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Chapter 2: World Building

2.1 Determining Your World

While it is acceptable to convert a pre-designed world to use with the Avatar rules, or for the Gamesmaster to create one by themselves, it is recommended that the group use the following world building system to create a world together. This will require the holding of a session for world building. The advantages of this technique are that players and Gamesmaster both will be far more familiar with the world created by this process, and will be able to imbue their characters/scenarios with a real sense of background and history. The players will also be able to invest some of their own interests into the game background. Also, the world building game can be entertaining.

2.2 The World Building Game

If this option is chosen, and it is recommended, then some or all of the players should get together and set up for a World Building session. In such a session, you will usually require a map to have been drawn up in advance, giving the outlines of the continent(s), islands, mountain ranges and rivers. The amount of detail put on the map in advance is entirely at the GM's discretion.

In addition, the GM will need to decide one or two other details in advance (or he may wish to consult the players). Most notably:

Two good examples of symbiosis between Planes are the Mittlemarch ('The Warhound and the World's Pain', 'The City in the Autumn Stars', by Michael Moorcock) and the interlocking worlds described in 'The Dragon in the Sword' (also by Moorcock).

The process of World Building then proceeds in the following steps:

  1. Place Areas
  2. Place Nations
  3. Determine History
Each stage is dealt with by progressing around the table, passing from player to player, with each player making a contribution or passing. The GM may also wish to make contributions as a player. At any time, the GM may declare privilege and overrule a player's contribution: the GM will ultimately have to run this world, and the GM's decision is final. There is no limit to the number of times a GM can call privilege. If a player wishes something to be overruled, they will need to convince the GM to pull privilege on that particular point.

2.3 Designing Areas

The first task in a World Building session is to determine the terrain. If the world is a globe, and the world is going to have a reasonable adherence to physics (which is by no means necessary) then you will want to start by placing deserts and rain forests on the tropics. If not, then the GM will have to decide what placing of areas are legitimate.

In essence, area placement should progress in some fashion around the table with each player placing one area, until all the area that is going to be covered has been designated with some manner of terrain type. The GM may decide to declare certain areas as Unexplored, or may let the players determine how much of the world has been explored.

2.4 Guide-lines for Area Placement

To assist those people who wish to make believable fantasy worlds, there follows a list of the terrain types that exist in our world. The GM and players are advised that if they intend to parallel Terran terrain, that they should mark out the Climate zones before placing areas.

The seven types of Climate zone and subsequent Areas are as follows:

Neotropical Areas (South America)

Pampas						(Grassland)
New World Tropics 	 			(Rain Forest)
Wetlands 					(Wetlands)
Desert/Semidesert 				(Deserts)
Mountains/Foothills 				(Mountains)

Nearctic Areas (North America)

Prairies					(Grassland)
Pine Forest			  		(Forests)
Broad-leaved Forest	 			(Forests)
Tundra					 	(Deserts)
Wetlands				  	(Wetlands)
Desert/Semidesert 				(Deserts)
Mountains/Foothills 				(Mountains)

Palaearctic Areas (European)

Steppes						(Grassland)
Pine Forest			  		(Forest)
Broad-leaved Forest	  			(Forests)
Tundra					  	(Deserts)
Salt Marshes			  		(Wetlands)
Desert/Semidesert 				(Deserts)
Mountains/Foothills 				(Mountains)

Palaesaurian Areas (African)

Savanna						(Grassland)
Tropical Rain Forest				(Rain Forest)
Wetlands					(Wetlands)
Desert/Semidesert				(Deserts)
Mountains/Foothills				(Mountains)

Oriental Areas (Far East)

Steppes						(Grassland)
Rain Forest					(Rain Forest)
Mangrove Swamp					(Wetlands)
Desert/Semidesert				(Deserts)
Mountains/Foothills				(Mountains)
Coniferous Forest*				(Forest)

Neosaurian Areas (Australia)

Desert Grassland				(Grassland)	
Temperate Rain Forest				(Rain Forest)
Mangrove Swamp					(Wetlands)	
Desert/Semidesert				(Deserts)
Mountains/Foothills				(Mountains)

Arctic Areas (Polar Regions)

Tundra						(Desert)
Ice Shelves					(Desert)
Mountains					(Mountains)

*At foot of mountains.

Other terrains may exist at the Gamesmaster's discretion.

2.5 Mineral Deposits

Depending on the group's preferences, you may also wish to add the key areas of mineral deposits onto the map. It is suggested that if you do wish to do so, you only mark mountain ranges, and a few other strategic places: most mineral deposits will be too deep for a pseudo-medieval society to realise they are there. The key mineral deposits (not including any fictional minerals you wish to include) are:

Platinum (Pt) Gold (Au)
Silver (Ag) Copper (Cu)
Iron (Fe) Tin (Sn)
Lead (Pb) Zinc (Zn)
Carbon (C)

If you don't know why someone would want to mine a particular mineral, you are advised not to use it (zinc is alloyed with copper to make brass and tin is alloyed with copper to make bronze). You are also reminded that the value of a particular metal depends on its scarcity. You may or may not want to keep the scarcity of each metal similar to its abundance on Earth.

You may also wish to include locations of jewels and magnetite (magnetised iron oxide, used for making lodestones. If the world is a globe, the magnetic field of the planet will magnetise the iron ore near the poles).

2.6 Placing Countries

Once all the geography has been defined, the group can start placing countries. You are advised to start with a large number of small countries, but anything goes when it comes to country placement. The suggested definition for each country should include the type of Government, the country's theology, and the country's attitudes and opinions.

Defining the culture of a country is a vital step in World Building. To assist in doing this, it is suggested that the player placing a country should answer the following questions about the country, and then add any additional information they consider important to defining the nature of the country.

What determines the region's borders? Are they natural or artificial? Does the nation patrol its boundaries?
What is the nature of religion in the country (see section 2.8, below)? Do they worship only their own gods, or are other countries' gods represented?
What is the nature of the government in the country (see section 2.7, below)? What legal system (if any) is implemented and how is it enforced? How closely linked are the church and the government?
What is the general attitude towards life?
What is the attitude to death and old age?
What are the prevailing attitudes towards love and sex? Is marriage expected to precede sex?
Is there a formal marriage ceremony? Are marriages monogamous, or can one person marry several people? Are concubines common? Is divorce possible? Morally acceptable?
What is the family structure in the country? What is the attitude towards family, offspring and inheritance?
What degree of sexual, racial and cultural equality is there in the country? Which factions dominate?
What is their attitude to honour, justice and vengeance? How important is the truth?
What is the attitude to war? To peace?
What is the country's general attitude toward trade? What is the prevailing attitude towards the acquisition of wealth? The distribution of wealth?
What is the general attitude towards knowledge and learning? Are there any formal schools? Libraries? Is knowledge public, or restricted?
What is the attitude to magic? Is magical learning suppressed? Encouraged?
What is the country's relationship with nature and the environment? Do they respect or abuse it?
What are the prevailing attitudes towards drinking and the use of drugs?
What is the cultural attitude toward change? Are traditions very important?
What is the country's Creation myth? Is there a Doomsday myth?
Other Cultures:
What is the country's attitude towards other countries, other cultures and other religions? What is the racial variance within the country? Are minority cultures represented? Are they persecuted?
When a country has been placed, the GM will need to assign a population value to that country. One population unit is an undefined number of people, but enough to populate one large city, several small towns or several tribes. The actual value of one population unit will vary according to the world being created, from hundreds to thousands of people. As an example, in our world in the 18th century, one population unit would be roughly 20,000 people, whereas in the 15th century one population unit would be roughly 5,000 people. The amount of population should take into account how much population that region can support.

2.7 Government Types

The main types of government are described below:
No ruling body.
Region is ruled by a privileged social class.
Natural resources are shared throughout the country.
Government formed by the coalition of several organisations or social groups.
Government in which the people hold direct power.
Region is controlled by a number of authorities which each derive power from and swear loyalty to the one directly above
Ruled by a royal family, usually hereditary.
Governed by a small group, usually equal in power.
Government consists of the richest people.
The ruling body consists of a set of elected representatives.
Region is ruled by the local Church.
Region is populated by a number of tribes.
Ruled by one (or more) people by threat of force.

2.8 Theology

You are advised to look at section 3.8, and choose various Affinities to define the spheres of influence of the god or gods of the country. There is no reason why different countries shouldn't worship the same gods. Likewise, there may well be atheistic countries where no one believes in gods, or where belief in gods is illegal.

The power of a god is determined by how many supporters it has. Since we measure the population of countries in unspecific Population units, it seems logical to measure the support each deity has in the same units. To do this you will need to estimate how much of the country believes in and worships a particular god. For example, suppose a certain country has 30 population units and believes in 3 different gods. One of them is their Patron deity, and is worshipped by 80% of the population, whilst each of the other two gods are supported by only 20% of the population (evidently, some people worship more than one deity). This would mean that there are 24 units of support for the Patron, and 6 for each of the others.

2.9 Trade and Wealth

Once as many countries as are desired have been placed, the players and GM are encouraged to discuss how rich each of the nations is, and what trade agreements each nation has. If one nation has no iron, it will probably import it from somewhere. If not, then it is likely to try to invade a country for its iron, or at least attempt to take part of a country which has iron ore in it.

2.10 History

Arguably the most important part of World Building is the final stage, in which the recent history of the world is mapped out. Each country that a player creates and adds to the map is theirs to influence throughout the history development. Play continues around the table, with an unspecified amount of time passing between each player's contribution (the GM and players should decide how much time has passed on the basis of what happens).

Remember that when the history development period begins, each country may not know of the existence of the other countries. You would expect neighbouring countries to know of each other, but the countries may have borders defined by natural phenomena (e.g. deserts, mountain ranges and seas). This could mean developing several histories independently, until one culture encounters the other.

A typical contribution can include almost any suggestion, and the effects of that contribution are determined by vote around the table. For example, player 1 suggests for her contribution that her country is going to invade the neighbouring country. At this point player 2, who 'owns' the country which is to be invaded, asks for player 3, who owns a nearby country, to assist in his country's defence. Player 3 agrees and the players vote on whether they think player 1's invasion would be successful.

Note that even though player 2's and player 3's countries are resisting invasion, the players may believe that the invasion would succeed, and hence vote for success. As an additional option, the group may determine the outcome of such events randomly (see section 2.16).

As well as making a contribution as to what goes on in their own countries, players may suggest likely events in other countries. For example, a player may suggest that a certain country has invaded so many other nations, that a rebellion is inevitable. The more they rationalise their case, the more likely people will be to vote their way and hence make the event occur. For example, in the case of the rebellion suggested above, the player could say that the dominating country has become complacent and left itself vulnerable to attack. Or that it is so paranoid that internal strife tears the government apart, leaving the way open for revolt.

Throughout the history stage, you will want to keep track of the Population in each nation, the support of each of the world's deities (as these may influence the outcome of events), and the general arrangement of the borders of each country or empire. The GM should increase the Population of each nation according to circumstance. When deciding by how much to increase Population, the GM should consider the type of land (and the maximum Population it is likely to be able to sustain), the current Population and any other considerations, such as the climate. The time taken for a nation to double in size (assuming its borders and natural resources can support such an expansion) should be about twenty to thirty years.

The process of historical development can continue until all the players (and the GM) are content with the world's history, the GM decides to invoke Privilege, or everyone decides to scrap this world and start again. The whole process of world development is intended to produce a world the players will want to game in, and each players' contribution to the world should be suggested with this in mind.

2.11 Language

If you wish, you may also include the development of language as the History stage develops. The suggested way to do this is to determine how many countries have different languages when you place countries, and then determine the effects future events have on countries. For example, when a country is invaded, the invading country may try to enforce its language on that country. The invaded country will no doubt try to carry on speaking its language for as long as possible, but if it never rebels, or if it is a very long time before it rebels, it will ultimately finish up either speaking the invader's language, or speaking a bastard tongue which is a merging of both tongues.

You may wish to record a family tree of languages, since it may be useful to know the lineage of any one particular tongue. If two countries trade together a lot, they may begin to absorb words from each other's culture, or develop a separate tongue specially intended for diplomacy and trade. More on languages can be found in section 3.17.

2.12 Weaponry and Defence

You may desire to keep track of the development of weaponry and armour, as this can have a serious impact on historical development. From our perspective, the key stages in the evolution of weaponry are:
  1. Club only.
  2. Spear only.
  3. Spear with shield.
  4. Sword and shield.
  5. Long bladed swords, Battle axes.
  6. Longswords, Battle axes and Bows.
Beyond that, our development was dominated by the firearm. Note that mounted combat is another, independent development which may give one nation an advantage over another. Development need not proceed linearly, of course, and the group may decide some other innovation has a great impact on warfare. The development of armour, which may, or may not, progress at the same rate as weapons, proceeded as follows, from our perspective:
  1. No armour, or furs.
  2. Leather armour.
  3. Banded mail.
  4. Scale mail and ring mail.
  5. Chain mail.
  6. Plate mail.
  7. Full Plate.
Beyond full plate, the invention of the firearm changed the need for heavy, bulky armour, and history proceeded down a different course. How history develops in your worlds is, of course, your own decision.

2.13 Food

For the completists, here is a breakdown of the main foods in each different Climate Zone. Foods given in italics are produced, but to a lesser degree than the others.
Maize, Cassava, Fruit, Wheat, Grains, Rice.
Wheat, Grains, Potatoes.
Wheat, Grains, Potatoes, Fruit.
Maize, Millet, Cassava, Fruit, Wheat, Grains, Rice.
Rice, Wheat, Grains.
Wheat, Grains, Potatoes.
Meat and Fish only.
All Zones:
Meat, Fish and assorted vegetables.
Citrus fruits grow on coastal Palaearctic regions, bananas grow on Neotropical and palaesaurian. Apples and similar fruits grow in Neotropical and Palaearctic regions.

2.14 Finishing Up

Once the History is completed, all that is necessary to do is work out the Species and Racial modifiers for each of the countries and species in the world (see
sections 3.4 and 3.5). You may also wish to tidy up the details of all the countries and work out any other necessary information. You will almost definitely want to decide how finances work.

For those who wish to keep things uncomplicated, it is a simple matter to say that all coins made from a particular metal hold the same value no matter where they were minted. If you prefer, you may work out exchange rates and the like. It is important that the world is as detailed as you want it to be.

It will be necessary to work out the final figures for the support of each deity and also what schools of magic (see Table 8 and section 3.16) are practised in the world. Also, the GM may wish to assign each country, or each area, with its own level of Phase (see section 7.17). You will, in all likelihood, need to finalise the description of each country, and define all the cultures in as much detail as possible. It is suggested that one way to do this is to have each of the players flesh out their 'own' countries and submit descriptions to the GM. Alternatively, the GM can flesh out some or all of the countries, and omit the players entirely from the process.

2.15 Symbiotic Worlds

If the world exists in symbiosis with other worlds, those other worlds will need to be created. Depending on how easy it is to cross between worlds, this will have to be dealt with in different ways. If it is very easy, then the history of all the worlds will have to be created, by the players, the GM or a combination of both.

If it is less easy to cross between worlds, then it is probably best for the players to assist in the development of one world and the GM to develop the other(s). This allows a certain element of mystery. The GM should also determine how it is possible to cross from one world to another. Do certain places act as portals? Do certain areas act as boundaries if you know the paths to travel on? The details are left to the individual GM's.

2.16 Random Conflict Resolution (Optional)

For those players who wish to resolve conflicts within World Building by a random method, the following basic rules are provided to resolve conflicts.

Each side in a conflict should declare how many Population Units are fighting and add 1d20. This value should then be modified by the GM, according to the situation. Each complete block of 5 within this total counts as a loss of 1 Population Unit on the opposing side.

It is possible that one side will defeat the other side with a certain number of blocks of 5 to spare. In this event, any excess blocks should be subtracted from the losses that the winning side suffers, indicating a resounding victory. In the event that both sides have blocks of 5 to spare, subtract the least number of blocks from the most, and apply these losses normally to the side with the least number of blocks. The side with the higher number of blocks hence suffers no losses.

For example, during a certain World Building session, the nation of Vadreye, which has a Population of 18 (12 of which are part of its military forces) attempts an invasion of its neighbouring country, Ashdar. Ashdar has a Population of 12, 6 of which make up its military. The GM rules that because Vadreye is a very war-like nation, and Ashdar is relatively peaceful nation, the Vadreye side should get +5. However, the GM also decides that because Ashdar's geography makes it very easy to defend, the Vadreye side should get -10.

The player controlling Vadreye sends an invasion horde of 12 to attack, and rolls 1d20, getting a 15. Their total is 12 + 5 - 10 + 15 = 22. This is 4 blocks of 5, so the Ashdar side will lose 4 Population Units.

The Ashdar player commits 6 of their 12 Population units as a defending force, and rolls 19, for a total of 6 + 19 = 25. This is 5 blocks of 5, so the attackers will lose 5 Population Units.

The sides are adjusted, and we see Vadreye is down to 7 in the attacking force and 6 back in Vadreye, whilst Ashdar is down to only 2 defenders and 6 more in the general Population. At this point, there are a number of possibilities.

Ashdar could surrender, for instance. The player controlling Ashdar would still retain some control of the country and the people might stage a rebellion at a later date. The Vadreye player may decide that the losses have been too great, and choose to retreat back to Vadreye, or they might choose to press their advantage (they outnumber their opponents).

With regards to the possibility of reinforcements, the GM may allow the Ashdar player to recruit civilians as reserves (but would doubtless put a penalty on that side), but otherwise a continued Vadreye assault is likely to succeed.

For the sake of this example, we will continue the battle. The Vadreye side rolls 2, for a total of 7 + 5 - 10 + 2 = -1 (no blocks of 5) and the Ashdar side rolls 16 for a total of 2 + 16 = 18 (3 complete blocks of 5). The Ashdar side suffers no loses, whilst the Vadreye are reduced to 4.

The battle continues, with Ashdar rolling 18, for a total of 3 + 18 = 21 (4 complete blocks of 5), whilst Vadreye rolls 16, for a total of 4 + 5 - 10 + 16 = 15 (3 complete blocks of 5). The Vadreye side has achieved overkill by one block, so their loses are reduced by 1, losing only 3 Population units, instead of 4 as would normally be indicated. The Ashdar side is reduced to no Population units.

Although Vadreye has won, it is unlikely that the one Population unit invasion force will be able to tame the 6 Population units of civilians. Effectively, the Vadreye invasion has failed.

It should be noted, that there are certain limits as to how militarised a country can become. If almost all of a country is dedicated to an aggressive military force, there will be no-one producing food, and the political structure of the nation is likely to collapse. Of course, the country could survive by capturing food from other nations, or by magical means, but these may not be the safest option.

In addition, there may be countries where, despite not being entirely militarised, practically all of the populous is capable of defending themselves in the event of an invasion. For instance, a country in which everyone served several years compulsory service in the army would be quite adept at defending itself, as would a feudal nation where weapon skills are a point of honour. There is no reason why women and children should not be involved in a nation's defence (or an invasion attempt) but the exact specifics will depend on the culture in question.

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Last Updated: April 15th, 1999