I had a brainstorm on the train the other night. Here are some questions one might ask when setting up a Burning Wheel campaign world.
But first, let me define a term: when I use the term "world," it applies to the globe, the country, the mountain, the city, the dungeon, the town or whatever place it is in which your conflict transpires. It does not universally mean "globe of matter spinning in space."
What's the Big Picture? What's going on in this setting that makes it ripe for adventure. What's changing, evolving, declining?
What's the world's culture? What are the cultural analogs? Analogs can be taken from historical earth, current events or fantasy works.
What's the conflict in which the characters are involved? What are the sides? What's wrong?
What physical place does this conflict take place in? What ecology, environment, place?
What's the name of the most important place in this setting? Not the capital or any dumb shit like that, but THE PLACE where all the action goes down?
What's the name of a faraway place that folks talk about, dream about or mutter under their breath about?
Who are the antagonists? Who is opposing the goals of the characters?
Imagine all of the characters are standing a room/ruin/field with the antagonists or their minions. What do the antagonists want from that meeting? What do the character want from that meeting? That's where your game begins.
Alternately, imagine the characters standing at the scene of some great disaster or calamity clearly caused by one of the antagonists. What's the disaster? How did it happen? What are the characters going to do about it right now?
And some more mechanical questions:
What type of magic exists in this world? Pick one or two of the magic systems: Faith (and Blasphemous Hatred), Sorcery (and Abstraction), Natural Magic, Spirit Binding, Summoning, Enchanting.
If Sorcery is used, what's it's idiom? Does it require speech? Gestures?
If Sorcery is used, what spells are available? Which spells are inappropriate to the game world?
If is Faith used, what is the Faith idiom? What are the religions? Is Faith universal or does it only affect believers?
What character stocks are in play in this world? Which are restricted and why?
Will you allow only character burns or will you allow monster-burned characters as well?
If monster-burned characters are used, what are their common traits?
What cultural traits apply to the characters of this game world? Pick three character traits for each culture.
What's your Resources cycle? 1 month, seasonal, 6 months, annual? What's the game world's currency? Who collects the taxes? What do people do for work? What's the major economy? What's the black market economy?
Material world: What weapons and armor are available? Are some weapons and armor restricted to certain cultures or character stocks? What property is available? Are resources and gear otherwise restricted?
The above questions involve culling and restricting options. Restrictions help lay down definition and build the character of the world. They make it unique, rather than a playground in which everything is permissible (which gets boring fast). The following questions are about adding in game hacks:
Resources hacks: Are there special conditions on your world that necessitate characters beginning with certain resources, gear or relationships? If necessary, distribute 5, 10 or 15 resource points to each character so they may begin the game in line with the vision of your world. (Don't take this one lightly, either. It can break the game.)
For power fantasy heroic games, start your players with a larger pool of artha. For tighter, longer term, truly epic games, start your players with a tight leash on artha.
Does your world necessitate certain traits for survival? An apocalyptic wasteland, an undersea kingdom, sky realms, etc? If so, monster burn your characters! If you want to use the LPs and settings as is, I recommend distributing 5-10 trait points to each player to burn up custom traits for their dudes to be a part of the setting.
Add new lifepaths to suit the world and make them available, if not required, for each player. A good tactic is to let players burn up stuff using the published LPs and then say, "But your last lifepath has to be X." X being some cool thing that you've come up with for your world.
That's it for now. Comments and additions welcome.