World Building: Random Generators

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The final post for our World building series is on the use of random generators.

There are tonnes of random generator sites out there, my favourite is http://chaoticshiny.com/

Generators are amazing tools for world building, in many different ways.

Way number One
This is to use random generators is to generate a result and stick with it, finding explanations for why it works.

For example:
I want a regional drink to spice up an area so I use the Fancy Drink Generator (http://chaoticshiny.com/drinkgen.php)
I get: “Light yellow-green with silver sparkles and a slice of a strange fruit on the edge of the glass. The drink smells like fresh dirt and tastes like pea soup. It often inspires the drinker to dance.”

Okay, so first the colour, why is the drink yellow-green? Is this because of an ingredient or the combination of both? If it is a regional drink is this some sort of national colour?
The silver sparkles, are they decorative? Or do they change the flavour?
The strange fruit, how is it strange? What does it taste like?
The smell… how does a drink smell like fresh dirt? Do I actually want to know…?
Tasing like pea-soup makes a lot of sense if peas are still green in your world – but what if they aren’t?
Oh and how on earth does a drink tasing of pea-soup inspire dance? Is it a specific dance? Is it the regional dance?

Clearly that single drink has given us a lot of questions that we now get to have fun answering.

Way number Two
This is to use the random generator to generate multiple answers and use one or a combination to best fit the information you already know.

For example: say I was using the same problem as above, but I know that where I am focusing this drink is a small village that primarily makes glass items for the city just up the road.

I generate five results:
1. Clear as glass with brown swirls and a stick of cinnamon in the mug. The drink smells sour and tastes spoiled. It burns going down.
2. Bright yellow with pale pink swirls and served in a plain glass. The drink smells like perfume and tastes like blueberries. The locals consider it offensive not to accept a drink of it if offered.
3. Pale yellow with small pieces of candy and served in a champagne glass. The drink smells like cinnamon and tastes strange. It causes mild paranoia.
4. Light red with lots of bubbles and served in a plain glass. The drink smells like chocolate and tastes like licorice. It causes the drinker to temporarily lose their sense of taste.
5. Smokey grey with silvery swirls and a lemon slice on the edge of the glass. The drink smells like fresh dirt and tastes metallic.

So I have some interesting results here, some would be brilliant as practical jokes, like the chocolate that causes temporary loss of taste. For a regional drink though not so much (unless there was a strong practical joke custom!) One thing I really like for my regional drink is that the locals consider it offensive not to accept a drink if offered. Now as the area makes glass I also quite like the idea that their regional drink is clear as glass so I’ll stick with the Clear as glass with brown swirls and a stick of cinnamon in the mug” Now smell and taste, if it is a regional drink then it is going to taste good, and is probably this village will drink it cool. Smelling of cinnamon makes sense if there is a stick of it in there but “strange” isn’t much of a taste description so at random I choose blueberries. I may also make it alcoholic so it’s a blueberry flavoured drink with a stick of cinnamon? Maybe the region has a lot of cinnamon, or there is some health benefit attributed to cinnamon?

So I still have some unanswered questions to sort through and make up the answers to.

Way number three
This basically involves regenerating answers until one fits.
I do this more than I like to admit because it feels like cheating but it is a really good way for you to learn what you do and do not actually want. If you don’t really care what type of answer you have then the previous ways work. If you do but still don’t know what it is you want exactly then you use the results generated to rule out something.

So back to my example:
I want a regional drink that my village of glass-makers drink regularly. So these are craftsmen and craftswomen who have a very dangerous job. They are not going to get drunk. So do I want this to be a drink they drink on special occasions or everyday? Everyday. So it will be cool, as they work in a hot environment.

First generation:
1. Very pale brown with semi-transparent swirls and sugar on the rim of the glass. The drink smells like arsenic and tastes like cherries. It is a great thirst-quencher.
2. Sea green with gold flecks and served in a small cup. The drink smells like lime and tastes like lemon. It is served steaming hot.
3. Sapphire with yellow-orange swirls and served in a mug with runes carved on the side. The drink smells like arsenic and tastes like medicine. It is served lukewarm.
4. Copper with lots of foam and served in a shot glass. The drink smells like rusty metal and tastes like the sea. It goes flat if not drunk within ten minutes.
5. Amethyst with yellow swirls and served in a mug with runes carved on the side. The drink smells like lemon and tastes spoiled. 

The only thing I like in these is the thirst-quencher of the first one. I do not want a drink that smells of arsenic. Some of these I could make work but none of them feel like what I am looking for, so I generate again.

6. Solid black with red flecks and a shot of another drink mixed in. The drink smells like fish and tastes like fish. The locals like to drink it on hot days.
7. Mint green with silvery swirls and a stick of cinnamon in the mug. The drink smells like ambrosia and tastes somewhat like coffee. It will melt any material it is spilled on, but is safe to drink.
8. Aquamarine with small pieces of candy and served in a carved wooden mug. The drink smells like chocolate and tastes somewhat like champagne. It often makes the drinker jumpy.
9. Amethyst with bubbles and served in a dirty glass. The drink smells strongly of nuts and tastes like oranges. Sphinx tears are rumoured to be a key ingredient.
10. Dark brown with multicolored bubbles and chunks of meat floating in it. The drink smells like cave rock and tastes like chicken soup. It is served freezing.

Again none of them feel right…
Eventually I find this one:
Blue-green with lots of foam and a sprig of mint in the mug. The drink smells like strawberries and tastes excellent. It is highly caffinated.

This could work. Eventually you will probably pull out bits you like from the results you are given to mash up to what you want.

Finally there is a completely different way to use random generators
This is my favourite way to get past writers block.
Many random generator sites have a “random generator” button. This button randomly sends you to a generator. This one feels more like a flow-chart type approach to me…

1. Random Generator
2. get a few results
3. does any of it feel like it could be worked into your world?
If Yes – Write it!
If No – Go back to 1.

For example
I have no idea what to write
Random Generator: D&D character…
Hmm, I don’t really have any need for new characters my worlds have enough of those…

Random Generator: Flag generator
Hmmm That Kingdom over there could do with a flag… or each of those noble houses could have one….
Now I get to write about the various flags and why the houses chose them. Was there a huge debate over neighboring houses wanting the same design? or too similar a design? Did one of those houses split in the past – how did that impact on the flag?

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