3 Essential Elements for Fantasy Worldbuilding: Institutions, Nations, and Monsters

It’s time for another post on fantasy worldbuilding in both novels and pen and paper RPG games. Nothing too earth-shattering just me rambling as I always do.

In my last post, we discussed several topics and ideas most often incorporated in the fantasy worldbuilding of novels and pen and paper RPG games. As noted in that post, many of the ideas involved are shared, but many also differ in subtle, nuanced ways.

As before we will discuss three general topics subdividing each one into separate subtopics on fantasy novels and pen and paper RPG games.

Fantasy Worldbuilding and Institutions

I’m not sure if there is a precise technical definition of the term “institution” but what I mean when I use the term is, roughly, “A collection of people of indeterminate number gathered together for a common purpose.” On modern Earth the FBI and the UN would be examples of institutions.

In a fantasy setting, an institution might be a Wizards’ College, a Sages’ Library, or a Thieves Guild. That last, of course, is likely only known in the “underworld” but that’s fine. There is no reason why an institution need be officially sanctioned by a government.

Pen and Paper RPG’s

When developing an institution for a pen and paper RPG the level of detail needed is determined, to a certain extent, by the expected level of interaction the institution will have with the party of player characters.

For example, one probably wouldn’t need details of the spell capabilities of the head wizard of a Wizards’ College unless the players were going to be pitted against said college and likely come to blows. Failing such, you can probably get away with just the head wizard is powerful or a 20th level wizard or what-have-you.

A Thieves Guild, on the other hand, would probably require details down to the most granular level. You will likely need all the stats on all the thieves.


Institutions in novels are another area where the level of detail is completely determined by the author and the story’s needs. Generally speaking, the interaction between the “party” and the institution happens at a more qualitative level instead of quantitative. You won’t need to know the Thief Lord’s stats in a novel as dice-controlled combat never comes into play.

In all likelihood, the “party’s” level of interaction with a Wizard College and a Thieves Guild would be the same: incomplete because it is controlled entirely by the needs of the story. A minor thief henchman who has no role in story need never be developed.

Fantasy Worldbuilding and Nations

In a lot of ways, fantasy worldbuilding for nations is very similar to fantasy worldbuilding for cultures (described in the previous post) as most nations are either an entire culture themselves, subdivided into a number of distinct cultures, or a part of a larger multi-national culture. The point is that, like a culture, certain geographical considerations come into play.

At a certain level, there may be a great deal of interplay between a nation being developed and the culture/s present within its confines. Each may influence the other sometimes in mundane ways, other times in a quite startling fashion.

Pen and Paper RPGs

Nations in pen and paper RPGs are usually developed only superficially just because the massive scope of such a thing makes granular development a monumental task. The worldbuilder will probably list the nation in question, describe its major cities, the races that populate it, the cultural influences, and provide a few other details.

Unless it’s a commercial product it will probably be only a handful of pages. Adventures in cities of that nation will probably be run by gamemasters who largely “wing it” using the information from worldbuilding as mere guidelines.


Again, development of a nation in a novel will be as detailed and as granular as the story requires. The worldbuilder may wind up writing fifty pages on one nation and only two on another because the characters in the story may spend a large amount of time in the first nation and merely pass through the second.

Knowing this as he or she writes the book, the author need only develop the material that he or she needs to complete the story. Nothing more. Nothing less.


Monsters are the bread and butter of a fantasy world. No fantasy worldbuilding is complete without some effort being put into the development of a cast of monsters be they orcs or goblins, trolls or ogres, or, perhaps even, the mighty dragon.

As the fantasy genre matures, the number of monsters that worldbuilders have produced has exploded. Naturally. There are many fantasy enthusiasts these days each with their own collection of self-developed critters they like to throw at their characters.

Pen and Paper RPG

Worldbuilding for fantasy pen and paper RPGs usually involve the development of a vast number of monsters. The more, the merrier. This is because pitting different monsters with different abilities against the characters in session after session is a great way to add novelty and excitement to each gaming session.

But in an RPG the monsters must be fully developed. You can’t get away with a three sentence description because unlike most of the other aspects of the fantasy world, monsters usually require stats because encounters with them form the backbone of the game.


Developing monsters for fantasy novels is profoundly different than it is for pen and paper RPGs. This is because there are no dice in a normal novel so there is no need to create stats. The monster sheet consists of a purely literary description. It is as powerful or as weak as the author wishes it to be.

A lucky puny goblin could slay the most powerful knight if such was the author’s whim. There is another difference as well: quantity. It is, in my opinion, a bad idea to develop a large number of monsters for any single given novel, particularly if the monsters are fantastical and magical. Why? Because it might be too difficult for the reader to keep track of them if there are too many.

I would recommend limiting the population of new monsters to maybe five per novel, certainly no more than ten—unless you want your precious monsters forgotten within twenty minutes of having the book put down. This, of course, does not hold true with RPGs.


Well, there you go. We discussed, in brief, fantasy worldbuilding of institutions, nations, and monsters. Most of the information I gave is readily evident with a little bit of thought but I hope you derived some benefit. Until next time. Ta ta.

Published by atoasttodragons

The author, Matthew D. Ryan, lives in northern New York on the shores of Lake Champlain, one of the largest lakes in the continental United States, famous for the Battle of Plattsburgh and the ever-elusive Lake Champlain Monster, a beastie more commonly referred to as Champy. Matthew has studied philosophy, mathematics, and computer science in the academic world. He has earned a black belt in martial arts.

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