Last Updated: September 26, 2021
Worldbuilding is complicated, but with some effort you can build creative, interesting, and realistic worlds. These articles build on information gleaned from a variety of sources (see “further reading”, below), and attempts to combine the shared wisdom of those sources into a coherent whole. Building a world doesn’t require that you complete all of these steps, or that you do them in any particular order. I have presented the steps in their current order in a “top-down” approach, starting from the broadest concept of the world, and drilling down to specifics.
This guide is intended to be system-agnostic, and assumes that you are creating an entire setting (or at least part of one) from scratch, with no mechanical mandates for the form or function of your new setting.
Throughout the guide I will build several example worlds, choosing different options at each step to illustrate the differences which they create between the different settings.
This guide is an ongoing work, and will expand and improve as I find new sources of information, and add additional details to the guide.
What is Worldbuilding?
Worldbuilding, for our purposes, is the process of creating and detailing a fictional world for use in tabletop games or other forms of fiction. While many games will work fine with a single planet (one “world”), the “Worldbuilding” process also applies to the creation of larger settings which might span galaxies, and to smaller worlds which might be as small as single community.
Building Your World
- Concept – Establishing the basic concept of your world.
- Cosmology – Establishing your world’s place among the cosmos.
- Dimensional Cosmology – Fantasy games like DnD include the presence of alternate dimensions or “planes”. The presence of these planes may be very important to your world, and should you decide to use them you should plan for how they work, how they affect the primary plane of existence, and how they can be reached.
- Stellar Cosmology – The movement of stellar bodies has enormous cultural and environmental implications for your world.
- Geography – Building the structure of your world
- Anthropology – Your world will need at least on race/species defined, though it can have any number. Each race should look and feel unique.
- History – Unless your game starts with the first inhabitants of your world, it will have a history which defines its present and future.
- Go Play
- /r/WorldBuilding – A fantastic, passionate, and extremely competent community.
- DnD 3.5 – Manual of the Planes (affiliate link)
- DnD 5e – Dungeon Master’s Guide (affiliate link)
- Fantastic Maps.com – Fantastic blog; the author does the maps for Westeros (Game of Thrones), and publishes guides and tutorials for drawing attractive, realistic maps.
- Wikipedia: Plate Tectonics – Very informative for the Planetary Geography section.