Everything I Ever Learned About World Building...


... I Learned From Playing D&D With Eddie Munson:

Dear reader, all but the last phrase of the title is true. I imagine it would be fabulous to play D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) with Eddie Munson from "Stranger Things". The entertainment value there is off the charts, to be sure. I did, however, play this well-loved game during my college years with a group that consisted of several of my brother's friends, and my brother, who presided over the game as the all-powerful Dungeon Master.
It was these all-nighter adventures, steeped in fertile imaginations, fueled by junk food and warm soda, that gave me a solid foundation in the skill of world-building. A fast Google search will yield up a mountain of examples and tutorials focused on world-building. Many talk about creating a world from the inside out or the outside in, fleshing out things like topographies, mythologies, religious and political systems, fictional languages, etc.
These are necessary for sure, but world-building is more than just creating the epic; it's also about creating the myopic. Those tiny close-in details that may be considered mundane or ubiquitous are key elements which play as important a role as magic systems and geographies in bringing the reader into the world the writer is creating for the story.
“World” itself is a word up for interpretation, subject to infinite horizons or something as enclosed as a bedroom, and if you ask 10 different authors what world-building means to them, you'll receive 10 different answers. Personally, I like to think of it as more of a creation of environment, viewed from a narrowed lens and in a defined moment. All moments add up together to create a greater, larger world where "world" is subordinate to plot, but can be a character all its own as well.
In D&D, a good Dungeon Master (DM) creates a rich, layered world in which to drop his players and run them through an adventure that will, hopefully, make them forget they're actually sitting at a fold-out table in someone's living room, rolling dice, and referencing character sheets instead of running from armies of orcs or angry dark elves across battlefields on fantasy worlds. This is called immersion, and is the finest bit of magic every creative strives for, whether it be writing, illustrating, composing, etc.
The ability to transport your reader, your viewer, or your listener is a valuable skill, and one that takes a lot of work and practice. It's something a good DM knows how to do, and my brother—an instinctive storyteller—was one of the best at it. His worlds were layered, complex, vivid, and most of all, grounded, even when they resonated with sorcery.
As a DM, he operated from the idea of perspective when building his worlds. For example, if our group entered a village during market day, he described our surroundings in such a way that we felt like we were there. A market teeming with people in a sweltering crush under a summer sun. Stalls selling every kind of good imaginable line the already narrow streets, creating gridlock in some spaces. It has just rained, turning the streets into a sloppy quagmire of mud and horse manure.

Read the entire article in the November 2022 issue of InD'Tale magazine.

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