March 1st, 2010

the players as world-builders

Forgive me, this is going to sound like a "Let me tell you about my campaign world" post, but it is actually the opposite of that. I've had this idea bouncing around my head for a while, and I've written about it a few times in my own LJ, but it occurs to me that I've never shared it here. I would like to hear what your thoughts on and reactions from the idea. When I discuss it with other people I usually refer to it simply as "the God game."

It's essentially just an idea where the players would take on the roles of fledgling gods for a new world, but it has deeper implications than that. It's a pretty simple but high concept, and it would allow every player to create and shape a corner of a fresh campaign world and have a say about what races, kingdoms and powers would be available in a separate "mortal" game, played afterward.

So the concept starts like this:
The players each take on the role of a deity who is the child of two greater gods. The mother is most likely dead though in truth the children don't know what happened to her, she is simply gone. The father has cast his children out of the heavens and consigned them to the world below. In the order of the deities' birth, and then taking turns starting with the eldest child god, the players decide who they are, what kind of region they land in, what races are nearby and how they treat the races. I envision this being slightly random, for instance, I might narrate to the first player about landing in a mountain range and when moving on to the second player might inform them that they can immediately sense a tribe of trolls nearby.

Each player will be given three to five tokens, representing divine acts or miracles, and these could be used to shape the world in different ways, such as creating a race from nothing, creating a form of magic (and presumably training a mortal race to use it), to shape or sunder the land, and a plethora of other things that I would best like to leave to the imagination of the players - though I will likely print off a list of suggestions as well.

There is a catch, however, two of them actually.

1. Each deity knows that their powers are limited, and as soon as the last miracle is performed they will fall into a slumber. If the miracles are not performed, if the players simply hold onto their power in an attempt to avoid falling into slumber, then the powers are leeched from them, and this could happen in a number of ways but I would rather not embellish on that. To simplify it, if the miracles are not used in a timely fashion then they are wasted.

2. There is another child, a bastard. Each of the gods can sense his presence in the world, can feel his hatred from afar, but nobody can find him through scrying or searching, and he also has his own pool of tokens that he can use to perform miracles. I don't envision him being a perpetual antagonist, but he gives the players something to focus on as gods before falling into their slumbers.

All of this actually allows the players, along with myself as the GM, to shape a fresh world and create our own stakes in it, to see things grow, while still maintaining conflict. After the slumber, the deities would awake to see what their miracles have reaped of the world centuries later and I would then parcel out a number of miracles again, though this time they would be able to stave off the slumber for a longer period of time.

Beyond this, I haven't planned for much. The very concept runs counter to planning anything! I expect that there will be civilizations created and destroyed within single sessions, I would hope that the players would delve into their imaginations to help create a unique world, and I imagine simply describing the creation of the world and the change inflicted upon it by the deities' actions would require a lot of narrative, and since we would all ultimately be creating a world together it might be too random and unpredictable to really set forth a plan for what I would do after the slumber.

The eventual goal, after the second slumber begins, is to bring out some D&D books or some other system with simple rules that is fun to play and run the players as a group of adventurers in the world that the players themselves helped create, because then they have a shared knowledge of the world and they can refer to kingdoms and gods and historical events and everybody will know what everybody else is talking about.

So, what do you think?

Note: The opposite of "Let me tell you about my campaign world"
I have a friend who for several months now has talked about recruiting new people to play in his D&D game, a homebrewed campaign world that he created, and he tries to sell people on the idea by saying "I have been working on it for 12 years!" and initially my thoughts turned to my own campaign world, which I started when I was 17 and have added on or fleshed out in different ways over the years, and it occurred to me that I would rather play my campaign world ... because I know everything about it! Then I asked myself "Who wants to play in somebody else's world? Nobody really. You always have to sell it to people."
A homebrewed campaign world's strength comes from how the input of the players shapes the world, so neither myself or my friend have something that will resonate with other people, so my mind turned to thinking about how you could bring new players into a group while simultaneously giving them a sense of ownership over the world, something that not even a published campaign world like the Forgotten Realms or Eberron could ever do. And that's when I started to form the idea for "the god game."

The Dresden Files Rpg

As some of you may know (if not, you are about too), Evil Hat has been making the Dresden Files RPg for some time now.  If you have missed it, they are almost done with it and it may be available for Origins.  If you are interested you can check out the LJ group on here at  and even more information about the world at