What are your favorite worldbuilding mechanics?


#1

Hey folks, I’m working on a game that will start and live on collaborative worldbuilding. I don’t want the game world to be created by the GM but shared by all the players, as one of my design goals is to spark interesting conversations around the game world itself, both before the game begins and while the game is being played. (The short pitch of this game is: create your -punk world — whether it’s dronepunk, bookpunk or plantpunk — and play the struggle between the power owning the tech and the punks below).

This, of course, happens in every game in some way but I want to lean in toward the mechanization of worldbuilding, offering players rewards for creating interesting and complicated things in the world for the characters to struggle with.

I played and saw/heard few games where the world is build on the fly, Dungeon World being the prime example but I’m also thinking of A Quiet Year and Microscope. But what else is there? What are your favorite mechanics and techniques for doing worldbuilding at the table?


#2

i like the Palette from Microscope with the add / ban list, where you can just add and ban things and then work out how this informs the world building.

A buddy of mine wrote a game about magical schools and offered about 20 realms of magic (Bodykinesis, Arcanomechanis, Illusions and so forth). Then players had to say which of these was lost, which was forbidden, which was basic and which was advanced. We ended up with a nice set up school subjects for our characters’ curriculum and a nice idea about how the world of magic worked.


#3

Oh, wow, I like this a lot. It can generate so many scenarios!


#4

Karma in the Dark in its later versions is very much about collaborative worldbuilding. (Which has strengths and weaknesses, but that’s a different topic).

To create the system, I basically sat down and asked myself “what are the core elements of cyberpunk? looking at all the different takes on cyberpunk, what is consistent?” Then I asked myself, “Within those elements, what are all the different variations I see in cyberpunk media?”

Then I basically made a worldbuilding system that has you look at each of those common areas/overlap (e.g. oppression, technology, governance systems) and made tables with the different variations and asked players to choose. So it was like a Build-a-Bear Workshop but with the cyberpunk genre.

In terms of player rewards…it seemed like the investment was the main reward people took from it. The players who were drawn to this sort of system liked that they had some narrative control. The other reward was the unique-ness of what the group created. People seemed to like playing in a world that had themes of cyberpunk, but was tailored more to their own experiences and preferences.


#5

This is fantastic and it’s close to what I’m also working on. I’ll read it with a lot of interest, thanks!


#6

Maybe more micro-level than you want, but John Wick’s “dirty dungeons” approach is interesting. The players make up what they “know” about the dungeon they’re about to explore, and bank a bennie for each bad thing they introduce. For every X minutes they spend, the GM gets a twist… something that they realize later is no longer true (or wasn’t true, or was misunderstood). Peter J turned this into a move for DW, wrote it up here: http://www.story-games.com/forums/discussion/19705/dungeon-world-legwork-john-wicks-dirty-dungeons-as-a-basic-move

I don’t know how’d you translate that into large-scale world building, but it could apply pretty well as a way to have players generate each score.


#7

Another more micro-element that I liked was in a Rogue Trader PbtA hack. Each playbook had a choice of 2-3 “ship features,” and the choice became part of the ship that everyone called home. (Not sure what you did when introducing new PCs.)

I could imagine something like that, where the playbooks each choose a feature of the world. The Captain could decide: airships vs land-tanks vs. leviathan-riders. The Scoundrel could decide if power was held by Nobles or Corporates or Technocrats or whatever. The Hacker could decide if “the network” was Wired or Psychic or Demonic or whatever.

Maybe make that choice the first thing each playbook decides, and do character creation round-robin, instruct everyone to make choices that build on, compliment, and contrast prior choices.

No idea if it’d work. Might be fun to try!


#8

My old game, The Spark Roleplaying Game, was centred on a collaborative worldbuilding mechanic that many folks have said nice things about over the year. You may very well like to scavenge into it for spare parts.

Here is a link to where you can download the game for free. :slight_smile: Other gauntleteers can feel free to do the same.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse.php?discount=9b1b7ca394


#9

Asking the players directed questions, so put 3 questions out there, ask who wants to answer each

1-what is similar to our world, climate/culture/historical event/landscape?
2-what is fantasy/supernatural here? and how much does that effect the sentient and non sentient inhabitants?
3-what about this place shows that it has changed, and what was that change?


#10

One of the first things I discuss with new group/players is an idea I call Schrodinger’s World.

It boils down to the fact that until something is introduced (examined) in the game, it both exists and does not exist in the setting. Our characters (the “cat inside the box”) “know” which one is true, but we as the players or the GM (the “scientists looking at the closed box”) don’t until we examine it in game. The idea has a lot in common with Ultraviolet Grasslands Anti Canon. It helps in changing the traditional RPG idea that GM has all the answers. It is a great preamble for making (especially more traditional) players more confident with creating world details.

Then, leading questions and Jason’s “painting the scene” move are my bread and butter.

For a long fantasy campaign, I once created a “dictionary” (heavily inspired by Dictionary of Mu game) where all those new elements would be written up, by the person who introduced it, into a physical book (there was xp for writing and other mechanics that used the book entries). I also used the same mechanic in an occultish pulp game where players were discovering and cataloging the secret world of magic and monsters in our world. You can translate this idea to cyberpunk by using a wiki or just calling the notes an underground database.

Thinking of wiki, you can also check out Lexicon, which is about creating a world through encyclopedia/dictionary like entries.

…and as others have said - Microscope, Kingdom, The Quiet Year are all great starting points for getting techniques of creating a setting before the game proper.

From me, I can throw some smaller games that can serve as inspiration:


#11

I enjoyed the wordbuilding worksheet in Ironsworn (“World Worldbook”). It gave me something to pick from in specific areas (how common is magic, how common are monsters, what’s the pov on religion, …) with the option to mix-and-match and write new stuff from scratch. It’s like a good menu and a cool way to introduce the world and get buy-in from the players. It has starting situations as well connected to your choices. Made me eager to start to play in this world.


#12

I’ll second Spark and Ironsworn as having some good stuff, and yeah, the palette from Microscope is great. I also really like how Legacy uses questions/choices in the family playbooks to determine elements of the apocalypse and the world it left in its wake. And I like how Archipelago gives each player specific control over a setting element/theme.


#13

I just want to thank everyone for all these suggestions. You gave me reading material for the next few weekends! :raised_hands:


#14

This is less mechanical and more inspirational, but Ezra Klein did an episode of his podcast with NK Jemison on world-building that’s really thoughtful about the kinds of questions to ask and the repercussions/affordances that arise as a result of those decisions.


#15

Do you have a link for that? It sound amazingly interesting!


#16

#17

Not a specific game thing but I am a big fan of the guidelines in the Feral Anthropologies section of the Dark Heart Of The Dreamer from JWalton’s Planarch Codex for Dungeon World. Drawing the focus of worldbuilding onto culture and how people live is something that I think a lot of us intuitively miss out on and it makes for much more interesting worlds.


#18

In one game I made, you had players create a series of cultural rules and practices, then decided which applied to your character. So you take the Page through King cards from a Tarot deck’s minor arcana, shuffle them and deal them to the players as evenly as possible. Take turns going around the table, putting out a card you were dealt and defining that cultural practice. Each suit and rank had a meaning: Kings were universal laws everyone must follow, Queens were common beliefs that it was unusual (but not unknown) to follow, Knights were contentious political topics, where there was a lot of disagreement about them, and Pages were weird fringe sects and beliefs. Cups were about basic needs of survival: food, shelter, etc. Swords were threats and dangers to the society. Pentacles were magical phenomena, and Wands represented cultural flourishing and personal growth. So you might have the Queen of Cups be “We are vegetarians” and that is true, for the majority of society. Or you might have the Knight of Wands be a contentious issue about religious practice int he society. Once these practices were all defined, you had a good sense of the culture. Each player would build on the previous ones, so you got a cohesive culture.

Then during character creation, you allied yourself with some (but not all) of the cultural practices. Every character followed all the King rank practices. Each player selected 3 Queen rank practices to follow, and one to be opposed to. Then they chose two Knight rank practices to follow and two to oppose, and one Page rank to follow and three to oppose. This led to no character following every part of the culture, but everyone following most of what made that culture meaningful and unique.


#19

This is amazing and I love it! My head is already spinning with how easy this would be to drift into generalized worldbuilding. Nice work!