Colaborative setting creation

Lessa

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I find this concept great myself, as it usually leads to greater investment from players. Do you like it? If so, what are the interesting ways you saw games doing it, or that you came up with yourself?

I became a big fan of Apocalypse World First Session concept since I've seen it, and nowadays I use it wherever I can. For those who don't know, it's a initial session that works like a mix of a brainstorming chat and a loose play intro, where the group builds together their slice of the wasteland by coming up features, factions etc, and the GM weave those together into a "Front" - a cluster of factions with baked-in relationships and agendas with "clocks" to mark their progress toward those. In other words, a group-tailored sandbox.

I like more subtler ones too, like Kult: Dinivity Lost's Dark Secrets. These work like hooks that the GM is supposed to use when prepping the game, but that don't dictate the scenario in a big way, instead giving more an initial direction for the game.

I've heard the new Unknown Armies 3e also uses it, but I haven't read it yet. If it's true, then it's a big step forward as the previous editions always lacked a solid initial structure to start playing IMO.
 

PolarBlues

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As a player I find it a bit tedious. Game time is valuable and I don't want to spend it doing prep work, whether its setting creation, session zero conversations or crunchy character creation. I don't mind players spontaneously adding setting lore during play, but having to sit down and brainstorm feels like work.

From GM point of view, I have considered this, after all why not crowd source my prep work? I've even tinkered with some western town creation rules for Lawmen vs Outlaws but I have not put this into pracitve yet.

Funny how our priorities can change depending which side of the GM screen we are sitting on.
 

Brock Savage

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Collaborative setting creation

@silva Your ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

I have never had a GM who did the collaborative thing. I can't say whether it is good or bad but it certainly sounds interesting and worth giving a shot. I find collaborative brainstorming can be a lot of fun.


As a player I find it a bit tedious. Game time is valuable and I don't want to spend it doing prep work, whether its setting creation, session zero conversations or crunchy character creation. I don't mind players spontaneously adding setting lore during play, but having to sit down and brainstorm feels like work.
I don't see brainstorming and session zero prep as tedious at all from the player side. In fact I wish more GMs did session zero prep to set expectations and make sure everyone is on the same page. I can't tell you how many times I have joined a campaign under false impressions and that, in my experience, ends up being a far bigger waste of time in the long run than a session 0.
 

Winterblight

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I like world building. As such, I don't really want my players anywhere near my settings when I'm creating them. World building is one of the fun parts of being the GM. I'm not opposed to a session zero to find out what sort of game my players want, but after that they can piss off and wait in the corner until I'm ready.
 

TJS

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I haven't really found it to add anything to games. I used to really be into the idea when it was theoretical - but I've found it just often doesn't hold together in a satisfactory way when I've tried it.

I feel like the difficult part is getting the shared basis to really make something work. If it's something very broad and generic then it works - like everyone can brainstorm a generic fantasy world - but from my 13th Age experience this often goes in two directions, either exceedinly generic (What's to the north? Ice Barbarians.) or overly subversive and gonzo (What are Dwarves like in this world? They're clockwork creations of the god of Dwarves - their beards are really thin filamanets of wire that build up static electricity which they can use to zap you with).

I think I would like it more if everyone consumed some of the same material first - say if everyone read Thieves World, the Malazan Book of the Fallen and the Black Company books, before sitting down to brainstorm so that there's some cohesive whole to it - but that's really not going to happen. (This shows why it's difficult for me - I can't as a GM do much with general fantasy pop-culture understanding - it's not weird or baroque enough).

The other thing is there seems to be this assumption in the 13th Age online community that if players invent things it shows what they're interested in and they're more invested in them. I often find this this is not really the case - a brainstorm doesn't really bring much investment. There's also the fact that is can be difficult to work with as a GM. The player may be an ice barbarian and randomly invent elements of ice barbarian culture - which is fine so long as they're far away (and would generally be ok with in most games), but if the party decide to go to the land of the ice barbarians then I need to work with the hints that the player has given me - which can be harder then making my own thing - and may contradict what the player was really wanting (and it's not really all that helpful to ask - they're not building a world so they don't usually have anything concrete or coherent worked out - just the feeling of the thing.)
 

Voros

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I find it fun and surprisingly easy and fast. New players in particular seem to really get engaged in it.

I enjoy games like Microscope and Deep Forest/A Quiet Year as well where the collaborative worldbuilding is the whole game.
 

zcthu3

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I have mixed experiences. I’ve done collaborative “city creation” with the Dresden Files RPG (several times), world creation with Legends of Anglerre, Starblazer Adventures, Monster of the Week (several times), Dungeon World (several times), Ironsworn.

In some cases you get awesome settings that just seem to ooze adventure and excitement and encourage player and GM investment. In other cases you get so-so settings that don’t really go anywhere. IME the biggest thing is the GM has to be excited by whatever setting is developed/have room for the GM to do what they find interesting as well as what the players find interesting. If that happens, then I find the game is better than GM only created settings as there is lots of player investment which drives things. If the GM finds the developed setting too constraining or just un-interesting however, the game is destined to fail no matter how much the players love it.

Basically, the GM can’t compromise (too much) what they find interesting in order to accomodate the players. Collaborative setting creation with boundaries or GM ‘truths’ in place works best IME with players then assisting with developing other details.
 

Tommy Brownell

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We did this with Icons, using the setting creation rules. It was pretty fun,

Outside of that, it’s been much more informal, such as players suggesting elements exist because they’re relevant to their characters and so forth.
 

cranebump

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Been doing this as standard procedure for the last few years. For fantasy games, I use the “here’s the base town. What’s around it?” approach. If we know what people are playing, I might ask, say, the Barbarian character to tell me about her people.

Some players contribute a great deal. Others, not so much. It works very well with Fate since aspects can serve as campaign elements, as well. On the whole, I enjoy it. I treat it as a challenge to make everything work.
 

Silverlion

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I encourage it for superhero games, notably in H&S2E, for good reasons. The backdrops become well known, they become common shared spaces, and the city itself (or planet, or ring world, or..neighborhood) depending on scale will have its own flavor, its own problems, and so on that the players can create and build into and around.
 

zarion

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I like world building. As such, I don't really want my players anywhere near my settings when I'm creating them. World building is one of the fun parts of being the GM. I'm not opposed to a session zero to find out what sort of game my players want, but after that they can piss off and wait in the corner until I'm ready.
Mostly this. But the flip side is also true. As a player I will make my character as I see fit (within the confines of the system) and if the GM has any ideas about my PC they can piss off, cause I don't care!
 

Malleustein

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I have a couple of players I will happily co-create a setting or a campaign outline with. These are old hands who have shared my gaming table for 20 years or more.

Attempts to collaborate with players I don't know well or are newer have been less consistent. New players often bring fresh ideas, but perhaps don't know how best to implement them, especially into an ongoing campaign. Some players just don't click with me creatively.

I enjoy world building, tinkering with creations whether I've a plan for them or not. I bounce ideas off my regular players all the time, but I do enjoy the process of setting creation as a solitary endeavor.
 

Fenris-77

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I like the idea in general, but I think it qorks better in some games than others. Maybe more importantly you need the right players. A table that's hohum on the idea probably isn't going to do the game a ton of good. Also, a table that's playing a game or gemre for the first time might also struggle. YMMV I guess. For me, Dresden is the gold standard, system-wise, I love it.
 

under_score

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Absolutely hate it. If I'm in the player seat (which is frankly very rare), I'm there to explore and discover, not to create. A couple times I've been at a game and the GM asked me to decide something about the setting and it just instantly put me off the game.
 

Vidgrip

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I have only done this once, and in a limited way. When beginning a Stars Without Number campaign, I created the sector but left one planet "blank". This was the players' starting planet, their home world. Together, we used the tables from the book to generate that home world and its cultures. It was just a few die rolls and about an hour of creating a coherent story that would weave everything together. From there they generated their characters and had connections to each other as well as cultures they understood. The first few sessions took place on their home world and then they were off to explore the sector I had created.

The players and I enjoyed the process and I'll do that again if I ever do another space opera. In principle, I think this could work with a starting town or city in any sort of fantasy campaign as long as the GM sets limits to keep that starting location within the range of what's possible in that world.
 

Picaroon Jack

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I also did it in a limited fashion with Apocalypse World. AW is suppose to be a lot more player driven, but I was not comfortable going all in since my players were new. However, their characters were all familiar with a central town of Crossroads so I let them layout the town and what was in it. They had a bunch of options and some things that were mandatory for my plot lines/NPCs. It turned out nice, though.
 

Fenris-77

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One of the reasons I do this in most of my games is that its the best way I've come across to bridge that chasm between player knowledge and character knowledge. When the players help define the starting location, factions, and faces that gives them a workable set of local knowledge, plus allowing the players to index the game to the sorts of things they want to do.
 

CRKrueger

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It leads to greater investment from players...who like to do it.

I have literally zero interest in Roleplaying in a location I helped create. The GM says “Here’s the town, what’s around it?” I remind him I am here to roleplay my character, not co-GM his setting.
 

TristramEvans

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It leads to greater investment from players...who like to do it.

I have literally zero interest in Roleplaying in a location I helped create. The GM says “Here’s the town, what’s around it?” I remind him I am here to roleplay my character, not co-GM his setting.
 

Lessa

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One of the reasons I do this in most of my games is that its the best way I've come across to bridge that chasm between player knowledge and character knowledge. When the players help define the starting location, factions, and faces that gives them a workable set of local knowledge, plus allowing the players to index the game to the sorts of things they want to do.
This Sir, is my holy grail. Having the players not only invested, but mindful of its elements, and with immediate goals towards those, right out the gate.
 

Fenris-77

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This Sir, is my holy grail. Having the players not only invested, but mindful of its elements, and with immediate goals towards those, right out the gate.
Yeah, thats where I'm at. This isn't something I'd do for any old fantasy game mind you. Maybe for an urban campaign. Mostly I use this for modern and futuristic settings where the web of connections and characters can be more important than the physical geography. In some games anyway.

Also, yeah, only with a table that's into it.
 

Simlasa

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I'd rather a GM play off of what the Players say and do... morph the setting to suit their emerging preferences.
The 'collaborative' thing often ends up feeling 'competitive' to me and If I really think another Player in the group has great setting ideas I'd rather just have them GM a game for us.
 

Lessa

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I'd rather a GM play off of what the Players say and do... morph the setting to suit their emerging preferences.
Feels good to me. :thumbsup:

I'm in a Planescape game right now where the GM is doing exactly what you say. "We're playing PS and I got a plot baked, BUT tell me what you want to see in the campaign, and what your PCs goals are, and I'll try to weave those into it".
 

Fenris-77

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Sigil is a setting where I'd want some coop setting stuff going on. Heavy use of factions and whatnot. The approach your DM is using seems reasonable for an established setting.
 

Klibbix!

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Personally I have always included player designed elements in my games. Not huge bits, mind you, but stuff like, "I've lived in Port Laram for most of my life, do I know anyone who owns a boat? Definitely, you know a couple of people, why don't you describe one for us? etc etc"

I've never played games with major collaborative aspects, but I think that approach's effectiveness, like many elements of RPGs, depends on the group you're playing with. Not an illuminating comment, perhaps, but there's people I've played with who would hate being out on the spot and others who'd love it. I think players who also have GM experience may be happier to co-collaborate than those who do not.
 

CRKrueger

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This Sir, is my holy grail. Having the players not only invested, but mindful of its elements, and with immediate goals towards those, right out the gate.
I manage to get all that via character generation within a setting already generated well in advance.
 

Lessa

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That's great. If it works for you, go for it. :thumbsup:

By the way, do you guys and girls think there are genres or premises that fit the concept better, or is anathema to it? I feel that sandboxish games tend to benefit from it to some degree, especially social/urban ones. While premises where the player wants to be surprised (like say, horror) don't.

Edit: And I think that explains why Delta Green confuses me so much. I really grok it's setting and would like to explore it as an urban fantasy like Vampire or Unknown Armies, but at the same time it's horror too so.. :dead:
 
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Brock Savage

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By the way, do you guys and girls think there are genres or premises that fit the concept better, or is anathema to it?
I would say that it works better for games that are more intimate. I know that is a vague term but hear me out. If we are using D&D in all its incarnations as a baseline, games like Vampire: the Masquerade or Cyberpunk tend to be more intimate simply because character creation requires more player input and collaboration. Both Vampire and Cyberpunk tend to work well for solo, GM + 1 sessions as well.
 

cranebump

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By the way, do you guys and girls think there are genres or premises that fit the concept better, or is anathema to it? I feel that sandboxish games tend to benefit from it to some degree, especially social/urban ones. While premises where the player wants to be surprised (like say, horror) don't.
Some of thefantasy games I’ve run with this used a blank sheet of paper. We literally placed geographical regions before session 1. Some of that was driven by character class choices. For example, we had a Barbarian and a halfling, so they placed and gave me basic descriptors (I.e., “I come from the Rust Lands”). Those end up being sandboxy for all of us, as I’m figuring out how to fill in blanks (sometimes while we played).

But collaboration doesn’t have to include any geography. Went whole cloth “what do you want to play?” with most recent group, and they came up with 1930s occult relic hunters/monster killers. This included 2 characters who were involved with Nazi experiments to produce werewolves and vampires (one was an escaped patient, the other was a doctor who could no longer stomach the experiments). A third decided she’d been “raised by a secret Asian organization bent on clandestine control of the world” (yeah, that was out of left field a bit). Anyway, summary: they provided no geography, but did produce the basic scenario and factions we’d see.

And thus, the Special Occult Acquisitions Program (or “SOAP”), was born (now with possessed members of the Vatican!)

That was a crazy-ass group...

Tl;dr=works well for fantasy sandboxing, but can produce background lore that works with any setting. But watch It, players can be crazy.:-)
 

hawkeyefan

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I think this is something that my group and I have been doing for some time anyway, and as games have incorporated formalized methods for it, we’ve adopted those along the way. I find it’s generally a good way to give the PCs a sense of connection to the world and also a good way to convey some basic knowledge that the average being in that world would have.

Not everything gets filtered through the GM.
 

AsenRG

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I find this concept great myself, as it usually leads to greater investment from players. Do you like it? If so, what are the interesting ways you saw games doing it, or that you came up with yourself?

I became a big fan of Apocalypse World First Session concept since I've seen it, and nowadays I use it wherever I can. For those who don't know, it's a initial session that works like a mix of a brainstorming chat and a loose play intro, where the group builds together their slice of the wasteland by coming up features, factions etc, and the GM weave those together into a "Front" - a cluster of factions with baked-in relationships and agendas with "clocks" to mark their progress toward those. In other words, a group-tailored sandbox.

I like more subtler ones too, like Kult: Dinivity Lost's Dark Secrets. These work like hooks that the GM is supposed to use when prepping the game, but that don't dictate the scenario in a big way, instead giving more an initial direction for the game.

I've heard the new Unknown Armies 3e also uses it, but I haven't read it yet. If it's true, then it's a big step forward as the previous editions always lacked a solid initial structure to start playing IMO.
I like it on a conceptual level:smile:.
On a practical level, I'd only use it with players I know wouldn't do stuff "just because" or "because it's cool":wink:.
And on a down-to-earth level, my group doesn't like the concept, so I'm stuck running it the old way whether I'd like to apply this approach or not:grin:!
 

Lundgren

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I've never done it yet.

However, I've been thinking of doing a variant of it if the Traveller game I'm planning gets of the ground. As I will go for a variant of 3I, but tossing out most of the system writeups, etc, the players will be able to suggest cultures, corporations (from local to interstellar mega corps), etc. If it's on theme, it will most likely be part of the setting. If someone don't want to contribute, they don't have to, but unless they have a very ignorant or uneducated character they at least need to learn about what the rest of us have added (the character have after all probable lived a few decades in the setting).

When it comes to making stuff up during gaming, if I have a player that likes fleshing things out, I don't think I would mind outsourcing the description of Random Generic Bar #147 and other stuff that are mainly flavor.
 

PolarBlues

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Mini necro... I decided to try collaborative setting creation for my new Lawmen v Outlaws campaign today. If figured I'd put togther some simple town creation rules and we could build the setting together to kick start the campaign.

I used a Google Jamboard, taking turns putting virtual postits on the map. For reference, the light blue area is the town, the yellow circles locations outside town. All we did was as follows.

1. Each person in turn picks a location (including the GM)
2. Two locations should be in town, one location out of town
3. For each location create a Tag - a short descriptor
4. One of the Tags should be a personal connection (including working at, owning or being friends with the owner)

These are not all the locations of the setting, just some of the more important ones.

This is an screenshot of the Jamboard.




I think the players enjoyed excercise and it was fast enough that we actually got some proper play time. Hopefully it gives enough to build the campaign around as I don't have anything specific prepped at the moment and make the characters feel connected to the setting right from the start.
 

Lessa

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Very neat idea, @PolarBlues .

Do you think of doing somethihng similar for conflicting groups in that town? And how is Google Jamboard? Does it accept more visual aids and resources?

I'll be doing something similar with my next Delta Green game based in Arizona. I'll present the participants with a "menu" of supernatural themes and groups, and ask that they pick what interest them most. Something like this..

Themes:
- Mind-swaps and identity horror (Asenath Waite-style body swapping, Mi-go's brains in cylinders, etc)
- Aggressive goo (protomatter, alien blobs, etc)
- Hive minds (Lloigor, Control's The Hiss, etc)
- Contamination and corruption (Carcosa, Color Out of Space, alien viruses, etc)
- Things From Below (Worms of the Earth, K'n-yanians, etc)
- Mysterious & Marvellous (Nodens, Bast)
- Ancestral Horror (hereditary corruption, throwbacks in family tree, etc)
- Mythos feuds and turf wars (ghouls vs Men of Leng, etc).
- Timeline tussles (Yithian agents vs. other races/renegade Yithians, etc)
- Blue on Blue (rogue DG cells, deluded/corrupted DG agents)

Groups:
- Karotechia remains ( ww2 nazi occult branch)
- MJ-12 remains (US secret agency, aliens/grays)
- Mi-go (aliens, former greys)
- Fate Club remains
- PISCES/GRU SV8/etc (foreign occult agencies)
- March Tech (private occult research)
- Tcho-tcho families (US migrated black lotus traffickers)
- Disciples of the Worm (immortal worm-infested sorcerors)
etc, etc.

...and then I'll try to build the threats in the region based on their pick.
 
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