Collaborative Worldbuilding in Dungeons & Dragons
Watching players interact with a world you created is so satisfying. But there’s something better: watching them interact with a world you all built. I’m not talking about how player actions affect the world and change it. I’m talking about players worldbuilding alongside the Dungeon Master. Pure enjoyment. Let’s take a look at how to encourage and use player-driven worldbuilding.
When you’re first getting started, it can be tough to get players to worldbuild. I’m talking about creating locations, NPCs, magic items, and lore. It’s overwhelming. It’s also not something they may have done before. Start somewhere familiar. The backstory.
Amplify a single detail from a player’s backstory in the world. Their hometown, their relatives, acquaintances, etc. Encourage them to make these up. They don’t need to use pre-existing people or places from your world. At the same time, they don’t need to provide much beyond a name for what they create through their backstory. It’s up to you, the Dungeon Master, to make it come alive.
Within the first two sessions of play, use something from each player.
Step it Up
Once players are comfortable creating, you can encourage them to get more involved. Between game sessions, encourage them to send you creations. Or post them to a shared space for campaign management.
The following are actual examples that my players created in our previous campaign. I’ve included a letter, a kingdom, a city and a magic item. These are word-for-word as the players wrote them.
The Disappearing Shipment by Max F.
To King Blackstone
Subject: Missing Shipment
Your Grace, I have received ill news from one of my caravan guards who had been travelling with your recent shipment from the Nentir Vale that you personally requested.
First I would like to make it clear that though you hired my guard, one made note of the weaponry and general skill of the caravan members themselves. Though it seems in ill taste I must make certain that I am well compensated for the 1–1 ratio of guards to caravan members that I pride myself upon when making shipments.
However, the true problem is that overnight the caravan itself seemed to have been entirely ransacked and the members of the caravan captured. My guards awoke one morning, a days ride from Risencrest, to find the wagons, cargo and all, destroyed. As well as every member of the caravan completely missing. My guards claim no personal injury, but I must admit my complete bafflement as to what could have happened. To this end I must once again ensure that my compensation is forthcoming for though the shipment did not “officially” arrive, the guards did make true on their word to accompany it at least most of the way to Risencrest. As the boxes were quite light, I assume the contents could not be particularly valuable goods being shipped, so I do not feel that a dock in pay is necessary.
If you have any questions or concerns with my request for compensation in full, I am at your disposal, and I pray you decide to use my services should you require a shipment delivered again.
Sincerely,Garl Thondak, Principal Caravan Supervisor for the Darkwyrm Shipping Co.
To Garl Thondak,
You shall receive your compensation in full, as well as a discretionary sum to prevent your mentioning of this shipment to any interested parties. If word were to get out of this shipment to any interested parties, then word could potentially leak as to the ability of the guards of the Darkwyrm Shipping Company’s to protect the goods being shipped. We thank you for your cooperation and will contact you if we have further need of your services.
Ean Darklight, Steward to King Tristan Blackstone of Risencrest
To Ean Darklight
Pleasure doing business with you.
Garl Thondak, Principal Caravan Supervisor for the Darkwyrm Shipping Co.
Arna by Neal S.
History concerning Arna… Arna, which translates to The Mossflower in the common tongue, is a large beautifully forested woodland area on the River Moss. Arna is divided in two by the River Moss, which can be crossed by several bridges or at the crossroads at Summerdell. It lies just south of the Northlands where the Vryloka’s evil kin were banished to long ago, and to the west of Asalia. Aside from the treachery of Kale the Cruel, Arna remains a place of harmony. Trade is frequent with the neighboring lands, festivals and tournaments of the lance and sword are held frequently in the countryside and the annual Tournament of Fire is held outside Haran, the Capitol of Arna. Arna is home to many of the best craftsmen, farmers and builders. When Kale the Cruel led the army out of Eriador, the Vampires he had sworn a truce with invaded the city. A resistance was led by the Prince Lomian, the Vampires were crushed and Kale the Cruel brought to justice.
Lomian’s uncle and mentor, Cayne Dawnshadow, now sits on the throne…hoping for Lomian’s swift return.
Lady’s Love by Shane C.
The port resting south of Asalia is called both “Lady’s Love” and “Bahamut’s Grace” depending upon who you ask. Ages ago it was originally the residence of aquatic elves who practiced a very particular form of magic concerned with probabilities and luck. Through the generations the magic warped the area into a place where fortunes, both good and bad, are pushed to their extremes in the area. Recognizing the dangers of such an aberration the aquatic elves left the area. It did not take long for groups of greedy humans and half orcs to realize the potential wealth to be made by such a place. The region took on a deep propensity towards gambling, many casinos and other such “recreational” institutions were opened, and the port of “Lady’s Love” was born.
A particularly fanatical cult of Bahamut has in the past few years taken it upon themselves to cleanse “Lady’s Love” of its vices. Moving into the area religious fanatics, some well-meaning good people, and all the sell swords this brand of Bahamut worship could purchase, have occupied the city and driven out the casinos, brothels and other places that could be connected to vice. Many of the former gangsters have moved their casinos onto gigantic barges just off the shore of “Lady’s Love”, newly renamed “Bahamut’s Grace” by the conquerors, as a symbol of defiance.
While it is certainly more difficult to gamble as it once was, those who are truly interested can find the means to reach the pleasure barges the rulers of “Bahamut’s Grace” seek to blockade. Interestingly enough the half-orc slayer “Rendar” has joined the crusade to purge “Lady’s Love”. He is conflicted over whether such a quest has been motivated by a true devotion to Bahamut or a lower urge to simply control and rule others however.
Gauntlets of Heironeous by Cole K.
Nearly 2,500 years ago, a battle between Heironeous and his half brother Hextor was raged on the plains of what is our world. While Heironeous and Hextor were not always enemies, this all changed quickly when Hextor chose to directly interfere with the world and burn down a city on the east coast of an island called Enfellthor. Coming to terms with the fact that he and his brother were on opposite sides of the moral compass, Heironeous decided (after a long personal argument) that his brother must be stopped and he must sever ties with him once and for all. Being as his brother was the God of war, he knew he must think of a strategy to win when the final confrontation would occur.
Heironeous then spoke to Celestian. He asked him to construct him a weapon that he could use to defeat his brother, regardless of the strategy he would use. This was not a war that Heironeous was willing to sacrifice human life in, and that he must confront his brother personally, in human form. Celestian created the weapon that Heironeous asked for and told Heironeous that he would one day contact him for payment. Heironeous went to the world of mortals and called to the sky, demanding that Hextor come down and face him like a man.
When Hextor arrived, he was all but confident that this would be the end of his brother. But Hextor was ill-prepared for what Heironeous had in store for him. The first thing that Hextor noticed when arriving to the world, was his brother’s shimmering new gauntlets. Coated in black gold and platinum, the gauntlets were a sight to behold. Hextor knew that when he finally slayed his brother, he would take them for himself and all would marvel in their beauty. When he noticed that his brother was not carrying a weapon,Hextor took his gleaming hammer off of his back, and swung down at Heironeous. Heironeous put up his arm, and what happened next, Hextor could hardly believe. A large wall-shield had appeared out of no where, attached to Heironeous’ arm. The hammer crashed down on the shield and Heironeous pushed the hammer away. Backing up, Heironeous’ shield disappeared, and was replaced by a great sword in either hand. The weight of the weapons seemed to be that of a feather, and everything that the gauntlets made appear seemed to be but a ghostly, glowing figure of what was actually there.
The war raged and Heironeous’ gauntlets worked marvels. The gauntlets could make any weapon or shield appear. Bows, infinite arrows, large hammers, swords, and daggers, no weapon was too much for the gloves. Once the battle was through, and Hextor lie on the ground, defeated, Heironeous commanded him to return to the heavens and never return or interfere again. Hextor agreed and disappeared. Heironeous looked down at the gauntlets and decided he no longer needed them because the threat was gone. He took the gauntlets to a part of the world where many had been slain and evil was so great that no one could ever reach the powerful weapon. There has been word that this weapon still exists, and it’s power has grown over time.
With regards to rewards, do what’s best for your table. Rewarding players XP, magic items, boons, tips/clues, etc. worked great for my players. I wouldn’t say it encouraged more worldbuilding. But it’s always fun to be on the receiving end of those rewards. Consider that it’s also a lot of work to create. At least reward them with pizza and beer. Either way, show appreciation for their efforts as they do for your DM efforts.
Keep it Going
In the end, the more you use their creations, the more likely they are to create. Create a back-and-forth. They create and send your way. You use it and influence it in the game. They take it and add to it. Pass it around the table. Next time, a different player adds to the creation of the first. The point is, you’re always using their creations. They’re not meant to sit in a vault.
I hope you find this useful. Collaborative worldbuilding took our game to the next level and it can do the same for your table.