Maybe you don’t get the reference in the title. This ain’t World Building 101! If that’s what you’re looking for, there are countless guides out there on the internet.
But if you’re ready to move on to things that are more difficult to do than draw a map, name and place cities, and possibly figure out where the elves live, you are in the right place. We don’t focus on the most beginner stuff, because both the folks at Board Enterprises and our customers have been at this for some time. Most of us have been at this for decades. World Building 101 isn’t for us.
Publisher’s Note: If WB 101 is for you, then please go find several of them, experiment, learn, and then come back. Everybody needs to start somewhere, but this article isn’t going to help you unless you have a world that has already established the beginning pieces.
So, what is it we wanted to talk about, now that we’ve scared all the youngsters off? Repercussions! Everything in life has repercussions. This is also true of your game world. Every decision you make, every city you place, every cultural note you jot down - they all have repercussions. But here’s the trick: That’s wonderful!
Here’s why: Everything that you have figured out for your world is going to naturally lead to other things. Let’s take what seems to be a reasonably common FRPG world building decision: There are magical universities. Seems fairly normal in a game world, right? OK, but what are the ramifications? Let’s list out some of them:
- There needs to be support industries for the school(s). How do they get their books? Do they need paper of some kind, and how is that done? Where do the students live while attending school?
- What magic do they teach? Are their individual schools for different types of magic, or is there just one big school? If big, is it sub-divided into different colleges or departments?
- Are there magics they don’t teach? If so, why not? Are they banned? Are they so rare that there aren’t enough teachers? Are they simply not popular in this culture?
- What happens to the dropouts? Some students won’t be smart enough to cut it. What happens to them? Some students cannot afford it. What happens to them? These should be two completely different types of people. The flunkies probably cannot use magic but are not complete idiots (one would assume). Meanwhile those without the money to continue probably can use magic, but only know the basics. Are these your adventuring wizards?
- What do the graduates do? Is there so much work for battle mages that they can all go into the army or navy? Are they only learning battle magics? This typically is a game rules issue. If 95% of the spells in the rule book are there to harm others (OK, 90% cause damage and 5% heal it), then wizards are only good for killing other folks. That has repercussions as well!
This is just the start, but this is how we think you should be thinking. You put the dwarves there, why? Probably because there were mountains. And the elves went there because of the forests. OK, that’s actually fine, but there are going to be these repercussions. Who are the dwarves near? Do they have good relations or are they typically at war? Whichever it is will have consequences.
You may have placed a city on a major river because that makes good sense. Who is upriver and who is downriver? What consequences do these placements have? Trade probably goes in both directions, but it is much easier when it flows downriver. What are these places trading with each other? If the cattle ranches are upriver, their tanneries are going to cause problems for those downriver. Or did you think of that, and they drive the cattle downriver to where you placed the tanneries? That has consequences too, because now the cattle are roaming across certain areas. Has that caused issues with the local farmers?
Hopefully you see what we’re doing. It is the seemingly simple “take a step back” method. But this is incredibly difficult to do with something that you created basically from nothing. It’s why even seasoned authors leave plot holes. Looking at something you have created and thinking about it critically is tough! But this isn’t bad criticism.
We really want you to go into this with the thought of, “This is really cool, and it is really shaping up. What can I do next?” If you just go at it working to create more, you will eventually burn out and get writer’s block. If you look at it from the angle of thinking about certain aspects of what is already there and what is the next logical step, it can be so much easier to continually grow your world.
But we also want to warn you. This style of looking at what you have created and then determining the logical repercussions of those creations brings the risk of the mundane. When you think logically, you tend to come up with non-fantastic, non-epic things. Too many normal things in your fantasy world and it risks not seeming like a fantasy world anymore.
When you are thinking through the logic of it all, remember to focus on the magical consequences too. If you have a major city and they have therefore required the building of sewers, don’t just put in sewers. Put in sewers filled with giant rats and mutant alligators. Have the sewers hide the entrance to a dungeon (OK, we really hate that trope, but ...) or the temple of some death cult. Maybe that’s the thing - They built the sewers (or more likely paved over something to put the sewers underground) and it caused flooding beneath the city, right into an old crypt where some vampires had lay dormant for centuries.
TheWorld of Fletnern has often escaped being called mundane because it is seen as being “gritty”. In too many ways it might be a bit mundane because there has always been a focus on reasonableness and economics. But when thinking of reasonable things, we include plagues and war caused starvation. When thinking of economics, we make sure that we also figure out the price of unicorn horns and magic swords.
It is natural to look at our world and think of how items lead to each other based on those aspects. What you need to do is both - if this, then what, both in the mundane society and in the magical. The player characters live in both of those worlds contained within your game world. They blend, and it’s up to you to make sure that it is both reasonable and supernatural. That’s why this is WB 330 and not WB 101.
Does this kind of content interest you? If so, we hope you will consider joining us in our Small Bites project or the full title of How to Build Your Fantasy World in Small Bites! We continue to build our community of game masters and world builders, and we would love to have you join us!
This post was written as part of The 50th Edition aka All About More Miscellaneous FRPG Stuff, the latest in our Small Bites editions. Each Small Bites book looks deeply at one subject, a character archetype, a race/monster, a style of questing, or some other role-playing/world building subject. However, as an “anniversary” edition, this one is more of a mishmash of items that didn’t quite fit one of our previous themes closely enough and therefore didn’t get published in that book. This isn’t a “best of” edition! It’s a kitchen sink edition!
We hope we’re getting you interested. If you want to see the World Walker edition for FREE!! click the link above. This is a celebration issue, so this is effectively the full Game Masters’ edition of 76 pages of content. If you want to be efficient, just click hereand join us through Patreon to keep getting the full GMs’ editions every month!