World building is one of the most fun and complicated parts of the job for the GM or author. God created the Earth in six days, but world designers don’t have the luxury of omnipotence and omniscience. Luckily, we have the essays written by game and fiction industry professionals collected in The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding.
I won my copy of the book in a contest on the Midgard Campaign Setting Facebook page, but I was planning on buying this one, anyway. The book isn’t lengthy, but that’s certainly not a strike against it. The essays flow together well, and for the most part, build on each other as you read through the book. It starts with the basics in the essay What is Setting Design by Wolfgang Baur. It has some helpful tips including (surprise!) keeping your PCs in the center of the action. Don’t get bogged down with stuff that doesn’t effect the story.
I don’t want to get too terribly gushy with my praise (Though, this tome is certainly worth gushily praising.), so I’ll just hit some of my personal favorite essays that helped me as both a GM and a writer.
Apocalypso: Gaming After the Fall
by Jeff Grubb
This essay helped me justify an accusation I often get from my players: that my campaigns often turn into a crapsack world. As Grubb is quick to point out, most RPG tropes are true, because the world was once a better place. In many campaign settings, the characters are looking backward to a better time that will never come again. (Heck, in most fantasy fiction, it’s the same way.) That’s why dungeons have awesome magical treasures and why monsters run rampant. Thanks, Jeff Grubb!
Here Be Dragons: On Mapmaking
by Jonathan Roberts
I’m not an artist by any stretch of the imagination, but the practical tips in Here Be Dragons really clicked with me. Roberts has drawn out lots of fantasy maps for properties like A Song of Ice and Fire and the Midgard campaign setting. If you want to draw awesome maps, his essay is a must-read.
Designing a Pantheon
by Wolfgang Baur
Baur makes some great points in this essay about how unrealistic religion tends to be in games. He suggests some alternate ways to design a pantheon and goes in-depth into the design of the pantheon of his Midgard Campaign setting. I don’t want to give anything away, but if you think that religion should be a major part of your game, this is worth perusing.
How to Write a World Bible
by Scott Hungerford
Hungerford has some really practical advice for organizing and building a bible, which is basically a collection of all the pertinent information about the world you have built. I’ve tried designing one in the past, but have never gotten very far, since I tend to be disorganized. His tips really encouraged me, and I can’t wait to start over again utilizing his advice.
I’ve been a fan of the kobolds at Kobold Press/Open Design since I first discovered the Kobold Quarterly publication last year (I’m disappointed in myself that it took me so long to find that magazine. I’m sad that it’s gone.). Their commitment to excellence in what they publish really shows. The Midgard Campaign Setting they published is truly a work of art, so it was interesting to see a few essays by Baur outlining some of the design decisions that went into building Midgard.
I would highly recommend this book to any DM that wants to create a rich, vibrant world for his players to inhabit and muck about in. You can find The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding at DrivethruRPG, the Kobold’s website, and Amazon.