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  • Writer's pictureleodoulton

Logical Worldbuilding: The Cause Of Your Problems

Or: Leo needed a snappy title, and thought you might start reading.


I am a nerd. I like worldbuilding for fantasy genres and TTRPGs. But what I want to say here is this:


Stop. You’re trying to hard and missing what’s important.


Stop thinking about logic and resources, and start with story and philosophy.


You’re not Tolkein, and you’ll thank me.


Essentially, what I’d argue is this: philosophical/thematic worldbuilding (starting from a few core ideas and drawing out from there) gives you more of what is important than logical worldbuilding (doing all the economics, socio-cultural analysis and so on, depending on your model of history).



At a basic level, philosophical worldbuilding is less work, and easier to remember (for me, at least). Le Guin gives good examples of this: in her ‘worlds with holes in the elbows’, she doesn’t worry about vast files of lore, but does keep the key elements the same. You can keep it in your head, because it all flows from a desire to write a world that does stories, not logic.


In The Dispossessed, we see a truly anarchist society, people living freely but constantly negotiating social rules by mutual consent. Some of what that leads to is unexpected, but by underpinning her world in a thought and theme ‘everyone should be free; we freely choose to work together’, she creates a world that feels real for good and ill (rather than a Tolkein world of elves good, Mordor bad).


The unexpectedness is a huge boon for our players. It means that the world feels real and consistent (we are a species who do notice ideas of morality), even if it’s not entirely obvious how or why.


In our own world, imagine explaining to someone from the world of The Dispossessed why you paid rent. It would be bonkers to them; after all, you need the house, and nothing should stop you living in it. You might try to explain that money is important, as are contracts - and they’d probably agree that contracts might be important if entered into freely and being possible to leave. But they’d still not accept that the landlord had a right to remove something from you just because it was their ‘property’.


In a fantasy world, what I find useful is writing down the core beliefs of a culture. It might be short and simple (‘nature is our equal partner in this world’) or complex (‘life lacks meaning beyond you do authentically’) or lots of statements with a clear sense of hierarchy (‘the queen is queen by right’ > ‘state force is justified to keep stability’ > ‘we must preserve tradition’). These can allow unexpected outcomes (if nature is our equal partner, how do the druids feel about not-really-natural dogs? If we seek an authentic life, what do we do to those whose violence means others are not free? More obviously, will we abandon tradition to protect the queen?


This allows a rounded culture that feels real. All of the people in any of those systems might have different answers to those questions, and so they should.


But what they do have now is something your players will love: a set of ideas around which to be reactive. Not ‘I am evil so will hurt you’, but ‘by my morals, this is what I should respond with.’ To be clear, this does not mean there is no resource conflict. One foundational moral principle of most cultures is ‘we should survive’, which then leads to wonderful conflicts with other ideas and goals.


This will let the world you use feel fresh. Because then you start filling in the details. What’s important if we prize a partnership with nature? Probably natural things, like lunar cycles, or reaching adulthood. What are the ceremonies for that, and how do they relate to the world? What gods do they worship? One of my favourite homebrew gods is one of ‘Death and Transportation’ - in many ways, seeing what happens to a world by giving three deities random pairs of domains might be interesting.


But for now, thank you for reading, and I hope some of this helped.



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