Not Exactly Mailbag: Worldbuilding from a Mechanic

Monkey graphicsTwice this year I’ve spoken about matching story and mechanics — once for the Oxford/London IF Meetup, and once as a keynote talk at the Malta Global Game Jam. Both times, I mentioned the idea of using mechanics as the basis of world-building. I’ve done this both with the letter-changing powers of Counterfeit Monkey and the Lavori d’Aracne sympathetic magic of Savoir-Faire and Damnatio Memoriae. (I’ll talk a bit about all of those games below, so beware moderate spoilers, if you care.)

In Malta, one of the questions I got after my talk was “how do I know what questions to ask when world-building?” and I suggested having a look at conventional fiction guides for world-building. It seemed like a fair response at a time, but as I’ve had a look at some of the world-building guides out there, I felt that most of them didn’t necessarily translate directly to the types of strategies I use for this cause. So I’ll belatedly go into a little more depth about that now, in the hope it’s useful to someone (whether or not ever seen by the original questioner).

If you’ve got mechanics, that typically means you’ve got

  • an action/set of actions for the player to perform
  • some kind of world state that is affected by those actions in some way

And that’s all we need to ask world-building questions.

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