We've talked about different types of worlds, and now we move on to show why themes are important for a distinctive world.
What are World Themes
The caricatures of earth found in the Discworld, the threat of Chaos in the Warhammer World, the battle for survival in Dark Sun and the power of the Houses in Westeros. These are all examples of themes in a world that help shape and identify them, pervading and framing the stories that come out of them.
What Themes Can be Used For
If you can encapsulate the themes of a world in a few sentences, you can explain what is unique about it, helping you and others understand it. This is useful for explaining a world to others or beginning to immerse yourself in one. When deconstructing a world it helps to have a handle on the themes.
Many modern day settings are simply earth with a couple of themes set over them.
A recent post talks about matching themes to Pinterest boards, strengthening what a world is about
Each world has it's flavours, although many gaming worlds may begin as generic worlds. Over time these worlds will often take a life of their own and the flavour may move darker as a great evil becomes prominent, post-apocalyptic as a cataclysm strikes.
Extracting Themes from a World
For an existing world some themes may jump out and others may need a bit more thought. Find a few sentences summarising the world or write a few yourself for a world you know well.
Look through the description you have a find three or four things that are distinctive and try to summarise each one in a short sentence or two.
Have a re-read and see if you can find one or two more, if any can be combined or need to be split out.
Themes For a New World
Creating a few themes when starting to create a world will give you a central point to work from. When adding new material you can consider if it matches or enhances these themes.
You might want to just stick to one or two themes for a new world, then add others as seems appropriate.
Adding a Theme to a World
Adding one element to an existing setting can make a distinctive setting, which is what many horror and modern settings do with modern earth.
Another example would be taking an world such as Greyhawk and changing one facet, such as a winter which lasts far longer or never ends. The locations, nations and races still exist, but now many of them will be changed, as people move to warmer climes and races adapted to colder climes thrive. Some nations may disappear in ice and darkness, and sages will ponder what has brought about the change in the world.
Other examples would be the Rift opening to another world (Midkemia in the Riftwar Saga), the return of magic to a world where it was lost or bringing rain back to Dark Sun
Look at one of your home brews or an existing world and consider the themes for it.
We'll return to this and extract themes from an existing world and look at creating themes for a new one.