Worldbuilding: Generic or Specific?

When building setting elements to be shared with others, or at least significant elements of such a world, do you think it is more useful if they are specific and ready for use, but perhaps harder to adapt, or more generic and easily adapted?

For instance, if I were to do a series of gaming supplements describing setting elements (cities, organizations, religions, that sort of thing) I expect they would be quite specific internally (all the major characters specifically named and described, for example). In joining the setting elements together, though, would it be more useful to have their relationships integrated or left more loosely coupled?

That is, in a supplement describing the Abbey of Los Litha I could mention a relationship with “a wizards’ guild in a nearby city”, “The Academy of Ter Liatri”, or even “The Academy of Ter Liatri, a wizards’ guild in a nearby city”, all for much the same effort. Would it be valuable to integrate them more closely, perhaps to the point where the current supplement covers the detail specific to the setting element being focused on, with links to other setting elements that can’t be fully understood without looking to the linked setting element? Or would be easier to not have that additional detail, which will make it easier to remove or replace the links?

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4 Comments

  1. I’d prefer modules have a short “world connections/conversions” paragraph that would list the outside entities and their connections to the module.

    So, “a wizard’s guild in a nearby city that has a bounty on the skin of lycanthropes for some unknown purpose” has an operative in an inn on a forest road patrolled by agents of blah de blah. A merchant’s guild that runs a caravan through this road has interests in XXX and is represented by YYYY. The bandits that take shelter in the forest are being manipulated by the clerics of your local evil god of death through nail biting. And so on and such like.

    All right there and up front like so a DM can peruse and see how it fits with what they’ve already got going on – or need to make up.

  2. I think “The Academy of Ter Liatri, a wizards’ guild in a nearby city” is the best option. If I have the Ter Liatri supplement I can drop it in directly, if not I can make up a wizards’ guild myself and just give it that name. If the Los Litha supplement makes allusions to the way Ter Liatri is organised or what-have-you then I can still make use of those comments and references as inspiration for my guild design.

    Story time: I originally saw the original Star Wars movies out of order (due to reasons). I was able to dream up my own explanation for how things got to the stage of the later movies, essentially re-inventing the first movie in my own way based on references in the other two movies.

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