The Sapphire Emirates – Collaborative Worldbuilding

A new series where Joe rambles on about a Fantasy Age Campaign he’s running.

The other day I messaged the DM of the Fantasy Age game I’ve been playing in for a year informing him that I was considering GMing a new campaign. His 5e group had recently broken up so he instantly replied and not only wanted to play but also volunteered a couple of friends and his girlfriend to form the other party members!.. So just like that I had a party without really trying to create one. Next up- actually designing a campaign to run.

I decided I wanted to do a fairly city heavy region to allow for a lot of variety within the cities. For some reason I originally wanted to do 14 cities but after realising that was absolutely bananas I halved that to an easily manageable 7- which I then cut to 4… Getting the players to design the other 3 as part of their backstory!

So each player was going to build some of the world for me! My assumption (which the players graciously proved  correct) was that they would come up with far more intriguing and detailed ideas than I’d have been able to if I had tried to come up with all 7 cities by myself.

Name Elevator Pitch Government Author
Sapphire City Rich large capital/ Centre of knowledge. Home to a large blue dragon. Royal Family (who serve the dragon) GM
New Corleone Prohibition New York/ Victorian London. Magic banned instead of alcohol. Controlled by organised crime families. Elected nobles who are a puppet government GM
Serenissima Venice like canal water city built on ancient labyrinth which is revealed every 10 years by a super low tide. Council of families GM
Libertatia Lawless pirate town (Think Libertaita/Tortuga/Monkey Island). Large prison overlooks the town. Judge Dredd style law enforcement. Elected Mayor Minsc
Brighthelmstone Collection of 3 smaller towns Bright Hill, Helm Grove and Stoneston. Surrounds lake with magical properties that elected officials have access to. Elected Mayor Prin
Phomme Hobbiton/East Germany. Small woodland town with large subterranean tunnel network. Small above ground houses hide the town’s true size. Ruling Families Peppy
Azuros Home of all religions. Worship of any combination of gods is allowed and encouraged. A lot of magic users live here. Church Heads Sinn

I think this has paid off and worked really well for the following reasons;

  1. As a player, I love being able to have an input in the world.
  2. 2 of the players are completely new, so getting them involved in the world should help them get into the mindset of RPGs.
  3. I would never have had any of the ideas that the players have contributed and I cannot wait to visit them to see what they’re like close up.
  4. The world is unique to this group.
  5. It sends a clear message that I consider this our world and not my world which I think is very important, especially for the new players who otherwise might not feel comfortable having an input.
  6. Some of the things they’ve come up with happen to fit perfectly with what I’m hoping the overarching plot of the game will be.
  7. It’s taken a lot of work off me, which is always welcome. More time for Star Realms.

The only thing I told the players before they came up with the ideas was that they didn’t have to contribute a lot. Whatever gaps they left I would fill. I didn’t want anyone to literally feel like I was just giving them homework. I also made it clear that I had a veto, but that I’d do my best to compromise and that in a world of magic it would be easy to justify almost anything. Luckily that bridge remained uncrossed and I didn’t actually have to change any of the ideas they came up with. I think it was important to be clear before they handed in their homework  Fun-Time Backstory Prep to avoid having any awkward conversations later.

The other thing I’ve made clear is that once the game starts, the cities are very much mine to do want I want with. If they decide to include a city with a volcano, I could have that volcano erupt. I don’t want the players getting to that city and thinking they then have free reign to describe whatever they want.

I have had situations with players in One-Shots where the player has started describing things about the world that didn’t exist. It’s always tricky to deal with this as it means the player is incredibly engaged with the game but as GM you have to set clear boundaries. If I can keep anything they’ve said I attempt to, but I make sure to go back over what they’ve said and quickly edit out the bits I don’t want to keep in as non-confrontational a way as possible.

So in general, my advice is include your players in building the world as much as possible. The world will be richer, unique and more engaging for your players and will save you hours of work at the same time.


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    • My favourite too! You can’t beat ‘The Shire meets East Germany’ as an elevator pitch.

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