You’ve Gotta Live Somewhere: Nations in Worldbuilding

Westeros.

Lankhmar.

Melnibone.

Gondor.

The Dragaeran Empire.

The Galactic Republic.

The United Federation of Planets.

All worlds have countries, whether in fantasy, sci-fi, or alternate Earths.  Some are real, and therefore don’t need much development beyond modifications to the genre or history.  The culture is there, the cities, government, currency, etc. are all there, just potentially different.  Others need to be built whole cloth, from the ground up.

As with the others in this mini-series, there are some minimum elements that I think we need to know.  Other details can be added, of course, such as currencies, cultural inspiration, fashion, customs, economics, and languages, as desired.

Government—What kind of government is present?  Is the government effective?  What about a public government versus a shadow government?  There are a wide variety of potential governments out there, so there’s no need to be limited to the typical fantasy empire or kingdom, nor for the sci-fi republic or empire.  What major political factions exist?

Head of State—Who is in charge of the government?  Is this individual a figurehead or does (s)he have actual authority and power?  Or is this a council or similar group of people?

Geography—What’s the land like?  Or planet, as the case may be?  Who are the country’s neighbors?  What relationships does it have with its neighbors?  The internal geography can dictate transportation, communications, even sub-cultures and political divisions (both in terms of governing divisions and political factions).

Legislature—What body establishes the laws of the country?  In some cases, this might be the head of state, with or without input from an advisory body.  In other cases, there may be an entire legislative branch apart from the executive.  Or the judicial branch may make the laws.

Law Enforcement—Who enforces the laws of the country?  This is both who is on the streets as well as the judicial branches.  Are there any special law enforcers?  Or is law enforcement a scaled thing—e.g. local, regional, national?

Capital & Major Cities—The capital of the country is obviously a good thing to have in mind.  But, there are also different types of capitals.  What’s the political capital?  Are there more than one (ex. at one point, the Roman Empire had two)?  Is there a financial capital?  Perhaps an academic capital?  Or even a religious capital?

Ex. Washington, D.C. is the political capital of the U.S., but NYC is the financial and tourism capital.  Riyadh is the political capital of Saudi Arabia, but Mecca is effectively a religious capital.

Religion—What religion(s) is/are known or represented in the country?  Is there a state religion?  Are there state gods?  If there are multiple religions, how do they relate to each other?  If there is a state religion, is it open to others or not?  What are the faiths present like?  Is there an unofficial state religion?

Ex. Officially, the U.S. has no state religion, unofficially Christianity is the state faith of the country; Denmark has a state religion, but it is very tolerant of other faiths; the UK has a state religion, led by the political head of state (who is a figurehead in both cases).

History— What has gone on in the country?  When was it founded?  How many leaders has it had?  Was it involved in any major historical events?  Has it changed over time?  How?  Were there any notable rulers (good or bad)?

Ex. Rome started as a kingdom, became a republic, then turned into an empire before becoming the Italian city-states, then a fascist ally of the Nazi regime, before finally settling as a democratic republic.

Yer a Jedi, Harry: Education in Worldbuilding

Hogwarts.

Unseen University.

Sunnydale High School.

Xavier’s School for Gifted Children.

The Jedi Academy.

Illuminati University (IOU).

Most worlds have some sort of education involved, whether mundane, military, paranormal, or something else. These are, for obvious reasons, especially popular in older children’s and YA novels. On one hand, they offer a shared experience with the reader. On another, they present an interesting place ot be explored without the presence of parents.

But, as writers, gamers, and worldbuilders in general, what should we know about educational institutions? What information should we have at our fingertips and/or present to our audience?

The following are some basics. Obviously, more detail can be added, such as traditions, rumors, and superstitions. But, I think this is a good baseline level of info.

Description—First, we should know what the place looks like. Is there one building or many? What do they look like? What is housed in each building? What are the grounds like? Are there any special rooms, ex. Hogwarts’s Room of Requirement? What is the feel of the school, e.g. dark, regimented, loose?

Curriculum—What is taught at the school? Are there formal classes or individual mentorships, or both? How long does completion usually take? Are there required subjects or classes? If so, for how long, e.g. it takes seven years to graduate, but History is only required for three of those years?

Ex. Hogwarts takes seven years to graduate, and some classes are only taken for four years. they teach both magic and history along with some elective subjects.

Who’s in Charge?—Who oversees the school? What title does this person hold, ex. headmaster, chancellor, president? Does this person have an assistant? Is there a group instead? How does one become the head or join the group? Who is this person or are these people?

Ex. Headmaster Albus Dumbledore oversees Hogwarts with a Deputy Headmaster, Minerva McGonagall, both chosen by the board of trustees.

Who runs the place?—Who handles the daily operations of the place? What non-teaching staff are present? Where do they live, do they have offices?

Ex. Argus Filch, Hagrid, and Madam Hooch are in charge of maintenance, groundskeeping, and sports coaching (more or less) respectively. Each has an office and/or living space on the grounds.

Faculty Hierarchy—Are the faculty divided into different groups? If so, how? Are the faculty ranked? If so, how?

Ex. University faculty are generally divided by department (field of expertise) grouped by “College” (ex. Arts & Sciences or Technology). They also have a hierarchy from adjuncts to non-tenure track to assistant professor to associate professor to professor (rarely adding university professor) to emeritus (retired).

Student Requirements—What does a person need to do to be accepted as a student? What age do they have to be? Are there gender, race/species, or skill requirements?

Ex. Hogwarts students can be any gender, but must be 11 years old and wizards/witches (House Elves or Goblins need not apply).

Faculty & Staff Requirements—What does it take to become a member of the faculty or staff? What process does one go through? What background does one need? Is there an age requirement?

Ex. Hogwarts seems to appoint professors based on interviews with the Headmaster (ref. Sybil Trelawney), or the Headmaster’s decision to offer a position (without an interview, ref. Remus Lupin, Horace Slughorn, and “Mad Eye” Moody).

School Rules—What sort of things are forbidden in the school? How are the rules enforced? What punishments can be handed out?

Ex. Hogwarts has relatively few rules—no magic in the halls, no Forbidden Forest, curfew. These are enforced by patrolling faculty, who can hand out detentions and take House Points away from offenders’ Houses.

External Oversight—Is there someone or a body of someones outside the school that provides external oversight? If so, what powers do they have? How does one take up this role? Do they get their authority from somewhere else or just from the school?

Ex. Both the Board of Trustees and the Ministry of Magic have some oversight of Hogwarts. The Board can choose to force resignations of faculty and staff, up to and including the Headmaster. The Ministry’s powers vary, depending on legislation (ref. HP and the Order of the Phoenix, esp. Dolores Umbridge).

Brief History—What has gone on at the school? When was it founded? How many leaders has it had? Was it involved in any major historical events? Was it built all at once or over several decades (or centuries)? Has its role changed over time?

Ex. See Hogwarts: A History; see also the history of the Jedi Temple (SW: The Old Republic, SW episodes 1-3)

Magic Systems: A Sample of Mine

Per a request, or comment, earlier in the week, I thought I’d write up a brief (very brief) overview of magic systems I’m using in three settings currently.


The first two are worlds used in a work of fiction in progress (about 23k words so far).

Tower Earth

 Magic in this urban fantasy setting requires active genetic talent to learn and use.

 Magic as a whole is divided into two classes: Low and High magics.

 Low magics can be learned by any mage at any time. They simply require study and training. They use small amounts of magical power and produce correspondingly minor effects. The low magics are:

 · Waerlomancy (warlock)—works with spirits of nature and the dead; includes binding spirits

· Witchcraft (witch)—works with ad hoc rituals made up on the spot based on materials on hand and feeling for the “right” words/use

· Wizardry (wizard)—works with clear, established rituals in a tried-and-true method without deviation

 The high magics require special training and use a greater degree of magical power. Likewise, they produce more powerful effects. The high magics are:

 · Sorcery—the gateway to other high magics; simply requires visualization, and a staff which acts like a capacitor for magical energy

· Alchemy—creation of elixirs and materials; important for ability to create magical items

· Gem Lore (Lithomancy)—use of magic inherent in gemstones; important for ability to create magical items

· Rune Lore (Cryptomancy)—use of sigils (signs, symbols, runes, glyphs) to access magic; important for ability to create magical items; tattoo magic is an obscure, rarely practiced, variation

· Blood Magic—use of blood sacrifices to generate large amounts of magical energy to fuel big spells or reinforce spells

· Sex Magic—use of sex to generate large amounts of magical energy to fuel big spells or reinforce spells

 

Post-Magicpocalypse Earth (PME)

 Magic in this post-apocalyptic Earth is somewhat related to Tower Earth, but not too closely. The worlds are connected, but only tangentially.

 Magic in PME is something anyone can learn, no talent or genes are necessary. Moreover, all species can learn magic, in theory.

There are five known magics (with rumors that the wildlings, a non-human species, may know two others):

 · Alchemy—as Tower Earth, but with the variation of Brewing (mostly used by centaurs)

· Elementalism—the flashiest of magics, control of the elements; often used to power technomagic (such as it is), also useful for weather control

· Mysticism—a magic based on meditation and self-discipline, perhaps the most difficult of magics; Wuxia-like effects

· Necromancy—works with the spirits of the dead (no nature spirits), much like Tower Earth’s waerlomancy

· Sorcery—PME’s name for cryptomancy; the sigils must be at least 1 square inch and must be drawn and named to use, though


 

The Triphase Worlds

 This is a build in progress that may turn into something or not. I haven’t done a build this ambitious in a while. Basically, there are three worlds more or else existing in the same space but off-kilter from each other—one a traditional fantasy world, one an urban fantasy Earth, and one a sci-fi/fantasy world.

All three worlds have the same system of magic, because of their closeness.

 Magic in the Triphase Worlds requires genetic talent and training to use. The primary energy source for magic is ley lines that crisscross each world. However, if necessary, a mage with the right training can use blood magic, sex magic, or necromancy to acquire energy—whether a large amount in the first two cases, or power if no line is in range in all three (destroying a spirit, for necromancy).

 Props are needed to channel and focus the power and spells, but the exact prop is specific to the mage. E.g. one mage may use a staff, another a ring, a third may chant (this is not chosen by the mage, which prop works is discovered by the mage during training).

 The three non-ley line power sources affect the auras and abilities of any magic item created using them.

 In addition to standard magic, there are talents. These are special abilities that are relatively common among mages and uncommon to rare among non-mages. They range from minor effects like dark sight (ability to see even in complete darkness) to oracular ability (uncontrolled future sight).

 Three of the other species, one of which is known on all worlds and the rest of which are hidden on at least two, have their own magics ranging from elemental control to glamour (light & sound manipulation).

 There are also at least two hidden magics that even the mages don’t know exist (and won’t be detailed here).

Race in F/SF, Some Thoughts

In the on-going mess of projects, the issue or question of race has come up repeatedly, given the fantasy and sci-fi genres. For some writers, many writers actually, the issue of race or species can be a problematic one to deal with. On one hand, we have the issues of race in the real world that influence how we deal with race in fiction, even among elves, dwarfs, Klingons, and Twileks. Additionally, the question and issue of biological determinism rears its ugly head in these cases.

 A classic example of real world race issues merging into the fictional is J.K. Rowling’s work, in which the goblins introduce issues of negative Jewish stereotypes and the house elves bring concerns of slavery that reflect the colonial era enslavement of Africans.

 Biological determinism has its clearest example in J.R.R. Tolkien. This is actually one of Terry Pratchett’s critiques of Tolkien—the elves are inherently (biologically) good regardless of their actions, the orcs are inherently evil regardless of their actions. Neither can change, ever; there are no evil elves and no good orcs, ever.

 The inclusion of real world race issues can be a strong element of fiction. However, it can also be a minefield unless handled carefully and with a significant amount of research. Cultural appropriation can occur, versus cultural appreciation. Which can lead to issues of conscious or unconscious (systemic) racism coming out or appearing to be present.

 On the other hand, biological determinism often leads to flat, generalized, and boring species and characters. For example, I suspect that one reason R.A. Salvatore’s character Drizzt is very popular (annoyingly so) is that he breaks the mold, he is not typical for his species. In other words, he violates biological determinism. Of course, because of his popularity, he is no longer unique or even uncommon (every other drow is a “good guy” rebelling against “evil” drow society anymore).

 Despite these potentially problematic concerns, I think species/races are useful in the fantasy and sci-fi genres.

 In sci-fi, they are especially useful for thought experiments and cultural experiments. They can be employed to play with different kinds of cultures or to examine particular elements of the writer’s home culture. Gene Roddenberry’s Vulcans and Klingons are good examples that also create a juxtaposition against the Federation’s culture. And, of course, virtually every sci-fi species is made up more or less from scratch.

 Conversely, most fantasy species draw on Earth’s deep body of folklore, legend, and myth. Non-humans were originally used to represent outsiders and foreigners, whether outcasts (werewolves) or strangers halfway around the world (sciopodes). Today, I think they are fun to play with, to subvert or toy with the old stories and assumptions, to create new variations. And some of those assumptions are based on the genre itself. For instance, Rowling’s house elves are excellent because they simultaneously reflect European folklore traditions of brownies and other household fae while subverting our Tolkien-esque expectations regarding elves in fantasy literature—instead of being tall, beautiful, majestic, lords of nature they’re small, servile, and decidedly urban.

 For my work on the Tower world, I’m playing with idea of a single species urban fantasy (in this case mages). Other species once existed but are now extinct, on Earth at least. Each of those other species is rooted in Earth’s folklore and legend—from djinn to dwarves, fae to werebeasts. According to the dominant surviving species (mages), they couldn’t adapt. According to their descendants (mixed with humanity, four species), they were victims of mage-instigated genocide, and their descendants are in hiding both from humans and mages.

Star Wars VII Thoughts Revisited

Continuing from last week, there are a few other things I’ve been thinking about regarding Star Wars VII.

 As people have mentioned, there are a lot of similarities between Episode VII and Episode IV. I think a lot of these similarities come from both movies fulfilling the same phase of the Campbellian cycle—the point where the hero is identified, the call to adventure is given, the call is rejected, and the call is eventually accepted. Likewise, in this phase, the mentors, helpers, and villains of the cycle are introduced. So, they certainly fill the same function, in that respect. However, I think the two movies are used for different purposes, despite their similarities. A New Hope is, in addition to its Campbellian role, an introduction to the world and the story. It starts in the middle, but it really brings viewers into the world Lucas has created. On the other hand, The Force Awakens serves as a bridge, connecting the original trilogy and (chronologically) second incarnation of the cycle to the third trilogy/cycle. And there is where we see the homages to IV-VI, creating the links between different iterations of the Campbellian cycle.

 The other thing that came to mind is objects. This could be due to my recent reading of Patrick Geary’s Furta Sacra, but the questions of Luke’s lightsaber (given to Reye) and Vader’s helmet keep coming to mind. Obvious questions about how Luke’s saber reappeared arise, given that the saber discussed is Luke’s first (and Anakin’s), the one lost on Bespin.

 I, perhaps because of Geary, started thinking about these objects as something akin to religious relics. On one hand, the lightsaber could be a fake, from some random pre-Empire Jedi or a fleeing Jedi who sold it off for passage out of the Empire’s sphere of power. However, these explanations don’t fit the epic tone or story. Rather, my practical side suggests it fell into a shaft like Luke did and some Bespin maintenance ugnaught picked it up and sold it. Taken in the context of relics, though, the saber must be saved and returned for worship.

 Likewise, Vader’s helmet needs to be recovered from the Endor pyre, either by Luke (as a reminder of what could be) or by Ren as a relic of worship. It takes on a powerful symbolic role, and received devotion on the part of whoever recovered it.

 Alternately, Luke’s lightsaber could be seen as fulfilling the role of magic swords throughout Earth’s legends. In this way, it could be a sort of unnamed Durendal or Excalibur, the symbol of the Chosen One or the “True Hero” (moving from Anakin to Luke to Reye as appropriate). There is certainly a counter argument regarding Anakin, unless we recall that he gave up that particular saber/sword when he joined Palaptine, thus becoming the villain and rejecting his role as a hero of the Clone Wars. It then must pass to Luke, the hero of the Rebellion, “destined” to rebuild the Jedi Order. Then to Reye, the one who appears set to combat the villain Luke accidentally created (much as Luke defeated the villain that his own mentor, Kenobi, accidentally created).

Star Wars VII Thoughts

It’s been over a week since seeing Star Wars VII, so I think I’ve processed enough to write up some thoughts.

First, I like the movie. It felt like a mix of V and VI, in many ways. I think it is a good addition to the series. The casting was good, the performances were good, and the writing worked. I liked the fact that they minimized the use of CGI, even if it sometimes looked like a few alien heads (Mon Calamari & Sullustan) were disproportionately big.

The off screen history seemed logically consistent, from Luke’s new Jedi to the original trilogy characters’ reactions to loss/failure. On the latter: Luke follows the only models he has–Yoda & Kenobi, both fail and run off to self-imposed exile; Han goes back to his pre-Rebellion path, a sort of muscle memory; Leia does the same. Chewbacca obviously follows Han, that life debt; 3PO & R2 stick with Leia, where they were at New Hope’s start.

Over all, there was a good balance between homages to the original trilogy and new material. From the trench run to the desert planet and lost droid, the homages worked well to provide continuity with IV through VI. They also hint at the cyclic view of history & reality that is so central to the Star Wars universe. This has happened before and will happen again.

The cyclic element is something inherent to the Star Wars universe and comes out well in VII too. From Lucas’s reading and incorporation of Campbell’s heroic journey with the original trilogy to its expression in the later movies, this journey cycle is inextricable from the series. We see the Campbellian journey on three levels with the series. On the microcosmic level, every movie in the series includes the hero journey element, ex. Luke’s call to adventure, refusal of the call, acceptance, assistance from mentors, success, and return with enlightenment and gifts for society (the rejuvenation of the Jedi). Moreover, each trilogy to date has a more macrocosmic level version of the Campbellian journey whether Anakin’s evolution from slave boy to villain (Campbell does note that the hero who doesn’t die young often becomes the next generation’s villain) or Luke’s journey from backwater farm boy to galactic hero.

So, when people have said that we’ve seen VII’s story before, they’re absolutely correct. And that’s a core element of the Star Wars universe. It also fits Campbell’s theory that the hero’s journey is a never-ending cycle (the third level mentioned above); when one journey ends, another hero’s begins. In this case, rather than becoming the villain, Luke inadvertently creates the next generation’s villain, much as his own mentor did. Thus, he must mentor the next generation’s hero on her (Reye) own journey against the villain that he created. Meanwhile, there is the parallel Campbellian journey being played out by Finn as he follows the same arc, much like Han did parallel to Luke’s in the original trilogy.

Near Future Alien Invasion Idea

Something that came to me a while back, that I’ve done nothing with since:


The early twenty-first century.

A few months ago, the question of whether man was alone in the universe was answered.

They came out of nowhere. One moment the skies were clear. The next, large ships were parked above every major city in the world. They ignored all attempts at contact, except to demand surrender. Their demands were ignored in turn.

The conquest was over in a matter of days. Their technologic development was centuries ahead of ours and they had the numbers to put it to good use.

However, there was one thing they didn’t account for in their plans. They cannot be held responsible for this oversight, Humanity itself had long since forgotten about this fact . . . man was not alone on this world.

We were still present, living in concealment, relegated to the realms of folklore, faerie tale, and legend. But we were still here. And so were our cousins and others. And we possessed weapons and defenses that the Invaders had no means to detect.

So, after months of attempting to organize and treaties between various parties, we began to fight back. After all, even though Humanity forgot about us, this world is our home too.

We harass the Invaders when they try to extract the natural resources that drew them to our world. Our cousins sabotage their facilities in the cities. Our allies, untrustworthy as they are, make the Invaders fear the night. And few have yet grasped the true nature of Humanity’s saviors. The collaborators call us terrorists, but what other weapons can we use against a technologically and numerically superior force? Besides, terror is what we know best. We have spent centuries as a source of fear for man. Don’t you use us in stories to frighten children into behaving? Of course you do, even though you claim not to believe in us anymore.


 – The world has been invaded by aliens, the militaries of the world proved insufficient to combat the threat

– After a few months of abortive and short-lived human rebellion, the werebeasts and vampires that have lived among humanity for thousands of years took matters into their own hands—werewolves, bears, cats, etc. attack alien sites in the wild, wererats and others infiltrate and attack urban facilities, vampires use their inhuman strength and speed to feed off the aliens.