2019-04-12 22:39:37 (edited by skluttrell 2019-04-15 15:36:22)

Thought I might try my hand at creating a master list of questions that would guide people in building a world for their game. I have RPGs in mind, but I see no reason why it couldn't be used in general world building--even for creating a world for a novel or whatever.

Comments, suggestions, more questions are greatly appreciated.

Here's a more user friendly HTML document: https://www.dropbox.com/s/p3g5ngxd8rdzg … .html?dl=1

Part One: Build the world

What's the major theme of this world: mythical, Tolkien-esque, cyberpunk, steampunk, etc.? Be as creative as you like here. It's only for you. Make it something that tells you something about the world and the story in one or two words. I'll refer you to the book "Save the Cat" by Blake Snyder. Yeah, it's a screen writing book but it can easily be adapted to serve any creative need. His discussion on not using standard genre types and his list of story types will come in handy and it starts on page 24. Also his "Beet Sheet" is a great organizational tool, but that's not pertinent at this stage.

Also consider what your story in this world will focus on: is it a religious story? a political story? a war or crime story? Knowing this will help you focus in on the details that will really matter. But don't ignore the other details either. Background will make the world come alive (especially when we are talking about an audio game where we don't have the benefit of graphics telling our story for us).

This is largely a brainstorming exercise. When answering these questions, I can't stress enough to be brief in the ones you answer. This is just to get a picture in your head of the world, not to place every couch or set every table.

You may find later that some of the answers you give don't really help move a story along, and world building takes long enough as it is without spending time on petty details. A good rule of thumb is the longer a player is going to vacation in your world, the more detail you'll need. If it's Space Invaders, no one cares where the aliens came from or why you are shooting them. But if it's Elder Scrolls: Oblivion expect someone to build a bread staircase to Heaven in order to see what was in the tower (yes, I had a friend who did that. No, he didn't find anything. It's just a facade.).

Since it's been pointed out (although I figured it was pretty obvious), not all the questions can be answered. Some contradict one another. This isn't a school assignment. You don't get a grade on it or fail if you can't fill in everything. It's just a tool to be there when you need it.

The shape of the world and its politics

How big is the world: one large continent, a lot of small islands, several continents, does the entire story take place in one city, etc.?
Is there a well known land formation in your world: the highest mountain, deepest valley, huge crater, etc.?
Think about how locals might view a landmark and keep it in mind when building religions.
What is trade like?
Is trade international, from village to village along a trade root, or some other mechanism?
What's the major obstacle to trade?
Is there a major port of commerce or hub of travel?
How do people travel long distances?
Take time to briefly describe the first two or three locations, towns or cities a player might encounter at the start or end of a story.
What is the political climate like?
Are their large governing bodies?
How were the governing bodies founded?
Is there large scale corruption?
Are there political factions and how do they get along?
Is there a class system?
Are there multiple races?
Are those races integrated or segregated?
Are people of differing races or factions feared or marginalized?
Who gets to own land?
What sort of laws exist and how are they maintained?
How does the law handle crime?
Is the law feared or respected?
Do constables take pride in their work or are some or all of them fat and lazy?
Is there a race or group that is unfairly targeted by the law?
Are there gangs?
Are there famous criminals?
Describe how one of the more famous criminals was punished.
Describe how one of the more famous law enforcers is seen by the people they serve.
Are criminals famous or infamous?
Are law enforcers famous or infamous?

History and religion

How is history kept in this world?
Is history passed down through stories and folklore or is there a major faction that keeps detailed historical records?
If there are historical archives, are these records available to everyone or only a privileged few and why?
Is there a fallen empire or people?
What types of old ruins are scattered around your world?
Do people know about the ancients that created them?
Is there a famous explorer who discovered one of the landmasses or major land features?
What are the major religions?
Take time to describe some of the beliefs of your religions in a sentence or two each. Don't worry about fleshing things out. Just hit the major points. Example: Christianity is the belief that the heavens and the Earth are created by one god, that man exists in a natural fallen state, and that we must redeem ourselves through the Christ figure who sacrificed himself to atone for the sin of man in order to reach the ultimate heaven or peace. (It doesn't have to be perfect. Anything you write will lead to questions later that you can answer to fill things in.)
Are there any rituals?
Describe their temples or churches if applicable.
How much are the daily lives of the average citizens controlled or influenced by their religion?
Do the major religions get along or do they fight with each other?
Are the nature of religious differences philosophical or war-like?
What are some apocalyptic predictions in this world?
Are the gods anthropomorphic?
Are they talkative or showy?
Do they show themselves to everyone or just a select few in the highest echelons of the religious?
What happens when someone dies?
Take time to quickly invent at least one legendary hero--someone people still tell stories about.


Has your world entered an industrial age?
Is there a large scale energy distribution network?
From what is energy derived?
Are goods manufactured?
Is industry hated?
Does industry pollute the environment?


What is considered money?
Are there different types of money?
Is there a sought after resource?
Are there slaves?
How are the very old, women and children, poor and wealthy treated in the major cities, and how does that differ from the outermost rural areas?
Pick one of your towns or cities and use your imagination to follow the poorest member around for a day.
Do the same for the wealthiest.
What is the criminal underbelly like? Are there large criminal empires or a thieves' guild?
Are there any famous merchants, companies, or guilds?


Are there sports?
Do people come from far and wide to gather in giant stadiums or coliseums to watch contests?
Is there video or audio entertainment such as radio, TV, movies, holograms, etc.?
What do people in this world typically watch?
How are programs focused?
Reality TV?
Government controlled?
Darkly comedic?
Think of some programming that might air on a typical media center.
What types of music are popular?
Are there traveling musicians, theater groups, or circuses?

Interesting details

Briefly describe regional foods.
Are there any famous restaurants, taverns, clubs, bars, etc.?
What types of alcohol are available?
Is there a famous spirit, beer, or wine?
Do people smoke?
What do people smoke?
Are drugs accepted as normal part of life or frowned upon?
It's a good idea to pick at least one thing each region, town, city, population center, etc. is known for.
What's the most taboo thing to do?
What sort of values or virtues do the people hold?
How are families organized?
Who is the most famous person in your world?
Briefly describe a scandal.


Pick a few major locations or cities and describe their building style.
For each location or city, what's the greatest threat they have to deal with: bandits, weather, dragons, etc.?
How are those threats handled architecturally?
Is there a great wall? Do they change the style of their buildings? Example: rainy areas might require houses with slanted roofs so the rain slides off while hot, dry climates use flat roofs.
What's the tallest building?
What does that tallest building represent to the people around it?
Are there any Great Wonders of the World?


Are there multiple languages?
Which one is the most commonly spoken?
How much distance separates people who speak different languages?
Do people who speak different languages clash in major cities or is it common place?
Are there pigeon dialects in those cities?
Take some time to come up with some words people of this world use to refer to common objects that might be different from ours.
How do they construct object names: by what that object does, from ancient etymology, a company name, or some other attribute of that object?


If there are multiple languages, how common would it be for an average person to speak more than one?
Is literacy wide spread or only something for the highest class, or maybe only the priests of the world or some other group?
By what feature are the very smart or very uneducated identified: accents, certificates of achievement, nobility, the color of their eyes, etc.?
Are there major colleges?
How do people view the major sciences or magics in this world?


What is the highest level of technology the most advanced people in the world have achieved?
Are the greatest technological wonders Available to the whole world or only a select few?
Does the government control research and developement?
Is technology magic or science based, or both?
Does magic compete with the physical sciences?
Is science hated or feared by the masses?
Is magic hated?
If someone stormed into a hospital covered in blood dripping from massive wounds, how would they be healed?
What's the most devastating weapon yet invented?
If there was a distant uprising, how quickly could forces be martialed and respond?
Are there differing schools of magic?
How do the schools of magic interact with one another?
Are wizards famous or infamous?
Are scientists famous or infamous?


How are militaries structured?
Is it different for each nation?
Describe the hierarchies.
Were there any notable wars?
Is there a current war?
Are there any warmongers?
Are there any isolationists?
Are there any pacifists?
Are there any large military alliances?
Are there any nations that are feared or reviled?
Are there any nations that are looked on as moral authorities?
Is there a cold war?
What are the intelligence networks like?


Does the weather affect your inhabitants?
Is it one single tundra or are there multiple climates?
Pick some locations and describe how people describe the weather.
Do locals complain or just take things as they are?
Do locals criticize foreigners for complaining about the weather?
Does the weather act as a barrier to isolate certain civilizations?
How do people react to natural desasters?

Part Two: Building a generic character template

It should be obvious, but this section will probably only be useful to RPG creation. However, even action games have hidden stats that the player rarely sees, or is represented by a symbol like hearts or bars for life, so you might want to glance through it anyway. It might jog some ideas loose.

Character stats

What theme are you trying to represent? Are there vampires? You might have to keep track of blood consumption. Are there zombies? You might want a sanity stat. Are there giant robots? They might tend to over heat during combat. Military battles might need a bullet counter. Fighters might want stamina bars. Mages need mana. Warlocks and necromancers might have to keep track of loyalty. Consider how the theme might add a unique flair to your combat system.
Are there character classes? Example: Monk, priest, Fighting man, Shadow Dancer, etc. Be creative here and use your theme as a guide.
Briefly describe the classes in a sentence or so. Don't worry about mechanics just yet.
Who is this game for? More stats to keep track of might turn off users who want a more casual experience. Too few stats might make combat boring and predictable.
Will the stats be visible to users? You might want to have most or all of your stats hidden by the user interface to make the presentation clean. This might turn off users who like to micromanage their stats. This might also make the game more linear and less replayable. But it might also appeal to a wider audience who want a more action oriented game.
What kind of base stats will you use during combat?
How is damage accomplished?
Is there a:
Melee system?
Ranged system?
Magic system?
Psychic system?
Divine system?
Consider what stats might go in to these different systems.
Also it might be helpful to look at your classes, if you have any, and decide the main stat they will use (limit to one if you can). By the end, you'll have a list of only the important base stats.
Consider how holding weapons and wearing armor will change these base stats. Weapons and armor will probably have their own similar set of stats that go into the next set of calculations, so they should compliment the base stats.
What are your derived stats--Stats that require multiple base stat combinations or other calculations like damage, health, mana, armor class, etc.
Will the player level?
How much control will the player hav when they level up?
Will they get to change the stats directly or will their class determine which stats increase?
How do your character/monster types differ? If you have a rock monster fighting a dragon, the difference might be in strength vs speed. How do those stats compare?
Are your stats appropriate? If you aren't going to use it a number of times in the game than it probably is an indicator that the stat isn't needed or should be rolled into another stat that is used more often.

Useful resources:

6 More Ways To Improve Turn-Based RPG Combat Systems. (2012, July 20). Retrieved from https://sinisterdesign.net/6-more-ways- … t-systems/
12 Ways To Improve Turn-Based RPG Combat Systems. (2011, July 7). retrieved from https://sinisterdesign.net/12-ways-to-i … t-systems/
DellaFave, R. (2013, June). Balancing Turn-Based RPGs. Retrieved from https://gamedevelopment.tutsplus.com/se … edev-12702
Kowal, M. R., Sanderson, B., Tayler, H. Wells, D., et al. (2008-present). Writing Excuses [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from https://writingexcuses.com
Rosenfelder, M. (2011). The Language Construction Kit [Kindle Version]. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Language-Constru … amp;sr=8-1
Rosenfelder, M. (2012). The Planet Construction Kit [Kindle Version]. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Planet-Construct … amp;sr=8-1
Snider, B. (2005). Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need [Kindle Version]. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Save-Cat-Last-Sc … amp;sr=8-1
The Battle System I Wish RPGs Would Stop Using. (2011, July 5). Retrieved from https://sinisterdesign.net/the-battle-s … top-using/

If you're wrong, you're wrong.
You can follow me on twitter @s_luttrell and an almost never used Facebook account at skluttrell.

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2019-04-12 22:47:50

I love this!
So thought-provoking on many levels!

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2019-04-13 11:03:55

I appreciate a lot  of the  questions, however, I'd say that often their relevance or style depends heavily on the medium your working in.

For example, it makes sense when creating a game to say "what kind of world is this, traditional fantasy, steampunk, cyberpunk etc.

However, I can think of a lot of books where the very unique nature of the world defies classification.

For example, final fantasy 7 takes place in a world with approximately modern day technology, cars, trucks etc, but with some science fictional elements such as lasers and robots.
Yet, it also has a strong fantasy theme and a tinge of religious mysticism, with people's souls being reborn and returned to the planet.

So it is not clear exactly whether one would classify such a world under a single genre heading, or indeed whether it would even be wise to try.

similarly, if your writing a story which is set primarily in one city, you don't have to go into too much detail about the rest of the world.

If the king is going to eat roast beef for dinner, most of the time you can just say the king eat's roast beef for dinner without explaining the entire agriculture of the kingdom. Of course, if it becomes thematically or logically important to explain where the king gets his roast beef, E.G if the beef is actually a delicacy of a neighboring kingdom whose ambassador the King is trying to impress, or if the greedy king gets roast beef while his people starve. However, in most cases its more a matter of trying to determine what information is necessary for your story and giving it, than answering each and every question.

for example, in the original Starwars films, nobody ever talked about gravety on the spaceships or how light sabres worked, since it wasn't necessary for the audience to understand these things. On the other hand, it was of critical importance that people got that there was a galactic empire which was so evil it had dissolved the democratically elected government, and needed a giant planet destroying battle station to keep everyone in line.

As well as thinking about the function of information in the work your giving, another critical question is how long the work is and what it is meant to accomplish.

Path of adventure doesn't tell you  about where its set. You have a path to walk, there are monsters, there are dungeons and ruins to visit, there are treasure chests to loot and an evil boss to slay.

the boss gets some background, and there is a bit of story going on, but in terms of what world the path comes from, or why (other than just general reasons of fame and fortune), your character starts down this path doesn't matter.

On the other hand, Path of aventure does a brilliant job introducing all its elements. Each monster is described, there are magical treasures and even something of a progressive story,thus, while the world outside the path remains largely unknown, what is on the path is defined very exactly both in terms  of mechanics, and in terms of description.

The most extreme example of this was the 1988 game bad dood vs the dragon ninjas which started with a single screen of text:

"president ronny has been captured by the ninjas, are you a bad enough dood to rescue ronny?"

You then played as some guy in genes and a shirt, walking along punching and kicking various enemy ninjas and jumping platforms.
Detailed world building? no. But for a fairly simple fun little arcade game involving ninja clobbering, absolutely perfect! big_smile.

In the end it all comes down to are you creating starwars or dune.

When George Lucus  wrote the original Starwars, he was writing an adventure film. An adventure film with a  backstory certainly, but fundamentally something intended as good fun for a couple of hours without as much by way of depth in many of its elements.

of course, depth has been added in god knows how many suplementary books etc, but those only came long after the fact.

On the other hand, we have frank Herbert's dune, which has a complete timeline stretching from the present day onwards, technological, philosophical and religious underpinnings going for several thousand years, and significances to every element yu encounter in the story, even as far as cups of coffee or details of costume or dining etiquette.

So, while I don't disagree that having more information is better than having less, it also heavily depends upon what your creating, and what sort of experience your giving to your players/readers/listeners/viewers.

With our dreaming and singing, Ceaseless and sorrowless we! The glory about us clinging Of the glorious futures we see,
Our souls with high music ringing; O men! It must ever be
That we dwell in our dreaming and singing, A little apart from ye. (Arthur O'Shaughnessy 1873.)

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2019-04-13 22:59:42 (edited by skluttrell 2019-04-13 23:03:42)

Totally agree Dark.

To the genre thing: yeah, there are a bunch of unclassifiable games out there. I only meant to give examples. If you read "Save the Cat" by Blake Snider, he has a whole chapter on non-traditional genre writing. As far as that question goes, it doesn't matter what you define your project as as long as it makes sense to you.

Though I think your example of Final Fantasy would fall under steampunk if I'm not mistaken. But, like I said, it only has to make sense to the project developer. It's only to keep them in a frame of mind--not to provide publishing material. If someone wants to call their project a "farmer goes dragon slaying adventure," I don't see anything wrong with that.

Also, I never meant for all the questions to be answered. Obviously there a bunch of questions dealing with the rest of a world that would have no baring on a project that only exists in one city. Many questions are context dependent. That should be obvious.

I tried to put the questions in a certain order so that if one was answered one way than other questions below it would be clearly not applicable.

It should be pretty clear how much a project needs to be developed. If you need things to think about for how much you want to define your world then these questions are collected here. People who don't need detail aren't obligated to some or any of these questions. I'm just trying to give people things to think about. And if you're developing an RPG, or other deep story type projects, then world building is often critical to a good story--not always but often.

Not all these things will even come up in the game. I think Lucas did more world building than you realize behind the scenes. It's not always about what's said directly in a story or glimpsed in the background, but world building helps any storyteller ground their story in a believable world rather the end user gets to see all the dials, switches, and sticky notes that went into the project or not.

Brandon Sanderson has boxes of notes and notbooks filled with esoteric details on his Cosmeer that the reader will never even know about through his stories--same with George Martin, Tolkien, Herbert, and a ton of others.

PS. Martin already knows who will sit the Iron Throne, and has since he began writing Game of Thrones because of world building.

If you're wrong, you're wrong.
You can follow me on twitter @s_luttrell and an almost never used Facebook account at skluttrell.

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2019-04-14 03:07:38

I like to build the hell out of my world, whatever it may be.
I'll be one of those with the volumes of notes no one will ever see.
The reader may or may not need to know, but I need to know.
Then as I begin to write, the knowledge is there for me, and I can distribute the important bits of it to the reader, like little snacks. :-)
I have always believed that the better grasp I have on my project, the better it will be, even if only 1% of what I know actually gets included in the version that goes out to the public.

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2019-04-14 15:19:23 (edited by skluttrell 2019-04-14 15:28:44)

At Mirage

Exactly! Me too. It helps if you have a ready answer when difficult world questions come up--either in your story or from a fan who wants to know more, a production assistant when you need to flesh out a scene, when your D&D campaigners ask you a question because they want to take a particular action, or any number of scenarios.

This is only a tool to put in a creative toolkit. Not every tool is right for every job, but it's there when you need it. And like any tool, you can shape it or adapt it to other needs.

World building on the fly along actually causes your project to slow down and can lead to inconsistencies which means you'll have to do more edit runs in the end to make sure you've ironed them all out. Also, if you don't believe your world how are you going to convince anyone else too?

If you're wrong, you're wrong.
You can follow me on twitter @s_luttrell and an almost never used Facebook account at skluttrell.

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2019-04-15 15:51:22 (edited by Dark 2019-04-16 12:09:34)

I don't know. back before I started writing seriously I'd have agreed completely, I loved making up fantasy societies and weird circumstances, and I certainly agree  there are plenty of badly built worlds out there with plot holes you could drive an airship through.

The problem though, is as I've started writing myself, I've  found that the majorly important thing is how information is presented to the reader and what experiences the characters themselves have, as opposed to making a long list of esoteric details about the world.

occasionally, I do find I need to flesh out a detail,  find myself coming up with an idea that I want to present to the reader and just have sit there for a bit of fun, however in most cases what I'm concerned about is how the world affects  characters  what the ultimate goal of the story I'm working on is.

then again, I haven't yet started on a novel, thus far I'm working on what is planned to be an sf novella, and as such it has a very specific character and goal in mind, hence why I always need to be aware of where Checov's gun is pointing.
its possible that when (eventually), I have the experience and time to plot a full scale novel, matters will be different.

That's however why I said it depends upon the project in question and what ultimately your  in creating the fantasy world is, since if your aim in mind is indeed like bad dood vs the dragon ninjas, just a short arcade fling, then no need to take anything too seriously, but if your working on the next Dune or cosmier or the like,  obviously need to plan everything to a nicety.

With our dreaming and singing, Ceaseless and sorrowless we! The glory about us clinging Of the glorious futures we see,
Our souls with high music ringing; O men! It must ever be
That we dwell in our dreaming and singing, A little apart from ye. (Arthur O'Shaughnessy 1873.)

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2019-04-16 03:20:02

At Dark

Sounds like you're a discovery writer. Nothing wrong with that. You're in good company. Steven King is one. Just sits at a computer and lets the story take him where it needs to go.

If you're wrong, you're wrong.
You can follow me on twitter @s_luttrell and an almost never used Facebook account at skluttrell.

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2019-04-16 12:34:39

I wouldn't actually say I'm so much a experience writer like Stephen King, indeed the inequities in early dark tower novels show issues with that approach, I just find now that I am writing seriously on a semi full time basis (500 words a day when I can manage it), I need to spend time actually, ----- well writing, rather than sitting around working out what the people in such and such a province have for breakfast each morning or where it comes from.

When I write a novel, which I do hope to do at some point, I'll likely spend more time world building and putting things together,  I need the experience first, plus of course, I don't want to spend  next three years writing a really major novel just to find I cant' get it published :d.

With our dreaming and singing, Ceaseless and sorrowless we! The glory about us clinging Of the glorious futures we see,
Our souls with high music ringing; O men! It must ever be
That we dwell in our dreaming and singing, A little apart from ye. (Arthur O'Shaughnessy 1873.)

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2019-04-16 15:32:09 (edited by skluttrell 2019-04-16 16:00:46)

I always wanted to try NaNoWriMo, but I never had an idea that felt strong enough to carry the month. That would be over 1600 words a day. I just don't have it in me I think.

There's a caution here though. One of the things that comes out of world building is the boundaries of the world your characters are in. If a writer/content creator isn't careful they can accidentally find themselves creating a Superman type character where all challenges are met with a new power. If rules aren't set up and the line drawn, that's real easy to do.

If you're wrong, you're wrong.
You can follow me on twitter @s_luttrell and an almost never used Facebook account at skluttrell.

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