World History, the Basics

So you’ve got a world and, yeup, it sure had a history. Stuff happened and everything!

If I ask you what sort of stuff can you answer? Without mumbling and making vague something up on the spot?

No? That’s okay. I’m going to help you with that today.

The amount of history you need to have is going to depend on your story. If it’s a modern story involving the kidnapping of a rich widow’s cat, and the ransom of said cat, then you probably don’t need an extensive amount of history. But if it’s a family heirloom that was stolen, or if someone is exploring ruined temples and whatnot… well then you better know more about your world’s history.

Real world stories have this a little easier because you can just research what you need to know (usually). Fictional worlds need to make it up. Though I recommend you do a little research anyway. Fact can be stranger than fiction and you might find some fun little tidbits that you want to have a parallel of in your own world’s history.

Generally speaking you have a couple different types of historical events.

  • Natural phenomena
    • Major earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, etc., solar/lunar eclipses, meteors, etc.
  • International events
    • Wars, alliances, transportation improvements, communication improvements, major trade changes, etc.
  • National events
    • Civil wars, uprisings/protests, government/leadership change, advancements in food production, advancements in healthcare and/or sciences, civilization collapse, etc.
  • Local events
    • Discoveries, inventions, locals who become in/famous, etc.

As a general rule of thumb, I like to say that you only need 50-100 years of history prior to the start of your story, plus any older events that will have a direct impact on the story. If an older event is important to the story, you may want to jot out what the history is between that event and when the story starts. You might also want to have a little bit of history leading up to said event.

An exception is if there is some reason why large amounts of knowledge/history was lost. If there’s no realistic reason why the characters would know about an event then you don’t need to make note of it. (Again, if it impacts the story directly then of course you need to make note of it. But that’s more plot device than “historical event” at that point.) A lot of post-apocalyptic stories work such devices in. Often as part of the event that caused the post-apocalyptic setting. There could be a less dramatic reason though. Perhaps a period placed high importance on oral history and so nothing was written down. 100+ years after this period ends, all that oral history is going to start disappearing. Unless someone thinks to start writing down the old stories they will eventually be lost and there will be a gap in the known history.

I feel like we haven’t done anything fun for a while, so take a gander at the following chart. It has examples of different types of events and if you need prompts or inspiration feel free to pick something. Or if you’re adventurous, then get out your dice! When rolling, keep rough timelines in mind (e.g., your first two rolls are for Ancient History, then you roll for “Middle Ages”, then Recent History, and Current Events/History).



  # Event
1 Massive earthquake 2 Monsters attack
3 Mass migration of people 4 Plague devastates country/ies
5 Nomadic people settled, formed a city (developed agriculture) 6 Country A invades and enslaves Country B
7 Sciences improved 8 Discrimination lessened
9 New land discovered 10 New language becomes dominant
11 Disease eliminated 12 Economic recession
13 Ruler assassinated 14 Prophet spreads new religion
15 Important city sacked 16 New plant discovered
17 Civil war 18 Empire grows
19 New world power 20 A renaissance begins
21 Massive tsunami 22 Transportation improved
23 Cultures merge/mix 24 Monarch dies; next ruler contested
25 New animal discovered 26 Marriage alliance formed
27 Religious war 28 World war
29 Empire collapses 30 Socialism instituted
31 Communications improved 32 Meteor strikes civilization
33 New religion becomes dominant 34 An era ends
35 Theory of cosmos improved 36 Important temple/building built
37 Language “dies” 38 World wonder built
39 Important invention created 40 New disease discovered
41 Economic boom 42 War
43 Philosopher revolutionizes concept of math/science/medicine 44 Country A invades and citizens of Country B flee to new land
45 Country splits into 2+ factions 46 Religion splits into two+ factions
47 Meteor strikes wilderness 48 Massive hurricane
49 Construction methods improved 50 Standard of living increases
51 Dictator seizes power 52 Monarchy instituted
53 Important city founded 54 New empire rises up
55 Crops won’t grow 56 Cold war
57 A measure of equality gained 58 Medical care improved
59 Famous artist creates great work 60 Barbarians attack
61 Democracy instituted 62 Crown/throne/power usurped
63 Wild animal domesticated 64 Massive volcanic eruption

One thought on “World History, the Basics

  1. Pingback: Lost in History | Scribbles in the Margins

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