Friday, September 30, 2016

World Building Part 6: Magic, Religion, and the World Around Them

Part 1: Initial Arbitrary Ideas
Part 2: Airships and Implications
Part 3: People and Purposes
Part 4: Basics of Magic
Part 5: A brief History

What is Magic?
I went over this a bit in the previous post on Magic, but I want to get a bit more detailed here. Once again I am going to delve a bit into the sources I outlined in part four to help get a better picture of what magic can and can't do. In this post I will try and dig into the core of magic and some of its limitations and costs. I also will be opening this up to folks as I am having a couple of key difficulties with the magic system. If you have any thoughts on the matter please feel free to let me know.

The tone of magic in the setting is a bit difficult. The magic stems from impersonal elemental forces, but those forces are created by the world spirit which likely does have a will of its own...probably. That in mind I think magic aims toward balance, which would work(I think) well with the themes of the setting as it stands, where humans have overstepped and taken more than they need. So the world is out of balance. Also as all the elements work in harmony within the world spirit that could imply a bunch of things about ow the humans have over stepped(in a metaphysical sense). Their attack led the other peoples to be less trusting and more focused on warfare as a necessity. To restore balance, it would take more than just beating the human war machine it would take healing the rift between all the peoples of the world. Or something. SO magic has a will, but it is weak on a person by person level. Magic desire harmony and balance. Well, not magic itself, more the source of magic has a desire for balance. The magic iis pretty uncaring in how it is used or for what purpose.

Cost and limits of magic
This is the area I am having the most difficulty with. I have some limits and a couple of ideas for costs, but I don't have it quite nailed down yet, For limits, I think that if you learn one element you cannot use the elemental opposite, and the further away from your chosen element a spell is, the more difficult it is to cast. So if you are elementally focused on fire you cannot cast water magic and earth and wind magic are more difficult for you than fire magic. Also there are the limits based on the type of magic used. Mechanical magic takes time to build, resources are used up to build it, and the best you can manage is a one shot spell or a single spell you can use multiple times. External magic only pulls from the four primary elements and can only summon, shape, and direct the element. Some cool things can be done with that, but it is less nuanced or specialized than internal magic. By contrast, internal magic only deals in the secondary elements(at least that is how I see it?) and deals with more esoteric techniques, enhancing or healing the body, movement abilities, illusions, and mind magic. Internal magic only deals with living things where external magic deals with ether elements directly. If that makes sense.

As to costs I have had a few ideas but I don't really like any of them fully. The first Idea I had was that magic uses up the elemental force and so diminishes the world spirit with each use. I really don't like that one as there is no way around a bleak and mundane future. Magic becomes a bad thing, and I want magic to be fun and I don't want people to feel bad for using it. Another idea for the cost of magic is that it takes a lot of training and skill to do magic and so most people don't, add in the standard "it takes concentration" and it is workable. However I am not a fan of that model either as the cost wouldn't be visible in the fiction. The fiction would start with people doing magic, or at least attempting it and unless I want a whole story about training, that just doesn't work for me. The final thought I had was that magic uses up health or vitality from the caster(or a sacrifice, or something) but while that leads to interesting cost benefit analysis moments, I want this setting to be pretty high fantasy and using up one's life energy in order to cast a spell seems...less fun, I guess. So any thought's on the costs or limits of magic are welcome.

Magic is a natural part of the world, so it is fairly common. That said it does take training and focus to do large amounts of magic. I think that Disciples(my chosen term for those who do magic as the focus of their skill set) would be pretty rare(like one in a hundred) as most people learn a single useful spell(summoning water to drink, or enhancing strength to pull a plow, things like that) and then spend most of their time doing the normal things people do, like becoming a shopkeeper, farmer, blacksmith, or farmer. Sure they could learn more, but unless they focus their whole life on magic it just isn't worth the effort. Esspecially when you can buy a potion or scroll if you really need a certain spell. I will probably play with the availability as I go along, but this is my current best idea.

Schools of Magic
Magic spells are shaped by the perception of the person casting them. Generally this is shaped through the school a disciple was trained in. Even those who are self taught mostly learn spells through lens of a school, even if it is only through the subtle influences of reading through the spell as it was written by someone else.

Magic schools grant access to specific advantages for initiates, more for adepts and more for masters. However those who study within a school also have additional costs or weaknesses that hinder their ability in ways that fit within their school's worldview.

In theory one could be trained in multiple schools, but it has never been successful. Allowing one's mind to look at the world through two separate understandings is confusing and contradictory. Some of these schools are more detailed than others, though they are all fairly lightly defined right now. Th reason for this is I am still working out what they mean and how they relate to the world.

The Largest Schools of Mechanical Magic
The Makinae Daeva - The priests of the Machinae Daeva create and maintain all the magitech(need a better name) of the Empire of Humanity(need a better name?). Without their skilled hand there would be no empire. Through them was born the Lens, which allows the storage of powerful magical effects. They are the preeminent magitech engineers in the world, rivaled only by the smiths of the Njan. They believe in the coming god, a created deity of metal and spirit. All of their work is to build the technology necessary for creation of their god. For a long time they were just one of many strange cults, but four generations ago the ancestor of the current emperor converted and used their magics to conquer much of the world. Now they hold pride of place among the religions of the world, with temples in every human controlled town or city.
The Tubal-Kai - Njan artificers and smiths, master craftsmen. This is not a centralized school, but a series of loosely linked apprenticeship programs that all tend to follow the same ideology. They view magitech as a natural expression of the spirit of the world, she created magic and created the Njan, the Njan use that creative force to refine and focus the spirit of the world into newer and finer things. When using devices that they themselves created they are masters, however it is much  more difficult for them to use devices created by others.
The Twofold Guild - they are very good at making one off items, but are quite bad at making the big stuff. They were the controlling interest in one use magical items for centuries, of late their has been growing competition in the field. They have focused all of their efforts on recruiting and political favors, rather than improving their techniques.

The Four Major Schools of External Magic
The Questing Librarians - Trained in the Grand Library, an open academy of learning that trains Questing Librarians with the hope that they go forth into the world and gather new and forgotten knowledge to bring back to the library. Due to the amount of magical books they have acquired they stand as a powerful political force in the world. So far they have engaged to be neutral in all matters, but many governments fear when the day comes the Library decides to make its will known. The school focuses on academic magic that is formulaic and not good at improvisational magic.
Ashi-Ashi Knights - purely focused on combat applications, very good at big effects, less good at subtle stuff. Can only be learned from the Bit-bits. There are few practitioners outside of the capital city of the Bit-bit lands, as they were all but wiped out during the human invasion.
Spirit Saints - A religious order that seeks to maintain balance. They are always trained in multiple spells at the same time, they are masters of nothing but very good at a broad array of spells. They oppose any extremes as extremes show an unbalanced nature. Pain is a sign of unbalance, as is poverty, hunger, rage, greed, and any other excess. Many folks look to them for aid when they are in need, but look down on them when what they want is in excess of what the Spirit Saints see as balanced. they are often seen as Judgemental and aloof.
Imperial School - school of the old empire, very common due to the old empire's spread. It is not an official school anywhere, but the books and mosaics of the old empire have helped train many a Disciple that could not gain training in a proper school. The focus is on self mastery, so the disciples are very focused on spells and spells outside of their core grouping of spells are quite a bit more difficult.

The Eight Known Schools of Internal Magic
Only three are currently taught, due to suppression by the human empire. The rest are outlawed and dangerous to use openly. I have not fully decided on what schools are banned or allowed yet, so any thoughts on the matter would be helpful.

The Vadra Dei - most common form taught, it is the Path of Apotheosis. It focuses on Physical Disciplines so enhancing the body and healing is very easy with this school. The more esoteric techniques of internal magic are nearly impossibles for followers of the Vadra Dei.
Oba Maur Monks - named after the mountain their order originated from, they seek enlightenment through forsaking the outside world. They see the powers as a side effect and distraction from the real power within. Many adventurers and villains are failed monks.
Order of the Star - mastery of time and space magics, a secret society that claims to be descended from the priest kings of the Old Empire.
Oder of the Dragon - forbidden art allowing for strange effects, a splinter group of the Order of the Star that worships the destructive power of magic. Disciples of the school are focused on personal power and fredom, Do What Thou Wilt is the whole of the law for them.
Cloud Dancers - Specific to the Fa-chia, deals with freedom in all things, masters are often seemingly very care free and whimsical, they cannot be chained or contained, however this makes some of the more direct and controlling techniques impossible for them to learn.
Siicar - Stealth and espionage based school, like ninja. NINJA!
School of the Mind - They believe that the universe is just the mind and will of the world spirit and only those with enough will to overcome that can do true magic.
Aristos - not really a school but a mindset for those who discover internal magic on their own. Every spell is more difficult but they can ignore one of the normal limits of magic(learning an element in opposition to your core element)

Religion and Worldview

A few of these schools are religious or a religion directly, and so i think this is a fine time to discuss what it takes to build a fantasy worldview that feel right and consistent within the world you have created. Current religions I have mentioned or thought about adding in: The Makinae Daeva, Spirit Saints, Order of the Star, and Vadra Dei.

When writing up a religion you need two things, first you need the worldview it presents and then you need the mythology that supports that worldview. I will be dealing with the worldview in this post. Perhaps later I will get into mythology and its role in religion. Every worldview must answer seven basic questions(with obvious follow on questions within each question.

the questions they must answer(rewrite these so that they are in my own words, rather than copies)
  1. What is  really real, what is the core truth of the universe? The answers might be: God, or the gods, or the material cosmos(or maybe something else, though I don't think much falls outside of those basic definers). This question will set the basis for the answers to the rest of the questions to follow.
  2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us? Do we see the world as chaotic or orderly, as created or autonomous, as matter or spirit. Do we emphasize our subjective, personal relationship to the world or its objectivity apart from us. Again this is pretty important as it will tell you  a great deal about how your worldview treats the external world.
  3. What is a person?  a highly complex machine made of meat, a sleeping god, a person made in the image of God, a naked ape, or any number of other fascinating options. Again this leads to a persons understanding of their place in the cosmos and their view of the control and power they have.
  4. What happens to a person when they die? This is one of those things no one can answer with objective truth, unless one can return from the dead, but lets assume that the laws of biology still apply unless interfered with by powerful magics(like the world spirit or something). So everyone could have a different view of what happens after death even if they believe the same basics about nearly everything theory.
  5. Why is it possible to know anything at all? that is some deep stuff that may not really be necessary if you are designing a game or writing a novel, but if you are building a world just for the joy of it, or if you really want to get down the nitty gritty of understanding this is a fun one to play with.
  6. How do we know right from wrong? Or what is the nature of sin/transgression? On the other hand this is vital if you want people whose morals fit into something understandable(no matter how strange the might seem on the outside).
  7. What is the meaning of human history? Or what is the purpose of all life and such. this one is also of use in a practical day to day usage so you may need to think through this one a bit.
Now, none of those questions have to be answered in full for everything in your world, but it is good to keep those questions at hand when working through through any of your religious organizations or any organization that works with or runs against a religious organization(which is near everything if history is to be believed). I will probably only answer the questions in brief for the religions I develop at first, as I like to see how they will interact before I start to really nail down specifics.

I hope this post was of some use to some of you world builders out there, or at least of interest to those following along. Let me know what you think. I am always open to ideas, comments concerns and critiques.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

World Building Part 5: The Shape of History

Part 1: Initial Ideas
Part 2: Poking and prodding at a couple ideas
Part 3: Roughing out the peoples of the world
Part 4: Magic: The Basics

I was going to do a world building post on monsters and ecology today, however a question was raised by happenstance around me and I wanted to address this in this post. Not sure how that is going to go, but lets give it a try.

The question raised was as to originality and avoiding cliche in your world building. On the one level I don't think you can have true originality. There is nothing new under the sun, as the old line goes. You can, however approach your world building as an exercise in shaping a world through the lens of your understanding. So in this post I will be dealing with the general shape of the history of my world and my methodology of research use in world building.

The first rule of world building, for me, is this: When in doubt use Earth as a basis. Earth has been studied and argued over for thousands of years of civilization. It is both nuanced and yet very messy and confusing. There are sudden shifts due to single individuals being in the right place at the right time. Conversely great sections of history move forward with the glacial inevitability of death. So dig into the real world.

What parts of the real world interest me for the sake of the history of this world? Good question, here is where the lens of your knowledge comes in. You cannot just straight up copy and paste a given culture into a fantasy world. If you have made a different enough world, then the culture won't make sense that way. And if you are going to just straight up use earth cultures why are you building a world to begin with?

I have some givens right from the start. I know that there are loads of monsters, spirits, and demons in the world that make the world a dangerous place. I know that magic exists and can do a lot of stuff that would be impossible with bronze or iron age technology. I know that the world is far more mountainous than earth and that the people live in the valleys and canyons primarily. I know that river travel is generally fraught with danger so long distance travel was difficult.

Knowing this I decided to do a bit of digging into how kingdoms work when defended by natural boundaries. Primarily I dug into Ancient Egypt, Switzerland, and the Kingdom of Cusco. These gave me a decent baseline for life in hard to reach places and how it might go about growing or receding. Most struggles would be pretty small things within a given valley or along a river. Once a give people conquered as much as they could hold they would know, in general what direction their enemies would come from and how they would have to approach.

Knowing this I can dig into the history a bit. I want their to be a fallen high magic society that ruled the world for a while, I will probably base it a bit on Rome and a bit on the Tang Dynasty, though as that empire has fallen the details are less important at this point. We will say that the empire lasted around three hundred years of growth and prosperity and then another fifty years of decline before it tore itself apart in civil war and corruption. I would like religion to be a somewhat important feature in the world, so that could have played a part there as well. After the empire collapsed all the remaining surrounding small kingdoms began to invade and fight over the pieces, until there was little left of the empire save for ruins and records.

I think it would be interesting to set the invasion of the humans about two hundred years after the fall of the empire, when people are finally starting to regain the magic knowledge they had lost and large scale alliances are just beginning to form. Humans had invented airships just as a multi year drought hit their lands. This drought changed these traders to raiders, and when they realized they held a technological edge over the rest of the world, it changed them into conquerors. A bit like the viking invasions, where their superior ships allowed for the vikings to raid and invade with speed and surety. However I see the human empire working on a day to day basis much closer to something like the Holy Roman Empire rather than on centralized state. Though I think a difference would be that the church is goig to be the source of their airships and war machines(this was a decision I made today and hadn't had time to write it down). So it is a political hotbed of varying powers and principality all vying for control.

The other peoples of the world have yet to be fully addressed here, so lets dig into that. The Njan are desert dwellers, and live in canyon cities along a great river. I will be stealing a bit from the Egyptians for them, but they are also master craftsmen and master swordsmen, so I will add bits of a few other cultures as well, primarily the Italian City States. I could even see a region of their land that would operate a little bit like Sicily, currently occupied by humans, but still considered part of the Njan holdings.

The Bit-bits are easier to handle as they are a mostly conquered people. All they have left is one city. Prior to the human invasion, they had one of the few methods for travelling by air. Their sky knights riding Gelves could deliver news and messages swiftly over long distances. I could even see them using that advantage for financial and political gain, a bit like the Knights Templar. Perhaps that advantage led to an arrogance when dealing with other peoples and that was why they were chosen by the humans as first to conquer.

Finally we come to the Fa-chia. They are a nomadic people with a natural ability to fly. The claim to be from the thousand moons and build cloud homes as temporary resting places. With them they don't have much in the way of history as they still have few threats to their way of life directly. While some of them are concerned with the changes in the world, most could care less. They go where they want and when they want. Generally they are bound together in families and loose tribal structures. They lived this way during the empire. They lived this way during the chaotic times afterword. They live this way now. And they have powerful wind and water magics to protect themselves should the need arise. I will probably do a lot more with them in the future, but as far as history is concerned, as a group they have done little of grand importance. Perhaps a few individuals have done great deeds, but as a group they have always been neutral.

Now the question comes down, how much further back do I need to go. For me, I try to stay only on  subjects that are relevant to the setting as it stands now. The fallen empire is probably going to be important. All the wars and such that followed will also be of importance to the current political landscape. The invasion of the the Bit-bit lands is definitely important. Perhaps in the future I will go into detail on the history of all the cultures that have ever existed and how that all interrelates with the history of the world, but for right now I think I have a solid notion of a broad starting point for the history of the various peoples and the general feel of the cultures.

That is a breakdown of how I start a world history and(hopefully) make it feel real and interesting. I hope this has been of help, or at least interesting, to some of you. If you have ideas on the way things should work here please let me know. Critiques, comments, and ideas are always welcome. If you disagree with me tell me, if you think I need to do more let me know where I have failed. Thanks you.

Monday, September 26, 2016

World Building Part 4: Do you believe in Magic?

Part 1: The Setup
Part 2: Airships and the basics
Part 3: Species and Purpose

In this post I want to dig into the basics of magic and how it is used in a setting. Now for those following along I have already laid out that the world has certain features that are somewhat magical in nature. So I already have a few givens about the magic in the world. Namely that it is fairly ubiquitous and that it is a natural phenomenon. From there I move into further defining and explaining what magic is and what it does in the setting. Some of my influences:

Sanderson's First Law of Magic
Sanderson's Second Law of Magic
Sanderson's Third Law of Magic
Fate System Tollkit's discussion on magic

There are other source I use and other axioms I hold to, but I keep coming back to these for their practicality and ease of use. For my setting I have a bunch of schools of magic, however all of those schools stem from the four primary elements(Fire, Water, Air, and Earth) and the four secondary elements(Metal, Wood, Void, and Spirit), in fact all magic stems from the elements in some way. Because magic is a natural force and a major part of the world, magic acts closer to law than to some capricious poorly understood mysticism. This is even explained in a fair amount of detail in the airship post. Airships run on magic and are the technology of the humans.

So keeping in mind my existing setting material and the biases and axioms I am working from here is the basic rundown on how I see magic working in my setting. I will delve deep and extrapolate further as we goo along in this process, but here are the basics as I see them.

The world is alive. It has a soul and it created all the things upon and within it. It fuels all the worlds magic and the elemental forces the stem from that magic. The primordial elements are eternal and unchanging, flowing throughout the world in eddies and upwellings. the people of the world have learned to channel these elemental forces and they call this knowledge magic.

Magic in this world is a natural force, more akin to gravity or electromagnetism than to something outside of the natural order. Magic stems from the primal elemental forces that represent the spiritual energy of the planet itself. Though it is impartial to how it is used it does have a will of its own and seeks to maintain an equilibrium upon the planet.

Magical effects can manifest through a number of methods: Mechanical, Internal, and External. Mechanical magic is primarily done through the creation of a Lens out of the raw elemental material. The Lens can only contain one effect, though it can have massive power. the Airships and Battle Machina of the Human Empire are all powered through the use of Specialized Lenses. There are also single use magical effects that are constructed to have a single given effect per use. they are much cheaper to use and much easier to use. These were historically used through potions and scrolls, though in recent year the Njan have developed a new single use technology, the Caster Gauntlet. It is a single Lens in the palm and a a slot on the back of the hang for an elemental bead. Each bead contains one spell that can be cast only once. These are very valuable and dangerous items, Caster Gauntlets, and may very well change the face of warfare.

External Magic is what is generally known as spells. there are four main schools of magic, each focuses on the use of one Prime Elemental force: Water, Air, Fire, and Earth. Masters of a school can summon, shape, and direct the element of their school. Most Combat Magic falls into this category as External Magic Allows for impressive displays of raw power. Masters of the External arts can create objects out of their chosen element, summon elemental spirits to aid them, and even summon the element itself to cause great relief or destruction.

Diagram of the Elemental nature of the universe
Internal magic is much stranger than the other two, focusing on techniques to use elemental power to enhance and alter oneself. Their are currently eight known schools of internal magic. those who use internal magic can perform superhuman feats and perform acts that would be impossible otherwise. Rather than channeling external elemental forces to gain an effect, users of Internal magic channel their inner reserves of power in order to shape the energies within and around them. Magic that strengthens inherent ability and magic that allows one to affect the minds and bodies of others are all internal magics. Internal magic is limited by one's biological elemental nature, so each species is only able to learn three of the eight schools of internal magic.

Magic also expresses itself in other, less directed ways throughout the world. When the elements are out of balance(not sure how that happens yet, but it sounds like a cool idea) great storms can occur. The elemental spirit of the world will occasionally manifest a wild elemental spirit that can use great magics to enact is will. And then there are the demons.

Demons are the antitheses of the elements, the antitheses of balance and harmony. Everywhere they go they sow chaos and destruction. No one is sure where the come from, but it is known that they wish to destroy the whole of the world and everything upon and within it. They are naturally anti magic and can grant that power as a gift to those who side with them. the elemental forces just fall apart when they focus upon it. Internal magic is usually better than external magic when dealing with demons. Pray you never have to deal with them.

OK so those are the basics of magic and its role in the setting. What do you think? Things I would like to work on in the future for this would be the names, powers, and limitations of the known schools of magic, a name for the world, which I still don't have, and maybe a bit more on the nature of elemental spirits and demons. I would love to hear any comments you might have on the setting and how it is going. Critique is also welcome.