Thursday, October 6, 2016

World Building Part 7: Monoculture, Mindset, and Meandering

This one is going to be a bit looser and more like brainstorming than actually nailing down specifics of the world. We have a reached a key point in world building that needs some thought. Its hard to say when exactly in a given process this point gets reached, but for this project it is time to dig into culture, nationhood, and societies. Yay!

If you are unsure of what is going on in this post here are the links to the previous posts in the series:
Part 1: Initial Arbitrary Ideas
Part 2: Airships and Implications
Part 3: People and Purposes
Part 4: Basics of Magic
Part 5: A brief History
Part 6: Deeper Magics

Back when I started this project all I had was the very basics of each people, and so it would be easy to keep them that way, as two dimensional stereotypes. However I think we can get into more detail and have a bit of fun by showcasing a bit more diversity of thought and deed within each people. Sometimes when working on a world you can stick with those basic stereotypes for a while, but if you wish for your world to feel more real you will need to deal with the issue of Monocultures.

Now what I mean by that is not something about agriculture methodology or computers. Though like those issues monculture can lead to collapse of plausibility.  What I mean by monoculture is the idea that all Klingon are warriors, all elves are aloof archers who live in the woods, or all dwarves are greedy makers of metal-craft, things like that. Monoculture is the idea that within a given species, people, or nation that all beings share the same traits.   In the real world this leads to all sorts of unpleasantness and badness, but in world building this is an issue as well. Even when you have a really solidly built world it can be easy to leave some cultures as monocultures. Its easy, and sometimes people won't notice. And because they won't notice it is even easier to do.

Whether you wish to really develop the culture in full is directly proportional to how relevant the culture is to the events that occur. Whether in a story, game, or just your own head. The more you believe in your world the more fun it will be to play with, and the more interesting problems will crop up and offer chances for interesting solutions.

Again I like to steal from the real world's history for help in this. No matter how deep you dig into a historical event there is always more complexity and nuance, so I try and emulate that. Back in part two I asked, "what the people eat?" I find this to be a useful question for world building, because if you can't answer it that shows a problem that needs fixing. I have a similar set of questions for societies, nations, and cultures. How do they get rid of their trash, and how do they get what they want? These questions are not as simple and direct as, "what do they eat?" but they are useful in giving you a sense of what their society look like and how the basic get done.

Also at this point I will need to name the world. Well, maybe not need, but I kind of want to name the world and the nations and such so that I have some dang ol' proper nouns when talking about stuff. I am leaning toward naming the world something based off the word cosmos, as it must encompass all the elements rather than just earth. Though that might be a bit on the nose. I would love to hear from any of my readers on this, what are some good proper nouns for all the various nations, societies, and the planet? Until then, to work:

 I think I will start with humans, as they are the most widespread and the driving force behind the current political climate(trying to conquer the world will do that). Also i need to bear in mind the nature of societies in the world. There is a great deal of natural seclusion, with loads of mountains, valleys, canyons and such and not a whole lot open ground. Then there are the large number of monsters and such in the wilderness. I think that most societies and nations would be highly centralized and closely linked, otherwise they couldn't stay in contact with each other or protect their citizens.

So back in the day there was this empire, and it fell. This is known. I figure that humans probably ended up with a couple of small kingdoms that tried to hold with the ideals of the empire, but the dark age demanded such from them that they only managed to hold onto the idea of empire. so we have a couple of kingdoms that are both somewhat feudal in nature(kings and barons and such) while also trying trying to appear more cultured and cosmopolitan than they really are. They maintained a senate of Peers(wealthy landowners) that ostensibly had similar power to the king. Due to the state the countries of humanity were in those senates rarely held much actual power. Since the fall of the empire humanity was seen as a non-issue, a bit of a sad joke. And then one of the nations gets airships and declared itself the New Holy Empire and began conquering everything in the name of the God-Yet-To-Come.

Now the New Holy Empire controls nearly all the lands of it's former rival human nation(which I need to name) as well as most of the lands that were controlled by the Bit-bit Alliance of City States and the Fa-chia tribes.

The Holy Empire has grown decadent and corrupt, it is only their armies and technology which hold them in power. Their are a bunch of factions within the empire that are trying to gain control of the empire(the names re just place holders):

  • The romantics - see the past as pure and simple, before the corrupting influence of this current religion and outside forces. They are anthropocentric and anti religion, they want to get back to nature while still driving out all outside influences. Within this movement are a number of distinct opinions on precisely how change should be gained and what they should do with the power. A number of famous poets and actors have espoused this ideology and it has gained a lot of traction in recent days. 
  • The Militarists - believe that the empire is not pushing hard enough and that the military should run things. They see their failure to take the last Bit-bit city and their lack of any territory in the lands of teh Njan as a direct affront. Some within the moment push for the emperor to become more militaristic, while others wish to overthrow the emperor and take power.
  • The royalists - hold that the senate has too much power and that things would be better if the emperor were to get rid of them.
  • The Populists - hold that he royals are an anachronism and that pure democracy would serve the people better(well pure democracy to the rich, the peasants should know their place)
  • The Church - want to see themselves as the greatest power in the nation so that they may finally compete the great working. though there are several different views on exactly how to bring about the God-Yet-To-Come.

The Bit-bit city states used to be the most powerful alliance in the world. Their use of Sky Knights and War Gelves allowed for communication and military unity the other nations could not employ.  While they bickered among themselves their shared religion and the impartiality of the Sky Knights led to an enlightened peace for nearly a century. The the New Holy Empire crafted Sky Ships. Now only one city state remains, the Sky Knights are nearly wiped out, and they stand on the brink of losing everything. They are the most unified people, not due to some higher calling but to their lack of options. Their hubris and lack of care has cost them much.

Njal are barely held together states unified only by their desire to remain free.
They are separated into various bloodlines who are all allied with other bloodlines and have enmity with other bloodlines.  They are extended family based and will unite only when facing outside forces. They have firm laws on vendettas and feuds, for in the past feuds have led to vicious wars that hindered their growth as a nation. These rules are enforced by the Unblooded.
Unblooded - orphan children are taken and raised in monasteries to be warrior judges who travel from clan to clan and hold impartially to the law(at least in theory). They are sterilized  so that they may not start a new bloodline and thus confuse the political landscape.
There is also the tale of the exiled bloodline who claimed that all gods were false and were exiled due to their strange madness. They wandered off into the wilderness to pray to the world spirit, though that is known to be a fruitless endeavor.

Fa-chia: tribal peoples, unrelated and hey have never really needed to gather in large numbers. I don't really have much for them just yet, I will need to do more research and more thinking on what to do with them.

OK, there it is the basics of my brainstorming on how to make cultures stand out a bit more and be a nit more complex than just a simple stereotype. Let me know what you think. I would love to hear and comments, suggestions, critiques, or whatever.

Friday, September 30, 2016

World Building Part 6: Magic, Religion, and the World Around Them

Part 1: Initial Arbitrary Ideas
Part 2: Airships and Implications
Part 3: People and Purposes
Part 4: Basics of Magic
Part 5: A brief History

What is Magic?
I went over this a bit in the previous post on Magic, but I want to get a bit more detailed here. Once again I am going to delve a bit into the sources I outlined in part four to help get a better picture of what magic can and can't do. In this post I will try and dig into the core of magic and some of its limitations and costs. I also will be opening this up to folks as I am having a couple of key difficulties with the magic system. If you have any thoughts on the matter please feel free to let me know.

The tone of magic in the setting is a bit difficult. The magic stems from impersonal elemental forces, but those forces are created by the world spirit which likely does have a will of its own...probably. That in mind I think magic aims toward balance, which would work(I think) well with the themes of the setting as it stands, where humans have overstepped and taken more than they need. So the world is out of balance. Also as all the elements work in harmony within the world spirit that could imply a bunch of things about ow the humans have over stepped(in a metaphysical sense). Their attack led the other peoples to be less trusting and more focused on warfare as a necessity. To restore balance, it would take more than just beating the human war machine it would take healing the rift between all the peoples of the world. Or something. SO magic has a will, but it is weak on a person by person level. Magic desire harmony and balance. Well, not magic itself, more the source of magic has a desire for balance. The magic iis pretty uncaring in how it is used or for what purpose.

Cost and limits of magic
This is the area I am having the most difficulty with. I have some limits and a couple of ideas for costs, but I don't have it quite nailed down yet, For limits, I think that if you learn one element you cannot use the elemental opposite, and the further away from your chosen element a spell is, the more difficult it is to cast. So if you are elementally focused on fire you cannot cast water magic and earth and wind magic are more difficult for you than fire magic. Also there are the limits based on the type of magic used. Mechanical magic takes time to build, resources are used up to build it, and the best you can manage is a one shot spell or a single spell you can use multiple times. External magic only pulls from the four primary elements and can only summon, shape, and direct the element. Some cool things can be done with that, but it is less nuanced or specialized than internal magic. By contrast, internal magic only deals in the secondary elements(at least that is how I see it?) and deals with more esoteric techniques, enhancing or healing the body, movement abilities, illusions, and mind magic. Internal magic only deals with living things where external magic deals with ether elements directly. If that makes sense.

As to costs I have had a few ideas but I don't really like any of them fully. The first Idea I had was that magic uses up the elemental force and so diminishes the world spirit with each use. I really don't like that one as there is no way around a bleak and mundane future. Magic becomes a bad thing, and I want magic to be fun and I don't want people to feel bad for using it. Another idea for the cost of magic is that it takes a lot of training and skill to do magic and so most people don't, add in the standard "it takes concentration" and it is workable. However I am not a fan of that model either as the cost wouldn't be visible in the fiction. The fiction would start with people doing magic, or at least attempting it and unless I want a whole story about training, that just doesn't work for me. The final thought I had was that magic uses up health or vitality from the caster(or a sacrifice, or something) but while that leads to interesting cost benefit analysis moments, I want this setting to be pretty high fantasy and using up one's life energy in order to cast a spell seems...less fun, I guess. So any thought's on the costs or limits of magic are welcome.

Magic is a natural part of the world, so it is fairly common. That said it does take training and focus to do large amounts of magic. I think that Disciples(my chosen term for those who do magic as the focus of their skill set) would be pretty rare(like one in a hundred) as most people learn a single useful spell(summoning water to drink, or enhancing strength to pull a plow, things like that) and then spend most of their time doing the normal things people do, like becoming a shopkeeper, farmer, blacksmith, or farmer. Sure they could learn more, but unless they focus their whole life on magic it just isn't worth the effort. Esspecially when you can buy a potion or scroll if you really need a certain spell. I will probably play with the availability as I go along, but this is my current best idea.

Schools of Magic
Magic spells are shaped by the perception of the person casting them. Generally this is shaped through the school a disciple was trained in. Even those who are self taught mostly learn spells through lens of a school, even if it is only through the subtle influences of reading through the spell as it was written by someone else.

Magic schools grant access to specific advantages for initiates, more for adepts and more for masters. However those who study within a school also have additional costs or weaknesses that hinder their ability in ways that fit within their school's worldview.

In theory one could be trained in multiple schools, but it has never been successful. Allowing one's mind to look at the world through two separate understandings is confusing and contradictory. Some of these schools are more detailed than others, though they are all fairly lightly defined right now. Th reason for this is I am still working out what they mean and how they relate to the world.

The Largest Schools of Mechanical Magic
The Makinae Daeva - The priests of the Machinae Daeva create and maintain all the magitech(need a better name) of the Empire of Humanity(need a better name?). Without their skilled hand there would be no empire. Through them was born the Lens, which allows the storage of powerful magical effects. They are the preeminent magitech engineers in the world, rivaled only by the smiths of the Njan. They believe in the coming god, a created deity of metal and spirit. All of their work is to build the technology necessary for creation of their god. For a long time they were just one of many strange cults, but four generations ago the ancestor of the current emperor converted and used their magics to conquer much of the world. Now they hold pride of place among the religions of the world, with temples in every human controlled town or city.
The Tubal-Kai - Njan artificers and smiths, master craftsmen. This is not a centralized school, but a series of loosely linked apprenticeship programs that all tend to follow the same ideology. They view magitech as a natural expression of the spirit of the world, she created magic and created the Njan, the Njan use that creative force to refine and focus the spirit of the world into newer and finer things. When using devices that they themselves created they are masters, however it is much  more difficult for them to use devices created by others.
The Twofold Guild - they are very good at making one off items, but are quite bad at making the big stuff. They were the controlling interest in one use magical items for centuries, of late their has been growing competition in the field. They have focused all of their efforts on recruiting and political favors, rather than improving their techniques.

The Four Major Schools of External Magic
The Questing Librarians - Trained in the Grand Library, an open academy of learning that trains Questing Librarians with the hope that they go forth into the world and gather new and forgotten knowledge to bring back to the library. Due to the amount of magical books they have acquired they stand as a powerful political force in the world. So far they have engaged to be neutral in all matters, but many governments fear when the day comes the Library decides to make its will known. The school focuses on academic magic that is formulaic and not good at improvisational magic.
Ashi-Ashi Knights - purely focused on combat applications, very good at big effects, less good at subtle stuff. Can only be learned from the Bit-bits. There are few practitioners outside of the capital city of the Bit-bit lands, as they were all but wiped out during the human invasion.
Spirit Saints - A religious order that seeks to maintain balance. They are always trained in multiple spells at the same time, they are masters of nothing but very good at a broad array of spells. They oppose any extremes as extremes show an unbalanced nature. Pain is a sign of unbalance, as is poverty, hunger, rage, greed, and any other excess. Many folks look to them for aid when they are in need, but look down on them when what they want is in excess of what the Spirit Saints see as balanced. they are often seen as Judgemental and aloof.
Imperial School - school of the old empire, very common due to the old empire's spread. It is not an official school anywhere, but the books and mosaics of the old empire have helped train many a Disciple that could not gain training in a proper school. The focus is on self mastery, so the disciples are very focused on spells and spells outside of their core grouping of spells are quite a bit more difficult.

The Eight Known Schools of Internal Magic
Only three are currently taught, due to suppression by the human empire. The rest are outlawed and dangerous to use openly. I have not fully decided on what schools are banned or allowed yet, so any thoughts on the matter would be helpful.

The Vadra Dei - most common form taught, it is the Path of Apotheosis. It focuses on Physical Disciplines so enhancing the body and healing is very easy with this school. The more esoteric techniques of internal magic are nearly impossibles for followers of the Vadra Dei.
Oba Maur Monks - named after the mountain their order originated from, they seek enlightenment through forsaking the outside world. They see the powers as a side effect and distraction from the real power within. Many adventurers and villains are failed monks.
Order of the Star - mastery of time and space magics, a secret society that claims to be descended from the priest kings of the Old Empire.
Oder of the Dragon - forbidden art allowing for strange effects, a splinter group of the Order of the Star that worships the destructive power of magic. Disciples of the school are focused on personal power and fredom, Do What Thou Wilt is the whole of the law for them.
Cloud Dancers - Specific to the Fa-chia, deals with freedom in all things, masters are often seemingly very care free and whimsical, they cannot be chained or contained, however this makes some of the more direct and controlling techniques impossible for them to learn.
Siicar - Stealth and espionage based school, like ninja. NINJA!
School of the Mind - They believe that the universe is just the mind and will of the world spirit and only those with enough will to overcome that can do true magic.
Aristos - not really a school but a mindset for those who discover internal magic on their own. Every spell is more difficult but they can ignore one of the normal limits of magic(learning an element in opposition to your core element)

Religion and Worldview

A few of these schools are religious or a religion directly, and so i think this is a fine time to discuss what it takes to build a fantasy worldview that feel right and consistent within the world you have created. Current religions I have mentioned or thought about adding in: The Makinae Daeva, Spirit Saints, Order of the Star, and Vadra Dei.

When writing up a religion you need two things, first you need the worldview it presents and then you need the mythology that supports that worldview. I will be dealing with the worldview in this post. Perhaps later I will get into mythology and its role in religion. Every worldview must answer seven basic questions(with obvious follow on questions within each question.

the questions they must answer(rewrite these so that they are in my own words, rather than copies)
  1. What is  really real, what is the core truth of the universe? The answers might be: God, or the gods, or the material cosmos(or maybe something else, though I don't think much falls outside of those basic definers). This question will set the basis for the answers to the rest of the questions to follow.
  2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us? Do we see the world as chaotic or orderly, as created or autonomous, as matter or spirit. Do we emphasize our subjective, personal relationship to the world or its objectivity apart from us. Again this is pretty important as it will tell you  a great deal about how your worldview treats the external world.
  3. What is a person?  a highly complex machine made of meat, a sleeping god, a person made in the image of God, a naked ape, or any number of other fascinating options. Again this leads to a persons understanding of their place in the cosmos and their view of the control and power they have.
  4. What happens to a person when they die? This is one of those things no one can answer with objective truth, unless one can return from the dead, but lets assume that the laws of biology still apply unless interfered with by powerful magics(like the world spirit or something). So everyone could have a different view of what happens after death even if they believe the same basics about nearly everything theory.
  5. Why is it possible to know anything at all? that is some deep stuff that may not really be necessary if you are designing a game or writing a novel, but if you are building a world just for the joy of it, or if you really want to get down the nitty gritty of understanding this is a fun one to play with.
  6. How do we know right from wrong? Or what is the nature of sin/transgression? On the other hand this is vital if you want people whose morals fit into something understandable(no matter how strange the might seem on the outside).
  7. What is the meaning of human history? Or what is the purpose of all life and such. this one is also of use in a practical day to day usage so you may need to think through this one a bit.
Now, none of those questions have to be answered in full for everything in your world, but it is good to keep those questions at hand when working through through any of your religious organizations or any organization that works with or runs against a religious organization(which is near everything if history is to be believed). I will probably only answer the questions in brief for the religions I develop at first, as I like to see how they will interact before I start to really nail down specifics.

I hope this post was of some use to some of you world builders out there, or at least of interest to those following along. Let me know what you think. I am always open to ideas, comments concerns and critiques.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

World Building Part 5: The Shape of History

Part 1: Initial Ideas
Part 2: Poking and prodding at a couple ideas
Part 3: Roughing out the peoples of the world
Part 4: Magic: The Basics

I was going to do a world building post on monsters and ecology today, however a question was raised by happenstance around me and I wanted to address this in this post. Not sure how that is going to go, but lets give it a try.

The question raised was as to originality and avoiding cliche in your world building. On the one level I don't think you can have true originality. There is nothing new under the sun, as the old line goes. You can, however approach your world building as an exercise in shaping a world through the lens of your understanding. So in this post I will be dealing with the general shape of the history of my world and my methodology of research use in world building.

The first rule of world building, for me, is this: When in doubt use Earth as a basis. Earth has been studied and argued over for thousands of years of civilization. It is both nuanced and yet very messy and confusing. There are sudden shifts due to single individuals being in the right place at the right time. Conversely great sections of history move forward with the glacial inevitability of death. So dig into the real world.

What parts of the real world interest me for the sake of the history of this world? Good question, here is where the lens of your knowledge comes in. You cannot just straight up copy and paste a given culture into a fantasy world. If you have made a different enough world, then the culture won't make sense that way. And if you are going to just straight up use earth cultures why are you building a world to begin with?

I have some givens right from the start. I know that there are loads of monsters, spirits, and demons in the world that make the world a dangerous place. I know that magic exists and can do a lot of stuff that would be impossible with bronze or iron age technology. I know that the world is far more mountainous than earth and that the people live in the valleys and canyons primarily. I know that river travel is generally fraught with danger so long distance travel was difficult.

Knowing this I decided to do a bit of digging into how kingdoms work when defended by natural boundaries. Primarily I dug into Ancient Egypt, Switzerland, and the Kingdom of Cusco. These gave me a decent baseline for life in hard to reach places and how it might go about growing or receding. Most struggles would be pretty small things within a given valley or along a river. Once a give people conquered as much as they could hold they would know, in general what direction their enemies would come from and how they would have to approach.

Knowing this I can dig into the history a bit. I want their to be a fallen high magic society that ruled the world for a while, I will probably base it a bit on Rome and a bit on the Tang Dynasty, though as that empire has fallen the details are less important at this point. We will say that the empire lasted around three hundred years of growth and prosperity and then another fifty years of decline before it tore itself apart in civil war and corruption. I would like religion to be a somewhat important feature in the world, so that could have played a part there as well. After the empire collapsed all the remaining surrounding small kingdoms began to invade and fight over the pieces, until there was little left of the empire save for ruins and records.

I think it would be interesting to set the invasion of the humans about two hundred years after the fall of the empire, when people are finally starting to regain the magic knowledge they had lost and large scale alliances are just beginning to form. Humans had invented airships just as a multi year drought hit their lands. This drought changed these traders to raiders, and when they realized they held a technological edge over the rest of the world, it changed them into conquerors. A bit like the viking invasions, where their superior ships allowed for the vikings to raid and invade with speed and surety. However I see the human empire working on a day to day basis much closer to something like the Holy Roman Empire rather than on centralized state. Though I think a difference would be that the church is goig to be the source of their airships and war machines(this was a decision I made today and hadn't had time to write it down). So it is a political hotbed of varying powers and principality all vying for control.

The other peoples of the world have yet to be fully addressed here, so lets dig into that. The Njan are desert dwellers, and live in canyon cities along a great river. I will be stealing a bit from the Egyptians for them, but they are also master craftsmen and master swordsmen, so I will add bits of a few other cultures as well, primarily the Italian City States. I could even see a region of their land that would operate a little bit like Sicily, currently occupied by humans, but still considered part of the Njan holdings.

The Bit-bits are easier to handle as they are a mostly conquered people. All they have left is one city. Prior to the human invasion, they had one of the few methods for travelling by air. Their sky knights riding Gelves could deliver news and messages swiftly over long distances. I could even see them using that advantage for financial and political gain, a bit like the Knights Templar. Perhaps that advantage led to an arrogance when dealing with other peoples and that was why they were chosen by the humans as first to conquer.

Finally we come to the Fa-chia. They are a nomadic people with a natural ability to fly. The claim to be from the thousand moons and build cloud homes as temporary resting places. With them they don't have much in the way of history as they still have few threats to their way of life directly. While some of them are concerned with the changes in the world, most could care less. They go where they want and when they want. Generally they are bound together in families and loose tribal structures. They lived this way during the empire. They lived this way during the chaotic times afterword. They live this way now. And they have powerful wind and water magics to protect themselves should the need arise. I will probably do a lot more with them in the future, but as far as history is concerned, as a group they have done little of grand importance. Perhaps a few individuals have done great deeds, but as a group they have always been neutral.

Now the question comes down, how much further back do I need to go. For me, I try to stay only on  subjects that are relevant to the setting as it stands now. The fallen empire is probably going to be important. All the wars and such that followed will also be of importance to the current political landscape. The invasion of the the Bit-bit lands is definitely important. Perhaps in the future I will go into detail on the history of all the cultures that have ever existed and how that all interrelates with the history of the world, but for right now I think I have a solid notion of a broad starting point for the history of the various peoples and the general feel of the cultures.

That is a breakdown of how I start a world history and(hopefully) make it feel real and interesting. I hope this has been of help, or at least interesting, to some of you. If you have ideas on the way things should work here please let me know. Critiques, comments, and ideas are always welcome. If you disagree with me tell me, if you think I need to do more let me know where I have failed. Thanks you.

Monday, September 26, 2016

World Building Part 4: Do you believe in Magic?

Part 1: The Setup
Part 2: Airships and the basics
Part 3: Species and Purpose

In this post I want to dig into the basics of magic and how it is used in a setting. Now for those following along I have already laid out that the world has certain features that are somewhat magical in nature. So I already have a few givens about the magic in the world. Namely that it is fairly ubiquitous and that it is a natural phenomenon. From there I move into further defining and explaining what magic is and what it does in the setting. Some of my influences:

Sanderson's First Law of Magic
Sanderson's Second Law of Magic
Sanderson's Third Law of Magic
Fate System Tollkit's discussion on magic

There are other source I use and other axioms I hold to, but I keep coming back to these for their practicality and ease of use. For my setting I have a bunch of schools of magic, however all of those schools stem from the four primary elements(Fire, Water, Air, and Earth) and the four secondary elements(Metal, Wood, Void, and Spirit), in fact all magic stems from the elements in some way. Because magic is a natural force and a major part of the world, magic acts closer to law than to some capricious poorly understood mysticism. This is even explained in a fair amount of detail in the airship post. Airships run on magic and are the technology of the humans.

So keeping in mind my existing setting material and the biases and axioms I am working from here is the basic rundown on how I see magic working in my setting. I will delve deep and extrapolate further as we goo along in this process, but here are the basics as I see them.

The world is alive. It has a soul and it created all the things upon and within it. It fuels all the worlds magic and the elemental forces the stem from that magic. The primordial elements are eternal and unchanging, flowing throughout the world in eddies and upwellings. the people of the world have learned to channel these elemental forces and they call this knowledge magic.

Magic in this world is a natural force, more akin to gravity or electromagnetism than to something outside of the natural order. Magic stems from the primal elemental forces that represent the spiritual energy of the planet itself. Though it is impartial to how it is used it does have a will of its own and seeks to maintain an equilibrium upon the planet.

Magical effects can manifest through a number of methods: Mechanical, Internal, and External. Mechanical magic is primarily done through the creation of a Lens out of the raw elemental material. The Lens can only contain one effect, though it can have massive power. the Airships and Battle Machina of the Human Empire are all powered through the use of Specialized Lenses. There are also single use magical effects that are constructed to have a single given effect per use. they are much cheaper to use and much easier to use. These were historically used through potions and scrolls, though in recent year the Njan have developed a new single use technology, the Caster Gauntlet. It is a single Lens in the palm and a a slot on the back of the hang for an elemental bead. Each bead contains one spell that can be cast only once. These are very valuable and dangerous items, Caster Gauntlets, and may very well change the face of warfare.

External Magic is what is generally known as spells. there are four main schools of magic, each focuses on the use of one Prime Elemental force: Water, Air, Fire, and Earth. Masters of a school can summon, shape, and direct the element of their school. Most Combat Magic falls into this category as External Magic Allows for impressive displays of raw power. Masters of the External arts can create objects out of their chosen element, summon elemental spirits to aid them, and even summon the element itself to cause great relief or destruction.

Diagram of the Elemental nature of the universe
Internal magic is much stranger than the other two, focusing on techniques to use elemental power to enhance and alter oneself. Their are currently eight known schools of internal magic. those who use internal magic can perform superhuman feats and perform acts that would be impossible otherwise. Rather than channeling external elemental forces to gain an effect, users of Internal magic channel their inner reserves of power in order to shape the energies within and around them. Magic that strengthens inherent ability and magic that allows one to affect the minds and bodies of others are all internal magics. Internal magic is limited by one's biological elemental nature, so each species is only able to learn three of the eight schools of internal magic.

Magic also expresses itself in other, less directed ways throughout the world. When the elements are out of balance(not sure how that happens yet, but it sounds like a cool idea) great storms can occur. The elemental spirit of the world will occasionally manifest a wild elemental spirit that can use great magics to enact is will. And then there are the demons.

Demons are the antitheses of the elements, the antitheses of balance and harmony. Everywhere they go they sow chaos and destruction. No one is sure where the come from, but it is known that they wish to destroy the whole of the world and everything upon and within it. They are naturally anti magic and can grant that power as a gift to those who side with them. the elemental forces just fall apart when they focus upon it. Internal magic is usually better than external magic when dealing with demons. Pray you never have to deal with them.

OK so those are the basics of magic and its role in the setting. What do you think? Things I would like to work on in the future for this would be the names, powers, and limitations of the known schools of magic, a name for the world, which I still don't have, and maybe a bit more on the nature of elemental spirits and demons. I would love to hear any comments you might have on the setting and how it is going. Critique is also welcome.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

World Building Part 3: War and Rumors of War

So far we have laid out some of the big picture stuff and some of the things I see as carry overs from those big decisions. We even have a bunch of peoples that have not really been fleshed out. So lets take a moment to flesh them out a bit. If you are just stepping in to this exercise here are the links to the previous posts in this series:

Part 1: Initial Arbitrary Decisions
Part 2: Airships

In working on this post I had a few thoughts that are unrelated with this post's topics, but are tangentially related and I would like to devote a little space to talking about them.

The purpose of your world
If the world you create is for you alone then you can build it as a utopia. If the world is designed as an exercise in understanding a specific world view or philosophical model, then you can also construct it as a Utopia. If you are attempting it for something else though, Utopias are right out. If other folk will be looking at it you need to at least answer why the bad things don't happen. Even when dealing with a philosophical ideal you need to have some sort of answer as to why things work, and why human nature has somehow been abrogated.

If your world if for use in some form of drama(whether for book, game, story, or whatever)then you must make the world capable of supporting drama. Things must be happening. Generally speaking the things that must be happening must drive action and have solid reasoning as to why the things happening are happening now. What I mean is that if the interesting or conflicting things could have happened earlier or later than the "now" of your setting you need to address why it is happening now. So while I was working on the various intelligent species that inhabit the world I needed to come up with interesting things that happened in the past and interesting things that are about to happen. I am still not quite sure what I will eventually do with this world, but it is very much out there for others to look at, so I need to have reasons why things are the way they are and interesting conflicts and passions that drive the world to more drama.

All that said lets dig into the peoples of the world.

So the problem comes in on what to name the various sentient species  and people groups of the world(which still has no name, but we will get to that later). Also what to call them as a whole group is a bit of a problem. With Dungeons and Dragons they called their various intelligent species, "races." However that leads to complications in the setting that I don't really want. I thought about going with Sophonts, which is my favorite sci-fi term for intelligent species. However that adds a science fiction feel to the world, and I am aiming for a very fantasy feeling world. In the end I think I am going to go with People, and having decided that lets dig into the various Peoples of the world(that still has no name.

Bit-Bit: After a long and involved discussion I decided that the sprites who ride flamingos and live in the deep forest will be called the Bit-bits, as that is adorable and easy to pronounce. I also decides that their war flamingos will be called Gelves. They are children of the forests and the swamps, using the magic of water and earth to bend plants to their will. They live in vast mangrove-like tree cities. They stand between two and three feet tall and tend to wear clothing adorned with bright feathers and leaves of the various beasts of the forests and swamps. Long ago they were protected by a holy order of Knights who wielded powerful magics and rode forth on the fiercest of gelves. One hundred years ago the The Human Empire invaded the forests, defeated the Knights, and conquered most of the Bit-bit's ancestral homelands. Now they are a people on the ropes. They have only one last fortress left and the war has used up much of their resources. They sent out small groups of ambassadors to the other peoples of the world in the hopes that together they can retake their homeland.

Njan: Cat people who live in the desert lands near the volcanoes. they stand at around five feet tall on average, all of it muscle and grace. They are masters of technology and swordsmanship. They are pragmatic and practical people, uncaring about the outside world or anything but their own pursuits. They are divided into hundreds of factions and clans. A passionate people who hold to their ideals no matter the opposition dueling became a cultural norm. Outsiders have a difficult time understanding the social situation in any given moment. To most outsiders their society seems like controlled anarchy, but it all makes sense to the maze-like minds of the Njan. When the Human Empire began its big push for conquest a hundred years ago, the Njan were initially shocked at the invention of airships. However they swiftly crafted their own and were able to hold back the human fleets. However now that the border has been held for such a long time the various political forces within the Njan held cities are back to fighting amongst themselves. If the humans could ally with a few of the factions against the others they might win a near bloodless victory. Well, bloodless for the humans.

Fa-chia: Flying Lizard barbarian nomads. they build cities in the clouds and claim to be from the Thousand moons(the asteroid belt that orbits the planet). They follow the stars and are great oracles and students of history. During the war humans conquered several key elemental locations that the Fa-chia held sacred. They have mined them to near nothing, draining most of the elemental magic energy from them leaving behind what the Fa-chia call, "holes in the sky." The Fa-chia live in various allied bands that form larger tribes and those tribes have treaties and allegiances with other tribes. They are not a naturally violent species. Most conflicts involve displays of might or logic in order to make it understood that the opposing force should not attempt to attack. Needless to say they are terrible at warfare, though there is a growing number of the youth who wish to see the Humans pay for their encroachment.

Humans: The most creative and passionate people, they conquered a majority of the world a hundred years ago. I guess I decided to make them the bad guys of the setting, or at least they are the biggest threat to the various other peoples. I think I will need to work out how best to handle them so as to avoid straight up mustache twirling evil. So perhaps there was an event that predicated this conquest a hundred years ago. The humans had just discovered airship technology and were quite comfortable being master traders and making huge amounts of money(now I need to figure out how money works in the world). Then their was a natural disaster and some vital resource became very scarce. Perhaps the government went back and forth on what to do and society was on the verge of collapse. Tired of the bickering by various political factions the military took over and managed to make a stable government, however the shortage was still there, so they did what they knew how to do. They invaded their neighbors. They were not evil, directly, they were just desperate and made a bunch of terrible mistakes. Also this can lead to lots of interesting stuff with the descendants of the original government leader forming a rebellion against the current military regime, and the odd populist movement or some such. Humans are the most technologically advanced, though the Njan are very close behind and may catch up if they were less busy with their own maddening politics.

So that is what I have so far for this, I think next I will need to deal with religion, elementals, and perhaps how the universe works in a bit more depth. I would love to hear any thoughts, comments, or critiques on the project so far. Let me know what you think!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

World Building Part 2: Airships, What Do They Eat?

Here we move forward with building this fantasy world I started just a bit ago. If you want to know what was done, here is the previous post:

Part 1 Initial Arbitrary Idea

SO yesterday I laid out the basics of the setting and spun some ideas off into interesting directions. Now I am going to dig into one of those ideas in a bit more detail. That idea is Airships, my friends. Airships are the future, and don't you forget it. So what kind of world would make airships viable. I want them to be pretty central to the setting so they need to be pretty common. So lets do some brainstorming. I will just be spitting out the ideas as the come to me...or for me?

Perhaps their are massive mountains and canyons that halt all long distance travel by land or river. Most folks would then live in valleys and mountainsides. I could also see a bunch of floating islands in the sky, or the world is set in a ring of asteroids and stuff around a gas giant.

I have seen a lot of the sky island type of settings, so I am leaning away from that type for now. I really do like the ring of asteroids idea, but I am leaning toward the mountains and canyons thing. Perhaps I will add the ring of asteroids with livable terrain into the setting. So instead of a moon their is a ring of asteroids that hold atmospheres and have life on them and such.

So we have rough terrain everywhere, with mountains, plateaus, and canyons blocking off long distance travel. Most people live in the valleys or canyon walls(I really love the cool cities built into the walls of a canyon).The rivers are fast moving and dangerous on a regular enough basis that water travel is not optimal for long distance travel. Perhaps there are few oceans and most water is in rivers and small lakes spread across the whole land. Maybe the only ocean is the center of the water Because of its magical nature the ocean is very treacherous. All water stems from that ocean. Ooh, here is a thought the water of the world is all fresh water due to its magical nature.

So we have a world that needs airships for long distance travel, and we even have cool places to explore that would require airships to get to(the asteroid ring). So now we need to figure out how these airships work. The first thing that comes to mind is the magical elements of the world crystallize or somehow solidify and can be used to do odd magical effects. Air element crystals can be used to give a ship neutral buoyancy in the air. The ship needs to provide its on propulsion and direction. So you would get sails and propellers and all that. Also I could see harnessing birds to pull ships(so the sprites can use their flamingo mounts to pull their airships). I would also like for the ship to have some really weird or esoteric means of propulsion, but I don't have any ideas for that right at the moment, so if you have any really cool ideas pleas suggest them.

due to the need for propulsion I thin that either the Njan or the Humans would probably have built the airships first. Due to the idea that humans are everywhere I think that I will go with humans inventing the airships and using those to go everywhere. The Njan have the expertise in technology, so their airships are probably all masterpieces of design, efficient and impressive, but they don't have enough of them as they never came up with them on their own. The sprites(who I have yet to name, but am stuck between Bit-Bit and Flamin-gelves. Let me know what you think) had the ability to ride on their flamingos ot go places. The Fa-Chia can fly on their own, so airships just never occurred to them. Now that humans have spread the technology around, though both of those species are excellent airship makers.

Now that we know that people live in valleys and that the magic of the elements materializes a bit we can begin working on a few other thoughts. Like what do they eat. Well there are monsters everywhere, so I think that monster meat is probably pretty popular. Also you could probably get the elemental magic material of wood to grow things in confined spaces. Also we could get loads of terraces for farming on the mountain sides and such. Perhaps their cities grow up and down rather than out, so the cities are filled with tunnels and towers. The sprites probably live within the trees by shaping them into living houses. Also with the materializing of the various elemental magics you could get the Fa-Chia wind wizards building castles out of clouds, and even airships from the clouds. Their instinct for the sky allows them to do things with air magic the other species would view as impossible.

So that is the basics of airships and how that helps shape the setting. I would love to here your thoughts on it. Comments, critiques, and questions are all welcome.  If you would like to help me name the sprites please let me know what name I should go with, or if you have some really spiffy ideas for airship propulsion methods also let me know. Moving forward I think I will probably move to either monsters or the thinking species of the setting. Perhaps I should also come up with a name for the world I am building, but as of right now I can't think up anything that sounds right. Ideas would be welcome.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

World Building Part 1: Initial Ideas and Brainstorming

I love world building. I guess anyone who follows this blog or my other works might have surmised as much. It is a constant thing with me, building worlds. I have dozens of them going at any given time and I am always spinning more off into the void, just to see what they look like. Worlds are never complete, sure. I am always at work on one or the other, fixing this or adding that. Some of the worlds I have build span galaxies and more, others are only a building and a few personalities. Others still are mere pitches with nothing to them other than the barest hint of an idea. In this series(I think it will be a series) I plan to showcase my methodology and hopefully help my self out of a bit of writers block I have been experiencing.

So here goes, my methodology for building a world:

Step one for me is the Initial Arbitrary Idea(s). In this step I just lay out the things I want to play with and try and figure out if those ideas can go well together or if there is enough depth to a given idea to merit a whole world. For this project I came up with a couple on my own and a couple were given to me by some friends(thanks +Tore Nielsen +Cameron Corniuk +Reagan Taplin +Mitch Williams +John Helmuth  and +James Husum for all your interesting thoughts). Here is the list of idea seeds that I will be working with for this world:
  1. Airships
  2. Points of light(monsters are everywhere)
  3. The Elements are magical/conscious/crucial in some way that is weird and interesting.
  4. Summoning/super form
  5. Humans dominate but there are other intelligent species(thinking maybe a cutesy magic species and a four legged barbarian species. Maybe others)
  6. major city that sits on a bed of water, surrounded by a waterfall on all sides. Airship and magic only safe ways to get there.
  7. Lizard Men
  8. Land/Sky pirates whose ship/lair is built upon the backs of enormous striding beasts
  9. Cloud Wizards who make ships out of clouds and fly about
  10. A sect of priests who maintain the ships(possibly with a secret group controlling them, possibly repairing stuff through superstition and ritual rather than actual knowledge)

And that is what I have, my initial arbitrary decisions. I went with a lot of them, because I like to play around and I kind of want to keep doing world building for a long time on this project. You can start with just one, in fact any one of those ideas would be a solid.

Once you have your initial idea(s) it is time to start brainstorming within it(them). Find the parts of the setting on which the other parts hang. The elements seem like a pretty solid main point to branch off of(heck the final fantasy games have been using it for thirty years, there must be something to it), also the species thing seems like a good central thing to play with. Lets start with those two, mostly because those are what jumped out at me as the most interesting. I like the classical elements, but there are only five of them and I think we can have more fun with more. I did some digging and found a few extra classical elements from various other philosophies and I have a list of eight: Fire, Water, Air, Earth, Metal, Wood, Void/Space, and Spirit/Consciousness. In digging around for them I came up with a silly thought that I like. 

In this world(which I have not named yet)There are the four main elements, fire, water, earth, and air. Then their are four secondary elements that are a mix of two other elements, Fire and Earth make Metal, Water and Earth make Wood, Water and Air make Void, and Fire and Air make consciousness. Then I had a follow up thought, what if there was a sentient species for each of the secondary elements. I really liked that so I had to work out what that meant and what the meaning of each element was. I will probably due an in depth breakdown of each element and how it plays out in the world and the magic in the world, but for now here is the initial idea on which species matches with which element. 

Metal: Combining the energy of fire with the permanence of earth makes for creativity and ingenuity, passion and stubbornness. The species of Metal is the Njan, a catlike people of mechanics and sword masters, artists and revolutionaries. 
Wood: Combining Water's unfathomable depth and adaptability with the earth's unchanging nature leads to wisdom and patience. The species of wood are the Sprites(need a better name) tiny folk who value knowledge and survival. They ride flamingos(I just wanted them to ride flamingos, this is not derived from anything)
Void: Combining the air and water is a dangerous mix. Air is free and unchecked, water is adaptable and ever moving. The Fa-chia are a people of great passion and whim, nomads who roam the skies and lands with impunity. They are quadrupedal winged lizards who are considered barbaric and simple by most. Those who know better often go to them for advice, the nomads of sky and sea know many things. They hold no grudges and are quick to forgive. They live in boundless optimism and hope tempered with understanding and empathy. 
Spirit: Combining fire with air leads to truly great things, either great creativity or a great conflagration. The air is flighty but sees all, fire is passion, properly directed it is a wondrous thing. Humans are the species of spirit. They have great plans and must do them now, for tomorrow is a promise to no one. 

Now that we have this I am starting to see the shape of things. Airships are held aloft by the magic of air. The city on the water with waterfalls all around it is obviously the center of a great deal of water elemental energy, perhaps there is a great water spirit there or it is the source of all water on the planet. Does that mean that there are similar cities at similar places related to other elements? Maybe. Does the sect of priests who maintain the airships follow or worship the elemental spirit of air? Is that a real thing or is it something they made up long ago to explain how things work? The great beasts of the pirates, where do they come from and what do they eat? Actually, what do they eat, is a solid question to ask at nearly any point in world building. It nearly always adds a little more verisimilitude to the world, and that is always handy. I have a lot more planned for the future of this world building but I think I have nailed down the basics of the setting. Next we start getting into the why's of certain things. Like why airships, and what would cause people to develop them over land or water travel? That is it for now. Let me know what you think, comments, critique, and questions are always welcome.

Part 2: Airships
Part 3: Species and abit of history