Worldbuilding: an Overview

Hello everyone! Today we wanted to talk about a topic near and dear to our hearts: Worldbuilding. We’ll be going over some fundamentals of Worldbuilding, along with things we’ve found helpful or successful along the way, using our most fleshed out world (The Library) as a reference, along with some other games/books/comics that we feel do an awesome job!

Even the logo of our game tells you about the world. Writing, books, srolls, crystals, and mechanical imagery abound, and yet are separate, possibly conflicting entities in the background.

What it means:
Worldbuilding is the foundation of anyone’s narrative. Arguably everything has to take place somewhere, right? Good Worldbuilding helps set the tone for every action or interaction that takes place. It should inform mechanics and decisions for both Players and NPCs, and set the logic and pace for the narrative engine you are working with.

At Witchway Games, we tend to revolve our worlds around a core concept/twist/hook and extrapolate from that. In the case of The Library, we wanted magic to be a lost art, and only conveyed through written word. Lost books and scrolls imbued with magic are at the core of the world, the society is built around recovering the lost art, the major conflicts surface over control of the lost art, the economy is built on trading remnants of and information on the lost art. The great magical library in our game has been buried for centuries, and the underground fantasy components we added to the world add nuance to the world in a believable way based on how they interact with the core concept (magic seeping into the ground from books and scrolls causes creatures and plant life to mutate and become more volatile). Players must venture forth and delve and dig deeper into the buried Library to recover what they can.

Here is a sample of concept art from The Library. You can see some adventurers and adventuring gear/weapons, some book beasts and “Book Worms”, and underground creatures mutated or created by magic.

Why it matters for games specifically:
“Lore Based Mechanics” breathe life into your game and ground it in your world. Chose mechanics for your game that echo the rules you have placed on this world. Lets look at the video game “Nanotale: Typing Chronicles” by Fishing Cactus. In a game about casting spells from a spell book, the player has to actually type out words to affect specific objects in a specific way. That’s amazing! The mechanic chosen mirrors the action the player is taking in game, helping ground the player mechanically in the rules and lore of the world!

Improvements: We don’t know as much as we’d like about this game, but it seems like the words aren’t necessarily related to the spells or the effects you want to have on the objects. Switching to a fire spell book so that you could type “Incinerate” or “Combustion” or “Explode” on an object to exact that spell would cement the player EVEN MORE into the lore of the game.

Gabe Barrett talks about the importance of creating “raving fans” in the Board Game Design Lab Podcast, and creating moments like this in games helps open that door. RPGs like “Dungeons and Dragons” or “Pathfinder” actively immerse the player in the world by forcing them to assume a role existing in that world, but you don’t have to make or play an RPG to find moments to immerse your players/readers in the world you’ve built, choose the right mechanic and the game will immerse them for you.

Things you can do to be better at it:
Beautiful worlds can be based on simple ideas, and a comprehensive understanding of the world you created allows you to add nuance and depth to breathe more life into them. In The Library, only humans can use magic from books and scrolls, but the other dominant race (Trollkin) has found a way to siphon the magic out of books and scrolls to power machinery. This adds depth to who the players can choose to play, but also how they want to interact with the world. Both sides come with pros and cons, prejudice and pride, and now players get to examine a more nuanced version of the core concept of the world from both sides. Another great way to add nuance to your world is to break the rules you set, and highlight how jarring that is for the rest of the world.

Here we see a large Trollkin who is using some mining equipment powered by a magical book so that they can dig deeper into The Library!

If you suddenly come across a Trollkin in The Library that can use magic like humans can, that shatters the understanding that players have of the rules of the world, and you can seize that opportunity to build mystery and narrative into your world. Don’t just smash a bunch of ideas together, build out one, establish the rules, add nuance, and then break the rules to add more.

What’s this??? A Trollkin wielding magical books??? How could this be???

Think about what makes your world special, and hone that to it’s sharpest point.

Is your world about a flying island? How is the society built around that? Is it flying magically or mechanically? What kinds of jobs would that create? How do they get food?

Is your world normal? How do you breathe life into the mundane to make simple things feel special? Books and Games do that all the time, look at the wildly successful “Untitled Goose Game” and the very average world that’s been built there, or the “Harvest Moon” series.

Is your world dark and apocalyptic? How do the mechanics reinforce that theme? Do players loose cards permanently if they don’t cast or play them? Are resources and turn numbers finite? Will they have to make dark, difficult choices that have a lasting impact on the way the game goes? Do they cause the apocalypse?

Thank you for letting us talk your ear off about a subject near and dear to us. Worldbuilding should be fun and fulfilling, and if you find yourself thinking about the small things that’s fine! Even those little things lead to a greater understanding of your world and that’s good, just make sure you take a step back to look at the larger picture every once in a while to make sure things line up the way they need to according to the rules you set in place. After you put enough time into building that engine, a lot of the decisions will just come naturally to you! Please feel free to comment here or on Facebook or Twitter if you have any feedback or advice or worlds of your own you would like to share or have questions about! We hope this helps or inspires you to keep fleshing out your worlds, and we’ll attach a list of some other creators and worlds we think have been really successful below.

Thanks for stopping by!
-The Witchway Games Team

Other Great examples:
– The Penny Arcade “Nightlight” comics: https://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2015/12/21/all-through-the-house
– The “Mistborn” Series by Brandon Sanderson
– The game “ROOT” by Leder Games
– The game “Scythe” by Stonemaier Games
– The video game “Oxenfree” by Night School Studio
– The video game “Psychonauts” by Doublefine

Great Worldbuilding needs to be thoughtful, but doesn’t have to be explicit. Leaving room for the player or reader to create justifications in their mind as to why things are happening is okay, as long as what’s happening makes sense given the rules you’ve put in place for your narrative engine. The “Nightlight” short stories by Penny Arcade do a great job of building a really beautiful world in just a few pages.

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