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.