There are a lot of games that have a world building component as part of game setup, like Legacy: Life Among the Ruins.
Kingdom - is a another game by the guy that wrote Microscope. It is a game that creates the history of a kingdom (which can be any power structure e.g. a city, a school union, a republic of planets) through determining the conflicts, resolutions of the conflicts, and public reactions.
Eventually, these lead to its downfall so that you can see a broad history.
A thousand years under the sun. Really, nobody mentioned this game already?
@Hopeless_Wanderer- A game I have never heard of? Nope, didn’t think of it
Funny you should ask. Decuma (currently in KickStarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/goldenlassogirl/decuma) was created by friend @Kimi (I think tagged correctly here?) after her growing love for PbtA games and bonds and exposure to games like Companions’ Tale. It is the “R&D for your RPG” and meant very specifically to help do the world building for campaigns and parties. I’ve played it and it combined many elements of things I love about some of the games mentioned.
Icarus by @Spenser_Starke is also built as a one-shot that explores the downfall of a society at its zenith. Very successful KickStarter, now in full release, and I’ve played a number of times and it works exceedingly well in a short timeframe. You can easily use it to then spin off further stories in the aftermath (or history of) the world created. See more here: https://www.renegadegamestudios.com/icarus
I would be remiss to not mention For The Queen (https://www.evilhat.com/home/for-the-queen/). Especially if you are looking for a game with a super simplistic rule-set and accessible by almost anyone as far as skill, experience, interest, etc. I have played the game where at least 2-3 times we either used it after a world-building game, or as world-building for a later game. It focuses on a very small group, but the lessons that it teaches the players about listening and asking questions, and collaborating are invaluable to collaborative world-building.
And thematically there are now so many other variants, of which these are just a fraction: https://forthequeengame.com/games.
As an example, my partner J created one hack called The Outsiders (title will be changing to possibly “The Newly Arrived”) which is about a group of new people trying to join an established community. Because the tone and setting is so open ended, we’ve used it for post-apoc fiction, a pack of wolves, elves trying to join Santa’s Workshop, and a ton more. Again, you could use this to collaboratively create aspects of a world and culture that is then used in other games and fiction.
The Book of Ages is a supplement for 13th Age, but it includes a self-contained story game for creating the history of your campaign setting, The Engine of Ages.
Tony Dowler’s How to Host a Dungeon is all about this. There’s a stripped-down free version of Drive-Thru to check it out: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/299498/How-to-Host-a-Dungeon-FREE-VERSION
Tomes mentioned Companions’ Tale in passing, but I wanted to particularly call it out as a worldbuilding game I really enjoy!
Also I’m a big fan of Backstory Cards, a tool specifically for generating backstories and relationships between characters, setting, and history. (So naturally I’m really excited about Decuma. )
This list is amazing. Thank you all for your contributions. A few things I’m noticing from this list: 1) there’s a heavy emphasis placed on large empires and factions, less emphasis placed on small communities; 2) the development of these communities is almost always about power, and not, say, cultural growth, customs, traditions, languages (except Dialect); 3) nearly all of these are about decline; and 4) very little emphasis placed on character creation.
I’m guessing that (4) has to do with the fact that characters are created in-game by players, but I wonder if there are NPC-generating games.
As for (2), I wonder if there is a space for world-building games that generate a community’s cultural productions: what resources do they have; what can you make from those resources; how do those forms evolve; how do they shape communities? Sounds like a project for Zine Quest 3.
For deep character creation, I gave heard that A Penny For Your Thoughts is great!
Smallville also has some of this, since the relationship map adds locations and characters. It can be used for world creation if you don’t have a well-established setting chosen beforehand.
Gather by Stephen Dewey creates both factions and history on the Evertree - different every time it is played and a unique conversational ‘currency’ controls play in an interesting way.
Ten Candles also by Stephen Dewey reveals the details about the end of the world through statements which are made as the game progresses.
Most of the games in Seven Wonders published by Pelgrane press are world building - When the dark is gone is building a Narnia-like world by the grown up children in therapy by @BeckyA , Rise and Fall is about the rise, operation and fall of a dystopia. Heroes of the Hearth is about the community left behind when the heroes go off to fight a big threat, and what they do for the threats arrival. Small Things is about tiny protectors of houses that keep their family safe and cosy - you create your house, your family and your small things and Before the Storm is the night before an epic fantasy battle, and you build the world, the threat and the relationships.
A game that is probably of more historical importance than practical usefulness for this genre is Aria: Canticle of the Monomyth, a famously complex fantasy RPG that had players creating nations and timelines way back in 1994. I remember being really excited about it back in the day, only for reviews deriding the complexity to cool my enthusiasm (it wasn’t until games like Microscope started coming out that I felt like the promise of the idea was fulfilled).
Oh, and one that probably had more direct influence on many of the titles in this genre that are coming out these days would be Universalis by Ralph Mazza and Mike Holmes. It was an early GMless that used a coin economy mixed with turn-taking to establish the tenets of the setting and then to create and alter the facts about the setting during play.
I also have been fascinated by the possibilities in Deluge It is a set of rules for putting your hometown in a flooded post apocalypse.
House of Reeds is another world building game that I like. It’s a smaller scale; you create a place, like a house, and tell the history of the generations who live there.
Also, the previous 200 Word RPG collection has a surprising number of world building games for places, cosmologies, events and artifact.
I think all the games that fall under the “Belonging Outside Belonging” umbrella would fit the bill, including:
- Dream Askew (Buried Without Ceremony);
- Dream Apart (Buried Without Ceremony);
- Flotsam (Black Armada), with its many playsets;
- Sleepaway (Possum Creek Games);
- Balikbayan (Sword Queen Games);
- And a flurry of other takes on this approach.
In these GM-less games, everyone plays two roles: an individual character, and a faction, force in play, or community aspect. The details of the world and communities are created as you play.
There was also, just recently, a map-making game game-jam on Itch.io, but I can’t find the link.