Resources for World-Builders

Since the WordPress archives are far from the easiest thing to navigate and it can be difficult to find what you are looking for even though it is, I am putting together a couple of ‘index’ posts linking to things I’ve written on this site on a given topic.

This one is resources for World-Builders. I know a lot of my readers are interested in constructing fictional worlds which follow historical rules and patterns, where things like agriculture and armies make sense. So I thought I would gather together some of the material I’ve written that might be of use. This list will be updated as new material comes out (it is in no particular order, but roughly sorted by topic):

Premodern Economics and How Regular People Lived:

Lonely Cities (I and II): A look at the human terrain – that is, the landscape created by human activity – formed by agriculture outside of large pre-modern cities.

Bread, How Did They Make it? (I, II, III, IV, A): A brief look at the pre-modern cereal farming. Most people in any pre-industrial society are likely to be farmers; this series discusses the different kinds of farmers we tend to see in the pre-modern world, the structure of their economy (including markets and trade) and the actual practice of farming. Includes an addendum on rice production.

Clothing, How Did They Make It? (I, II, III, IVa, IVb): A brief look at pre-modern textile production, which was the primary occupation of many women, both elites and non-elites, in the ancient and medieval worlds. The series takes the textile production process all the way from raw fibers to household spinning and weaving through to finishing with fulling and dyeing, focusing primarily on wool and linen (the two most common fibers in use in the Mediterranean world).

Iron, How Did They Make It? (I, II, III, IVa, IVb, addendum): A brief look at pre-modern iron and steel making, covering mining, smelting, forging and finishing processes, including the available means to make steel. The series focuses on technologies available in Europe during antiquity and the middle ages but the addendum also covers South Asian crucible steel (or wootz) and medieval Chinese cast iron.

Armies and Logistics:

The Siege of Gondor (I, II, III, IV, V, VI): a sustained study of a single campaign from the angle of all of the participants, these posts discuss campaign logistics, siege techniques, battlefield physics and cavalry dynamics.

The Battle of Helm’s Deep (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII): another sustained study of a single campaigns from the angle of all the participants. These posts discuss operations, the strategic function of castles, cavalry-on-cavalry battles, army organization, more siege techniques, cohesion, leadership and morale.

The Battlefield After a Battle: Exactly what it says on the tin, this post discusses both where our tropes of post-battle scenes come from, but also (more relevantly for this list), what it ought to look like.

The Preposterous Logistics of the Loot Train and its companion post, How Fast Do Armies Move? Both discussions of the difficult logistics of moving large armies over thinly populated terrain before the advent of modern transportation, which feature a lot of grounded, historical number crunching on speed of march, spacing, supplies, animals, etc. Professionals talk logistics.

Logistics, How Did They Do It? (I, II, III), a three part-look in much greater detail at the actual process of moving a large army through the countryside in the age before railroads. The series covers army size, command concerns, the need for animals and above all the need for foraging to supply the army as it moves (both what foraging entailed and what it was like to be foraged upon).

Total Generalship: Commanding Pre-modern Armies (I, II, IIIa, IIIb, IIIc), a three(-ish) part look at the role a general took in commanding an army on the pre-modern battlefield where the limitations in information and communication are especially stark. Series covers the general’s available information, personal positioning, ability to issue orders and the ability of his subordinates to implement and follow those orders.


Practical Polytheism (I, II, III, IV): A discussion of the nuts-and-bolts of ancient polytheist practice, focused on practical knowledge, rather than moral belief. A good primer for anyone trying to get inside of the headspace of a polytheistic religion. It helps you avoid the problems of:

How It Wasn’t: Game of Thrones and the Middle Ages, Part II: This specific part of the How-It-Wasn’t series delved into the problems in the construction of Westeros’ religion and many of the problems which are common in fantasy construction religions, centered on the core point that it is generally safe to assume people in the past believed their own religion.

Oaths! How Do They Work? An addendum on to the above post, this was a fuller discussion of oaths and vows and how they are often got wrong in fiction. It also fits well into the practical part of Practical Polytheism, stressing that oaths and vows are meant to be practical devices for building trust, not empty rituals.

Society and Politics:

How it Wasn’t: Game of Thrones and the Middle Ages (I, II, III): An extended look at the historicity of the world-building in Game of Thrones specifically and A Song of Ice and Fire more generally. Though focused around the question of how historical the setting is (it isn’t), there is also a fair bit in here for someone looking to craft their own more historically grounded setting.

The Fremen Mirage (I, II, IIIa, IIIb, Interlude, IV): A six part extended look at a single historical and world-building trope you’d be best to leave out of your writing: the notion of the morally and martially superior ‘savage.’ It also includes discussions of state formation (handy if your setting has some forming states!) and frontier management (handy if your setting has some big empires).

Elective Monarchy and the Future of Westeros: Although this post really only asks one specific question (what is the likely outcome of elected monarchy at the end of Game of Thrones, S8), it is also a discussion on the role of legitimacy and centralization in monarchies. No one rules alone!

Why Are There No Empires in Age of Empires? About more than just the game, this is a look at how empires function at the most basic level. Handy if you are looking to build a setting with some empires in it!

Three Primary Sources on the values of medieval military aristocrats: Dhuoda, ‘Antarah and Bertran. These are meant to be read together and to balance each other out a bit, but they express some of both the martial and courtly values in these sorts of societies (and the connections between the two). Getting at least some grasp on the tone of the primary source material (that is, writing from the period you are emulation) is very valuable in developing a feel for the culture itself.

Armor and Weapons

Kit Reviews: These are shorter posts looking at a specific combination of props and costumes for arms and armor in film. Right now, there are three, the Unsullied (also has a discussion of cohesion) the Lannister infantry, Gondor Heavy infantry, but I have more planned!

Punching Through Some Armor Myths and Archery, Distance and ‘Kiting.’ These two posts discuss the evidence we have for armor penetration by both melee weapons and arrows; the second goes into some depth on what those limitations mean for tactics, specifically for horse archers. The topic of arrow-armor-penetration is a very active and debated one, so I’ll note that these two posts were written in June, 2019; I hope to update them as new experiments shed new light (and I will change the date above to reflect that when I do).

Order in Armor, Part I and II. Discussing some of the basic principles behind which parts of the body are armored first and most extensively, setting some general rules of thumb for crafting sensible fantasy armors (but of course, there are always exceptions).

Ship Design:

Where Does My Main Battery Go and Starships in Silhouette: two linked discussions of warship design and space-warship design, which may be interesting for anyone thinking about their own fictional warships who wants to think about how the function of the ship might inform its form.

(Updated 9-26-2022)