Degrees of Epiphany

 Posted by at 13:24  No Responses »
Aug 192011

Every so often, I have minor epiphanies about the stories I’ve cooked up. They’ll fundamentally alter some underlying aspect of the story, giving it greater depth or more meaning. I love it when moments like this happen. I did not have such a moment today. Today, instead, brought a major epiphany that stitched together dozens of plot threads and ideas that were before only loosely coherent.

Of course, I can’t tell you about any of that.

I can say this, though. Misfits (which has been tentatively re-titled several times, but that’s still its working title) started as a one-off for-fun inversion of fantasy tropes. It intermingled with another story idea, which created the antagonist for the tale. That intermingling gave rise to a Vader-esque arced story; that is, the protagonist of the first story wasn’t the “main character” of the whole story. Then I had some ideas about how magic actually worked in this universe. Then I had some ideas that augmented those first ideas, making it even deeper.

Today, I had an idea that welded all of those pieces into a giant, coherent whole in a way that had me literally bouncing in my chair several minutes after I thought it up. I thought it up while walking to the restroom.

The idea may truncate my four-book chronicle into a trilogy or even a duology, but I’m okay with that. I’d rather have the more awesome story told in the right size than the less awesome story told over more books. Who knows? It may still end up being four books once I sit down and properly outline it all.

Also, Degrees of Epiphany is totally the name of my next album.

Making Fantasy Worlds

 Posted by at 16:53  No Responses »
Oct 062008

Many GMs like to play in existing campaign worlds. One of the most popular was/is Forgotten Realms, which has all but become D&D’s de facto setting. Others play in an alternate version of the real world, such as is the case with many World of Darkness games. Then there are the ultimate crazies: the world builders. Count me among this bunch.

I’ve been preparing to run an original sword-and-sorcery game of late (using GURPS), set in a fantasy world of my own devising. In researching for the daunting task of crafting an entire planet, I did a fair amount of reading on what makes something fantasy as opposed to historical fiction, science fiction, et cetera. The resounding answer: magic. Magic regarded as the universal defining characteristic that sets fantasy apart from its peers.

This made a lot of sense to me, since the real question one must ask when tampering with reality is this: what ramifications will the thing I’m changing have? This is the core idea behind science fiction, for instance, with the “thing I’m changing” usually being a piece (or many pieces) of technology. I think that it’s often overlooked in fantasy, though. Magic just “is” in a lot of fantasy, without the ramifications clearly thought-through. D&D, my favorite whipping dog, is guilty as hell of this. With as many wizards are running around hurling fireballs, D&D societies are often far, far too similar to a romanticized modern-day medieval world.

Thinking through the ramifications of magic was one of the key questions I first tried to answer. I found that I had a crystal-clear picture in my head of what I wanted…but the task of articulating that picture was arduous. The details are irrelevant to this post, but suffice it to say that I wanted magic to be difficult, limited without serious investment, and completely impossible to “alter the world” (i.e. D&D’s Wish spell). The result: a world left largely unaltered by magic, but altered just enough that it was no longer ours.

I then seasoned this with the idea that there was prevalent low-key magic, more akin to ultra-effective herbalism. I didn’t want to deal with the realities that people faced in medieval life like poor sanitation, rampant disease, poor medical understanding, and so forth. All that is handwaved away by “peasant magic,” which is powerful in its own right, but too limited to result in a shift in the balance of power.

Everything else — the arrangement of the society, the types of fantastic creatures, and so forth — comes after this critical decision is made. In truth, these subsequent pieces may dictate what picture it is you paint, but the decision about magic is the canvas, the medium, the type of brush, and the technique you use.