When I first started my campaign world, I was convinced a rich history was needed. NPCs galore, gods, religions, cultures, even popular books and songs. I worked for months before I migrated my players from the Forgotten Realms into the world of Medentri.
It failed spectacularly.
Let me give you all some background before I continue. I have been playing D&D and a few other table top RPGs since I was about 6. Yes, 6. I learned the rules from a friend that was a few years older who learned from an older sibling. We thought it was amazing and dove head first into creating not only characters, but an entire world.
We all grew up and grew apart. It happens and for years, I played only with a small group of friends. The thing is, we were poor. I couldn't buy the books, so we made our own rules. It was horribly unbalanced and clumsy. It was a lot of fun.
We played a Star Wars campaign that I designed based on a single D100 that I had. Everything required a D100. My players took over the galaxy. Maybe I'll post about that later though.
We played a D&D campaign that revolved around a cult that worshiped snakes. Maybe a little too many Conan movies. Again, maybe another post for that one.
I was in my early teens when I rediscovered the notes from that first campaign world. I read them and remembered all the fun adventures I had. Then, as teens are apt to do, I started to criticize it. Looking back now, for being 6, 9 and 12, I think we did good work. I guess teens have no respect for tradition.
I have a list I recently found that I made during those years. Things that I thought would make a good campaign world. This post is only examining one of those items.
It is the first item on my list. "History enough to explain it all."
I suppose that this seems like good advice at first glance. If you have ever been given a quest to clear a dungeon that wasn't present in your world until you were given a quest to clear it, you probably have the same feelings about this as I do.
The problem with the advice is that it is two words to long.
If my experience can teach anything to any DM, take this, History enough to explain.
I wrote 16000 years of detailed history. Textbook style. Tracked the rise and fall of kingdoms, noble families and dynasties. An additional 20 pages of "prehistory" that read like it was out of some religious text.
Once we started playing in the realm of Medentri, I referenced it maybe 5 times. My campaigns still take place in Medentri. Its been 15 years and I have referenced those 80 pages 5 times.
When I place ruins into my world during the original genesis, I tracked what kingdom or organization built it, who had occupied it at various points, who had ruined it.
Again, it was probably useful a dozen times in 15 years.
So, what is my point?
There is a significant difference between knowing the history of your world and creating the history of your world.
As a DM, whether you are creating your own world or using a published one, knowing who the major forces in the history of the world is enough. If your PCs ask a question, answer. Make it up, they won't know.
Here's the secret. Write it down. File it away and use it again.
If you maintain consistency, your PCs will never know. They will think that you planed it all along.
This also gives you the chance to grow your world organically and give your PCs input into how you do so.
And that topic is the subject of my next post.
Take care and have fun.