Okay so maybe it’s more like forty-ish. It’s hard to design a country from scratch. Many authors have to design at least several. If you’re sitting in front of a blank page scratching your head, this list is for you.
1. What is the climate like?
Us humans are pretty adaptable. We make otherwise hostile environments work for us by tailoring our clothes, our diet, and our homes to the local climate. Even ceremonial or luxury objects are descended from very practical pieces of technology.
2. Is it landlocked, coastal, or an island?
There’s a reason that most population centers are near a body of water. Water is literally life. It hydrates us, harbors fish and seaweed, and lets us move faster and easier than we can on land.
3. What resources are present?
Natural resources provide the foundation for an advanced economy. Without a strong foundation, the people of this country might be dependent on foreign supply lines.
4. What is the terrain like?
Is it wide and flat? Or rugged and mountainous? The easier it is to travel and communicate the easier it will be for a central government to exert control.
5. Are there any natural barriers that would impede movement?
Does an ocean or mountain range protect the country from invasion? Do its rocky shores make a harbor difficult to build?
6. Where are the sources of water?
Is it everywhere or nowhere? Who controls the potable water?
7. How many languages and ethnic groups are present?
Do the people see themselves as part of a single whole or are they just temporarily united for the next few decades or the next century?
8. Have any of these people been recently displaced?
Have these displaced persons been accepted by their new community?
9. How is society organized?
Who has all the money? Who does the populace listen to?
10. What form of government is there?
Is it a new democracy? An ancient autocracy? Something in between?
11. Do the people look favorably on the government?
If someone were to start a revolt how many would be likely to support them?
12. What religions are practiced?
Possible flavors include monotheistic, polytheistic, animistic, ancestor worship.
13. Is there a state religion?
Does that state religion tolerate competitors?
14. Who are the country’s neighbors?
And if there are neighbors, do they get along? Are they part of a regional coalition or trade zone?
15. Is this country more powerful than its neighbors?
Is someone preparing for a war of aggression? Does the populace fear an invasion in the near future? Has revolution in a neighboring country put the ruling class on edge?
16. What are the country’s major industries?
Does the government feel that it needs to prop up these industries? Are any of these industries owned by the state?
17. Is the country dependent on its neighbors for any important resources?
Can these resources be used as a form of indirect control? Do the people feel that they are paying fair prices for these imports?
18. Does the country have any colonies abroad?
Who owns these colonies? Are they ruled directly? Are people born in the colonies citizens? What languages do they speak?
19. Are any parts of the country’s territory contested by its neighbors?
How long has this territory been contested? Do the people living there have family on both sides of the border?
20. Does this country have any historic rivalries?
Populations can have rivals just like people. Is the rivalry over religious differences? An ancient betrayal? Are the royal houses related?