A blank page is one of the most frightening things you can see as a world builder. That’s why random generators are so useful—they let you get some quick words down without having to think much. Now, if you think this will make your world less original… think again! We interviewed Peter Chiykowski, creator of the Deck of Worlds, to talk about how you can use randomness to improve your world building!
Why use random generators?
Coming up with fresh brand-new ideas all the time by yourself is incredibly difficult! That’s why we’re always looking for inspiration: music, art, and other people’s stories spark new ideas in our minds. Well, random generators are just that! Because the generator doesn’t have any previous context, it will create new things that will be completely new. Think of it like a guide, taking you to new unexplored areas.
Random generators can also feel like a game, so it’s fun too! For example, if you generated a random town but don’t like a specific element, you can roll again for that specific thing. This will let you customize your results to something very specific that you can then expand upon. And remember that randomness is just a tool: you don’t have to follow the generated result down to a T if it doesn’t quite fit your concept. Which brings us to…
How to use random generators properly?
A random generator is a tool—which means that it’s very useful… as long as you use it properly! And, in this case, “properly” means “in the way that best fits your workflow or your world” (and your meta!). Peter’s suggestion was to use them in the idea generation phase of your process, and to not hold back! Much of what you generate now will be trimmed down later on, but some of it will give you ideas you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. Write everything down (I recommend dumping everything into a generic article for now) and once you feel you have enough, it will be time to get editing!
Editing your random results
The first thing you should do is open your meta document and read through it. If you don’t have one yet—well, now’s a good time to create it! The meta document is the foundation of your world, so it’s very useful to avoid a kitchen sink project, filled with things that are cool on their own but don’t really fit together. So, after creating the meta or refreshing your memory, go back to the random generator’s results! You’ll immediately realize that there are a bunch of things that you should probably delete because they don’t fit in the world. But don’t delete them for now, just put them somewhere else (like an archive of sorts) as you might find them useful later on. Because, surprise-surprise, you can (and probably will) change your mind later on!
Bin your first ideas (kind of)
Art (including world building) is an iterative process. This means that only after you’ve made several variations of an idea will you find one that actually works well with your world meta. When using random generators, this means that many ideas you’ll find cool at first might not actually be a good fit. But it also means that the ideas that you didn’t like might end up being the best ones! That’s why in the first stages of the editing process you shouldn’t delete anything. For the archive, you can use another generic article, the notebook feature on World Anvil, or anything else that works for you!
Now, sometimes first ideas are very powerful already, so don’t feel like just because you haven’t iterated over it, the idea is worthless. But always question them: is that your own original idea, or did you come up with it just because everyone else is doing it too? If you want dragons in your setting, is it because you really think they’ll be a great addition to it, or because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do in a fantasy setting? This is another danger with random generators—sometimes they can lean a bit too much on tropes. But as long as you catch them and approach the results with a critical mind, you’ll be fine!
The Deck of Worlds and other random generators
There are many random generators out there! Peter Chiykowski is the creator of the Deck of Worlds, as well as the Story Engine, which are physical card decks that you can use to randomly generate a world or a story. The Deck of Worlds comes with over 200 cards (plus several genre-specific expansions), which means that there are virtually limitless possibilities! You can check it out on the Story Engine website.
You can also try other generators, like Trent Hergenrader’s collaborative worldbuilding cards, metaphor dice, Eigengrau’s Generator (specific for medieval high fantasy), and World Anvil’s own random generator library.
Listen to the full interview!
Who is Peter Chiykowski?
Peter is a writer, poet, and illustrator, author of the webcomic Rock Paper Cynic and books like The House of Untold Stories. He’s also the creator of the Story Engine deck, as well as the Deck of Worlds, which you can check out on the official website. Follow him on Twitter for updates!
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