From the trenches

Where we look at Bottom up design

Bottom up design, as we have discussed before, is a method of world building, or adventure building that starts with local detail and adds details about the greater area as needed.  For an exaggerated example, I will design a starting adventure in the fictional New Roman Empire that I looked at in the last post.

We are going to create an adventure on the Gloriana,Centurion class frigate.  To start this method, we need an idea of how we want our story to go.  So, it will be a murder mystery, where one of the officers was killed while in transit stasis.  So, with just this, we need to create a rank structure, a deck plan, a crew compliment, and at least a general outline of the cohort aboard the Gloriana.  We will also need to detail the murder as to work out what clues will be available to the players.

We could have the characters woken while everyone else is in stasis, but assuming the killer altered whatever monitoring devices are available, that would make it difficult.  So, they will be woken, just before everyone else so they can be briefed about their duties.  There is a time limit imposed because they will need to solve it before they arrive, or face judgement for failing a mission…oh, that leaves us to design a legal system so we can work out the rewards or punishment.

We need to detail all of the major NPCs, we can broad stroke the bit players.  Assuming that we don’t need to modify or create any rules, then we have a complete adventure…oh…except we might need to work out a few planets to create the non-human slave races on the  ship.  Which will make us detail some of their culture.  But other than that…we have an adventure…

To turn this into a whole setting, which is our goal, we need to expand this.  But for right now…we are done.  One of the biggest benefits of the Bottom Up style is we have all the details we need for an adventure and anything that comes up, we can start hanging on all of those empty hooks outside of the ship…other planets, different slave races, the planet that is mentioned in rebellion…the Flagship…”Wow!  This sounds like the perfect system for making a setting, why fight with the Top Down when you can build it as you need it?”  well….let me ‘splain…

This system takes work, but not as much as Top Down initially.  You end up doing the work in the bits that you need them rather than in anticipation.  Again, you say, so what?  If I am only doing the work that I need to do, then I have not over taxed myself!  Granted this is really the way most TV shows and even movies are written; just creating the information needed for each episode or installment.  This is where the problem can come in.  In your first adventure, the murder mystery, you decide that people are routinely wakened during transit stasis to ensure they maintain muscle tone, and purge the body of toxic build-up.  But, in a later adventure over a year later, you have a key part of an adventure revolve around someone who has been in transit stasis for over 100 years…May not be too difficult to reconcile, but if you had top downed, those details would have already been created.  What about if you identify the planet of Ragu II as having been purged from above due to a rebellion and that the Raguans make terrible slaves…a year later, you remember the name Ragu II and decide to have a ship commanded by one of its residents.  But, even though you mentioned it in passing in response to a player question, the player made a note of it because it seemed vitally important.  Well, now you need to either explain your mistake, or correct it by saying they were from Macarone II not Ragu II (or some such!)

The biggest problem with bottom up comes from having to make disjointed pieces fit.  I’m sure you have seen a favorite TV show that violates its own canon once, and never addresses it, or they need to create a lame reason that this instant was different.

OK…that should define both of the broad styles of creation.  Next article will talk about other benefits and problems by comparing them, and talk about how you can get the best of both worlds with only a bit more work to start!

That’s the story…Take it or leave it…My trucker buddies…They believe it!

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