My recent review of The Vermont Cheese Book got me thinking about world-building, oddly enough. My husband, who recently wrote Case Study in Stealing from History, an article on campaign world-building for roleplaying games (but that applies quite well to writing fiction, too) has in fact created a game world that I find fascinating and very immersive. One of the things that stands out is that the major city I’m familiar with in it has a distinctive trade, commerce and production profile.
Let’s go back to that book review for a moment. It’s a celebration of all the artisan and farmstead cheese-makers that have taken up residence in Vermont and who make its cheeses unique and special. Some of them use sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, or any of a variety of types of cow’s milk. Some raise their own herds while others buy from neighboring farmers. Some make blue cheese while others make washed-rind cheese, soft cheese, semi-soft, or perhaps a good sharp cheddar. They all have a couple of things in common, however. They all share a passion for what they do, and they all strive to make and market the very best product they can.
Let’s look at another book I reviewed recently—The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Coffee and Tea. This book included a great deal of detail about the various locations in which people are dedicated to growing and producing the best coffees and teas, and how they go about creating the specialty drinks that we come to know and love.
Now back to that game world of my husband’s that I mentioned. One thing a particular major city, Pagament, is known for is its unusual glass-blowing techniques. The glass-blowers’ guild produces a special type of glass that no one else has been able to duplicate. Because of this they wield a fair amount of economic influence, and it also makes them a tempting target for anyone trying to attack the major trade and port city’s economic standing. The guild’s trade secrets are closely guarded, which also sets the stage for intrigue. Even if you never directly make use of these possibilities, just having such a backdrop makes your world seem far more “real” and immersive, whether we’re talking about a roleplaying game campaign world or a writer’s world of fiction.
So today, spend a little time thinking about the artisans in your game world. What do they produce? What are their specialties? How do they take pride in their work? What secrets do they guard, and how? What role do they play in their local economies? How do they differ by locale, and why? What makes one region better for, say, cheese-makers, while another appeals to coffee-growers?