Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Aesthetics and Technology (Part 1)

I may have lied. I may have done some Worldblogger brainstorming away from the computer.

Well, brainstorming is a generous term. I'm gonna call it some research into the Age of Sail.

Armed with this research, I'm here to make some crucial decisions about both Aesthetics and Technology. Put simpler; what'll they wear and what'll they wield.

Aesthetics: In my youth, when designing cultures for D&D worlds, I would gleefully file the serial numbers off a historical culture, such as 18th Century England, Ancient China or colonial Spain, and insert them, with barely a revision, into my fantasy world. I've grown somewhat softer on this technique as of late, preferring to draw my own cultures as whole-cloth as I possibly can, but, obviously, some borrowing from history is inevitable.

Today, however, I'm going to attempt and refrain from out-and-out culture building and force myself, for now, to speak rather generally.

The conceit of the world, then, seems to be that one group of people (more likely several groups of people) have encroached into and attempted to colonize a territory already inhabited by another group of people (more likely several groups of people). One group, the colonizing force, would presumably be a terrestrial, seafaring people, the second group of people, the native population, would presumably be the aquatic, kingdom-building people and the territory being encroached into is a series of islands and possibly (small) continents, with plenty of ocean in between.

The most obvious historical parallel, then, would be the meeting of New World and Old World – European explorers in Central America – in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. On one hand, you have a small force of foreigners with better arms, armaments and the backing of both powerful lords and even more powerful diseases and, on the other hand, you have the mighty, pre-established empires of the region, with their own and utterly distinct culture, society and governments.

In terms of setting, my mind immediately conjures images of jungled islands, crystal blue waters, an equatorial climate. It's possible to deviate from this imagery – I can imagine an arctic or desert climate applied liberally across this premise, but I think I'm more drawn to the Caribbean vibe, despite its historical precedent. I think I'd rather make political or thematic deviations than aesthetic ones. I want readers/players to look at this world and immediately comprehend the Age of Exploration vibe.

Therefore, I think styling my incomers as Europeans and my natives as Mesoamericans is perhaps the right call. I want a sharp, cultural divide between the two cultures – beyond one being terrestrial and the other aquatic – and I think playing into a visual similarity will allow me to invert some new, surprising cultural clashes.

For my incomers, then, I'm envisioning tall ships, elaborate costumes, steel weapons. Here are a few mock-ups I pulled from Google Search about costumes from the 16th and 17th century.

These ones I like, particularly the three men's costumes. For women here, I prefer the mid-to-late century dress.

Once again, all three of the men's costumes feel appropriate. Big hats, silly shoes. I like the early and late women's costumes, but not the mid-century one as much.

I think this is where I'd start to draw the line. Spanish adventurers? Yes. Powdered wigs? No.

In looking at these costumes, I think I've made a few decisions.
  • I think the incomers are relatively recent to this part of the world. No more than a century, at the absolute most. I don't quite think they've had much time to become entrenched on this wild frontier. I don't think they're quite to levels of excess found the 1700 and 1800s in the Caribbean. They're still mapping islands, erecting forts and discovering resources.
  • Aesthetically, I think that means they're somewhat less concerned with fashion than they might be in a few hundred years. I think the Spanish Conquistador is one of my hallmarks here; the pantaloons, the armored breastplate, those axeblade helmets. Colonization of the region has only recently begun – coming to these islands is still considered a wild adventure rather than a comfortable holiday.
  • I'm also debating an egalitarian society; those massive dresses don't feel appropriate to drag along on an adventure. A female conquistador is a striking image and would add a necessary spice of variety. Will maybe reserve this judgment until I've developed the undersea kingdoms some; would want to contrast as much as possible between them.
In short, I think the incomers approximate Europeans from the 16th century; Cortez meets Shakespeare. Doublets and hose under breastplate and helmet.

This is quickly becoming a chuckier post that I wanted. I may need to break this into multiple weeks.

Next Wednesday on Worldblogger: Undersea Aesthetics!

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