One of the ways to flesh out and develop your world is to look at it through the eyes of the people living there. If you are playing your world as you build it, then you can easily develop that world by going into the heads of the PC’s in your game group and try to see what they see. Get into their heads and imagine how they think about the world and how they would be impacted by whatever themes that are present in your world, but if you don’t have these PC’s to work with, you might have to work a little harder, but this experience can be just as rewarding.
Sunglar had a great post this week about making your NPC’s come alive. One of the other things though that great NPC’s can do for your game is help actually build your setting. I like to periodically draw up some random characters and NPC’s and see how they would interact and respond to the various themes I have developing in my current campaign setting. It has worked pretty well for me. I don’t get to play my game world as much as I would like, so input on how the world is developing from my players is little to none, but input from my NPC’s just keeps on coming in (yes, me and my NPC’s carry on conversations… they are all such drama queens).
Seriously though. Try having a conversation with your NPC’s about the world. Make up an NPC and flush out a bit of their background. Try to develop them from their birth and try not to get too setting specific with their backgrounds. Then… try to imagine how the world would have affected them, try to see how they would affect the world, then try and find where the discrepancies lie.
For example, one of the elements that I am working with now is the Outsider element in my world. These outsiders, who are essentially Romans from Space (awesome right?) have come to the world trying to understand the various forces at work there. I have been trying to get into the mind of one of these particular outsiders and see how he would react to things like Magic, and Divinity. I want to understand how these forces relate to each other in the world and also to where things get really complicated.
Another example that I would give is of an NPC that I made for my current game. You might recognize him since he placed pretty highly in the Steal This NPC Contest over at The Stuffer Shack. This NPC, a Goliath Monk/Barbarian came from a tribe of raiders in badlands, but then, as part of a caravan attack, gets captured and finds himself as a captive of a bunch of nasty elves. Through a course of luck and penance, he ends up working on the Steam Train railways and finally becomes a perfectly civilized individual and a Master of a Train Station.
You can use NPC creation like this to flush out how you want the world to develop. Making this character, I started in a similar way to how I developed my Outsider. He was in a secluded enough part of the world that you might be able to think of him as fairly untouched by the setting (start the NPC as vanilla), but then, through various experiences in his life, the setting itself starts to weigh in on the NPC. You might be able to think about this type of setting building as building around your character. Take that NPC and build the world up around him. In this example, I built up the Elf nation because I needed to have an antagonist that would capture him and try to civilize him. Then, the area around where he works gets flushed out because he needs somewhere to make a living.
After you build up a bit of the world around your NPC, go back and take a look at what you made. In their mind, would it make sense? What do they think about their life? What do they think about current events? What are their desires? Do these desires have anything to do with the stuff you want to represent in the world you are building? These are some pretty easy places to start when you try and get inside your character’s head. Use those thoughts reflectively as a critique of the setting. You might be surprised about what your NPC’s tell you. For example, this NPC told me that I wasn’t bringing in enough of the element which I wanted to feature in this setting – the internet (well, a fantasy version at least) and so, I had to go back and try and figure out where that strange magical internet would most likely have impacted him in his life and how he has to deal with it now.
So, take yourself for a mind trip, build some NPC’s and have a conversation about your setting. The worst thing that will happen is that people might think you talk with invisible friends, which would be bad, but at least you will have some cool NPC’s for your games when you do finally get a chance to play.