Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

7 May, 2012

Welcome to My World

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

I’ve spoken a bit about world building, and my D&D world specifically, before. I am not currently running a game, and am unlikely to find the time and energy to do so any time soon, but the world for it is still swirling about in my head, wanting to get out, so I’ve decided to indulge this desire by posting a bit about it here. Killing two birds with one stone, this will also help me codify some of my more nebulous thoughts.

Like I said in that previous post, my D&D world is based heavily on the default D&D world found in the 4e source books, but that isn’t really a world in and of itself. The books contain broad strokes and some few specifics, but leaves huge blank spots for each DM to fill in. It is intended more as a framework for sparking creativity, and that’s how I’ve ended up using it – taking the bits of the framework that I liked, discarded the bits I didn’t, and filled in the blanks with stuff both of my own devising and stuff filched from other sources.

One of my favourite ways to give an imaginary world the illusion of depth is to refer to and quote from imaginary texts internal to it, a text that an inhabitant of the world would have access to. As a result of this, my descriptions will probably take on a similar flavour, of something produced within the world itself – that’s just the mindset I like to get in while writing things like these.

Right, I think that’s enough preramble. I’m just going to dive into a little explanation of the geography and background of Arkhosia, the dragon empire.

When speaking of Arkhosia, it seems impossible not to begin with the Iorostákhi river, because that is both the beginning and the heart of the realm. Along the banks of the red river lie the seven cities that birthed the realm, and it remains the main vein of travel and trade on the Arkhosian plains.

Mythology tells of the dragon god Io, who did battle with a primordial monster called the King of Terror. The monster killed the god, carved him in half with a single stroke. The two halves then sprang to life as the gods Bahamut and Tiamat, who together killed the King of Terror, but Io was dead and his blood spilled on the ground. Pious Arkhosians will tell you that the battle happened above the Blood Mountains, and that the god’s blood pouring down upon them formed the river that still runs there to this day, and hence bears the name Iorostákhi – Io’s blood.

A more prosaic person would say that the Blood Mountains in fact get their name from the red clay which is so abundant in them, and whose presence in the watershed is also the cause for the river’s distinctive colour – which in any case is not nearly so red as the poets would have you believe. The myth of the river which is still in some way the literal blood of the creator of dragons is too strongly ingrained, however, for that interpretation to have much popularity outside certain academic circles. Untold generations of Arkhosians have seen the river as a sacred and tangible presence of the gods in the world, and the conception of Arkhosia as the holy land is buried deep in society. Though Io is dead, he still plays a significant role in Arkhosian religion, and the bathing festival held every three years in the city of Zeïár is a good example of this. When the dragonborn race appeared, it was generally assumed that the power of the river was in some way responsible for their creation, though the details surrounding their genesis are unknown.

Regardless of whether the mythical battle really occurred above Arkhosia, it is certainly true that the area had a much higher population of dragons than the rest of the known world, though that is no longer the case. When the seven cities formed, the dragons were the ones who ruled them. Though Arkhosia is often called the empire of the dragonborn, it was always ruled by dragons even after the dragonborn became the most populous of the races in it. The dragonborn clans themselves were always organised around a single dragon leader.

The Arkhosian plains cover a large area, but they are centred on the river. Even as the empire grew to encompass a full quarter of the world, the river never lost its place as the heartland, the life blood of the realm, and the seven cities always maintained their position of power. As for the circumstances of their founding and forging into a single civilization, that will have to wait for another time.

A map of the Iorostakhi region

I'm not great at making maps, but it's not like I can afford to pay people.


26 April, 2012

Link: The Book of Atrus

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Not too long ago, I went on a bit of a Myst binge in my posts here. The dominant feedback, both here and elsewhere, was a puzzled “huh?” Not wanting to turn completely into a Myst blog, I decided to hold off on posting this thing, just to give you some breathing space, but now it’s time to bring it out before the iron cools completely.

I came across this because of those previous posts, in a way; having Myst on my brain led me to look up again the old forums and websites I once frequented, and on one of them, I found a link to this. And it is glorious.

The Book of Atrus

The Book of Atrus is the first of the three Myst novels. This is a fan making a comic adaptation of that story. For those of you who don’t know Myst, and don’t yet feel like playing old games or investing time in the novels themselves, this might just be the perfect entry point to the series. The comic started not long ago, so there isn’t a huge archive to read up on yet, meaning you can get in on it now and then follow along as it updates.

Now, this is unofficial fan works – almost fan fiction. The comic has already departed from the novel in some particulars, which is only natural in an adaptation, and will probably make the story its own. I won’t get into the details of Myst’s complex relationship with canonicity, because it would frankly be nonsensical for someone not into the series, but suffice it to say that making changes for the sake of artistic license is well and truly entrenched in the series as a whole, and so the comic joins neatly into the tradition of the official publications.

It’s been a long, long time since I read The Book of Atrus, but reading through this comic – something I did three times in a row when I first found it – made me want to dig it out from the shelves again. Like I said, the comic is still in the early stages – the story of a young boy and his grandmother living alone in the desert – but I remember the general shape of what comes later and I am greatly looking forwards to it. On the basis of both the quality of the comic so far, and of the source material, I have no compunctions about recommending it. If you were at all interested by my previous Myst ravings, go read it.

16 April, 2012

Five of a Thing: D&D Monsters

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

One of the things I like about D&D is the ridiculous number of monsters it has accumulated. There are whole pages dedicated to some of the sillier critters the game has now left behind. There are still some really weird ones in the mix, but I think most of them have some cool feature at this point. Leafing through my 4th edition Monster Manuals, I certainly find plenty to love. So here’s five of them. I’m not even going to say these are favourites, they’re simply five monsters I think are cool.

5 – Rust Monster

Way, way back, when I read my first D&D book (a red one), I remember this monster being in it. I think it was encountered in the solo adventure in that book, and it might even have rusted away my weapon. Or maybe I’ve invented that whole memory. Either way, the rust monster is such an unashamedly obvious “screw you” to the players, I can’t help but love it. It’s a monster specifically designed to destroy you stuff!

4 – Owlbear

Yeah, that’s right, I said owlbear, the poster boy for ridiculous combinations of creatures. This isn’t so much for what the owlbear currently is, as for what it could be. Look at these things, and tell me this creature that leaves people with no other recourse than to draw comparison to killers of land and air can’t be terrifying.

3 – Aboleths

A.K.A evil fish. Huge amphibians that come from the cuthulu-esque Far Realm, swimming in unknowable patterns beneath subterranean seas, spewing an incomprehensible hate throughout their surroundings. I have a weakness for that sort of Lovecraft-inspired monster, I guess.

2 –  Rakshasas

Humanoid big cats. What makes these cool are their backstory. There’s a player race called Devas (neither of these have much to do with the thigns they’ve taken their names from, just as an aside) which are basically angelic spirits who have decided to hang around in the world and fight evil. Every time they die, they reincarnate in a new body. Unless they’ve turned to the dark side, in which case they become rakshasas, compelled by their new nature to continue a life of depravity and violence. Good concept. A+.

1 – Weavers

To be honest, what I’m really responding to here is the look. While the concept of a people who claim they existed in the previous universe and work endlessly to end the current one to restore their own is pretty cool, what really sells it is the image of a slender six-armed creature with no mouth. I don’t know what it is, but picturing these things move in my head makes me love them. They’d be all graceful and calm and never make a sound, and then just throw an opponent through a wall. Awesome.

Honourable mention goes to the destrachan, which is a raptor with sonar. I repeat, it is a raptor with sonar.

My head is in a bit of a D&D space right now. Maybe I’ll write more about that later. For now, them’s the monsters.

12 April, 2012

The Fighting Temeraire

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

His Majesty’s Dragon, the first book in the Temeraire series, opens with a British ship capturing a French one in 1805, and finding a dragon egg in its hold. This is not extraordinary – in the alternate history of this series, dragons have been domesticated in Europe since the Romans – but it is a great good fortune, as England has a dearth of dragons compared to other European powers, and France especially. Unfortunately, the egg is ready to hatch. The ship, naturally, carries no trained aviators, so it falls to the crew of sailors to attempt to harness the dragon, lest it become feral and of no use. The problem is that a dragon bonds with a rider for life, and the man who succeeds with the harnessing will be forced to leave the relatively respectable Navy for a life in the much more maligned Aerial Corps.

I have greatly enjoyed the Temeraire books since I first discovered them about a year ago. They are a delightful mix of  Hornblower-esque military fiction and fantasy. All of the stories are enjoyable – the lifelong sailor adapting to life as an aviator, the ongoing war with Napoleon and the sacrifices needed to win it, the continual discovery of the full extent of the dragon Temeraire’s abilities, Temeraire’s slow, slow campaign for dragon rights, and best of all the friendship that develops between the dragon and the rider. It’s a thing of beauty, I tells ya!

I also really like the world the books are set in. The presence of dragons all over the world – except in Australia, obviously, ’cause Australia’s always got to be different, hasn’t it, with its freaking koalas and platypuses and poison everythings – has resulted in a pretty different history from our own, at least outside Europe. Luckily, the author seems eager to show it off, and several of the books involve long journeys to various corners of the globe, giving us a good view of it. I haven’t read the most recent book yet, but I understand it involves a visit to the Inca empire, which with dragons was able to withstand Spanish incursion, and I’m greatly looking forwards to it.

As with the Dresden files, I have primarily listened to these as audiobooks, which I can heartily recommend. Simon Vance has a great voice for this sort of period piece, and he manages to make all the characters sound different enough that there is no problem following along.

The books aren’t very long, nor too heavy reading, so I have found them perfect for quick and very enjoyable reads in between larger projects. And come on, it’s the Napoleonic wars with dragons! How can you not love that?

9 April, 2012

Did I Mention I’m Insane?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Continuing on the topic of world building, I’m going to give you a little insight into my demented mind. I think world building is just fun, something I occasionally do with no intention of using the world in any sort of story. That’s not the demented bit, I think that’s pretty common for humans in general, whether or not everyone’s conscious of it. No, the demented bit is where I, on occasion, spend hours and hours thinking of tiny and insignificant details that no-one will ever hear about, just because I’m a perfectionist idiot who doesn’t think my imaginary world is worthy of that label if I can’t draw you its star charts.

As an example, I’ll show you a bit of one of my conworlds (that’s constructed world for the uninitiated. This is the Internet, of course it’s a thing). I’m going to use the one I made to play Dungeons & Dragons in, and a world built for a game is of course different from one built for use in prose in some ways, but my madness shines through nonetheless. If you’ve read the D&D 4th edition books, you’ll recognise elements of the base setting here, as this world is based on that, with my own embellishments and changes wherever I felt like it. It is based on 4th edition, but rules elements aren’t really reflected in the world itself, so I think I’ll keep it if I ever move on to a different edition. I haven’t actually used it much in play, though. This is part of the dementia, I have spent more time by far planning this world than using it.

Here, look at this map I made. It’s not finished, and yet I’m showing it to you; a big step for me. The idea is that this is a map made by a character in the world, an academic who drew together various sources to make one big map of all the known world. Yeah. It’s not even an accurate map, I put in errors that this imaginary guy made!  And I’ll probably never even use it! Folly!

A map of the Middle World

Click to embiggen further.

As I said, it’s not finished. A couple of the months are missing symbols, I’m not really happy with the World Axis model, the map itself needs some work, and the constellation map is still pretty blank. Also, I think I might have messed up the order of the constellations of the ecliptic. That is not a joke, this is the sort of thing I spend time thinking about. I’ll give you a moment to pity me.

Actually, don’t, it’s not really warranted. I’m having fun, in my own weird way. I’ve spent quite some time thinking about how all the elements on this map fit together, which bits were owned by whom at what time, and how it all adds up now. Maybe if I finish this map, I’d feel driven enough to run a game in this world that focused on exploration, Age of Sail-style. The map isn’t the main product of this conworlding (yeah, it’s a verb too) of course – I have a by now rather sizeable wiki document detailing various parts of it, and a ludicrously complicated Calc spreadsheet which converts dates between the four calendar systems I’ve thought up. Yes, four calendar systems. Solar, lunar, mathematical and Mesoamerican-style. I did warn you this was an insight into my madness. I don’t dare show you the spreadsheet, it’s a mess of a thing which I’ve basically hacked away at until it did the thing I wanted it to, without ever fully understanding why, and I’m sure anyone who’s good with that sort of thing would point and laugh. I can tell you with some surety, however, that the 20th of Morad, 9651 in the Iounian calendar, is the equivalent of the 17th of Ronníad, 9893 in the Sehaninian calendar, 22/1/9893 in the Dark calendar and 5 rain, 17 hammer, 149 in the Imperial calendar. Geeks, bow before your king!

I think that’s sufficient exposure to my mind for now. It’s good to let some air in, now and then.

2 April, 2012

Ramblings on How to Play God

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

So, one thing I think the Myst series does very well is world building.

No, don’t go away! I’m not really making this into a Myst blog. This post is about world building in general, I’m just using Myst as a starting point, since that’s where my train of thought started in the first place.

When it comes to fiction, regardless of medium, my preferences tend to run towards what is nicely called speculative fiction, or more commonly science fiction and fantasy, or maybe even more commonly nerd stuff. A pretty common feature for this type of fiction is that it is set in a world which differs from our own. Sometimes it is an entirely different one, like in Narnia or A Song of Ice and Fire, sometimes it’s in a hidden one within our own, like in Harry Potter or The Dresden Files, but in either case it is something new and unknown. Since it is something the audience is unfamiliar with, the manner in which it is explained is important. My own fiction writing has languished lately, but when I do brush the dust of it I will end up writing in the same genre, and so I occasionally spend some time thinking of the best way to build and convey a fantasy world.

In fiction set in our own world, the writer can proceed on the assumption that everyone knows at the very least the basics of it. People will know what China is, and where Canada lies relative to Mexico, and roughly how much a dollar is worth, and how the Cold War caused international tension that still exists. No explanation is necessary, and so the writer can simply mention whatever he choses and move on. I think one of the most interesting approaches in fantasy writing is to proceed in the same way, as if the world was indeed familiar to the reader.

Since I started with Myst as an example, let me continue with that for a moment. As I’ve mentioned before, Myst is all about dropping you into its world and then refusing to explain anything, leaving you to figure it out for yourself. It is the epitome of showing, not telling. Have a look at the intro to Myst itself, it’s only about forty seconds long.

That’s all the context the game gives you. A figure fall through a crack, with a book. The figure disappears, and the book keeps falling through a star field, while a voice narrates that he realised the book would survive, contrary to his expectation. The book lands. That’s it. Next, it opens, the player falls through it, and finds him- or herself on a wooden dock on a weird island, with no clear objective.

But even though nothing is explained, everything has an explanation. This is the key bit, in my opinion. You don’t need to, as a player, understand exactly what happens in this intro. Indeed, Myst gives no explanation of it even at the end; to fully understand what happened in that sequence you must also play through Riven and read The Book of Atrus.  Further light on the event is shed in Uru, but even now it remains one of the central mysteries of the series – and one which will probably never really be explained.

Of course, this is a game series. It is one thing to drop an unexplained ruin in an interactive game, another thing entirely to convey it in prose. In prose, the imagined assumption of shared knowledge can get a bit much at times. If handled poorly, you just get a bunch of names with no reference point and it’s just off-putting. Sometimes it’s worth it to soldier through those dense sections until you do orient yourself – Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth-series of books spring to mind as an example of this – but more often than not I’ll not have the patience.

I think the key is to have a large knowledge of the world you’ve built, and then dole it out very gradually. Not with explanation, but with gradual exposure. I think you could make up a world as you go along, but the coherence and plausibility of it increases when it is all consistent and thought-through. In the work itself, the larger world should be implicit, but behind the scenes it should be explicit. None of this is revolutionary, I think; it is merely my stance in this. Of course, taken too far, you end up with hopeless perfectionism, and an inability to proceed without excessive details. That’s where I tend to end up.

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