Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Technology

When you think of technology in a fictional world, your first thought might go to science-fiction. That’s not wrong, as science-fiction is dominated by computers, AI and faster-than-light travel. That’s not all technology is however. By definition, technology is the use of science to create equipment and machines for practical use.

Every tool is an example of technology. A hammer and nail can be used to join wood pieces together, creating a practical means of building a house. Similarly, the wheel creates practical transportation, both of people and goods.

That means that even in fantasy, where everything a computer can do could instead be done by use of a spell, you have to consider what sort of technology would be available. One of the big fantasy tropes is using a medieval, renaissance-like setting. That means farmers, knights, castles built of stone and a lot of hand-labor.

Even here, technology exists. Your farmers will be applying basic science to get plants to grow by turning their soil, watering their crops and yes, training horses to haul their carts. Knights need someone to teach them the fine points of swordplay, but they also need a smith to make their weapons and armor. That castle probably uses masonry, which leads into chisels, stone saws and mortar.

That’s at the base end of the spectrum. There is technology, but it is simple and doesn’t require an advanced understanding of how to work the equipment. At the other end we get into advanced technology.

Keep in mind that advanced technology doesn’t necessarily mean every character needs an engineering degree. Rather, it means that the technology has been built up and improved upon.

Take for instance glass. Organic glass such as volcanic obsidian has been used in tools such as knives and early spears. Once it was discovered that melting silica could create glass, the uses for glass began to spread. Early uses included glass beads and decorative murals. Today, we know that although silica produces a brittle glass, we can add ingredients such as magnesium, aluminium and iron to produce stronger types of glass for a wide variety of uses including windows, touch screens, eye wear and sculptures.

When building technology for your world, consider a few simple questions:

  • What purpose does it serve?
  • How can it be built upon?
  • What needs to be built first in order to make this a practical solution?


Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Cities and Towns

Creating a city itself is daunting because it’s where civilization and worldbuilding meet. Whether this is a sprawling metropolitan capital or a tiny village, there’s a certain amount of planning that goes into every city.

With cities and towns, size really does matter. More specifically, population size matters. The more people in an area, the higher the demand for resources. As population size increases, so do new demands. A tiny village won’t need as much in the way of wide, four-lane roads as a bustling city will. Conversely however, a tiny village may not need as many items imported from outside because there won’t be a great demand for it. Knowing your population size means you can predict what sort of added resources and services the city will need.

Services include things like sewer, trash, public parks, street and road maintenance and in some cases, libraries and schools. There’s also some bleed here between public services and law enforcment. The larger the population, the greater the need for police officers, social workers and even groundskeepers to maintain parks. Along with the additional services, there’s an increased strain on infrastructure, meaning roads, bridges, dams and other large-scale constructions need more maintenance and inspections.

While we’re discussing services: also consider the areas companies might service in a city. Most notably, utility services are often given a geographic monopoly because of the pipes and wiring thaty need to be laid for them to supply homes with water, electrcity or sewer. In massive cities where there may be more than one zipcode, delivery services may pick and choose the areas they work in.

When building a city, it also helps to keep in mind how it forms. Cities that grow slowly from village to town to city may feel somewhat disorganized in their layout and feature narrower streets. This is often because the intial layout is set down when the population is much smaller and as a result, as smaller needs. As small cities grow into large ones, the roads loop back and are added onto each other, resulting in the twisting disorganization.  More modern cities may feature straighter roads and a grid-like layout. That same orderly layout also applies to areas that are demolished and rebuilt.


Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Daily Life

One of the places that gets overlooked in worldbuilding and how it affects character development is daily life. Despite that it seems simple, it can and should impact your characters and their interactions with one another. Their day-to-day habits aren’t going to simply go away just because they’ve been thrown headfirst into an adventure, and certain aspects of it are impacted by various social demands.

Some of the basic things you need to consider are hygiene. How often do they bathe? Is this a private thing, or something more public such as a bathhouse or a shared tub among the family? This also applies to beauty routines, and not just for women either: beards need care and so do teeth. Bad breath isn’t going to land your protagonist a date if he’s got food stuck in his face.

Aside from bathing, chores are another thing to consider and look at. Not only does housework include things like cleaning and cooking, but also yard work and animal husbandry.  Class division affects daily chores as well. Someone who’s entire job it is to cook and clean for a family of five will not only have those chores, but the care of their own living space as well. Gender bias is still another factor as some chores will be seemingly ‘inappropriate’ and socially unacceptable for some family members to take care of.

Chores also include shopping and managing the budget.  Regardless of who your protagonist is, if his shopping hasn’t been taken care of, he’s not going to be eating dinner. In settings where electricity and water aren’t in every house, you still have bills such as rent, taxes and groceries. This is especially true if there are animals to take care of. On a rough average, a horse will eat between ten and twenty pounds of forage a day. Goats need roughly two to four pounds of feed per day.

The expenses need to be offset by some form of income. Daily life also includes work and jobs, many of which will take your characters away from their house. In exchange they’re paid, but how much they’re paid and how they acquire it affects their ability to pay for goods and services.

Yet another place to look at might be childcare. In the earliest ages, children are heavily dependent on their parents and as a result there’s things like feeding, bathing and clothing a child to take care of multiple times a day in addition to everything else that needs to be done.

While adults and parents are working however, children face education. Homeschooling and public schooling are relatively low-cost options, but each one comes with its own challenges. Higher education and private schooling will provide more opportunities, but also cost more.

Daily life has a lot of factors in it to consider when developing characters. Day-to-day concerns change with time, technological advances and class, but understanding where your character comes from in their world gives you a better grasp on who they are and how they act as a person.

As an exercise: Set a timer for fifteen minutes and free write a typical day in the life of your character or characterss. Consider things they have to do like errands, chores and working either for money or education.

Posted in Exercises, worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Resources and Civilization

In my last worldbuilding post I talked about the different types of terrain. Each type has its own dangers to consider, but it also provides its own resources. Civilization of any level is heavily dependent on resources. Basic survival needs include food, water and shelter which all need to be met by the environment. More complex ideas such as trade and politics also depends on some level on the available resources.

Survival is the most obvious reasons to know what resources your setting offers. Both food and water are heavily effected by this. Not all farming techniques suit every environment and water is needed not just for basic survival, but also for farming and hygiene.

Shelter however, is perhaps where the natural setting plays the largest role. Grasslands and deserts both tend to be open areas, without a lot of natural cover, but they have very different things to offer in terms of building materials. Stone or clay may be plentiful in desert settings. Mud or woven stalks might be easier to gather in a grassland area. Not only do different materials affect the appearance of structures, they also provide different benefits. A woven grass wall will allow for more airflow than a stone one. Stone will provide more security and resists damage.

Because of this, different building materials affect architectural styles and as a result, has some influence on early culture. This is also seen in art, where traditional art uses the natural and readily available materials to craft things like wooden masks, clay dishes and grass or feather dance costumes.

Trade is also another place where resources have a large say. When dealing with market value, common resources will have a lower value than a rare one. This is also affected by how useful a resource is. A resource with multiple uses can have its price driven up. When dealing with direct trade between cultures and regions, resources common to one area can be valuable in another, and common resources between the two may be bartered and exchanged.

When considering interactions, also keep in mind that limited resources can spark conflict. This isn’t restricted to conflict between differing nations as maintenance can become a serious concern. Environmental damage from over harvesting may lead to restrictions and regulations, which can cause disagreement between interest groups, businesses and individuals.