LESSON Jorick's Fantasy Worldbuilding Guide - Part 4

Discussion in 'BUILDING WORLDS' started by Jorick, Jan 20, 2015.

  1. Part 1 - Categorizing Your World
    Part 2 - Creation and Fundamental Forces
    Part 3 - Mapping and Populating Your World
    Part 4 - Crafting Cultures

    Part 4 - Crafting Cultures

    If you've gone through the first three parts of the guide, then you should have a physical world established with a firm idea (or even a concrete list) of what life forms inhabit it. The only thing left to do before your world is ready for actual use is to build cultures around your sapient races. By 'culture' I don't just mean what art and such they produce; I'm talking about everything that sets sapient races apart from non-sapient creatures (above and beyond the obvious biology things). This includes their religious beliefs, their history, their governments, and so on. As far as this guide is concerned, culture is everything that is a product of the higher intellect found in sapient races, because I'm a rebel and I can use secondary definitions of words as I please.

    Culture is arguably the most important part of world building. More than anything else, this is what will likely make or break initial player/reader interest in your world. Having fantastical races for some diversity is all well and good, but if their culture is basically a textbook archetype with no originality then it'll drive a lot of people away. Say you've got a race of humanoids that stand at an average of 8 feet/2.43 meters tall and their puberty equivalent comes when they first slay an animal and they gain physical traits and magical powers related to said animal by absorbing its spirit. Kind of neat, yeah? Take that race, say "they're a bunch of tribes led by their elders and they practice ancestor worship" with no further detail, and you've wasted that potential, because instead of building on the cool idea you've turned it into the one interesting thing about that race. Elder worshiping tribes have been done to death, so you've got to do something more to make that culture actually draw people in instead of making them roll their eyes and walk away.

    Aside from the interest level impact, culture will naturally be the foundation for your characters and plot. All characters should be shaped by the cultures that exist, else they don't really fit in the world. If you've got a character that is basically a Spartan soldier but you've got nothing even remotely similar to Spartan culture in your world, that's a pretty heavy inconsistency. Real people are a product of their environment (before anyone complains, yes genetics play a part in shaping personality and such, but the environment is what determines how those things are expressed), so characters should be too, even in low realism level worlds (unless you're going with something so unreal that basic laws of cause and effect don't apply). The plot will be shaped and driven by characters, and characters should be shaped and driven by culture, thus plot is impacted as well. The villains ought to have motivations that make sense given how they interpret the world due to how culture has shaped them, and the heroes ought to come up with solutions based on the same foundation. It would be strange for a villain born and raised in a military culture with no concept of currency to decide to try to take over the world via economic supremacy, for example. It's all about consistency.

    Two more things before I get into the actual business of the guide. First, I suggest going through all the stuff here in Part 4 of the guide for each of your sapient races at least, and maybe more in depth (say for each nation, or each major city, or even each major faction within a society, just whatever level of division you feel merits individual groups of having their own defined culture). This is because different people in different places will develop different cultures. It sounds super obvious, I know, but it needed to be said just in case; think of it as being the same sort of thing as those "do not use chainsaw on your genitals" sort of warning labels.

    Second, in other parts I've mentioned that doing things in an order other than how I've presented them is fine. That applies here rather heavily. I'm splitting this part into the past and the present, the history of each culture and the modern face of each culture. If you're working on the history and think of some awesome way it could have evolved to something in the modern day, definitely jump to that and write it out so you don't lose it, and same goes for thinking up a neat origin for something in the modern culture. The past and the present should be fairly closely tied together anyway because of consistency: stuff in the past should logically influence how the culture develops into the modern day. Having actual direct links between past events and present circumstances is a great way of making your cultures feel like they actually grew and developed rather than just being thrown together, so jumping back and forth during the creation process to link specific items between past and present is a good thing.

    Okay, now that that's done, on with the show.

    Part 4A - The Past

    As per the usual disclaimer from previous parts of the guide, you can go as detailed or as vague as you want with all this stuff, especially in consideration of things you decide will never need to be known by players/readers. The reason I'm reiterating it here in particular is that world history is a major area I see a lot of people overloading with way too much information in roleplays and books and so on. Throwing a whole history textbook at someone's face to introduce them to your world is not a very good way to go about it. Try to keep that in mind while building up your culture (and world) history, and avoid going into minute details about everything if you can't control your impulses to share all the world information at once.

    Building a culture's history may seem a daunting task, but it's only as hard as you make it out to be. You can end up with a single paragraph worth of information for the entire past of a culture and be fine, or you can end up with pages of information if you choose to get that detailed. It's hard to really cover everything that goes into the formation of a culture without writing a freaking book on it (which people have done, of course; they're called cultural anthropology textbooks), so I'll just be covering some important points and leaving you to fill in whatever blanks you think of that need filling. It can be extremely helpful to make a timeline, either visual or fully textual, to keep things straight and figure out where you might want to add more details to parts of the history.

    Major World Events

    A lot of fantasy worlds will have major earth-shaking events that affect pretty much everyone, like magical cataclysms or gods fighting/dying. There are also major local events that will affect huge regions, like large natural disasters or magical wars. I find it rather helpful to map those major events out before getting into the specific history of any one group, because it helps keep the history consistent across societies and races. Such major things will also very likely cause huge problems and/or changes for the various nations and whatnot of your world, so you can use it as a sort of framework for the growing and changing cultures.

    Such major events can also act as markers for divides between ages or periods of history. Technology level tends to be a common age marker (bronze age, iron age, industrial age etc.) in reality, but major world changing events can work too. For example, let's say all the gods die or magic suddenly appears/disappears. That kind of thing will have huge impacts on the world and mark a new paradigm of history, thus is can easily be classified as a new era for the world. Breaking your overall history into chunks like that can be very helpful to keep things organized, since you can use such a framework to map out your history by deciding what each race/nation/culture had going on in each of those eras.

    Creation Myths and Early Religion

    Back in Part 2 of the guide you were tasked with deciding the factual account of how the world came to be. Unless it was created by a god that remained present and openly active in the world, sapient races would almost certainly come up with their own explanations of how everything came to be, usually with their own race cast as the first or favored or chosen people. It's just one of those things that are common to the intelligent mind, so far as we humans in reality can tell, because such creation myths have been found in all known civilizations and societies. You can probably get away with having fantasy races that lack any such thing, but it'll make them feel fairly alien to the players/readers, so be careful with use of that option.

    So, what creation myths did each race have back before they got organized and civilized? You can be sorta lazy and just come up with one for the whole race, or you can come up with a bunch of variations that would have been thought up by groups of the race living in different regions of the world. The major topics usually covered by creation myths are who/what made everything, how the world (ie all the non-living stuff) came to be, how the race came to be, and how all the other living stuff in the world came to be; sometimes it'll be one big creation orgy that made everything at once, sometimes it'll be a process of one thing being made at a time, and sometimes there'll be the general story for creation and then very specific stories for how certain things or places were created (such as "that big canyon was made when the two brother gods of the earth fought" and so on). Afterlife concepts are also tied with creation myths a lot of the time, but they're by no means a requirement. I find that it can be rather helpful to look at real world creation myths for inspiration when making my own fictional ones, and the internet is a wonderful tool for finding such information, but that is also not a requirement.

    Once you have your creation myth for a race set up, the next thing to do is decide how it actually impacted their lives. What was their early religion like? Single creator figure or pantheon? If pantheon, what did each of them do/represent, how was each one worshiped, and were they all praised equally or not? Were their religious leaders also their overall leaders, or were they secondary authority figures? Were there any specific things that were declared sins, or declared holy or virtuous? How devout were the people on average? Highly devout people are more likely to elevate their religious leaders into positions of power, and they're more likely to heed and follow any rules and laws laid down by their creation myths and religious leaders. Races that aren't very devout are likely to not really care about their own creation myths and just do whatever they want regardless of what their god(s) and religious leaders say. Answers to just those few questions can suffice to wrap up the early religion bit, or you can decide on exactly what rituals were performed and what their holy days were and how people were selected to be part of the clergy, whatever works for you. Also, you may want to map out how it progressed over time at various points in the history, if you want its growth to feel more natural than just have a start and end point mapped out for it.

    Nation Formation

    Your sapient races would not have always been divided into nations, and the nations that existed in the past may not be the same as what exists now. Take a lesson from reality here: villages and towns spring up in free land, someone gets enough followers that they can say they own some area of land and actually back up the claim with force of arms, they decide they're the ruler of the place and the people in it, and voila, a nation is born. Other nations spring up, wars happen, borders change, sometimes nations combine, sometimes they split off into separate nations, so on and so forth. Take a look at this video showing how Europe's political borders changed over the past five centuries for an example of such alterations in progress.

    So, the main question at hand here is how did the modern nations of your world come into being? What was their starting point? Did some strong leader take over a bunch of unaffiliated land and declare himself king? Did they rebel and split off from another nation? Were settlers sent out from some nation to colonize a distant land, then they ended up becoming their own nation? There are other possibilities, but those are probably the most common ones. You may want to get into actual detail about the formation at this point, and in particular you might want to figure out some kind of founding figures for it as well. Societies tend to idolize their founders at least a little bit, so it might be something you'll want to have on hand for patriotic types in the modern day to talk about.

    Aside from the actual act of the nation being formed, you should also consider what kind of government they had. If they're a very devout people with priests as leaders, maybe it was a theocracy. If some bloodthirsty warlord took a bunch of land over and called it a nation, it was probably a dictatorship. Monarchy is also a strong possibility for a variety of founding situations. Governments like democracies and republics are rather unlikely to be present in a forming nation, unless it was formed by a rebel break away or independent colony that came from an already long established nation that used that kind of government. Those sorts of rule by the masses governments usually take time and a lot of social pressure and probably civil wars to form, because generally the very few people in power at any given time are rather unlikely to give up any of that power unless they are forced to, and then they'll give up as little as they can get away with. You can fudge a lot of this stuff with non-human sapient races, but having a warlord carve out a nation for himself and then immediately form a democracy strains credibility quite a bit. Just figure out where they started for now, or you could go ahead and map the original government type all the way out to the current type if you feel like it, but the starting point is most important for the moment. You can leave the stuff in between the start and end points for later if you so desire, or you might not ever bring up those in between times. Whatever works for you.

    Another thing to consider is that nations tend to fall into one of a few categories determined by the main focus of their rulers and people at large. Malkuthe Highwind wrote out a nice explanation of a lot of these types of fantasy cultures. If you have something like that in mind for the modern day version of a nation, then you should probably make their ancestors be into that kind of thing too. Badass warrior societies tend to form from nations with a long history of making war and giving soldiers elevated social statuses; merchant societies that control a huge portion of the world's wealth tend to form from nations with a long history of trade prowess and a strong merchant class coming to power. If you want a nation to be a certain way in the modern day of your world, plant the seeds for it in the history to make it feel consistent and natural.


    Wars can be a huge part of a race/nation/city's cultural identity. Whether they won or lost, being involved in a war is a pretty big event. Lots of resources get used up, lots of people die, land might be gained or lost, and so on. A lot of national pride and cultural feelings about other nations and groups of people stems from the results of wars long past, so figuring out all the big conflicts in a nation's history can (and should) shape the modern situation. They also tend to push a lot of technological innovations as well, since there's a constant struggle to build better defenses and offenses than the enemy. Wars and their aftermath are great places to have social upheavals and changes as well, due to bloody changes in leadership or civil unrest caused by unfavorable outcomes. Basically, wars are awesome catch-all explanations for a lot of things happening in a culture/nation's history. If you want to get a nation from a certain point of origin something in the modern day of the world that is very very different, wars are pretty good way to push them in the directions you want. They don't even have to be a direct participant in war to experience changes either: selling things to one or both sides of a war can greatly boost the merchant class, or fears about warlike neighbors can cause a peaceful farming nation to form an actual army, and so on.

    War is hell, as the saying goes, but honestly wars are more like a blessing for a worldbuilder. They're the Swiss army knife of world history. Make good use of them.


    Another rather important point to consider in a nation's history is what kind of industries it developed early on. They'll develop some kind of food production, obviously, else they would have died out long ago. Odds are pretty good you'll want them to have all sorts of basic industries like lumber gathering and mining and metalworking in order to have basic things like wood and metal weapons and tools. The actual scale of those things will largely be determined by however much access you want to give them to natural resources, because it's hard to gather tons of lumber if there aren't plentiful sources of trees, for instance. These sort of basic necessities don't need to get too complex, and you can easily just go with something lazy like deciding mountainous regions have plentiful metal resources, people near forests have lots of wood, people near the ocean have lots of fish, and so on. Just keep in mind that you should make sure these nations have access to what they need to become what you want them to be in the modern day: if you want a place to be a warrior society, you'll probably want them to have access to a good amount of metal to make weapons/armor; if you want a race to be a bunch of badass seafaring viking types, they ought to be near the ocean and probably do a lot of fishing; if you want some people to be peaceful farmers and master horse breeders, make sure they're in a temperate place that's good for farming rather than a desert or arctic region.

    It gets a little bit complex when you start to consider merchant nations and luxury goods. Many luxury goods (like jewelry with gold and gemstones, fancy fabrics like silk, perfumes, dyes, and spices) require particular natural resources to actually make them, so if you want to get at all detailed in the trade and economy of your world you're going to have to look up where such things come from or can be grown and decide what places/people in your world actually have them and how they would get those goods to other nations. Other luxuries (like very high quality furniture, armor, weapons, and so on) require the existence of craftsmen skilled enough to make them, but that just requires an existing industry that makes those things plus a wealthy class that is willing to pay a lot of money for fancier things. Any large city with a lot of trade could reasonably have master craftsmen of pretty much any type, so there's no need to get complicated there unless you really feel like having certain races/nations be the masters of making a certain type of thing. However you handle the gathering and creation of luxuries, the major thing they're going to impact is trade.

    Trade is most important to merchant cultures, of course, but it can range from helpful to absolutely vital for others, depending on the trade goods in question. Places with little to no trees are going to be almost desperate for lumber, places with shitty food growing conditions but fine sources of meat will want a good deal of fruits and vegetables, and so on. The reason I bring this whole trade thing up now is that newly forming nations will seek out reliable sources of the things they need, so they may very well form long lasting bonds of mutual trade with another nation that could impact the current day environment of the world. When it comes to merchant cultures, luxuries are the kings of trade and should thus be central to their wealth. A lot of the real world economic powers back in the pre-industrial ages were developed around being the main or sole supplier of luxury goods in an area (like Phoenicia, which thrived economically due to its control of sea snails used to produce high quality dyes, or the variety of nations that controlled the flow of silk from Asia into Europe), so that's a fairly good model to base merchant cultures off of. The most important part of the trade process, however, is transportation. Most powerful trading empires were built off of sea trade, because it was so much faster than moving stuff over land and more could be moved at once with less people needed to do the job safely. Trade can be accomplished by land routes only, but the high volume of stuff that merchant powerhouses need to move absolutely requires something better than the ole horse and cart method. If you can enact shenanigans in transportation needs with magic or something then you're fine to have a non-naval merchant culture spring up, but otherwise they really should be based near a large body of water with lots of ships and access to other nations to trade with.

    So, as with the other stuff for your cultural history, pick out things that make some sense to lead to whatever you want the nation or group to be like in the modern day. The level of detail you go into here is all up to you, as usual. You might not even need to bother with caring about actual resources and such if you're never going to delve into trade issues, after all.

    Other Things

    Did I miss anything? Want to get into more detailed stuff like how exactly social classes worked in different times or how women's rights developed over the years? Well, now's the time to figure those things out if you feel the need. Completing all of the above should give you a solid history to work with and build a present day society from, but if you want to fill out the entire foundation instead of just dealing with the pillars I suggested, go for it.

    Part 4B - The Present

    The present situation of the cultures in your world will be extremely important, as you probably already realized. Things going on in the current day of your plot will of course be what players/readers will immediately see, and as such you'll want to make sure what you end up with here is good and consistent with everything that came before. This is what all the previous parts of the guide have been building up to. Once you've got the present day information finished you will have a completed world that may need only a plot and some characters to become a roleplay or novel or whatever you're working on. If you've already got some ideas for those story elements, now is the time to actually weave them into the world, so keep them in mind as you work through it.

    As with building the history, explaining every little detail of crafting a culture for the modern day of your world is just not something that's going to happen in this sort of guide. I'll hit all the major points I can think of (in the form of asking a lot of questions, for simplicity sake), and that should give you a pretty solid culture, but it'll be up to you to spot any holes that exist and fill them as needed. Also as with the history stuff, you should go through most or all of the things in this section for each nation/other important grouping in your world.


    In keeping with the whole spirit of top down worldbuilding, the first thing to consider is the government. How is the nation ruled? There are lots of possibilities, but they mostly fall into one of three categories: rule by a single leader (like absolute monarchy or dictatorship), rule by a small number of people (like aristocracy or plutocracy), and rule by majority (like direct democracy or most forms of republics); anything that doesn't fall into one of those types is probably some kind of anarchy, and anarchy by definition is the lack of a government, so if that's what you choose then you're probably done with this section. After you've picked what the topmost ruling body is like, how is the government structured, who enforces the laws passed down from the ruling body? There might be some kind of ruling council with individual members overseeing certain parts of the government (master of the treasury and so on), or perhaps whole institutions made to manage them (like the Internal Revenue Service of the United States deals with collecting taxes), or maybe the ruling body just delegates tasks more or less at random. Monarchies and aristocracies have things like dukes and counts and barons and the like to rule over chunks of land in their ruler's name, democracies might have things like governors and mayors, or you could make up your own ranks for such things. Law enforcement usually requires some kind of force of arms as well, so now is a fine time to decide how that works; perhaps lords of cities and towns have their own personal guards keep the peace, or there could be some sort of organized body of officers of the law.

    Speaking of the force of arms, military things make up another important piece of the government puzzle. Does the nation have a standing military of some kind, and if so how is it organized? If not, what do they do raise fighters in war time? Perhaps members of the nobility each have a standing force of trained men that make up the main force of the army at need, supplemented with peasant militias and levies, or maybe the nation just pays for mercenaries when the need arises. If magic exists in your world, does this nation make use of it in war? If so, how?

    Once you have the basic framework of the government laid out, the next step is to fill it with actual details. Who makes up the ruling body of the government? You could just come up with some names and basic details now, or you can full character sheets, doesn't matter which way you go for the moment. What exactly is each person in charge of, how powerful are they relative to the others, and how popular are they with the common people? Are there any major group divisions within the ruling body, such as political parties or two strong leaders with their own followers, and if so what are they and how does this conflict impact the governance of the nation? Do any powerful groups other than the ruling body (such as religious organizations or merchant guilds) have a strong influence over the governance of the nation? What is the major focus of the government at this time (military, economy, putting down a rebellion, etc)? What are their current political relations with other nations? Any formal alliances or active wars? Is corruption a major problem in the government, and if so who or what groups are influencing officials and in what way? If magic exists in your world, are there any laws governing its use in the nation and how does the ruling body feel about magic in general? The list of questions could go on for a lot longer, but that ought to serve for all but the most detail oriented of people.


    Religion is almost always a core pillar of a culture, but you can get away with having some irreligious societies. However, even for those ones, religion is probably still present in some form, so going over this section can still be useful if you skip over questions that aren't very important or relevant. If you did the bit about creation myths and early religions in Part 4A, now it's time to use that information and decide how it progressed into the modern day of your world.

    First and foremost, how devout are the people of the nation in general, and in specific among any different racial or social groups? This will determine a lot about how religion affects the society, because of course highly devout societies will give their religion more political influence and care more about their tenets, and the less devout will shunt them off to the side rather than giving them real power. Is there just one religion that pretty much everyone in/from this nation follows, or are there multiple prevalent religions? If there's more than one, I suggest you get answers for each one as you go through the following questions and considerations.

    What god/s is/are worshiped by the religion? Are there any messiah figures? Any prophet types, saints, or religious leaders of the past that are still revered today? Any evil gods or other bad entities that are reviled? Is there some kind of holy text or verbally passed on holy words that guide the religion, and if so who/what was the source and what do they say (generally or specifically as you like)? Has the religion stayed true to its root creation myths or has it deviated, and if so how? Does this religion speak of some kind of afterlife, and if so what is it like? Are there separate afterlives for different people, and if so what are the criteria for joining them (sinners to punishment land, fallen warriors to Valhalla, etc)? Are there any sins for followers of this religion, and if so how are the punished and/or absolved? What acts or traits are set forth as holy or virtuous? What are believers supposed to do about non-believers and heretics? Are there any holy days, and if so what are they about? What kind of rituals are done to worship the god(s)? If magic exists in your world, what does the religion say about it? That ought to be enough to flesh out the beliefs of the religion, but as always you're free to get even more in depth with it.

    Next comes the organizational stuff. Is there some organized body for this religion, or is it just a matter of personal faith? If it's a personal thing with no organization, none of the following questions should be relevant. Is there some single leader of the organization, or is it lead by a council or group of some kind? Who exactly makes up the leadership of the religious organization? How is everything organized under the leadership? How does the organized religious body feel about and treat non-believers and heretics, and does that actually match what the religious tenets espouse? What sort of buildings or meeting places do they use, and when and how often do religious services take place? If the organization has any power or influence on the government, how much and what is the nature of that influence? Maybe the government is a theocracy so the government leaders are picked from religious leaders; perhaps the autocratic ruler has a spiritual adviser from the religion; maybe there are just some very religious elected officials that listen to the clergy; maybe the organization makes heavy bribes. Does the religious organization have any noteworthy economic power, and if so just how rich is it? How strong is the religious organization's influence on the average people (largely determined by level of devoutness of the people)? If magic exists in your world, how does the religious organization feel about it?

    Answering all of that is probably a bit of overkill if you're not planning to have religion play a large part of your plot, but I'll just leave it as is for anyone who might find it useful. On to the next bit.


    Next on the list of major pillars of a society is the economy, in which I'm also including industry in general. A lot of this will feel like a rehash of the industry section from Part 4A, so if things haven't changed much you can just copy whatever you came up with for the past stuff. Also, a lot of this stuff isn't going to be very important to have detailed information on unless you plan to have the economy or merchants play a large part in your game or story's plot, so much of this can easily be skipped over if you have no such plans.

    What kind of foods are grown/harvested in this nation? Do they have enough of any kind that they export it, and where to? What kind of foods are imported, and where from? How abundant are natural resources like wood and iron (the sort of basic necessity resources for even medieval level society)? Are there any natural resources that this nation is said to have the highest quality or quantity of it in the world? Do they export a lot of these necessity resources, and if so where to? Is this nation lacking in any such basic necessities? Are any of these basic necessities imported in large amounts, and if so where from? What kind of non-luxury crafted goods (furniture, clothing, weapons, armor, etc) are made in high enough quantities and/or qualities in this nation to be a major export item, and who buys them? What kind of luxury goods are harvested/crafted in this nation, and do they export a lot of them, and if they do who buys them? What kind of luxury goods are imported, from where, and how much? That all covers a good cross section of goods and trade relationships with other nations, but there are some structural and mechanical things to consider as well.

    What methods of transportation are used for trade in this nation? Do they use a barter system, or do they have a currency? If currency, what exactly is it and what are the units of it? How wealthy is this nation compared to other nations of the world? Is the merchant class of the nation very big, or is the trade controlled by a select few? Are there any merchant guilds? Does the merchant class have any strong influence over the government, and if so what is the nature of the influence (rich guys elected to rule, bribes, etc)? How prevalent is smuggling, and what are the most popular smuggling items? Is there much of a black market in this nation? Are there any illegal goods that are mainly acquired through these shady means? If magic exists in your world, how does it affect industry (such as less need to make weapons and armor because powerful wizards do all the fighting, or magic portals to transport goods)?

    And that does it for the economy, so it's time to talk tech.


    Not only is technology an important part of any culture, it's also a sort of categorizing factor for fantasy. A lot of subgenres (particularly the bevvy of <thing>punk ones) are largely defined by certain kinds of technology. If you picked out one of those way back in the first part of the guide, congrats, you've finally made it to the point where it's relevant. The two main sticking points for fantasy technology are magic and gunpowder. Dealing with gunpowder is just a matter of answering a few questions. Have any people in your world created gunpowder? If so, how advanced have they gotten with its usage? What kind of weapons, if any, have been made with gunpowder? How common are they? The level of gunpowder weaponry in your world (if any) can be a great benchmark for other tech; for example, if you decide you want flintlock weapons then you can look them up and find that in reality they were first made in the early 1600s, so for other bits of technology you can go look up what existed in the early 1600s and keep things around that level. If you decide you don't want any gunpowder weaponry in your world, in reality they first started being used widely in the middle of the 1400s, so you could perhaps keep your technology levels in other areas to that time period or earlier.

    Magic is a different beast altogether. Depending on how magic actually works in your world and how common it is, it might not impact technology much at all. If it requires a ton of practice to learn even basic things and lots of preparation to do even basic magic, then it might not be able to match technology for getting basic jobs done. However, if it's pretty easy and/or very common, you should strongly consider how it would affect the development of technology. If one in every five people can use magic well enough to fight with it, why would there be any need to develop weapons and armor for non-magical combat? If magic can be used to transport people long distances with ease, why would anyone bother trying to make more reliable boats? If magic can be used to manipulate plants and trees to form buildings without much effort, why would people make the effort of figuring out how to build complex structures with non-magic tools? This stuff is something that a lot of fantasy worldbuilders never seem to really consider, and it frequently ends up making magic feel inconsistent with the rest of the world; having tons of people who can shoot giant fireballs out of their hands and level forests with a thought doesn't really fit in with realistic medieval military organization and weaponry, because why the hell build catapults when you can get Merlin to pop a hole in the enemy's walls instead? All this complication comes in even before considering whether or not magic can be blended with technology, either as a fuel source or to enhance or enchant objects, which is another can of worms entirely. My suggestion here is that for every choice you make on technology stuff, consider whether or not magic users in your system could do the job as good as or better than that object, and if so you ought to either explain why there's still a need for the item to exist (rarity of magic users, perhaps) or scrap it and say people just use magic to accomplish the task.

    So, sticking points out of the way, time for the question barrage. What kind of land transportation does this nation have and use? What kind of sea transportation? What kind of air transportation, if any? What sort of metals do they have access to? Iron, steel, and various fantasy metals like mythril tend to be the major ones mentioned in fantasy worlds. What kind of weapons can/do they make? What do they have going on in the realm of bows, longbows, crossbows, and repeating crossbows? What sort of swords, polearms, and blunt weapons? What is the quality of their weapons on average compared to other nations? What kind of armors do they make? Some common types, ranging from generally least protective to most, are padded cloth, plain leather, studded leather, chain mail, scale mail, plate mail, and full plate. What is the quality of their armor on average compared to other nations? What kind of siege weaponry can they make? Ladders and rams are pretty much the basic standard, then there are siege towers, then artillery like catapults, trebuchets, and ballistae. What is the quality of their siege weaponry on average compared to other nations? Aside from all the war and fighting related stuff, here's a nice list of major inventions [and when they were invented in brackets like these, for comparison sake] that you can decide whether or not your nation has invented: optical lenses (for glasses and/or telescopes) [13th century], printing press [1430s], steam engines [1712], the compass [12th century], the sextant (mainly used to navigate by the position of stars) [1757], mechanical clock [15th century], paper money [late 1600s Europe, early as 9th century China]. Other than that, if you're not sure something should exist in your fantasy world because you don't know how advanced it is compared to other pieces of technology, the internet has plenty of information available if you're willing to take the time to do the research.


    Although they're not exactly a major necessary part of building a culture, folklore and superstitions can do a lot to make them feel like real, living entities rather than a bland list of traits on a page. I like to split folklore into categories of hero tales and other stories, because the hero tales tend to be their own brand of folklore with a lot of stories featuring that hero whereas the other stories are generally one off allegories or fables. These are by no means the only parts of folklore, just the most potentially important ones.

    Cultural heroes can come in a variety of flavors. Fearless leaders, cunning generals, clever rogues, and daring warriors all excite the imagination of the people. They inspire the average chumps to try to do more with their life, to be better and smarter and stronger than before, and as such they're nice for a culture to have. The kinds of people who get made into cultural heroes tend to say a lot about that culture, so they can act as nice quick ways of showing what a certain group of people value without saying "this race is <adjective>, <adjective>, and <adjective>." A lot of these culture heroes spring up from people who actually existed in the nation's history, war heroes and political leaders and the like. For a real world example, one of the major cultural hero figures of the United States is George Washington, the first President of the country; common stories (not necessarily true stories, mind you) told about him include a tale of how when he was a young boy he cut down his father's favorite cherry tree and then did not lie about it when his father asked if he did it, and how he was offered a crown and kingship of the United States but refused it and stepped down from leadership after he had served as President for the maximum number of years outlined in the Constitution. These could be taken to show that people of the United States generally value honesty, integrity, democracy, and the rule of law; some of you with a negative view of Americans may be laughing about that, and honestly I chuckled at it too, but remember that these are ideal virtues, not ones that are strongly followed. Not all heroes need come from real people, however. Completely mythic figures (such as King Arthur, who may not have existed at all and whose legendary stories are certainly complete fiction) can also show cultural values in the same way as real people that get idolized. If you want to give your nation a culture hero and don't have anyone neat from your history to use, just make someone up and have people believe he's real, it's all the same in the end as far as your fictional world goes.

    Folklore tales not revolving around a particular hero are rather useful because they can act as full on fables and allegories instead of pretending to be telling of true historical events, complete with the moral lesson stated outright at the end. Go read some of Aesop's Fables for many fine examples. These kinds of stories both aid in shaping the values of a culture (or at least what they say they value) and add some flavor to it. A fictional culture won't feel very fleshed out by some guy saying "we hate thieves around here." On the other hand, consider someone from that culture telling a story about a young man who stole things and got body parts cut off one by one for each theft until he had no hands or feet left, no ears or nose, and only one eye, and by the time he realized he had destroyed himself with his own actions he had already main himself into criminal scum in the eyes of everyone around him, so he slowly starved to death because he couldn't acquire food for himself and nobody would take pity on him and help him. That story would add a bit of spice to the nation's culture by making the explanation of the value entertaining, and that can greatly help it feel closer to real. The main goals of crafting a fantasy race's culture should be to make it interesting as well as working for whatever plot stuff you have in mind, and having these kinds of neat little tidbits to bring up at relevant times can do a lot to make them interesting.

    Other folklore things can include superstitions and old wives' tales and proverbs and jokes and bogeyman type figures mothers use to scare their children into behaving and so on. There's a whole bunch of stuff that goes into it. The more you think up and show off for each individual culture, the more they're likely to feel like real cultures. However, as with other parts of worldbuilding information, you should probably not slam all this stuff out early on just to get it out there. Folklore is best used when spread out over time, to give new insight here and there while also keeping the culture's particular quirks alive in the mind of players/readers.

    Arts and Entertainment

    The art produced by a culture tends to be one of the big things used to tell them apart in reality, but it rarely seems to mean much in fantasy. You can get away with being extraordinarily lazy with this part and just throw in generic high class artsy stuff wherever it's needed, but if you want to actually get detailed information for each nation then here are some questions for you. First off, what kind of music does the nation make? What instruments and styles are preferred, and which are considered low class and high class? What kind of visual arts are common in this nation? Paintings and sculptures are two major categories worth considering in depth. Does the nation have any acting/theater presence, and if so how common is it? Do the people of this nation care much for foreign art styles, or are they snooty about their own being superior?

    Entertainment is pretty closely paired with some of the arts, so they can go in a section together. For the following slew of questions you should consider what kind of entertainment of each type is available to the wealthy and powerful and what kind is available to the general public; sometimes it'll all be public, but other times maybe there are special entertainment venues that the unwashed masses aren't allowed in. How common are pubs, taverns, and other drinking locations? How common is it for them to have some kind of performer for entertainment, and what kinds do they prefer (singers, storytellers, jugglers, etc)? Do they commonly hire someone to be the entertainment full time, or do they just pay traveling musicians or bards or whatnot for their services when available? What sort of gambling is popular in the nation? Do brothels exist in this nation, and if so how common are they? Are there many professional ladies of the night that aren't tied to brothels, and if so how common are they? Does the nation have any kind of organized animal races? Is there any organized fighting that goes on for entertainment? If there is, what is it like? Maybe it's convicts fighting, maybe free men choosing to fight for gold and glory, maybe they hold animal fights, or a variety of other options. Are there any fancier entertainment venues like theaters, opera houses, or concert halls? What kind of individual traveling performers are common in this nation? Are there any large groups of traveling entertainment that visit this nation, such as circuses or acting troupes? How frequently are traveling entertainers seen in various parts of the nation?

    As per the other sections, figure that stuff out at your own leisure and level of detail, then onward we go.

    Other Things

    Unlike the identically named section for Part 4A, I actually have worthwhile things to put here.

    While aesthetics are ostensibly an art thing, there are some aspects of it that don't quite fit there. That's what this chunk of questions is concerned with. What sort of physical features are considered attractive in this nation, and what is considered unattractive? What is the common style of dress for various social classes, and what is currently considered highly fashionable? What do buildings tend to look like in this nation? Has the architectural style changed much over time, and if so what stuff is old and what stuff is new and fashionable?

    Then there are some other various tidbits that didn't make sense to fit into other sections that are kind of general culture things. How do the common people generally feel about other nations? If there are multiple sapient races in your world, how does each of the races present in this nation feel about the others present in the nation and elsewhere in the world? What are civil rights like in the nation? Common topics of interest here include women's rights, opinions of homosexuality, whether or not slavery is allowed, and the possible existence of any second-class citizen groups that are less protected by the law than others. Are there different languages in your world? If so, who speaks what languages and what do they sound like to those who don't speak it (like how German sounds angry and aggressive and Spanish sounds quick and smooth)? If there are multiple languages, how do people tend to communicate to get around the language barrier? Maybe they just deal with translators, maybe there's a trade tongue cobbled together from the various languages, or maybe there's some language that became highly common due to an old huge empire spreading it everywhere like an STI. If magic exists in your world, how is it commonly viewed by the people?

    And that's about it. Fill in any gaps that you notices that I didn't ask questions to cover, and you've got a workable modern culture. If you've done all the other stuff as well, then congrats, you've got a finished world!

    Part X - Review, Revise, Repeat

    Okay, I know I just implied that you're done, and I know I said earlier on that creating the modern cultures of your world was the final part of worldbuilding, but I kind of lied. That's just the final part needed to get a complete product, not necessarily the last thing you'll want to do before putting the thing into use. This step, the revision step, is the ephemeral final part of worldbuilding that may go on forever, or maybe just a few minutes. Rare is the person who undertakes the task of building a world and is totally satisfied with their first draft. It's always a good idea to go over your world and make sure everything actually fits together in a way that you like. I've found that it's rather helpful to leave a project alone for a week after finishing it, just to get out of the creator mindset and soften any emotional attachments you've got going on with it, then come back and look at it with a critical eye to see if anything is inconsistent or goes against whatever you intended for the world. Getting others to review your work and give opinions on it can also be a handy tool for revision, since a new perspective might bring up problems or questions that you hadn't considered yourself; the Worldbuilding Help & Development area is a nice place to fish for feedback if you don't have any friends or family that you feel like turning to for help.

    To boil it down to the basics, just keep working with your world until you're satisfied with it. Don't just scrap a world because it doesn't turn out exactly how you wanted it; you should instead try to identify the problems and fix them. Building a world is not a simple and clean process, so it should come as no surprise if your world doesn't turn out perfect on the first go. Keep at it as long as it takes to make it shine, and don't be discouraged if it takes a while. Rome wasn't built in a day, as the saying goes, and I guarantee you that amazing fantasy worlds like those found in book series such as The Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time, and A Song of Ice and Fire weren't built in a day either.

    Guide Afterword

    Regardless of your revision status, if you've gone through this whole guide and written information down for each section along the way, then you've built yourself a world. Maybe you've got a single page worth of info, or maybe you've got enough to make even this grotesquely large post seem miniscule in comparison. Either way, you done good kid. Few people can truly say they've built an entire fictional world, and now you're one of them. Congrats.

    Actually putting that world into use falls beyond the purview of the Worldbuilding Guild, but fear not, Iwaku has you covered. The Roleplay Institute has many fine guides on creating plots and characters, and plenty of them can be applied to non-roleplay uses despite the section name. Good luck with whatever you're doing with this world of yours, and here's hoping it receives all the love and admiration it deserves.

    As with the other parts of this guide, feel free to comment or ask questions in the thread. Thanks for reading, and hopefully you got some good use out of it.
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  2. All of these guides that you have made that I have seen so far are painstakingly detailed and precise, well done!
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  3. I've never seen such a detailed and lengthy guide, wow. Like seriously, not only did you make an amazingly good guide, which will without doubt benefit how I build worlds, but you managed to seperate it into four different guides.

    That kind of scale, that kind of quality, is what makes this something very special. Going to use this when I plan a roleplay, definitely.
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