Many DMs, myself included, enjoy creating their own game worlds. There is a certain satisfaction is seeing a few ideas grow and coalesce into a vibrant game world ready for your players to explore.
One of the challenges when creating a home brew world is developing something that is unique enough to stand out while still being familiar enough to be functional. This can be a tricky balance.
It would be amazing to have a world with fully functional racial tongues for example. To be able to prattle on in Goblin as you play an NPC would provide an immersion into the game world. But then what happens when your PC’s Ranger decides to learn to speak Goblin? You don’t want to haul out the Rosetta Stone to play.
The same is true with world history. The DM needs to know at least enough to answer questions and maintain continuity. If the orcs all wear lamp shades on their heads in memory of Brad’s Great Orc Party of 1472 then the next orc met should either be wearing a lamp shade on his head or have a reason to be wearing a beanie instead.
But expecting the player to know all his/her PC would know can be a challenge. The PC might have max ranks in Knowledge, History but the player running them might not enjoy looking through a five-hundred page PDF every time a question comes up.
The usual way around such obstacles is that the DM rolls (when necessary) for a skill or piece of knowledge, informs the player at the table, then the player regurgitates it back to the party in-character. This works. But can it work better?
One possibility would be to involve your players in the game world creation process. This assumes you already know who your players are going to be and is really only useful for a long-term campaign. But, given players who would enjoy the collaboration, you all gain some advantages from this approach.
One advantage is that the player who creates the game world information is going to be as familiar with it as you are, at least up to that point. They know all about Brad the Orc’s party from 160 years ago because they created it.
This allows some distribution of work, making it easier on the DM. It’s also more fun because the DM and player get to share time working on ideas. It is more immersive for the player. We tend to be the most involved in ideas that come from our own creativity.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the player knows all there is to know. He has helped himself, and you, by developing the details of Brad and why his party happened. He knows about the Alpha Sigma Swine fraternity that showed up with the kegs and how his brother Larry made lamp shades the new fashion staple.
What the player doesn’t know is that Brad secretly worked for the lich lord, Evilich, who took advantage of the situation to instill soul-controlling effects into the lamp shades. Evilich’s minion, Becky (a most cheerful halfling), owns the largest lamp shade manufacturing business in the land…each lampshade fitted with necromantic magic just waiting for Evilich to activate it.
The DM still maintains control over the end result but I prefer to think of it more as “coordination” than “control”. The DM works as the hub for the players to make sure the ideas being developed fit the tone, theme, and necessity of the game world.
Similar development can be shared with your players on geography, religion, economics, noble lines, wars, anything you desire. The end result is a collaborative effort where the player feels more at home.
His or her PC might be given free ranks in a Knowledge related to what he or she developed, one of the payments for their efforts that translate to a realistic trait for their PC. A player doesn’t have to work on the game world creation, of course, and should never be made to feel less important because of it. But having max ranks in a free Knowledge is a nice motivator for those who do.
The primary goal of any game should be to have fun and share time with friends. This is one suggestion on how to expand that time and get the most from the entire process.
(co-written by R. Currence and Michael N., aka Navarre)