Building a Brave New World

A Brave New World, Erika Gilraen Loss/Flickr, under CC BY 2.0

Ben Wilson · · Ombrio · Shared World

As the year draws to a close, I’ve been tinkering with my next writing project. This is a fantasy, which requires world-building. So, I thought I’d share a bit about my process.

When I was 11, I was introduced to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. It was 1981, long before the RPG fracture. I quickly gravitated to being a dungeon master (DM) and that involves world-building. Naturally, I was terrible at first, and there are many who are far better than I am today.

When AD&D 2nd Edition came out, the blue-book supplements taught me a lot. Plate tectonics and other producers of our geography helped me to create a realistic world. I was even commissioned a few times to draw a world in the mid-1990s.

Now I’m working on a fantasy series. I’m still planning to get Luctation and Imbroglio out in 2015. However, to produce a new series requires some planning well before the series. Publishing the first book in that series in 2015 or 2016 is the goal. The first step is to create a bit of the background. I wanted something dark and slightly epic. Regardless of the flavor, I still need geography. And that geography needs to frame a story.

In the 1990s, I used parts of the Earth, obscure islands and the like, to create the coastlines. This time, I used Civilization V. I started playing Civ at the first edition. Truth be told, I played the precursor to Civ, Empire, back in the 1980s…both on Unix and the Commodore 64. It’s my ultimate time-suck, and I’ve been forced to delete it from my computer several times over the past quarter century that I’ve been playing it. Why? To regain productivity. And, my failure to make my goal this year is because I’ve played a little too much Civ over the past ten days.

I used Civ V the same way I used to use actual maps: it gave me the coastlines. Specific to the story I want to tell, it gave me several continents. Two of them are the perfect scope for the story. It also gave me a starter set of cultures, where they were, how they developed, and how they interacted. The first iteration didn’t play very well, but I replayed the same game and threw in some tension where I normally wouldn’t. The center of that tension is where the novels will start. I ended up fighting a series of four wars that worked out perfectly.

Since Civ uses hexes, I found an online hexagonal paper engine. This allows me to have different map scales that are largely accurate. What’s more, the Civ map fits perfectly on legal-sized paper, which at least gives me a cylindar map. Ultimately, I’ll find a way to make it spherical. Though none of the readers may see that globe, it means something to me.

At the end of a week, I have a few good maps, and the historic background for the new series. I now have until 4 January 2015 to finish Imbroglio. I figure that’s fair given I’m the only one who currently cares about my goal, and I started the goal on 5 January 2014.

I’m sure others have used Civ for maps, so I don’t claim to have the patent on an original idea. But, if you’re looking for a way to map for an RPG campaign or a novel, this is a good place to start.

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