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I was reading an article (I lost the page due to Internet failure and don't have the link) on world building and it was talking about in depth world building, the article begins by talking about network theory and states that a network is only as good as the links between computers, so if you start with one-hundred computers and another your not adding another computer but your creating a hundred new connections, and it goes on to say that world building is the same way, that the world is only as good as the connections within the world. I began working on a world with this idea in mind but stumbled upon a real difficulty actually creating connections.

For example let's say (hypothetically) that I created two countries and I wrote up a thousand years history for each country then I placed these new nations on my map next to each other it's a little hard to connect these nations and make it seem like these connections weren't added afterwords and thereby feel false. Example: These two nations go to war for over decade how does this war affect the nations? Or better yet how does the war affect the rest of the world? These kind of connections seem difficult to actually make.

Another example: In a forest know as the Nothern Pines of Aranorren there are two grand elven cities that are exactly the same (sometimes called the twin cities) in all respects as far as architecture goes. Every hundred years the elves have a tournament at a place know as Ragnorak to essentially prove which city is superior. Now the problem comes in when I try to connect this with the rest of my imaginary world. How in the world do elves in a Forrest far to the north have anything to do with dwarves in the mountains or the two nations or anything else in the world around them but they have to affect the rest of the world somehow, look at the real world everything we do has an effect on others no matter how small it is.

It's like putting a puzzle together except instead of trying figure out what goes where your making the pieces one at a time.

So my question is this: How do I effectively create good story connections that are easy to connect to other locales and together make an interesting world?

Or how do I make puzzle pieces and then make the puzzle pieces fit together to make a larger cohesive picture when it's done?

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closed as not constructive by Joe, Sardathrion, doppelgreener, Tynam, KRyan Mar 3 '13 at 21:26

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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You can do all this, but then you need to relate it to your players. Have you looked into Microscope? –  okeefe Feb 27 '13 at 22:35
    
No I have never heard of it but it sounds spectacular I normally play D&D but I have lately been looking for other options. Sounds really cool though. –  Antonio Feb 27 '13 at 23:01
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If your question could be answered by an entire book, it's probably too broad. –  Joe Feb 28 '13 at 0:25
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Microscope is great, but it doesn't answer the question so much as sidestep it. "Build it collaboratively" is a legitimate alternate world-building strategy, but building a world by yourself is still legitimate and therefore "build it collaboratively" doesn't invalidate the need for advice on how to do solo world-building well, let alone support an argument for closing this. –  SevenSidedDie Feb 28 '13 at 4:10
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There is a good question in there (or maybe several ones) but as it currently stands, it's overly broad: You could write a whole book and not answer this! –  Sardathrion Feb 28 '13 at 9:23

5 Answers 5

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It sounds like you're building highly detailed areas before connecting them together. Silos like this don't work for interconnected things! They're built separately, so they have sharp, dividing boundaries and it's very hard to blend them together. (Try merging two coffee mugs from the cupboard. Doesn't work; maybe you can tape or tie them together…? Now try merging two coffee mugs that are still wet clay. Easy!)

The way to world-build with lots of connections is to build in broad strokes, leaving lots of blanks. Those blanks are where you'll add stuff later inspired by other places and events, slowly building up more detail (but always leaving a few blanks!). Those inspired blank-filling things are your connections.

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Only worry about connections that are either big or significant to your story

It seems your issue is tied in with this sentence: "they have to affect the rest of the world somehow, look at the real world everything we do has an effect on others no matter how small it is."

Yes, that is true in a strict sense. But you can narrow it to just the big connections and the interesting ones.

In real history what is now called Japan probably had some impact on Julius Caesar. Probably. It is such a distant and small impact though that no one worries about it. Instead they look at what happened in Japan almost completely separately from Caesar crossing the Rubicon. But they look closely at Gauls impact on Caesar because that was a big connection.

So, to look at your elves in the north and the dwarves in the mountains, they probably do interact to a degree, but it might be in the distant and remote way of they both trade with some third party trade center. Some elven traders and some dwarven traders meet in the trade city of YagShuggoth run by the snake men, exchange goods, and go away. They have an impact, but its small, distant, and easily ignored. If you want to make it even more distant, perhaps they don't meet in person. Perhaps the dwarves trade with the humans who trade with the YagShuggoth who trade with the elves. Its still a connection, but now its a very tennuous one and very easily ignored.

On the other hand, the Orcs might fight with the dwarves relentlessly. That is a big connection. There might have been a historic battle at Tarnarog to the south of the dwarves. That's a specific connection, and one that can be useful for adding flavor, making it interesting.

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I'd suggest working the other way around.

Start big

Start off by having just a map of a fantasy world, with a variety of terrain. Then split it roughly where you think a country would have a border (generally some sort of blocking terrain like mountains or a river, or maybe some 'worthless' land such as a desert). This is your world hundreds of years ago.

Have generic information

Describe the most basic parts of your country. What do most people eat? What are the main religions? How many people are there and where? What especially valuable resources do they have? What is their military like?

As you move forward in time, the scope increases

Once you've set up a handful of countries, think about the connections. The first ones will seem strange as you've got no backstory so far for the involved countries, but after you start layering information it's a lot easier to see which connections come naturally. As you get closer to the present day, it's more important to have depth. You can start to focus on cities, then towns, then specific people. When you arrive at the present, you'll have fewer older connections (what people remember is generally proportional to how recent it is) and some newer, more detailed links that the PCs can use.

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The key to creating connections is the same as the key to adding depth. Come up with questions and then answer them.

Once you've done that, feel free to take any questions that answer brings to light and answer them in turn. Continue until you feel comfortable moving on (leaving open questions is fine, it allows you to wait to come up with your answer until the storyline actually makes it relevant)

Take for example your twin cities example. You asked yourself; how does it impact the dwarves? Well for a start it's perfectly acceptable to say that it has fairly little impact, but for sake of your wanting there to be a connection lets assume the dwarves are interested directly in the Ragnarok tournament. How did they find out about it? Well, the elves don't keep it secret because it's a serious feather in the cap of the winner, probably bragged about. What form does the competition take? Could the dwarves be involved in setting up some of the challenges? Would dwarven services be sought to give an edge to either side? Do both sides feel the same about the dwarves? What about other outsiders who would directly witness which city was superior? Have any outsiders ever wanted to compete? Were they allowed?

As you can see this balloons quickly but that works well because from there you can cherry pick the ones that you find most interesting and throw away the parts that don't make sense to you or your game world. The inherent bonus to this method is that since you are answering each question you pose, every answer will have a reason to exist within the setting. The war between country x and y won't be because there just needed to be a war there, it will be both the answer to and the cause of a number of valid questions that either have been addressed or have been left open to be addressed should they become points of interest.

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Perhaps you are focusing on the wrong part of the metaphor. Assume that each part of your world is directly and intrinsically affected by the other parts. That is, don't start by building then linking together, rather build based on the interactions between groups.

Try thinking instead of a few heroes (or villains) and what they did, and how it affected the other heroes/villains in your story. Think of how it affected their towns, their countries, how it affected the entire world.

Here's how I would do it:

  1. Start with a person for each group you want to represent, and a physical/emotional description. This can be the basis for your ethnic group/nation.
  2. Make up a story for them, throw in some or all of the other characters.
  3. To make this into a legend, gloss over some of the details. Or make some of the details in the legend intentionally false.
  4. To make this into a history, decide which groups you want to be more powerful. Then take a few of the legend stories, and tell them from the powerful groups' point of view. (Remember that they may skew details in their favor).

The key part of this is the butterfly effect. Moreover, the groups in your world should turn out fundamentally different if other groups are removed.

The easy way to imagine a whole nation is to start with a single person who embodies those characteristics (perhaps the founder), then work up from there.

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@SimonGill Thanks for pointing that out, my point is more that a strict interpretation of the metaphor seems to be making it harder for the OP. I'll update my answer. –  Zachary Yates Feb 28 '13 at 19:33

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