The Real Starfleet Captain’s Manual

Congratulations on your new command, Captain! Now, before you begin your sojourn through the cosmos, there are some things you need to know that haven’t been covered in your Starfleet manuals and likely haven’t come up prior to this time. Below is the collected wisdom of captains like yourselves, who have experienced the Final Frontier enough to know how it all works. Read carefully – this might save your life someday.

Take it from me - I became a giant bug!

Take it from me – I became a giant bug!

Directive One: Have a Safe Word

One you become captain, at some point you are going to be replaced by an impostor. Just get used to the idea – it’s gonna happen. The hyper-intelligent gas cloud, alien hologram, or curious Q or whatever will likely be very familiar with your mannerisms and will pull off a charade just convincing enough to prevent being removed from command immediately.

To prevent this kind of thing, just verbally inform your crew of a password (like “potato salad with crotons”) to be uttered to confirm your identity. Make no record of this password in any manual, message, or database. If you have an android on board, don’t tell them. This way, the only way you (or one of your senior staff) can be replaced is by those creatures that can read minds and assimilate memories. This ought to cut down on the rate of impostors by a good 65%.

Directive Two: Screw the Holodeck

I know, I know – crew morale. We’ve all been there, believe me. Take it from us, though: it just isn’t worth it. You should see the reports on this stuff. On simply ships called ‘Enterprise’ alone, there have been dozens of nearly catastrophic incidents related to the holodeck. It takes over the ship regularly, it threatens crew-member’s lives, and it can lock up senior staff for hours on end while they have to figure out the Murder on the Orient Express for the billionth time.

Just get rid of the thing and install a rec room. A pool table, some Ping-Pong, a bunch of board games, and so on. Keep a replicator around to make any and all recreational objects whatever alien needs for his/her/its version of alien foosball, but that’s it. No ship in the history of the Federation has ever been threatened by a Foosball table.

Directive Three: Every Energy Field is Super Important

If your engineer or security chief or Ops officer or whoever mentions to you that they’re getting some ‘odd energy readings’ or ‘a minor systems fluctuation’, we recommend immediately going to yellow alert. Why? Well, probably because an energy alien has just sneaked aboard your ship, or one of your crewmembers has become a robot, or you just entered an alternate timeline, or whatever. It’s always bad, but it wouldn’t be as bad if you guys didn’t spend the next three hours sitting around on your beige couches staring at the view-screen. Get ahead of that shit!

Directive Four: Always Believe Time Travelers

If you meet a future version of yourself, a future version of your ship, or a person who is clearly from the future, believe what they say. Why? Because they’re from the damned future, that’s why! If you went back in time and told some idiot in the 20th century to avoid buying a Pinto, wouldn’t you think he was an idiot for not believing you and getting his face burned off? I mean, why do you even think they’re back here, anyway? Tourism?

Directive Five: Just Play Along With Q

It isn't like you're going to argue him into *not* being a giant douchebag.

It isn’t like you’re going to argue him into *not* being a giant douchebag.

The primary reason the omnipotent Q shows up to bother us is because he thinks we’re interesting. You know why he thinks we’re interesting? Because we always struggle and fight and argue with him. If he shows up and said ‘we are going to play checkers for the fate of the Earth’s Moon’, just say “s’cool – what time?” Watch him get bored and leave. Isn’t that better than spending all that time yelling at a god? I know, right?

Directive Six: Don’t Believe Utopian Societies

They are never utopias. Not ever. They either have some kind of weird disease and are going to steal your children or they’re indentured to some giant evil computer or they don’t know that people can die and will throw your young ensigns off cliffs for fun or whatever else. Repeat after me: I am from utopia, and everywhere else sucks. Again: I am from utopia, and everywhere else sucks. Earth is where it’s at, and keep that in mind when being offered to “join in the love ritual” with some stupendous busty redhead. Don’t buy it. It never works out.

Directive Seven: When You Go On Vacation, Bring a Phaser

Seriously, you should see the logs. Pretty much every time somebody goes on leave, they get kidnapped or attacked. Every. Single. Time. Go armed, at least with one of those little dinky phasers you can slip up your sleeve. You’ll thank us later.

Well, that’s about it. Good luck out there, Captain. Oh, and if you happen to meet the Borg, make certain your crew has practiced running. Seriously, Borg drones are awfully slow.

The Unreality of Fantasy-Reality Television

This summer/fall, ABC aired a new reality TV program entitled The Quest. The idea was to make a competitive reality TV show, but have it set in a fantasy world. The show boasted high production values and a new spin on an old trope. As a fantasy enthusiast, I was intrigued and I watched a few episodes – namely the pilot, one somewhere in the middle, and the finale.

It was lame.

I'd rather be meeting Phil on the mat, these awesome costumes aside.

I’d rather be meeting Phil on the mat, these awesome costumes aside.

I was disappointed, but I suppose I wasn’t surprised. The words ‘creativity’ and ‘competitive reality TV’ are almost exclusive terms, and so The Quest was essentially the same as Big Brother, Survivor, or any number of other by-the-numbers reality shows, except with a costume design department and a special effects budget. You had twelve contestants (sorry – 12 paladins) compete in a series of medieval-themed challenges to earn immunity or prevent their own elimination (“banishment”). Around this was the trappings of a ‘plot’ – a really basic ‘bad guy conquering the world’ scenario wherein the winner (“One True Hero”) uses the sunspear to defeat him (but really doesn’t, because that whole scene was staged anyway).

There was a moment, in the pilot, where I thought the show would be really something fun to watch. It was early in the episode and the contestants had just been brought to “Everrealm” and were confined in a courtyard while the locals figured out what to do with them (i.e. the contestants were forced into each other’s company to get to know each other prior to the game really starting). One guy, really playing up the setting, said “we should escape!” I immediately imagined a show in which the show designers wanted stuff like this to happen – things that seem to be spontaneous acts that, in actuality, were envisioned by the producers and allowed to happen. I saw the paladins scaling the low walls and going off on some kind of real adventure.

But then everybody in the courtyard said “no”. They sat around, the guards got them and escorted them to a bunch of rooms, and that was it. Cue the boring for the next however-many episodes. Challenge, chatter, Challenge, elimination, confessional booth, repeat. Over and over and over.

Me, I’m sick of that nonsense. I think this concept could be something way more fun and way more interesting than what ABC gave us. To do it, though, we need to change a lot of things.

1) Everybody Knows It Isn’t Real, So Don’t Try So Hard!

One of the stupid parts of the show was watching these people pretend they were in a different world when everybody (even them) obviously knew it wasn’t real. As these people were not actors, it was not convincing. Ever LARP-ed? Think of the worst LARP with the worst role-players ever, and it was like that. We can’t make emotional connections to a contest we know is fake. We can’t be amazed by turns of events we see coming a mile off as part of the show’s structure.

What you need to do here is admit that the show isn’t real and proceed from there. The stakes need to be something concrete and plot cannot be window dressing for this to work. How to do that? Well, don’t require your participants to pretend – let them be themselves, say what they want, act how they choose. Give them something to actually care about. Me? I’d set this game up like a dungeon crawl, essentially. I’d have a big-ass maze with a series of confounding puzzles and ‘monsters’, but the treasure would be REAL. Like, actual cash. Gold bars. Fancy jewelry. The keys to a new car. Suddenly, the people don’t have to act – they WANT to slay the ‘giant’, since that means getting a bunch of gold coins worth a couple thousand dollars. They don’t want to be eliminated, since that means no more treasure. Basically, this is the same motivation that drives a lot of RPG groups.

2) Take a Cue From RPGs

Don’t have a pack of idiots who are all paladins but cannot actually affect their environment. Set up ground rules and split the contestants into ‘parties’ of four. Fighter (has a fake sword, can defeat monsters), Wizard (give him spell packs, let him affect the environment with them), Rogue (give him a cape that makes him invisible to NPCs, give him a sneak-attack ability that works when he tags somebody on the back), and Priest (give him the ability to heal and also fight). Give them high-quality foam weapons. Set the ground rules and tell the audience what they are. Let the parties loose in the dungeon. Have them race each other for treasure.

3) No Structured Elimination

Don’t eliminate somebody every episode – it’s boring. Only eliminate them when they are ‘killed’ by the obstacles. Even then, let the bad guys capture team members and force them to try and save them. In fact, you could get some pretty interesting team alliances going if several members of several parties are captured. Can the wizard and the rogue get back their fighter without borrowing the fighter from another party? What will they give them to make them help? How can they be trusted? See? Suddenly there are real stakes at play, here!

4) Interactive Environment

To do this, you need to build a playground – a big, complicated playground. Think of the whole show like an elaborate dungeon in a 3D platformer (like the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time). To get through, parties need to find tools to open doors or navigate passageways. They need to defeat monsters to claim treasure. All parties can work at cross-purposes for this – maybe some will find the key and another will find the sword that kills the troll, but neither party can succeed unless they can do both things. The finale? Well, after the inevitable casualties happen, you’ll be left with the remnants of a few parties who will all have to work together to claim the main prize–a couple hundred thousand dollars split among those who make it to the end. Assuming anyone does.

To me, that sounds like a reality show I’d watch. Then again, what do I know? I’m just a fantasy author.

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 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. This 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…

Ten Gallon Advice for the Eleven Gallon Head

Part of writing successfully is learning to be self-directed and self-motivated. A substantial portion of the rest of it is being stubborn and having an iron-clad self-esteem. Writing is a solitary endeavor, ultimately, no matter which online writers’ groups or communities you ascribe to. The act itself is performed alone – you and the blank screen, mano a mano. You spend a lot of time there, just you and that screen. You spend maybe even more time sending your stuff out into the world and having it rejected, over and over again. If you cannot rely on yourself to gird your loins and do it, over and over, in the face of universal rejection, you will never be a writer.

You expected this. What you didn't expect is somebody to grab it.

You expected this. What you didn’t expect is somebody to grab it.

But let’s suppose, for a second, you do manage to pull it off. You get acceptances. Maybe you win an award or two. You score a book deal. You have editors sending you feedback. You’ve trusted your instincts and it got you this far.

How, then, do you take advice?

It’s a rather amazing problem, actually. You find yourself wondering where the heck was all this helpful advice when you were at rock-bottom and nobody would give you the time of day. Now everybody’s a critic, and you’re not sure what to do. You’ve spent a long time not listening to the peanut gallery since it was populated by peanuts at that point. Now there’s some fancy-pants pistachio nuts giving you a review, and you gotta wonder whether you listen or whether you stick with what you know: namely yourself.

Me, I want advice, but not just any advice. The two sentences of critique tossed off by an editorial assistant as they blaze through a slushpile certainly beats the advice you’re likely to get from your aunt, but that still doesn’t mean it’s gospel. So much of this business is opinion and taste anyway (once you get past a certain point). A metaphor about opinions and assholes comes to mind.

Then again, what kind of arrogant prick doesn’t take well-meaning advice and think about it, regardless of source? So maybe you don’t read those self-help guides and how-to books on how to write, but that doesn’t make their advice magically worthless. Maybe there’s wisdom to be had there. Maybe. Do you pass your story around for critique? Sure, I guess. Listen to what they have to say. But, then again, you have to be honest with yourself: if you don’t plan on listening to what other people think, isn’t it disingenuous to ask them for help?

For me, I usually only ask for help when I am genuinely unsure. Say I’ve written a thing and I know it can be better but I’m not sure what’s wrong – that’s when I ask for readers. If I read and am certain this is the story I wanted to write, I don’t always ask people to look it over. Perhaps this is bull-headed and foolish of me, but if there’s one thing I’ve seldom lacked in my life, it is self-confidence (for good or ill). Of course, I still need help – everybody does, after all – but where to get it and from whom to accept it isn’t always clear. When you’ve spent this long walking alone, it’s hard to evaluate new companions.

Ultimately, I come back to Aristotle, who once wrote:

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

Listen to those who are trying to help you – all of them. Ask for help when you need it, but always remember that you don’t need to listen to the advice you don’t need. The trick is being able to tell that stuff from the stuff that is absolutely essential.

Return From the Edition Wars

Pictured: My friends and I. Guess who I am.

Pictured: My friends and I. Guess who I am.

Once, in the dim mists of the past century, there was a glorious world wrought by the wizard Gygax. Deep dungeons, dark evils, and boundless adventure awaited those who journeyed there. The realm flourished and grew – Castle Greyhawk was joined by a vast world. Still more worlds came into being, each orbiting each other in the prosperous Prime Material Plane – Toril, Krynn, Sigil, and others. Sailing ships powered by bright magicks plied the Phlogiston between them. Heroes propagated by the millions.

In this bygone era, I was a ruler of such worlds. I wrought such wonders that those who found them were awestruck, and I laid such miseries upon the land that my name was spoken only as a curse. Heroes flourished beneath my gaze and I, myself, journeyed oft into the worlds of others to earn my own fortune.

But all was not well. The Worlds laid out by mighty Gygax were governed by irrational structures and fundamental laws. Though we of the People were well accustomed to their Byzantine vagaries, it was decided by gods more powerful than ourselves that a new age should dawn – one where the fundamental systems of the world were more logical, more sensible. So it was. But with this change came other, less positive changes. With the dawning of this new era, the worlds themselves – the ones I had walked for many years – grew stale and old. New worlds, made to replace the old, were pale shadows of what had come before. The gods who inherited the world from Gygax withered as their followers left and pursued other dreams and other worlds. I was among them, having grown weary of the dusty worlds of Gygax and hungry for new and greater adventures.

At length, starved of worship, those ancient gods died off.

Then came the New Gods – great gatherers of many-colored magicks, and wise in the ways of managing such worlds as Gygax had created. Or so we thought. They brought in a new era, one where the old systems were wiped away and replaced with a new one, so unlike the original that it was scarcely recognizable. Though still more streamlined and efficient than the old ways, it still lacked the life and vitality that Gygax had originally intended. It was solid, workmanlike, but hardly inspiring. I, from my seclusion in the far off worlds of Master Laws and Lord Wick, did not return. 

But lo, a new age hath dawned. The 5th iteration of mighty Gygax’s legacy has arrived, and a return to those halcyon days of yore may be at hand. I have heard the silver trumpets; I have answered the call. After long ages, I have taken up my staff and my sword and come to travel this new world. I will see if it is as I remember. If so, it may be that my ancient empire will once again flourish. Let heroes beware…    

Read This Month’s Analog to Read My Latest Story!

Look for the cover that looks like this!

Look for the cover that looks like this!

Hey, everybody! I’m back! Bad news first:  I didn’t finish everything I wanted to in the summer. Good News: I have a short story out in Analog‘s November 2014 issue, available now! Check it out here! 

Presumably, at some point there will be hard copies for sale somewhere (at least I *think* so), or maybe you need to buy a subscription, but whatever. If you have a Kindle or similar e-reader (which at this point includes everybody except my mom) go and read my story “Mercy, Killer” in there! You’ll like it, I promise (oh, and being one of the top scifi markets in the business, the other stories are pretty good, too).

Stay tuned for more actual content on this blog in the coming weeks. For now, you’ll have to settle for going out into the world and reading my fiction. Life is hard sometimes.

 

New Short Fiction in Stupefying Stories 1.13

Check it out!

Check it out!

Hello! It’s just me, popping in temporarily during my blog-hiatus to update you on more publishing news from Yours Truly. At long last, my story “The Great Work of Meister VanHocht” is released in the 13th volume of Stupefying Stories. The story is some of my best work, I think, so I hope you read it. Also, for those of you fascinated in my world of Alandar (yes, both of you!), the story is set in the city of Eddon and deals with golemsmithing.

Anywho, you can read it (and all the other wonderful stories in the volume) on Kindle by going here.   

Also, for those of you looking to read more stuff by me, check out the “Where Can You Find My Stuff” tab in the sidebar to the right of this post. It has links to all my publications/honors thus far.

What it doesn’t include, of course, is the stuff yet to be released. Stay tuned for my story “Mercy, Killer” in next month’s issue of Analog, the release my novel The Oldest Trick, Part 1 early next year, and of course my short story “A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration” in The Writers of the Future Anthology, Volume 31, to be released next year.

Thanks, and now back to revising. See you all again soon, I hope!

And Miles To Go Before I Sleep…

Pictured: Me

Pictured: Me

It is August, which means the Fall approaches, which means the Fall Semester looms. My time for writing and revising grows short. The hour is later than I think, sayeth Saruman. In the next three weeks, I’ve got a small pile of meetings to attend, four classes to prepare, and most of a novel to revise. Also, my editor could shoot me an e-mail at any time between now and October in which she will give me the revision notes for an entirely different novel, which I will then need to revise by October.

Accordingly, I think it perhaps prudent that this blog goes on a little hiatus until the dust settles a bit. I will be certain to post and update you good readers on any further publishing or release news regarding my short fiction exploits, The Oldest Trick, etc, but otherwise I need to put my nose to the grindstone and get the real work done. No more pointless rambling from yours truly until I’m out of the woods.

See you, hopefully, in September. Or, perhaps, I will lose you to a summer love. Either way.

I bid you all a temporary and fair adieu. Fare thee well, wherever you fare. Peace out.

 

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.

 

 

 

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