Design Journey – Homebrew world (as part of a journey to the stories I want to be part of)
A long time ago (1998) I decided to create a homebrew fantasy world. Before that I had run AD&D and Rolemaster in Forgotten Realms, Shadow World (a Rolemaster setting) and Greyhawk. I had also read dozens of D&D novels.
Why did I start this journey?
First: I’m a biology major who loves nature documentaries and wildlife parks, so struggling with the presumption of all/most of the “races” being bipedal mammals, who live, sleep and eat just liked humans - seemed like a lazy convention and massive waste of potential for story telling, and sub optimal use of inspiring resources.
Second: When you read mythology half the creatures involved are not Human, and often they are the most interesting characters.
Third: Star Trek. The best Trek eps are two part episodes or those with recurring villains. These villain eps have tons of interaction between the party/heroes and the NPCs/villains. I wanted “the usual suspects” array of villains to be PC species.
So I created Rikirta, initially for AD&D 2e, but quickly followed by my own RPG system. The world had Cyclopse, Nichav (Spider folk), Centaurs and Minotaurs are core races, with rock based Dwarves and plant based Elves.
My homebrew: 384 spells, 12 classes, level system. Binary task results. It worked fine, it scaled and gave room for broad or narrow skillsets. However, there was no art. Art is one of the keys to inspire people (along with short and long fiction or basing it on a TV show). Thus players kept referring to cool things in D&D books and games and hey they can’t wait to interact with that thing…
Part of the ongoing struggle was I had an idea of a fantasy genre with it’s own conventions, but it was not the sub -enre of D&D fantasy that most people were used to and expecting. When I would make changes in a game (for other settings and my own) the players couldn't care less. They just wanted to do the quest, get the reward, and try something fun. Setting creation and game design can be a lonely road a times without the right folks onboard. Players would suggest ideas, but were not excited when they were implemented.
So I kept working on my world, while running Shadowrun and other less specifically fantasy games. Over time there was a massive slump of players in my area as they all went off to Everquest, then Neverwinter Nights, then World of Warcraft.
The homebrew world evolved a few times, going from “sourced from 12 different ancient earth cultures” to 4 with strong setting conventions that were mine and original. Maps changed from drawn in Windows Paint to Hexographer to Campaign Cartographer. The list of creatures on the world went from “Anything” to 100 with 12 most common, I wanted a strong theme. Vancian casting for magic was driving me bonkers and I tried every optional rule I found in any game splat book to work instead.
RPG discussions were common online, though changing - Usenet gave way to IRC groups and web forums.
I discovered Pathfinder and ran my setting on that, but got into regular arguments because my world's races didn’t match the min-maxing the players insisted on. Any hope of this new system allowing me to tell the range of stories I was aiming for was crushed utterly.
The Golden Era
Then like the sun coming over the horizon I found hope again, I was listening to these new things called RPG discussion podcasts. I found One Shot & Misdirected Mark talking about this thing called Dungeon World.
Revising my setting for DW was fun and restarted my enthusiasm. The games of Dungeon World worked great. Though the magic was still not what I wanted, it was better than my previous D&D/Rolemaster/Pathfinder versions. The games were dynamic and there were times we laughed so hard it hurt.
While I was happy with the setting, the Dungeon World system was not quite right, so I developed Conjure Hagalaz - which became Don’t Pay the Ferryman – a mash up of Dungeon World, Monster of the Week, Shadowrun & Urban Shadows. When I released it I made sure there was plenty of art to inspire players and set the tone and style for the setting. It has been a long road, with breaks, failures, revisions, and successes.
Hindsight – If I had heard of PBTA games earlier then I would have taken that road earlier, but I am glad I found the system parameters I needed.
What I learned – Keep trying, run your campaign idea or setting concept in different systems, find what works for you.