A Persistent World across Hundreds of Games

If you don’t know, the biggest project of Sun Sailor Productions is Story Tables, a program that provides professionally-run tabletop roleplaying games for youth ages 11-18. You might have heard us interviewed on the DM’s Toolkit podcast (Thanks, Brock!) Story Tables is the main thing I spend my time on every day.

One element of the core vision of Story Tables is that all official games take place in a persistent world. The actions that your characters take can affect that world. You can do things, make things, destroy things, and make decisions that will shape the world that future students will inherit.

Is this ambitious? Yes.

Is it awesome? Heck yes!

But how do you coordinate a persistent world between multiple gamemasters—who we call “Story Guides?” It’s difficult enough when it’s just Callie and I and one or two others. But eventually we want to grow to have dozens, even hundreds of Story Guides. Coordinating consistent setting and lore details between an indefinite number of individual game masters sounds like a herculean task.

But I believe it is possible. And the solution is a wiki.

We’re developing a wiki where the setting can be fully explained. Any Story Guide can look up any detail at any time they need it. You don’t need to read dozens of pages of lore, most of which won’t be relevant to your game. Just open up the articles on the bits you need to know about, and you’re good to go.

The information you need is at your fingertips, and I think that will make a persistent world feasible.

One reason I believe this will work is because a wiki is so flexible. Any Story Guide can edit it with no speed bumps at all. There’s no review process, no submission guidelines. You create a new NPC? Pop in an article and jot down a few lines about her. Maybe some other Story Guide leading a story that passes through that town will notice and use her. Your players kill an NPC? Open up the wiki and make a note right away! Maybe another Story Guide running a game that intersects the events of yours can have their players attend the funeral.

Of course, there needs to be some oversight. Abuses and conflicts need to be avoided, and we need to make sure everything stays accurate to the tone of the world (No “Johnny McShitface” characters appearing on the wiki—this is a kids game!) Some things we’re considering to help with this include:

- Some hand-holding by an experienced Story Guide for each new Story Guide as they plot out their stories, to make sure that they are staying consistent to the themes and conventions of the world.

- An ability for moderators to review new changes to make sure that something totally off-the-wall doesn’t sneak into official lore (and if that does happen, not only will it be quickly fixed, but someone needs to have a talk with that Story Guide!)

- a tool that locks pages while they are being edited, to avoid conflicts

- a Guides-only comments section on each page, where you can note secrets, discuss possibilities, and coordinate with other Story Guides who may be using the same elements you are

- a way to mark articles that you’re using in your games, so if you’re considering killing a character (or any other big change) you can first find out if anyone else is also using that character and check in with them.

- Finally, some flexibility on timelines so that, if conflicts do happen, (as they inevitably will, despite our best efforts) it’s possible to hand wave it away by saying, “Oh, that story happens later. In our game, this bridge hasn’t burned yet.”

The other thing that I think makes this feasible is that this is a large world. It’s not small. There’s lots of room to spread out so different Story Guides aren’t stepping on each other’s toes.

We can also have coordinated larger storylines, where one Story Guide manages the overarching plot of a story that multiple tables get involved in. The Guides simply coordinate, both in advance and as they go along, with each being given a role to play. This makes fantastic opportunities available for cross-table interaction. We have done this kind of mass storyline several times already, and it is typically great fun! I think for the kids, it feels more real when there are other groups involved in the same story. They can pop over to another table, or have events at their own table happen because of something the kids at another table did. These work super well.

So, there is a bit of insight into the development of Story Tables. One of my resolutions is to be more visible about what I’m doing, why, and who it benefits. I think some of you may find it fun to watch the development of this program—and if you like what you hear, we are going to be looking for new Story Guides to join the team later this year!

In the meantime, I’ve been pouring hours into researching different wiki software to decide what the best tool for this is. World Anvil seemed like an obvious choice, but they don’t have version control with the ability to rollback to a previous state in an article’s history, which is essential for something that’s available to be edited openly by a large number of people. Right now, Wiki.js is leading the pack, due to its beauty and flexibility, but if you have any suggestions, let me know!

It sounds like a lot to have many GMs share a persistent world, and it is. But my theory is that a sense of overwhelm comes when information is not available. You don’t know what color this character’s hair is (or whatever) and you don’t even know who to ask. Even if you do, picking up the phone is stressful. But in this model you don’t need any of that. All the information is on the wiki. You can find what you need immediately—if it’s not on the wiki, it’s not canon! Make it up yourself!

I think it’s going to be awesome. Not without hiccups, but worth the effort it takes.


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