A person could spend a lifetime world building and never capture all the intricacies associated with all the cultures in their fantasy world. That’s why I address the basics and a little bit more. Think of it as a Hollywood set where what the camera films appears real, but what’s just off camera isn’t. As needed I world build beyond the basics for each culture (like building new film sets).
There are great lists out there with great questions for world building. I’ve used them myself. Before that step, though, the first questions should be addressed to the world builder.
What are the stories you want to tell and what’s the world like you want to tell them in?
See it? Okay, now start building.
My between-the-lines point here is we begin with an imposition before letting the world evolve naturally from that point. Impose everything and you’ve a world where the pieces don’t fit. It’s a tricky balance and a bit like, well, writing.
Making the choice of where to start and end imposing is a choice only you can make. Think of it as planting seeds. Do you want to grow your stories in a pot, garden, green house, or on a farm?
There are many cultures on Tremjara and I’ve done minimal work on most of them because they’re outside the camera’s view at the moment. I’m adding more all the time. Here’s a small sample, keeping in mind there are subcultures in each:
- Humans of Carrdia (highly developed)
- Humans of Pannulus (moderately developed)
- Humans of Barnavava (highly developed)
- Ora’ean of Forstava (moderately developed)
- Neanders of the Northern Wilds (moderately developed)
- Elves of Mythwyll (slightly developed) *elves exist only historically
- Hobs of various mountain regions (moderately developed)
- Grolns of various plains regions, especially in the south (slightly developed)
- Bru of the eastern forests (minimally developed)
Note that none of these cultures are labeled as fully developed.
This is about half the cultures I’ve worked on and probably less than half of those on the continent of Tremjara. The camera spends most of the time following human characters so the others come into play if the camera follows a human (that could change).
Back to the main topic…
Carrdia had an odd evolution because it was first created as a medieval society. That changed in 2015 when I overhauled the world and added more steampunk elements. Thus, to make explaining easier, I’ll talk about a culture started in 2018.
So, what did I know going in? What were some major fundamentals I wanted to impose on Pannulus?
- Location. The island group so intrigued me it led to work on an enhanced map for it.
- Given its isolation, it’d suffered reversals less often than mainland countries and, so, prospered.
- In general, it was a progressive nation of forward, tolerant thinkers accepting of magic and technology.
- Their tolerance was lower for those outside the sexuality and gender norms. I wanted the option to tells stories from that perspective or have that element contained in the story.
The first three elements were because of other world building, the novels, and short stories. The problem one was the fourth. Why would the country tolerate those outside the norms, yet wouldn’t banish or jail them?
Sleepless nights and distracted days followed.
I finally arrived at a possible solution (after rejecting countless others). What if an anemic birthrate prompted pressure on everyone, no exceptions, to produce children?
This is where my magic system came to the rescue. A similar issue plagued the elves before they disappeared. It’s also a problem for the ora’ean in Forstava. It’s the Reproduction Curve: the stronger your magic, the longer you live and the more difficult it is to produce children.
A slight problem surfaced: only a small percentage of humans possess magic. All ora’ean possess at least a modest amount of magic (it connects them to their forests, among other things). I refused to make an exception to the rules of magic for the humans of Pannulus.
The answer came in an avalanche.
The ora’ean, like elves and humans possess magic. It’s internal. What if the high concentration of magic in this case was external?
In that instant I won at Pannulus bingo!
The shape of the island group suggested the same answer. It’s a rough circle. I was, at that time, revamping the Pannulus map and promptly named the huge gulf near the center of the group, Vortex Gulf.
At that point the evolutionary world building kicked in and led to…
- A concentration of raw magic beneath the gulf escaping into the atmosphere and spreading over the islands. That suppressed the population growth for everyone.
- The concentration, though strong island wide, is more acute near the gulf.
- There are other side effects to the concentration, especially in the gulf region: fluctuations/holes in time, increased number of apparitions, varying levels of disorientation, and many more.
- Complications for airship navigation and some forms of technology.
- Differences in regional culture depending on proximity to the concentration.
There are more repercussions, but these are some of the major ones. Too, keep in mind this was just one thread originating from the low birthrate. I could do the above list for other elements of Pannulus culture. The low birthrate and raw magic vortex also influence religion, politics, criminal activity, and much more.
So, keep in mind if there are particular stories you want to tell, figure out how that’ll be imposed on the world building without violating the rules of magic for the world, and then let the building evolve as it will. From there, one thing leads to another, to another, to another…