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E21 | Books| Build-a-World Workshop

Legal Drinking age + Exploring new worlds = A fun and exciting podcast episode! Our main topic covers elements of building a fictional world and how a writer can immerse you into their fantasy creation. But before that we get to try out some drinks while discussing some unsung heroes in fantasy history, some awesome new boardgame ideas, and hopping on the hype train for Rhythm of War: the newest Brandon Sanderson Novel in The Stormlight Archives series! So sit back, grab a brew, and enjoy episode 21!


What's on our Flight (00:40)

With this episode our Podcast is officially of legal drinking age! We decided to switch things up for a while. For now, I will provide whiskeys for Nelson to drink and he will bring beer for me! Here is our first go at it:

  • Nelson's drinking: Minor Case Straight Rye Whiskey from Limestone Branch Distillery (the same that produced Yellowstone from Episode 16). This soft rye is fermented from a 51% rye mash (remainder mostly corn), making it a great introduction to rye. A sherry cask finish gives it subtle dried fruit flavors in the finish. At $35/bottle, this is a great option for a first rye that still offers subtle complexity. 3 Cheers!

  • Dalton's drinking: Southern Pecan by Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company. This brown ale is brewed with pecans and claims to be the first beer to brew with whole pecans! Malty and nutty flavors come through with the slightly bitter aftertaste of a pecan skin. This beer is easy to drink at 4.39 ABV and very few hops. 3 Cheers, definitely worth a try!


What's On Our Minds (10:43)


  • Finished the Unwanteds Series, and was overall disappointed. There are technical writing issues throughout, with the author writing non-sensical decisions to force the characters to explore the world. While the world is interesting and there are several rewarding climactic moments in the series, the connections between those high points were difficult to overlook. The books were fine if not taken seriously, and are probably intending a younger audience than us. In the end, I am glad it's over.

  • Started Ancillary Justice, first winner of the "Sci-Fi Triple Crown" of the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C Clarke Awards for Best Novel (2013). This book showed a lot of promise, but I accidentally fell out of it by not paying enough attention. The names, characters, and places are fairly complicated and it is not immediately obvious what the story is about. I will definitely give it another go, but for now I set it aside.

  • In the episode we also covered some fun facts about Ursula K. Le Guin, who we have discussed a lot in recent episodes! Her most famous works include Wizards of Earthsea and Left Hand of Darkness and she is credited with several important innovations and milestones in the writing of fantasy and sci-fi.


  • Working through The Stormlight Archives because Rhythm of War (book 4) just released! It is much easier to follow the complex storylines and world on a second read through since the names of places and characters are already familiar. We will bring this series up a lot during the topic discussion since it is such an great example of excellent worldbuilding!

  • Finishing Attack on Titan season 3 in preparation for season 4, which is set to release on December 7th and is confirmed to be the final season!

  • Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline released on 11/24/20, which is after we recorded but before the release of the episode. We are excited to see if the sequel holds up to the success of the first novel, which we both loved. This one is next on Nelson's list after Rhythm of War.


The icebreaker question for this episode was submitted by Jeremy (@boardgame_jer) (29:24)

Is there a book series you would like to see turned into a board game, or a board game that needs to be the subject of a book series?

  • Nelson: Mistborn as a board game. Now, it is important to note here that there is already a board game adaptation of Mistborn, but Nelson did not like it. He would like to see an Ameritrash version that walks you through the story, allowing players to control characters from the novel directly and explore their powers.

  • Dalton: Imperial as a novel. We discussed this game in Episode 20, I think the political landscape of bankrolling warring countries would make a great topic for a novel!

  • Nelson (Again!): To answer the other side of the question, Scythe would make a great setting for a novel. The game already has wealth of lore to draw from and is ripe for narrative on the rebuilding of Europa.

Thanks again for the question, Jer, this one had us thinking! If you are looking for us to answer a question in a future episode, submit your question here.


Discussion starts at 38:38 in the episode

Worldbuilding is a topic everyone can identify with. You feel it in every story that is told, even ones you tell yourself. Great worldbuilding escalates a great story to a memorable one. The stories that we feel most involved and immersed in are ones that are supported by excellent and engaging worldbuilding. Many of the biggest names in fantasy and sci-fi are supported by strong worldbuilding elements. Consider the names below and the strength of worldbuilding that went in to them:

  • Brandon Sanderson novels, especially The Stormlight Archives and Mistborn

  • Harry Potter. It has such iconic worldbuilding there are theme parks built to model it!

  • Star Wars (for the most part...)

  • Jurassic Park. Does a great job of making a small change and integrating it throughout the world.

  • Pendragon. Each planet is a new exercise in worldbuilding!

  • How to Train Your Dragons. Takes a fairly well explored topic (dragons) and still creates an enthralling and engaging

Elements of Worldbuilding

A world is a big place, and consequently there are many aspects to worldbuilding. We talked through several in the episode and took a deep dive on two of them:

  • Magic. This is more than just "how the magic system works." How integrated is magic in to the culture and government? Does it influence the landscape? Is magic legal?

  • Technology. Both in a sci-fi sense, where technology can play the role that magic plays in fantasy novels, and in the setting of the world. Is this modern day or feudal age?

  • Nations. How many distinct people groups exist? Who does everyone like and hate? Remember, things are not so clear-cut as good guys vs bad guys. Check out the picture below from @TheBigPharaoh (Egyptian blogger) and you will see what we mean.

  • Economies. Think Red Rising or Hunger Games, which use economies as a way to describe hierarchy and oppression which drive the story.

  • Religion. Both known (Hindu, Catholic) and invented. In Mistborn, the Lord Ruler is both emperor and god. It is one thing to overthrow a monarch. It is quite another to overthrow a god.

  • Nelson's deep dive: Weather. Think of the way the storms in Dune drive the story and how easy it is to see yourself on that desert landscape. Weather is universally relatable, helping the reader immerse themselves in that story. Everyone knows the damp, soaked feeling of the prevailing mist in Mistborn, or the bone-chilling freeze north of The Wall (Song of Ice and Fire). Finally, we have the High Storms in The Stormlight Archives, which have a huge influence on character decisions, government and law, infrastructure, and even the biology of plants and animals.

  • Dalton's deep dive: Language. Every story must involve language in some form, so the author has some choices to make. What can be said and what cannot be said. Who communicates with who and how easily? In The Inheritance Cycle, elves communicate primarily in the ancient language where it is impossible to lie. They therefore form a culture of speaking in non-absolutes and partial truths, making them not trustworthy to other cultures. In A Wise Man's Fear, the Adem communicate emotion through sign language, which has an effect throughout their culture and the way their nation interacts with others. Finally, we again have Sanderson, who integrates worldbuilding in to the language itself, creating swear words based on the setting of the novel.

Mistakes and Traps

Just as we have multiple examples of excellent world building, there are many examples of poor worldbuilding decisions. Primary example: The Phantom Menace. How can a movie that introduces podracing have such poor worldbuilding? It is an accomplishment, really. Where A New Hope drops us in to the action and conducts worldbuilding by showing us and exploring it directly, Phantom tries to explain the world verbally and ends up dragging and feeling overly nuanced. It is nearly impossible to care about trade disputes and senate politics when really we came here to see lightsaber battles. The key takeaway here: worldbuilding should involve minutia and detail, but overexplaining that detail leads to dull plot and low involvement from the reader.

We also discuss Expeditionary Force a lot on the podcast, and while we do love this series for its humor and entertainment value, it makes several poor worldbuilding decisions. The most obvious one is monotonous culture. Entire alien civilizations are boiled down to "they are the gambling race" or "the cyborg race" or "the warmongering race." Every character introduced from the species behaves the same way to the point where it feels as thought the main characters are always interacting with the same individual from the species. There is a lack of diversity and nuance that we find so readily available in our own cultures. So, the trap here: each culture and peoples must meet basic expectations for diversity to feel realistic. A super-cool, majestic, galactic civilization must at least meet the diversity in personality that we see in household cats.

Thank you for listening through this analysis of worldbuilding, which we hope will be one of our most relatable and immersive topics yet! We will leave you with some quotes to think on and some links for additional reading if you are interested. Thanks for joining us!


"Very seldom do people say, 'It’s down in the Battery District, which is where they used to keep the cannons hundreds of years ago.' They just say, 'It’s down in the Battery.'" - Tad Williams, author of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn.
"We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La. They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth." - George R. R. Martin, author of A Song of Ice and Fire.

Other Reading:

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