The DtK Method for Collaborative Worldbuilding

Our map in progress.

Our map in progress.

Last week I talked about how I was doing some collaborative worldbuilding with my new group. I spoke about how involving your players in the worldbuilding process is a rich and rewarding experience and how I had come up with a method to do it that was working great. Well, here it is. I’m calling it the Dragon’s Kingdom. It’s based on the entanglements system for building a game. You need a poster map and a marker. It consists of 3 steps:

Step 1 – Dictates

For the first step your players (and you, if you choose) each write an overarching rule for your setting. They can be anything like ‘magic is dangerous and feared’, ‘dragons are extinct’ or ‘the spirits have abandoned the world, primal power does not exist’. The idea is to not make them to specific. Aim for between 8-12. Make sure your group knows these aren’t set in stone. More on that later.

The finished product.

The finished product.

Step 2 – World

For this step, the players (and you if you choose) will place people, places, and groups on the map. People are represented by circles. Places are squares. Groups are triangles. Each item placed should be named. The first part is everyone puts a circle in front of themselves for their character. You can also place one for the antagonist if you so choose. Then, on the first round of step one, each person will place two items on the map. Every round after, each person will place one item. Aim for 4 or 5 rounds, depending on the size of your group.

Step 3 – Relationships

This is the fun step. Your players (and again, you if you choose) will map how the people, places, and things in your setting relate to each other. To do this, those participating draw lines from the items on the map to other items on the map. Then, the relationship between those items is defined by who drew the line. During the first round, each person draws 2 relationships. The next round is what I call a ‘meta-round’. In a meta-round, the person whose turn it is has the choice of drawing a new relationship or altering something. They can draw a line through a relationship and define how that relationship ended or they can alter a dictate by adding to it. Yes, a person can redraw the altered relationship, representing a further change to it. Also, a dictate cannot be removed and it can only be altered once. For example, with the ‘dragons are extinct’ example I changed it by writing ‘assumed, because they haven’t been seen in a long time.’ After this each person draws a relationship.  Then you do another meta-round. Go on like this until you feel there are enough relationships on your map.

So there you have it, the Dragon’s Kingdom. You have my full permission to use it. Let me know if it works for you too!

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4 thoughts on “The DtK Method for Collaborative Worldbuilding

  1. Reblogged this on Save VS Weekend and commented:
    The reason why I prefer “Generic” settings to established campaign settings is that is permits the players to have more impact upon (and thus care more about) the world. I’ve always tried to incorporate as much Player character background as I can into a game’s story to keep both players and their avatars invested. But this system is the end result in that kind of collaborative attitude. Well organized, engaging, and brilliant. Can’t wait to give this a go!

    • Thanks so much!

      When I was doing this, the third step was probably the most fun. The best part is when players realize that not only can they draw lines to their own characters, but to other players characters as well.

      Let me know how it works out for you youngking, I’d love to hear any stories you have come out it.

      • I finally managed to get my group together (all are new/returned to D&D, with varying degrees of experience with RPGs in general).

        They were all excited to dive in, and I think I failed to maintain a structural order, as soon as the “Dictates” phase ended, we broke down into adding whatever element was appropriate for the phase willy-nilly. At the time everyone had more fun, so I didn’t mind – but I think this seriously hurt the experience, as the players were looking at what they and their neighbors were writing, but not the entire “world” as a whole. We weren’t taking the time to explain our thoughts about each name or NPC and that lead to some confusion. The structure (taking turns when adding an element) might make some antsy, but it’s worth it.

        Another thing I noticed was that while Phase 3 was easily the most fun, my players (all theatre people) seemed to have a hard time BREAKING connections. One player related how wrong it felt to change someone else’s idea – even though the intent is to create a world that seems more fluid and less static. Breaking connections in this exercise is for the purpose of re-drawing them, or adding greater complexity, which is good for the world, but for people who have “Yes and…” hammered into their nervous system it posed problematic. It was an interesting reaction that I didn’t expect.

        All in all it was a fun experiment! We developed a little character/world backstory, and gave me PLENTY of plot hooks and ideas to jump off of (way more than I could ever fit into a single campaign). I’d highly recommend groups experiment with this system, but the DM should be sure to keep tight control over it,t he same as he/she would during the game.

      • Very interesting insights Youngking.

        Now that you mention it, my group avoided trying to break (or alter) relationships in the third phase too. It wasn’t until I’d done one or two that they started to really go nuts with it. For anyone else trying this, don’t be afraid to lead by example.

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