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Messing Around With Ancient Greek

I went to Boston Comic-con this weekend. This was the first time I’ve gone to a comic-con, and I went mostly to check it out and see what it was like. I wasn’t there in any official capacity, either – my publisher had no formalized presence there and there wasn’t really much going on that a fantasy author could edge in on. It wound up being me and a buddy of mine walking up and down the aisles of vendors, checking out the costumes and browsing. The only really interesting thing to report is that I picked up a very nice leather-bound sketchbook with a cool, eerie cover. It was pretty expensive (considering I could go to an art supply store and get four sketchbooks for the price of that one), but this wasn’t a practical purchase. I was hunting for inspiration.

If only all my notebooks looked as cool as this!

If only all my notebooks looked as cool as this!

I’ve got a lot of notebooks, mostly full of world-building notes and novel or story ideas, spaceship sketches, scraps of fantasy-themed poetry, and the like. If a world of mine gets to the point where I’m going to write a lot of stories in it, sooner or later it rates its own map-book and master notebook. I’ve got one for Tyvian’s world, Alandar. It contains fifteen different full-color maps of various places all over the world (many of which, incidentally, have changed since I drew them and need to be re-done). This new notebook – this expensive, leather-bound book with its cotton-paper pages and crazy eerie cover – is going to be my bible for a new world. A world called “Nyxos.”

I’ve set two stories in Nyxos so far. The first one, “Dreamflight of the Katatha” was published in Deepwood Publishing’s Ways of Magic Anthology.  The second, “Upon the Blood-Dark Sea,” is set to come out in Stupefying Stories at some point this year. Since the genesis of the world-concept (Ancient Mediterranean technology/culture, dream-magic, a post-Ragnarok-esque mythology, etc.), I’ve started adding more and more to the world. This time, I’ve started primarily with the terminology. I want the world to sound exotic and ancient. To do this, I’ve started messing around with Ancient Greek.

I don’t actually know very much about Ancient Greek, but I don’t think that matters very much (Nyxos isn’t actually Ancient Greece in any real sense, anyway). What I’m looking for is a sound. So, I take a concept I want to give a word: a dream-asp, for instance (a predator that lives in dreams and can dominate minds and souls by eating away a person’s subconscious).

Step 1: Go to an Internet Translator

So, I take a word like “snake” or “viper” or “asp” and I translate it into Ancient Greek. Unhelpfully enough, it comes out in the Greek Alphabet. That brings me to…

Step 2: Find a Translator from the Greek Alphabet to the Latin Alphabet

This takes my string of Greek characters and makes them into a Latinate word I can pronounce (probably badly, but whatever).

Step 3: Aesthetic Judgment

Then I see if the word is “cool” enough. Often it is not. For instance, the word for demon in ancient Greek translates as daimon, which is lame. It also comes up anytime you want to find a word pertaining to ghosts or spirits. Boooo! Back to the drawing board I go!

In time, you develop a burgeoning vocabulary. Here’s some of the words I’ve got so far (note: there are a variety of accent marks I can’t make this blog create, so just imagine them in certain places):

  • Onierarch (the Dream Tyrant)
  • ekhis (dream-asp)
  • The Plains of Sigalos (the world of dreams)
  • The Mountains of Khanos
  • Arkhe (the origin, primordial chaos, The Watery Abyss)
  • dakos (a symbiotic weapon-creature)
  • the Hemithere (bestial half-men, abominations of the gods)
  • Entheros (a wild, jungle-choked land infested with monsters)
  • the Skie (shades, people of the Dead World, invisible by daylight)
  • herpeton (a six-legged beast of burden)
  • Arkhestatos (the Broken Lands)
  • The Khersammos Wastes (a desert)
  • doru (spear)
  • aspis (small shield)
  • hoplon (large shield)
  • xiphos (a kind of sword)

And so on and so forth. I’ll keep you updated as more aspects of Nyxos become clear to me. My hope is you’ll be hearing a lot more about this place in coming years.

Alandar: The Barony of Veris

There is not a single nation in the West despised and mistrusted as much as the troublesome Barony of Veris (though Ihyn comes close). Home to some of the world’s finest sailors, Verisi ships can be found in almost every port in the West (and even a few in the South and East) engaged in their share of legal trade and more than their fair share of smuggling, theft, piracy, and general mischief. Veris itself denies responsibility for a ‘few criminals’ within their borders, though all it requires is a closer look at their society to realize that these criminals aren’t exactly hunted within the borders of their own country, but lauded as heroes of the people. If you like breaking the rules, if you like all the booze and loose women you can handle, if you like to steal for a living rather than earn it, then, my friend, Veris is the country for you.

Political Structure

 

According to legend, Veris had a political structure very much like Akral’s — the nation from which Veris seceded rather peaceably some fifteen-hundred years ago. In those days, Veris was ruled by its own King and attended by his own set of Lords, and so on. Those days, however, ended with the beginning of the Hannite Wars, four centuries after the nation’s founding. At the height of the war against Kalsaar, King Hymrek V, forever afterwards known as Hymrek the Betrayer, turned against his allies, Akral and Eddon, for a wealth of riches given by the Kalsaari Emperor. Enraged at the change of allegiance, Akral crushed Veris and put its nobility to the sword, assuming harsh authority over the land. This colonization lasted almost a century before Veris, with silent help from the Count of Ihyn, rose up against the Akrallian chavalier and regained control of their homeland.

Unfortunately for the Verisi, the time of the mighty Verisi noble class was long gone — executed decades ago. Those who were now in charge were rebels, criminals, slaves, and pirates, and the government they set up reflects that. When the first Baron ascended the throne in the 45th year of Keeper Issiril, it was immediately clear to all that Veris was a changed place forever.

The modern day structure of Verisi political life is little more than an absolute dictatorship headed by the Baron of Veris and enforced by the Red Hand—the Baron’s personal army. Essentially a thieves’ guild writ large, the Baron and his men have very little concern for the Verisi people, so long as they pay their taxes and obey their orders. Authority on a local level is handled by village elders, local mayors, or whatever other person or persons the locals choose to recognize, but none of it is considered ‘official’ by the Baron or his men, and, should the Red Hand wish it, such local leaders could be executed on a whim. Such an occurrence is rare, and only happens when the village or region is resisting the wishes of the Baron. In general, each area pays its taxes and whatever else the Red Hand chooses to extort from them every year, and in turn the Red Hand leaves them in peace.

Local commanders of Red Hand garrisons, known as ‘Marshals’ are the closest thing that Veris has to a noble class, and the word ‘noble’ is used here loosely. Unlike most nobility throughout the West, Marshals are not required to perform any sort of service for the people he or she rules. The people under their jurisdiction are permitted to live there in exchange for a sizeable quantity of their crops, goods, and monies—that’s all. Of course, this doesn’t mean that all Marshals simply ignore their people and are blind to their suffering. Some of these rulers are wise, kind, and beloved of their people, providing money to help the poor, protecting them from raiders and thieves, and doing all the things that a good ruler should. These kind of rulers are in the minority, but they form a powerful minority in that their people are more willing to help them out in times of trouble, making conscription that much easier. The politics of Veris only becomes complicated insofar as its marshals are forced to balance mercy with ruthlessness enough to maintain their own power base and seem dangerous enough to discourage revolt or a hostile takeover by a rival marshal.

Thanks to the almost complete lack of any organizing political structure outside of the Baron’s own personal guard, Veris is a very chaotic place. Every individual settlement is almost like a city-state unto itself, clustered together for defense, complete with its own history, unique customs, and mistrustful of outsiders. Bands of robbers, cutthroats, and raiders are common here, not to mention the ‘Volunteer Navy,’ which is little more than a bunch of legalized pirates that are granted Baronial protection in ports. Between all of these ne’er-do-wells and the Red Hand itself, the Verisi people are constantly watching out for attack, and trained militias can be found in almost every town, village, or city.

This concentration of armed people makes Veris a surprisingly effective military power. While not as organized or well-equipped as the armies of Eddon, Akral, or Galaspin, Veris has enormous numbers of trained personnel and a network of fortified settlements and castles that is unparalleled in the West. When Veris is attacked, the Red Hand has the authority to conscript as many of the local militias as possible to stave off the assault. Furthermore, should a war of aggression be underway, the conscripts are regularly supplemented by sellswords and mercenaries of every conceivable size and description. Such rabble flocks to the banner of Veris in droves thanks to its reputation of for treating mercenaries very well (just look at the Volunteer Navy!) and for the near complete and total lack of law and order maintained over the land. Many mercs travel here to attack Akrallian caravans and then stay to loot the countryside, resulting in a win-win situation for the morally challenged.

Though the Baron makes a point of creating very few laws designed to protect his citizens, knowing full well that his power base is near wholly comprised of thieves and murderers, the Baron does, nevertheless, come down harshly on those who go too far. Should a marshal start a murderous rampage that begins to send Verisi citizens fleeing into neighboring Rhond or Eddon, the Baron’ personal detachment of the Red Hand — the Knights of the Blood Gauntlet — ride out to destroy the offender and all of his progeny. Marshals know the price of stepping over the line, and only the brave and foolish few take that step. The Baron is not known for his mercy, particularly when your actions are putting a dent in his purse.

Lands and Points of Interest

 

Veris is a rough and rugged land, largely uncultivated and inhabited in great concentrations only along the nation’s coastline, which is extensive. Fully half of all the land area in Veris is comprised of a great peninsula that bears the name of the nation that rules it. Fishing villages, seaports, and naval fortresses line the coast from the Rhondian border, along the Syrin, and into the Dagger — a 350-mile inlet that separates Eddon from Veris.

The waters surrounding Veris are especially rocky and perilous, and only the shinn’har themselves know them better than the Verisi fishermen that sail them. These shoals and reefs form an imposing natural barrier that has kept Veris largely immune to Akrallian naval invasion throughout history, but also inhibit all but the boldest of foreign ships from entering Verisi ports, hurting the nation’s ability to trade, but making the area a prime spot for pirates to set up safe havens for themselves.

Inland, virtually the whole of Veris is covered with the thick woodlands of the Ahrn forest. Fur-trapping, hunting, and lumbering are primary occupations of most honest people who live here, as well as a fair number of fruit-tree and vegetable growers that are responsible for much of the nation’s food supply. Roads are infrequent and poorly maintained, as are bridges, but the Verisi forests supply amble hiding places for bandits, robbers, and fugitives to hide and survive for years if need be. It is a saying among the Defenders of the Balance (who are less than welcome in Verisi territory) that if a man has escaped you, sooner or later he’ll be living in a Verisi tree. Also indigenous to the forests are a fair number of monsters including dragonspawn such as gargoyles, firedrakes, and wyverns.

As stated earlier, virtually all settlements in Veris are designed to repel attack. From the smallest village to the biggest port, walls, stockades, towers, magical alarms, guard posts, or moats are all standard civil engineering projects. Rather than a wholly civilized country like Rhond or Eretheria, Veris is a wide wilderness punctuated by pockets of humanity from which the inhabitants never stray far. It is both the ideal place to hide and the ideal place to disappear against your will — be wary.

The City of Veris: From its perch atop the two-hundred foot tall Betrayer’s Cliffs, the city of Veris commands an incredible view of the surrounding oceans and coastline. Home to 43,000 criminals, pirates, thugs, thieves, and troublemakers, Veris is widely considered among the safest places in the world for an enterprising young outlaw to live, and among the most dangerous places for just about everybody else. The city of Veris is, in actuality, two cities — Veris itself, which rests atop the cliffs, and the Warrens, which is a network of caves and tunnels that snake through the cliffs themselves and acts as Veris’ seaport. Though connected by a number of hoists, wells, passages, and magical lifts, the Warrens and Veris hardly seem like the same place at all.

This is how I imagine portions of the Warren to look like.  (click to find source)

This is how I imagine portions of the Warren to look like. (click to find source)

The Warrens are the poorer of the two, its inhabitants being forced to pay exorbitant takes to keep the wealthy topside well fed and furnished. Down here, people live in ramshackle homes built of as much driftwood as anything else, and are tucked into the hundreds of side tunnels that branch off of Underharbor — the massive ocean inlet that fills the largest cavern in the Warrens. The Underharbor is lined with docks and is constantly echoing with the sound of ships’ bells, sailors songs, and similar noise of the great ocean going vessels that are guided in here by keen-eyed old Verisi navigators to unload their goods, get restocked, and set back out to sea. As the commercial port of the nation’s capital, it is also through here that most foreign visitors get their first encounter with the Verisi, and the significance of this is not lost on the locals. The Warrens is home to some of the most debauched and morally bankrupt individuals in Alandar, and the sheer number of pubs, whorehouses, and black market shops that line the docks and fill the tunnels is a good indication of that fact. The Saldorian Ambassador here has oft commented in his reports to the Arcanostrum that he finds it ‘highly unusual’ when he doesn’t see someone killed in the streets of the Warren at least once a day. The Red Hand is largely absent here, and the various Volunteer Navy vessels docked along the wharves are the closest thing to government ‘officials’ to be found. A number of thieves’ guilds are in constant competition to control the Underharbor and, therefore, be able to skim as much off the top of the incoming commodities as possible. Given the proximity of the Baron and his Knights of the Blood Gauntlet, such turf wars have proven alarmingly fatal and largely unsuccessful in achieving their collective goal, but the various guilds are able to supply a modicum of security for the everyday workers and citizens forced to live here.

Two-hundred feet above the Underharbor and the Warrens that surround it is the city of Veris proper. Enclosed by a fifty-foot wall and built almost entirely out of heavy stone quarried from the very cliffs upon which it sits, Veris is an imposing place. Compared to the Warrens, Veris is civilized and almost clean, but when compared with anywhere else the comparison falls short. Those with the money can afford to maintain their neighborhoods and homes with fair success, but the poorer districts (i.e. those areas closest to the walls) are dirty, decaying, and fetid. Social order is rigidly maintained here, as there are a pair of Red Hand guards on almost every corner, ready to dispense ‘justice’ on anyone who looks at them the wrong way. Though willing to turn a blind eye to the behavior of the Warrens for the most part, the Baron will not tolerate rioting or mob violence in his own backyard. Those dissidents, criminals, and troublemakers who are not killed on the spot and cannot bribe their way out of their punishment are locked in a cage and dangled over the cliffs beneath the Lonely Keep itself. If they are lucky, they are fed occasionally. Most people are simply left to rot.

The Lonely Keep is the Baron’s own residence, and is a citadel as ancient as Veris itself. Built upon a promontory of rock stretching out from the cliffs, the black-walled castle stands forty feet away from the main bulk of Veris along its northwestern edge. Not particularly large, the keep’s highest tower is 100 feet high and all its the flat, round turrets are capped with iron spikes that give the whole thing a sinister look. Worn smooth by centuries of wind and rain, there are very few military commanders who would even consider laying siege to this unapproachable fortress — better to starve them out. Acting as the Baron’s personal home as well as the barracks for the Knights of the Blood Gauntlet, the Keep commands a wide view across the Sea of Syrin and can effectively attack any naval vessel that dares to negotiate the rocky waters in hopes of entering the Underharbor.

Far more important to the city’s defenses than even the Keep, however, is the Great Aqueduct. Carrying fresh water from miles inland, the huge aqueduct enters the city next to its great southern gatehouse and is among the most guarded structures in all of Veris. Patrols of thirty Red Hand soldiers ride its length every few hours, and anyone caught tampering with its waters in the least is immediately put to death. The Aqueduct represents the city’s only supply of fresh drinking water, and even the Warrens use it as the water tumbles down into the lower city’s public wells and basins. As defensible as Veris is, any hostile army that gets control of the aqueduct can capture the city inside of a month for certain.

Culture and People

 

Veris is a treacherous place, with all the facets and intricacies of human cruelty and greed laid bare for all to witness and suffer from. Given that, one might expect the people to be likewise treacherous, or at least grim. But this is not Ihyn, nor is it even Illin — this is Veris, and the people here are unlike any other. Known for their sense of humor, their hatred of authority, and their adaptable natures, the Verisi have a bad reputation among the rich and respectable of the world, and enjoy almost the opposite from all those who are poor, downtrodden, and without hope. To a Verisi, the key to life is to take what you can and enjoy it while you have it, and if you can make your enemies look foolish at the same time, all the better.

It is the assumption of most of the world and, indeed, it has been the implication of this description so far that all of Veris is inhabited by criminals and outlaws. This is not technically true, since one cannot be an outlaw if there aren’t any laws in the first place. Every Verisi, from the top on down, knows the system — if they’re stronger than you, they take what they like, and vice versa. The trick is, from a Verisi standpoint, to find ways to avoid the inevitable as long as possible. Towards this end, the Verisi people put almost no stock in personal honor, honesty, or loyalty, preferring instead to live long, carefree lives away from the harsh grip of the Red Hand. Almost all young people in Veris go through a period referred to as ‘the Kicks,’ where the recently grown man or woman goes out into the world for a lifetime of raising hell, having fun, and (as often as not) stealing things. This adventuring life lasts until the person is caught and killed, they leave Veris for good, or, having had their fill of adventure, journey back to their little hometown to settle down and raise a family.

This abandonment of home and hearth is not representative of a disrespect for one’s own family. The Verisi, as much as any other human beings, love their family and care what happens to them. It is, however, a taboo among those you care for to lay down discipline and order. “Life,” they say, “will tell you what to do better than anyone else.” Verisi families are convivial and jovial bunches, with parents being more like friends to their children than authority figures. Children grow up hearing their own parents’ stories of adventure and mischief, and aspire to emulate (or even top!) their ancestors. The Verisi are known for being brutal practical jokers, with some pranks even resulting in real physical harm. However, jokers should be cautious, for among the Verisi the phrase ‘what goes around, comes around’ has real philosophical weight. A man who only plays mild jokes on his neighbors will, in turn, have the same played on him. A violent prankster, however, will end up a victim of one of his own dangerous plots or, worse, he will end up dead at the end of what the Verisi term ‘the Final Joke’ — murder.

For all the trouble that afflicts the average Verisi throughout their lives, they are a people with a remarkable ability to find humor and happiness in even the darkest of events. To a Verisi, there is nothing that is sacred and no joke, no matter how inappropriate, that cannot be told. No people in the world have a larger collection of ribald stories and filthy limericks, and it is a common pastime for adults and children to try to come up with bigger, better, and even more offensive tales. Listeners who get offended at this peculiarly Verisi merriment are in for a rough time, as that only encourages the jokers to get even more extreme and disgusting.

It is not the practice of the Verisi to shelter people from what they see as the harsh realities of real life. Children are well aware of death, sex, and violence from a young age, and learn to cope just as their parents do. In Verisi society, denying the truth for the sake of ‘propriety’ is not only idiotic, but harmful to those who need to hear what you have to say. Verisi, when not lying to further their own aims, are straightforward and blunt with news, and especially so with bad news. There is no attempt to soften the blow of a family member’s death or similar tragedy—the afflicted will deal with it just as they all do or wither away and die, in which case they weren’t worth keeping around, anyway.

Veris is a land of rebels and devil-may-care rabble-rousers who live as best they can in an unfair world. They are not bitter towards the Red Hand or the Baron in particular — they’re just doing what they can get away with, after all — and would actually prefer a cruel ruler who leaves them alone most of the time rather than a just one that is always in their face. Personal freedom and responsibility for the consequences of one’s own actions are important cultural mores, and therefore they tend to despise any kind of central authority that tells them what to do or how to act or (worse yet) provides ways for someone in trouble to find an easy way out. Veris is a land completely devoid of charities, hostile towards the Hannite Church, and has nothing but contempt for the Arcanostrum (though they realize the magi are far too powerful to meddle with). They do, however, enjoy a relationship with the shinn’har that is nothing short of brotherly, and selkies can be found aboard almost every Verisi ship in large groups.

The ocean is of paramount importance to the Verisi people, and the majority of the nation’s indigenous population are sailors or fishermen. Veris’s extensive coastline and ample harbors makes this nation home to more ocean-going vessels than any other nation in the Alliance. Though typically small and lightly armed, Verisi merchant ships and smuggling sloops are found all over the world, and the Verisi have made a name for themselves as the finest sailors short of the shinn’har themselves. Verisi Navigators – Arcanostrum trained sorcerers with their trademark all-seeing crystal eyes and golden chains of sworn service to the Baron – are the undisputed masters of navigation and weather prediction, and if there is anyone in the world who might be able to get a ship through the Needle in one piece, it is an officer born and raised in Veris.

Current Events

It is often surprises people when they learn just how quickly Veris came to the aid of Rhond and Illin during the Illini Wars. One would not expect a nation of mercenaries and rebels to take up arms and go to war on behalf of their grim and theocratic neighbors, but they did, and in droves. Verisi mercenaries were involved in every front of the war and many such companies swore service to Mudboots Varner himself and were involved in everything from the Charge of Atrisia to the Sack of Tasis to the Battle of Calassa. Indeed, even regiments of the Red Hand were dispatched to assist the Duke of Galaspin in his struggles in the Illini peninsula and acquitted themselves well in the battles there.

Despite this record of service, however, Veris has not gained at all from the magical-industrial boom that has elevated so much of the West in terms of quality of life and material wealth. Veris is the disrespected stepchild of Western Politics, too remote to be a major trading player (despite its fleets), too poor to be a financial player, and too disorganized to throw its political weight around. The old Baron’s solution to this problem has been simple: he has signed charters (in secret) giving Verisi ships and the Volunteer Navy carte blanche to raid Akrallian, Ihynish, and even Saldorian shipping unless those captains of seized vessels can provide documentation of doing business with Veris. This outrageous practice has caused a lot of saber rattling on the part of the Akrallians, but they have done nothing about it yet. This may be because Veris’s practice of nautical blackmail is having the opposite of the desired effect – instead of encouraging ships to trade with Veris, it has shunted more and more traffic between the northern nations of the West to the spirit engine lines. This increase in traffic is leading to plans for more and more spirit engine tracks and more and more rapid trade among Akral, Eretheria, Saldor, and Galaspin. Veris grows more isolated every year, and joins its southern neighbors – Rhond, Illin, and Eddon – in bitterness towards the wealthier neighbors to the north.

The Origin of T’suul

T’suul is a fanciful game of skill and chance that exists in Alandar, the setting of The Saga of the Redeemed. It is played either between two or four players (though some variants allow for three people and some with five) and uses a table or board (sometimes with an orthogonal grid printed on it, but this is not essential) and a set of thirty-six square tiles. It is a gambling game popular from the Kalsaari Empire to the West and is said to have originated in Illin, where they take their t’suul playing more seriously than most and it is less a game for gambling money than it is a game of honor and, occasionally, used in lieu of a duel.

The inspiration for t’suul is dominoes, but with more of a poker feel and a certain gritty viciousness that dominoes tends to lack (or, at least around where I live). I wanted it to be something exotic and a little racy while keeping it close to something people could understand.

I basically wanted this...

I basically wanted this…

...but resulting in this.

…but resulting in this.

T’suul has existed in my world here for a long time, but I hadn’t drawn rules up for it. At least not until now, anyway. I find myself, however, writing a scene in which t’suul is being played and the game needs to be at least partially explained. I do not know if this would actually work as a game in the real world (perhaps I’ll get around to play-testing it at some point), but in brief it sort-of works like this:

  • The set contains 36 tiles–seven red, seven blue, seven black, seven white, and eight gray. They are distributed to the players in “clutches” of five.
  • Gameplay begins with four tiles in “the heart” – one blue, one white, one black, one red – and arranged so that the opposing tiles do not touch. If gambling, the ante for the round is placed atop one of each of the tiles.
  • Players take turns placing tiles (again, if gambling, coins are placed atop the tiles). A good t’suul player will slap the tiles down with a certain machismo, called dailiki in Illin. This is a very important part of the game in Illin, but merely considered good form elsewhere.
  • Red opposes Blue, White opposes Black, and Gray is inert. If two opposing tiles are placed beside one another, they “duel” and are removed from play into the player’s clutch (collection of tiles) held in a sakkidio, or “wallet.” They also pocket the money.
  • A player immediately to the left of a player who initiates a duel may “stack” by placing another tile of the same color atop the one placed by the initiator of the duel. If gambling, they must place a higher bid atop the tile they place. The next player may do the same, assuming they have the same color tile. And so on. If all players fail to stack a duel, whoever has the highest tile wins the duel, the tiles, and all coinage.
  • “Burning a Stack” is when, instead of stacking, they player opts to duel the other tile (the unstacked one) and claim it, thus invalidating the stack’s claim. This leaves a lot of money on the table for challenge, but it can be a way to prevent your opponents from claiming it if you are unable to match their bets. This pisses people off and can be a good way to get stabbed.
  • Gray tiles cannot be duels, but duels can be fought across them. So, a blue tile adjacent to a gray which has a red placed adjacent to *it* will be claimed as the duel is fought across it.
  •  A round ends when either one player controls all the tiles or a player “makes the serpent,”  which involves completing a chain of all four color tiles without any dueling any of the others. A player who makes the serpent claims all tiles on the board (along with all the money). A serpent cannot be stacked or burned.

Why Do This?

I mean, obviously apart from the reason that it’s lots of fun, this works as a way to help me with world-building which, in turn, helps me with character. Part of the trick of t’suul involves knowing what tiles your opponent has based upon their moves and the tiles they collect in duels. To be a good t’suul player, you need to be observant and also gutsy. It’s part strategy, part luck, and part smoking tooka in a dimly lit Undercity tavern in Illin, watching your back as you slap down a blue and make the serpent while some Ihynish creep is trying to slip a dagger between your ribs. It sets a mood. It creates a system by which behavior is modified and dictated. For me, I want to know more about that.

Now, unfortunately, I’m not really a game designer, so I don’t know if that framework up there would work as a fun game. I think it might. I might need to get myself a set of multicolored tiles, though, to try it out.

How Dinosaur Train Drives Me Bonkers

If you don’t have small children, you probably haven’t encountered the PBS Kids show Dinosaur Train. Let me tell you about it and why it gives me the shakes while I watch it.

For starters, let me say that it is a wonderfully educational program about the lives of dinosaurs and, more broadly, an introduction to natural history and evolution. It is not doing children any disservice by watching it at all and, indeed, my kids watch it plenty. The show does, however, give science fiction and fantasy writers the heebie-jeebies, and here’s why:

Pictured: a giant can of

Pictured: a giant can of “WTF?!”

The show’s premise is that a family of Pteranadons and their adopted T-Rex son (no, not the crazy part yet) go on vacations (yes, but wait for it) during which they ride a train (yes, a train) that is run and operated by other dinosaurs (I know, I know) and takes said thunder-lizards on a tour of the land, introducing them to other species of dinosaurs. Oh yes, and just so they can visit dinosaurs from every historical epoch, THE TRAIN TRAVELS THROUGH TIME.

Yes, that’s right: A dinosaur owned, built, and operated time-travelling railroad that takes other dinosaurs on vacations. This is where I start losing my mind.

Here are my questions, world:

1) Why did the dinosaurs build this?

There is no pseudo-modern society in this show, no Flintstones-esque tech, or anything of the kind. Why do creatures with no jobs need vacations? If they have no other visible infrastructure whatsoever, how on Earth would they hit on “let’s build a train?” Even assuming some hyper-genius dino had such an idea, how would they build it with their notable lack of things like tools, mines, quarries, a workforce, and, oh yeah, opposable thumbs? 

2) Time Travel? WTF?

So, say they manage (somehow) to build a railroad system. How does time travel get involved? What, did aliens come down and give it to them? Did some human go back in time with a time-train and give them ideas? Why would they even think to do this? Dinosaurs don’t have fossil records – there are no archaeologist dinosaurs. THEY WOULDN’T KNOW THERE WERE OTHER TIMES TO VISIT!

Why a vest? Where does the watch come from? What is it set to?

Why a vest? Where does the watch come from? What is it set to?

3) What do they buy tickets with?

Mom Pteranadon buys tickets for the kids when they go places. What does she buy them with? Does she get change? Where does she stash said change (they don’t wear clothes)? How much do they cost? What use is the money anywhere else? If this is some kind of self-contained currency system (like the tokens at Dave and Busters), how does she buy in? Maybe the tickets are free, but again, then, why the hell is this being done?

4) Why is the Conductor wearing clothes?

No other dinosaurs wear clothing. None. What is with this guy? Even assuming somebody had the idea for clothing, what purpose would it serve? Dinosaurs are exothermic, so it isn’t like it would keep him warm, precisely. Of course, we also get back to the question of who makes the damn stuff. Is there a dino-tailor somewhere?

5) What happened to predation?

When the family meets an apex predator (like a T-Rex), why does the scene never end with the family being devoured? What’s going to happen to this family when their T-Rex “son” grows up and eats his “sister?” Why doesn’t anybody talk about this? How are they all still friends, dammit?

My Working Theory

So, retain my sanity, I have developed a working theory, here. It’s a bad one, but still:

Honey, did you let Verne play with the time circuits again?

Honey, did you let Verne play with the time circuits again?

Okay, take for granted that the dinosaurs can talk to each other – that’s just a gimmie. Turns out all paleontologists are wrong on that for some damned reason or we’re dealing with a hyper-intelligent subset of the dinosaur population that had a monolith dropped in their midst or something. Anyway, in the midst of their prehistoric savagery, in pops Doctor Emmett Brown on his – you guessed it – his time travelling train. Now, they’re stuck in the Cretaceous Period with no train tracks and, therefore, no way to get up to 88 miles an hour and out of there.

The solution? Well, they make contact with these hyper-intelligent dinosaurs and screw up history something fierce by teaching them to build a train system. “But what’s in it for us?” ask the dinos. Doc comes up with a plan to create a kind of dinosaur utopian state wherein these hyper-intelligent dinos agree to only feed upon their less intelligent brethren. Doc leaves them with a means of scientific discovery (a duplicate train), a framework of an economic system, and a basic social order in exchange for him, Clara, and the boys escaping back to modernity.

The only question left is this: Did Doc tell them about the asteroid? Did he?

Somehow, I think not.


Publicity News

  • I’d like to thank Elisa Birdseye and the Adams Street BPL for hosting me for my “Building the Fantastic” talk and reading. It was tons of fun to get to cut loose with a captive audience about things I’m passionate about. I hope to be able to do it again sometime.
  • If you haven’t bought Writers of the Future Volume 31, you’re missing out. Don’t listen to me, listen to Dave Farland.

The Story Behind the Story: A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration

You may have all noticed that I won’t shut up about this story competition I won (preorder the anthology here! It’s awesome!). Well, for one thing that’s because the release date for the anthology is May 4th, which is also known as “this Monday,” and I’m working my little heart out here trying to make that launch a success, and this blog is probably the best way I have of doing that. That’s not all, though. I’m also trumpeting about this thing because I’m damned proud of myself and of my fellow winners, all of whom are spectacularly talented and all of whom deserve to get noticed by the reading public. This anthology is one of the best ways for our names to get “out there,” and I’m going to try and make the most of it.

However, you lovely people are probably tired of all the publicity yakkity yak, so I’m going to take a page from my friend, Martin Shoemaker, and have  substantive discussion about how my winning story, “A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration,” came into existence.

First, listen to the dulcet tones of Mr. Scott Parkin reading the first few paragraphs:

Michelangelo once said that his sculptures weren’t things he made so much as uncovered – they had been there all along, hiding in the stone just waiting for him to chip the extra bits away. I feel that way about my story, too. I didn’t so much “tell” this story as “find” it.

Behold the Undercity of Illin (still blown away by Shuangjian Liu's illustration of my story!)

Behold the Undercity of Illin (still blown away by Shuangjian Liu’s illustration of my story!)

The world of Alandar and, most particularly, the West is a place I have fashioned slowly over the course of more than a decade of world-building. When I create a world (and I am always creating worlds, mind you), they begin as broad, historical narratives or epic mythology – they are unpopulated, as it were. I start with the big (How does magic work here? What are the dangers of this world? Who holds the power and why? What are the world’s religions and creation myths?) and narrow it down until I get so close that, suddenly, I find I need characters to have the place make any sense. That level is usually right about at the “what kind of jobs do people do here” and “what do people eat on a daily basis” point. All of that little stuff, you see, is informed by the bigger stuff. Think of it this way: why do you eat hot dogs at a baseball game? Here’s a food imported by Germans (and adapted for American tastes) being ritually consumed at a sport descended from cricket and made popular in the late 19th century. Seems odd, doesn’t it? Yet, you can trace those things back to large religious and political movements which are themselves side-effects of things like geography, climate, and biology.

So, here we have the city of Illin. You can read my full treatise on the city and its environs here, if you’re so inclined, but in brief, Illin is a city built on the tip of a swampy peninsula commanding the outlet of a major trade river. It was designed as a way to control and limit the access the Kalsaari Empire (political and religious rivals to the Western nations) had to Western trade routes. Gradually, this city and principality became more militarized. As it is poor in material resources and arable land, it remained a poor nation propped up by its neighbors as a kind of buffer state. It has been invaded many times over the centuries, but this past time was by far the most successful and destructive invasion the Kalsaaris ever implemented. To win, they used sorcery in a way unseen in millennia. To win it back, the West did the same. Who was caught in the middle? Illin and, most particularly, its poorest citizens (i.e. the people who always pay the highest price when wars are fought).

Now, that’s just the tip of it all – there’s a hell of a lot more, but most of that world-building stuff never makes it to the page. It just exists in the back of the author’s mind, ready to be accessed if needed, but mostly there to fill out the picture of the place in the author’s mind. I’ve been to Illin, to the extent that anyone has been. I’ve run role-playing games with my friends set there. I’ve written poetry about it (bad poetry, mind you). I like to think I know how it smells.

But that’s just a city, not a character and certainly not a story.

In our workshop out in LA, Dave Farland (aka Dave Wolverton) said something that really struck me. He talked about how setting makes character and story more than anything else, so he always starts with the setting. I realized that I, also, do that (I just didn’t fully realize it). It isn’t until I have world that I feel like I could live in that I figure out who actually lives there. This is where Abe comes from. What would a young man from the Undercity think of his world? What would he want? How would he try to get it? All of these questions can be answered if the world is well-developed enough. And they were.

What’s interesting about the end of this story, though, is that I put the story down – trunked it, basically – for almost a year without an ending. I just couldn’t think of one. I’d painted Abe into such a corner that he was basically doomed (this, incidentally, was something Tim Powers told us was a good way to go, so, again, I was accidentally doing something right!). I had to put it down and walk away. When I (finally) came back, the end was as clear as day. Just goes to show you how fickle the imagination can be sometimes.

As a final note: for fans of The Saga of the Redeemed, this story is set about 12 years or so prior to Tyvian’s day and, obviously, in Illin and not Galaspin/Freegate. Yes, the man in the tooka den is Carlo diCarlo (a younger, thinner Carlo, though). Yes, that does mean young Tyvian (about twenty years old) is somewhere in Illin at that exact moment, doing something untoward. Yes, I do think of these things. Maybe, someday, I’ll tell that story too. Illin, though, does not give up its secrets easily.

Alandar: The Domain of Saldor

Saldor—city of the Arcanostrum and center of the human universe, or so the Saldorians would have everyone believe. Known for their magical aptitude, their far-reaching power, and their educated population, Saldor is the cultural and intellectual heart of the West, and the seat of arguably the most powerful human in the world — the Keeper of the Balance. Though territorially small, no other place has made such a significant impact on the face of the human world. Its agents topple governments, its magi teach the West the High Arts, and its currency has become the global standard, accepted even in the hostile streets of the Kalsaari Empire. Seated at the helm of the Syrinian Alliance, the Saldorians see themselves as humanity’s best hope for the salvation of the world from the fires of the Devourer. They just might be right.

 

Political Structure

Saldor is technically a loose affiliation of petty nobility who make up a ruling body called the Saldorian Council, which is presided over by the Lord Mayor of Saldor. This body, which consists of representatives from each fiefdom (or the ruler of the fiefdom itself) as well as from the population of Saldor itself, passes the laws that govern the entire domain and acts as a neutral body when settling inter-fiefdom disputes. This is, technically, the governmental system that has been in place since the time of the First Arahkan War. If one were to ask any Saldorian on the street where the power in Saldor lies, however, they would say one thing: the Arcanostrum.

The magi of the Arcanostrum, though not officially the ‘rulers’ of Saldor, are firmly in control of every single thing that transpires within the borders of this tiny domain. Every duke, earl, knight, and council member from the Lord Mayor on down are all retired magi, and though they are not bound to obey the counsel given by the Archmagi and the Keeper above them, they tend to adhere to their wishes almost to the letter. They are the real power in Saldor, and nobody forgets it. The Lord Mayor, while he does handle the day-to-day administration of the city of Saldor itself, rarely countermands a request made by the Keeper or any other high-ranking mage — they are, after all, his old friends and the ones who got him his job in the first place. Essentially, the aristocracy of Saldor exist for a few reasons, and none of them have anything to do with actual political power. They serve as a place where magi may retire in comfort, they act as a way to keep the magi from having direct or official control over any political body (an ancient taboo among the magi), and they serve as the primary representatives of civic authority in individual Saldorian communities. They collect the taxes, organize the constabulary, oversee the schools and hospitals, but they do not decide policy, make laws, or wage wars—all of those things are the province of their mage ‘advisor.’

There are many who see this thinly-veiled shadow government run by the Arcanostrum to be both hypocritical and corrupt, but such people are seldom natives to Saldor. Every Saldorian knows that the Arcanostrum is in control and most are very glad they are. Furthermore, they realize (or have been taught to believe, depending on your perspective) that the illusion of the Saldorian civic authorities is less illusory than one might imagine. There is no edict stating that an aristocrat cannot ignore his advisor or make his own laws and, in the rare cases where a mage has tried to get an aristocrat to do something that aristocrat considers immoral or unjust, they have the power to resist and call down the ire of the Defenders, quickly quenching the crooked plot before it hatches. Of course, this reliance upon non- or ex-magi for the implementation of laws and edicts creates an immensely convoluted and devious network of plots and counter-plots within the Arcanostrum itself, as rival factions compete for patrons among the nobility, which is really another way of saying the young and up-and-coming magi constantly compete for the attention and favor of the retired masters.

Accordingly, the political structure of the Arcanostrum itself is far more relevant to Saldorian politics than any single group of nobles. It is important to note that the primary purpose of the Arcanostrum is to educate individuals in the High Arts and control the use of said Arts; therefore its structure is more like that of a university than a political body. The Arcanostrum is split into five colleges. The first four — the White College, Red College, Blue College, and Black College — are where most of the students and full magi within the Arcanostrum spend the majority of their time teaching, studying, experimenting, and practicing their art. The Fifth College, known as the Gray Tower or the Great Tower, acts as the administrative body of the Arcanostrum and also serves as the training ground for the Defenders of the Balance. All students entering the Arcanostrum as initiates (the lowest level of student) spend their first years learning basic magic in the Gray Tower before choosing one of the four Colleges as the place where they will complete their professional careers. Those who choose to remain in the Tower become Defenders or take up posts as administrators, groundskeepers, or other support roles.

The Arcanostrum will accept anyone from anywhere as a student, so long as they are no younger than fifteen and can pass the Test of Power, which is administered by the five Archmagi once a year on Ozdai’s Feast. The form of the test is always changing, and the title is misleading. Many young hopefuls come to show off their great power in one kind of sorcery or another, but this is not the purpose of the test. The Test of Power is administered to see whether or not the student is responsible enough to understand that power must be used sparingly and with intelligence, and many a show-off is sent home wondering why his magnificent fireworks display failed to awe the gray-haired old magi even in the least. Once accepted, students spend a number of years as initiates (usually about three, but there is no set upper limit), where they are taught the rudiments of magical instruction as well as history, etiquette, and oratory. In addition to their school work, initiates are required to do a fair amount of manual labor as well, designed to both humble and toughen up the spoiled and the dainty. Most (about 75%) of those accepted to the Arcanostrum fail to make it out of the initiate stage.

Finally, when they have excelled in their studies and shown both maturity and diligence, initiates are taken to the Chamber of Testing and asked to pass the First Mark. The exact nature of this test is kept secret, but if the initiate passes, he is promoted to the rank of apprentice and, after choosing their College, are assigned to a full mage to serve as his or her personal assistant. Again, there is no upper limit to how long a student will remain an apprentice and, indeed, very many leave the Arcanostrum at this stage and go on to lucrative careers in the ‘private sector’, as it were. For however long they stay, they are given the best magical education in the world as they stick close to their master and experience the full range of what a mage can expect to encounter in the field. Finally, when their master thinks them ready, the apprentice returns to the Chamber of Testing and attempts to pass the Second Mark. If successful, they are given their own magestaff and given the title of ‘mage.’ If they fail, they leave the Arcanostrum with the rank of apprentice and the privilege of calling themselves “sorcerer.”

Most magi never advance past the level of mage, for here is where they do the most work and take part in the most exciting missions. Magi are sent all over the world, fulfilling all manner of tasks, from mediating negotiations between rival nomad tribes in the Taqar to advising Western rulers to hunting down long-lost artifacts in the Eastern Sea. The magestaff of the Arcanostrum is a symbol known throughout the world, and it bears with it great responsibility and power.

For some magi, after years of adventuring, they choose to retire to Saldor or another magetower elsewhere in Alandar to serve as a Master. Masters have certified mastery of the school of their choice and have passed the Third Mark in the Chamber of Testing. They act primarily as teachers and armchair scholars, guiding the younger magi and instructing apprentices and initiates in the ways of the Arcanostrum. Those who become Master Defenders are essentially field commanders – administrating and guiding distant Mage Towers and their cadre of Defenders of the Balance in the missions considered crucial to the security of the West. Masters of all stripes are greatly respected among magical circles. Still, for the ambitious, there are two ranks higher than even the Master—the Archmage and the Keeper of the Balance.

There are only five Archmagi at any one time (one for each Great Energy), and only one Keeper. It has been this way for more than fifteen-hundred years, and it shows no sign of ever changing. Archmagi must have mastered at least two schools of magic and have managed to pass the Fourth Mark—a feat which few have attempted and even fewer have survived. Four serve as the chairman of each of the four Colleges and the fifth is the Lord Defender of the Balance. Together, they form the Council of the Archmagi, which meets in Saldor to attend the Keeper and advice he or she in matters of Arcanostrum policy. The post of Archmage is the most intensely political of the ranks within the Arcanostrum, as they are routinely in contact with foreign rulers, magi in the field, and political entities of all varieties, always seeking to further the goals of the Arcanostrum as well as the goals of their individual College. Just as the Four Dragons are in constant opposition, so too are the Archmagi, as each College pursues its own aims at the expense of its fellows. By way of example, the Archmage of the Ether and Chairman of the Black College, Xahlven, has long been a proponent of the Vetan’nir Sorcery School as a method of controlling the Balance more directly. This is vehemently opposed by both the Lord Defender of the Balance and the Archmage of the Lumin, and they have long plotted and schemed to limit Xahlven’s ability to authorize dealings with the creatures of the Outer Realms. It is important to note that, while the Archmagi are both intelligent and ruthless, they are seldom trying to destroy one another. They recognize, like any good mage, the importance of the Balance and, therefore, the importance of there being someone to contradict them to keep everything equal. Nevertheless, they can go very far to get what they want, even to the point of forcing rivals into retirement or framing them for crimes they didn’t commit.

Sitting in judgment over this boisterous and dissembling bunch of master wizards is the Keeper of the Balance himself, who is both supreme ruler of the Arcanostrum and, by extension, Saldor itself. The Keeper is selected from among the Archmagi by the Archmagi themselves and, if the preceding Keeper lives long enough to contribute to the discussion, he or she receives a vote as well. Upon the preceding Keeper’s death (assuming it hasn’t already happened) the prospective Keeper then attempts to journey to the far end of the Chamber of Testing, where the Fifth Mark stands. If worthy, he will acquire the collective wisdom of every Keeper before him and become the most powerful mage in the world. If he is found unworthy, he will never be seen again and a new candidate must be selected. The Keeper is in complete command of the Defenders of the Balance, with the Lord Commander acting as his representative, but other than that the Archmagi retain independent control of their Colleges. The Keeper is able to issue decrees that must be adhered to by all magi, but other than that he does not interfere with the day-to-day functioning of each College. The Keeper of the Balance is just that—a keeper. He, using ancient artifacts inherent to the Arcanostrum that were created in the age of the Warlock Kings, monitors the mystical energies of the world that make up the Balance and, should they be disturbed, he sends and order to the Archmagi to find a way to remedy the problem. He is in charge of setting regional policies and overall goals for the Arcanostrum, and gives the organization its long-term goals and philosophical coherence, but he seldom is needed for such mundane affairs as diplomatic meetings or legal proceedings. Though many have sought to gain audience with the Keeper throughout the years, few are the rulers and aristocrats who have been able to meet directly with the Keeper, keeping this office shrouded in both mystery and awe. Those who ascend to Keeper are changed persons, aloof and contemplative. It is for this reason that they take new names upon their ascension, and they are rarely seen by anyone but the archmagi.

From day to day, the most obvious influence of the Keeper is seen in Saldor in the form of the Defenders of the Balance. Forming the whole of Saldor’s armed forces, the Defenders are a small but superbly trained and equipped force of warrior-wizards that patrol the borders of Saldor’s small territory and man the walls of the city itself. Famed for their mirrored helmets of silver-lined mageglass, the prospect of going into battle against this magically potent force is enough to make even arahk blanch, though historically speaking the Defenders had not been in a major war for 400 years until the Kalsaari invasion of Illin of 27 years ago (see below). In general, the Defenders serve as a deterrent more than anything else, being sent to one place or another in an attempt to discourage a belligerent group from starting any war at all. This tactic had been quite successful, but the Illini Wars shook the Arcanostrum’s faith in that policy significantly.

In general, political life in Saldor is relatively calm, since most of the more important and more devious members of the Arcanostrum have their eyes and talents focused elsewhere in the world. There is enough money in this territory to keep virtually all of its citizens well-fed if not well-educated, and punishments for crimes committed are harsh enough to keep even the most hard-boiled criminals under-wraps. There are no prisons in Saldor, and punishment takes only three forms. First is the stocks, where minor offenders are sent to be rebuked, jeered, and pelted with rotten fruit for anywhere from an afternoon to several days. Second is petrification, where offenders are turned to stone and left in public gardens as decoration for the duration of their sentence. Unlike normal petrification, the spell used in this punishment is tailored to allow the convict the ability to think over his crime and his sentence before being returned to normal. Finally, Saldorians use banishment as their most serious punishment. Rather than killing the most hardened criminals, they are dropped through a portal set to land them somewhere tens of thousands of miles distant. They are given a bow, a few arrows, a blanket, and some water and told never to return. None of the criminals thus punished ever have. Citizens of Saldor, however, take solace in the fact that there is an established and fair court system in place here that presumes innocence and even assigns an advocate to defend the accused at trial. Presided over by five magi with legal experience as judges, it is the contention of most Saldorians that the innocent are never convicted within their borders. Of course, the innocent are too busy being a statue to protest, so this belief must be held somewhat suspect.

Perhaps one of the biggest factors in Saldorian prosperity and peace is the fact that, unlike almost anywhere else, advancement in society is theoretically based off of one’s wisdom and skill rather than bloodline or heredity. Even the lowliest street peddler’s daughter can one day ascend to the rank of Keeper of the Balance or, at the least, become a mage of the Arcanostrum. Thanks to the fact that those who rule Saldor come from all walks of life and all social states, the laws of the domain are considered among the most fair and balanced to be found anywhere in the world. It is, in many ways, a utopian system to be envied by many, and it is for these reasons that Saldor finds itself host to thousands upon thousands of immigrants every year.

 

Lands and Points of Interest

 

Saldorian swamps can be quite beautiful, if soggy.

Saldorian swamps can be quite beautiful, if soggy.

Saldor occupies a narrow finger of land between the Trell and Mage’s Rivers. Though wet and plagued with bogs and marshes, the land is temperate and green with enough arable land to sustain the most profitable vineyards in the world. Known far and wide as the finest to be had, Saldorian wine is demands the highest prices at markets worldwide.

Aside from grapes, however, the only thing Saldor really seems to grow is cities. Though only twenty-five miles wide and 300 miles long, Saldor has the highest concentration of urban centers to be found anywhere in the world. Feeding off the trade traveling down the Trell River as well as off the lucrative talisman and other magical item traffic moving across Saldor’s borders, the cities and towns of Saldor are a bustle of culture, commerce, and crowds. Thanks to Saldor’s reputation as a place of plentiful wealth and fair-minded rulers, people from all over the world are constantly relocating themselves here to try for a better life for themselves and their children. Consequently, housing and food supplies are at a premium in this tiny country, despite the overall wealth of the inhabitants. Tons upon tons of grain, meat, fruit, and vegetables need to be shipped into Saldor everyday from the farms of Eretheria and Galaspin as well as from some places as far away as Eddon and Benethor, and still the population continues to grow. Though some in the Arcanostrum have theorized that, unless this population growth is checked, a social catastrophe awaits the region, the government, at the Keeper’s wish, ensures that Saldor’s borders remain open to any who wish to come there.

As a center of learning and education, Saldor’s cities are all home to a variety of universities, schools, libraries, and other cultural institutions that are maintained by the local nobility and are all open to the public! As a result, the majority of Saldorians can read (rather exceptional in Alandar) and the sheer concentration of educated people has given rise to a burgeoning population of playwrights, poets, writers, and philosophers that hawk on street corners, distribute their manuscripts in marketplaces, and put on shows in fancy new playhouses. Painters and sculptors have also found themselves a home in Saldor, where there is a wealth of aristocratic patrons who are not only willing to pay for their art but also have the culture to appreciate it.

Defensively speaking, Saldor is well-protected, though the casual observer might not recognize it. The banks of the two rivers that form the nation’s borders are lined with small towers and keeps that, while they might not seem imposing, are heavily enchanted and capable of fending off armies up to ten times larger than a defending force. Furthermore, the Defenders of the Balance maintain an elite corps of griffon cavalry that has bases both in Saldor proper and in the northern regions of the country, and they patrol regularly, keeping an eye out for trouble. These protections, however, proved insufficient to prevent Banric Sahand and his Delloran armies from smashing into the northern portions of the country and laying waste to the Defenders sent against him until the pivotal siege of Calassa. Since that time, there has been a concerted effort to strengthen the domain’s defenses and much of Saldor’s wealth has been devoted to that task.

Finally, while most of Saldor is populated, there are regions that are virtually uninhabitable thanks to bogs, marshes, and swamps. These areas are known to be havens of dark creatures, bandits, and long-lost tombs of long-dead warlocks. Usually patrolled and almost entirely picked over by the Defenders of the Balance or the magi, these areas are nevertheless avoided, and often serve as pathways for smugglers, spies, and worse things to get into and out of the country.

 

The City of Saldor: Easily the largest city in the West and possibly even the world, Saldor is home to eight-hundred thousand souls and the heart of magical power in the human world. Built at the juncture of four ley lines, the city’s location at the mouth of the Trell River is hardly by accident. Every since the time of Rahdnost the Undying, this area has been prime real-estate for the magical elite, and Saldor is a city built upon ruins which are, in turn, built upon more ruins. The depths to which one might journey beneath the cobblestone streets and what one might find there are subjects of great speculation and wild tales among the winding streets and crowded, smoky buildings, but few, if any, have ever bothered to find out – there’s enough excitement on top of the Saldor streets as it is.

Saldor is made up of five separate districts. The first three — the Merchant Quarter, Dock Quarter, and Magic Quarters — lie within the city’s ancient, ivy-covered walls. The fourth and fifth, Crosstown and it’s rougher cousin, New Crosstown, are located on the western banks of the Trell and have no walls to speak of at all. New Crosstown is the newest and most crude area, with new houses and businesses being added every day as the hopeful and ambitious move closer to the Arcanostrum. It is there that the city’s primary criminal syndicate, known as the Mute Prophets, runs a variety of gambling and real estate rackets as well as organizing a sizable number of pick pockets, highwaymen, and talented cat burglars that give the Prophets their fame. After all, anyone who can rob a mage’s house and not get caught is a master of his trade. The Crosstown districts are usually the first place those coming to Saldor by land or river see, and its rows and rows of houses crammed tightly together across cobblestoned streets only serve as the barest glimpse of what is a most incredible city.

Once within the city walls, a new visitor is almost always astounded at the sheer number of people to be found in Saldor. They come from everywhere — Akral, Eretheria, Ihyn, Illin, Hurn, Larcin, Benethor, Obrinport, Tharce, and on and on and on. The streets are full of people at almost all hours of the day and, at the center of the Merchant’s Quarter, the Grand Bazaar is lit twenty-four hours by hundreds of illumite lanterns. The open-air market is a maze of tents and carts selling everything from Kalsaari silks to Far Western talismans and Eddonish clocks, and the roar of hagglers and criers never dies. The Dock Quarter is home to most of the inns, taverns, and public houses inside the city walls as well as innumerable warehouses, granaries, and stockyards built to store the flood of goods brought in every day from both the river and the sea. The Dock Quarter is but a thin band around the Merchant’s Quarter, which houses the Grand Bazaar, most of the businessmen and artisans of the city, as well as the Hannite Cathedral and the Saldorian Exchange—the first and single largest commodities and stock market in the West. Though the Dock Quarter does get rough after dark, the Defenders of the Balance are always nearby to contain anything that gets out of hand and crime within the Merchant’s Quarter is very uncommon, thanks to the vigilance of not only the Defenders but thousands of private security forces hired by the wealthy to safeguard both businesses and their assets. More importantly than numbers, though, is the fact that the Defenders employ a great many augurs who can predict crimes before they occur with remarkable skill and, even if they can’t prevent it from happening, they are very likely to catch the culprit. Saldor is a city full of wonders and swindlers, but very few cutpurses, the Prophets excepted.

When finally one passes out of the Merchant’s Quarter into the Magic Quarter, it feels as though you have entered another city entirely. Occupying the center of the city and stretching across two large hills, the Magic Quarter is beautiful and serene in the same way that the rest of Saldor is noisy and exciting. Here the streets, while narrow and winding in the rest of the city, widen out and are paved with white limestone, running in broad, straight avenues to the gates of the Arcanostrum itself. Public gardens and reflecting pools line the broad streets along with the palatial estates of the most respected magi in the world as well as the public library, many artifactories, a number of private universities, and the White Hospital — an enormous and well-equipped hospital funded by the White College of the Arcanostrum. At the heart of it all, of course, is the Arcanostrum itself. Built across several acres of land at the very center of the city and atop the ancient ruins of the Warlock King Spidrahk’s old fortress, the Arcanostrum is a bewildering array of parapets, towers, spires, arches and halls. Originally consisting of nothing but the enormous gray expanse of the Gray Tower, which reaches a mind-boggling eight-hundred feet into the air and is nearly 100 yards in diameter, the complex has been added to and renovated innumerable times throughout history, leaving a place more labyrinth than living area, filled with secret passages, magical portals, illusions, and long-forgotten booby traps. Many apprentices joke that the hardest part about the training here isn’t in the classrooms but in the corridors. This is not far from the truth, as a handful of initiates and apprentices and even a full mage, from time to time, disappear into the shadows of the Arcanostrum, never to be seen again. What makes the Arcanostrum even more imposing is the sheer magical nature to its structure. Built out of both mageglass, enchanted stone, and even more obscure mystical materials, the walls shimmer, the arches seem impossibly high, the spires are smooth as glass, and the gargoyles actually watch as you pass. From a distance, the Arcanostrum never seems to look the same way twice. Access to the Arcanostrum is restricted to those accepted into its halls as a student, and visitors are never permitted. Though only a ten-foot iron fence stands between the would-be trespasser and the grounds, few are brazen enough to wander into this intimidating structure to be among its even more intimidating inhabitants.

Militarily speaking, most of Saldor is protected by an ancient, fifty-foot tall stone wall without towers or gatehouses. Covered over by ivy and apparently overgrown, the ancient look of the wall belies its defensive power. Anyone scrying for sorcery near the wall will certainly remark how brightly they glow, and the stories of the people bear the evidence out. Legends speak of how the wall can grow to five times its height or that its ivy comes to life and strangles the attacking armies with poisonous thorns and terrible speed. Still others speak of a ghostly army entombed within the wall since the time of the First Arahkan War which, should the Keeper call upon them, will rise from the grave to strike down the Arcanostrum’s foes. As Saldor has not been under siege for nearly 700 years, no one but the Keeper might know for sure.

 

Culture and People

Saldorians are among the most cosmopolitan and well-educated people in Alandar, and they aren’t shy about showing it. Since this is the only place in the human world where anyone can be schooled for free, the citizens of this small, powerful nation are very often thought of as arrogant, meddling know-it-alls who keep trying to tell everybody how to live their lives. Foreigners see Saldor as a utopia that produces the worst kind of naïve social activists, self-righteous thinkers, and intellectual trouble-makers who don’t understand the very problems they keep trying to fix. On the plus side, Saldorians tend to be intelligent and morally forthright individuals with a strong sense of ethics and a willingness to help people that is not common in other cultures around the world. Perhaps it has something to do with their relative wealth, but it is also thanks to the kind of person who is drawn to Saldor in the first place.

Saldor is a country of pioneers. It may sound ridiculous to say that, given how the nation is nestled in the very bosom of one of the most ancient homelands of humanity, but being a pioneer doesn’t necessarily mean living in a cabin on the outskirts of civilization and fighting bears with pokk knives. Saldor is an environment that fostered intellectual pioneers. Free thought, free expression, and the freedom to improve oneself are all hallmarks of the Saldorian mindset and, as it happens, quite alien to just about everywhere else. Whereas Galaspiners, Illini, or Eddoners might follow orders, obey the law, or uphold tradition without thought, a Saldorian would almost certainly ask the questions ‘why obey these orders?’ or ‘is this law just?’ or ‘what purpose do these traditions serve?’ Saldorians believe very strongly that the best way to preserve the Balance is to be aware of the repercussions of one’s actions or the actions of a group in general. Every Saldorian schoolchild learns the lessons of the Warlock Kings’ hubris, the madness of renegade wizards, and the danger of a ruthless tyrant. These parables point out the danger of doing things without thought to consequences and the terrible price to be paid for trying to attain absolute power. No one is perfect, no single person is ultimately wise, and no one has the right to wield absolute power over another. To do these things endangers the Balance and, therefore, the world. The side-effect of this philosophy is that Saldorians are willing to do or try just about anything in the interest of learning more about the world and about the way in which is functions. It is their responsibility to know as much as they can about the world so that they may become responsible citizens in it. To them, there is no absolute evil or good in the world — all things have their place and their purposes, and no one really thinks they are evil or does things for the purpose of being bad. A naïve point of view in the human world, perhaps, but one that the Saldorians cling to.

Most Saldorians live in cities or large towns, with only the barest part of their population working the vineyards and farms that exist in the heartland of the country. They are a city people, and as such are very cosmopolitan, very clever, but very soft. Many have joked about how Saldorian armies never take the field because they are worried about getting muddy or how you can tell Saldorians on the trail by the number of them it takes to pitch a tent. Still, they are a people very willing to try new things and understand that which is foreign to them, and though they might fail a good amount at first, they are fast learners and appreciative students of the world. This irrepressible curiosity has served their people well throughout the centuries, and it is one of the few things that all those who come to Saldor share. After all, why would one move to Saldor from hundreds or even thousands of miles away if one weren’t the curious or adventuresome type?

Much to the disorientation of many who move to Saldor, Saldorian culture has very little in the way of unifying customs, celebrations, or traditions. Saldor is, instead, a mish-mash of foreign cultures fused together in one great societal morass. While one family might follow the Eddoner tradition of the massive dinner meal, they might also have the Illini’s faith in the Hannite Church and the Galaspiner love of sport. The home next door, on the other hand, might speak Southron among themselves, worship the Saints of the Northon Church, and possess the fierce nationalism of the Akrallians. Every Saldorian is a hereditary hybrid of any number of peoples from around the world, and every Saldorian family celebrates its own mix of these cultures. The only unifying factor in this is the Saldorian acceptance of all who are different and the respect for those who do not follow their own way. Anyone claiming to be a ‘native’ Saldorian is a liar — everyone, at some point, was a transplant.

 

Recent Events

It has never been a better time to be a Saldorian. Though Sahand’s armies cut a fiery swathe through the north of the country and its armed forces were largely decimated by the wars, the aftermath of said wars has benefited the tiny nation more than any other. The changes to how sorcery was to be made available to the general population has made Saldor the primary trading partner in the West – its economy is the hub of all western commerce. The amount of gold flowing through its streets coupled with its largely non-hierarchical government and economy has grown its population and brought the best (and the greediest) to its shores. This has caused some conflict with the old guard – those wealthy families that trace their lineage through centuries of Saldorian history – it has benefited the place in the long run. Ihyn and Freegate have, thanks to their reliance on trade, become virtual satellite states to Saldor’s almighty Exchange, where king’s ransoms are lost and made every day. There are those who say that there can only be so long that the country can ride so high, but if that is so, no Saldorian augur is willing to say so. The future is bright and increasingly gilded with gold.

Alandar: A Brief History of Sorcery, Part 2 (the Sorcerers)

sorcery11For long ages and, indeed, even in our modern and enlightened era there has been much misconception of how someone becomes a practitioner of the High Arts. For most of recorded history, it was assumed that one needed to be born with a particular talent or genetic bloodline. The ancient sorcerers and sorcerous families encouraged this belief, and none more so than the Warlock Kings themselves. If the High Arts are only accessible to a select, special few, it therefore follows that such a select special few ought to have dominance over the others. The ancient Warlock Kings and the ancient magi who succeeded them were considered a species apart from the balance of humanity – super beings, if you will.  Their facility with the High Arts was used as proof positive of their superiority and they used such a belief to manipulate affairs in their favor.

This, however, is not the truth. Anyone has the capacity to learn the High Arts, assuming they are dedicated to the endeavor and possess a modicum of intelligence. Evidence of this fact is obvious with a visit to your local Hannite Church and with the presence of hedge wizards, witches, and mystics that dot the countryside. While the Hannite priesthood might prefer to think of the sorcerous acts they perform as some manifestation of the power of Hann, this is not actually the case – the Shepherd is merely performing a sorcerous ritual, just as any wizard might. Many are those who, through trial and error or ancestral instruction, know a handful of spells and rituals that they find useful. Such persons have a variety of explanations for such powers , crediting faith, blood, luck, or astronomical phenomena for their success. That they do not understand said ritual is what separates them from true sorcerers.

Such ignorance, it must be said, works to the advantage of those who rule our society – namely, those who understand the principles of true sorcery and can either invoke it themselves or have the resources to call upon those who can. Such elites have no interest in dispelling the myths of sorcery, as to do so would mean giving the common people a means to change their lot by manipulating the fabric of reality itself. This is a harrowing thought to any person of power or influence, and especially so to those whose power and influence is built upon the misfortunes and domination of others. The ‘Balance’ that the Defenders of the Balance protect, though it is said to be a metaphysical concept, can also be understood as a social, political, and economic one – historically, their regulation of the High Arts keeps those on top on top and those on the bottom on the bottom. Though recent decades have seen this purpose soften somewhat, any local witch can tell you of the hassles and harassment that must be faced when bringing on a new apprentice.

Of Titles…

Practitioners of the High Arts go by a variety of titles and, to common people, such titles are interchangeable. To those in the profession, though, they have distinct meaning.

  • Wizards are those who can work with the High Arts to some extent. This is a catchall term that includes everybody from the talented mystic healer or gifted Hannite paladin to the shepherd who can ward his sheep against sickness. This is a lowly term, and calling a sorcerer or mage a wizard is tantamount to an insult to their intelligence.
  • Sorcerers are those who have formal sorcerous training in the High Arts. They understand the broad principles of sorcery, have facility in at least two disciplines of incantation and ritual, and often are devotees to one or more philosophical schools of sorcery. These are true professionals and powerful individuals whose services are in great demand and to whom respect is warranted. Those who achieve their First Mark in the Chamber of Testing may be called Sorcerers, but they are not yet magi, and are called ‘apprentices’ by other magi until such time as they achieve their Second Mark.
  • Magi (or mages) are those sorcerers who have achieved the Second Mark in the Chamber of Testing beneath the Arcanostrum of Saldor. They are only the most talented and skilled of sorcerers, taught by the true masters of the Arts, and are all under the supervision of the Archmagi and, by extension, the Keeper. Magi are technically forbidden from inheriting titles and may not serve as a head of state, though that ancient rule has been somewhat eclipsed by many centuries of work-arounds and technical loopholes.
  • Masters are those magi who have achieved their Third Mark. They are persons of incredible power and often given great responsibility within the internal organization of the Arcanostrum.
  • Archmagi are the five leaders of the Arcanostrum, situated just beneath the Keeper of the Balance in rank. There is one for each energy – the Archmage of the Ether, the Archmage of the Lumen, the Archmage of the Fey, the Archmage of the Dweomer, and the Lord Defender of the Balance. They reside in Saldor. If an archmage should die or retire, their post will remain vacant until such time as a Master achieves the Fourth Mark in the Chamber of Testing. Few can do this and many die or go mad in the attempt. The Archmage is also the Headmaster (or Headmistress) of their corresponding college in the Arcanostrum, and oversees the training of new magi.
  • The Keeper of the Balance is an archmage who has achieved their Fifth Mark. They are sorcerers beyond equal, powerful and wise. When a former Keeper dies, the Archmagi select one of their number to ascend, and this person attempts to achieve the Fifth Mark. If they fail (and therefore die), a new archmage is selected. The experience of achieving the Fifth Mark is harrowing, but completely secret. All that is known is that those who undergo it are changed somehow – they are not the same person who went in, becoming more reserved and often reclusive – and it is for this reason that all Keepers take on a new name upon their ascension. There is never and has never been more than one Keeper at a time, though there have been instances where there have been no more archmagi to make the attempt, and so the office of Keeper has remained vacant for some time.

To Be Continued…

The Maps of TSR: A Narrative Analysis

When The Oldest Trick, Part 1 is released early next year, I will officially be a published fantasy author. Ideally, a few months after that I will be a successful one (hint hint, folks). As I have wrestled this summer with writing the third book in the as-yet unnamed Tyvian Reldamar series, I have been considering what it means, exactly, to be an ‘epic fantasy author’ (epic fantasy being my subgenre, apparently, though that word ‘epic’ gives me fits). Now, this question has as many answers as there are authors. For me, a key part of fantasy has always been maps. I love maps, and especially fantasy world maps. I feel like a good map tells its own story and makes the world real. A good map makes you want to live there. I have extensive maps for Alandar (my fantasy world) and an atlas that I guard like the Holy Grail (as they contain the only copies of the maps I’ve drawn). I bought Campaign Cartographer to help me make more maps, but ones which I can copy and distribute (it’s awesome, by the way, but I’m not good enough with it to make the maps as awesome as they are in my head – still easier to hand-draw them.).

So it is that, recently, when I was invited to play in my friend’s Forgotten Realms D&D campaign, that pulled up a copy of the map of Faerun – the world of Forgotten Realms. It’s….it’s just awesome. Incredibly awesome. I was instantly transported back to high school, pouring over the atlases of places like Ansalon and Faerun and Oreth. Feeling the inspiration to make my own maps and, by extension, create my own worlds. In large part, I attribute the existence of Alandar to those big TSR boxed sets from the 1990s with their piles of awesome maps.  They were a lot of the initial inspiration for it all.

What’s So Great About These Maps, Weirdo?

If you love history (like I do) and study it, it becomes clear that geography has a powerful effect on culture, civilization, and history. Europe was created by the Alps more than by the Roman Empire; the Roman Empire was created by the Italian Peninsula. America owes its America-ness to the Appalachians and the Great Plains, to Cape Cod, and to the Potomac and Hudson River. Study it, and the connections are all there, plain as day.

If you look at your average fantasy world map, it often has just enough detail to let you know where you are, but nothing more. Comparing that map to a map of the real world is like comparing a child’s finger-painting to a Renaissance masterpiece. Accordingly (and obviously), the complexity of the real world dwarfs that of your average fantasy setting. This is probably always going to be true (few fantasy authors are as monumentally good world builders as George R.R. Martin, for instance), but a really good map can help make the gap that much narrower. I feel that TSR’s maps always did a good job of this. Let me discuss them in turn.

A land fractured...

A land fractured…

Ansalon

The primary setting for the D&D Dragonlance world, Ansalon is a continent that suffered a great Cataclysm in the recent past (a comet hit the planet, swallowing one corner of the continent and seriously upsetting the rest of it). The destruction wrought on the landscape is clear simply by looking at the map. Everywhere is isolated from everywhere else by oceans, mountains, and wastelands. Ansalon, therefore, is a land of peoples isolated from one another. The riding of dragons (a major setting element) is sensible in this setting – you need a way to get around these obstacles if you intend to conquer anywhere. It makes sense.

This map also demonstrates how the creators of the world (Weiss and Hickman) build this place in order to have fun with it. There’s a lot going on here – a lot of cities, but also a lot of trackless wilderness. There are plenty of places for dragons to hide. There’s a giant evil whirlpool/storm in one corner. The waterways are choked and complex, making for much sailing adventure (if desired). It looks like the kind of place adventures can be had, and that was something I latched on to long ago as important in a map. The more fun the place looked, the more fun you could get to happen.

Oerth

Look at all them kingdoms!

Look at all them kingdoms!

The principal setting for Greyhawk campaigns, Oerth is a massive continent with a intricate series of petty nation states, kingdoms, duchies, and principalities all jockeying for position in a heavily populous world. Unlike Ansalon, where the struggle is clearly Man Vs Nature, here the struggle is Man Vs Man. The wild places exist on the fringes – over mountains, across distant oceans, far away and out of mind. The day to day business of the citizens of Oerth is protecting their land from violent neighbors. The setting contributes to that, too – part of the world’s history is a world-wide war that shattered much of the political status-quo. Oerth is a land of intrigue and warfare and less one of exploration and discovery. Its geography is well suited to this.

I confess that Oerth had a definitive influence over my design of Alandar. Not only did I run a long-running Greyhawk campaign in high school, but I loved the precarious balance of powers presented by the world and noted how the geography of the place contributed to that. If you have been reading my Alandar background pieces (and God bless you, by the way), you can see that elaborate political alliances are part and parcel for the setting. One of the things that does this in Oerth is the Azure Sea and the Nyr Dyv (the inland ocean/big lake about map center and the mostly-inland sea in the south). By having these big waterways ensconced by competing powers, it makes the ocean not a venue for distant exploration so much as a setting for trade, travel, piracy, and naval warfare. Think of the Mediterranean and the Caribbean – same idea.

Faerun

Wow...just wow...

Wow…just wow…

Faerun is the grandpappy of them all. The primary setting for Forgotten Realms campaigns, it is, first and foremost, huge. Of all of the maps thus far discussed, this is the one I feel best simulates something akin to the real world. It is almost a mixture of Ansalon and Oreth – there are isolated pockets of civilization cut off by wide swathes of wilderness, but also big blocks of civilized countries that must be jockeying for resources in their little corner of the world. There are mountains and rivers, inland seas (which are themselves a result of cataclysmic events), distant wastelands, forests and jungles and so on and so forth. Unlike Ansalon or even Oerth, one look at the map of Faerun makes it clear that there is more than one story to tell in this world. What is happening in the North along the Sword Coast is not the same as what is happening in the Dalelands around the Sea of Fallen Stars, and both are distinct from the troubles of Calimshan and Chult. This is a world in regions, like our own, which clearly must have their own distinct politics, habits, cultures, and peoples.

If the West in Alandar is inspired by Oerth, the whole of Alandar is very much inspired by Faerun. My world (separated into West, North, South, and the Isles) is very much separated that way, even if inter-regional conflict does occur. Cultures, languages, and religions all differ, just as they do in Faerun. I only hope my own world is as much fun to explore and adventure in as this one, which has enjoyed 30 years of passionate fans of the books, RPGs, and video games.

I should be so lucky.

 

Alandar: A Timeline of Events

The history of Alandar is a difficult thing to record with any degree of precision, as few save the magi have kept anything close to reliable historical records, and the magi of Saldor are not known to share information willingly. Adding to this difficulty is the complexity and (some would say) foolishness of the various dating systems used by the common populations. In the west, years are denoted by Keeper of the Balance (as in the 23rd year of Polimeux II), which while useful within the average lifespan of a person, are basically useless as metrics of historical account. The calendar of the North is dated from the birth of the most recent High Saint (e.g. 150th year of Saint Udent), making them somewhat more useful in this regard while the Kalsaaris are by far the most useful, dating their calendar from the birth of their Empire (placing the Imperial Calendar in its 31st century). Many of the following dates should be understood as approximate. As much as can be reliably determined, however, is dated as follows, using the private notation of Arcanostrum scholars:

35109-bigthumbnailBefore the Age of Kings (BK)

~6,000 BK (Before Kings): The Great Trek from the Hearth begins. Humanity abandons its ancestral homeland (its identity now lost to time), led by their god, Hann. The journey purportedly takes millennia to complete.

~2,000 BK: Hann fights with Ulor on the Taqar; Hann abandons the human race. Humanity is now on its own.

~2,000 BK—1 BK: “The Age of Chaos”—humanity begins to establish settlements around the Sea of Syrin. Tribal warfare common, very primitive social structures.

~500 BK: The First Sorcerers rise to power in tribal areas. Beings of mythical power, they are worshipped as gods. Sorcery is a crude practice at this time, and limited mostly to striking  invocations and basic auguries.

The Age of Kings (AK)

1 AK (Age of Kings): The first Warlock King, Syrin the Mighty, establishes a kingdom stretching from modern day Akral along the southern coast to the Dragonspine. First strong government in human history. Ancient city of Burza founded.

250 AK: Syrin’s kingdom collapses into civil war. Three powerful Warlocks—Askar, Nurohn, and Shendrezail—conquer three largest pieces of the kingdom.

300 AK: City of Hurn founded by the request of Hann himself, who temporarily appears from exile; The Kings of Shendrezail fight the Dawn War against the God of Humanity and his crusaders. Hann’s armies surrender rather than see their god destroyed, Shendrezail claims victory. Church of Hann grows, but is forbidden by Warlock Kings.

~600 AK: The Arahk arrive in Alandar from the frigid polar regions north of the continent, settle in the unoccupied Fields of Oscillain in the northeast.

700 AK: Askar XII murders his wife, heir to the throne of the Nurohnar, and merges the two kingdoms. Jassaria V, Warlock Queen of Shendrezail, expands her kingdom to encompass modern day Kalsaar.

sorcerer-297059855 AK: Beginning of the First Mage War between Askaria and Shendrezail. The fires of Askar XIX create the Gods’ Divide. In retribution, and with the supposed aid of the god Ulor, Jassaria XI creates the Needle, causing the Sea of Syrin to flood, doubling its size. Burza destroyed, millions perish, war ends in stalemate.

~900 AK: Arahkan War of Fathers—the Great Torach drives the lesser arahk into the Eastern Sea. Lesser arahk migrate south to become what are now known as hobs.

990 AK: Askar XXVI’s sons murder him and fight over spoils. Askarian civil war leads to Second Mage War as Shendrezail pounces. Demons and fiends summoned to aid combatants, cataclysmic slaughter occurs. War lasts 115 years, ends with the kingdoms of Askaria and Shendrezail in complete ruins. During fighting, Kroth the Devourer reputably stirs in His bonds.

~1000 AK: Gnolls arrive in western Alandar. Remain outside of human affairs.

1120 AK: Warlock King Rahdnost rises to power. Most powerful Warlock King since Syrin. Kingdom spreads from modern day Saldor to Eddon. Many other Kings rule in the south, but all swear fealty to Rahdnost.

1125 AK: Rahdnost’s forces defeated at Daer Mahk by the arahk tribes. Expansion of his empire is never able to cross the Dragonspine, despite the creation of Trell’s Pass.

1190 AK: Rahdnost finds way to extend lifespan indefinitely. Becomes Rahdnost the Undying. Kingdom expands to encompass southern coast of the Sea of Syrin.

~1300 AK: Settlers fleeing Rahdnost’s tyranny migrate across the Dragonspine to live in the western reaches of Oscillain. Border disputes between arahk tribes and humans begin.

~1500 AK: Rebels exiled to deserts of south found Kalsaar and manage to live in relative peace with hob population. (Beginning of Kalsaari calendar)

1648 AK: Rahdnost invades the Great Forest and attacks the Vale. Known as the Fey War, the free and wild peoples known as the Vel’jahai war with Rahdnost across the northwest. Ends with the last recorded invocation of a Cataclysm, as Rahdnost’s Eternal Tower is struck down and the city of Ghola is swallowed by the ocean. Ruins rest on an island supposedly near Ihyn.

1661 AK: Lesser Warlock Kings rise up to claim the Undying’s Kingdom. Third Mage Wars begin, lasts fifty years.

1750 AK:  Warlock Kings Vorn the Terrible and Spidrahk rise to power, controlling the southern and northern shores of the Sea of Syrin, respectively. Spidrahk’s palace rests on the location of present-day Saldor. With access to Rahdnost’s Elixir of Immortality, the two kings are able to war periodically over three centuries, neither gaining the upper hand.

2063 AK: Vorn calls down unholy plague upon world in an effort to kill ailing King Spidrahk. Spidrahk releases ‘the Seeking Dark’ to destroy Vorn. Both weakened, the Vel’jahai, aided by friendly human sorcerers, rise up to topple both kingdoms and destroy every vestige of the Warlock King epoch. Afterwards, the Vel’jahai retire to their Forest, declaring it their own, and forbid any foreigners from entering it.

The Age of Balance (AB)

1 AB (Age of Balance): First Keeper of the Balance, Ethorim, takes the Seat in Saldor. Political chaos reigns in wake of the Warlock Kings’ fall.

136003055261925 AB: Eretheria founded by Perwyn, establishes tense diplomatic relations with Saldor, essentially treating it as a protectorate.

32 AB: Akral established as stable kingdom by Tolion the Uniter, begins to expand borders.

112 AB: Church of Hann gains home in fledgling city of Rhond, establishes it as headquarters.

125 AB: Arcanostrum declares Church of Hann as ‘official’ religion of humanity. Hordes develop in Oscillain under Warlord Khazakain.

130 AB: First Arahkan War begins. Arahk sweep through unprepared kingdoms of the north

and attack Trell’s Pass and secure it. Arahk attack Galaspin, Eretheria, and

Saldor—nearly conquer all. Hill tribesmen cut off Arahkan supplies and the Vel’jahai

come to the Arcanostrum’s aid, though nothing is enough to completely win.

144 AB: Veris, Ihyn founded.

177 AB: Ezeliar defeats Khazakain at Battle of Sh’goth, First Arahkan War Ends.

180 AB: Kingdom of Benethor/Knights of Benethor founded by Ezeliar’s lieutenants.

183 AB: Galaspin founded, swears itself as Saldor’s protector.

200 AB: Freegate founded by hill tribesmen and Galaspiner dissidents.

220 AB: Kalsaari Empire established, expands to include Emirates of Tharce, Azgar.

224 AB: Wars of Retribution begun—arahk pushed back to the borders of Roon. Ramisett annexed into Kingdom.

354 AB: Wars of Retribution end.

368 AB: King of Benethor’s feuding sons split the massive kingdom into two entities. Kingdom of Ridderhof founded, treaties for mutual defense against the arahk are immediately signed, but relations remain cool between two nations for several centuries.

400 AB: Eddon breaks away from Akral in peaceful accord, Eddon becomes Kingdom. Maintains close relationship with Akral.

434 AB: Kalsaar makes forays beyond the Century Desert, captures Tasis, Illini peninsula.

438—464 AB: Kalsaari Wars of Expansion: Kalsaar makes war on fledgling western nations. Captures Rhond, lays siege to Veris, Ihyn, Akral, and Hurn. Kalsaari Armies finally defeated after a grueling campaign in Eddon, known afterwards as the Cold March. Arcanostrum brokers peace accord; Kalsaar retains Rhond, Hurn. General outrage at treaty.

~530 AB: First caravans from the Far West appear in Ju’el, Eddon.

562 AB: The Hannite Wars begin. Akral, Eddon, Veris declare war on Kalsaar. Attempt to liberate Rhond, Hurn. King Hymrek V of Veris betrays coalition after offered riches by Kalsaari Emperor. War lasts five years, Eddon defeats Kalsaar at Battle of Illin Bridge. Akral lays siege to and destroys Veris, occupies territory. Hurn and Rhond rescinded to Hannite clergy.

578 AB: Illin founded as buffer state between West and Kalsaari. Partitions of Illin formed by Arcanostrum magi.

620 AB: Veris, with tacit help of Ihyn, rises up against Akral, gaining independence. Akral attempts to regain lost territory. Wars and border disputes last throughout 7th century.

681 AB: Knights of Benethor detect the formation of Hordes in Roon, request aid from kingdoms of the West. No help is sent.

687 AB: Nurlings surge out of the Dragonspine, drawn out by increased mining activity. Nurlings declare a Oodnar their King, overwhelm and capture Galaspin, Freegate, and attack Saldor. Eretherian forces exterminate the Nurling menace.  War lasts seven years, known as the War of the Goblin King.

699 AB: The Second Arahkan War begins. The arahk, under warlord Ushkazail, eventually crush the Knights of Benethor and sweep through Ridderhof, raping, pillaging, and destroying everything. Long and bloody campaign against Benethoran partisans begins. War lasts 185 years.

713 AB: The Nine Queens of Kalsaar reveal their magical power, declaring the Empire the realm of the new Warlock Queens. Emperor is little more than a political figurehead. Defenders of the Balance are ejected from the Empire.

717 AB: War begins, as Kalsaar attempts once again to invade the West. War is brief, as the Kalsaari armies cannot take Illin before the siege is broken by Verisi reinforcements.

730 AB: The Builder’s Method of the Arcane Arts is founded in Eretheria.

750 AB: Akral fights a number of territorial wars with Eddon, Eretheria, and Veris that flare up and wane over the next thirty years. Ends with massive naval engagement in the Gulf of Eddon that sees the King of Akral, Tolion XI, sunk to the bottom by Verisi pirates.

884 AB: Handras kills Ushkazail in mighty duel, arahk thrown into chaos. Benethoran remnants push arahk back into Roon. Second Arahkan War ends.

1115 AB: Hordes develop in Roon. Benethor/Ridderhof begin unprecedented military expansion. Reinforcements sent from as far away as Eddon.

1117 AB: Third Arahkan War begins—unparalleled in brutality. Arahk under Ashkazain smash into fortified Benethor and Ridderhof. War grinds on for fifty years—bloodiest war since Second Mage Wars. Ridderhof falters, Benethor is surrounded.

1122 AB: Hadrigal Varner leads Knights of Benethor in cunning attack on Ashkazain’s main force, routing the army. Enraged by the defeat, Ashkazain’s lieutenants kill him while he sleeps. Resulting chaos allows Benethor to drive arahk back into Roon. Sorcerous Order of Medicine founded by Caddavain Ustair to attempt to relieve suffering of people and soldiers.

1156 AB: Galaspin colony of Dellor founded. Settlers attracted to the mineral rich hills.

1224 AB: Second Queens War begins. Kalsaar invades utilizing new floating ‘war bastions’. Manage to lay waste to much of Illin, Rhond before defeat. All War Bastions toppled from sky; flying vessels declared ‘impractical’ by sorcerous scholars. War ends after three years.

1300 AB: Revolt in Dellor. Galaspiner troops driven out. Region declares independence.

1377 AB: War College of Ramisett founded, first Battlemagi trained. Benethor and Ridderhof experiment with airships as troop transports.

1382 AB: After centuries of cold aggression, Akral attacks Veris. Ihyn declares its support for Akral, event touches off the Akrallian Wars. Ihyn and Akral join forces against Veris, Eretheria, and Eddon. Akral seeks to expand its borders to encompass Eretheria and Veris. Eventually, Galaspin and Illin are encompassed in the war. Only Saldor and Rhond remain neutral. War lasts for six years.

1388 AB: After years of stalemate, warring nations meet in Eretheria and sign the Treaty of Syrin, establishing the Syrinian Alliance. First centralized governmental structure in West since fall of the Warlock Kings.

1403 AB: Hobgoblin Gurgbossaht Thark raises massive army to conquer the ‘soft’ lands of the west. Called “The Arahkann War that Wasn’t,” fighting lasts for ten years before finally the hobs are defeated at the Battle of Whistler Bridge. Battle is won by the Arcanostrum Archmage Estrina, early disciple of the Vetan’nir school. She later becomes Keeper of the Balance.

1509 AB: Hordes begin to form in Roon. Benethor, grown complacent behind its new defenses, fails to act. Udent of Semhoth begins training militias and is accused of starting an uprising.

1512 AB: Arahk under Ogramair start the Fourth Arahkan War. Caught off guard, the Twin Kingdoms panic. Knights of Benethor are slaughtered, Benethor is sacked, Ramisett is besieged. Udent’s militas hold the southern shores of the Harvendy from attack, defend Ridderhof and Obrinport, gradually drive disorganized hordes back. Ogramair dies due to freak accident, war ends in under eight years with comparatively minimal destruction.

1520-1575 AB: The Arcanostrum relaxes certain key prohibitions upon sorcerous practice, leading to tentative spread of sorcerous artifacts to the common people. Defenders of the Balance deployed more widely to combat misuse of sorcery. Saldor gains economic power.

1582 AB: Perwynnon, self-proclaimed Heir to the Falcon Throne, begins to consolidate power in Eretheria, becoming that nation’s first King in 1500 years.

1583 AB: Kalsaar invades Illin in bloodiest West/South conflict yet. Conrad Varner, High General of the West (and Prince of Benethor), turns the tide at the Charge of Atrisia and leads the Glorious March, ending with the Sack of Tasis. Kalsaaris surrender, but with key provisions. War lasts 3 years.

1584 AB: Banric Sahand, Mad Prince of Dellor, invades Galaspin while the Galaspin Army is fighting in Illin and Rhond. Conquers most of the Trell Valley. His invasion of Saldor is stopped at Calassa by the combined efforts of Conrad Varner’s armies and those of Perwynnon. Sahand is routed and driven back to Dellor.

1585 AB: Called “The Fall of Kings” – Perwynnon is assassinated and Prince Landar the Holy of Illin vanishes. Regions plunged into political turmoil.

1587 AB: Delkatar ascends the Seat in Saldor, becoming Keeper Polimeux II. Seriously relaxes controls on magecraft. West enjoys economic and technological boom.

1590 AB: First Spirit Engine tracks laid from Saldor to Galaspin. Network eventually expands to link Akral to Freegate and back.

1612 AB: Present Day.

 

 

 

Alandar: A Brief History of Sorcery, Part 1 (The Energies)

The Art – known as ‘magic’ or ‘sorcery’ – is of utmost importance to life in Alandar. Indeed, one cannot separate the very stuff of sorcery from the very substance of the world itself – they are one in the same, and one who has power over the former has, by default, power over the latter.

Basic Principles

dark_wizard_revis_by_capprottiSorcery, it should be noted, describes the substance more than it does the act. If something is of a sorcerous nature, that means it is behaving in a particular way or made up of a particular substance. The practice of sorcery is known as the Art, and is divided into two parts: the High Arts and the Low Arts. The term ‘magic’ is a superstitious word, applied by those who do not understand the powers that shape their own world to explain what they witness as being miraculous or unknowable. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. The most important fact about the Art (and the most violently guarded secret in history) is that anyone can master it. Anyone. So long as an individual possesses the proper discipline, work-ethic, intelligence, and wisdom, they can learn to become a wizard at the least and a full mage at the best. This is because sorcery is not some kind of moral reward or genetically transmitted power – it is simply another word for discussing the substance of the universe itself.

The Five Energies

The stuff of sorcery is understood by separating it into five different energies which, by their combination, comprise the physical and spiritual world that surrounds us. They are very broad, very complex concepts and should not be understood simplistically, nor should they be judged by moral concerns. The Ether is no more ‘evil’ than the Lumen can be, nor is the Fey more destructive than the Dweomer, per se. The world, as you should know by now, is a complicated and contradictory place. The energies are as follows:

The Lumen is the power of growth, life, and light. It has affinity with the number seven, the color white, and is commonly associated with ‘positive’ feelings and emotions, though this is a simplistic view. It is perhaps best understood as the power of connectivity and community – of how multiple parts work together to benefit a whole. This explains how it echoes with growth (the life force of our body growing by incorporating materials into itself to benefit the whole), kindness (being kind to one another enhances cooperation and benefits society), and so on. It is most strongly found in healthy soil or among plants and trees, and so has become associated with the Earth, even though it is hardly limited to that arena.

The Ether is the Lumen’s opposing force – the power of death, decay, and darkness. Its affinities are the number thirteen, the color black, and is commonly associated with ‘negative’ feelings and emotions like falsehood, deception, and cruelty. Like the Lumen, its true nature is rather more nuanced. The Ether is the power of solitude or self-interest – how individual members cease to operate in conjunction for the benefit of said individuals. In this way, it has connections with the Fey just as the Lumen has connections with the Dweomer, but it should be noted that other aspects of the Ether (lies, plots, binding) have much in common with the Dweomer, and so we must not simplify the world into a dualistic paradigm. The Ether is all about caring for the self, and hence decay and death (where things cease to operate in concert and, rather, dissociate themselves and break down into their constituent units). It is solitary, and therefore has affinity with lies and treachery and stealth – acts that benefit individuals who act outside social order. Due to its mysterious and oft-mercurial nature, the Ether has become associated with water – rivers, oceans, lakes, etc. – and is very powerful in those arenas.

The Dweomer is the power of order, stability, and reason. It has affinity with the number three, the color blue, and is considered the ‘rational’ power, though both the Ether and Lumen have their rational aspects. The Dweomer, however, is more pure – it is completely lacking in emotional content. At its most basic level, the Dweomer exists as the lack of motion – rigid, unchanging, sensible, and controlling. It is, for this reason, most easily channeled in cold environments – a lack of motion among most aspects of nature is common at lower temperatures, thanks to the increased dweomeric presence there. Though often considered a ‘good’ force when compared with its opposite, the Fey, this is easily found to be false by simply considering the behavior of tyrants and slavers – chains are dweomeric in nature more than they are anything else. The Dweomer is associated with the open sky and the wind, which seems contradictory at first blush, but must be understood in context: the sky, though in motion, is an orderly thing, as the passage of the stars and moon can attest, as can the rigid nature of the seasons. Even the winds are predictable, as sailors can attest, and often any variation is due to unusual spikes in temperature, which leads us to a discussion of the fourth energy.

The Fey is the power of chaos, madness, and complete freedom. It has affinity with the number one, the color red, and is considered to be the power of destruction, though that isn’t strictly fair. The Fey is pure emotion and chaos – absolute freedom of motion. This has the side effect of often being destructive – the Fey knocks down what the Deweomer builds – but it is worth noting that the Fey’s behavior often leads to growth and needed change (in other words, its destruction leads to the Lumen’s growth or the Ether’s decay, and often both), and in this sense is both essential and very positive. The Fey, unsurprisingly, is associated with fire – the destroyer, but also the giver of warmth and life.

The Astral is the fifth energy and requires special mention. For long ages, the existence of the Astral was unknown or misunderstood, because it does not, in and of itself, do much of anything. The Astral provides the medium through which all of the rest of the powers move and operate. The Astral is present everywhere, and is rarely more or less present in any one location (the ley lines excepted, but in those places there is more of everything, so that stands to reason). Were it not for the Astral, the world would cease to exist as the four opposing powers would cancel one another out in a colossal explosion. In practical terms, the Astral seems to be the chief governor of Time and Space and (arguably) fate and causality. Though technically colorless, gray has become its associated color and it has a demonstrated affinity with the number five. The Astral, though probably the most important energy, is the least visible and hardest to manipulate. Only the great magi of the Arcanostrum have had much luck with it and, indeed, this is probably why they are the current rulers of the sorcerous world.

The High Arts Vs the Low Arts

As already alluded to, the work of the magician (put crudely, but for the sake of clarity), is separated into practitioners of the High Arts and Low Arts. The High Arts are the great works of sorcery itself. It is the direct manipulation of the five energies through incantation, focus, and ritual. It is very powerful and very flexible and is the source of everything we commonly understand as sorcery. Indeed, it is these acts that only a ‘sorcerer’ (in the technical sense) can perform.

The Low Arts, conversely, are those arts that manipulate the five energies indirectly, through materials and mediums that shape the ley of the universe. The ley, by the by, is a generic term referring to the general disposition of sorcerous energy in an area. So, for instance, if someone were to say a place has a ‘dweomeric’ ley, it would mean there is a preponderance of dweomeric energy present and, therefore, proportionally less Fey energy. In any event, practicioners of the Low Arts include alchemists (who work together chemicals and materials to create sorcerous concoctions), thaumaturges (who distill purer sorcerous energies from the universe through careful scientific processes), warlocks (who construct items that channel sorcerous energy into machine-work), and so on. Though they may go by a variety of professional titles (witch, talismancer, etc.), the vast majority of Low Arts practitioners fall broadly into the preceeding three categories. While certainly important and powerful in their own way, there is little that the Low Arts can accomplish that the High Arts cannot do also, but more powerfully and more quickly (though at much greater risk to the sorcerer). The Low Arts, however, require somewhat less schooling and are far less risky. Accordingly, practitioners of the Low Arts are much more common in society, especially here in the West.

To Be Continued…