These are some notes that I made in 2015 about world building:
1. An 'unbroken' world. The game planet has not had the player races all slowly evolve on this world directly. Thus, many/most of the animal species native to the world are undomesticated. Further to this, they should be as un-Earthly as possible. So, we don't have a direct transposition from medieval Europe.
2. As many standard fantasy tropes to be subverted as possible. This will be difficult, but Elves as pragmatic. Dwarves as artistic and so forth.
3. Global community of refugees. Although some sapient species are native to the world (certainly kuon, possibly athexe, and others) most of the standard fantasy stock were brought here many centuries (possibly millennia) ago by some sort of... magical war and/or accident, trans-dimensional conflict/time war and etc.
4. Joined together to fight a common enemy. Although originally mortal foes; humans, elves, orcs, dwarves, goblins, and all the others, had to come together to fight an utterly horrifying aberrant species (Lovecraftian things). Who either were/are native to the world or followed them here. So, rather than the usual 'fantasy ghetto' divisions of continent by race/species (land of the halflings and so on) the cultures are divided more on ideological grounds, within which the different species are working together.
5. Ancient giant architecture. Abandoned colossal standing stones, ziggurat, and temples made by an older race (probably the risar).
6. Technology AND magic. Standard setting would have Earth tech equivalent to the 1700's. Clock-punk gunpowder weapons, clockwork machinery, etc.
I'm pleased to see that most of these ideas are still present, although some are becoming more tangential, i.e. the knowledge of the past NOT being made available to the characters of the stories.
One idea I'm certainly less attached to now, is the 'giant architecture', mainly because this isn't particularly surprising or interesting, indeed, it's a bit too common an idea. I quite like the idea of there being some giant-sized architecture, but not to make it a common theme. Indeed, the occasional 'odd' architectural or environmental structure would be more appealing.
The idea of the 'world' being a created space, some post-apocalypse realm, or experimental creation by mad 'gods'. Although the last one plays a little too close to Douglas Adams...
Indeed, that's a problem for me, the influence of too much British comedy! It's hard to think seriously about a medieval setting now without thinking of Holy Grail, science fiction without Hitchhiker's Guide or Red Dwarf, and generally ridiculing the often overly serious American attitude to fantasy stories (Raymond E. Feist is a good example of a fine writer that gets more than a little carried away with himself and don't get me started on George R. R. Martin!).
That point being raised, this leads me to giving a few more influences and one in particular, because he might of only got a cursory mention in yesterday's post, but Terry Pratchett is phenomenally influential. Not least, because he stops me from taking this all too seriously.
However, if you're unfamiliar, don't think that Pratchett is merely a parodist of fantasy novels. He does a great deal more, like Le Guin his stories seem to function as a believable world with a sense of substance, which is some feat considering that the 'Discworld' is a flat earth flying through space on the backs of four giant elephants carried by a giant space turtle, his characters also have a sense of truth about them, with personalities that make you care about their fates. Within the comedy and satire, however, are some of the best sequences of dialogue I've read where every word has obviously been carefully chosen, he also wrote perceptively about the human condition, and could use a literary allusion with precision.
Horror and Humour are dangerous companions though. As comedy easier breaks down the horrific, indeed, you might say that that's it's job! Laughing in the face of death.
The next influence, or groups of influencers, are more on Lovecraft's side (if we're putting Pratchett with Le Guin and I am) as their influence is one that shapes the shadowy mirror-world or the Down Below. I'm describing the art of Hieronymous Bosch and his creative successors (his heirs you might say..) the Surrealists, but not the Surrealists you're thinking of. Those pseudo-Marxist wannabe-Freudian's and the famous mustachioed adman, but the ignored female Surrealists, most of whom were based in Mexico. Particularly the work of Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo (whose painting Embroidering the Earth's Mantle is depicted below). Their style is what you could call 'mystical surrealism' or 'psychomagical art' and it certainly has more of a connection with artists like Austin Osman Spare (whose work on 'sigilization' is a key influence for one of the mage schools that will be described later) and medieval illustrations of alchemy and so forth. They help shape the imagery of my world.
|Elf mages at work?|
I had an idea of there being many (around 9) city states that operate independently but are tied together in a system of rulership or, better, stewardship over the world. The initial thought was to base the majority of my stories or games in one particular city and leave the descriptions of most of the others as loose as possible to allow; (1) the reader's own creative imagination, and (2) players of the game to detail their own games and thus customise the game world.
My city, Cherish Port, is one built around my last influence (to be mentioned here today) and that is film noir (excellent wikipedia page btw). I think the first film noir I saw was 'The Third Man' that just so happened to be on television one afternoon after I'd finished by postal delivery. It was one of those moments, like seeing Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (also by chance), that changed the way I saw film. Obviously, I'd already been exposed to films and media that were imitating the style of Carol Reed's film, but there was something utterly different. Perhaps Orson Wells' terrific performance, perhaps the music, but whatever it was I was immediately hooked and began to search out all manner of film noir classics and forgotten gems. The obvious immediate connection with Lovecraft is the mood of pessimism, nihilism even, of many film noir's and the lingering sense of threat and menace. Indeed, like Lovecraft, the characters in a film noir can often tend towards 'archetypal' and can be merely 'victims in the ongoing narrative' rather than developed in any real manner.
Next time: Magick and the Mage.