Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding

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The Essential Elements for Building a World!

Roleplaying games and fantasy fiction are filled with rich and fascinating worlds: the Forgotten Realms, Glorantha, Narnia, R’lyeh, Middle-Earth, Barsoom, and so many more. It took startling leaps of imagination as well as careful thought and planning to create places like these: places that readers and players want to come back to again and again.

Now, eleven of adventure gaming’s top designers come together to share their insights into building worlds that gamers will never forget. Learn the secrets of designing a pantheon, creating a setting that provokes conflict, determining which historical details are necessary, and so much more. Even take that creative leap—and create dazzling worlds of your own!

Essays by Wolfgang Baur, Keith Baker, Monte Cook, David "Zeb" Cook, Jeff Grubb, Scott Hungerford, Chris Pramas, Jonathan Roberts, Michael A. Stackpole, Steve Winter, with an introduction by Ken Scholes.

"For anyone who’s ever had the drive to create a fictional place, whether in a game, for your novel, or just to pass a rainy afternoon, the Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding will spark some new ideas and help you add the proper doses of verisimilitude and outlandishness." —io9.com

“Class is in session... The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding SHOULD be considered a textbook on intelligent setting creation.” —Dave Hinojosa, The Gaming Gang

"A fantastic resource" —Skyland Games

“While the book is aimed at the RPG crowd, a huge percentage of the material would be just as valuable to an author writing a novel set in an original world. . . . For anyone who’s ever had the drive to create a fictional place . . . The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding will spark some new ideas and help you add the proper doses of verisimilitude and outlandishness.” —Ed Grabianowski, i09

Praise for Prior Design Guides:

"Highly recommended for gaming nerds everywhere.”—CityBookReview.com
“If you’re an aspiring pro this book is a must. If you’re a rules hacker like me, this stuff is solid gold.”—Berin Kinsman, UncleBear Media
“A fantastic collection...a solid 5 star rating.”—Joshua Gullion, AdventureAWeek.com
“An amazing collection...from some of the best designers and writers creating role-playing game material today.”—Brian Fitzpatrick, BlogCritics.org

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The Practical GM's Guide

5/5

I'm normally a huge fan of expert guides to game design, and as such make a lot of purchases to get outside perspective to augment my own game design and worldbuilding.

And let me say, this is far and away a departure from the normal means of setting design. While most resources typically take a top down approach and list repetitive if useful tools for designing fantasy settings, the essays in this collection approach individual campaign components in insightful, pragmatic, and logical ways. While this style of writing is not for everyone, nor is every essay of equal versatility, I found it useful in the following ways:

1. In General: The guide presents a well-rounded approach to a wide variety of campaign types and options without losing specificity or resorting to describing campaigns and options as extremes, thereby allowing exploration of a spectrum of options. For instance, Magic and Industry are addressed as a single topic with magic as technology, magic and technology at odds, or campaigns that include one or the other.

2. In Specific: The essays are crafted with utility in mind for a given topic, such as the design of religions, conspiracies, and locales. I don't feel a single one of these essays fails to live up to the author's intent of providing thought-provoking and educational data on a given topic.

3. Weaknesses: Despite the obvious strengths of the guide's essays, I felt that some authors opted to market their setting under the guise of using those settings as examples. While I acknowledge and appreciate the poignant example, the repetitive use comes across as shameless advertising rather than an archetype for design choice.

I highly recommend this to anyone who has grown accustomed to the standard GM advice guides.

PS: The introduction includes a quote by Tim Powers from a writer's workshop about how gamers and writers "don't feel at home in this world" and that is why we play and write the games we do. That's genius.


Theory of Design

5/5

I just finished reading this today, and I think it was amazing. It is almost certainly the best written, most informed, and most comprehensive treatment of the subject I have ever read. It doesn't get overly technical and ruin the spirit of the process by overwhelming us with science or literary theory. It is really an A+ treatment of the subject. Highly recommend.

My favorite thing about the book is the fact that the authors warn you about mistakes that people make, but they give examples of why it is bad and speak from experience. For example, in “What is Setting Design” Wolfgang Baur explains why focusing on your world's history is an indulgent distraction from the main goals of design. He even has a side-bar explaining why the temptation to write lengthy histories is so common, but he explains specifically how it doesn't actually enhance the final product. Fantasy history, for history's sake, is an indulgence that we inherited from Tolkien, but it never really enhances the living, shared experience for gamers. This really spoke to me.

Another thing I liked was the typology of fantasy types in Baur's “How Real is Your World?” This sort of thing has been done before, but what I liked about this one is the way he demonstrates the advantages of each as well as the design dangers that come associated with them. In previous works, this advice was painfully obvious and usually linked to the tone of the genre, but here he explores specific design issues associated with the content of the theme.

A third thing I liked was the treatment of unconventional religions in Steve Winter's too-short essay on “Why No Monotheism?” and Zeb Cook's “How to Design a Mystery Cult”. These types of religion are rare in fantasy games, often for good reason, but these essays give the best advice I have so far encountered on how to actually make them useful in a fantasy setting. For me, religion in fantasy settings often feels flat and derivative, so I was inspired by the notion that people are at least considering formats beyond the standard henotheism of D&D.

The only thing I disliked were the essays on “How to Write a World Bible” and “Worldbuilding in Licensed Worlds”. The first was too simplistic. It has the kind of advice you'd give to a film director preparing to make his first period film, not the kind of thing you'd give either to a novice GM writing his or her first world or to an experienced GM looking for ways to work more efficiently. The second essay applies only to people who want to be professional authors, which isn't going to resonate with most people. This essay belonged in Kobold's Game Design volume on how to work in the industry instead of here. I would have preferred an essay on how to adapt a Shared World, like Golarion or Dark Sun, for home use, but virtually none of the advice here helps me.

I have read at least four or five works on the subject of worldbuilding over the years. This is the best treatment on the methods of the subject that I have found. While there are more comprehensive manuals on how to design cultures, demographics, climates, and other specialized topics, I found this to be just the right size and utility for my needs as a worldbuilder-gamer and GM. I genuinely expect to get a lot of use out of it.


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The Exchange Contributor; Publisher, Kobold Press; RPG Superstar Judge

New review of this book posted by Neverwillibreak: thank you! It's always good to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Also, this book made the Top 10 downloads this week at NUMBER 2. Can't complain.


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

Awesome. Finally got trough it on breaks at work. Strongly recommend reading one chapter a day and letting each simmer in your mind. And keep a notebook or highlighter to hand.

The Exchange Contributor; Publisher, Kobold Press; RPG Superstar Judge

Thanks, Bwang, glad to hear it!

We're out of print again at the moment at Paizo. Good problem to have.

Liberty's Edge

Kobold's Guide to Wold Building:

Step 1: Find a dark hole somewhere
Step 2: This hole is now your world, but everybody wants to take it from you!
Steps 3 through infinity: Build traps

:P

The Exchange Contributor; Publisher, Kobold Press; RPG Superstar Judge

Gnoll Bard, you are giving away all the sekrits! :)

Somewhat relatedly, I'm not sure whether there are any Redditors here on the Paizo boards, but there's a thread on this book with some good critique on Reddit.

As so often happens, the further you go with the Reddit thread, the harsher it gets.

The Exchange Contributor; Publisher, Kobold Press; RPG Superstar Judge

Reviewed on iO9!

io9 wrote:
For anyone who’s ever had the drive to create a fictional place, whether in a game, for your novel, or just to pass a rainy afternoon, the Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding will spark some new ideas and help you add the proper doses of verisimilitude and outlandishness.


After reading the essay on How Real is Your World - I'm glad to know those aspects of real Asian, Asian history and culture I've put into the development of Kaidan seem to fit into your concept of what should and should not be included.

While I know the majority of players in Kaidan have exposure to Japan through anime, and perhaps expect a level of wahoo because of that experience, most of my reference material for developing Kaidan is from late 19th century translations of Japanese ghost stories by Lafcadio Hearn (Koizumi Yagumo). While I have watched my share of chanbara movies (the old Japanese fight films from the 50's and 60's), most of my research were from pre-film sources.

We (Jonathan McAnulty and I) have included varying aspects so those players wanting something wahoo, or an interest in 'furries' - we've included that to be inclusive for those players. But really, Kaidan is more of a low fantasy, gritty Japan at least by intentional design.

This book of yours didn't exist prior to my initial development - it's nice to know that I haven't deviated much from your advice given. I certainly could have used the advice before I started this project, at least my chosen direction seems in line with your advice.

The Exchange Contributor; Publisher, Kobold Press; RPG Superstar Judge

Lafcadio Hearn is AWESOME! Those are terrific stories. And hey, he had a strange and rather eventful life, I seem to recall. (Wikipedia says yes.)

And hey, I'm glad that the book sort retroactively confirms your design choices. Kaidan is on my reading list...

Liberty's Edge

HolmesandWatson wrote:

Marc, quit surfing the boards and get The Sunken Pyramid finished!!!

:-)

spoiler:
The Sunken Pyramid is finished and out!!!

Be sure to check it out - I'm thrilled to say the adventure has received some wonderful reviews :)

Sunken Pyramid


Marc Radle wrote:
HolmesandWatson wrote:

Marc, quit surfing the boards and get The Sunken Pyramid finished!!!

:-)

** spoiler omitted **

Of course, EndZeitgeist is already pushing for a sequel. No rest for the talented...

The Exchange Contributor; Publisher, Kobold Press; RPG Superstar Judge

2 people marked this as a favorite.

Two ENnie nominations for this book: both Best RPG-Related Book, and Best Writing!

This is a major honor, and I'd like to thank all the authors who made this book great, and also the editor, Janna Silverstein, who pushed every writer to deliver their best.

Liberty's Edge

Wow, that's AWESOME!

The Exchange Contributor; Publisher, Kobold Press; RPG Superstar Judge

2 people marked this as a favorite.

More than nominations: The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding has WON both awards it was up for! Not too shabby.

Proof! What Two Gold ENnies Look Like

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Nice work, well deserved

The Exchange Contributor; Publisher, Kobold Press; RPG Superstar Judge

Ok, the editor ran across a few additional reviews and shared them with me, so I'm sharing them here.

The big one is the iO9 review, but all of them make me think this book hit the mark:

“Class is in session . . . The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding SHOULD be considered a textbook on intelligent setting creation.”
--Dave Hinojosa, The Gaming Gang

"A fantastic resource"--Skyland Games

“While the book is aimed at the RPG crowd, a huge percentage of the material would be just as valuable to an author writing a novel set in an original world. . . . For anyone who’s ever had the drive to create a fictional place . . . The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding will spark some new ideas and help you add the proper doses of verisimilitude and outlandishness.”
--Ed Grabianowski, i09

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