Are you looking for some inspiration to expand your fictional world? Sometimes, it can be hard to come up with original and interesting worldbuilding ideas. That’s why we do community challenges and competitions, like WorldEmber and Summer Camp! But you can challenge yourself anytime. If you missed our last big event, don’t worry! This article offers 31 days of worldbuilding ideas pulled from previous events. This will help you craft a rich and immersive setting for your stories and games.
There’s a prompt for each day based on one of four themes: expanse, leadership, discovery and monstrous. These themes are designed to help you explore different aspects of your world, such as geography, culture, history, magic, technology, creatures and more.
You can use these prompts as a starting point for your worldbuilding, or as a way to expand and refine an existing world. You can follow the order of the prompts, or mix and match them as you like. The only rule is to have fun and be creative!
Ready to get started? Let’s begin with the first theme: expanse.
WORLDBUILDING IDEAS: EXPANSE
The theme of the first eight worldbuilding ideas prompts is “Expanse”. So, what is an expanse? Well, it could be defined as “a wide and continuous area.” As you can see, this is a pretty generic definition that could be applied to many things. In the real world, we have vast deserts, deep oceans, rolling savannahs and huge rainforests—those are all expanses. But of course, if you’re writing fiction, the possibilities are infinite!
In a fantasy world, a pocket dimensions like D&D’s elemental planes could be considered expanses. And expanses that look more normal (like a desert) will probably have special things going on to make it more interesting. For example, maybe it’s a desert because an enormous dragon coughed a millennia ago!
If you’re going for a futuristic world, space is probably the biggest expanse in the universe. Or you could have planets with a single biome (like in Star Wars). In Dune, the planet of Arrakis is a huge desert (not exactly boring, though). The Expanse, a book and TV series with a very descriptive name, takes place mostly in outer space. Expanses can be very engaging places and a source of conflict. Especially if you take your time to add points of interest. And this is exactly what we’ll do with these eight prompts!
Somewhere in your world setting, describe…
1. An ocean, desert, plain, pocket dimension, or other large expanse
The Pacific Ocean, Mordor (Lord of the Rings), an asteroid field
This is where you can describe the expanse itself, so it’s very important to get it right. Think not only about the nature of the expanse (i.e. what is it made of and where it is located). Also think about the significance it has for your setting, including plot threads! For example, Mordor being an expanse where the only living things are orcs serves as a symbol for Sauron’s dark power. If you’re building an asteroid field, you have a great opportunity to talk about smugglers or other criminals that could use the asteroids to hide. Or if you go the ocean route… what lies under the waves?
2. A religion or organisation connected to a natural phenomenon
Cult of Poseidon, Stormfather (The Stormlight Archive), wormhole aliens (Deep Space Nine)
When nature phenomena become overwhelming or hard to understand, humans (or humanoids) will start treating that as a deity. In Ancient Greece, the sea was attributed to Poseidon, and so people worshipped him. (Which, given the amount of islands Greece has, makes a lot of sense!) You can see this in fantasy and sci-fi too. In The Stormlight Archive, a huge hurricane goes through the whole continent every few days. So some cultures worship the Stormfather as a god.
In a sci-fi setting, like Deep Space Nine, aliens appearing from a wormhole could have a similar role. Whatever you choose, make sure it makes sense within the setting!
3. A species that survives in an unlikely place
Pompeii worms, tardigrades
Expanses are often harsh places to live in, but life always finds a way! So, think about a species that could survive: how does it manage to do it, and why does it live there? The real world has some incredible examples that you could take inspiration from. Pompeii worms live on the ocean bed, regularly withstanding temperatures of up to 60 ºC, and can even reach 100 ºC (that’s 140 ºF and 220 ºF).
If you think this is impressive, let me introduce you to tardigrades. They can survive at temperatures between -200 ºC and 150 ºC (-328 ºF and 302 ºF), extreme pressures (over 1,000 atmospheres). They can even survive direct exposure to outer space. If a tardigrade can do it, so can your species!
4. A vehicle or type of vehicle used for long journeys
Airplanes, flying ships, spelljammers (D&D’s Spelljammer setting)
The fastest way between two points is a straight line, even if there’s a deadly desert on the way! So think about a vehicle that can be used to travel through the expanse—and make sure it can defend itself from whatever species you created in the previous prompt! You could even tie it into the second prompt: for example, make the religion use the vehicles to get to a holy place in the middle of the expanse.
5. A settlement beside or in a great expanse
Las Vegas, Ceres Station (The Expanse)
If the expanse has important natural resources, there will be settlements beside or in it (like a port city). In The Expanse, Ceres Station is located inside an asteroid and it has about six million residents. In the real world, Las Vegas is located in the middle of a desert! So, when you’re building this settlement, the most important question you have to ask yourself is why would anyone want to build a settlement here? Make sure to link it with the fourth prompt too! After all, if the settlement is in an expanse, it will need special vehicles for people to get there.
6. A material only harvestable from nature
Coral, Atium (Mistborn), Dilithium (Star Trek)
What if the expanse had a unique material that was very valuable or useful? That’s the perfect reason to visit or even settle in an inhospitable area! Since it’s an important material, make sure it’s a core part of the plot, conflict, or theme of your world. In Star Trek, Dilithium is a very important material to build spaceships (which are a core part of the plot). In Mistborn, atium and the way it’s harvested is also a core part of the story and has big implications for the magic system.
Remember: if the different parts of your worldbuilding are related to each other, your world will feel more real!
7. A culture who lives by, near or within an ocean, desert or other expanse
Polynesian culture, desert nomads, mermaids
Creating cultures that are very different is a great way to explore different parts of the world, or the same parts with a different point of view. In this case, this prompt is perfect to tie all of the worldbuilding ideas together! You could have this culture survive thanks to prompt 6’s material, live in prompt 5’s settlement, use prompt 4’s vehicle to travel… you get the idea. You can look at real-world cultures for examples too. For instance, if the culture you’re building lives on an ocean, look at the Polynesian culture!
8. A food that marks a rite of passage for a culture in your world
Wedding cake, the heart of your first kill
Food is a very important part of many cultures, so adding food that’s tied to a specific tradition is an amazing way to develop your world one step further! But before you come up with the food, think about the rite itself. What’s the change that’s being celebrated? Getting married is very different than becoming an adult after your first kill. To do that, look at the culture you’ve built (that’s prompt 7!) and think about their values. Depending on what they value the most, their traditions will be different. After you have the tradition, think about which kind of food better represents it.
WORLDBUILDING IDEAS: LEADERSHIP
Leaders guide people and shape cultures and their future. The kind of leadership that first comes to mind is political or military leaders, but leaders can also be religious, cultural, and more! For example, activists are social leaders that can be extremely influential on society in general. That’s what this theme is all about! We’ll talk about people, but also about places and traditions that are related to leadership.
You can tie this in with the previous worldbuilding ideas theme, expanse. If the expanse is inhabited, you could talk about the leader of the people who live there and the unique challenges they face. If it isn’t, any expeditions that venture into the expanse will be led by someone. Or maybe the expanse is a dangerous place full of monstrous creatures that want to get out—those who live around the expanse will need to defend themselves, and the defense efforts will probably have a leader!
Somewhere in your world setting describe…
9. A SETTLEMENT THAT LEADS THE KNOWN WORLD IN SOMETHING
Singapore in education, Tar Valon in channelling (The Wheel of Time), Coruscant in politics (Star Wars)
What’s a place people look to as a model or reference for a certain activity or type of knowledge? This doesn’t need to be a literal type of leadership (like Coruscant leads the Republic or Empire as its capital). For example, Singapore doesn’t dictate how other countries should design their school systems, but it’s still considered a leader in education. If you want to tie this in with the expanse theme, maybe the settlement could be known to have great knowledge about the expanse or maybe it leads the exploration efforts.
10. A MILITARY CONFLICT RESOLVED THROUGH EXCELLENT LEADERSHIP
If you want to show off the great leadership and conflict-resolution abilities of an important leader in your world, a military conflict is a great opportunity to do so! The conflict could have been resolved using innovative strategies or through diplomacy. To tie this in with the expanse theme, you could have the military conflict be about taking control of the expanse or fighting with the people that live there. And of course, you can link it to other worldbuilding ideas too—maybe the settlement of the prompt above is where the peace negotiations took place!
11. A BUILDING ASSOCIATED WITH GOVERNANCE, LEADERSHIP OR CHANGE
The Pentagon, Ministry of Magic (Harry Potter), SHIELD Headquarters (MCU), Vulcan Science Academy (Star Trek)
Buildings associated with leadership often have a double purpose. On one hand, they have a practical use—leaders use them to meet, make decisions, and coordinate their actions. On the other hand, they carry a lot of symbolism. The Pentagon, the White House, or the Houses of Parliament carry a lot of symbolism, which is why you often see them as targets for criminal organizations in action movies! In the Harry Potter books, the Ministry of Magic looks different before and after Voldemort rises to power—it still serves the same practical purpose, but its symbolism has completely changed.
12. AN ORGANIZATION ASSOCIATED WITH GOVERNANCE, LEADERSHIP OR CHANGE
Government, police, Unseen University (Discworld), Knights Radiant (Stormlight Archive), United Federation of Planets (Star Trek)
Leaders are rarely alone—after all, if you want to lead a group of people, you’ll need someone to help! This is why presidents have a government and organized religions have an entire hierarchy. So, look at your world leaders and think about what would they need help with! It could be protecting people (like the Knights Radiant in Stormlight Archive), teaching some kind of specialized knowledge (like the Unseen University), ruling a country (United Federation of Planets), or anything else you can think of.
13. A PROFESSION ASSOCIATED WITH LEADERS IN YOUR WORLD
Teacher, Admiral, Mage, Spaceship captain
The organization you wrote about in the previous prompt will be led by people with a specific profession. That’s your opportunity to write about what this job entails (rather than writing about a specific person). This is also a good time to write about a leadership profession that is not at the top of the hierarchy. For example, most teachers are not the leaders of their schools, but they certainly are very important leaders for their students.
14. A TITLE THAT COMMANDS RESPECT FROM THOSE IN THE KNOW
Dean, She-ra (She-ra and the Princesses of Power), Jedi Master (Star Wars)
We’ve talked about professions, now it’s time for ranks and titles! These usually command more respect (or fear) and are usually an added responsibility over the person’s job. For example, a Dean could still be a teacher, a Jedi Master is still a Jedi (i.e. they have the job of protecting people), and She-ra is still a warrior for the resistance. Sometimes the ranks just change the responsibilities of the person (like a Dean or a Jedi) and are a symbol of their knowledge or wisdom. In other cases, the title could be intrinsically tied to some sort of magical ability or superpower (like She-ra), especially in fantasy stories.
15. A TRADITION OR CEREMONY WHICH CONFERS AN HONOR ON SOMEONE
Graduation, Coronation, The Gathering (Star Wars)
Titles need to be earned! The way someone could get a title or honor will depend on the title’s nature and purpose. For example, in order to graduate, you need to finish a course. In order to be coronated, you need to be born into the right family. This last one isn’t really a personal accomplishment, but there’s usually a lot of symbolism around it.
For example, in The Lord of the Rings, even though Aragorn is crowned king because he is of the right family, he also earns the title by leading Gondor in a last desperate attempt to overthrow Sauron. Sometimes going through the ceremony is enough to gain an honor: for example, Jedi Padawans need to go through the Gathering to get the crystals for their lightsabers.
16. A GREAT LEADER OF THEIR PEOPLE
Alexander the Great, Elrond (The Lord of the Rings), Picard (Star Trek)
Some people are so inspiring or influential that they are remembered regardless of their rank or affiliation. To create this, I recommend first creating at least half of the previous worldbuilding ideas and then using all of the new context you have to create that important character. They could be a military or political leader, but if you want to integrate them with everything you’ve written so far, make them connected to discovery and exploration in the expanse. You could have your own Picard in your world!
WORLDBUILDING IDEAS: DISCOVERY
This theme of worldbuilding idea prompts is about Discovery—research, investigation, exploration, and more! Worlds thrive on change, it makes the entire setting and its story (whether it is a campaign, a novel, or something else) much more interesting. Research, investigation, and exploration are often catalysts for change, which means that now’s the time to think about what can the people in your world discover! Think about what’s been already discovered too—ancient ruins and wondrous powers are great ways to add to the illusion of depth you want to achieve in your work.
You can very easily link this to the previous two themes if you want to! For example, maybe the expanse in the first theme is a place full of new things waiting to be discovered. Or you could do it the other way around—what if the expanse had a civilization that was about to discover what’s outside of that expanse? And of course, all great discoveries are led by someone, which is a great way to link it to the worldbuilding ideas under the theme of leadership!
Somewhere in your world setting describe…
17. A SETTLEMENT THAT WAS LOST OR DISCOVERED
El Dorado, Shangri-La (Lost Horizon), Atlantis
The remnants of old lost civilizations are at the core of many legends, and for good reason! These civilizations are usually idealized or powerful, so it’s fascinating to think about their stories. For example, Atlantis was said to be a great military power that disappeared suddenly under the ocean. Shangri-La is said to be a beautiful and calm valley in the Tibetan mountains, often considered a utopia. For your world, decide if you want the settlement to be real or a myth, and why (or how) it was lost or discovered. Make sure to connect it with other parts of the world too!
18. AN ASTONISHING NATURAL WONDER
Wawona Tree, Rimfall (Discworld), the wormhole (Deep Space Nine)
Lost cities are great and all, but sometimes we just want to admire the wonders of nature. Using a natural wonder can be a great way to reinforce the themes of your story. For example, a wormhole in Deep Space Nine reinforces the theme of exploring the unknown. In Discworld, the Rimfall is a waterfall at the edge of the world (which is a flat disk) and reinforces an important part of the setting. So when creating a natural wonder for your world, think about which themes it’s related to. And you can also link it to the previous prompt: maybe the natural wonder is located in the middle of that settlement, or it contains a portal to get there.
19. A RECENTLY DISCOVERED, OR REDISCOVERED, SPECIES
Dinosaurs, dragons (Eragon), death slugs (The Expanse)
Discovering a new species, especially if they are very different from what you’re used to, can be a world-shaking event… especially if the species is still around! To make them have an even bigger impact, tie them in with the setting’s themes, as well as the central conflict. For example, Ergaon’s story revolves around dragons, which are a species that has been (almost) lost for decades. For a more interconnected world, consider making this species the native inhabitants of the settlement you wrote about in prompt 1!
20. A LOST OR DISCOVERED ARTIFACT OF SIGNIFICANCE OR POWER
Templar treasure, the One Ring (The Lord of the Rings), Tesseract (Marvel Universe)
It’s MacGuffin time! That is to say, time to think about an object that is very important for the plot or conflict(s) of your world. Now, the item could be objectively powerful by itself, but its power could also depend on the characters. For example, in The Lord of the Rings, the One Ring is a very powerful item, but it only is dangerous if there is someone around to use (or hoard) it. This is a very useful device, as it introduces risks and dangers but it doesn’t remove agency from the characters, something that’s especially important in RPGs.
21. A TECHNOLOGY LOST, FORGOTTEN OR SHROUDED IN MYSTERY
Numenera (Numenera), star gates (Stargate), Soulcasters (The Stormlight Archive)
Lost technology is a great way to introduce mystery into your setting. We’re used to technology always progressing forward, so finding old technology that’s more advanced than the current technological level makes for a very engaging plot hook. In Numenera, everybody lives in a medieval-style society, but because advanced civilizations have collapsed at least eight times before, there are a ton of technological remnants from ages past (which are called Numenera). In The Stormlight Archive, there are ancient devices like Soulcasters and Shardblades that are many times more advanced than current technology, and discovering where they come from is a very important part of the plot.
22. A LOST OR DISCOVERED MONUMENT
The Colossus of Rhodes, the Argonath (The Lord of the Rings), most star gates (Stargate)
Lost monuments are similar to lost cities: they both are remnants of an ancient civilization. But there’s a difference! Monuments are also symbols of something that whoever built them considered important. The Argonath in The Lord of the Rings were built by Gondor a long time ago, and they mark the northern border the kingdom had when they were built. However, at the end of the Third Age, the kingdom had shrunk down, so the statues no longer were part of the actual border. This is an amazing way to mix the decline of a powerful kingdom with a feeling of nostalgia and wonder.
23. AN EXPLORER, RESEARCHER OR OTHER CHARACTER MOTIVATED BY DISCOVERY
Marie Curie, Indiana Jones, Star Trek captains
Big discoveries are often led by a single person, even if they have a loyal team that supports them. From a narrative point of view, focusing the discovery on a character makes it immediately more important in the reader’s (or player’s) mind—we see the discovery through their eyes and understand their struggles! Plus, characters with a strong drive to discover new things are very easy to like. So it’s a very strong motivation if you’re looking to create a likable character. To create a character like this, find what’s the root of their motivation, i.e. why are they researching/exploring? Why do they want to discover this thing they’re after?
24. A TRAVEL LOG OR OTHER DOCUMENT ASSOCIATED WITH DISCOVERY
Darwin’s diary, a wizard’s spell research book, blueprints for a spaceship prototype
Any good explorer or scientist will have a document where they log their progress. This might seem a very small and unimportant detail, but it actually gives a lot of realism and depth to your world—especially if you write it as it is written in the setting! Now, you don’t need to write out the full thing. But even coming up with just a couple of paragraphs written by an explorer will make this discovery more impactful.
WORLDBUILDING IDEAS: MONSTROUS
The theme for this set of worldbuilding ideas is all about monsters! Conflict is a really important thing in any story (novel or campaign) to keep things moving, so monsters are a great way to introduce that. Now, a monster doesn’t have to be a nightmarish creature if that doesn’t fit your world. If you write intrigue, the “monster” could be a villainous faction within the government, plotting to overthrow the good King. If you’re trying to keep a feel-good mood for your world, the monster be something as innocent as a serial chocolate thief!
If you want to tie these worldbuilding ideas to the other three themes, it’s pretty easy! We humans fear the unknown. Which means that there are plenty of opportunities to create monstrous stuff in the expanse or the discovery we wrote about in the previous worldbuilding ideas. As for the Leadership theme, maybe the leaders are the true monsters! Or they could be leading the fight against them, too.
Somewhere in your world setting describe…
25. A SPECIES CONSIDERED MONSTROUS BY SOME
Spiders, orcs, Xenomorph (Alien), Terminator (The Terminator), the Cookie Monster (The Muppets)
If you want to write about an actual monster, that’s your prompt! You can approach it from many different angles. For example, you could write about a species that isn’t really dangerous to humans (like many spiders and snakes) but people still fear it. Or you could go all in with the monstrous part and have your own Xenomorph! If you choose to have an intelligent monstrous species, you need to think about society. Do they have a culture? Do they have feelings? Look at your meta and see what would fit your world better, and remember that the answers to these questions will have deep implications on your world!
26. A MYTH OR URBAN LEGEND ABOUT A “MONSTER”
Werewolves, Mayor (Ghost in the Shell)
Monstrous things are often amplified through stories and legends—and even if a monster is actually real and dangerous, people will often distort its true nature out of fear. But you can also give these stories practical use. For example, if the “monster” is an enemy country, the government could fabricate stories to manipulate their citizens or to keep them under control. Or if the monsters are actually real, there could be warnings disguised as stories so they aren’t lost through time.
27. A TRADITION THAT KEEPS MONSTERS OR BAD LUCK AWAY
Halloween, salt around a door, the Simple Rules (Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell)
Ok, so we have monsters. Now we’ve got to find a way to keep them away! How you do this is up to you and it will depend on your world’s internal rules too (such as the magic system if you have one). For example, in Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell, by Brandon Sanderson, the monsters are shades, a sort of ghost-like creatures that kill humans. In order to keep them away, people can use silver or follow the three Simple Rules (don’t kindle a flame, don’t shed the blood of another, don’t run at night).
These methods are related to the setting’s magic system, but they’re also inspired by real life: silver bullets are said to kill werewolves (in folklore), and the Simple Rules are inspired by Jewish laws on what can and can’t be done on Shabbat. Using the real world as inspiration is always a great way to add a sense of realism to your setting!
28. A CONDITION CONSIDERED MONSTROUS OR “UNLUCKY” BY SOME
Leprosy, left-handedness (historically), lycanthropy, zombie plague
There are many reasons why there could be a stigma against a condition. Stigma often appears when there’s a lack of understanding (for example, leprosy wasn’t really understood until relatively recently), but it could also be for cultural reasons. Being left-handed isn’t objectively worse than being right-handed, and yet there’s a strong bias against left-handedness in our society, even today. So, while an actually dangerous or deadly condition could be interesting to write about, you could also describe a completely harmless condition that’s misunderstood by most people!
29. AN ORGANIZATION CONSIDERED CRUEL OR MONSTROUS BY SOME
The Government, Knights Radiant (The Stormlight Archive), the Empire (Star Wars)
When talking about monstrous organizations, we get into an even more subjective area. What someone might consider evil (for example, a country’s government), someone else could consider good. As the author of a fictional world, you can really play with the perceptions of your audience by framing organizations in a very specific way to get your point across. (For example, Star Wars’ Empire is “objectively” evil from the audience’s perspective). But you can subvert this by later changing how the organization is seen. In The Stormlight Archive, the Knights Radiant are framed as traitors to society by most people, including main characters. But as the story goes on, the perception we get of them as readers changes.
30. A PERSON CONSIDERED VILLAINOUS OR MONSTROUS
Cruella de Vil, Sauron (The Lord of the Rings), Agent Smith (The Matrix)
Time to get villainous! In the previous prompt, you created an organization—now you can create its leader! It’s a great way to connect worldbuilding ideas together. Of course, you don’t need to if you don’t want to. After all, evil leaders can sometimes be more well-known than their organizations! Both Sauron and agent Smiths were the most prominent members of their organizations, but their circumstances were different. Sauron was the leader of his organization (although he used to work for a bigger master). Agent Smith was just that, an agent. But in both cases, they are the main villains because they represent what they’re up against. So, when creating your villainous person, make them a symbol too and they’ll have more weight in your setting’s story!
31. AN ARTIFACT THAT EMBODIES A HIDEOUS OR MONSTROUS IDEA
Weapons, a cursed book, the One Ring (The Lord of the Rings), the Monster Book of Monsters (Harry Potter)
Time to go wild with your magic item ideas! Or your super-cool technology ideas if you’re in the sci-fi camp. Think about not only what it can do, but also about who created it and for what purpose. And then, if you want, connect it to any other worldbuilding ideas! It could be a relic the evil organization is guarding, something the evil person wears, or something else entirely. You can also take a light-hearted approach to the prompt if that better fits your setting’s tone. For example, the Monster Book of Monsters from Harry Potter is a useful handbook about monsters that’s also alive and will chomp anything it can find (including your hands).
What’s your favorite worldbuilding idea? Share your tips in the comments!