I find world building a daunting task, all those distracting rabbit holes to follow while trying to fully flesh out your setting… so many directions, so many creations to keep track of. Ughhhh. It’s also kind of fun, obviously, but it definitely helps to have a battle plan to hack away at your world. But enough about my love-hate relationship with world building, I’m not gonna blab about my personal life like one of those temptress recipe bloggers ransoming sweet brownie recipes while forcing you to read tales of their brownie-eating kids interspersed with smeared-brownie-face pictures. No sir, I’m gonna dive right in, here we goooooo:
World Building Checklist – Part 1 of 5
World building is to create a place that feels real enough to develop an emotional connection to it.
What is our goal when world building? People want a world they can escape to from their own. A world with a rich range of choices and sources of conflict and motivation. Conflict is what drives a story behind a world: Slavery, national pride, lust for power, religion, murder, greed, love, war, revolution, betrayal, theft, and oppression are all driving forces behind a conflict.
I’ve written this in my preferred order, like a sort of checklist and rough structure to guide us through the process. If you have a specific idea, say, for a city that’s crucial in your plot, then by all means start from there and work backwards.
Generally, I’m a great believer that style flows naturally and it can take its very own form once you start writing and getting into your ‘zone’. But it does help to establish your aim from the start, as style really will affect the feel of your world and the concepts that underly it. Here are a few points to start from:
Is your world…
- Light and carefree, or dark and disturbing?
- High, royal , noble, or low, gritty and dirty?
- Fast or slow-paced? Pacing can be a great reflection of liveliness or desolation in your world.
- Large or small scale? Are the PC’s ideals far-reaching affecting the galaxy, or localised to their hometown.
- Serious or funny? Just bear in mind that humour can add a challenge when trying to hold tension.
- Advanced or primitive in magic, technology and power?
What will be the basic theme of your story? Here we have the general basics that underly (most) plots:
- Man Vs Man
- Man Vs Nature
- Man Vs Society
- Man Vs Himself
The World As A Character Pt.1
World building should be treated just like character building. It will define the tone of your story throughout, it will have its flaws, conflicts and its beauty too. Let’s take a step back, forget all the details for now and look at it from a distance. Lets summarise our world. Like an elevator pitch, just its bare bones.
- Who lives there? What monsters, creatures and cultures?
- What treasures, artifacts, secrets and lost history does it keep?
- How is the landscape and its weather?
- What is the tone and feel? Desolate and unforgiving? Lush and paradisal? The mood of the world should carry your story.
Using the above, write a brief for your planet. For example: ‘A dying world, filled with the ruins of a long dead primordial civilisation. A dusty, sun-scorched and desolate planet, with relentless winds and long hot, exhausting days. Even the animals are almost extinct, the ones that are left are giant and predatory sand worms that hide from sight. It feels lonely, sad and angry.’
Pick some of the main towns and areas of your world and do the same with them.
So now let’s start adding some meat to our bones. Does it have:
- A mild or harsh climate?
- A human or sentient population? How old and established is this population?
- Natural resources that benefit the inhabitants? What are there clothes and homes made of?
- A stable agriculture?
- Navigable rivers?
- Mountains, water, desert that closes the world off from other regions?
- Plants that are easily domesticated?
- Animals that are easily domesticated?
- Deadly diseases endemic to the area?
By all means create yourself a crazy, oddball world, but try not to defy logic; the unnaturalness of it will be more noticeable than you realise. It’s important to ask yourself logical questions throughout conception to keep it from distracting and niggling at the player. Here are a few examples:
- Consistency: Keep any speculative elements consistent throughout. For example, in the first Hobbit movie ending, you could have fucken told us before that you had a giant flying eagle, GANDALF.
- Consequences: Consider all of the unintended consequences. Don’t ignore the bad things that would likely happen from a situation because you don’t think it fits. Make sure to have reasons for these things. The background information and conflicts of your speculative element will add richness to your world (note that this doesn’t mean you have to force feed the player with information at the start though).
- Nature: Consider how nature will affect an area or civilisation. I’ll admit this is my weakness as I find it kind of dullsville and not that relevant, personally. But as an example, a mountain will have a dry or rainy side depending on winds from the sea etc.
- Human nature: There will be many complications that arise from power, such as rare magic or a powerful mage. The rare might become hunted, there will be power imbalances or fear mongering. Consider human nature at its ugliest and its best.
- Small things: Weapons and technology, for example. Try to make sure they make sense.
You can also use logic to help your world and its society take shape naturally on its own. Let’s take your speculative element and ask:
- Who will benefit from it? Who could generate money, power or fame from it?
- Who is hurt by it? Who suffers as a consequence?
- What would an evil person do with the potential from this?
- What is the silliest thing that could be done with it?
- What are the moral, political and religious implications?
- Who might be offended by it? How will they resist it?
Aside from fantasy and sci-fi elements defying logic, another common culprit of this is collapsing society or post-apocalyptic settings. More questions!
- Horrors: My very favourite of all while exploring all the screwed up vault experiments in Fallout – what horrible things were done to survive the apocalypse? Did citizens turn on each other?
- Bodies: What happened to the bodies?
- Radiation: Why isn’t there any residual contamination?
- Supplies: Are there supplies lefts? If not, why not?
- Government: Did the governments collapse?
- Survival: What measures were taken to combat annihilation?
- Gameplay: If there are traps, high level items etc, who placed them? Is there anyone who could have placed them?
- Survivors: If there are animals or monsters patrolling, do they have a food source to survive?
- Misc: What sights, smells and sounds still haunt the survivors (if any)?