Everything changes and nothing stays the same. I think that’s true no matter who you are or what your circumstances. It’s certainly true across history. Take any one area and chart its course through time. You’ll see some threads of continuity, but change is a constant.
I’ve been thinking about changes and transition as things apply to setting design. Namely, Grimsbury. Much like questions can drive us to dig deeper and discover new details about place, about characters, charting change across the fictional history of a setting reveals its roots.
Change is often the answer to the question.
Change is the why.
Change is the catalyst.
Change prompts people to act, whether that action is to dig in and try to resist, or to adapt, survive, thrive.
We know about one major change in the history of Maybeck County as of now. That’s the flood of 1939 that changed the course of the Maybeck River and created Breakback Swamp. That change came about because I needed to answer the question of how Breakback Swamp came to be. I made it happen within a relatively recent timeframe because I thought that would be more interesting. That event raises more questions.
What were the towns like before the flood?
Was the flood natural?
Is there a history of flooding in the area?
Why was the Breakback Swamp hard enough to clear that the project was abandoned?
The answers to those questions will like involve more points of change. They won’t all be setting-altering like a flood and a river rerouting. They’ll be personal, or at a town level. They may reveal hidden agendas, old grudges, or those with the power/privilege/means to resist change. And those questions will have answers that point to more change, more agendas, more people acting in response to internal or external change.
I’m loving this approach to setting design. I’ve never really gone this way before. In the past, I’ve been content with knowing enough about a setting to make it seem real to players or readers for the duration of the story. That’s a fine method, to a point. But I want Grimsbury to stick with people. I want to get questions about things from readers or players. I was there to be a deep resonance, for people to feel this place in their bones.
I want to go deeper. I want to know the roots of this place. I want to see how the choices of people shaped it. It’s all info that might never get revealed, but I want to know it. That way when I write about something happening in the here and now, if I want to, I can trace a chain of causality that leads up to that moment. I want to know so I can reveal bits of it and people will feel echoes of similar change, choices, and questions in their own lives.
I want Grimsbury to breathe.