This is a long post. So get a cup of coffee or your beverage of choice. John Feldman’s Blog inspired me to begin writing down the the foundation of a game world and collection of short stories I’ve been struggling with for over a year (one year and I’ve only written chapter one, twice, plus a couple of disconnected story fragments). It is my hope that by writing here, I can help define it and thereby be more successful and writing stories about it.
The world is inspired in part by the Fighting Fantasy adventures I played with my ex-wife, and partially by a mishmash of other known fantasy worlds. The bestiary to populate this world is heavily inspired by Out Of the Pit.
The working title of this collection of stories is “Zootaloot.” Yes it sounds like a bit of absurd Onomatopoeia , and it is. It’s one of a few dozen absurd words my family made up over the years (though not an entirely unique creation, as a Google search will reveal), and it means blowing a musical raspberry on someone. In the language of the Pig clan (described later) is means a brotherly love between humans and animals. The farm the main protagonist comes from is called “Zootaloot farm.”
The map, conceptually, is not unlike that of the world of Conan: a continent combining Europe, Africa and the Near East. There’s even a great inland sea that would stand in for the Mediterranean, but it is a freshwater sea. There is nothing geographically creative about this map. The planet has two moons, and the alignment of the moons is a timer for certain events in the overall story. For example, there’s a periodic migration of all the elephants to a sort of Elephant-moot, where the large gray elephants, and the mastodons of the arctic region, and the sea elephants of the inland sea all meet together.
Yes there are sea elephants, and their noses are like snorkels on the water surface. They have flippers rather than legs, and eat aquatic vegetation as well as fish. They’re otherwise of an elephanty disposition: some are tame, some are vicious.
There are many clans of humans, each with a different totem animal. The totems derive from the most peculiar thing about humans in this world: people born with alopecia have the peculiar ability of Animal Empathy, and can communicate with animals better than any other human. This is based on my ex wife, who has alopecia, and also has a peculiar affinity with animals (though not to the extent that people in this world do). Such people are known as friends in the various tongues. While not all are fond of animals (in fact some tire knowing when an animal dislikes them or is cursing them out), such persons tend to be the best herders, shepherds, and productive farmers thanks to their superior talent at communicating with animals.
There are Rhino men, and Cat men, and Vulture men (all three based on Rhinomen, Cat People and Hamakei from Fighting Fantasy) which all products of the High Elves magical genetic experiments.
Like Tolkien’s world, the High Elves are an immortal race of people, gifted above all the others in the arts, sciences and magic. One can imagine how such creatures could fall into evil based on their overconfidence in their own superiority. The story of the High Elves is the story of the corruption and downfall of the master race (and, if I ever finish the stories, their redemption).
The High Elves built a continent-wide empire, subsuming all the tribes of men, some of the dwarfs, as well as some of the chaotic species like Orcs. There was a common coin, standards of weight and measure, law, taxation, rules, regulations, lawyers, and so forth. While prosperous, it demanded of all the diverse peoples that they give up their customs and traditions for the alleged efficiency of the empire. The High Elves seemed to profit the most from this arrangement, and it grated on the various peoples until they rebelled. The Rhino Men created to be soldiers sided with the humans, and the Vulture Men created to be the scribes and keepers of knowledge put their minds to work at undermining the empire.
The empire was ripped apart in civil war, and most of the High Elves were slaughtered. Even orcs and goblins allied with men to destroy the High Elves. Of those who survived and surrendered, the administrators of the Elvish empire had their tongues cut for issuing the orders by which the empire was run. The Elvish enforcers: soldiers, policemen, bailiffs, had their thumbs cut from their sword hands for enforcing the laws of the administrators. Without the enforcers, the law givers have no power.
In the centuries that followed, those survivors were known as the Tongueless and the Thumbless, and were mostly shunned or barely tolerated as they went about their affairs among the various communities of men. Those high elves born afterward (and not many were, due to the defeated elves being terribly demoralized) often suffer with unjust social prejudice directed at them by the tribes of men.
The remnants of the empire fell into ruin, resulting in abandoned strongholds, caves, and other places of interest being occupied by strange monsters no longer kept in check by imperial policing. The various clans of humans retreated to their ancestral homes, making a pact never to allow a State to form over them all again. The places between human settlements became dangerous places where Orcs, Goblins, Trolls, bandits and assorted other troubles lurk. They are also places where wild goodly or bizarre creatures such as Fairies, Dryads, Gnomes, and pixies can thrive and flourish.
There is a lesser race of elves known as the Sea Elves. They’re small framed, topping off about 4 1/2 to five feet at the most. Their skin is tinted bluish-green, and have webbed feet. They’re excellent ship builders and sailors and skilled weather workers. They often work as fishermen, cargo haulers, and pirates. The sight of a sea elf pirate ship is terrifying to merchants, for they’re difficult to outrun, and the elves will board the ship like a swarm of charging ants, taking everything not tied down. The Sea Elves tend to be a chaotic, rough and tumble lot, and often are disliked in coastal communities. However, the anger is due more to the actions of certain pirate gangs than racial prejudice. Peaceful sea elves make an effort to identify themselves as such to avoid trouble.
The Sea Elves homeland is in island communities off the coast of the main continent. During the reign of empire, the High Elves had great difficulty trying to make the Sea Elves submit to their authority. The Sea Elves were the first to regain independence as the empire collapsed and attempted to retain power on the mainland.
The Dwarves are akin to dwarves from other fantasy fiction: miners, metal workers, craftsmen. They tend to produce great wizards (This I take from Tunnels & Trolls) as well as doughty warriors. They tend to be stubborn, foul mouthed, but otherwise reliable people who generally keep their agreements. A tribe of Dwarves built and operate the canal connecting the western ocean to the Great Inland Sea.
Now to the humans, who, like our own world, are a varied lot. Currently I have only a few of the clans loosely defined. If the fiction I write demands more clans, I’ll write them in. This is what I have so far. All the clans tend to have very martial cultures. Most people are trained in the use of arms as there are no standing armies. Their tribal governments are based on their cultural customs rather than extensive written law. Duels to first blood are not uncommon as means of settling disputes. Duels to the death happen on rare occasions as revenge for murders or other serious crimes. On the whole, the various tribes of men are generally morally conscientious people: industrious, sexually temperate, valuing honor. These are barbarians, loosely speaking, that value their liberty over the stability once granted by the Elvish Empire.
There is the Pig clan, who are known as a clan of explorers and adventurers in addition to being farmers and herdsmen. They raise fighting pigs. One of the chiefs of the Pigs is fifth generation bee-keeper and friend, who practices the Song of the Bees and can calm bees without smoke. One of the main protagonists is the daughter of this man, Tana (based loosely on my ex wife) The Pigs are known for their unusually silly sense of humor, and their custom of greeting one another by blowing raspberries on each other’s cheeks. In appearance I imagine them as Celtic peoples of the British isles.
The Frogs live in wetlands are are fishermen, clam diggers, with a touch of Louisana Bayou rural swampbilly (as opposed to Hillbilly). They’re of a more somber disposition compared to the Pigs, whom they consider to be somewhat childish. However they have a taste for luxuries like coffee, tobacco and chocolate. They’re a Euro type, French Germanic. (Note: When my wife and I married, she being of French descent, put a Frog on the altar, and a Pig for me. So this is another tribute to my ex wife)
The Cows are farmers of luxury crops and cattle ranchers south of the Great Inland Sea. They’re successful growers of tobacco, cocoa, coffee, as well as harvesters of and weavers of silk. They are well reputed as honest merchants of good quality merchandise. They’re also very much in love with their cows, which they both raise for milk but also ride them into battle. They only eat their cattle when they die of natural causes, to take in the strength of their fallen friends into themselves. I envision the Cows as a black African type from the Congo region. This clan was inspired by a coworker from The Congo who pays a man to watch his cows, but the customs above are made up.
The Horses are a free ranging people of the northern plains. They are a proud and free spirited bunch, often riding naked on their horses. A great many are hunters, ranchers, explorers and scouts. I have yet to determine their most common source of income. They might be hunter-gatherers. They’re a Nordic looking euro type with red or blonde hair.
The Elephants are known for their employ of elephants in lumbering and construction. No further details yet. I was inspired to create this clan after reading a heartbreaking news story about unemployed Burmese lumberjacks and their elephants begging on the streets. Trucks and power equipment are displacing the traditional lumberjacks. This phenomena has occurred in India as well. I envision the Elephants as a nomadic people of south Asian appearance.
As for the human-animal hybrid species: Rhino Men, Cat Men, and Vulture Men, they have their own lands as well. The Rhino Men live mostly south of the Great Inland Sea and hire themselves out as convoy escorts and mercenaries. They’re few in number but extremely powerful. Their cultural expectation is to be a force for good in the world, not conquering and building empires like the Elves, but merely protecting that which is good. You might call them Paladins without religious dogma. It is said that one rhino could easily count for three men at arms. They’re also known for their music: composing operas and war hymns of bagpipes, flutes and stringed instruments.
The Cat Men are more catlike than human, and have settlements north and south of the inland sea. They’re warriors and hunters, and have little need for trade with humans, though they sometimes will do so. Their preference for raw meat and poor table manners makes them not the best of guests at a sit down dinner. They’re neither evil nor good, but rather self interested.
The Vulture Men are scholars and collectors of ancient wisdom, and a goodly number operate The Academy, an institute of higher learning. (I have considered combining the school of wizardry with the academy, but I’m not sure yet) I have nothing else to write about the Vulture Men for now.
There’s also the Snake Men (inspired by the Caarth from Fighting Fantasy), who maintain a small kingdom south of the inland sea, and are not very friendly. They sometimes raid the human settlements looking for food, goods, and slaves. The Rhino Men often fight them in battle. The Snake Men are cold and calculating but also possess many secrets of ancient sorcery. On rare occasion their interests may align with the humans or the Rhino Men, but generally they’re not well regarded.
Now for magic. This is a high magic world and wizardry is not uncommon. There is a school of wizardry and those with the gift often attend to learn the trade and return home to their clans to help their neighbors, or seek solitude to continue their research into occult phenomena. There are weather workers, manipulators of the elements, healers of the sick, battle mages and finders of lost things. Some are corrupted by the lust for power, and end up recruiting assorted creatures to aid their attempts at acquiring wealth by force or conquest. The various clans of humans have ongoing treaties of mutual aid to defeat these armies of monsters. In gaming terms, I envision spell casting as either powered by stamina (causing fatigue) or spell points.
Formal religion does not exist in any substantive way. The most common tradition approaching religion are shamanistic rituals in honor of the dead, seasonal holidays, birth days, retelling of ancient tales, and celebrations of entering adulthood.
That is all for now.