Month: September 2014

Accidental Worldbuilding

Apparently, I can’t help but do some world building.

Looking through the Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion, there is a lot to like: many weapons, interesting races, and a bundle of professional edges that emulate classes. All well and good.

What it doesn’t have is much in the way of setting – which is to be expected, this being a generic game, but it means I need to come up with something for a context within which my boys are going to play*.

Just Enough For This Story

I don’t need a deep story here yet. It’s not like A New Dawn where there is a plot to uncover: the game here is of ordinary adventurers in an extraordinary world. I just need some context for things like magic systems to function. To that end, apart from some broad concepts, I’m not going to define much about the world.

Magical Roots

Most fantasy games have at least two basic divisions of magic: the magic of humans, be it wizardry or sorcery or some other mechanism, and the magic of the gods, that divine energy called upon by clerics and other devout.

I don’t especially care for gods in my stories, though. Their use is essentially unsatisfying to me, moving the interesting parts of the story into an unopenable box: literally “deus ex machina”, the god outside of the machine.

So what basis shall I give for clerical magic? It still needs to be there, but who should the clerics appeal to for their powers?**

I’m going to use the classical elements of fire, water, earth and air. If I have those four in both positive and negative aspects then I have a pantheon of eight right there.

And look – no Cthulhu Mythos influence at all.

A Simple Start

But where are the players playing?

I can always come up with a new world, but I think I will reuse some ideas from both my work and others. I am thinking of an Atlantis-like place in the late prehistory of our own world, during the last glaciation.

  • most of the planet’s water is frozen in the ice caps, so sea levels are low.
  • the culture of the central land, a chain of volcanic islands in the middle of what will become the Atlantic, is an amalgam of various ancient cultures: a bit of Egyptian, a bit of Mesopotamian, a bit of Greek and Phoenician Mayan and Aztec. And so on. Different islands have different cultures, perhaps?
  • Hyperborea to the north is the freezing centre, the great enemy, of the world, seeking to freeze the world entirely.

The influences here are many: Pratchett’s Nation is critical, as is Michael Scott Rohan’s series The Winter of the World***. In both of these there are prehistoric civilisations which thrive during the last glaciation. Tales of Atlantis often speak of a land from which the founders of so many of the great civilisations fled, carrying the seeds of Atlantean knowledge with them. I also have a story [link to The Manx Connection?] which uses an Atlantean back story.

Anyway, it’s pretty derivative but that’s largely unavoidable. It’s also enough to be going on with. Time to be making a dungeon.

[*] not, I will concede, for their benefit so much as mine. Having some setting makes for an easier time coming up with stories.

[**] do these elemental gods really exist? Or are the clerical characters drawing on elemental energies using their faith as a lever to crack open the world? I don’t know, but it will be fun to find out.

[***] there’s also an interesting magic system here based around smithing which I did a bit of work codifying for a fantasy game many years ago. Might need to pull those notes out.

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Virtuous Cycles

I’ve been cycling to the day job a bit the last few weeks. The goal was to try and build up my cardio after the gross insult of stomach flu in June since I have a half marathon to run in less than three weeks – the Beat the Blerch run up near Seattle.

The good news is that it appears to have made a difference. I’ve been running further (when I take the time to rest my legs the day before) and faster (especially over short, flat routes), and my cardio fitness genuinely seems to be improved.

The bad news is that I’ve done an absolutely terrible job of carving out writing time since I started cycling to the office. I’ve been keeping up on the blog with my early morning writing, but with no bus ride to write on it’s been really hard to slice out any time during the day to spend on non-running pursuits: if I’m at my desk, I seem to struggle to switch attention away from the software problem at hand. It’s one thing to reopen the word mines (and they are open, oh yes) but quite another if you never heft the pick.

There is also an irony in that I have cycled to work in August, but will be cutting down on the commute ride in September… just when the Bicycle Transport Alliance‘s event the Bike Commute Challenge is going on*. Last year I had a 100% record; this year I will be surprised if I hit a 50% rate of commute rides.

Still, my distance ramp before the Seattle run is off kilter but functional: eight miles last weekend, eleven or so this next weekend, then a light weekend followed by a proper taper and the race itself. Should be a fun one. I look forward especially to the Nutella.

[*] and my day job employer is challenging another local startup.

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Reopening the Word Mines

I’ve been outlining Song and thinking about character goals.

Which has been useful. There have been valuable insights into the story and the characters within that story, but I’ve reached the point of diminishing returns. The outline isn’t finished, but it’s all too theoretical – I need to start turning the theoretical into the real.

It’s time to make words again.

One reason I have been doing the outline is because I got blocked on starting the third act. I have a story for the third act, but there was one scene at the beginning of it which was giving me trouble and I thought the outline would help me figure out exactly how the scene should go. However, at this point my difficulty is that I don’t have a draft, so it’s time to step around the block in the road and continue on.

I have also been reading a craft book which has been illuminating, but which mainly served to emphasise in my mind the overwhelming complexity of building an interesting story. A useful book, I think, but ultimately I need to get past the search for a mechanical process which will tell me how to write an engaging story and just get more practice in writing. We do not learn storytelling by being told how; we learn by telling stories.

Writers write.

So, I am going to make a note of how the blocking scene should end so that I have a thread to pick up and carry on to the next part of the story. I am going to set a goal of 30k for September, which is not ambitious but should be eminently achievable. If I happen to come up with 50k and finish the draft, that would be great too.

My original plan was to refine the outline and then finish this draft in November, but there are always other things to write then so I am not going to have the theoretical loss of material in two months stop me writing now.

My fingers are itching. Off we go.

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