Tag Archives: worldbuilding

Not completely sure if anything like this has been asked before, but I’m writing YA Fantasy and I’d like to involve more sword fighting in it (completely *no guns involved*), even though it’s set in modern-ish times. Can you think of any possible reasons why guns can’t be used/would be useless?

The big one that’s usually pulled out is magic. The idea is that magic and technology don’t play nice together. Dresden Files (and most of the Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance genre), Shadowrun, and Arcanum, all make use of this concept to varying degrees. It’s not that guns are technically no longer useful, it’s that they don’t work when faced with magic and thus magic users/fantasy monsters have no reason to use them/are incapable of using them. It’s an either/or situation.

Your characters are going dragon hunting or finding a troll in the sewers, then they probably aren’t going to bring guns with them. They’ll take an enchanted sword or any other necessary equipment for dealing with the threat. This will expand out to the mass majority of society. Your police officers will probably still keep their guns for dealing with non-magical threats, but may also carry a silver sword or whatever else they need to subdue the now magical threats their job requires them to deal with. You don’t actually need a special department for that either. It’s just that there are now psychics, telepaths, and magical knights on the Force. The major thread here is that people will adjust, society will adjust, and it will go on.

Also, if you don’t know that the cop you’re character is dealing with is a telepath, then life in general just got a whole lot more interesting.

This one is very common in the genre, though. One of the others is that magic was gone for a long time and society developed without it, then it returned. This skips out on having to explain how society developed without guns but also can lead to a more post-apocalyptic setting environment due to all your comforts (like cars and computers) no longer working.

You have Highlander, where it’s tradition. The sword is also the best way to ensure they get a clean beheading in their duels which allows them to take the other Immortals power. This doesn’t stop non-Immortals (and even some Immortals) from carrying or using guns, but it does mean you’ll most likely always see two Immortals dueling each other instead of using another alternative.

If you were wanting to excise just guns, then you’ve got a bit of a problem. The gun is directly related to technological and societal advancement. This includes the technological benefits that you are enjoying right now such as your computer, the internet, the car, and the socioeconomic changes of the past 400 years. The reason why feudal lords were able to keep control of their populations was because they had a monopoly on violence. The gun disrupts that monopoly. It creates a world where it no longer takes talent, training, or skill to kill a knight.

The British Empire. The United States. Colonialism in South America, Africa, India, the Middle East, and China, would all have looked very different, if it happened at all. Without guns, our modern world just isn’t the same.

I hate the butterfly metaphor from Chaos Theory, but the spirit of it holds weight here. You change one aspect of history and then, consequently, everything that hinged on it also changes. A good example of a narrative which explores this concept is Alan Moore’s Watchmen, if you read while having a solid understanding of American history/the Civil Rights era/the Vietnam War, etc, you can really see how the creation of Doctor Manhattan specifically changed the landscape of history. Starke suggested reading it with Where the Domino Fell by James Stuart Olsen and Randy W. Roberts, which is about Vietnam and American foreign policy after Vietnam. It’s a quick shot from 1945 to 2010. It’s also worth noting that Doctor Manhattan made the gun irrelevant, he also made nuclear weapons irrelevant and that endlessly perpetuated the Cold War.

I would read the comic before watching the movie because there’s a lot of little details that get lost, but if you really want to change history then I’d label Watchmen as required reading.

This is all me leading into to saying that whatever you do with your setting, it would be a good idea to start thinking about consequences. Not big consequences, the small every day consequences that lead into your sense of safety and security. Think about aspects of your life where instead of imagining “what would it be like if I had magic”, ask yourself “what would it be like if that person over there had magic and I didn’t”. What would life be like if we didn’t have a police force, or a fire department, or hospitals. Do you still go to the dentist when you have a toothache? Or do you visit the faith healer up the street instead? What proofing did the supermarket put in to keep the technomancers from screwing the barcode readers? Did the Department of Justice establish a special magic division? How does one keep telepaths and clairvoyants from cheating on their exams?

It’s questions about quality of life that usually result in the best worldbuilding. It’s not “what do I want it to be like”, it’s “if I changed this, what would be different?”, “what would the possible outcomes be?”, “how would people try to abuse the new systems?”, “how would other people stop them?”. The more questions you ask, the more answers you’ll find, then you can establish a sense of daily life in your setting which feels normal.


Do you know any good ideas or tips on creating your own mythos and world?

Weirdly enough, the first thought that comes to mind is actually the Sun Tsu axiom about knowing yourself and your enemy.

If you’re building a world from scratch, you need to look at this one. You can see us do this on a fairly regular basis, especially when people are asking about putting together a fantasy setting.

Study history. Study the time period (or periods) your setting is roughly based on. Learn what you can, extrapolate what you want.

Further, study “why?” When you’re looking at a given era, pay special attention to the reasons behind the decisions people made. Find out why forces were arrayed the way they were. Find out why the weapons of the era were used, instead of others. Why some cities were valuable, and others weren’t, especially how those values changed over time. Look at why people’s value systems developed, and how they understood their world, right and wrong, ethics, morality, religion. Look for the causes that lead to their understanding (this one is a bit of a tall order, but, seriously, try it).

Studying “why” does two things: it lets you start to understand what will change when you start tweaking the world, and it helps you to understand people a little better, which is incredibly important as a writer.

Take a cause and effect approach to building your world, rather than the effect preceding the cause. A lot of the time, when we start building a world, that’s you, me, and probably most people reading this, it comes from a basic premise, “here’s a cool thing I want for my world.” On it’s own, that’s fine, it’s a starting point. But, immediately after that, you need to decide what caused that, and then, after that, resist the impulse to add another “cool thing” because you want it. Instead start looking for other consequences that come from your first cool thing, and expand out.

Because the great cool thing happened, people reacted (preferably like people), which lead to this other thing happening, which lead to people reacting, and more consequences, more reactions, more consequences.

You could call this hierarchical world building. You start with your basic cause and effect in mind, and then start working out all the thousand little cascading events and consequences.

Finally, people aren’t smarter now than they used to be. There’s a real truth to the line about standing on the shoulders of giants. When you’re building your world, don’t resort to people being idiots in order to explain their behavior. They may not have all the information, but they’re going to try to solve the problems they’re facing to the best of their abilities. If they’re ultimately working against their own interests, it’s going to be because of things they don’t know or understand, in their world, not because they’re stupid.


25 Things You Should Know About Worldbuilding

25 Things You Should Know About Worldbuilding

How would one portray a fantasy fight. Like something one would see in a comic book but still keep it believable?

The trick with realism in fantasy lies in the rules you set up for that setting. This is why world building is incredibly important and why someone saying “I can do what I want because it’s just fantasy!” is both true and ultimately false. A character who exists in a world that’s very similar to our own will function under similar rules to our own world, a character who exists in a fantasy setting will fall under the rules that have been set up for that world. Fictional worlds require rules because they create tension. In a lot of ways, regardless of whether your character is handling a firearm or a fireball, what makes or breaks a story are those rules, how well you as the author set them up, and how well you adhere to them.

What a character can and can’t get away with will be defined by those rules. Now, superpowers whether they are magical or natural add an extra challenge because they ultimately raise the stakes. Magic will get away from you very quickly if it’s not balanced by cost in a fictional world. A character who can do anything, but has no restrictions, ultimately ends up boring because we as the audience has no reason to care about them or worry about whether or not they’ll succeed, whether they’ll survive the next ten minutes.

Realism begins in the restrictions you place on your setting, in the cultures you craft, and how your character reacts as a product of that culture. It’s in how well your plot and character actions sync up in the world you’ve created. After that, the realism of the fight scenes is like icing on top of a very well-made cake. If you don’t have that, then it’s just icing and while great icing is delicious on it’s own, it pales when it compliments a great cake.

I’m actually really hungry right now, I don’t know if you can tell.

Anyway, you have to make sure you don’t let your imagination run away with you and because it’s fantasy, it is ridiculously easy to have that happen. Now, the easiest way I’ve managed to start setting rules (and it’s hard) is to take an RPG system I’m familiar with like GURPS, World of Darkness, or Exalted, pick powers, and just start plugging in numbers. The White Wolf ones are good over D&D because they spear head character development in conjunction with the superpowers. Now, you know what your character can and can’t get away with. Stick to that and follow those rules, track their trajectory and always craft antagonists who are their equal or better. The antagonists will require their own character sheets, even the throw away mooks your character is fighting.

Why? Because every character in the story is there for a reason and a fight is between two or more people. So long as the fight stays within the setting established rules and the character stays within the themes the story has set up, then it’ll be fine. It’ll feel real to the reader. Upgrade your understanding as needed. Be careful. And you’ll be fine.


Hi again! Thanks for your previous answer–it helped very much, and I still love your blog. Today I’d like to ask about futuristic weapons. I like writing sci-fi, and I try to look at history and how weapons and fighting have evolved (I try to keep space swords out, even though they’re cool as fuck). I was wondering if you had any input towards futuristic weapons/fighting/combat, both widespread (war-like conditions) and mono y mono or similar. Thank you times a billion!

Honestly, with this, I’d say dig into existing settings and see what they’ve used.

Warhammer 40k comes to mind. The setting dials itself up to parody, but a lot of it underlying logic is actually surprisingly well thought out, and there are a lot of bits you can take inspiration from.

The quality of the tie-in books waffles pretty wildly between completely unreadable and some of the best tie-in fiction I’ve ever read. The Caiaphas Cain novels (by Sandy Mitchell) are a pretty good introduction to the setting, and should give you some ideas. I’m not a huge fan, but Dan Abnettt’s Eisenhorn novels are also a good look at the setting, though you might need to do some outside referencing on a 40k wiki.

The tabletop game itself is expensive as hell to get into, but, you should be able to find some of the army codices cheaply in used bookstores. Those should give you some ideas of what you could outfit your characters with.

As a bonus, 40k does have some fairly good justifications for melee weapons in a distant future setting. That said it is supposed to be a Dark Age fantasy world in space. And there’s a lot of material you’ll probably want to filter out; it IS still a fantasy setting, psykers are Mages, Eldar are Elves, Necrons are Undead, Daemons are demons, and Orks are… well, Orcs. But it could still be useful for giving you ideas.

I’d also recommend looking at GURPS. GURPS isn’t a conventional RPG, so much as it’s a toolbox for the GM, and while I’ve never been a fan of the system itself, the research that goes into the average GURPS book, makes them invaluable research tools. I’m not sure if Space, Ultra-Tech, or High-Tech is the book most suited to what you’re doing, but if you can find any of those used, you’ll should have some top notch material to work with.