45 Minutes Collaborative Worldbuilding

+Ezio Melega tells us how he created a world from nothing together with his players in 45 minutes! (How cool is that?)

What I'll try to describe is an actual demo I run at Lucca Comix 2014 (imagine Italian GenCON): I haven't the stech book for that session anymore, but I'll try to let you figure what I actually drew.

Figure this: I didn't know anything about the group. I had never met them and was armed only of  a sketchpad and a selection of the classes (at demo I prefer to cut out preparation time by selecting beforehand some classes and let the players choose from them. I usually go for Number of Players + 1 booklets in display).

I explained what I had to, they started creating their character. Almost there, before the Bonds, I stop them and look at the characters.

I see there are a lot of races: a Human Thief, an Elf bard, an Half-Elf Ranger (I told them to take an extra move) and a Orc Barbarian. This is interesting.

I start from the obvious and ask, to the player: "What is an Elf?"

"Well, an Elf is an Elf, duh", he answers.

"Ok, humor me, can you describe your elves?"

"They are tall and magical, swift and agile"

"Great… why they are magical?"

This question takes the player by surprise. Excellent. He thinks a second and tell me that they are magical because they are closer to the Sky Gods than anyone else. I nod and ask were they live. Since they are closer to the gods they live in high mountain valleys ("Not forest?" "No, valleys. Maybe some tree", already broke with the stereotype, good) and, keeping asking question we discover that the Elves are a proud mountain dwelling race, divided in several great houses, each with their steading and with machiavellan politics.

It's the elf player to tell me all of this. I asked him why he is a Bard and why spoken language is so important for him, and he answered the machiavellan politics, I suggested the steadings… it could seem a complex process, but it went smoothly in a copule of minutes and three or four questions answered.

I take a sheet of paper and draw the mountains, with a sun symbol over them. On another sheet I note: "Great houses, chieftainship, nest of magic vipers".

I reserve the same treatament for the human. He has already seen what I'm doing and is anxious to contribute. I ask him from where he is from and he tells me that there is a town not far form the mountains.

I draw them and give them a name: "Let's call it Riverbridge", I say.

"Why?" asks the Thief?

"Because there is a river, see?" [draw the river crossing the city, from the mountain to… draw the coast… to the distant coast. Now we have a quite large plain dominated by a town and closed at north by high mountains controlled by elves] "And the city is built around this fortified brigde" [draw] "What do you think? Why the brigde is so important to justify a town?"

"Hmmm trade, maybe? It's the only way from this coast to the mountains? I'm a Thief and I have this move to know the criminal underground, so I would like the city to be a nest of scum and villany"

"So, trade from the sea. It makes sense to have a big city here" [draw a city on the coast]" I then ask anyone, because I've been on the Rogue for a little too much time: "What's the main trade of the big city?"

"Slaves!" answers the Orc Barbarian

"I would like my town to be a more anarchic and free-for-all place than a slaver domanin…", the Rogue isn't too much happy of that answer.

"Maybe," says the Ranger, "Slavery is forbidden in the town, and a lot of slaves run from the coast to it, reinforcing the criminal underground"

Everyone claps: "Great!"

"And the bridge", says the Rogue player, already sold and inventing freely, "Is really the center of the criminal underground. It's a sort of fortified house that crosses the brigde, and the owner is the lord of the city because his family built it and made everything pay a toll"

"You are quoting from Martin"

"Is it bad?"

"Nothing is bad, this is our world, everything is fine if everyone likes it. Blood and Fire, by the way"

I sketch two towers on the brige, and note apart: "Criminal lord, not slaver, exploitations, a lot of goons, some high level boss" I miss something. I ask: "What's the name of the criminal lord, and why you know him?"

"He is Rogar the Poison, and I work for him"

New note: "Rogar, why Poison? What kind of work?"

I then look at the Ranger. We already know Elves and Human, now the half-and-half.

I have a pressing question: "Are you the only half-elf that exists?"

He answers that they are very uncommon, but he isn't unique. It's more a matter of the Elves being so much pretentious and snobbish that…

I ask him where he lives and he point a space between city and mountains, telling me that there there's a big forest. I draw it, obediently.

A question on his training, about who raised him and he creates a Forest Godess, and her order of protectors. They are ranger, he is The Ranger because he is blessed by his mixed heritage.

I love this and note: "Ranger in the forest. Godess. Filthy city VS woods. Coal, fires, industry?"

I start to see a shape, and smile my hyena smile.

I ask the Ranger what he has hereditated from the two races, and he keeps going with the "chose one" theme: he is different. Pretty dull, if you ask me, but I already have enough and I have to accept what he likes. Trying to spice it up but working on his bases.

I note the "Chosen one" besides the "Godess" note.

The Barbarian is different, it comes from another culture, is out there. I will probably not need the map, and I purpousefully left him for last, to offer the player a chance at creating contrasts.

It works.

Since everyone seems stuck in this European renaissance mood he describes his orc as a rider from the west, dressed in leather, part of a horse-culture. Good. I ask him why he is travelling, and he is here because of an initiatic travel.

"Are you the only one?"

"No, we are rare, but everyone does it, and some comes here. We come back only when we have found something useful for the Herd"

"This is Mass Effect"

"I played a Vanguard and romanced Tali"

"I a Soldier and Liara forever"

I ask details about the culture and why the moves he has chosen are there: he contextualize them for me, justifying wht's written and helping delineating a setting.

I tell them they are already a group, they know each other. Maybe they donn't like each other but they know where everyone stands. Then they write their bond and… other questions. Why it's so? Why he doesn't trust you?

We already know a lot about the cultures and the world (but have plenty white spaces), and this helped shape the contours of the relationship between the characters, now the bonds give us details.

I ask them why they are together and they tell me that they are on a mission for the Forest Godness, to protect her. I jump in with my idea of an expanding city that is attacking the forest to have burnwood and they like it. We discover, with the bonds, that the Thief  isn't sucha  bad perosn and that the Elf is an Elf: he is planning a triple betrayal of almost anyone.

I don't make them write a long background, just the answer to clarify the bonds and nothing more, I have everything.

Then we can start.

I use a trick.

I ask them: "What was the last mission the Godess gave you?"

The Barbarian answer: "We investigated the city plan to expand"

The Ranger added: "And we discovered a new cutting tree technology"

"Great," I tell them "And you are still in that adventure. You are inside a big storehouse, on a high ledge, looking down to three big brass and wood steam powered cutting machines, with round saws and long chimneys. Lord Poison is examining them. He is elegant and dandy, with a black cane" (I'm improvising, following my nose and my tastes of the moment) "and talks about the great experiment, tomorrow morning. These new machines will cut down dozens of trees everyday!"

And so begun. We played, we rolled, I followed my moves. We discovered that lord Poison whas really the mortal host of a great poison devil, that an Elven house was his ally (and the Bard was against that house, bu also against the house supporting the Forest Godess). I create the machines as monsters out of scrap, took the mook statystics from the manual, recoloured I don't remember what monster for Poison and so on.

I had nothing, we created a word.

It has been fun for me and for them, I had the satisfaction of put all the bits together and run an adventure without any big preparation work, they enjoyed beign part of the creative process, not only spectators, and the absolute center of things.?

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