So, you want to build a fantasy world. Where do you begin? Well, you can start by reading this blog and adding this site to your “Favorites.” This whole site is devoted to the fantasy genre. My name is Matthew D. Ryan, fantasy author and fantasy game designer. By “game,” I mean pen and paper RPG games like “Dungeons and Dragons” or “Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.” I do not mean computer RPG games. I’ve never designed a computer RPG game. Still, I think there would be a lot of carryover from pen and paper RPG games. I have designed, though never published, several different pen and paper RPG games. I’ve, also, self-published several fantasy novels, novellas, and short stories. Both endeavors require considerable worldbuilding. And that brings me to the subject of this, my second blog post on this site. Fantasy worldbuilding. What is it? How do you do it? And where do you begin?
What is Fantasy Worldbuilding?
First, let’s start with “fantasy”. As far as the fantasy aspect of the discussion goes, that denotes the genre of the story. Note, I am using the term “story” to refer to games as well as novels. After all, playing an RPG is very much like participating in a story. So, keep that in mind as you read this blog. Anyway, back to defining fantasy. Fantasy stories incorporate magic, the supernatural (or preternatural), or something, perhaps, equally bizarre. Fantasy worldbuilding is worldbuilding for such stories.
Now, let’s turn our attention to worldbuilding. If you’ve taken high school English, you’ve probably learned about “settings.” That is, the time and location in which a story takes place. In a novel, the author develops the setting; in an RPG, the gamemaster does it. The setting is an integral part to any story. It can influence the development of the story in many ways. It can affect tone, character development, and much more. Worldbuilding is basically the art of developing a setting but on a large scale. London, England could be a setting. Planet Earth, on the other hand, is a world. If a story embraced the bulk of the planet in its telling, that story would require worldbuilding. In other words, worldbuilding is large-scale setting development. Or, perhaps, you could define it as the unification of multiple settings into a single cohesive whole. Earth has London, England and New York City. Both cities can serve as settings, but neither is as expansive as an entire world. If you were worldbuilding planet Earth, you might require both settings. Therefore, you would have to develop both of them. But you wouldn’t stop there. You’d, likely, develop many other settings within the larger framework of the planet.
How Do You Worldbuild?
It’s a lot of work. The task differs depending upon whether you are worldbuilding for an RPG game or for a novel. Unfortunately, I will not address that issue here, but leave it for a later post. Whether RPG or novel, you have to develop multiple smaller-scale settings. Then, you must unify them into that single thing you call your world. Typically, the task involves developing different nations, religions, governmental systems, and such. But that’s only part of it. You also need to make decisions on things like timekeeping, magic systems, and the physical nature of your world. You begin by brainstorming—again, something you learned about in school. You go through topic after topic and write down the various ideas that apply to your world. It isn’t necessarily difficult work. People who want to worldbuild, generally have a lot of ideas on the matter, but it is time consuming and even tedious (I have to develop another culture?).
Where Do You Begin Worldbuilding?
There really isn’t a specific topic or idea you should start on. In fact, you don’t even have to exhaustively develop each topic or idea all at once. That is, you don’t have to follow a linear order or a series of sequential steps. Rather, you can jump around from one aspect to the next. I would even recommend that, as a world consists of a giant web of related topics and ideas. As you add information in one aspect, it may likely cause you to make changes in another. The result is a complicated evolving web of interrelated aspects to your world. Here is an incomplete list of worldbuilding topics and ideas you’ll likely need to address:
- RPG Game or Novel
- Physical Nature of Your World
- Magic, Science, or Both
- Races of Beings
- Influences from Earth
- Moral Concerns
Okay. We’ll leave our post there for the day. Next time, we’ll start discussing the various topics and ideas in the list above. You may not need them all. But we will proceed as if you do. Until next time. Ta-ta!