Cooking the Cosmos – Part 1: The Basics


Welcome to Cooking the Cosmos, a series of articles about creating your own campaign setting, a process commonly referred to as World Building. This will be updating on a semi-regular basis, with hopefully at least one or two articles added each month.

For the first two or three updates, we’ll be starting with the basics, namely, coming up with a concept and basic outline; choosing a system; and starting to develop the ideas. To help demonstrate what I’m talking about, I’ll be using two example settings with different themes. The first of these is a setting I am already developing for a home game, under the working title Project Helleborus. The second will be a new world that I create specifically for the purposes of these articles. As the articles continue, I will ask for input from any interested readers who would like to help shape the second setting.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions discussed below are entirely my own, and may not work for you. This is just how I work when it comes to designing a world for my players, but there are many ways to go about it, and none of them are the “wrong” way.

Step 1: The Concept, Themes and Basic Outline

When designing a campaign setting, I start by determining what my core concept for the world is, and what themes I would like it to explore. This gives you a solid idea to build around, so that you can ensure that all of the aspects of your world tie into a cohesive whole. To give an example, below are the core concept and themes for Project Helleborus.

Concept: A fantasy empire built on magic as technology, with a strong military focus

Themes: Industrial Revolution; Magocracy; Development driven by Military; Corruption/Manipulation; Loyalty/Honour; Extra-planar threat to society/world

Once I had these ideas to work with, I was able to flesh out a basic outline of my world’s background and current situation –

Due to a widespread increase of citizens being born with magical aptitude, the empire is undergoing a Magic-Industrial Revolution. This is being largely driven by the research of the Imperial Military, who are desperately trying to keep an advantage over the forces of the eight lower houses. These advances in technology slowly trickle down into use by the civilian population, allowing for gradual improvement of the average citizen’s quality of life.

The lower houses are currently fighting amongst themselves, encouraged by the diplomats of the Imperial House in an attempt to safeguard their own position as rulers. The Imperial Military try to keep a balance, acting as a peace keeping force where the conflict is becoming too extreme, and in some cases subtly stirring up trouble elsewhere in the kingdom to meet their goal of keeping the lower houses from banding together.

Those two paragraphs are a very brief summary of the recent history and the current state of the world as it stands. From that I am able to then decide which aspects to develop further, and see what options are viable as starting points for the players. This will be covered in more detail later on.

That’s all for now folks. In Part 2 we’ll be getting the concept and themes for the second campaign setting, then getting the basic story outline. After that I’ll be going over some factors to take into consideration when deciding what system fits your setting best. If time permits, I may cover some other topics briefly as well.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ve enjoyed Part 1 of Cooking the Cosmos. I’ll try to have Part 2 up in the next week or so.

For those of you who may be interested, this was written while listening to the TRON Legacy Original Soundtrack. I highly recommend it for any fans of Daft Punk and/or orchestral music. It’s an excellent blend of electronica and orchestral sounds.

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