Games where world building is the heart of the game

edited September 2013 in Play Advice
I'm looking for (indie) RPG's/storytelling games where a large part of the game itself consists of players creating their world/setting as they go. Preferably GM-less, or where the GM doesn't know in advance where the game is heading either. I believe The Quiet Year is a good example from what I've heard, but I haven't read it. Apocalypse World, in a sense, too (again, not read though).

Alternatively, or combined, I'm looking for stories that lead to an unknown climatic event. This climatic event could be constructed by the players as they go along, perhaps with cues from the game, or determined by mechanics towards the end of the game. For example: in Fiasco you generally don't know who'll end up where at the end. This is a good example. In Our Last Best Hope, you kinda know what the last scene will be about, even if you don't know the outcome: this is not really what I'm looking for.

Anything you think is worth while reading that doesn't fit exactly, but has elements of interest are more than welcome too :) Thanks for helping me out here!


  • edited September 2013
    Fits perfectly: Microscope. Or well, maybe perfectly, since it also violates a lot of other assumptions (a specific cast of characters, chronological order, etc.)

    Doesn't fit exactly: Burning Wheel wises and circles, where players can (at least propose) world facts and NPCs and bring them into play.

    Doesn't fit exactly: Archipelago, where the players (no GM) create a world together, then play in it.

    Doesn't fit exactly: Lexicon, as I think there's no actual role-playing, only encyclopedia writing.
  • Keep on the lookout for Ben Robbins' game Kingdom, which is coming out soon. (He also made Microscope.) This is on the "builds to an unknown climactic event". The Kingdom has a Crisis track that advances during the game, as scenes progress. (It also has a Crossroads track, which is a decision that everyone knows is coming; part of the game involves some players adding implications and consequences to either side of the decision.) When the Crisis track fills up, the players have to decide what the crisis is that the Kingdom faces--this is something that probably makes itself evident over the course of play. Then they vote on whether the Kingdom should perish...or survive the crisis.
  • The Quiet Year, Microscope, and How To Host A Dungeon are all games where the primary activity is world-building and roleplaying out scenes is either not present or a much smaller part of the game.

    Shock: Social Science Fiction tends to open with a lot of world-building, and in the single-session games of Shock I've played, I'd say the primary activity was world-building and the secondary activity was playing out character stories.
  • In A Wicked Age, at least the way we played it, involves a lot of scenario-building. You start with a couple of enigmatic images drawn at random, and figure out how they fit together and what places and people they imply. It took us about half a session to set everything up,and then the other half was putting it in motion and watching the fireworks.
  • A Thousand Years Under the Sun is like Microscope ... or so I think.
  • Spark has a fairly detailed world building segment at the start, where you create a world, the main factions and finally the PCs.

    Mortal Coil also has world building at it's heart, and you make it up as you go, but it s mainy concerned with what could be understood as magic systems (no reason that can't be science fiction fundamentally, as far as I can see).
  • In old variations of my cyberpunk game, Verge, play was essentially synonymous with worldbuilding. All play took place on a giant relationship diagram called the network. There was no character sheet; a PC was just another node on the network. Play created and changed that diagram, which represented everything interesting in the world (for your particular story).
  • edited September 2013
    There's a number of games listed above that fit that quite well.

    1) Microscope is the strongest of those options, as a world-building tool.
    2) Kingdom looks promising, though I have not yet fully read the thing.
    3) Shock specifically serves for world building during social science fiction.
    4) The Quiet Year is constrained in scope (post-apocalyptic) but excellent for world-building during play.
    5) Burning Empires has "World Burning" which gives a system for generating SF worlds and governments.
    6) Diaspora builds star systems, with economic systems based on a limited number of ingredients.
    7) Technoir does a beautiful job of establishing characters and relationships.

    {Self-serving} That said, the reason why I have the above list so handily is that collaborative world-building made up a major portion of the design work for my own game, the Spark Roleplaying Game. {/Self-serving}

    This might be a handy free resource though.
  • Don't think anyone has mentioned Mystic Empyrean yet. Very heavy on a world building with a nod towards the fantastic.
  • Other Worlds has a group worldbuilding exercise as the first session of the campaign and then gives players explicit narrative authority to invent new things about the world during play as long as they relate to their character's own race/culture/abilities. Players also have the ability to spend points to create new NPCs and locations/items/organisations as long as they also give their PC a relationship to them.
  • A lot of great stuff! Thanks a lot! Any chance of getting a hold of Spark or Kingdom in the foreseeable future?
  • Spark is available at all good shops and you can buy a PDF here:

    Kingdom should be available soon.
  • A Thousand Years Under the Sun is like Microscope ... or so I think.
    It isn't, but it looks interesting.
  • To be Self-Serving, Ryuutama ( ; ) is a mostly traditional RPG: GM, PCs, classes, levels.

    But there is no setting other than some generic elements common to all settings (Seasonal Dragons, etc).

    From there, though, things go full-on group setting creation. There's two main sheets in play: The World Creation Sheet, which has about 6 open areas with questions like "What is a unique feature of the world?", "What is a mystery of the world?" etc. There are also Town Creation Sheets, which are similar but with about 9 open areas for such questions.

    In round-robin style, each person gets the sheet, they fill in a section that they want with whatever they want, and pass the sheet to the next person. The next person should read what's there, choose another question and pass it on. Once it goes around the table, any sections left blank are up to the GM to fill out/decide/ignore.

    This was a really fulfilling system, albeit stupid simple: Everyone tries to put in something cool an unique, yet still reserved enough to go with everyone else's ideas. So you end up having unique settings, towns, that the players have IMMEDIATE buy-in on.

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