Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Twisted Mirror

Well, I'm back. When I disappeared, I thought was probably done with this place forever, but really I'm not. I probably can't be. Regardless, I'm back, and I'll be hitting up this when the mood strikes me.

I want to talk about what I've referred to my in my own thoughts about this setting as the Twisted Mirror. This is the idea that many things come in pairs, where one item in the pair is a twisted version of the other item (like aumani and ancient wizards). Sometimes it has also referred to taking what people expect and twisting it (like dwarves and elves).

Campaigns in this setting would be encouraged to play up that theme as well, especially with the player characters, setting twisted versions of the PCs up against them. There's nothing quite as chilling as the question "How are you and the villain different, really?"

I'm well aware that this kind of thing is not new, and I sure as heck didn't come up with the idea. It's a good trope to play around with, because it's easy to subvert, and there are so many possible applications. I like it, personally, because it can make the game more introspective than RPG usually gets. Sure, the if the Hero saves the day using questionable methods, the Hero saved the day, but how does that Hero feel about him or herself afterwords?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

What Has Gone Before...

This is a post that pretty much sums up my ideas about the "true" histories of what happened in my universe.

They're basically non-existant.

My reasoning is this, and it's borrowed from the authors of a book called 1066 And All That: A Memorable History of England, Comprising All The Parts You Can Remember, Including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings, and 2 Genuine Dates.


Early on in the book, they describe history in this way: "History is made up of all the parts you can remember. Any other history, not being memorable, defeats itself." Excuse the direct quotes, it's probably not completely accurate, but that's essentially it.

My point is this. It doesn't really matter what actually happened, unless somebody's going to find out. If they're going to find out, I don't need to know now. In fact, by deciding now, I might lose an opportunity to do something really cool that a player thought of.

What I do need to know, is what everybody thinks happened. If I don't know the perceived histories, I can't really play the NPC present. So don't look for lot of "this is what happened" in my work. Look deeper and you'll discover that probably that's only what mostly everybody thinks happened.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Elven Association and Politics

As I mentioned in an earlier post, elves are fiercely political creatures. Every action means something, even the actions meant to mean nothing at all.

Elves are associated with each other, always connected through various lines. These connections are rarely geographical, which would confuse humans, if they ever interacted with the elves.

There is one geographical consideration in reference to elves which must be considered, and that is the elven society on the forgotten continent, which is entirely separate from the rest elven society, and will be treated separately.

As seems reasonable, given that the society's drive is to associate, Elven society is dominated by a sort of super-association, created out of five associations with similar interests. Great wars were fought when this first great association was formed, and even now it holds power tentatively.

The age of open welfare in elven society seems to be passed, or at least dormant. Much like the contemporary Cold War, most threats of force are merely threats. The great association is held in check by two smaller associations with great influence, through their wisdom and their military strength.


It's difficult to describe an association using any other word. While family lines often provide for the beginnings of associations, elven society, kinship, and loyalty are fluid enough that these lines blur fairly quickly.

These associations are mostly political entities, but not in the sense of political parties, or ideological groups. When you agree with someone, it tends to make them easier to get along with, but it's very possible to associate with someone for mutual benefit, even if you don't agree with them.

One can generally expect to be tolerated by any member of one's own association, anywhere. This might have different meanings depending on who you're with or where you are. Sometimes your associates might feed you, and give you a place to stay. Sometimes they might agree merely not to have you killed.

Elves do not marry in the same sense as humans. Sometimes two elves decide to associate more closely and completely, but this is not expected to last forever.

A Sense of Responsibility

Elves do not view loyalty in quite the same way as humans do. Where humans are expected to remain loyal, even through difficult times, elven loyalties are expected to shift. Take as an example a powerful elven lord. His personal stature is, at this time, large, and he holds the loyalty of a great number of elves.

Slowly, though, he begins to weaken, and his stature begins to fade. As his stature fades, elves who are distantly loyal to him might switch their loyalties, then slowly more elves will do so, until he is left with only his closest companions.

This is a difficult concept to explain to humans, and as a human myself, I don't entirely understand it either. How one goes from being an outsider in one association to a trusted friend in another is particularly tricky for me. I'll have to think further about it.

Personal stature is, I should add, not quite the right term. There isn't really a human equivalent, but it's something of a mix of stature and responsibility. The greater one is, the greater one's responsibilities (thanks Uncle Ben), and when one's stature shrinks, one is not as able to be responsible for others.

I hope that made sense to somebody.


This is an important part of elven culture, as odd as it might sound. There is a guild of assassins in elven society, and they are open for legitimate business. Being elven, they all belong to associations, and most serve as bodyguards for the leaders of their associations. Every association that exists now has at least one, and from time to time, they might be expected to carry out an assassination on a rival or enemy.

There are, however, a few requirements. First, the intent to send an assassin must be registered with the guild. If the guild feels that the assassination would cause too much destabilization, it may be forbidden. Few elves in the upper echelons of elven society are assassinated.

Assassination is somewhat of a "proportional response." For example, if your stature is greatly diminished by a rival, you might register and have your rival's cousin assassinated. While it does not prevent your loss of stature, and it does not revenge you directly, your rival will undoubtedly notice and perhaps think twice about kicking you further.

It's difficult for humans to understand some of these concepts, which is understandable. I will strive to make them more understandable as I write more about the strange elves.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Elvish Numerology

I mentioned way back when that elves had superstitions regarding numbers. Odds, especially three and nine, were considered to be positively charged numbers, and evens were considered to be negatively charged numbers.

This will interest historians, because it was a major sticking point between the elves and the ancient wizards, because the ancient wizards were quite enamoured with powers of two. The ancient calendar has exactly 512 days in a year (2 to the power of 8), each day is divided into thirty two hours (2 to the power of 5), each hour is 64 minutes (2 to the power of 6) and so on. The elven calendar goes to great length to avoid this, which is difficult, because a solar year is, in fact, exactly 512 days long. This issue between the elves and the ancient wizards was often ignored but never resolved.

For many elves of the default time period, numerology is somewhere between superstition and tradition. Some elves really believe that even numbers will cause the will of nature to be jumbled, despite the fact that mating usually occurs in pairs (if I could explain it, I would, but they don't tell me these things).

A larger proportion of elves would say, if questioned deeply about the subject, that they don't really believe that having two of something will cause any negative effects, but still make sure that their bouquet of flowers has nine and not eight or ten, and they won't even think about it. This reaction to numbers is so ingrained in their psyche that most elves would be confused and surprised when you pointed it out to them, because it's the way they've always done it.

I'm not going to go into great detail about the various specific superstitions regarding some numbers, but I will eventually get down to it on the wiki. These little facts are less important than getting the psychology down.

What Is Important

First things first, I'm back, as my friend Bakatare will be very pleased to note. The hiatus ended up being longer than I expected, and I didn't really do any work on the wiki, but hopefully I'm recharged and will be able to take this blog into the next phases of work.

Now, as to the topic.

What is important? I don't think too many people ask this kind of question very often, and I think that's a shame, both in real life and in imaginary realms. You can learn a ton about somebody just by looking at what's important to them.

There are other questions that should also be answered, in this context regarding peoples in the world. Questions like: "What is power; strength?", "What does it mean to be alive?", "What is wealth?", "Who are you, what do you want?"...well, you get the idea.

These questions are important because they reveal the soul of both an individual person, and people as a whole. Questions like them will one day be included on a small information sheet given to players to fill out about their characters.

I think that people should ask themselves these questions in real life, too, because once you begin to truly understand what's important to you, it's much easier to be at peace with yourself.

There'll be more to follow today, probably something about elves and their numerology.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Taking a blog break

Hey folks, I've decided to take a break from the blogging for a bit. There are a couple things I'd like to cover, though, to make things nice and clear.

1) I'm not tired of it. I'm really not, I promise.

2) I'm not done with this world. Quite the contrary, in fact, I'm taking a break so I can focus on other aspects of creating the campaign world, like drawing maps and working on the wiki.

3) I'm coming back, really I am. You'll just have to trust me.

I plan to take two weeks to do other work, and think about some aspects of the world I haven't thought about enough to do posts on yet. Ideally, I'm going to start writing the blog based on what I've done in the wiki, rather than the other way around.

If you're the sort who doesn't use RSS and actually checks the site every day, don't worry and don't check it for the next week. I promise I won't post anything for a week. I also promise I will have a post up before March 2nd.

Until then, farewell.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What Is Magic?

The entirety of this post is in-character.

What is magic?

To be quite honest, this isn't really the right question, but I'll answer it anyway. Magic is merely the specific application of natural forces through the conduit of a person. This application of force is not physical, and beyond a certain point it is rarely intuitive.

What do I mean by this? Magic is merely the name for the process by which talented individuals take power from their environment and convert it to suit their needs. There is a point up to which individuals can do this without thinking about how to do it, but beyond that point there must be a specific focus. Furthermore, the unguided application of this process is likely to bring unintended or unwanted results and side-effects.

A much better question is:

How is magic learned and used?

There is a distinct process that my colleagues and I have developed for making it easier to teach the skills required to control the application of magic. It should be noted that this process is general, and each step may be performed in many different ways, depending on the person using the magic.

The first step is simple; the individual must have the requisite talents involved. These typically include the talent for the internal manipulation of force and the talent for seeing metaphysical forces (so that they might be manipulated).

How individuals access these talents is dependent on how they view their world. In general terms, it's easiest to consider the subject in terms of metaphors. By what metaphor does the magic user access her talents?

An extended example would be that of music. First, if the person is ill-suited to music, there is little that can be done. Similarly, if a would-be wizard cannot see or manipulate metaphysical forces, there is little that she can do.

The next step requires a magic user develop their metaphysical senses. In the musical example, this would be analogous to learning to read musical notation. If a wizard cannot quickly and carefully identify the presence of metaphysical forces and the particular metaphysical forces present, the manipulation that is to follow cannot possibly be as skilled as a that of a wizard that can. Similarly, if a musician cannot quickly read and understand the musical notation, her playing will suffer.

Thirdly, a magic user must develop a fine control over her manipulative talents. If a musician could only play three notes, he is likely to be much less successful than one who can play an entire scale. In the same way, a wizard who lacks fine control over the manipulation of metaphysical forces will be limited in the types of weaves that are available.

Fourthly, at the same time as the first three, a would-be wizard must enlarge her repertoire of basic and complex weaves, practicing each. Enlarging a repertoire allows for a greater knowledge of what possibilities exist, which is important for both wizard and musician. Furthermore, the practicing of such pieces assists in the developing of senses and fine control, as well as providing practical demonstrations of theoretical concepts.

How, then, does a wizard use magic, once her talents have been developed?

There are three steps to successfully creating a weave at its most basic level. Each of these steps has its own sub-steps.
  1. Concentration
  2. Visualization
  3. Manipulation
Concentration: without it, a wizard is nothing. Without the ability to concentrate on what she is doing, a wizard is likely to cause great harm to herself and her comrades. There are many different methods for concentration, often related the metaphor through which a wizard accesses magic. My personal metaphor is language, and I have associated a particular phrase with a state of concentration, and I am able to enter a state of concentration simply by uttering the phrase and making a slight effort. A musician might strike a chord before beginning to play, to centre her mind.

Visualization: This is the stage where the wizard takes stock of what is. Accessing metaphysical senses, she quickly visualizes what metaphysical forces are possible assets, and which are possible distractors (though these are typically few). She also takes note of what weaves already exist in the area. This step is deceptively important. Without taking the moment to establish how metaphysical forces interact in a given area, using magic can produce unintended results.

Manipulation: This stage is the actual use of the forces to create a weave, and subdivided into many steps. This is typically done through reasoning from intended effect. That will make more sense in a moment.

  1. First, a wizard must decide what the intended result of the magic is. This can be as convoluted as "I must nudge the currents of spiritual earth power so as to remove the negative effect from the nearby water supply", or as simple as "Protect me!".
  2. Next a wizard must decide how best to achieve the effect. Though, in practice, this often takes the form of any weave which achieves the desired effect, regardless of efficiency.
  3. Once the manner of affecting the effect is decided, the wizard must reach out to the necessary forces and manipulate them into a weave, often tying different threads of power together to create specific effects.
This concludes the lecture.

This lecture was given to seven students of magic by Eladrine Darkweather, the current Mistress Chronicler of the Dusk Citadel. At the time, she was working with students and assisting Brix Lagander with research.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Centres of Culture V: Mechia

A note on pronunciation: It is not "MECH-ee-uh". It's "Muh-KEY-uh". Please don't think this place is about robots, dear lord, no.

This is the last major human centre of culture, and the most different from the others. If you go east north-east from the Aruan Archipelago, you will eventually reach the shores of Mechia.

This place, once conquered by the expanding Kularian Empire in the East, and then again conquered by the Aruan Empire from the West, is isolationist in nature. I'm sure I'll get many accusations of ripping off Japan, and in a sense I am, but this society has reasons beyond "Dylan needed a new cultural basis" for being the way it is.

Where the cultures of the west are full of passion, Mechia is a very dispassionate place. That's not to say that Mechians do not feel passion, but it is considered to be vulgar to show any more passion than necessary. The cold hierarchic society gets its inspiration from the moon, which is believed by Mechians and those in the eastern part of the former Kularian Empire to be made of ice. It travels around the earth to protect itself from the raging heat of the sun.

The stars themselves move very little, and are believed to be the Moon's court (well, at least they believe it in a figurative sense), all are in their proper place. So too must all people remain in their proper places. Gender does not play a serious role in this society, but social class plays a more intense role than other societies.

War and combat is also important to this society. After they had been conquered by the Aruan Empire, a great being came to their aid. He claimed to be an Avatar of the Moon, and his power was great. He singlehandedly marshalled the Mechians and with them threw the Aruans off Mechian soil. His name was Darius, and he is now referred to as Darius the Undying, as he is still their ruler today. Most people outside of Mechia believe that Darius' sons, grandsons, great-grandsons and the rest have all taken pains to look like Darius in an attempt to consolidate power.

Darius is, in fact, an ancient wizard. Having broken with the society of the ancient wizards, he remained behind, and felt that in rescuing and strengthening Mechia he was doing right. He is slowly attempting to return magic to the world through his "Angels", who are close friends and like-minded followers of his, also ancient wizards.

It is unfortunate that the sins required to turn this society into a haven for the magically inclined are great and dark. Darius claims to still be acting in the interests of the people, but much of this project is now just an extension of his ego. For those of you out there who know me, Darius has another name, but I'll keep that a secret for now.

People in the West view Mechians as sorcerers, devil-worshippers and similar unsavoury characters. As humans cannot do magic themselves (well, most humans who can't do magic believe this), they must be tapping into the powers of unsightly creatures. The moon-worship and dispassionate attitudes certainly don't help. As a result of this negative attention from the West, and the conquests, Mechia is a closed society. The only people allowed in are given leave by "Darius", and the only people allowed out are Darius' representatives.

These posts aren't supposed to be exhaustive, and I think this gives you an idea of what this culture is like, so I'll cut it there. I'm still deciding on whether or not to do serious posts on the Eastern and Western portions of the former Kularian Empire, as they're fairly similar to Kulari Proper.

Anywho, the next post will probably be about some facet of Elven society.

Centres of Culture III: Kulari (Part i, Kulari Proper) -- Revised!

Edit: I changed my mind about the Sun and the Moon religions. I've reversed them. They'll get their own posts later, but the wording of this post has been changed to reflect it.

"So", I'm sure some of you are thinking after the last couple posts, "What's the big deal about this Kularian Empire anyway?"

Glad you asked.

Kulari is a nation that first grew from the foothills of the northern mountains, much like the Commonwealth, merely further east. Historical records begin with the ascendancy of Kular, a general, to the kingship. Presumably there was some sort of society before Kular, but there are no records of what it might have been like.

Kular was, according to the records, an established general and brilliant tactician who had won battles at many places that no longer exist, or exist under different names. He did not wrest power from the hands of the former ruler, the records insist that he was chosen after the king died an ignoble death, sick in bed.

Under Kular's command, this apparently small kingdom began to expand a great deal, extremely quickly. In a push to forget the previous age of weak rule and stagnancy, Kular decreed, with the support of the religious leaders, that the nation would be renamed Kulari, and all the old records would be burned.

Posts to follow will deal with the growing empire of Kulari, but this post is dedicated to the culture of the Kulari themselves, and their descendants who still live in the area where the empire was born.

There was, in many ways, a cult of personality around Kular. A successful general and apparently charismatic man, he was a natural leader in a society where religious beliefs called for the people to rally around their leader. The old king had been weak, and died sick in bed rather than on his feet with a weapon in his hand. During this king's rule, there had been little expansion or increased wealth.

When Kular became king, all this changed, improving expectations and popular support skyrocketed. After all, everyone likes a winner.

This had a huge effect on the sorts of values and character traits that were considered desirable. Men wanted to be more like Kular, even though this meant a certain level of cold calculation and lack of mercy. Kular's personal beliefs about the inferiority of women began to percolate, and women lost much of their social status.

In the end, Kular turned to mass expansion through a vast army to keep his people under his control. It's not that they wouldn't have followed where he led them, but in inspiring people to be more like him, he grew paranoid that someone even more competent than him would wrest control away.

When he was routed and killed by the Commonwealth at the Hill of the Moon, his empire fragmented and the people of Kulari proper went back to work their farms and mines, and to sell their goods. The legacy it left was one of strong individualism that feared outside influence. Government became weak for a very long time.

The nobles slowly rebuilt public confidence in their rulers, but a popular revolt forced the principles of a parliamentary government on the sovereign and his nobles. Much like England in the medieval period, two houses were established, one made up of the higher nobles and clergy, and the other made up of elected representatives (elected from men with enough property) and lesser nobles.

The religion of Kulari is dualistic, focusing on two opposing viewpoints: That of Order (represented by the moon and stars, all in their proper place) and Chaos and Passion (represented by the sun, a raging flame that is always in motion). Neither is good and right on their own, as there must be order to build stability for growth, and there must be chaos to avoid stagnation.

The Kulari do not tend to identify with one concept more than the other, but rather speak of cycles. "It is a moon cycle," one might say, which means that it is a time of great stability and order. In times of great upheaval, it is said that a sun cycle is occurring. The Gods (Sun and Moon) who constantly fight over the sky are promoting a healthy conflict that is to be admired and imitated. As with the other major cultural areas, there are no major wars of note currently occurring, so this conflict is largely symbolic and ritual in nature.

This dualistic religion had a great effect on both the western and eastern coasts. Interestingly enough, the West has adopted many of the traits of the Sun devotion and the East has adopted many traits of the Moon devotion. It's interesting that neither set of cultural values has adopted the dualism.

I'll go more into detail on these topics in later posts, but next time: The Golden Interior!

Dimourgos' Law and the Governance of Dwarves

Dimiourgos' Law is intentionally vague and short, because all good religions have to have to room for violent conflict and heretic-burning.

I will now remove my tongue from my cheek.

Dimourgos' laid down two laws to his dwarven children, and they are as follows:

  1. One must wear the constitution of stone in one's heart.
  2. It is forbidden to destroy what another has wrought.

So, you might be wondering, what does this mean? Good question. We'll start with the second one.

At first blush, this looks like it's saying "Don't break other people's stuff". It does indeed say that, but there are some implications to be considered. Remember that dwarves create their own offspring. In this way, killing a dwarf is forbidden. There is great debate between dwarves as to whether this law extends to other creatures and races. The vast majority believe that killing itself is forbidden, and resign themselves to mosses and water for their sustenance.

Even further, many dwarves believe that this law does not apply just to physical things but also to things such as clans, the peace, and other non-physical constructs. However, the interpretation of this law changes depending on the purpose for which it is being interpreted.

As with the second law, the first law is also given to much controversy. What exactly is meant by "constitution of stone" is a subject of great discussion. Most dwarves agree that it is a call to be durable and patient in character, unyielding to outside influence without great cause to be otherwise.

When used in conjunction with the first law, this is a powerful barrier to change, and a result, the systems and traditions of dwarven society are relatively unchanged over the centuries. Deference to authority is a common thread among all dwarven societies. It should be mentioned that a dwarven adventurer is quite possibly no longer welcome in dwarven society, as such a career often requires some amount of autonomy (though this may not be true if the character is on a mission from dwarven society proper).

Dwarven Governance
There are very few issues that are of importance to all dwarves, and accordingly there is no real central government. The closest dwarven society comes to a central government is the structures of the church of the Life-Breather, but even this does not reach all dwarves at all times. There is one particular dwarven society whose Life-Breathers are taught in the central hall of the clans, rather than by the church itself, but more about this break-away sect later.

Life-Breathers do not rule directly, or use their powers as blunt instruments. Rather they arrive to clan discussions and speak softly, allowing the weight of their position to do the work for them.

In most circumstances, the clan leader is the only government a dwarf will have, and this is not so much government as it is leadership. Decisions made by the clan leader are only binding in the sense that, to most dwarves, it would be unthinkable to do otherwise.

Most small or medium-sized clans do not have their own Law-Speaker, and often live in an area with other clans nearby. One Law-Speaker may service multiple small clans or a few larger clans. The largest clans have their own Law-Speakers, but these are rare.

As with many other facets of dwarven society, Law-Speakers do not directly appoint new clan-leaders, but they are considered to be extremely persuasive, should they decide to weigh in on the matter. In the event of a delinquent dwarf, a Law-Speaker will hand down a punishment that is in keeping with what Dimiourgos' stories would suggest. These stories are only tales of what Dimiourgos has done, and his decisions are imitated in most circumstances.

In times of war, many clans come together, and the Law-Speaker or Law-Speakers meet and the group comes to a consensus on who is best suited to lead the soldiers in war. This generalship is the closest dwarven society comes to absolute rule, and even the general is subject to removal by the decision of five Law-Speakers in consensus.

Much of dwarven governance is of the "live and let live" philosophy. Clans only worry about what other clans are doing when there is a question of great danger, and even then the clans tend to fight together, only consulting with one another when necessary.

Next time: Who knows.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Centres of Culture IV: The Golden Interior

This small but important agricultural heartland only requires one cultural post. Called the Golden Interior because of the massive amounts of grain grown in the area, there is not much else to be said about this place. It is the typical "sleepy village" area, protected by a deep and rushing river to the north and a mountain range to the south.

That is not to say that it has not known war, but there are no great leaders here, merely small communities, and isolation removes much of the impact from a regime change. If you only ever see nobles when they ride through your town on the way to war, what does it matter to who you pay your taxes to, as long as they are the ones you must appease? What does it matter who takes the excess grain you grow? It doesn't, really.

Furthermore, the gods of the south are peaceful gods, and the God of Harvest is the most peaceful of all. When the young men go away to war, the harvest is neglected. Therefore the best policy is to advocate peace, and to act peacefully in all ways and at all times.

Sorry this place is kind of boring, we'll have some fun when we get to Mechia.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Centres of Culture II: The Western Coast (Part iii, The Icy Coast)

The Icy Coast marks the north edge of the western coast, beginning in rocky shield in the south and morphing into tall, icy peaks in the north. This dangerous mountain range is a formidable foe, and human society does not go much farther than the foothills.

The south of the Icy Coast is much like the north of the Western Coast, small tribes testing each other and competing for resources. Further north, however in the foothills of the great frozen peaks, is an entirely different story.

Influenced by ancestors who had close interactions with dwarves in the distant past, the Commonwealth of the North is based on a synthesis of dwarven and human ideals.

The Commonwealth is rightly so-called. It is a large group of allied principalities where, in a similar fashion to dwarven tribes, leaders are chosen out of the population to rule by their merits. These leaders are chosen for limited terms, and may only serve once in each of the eligible stages of their life, called "Maturity" (the age at which a person can fight), and "Wisdom" (the age at which a person is old enough to stop fighting).

The Commonwealth has its origins in the expansion of the Kularian Empire. The dwarves, seeing a threat to their safety like human threat before it, allied themselves with the humans who lived in the foothills of their mountains, teaching them principles of government and warfare. Dwarven religion was rejected by the humans, though they have added Dimiourgos to their pantheon and greatly respect him.

As dwarves have no gender to speak of, the government and society of the Commonwealth is similarly egalitarian. This is an excellent society for female PCs to hail from.

The Gods of the Commonwealth are considered to be very harsh, but very fair. "The winter," the people say, "Is harsh, but does not distinguish. Nor do the Gods. The same harshness for all." In much the same way, the society of the Commonwealth is not for the soft-hearted. Justice is retributive, and age is marked by the ability to fight.

The martial nature of the society is largely symbolic, now. There are few wars, and most are against southern tribes foolish enough to try to conquer this defensible area. This does not mean, however, that this symbolic martial focus does not impart real combat skills, and warriors of the Commonwealth are to be respected, if not feared.

There is no longer contact with the dwarves, but the people still long for this interaction. A ruined dwarven temple is a few short days travel into the mountains, and once a year a large quantity of oil is carried to the temple by a group of young persons, to refill the lamp that the Commonwealth rulers keep lit, in case the dwarves return. The dwarves watch this ceremony, but do not intervene.

Next Time: Either a cultural look at the Golden Interior, or the former Kularian Empire.

Centres of Culture II: The Western Coast (Part ii, The Western Coast)

Just north of the Bay Coast, the Western Coast marks the divide between warm, agrarian grasslands and hilly, rocky shield. Summers are warm and winters are cold, with distinct cool periods in between.

The peoples in this area, especially extending to the east, are generally put together in small villages, mostly ignored by larger kingdoms. Most of the area is under the control of the Four Kingdoms, but most people outside a short ride of the capitols have never seen a high noble.

The Four Kingdoms are a usually peaceful alliance comprised of three traditional patrilineal hereditary monarchies and one matrilineal monarchy. The capitol cities are, in fact, one metropolis built on the traditionally defined meeting of borders. The capitol was moved here with the signing of the Four Kingdoms Treaty.

The Four Kingdoms are Gallus, Poletia, Mercia, and Ferrad. Being easternmost, Ferrad extends further east than the cultural area marked on the map (the maps are coming, I promise), but is considered to be part of the Western Coast.

Gallus and Mercia both border directly on the coast, and are quite similar to Littoria and Calar in the south. Mercia's Queen, however, is anything but standard.

The matrilineal monarchy of Mercia arose as part of their interaction with the culture of the Icy Coast. Northern religion places the power associated with birth in the hands of the women, rather than the men as is the custom in the south. Mercia has officially adopted southern-style religion in the form of Sun-worship, but many people (the further north you go, the more there are) still worship northern gods.

Poletia reaches south in the direction of the Golden Interior (coming soon!), and is the most agrarian of the Kingdoms. Apart from the greater focus on agriculture, Poletia is fairly similar to the other kingdoms.

Ferrad, like Mercia, is torn between two cultures. The largest of the Four Kingdoms, it was originally founded in violent revolution from the former Kularian Empire. There will be more about Kulari in another post (being its own cultural boundary), but Ferrad has taken a language and mindset from being a part of this historical empire.

Where most of the Western Coast believes in formal agreements and formal shows of force, the Kularian Empire was founded on shadowy operations. This is not to say that these operations were evil, merely hidden. It is considered normal for leaders to lie and maneuver, making informal agreements and alliances in the background. It can be very difficult to follow for leaders from outside the former Empire.

North of Mercia is unclaimed lands. These lands are inhabited by small tribes who are no less civilized than those of the Four Kingdoms, but they lack an overarching government. They are, however, distinguished from the Four Kingdoms by their (supposed) propensity for war. Each tribe tests the others' strength, and this war is rarely lethal or absolute, though the Four Kingdoms believe these tribes to be savage.

Next time: The Icy Coast

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Centres of Culture II: The Western Coast (part i, the Bay Coast)

This cultural area goes from the north end of the western coast right to the Three-Tooth Mountain range in the south. It's often subdivided into three areas: The Icy Coast in the north, the Western Coast in the middle, and the Bay Coast in the south.

These three areas share in common a significant slice of ocean. Their cultures are not as notably sea-going as the Aruan Archipelago, but the influence of the sea on their cultures is undeniable.

The Bay Coast
Nearest the Aruan Archipelago, this cultural area does a great deal of trade with the Aruan Empire. There are two major kingdoms (and countless minor kingdoms) in the area.

Littoria is a coastal kingdom at the southern end of the Bay Coast. Its capitol (also called Littoria) is protected by a coral reef, forcing most ships to put ashore a day's walk from from the city. Littoria is a standard monarchy, ruled by a kind and just man. It is illegal to swim to the coral reef, which is considered to be the property of the king.

Bordering Littoria to the northeast (still along the coast) is the city of Salmonsford, named after the original reason people settled at the mouth of this river: The salmon. Salmonsford is not a very large city, but it is run by a few lesser noble families who splintered from Calar, to the north. Salmonsford forms a natural border between Littoria and Calar.

Calar and Littoria have a history of war, but are currently at an uneasy peace. Littoria's king is a kindly man, but very dedicated to the protection of his people. Calar, however, has been wronged in the past by more war-like Littorian kings, and the public sentiment is against Littoria.

Culturally, these three places are quite similar. They are governed by monarchies who have the support of their people. Comparatively to other great kingdoms, these kingdoms are relatively middle-sized.

They are mixed agrarian societies, growing a good deal of wheat and cotton, domesticating cows and chickens, and fishing for fish, crabs and clams. There are typical harvest season celebrations.

Religiously, the Aruan Archipelago, Bay Coast and Western Coast all share a similar religion: Sun-Worship. I'll get more into religions later, but the Sun is representative of Passion, Strength, Determination, and Order. Worshippers of the Sun recognize the Moon as well, but do not condone its worship. The Moon is not so much devil as adversary. Religious holidays are typically held during the summer months.

One cultural area down, only a few hundred more to go, haha. Slight exaggeration, but it's a big place. Until next time!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Dwarven Religion

Dwarven religion is marked by a few important traits. They are monotheistic, or mostly so. Depending on who you ask, you may be told that there are no other gods, that other gods were merely Dimiourgos (the dwarven god) in disguise, or that there are other gods, but the greatest and creator of them all was Dimiourgos. All (except a few radicals) agree that Dimiourgos is at least the only god worthy of praise and worship.

Dimiourgos is worshipped in five aspects: The Creator, the Life-Breather, the Protector, the Law-Giver, and the Renewer. Each of these aspects has associated with it an act that must be performed or a world-view that must be held. No dwarf is exempt from these five manners of worship.

The Creator
And in this way, Dimiourgos created the earth.

The aspect of the Creator is credited with the creation of everything that exists, including the earth itself. This aspect is also called the Artisan, to reflect the great majesty of the world and the things in it. The manner in which the Creator is worshipped is through the act of creation, the highest form of which is the carving of one's offspring. Other forms of creation are encouraged, but it is the carving of one's offspring that must be performed before returning to the stone.

The carving of an offspring is a great endeavour, one that takes anywhere from one to four years of a dwarf's life. The dwarf is released from other clan obligations in order to perform this service, and spends much of the time in seclusion, alone with the rock, stopping only to eat and sleep as necessary. It is common practice for dwarves to wait a long time before carving an offspring, as the clan cannot usually operate for long if many members are released from their responsibilities at once.

A dwarf who decides to devote themselves to the creator spends much of their time creating fine art, usually sculpture or metalwork, and the rest of their time carving offspring. These dwarves often carve two or three offspring, rather than the typical one.

The Life-Breather
Dimiourgos, after having carved the first dwarves from the earth he had created, breathed life into them, and taught them the manner of it, saying to them "You are my first and my chosen, you will hold the power of life and death over your offspring". This is the aspect of the Life-Breather, the most powerful aspect and the most influential, having the only organized priesthood.

Not all dwarves are suited to become Life-Breathers, and many Life-Breathers jealously guard their secrets from the other dwarves. Those that become Life-Breathers themselves are called, supposedly, to the practice, and to ignore that calling is to reject the gift of the Life-Breather aspect. To accept it is to worship the Life-Breather in the greatest sense, and similarly those who are not suited to those duties worship the Life-Breather by doing that for which they are best suited, and thanking the Life-Breather for the gift of life.

The Priesthood of the Life-Breather rules dwarven society, usually indirectly. The society is often self-regulating and requires little in the way of overt rule, but Life-Breathers are consulted about dwarves' callings, and when a dwarf must be promoted above the others (to a position of generalship in the case of war, for example), it is the Life-Breathers who make the appointment.

Furthermore, Life-Breathers hold the secret of the breathing of life into a carving, making it a dwarf. These priests can (and have, in the past) withhold this action, and essentially destroy a clan, or even the entire race, if they are patient enough.

The Protector
When the waves of darkness threatened to pour into this world and destroy the dwarves, Dimiourgos held up his hands and stopped the flow, protecting the dwarves and allowing them to grow until they were strong enough to protect the world themselves.

The aspect of the Protector defended the then helpless dwarves, allowing them to grow until they were able to protect themselves and others. This selfless act of defense on the part of Dimiourgos is to be imitated. It is an act of praise to defend those who cannot defend themselves.

A dwarf devoted to the Protector might become a guard on a border, or perhaps wander the mountains, looking for lost souls to protect.

The Law-Giver
Dimiourgos then spoke to the assembled dwarves, and gave them the law by which to live.

The Law-Giver is fairly self-explanatory, but one of the important things to note is that the law was given to the dwarves orally. Dimiourgos spoke to them, and told them the law. This has a great effect on dwarven culture, as it sets them up to be oral historians and storytellers. It should be noted that dwarves have no written language.

The proper way to praise the Law-Giver is to follow the law. Each tribe (or group of tribes, in the case of smaller tribes) has at least Law-Speaker, who has dedicated his life to knowing the law and stories of Dimiourgos. Law-Speakers are often given the power to make legal rulings, but this is not normally necessary. Instead, they tend to teach and indoctrinate young dwarves into their proper roles in society by teaching them the laws and examining them to help discover the sort of work they are suited to. If any sort of opposition to the Life-Breathers was thinkable, it might come from the Law-Speakers, who also enjoy significant power and respect.

Devoting oneself to the Law-Giver is to devote oneself to learning the vast oral history, stories, and the laws given down by Dimiourgos. It is not a calling to take lightly.

I'll do more on the specific laws themselves in another post, likely with the discussion of politics.

The Renewer
When Dimiourgos discovered the dwarves who had returned to the stone, he was overcome by emotion and wept. His tears washed the statues clean, returning the silt to the water. From the water, he called the rock anew, and rebuilt the dwarves who had lost their life.

The aspect of the Renewer is responsible for returning dwarves to the stone, making them again one with the stone, and preparing them to be carved into something new.

The Renewer is worshipped in different ways, but all involve taking the statue that a dwarf becomes at death and returning it to the elements. Dwarves in high mountains may leave the statue to be eroded by wind, dwarves that live near a river may have the statue eroded by water. There are some dwarves who live in a volcanic range who return their statues to the lava.

Devotees of the Renewer serve by preparing the statues, finding a place for them, and enabling the other dwarves to pay their respects.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Centres of Culture I (Part ii): The Seafaring Peasants

In my last post on the topic, I spoke of the nobles of the Aruan Empire, mostly self-interested quasi-legal businessmen who hold much of the power.

One important part of their culture is that they do not often leave their islands. This is made doubly important when they are compared to their subjects, who may spend their entire childhood without setting foot on land.

There is some farmland on the islands, and some peasants farm for their living, but a much greater proportion are fishers and traders. A great deal of the land between the islands is much like the Grand Banks, shallow enough to allow for massive populations of fish. There is no real winter this close to the equator, and fishing goes on year-round.

The other sort of seafaring peasants are the small traders, usually peddling small necessities like pots, fresh water, and other similar items. Peasants of this sort have mid-sized ships with small crews, usually four or five people, compared to the ten to fifteen required to run a successful fishing vessel. These traders have a common flag, a red circle on a blue field, that is flown constantly so that ships in need of supplies can attempt to find them without returning to an island.

Both sets of seafaring peasants evolved from the people who lived on the edges of the mountains when the seas began to rise. Their land was covered, and their lords provided little assistance. This experience, long ago, has taught these peasants the need to provide for themselves and for each other. Ships sinking, people falling overboard, running out of water; all these things and more happen, and other ships feel duty and honourbound to assist where they can. It's ingrained into their psyche, and only the most cold-hearted of souls ignores this drive.

At times, many ships come together while meeting a trader, or while fishing, and at times they lash together forming a large raft-like structure. These are called shipmoots, and usually last three to five days, and are huge parties. During these shipmoots, goods and services are exchanged, and occasionally personnel.

This is by no means an exhaustive post, but it should give you an idea about how different the peasants are from their nobles.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Centres of Culture I: The Aruan Archipelago

Alright, this is the first of a series of posts on various cultures around the world. Cultures do not exist in a vacuum, and areas near my (admittedly arbitrary) cultural borders will retain elements from all of the bordering major centres of culture.

The Aruan Archipelago

The Aruan Archipelago is a chain of islands that extends from the southwestern-most peninsula on the main continent. The five main islands are large, the smallest the size of one of the islands of Japan, and the largest about the size of England.

(I had a huge long history here, but thankfully for you, I remembered this is a blogpost and have mostly spared you)

The islands were once just great mountains, when the world was in an ice-age, and were settled by five major nomadic tribes from the north-eastern coast. After this initial settling, other peoples from the peninsula came to settle in the area, giving up their sovereignty to the five original clan, who became oligarchs and eventually monarchs.

As the seas rose again when the world was warmed, these formerly interconnected tribes grew apart, and each grew more culturally solidified (ie, the newer settlers and the initial settlers grew together culturally) until each island was generally monocultural. The monarchs took the best land towards the centre of the islands, relegating their subjects to the coast.

Soon, seafaring took hold and the islands began to find one another again. A trading culture grew between the large groups of poor subjects who had no other source of income. Over a few generations, the king of Arua (the largest and centremost island) had solidified the five crowns into his domain, and declared himself Emperor of Arua.

There's more, but those three paragraphs probably set up what I wanted to talk about. The Aruan Empire consists of the five main islands and the other small islands in the area, and a fair section of the peninsula to the south. At one point in time, the Empire also stretched across the southeastern part of the main continent, but they were thrown off during the rise of Mechia (I'll get to Mechia one of these days...).

Okay, the point I'm getting to is coming: There are two cultures in the Aruan Empire. The first is that of the nobles, descendants (well, the really old noble families at least) of the original five settling tribes. More and more, successful merchants and blackmarket operators are joining the ranks of power and moving inland, but we'll get to the underground in awhile.

The nobles are the island-dwellers. While perhaps an exaggeration, it is not ridiculous to say that sometimes these nobles spend great portions of their lifetime without ever setting foot in a boat. Their culture is mainly based on personal wealth and influence (most of which comes from wealth). The role of the noble class varies slightly from island to island, so I will treat them individually.

It is common for nobles on all islands to show their wealth with bright-coloured clothing. Reds and purples are reserved for recognized nobles, and setting foot on an island wearing these colours may subject you to arrest and imprisonment, but likely on a first offense you will be warned to keep these colours out of your wardrobe. This is especially true for foreigners. Another way in which these nobles show their wealth is through piercings with precious metals. The face (eyebrows, ears, nose, etc) is a common place for these piercings.

With the gradual decline of the power of the Emperor, much wealth is generated illegally. This combination has allowed for the ranks of nobles to swell with successful black-market operators, effectively eliminating the rule of law on the islands. It is not unusual to be able to find whatever you like in the Aruan Empire, provided you have the wealth.

Linked to these black-market operators, but not necessarily in cahoots with them, are the shipping tycoons. The sailing skills of Aruan seamen are legendary, and Aruan ships have no peer. If you want something moved quickly, or if you want to move quickly, they are your go-to people, and the owners have become very rich, many of whom joined the ranks of the nobility.

All the nobles owe allegiance to the Aruan Emperor (The King of the Five Crowns), though in practice the Emperor's power is extremely weak. The current Emperor (in the default period) is attempting to curry favour with the common people, but that is a subject for later.

Each major island apart from Arua itself has an Imperial Governor, who is (in all cases except Myra) essentially impotent. The Governor's official position is to ensure the nobles fall into line, but with the weakening of the Empire, the Governor does little more than report on the activities of the nobles (well, the ones he can find out about, at least).

Nobles by Island

Arua: The nobles on Arua tend to fall into two groups: The most powerful and ruthless, that is to say those that the Emperor feels the need to keep an eye on personally; and those most loyal to the Emperor, so as to help keep the most powerful nobles under control. The "Imperial Governor" of Arua is traditionally the Emperor, though this job is often delegated.

Myra: The majority of the nobles on Myra are shipping tycoons, and are kept under the strong thumb of the Imperial Governor. This is probably the island most loyal to the Emperor (This doesn't at all mean that it's particularly loyal...just the most loyal).

Lora: There is no greater hive of scum and villany. This island is the closest to the peninsula, and has the most opportunity to deal in illegalities. The nobles here tend to be nobles by virtue of their ill-gotten wealth, and if the Aruan Navy were a touch smaller, it might try to secede.

Reia: This island is furthest from Arua, and closest to Mechia. It is its own gateway of sorts. The nobles here are often shippers, and oddly enough they are also often successful navigators. This island seems to breed the best navigators, and noble children here learn the art at a young age. Nobles from Reia are often consulted for guidance on issues of any subject, not just the steering of a ship in the correct direction. They share the Mechian mystical styling, keeping quietly to themselves, except to dispense advice. Many Reian nobles misuse this reputation, but this is not universal.

Dara: This island is northernmost (still tropical), and, with the great hurricanes that often pound its shores, produces some of the best sailors, due to their ability to read and adjust to winds. The nobles here are a microcosm of the entire chain, some loyal, some criminal, some shippers, some navigators.

Whew, that was a lot. Next post, I'll touch on the other culture: The Seafaring Peasants.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


First things first, as I'm big on definitions, I should define "cosmology".

Cosmology: 1) "The study of the universe as a whole, of the contents, structure, and evolution of the universe from the beginning of time to the future." (As always, retrieved using the google "define" function)

That first one's a little dry, though accurate. I prefer #2: "
ideas about the universe as an ordered system and the place of humans in the universe."

To be fair to elves, dwarves, gnomes, fairies, and the like, we're going to change the word "humans" to "people". Cosmologies are big. Really big. You won't believe just how vastly, hugely, mind-boggling big they are.

Sorry, sometimes I channel Douglas Adams.

My point, however, is that the real information about the cosmology of a fantasy universe is often small, because it is limited by what people can perceive. Without a telescope, it's hard to see stars as more than little dots of light in the sky at night.

My family and I used to do medieval reenactment, and my mom told me this story. She once knew a man who would "get into character" at medieval reenactments by simply removing his glasses. He was very shortsighted, and he said that it helped to remind him that his persona had, and I quote "never seen the sky."

To me, the idea of not being able to see even the sky is very powerful. I want to keep this sort thing in mind as I design this cosmology.

It's going to be pretty sparse. We don't really need much, because most people can't really see much. There might be a crazy wizard in a tower with a magic spyglass, but that wizard is called crazy because most people think she is.

So, lets start with what we can see. In the day, there is a great sun in the skies. Just one, nice and simple. We're going to call it a red giant, because I don't want everything to be the same. There is a great red ball of fire in the sky during the day (Goodness Gracious!).

In the night sky, there are many small points of light, called stars. There are two moons, the greater and lesser. The greater moon orbits the world, the lesser moon orbits the greater moon. I'll determine the exact schedules some other time, it's not really that important. I'm not really sure if the moon having its own moon really follows good astronomy, but it's a fantasy world and I don't care.

This'll have some sort of effect on calendars. Probably something fun like having the greater lunar cycle determine the length of a month, and the lesser lunar cycle create weeks. Various alignments of lunar cycles can also create some funky tide options, but I'm not really going to get too deeply into it. I want to leave interesting alignments happenstances for dramatic occasions.

What do people believe the stars really are? Ask a thousand people, and you'll probably get a thousand slightly different answers. I'm not going to cover those here, I'm going to cover things like that in the posts about individual cultures. You might have noticed a theme here. I really, really don't want to pin things down so tightly that the world can't evolve if necessary.

I almost forgot to mention, the planet is spherical.

That's all for now, folks!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Elven Spirituality

I titled this "Elven Spirituality" for a very specific reason: Elves are, generally, not religious.

Wait a second, now, religion and spirituality are two different things. Some definitions:

  • a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny
  • an institution to express belief in a divine power
  • concern with things of the spirit
(All definitions found using the google "define:[word]" function)

The definition of religion as being an institution is an important one for me, and I favour that definition over the "strong belief" definition. However, elves do not believe in powers controlling destiny either, something (okay, another thing that sets them apart from dwarves).

Myth: Elves worship nature.
Truth in the myth: Elves revere nature.

It's a subtle difference.

  • specific acts of religious praise, honour, or devotion, typically directed to a supernatural being such as a god or goddess
  • regard with feelings of respect and reverence; consider hallowed or exalted or be in awe of
(Definitions found using google "define" feature)

Elves are not religious and cannot, per se, worship nature. They do not, generally, believe in "Nature" as a deity or supreme supernatural force. Rather, it is eminently natural for nature to do what it does when provoked. Note: In a fantasy universe, what nature does when provoked can be extremely dangerous.

In the traditional elven belief, what nature deserves is not worship but reverence. In a word, respect. Elves try very hard to work together with nature, rather than fighting it, because it is respectful to do so (and because when a fantasy nature hits back, it does so very, very hard). They consider the gifts that they receive from nature (an anthropomorphic metaphor, but a handy one) to be extremely valuable, and act accordingly.

Elves readily acknowledge the existence of beings that represent and embody the spirit of nature, or of various aspects of nature. They believe that to ignore them, as most humans do, would be folly of the highest order. When commenting on the human refusal to accredit natural processes to the spiritual creatures that embody them, an elf once said that "it would be like refusing to say that your fingers are useful in holding a hoe".

In summation, elves are not typically religious. They do not gather in churches, they do not sing praises to almighty nature. They are, however, spiritual beings who are reverent of the natural environment in which they live, which in a fantasy universe includes creatures that embody natural processes or locations.

Saturday, January 5, 2008


No, I'm not talking about what happens when you leave yogurt in the fridge too long. I was getting all ready to post about politics, but it sort of dawned on me that culture probably comes first. According to wikipedia, culture "refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activity significance". I like that definition, it works for me.

Cultures are often regional, but this isn't always true, looking at diasporas (people living outside their cultural homelands, often used to refer specifically to jewish people living outside Israel).

In fantasy, one of the major issues is actually with mono-culture, especially when dealing with non-human races. I'm going to try to avoid this, but my traditional direction may make a mono-culture or two unavoidable.

I also plan to introduce counter-cultures in large centres of culture, of which there will probably be about five human centres, and one centre in each of the other races with significant counter-cultures.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Magic System Complete (Revised)

The Magic System document can be found here. Comments here will be restricted, please post your comments in the first Magic System post.

Edit: Thanks to the excellent work of Killer Shrike (for all things Magical [in the Hero System, at least], check out his website!), my magic system mechanics have been overhauled and cleaned up. Comments in the first post, if you please.