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May 24 2012

Building Worlds One Character at a Time

I’m really into character driven stories these days and that includes plot and such. So plot is defined as being the events that make up the story and how they relate to one another. By a character driven plot I mean the villain of the piece is a person who has motivations causing them to enact whatever plot they need to so they can accomplish their desired goal. I build my worlds from these individuals out and then find or create the pieces of the world to connect the PCs to the story. Some would say this is pushing the world to the background but I think it’s making everything interconnected. Now I’ll try to explain.

The villan of the piece is an immortal and powerful tyrant who was trapped within a sword, put there eons ago so only the oldest legends remember him. Over the years the blade has passed from hand to hand until it finally found a home in the Whitemore family, a lineage of lords who served the King faithfully and have held the western borders of the country of Kingshaven for the past two centuries. The magic bindings on the sword have slowly faded over the years and for the last hundred or so years the tyrant has been able to exert influence over its wielder and has done so in an attempt to find a way to get out of his prison. Finally he learned a way to escape and tried to drive the wielder of the blade towards his goal but it only ended in bloodshed and a less than desirable reputation. This got the sword locked up in the family crypt.

Ok, my villain is trapped in a sword, or basically imprisoned. He wants to get out. This is his motivation for acting. In creating this situation I built a well known magic sword, a family as its caretaker, a hint at their standing in a country called Kingshaven, hinted at an event concerning the sword, and created the sense of an old world with magic in it. Heck, I haven’t even gotten to the plot yet. That’s just the villain’s set up and the goal he’s trying to achieve. To continue I need a way for the tyrant to get out in the world to achieve his goal.

Janus Whitemore is the current Lord of the Whitemores. In a tragic turn of events the Whitemore holdings are attacked by the king’s men. One of the king’s soothsayers had a vision of a Whitemore destroying his line. Janus survived the attack and went to the crypt looking for power and found the sword. With the sword he killed every one of the king’s men who attacked his holdings and avenged his murdered wife and child, but in doing so gave himself over to the sword. This event gives us very little about the world we didn’t already know but it moves the villain’s plot forward so we can have more options for world building.

The tyrant in the sword knows he needs to clash with the white blade of Hope in order to break free from these bonds. The problem is there aren’t any Knights of the White Blade these days. They only arise during times of strife and war. Now that he’s more in control of Janus they can work together to build an army and rampage across the lands. Janus for vengance and the Tyrant for his opportunity.

Now we have the plot of our story. The bad guys want revenge and freedom and their plan, or the plot, is to rampage across the lands. This means the lands need to be created and referenced as this army of darkness crushes country after country. The PCs will likely be affiliated with each other in some way opposed to this army of darkness and Janus Whitemore. You now have the white sword and its history of heroes who’ve wielded it before. All that’s left is dropping the PCs into the situation as this army starts tearing up the world and hook them into the White Sword side of the story.

All that comes from one tyrant imprisioned in a sword.

I think the trick is asking yourself what comes next. I try and find the most logical way to move the bad guy’s ambitions to the next plot point in the story. After that I wait a little for the players to come up with their characters. At that point I build up a little bit of the world around them so they feel a part of it. Sometimes this gives me some excellent side plots, sometimes it doesn’t. In any case the world is building itself one character at a time.

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