World building: Cultures

world buildingCultures are one of the most complicated and important parts of constructing a fantasy setting. They need to be believable, but also whimsical and interesting. The key to creating a unique but believable culture is research, but there are a lot of things you need to consider before putting pen to paper.






There are three main things to consider when developing a culture.

  1. Hierarchy
  2. Traditions
  3. Day to Day


Humans have gotten to where we are because of structured society. Whether we like it or not, we need leaders to tell us what to do, and make tough decisions based [hopefully] for the greater good of the people.

It is a tough thing to consider and as you’ll hear me say a lot during this series of posts; you need to do research. Lots of it. Trying to make up a hierarchy yourself will undoubtedly be a great deal of effort to create something that has already been done. So below, I have a list of different hierarchical systems for you to research and develop.

  • Communist
  • Democratic
  • Ancient Greek Democracy
  • Feudal System
  • Monarchy
  • Empirical
  • Anarcho-syndicated commune
  • Corporate Hierarchy
  • Tribal Hierachy – Indigenous Australian, Native America, Neanderthal,
  • Matriarchal
  • Patriarchal
  • Catholic Church
  • Religion – Judaism, Christianity, Islam

This is not a conclusive list, but it is a strong starting point. Can you add anything to the list? Which systems have you adapted in your own writing, or seen adapted?


Christmas dinner to sooth sayers and human sacrifice – everyone, for all time has had traditions. Whether they are religious or coming of age [or both] cultures can be defined by their traditions. To add depth to a culture their traditions need to be illustrated. Think of how many stories have begun in the midst of, or leading up to a traditional event – Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” begins the day before Bel Tine, a festival held each year – this adds tremendous depth to the work, and imerses the reader.

As with hierarchy  creating traditions isn’t easy, and most of which have been done before either in fiction, or reality. The key to building a world is to take these ideas and add your own twist to them. Below I have a short list of traditions that could be researched for inspiration.

  • Indigenous Australia – Walkabout
  • Vision Quests
  • Aztec human sacrifice
  • Pretty much everything the Catholic Church does

These are some historical references but looking at your everyday life and you will find a whole host of traditions. Think about your family – How do you celebrate holidays? Where do you go, is it the same every year?

Take these ideas and then change them. If you want to give a culture a vision quest; invent your own drug, or element to it. In Etheros, the orcs of the White Wolf Clan venture into the snow drifts to claim a giant wolf as their mount.

Day to Day

Creating new traditions and a system of government is a lot of fun, but the real question that needs answering is what do the people of your world do from day to day? A list of things to consider can be found below.

  • How do they get food and water?
  • What are some regular chores?
  • How do they spend their spare time?

Wrap up

Obviously there is a lot more that goes into developing a culture but this is a strong place for you to start. I have been deliberately sparse because I’ll be covering so many different elements during this series of posts that it would be huge, to read all at once.

Did you find anything useful? What are some other things you consider when developing cultures?

Thanks for reading,


3 thoughts on “World building: Cultures”

  1. These are some very interesting thoughts. I build worlds as I write my stories but One type of system you left out that people often overlook is the Republic-a system based on a set of codes and laws that provide a rigid framework that is stable and secure for some time to come. For instance, in a Democracy, the rules can change day to day as there is nothing in place to ensure stability and the wants of the majority overrides the needs of the minority. Anyway, I always like to read what other people write about world building because I gain something every time.

    1. Same here, though, I like to do a little bit of leg work before I start writing. Normally not much more than a loose guide to the races I want to include and scribble that passes for a map.

      I think that because republics are often democratic, people tend to lump them in together. I know that’s what I did. It’s most definitely important to note that republics exist in all different forms.

      Thanks a lot for stopping by, J. That’s exactly why I’m writing these articles; you pick something up, and thanks to your comment so did I.
      Thanks again

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