic world and wondering what they're supposed to do with it. The more lovingly detailed a world is, the more that problem sets in. It's like entering someone's home where everything is just so. You're afraid to sit down or touch anything for fear of getting it out of kilter. (That's a slightly different, but related, issue, I suppose.)Delete
Ultimately, it comes back to the fact that people can become paralyzed when they have too many options with no indicators and everything on the menu looks delicious. Explore the caves? Reseal the tombs? Visit the duke? Check the inn for mysterious strangers? Research the legend? Rob the merchant? Hunt dire boar for XP? Track down that rumor about kobolds in the sewers? Hop the next outbound ship and see what's over the horizon?
I think it's a rare group that can comfortably play an anything goes, it's all on the table campaign that leaves everyone, players and GM, feeling like they're getting all that they want out of the experience. A little bit of theme goes a long way toward giving those hours at the table some necessary dramatic context.
I guess it depends whether you play in a lot of different campaign worlds a bit or in a small number fairly regularly. Players may well be paralysed when faced with a lot of information and no expectations, but I do not think a setting needs a theme, so much as maybe an evening's adventure or a campaign might need one. Generally speaking, players need more structure when first introduced to the campaign, but afterwards the reins can be slackened or even removed as the players become the architects of their own desires.Delete
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