When I began playing table top games, I was always delighted to play in someone else’s world. Be it through a creative DM or a published campaign, I was ready to go trouncing through worlds. When I was asked to DM a group while their regular DM was out, I did what anyone in my position would do: panic.
I had nothing to go on, I had nothing planned, I had no clue who their characters where or what they wanted to do, but I didn’t have time to ask these questions. So I pulled out my DM Guide and ran with some basic story ideas and ran what I would call a panic driven madness of a one shot. The following week their regular DM asked me what I had done, so I gave him my notes, he said thanks and would keep me in mind if he ever needed a new DM and I thought that was it.
I would go back to playing but the process of a panic driven one shot haunted my dreams. I couldn’t let it happen again so I began what now many would call World Building. Then, I called it writing a metric shit ton of notes on a world, I never named.
I wrote notebooks upon notebooks on cities, races, religions, and those living in such a fantasy setting. I had story hooks I could use, NPCs for players to interact with, and fallen dungeons and ruins for adventurers to rummage. I never needed to use the notebooks for a year or so, but when I did, when I had my first group, I was ready to envelope them into my world.
The thing about worlds is they’re extremely hard to create. I didn’t do any real background on why a certain dungeon was there, just that raiders had made it their home. I didn’t think about what other religions would have been before this point in time. I had focused on one moment in my world’s history ignoring what came before or what would come after. I didn’t have to worry about that because I had created a static world that I could use for different groups. I made a world that didn’t have to change because players would always come and go.
Years have passed since I created that static world. I have been working on writing this static world down when it dawned on me – a more fluid world has the ability to be cooler to write. Why write about a world’s now when you can write about the world’s everything.
I love it when a role playing game has the ability to help me write. I love writing from scratch but sometimes when you have prebuilt rebar to write against, my stuff comes off stronger. Two games I found around the same time were Dawn of Worlds and Microscope and both are cooperation games where you build worlds. They sound alike but are two different games.
Dawn of Worlds, by N. Bob Pesall, lets the players start with a literal blank canvas and each round spend point building the actual landscape of your world before moving on to creating races, religions, cities and maybe even war. The rules are simple enough that my 10 year old and I created a world for us to play in later. Simply enough, we agreed to ignore the battle rules and to just create but if you’re thinking of using this creation time as a deeper background for your world, each player can be a god, each creating and even moving their creations into war. It’s the basis of many of novels as well: The Gods were at war.
Microscope, by Ben Robbins, is also about creation but handles it differently. Instead of starting at the beginning, Microscope starts where ever the players want it to. Players decide a starting point and an ending point to a momentous era in history. They decide what causes the beginning of he era and how that era ends. Then you begin creating major events between these two points in history, down to famous people or places in the moment. Wash, rinse repeat. After a night of playing you can either return to this same era or start a whole new one and the process can repeat. This builds a history that can be used to create a campaign for any number of gaming systems.
The idea of creation is usually set on the shoulders of a DM, but when you bring the players into it they have a stronger bond to the world they’re now playing in. It does, however, take a special group of players to cooperate enough to create a world. I haven’t found one yet. I await the day I do, because seriously, the idea of my players building a history they can then play in is exciting.
As for now, I’m creating something different. Something I’ve only done on paper and never stepped forward enough and that’s making a fully functional role playing game.
I’m going to start with a clean slate, with nothing except an outline. Then, using Dawn of Worlds and Microscope I’m going to flesh out my world, it’s history and find a good place to write a story for the game. All of this before I start on graphics or even give it a name. It’ll be new for me because usually I’m thinking about the look and feel of something but this go around I’ll be working on the histories of this world. The people, cities, religions, and every day moments that fill the pages of their text books.
Join me on Twitter to follow along with my struggles to make this work, or check back here. Sooner or later I’ll start writing about it.