Worldbuiling, Part 2: Ecosystems

In this worldbuilding post, we’ll be talking about ecosystems and ecology–what the surface of a world looks like regarding the natural environment. We’ll be discussing plants, trees, animals, bodies of water, forests, etc.

Ecosystems are of prime importance when landscaping your story and in working with animals and plants. Even more so if you have characters which are gardeners, farmers hunters, gamekeepers, or others who work with land.

 

Types of Land

Your basic starting place with an ecosystem is what types of land are included in  your community, continent, and then world–whatever is shown in the story. Earth, for instance, is currently being built up in many countries so that there is less and less farm land. Alaska’s forest is being stripped in gold mining, while the jungle is also being stripped. Black Beauty mostly takes place in the English countryside and in the middle of London, two very different environments.

First, describe the immediate surroundings of any main communities. What kind of forest does your Elf live in. What kind of grass do does your great plains tribe see the most? How hard is it to till land for farming compared to having a simple kitchen garden?

Who or what lives in each type of land? Tolkien, for instance, had clearly defined that Elves live in forests, the Hobbits in the hilly green country of the Shire, Men in cities of many kinds, and Dwarves underground. If you have more than one species, do they share land?

While Xcheamo has many types of land, it is mostly made up of wild forest (old growth forest), dense jungle, and thick grass land areas (both plains and rolling hills). Normal field grass is at least 4 ft high, if not more. There are many types of animals and other creatures that live in all these areas. Most Lupa live in clearer areas, but also frequently roam and travel in nearly all their land, save the dessert–1 pack lives there and keeps the ways of living there. They don’t farm the land, but nearly everyone has a garden.

Make sure that the land your characters live in or on is conducive to their occupation and way of living.

 

Vegetation and Creatures

There you should decide how closely your landscape resembles Earth. Will you use Terran plants and animals, something very similar, or start from scratch? Also take into account what type of setting you’re working in. Desert planets will not have much vegetation; worlds that are entirely water will have very different vegetation than planets with land. Here, one must consider exactly what the world is like–if you say the planet has extremely harsh conditions, your plants and animals must reflect that. Spend time developing fierce creatures that can easily dismember people or aquatic plants that don’t need soil. What is the base color for vegetation?–green, bluegreen, red, brown, other?

Because the Lupa are fierce and live on a harsh planet, I created many creatures with like fierceness, and even small birds that are able to kill people. It is a world rife with poisons, and many plants and animals are poisonous. If something is poisonous, describe how–is it carried in the pollen? Must one eat it? Some plants are okay on a wound but not to ingest. How quickly does it kill, and how?

Also give any plants or animals you create names. This will go a long way toward being believable.

Tip

If you are creating most of the plants and animals for your world, it’s greatly helpful to make lists of plants, bushes, insets, mammals, etc., with details about each cultivar or species. I personally have one master document for creatures, and one for plants. These are further broken down into sections like “trees”, “insects”, “reptiles”, “bushes”, etc. Make some arbitrary decisions along with what you know.

Examples

Mu: a type of large beetle, with an elongated oval shape. Silvery gray with red underwings and belly. Lives deep in forest, and eats off the forest floor. Their backs are well armored, and they usually go about their business peacefully and don’t seem to mind being a part of children’s games.

āankai: a flowering plant that grows both wild and cultivated. It is easy to use in herbal products, but has a scent that does not mix well with most others. The plant is a light blue-green with long leaves that close over the flower entirely when closed. The flowers can be silvery white through light hues of other colors, and consist of 3-6 long petals. However, the most common variety is a silvery white color with four petals.

 

Water

Water is an important part of any ecological systems, and honestly one of the last things I addressed ecologically on Xcheamo. While there are no large great lakes due to the supercontinent structure, there are rivers, plenty of streams, ponds, and other smaller bodies of water. Most continents have at least one major river, such as the Amazon, Nile, or the Yangtze. My best advice here is to place water where it’s needed, and where it logically makes sense. Every town or village needs a source of water, and if your characters are traveling they will need water or places to refill their canteens.

Tip

If you have people who live along the coast which are featured in the story, you’ll also want to decide if they venture out onto water–whether seas or large lakes. The Lupa, for instance, will sail on large ponds or lakes, or closely along the shoreline for a short distance, but are the sort of people who are uncomfortable regarding sailing and sea voyages. They prefer to keep their feet on the ground and stick to landed life.

 

Ecosystem

In your first attempt at building land and environmental landscape for your world, put together a basic interaction system between types of land and levels of the food chain. While you may wait to expound on it until a later date, having something in place will help you begin building the story and especially any traveling, hunting, or harvesting done within the story. If you’re creating creatures and plants, do some initial ranking as to what creatures prey which other creatures and which basic vegetation is fed on by other levels of the food chain.

Locations for nesting, herds, and other such groups is also important in how certain creatures will interact with each other. The chaos or harmony of many of these elements can be used to set tones and give your world character and depth. Xcheamo generally has a wild feeling, so animals which are very fierce looking and extremely aggressive, massive and twisted old growth forests with places where the sun never reaches, and poisons which always have the inhabitants on guard go a long way to creating this feeling.

How your people live will also have an impact on the world’s ecosystem. How much do they interfere? Do they embrace or reject nature, and to what degree? What’s the average person’s footprint like? Are there different groups who think different things about the environment? If the people have caused problems or pollution, to what extent? How much tech do they use? All things to consider.

Also factor in the seasons and weather, as we discussed in the Environment section last time.

Tip

While this is one area that should be started on very early on in the process, it’s also one that may take some of the most time to build and expand as the various other elements of your story come together, so don’t worry about building a complete working ecosystem overnight. Especially if you’re building from scratch, it may take some time until you have a complete picture of the ecosystem as you draft and rewrite, and discover new things.

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