World Building Month 2021

Art by Quick Covers

I stupidly copied these questions from someone on a Facebook group and now can’t find the original to credit the person.  So, if you know to whom credit is due, please let me know.  I’ve slightly modified a few questions for some clarity.  I also found that I sometimes got off on side tangents and didn’t fully or exactly answer the question.  Ah well.  This is all sort of a conversation, anyway. These answers originally appeared on my Facebook author page over the course of March 2021.

1. The World- generally describe the world and what type of setting that this will all take place in. Don’t go into too many details. Just give us an idea of the world that you want to build.

Conquest of the Sphere is a Science Fiction setting with the skin of a Fantasy setting. I call it Historical Fiction, but it’s not our history.  There are no gods and no magic, though that doesn’t stop anyone from believing in them.  The Sun is always directly above, night comes when it dims and the sky becomes a hazy blue-green.  Taboos keep people from studying that haze too closely.  The city state of Gravais, cosmopolitan and free (think Venice, Paris, Rome, Byzantium, Hong Kong, New York City), is in a cold war with the city state of Daan, oppressive and insular (think antebellum American South mixed with Iron Curtain era Eastern Europe with a little Ming Dynasty).  The Una, who are much like humans, are the dominant species, though beyond the mountains of the north are lands dominated by the Yaro, a species of humanoid, hyena-like beings.  The histories of these two species are more connected and interwoven than many know.  Ruins of past civilizations, including civilizations built by very, very different species, litter the landscape.  Dig anywhere, lift any stone and you’ll find evidence of those who came before.

2. Geography- Describe some of the specific landmasses you’ll be focusing on. Talk about weather patterns and the general lay of the land. List some of the important continents and bodies of water.

Gravais is the city toward which many maps orient themselves.  It rests upon the Western Sea at the head of a massive river.  The weather is mostly temperate and the land lush.  Beyond the sea are lands exotic and strange.  To the East, across forests, deserts, and savana, squats the high-walled city state of Daan.  To the South are dense jungles and shadowed swamps.  To the North is a massive mountain chain that splits the continent and forms a natural border between the lands dominated by the Una and those dominated by the Yaro.  There are stories, unsubstantiated, that beyond the known lands and beyond the oceans, there are mountains that reach beyond the sky.

3. Landmarks-describe some of the natural or otherwise landmarks in your world. Examples include the Grand Canyon, Eiffel Tower, Throat of the World, etc.

Sometimes called Great Roads, there are ancient structures that weave across the world, occasionally connecting at crossroads.  Nobody knows who built them, but all indications are that they’re profoundly old.  Gravais was even built at the end of one.
The walls of Daan are massive structures, imposing to enemies while keeping their subjects well contained.
Blue Stones are mysterious artifacts, sometimes appearing in groups, sometimes alone. They seem to be artificial, but why they were made, how they were made, who might have made them, and why they have been placed where they are, all remain mysteries.  

4. Resources- How do the people get water? Food? Are there rich minerals nearby, or mystical ley lines that power magical energy?

Gravais gets a lot of water from the major river that passes through it on its way to the ocean. There are vast fields where food is grown, but Gravais gets a lot of food & supplies from the sea, through fishing but also through trade.  When the first novel is eventually finished (good lord, how have I not finished it), there will be a revelation about a mineral with strange properties that will become very valuable. …But that’s for later.

5. Flora-What kind of plants exist in this world? How are they unique in various regions across the world? They can be listed by species and considered as a whole. This could also include bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms normally occurring on or in the bodies of humans and other animals.

One of the rules of my world-building is “this isn’t Earth” so there may be things that exist in the same general evolutionary niche, but they are not the same.  So, there isn’t corn (what we call corn today), but there may be a grain-type plant that serves a similar purpose.  For example, acca and kroat are used in making different kinds of bread. A spice called pevak beans are dried out to make the spice peva, which mixed sparingly with salt is used in dry-rubs on steak in Gravais and Yelemma, if you can afford it.  The plenya tree is a valued building material, as the trees grow extremely straight and tall and the wood is especially resistant to rot.

6. Fauna-What types of animals populate this world? What types of animals exist in different regions of your world?

Using the same rule as I do with flora, there may be creatures that fit a similar niche to those on Earth, but this isn’t Earth.  For example, al-arr are kept by Una for much the same purposes as horses.  They sometimes work as beasts of burden, carrying some cargo, pulling chariots, etc., but most often are used as mounts for transportation and racing.  They are, however, not quite like horses, being bipedal, semi-reptilian (though warm blooded), omnivores.  They are shaped somewhat like ostridges, but covered in leathery skin.  With more variety in color and size than you’d find in contemporary Earthly dogs, al-arr vary greatly depending on region as well as cultures that employ them.  Wild al-arr can be formidable foes for the unwary traveler.
Conquest of the Sphere also features megafauna, though I haven’t gone into great detail on that yet.  The region around Gravais has been settled and heavily populated for long enough that megafauna tends to avoid it.

7. Races/General Culture- What types of races exist on your world? What type of cultures are included within those races, and how do the races interact with each other?

Not to be whatever, but ‘race’ isn’t a thing.  There are two dominant species, the Una and the Yaro.  Una are much like Humans.  They too are descended from arboreal primates.  There are many different cultures spread throughout the various parts of the world where they are dominant.  Yaro descended from veldt pack-hunters.  They are bipedal, furred, and have physiognomy similar to hyena.  They have three sexes, with females typically being the centers of communities, males often living apart, and large numbers of androgynous Yaro who make up the largest part of the population.  Like the Una, the Yaro have countless different cultures spread throughout the regions of the world where they are dominant.
Unknown to many, there are at least three other sentient species.  Though most people believe Baal to be an Una, though a weird looking, semi-albino Una, her people are actually a different species.  They share a common ancestor, but for reasons that will be revealed at a later date, they have followed a different evolutionary path to the point where they are too genetically dissimilar to interbreed and produce viable children.  “Mules” may be possible.  The S’sahsha are considered myth by most people, but are in fact a real thing.  They do not originate on this world and have a very alien origin.  When they appear on this world, they take the form of tall, lythe humanoids with mostly featureless, chrome skin.  They appear primarily in myths and legends, often as harbingers of disaster or spiritual guides for ancient heroes.  Lastly, the Iyaaki are large primates just on the cusp of entering the stone age.  They live in lands far removed from most Una (and possibly Yaro) civilizations.

8. Clothing- detail differences in outfits between genders and ages as necessary.

Clothing is as varied as the people and cultures who wear them.  Yelemma has been eclipsed in recent years, but was known for its colorful silk.  The people there still wear silk in vibrant colors, trying to hold on to their former glory.  In Gravais, travelers from many lands come together, mixing styles and fabrics.  The wealthy wear elaborate jewelry and fine clothing.  Peasants wear what they can and what they need for their jobs.  In Aranam robes are common for men and women, with flourishes sometimes added by those with more money or power.  In Daan things get strange.  Free men and women wear masks in public at all times.  The wealthy elite wear more ornate masks and clothing, but few see them as the elite almost never venture out of the walled city center.  Even slaves wear veils to cover their faces.  Showing any skin at all is considered a great offence.  In contrast, people in Emib often wear little beyond what is absolutely necessary for protection from the elements.  Winter months bring warm clothing, cloaks and the like, but hot summer days find people walking about in little more than what they were born with (though this depends upon the job or activity they’re involved in at the time).

9. Food- describe an example of a daily diet, however it’s divided up (breakfast, brunch, elevensies, etc.), along with any other noteworthy foods for special occasions

I definitely blab about food when I’m writing Conquest of the Sphere stories.  I’m a firm believer that one of the great tools for understanding people is food.   Sitting around a table with strangers, trying a local dish, sharing something of your own, these are the ways bonds are formed and how people can come together.  I definitely feature scenes of people eating and eating together.  Gravais is a city of kiosks and street food.  It’s a working city with plenty of hearty food, especially seafood.  It also has a thriving cafe culture, where cassa (a type of tea) is sipped and the news of the day is discussed.  If you’ve got some money or you’re lucky enough to visit a posh party, you might get some Hrumble, an especially prised spirit distilled in an exclusive town near Gravais, using an ancient and secret recipe.

10. Arts-What types of art are popular in your world? What are some different styles of art that exist in the various races and cultures of your world?

As mentioned in previous entries, silk making in various forms is big in Yelemma.  Gravais has a lot of murals and mosaics. In Daan the creation of extremely ornate and finely crafted masks is a prized skill.  Aranam produces a great deal of poetry and music.  Traveling storytellers are also very popular in cities and in small towns around the region.

11. Trades- What kind of jobs exist in your world? Examples include smithing, carpentry, cooking, teaching, adventuring etc.

All of the expected.  Stonemasons, woodcutters, sailors, caravan drivers, etc.  In my serialized story, Echoes of Yesterday, Mele is a silk maker and Inoke is a fur trapper.  In my unfinished novel, Seph is an entertainer (dancer & singer) of some note…and something else.  Baal holds many jobs over various stories.  She hires herself out as a bodyguard, she spends some time farming, she signs on with an army, and she works as a sailor for a time.  There are priests and other peddlers trying to separate people from their money, folks trying to keep the peace, artists, water-sellers and more. 

12. Education-How are children and adults educated in your world? How does education change depending on the races, cultures and regions where teaching takes place?

This really depends on geography & culture.  Aranam is a city of learning.  Scholars and sages, schools and colleges fill the city.  Many of the great craftspeople, teachers, leaders, etc. were educated in Aranam.  Some cities have schools.  Certainly wealthy people in Gravais have their children tutored.  Merchants and others who might be called ‘middle class’ sometimes send their children to schools, but more often send them to apprentice somewhere.  In Yelemma, those few who remain and carry on the knowledge of the city’s crafts will take in young children and mentor/apprentice them.  Daan has major restrictions on education, like they do on everything else.  Rural villages may have less formal schooling, though a degree of literacy is common even among farming peasants in the regions surrounding Aranam.  

13. Tools- What type of tools are used in the arts, trades, and other activities?

Another case where the folks in Conquest of the Sphere use variations on tools that would likely seem familiar.  Perhaps the design is different or the material it’s made from, but the form & function would likely be familiar.  I feel like that’s a bit of a non-answer.

14. Weapons-What types of weapons are popular? How are weapons different among different races and cultures? What are the names of some legendary weapons?

Swords are fairly common, as are spears.  The usual, I guess.  The Dayate (a secret cult of sorts) employ some unique weapons, but those will have to wait until I finally finish my danged novel to talk about.

The Spear of Nel-godo features in some old stories.  It was broken and the hero slain during the War of Two Queens.

15. Transportation-How do people get around on your world? What are some popular types of transit and how do they change across different places on your world?

Al-arr used by many in a similar way to horses on Earth.  Wagons pulled by larger beasts of burden are also common.  Ships & sailing vessels, barges for rivers, etc.  There are people who live on or around the massive, ancient “Great Roads” who ride mechanical, self-propelled vehicles.  But just wait, things get really weird during the events of my work-in-progress novel. 

16. Politics/Officials- Describe the different systems of government or leadership used in your world, and who if anyone is in charge. What is the most dominant forms of government there?

Gravais has a monarchy and a powerful church that would love it to become a theocracy.  Daan is ruled by an elite cabal of ultra-wealthy who remain sequestered, surrounded by their eunuchs and slaves.  Aranam is essentially a republic.

Variations on monarchies and dictatorships are probably the most common forms of government, overall.  

17. Currency/Economy-Show me the money! Describe the different types of currency on your world and what is money based on? What types of economies are the most dominant there?

I haven’t really gotten into currency.  There is something obviously, especially in major cities.  Barter is no doubt common once you get out of the major urban areas (and in parts of those).  I’ve always found the arbitrary value assigned to things that are not inherently valuable (gold, diamonds, etc.) to be weird.  Like in our own history however, I may have salt be used by some folks, as well as other spices and useful but rare materials.  

18. Religions/Philosophy/Morality-Describe the various deities and pantheons in your world. What is the most popular religion? How are philosophies and morality dealt with in different parts of your world?

This is a big question that’s going to take me stories and books to cover.  The various cultures of Conquest of the Sphere have their own sets of beliefs, their own religions, codes, gods, myths, etc.  There is, however, no supernatural.  Plenty believe in it, but it isn’t real.  Gravais has the divine Twins, founders of the city and central figures in the Church of the Twins.  Duality is a core concept in the religion and thus in the general cultural zeitgeist.  This isn’t simply a Zoroastrian good VS evil type of duality.  It’s more extreme and widespread than that. Two sides of a coin, male and female, spicy and sweet, hot and cold, happy and sad…these things all take on spiritual significance.  Twins are sacred, for example.  In Daan, a codified ‘order of things’ is held in high esteem.  Their religion focuses on staying in your place, on the natural correctness of some ruling while others serve.  In their eyes, the elite who live in their sheltered, walled inner city are born to be rulers.  There is also a great deal of sexual repression.  As part of that, showing skin at all is a great offence.  Masks and veils are key elements of fashion.  Baal’s people have their myths, but no particular belief in the supernatural.  They believe they were created by strange creatures in another world…and they’re right.

As far as how these things are dealt with, it’s much the same as in our world.  Some folks believe in it.  Some folks actually live by it.  Many hide behind it.  Those in power use it to stay in power.

19. Warfare- How is warfare handled in your world? Do the various races and cultures fight at all, and if so, who do they send? How are wars dealt with in different parts of your world? Name some wars that had a great impact on your world.

Like religion, war is sadly a major, shaping force in the world of Conquest of the Sphere.  Though Gravais has seemingly left its expansionist, conquering days in the past, it is still engaged in a generations-long cold war with Daan.  Daan is still engaged in active conflict with some nations to its south and east.  Aranam generally stays out of it, but has come to Gravais’s aid in the past.  There are rumors of nomadic clans raiding border towns in the north east.  Though I haven’t dug into it, the Yaro too wage wars of their own.

The War of Two Queens was a major event in the history of Gravais.  Some say bad blood still exists between the families involved, in spite of three centuries having gone by. 

20. Housing-Name some different architectural styles across your world. How do different races and cultures build their homes and where do they live?

As one would expect, housing is based on available materials and environmental needs and then of course, cultural variations and conflicts.  Gravais is a walled city of close and twisting alleyways.  The walls are typically made of stone and clay.  Wood is also used, but to a much lesser degree.  Fire is always a concern.  Houses are often based around an inner courtyard, while the exterior wall faces the streets.  Aranam is a city built of ziggurats, filled with apartments.  There are places in the south that grow their houses, hollowing out huge gourds to form the shell of the home.  There are as many ways to build as there are people.

21. Affiliations-What are some of the different guilds, societies, lodges, orders, etc.? How do these different organizations interact with each other and the general public?

I haven’t dug too deeply into this.  The Dayate are a secretive cabal of scientists who guise themselves as mystics and wizards.  There are definitely guilds and such in cities.  There was a sort of silk-maker guild in Yelemma, but it has faded as the city has faded.  

22. Social Groups- these can be classes grouped by caste or by cultural boundaries (Upper-classes, undesirables, punks, jocks, etc.)

Aranam holds itself up as a city without the division of class, though in practice, this doesn’t prove to be true.  Gravais makes no such claim.  There is an aristocracy and a church that both hold themselves as divine and superior to ‘lessers.’  There are laborers, merchants, functionaries, and more.  And yes, there are peasants of a kind.  Daan is has a deeply entrenched caste system, including what is essential chattel slavery.  Daan is a terrible place.  If there were an ‘evil empire’ in Conquest of the Sphere, it would be Daan.

23. Language- for use in naming all of the things you’ve designed. Establish phonetic patterns with particular cultures (Example: All of the Kokiri people save for Saria have names using Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Da-Do and I think you get it).

I do have certain naming conventions.  Certain areas have names with certain prefixes or suffixes.  Some places have names with hyphens or what have you.  I sometimes take names from certain real-world locations and use them as a base, but then modify them in some way.  For example, maybe I take names from Mali, but I drop the second syllable and I add the prefix “Ba” if the person is married.  That sort of thing.  

24. Folk Traditions/Holidays-Name some of the traditions and holidays that are observed on your world. How do these festivities differ among the many races and cultures of your world?

I’m planning to get more into this as I go, but there’s a big holiday in Gravais centered around the (semi-mythological) founding of the city by the Twins.  This holiday will actually feature in some major events of the novel.  

25. Toys/Games-Do they play D&D on your world? Name some of the toys popular with children. How is gambling dealt with among the various races and cultures that populate your world?

Another thing I haven’t explored too much.  There’s definitely gambling and various games of skill and chance.  Gambling is certainly common in a city like Gravais.  I suspect that the Church of the Twins wouldn’t have any specific teachings against it.  In fact, I could see something like a coin toss as a sacred act.  However, I’m sure that whatever their take on it, they’re finding a way to profit from it.

26. Legends- Who are the people’s heroes? What myths are spread about the land around them, or what associations do they make with the seasons (assuming they have them)?

A ‘living legend’ is one of the main characters in several short stories and my work in progress novel.  Baal is a figure of fear, respect, suspicion, awe and more.  She’s been a player in several major events in recent history.  By the time the novel starts, many believe she is dead, if they believe she existed at all.

The Twelve are a band of mythological heroes, similar to our world’s Olympians or Vanir.  Boej is one of the Twelve and is said to have been the father of the Twins.

27. History- Talk about what’s happened on your world in the last century and even beyond that. What are some important milestones for your races and cultures? List any important wars, events, celebrations, famines, plagues, visitations from deities and other stuff you can think of. 

The events of my work in progress novel take place at the beginning of a major, world-wide upheaval that will take years, decades, and centuries to put into context. The decades leading up to said events may have seemed deceptively calm.  There were wars and conflicts.  The city of Tranth fell in a massive battle, for example (yes, Baal was there).  A cold war of sorts grew between Gravais and Daan.  The once celebrated city of Aranam seemed to wither and nearly die.  Several strange discoveries were pulled from the ground, hinting at a much deeper and stranger history than many believed.  The rise of the Dayate and their influence may be the most important, for reasons that won’t be apparent for a long time.

28. Life Cycle (Birth/Childhood) – Create an entirely new character and describe their upbringing. Is the family rich or poor by your world’s standards? Do they have a happy home? Is there a war on? What sort of things does your character do to occupy their time?

Umbi-eeth was born in the trading village of Ked on the Bent River in the foothills of the Bone Mountains.  When she was a child, soldiers from Daan attacked the village, killing several members of her family.  She and her uncle survived.  In the years that followed, they took over the family business, running a caravansary.  Their lives weren’t easy, but as time passed and the raiding parties from Daan turned their eyes to easier hunting grounds in the South, things improved.  Steppe nomads came to appreciate Umbi-eeth’s honest dealings, the trade caravans that came through met with better success as they gained her blessing.  When the warlord ou’Anbar gathered his religious zealots in a bid to unite the nomadic tribes, it was Umbi-eeth who sheltered the refugees and saved oi’Tabak.  When oi-Tabak had ou’Anbar assassinated, Umbi-eeth was the first he told.  As she aged, her caravansary grew into a trading empire that may seem minor to the historians in Gravais, but helped to shape the lives of generations in the regions around the Bone Mountains.  When she died, a grand tomb was erected in her honor.  It stands today, a white marble obelisk standing alone in the middle of a vast grassland.  An epic poem chronicles her many adventures, though it is thought that much of the poem is either made up or has assimilated older myths into the narrative.  

29. Life Cycle (Adolescence/Middle Age) how do they handle their awkward years? Do they even live long enough to see 30? Do they get married or fall in love?

Oops.  Looks like I jumped the gun on #28 and told the overall story of Umbi-eeth’s life.  I guess I’ll hit a couple middle age highlights.  She did take a husband, though it was for political reasons, not for love.  Love she found with ou’Obant, a master leatherworker who took a job in the caravansary when his clan was decimated by a plague.  She had one child wither her husband and two with her consort.  

30. Life Cycle (Old Age/Death and Beyond) under what circumstances does your character die? Is it of natural causes? Did they die in a war? In a bed surrounded by their loved ones, or alone in a gutter? What sort of legacy do they leave behind- do their children honor your character’s memory? Does your character even have children? What impact did they leave on your world, if any?

Umbi-eeth reached the age of 59, surviving her husband by nearly 20 years and ou’Obant by a decade.  Though it was officially called natural, there has always been rumor that she was poisoned.  The finger of blame has pointed at many people, including her own children.  Her eldest daughter, Ima-eeth took over the caravansary and nominal control of Umbi-eeth’s commercial empire, however, major changes in trade routes as well as growing conflicts among the nomads were more than she could handle.  Things spiraled out of control and Ked was sacked, Ima-eeth and her family slain, and the caravansary burned to the ground.  Umbi-eeth’s second child, a son, died in a flash flood while traveling with a caravan.  Her youngest, Beli-kaab, became a renowned scholar in Aranam after many eventful years as a soldier, an explorer, and even a performer in a traveling circus. Her life became the subject of a great many books.

31. The End of the Beginning-you are finished with the worldbuilding challenge, so today you share what you have done. The truth is that creating a world is an ongoing task that never really ends. However, please show us what you have created so far.

This has been a long process that’s ongoing.  I have only just gotten some creative fiction writing done in the last week, the first I’ve done since last summer.  So, I’ll post a link to the most up to date, collected & edited version of my (soon to be) ongoing serialized story (here).

Check out Jeff’s art at Quick Covers:

Check out my Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.  And take a look at my Patreon page, where I’m working on a novel and developing a tabletop RPG setting. You can also read my fiction over on Amazon.

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