Worldbuilding Using Danmachi’s Building Block Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding is a tricky bronco for some writers to tame. When proclaiming yourself god of a new world, a lot of questions will demand to be stewed. This might not be as much of an issue if you’re writing a Japanese romance set in a Japanese high school with Japanese customs and Japanese culture because it’s built in the country of Japan, but if you saw Re:Zero and felt inspired to create your own isekai fantasy world, you might get as far as the wormhole that spits Bob into this unknown land before drawing a blank on where to go or what to do next because you’re Captain Clueless of the Oblivious when it comes to worldbuilding. Does Bob walk to a nearby settlement, where some kindly thugs expote anything and everything there is to know about the fantastical kingdom of Land Place? Do you cover the economics? The politics? The directions the rivers flow, whether the denizens are civilized courtesans who use two-ply toilet paper or rampaging barbarians who only use one-ply?

Providing a step-by-step process on worldbuilding which blankets any and all fictional worlds isn’t feasible or recommended, since a writer has to tailor what they put in based on the story they’re telling, but I have found a method for organizing plot lines based on what aspect of the world you’re exploring thanks to my scientific observation of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls In a Dungeon?, or Danmachi, as it’s know in Japan, because screw typing out full titles.

Disclaimer: this method is suited only for long-running series, so it doesn’t apply to your 4-koma manga.

Danmachi’s method for worldbuilding is quite simple: take one aspect of the world and make that the sole focus of a volume. Then in the next volume, you pick out another aspect of the world and focus an that. Keep doing that until you bring the series to its THE END or get run over by an eighteen-wheeler. Because it’s just like laying down one brick of a building at a time, I’ve dubbed this method Building Block Worldbuilding, which has the unfortunate initialism BBW.

When you crack open a new volume of Danmachi, the world is guaranteed to expand in some form or another. Some volumes introduce more than others, but each succeeding one adds nuance to the world and fleshes it out so that you come away feeling a little more confident that the city of Orario is a real place and not just a bunch of Tudor houses, blacksmiths, and NPCs patrolling the streets zombie-eyed.

To explain how Danmachi does BBW j̶u̶s̶t̶ ̶h̶o̶w̶ ̶a̶ ̶d̶i̶r̶t̶y̶ ̶g̶i̶r̶l̶ ̶l̶i̶k̶e̶s̶ ̶i̶t̶ without screwing up, I’ll be hardcore spoiling every single volume released in English as of this post, which is fourteen total, so if Danmachi is on your to-read list and spoilers make you tip cows in rage, I recommend blocking out the time to experience BBW firsthand.

Important Note to read before going forward: All names you see are as they’re translated in the volumes published by Yen Press, so when you read one character’s name as Lilliluka Erde but see on its Wikia page spelled as Liliruca Arde, that’s the reason for the discrepancy.

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Vol. 1: The series kickstarts with plenty, namely our protagonist and wannabe adventurer Bell Cranel, his idol, crush, and honey bunches of oats Aiz Wallenstein, his goddess Hestia, whom for purposes of this post we can think of as his pimp, the layout of Orario, the Guild, which governs the city, the Dungeon, which is the lynchpin of its economy, and the entire magic and leveling system.

Vol. 2: Adventurers can spend upwards of days within the Dungeon, so they tend to be heavy on supplies, and supporters are introduced as a sort of second option for adventurers incapable of making it to level 2 (a single level-up is difficult to achieve), and the narration shows how looked-down-upon this class of adventurers is. Also, we meet Bell’s number two contender for future waifu, Lil’ E.

Vol. 3: Admittedly, more development in the narrative than worldbuilding. Bell faces off against a sword-wielding Minotaur and defeats it after a hot minute, breaking the record for fastest level-up among the city’s adventurers. His victory over the Minotaur also comes back around later, hint hint.

Vol. 4: You can’t run into the dungeon with sticks and stones and hope to come out with all of your bones, so adventurers turn to blacksmiths to craft them decent arms, and Bell gains his own personal blacksmith in the form of one Welf Crozzo. This is all there is to the main story, so the book fills the rest of the pages with two prequel short stories on Bell and Lilly finding a pantry (a chamber where Dungeon monsters like to snack on shiny rocks) and how Hestia came around to securing the first spot as Bell’s potential future waifu.

Vol. 5: Up to this point, the narrative has enjoyed hammering into our heads how dangerous the Dungeon can become at a quick-turn, but it hasn’t placed Bell and his party in any real desperate situations, so it remedies this by trapping them over a dozen floors in and forcing them to head deeper into the Dungeon for safety, to the 18th floor, which is a safe zone, meaning monsters can’t be arsed to spawn. Also, floors sometimes have mid-bosses, which like to spawn at just the worst moments. Also, the Dungeon has it out for gods and goddesses.

Vol. 6: My personal favorite volume. We’re on a first name basis with numerous adventurers and their pimps, but sometimes, those adventurers duke it out in tense pimp battles known as War Games, one of which Bell and co. get snared up in. For their troubles, they win a manor.

Vol. 7: We’ve gone on sightseeing tours of various locations throughout Orario, and now it leads us through one of the sexier locals, the Red Light District, where men and women get together to hold hands and hug for a night. Bell also meets his third potential future waifu, a foxy mama with the ability to temporarily boost her allies’ levels by one.

Vol. 8: A collection of shorts focusing mostly on the side characters’ love lives to the backdrop of a neighboring nation attempting to invade Orario. It’s also the first and last time so far we see a location beyond the city’s walls.

Vol. 9: Monsters have been just that—monsters who love nothing more than to kill adventurers for no reason other than just ’cause, but in this volume, Bell meets Wiene, an intelligent monster capable of speech and doesn’t have a fancy for the murder of humans known as a Xenos. We also get to meet the big daddy in charge of the Guild, Ouranos.

Vol. 10: The continuation from 9’s story, Bell and pals square off against another enemy pimp squad, but in a real fight-or-die bout to save captured Xenos, including Wiene. Some guy before he became a dead guy also constructed a labyrinth with secret entrances throughout the city.

Vol. 11: The conclusion the Xenos arc, climaxing with Bell dueling the reincarnation of the Minotaur he did in back in 3, after which they promise to face off to settle their tie at a later time once they’ve both gotten stronger.

Vol. 12: A pure dungeon romp, where Bell and friends break a personal record for deepest Dungeon dive at the water levels. They hunt and are hunted by a monster that became stronger (and more intelligent) by munching on monster cores.

Vol. 13: A look into the past of one of Bell’s associates, Lyu. It’s commonly known fact that, when damaged, the Dungeon repairs itself, but if a massive percentage of a single floor is destroyed at once, the Dungeon will summon an uber powerful creature known as the Juggernaut to exterminate all adventurers on that floor.

Vol. 14: A first taste of the dangerous, violent, and occasionally mysterious Deep Levels, the lowest range of levels in the Dungeon. A bit more insight into the biological makeup and lifespan of the Juggernaut is given as well.

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The series is ongoing, so it’s a few bricks away from a full wall. The trait and strength unique to Danmachi’s worldbuilding is that it’s not a world it’s building, it’s one city and the labyrinthine cavern network beneath its streets. Bell and his homies don’t just pass through the Red-Light District and make a passing comment on how profoundly round all the prostitutes’ breasts are on their way to a different plot line. They get swept up in a number of squabbles and butt heads with and headbutt the big wigs running the show.

A series like the Rising of the Shield Hero takes you on a guided tour of the continent, so the most development you get for a given settlement is that it has an inn, a tavern, and sewers with a serious giant rat infestation. I can barely tell you a thing about the main hub of Castle Town, but the above list is the cliff notes of everything I can tell you about Orario and the Dungeon.

The biggest con of BBW is the hefty page count it demands. While the world of the Rising of the Shield Hero comes off flat as a D&D board, the pacing of its plot demands that its characters remain on the move, so it would drop a brick wall in front of them to require that they visit the local businesses and receive an extended lecture on their supply chains. One or two features which make a given location unique can be explored to fill out a volume’s page count, but then it’s onto the next spot of importance.

I’ve been lightly using the construction of a wall as a metaphor for what BBW is, but it’s perhaps better to think of it like jam. Your supply of it is limited, and describing a location, political figure, or literally any aspect of a fictitious world uses up some of that jam. Where your characters go, the jam goes. If they go globetrotting on a quest to defeat the evil Lord of Badness, they spread that jam thin. But if they stay put in a single town and spend each week going for walks in its different districts, the jam builds up, and before long, it’s piled thick and smeared all over the place just how BBW wants it.

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