Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Three World-Building Concepts

I'm working on a new fantasy setting. At the moment, I'm not sure whether to use it for role-playing campaigns (possibly in the upcoming D&D 5th Edition), or as a setting for short stories. Perhaps both. Anyway, the banner under which I'm working is "Life Under the Wheel", which makes perfect sense if you know what "The Wheel" is, though I'm keen not to reveal that detail too soon.

At the heart of the setting are three world-building concepts, each of which I lifted from somewhere else. But that's fine - it's the way the concepts are put together, rather than the concepts themselves, which would make the setting unique.

Points of Light

The first of the concepts was first named, as far as I'm aware, in the run up to the release of D&D 4th Edition. The concept itself is pretty simple: civilisation is threatened on all sides, and all that remain are isolated pockets - a "Point of Light" if you will. Of course, whether or not they are truly 'light', or indeed 'civilised' is an open question!

This concept should be familiar from pretty much any post-apocalyptic story. The world has fallen into ruin, and all that remains are the few survivors.

The World Malevolent

One of the differences between the "Lord of the Rings" films and the books surrounds what happens on the mount of Caradhras. In the films, the way is blocked by Saruman, who is controlling the weather. He and Gandalf contest wills, and Gandalf is beaten; the Fellowship must turn back. In the books, it is the mountain itself that opposes their way.

Similarly, in Fangorn Forest, it is noted that the trees are old and angry. They actively try to do harm to those who venture within.

That is the concept of the World Malevolent. Nature is not a passive, neutral thing. Nor, indeed, is it "red in tooth and claw", but ultimately just operating on instinct. Instead, the world itself has turned against man, perhaps as vengeance for our many wrongs...

The Mythic Underworld

And thirdly, and finally, we have the mythic underworld. One of the key features of "Dungeons & Dragons" are, of course, the dungeons. For a long time (decades in fact), there has been a move in adventure design to a very 'realistic' style of dungeon design - the monsters need places to store food and water, they have societies and comprehensible aims. And the dungeons themselves are, broadly speaking, just buildings.

Not so in the model of the Mythic Underworld. Instead, the dungeons represent a gateway to some other, and as such are a realm where the laws of our reality don't really apply. As with the World Malevolent, the dungeons are not just a neutral location; they actively conspire against man, and seek to destroy his works. A foul cancer gnaws at the world, and the dungeons are the vector by which it spreads.

And so, there it is. Those are the three concepts that are sitting at the heart of my setting. Now all I need to do is write it. Or not.

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