Worldbuilding, Part II

It took me a while to find a focus for this post. I started out trying to make it about the spiritual and religious life on the continent but realized that the entire ecosphere of a world is intertwined. Economics is tied into politics is tied to religion, is tied to daily life.

The economy is just one aspect of what makes a world and a society go ‘round. After all, wars are fought over resources all the time. Other facets of culture that bring war to a land are religion and religious differences, and politics and political disagreements. If you don’t believe it, just read a little history or the daily newspaper.

But because the first campaign idea to occur to me involved an evil cleric, I opened a notebook and began jotting down ideas about the potential spiritual life of the Adaran inhabitants. I started with what I know about and have observed of religion in our own world.

Religion helps bring order to a chaotic world. Many are based on superstitions, traditions, and writings carried forward from ancient times. By attributing other-worldly powers to mundane objects, our early ancestors were able to make sense of their world. But it also begs the question: How much of religion is based on visits by more advanced extraterrestrial manifestations, how much on hallucinations by the tribe shaman? I’m not saying that something doesn’t exist that is beyond our senses; I absolutely believe in a Collective Consciousness, Creator, God, if you will. But I’m not here to discuss theology and dogma—well, OK, I am, but in context to how it pertains to a writing world.

I own a small collection of the religious texts of several religions along with reference material on ancient gods and goddesses, mythical deities, and a myriad of fey and legendary creatures. What resources I don’t own, I research on the Internet or at my local library. All of this goes into consideration as I contemplate the spiritual life of my characters.

Most fantasy stories I have read have some sort of healer archetype that appeals to a deity for their healing powers. That deity generally follows the same ethical guides as the cleric—or vice-versa. And in a fantasy setting, frequently that god will communicate directly with that worshipper and grant the power to heal or cleanse or destroy. Having a fully-developed collection of deities—or a single deity if that is what your story world requires—goes a long way in making a world feel more “real” to your readers.

As most writers doubtless know, about ninety percent of character background never makes it into the story. But it is vital to building well-rounded characters. The same can be said for creating a world. Whether your story is based in our “real” world, or one of your imagination, you must intimately know the world of your tales if you want to tell rich, three-dimensional fiction. This is especially true if building a unique realm from your imagination.

I’ve read plenty of books where the world felt very two-dimensional and flat. The characters had little depth, and the scenery felt like an amateur landscape painting. Absent was the background, the detail that could have brought scenes to life. The stories eventually became predictable, and I moved on to more sophisticated works.

One aspect of the stories I write is that the guidelines allow the divinities to directly interact with the humanoid populations of the various worlds that they inhabit. Many fantasy novels I’ve read have the gods advising characters or using them for their own intent. Of course, each race of a created world frequently has its own set of gods and goddesses, mine is no different.

If you’ve read any of Aeryn’s story, you know that she has met a goddess and been given a goal. As her tale progresses, she discovers her affinity for the spirit of the law and her commitment to helping those who are held down by the rule of that same law—all because a goddess set her on a quest.

So, Aeryn’s story has an angry goddess and the arrival on the island of two warring pirate bands. The party has been thrust in the middle of an upcoming disaster. Which leads to the next subject of worldbuilding—politics. Yes, even on that small island, evidence of the politics of the land abounds. The disagreement between the orc and goblin pirates brings into play the ethics and deep-running politics among the diverse pirate fleets. Think about it. The orcs and goblins are on a mostly deserted island with no overlords watching; and yet they still abide by the “code” and haven’t declared outright war on each other.

Yet all it would take is one daring and charismatic enough leader to upset that apple cart. And tensions are running high on the island with the storm ramping up as it had been.

So, here we are in notebook number two, labeled Politics. I wrote down the pirate code, because while the various pirate enclaves are not technically at war with each other, neither are they precisely friendly—unless the groups have agreements to protect each other’s backs.

I have a story that involves a tribe of Wood Elves, so one of the Elven cultures is defined. One of my main characters in that story is from a large town, so a little about the politics of that city are also noted. The trick is to make sure that each city, town, village, and hamlet have a personality of its own. Look around at the cities, towns, and municipalities near you. Each area has a look and feel that reflects its citizens and the surrounding landscape.

Think about the big cities in the United States. New York City certainly “feels” a lot different than, say, Los Angeles with its palm trees and beach motif. Compare Chicago with Dallas, and you will see the same disparity. A city can be a character all by itself, just by its construction, history, and inhabitants.

The first part I noticed when I’ve visited most big cities throughout my life, was the physical environs. Now, I have been to Chicago, San Francisco, Vancouver, BC, and Tokyo, among others in my day. Each one of those cities made me feel more, or less, safe by merely observing the amount of trash lying about. Every town has its uniqueness clear for everyone to see, and that distinctiveness reflects the inhabitants of that conurbation. In most foreign cities, learning the local customs and niceties went a long way toward acceptance of an obvious outsider.

These are all experiences that go into my worldbuilding. First, I look at the area because location, resources, and weather patterns always affect the longevity of a settlement. Accessibility is another consideration. If it’s not easy to get to, a hamlet better be damned self-sufficient. Cities, on the other hand, grow because of their accessibility, primarily as trade hubs or religious centers in pre-industrial societies.

So far, my worldbuilding has consisted of a loose idea of the macro-economy, with more of a sense of the micro-economy. The various countries and regions are mapped, but for the most part, they are political black holes. For now, anyway. My head swims with ideas on how to fill out the world, I just need reasons to do so. I have a story that focuses on the northeastern part of the continent, and the hidden inhabitants of an exclusive village. And Aeryn’s story will be far from over when she completes her first quest.

Ideas abound and creating the setting for those concepts has taken a long time of simmering and percolating to reach the state in which I have managed to develop the environs. I’m not sure my world building will ever be complete, but in the meantime, the players in my gaming family continue to contribute their ideas, backgrounds, and personalities to our realm.

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