Fair warning to non RPG players I'm going to name drop some game systems, however this article only talks about them in terms of their use and influence on the world building process.
The two games I am going to reference are Microscope and Fate Core.
To set the scene, my gaming group needed to set the scene for their latest adventures. This is the ongoing story of how we are doing it and the world that we are creating.
This is a sandbox game and we knew that the action was going to take place at some pivotal point in the history of the world. However to know when and where we first had to create that history. This is where Microscope steps in. It uses a structured, free form way of creating large historical arcs that can then be focused into narrower series of historical events. our first tasks where to make up some lists and take some initial decisions.
This is a two player group and I had pitched the scenario as a Yojimbo style setup where there was an established master/servant relationship on place before the start of play.
Based on that we decided to go for an Indo-Chinese feel to the game so we could mash up some of the cultural features of the mid and far East.
Then we set to and took it in turns to define our in and out lists. These are lists of features that we either definitely wanted to see in the world or definitely didn't want to see. Once that was done we then needed to set bookend points for our history. These frame the largest area of history.
Having determine a broad sweep of history we then took it in turns to zoom into that history and define new eras and events. This is infinitely zoomable so eras and events within them can be nested inside broader eras.
By the time we had finished we had plagues, wars, the death of magic and a pivotal assassination.
We chose to set the game in at the start of one of the more hopeful eras; the Age of Exploration.
Now from our work on the history we know that this age is critical in bringing about the unification of the islands under a single benevolent empire. What role our heroes play in this is still to be seen.
With this kind of cooperative approach it is vital that the other contributors are bought into the core concept from the start. It is equally important that as the main designer (read GM for RPGrs) that you accept that you are giving up absolute control of your creation from the get go.
This means that this approach will not be for everyone and there would clearly be some ownership issues if this were a commercial project. However for groups interested in working together to write a shared history I recommend it highly.
In the next episode I will look at localised world building using forward and reverse projection from a story seed.