Insider 6/02/2010 - Jason Soles

Fleshing out a world requires a lot of hard work. To breathe life into your world, you have to think of every aspect of life in that world, such as how people live, what they eat, and what they believe. As you start to develop cultural diversity in your world, things only become more difficult as you give each race, tribe, and nation its own unique history, motivations, and traditions.

To be a good game developer and world builder, or even an artist, you have to be an expert on a vast array of subjects… Or least have a good memory, sharp research skills, and access to solid resource materials to draw upon. In a pinch, it’s also important to know people who know more than you. While I write here from my personal perspective, it is worth noting that at Privateer Press our entire creative staff share this sort of devotion and professional mania for solid historical research and in-depth detail. If it were any other way, the Iron Kingdoms would not be as fully realized as they are today.

Back in the bad old days before the Internet, the research for thorough world building required access to a university library and copious amounts of time to pore over old books. Somewhere at home, I still have a dog-eared Timelines of History, a book I acquired sometime in the late 80s and for the better part of a decade served as my first line of research. By now, I have acquired a small but highly specialized personal library focused on subjects as varied as angelic lore, forensics, herbology, Native American studies, expressionism, medicine, funeral science, hermetic magic, folklore, lock picking, philosophy, Victorian street life, archeology, fine spirits, psychology, sailing ships, early twentieth-century labor movements, warfare, and a staggering number of history books (mostly focused on classical antiquity, Victorian England, the Old West, and WWI). I constantly fill holes in by library by borrowing books from my friends, especially Aron Anderson, who has among the most thorough personal libraries pertaining to folklore I have ever seen. I think half my books on WWI actually belong to Simon...

Lest you think me a Luddite, I do a fantastic amount of research online. However, I find that while the resources available on the internet are amazing for aiding in quickly naming characters or for preliminary research on a given topic, most online resources lack the depth required to thoroughly research a subject to full comprehension. Furthermore, when it comes to lengthy reads, I much prefer the text on the page. Of course, when you need a crash course in Celtic mythology or in East Indian martial arts, nothing beats Wikipedia.

I have also kept contact with a number of extraordinarily knowledgeable individuals who I regularly contact when in need. I am blessed to know experts in fields as varied as ecology, occult science, and military history. When I require assistance with a translation or in thoroughly understanding a passage outside the English language, I contact my friend Bill, who is a natural linguist. Bill, who now lives in London, has taught himself to speak fluent French, German, Czech, and Latin. He also reads Egyptian hieroglyph like I read the newspaper (not an exaggeration). Even more important than the languages he knows, Bill has an intimate knowledge of how language functions and understands the underlying mechanics of communication and so can advise on how language may evolve in a fantastical setting. Also, he knows a lot of people. If he cannot find an answer, he certainly knows someone who will.

These resources enable me, as a writer and developer, to create settings, characters, and stories with depth and internal consistency that enable a player or reader to suspend his disbelief long enough to envision a time and place of my creation. Or, at least of Matt’s creation.