Category Archives: Philosophical 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.

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.

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 into Athron: The Magic System (part III)

Continuing the theme of the magic system in Athron, I’d like to discuss some of the more miscellaneous spellcrafts. Specifically, I’d like to look at soulcraft, seercraft, deathcraft, and hellcraft as these, with the original four elemental spellcrafts, make up the most common spells used throughout Athron (well, woodcraft is pretty common, too, but I’m going to limit myself to just four spellcrafts today).

 

Soulcraft is primarily the art of conjuring, be it spirits or other otherworldly beings. To a certain extent it crosses over with other spellcrafts. For example, a master at spellcraft might be able to summon a demon (like in hellcraft) or a being of elemental fire (like in flamecraft) or a variety of other such entities. Its uses, except in rare cases (like when dealing with demons) are usually benign. Seercraft is another name for divination magic which, simply put, is: getting information. This can be done by casting stones, scrying through a bowl of water, or what-have-you. Like soulcraft, there is a bit of crossover with the elemental magics. Each elemental form of magic has its own limited form of augury that can be used in a pinch, but to get a thorough reading of some sort requires seercraft. Deathcraft is another name for necromancy. The field originally started as a derivative form of both soulcraft and seercraft. The first necromancers simply wanted to explore the art of obtaining information from the dead. But it soon evolved into a darker thing. Reanimating dead became the central goal of study, and from there all manner of undead were born: skeletons, ghosts, and vampires—you name it; they can all trace their origins back to deathcraft. Hellcraft is another name for demonology. It started as a derivative of soulcraft and flamecraft. The original practitioners had a bent towards evil, so, the focus was on demons and how best to harness their power. But demons are not long to be controlled; what was meant to ensnare the powers of Hell, soon came to ensnare those who sought to use it. Evil has a way of twisting back to harm its practitioner, and hellcraft is no exception. There are actually three different aspects to hellcraft for those who are foolish enough to study it: demonic conjuration, working with elemental fire, and a potpourri of other special effects including minor illusions and similar such things.

 

Well, that’s all I have to say about the magic system of Athron—at least, for now.

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.

Fantasy World Building: Game versus Novel

World Building is a concept that is common to both the role-playing game (RPG) and literature. Of particular interest is the fantasy RPG and the work of fantasy literature. RPG’s come in two varieties: computer-based (like World of Warcraft) and pen and paper (like Dungeons and Dragons). Although I have computer skills, I have never designed a computer-based RPG so I can’t really comment on that. But I do have experience designing and running my own pen and paper RPG. It is with that which I will compare writing a fantasy novel.

 

The first major difference between the two concerns the number of creatures. This occurred to me quite some time ago when I was reading the Mistborn Series by Brandon Sanderson. It’s an excellent series that I highly recommend. If you like, you can read my reviews for Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of the Ages (the first three books of the Mistborn Series). Anyway, in the series I was struck by the fact that there were only about five different types of creatures that Brandon Sanderson used. However, the more I thought about it, the more clear the reason for that became. There simply is not enough room in a novel to develop large numbers of creatures. This is because each creature requires several pages to properly introduce in a novel. Then it has to be used and applied in the plot. I would say the first time this happens, it takes about five pages or so. And a novel is only five hundred or so pages long. And each of those pages is precious and many contain other things beside creature descriptions. You have dialogue and narrative and scene descriptions. Taken together, these imply that you only have so many pages to dedicate to creature descriptions and use. Also, there is the fact that you as an author do not want to overwhelm the reader. The reader can only handle so many creatures at a time. A novel that featured fifty different types of creatures would probably do poorly because it would just confuse readers and leave them lost.

 

Contrast that to the role-playing game. In the RPG, variety is the spice of life. You need as many creatures as you can make. In any given gaming session, the party will likely only encounter a handful of different creatures, but through the course of their gaming career, they will likely have many different gaming sessions and since each session is and should be unique, they will likely encounter many more different creatures. In a way, it is like each individual session is roughly equivalent to a single novel. And it is the sheer volume of sessions that dictate that the players face dozens, if not hundreds, of different creatures. After all, how many monster manuals and monstrous compendiums does the D&D game put out? I honestly don’t know, I lost track somewhere along the way.

 

Anyway, those are my thoughts for the day.

World-Building: Inheriting Stuff From Earth

One of the first tasks in writing a fantasy novel is world-building. I’ve written several posts on the topic now, but I want to return to a point I have previously made just to emphasize it. Namely, any world you create should be understandable to the reader. That’s basically a no-brainer, and I wouldn’t expect someone to violate that premise, but it is worth discussing. Creativity is great, but there is such a thing as too much creativity.

 

J. R. R. Tolkien invented the Elvish language for his books set in Middle-Earth. Which is very cool, and very fine. But he didn’t write his books in Elvish, or even the dialogue of the books in Elvish. Sure, there were a few poems in Elvish, but he usually provided an English interpretation. He knew that writing substantial parts of a book in a language only he was conversant in was not a good idea. Hence, the modern writer should feel no shame in inheriting certain aspects of Earth for their fantasy world. Although there is a pull in one direction to make your world as unique and as different from Earth as you can, this pull is not absolute. If it were, the best fantasy books would be complete gibberish.

 

Some things that should generally be the same as they are on Earth: language—you can call your language something else like Common or Emarin, but on paper it should be written as English (or some other Earth language with a large population base); and the number system—even if your main species has twelve fingers and twelve toes, the number system they use should be base 10. Those are the only two things I can think of (today) that should essentially remain the same as they are on Earth. Everything else is up for grabs, but there should be a word of caution: a reader can only handle so much new material at a time. You must strive to strike the right balance. You can’t overwhelm the reader, else they will lose interest. That means you must keep things similar enough to Earth that you can tell a coherent story. For example, although it is cool to use the occasional unique plant or animal designed just for your world, developing an entire ecosystem is probably going too far. Most of your flora and fauna should be basically Earth-like with only a handful of exceptions. The world itself should probably be a planet or something equally easy to grasp (a hollow world, etc…). You don’t want the reader to work too hard to understand your novel.

 

All that being said, take my advice with a grain of salt. In the end, it is fantasy literature we are talking about.