Fantasy worlds are fictional settings full of magical and wondrous elements. These are places where gods and leviathans may walk the lands and swim the seas. Ancient civilizations from long ago may have left behind tombs, ruins, and temples hidden in the remote places of the world. The very land itself may be magical, with floating rocks, skull mountains, and wandering islands. Travelers to these places may seek shelter in towns or castles as wars between kingdoms are waged.
Fantasy worlds occupy a special place amongst fictional worlds because historically they have been the most immersive. This is largely do to the works of JRR Tolkien, whose Middle Earth transformed what it meant to create a fictional setting. Many worldbuilders, strive to create worlds based on principles Tolkien exemplified: worlds so rich and detailed that every facet of geology, history, language, and culture have been composed to the greatest degree.
While it is far from necessary to have Tolkien’s level of depth for a world to be enjoyable, fantasy worlds do generally share a collection of common elements that arise from both the fantasy genre itself (magic & fantastic beasts), as well as entrenched fantasy worldbuilding customs (the inclusion of maps and timelines). On this page you will find a selection of those common elements to help your worldbuilding within the fantasy genre.
Designing Fantasy Worlds
Creating the World Itself
Most fantasy worlds take place on earth-like planets – places that resemble our own world in elements like gravity, length of day, climate, and general biomes, but differ when it comes to the actual landmasses. Worldbuilders operating within the fantasy genre may wish to start by designing the physical aspects of the world itself. The shape of the world, the shape of it’s continents and oceans, as well as the number of suns and moons it may have are things to consider. While often spherical, worlds that are toroidal or disk-like worlds defined by a world edge are possibilities.
The Landscape and Terrain
The regions and biomes of fantasy worlds are often versions of what we are used to in the real world. Mountain ranges, deserts, frozen expanses, etc. However, these features are often exaggerated to create more interesting settings, such as with forests of giant trees or sand seas. More fantastic elements, like floating rocks, wandering islands, and underground seas may also be present. Many worldbuilders create maps of their world and/or regions within it to help better organize their setting.
Once you have chosen what elements exist in your world, giving those forests, mountains, towns, and cities names is equally important!
Fantasy worlds are settings rich with fantasy towns, taverns, inns, castles, and watchtowers. Great walls may rest on borders between the borderlands and the uncharted wilds. In game-oriented fantasy worlds, game dungeons may tempt characters to explore their depths, while churches and/or sanctuaries may offer respite and a place to rest. The places and locations a worldbuilder will wish to include will depend heavily on the purpose and tone of the setting they are designing. While giant statues may better match one world, giant skeletons may better match the next.
Fantasy worlds often come with elaborate fictional histories. These historical events can help set the stage for narratives that occur in the fictional world as well as provide interesting lore for the inclusion of elements like ancient ruins. Histories can also be used to provide context for the current location of borders or neutral territories.
Gods & Religions
Fantasy worldbuilder including gods or religions will need to decide if deities are real within the context of their fictional setting. If so, they will need to consider how active a role they may play. Gods with immense power possess the capability to reshape the world, and may have done so many times over unless they demonstrate restraint or have a reason not to. If using these elements, worldbuilder may also wish to include temples, churches, oracles, and hallowed grounds.
A fantasy world is generally inhabited by fantastic beings. These may be adventurers of all kinds, powerful wizards and sorcerers, or magical creatures both large and small. While often the inhabitants will fall into pre-established creature and monster archetypes (such as goblins, ghosts, elves, and dwarves) designers should also consider creating entirely new fictional creatures as well.