World Building - Building Out
In the previous two posts I’ve spoken almost exclusively about making maps of the world. This is usually the quickest part of world building, at least for me. I’m not yet constrained by details and free to just move things around as I wish. Borders move back and forth, countries appear and disappear, shrink and grow. Maps are living things and are a visual record of our history. The first map I create will contain the bulk of all villages and towns within each country. Over the course of history, some will fade away and others will spring up, some will be related to an event, but others have no event attached to them, sometimes things just fade away on their own without any help.
Once these places are set down, one of the slowest parts of world building begins; the naming of places. The first step in this process is to pick the country I plan to work on, then I assign the people a race, and pick a suitable, real country here on earth that may represent them. I’ll try to create names for the population centres based on the language of the real country. They may be real names or just names that sound like they belong to the language. It’s a short cut, but a necessary one to avoid becoming totally bogged down in detail. Assigning a race to a country also helps when working on adjoining countries as in general they will have similar populations.
Fig 1. An example of an outwards looking plains based country.
Once I’ve named the various population centers, mountains, forests, rivers and lakes in a country, it’s time to turn to the people. Because I started with the geography I now have a general idea of the terrain within the country. This helps me “design” the people. For example, if the country is mostly open plain, then the population may very well be mostly nomadic, with only a few permanent settlements. They may follow their herds, be they cattle, horse, sheep, or some other contrived grass-eating animal. They may use tents, or they may have covered wagons of some sort. If they are a horse orientated culture, they will most likely be armed and armored lightly, relying on bows, spears, and swords adapted for cavalry. It’s probable that they will be clan-based, with each clan following their own herds. If they are in a resource-poor area, then there may be interclan aggression with little interest in what’s going on outside their borders. If they have a surplus of resources, there may be quite a lot of cooperation between the clans and they may have a great interest in what’s outside of their country. There’s a lot of generalization in the process, but for me at least, it works.
Typically, most countries will be a mix of terrain, so the people will be a mix of traditions, but there is usually a dominant type who set the standards. I also need to consider that a population changes over time when exposed to external influences. While over a twenty-year period, traditions are unlikely to change much, a five-hundred-year time frame is a very different story.
I’m aware that reality isn’t quite so black and white, but this is still early in the planning phase. Later work adds layers on top of layers on top of other layers, but regardless, the world is based on generalities, it’s a place to stage your work. The work itself adds the details.