– Hello, and welcome back
to Adventuring Academy!
My name is Brennan Lee Mulligan,
with me today is my wonderful
friend and amazing guest
Mathew Mercer!
– Hi, guys!
Thank you so much for having me.
– You may know Matthew Mercer
as the Dungeon Master of Critical Role,
as McCree of Overwatch,
and also, we’re so delighted to announce,
as Leland in Dimension
20’s first sidequest
Escape From the Blood Keep.
Babies, it’s high noon
here on this podcast.
– (chuckles) Oh, shit.
– Gotcha!
(Matthew chuckles)
– Yeah.
– We’re so excited to have you, man!
– Thanks for having me,
man, this is a pleasure.
– So this is so, so exciting.
So we were talking a
bunch before the break,
we kind of started this
podcast 15 minutes ago
before it was recording.
– Yes, I’m sorry about that.
– No, it’s hard when you’re genuinely
passionate about something to this degree,
you’re like, yeah, no, let’s
not save it for the cameras,
let’s jump in.
– Yeah.
– I wanted to talk to
you a little bit today
because something that
comes up all the time
on our Discord from
people that will message
the cast of Dimension 20 being like,
oh, I’m thinking about starting up a game,
how do I do this?
Is the idea of running homebrew settings,
and the idea of creating
worlds for yourself to play in.
Obviously, there’s a huge amount
of awesome modules out there
which are actually separate
even from campaign settings,
like five, you just had Ravnica come out.
Talk to me a little bit about
your history with the game,
your first experiences with
making your own settings,
and what motivated you to do that,
why has that been something
you come back to over and over again?
– Right.
For me, ironically, I came into the game
from a homebrew standpoint.
When I was first introduced to the game,
there weren’t modules being run.
The very first game I ever
participated in as a player
was a really, really shitty homebrew game,
and inspired me to
start Dungeon Mastering,
so I was like, it has
to be better than this.
This can’t be the came
I keep hearing about.
And so I started running my own game
with a few of my friends,
and at the time I really wasn’t aware
that modules were a thing.
I just had the Dungeon Master’s Guide,
the Player’s Handbook,
and that was about it.
And so it was like, okay,
I guess I have to make up a world now,
and it was a really terrible world.
Everyone who starts in that
amorphous void back then,
especially like, it’s just gonna be great,
but later on when I realized
when there were modules,
I was like, ah, that
would’ve been so much easier!
(Brennan laughs)
From that point, then I
started reading through them,
and was like, okay, it’s good to know
that at least eventually
when I got more comfortable
with my worldbuilding,
I wasn’t that far off
from the kinda things that were
being presented in these modules.
And I think that that’s,
for those who want to do a homebrew world,
if you haven’t run a module,
or at least haven’t read
modules, I recommend it,
because it does give you an idea
of a general structure
to prepare for sessions,
and the kind of things in the world
you might want to create in the world
to be prepared for when
these things come up.
It’s not by any means a blueprint,
’cause everything is its
own own unique scenario,
but, yeah, so I came
into it from a standpoint
of kind of not knowing any better.
(Brennan chuckles)
– That’s an amazing superpower.
I really can’t recommend
not knowing any better.
(Matthew laughs)
Truly, (laughing) it is
like an incredible gift
to not put that judgment on yourself,
to be like, I don’t know how
this is supposed to work,
I’m just gonna start.
– Yeah.
– It’s really interesting
to hear you say that.
I was very similar in terms of,
I played with my brothers
a lot when I was a kid,
and we would, when we
were like six or seven,
we had this thing called Weird World,
which was just literally
drawing strange lands, beasts.
Our incredibly supportive parents
put them all over the walls,
and when they did that,
that was jus the floodgates
opening until it was like,
we’re talking like maybe 100
plus drawings over the walls
of islands, lands, this, that, that!
So being introduced to D&D was like,
oh, you’re saying there’s
a system to represent
decision making and chance
(chuckling) in these lands
we’ve already made up?
– [Mathew] Oh, no.
(Brennan laughing)
– And we’re like, yeah, hell
yeah, that sounds great.
– [Matthew] This explains so much.
(Brennan laughing)
– So there’s this idea of,
we were already very
much in that head space
of creating mystical lands,
and reading a ton of fantasy novels,
which is like, I come from,
I was talking about this
with Murphs a little bit.
He comes from like a
video game background,
I came from a very literary,
Lord of the Rings and Narnia–
– [Matthew] That was my
background, too, yeah.
A lot of Piers Anthony,
a lot of Dragons of Autumn Twilight,
all these classic books.
– Oh, yeah, Dragon Riders, you know,
just boom, boom, boom down the line.
So this very literary background,
and to this day, I’m like,
if a book doesn’t have a map
of some kinda land in the front of it,
odds of me enjoying that book, very low.
(Matthew chuckles)
(chuckling) But there is a,
so similar situation, when
I first started DMing,
I was like 10 years old,
it never occurred to me to have anything
outside of our own homebrew settings,
and I’ve talked about this
a little bit with modules,
which again, I do wanna
separate from campaign settings.
In the very first episode of this podcast,
I talk a little bit of shit about modules
only because I struggle with them.
– [Matthew] Mm-hmm.
– Because I find it hard as a DM
to navigate the bridge
between where my
authorship begins and ends.
– I actually agree with you on that.
‘Cause I’ve done modules since then,
but in the same way that I came at it
from that standpoint of
not knowing any better,
trying to consolidate that,
I felt like I was either
being untrue to the module
if I wasn’t sticking to it
and it would break it down the road,
versus learning how to
trust myself that I can fix
whatever issues come up
and still make it my own.
And I think it’s an issue
that people come up with
when they’re new to the
game or at least aren’t
as familiar with modules,
that you do not have to stick to it.
– Right.
– Yeah.
In fact a lot of the fun is
taking the module and going,
all right, this is interesting.
How can I pull this apart,
take my favorite pieces of it,
and still make it my own?
– Oh, yeah.
I mean, we covered this
in the very first episode,
but there was, the first module I ever ran
was Ax of the Dwarvish Lords,
was them plunging into a dungeon,
this drawven princess was
supposed to be kidnapped.
Well, in the very first scene of the game,
the dwarven princess,
there’s like flavor in the book about her
not being into the marriage.
So my PCs clocked that
with whatever the Second Edition version
of an insight check was, and
they kidnapped the bride,
and bounced, they fled town!
(Brennan chuckles)
(Matthew laughs)
There’s no going into the dungeon.
This is now a case of a
fugitive, a kidnapping scenario,
and so it’s one of those
things where I was like,
well, to hell with this.
If the PCs are gonna throw
this many wrenches into the works,
I’m better off just relying
on my own mind, period.
– [Matthew] Yeah.
– But, obviously,
with campaign settings,
it’s very different
because there’s things like Planescape,
which I played in all
throughout my teenage years.
Love Planescape.
And there’s a lot of other great ones
like Athas, other stuff like that.
And this is something that’s
interesting as someone
who’s both created settings
and has also played in a lot
of the core D&D settings.
What do you, and this is
gonna get very philosophical.
– [Matthew] Okay, go
ahead. (clears throat)
– What is the purpose of a setting,
and whether you are creating it
or simply being the vessel of it,
what is important to you
about a setting and representing it,
and what its job is in the minutia
of actually playing a D&D game?
– Mm.
I think that, from a
philosophical standpoint,
has many answers and is relative
to who’s running the game.
– [Brennan] Sure.
– I think for some people, a
homebrew setting is an outlet
for a lot of pent up creative energy.
– [Brennan] Yeah.
– There are a lot of people out there
that want to write, want to create,
and maybe they aren’t artists,
maybe they aren’t painters,
maybe they aren’t poets,
maybe they don’t feel comfortable enough
in their ability to do prose and dialogue,
but they still want to create
something that feels their own
and feels unique and magical.
And being able to create
your own homebrew world
that doesn’t require it to
be legible by other people,
just understood by you,
and then presented to
your friends at the table,
that in itself is a very kind of wonderful
and cathartic act of creation.
And I think for a lot of people,
that can be a fantastic outlet
that can lead to inspiration
to pursue some of these
other creative things
that maybe you didn’t
have the confidence in.
And I’ve seen a lot of
people that have come
into D&D in recent years
through all these
different great communities
say that because of my
time running this game
and creating my homebrew world,
now I’m writing a novel,
or now I’m in the process
of going into a creative writing course,
or maybe I’m discovering that
I want to go into theater.
These are all different things that stem
from this little spark
that you didn’t think
you had an outlet for until you began
to create your own game.
– I mean, no joke, you can
draw a direct line in my life
from CollegeHumor to UCB in New York
to me getting those D&D
books when I was a kid.
– [Matthew] Yeah, yeah.
– It is a direct, like,
I even used to joke with friends
when I was improvising in
New York and being like,
oh, the skills I have, I got
from playing at the table with my friends.
– [Matthew] Yeah.
– Which is very real.
That, I think, is really awesome,
and it’s something interesting.
I don’t know if you have
struggled with this before,
’cause I sometimes will
get questions about,
like what are your tips
for designing a setting?
And I think there are definite, good,
concrete building block tips you can give
about what makes a setting good or fun,
but there’s always a part
of me that goes like,
well, a setting can be anything.
You can be in the Taurus of Sigil,
you can be in the
Blasted Deserts of Athas,
you can be in your own
homebrew high fantasy thing,
or season one of Dimension 20,
you can be in a high
school in a suburban town.
And it made me have this
weird thing where I was
thinking about how to
communicate good, concrete tips
to people that want to do this,
and trying to balance that with the fact
that when I’m coming up with a setting,
a lot of is just like a
thing appeared in my head!
– Yeah, it’s hard to convey that,
and once again, it’s
a relative experience.
Even before when I was saying some people,
they just want to create something,
for some people, it’s
because they find something
that’s lacking in the
space of storytelling
that they want to convey.
It’s a personal narrative or something
about their life and
their world experience
they feel isn’t being
represented out there,
and they want to be able to express that
and invite other people to
see this other viewpoint
and kind of world that they
want to tell their story with.
That’s why, another tip I would say
for creating your homebrew setting is
come up with a strong theme.
– Yeah!
– I will honestly say when I started
my Critical Role game at home
before we ever started streaming it,
it was a one shot, there
was no central theme.
The worldbuilding for
me was very reactionary
when I began to flesh out Tal’Dorei,
and it wasn’t until partway
through that campaign
that I began to figure
out what the themes were.
But even then, it was
very much like a classic,
kind of vanilla fantasy
was where it began,
and then eventually, when it began
to become more of a thing,
I wanted to figure out what
themes I wanted to express
as part of this world and this story.
And in the new campaign,
for the Wildemount setting,
I definitely wanted to
pursue different themes.
I wanted to find ways to tackle
the intrinsic coding of
monstrous races being evil,
and tackle ideas of relative morality,
and conflict and warfare,
and the good and bad things
that come out of that
on a historic level,
and I built this setting
kind of around those themes.
So it can be as simple as going,
I want to make a theme
where the people can fly
and the animals are their best friends.
Like, okay, sure, that’s unique.
It could be ridiculous,
complicated political threads,
it could be, I want a world where
everyone lives on the moon now
’cause the world’s destroyed
and they’re trying to find
a way to rebuild the world,
it can be–
– Yeah.
– A dimension-hoping Sliders-type
thing where this setting
is built on the idea that every few days,
the world changes in unexpected ways,
and it’s all about adaptation,
it’s about a society trying
to survive and adapt.
All of these can be their own settings,
but you want to try and
think of a core theme,
because once you can clarify that,
it’ll inform, and in many
ways, kinda springboard
the ideas of how your
worldbuilding’s going to go.
If you don’t have a theme,
then you’re kind of loosely
trying to find space in the ether.
Like, there’s a town here.
Why is there a town?
‘Cause I feel like there
should be a town here.
And that’s fine!
(Brennan laughs)
There are towns that exist that are there
because someone thought
there should be a town there.
Believe me, I know.
I’ve lived in some of these,
I’ve driven past many of these.
There are places where you drive by and go
why is there a town?
There is no reason there is a town here
other than somebody went,
I’m gonna put a town here,
and that’s fine.
But I think for the fun and
enjoyment of your players,
you want there to be some sort of core,
even just a subtle theme that excites you
to tell a unique story.
– I a million percent agree.
And not only that, but I
think what you’re driving at
is also something that
it comes from a place
of deep pragmatism.
‘Cause when you start
talking about worldbuilding,
it can feel so, you feel your brain
just start to expand and go galaxy brain.
– Scary shit, man.
– Yeah!
But to get really pragmatic,
what you’re talking about when
you’re talking about theme
relates to the most pragmatic thing,
which is what’s the experience my players
are gonna have at the table?
And when you organize your
ideas of worldbuilding
not around, like, okay, I
could come up with anything,
what do I come up with,
but rather, okay, let’s
get really precise.
What is the vibe I want my players to have
while they’re playing this game?
What’s the type of story
that I think they’d have fun doing?
‘Cause probably by the the
time you’re homebrewing,
or at least for me, I knew who, loosely,
I wanted to play with.
And I was like, I kinda know what we like
or what I think is fun.
And I think the idea of
organizing around a theme gets to,
this is like some hot take territory here,
in terms of worldbuilding,
’cause a lot of people
are jumpin’ on the internet
talkin’ about worldbuilding,
and you get a lot of people
who will come out and be like,
good worldbuilding is like,
you need to know the logistics
of the trade routes between this,
and the topography of
rivers, and this and that.
That’s all awesome if
the vibe of your setting
is one of hyper-realism.
– Yeah.
– Right?
– And that’s great!
– That’s great!
– That’s honestly some of the basis
of early Dungeons & Dragons
and role playing games.
A lot of historical
enthusiasts that wanted to,
they didn’t just wanna build a story,
but they wanted to feel
like it was a living,
breathing world,
and break down their Excel documents
on the trade transitions
between copper and iron ores
to grain manufacturing,
and that’s cool.
Not to everyone.
(both chuckling)
But it could be for your table.
– And what I would say
there again is like,
don’t get it twisted,
high logistics is not the one true path.
It is if that’s the tone you’re going for.
And similarly, like I often
get into tiffs with friends
who will bring up Harry Potter,
which to me, I often go to bat,
and among certain circles,
this is a hot take,
I go, Harry Potter has
the best worldbuilding
of almost any fantasy
series that I can recall.
People will be like, what, you know, why?
Like what’s the
worldbuilding in Harry Potter
got going for it?
And I go, well, look,
there is a,
people to this day know what
their Hogwarts house is.
That’s good worldbuilding.
And it’s an element of,
now I will say that,
why do I bring that up?
Because the logistics of Harry
Potter are fuckin’ nonsense.
– (laughing) Yeah.
– They’re fuckin’ crazy!
You have, if I’ve said this before,
I think I might have said this
not on this podcast, but somewhere else,
I’m gonna say it again.
If you’ve got a civilization of wizards
who can teleport at will,
and they have their mail delivered
by nature’s slowest bird–
(Matthew laughs)
That’s fuckin’ animal cruelty!
That’s not okay!
That’s not a good, and I
know what you’re gonna say,
you’re gonna say you can’t apparate
in the grounds of Hogwarts.
Why are we running our civilization
based on the bylaws of one school?
– Yeah.
– The idea that I would be
able to teleport anywhere
with no effort, and I would
ever write someone a letter
is fuckin’ crazy.
– If we want to be logistical
about the entirety of Harry Potter,
Hogwarts is the illuminati.
(Brennan chuckles)
They run the world,
because if you can do
the things they’re doing,
why the fuck would they not be
just helming the future of society
and becoming just an entirely
oppressive political force
that nobody could argue against?
– And also on the flip side,
if you’re not an
oppressive political force,
you’re just allowing the
horrors of the world to happen?
Like, you’ve gotta make
a move at some point!
And the idea here is all of that I say
with only the utmost love.
– Of course!
– Because I treasure those books,
I’ve read them so many times.
But the reason I bring that up is
if you’re in your head
designing your first setting,
you’re a DM, you want to
make your homebrew setting,
and you’re getting hung up on logistics,
remember that a setting’s
strength is not only logistics,
it’s also (sings “Theme
from Harry Potter”),
and little fuckin’ owl, and
it flies, and the wands,
and the little boarding school uniforms.
All of that stuff
actually has, I would say,
a heavier pragmatic weight
on what brings joy to your players,
which, let’s not forget, is the point.
– Yeah, I completely agree.
It’s one of things where,
I’m gonna move the mic here for a moment.
Um, oop.
There were go.
– Mm-hmm.
– That’s better.
For me,
theme, like you said, theming, mood,
and breathing life to
the macro elements of it
are what are gonna draw your players in.
The logistics of it are what are going
to make you comfortable
in making logical choices
on a reactionary basis,
which is honestly, most of what
you do as a Dungeon Master.
– [Brennan] Right.
– You’re building a bunch of structures,
and toys and things for
your players to play with,
and you want to feel prepared enough
that when they start messing with it,
you can go, okay, well, this happens,
’cause it makes sense.
– Right, and I would say
that knowing the logistics
is a great way to have that come back.
I would also say, this
something I talk about
a lot as an improv teacher,
that, and this very related to theme,
is the idea of tone and
mood provide logic as well.
I ran a setting for many
years during college
and after with a bunch of friends,
I ran it when I was working
at a LARP summer camp.
So it was kind of a
West Marches-style thing
where everyone that was working
at the camp was playing,
we had like 40 PCs who
would show up randomly.
So I was like, how the
hell do we make this work?
And so we set it in one city,
it was called Storm City,
and it was fantasy noir.
It was like–
– Ooh.
– It was in this mountain pass,
there was a curse where
it was always raining,
so there was like four hours
of shitty gray sunlight,
and then 20 hours of night every day.
And it was like this thing where
when people took risks or make choices,
we understood that almost
through the laws of physics,
the tone of the setting’s gonna manifest.
What’s gonna happen
when you make a choice?
The worst thing’s gonna happen.
The grimmest, most cynical,
pull the cigarette from
the orc detective’s lip,
you know, like that kind of vibe.
– [Matthew] Yeah.
– And I think that DMs should try
to marry the two as possible.
And adherence to actual
physics, logistics,
if you have a dungeon, how
are these monsters gonna eat?
That’s a good question to answer.
But also realizing that a
lot of our favorite things
are based in genre.
And if I’m in the Miyazaki
sky adventure setting,
I’m like, oh, I’m a little
kid in a Miyazaki movie?
I’m invincible!
Versus I’m a little kid in a noir setting,
I’m in a lot of (chuckling) danger.
(Matthew laughs)
– That’s a very important
distinction, too.
– (chuckling) Really, you gotta know tone.
– But, no, you want to build enough
where you feel comfortable that you can,
that you, or if you’re building a setting
for other people to play in as well,
that they can feel comfortable stepping in
and knowing those things very quickly.
And no setting is perfect.
There will be things
that you don’t focus on,
there will be things that don’t make sense
when you break it down, and
then you have to come up
with a logical way to bridge it,
and that’s part of the
fun, it’s problem solving.
A lot of it is player’s
part is problem-solving
how to deal with the
challenges you throw at them,
and for you, it’s problem solving
on how to marry the choices they make,
how they effect the world,
and how the reaction of that
world is to their choices.
And like you said, it’s
a combination of both.
The tone, the theming,
the sense, the feeling,
the themes you wanna present.
But I’ve gone in and decided
what the heavy trade exports
are of certain regions.
That might never come come
up, but if the player,
but then it helps you
build the world a bit
if you’re like, well, this
is heavy iron-trading city.
– Yeah.
– Okay, why is that?
Maybe there’s a big mine nearby,
and they’re one of the big
sources of ore in this region.
That also means that there’s probably
gonna be people out there that are looking
to robbing any sort of precious metals,
which means there’s probably
gonna be a bandit presence
on the outskirts of town.
There also might be some
sort of an underground guild
that is trying to control
the market in and out,
trying to skim money off
of that trade practice,
or steal materials to go sell
on the black market offhand.
Just on saying this place
probably sells a lot of iron,
so much that can inspire you in that point
that makes logistical sense there
when you’re trying to build it.
So I think coming up with pragmatic
and logistical elements are really great,
you just don’t wanna get
caught in the weeds of it.
Let it be an inspirational point
and not feel like its your job
to fix every problem,
and dot every single I,
and connect every single dot,
and getting that maddening
point of what is your tax code,
what happens if they have a third child,
do they have to get it
approved by the senate?
(Brennan laughs)
If you get to that point,
take a step back and start building
a small little town elsewhere. (chuckles)
– Well, it’s really
funny you mention that,
’cause again, I think that
that is really accurate,
and again, it always comes
down to, like you’re saying,
what have you and the
players all agreed to play?
What’s the thing that you’ve
all come together and said
we want this style of play, right?
Because my brother ran
a maritime campaign,
where trade, I was a pirate!
– [Matthew] Yeah.
– If I don’t know the trade stuff,
if we don’t know what this city sells,
that really impacts my ability
to even play this character.
And shipping technology
was very important.
There was another thing,
I remember playing
this low level campaign
that was a very small number of people.
It was people that were just like,
we haven’t played D&D
before, we wanna play it.
And there was this thing where
it was like a wilderness thing,
they were very low level,
only one of them had
any ranks in survival,
and a wyvern showed up,
which was just a total party
kill waiting to happen.
And I set up this encounter
where they were trying
to get to this city,
there was an area of
many miles of open plains
before the next section of forest,
and I was like, okay, if you guys go out,
the wyvern will see you
flying over in the sky.
And they were like, can we
try to run across it at night?
And we had to make this
whole encounter which was
can you run for 10 hours straight
during the night while it’s not active?
And it sounds so crunchy and boring,
’cause all it was was a bunch
of constitution saving throws.
I put on some music,
and rolling these 12 constitution
saving throws in a row,
I’ve never seen PCs sweat
more in my life. (chuckles)
(Matthew laughs)
They made it just before
sunrise to the final,
like the new forest ahead of them,
and I watched four real
adult humans all go–
(wailing and panting)
Like they had just run
30 miles or whatever.
– Ah, I love that.
– So logistics and things
like that are great.
If you’re playing a very grimdark setting,
like in regular high fantasy D&D,
no one wants to clock injury or disease,
sort of hit points are abstracted,
so you don’t want to be like, oh,
would I have lost an eye,
would I have lost an arm?
But the idea of, no, if you’re
playing dark ages Europe,
low magic, like, yeah,
you got hit with a sword,
and now we’re gonna roll
to see if it gets infected.
And that might not be fun in one campaign,
but in another campaign, it’s really fun.
– And to step away from
the worldbuilding scenario,
this comes into the kinda campaign prep,
but it’s important to
have those conversations
with the people at the table
before you start playing.
A session zero, or a
getting everyone together
to really agree upon the theme, the tone,
and what everyone’s comfortable with
is so important to any game table.
Because if you all of a sudden,
four sessions into the game,
start going, all right, cool,
roll for the infection of
that the graze on your chin.
And the person’s like, what?
(Brennan chuckles)
I just want to be an
elf that makes sparkles.
(Brennan laughs)
And you’re like, I know.
And it’s gonna be hard to make sparkles
when your throat gets gangrene,
so let’s roll and see how
well that goes for ya.
That’s an incongruency in
enjoyment of the game, possibly.
So you wanna make sure that
everyone’s on board to it,
’cause it might be your friends are like,
is it cool if we go super grimdark,
and want there to be real,
accruing consequences to damage?
Everyone’s like, yeah, yeah, I love that.
Then hell, yeah, you’re all on board,
and everyone’s excited
when those threats come up.
But if you have an outlier on that,
there’s gonna be tension and
there’s gonna be disagreement.
– I totally agree.
I feel so bad for old Thalmieriel.
(Matthew laughs)
Where is our sparkle mage?
I have terrible news.
(Matthew laughs)
(Matthew wheezes)
(Brennan laughs)
We’re gonna take some
audience questions now.
This one’s from Hollywoo,
thanks, Hollywoo.
By the way, if you’re
watching this on YouTube,
you coulda watched it a week earlier
on Dropout if you wanted to do that,
and you woulda gotten to,
also, we only accept questions
from people who subscribed for
our Dropout Discord server,
so these are all taken from people there.
Thanks for submitting questions.
– Woo!
– From Hollywoo.
In terms of alignment, do you think it has
any real utility for player
characters at this point,
or just so you can tell if you’re dealing
with a demon in disguise and such?
Any thoughts on the very
early one-axis alignment
that assumed a certain cosmology
where law and chaos were at war,
and characters might be aligned
with one side or the other,
or neutral in the conflict?
– Ah.
I think this is a, this
is an expansive topic.
I think the alignment
system as presented in D&D,
the popularized alignment
system from those days,
I think can be a good utility for people
that need a guideline to
build a character around.
For people, like, we’re performers,
we’re used to stepping into roles,
and kind of creating in that space,
and letting the character’s personality
inform their decisions.
But for some people, it’s not
a comfortable thing to do,
and the alignment choice can help them
become comfortable in where
that character will go.
As opposed to going, I
just made this character,
and then over time, okay, yeah,
I think they’re making good choices,
maybe they’re a good person.
People are like, I want to know
if this is a good character
because that will make me
comfortable in making choices
and making decisions as this personality.
– [Brennan] Right.
– I don’t think it’s necessary.
I think it’s a good training
wheels-type scenario
when it comes to role-playing,
but once you have more experience,
you’re more interested
in what the personality
and the goals of your character are
versus whether or not
they’re good, evil, neutral
and across the order and law spectrum.
– I totally agree, and
I think that, weirdly,
as someone who studied
philosophy formally,
Five E made a really strong move towards,
I think, a more realistic
depiction of human nature
when it emphasized bonds, ideals, flaws.
– [Matthew] Yes.
– Again, not to be the expert
on how human beings work,
but generally speaking,
it feels truer to me,
the idea of like, oh,
people do have their bonds,
their attachments to a
group and to a community,
or if not to a community,
then to something else
that’s sort of tangible.
They have their ideals,
which might be organized along
good or evil, or might not.
I have a long-running campaign
that is in a kind of colonial period,
where it’s a lot of humans fighting
other civilizations of humans,
and detect evil and detect
good become really hard
because you’re like what does that mean
in this context where there’s not demons?
And one of the things
we ended up doing was
we had detect evil
become a cultural spell,
so that we had one character
from this culture called the Ashod,
where his detect evil is
just detect cowardice.
And it just means like,
if you are physically,
martially brave,
you register to this guy as a good guy,
and if you’re not, you don’t.
So you could be the nicest, sweetest guy
from this other little
gnome culture or whatever,
but if you get scared of
physical confrontation,
you’re gonna register as evil to this guy.
– That’s interesting.
Yeah, ’cause when you break it down,
there are universally good
things that people can do,
and there are universally evil things
where most everyone agrees,
that’s an evil person to do this.
– [Brennan] Yeah.
– There’s no one like, I don’t know,
Jeffery Dahmer, he’s just misunderstood.
(Brennan laughs)
That guy was a fuckhead.
But the 95% gradient in between those two
is a lot of relative morality
that you can’t define
on a universal scale.
And so, to that degree, I
like adjustments like that,
where you can customize
aspects on a cultural level,
on a perspective level.
Yeah, I think it’s an interesting
tool on a basic scale,
but as you become more
of an advanced player,
and you want to pursue more delicious,
detailed, and, I don’t know,
philosophically fulfilling
storytelling at the table,
you really have to ask
yourself what those mean
or if they’re even necessary.
– I think that’s almost very, very apt
for almost any DM listening to this
to customize that again to your table.
I would also say, though, that I think
alignment’s not going
anywhere any time soon,
partially because it is directly tied
into the cosmology of the setting of D&D.
As long as there is
Mount Celestia, Arborea,
Baator and the Abyss,
you’re going to have
these four corner points
of lawful good, chaotic good,
lawful evil, chaotic evil,
and what does that mean.
– Mm-hmm.
– Which I think is a kind of interesting,
there’s other ways around that,
but I think that it’s,
that the utility of alignment in D&D
is pretty equal to the utility of things
like Myers-Briggs and
other stuff in our world,
where it’s like, oh, this is
one way of describing something
that was kind of already
there to begin with.
You know what I mean?
It makes more sense to be like, oh,
this person has these tendencies
towards order and goodness
in that classic kind of paladin way,
but that’s just sort of
a type of person to be,
and this is describing that.
Rather than someone being like,
I have dedicated myself to
the ideals of lawful goodness!
(chuckles) Which is, it’s like that’s sort
of a cart-before-the-horse
scenario, you know what I mean?
– Yeah, well, I think it’s also
why in the older additions,
paladins were a very difficult class
to really exemplify or play,
because players would either
have a hard time enjoying
or fitting themselves into
this preconceived notion
of a lawful good paladin.
– Yeah.
– I can only do this much,
my character can make choices in this box,
and anything beyond that, I attack you.
You know, for a long time,
that was kind of the perspective,
and people either played paladins
to be a dick to the rest
of the players at the table
and kind of fulfill a
power fantasy of, ha, ha!
You looked at me wrong!
– Yeah. (laughing)
– Or they just didn’t want to tackle it
and they were like,
that’s too constraining.
Like they’re powerful, but
I don’t ever want to try
and fit into this not realistic perception
of a good character.
– [Brennan] Right.
– So yeah, it’s not going
anywhere, and it has utility.
It has utility for world, for setting,
it has utility for
being able to understand
that in a game like Dungeons & Dragons,
or a lot of role playing games where you,
ultimately, part of the
game is to overcome villains
and rise up and become a hero,
there has to be some level
of universal antagonism.
And that’s where the Fiends come in.
That’s where part of that cosmology,
there is a pure and defined
entity force that is evil.
– Yeah.
– It may not be realistic
to some stories out there,
but that, I think, alignment
comes more into play
in the Outer Planes type aspect of it.
But when it comes to more personal stories
in the world of humans, and dwarves,
and tieflings all living together,
mass hysteria-type scenario,
yeah, it gets a little more weird.
– Yeah, I totally agree.
That makes sense to me.
This is a good one.
From, oh, we don’t have a name here.
Well, whoever you are, thank you.
– [Matthew] Thank you.
– From the DM POV,
what do you think of stereotypical
accents used for NPCs?
– [Matthew] Mmm.
– I’m split because I can see how having
a gruff, mean character use a
Russian accent, for instance,
adds to the immersion for players,
but there’s got to be
a line where it becomes
a little derogatory at some point.
– Very much so, that’s actually something
I’m very sensitive about.
As a voice actor, I’ve studied
a lot of dialects and accents.
It’s something that I’ve
just enjoyed personally.
Both immersing yourself in cultures
you haven’t had the opportunity
to really engage with,
and kind of, I just, I don’t know,
I love the beauty of
regionalisms and accents.
I love listening to the wide variety
of interpretations of
English and other languages,
and how it sounds,
and it’s like there are many
languages that are poetry.
I love listening to a
thick Scottish brogue,
I love listening to fluent Afrikaans,
I love listening to all these
different, beautiful things,
and I want to incorporate
and show a diverse world.
And part of that is
trying to ride that line
of what is considered appreciation
versus what is derogatory.
I’m not saying I’ve
always gotten it right,
but as long as you’re conscious of that,
I think it’s a step in
the right direction.
I think the importance
is to ensure that, one,
you’re not trying to play
it for laughs necessarily.
– Right.
– Sometimes you can’t help it.
I say this as a Scottish man.
Sometimes, sometimes
it gets real ridiculous
and you can’t help but chuckle.
So that’s fine–
– Yeah!
– But if you’re like,
well, these people are bad,
so I make them all Russian,
that falls into a classic
kind of, you know,
American hero media trope
that maybe isn’t the most healthy thing.
– It’s really hard.
And you know, I’ve had,
I remember I was teaching an improv class
where this comes up all the time, right?
Where someone brought
up a regional accent,
and was sort of like,
that regional accent sort of bothered me.
And I was like, well, let’s
stop, let’s talk about that.
Yeah, I see that confirms
some harmful stereotypes.
We should worry about that.
And the student who had raised the point
was sort of like, yeah,
I just get really uncomfortable with that.
And one thing I ended up talking
to that student about afterwards was, hey,
just so you know, in an earlier scene
that we didn’t stop for,
you were playing a character
that was sort of in the scene going like,
golly, everything here is real nice!
And it’s like, that’s classism.
You’re doing a lower class voice.
You’re doing a voice of
a poor, unprivileged,
you know, that idea of,
and the problem is like,
we were all laughing,
because there’s this
horrifying thing with comedy
where you go like, oh, yeah,
a redneck becoming the king of England,
that’s crazy, that would never happen.
But why are we laughing?
Oh, there’s some class
stuff baked in there,
and that’s a bummer, and
you gotta examine that.
Especially, I think this comes up
a lot when you’re in a setting
that actually has real
groups of real people
from the real world, right?
– [Matthew] Yes.
– But even when you’re like,
if we go and look at Lord of the Rings,
is there something fucked up in the fact
that all the orcs are cockney
and all the elves are RP?
– Yeah.
– Yeah.
– Yeah. (chuckles)
– Yeah, there is.
Why can’t we have some orc being like,
I do say, I love to
destroy the world’s of men.
– Sorry, Sarumon.
(Brennan laughs)
Oh, Sorry’s on the phone.
– Or, and conversely, why
can’t we have an elf be like,
look, there’s a couple
things I love, all right?
I love Rivendell, I love
a nice bottle of wine.
Like, why, (laughing) why not?
– Yeah, no, no, I think it’s,
one thing,
if your players raise
discomfort at the table,
take that into consideration,
and be like, okay, well,
I need to work on this.
– Mm-hmm.
– Another thing is, if you’re include,
’cause I think accents and regionalisms
are a great shorthand
for showing a variety
of personalities and
characters in your world
if you’re comfortable in
that, but make it a variety.
Don’t attribute one to a certain
stereotype of a bad person,
or you can show that
culturally diverse life
in the world that you’re running
and the world that you’re building,
but you have to also keep in mind
that people from all walks
of life come from all walks,
and you might have a
bad guy that’s Russian,
but also make sure to
include some good guys
that are Russian.
– Yeah.
– Might have a bad guy
that has an Irish accent,
maybe include a good guy
that has an Irish accent.
Try and make it not about the accent,
it’s just a layer of cultural flavor
based on where they’re
from and how they grew up
that adds to the world and the experience
and doesn’t become a
defining characteristic
of their personality.
– I 100% agree.
And I think that there is that,
you’re talking about this
balance between on the one hand,
yeah, we don’t ever
wanna become derogatory
or fall into stereotype,
but if you are employing voices,
which I think does create
immersion and fun at the table
to have a variety of character voices,
also, the reason I started doing voices
as a kid for characters
was just to keep ’em all straight!
Just to literally keep it,
who’s talking right now?
But one of the things that
you wanna do, I think, too,
is look for,
not going too far the other
way of avoiding voices,
which can almost become
weirdly like erasure.
Our world is full of
people who sound different,
and if your world is reflective of that,
then you should have people
that sound different.
But that idea of not ever
having anything be monolithic,
or having one group of
people be one type of way,
I’m just flashing back to all
the characters I have now.
There’s a, in the long-running
3.5 campaign I have,
the nation of inventors
that a bunch of these
little hobbits that live
in a big Grand Canyon
thing, they’re all Texan.
And they are the species in the thing
that gets a plus two to
intelligence and are the inventors,
and I think you can do
fun things like that.
Like take an accent that
we wouldn’t associate
with high education,
and have people be like, yeah,
I’m the head of the
university down in Tenfalls.
A professor of golem studies,
or whatever it’s gonna be, right?
(Mathew laughs)
Yeah, using voices as
much to challenge those
is, I think, really
beneficial and healthy.
– I agree, and I love dwarves.
They were my favorite race in D&D.
I grew up, and I love the
Scottish brogue, as you know.
So for me, being a Tolkien fan,
it’s hard for me not to
tie the two together.
And even in my homebrew game,
a lot of dwarves happen to be that way,
but not all of them are,
especially as we get to see them
in other parts of the world and stuff.
And that’s hard for me.
– Yeah.
It’s hard for me to break away from that,
’cause I love that combination so much,
but I also want to acknowledge
that there is diversity
in that space, too.
But I mean, I’m not perfect.
I’m sure I mess it up, too.
And the idea is just being conscious
and being sensitive to it.
You’re coming in from a good place,
and you’re aware of the incorporation
of these aspects into your game.
That’s great.
You’re not infallible.
Be open to feedback, and
adjust and adapt as you go.
– I love that.
This one’s from Teddy.
Thanks, Teddy.
– Thank you, Teddy.
– Do you have any suggestions for DMs
dealing with weak characters?
I’ve been DMing a few one
shots to get my feet wet,
and I had a couple players in particular
who give their characters no
personality or motivation,
or worse, they don’t give me
any character information at all.
All my PCs have procrastination issues
and don’t make characters
until the day of the game,
at which point they just throw some stats
on a character sheet and sit back
waiting for me to entertain them.
It’s hard to get any input
in character creation
since we play over Roll 20 and Discord
instead of in person.
– That is difficult thing,
and it’s not terribly uncommon
through the ages that
the game has existed.
Trying to engage your
players and getting them
to invest more in the narrative
and their characters is challenge,
’cause it depends on the players
and the table, I believe.
Sometimes, if they’re really invested
in the mechanics of the game,
if they’re there ’cause,
I want to make a character
to make them badass,
you can create incentives to trick them
into investing into it.
Be like, all right, guys,
well, you can all show up
and make your characters the day of,
but if you give me a
one-page character backstory
that I deem of a certain
level of decent quality
and I find arresting,
you can start with a
magical item of this level,
or you can start with
this amount of money.
And suddenly, you take a
mechanical interest in them,
and give them something that they can,
I can have this over the other
players if I complete this?
Okay, I’m gonna sit down
and come up with a story.
And you trick them into accidentally
making a story that you can then pull
into the narrative of your game,
and hopefully thread them
into this needle of caring
about the world they
wouldn’t have otherwise.
That’s one trick that’s worked
a lot for me in the past.
– That is so funny.
We did literally the
same thing at Wayfinder,
my old LARP summer camp.
What we do when we do capture
the flag with young boys,
little 12-year-old boys are just,
sword, sword, sword, sword, sword!
And we were like, okay, how do we, like,
hide the medicine in the snack?
How do we get the role-playing in there?
And we used to do this
thing where we would have,
staff members would dress up as monsters.
They would have a little monster mask,
and these big foam weapons,
and they’d be full adult staff members,
and they would be neutral
just roaming around.
But these kids,
they would, through trial
and error, discover,
if we go fight them,
they’ll kill us.
– Yeah.
– If we go talk to them,
we can actually sometimes convince them
to go fight the other side.
So you’d have these
12-year-old boys running up
and being like, monster,
monster, be our friend!
(chuckling) Be our friend!
(Matthew laughs)
Got ’em.
– I love that.
– But I love that tricking
them aspect there.
I would say also,
this can be really challenging,
and one of the things I think you have,
this is like a grim
answer to this question,
but I think a blunt discussion of like,
hey, as a DM, I’d like to be fulfilled
with this sort of more
role-playing aspect.
Is this an element of the game
you guys are interested in?
Because if you have a
bunch of sober adults
look you in the eye
over your Skype and go,
I am not interested in role-playing.
That’s something you,
as difference of an opinion as
that is, you have to respect.
– Yeah, and think if that’s
the kinda game you wanna run.
There is a difficult decision sometimes
where you realize I
really wanna play this,
but is it worth my time if we cannot find
mutual appreciation of
what we want out of this?
Perhaps you’re like,
I’m willing to sacrifice
this level of my expectation
to make this game happen,
and that’s fine, but you have
to have that conversation
and agree to that.
– [Brennan] Mm-hmm.
– But there also is a
level where you’re like,
for the amount of energy
I’m putting into this game,
if my players aren’t gonna engage
or they’re not willing to meet me halfway,
maybe I need to find other players
who are willing to meet me on that level.
Not everyone has that luxury
depending on where you’re looking,
but thankfully, as the community grows,
you’ll have more and more options,
especially if you used to Roll 20,
of engaging with other players
and finding groups of people
that are more interested
in what kind of story you want to tell.
– [Brennan] Yeah.
– It’s, yeah, you have to make sure
that you’re all on the
same page with expectation.
You can trick them into
it, have that talk,
and here’s the thing, too.
The Dungeon Master, it’s not your job
to entertain your players.
(Brennan chuckles)
You’re not a hired physician who,
you’re earning a pension here
to ensure that they
are having a good time.
– [Brennan] Yeah.
– The magic of this game
is where the players
come to the same level that the DM is.
You have to engage and
bring as much energy
and as much interest to it
as the DM is trying to do.
And that goes both ways, if the players
are super ready to engage
and the DM is super blase about it
and is expecting you to guide the story,
then maybe that’s a conversation
you have to have on that end, too.
– Yeah, 100%.
It can be really challenging,
and obviously, the
situation that Teddy’s in,
it’s tricky,
but I would say, too, talk to them.
Sometimes, I will just do a
character creation session
where it’s like we’re
not gonna play tonight,
we’re just gonna talk about why the hell
we all go into dungeons.
– Mm-hmm.
– We’re just gonna taka
a day to talk about
who these people are.
Or if you feel like maybe,
it could be that your players
are not engaging with this
not out of some sense of malice,
but out of genuine discomfort
or a feeling of self-consciousness.
Is there something you can do
where you can send them a questionnaire?
You can say, “I just want you to answer
“these five questions
about your character.”
That can go so far,
especially if people have never played
in a high role play style before.
You can really create a cushion for them
by going like, hey, don’t even worry
about role playing right now,
just tell me what’s your character
hate the most about goblins.
(chuckles) You know,
or something like that.
Really small.
Does your character have a catch phrase?
I mean, you can literally start
on the most granular, small details,
and you’ll be amazed at watching
how some of those can
really key people in,
and then it gets into their bloodstream.
– Yeah, and be like what’s
your favorite character
in your favorite movie?
Pop culture references help, too.
If they’re a major consumer of media,
you can be like, all right,
what’s your favorite movie?
What’s your favorite character there?
What do you like about that character?
What about that character
really makes you go like,
yeah, I really enjoyed this story,
and identify with that character?
How is your character
that you’re making in this
game now similar to them?
– Yeah.
– How are they different?
Finding those touchstones for people
that have that discomfort
and don’t quite know yet,
or have the tools to engage
with an amorphous character personality,
finding those touchstones
are a really good way
to kind of ease them into it
and lead them into that space.
If they’re like, yeah, John Wick’s great.
All right, cool, what
about John Wick’s great?
He feels like a man who was wronged,
and even though he does bad
things on a societal level,
he has a code of honor,
and he just wants to do the right thing.
All right, cool.
What about your fighter?
Oh, yeah, you know, it’d
be kind of interesting
if he went in a similar vein.
Well, what wrongs him?
What is his sense of justice?
What does he see as a
perceived wrong in this world?
Well, he hates he when families
are hurt by the system.
Okay, was there a family,
was his family hurt in the system?
You kinda guide them
through that touchstone,
and that helps get them into
a more comfortable space
of defining those aspects
of why their character fits in this world
and what guides them in it, ultimately.
– I agree.
– And it might not, and
none of these might work.
That’s the thing, there is no real
rainbow road to answer to this.
There’s options and there’s tools,
and many more beyond
what we’ve discussed here
that you can find online, and
ask in forums, and Reddits,
and stuff like that for feedback.
And hopefully one of these will help,
and there’s a possibility it might not,
and you either have to
adjust your expectations,
or maybe they have to find
a DM that fits their style
and you need to find
players that fit yours.
– Yeah, that’s absolutely right.
This is from Wonk Daddy.
– [Matthew] Wonk Daddy, what up?
(Brennan laughs)
– When you’re worldbuilding,
how do you decide what to flesh
out and what to leave vague?
I feel like whenever I try to get
into creating a campaign myself,
I get overwhelmed with
all the little details,
and I feel like I need to
have an answer for everything
or else I’ll get stuck
and ruin the entire thing.
– That is a very common concern.
– Yeah.
– I’ve fallen into that trap.
(Matthew chuckles)
– Well, yeah, ’cause you want to have
a good return on an investment, right?
And there are certain points,
whether you’re designing
a city in your setting
or the full cosmology of
the war between the gods
a thousand thousand years ago,
there’s always this question
you’re asking in your head
of what has the highest likelihood
of being something that
brings joy to my players.
Because every DM has felt the sting of,
you don’t want to talk to the
thieves guild in this city?
(sucks teeth) Okay.
(mimics whooshing and thumping)
– (laughing) Yup!
– Fuckin’ bye, work!
(chuckling) So that can
be really frustrating.
– I would say for one thing,
to play off of that particular element,
that thieves guild that you
felt you had to throw away
that you put so much energy into,
that isn’t necessarily discarded.
It can be re-skinned and introduced
later in the game at another place,
and perhaps they might now want
to check out this other thieves guild.
Oh, yes, this isn’t the Libra Orcassium,
this is the Skybearers!
(Brennan laughs)
And just quickly scribble on
the front and hand it over.
Very much you wanna use all
the parts of the buffalo
in your campaigns so
nothing goes to waste.
And so don’t consider that if
they don’t go a certain path
or interact with this
specific faction or NPC
that you were hoping they would,
you can always find a way to retool them
and bring them back in your story
and still see that elevated.
But yeah, as far as limitations,
it’s a fine line.
I myself, when it comes to
worldbuilding on a small scale,
like a city,
I try to keep it two pages.
– Yep.
– And that is an overall paragraph
that is the theme of the location.
What’s it look like, what’s it smell like?
The people that live there, is it squalor,
is it a higher society, is
there a combination of the two
and how do they interact?
Is there a ruling class?
Who are seen of the
overlords of this location?
And perhaps a sentence or two
about what are the major
trades that go on here.
The society here, does it
function on natural goods,
does it come off of produce,
does it come off of mercenary work,
does it come off of a
plentiful ore mine nearby,
or is merely a trade post
and it’s all other
imports coming in and out?
That already gives you something,
in just very basic bullet points,
an idea of where to make
things up in that space.
– That is, I think, really key.
And it’s the idea of,
and this is gonna be
different for everyone,
so the answer I’m gonna give is relative
to you the viewer,
but that doesn’t mean that
it’s not real or actionable.
And the advice is I create
as much pre-work, information,
and this goes for,
there are certain things that
you have to do concretely.
Like stat blocks for monsters,
you gotta do that concretely.
But things that are the
narrative worldbuilding,
cities, plots, characters, motivations,
I do try always to hit the bullseye
which is exactly as much as I need to know
to make improvising the
things I don’t easy.
– Yes.
– Right?
– And to give you a weird visual analysis,
it’s almost like you have void,
and you’re just trying to
raise one mountain over here,
and one little city over here,
and a character over here
until the sort of grayish
spaces that are still void
are borrowing enough
texture and illumination
from the other things you’ve
populated the world with
that you’re like, there’s no more places
of pure voice anymore.
It’s just enough
information scattered around
that if I have to go into this middle part
where it’s like, well,
what’s between the city
you said exists and the
mountain you said exists?
And it’s like, cool, I
have enough information
from those two things
that I know what’s there.
– Exactly, it’s preparing
enough for yourself
that you can make informed
decision on the spot
based on what you already prepared.
That’s a great visual
example of exactly that.
I’m genuinely impressed!
Well done!
– Shucks.
(Matthew chuckles)
But I think it’s really true,
and I think there’s something
else that I love as well,
and this comes back full circle,
we were talking about before, which is
what guides worldbuilding,
which is make sure that
the work you’re doing
serves what you’re trying to accomplish.
And what I mean by that is,
I think we can, at least for me as a DM,
a lot of times when I’m making something,
I kind of have an idea
of what I want it to do.
Like, you’re making a city. Cool.
Not all cities serve
the same purpose in D&D.
Is this city the incredible,
shining Minas Tirith
where it’s job is to be like
the beautiful seat of culture?
Cool, you should flesh out some statues,
some public fountains.
Where is the big mage guild
where they do the incredible stuff?
What’s the holiday they’re
going to be celebrating
when you get there?
Cool, this is like the shady dock city,
the crime city?
That one needs thieves guilds,
and that one you should
stat some street toughs
that might try to rob the PCs.
So I think you narrow,
rather than having to do
everything for everywhere,
think what’s the job of
this part of the setting?
What is this on my Swiss army knife
of narrative things I’m creating
for how they’re gonna
interact with the PCs?
– Yeah, and consider, too,
that’s worldbuilding on the
kind of micro, city scale.
On a macro scale,
only enough of the themes that,
same thing, you can build off of.
The cities you want to flesh out,
the locations the party
are heading towards,
you kind of want to lay the
track ahead of you a little bit,
but you don’t have to flesh out
the entirety of the
pantheon and their history.
You can be like, are there gods,
is there a singular god,
are there no gods and
they’ve been destroyed?
That’s enough information.
Have a god of love with a name.
That’s all you need,
you don’t have to talk
about 2000 years before,
they were risen from the waters
in this era, then they fought.
You totally can, by all means,
but if you know there’s a god of love,
that’s enough for you to be like,
you see a statue of a young woman
holding forth a wreath made of flowers
and she’s Dena, the goddess of love.
The player’s like, oh,
shit, all right, cool.
That’s all you need.
And you can riff off of that,
or the players will keep walking,
and you’re like, cool, they didn’t need
any more information about that.
(Brennan laughs)
That’s all they need.
So yeah, it’s kinda like on a macro scale,
you only need a few sentences,
you only need something that
you can reference in the lore,
or that you can use as inspiration
to other, more micro-worldbuilding.
And then as you get to continents,
and you get to regions,
and you get to cities,
that’s when you get a
little more detailed.
And even then, a lot of my worldbuilding,
for the last campaign, especially,
I only did as the
players were going along.
– Don’t, yeah, that’s huge,
and you can’t discredit that.
‘Cause there’s a funny thing,
I think two things are,
there’s a great old quote,
it’s like a World War II quote,
some general was like, plans are useless,
planning is essential.
Which I love, right?
– [Matthew] Yeah.
– And what’s great about
that when you look at it
is I think it’s important
for you as a DM to be like,
what’s this world gonna feel like?
What’s it gonna be like?
What’s the vibe I’m going for?
Classic high fantasy, something else.
But also, everything you make
has to be able to get thrown away
if what happens at the
table changes things.
And there’s an element
there that’s really fun.
I made this setting that I thought was all
like sky pulp, steampunky,
Miyazaki biplanes,
and this, and that, and that!
And I was like, yeah,
this is gonna be so cool!
And then my PCs around level
three or four were like,
we’re gonna stage a
revolution against the empire
and we’re gonna overthrow them.
And I was like, this got very dark.
(both laughing)
And for the past many years now,
the whole tone changed,
where it’s the kind of the aesthetic
of these biplanes and
zeppelins and stuff like that,
but it has taken this
emotional tone of like,
we are trying to overthrow an evil empire,
and we are revolutionaries,
we’re freedom fighters.
And so as a DM,
on the level of macro
stuff, like theme and world,
and then on the micro level
of just who you thought
they were gonna talk to at the tavern,
you gotta be ready to completely
switch things on their head
based on what the PCs
are gonna throw at you.
– Oh, easily, easily.
(Brennan chuckles)
I mean, and once again,
the players will fuck everything up.
(Brennan laughs)
And they will inform your maddening chase
to put things together.
And so enough preparation
to where you have things to fall back on,
but you don’t have to flesh
everything out in advance.
It’s too intimidating.
My current campaign,
I wasn’t expecting it to
have as many dark themes,
but the players all made characters
with super tragic backstories
for the most part.
And I was like, okay, well,
there’s gonna be a lot of tragedy–
(Brennan laughs)
That we’re gonna go through,
so I hope this is cathartic
for all of our viewers,
’cause it’s gonna be for us.
(Brennan laughs)
– It’s almost like an episode
of Chopped or Iron Chef,
where the DM is this chef,
and then like, what’s
the special ingredient?
– Yeah, well, I built this new campaign
to have a lot more of intense conflict
and to show the disparate challenges
of power structures and class structures,
and different societies and
conflicts that hit that space.
And so on top of that,
they threw in tragedy.
I’m like, okay, so we’re
doing Dickensian fantasy,
practically, in some ways.
That wasn’t expected,
but I guess it’s what we’re running with.
(Brennan chuckles)
So yeah, you have to be
prepared to be malleable,
and just prepare the players
to fuck with your shit.
– [Brennan] (sighs) And they will.
They always do.
– Always.
– But you know what?
They’re why we do it.
– Exactly.
– They’re why we do it.
(chuckles) Guys, this has
been Adventuring Academy.
Thank you so much to my
guest Matthew Mercer.
– Thank you so much for having me, guys.
Really appreciate it.
– Cheers, and we’ll
catch you guys next time.
Thanks for watching.
– Bye!
– Woo!

Building Your Own Campaign Setting (with Matthew Mercer)
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