“World-building” is a challenge that faces many people: novelists, RPG hosts, screenplay writers, and most other categories of storyteller. Settings are the literal and figurative background of tales large and small, and for all that they are rarely the focus of a narrative the way characters and plot rightfully are, they are critical to that narrative making sense. Worldbuilding can be a forbiddingly large task, but it can be both efficient and rewarding if one keeps a few pointers in mind.
Tabletop roleplaying games are a site of boundless creativity. The fact that the processor that runs them is a series of human brains rather than a computer means that any given instance of a tabletop game can venture much farther from what its designers had in mind than a PC or console game is likely to support, but more than that, whole new games can form much more easily. In addition to venerable institutions like Dungeons and Dragons, Shadowrun, and Warhammer, with huge bodies of accumulated resources and long histories, numerous smaller games populate the less mobile shelves of gaming stores. These don’t often get their due, even with demonstrations and endorsements from the likes of Wil Wheaton.
There’s a tier below that, though, of roleplaying game rulesets released to the public without any hope of eventual profit. Some folks write entire new roleplaying games and turn them loose on the Internet for fun and notoriety, and these efforts are fascinating, unusual, and (importantly for us) don’t cost anything an RPG enthusiast hasn’t already paid. They represent monumental undertakings in conceptualizing, integrating, and devising game material, without even the glimmer of profit that might someday visit the games that do get formally published.
I’ve come across two of these in particular that are now freely available online, extraordinarily different in tone, scope, and intensity and worth every tabletop gamer’s time at least once: Pokémon Conquest and Actual Cannibal Shia LaBoeuf.