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Worldbuilding

For the Gigaia supplement for Superfantasy, I briefly wrote a thing about wizards, and how they use “astral clockwork”. I want to generalize this out into a system of magic anyone can use.

Read more "Astral Clockwork" »

As a writer, I have a few goals when I create worlds. One of those is to have a coherent framework that explains how things work in a logical, understandable way. Another is for a framework to lead to interesting and dramatically juicy outcomes.

Superheroic and comic-book stories are a kitchen sink. Gods, ghosts, and sorcerers work alongside high-tech heroes, mutants, and other people with unique powers. On the supernatural side, this often leads to the All Myths Are True trope. So when I need a framework for how all this works in the long-running Menagerie fiction I’ve worked on, what can I do that doesn’t contradict what’s come before, makes room for new stuff, and still lead to new interesting stories?

Read more "The Metaphysics of the Menagerie" »

Framartes is a world of secrets. On the surface, it seems to be dominated by dry, sandy deserts and the ruined grandeur of past civilizations. But beneath that are underwater canals, caverns, and fungal gardens. Life is constant hardship and conflict, but those who dare to dream can find those dreams rewarded. The world’s theme is “the echoes of glory”.

Read more "Framartes" »

Averdam is a pastoral world with green life, blue water, white clouds, and more. It has the atmosphere of a high fantasy setting - medieval technology, magic, heroes and monsters, and more. The world’s theme is “elements in balance”.

Read more "Averdam" »

Meanarin is covered in a mysterious mist which creates phantasms according to the wills of those within it. It is a world of dreams, illusions, nightmares, and utopias. The world’s theme is “the lands of faerie”.

Read more "Meanirin" »

Zarkhaen is a harsh and unforgiving wasteland, even for those native to the world. It is covered by volcanoes, lava flows, jagged caverns, obsidian, and other hostile features. The world’s theme is “the hell of fire and darkness”.

Read more "Zarkhaen" »

This setting is an attempt to create:

  • A multi-planetary high-fantasy/high-technology setting, inspired by franchises such as Final Fantasy
  • A system of planets created as rough fantasy analogues of our Solar system.
  • Physical, magical, and moral conflicts that don’t re-invoke colonialism or historical bigotry
  • A flexible but consistent magic system that permits a wide range of practices & disciplines

Read more "Introduction" »

I started writing a setting to roll up a lot of thoughts about high fantasy and science fantasy. The result was a series of interconnected planets, and I soon realized I could map these to the real Solar System. So what did I end up with?

Read more "The Fantasy Solar System" »

“The elements of life and the makings of our world, they have intent. Fire burns, sure, but is it a cozy campfire or a roaring inferno eating away at a forest? Water flows, but is it the gentle brook or a drowning tidal wave?”

“You see, the old time wizards, they thought they had everything figured out. They thought, oh ho, we’re so smart and clever, what if we strip away that intent? We can just have, you know, the essence of fire, and then we imbue it with our will. Presto, a fireball!”

“We shapers know better. You don’t hobble the element by stripping it of something. You empower it, by giving it more.”

Read more "What if spells were like Poke'mon?" »

The Quantum Ogre is a concept in TTRPG encounter design. The basic idea is that the game facilitator has decided the PCs will encounter an ogre, and regardless of what choices they make or which paths they take, they will encounter an ogre.

There are debates about whether this is good or not, and I’ll leave those to other people. Instead I want to look at how to put this power in player hands, because players can be excited about things happening, only for them not to happen because of how the facilitator has structured things. What if we could reward player excitement, and take some of the weight of encounter design off the shoulders of one player?

Read more "When players want quantum ogres" »

Shows like “Supernatural” and “Lucifer”, as well as older stuff like “Forever Knight”, gave us the Occult Detective: a character with some kind of magical or divine connection who solves crimes and fights mystical bad guys. Sometimes they know a little magic, sometimes they’re actual gods, but whatever the case, they’ve got a gun (or something as good), a friend (or partner) on the force, and a ton of unresolved sexual tension with some hot supernatural supporting cast.

Easy win, right?

Read more "Reinventing the Occult Detective" »

“I have to come up with something but I don’t have any ideas!”

If you’ve said these words, this process will help you fix that problem. It’s not perfect. But if you feel blocked, or lost, it will get you started. You can use it for characters, plot lines, fictional worlds, and anything else you can describe.

Why is creativity so hard to get right? Because what you create has to spark strong feelings in your audience. It’s easy to say “this work made me feel this way” after you experience it. It’s harder to go the other direction and make a new thing that sparks the feelings you intend it to.

It’s like cooking stew. You choose ingredients, put the best ones in the pot, stir, and serve. A mixture of experience and experimentation yields the best stew.

Read more "Creativity Through Rearrangement" »

There’s an excellent thread on Twitter about magic, urban fantasy, and the Dresden Files in particular.

Since my reply to it talked about my frustration with worldbuilding in contemporary urban fantasy and how I respond to it, let me illustrate what I consider to be “good”.

The vampire has been with us for millennia. Before Bram Stoker’s Dracula, cultures around the world had their own stories about blood-drinking undead fiends. Works like “Nosferatu”, Anne Rice’s books, White Wolf’s “Vampire: the Masquerade”, and more continued to flesh out what vampires were about. They became metaphors for sexual assault, disease, and other social anxieties, but equally were cast as darkly magnetic, powerful, and tragic figures on the outskirts of polite society.

Read more "Building a Better Vampire" »

How does your fictional world’s summoning or conjuring work? When your magic users call for something to appear, what’s going on that makes it work?

Here are a few sample models I’ve seen in fiction. Each approach implies different things about how to break the summoning, and the entity’s attitude toward being summoned. They can also be combined.

Read more "How Does Summoning Work?" »