Monday, December 30, 2013
I am releasing the draft version of these rules, which are pretty adaptable to whatever vaguely d20ish game system you like, right HERE. Hopefully I can get some feedback on it before the game. Anyone care to have a look?
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
The first image here is the result of that effort. While obviously incomplete I am fairly happy with it and in terms of area it is far more room than I need. A continental landmass or two and a chain of large islands, of which the latter will be the developed area, the so-called (because I haven't a proper name for them yet,)"Eastern Isles."
Of the Eastern Isles, two are by far the largest. The smaller of these is yet un-named (because its name will be Dariscene) but the larger I can now name Llethra, from our naming language of Cythric.
After the continental map I drew an expanded map of the isles, littered with notes and features. This became the basis of my digital map.
I am sticking with Campaign Cartographer because it will produce the results I want and I'm very familiar with it. And at least this time around, I have a solid design that was transferred to CC without too much fuss or grief.
This was done manually; you can scan a paper map,drop it into the background as a bitmap and trace it in by hand, but I think that's more trouble that it's worth — I don't demand that great a fidelity with my paper map.
This third image is the current map of the isles in CC3. You may notice that the islands appear a bit wider compared to the drawing; this is due to my developing a mapping system between the paper and CC3 maps that didn't quite line up with the proportions of the paper maps. This might get corrected as the map gets developed, or it might not; the coastlines on this map are more or less the final coastlines but I may tweak, in addition to adding some minor islands and lakes and things of that sort. This can be done as each district is detailed. The hexes shown are 42 miles across, by the way. They are the "Large Hexes" that I have mentioned before.
The red lines represent the general flow of mountain chains, extending southwest into the continent of Emen, and northeast to the so-called "White Isle," a forbidden place beyond the ken of man. This is in some sense the edge of the world.
The purple line is where we touch on the subject of the last several posts. I call this the D/C line — names to the west of the line will tend to be Dariscene, except for a few settlements on the northwest coast which are named in Skörkaga. Names to the east of the line tend to be Cythric in origin.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
PluralsIn most languages there is some provision for what's called grammatical number. This generally applies to nouns and pronouns but in some languages verbs and adjectives must agree with the number of the noun they are related to.
English, like most major languages, recognizes singular (nouns of the number one) and plural (more than one). Grammatically this is signified by tacking an -s onto the end of the noun or some variation thereof. So singular coin becomes plural coins, but singular loaf becomes plural loaves. Generalizing this rule, we might say that plurality is denoted by a suffix -s, except where the word ends in /f/, in which case the sound changes to /v/ and the suffix becomes -es. (English also inherits weird pluralization rules for many words from other languages, but we're ignoring that.)
Denoting number can be much more complicated than this. In Latin the plural form depends on the declension and case of the noun, and there are many possible combinations. Some languages, including Arabic, recognize a third, dual number. In still others the distinction is not between singular (one) and plural (more than one) but collective (any number) and singulative (only one.)
For Cythric we are going with a simple rule. If the noun or pronoun ends in a vowel, plurality is indicated by the suffix -ga.If it ends in any consonant other than n, the suffix is merely -a. If the singular has final n, the suffix id -da. (This does imply that if our nouns have cases indicated by inflection, that that inflection is something other than a suffix. Which is fine, and which we may or may not ever care about, and even then there would be ways around it.)
Thus singular eddra "song" becomes plural eddraga, "songs." Singular hearhm "helm" becomes plural hearhma "helms." And singular firhn "hall" becomes plural firhnda, "halls."
ArticlesGrammatical articles specify the definiteness of a noun. In English we have four articles: the definite articles /ðʌ/ and /ði/, both spelled the, and the indefinite articles /eɪ/, spelled a and /æn/, spelled an. The indefinite article indicates some example of the noun, a sword or an apple. The apple indicates some specific apple.
Articles can be differentiated by case, gender and so on; English juts happens to have a fairly simple set (but not as simple as it seems!) Welsh has a definite article but not indefinite version, while German has articles that differ by gender, number and case. Latin has no articles at all; you have to infer definiteness from context.
In Cythric I want a fairly simple system, so we'll again use Welsh as the model and just have a definite article, y for nouns beginning with consonants, and yd for nouns beginning with a vowel or with n.
Word OrderDifferent languages have different word order. For some languages, like English, word order is very important: "The man climbed the hill" makes perfect sense but "the hill climbed the man" is gibberish. This is because in English the subject of the verb precedes the verb while the object follows it. In other words, English uses SVO word order, and varying from that order requires awkward contortions like "the hill was climbed by the man."
Other languages use different word order: Latin, for example, uses a default SOV order but because the subject and object are indicated by the case those nouns are in word order is very flexible. Most Romance languages are SVO like English, while Welsh and Arabic are VSO. The great majority of human languages are SOV, SVO or VSO, but examples exist of VOS, OVS and OSV languages. And as always, this can get more complicated; German and Dutch use something called V2 word order which is kind of SVO most of the time but not really.
We're going to say that Cythric uses VSO word order. We don't really care too much at this point since the kind of phrases we're constructing won't often include verbs, but later on that may be something we need. Right now we do care about the internal structure of nominal phrases, in particular where the adjective falls. We're going to place it before the noun, like English... but outside the noun's relationship with its article, if any. So a phrase like "the black shield" would be dyw y chaurn, literally "black the shield." Which has a cool poetic rhythm to it.
GenitivesThe genitive is one of a number of noun cases. It indicates possession, composition or origination. Different languages denote cases differently. Latin, for example, has a total of seven cases, of which several partially collapsed into one another. Russian has six and like Latin indicates case by inflection. Finnish has an astonishing fifteen cases. German has four cases and (at least in the abstract) kind of an ideal case system in my opinion. The nominative is for the subject of the verb, the accusative is for the directed object, the dative is for the indirect object and the genitive represents possession or composition. Most languages have cases that overlap with these.
There are two primary ways to denote the genitive in English. One is by adding an -'s or -' to the end of the noun to which the genitive noun is related. The other is to follow the noun to which the genitive noun is being related with of, and to then place the genitive noun after that. So you have constructions like Marcus' gloves or the gloves of Marcus. In both cases Marcus is the genitive noun, related by possession to the gloves. The genitive is either Marcus' or of Marcus.
In Latin the genitive form is derived from the nominative ("naming") form by inflection. So Marcus would become Marci, and the word for gloves (caestus) could be in the nominative or in some other case. Again, this is something that can become very complicated, but we're not going to move too far afield. For Cythric we want something simple and not too alien — and Welsh provides a fine model that we can use to illustrate a different option than those described above.
We will stipulate that genitive relationships in Cythric are denoted by apposition. That is, by the placement of one word with regard to the other. In Welsh the two nouns are placed together with the possessor coming second. So our manipular example would be denoted by the equivalent the gloves Marcus. Note the inclusion of the definite article the. In Cythric it works the same way. So "the king's hall" translates to y firhn wyrhn, literally "the hall king." Note that due to the lack of an indefinite article, just firhn wyrhn would translate implicitly to "a king's hall."
CompoundingIn a sense our example phrase y firhn wyrhn is an ideal example, because it's very natural to assume that if it were the name of a place, the article might drop, leaving firhn wyrhn. From there it similarly follows that the word might be compounded into Firhnwyrhn... perhaps the name of a town that was once the seat of an old Cythric king.
Even using our very basic grammar rules and very limited lexicon we can come up with lots of possible names:
- Ylanwraga, "the Stones," might be an ancient ring of standing stones once used for druidic rituals. Now they lie deep in the wilderness and are used for sacrifices held by a nefarious cult.
- Frhalim, the high valley. A farming hamlet high in the foothills. Recently plagued by a series of hauntings, possibly orginating in nearby ancient barrows.
- Sorhmtharn, Hawk's Ford, a small but bustling town at a major river crossing.
- Eddrachaum, the Shield's Song. A ancient lay of the deeds and death of Gesge, a tribal hero of old.
- Fearmhlen, the Strong Hall. Seat of Earl Thermge.
- Gethraga, the Spear Lands. An old name for a fallen kingdom.
- Hlyndahot, the Hound of Ill Omen. A feared beast that awakes once every thirteen years to devour the blood of the innocent. Note assimilation of /t/ to /d/ following /n/.
With this, our first basic naming language is assembled and with some additions to its lexicon we'll be able to build many more names from it. But all these names are what we might call names in the Old Forms. That is, names as the ancient Cythric people of the isles would have spoken them. Not all names in the Eastern Isles have such an ancient provenance. The next time we touch on Cythric we'll have a look at how that will be reflected.
Monday, December 16, 2013
There are basically three approaches to this:
- You can create a set of random tables to build random syllables and assemble them into words. A somewhat slapdash example of this can be found in the alien language tables for Vilani, Zhodani, etc from GDW's classic Traveller line. The results of their implementation are... less than satisfactory.
- You can use an online utility or program to build your words for you. As with the previous random-ish method, youre going to end up with a lot of junky words that you'll need to sift through.
- You can make words that match your rules by hand. This works best over a long period but I caution against sitting down and writing up a hundred words in one sitting; you'll go stale fast.
Start by observing how place names are built. Place names in England are best for this because their construction is most apparent. Sometimes this is obvious, as in Beaconsfield from Beacon's Field, for example, or Whitchurch from White Church. In other cases it's less obvious, as in Ayslesbury, from Aegel's Fort. It makes perfect sense once you know a burgh is a fort and that in Anglo-Saxon (Old English) the letter g is sometimes pronounced as /y/.
Half an hour with a map and Wikipedia should give you a sense of the pattern of place names... and a good idea of the words you'll need. Here is an exhaustive list of such elements from English place names. By the way, this is the exact method used by Ed Greenwood to construct many of the names in the Forgotten Realms. It's a method that works whether you render the names in plain English or translate them into some other language, although it does presuppose both a roughly medieval western European culture and roughly Indo-European language. Names in the Japanese pattern, for example, are very differently constructed, so for something more exotic you may want to range further afield.
So words for places like river, camp, hill, bay, port, field, mountain, farm, fort, crossing, woods, meadow. And adjectives like rich, great, wide, tall, hale, and number and color words. With, say, ten or twenty from each group you should have sufficient fodder to start building names. Assign words from your word list to the meaning you've assembled.
Here's my sample starting list of thirty words:
|osyrhn||n (place)||river mouth|
|tharn||n (thing)||bird of prey|
|warhn||n (thing)||chief, headman|
This should be enough to get started with, and I made sure to include some elements that could be used in masculine or feminine personal names as well. Now we are almost ready to commence the actual world building, once we know how words can be put together.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
In talking about phonology I'm going to go full language geek and use the IPA, or International Phonetic Alphabet. At least a cursory knowledge of this is essential to any but the most superficial language builder, as is a passing understanding of phonetics itself. I recommend J. C. Catford's A Practical Introduction to Phonetics for reference on the subject; it's not a dry textbook but an instruction manual, complete with exercises, that teaches you the different sounds of language using your own yap as the classroom. Great book. For now, though, feel free to ignore all that and just pay attention to the pronunciation and orthography that I describe below, and I'll try to at least mention anything else.
Briefly, phonemes are the sounds of a language. These aren't the same as letters used to write the language; English uses a pedestrian 26- letter Latin alphabet but employs something like (depending on dialect) 35 different phonemes. So the letter a, for example, is used for three or more different sounds depending on who is speaking. The IPA, on the other hand, is an alphabet that uses a unique characters for every possible phoneme (at least nominally.) Some IPA characters are also regular letters, so when we write them we enclose them in slashes, thus: /p/ is the phoneme that we find the the beginning of the English word pill, for example. My own orthographic representations of the sounds, the way I will depict them in writing, will be denoted by in bold. So, for example, we have the sound /k/ in Proto-Cythric but for the sake of flavor we will render it as c.
There are also allophones, which are variations of a phoneme as actually used in a language. If you carefully compare the initial /k/ sounds at the beginning of the English words cool and calm, you'll find that while they can both be represented by the phoneme /k/ and the letter c, they are actually slightly different sounds, allophones of /k/. But we're not going to worry about phones or allophones at this point; instead we'll concentrate on making everything understandable to speakers of English; phonologically at least, Cythric isn't terribly different.
As previously mentioned I'd like Cythric names to sound lightly Celtic with hints of Basque and Anglo-Saxon, but we'll see how close I can come to that goal. First we will develop the Cythric language and then derive from it two daughter languages, Islander and Kethwyrn, of which the former will be subject to heavy outside influences. The first stop on this road is to decide what sounds are used in the mother tongue.
ConsonantsCythric has six stops: labial /p/ and /b/, alveolar /t/ and /d/ and velar /k/ and /g/, represented orthographically by p, b, t, d, c and g, respectively. Note that both c and g are always hard as in call and guard, never soft as in cell or gender. Although there are many deep and subtle variations in the way these sounds are pronounced in different languages, we can consider them functionally equivalent to the corresponding English sound; in some form these six phonemes are found in almost every human language.
Cythric also has a voiceless labio-dental fricative /f/ and a voiceless alveolar fricative /s/, pronounced much as they are in English and represented by f and s. However, their voiced equivalents /v/ and /z/ respectively are not used in Cythric. There is also a voiceless dental fricative /θ/, represented by th, which is the initial sound of English thing, and a voiced equivalent /ð/, indicated by dd, the voiced sound of th from English this.
Cythric employs an unvoiced palatal fricative /ʃ/ (the sh of English shift,) represented by sh. Also present are the voiceless velar fricative /x/ (the ch in German Bach) which we will represent orthographically by ch and and a voiceless glottal fricative /h/ (as in English.) Lastly there is the voiced labio-velar approximant /w/, represented by w and pronounced as in English wake; some dialects of English have an unvoiced version, in for example which; in Cythric it is always voiced.
We will also include three nasal consonants: /m/ and /n/ (m and n,) similar to their equivalents in English, and /ŋ/, the ng sound in English ring. Note that this is not the ng of English finger. We'll see later whether this particular combination will occur in the Cythric tongues, but if it does we will use the orthography ngg.
The sounds we think of as "l" and "r" sounds are called lateral and rhotic sounds, respectively, and are collectively referred to as liquids. Even in English they are kind of a mess, but getting them right will go a long way toward giving Proto-Cythric the flavor I'm looking for.
Cythric's three lateral consonants are the voiced alveolar lateral approximant /l/, which is the clear l of English and will be denoted orthographically by l; a voiced velarized alveolar lateral approximant /ɫ/ (the dark l of English) denoted by hl; and a voiceless alveolar lateral fricative /ɬ/, which is the ll of Welsh and which is denoted the same way here. Also included is a rolling /r/, not the English r but the trill of Spanish perro. This will be denoted by rh. There is also a tapped /ɾ/ which I will denote by r. The standard /ɹ/ of American English is not present in Proto-Cythric.
It may not seem like it, but that's a fairly simple system of consonants (compare it to Hindi's) with only a few sounds (/x/, /r/ and /ɬ/) not found in English.
VowelsThe vowel system of Cythric is fairly straightforward, with seven vowels.
- A near close, near front unrounded /ɪ/, the i of English pit, represented by y.
- An open central unrounded vowel /ʌ/, the u of English dust, represented by u.
- An open mid front unrounded /ɛ/, the e of English press, represented by e.
- The open back unrounded /ɑ/, the a of English father, represented by a.
- A close front unrounded vowel /i/, the ea of English neat, represented by i.
- An open mid back rounded vowel /ɔ/, the ou of Midwestern American English thought, represented by o.
In addition, there are three dipthongs:
- An /ɑʊ/, the ow of English prow and represented by au.
- The /eɪ/, the a of English phase, represented by the digraph ae or the ligature æ.
- A, /ɪə/, the ea of English near, represented by ea.
Phonological Constraints and Basic WordbuildingThat panic-inducing phrase just means the ways in which the sounds of a language can be put together to form morphemes, which are language components that make up or are themselves words. Roots and affixes are both types of morphemes, for example; the English root bake and the suffix -ed are distinct morphemes and as such carry meaning with them.
Different languages have different rules or putting morphemes together. To English speakers the word ngai seems weird and perhaps even unpronounceable. That's because in English the /ŋ/ isn't allowed initially. In other languages, though, initial /ŋ/ is perfectly normal — Ngai is a common Cantonese-derived surname.
Designing this seems like a chore especially given the advice in Rosenfelder, which involves learning the code linguists use to describe such rules. It's actually fairly simple: start with a small sampling of words, preferably words of different numbers of syllables. Half a dozen words that you feel sound characteristic of your language should be enough.
Then, divide your phonemes into categories. This can be as simple as Consonants and Vowels, but it can get more involves if you'd like. For Cythric I've used six categories:
- Stops (S): /p/, /t/, /k/, /b/, /d/ and /g/
- Fricatives and Approximants (F): /f/, /s/, /θ/, /ð/, /ʃ/, /x/, /w/ and /h/
- Rhotics (R): /r/ and /ɾ/
- Laterals (L): /l/, /ɬ/ and /ɫ/
- Nasals (N): /n/, /m/ and /ŋ/
- Vowels and dipthongs (V): /i/, /ɛ/, /ɑ/, /ɔ/, /ʌ/, /ɪ/, /ɑʊ/, /eɪ/ and /ɪə/
A second word is cethwyrn, the name of a daughter language of Cythric that is spoken by some tribal peoples of the Isles. Cethwyrn breaks down to /kɛθ/ and /wɪɾn/ and from there to SVF to FVRN. That's one more permissible syllable form. You can see that from a very small but varied sample of words you can extract a number of allowable combinations, and more can be added at will. If you like, you can even start to generalize them using the standard linguist's notation that Rosenfelder discusses, but once we have, say, six to ten such combos we've gone as far with this as we need to. For Proto-Cythric I have eleven. From here we can start generating word lists. And that's where we'll pick up next time.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
The problem is the Dariscene language. It's related to the languages on the adjoining continent, so if I want to have any development there at all, even just naming some major cities and states, I want to know those languages to a similar level. Deriving daughter languages from a parent it's that difficult, but reverse engineering thing the other way is more onerous.I
In addition, Dariscene is itself an ancestor language of the language actually spoken on the isles, the common tongue that I am currently calling "Islander." This is an ideal source for place and personal names that change less quickly than the langiage around them. I'm not sure I need a fully functional common tongue for anything, but I also don't want to wall off any options for the future. Scripts, for example, are something I would love to do at some point, and those should be properly done in the older version of the language unless its adoption is very recent.
So the course of action I would like to take is to develop language families in such a way that I can evolve a small number of ancestor languages into a variety of more recently spoken tongues. The graphic below shows this plan for the human languages: many centuries ago a language I call Proto-Emenic split into a number of branches, two of which are East Emenic and North Emenic. The former eventually evolved into the language of the so-called Dariscene peoples as well as a number of languages spoken on the nearly continent of Emen (the languages listed in italics are actually groups of languages occupying that relational position) as well as the related Valinoi and Shardan groups of languages. The North Emenic branch endures in its descendant, Skörkaga. You can see that Cythric forms a separate branch; if it's related to the tongues descended from Proto-Emeni then the kinship is deep in the remote past. Note that even aside from the groups shown there is plenty of room for more branches.
Monday, December 9, 2013
I believe that names are crucially important to establishing the suspension of disbelief in any kind of fantastic setting. They are the interface, on the front lines between the material and its users. There are a number of different ways to approach naming, including just repurposing historical names (as Howard largely did,) but I find myself too immersed in real history to be comfortable with that, and I think it less appropriate to setting design for gaming as opposed to straight fiction, where you can get by with a rather low number of suggestive names in any particular piece. The gaming setting needs a lot more names.
Fundamentally, of course, names are made from languages. The full-throated classical approach (because this is the way old Tollers did it,) is to design languages and work the names out from those. For most people, though, this is overkill unless you have a specific interest in constructing languages, or in texts that might be written in those tongues.
I do have such an interest and have in fact done substantial conlang work in the past, especially on a language called Draványa for my setting of Ytherra. This language is worked out in some detail, but I do not want to go to those lengths here. However, knowing what I know, the names of the new setting will feel false if I don't design them with linguistic considerations in mind. Too, I don't want to cut off any potential future options by making a hash of the names now and then deciding later that I want to work out additional details. Even a small handful of names picked out before the language is laid down can create enormous headaches for the language builder later, as he or she tries to figure out just how that glottal stop ended up in that city name where no such thing exists in the language spoken there. Disorganization of this kind can result in interesting revelations; it happened to Tolkien and he spent a lot of time working out detailed etymologies of words developed using earlier iterations of his languages and which didn't quite fit with his then-current understanding. Not entirely without profit but not something I want to stress over very much on this project.
Therefore we will be creating a modest number of what we call naming languages, not designed to be developed much past the point where we can use them to reliably construct names. This requires much, much less work, to the point where I can outline the basics of the process in a series of blog posts, of which you've already read much of the first.
Having worked out a skeletal history of the so-called "Eastern Isles," which I posted earlier, I have a solid idea already of the number of languages I will need: eight. This seems like a lot, but I'm trying to keep the work to a minimum; at the end I'll have a naming guide for each language that should take up well under a page but which will give me the tools to create unique yet consistent names in the setting.
I will sketch the languages out thus:
Cythric is the archaic language of the native human inhabitants of the Eastern Isles. It is not spoken as such any more, aside from a few religious invocations, but daughter languages are spoken by some tribal peoples and most of the places on the eastern half of the Big Island (east of the so-called D/C line) derive from Cythric. It is actually a family of related languages brought to the isles by several waves of humans that migrated to the isles deep in antiquity.
I intend Cythric to look and sound vaguely Celtic with elements of Old English and Basque. Keeping the idiosyncratic spellings of Welsh out of it for sanity's sake, we'll see letter combinations like ch, dd/dh and rr/rh. The letter c will always be hard, while y will always be a vowel (corresponding to the sound of i in "will".) There will be oe and ae dipthongs but I probably will not use the digraphs.
Darisceni is the blanket name for a variety of related languages spoken by Dariscene invaders. Many place names west of the D/C line are derived from Darisceni, including almost all places on the Smaller Island, where the Dariscene invaders overwhelmed the native Cythric peoples almost completely. Darisceni as such is no longer spoken on the Isles but there are related tongues spoken on the continental mainland to the west.
My plan is to give Darisceni a Romance sound — without making it sound too much like Latin. The entire language will be developed from that one word Dariscene in mind, so there will be silent letters and phonological elements resembling those in French or Italian.
Skörkaga is the language of the natives of Skörvard, north and west of the Isles. There are colonies of Skörhagen on the Big Island's craggy northwestern shore and they are frequently seen as raiders or merchants throughout the Isles, but distance prevented them from establishing a major presence like the historical Danelaw.
Skörkaga will of course be inspired by Norse with elements from German and perhaps Russian. Long vowels will be denoted by umlauts and heavy compounding will be possible.
There is a Common Tongue, as yet unnamed. It is built on Cythric with a large number of loanwords from Darisceni and elsewhere, including Elven and Skörkaga words borrowed from traders. Both place and personal names will tend to be from the predecessor languages, however.
Of the non-humans, Halflings speak the Common Tongue, as do Dwarves except in private. Dwarven will be Tolkien-inspired and therefore Semetic in structure; I intend to do very little with it. Old Elven, on the other hand, will strive to have a cold, remote and inhuman feel, that of a tongue Man was not meant to speak. Even the native Elves of the Isles no longer speak it. Fully voiced, vowel-rich and with no non-final stops, it will have a moaning, alien quality.
I'm most excited about Orcish and am thinking of eventually developing it further. While stereotypically guttural, it will have very simple nouns but complex verbs. Highly agglutinative, its development will fully embrace the Sapir-Whorf idea that culture influences language and vice versa. While phonologically influenced by the Black Speech the real inspiration for Orcish is a line by Dunsany: Orcish is not a language of things, but a language of doing and of having done.
With each language briefly sketched, what else do I need? For the naming language to be fully useful, I need to know the following:
- What sounds are available in the language? This is called the language's phonology. We don't need to a full phonetic inventory, but it needs to be at least a sketch thereof. If it isn't going to be denoted in the transliterated names it can be safely ignored here. Rosenfelder will tell you that you need a complete phonological inventory.
- How do those phonemes assemble into morphological elements like word roots and affixes? How do the language's sounds get put together to make up the pieces of words that we call morphemes?
- How do morphemes build actual words? This can occur by inflection or by other means.
- We'll also need to know a few things regarding grammar: word order, how adjectives are use and whether there is compounding or not, and other details.
Once those are determined we will have grounds upon which to proceed, which we'll do in the next post.
Before we get to that, though, I should recommend that if you are interested in designing languages for your games, do check out the Language Construction Kit, which lays out the steps of language design very simply and understandably. If it had been around when I created Draványa I would have less gray hair today. There is also a significantly expanded book version that I wholeheartedly recommend.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
I have a sketched map already, posted a few days ago to G+ and included below for those who have not seen it. And I have written a brief and very skeletal history for your perusal. It is a bit bland at this point and there are some gaping holes in it, but it gives me enough structure to hang additional work on. You'll notice in this history an abundance of placeholder names, which is the very next thing I plan to address.
In some remote era the ancient Elves, fair and terrible, came to the Eastern Isles and established a dominion there. It is believed that Men and Dwarves already dwelt among the Isles at this time, but few records remain from that day. The works of the Elf-Lords were great but today lie in ruin. In legends passed down to Men there are whispers of a great citadel somewhere among the isles, but no trace of this is known today.
After an Age the Elves dwindled in number and majesty, and their Lords departed to the east across the trackless seas. Those who remained were a diminished people both in stature and in the exchange of their immortality for mere long life. Some few of these remain on the Isles, in isolated clades dwelling deep in forested wilderness. The eldest among them harbor, it is said, the dreadful secrets of the cruel Elven deeds of long ago.
With the departure or fall of the Elf-Lords the might of the Dwarves waxed. Three great Dwarf-Kingdoms were established: the eldest and greatest at Khanuk-Khaz and the lesser realms of Azakh-Ghar and Aruk-Khai. At the same time there arose in great numbers some malignant remnant of the earlier era, the fierce and deadly race of Orcs. Between Dwarves and Orcs there was and remains great enmity. Over the span a five centuries a series of brutal conflicts were fought, called the Ironhold Wars by Men. The final Dwarven victory was decisive; the Orcs were diminished for a millennium. Yet the cost was very great; Khanuk-Khaz had been destroyed utterly and Azakh-Ghar had suffered such devastation and loss that before a single generation had passed its great gates were sealed and its remaining population dispersed. Those Dwarves who today dwell among Men mostly trace their ancestry to the once-proud clan-holds of Azakh-Ghar.
How long humans have lived in the Eastern Isles is not known, but they had dwelt in the Isles in small numbers at least since the time of the Elf-Lords. Of varying origins, some tribes had brought agriculture and husbandry with them from the Erenian mainland. Over time they assimilated into a something resembling a single ethnotype, and this “indigenous” race is now called the Cythric people.
At Aruk-Khai the Dwarves retreated into near-total isolation. With the Orcs crushed, humans, having learned writing and magic from Elven remnants and metallurgy and stoneworking from the Dwarves, rose to prominence on the Isles for the first time.
For some centuries a patchwork array of petty kingdoms and isolated strongholds lay scattered across the Isles. This era ended with the nominal union of the Isles under the rule of the first of the High Kings, seven in number.
In the age of the third High King (about 600 years ago) the King's Peace was disrupted by the first of several waves of Dariscene invaders from the mainland. The population of the Smaller Isle was quickly swamped by the newcomers but Big Island was far more formidable, with humans under the High Kings resisting the invaders as well as goblins and even Dwarves in a few isolated cases. By the age of the fifth King the invasions slowed and an unsteady peace emerged, with a number of Dariscene petty "kings" ruling alongside the High King and nominally swearing fealty to him.
Under the sixth (Mad) King the Orcs began to re-emerge as a significant power and threat under a great war-leader called the Al’Hakh. Too, beneath the King’s despotic rule unrest began to simmer, culminating in civil war. After a year of brutal strife the Mad King was killed by his own knights. The seventh (Doomed) King took the throne and began a concerted effort to drive back the Orc hordes, only to face a new wave of Dariscene invaders from Eren. Pushed to the brink of utter ruin, an agreement, the Great Pact, was forged between the High King, the Dariscene Kings and the Temples of Korbrak and Velkyra (the Dariscene and Cythric war gods, respectively) to fight against the great tide of Orcs.
At the end of a long and destructive but inconclusive campaign a great battle was fought at a place called the Stones of Corialen. Of this battle many tales are told, and not all can be true. But what is known is that at the end the Orcish Al'hakh lie dead amid tens of thousands upon the field and the King was not seen again by the eyes of men.
A century of ruin and struggle preceded the rise of new Kings, of a people among whom the distinction between Cythric and Dariscene had largely been erased, at least on Ketemar.
Saturday, November 2, 2013
There are three parts to the rules, of roughly equal size. The draft of Part I, Characters, is complete. This has the rules for character creation, the races and classes, the rules for how to buy skills and the descriptions thereof, and how to use some features of the character, like Drives (which are AAUO's narrative-focusing tool.)
Part II, Systems is what I am working on now: rules for actions, combat, injury, healing, character advancement and a few miscellaneous things. It is the bulk of the "game system," and while it is already designed in outline in the form of some notes that would be indecipherable to anyone else, there are many fine details that come out in the writing. In a couple of cases this has meant going back to make slight changes or additions to Part I.
Part III is essentially an appendix in two parts: firstly equipment lists, summarized charts and that kind of bulky thing that's better put in the back of the book. The rest of it is stuff that's needed for the game to be complete but which will eventually get broken out into separate books: the Sorcery system and a brief bestiary/enemies list.
I'm also planning an introductory section which will run to a page or four, and a designer's notes section for the end that will include an Appendix N, for example. I have no intention of even starting any of that until some future draft.
Part I runs about 9,000 words, so I am guessing that the whole draft will run to about 30,000. That's not a goal, just a vague guess as to where the total is going to land. Part II looks like it may be half again as large as Part I in terms of word count. And in any event future drafts, with for example less skeletal text descriptions of classes, will be longer.
Today I got about 700 words done, mostly in the combat section, plus the armor chart. I hope to get some more work in before the day is out.
Friday, November 1, 2013
It's also November 1st... which means that it's National Novel Writing Month, abbreviated NaNoMcWahWah or something like that. I will not be participating, since a) AAUO is not a novel and b) it's already a third done in draft. Nevertheless, I have it in mind to set a like goal, which is to draft the other two-thirds of AAUO by month's end with an eye toward commencing proper playtesting some time in December or January. Totally doable, and with less word count than a novel; 1,000-1,500 words a day will get me there my month's end very easily.
My new draft files (I've changed from MS Office to LibreOffice) are set up and I'm ready to start adding words to them. Time starts now!
Friday, October 25, 2013
Cut to many years later. In the early 90s I had just left college for the first time and was looking for a campaign. There was an ad for a Rolemaster game on the board at a local hobby shop in Lakewood, Ohio. At that point I has owned the books for Rolemaster for some time but hadn't yet played, so I made the call and set up a meeting with Dave, the GM, to talk it over. Rolemaster I didn't need to be sold on... but Dave began to show me some really amazing-looking setting material for Hârn, that campaign world that I remembered from all those years before, but had more or less ignored at the time. He kept most of the written material close to the vest, of course. But he showed me the full-color heraldry, the calendar of religious holidays, the writeups of the deities and the glorious, glorious maps.
The full-color "regional" Hârn are done in a cartographic style by the setting's creator, the late N. Robin Crossby. Both beautiful and absolutely packed with information, they are the gold standard for RPG maps, and have in my judgement never been equaled for their combination of utility and aesthetic appeal. The local and kingdom-level maps are almost as stunning and just as useful, and the written background material is both rich and engaging, at least if you like Hârn's very medieval and somewhat low-fantasy approach.
It wasn't long before I started to collect Hârn stuff of my own. Some of that product had become quite hard to find by the mid 90s. Inevitably, I wanted to run campaigns set there myself... but it would be quite a while for that to really come to fruition. The product line evolved interestingly after that original core set; over the course of a number of Kingdom Modules covering the human and nonhuman nations of Hârn in immense detail, as well as a series of Encyclopedia Hârnica volumes that expanded on various other topics, the island of Hârn became increasingly thoroughly filled-in. At this point, although Hârn proper has seen relatively little development in recent years (but see below) almost every site or topic of interest on the island has a multi-page article about it. It's a perfect example, according to the tastes of some, of too much setting material filling in every imaginable gap until the GM has little room to maneuver.
I say that's misleading. Obviously, some GMs, happy to riff off of published material, thrive in settings that are very detailed out of the box. Also, in order for this to be true you have find all the material, which in the case of Hârn could be fairly difficult to do. And you have to make the decision to care about all that supplemental stuff. I say that the HarnWorld core set has everything you need for a splendid and very loose sandbox campaign, including Hârn-specific encounter tables, travel and weather rules. If the relatively low implied amount of magic isn't enough for your tastes, you can always add more. If you do need or want more material, It's out there in spades. And the Hârn setting materials are system-free; you can use them with any rules set you like, although there is a set of dedicated HârnMaster rules that does some interesting things.
Aside, then, from my admiration of Hârn as a setting, I think it along with the HârnMaster have some very interesting general design principles built in. From the setting side there is the idea of a "framework" setting that provides rich high-level detail but maximum creative freedom for the group and GM, done elsewhere but, I think, never so well as here. The integration of travel and weather rules adds a great deal to those wanting to run an exploration-driven sandbox. And of course many details of the setting itself, including the abundant wilderness through which stretches long and perilous trade routes, the rationale for a near-infinite array of weird monsters, the precursor race which left an array of ruins and magical (or perhaps technological) artifacts laying about, and the interplanar gates found here and there, allowing for a number of interesting things to happen.
From the HârnMaster rules, there is a very interesting and elegant cosmology underlying an equally interesting magic system that's very reliant on player-created spells and magic items... without an Ars Magica-style array of rigid rules for designing them. Instead, GM are given latitude in determining what works for their table along with instructions to use the provided examples as guidelines... and a couple of different ways to approach informing players of whether their designs will work or not, a couple of which will satisfy the most Gygaxian tastes. There are also some really cool and clever rules for psionics, and a combat system that, like Rolemaster, deals out specific injuries rather than just marking off hit points.
Which brings me to one final oddity. In its creator's final years there was a dispute over creative control and ownership of Hârn and its world, with neither party having the financial wherewithal to settle the matter in the courts. The result is that two companies are publishing HârnWorld material. Columbia Games, the original publisher, is mostly doing revisions (some of them substantial) of older material set on the island of Hârn itself, made available as individual articles. The other, Kelestia Productions, is doing mostly all-new material set outside of Hârn proper, in the wider world of Kethira upon which Hârn is set. I have no idea how much angst there is between the two companies, but from a fan's perspective there is little to complain about, especially since Columbia had largely let Hârn fall fallow before the current status quo arose.
The Inspirations series highlights RPGs having special influence on or inspiration for the design of An Age Undreamed Of, the Sundered Reach or the World of Ytherra.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Readers may be aware that I am engaged in a project to replace Windows with some form of Linux, which I've been posting about lately. My stated goal with this project is to get two specific programs running under Linux, preferably with WINE. These are Profantasy's Fractal Terrains and Campaign Cartographer 3, world-generating and cartography software respectively. I have some money invested in them, but more importantly time and creative energy. My fantasy setting of Ytherra is mapped in these programs, representing many years of work, and the new sandbox setting for my fantasy roleplaying rules are as well. To abandon this software would require, minimally, conversion to some open-source package — Inkscape or GIMP, most probably, requiring considerable effort and placing a learning curve in front of me that I don't really have time to deal with. I have little enough time for creative work as it is.
It is with considerable distaste, therefore, that I find myself on the precipice of abandoning this crash-prone fuckholeware entirely. Because I do not need the aggravation of CC3 dumping and the file saved mere seconds ago becoming magically non-openable for seemingly the thousandth time.
I am not, fundamentally, a cartographer or interested in cartography as an end in itself. I'm just damn picky about maps. I am at the point where I feel like Profantasy's unreliable software is costing me more time and ungrayed hair than it's saving me. Maybe I should just be drawing paper maps and handing them to my friend Joseph Freistuhler, leaving this part of the work to the professional and freeing me to work on the stuff I really am engaged in.
I'll see how I feel about it tomorrow.
Friday, October 18, 2013
Rolemaster has a reputation for being fearsomely complex and terribly clumsy, but by the time I settled in to playing it around 1992, the edition that was extant at that time (today called the second edition) played very smoothly if the people at the table knew what they were doing and separated the responsibilities of the table intelligently. Everybody tracked their own XP for the most part, and looked up their own attack and critical results. So for a given encounter no one person needed to have more than a couple of photocopied pages of tables in front of them. It's the tables, in fact, that give Rolemaster its mystique as a monster of complexity, because there are seemingly entire books filled with only them, or so it is said. This is not really true, but any given edition of Arms Law is going to be about 80% full-page tables. This is scary.
What's hard to see until you actually play Rolemaster, though, is that there are really only four tables that the entire game runs off of. There are the static action and moving maneuver tables, which govern non-fighting actions, and there are the attack table and the critical table. That's really it... just those four charts. There are many different versions of attack tables and critical tables, which is what fills up the books, but you only use the one for the weapon or attack type you are using; the numerical results are different on each table but they otherwise work the same. And there is a separate static action table for spellcasting and different critical tables, with the one you use depending again on your attack type. The rules for using all these tables are found in just a few pages. Leave out the charts and lists and Rolemaster is really a remarkable tight game: roll open-ended percentile, add your action bonus and whatever other modifiers and look the result up on a chart. There is no separate damage roll — it's on the chart — but there is a separate critical roll that comes up a fair amount. That's the whole game, outside of character creation.
I think Rolenaster does a remarkable number of very fun things at the table. The open-ended rolls and tongue-in-cheek critical tables keep a fight unpredictable; any roll could be somebody's last. Sharing the bookeeping responsibilities helps keep everyone engaged. The magic system is rich and expansive, and for its day Gamemaster Law had some crackerjack worldbuilding advice. In the early editons the skill system was nice and loose and groups could feel free to explore their own boundaries for each skill. But I think what I like most about Rolemaster from a design point of view is its thematic cohesion. Each of the classes has a specific place in a strongly implied cosmology, and each of the many different types of magic taps into one or more corners of that cosmology. Magic items are another extension of the way the Rolemaster universe works. It's very clean and consistent without being too confining.
Later editions, starting with 1995's third edition, called Rolemaster Standard Rules, brought many previously optional systems to the core game and rigidly defined every single corner of the game. Skills became tied to individual type of actions, so for example to be an effective herbalist you needed one skill to find magical herbs, another to prepare them and a third to apply them to your patients or victims. There are some things to like about RMSS but it's also very, very bloated in comparison to the earlier game system... something it shared with the third edition of another fantasy RPG.
The Inspirations series highlights RPGs having special influence on or inspiration for the design of An Age Undreamed Of, the Sundered Reach or the World of Ytherra.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Combat is mostly going to follow the d20 model, stripped down to remove cruft but with a few tidbits from elsewhere fitted in. I haven't started skills and actions yet, although I have it outlined, but what is definitely not going to be in the rules is a multipage rules section for each skill. A paragraph for most of them, and a brief one if that, with a few getting more explanation.
I've also done a little bit of sketching on the source map for the graphic in the last post, refining some placeholder names and shuffling some stuff around to make it fit better. I am not what you could call "working seriously" on this end of the project at this point.
The standard AAUO Disclaimer:
I am creating a (tabletop) fantasy role-playing game called An Age Undreamed Of, set in a mythical Forsaken Age. It is "old school" but not a a retro-clone. AAUO is built on a stripped-down d20 engine, injected with ideas from other RPGs of the late 70s and early 80. Anything you read about it here should be understood as notes on a work in progress.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
From the standpoint of writing and designing An Age Undreamed Of, I'm taking the approach that there will be a strongly implied setting present in the game, and strictly that. While AAUO will be set in a mythical Forsaken Age, and while there will be names sprinkled throughout the text to suggest the history and cultures of this age, there will be no "official" version of that setting ever presented.
On the other hand, I do have a vast number of setting ideas and even a fairly fully realized world in the pipeline, which I will plan to get back to working on once the AAUO rules are done. At least one of these, the Sundered Reach, is a sandbox wilderness that I plan to develop for AAUO. The words "forsaken age" will likely appear together in the text of that work. It will be one small corner of a world with that appellation. But even if the book provides glimpses of a Forsaken Age, your Forsaken Age will be completely different.
I'm a big believer in strong setting materials; I did, after all, spend years working on exactly that. But I think an old-school RPG needs evocation and creative freedom. Even where there is a framework in place, as with the old World of Greyhawk folio, the world is never really presented to you. Instead, within some skeleton the world developed organically in play at each table. A setting defined down to the smallest parameter like the Forgotten Realms, neat and lovingly developed as it is, does lose the unique fingerprint stamped upon it by the group.
Don't get me wrong, though - I admire the Forgotten Realms as a piece of fine craftsmanship, and many fine campaigns have been set there. Too, the original FR boxed set is, I think, brilliantly evocative without being confining in the least. I'd say you could make a good case for that item being among the finest presentations of an old school setting. And even more, I admire masterpieces like Hârn and Tékumel. But what those two were, and what the Forgotten Realms became, are really a different find of framework than AAUO is going for.
(Today's graphic is a map I did a little while ago of a Forsaken Age. It may or may not see use in anything like its present form, but it is the landscape where the Sundered Reach will be set.)