Building A World


Gamer Life General Discussion


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It seems to me there are basically two ways to build a world. In both you start with a history (and perhaps a prehistory) that goes back several thousand years. In one you then provide a "snapshot" called "now" where "now" then moves forward in time along with your publishing schedule. This is, I think, the way most world-builders, including Paizo, do it. The other way is to provide a snapshot of "now" at a particular date - and never move "now" from that in-world date. Any future publications cover parts of the world that haven't been covered yet, or provide additional information about the history of places that have already been covered that doesn't conflict with what's already published. To the best of my knowledge only one setting -- Harnworld -- works this way. Which gives rise to my question: are there other "frozen in time" settings besides Harnworld out there?


I can’t think of any.

I feel like even the ones that try to follow the frozen-in-time model succumb to the temptation of progressing the timeline eventually. I suppose as your game system evolves, it’s desirable to include new options into the published material. So each edition change would provide more incentive to shift things along.

Harn started as system agnostic, so had a good four or five years of grinding out static content before that situation arose. I think it also helped that it was pretty much the work of just one person, early on.


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Fwiw, I think the frozen-in-time method is more approachable for a latecomer DM. Part of the reason the Forgotten Realms is so impenetrable, imo, is that you pick up a book and have to deduce where it sits alongside other setting books. It’s easy to have two sourcebooks discussing the same region which disagree on fundamentals.

A similar issue no doubt exists for people coming to Golarion now who may find themselves with both PF1 and PF2 sourcebooks (presumably the remastering will only add another barrier to building setting knowledge as well).


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Far as I know, "now" in Harnworld has always been, and still is, 1 Nuzyael, 720 TR. There's a lot of fanon (fan-generated content) out there, and even that sticks to the 'frozen in time' theme. There are some adventures that may not take place exactly on that date (100 Bushels Of Rye for example takes place iirc at or shortly after the fall harvest, but by implication at least it takes place after 1 Nuzyael 720 TR, either later that same year or in some later year.

One advantage to the model is you don't get the "drow exist… oh wait, no they don't" problem. You do get "we never knew about these guys before, but we do now" -- e.g. the Cholori, underground dwelling enemies of the dwarves who are somehow related to them. Although that may be because there's never afaik been anything introduced into Harnworld that depended on anything like the OGL.


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That isn't so much "world building" as "campaign setting continuity."

In general, a GM should talk with the players and determine if and how much the setting could change in the course of the campaign (based on the actions of the PCs and NPCs [including allies, antagonists, rivals, etc.]). Some groups want their actions to "mean something" while others don't.

If the group doesn't want setting changes (or only wants limited setting changes, such as ones to personal status or contacts/relationships), then the GM should avoid adventures and plot arcs that could alter the setting: dismantling a thieves guild, changing rulers, etc. There is nothing "wrong" with this approach and it has a long history (the classic mega-dungeons were based on this concept).


Ed Reppert wrote:

Far as I know, "now" in Harnworld has always been, and still is, 1 Nuzyael, 720 TR. There's a lot of fanon (fan-generated content) out there, and even that sticks to the 'frozen in time' theme. There are some adventures that may not take place exactly on that date (100 Bushels Of Rye for example takes place iirc at or shortly after the fall harvest, but by implication at least it takes place after 1 Nuzyael 720 TR, either later that same year or in some later year.

One advantage to the model is you don't get the "drow exist… oh wait, no they don't" problem. You do get "we never knew about these guys before, but we do now" -- e.g. the Cholori, underground dwelling enemies of the dwarves who are somehow related to them. Although that may be because there's never afaik been anything introduced into Harnworld that depended on anything like the OGL.

Yeah. I much prefer that approach, but there must be a publisher imperative to progress the timeline (since it is such a common practise).

Runequest kind of passed me by, but I seem to remember they had a similar approach(?) I heard they expanded geographically, rather than by moving the timeline forward.

Although Harn is also peculiar in that (besides fan content that exists semi-officially)the author and the publisher parted company but each kept putting out harn content. Far as I can gather they managed to navigate all of that without lawyers (which is heartening) - so there are occassional discrepancies between Robin Crossby Harn and late-Colombia Games Harn releases.


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Well, the producers of Harnworld material don't produce APs for example. They've produced less than a dozen small adventures. They lean mostly to including a lot of "plot hooks" in the setting material, and letting GMs use the ones they want however they want.

Not sure about setting discrepancies between Columbia Games (CGI) and Kelestia Games. Certainly the ruleset is different. That was the point of controversy between Robin and Grant (CEO of CGI). OTOH, Kelestia is apparently going to produce their own Harn Regional Module, something they've avoided doing 'til now. I don't really expect any significant differences, but we'll see.

Radiant Oath

Eberron (by default) is always at 998 YK. The creator has blogged about playing a game set in the history of the setting.


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Eberron is frozen in time; through three editions of D&D, the calendar has remained on the year 998 YK, and all of the novels are non-canon hypotheticals. The worldbuilding has thus been additive, with us finally meeting the Sahuagin in depth recently, or the Dragonborn of 4e.

I think it's a really smart approach.


I didn’t know Eberron had a frozen-in-time assumption. Somehow I missed that detail!

It’s definitely my favorite approach but an advancing metaplot does seem to be the default. (Although maybe it’s just something I’ve assumed without noticing those that deviate from it).


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I'll also float one additional model that we haven't seen yet: supporting multiple time periods of the same setting as sub-settings unto themselves.

Star Wars is the poster child for this: each film trilogy and the gaps between them are treated as distinct sandboxes, while the old Expanded Universe and current High Republic era explore bits of the timeline the films never touched. I'm also an enormous Gundam fan, where the One-Year War (of 0079) is continuously getting further-fleshed out even as later works have pushed as far as 130 years ahead - and Gundam also has separate, unconnected universes that riff on the same core thematic palette!

Both franchises are big influences on me, which I think shines through in my tabletop gaming; I recently wrapped three years of interlinked tabletop campaigns, spanning six distinct time periods across ~500 in-game years.


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keftiu wrote:

I'll also float one additional model that we haven't seen yet: supporting multiple time periods of the same setting as sub-settings unto themselves.

Star Wars is the poster child for this: each film trilogy and the gaps between them are treated as distinct sandboxes, while the old Expanded Universe and current High Republic era explore bits of the timeline the films never touched. I'm also an enormous Gundam fan, where the One-Year War (of 0079) is continuously getting further-fleshed out even as later works have pushed as far as 130 years ahead - and Gundam also has separate, unconnected universes that riff on the same core thematic palette!

Both franchises are big influences on me, which I think shines through in my tabletop gaming; I recently wrapped three years of interlinked tabletop campaigns, spanning six distinct time periods across ~500 in-game years.

Iron Crown Enterprises did that with Middle Earth, from memory. You could adventure pre-lord of the rings or post. Like Star Wars, the various ages of middle earth are all pretty distinct in tone and threat.


Paizo basically does this. The Golarion campaign is isolated from the classical period(Greco Roman) by a gap. There is a gap just before Starfinder leaving GMs to decide why everyone fled the planet before it disappeared entirely.

The 2 games are so isolated that there is no chance of paradox.


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keftiu wrote:
I'm also an enormous Gundam fan, where the One-Year War (of 0079) is continuously getting further-fleshed out even as later works have pushed as far as 130 years ahead

I always knew I liked you.


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Freehold DM wrote:
keftiu wrote:
I'm also an enormous Gundam fan, where the One-Year War (of 0079) is continuously getting further-fleshed out even as later works have pushed as far as 130 years ahead
I always knew I liked you.

Glad to hear it :D

Zeta and Unicorn are my favorites, but I still haven't gotten to Victory or most of the AUs - being a Gundam fan is a lot of hard work!


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Meeting Yoshiuki Tomino not once but twice and being remembered as the "crazy black guy from before" was the highlight of my life.

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