Do Fantasy Writers First Create Their World or Their Story?

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Do Fantasy Writers First Create Their World or Their Story?

In a classic example of what “came first, the chicken or the egg?” you may wonder if fantasy writers, or Dungeon Masters, should first worldbuild or simply start writing their story and invent as they go along. It all depends on your own writing style and preferences. To help you decide, here’s how both strategies might pan out for you.

The Advantages of Worldbuilding Before Writing Your Story

There are several approaches to the writing, or creative, process. In fact, this list gives a few examples of the writing processes of a few acclaimed authors. You may find that some of their processes also work for you. You may find that they don’t. Being creative is, inherently, a personal process. 

If you choose to create your world before you start writing your story, then you may find it easier to write your story. This is a process I prefer, myself. I may have an idea of the general story that I wish to tell. I may even have a few names in mind. However, I never start working on the actual story until I have the history of the world, the geography of the world, the culture and politics, and some of the notable people of the world written down and developed.

This is because I consider myself a visual learner. It’s easier for me to understand and plan things better when I can see the world. 

You may find that this system also works for you. It can be easier to keep track of the story and the lore that you’re building while you write the story. For example, when you need to refer to a long-dead king in a certain city, you can simply refer to your notes. If you chose to write your story before creating your world, then you may invent on the spot. However, you’ll have to remember that name going forward. It can be easy to lose track of the history you’re creating during the story writing and have a few plot holes or retcons. 

The Advantages of Writing Your Story Before Creating Your World

There are other creatives who are able to just get right into writing and can create their world in real-time. I absolutely admire these folk. Some writers and creatives prefer to just throw a bunch of word vomit on a page and then edit it later. 

That can be a great process for certain writers. For creatives that do worldbuilding for tabletop RPGs, they might find the process a bit difficult in terms of keeping track of their lore. However, there are a few advantages that you can enjoy when you choose to write your story before you create the world.

The first advantage is that you may create more organic lore or you may think of something truly original or creative in the heat of writing. Sometimes the best ideas occur while you’re writing. You may think of something while your characters are tackling some obstacle that you would never have thought of before if you had sat down and tried to plan it all beforehand. 

Another advantage is that you can deliver the lore to your readers or players in a more organic way. If you have pre-existing lore, then you may struggle over how to introduce that to your players or readers. Simply giving them the lore may be boring or unsatisfying. Yet forcing them to listen to a historian prattle on for hours about the kingdom may bore them. When you’re creating the lore while you’re writing, you may do so in a way that interests the readers or players. 

Finally, you may find that writing your story before you create the world is also more of an immersive experience for yourself. Instead of breaking up your focus by having to stop and look up your lore, you’re able to create it on the spot. You’re learning the lore alongside your readers or players. This can make the experience fun for them as well as yourself. 

Mix and Match

You may even discover that a bit of both is your preferred way to create. You may have a general outline with information about the world. Yet the majority of your lore is developed while you write. Because the creation and writing process is so personal, it may take you a few different tries and using a few different methods until you find the one that fits you. Let us know in the comments what your preferred process is!

How to Know When You’re Done Worldbuilding

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How to Know When You’re Done Worldbuilding

Fantasy worldbuilding, or worldbuilding of any kind, can take a long time. Depending on how extensive your lore is, you could easily spend months just developing it. There is a point, however, where you may be reaching further than you need to. Here’s how you can tell if you’re done worldbuilding. 

1. You’re Stretching for Ideas

One of the easiest signs that indicate you’ve finished worldbuilding is that you’re out of fresh ideas. Whether it’s laying out a history of the world, country, or city, or if you’re unable to come up with any more ideas about a religious order, it’s time to put down the pen or save the document. 

If the history is written and you can’t think of anything, then you’re done.

If you’re worldbuilding for DND or another tabletop RPG, it’s important that you know when to stop building your world. At some point, you need to let the players build the rest of the world with their actions. Which leads to the next sign. 

2. Your Players Want to Help

In the case of tabletop RPGS, you may find that your players want to help worldbuild. In this case, all of your independent worldbuilding should come to an end. Allowing your players to take part in the worldbuilding can help them feel invested in your campaign and immersed in the world. If you don’t like giving your players complete reign over your worldbuilding, then you can always have them worldbuild events, towns, or characters that interact directly with their characters in regards to their background. 

Your players may have specific ideas about what their neighborhood is like or about their specific deity that they worship. It’s time to put your own ideas aside and let them shine. 

3. Your Players Don’t Care

It’s one thing to worldbuild for yourself. It’s another to worldbuild for your players. If you’re worldbuilding for a tabletop RPG, then you likely require a good deal of lore to flesh out the world that your players inhabit. However, there may come a point where you’re created more lore than you need to.

If your players don’t respond to the lore or don’t seem to care who the fourth king of the dynasty was, then it may be time to put the pen down. While there are ways you can make your players care about the lore you’re creating, you shouldn’t force it on them. It can detract from the story that they’re creating, themselves. 

It also saves you from having to do a ton of work that no one will know or remember but yourself. That being said, if you get a kick out of creating extensive family lines and deep history, then go for it. 

You may find that having compact lore, rather than extensive lore, allows you to create in-depth histories that are easier to recall and can have a greater impact on your players. 

Know When To Stop Worldbuilding/h3>

It’s important to know when to stop worldbuilding. Pushing yourself too hard can quickly lead to burnout that can impact your storytelling, game design, and how you perform for your players. Recognizing the signs above are a good indication that you have finally finished worldbuilding. 

Are Tabletop Games More Social Than Video Games?

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Are Tabletop Games More Social Than Video Games?

In a time when Coronavirus is keeping us apart from our friends and family, you may be feeling the need to socialize more than ever. Perhaps part of that need has taken you to playing more multiplayer video games. Does that actually provide better socialization than playing tabletop games? The answer may surprise you. 

1. Toxicity is Less Apparent in Tabletop Games

As someone who plays both video games and tabletop games, I am well aware of the toxicity that exists in video games. PVP games or even MMOs are key examples where toxicity can really impact a player emotionally and psychologically. Because large-scale games have an open chat that exists across the server, players are constantly subject to speaking with tons of people in a given time.

Some of those people are genuine players who are just enjoying the games. Others are what are considered Trolls. These are individuals who have taken it upon themselves to grief the other players as much as possible. That may be by hurling insults in the chat, using sexist, racist, or homophobic language in the chat, or performing some action in-game that impedes the progress of the character deliberately. 

Because most online games don’t allow you to choose the kind of players you’re settled with, there’s no real way to escape the toxicity in a video game. You may be able to turn off the chat, but that also means that you may miss vital information given by a genuine player. 

Toxicity in video games is well-known. 

It also exists in tabletop games. Many DMs have nightmare experiences of players trying to sabotage one another–and not for fun’s sake either. Players also have nightmare experiences with DMs with control issues. However, it isn’t as prevalent in tabletop games. 

This is because players are, usually, face-to-face with one another. Even when playing virtually, many opt to use a camera or at least have audio recording enabled. Being face-to-face with someone, rather than being protected by the anonymity of the Internet, automatically puts a person on slightly better behavior. 

It doesn’t work for everyone. Yet when comparing video games to tabletop games, there’s less toxicity that gets in the way of proper socialization. 

Except for that one extremely competitive family member that always ruins things . . . 

2. Tabletop RPG Games Encourage Socialization

Unless you’re playing a multiplayer video game, most video games are designed to be played on your own. They’re great and fantastic experiences, but they’re not going to give you that sense of socialization that you need. Even if you talk to your friends or an online community about the game, they’re all separate experiences that aren’t shared together in the moment.

Tabletop RPG games provide that experience. They have groups of friends, or strangers, come together and play a silly game that encourages working as a team. The best part is you don’t even have to play yourself. This can give people an opportunity to come out of their shells if they’re naturally shy. 

I’m an introvert. Yet when I’m DMing and playing my NPCs for my players, it’s a freeing sensation. I’m able to get out of my own head and just have fun. Tabletop RPG games reward socialization. It rewards players that speak with one another to overcome an obstacle. A good DM always rewards its players when they take their roleplaying in earnest. 

Socialization is at the very heart of tabletop RPG games. 

Unless you find yourself with a party of murderhobos

3. Tabletop RPG Games Let You Share Emotions Together

One of the hurdles that video games have yet to jump successfully is being able to make players share emotions simultaneously. We may all choke up over a particular part of a game, but we rarely do it together at the same time. 

Tabletop RPG games, because they happen live, means your emotions are also unfiltered. A great DM can bring a party together, take them through several adventures, and make them care about each other and their own characters. When something terrible happens, like the death of a party member, the rest of the party can allow themselves to feel it.

Sharing emotions like grief or anxiety builds bonds between people. 

The same goes for feelings of triumph or victory. When the players defeat a difficult boss, they’re ecstatic. They celebrate together. They go home taking that feeling with them. It’s something they continue to talk about several campaigns down the road. 

 By sharing emotions together, especially for men, it can help break down the stigma associated with feeling emotions. 

And toxic masculinity is definitely something that needs to die with the old world. 

And the Winner is . . .

It’s pretty clear that tabletop games, particularly RPGs, are more social than video games. While video games can bring friends together over long distances, it doesn’t provide the same enriching socialization that tabletop games do. If you want to feel connected to your friends more or just want to enhance the bonds that you have with them–or to meet new friends!–starting up a tabletop RPG like Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer, or Pathfinder is a great choice to make. 

Let us know in the comments some of the great experiences you’ve had when playing tabletop games with your friends!

African Mythology You Should Study for Your Tabletop Lore

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African Mythology You Should Study for Your Tabletop Lore

In our last post dedicated solely to Black History Month 2021, we’re exploring the rich and fascinating mythology based in Africa. While many tabletop adventures typically use mythology and tropes centered around Western Europe, you’re only doing yourself a disservice by relying on the myth and lore from that world alone. Africa has just as many interesting myths and legends that can create a unique basis for your tabletop game, novel, or even your video game. Here are a few African myths you should study to inspire your next campaign. 

Twin Divinity

Several African religions place a focus on twin divinities. These twin divinities are either responsible for the creation of the world or are somehow linked to the superior creator that they follow. In Ghana, for example, the Asante people consider twins to have a divine status. They’re often treated as living shrines. 

You can use this concept for your own lore. Perhaps in a world where twins are rare, your characters or the great event of the particular continent surrounds the birth of a set of twins. In a tabletop setting, the twins may be player characters. Those who only have one or two players in their campaign can have an interesting and unique world if the rest of the country sees them as a kind of deity or some sort of special sign. 

Just as there are people who may worship or obey the twins, there are likely just as many actively out to remove them. Perhaps there’s another set of twins whose prophecy was taken from them because of the emergence of a new set of twins. Perhaps there’s a cult that opposes the ideals the twins embody. 

If none of your players or characters are the twins, then you can always use the birth of a pair of twins in the world as the main conflict of the story. Perhaps a war emerges because of the birth. Maybe it literally starts to rip the world apart. There are tons of different storylines and adventures that you can utilize the concept of twin divinity for. 

The Trickster

In almost every religion there is always a trickster. In Christianity, it’s the Devil or Satan. In Norse mythology, it’s Loki. In African mythology, there are also an abundance of tricksters. The interesting thing about African tricksters, however, is that they’re not simply causing chaos for chaos’s sake. It’s done with a purpose. The trickster of the Fon people is known as Legba. He goes around the world and causes havoc and turmoil. Yet the Fon people don’t consider Legba evil. 

This is because Legba also serves another purple. He takes the cryptic messages from their Superior Being, Mawu, and translates them for the Legba people. The idea behind the mythos is that the world is always in change. While divine order is something everyone wishes to experience, the reality is that mortals exist in a plane of constant change. Legba is only doing his part to maintain the divine order by causing change. 

This idea that tricksters aren’t always evil can also influence your campaign or story. Everyone has villains that they hate to love and love to hate. Those individuals are typically given a lot of life and three-dimensional character development. All villains believe that what they’re doing is right, either for themselves or for their cause. Using the African idea of what a trickster is, you can create some interesting and original villains. 

Those who play Dungeons and Dragons may even find that a Trickster could be a great Patron for the Warlock class. If a Party Patron is something you’re interested in, then a Trickster could also be an interesting entity that guides your adventurers in your campaign. 

Develop Your Lore!

This general overlook of African myths and religious beliefs is just the tip of the iceberg. There are tons of legends, gods, goddesses, lesser spirits, and beliefs that are worth investigating and exploring. Not only can they give you a closer insight to African culture, but they can help inspire you to create your own lore for your tabletop game, book, video game, or other creative project. Let us know how these concepts inspire you in the comments!

How to Make Your Games Avoid Racism

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How to Make Your Games Avoid Racism

When worldbuilding, it can be easy to fall back on tropes and stereotypes in order to imagine up civilizations, societies, and people. However, those stereotypes and tropes can sometimes call to mind certain racist caricatures.  

To ensure you create a diverse and interesting world without including these stereotypes, here are a few tips to consider. 

Avoid Tropes

There are a lot of fantasy tropes that are problematic. Elves are typically lighter in color and are associated with goodness while dark elves are associated with evilness. This isn’t always the case, but it’s a common trope nonetheless. You only need to look at orcs to see that they are, typically, the only ones wearing dreds and are depicted as evil or monsters for heroes to defeat. 

Avoiding these tropes is easy. You can reinvent them. You can simply leave out the certain characteristics that are associated with certain racial qualities. Let’s examine elves. Why do they always have to be good? Surely living as long as they have might push them to feeling more godlike or superior over the races in the world? If you make elves as an enemy, regardless of their skin color, then you’re already starting to reinvent the common fantasy trope that light-skinned elves are good beings. 

Half-orcs and orcs can be difficult to get right. They’re often entrenched in African or African-American stereotypes. Some are even darker in color. To avoid racism and be able to keep your half-orcs and orcs in your world, then give them a diverse range of skin color. There are several shades of white just as there are several shades of black and tan. Think less about depicting your half-orcs and orcs on race and more on their environment. 

For example, half-orcs and orcs that live in the mountains may be greyer in color. There may even be different shades of grey based on how high in the mountains they live. Think about how they survive there. They must be able to keep warm, so perhaps they’re hairier. Then consider half-orcs and orcs that live in a different climate. Those that dwell in the forest may be greener in color. They may be smaller to hide in the brush or lithely in order to flee larger predators that live with them. 

When you create your characters and societies based on their environment, you can already shed several racial stereotypes. The key is to ensure that each society is diverse within itself. 

Keep Creating

Avoiding stereotypes and tropes that are rooted in racist requires a lot of effort of thought for those who aren’t part of a minority. Yet doing so is a great step towards removing racist culture from our own society. Following the tips above can help you worldbuild your game, novel, video game, etc., and keep those qualities absent from your own work. Do you know of any racist stereotypes or tropes that DMs, writers, and other creators should avoid? Let us know in the comments!

Forest Ruin Battlemap Part 1

Buried thick in a creeping forest is a ruin long forgotten by any local residents of the area. What sort of enemies and history can you uncover here? This forest ruin battlemap is part one of two for this map series! Check out our continuation next week for the final part of the map!

Top 5 Tabletop Games from Black Designers

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Top 5 Tabletop Games from Black Designers

February is Black History month and to do our part in ensuring the black community receives its rightful due, we’re going to be dedicating the month of February to blog posts centered around Black designers, black games, and how non-black creatives can ensure they don’t incorporate racial stereotypes into their creations. 

In our first February blog post, we’ll shine some light on some old and new tabletop games that were created by or drawn by black designers. Make sure you try the following five tabletop games from black designers and support their work. 

1. Tattoo Stories

There has been a lot of attention to the fun and creative tabletop game, Tattoo Stories. As its name might suggest, the game involves its players drawing tattoos on one another and coming up with a great story behind it. Whoever can impress their “customers” with the best story the most, wins. 

Tattoo Stories encourage creativity and quick-wittedness while embracing the art of tattoos. This game is great for kids as well as adults. It was designed by Bicycle, a team of black designers who are passionate about their craft. 

2. Rising Sun

Those who love Japanese history and lore will love playing Rising Sun. This game is primarily based on strategy. You and your fellow players have to partake in various missions in order to empower your clan to take on the invading Kami in Feudal Japan. There are several ways you can bolster your clan such as gaining resources, finding a monster to fight for your side, bolstering your forces, and even trying to earn favor with the Kami to weaken their defenses.

Rising Sun was designed by Eric Lang and its artists include Edgar Skomorowski and the talented Adrian Smith. This game is a great choice for those who love strategy games. 

3. Harlem Unbound

If you’re a history buff like myself, then you’re probably excited about Harlem Unbound. This RPG sourcebook runs in conjunction with the Call of Cthulhu or Gumshoe system. It’s set during the 1920s in Harlem. The Harlem Renaissance is in full swing, but things start to get a little strange with Lovecraftian monsters making their new homes in the sewers of Harlem. Add a little bit of class clashing and politics, and you have yourself a tasty and fun RPG. 

Harlem Unbound is created by Chris Spivey as well as Darker Hues Studios. If you want to experience a taste of the Harlem culture for yourself, then make sure your sanity is high. 

4. Chaos in the Old World

Ever wanted to be a God? Chaos in the Old World gives you that opportunity. Although it’s been a few years since Chaos came out, it’s been a must-play for many tabletop gamers. You get to choose from a collection of Gods to play as. Each god has their own unique abilities, power, and skills to use. The game requires you to pit yourself against your fellow players as well as the game, itself, as you try to dominate the Old World and make it your own. 

Chaos in the Old World is designed by Eric Lang and has the following artists attached to it: Tim Arney-O’Neil, Kevin Childress, Andrew Navaro, Brain Schomburg, Wil Springer. If you can manage to find the game, you’re sure to love corrupting the Old World. 

5. Cyberpunk

Before there was Cyberpunk 2077, there was Cyberpunk and its later editions, Cyberpunk 2020 and Cyberpunk Red. This roleplaying board game features a world which has its own timeline that splits off from history as we know it in the 1990s. You’ll see several staples of the Cyberpunk genre like megacorporations ruling the populace, bioengineering in warfare, casual violence, and plenty of technology. 

Cyberpunk is designed by game designer legend, Mike Pondsmith, and was published by R. Talsorian Games. Cyberpunk was the first tabletop game system that included using a 10-sided die, plus the character’s abilities, skills, etc., to beat a difficulty value assigned by the GM. If you want to experience the world of Cyberpunk how it’s supposed to be played, then you need to pick up this rulebook. 

Start Playing!

There are a ton of incredible games out there designed or drawn by black designers and artists. You can even find new indies being made every day on Kickstarter. If you want to experience new settings, new adventures, and a whole lot of fun, then be sure to give these games a try.

Inspirational Capital City Map

If you’re unsure of what your capital city should look like, then here’s a map to get you inspired! This map is based off of my own capital city that I have running in my current campaign. There’s plenty of fun DMs and other creatives can have when developing their own lore and history based off of this map! Let us know what kind of lore you come up with in the comments!

Tips on How to (Politely) Tell Others to Leave You Alone

How to (Politely) Tell Others to Leave You Alone

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If you’re like me, then talking to people can be particularly draining after awhile. It can extend to taking a toll on your creativity. If you’re not like me, then you may enjoy talking to other people extensively. However, you may find that it starts to creep into your time to be productive. At some point, you need to know how to tell people to leave you alone, so you can start working on your creative project or regular work project. Here are a few tips you can use. 

1. Master the Segue

One way to politely tell other people to leave you alone is to master segueing. How is this helpful? You can abruptly end a conversation that’s starting to drain you in a slightly humorous way. Segues are, at the very heart, a form of humor that is light-hearted and silly. It’s the kind of humor that you can’t help but roll your eyes at.

When you use this to politely exit a conversation, you leave the other participant in a bemused state. They may not particularly enjoy that the conversation is ending, but you’re not leaving them feeling as though you’re being rude or that they did something to make you leave. 

2. Reward System

It can be especially difficult to tell children that you need them to go leave you alone for a bit. One way that you can tell them to entertain themselves and leave you to your new worlds and work projects is to begin a reward system with them. By allowing you to work uninterrupted, they can receive a special reward when that time is over.

That reward may be as simple as an extra helping of dessert or it may be something even more special like spending the weekend doing something they love for a few hours. By exchanging some of their hours for your hours, you can have the time to get your work done and still give them plenty of attention and rewards when that slotted time is over. 

This works for adults as well. You can grab a movie or some game time with the friends later. Those who are working on campaigns can promise even greater quests if your players allow you to have the time to develop them. 

3. Make Them Feel Valued

The final tip is to ensure that when you’re informing the other person that you need to go that they still feel as though they’re valued. It can be difficult for some people not to feel like they’re a priority in your life. To ensure that they still feel that way, you can remark on how pleasant the conversation with them was or how nice it was to spend some time with them. You can even throw in a white lie and suggest that you wish you didn’t have to go “work” and instead spend more time with them. 

As long as you can walk away from the conversation with them feeling valued and as though you’re looking forward to re-engaging them, then they won’t take your departure or needs poorly. 

Of course, this can be down in a straight-forward manner as well. You can simply tell them that you need to get something done. That while you appreciate their time and attention, it’s time for you to get some work finished. Just make sure you end with them knowing that you want to speak with them or hang out with them again later. 

Get Back to Work!

Abruptly telling people that I need to leave or go to work is something I always struggle with. By using the tips above, I successfully leave my friends and family feeling positively about the time we’ve spent together instead of guilty that I need to disengage and go work on a passion project or some actual work. If you have any tips on how to tell people to leave you alone, then go ahead and put them in the comments! Fellow introverts (or extremely busy people) unite!

Forest Animal Den Battlemap

Today’s battlemap features a remote animal den tucked within a thick forest. With skeletons and carcasses littered around the forest floor, only something monstrous could lurk within the cave. What resides in and what’s in store for your adventurers?

Let us know in the comments!