Welcome back! Today I want to talk about limitations.
So I get it. We all want to be part of a massive Save the World from Total Annihilation campaign, where we get to be the heroes that literally Save The Freakin' World. I blame Tolkien, but that's another rant, er, post.
Anyways, most DM build up this incredible, unique, massive world with continents separated by oceans and huge kingdoms and cities with all these gods and races and complex societies, blah, blah, blah. Don't get me wrong. I think it's great that some DM's spend years of their lives developing a world like this, but let's be realistic. Playing a three hour session every other week gets you about 75 hours of game time a year. Let's go a little crazy here and say your group is different. Your group is die-hard. No one in your group ever misses game night, and they insist on playing from 9pm to 2am every Saturday night. That gives you about 250 hours of game time a year. I've heard of a group that's been playing consistently for, like, 25 years, with the same characters, trudging through the published Temple of Elemental Evil campaign module. Even with this unlikely level of dedication, how much of your world is your group actually going to see? I'm 45 years old and I've barely seen 4 states. Sure I've driven criss-cross from coast to coast a couple times, and granted I've got a wife and kids, a full time job, and a mortgage to pay every month, which your characters probably don't, and I guess I know people in the military and church mission groups who've traveled the world, so yeah, an adventurer is an explorer or wanderer by nature, but still. They spend most of their lives in taverns or dungeons...
Wait. What was my point?
Oh yeah, here it is. You don't need to fully develop your world. You don't have to write 99% of it. Unless it has a direct impact on your plot, it doesn't matter that King Fergus of Statham once slept with the wife of King Harkin of Melnont, or that 1200 years ago the Dwarves of Westerlaven gave up the forge and embraced music, or that the island of Zaberlee was named for the Elf Queen who gave her life 999 centuries ago so that Umlusk could become the God of the Ocean. The lore and history of the world will likely have very little effect on the individual characters. Develop the plot of your campaign first! Then, and only then, figure out what your world needs to make the plot logic work.
Even if your world threatening scenario is that King Harkin summoned a Demon to kill King Fergus, and that Demon instead killed King Harkin and now is trying to open a rift to the abyss so he can bring in minions to take over the mortal world, then yes, it might be slightly important for the players to know about the adultery that led to the terror, but it still doesn't change anything or even affect the plot. The plot is that they need to stop a Demon from taking over the world.
What kind of lore or history are important? The only things that are important are things that apply to your plot- in this case, stopping a Demon from opening a gate and taking over the world. For starters, they need to find a way to destroy the Demon. Is this possible in your world? Or is the best option to Banish the Demon away somehow? Or are they limited to simply Binding the Demon in a prison of some sort?
If it's possible to kill the Demon, what do they need? Is there a mythical weapon already in existence that they need to find? Write its creation and use into the world's history. If the best option is a ceremony to Banish the Demon back to the Abyss, then write that into your lore- How was the ceremony created and why? Who performed it and how? When was it used and where? If there is a way to Bind the Demon, again either through an existing magic item or ceremony, then that's your lore.
Did any of this involve Dwarves? If so, then maybe you do need to include their sudden shift from ironworking to song. Maybe they used magic to Bind a Demon all those years ago and their song is what keeps it bound. If Dwarves had no part in previous Demon fighting then leave their history out.
Did any of the options involve the gods? If it did, and Zaberlee died performing the ritual of banishment against a Demon eons ago, then include it. If the God of Oceans fights against demons, then include it. But if gods or elves have never fought a Demon, then leave them out, or minimize their development and focus on things that do apply.
You can always fill in details later for these less-than-relevant groups. Maybe all your players want to be elves, or at some point in your campaign one of the players suggests going to the elves to ask for help to find the road to the Dwarves who have something. Then, and only then, do you need to create the Elven Histories or Dwarves backstory.
As DM, I want to be as surprised and fascinated as the players. I don't want to know everything. I don't want to have to keep trying to force my players down a necessary road to reach my conclusions. If I did, I'd write a book, not play a game. I play a game because I want the experience of discovery, just like the players have. Let your players develop the story!
If your players know that the characters need to defeat a Demon to save the world, ask them how they think this should be done. Yes, they can go to the Dwarves and ask them how they did it with song, or they can go to the elves and ask them how their gods did it, but ask the players if they have any ideas. Then sift through those ideas to see what you can use to make it work.
If your PCs know that the dwarves used song to defeat a Demon, and the elves sacrificed a goddess to stop a Demon, and they have no way of doing either of these things, then maybe they'll decide that they need to create an enchanted weapon of Demonslaying, or they'll need to spellcraft a Destroy Demon ritual or incantation, or they'll need to brew a poition of Protection from Demons, or...
Do you see where I'm going with this? Let them create the story, and you as DM will become a character in the adventure as well. The best mysteries, adventures, and challenges do not have solutions. Don't write the ending. Let your characters do that, probably through trial and error, and you'll all have much more fun.
As always, thanks for reading!
~Tony [email protected]