Roll For Insight—Review: KOBOLD Guide to Worldbuilding

When it comes to creating new things, ideas are a dime a dozen. Everyone has an opinion. Yet, it is easier said than done to create something that’s logically coherent. Furthermore, the well of ideas tends to run dry too after a while.

Enter the KOBOLD Guide to Worldbuilding, published by KOBOLD Press. It is a guidebook with plenty of advice and words of wisdom from established game designers and authors, to help budding designers create new worlds. How useful is it as a resource book? More importantly, is it inspiring enough to work in the classroom? Let’s dive into the heart of the book and find out!

A wide spectrum of advice

Here Be Dragons from KOBOLD Guide to WorldbuildingWhile not exactly “meaty”, the KOBOLD Guide to Worldbuilding has plenty of advice covering a wide range of topics. The list of topics includes:

  • Bringing History To Life
  • How To Design A City-State, Tribe Or Nation
  • How To Write A World Bible

…and many more. Each topic takes up about 5 pages of information, but it’s concise and to the point. In fact, most of the authors give great ideas on how to get started. Under the topic “Here Be Dragons” for example, professional mapper Jonathan Roberts teaches us how to design sensible and functional world maps. In “Worlds and Technology”, Wolfgang Baur explains very clearly how technology affects the world at large (and vice versa), and what we should take note of from a worldbuilder’s point-of-view.

These are just a few examples, but across the board, the advice from the different authors is very detailed and well-written. I like that the tone is casual, and the structure of the text easy to follow.

If I had to nitpick though, it’s that not all the topics are equally well-written, but that’s to be expected from having so many contributors. Art in the book is also a little sparse. It would have benefited from having more accompanying visuals.

What are role-playing games (RPGs)?

Can educators use this?

fantasy world

The KOBOLD Guide to Worldbuilding wasn’t written with educators like myself in mind, but I feel it can certainly be used as a source of inspiration to create activities for students. As mentioned earlier, a lot of the advice is well-structured. I can see myself using some of it to come up with worldbuilding exercises for my students.

Take the map designing portion from “Here Be Dragons”, for instance. It very clearly tells you how to create the visual elements of your world in a scaffolded manner. This is something I’m very excited to try with my students. I already have an existing worldbuilding activity, and I’d like to see if this method can complement it.

Michael Stackpole (whom I’m a fan of) also has some great advice on building unique but logically coherent worlds. In the topic “They Do What Now?” he says this:

Begin with a hidden valley setting—a setting that likely isn’t economically viable, but is intriguing enough to hold together for a short visit by your audience. Let’s start with, say, a high mountain valley which has, at the heart of it, a massive ship. There’s no ocean for many a mile, but this thing looks ship-shape and the folks working on it are as skilled a set of shipwrights as anyone has ever seen. How did it get here? Why is it here? What are they going to do with it?

I love this! Yes, it’s a very specific narrative provided, but the questions at the end are good sources of inspiration for students to springboard off. A lot of times, students with poorer executive functioning skills have trouble organising their thoughts and ideas. Giving them samples of question prompts, such as the ones above, can go a long way towards helping them create their own.

From an educator’s perspective, many segments of the book can serve as inspiration for the designing of classroom activities. Much of the advice is straightforward and scaffolded—ripe for educators to adapt. Personally, I’m looking forward to creating a set of worldbuilding activities, using the advice from “Here Be Dragons” as a guide.

Concluding thoughts

I had a good time reading this book. It’s a great resource for GMs. On the therapy side, it’s also given me a fair bit of inspiration. In fact, I know many students who can benefit from its tips.

So, would I highly recommend this? Definitely! It’s not without its faults: like I said, there were some sections I didn’t really like. However, what it does offer is a large spectrum of advice, and you can’t go wrong there. Just pick and choose what you need, whether you’re a GM or educator.

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Teacher Shaun

Teacher Shaun a self-professed geek and lover of all things old-school. When he's not playing Fallout or Deus Ex for the nth time, he can be found sitting in front of his laptop hacking away at his keyboard, typing blog posts like this one. He also runs a little company called Swords & Stationery.

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