16.24: Worldbuilding for Games

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, Cassandra Khaw, Dan Wells, James L. Sutter, and Howard Tayler

Worldbuilding is one of our favorite topics, and it’s a domain in which game design and novel writing share a lot of territory. In this episode we talk about how much we love it, and how much we enjoy letting other people love it enough to do the heavy lifting for us.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson


Take a story or game that you’ve written and drop in a few casual allusions to names you’ve just made up—places, people, objects. Don’t try to figure out what they are, just make the names as cool-sounding as you can—soultrees, the Babbling Throne, Kobishar the Unmoored. Then come back a week later and write a page of background on each of them.

The Dune RPG, from Modipheus Games

3 thoughts on “16.24: Worldbuilding for Games”

  1. This week, Mary Robinette, James, Dan, Cassandra, Howard, and Kobishar the Unmoored talked about worldbuilding in a bottle… er, no, in games. How do you give people springboards for their own stories? Miss Piggy’s eyelashes? A tavern keeper with a criminal past? Questions, allusions, and adventure hooks galore! Milliner assassins! Pigs with glitter! Causality, evolution, and flying pigs! Read all about it in the transcript, available now in the archives.

  2. I fully agree with Dan’s criticism about missing details (4:51 & 6:28). Too often I was just presented with a laundry list of unfinished ideas. And if that becomes long, things start to become a burden, if they already occupy most of the world and / or you feel compelled to do them justice. Also it can be very boring to read, and I have a hard time to concentrate on such texts.

    To expand on what James replied (5:11) I am interested in two things, when I want to read up on a setting or maybe just a set piece:
    #1 What are the main conflicts, which parties have which interests and what is the power dynamic between them?
    #2 What belongs to the backdrop and should not be changed (because future supplements rely on these elements), and what is in scope for the players to engage with? Like you don’t want them to topple your evil empire, but to explore this setting of corruption, crime and vengeance and sometimes a little solace.

    Flesh out the latter according to #1. By doing so you also communicate to your audience, what the constraints in your game and setting are, what kind of adventures they can expect and what kind of heroes / adventurers fit in.

    I feel this is the foundation to play according to the designers’ intention. (Assuming they know what they are doing.) Even if the players do not use any of the suggestions, this provides them with a blueprint for inventing their own stories.

Comments are closed.