Wednesday, April 13, 2011

World Building Logic

A few years back I had this idea of creating a world to set Sword & Sorcery stories in. The premise was that the “world” was nothing but desert. Naturally, I thought of Tatooine, from the Star Wars films. However, I immediately ran into a problem with that. A problem that is rooted in my own writer’s personality.

Scientifically speaking, a planet like Tatooine (or even Hoth…which is technically also a “desert” world) could not exist. At least not as it does in the films. Without a large portion of the planet covered with vegetation, there would be no breathable atmosphere. And in all of the films where Tatooine appeared, never once do you see any significant vegetation. Now, take all of that with a grain of salt, as it is based on my limited knowledge of science. I suppose there may be other methods by which such a world could create a suitably oxygen-rich atmosphere. I just don’t know of any.

So, with that thought in mind, I decided that the “world” was actually an isolated portion of the planet. Which lead me to deciding how it had become isolated. What I settled on was a great “bowl” of a valley, spanning a thousand miles in each direction. The defining feature was a great river running through the middle. But, where did the river originate? And where did it go?

Well, it originated in the mountains to the West, and flowed into the mountains in the East. The river became analogous to the Nile, and I decided that the culture that lived along the river was Pseudo-Egyptian. But, what about the areas surrounding the river, beyond the fertile shores?

To the North, still within the bowl, the climate became more temperate, and the hot sands slowly gave way to sparse grasslands and rolling hills, dotted with lakes. But in order to keep the inhabitants of the bowl inside, I decided that the farthest reaches in that direction were bordered not just by impassible mountains, but sheer cliffs that stood a mile or more in height. This region was dominated by a culture of city-states. Many of these existed on the shores of lakes, but a few existed up against the cliffs, with caves dug into the cliff-sides in some areas. Originally, these were going to be Pseudo-Arabic in nature, but I also thought that some, particularly on the grasslands, could be more Mongolian-based.

To the South, the desert becomes excessively inhospitable. This was also to keep my cultures within the bowl. And to ensure their placement, I peopled the south with a savage, bestial, cannibalistic race who bred by the thousands and made exploring this region impossible.

That left the mountains to the East and West. To the West, the foothills are dominated by thick forests. The river folk in this area harvest some of the wood. But they do not venture very far into the forests. Why? Because of the dark and ominous creatures who live there, of course! Little do they know that these “creatures” are actually tribes of barbarian hillmen who disguise themselves as monsters to keep the militarily superior river people out of their lands.

To the East, the river disappears into rough mountains, and eventually dumps into a vast region of swamps and jungles, populated with primitive life of all types (including dinosaurs).

And then, there are the mutants who inhabit the wastelands between the two major cultures. And of course, the geography, climate and cultures helped me create the religious and social beliefs of the various peoples, including the large, semi-nocturnal race of desert-dwellers.

So, what is the point of all of this? Well, it illustrates how I tend to build a fantasy world. I start with a germ of an idea (a desert world) and allow that to dictate the details, leading me down roads of logic at every turn, until finally, I have a workable world. It also illustrates how, even when creating a “fantasy” world, I like it to be logical and somewhat realistic.

The world I have described above is somewhat fleshed-out already, though it does need more fine-tuning. It is inspired by several settings and stories from various authors, as well as my own study of history.

And why is this pertinent to now? Because I am writing yet another RPG (or rather finishing one I started ages ago), and I need a setting. Age of the Sword will be set in this world. You know, once I buckle down and finish it…


Chris Blanchard said...

A completely awesome post, and a fantastic example of world building. Great stuff!

Charles Gramlich said...

This is perhaps the part of writing I love the most, the world building. To think of questions and answer them, to invent new places and people. It's the closest to true creation most of us can get.

Greg Christopher said...

good stuff, Tom