Tag Archive for Worldbuilding

A Little Bit Of Dramatis Personae

So hey! I finally got some characters worked up for my nanowrimo project. Names are still up in the air, but the basic characters should stay more or less the same.

Katherine Bishop: A middle aged woman whose grandparents emigrated from the old world. They stayed in the more established cities on the coast until Katherine’s father brought his family out to the frontier. With her brothers firmly in control of the family estate she decided to go out on her own and join the Arbiters. She’s proven herself capable in her assigned territory, which includes a number of frontier towns that border the Badlands. She’s had a couple of run-ins with the Gargoyles – experiences she doesn’t care to repeat. If she can keep idiot settlers from riling up the ‘goyles, she will.

Lonesome Cooper: A spirit talker from one of the frontier towns. Although he’s self taught he’s one of the few that can do what he does out there on the edge. As a result he doesn’t want for work, and towns are always glad to see him as he travels from one to another. He could probably cash in on his ability more than he does, but Lonesome is an apt name. He’ll gladly work those jobs that are needed and help when asked, but otherwise he prefers to keep to himself and enjoy the company of the spirits over humans. He’s worked with Bishop a number of times, and the two have a good working relationship. Rumor has it he wanders out into the Badlands from time to time to talk to the ‘goyles, but nobody knows for sure what he does out there.

Walter Hawkins: Mr. Hawkins works for Haversham & Black, a company that seems to have their fingers in a lot of pies out in the new world. Railroads, for one. They’ve invested in rail lines that run all along the coast, and recently they’ve started pushing those same lines out into the frontier. Convenient, since it was an H&B expedition that just came back from the Badlands and loaded up on a train back to civilization. Hawkins is a clean cut, well dressed, younger man who met with the expedition from the Badlands and took possession of the mysterious lockbox. He wasn’t alone in this task, but he’s the only one left alive after the bandits attacked the train. He doesn’t give a damn about the Gargoyles – he wants that lockbox back and he’ll do whatever it takes to get it.

Clayton Wells: Despite some youthful indiscretions, Clayton is mostly a good guy. He worked as a ranch hand for a local outfit until the old man who owned it died. Now the ranch has folded and he’s out of work. Desperate for something that pays he started hanging out with some old friends. When those friends offered to get him in on a train robbery for a good sum of cash, he couldn’t help but agree. It was only the once, after all.

Characters in UFW

There are two things I still need to hash out before NaNoWriMo. Well, probably more than that, but there are two on my mind just now.

One is a plot map. Normally I’m a seat of the pants writer, making things up as I go along with only a vague idea of a plot until it’s done. Editing is where I go through and tie up all the wayward plot threads. This time around I want to go in with a plan. Since NaNoWriMo is all about getting material down on the pace as fast as you can, the less time I spend wondering what to do next the more time I have to write.

Another is the story’s dramatis personae, a rundown of the characters and how they relate to one another. This is another area where I tend to make things up as is convenient. If I need somebody to have a certain connection or know something, it happens on the go. While that’s useful, it can create contradictions and plot holes that need serious reworking later.

Now, I’ve always thought plot was built more on how characters react to events than the events themselves. Some plot events can only happen because a character reacted a certain way to a previous plot point. With that in mind, I’ve decided to do the dramatis personae before the plot map.

I started with the main character for UFW. There will likely be more than one viewpoint character, but in any story there will be one person central to the plot. In our fantasy western that person will take on the role of an officer of the law – a sheriff or a marshal. Of the two, a marshal provides more opportunity. Unlike a sheriff who’s bound to one town in your classic western, a marshal has a larger territory to operate in.

Of course, I didn’t want to just nick the term Marshal. For the UFW, something new was needed. I started looking up relevant terms and came up with a laundry list – adjudicator, arbiter,  executor (not the same as executioner), adherent, warden, watcher, vigil… I did like Vigil, but ended up deciding it was too close to vigilante.

In the end I chose Arbiter, since it implies that the title holder helps resolve disputes as much as they arrest (or shoot) people. And it has the female form of Arbitress, which is just fun to say.

So there we go. The Arbiters are a group of peacekeepers and law enforcement officers who cover a given range of territory and often operate alone, though they have a larger organized group to fall back on for support. They’ve even got a nice derogatory nickname that criminals like to use – “the biters”.  I like to think it evolved as Arbiters = arse biters = biters.

Anyway, UFW’s main character is an Arbiter. Or an Arbitress, since I’m toying with the idea of throwing caution to the wind and writing a female lead – something I’ve not done before.

Other important characters will include a Spirit Talker, a “Company Man”, and for opposing viewpoint a member of the bandit gang who stole the mcguffin.

I’ll have more on the actual characters for you once I’ve fleshed them out a bit more.

Gargoyles and the UFW

This time around, I talk about gargoyles in the world of Untitled Fantasy Western.

In UFW the role of the indigenous population is played not by another human culture, but by gargoyles. The name itself is something that’s been applied by the encroaching colonists, just as the term Indian was erroneously applied to Native Americans.

Actual gargoyles are carved stone waterspouts in the form of strange and/or grotesque animals that direct water away from a building’s walls. Mythologically speaking they were believed to ward a building from spirits and protect it from evil. In the world of UFW I figure gargoyles developed along a similar line with the intent of warding off dangerous spirits, which actually do exist in the setting.

But most people in the world of UFW just think of them as ugly stone carvings, so when they ran into the inhabitants of the Badlands it was easy to apply the name to the bestial natives.

Physically Badlands gargoyles are large (easily a head taller than most men), bipedal but with the ability to run short distances on four legs, and possessed of a tough leathery skin that often has a rough texture to it. This skin is also normally colored to match the area in which one lives, which means a gargoyle curled up and staying perfectly still might be mistaken for one of the Badlands’ many boulders at first glance.

And you just might find one like that during the day, since gargoyles are crepuscular – that is, they’re more active during dawn and dusk. They’re also often active at night, or on days that are heavily clouded and therefore dim. They have an aversion to strong sunlight, and any caught out during the day will either find a shady spot to nap or, if the soil is soft enough, dig a trough in which it can curl up and rest (becoming the aforementioned boulder). Animals in hot climates often do this as a way to help regulate their body heat.

All this is not to say that gargoyles won’t become active during the day if they need to be. They just won’t be very happy about it.

Gargoyles have a loose tribal society. Family groups often come together to form what amount to villages in canyons, cave systems, or any of the Badlands’ many towering rock formations. They don’t usually war with one another, instead preferring a form of non lethal personal combat when individual or tribal differences can’t be resolved any other way. Authority figures within the tribe will oversee and verify the result of the match.

Technologically speaking gargoyles don’t have much. They can fashion weapons like spears and stone blades, but they are far more lethal with their teeth and claws. Those that don’t find suitably sheltered homes within the rock formations will fashion huts from the hides of the animals they kill for food.

Plenty of edible things live in the Badlands despite the name. Herds of animals similar to antelope graze the prairie, along with groups of larger ill tempered herbivores that fill the role of bison. I like the thought of gargoyles having tamed or domesticated some sort of small food animal to keep around, but I haven’t really decided on what that would be yet.

When it comes to magic the gargoyles have an easy relationship with the spirits. There are Spirit Talkers among them, just as among humans. They are often important among their people, and when the speak the spirits are quick to obey. In fact, Badlands spirits are even known to lend assistance to a gargoyle in need without being asked. As much as there’s a difference of culture between humans and gargoyles, so too is there a difference between the local spirits and the ones brought from the old world.

The history between the gargoyles and the encroaching settlers is shaky at best. Since gargoyles as we know them were meant to protect a place, so too do the gargoyles of UFW protect the Badlands. They see it as their ancient responsibility, and the settlers are an invading enemy.

There have been times when the human settles have tried to dislodge the gargoyles. Diplomacy isn’t an option. While the gargoyles have a language they speak among each other, they refuse to learn anything else and have little patience for teaching their tongue to humans. The only exception seems to be with human Spirit Talkers, which they hold in somewhat higher esteem.

Military endeavors have met with little success, often returning high casualties for the human settlers. At the time UFW takes place, an uneasy truce is in effect. The settlers don’t go into the Badlands or provoke the gargoyles and the gargoyles seem satisfied to leave the nearby towns and homesteads alone.

Magic in the Untitled Fantasy Western

More world building for my Untitled Fantasy Western.

I think magic is important to a fantasy setting. It’s what helps ses the genre apart. Because it’s so important, the system of magic you build into your fantasy world should be something you think very carefully about. Yes it’s fiction and you can really do whatever the hell you want with it – but things are better when they’re internally consistent. Magic should have rules, and those rules should be followed. Readers don’t want to see you contradict your rules, like having something suddenly work when it wouldn’t have before just so your characters can get out of a tough spot.

So here’s what I’ve been thinking about in regards to the magic in the world of UFW (Untitled Fantasy Western).

Magic is done by talking to spirits. The spirits of this world are everywhere, living inside various things. They live in rocks and trees. They live in the ocean. They ride along on the wind. Which is not to say that they’re purely elemental spirits – one might decide your pocket watch is pretty cozy and decide to take up residence. That said, where spirit decides to live helps influence what sort of things it can do.

A spirit that lives in a fireplace might become more comfortable mucking around with heat related things. A spirit living in a tree would be more able to influence plants or other living things. That spirit that lives in your pocket watch would be better able than its brethren to tinker about with machinery or other complicated human made things.

The ghost in the machine is quite real in this world, and as technology has advanced and become more prevalent the number of machine spirits has likewise risen. BUT! In places where there hasn’t been any technological presence, you won’t find many. Back in the Old World, where they make trains and have factories and the like, machine spirits abound. Out in the Badlands, where humans and their machinery are just now showing up, all that will be available are those spirits that decided to come along for the ride.

It’s rather like trying to find a fish in the middle of a desert. They don’t live there because there isn’t any water, so if you want one you’d better have brought one with you.

Now, the way magic is done in the world of UFW is that a Spirit Talker literally speaks to the nearby spirits. They have an actual conversation, in which the Spirit Talker convinces the spirits to do what he wants done and gives explicit instructions on what needs doing. Many spirits are more than willing to carry out a Spirit Talker’s request. They’re helpful like that, unless they’ve been made unhappy by something – say, their home tree just burned down. Not happy. Especially if it was your fault.

There’s also the danger that you’re dealing with a spirit who just happens to have a capricious side. Magic in this world is never a hundred percent guaranteed. Most spirits are pretty straightforward, and those used to working with humans have generally gotten a pretty good idea of what is expected, but every once in a while you get ahold of a dangerous one. And then things get… interesting.

Innate magic versus learned magic is another issue to consider when building a magic system. In UFW, it’s a little of both. The spirits don’t talk with everyone. Many people they just ignore – maybe because the spirits can’t actually hear them. I like to think this is a point of scholarly debate in UFW. In any case, those people the spirits do listen to need to talk to them in a particular way. It’s called the First Words, an ancient language that’s nowdays only used when Spirit Talking.

There are two ways of learning the First Words. One option is getting instruction via specialized schools or apprenticeship to an existing Spirit Talker. The other option is to have the spirits themselves teach you, which is more a process of trial and error than anything else. Nevertheless, a “hedge mage” phenomena exists where people have learned the First Words without formal schooling.

Something else I’ve been looking at is relative power from one Spirit Talker to the next. I’ve decided that it should be a matter of eloquence. Since what you’re doing is asking supernatural things to do stuff for you, it makes sense that the more persuasive you are the better you’d be with magic. I imagine some Spirit Talkers have a stable of spirits they’ve convinced to live in various trinkets they carry around on their person, thus ensuring there’s always one around when needed. Also, the more spirits working together on a spell effect, the more powerful it will be and the bigger “bang” you’ll get out of it.

Contested magic. What happens when two Spirit Talkers go at one another? In a fight between magic users, it comes down to a contest of the spirits themselves. While it would be easy to say the spirits just fight it out and the stronger one wins, I like the idea that instead they have a short of debate. Each one would go over the instructions given to them and how persuasive their Spirit Talker was, and decide on a winner. This would happen instantaneously, or with such little delay as to be hardly noticeable.

Overall, while magic is useful in UFW it’s not so prevalent or powerful that you could base your society on it. It comes in handy, but there’s still enough reason for technology to advance to the point of revolvers and trains and steamships.

Fantasy Western Worldbuilding

So I’ve been thinking more about the setting for my currently untitled Fantasy Western. In order to get the sort of “wild west” setting I’m wanting to do you have to have a place where a relatively developed people are only just settling in. If this is taking place on a continent where people evolved and have lived for thousands of years, there would be more established cities and fewer prairie towns, more law and order and less “wild” in our “wild west”.

Of course, one could argue that this area had a population like the Native Americans, who undoubtedly had established societies but no cities to speak of (talking plains nations, not Incas or Aztecs). Were that the case, however, a nearby civilization advanced enough to have guns and trains would likely have taken their lands already. That’s just how civilizations work if your neighbors can’t defend themselves.

So, with that in mind, there are a few options. The continent could be huge. And when I say huge, I mean Pangea levels of huge. If parts of it are inhospitable but there’s plenty of decent land to go around, there might be unexplored or uncolonized areas that people just didn’t care to screw around in. It’s possible for our purposes that a combination of technology such as railroads and nations now taking up all available “good” space has prompted colonisation of places like the Badlands to finally occur.

Alternatively, a combination of the Badlands being in hospitable and the fact that gargoyles live there might have made it generally unappealing. A handful of towns may have sprung up near it, but nobody really wants to live so close to it.

Another option is that this is newly discovered territory, another continent that has only just been found and colonized. Even nations with technology like railroads wouldn’t be able to trailblaze their way all across it too quickly, which would lead to a period of frontier towns and lawlessness along the leading edge of “civilization”.

If we go with that option, however, we have to explain why it wasn’t discovered before. Once a civilization has trains it likely has steamships, which make crossing an ocean easier. That’s not even taking into account what effect magic would have on exploration. And people have a tendency to look across oceans and go “what’s over there?”. So they probably would have tried sailing across it before that point anyway.

Navigational hazards could be one reason – great storms that topple sailing ships and confound even magical attempts at navigation. Or maybe a purely magical hazard, such as a bermuda triangle of unruly sea spirits that have only recently been tamed.

For my Fantasy Western I think I’m leaning towards the newly colonized continent. It isolates the story from other influences and allows some plot elements I have in mind to make more sense.