I am working on developing my world's history.

Great people help give a world flavor. From profanity to holidays to religions and nations, great people can be the lynchpin on which the pendulum of history swings. With this in mind I find it important to include them when developing my world's history. Some will be more fully developed characters but doing that en masse seems rather daunting and distracts from the progression of writing the stories.

When I am speaking of 'great' people it is not a moral judgement, simply accepting that a person altered the world by their action (or the myth of their personality).

I am struggling to find a solid method to create these people. They do not need to be full blown characters so much as myths and personalities. In the US for example George Washington would be a 'great' person and he is spoken of reverently in most cases, stories about him and his life (have they any basis in reality or not) are told to children all the time to teach lessons etc.

I have a general progression of history, it includes major events, the rise and fall of countries, kings, conflicts and religious trends etc.

I frankly don't want to create fully fleshed out characters for all of history...I am on a timeline, I will die at some point.

So, what I am looking for is a way to mass produce great people to give the world that extra bit of depth. What process could I use to create great people.

Individuals created should come from a variety of backgrounds/occupations.

  • $\begingroup$ Do these people have to do anything specific? $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Feb 17, 2016 at 21:18
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 No, I need a variety so when I think of great people I think of generals, athletes, scientists, doctors, national leaders, religious leaders etc, basically anyone who has a major impact on the world and leaves a lasting name/impression. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Feb 17, 2016 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon I am going to refrain from adding details for the moment as I am looking for a system to sort of mass produce these people rather than specific examples. If it becomes a trend that people need more setting details for the question to be better answerable I will add them in later. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Feb 17, 2016 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ @James, all right, fair point. $\endgroup$ Feb 17, 2016 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ I feel I could give a great answer to this... if only I could put in words how I go about this. "It just happens" doesn't seem helpful for your purpose... $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Feb 17, 2016 at 21:42

5 Answers 5


If you have major events, you already have great people.

Take a look at this Time list of the 100 most significant figures in history. While the ranks are up for debate, there are very clearly three categories of people on that list: The Creator, the Thinker, and the Leader. It stands to reason that when creating great people, you want to consider all three of these particular categories.


A leader need not be a conqueror — merely someone who can unite enough people (through either force of arms or force of message) to cause significant change. Major events in a world’s history are made possible by great people. Conquest is often undertaken by an individual or a small grouping of individuals.

These are the people who shape the world. Whether a significant person is considered “Great” or “Evil” depends mostly on who the victors are. Their names tend to be frequently used when naming places, monuments, and even other characters. Creating these sorts of great people is relatively easy: look to your world’s history and identify the characters that led the charge. Give them a name that has a ring to it, as you might find yourself using it in many places.


Musicians, artists, and writers are all examples of creators. They compose works that express emotion and offer entertainment. Most importantly, they are the builders of culture. What kind of architectural styles do the peoples of your world have? What colors visually impress them? What sounds are the most pleasing? What fantasies do they enjoy reading about?

Unlike leaders who can be picked out of your major historical events, creators require you to look at the present. Defining the cultures your characters exist within will help you answer the above questions. The answers tell you what the unique cultural components of your world are. Armed with that information, you can start to isolate components and attribute them to individual people who used them so effectively that they became entrenched in the present culture.


Philosophers and scientists occupy this category. Through thought and experiment, these people have directed the minds of the people and placed ever-improving tools in their hands.

For the philosophers, one simple approach is to look again at the major events in your history. When governmental structure changes, whose ideas influenced the new order? A more involved approach requires you to flesh out your leaders a bit more. Every major conqueror in history has been deeply influenced by the philosophical ideas of those that came before them. If you look at the motives of your leaders and the goals they set out to achieve, you can pinpoint specific schools of thought that might have influenced them.

Scientists (or Mages in fantasy) can be determined much more arbitrarily. What major technological advances have been made in your world? Which warlock discovered how to summon the most powerful demons? The easiest approach here is to simply pick technological components (your revolutionary FTL drive) and name them after people who supposedly were critical to their existence and development. If you decide to dive deeper, consider the common fundamental concepts between different technologies and attribute those scientific achievements to a great mind.

A Combination

Most worlds have leaders aplenty. Conquest is a sexy topic, and the formation and dissolution of kingdoms is one of the most entertaining parts of world building. To achieve depth and immersion, however, you need a healthy dose of creators and thinkers too. These are the names that appear offhandedly and often in character dialogue — just briefly enough to make it appear that there’s more beneath the surface.


Pick a calendar date (Today ). Look it up on Wikipedia. There are lists of (generally famous) peoples birthdays. Randomly pick one. Today has about 80-100 people listed.

1821 Lola Montez was an actress and countess

Oh and they have death dates too. So double your money!

  • $\begingroup$ Good idea. I was thinking of maybe picking many and mixing their biographies... but I'm afraid that wouldn't be valid for mass production. :( $\endgroup$ Feb 17, 2016 at 21:36

Disclaimer: Personally, I think that when inventing characters we are always going to be inspired/influenced by historic figures or famous characters.

A System

Any system requires a set of parameters.

I would first define a few main characteristics of your world/country, such as a few major divisive issues, such as religion, economy, military conquest, scientific or magical discovery, etc.

Second, I would define the sort of people you want to create: evil, good, forces of change (whether good or bad), etc.

Third, I would look at the situation being described and analyze it from the point of view of the characters.

Par Example: Two mages are discussing the morality of using a spell to remove someone's addiction to a drug, and thus become a useful member of society. Who's work might one mage reference?

At this point you look at your list of world characteristics. Is your world deeply religious? Does it embrace a militaristic mindset? Does it value results over morality?

Next, consider your characters. Are they the "good guys"? Are they shady types, looking to make a profit off of someone?

At this point one character might:

  • Reference a religious authority who enacted sweeping changes relating to the morality of controlling slaves, etc

  • A military commander who would remove any negative trait from his own psyche in order to better lead his men to victory? Add a twist: this leader's military goals were the destruction of a certain people, or civilization (aka he was a bad guy, but brilliant in other, objective ways)

The situation/characters involved will always determine the outcome.


I’m not suggesting this will work for everyone, or it’s always the right or best method to go about creating influential characters in history, but it’s worked really well for me thus far. My method is a little slow (there’s lots of downtime between steps to let ideas percolate) and it’s rooted in the world’s fundamentals, so I’ll also provide a look at the steps prior to actual character creation (those steps that apply here, at least).

Start with a Modern Image

I never begin work on a new world until I have an idea of what I want it to look like when I’m finished. Usually this stems from a core idea, like the pursuit of perfection or fear of the other, and is used to form the foundation of every society that will exist in the world.

Create a Physical Map

Build the layout of your world. Put together a map of mountains, rivers, forests, valleys, islands, continents, deserts, and all manner of formations. Consider climate, ocean currents, and all the other tedious details (and handwave what you don’t want to emphasize in this world). I often create the geography and later explain how it came to be, but it’s more of a mixed process.

Create a Political Map

Given the physical boundaries depicted in the geographical map, create the political/societal layout. Countries don’t need to be constrained by a mountain range, a river, or a sea. Country borders often move over time and for various reasons. Want an island near one coast to be a territory of a country somewhere else? Go ahead. Figure out how that came to be later on, during the history.

Baseline the Modern Societies

For each region/country you’ve outlined in your political map, devise the basics of the modern society. Do they have technology, and how much? What are the major food sources? Mineral resources? What don’t they have access to? What do they have that could be traded away? What is the major religion, if any? What political movements are there? What role does the military play in daily life? Etc.

Baseline the Old Societies

For each region/country, devise the basics of the original society (original here meaning the point in time where you want to start worrying about it). Were the people primarily hunter/gatherers? Did they have a nomadic lifestyle and traveled far and wide, or did they settle in a crossroads of several season species? Did they arrive from space and lose their history, or remember it in everything they do? Etc.

Develop the History

Here’s where things get tricky. Begin writing a region/country’s history in a natural progression from the old society. Let neighboring old societies interact with each other. Explore how these cultures work together or against one another. There’s really no way to abstract this to a general rule; do what feels right to you for the old societies you’ve created. Feel free to tweak the old societies to get the interaction you want.

Create Key Moments

Write key moments into your history. This can be the first time two specific societies interact, whether they are opposed to each other’s views, have much in common, aren’t concerned one way or the other, etc.; a calamity such as an earthquake or financial collapse; a new, revolutionary invention, such as steel; or any other turning point in the way the society would function.

Introduce Foci

Let each key moment in history be defined by either a major event or a critical figure. Often, major events imply the involvement of a critical figure. These critical figures will be the focus around which your society will shift towards the modern society you’ve previously defined.

Build on What You Have

Going a little further, you can flesh out your critical figures by examining the society they emerged in at the time they emerged. A critical figure will represent a) the ideal of the society as it is; b) the society as a major group thinks it should be; or c) the opposite of what the society should be. Use the society as a lens through which to define the critical figure.


Work backwards. Make a list of important events, wars, nations and cities founded and inventions and invent the people behind them. I think this might be how it works in real life.

The Fusion-Drive was invented by Bob Fusion inspired by watching his mother iron the clothes with a helium producing hydrogen iron.

The Battle of Cthonopolis was won because of the brave efforts of Mike Roomis outfitting the partisans with helium producing hydrogen irons. Which turned to be surprisingly effective weapons. Who knew?

Events make the man, not the other way round. The Characteristics of Bob and Mike inferred by their acts. This I think is easier than inventing a character and figuring out how they affect history.


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