World-building is an exercise in rationality. There must be a good reason for every detail in your world, so you take care to be clear with your causes and effects, pattern your historical events after real-world trends, make sure your stuff jives with known ‘laws’ of economics, demography, etc. etc. This is all good, for creating a self-consistent world is necessary for making its consumers accept its fictions.
But Man is not a fully rational creature. Never has been. Witness the Battle of Thermopylae. The building of the Taj Mahal. The crusading of King Richard I, despite the woes of England at the time.
I posit that to really make your conworld ‘sing,’ you have to spice its rationality with bouts of magnificent madness. Acts of passion that resound through history because they’re just so grand and crazy. Here are some ideas for injecting a healthy dose of madness into your world:
- A hopeless last stand
- A charge against impossible odds
- A great monument built for a lost love
- A major enemy spared after he is conquered
- A kingdom bankrupted in pursuit of a trifle
- A friendship/romance in defiance of major taboos
- A major offense vs. the gods is committed
- A great treasure given away to a beggar/stranger
- A stupendous monument built as an act of faith
- An offended noble/officer turns traitor
- A small band of adventurers changes history
Our own history is rife with examples of these events, and the impact they had on events and people after them, for good or ill. Pick up any well-written history book and go through it; the less widely-known the history, the less chance your players will recognize your inspiration!