RPG Worldbuilding is enough work without hammering out every mechanic. Use these free systems to kickstart your next universe, without the number’s game.
Open Legend is a stripped down rules system with a focus on collaborative story telling. This makes it ideal for those that want their RPG universe to flow with mythology and lore more than physics and condition tables. What is truly outstanding for this system are the level of development that has gone into its tools.
Let’s start with the basics: in order to interact with the gaming world, you need character! Open Legend Character Builder gets you rolling with an interactive character sheet plus tutorial. It’s also a great guide for anyone looking to design their own sheets in the future.
For those who would rather look to the stars, Stars Without Number offers endless possibilities for worlds and encounters. The rules PDF is available free. Set centuries after communication between planets has been cut off, Stars offers the possibility to build and expand a world all its own before introducing it to another one as technology pushes toward the galactic scale again.
Fate is a system designed to mold to whatever genre you want to explore. It’s lighter on dice interaction, heavier on narrative, and ideal for mishmashing genres until you get the characters you’ve always wanted to know. While Fate has plenty of base rules systems to offer, it’s best suited for intimate interactions between characters and spaces than epic architectures or Tolkienesque wars.
This was just the most timid of toe touches into RPG worldbuilding. We’re looking forward to bringing more resources for you to shape your settings into exactly what you imagined, not to mention tips on how to run them.
The world of role playing games are ripe with seemingly endless possibilities to make your game tactile, more visually engaging, or more easily accessible. One of the most basic tools is the map. Whether for the RPG world, the characters’ homebase, or an encounter, maps instantly pull PCs into the setting and start the game’s movement and engagement mechanics going.
RPG resources are popping up on all platforms. Instagram account Fantastic Maps has excellent how-tos to assist with fleshing out those encounter areas, or populated regions. Check out the classic town map tutorial as a starting point!
For a quick fix on a pick up game, check out this city map generator, complete with auto filled in guild sections. The creator accepts donations for creating and hosting this awesome tool. Give if you can!
Placing NPC and PCs on your RPG map can be just as important to setting the scene. While colored stones, painted wood game pieces, or even just torn paper may do the trick, there’s little more fun in the world of 2D representations of 3D space than fulling illustrated tokens. Some users have created free templates for NPC tokens that you can print yourself from popular games with Dungeons & Dragons. Roll Advantage has provided a free tool to design your own for a more personal touch.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have as much fun playing around with these tools as you will using them in game!
This week I’ve been thinking a lot about inclusion and representation in genre media and gaming. Enjoy the selections below:
Charlie Jane Anders writes about an Ava Duvernay interview where she talks about the perspective she brings to her adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time. In it, Duvernay discusses her niece, who is “the real Meg.” It’s important for people of all ages to see themselves depicted in media, but for children most of all.
Leona Vivalis towers over her party members, with sable hair and violent eyes…
We all remember our roleplaying first game and trying to come up with a way to quickly introduce our characters. Young Adult Fantasy, and many older adult titles, have us trained to describe them in terms of their looks: striking eyes, bold hair, maybe the glint of their weapon of choice. But does that really give the other players cues for interacting with them?
Below I offer 3 questions I use to open my campaigns that have nothing to do with elvish good looks.
What are your pronouns?
This one may seem obvious, but sometimes it’s all in how you ask. I remember the first time I was at a con so many years ago and a GM asked “male or female?” when I told them what class I’d chosen. It felt like a revolution had happened. I present femme, so before this point it was assumed by everyone I’d be playing a female character.
Similarly, when the 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons books dropped, my brothers and I immediately noticed how they switched off pronouns when giving character examples. It was new and unique, but all of that feels dated, now. Relegated to my preteen and teenage years.
Now when I run a game, I ask for the characters’ name, class, pronouns, and race (if applicable to the rules system). It also opens up my players to flesh out their presentation in-game. My RPGs are played first person, so when I address or talk about a character, I try to stick to those pronouns and use their names only.
These identifiers don’t have to come into your game as a point of interaction with NPCs at all, but as a collaborative experience, it’s important to understand and respect your players and their characters.
How do you enter the room?
The tavern is classic. It’s tried and true. You’re players are in the tavern. How did they get there? Leave the answers up to them, prompting where necessary.
Did they throw open the door, try to slip in unnoticed? Does everyone there know their name? Are they a stranger? Maybe they’re uncomfortable in bars, because they’re usually at home taking care of mom. This question easily leads to other character development and narrative questions.
Can they hold their ale? Does this lead to an adventure, or just the other players learning a little too much about each other’s backstories? Who else is listening to the conversation at their trestle table?
How did you get yourself in this situation?
When I Game Mastered a pacifast session of Dungeons & Dragons, all of the characters woke up in jail. My first question: “How did you get here?”
Just that simple. There may have been some edits necessary, and one character woke up completely hungover with no memory (“roll to remember” is a fun dynamic to insert here), but it immediately put everyone into their characters’ mindset.
Let me know what questions you ask to get your players ready to interact with each other as characters!
My grandmother is 76 years old and played Dungeons & Dragons when it came out in the 70s. I wish I could distill every cool thing she is, but this interview is just about that one thing.
(My grandmother is taking her medicine during the first part of this interview, thus the background noise.)
Not thinking outside the box, and the rule playing and everything.
And I realize that’s how I was educated, in school. Never encouraged to go- ‘this is the way you do it, this is the answer. No, that’s foolish, you do it this way.’ That’s- especially grade school.
Really? So you think that that affected your playing Dungeon’s & Dragons?
Yeah, it affected my thinking. I mean I can see how the training- it’s so cool now kids are given this creative, creative license.
It’s, yeah I know, very much. And I don’t know how much of that was cold German,* I don’t know how education was, then, or what they did in the neighborhood schools. I don’t know.
Right. That’s interesting. Oh, I remember what I was going to ask you. Finish your water and I’ll-
Bob had journaling. I had a hard time. I did not understand what journaling was.
So. Oh, so as far as it being created in Wisconsin, Dungeons & Dragons, do you know anything about the people who created Dungeons & Dragons, or do you, did you hear any stories about who made it?
So it was just a prepackaged game that you got?
Was there- when you were playing, was there ever a time when you thought, ‘Oh, this is more, this is a boy, boy game,’ or like if this was-
Oh, no, not in this house. No such thing.
Although I have to say I did bend a little bit into the culture. John had a doll.
A couple dolls. And I was just thinking, ‘Oh, that’s pretty nice.’ He had older sisters, so it was legitimate to him to have a doll.
And then I got mad at myself for even thinking that. Because I had a girlfriend who had a son and she bought him a doll.
A baby doll to play with.
Yeah like Nick, Nick had his two baby dolls. Those were his favorite toys. He has always wanted to be a Dad, you can tell. Of course he’s the first one to have a child.
Yes, yes, yes.
Yeah, okay so there was no- and like playing the video games, you never thought like you know, I am- you know, why would women want to hack this monster to pieces?
No. No, no. No. Never considered it.
Have you heard of that since? Has that been an idea that you have heard of from other people?
Oh, yes. Yeah. Definitely. They didn’t know what, you know. And I never understood, but see I wasn’t brought up that way. I was always brought up that-
The immediate family. Other parts, distant relatives, cousins and that, they would, and aunts and uncles and that, ‘Oh, that’s not something you should be doing.’ Well, why not? You know.
But my mother was very much, and my grandmother was very much, ‘You do what you’ve got the talent for and what you can do.’ Nothing about male and female roles.
Right, okay. When you were, so where did you hear that, you know, especially for video games and for Dungeons & Dragons, any even Science Fiction, did you ever hear that women shouldn’t read Science Fiction and that that’s something men write, and men read? Was that ever an idea you heard of?
Okay. But for the video games? Where were you hearing that that was, you know, like a boy activity? Was that from the media, or was it like your friends? Or just the time?
I want to say just the time with that talk. And girls just didn’t do that. It was more like they weren’t interested in that. I never thought it’d be, if you shouldn’t be doing that.
Or that it was a boy’s role. It was more like, well they didn’t have the interest, they didn’t care.
Okay. When you were playing Dungeon’s & Dragons, so you thought it was really cool to play a woman, you know, a magic user.
Yeah, that may be a little bit of the background I didn’t pick in the end. I wanted to be a woman, a woman in power.
Right, yeah, so that’s-
How I thought about it then, I don’t quite remember.
Okay. When you were reading, or playing, when you were playing those video games, did you ever interact with like, or playing Dungeons & Dragons, the idea of like powerless women. Like damsels in towers that you have to rescue, or, you know, women who you were offered their hand in marriage or something. Was that ever something that entered into those storylines? Or was that not the kind of games that you played?
I don’t think they were the kinds of games that we played. But I probably would have- I mean, I’m not trying to say that I’m completely liberated, but,-
I was very much affected by the culture I was in, but when I personally wanted to do something and that, I never thought, ‘well, no I’m a girl, I can’t do that.’
Okay. When you were looking at, like, the art for Dungeons & Dragons, do you remember any of the art? -I think that’s you.
(answers phone, interview paused.)
So as far as the art for these games, for like the roleplaying games, did you ever, especially in the 70s when you guys were playing, did any of it bother you at all, or was it just Fantasy art as far as you were concerned?
It was like Fantasy art. I don’t, never felt, anything that ‘oh that’s bothersome’, or you know. The closest thing was the David Bowie album- Diamond Dogs.
Diamond Dogs, that bothered you?
Alright. That’s awesome, so as far as being able to play a female character in Dungeons & Dragons, so a woman character, was that a totally new thing for you, or was it just, like was that something novel for the game for you? Is that something that drew you?
I think so, yes. I would say there was something novel about it. Yeah, I think so, I think I was happy to do that, because I thought there, ‘Oh, okay, I can do this.’
Yeah, I think so. I really can’t add to that, I guess.
Yeah, that’s okay.
As you can tell, I’m not really deep thinking here. I was very accepting of, you know, whatever the game was. I never, especially pictures, I mean, that’s art work. I never really…
Well, you sound like an ideal player, if you were just ready to go with whatever was happening in the game. That sounds, you know, like what every GM wants the players to do.
Yeah, because sometimes- yeah, sometimes they challenge you, or they decide, ‘oh, yes, we’re gonna go off on our own and we’re gonna look behind this door that was locked, we’re gonna kick it open.’ Even if the GM doesn’t want them to go there.
I mean, there’s arguments that you shouldn’t give them the option, then but-
That’s, that’s kind of cool. That’s creative.
It’s creative doing that.
Did you ever do anything like that when you were gaming, or was it always very, ‘This is what we are told we’re doing, and I’m going down this hallway because I was told I was doing that’?
Okay. Awesome. Well yeah, that’s- I mean, was there anything else you wanted to share about your experiences, or your memories of it?
I remember being interested or exciting about it, because it was something new.
And it was all very much being with the family.
Right, a group experience.
Yeah, doing that. RIght, yeah.
Is it something you would be interested in doing now?
Yes and I probably would approach it differently. Yes, I would be interested in doing it now.
Would you be interested in going to conventions now? What do you think? Because there are whole conventions around just gaming.
Well, I would be interested in that to see if I liked it, if that’s interesting, if that’s something – oh, sure. It’s a new adventure.
That’s a great attitude. Alright, well thank you, that’s all I had.
You’re very welcome. I hope it’s helpful to you.
It was, thank you.
You’ve got me thinking, now. You’ve got me thinking.
Got you thinking about it? That’s good. Have you played any roleplaying games on the internet since those have been coming out?
No. They’ll take- I don’t remember the name of the game. They’ll take a game and they’ll make it like mahjong. Is that how you pronounce it?
But the pictures are monsters.
Oh, I think you had a World of Warcraft one?
Yes, that’s it.
And you recognized that?
I still do it.
You still play your World of Warcraft mahjong? That’s a lot of fun. That’s cool.
And I’m really too chicken to get anymore games, because I’m always afraid of getting a virus.
Oh, we could set you up. Do you ever play Fantasy or SciFi games on your Wii or anything? Or on any of those consoles?
No, no I don’t have any games like that.
Okay, would you be interested in those games?
Sure, it’s just that inaction on my part. I’m not seeking-
Yeah, no worries.
It out and that, and doing- you know, because I play the Wii. That is part of the physical therapy. I play because of the physical therapy.
So, but I just never seek it out.
There are some great starship horror games that came out.
Would you be interested in those? What do you feel about horror games?
Yeah, I don’t know about what the horror would be.
You’re alone on a starship, and it is very dark, and there are things crawling around.
Doesn’t that sound fun?
Well, that would be fun, because that’s not real. I mean, I’m not afraid in my house. That’d be fun, because then that would get you.
Or not get you.
Yeah. Or you would be-
Yeah, I would do fantasy.
Okay, interesting. Alright, well thank you.
*My grandmother was born in Milwaukee, WI like me, but is 100% German.
I had the great pleasure of attending a few of the Sunday blocks of Otherworld Theatre’s Paragon – a Science Fiction and Fantasy Play Festival this past weekend, November 12th.
The day opened with a reminder that break up conventions and rejection transcend all relationship types, and species. In “The Day the Earth Stood By,” Writer Joe Janes and director Logan Toftness use a monologue to explain that Earth needs to stop dialing out- intergalactically. Another highlight was the eco-feminist dystopic future depicted in “Construction Time Again” by writer Aaron Adair and director Shellie DiSalvo.
The one that hit me hard was “Speaking of Mars” by Jonathan Cook and Iris Sowlat. In this constantly nearing future, potential colonists are tested for a planned one way trip to Mars. They are also being paired up for repopulation once there. Scientist Adam meets his future mate, Evelyn, for the first time, and has his new found hopes for love and companionship dashed when she explains that she is a lesbian.
If this were to come to light, she will be kicked out of the program. After some explorations of what their loving, but aromantic relationship might look like (We can still be sexual, she says at one point), Adam agrees to travel to Mars with Evelyn as a couple.
While Evelyn’s willingness to do what is expected of her (procreate with a man) initially sounds like so much of heterosexual history and forced child bearing by otherwise unwilling wives, she continuously asserts her agency. As a scientist, she will not miss this leap forward for humanity. Unfortunately to do this, she must hide her identity.
It is a valid question: Where do LGBTQ+ identities fit into our view of the future and space travel? Up to this point, while we’ve seen far less LGBTQ+ folk than we ought to in NASA, space agency work does not require any specific orientation or identity.
Does gender and heterosexuality only exist in the first place because of our limited view of repopulation? Generally speaking, stories of space exploration are framed within the same colonizing lens as pilgrims to what is now the United States. In order to survive and thrive, the population must duplicate and expand itself by heterosexual means.
This got me thinking about other depictions of sexuality in recent Science Fiction media:
Meanwhile, in a new era of space explorations, the Star Trek: Discovery Starfleet has apparently not put into effect the ship fraternization laws removed by Janeway in Voyager after being stranded 60+ years from home, as the ship’s doctor, Hugh Culber, and astromycologist Paul Stamets are married and live in shared quarters. While we have not yet reached the procreation question in that series, and the ship is generally within or adjacent to Federation space, we have yet to see what family units and life is like in this human future.
The film Alien: Covenant sidesteps the reproduction question by providing a ship full of embryos. Instead the traditional pairings can be read as a means of supporting traditional values about relationships and providing for the crew’s emotional needs. It is interesting that a series about the fears of procreative necessities sidesteps the natural biological processes required for it in humans, but ultimately it is unsatisfyingly without further exploration.
On the other end of extreme space faring, Thor: Ragnarok introduces two bisexual characters without mentioning their bisexuality. An earlier cut of the film referenced Valkyrie’s sexuality directly, and Loki’s entanglements with the Grandmaster are hinted at, we never truly explore what romance or family making is like at this far corner of the universe.
While our heteronormative present limits representation in contemporary media, I am hoping that these small dips into a more expansive outerspace leads to better depictions. I want us to imagine a gayer future together.
What started you on your adventure? Did your first time at the table result in a TPK? Was your weapon of choice a frying pan? Please share an amusing story from your first roleplaying adventure, or just what your first RPG character was by filling out the contact form below! Stories can also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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