Let’s take a deeper look at worldbuilding terrain, climate and maps!

Storytellers often ask “where do I start worldbuilding?” We’ve covered abstract ideas like purpose, inspiration and themes. But often, writers and game masters are searching for something more practical. Now, it’s time to get concrete – and it doesn’t get any more concrete than the ground beneath your feet!

Of course, those mountains, hills and valleys will be shaped by other natural forces over time, so it also makes sense to look up to the sky – and consider climate, weather, and waterways. Lastly, while you can write beautiful descriptions of these aspects of your world, in many cases you’re best served with a more visual representation.

Worldbuilding Terrain

When we talk about worldbuilding terrain, we’re looking at how the land affects the people who live there and how those people change the land they inhabit. Think about it: mountains, rivers, and forests all shape how societies develop. For example, mountainous regions often lead to isolated communities, while fertile plains can support big civilizations. It’s all about what resources are available—like water and good land—and how easy it is to move around. Rivers and mountain ranges form natural borders, and those borders affect the people on either side.

On the flip side, humans and other sapient species can make a big impact on the land, too. Our cities, farms, and roads change the landscape. Sometimes, this can be good, like building cities near rivers for trade. Other times, it can cause problems, like cutting down too many trees or polluting the air. The world we build reflects our values and the way we live.

Terrain isn’t just a backdrop—it’s part of the story. In fantasy, tough terrain might represent challenges for the hero. In dystopian stories, ruined landscapes show us a world in trouble. Whether it’s a game or a book, the geography shapes the characters and the plot.

Worldbuilding Climate

The climate of a place affects how people live, what they eat, and how they interact with each other. For instance, in hot, dry regions, people might rely on irrigation to grow crops, while in colder climates, they might focus on hunting or fishing. Trade winds and ocean currents also play a big role in shaping coastal cultures and economies by influencing trade routes and migration patterns. Plus, the availability of resources like water, timber, and metals can determine the success or failure of civilizations.

To grasp how climate works, you need to consider factors like astronomy, planetary movement, and tides. The tilt of a planet’s axis and its orbit around the sun determine the seasons and overall temperature patterns.

The movement of oceans and atmosphere redistributes heat around the globe, creating regional climates like deserts, rainforests, and tundras. This is one reason storytellers often criticize single-biome worlds, like a “desert planet” or “jungle planet” as unrealistic. Even the gravitational pull of the moon affects tides, which can impact coastal communities and ecosystems. All these factors together make up the complex system we call climate.

In storytelling, climate can set the stage for the themes of a game or novel setting. In a survival game set in a harsh desert, the climate might emphasize themes of resilience and adaptation. In a mystery novel set in a foggy coastal town, the climate could create an atmosphere of suspense and uncertainty. Whether it’s a fantasy realm or a science fiction universe, the climate adds depth and realism to the world, shaping the characters’ experiences and driving the plot forward.

Mapping Your World

Starting with an entire world map might not always be the best idea when you’re building a fictional world. You might feel trapped by early decisions, and hesitate to incorporate new ideas if they don’t fit. Mapping your entire world locks down a lot in terms of terrain, land masses, and the overall shape of your setting.

On the other hand, making a region map can be wildly helpful, especially if geography plays a big role in your story. Mapping a region leaves you room for mystery, exploration and adaptation. If your characters or players are going on a journey, it can be useful to have a map to show where they’re going and what they might encounter along the way. Also, making a map can help you visualize your world and figure out how different places relate to each other.

Maps aren’t just for finding your way around—they’re also powerful storytelling tools. A map can help set the tone for your story and give readers or players a sense of place. It can also reveal important information about the world, like where the main cities are or where the dangerous places lie. By using a map in your worldbuilding, you can create a richer, more immersive experience for your audience.

Survey the Landscape

You’ve made a lot of progress by the time you start mapping out your terrain and biomes. Following your worldbuilding checklist, you’ve gotten clear on your concept, chosen a few pillar topics for deep lore, and started sketching out the lay of the land. That’s huge!

But an empty world is pretty boring, so next we’re going to start populating your setting. We’ll dive into culture, religion, and magic systems. We’ll also offer advice and resources to stay organized – so your setting is truly useful. Be sure to subscribe, so you don’t miss it!