On by Adam Roberts
I sometimes feel I'm the only person who's read this, a (sci-fi?*) book from the well respected Adam Roberts. That is of course until I meet someone who has read it, but then I find out they hated it so instantly expunge the conversation from my memory. Can't be wasting mind space on people who are so very, very wrong.
The link above will give you a plot synopsis and a bunch of people grumbling about it (remember: wrong) so I'll spare the details and get to why this book makes games better and everyone should read it and agree with me.
World building is important, obviously. How you do it is your own business but consider the option of being totally fucking mental. On takes place on a vertical world, The Wall, with platforms and outcroppings all the way up it that people live on. At various points they think about what's on the other side, or what's at the top, or why they can't fly very far out before they get pushed back in. Pretty crazy, huh? But wait! It's not. Mr. Roberts explains in a chunky essay in an appendix that the book is on Earth after a (apparently vaguely plausible) shift in gravity, so that it spirals around the world rather than pulls us down. There is no other side of the wall, there is no top, and you can't fly far out 'cos that's just space up there. And he didn't tell us in the fiction. Of course you could possible piece it together, but that's not the point.
So what is the point? Good question, me. The point is that he had a hidden keystone that connected everything in his setting together. If we had access to it then it would all click together, all the strangeness, everything that just didn't make sense. It did make sense.
The practical application here being: start with a keystone, extrapolate out, then hide it. It creates a wonderful logic that can only be seen from a specific angle, and one day you can hand over the keystone or have it taken from you, whereupon everyone will go ah ha, we're so smart!
Round of applause.
Besides this there are a few incredible portions of the book that translate to more concrete things that can be stolen, all need to be read to be used. The war fought through a vertical jungle full of tiger sized carnivorous earwigs, a trader who uses children as walking larders, and that god damn alien. Three pieces that will prove excellent fodder for theft.
* Like all good fantasy/sci-fi it resists easy labels but it most certainly generically inclined. Talking of genre, when are we going to admit that the fantasy/sci-fi genre split is ridiculous. They're the same bloody thing.