Canonical World Building

a guide
official word
2018-07-05 10:15:07,
2018-07-05 12:48:27
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I thought I’d write up on how the Citizens of Antiford’s world-building and canonicity process works. This is especially important for new members, and so it’s important to have this written down and not live strictly as “tribal knowledge”.


Antiford’s world is steampunk: It’s an industrial revolution era, pre-digital, pre-war-weary universe where nuclear technology isn’t likely to ever happen*.

We don’t make everything stereotypically steampunk, and not everything that is steampunk necessarily fits in our world.

Some people are extraordinarily steampunk with their characters in our world, borrowing and relishing in the common steampunk themes.

Yet some others don’t even feel like they have to be remotely steampunk-y with their characters in our world.

How We Start Building

Our world isn’t Earth, it’s Orr. A different world in a different universe. However, we can’t create absolutely every little detail, so that’s when we fall back to the historical real world. This provides concrete examples of what has existed as well as their intended and unintended consequences. Borrowing from history is an easier way to begin.

We try to take turn-of-the-century era technology from the real world, and imagine if that technology worked far better than it did in reality. Clockwork good enough to make robots, air wells that can collect enough water for a small town to get by, airships that are good enough to be common transportation.

It’s a little inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien, creating the whole world. It’s also a little Jules Verne, creating blueprints and schematics for how our imaginary inventions run. It’s less H.G. Wells or Mary Shelley, though we’re still inspired by their aims to look at society through a fictional lens.

On top of all that, each person in our group brings fantastical ideas, and we try to think of how those ideas work in the greater context.

Shared World

In comic book universes, things that are over-powered, “O.P.”, can be discarded by the next author, forgotten, or promised not to be overused. Every comic book story is its own canon, it’s own universe in the company’s multi-verse, and can choose what things it accepts as canon.

Our world isn’t like that. It’s a shared common canon where everything that’s approved as canon can, and often will, affect the greater world everyone is using.

Cultural Implication

We’re less concerned with how your crazy gadget works than what that means in the context of the world.

We, as a community, ask ourselves the cultural implications of every technology we introduce. There’s always a balance, pros and cons, for each fantastical element. If you have a telephone, why isn’t everyone using one over the inferior telegraph technology? Does everyone in the group really want to give up the romantic aspects of a world built on telegraph - and we do have a rather interesting culture around the telegraph in our world - for the addition of the telephone?

Sometimes, the answer is that it’s a single inventor’s difficult-to-reproduce device. Sometimes it’s that the device is unreliable, expensive, or both. The more fantastical the addition is to the world, the more work you’ll have to do to make it canon.

Lucas, for example, created a highly detailed scripting language and deep explanations for how his automatons work, just to avoid the situation where his robots were the basis for creating life from nonliving or dead objects. Ours is not a world of necromancy. That’s more the realm of steampunk musicals like “The Dolls of New Albion”.

Phinneus has electric weapons, some of his invention. Considered new and extravagant, they are also fairly inaccurate and non-lethal in most situations. His airship cannot fly for anywhere near as long as even the least efficient airship Antiford has to offer, unless he is literally on top of a thunderstorm.

Abigail looks younger than she seems. She’s got strange worm-like creatures that keep her young. She got these from a well traveller known as “the bear witch”. Well sickness killed the creature she got them from, but the worms’ fast breeding cycle prevented them from all dying off. They are however, from the unreliable and mysterious wells and therefore aren’t likely to travel through the wells ever again. So is that all? Not quite. To get the extended youthfulness from these creatures, Abigail must go through a horrible molting process, like a snake, and shed her own skin.

Many characters have used the interesting properties of Well Island to help explain strange things. If you’re interested in this, read further about it here: On Time Travel and Inter-Dimensionality

These examples show us ways in which thinking about working within the sandbox can create very interesting aspects to something you might not have thought about. It’s best when thinking through an idea creates situations for stories or details to share that are exciting and dramatic. Many wonderful ideas we have were created through this process.

The Power of Three

The Order of the Badger is the group who manage the website, put things into the encyclopedia, deal with business, and generally lead the group. The world belongs to everybody in our community, and the Order is there to help keep it cohesive and functional.

When you want something to enter canon, you can create a story or world-building piece, and in the edit page, click on the “request canon” button next to the label selection. It enters a list of pieces for the Order to review.

We’re human and this isn’t our full-time job, so it’s good to talk with us and let us know you’ve submitted something for canon, instead of relying on us to check the list.

All you need is for two of the three in the Order to approve of your piece or idea for it to become canon, although we usually try to come to a unanimous decision.

If we don’t approve of the idea as-is we will try talking with you and try to figure out how to compromise. We’ll try to get at the heart of what you want, and try to come to a compromise or alternate idea that works for both you and the world’s canon. Everyone involved does a little brainstorming, and maybe research, to come up with something cool that works.


Read our post on Marshals here: A Brief on Canon and Marshals.

These are the people the Order trusts to deal with canon on their topic of marshal-dom. It’s important for everyone that the Order not be the only source of authority for the world to feel like it belongs to everybody.

Reality Trump Card

One of the best moments, is when we’re working on making something work within the world —

we disagree with a member on the plausibility of some geography or technology working — and then the best thing ever happens.

One of us, the idea-creator, the Order, or another citizen, looks up some real world example of that geography or technology from the turn of the century. We all learn about some hidden history, some hidden fact about the world we never knew before. We almost always have to agree with letting that thing happen if it’s not even fantasy, but verifiably a real thing of period!

Not everybody is great at research or brainstorming, and that’s why the Order helps, but it is one of the things I, personally, like best about steampunk: when it’s a way to learn about the world or history.

Everybody Gets One

This has been an informal rule of ours. The idea is that many people don’t understand how our world works or haven’t explored Antiford in great detail when they first join. Most of the hard canon work people do happens when they first join with big ideas for their characters and bright enthusiasm.

We hate having to talk to newcomers and explaining that their ideas might not not work in the world quite as they had pictured, but in the best-case scenarios they can sometimes end up with stories they’re happier with and more excited about afterwards.

So, the “everybody gets one” guideline was our way of saying we’d bend more than we would want to — though not break the world — at least once for most people, because we don’t really want to turn people off from being a citizen of Antiford by shooting down every one of their ideas. It’s bad for the world to go without fresh ideas, and bad for the community to discourage anyone from creating. However, you become an expert on why that "one" works for you and is so exclusive to just you, you don't get out of needing to explain the cultural aspect.

It’s not a hard rule, and we’d like to be able to make it easy and fun for people to create without it. Pushing the boundaries is still something best done after you understand them, and not while they’re still learning about them.


We love it when people dive head-first into Antiford and have a great time. Our world is an engine for community and creativity. However, our canon should never be used to halt or limit your creativity.

If you really want to create a gigantic Cth’ulu mech-suit for space-travel, we want you to build it and show us. We’ll help take photos and swap prop-making tips! It doesn’t have to work in our world for our community to love it, and we don’t want anyone to ever stop exploring and creating.

Many of our members have personal steampunk avatars, “steamsonas”, outside of Antiford. Some of our members are members of multiple groups. The more the merrier. The Order of the Badger’s members aren’t likely to join other groups while being so busy with Antiford, but they certainly want people in other groups to also be a part of Antiford, its community and its world.

*please see Order of the Badger for a detailed explanation of “nuclear technology isn’t likely to even happen”. It’s a really deep science explanation for something that doesn’t quite belong in the encyclopedia.