Worldbuilding: The Comforts of Home

Picture a handsome young martial artist, standing in a gaudy palace, dressed in Dramatic red-accented black and growing increasingly more panicked with every Dramatic wave of a hand. “No electricity. No streaming videos. No Wi-Fi!

Me: Ah yes, the proper response of an online gaming nerd who’s found himself trapped in his character in fantasy Ancient China.

The series is called Your Highness; 拜见宫主大人; Bai Jian Gong Zhu Da Ren. I’ve only seen three eps so far. While it’s available on YouTube, the English subtitles I’ve found are… awkward. Still, the ideas get across, and Qin Zhan’s panic at being isekai’d is so, so relatable. Sure, he’s in a strong, handsome body with great martial arts powers and four excellent henchmen (formerly NPCs) to back him up. He’s also lost his entire world, with all its modern conveniences – and more important, the understanding built up over a whole life of How Things Are Supposed To Work. Who wouldn’t freak out?

Which led me to think about world construction. Not the classic, “isekai protagonist starts bringing modern tech and know-how to his new world, sparking cultural revolution.” More along the lines of, how would you build a fantasy world you’d actually want to be isekai’d to?

Because honestly, no Internet, with all its libraries of info? No videos – and closer to the heart, music – whenever and wherever we want it? It’d have to be one heck of a good world otherwise to want to give that up.

So what modern aspects would I like to include in a fantastic world?

First, plumbing and water purification. Cholera and other waterborne illnesses are a nasty way to go. Plus this is one of the best steps to make human settlements smell better. I am so tired of fantasies constantly set in the Dung Ages.

Next, ways to easily write, copy, and distribute the written word. We know the printing press works; a fantasy world could likely come up with many other means, like written-on water that turns back into visible writing when you pour it in the right-sized tray. These things may not require the invention of paper, but they definitely need a writing substrate more easily available than parchment.

Ways to record and play back sounds. Video would be awesome, but recorded music and messages would go a long way toward making the strangest place feel more like home.

Silk or other shiny beautiful fabrics. Rayon would not be bad. Our heroes should have the option of dazzling dress-up!

Along with that, glass of excellent clarity, for brilliant beads and plenty of imitation jewelry. See dazzling. Also see water purification and other sanitation; good sand sources are needed for both glass and settling wastewater to get impurities out.

Agricultural labor-saving devices and fertilizer. A world is no fun if you’re constantly one bad season away from starvation.

Chocolate. Because.

A world wouldn’t have to have all of these in the same place, or even all fully developed, to be good. “Needs work” is perfectly reasonable; gives a person a goal to strive for in their lifetime.

So these are things I’d want if yanked into an Awesome Fantastic World. What would you guys want?

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21 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: The Comforts of Home

  1. My sense of the ‘way things work’ is extremely specific to the real world. I’ve sincere doubts that I /could/ manage to stay sane ish and functional in an isekai scenario.

    Things I like:

    A cheap surplus of food. Which actually seems to have fairly complicated requirements on the social side.

    Cheap cloth and garments. Which has some reqs in terms of fiber supply, and probably mills.

    Other cheap materials. Printed circuit boards are kinda neat, but you need sheets of composite with conductor laminated or plated on both sides. Wood, aluminium, steel, concrete…

    Cheap, mildly trust worthy information.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. A cheap surplus of food. Which actually seems to have fairly complicated requirements on the social side.

      Making it easy to preserve food can help a lot with this– magic refrigerator bags that prevent things from changing/spoiling when they’re placed inside.

      (it’s a super-thermos!)

      Liked by 4 people

  2. Ways to record and play back sounds. Video would be awesome, but recorded music and messages would go a long way toward making the strangest place feel more like home.

    Oooh, the “answering machine” from Brave– magic cauldron that does a kind of hologram over it. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Easy access to hot water.

    Free to a good home, my fantasy world has this with enchanted pitchers. (They heat up more the more they’re used, and cheap ones burn your hand really quickly. Yes, they can overload/overheat.)

    Hot showers, really clean laundry, and HOT TEA!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Personally, I’d want a mattress that isn’t stuffed with hay or feathers, shoes that do have proper arch support, an affordable optometrist, a library (along with being able to read the local language), and a guaranteed source of caffeine. Which is the absolute bare minimum that I’m willing to accept, and that already puts it at level of sophistication above Fantasy Setting X.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. So here’s another way to frame it.
    Are Isekai protagonists adults?
    I’m not talking about age, but would they be considered adults in their new world?

    I am an adult.
    I know how to do things like deal with an accident, or where to get medical care.
    As such, if I decided to go four-wheeling, I would have a pretty good idea of what risks I’m taking, what preparations I could perform to mitigate those risks, and how to handle problems that crop up.

    If I was suddenly dumped into another world, even if I was familiar with the world from fiction, I wouldn’t know any of those things.
    I wouldn’t even know where to get that information.

    So I wouldn’t be qualified to make an informed decision to take those risks.
    I would essentially be a child, unable to make an informed decision about my own life.

    Once I get that information, that might change, but until then I can’t charge forward assuming I can handle any issues that crop up.

    This becomes especially noticeable with things like magic.
    Some dingus appears in a new world and immediately starts flinging around fireballs.
    What the hell makes them think they can do that correctly without training?
    They have no idea what they’re doing or the potential consequences!
    Even if they can perform the action, they might be crippling themselves long-term!

    Of course since it’s magic, there’s never any consequences.
    Because “magic” somehow translates to “perfect intuitive with no side-effects.”

    I would love to see an isekai story where they start off and immediately get themselves cursed through their own reckless idiocy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oo, how about ‘cursed into a child body.’ The curse was set to give the protagonist the body to match the knowledge of the world. Which, they go from being an adult to a toddler. Perfectly sets up the protagonist to be able to receive information that ‘everyone knows’ without being looked at strangely, narrative conflict due to adult in child body, and helps avoid the cliche ‘harem aura.’

      Maybe as they learn more, they age faster? So eventually they do end up as a teen/adult wandering around.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. It would also encourage the character to realize their situation.

        “I am not a child!”

        “You look like a child.”

        “I’m an adult! I know how to drive a car and use a washing machine!”

        “What are those? Oh well, children have such wild imaginations…”

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Of course, on that note, “what experience has the character had” also comes into play. A character who grew up in a first-world big city, never travelling except maybe for vacation (always in tourist areas with modern conveniences on hand) is quite different from a character who grew up on military bases around the world, and both of those are quite different from a character who grew up on a farm.

      My own experiences growing up as a missionary kid, with boy scout training, and my broad reading, leave me fairly sure that, while my skill levels may not be quite up to “survive in a strange wilderness without aid” or “learn new language from scratch in under a week”, I would at least be able to handle most standard Isekai starts relatively well. I have first-hand experience with learning new cultures, finding out what I need to learn to get along, learning how things work when tech levels are different, learning how to find my way and make use of local stuff, and using tech of a fairly wide range of primitiveness. And I’ve got a wide range of stories I’ve read/watched to fall back on as “secondary experience” for guesses on where to start on the stuff I’ve not personally experienced, and experience with how to do that from cases where I already have done so. If I don’t immediately die from some stupid mistake or failure, I expect to be able to at least get by (and potentially, depending on the details of the Isekai world and whether I get anything given to me in the process, actually doing pretty well).

      While I concede the point of the general problems with “Isekai a random person”, I contest that “backstory” and “character build” makes or breaks it.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Laundry machines. Central cooling. (Humanity very quickly figured out heating, it’s getting the cold that’s the issue.) Even cooking surfaces. Some darn good debridement spells and blood replenishing and bone mending. (Yes, I did almost loose a leg to a lawn mower at six. Yes, I am very intensely invested in making sure the world I isekai too has good medical capabilities.) Standardized yarn sizes and what that means. (We don’t have that in this world, so, bonus but not necessarily top priority.)

    Knitting machines, NSAIDs, water purification, and a good toxicity detection spell that can be tweaked easily to check if the user will have an allergic reaction. A libre spell that warns what foods not to mix, and another for how to make the inedible safe. (Seriously, how badly off were the first people who figured out how to eat cassava or cashews?)

    And a spell to let me summon foods that I remember eating, or Prestidigitation to make things taste like I want them too and to be able to summon smells from home.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I second the temperature control. Though having been through both a Florida summer without air conditioning and a Michigan winter without central heating, I would be more concerned about reliable heat. As bad as summer can be in warmer climates, winter in northern regions is–in my personal experience–much, much worse.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. True, the cold is a killer. Except, well, humanity all over the world has figured out how to do heated flours thousands of years BC, and have figured out other tricks. The way I figure it, in a world where they haven’t built houses that take advantage of central heating, wherever I ended up would have houses built to handle it.

        Which is something I find very cool in Pokémon Legend Arceus actually. Technically you can infer that the main protagonist (you) have been isekai’d by Arceus to when poke balls have just been invented. So, wandering around the house you’re given, I’m fairly certain it’s a kang floor and the heating and cooking area is in a central location so the whole house benefits from the heat. For a game where you spend, like, 99% of it wandering around the wilderness, I thought the details of the traditional housing pretty darn cool.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. Knitting machines, NSAIDs, water purification, and a good toxicity detection spell that can be tweaked easily to check if the user will have an allergic reaction.

      Make a “harm” ring that goes from white to red if you’ll be harmed by what’s in your hand, and turns black if you’ll die?

      Can have it as a really rare and important artifact that gets your POV character locked up because someone has allergies and they think he’s figured out how to make a poison/death spell that targets only one person.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. How are protagonists able to grind their skills relentlessly for weeks on end?
    They’re bored!
    What else would they do?

    Give them a novel and the hero suddenly turns into a couch potato…

    Liked by 5 people

  8. As Cohen the barbarian says “Hot water, soft toilet paper and good dentistry”
    Also, I’d be hoping for quite a few things
    Painkillers. Both what we’d call over the counter types and heavy duty anesthesia.
    Potatoes. But no blights.
    Some form of vision correction that works really well and doesn’t cause headaches.
    Fantasy cotton, tea, chocolate, sugar and coffee equivalents without the history of (and current) exploitation of labour that they have here.
    Unqualified, unquestioned equality amongst women, men, trans, fluid and non gendered people, etc.
    Platonic intimacy being acceptable/comfortable between non family members

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I think this is why the setting of Final Fantasy XIV is so appealing to me. There’s a whole *bunch* of cultures and technology levels all co-existing side-by side, so most players are bound to find something that reminds them of “home” in it. Including really high-tech stuff like computers (if you’re living in the right places).

    The general setting is a Renaissance (bordering on magical Industrial Revolution) fantasy. So things like cheap printing, basic plumbing and safe transportation are all a thing. The magic system has enough effects that cheap healing and access to heating and cooling (and electricity!) are totally a thing. And for the tech people, there’s essentially cells phones and group-chat available via magic items. It might not have wi-fi *yet*, but the main obstacle there is making computers cheaper to make/manufacture. Give the engineers a few decades of the world not being at war with itself and they’ll probably figure it out.

    Fortunately, FFXIV really likes giving it’s crafters and artisans something to do and just about every major city-state has some type of thing it’s known for exporting to other places. So it really does end up feeling like the major cities at least (and many towns) have an economy that functions in peace-time as well as war. It’s certainly one of the more… flexible… places to get isekai’d to compared to some others.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. If you could do the system of rice intensification as a Malagasy dirt farmer trying to grow rice, I think you could do it there. There is also the rice duck fish Azolla system. That first thing could bring yields up to 22 t/ha. I heard of that happenings in India, but what it was supposed to do was save water and keep Malagasy riziculture confined to the lowlands. You can use this to grow rice in soil that water just sluices through like that Maryland farmer whose name I forget.

    Like

  11. Of course, many medievalish fantasy worlds have many of these wonders. Probably magic and not that the writer didn’t realize that the modern world is not a universal constant.

    Liked by 1 person

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