Building Worlds With Friends

Justin Miller

Justin Miller

Guest Contributor

How Cooperative World Building Makes Your Games More Engaging

The joys of being a GM have kept me obsessed with the tabletop roleplaying hobby for decades now. What I hold most dear is taking an idea my players have provided for me, either via backstory or a simple “What does this look like to you” prompt, and using that idea as a foundation to create a surprise for them. Allowing your players to join you in the creation of the world is one of the most fun and effective means of getting your players invested in the story.

Newer players may need a bit of coaxing to jump in on this cooperative world building. That’s fine; the magic of TTRPGs is that, in the grand scheme of things, they’re all rather simple. Despite all the dice and rulesets, our games are just shared stories, ideas given life by our belief in and acknowledgement of those ideas.

Keeping that in mind, it’s important to allow newer players to see that their ideas, just like the ideas of the GM, can make your shared stories even better. Worlds are big, and input from different people can bring unexpected life to things once thought mundane.

As an example, allow me to tell you of one of the most competitive sports in my homebrew world of Gloria: Stick Kick.

My sister Joy created her first character and, in her excitement, created every aspect of what her character would like and dislike, and her character really liked a sport Joy came up with called Stick Kick. I had been GMing for decades in this world as well, and I never considered a sport. So, thanks to this spark of an idea, my players and I came up with a league, teams, mascots, and rivalries. Stick Kick became an international craze akin to soccer, NPCs became fans, obsessed or uninterested – either way, this one idea colored the world so much differently than I ever could have imagined on my own. And yes, we created a ruleset for how Stick Kick is played.

I have had players create holidays, foods, traditions, sports, urban legends, and more, and I can tell you with full confidence that the game has always been made better by the players’ creations.

Now, keep in mind that the world you present to the players is yours, so you get to choose how the world reacts to the creation your players provide. That is what I believe the magic of our hobby is, joint creation – the players know the starting point of their ideas, but must wait to see what the ramifications of their ideas are. Having the players as invested in another aspect of the world other than their player characters has done wonders for engagement and emotional investment in my games.

GMing can be difficult, and giving your players the task of painting a picture from time-to-time can be a great way to give yourself a breather and a bit of inspiration. Remember your players can paint a room but you are the one to fill it. Players are wildly creative and open about all the fears they have. Sometimes, giving them the keys to their own struggles is just the change of pace a party could use to shake things up. As with anything, too much of this can get predictable or even boring for the players; remember they come to you because you are the world. So, keep in mind the difference between allowing them to take part in the creative process, and just having them do all the work. In between that balance is an amazing gaming experience.

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Justin Miller Guest Contributor

Noir is a game designer, streamer, musician, and improviser. He has studied at Chicago's iO, Westside Theater, and Second City. He is the Nerdy host of Critical Misses' Morning Ritual, creator and Game Master for Kobold Presses Into the Southlands. He is the Social Media Manager for LFM Network.