World Building Part 3 – Getting Started with World Tone

Last time, we talked about making sure to keep it at least a little bit “old school” when it comes to world building by never leaving your handy notebook behind. Today, we are finally going to get down to the meat and potatoes of our topic and talk about getting started building your world; this first post will have more to do with the first time world builder, so some veterans may find this advice a bit to basic.

Maybe, you have already started working on your world, but maybe you haven’t. Let’s assume for a second that you haven’t really given too much thought yet to what your world’s content is going to be about. You just know that you want to make something, something to call your own. Ok. So, where do you start?

In my opinion, one of the first things that you need to think about when you start building your world is the Tone. A lot of RPG gamers often equate Tone to Genre, but I really think that Tone is something more, though the world’s Genre may of course be an important component in directing how your world’s tone is conveyed to the players and the people reading about your world. Tone refers to the overall feel of the world that you are building. Think about adjectives – scary, funny, dark, light, horrific, enlightened, etc.; adjectives, the simple ones, are a good place to start when thinking about the tone of the game world that you want to build. Genre, is a big part of the world’s tone. Many Genres carry a very specific Tone with them; for example, you would imagine that a horror game would have a scary, or unsettling, tone which is common across the world.

In all honesty, before you think about Genre, the Tone of the world should be the first thing that you think about. Do you want your world to be extremely dark and serious or do you want it to be more of a light and humorous setting? There are numerous ways that you can take the tone of your setting. And, you don’t necessarily have to narrow the tone to a single category.

When determining the Tone you want your setting to take, there is an important question that you need to ask yourself. What is the Tone of game that I enjoy playing? In all honesty, your setting is going to be yours alone; in fact, you and your players may be the only ones who ever look at it. You are going to want to select a Tone for your world that you not only like, but also understand. If you are planning to write a big, huge sandbox world, it is going to take a lot of time, and if you start to dislike the tone of your game world half way through, it may be very difficult to change (though, it may not depending on the tone of game you select). It is better to select a tone that you understand and enjoy rather than pick a tone for your world that you are interested in, but don’t really know how to right.

For example, I have always wanted to play a horror based kind of game. I had, at one point, toyed around with trying to build a horror world, but that project ended very quickly when I realized that I knew almost nothing about writing in a horror style setting. Maintaining that kind of Tone for the world would be nearly impossible for me. Currently, the game setting that I am currently working on has a much different atmosphere. I am working on something that is a bit more whimsical, that is much more towards the Super Fantasy end of the Fantasy spectrum, than typical fantasy worlds. The tone, or spirit, of this world is something that I am much more familiar with, thus, writing about it comes a lot easier and is much more enjoyable.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with the Tone of your world if you want to try something new, just be prepared that you may get tired of it more quickly than if you had selected a tone that you are more adjusted to. Next time, we will talk about world Genres and understanding the Genre of your world. Again, if you want to see my current world in progress, you can check it out at If you have any questions, or comments, feel free to comment here, or e-mail me at thedumpstat[at]yahoo[dot]com.

Hey everyone! I'm a gamer, husband, and father living in Japan. I teach High School English to Japanese kids. I started playing games about 13 years ago and have been blogging about gaming for the last 5 years or so.

3 thoughts on “World Building Part 3 – Getting Started with World Tone”

  1. Tone is often affected by the players themselves. Their input is paramount, afterall they’re the ones who will be traveling in it. The game referee may start off with a horror world and it may evolve into a dark comedy.

    Of course, another factor to consider is the longevity of the playing group. Are you running a game just for friends? Or, do you go to conventions where the gaming pool is anything goes?


  2. I was confused at first, thinking this was a review of a product called “World Tone”.

    Normally genre, tone, fantasy, etc. are not capitalized. But your article states it’s concepts and ideas well.

    1. Sorry about that. I usually capitalize core concepts that I am talking about in my pieces for emphasis rather than using Bold or Italics which I find distracting and a pain to deal with. I guess I will stop that so I don’t confuse people.

      I think there is also a very big difference between the tone of the world and the tone of the game that you play itself. You can easily change the tone of the game itself, but the tone of the world is harder to change. Building a world can turn into a massive writing project for a lot of people and all writing has to have a tone. If you are going to embark on a large scale writing project you really need to pick an overall tone and stick to it.

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