How can players make a world seem real?
Getting involved with the fiction. I’ve been in enough games where players are switched off, I’ve been that player as well. You end up checking your phone, talking to people about non-game things.
When players get involved, that’s where the magic happens. Inspired by games like The Quiet Year, I’ve had players help me with mapping games. They’ve built NPCs, plotlines, things for me to use in turn, sharing ownership of this story we’re all creating. Below is the example from my first stab at this, from Dungeon World: Leviathan.
The only things I knew I wanted in this game were a wall a mile high and thousands of miles long with a hell on the other side, and a giant leviathan which threatened to destroy reality.
The group all added three things:
- A natural feature
- A settlement
- A problem or mystery
I added one of each as well, so there were a ton of plot hooks and locales for the group to interact in. I managed to get everything except the giant statues which straddled the trade roads, but I didn’t mind as I designed those. I lost the map for a while after my second campaign in the world, so I made a new setting, Exodus. This world still exists… kind of. Leviathan won, the world was destroyed and the inhabitants fled to Exodus where they lived for a thousand years. This world became overrun with monsters and a cage for dead gods, the largest of which found their way out. As of last season, my current players are in the world of this map, a thousand years from after it was ruined and surrounded by monsters. To help show these changes, I’ll have the new players draw over or add to the map to show how this is now a hell place.
I have another anecdote which is a little less mechanics-based. I remember a little while ago GMing a game of Masks and running a scene with two of my four players, only to overhear the other two. They were talking in character, just having a little scene with some banter, having their characters get closer. I checked in with them afterwards briefly to make sure there wasn’t anything massive I needed to be made aware of and there wasn’t. Still, it meant they were in the moment, in the fiction and it meant a lot to me.