How to Use Fantasy Jobs & Occupations in Fantasy Worldbuilding Knowledge Base | World Anvil

How to Use Fantasy Jobs & Occupations

Let’s talk about how to choose the best fantasy jobs for your worldbuilding project - whether that’s a homebrew adventure setting or the world bible for your novel or series. Fantasy jobs are not just roles for NPCs or background characters. Used well, occupations convey a wealth of information about how your world works - literally and figuratively.

 

Roll tables, master lists, and generators don’t help you figure out what belongs in your world - or what could make it even better. Some include medieval professions from the real world. Some include magical careers that could only exist in a fantasy setting. As helpful as those resources can be, they don’t offer any guidance for how to use fantasy jobs and vocations to enhance your worldbuilding. But don’t worry - we’ll include links to them at the end.

 

Let’s get started.

 

Step 1: Decide What Purpose Fantasy Jobs Serve

 

Occupations aren’t just background noise in a fantasy setting. They literally show how your world works. They're the building blocks of your world's economy, culture, and society.

 

From humble craftsmen to noble warriors, each job shapes the fabric of your fictional world. They present wonderful “show don’t tell” moments to support your theme or convey the atmosphere of your setting.

 

ACTION: Answer the following questions:

  • What is a unique, valuable resource in your world that is dangerous to handle? Who tackles this risky work, and why is it worth it to them?
  • What jobs are given respect and honor, and which are considered shameful? What does that say about your culture’s values and taboos?
  • What is a job that is disappearing? For what technological era does it serve as a lingering remnant or reminder? What cultural change does its loss signal?
 

Step 2: Creating Compelling Story Hooks

 

Fantasy jobs are rich opportunities for storytelling. Consider the narrative possibilities inherent in each occupation. Miners and prospectors are in a position to stumble onto subterranean dangers. Farmers might notice an unnatural blight affecting crops. Merchants are uniquely positioned to hear rumors and gossip from faraway lands.

 

ACTION: Answer the following questions:

  • Who might stumble upon a world-shaking secret in the course of their daily work?
  • What conflicts or challenges could arise from the duties of a particular job?
 

Step 3: Building the Fantasy Economy

 

Every fantasy world has its own economy, driven by the labor of its inhabitants. When selecting fantasy jobs, think about how they fit into the larger economic ecosystem. Consider the roles of merchants, artisans, laborers, and more.

 

ACTION: Answer the following questions:

  • How do these occupations interact with one another?
  • How does the availability and cost of staples affect daily life?
  • What rare goods show differences in class and status?
 

Step 4: Harnessing Motivation and Conflict

 

Wealth, power, honor—fantasy jobs offer characters a myriad of motivations and desires. Ask why characters pursue their chosen professions. And don't forget to explore the conflicts and challenges that arise from their occupations.

 

ACTION: Answer the following questions:

  • Which fantasy jobs foster a pursuit of prestige, power or wealth that naturally leads to conflict?
  • What industries or occupations are naturally competitive? What are the stakes for being the best? The consequences of being the worst?
 

Step 5: Crafting Character Backstories

 

Behind every hero lies a rich backstory waiting to be uncovered. Use fantasy jobs as a springboard for developing your characters' pasts. By fleshing out characters' occupational histories, you'll create depth and complexity in your storytelling.

 

ACTION: Answer the following questions:

  • How did they come to be in their current profession?
  • What formative experiences shaped their skills, beliefs, and aspirations?
  • Did their occupation propel them into this adventure?
 

Step 6: Dispelling Myths and Misconceptions

 

The trap of “historical accuracy” has derailed many worldbuilders. Always keep one thing in mind: you’re inventing this history. It can be literally anything you want it to be.

 

It’s also worth remembering that you might be wrong about the real history of work. For example, specialized labor began much earlier in human history than many people think. Skilled artisans were plying their trade in Mesopotamia in 10,000 BCE. We don’t have abundant records for some of the more mundane aspects of antiquity in many parts of the world.

 

Published authors often point out that the parts of their books most people criticize for being “inaccurate” or “unbelievable” are directly based on surprising facts from real world history.

 

If you want your world’s history to support having prehistoric attorneys litigating dinosaur migration rights, then just do it.

 

Step 7: Avoiding Cliché Fantasy Jobs

 

Fantasy worldbuilders are often building on what came before, but that approach comes with the risk of cliché. This is especially true in setting up fantasy jobs and occupations. How many times have you encountered a farmer, tavern keeper or blacksmith in your tabletop RPG or fantasy novel?

 

We can do better, even with these bread-and-butter jobs. Here are some tips for avoiding cliché with your fantasy world jobs.

 

ACTION: Answer the following questions:

  • What kind of unusual farming can only take place in this world? Maybe your farmer runs a chimera dairy that produces enchanted cheese.
  • For the love of J.R.R. Tolkein, don’t make your bankers goblins. Aside from being problematic, it’s deeply boring and cliche.
  • Instead of your tavern keeper being a retired adventurer (overdone), make them a former castle chef who retired in disgrace. Now that’s an interesting backstory!
 

Links & Resources

 

As promised! Here are some lists and generators to help you spark some ideas if you’re feeling tapped out.

 

So… what did we miss? What part of creating the vocational infrastructure of your world do you struggle with? Drop us a comment - our intention with these guides is for them to be an evolving resource for World Anvil users and other worldbuilders.

 

Now grab your hammer, (you skilled artisanal worldsmith), and GO WORLDBUILD!