Monday, January 12, 2015

World Building: Uniqueness in Mind

As some who follow me on Twitter know, I've been working on a fantasy novel for the past two months. (It is currently without a title - a slight source of frustration for me.) Part of planning the story is, of course, constructing the world around the characters and its history. I've begun taking notes in my journal and organizing religions, cultures, ways of keeping time, important historical events, and many other aspects of a fully functioning world. The best fantasy books I've come across were the ones which could make it feel like you were diving headfirst into a world which operated as such a world would. That is what I am hoping to capture in my WIP.

One thing constantly on my mind as I slowly form this world bit by bit is that I want to break from the usual mold of fantasy tropes. We've all seen the same formulas over and over again in mainstream presentations: humans live in generic medieval settings; elves are magical and in tune with nature; dwarfs are rough and tumble; etc. Obviously you don't want to go so far from the accepted canon that you might as well invent a whole new race (ie., writing about vampires that glitter in the sun), but you also want to avoid another Tolkien clone, or another D&D clone.

When I was in college, I was introduced to the computer game Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (which is available on It was set in a world with fantasy staples such as humans, elves, orcs, dwarfs, halflings, etc. At the same time, it had some differences...namely, it mixed fantasy with elements of steampunk. You could choose to be an advanced magic user, but you could also learn how to combine various parts to form a machine or contraption to assist you. Your decision often led to in-game results, most notably the fact that if you became too high a magic user, you couldn't use the train, least the magic interfere with the gears. Likewise, the game introduced elements such as societal prejudice (half-orcs are looked down upon in the same way many minorities have been in various situations) or class warfare (ogres and orcs are used in poor working conditions akin to Victorian England, and in one scenario you can convince them to rise up in revolt). Yes, other worlds like Azeroth had goblins with their machines and gadgets, but Arcanum went a step further, and gave us a world that might exist in any fantasy setting, should technological and civil advancements be considered.

Point is, what I loved about Arcanum is that it took various fantasy tropes and reinterpreted them with a twist, and it did so quite successfully. For me, it's an inspiration on how to work with what people are used to and tweaking it into something new. It's an example of how that can work. Whether you end up loving the game or not (I happened to end up loving it), just the concept alone makes one stop and think, "Huh...OK, I might have to check that out." And when you see the opening cinematic with orcs and goblins flying aircraft around and shooting down zeppelins, you know you're in for something different the rest of the game.

The great thing about world building is that you don't need to play by a set of rules made up by some random person on the internet: you can design it the way you want. You can be creative. You're the creator of this world - just have fun creating it!

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