All World-Building is Modeling
First, I want to propose that all world-building is model building. When I say “model” you may think of something technical, like a climate model running on some super computer. But there are many kinds of model. They can indeed be mathematical, but can also be purely mental, drawn on paper, or made of clay. A model is really just a (theoretical) understanding of a system.
For world-builders who work upwards, from physical detail to people, there comes a phase in every project when you have to worry about climate: the long-term patterns in weather that will matter to the civilizations of your world. This article is a practical guide to getting yourself a decent, believable climate without enormous amounts of work. You can consider this a first-order approximation of climate; there are many ways to add more detail and realism, and I’ll point some of these out as we go. I often do world-building with the computer, but here I’ll mostly talk about drawing on a paper map, for simplicity.
Computer generated terrain usually begins with a base of random noise, or perhaps a fractal. These look nice in small sections, but are unconvincing for a continent: noise has none of the major features it should, like mountain ranges, and fractals are nothing but feature -- they're too regular. Here's a method for generating continent-level trerrain using distortion fields.
Elaborations have indeed produced better results. Simply having water flow over a surface was not terribly hard to implement, but each sophistication -- even within the limits of a cell-based, time-step-based system -- have paid off. Initially, I tried having water flow according to the landscape alone, without recomputing where water was pooling; adding it in allowed much longer rivers to develop, as well as lakes (the lakes were all I expected to gain). Adding even a very crude momentum mechanism -- to prevent immediate back-flow when water is evening out over an area -- eliminated a strange checkerboard artifact.
To many, the most perfect shape is the circle -- emblematic of unity -- or the square -- for combining with itself in a tile. But in the city Pherasa, the people have long held the spiral above all other forms. For them it is the basis of all aesthetics, and used in architecture, art, religion and war.
While working on one of my space wargames, I became interested in historical ships, especially their classification and relative characteristics. (Were most classes small while only a few were large? Or was there some other distribution?) Trauling the Web I assembled some data.
The systems of coinage used in the middle ages were more complex and more interesting than what's presented in most fantasy role-playing systems: if gold, silver and copper "pieces" with nice metric conversions seemed too neat to you, you were right; read on.
So you've laced your boots, strapped on your scabbard, and set your jaw. You're ready for some adventure. Where though will you go to find it? Where are the lonely places, where monsters, treasure and glory can be claimed? In this quest, you face some problems.
What business do a man, an elf, and a dwarf have traipsing the countryside looking for quests? Where do they come from, and how do they fit into their society? Can they exist at all? I'll give a few answers to these questions below.