Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What Kind of World Do You Want?

By David

Once upon a time, when Dragon Magazine was still a print entity found in magazine racks, a feature series captured my attention called Dungeoncraft, penned by Ray Winninger, the series gave step by step advice to dungeon masters for creating memorable environments for their Dungeons and Dragons games. The article entries were fun to read even if you never used them in a practical sense and they occupied my bookcase--never gathering dust--for many years. I've been reading them recently to give myself a focus, or at least a starting point, in the creation of Archaborea, my new fantasy world.

The first step is to decide on a hook, the points which would define and characterize my world. I had many ideas to begin with: themes and concepts I wanted to explore and exploit, but what were the headlines? What made my world unique?

Archaborea; the essentials.

Primitive Savagery and High Adventure.
I wanted something non-standard: less Tolkien and more Burroughs (although, G.R.R Martin "politics" aren't out of the mix.)
Most of the world is undeveloped or even unspoiled by mortal hands. In the heavens, elemental powers wage an eternal war with elder beings; think Mother Nature versus Cthulhu. The collision of natural and unnatural forces result in jagged mountains, breathless jungles, sucking swamps and infernal deserts. Fell beasts and even predatory plant life abound outside civilized areas. Those who rise above daily survival to seek their fortune are truly exceptional, the stuff of myths and legends.

The Bad Guys Rule.
This one has become a standard, but it provides a good backdrop for other ideas. Also, the Evil Empire trope is near and dear to me...
A decades-old war established the domination of the Ogre Lords (somewhat of a misnomer which stuck; no one knows if the lords are actually of ogreish descent...) Conquerors rumored to have their own fearful rulers, the Ogre Lords have erected fortresses of stone to protect their slaves and subjects from the wilderness and each other. Cities and villages are few and far between existing in places where people have put down roots, determined to hold their freedom and their ground.

Metal is a rare commodity.
This played into the primitive savagery angle, and gives an extra challenge to the potential heroes. The will need to be creative and resourceful in order to arm themselves.
The Ogre Lords and their warlords, enforcers/sympathizers, attempt to control potential uprisings by controlling superior weaponry, keeping the best for their personal armies. Metal weapons and armor are seized at fortress gates and most metal mines are controlled by the Ogre Lords. Metalworking skill has been forbidden to the general populace, punishable by death. Common arms and armor are more often made of leather, wood, bone, stone, and other such materials. Because iron and steel are hard to come by legally, many have become very creative in their materials and designs for personal protection.

Religion is not about faith.
In a world where the very forces of nature are at war, fate and destiny can seem very fickle.
Faith and belief in Archaborea relies on what can be seen or felt. The majority worship primal forces and the natural elements-even if the primal spirits are often wild and vengeful. Elder beings grant power in return for subservience and sacrifice.

Arcane magic is feared, Elemental magic is revered.
I wanted to enforce the notion that magic is mysterious and powerful; I don't like magic being commonplace or expected. Again, back to pulp stories like Robert E. Howard.
Sorcerers and Magicians are viewed with awe and fear by the superstitious populace. True magic power comes from forces often grotesque or beyond comprehension. Shamans and Priests harness the power of nature or elemental forces. Devoted worship can grant the ability to create what some view as miracles.

Adaptation for survival means the term “race” is often only about physical appearance.
I don't like racial stereotypes as a rule. And I had some ideas for mixing up the traditional stereotypes of fantasy races. Why did dwarves need to be stoneworkers? What if dwarves could be "cowboys" or mountaineers?
The wars of conquest by the Ogre Lords displaced many from their traditional areas and the races of Archaborea have adapted to “non-standard” geographical locales. The race referred to as “Dwarves” are not all subterranean miners, some may be plains nomads surviving by herding, trading, or raiding; low and stout in appearance, but wayward and surprisingly quick. “Elves,” lithe and sharp in their features, are as likely to be found on a mountaintop, or lurking in the catacombs below cities, tradespeople who keep the city structures intact. Outside of the fortress walls, tribal structures are much more loose and varied racially; the masters of the Jade Forest might be composed of gnomes, fairie folk, and humans, living side by side as one.

Mr. Winninger had two basic rules he used for this process.
1. "Never create more than you must."
2. "Whenever you design a major piece of the campaign world, always devise at least one secret related to that piece." I have hinted at some potential secrets in my hooks, but I will not reveal them yet. Next comes a little basic geography and sociology to give my heroes a starting point.

 What Kind of World Do You Want? Part 1

In my head, the "ogre lords" look more akin to minotaurs, hence the note in The Bad Guys Rule hook...

What Kind of World Do You Want? Part 2

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