Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On defining characteristics

Once upon a time, Aarn was a fantasy setting that was largely defined by what it was not. It was not a setting where the gods had anything to do with the afterlife. It was not a setting where a wizard's magic was amorphous and poorly understood. It was not a setting that involved those silly alignments. It was not a setting where magic failed to influence industry. It was not a setting where magic was separate from nature, or where its connection to mortals was left unexplained.

This trend was largely because, as a fan of fantasy, I designed Aarn by examining my favorite sorts of fantasy stories, then taking out or subverting what I didn't like about them. Aarn quickly ballooned into the sort of setting that I, personally, would love. But over the year and a half I have spent working on it, it's been hard to sell to people.

When you define something negatively, it becomes difficult to summarize in an attractive way. What makes it special doesn't sound so special, because you're forced to reference other works. In short, despite the content I've created, Aarn had very few defining characteristics it could call its own, that I could use to get strangers excited about the setting.

On that note, I've decided that the setting as a whole is mature enough for me to start to take more risks in its design. Sure, Aarn's demons are non-magical, science-fiction enhanced weirdos dressed up like 1940s America, and Aarn's afterlife is like few others, but the setting as a whole needs more than that to carry it.

So one of my new design goals is to take Aarn's magic and Aarn's society, then think about what sorts of unique, eye-catching and interesting technologies and cultures might develop. In some respects, trying to push the envelope with what can be done with Aarn's technology is something I should have done from the beginning, but better late than never, right?

Some of the things I've come up with are as follows:

Livestock that have been biomantically engineered to be much bigger than their Earthly counterparts. Hogs the size of cows, Chickens the size of ostriches, etc.

Cows that have been biomantically bred to brew beer, ale, spirits and wine in their udders, completely self-contained.

Trees that have been biomantically engineered to grow into the hulls for boats, ships and airships, allowing large and flexible navies to be grown, instead of built.

Necromancers and Death Channelers make excellent cooks, food preparers, and nutritionists. As those who become experienced in death channeling magic begin to naturally mummify, there is a high turnover and high demand for this field of work.

Towers built to impossible heights by, every 30 stories, creating a portal on the top of each support column that leads to the ground, somewhere out in the woods, distributing the weight of the building.

Shipping large amounts of illicit cargo by smuggling it in the pocketspaces of crowds of people crammed onto boats and airships.

Large guilds and organizations run by channelers for various industries. For instance, Earth, Metal and Water channeler bricklayers, road pavers and miners, working very efficiently, and very quickly, compared to non-magical infrastructure.

Wizard sweatshops, where low level wizards are forced to enchant random brick-a-brac all day long.

Railgate Networks: Imagine a train station, only on either end of each track is a large magitech ring instead of more track. This ring can be attuned to various other rings on various other stations in various other cities, in order to form an instant portal network between these stations. These stations are used to transport cargo primarily, though people can pay a premium. Many cities do not want to make emigration into or out of the city so cheap or easy, so ticket prices are artificially inflated. Military-Industrial railgate stations can also connect mines and lumberyards with blacksmith shops and animancer workshops, and can be transported by a strike team deep within enemy territory, where large armies can be brought in overnight. The railgate networks as a whole are a new technology, which are threatening the economic stability of shipping trade, caravan trade and airship trade, introducing an era of corporate espionage.

Large cities with intra-city gate systems, similar to the railgate network, causing a huge, sprawling “small town” area to have the economy and education level of an legitimate city because of quick access to the important public buildings.

Huge golems that patrol the streets of large cities, with massive tanks of water on their backs. Using channeling abilities, the golems use tendrils made of the water to put out fires, clean streets, clean windows and building walls, and help with the construction and repair of buildings.. These golems also act as an impromptu police and military response units.

Hovering slabs of metal that float on top of city streets, and are propelled either by force spells or propellers. Or even by kicking. (Hover scooters anyone?)

An international banking network run by magic, where anyone with a bank stamp can access their account from any affiliate bank in any nation. It is perhaps the formation of this banking system soon after the fall of the Jerol Empire that kept the world from plunging into a dark ages.

Aarn's chief military powers are known to use the corpses of giant sea turtles as the basic frames for their oceangoing siege vessels.

There are wand turrets with giant roating frames filled with many wands, allowing the turret to sling more than one spell every 3-6 seconds. Some animancers are attempting to adopt this technology for hand-held wands.

Religious ideas that are wrong -despite- proof of souls, gods, and an afterlife. Education is poor in Aarn's rural areas, and religious, faithful people are distrustful of verificationism. That and the reality (an afterlife where no gods are involved, at all, and there are only hells and no heavens) is one many religious people would choose to refuse to face. This one is perhaps too realistic for fantasy, but I do enjoy that it's in the system.

Magical Pollution, akin to light pollution in large cities. Those who live in highly industrialized, magitech cities have noticed that using aura-detection gear causes mild headaches because everything magical is so bright and tightly clustered together. Further, inanimate things that normally shouldn't have magic defenses tend to develop them if left in a highly industrialized city for too long.

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