View From Above

Where I delve into Top Down adventure construction

I touched on Top Down design in the Common Ground post.  This is designing your adventure or setting by looking at the “Big Picture” first and then designing each of the lower layers until you get to the fine details like family names, the Skorpion class cruisers that patrol the star lanes, and the Rusty Dragon Tavern.  I’ll hopefully illustrate this better with a hypothetical, and probably over the top example.  For this example, assume you have a game system that will fit perfectly for your idea:

The Triumph of New Rome: In our alternate history, Rome almost fell, but was saved through the brilliant, but savage, machinations of 1st emperor Narsis.  Now, the Roman Empire has advanced into a star faring culture.  How do we design this setting?

First, we need to figure out the extent of the Empire…how many planets does it control?  So, for each planet, we need to create some things…What is the planet like>? Desert and dual sun, or water with scattered islands….what about toxic atmosphere but very rich in resources?  So we design all of these worlds and give them names, and decide why the empire inhabited them.  What has happened to the natives, and how did they take to being subjugated by the Romans?  Well, we need to define that.  Oh, every planet has a population of citizens, slaves and subjugated natives.  So, we need to work out these natives, the populations and how many population centers there are.  Of course these places need names…

OK, now we have the empire, we of course need to decide why they haven’t expanded further?  Range?  Or bogged down on given planets?  Well, we need to define that.  But, if it is range, or simply resources, we need to figure out how travel works, and how big the starships are and their cargo…probably ought to work out what the standard method for pacifying worlds is, and is it more important to keep the slaves alive, or are the resources what drives them.

Well, we have the empire and the barest info on the starships.  Now we need to decide which of the planets are going to be important to the setting.  Well, All of them of course!  So for every planet, we need to work out the members of the senate there, what the lifestyle on that planet is, how many and how big the population centers are.

As you can see, top down can get VERY complex, as we haven’t even got a place for the characters to call home yet…assuming its Earth, a lot of information is already available, but we need to work out how it has changed with the New Roman Empire controlling it.  We need to work out the important people and buildings for the setting…what about any important members of the Senate, or the exiled General of the Praetorian who has recently acquired a Septus Class destroyer? Which of course we will need to name and map and work out crew and compliment… We haven’t  even worked out the significant dates in history that brought about this new Empire, yet!

The idea for Top Down is that whatever happens or whatever the players decide to do, you have already worked out what it could affect!  It is VERY labor intensive.   I usually work on a top down idea, but usually only about kingdom level down with a sketch of the world and a few notes about what is beyond.  The biggest benefit of this is it creates a very detail and believable setting that will always remain consistent.  As I have posted in my info, I tend to use this method, or this method with a shortcut. This is a great method to use when you are gaming in an Epic style, or if you are writing stories rather than adventures.  But when it comes to adventures, using this method, you can literally have ages worth of background and settings forever!

What are the downsides?  Well…LOTS of preparation.  Also, Lots of maintenance.  If you have a whole world going on outside of game, then you need to keep at least simple notes on its continued existence or it becomes stagnant.  When you tell a player that a queen from two kingdoms over just got assassinated, because that is the news of the day, and has nothing to do with your current game, next year, the queen cannot still be “Just assassinated!,” It could still be an undecided outcome, but SOMEBODY, and likely many somebodies, if you have built your Top Down correctly, has claimed the king’s hand!

Like everything else in reffing, this is a personal choice.  For the sake of completeness, the next post will be Bottom up, and then I will do a simple compare contrast.  Anybody have preferences of what to see after this short string?  Don’t worry..even without input, I have LOTS of post scheduled…just not certain what order to post them!

Thats my story…take it or leave it…My trucker budies…they believe it!


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