Building a Worldbuilding Guide
How do you build a world? How do you convey that world to your readers? How do you manage the business of worldbuilding, whether it's your own world or someone else's? These are questions that everyone who's ever worked in science fiction, fantasy, and role-playing games has asked. When Wolfgang Baur asked me to edit an anthology of essays on the subject for Kobold Press, I was both excited and a little overwhelmed. It's a huge topic. I wasn't an expert, that's for sure. But between the two of us, we knew enough worldbuilders that we figured we might be able to get near to answering the question. And thus was born The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding, a collection of essays by some of the top worldbuilders in roleplaying and in fantasy, with an introduction by Ken Scholes, bestselling author of The Psalms of Isaak.
What did I love about working on this project? I loved working with the people who wrote for it. Wolfgang Baur, for example, isn't well-known to mainstream SF and fantasy readers but he's a rockstar in the RPG world, and he writes about the creative side of worldbuilding with the insight and flair of someone who’s done it his entire adult life. Wolf explains difficult concepts with ease and real authority. He explains what is and isn’t important with the experience of someone who’s done it for games including Dungeons & Dragons, Call of Cthulu and, most recently, the Midgard campaign setting for Pathfinder.
I loved working with Michael A. Stackpole, with whom I’ve worked for decades. Mike’s produced wonderful original fantasy novels including The Books of the Crown Colonies as well as novels in some of the most beloved licensed universes around, including Star Wars and Battletech. He contributed a dynamite piece on creating cultures. Jonathan Roberts, who created the maps for George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, produced a terrific essay on creating the topography of a world, and writes as beautifully as he illustrates. I loved working with Jeff Grubb, who writes about post-apocalyptic worldbuilding—and who presents some key insights about it that never occurred to me before. Jeff’s fingerprints are all over Magic: the Gathering, Guild Wars, and Star Wars, too.
In case you’re curious, I didn’t just edit the book; I contributed an essay about worldbuilding in licensed universes—breaking in, following the rules, managing your role in such a situation. I’ve worked with properties including Star Trek, Star Wars, Aliens, Superman, and so many others. I’ve got opinions and I didn’t stint in sharing them.
Now, I know what my friends in mainstream SF and fantasy will say; I know that there’s a prejudice in our business that divides novelists and book publishers from game designers and game publishers. We don’t talk about it in polite company. Having straddled the divide between the two industries, I’m here to tell you something very important: the business of building a world is the same, whether you’re writing a novel or designing a game. If there’s a difference, it’s in how that world is conveyed to an audience, whether via a novel or interactive storytelling. But the effect is the same: drawing an audience into a fully realized world, convincing them of its authenticity, and carrying them away from their own lives in the service of adventure.
There’s no question that this book, targeting as it does, aspiring RPG designers, has a slant toward game design. But the lessons apply to novel-writing in ways you may not expect. I certainly didn’t when I started this project, and Ken Scholes certainly didn’t until he started reading the essays in order to write his introduction. The people who contributed to this collection have made worldbuilding their business, and they have a great deal to teach. What I want people to know about this book is just that: There are teachers here offering decades of knowledge about what it takes to make a world live and breathe. Take their advice; it’s solid gold.
The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding
Edited by Janna Silverstein
Essays by Keith Baker, Wolfgang Baur, David “Zeb” Cook, Monte Cook, Jeff Grubb, Scott Hungerford, Chris Pramas, Jonathan Roberts, Michael A. Stackpole, and Steve Winter
Introduction by Ken Scholes
Kobold Press, January 2013
Janna Silverstein is a science fiction and fantasy writer and editor with a number of anthologies and short stories to her credit. Her work has appeared in Asimov's Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, 10Flash Quarterly, and in the anthologies Swordplay and The Trouble With Heroes, among others. She was twice a Writers of the Future semi-finalist. She edited The Kobold Guide to Game design, vol 3: Tools & Techniques, and the Gold ENnie Award-winning Complete Kobold Guide to Game Design, both from Kobold Press. She lives in Seattle.