Successful Organizing & the Framework Principle

As a Dungeon Master, I like to work. I enjoy thinking of projects to do, love looking through maps and drawing my own. I enjoy research and writing . . . tons of reading and writing; I’m not afraid to sit down and just work for hours at a time gathering the tools to make my vision possible. I think that an inability to shut off the game is what makes a dedicated DM. How much work is too much work, though? We do have to keep focused, especially on adult games were time is limited, but there are some guidelines that I like to use, because I do want to get the most out of my prepwork.

Worldbuilding is a game all in itself, and no matter if you are using a campaign setting or you aren’t, you are going to have to do it. Published settings did do a lot of work for you already, most of them are written intentionally brief to allow you to have as much creative control as you can, and allow you to focus on what you and your group really want to do. This, I feel, allows for a greater variety of games that you can play; when the focus is only on worldbuilding, it is kind of limited.

The more help that one asks for while playing a setting, the less help one actually gets. You take a world like Forgotten Realms; it is bloated from too much information. Some of the products are incredibly helpful to a dungeon master, while many of the products will serve to only apply limits to what one feels that they can accomplish in a particular area

What we do is art! Be it our own settings or a published one, they are all our own settings. We are creating products for our players, and we want the players to enjoy our products. We are directors of epic tales; it is our personal visions of what is possible that is more important than anything that we have purchased. Our creative control is what sets us apart from all of the other DMs out there, if we run things core, what do you really accomplish? The satisfaction of running things as written by a professional is very short term, sure you can be a snob about it, but sooner or later it is going to dawn on you that this is somebody else’s vision, and you have accomplished nothing of any value except for showing your players how well you can read.


This is important to be able to tell a verity of different stories. If you don’t have a proper frame in place, you can only play a few types of scenarios, and too much information is just that; it doesn’t matter if some novelist puts it there or you do yourself, the more information put into a project the more limiting it will be in the long term. You don’t want to be left hanging during prep, but you don’t want to have to read a catalog of set rules to follow either, both of these only serve to create a static world.

Frameworks provide inspiration, they are key elements that you throw other things at to form a proper structure, without a suitable frame in place, you might find yourself without direction which can be really bad, that, and it is the stuff that you don’t want to worry about during actual prep; after all, we’ve got enough to do as it is, and too much world-building will take away time that would probably be better spent on other things.

DMs are picky people, we all like doing different things and if anybody tries to intrude upon our turf, we tend to get upset. Some yahoo comes up with a crazy list of new stuff and the Grognards rip it to shreds, because that is what we do. Think about the things that you add to a game, consider the repercussions. It is always better to have stuff floating around in our heads then it is to actually write them down as core. Our notebooks get full quickly, and we don’t really want worthless junk in them, as the more facts that we collect; the harder it will be to research.


We all have them in some form or another, and I’m sure that we’ve all learned how nasty these things can be. Back in the old days, before the computer came along, we had to be very careful about what we wrote down, and where we put it. Organization is a great motivator to keep to the framework theory, and it might still be the superior method of handling information because it forces us to limit what we keep.

What is worthy of keeping? That depends on you, but it is always nice when we only have to do the work once. If we are designing a city, we’ll want to keep that around, but some things are better served by just letting them go. I know that I have way too many monstrous compendiums, and I don’t use any of them. It is just quicker for me to write up a new monster from scratch then it is for me to look through books trying to find a monster that may or may not be there.

Though, recycling is also helpful: Unique Spells, Magic Items, NPCs that your players liked, can all be kept on note-cards, and maps can be placed in folders and stored away.

World-building, in every degree, creates a different monster, it this case, the computer really does change the game. Gone are the hundreds of notebooks and loose leaf papers to be cataloged later, it can all be filed in digital form, but that should also be reeled in because you don’t want to get too much detail in there. Even our own worlds can get bloated and bogged down.


I always find it surprising when I buy used and out of print material, how nice other DMs are to their stuff. I am not. My modules are full! I’ll cross stuff out, write crap all over the margins, and this goes for my Campaign Setting books too! While I am more careful with them, if something is a hard fact, I’ll write it in the margins.  Even my PHB has stuff like errata written inside of it, as well as cross reference pages to other material. Sometimes just paper-clipping a note inside of a book works, but sometimes it is just easier to write it on the page. The material is mine! I hate glossy pages that won’t even accept the ink from a highlighter; I think that that annoys me more than publishers imposing timeline restrictions upon me.

I say BEAT IT UP! But be careful about it. A Core Manual is not as adaptable as a module, and modifying them is the equivalent of getting a tattoo, so you best really love something to add it in, but do add it in! Remember, the best cook books are the old ones where the previous user includes their thoughts and feelings about something in the margins and their modifications to the recipes inside which works better. Those cook books are considered GOLD!  Gaming material is the same way.

Campaign Settings are never finished. Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, they all are improved by your modifications. Once you find the need to add a road, if it is important to you, then it should be permanent; draw it right on your world map! Maybe the wealth that your players bring to the little hamlet you created east of Neverwinter is enough to make it just as important to trade as Neverwinter itself; add it to your world map! Who knows, in 100 years, Neverwinter could be a ruin and your hamlet is now a city-state all in itself, screw those TSR hacks.

What you are doing should always be more important than the stuff in the campaign guides, you are going to be developing your own timelines, your NPCs are more important then theirs are because yours are functional! Don’t be afraid to bend those established NPCs to your own personal will.

We don’t want a static world, which overly developing a setting creates, be mindful of the changes that you want to apply, but DO make them.


Brooser Bear said...

That's a great article about world building. World building is a guilty pleasure for me, that I don't do enough of. I never used any of the published settings. My own vague universe. I think that I hit it right with the framing. I started with some physics and cosmology that defined the setting. That became the goal for the campaign. The primary menace is tied to the nature of the world and the players must figure out their world to reach the objective and save the world. My current mapped world is the size of a single county. Framing itself is simple text, here as a post:

No maps, except for the map of the Barony, where the players adventure.

Regarding the Greyhawk vs Forgotten Realms, once I was fascinated and finally figured out the difference - Gygax Greyhawk was written during the cold war, when the fear of the bomb was prevalent, and Greyhawk setting reflects the fantasy equivalent of the US and USSR after a thermonuclear exchange: Sueli and Bakluni carry out an apocalyptic exchange - Baklunies fire the reign of colorless fire, which is very much like raining nukes, which creates a barren desert, and the Suel launch Plague of the Invoked Devastation. Forgotten Realms, on the other hand, are similar to the Balkans, which were engulfed in civil wars, when the Forgotten Realms were marketed by TSR. Forgotten Realms are many small enclaves and kingdoms representing unique cultures jammed in like sardines in a can. This WAS the situation in both, the Balkans and in the ancient Indian societies. Balkans were an expanse of small self-enclosed villages each containing some unique ethnic group, with its own language, religion, and cultural history. Ethnic cleansing became so easy, because each ethnicity was self-contained, separated and segregated. Ancient India was a different situation. People of vastly different tribes, ethnicities, languages and cultures were living on top of each other, literally, mostly in a overcrowded squalor. The caste system was introduced (larger and more complex than presented in text-books) in part to alleviate crowding - people can be crowded in the same village, but will only socially interact within their own caste - thus creating a smaller community with which to interact.

The Time of Troubles in forgotten realms, is similar to the civil war in Balkans, with powerful warlords moving across the landscape sowing destruction and violence in it path. Regarding Bhaalspawn, Warlords and Warring Nobility of history is represented as gods in Forgotten Realms. Something similar went on in the ancient muslim world and in medieval western Europe, with nobles and sheikhs (religious leaders with military and political powers in ancient islam), warring among each other, terrorizing the common people and spreading their seed in the form of illegitimate children. In feudal Europe, to become a man at arms, one had to be of noble blood, and most men at arms, who were apprenticed as swordsmen since childhood, were the sons of noblemen, it didn't matter if they were legitimate or born out of wedlock (illegitimate). This is what inspired the Bhaalspawn. Somebody raised in seclusion hidden in a monastery and then a victim of assassins (like in Baldur's Gate), was what typically happened to the illegitimate children of Kings and Royal Aristocracy with legitimate claims to the throne.

RipperX said...

Thanks for the kind words Brooser.

I think that the published settings are written so that you can throw anything at them and at least something will stick.

Greyhawk is a world that is going to hell if you are there to fight evil or not. I think that it is too well defined, there are no buffers between countries, and constant war is always going on. This was written directly into the framework of the place.

I think that Forgotten Realms is a more open world, wars happen but politics isn't the only game in town. As written, the world is more in balance, you've got evil factions and good factions always at odds in essentially a very frontier world that is untamed.

To compare the two based on the creators, Gygax was a wargamer, that bleeds through his writing. He did enjoy dungeon delving, and that is also evident. His stories were pulpy and straight forward. I would say that Greyhawk is geared towards Fighters and men of action.

Then you have Greenwood, he is a role-player, and the Realms allow a lot more possibilities for scenarios that could go either way depending upon the people that run them. His world would be geared to Mages, and thinkers.

Another way to look at it is to remember that Gygax enjoyed full creative control over the World of Greyhawk, which Greenwood didn't. They took his notes of his world, and allowed him to write it, but he worked with a team and had to cater to corporate influences. From what I've read, he said that he was happy with Forgotten Realms, but his world is much darker then the official version, but I bet that everybody who plays the realms has a darker game. It is fun to go back and read his articles in Dragon Magazine. Would the world be as wonderfully diverse if Greenwood had been given the amount of creative control as Gygax enjoyed, or would it had been more limited like Greyhawk was, but in different ways?

Brooser Bear said...

Thanks for the distinction between the two. I didn't know that about Gygax and Greenwood. Did you ever get a chance to read the Gygaxian Fantasy Worlds series of books that Gygax wrote on Dming towards the end of his life - Insidiae, Nation Builder, World Builder, Extraordinary Book of Names and Living Fantasy? Cosmos Builder is a dud.

RipperX said...

No, I never read those books. I've read the interviews with him that are on-line, as well as the stuff that he wrote for Dragon Magazine, but other then the DMG, nothing!

I guess that I enjoy what he's done, but I'm not one of those Grognards that worship the ground that he walked on.

Seek no masters, seek what they themselves had sought! I live by that mantra

Brooser Bear said...

Rip, Merry Christmas or Happy Winter Solstice, whatever you celebrate!

I like reading stuff for DMs about adventure design. One of my favorite subjects. Most of the books in Gygax's Living Fantasy series are collections of descriptive lists organized into tables you can roll on to flesh out your setting, but one book seems the cut above, it is the volume called Insidae, and it seems to have to do with campaign design. I will review it over the holidays on my blog.

RipperX said...

Looking forward to it Brooser. You have a Merry Christmas as well, my friend.

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