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Make Your Lore Optional

Lore is a tricky beast in tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons. Many game masters learn early on that writing too much lore isn’t the most productive use of their time. Sometimes, it’s downright detrimental to your game. But what if I told you there’s a solution? You can have your cake and eat it too. 

Ancient Scrolls by José Costa

In Elder Scrolls games like Skyrim, you uncover the world’s lore a number of ways. You might find interesting books throughout the world detailing everything from lost histories to private journals. You might learn about the entrenched conflicts arising from Markarth’s long and complicated history by witnessing a murder as soon as you enter the city. Or perhaps you learn about the Dark Brotherhood by defeating an assassin they sent to kill you. Here’s the secret: all of that lore is optional. It can be ignored.

Players of Elder Scrolls don’t have to engage with any of these opportunities. They can pursue different plot lines or just roam the province and enjoy the atmospheres. But the lore is there. And the player is given opportunities to engage. It’s put right in front them in interesting and evocative ways. We can do the same in our TTRPG games.

Embrace atomic worldbuilding. Put those pieces in front of your players. A priest from an ancient religion approaches them with a quest. A sword connected to a dark world history is left in their room at the inn. A secretive cult murders the innkeeper in front of their eyes.

Here’s the trick: don’t force them to engage with the lore. They can ignore it and choose other paths that interest them. Will that choice have consequences? Sometimes. But don’t punish them each time they choose not to engage with the lore.

This approach lets you worldbuild to your heart’s content and bring it to the table without forcing your players to engage with lore that might not interest them.

Lessons Learned

Most of the ideas in this article are gleaned from the ”Divining the Elder Scrolls” episode of the Worldcasting Podcast. If you enjoyed this article (or just enjoy Elder Scrolls) give it a listen.

Game on.