As seen on TV! (Using movies and tropes in worldbuilding)
I'm not gonna delve too much into the whys and what the hells, but I started working on a new high fantasy horror campaign setting for upcoming games. Not to boast or anything, but I sometimes pride myself on creating coherent, cohesive, and believable worlds. I try to create worlds that, within the ruleset of their existence make sense, are plausible, and thrive on their uniqueness.
To fulfill the needs of this setting, however, I didn't want to go all out into these aspects. Sure, cohesiveness is super important to me, but in this world, it's just gonna have to take the backseat!
As part of this process, I wanted to give my five readers a glimpse into the creative process of the realms of my new setting.
I'm basing each of my realms on one or more horror movies, or on several tropes used in horror movies. Trust me, I have no intention of going down the copyright-infringement-slash-plagiarizing route! These movies are just ... inspiration, one might say!
Let's see how it works!
Note: I use the term "Realm" because it's what I work on but you can use these tips for worlds, countries, factions, cities, areas, etc.
Got a source? IT'S BREAK TIME!
When creating a realm for this project, I start by picking one or more movies, books, TV show episodes, etc. as a source. Of course, I pick something I know so I don't just talk out of my ass.
Then, I want to summarize it in one or two sentences that denote the most striking or important elements.
The Grudge is a movie about a curse occurring when a person's death comes suddenly and violently, caused by rage. It lingers and afflicts those who come in contact with it and curses them to a violent death themselves, repeating the cycle, over and over.
A trope, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is a "a common or overused theme or device" so ... y'know, a cliché. Some would argue that tropes are old and overused and should be avoided at all costs, but, I don't know ... I don't agree.
Using them smartly and sparingly, and subverting them whenever possible, makes them super useful tools. TvTropes is a great resource for this, and I look up the page for whatever I'm digging into.
Grudgy example (samples from TvTropes):
- Curiosity Killed the Cast: Anyone curiously entering the house will end up dead thanks to the curse. Until the curse spreads, which means that anyone unlucky enough to unknowingly interact with a cursed location or individual is in for a bad time.
- Disproportionate Retribution: The curse targeting innocent unrelated people, also turning said victims into puppets of the curse to let history repeat itself.
- Horror Hates a Rulebreaker: A fairly harsh example; the moment anyone enters the haunted apartment, the ghosts begin stalking them relentlessly, killing them and making them new tortured spirits to claim yet more victims.
- Inferred Holocaust: Since the curse now spreads like The Virus, there's the Paranoia Fuel of never knowing whether you are interacting with a normal human being or puppet of the curse and likely falling victim to the curse at the hands of an infected individual or group of people. Who's to say Kayako's vengeful spirit will not become an Apocalypse Maiden and condemn all human beings to a terrifying And I Must Scream Fate Worse than Death?
- Neverending Terror: This is one of the scariest parts of the eponymous grudge curse. Once the curse has you, there is no getting away from it. Also, it will come for you anywhere. It doesn't care how locked up you are or how many other people are nearby.
- The Virus: Anyone who falls victim to the curse and returns from the dead as thralls for the curse.
Gotta go from this big TO THAT FUCKING HUMONGOUS!
We've got the idea of a curse that creates killer vengeful spirits when someone dies in a violent manner. We know that once the curse starts, it spreads like a virus. How do we scale this to the level of a whole country or society? Here are a few questions I'd ask:
- Is there a limit of active curses? Would it be one? Five?
- How does one get rid of the curse, or stop it temporarily?
- How fast does the curse kill off people?
- Can it go very far from its starting point?
- Assuming that this curse exists, and there is no question that it exists, who knows about it? Everyone? Authorities? Is it more of a folks tale?
- Is anyone trying to use this curse to their advantage? To control it?
For my realm, here's how I would scale the concepts and ideas:
- Historically, there has always been 8 curses active at the same time.
- That was until a few dozens of years ago: someone managed to stop 3 of the evil spirits for good, and none have reappeared.
- This has been going on for several centuries, so everyone is more or less aware of it.
- The common folk tend to be very wary of others, and because of this, very few densely populated areas exist.
- No one agrees on how to handle this:
- A group of cultist reveres these spirits as gods and try to bring them back and hunt the heroes who have once vanquished them
- The authorities have a personal connection to the original curse and they would rather see the country razed than see their treason exposed
- Some form of sect believe that the spirits should be appeased with kindness
It's about damn time!
- What's the current situation?
- What event lead to it?
- Who is responsible for it?
- How are people reacting?
- 1000 years ago: A greedy family set its sights on the highest throne in the budding realm, willing to do anything to achieve their lofty goals, they started researching ways to get rid of the current rulers.
- 990 years ago: The greedy family, having a child become a ward of the family set its plan in motion: in the dead of the night, the boy, who has been accepted as a loving, caring son years prior, killed both adoptive parents.
- 989 years go: The mournful adoptive mother became as a spirit and cursed the castle, killing everyone in its wake. The capital was moved for the first time.
- Every five year thereafter: A new spirit rose, in different places in the country, leaving few stones untouched by the curse, until 8 spirits roamed the lands.
- 600 years ago: A young woman was fleeing from brigands and sought refuge in a city decimated by the spirit. The cursed being saved her from her attackers and left her be for reasons unknown. She would later found the Followers of Sethra.
- 550 years ago: Somehow, one of the spirits was defeated by a member of the royal family.
- 545 years ago: Another spirit rose, five years to the date, after the previous disappeared, forcing many to consider the hopelessness of their situation.
- 200 years ago: A group of adventurers sought to destroy these spirits or lay them to rest. They managed to stop three of them which have surprisingly not returned in the years after.
- 180 years ago: The heroes who have stopped the curse before disappeared from the land.
- 100 years ago: A new king sits on the throne, and while he is often asked to deal with the threat or find those who have stopped the curse before, he never fully acts out.
- 80 years ago: After years of violence, some have surmised that love may be the only way to appease the spirits, and have let go of their fears. They live quiet, peaceful life and accept death at any time.
What if I threw some "What ifs" at you?
- What would happen if one of those seemingly evil spirits would save an innocent person?
- How would people react if suddenly someone managed to banish these cursed entities? How would the other entities react?
- What would happen if a group of people tried to reach out these spirits and appease them rather than combat them?
That's not the whole world ... is it?
- What makes this area so specials that its problems stay there?
- Do its people travel outside of the area? How are they perceived by others?
- How do they perceive travelers or other nations?
- Do they have resources that would make other nations interested in taking over the land? Would that affect the particularities of your area?
- Is any faction in your realm trying to split from the rest of it?
- Do they have any form of trades with others? What kind of things does your realm export? What do they need?