On creating elements for a setting

When I saw this as the title for the April RPG Blog Carnival my mind started ticking over campaign and setting planning and how I want to go about it.

Image credit: cosmicgrooveart

It's easy to just start building things that will never get played and I think a solution is:

So, leaping off from that into the void, what sort of elements and what does each need?


TTRPG games generally involve some exploration, and even if they don't the scenes have to be set somewhere.  Places are everywhere from towns to rooms to dungeons to continents and planes!

In my opinion, Places are often containers but I think they need the following themselves:
  • Flavour descriptions / scene setting (depending on scope and scale)
  • Rumours / things to interact with
As well as being the basic things you need for a dungeon room, these settle nicely with the start of a "three act" story - Set the scene, call to action - so can often lead to setting up a sidequest nicely.  Can we run the full mile and prep some of the rest too?
  • Rising action
  • A climax
  • How the place is left changed
Oh - there's a location based adventure!


TTRPGs are about conflict and resolution, and where would conflict be without antagonists to rub against our protagonists (the party) - these are the factions and moving parts!

Antagonists can oppose each other as well as the PCs, I think they just need:
  • Flavour descriptions
  • An agenda (most importantly)!
And by their nature they can be containers; I'd generally define a few "monsters" for each in a combative game, and they likely contain NPCs...

Drop two Antagonists into a Place and you have the basic bones of a sandbox or a starter for an adventure (or even a campaign).


NPC's are explicitly "people" and their roles are many, but they are a vital part of the "social" pillar of TTRPGs.  Similar to Antagonists (only differing by scale?) I think they need:
  • Flavour descriptions
  • Something they HAVE
  • Something they WANT
Leverage is an often overlooked aspect in our games ("roll Persuasion" "I got 17" "The guard lets you in") but I think crucial in meaningful NPC interaction.  You scratch my back I'll scratch yours?


From Macguffins to clues to gear, Things are the NPCs of inanimate objects!  Things are great because they mostly just need flavour text and imaginative players.

"[NPC] wants [Thing] but [NPC/Antagonist/Place] is stopping them" is the basic quest format!  Or is it a Situation?

You can, of course, add as much weight and complexity as you like to any Thing, but a nice starter - along the lines of the Place - is any sort of simple narrative nudging:
  • Flavour description
  • ASK or ANSWER a question ("What does this machine do?" or "Ah that explains the Count's unusual behaviour...")
The thing I love about old school play is that we're often given interesting prompts and left to run with them; think about the best magic item or spell descriptors you've read and then imagine if that were an object...

I'm intrigued by the concepts in "Beak, Feather, and Bone" which is a collaborative mapmaking game where buildings are defined by their Beak (what people say about them), Feather (what they look like) and Bone (what's going on inside) to the point where I'm wondering if these are all you really need as initial prep for ANY element we could use in a game?

Hopefully I'll expand on some of this pondering and it's good to get some thoughts down "on paper" - feedback welcome in the comments as always!

1 comment:

  1. This is the perfect checklist I didn't know I needed and that I can't work without now!


Comments always very welcome :)

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