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Masters of the Universe(s)

by Nancy Schultz

While writing my last article on World building, I realized that a different tactic would serve these articles better. This month, I decided to show everyone three separate universes that I have created, to one extent or another, and how the same choices can have different effects depending upon the genre of the game. From here, we'll expand out on specific areas of world building, including a return to 3-Dimensional maps, and use these universes as examples of how these areas are used.

My own approach to World building is a rather organic one. I start on one aspect that I think is "interesting" or "neat" and work from there until I realize that I need to consider a different point and how the two impact each other. I let each point grow naturally, and sometimes I come up with a beautiful, more or less believable world, and other times I come up with a logistical nightmare of clashing cultures expanding well beyond whatever my intended focus is. The three worlds presented here are ones I view as successes, though I can only truly claim sole creation of one of them. One of the other two is an expansion of a published setting (of a sort) and the other was a collaboration from my youth.

Lake County, CA, new World of Darkness Style

A Modern Fantasy/Horror World

My work on this world has been long and varied. I believe I started work on it some time relative to my daughter's birth. I knew my concept, a setting where all the characters would start as mortals and then discover their true non-human heritage. This idea was the seed that began a very troubled World of Darkness crossover. Yet, through it all, the location never really changed. I used Lake County, California, because it was far enough away that I wouldn't have to worry as much about my players knowing more about the setting than I did, and it had the geographic qualities I liked. The climate was cool enough to get some snow, but generally warm. It was close to some interesting geological features, such as a dormant volcano and mineral hot springs. And it included a large portion of the Mendocino Forrest.

Several times I tried to draw my own map to just sort of set in "northern California" but nothing had worked right. I eventually contacted the Lake County board of tourisim and received several maps and flyers about the county, most of which are still useful five years later. Using the real world Lake County as a framework, I could begin crafting the Lake County of my interpretation of the World of Darkness. I don't call it the Lake County of the World of Darkness, because this was my campaign, and one thing that every Storyteller, GM and DM has a right to do is to make changes that suit their own campaign. Therefore, no two Storytellers are ever using the same World of Darkness, no matter how much they follow the published books.

The first change I made to Lake County was the creation of Varod College and Crystal Springs. Varod College is a glorified Trade School for the Entertainment industry built on the remains of a small movie studio that went bankrupt during the McCarthy era. Originally, this was to give the school a certain level of Dreaming Potential for the old Changeling game, but when the New World of Darkness came out and I reset the campaign, that particular reason for Varod's existence went away. Crystal Springs started as a support town for the college, but when things were all added in, it became a small city, rivaling the real Clearlake and Kelsyville in the county and thereby taking it's place as the number three city in the county. This growth was both natural within the world, and externally as I looked over what I needed to be in Crystal Springs as a Storyteller.

This is a setting still in play, and therefore still a work in progress. I am still working out the politics of the supernatural denizens of the county, and how the main three groups of Vampires, Werewolves, and Mages interact with each other. So far, my players are aware of a pack of Werewolves that live on campus, a small cabal of Mages, likewise on campus, and they suspect several individuals they have met of being vampires. Which of these guesses are correct... I unfortunately cannot say.

The Creatorian Empire

A Space Opera universe

Regrettably, most of my good memories of this universe which I co-wrote with my best friend in the early eighties are somewhat fuzzy. Of course, over twenty years of time will do that to a person.

I remember that we were entranced by the space opera world that George Lucas created for Star Wars. Naturally, we wanted to emulate it in our play. However, we didn't want to play in the Star Wars universe. This was not Fan Fiction we were creating with our work. Rather, it was an homage... or at least so we told ourselves. So sitting down with her Dawn dolls and reams of blank paper (ah, the days before writing this sort of thing on computer was commonplace), we began to create our own star system and the peoples that would inhabit it. From the Free Space Alliance, to the neutral parties caught in a war between the Alliance and the evil Empire... we ripped off Star Wars so thoroughly that it's probably a very good thing that this was just the play of children.

And yet it was still a world building success. We used our own, granted limited, knowledge of earth cultures and the influences of Star Trek to give each world it's own personality. Granted, much of the story we concentrated more on the characters than on the setting, but we never ignored that setting either.

Like Firefly's universe twenty years later, all of the planets were contained in a single star system. In our case, it was simply a matter of not knowing enough and not wanting to deal with travel times. We had pleasure planets and planets that were so over-built they practically were space stations. We had magic and lasers and space ships... and for being 11 and 13 years old, the world really worked. In fact, several years later, I took the file for that game and attempted to run a Star Hero campaign in the same universe, which actually fell apart more because I tried too much to tinker with it, knowing how blatant a rip-off it was by then, and having too many players, than because of a poor world system. Were I to try to run another space opera game, I just might revisit this system once again.

The Island of Sham Adraith

A "generic" fantasy setting

This year I attempted NaNoWriMo for the first time. Now, NaNo is about quantity, not quality, so I decided that for my first outing, I would keep things simple. I would write a typical fantasy novel without regard for whether or not my characters were Mary-Sues or Gary-Stus, or if I overused clichés, or any of the other thousand and one mistakes that an author makes. I even turned off spell checking, which is a feature I can hardly live without when writing. I then decided to consider what the world of my novel would be like. There were a couple of world ideas that I had long had buzzing about in my head, and I decided that this was the place to use them.

The protagonist belonged to a people called the Shamai, a combination of some of my favorite Earth cultures into a single fantasy one. Using elements of pseudo-Celtic, pseudo-Norse, and pseudo-Lakota cultures, I created a semi-nomadic people with a great love of horses and the natural world that at times manifested in some individuals being able to change shape. These shape changers were viewed as mighty warriors, but with no other special cultural benefits, as the Shamai are something of a Meritocracy. Naturally, as this was the window culture, it took up the bulk of my contemplations on what the culture was like. I decided that they did not have a written language, but instead relied on people like my main character to remember and relate important events. Bards, if you will. And it was her knowledge of the cultures of the city states on Sham Adraith that drew her into the adventure, specifically her knowledge of the legends of the Elves.

The hero was an elf. But in the world where Sham Adraith can be found, elves are not at all what we find from Professor Tolkein's work. These elves were cast out of the world of the gods when they had another form... that of dragons. Their crime was siding against their creator-goddess when she tried to overthrow her father. By making this change, I made the elves the youngest race, though still the most powerful magically, for they had the blood of gods in their veins. The actual cultures of the elves, for there were several city-states of them, never really got addressed, as the only time in an elven city was spent recuperating before the climatic battle.

The other two groups that got some attention when I was working on this world were the dwarves, who got an Asian flavored culture as opposed to the traditional Nordic one, and the city state of my proto-Rome, which transformed over time more into a proto-Carthage, or perhaps proto-Istanbul, gaining many middle-eastern characteristics.

Having the world, and a solid outline, fully fleshed out before November really allowed me to fly through the novel without stopping to consider names often, or languages (everyone of a given race spoke the same language, humans included for once), or even locations, despite re-drawing the map some five times before November began.

These three worlds will serve as the backdrop and examples for my future articles on world building. We'll look at writing the back history of the settings, done to different levels in each of these worlds, as well as populating them, working out the issues of languages, and of course, mapping them out from a single farm house to an entire solar system.

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