Bottom Up Approach

May 27, 2020

While last time we talked about the Top Down this time we will chat about the Bottom Up. So the Bottom Up approach to worldbuilding is where you start with a single location like a town of any size because that isn’t as important as the location itself. If you are running a game in a single city and you plan on not leaving that city the bigger the better. 

So you have decided on the town now you need to fill it up with the basics. You should maybe start by sketching out the very rough layout of the town. If it is bigger than a little town then I start with just blobs for neighborhoods or districts. I also decide what the town needs to survive. Services are a big part of any town. If you have an idea for the major industry of the town that will help. 

Towns need things like water supplies no matter the time frame. Either for drinking or for transportation or both. Once you have made the choice of the basic layout then pick one neighborhood and start with a few locations like residences and shops. Then build out those NPC’s. They will be a great resource later as the players want to interact with people. Now you would do this with Top down as well but here it is done much earlier. 

So you see how with this style of building you will have a small location that feels personal. Now you can do that with either but this one has the starting point being something smallish. Now you will need to figure out what is a day or two away from this point. You will need to do this since most players will not be happy with staying in a single small town their whole lives. 

So once you have a few ideas of what might be a couple days away, name them. Now you will be doing a lot of note taking with this style of worldbuilding. So Now let’s look at the pros and cons of this way of designing your world. 


  • It is much faster to design then Top down
  • You don’t need as much laid out to dive into the game.
  • You can quickly tailor things to the players. 
  • Have a lot of flexibility in how much you need to design. 


  • You will need to make lots and lots of notes.  
  • You can design a part of the world that feels very much shoehorned in.
  • Because you only design a little past what you think you will need to run the game you may have a party that pushes in a direction you have very little or nothing planned. 
  • This way of designing can feel very much like a patchwork of things you thought might be cool but fell short. 

So we have gotten to chat a bit about the two big styles of worldbuilding. Then there is how I usually do it. I do a bit of both a blending of jumping from the macro to the micro and back. I like to have a few things laid out before I start a game. But you will get to see that as we start working on the setting that those in the Facebook group voted on for me to start working on. You will see how I do this. And when we finish I will be talking about Gazetteers and Player handouts. They will matter as you will see. 

So until next time scribble in that notebook. I will post pics of mine that I will be using for this project.

Liked it? Take a second to support Zendead on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *