I’ve been working on an intellectual property for several years now that is a comedy fantasy world. We chose to work within it for our upcoming twin-stick-shooter. The setting was always murky because to us it was just where things happened. That was okay for a while but it quickly became problematic when I was designing levels.
What places were around the area? What what the culture? Who were the gods? Were their gods?
All these questions were holding back my design. Even when I was designing I would create hollow unfinished gamescapes. Worse yet–I was drawing a blank on how to create a functional(ish) world in a comedy setting. That is, until I started playing Far Away Land with some friends.
Far Away Land is an awesome “Sandbox” role playing game designed for ease of play and storytelling. Developed by Dirk Stanley, the game was developed after a webcomic set in the same universe. One of its key features I love about it (right after the unsettling and beautiful artwork) is the world building mini-game.
The FAL tries to make entry to the game as simple and quick as possible. Making a character is easy, making monsters is straightforward, and there is already a good sized world ready to be explored. What I loved though was that there was an option to create the world yourself with your friends. We chose that option for our first game night.
It goes like this, each player is a god. The role a set of dice on a piece of paper and chose what will be there on the map. As we went we told the story of why we made what we did. Then when we rolled over someone else’s place we would discuss what happened.
Every cycle around the table was roughly an age of our world. In the first age we ended up with a fire god, a water god, a dark god, a light god, a chaos god, and a sort of orderly god. All this without any planning. Sure we have been friends a long time and we know each other pretty well and we have played a lot of games like this together (such as Gloom about ten minutes before starting FAL) but it still shocked the hell out of me. We had group chemistry before hand but the story just fell out of us like we had practiced it.
Pretty soon we had a diverse world, several races, a couple of wars, magical treasure, mysterious temples, and monsters every where. We began creating cities and roads all while taking turns to tell the story. Near the end of the session we weren’t even using dice. We just joined in on telling the story.
Then it hit me–the world we had made was actually pretty good. So I took my turn and added Tavern City (the main location for my comedy fantasy IP) to the map. I fully intend to steal our creation for profit and glory (and proper attribution of course). Our group created an organic self-serving role driven world that I could have only dreamed of making.
What I Learned
To create a world with expansive history and backstory it may be easier to cooperatively create it. Have the group members chose a reason or creed for their actions. Making actions you don’t like creates a more organic world as they will make decisions you wouldn’t have.
To do this in a different setting try finding the main authority or power structure creating force of the world and have players take on that persona. Have them make the choices of how the world is shaped. Having their personal motives play out in the world design.
Playing Shadowrun? Your gods become super corporations. Playing a Game of Thrones setting? After GRRM kills all your characters, have players pretend to be the great houses. Take turns making war on each other for a few turns and boom–game world, This is what makes mechanic great: simple, quick, and cooperative.
Try out Far Away Land. It is a great game and who knows–maybe it will help get you out of your writer’s block like it did for me.