the royal and ancient game

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The Royal Game of Ur is over 4,000 years old, and looks engrossing as hell

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4600 Year-Old Board Game

Guide: Fantasy Family Lineages

Anonymous asked: Hi! Do you have anything on writing fictional family lineages in the vein of Houses from Game of Thrones? I’m writing a high fantasy novel and I need to have a lot of history to fit into the world I’m writing. I’ve tried googling and researching it but all I’ve come up with is writing ‘your’ family history and nothing on creating a fictional family that runs for generations. Thank you!


Step One: The Foundation

Before you worry about the great families in your kingdom, you need to have a kingdom. If you haven’t already, hammer out the details of your kingdom and then draw a map (doesn’t have to be a good one) of the different regions. Typically these regions would have once been independent kingdoms, and the great families who govern them on behalf of the king are often descended from the royal family of that ancient kingdom. In Game of Thrones, for example,the Starks of the north are descended from the Kings of Winter who ruled The North when it was one of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. So, figure out what the different regions of your land are, what the terrain is like, what towns and villages are there, and where the seat of power in each region is located.

Step Two: Determine History of the Monarchy

In both fantasy and the real world, it’s very rare for one house to rule a kingdom throughout its entire history. You can look at the history of the monarchy in any number of countries to see some examples, but in England, for example:
  • House of Wessex
  • The Danes
  • The Saxons
  • The Normans
  • House of Plantagenet
  • House of Lancaster
  • House of York
  • House of Tudor
  • House of Stuart
  • The Commonwealth
  • House of Stuart (restored)
  • House of Hanover
  • House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha
  • House of Windsor

In A Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones), House Targaryen were the first kings of a united Westeros, and they ruled for 238 years before Robert’s Rebellion which put House Baratheon on the throne.

House names often change due to conquest or usurping, but sometimes the crown just passes into a branch of the family with a different surname. For example, Lancaster and York were cadet branches of the Plantagenets, meaning that they belonged to the king’s younger sons. York and Lancaster actually refer to the dukedoms given to the king’s younger sons. The House of Lancaster came into power after the son of a Duke of Lancaster conquered his cousin’s throne. The House of York came into power when a son of a Duke of York conquered his Lancastrian cousin’s throne. The House of Tudor came into power when a matrilineal descendant of the House of Lancaster conquered the York king.

You can make a list like the one above with each king (or queen regnant if there are any), which house they were from, and the years of their reign. You may also want to decide what rules govern the line of succession in your kingdom. 

Step Three: Choose Your Great Families

You’ve already determined your regions and the seats of power in each region. Now decide on the noble families that rule these regions on behalf of the king. There should be one for each region and they should have a castle in their seat of power. Start with just the first two generations of each family–the parents and their children. You may also want to decide what titles these men and women should take. In England, they were often dukes, marquesses, earls, and barons. In Game of Thrones, they’re simply the heads of great families, but some of them are named as wardens of broader areas of Westeros, for military purposes.

Step Four: Choose Your Lesser Noble Families

Next you need to determine the families who are great families within their region. These familis will be bannermen to the great family who rules their region. They will have smaller castles, called keeps, or they might have manors if you so choose.

Step Five: Create Your Family Trees

Now, for each family you’re going to do a family tree starting with those first two generations. You may only want to concern yourself with the first two sons and first two daughters of each generation. Otherwise your family tree will be huge.

Starting out, you’ll have something like this:

(Oh, and put in the date of their birth, too…)

Now, you need to find spouses for Fred, Jenny, and Sam. Keep in mind, if your fantasy is modeled after an era without modern medical care, not all kids are going to survive, so you may want to include some who don’t just to keep things realistic.

The oldest sons will probably marry the oldest daughters of other great families. Younger sons may marry younger daughters of great families, or they might marry the oldest daughters of lesser families. Typically you would not have the oldest son of a great family marry the youngest daughter of a lesser family–unless they’re marrying for love and the families are cool with everything. Now you need to continue your family tree:

There are many other methods for writing out a family tree. You can search “family tree methods” to find them. You can usually find templates to print and fill out, too.


Now, just do this for as many generations as you need to. And remember that some of the first daughters of great families may marry into the monarchy.

Let me know if you have any further questions!