Here’s my secret, Cap: I don’t like worldbuilding.
I know, it’s weird. You would think a person like me who works in tabletop roleplaying games would love worldbuilding. So much of the work I do is creating fantastical realms, people, magic, and stories.
When I write for RPGs, though, I work within constraints. The world is already created. Sure I sometimes invent a kingdom or a religion or whatever, but I’m still playing inside an already-created sandbox. I have a set of guidelines to follow.
Creating from scratch is much harder. Thorough worldbuilding, the kind that game designers do, involves history, politics, religion, geography, and economics. You usually have a team of creative people with various skills working together, sometimes for years, to create a whole world. Fantasy worldbuilding in the style of George R. R. Martin has always intimidated me.
In my fiction, I tend to do as little worldbuilding as possible. I write until I need to define something, then I define it and move on. I like to leave a lot of implication—more MAD MAX: FURY ROAD than A GAME OF THRONES.
There are drawbacks to this method, mainly that it can leave my world feeling vague and unfinished. Often I come to a point where I realize some aspects of my worldbuilding contradict others, or don’t make sense from a logical perspective. Then I have to go back and retcon my creations and rewrite things. It’s not an efficient method.
This time around, I’m going to try to do a little worldbuilding in advance. I can’t promise I’ll be very good at it, but I can make the attempt!
Worldbuilding and Outlining
It’s worth noting that worldbuilding for outlining can be different than worldbuilding for writing. When I’m outlining, I detail as much as I need to give me cool ideas about what could happen in the book—fun scenarios, deadly encounters, opportunities for growth—and let them inspire the setting. I don’t usually start with a setting and try to come up with a story to fit.
You might operate exactly the opposite of me, or in some alternative way. There are lots of guides to worldbuilding on the Internet, more than I could possibly list here. Reedsy has a solid guide with a comprehensive set of steps, Mythic Scribes has a blog series that includes “foodbuilding,” and Kobold Press has the delightful Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding.
You might need to experiment with several different methods to find one that works for you. The important thing is to remember you’re building an outline at this point, not a novel. If you find yourself getting bogged down in details, panicking over your lack of/abundance of preparation, or using worldbuilding as an excuse not to move ahead with your outline, you might want to go to the next step and circle back.
The World of SCALE HUNTER
I put a good list of elements of worldbuilding at the top of the blog. Let’s start there.
Name: There’s a method of naming where you write out what the world is, then take out letters until you come up with a name. One famous example is The Dragon Age Setting—the D.A.S.—Thedas. I will call this Mithril Dragon World—mith drag wor—Mithagor.
Geography: Flamerazer lives in a cave with a ravine nearby, per the last blog. So we have some kind of mountainous area. I was picturing a traditional fantasy world layout, with a green/Shire kind of area, some rough terrain to travel through, and then the intimidating mountains.
Actually, that sounds a lot like BC, where I live. Often when I write fantasy stuff I model it on real world terrain as a shortcut, so let’s do that now. Shady Pines is a coastal village next to the ocean. To the east are some plains and hills, rising into steep snow-topped mountains. That saves me a lot of time because I can use BC geography when I start plotting.
Religion: I don’t think religion will really feature into the story, but let’s say it’s a pantheistic system where different groups of people tend to believe in different gods, and there’s also philosophical systems without a “god” per se. Atheism and agnosticism is fine in this world.
Does Victory worship a particular god? I’m not religious myself, so it might be an interesting challenge to write someone with a strong spiritual belief. She wants to protect her family and be a hero, so let’s have her worship some kind of defender god. Let’s call her… (/me runs back to the naming links)… Siattor. That sounds noble and strong. Maybe at some point, Victory could doubt whether her faith is guiding her in the right direction. If all Siattor’s myths and legends are about her slaying dragons, and dragons are good, then..?
One place where religion does factor in my writing is curse words, haha. We tend to create swears based on religion. Some potentials: gods above!, so-and-so’s blood, so-and-so blast it, spirit and flesh! Their curses might include dragons too, since they hate dragons (that might be an interesting scene—Victory uses a dragon-insult as a curse while Flamerazer is nearby and then has to backpedal). Lizard’s bones or something, I can work on that later.
Economics: We get into something interesting here, because in the last post I noted that it doesn’t make sense for a dragon hunter to get hired by a town to collect a bounty. If the town isn’t offering the bounty, why would the hunter split the take?
There are a few reasons I can think of, but the most compelling is that dragon hunters have to be sponsored by a municipality. They are powerful and dangerous people, and this can be a way for the government to keep control over dragon hunters. It also explains why Victory can’t just run off and declare herself a dragon hunter; she has to be sponsored to be legitimate. This adds weight to her eventual decision to go against the town and try to help the dragons.
This contradicts my initial idea to have the town refuse to hire Victory, so I might change that. Maybe their requirement is that she works with Trina, which she doesn’t want to for some reason? Doesn’t trust magic-users because of some past trauma? Or maybe she’s just a loner.
Wizard Economics: We also have the unique setup of wizards hiring hunters to go kill dragons and bring back their corpse parts for enchanting. Where do the wizards get the bounty money? Presumably from selling magic items they make from dragon parts, but they always need more. Perhaps they make single-use items out of the cheap bits and save the good stuff for powering their big spells (which also consumes the components).
Oh! What if that’s one of the twists at the end? Wizard magic is, by its nature, impermanent. The stronger the component uses, the longer the spell effects last. But if wizards and dragons cooperated, the fusion magic lasts a really long time (maybe forever). That could be really cool.
What are the wizards doing with their rituals? Taking care of their lands, protecting them from dragons (ironically), prolonging their lives, trying to uncover the mysteries of the universe, that sort of thing. I feel like there could be more here but nothing’s coming to me right now, so I’ll put a pin in this point and come back later.
Government: I’d theorized earlier that wizards would be the rulers in this world, and that seems reasonable. I’m picturing a sort of arch-wizard at the top of the political food chain, ruling in a giant tower (made of dragon bones?) somewhere. Then there is a council of powerful wizards beneath them, serving as sort of governors or lieutenants over large territories. Less powerful wizards rule cities or small domains, and barely magical people sometimes rule towns like Shady Pines.
That means the leader of town is a wizard of a sort, though maybe more politically minded than magically talented. He might be more of an impediment when Victory returns than she anticipated, because he has a direct line to the great wizard tower. A nice complication.
That gives me a good foundation to create the official outline from. I know I said I’d share my super secret outline template in this blog, but worldbuilding took a long time and I want to jot down some complicating incidents first. Next blog I’ll discuss Complications and for sure share the document. Excitement! Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you then.