Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Heavenly Bodies


The World So Far: The world is flat. On one side of disc is the exhaustively explored and urbanized home of humans, where cities, countries and nations vie for too little land to support their expanding populations. On the other side of the disc is an uncharted and largely oceanic world, dotted by islands and coastlines, full of strange wonder, abundant resources and tropical beauty.

An incoming force of humans, from a number of distinctly 15th century-feeling cultures, have sailed over the edge of their world and come to colonize the world below. Some have come to seek asylum, refuge or more converts to their maligned faith. Some have been exiled over, punished for crimes committed in the world above. Still, others come over to set down stakes in a new world, to exploit the natural resources and expand their conquest.

The new world's inhabitants, however, are four powerful undersea kingdoms, full of dynastic struggle, ancient tradition and military might. With cultures far older and far more intricate than those of the human colonists, the undersea kingdoms are as unprepared for this sudden clash of cultures as the unawares humans are.

This, sadly, is really becoming more of a biweekly thing. A shame, I suppose. I need more excuses to blog.

This week we're meant to talk about the Exodus, the possibly exiled, possibly self-exiled, possibly sinister group of religious extremists who came to the Underworld, looking for a new paradise where they could practice their religion uncontested. What, thus far, do we remember about the Exodus?

Primarily, they were the second group to arrive here and they have the closest relationship to the Brethren. Back on the Overworld, the Exodus were the blokes responsible for casting the criminals and heretics who would be the Brethren in barrels over the edge of the world. Probably isn't gonna go a long way towards endearing those two groups any.

Indeed, we even know that, prior to the Exodus' arrival in the Underworld, the castaways and refugees who would later adopt the Brethren mantle weren't even organized. It was the emergence of these, their hated enemies, that made the predatory instincts arise in these dissolute and isolated hermits.

What could be so terrible about the Exodus, besides revenge, that could inspire such vitriol?

I'm not sure if they're going to end up related, but I think I'm about to embark on an astronomy tangent. I've been reading the exceedingly relevant Quintessence by David Walton (overall, a meh book, but has some fascinating pseudo-science packed in there) and it also features, coincidentally, a flat world. The way he goes about handling this flat world is especially fascinating and led me to wonder whether or not the cosmology would work in a similar way.

In Walton's alternate history earth, the world is a flat disc and the sun continues to rotate, but in an ovular orbit. This means, when the sun rises, it's enormous to anyone on the eastern side of the disc and tiny to anyone on the western side. When the sun sets, it's enormous to anyone on the western side of the disc and tiny to anyone on the eastern side. This creates this exceedingly bizarre life cycle for creatures living on the either extreme.

In thinking about this model, I think I too would wanna majorly adapt the cosmology, but in a substantially different direction than Walton's. I think, as opposed to the sun orbiting the earth, I think the sun remains stationary, rotates and possesses a dark side. When the bright side of the sun shines down on the earth, it's daytime. When the sun is waxing, it's morning and when the sun is waning, it's evening. When the dark side faces the earth, it's nighttime.

I enjoy the effect this creates – sorta combining both heavenly bodies – moon and sun – into one celestial entity.

In a setting where the world's flat, however, a stationary sun would basically require a counterpart. I imagine the Underworld probably has it's own sun, following pretty much the same, if perhaps inverse rules. When it's daytime on the Overworld, it's nighttime on the Underworld. That seems to read.

Is there a way this could map to the Exodus faith? Historically speaking, the sun and moon are enormous figures in folklore and would probably factor prominently into whatever religion the Colonist cultures bring with them.

The obvious choice, here, would be to describe a binary religion, similar to Christianity, where the sun's bright side represents good, virtue, honor, righteousness and the sun's dark side represents evil, vice, deceit, corruption. That's definitely too on the nose. One step further would be the sorta Griffindor/Slytherin angle – the bright side represents bravery, passion, anger while the dark side represents cunning, wisdom, wit. Again, maybe closer, but too surface level, not quite interesting enough.

The few choices about the Exodus that I do like are the notion of a self-exile. Similar to the Puritans, where they voluntarily fled the nation of their birth to seek religious freedom elsewhere. I also like the implication they're less than virtuous themselves. There's something about their faith that's even outwardly bizarre or outlandish, something the average Colonist may not accept. Something with maybe even a vaguely cultish vibe.

Hm. This is proving difficult to pin down. My other instincts all run towards the supernatural but, again, we're attempting to avoid magic in this setting. 

I may need to come back to the specifics of the actual religion later. Maybe attempt to paint a surface level on their culture, particularly how they interact with other powers and cultures.

The Brethren, as I said, I think despise them. The Nations, meanwhile, are probably more or less indifferent to them – I feel as though they've adopted a much more mainstream religious view than whatever the Exodus practice. For the most part, I imagine the Kingdoms ignore them too, possibly regarding their beliefs as an academic curiosity, largely depending on which Kingdom we're talking about.

Early on, I'd had the idea that the Exodus did manage to convert one group – one of the Kingdoms in particular – to their faith and, in some ways, made much more fervent converts from them than they necessarily expected. The idea of the raiding Kingdom D culture absorbing whatever religion the Exodus brings them intrigues me and seems to suggest a few things about the core tenets of that religion – something that could permit the wanton raiding and pillaging Kingdom D's culture revolves around.

Again, all these clues with very little practical solutions. I'll probably have to percolate more on the specifics of the Exodus' actual religion before I can make that many concrete decisions about culture. Damn.


Well, whatever the case may be, next installment (hopefully next Wednesday), I'll be talking about Kingdom B, the mercantile center of the undersea world.

Next Wednesday on Worldblogger: Mermerchants!

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Poetic Translation: The Art Assignment Ep. #4

The most recent episode of The Art Assignment spoke to me.

It said "Why not? You're not releasing your second novel, a short story every month and running a weekly D&D campaign, are you? Good."



Since I'm not really visual artist, I decided to take the assignment in a somewhat more literary direction – in fact, I incorporated it with my weekly Worldblogger!

"Articulate something that you know exists but you've never seen it and you very likely won't see it in your lifetime."
My idea was to take words whose meanings I didn't know  – French words, in this case – and devise new definitions for them. Once I started, I quickly realized how much context these words needed and decided to set them against the backdrop of my Worldblogger world.



But, wait – that's not all! I have a new short story out!

The Colossus in Clay: A Mountebank Mystery

A fiendish terror stalks the streets of Augusta by night, a monster stronger than a dozen men combined, a daemon unpierceable by even the sharpest sword, a horror who pursues its ghastly ends without need of food, drink or respite! While the ordinary townsfolk quail and cower, it is not they who need fear the wrath of...The Colossus In Clay!

The Colossus in Clay is a Victorian-era superhero story about the Mountebank, a masked vigilante prowling the streets of Augusta, a radically alternate history London. Written in the style of a 19th century penny dreadful, the Mountebank combines the tone and aesthetics of Sherlock Holmes with the danger and derring-do of The Shadow.

This one's a little closer to my heart than most, as it's a precursor to a future collaboration with the missus.

Only $1 on Amazon and Smashwords!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The First Kingdom


The World So Far: The world is flat. On one side of disc is the exhaustively explored and urbanized home of humans, where cities, countries and nations vie for too little land to support their expanding populations. On the other side of the disc is an uncharted and largely oceanic world, dotted by islands and coastlines, full of strange wonder, abundant resources and tropical beauty.

An incoming force of humans, from a number of distinctly 15th century-feeling cultures, have sailed over the edge of their world and come to colonize the world below. Some have come to seek asylum, refuge or more converts to their maligned faith. Some have been exiled over, punished for crimes committed in the world above. Still, others come over to set down stakes in a new world, to exploit the natural resources and expand their conquest.

The new world's inhabitants, however, are four powerful undersea kingdoms, full of dynastic struggle, ancient tradition and military might. With cultures far older and far more intricate than those of the human colonists, the undersea kingdoms are as unprepared for this sudden clash of cultures as the unawares humans are.

(Housekeeping: I missed last week. This week, let's do a double, fully flesh out the First Kingdom, and that should keep us on track. Apologies, hypothetical readers.)

A little refresher course on our People, the inhabitants of the undersea kingdoms. They're ten feet tall, live on the bottom of the ocean, can spread bioluminescent bacteria with a mere touch and have a bizarre ecology, wherein instead of reproducing, they're simply reborn at the end of their life cycle with a new consciousness.

A little refresher course on the First Kingdom (or Kingdom A). Their rough analog of is the nation of Japan; isolated, self-sustaining, traditionalist, militarist and opposed to the influx of these Colonists. To the eyes of the First Kingdom, the Overworlders are invaders, trespassing on their sovereign territory.

In order to specify how and why the People would have fractured into these diverse ethnicities and political entities, we'll need to know a good deal more about their actual racial history. In keeping with their life cycle, let's assume, at some future point, there was some massive event that all the extant People originated from. Where they came from, I'm not sure, but I even like the idea that there's a nice round number of them. Wanna say a million? Let's say a million.

So, at the beginning of their recorded time, one million People are brought into existence. Well, let's say one million eggs that will eventually hatch into the first generation of People are brought into existence. Eggs are interesting, actually, because it precludes the idea that they're immigrants or something. If the People all began as eggs at the same moment, they couldn't have been responsible for their own creation.

Really actually reminds me of like, fish or sea turtles, that lay dozens or thousands of eggs at once.

Hmm.

What about like, a patron animal? What if the People were legitimately spawned from some manner of sea creature, one they now revere as effectively their god? Would answer some religion questions and creates an interesting bond. My brain is imagining some massive leviathan, whale-meets-world-serpent creature. I like this direction.

So, a massive sea creature spawns all the People X number of generations ago. Imagine they begin as one big happy family, all hatching at once, all exploring their environment at once, all children at once. Well, maybe some eggs didn't hatch right away. You wouldn't want everyone to be the same age. if they're all one cluster of eggs they all would have hatched at precisely the same time.

That's exactly it. They're different clusters of eggs.

The four kingdoms were hatched out by different massive sea creatures, different patrons to each nation. Each kingdom reveres a different member of the same god-like species, one that lays these strange eggs that hatch into People. They even potentially all hatched at different times and their corresponding life cycles would be somewhat off-set. Maybe while everyone in the First Kingdom is a teenager, everyone in the Second is a venerable elder. That's interesting to me.

Rolling a d4 (I use dice to randomize worldbuilding details all the goddamn time), I've determined that the First Kingdom were the most recent to hatch. It makes a certain degree of sense – so isolated, maybe their clutch of eggs was hidden or presumed nonexistent by the other Kingdoms. (Side note: The Fourth Kingdom is located deep, deep within a sinkhole, I've just decided.)

How would hatching last, when presumably these other societies have already arisen, have shaped the First Kingdom into the traditionalist, warlike people they would become?

I mean, it still makes sense to me that they'd be extremely isolated anyway. If the three eastern Kingdoms more or less assumed that there was no civilization to the west, they wouldn't go exploring in that direction and both societies could more or less arise without knowledge of each other. (Natural barrier would help that – Mariana Trench, maybe? The same fucking trench the Fourth Kingdom lives at the bottom of? BOOM.)

So separated from the rest of the world, it only makes sense they'd blossom in a different direction. In this case, a more Japanese direction.

Japan classically adopted a feudal caste system and, on the surface, that seems to make sense. I want military authority to be supreme, which would seem to favor the dictatorial approach. The Japanese equivalent would a shogon, the Mongolian equivalent would be the khan.

They'd need a martial tradition, which would seem odd, unless there's an enemy for them to fight against. Isolated as they are, it would seem to suggest inner conflict more than external conflict. The classic example, the Temujin example, is that they were once fractious nobles, fighting against each other for territory, until a great and warlike leader united them. This could easily be repurposed and work for my First Kingdom. 

A powerful military, possibly the most powerful military in the Underworld, led by a strict, authoritarian shogunate who views all outside influences as corrupting and invasive. How come they haven't annihilated in the incoming Colonists by now?

The immediate suggestion seems to be that they lack the technology. Maybe they've enough technology to know of the existence of the Colonists, but actually lack any real means to engage in a "shallow war", where they'd fight a landlocked enemy? Hell, I imagine the other Kingdoms have that technology, but the strictly isolationist First Kingdom, much as they'd like to make war on the Colonists can't bring themselves to trade with the other Kingdoms to achieve that?

I actually like that. The feeling that, right below the Colonists, there's a massive military force, spying on them, unable to strike but swiftly innovating towards the right technology that could bring war upon them. Very ominous.

How's that for a catching up? There's obviously tons more to develop (like a name), but I think that's probably good for now!

Next Wednesday (I Promise) on Worldblogger: The Exodus!


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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Drumroll, Please

I neglected blogging Monday to make way for this all-points bulletin:

GALACTIC MENACE, the second book in the Bad Space Trilogy, is coming out June 1st, 2014!

Here's the cover (designed by Chris Allio of The Hydrilla fame)!


Here's a link to the new website!

Here's the new synopsis:
Their coffers are comparatively full. Their spaceship is actually in one piece for a change. Their bounties, however, remain astronomically high.

During the explosive events of the previous book, the monomaniac Captain Nemo and his crew of spacefaring swashbucklers were plucked from the ranks of criminal obscurity and into the crosshairs of the underworld's high and mighty. Gone from surviving to thriving, the wanted space pirates now hatch a plan to collect one quiet payday, cover their tracks and go to the mattresses until the heat dies down some.

All that changes with the "piracy is pointless" gaffe. Those three little words, when spoken by an official Imperium mouthpiece, threaten to flip Bad Space on its head.

Before they can entirely react, the crew of The Unconstant Lover find themselves unwittingly set back onto a collision course with galactic politics, underworld intrigue and, most surprisingly, interstellar celebrity. Where once they sought a means to slink into the shadows, they're instead thrown quite spectacularly into the limelight. 
Standing at the swirling center of all this danger and destruction is, predictably, Captain Nemo.
Stay tuned until June 1st for tons of cool content! Are you excited yet?

Friday, March 28, 2014

4 Labors

It's reasonable to assume you've seen this by now:



I first saw this, I was excited.

I could care less about half the cast, I have some choice words for Brett Ratner and, in all actuality, this movie was destined to be little more than a steaming sack of crap, equivalent to say, the 2011 Conan. That said, the sight of a muscle-clad hero wading through a Hydra-infested swamp, skinning an enormous lion, thwacking a snowbound boar with a massive club, is something the Greco-Roman geek in me has been waiting to see since this May 1997 issue of Boy's Life magazine.

With the slew of bizarre, inexplicable, weird-ass movies "based" on Greek Mythology gracing our screens lately, it's puzzling why these films are so eager to ditch the myth and construct, ostensibly, elaborate fanfics instead. It's not that I expect these films to be anywhere approaching faithful – in point of fact, that's pretty much impossible anyway, considering how all over the place those myths were to begin with – but, nine times out of ten, the actual, original myth is that much cooler and more cinematic than whatever tepid actioner bullshit their bevy of unrelated screenwriters have dredged up.

Thusly, seeing actual depictions of Heracles myths in the Rock trailer, I was actually pretty stoked! Finally, someone took the myth to heart!

Unfortunately, this ain't that movie.


Evidently, it's based on a Steven Moore graphic novel series. Which is all fine and dandy, I suppose. One assumes that the Labors presumably feature into the opening sequence or flashbacks or some shit. (Plus, the absolutely insane decision to cast The Rock as Hercules, Zeus and fucking Achilles, of all people? Flashbacks? To what?)

I was so disappointed to learn this that, in a huff, I outlined, to the very patient missus, how you'd structure a Heracles franchise actually based on the original myth, his best myth – the 12 Labors.

A few stipulations before we begin.
  • First and foremost, I'm going to deviate from the myth probably a substantial amount, but only in superficial ways. At the core of the story, this will be Heracles and his 12 Labors. All 12 Labors will be present, all the major players will be there and all I'll be doing is possibly Hollywoodifying a little of the narrative, to help sell the idea.
  • Secondly, I'm not making promises for artistic quality. I'm not attempting to craft a masterpiece here. What I'm doing, instead, is attempting to show the feasibility of the actual myth. The 12 Labors pretty much contain (or easily could contain) everything you'd need to make a successful and compelling fantasy franchise. (I have a similar theory about Conan, but that I'll save for an HBO pitch.)
With that, let's crack on.

The first is what I assume will be a franchise of three films, the Heracles Trilogy, is entitled Heracles: 4 Labors.

The film opens with our muscular hero, Heracles, visiting the Oracle of Delphi. Recognizing him as the son of Zeus, the Oracle asks what he's come to see her for. Heracles confesses that he's committed a great evil and that he needs purification. The Oracle tells him to travel to Tiryns (or Thebes, who gives a fuck?) and perform ten great Labors for its people and, specifically, for his cousin, the King. Gratefully, Heracles accepts this judgment and ventures to Tiryns.

As he's departing, we see the Oracle change shape into a beautiful, sinister looking woman – Hera.

Opening titles.

Arriving in Tiryns, Heracles finds a city in great distress. Famine, crime and corruption have all struck the city. Rumors of a war with the Amazons of Themiscrya abound in the streets. When he arrives at the King's acropolis, he's greeted by his cousin, King Eurystheus and his wife, Queen Antimache. Eurystheus, a weak and ineffectual King incapable of ruling his people effectively, is instantly jealous of Heracles and his valor. The moment he hears that he's been sent by the Oracle to perform Labors, he's secretly pleased and promises to devise suitable methods Heracles can aid the city.

Before he departs, Heracles shares a moment with Antimache, possibly even just a look of mutual attraction.

That night, Eurystheus is visited by the goddess Hera, who convinces him to send Heracles to defeat horrible monsters, into great dangers that will surely claim his life. Initially reluctant, Hera manages to ensnare the King with her charms and he complies. Heracles' first task is to slay the Nemean Lion, a blight on the hinterlands of his kingdom, near a small town called Cleonae.

Venturing to Cleonae, Heracles meets a young child, a boy named Iolaus (mythology nerds, I just BLEW your mind). Iolaus informs Heracles that the lion's been plaguing their village, so much so that, should the town's hunters fail to kill in the lion in three days, the boy himself will be sacrificed to appease it. Climbing into the hills, Heracles tracks the lion and unsuccessfully attempts to kill it with arrows, which break off on the creature's hide. Tracking the beast to its lair, he manages to strangle the creature to death with a large wooden club, which he keeps as a weapon, in addition to the lion's pelt.

When he returns to the village, the townsfolk are overjoyed, calling him a great hero. Iolaus, in particular, idolizes him and even follows the demigod back to Tiryns as his kid sidekick. (You'll fucking see, people!)

Returning to Tiryns, King Eurystheus, furious his plan didn't work, immediately sends Heracles off on another Labor – capture the Erymanthian Boar alive. Heracles commands Iolaus to stay behind, much to the boy's chagrin. (Perhaps leaving him in Antimache's care?)

Arriving at Mount Erymanthos, Heracles meets Chiron, the wise centaur teacher, and rescues him from a band of his drunken centaur relatives, though Chiron is wounded in the battle. Already a paternal bond growing between them, Chiron informs Heracles about the boar's location and gives him sage advise on how best to take the creature down. Chiron's explanation is intercut with Heracles following these instructions and taking the boar down – driving the creature through thick snow – perfectly.

As he does this, however, a distant, ethereal female shape watches from afar. Hera? We'll find out.

Returning to Tiryns with both Chiron and the live boar in tow, King Eurystheus is nearly attacked by the live beast and Heracles saves his life in front of the whole court, earning him more favor and still more affection from his wife, Queen Antimache. Heracles, ever merciful, releases the boar, who tromps back to its Mountain home. Ever more furious, King Eurystheus storms off, heading into his palace to devise new labors.

While Heracles trains with Chiron [WHO IS TOTALLY A CENTAUR AND NOT A GODDAMN SATYR YOU FUCKS], King Eurystheus schemes with Hera about the next Labor. He wishes to send him on some humiliating errand, something that won't bring Heracles renown. Hera dissuades him of this thought, implying she has a plan. She orders him to send Heracles after the Golden Hind, the fastest deer in the world. He resists and Hera uses her womanly charms to convince him. Queen Antimache walks in at an indelicate moment, is scandalized and pushed even closer to Heracles.

Send after the Golden Hind, Heracles, now coached by Chiron, departs. He chases the deer for a year, up and down the world, until it finally tires and he catches the beast. The moment he does, however, he's confronted by the shadowy figure from before, who's revealed to be the goddess Artemis, who watches over all the animals of the world and the Golden Hind is her especially favorite deer. They have a tense conversation, wherein Hercules explains that he's only performing these tasks on behalf of King Eurystheus. Artemis warns him that something else is afoot, that all is not right on Olympus and that he may be being manipulated. 

Together, they hatch a plan to free the Golden Hind from King Eurystheus' menagerie, where the animal was doomed to head. Once again, the King is infuriated by this and Hera summons an especial Labor for him this time – the Lernaean Hydra, a monster from the ancient world. Before he departs, Heracles has a scene with Queen Antimache, where he reveals what he's done – in a drunken madness, he slew his wife, Megara and his young son. With blood on his hands, he went to the Oracle of Delphi to seek retribution.

Trekking off into the swamp, he brings a sword and a sickle, thinking to cut off the creature's head and return it to the King. When this proves unsuccessful, he retreats and ponders a new strategy. Iolaus, having followed Heracles, arrives, learning the truth of the Hydra from Chiron – only fire can be used to burn the creature's stumps and prevent the heads from growing back. Working together, they nearly manage to defeat the creature before a giant crab – YUP – summoned by a fuming Hera surfaces and slays the valiant Iolaus. Now guilty of leading two young men to their deaths, Heracles leaps into the fray and slays both hydra and crab with panache.

He probably returns to Tiryns and has a denouement and all that. Maybe he just screams in the swamp while Hera cackles with delight. Kinda dark, I guess.

The point is, all of this information I got from an afternoon on Wikipedia. In total, I made very superficial changes. About four times, I had an idea of how to mold the story in a more acceptable narrative direction, only to find, in some versions of the myth, it was already like that. Trust me – not that hard, Hollywood.

Next Friday: Heracles: 8 Labors!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

More Pirates! Avast!


The World So Far: The world is flat. On one side of disc is the exhaustively explored and urbanized home of humans, where cities, countries and nations vie for too little land to support their expanding populations. On the other side of the disc is an uncharted and largely oceanic world, dotted by islands and coastlines, full of strange wonder, abundant resources and tropical beauty.

An incoming force of humans, from a number of distinctly 15th century-feeling cultures, have sailed over the edge of their world and come to colonize the world below. Some have come to seek asylum, refuge or more converts to their maligned faith. Some have been exiled over, punished for crimes committed in the world above. Still, others come over to set down stakes in a new world, to exploit the natural resources and expand their conquest.

The new world's inhabitants, however, are four powerful undersea kingdoms, full of dynastic struggle, ancient tradition and military might. With cultures far older and far more intricate than those of the human colonists, the undersea kingdoms are as unprepared for this sudden clash of cultures as the unawares humans are.

First conclusion about the Brethren that seems foregone that didn't occur to me last week: it's specifically the religion of the Exodus that executes their criminals by sending them over the edge of the world. In my brain, initially, I'd imagined that it was simply the standardized execution method for the Overworld, right, possibly favored by one or both of the Nations? On further reflection, it's much more interesting to have been a means to execute, say, blasphemers, iconoclasts or, frankly, anyone who violated whatever the Exodus holds dear.

Especially when those same people who exiled them start coming over the edge of the world on their own.

(Note: This does raise some interesting theology about the Exodus, what they believe in, how their religion has changed over the years, etc., which will get into on their spotlight.)

That out of the way, today, we're talking about the Brethren's culture. We talked history last week, time to talk culture this week.

First things first, we can probably safely assume that, during the castaway period, there was little unified culture amongst the "Brethren", who certainly hadn't adopted that name until much later.  No, what we're talking about today is the Brethren proper – the culture that arose following the emergence of both Nations to the Underworld and how, precisely, a "pirateocracy" would take shape.

It's conceivable that they'd refuse any centralized leadership, particularly since they'd have the least established infrastructure on this side of the world. I don't imagine a Pirate King or anything like that. They seem scrappier, less likely to kowtow to authority or rules or any such.

With a name like the Brethren, it makes me think they value equality above anything else. In their eyes, any man cast over the side was their brother – any outlaw, any reject or criminal – could find fellowship among the Brethren. I like that – kinda a reverse Night's Watch. Rather than being sent off to take the black, people here could conceivably run away and join the Brethren, who would accept anyone, no matter what their crime, as long as they foreswore their previous life.

(Likely wouldn't take too long for the Nations to start hanging as opposed to exiling their criminals.)

The idea of forsaking their old lives, even their identity, is kinda interesting. Could be a handy way to achieve the classic criminal nickname I love so much – when you join the Brethren, you're rebranded, your old life is abandoned. Maybe even all your earthly attachments are severed – your marriage, your children, your parents – are all forsaken. Joining the Brethren is effectively a death sentence for the person you used to be. You'd be expected to take a Brethren spouse, raise Brethren children.

I mean, if you wanted. That seems key too – they're all about freedom. There's no faster way to inequality than rules, restrictions and who they apply to. GRRM's wildlings seem a good parallel – fiercely independent, almost impossible to control, with equality and chaos being their primary virtues. Unlike the wildlings, however, I imagine they're somewhat more idealistic, even for a robber culture – once you join the Brethren, you uphold the Brethren values, the Brethren way or life or you're dealt with. Whatever that might mean to them.

A democracy, possibly the only one on the Underworld, would make historical sense. A true democracy, however, with all its logistical nightmare, is kinda more interesting than the republic we have. I could see a massive Congress or something, right, where every single Brethren is granted a vote. It could takes weeks and be a huge hassle, involving all the Brethren ships who can be bothered to attend to attend, before they can agree on anything.

(Side Point: This is sorta beside the point, but I like the idea that assiduous records are kept as to who attended and who didn't. Anyone who didn't vote or wasn't present is considered, in the rare event of a legal matter, exempt. I love taking their fierce independence to absurd extremes.)

They would seem to be very autonomous, then, sailing around in their own ships and maybe small fleets, occasionally convening in trading towns where they could sell their pirated goods. There are probably Brethren friendly ports and hidden Brethren fortresses, but I don't imagine they elect leaders to those places – they're just occupied and ruled by whomever is currently present. Brethren goods being a taboo but essential part of the Underworld economy seems interesting to me – I could see the Nations putting a moratorium on any independent citizen caught with Brethren goods, but both accepting weapons and goods sold to them by Brethren who stole them from their enemy.

Every once in a great while, I could see the Brethen summoning a great moot, or thing, or whichever term you'd like to use, where every single Brethren ship is summoned to a certain port and a massive matter is voted on. I would also imagine that every decision on a Brethren ship would be carried out democratically as well. I suppose they'd need a captain. Hm.

The classic "mutiny is acceptable if the public will turns against the captain" is probably fine. I like the idea of mutiny taking the opposite position than it does in Bad Space – it's considered the sacred duty of the crew to throw overboard any captain who becomes too tyrannical. I imagine it's a pretty common occurrence. Serving as a Brethren captain would appear to be unhappy, short experience.

(It occurs to me, I may need a role in Brethren society for the tiebreaker. That seems like a position of incredible power.)

They need some physical traits, some identifying colors and sigils. Maybe let's stick with colors for now, since those are pretty simple? Though I reserve the right to reform the shit out of this, but I think I'm gonna go with the Dead Rabbits/Vox Populi revolutionary red for the Brethren. Which, you know, seems like a pretty good pitch to hit. (Imagine pirate sails painted that way.) Maybe red is a sacrilegious color to the Exodus? That I will ponder.

Next Wednesday on Worldblogger: Power to the People!

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pirates! Yarr!


The World So Far: The world is flat. On one side of disc is the exhaustively explored and urbanized home of humans, where cities, countries and nations vie for too little land to support their expanding populations. On the other side of the disc is an uncharted and largely oceanic world, dotted by islands and coastlines, full of strange wonder, abundant resources and tropical beauty.

An incoming force of humans, from a number of distinctly 15th century-feeling cultures, have sailed over the edge of their world and come to colonize the world below. Some have come to seek asylum, refuge or more converts to their maligned faith. Some have been exiled over, punished for crimes committed in the world above. Still, others come over to set down stakes in a new world, to exploit the natural resources and expand their conquest.

The new world's inhabitants, however, are four powerful undersea kingdoms, full of dynastic struggle, ancient tradition and military might. With cultures far older and far more intricate than those of the human colonists, the undersea kingdoms are as unprepared for this sudden clash of cultures as the unawares humans are.

You know what's a cool, evocative name for a culture of pirates? The Brethren.

Obvious historical call back aside, what I like about the Brethren for Colonist Culture A (our exiled and presumed executed criminals) is that it suggests unity, unity so close it requires a familial term to properly define. Rather than these criminals being fractious and prone to in-fighting, I vastly prefer the idea that there's something about dropping off the edge of your world and onto the edge of another that would smelt rabble into a unified culture.

So, let's call them the Brethren.

Now, despite being criminals, I don't imagine the Brethren began initially as pirates. With no other ships to pirate and, in such small numbers originally, precious little contact with the People, I imagine they began merely as survivalists, attempting to eke out a meager existence in this harsh and inhospitable land they suddenly discovered themselves in, a land they likely assumed was the underworld for many, many years.

(Note: Underworld is a surprisingly fitting name. At least for the Colonists. It is, from their perspective, under their world.)

I suppose we should probably determine a few things about the manner of their "execution." While I think, after wars or other political turmoil that would generate high levels or prisoners, they were maybe pitched over in massive funeral barges, I think the majority of the prisoners that were sentenced to "dropping off" were sent over the edge in a barrel, Niagara Falls style. Sending entire ships to their destruction is expensive and more symbolic. Tossing a barrel and its intestine asshole over the edge wouldn't cost any more than a coffin would to us.

A little research into Niagara Falls suggests, of course, that most of the people sent over this way would die a horrible death. Well, on further research, more like half. Assuming the distance is much higher, let's say one third. Approximately one third of the people pitched off the edge of the world survived, most with injuries. Many of these individuals probably ended up marooned on islands, became madmen or, more likely, food for the local animal populace. Whenever a barge would go over, however, its conceivable that its surviving crew would band together, attempt to make a civilization.

This, I imagine, is how the Brethren were initially formed. An island civilization, possibly with limited ship travel capability. They most likely would have staked out territory on islands and continents in the First Sea exclusively, not daring to venture much further into this unknown hellscape. Maybe they, lacking the skills, equipment or wherewithal to obtain resources more entrenched than say, wood, hide and leather, would've constructed fortresses and strongholds from the wreckages of their ships? Whatever they could cobble together.

It's conceivable they might have encountered Kingdom A somewhat, but I imagine with all their august might, the miltaristic Kingdom A would never have considered these bizarre bipedal landwalkers as any true threat, anymore than we would if dolphins suddenly declared themselves a sovereign nation.

They existed this way, one assume, for some time – isolated, clinging to survival, barely enough food, weapons and supplies to stay afloat. A civilization of castaways.

When the other Colonists arrived, however, it became a substantially different story.

It seems to read to me that the pilgrim/zealot/missionaries (right, I called them the Exodus) would've been the next Colonist Culture over the edge, especially if they were fleeing religious persecution. I think, at the first sight of another ship on these strange seas, a ship flying a flag the Brethren would recognize, things would change substantially. As more and more people began coming over by choice, the Brethren, I imagine, react hungrily, eager for the supplies and goods these new Colonists bring with.

It doesn't take long, then, for them to make the transition to pirates; preying on the Exodus, stealing their goods, very much becoming the devils the Exodus might have expected in the underworld. For a while, I imagine they're living large on these spoils. (Note: The Exodus maybe make alliances with Kingdom D to protect themselves from the Brethren's predations.) It's not until the other two groups – Colonist Culture C and D arrive that the Brethren are faced with their true and hated enemy.

For the sake of simplicity and logistics, let's assume that the exiles, criminals and prisoners who would've been sentenced to death over the edge came from either Colonist Culture C or Colonist Culture D originally – both civilizations commanding position near the Edge. This automatically ingrains a certain predisposed hatred towards the sudden and august arrival of either Culture into the Underworld, plus offers weapons, goods and materials of much, much higher quality than even the Exodus can give them.

Maybe this, actually, is where the Brethren takes shape. They need to ally in order to defeat these tougher opponents. They begin to unite their forces, they begin to fly flags, declare captains and kings and more or less organize themselves into a scattered and floating nation of marauders and raiders, commandeering ships, cannons and converting crews to their cause. 

Motivated by revenge and a need for survival, lacking any means to replenish these supplies save by pillage and now trapped in an endless war of resources with both Cultures, their existence is tenuous but insidious, always threatening to collapse utterly under their foes impressive military might, but proving damnably hard to extinguish completely.

This seems a solid springboard (or should I say, plank) from which to start with the Brethren. Next time, let's delve a little more into culture, social structure and the like.

Next Wednesday on Worldblogger: More Pirates! Avast!

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