The Gassy Gnoll: Where are we again? (Location, Location, Location – RPG Blog Carnival)

This month’s blog carnival was kicked off by Mike Bourke @ Campaign Mastery and I have to say it’s a doozy. Though “Location, Location, Location” may have originated in the real estate industry, it works amazingly well for fictional pursuits as well. Whether you’re designing a RPG campaign or writing a novel, you can’t go very far without a setting. (Apologies to R.E.M. for the bad riff on one of their song titles! I couldn’t resist. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

RPG Blog Carnival logoStory relies on the trifecta of character, plot, and setting. Without one of the three, it’s like sitting on a three-legged stool missing a leg. You might stay upright for a moment, but it won’t last long. Even if you have the world’s best characters and plot, if you don’t have someplace to put them it’s kind of pointless.

I’m not saying that you need GRRM-level worldbuilding. Sometimes it can be as simple as a single statement. I’ve started plenty of games with “you start in a tavern” or “you find yourself at the front door of an old mansion” or even “you wake up in a dark room.” Generic locations work great to kick things off. Whether you have more than that as a GM or are designing on the fly as your PCs explore doesn’t really matter. Pick SOME PLACE.

Without that place, you’re leaving your characters largely in the dark. They may even be well motivated by the plot, but they don’t really have anywhere to go.

When you’re thinking about that place, I highly recommend you as GM or designer approach it from more than one angle. Sure, it’s easy to say “you stand in a 20 x 30 room with a waiting monster.” But what else is in there? Why was the room built? How long ago was it built? What was it originally intended for? What’s it used for now?

Other angles include your traditional sensory questions… Would a PC smell or hear something as they approach the room? How does that wall or door feel? What can they see in the room that they can make use of?

If you have the time to plan, use the time to define potential encounter areas to some degree. We don’t always need a big printed map, but a description of a location can really set the stage and give your players (and yourself) hooks for your imagination to help flesh out the place.

So what can you do simply to improve a location on the fly? Here are a few suggestions:

There are plenty of simple (even cheap) ways to improve your descriptive skills and make locations much more interesting for your players. Pick one or two and see how far you get. You can never have too many tools in your GMing toolbox!

A big thank you goes out to Mike Bourke of Campaign Mastery for a great topic this month! Be sure to check out Campaign Mastery and the RPG Blog Carnival Archive for other great topics and articles to inspire you!

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2 comments to The Gassy Gnoll: Where are we again? (Location, Location, Location – RPG Blog Carnival)

  • These are some great ideas. I especially love the idea of chosing a descriptive word and keying off of that. It’s almost like a mini elevator pitch for your entire session that you can keep going back to.

    I want to also add that personal experiences make for fantastic cues for describing a location. I went on a trip to Ireland a few months ago and I will probably always use some influences from the pubs there in describing my taverns. The best part is that you don’t have to be an expert on castles, dungeons, or taverns but if you just experience a few, you will get so many great ideas that you can pick and choose from.

    To a lesser extent, I think watching movies helps as well. Though I find it harder to recollect and recreate a scene from a movie, you can still catch some nice visual elements to hark back to.

    Thanks again for the list. I’m excited to use your descriptive keyword method!
    brantaylor recently posted…Player Character Theme SongsMy Profile

    • Game Knight

      @Bran – Awesome. I’m glad you liked it! Whether conscious or unconscious I think we pull all those memories (real, imagined, or shared) into our gaming when we describe things and write. I have to say I’m jealous of your trip to Ireland however! Keep up the great work on HelpMyRpg.com as well!

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