Sunday, March 13, 2016

World Building World -- Part 1: Geography

I tend to be modest about my abilities but one thing I don't hesitate to say I'm good at is World Building. I've been complimented by a variety of different people on how I can create deep sandboxes in which people's characters can dig and turn up gold nuggets. I like World Building. I get lost in creating my worlds -- some I use, some just languish in my journals or in my mind. It is very cathartic for me. In fact, I remember after September 11th, my roommate and I created a map for a world to play D&D in. That was my first original world and it kind of sucked. I've gotten better since then.

The world is burning, time to start over and make a new one!

And lately, I've been itching to create again and I've had this idea brewing in my head for a couple of years now. I had a concept, characters, plot, but I needed a world. I thought I originally could just use the Hiromu Arakawa's, writer of Fullmetal Alchemist, world building strategy and I could be fine. Arakawa said that she started in a small world and built outward. But I couldn't do that. I like having an intimate understanding of how the world works, especially if the plot effects the world like this one does.  This includes if my story takes place in this world.

I thought I should break out my thoughts on world building and talk about the new world I'm creating in the process.

This will be a series I hope to finish. There is only one thing I like more than world building -- talking about world building.

This series will be more focused on building worlds from the ground up. Depending on how it goes, I may talk about world building on a smaller scale. But for now, starting from the bottom using a blank slate. I want to caveat that I am talking more about singular worlds and won't be discussing so much a galaxy of many worlds. Maybe that will come later but for now, I'm focusing on a single world.

Part 1: Geography

This particular social science I find is often treated trivially by many writers and game masters. It should be seen as the canvas in which the world is painted on, your core character stats, the face you paint make-up on. The land in which you live on, people often take for granted on how much that informs everything around you. It dictates what you wear, what kind of car you drive, where you work. This is why I have decided Part 1 will be about this often overlooked base in which you need to consider before you can build from the ground up.

And Happy Little Trees (tm!)

Geography Dictates Culture and History

 One of the youtube channels I like to visit, GeographyHub makes a great point in their first video -- change anything about geography and it dictates culture and history. When you take into consideration what makes a society function, what actions do they collectively take, especially in the beginning, it often ties into the land they are from.

For instance, take a raiding culture. Why do they raid? Usually, it is because their home land is not as fruitful as the lands they raid. Maybe winters are harsh or it is just not plentiful of resources. What kind of lands would they come from? A tundra maybe or plateau or desert. Or alternatively, if your society comes from a bread basket, fruitful region; agriculture leads to population booms in which a society may feel they have to expand. When they expand, they may step on the toes of other cultures.

I needed resources. Wut?

 What kind of geological formations inform their culture? For instance, a heavily mountainous region or a distant island isolates cultures developing them into very distinct cultures with languages that haven't been nearly as influenced as cultures who are trading partners for an example. Isolated cultures may not have the need to have much in the way of warfare because the land protects them enough. Conversely, take a culture with little protective geological formations -- they would be forced to develop technology to build up armies to protect themselves.

Geography also greatly informs cultural quirks. For instance, think how important the Nile was to the Ancient Egyptians. How much of their religion and culture revolves around that river. There were celebrations, specific gods, and it was the source of their well-being. If the Nile did not flood every year, they were shit out of luck. Likewise, consider the Tigris and Euphrates river and how important that was to the Mesopotamians. Places with Volcanic activity, how that dictated the cultures there. If a Volcano blew its top, the Gods must be angry. And so forth.

The Nile is the life blood in a barren land

Geography Often Contributes to and Dictates Conflict

We go to war for different reasons. Ideology is often dictated as a reason but if you take any ideological reason for war and look deeper, there is often a resource question -- basically the people fighting are doing so because there is either a real or imagined threat to their survival. I don't buy that conflict is purely ideological driven. Ideology is just the clothes you dress a conflict in -- almost nothing is purely ideological.

Geography is often the trophy that drives conflict in the form of geographical formations and resources. What drove the Age of Exploration was a search for resources. Wars have been fought over cities on strategic water ways or connections to key resources.

Not only is the reason to go to conflict often dictated by geography, but how the conflict is fought also is informed. Going back to our mountain people, they would have every reason to pull their enemy towards them and let the mountains do their work. Or what about a civilization familiar with swampy areas. Lure your enemy in and snipe from the trees. Or how about Never Invade Russia In The Winter. 

No matter how much fun this picture makes you believe

When you start your canvas of your new world, it is important to keep these aspects in mind.

People take advantage of the land we walk on because it is always there. As it works as a stabilizing force for us as we stand, it provides the foundation of the worlds we create.  

So don't skimp on geography. Don't be that GM who is like, "So you walk to the dungeon and there are trees I guess. Maybe desert. IDK."