How to write a series bible

Continuing the discussion from Episode 103: Tattered Stockings and Last Year's Surcoat:

It took the very merest hint from me to persuade the sages of High¹ Wycombe that they ought to discuss, on their podcast, Allen B. Ury’s advice on how to write a TV series bible, and to do so with a view to discovering whether any of its advice is useful to the task of preparing an RPG campaign, and what parts might not be transferrable.

It’s an interesting essay, and a fruitful topic of conversation, so I suggest that we take it up here, in light of the Sages’ treatment.

¹ Our Roger assures me that High Wycombe is not in fact located on a hill, prominence, or mass of high ground. I can only conclude that the air is redolent of certain substances.


As I understand it, High Wycombe is distinct from Wycombe Marsh which is further down the river, and from Chepping Wycombe which is further down again (and is presumably where the market happened, from OE cieping – any Scandwegians reading this may be amused to note that this is the same root as köping, as in Linköping. Although the river is the Wye and you might think Wye + combe, apparently that’s a backformation and it’s more likely to be Wic + hama, “dewllings”.

But anyway.

I actively endorse this and I plan to use it as a checklist in the next campaign I build. In particular, this may just be people I play with, but I think a bit of guidance as to the sort of characters who are likely to fit the campaign (whether in skills or personalities) may be quite welcome.

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I think it’s a shame we lost the name Wycombe Marchmaunt which according to my Oxford Book of English Place Names (an invaluable tome for finding either names I can use as is in fantasy games * or restore to their original meanings) the town had in 1340.

Marchmaunt makes an excellent name for a town, doesn’t it. Make a note to put it in somewhere, Michael.

  • Such as Eaglesfield in Cumbria.

Actually, as I’ve said before “Names” is a vital section for a series/campaign bible especially one not set in the ‘real’ world.

I like to use a Markov chain system to break down existing names from a culture/language (or two) and reassemble them. That way I still get culture A sounding different from culture B without doing all the Tolkienian hard work.

Could you write an article on how to do that? Or even publish a bit of software? For those of us whose only knowledge of a Markov Chain is based on a reference in the ILLUMINATUS! Trilogy?

Searching for markov chain name generator produces quite a lot of options.

Oh, wow. Yes and you have probably pointed me at this before. My memory…

The outlying parts of Sutton Coldfield always sound to me like they should be in a fantasy campaign, - but not one I could run locally!
Boldmere - Mere Green - Wylde Green - Roughley - Hill Hook - Four Oaks - Walmley - Wyndley - Falcon Lodge (and stepping over the boundary) Kingstanding - Great Barr- Castle Vale - Gravelly Hill
I suspect the same is true of most locales, especially where growth has been “organic” rather than planned - We either have never heard of the places, or they are too intrinsically linked with the “real world” locations.

As I work my way through the items in Ury’s list, I find that items fall into categories for three different agendas.

There are elements of the series bible that correspond to things that GMs have to do with their impresario hats on, or include in their pitches to the prospective players. They are things that in Ury’s treatment are addressed essentially to the studio executives who have to be induced to buy the property or green-light funding to make the series. But in the RPG-campaign version there is usually no distinction between the studio and the audience: the people who have to be persuaded to show a green light for “production” are the same as the people who have to make the content and are the same as the people who have to enjoy the performance. I can’t put my finger on this, but the RPG version has more of the essence of measuring up a client for a tailored suit and less of putting on a fashion show. Anyway, 1. Title, 2. Genre, 3. Structure, 4. Setting, and 5. Premise seem to be more in the nature of things that the GM would propose to prospective character-players. These look like items for a campaign-pitch or campaign-prospectus checklist, for the impresario GM to work through before the character-players are involved or perhaps even known.

Then there are items that I reckon the GM and the character-players ought to work through together before the first session and perhaps adjust after a pilot session. Ury’s version seems to suppose that these have to convince the studio execs (in order to get the series bought) but also be used by the showrunner and writers. This category includes aspects of 5. Premise and 7. Episode format. The RPG campaign versions amount to a checklist for the design and creation of a party, with a view to making sure that it it consists of characters who are fun to play together and that will actually go on the adventures that are intended for the campaign and not refuse the scenario hooks. These look like items for a party-and-character design checklist, for the GM and character-players to work through together.

Third, there seem to be elements that I suppose that GMs will neither present to prospective players in a pitch nor work through with them in party-&-character creation, but rather do privately, as a preparation for their unique part in an RPG or in preparation of surprises and twists. In Ury’s version these are instructions to the writers and production staff, such as 8. the list of standing sets, 10. the synopsis of the pilot episode, 11. thumbnails of the first half season’s episodes, and maybe 12. the season finale. This is a checklist of prep work for the actual GMing.

So it looks as though maybe Roger has not a checklist, but three checklists.

I think that’s a fair division. (You know what I’m going to say about #11. I may already have said it.)

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You always do.

Is the grass unusually wet? Or was it a famous place for holmgang?

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