Monday, May 8, 2023

Classy Worldbuilding (pt.1)

Wakfu promotional poster
©2012 Ankama
In the hopes of reducing the amount of Pokémon in my diet, I recently started looking for animated series I could share with my sons.

While it turned out to be something I don't think they were quite ready for, I came to quite enjoy Wakfu, a French animated fantasy series.

It is a setting that does not quite fit the traditional Tolkeinian / European fantasy mold, although there are elements of it in there, such as knights and princesses. Where they started with a building blocks of Tolkeineasque fantasy, they worked hard to give it enough twists, turns, and changes so has not to feel completely derivative. 

I also noticed very early on in the series that there was a lot of lore they weren't spelling out, such as how certain cultures appear to be racially the same but clearly had very different interests, and called upon different deities and mythic founders. That there seem to be a God for every tribe in the setting.

As I dug a little deeper I discovered that the animated series was released concomitantly with a massively multiplayer online game by the same title. And that it was the second MMO in that setting (Dofus was the first), and a third MMO, Waven, on the way between the animated series, a movie, a series of animated shorts, multiple casual video games, three MMOs, comic books, and other companion books, the setting, the World of Twelve is a true transmedia empire. But one that is not very well known outside of the Francosphere. I suspected cross my radar as much because I watched a fair amount of French programming has anything.

In any case, I'm now quite a few hours into playing the Wakfu MMO, and most of the way through the animated series for my own enjoyment. One of the things that struck me about it, and that I really enjoyed was the world building.

The setting has a total of 14 tribes, some of them humans, some of them non-human fantasy creatures that look vaguely like elves or dryads, along with others that are more unique in design. In some cases, the playable tribes are clearly have the same species as one another. The Marca, Xelo, and Huppermagi for example are all humans, but very culturally different from one another. 

Male Sadida Character
©️ Ankama

Others like the Sadida and Iop  are unique and distinctive.

Each tribe is named after a deity, and has distinct dress and cultural practices. They even have distinct slurs for one another and stereotypes they hurl at each other at times.

And each tribe has unique secrets passed down or innate to them or a mix thereof. The Sadida, for example have the ability to talk to plants innate to them. They are capable of living only on plant matter, and consider eating meat both contentious, and a guilty pleasure. Their religion teaches them magics to allow them to cause plants to grow how to make dolls of plant matter they can animate.

Some of these abilities are biological, some are culture -bound, and some are hermetic secrets. What did ultimately means is that creates a room for character "classes" that also have a context in the setting. It makes race as class make sense,

This is something I have really enjoyed in a number of other fantasy settings I've experienced over time. The video games Majesty: the Fantasy Kingdom Simulator ties every character class to either a religion, a species, or an initiatory order. As time has passed on in the setting, and the religious order of the culture has shifted, the character types have as well. 

Nox is ©️2000 Westwood Games
Or Nox, a highly underrated and quite funny fantasy game, where the wizards, summoners, and warriors of the setting are the different expressions of heroism and masculinity embraced by three communities that are both interdependent on one another, but highly competitive and chauvinistic towards one another. Which class you choose will determine where your character is welcome, who will give them aid, and how they will experience the various Town environments early in the game.

It is a different way of making the characters part of the world. There are archetype choices come with some cultural context. You not only know the capabilities of a character class, you know where it comes from.

Dungeons & Dragons head elements of this: the Assassin, Monk, and Druid classes, for example had a built-in hierarchy of complete with rivals and villains built right in. In D&D, however, many of the classes are fairly generic healing. Clerics can belong to a number of different religions. Fighters can describe anything from a gunslinger to a swashbuckling musketeer to a barbarian warrior. And in some cases, assumptions, such as how wizards fit into a campaign world our baked in so subtly as to be invisible.

As it happened that I found myself in need of a new campaign setting. 

The home game I played with my wife is falling apart because of a mix of scheduling conflicts and protracted illness;  spent the entire month of April suffering from laryngitis. 

We've also been having a stressful and grim couple of months. The last thing I want is to go back to the Dark Fantasy setting we were using before this. So, I decided to build a brand new campaign setting that was whimsical and light-hearted.

I also happen to have been admiring the custom classes from James V. West's Black Pudding Heavy Helping volume 1. I love the way he managed to put together character classes so rapidly. I also found a very helpful article on Breeyark about designing experience tables for classes, which is always been something that is confounded me.

I decided to cobble something together with a handful of custom D&D classes using some of the custom rules from Black Pudding, mixed with a dash of Lamentations of The Flame Princess all laid on top of my trusty Rules Cyclopedia.

On Friday evening, when we usually would be gaming, I began creating a world. I will confess to borrowing rather liberally from the World of Twelve for some of my ideas, and also, because they run my mind, from Majesty, Nox, and from the Legend of Mana, hey video game I like to revisit from time to time when I want something whimsical and light-hearted.

After about 4 hours of brainstorming I had a basic premise for a post-collapse fantasy world that blends a little bit of Japanese mythology, Polynesian folklore, and a little bit of the World of the Twelve, and a dash of Mystara. Then I created 18 character classes as one paragraph descriptions, and a list of which saving throw attack and progression tables they would be using

I grabbed a few minutes here and there Saturday to flesh them out just a little bit and create an adapted version of James West Black Pudding Magic system.

On Sunday we had some workmen show up at our townhouse, which is still under construction. Apparently, the landlord had forgotten to tell us that we were having our doors painted, and this required the workmen to have both our front and back doors unlocked and open all day.

Which shot all of our plans to hell, but made it possible for me to spend several hours sitting in my office so that I can keep an eye on the open doors to my home. Which meant I managed to get a lot of these classes properly statted out.

And it turns out that building custom classes like this can really raise a campaign world to an extravagant level of detail in a hurry.

Over the week I'm going to share these classes in house rules and discuss how they can help you build a deeper, more vibrant campaign setting. 


  1. Sounds like you've been having a hectic time, but I look forward to seeing your ideas!

    1. It has been pretty nutty. I am really looking forward to sharing these. I might out them together as a zine at the end.