LESSON The Quick and Dirty World Building Guide

Discussion in 'CREATING WORLDS & SETTINGS' started by Revision, Mar 14, 2012.

  1. The Quick and Dirty World Building Guide

    This guide will take you step by step through creating a world. It is not the most comprehensive guide out there, but it will get you started if you just want a rundown of the basics. Keep in mind, you don't have to keep to this order or even follow all of the steps.


    The Spark. This is normally not a voluntary step, and sometimes it does not even occur. The spark is that initial thought of “This is a good idea! I should do this.” It is accompanied by a burst of inspiration. Whether or not you have this step, you can go on to the others.

    Planning Stage. The planning stage consists of all those wonderful things writers do to get started. This includes but is not limited to brainstorming, free writing, and doodling.

    Listing. This is where you take everything from your planning stage and organize it for later. You now have a rough idea of what you want and can

    Choose a genre/setting. This will help you have a guide post for how you want to develop your world and will also let you and those helping you know what resources will help the most. While you don't have to have a genre, it does help.

    Rough world goals. Write up a list of goals. These are what you wish your world to become, how you currently see it at the outset of the project. It is perfectly alright for these goals to change over time as the world develops.

    Physical World Building. This is where you start to actually build your world. You will be deciding details such as geology and geography of your planet, chemical composition, weather, how many other planets are in the same system, where this world is in relation to others you plan to build, and any natural trauma (such as meteor impacts) your world has gone through in the past. While it is not necessary to know all of this immediately, it will help you prepare for later steps.

    Rough mapping. Take a moment to sketch a map or two. They don't have to be anything detailed, you just need to have a basis for what things look like and where they are in relationship to one another. You can also use a map generator for this and print out the map for later use. Be sure to make at least three print outs if you go that route. You'll need them.

    Determine life. If you are building a world that supports life, what sort will exist on it? Remember that larger organisms generally depend on both smaller organisms and abiotic (non-living e.g. fire or rock) circumstances to survive, so take these into account. If you make a large predator, you are going to have to have prey for it to eat. That prey may eat other animals or may eat plants. Keep things like gut flora, algae, and plankton in mind. Your world may have something similar to them or something vastly different.

    Determine Sentience. Is anything on your world self aware? Is that awareness coupled with intelligence? Make a list of Intelligent species and one of Sentient species. While it is possible to have a less intelligent sentient species or a more intelligent non-sentient species, if you intent to make societies, you are likely to want both criteria to be met by your creation.

    Determine culture. What sort of culture do your societies have? Does this put them in political conflict with one another? Are some peaceful while others conquer? Are they all different species or the same species that has other reasons to break up? Do you have a one world one society setting where everyone is part of the same empire? What sort of political, economical, religious, and medical systems are in place, if any?

    Determine resources. Take one of your maps and make a listing of what area has what resources. Remember to count things like water, easily travel-able or arable land, and high and defensible positions as resources and to also take into account ease of attainability.

    Determine technology. How advanced are your people and how was this influenced by the resources they have? Determine magic as well in this step.

    Determine political boundaries. In addition to what was discussed before, do these boundaries include differing languages? Are they created simply by politics or by landscape, as well? Take into account resources and how they might have influenced politics over time. Map out the current political boundaries, including lands in dispute, on your resource map. Don't forget your oceans. Are there international waters or does one land rule the seas?

    Revise your map. If you haven't printed out a generated map, now is the time to either do so or to draw a more detailed map, complete with geological features, geographic features, political boundaries, migratory paths, roads and resources. You can make this very detailed and do several maps or stick to just one generalized map for now. It is a good idea to have copies of the blank map made just in case you need to start over or have other things you wish to detail.

    Make two timelines. The first should be very general and take into account things like major geological events, world or large area devastators, major changes in political systems, and wars. The second will be a recent and detailed timeline, taking into account changes of leaders, skirmishes, interesting events, progresses in tech, and births and deaths of notable features, as well as any smaller world events that nonetheless impacted the inhabitants.

    Write out a short history for each civilization on your world, including short paragraph bios of any famous rulers, scientists, or other power NPCs.

    Write your hidden history. These are things that the people of the planet may not know about, regarding their own world or neighboring ones. This may be the true origin of the planet, undiscovered creatures, or an entirely extinct dominant species that used to rule.

    Determine dogma. Is your world religious? Is the religion more of a code or set of political rules? Is it an entirely economic dogma? Does science compete with religion or walk hand in hand? Is this an oppressive dogma or a progressive free thought society?

    Determine architecture. Now that you have religion and culture, detail how this has affected how buildings are made. Are your people in huts? Are there elegant cathedral cities some places and areas of squalor and poverty in others? Are all the castles heavily fortified or are they protected by magic and made of crystal?

    Develop languages. You do not have to detail every word, but do develop a general sound, a few key place words and terms, and a general feel for the grammatical set up. You may also want to detail expletives. When in pain, someone is most likely to curse in their native language, after all. If your inhabitants do not know one another's languages, you are likely going to have to develop more of the language than if everyone shares some common knowledge or words.

    Detail present conflicts. Is something going wrong? What is it, where is it, who is it putting strain on? How does it effect economy, religion, science, magic, or politics? How does it effect ecosystems, the food chain, or resources?

    Detail holy days or celebrations. These can make great plot points when you want to utilize your world.

    Determine money, barter, and other economics. Though you have started to do this already, really detail how items change hands. Does your planet have an equivalent to Wall Street? Are there pirates? Is gold worthless there?

    Miscellaneous details. Add in any miscellaneous details that make your world special. You may also want to take this step to detail your capitol cities or other major things that players might encounter, such as magical ley lines or deadly swamps.

    Put it all together. Organize, make two clean maps (one geographic and one political), and write a detailed account of your world and a short summary of that account. You should have a well of resources at this point.

    Name your world. Include all names people use for the world, including offworlder names for it.

    Develop develop develop! As you start to use your world, you may find some things don't work just as you pictured, so feel free to tweak and revise. Most of these details are going to be small, and you may just think of new things to add. If you are running this world for players, try to add in any new stuff in the least disruptive way possible. Try to avoid complete retcons until after the game is finished, and remember to always keep an intact copy of the first world/universe draft. You never know when you might want to revert to that clean slate.