Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Worldbuilding Considerations, aka Yours or Mine

As it is wont to do, my mind was wandering between classes. Let me tell you, it is really difficult to concentrate on reading earth science and medieval history when your imagination can spin one non-fiction paragraph into a few pages of fiction. I kid you not, it took me over an hour to get 7 pages into the intro of just one of many medieval history texts because in that hour I think I scribbled 5+ pages of non-school related material. Focus, brain, focus!

Some of my noggin's wanderings and wonderings are what follows. These questions mainly came up from thinking about the "discovery" of the New World (it's so much more complicated than people understand) and westward expansion of settlements/civilization across North America. I asked some friends/fans if they thought 40 questions were too much for one post. They said yes. But here it is anyway. Don't try to answer all of them at once. Approach it like the character building questions - use what works for you now and come back for more later.

These mostly focus on migration patterns of people and the question of progression. I realize not all of them run in a particular order. It was mainly a "stream of conscious" scribble to get all the ideas down before they ran out. These could apply to anything from real world gold rushes, to drug smuggling, to nerf herding.

1. What resources are they after: water, food, land, furs, ore, timber, crystal, spices, textiles, etc.?
2. What is important to them, and why?
3. Do they actually need it, or do they just want/desire it? Luxury or necessity?
4. Is it valuable to them personally, or for trade?
5. Is it rare or abundant?
6. Must it be processed/manufactured, or is it harvested by just picking it up off the ground?
7. Can it be reaped by hand....simple tools....complicated machinery....complex systems?
8. Who, when, where, how was it discovered?
9. Were there individual founders, or was it a group venture?
10. Is it sustainable or will it result in a boom and bust scenario?
11. Who is "in charge" of it? Is this a settled colony, or untamed frontier? If a frontier wilderness, how long will it take to "conquer" and settle it into a colony?
12. Is it already owned/property of someone else? Who? What do they think of the newcomers?
13. What kind of conflicts arise out of the competition?
14. Is it a violent grab, or open trade?
15. If trading for it, what is being traded? Are the commodities of equal value? What determines this?
16. Are people pulled toward this, or driven to it? Are they coming by choice, or are they being forced out of/into another another area?
17. Is the labor to obtain the item its own commodity?
18. Is this a virgin discovery, or a re-discovery?
19. If it was lost, and found again, where did it come from?
20. Why/how was it lost/forgotten/abandoned?
21. Are there multiple sources clamoring for it?
22. Are the "founders" working for someone else who wants to get to it first?
23. What kind of hostilities and/or sabotage arise?
24. Are people more interested in the glory and claim to fame, or do they want the item itself?
25. What might over production of the resource do to it?
26. What are the environmental effects, if any?
27. What are the hazards of the job?
28. Is the item itself toxic and/or does it produce dangerous waste?
29. It the target alive? Plant, animal, or mineral?
30. What precautions must be taken to obtain, harvest, process, transport, etc.?
31. Can it be moved by land, sea, or air? What are the limitations of transport? Why?
32. Does it spoil/expire? At what rate?
33. Can it be handled physically, or does some kind of shielding have to take place?
34. Can it be transported openly or does it require containment? Is it gas, liquid, solid, energy?
35. Is selling it legal or illegal?
36. Are investors/backers directly involved, or is it run through an indirect shell game?
37. Do the investors derive wealth, power, prestige, etc from the gain? What's in it for them?
38. If it is something unseen/how is it detected?
39. Is a central power trying to seize control?
40. What is the tech level of the people/world? 

I'd love to hear back from folks. What questions grabbed you? What did you do with them? Where did it take you?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Building Character(s)

Don't worry, this post is not about eating spinach, picking up litter, or climbing the rope in gym class.

Another caveat about this week's back to back posts. I know my posting schedule has been a bit off lately. Instead of the regular Tuesday and Friday pattern I established, starting school again has thrown off my groove. I have several scripted drafts that I need to get around to typing up and setting on an automatic calendar in an effort to avert future wonkiness and get back to a regular schedule. Thanks for reading anyway. Closing in on 6,000 views! Woot!!

I talk a lot about worldbuilding. But how bland is an empty world? Maybe what you're shooting for is a virgin world that a generation ship of space explorers is looking to colonize. Maybe your world has always existed with a lush bounty of flora and fauna, but people have only just been crafted by the gods and placed in it. However you approach it, the story is most likely about the people and their experiences in the world. I'm a big ol nerd, so yes, I would probably read an encyclopedic volume only about a world with no mention of the people in it...but invariably as I read my mind would begin to wander and weave tales about hominid creatures making this place a home for themselves. I really can't help myself.

What I'm getting at is that you can't spend all your effort on just making the world itself. You need to spend a good deal of time developing the people in it too. You can keep it pretty loose if, like me, you plan to use the world for gaming. In that case you can limit it to a few races, their look, culture, motivation, and history - just the basics so your gamers can really make a character their own. But in the end someone is going to ask a series of questions to flesh out that character.

Here are several examples of character questions that I've come across in many a web search.

Juliette Wade character interview - this one I find very fun, because she makes the poignant distinction about how to ask the right question to get a better answer. Rather than simply saying "Where are you from?" ask "When you think of home, how do you feel?" or "What do you think of when I say 'home'?" She gets even more into it with genre-specific questions.

Squidoo 101 character developement questions - this one organizes it into certain categories. I think it serves very well to break up the monotony.

Creative Writing Now fantasy character questionnaire - short, but solid. No it does not pertain only to creating dwarves ;)

Elfwood character form - this one breaks it up into categories as well, but it's still rather long/in depth. 100 character questions - this one gets really personal, but that's not such a bad thing.

Gotham Writers Workshop 2 character questionnaires - this one is in fact a two-fer, gotta love that.

Inkwell Ideas 101 character questions - It's not really another 101 questions, only 31, but many lead to more than simple answers.

That's what I'll leave you with for now to avoid inundating you with too much repetition. You don't have to take all of them - that would just burn you out and drive you away. You can glance over them and sleep on it (or not, since it may keep you lying awake thinking about it. Sorry for that). Or you can grab a notebook and answer each one and you go down the list  - skip the ones that don't immediately generate an answer, you may find yourself tying them into another answer later. For instance, I wrote about 15 pages for a ranger character going through each of the Inkwell Ideas. I had his whole family, criminal record, and reasons for wandering by the time I was done. But when we did it quickly for my wife's druid, we only had like 3 pages.

Most importantly, have fun with this exercise of meeting new people you didn't even know you shared your head with.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Realmwrighting Right

These are some things that have been rolling around in my noggin. Just advice and questions that I think need to be put out there. Hopefully someone will get something from it. A tip: don't read this post any further if you're in a funk. It's meant to be analytical, not emotional. So if you're having one of those "I suck" bouts that comes to all creative types, go no further. There. You were warned.

A few words of advice from someone who has been there....lots. Ask questions. Consider. Read. Talk to people. Study. Learn it. Draw comparisons. Refute it. History and future and the bits in between. Gains and repercussions and their makings. Don't be afraid. You must understand what you're doing, or attempting to do. Or what you're not doing that you should be doing. Or what you're trying to undo.

To answer that last bit you need to ask yourself, what is your goal? Why? Where are you getting stuck? What are the pitfalls? But before you get all blue and dramatic, stop and think, what have you got to lose? Are you in this alone? Do you have a partner, guide, mentor, audience? Again, don't get all down in the dumps if you do feel "in it alone". That's a big part of why I blog and put myself and my stuff out there - so people have somewhere to go and someone to relate to. For me it helps a lot just to have a forum for the swirling ideas.

Inspiration can be tricky. Sometimes it's a needle in a haystack and sometimes you get really lucky and it's hay in a haystack. Think about what inspires you and why. What about it do you find so interesting? How would you explain it to someone else? For me it helps to "reverse engineer" inspiration. If you are drawing from another someone's work, (I love Deviantart, Elfwood, and other blogs - as you can see from my long list to the right) try to see how the original creator went about it. Why did they use certain colors or words? Why is the figure posed/attired in such a way? Is it made or is it natural?

Think of an old stone bridge connecting two forest roads? Where is this? Who built it? How? This is just one connection on what could be a very long road. Where did it begin? Where does it end? Does it have defined beginnings and endings? What if there's a fork in the road? Is there a signpost to tell you what lies in each direction, or do you just hazard a guess or flip a coin? Put yourself there. What do you hear, see, smell, feel? Why are you a traveler on this path? And we're back to, are you alone or is there someone with you? Did you leave something/someone behind? What are you seeking? Do you have a purpose or are you just an aimless wanderer? If you want to get really specific, think of what you're wearing and carrying? Why do you have/need these things? Where did they come from? Do you make them or buy them? Are you a lowly merchant selling wares from your cart, or are you a wealthy noble or an investor seeking a market to expand your holdings?

In short, what is the process for worldbuilding? There is no one particular answer. Mine is a rather Socratic process where one wondering flows into another. What's your process? Maybe you don't have one. Maybe you should consider getting one.

Does anyone else care to share?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mighty Morphs

Micro and Macro Morphology - the study of the structure of something on either a grand or miniscule scale.

Wiktionary: Morphology

I think the biology and geology definitions apply most to worldbuilding.

The tricky thing about worldbuilding is you're basically "playing God". Depending on whether you're writing a single story, maybe like a mystery/suspense in real world NYC, or creating a whole planet for a fantasy RPG, there is lots of material to consider. In a real world setting most of that is already done, or you can at least count on the fact the readers either understand the real world workings of weather, time, location, etc. Perhaps they don't even stop to think about it, they just say "OK, I'm in New York and it's raining and there's a body lying in the gutter."

In fantasy, you need to do the serious legwork of crafting the whole world. Landforms, oceans, weather, species, plant life, diseases, magic, currency, the list goes on and on. Maybe you decide to make things a bit easier on yourself and say it's "low fantasy" in a gritty, realistic medieval period. No elves and dwarves and dragons, just kings and plagues and peasants. Either way, you have a lot of ground to cover...pun intended :) Don't even get me started on those wackos that set out to craft entire galaxies of hundreds upon hundreds of worlds. (Yeah you, Nils) When you get to that level I think you're beyond help because now you're talking in gigantic terms of astrophysics, interstellar travel, radiation, and planet formation. I don't know how Gene Roddenberry, or the EVE Online and Traveller folks do it. Maybe because there are bunches of them. Or bushels, pecks, gaggles....What do you call a flock of worldbuilders? I propose we call them "stones" because it's an archaic term meaning more than a dozen and people don't really understand the weight of it. Ba-dum-cha!

Collaborative efforts, if group work is your thing, might help because you can assign out work to folks in the know; zoology, linguistics, meteorology, history, mythology, whatever. I don't hold to this idea of sharing the load because part of the fun (for me anyway) is to do the research to figure out what I can use and what will or won't work and why.

This might seem like way too much work to be fun - that's why worldbuilders are a certain brand of crazy. My brand. Honestly, a lot of it isn't anything that you as a writer or game master will probably ever reveal. I don't see how you could work in something like established weather patterns, due to ocean and wind currents, beyond stating simply "a storm blew in from the west, carrying with it the scent of the sea". A little exposition and explanation will help make your setting real, but too much - even in something like a voluminous game guide - is just going to be boring and encyclopedic.

All told I think it leaves one begging: please sir, I'd like some mor(phs)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Play A Game A Day ...and Support Creativity

At first glance, I thought this site was called PlayAGameADay. It's not, but it kinda works, no?

I won't prattle on about what it is and what it does, their own Welcome covers all that just fine.

I love supporting Kickstarter and other such artsy things when I have the $ to spare. Sadly, it's not very often. But if you have the means please please PLEASE support art/music/writing. Anything creative is worthwhile!

PS: Mini WOOT to me. Between the last time I checked my blog and this morning I passed 5,000 views. I also have double digit followers/Realmwalkers now!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Dyson's Dodecahedron

More awesome dungeon maps. Better yet is how often the site has activity/posts.

Dyson's Dodecahedron Maps

Feel free to get lost in the links. Lord knows I did.

Sorry this was such a quick post, but full time school started again for me as of Monday. This is my first time back since graduating in the spring of 2010. I'm now focusing on history and geography, leading (hopefully) to a Masters of Education. Needless to say, it's a big lifestyle change and a considerable time eater, so I may back off posting to once a week.

The good news is that my brain is getting more exercise and these subjects provide no end of inspiration. I've already drafted another 5 posts (6 if I split up a rather long one)!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Risus Pieces

Being new to dungeoneering myself, it has become a new obsession of mine to find awesome dungeon maps and gennies and try to emulate them. Fortunately for me there are like a billion or so! What's that you say? How am I ever to tear myself away from running searches and actually get to gaming? Great question, glad you asked. Answer: I have no idea. How am I to stop following links on blogs when they lead to things like this?

RisusMonkey Dungeon Map Generator

Not only is it cool and customizable, but it looks super hand drawn. Hooray!

And if that ain't enough and you still scream for more

Multi-planar dungeon map created using

Please excuse while I vomit from sheer geek-citement.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Dork Board

This arrived in the mail today. I'm thinking I'd like it...more square. I guess I might just have to spend $10 (that's right, ONLY $10!) on another. :-)

Yes, it is. Check it out

It comes with this handy, dandy dry erase marker with a mini eraser built into the cap. 

 And while it's blank on one side, it's got this great grid on the other.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


This is a "dead" map from many years ago. I can't take any credit for the map itself, that came from donjon fractal map gennie.

*Per the request in the comments, I have fixed the map with a larger font. It kinda crowds the main continent, but hopefully that's forgivable. The white labels are oceans/waterways, while the black is terrain features/homelands. I removed the red equator line (it really crowded things) but it would run just above the Torongo and Olivos lettering.

It was a trial/experimental world where I was trying a few new (to me) things. There were many races of elves and they were almost constantly at war with each other. Humans of the Mediterranean-like Arman Empire had infrequent contact with the elves of the mainland, and those instances were touch and go. The Coldborn were an ancient race of "frost giants" - picture them as if ice age humans were much larger, like the mega-fauna of the era - something like 18 feet tall with broad bodies and powerful limbs. They were most docile until encroached upon by elves from the western forests and barbaric orcs from the south. Now they hate all outsiders.

Because the orcs could never defeat the Coldborn in their chilly home territory, they instead turned their evil intentions toward easier prey....humans. The Sumaka are nomadic, fierce fighters and thus were difficult to locate and raid upon. When they were caught, they were brutally killed or taken as slaves - a fate worse than death. The west humans, who would become the Armans, fled the threat from the east and left their homes in the steppes to make a new life in the lush coastal lands. They founded the empire and were in a golden age of prosperous trade and discovery.

This was also my first foray into making animal races. Thissians are lizardfolk. Mantu are friendly baboon-like creatures, who are enemies of the vicious lemur-like Torongo. Halflings are known by their names for themselves; Olivos (olive skinned) and Oolu (darker skinned). Both were to be seafaring peoples and, based upon location, enemies of the Thissians, Torongo, and goblins. They were friendly traders with the Mantu and desert dwelling Sumaka.

And that's where it stopped. I had figured trade routes, climate zones, ocean currents, and even started crafting a Latin based language for the Arman Empire. But I got bogged down in the micro-detailing and lost the flavor of the world on a macro scale. I think I just had too much going on. Fortunately, because I had such developed ideas of various races, it was very easy to take them in patches and transplant them to other words. Oh joyous day! I love when it works out like that! Now I just have to remain conscious of "over crowding" again. Not everything fits all the time.