Looking for advice and inspiration for your fantasy buildings? It’s difficult to know where to begin with building fantasy buildings, but if you get it right, the payoff can be fantastic: your readers and players will be dreaming of your extraordinary creations!
So, fear not! Here are some tips and questions to help you easily expand the fantasy or scifi buildings and landmarks in your world – using the worldbuilding template on World Anvil!
5 tips for creating fantasy buildings and landmarks
Using the worldbuilding template, one of the first questions to asks is “what is the purpose of the building or landmark”? Yes, a building has a functional purpose – what it’s used for. More importantly, the building also has its purpose within your novel or campaign!
When thinking about how to worldbuild for a novel or D&D campaign, it can help if you consider how you want players or characters to interact with what you are creating. Using these ideas, you can shape that experience! Here are some questions to guide that process which the building’s article template can help you organize:
Tip 1: Dig into your Genre for fantasy buildings
What tone and atmosphere do you want to capture with your fantasy building? Is it a horror story, and you’re trying to up the creep-factor? Or is it an 18th century pirate campaign, and you’re trying to create a sense of weird adventure? Digging into your genre can give you so much to work with that can enhance your world for your players and readers. For example, need a building for your space campaign? How about a space-fighter hanger, or a factory for high-tech weapons, or a derelict space ship? For your pirates, how about a pirate ship, or an old wreck, or even a good, old grog-soaked tavern?
Tip 2: What’s the Function of your fantasy or scifi building?
What is the building or landmark used for? Understanding the building’s use (or its past use) can create a living sense of environment for your MCs or PCs. You can instantly start to build out what kinds of items (and maybe even secrets and treasures) they’ll find there! You can also start tp guess what kinds of NPCs or side characters might show up, and even what sorts of monsters they may have to face.
For example, if the building is – or used to be – a monastery, we can guess that there’ll be lots of religious things about – statues, iconography, and maybe even treasures. We can also expect there to be some monks – or some ghosts of monks if it’s abandoned. And finally, we can expect the monks to get aggressive (and become adversaries, prepare your NPC stat locks) if the PCs or MCs go somewhere they’re not supposed to.
Tip 3: Story Focus – how does it fit into the plot?
What is the purpose of your fantasy building within your story? Is it a place that your MCs or PCs can rest, like a tavern? Or are they there to gather information (whether they know it or not?) Or perhaps your building is the lair of a monster they have to fight! Deciding in advance how your building fits into the plot helps you figure out what NEEDS to be there for your story.
For example, let’s take our monastery for above. Perhaps your characters think they’re there for rest and healing, but YOU (oh wise story teller) know that they can discover a secret from there. You’ll need to add the secret – and a few hints to help them on their way too! Let’s say some tell-tale murals, a few odd-statues, and a shifty looking NPC/side character who’s obviously hiding something. Remembering to add these as you’re creating your building can really help make them more seamlessly integrated – and get your players and readers marvelling at your genius too!
Tip 4: Themes in fantasy buildings
What recurring themes will your character encounter in this area, that supports your genre? This is all about visuals and the senses – conveying feeling and tone by using descriptors. Essentially, once you’ve figured out what it does and why your players or main characters are there, its time to get painting with the five senses!
Let’s take our monastery example again. If it’s a bright, heroic, fantasy campaign, perhaps the chapel has a kaleidoscope of stained glass reaching up to the twin suns. Perhaps the air is thick with the smell of lavender, used in the healing potions the monks make. Maybe they even breed unicorns out the back – who knows?!
But if our world is a dark and grim fantasy world, the monks will be half-drunk, or half-dead, or both. The wood will be rotting, and the only thing that makes the place sadder is the realisation that, once, this was a magnificent place. Once the worm-filled oak panels were inlaid with ivory, and leafed with gold. But that time has gone now, and only the taste of decay remained.
Those two paragraphs portray two VERY different monasteries, just by changing a few details. This is the power of the five senses, to reinforce theme!
Tip 5: Scope & Importance
And finally – how important if your fantasy building to your overall setting? If it’s very important or iconic, why not give your building its own history?
This step won’t be important for every building, but some – major landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty, which are very iconic and embody the ideals of a culture – are worth this extra step.
Referring back to the monestary one more time, let’s focus on important milestones that happened. They might be something like:
- The monestary is constructed
- Monestary is expanded due to prosperity
- The monastery is taken over by an invading force
- An invading force turn monastery into an artillery storage
- Part of the monastery is accidentally blow up
- Monastery is reclaimed and repaired
This gives the monastery a sense of great history and conflict. It also created physical characteristics in the building, which will be seen and noticed by the PCs and MCs. (Usefully, if they ask about them, they may get some exposition about weapons, and invading force or a bunch of other cool stuff). They may even find buried treasure or secrets, if they go looking, left behind by the invaders.
If your location is “just a monastery” then this is probably overkill. But if it’s a core location in your plot – a home base or a key quest-location, for example – you can create a LOT of story and a lot of hooks with just a little bit of history building.
(If you love building history, don’t forget to use worldbuilding timelines to keep track of it all!)
And how did we come up with such great questions? These are just some of the many questions you can find in your world’s meta over on World Anvil!
How to use these Worldbuilding Inspiration Series Questions
With these questions, any of your answers will help to develop the purpose of the building within your narrative. Think of your answer as a hub you can branch out from!
You can start by picking a kind of building to narrow in on an idea: library, museum, bar, stable for nuclear-powered horses, anything! If you are having trouble deciding, think about what kinds of buildings look inspiring to you, or try combining different kinds! Ever heard of broken-down transporter spaceship that doubles as a Tavern?
From there, your focus will give the building its importance to the plot of your story. It determines why your players will interact with it. This is especially important because the focus also affects how your players will interact with the building as well.
Then, you can choose how important the building or landmark is to see if you need to build out some of its history. If it’s important, it means you want the characters to spend more time here, but let’s finish answering the other questions before we dive that rabbit hole.
For setting the scene, this is a great time to establish genre, telling the players what the building feels like, then using that to influence visual cues through the recurring themes! This is especially useful if you are wondering how to write about architecture in your fantasy world. Consider some of your favorite architectural styles, or even how you want the building to feel as characters walk in. Are the windows sharp, narrow, barred, and angular – which makes the space feel tight and unwelcoming? Or are the windows rounded, wide, curtained, and open – which makes the space feel comfortable and spacious?
Thanks for reading this Worldbuilding Inspiration Series! Want more tips an inspiration for your worldbuilding templates? You can check out these tutorials on how to use Geography, Formations, and Ethnicity! Now, Grab your Hammer, and GO WORLDBUILD!!!
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