Monday, February 17, 2014

SFWA World Building Questions - Part 3

A continuation of this previous post, I decided to tackle examining the third portion of this exhaustive (daunting and exhausting if you try to answer it all) list of questions to help formulate an author's world building exercises.

SFWA World Building Questions

Part Three - Magic and Magicians

Well, one of the first things to identify is that this section is oft-times the most contentious.  The where, how and why for of magic use within any particular fantasy novel or series is likely going to make or break a lot of readers.  Is the magic system Hard Magic, with its rigid rules and laws that define the people who use magic and what they are capable, or more importantly, not capable of executing?  Is it a Soft Magic, where the mystery of the source and the limits of the powers wielded by these mystical creatures and beings are as much an element of the story?  There are a plethora of sources out there that postulate for one or the other, many of them returning with the "do what works for you" answer, which is likely the truest answer anyone can give a prospective author.

Myself, I prefer the Soft Magic system.  I played AD&D, Rifts, Legend of the Five Rings, GURPS and other systems that clearly defined the margins and requirements for magic use.  As the Game Master more often than not this gave me the tools to reign in my players more times than not.  Ever the story-teller, I was more interested in the conduct of the adventure and the excitement engendered in good role-playing, as opposed to sticking our noses into the book to find out what specific costs or requirements we needed to meet.

Rules of Magic

When we look at the SFWA list for magic, which is daunting, I realize that a lot of these I answered intuitively to a Soft Magic system.  I haven't specifically limited what magic can and cannot do, nor do I particularly plan to.  The difference between miracle and magic is clear enough, insofar that everyone knows there are magicians, sorcerers, clerics/priests and a few select other "classes" (to use the AD&D terminology) can cast these spells and do wired and wonderful things.

The source of power is not definitively endorsed.  Mages and sorcerers draw from an undercurrent of power from the All Father Ihr's creative efforts in making the realms. Mages are more restrictive in their aptitude, limited to spoken spells and rituals, which syphon the energy in a constructed format, with predictable results; sorcerers on the other hand use an innate focus to grab on and shape the power mages.  Mages can combine their powers in rituals to have greater effect, whereas sorcerers may not.  Clerics and priests draw their powers from the essence of their gods, who have all been limited in their contact with the physical realms.  Because they draw powers from their respective gods, they may not execute a ritual.  The one exception are the druids, who draw their powers from Ihr, the Mother Goddess who gives powers to the elements.

As the Realms of Ihr'Vessen purport to a Soft Magic system, the rules in any detail further than those described herein are largely neither required nor desired.  If the magic can help advance the story, without becoming any kind of deus ex machine, then the magic shall occur, in moderation.


I suppose this would include my mages, sorcerers and the like.  From the perspective of the J'in Empire, mages are ordered into various colleges, the details I have yet to bother addressing.  It is thus far a background detail that has no place in the story; my hope is to somehow introduce a mechanism or pot line to get into this detail.  Most of the questions in this section are directed to any author purporting to the Hard Magic system.

In a general set of terms, magicians in my world are a mysterious enough bunch; the only ones we see are samurai, which poses an interesting challenge I addressed in the previous chapter of this topic.  What is a peasant was born with the ability to tap into this mystical power?  Again, an interesting question, yet not one addressed in my plot points.  My first blush at the answer is to say that they are recruited and the families moved to cover up the fact a peasant born has been brought in among the samurai.  This doesn't answer a number of cultural issues, particularly in how does a peasant-born adapt to the new way of life and the secrecy he must bear; the birthright of a samurai is important to the culture, ergo a movement up into another class brings with it some complications.  That said, I've based the J'in Empire's customs on the Sengoku Period of Japan, whereas the result of some major upheavals and conflicts, there was some upward/downward mobility.

The language of magic on the other hand is something I have committed to.  The few times that spells are invoked, a certain form of gibberish is said.  The specifics about levels of power increasing with age or experience, whether spell components are required and the other tropes typically derived from AD&D, I have yet to bother addressing, yet I doubt I will go there.

Magic and Technology

When I first saw this heading I actually just skipped right over it.  My initial thoughts were, 'this must deal with steampunk.'  Well, sort of, kind of, but not exactly.  The idea of magic transport and communications make me think of magic carpets, pumpkin to carriage and the like.  Not my baileywick.  There are, of course, magic weapons of a variety of forms.  Magic wands, staves, swords and other weapons with magical upgrades, et cetera.  They aren't as prevalent as one would imagine.  This is something I am sure anyone having played AD&D or whatnot would be entirely frustrated at; I blame the adventure modules that sprinkle magic weapons and trinkets around like Skittles at a candy store.

Magic weapons of Ihr'Vessen requires a fair investment of power and material.  Certainly the more powerful require the rarest of materials.  There certainly isn't any mass production of these artifacts.  In fact, they are very much like a finely crafted katana; they take a long and arduous process to create.  Once completed, they are literally, functional works of art.

Miscellaneous Magic Questions

This section really kind of diverted from the previous ones; the questions deal more within a socio-historical context.  Magic fist in with the regular laws of nature, can manipulate and be manipulated by it as well.

Magical beasts are certainly a trope I've decided to include.  Dragons, Ents, Dryads, giant spider-like creatures, a myriad of others in a background way.  The ecology and biology of each I won't get too far into unless it has some place within the storyline.  Like Soft Magic, I don't find the details as pertinent as how they can be employed within the plot.

Questions on civilization seemed a bit odd herein.  It's been largely addressed already - in the case of Ihr'Vessen, the elves emigrated from the region to allow the other species the chance to develop.  This, by extension, makes the elven civilization incredibly old, as well as the most powerful, the most culturally renowned, the race with the most powerful mages and other spell casters   The humans are a 'new' race, the new kids on the block, and they are only just making a place for themselves.  They know the basics, but humans have only just scratched the surface.  I liken the comparison to Tiger Woods (in his hey day) compared to an amateur golfer.  The humans have figured out the rules of the game and sometimes hit the line drive or the clutch putt, whereas the elves have all the tools and tricks in the book and consistently outshine their competition.

Why we suddenly discuss political factions in a section magic is beyond me.  That said, there are various races, each with their own macro-level endeavours. The elves maintain a position of power and overwatch over the lands in the name of Ihr; dwarves, rat men, humanity in its three major kingdoms and scattered independent communities, the orcs and of course the goblin herds.  The main protagonists come from the J'in Empire, as previously described as based on Sengoku period Japan with a smattering of Korean and Chinese cultural references; it is a hodge lodge of Oriental societies for a number of reasons.  Primarily, and this I freely admit to, I am neither a native speaker to any Asian language or dialect, nor have I actually lived in the societies I base it off of.  This can lead to some dangerous ground, particularly when depicting cultural norms and linguistics paradigms.  For this reason, i have blatantly departed for a purely Japan-referenced culture.  One aspect I did try to maintain is the truly ferocious political manoeuvring involved in the courts and between the families therein.  Under a relatively recently established Imperial line, the provincial daimyos (governors, if you will) still maintain their own provinces as they see fit, under the auspices of the Emperor.  They each vie for favour and control over their political enemies and allies alike.  Truly too daunting an aspect for this post, I may have to come back to it to try and give an idea of what's involved and at stake within the Imperial Courts as book one closes out.

Surprisingly, a large part of this post dealt with things other than magic; perhaps these are just the questions I keyed off on the most.  Given a different slant on a work, these questions can really provide a writer with the tools to spur the imagination and discover parts of the story they never even knew existed.

Monday, February 10, 2014

SFWA World Building Questions - Part 2

A continuation of this previous post, I decided to tackle examining the second portion of this exhaustive (daunting and exhausting if you try to answer it all) list of questions to help formulate an author's world building exercises.

SFWA World Building Questions

Part Two, Physical and Historical Features

Map of the Belgeriad & Mallorean
General:  The geography for the Ochra Cycle is fairly expansive.  It's certainly not continental spanning, like the Belgariad and Mallorean series, or quite as large as the Song of Ice and Fire series.  It covers a large enough region that travel from one side to the farthest expanse certainly takes weeks on horseback; I haven't bothered to account for precise distances, mostly because it hasn't enough of a direct impact on the story to bother.  The region is largely a fairly flat expanse, surrounded by a ridge line of mountains to the south, west and along the northern edges, while the eastern edge is dominated by the coastal line and islands.  There are certainly mountains, rivers, expansive forests and whatnot therein.  Like the map of Middle Earth, only the most pertinent locations are specified.

Map for A Song of Ice & Fire
The questions of other races has already been described herein to some degree.  The humans are largely divided into three kingdoms, for lack of a better term, while we have the orcs on their island off the coast (think of Japan, just off the Asian continent), the dwarven region of Naro nestled against the foothills of the southern mountain ranges, the ratmen in the southern reaches in the Swamps of Shenim, the goblin herds and other monsters of their ilk in the Kevian Ranges, also along the southern edge of the map.  To the west and off the map are the elven lands, purposefully left undefined; they after all vacated this entire region centuries before to allow these races, particularly humans, the chance to settle and thrive or succumb to their own devices.  This left several ruins spotted throughout the lands, ancient elven settlements and cities abandoned, nearly all of which are decayed to ruin and lost to the annals of history.  They of course remained behind with a token force, advisors to keep the peace and nudge "the new kids around the block."  This advisory role is still present, simply much more behind the scenes, much less prevalent.

Since the elves have not visited the Imperial Courts of the J'in Empire in centuries, much myth and mystery surrounds them.  The events surrounding the elven emigration out of this region of course led to the creation of a particular secondary character, a guy by the name of Masaki.  Masaki is the pre-eminent archaeologist and ruin diver of the J'in Empire; a guy with a bad attitude and ego to boot.  Since he is a character that deals with digging up corpses, let alone the remote possibility of touching dead flesh, he is a rather repulsive individual to the samurai.   He reminds me a little of the french archaeologist in Raiders of the Lost Ark, La Roche.  Of course I now need a holy grail of sorts for Masaki to go diving into, as well as a treasure worthy of his motivations.  This further led to the creation of a setting where the elven city has fallen to ruin and been buried under years of dirt and sand, yet underground ruins and basement complexes remain.  Creating challenges therein was a simple matter of thinking it like a Waterdeep scenario for AD&D; traps, monsters, baddies, treasure, etc.

Climate and Geography:  The hand drawn map I've been working from defines the major regions, revers, mountains and forests.  The climate is essentially equitable to that of the Japanese / Korean / Chinese portion of Asia; temperate warm with high humidity, colder winters with a fairly abundant snowfall in winter, much more so in the mountains and foothills.

Natural Resources:  Aside from that, flora and fauna are the same, providing at least some semblance of familiarity for the reader.  Of course there are a number of beasts and nasties that are unique (this is a fantasy environment after all).  Since this is a fantasy setting, magic has largely displaced any advances into sciences and engineering to a scale reminiscent of Renaissance Europe, and we certainly won't see any steampunk / diesel punk in the Ochra series.  The style of the architecture for the primary kingdom involved is based on the Sengoku Period of Japan, so the 15th to 17th centuries.  Given the scale and scope of the region, natural resources for construction (timber and stone) are relatively common enough, methods of extraction and refinement advanced enough to allow for the architecture you would expect to see in 16th century Japan or so, castles included.  There is an abundance of farmland; essentially a breadbasket region.

Certain regions certainly play host to more abundant resources than others.  The dwarves of Naro obviously have a mountain range at their back, providing for massive stone works and mining (oh, the cliche).  Not far from them, the Swamps of Shenim, a region teeming with life and unique natural remedies, yet otherwise fairly agrarian.  The Plainsfolk are essentially the stewards for the massive herds of wild beasts that resemble a buffalo, which serve as a primary source of meat and food, while defining their way of life and customs.  The J'in Empire is as closely akin to the Japanese / Korean / Chinese of the Sengoku period as one could imagine; they've settled in their regions, replete with arable farmland, cities and castles built up and developed to protect and support their way of life.  The orcs rely on piracy and slavery to maintain their holdings on the islands off the continental coast, while the Free States, the closest human kingdom and the most victimized by these attacks, is a military power in their own right, their mercenary companies the best available.

World History:  Not much of the ancient history is directly dealt with.  Tidbits of pertinent info are provided, largely to avoid info dumps.  In a nutshell, there was a war between the two pantheons, with the eldest and their creations (goblins, giants, leviathans, orcs, etc) against the younger and their creations (elves, dwarves, dragons, fairies, etc).  In the end the elves led the younger pantheons' forces to victory as the gods stalemated themselves; the elves remain the dominant superpower.  Humans were created thereafter as a neutral party, a buffer species to keep things honest, so to speak.  This ancient history is known and recorded in detail by the elves, remembered by most other races of the times through oral tradition.  Humans know only of this era by way of myth and legend; Masaki, of course, has some further insights through his journeys.

I won't go into any of the specifics for the World History and the Kingdom-specific histories.  There simply isn't enough room for that massive a wall of text, nor much motivation to reveal it all.

In the next instalment, the SFWA World Building questions tackle the magic system.