D&D General Collaboration With Your Players?

How often do DMs invite/permit players to build the campaign world with them?


  • Poll closed .
Forking off of the more specific threads about races in D&D, this particular component has intrigued me. Having players contribute to worldbuilding activity is something I've always seen in every game I've played. To hear that not only do some groups avoid it entirely, but a few even consider this outright bad DMing (to the tune of "why am I doing your job for you")...well, it was a shock, to say the least.

So let's talk about it. What does your group do? Obviously this isn't a survey of any objective measure, but I'd like to get some sense of where the ENWorld community sits.

Note that when I say "worldbuilding," I mean...pretty much anything beyond the bare-bones "you needed parents and a birthplace" stuff. Inventing a school you attend(ed), a former megacorp employer you hate, adult children that are now off doing their own thing, a particular sect you belong(ed) to...that's all at least a small piece of worldbuilding. As the other thread demonstrates, playing a particular race or class might qualify, as might having some kind of special ability, a connection to a powerful force/being/office, or a special or important item. Things that imply cultural, historical, geographic, or magical context beyond the character, more or less.
 

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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Generally speaking, players are free to establish anything in my games that doesn't contradict something that has already been established as it pertains to their characters. Want to say that it was not only orcs that killed your parents, but these orcs right here? Great, let's roll with it and see where this goes. If, however, you already established that some other orcs killed your parents and these aren't those orcs, then you can't do that because it would be a contradiction of previously-established fiction.

This extends somewhat to the environment where it makes sense to, particularly when it builds on something the DM has already described, the classic example being the chandelier in the tavern that is assumed to be there by all but wasn't specifically mentioned by the DM.

The general rule of thumb is I want the players to add to the world when they are inspired to do so, but they should do so in good faith and with an eye toward achieving the goals of play - fun for everyone and the creation of an exciting, memorable story by playing.
 


Generally speaking, players are free to establish anything in my games that doesn't contradict something that has already been established as it pertains to their characters. Want to say that it was not only orcs that killed your parents, but these orcs right here? Great, let's roll with it and see where this goes. If, however, you already established that some other orcs killed your parents and these aren't those orcs, then you can't do that because it would be a contradiction of previously-established fiction.

This extends somewhat to the environment where it makes sense to, particularly when it builds on something the DM has already described, the classic example being the chandelier in the tavern that is assumed to be there by all but wasn't specifically mentioned by the DM.

The general rule of thumb is I want the players to add to the world when they are inspired to do so, but they should do so in good faith and with an eye toward achieving the goals of play - fun for everyone and the creation of an exciting, memorable story by playing.
Personally, I would say that this counts as "always," but I didn't let people change votes for a reason. You always let them participate, it just has to meet the (extremely lenient) requirement of "logical/chronological consistency."

Perhaps turning the above into a question, rather than a statement: Are there any situations you can think of where you would reject worldbuilding that was logically consistent and fitting to the timeline? That is, not just "it has to make sense" but "cause must come before effect" and "the same exact event can't happen at two different points in time. For example, unless you got adopted, your mom can't have died both when you were eight and just before you set out to make your fortune as an adult. Or you couldn't have cast a carefully-researched spell to trap a devil before you attended Wizard school. Etc.
 

I voted rarely but in certain circumstances it might become a prerequisite. In my home brew campaign, there are very few races. And of the "evil" only orcs, goblins and hobgoblins are there. If a player would want to play a Loxodon, it would be straight no. Just as playing a standard elf is dependant on the back story. But if the player wants to flesh out the barony of his father, go ahead and it will be incorporated into the campaign. The continuity of the world is very important for me.
 

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
Questions for clarification.
1) Should I answer depending on my experience only with D&D, most of which was many years ago with a single unchanging group of players, or should I include all my years of experiences with several different groups?
2) Would you consider "Depends heavily on players, system, and group dynamic" to be Sometimes OR Other?
 


Randomthoughts

Adventurer
I voted Sometimes b/c of the last part ("depends on the specific game/situation). For my current 5e homebrew, which is inspired from a mix of Nentir Vale, Middle Earth and Greyhawk, player input on world building is pretty high. Their selection of races impact what major races will be high lighted in the campaign (at least, that's the plan). Their backstories, PC goals and (of course) actual decisions in the game set the direction of where the campaign will go.

But in a past (4e) Dark Sun campaign, players had a lot less input into the setting, given its fairly prescriptive aspects (e.g., no gnomes).

I also assumed this pertained only to D&D (as some games, as you know, have player collaboration baked into world building).
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Personally, I would say that this counts as "always," but I didn't let people change votes for a reason. You always let them participate, it just has to meet the (extremely lenient) requirement of "logical/chronological consistency."

Perhaps turning the above into a question, rather than a statement: Are there any situations you can think of where you would reject worldbuilding that was logically consistent and fitting to the timeline? That is, not just "it has to make sense" but "cause must come before effect" and "the same exact event can't happen at two different points in time. For example, unless you got adopted, your mom can't have died both when you were eight and just before you set out to make your fortune as an adult. Or you couldn't have cast a carefully-researched spell to trap a devil before you attended Wizard school. Etc.
I chose "Sometimes or Intermittently" because I'm considering all the games I run which includes with my regular johns and with pickup groups. With pickup groups, I tend to go with a more traditional role for players which does not include this sort of thing. There are exceptions, of course. I recall a fairly recent pickup group I ran where this whole subplot got built and resolved within the scope of a 4-hour one-shot. Feedback on the session was that a lot of players couldn't understand how I prepped all that memorable content that seemed tailored to that character and still made sense in the context of the scenario. Well, as I explained, I didn't - I improvised all of it by just building on what I was picking up off one of the players.

As to your question, I'm not inclined to reject anything out of hand and, because my regular group is very much on the same page, there's unlikely to arise anything that wouldn't meet our shared understanding. And if it did, we could just quickly hash it out to have it make sense to everyone, adding whatever details were necessary so we didn't have to say "No." When one is used to playing with a "Yes, and..." mindset, this gets easier and easier to do over time.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I voted rarely, since I other than some very rare exceptions, I only let them make NPCs, villages, etc. during their background creation, and I have veto power if they go overboard with something(half the villagers are transformed dragons for example). I almost went with sometimes, but it seemed like you meant that to be for more creation ability.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I have played and run games where the players had a lot of ability to write things into the game world. I came to find them ... well, I think because the worlds were so mutable I came to find the stories lacking.

My current approach is to give players a lot of ability (subject to negotiation and/or veto) to write things into the world as their characters' backstories (what happens before they join the campaign), but ... remarkably limited ability to do so once the campaign starts. That said, once the campaign starts the characters are welcome to change the world as much as they want, within the limits of their capabilities.
 

I have played and run games where the players had a lot of ability to write things into the game world. I came to find them ... well, I think because the worlds were so mutable I came to find the stories lacking.

My current approach is to give players a lot of ability (subject to negotiation and/or veto) to write things into the world as their characters' backstories (what happens before they join the campaign), but ... remarkably limited ability to do so once the campaign starts. That said, once the campaign starts the characters are welcome to change the world as much as they want, within the limits of their capabilities.
Certainly, I grant that stakes can rapidly drain away if you have a total "anything goes" attitude. But I'd personally lay that at the feet of unwise use. After all, we have a word for worlds that are so immutable the story is lacking. We call that "railroading." (Or slightly less pejoratively "themeparking," where you can't decide how the ride will end but it is meant for your enjoyment.)

Every tool can be used unwisely, hence the old saw about keeping an open mind but not a vacant one.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I put intermittently as the question seemed to be about what DMs in general do. I work in a DM-as-author mode, meaning that I do any needed world building and players live in that world.

Someone above used the term theme-parking, which I think can be true of published adventures, but not of open world campaigns. There is no requirement for players to be involved in creating a world, for them to be free to live as they like in it. And I do not believe participation in world building necessarily prevents being rail-roaded.
 

ccs

41st lv DM
I'll go with frequently.

Most often the players are free to add nearly anything to the world. The more creative/interesting/personal the better & more likely it'll stick. Sometimes even if it really does contradict something else.

Sometimes though the players will run into stuff that's truly set & I'll veto the idea. Or ask for edits to it, taking into account facts xyz.
And sometimes I reject the idea but don't tell the player. Their character simply believes something that isn't true. Maybe they'll discover that fact during play. A prime example would be Player A & his idea of how the afterlife works.... He'll find out the truth if his character dies. :) {this detail is set because it influences things that the players have yet to consider AND I have future plans/ideas in case they TPK themselves.... Things that would not work under A's assumptions}
 

Hard to say, as there's a pretty wide scope of how you define world building. I work with the players to develop their history within the existing setting, focusing on the large stuff. Specifics I often leave to the player to fill out, but review to make sure it still fits. Someone can name their hometown, for example, but not claim that they were an apprentice of Tasha.
 

I always not just permit it but actively encourage it; it adds to the richness of the world because even the real world is too big and interesting for me to fully visualise and it makes the players more engaged with their characters if they know who they are. How much I expect it depends on the game. Moving outside the D&D realm at the far extreme is Apocalypse World where the DM is instructed to come with nothing and you build things round the characters created in an expansive and collaborative session 0.
 

Oofta

Legend
I first put (colored) pencil to paper for the foundation of my world in high school. Things have morphed a bit because of world events and because I filled in blanks or tweaked the map, but players only add minor bits in design through background and history. The actions of their PCs can have major impact and have become part of the world's history.

While I DM more than I play, when I have played it's been either in published campaigns or in worlds that the DM created and often didn't have much in the way of world building in the first place.
 

jgsugden

Legend
I have a massive prime world, 12 times the size of Earth on the surface, plus a slightly smaller 'surface underdark' in a dyson sphere within the planet. In addition, there are other worlds in the universe that can be accessed with teleportation, teleportation circles, etc... So, when a player comes to me with a character idea, I give them free reign to create the backstory, and almost complete reign with the setting around their backstory. I may ask to tweak some names to fit it into an established location and NPC structure, or I may just create something entirely new around the skeleton they give me in a previously unexplored location.

I find this enhances engagement. It is something I've done for decades.

However, once a PC enters the world, the setup they've given me goes live, and interacts with the rest of the world around it. And, as these locations are tied to PCs, and we need conflict for PCs, there is often conflict wrought changes in what they set up soon.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Heck yes! Here's one of my favorite things to do:

Player: I want to learn more about this statue. What is the significance of the person depicted?

DM (didn't plan on statue being significant): You tell me! What is this a statue of?

Player: Um... It's a statue of a famous gnome barbarian drinking a skin of mead in one hand and slaying a minotaur with the other.

DM: Wow! (Starts thinking of ways to incorporate this famous gnome barbarian or minotaurs into future adventures)
 

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
I voted Almost Never as most of the players I've encountered simply don't care to add anything to the world. They wish to show up with a character they have put limited thought into and engage with the world on a limited level. At least, that's with most D&D only, player only types I've encountered. In systems other than D&D I find the level of engagement goes up, sometimes because the system forces the players to do it, sometimes because the players simply have access to more things that allow for increased engagement. I also find that players who also DM have a higher level of engagement.

But, yeah, for the average player that never does the DM thing, the level of world building they choose to engage in is very low.
 

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