Review Fix chats with ‘The Ultimate RPG Game Master’s Worldbuilding Guide’ author James D’Amato, who discusses the book and who will enjoy it the most.
About The Ultimate RPG Game Master’s Worldbuilding Guide by James D’Amato:
Whether you’re a new game master creating your first campaign or you’re an experienced GM looking for new ideas, this book is here to help you build the stage for your next great story. With more than thirty games and thought exercises, this guide covers a wide range of genres and helps GMs create dynamic destinations, powerful items, shadowy organizations, compelling villains, and more.
Review Fix: How was this book born?
James D’Amato: With all my books I try to give people tools to make the process of creating for RPGs easier and more fun. Some people jump at the chance to make characters, worlds, and histories from scratch. Other people want a little structure to get started or feel confident in their ideas. This book uses RPG mechanics to break down building different concepts for world creation into approachable exercises. I wanted people to engage their creativity without stressing over it so they could step back to look at their work and say “wow, my world is so cool!”
My first book The Ultimate RPG Character Backstory Guide had 100 activities to help people come up with more complex ideas for their fantasy RPG characters, but it was mostly an activity book focusing on a single genre. My next book, The Ultimate RPG Gameplay was more of an instructive guide on how to get the most out of a narrative-forward style of play. It included activities and a wider look at different RPG genres.
In this book, I tried to bring the structures for my earlier books together. It’s broken down into different activities like Backstory and has the broad multi-genre focus of Gameplay. It’s structured for readers to pick and choose the activities they feel will be most relevant to their games. However, I think there is some sound instructive guidance for people looking for a cover-to-cover read. Especially in the X-Punk and Horror sections.
Review Fix: What else inspired it?
D’Amato: Over the past couple of years doing the Campaign: Skyjacks podcast worldbuilding has become a huge part of my enjoyment at the table. I love challenging my fellow performers and freelancers to come up with exciting ideas to populate our universe. I also enjoy sitting down with friends like Patrick Rothfuss– who wrote the forward for this book– and just talking through world concepts.
Often that is a solo activity for gamemasters. You’re usually running games for the friends you’s discuss worldbuilding with. Many GMs don’t want to tip their hand about upcoming plot points or feel like they have to do everything alone. This book encourages people to consider a more collaborative style. At the very least it provides a tool– an extra collaborator to help you explore your ideas.
I just wanted to bottle some of the fun I have come to appreciate in my own games.
Review Fix: What was your writing process like?
D’Amato: I have ADHD and dyslexia, on top of that, I have a lot of responsibilities managing my podcast network. I find that to make my deadlines and not break down mid-process I really need to take some time at the start of my drafting to outline my ideas. I give myself a list of concepts I want to build exercises around, with summaries so I don’t forget what I was going for when I came up with them. For this book, I also tried to break down the exercises into “activity types” like “randomized prompts,” what I call “priority system” decision-making exercises, and full-on mini RPG systems.
I gave myself a manageable words per-week goal. I tried to pace this book to only need 3k words per week to be completed on-time. It’s a comfortable quota that usually lets me take time to focus on other work. Sometimes I can even beat it! It also leaves me with plenty of time for revision before my editors take a look. Part of what I need as a writer with disabilities is to just make an overwhelming project like a book manageable in my head. This structure also allows me to celebrate small successes along the way.
On top of all that I’m really thankful to my editors Rebeca, Peter, and Brendan. It’s great to work with people who really think about your work how to present it.
Review Fix: How did the book change throughout the writing process?
D’Amato: I had to make some difficult cuts to this book. Some of the mini-games I created were between 2-6K words. In a 50k word book, it’s easy to run out of space. After an editorial pass of the first draft, my editors told me we needed to lose some of the longer exercises or a ton of the shorter ones. I decided to give each genre section of the book one or two “tentpole” exercises that are longer or more complex with a host of smaller exercises to allow readers to develop their ideas in different directions.
Review Fix: Why is it special to you?
D’Amato: Ultimately this is a book that encourages people to explore their own creativity. Imagination is a tricky thing to stay engaged with as an adult. So much of the world is built to discourage people for being creative in the wrong context or in an “unproductive” way. It’s about finding joy and being able to do that on your own schedule and terms. I love worldbuilding as an outlet for creativity and a foundation for storytelling. It’s special to me because I think it will help people get in touch with themselves.
Review Fix: Why do RPGs matter?
D’Amato: I think RPGs are a fabulous form of self-expression, an underloved artform. On the surface, it’s cool that we developed a whole genre of games that challenges players to indulge in imaginative storytelling. Most of the time we treat writing and storytelling as activities that only novelists or filmmakers really get to enjoy– because it’s for work. At the RPG table, everyone is a writer, director, and actor in different measures. That’s so empowering and incredibly fun.
On top of that, RPGs are empathy engines. They are games that challenge players to step into the mind of another person and imagine living under totally different circumstances. I think that sort of play is beneficial for so many reasons. It can be an escapist release, a chance to explore a new side of yourself, an excuse to connect with a way of thinking you have never imagined, or just practice in social collaboration. There are so many benefits if you invest in discovering them.
Review Fix: Who do you think will enjoy this book the most?
D’Amato: I think folks who want to step into the gamemaster role for the first time will really appreciate this book. GMing is built on a host of different skillsets and worldbuilding is just one of them. If you’re really excited to develop stories or play a cast of NPCs, you shouldn’t have to sweat developing a setting. The Worldbuilding Guide is here to lighten that load and help you find the fun in exploring that part of the role.
I think experienced GMs will find some value in it too. Especially if you are looking to play in a new genre and want some light guidance. It makes big concepts easier to just pick up and play. It also has a few tips on how to approach worldbuilding differently than most people think of it. Even if my style isn’t your jam, I always find it helpful to consider how other people do things. It solidifies my ideas.
Finally, if you just can’t get enough of playing at the table and you want a chance to play on your own, I think this book is a great tool. I spent hours of my time dreaming up my next game sessions when I was GMing in college. Having a resource like this would have helped me focus that energy and given me the chance to consider ideas I never thought of. Even if you’re not creating for RPGs and you’re trying to develop a world for a novel, screenplay, or any other creative endeavor, I think there’s something in this book for you.
Review Fix: What’s next?
D’Amato: I have a few concepts bouncing around for more books in the Ultimate RPG line. I’m also pecking away a novel. Of course, I’m still working on the Campaign: Skyjacks and One Shot podcasts. I’m working with Patrick Rothfuss to develop a roleplaying game and actual play podcast based on his Kingkiller Chronicle novels. It’s a pretty full-plate creatively but it’s all stuff I’m excited about.
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
D’Amato: If you like RPG or storytelling in general be sure to check out my shows on the One Shot podcast network! One Shot is a great way to discover new games and Campaign: Skyjacks is an extremely entertaining story about sky pirates.