Category Archives: Literary Opinion

World-building Athron: The Magic System: Some Basics

In the gaming system I used in Athron while world-building, I spent a considerable amount of time on the magic system. The nuts and bolts are formed by the spellcraft, rune lore, and alchemy skills augmented with the energy skills. But there is more. Not much more, but a few additional skills I feel are worth mentioning. Specifically, scholars in my system have access to a Scroll Lore skill, Command Item skill, and Item Lore skill.

 

Scroll Lore allows wizards to create their own scrolls. Basically, the wizard inscribes a spell from a specific spellcraft on a piece of parchment or vellum or what-have-you. Thereafter, the wizard may use the scroll in lieu of casting an actual spell. The advantage comes in the form of an energy savings. A scroll only requires the expenditure of as few as one energy point when it is used. Casting a spell with spellcraft requires far many more. The initial construction of the scroll, of course, requires the same amount of energy as casting the spell, but then the wizard may rest as many days as he likes and restore his energy levels. Such will give him more access to more spells when in the depths of a dungeon with a bevy of scrolls at hand.

 

Command Item is a skill that allows a wizard (or anyone else with the skill) to summon up and control the magical abilities of an enchanted item. If your sword bursts into flames upon command, it requires an effort of will to activate that function. There is not a guaranteed success to such an activity. No, it is based on a character’s or creature’s Command Item skill or its equivalent. Increasing the skill increases the chance of success.

 

Item Lore is a skill that allows a wizard (or anyone else with such a skill) to study a magic item that he or she has found over the course of adventuring or in the course of a novel. It requires a certain period of time to examine and study the item in question. If the character does this successfully, he or she will unlock the mysteries of the item and learn all its special abilities and powers.

 

The final skill in the system is a skill called Magical Lore. This does not translate well into a novel; it is more specifically a gaming skill. Basically, it increases the modifiers bestowed on other skills. For example, a high Magical Lore skill will increase the effectiveness of a character’s Rune Lore or Scroll Lore or what-have-you.

 

Lastly, the system allows for minor access to the spellcrafts through two additional minor skills. With these skills, the character can gain limited spell abilities. It’s difficult, but not impossible, for a warrior character to gain access to a limited form of flamecraft, or some other spellcraft. Theoretically, a warrior could have normal access to flamecraft, but it is prohibitively expensive in terms of experience and skill slots, so it is almost unheard of. These minor skills are a little easier for non-scholar classes to use than full-fledged full access major skills.

World-building Athron: The Magic System: Some Basics

The magic system of Athron, developed when world-building Athron, is based on the gaming system I was working on for a time. As a result, it is a rich system that perhaps is too complicated for world-building a novel. So be it. I will still present what I can here.

 

First, like many gaming systems, there are two different types of magic: scholarly (as in wizards and mages, etc….) and priestly (as in priests and clerics). Technically, I suppose the priest system isn’t magical; it is more prayer-based, but in terms of game mechanics they are quite similar. Anyway, I will start with the scholarly magic.

 

There are three major skills that scholars can enhance that relate directly to magic use: crafts, rune lore, and alchemy. Crafts refer to spells that are incantations consisting of a series of hand gestures and spoken words that harness magical energy. Rune lore is the study of runes: arcane symbols that are inscribed upon inanimate objects that provide magical enhancements. Alchemy is the study of potions and their making: a wizard with this skill can combine a variety of ingredients to fabricate different types of potions each with a different type of effect. Each of these major skills (crafts, rune lore, and alchemy) exists as a subset of a spell type like fire, earth, water, or wind. That is, there are flamecraft spells, fire runes, and fire-based alchemy. Similarly so for earth and the others. All three of these skills are fueled by energy. If a wizard casts a flamecraft spell, he uses so much energy. If he makes a fire-based potion or inscribes a fire rune, he uses so much energy. A wizard can increase his skill in energy to increase his potential power. A powerful wizard will have great amounts of spell energy at his disposal allowing him to produce incredible works of magic from his pick of magical skills.

 

Each of the spell skills bestows certain benefits as the skill in question increases. For example, increasing skill in a spellcraft will permit the spell-caster to learn new spells. Increasing skill in rune lore will similarly allow the spell-caster to learn new runes. And again for alchemy. Likewise, failure rates—something which rarely comes up in a novel, but may prove more important in an RPG—are decreased as the skill level increases. Going from this it is clear that a well-rounded wizard will have a formidable array of abilities to bring to bear against a problem; perhaps she has a spell to resolve an issue, or a rune she can inscribe, or maybe a potion to imbibe. Her options are many, and that makes a wizard a potent force in both the novel and the game.

World-building Athron: The Physical World: The Moons

One of the entertaining aspects of world-building is developing the physical characteristics of the setting. Usually this involves drawing a map—which is fun in its own right—and deciding about what kind of “natural wonders” might be needed in your world. For instance, in Athron there is a series of chasms on one part of the map that are inhabited by certain nasties. It is a vast, extensive network of chasms that warrant special attention. They stick out (although I have not mentioned them yet in my books—it hasn’t come up yet). Similar wonders can be found in other books like Piers Anthony’s Xanth series which had the Gap Chasm, among other things. Or the multiple moons of Krynn and, if I recall correctly, Pern.

 

In my world, I, too, have multiple moons. Two, in fact: Silgaren and Neerie. Silgaren is the larger of the two. It is white, or silver, depending upon how the light strikes it, and it is fairly similar to our own moon here on Earth both in size and general features. Neerie, though, is another story. It is a smaller moon, about half the size of the other, and is a brilliant golden in color. It also has, what appears to be, a cracked surface, not unlike the aforementioned chasms above, but larger and more extensive across a clearly visible section of its surface. It is a great topic of debate on Athron for two reasons: 1) the cracks on Neerie’s surface are an enigma. No one can figure out where they came from or what they mean. And since space travel is not in the near future, the cracks are destined to remain an enigma. 2) The color of the moon is the color of gold. Many a sage has speculated that that means the entire moon is composed of gold. In some records it is referred to as “Neerie: The Torment of the Gods.” It is believed that the gods placed a golden moon above the mortal world to torment the greedy with their thoughts of avarice in the night.

 

A final thought regarding moons. For a while, I was a bit confused by the phases of the moon. But I think I’ve got it figured out now. For a while, I was thinking that the phases of the moon might be dependent upon the size of the moon and its distance from its respective planet. But that’s not the case; it’s just dependent upon the angle between the locations of the moon, the sun, and the planet. If the angle is zero, the moon will be either full, new, or eclipsed (I think). The important thing to remember is that all moons, unless self-luminous, will follow the same phases as ours. New. Waxing. Full. Waning. New. Etc… I had to think about that (I haven’t studied astronomy in quite some time). Unless, of course, you throw in another star. In that case, I have no clue.

 

Also, the periods of the moons need not be the same. In fact, it’s probably better that they not be. I’m not sure (like I said, my astronomy is very rusty) but an identical period might (and I mean might) imply an identical orbital distance. In other words, an inevitable collision. Of course, in a world where magic is involved, that can be fixed.

World-building Athron: Timekeeping: Hours of the Day

Again, continuing the theme of time-keeping in world-building for a fantasy world, I will now turn to the hours that make up a single day. For the record, in the world of Athron I keep this aspect completely parallel to our own system. Basically, every day in Athron consists of twenty-four hours numbered in two sequences from one to twelve. There is a corresponding midnight, and a corresponding noon. So, it’s basically pretty easy to keep track of.

 

Again, since I am using the system we use in our own world, I probably should have some kind of justification for it. Unfortunately, I don’t, other than happenstance and I admit that that is a weakness in my world-building scenario. Basically, Athron is a world of roughly the same size as Earth, spinning at pretty much the same rate as Earth, and revolving around its sun at only a slightly speedier rate. In a way, the clock-system is dependent upon a natural feature: the rate of spin of the planet. However, just because the day is the same length of time, that doesn’t mean the inhabitants of this alternate world would divide the day into units of time equal to our own. Keeping with the simplicity-in-math model, it would probably make more sense to divide the Athronian day into either two ten unit periods, or even just one ten unit period. Indeed, with the precedent set by the structure of the calendar, we would probably expect the people of Athron to do precisely that. Dealing with intervals of ten units is much easier than dealing with intervals of twelve. The unfortunate reality, though, is that it would cause headaches for the reader. If we use a ten-unit system and it is now one o’clock in Athron, then we can ask: What is the equivalent time on Earth? Answer: one-twelve. It’s not too complicated in terms of math, but one shouldn’t make demands of readers involving ratio mathematics (at least, I don’t think so). Keep it as simple as possible, especially when you are juggling large numbers of things (and twenty four separate hours is a large number). So, as a result of such concerns I’m keeping Athron on a twenty-four hour per day system. Again, this isn’t something mandatory in world-building (if there is such a thing), but it is worth reflecting on and making a well-reasoned choice.

 

Oh, there is one other possibility you can use. You can “assume” the novel you are writing is a “translation” from a corresponding novel on the alternate world. In such a case, there is no need to concern yourself with distinct hours of the day, or even days of the week or months. This is because you have conveniently translated the alien time labels to our Earthly ones for easier comprehension. But, to that I say, what is the fun in that?

Restructuring My Blog

Those of you who follow me regularly may have noticed that I haven’t been posting at my regular rate lately. Normally, I post twice a week, once on Monday and once on Thursday. However, for the past month or so, I’ve only posted on Mondays and let Thursday go to the wayside. This was largely because of burnout. I just couldn’t muster the strength to post as much as I should have these last few weeks. But fear not! I am returning to the Monday and Thursday schedule. However, I’m restructuring the general schedule of the blog.

 

Previously, I was publishing whatever I felt like at whatever time I felt like. Now, I’m going to give the blog a bit more structure. A Toast to Dragons is a fantasy blog dedicated to primarily fantasy literature. With that in mind, I will post reviews, be they of books, movies, or short stories, on Mondays of every week. For Thursdays, I’m going to do a little experiment. As a fantasy writer and RPG gamer—player and GM—I’m interested in world building. Over the past few years, I have developed a gaming system and a gaming world to go with it. This is also the world where most of my stories are set. So, for the foreseeable future, I’m going to begin uploading details and specifications of the world I have developed and am developing. It will be intended to be used as an instructive example for the art of world-building. In the drop-down menu above, I’m going to collect every blog I write on the topic in a single page (or group of pages) of links for easy access.

 

The world in question is, of course, the world of Athron, home to the city of Drisdak and the vampire Lucian val Drasmyr. In terms of flora and fauna it is a world much like our own. However, there are a plethora of profound differences, not least of which is the presence of magic and formidable monsters of myth and legend. So, enter this world at your own risk with sword at your side and shield at hand. And prepare to be tested! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

 

For the record, all material on this blog is copyrighted. I don’t mind if you use it for entertainment purposes. That is, if you want to run a D&D campaign in Athron, I won’t be offended; just don’t slap a price tag on it and start selling it as your own work. In other words, commercial use of the material on this blog by third parties is strictly prohibited.

Fantasy Literature: The Scope of World-building

This is another post on world-building. I wish to explore in a little more detail what I mean by scope when it comes to fantasy literature. Basically, I want to draw the distinction between a fantasy world, a fantasy universe, and a fantasy cosmos.

 

A fantasy world is the smallest subset of the three. It’s basically a single world where action in a story takes place. Most fantasy novels use primarily one such world be it Krynn, Middle-Earth, or what-have-you. This is where the bulk of the action takes place. Battles are fought, lives are lost, and the course of history is determined within the confines of this single world. In other words, a fantasy world usually provides the setting for a piece of fantasy literature. But setting can only be understood relative to our own real world experiences. It is natural to picture a fantasy world much like Earth, just being one on which magic works (usually). Because of this, the question can be raised on how the world fits into the universe. Is it a planet, like Earth, orbiting a sun in a separate solar system? In fantasy literature this is only a minor consideration, because it is fantasy. I’ve read numerous books where there were suns, and moons, and stars surrounding the fantasy world in question. However, the structure of a fantasy universe need not parallel our own. For example, the world upon which the action takes place need not be spherical. It could be flat. Ships might sail to the ocean’s edge and fall off.  In such a case, perhaps the notion of “universe” loses its meaning. After all, if the world is flat, it just might extend to infinity and be its own self-contained universe. Regardless, it is difficult to understand how travel from one world to another world in such a universe might be possible. It seems to be the case that everything is geared to and focused on this one world, not its existence in a larger universe. Indeed, in this case, the universe as a whole is superfluous. Why, then, have a moon or stars or even a sun?

 

A similar issue concerns the cosmos. By cosmos I mean the totality of everything (by universe I just mean that which is contiguous in space) which would include planes like Heaven and Hell. So, perhaps the better term is multiverse. Anyway, one must take similar considerations when trying to place your fantasy world in a multiverse. How does it relate? What are the other planes that impact upon your world? Minimally, there is usually a paradise like Heaven, and a place of horror like Hell. The influence of these may be limited to shaping the religions of your world, or there could be more involved interactions. Perhaps demons or angels regularly visit your world and have machinations of dire import. Or perhaps they are not so awe-inspiring and are simply elves from a parallel fairyland. In any event, the choice is up to you, but structuring the relationship between world, universe, and multiverse is a critical step in world-building.

Fantasy Literature: Number of Characters and Perspectives

I’ve been reading Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire series. I finished Book II, King of Thorns, a ways back. You can read the review for Prince of Thorns here. And King of Thorns here. They are good books. I’ve enjoyed them, even though the main character is largely evil. However, while reading them I noticed a flaw or weakness about which I will write today. Basically, he’s got too many characters and only one perspective. The main character is Jorg Ancrath who is on the path to become Emperor of the Broken kingdom. The only perspective (other than diary entries) in the book is his. And that’s fine, as far as it goes. But the point I’m making, is that when you have only one point-of-view character, you should limit the number of supporting characters as well. I think he’s had over a dozen, and I, personally, can’t keep them all straight.

 

There are a few exceptionally distinctive ones, like the two leucrotta, his love interest, and his major antagonists in the book who I could follow with ease, but the rest of his Road Brothers pretty much blended together. After two books, only one or two really stuck out in my mind. The problem is, of course, that he had too many of them. One or two of them are killed off every couple chapters or so, but since there are so many of them it doesn’t have a great impact. The books are still great, but I just feel this weakness is worth expounding upon.

 

Clearly, the number of characters an author can successfully juggle is a function of the number of pages in the book. If you are writing a two hundred page novel, you’re going to have far less leeway than in a seven hundred page behemoth. That should be obvious. But I want to further point out, that the number of characters is also limited by the number of point-of-view characters you have. First of all, jumping into the head of a second character makes that character all the more real; it fleshes them out more fully by describing their thoughts and actions from their point-of-view. Jumping into a third, does likewise. Additionally, the characters each of these relates to will also be fleshed out more fully, through the actions they take with respect to the new point-of-view character and their respective relationships. For example, a secondary character might have a parent or sibling, and that relationship will help fix those characters in mind. Remaining in a single point-of-view character limits such considerations to that character alone. I would say that for one character, you’ll probably be able to swing maybe five to seven supporting characters successfully. Beyond that, the attachment the reader feels to additional characters will become more tenuous.

 

Oh, and obviously, the number of point-of-view characters is limited by the length of the book.

Old Movie Review: Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

The movie Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is based on the series of books by Cassandra Clare. They are young adult novels and, going by the movie, seem to be in the same sort of genre as the Twilight series. There is a young girl with supernatural powers, a few possible romantic love interests, and a cauldron of supernatural beings surrounding her: angels, demons, vampires, werewolves, witches, and warlocks. It’s set in modern day New York, so you have that element as well.

 

The story revolves around the young girl Clary Fray who witnesses what she believes to be a murder in a night club one night. This brings her to the attention of Jace, a half-angel butt-kicking Shadow Hunter, at around the same time she comes to the attention of the bad guys in the film. The bad guys are rogue Shadow Hunters who are fond of summoning demons and doing pretty much whatever they want. Clary’s home is attacked while she’s not there and her mother mysteriously disappears. Now it’s up to Jace and Clary to figure out who Clary is, where she came from, and why all this supernatural stuff seems to be centered on her while at the same time, locating her mother and putting an end to the forces of darkness. Like I said, it’s got vampires, werewolves, witches, warlocks, demons, and the hinted presence of angels. Lots of butt-kicking going on.

 

Strengths: the characters were well-rounded, the plot made sense—although there were a couple places where some better explanations were warranted: specifically, I’d like to understand the pentagram at the end better. What was the bit with the column of fire and how did that relate?—the special effects were good, the pacing was good most of the time—there were a few points at which it seemed to drag. And the ending seemed to drag out, in my opinion. Weaknesses: other than the ones I’ve already mentioned, nothing too glaring sticks out except … I have to take issue with the dalliance with incest. I know it’s 2014 and virtually all the old social mores have gone to pot, but are we going to go there? Really? Ick. Ever since Luke and Leia … Ick. Ick. Maybe the author will work it out in some fashion, but honestly, I wish it had never been brought up. Finally, it’s worth pointing out that this film never really gripped me. It was okay, but unexceptional. Maybe the book was better. I don’t know, as I never read it.

 

I’ll give Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (the movie) three stars out of five.

Insights to Athron: The Magic System: Spellcrafts (part II)

Today I’m going to cover part of my spell system in my world of Athron. I’ll begin with the elemental spellcrafts as those are the most common and probably the easiest to come to grips with. First, a word about spellcrafts in general. All magic is fueled by spell energy. Every spell caster has access to spell energy (in the gaming system the amount was determined by the level of skill the caster had in the appropriate spell energy). This energy can be used for three different types of tasks: 1) casting a spell, 2) inscribing a rune, or 3) making a potion. Each spellcraft has its own assets in each of these tasks. The elemental spellcrafts are flamecraft, seacraft, earthcraft, and windcraft. A character with skill in flamecraft, therefore, may be able to cast a fire-based spell, inscribe a fire-based rune, or make a fire-based potion. In the gaming system, all of these were separate skills, as was the general skill of flamecraft. At one point, I even had separate skills for every type of spell energy. For example, you had orange energy for flamecraft, blue energy for seacraft, etc … but I shortly found that that system was a bit too cumbersome for actual gaming, although I still kind of dig it.

 

Anyway, flamecraft (whether manifested as a spell or rune or potion) involves the manipulation of fire. Although it does not require a pre-existing flame source, it is stronger when one is nearby. A flame wizard with a torch or near a bonfire can be very dangerous. Seacraft is somewhat different. It, too, is more effective when there is a source of water nearby (although it is capable of pulling water right out of the air), but it is not completely inert without it. Seacraft involves the manipulation of water—it need not be salt water or any special kind of water, just water will do. Compared to the other elements, earthcraft and windcraft are almost always guaranteed to have an abundant source of their respective elements nearby. As such, the spells in the retinues of their respective wizards always assume the element to be present. Obviously, earthcraft manipulates earth in all its forms: mud, rock, mineral, and what-have-you. And windcraft permits the manipulation of air, nut just powerful gusts of wind. I have a fair-sized list of spells (I may or may not share these at a later date) for each of these spellcrafts. Likewise runes. And likewise potions. For example, I have spells like Fire Bolt, Continuous Inferno, etc … Readers of my novels may also recognize a few spells that recur with regularity: Earthen Hands, Fire Guardian, Earth Warrior, etc …  All told, the lists give me pretty good variety for the four basic elements.

Insights to Athron: The Magic System (part I)

For those of you who have read my novel, Drasmyr, or my other work set in Athron, to a certain extent, you are already familiar with the magic system I use. Those of you who have not, may still find this information handy and useful. In my world of Athron, I do not set down a precise system of rules with the rigor of, say, mathematics; although I respect other authors who do, like, say, Brandon Sanderson, who is renowned for his magic systems; I don’t provide the same level of detail on its rules. The system is detailed, to a certain extent, over the course of my writing and kind of explained as I go along. One reason for not going into a lengthy discourse on the subject is that it is supposed to be a kind of “parallel science.” As such, the intricacies and complexities are too vast for a handful of pages to delineate. Indeed, it would be too complex for any one individual to handle. I can only realistically discuss the highlights. So, with that in mind, I will discuss a few points about my system here.

 

I use an augmented elemental system. Basically, I start with the four elements of antiquity: earth, air, fire, and water. Then, I added a few crafts which didn’t fit with those. Each one is a spellcraft. At the time of this writing I have: flamecraft, earthcraft, windcraft, seacraft, seercraft (divination), soulcraft (conjuring spirits), hellcraft (demonology), and deathcraft (necromancy). Those are the main ones, all of which (except soulcraft) appear in Drasmyr. I also have floating on the back burner the following: bloodcraft, fleshcraft, bonecraft, and woodcraft. There is also a field called Derivative Magic, which is basically starting with any two spellcrafts and “mixing” them: for example, wind and earth magic make “dustcraft.” That, of course, would be a very lengthy list. That, I think, covers it; I might have a few more in my notes, but if I do, I don’t remember them as I write this. Anyway, each craft allows the spell-caster to cast spells with very specific effects. It is worth pointing out that the spell system, and in fact the entire world of Athron, were partially developed for use in a pen and paper role-playing game. The game is “in development” and as I am the only person working on it, it will likely remain “in development” for many years to come. I’m really too busy writing to work on it much.

 

I will discuss specific spellcrafts in more detail in later posts.