Worldbuilding with Word Clusters
by Words and Chaos
An exercise in mental gymnastics.
I throw up word clusters every month, but outside of one example of general story/setting overview, I don’t really give much of an idea of what you could do with them. Today I thought I’d take some time to construct a settlement using these word clusters and give some general idea of what my thought process is.
Just for the sake of argument I’ll base this in bog-standard medieval-ish time period, but it works for any other timeframe.
So starting with general.
Name: Greater Battledress
Manual or just based on of the clusters, it’s up to you. I went with a cluster. Greater Battledress… a bit strange, but it works well enough. Theoretically I suppose there’s a Minor Battledress out there.
Settlement type: Small City
Choose this one manually. it’s not exactly the most open question. I’m going with a small city because it’s a wide enough option to get all the options down. With the smaller settlements, a fair amount of these questions don’t really factor in as much. A hamlet with 100 people in it is going to be pretty limited in options: A couple of shops, maybe a religious site, and some houses. That said there is more than enough to give these tiny settlements character.
Again, choose this manually. It’s just dictated by the settlement type. So a population of 10,000 is pretty god for a small city.
Founded: [Bowed scatterbrain.] Built after the deposing of an infamously proud, but indecisive and weak leader.
Groups/Social groups/ Subcultures:
Upper Class: [Cobalt Outlooks] The upper classes of this city are generally made up of retired military who have gained favour – in particular scouts and other reconnaissance types. As a result politics can often be very stealthy and under-the-table. Expect a lot of gossip and backstabbing.
Middle Class: [Socks Census] The middle classes of this city have developed a fashion trend for long and outlandish knee-high socks. As a result the textiles trade is thriving.
Lower Class: [Bespeaking Kabballists] The lower classes and peasantry are generally very religious. The main faith being an unorthodox or esoteric take on a well established religious doctrine.
Geography: [Pushy breaststroke] Coastal, port.
Breaststroke – swimming. Water. Pushy – general power or strength. Either a large fast flowing river or a sea tide. I went with Coastal.
Climate: [Oarfish cricket] Warm.
Oarfish are found in tropical or temperate waters, they can get pretty big. Crickets are pretty widespread too, though I usually associate them with warm to hot climates. So I’m going with a warmer climate.
Natural Landmarks: [Masonic Bolsheviks] A hill, dotted with small small stones and shrubs, outside of the city that is sacred to the religious people of the area. The religious leaders in the area, in particular, tend to hold meetings on the hill. Though the people generally respect and look to the religious elders for guidance, and regard the hill with reverence, nobody is quite sure what it is that they discuss.
Notable buildings: Docks. [Stocks Unreachable] The Unreachable Stocks. There is a set of stocks set up in the city. The stocks have been specifically built so that there is a wide ditch in between the stocks and the ground, which means that anybody put int he stocks has to stand with their legs stretched out behind them over the ditch, or else dangle from the neck and wrists. This is exhausting and requires the punished person to be tense and braced against the stocks for the entire duration of their stay. This is with people hurling stones and rotten fruit at them.
Historical locations: [Tribesmen Shirts] Tribesman’s Shirt. There are some tribes in the lands surrounding the city. One of them used to trade with the city regularly. There was an open market that was set up outside the city gates where merchants would barter with the local tribes. One particularly successful merchant bartered with the chieftain of a well known tribe. The merchant fleeced the unwary chieftain, quite literally taking the shirt from his back in return for tainted or bad food and faulty goods. The Chieftain’s people suffered noticeably and many died. The next time the market was held, the angry Chieftain returned and confronted the merchant. the merchant had been expecting this and has hired a bodyguard. The bodyguards killed the chieftain and hung his corpse from a tree with a knotted rope made from strips of cloth from the chieftain’ shirt. The area has since been known as Tribesman’s Shirt. Naturally, relations with that tribe have deteriorated drastically.
[Spiritualistic hyphen] A religious district. Contains several shrines and religious buildings or monuments.
[All-Powerful Obedience] The Nobles and the military district are one and the same. The two groups intermingle and influence each other. This generally allows them both to keep the city in order and control.
[Steppes Pagoda] So, because we’ve already got a religious district, I decided to go with the following line from Wikipedia and run with it: “The modern pagoda is an evolution of the Ancient Nepal stupa, a tomb-like structure where sacred relics could be kept safe and venerated.” This district is a multi-story burial ground for high ranking religious and political figures. The floors are covered with sarcophagi, coffins, tombstones, urns, and other burial markers and containers.
Soup Bowl Arrests
Resources: [Mal-Prescribes] Poisonous flora. The countryside around the city contains a variety of herbs, berries, and other harvestable plantlife which can be used to create all manner of toxins and poisons.
Imports: [Jewish adherent] Religious trinkets, traded for by the religious peasantry.
Exports: [Soup bowl arrests]. Poisons.
Transport: Boats, ships, and watercraft.
Industry: Chemistry, poison makers, assassins, information, fishing, sea trade. I’m generally going off of what we’ve already established and the general view of the culture we’re building up.
Wood Thrush Nobility
Throw Rug Webbed
Sand Dune Bathmat
Government type: You don’t need to generate this. Just give a general idea. For this instance we’re going with a military council since it fits with what we’ve seen so far.
Laws: Take a few for this:
[Wood Thrush Nobility] Only a noble is allowed to keep certain types of bird as pets.
[Sweeping deals] Government takes an extra tax on any special sales that merchants may offer.
[CIFAL Exempt] CIFAL seems to be an international social governance program. A little advanced for our time frame, so let’s scale it back and say that all scholarly academies dealing with politics and commerce, in the immediate region, get a lower rate of tax.
Taxes: [Shortsword Hired] Mercenary tax. Any mercenary companies in the city must pay to stay there. Anyone who hires mercenaries in the region must pay some tax that goes to the government.
Political relations: [Organised Unwittingly] Political alliances are tenuous and fairly haphazard depending on who needs or wants what at which times. Often alliances happen of the backs of these shared desires, and one party may not be entirely aware of someone else who is supporting them, or who they themselves are benefiting.
Crime: [Contempt justified] There’s an undercurrent of hate crime in the city. Various groups are held in contempt by the wider population and suffer because of it.
Enforcement: [Throw-rug Webbed] Fairly corrupt. It’s not unheard of for meetings between officials and criminal leaders to meet or host one another to hold discussions through they can benefit.
Military: [Smelt mortified] The local military are woefully under-equipped. What weaponry and armour they do have are in fairly bad condition and the trade for weaponry, armour, and general smithy-based goods, is woefully neglected. If it weren’t for the reliance on poisons and chemical based weaponry, they would not represent much of a threat to anybody who wanted to invade.
Defences: [Sanddune bathmat] The defences of the city are fairly standard. They have catapults inside the walls, but they have no proper ammunition. The quarry work has long since dried up and so their general catapult ammunition consists of sandbags full of earth and dirt, often with globes of poisonous gas.
Obsequious Soup Bowl
Organised Religion Slipknot
Dirt Road Sinned
Recreation: [Yellowtail pregnant] Aquariums and fish-breeding.
Religion(s): [Phyllo-drone] An unorthodox branch of an established religion focussed around nature. Bees are a common theme. Their symbol is a leaf.
Schools: Politics, chemistry/alchemy, military academies.
Books: [Imperious also] Books in the libraries and archives mainly concern the military history of the nation as a whole.
Music: [Partners fundamentally] Focussed on formal dancing and specific routines.
Food: Crickets have become a source of food. Oarfish is a local delicacy. As they are rare they are expensive, only affordable by the upper classes.
Festivals [Organised religion slipknot] Celebrate the fall, and subsequent hangings, of a formerly established religion, and the authority figures thereof, in the region. People wear nooses around their necks during this festival.
Holidays: [Dirt road sinned] A pilgrimage to the religiously significant hill along a dirt road. On this day the followers of the established faith take this short journey to the hill and spend the day ritually cleansing themselves of their sins over the past year.
You add whatever else comes to you down here. It’s just somewhere to stick some extra information that doesn’t necessarily belong anywhere else.
Oarfish and crickets live in the area. Crickets are a common problem for farmers, Lizards also inhabit the region, feeding on the crickets.
I hope that was interesting. Obviously it’s pretty vague at points, not having any of the specific groups, people, etc to reference, but that’s the kind of thing you could fill in later on or as necessary. Hopefully some of my reasoning/answers weren’t too off the wall and seemed self evident.
I will post some more clusters up on Monday.