A world’s tone is the general atmosphere and feeling generated by a world. Oftentimes worldbuilders will begin to set a tone without even realizing it. A tone may be comedic, it may be whimsical, or it could be dark and horrifying. When worldbuilding, the world tone is something that should be decided early in the worldbuilding process, though it will often continue to develop as a world grows. This early consideration is important, as the tone will help inform a plethora of elements you may include – it will impact how the world looks, how the world operates, how objects and locations are named in the world, and what elements are present in a world. Different areas, or pocket worlds, may have different tones, and this can be a way to convey additional information to an audience.
ELEMENTS AND TONE
There is substantial interplay between elements included in a world and its’ tone. The tone you wish to set determines what elements you will want to include, and what elements you include in turn set the tone for any potential audience. Once a tone has been established, it is important that future elements do not massively disrupt this. Including elements at odds with a world’s tone can either be jarring to a potential audience or can drastically alter the tone itself. Grimdark worlds, for example, are bleak, dystopian worlds characterized by violence. Including bouncy castles in this world may suddenly change it to a world of whimsy. Or at the very least, leave audiences confused.
NAMES AND TONE
Names of objects and locations can have an outsized impact on a world’s tone. Fangthorn and Big Yonder Woods convey two different tones with regards to a forest. Consider which best fits the tone of the world, and the tone of the location itself. Areas with different tones are common in worlds, but all these tones should be suited for the overall world tone itself.
Remember that synonyms are an easy way to alter tone for an element.
MECHANICS AND TONE
In game-oriented worlds, tone impacts what game mechanics make sense to include. This can be as simple as fainting versus death when character health is depleted. When designing mechanics for a game world, consider how they are suited for the world tone. Often, renaming mechanics is enough to make a fit.
MARKETING AND TONE
For worlds destined for publication, the tone will have a dramatic influence on the market your world appeals to. Adult themes may be suitable for a certain market, while kid-friendly tones will be targeting another. Discussions between the worldbuilder and any marketing or advertising team is suggested. This may also avoid games being advertised in a manner inconsistent with what they deliver.
TEAMS AND TONE
When worldbuilding as a team, discussing the one upfront can be a great way to ensure each member will generate ideas and elements that are consistent with one another. This can potentially save redesign time later on.