What setting books would I love to put out?

August 09, 2015 - 3 min read

I’ve occasionally thought about resurrecting Villains Victorious! or otherwise publishing it in a collected format. My reservations there are practical - to put out a high-quality PDF of the material, I’d want appropriately four-color art.

Similarly, I’ve got a decently polished sci-fi concept (Song of Eden) and the start of some unconventional urban fantasy (Fairy Soul). I have enough ideas that I could assemble a fantasy universe, but that would take more time.

My goals

As usual, my goals would be to publish something that didn’t closely adhere to conventions for a given genre. I am not a big fan of brainless four-color comic action - I like superheroes, but I like supers that work within a reasonably self-consistent context. I like science fiction where starships fight their own deadly space duels like rival samurai warriors, and where ideas about the future come from what’s possible instead of a retread of genres IN SPACE.

Most of all, I want settings that provoke feelings of mystery and wonder. In DC Comics, there’s no question that religion is real. A guardian angel is a member of the Justice League. In Marvel comics, the personification of a universal cosmic force punched Hank Pym in the face.

I think there’s room for worlds in which large parts of the map are labeled “terra incognita”. I want players to take warnings like “here be dragons” seriously. And I want to write worlds where that feeling of discovery comes with risk, but also joy.

The worlds

I want to talk about how each of these worlds embody these qualities.

Villains Victorious! - really the culmination of four or five closely related superhero worlds - has a lot of mystery. Mr. Big’s daily blog erred consistently on the side of a scientific explanation for mysteries such as archaic underwater civilizations, Egyptian super-kaiju dinosaurs, invading aliens, gods and demons, and the undead. But the fact of the setting - THE fact, really - is that super-normal powers are a reality. That hangs like a shadow over everything else, and a setting that makes a point of explaining everything else demands an explanation for this too.

Mr. Big can easily be wrong about a great many things. Maybe the supervillain Singularity really does know aliens. Maybe Illumina really is an angel. Maybe, maybe, maybe. In a world with powers, everything’s possible.

Song of Eden has been kicking around my head for years. It’s a thousand years in our future, with humanity spread thin across 10,000 light years of space. Technology follows a particular path. Devices have the “Gaia nature”, being biomimetic and self-repairing (though not necessarily organic) rather than soulless chrome and steel. Every planet has some magic or miracle to it. Every human colony has a story. People are in search of a promised paradise. The gods might - just might - be real. And in spite of everything, humanity is becoming better than before.

Fairy Soul is the newcomer to this group. It’s my attempt to create something I can plausibly call “urban fantasy” without aping the traditional vampire-werewolf-mage structure that White Wolf and Anne Rice put into play, and that we as a culture are still stuck with.

For one thing, it’s not modern - it’s set somewhere between 1880 and 1905, without necessarily falling into that era’s trap of “steampunk everything”. There’s a war, but it’s not one in which humans are mindless pawns or easily victimized cattle. In fact, humans won, and the current crisis is more of an insurgency from a forgotten enemy.

At stake isn’t mere survival, but the right to dream and believe and write poetry and sing songs. Our creativity, the wellspring of magic within us, is what the protagonists of Fairy Soul are fighting for. That, and the chance to avenge or undo a ruinous wrong inflicted long ago.

Practical considerations

Any setting book needs to be written, of course. It needs editing, layout, and art. I have none of these, and no commercial prospects enough to justify a great expense on any one of them. I could conceivably hand off editing to someone I trust, were I to find anyone with both time and interest, and I’ve learned enough Scribus that I could do an adequate job of layout myself.

The question of audience is becoming secondary to me. It’s enough that I produce something that I like, and I can be proud of anything that meets some minimum bar for quality.