The party of wayward, extra dimensionally displaced wanderers survived their first frigid nights in a strange land. Jacob knew how to make an igloo and after the party argued for a solid 30 minutes about whether 25 degrees fahrenheit was too cold to reasonably move around in (it is) they worked together to make that igloo.
The next morning Keane discovered a knight in chainmail armor and a full helmet standing in the frozen clearing, investigating the body of the dead, tattooed man in a robe. The party had him outnumbered but none of us had any weapons. An unsharp training rapier, a basket of crocheting supplies, a few aluminum shields, and some sticks of rattan. Nothing that could actually threaten a person.
The Knight, Tavon Elgas, revealed that he was an investigator of magical persons that were operating outside the scope of the law. That the wizard in this clearing was a Recreant, a runaway wizard that was breaking the law. He had tried to create a portal to another realm and the spell hadn’t worked. The other bodies were the other investigators sent with Tavon.
He was a kind, cautious man investigating people that could sunder and alter reality, manipulate energy at an atomic level, and control minds if they wanted to. He faced down danger on a daily basis. But confronted with 9 strangers in a frozen clearing he still acted calmly and cautiously and waited for us to move first.
Intimidating as hell.
Intimidating as hell.
The world of Real 8, the tabletop gaming system I’m working to finish and publish, is a brainchild of my favorite stories, genres, and tropes. An entire planet with cultures from every continent interacting with a unique religion and a series of magic systems that are familiar but unique.
Demon hunters wear leather long-coats and use alchemy to alter themselves to fight dark beings. Wizards are overly powerful, terrifying to behold, and capable of apocalyptic catastrophes. Knights are noble and held in high esteem, not feared. Empires seek the best for their people. The Gods are real but aren’t really Gods. Swashbucklers and duelists are beholden to no one and feared for their boldness. An entire faction of knights trains and exists to hunt down magic users that threaten the world.
When I sat down to create the world of Real 8 I thought about my favorite stories and I took the parts of them that I liked to mold them for my own purposes. No idea survived the transfer perfectly because no idea borrowed ever should.
- The politics of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, where noble houses and knights vie for power in a feudal system, but where the players of that game aren’t cruel and vicious. They play the game to make things better for people and keep things secure.
- The Mage/Templar conflict from Dragon Age, where magic users are oppressed by vicious magical knights, but in my world the mages are so powerful that very few people feel bad about locking them up. I tried to take a realistic approach to how people would react to walking atomic bombs that could turn people into blood batteries or puppet soldiers and I realized that was very scary. If you’ve ever read the Lies of Locke Lamora you understand why I don’t particularly like wizards when thinking about them realistically.
- The Sympathetic Magic of Patrick Rothfuss’ and his approach to mechanical magic systems, where the magic has rules like science that the magic must follow, but I don’t want to plagiarize so I had to change it slightly so that someone can only affect things that are actively affecting themselves. Lame, right? But I’m no thief. Well … I’m not a bad thief.
I wanted to create a realistic fantasy world, where actions have consequences and heroes are the people that survive. The common people are terrified of magic but feel safe with their knightly protectors exactly because they keep the people safe from the magic they fear. Gives the knights a vested interest in making sure people fear magic, doesn’t it?
Fantasy worlds are built on magic. Magic is prominent and important and separates the fantasy world from the regular world. Without magic it’s just an alternate world. Nothing wrong with that but it takes away a storyteller’s ability to use magic to create the conflicts they want to examine. It takes away a bit of the wonder everyone feels when they first see the Pyramids of Egypt or a skyscraper or one of those sinkholes that goes on forever into the Earth.
I wanted to reexamine the concept of Gods and Devils and give them a realistic spin. This world was created by all-powerful beings? They aren’t all powerful they’re just more powerful. Beings on a higher plane than the beings we are. Godly, sure. God with a small “g” maybe. But they’re not omniscient. They’re not all powerful. They aren’t everywhere at once at all times. At the end of the day the gods of Real 8 really don’t care about the sentient beings they birthed into existence. They wanted to see what they could do and so they made something to watch.
As for the Devils, I took an approach that isn’t unique but I personally love. Kevin Smith, famed director of Clerks, made a movie examining Catholic religion called Dogma. In the film, a demon named Asrael, explains that Hell used to be a place where people simply couldn’t feel God’s love and that was punishment enough. But when humans started going there, bringing their fear and self-loathing, they perverted the place into the nightmare realm of fire and torture that people tend to be afraid of. I love the idea of humans being the cause of their own suffering because we all kind of are.
So when the humans of Real 8 first got their hands on magic they got greedy. They reached too far for too much power and became the Devils of the world. And the Gods of Real 8 took pity on their poor creations and locked those Devils away. People can still contact those Devils and they still mess with the world. Why, you ask? Why would I create Gods that take pity on people but still let them ruin their lives? Because free will, ladies and gentlemen.
Allow me to summarize some ideas I learned about world building:
- Magic needs to mean something in the world: The people of your world should have opinions about the magic and the monsters and the wonders that exist in this world. Are they afraid of it? In awe of it? Can they buy it? Can anyone learn it? These are all important questions when you want to make a Fantasy world feel real and not two dimensional. It’s easy to hand wave around magic, saying magic can do what it wants and everyone just has to accept that. Those games are fun but they won’t ever feel as satisfying as a game where the magic matters.
- The Gods need to mean something in the world: The interaction between sentient beings and the gods they worship is a big deal. Wars are fought over belief. If a god of death exists in your world do people worship them? Do they kill people for them? If a god of light and good exists why do any people not worship them? Are all your gods dead? What killed them? Do different races have different pantheons? Why? Are those gods ever fighting? Do gods have wars? Do the gods care? So many questions! I should do a set of generator charts based on these questions alone, to help flesh out how to approach religion in gaming if you have never done so. I’m gonna do that later. Thanks blog!
- Where does evil come from? Evil leads to conflict. Either the party is evil and they are killing and stealing or they are good and they’re keeping the evil people from killing and stealing. Are people evil just because they are? Are people evil because a God of Evil corrupts people? Are people evil because magic corrupts them? Why are people evil? Why do people turn to evil deeds? This could be a simple question or a remarkably complex one but it’s a question worth answering.
Next week I’ll go more in depth on what we called the “Bioforge” system for Real 8. In other words, I’m gonna tell you all a bunch of stories about how 9 nerds in their twenties realized exactly how out of shape and uncoordinated we all were.