Friday, January 21, 2011

How to Host an Empire

Alas, this post is not giving you rules to do just that.  I haven't actually played Tony Dowler's How to Host a Dungeon but I've read the pdf and watched youtube videos of people playing it.  It seems pretty fun and clever.  Thinking about my gameworld yesterday, I realized I wish I had an abstract, generative system for developing world history.  Anything like that exist?

I might develop this myself when I have more time.  As I imagine it it would track empires and peoples as they expand, contract, and interact.  Really what I'm looking for is: 1) a general idea of some cataclysmic clashes and loosely when they happened, and 2) general areas of influence that empires had i.e. where can we expect to find their ruins.  As with most systems like this, you could do it all manually but this would save me work as well as generating interesting situations I probably would never come up with


  1. There's "Dawn of Worlds", it's a collaborative world-building game where players create a cosmology, mythology and history by bidding against each other.

    Gnome Stew has a fuller, clearer explanation and a link to the PDF.

  2. I don't know if these count as purely "solo" generative systems, but Lloyd Krassner's WarpGames may come pretty close. His games are usually pretty simple affairs with dice and cards, but the card lists are where the crunchy detail resides...

    His main site is:

    Some of his historical games that may do the job for generating historical arcs are:

    There are literally hundreds more on there.

  3. Aria allowed some of that by playing out forces changing cultures over time, but it's probably too complex for your needs.

    I remember reading about a tool for one of the open source MMO clones that developed background histories, randomly determining when cataclysmic events or invasions occurred.

  4. I would love to see a version of How to Host Dungeon: Empire Expansion!

    And go play HtHaD ASAP! It's great!

  5. That is a sweet idea! It would be really cool to see why empires change, as well as how: like a sudden conquest, a rampaging plague, natural disaster, that sort of thing.

  6. You could draw a map, find the pieces from the boardgame History of the World, and play it out.

    Latest version:

  7. I was going to suggest History of the World. It's always entertaining when the Arabs get their turn. Also worth considering (though rules-heavy): Pax Britannica, because of its mechanic of divining victory conditions not by how much of the board is each player's colour, exactly, but by how much each claims proportional to their starting position (so Britain, which starts with an Empire, has to do very well indeed to win but Japan, which starts with just Japan, can win by grabbing Korea and Manchuria and maybe Mexico). That might allow for interesting end conditions. strikes me an empires game might tend toward giant territorial sweeps across the board a la Mongol/Seljuk/Arab invasions. May I suggest adding some elements that have a different value - cities, gold mines, fertile crescents, to destabilise those sweeps a bit?
    But it sounds like a great idea.

  8. If I was doing one for a fantasy world, I'd work in the 'cycle of cultures' - from barbarism to civilisation to decadence, and back to barbarism. Each point in the cycle would have different attributes, for example:

    barbarism: Militarily weak, groups will be small, won't leave ruins as such because they don't have cities.

    civilisation: Militarily strong, likely to enslave surrounding groups.

    decadence: Likely to destroy itself in a sudden magical or technological disaster. Likely to corrupt or enslave surrounding groups. Ruins are more likely to have magical features.

  9. Thanks for all the wonderful comments! I've been checking out the links and they've given me ideas already. The most difficult part in this would be tracking/mapping expansion of empires on your own fantasy map. The first way that springs to mind is to use graph paper and use squares to expand, and redraw borders.

    Also, great to gave a comment from you Tony (the HtHaD creator himself). The blogosphere can be a cool place.

  10. Rather than use hexes or squares as the basic unit of measurement, I think it might be easier to have large areas, with each area having only one general type of terrain. So a mountain chain might be one 'square', the plains next to it might be another, the forest near the plains a third. Rivers could also act as boundaries, as they do in real life. I'd also give each area a rating of how much population it could support, with rules for what happens when the population gets higher (either the people move, the land degrades from over-farming, or population declines by starvation or war).

    I was thinking about this idea, and I think the easiest way to do it would be a large random table.

    Entries could be such things as "add a sorcerer to a randomly-chosen civilised city", "roll on the Disaster Table for any city with two or more sorcerers", and so on.

  11. Sorry for the delayed reply. Yeah, larger spaces would be easier-- sort of game board spaces. But then I sort of wish I had a very simple terrain generator. Because I think what will happen is that you decide where your fertile crescents are and you pretty much know what the cycles of empire are going to be, right?

    What I mean is, I would build benefits into the rules for empires controlling those places and shape the rules so that aggressors would try to conquer those same areas.

    Ugh, I'm just being indecisive. I guess I just need to buckle down and draw some vaguely Mediterranean world and get on with it.