View Full Version : Common Errors in World Building

07-18-2014, 09:14 PM
This guy is brilliant - and anyone that wants to create their own campaign world - no matter what genre of game or book or anything - needs to read this:


Matt James
07-19-2014, 10:48 AM
Goof stuff.

07-19-2014, 01:29 PM
I gotta pay more attention to my Facebook "Likes" - this was an unsolicited "Recommended Link" on my timeline.

And, yes, I checked for viruses and hidden Java crap before I posted it here.

Facebook is getting to know me better than my wife does!

Okay, on to critiques.

The first suggestion is where most world-builders lose it completely - because it's boring as heck for most folks. If I set up an economic system, 99% of players will never realize it... it just "works," and nobody will question it. That ALMOST makes it like you are playing the game only for yourself. I once posted a thread on here asking "How much is too much" regarding infrastructure and behind-the-scenes stuff. I mean, what player REALLY wants to know that there is a fault-line 120 miles from their little village that isn't expected to produce an earthquake for another 10,000 years?

BUT, it's stupid little things like this that make a world magical... even if it's sci-fi.

The second rule - the "current events" - is something that hit me when I was playing a super-heroes RPG. We were jumping around in time, fighting huge robots that were taking over the world, but that seemed to be the ONLY thing going on in the ENTIRE world - even when the invasion started. No natural disasters, no petty wars, no crashed planes - and no ELECTIONS(!!). It seemed so... sterile. That's when I set up a calendar of stuff going on in my world. Unless a PC party screws it up beforehand, an assassination attempt will be made on that powerful figure on August 14th... and a flood will hit Swampville on October 2nd after two weeks of rain, and on December 22nd, Port Rococo will receive word of a coup and total change of leadership in the capital city of Cityville that happened back in early November. Then, as the party adventures around, I check the date and see if the party hears or is close to any of the events.

For world-building, the "one dimensional races" has been a pain for me. My world is very "humanocentric" and about 97% of the population is human. I've established several different ethnic and cultural groups (about 15 of them). I considered a small-town villager traveling to these new lands, and what they would see that was "different" from what they grew up with. Ethnic dances, musical styles, how they treat their spouses - and which spouse (if any) - was in charge, what they eat (especially "special" or ethnic foods), and how they dress and even how they wage war. This forced me to come up with reasons WHY they did these things, which forced me to think long and hard about national history, cultural norms, geography, and even religion - BEFORE I ever solidified the present culture. Some are VERY obviously based on real historical folks - and it was a challenge to come up with twists.
Okay, so these people are Nordic (read: Vikings) - but they are land-based. How will they act and react? How will they fight? How will they be treated by others?

It was the hardest, but this was the most enjoyable for me - watching an entire culture bloom before me.

The monolithic groups was a challenge - because when you try to describe a nation, it is just natural to lump them all together and generalize. "Americans all love guns and beer and rap music." Okay, the folks from Calasia may believe that, but it's simply NOT TRUE - at least for 90+% of the population. But that's how stereotypes are born. Creating disparate groups within a nation took a LOT of time, and I was left with only one nation that was homogeneous and "everybody is the same." They are a very, VERY conservative people, and they love ALL things traditional. Cultural changes for them take a LONG time to shift. For me, I think it works with them, as any "outsider" or avant garde person is simply exiled.

The section on "rational history" was cool, and I found that I do that naturally. Just like the Spartans' battle of Thermopylae, there is NO way 300 can hold off that many troops - yet they did. I truly love strange twists like that. Even the mighty Smaug, who had survived for centuries and had defeated entire armies, was taken down with just one arrow from Bard. Like the saying goes, "Stuff happens."

Section 6, with the "smell after it rains", that's what I was shooting for as I was writing. WHY is Nation B different from Nation G?? How is it similar? Is it just terrain, or is it the smell of potato pancakes in the morning, or is it the beer/ale/spirits? To see a foreigner come to America (where I live) and see their eyes roll back in their head when they experience something that takes them back to their "home" is magical. I had several magical moments when I traveled around the world, and they were truly special.

That last section on the impact of power on society was rough. We all like familiarity, but how WOULD magic impact Joe Average down the road? How would it impact what Grandma does in the kitchen? How would it change how Farmer Brown's rutabagas got to market? I'm still fighting over this one...

07-19-2014, 10:29 PM
7) Introducing some superpower, like magic or insane tech, without fully accounting for how it would change society.This one is the most abused by Hollywood. Namely, I'm thinking of vampires and werewolves co-existing in the normal world. If I see another vampire in high school...:rolleyes:

07-23-2014, 10:11 AM
Going to have to read through this to make sure I haven't made any of the mistakes with my campaign world! I really like the picture!

07-24-2014, 09:39 AM
This guy is brilliant ...


EDIT: I should say 'woman'.

07-24-2014, 10:51 AM
Good catch. But I'm sure Malruhn was using the royal "guy."

Let's call out some offenders of the mistakes. The latter being (apologies on formatting):
1. Not thinking about basic infrastructure.
2. Not explaining why events are happening now.3) Creating fictional versions of real-life human ethnic groups, that never go beyond one dimension
4) Creating monolithic social, political, cultural and religious groups.
5) Inventing a history that is totally logical
6) Not really giving a strong sense of place, like what it smells like after it's been raining.
7) Introducing some superpower, like magic or insane tech, without fully accounting for how it would change society.

I'm gonna call out...Lord of the Rings on mistake number 4. Those orcs were pretty monolithic. And elves. And dwarves. The hobbits had some diversity though.

08-01-2014, 01:32 PM
No, DMMike, I was being a stereotypical, sexist bastage... I didn't even LOOK at the author's name, I automatically assumed that it was a guy.

I apologize to anyone I may have offended - and I apologize to Charlie Jane Anders. I am usually quite good at being gender neutral or giving appropriate credit to whatever gender is involved, and in this case I blew it in epic fashion. Mea Culpa.

Now, as to Rule 4, we do it as well... all Nazis are bad, all Soviets were warmongers, all (insert group here) are (insert monolithic quality here). As for JRRT, his Elves and Dwarves were created by the gods directly, so I can excuse his use of Rule 4. Also, we never really end up getting to know any more than ONE of each with some side-characters tossed in as add-ons, so a stereotype may well true on the surface. We got to know the Hobbits more, and they were forgotten by the gods for many years, so perhaps they were allowed to "stray" from the stereotype - just like humans. The Maiar and Vala were all extremely different, even when joined by the same causes.

As for what the movies showed us (and was NOT included in the books), there was ZERO farmland outside of small veggie gardens grown by the hobbits. All the Gondorans in Minas Tirith, and zero farms. The Rohirim had no farms. The Elves and Dwarves had no farms... there as NO infrastructure, especially for the moving armies.

Again, sorry for labeling the author as a guy. I hate it when people do that... and I do'd it.

09-03-2014, 11:56 AM
Huh. I've long told people who asked me for world-building advice the first thing they should do is watch Dirty Jobs, all of it, then pick up Connections, if they can (it's a bit rough to find these days), and just those two things tend to cover this list pretty well.

09-03-2014, 09:07 PM
Dude... you HAD to bring up Connections...

I LOVED that show!

And now for a shower on the parade:
I am getting VERY close to finishing up my player's guide for my campaign world, and I decided to have a talk with a real-life published author about it (He's DMing a group I'm in).

He asked me if I wanted to publish it for sale, and I admitted that there was SO much plagiarized stuff that I would NEVER get it to press. Okay, it's JUST for my gaming group(s)... and he started.

He asked me to describe my world, and started machine-gunning me with, "Why?" After I sputtered to a stop after several, he asked me if _I_ wanted to be handed a ream of paper with world info on it, just to be a PC in some person's game. When I told him, "No," and added that most wouldn't read it, he asked me how many pages I was up to... and I had to respond with, "Over 200."

WHY do I need to have half-a-page included about a river that drops into a huge hole in the ground that is so loud that it can be heard 10-miles away and there MIGHT be something cool down there? WHY would a player care? As long as _I_ know it's there is good enough - and that's only ONE example.

I've got 10-13 pages including maps and flags and proverbs for every nation I have - and he advised me to cut it down to a SINGLE column on a two-column page. Just one column for each nation... and THEN people would want to read it. He didn't even get into tropes or anything on this list. It was sheer readability.

Good points.

10-15-2014, 02:28 AM
I know that 90% of my world building for me. I don't expect the players to read it. It is my book of mnemonics. At least a sentence on every NPC I write. I can't remember each and every so I remind myself.

38 years, one world. Getting it all down has been my major project fort some time.

The word is verisimilitude. Making something look more complex and real than it is. I'm not trying to build a whole world, I'm trying to paint a very realistic picture of one.

I've learned over the years what my players care about and what they don't. I put the effort in the caring part.