Fantasy worldbuilding brings places to life that defy imagination. It creates realms where magic dances in the air, ancient forests whisper secrets, and towering mountains hold the echoes of forgotten civilizations. Let’s explore how to create truly mesmerizing fantasy environments for our games, campaigns and novels!
In this article, we’re going to look at the power of vivid descriptions, the value of originality, and the tools it takes to bring your fantasy realms to life. It’s time to discover how to unleash your creative potential.
Fantasy Worldbuilding: What’s Your Premise?
Effective fantasy worldbuilding doesn’t rely on elegant prose or flawless continuity. What makes a fantasy world memorable is its premise. The premise for a game or novel setting is similar to a hook in plotting fiction. It’s the irresistible idea at the center of your world. Your fantasy worldbuilding should spin outward from that idea, building on it and expanding it in ways that make sense while still offering surprises to your players or readers.
- What separates your fantasy world from those you’ve encountered before?
- What makes it unique and special – at least to you?
- What is the key concept that makes you excited to tell a story there?
- How does this idea complicate life for your characters?
It may be the world’s unusual magic system, or an uncommon technology. It might lie in some element of the physical or natural environment, like geography, climate, flora or fauna. Or it could be found in the social sciences – in your world’s philosophy, religion, art or cultures. Whatever twist your world holds, it will work best if it has the potential to affect your world’s inhabitants in practical, tangible ways. It’s even better if it also holds important symbolic, thematic or metaphorical significance.
For example, in the world of Westeros from A Game of Thrones, seasons are long but unpredictable. This is a unique aspect of the world with an obvious, tangible effect on people. Growing seasons, food supplies, even the ability to travel safely can be impacted by long, cold winters. But these unpredictable seasons also represent the politics of Westeros. The threatened “winter that is coming” is a symbolic reminder. Even a long and (relatively) peaceful reign can end suddenly and violently, throwing the world into the chaotic darkness of war and instability.
Fantasy Worldbuilding: What’s Your Process?
A premise is a great start for your fantasy worldbuilding, but you’ll need more than an awesome idea. You’ll need an actionable plan. So let’s talk about the process!
Once you have your “big idea” in mind, it’s time to start building the scaffolding for your fantasy world. The way we do this on World Anvil is with something called the worldbuilding meta. It’s a set of templates and prompts that guide you towards a basic blueprint for your world. It includes scope, genre, themes, and inspiration. It’s like a mood board that goes beyond visual aesthetic to create a full style guide for your world.
The Meta gives you the freedom to get wildly imaginative, while still keeping things consistent and coherent. But it’s still just a start. Here is some practical advice for fleshing out this guide for your world into a full game setting or world bible.
Niche down into your desired subgenre, mood and themes.
Fantasy is a huge genre! Which means that you’ll need to get a bit more specific about what flavor of fantasy you want your world to be. Now that you have your premise, you should have a good idea of what subgenre is the best fit.
That might be epic fantasy if you want big, bold tales of world-shattering impact and a massive cast of characters. It could be sword and sorcery, if your idea involves battle-scarred warriors fighting for personal stakes. Urban fantasy might fit if you’re telling stories in a modern magical setting, or historic fantasy could work if your premise is a magical version of Earth’s past.
You’ll also want to give some serious thought to the mood and tone of your world. How serious, whimsical, scary or optimistic do you want your world to be?
Mix up wild creative swings with clear internal logic.
Striking a balance between consistency and creativity is crucial for fantasy worldbuilding. It’s like maintaining a steady rhythm while adding your own unique melody. Consistency and coherence ensure that the rules governing your world remain stable, letting readers engage more deeply with your game or novel setting.
However, this doesn’t mean stifling your creative spirit. It’s an invitation to let your imagination run wild within the framework you’ve established. The most captivating fantasy worlds maintain an internally-consistent logic to ground their creator’s flights of fancy in something that feels weighty and meaningful. As you experiment, remember that your fantasy world’s strength lies in both its wonders and the consistency that makes those wonders feel real.
Employ vivid visuals – including maps, mood boards and more.
In fantasy worldbuilding, visuals play a crucial role in making your imaginary realms tangible to readers. Think of a map, like the one you’d use to navigate a new place. It’s a powerful tool that helps readers explore your world’s geography, follow characters on their journeys, and understand the layout of different regions. There are paid or free tools that can help you create a fantasy map for your world, even if you’re not artistic. And World Anvil offers powerful features to make those fantasy maps more interactive.
But it’s not just about maps; mood boards, filled with images, colors, and symbols, can help set the atmosphere and mood of your world. They give readers a visual taste of what your world feels like, whether it’s the lush greenery of an enchanted forest or the mystical aura of ancient symbols. Pinterest is one tool for creating a mood board. Canva also offers some user-friendly mood board templates. If you’re a Guild member, Whiteboards are a premium World Anvil feature you can use to create a mood board, as well.
These visuals provide readers with a direct connection to your imagination, making your world more vivid and immersive. So, remember, using visuals, especially maps, isn’t just a creative choice; it’s a way to invite your readers into your world and make it come alive before their eyes.
Get colorful with your descriptions and characters.
Descriptive writing makes your fantasy world specific and rich with sensory details. It lets your readers experience the sights, sounds, and sensations of your imagined places. However, it’s crucial to strike a balance. Too much description can overwhelm readers and players, exhausting the audience. So, the trick is to pick the right elements to describe in detail, allowing readers to fill in the gaps with their own imagination.
Colorful characters are the heart of fantasy worldbuilding. They give life to the world you’ve created. These characters, with their distinct personalities, backgrounds, and motivations, help readers connect with your fictional realm on a personal level. Through their interactions and stories, they reveal the nuances of your world, its cultures, and its conflicts. In essence, these characters are the bridge that makes your fantasy world feel real, relatable, and captivating.
World Anvil’s character template is a fantastic resource for creating characters with deep backstory, multifaceted personalities and a complex web of relationships.
Fantasy Worldbuilding: What are your problems?
Fantasy worldbuilding isn’t without its challenges. One big hurdle is avoiding the use of tired clichés and overused tropes that can make a world feel unoriginal and uninteresting. Many fantasy stories feature the same kinds of heroes, villains, and magical items, and relying too much on these can make your world seem uninspired.
To tackle this challenge, it’s important to take inspiration from a wide range of sources, like mythology, history, and real-world cultures. This diversity can infuse your world with authenticity and freshness. By mixing elements from various traditions and time periods, you can create a unique blend that sets your world apart.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to shake things up and surprise your audience. Instead of sticking to the usual conventions, consider subverting expectations. Change the roles of characters or tweak the outcomes of typical story events. This not only keeps readers engaged but also allows you to breathe new life into well-known fantasy elements. Ultimately, this approach results in a world that feels original, intriguing, and entirely your own.
As we conclude our exploration of fantasy worldbuilding, we hope you’ve found valuable insights into creating captivating environments within your own stories. Keep in mind that your creative possibilities are boundless. Whether you’re an experienced writer or gamemaster, or just starting, worldbuilding offers endless opportunities to craft mysterious, uncharted realms.
As you embark on your creative journey, remember to share your enchanting worlds with others, becoming part of the rich tapestry of storytellers who shape fantastic settings for games and fiction. So, grab your hammer, and start worldbuilding!
And if you’re looking for an organized and immersive platform to bring your worlds to life, consider World Anvil, where your creativity can flourish. Sign up today and watch your worlds thrive!