Many fantasy worlds sport kings and queens. There seems to be something essentially romantic about a monarch ruling a small country. In the best stories they are adventurers and even heros in their own right. But in our day-to-day existence, us modern Westerners are so far removed from a medieval monarchy that some of the boring logistics of how they worked are forgotten.
C. J. Cherryh didn’t, though. In her Fortress series of fantasy novels (beginning with Fortress In The Eye Of Time) we see a king’s court depicted in quite a lot of functioning detail. Cefwyn Marhanen has an enormous retinue of servants and soldiers just to make his own life happen. And then there are the lord he directly rules over, many of whom spend much of their time at court. And they have considerable numbers of servants and soldiers, as well. And then you have to add the locals of whichever castle the royal court is occupying at the moment who host their royal guests and keep the basic functions of the place working. It is a major exercise for the King to move his court around.
Sometimes it is a bit too easy to forget how much smaller modern technology has made our world. Modern air travel makes it feasible to travel halfway around the world for a holiday and modern communications makes it easy to socialize with people all over the world.
But this wasn’t always so.
To a very large extent, how far you can easily travel is strongly defined by your world’s society. It is not just the technology, but also the economics that have made air travel affordable for many people. Go back eighty years and it was definitely a luxury exercise. Go back further and it becomes the purlieu of the enthusiast. The world was much bigger for most people.
When I see the term “world-building“, I usually think in the grand scale. And by that I mean maps depicting countryside hundreds if not thousands of miles across, vast mountain chains, entire river systems, cities, broad cultural swathes, and on and on. I expect most people probably think of it at that sort of level.
I’ve been world-building since high school, perhaps even before that. It would usually start with a map, generally a coastal map. In sharp pencil. There was usually lots of rubbing out and re-drawing. Those that lasted a while generally acquired a corresponding computer file, describing cities, races, countries, even languages and history on the more complete ones.
And then I started writing stories in them.