WorldbuildingWednesday - Shaping History
Welcome to today's #WorldbuildingWednesday post! For those of you new to this series, I'm @oblivioncubed. In this series of posts, I break down what Worldbuilding is, how I build a setting, why I choose to build what I do, and hopefully provide you some inspiration to use in your Worldbuilding.
My world - Trothguard - is a setting I've created as a catch-all location for any tabletop RPG games I run, so everything I build is filtered through a lens of 'how will this improve the game for myself and my players?'.
Today we're looking at the History of Trothguard, and the many advantages that having an idea of your world's history can provide in bringing your setting to life.
History comes in two forms, as far as I'm concerned - 'Ancient History' and 'Recent History'. Each serves a different purpose, and depending on why you're building a world, you might not even need both! A writer focused on a conflict spanning a few weeks or months for example probably doesn't care about what happened in that area hundreds of years ago - let alone thousands.
For the purpose of my tabletop setting however, knowing (in broad strokes) some notable events from ancient history can be incredibly valuable. It provides us a pool of ideas that can help to shape myth and legend, develop cults and religions, and even help inform magic and technology. Which leads us to our first topic today.
For my personal use, the term "ancient history" encompasses about 5000 years of notable events. As with everything I build, I strongly recommend that you focus on things that you can actually use in some fashion. Having said that, when you sit down to create your own ancient history, some things you might want to consider are:
- How reliable are the records from this time period? How abundant are they?
- Is the history focused on a particular people? If there are multiple species/races on the planet, is their history different - and if so, is it relevant to your story / etc
- What would realistically be remembered? Why? Did it have a cultural impact? Was it considered a great deed or great defeat? Consider our own ancient history. Alexander the Great is remembered due to his conquests and the use of shock cavalry. Sparta is remembered for its defiance. Rome is remembered for its culture and its conquests. Real-life examples can help you to shape your ancient history.
In my own world, I wanted reliable records from a game-master/dungeon-master standpoint, but in-world I wanted ancient history to get less detailed and less reliable the further back it went (much as we see in real life). I also wanted it focused purely on the dominant species("race" in D&D terms) - Humans. Other races such as Elves and Dwarves have their own rich histories, and some of the events do overlap and have multiple perspectives, but I haven't put much thought into that yet. It's enough for me to know where those overlaps occur. If I need to quickly make something up on the spot, I can do that and just record it as a part of that race's history.
As for what is remembered - My ancient history begins with the First Emperor - a tyrant who conquered the continent and set the foundation for everything that happened next. It goes on to capture only the most important beats of history. Deaths and ascensions of Emperors/Empresses, plagues, calamities, major events, and major wars.
As an example, here is a small portion of my world's ancient history:
|4,923 BCE||Panetan (now firmly a tyrant), creates the Throne of Emperors, in a dark ritual meant to grant him immortality. The ritual goes awry (elven scholars claim a hero's sacrifice by a noble elven prince, but it's anybody's guess what the truth is), and Panetan and all of the participating warlocks die. The Throne is created, though instead of providing unending life, it grants a significant boon to lifetime and abilities. Panetan's son, Emperor Masarak Faror (male; 28yo), succeeds him.|
|4,751 BCE||Masarak founds the city of Mach'Lithe around four great schools of magic and builds in it the Spire of Knowledge - the greatest school of unified magic ever constructed. A central meeting-ground and learning facility for every variety and flavor of magic - including the divine, and several schools of magic since deemed lost - such as Chaos, and Time.|
|4,514 BCE||Lenaquam (the Red Forest) is invaded by aggressive underground elves, who warp and twist the ancient place. Human settlements in the area are abandoned after several armies sent to deal with the problem are lost.|
|4,301 BCE||Masarak dies (650 years old). Empress Danetae Faror (21 years old) ascends|
|4,116 BCE||The city of Graness (northwestern ruins in Sallivanoss) is destroyed by unholy magic which rots any flesh in the area. Even the greatest clerics and spellcasters of the time are unable to cleanse the area. Instead, they contain the unholy site as best they can.|
|4,008 BCE||Empress Danetae commissions exploration airships|
|3,982 BCE||The continent of Elchedel is discovered, and trade is established via airship.|
|3,840 BCE||Empress Danetae (477 years old) is presumed killed in an airship accident over the vast and dangerous ocean. None of the 163 ship's crew are recovered. Emperor Tamorac Faror(45 years old) ascends.|
|3,813 BCE||Emperor Tamorac oversees construction of an unparalleled Teleportation Circle - connecting the City of Magic, Mach'Lithe to the continent of Elchedel. Magic sees a golden age in Esphar.|
|3,350 BCE||Emperor Tamorac dies (535 years old) of apparently natural causes, Empress Revasha Faror ascends.|
|3,261 BCE||Celestial Event: Angel falls from the heavens after several days of heavy aurora activity seen all across the continent (art and lore in nearly every culture reflect this). The being is said to crash into Esphar Bay with force enough to cause a massive earthquake across the entire continent and heave into being the Espharan Spine mountain range, splitting the core of Esphar in two. The region is abandoned for many years, as several cities are wiped out entirely and tens of thousands of lives are lost. No body is found, though cursory exploration is done.|
As you can see, hundreds of years are skipped at a time in some cases, but this chunk alone provides a ton of content that I could use. Most directly, once I had finished the entire history, I went back and looked at what had taken place in each Emperor's lifetime - since the common folk aren't historians and thus would most likely know them by nicknames or titles. From that, I created:
1. Panetan Faror: The Tyrant. The First Emperor. Throne-Maker.
2. Masarak Faror: The Redeemer.
3. Danetae Faror: The Explorer.
4. Tamorac Faror: The Bureaucrat.
5. Revasha Faror: The Angel Empress.
6. Liam al'Faror: The Rebuilder. The Conqueror. The Peacemaker.
7. Tadella Begranan: The Archmage. The New-Blood Empress.
8. Danetae Begranan: Danetae the Second. The Doctor. The Healer.
9. Sigran Begranan: The Second Tyrant.
10. Beturin Begranan: The Last Emperor. The Hero Emperor. The Plotter.
This is of course just one example of how this history has helped shape my tabletop world. Curses are based on these figures. Legends, myths, cults, and religions are based on some of the events. Great conspiracies are hinted at by others. They may never come up directly, but by knowing some of this, it allows me to paint a consistent picture of the world - and if there's one overarching rule of Worldbuilding it is to always be internally consistent. History is one way you can achieve that.
With that said, we should now look at the second topic for today, which is:
Knowing what happened 5000 years ago is great and all, but when it comes to the actual story that is unfolding, the really important history is Recent History. The stuff that happened within the last few generations. The stuff that shapes the political and social landscapes of your setting.
Some things to keep in mind when creating a recent history:
- What is the scope of your setting? If this is a single village, then recent history should focus almost exclusively on events that have affected that village. If it's a kingdom, it should ignore what happened in a single village, and favor events that have affected a majority of the entire kingdom.
- Recent history should only encompass a fairly small time-span, and the oldest stuff should be notable. What you consider "recent" will depend on your setting. The events of my life are more directly related to current events than those of my fathers, or my grandfathers - but some things provide a through-line of cause-and-event. As an example, the events of 9/11 had a profound effect on this generation, and fundamentally changed how we handle air travel and security. Even if you don't recall the event, it directly impacts your life.
- Politics and powerful people/groups overlap heavily with recent history. Most of them are still around, influencing the world in some way. Who are these figures? What have they done? Who has it helped or harmed?
My own recent history is centered around wherever my party is starting, usually. As part of this, I usually create some notable people and factions/groups within the area, and then I try to think up what those people could be working towards or could have done recently.
I create my recent history as needed, and often I will leave gaps that I can fill with player input. Pulling things out of their character backstories helps to flesh out the world, and provide the player immediate buy-in on the campaign. I create only what I think is relevant to that session arc or story and I know that if something comes up, I can always just make something up on the fly.
If you're not good at improv or are making history for a story, then you'll want to spend more time filling in those gaps and making sure you have a grasp on the recent history that affects your setting and your characters.
A general note before the end:
History can be really hard to come up with if you're just sitting down looking at a blank spot on a paper or screen. There are many tools available to help. I've heard some people use DwarfFortress for inspiration. Others use random roll-tables in D&D's DM's guide or other supplements. These tools can be very helpful, and I highly recommend that you lean on them for ideas and inspiration! There is absolutely no shame in being inspired by outside sources.
**Thank you** for reading today's #WorldbuildingWednesday! I hope this has provided you with some inspiration!
Next #WorldbuildingWednesday we will be continuing this multi-part post with a look at Myths and Legends, after which another choice of topic options will be presented to vote upon... so be sure to keep an eye out for that!
If there's something else you'd like to ask me about, please do so! I will make every effort to answer it next Wednesday.
For previous #WorldbuildingWednesday post you can read them here:
0: Introduction to WorldbuildingWednesday
1: Starting the World
2: Kingdoms, Factions, and Notable People
3: Creation Facts and Creation Myths
Thank you for reading, and happy Worldbuilding!!