A World Building Model

Copyright Tim Harper (aka Samwise7) © 2009

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"We called them the Laws of Creation."


Several years ago I tried to organize a world building group, and enlisted several friends and strangers to participate in making our setting of Enlil. Sadly, like so many other group projects in my life, I was left holding the bag, and was made responsible for finishing most of the work that was left undone. The project is not dead, but it never reached the level of completeness I wanted it to have. I still tinker on it from time to time, but it will take a lot more work to finish it. It was meant to be a system-less setting, but D20 crept in. I want to eventually convert it to HARP, but I am only one geeky man with a limited amount of free time. For those that are interested you can look to see what our results were at the following link: http://www.eonsreach.com/worldforum/index.php

The reason I submitted this article, is that there might be other people out there that might like to try to use my little world building model to make a setting of their own. If you can find some semi-reliable friends it might hopefully work better than my attempt, but I have found that normally if you want to do it right, you have to do it yourself. Probably the biggest problem with world building (for some people) is that it is hard work. If you aren't willing to spend your free time tinkering on a fake world that more than likely won't be viewed by many people, then you probably shouldn't start in the first place. If, however you are willing to spend a good amount of time lovingly crafting your own imaginative world, then by all means get started.

We made an outline to help us organize our thoughts and to deal out the work that would be needed to complete the project. The general idea was for each designer to made a 200 mile hex that would be a completely isolated world. They would come up with everything a 200 mile world could contain including races, monsters, language, strange effects, weather, etc. Their world would be isolated for a 5,000 year period of time, and then would suddenly learn that the "end of the world" was in fact more land. Below is a modified outline of the one we used for Enlil. I hope it helps some of you out there with your own setting designs.

This would be the checklist for my Isolationist Then Chaos world building model. We called them the Laws of Creation.

I. Uber-God (Project Coordinator)

  • A. Keep the project moving, motivate/pester Designers.
  • B. Help those with questions with a semi-outside viewpoint.
  • C. Veto ideas that are too powerful, or that break the "Laws of Creation."
  • D. Set in stone the "Laws of Creation" that must be followed in designing, unless there are really good reasons to break them. Designers can ask to break these laws, but they must abide by the Uber-God's final decision.
  • E. New Designers should contact the Uber-God/Project Manager as to what level of involvement they want to take part in (God or Demi-god).
  • F. Enforce a low-tech mythical fantasy setting.
  • G. Declare the start time and end time of the World Building Project.
  • H. Do anything else the Designers don't do.
  • I. Bring all the finished ideas together and make a final product.

II. Gods (Main Designers)

  • A. Create a unique Race (avoid rip off races from other settings) and maybe some Sub-Races. Try to stay away from the standard fantasy races.
  • B. Create A unique Culture with Traditions and Taboos. You may also create some Sub-cultures.
  • C. Create any Religions, Myths, and Cults. Religion may involve worship of the God you represent, or something you make up for the benefit of your race.
  • D. Design a map of your Hex (This could be a very basic rough draft).
  • E. Create Cities, Towns, and Villages in your Hex with some detail. These could be dots on a map, with a name and flavor text.
  • F. Create unique Monsters for your Hex.
  • G. Create possible Adventure Sites such as dungeons, jungles, ruins, etc. A name and a description could be enough for this.
  • H. Create a History for the 5000 year period your Hex is isolated from the other Hexes.
  • I. Create the name of your Hex.
  • J. Create a Government for your Hex.
  • K. Create a Creation Myth for your Hex
  • L. Create a Climate and Weather Conditions for your Hex.
  • M. Create the "Colors of things" which could be normal, or very unusual.
  • N. Create Demigods as powerful NPCs.
  • O. Create Strange Effects of your realm on magic, technology, sleep, etc.
  • P. Create a Calendar and Measurements of Time.
  • Q. When we finish, the Designers will type up all of their work, and will submit all of the information on their Hex to the Uber-God.
  • R. Create Misc. stuff needed to flesh out your Hex such as Animals, Ecosystems, Plants, etc.
  • S. Each Designer will need to create a unique Light Source for their hex, or lack there of, for the first 5,000 years of their hex. Creating a mythical way for a light source is encouraged. After this time the Uber-God will create a new Light Source that will illuminate all of the united Hexes.
  • [OPTIONAL] Create the language(s) that are spoken with sites and places named in that language(s).
  • [OPTIONAL] Designers can translate their Hex into RPG terms and stats. Any translations of their work into RPG terms should be separate from the main ideas and Book-Like description of your Hex.

III. Demi-Gods (Designer Helpers)

  • A. Help any Designer that needs help with things you want to create.
  • B. Demi-Gods may be asked to help with certain areas other Designers don't want to do.
  • C. They should keep cool ideas to themselves of the various Hexes, as spreading those ideas around could influence other designer's creative isolationist vision.
  • D. The Demi-Gods will be needed to finish the Setting before the final deadline.

IV. Translators (Take Book-Like designs and turn them into RPG terms)

  • A. Take everything that has been created so far and make rules for the chosen RPG. ICE games are of course encouraged.
  • B. Multiple Translations for various RPGs are possible, but not probable.

V. The Laws of Creation (general rules/guidelines)

  • A. The Goal of this world building project is to create a unique fantasy world for use with any RPG. This will be a Book-Like design. Optional RPG details are of course welcomed.
  • B. Some Time Limit should be suggested to help procrastinators.
  • C. The setting will be a low-tech mythical fantasy setting.
  • D. The area you are to create is a Hex with a size of 200 miles across, 100 miles below the surface, and 100 miles above the surface.
  • E. All things created in one hex can survive and stay intact right on the border with another Hex even if it doesn't "make sense." This is the will of the Gods. Every Hex has a 1 mile buffer zone on the very edges where Hexes will interact together with strange results. So when you add one hex to another there will be a total of a 2 mile buffer zone where both hexes will mingle with the other to interesting results. The Uber-God should help make the decision for how the Hexes blend together.
  • F. Any living things that can move into other Hexes (even plants at a much slower rate) can do so during the Great Uniting which is after the 5,000 years of isolation from the other Hexes.
  • G. Hexes will be placed randomly by dice roll after each Designer is finished at the end of the Time Limit of the project. Those Hex sides not touching other Hexes will be the "Edge of the Flat World."
  • H. At the end of the Time Limit there will be the Great Uniting and each Hex will have open borders with its neighboring Hexes.
  • I. The length of time the Hexes are separated from each other is set at 5,000 years. From the time it is created until the time the Gods hold the Hexes together during the Great Uniting is 5000 years. This is the time where your made up history happens. During the year 1667 the Uber-god makes all of the Realms quake, this should be incorporated into every Realm's History.
  • J. The world will be a Flat World with a map made up only of the Hexes we have created. The Edges of the map are the "Edge of the Flat World."
  • K. Each Hex will have a rating in 4 areas: 1-5 Technology (this is a low mythical fantasy setting), 1-10 Magic, 1-10 Mystical Influence (breaking the rules), and 1-10 Godly Influence (how directly the God you represent influences life in the hex). The Uber-God should set a set amount of points to use in these categories, though if the group feels this is unnecessary then you can ignore this suggestion.
  • L. Each Day will last 20 Hours, and each Year will last 360 Days.
  • M. Planes of Existence are set by the Uber-God. The Uber-God exists outside of Creation and watches as all of the Planes of Existence float around him like bubbles. Suggested Planes are those found in the D20 rules.
  • N. Each Designer gets 1 Hex and represents 1 God. If there are any excited Designers that finish their first Hex to completion, they may be given a 2nd one.
  • O. Climate, Weather, and the Colors of Things, will be static even after the Great Uniting of Hexes. This is held static by the will of the Gods.
  • P. Each Hex gets Demi-Gods as NPCs to incorporate into their design.
  • Q. During the 5,000 year isolationist period the Hexes are held by their God, separate from one another. Then these separate Hexes will be united into one flat landmass.
  • R. There will a Pool of Shared Ideas for small extras that any God can take from. Try to keep your really cool ideas to yourself to incorporate into your own Hex, but if there is anything extra feel free to share with the others.
  • S. Main Creation Myth: We are Gods striding regally through the Etherium (a kind of river of divine energy) carrying with us our greatest creations, magnificent Hexes sometimes called Realms that we have created from scratch. Each of us has taken on a shape/form that pleases us. Recently, we have decided (at the Uber-god's bidding) that we'd like to see how the beings of our Hexes deal with those of others, so we interlock our Hexes by holding them together for a time. The Hexes that are joined in the Great Uniting will be physically adjacent for as long as we the Gods deem to keep them that way and hold them there.
  • T. During the 5,000 year isolation, each God has to provide a Light Source for their Hex, but during the Great Uniting the Uber-god will create a new Light Source that will illuminate all of the newly joined landmass.

VI. The Great Uniting

  • A. Each Hex will be exposed to its neighbors, and the chaos thereof. In game time this happens after the 5,000 years of seclusion. In real life, this is when we get to the Time Limit deadline, and do last minute work. Try to have all work completed by the end of the Time Limit.
  • B. This will be the Reveal phase, where we will share all of our information with the other Designers.
  • C. When the Hexes are revealed there may be a group process of cleaning up any loose ends, or unfinished work of the other Designers. If you don't do all of the work before the Time Limit it is then up to everyone involved in the project to do enough work to "finish" the world so that it can be included in the overall finished setting.
  • D. During this time we will discuss the 1 mile area around each Hex that when joined with another Hex will make a 2 mile buffer zone between hexes. This buffer zone is a "mingling" of whatever each Hex has in that area. I think this will be interesting as things that aren't normally beside each other, will be forced to abide beside each other. An example of this is that one Hex might be a desert Hex, while the newly adjacent Hex could be a deep ocean.

VII. After We Finish

  • A. New Hexes would be added in a random manner to the current map. Since the first 5,000 years of each Hex are isolated, new Hexes can be added later without worry of disrupting other Designers work.
  • B. The setting is "finished" at the year 5,000. It is up to the GM to decide what happens when all of the chaos of the Great Uniting is going on.
  • C. Enjoy all of the hard work, and view the setting for what it is; a unique and detailed fantasy setting.