Collective worldbuilding techniques

edited February 2006 in Story Games

A week or two ago I started a thread talking about making a fantasy heartbreaker. By the time it wound down, discussion had wandered into the field of collective setting design, and how to implement that in a game. The thread is here.

I'm still working on it, and think I want to try a new tack, inspired in large part by the character creation system from Breaking the Ice.

You've got everyone sitting around the table. You've got three big sheets of paper or posterboard, one labeled "The Web" at the top, one labeled "The Codex," and the other with a compass rose. These are, respectively, The Web, The Codex, and The Map. You've got pencils and good erasers.

To start things off, the GM writes a single word in the center of The Web, preferably something evocative, like Desert, Snow, Moon, Knights, Demons, or Valley. They circle it. Then people go around the table counterclockwise taking turns.

On a turn, you can do one of three things:

  1. Add to The Web. Usually you will draw a line from one or more words already in The Web, and write a related word at the end of that line. Don't circle it. However, if you want, you can add a new, circled word, not connected to any other on the web. This word must relate to something already on The Map or in The Codex.
  2. Add to The Codex. Either add a new topic heading (which must be drawn from something already on The Map or in The Web) and write a sentence or two about it, or add a sentence or two to an existing topic.
  3. Add to The Map. Take anything written down in The Web or The Codex and draw it. Or, if you don't trust your own drawing skills, ask someone else to draw it for you.

Until the Web contains at least 15 entries, nobody can do anything but add to The Web. Yeah, even if you have a really fucking awesome idea and want to expound upon it in The Codex or draw it up on The Map. Let the kernel of the setting germinate into something before you start getting specific.

If someone doesn't like a Codex or Map entry, they can call BS. They must be able to offer up a reasonable explanation of why they don't want the addition to be made. The group then votes, everyone casting for the change, against the change, or abstaining. If the against votes outnumber the for votes, the player must do something else with their turn.

At any time, anyone can call for the setting creation to end. If nobody objects, setting creation ends. If there are objections, then creation continues until all objectors have taken a turn, at which point you may attempt to end setting creation once more.

Thoughts? I'm hoping this would create something organic and sort of unexpected for everyone involved, with the initial Web-only phase giving focus to the project before people start coloring in between the lines.

Has anyone thought about or seen similar systems before?

Any weaknesses to smooth over or cool improvements that could be made?



  • That sounds really cool - but i'm not entirely clear on the purpose of the three pieces: The Web shows how things are related (in terms of ?), the Codex tells you what those things are, and the Map shows where they are in space(and how they're related in space), right?

    Reminds me a little of Vincent's Dragon Killer, but only a little.

    I'm suspicious of the voting system, but that is probably my paranoia talking. The GM only gets to lead the process, right?
  • Fred and I used to pass the really terribly dull meetings with something we called the dot game. Draw a dot in the middle of the piece of paper and pass it to the next guy. He labels it as whatever he wants, and then adds another detail - maybe it's a dot, maybe it's a geographic feature, maybe it's just a squiggle. He passes it back, the other guy labels the new thing and adds something new, and so on until there's a full something (usually a map) to use as a baseline.

    It tends to be very evocative, organic and crazy, but to some extent it suffered from being _too_ easy to do. We never really reused them because it was just as much fun to just make a new one. With that in mind, I think the slightly higher structure/higher commitment model you're talking about would address a lot of that.

    My sole concern is that I think you _must_ enforce brevity in the codex. Long entries will kill the whole process, both by boring other players and by putting too much cognitive power in the hands of the codex authors. Players are going tot want to spill beyond the one or two sentences and frequently, they'll have been trained to believe that that's _helpful_. Addressing that expectation early on will go a long way.

    My other thought is less of a concern and more of a question of focus. The net result of what you're doing will be roughly comparable to a well-loved licensed product, in that you will begin with a decent volume of player knowledge and buy-in, and that's pretty awesome, but it's not quite taking advantage of the full power of this model because you're not yet tying it into the _game_.

    Choosing a game which has a means to tie the ideas you've come up with into the characters directly may be the biggest challenge of all of this. Also, when you do get to the game, it would seem almost a shame if chargen did not revolve around a substantial relationship map. :)

    So all in all, pretty solid.

    -Rob D.
  • edited February 2006
    You've pretty much got it, except that The Web doesn't really show how things relate to one another: it's purely a tool for coming up with ideas. Structured stream of consciousness. If you have something like this:

    ................. Child
    ..................... |
    ..................... |
    (Moon) == Goddess == Holy Knights === Jihad
    ... | .. \=================== .................. /
    ... | ................................. \ ............... /
    Oceans == Islands ........... shape shifting /

    It doesn't NEED to mean that the Jihad is related to shape shifters and holy knights. It just means that shape shifters and holy knights are what made someone get the idea for a Jihad in the first place. Now, if someone linked them in a Codex entry, that'd tie them together -- but until then, it doesn't mean much. Items in The Web don't even ever have to be used.
  • That isn't quite as fun though, is it?

    I'd prefer that the brainstorming goes on when it is your turn - all the players kibitzing - and when you add something to the board, you're commiting to it in terms of the gamespace.
  • Jeph, what if you added hypertextuality to the Codex, with cross-references? So you can only add things to the Codex if it's already been mentioned by another Codex entry?

    Secondly, Rob's suggested that chargen should involve a relationship map. I'd go a step further that character generation and situation creation should be based directly off of the Web/Codex/Map.
  • Rob:

    You're right (as right as you can be before I actually test it out, anyway), enforced brevity is important. I'd say limit the initial entries and additions to fifteen words each, tops.

    I've already written, like, 2/3 of the game part, and yeah, it does focus a lot on tying things together. Characters select 4-9 BW style Traits, and they must have at least one Trait each that ties the character to an ally, an enemy, a family figure or actual relation, and a place. Maybe I should ramp it up a bit and add in an organization, and split place up into a specific location and a broad region?
  • Stefan:

    By 'not quite as fun' you mean it's cooler to have things linked on the web always be linked in the setting? Limits give rise to creativity and stuff, right? Maybe. Dunno. I have a feeling that items near other items on the web will get linked anyway, just because they'd tend to be on similar topics, and in the same corner of the players' minds.

    And, unless I'm mistaken, you're suggesting nixing the vote in favor of just talking it over?


    I intentionally included rules that prevented new web origins from coming from other places in the web, new map items from coming from other places on the map, and new codex entries from coming from other places in the codex. Wanted to build complexity, because it's fun, and the way in which something is complex gives it character.

    So if you really like the idea of a hyperlinked Codex, I'd love to see you make an argument for it and maybe help me kill off an unnecessary sacred cow.
  • Ah, I see what you're doing, then, Jeph. Have at.

    Next question, though: are these just pre-campaign prep that are then discarded or can these things be added to and changed through play, and are there specific procedures embedded in play that allow that to happen?
  • Jeph:

    Your method is way cool. I'm working on something similar, but it's for a planet-of-the-week kind of game, so it needs to be simpler while still providing a good kick start to the creative process.

    You could consider having players assign values to the stuff they come up with, in a kind of Universalis way, so that if I really like having things be related to the moon, I'll spend 4 of my tokens on it. It will also tell the next player that moon-related things will be an easy sell for me.
  • So, I'm just wondering...

    What does this do for play? You know all this stuff, but what guarantees that it's stuff that will engage you and actually get used in play?

  • edited February 2006

    Right, right; that is what i was trying to get at with the "fun" comment.

    The realationship map really should be useful in the game, actually more useful than the spatial map. At best, it can tell you how things are bound, and how changing something (in play) changes the things it is attached to.

    You might also consider using, as part of the creation process, some of the terminology/symbology discussed in the Conflict Web article of Bankuei's.

    (Voting works when consensus cannot be reached, i think i just wanted to see consensus brought up first, voting second. If that makes sense?)
  • Shreyas:

    All this stuff is tied to characters via Traits. Players get rewards that can be used for immediate but short-term increases in character effectiveness, expanded framing and narration rights, and character advancement through using Traits. Thus, they have a powerful incentive to bring all this stuff into play.


    You're probably right about The Web being better if it actually shows what things are connected. Like I said, people likely will think of linked elements on the sheet as linked in gamespace, too -- why not make it official? Plus I can totally see some cool thematic stuff potentially arising from how The Web changes during play.

    I skimmed over the Conflict Web a while ago (if I'm thinking of the right thing, that is), but haven't given it a thorough readthrough. I'll give it another look.

  • Okay, so I was playing around with this today. I got out a piece of paper, wrote Desert in the circle, centered it, and just started writing things with lines connected to it. Not the same thing as doing the whole process with a group, but it did make me realize some things.

    1. Yeah, having lines denote in-game connections is totally a Good Thing.
    2. It's cool having different types of lines!
    3. Once a Web has >20 elements it just plain looks neat.
    4. Things get more cooler when lines connect multiple elements, not just one to another.

    As I toyed around with it, I came up with a rudimentary system of what lines connote. Single black line was a neutral connection. Double black line was a very strong or important neutral connection. Single blue line is a positive or reinforcing connection, double is strong/important one. Single red line is negative or antagonistic connection, double is more potent. Dotted black line is emphatic or conspicuous lack of connection between things that you'd assume might be connected. Dotted red-and-blue line is a stressed connection that isn't positive or negative yet but is likely to erupt or resolve itself at any moment.

    I notice I kind of passed over Josh's comments about tying situation creation and addition to the C/W/M after the initial pregame. Totally love the idea of a situation prep mechanic based off of this thingy, but I really haven't got a clue about how to do it, aside from "Look at what you've got, decide on some things that you think are cool, and use them." Any ideas on that, folks?

    As for additions, I think it'd be handled something like this: Whenever you end a session, update the C/W/M to reflect the events that have happened. Whenever people want to, you can play a few more rounds. Maybe even ritualize it. Like, you MUST update after every session, and everyone MUST take one new turn at the beginning of each session.

    Maybe, as things get bigger and bigger, even have ways to spinoff, say, a new C/W/M for specific things. Like, if you find the game's been centered on a college of wizardry, take all the Web elements that relate to it, stick them on a new sheet of paper, and start making a new, more specific Web that relates strictly to that college and its constituents; start a new page of the Codex to describe the stuff on that web; and get a map to graphically represent... something cool, whatever you can come up with. Hierarchy, the grounds, the manses of the magicians, whatever.

  • Why not use a technique similar to WotG's Lore Sheets, and build PCs by tying them through the spending of points to setting minutiae? Litterally: you don't buy up strength or dexterity, or even Doom or Keys, you buy up "my sister is dating the Ambassador of Kurecz, and that landed me somehow contacts within the embassy, a liaison with an envoy, and some explosive documents on the war against Jiran" or "THIS place is where my dad got killed defending the Rhianon bridge, and that gets me a spiritual link to him and the spirits of soldiers dead at the bridge. I can evoke them right into this world at any bridge", or "i'm destined to have a fatal encounter right there, with that guy, but not before murdering his entire family and simultaneously reaching the planet my uncle always seeked". Those are lame-ass examples, but all the terms are to be drawn from the web and codex. all translate as attributes on the character sheet, heavily tied into the setting.
    These are just examples, but i hope you see what I mean.
  • Pretty neat, Jeph.

    Shock: uses a world-building tool called the Grid where social issues are crossed with Shocks to make a semantic world. Details of the world are called Minutiæ and have mechanical effects.

    The purpose is a little different, going straight for the meaning of these things and then giving them details as you go, but the end result is what I think you're looking for: an evocative, textured environment with total player buy-in.
  • Totally love the idea of a situation prep mechanic based off of this thingy, but I really haven't got a clue about how to do it

    Having just done my Engineered Situations chapter for my project, let me tell you it's not the easiest thing in the world. Most of us hardboiled GMs do about ten steps at once, in a more-or-less intuitive crush. Pulling apart the pieces so you can explain it step-by-step is tough. I originally thought it would have like three steps, but I kept peeling what I thought was one step into two, and I ended up with (I think) seven steps.

    My game is all about conflicts based on characterization, so it gathers bits of the PCs, then builds conflicts inspired by that, then populates the conflicts with story elements (characters, props, sets), then doubles up those story elements to tie things together and create a little relationship map goodness, then links individual elements to individual characters as foils, then summarizes the situation, and then finally fleshes out the elements to things that can be used in play.

    Much like Joshua's grid in Shock: or Vincent's Town Creation in Dogs in the Vineyard, it does what I want it to do for my game. One of the first things you'll need to do is figure out what you'll want yours to do for your game.
  • Engineered situations in FLFS totally work. As far as I'm concerned it is the best part of the game.
  • Manu, could you talk a bit more about Lore Sheets? I vaguely know what they are -- you spend Destiny, whatever that is, to tie some setting element to your character in some fashion -- but that's about the extent of my knowledge.

    Joshua N., do you know of any links to AP reports that go into detail about constructing and using the grid? The Shock: actual play that I've read either assumes people are already aware of what they're talking about or go through that part of play without getting into specifics. (Or if there's a rough draft somewhere on the web, that's cool too.)

    Much like Joshua's grid in Shock: or Vincent's Town Creation in Dogs in the Vineyard, it does what I want it to do for my game. One of the first things you'll need to do is figure out what you'll want yours to do for your game.

    As for what I'd want situation prep to do, well. First off, I'd want it to be quick, involve everyone at the table (not just the GM), and brief enough so that world design, situation, characters, and at least the first few scenes of play can all be resolved in one four hour game session. As for what it should actually cover, it should put the protagonists and the elements of the setting that the players think are coolest into a bunch of inter-linked conflicts, and then add a spark -- a why is today more special than any other, with respect to all these conflicts -- to ensure that things blow up and throw some hard choices around.

    That what the kids these days call a 'group kicker'?

  • edited February 2006
    First, good luck with the 'quick' part -- especially when combined with the 'involve everyone at the table' thing. Done with a group, Engineered Situations take at least half an hour and can run up to an hour or so. (Solo GMs can knock one out in ten minutes.) I haven't figured out a good way to pare the group time down yet (yet).

    But you want:
    o protagonists (clarification: you mean PCs?)
    o the "cool" elements of the setting
    o conflicts
    o linkages between conflicts
    o spark

    I formulate conflicts as character + desire + obstacle; is that what you're talking about when you say 'conflict'?

    When you say inter-linked conflicts, how do you want them linked? Thematically, or using the same elements, or happening in the same place...?
  • It's true, non-me-Joshua: group situation generation can take a long time. For first-time Shock: players it can take an hour to generate a Grid and Praxis Scales. After that, it might take 20 minutes or a half hour if people are on the same channel.
  • This is way cool, Jeph. I'm working on something similar for shooting the moon. It has a built in situation type to focus the conflicts.

    Three players make a beloved and two suitors. First you choose a setting & the beloved's traits are exemplary for the world you're in : ) The traits from the beloved are used to create traits for the suitors: everybody makes synonyms & antonyms, then you divy them up and modify them with other traits. You get to make them up for your opponent as well as yourself (suitors are opposed).

    Then as the conflicts get framed by the beloved's player & the suitors for one another, you create loose webs of world elements that everyone can draw on for narration by which you gain dice. It's been ridiculously fun to make up a world and situation this way so far. Though I'm still working on getting the resolution structure right.

    I like how your layers overlap with the map, codex & web elements having to relate to one another. The codex is descriptions of things in the web & map?

    IMO there is nothing more fun than group creation of world, well it's among the top 10 for me--but seriously, having good tools like this makes is gonna make for some sweet play. Look forward to seeing what you do with it.
  • Taking this and running with it::
  • First you choose a setting & the beloved's traits are exemplary for the world you're in : )

    It may just be me, but this calls to mind the idea of having the traits of the beloved change according to changes in the setting - introducing a few sympathetic lower-class characters after creation giving the beloved a sympathy for the lower classes, as an example...

    And having that as an actual tactic for play. 'Cuz that would be cool.

  • edited February 2006
    So, yesterday I got two of the guys over and we ran through this stuff. Kinda. Well, here's what we actually did.


    The first thing we did was talk about dials. We had the following discussions in the given order.

    Technology: muskets and airships and railroads, sorta Full Metal Alchemist style
    Magic: default sorcery system, no magitech, a few artifacts left over from long ago times but no recent magical devices
    Power Level: skilled but not heaps of political clout
    Geography: lots and lots of islands, plus one large land mass
    Other Stuff: religion is a matter of faith, no (or very few) demihumans


    Then we started with The Web. I wrote ISLANDS in the center. What we ended up with was a bunch of island city-states, invaders from a far-off land, a powerful shipping monopoly, shape shifters, and a huge artificial island composed of an immense statue covered with indecipherable writing.


    I opened the codex and map after about 20 entries. We pretty much stopped adding to the web, now, aside from an entry hear and there; we got a nice map down complete with coastlines, mountains, forests, names of nations and cities, lots of islands, oceanic currents, the paths of armies, and Here There Be Dragons. The artificial island was also drawn as being surrounded by a huge artificial ring wall, hundreds of miles across.

    In the codex, we decided that the shapeshifters (called the Fenrin) were exiled from their society and lived on isolated islands, a college of magicians had enchanted a glacier to remain solid in the middle of a warm sea and used it as a campus, and the shipping company (Francis-McDougle Shipping Company) was a large force in the governments of both the most powerful coastal nation and the largest island league. We also wrote a bit about the culture of the invaders (The Sun Children) and a few island and mainland nations.


    All that, so far, had taken about an hour and forty five minutes. I told the guys that after the next round of setting, we'd move on to characters. First thing, I told them to pick a name, role, and talent. We ended up with:

    Henry Sailman, a navigator, Fenrin magic
    Joseph Thoran, an army scout (and deserter), with a knack for gambling

    Then they divided the 14 dice between Deeds, Words, Lore, and Will, and spread out their five descriptors. At this point the characters were kind of lackluster, mostly just "shapeshifter guy" and "gunslinger guy." Then came traits, and oh man did things start to look sharp. The players had an awesome time looking over the lists, and going, "Oh man! I so want that one!" and "Holy crap that's cool!" and "Whoah, that would be fun!" When we got to the part where you use one trait each to link your character to an enemy, a family figure, a place, and another protagonist, it got even better. The final characters:

    Role: Navigator
    Talent: Fenrin Magic

    2d Deeds (swimming)
    3d Words (gathering information)
    4d Lore (sailing, navigation)
    5d Will (magic)

    Fenrin Magic (trained by his uncle in Seynam)
    Eidetic Recall (has a memory of Joseph on the Artificial Island)
    Masquerade (John Thoreau knows he's a shapeshifter and is blackmailing him)
    Artifact (taken from the Artificial Island)

    Role: Scout
    Talent: Gambling

    5d Deeds (shooting, sneaking, riding)
    3d Words (deceit)
    2d Lore (military knowledge)
    4d Will

    Jack of All Trades
    Grudge Keeper (against his Uncle who forced him into the service)
    Histrionics (obsequious to Henry for helping him stow away / escape army)
    Coward (is a deserter, hunted by Captain Emerson, his old commander)
    Quick Learner
    Debtor (owes money in the city-state of Awok)


    We talked about what we wanted the game to focus on. We decided we wanted to deal with the effects of the Sun Children's invasion, but not actually have the game be about the war itself. More its ramifications -- how it screws up the FMD Shipping Co., all the islander refugees, the mainland nations gearing up for war, and so on. We also decided to start the game with the ship that Henry's a navigator for and Joseph's a stow away on putting in at a port that will very soon be attacked by the Sun Children.

    Then we watched Lost.

    We'll probably actually play in a week or two.
  • Has anything come of this?

    I'm looking forward to more.

    The first thing we did was talk about dials. We had the following discussions in the given order.

    Technology: muskets and airships and railroads, sorta Full Metal Alchemist style
    Magic: default sorcery system, no magitech, a few artifacts left over from long ago times but no recent magical devices
    Power Level: skilled but not heaps of political clout
    Geography: lots and lots of islands, plus one large land mass
    Other Stuff: religion is a matter of faith, no (or very few) demihumans
    Dials? Did you steal this from my game, In a Land Called, or did you come up with this independently?
  • Ron's been calling stuff like this Dials for a longlong time. I may steal said terminology for FLFS in the post-playtest rewrite.
  • Ron's been calling stuff like this Dials for a longlong time.
    Yes, obviously I got the term from the Forge (or more percisely, I stole the general concept from Donjon). But the reason I asked was because those terms---technology, magic, power, geography---are the same ones I use or are the same concept as the ones I used in IaLC.
  • Vaxalon:

    Has anything come of this?

    We haven't been able to play in a few weeks (GRRR school GRRR), but we've been talking about it over the phone and AIM and so forth a bit. All that stuff on the web and map -- actually, almost entirely the map -- is a great focal point. We're all like, "hey, what if it tied into THIS?" We're pretty psyched about playing; hopefully this weekend.


    Dials? Did you steal this from my game, In a Land Called, or did you come up with this independently?

    I absolutely stole them from IALC. That's the first place I remember seeing the term, although I've come across it in a bunch of other places since then. Using the same categories wasn't a conscious decision though; I guess they were just kinda floating at the back of my mind.

  • I absolutely stole them from IALC. That's the first place I remember seeing the term, although I've come across it in a bunch of other places since then. Using the same categories wasn't a conscious decision though; I guess they were just kinda floating at the back of my mind.
    That's cool, I was just curious. I need to start working on that game again...
  • 5d Deeds (shooting, sneaking, riding)
    3d Words (deceit)
    2d Lore (military knowledge)
    4d Will

    I'm terribly sorry, but I'm utterly going to have to gank this from you. I've been using roughly parallel catagories for my hippy-nar version of Mythos, and these are a whole level of magnitude more flavorful than what I was using.

    Namely, for the record...

    Weird (my "sprititual" attributed"

    Terriby sorry. ^.^
  • I'm inclined to toss those attributes entirely. I see no need for them.

    In the game I'm writing, each character gets an "Archetype" at 4d6 (maybe more? Needs playtest). All other traits are either d4, d6, d8, or d10, and use a Dogs-style "raise and see" resolution mechanic.

    In most conflicts, a character's archetype will be the first thing rolled in.
  • Ah, cool.

    I'm still in that waffling phase where I like the idea of having some sort of fixed list of traits combined with a more open Do it Yourself section, or just setting it all to Do It Yourself. I'll see how things shake out, though I'm inclined to believe that a fixed set will be more conducive to my design goals, one of which is to make things easy for non-gamer types to get into, if only because the majority of the gamers I've played over the past year have been non-gamer folks whose first exposure are the games I run.

    Having a baseline set of stats is, I think, a good way to go about that.

    Ah! And idea occurs just now. What if the stat/trait connection were inverted? So, for example, instead of Deeds xDx, you would have, like...

    Gun-fu 2d Deed
    Masonic Initiate 3d Word
    Mad Scientist 2d Lore
    Dedicated College Student 1d Will

    Combined with the passions system I've been cooking on, (in turn inspired by Lost Memories and UA)...that would be nice. And I would simply set it to a switch, allowing the players to start with the fixed, generic list and then add un-numbered Traits to another part of their sheet, and this method...

    Thanks, Vaxalon! =^.^=
  • OOM, I'm not sure what happens when you write them that way.
  • Okay, so here's what happened when we played.


    I decided like an hour beforehand that I'd use Tagalog for all the names the the archipelago where we'd decided to start things off.

    Their ship, the Bagyo Tiisin (Storm Survivor), is lolling in the harbor of Pula Buhangin (Red Sand) Island, watching barges unload thousands and thousands of refugees from the Sun Children invasion of Silver Island. The Storm Survivor, ironically, needs to put in for repairs -- they lost two of their three masts and badly damaged their rudder in a bit of unnatural weather.

    Joseph Thoran tries to sneak off the ship, but he's caught by Mr. Caroll, the first mate. A deal is worked out whereby Joseph will pay off his passage with his labor. Shenanigans occur whereby Joseph and Henry come to suspect the quartermaster, one Mr. Gregory Hutchins, of being a spy for the Sun Children and in cahoots with an enemy magician.

    Joseph tries to steal a document in an unknown alphabet that he believes is a communication from the enemy to Mr. Hutchins, but the quartermaster walks in at the last moment, and tries to shoot him. Joseph is unharmed, and Mr. Hutchins is thrown into the brig, but the captain, who is a close friend of Gregory, is not quite ready to believe that the man is working with the Sun Children. He sends Joseph and John (a redshirt in every sense of the word) to find a sage in the city who can read the language.

    Joseph ends up going to Salamangka himself, a shaman of great power and the chief advisor to the Elector of the island. Salamangka identifies the document as gibberish and sends Joseph away. Meanwhile, Henry fails to note that Mr. Hutchins has fled the ship.

    When Joseph gets back, he and Henry plot for a while, then go out searching for a second opinion on the document and for the missing quartermaster. Joseph finds an engraver among the Silver Island refugee camp who claims the document is in fact the language of the Sun Children, and provides him with a spotty translation speaking of supply lines and invasion orders that will bring the enemy fleet to Red Sands Island rather quickly. Henry becomes a cormorant and scours the island from the air, but fails to find Mr. Hutchins.

    When he returns to his cabin, he finds that a small boy has broken into it, and is rummaging through his trunk. When the boy sees him, he invokes powerful magic: the Circle of Instantaneous Transportion appears at his feet, and he disappears. Henry employs the Emerald Dragonfly Conjuration, which creates a horse-sized dragonfly of green glass, and sends the beast through the circle in pursuit of the mage. The sorcerer destroys the Emerald Dragonfly with a single casting of the Blood Cantrip.

    Henry decides to bust out the sorcery. He goes into his cabin, locks the door, and invokes the Merging of Dissimilar Sensoria: a spell used to bind multiple consciousnesses into one. He, Joseph, and Gregory Hutchins are instantly placed in telepathic synchronicity. Looking out of Mr. Hutchins' eyes, Henry and Joseph find that the man is in an austere room that bears the architectural earmarks of the elector's palace. A struggle of wills occurs, and Henry batters Mr. Hutchins' mind into submission. They learn from him that he has fled to none other than Salamangka himself, and that the Elector's advisor is, in fact, an enemy agent.

    Henry, Joseph, and John the Sailor decide to storm the castle. They sneak in, kick down the door to Salamangka's chambers, and go all out. Henry's Emerald Dragonfly recorporeates. Salamangka, wearing the disguise of a small boy, shouts the syllables of Anger of the Earth, causing the palace floor to violently erupt. Joseph is saved by his lightning reflexes, and Henry by his warding dwoemers, but John is severely wounded by the shrapnel, loses consciousness, and falls through the rend in the floor. Joseph grazes the magician with a bullet.

    Before Salamangka can get off another spell, his leg is shattered by a shot from Joseph's musket. He manages to evade the Dragonfly's razor edges and a Binding Cantrip from Henry, but is now badly wounded, and claims surrender.

    The palace guard arrive at the scene: three men with muskets, and Mandirigma, the Elector's Captain, wielding an enchanted blade from a bygone age. Mandirigma fails to place any trust in the two men who have broken into the palace and attacked the Elector's advisor, but sends one of the soldiers off to get medical attention for John. Irreconcilable disagreements come to light. Muzzles flash. Joseph is grazed by a bullet from one of the guardsmen, and his own weapon is cleft in two by Mandirigm'as blade. The dragonfly bull rushes the guardsmen, chasing them away from the scene, and Henry fastens Mandirigma's feat to the floor with the Binding Cantrip.

    Joseph takes Mandirigma's sword as a replacement for his broken gun. Henry gathers up the body of Salamangka. They flee back to the ship.


    Overall, a very fun session. The communal setting creation worked like I wanted it to: the players bought into it completely, and had as good of a handle on the world as I did. The mechanics of the game worked well, and the fights were fast and exciting. We are all eager to play again.

    The only thing is, while the players brought their Traits into play often, it was never in a fashion that earned them checks. (Except for once, when Henry used his Eidetic Recall to determine that some of the glyphs on Mr. Hutchins' scroll matched others he'd seen on Sun Children documents before. We forgot to note it though. Oops.) Having only played one session, I've no idea whether this trend will continue, or the use of Traits in conflicts will pick up. For now, though, I won't fiddle with anything: I'll wait until I've got more than one data point until I call it a pattern.

  • Sounds like great fun.

    Please keep us posted on developments.
  • I'm going to try the Web, the Codex, and the Map tomorrow night with my old d20 group, with 2 extra things to give it structure:

    1. Everybody gets 30 Coins. When you propose an idea, you need to spend 2 Coins and get 2 other players to spend 1 Coin each. Anyone can veto that idea but if they do you all keep your Coins.
    2. Everything you make must be a Threat, Reward, Asset, or Problem - the 4 key external factors of d20 gaming. If it's not then you and your supporters must pay double.
  • Heh, wow, this is from a while ago. In the end, I only played a few sessions with the game, but its ideas got recycled a few dozen times over...

    I hope your session went well, Ryan! How'd things play out?
  • Really well. We hadn't gamed online before in such a large group and although it took a little getting used to, the results were awesome. The web we designed was definitely macro-level though; we spent 3.5 hours playing it, and that includes all the time figuring out the Skype / Maptool connection stuff and a few interrupting phone calls.

    The Web/Map/Codex made for great organizational structures but the 2coin/1coin and TRAP system were crucial; everyone went into each pitch knowing they had to SELL their idea so when people said "Hmm... it's not exciting me. What about changing X?" it was perfectly natural.

    The TRAP bit meant we were making dangerous, adventurey stuff (sinking island that were major holy sites whose pilgrims were preyed on by pirates, liches in desert citadels served by undead metallic dragons, fey crossroads with lots of dangerous spirits that find serene people in natural places and then burn them out with Sorrow / Lust / Ecstasy / Hunger.) The session definitely focused on a macro level, Next time we're going to try to do some more small-scale stuff and connect a specific area to those macro elements.
  • Sounds cool!

    1. I wrote a game called "Land of Nodd" which uses a similar method for the group to create setting and situation. It's a bit simpler, and only uses one map. I've had great fun with it! Instead of using three separate sheets, I use just one, but require certain connections between the elements, which ensures that everything is tied in somehow and that that final product is pregnant with conflict and ready to explode!

    2. Ryan, if you haven't already, do a search on Story Games for topics including the word "[minigame]". You'll get two threads that outline a really cool method for generating a setting. Replace their categories of elements with TRAPs, and you could have a really nifty tool.
  • Reflecting a week later, there's one place I think it could have been better... I should have demanded that hte stuff created was immediately relevant to the starting PCs. I think that's why I felt like there was some floaty macro-level stuff, because we were making a world where we didn't know who the PCs would be (like when you buy a campaign setting).
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