Using P C Wrede’s World Builder questions in setting design.

by Gary Whitten

Patricia C Wrede is a fantasy author that, in the infancy of computer networks (FIDONET), posted a number of questions and guidelines over time to be used in creation of fantasy worlds for authors. They also are handy for the creation of game worlds. For the full story of the questions and Lars Eighner’s efforts to pull them together, go to Lars’ site.

I have used these guidelines to add immersion to my game worlds in the past, and they are quite helpful. Lars has organized them into 36 topics, with a number of questions being in several different topics.

The topics are:

Arts and Entertainment
Architecture
Calendar
Crime and the Legal System
Daily Life
Diet
Fashion and Dress
Eating customs
Education
Foreign Relations
Gestures
Government
Greeting and Meeting.
Language
Magic and Magicians
Magic and Technology
Manners
Medicine
People and Customs: Ethics and Values
Physical and Historical Features
Climate and Geography
Natural Resources
General History
History of a Specific Country
Politics
Population
Religion and Philosophy
Rules of Magic
Rural Factors
Science and Technology
Social Organization
Transportation and Communication
Urban Factors
Visits
War
Wizards

When you’re working on your game setting, these can be used to spark imagination, break writer’s block and fill in gaps in your setting. You should pick and choose which categories to work with based on what your current needs are. I have caught myself working on some of these for my own Valley of Aesri setting when I really didn’t need to do them, and some other areas of campaign work with more immediate needs were pushed aside. So keep a firm eye on the categorized and prioritized list I talked about in my previous blog entry.

It’s also important to realize that when you pick a category to use that you don’t have to answer every question in it immediately, or even, at all. The questions are guidelines, nothing more. Some of them, such as Rules of Magic, are likely going to be much less useful as you’re likely going to be using a game system with the magic systems already defined.

Some of these I definitely recommend be considered as you design or enhance a setting.

Climate and Geography
Architecture
Daily Life – interesting questions you might not think of
Religions and Philosophy – When doing Pantheon
Calendar – Probably not used when modifying an existing setting.
Natural Resources –

I’ll be doing some additional posts regarding the use of these, each one exploring one or two of the sections. When I do so, I’ll be altering the questions some towards adding immersion. I’d like to start with Climate and Geography:

* What is the arrangement of planetary bodies like? How do these differences reflect in the culture, climate, flora and fauna?
On Earth, we clearly have diurnal and nocturnal creatures because we have clear day and night even on the brightest moonlit nights. With the questions below, the light may be different. With multiple suns, there may be two ‘nights’ per day, no complete darkness at all on the surface or some other effect. How does this affect plants and animals? How does this affect ‘normal’ species like deer and foxes? What about nocturnal creatures like possum? What effect does this have on fantastic creatures like faeries, dragons, etc?

* Is it like Earth with a sun and a moon, maybe multiple moons? Multiple suns? Or what about no moons and a small distant star providing little warmth or light?

* Do the moons have any tangible impact aside from gravity like in the DragonLance world of Krynn where they altered the strength of magic?

* Is the world your on actually a moon of a planet, which in turn orbits a sun?

* Are other planets clearly visible?
On Earth, a number of planets were visible with the naked eye but often mistake for stars and were mentioned when they were visible during morning or evening. “I’ll be back when Mars is an evening star again.”

* How are all these bodies treated? Are they ‘just there’, associated with deities, or perhaps demons or personality traits? Are they real or just fokelore
“I hear he was born when Hrice was ascending, beware of his temper!”

* Are conjunctions and eclipses portents of certain things, either good or ill?
“Be careful on your trip, it’s only two days until Kolzin crosses Qes!”

* Have human activities affected climate, landscape, etc. in various regions? How? (Example: Growth of the Sahara Desert has been increased by over-farming.)

* Where are mountain ranges? Rivers and lakes? Deserts? Forests, tropical and otherwise? Grasslands and plains?

Even in a LSSC, terrain can be highly varied. The Valley of Aesri is only 20×30 miles but it’s between two mountain ranges with much dense forest. Still there are the source of two major rivers, some marshland and even the forests have some sections where the normally dense deciduous trees thin some and have small orchards.

* If there are imaginary animals (dragons, unicorns, etc.) how do they fit into the ecology? What do they eat? How much and what kind of habitat do they require? Are they intelligent and/or capable of working spells, talking, etc.? How common are they? Are any endangered species?

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