A world might have pillars like:
- Magic use has a destructive effect on life and the environment in this world.
- The world has been devastated by abuse of magic, and so society reviles spellcasters.
- The world is ruled by a select caste of elites who have mastered magic in spite of the consequences, and work to ensure that they retain exclusive rights to its practice.
- The world has been abandoned by divine powers that might intercede on behalf the beleaguered populace.
- Resources are scarce and the inhabitants of the world spend much of their time and energy on simple survival.
- This character was threatened with an edged weapon as a child and developed a near-superstitious fear of such weapons.
- This character has devoted much of his life and energy towards the accumulation of book-based lore. He regards books as the greatest of treasures.
- This character has developed a love of animals, and a knack for handling them, even when they are loathsome and/or dangerous in the extreme.
- This character avoids centers of civilization, and any large gathering of people (of any kind) is something he avoids at all costs.
- Because of the moisture levels in the native rock, all the wood used in doors, containers and support structures is subject to rot.
- Torrents of water travel down most of the vertical passageways of this dungeon, draining out of the artificial lake that hides its entrance.
- The underground river that has its source in the artificial lake emerges at the base of a nearby cliff. The cliff hides the dam that formed the lake, built across a narrow canyon.
- Many of the deeper chambers of the dungeon, sealed off by the underground torrents and pools, have existed in a sort of stasis for many years. Preserving their contents in strange ways.
One of the challenges when creating a campaign is giving the world something like real depth. Modules and other published materials are sometimes criticized for “railroading” players. This usually occurs because the author envisioned one specific path through the events and encounters of the planned session. Pillars will help a GM sketch out some alternative paths. As players explore, they may discover pillars in the game. Pillars give players choices when they’re deciding how to deal with obstacles. A direct route, or perhaps they want to undermine one of the pillars? Choices add depth to the world the players are exploring, and create a greater sense of immersion.
Think about that when you’re plotting out your next gaming session. What are the pillars for the different components of your session? What would happen if, instead of attacking the troll guarding the magical gate, your players decided to convince the troll they were a maintenance team sent to verify that the gate was intact? Perhaps you included some pillars in your notes about the troll? For instance, what if the troll held more intelligent beings in awe, assuming that folk who used big words must be in charge? Sure, you can play through such events on the fly. But a few pillars, sketched out in your notes, give you some fuel for the creative fire of improvisation.
I’m intrigued by the potential for calculating experience awards based on pillars toppled or identified. Then it becomes an integral, game-mechanical component. Looking for metrics to figure out how far your players have progressed? Want to know when player choices might set off a reaction? How many pillars are left? When events in the world occur as a result of cumulative choices (rather than just as immediate responses), that makes the world seem more real as well.