Tuesday, 1 January 2013

An Atlas Of Imaginary Worlds 16: Rooksmoor's Guide To Easy Creation Of A Fantasy World

Over the Christmas period to try to drive off depression, I have been seeking to lose myself in computer games.  In the first case, playing 'Blood Stone' (2010), a James Bond shooting game it back-fired.  I had been keen to play this as it is not based on any of the movies and as I have commented on before I actually like to see the story unfold.  I picked the game up cheap and starting on the lowest difficulty enjoyed the start.  I got on board a boat and shot the various guards.  It was then followed by a speedboat chase and with that my playing of the game ended.  Despite ten attempts I was unable to keep up with my quarry.  The tendency of the boat to over-steer and the need to have three fingers on the keyboard simultaneously meant that I could not progress, so got about 20 minutes of game play out of it before it was consigned to the charity shop.  I guess I am simply too old to play shooting games.

I turned to 'Game of Thrones' (2012).  Despite being only a few months old, I picked this up at a reduced price.  I can understand why because it is unlike many popular forms of games.  It is the game of the television series of the series of (currently) eight novels by George R.R. Martin, a sequence entitled 'A Song of  Ice and Fire', so far published 1991-2011, with another one currently being written.  The television series in the UK has been running on one of the Sky channels, which I am averse to watching anything on because they are controlled by Rupert Murdoch who I am hoping we will see imprisoned this year for his activities.  Having enjoyed the game, I am now, however, keen to buy the series on DVD and I guess the game has worked as an effective advertising tool in that respect.  The series has been well received and has been given a number of awards.  Though it is a fantasy series, it has 'adult' themes and most of the characters are morally ambivalent.  Many of these aspects are carried over into the game.  You switch back and forth in consecutive chapters between two characters.  There are weapons and combat and magical abilities, but you also have to make moral judgements.  There is a lot of discussion between the characters and your exploits are written out like a book.  The language is adult too, with unrestrained swearing of a modern nature.  Perhaps this is the kind of game for an elderly gamer like myself, with a lot of involvement in the plot and interesting settings without the usual recourse to dwarfs and elves.  Politics and even religion play an important part in the game.  I am at Chapter 9 and whilst I have not got everything 'right', I have not been eliminated and left with a sense of frustration.

Anyway, the game and the series are not the real focus of today's posting.  As the title suggests, rather, it is looking at the fantasy world in which the novels/series/game are set and what they got me thinking about an easy way to create a fantasy world.  Given that everyone these days seems to be writing fiction; e-books are appearing by the truckload daily and there are more creative writing courses running than any in engineering or nursing, this is a skill people might be wanting to develop.

Below is one of the many online maps showing the lands featured in Martin's stories.  The continents are Westeros, Essos and Sothoryos, not incredibly imaginative names.  There does not seem to be an inland sea, though the Jade Sea may be this.  There is a nice selection of archipelagos and some have commented that the central area resembles the region of Greece and Turkey.  The locations on the western continent sound like places in the British Isles and apparently the Wars of the Roses had an influence on Martin.  Those on the eastern continent do have a more Mediterranean feel.

Now, not in a hurry to write a fantasy epic, I did begin thinking about how I would conjure up an interesting world, comparatively easily to act as a setting.  Often I look at parts of maps and think how different they appear to when we can see an entire continent.  This is exacerbated when the map is turned so it is not aligned North-South in the way we tend to be familiar with.  One map I had looked at in this way was the one from 'The Devil's Horsemen' (1979) by James Chambers.  The book is about the Mongol conquests of the 13th century so the map is centred on Central Asia with the Caspian Sea and Lake Baikal as apparent inland seas.  The map curves as the world does, so Europe appears distorted in our eyes and is jammed in at one side.  I used the map with some locations renamed, but others retained because they are alien to Britons, as a setting for 'Dungeons and Dragons' scenarios I wrote.

Now, this principle has been used to create the lands shown below.  Particularly to British readers, the coastline might be a give away.  This is a view of the land around the Irish Sea, but with the East to the top of the map.  It gives me almost immediately an enclosed sea and some interesting large islands and reminded me a bit of the Young Kingdoms from the Elric series by Michael Moorcock which I have discussed before: http://rooksmoor.blogspot.co.uk/2007/08/atlas-of-imaginary-worlds-3-islands-and.html   

The names are the actual names of the places on the map, but each consonant has been advanced by one and each vowel also advanced by one, so, for example 'b' becomes 'c' and 'e' becomes 'i'.  Thus, we quickly get some exotic sounding names, Larne becomes Mespi; Warrenpoint becomes the Greek sounding Xessipquopv and Stranraer in the same way becomes Tvsepseis.  Douglas sounds almost Arabic with Fuahmet and Pembroke as Quincsuli has a nicely Roman ring to it.  Some do not work out so well, Facmop sounds like an Irish insult rather than the capital of Iosi, in our world Eire and its capital Dublin.  Wales and Eire work out best becoming Xemit and Iosi.  As you can guess 'mepf' means 'land'.  However, for a few minutes' work I think I have ended up with not a bad basis for a fantasy world.  One advantage is that the towns are where towns would logically be.  We even have the twin city of Mowisquum-Coslipjief (Liverpool-Birkenhead) both sides of the River Nistiz (Mersey).

For this one, I simply flipped the map around so now it faces West to the top of the page.  I have reversed the names too, so the original town names move back each consonant and each vowel.  This gives the set up a more Middle Eastern flavour.  With lots of 'q's it does not work as well.  I do not know really how you could pronounce Rsqumquaq in Rbiskumc.  However, Nalzqija and Buqcedd (Cardiff) in the land of Vukar as well as Ciofkur (Douglas) on the Erka id Lum (Isle of Man) sound great for some story.

Maybe a mix-and-match approach would work best.  One challenge when creating a fantasy world is to avoid simply transplanting say Arabic or Chinese culture into an alien world and just relabelling it.  You may have attributes from such cultures and as this exercise shows, it can be a challenge when thinking up new places to get away from names that sound like they are from Arabic, Greek, Latin or Chinese.  Anyway, I hope this posting shows how making a reasonable setting for a fantasy story need not be difficult.

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