Let's come back to design, then. Off-line, the section I've been working on refers to different functions the world needs to address: aesthetics, material, cost, style, purpose and so on, breaking down those aspects in order to offer the worldbuilder at least an idea of what ought to be considered. At the moment, I'm finding it rough work, as I consider just how far I want to go with it - overview, or into depth on the individual subjects - and if the latter, how much depth? But that's my problem, not the reader's.
Fundamentally, I want the DM to see the world in terms of being a project, such as building a house. The costs are a lot less, but the failure for a lot of would-be makers would come from simply refusing to understand the dimensions of what's being planned. I see someone on a blog producing a map, much like I described in this post, then following that up by plugging in some homemade modules here and there, spackled on the map. There's a dungeon in this gap between the mountains, there's a ruin here by the forest overlooking the river, this town over here is deserted, there are grottos by the ocean here, and there you go. Cue the party marching from one part of the map to the next and we have a campaign, yes?
Actually, what we have is something that doesn't even hang as well together as the plot of Hangover II. We have a lot of disconnected ideas that hopefully will be made meaningful in that they are all represented by circles on a pretty map. Go campaign!
Try to imagine rebuilding your kitchen, randomly putting in the connections for the fridge, stove and washing machine without paying any attention to the ergonomics of the arrangement. Imagine that you randomly draw the walls where the kitchen table is going to fit, without any actual plan for the table's size or the number of chairs needed to support your family. Imagine that you're going to do it all yourself, but that you're sure you can just 'figure out' the power outlets or the gas connection.
A couple of years ago a house down the street from my parents, that I had passed thousands of times on my way to school as a kid, just blew up. Turned out the contractor hired to re-drywall the dining room put his power saw into the wall to start cutting out a section of the old drywall so he could get started. He got about two feet. Power saw + electrical conduit = BOOM.
That's how most DMs worldbuild. 'Course, nobody dies. But somehow, the world just never takes shape. The makers do begin to understand that it is somehow a monumental task, but as Giordanisti said in the comments section of the above post, where do you start?
Well, where would you start if you were rebuilding a kitchen? With the hammer and the saw? With the demolition of the old kitchen? Would you get up one day, drag out the tools and the six pound sledge and then start wailing away at the cupboards? Dishes be damned?
No. You make a plan. One that includes all the things you want your kitchen to include. But you're not going to have access to parts of the kitchen while you're rebuilding it, and that's going to be inconvenient. So part of your plan has to include more than just the fact that you'd like the kitchen to look like this - your plan ALSO has to include the order in which you redesign your kitchen. What is done, when, with how much time, so there will still be access to the fridge and stove for as long as possible.
What I'm saying is that while you're making a plan for what your world will contain, you also have to include in your plan how you're going to run part of that world while you're making the rest of it. My world isn't done - but I run my world continuously. And the players don't really notice that it's not done. How does that work?
For me, it's because I run the real world, so I have a loose understanding pre-built even though it isn't finished. But I've also done a lot of pre-made mapbuilding and made lists of what hex will contain what far into my future. I also have it built so that those places I don't really need are only partially created. I can go in and build more if I need it ... and most importantly, on the same premise as the world that is already built.
Most important of all, I'm not changing my plans as I go. Ask a contractor sometime, what drives them right up the fucking wall? It is people who do not know what the hell they want, and set about trying to change the plans long past when it's practical to do that. Then not understanding why they don't have a kitchen yet, even though it's been 9 months, and wondering why the $35,000 charge has bounced to $90,000.
If you're not going to change your plans - and you shouldn't, ever, change your plans once you implement them - then the very, very FIRST thing you have to do in designing your world is settle on what that world is going to be, and then living with it. If you had your kitchen rebuilt, and it cost you $35,000, and it wasn't quite what you wanted your kitchen to be, what would you do? Rebuild it? No. You'd learn to live with it. That's what we all do. We live with the car we have, we live with the city and neighborhood we find ourselves in, we take it as fact that the state is going to be Republican until the end of time, we recognize that in order to be happy and resourceful and productive, there are things we can't change, or in the very least the change wouldn't be worth all the goddamn effort and money.
But because the world isn't 'real,' because it isn't made of something solid and tactile, because it can be changed without the change costing a dime, whenever the tiniest thing comes up, the first thing a worldbuilder does is scrap all their plans so they can start again. And again. And again and again and again and again. People are great starters. What they are really crappy at is - no, not finishing - accepting that they're on the right road and just getting there. No, the road isn't perfect. Yes, the road fucking winds around and yes, it seems to be taking all freaking year to get there, and sure, there ought to be a lot more roadsigns so you knew where the hell you were. But stay on the damn road, you idiot. DON'T GET DISTRACTED by that stupid little side path that seems like a short cut but is really going to just sink your vehicle in a lot of stupid, worthless mud.
I can write a lot of advice on how to make a world. I can give the directions, I can get you there ... but I can't make you drive the way I tell you. If you're going to insist on driving like an idiot, no, you're never going to get to the place you wanted to be. But then, you really didn't want to be there, did you?
Well, I'm floating between two metaphors, but what the hell, this is only a blog post. I ain't writin' for the fuckin' New Yorker. Here's the real reality about kitchens and roads and projects. People don't start them. They don't, because they've already learned from experience that starting is the way to disaster, because they can never be happy with ever doing anything, or going anywhere.
So in fact, they do learn to live with things. They learn to live with the memory of a lot of shit they never did.