Starting GM - Worldbuilding


Hi Everyone

I've been trying to run a game for the past year now, but I am having real problems designing an overview for my World. Every time I attempt it, I always end up with my brain wanting to leak out of my ears. As this will be the first time I've ever run a game ever, I need some advice on actual Worldbuilding. I've been playing various systems for years, however I've never run anything before now. Can anyone help me here?
When I do WorldBuilding, I have to stop and not get lost in the detail.

For Legend, look at what you absolutely need for Adventure Creation, Backgrounds, Professions and maybe Cults/Societies. OK, you need Backgrounds, so decide which backgrounds are available to the PCs, that will help shape which cultures are around and will also shape the Professions available. If you want cults, then go into the barest detail possible, perhaps a couple of lines showing what the deity is famous for or who worships the deity and the spells granted. No need for a full cult writeup, that will follow if the players are more interested.

Once you have an idea of the cultures, you can say whether they are close by or far away. For far away, just put a sentence for each and then ignore them until the players ask about them. If they are close by, then make a list of where the PCs are and what is nearby. Decide on layers, so "Here" is what is actually at the place, "Nearby" is what is around the place, "Close" is a couple of days travel, "Far" is anything more than a week's travel. Have a sentence for anything that is "Far", a couple of sentences for anything that is "Close" and more, if you want for anything that is Nearby or Here. Describe through Adventuring, not by Narration. So, don't give a 20 minute lecture on all the places in the kingdom, players will get bored and won't remember anything. Instead, say "Farmer Giles has had some sheep stolen from top Field", so the Adventurers get to go to Top Field as that is Here, "One of your friends has been attacked in Pigbutt Inn" means you know there is a place called Pigbutt Inn, so you can go there and find out where it is.

Build up a picture slowly as the campaign goes on. Fill things in as and when you need them. Don't write everything up front as it is a lot of work and you would probably only use 20% of what you have written. As you write more and more, save it somewhere so you can refer to it later. If you are technologically inclined, set up a Wiki or something for the players to refer to, if they want.
Thanks for the great advice, but I'm still struggling with regards to Magic. I don't know how to design Deities, Grimoires, or very much else like that. I've tried on my own, and everything I think of seems way too overpowered.

Any ideas or suggestions?
Hi BlackMagic. First question, how experienced are your players? The more experienced they are the more detail they may require, in my experience. I prefer the "less is more" idea when designing a setting, as the world is defined as much as by what isn't present as by what is.

Do you have a genre or flavour for your campaign in mind?
My view is always coloured by having played RuneQuest for a fair while and that is cult-based.

Have a look at the sample cults in the Legend book and use them as guidelines.

My completely unofficial rule of thumb is:
Local Hero - One Common or Divine Spell
National Hero - Two Common or Divine Spells, maybe one Heroic Ability taught
Demigod - Two Common Magic and two Divine Magic spells, one Heroic Ability taught
Minor Deity - Three Common Magic and three Divine Magic spells, two Heroic Abilities taught
Major Deity - Four Common Magic and four Divine Magic spells, three Heroic Abilities taught

Don't just assume that a War God would have all the warrior Common and Divine Spells. Gods don't exist to serve their worshippers, they have an existence outside that. So, Ares and Athena would have spells for fighting, but Ares is more of a berserking/smashing god whereas Athena is more of a thinking warrioress. Restricting spells allows people to go to different cults for different things, so you might get Parry from Athena and Fanaticism from Ares, for example.

For Sorcery Schools, just work out how many spells each school teaches and choose the spells depending on the school's nature. So, a school based on the teachings of a Serpent Demon might have a grimoire with spells that cause poison, hypnosis or persuasion, but a school based on healing would have a grimoire with healing/renewing magic. Powerful schools might have two, or even three, grimoires.

Don't assume that Divine cults just teach Divine Magic and Sorcery Schools just teach Sorcery, all cults/schools can teach some Common Magic and some Divine Cults can teach Sorcery and some Sorcery Schools could teach Divine Magic. It all depends on the rationale/mythos of the cult. So, a Sorcery School devoted to the teachings of the Egyptian god thoth could well teach one Divine Spell and the divine cult of Thoth would probably teach some sorcery.
Warlock, in answer to your question:
The majority of my players are inexperienced, or brand-new. As for setting, I was thinking of a combination of High Fantasy and Dark Fantasy. I wanted something with Elves, Dwarves, and Magic, but at the same time, to have a sense of dark, gritty realism.

The advice so far is really helpful, but I'm still not sure as to how many Deities that I want. I don't want too many, but at the same time, I don't want too few.

Does anyone have any examples of Deities/Grimoires that they have created? It may help me figure out exactly how I do my Deities/Grimoires.
Have you taken a look at Wraith Recon? It was done with MRQII which is virtually identical to Legend anyway, and contains quite a lot of goodies that can help you.

My homebrew fantasy setting has the "Cult of the Old Ways", that most folk belong to and is a nature-oriented faith with several deities. The occasional god in this cult is also worshipped individually, such as the Goddess of Winter - but by and large it is a religion of several gods.

Creating 20 or 30 cults can be a pain, but you could use some from the various published sources and tweak them.

I find grimoires easier to create than cults as I find it easier to group spells together through a theme. I like to add a few other things to grimoires the players may find, such as ingredients for creating a potion/ointment or whatever, or locations to a hidden lair where the party may go next. Grimoires are not just spell books in my games. There are a few out there in the wild internet that you can probably find.
Sorry, I am a bit late to the question here...

I always like to start at the top and work my way down. Broad strokes to details.

General map of the continent/world, Cultures, Countries, Languages, Pantheons and maybe a bit of broad history (who invaded who recently, what ancient empire collapsed that created the current map). I tend to use fantasy tropes and real world history as inspiration but never copying.

Map of the home country, name of the leader, etc. Depending on the type of game, maybe some court intrigue built in based on historical references - I have found that Alexander Dumas' history of the French nation has some great political intrigue to provide inspiration. National Cults are defined here as well as the Cults of the Gods.

Map of the County/Barony that the Players start in. Including all towns and villages - Local cults, possibly including names and general descriptions as well as campaign notes on possible adventure sites. Village leaders/major NPCs could be named and given a general description.

Detailed map of the home village/town with major NPCs reasonably detailed.

After some practice, I can do all of the above in a few uninterrupted hours (of course I usually copy/modify old stuff).

Once the campaign starts, I use the upper-level maps/ideas to expand the details below it as necessary.

I also try to keep everything together and as I make stuff up along the way to answer questions or address a specific adventure need, I add it to the book and keep it for later if needed. Of course that was in the old paper/pencil days, now it is all in a computer folder with files for various subjects etc.

The key is don't do more than you need, but by starting big, you will always know where you are going as you fill in the details.

Hope that helps.