Tag: world building

A New Age Dawns, Part IV

And here we are, part four. I don’t know how long this series will continue–until I’ve said everything I want to say, I guess. I reckon this post is half to two-thirds of the way through. At any rate, I said last post that I would discuss our world’s culture. This is one of my favorite parts of world-building, developing cultures for the various races and nations that inhabit by universe. There are a couple of broad approaches to this step: one, to choose a culture from some point in Earth’s history and base your fictional culture around it; two, to build a completely fictional culture from scratch. Both have their own difficulties. For the first, you’ll obviously have to do a lot of research, and your fictional culture may not seem as original. The upside is that this can often give the cultures of your story world an extra level of realism, because they seem like things that really existed. It also saves you a lot of work when it comes to developing religions and government systems and the like. The other method uses a lot less research and can result in a much more unique and “alien” world. However, it’s a lot of work to create a fully-realized culture from scratch, and often you’ll end up borrowing bits and pieces of actual Earth culture anyway.

Which do I prefer? The first method, which you’ve probably already seen from the last post. We have a vast, rich history; why not draw on it? I love connecting my stories to historical and mythological civilizations and events. I feel that it gives them a heightened sense f realism and that sort of timeless quality we associate with good mythology. Also, basing fictional civilizations off of real ones can help your idea flow, give you suggestions for important historical events and such. One way to make your fictional culture seem more unique is to combine multiple cultures from Earth’s history. I’ve played around with this a little bit in a project I’m working on, creating a culture which, for example, is a mix of Feudal Japan and Medieval Ireland. Very different cultures, but both island nations with strong traditions of independence and bravery. This obviously won’t always work, but it’s something to consider when designing your world.


So, back to our world. I said previously that the gnomes were similar to the Ancient Egyptians, the fortress-dwelling humans had a civilization comparable to Western Europe in the Renaissance, and that the nomadic humans were like Touaregs, Bedouins, or Mongols. I’ll start with the humans.


So the humans on this world are descended from the crew of a crashed spaceship. The first thing we must ask is: where did this crew come from, and what nation did they serve? My thought is that this was a crew of independent researchers, which means they would likely have come from all sorts of places, and have a very mixed cultural background. Probably their initial government would have been an oligarchy of the ship’s officers, headed by a “king”–the captain. In a mysterious and hostile world, a strong central authority would likely have little trouble holding onto power. The people would need swift decision-making ability, and would thus be more likely to put decision making into the hands of one or a few leaders. So I don’t see a democracy rising. The captain and officers are not elected; the captain promotes the officers. So, it seems likely that they would continue with this system, of having the “king” appoint both his successor and his officials. From there it’s only a small step to living in fortresses. The humans would’ve probably built their first castle on the ruins of their crashed ship, building a fortress from knowledge they remembered from their history lessons. The population would then have expanded to the point where they needed to establish another fortress, and the necessity of trade between the two would give rise to the nomad class.


But I think we need to backtrack a little bit. What is it that caused the humans to regress technologically? They would probably have lost some technology over time, but not enough to send them to a Medieval level of existence. There must have been some event that caused this. It’s a harsh world; I’m thinking a combination of alien plagues and dangerous beasts killed off a large portion of the crew, probably a number of their most skilled and educated men and women. I’m going to change what I said before. The ship didn’t crash in a defensible location. It crashed in the middle of the desert. The survivors of the plagues and such were forced to leave their ship and its technology behind, or face certain death. They would’ve stopped and built their fortress as soon as they could, probably in the nearest mountains to wherever they crashed. Once they were established, they would probably have sent people to the ship, but by that time I reckon they’ve lost the knowledge to use a lot of the technology. They would’ve started with a writing system, and I doubt that would be forgotten. However, I think it’s safe to assume that none of the survivors knew how to build a printing press, and it would be awhile before one of those was re-invented. With their technology lost and no access to modern forms of communication, the epistemology of this culture would’ve gone to a Medieval level within a couple of generations. This means a totally different way of looking at the world…


Anyway, so the humans are descended from a multicultural group that lived in a fortress. They had captains which eventually morphed into kings. They set up another fortress and began trading with it, creating a new subculture, the nomads. There’s our basis. What sort of culture would develop from there? I reckon it–or at least, the fortress-dwelling half of the culture–would be one with a generally Medieval flavor, with many new traditions that have arisen on this world and were either unknown or obscure in Earth’s history. I doubt it would have a strong resemblance to any particular Earth culture, however. The nomads, on the other hand, would probably seem initially more similar to Bedouins and such of Earth. They live in a desert, so they’d naturally adopt the dark-colored robes worn by such peoples (for protection from sun, sand, and wind). Living in tents would be a necessity; but these people have giant beetles to ride around on, so perhaps they build their tents more like palanquins atop the beetles’ backs and rarely set them up on the ground. I could see them in that case creating tall, thin, yurt-like structures which would be designed to be lived in even while being transported.


Of course,  now I could spend quite awhile coming up with different cultural traditions, but that’s more fine-detail stuff. Right now I’m concerned with laying down the bones, the framework. For now, I think it would be best to move on to the gnomes, who I shall talk about in my next post.


~ Jared


A New Age Dawns, Part III

Okay, so in the last installment, I talked a bit about life forms. At the end I said I would discuss overall world technological level in this next post, so I guess that’s what I’d better do.

All right! The world so far isn’t exactly suggesting a particular level of technological advancement–the only thing that suggests a particular level is the fortresses inhabited by some of the humans dwelling on the surface. However, these fortresses could be as primitive as cave systems burrowed into mountainsides, or something as sophisticated as NORAD (which, incidentally, is also a cave system burrowed into a mountainside). My initial vision of these fortresses was that they were more like Medieval castles. Huge, labyrinthine stone structures built on easily defensible areas, like mountains and hilltops. That still doesn’t necessarily suggest anything, because they could be very old castles, which the modern people are still living in out of convenience. I do know, however, that this is going to be a sci-fi/fantasy. That in itself suggests something.

Here’s the idea that just sprang into my mind: the humans, on the surface of the world, are not native to the world. They’re the remnants of a spaceship crew, a crew of interstellar explorers. They still have a goodly amount of the technology from the spaceship, but they don’t understand it anymore. They’re able to replicate some of it, but they don’t comprehend the principles it works on. To them, it’s very much like magic. But a magic that is not understood is dangerous, so I imagine there are only a few people trained and trusted enough to operate this misunderstood technology. These elite people would be the wizards, the sorcerers, the mages. Through long study, they learn to operate and recreate the ancient machines, but they don’t really understand how the machines work. It’s like when you get so used to the routine of doing something that you cease to have a conscious understanding of what you’re actually doing.

So the fortress-dwelling humans have some pretty advanced technology, but it isn’t widespread. Their technological level aside from that is, I’m thinking, about equivalent to 17th century Earth. Fortresses have printing presses, but there still aren’t many books; people have guns, but still fight with swords and plate armor; more advanced machinery and vehicles are beginning to be invented, but have not come far. This level of technology implies a certain organizational structure–absolute monarchy, supported by a strong official church. I’m thinking each fortress is essentially its own kingdom, and maybe there’s whole networks of fortresses who have banded together and elected a high king, for mutual protection. Then there could be an overarching church, or possibly a few different churches. These may follow religions which are twisted versions of ones we know here on earth… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Now, what about the nomadic humans? I doubt these people have the “wizards” of the fortress dwellers. A nomadic lifestyle just isn’t conducive to that sort of thing, too much machinery and too many books involved. However, they probably have all the best weapons, since people look up to them for their bravery in traversing the wastelands. I doubt it would be difficult for them to bargain for quality weaponry. Now, how do they travel? I imagine they might sometimes buy powerful, advanced vehicles from the “wizards” of the fortresses, but for the most part, they’d use animals. Some sort of animal native to the world, I’m thinking… insect life seems to dominate the surface, so giant beetles. So these guys ride beetles, are bristling with weapons, and occasionally have more advanced technology, which is so advanced it seems like magic to them. But other than that, I doubt their level of tech is much different then our Bedouins and Touaregs and such here on Earth. They probably live in tents, or maybe yurts, like the Mongols.

Now we must consider the gnomes. Humans who lived fully underground might need a certain level of technology to maintain their existence. However, gnomes are adapted to the underground. It’s their home territory. The gnomes, living a life sheltered from the elements, able to feed themselves from the abundant fungi and to quench their thirst with vast underground lakes, are probably a lot “softer” than humans. I doubt their tech is as advanced…. I’m seeing a general technological level in line with that of the ancient Egyptians, except obviously a lot less advanced when it comes to building structures–gnomes have their structures pre-built, in the form of caves. Well, somehow, they’ve been able to prevent humans from coming and living underground. Aside from indicating that they have a general isolationist policy and a strong central government–although it could be simply a number of tribes with strong traditions–this implies that they have some sort of power capable of resisting human technology.

My first thought is to make this power some sort of magical ability. But the question is, is this ability a “racial ability” of the gnomes, or a more general thing that is inherent to the world, like the Force? The former would lean the world more towards sci-fi, while the latter would lean it towards fantasy. But I just had a thought. What if it’s both? Here’s how I’m thinking it would work: the gnomes have some sort of special organ, or perhaps a gland in their brain, that allows them to respond to signals sent out by the sentient crystal creatures. The sentient crystals are the source of “magical” power in the world. A gnome who taps into the energy field they project  can work “spells” of potentially vast power. Perhaps there are a lot of creatures on this world who can tap into the energy field from the crystals. Humans, since they aren’t native, wouldn’t even know the crystals have this power, much less be able to tap into it. But I can already see a plotline where a mad human tries to graft gnome organs into an unsuspecting kid, thus granting him vast power no human has ever had…

So, humans in general have Renaissance level tech, with a sprinkling of much more advanced technologies which they don’t understand and therefore consider magic; the gnomes have a much lower level of tech, but can access a semi-mystical “power field” to make up for it. I like that, so I’ll go with it. I think I’ll start considering culture in the next post.

I hope this is useful to people! I’m definitely enjoying it.

~ Jared

A New Age Dawns, Part II

‘ello! Time for another post. So when we left off last time, I’d just drawn a map of the world, and decided basically what it looks like. It’s time now to discuss what sort of life forms inhabit the world. I usually have a basic idea of what the world’s life will be like when it first pops into my head–in this case, that idea was “gnomes.” From this idea, you can begin extrapolating what the rest of the world’s life is like.

However, what if you make up some continents and geography, but have no idea what lives on the world? The first step there is to determine what the intelligent life forms are. This is basically personal preference. You can  make them whatever you want. However, it’s good to have at least one species of intelligent life in your world which is relatively easy for humans to relate to–anthropomorphic mammals or some sort of humanoid race, for example. Then you might think of your world’s geography, and try to get a sense for what sort of people might fit into it. If you have a world with a lot of crags and mountains and such, why not a race of winged people? Or in a very cold world, what about people with fur? In my world’s case, the most readily inhabitable area is the Underground, so it makes sense for one of the main intelligent races to be Gnomes. Gnomes are really short, after all, which means they should be ideally suited for a life amidst the cramped confines of a tunnel network. It might also make sense to have a race of intelligent mole type creatures, or perhaps some sort of insectoid race. I’m just sticking with gnomes for now.

But what about the surface? I’ve been toying with the idea of populating the surface with nomadic humans. Think sci-fi Bedouins. Now, I know the surface isn’t all desert; I described it as “wasteland.” (and if I really didn’t, strike that from your memories. :P ) Humans can adapt to all sorts of terrain and climates, so it makes sense for them to be the dominant race up there. If it’s really that harsh, then I suppose there’s two options for them: live in massive, cramped fortress-cities, or keep wandering so as to stay ahead of any trouble. This sort of thing is really a matter of personal preference, but I think it’ll make for a more interesting world, with more conflict, if there’s two groups of humans: one group that lives in fortresses, and one group that travels. I think the traveling group will be the connection between the fortress dwellers and the gnomes.

Now, historically, nomadic folks–gypsies, for example–have been little trusted. But I’m going to go a different route here. The fortress dwellers think the travelers are really brave for traversing the wasteland, and look on them as heroic figures. Some of them pretty much depend on the travelers for food and such, so they don’t want to do anything to aggravate their suppliers. The travelers, on the other hand, view the fortress dwellers as soft and cowardly, but generally keep this to themselves because they, too, need the goods the fortress dwellers create. Meanwhile, the gnomes jealously guard the Underground, refusing to allow humans to escape there.

…but we’re starting to get a little side-tracked. That stuff I’ll spend a lot more time on later, when I talk about creating cultures. This here is just deciding the basic life forms of the world, so I guess I should move on to animals. There are clearly two distinct ecologies at work here, the Underground and the surface. That’s probably the first step when deciding flora and fauna for your world: figure out how many different ecological areas there are, and their locations. Of course, geography will be huge in this step. (see why I figure that out first?) An alternate first step might be to ask yourself this question: what is the dominant sort of flora or fauna on this world? Reptiles? Birds? Conifers? To some extent, this will be decided by the geography and climate of your world, but a goodly part of it will also be determined by what sort of feeling you want the world to have. A world dominated by insects and fungi will feel a lot more alien then a world dominated by mammals.

Now here’s what I’m thinking. The surface, being a harsh wasteland, is going to need animals that can withstand that sort of thing. Insects with tough exoskeletons seem to be a good choice, and they’d also fit with the barren, alien feel I want the surface of the world to have. So lots of huge insects and arachnids… giant sand scorpions… mantids the size of lions… butterfly-ish creatures the size of jumbo jets. I’m thinking those won’t be fliers so much as gliders, riding the desert winds to wherever they’re taken. The underground, on the other hand, is a lot safer, a lot softer, a lot less dangerous. Probably the underground creatures are much smaller; they’re also likely mammals as opposed to reptiles, because they’d need some way to regulate their body heat without the sun. A lot of these are probably adapted to digging, though if there are really some big caverns, I’m sure there’s creatures that never leave them. Here I’m thinking of going with more primeval, Ice Age type creatures… probably some giant bats and digging apes… and a whole lot of fungi. Not many plants in the underground, of course. Now, what about some sentient crystals? I sort of like this idea… some sort of crystalline creatures… it might be that these go to the surface, as well, and sort of tie the two ecologies together. Might be something mysterious about them, also. Silicon-based life forms can be rather interesting.

So now the world is a little bit more defined. There’s basic geography; basic flora and fauna; basic intelligent races. The next thing to figure out is the overall technology level of the populace, but I’ll save that for the next article.

Peace out!

~ Jared

A New Age Dawns, Part I

Well, I forgot 3-D design class was canceled this morning and got up early even though I didn’t have to. So I suppose there’s nothing for it but to write a blog post. Huzzah for unexpected free time!

Anyway, after reading Rich Burlew’s excellent series of articles about designing a D&D campaign setting (which can be found here: http://www.giantitp.com/Gaming.html; it’s the “New World” series), I felt inspired to write about my own world building techniques and theories. Now, I’ve been building worlds since I was knee-high to a fairy dragon. World building is what got me interested in writing stories, in the first place. I had all these worlds I’d made up; I needed stories to put in them, didn’t I? I’ve drifted away from world building a little in my current works, but it’s still an integral process to any fantasy story, be it novel, game, or movie–and it’s quite fun, as well!

A bit of history: So the very first world I built didn’t start out as a world; it started as an island. I’ve always been fascinated with dinosaurs, and after seeing an ad in the newspaper for that old Dinotopia TV show, I was inspired to create my own Dinotopia. I hadn’t read the original books or seen the show, but the idea appealed to me so much that I spent months building my own world of dinosaurs and humans. By the time the original island had grown to the size of a continent, I decided it needed its own world. I made up several more continents and tossed them all together, started coming up with an overarching history for the place… of course, the Dinotopia continent (the name of which became Dunor), was still the center of the world. That world went through so many permutations… in its current incarnation, it has been combined with another world of mine, Shadowglade, and the overall world is called Stella Aetherium.

Anyway, that’s a pretty haphazard way to build a world. I’ve learned a thing or two about the process since then, and while I’m definitely not the most talented or creative world builder around, I thought I’d share some of my experience. So there’s any number of starting points for a world. Maybe you need someplace to set your new story idea that features martial arts master gnome and a gentleman dragon; maybe you wanted to explore your obscure theories about the development of ancient democracies in a fictional setting. I shall assume, for the purposes of these articles, that we are creating a world simply because we want to, without the intention of setting a particular story there or really doing  much of anything with it (though I may discuss integrating stories into the world in a later post).

The first thing to figure out is what kind of world you’re working with, or what genre it is. Is it a steampunk world? A far-future version of earth? An alien planet? A high fantasy world filled with elves and dwarves and dark lords? Each of those will determine various and sundry things about the world; of course there’s many other sorts of worlds, nearly infinite permutations. I think I’ll build a world from the ground up in these articles, for the purposes of demonstration. So let’s see… hm… my initial thought is to make this a fantasy/sci-fi blend world, featuring gnomes, a beautiful, vast, and intricate underground, and an extremely hostile surface. This is the first thing that jumped into my head after a minute or so of thought, so I’ll just run with it. I think it’s good not to spend too much time on the initial concept. If you were making a world to put stories in, or for a campaign setting in an RPG, or some other more serious purpose, then you’d probably want to come up with several ideas, write them down, and pick two or three that you like best–I’ve found that combining two or more base concept ideas often makes for a more vibrant world. Variety is good!

Okay, so the next step is geography and the general universe around the world. I think a bloated, ancient, scarlet sun would be appropriate for this place. There’s five other planets in its solar system, all gas giants, one of which is fairly large in the night sky. The planet has four moons, but only one of them is very large. Now, the world has a hostile surface… I’m thinking a lot of desert, but cold desert. A good deal of craggy stones. Vast, rocky basins which were once lakes and seas. Perhaps some poisonous oceans? I like that idea, so I’ll stick with it. Maybe all the water found on the surface is poisonous, and the only thing safe to drink is the springs that bubble up from underground. I’m going to say that there are four continents in the world: a small, icy one at the north pole, a much bigger one south of that, and two smaller continents, sort of circling each other, in the east. I think there will also be a whole lot of floating islands, which obviously won’t have any water safe to drink on them, but are rich in certain other resources. At this point, I find it useful to draw a basic map. It really helps to get the structure of the world cemented in your mind, and can lead to a lot of geographical information that would’ve been much harder to come up with without it. So, let’s do that…

And there you have the most basic map of the world. Now for the underground. I won’t bother drawing a map for that at this point, because it’d be way too complicated, what with all the tunnels and caverns. The underground is going to be really different from the surface. It’s vibrant. It’s alive. It’s magical. I’m seeing someplace with a lot of glowing fungi and crystal formations. Maybe something a bit like Journey To the Center of the Earth, with huge open caverns that have lakes and oceans, animals, some sort of light source. The underground seems like the place where the fantasy side of this sci-fi/fantasy blend world is going to come in.

I think that’s enough for this first article. We’ve got the world defined in broad strokes; now it’s going to be time to start determining what sort of life lives on it. Gnomes, of course, but who knows what else might be there? Now, remember, it’s best not to think too hard in this stage. Just brainstorm, write down whatever ideas come to mind, start assembling the basic framework of the world. At this point, it doesn’t have much flavor, but there are definitely some suggestions of heart and life.

Anyway, I hope this will be helpful for some people, or at least interesting. Until next time!

~ Jared