It’s Karol, back with greetings from the cold reaches of the Midwest and a few thoughts about design and development. (Surprise!) We’ve already teased some upcoming releases for 2020 and it’s no surprise we’re hard at work on plenty of new content that will broaden and enrich the Age of Legend for tables around the world. As we press our collective nose to the grindstone I’ve found myself reflecting on the way my world-building and adventure-building has evolved over the years, both before and during my time at FASA Games.
The world of Earthdawn is a richly defined place, one of the things that drew me to the setting and game in the first place. It’s inevitable, though, that there will be disagreements in the community on how to handle certain situations. When discussions of lore and background come up among Earthdawn players online (such as on the FASA Games forums or our Discord server), it’s heartening to see that, even with differing opinions and ideas, our community is respectful and constructive.
The phrase “Your Earthdawn” comes up in such discussions, and it’s become a favorite of mine. It carries a tone of empowerment. It encapsulates so much so succinctly: we may interpret some rules differently, or we may have read the same bit of lore and come to different conclusions from it. But as a community we encourage taking the building blocks of the setting and shaping them to fit your table. It’s how, even with this richly defined world the various developers have created, everyone can make sure their own stories are unique and meaningful.
This provides some interesting challenges to us current developers as we create content that’s meant to inspire the community. For my own part, I absolutely love world-building. As a budding young GM, I’ll admit I was a bit obsessive loading everything with details, and would spend considerable time hashing out the minutia of something like a street festival or an ancient battle that influenced current events in a setting. An important lesson for me as someone who ran games for others was to pump the brakes.
A roleplaying game is a shared experience between players and their GM, and it’s important to make sure player preferences and narratives are woven into what you create. And in all honesty, nailing down too many specifics means you’re devoting energy to things your players may never care about, instead of bolstering the game experience you know they’ll respond to. It was a lesson I held close, and one that I found myself quickly returning to when I had the opportunity to join the FASA team.
When we create content not just for a table but for a whole setting, there’s an additional layer to that shared experience: the one between us and the GMs who give life to the game at their tables. Now we’re not just crafting an experience for our friends to breathe life into as players, but for fans who have plenty of experience and knowledge of their own. They shape what we provide into narratives that their gaming group will respond to, and build their legends within. But going back to the other end of this chain, we need to make sure that the world we are building is coherent and rich with hooks for them to expand upon.
A common consideration or question I ask myself when inserting a detail is “what does this really bring to the game world?” An in-depth description of every aspect of a village festival, for example, may provide plenty of flavor, but it can also constrain a GM. Taking that village festival and describing its origins (celebrating the lifting of a great curse, say) and implying the elements of this celebration are secretly a ritual keeping a curse at bay? Some GMs might skim over that with a ‘hmm,’ but for others, lightning will strike. Their players love supernatural investigations, and there’s room in their campaign for this kind of a story. Just like that, we’ve provided a foundation for an adventure without overly constraining the one who knows their players best: the GM.
It can be a tightrope walk. If we’re too vague, a hook or detail may simply not be enough to go on. If we’re too detailed, elements might turn off certain GMs where a more thematic approach would have encouraged them. Striking that balance is a constant challenge, but one we take very seriously. Seeing the ensuing brainstorms from our community, or exchanges of “oh, in my group the players did this…” stories that really stick with players and GMs? That’s definitely a rewarding experience for us as we see our content go out into the world.
So that’s what it comes down to, really, with world-building. We don’t want to nit-pick every single detail, but we do want to give you as many hooks as possible to help you make the world your own. When we provide the right hooks and see our community run with them, we know we’ve done a good job. We may not get the immediate feedback of seeing a player enraptured at the table, but hearing from fans about what they love is no less exciting. It sure makes us feel like we’re holding up our end of that relationship with the Earthdawn community.