Worldbuilding–the process of creating people, places, concepts, systems and whatever all else to inhabit the story world–is simultaneously one of the great pleasures of writing, and also one of its great pains. It’s wonderful to imagine something and say “Oh…this is going in the novel” but it’s dreadful to stare at the barren wastes of areas you haven’t come up with stuff for (and suddenly find you need to) and draw a complete blank.
So here is the first article (of several) that detail some trick or tool to help you fill out those blank spots on your map.
We’ll start with something basic…who runs your world?
Most stories start with a moment that disrupts the status quo. What is normal has been shot to hell, and it’s only your protagonist who can set things right again. But long before your story started a number of people had been working very hard to arrive at that “normal.” It may not be good, it may not be peaceful, but it is “normal”…at least until your story happens.
Who are these people? Well, 13th Age calls them Icons.
In the game itself these people are the movers and shakers of the world. The great kings, the leaders of the fae races, the biggest monsters, and worst spawn of the pits of hell. They have their own agendas and desires, and each one could spell the doom of the world if the right conditions are met. About a third are “good” another third are “evil” and the rest could go either way depending on the story. They are arch-characters, more important for what they represent than what they actually think or do.
Because as a part of chraracter creation, you tie your hero to at least two of these icons and by doing so define your character’s ties to the world at large. Here’s an example:
One of the icons in 13th Age is The Archmage–master of all things arcane and mystical. He resides in his wizard’s tower somewhere in the good guy chunks of the world and generally tries to be a helpful Merlin-like figure. Until the day the plot forces him to unleash things better kept bound…
A tie to the Archmage implies that your character is in some way magical (specifically arcanely magical…there’s a High Druid for nature magics, a Priestess for holy magics and a Lich King for necromancy). You might be a wizard trained by him, a sorcerer he found as a baby, or even a fighter in his employ (but wait…that’s not magical. Or IS it?). Your tie might be positive (he likes you and wants to help), negative(he hates you and wants you dead) or conflicted (somewhere in between), but every so often in the story, his influence on your life can be felt…either through small boons granted, or missions he sends you on, or perhaps even a squad of golems sent to kill you. The point is, your story–for better or worse–is tied to his…or rather his story is tied to yours.
Now that’s all fine and good, but how does that help me write anything?
Well, let’s give the poor Archmage a name shall we? How does Gandalf strike you? Or Dumbledore? Or Merlin?
Each of those characters serve as the “Iconic Archmage” of their stories and each define their worlds by the things they’ve done or will do. They have relationships with the other “icons” of their settings (some positive, some negative), and also have ties to the protagonist.
My point is, that’s just one of the icons. The base assumption is thirteen…and your story might have more besides. Who are the big dogs in your yard? The guys and girls you either want to be on your side, or stand for something so repulsive your only choices are fight or flee? Which ones does you main character have ties to?
And most importantly, which ones do you still have to figure out?
And now, for a small writing assignment:
- Pick your favorite story: Who hold those “Iconic” spots in that world? Which ones does the main character have ties to? (Note: this is where a weakness of the tool becomes obvious…there’s no way to ascribe character “weight” with it. Witch-King Angmar is obviously less powerful than Sauron, but in this system, he stands on equal footing with the eye in the sky).
- Think about your own story. How many Iconic positions have you filled? How many do you need to fill? See if you can come up with a full thirteen.
I’ll give a full example of a set I made in a follow-up blog post. Until next time, keep writing.