Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Guest Post: The Basics of Creating a Story Setting

Greetings readers -- this week's blog post is all about creating a story setting. The post is written by Herrick Erickson-Brigl, a battle-brother from my time at Vigil Studios. Herrick's guest post today is part of a blog swap we organized, and I'm very pleased to host his post here below: 

Creating a Story Setting

Hi there!

I am a game designer and novelist by trade. I met Ross a while back when we worked together at the now defunct Vigil Studios. And recently became interested in doing a blog swap with him. An agreement was met among heroes and that is the origin story of how this blog post came to be! You can check out Ross’s awesome post on my blog here: http://fantasyaction.blogspot.com/2013/04/guest-post-by-ross-watson.html

I wanted to talk a bit today about creating a story setting. Whether you are creating a campaign setting for a professional release, novel, or dungeon mastering for your friends at home; the basics remain the same. I’m going to walk you through my own process and hopefully it helps yours.

Collect your thoughts

Take stock of what you want from your setting. How do you want to immerse your readers/players as they tumble down your rabbit hole? What kind of ideas do you have pinging around your head? Just pick up a piece of paper and write. This is called free writing and it is the easiest way to put thoughts to page. Don’t worry about keeping it organized or cohesive; throwing ideas from the void and onto paper is far more valuable at this point in the process. Do this for a couple hours and keep your fingers away from that tempting little backspace key!

A little perspective is all it takes.
NOTE! A lot of creators develop writer’s block and become jaded saying, “Everything has already been done.” Drawing on established conventions is absolutely okay. There is a reason dwarves, elves, and giants are mainstays of RPG development; fixing an entire genre shouldn’t be your number one priority in the beginning. 


Now that you have a bunch of ideas on paper, the creation process will be a lot easier to visualize. Start organizing everything it groupings. Examples might be races, societies, magic, and technology. Of course this is simplified version, but liken it to the glossary of any text book you’ve ever read. You want your thoughts split up in easy to handle “bites” for further development.

Flesh out your ideas

Now that your ideas are in groups, take a look at them individually. Think of your original ideas as spider webs that you want to grow and branch out. This part of the development process is where you start adding your own flare and start making something that is unique and utterly your own. Further mold your ideas into something complete and new. Start looking at the things you’ve created in the past and things other creators have made, then try and think of ways to set yourself apart in a positive way. Maybe there was something you liked that someone else did, there’s nothing wrong with drawing inspiration from others.
Here are a few basic templates for creating races, societies, magic, and technology. This is a great starting place for any aspiring world creator.


A race by definition is a being that denotes a difference in either national affiliation, physical traits, or both. How are the races of your world different? How do they look? Act? Fight? What are their genetic capabilities? How many races are there in your world? Do they like/hate each other? Fill in these blanks: (Note, these should be average estimations)

  • Height:
  • Weight:
  • Body description:
  • Capabilities:
  • Motivations and leanings:


Sometimes all it takes is a little imagination.
Societies are groups of people involved in persistent relations. Societies are broken down into politics, wealth, trade, military, religion, and citizenry. The society is the hub of your world, the place where everything starts and everything ends. How many societies are there? What kind of land do they own? How much territory do they occupy? Fill in the following blanks below:
  • Politics: Social hierarchy and interactions from within and without. 
  • Wealth: How much money does this country have? How well off are its citizens?
  • Trade: What other nations do they interact with? What commodities does this nation have to offer?
  • Religion: What god/s are worshiped? How does this impact daily life?
  • Military: The military strength and influence in the society, plus any faction this society is at war with.
  • Citizenry: Think about your average person in this society, what would their daily life be like? What is/are the race/s of this society?


Magic is defined as a power that influences events with mysterious or supernatural forces. By its innate nature, this force demands a reader suspend disbelief. Often it can be explained as a force of nature. But magic can’t just happen there need to be rules or anyone can use it and then you have a ton of people running around acting like gods.  Fill in these blanks:
  • Scarcity: Abundant/rare. Does the mere act of using a cantrip send whispers across the realm or is magic a part of everyday life?
  • Requirements: What does someone have to give or have in order to use magic? Is it a bloodline trait or a learned skill? Is there a penalty for using magic?
  • Influence: How powerful is magic in your world?



Technology is the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, and methods of organization. Defining technology’s role in your world is one of the most fundamental parts of the process and it is often overlooked. What level of tech is featured in your campaign? Medieval? Sure, okay but are there trebuchets? Mechanical inventions of any kind? What about steam, fire, etc? If your campaign has magic, does it operate in lieu or in tandem with machinery? Fill in these blanks:
  • Level of technology: What era of human technological advancement can you equate this society or world’s current developmental level?
  • Abundance: How abundant is this technology? Is it used widely or sparingly? Who can use it?
  • Magic and technology: How do these two interact? Do they interact at all?
Thanks for reading this blog post and I hope you all loved it!


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Review of Century Station for Heroes Unlimited

Hello readers – I’m really glad to talk to you today about a book that is one of my favorites (it is on my top ten list) for superhero RPG sourcebooks. The book’s name is Century Station and it is a standout setting for superhero roleplaying; this is not your typical bland city that you see in so many superhero RPGs… no, Century Station is a great location with a lot of problems for player characters to solve!

Here’s where I give you, gentle reader, full disclosure: I’m a big fan of author Bill Coffin’s work on Heroes Unlimited and Rifts, and Century Station is no exception. Bill’s a very creative and talented writer, and it is a pleasure to finally get some time to devote to this long-overdue review.

The City of the Future

Century Station is a setting for the Heroes Unlimited RPG. However, the majority of the book’s content works just fine regardless of system – the ideas, characters, enemies, situations, and locations are all fantastic for just about any superhero RPG on the market.

In the Beginning

The book starts out with a detailed look at the city’s history. In a nutshell, Century Station started out as a high-tech utopia, led by a particular scientist into various experimental fields like cold fusion. It was granted the status as an autonomous district (similar to Washington, D.C.). The city featured many cutting-edge technological advances, including supercomputers, powered armor, robotics, cybernetics, flying cars, and so forth. Many of these research facilities took shortcuts in a race to dominate the market, creating all kinds of “origin stories” for superheroes and supervillains alike.

However, it turned out that the scientist driving this technological revolution was actually an alien fugitive from an advanced civilization. An intergalactic police force arrived on the planet to take this criminal into custody, and the revelation of the scientist’s true nature caused a huge economic downturn in the city. All of a sudden, Century Station was a city with tons of warehouses full of advanced tech and failing businesses everywhere. Unemployment and crime shot into record numbers, and the supervillains took advantage of this opportunity to build massive criminal empires of their own.

The rise in supervillain activity led to a massive conflict between the city’s authorities, its superheroes, and a criminal mastermind named Iron Mike that ended tragically. In an event that came to be known as “Bloody Monday,” Iron Mike was killed and his syndicate broken up… but at a heavy cost. Most of the city’s superheroes were slain in the conflict, and casualties amongst the regular authorities (the police and emergency services) were high.

In the aftermath of the devastation of Bloody Monday, the US President issued an ultimatum to the city: restore order and dramatically reduce crime in the next five years, or face serious Federal measures and intervention, including the declaration of Martial Law.

With the threat of losing its special status as an autonomous district – not to mention the idea of US tanks rolling down the streets of this once-thriving metropolis – the government of Century Station made some radical choices to try and achieve their goals. This includes sanctioning superheroes as agents of the city’s law enforcement in a bid to leverage superheroic adventurers for the benefit of the city.

A Compelling Reason to Adventure

For me, it is the President’s mandate that really drives the entire setting. I love the fact that the setting really gives superhero teams a reason to get out of the typical habit of “we sit on monitor duty at the Hall of Justice waiting for a trouble alert.” Instead, superheroes in Century Station have to be proactive… they have to get out there into the nasty parts of the city and hunt trouble down before it gets out of hand, because if another mastermind rises too high and too fast, Century Station could be doomed.

The movers and shakers in the city are well aware of this, and there are tons of cool adventure seeds and plot ideas revolving around the power blocs in Century Station and how they want to address the issue of the mandate.

There are even factions within the superhero community in the city. One faction is led by CHIMERA, an over-arching law enforcement agency put into place by the city’s government. CHIMERA uses sanctioned superheroes as law enforcement agents and they have their own superteam, the Centurions, on their side. Unfortunately, CHIMERA has its own issues with authority, corruption, and a particular vision for the city that clash with many of the other factions.

A second faction is the unsanctioned heroes – superheroes who battle crime outside of CHIMERA’s restrictive rules and regulations. The unsanctioned heroes are often far more concerned with protecting the citizens of the city than with “cleaning up the streets,” (a popular mantra of CHIMERA), and clashes between them and the sanctioned superheroes are common.

There are other groups as well – groups that are anti-alien in nature (due to the revelation of the scientist’s true nature), groups that want independence for Century Station, groups that serve the city’s more wealthy and influential “Council of Industry,” and of course, a ton of enterprising supervillains all scheming to take Iron Mike’s place as king of the hill.

A City for All Heroes

Century Station offers a unique setting that appeals to nearly every single style of superhero you can think of. Many other published settings work well with the “classic” superheroes, but don’t have a lot of room or support for characters who are aliens, mutants, or rely heavily on advanced technology. Those that do don’t often showcase options for low-powered street-level superhero adventures alongside the more epic “Justice League” style. Century Station, however, has it all sewn up brilliantly.

Alien heroes can either be fugitives from the intergalactic enforcement attempting to redeem themselves, or agents of that same organization on Earth trying to atone for the unintended consequences of removing the scientist from the city’s equation.

Technological heroes have their pick – tons of cyberware, power armor, and robotics were built up during the city’s boom years. All the short-cuts taken resulted in lots of accidents, and any of these could expose a potential superhero to all kinds of energy, radiation, or serums. Ditto for mutants!
Magical heroes could be drawn here to the growing conflict between sanctioned and unsanctioned heroes, or see something noble in the city’s attempt to rise from the ashes of Bloody Monday.

And this is all just the tip of the iceberg – the book has plenty of guidance for involving heroes from nearly all origin types.

What’s Inside

After describing the city’s history and the major players in Century Station, the book takes time to go through each borough of the city in detail, from the richest and most advanced regions to the near-cyberpunk-wasteland areas devastated by the economic crash.

Next, the book details the “Who’s Who” of the city, from its struggling Mayor to the shadowy figures of the Council of Industry. The forces of CHIMERA are also showcased here. Wayne Breaux turns in some of his best artwork (although the Sector 10 Agent still has very screwy proportions), and overall the artwork in the book is of a very high quality.

The police department, the media, and various political groups of Century Station are all detailed here as well, providing tons of great ideas for contacts, allies, or enemies of the player characters.

Next, the book goes over the Centurions (also featured on the book’s cover), the city’s most lauded superhero team. This group is interesting and has some good ideas, but I feel that Bill is more showing off what player characters can become, although the team is still useful for a GM to use as a guideline for how the city handles sanctioned heroes.

More of Century Station’s superheroes are presented in this chapter as well, with a few standouts being the Iron Brigade (an all-power armor team of unsanctioned vigilantes) and the Victorian, a Question-like vigilante who fights with a swordcane, monocle, and bowler hat – very much a masked adventurer version of John Steed.

The rest of the book is taken up with a ton of adversaries and bad guys to use in your superhero campaign. The triad assassins and the Shadow Margin – a criminal organization led by an ancient immortal Chinese sorcerer – are the most interesting of this group.

Finally, the book closes with 101 adventure seeds to help the GM come up with ideas for things to do in Century Station.

In Closing

Century Station is a really well-designed sourcebook to present a GM with a ready-made city for any superhero RPG. It’s greatest strength is the five-year countdown and the way that it encourages players to be more pro-active about crimefighting. It’s greatest weakness is probably that the included heroes and villains are largely lackluster. However, this last issue is actually fixable with the book’s sequel – Gramercy Island. This book is a followup to Century Station and focuses on a supervillain prison, and includes a ton of bad guys. All in all, the reason to buy Century Station is for the fantastic setup, the great incorporation of different superhero origins, and the sweet, sweet situation of the city’s political and social scene. Absolutely check out this book if you’re looking for a fresh take on a high-tech city for your superheroes to patrol.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Witches, Banes, and Murder: The Accursed RPG Setting

Greetings readers! I've been a bit quiet lately because I've been busy working on the launch of a new RPG setting for Savage Worlds, named Accursed.

Accursed has its own blog site located here:

To put things shortly, Accursed is a dark fantasy setting where Hellboy meets Ravenloft -- the player characters are all versions of classic monsters, from the Vargr (werewolves) to the Golems (Frankenstein's monster) struggling to free the land of Morden from the vile influence of the evil Witches.

I'm developing Accursed in tandem with two colleagues: Jason Marker and John Dunn. It's very exciting to work on such a creative and unique product with talented guys like John and Jason -- we have a ton of passion for this project and the ideas are just flowing like a river.

Keep an eye on the Accursed blog site for more information to come!