Friday, May 13, 2011

Collaborative World Building -Part One

The first step in creating your game world is to first determine who your players are and if they are interested in the genre and system you have chosen. You can't have a game without players after all.

Once you've determined that a game can happen, set up a time to meet with all the players for a world building session. (There will be more on how to run this session in a future post.)

As we discussed, sandbox gaming requires participation from both the GM and the players to be effective. In this article, I will be focusing on what part the GM plays in the world building process, and what he/she should bring to the table when the group sits down to create the world.

Only what you need to survive...

Although a majority of the storylines in a sandbox game will come from the character's goals and backgrounds, this does not mean that the GM doesn't get to devise a few of his own. The key here is to keep the story simple. Now, when I say simple, I don't mean easy or mundane; what I mean is that you should construct only the bare bones of the story: create key players, locations, items, enemies, but leave some blanks for the players to fill in. You can even come up with some solutions to the problems you create if you like, but from my experience, it is better to leave the solutions to the players.

"What about my roving band of gypsy minstrels who hand out free popcorn on Tuesdays?  They don't fit into the story. Should I just throw them out?" Good question.

...Okay maybe just a little more than that.

So as I said in my previous post, the point in all this is to have fun and to create the story you want to tell. Well it is, and you should. So, after you devise your simple story, feel free to create other random features of the world: characters, places, legends, whatever; but be careful not to get too carried away, and be prepared to sock some of those things away for a later campaign if they don't jive with the current set of characters. 

This ability to endlessly create is my favorite part of being a GM, and I would never suggest you give up this aspect of the job, but I would point out some restrictions that one must operate under if you are going to run a successful game. 

The first is that the player's characters are the heroes, you are but the chorus. Your characters should never steal the player's thunder. You can have fun and memorable NPCs, but in the end they should always step aside for the real heroes to handle things.

The second is that you should never attempt to shoehorn your random bits into the story. This goes along with the players being the heroes. If it happens organically, great, but don't detour your party to the ancient ruins where the Battle of Nothing-to-do-with-the-Ploticus occurred, just so you can show off your epic poem writing skills. This is not a travelogue, and the party is not a tour group; the only history they should care about is the one they are making.

"So, If I can’t force my players to gaze upon my glorious creations then what is the point of all these random bits?" 

Well, when your group meets up for its world building session, and your player's fighter refers to being scarred in an unnamed battle, well, then you just drop that tender nugget in his lap, and Bam! He is now enmeshed in your random element, and all the bits you wrote up associated with the battle can now become part of the world. 

Another place where these random elements can come in handy is when your players do something random in game. What if one of your players decides that his character has a hankering for some popcorn late one Tuesday night? BAM! Look out world! You are now infested with gypsies. Or, what if they need a place to camp for the night? Maybe they stumble upon the ghoul infested ruins you had cooked up but couldn't find a place for in the story. These random bits are extra ammo you can stockpile for a rainy day when you may be short on time or creativity.

Now that we have established what the GM needs, my next post will address what the players are responsible for bringing to the table.

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