Seize the GM
Seize the GM
Episode 57: WorldBuilding Primer

Main Topic – Worldbuilding 101


How to make sure that the campaign setting is immersive, rich, and engaging.  Creating a place where the story can happen that reflects not only the campaign theme but also the stories of the characters. The fine line between sufficient detail to engage the players while leaving room for their own contributions is the greatest challenge to any worldbuilder.


Main Styles

Top Down – You start from the 3000’ view and design the larger picture focusing on the overarching themes and continental level actions in a story.

Pros- Overall Understanding, Big Picture Sight, Allows the most flexibility on individual game sessions. Uses a wide-angle lens on your story.

Cons- Lots of time to do it. Can leave you unprepared for microlevel actions by PCs. Requires a wide-angle lens on your story.

Bottom Up – You design the immediate surroundings of the Player Characters and their environs to create the most immersive and engaging starting “block” from a locality level.

Pros- Make what you need or want, key it to Player Character needs specifically. Can be incredibly detailed and rich environs.

Cons- The big Picture may not be visible for awhile. The bigger picture may not always make sense with what you started doing. Harder to keep together.

Mix it up – Our preferred method of using both of the previous styles to create a campaign setting that includes both the overarching theme and deity level actors filtered down to the immediacy of the starting character world.

Pros- You get some of the best of both. Bigger pic ideas And a bit let time spent on the whole thing at once.

Cons- It can feel a bit like things are not coming together. It’s the most work for a GM between planning and keeping the improvisational parts in the air. The hardest one to balance needs of the GM and needs of the PCs as a way to move the story forward


Things to include or think about when designing the world:


Terrain – What is the physical area like?

Weather – How does the weather shape the people and their attire?

Population – Who, and What, Lives there?

Economics – How does the population exchange goods and services?

Politics – How does the population resolve collective disputes?

Malleability – How firm is the push back from the world to changes?


Stat Blocks

Zendead- I suck today.


Joules- The Waltzing Matilda

The Royal Fortune, The Black Pearl, The Revenge, The Red Flag Fleet.  The stories and legends of these pirate ships are ubiquitous and never fail to captivate an audience.  However, no story delights and confuses an audience quite like the legend of the Waltzing Matilda.


The Waltzing Matilda is the only pirate ship that can’t (or won’t) float on water.  (kind of) She can make use of most ports and harbors normally, as long as she sticks to the shallows.  If she turns out to sea and water gets deeper, she begins to be pulled under.


However, on dry land, she is a terror.  A monster. A machine from the bowels of hell itself.  The Waltzing Matilda can levitate to about 60 to 70 feet.  (No one knows the exact height though, since she never sticks around long enough to get an accurate measurement) She can turn nearly instantaneously and broadside before her target has time to realize their predicament.  She can rise above the tree line, out of range of a town’s tower defenses, and rain chaos from above.

Her silent aerial attacks always seem to nab the best booty.  Everyone is looking for thieves and marauders and invading forces to attack from the ground.  So attacking from the air catches the town with their pants metaphorically (and sometimes literally) down.  It’s an effective pillaging tactic that has a very low loss of life for both sides.


So what happened to the Waltzing Matilda to confine her to the land?  It involves her previous captain, a sea hag, insults (both perceived and actual), and a failure to understand the magical equivalent of fine print.

Long story short, the Waltzing Matilda’s previous captain grew greedy and wanted use the Waltzing Matilda on dry land.  He sought out a sea hag of incredible power and demanded that his mighty vessel be able to rise above the land. The sea hag saw the partial rejection of the sea as an insult and the arrogance of his demand infuriating.  So she did what he wanted. Just not exactly how he wanted it. The ship may indeed fly a specific height above the ground, but no higher. And the ground she was referring to wasn’t just the dry land. She also included the sea floor in her enchantment.  Meaning that if the seafloor’s depth was greater than the height specified, the ship goes under.


Unsurprisingly, the crew revolted and fired that foolish captain.  Out of one of the 18lb aft cannons. The first mate assumed command and to mollify the sea hag, the crew decided to accept her gift.  Since then, the Waltzing Matilda has become a legendary pirate ship in her own right. Leaving behind a trail of sacked mountain towns, the smell of gunpowder and rum, and a lot of confused civilians.




Guard-a-Manger – Astrolabe of Carlooth

Artifacts are supposed to be old, dusty, and left in some unused mausoleum … I mean museum, but the Astrolabe has never been consigned to such ignominious fate. It still works, as an astrolabe should never lose all its utility.  There is a legend of luck and fortune behind it. After all, it was on the ship that found Blackbeard’s treasure. It was there when the lost city of Cynidicia was found, far from the shore. A golden astrolabe, though far too resilient to be gold, that seems to draw you to making the right calculations.  What could go wrong?

It was also there when the boat sank, shortly after the pirate’s treasure was confiscated.  It was also there when the caravan was lost to the sandstorm but strangely unharmed. It was there at the greatest success and the most abject failure of explorers of land and sea.  It spelled their fame and their ignominy.

Why will it treat you any differently amongst the stars?    



Demesne    noun de·mesne  \ di-ˈmān , -ˈmēn \


Definition of demesne
1 : legal possession of land as one’s own
2 : manorial land actually possessed by the lord and not held by tenants
3 a : the land attached to a mansion
  b : landed property : estate
  c : region 2, territory
4 : realm 2, domain


Origin and Etymology of demesne
Middle English, from Anglo-French demesne, demeine


First Known Use: 14th century


Popularity: Bottom 40% of words


Closing remarks

Zendead-  Fantasy Map Maker Jump Start: 61 Easy Tips for Fantasy World Building with Real Earth Science By D.N. Frost




nulloperations- Warframe: Fortuna Hype


Guard-a-Manger- Avatar the Last Airbender.  When you talk about worldbuilding, it’s hard not to look at the world of Avatar and its sequels.  The creators are also working on a new fantasy series for Netflix, The Dragon Prince, so look forward to that.


Music is courtesy of The Enigma TNG you can find his music on YouTube or on Bandcamp


Find us

Show- Email, Twitter, Facebook

Zendead- Email, Twitter, Facebook

Joules- Email, Twitter, Facebook

Nulloperations-Email, Twitter, Facebook

Guard-a-manger- Email, Twitter


And Thanks to Merriam-Webster for our Lexicon segment

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