Before we get started, let me assure you I’ve had a hand in making a few worlds. Somewhere in the order of thirty of them in fact, not including the ones I’ve lent a hand on for others.
So, you’ve decided to make your own world…
Before you get tied up in geography or history ask yourself these questions:
Why should we Visit your world?
What is different about your world? Is some obvious difference immediately apparent like a civilisation ending cataclysm or is there some a more subtle difference?
I’m a big fan of “post event” worlds these are a blank cheque to write your own brand of strangeness all over but never rule out the good old “world – X” or “world + X” staples as regularly used as they are they have spawned a multitude of games, books, comics and countless other things for a reason, relatability.
Relatable worlds are good worlds, if your players feel at home already they’ll fill in small details you might have missed by themselves and save you a lot of work.
How big is your world?
The key to this question is how will your players be travelling through the world.
If they are sailing, driving or flying you’re going to need to make a much bigger more diverse world in order to occupy them and justify their travel time. Nobody wants to map, write and populate a vast empire only to have the players decide to stay at home because it’s all the same.
If the players are going to walking then the world should be far more focused and detailed, dotted with a multitude of locations within a day or so’s walk. Look at a map of Europe and you’ll soon see how towns and settlements clustered when walking was the main mode of transport. (my own neck of the woods the south coast of England is a prime example of this.)
Who else lives there?
Nothing kills a world faster than it being empty, sure a world that simply reacts to players is fun for a while but without anyone of note to aid or oppose the characters the adventure soon becomes a sightseeing tour.
Consider how life in your world affects it’s inhabitants for better or worse.
Who do they hate?
Do they have to bleed for every scrap of food?
Are they at war with the people over the hill/valley/sea?
What do these people spend their lives doing?
Answering these questions even if it is only in a very general way will help you round out your populace. It will also give you a handy starting point for making new NPCs when your players inevitably wander off the beaten path and stumble into something shady of the bad side of town.
Where can I Get a map?
Nothing helps players visualise the world they are adventuring in like a world map.
It doesn’t have to be amazing, it doesn’t even need to be complete. Our first map was made my adding towns we had already discovered to a screenshot of a coastline from a map website with the colours bleached out.
And let’s face it almost all fantasy maps look like Ireland with some mild manipulation.
So there, a few things I wish I’d had figured out back when I first set out to make worlds in the dark days before the dawn of the Bloodthirsty Puppets.
RIP, the poorly written worlds of Thontacles, Rahviin VI and Drelb. I didn’t know any better back then.
Everybody take a level of Suffering!