Cities, Villages and the Unknown

A real place of exploration

One of the joys of writing fantasy fiction is that it gives you the freedom to design a world from scratch; you can let your imagination run wild creating dark forbidding forests, waterfalls, lost cities, and so on…

This page looks at designing a culture for your world and the background encounters that can be defined through that culture. 
The Main Fantasy design menu provides more in-depth details to fantasy world designing
Throughout these articles I will reference my own fantasy world that I designed to help demonstrate it, how it interacts and grows with the stories that I write – In truth I enjoy creating the world just as much as the story writing

Culture Overview


The watermill

Once you have the basic design and layout of your world in place then you need to consider the types of culture that the characters in your world are going to encounter – including their own.

The cultures within a fantasy world are there to give a richness to the encounters and interactions that characters have during their journeys. They provide the backdrop against which any encounters operate, defining the styles and rituals that happen during that time

Culture applies not just to the humanoid settings of towns and interactions, but to any type of creature that they may encounter – especially intelligent ones. Within my own fantasy world I have an intelligent creature that has its own unique way of interacting with the world and has quite a strong personality that has nothing to do with any other cultures in the world – it may be unique but it still requires a culture of its own

With fantasy worlds you can choose to have as many different cultures as you want, but as with all things, the more different cultures you define then the more you will have to keep track of them.

Cultural considerations that need to be thought about include:

  • The basic cultural level of the world that is central to your stories
  • The different types of cultures you encounter – those found in different races or species
  • The social structures within that culture – e.g. hierarchical, social, chaotic, private
  • Where they appear in your world – are they near to each other or a vast distance apart.

My own cultures are mainly humanoid in nature and I use distance or natural features to account for variations, such as rivers or mountain passes. For non-humanoid creatures they generally live in places that are either a long distance away or have some structure that makes them hard to reach, such as a dangerous forest.

Identifying the cultural level

sun rise boat 2

Ocean community

A general overall sense of the culture of your world needs to be determined before you venture too deeply into other encounters in your world. You will need to decide what the key background culture of your world will be – this will normally be the ones that your characters come from.

It is possible to completely create a culture from scratch, but once you have identified your basic requirement of the cultures you want for your world (see below) it may be worth spending time finding out if there is a similar period of history that reflects this, for this will help you to ‘fill in the gaps’ and save you a lot of time having to consider every possible aspect for even the shortest of encounters

Now comes the reflective bit, for you will need to identify at least the underlying attributes of your culture. This may be easier with a blank sheet of paper before you (my personal favoured medium for reflecting with – good for doodles)

If you do have some specific ideas of the type of culture you want for your world then make some notes on them, but keep the notes simple if you can, no more than a paragraph.

Tip – If you have no idea what you do want then the way to get around this problem is to work out what you don’t want in that culture. For example you may not know how they will greet each other, but it will not be with instant threats to kill.

Things to be determined include:

  • Are the natives friendly?
    • Can your characters relax and fall asleep on a haystack or do they have to ‘watch their backs’ all the time
  • Is there a war going on, if so then how close is it to them
    • If it is far off then this could be a source of rumours, if close by then does it impact on your story line and how?
  • What is their level of knowledge
    • Will they be overwhelmed by what your characters are capable of doing, or will they wonder how they can be so primitive
  • How long has the settlement existed
    • Is the area a new world of exploration for everyone, or is it an ancient place that has been settled for over a thousand years and has the structure and knowledge to go with it
  • If it is a different species then how much common understanding will your characters have with them
    • Will they understand basic civilised behaviour so that you can approach them or will they not even recognised your own character species. Will they be curious, ignore them or attack them?

Basic culture of Cruthia

With the history of Cruthia consisting of a major disaster, most of the inhabited land consists of small towns and settlements in a rural setting, only beyond the river in the far north do you find any cities and only in the cities can true law and order be found. It is also within one of those cities that you will find the ‘Great Libraries’ that contain the knowledge of the known world, but even these contain only a fragmented knowledge of a world long ago and answers to the past cannot always be found, only tantalising hints – What is myth and what is truth cannot be easily distinguished.

Away from the cities there is an established way of life there that is similar to the dark age period of England, the laws from the cities hold some sway over the lands but most justice still relies on the local opinion of what justice means.

To the south you come to a mountain range that has only one break in the chain through which you can travel. The land to the south of that mountain range is a harsh place to live, unsafe to travel through unless your adventure party is large or you know the terrain well.
My own world is only defined in detail in the areas that my characters have ventured through. However I know the general cultural levels of some areas that they have yet to journey through or that they know about through knowledge gained.

One such area is ‘beyond a mountain pass’ where the culture is very uncivilised, it is a harsh existence, and the land is not very fertile. I have determined the history of what happened to make that land the way that it is, but I have only a few general details on the culture of the people that live within in now. Two of my characters come from there, but that is all you need to know about them for the stories they are currently featured in.


  • Keep it simple, don’t have lots of mysterious rituals or unexplainable behaviour
  • Do not put too much detail into an encounter if it does not add to the story
  • Design with the thought that you made need to develop the culture further in the future
  • If you have some new thoughts about certain aspects of your culture, then save them to a later time when they may ‘suddenly’ become useful or give only the vaguest of hints if you need to;

 Jenny M L ~  Inspiring the Imagination ~ Contact Me


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