Peasants To Principality: Introduction To World Building Part 2 Bottom Up Design.

Posted by: Jason Silverain / Category: , , , , , , ,

Greeting and Salutations, following up on the previous post regarding approaches to world building today in this post I will be giving a similar brief overview of the Bottom Up Design. In the future I hope to write an example of these concepts put into practice as I create my own setting for a upcoming campaign I will be running.

Bottom Up Design: The Basic Concept

Bottom Up Design explained in its simplest form is this: Beginning at the initial element required expand outwards designing each addition element that will be required or interacted with.
As the astute amongst you may realise this is not quite the opposite of Top Down Design and in fact has more in common with ad libbing in its method (though some would argue that ad libbing is Bottom Up Design in its most pure form), when used as a design tool it allows a setting to grow organically as additional elements and details are added as needed.

An example of this in practice using our space setting from before would have our designer beginning with an element typically a location: Determining the first element that the campaign will require is the location the party will begin our designer creates a space station, its inhabitants, visitors and services, any adventures that occur upon the space station, then space ships (if not provided by the game system), the local solar system, locations that the party will be required to visit within the locals system etc.

This simple example above shows the narrow focus of Bottom Up Design and how already established designed elements are returned to and built upon with additional details as newer elements are introduced.
While it does traditionally focus only on elements the players will interactive with Bottom Up Design can be used to develop highly detailed if narrowly focused settings in advanced.

Advantages And Disadvantages

The main advantages of the Bottom Up Design method are:
  • Focused approach aids in building detailed locations, characters and set pieces.
  • Reduced initial book keeping requirements due to no unnecessary details or locations.
  • Easy to add new elements as required. This can also help settings feel less artificial in design due to their organic growth and naturally works well with ad libbing.
  • Typically faster and less work intensive than Top Down Design.
  • Setting locations can be used for play while the overall setting continues to be expanded.
  • Best used to create individual locations, adventures and set pieces or in campaigns which are focused in a single area or region.
The main disadvantages of the Bottom Up Design method are:
  • Due to its narrow focus players can more easily move beyond the developed setting, this can force a Dungeon Master to ad lib on the spot or heavily guided or 'rail road'' the party to remain within the settings confines.
  • Designing can become stuttered or even halted if an particular element becomes difficult to work upon. 
  • As the setting organically grows it can be difficult to keep elements consistent and requires good note taking and book keeping as the game progresses.
  • When used to design expansive areas it can be more time consuming than Top Down Design. 

I hope this little article series has helped with understanding Top Down and Bottom Up Design, the next aim of this series is to take these methods and to create a setting using them.


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