Setting Creation Sheets (pdf)
For our Edge of the Empire game, we decided to try something different: a player generated setting. We have been talking about this for a while and this game in particular seemed like a great setting to try it out.
You can see this kind of thing in newer games such as The Dresden Files and Smallville. Most of the time, the GM is the one creating the story and setting (locations, people, situations) to the table. The players then step into the world and plot that the GM built. With a Player Generated Setting, the players and GM work together to build the locations, characters, and situations that the game takes place in.
There are two benefits to this approach. The first is that the players can design their characters to connect directly to the setting. The other is that the players can have their own epiphanies on something changing in the story without the GM having to call it out as strange.
All of this is done at what we are calling “Session 0.” It’s a game session where we hash out both the setting and the player characters. What we want to walk out of that first meeting with are a group of NPCs (faces), Locations, and connections between them.
What Do You Want From This
Now, this is adapted from my normal game development process. You can easily use this as a GM to flesh out a setting on your own.
Here’s what I think is important, and how the pieces all interact.
These are the NPCs that the characters regularly interact with. The important thing I focus on when building them is what they can do, what they want, how they relate to other NPCs, and if they support or buck the status quo.
I really want to drive home the status quo thing, especially for driving the creation of more NPCs. If we create a crime-lord that is part of the established status quo, we then ask who is running counter to that. Likewise, if there is a Rebel agent in town (against the SQ), then who are they working against (or maybe someone is hunting them)? If we do this right, we should end up with a living setting in which action is already taking place without the characters.
These are the primary places that the campaign will take place at. If this were a TV show, these would be built as permanent sets because they would see a lot of use.
Locations should be tied to faces, and vice versa. When we create a place, we should ask who is there to meet. Likewise when we create a person, we should ask where we can find them. There doesn’t have to be a 1:1 relationship; one face could have multiple hangouts, or a single location can be home to many faces. In general, though, there should be at least a single pairing per location/face.
These are just groups of locations that are geographically or thematically linked. Despite the name, these don’t have to be literal planets; they could just as easily be space stations, inhabited asteroid fields, etc.
The key feature is that they have multiple locations. So if the party only goes to a space station to meet at this one bar, then it’s just a location. If there are also steam tunnels where transactions take place, and a bridge where the station’s Commander regularly meets with the party to give them missions, then it’s a “planet.”
By focusing on planets, we can start making sense of the conflicts between local NPCs and distill the issues into something more universal.
When we ran our session 0, my goal was to have around 3 planets, with 12 locations, 12 faces (total, not each). This is just a benchmark. If we ended up with 9 locations and 14 faces, then I would done my job. This should be enough to run 3 adventures from (which is what I want from all of this).
How to run Session 0
I created some Setting Creation Sheets to help guide this process.
This may seem too structured for some, and it doesn’t have to be. The system is there so that if things start to slow down, you can point to the next action and move to it rather than wait for someone to do something. If the group starts writing stuff on their own, without turns or anything, then let them.
There are some rules, though:
1. Everyone participates
No one can leave the session without adding one setting detail. I’m not worried about this, but some groups may be.
2. Everyone gets at least one thing they want
If everyone wants criminals as NPCs but just one player wants some Imperial antagonists, that person gets one. The fun part is then as a group fitting the seemingly odd piece into the greater setting.
3. Everything someone creates is shared
I don’t want someone writing stuff out in their corner, without engaging the group. They have to put it out there for everyone to see and react to. That may lead to dialogue about how to improve the idea, or it could lead to someone figuring out a connection between it and something else.
4. The GM is a participant (and just a participant)
This isn’t ONLY owned by the players. The GM has to play with this material too, so they should have as much say as the other players, and gets a turn like everyone else. That said, the GM does not get veto power over the group in this instance. If everyone else wants something, they get it.
5. Anything left blank is the GM’s
If there is a detail not filled in by the group, the GM will do it on his/her own. As a player, you may not like the outcome.
Running Session 0
With that in mind, here’s the system. Again, this is geared for Edge of the Empire, but a little tweaking is all that is needed for another setting.
Step 1. Discuss Overall Direction of Game
Is this a full on criminal group, or are they legit traders? Maybe they are somewhere in the middle. Do they take odd jobs, or do they have a single employer?
For our group, I asked them to choose 1-5, with 1 being totally legit, 5 being totally criminal, and 3 being a mix. This was more for them to work it out amongst themselves before making characters, so my involvement was be minimal. They ended up with a solid 3 average.
Step 2. Roll Obligation
For people used to the standard character creation method, this may seem out of order but it really doesn’t have an impact on character creation. Not a negative one, at least.
Why you want to do this first is so that when the group is creating the NPCs and locations, they are doing so with an eye out for connections to their characters.
Step 3: Select/Create Planet(s)
This is more about broad strokes than specifics (though you can jump to specifics if your group is ready). The goal here is to look at what kinds of settings the group wants to play in. Do they want a city planet like Coruscant, or a wasteland like Tatooine? Are they canon planets, or are they invented?
Step 4: Create NPCs and Locations
This is the meat of Session 0.
In turn each player creates one NPC and/or location. Ideally, they create an NPC with some details, and then a place to find them. If that’s not possible, or they don’t have any ideas, or they are tying their idea to an existing location or NPC, then no worries.
After everyone has had one turn, continue, but now after making an NPC or location, you should also make a connection between NPCs (or locations if it makes sense). This connection does not need to involve what you just created. Maybe you want two existing smuggler NPCs to hate each other, or maybe you want a forbidden love between Rebel and Imperial agents. You could also just see an NPC and make a friend or rival for them (making the new NPC and connection at once). The more conflict you create here, the better.
There are going to be more ideas thrown out there than just the individual NPCs and locations. Maybe the NPCs are part of an organization, or maybe the locations belong to a single city that needs some detailing. Let that all flow and write it all down.
In the attachment, I have some sections labeled “details • choose x” in which the creator has to choose that many of those details to fill in. They are free to add more, or someone else could do so, but that’s the bare minimum.
Continue this until you have close to your target number of NPCs and Locations. For my session, I’m aiming for 12 of each. Don’t worry about hitting those numbers exactly, just use them as a ballpark. If I end up with 9 locations and 13 NPCs with an awesome story then it’s a victory.
Step 4a: Tie Obligations into NPCs
While this is all going on, players should be thinking of – and talking about – which NPCs play into their Obligations. This may change as the session moves on, but it should be settled before the end of Step 4.
Step 4b: Develop Themes and Issues
After a while, there should be enough material to start looking at the big picture. What are the major issues on a planet – or at least which issues will the game be dealing with. By thinking about these things, we can not only create something more than a random group of unrelated NPCs, but the issue itself can be used as inspiration for what NPCs/locations the setting is lacking.
In the end, you want to have 2-3 issues per planet by the end of Step 4.
Step 4: Create Characters
After having made the setting and connected the Obligations to people, now make the characters. Once you have them, you have everything you need to create a campaign.
After running the session, here is the setting we created.
Have any of you tried something like this? What is your experience? Let us know in the comments.