How To Build a World: Questions to Ask

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Last week, I posted an introduction to world building. In this second post of the series, I wanted to address the first step that any worldsmith should take in their journey of creation.

Before you draw a map, before you write up a mythology, before you start naming plants and mountains and seas, you need to think about what questions to ask.

This might seem a little backward. Shouldn’t you be answering questions about your world? Well, yes, of course. In time. I’ve found that it helps to first collect a series of questions to ask about your new world. Making up an entire world from scratch isn’t easy work, and if you’re like me, sometimes you don’t even know where to begin.

There are a lot of great resources out on the web with questionnaires and checklists for just this purpose:

  • Novelist Eliza Wyatt, who opened the invitation for August as World Building Month, posted a handy list of world building topics that can guide your own questions.
  • The Wikipedia entry on Worldbuilding has a section of Construction Steps that provide fodder for the brain.
  • James Wyatt, award-winning game designer and author of the 4th edition D&D Dungeon Master Guide, has a column in the now-online Dungeon Magazine called Dungeoncraft. Wyatt embraces the game’s new default "points of light, world of darkness" setting: the world is a vast expanse of wilderness with flickering beacons of civilization. This gives every world builder the chance to fill in their area with whatever strikes their fancy. Read every column if you can.

Once you’ve built up a list of questions to answer, you have a checklist for your world building pursuits. Now you can start to answer those questions:

  • Write out your answers by hand in a notebook. GameMastery makes a nifty pre-fabricated Campaign Workbook that you can use for this purpose, but some paper and pen work fine, too.
  • Type everything out into Word, or even better, Google Docs. Then you can share it with others.
  • My personal favorite: create a wiki! I’ll discuss this in more detail with the next article, but nothing beats your own wiki for world building purposes. Get a free account with PBWiki, Google Sites, or even better, Obsidian Portal, a wiki/social site designed specifically for roleplaying campaigns and world building.

Next up: building your world with a wiki.

See also:
How To Build a World, Part 1: The Basics
How To Build a World, Part 3: Working with Wikis

Photo by Bill in Ash Vegas

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