How NOT to Worldbuild

Ok so you’ve thought about it for a while now, whether it’s for a DnD game, a day dream or a future best seller you need to create your own fantasy world. You set up shop with your piece of blank paper and immediately gaze up to the gods of this field, JRR Tolkien, Georg RR Martin and JK Rowling and instantly regret the amount of work you’ve let yourself in for but no turning back now…

Dramatics aside if you’re like me at some point you’ve dreamt of or perhaps created your own world. By my current age of 20 I’ve made 3 worlds to some extent or another. They’re all about as precious to me as the one ring and I have used them for my own novel, and DnD games. But, I’m the first to admit they aren’t the best.

I’m no expert at this and as I have recently begun the task of “fixing” my own story and it’s world as well as begin creating a new one for a DnD campaign I’m starting I’ve managed to compile a list of basic mistakes. Hopefully this will help you know what to avoid, here are some of the many ways not to build a world!

Copying Without Context

As you begin it’s important to remember that there are millions of fantasy worlds out there. And it’s ok to use some of their ideas! The issue is when instead of using their ideas as inspiration we copy and paste.

The result? Every Dwarf has a ginger beard and Scottish accent and every elf is uptight with a superiority complex. Thanks to JRR Tolkien.

There are perfectly understandable reasons for the elvish culture and indifferent nature of Tolkien’s elves brought on by long life and the decline of magic. But when they are lifted from his world and it’s context they become weak copies of the original.

It’s ok to use the standard fantasy races but you have to make them fit the context of your world. Their culture and attitudes need justified and they can be wildly different to what’s come before! Elves don’t need to live in trees and why should dwarves have to live under mountains?

Race As Culture

The next thing I used to always fall foul of is something more common among the fantasy races like elves and dwarves over the vanilla humans. Often we create diverse human nations and cultures reflecting what we already experience in the real world.

While the other races get usually one or two countries if they’re lucky. Even where there are multiple nations they all often look the same with no variation. Just copied and pasted kingdoms with the same government, culture and beliefs. Culture and race are very different.

Too Fantastical

Ok in my view its impossible to go overboard with fantasy, you want a world where unicorns rule the world, trees dance on the weekends and discuss the intricacies of magical cakes that would be awesome!

(If a little weird and complicated to explain to people!)

When world building fantasy may be by definition the opposite of reality and non fiction it is important to have a basis in reality. Fantasy worlds often draw on real world history, events and ideas because they are familiar to us and we can relate to them. While weirder is sometimes better you don’t want to create a world so strange and wacky that people struggle to understand and become immersed in it.

Here’s just some of the things from past experiances that should be avoided in worldbuilding. If you have any more tips and tricks then add a comment for us world builders to imporve our creations!


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