How to Build A Rich Fantasy World For Writers
Explore tools for fantasy world-building, from using procedural generation to creating rich settings with Don Jon and Azgaar's map generators. Ideal for writers and game masters.
Every writer of fantasy stories needs to build a world with a rich setting for their characters. The fantasy world needs to be flexible enough and detailed enough to make it believable.
It’s hard to build out a protagonist and antagonist, then set them in a town or landscape that needs to be described. There are so many features that need to be thought of. Is the world cold, hot, or temperate? Is your world made up of islands or is it one large Pangea? What are the weather patterns for a maritime adventure?
Then there are populations, religions, and history to think of. You almost have to write a whole wiki on just your world before you even start writing chapters in your fantasy novel! JRR Tolkien spent his entire life building a fantasy world! However, we have something he doesn’t have. We have computers and procedural generation.
Building a fantasy world
Every year I’m amazed at the innovation that’s happening in the tabletop role playing game (ttrpg) and procedural generation space. People love to play games, period. The ttrpg game space has been growing in leaps and bounds since about 2000 after it became cool to be a “DnD nerd.”
I have always been a DnD nerd because I love a good story and I love making maps. For me, maps drive adventure. In 2019 a group of friends and I started up a DnD game until COVID killed the gatherings. In order to get the game started I needed to build a world fast. I went online to do some research and came across a good world, adventure, and dungeon generator. I found Don Jon.
I used their Fractal and World Generator to create a map with cities, mountains, deserts, and forests. It generated random names for key places and looked pretty good too. From those two world generators, our game world Etheras was born and we played many adventures.
Some other great features that Don Jon has is the random inn and town generator. It even generates random character types in those inns and towns. Perfect for writers to get their creative juices flowing!
I recommend checking out Don Jon for ideas whether you’re writing a fantasy novel or not. There’s a lot of hard work that went into writing all these scripts and donations to support the site are always welcome.
The second world generator is perhaps the best I’ve seen. It’s open source (as it should be), actively being developed, and gets better with every iteration. I’m referring to Azgaar’s Fantasy Map generator and I highly recommend it.
Not only do you have control over what your world could look like (atolls, islands, old world, Pangea, etc), it lets you change the population types, religions, weather patterns, and history. It’s flexible and detailed enough for game masters and writers alike.
If you visit the website it will auto-generate a world at random. You can use that as is and download the map with the seed number (tip: save this seed number). That’s the easy way but perhaps not the best way, I like a bit more control.
You can go to Options and change the height map. From the Options, you can also change the culture set as well as a host of other things. To refine your world even further you can navigate to the Tools section and adjust cultures, regenerate towns, and even the height map itself.
There are other world generators out there, some of them more hacky and less elegant. One that I like is Martin O’Leary’s fantasy map generator in Python. It was originally written in Python 2.7 but I managed to port it to Python 3+ after running a Python 2 to Python 3 converter.
The neat thing about this generator is that it also generates a NaNoWrimo story. Of course, the story isn’t well written (that’s we writers come in) but it’s a neat little experiment to test out procedural generation for mapping and game design.
There are many more GitHub related fantasy map generators out there, so you can remain busy coding away and building your own. You can always knock yourself out by reading this list of fantasy map generators.
No matter what tool you choose, whether it’s open source or not, there’s way more help for writers out there than when Mr. Tolkein penned his books. The question you have to ask yourself is how much time you want to invest into building a fantasy world from scratch or if you let a computer build it for you.