Filling Worlds With Interesting Events For Tabletop Games

Once you’ve created an interesting world for you tabletop game, the next step is to fill it with stuff that is either currently happening, about to happen, or has happened. You really only need one to have one built out, since the others tend to grow out of exploring one, but it doesn’t hurt to have a few different options of each kind so you can run the game your players are interested in playing. You could try to predict that ahead of time and build the precise number of interesting things you need in that direction to make the world feel lived-in, but it’s usually more fun if you have a bit of each. In my experience, it always feels rewarding when the players find ties to past events that get them excited to learn more about whatever situation they’re in, when players can tie current events to past events when they initially seemed unrelated, and everyone loves a bit of foreshadowing that pays out.

Like creating worlds, you’re going to need to find the right balance of knowing and understanding for your own comfort (see the second paragraph of the post linked above for the difference between the two). I like to lean more heavily on knowing for current events, lean a bit more toward understanding for past events, and know as little as possible about future events. It’s difficult to talk generally, though, because as soon as the game I’m preparing for begins, all of this is liable to change as the events turns from an “event” to something specific, like a dungeon crawl or an assassination or a traditional but ultimately world-shaking transition of power. I’m getting a little ahead of myself, so let’s focus on the three general time periods that exist in any game.

As part of creating your world, you probably figured out some interesting events that have already happened. I know I tend to create these as part of figuring out why the world is in its current state or why people hold power or why people feel particular ways about them. A lot of these events tend toward broad political movements or moments of drastic change, which make for great past events, but if you stick to only geopolitics, it can make the places between your cities feel empty. My favorite method for producing interesting events that have already happened is to take my basic rules and define the moment that explifies this rule. To use the example from yesterday, if my basic rule is that everything growing in the patch of infernal wastelands separating two major powers is immune to fire, I create an event that either caused this rule to fall into place (the formation and original cause of the infernal wastelands) or an event that brought this rule to the attention of the world (the war that was ended as a result of the rapid growth of the infernal wasteland).

I like to lean on understanding in these moments, since the specifics tend to get lost to time anyway, and it’s better to understand how something like this event would change the world rather than knowing a specific list of the exact ways the world changed as a result. The latter can be useful, but it ties your hands by saying it changed in only those specific ways rather than allowing room for your players or character developments to suggest less obvious ways the world could be different as a result of the event. It’s still good to know some things about these events, though, so coming up with a list of concrete details that would have survived since the event can help give you (and your players) a starting point for research and creativity. If you understand that the sudden rapid expansion of the infernal wastelands would end wars and bring enemies together to address a more pressing issue, it can be helpful to know a few names of the people involved in the tense peace treaty or how many years the treaty stood before it was abandoned because the problem seemed solved. I prefer to have a good, general understanding and a few factual tidbits of knowledge to sprinkle into stories for my players to seize on if they’re interested.

A lot of the time, the things I know about past events go hand-in-hand with the things I know about current events. These sorts of things are generally best set up as events already in motion, perhaps too far along to be stopped or altered by your players, but always with some room for the players who get involved to express their agency on the world. Too much understanding and not enough knowing can make current events feel insubstantial or inconsequential. It is good to know that the infernal wastelands are expanding because the leaders of the cities now bordering said wastelands are more interested in controlling the wastelands than preventing them from consuming the cities or even the world. Understanding informs the ways that this decision might impact the future, since the exact details of how the event plays out aren’t already decided, but you should know all the major players involved, what they want out of their involvement (with a hefty dose of understanding what that means for them and the systems they control or represent), and who wants to be involved.

Details are important because they will be points hinging on the influence of your players. If there is a power that wishes to remind both the cities that the infernal wastelands cannot be controlled and that the cities turning into firey wastelands most people can’t withstand would actually be a bad thing, it is important know enough about that power that you can present them as an option beyond the two cities to your players. You need to know ahead of time if there’s anything this third power can even do to influence the outcome, because there’s no point in presenting them to your players if they will ultimately accomplish nothing no matter how well they perform or how lucky they get.

Beyond that, then, are future events. Understanding how current events will play out is the only way to allow for player agency, because knowing how they will play out means that the players can have no real impact on what might happen. Understanding should turn to knowing if your players decide to not get involved, since your understand and knowing of current events should make it fairly clear how things will play out if nothing is changed. To continue the example, the infernal wasteland will expand to consume both cities, driving out most inhabitants and leaving those in power as mere opposing warlords in the ruins of their once great civilizations. This understanding will inform what kind of future events might come up based on how the world changes. Those displaced by the expansion of the infernal wastelands will flee to other countries, raising tensions and maybe even sparking border conflicts as the neighbors of the Infernal Wastes try to accommodate so many people, some of whom they desperately want (the rich, wealthy, high skilled, etc.) and some of whom they want to foist off on their rivals (the elderly, poor, sick, those they see as “lesser than,” etc.).

If you try to get too specific, you run the risk of wasting hours of work if events play out differently than you expect. It’s better to understand how the power structures of future event locations operate, what their goals are, and how quick they are to adapt because then you don’t need to figure out how they will respond ahead of time but can react in the moment, playing out the scenario that actually occurs rather than having two dozen what-if scenarios ready to go. Better to understand that the hardy people who grew up around the infernal wastelands would be excellent citizens of any new city because of how resourceful and low-maintenance they are in general, or that they might be willing to settle in territory everyone else deems is too dangerous so that they could form their own government that addresses some of the problems that caused them to be forced from their homes in the first place. It leaves plenty of room for the players to intervene or direct the events as they move from future to current.

It is a lot of work, preparing interesting events for a tabletop gaming campaign, so don’t be afraid to recycle! History has an unfortunate tendency to repeat itself as not only good people can learn from the past. Sometimes, the failure of an evil regime eventually results in the success of an evil regime, as an ill-intentioned student of history uses the failings of their predecessors to make sure their attempt at dominating their society succeeds. Anytime you want to recycle something, fall back on the parts you understand and develop knew bits of knowledge that fit the event this time around. Waste not want not, you know?

Looking for the next part? You can read about how to make things interesting here and how to make interesting characters here!

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