185 Tips Book

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Dec 242019

185 Tips Cover

Subscribers to the newsletter receive world building tips in their inbox (along with downloadable templates), but now you can have them all in one place in a new, short book, 185 Tips on World Building. This has all tips from all three volumes, including those not yet sent to subscribers.

The eBook is on pre-order at Amazon and will be released Jan 14, 2020. It makes a great gift for anyone thinking of diving in.

5 Tips – Government Types

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Jun 052018

5 World Building Tips (Vol 2, #13): Government Types

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is sovereign powers. You can read more in Chapter 5, “Creating Sovereign Powers”, from Creating Places, (The Art of World Building, #2).

Tip #1: “Authoritative States”

Whether an autocracy, totalitarian, dictatorship, or authoritarian government, authoritative states are not the most pleasant ones to live in unless you’re the ones in power. With severe restrictions on freedoms, our hero can find himself/herself under duress to accomplish what they desire. They make great places for your hero to destroy or at least kill the leader of. The differences are discussed in Creating Places and help make our sovereign powers stand out from each other.

Tip #2: “Democracies”

A democracy allows people to participate in government by having influence over what policies are made into laws. This means far more freedom for the population and our heroes, who might originate from such a place and be philosophically opposed to more oppressive regimes. Wanting to free someone they love or respect from such a place is the sort of thing that makes them heroic.

Tip #3: “Federations”

Whether an empire, federation, confederation, or unitary state, federations have states that have some sovereignty over their own affairs while still following the laws of the federation. Some are members voluntarily while others are not, and some can leave when they want but others cannot. Their point of origin is also different.

Tip #4: “Monarchies”

Kingdoms are common in fantasy but less so in science fiction, but either way, they’re not all the same. The two main types are absolute vs. constitutional. The former has a ruler who has no limits on his power, a scenario ripe for abuse, especially with the “divine right of kings” being employed. A constitutional monarchy gives more power to the people via parliament and results in a ruler with often severe restrictions on their powers.

Tip #5: “Oligarchies and More”

An oligarchy is any form of government where power is controlled by a small group of people. This could be those in the military, those with magic power, the wealthy, merchants, or other groups we invent. Some of these variations have names like theocracy, aristocracy, or military junta, and each may have stark differences that lets us create more variation on our world.

Summary of Chapter 5—Creating a Sovereign Power

Kingdoms, empires, dictatorships and more are types of sovereign powers that world builders can create. Before we do, a high-level understanding of the differences between them is crucial. Many variations to government types exist, which gives us freedom to tweak details for our needs, but we should know the rules before we break them. The role of sovereignty, including how it is gained and lost, is examined in this chapter along with the “divine right of kings.” We also look at the head of state and head of government roles, the differences between them, and the conflicts that can arise. The nature of each branch of government is examined along with parliamentary systems. Democracies, federations, theocracies, monarchies, autocracies and more are examined for their key differences.

Inventing a sovereign power should include friends and enemies who shape policy, lifestyle, and culture. The form of government has significant impact on inhabitants and results from world view. History affects this as well, and while creating a history is optional, it enriches the dynamics of relationships and can create heroes, villains, and attitudes in the population. We should consider which species are present and in how great a percentage, and what languages are spoken or forbidden. Our power’s location and climate will impact lifestyles and vegetation, which also influences what natural resources it has or lacks, and what the power does as a result. These can all lead to tensions both with other powers or the residents. Symbols, colors, flags, and slogans will be a source of pride and even fear for both foreigners and the population.

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5 More Tips – Land Features

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May 222018

5 World Building Tips (Vol 2, #13): Land Features

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is land features. You can read more in Chapter 4, “Creating Land Features”, from Creating Places, (The Art of World Building, #2).

Tip #1: “Know Your Forest Types”

Why have every forest be a generic one when we can distinguish between forests, savannahs, woodlands, and jungles? Each gives a different impression and causes variation in animals and creatures present, plus travel conditions.

Tip #2: “Know Where Grasslands Are”

They tend to be located farther from a mountain range that is causing a rain shadow. It’s reasonable to have a forest on one side of it and a desert on the other.

Tip #3: “Don’t Forget Wetlands!”

Mires, bogs, swamps, and marshes are similar to us if we haven’t done our research, but Creating Places gives you enough detail to tell and show your audience the difference. They can form boundaries that average people don’t want to enter, or places from which strange creatures emerge. They also let us create a more varied landscape.

Tip #4: “Deserts Tend to be Rocky”

We think of huge sand dunes with deserts, but the majority are covered in hard, packed Earth, almost like pavement. This is hard on the feet (or hooves) but offers a very different experience than sand as far as trudging along is concerned. Understand where this happens to utilize it effectively.

Tip #5: “Decide on the Cultivation Level”

Some worlds have been terraformed while others are wild, untamed expanses. Decide how much your species have cultivated the world. This can include burning down forests, dumping toxic wastes, turning deserts into cities, and much more.

Summary of Chapter 4—Creating Land Features

Figure 25 Savannah

A continent will have mountains, volcanoes, lakes, rivers, forests, woodlands, savannahs, jungles, prairies, wetlands, and deserts, but world builders should understand each to place them in believable locations. While some aspects are obvious, minor details can change our decisions and augment our resulting stories. Why say characters have entered a run-of-the-mill forest when we can say it’s a savannah instead, describing how it looks and what life is like for inhabitants and those traversing it? This chapter aids world builders in making a more varied landscape—one that is accurately depicted.

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5 More Tips – Creating Planets

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May 082018

5 World Building Tips (Vol 2, #12): Planets

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is planets. You can read more in Chapter 2, “Creating a Planet”, from Creating Places, (The Art of World Building, #2).

Tip #1: “Understand the Ocean’s Impact”

Ocean currents move in certain patterns that mean one side of a continent has warmer water than the other. This is usually the same across a world. Why does it matter? It affects what sea life might be there and what the climate is like. We don’t need to leverage this, but the knowledge helps makes one location on our world feel different from another, rather than all getting no comment on the climate or its impact on vegetation, livestock, and culture.

Tip #2: “Use Prevailing Winds to Shape the Land”

If your planet spins, it has prevailing winds, which are either east or west. Which direction depends on which was the planet rotates, but it also depends on how far from the equator we’re talking. It changes direction depending on latitude and it’s important to know where this happens on your continent because it affects vegetation.

Tip #3: “Understand Rain Shadows”

If there’s a north-to-south mountain range, moisture-carrying, prevailing winds must go over them. This causes the rain to fall on one side of those mountains, but then there’s no water left for the other side. The result? A desert.

Tip #4: “Know Your Desert Types”

Hot deserts have clear, sunny skies (hence the heat) but get cold at night due to those same skies. Cold deserts are also hot during the day but brutally cold, far below freezing, in winter. Mild deserts are, well, milder than both. Each is found in certain climates or locations (inland, coastal, or at high elevations). Knowing which is found where is more accurate but also lets us create differences instead of every place being the same.

Tip #5: “Use Analogues for Climate”

It can be easier to base a whole continent’s climates based on a familiar country. If you know the climate in Europe, assume your continent is there and is surrounded by similar other continents. The shapes you draw on a map can be different, but this is a quick way to get it “right” without the research!

Summary of Chapter 2—Creating a Planet

This chapter focuses on creating an Earth-like planet. World builders should understand the role of the moon and its effects on tides, seasons, and more if we intend to have a moon different from our own or multiple moons. Mention of other planets, constellations, and comets can make our world seem like it’s not an island. The equator, climate zones, prevailing winds, and rain shadows all affect how much precipitation falls in an area, which in turn affects all life there, including vegetation or the lack thereof. Understanding these basics will help us create believable landscapes.

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5 Tips – Drawing Maps

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Apr 242018

5 World Building Tips (Vol 2, #11): Drawing Maps

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is drawing maps. You can read more in Bonus Chapter 12, “Drawing a Map”, from Creating Places, (The Art of World Building, #2).

Tip #1: “You Don’t Need Drawing Skill”

With modern map making programs like Campaign Cartographer, you don’t need drawing skills to create maps. I can’t draw to save my life and have made maps I publish with my works, including Creating Places. You just place pre-existing icons for trees, mountains, and settlements and can rearrange them. It takes some imagination but quickly becomes fun to do.

Tip #2: “Maps Help Us Invent Conflict”

As we draw land features and seas, we can imagine conflicts between kingdoms about who has access to something and who doesn’t, then what they have to do to form agreements – or go to war with each other over it. Even if we don’t want to write about such things, the sovereign powers from where our characters originate are engaged in these conflicts and hatreds or friendships and our characters will have attitudes based on this. It’s worth doing!

Tip #3: “Use Earth Analogues”

If you have no idea what to draw, just steal somewhere on Earth and purposely do a poor job of drawing the country outline. You can include all the same land features and no one will recognize what it’s based on. You could draw the US with a different shape and then cut it in half, too, or add a sea in middle. A major change like that makes it less recognizable.

Tip #4: “Be Smart About Regional Maps”

Even if you only want to draw a map of a region, not the whole continent, think about the continent anyway. Things like mountain ranges, prevailing winds, and rain shadows will still affect your region. You can just make a note to yourself that the wind is from “that way” and there’s a mountain range “over there,” too. So don’t draw them but still think about them.

Tip #5: “No One Expects a Settlement Map”

It can be fun to use City Designer (from ProFantasy) to create city maps, but no one’s expecting one in your books. Only do this if you feel the need to lay out a place, which can be only filled in with the most important buildings you desire. It’s also more worthwhile if the layout is very specific and hard to describe succinctly to an audience, in which case they’ll appreciate a map.

Summary of Bonus Chapter 12—Drawing Maps
Village Map

Village Map

While drawing maps is optional in world building, they can help us visualize where everything’s taking place, and if done well, can even be included in published works. Drawing skill isn’t really needed, as modern map making programs allow us to place pre-existing shapes onto a map and move them around. Continent maps help us decide on the location and quality of land features like mountains, forests, and deserts so that we create a realistic ecosystem. The location of settlements, rivers, and bodies of water will also impact the stories and lives of characters we create. We can also draw settlement, dungeon, and ship maps to solidify our decisions and find new inspiration in our layouts.


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5 Tips – Places of Interest

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Apr 102018

5 World Building Tips (Vol 2, #10): Places of Interest

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is places of interest. You can read more in Chapter 11, “Creating Places of Interest”, from Creating Places, (The Art of World Building, #2).

Tip #1: “What Lives in the Catacombs?”

If we create catacombs, decide if monsters, animals, or other creatures live there. Do the species know of those inhabitants or the passages? Do they use them, too? What gets hidden here? Try to be creative about your use of these and make it important to your story because just about everything has already been done. We just need a believable reason for their existence, abandonment, and current usage.

Tip #2: “Use Step Wells”

Google “step wells in India” and you’ll see some interesting images we can leverage if we have water dwelling species. These could connect to underground rivers and allow for interesting escapes or arrivals. Are they guarded? Are some of these made by that species or by others hoping to reach them?

Tip #3: “Create Phenomenon Sites”

Places where an accident happened are good for magical, supernatural or technological sites of importance, especially dangerous ones. Just imagine what could go wrong and choose a location and result. These can be good for creating monsters, too, if there’s radiation or something similar still going on there. We don’t even need good explanations, making this fun to do.

Tip #4: “What’s Under Water?”

A settlement under the waves offers chances to be innovative. A water-dwelling species makes this more attractive. Shipwrecks of wooden kinds (or fallen spacecraft) can also harbor treasure or items that need to be recovered, and which can fall into the wrong hands. They could spawn monsters, too.

Tip #5: “The Ordinary Can be Famous, Too”

Sites of wars, religious incidents, and prophets or martyrs making themselves famous can also acquire significance. Use these places inside settlements or nearby because these can be less dramatic, with no radiation or other residue left over. Not everywhere has to be amazing.

Summary of Chapter 11—Creating Places of Interest

Even seemingly ordinary locations can acquire significance due to scale, features, or people associated with them. These include monuments, graves, catacombs and hidden passages, and unusual buildings, whether built in stone, flying in the air, or floating on water like Venice.  Ruins offer places for treasure to be found or horrors unleashed, including magical or technological items. Event sites and shipwrecks also give inhabitants places to reference, seek, or avoid, and can be where items of our invention originated.

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5 Tips – Time and History

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Mar 272018

5 World Building Tips (Vol 2, #9): Creating Time and History

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is time and history. You can read more in Chapter 10, “Creating Time and History”, from Creating Places, (The Art of World Building, #2).

Tip #1: “Create a Universal Calendar”

Each kingdom may have its own calendar, which is fine, but how do we know that year 41 AE in Kingdom X is also year 4560 BI in Kingdom Y? A universal calendar. Create one for your own records even if you never share it with the audience.

Tip #2: “What Does Your Universal Calendar Start With?”

If the world acknowledges that universal calendar, you’ll need an event recognized everywhere. On Earth, we use the birth of Christ. Do you have a religion, technological (or alien arrival), or supernatural event of such magnitude? If you do, it’s probably part of your story world’s consciousness. Invent something you like because you’ll end up using it.

Tip #3: “Be Smart About Names”

Don’t call a month something like “Snowtime.” It is winter in half the world, but it’ll be summer in the other half and this won’t make sense. And places near the equator aren’t getting snow. Ever.

Tip #4: “Be Careful Altering Timeframes”

We can change the number of minutes in an hour, or hours in a day, but this is unwise because it messes with the audience’s sense of passing time too much. But changing the numbers of days in a week, weeks in a month, or months has less impact, particularly if we’re only off by one. Don’t be too extreme unless you really need that for your story. People will forget about your different time frame, or you’ll have to remind them all the time. Neither is good.

Tip #5: “Create Past Events”

There are many events we can put in the past to give spice to the present. Tech events like the first time something happened are easy for SF, like ship launches, weapons usage, or drive experiments or failures. Disasters are good, too, even in fantasy worlds, where spells must go wrong sooner or later, sometimes on a huge scale.  The gods might do something everyone remembers, too. On the more mundane level are the rise and fall of sovereign powers, wars, groups forming, missions being undertaken, and artifacts being discovered, invented, destroyed, or seemingly lost, the more legendary the better. We can even end up with story ideas from these.

Summary of Chapter 10—Creating Time and History

History can enrich a world and provide us with cultural clashes, famous items, and world figures to which our stories and characters can refer or cite as inspiration. To save time, we can create a master history file with short entries that are invented in a few minutes and which do not need long explanations. Some could be turned into stand-alone stories if we stumble upon a great idea. Historic entries can be created at any time and can include events involving the gods, technology, supernatural, wars, the rise and fall of sovereign powers, artifacts, and famous missions by groups or individuals.

We also need a universal way to measure time because each sovereign power might have its own calendar, making the correlation of events across kingdoms harder. The merits of keeping timeframes similar to Earth’s are discussed; this includes the reasons why minutes and hours benefit from little alteration, while the number of days, weeks, and months can experience greater variation without disrupting the audience’s sense of time.

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5 Tips – Space Travel

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Mar 132018

5 World Building Tips (Vol 2, #8): Space Travel

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is travel in space. You can read more in Chapter 9, “Travel in Space”, from Creating Places, (The Art of World Building, #2).

Tip #1: “Distance Changes”

Remember that everything in space is orbiting something else, and at different speeds, and therefore the distance between two objects is ever-changing. Two planets would be on the same side of the sun at one point in the year but on opposite sides half a year later. This gives us leeway to decide how long a trip between them would take at a given moment in our story.

Tip #2: “Know Your Engine Types”

Our ship might need air breathing engines if it’s going to enter an atmosphere, and those are typically rear-facing even if located on the side or elsewhere. Space engines are either jump, hyper, or warp drives, all being public domain options we can use. Each has expected properties and effects, such as time-dilation. Including all three in your story world gives you the most options.

Tip #3: “Be Consistent”

With invented technologies, try to be consistent with the level of tech people have. A Star Trek teleporter and food replicator are equally unbelievable, but this is good. Would it make sense to have a teleporter but no artificial gravity? Probably not, because the latter is easier to achieve at least with rotating designs. It would be a mistake to do something like have a flame thrower but not have a fire stove capability.

Tip #4: “Decide on Internal Structure”

Unless your ship has only one room, you should map out where important rooms are, like the bridge, propulsion, and crew quarters. This lets plan how long it takes for people to move about the ship. The large the vessel, the more useful this becomes because damage or an intrusion in one area might mean a lot of time could pass before your heroes arrive to deal with it. You could do this to avoid everything being too convenient for them.

Tip #5: “Does Your External Structure Matter?”

Aerodynamics don’t matter in space. We’ve seen and accepted Borg cubes in Star Trek. Anything goes. Just decide that your ship isn’t planning to enter an atmosphere before going this route. Be aware that there is still a stellar wind, but most readers won’t be thinking about this sort of thing.

Summary of Chapter 9—Travel in Space

Figure 60 Rotating Space Station

Science fiction features invented technologies for traveling the cosmos, but that doesn’t free us from attempts to be realistic about life in space or how to maneuver. Modern engines operate on the principle of thrust, which requires rear-facing engines, and we’ll need this for slower-than-light travel within a solar system. Imaginary propulsions, like warp, hyper, or jump drives can benefit from believable limitations. We should also remember that locations in space are ever changing positions so that how long it takes to travel between two points is seldom the same—or convenient for our characters. The need to enter a planet’s atmosphere affects the structure of our ship, but world builders will be most interested in the internal organization and the effect we can make this have on people and story.

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5 Tips – Water Travel

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Feb 272018

5 World Building Tips (Vol 2, #7): Water Travel

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is water travel. You can read more in Chapter 8, “Travel by Water”, from Creating Places, (The Art of World Building, #2).

Tip #1: “Confusion is Normal”

There are many reasons that determining how long it takes to travel on a wooden ship sailing is hard. This includes oarsmen being unable to row continuously, wind speed not being constant or in the same direction through a journey, damage to ships, and different degrees of encumbrance (how weighed down it is) all changing estimates. Maybe it comes as no surprise that we aren’t sure how long a trip will take, but Creating Places gives you enough info to figure it out.

Tip #2: “Know Your Ship Rates”

Wooden ships are rated based on how many guns and men they have, though the number of decks and masts can imply this as well. In a world without guns, we can still rate them based on armament. Ships of different rates were unlikely to take on ones much bigger, so take this into account when determining which vessels your story needs.

Tip #3: “No Guns? Now What?”

In a world without gunpowder, there are no cannons, making our ships tame…unless we find an alternative. Catapults, trebuchets, and ballista all have their pros and cons. The latter could be the best and most effective replacement without causing other believability issues in your work, but you’ll need to understand the number of crew needed to operate one vs. a cannon.

Tip #4: “Know Your Ship Types”

Whether it’s a galley, brig, frigate, galleon, sloop-of-war, or ship-of-the-line, our ship has an appearance, size, capability, and reputation we can utilize with skill if we know it. We don’t need to invent something new because readers seldom see these and aren’t bored with them. We can make changes at will, provided they make sense, because many variations exist on Earth anyway. Feel free to tweak the design of a known vessel…once you know where to start.

Tip #5: “Determine Base Speeds First”

Most wooden ships average between 2-6 knots over a long trip. They can be becalmed (0 knots) or reach tops speeds of 11 knots, but none sustain that without magic. We can fudge the time needed, but we should know what’s possible. This includes being able to convert miles to nautical miles (multiply it by 1.151) and then divide the nautical miles by the average knots to learn how many hours would pass.

Summary of Chapter 8—Travel by Water
Figure 58 Corvette

Figure 58 Corvette

Landlubbers have difficulty determining how long it takes for any ship, whether powered by oars or sails, to traverse a distance. This chapter explores the factors affecting sailing speeds and what vessels are most likely to be used during an Age of Sail period. Calculations are provided for realistic estimates. Both long and round ships are discussed, including the galley, brig, frigate, galleon, sloop-of-war, and ship-of-the-line. In fantasy, we have species and warrior types who might be part of our crew. We might also rule out gunpowder and cannon, which means having ships with no real fire power or which use alternative weapons, some of which are examined. Subscribers to The Art of World Building newsletter receive an Excel spreadsheet that performs calculations in kilometers, miles, and nautical miles.

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5 Tips – Land Travel

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Feb 132018

5 World Building Tips (Vol 2, #6): Land Travel

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is land travel. You can read more in Chapter 7, “Travel by Land”, from Creating Places, (The Art of World Building, #2).

Tip #1: “Make Dragons Believable”

While anything huge that flies is not very believable to begin with, we can make them more so giving limitations. Even normal birds struggle at high altitudes and might be unable to get over very tall mountains (above 20,000 feet), for example. Dragons and other large animals would never make it unless we decide their magic helps them. We like them all powerful but maybe forcing them to fly around is better.

Tip #2: “Terrain Slows”

A forest can slow travelers due to underbrush and being unable to see threats from a distance, requiring caution. Desert sand will stop a wagon and slow walkers, but most deserts are actually hard earth and just tough on wheels and feet/hooves. Wetlands are another matter. Hills and mountains cause fatigue and reduce speed and endurance. However, a road mitigates some of these issues. Be sure to take the terrain into account when determining how long your characters’ trip will take.

Tip #3: “Don’t Draw to Scale”

While it’s good to try for accuracy when determining distances and travel times on maps, writing “not drawn to scale” on them gives us leeway to be wrong about something. After all, we’re storytellers, not masters at cartography of modes of travel we don’t use anymore, like horse, wagon, or hovercraft (I stopped using the latter years ago).

Tip #4: “Know How Fast Things Travel”

If you’re writing fantasy, you need to know how far a horse, wagon, or humans (or a species) moves in a day under normal conditions. Either that, or avoid every commenting on it, but this is hard given that characters move through dangerous places and must camp for the night, etc., and we typically mention the dangers while covering said journey. Creating Places makes it easier to know this by providing that data.

Tip #5: “Get the Travel Template”

You can save a ton of time by using the Travel Template sent to newsletter subscribers. It features a way to set the miles her quarter inch on your map, the base miles per day that various animals travel, how to size areas, terrain modifiers, and how long it takes to travel between locations. And if you change your scale, the numbers adjust for you.

Summary of Chapter 7—Travel Over Land

In settings without automobiles, world builders may struggle to determine how long it really takes people to traverse a distance, whether that’s between settlements or land features. Mountains, hills, desert, and vegetation all impact speed and endurance, whether one is walking, riding a steed (even flying on one), or hauling freight like a wagon. The presence and quality of roads alter this, as do life forms that might cause wariness and therefore slower travel. A methodology is presented to assist with organizing distance measurements and scale, determining the base miles per day (BMPD) for various mode of travel, and terrain modifiers to BMPD. Using both miles and kilometers, formulas are provided for making calculations, which can also be estimated for overall land area in sovereign powers. Newsletter subscribers receive an Excel spreadsheet that can be used to alter scale and modifiers so that all calculations are automatically updated, reducing the need for manual calculations.

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