In the last post where I looked at the game Lineage, I mentioned that it was a part of a bundle sale currently running on twitch. Well, I decided to take a look further at this “Worldbuilding Bundle” and review some of the other games that are on offer.
Please keep in mind that there is no possible way I could review all of them. There are 29 items in the bundle and and a number of them require too many people or resources for me to give them a proper trial. Although everything I will look at here are solo-friendly world-building tools, there are several well-developed solo and multiplayer TTRPGs included, world-building tools that require groups to use, and a rules-agnostic, detailed city setting ideal for your fantasy campaign. A link to the whole list of games in the bundle and their game pages will be provided at the bottom of the blog.
World Maker v2.0
World Maker, written and designed by Michael Elliott, encourages creating a world in a unique way. Utilizing prompts and other random elements selected from a deck of standard playing cards, it seeks to create characters that then inform the design of the world around them. This potentially prevents the detachment of one or more characters from the world that they exist in and the party they are a part of.
How It Works
In the initial Genre step, the players decide the most basic information for the theme and setting off the world. The tool suggests that you can use popular media to describe the basic feeling, though it also has a quick randomization system based on the suit of a drawn card with the choices of Medieval/Fantasy, Scifi, Modern/cyberpunk, or Apocalypse/Post-apocalypse. You may also want to switch this step until after character creation if you would like your characters to inform the Genre as well.
Now we come to the creation of characters. The text encourages you to create between 2-5 primary characters. Keep in mind that adding additional characters will make the process longer and more complicated, but lead to a more fleshed out world as you get additional character details to inform the creation process.
Each character is represented by a card, who’s face value dictates how many (~2-10) description cards will be drawn. Each of these cards coincide with a phrase and a set of questions on the Card Codex. Each of the suits describe a category of character details that describe their history and heritage (Diamond), their skills (Clubs), their relationships (Hearts), and traits (Spades).
In the World Building phase, we use these character details and trends among them to start developing the setting. For example, we can start building factions the characters are related to, elaborate where certain skills came from or how they work, define the character’s relationship with their heritage, or combine details together to create professions. It is encouraged to make notes on all of these developments to flesh out the world later. Similarities or difference between the cards the characters receive may also indicate their relationship with each other or the reason why the party exists. For example, a character with a large number of skills traveling with several characters with few skills may be a mentor or guardian traveling with a group of students or young people.
For the Connect phase, draw one more set of cards and place them in between the rows of primary characters to symbolize something that they share. In this case we are looking at the suit only, using the same categories as previously mentioned. Maybe two characters come from the same faction and then the second relates to a third because they had the same teacher, etc. Finally, the text gives you a series of questions to finish fully describing your characters with some suggestions on how to incorporate details that you have not been able to include yet.
I tested out the system by creating a pair of characters of my own.
I decided that Character #1 started as a laborer, but became a fighter & leader for an underground resistance. They lead an open popular rebellion when it the time was right, but it failed. Their relationship to the dead is because they actually died and that is why they cannot sleep.
Character #2 is a bounty hunter that most often uses medicine and poisons to kill or capture their subjects. They have also somehow discovered a connection to a multiverse and are able to use that to bring people, or at least their spirits, over from other realities and somehow provide them with physical bodies. The people in his version of reality survive on their frozen world in great fleets on the equatorial ocean as the land has become too bare and frozen to survive upon. Normally the character lives in a great artificial shipyard-city.
The heritage that they share is that “The Capital” and “The Decaying Ruin” are actually the same place in the two different realities. It was in the decaying ruin that Character #2 brought over Character #1 as a means of helping them survive the hostile environment and get their target that was hiding in the crumbling city. Obviously if I was to use this system fully, I would continue to build out all of these other elements. However, I think I have taken this far enough for the moment.
For a short PDF, this tool is actually quite powerful at providing prompts for creating an interconnected party and setting for any story or game. I look forward to using it again and strongly recommend using this system of character creation to inform world creation via a session zero whenever starting a long-term campaign, especially with a new group that the GM may not be familiar with.
Dead Emperors is another card-based world-building tool that focuses on creating a single leader or monarch. Created by Matt Sanders of Sealed Libraries, the action in this one is quite simple. First you pick a name and then draw a card. This card will dictate the life legacy of the character. Then once you have built draw a second card that describes how the character died. Each of the face values has a different topic and then the suit and color effect the positive or negative flavor of the topic event.
In the example I created, I created King Joseph the Humble. For his life card, I drew the 2 of Hearts. This card is associated with War, Peace, and Diplomacy. It was flavored by his good and active personality. I decided that he presided over the successful conclusion of a defensive war that had been started under his predecessor.
For King Joseph’s death card, I drew the 3 of Diamonds. This indicated that he died due to a horse and it was flavored with a violent and unexpected end. One of the prompt questions that the text included and got me thinking was “Was the lord known for their affinity with horses prior to this incident?” I decided that they were often a confident rider, but Joseph . He was having to ride an unfamiliar horse as his favored horse had gotten sick from returning to the stable life after years on campaign.
You could use this tool to create a whole line of monarchs and build the history of a nation as the text suggests if you want to use the “great man theory” historiography. However as a classically-trained historian, I strongly recommend against this. It often leads to over simplification of history, romanticizes colonial and nationalistic tendencies and ignores the culture and contribution of movements of common folk. Maybe instead use it to create the legend around the monarch whose tomb your NPCs are delving.
The Worldbuilding Bundle is still on sale right now in itch.io, but it ends in around a week. (~May 28th). It is available for a minimum of $20, so that is less than a dollar a piece! Don’t delay if you think you might be interested!