World Building 101

One of my 2016 Goals is to finish the second draft of my first novel, Stroversai. I would like to have it ready for beta readers by the end of the year so to meet that goal I have have started redevelopment of the story, including development of a whole new history of the setting. But before I can rebuild my setting I need to know how it fits into the world as a whole and therefore I need a world. Years ago, more years than I care to count, I played Dungeons & Dragons. In 1996 TSR published a great resource, The World Builder’s Guidebook (written by Richard Baker). Within its 98 pages the Guidebook goes through all of the steps required to build a great world for your D&D adventures. I still have my copy and I’ve decided to use it to develop the world of my novel.

If you’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons, it is a fantasy role-playing game where the players each takes on the role of a character in a world much as Earth was about 1,000 years ago. Some of the best games have entire worlds built for the characters to explore and what is what the WBG was written for – to build your world to explore. The World Builder’s Guidebook starts with developing the story hook. While I already know for the most part what my story is about I wondered if a random sampling of hooks could help me flesh out my current story. Each section of the WBG allows the user to roll dice to determine different things about their world. This allows for a completely random world. So I randomly rolled for each of the five different story hook categories.

  1. Landform: Mountain
  2. Sites of Interest: Ruins
  3. Primary Culture: Merchantile
  4. Situation: Religious
  5. Historical: Civil War

Many of these random roles actually fit well with my current plan for the story (such as Mountains) while others defined specifics to areas of the story that were still up in the air (a religious civil war). With this information I started to develop the actual world by rolling to determine the size of the world. The guidebook suggests two ways of building a world, top down or bottom up. So I could either start with the entire world and build down to the smallest town, or start from the smallest town and world up to the entire world. As you can see by my world map below, I decided to use the top down method.


Since I had long ago used the last of the mapping pages that were originally included with the book I had to build my own map pages in Photoshop. As I mentioned every section allows you to roll dice to randomly determine the different aspects of your world. Since I didn’t want my previous world to influence this world I rolled my dice to determine as much as possible. The first was determining if my world would be round (a fantasy setting is not always going to be round). I rolled sphere, so my world is going to be round. Next I rolled to determine the world’s diameter: 4,800 miles – somewhat bigger than Mars, followed by percentage of water: only 40% – Earth is about 73% water. This result got me thinking, humans are mostly water because our planet is mostly water, what would humans be like on a planet with just over half the water as on Earth? Knowing my world’s size and water content I then used the chart to determine land distribution per region (each of the 20 triangles). Some regions were going to be land/water regions, others were mostly land with large lakes while others were mostly water with small islands. I had two regions that would be completely water and there were no land only regions. I assigned each of the twenty regions a value and then started to sketch out the land masses.


With the land masses sketched out by hand, I then scanned the drawing and brought it into Photoshop Elements were I redrew it digitally. This was going to let me apply colours and text to the map easily. When saving I ensure I use different numbers for each save so that if I need to go back to a previous version, I can. Returning to the WBG I read about designing the tectonic plate structure of the world which then leads to the development of mountain ranges. On a print out of the image above I drew out where I was going to have mountains. Since one of my story hooks was Mountains, it was important that there would be mountains all over my little world.


With the mountains in place it was time to select the setting of my world. I wanted a smaller area so that it can be eventually developed in great detail. I wanted located to at least one other land mass in the even that I wanted the threat to come from elsewhere and I needed mountains. This led me to select the land mass in the second last region of the second row. This would be Puyallup. The eastern mountains are tall and still very new as there is a fault line running vertically along the eastern shores of Puyallup and Iahatora that are the source of infrequent earthquakes in the region. The western mountains on the other side of the land mass were created after a great astroid strike nearly one million years before the story takes place, therefore the western range are not as tall as the eastern range due to a million years of erosion.


Finally, I have started to name the larger landmasses in this area of the world. Whether or not the characters ever visit these places time will tell, but I need to know what the people living in those place call them (I’m still trying to come up with a name for the large landmass or at least the region directly west of Puyallup). With this information written down there will be no more guess work as I write. Since my story does not involve all of Aulea (at this time) I will move on to the next chapter of the Guidebook and start to develop a region of the map – Puyallup Island. This is where I will be creating kingdoms and centries old feuds. Make sure you come back next month.

  • Stephen


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