Continuous Collaborative World Building
I always want to encourage players to participate in world building. There are two good reasons for it. First of all they get to affect the shared world deeper than just with their character’s actions. Secondly it lessens the creative burden on the the GM. As the whole group is sharing the world and experiences in it, it is natural that the players want to create things in the world. It allows them to shape the world to their liking. It also deepens their immersion and attachment to the world.
Roleplaying is collaborative storytelling. Collaboration doesn’t have to end at character interaction. Players have different ideas about what is interesting in the game world. They want to both match their character to the world and adapt the world to their character. Instead of the player asking the GM for a fact yet unknown, the GM can ask the player. If a detail is important to a character’s story, the player may have a better idea what is good for the story.
In the collaboration, not everyone should do everything. Although in some collaborative world building games or rules, the tasks are repeated for each player and of equal importance. This is just for balance. Every player has different interests and knowledge. They should apply the knowledge they have that others don’t to make the shared world more believable. Their interests should guide them to create the details they want to work with. For example, someone can work with heraldry and another with ecology. As everyone applies their energy to the fields they love, the game world becomes richer.
The act of world building should not end when the game begins. As the characters learn more of their surroundings and their backstories, the players can add more to the world. If the GM wants to keep secrets and create uncertainty, they can use some rule or principle to determine how much of what a player has described is true. It may be that the things their (or someone else’s) character has heard about are false or misleading. The GM should not use this as a way to hose the players, but rather bend the details to their vision or to create excitement and danger.
If you haven’t done this before as a GM, I encourage you to try. It may feel like you’re losing control over your world, but you should remember that it never was just yours. Take a page from Dungeon World supplement Perilous Wilds, or Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures’ supplement Further Afield, and start asking your players questions about the world.