Building a world with the singularity method is similar to other one seed creation processes. Start small, with a singular idea and expand upon that one item until you have created your world. This method can be used for RPGs, books, movies, shows, or any story that needs you to build a world.
There are only a few steps to building an entire world using the singularity method:
- Determine your defining singularity.
- Brainstorm the impacts and consequences of your singularity.
- Determine what type of people or life those features would create.
- Use everything you have made to reveal the types of places, environments, and creations that will fill your world.
- How would all of this come together and form a mythos for the history of your world?
- Finally, use the combination of these creations to build your story.
What is the singularity method?
The singularity method gets its name from its starting point. Imagine or choose the single most impactful element of your world to be. This can be anything from a natural occurrence, a system of magic, or strong group of individuals.
Once you have the defining feature, it should be used as a platform to place all of the other building blocks. What would the life be like in a world with your singularity at its epicenter? What would the cities people build look like? How would the transportation work?
Using the singular driving element helps to streamline the world building process. Eventually you will feel like the world is creating itself!
The Principle of World Building With a Driving Element
Countless stories have used this style of creation to form their worlds, themes and plots.
The Netflix series Shadow and Bone has a driving element which is the shadow rift that separates two halves of the continent. From the rift as a driving element the creators pulled created or defined countless elements. Interesting political dynamics between the people. A new mode of transportation. Multiple story elements including passage through the rift and the history of how it was made. It also uses the element to define the strata of magical prowess. The caster who can create the rift, or the one who can destroy it must be the most powerful of magic users.
Pacific Rim is driven around the portal in at the center of the Earth. The Wall from Game of Thrones. Wizard of Oz wouldn’t be the icon it is if it wasn’t driven by the yellow brick road.
Games are no exception when it comes to using the singularity method. Mass Effect and all of the sequels are all driven by the mystery that is the Citadel and its creators. Even in the TTRPG community, Starfinder executes on this premise flawlessly.
Seriously. Just read the lore of Starfinder. It’s fantastic.
In order to be successful using the singularity method you only need to complete two steps. Create a great driving element. Then always consider your driving element. That’s it. If you only take one thing from this article or method this should be it.
Creating an Exciting Singular Driving Element
It should be obvious by now that the most important beam in this world building is the singularity.
When creating your singularity, keep in mind that all of the other aspects of your world will be impacted by it. It needs to be interesting and unique to the world, while being something that will loom over the denizens.
A good singularity will be able drive the players or readers to be interested in the world. Interspersing your idea into the mythos and history of your world will draw your audience into wanting to know more about those subjects.
Having your singularity surrounded in mystery is often successful in keeping the players or readers interested in the world. If everyone wants to uncover the secrets of the element, it becomes an easy way to drive the story or create adventure.
Secret societies or large and powerful organizations work well to mold your world. An overbearing magical empire might control every aspect of life or a secret cabal could have their hand in everything that happens.
Other great singularities can include magical creations, advanced technologies, environmental phenomena, gods who walk the earth, or ancient structures.
Building by Exploring the Impacts
Once you have an exciting singularity and determined how it will live in your world, it’s time to explore the impacts on everything else.
The following list of considerations is by no means exhaustive and if you find yourself brainstorming other items that are impacted then explore them! There is no predicting how or when an idea will help you create an adventure, tell a story, or have an impact on your game.
If you start to go through the items suggested and find yourself unable to determine how your singularity impacts these aspects, your singularity may be too small. Consider how you could expand your driving force to effect the themes below. If you’re unable to find ways to expand the singularity, you may want to reconsider your singularity entirely.
While the following themes have been listed in a way that allows you to easily flow from one to the next, feel free to jump around between the sections below as inspiration hits you. Most of the time it is easier to develop the parts of the world that our characters and players will interact most, and from there determine the secondary effects around, but that may change depending on the type of singularity you have developed.
People and Creatures
One of the biggest considerations is how your singularity will impact the life in your world. This includes all of the creatures, characters, NPC’s or players of your games.
The best way to think about these impacts is how does the singularity effect the living things in your world.
How would the magical properties of your singularity change or warp the living things around it? Or even broader across the world? Does it physically change people into monsters over time, or does it have more subtle effects from birth?
It could be a mythical force like a giant crater with the remains of a fallen god. How would that impact the living creatures of your world? It could be that through the gods death, magical creatures were born. Maybe having a piece of the gods bones grants god like abilities.
Environmental anomalies will cause significant changes in the creatures of your world. They may be hardened from the heat that comes from a giant fiery volcano or they may all have water like features if they live in a permanent rain storm.
In addition to just the genetic or physical traits, consider how your singularity will impact the mental state of the creatures and species. The creatures that are closer to valuable resources may be less violent as they don’t need to fight for survival as much as creatures or species that are farther from resources.
Along with the physical and mental effects, a compelling force will wind its way through the entirety of culture and societies.
Societal impacts are a question of how the denizens of your world react to the singularity.
When thinking of the impacts a singularity will have on society, think about how the people will interact with the force. Is it used as a source of prestige? Do people fear It’s power? Maybe it is a well known secret and it is only mentioned in whispers.
Think about if it is something that could have impacts on systems similar to what we have today. Religions are formed around sources of unknown phenomena. Governments and powerful organizations often try to hide the full impacts of certain activities or consumables.
Beyond the cultural effects, how does the singularity impact the structure of your societies? If it drives people into smaller groups, how do they work together to survive? Does it prevent big buildings and cities from forming, or does it push people to congregate in small spaces? Maybe it drives people to live most of their lives by night instead of in the day, or live underground.
There are all kinds of societal structures that would be greatly impacted by any major singularity. Bridges, roads, buildings, farms, mines, technology, vehicles, energy, or waste systems are all easily disrupted or completely changed based on their surroundings.
Environmental singularities can be the easiest to comprehend as well as some of the most widely impactful forces in any world.
How is the geography and natural world changed by the singularity?
The ways in which the environment effects you and everything around you is almost infinite. There is nothing that is not effected by some part of the natural world, and this should come through often in your stories and games. Simple things like how your singularity impacts the temperature, humidity, plant growth, ground structure, or world size have immediate and infinite impacts on everything else around them.
Imagine if Earth had no salt water. Every ocean and sea was made up of fresh water. That one difference would change everything from the amount of ice that forms in the ocean to which sea creatures did or didn’t exist and eliminate water as being a limited resource.
Environmental singularities may be subtle or overt in their impacts. Flip around the previous example, if there is only one source of water in your world, then the farther away creatures live from that source the less they would be water dependent. It might create circles or gradation of plants and fungi around the source before creating an endless desert in all directions.
These types of extreme environments will lead to tall tales of what lurks in the desert and create a plethora of adventure opportunity as characters inevitably strike out from the safety of the oasis.
While focusing on the sentient creatures and organisms is important, don’t forget about the fauna that your singularity may effect. Your force may create unique plants or special biomes. Magical rain or a world that is broken into tiny islands. All of these scenarios would create different plants, trees, or maybe even coral reefs that cut out from the ocean waves during low tide like walls.
The singularity that you have created may be something that the characters of your story interact with directly or it may be something that effects or augments other items in your world.
How does your singularity impact the materials, actions, and possessions of the people of your world.
Building worlds that have a system of technology entirely based around a singularity is pretty common. Stories have been written with vast steam cities, aircrafts that fly on magical power, and even giant mechs that are dependent on otherworldly creatures to create.
Look around your life or think about technologies from the past and think about how those items would be different in the world you have created. How are the vehicles of your world effected by the environmental differences? Can the singularity you have invented replace some everyday tasks or technology that we use today?
There is a good chance that it is not just physical things your singularity will impact. If your driving force is something magical, then how does it impact other magics? Is it the source of all magic? Does it negate magic? Do magic users need to make a pilgrimage to the source every so often? Is it from an ancient form of magic and all of the casters of your world study the anomaly to learn new spells?
Mythos and History
Once you have a set world, or maybe while you are still building, creating a little bit of world history or mythology helps to bring the universe to life.
The mythos of your world is the perfect place to insert all of the cool and interesting plot hooks you have imagined for your story.
Think about all of the amazing events, struggles, plagues, wars, fantastic people or grand mysteries that could exist in your world and create a quick bullet list. Each one of these items can be expanded upon to create the mythos and history of your world.
When and how was you singularity discovered? Who were the people who created the magic, technology, and cities of your world? What type of leaders have there been in the past? What do the people of your world believe in? Possibly the most important question you can ask yourself is how much of the history is true?
Stories change and people forget certain details and events. That doesn’t even factor in the times that groups or leaders may want the people to remember history a little differently than how it really happened.
Once you have a bulleted list of ideas, it often isn’t even necessary to develop them before they appear in your story or game. Having them ready to throw in may force you to change or tweak them slightly to fit, but will often create even better bits of mythos for your world than if they were planned out perfectly.
The best part about the lore of your world is that two people may understand it completely differently. Unless you are telling a story for an omniscient observer point of view, you don’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing or forgetting what you said earlier in the story. Just as quickly as you may forget something about your world, the characters within it can forget or change the events in their minds as well.
Smaller Details for World Building
While these items could easily fall into one of the above categories, here are some specific items you may want to give some consideration to as they often come up in stories and games.
- Food, Drinks, Medicine or Drugs
- Combat, Weapons, or Armor
- Government Structures
- Communication Methods
Build and Tweak
Using the singularity method you will quickly discover that the world will begin to build itself. Once you have a compelling and impactful singular driving force at the center of your world, revealing the impacts will become easier with each piece of the puzzle that you place.
Creating the towns and society will be significantly easier after you have revealed the people on the continent. Forming a magic system become natural once the environment has been set.
If you feel like you are getting stuck, tweak or update your singularity or some of the impacts that it has on the world until the rush of inspiration strikes you again and the creations come naturally. Should you feel like you are unable to make any progress on your world, put it to the side, create a new singularity, and start the brainstorming process again. You may surprise yourself about how changing the mental track that your brain is on will later reveal ideas or impacts that work for one world, but not for another.
Looking for specific tips on building a cyberpunk world? Check out our article on the themes and elements of a dark future world.
I hope you find this method helpful and happy building!