Worldbuilding in College Courses

The book Collaborative Worldbuilding for Writers and Gamers came about from years of teaching college-level courses that used tabletop role-playing games as the primary engine for fiction writing. Originally, my premise was that having students embody a player-character would concentrate their thinking on the choices characters make, how those choices drive the plot, and the emotional states of characters throughout a story. While this turns out to be true–I still use RPGs in my fiction writing courses all the time–what really caught my attention the first time I designed a course like this was the different assumptions students were making about the fictional world of the game. We’d touched briefly on the lack of a government and a loosely defined bartering system for the economy, but that was it. I realized we could do much, much more with worldbuilding, which eventually evolved into the methodology described in the book.

This spring 2019 at the Rochester Institute of Technology, I’m teaching two sections of Worldbuilding Workshop, each with 20 students. We begin the course by reading the first half of my book, talking through things like scope, sequence, perspective, and then moving onto the structures and substructuresof governance, economics, social relations, and cultural influences. Once we’re all clear on terminology, students are randomly assigned into groups of 5. We begin with the genre of the post-apocalypse and read some stories from the collection Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse to discuss the different types of worlds and how they present problems for the stories’ protagonists. Then we’ll generate a world using the collaborative worldbuilding card deck, and each of the groups will need to write a metanarrative describing how their world works given the values on the cards. Then they populate a catalog with people, places, and things and write vignette-length fiction set in their world.

For their second world, we repeat the process following the same steps, except this time the students get to pick the genre: cyberpunk, urban fantasy, high fantasy, steampunk, or whatever they’re most excited about. We’ll again read some stories to talk about the features of the genre, but this time each group gets to generate unique values for their world. This allows us to talk about differences and similarities of their worlds using the common genre as the connecting point. The final unit allows the students to form their own groups and work on their final collaborative worldbuilding projects. Take a look at the syllabus and schedule to see what we’re up to. I’ll be posting updates as we go along, so you can see what kinds of worlds the students are creating.

In the next post, I’ll talk a bit about my other course, Game-Based Fiction, where we’re building a post-apocalyptic version of Rochester, NY (the Rocpocalypse!) as the play space for a trio of role-playing game sessions, using the narrative-forward RPG Apocalypse World as the engine. Whereas Worldbuilding Workshop builds several worlds over the 15-week semester, this course is all about depth of detail in a single world. Feel free to take a peek at that site too.

I also want to mention that all the worldbuilding in these courses is being made possible by World Anvil, the best worldbuilding software on the Internet. A basic account is free, with paid memberships offering more advanced features. If you need a way to keep your worlds organized, check out World Anvil!

Feel free to use the Contact form on to get in touch with questions, comments, or examples of how you’re using the collaborative worldbuilding methodology.

Until next time, happy worldbuilding!


Book, Deck

Nov/Dec News and Notes

Collaborative Worldbuilding for Writers and Gamers is now available from, Amazon, and other fine booksellers. The worldbuilding card deck is also available at The Game Crafter. The deck can be used to model fictional worlds or generate random ones. You can also download a free print-and-play copy of the worldbuilding deck from the website if you’d like to give it a try.

Things have been busy since the book launch in October. Bloomsbury’s US store actually sold out of the book in ten days! Happily, they are now back in stock. I was honored to deliver the opening interactive keynote for the annual NASAGA Conference, where I gave a quick talk followed by a short collaborative worldbuilding workshop. I gave another short talk and workshop on Thursday, November 8th at 4:00 in the newly opened MAGIC Spell Studios on the campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology. The content of that talk will be posted online in the coming weeks.

Beginning in 2019, I’ll begin regular postings on the Cornerstones blog about different aspects of worldbuilding, beginning with some of the questions I address in the opening chapters of the book, such as: what is a world, what do we mean by worldbuilding, and what makes collaborative worldbuilding different? I also plan to post interviews with educators, students, and game designers who have used the worldbuilding system described in the book for a variety of purposes. I am also teaching three courses this spring that will incorporate different kinds of worldbuilding projects and will invite students to share their work and talk about the worldbuilding process. Of course, contact me if you’ve got ideas or questions for future blog posts.

Until then, happy worldbuilding!
-Trent Hergenrader



October Worldbuilding News and Notes

October 2018 is a big month for this project! Collaborative Worldbuilding for Writers and Gamers will be available on October 18 at and other booksellers, and the collaborative worldbuilding card deck can now be purchased from The Game Crafter. A free print-and-play version is also available on the book’s website. I also started a subreddit on the topic of collaborative worldbuilding that I hope you’ll join.

The book and deck are a culmination of seven years worth of work. This project began way back in 2011 when I taught a 200-level creative writing course at UW-Milwaukee entitled “Gaming, Worldbuilding, and Narrative.” The general idea was that the students would build a post-apocalyptic version of Milwaukee that would become the backdrop for tabletop role-playing game sessions. Students would add people, places, and things to the world, then write fiction through the eyes of their character as they explored this co-created world. Students loved the role-playing sessions, but I was more intrigued about how they negotiated the process of building their post-apocalyptic world.

Over the next several years, I experimented with different course designs that had worldbuilding at their core. From post-apocalyptic Milwaukee, I went a different route with an alt-history Steampunk Rochester project in my first year at the Rochester Institute of Technology. I also began experimenting with having students build out already existing worlds, like the class “Tales from King’s Landing,” which took place in the Westeros of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, and more recently, “Age of the Empire” that used the setting of the expansive Star Wars galaxy. I also developed a workshop dedicated solely to worldbuilding different worlds across different genres: post-apocalypse, urban fantasy, deep space science fiction, steampunk, cyberpunk, dark fantasy, and more. All of these classes relied on tabletop role-playing games as manuals for worldbuilding projects, which I’ll talk more about in future posts.

Other future blog posts will cover:

  • Worldbuilding for Tabletop Role-Playing Games
  • Posts on the specific categories and substructures used in the book and deck
  • General worldbuilding advice and pitfalls to avoid
  • Teaching worldbuilding classes and leading workshops

If you have other ideas for posts, I’d love to hear them. Drop me a line on the contact page.

Upcoming Events
For anyone in Upstate New York, I will be delivering the interactive keynote for the 2018 NASAGA Conference (North American Simulation and Gaming Association) in Rochester, NY the morning of Wednesday, October 17. I will also be doing a book/deck release event and collaborative worldbuilding demonstration at MAGIC Spell Studios on the RIT campus on Thursday, November 8 at 4:00.

As always, happy worldbuilding!
–Trent Hergenrader


Announcements, Book, Deck

Welcome to Collaborative Worldbuilding

Welcome to the very first installment of Cornerstones: The Worldbuilding Blog. Every few weeks, this blog will feature all manner of advice on worldbuilding, managing collaborative worldbuilding projects, different aspects of the collaborative worldbuilding system and the worldbuilding deck, and other news and announcements dealing with worldbuilding and the collaborative worldbuilding system.

Huge thanks to everyone who completed our online worldbuilding survey. We received over 350 responses and over 200 people provided their email addresses and entered for a chance to win one of two copies of the forthcoming book, Collaborative Worldbuilding for Writers and Gamers. The two winners are Joshua Lee of Irvine, CA and John Martel of Washington, DC! Both will receive an advanced copy of the book to be mailed out in the next few weeks.









There are a lot of exciting things in the works. is now live and serves as a hub of information pertaining to the book, the worldbuilding card deck, and a number of resources including those for educators interested in using worldbuilding projects in their classrooms. Collaborative Worldbuilding for Writers and Gamers will be released on October 18. Preorder the book from Bloomsbury’s website and use the code CWWG18 for 35% off the paperback and eBook editions. The Collaborative Worldbuilding Card Deck will be available as a free print-and-play download and for purchase later this month. Stay tuned for more information.

I’m also happy to announce a partnership with World Anvil, which I recommend as the go-to site for your worldbuilding project needs. You might think that the software was designed for the book or vice versa, but the truth is that we independently came up with very similar approaches to worldbuilding. No money has changed hands for our mutual endorsements; we’re co-promoting together in the spirit of helping people who love worldbuilding projects.

The first word on the book’s cover is “collaborative” and I hope to use this space to bring people together and begin a dialogue for people doing all kinds of worldbuilding projects in all sorts of media. If you haven’t already done so, subscribe to Cornerstones: The Worldbuilding Blog and consider following our Twitter account @collabworldbldg, Like our Facebook page and join World Anvil’s active community on Discord. Use the Contact form to submit your questions or comments and you could be featured in an upcoming Cornerstones post.

Happy worldbuilding!
Trent Hergenrader