26 Apr 2017

The Elf's Prisoner - Post-NaNo World Building - The Lands

For a project that started with just three characters in mind and absolutely no world building done at all, NaNo 2015's The Elf's Prisoner managed to hold together on a re-read.  Better still, ideas about the world itself started coming together.  What was meant to be a single post of thoughts grew to be a mini-series, so here are the parts to come:
Part 1 - The Lands - below
Part 2 - Militaries
Part 3 - Elves
Part 4 - Architecture
Part 5 - Magic
Part 6 - Wrap Up
The original idea was, essentially, an AD&D-style fantasy.  The character classes are there.  Kazimier is a cleric, Nyssa and Leomund are fighters, edging into cavaliers, Wren is a ranger, and Jyslyn is a multi-class magic-user/thief.  And, yes, that's going back to first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  I did want to file off the serial numbers, though, to pull the story away from its roots.  The magic system owes more to Shadowrun than it does any flavour of D&D's Vancian fire-and-forget magic.  There's more work to be done with the magic system, though, to get the right flavour, but I'd need other wizards to appear.  Jyslyn's knowledge of magic is incomplete, and that was a deliberate choice when I realized where I was going with her character.  I'm also trying to make arcane and divine magic different.  Jyslyn channels magical energy, and her rod acts as a focus.  Her choice of spells also reflects that she comes from an innately magical place, where her people have some resistance to being enspelled.  As a counterpoint, Kazimier's magic is based on prayer, calling upon the Lightbringer, so there may be a possibility that his spells may not work if he goes against his beliefs.  There is a lot of work that needs to be done, but the basic laws of magic are down, at least in my head as it applies to the main characters.

That still leaves the world.  Geographically, it's British Columbia.  I did realize that I needed to know, roughly, where my characters were heading and wanted to avoid a more European feel.  The locations I have don't map to any place in BC.  I needed a rough idea of geography and didn't want a one-to-one mapping of my setting to the province.  That way, if I needed to expand or shrink distances, I could.  Flexibility is key when writing by the seat of your pants during NaNo.

The Seven Dominions, the homeland for Nyssa and Leomund, was inspired by Traveller's Third Imperium.  The Imperium is broken into seven domains, six of which are administered by an archduke*.  I changed the areas inside the nation from "domain" to "dominion" based on Canadian history, specifically, the old proper name for the country, the Dominion of Canada.  Sometimes, paying attention in history class is a good thing.  The name implies a history as the separate ares came together for some reason in the past.  I need to work out that past at some point, but it wasn't important at the time of writing.  Traveller and history also gave me an idea of how to break down the various parts of the Seven Dominions, from duchies to baronies and even knightly estates.  Even if I don't go back to the nation, I do know the hierarchy of nobility there.  Technically, this means that Nyssa does have an estate, one that gets neglected as she executes her duty, but she has good staff that prefer it when she's not there**.

One idea that was playing in the back of my head while I was writing started when I worked out the differences between Jyslyn's home and Kazimier's.  The dark elves are exiles from elven society, either cursed or blessed depending on who tells the tale of their past.  Surface elves call dark elves "The Accursed"; dark elves don't see it that way.  Given that the two societies shown share a common ancestry, I realized that they should be a reflection of each other.  Thus, both Wildwood and the Sundered Chasm have a Council of Matriarchs.  However, these aren't the only elven nations, above ground and below.  I have in mind at least one more elven nation, the grey elves to Wildwood's high elves, living in a city of crystal.  To get a better idea, I've compared each nation to an existing one.  The crystal city, which will get named by the time the story reaches it, is essentially England.  Wildwood is Canada, a former colony now independent but on good terms.  The Sundered Chasm is a cross between Australia and the US, a former penal colony that fought for independence.  The comparison isn't great, but it gives me a starting point and gets the idea across.

With the comparisons to other countries, it occurred to me that the elves do share a common language, much like England, Canada, Australia, and the US do, each with its own dialect.  That got me thinking further.  The better comparison may be Parisien French and Quebecois French.  Thanks to a few centuries of linguistic drift where neither location interacted much with the other, there is a difference between the two French languages, though both are notably still French, ignoring Montreal's joual.  I still have to figure out how to get that idea across, especially since most of the dialogue after Nyssa arrives in Wildwood is in a common trade tongue.  I will have to go back and modify some of Jyslyn's lines to reflect   However, knowing I will have this concept, I can think about how the crystal city elves will speak.

Naming characters was one of the first hurdles faced.  I didn't want to create names whole cloth making them sound Tolkien-esque.  That works for single characters in gaming, not an entire society.  Instead, I decided to use existing names from different languages, modified to sound more fanciful when needed.  Elven names, except for Jyslyn's, were based on Polish names.  For the Seven Dominions, I used Cymric names, thanks to the King Arthur Pendragon RPG.  The humans in and around Silver Trailings use Pict and Irish names.  Niceans, because they aren't from the mainland, received a different source of names, Indonesian.  Dwarves, when they finally get a name, will use Aztec, Toltec, and Myan as a source.  Using the different sources means that it's easier to tell who is who, just from the name style.

The dwarves of The Elf's Prisoner turned out to be a mechanical bunch.  Not to the point of Dragonlance's tinker gnomes, but still starting to develop technology.  The Realm Below the Mountain has a canal built so that goods and materials can be shipped down to the coast without having to use large caravans vulnerable to banditry.  Sure, the canal could also be assaulted, but barges are difficult to run away with across the mountain terrain.  The dwarves also have a rail system underground*** to let them get from dwarven nation to dwarven nation.  Again, more thought and planning will be needed, but the idea is sound enough.

Because the dwarves are insular, they realize that they need a buffer between the Realm Below the Mountain and the surface world.  Silver Trailings started as a trade town and grew into that buffer, allowing the dwarven realm to keep its focus on its dealings below the surface.  As a trade town, Silver Trailings sees people from around.  It`s not quite a wretched hive of scum and villainy, but there are sections of the town that qualify.

The Brotherhood of Nicean Islands came about in part because I wanted something other than another landlocked nation.  A nation consiting of a number of islands isn't something that appears that often in fantasy, yet in reality, there are a number of island countries.  The other part was from the islands near Vancouver and thinking it would be neat to have something like that in my world.  The Niceans became a nation of merchants; they began by trading amongst themselves and as they explored away from their homeland, discovered that they had goods other lands wanted.  As for the name, I have no idea how that came about.  I think the general idea was that the islands banded together for common cause, in this case, trade.

At the beginning of the story, there is peace in the land, though it can be shattered.  The Count of Varin, of the Seven Domains, tends to overreact to threats.  The dark elves of the Sundered Chasm just need an excuse to march on Wildwood.  The Niceans are pricklish and, while their traders are friendly, their ambassadors are not.  Silver Trailings is well aware that it is the first line of defense if the Realm Below is attacked, and there's no guarentee that the dwarves will assist in protecting them.  There are marauding bands of gnolls and goblins roaming the countryside, thus the need for patrols in all the nations.  There is work behind the scenes between the leaders of the different nations to keep the area from erupting into war.

Are there other peoples in my unnamed land?  Yes.  Some are spoilerific, so those details aren't being presented here, but they, too, are being developed as are their lands and their names.  Slowly, the setting is coming alive, to the point where the rest of the story's world will live, breathe, and go on no matter what my characters do.  That, ultimately, is my goal with the setting, to make it feel full beyond the needs of my plot and the outside the reach of my characters.  To be sure, Kazimier, Jyslyn, Nyssa, Leomund, and Wren will have an impact of the world's history, but the world should have a history to affect.

* The seventh, the Domain of Deneb, which includes the Spinward Marches, never had one appointed, thanks to Arbellatra Alkhalikoi, who kept the domain as hers even after becoming Empress after the Civil War.
** And this just came up and wasn't considered when I started.  On the fly world building can lead to interesting results.
*** Yes, an underground railroad, though I will avoid using that name in the story.

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