Monthly Archives: July 2008

Welcome to Arnâron!

After some deliberation, I’ve signed up for the world building month, and I just decided what I will work on: I’ll revisit a project I started last year, and let slide way too much. Welcome, my friends, to the beautiful desolation of Arnâron.

Arnâron (pronounced roughly “Ah-nuh-ron” – [aʀ̥nɑˑʀon] in IPA, [aR_0nA:\Ron] in X-Sampa) is an ancient world that became arid is now slowly dying. Life on Arnâron is a constant struggle for survival as the remaining species – and people – compete for its dwindling resources.

The world is my attempt to design a modern mythical Mars – a new Barsoom, if you will. A dying Mars with canals and all the associated things is a world that I always loved more than most other settings. There are three reasons why I don’t simply use Barsoom:

First and foremost, Barsoom simply wouldn’t be my own setting.

Secondly, while most of the John Carter of Mars books are in the public domain, it seems that ERB, Inc. still claims ownership of the trademarks like “John Carter” and “Barsoom” and while I am in no position to determine to validity of such claims it makes using Barsoom impossible for anything worth-while.

The third reason is probably the biggest reason of the lot.

When I started out, I tried to make this setting work by using the real Mars as a foundation. This didn’t really work: Our Mars simply was never a truly Earth-like world, and even if I changed things around enough there was still the problem of the low gravity… in short, modern scientific findings completely ruined my suspension of disbelief. There are of course ways to work around this but they’re all obvious hacks. For example, I could have set the story in the past. But that would still leave the problem of Mars’ low gravity. It doesn’t work for me, so how could I expect others to suspend their disbelief sufficiently?

Mars, I hardly knew you
Mars, I hardly knew you

The approach I settled on is an easy one that solves all issues I have with using Mars in one fell swoop: I moved Mars to another universe, gave it more mass, changed the make-up of the solar system somewhat, and lo and behold, that problem is now fixed. No monotonous geography, no low gravity, no pesky space probes ruining the fun setting. I probably won’t get away with cool story titles ending in “… of Mars”, but I’ll survive that (and there’s a somewhat heavy-handed hack even for that problem). But there will be canals, ruined cities, vast deserts, violent cultures, beautiful princesses and most importantly, sword-fighting.

At the current stage, Arnâron consists of a collection of notes, background material, and a lot of work I did on using Mars. I won’t have to start from zero, but I would hesitate to call it a “work in progress”. As a listener of the Shakespeare & Dragons podcast, I am going to try and build this setting along Paul’s “story based approach to world building”.

So stay tuned – work begins tomorrow, on August 1st. And if you have any type of feedback, suggestions, or criticism, please, by all means, post a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Shakespeare and Dragon Episode 16

Paul Stark has released Shakespeare & Dragons, Episode 16, which wraps up “Season One” of the story-centered world building podcast. Episodes have been few and far between, mostly because Paul has taken the plunge to study art and become a full time artist / world builder. I wish you good luck Paul, with respect.

Episode 16 is actually a quite good episode to end Season One, and I hope that there will be season two soon. Download the episode and join the Shakespeare & Dragons forums to discuss the episode or world building in general.

Plot-a-Day: Hiding a Stillborn Baby

People in the real world do a lot of messed-up things. When a British woman discovered she was pregnant after an affair with a co-worker, she hid her pregnancy and eventually hid her stillborn baby in the trunk of her car, the Daily Mail reports.

Marketing executive Claire Jones, 32, found she was expecting after a fling with a man she met through work.

To explain her expanding stomach, she told her family, friends and partner of five years David Stoneman that a wheat allergy was making her put on weight.

After giving birth alone in her mother’s bathroom on December 27 last year, she wrapped the stillborn baby in a carrier bag and binbags.

She then drove to the semidetached house she shared with Mr Stoneman, 33.

Jones then acted as if nothing had happened with her partner and colleagues.

But South Wales Police were tipped off by a health worker who noticed that her pregnancy had been registered but there was no record of a birth.

There’s a ton of plot possibilities in this tragic story. It lends itself mostly to a horror type scenario; a criminal investigation close to the real events is probably not interesting enough. But once you add evil cultists, the entire thing becomes much more sinister: Maybe the woman had designs for the dead baby’s body – why else keep it in the car? And was it really stillborn in the first place? Maybe it got switched for a changeling, a demon, or even the Antichrist (see Rosemary’s Baby).

In a dark but maybe more realistic setting, the baby could have been sold to unscrupulous corporations, who use small children for medical experiments or to raise them into rough, tough, emotionless killers or cybernetically controlled slaves.

For a happier ending, the child could still be alive. This works especially well if the child is somehow important – for example, because he is the son of a king. The protagonists must race against time to find the baby before it dies.

Plot-a-Day: Black Magic Serial Killer

One of the things a lot of people seem have problems with is where and how to get ideas. Personally, I never found this to be a problem – and one of the best sources for plot ideas is still the real world. This is one reason among several why I read the news almost daily.

Here’s a very good example, posted on the BBC News Site. In Indonesia, a man was executed for the murder of over 40 women ten years ago:

An Indonesian man who murdered 42 women and girls in black magic rituals has been executed by firing squad.

Self-confessed “shaman” Ahmad Suraji, 57, told police he killed the women to improve his magical powers.

He had been sentenced to death in 1998 after police found the women’s bodies buried in a field in North Sumatra.

Suraji’s victims had come to him for supernatural help with their finances and love life.

Police said he persuaded them to be buried naked up to the neck before strangling them.

This is a pretty obvious plot idea, and it can be transplanted to pretty much any setting and genre. In a horror setting or a fantasy world, the man may actually possess magic powers, but even in a hyper-modern science fiction setting there will always be people who believe in the supernatural and there will always be con artists (and the honest insane) who take advantage of this.

The protagonists could be involved in tracking down this serial killer, or they or a friend could be persons who ask the “magician” for help. The killer might actually be using the victims to prepare a grand ritual to summon a supernatural being straight out of a Lovecraft novella. They could be explorers or tourists in the Caribbean, and stumble across a witch doctor who buries his victims in an attempt to turn them into zombies.

For extra color, change the method of killing – Instead of strangling them, he could use a ritual dagger and slowly bleed them to death. Or he could leave them, helplessly buried to their necks, when a nasty monster approaches out of the darkness and eats the victims alive.

Of course, it is just as possible in your story that the “magician” is an innocent man, himself the victim of a witch-hunt, and the players must rescue him before he is executed by the firing squad – maybe because it’s “the right thing to do”, or because they were hired (or blackmailed) to do so, or he may actually possess some vital knowledge the characters need in your campaign: A rare spell, knowledge of the whereabouts of the sunken treasure, plans to the secret underground bunker the terrorists hide their improvised nukes in… You get the idea.