Tag Archives: world building

Worldbuilding in Science Fiction: Part 2 Worlds Upon Worlds

Worldbuilding Part 2: Worlds Upon Worlds

It may seem a little backwards, but my second post on world-building is actually going to talk about worlds.  (See the first post here)  While geography / celestial cartography is important, I don’t think it’s the foundation of building your universe in SF.  Why is that?  Well, you need to know how easy or hard it is to get there through technology, know how people will react when they do get there through culture, and who the players are by knowing the people.

The rest, as to what’s actually there?  That’s going to influence those things in return, but it’s still not quite as central.  The earlier post was about preparing the conditions to tell the story you want.  This one is more focused on developing the actual setting.

Worlds

Writing science fiction gives an author an amazing set of possibilities.  As writers, we can explore distant worlds that can be whatever we think up.  Those can be desolate waste-lands like Tatooine or thriving paradise planets and everything in between.

This is all about determining the setting and this is where a lot of the Science Fiction greats did things really, really right.  Frank Herbert’s Dune is a book where the planet itself is a character, which at various times tries to kill or save the people in the story.  On Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the Moonis every bit as central to the story as anyone else.

Whether your worlds are arid, airless rocks or a lush tropical planets, you need to determine what your story needs.  A survival story set on a paradise planet might not be nearly so interesting as one on a world where literally everything is trying to kill you.  The Martian is a great example of a science fiction survival story where the writer makes the planet’s conditions central to his story.

If course, the conditions of the planet may tie into other things…

Star Systems

The system’s star or stars can be a huge element of a planet’s habitability.  The movie Pitch Black explored this in a pretty interesting fashion, creating a star system where a planet existed in continued light… right up until it got dark for a very long time.

Asteroids, comets, moons, other planets, all these can be important to your story.  Maybe the system has not just one but two or three inhabitable planets, maybe they’re claimed by different nations, maybe one of those worlds is undergoing a cataclysm of some kind.  The Dragonriders of Pern series had a rogue planet that brought terror with it’s return every few hundred years.   David Weber’s Honor Harrington series has a set of wormholes that made Manticore an economic powerhouse due to their central positioning for trade.

The physical world and setting is going to directly impact your characters.  Society, technology, and people will indirectly shape them, but the physical world is what they’ll see, taste, touch, hear, and feel.  If a planet is a garbage world, does it smell?  Do people from there lack a sense of smell because it has been burned out?

Beliefs and Themes

Lastly, we come to one of the non-physical elements of setting: beliefs.  This is a product of the physical and societal elements and it in turn shapes both.  What do the various cultures and sub-cultures believe in?

Has humanity spread out with a manifest destiny?  Do they shove aside non-Earth life, terraforming worlds in their own image?  Or is there a fundamentalist religion that has taken over a culture, instilling them with a reverence of all life, prohibiting violence for any reason?  Has faith in science driven a group to pursue all manner of otherwise unethical experiments, delving into human modification and genetic engineering upon their prisoners?  You decide, you shape it based upon the history and setting you’ve built, and then decide what you need to tell the story you want to tell.

Conclusion

While developing the technology level, cultures, and people of your setting was the foundation, this is like the basement.  This is the structure that supports your book. It’s there, its visible and the characters will interact with it all the time.  Building stuff here gives you the tangibles that readers will notice and that will ground them in the worlds.  Fill out these details for the story you want to tell.  Next week, we’ll tie it all together in Part 3!

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Worldbuilding in Science Fiction: Part 1 Foundations

Worldbuilding Part 1: Foundation

When building your planet, be certain to select a good solid base to begin your construction…  Oh, wait.   Too literal, huh?

Jokes aside, this is going to be the first of three posts about world-building / universe-building in science fiction.  This isn’t a be-all-end-all guide, this is a process I follow while I develop the world in which I’m writing.

And yes, I’m starting with the foundations of the universe you plan to write in: technology, cultures, and people.

Technology

The tech of your setting is a determining factor for what’s available in your writing kit.  One of the first questions I ask is how advanced is this setting?  Is it near-future, far-future, post-apocalyptic, tech-retro… what is it?  Science Fiction draws a lot of its inspiration from possibilities.  What is possible in your universe?  Most of my SF universes have the possibility of Faster Than Light travel being not only a possibility, but being relatively “easy” given readily available technology.  But look at a lot of science fiction and that’s not the case.  FTL Travel opens up a broader canvas: more worlds, more star systems, more potential species and cultures to encounter.   On the other hand, if you want to limit your canvas to a smaller scale to focus on the characters or story in one location, then FTL may not add much to your story.  Or maybe the discovery of FTL, those first intrepid explorers going out is what you want to use for your story.  Whichever it is, establish the rules so you know what they are.  Hard, Easy, or Impossible, and try to determine how long it’s been that way.

The mode and method of FTL travel can be important, too.  In my Shadow Space Chronicles series, FTL travel is possible by entering a non-euclidean parallel dimension, one with multiple layers of which only certain talented people can even perceive.  In my Star Portal universe, FTL travel is achieved through development of advanced warp-drives as closely based off current physics models as I can manage.  Both of these methods have their own rules and using those rules in the stories and future ‘histories’ of those universes helps me to build a richer universe, one where characters can use their technology to solve problems.

There’s a variety of other technologies that can be important to the story you want to tell.  Artificial intelligence, Genetic Engineering and Cloning, Cybernetics, Faster than Light communications, and even psionic abilities, these are just a few of the things you may want to consider.  A lot of this, too, comes to genre.  Dystopian Cyberpunk stories may be focused on Earth where humanity never made it out to the stars, whereas military science fiction novel may involve vast fleets clashing in interstellar space.  You should already know what kind of story you’re wanting to write, this is about establishing what’s possible and why.

Cultures

What cultures are dominant and which ones are important to your story?  In my Shadow Space Chronicles series, the Chinese and Russians got out and colonized the first extra-solar planets and therefore reaped the benefit in cultural and technological advancement.  A second wave of colonists to thousands of other worlds had to travel further at greater expense or to colonies marginally inhabitable planets, which meant they were often more poorly equipped and often were economically exploited by wealthy corporations or powerful individuals.  They were also easily dominated by a coalition of the core worlds, what became known as Amalgamated Worlds.  This led to a lot of hate between the outer colonies and the inner ones, not only did they have different cultural backgrounds, but the disparity of wealth and technology made for flash-points of revolution.

See how technology and culture fed together to give me some story fodder?  Conflict between haves and have-nots is a pretty easy idea that most people can easily relate to, it also can provide conflict for characters within a story or a good background to set a story against.  Developing cultures isn’t just for humanity.  If your story is going to involve alien races, then this is also where you can plot cultures.  Try to avoid making them too monolythic.  Every society has its outliers, every nation has its internal divisions.  Developing those internal cultures can give you ideas for your actual story and can help ground that story for a reader.

People

People are where you’re working toward with this foundation, they’re what your story will rest upon, they’re the meat and potatoes of your story.  Not in a Soylent Green way, either.  (Well, maybe, you write it how you want)

Societies and cultures are made up of people.  Individuals stand out as the representatives of your worlds.  Developing a cast of people, past, present, and even future, can help you to build out your world.  These aren’t necessarily characters that your POV characters will meet, see, or interact with.  These are important people that shape the worlds and that you may mention.  People like the inventor of the FTL drive, or the person who built Skynet, or the traitor to humanity who gave away our defense codes, or the first genetically engineered person.   They’re names that you can drop into the story as you’re writing and just knowing a little about who they were and why they were important lets you keep writing and develops the world that much more.

Knowing what cultures they came from, what shaped them, and what pressures they were under to make those decisions can be a tremendous benefit.  Maybe the guy who gave away Earth’s defense codes was in it for the money or maybe Earth’s dictatorial rulers had just had his family purged.  You decide, and then you can use that to build your story.

Conclusion

Knocking out these three things will let you focus on the next steps, building out your universe so that you can then write that great SF story you want to tell.  Remember, though, this isn’t the final product, you world-build so that you can write a story.  Don’t get too caught up in world-building that you don’t actually do the part of putting words on page for your story!  Next week I’ll dive in with Part 2.

For other posts on worldbuilding, check out my steampunk and fantasy worldbuilding posts.

Eoriel Saga Character Biographies

The latest installment of character biographies is now available, this time for the Eoriel Saga.  These biographies are up to date as far as the first book, Echo of the High Kings and include biographies for most of the main cast of characters with a small number of characters that I’ll add as I get time.

Depending on how much people like these, I may expand this to include other characters or I might just post the appendices for the later books with appropriate spoiler warnings.

I have been able to add a few details on characters which hasn’t been explicitly stated in the books.  As a bit of fair warning, these biographies are based upon “common knowledge” so they may not entirely resemble the truth… or they might well be entirely fictitious!

Thanks for reading!

Author’s Toolbag: Maps and Drawings

The number one job of an author is to tell a story.  In this sense, illustrations such as maps and drawings can be excellent tools for an author, particularly when they are used to immerse the reader more fully into the world.

I’m the type of reader who spends hours, sometimes days pouring over the maps, imagining myself in those worlds and feeling a bit of a thrill as I follow the characters along their journeys.  While I also enjoy the occasional drawing of a character, location, or item, seldom do these things resonate with me as well as a good map.

I’m also the type of author who is into world-building: creating a living, breathing world… and maps are a key part of that for me.  I’ve had the world layout for Eoriel mapped out for almost twenty years, tweaking details, changing names of cities and mountain ranges, altering coastlines slightly, but always with the same general layout.  The same can be said for the Shadow Space Chronicles, I’ve had the general layout of the universe in mind for years, and I’ve spent countless hours drawing out star systems, planet orbits, and the typical routes that ships travel.  I do this because I want to know what path the characters will take and why.  I want to know what language the locals will speak when the characters stop into a bar or tavern.

What does this have to do with the story?  A bit of nothing and a bit of everything.  It doesn’t matter in the slightest what language they speak in the bar… but the fact that they have a culture and language adds a level of richness, of reality to your writing.  So to, does having a map, of knowing that the characters can take the dangerous mountain pass in the dead of winter or divert two hundred miles to a  fortress held by enemies which is the only other way through.   Knowing that the characters will need three weeks (or three months) to travel to the next star system not only gives you a way to pace your story, but adds all kinds of fun plot developments and character arcs.  What do they do to pass that time?  How do they get along together on a tiny ship?  Which character(s) snap under the pressure?

Drawings, in the same way, not only help the reader to visualize the world, but it helps you as an author too.  Even a crude sketch can help you to develop what a character looks like in order to better describe them, or whether that city in the mountains is nestled in a valley or sprawls across a hilltop.  For a reader, a nice drawing can be an added bit, a way to fill in some of the details or even to add to the layer of mystery around something in your story.  As they say, a picture can be worth a thousand words.

How do I approach both of these?  Well, to be honest, with a map, I want there to be reasons for conflict.  Natural boundaries are frequently the dividing lines for nations… but sometimes those nations may disagree on which dividing line they are prepared to accept.  A nation that lives and thrives in the jungles may come into conflict with another nation which clearcuts the jungle to establish farmland.  Mountain tribes might raid lowlands where the growing season is longer and food is more plentiful… or lowlanders might send conquest parties to seize mineral rich valleys for mining.

Rivers, coastlines, bays, and lakes all serve as methods of transportation and as boundaries.  Mountains serve as boundaries and have profound effects upon rainfall and local climate.  Forests and jungle can act as barriers or havens, while swamps and marshes serve as foreboding locations and obstacles for characters or refuges for those who need to hide.  Deserts too, can serve as both obstacle and refuge, depending on the cultures of the people involved.

Drawings can hint at cultural themes, with stylistic emphasis in order to accentuate descriptions in your writing.   A well drawn illustration at the start of the book can set the mood or establish a theme for the reader, putting them in the right mindset.

Maps and drawings are both tools.  Learning to use them right is an excellent way to develop your novel and take it to the next level.

Echo of the High Kings Second Sample

Here’s the second sample from Echo of the High Kings.  Once again, Echo of the High Kings will be published on 1 August 2014.  For the first sample, check here.

Lord Hector

Town of East Reach, Longhaven Barony, Duchy of Masov

Twenty-Ninth of Idran, Cycle 993 Post Sundering

 

Lord Hector pulled his cloak tighter against the damp air of the tavern as he read through the scout’s report. He wasn’t certain if the cool, damp fall air or the dire news laid out in the precise handwriting on the parchment that made the gooseflesh rise on his arms.

“You need to kill him tonight,” his spy said, his voice tight with strain.

Hector’s head snapped up and he met the blue eyed gaze of the source of the reports. “You seem eager for me to commit treason based on the Armen threat.” For a moment, he almost forgot that the dusky-skinned man across from him wasn’t one of the barbarians from the north. He had seen many such faces, often marked with ritual tattoos or brands, often blood-spattered from their work. Most of what he saw at little better than arms reach as they tried to take his life and he theirs.

Hector didn’t realize that his hand had dropped to his sword until the other man reached out and put his hand atop Hector’s, “I do not seek to drive you to treason… I seek to save these lands from the savagery that we both know awaits. You raised me to be your spy amongst the Armen and your scout on campaign. Believe me, father, the Armen will come with the spring.”

Hector failed to hide a wince. It wasn’t that he didn’t have pride, of a sort, in his bastard son’s accomplishments. Yet, the truth remained, his boy was a halfblood… and while half his blood came from Hector, the other half of that blood came from the enemy. Hector shot a glance around the all-but-empty tavern, but it looked like the old drunks at the bar had little interest in their conversation. Hector’s eyes lingered on a hooded man in the corner, but the hunched figure in the shadows looked to be too far away to overhear their conversation. Even so, Hector pitched his voice low so it would not carry, “I sent you to gather information. You brought back rumors and vague warnings, talk of sorcerers and the mutterings of Armen holy men. I can’t bypass Baron Estrel and go to the Duke with this, not without hard numbers.”

“Do not allow your hate for me to blind you to the truth, father,” his son said. For a second, he looked so much like is mother that Hector had to look away. His chest ached with a long-remembered pain and Hector’s left hand stroked a scar that ran along his left thigh.

“I don’t hate you,” Hector managed to mutter. “But as you said, if this is all I have, then I am left one option: kill the rightful Baron of Longhaven and take his place. Otherwise, there isn’t time to prevent his next tribute shipment.”

Hector’s son nodded, “You can’t go to the Duke without solid proof, or Baron Estrel will undercut anything you say. The barony will fall without a strong leader. Your cousin has whored away his father’s gains. The talk amongst the Armen is that his lands are ripe for raiding.”

Hector nodded despite himself. He had arrived two cycles earlier, sent by the Duke with direction to try to repair some of the damage Baron Estrel had done to his defenses. What he had found had made the most pessimistic reports of the Barony’s readiness look far understated. Little remained of Baron Estrel’s forces. Most of his soldiers were unfit for duty, and his Master of Arms was an old drunk. Hector had done what he could, but the truth remained that the Barony was in a state of disarray… a fact that the Armen raiders knew quite well. Estrel had held them off until now with bribes and tribute, but even the Armen knew that soon he couldn’t afford any more. Soon the Armen would descend along the coast. They would rape, enslave, pillage and burn, and Hector had seen what they left behind often enough to feel sick at the thought.

Hector’s mouth twisted in a grimace, “I know what I have to do, yes… and I know the cost. If even a whisper of this gets out, the Duke will demand justice. My head will be the one that rolls for this.” Hector looked down and noticed that his wine sat untouched. He took a sip of his wine and the liquid burned in his throat. He shook his head as his vision flared for a moment. His head felt a little light.

“You need not face that,” his son shook his head. “Have me do it, father. It will look like an Armen raid, I’ll even hire a few Armen to launch a distraction. Even if I fail, the worst anyone will think is that I’ve betrayed you.”

Hector heard the words as if through a tunnel. He shook his head again, and he heard his own response as if it came from someone else, “You think I lack the stomach for it, do you?” He hadn’t realized that he stood until he heard his chair hit the floor behind him. Some part of him wondered at his own reaction, yet it was a disconnected thought, one he barely noticed.

His son stretched out an arm, “No! I merely think that this is the best way to do this! Please, sit. I did not mean to anger you, father–”

Hector seemed to rush back into himself and his head cleared. Forgotten was the lightheaded feeling, replaced by a spike of rage, “Do not dare to try to placate me!” Hector shouted. “You think me too cowardly to do the business myself, you seek to make me skulk behind you and then you seek to insinuate that I’m unreasonable?!” Incandescent rage filled him, and only the shreds of his self control allowed him to rip his hand away from the hilt of his sword. “Begone,” Hector snarled.

He saw his son’s face go slack with shock and then firm with rage of his own. Even so, he tried to reason with him, “Please, do not do this. You need some cut out or this will all be for naught–”

Hector saw some movement behind his son, the cloaked man in the corner. For a moment, Hector met the other man’s dark eyes. Hector thought he saw the slightest twist of a smile on the other man’s shadowed face. He laughs at me, just as my son always has… The smile was the last straw, the catalyst that sent his rage to boil over.

Hector leaned across the table and struck his son twice, once across each cheek. “You are no son of mine. You’ve done your task, now begone, and let a man of honor do his duty.”

Hector righted his chair as his son turned away without a word. He saw that the drunks had given him their attention, but a glare from him sent them back to their drinks. Hector sat and stared down at the reports and ignored the sound of the inn’s door as his son walked out into the cold fall rain. Hector pushed the wine goblet away and stared down at the reports. A part of him wanted to get up, to go after his son.

Yet his pride and his anger kept him in his chair and his duty forced him to examine what he had to do. He knew how to do it and he knew exactly what it would cost him to do it right. He was right to tell his son that he must do the deed himself. Hector was sent by the Duke to fix things, and so it fell to him to make it right. If nothing else, he owed it to his cousin to kill him in person.

Hector rolled up the parchment report and his gaze went distant as he began to make plans. He went past the immediate deed and had begun to plan his campaign against the Armen for the spring within a few minutes. He never noticed the hooded man from the corner as he slipped out of the tavern, just as the tavern maid hadn’t noticed when he slipped a vial of amber liquid in Hector’s wine when he’d entered.

***

Blurb

In Eoriel, the High Kings are legend: rulers who once stood against the darkness and ruled the world for two thousand turns of peace and prosperity. In the long turns since their fall during the Sundering, Eoriel’s civilization has faded. Dark men and darker beings have torn down and destroyed the old works. While some have held out against the grind of history, other places have been reduced to primitive tribes of savages, worshiping dark spirits and demons as their gods.

Yet, a spark of hope remains: some still believe in the old legends, some still fight to restore the old ways, and some will stand against the darkness, in an echo of the High Kings.

Echo of the High Kings will be published on 1 August 2014

Building an Epic Fantasy World: Modern History, Trade, and Society

So up until this point, I’ve developed my world, Eoria, configured what technology is available, what magic works, and even what people populate it. See the last post, on the history and cultures here. Today I’ll design the modern history, talk a bit about trade & industry, and design the societies that make up Eoria.

First off, when I left off, the lowlands civilizations were disparate, which didn’t allow them to unify and push the highland barbarians or northern barbarians back. This was exacerbated by the southern jungle civilization, which I’ve named Vendakar, who prefers the other civilizations weak and uses the slave trade produced by the barbarian raiders for their own ends.

Now, into this, I want to introduce the start of modern times, the notion of a central authority or leadership. I could map out the rise of some great conquerer… but I want to give them more of a feeling of legitimacy, rather than someone who just beat everyone else down. I also want to show, again, that this world is part of a greater universe… and that mankind didn’t originate here. So, I’ll introduce a new people, the Starborn. The Starborn arrive at Eoria during a period of heavy raiding by the barbarians. They come to Eoria aboard their ship, and they intially seek little contact with the natives, establishing a secure colony on their own. However, as their technology begins to fail, they are drawn into the local politics. As a contrast here, some of the Starborn seek to remain apart, others think that they should use their weapons and technology to seize power and rule, and a third group wants to work with the natives. The three groups have a short but brutal civil war in which the group that wants to work with the natives is victorious, while the conquistadors are exiled, sent north, where they found their own nation, called Darkstar. The isolationists are discouraged by both groups and head off on their own, to try and preserve ‘pure’ technology, rather than the magic and mysticism they see elsewhere. The majority of the Starborn begin to work with the locals. In particular, they are drawn to help in the fights against the barbarians. The leader of this faction, from the previous civil war, helps to unify the smaller nations, so that they work together against their common enemies. In the process, he steps into the role as the overall leader of their alliance… eventually coming to become their High King as things solidify. The five lowlands civilizations become the Five Duchies, each independent in their own lands but unified under the High King’s leadership.

The Starborn also bring ideas of sanitation, crop rotation, fertilizers, rule of law, and other low-tech but still important elements of civilization. With the assistance of the starborn, the five civilized nations defeat the rising tide of barbarism. They also experience a population boom from the increased hygiene, improved economy, and higher food yields. The Starborn, partnered with the nobility of these lands, slowly move into leadership positions, often intermarrying with the locals. Some prefer to remain in isolation, living separately, but many become the leaders of these other nations over generations.

The reign of the Starborn High Kings is a time of peace and prosperity. The Starborn value individual freedoms and personal responsibility as well, so there remains some upward mobility in most of their lands. They also approach magic from a scientific stance, so they push the boundaries of magical theory.

Going into each of the Five Duchies, I can decide what their strengths and weaknesses are, what they trade for and produce, and what the defining characteristics are. I’ve named them: Marovingia, Asador, Taral, Boir, and Masov, roughly from west to east.

Marovingia is the furthest south, along the equator, and blessed with plenty of rainfall and good weather. It acts as the breadbasket for the rest of the Five Duchies, with huge farms that produce food over multiple growing seasons during the year. The Marovingians, unlike most of the Five Duchies, do not venerate spirits of places or ancestors… they worship their gods. Their gods are physical beings, men and women who are born with a natural connection to the spirit world, and who are able to manifest powers. Marovingians are the closest to the Vendakar Kingdom, so they are bitter rivals. Marovingia’s large population and large percentage of land ownership gives rise to citizen soldiers who fight in their legions.

Asador is a volcanic highland, of rolling plains and towering cinder cones. The people of Asador are as volatile as their lands, being known for fiery tempers and ancestral grudges. While they are likely to engage in bickering or feuds, they will work together against common foes. Asador’s plains give rise to herds of cattle and sheep and the people are split between the small towns, built like fortresses on the volcanic peaks and the roaming peoples who raise livestock and live on horseback. The volcanoes in Asador’s highlands provide power sources for their wizards, allowing them to harness that energy to power their magical inventions. Asador’s cavalry, both heavy and light, are their military strength.

Taral is another highland area. Taral, unlike the other Duchies, is much closer to barbarism. The people of Taral experience some of the strongest and fiercest winters on Eoriel, with snow depths reaching forty or fifty feet. Taral lies between two mountain ranges and the lake effect off the Boir sea buries the Duchy every winter in snow. The heavy run-off in the spring erodes Taral into steep gullies and ravines, floods fields, and feeds the multiple rivers and lakes. Due to the harshness of winter, Taral has developed expertise in enchanting, crafting sunwells which gather light all through the spring, summer and fall to allow them to grow crops underground to withstand the winter months. They’ve adapted their enchanting skills to other areas since, but each village and town is built around a sunwell and the sunwells are of extreme importance to them. The people of Taral are in constant skirmishes with the mountain barbarians as the two people feud over highland valleys to grow crops and run livestock.

Boir rests along the inland Boir Sea. The people of Boir are industrious and are often drawn to trade and exploration. They build the best ships and their shipmasters travel everywhere. Most cargoes in Eoriel travel in a ship from Boir. The shorter growing seasons mean they are dependent upon food imports to maintain their population, but they spend the long winters working and laboring, providing goods and items for export and trade. Boir’s naval forces are their primary military strength, designed primarily around defeating the northern barbarians sea raiders, who plague their coastlines.

The last of the Five Duchies is Masov. Masov is the largest and is separated from the rest of Eoriel by the Boir Sea and the Ryft, connected by land only at the Ryft Guard, a massive fortress which spans the Ryft at its narrowest point. Masov’s people are as varied as it’s terrain. In the northern lowlands, trade and industry are more important to the people, while in the southern highlands, farming and logging are what people do to live. Masov’s central area is thin, hedged on one side by the Eastwood and on the other by the ocean. Masov, however, is the oldest of the Duchies, and one of the first to support the Starborn High Kings and is seen as the cultural center for the Five Duchies. The main focus of magic in Masov is blood magic and the mages who practice their arts are the best healers in Eoriel. As a counter to this, those who stray into perversions of blood magic, sorcerers, are also more common here. The southern deserts and high mountain valleys are host to more of the barbarians in the south, while the northern lowlands are raided by the northern sea raiders, which gives the Duchy a unique perspective on threats.

With that baseline established, coming into more recent times, the High Kingdom has fallen into disrepair. The High Kings are extinct, brought down by betrayal. In the process, the Five Duchies have created their own feuds and have fought one another, setting the stage for no one Duchy quite trusting the other to have their backs. As a consequence, the barbarians and the Vendakar have been able to raid and attack more successfully. In particular, Taral is brought low by the mountain barbarians, with many of its towns and villages destroyed and its people surviving only in isolated mountain villages, small pockets of civilization against the barbarians. Since Taral lay central to the Five Duchies, it’s loss makes travel and communications between the others difficult, at best. Boir maintains travel by sea, but the increase in northern sea raiders makes that dangerous too.

The general decline of civilization means that knowledge and information are lost. The Starborn families that survived the fall of the High Kings associate less with the other people of Eoria. Lack of communication and trust means that civilization declines still more. The volatile people of Asador’s feuds erupt into full blown civil war when their Duke dies without a clear heir. Each of the Duchies is isolated and alone and the barbarians threaten to overwhelm them.

This, then, is the perfect place for my story to start. I have a rich history (which I populated with names, dates, and other fun historical stuff), I know what people are where and what motivates them. I know what magic works, what science and technology work, and how the different people can apply them. Civilization, on Eoria, is at the brink of collapse. Into this, then, I populate the characters, men and women who either want to give civilization that last push towards collapse or who want to bring it back from the brink.

That concludes my world building series, hopefully it helps other writers and, if not, then at least it proved interesting.

Building an Epic Fantasy World: Culture, Ancient History, and Societies

In my previous post, I went into detail on how I designed magic and technology levels of Eoria and before that I designed the geography and physical make-up of the world. Now I’m going to discuss the social geography a bit. See the last post here.

First off, unless you’re writing some kind of utopian fantasy world, there’s going to be some conflict. Conflict is what makes things interesting, whether it is a conflict of words and discussion or one of hacking swords and bloodshed. That conflict can be over resources, philosophies, ideologies, or even just a continuation of previous feuds. Why does that matter for culture? Because few cultures grow up in isolation and it is inevitable that cultures will disagree about things.

First off, I wanted the main continent to have a rich cultural history and background. Just as our world has a history of empires rise and fall, so too would Eoria. The first human colonists landed on the far side of the world, and most expansion has occurred from there. So the first people who came to Eoriel, the main continent, were scattered tribes. Over time, they were unified, united as one people, though they still retained their original heritage. Their leader then formed them into a nation, the first real civilization on Eoriel. They would be similar to the ancient Egyptians of Earth, leaving monuments and ruins that other people would marvel over. These ancient people viewed the use of magic, in all its forms, as an art, and they slowly improved themselves, becoming a very static society, with little change. What happens in a static society without external threats is that they develop their own internal downfalls, which is what happened here. I didn’t want these folks around still, so I went with the old story: the nephew of their leader, tired of living in his shadow, assassinated him and broke their nation up into a civil war. In the process, he imported tribes from the other continent to serve as his troops, which he used to savage his opponents. These tribes were left standing over the ashes and ruins and revert to their previous barbarism. The surviving factions from the initial empire hole up in isolation and nurse their grudges.

This then sets the stage for another wave of migration. Other humans come to the (mostly) depopulated continent. They are builders of towns and cities and they gradually push the more barbaric tribals out of the good land, either shifting them north or pushing them into the high mountains.   They have some limited interaction with the survivors of the previous empire, but mostly they just established their small cities and towns. These are pragmatic types, explorers and colonists, people eager to build a place for themselves. They, however, are not ready when the barbarians push back, in an organized attack. The builders would form nations, developed around the geology I developed earlier, coalescing to unite against the barbarian threats, but each nation might not work with one another, leaving them unable to resolve the conflict.

This conflict between the two societies, the builders and the barbarians, sets the stage for uniting the builders against the common threat, while instilling in the barbarians a sense of grudges and unsettled disputes. The barbarians, especially if they are forced into the frigid north, have to live in harsh conditions. Since they were brought in by the old empire, they probably value themselves, as a culture, as warriors. Given the harsh conditions, they probably would lose much of their history, reverting to oral traditions and legends, perhaps even coming to venerate the general who brought them here to fight. Their hard lives will make them more pragmatic about what costs they’ll pay for survival, perhaps even coming to view the survival of the tribe or clan over individual lives and even developing a caste structure, in which warriors who go out and secure new sources of labor and food would be more valuable than those who produce that labor and food. They would be split, culturally, between those who moved north and those who lingered in the mountains and forests of the southern continent. The ones in the south would be even more desperate, being able to see the builders cities, farms and towns flourish while they barely scrape by in the mountains. These southern barbarians would be driven to even more savage acts, angry at how they’ve lost what they see as their legacy from the old empire.

This sets the stage for me to develop all three cultures in a conflict that, in turn, sets the stage of history. The mountain barbarians are savage, vicious people, driven by hardship to turn to allies and masters which most people would find unthinkable. The barbarians of the north would develop a raider culture, one which idolizes their warriors. This leads to the builder civilization focusing on their defenses and dehumanizing the two barbarian cultures, as well as being rather bitter over the previous empire which set the ground for this before. The three cultures would be in a sort of stasis, locked in battles where at one time or another, one side gains the upper hand, but the more numerous civilized groups can’t compete with the savagery and violence of the barbarians, nor can they stay united long enough to get through to the mountain strongholds and northern camps of their enemies to conquer and civilize them

Yet, at the same time, it’s missing something. I want these various cultures at odds with one another, but the mountain barbarians are at a severe disadvantage. They’re very likely to be worn down over time, their best fighters dying and their population declining and going extinct. While they might ally with the northern barbarians, they wouldn’t have communication. Also, they need some source of magical might to combat the civilized lands, to overwhelm their defenses. In short, there must be someone helping them. But why? Well, what about an ancient kingdom, in the south, who came over with the first wave. They bowed out of the ancient empire and remained independent. They follow their own gods, beings of evil and depravity. A wicked and ancient society, with an insatiable desire for slave labor and sacrifice. They’d view the mountain tribes as sources for both, and would likely facilitate a thriving slave for weapons trade, encouraging the mountain tribes and giving them aide against the newer peoples. This culture will have a dread approach to various forms of magic, using it as a method to reward and exalt their elite while their masses live in abject poverty, in fear that their wretched lives will end as sacrifice should the lines of slaves grow short.

I’ve now developed a system which would be relatively stable, allowing for conflict and a historical background that could maintain a history. Into this, I can then begin building a more recent history, with names and events that modern people in the setting will know.   In my next post I’ll talk about setting the stage for modern times.