25 May 2012

method to madness

I thought I’d write about worldbuilding today. (also, please be warned i tend to write stream-of consciousness-style, so i may veer off at strange tangents before getting to my point, assuming i even remember to get there... see I’m doing it already)
          The world of Elyden has gone through many different iterations over the years. It began life about 8-9 years ago (maybe 10, i can barely remember what i ate yesterday, let alone what worldbuilding i was doing a decade ago! wow, a decade already...) as a D&D campaign setting (for the record my favourite D&D settings are planescape and dark sun, the latter of which would go on to inspire Elyden in no small part).

            Back in the day i did a bit of DMing though my passion was always worldbuilding, id spend far more time detailing my world and writing organisations and NPCs that i would actually DMing and my group had an annoying tendency of losing interest halfway through a campaign (I’m guilty of this too, as both a player and a DM!) so most of my worldbuilding would end up wasted. I say wasted... not really, as i'd always take something from a world id write and use it in my next grand project, which almost always started with a large A3 card map, such as the one shown in a previous post.

            If i was forced to think about i think the first spark that gave life to Elyden came from an older D&D campaign setting i had written called Sola. Actually, Sola came from another smaller setting i had designed called Khamid (ancient Egyptian/Sumerian/Babylonian influenced - i actually wrote a hell of a lot for that one, but i was the only guy in my group who was into that sort of setting) which i dropped due to lack of interest, though after designing an entire nation from the ground up i was reticent of letting it go, so i just designed the world that Khamid existed in - and so was sola born, around 10 years ago (i was 18 at the time, so forgive any silliness in the setting...).

           Sola was a supercontinent and originally an ecumenopolis - think of a more classical Ravnica (from MtG) or a fantasy-version of Coruscant (from Star Wars) though i rapidly learnt that such a setting was in no way, shape or form sustainable (the only excuse that Ravnica, Sigil or Coruscant have is that none of them exist in a vacuum as my world would have so they had explained their resource problem from the get-go - i could not), but i loved the idea of a city-nation so much that i worked my way around it, coming up with the city-empire of Almagest (a name and character that would be recycled in Elyden), around which other normal nations would exist.

            I cared little for climate, tectonics, weather etc. at this point and was just enjoying fleshing out the world and its people - jungles existed where they shouldn’t, high mountains were old, and forests were downwind of mountains. Indeed, i could easily argue that the micro-management of determining rainshadows, climate-zones, Hadley cells etc. saps the fun out of this hobby, though realism is something that i at least try to acknowledge if not actually adhere to.

            I eventually ran out of steam with sola. I was unemployed at the time and was spending at least 12 hours a day writing and drawing and there's only so far you can go on full-steam. Sola died the abrupt ignominious death associated with most of my ventures, though i took from it a handful of things - the corrupt city-nation. Badlands with exotic stone-formations, corrupted wildernesses and a world that had been forsaken by its gods - which i placed in a safe place in my head and kept.

        Then around 7 years ago i began writing. There was no grand plan, no world created beforehand. I just wrote and let the story take over. I came up with a name - Melchior (that will mean absolutely nothing to anyone but me, but maybe someday it might...) and a nation - Temuja, and just worked around them ,drawing a map as i went, creating culture, and history as i needed, rarely stopping to flesh out the world unless the story itself called for it. I became fascinated by the place i was creating and the possibilities that existed beyond the page, just beyond the borders i had drawn.

            I came up with an inner sea around which ruled an industrious empire (think the roman empire at the onset of its downfall + industrial age England + technarcana and you have the idea of what i had in mind). beyond its borders were the so-called barbarians and heathen races (not truly barbarians, but not as technologically advanced as this empire). so was born the first iteration of Elyden. i began naming nations that had nothing to do with the story and drew a map (the pencil one i shared in an earlier entry and slowly i began coming up with an arching storyline of an undead god sustained by a technarcane engine - Rachanael, 7th of the Demiurges.

            Where did this god come from? why was he physical? was he alone? and so i created the Mythologia Elyden, and came up with the two-and-twenty demiurges. over the years i became fascinated by the concept of a dying world and mad gods and thought of melding the two together - the gods (demiurges in this case) were tasked with the creation of the world. they built mountains, made oceans, seeded the forests, painted the skies etc. they created the perfect world but they grew restless in the wake of their completion of that same world and they continued crafting, destroying the perfection they had created. they were punished and exiled to the world (Elyden - a conglomeration of Elysium and Eden, in irony of the broken world they inherited) where they each became father/mother to a tribe of mortals shaped in their image. they did not want that responsibility, but their lives came to depend on those mortals - their power was reliant on worship. some used tyranny to inspire fear, making people worship them. others forsook their charges, becoming solitary things, little more than mortals, yet still with the divine spark. others still accepted their punishment and became just leaders, using love to inspire worship.

            But as time marched on the mortal trines grew disparate from their demiurges parents and mingled, turning to other deities and idols. the demiurges slowly grew mad, their dreams and bitterness corrupting the world. some fell into a torpid state, the terrain around them growing increasingly maddened. the world began to die.

               That is a very brief example of thousands of words of cosmogony and creation myths, omitting far too much detail. but it gives an idea of the melancholic flavour i wanted.

               As the years went on and i created my encyclopaedia Elyden and began adding entries to it, the world evolved, it became a living place... almost too living, as though i had forgotten my concept. i had. so i went back and made what i called Elyden 3.0 (I can’t remember what 2.0 was, but that’s what the file says so i won’t argue with my past self) and came up with design points, that ill post here (these are my own notes, so might be somewhat incoherent):

Enough time has passed to move Elyden from the shallow plane of half-thought-out fantasy world into something more unique and befitting the vast history and story that I have created around it. Less yet more real than before, more fantastical, eerie, odd, and decaying.

1.        Dead and rotten deities. Elyden is a world living in the shadow of the Great Creator and the Two-and-Twenty Demiurges. Where once their presence was aegis and the womb of life and evolution, their slow decay and madness after their Great Creator’s divorce echoes across the material plane as cankers and grotesqueries; mockeries of all that is natural. Despite this, the memory of certain Demiurges brings with it pockets of normalcy where life may flourish.

2.        The struggle of those deities’ scions. Be they mortal, fantastical or abysmal, the children of the Demiurges have evolved in a world bereft of their primogenitor’s presence. Some, like humans, largely thrive in a world where they are not tethered by their Father’s dogma and beliefs, whereas others are either extinct, or clinging on to their twilight days with bitterness and despair.  

3.        Nature unravelling. With the caretakers of the natural world largely gone (and the few that remain having fallen so far into hopelessness and bitter entropy), there is little left to uphold the laws of nature and stopping it from falling into decay and aberrancy. There are those who strive to maintain and expand this world, though others seek the raw power that the chaotic realm of grotesqueries and perversions offers them. Most are ignorant to this waxing and waning of natural forces and live in blissful unawareness.

4.        Empire. Much like humans burn brightest and strongest amongst the two-and-twenty scionic races; so too does the Korachani nation’s flame cover the most land. It is the weight against which all other realms are and were measured. At its height it was a pervasive, insidious might that mirrored the corruption that spread in the wake of the Demiurge’s demise. After its death its ruined body was the great corpse that fed the scavenger-nations that remained, breeding decay and rot like never before

5.        Ether and Incarnate. The shadow and the helix, the firmament and penumbra. Whatever name the various races give them, these are the fundamental elements from which Elyden was created, shaped and maintained. With the fading of the demiurges from the world, these elements ran amok, effectively unravelling the natural world and the balanced mixture of the two, drawing out the elements into pure Aether (firmament/light/helix) and Incarnate (penumbra/shadow/dark). With their unravelling, the art of Firmamentism and Penumbrism became widespread, no longer contained to the confines of the Demiurge’s teachings and their adepts.

6.        Body horror. Much as the threads of the natural world are unravelling, so too is that corruption observed in the bodies of living (and sometimes unliving...) creatures. This corruption is pervasive, trickling slowly yet  vehemently through the waterways of Elyden, clogging the roots of cankerous tubers and other flora, where it is passed on to fauna where it lingers, exerting its malign influence of their bodies, slowly expanding with each generation, destroying bloodlines and species. Some creatures are tough enough to weather these horrors and stabilise, a new breed of life, though most are irreversibly crippled becoming unfortunate grotesques; bitter degenerates, victims of their world’s horrors. Hydrocephaly, cyclocephaly, ankylosis, ossification of the dermis and countless other maladies are relatively common.  Where this taint is absent, dismal technologists and fleshweavers fulfil the same role, destroying what remains of nature’s hard work in the name of research.

7.        Despair and corruption. The slow wretched death of Elyden, coupled with the situations thrust upon the mortal races have created a form of omnipresent despair that pervades most aspects of life. Many people live relatively peaceful happy lives and have no real need for this anguish, though in most cases this depression is founded in truth – the plebe who lives his life in oppression, the steward whose lands are forfeited to Elyden’s growing corruption, the Shaper to whom the Firmament has grown distant, leaving him naked, hesitant. The corruption of Elyden takes many forms, physical corruption being only one amongst them.       

8.        Conflict and struggle. (people struggle for resources and clean water/arable land)

9.        Metals and ores. Much in the same way that earth is a water-world, so too is Elyden a world of metals and ores. Fields of iron deposits stand against salty winds, oxidizing even as teams of slaves toil harvesting it. The propensity of metals is most-evident across the Inner Sea, where it has allowed the Korachani Empire to burgeon at a horrifying speed. This proliferation of metal is not even, nor is it restricted to certain substances. Marble, copper, obsidian, gold, granite, glass, silver... all in different volumes and regions.

10.     Bloodlines. Fireblooded, Desposyni, halfblood, scionic races

to show how much i need this design philosophy, i read a few entries that i had managed to forget about in the years of writing. however the thought of going back over the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve written in that fabled encyclopaedia (half a million at my last count) and retconning them to match this is daunting... though it must be done.

           To add to that, I’ve recently begun to think of Elyden 4.0 (or possibly 5, or even 6.0... i lose track of things). for a world that was dying i realised that my world was overpopulated, metropolises that rivalled extant NYC were far too many in number and considering the map was so large, i had never thought of communication and contact - if the world is dying, travel must be dangerous. communication must be difficulty across hundreds of miles of what is effectively radioactive wasteland. i had never thought of this.

          So now begins the process of retconning yet again - adding flavour and character to the encyclopaedia entries, show rather than tell the decay of the world.

           I suppose what I’m saying is that, much like the real world, these worlds we create are constantly evolving and changing. perhaps a symptom of the human condition? who knows? all i know is as long as I’ll be writing this world; I'll also be changing it.


  1. I really like what I'm seeing here. I especially like the idea of the demiurges. Given the number I would personally be afraid I'd bitten off more than I could chew, but it appears you know what you're doing. I craft much the same way you do: begin at random not really knowing yet what I'm doing, figure it out via D&D resources, create a few more worlds, and eventually mash the components of them together. Well done, sir.

  2. Well it's something that's evolved over close to 7-years (if not more now) so it's not as though I came up with everything at once! I tend to find ideas and inspiration in the most unlikely of places. I have this handy app called evernote, you've probably heard of, that I use on my mobile/tablet/computer to jot down notes wherever I am so I can update my more comprehensive notes when I'm able to