WW: How to WorldBuild for a SteamPunk Setting

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Tabletop games don’t always take place in a medieval setting. There are so many games out there that are slice-of-life based or even set in the future. One favorite setting that many players love to explore time and time again is Steampunk.

Briefly put, you can design a Steampunk universe by implementing its aesthetics, culture, and universe-friendly conflicts into your tabletop campaign, book, or video game. This particular worldbuilding blog post will focus on tabletop campaigns. Read on to find out more.

1. Understanding Steampunk Aesthetics

According to Historians.org, Steampunk is a “neo-Victorian” culture and universe with an emphasis on futurism. As its name might suggest, it involves a lot of steam-powered inventions and wild machines. Yet there are many niches within Steampunk and even sub-categories. Some Steampunk universes focus more on the introduction of electricity, Tesla-style, then steam-powered machines.

Whatever your particular interest may be, it’s crucial that you understand the right aesthetics to use in your campaign, book, or video game. For traditional Steampunk, this means a whole lot of brass and steam.

If you’re making terrain for your Steampunk world or dungeon, then you’re going to want to do away with medieval stones and moss. Instead, you’ll want copper and rust. It’s all about metal. That might make creating terrain seem difficult, but it’s really just about changing the kind of paints you’re using.

You can find plenty of metallic paints that can give your scenes the dose of life it needs. Cogs, gears, and any mechanical device that moves is also essential. It doesn’t even need to have a real purpose. Steampunk loves gratuitous bolts and gears.

2. Research Victorian Culture

To bring your Steampunk campaign to life, the characters with which your players interact need to seem like they come from that world. This is where understanding history can be a real benefit. Steampunk revisits the Victorian era of the world. The British Empire was shining gloriously. America was suffering from a civil war, and then reforming and rebuilding after the catastrophic losses it had endured. Several political and social changes were happening in India, Russia, and China as well.

Just on its own, the Victorian Era was a time of change. The Steampunk version imagines what that era would have been like if modernity and industrialization had occurred just a few decades earlier. It isn’t quite as glorious though you can certainly change that up in your own campaign if you so wish. Instead, there’s typically an emphasis on class divides. The poor are extremely poor and the rich are extremely rich.

Because Steampunk bases its foundation on the Victorian Era, you need to know how society was in that time. This includes common dress, the sort of organizations or activities that those individuals took part in, the manner of speech and vernacular that people used (across economic divides), and the kind of music that was the most popular.

Then put a Steampunk twist on it. It may help to first divide your city into regions. Within each district, you can start to map out how they wear, the kind of accents or syntax they use, and the kind of activities available to them. Once each district is made, you can then decide how each district interacts or perceives the other.

When your players travel from district to district, you can present them with a large spectrum of Steampunk lifestyles. Each area will feel both similar and different from one another and can refresh the storytelling.

3. Use Steampunk Tropes to Create Original Conflicts

There are a few common tropes that you can subvert to create engaging and fresh conflicts for your players. Some of them include:

  • New Technology is Evil
  • Retro Cyberpunk
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment
  • Floating Cities

Steampunk was originally created in response to the dystopian futures presented by Cyberpunk. Whereas Cyberpunk focuses on technology inherently being bad or used for evil intentions, Steampunk strove to show that technology could improve the world and the lives of those who lived in such a world.

Obviously, if you’re making a tabletop campaign, placing your characters in a happy and problem-free setting isn’t going to be all that much fun. Yet there’s so many different stories you can tell within a Steampunk universe.

Why not dig into the class divides that the steam-powered world is only separated further? You can always take some ideas from We Happy Few as well. The world presented in the game is ripe for inspiring ideas. Drugs that place characters in a state of malleable consciousness, a heavy police presence, and mysterious abounding of the world as a whole, this game provides you a great recipe or formula for a potential Steampunk campaign.

The Victorian Era wasn’t without its conflicts either. It was a time of conquest and imperial expansion. Perhaps your characters are part of a city of region that was just overtaken by an imperialistic country. Maybe they don’t enjoy some of the changes and advances that are happening, especially since it erases much of their existing culture. There’s nothing quite like poetic justice than using the very weapons that the invaders introduced to your people in the first place.

Start Researching Today

The culture and world that makes up Steampunk requires some research to ensure you’re pulling it off right. Like any great storyteller, you need to make sure that you understand the basics first. The Steampunk Bible by Jeff VanderMeer is a great way to quickly dip your toes into the world. Full of inspirational pictures, it can be help you design dungeons and cities for your next exciting campaign. And if your players love to dress as their characters, then finding the right steampunk clothing is paramount.

Let us know in the comments how your Steampunk worldbuilding is going!

MM: Lair Map

Today’s Map Monday offers you a humble cave map! Or, in this case, a lair. This map was inspired by a recent session with my players in which they breathed in a hallucinogenic moss and had to fight Rat-Humanoid. Naturally, when the high ran out, they discovered they had actually butchered harmless little rats.

The map above may offer a bit more of threat than simple rats. Is this the home of a beast? A cult? Or does it contain secret treasure? Let us know how you use your map in the comments!

You can download the map here!

WW: Using the COVID-19 Pandemic for Inspiration

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The COVID-19 pandemic is nothing to joke about. It’s claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and will likely continue to do so for some time yet. While the Coronavirus may be one of the worst diseases in recent history, it isn’t the first. The Black Plague, anyone? If you’re short on inspiration, then you’re sitting in one of the most intense times in history. Here’s how you can use certain elements of the COVID-19 pandemic to influence your world-building.

1. Economic Turmoil

One fact that cannot be denied about the Coronavirus is that it has impacted the economy severely. Whether it be due to people being unable to work because of lockdowns or because they, themselves, are sick, few people are working. That creates a compounded problem.

These issues can be raised for your players to solve. Let’s say they walk into a town that suffers from some form of plague. How do your players work to resolve the economic problems within the confines of the town’s economy, itself?

For example, if the town is primarily known for selling wheat and grain, what happens when the farmers are too ill to tend to their crops? Do the players take it upon themselves to harvest their fields? Do they work with neighboring towns? New and fresh problems besides ye olde bandit attack or monster spawn can keep your players interested in the game and the world.

2. The Disease Itself

There’s also the issue of the disease itself. NPR recently made a post about some researchers wondering if COVID-19 is some form of blood vessel disease. Imagine that kind of disease running through the metro areas of your campaign. Perhaps it turns people into zombie-like maniacs. Maybe it strips them of their magic. Whenever blood is involved, it unlocks a myriad of different story-telling elements that you can use.

Your players will not only have to figure out a way to stop the disease, but they also need to make sure they can’t catch it. Considering that most campaigns take place in a medieval setting, certain health measures and treatments may not be available. Sure, the Plague Mask is a thing, but hand sanitizer isn’t. How will your players try to cure the disease without catching it themselves? Or will they choose to avoid the location and leave the poor citizens to their fate?

Another scenario is if some members fall ill to the disease while others don’t. What kind of roleplay situations can your players be put into when they’re forced to split up or become isolated? Break out the sanity die!

3. Loss

With so many deaths attributed to the Coronavirus, practically everyone knows someone or of someone who has had it. It’s touched the homeless and celebrities alike. It even made its way into the White House. When used as an example for world building, you can have your disease take away characters or NPCS that are important to the players. If you really want to drive home how important and deadly your disease is, then it needs to strike at home.

Besides personal losses, your players may also be met with important, political, deaths. What happens when the King perishes from the disease and doesn’t have an apparent heir? Your players may be sucked into a civil war whilst trying to avoid the disease.

Certain losses can create high-stakes for your players.

Write Tragedies Not Sins

The COVID-19 pandemic shouldn’t be taken lightly. Everyone should do their part to stop its spread. As a world builder or dungeon master, you can use the history you’re witnessing to create fantastic stories where your players can become the heroes. In a time where many are at home feeling like that they can’t do anything, you can give them the opportunity to feel like a hero. Even if only for a session.

Let us know if your campaign has dealt with a plague before and how it all turned out!

MM: Outdoor Ambush 1

Today’s MapMonday features an outdoor ambush! I’ve been toying with the idea of bringing my players through a forest and setting them up for an ambush. So, I decided to make an outdoor ambush map just in case!

The set-up is classic. A concealed bandit camp can perceive the party coming down the road. With a fallen tree in the road and no easy way to pass around it, players will have an interesting time trying to take down the bandits.

Feel free to change up the map, too. Perhaps the bandits are on a hill further down the map, giving them advantage. Maybe your players notice the conspicuous tree or smell eggs cooking at the camp and decide to ambush the ambushers instead? Lots of fun to be had with this map!!

You can download it at this link.

Be sure to tell us in the comments what happens to your band of travelers!

WW: 3 Common Mistakes When Worldbuilding

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Worldbuilding isn’t easy. You may have a great macro idea when it comes to your world, but once it’s time to start narrowing down on the micro ideas, your plans may start to fall apart. To avoid using clich├ęs, stereotypes, or other pitfalls, here are three common mistakes worldbuilders make when designing their worlds.

1. Lack of Diversity

The problem with a lot of macro-planning is that it glosses over tiny details for large regions. While it’s a good idea to begin with macro-planning, you want to make sure that you also go back in to enrich each part of your world with diverse cultures, regions, and history.

When I’m designing a world, I typically start with a wide idea. This idea typically encompasses the kind of environments within the world and the main religions that those who exist in the world follow. This is then followed by a region-by-region building session where I try to think about how the people there would live in the environment that I made them.

This formula ensures that each region is diverse to the other while still sharing some similarities that ensures their existence makes sense in that world.

2. Not Considering the Environment

Speaking of environments, if you’re designing a whole world–be it a country, region, or an actual entire world–then you need to consider different climates. This break up of climates can give your players or readers a fresh experience. One problem that I see in a lot of campaigns is that emphasis is placed on combat or just going from town to town. The encounters that the players have rarely involve the environment, itself. At most, you may have a pit of lava that you need to hop over or a blizzard that is impeding your aim.

By creating a rich and varied climate, you can give your players something new to contend with. Why not have them enter a region where it constantly snows? The story could end up becoming a gripping tale of their survival in such a harsh environment.

3. Build The Entire World at Once

One mistake that I am often guilty of making is attempting to build the entire world at once. This is problematic for a few reasons. The first is that it will inevitably lead to burnout. As excited as you might be about your world, if you give it your all in just a few short sessions, then you’re going to be tired of it. You may not be as excited about leading your players through the various regions or spending as much time developing the story for your readers.

The second problem is that your world won’t grow organically. If you put down every single detail about a region from the start, then it’s stuck in a finite state. It also means that every region is the same. By planning your world one region at a time, and staying loose with some of the details, you can grow the region organically around the choices that your characters make in the story or in the campaign.

Finally, it takes a long time. If you want to build everything from the history to the present-day politics and leaders, then that’s a lot of time you need to invest. You may not have that time. By the time you’re finished, your players may be more interested in something else. Starting with a few macro ideas for the world as a whole, then narrowing down a few macro ideas for a region, while still leaving plenty of micro ideas to be determined by the players, you can create an area that’s ready to host your players.

Make Worldbuilding Easier

It’s easy to fall into these mistakes when worldbuilding. To ensure you avoid burnout, make the most of your time, and create a diverse world, you should avoid these three common mistakes. What are some common mistakes you’ve run into? Let us know in the comments!

MM: Map of a Study

Above is a map that I recently created and used in one of my own campaigns. Set in the Farcry 5 universe, my homebrewed campaign and rulesets involve the world of H.P. Lovecraft. Who doesn’t love a cult with unknown ties to Cthulhu? This map wasn’t a battlemap but rather it was used as a clue to find the exit to the room.

My players discovered the map through their exploration of the rest of the house. Feel free to use this map to either inspire you or give it to your characters in the hope that they, too, are able to escape the room before an ancient creature arrives to slaughter them senselessly.

You can download the map at the link below!

Map of the Study Used in Session Zero Farcry 5 Campaign

WW: Sources of Inspiration

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Finding inspiration for worldbuilding is easier than you may think. Even if you’re mentally exhausted and creatively, there are thousands of different sources at your fingertips. For our first WorldBuilding Wednesday, here are a few sources for worldbuilding that I regularly consult.

Where to Look for Sources to Write a Dungeons and Dragons Campaign or Other Settings and Mediums

When I sit down to create a world for my latest Dungeons and Dragons campaign or even just a short novel, there are a few main places I search to find inspiration. Here’s a quick list of them for those short on time:

  • History
  • Other works of fantasy (even from authors in a different country from yourself)
  • Film or game soundtracks
  • Myths and legends
  • Movies/TV shows
  • Instagram

Let’s delve deeper into these sources for worldbuilding to see how they can help.

1. History

My number one favorite place to find inspiration is history. Granted, I’m already a bit of a history buff, so it goes with the territory. History is wrought with incredible acts of heroism and villainy. Perhaps one of the best things about using history as a source of inspiration for worldbuilding a DND campaign is that it’s endless.

You can go as far back as the first recorded history if you really wanted to. For myself, I tend to stick in the Ancient Egypt/Rome and Medieval cornerstones when I build my worlds. Those three areas alone can offer you thousands of years’ worth of content to twist and use for your own storytelling.

2. Works of Fantasy

If you want to be a great worldbuilder, then you need to read. It’s really the only way to hone your skill. There are masters of worldbuilding out there. J.R.R. Tolkien is, perhaps, one of the best known. However, he’s not the only one. Yet using Tolkien is an example, he has an extensive history of the world he created.

Depending on your needs, you may not have to be quite as thorough as Mr. Tolkien, but he’s a great example to consider.

You don’t have to read every great fantasy book out there either. For one, try to read novels or comic books that are more inclined with the kind of world you’re trying to create. Don’t read a high fantasy novel if you plan to make a campaign that’s steampunk-based.

Likewise, don’t be afraid to try reading translated books from fantasy authors across the world, too. New countries offer new ideas and methods of story telling that you may want to adopt.

3. Music

Another important source of inspiration I use for Dungeons and Dragons or even just writing a short story is music. Typically, I tend to opt for soundtracks or classical music. Lyrical music I find distracting. However, you may find that the lyrics of a particular song inspire to create a species or a bit of lore. That has certainly happened to me in the past (and you shall see the fruits of in another WorldBuilding Wednesday).

The kind of music I listen to depends on the story I’m telling. Does the world I’m creating feature heavy on pirates? Then I’ll put on soundtracks that are nautical in theme (looking at you, Mr. Hans Zimmer). Perhaps I want to work on a battle. Then I’ll put together some dramatic music that I wouldn’t mind slaying a few orcs to.

Music can define the scene. Allow it to guide your mind and hand during the creative process.

4. Myths and Legends

One of the hobbies I enjoy is digging into myths and legends. There are so many out there! You can search for regional myths, national legends, or even world myths. Each country has similar monsters but also unique creatures and cryptids. You may even discover that your own city or town has a local myth or legend.

Perhaps the best thing about myths and legends is that the hard work is done for you. It already comes with a tale. Yet the tale, itself, is a mystery. It gives you a foundation to then build up and use as you like. Whenever I want something different from the standard monsters we see in the Monster Manual, I tend to either look up reddit or start searching the web for myths and legends that intrigue me.

5. Movies and TV Shows

Just like reading fantasy novels, watching movies and TV shows are also a great source of inspiration. When you want to make sure that your players or readers can recognize the world you’re building, then you may want to use common tropes that’s found in movies and TV shows. Of course, the bad part about using common tropes found in visual fantasy is that your players and readers may already expect how certain story threads are going to end.

To avoid your players and readers becoming bored with your creation, you’ll want to subvert those tropes. Yet, keep in mind, that you shouldn’t be doing it for shock-factor alone. One TV series tried to do that already and fans are still angry about it (myself included). Any twist you want to make has to make sense and be all about the characters. Don’t shock for shock’s sake alone.

6. Instagram

If you don’t already follow nature photographers on Instagram, then you’re missing out on a huge source of inspiration. If you’re like me and can’t get out of the city enough to take hikes on nature trails, then you have to live vicariously through nature photographers. Their stunning photographs never fail to inspire me to create a location or even a whole region for a world I’m building.

Even a simple shot of a forest gives me ideas for a battle map. They capture nature that is untouched. For many Dungeons and Dragons worlds, these are the kinds of landscapes that your players will find themselves in. It can help you create more organic and realistic battle maps while capturing their sense of immersion.

Here are a few I follow:




Start Searching Today

Inspiration for creating new Dungeons and Dragons content is all around you. If you have a favorite method for drawing inspiration, then let us know in the comments!

MM: Haunted House

For our first Map Monday, I thought I’d put together something special for the holiday! Below, features a haunted house! Who lived in the home? What secrets were kept there? Let your imagination run wild! Your players can seemingly explore this abandoned stone home of their own curiosity. Yet if they discover the hidden door behind the bookshelf, they may find themselves facing something more than they bargained for!

Develop the lore behind this house and let us know what fun adventures your players had in the comments!

Follow this link to download the map!

See you next Monday!