Topics and Ideas for Fantasy Worldbuilding in Novels and RPG Games (Part IV)

Fantasy Worldbuilding

Ugh. When was the last time I posted here? What? Like two years ago almost now. Well, let’s at least wrap up my series of posts on general topics and ideas for fantasy worldbuilding in novels and RPG games.

Today, I’m going to discuss the relationship between fantasy worlds and the “real” world. In other words, how much is a fantasy world like the real world and vice versa. These days, I like to tell myself that we don’t live in a “D & D world.”

Let me explain.

Influences from Earth

As all of us gamemasters, players, authors, and readers alike have grown up on this remarkable little planet called Earth, we have all been significantly influenced by the lives we have led here. Naturally, the worlds we create while worldbuilding have been influenced by our real-life experience on Earth. But, the reverse is also true, to a certain extent.

I am not saying that our imaginary worlds influence the real world itself around us, but, rather, they influence us and how we experience the world as we explore it. It’s kind of a feedback loop.

Pen and Paper RPGs

Magic, for example, is the lifeblood of virtually every fantasy RPG. There are wizards and witches and spell-wielding monsters galore. Naturally, much of this is derived from the myths and legends of bygone ages here on Earth.

In the Medieval era, most of the Western real-world population believed in the power of witches and magical creatures like dragons, elves, and fairies. The Arabic culture gave birth to the notion of jinn. Stories of the vampire and similar such creatures can be found in various cultures across the globe.

And then, there are the various pantheons of deities from Zeus of the Greeks to Odin of the Norsemen, and many, many more.


Oddly enough, the only religion I’ve never seen a parallel for in gaming is Christianity. This is not true for novels. Tad Williams’ “Sorrow, Memory, and Thorn” series had a Christ figure in Usires Aedon and a corresponding equivalent to the Catholic Church. I’ve never seen that in a pen & paper RPG – of course, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist – I’ve just never encountered it.

Regardless, just like RPGs, the development of a novel is significantly influenced by life here in the real world. Often in ways you won’t expect. This includes things like the length and divisions of calendars, the types and passing of seasons, and a host of other issues. At a certain level, some things have to come from this world.

Unless you are a master linguist like J.R.R. Tolkien, you really don’t have the ability to invent your own language/s (he did with his Elvish language). So, you will most likely fall back on the language of your own culture. For example, I have written several fantasy novels and, naturally, all of them, used the English language.

In many fantasy novels, authors will sprinkle a few words or phrases from a made-up magical or fantastical language but, and I include myself in this, the corresponding words usually sound crude and made up themselves. Because of his linguistic skill, J. R. R. Tolkien’s Elvish is probably the one and only exception to this.


Back in the 1990’s, I think, Tipper Gore (the wife of Al Gore) was very concerned about the influence of AD & D on the moral character of the young. At the time, I, like many other people my age, were very much “into” the game. I, like many others, dismissed her concerns. After all, D & D was just a harmless, made-up game.

Since that time. I watched one friend become a witch (i.e. Wiccan) and another become a pagan. Both of my then-friends were free to do so, of course, but I do wonder about the influence D & D played in their respective conversions to such religions.

In any event, there’s more to morality than just a choice of religion. Both of my friends were good people and I hardly expect them to start ritually sacrificing children underneath a blood moon or something.

However, I do think the possibility of influence by a steady fantasy diet is there. Although, in the case of adults, that’s totally on them, parents of younger children might want to be a little better informed about certain RPG games.

Pen and Paper RPGs

A demon worshiper, for example, is often presented as an adversary to the players in an RPG game. However, the rules of some systems do allow a player character to actually worship demons and gain corresponding power. Depending upon your belief in whether demons actually exist or not, you might not want your children playing said game.

Back in the 90’s, I would have scoffed at you for doing such. Now, some 30+ years later, I think I’m on your side in that debate. I remember an adventure, years ago, where one of the PCs started worshiping Demogorgon. I think we were like 16 years old, at the time. I didn’t think much of it then. But now … yeah, I don’t think that’s healthy.


Novels, I think, are a little safer than RPG’s in this respect. This is because the reader is simply a consumer. He/she simply follows the story along. Neither he/she actually chooses anything in the novel (except in a which way book). Although they may identify with a character, the barrier between reality and fantasy is a trifle bit thicker.

Still, many people and parents have concerns about exposing their children to certain books. And they have every right to be so concerned. Some parents don’t want to have their children reading books about demons, demon-worshiping (like my own books, for example) or books graphically describing sex and such. Or violence or theft or whatever.

And if it is their kids, I think they are well within their rights to be so concerned. And that should be obvious. Some books, games, and other activities may be fine for adults, but ill-advisable for children. You might be able to solve this issue by giving ratings or age-recommendations for books (that’s the route I took for my own, although in hindsight, I might have been better off adding 2 or 3 more years to my cutoff), but I’m not sure how to solve it when it comes to gaming.

Anyway, that’s my two cents on a very old debate. And so, I finish my starting post. Two years after I first started it. Next week (I hope), I should have a completely different post topic.

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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