Little bio on me: I was tested as a genius in first grade. So instead of continuing to allow me to disrupt the class (because I was always done first and bored), they sent me off to play chess against fifth graders. I learned to program around the age of 11. I say this because I see the world as a chess game, as a massive series of if/then/next nested loops. In other words, I believe that everything that happens, happens as a result of something else.
That’s why I like this approach to world building. I’ve brushed on it in other posts, but I believe this one might explain it best. Assuming I am right and nothing happens in a vacuum, every settlement, every town, every country; they are where they are due to something else happening. What do I mean? I will use Fletnern for my examples. Check out the wiki if you want to learn more.
There are a number of centaur settlements on the eastern coast of Drentae. The centaurs were brought to Drentae from Koaluckssie as slaves (by the elves, but that is a whole other story!). In their homeland, there had been a legend/myth that the centaur god instructed them to “follow the setting sun” (that’s east in Fletnern) when threatened. So escaped slaves and later those released during the abolitionist movement fled to the east, as their myths told them to do. When they smelled the sea air, something primal in them was triggered and they knew this is what their god wanted for them. So they settled down. Centaurs: origin = Koaluckssie, current home = Eastern Plains - explained.
The Southern Point Citadel was an attempt by well-meaning humans to stem the tide of orcish/goblin expansion north. The orcish expansion was simply the result of a fairly consistent peace amongst the Wembic Empire that allowed the tribes to grow and therefore need more land. The Citadel was in some respects a civil crusade and attracted many of the lesser sons of Velesan noble families (again, thriving and expanding due to a relative peace). When various disorganized raids did not stop the citadel from being built, the Wembic Empire took coordinated actions. They restocked the Fortress Vonastog, which had lain all but dormant for decades. With a base of operations, the orcs were able to field far more efficient raids against the Southern Point Citadel, including all but destroying the citadel twice. So why is there this “cold war” between the Velesans and the orcs, with this one isolated spot of open violence? Because both sides are able to shift their hot heads into open battle here without risking all out war. Both sides hope to eventually win, but for now, there is this one “hot zone” surrounded by relative peace. There’s also the whole orc part in the taking of Parnania a Velesan city that helped to fuel the furor of the humans, but that’s mostly propaganda at this point.
This is a no brainer, right? Why are these people here? Because there was too much peace and they thrived, or a natural disaster and they fled, or a war and they got pushed out. The history of Europe is filled with these population movements (especially during the Roman vs. barbarian eras). You can easily justify why people are where they are because of their history. If you don’t do this, you get a world that feels hodge-podge. Sometimes it is better to know what really happened and then make up lies that the people think. No one wants to think that they live in a beautiful valley because they use to live on a beautiful shore, but someone beat them in a war and they were forced to move. They want to pretend that it was all their idea in the first place. Hey, some of those centaurs I mentioned earlier believe that they just followed the instructions of their god. They forget the whole - fleeing slavery thing, and the elves don’t want to remind anyone that their cities were built by slave labor, so they help the lie along.
So what do you do? Start developing your world and world history from the dawn of civilization? You don’t have to. There’s nothing wrong with looking at your world as it is and starting to ask some questions: Why are the centaurs there? Why is there a human fortress there? Why are those guys living on the edge of a swamp? Depending on how developed your world is, you may see obvious answers, or you may start creating some really cool retcon. In either case, the farther you go the more things will just snap into place. I love it when a plan comes together!