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The Ultimate Guide to Making Your Fantasy World Feel Real: The Importance of Establishing Rules

Updated: Jan 5, 2023




Introduction

Establishing rules and logic in your fantasy world is crucial for creating a cohesive and believable story. When building a fantasy world, it’s important to think about the different systems and structures that make up the world, as well as the laws of physics and magic that govern it. By setting clear rules and logic for your world, you’ll be able to make it feel more realistic and immersive for your readers.


The first step in establishing rules and logic in your fantasy world is to decide on the basic structure and layout of your world. This includes things like the geography, the climate, and the presence of different species or cultures. You should also consider the technological level of your world and how it might have evolved over time. All of these factors will shape the way your characters interact with the world and the kinds of stories that can take place within it.


Creating geography and climate from scratch in a fantasy world can be a daunting task, especially if you’re not an expert. However, there are a few key things that you can keep in mind to help you get started.


First, it’s important to understand the basic facts about different types of landscapes. For example, mountains are usually formed through tectonic activity or erosion, and they tend to have steep slopes, rocky terrain, and thin air at high elevations.


River valleys: Rivers are usually formed by water flowing downhill, and as they flow, they carve out a path through the landscape. Over time, the sides of the river can become steep and eroded, forming a valley. The size and shape of a river valley can be influenced by a variety of factors, including the slope of the land, the type of rock that the river is flowing through, and the amount of water in the river. In a fantasy world, you can use river valleys to create natural borders between different regions or to provide resources like water and fertile soil for agriculture.


Coastlines: A coastline is the area where land meets water, and it can be formed by a variety of processes. In some cases, coastlines are created by the movement of tectonic plates, which can cause land to rise or sink. In other cases, coastlines are shaped by the action of waves, which can erode the land over time. The type of coastline that forms will depend on the geology of the area, as well as the climate and the shape of the land. In a fantasy world, coastlines can provide a source of food, transportation, and trade, and they can also be a natural barrier against attacks from the sea.


Forests: Forests are areas of dense vegetation, and they can be found in a variety of climates and landscapes. In a fantasy world, forests can be shaped by a variety of factors, including the climate, the geology of the area, and the presence of other vegetation. For example, a forest might be found in a region with a high amount of rainfall and fertile soil, or it might be shaped by the presence of other plants and animals that provide shelter and nutrients. Forests can provide a wide range of resources, including wood, food, and medicine, and they can also be a home to a diverse array of plant and animal life.


Swamps: Swamps are wetland areas that are characterized by shallow water and a high concentration of plants. They can be found in a variety of climates, but they tend to be found in areas with high levels of rainfall and low-lying land. In a fantasy world, swamps might be formed by the presence of rivers or other bodies of water, or they might be shaped by the geology of the area. Swamps can provide a variety of resources, including timber, food, and medicine, and they can also be home to a diverse array of plant and animal life.


Deserts: Deserts are arid regions that are characterized by very little rainfall and sparse vegetation. They can be found in a variety of climates, but they tend to be found in areas with high levels of sunshine and low levels of humidity. In a fantasy world, deserts might be formed by the presence of mountain ranges or other natural barriers that block the flow of moisture, or they might be shaped by the geology of the area. Deserts can be challenging environments to live in, but they can also be home to a variety of plant and animal life that have adapted to the dry conditions.


Mountains: Mountains are large landforms that rise significantly above the surrounding land, and they can be found in a variety of landscapes and climates. There are two main types of mountains: fold mountains and block mountains. Fold mountains are created when two tectonic plates collide and the land is pushed upwards, forming a mountain range. Block mountains are formed when a large block of land is uplifted, creating a single mountain or a group of isolated mountains.


In a fantasy world, mountains can be shaped by a variety of factors, including the movement of tectonic plates, the erosion of the land, and the presence of other geological features. Mountains can have a variety of different features, including steep slopes, rocky terrain, and thin air at high elevations. They can provide a variety of resources, including timber, minerals, and water, and they can also be home to a variety of plant and animal life. Mountains can be a natural barrier between different regions, and they can also provide a challenge for travelers and adventurers.


Putting the physical world together

Once you have a basic understanding of these different types of landscapes, you can start to think about how they might fit together in your fantasy world. For example, you might have a range of mountains that separates different regions, or a network of rivers that serves as a major transportation route. You can also consider the climate of your world and how it might be affected by the geography. For example, a world with high mountains might have colder temperatures at higher elevations, while a world with a long coastline might have a more moderate climate.


Civilisations

Another important aspect of creating geography and climate in a fantasy world is to think about how these elements might be shaped by the culture and history of your world. For example, you might have a civilization that has developed advanced irrigation systems to make use of a dry desert region, or a culture that has adapted to living in the frozen tundra.


Mountains

In a mountain region, a civilization might develop that is based on mining and resource extraction. The rugged terrain and thin air of the mountains could make it difficult for people to farm or graze livestock, so they might turn to extracting minerals and other resources from the mountains instead. This civilization might also rely on trade with other regions to obtain food and other necessities.


Deserts

In a desert region, a civilization might develop that is based on trade and resource conservation. The dry, arid climate of the desert would make it difficult to grow crops, so this civilization might rely on trade to obtain food and other necessities. They might also develop advanced irrigation systems to make use of limited water resources, or they might rely on camel caravans to transport goods across the desert.


Swamps

In a swamp region, a civilization might develop that is based on fishing and agriculture. The wetland environment of the swamp would provide a rich source of fish and other aquatic life, while the fertile soil might be suitable for growing crops. This civilization might also rely on trade to obtain resources that are not available in the swamp, such as timber or minerals.

These are just a few ideas for civilizations that might emerge in different types of landscapes in a fantasy world. There are many other possibilities as well, depending on the specific features of the landscape and the culture and history of the civilization.



Economics

The comparative advantages of each of these three societies in terms of trade would depend on the resources and skills that they possess. Here are a few ideas of what each of these societies might offer in trade:


Mountains

A mountain society might have a comparative advantage in terms of trade due to the availability of minerals and other resources that are found in the mountains. They might also have developed expertise in mining and resource extraction, which could be valuable to other societies. In addition, they might have access to mountain passes or other transportation routes that could be useful for trade.


Deserts

A desert society might have a comparative advantage in terms of trade due to their ability to conserve and manage limited resources. They might also have developed expertise in trade and transportation, particularly in the use of camel caravans or other methods of moving goods across the desert. They might also have access to valuable resources such as spices, herbs, or other plants that are not found in other regions.


Swamps

A swamp society might have a comparative advantage in terms of trade due to the abundance of fish and other aquatic life in the swamp. They might also have developed expertise in agriculture and the use of irrigation systems, which could be valuable to other societies. In addition, they might have access to valuable resources such as timber or other plant life that is not found in other regions. The resources available to each of these three societies would determine its economics (what people live off and what they can trade), its social structure and its culture.



Society

Mountains: In a mountain society, a social organization might emerge based on the hierarchical division of labor required for resource extraction and trade. For example, the society might have a ruling class of wealthy landowners and merchants who control the mining and trade operations, while the majority of the population consists of laborers who work in the mines or on trade caravans. This social organization might also be influenced by the geography of the mountains, with different clans or families controlling different regions or passes.


Desert

In a desert society, a social organization might emerge based on the need to manage and conserve limited resources. This society might have a ruling class of wealthy merchants who control the trade routes and the distribution of resources, while the majority of the population consists of farmers, herders, and other laborers who work to produce and trade goods. This social organization might also be influenced by the geography of the desert, with different clans or families controlling different oases or trade routes.


Swamps

In a swamp society, a social organization might emerge based on the importance of fishing and agriculture in the local economy. This society might have become so abundant with farming that the control of a ruling class can be broken away from. After all, if you are a small farmer taking your rice, fish and chickens to market, knowing that there is plenty at home to feed your family and also knowing that most of your neighbours are in a similar advantageous position you might start to create the social structures that protects these advantages. Of course some brutal warlord might change everything by descending from the wilderness (where people are much hungrier) and seizing your lands.


Culture

Cultures are shared systems of meaning. They are the means by which people in a given culture have roughly equivalent means to navigate key ideas and concepts about the world around them. Marx argued that cultures were the product of the class relations that exist at any given moment and these class relations were the product of who owned the stuff and who did the work. Here are three potential cultures that might spring from our Mountain, Desert and Swamp societies, shaped by the physical realities that the people in them encounter:


Mountains

In a mountain society, a culture might emerge that is based on the traditions and values of the ruling class, with a strong emphasis on honor and loyalty. This culture might also place a high value on resourcefulness and hard work, as these are important qualities for survival in the harsh mountain environment. The religion of this society might revolve around the worship of mountain gods or spirits, and there might be a strong tradition of storytelling and oral history to preserve the culture's customs and beliefs.


Deserts

In a desert society, a culture might emerge that is based on the traditions and values of the trading and merchant class, with a strong emphasis on hospitality and the importance of maintaining good relationships. This culture might also place a high value on resource conservation and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, as these are important for survival in the desert environment. The religion of this society might revolve around the worship of desert gods or spirits, and there might be a strong tradition of poetry and music to preserve the culture's customs and beliefs.


Swamps

In a swamp society, a culture might emerge that is based on the traditions and values of the wealthy small farmers, with a strong emphasis on the importance of community and cooperation. This culture might also place a high value on the ability to live in harmony with the natural environment, as the swamp is a delicate ecosystem that requires careful management. The religion of this society might revolve around the worship of water gods or spirits, and there might be a strong tradition of storytelling and oral history to preserve the culture's customs and beliefs.


Magic

Now that we understand how geography shapes civilisations, economics, social structures and culture, we can start to accommodate fantasy into the world. For our real world ancestors, magic was frequently real and was a thing to be explained by shamans and seers (who were the bridge that tribal peoples had between the physical world of the ‘mundane’ and the sacred or spiritual world). It was also a thing to be feared, avoided and treated with immense respect.

A huge question for world builders should be ‘what does it mean for the people in my world to be confronted by this force of the universe that exists outside their ability to explain?’


If you’ve reached a point of magical ubiquity, where everyone can use or harness at least some magic power, magic will inevitably mean far less, as it will be something that most people have daily experience of. This might have the effect of lowering the status of the shaman, the wizard, the seer (or perhaps the only ones with any status are the ones who are really powerful).

You might decide that magic has its own origin story, even if it’s a simple one. If you do this should ideally shape the extent of magic power in the world and whatever properties it conveys on to those who wield it. If you’ve already downloaded from our site your own copy of Arclands: The Spellforgers Companion, the story of how magic returned to the world as a result of the Keeper’s demise is a good example of how world, lore and games mechanics fit together. It’s worth considering what the cost of magic use is and also how magic affects the politics and societies of your world.


Non Humans

Similarly, if humans in your world share their lands with non humans, how do they interact? Creatures that live far longer than humans, are cleverer and more powerful than them, or creatures that bear little resemblance to human beings would present a shock and a challenge to their societies if they had never encountered them before. However, if human beings have thousands of years experience of dealing with the amphibious peoples of the swamp or the spirits of the desert that speak to them on the wind they might have learned to adapt to their presence.


Conclusion

Everything in your world, even things that defy logic, need to have a logic. They need to be explicable in some way and relate to all the other parts of the reality you are seeking to create. There is nothing as jarring as incoherence or contradiction in world building (it’s something that we all do from time to time), but starting with simple core ideas on which we can build greater levels of complexity is key.