1. Zykerion
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    Zykerion New Member

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    A Question on Worldbuilding: What Else is There?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Zykerion, Jul 10, 2012.

    I really enjoy the practice of worldbuilding. Coming up with a whole lot of something from nothing and bringing it to life, potentially for use in a story at some point down the road. My main sort of love affair is with fantasy styled worlds, and that's what my question essentially pertains to.

    In fantasy, the first thing people tend to think of when they envision the genre is swords and sorcery, people clad in armor, epic battles, and the intrigues of medieval based society. The landscapes and cultures represented usually evoke the medieval period of western Europe. Many people who read fantasy describe that this particular setting is becoming overused and a tad dull at this point (at least, that's what I gathered from a recent excursion through some worldbuilding resources online). So, in essence, my question is this:

    Even if this setting appears to be very overused, what else exactly is there to draw from within our world?

    Naturally there are places like the Far East and elsewhere for new ideas, but if you remove the sort of Asian influence from your story, you are left with a setting that greatly resembles the locale you were trying to escape in the first place, such that it seems like your new 'original' idea merely seems like the same old, same old with a fresh coat of paint.

    Something else that would be interesting to discuss that's related to this is the level of 'realism' you wish to portray within your setting, if it's for fantasy. Granted you can explain certain things as being internally consistent within the setting, but how far before your setting becomes a bit unrelatable and tiring for the reader?

    I'd very much love to hear everyone's feedback on these matters.
     
  2. Complex
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    Complex Senior Member

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    Worldbuilding is my specialty! I've gone off the deep end with it.

    The entire world is different from our Earth. Sun rises in the west and sets in the east. Constellations and planets are completely different. Same goes for the twin moons. My opening scene is on a cape with black sand beaches and a sheer cliff dominated by a series of waterfalls. The plateau above is a dense and towering forest teeming with life. Mountains dominate the landscape, rising up through the clouds and create a natural boundary. Its unlike Europe or Asia, so the reader feels out of place all the more, but the real gift is how the characters live off the land.

    I just wrote a scene in which they ate a mushroom and found out it had a potent sleeping effect (drugging themselves accidentally) only to wake up to find its 'signature' aphrodisiac properties even worse then being knocked out. One of the characters wants to burn the forest to get rid of the 'evil mushrooms'. Mind you that is just one single mushroom type; the main food is a leafy cabbage which is best served with a red plum-like fruit and topped off with a few tufts of yellow moss. Some of the creatures are familiar, but are fairly oversized with mosquitoes being about the size of baseballs (we actually have ones about this size in my area... wingspan wise) which have a potent acid/poison they use to paralyze their victims to feast on over and over again. Part of the worldbuilding required a fearsome pest which preyed upon people, making them easy prey for other animals in the process. Gives a real sense of dread when just about anything could be deadly to the main characters, simply because they have limited knowledge of surviving in it.

    Drawing on real places and things is one thing, but if the settings are all 'europe' or 'far east' or 'amazon rainforest' it gets a little boring. I purposely set out with an intent to make the reader be draw into the world and yet have little familiarity with its workings. Same with the culture; its entirely built up from scratch, making use of the natural resources to survive. Five major kingdoms, five different cultures with one of them being unlike anything on earth. Plenty of drama ensues when individuals cross over into the different cultures, such as the color of clothing indicating the desire for marriage leading to some hilarious moments. Others are dining etiquette which demands a person to show their happiness with a meal by burping afterwards (really exists in our world). Job Houses are a weird concept which exists in one culture which defies traditional market economics and the sense of 'a day job' because it is quite literally a 'job for a day'. Religious ceremonies are pretty out there as well, nothing which remotely follows any denomination except for the aspect of 'prayer'.

    I could go on endlessly, but I think you get the point. There is no specific landscape in my world. No specific culture which imports its style into the book. There are no sword carrying knights, no robed wizards and no lofty stone castles with luxurious kings. No beggar speaks like this, 'Pardon me, mi lord, but could you spare a coin or two?" Dragons don't exist. There are no 'goblins' there are no 'orcs', other then that crazy culture which uses full-body tattoos and war paint for the sake of terrifying their enemies. Horses do not exist, and any beast of burden does not operate like some motorized vehicle which requires no feeding, rest and can carry a thousand pounds on its back as you typically see in fantasy.
     
  3. Zykerion
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    Zykerion New Member

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    Some very interesting ideas, but what I'm getting from your post seem to be all embellishments that can be added on top of the setting to make it seem more fantasy-like. Not so much the setting itself. How do your landscapes differ from ones found on Earth? If your entire world is different than Earth, then what exactly are the differences? What physical forces drive and control your world and how its landscape forms? Are the trees in your forest exactly like trees found on Earth? Does your world have different biomes than the ones on Earth, and how do these function? What are your various cultures like and how do they differ themselves from real world cultures?

    This is the heart of the matter, really. Many people criticize fantasy writing as drawing from many of the same real world sources. Fantasy writers tend to pull from these sources because they are instantly relatable and the reader can figure out and assume how parts of the world functions until the author applies his embellishments to the world that make it more fantasy-like.

    For instance, the mere presence of steel within a fantasy setting implies a great many things. It implies that iron exists within the setting. It implies that the metallurgical process to turn the iron into steel is much the same as it is here. It implies that the rest of the world follows the same sorts of natural laws that you would see within our own world, such as geological processes of subduction zones, faults, etc. The reason steel gets used is because it's recognizable, as opposed to trying to come up with some entirely new metal. An example name I used in a recent discussion with someone (and which isn't any more fleshed out than the name) is something called 'glarnmetal'. Put that into a fantasy battle scene, and 'Taste cold steel!' sounds far better than 'Taste cold glarn!' because the word steel, to the human mind, sounds simply better.

    Hopefully my post wasn't too terribly confusing and I managed to get my point across.
     
  4. Steph4136
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    Steph4136 Senior Member

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    I understand what you're saying, but I think you're worrying about it way too much. I read a lot of fantasy and as I like seeing the landscape, I don't think about it in depth like that. I don't care where steel comes from or the fault lines or any of that stuff - I want to read the damn story, see some action, get to love and/or hate the characters (as in love to hate the bad guy) and enjoy myself.
     
  5. Zykerion
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    Zykerion New Member

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    No, chances are you won't think about it in depth like that much. But if the setting happens to seem like something you'd see in the real world, for the fantasy genre these days, many readers balk that X author is copying Y author's setting or 'why are all these settings like medieval Europe?' type questions. That's what I'm trying to answer. If people are annoyed that I've put my story in a setting that because of one thing or another just so happens to resemble England or something at some point, where else is there to go in terms of the setting?

    That lead into the idea of coming up with something else wholesale, and the things behind inventing a world from scratch, with its own mechanics. The reader will most likely never ever see your worldbuilding notes, but you the author have to keep them in mind to make the setting consistent with itself in the book.
     
  6. Steph4136
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    Steph4136 Senior Member

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    If it's just people on message boards bitching about it, I wouldn't pay it much attention. People on boards will say all sort of things like that thinking they're cool, and most likely jumping on the bandwagon of someone else saying it. Online there's anonymity and people will say anything.

    I haven't heard/read of anything negative in fantasy about the actual landscape/world or people claiming that X author is stealing from Y.
     
  7. Zykerion
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    Zykerion New Member

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    I suppose all of that is true, yes. But it does get you thinking. How would one go about developing an entirely original fantasy setting that was both recognizable while still being new and unique?
     
  8. Steph4136
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    Steph4136 Senior Member

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    Start brainstorming? Make it realistic without having the reader have to constantly go back to re-read something because they don't understand. Or worse, have to keep flipping to the back for the glossary of made up words they can't remember.

    It's fantasy, so really, anything goes.
     
  9. Complex
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    Complex Senior Member

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    Zykerion, the difference is where embellishments end and the originality begin. In terms of character size (not 2M tall humanoids) the world is a far more terrifying place. Everything is still in terms of height, but I'll spare the measurement system for you: with 1M being roughly as tall as the average person. A 400M cliff is 400 times you are tall. A mountain can be 10,000M or more, major mountains extend 40,000+M. The average 'tree' height is about 50M with the largest trees extending 600M. Common predators (yes the people are prey for many beasts... and don't always win) range from 2-4x there own size and usually 10x+ their mass. Yet every facet of life is dependent on utilizing them as resources for armor, tools, art, music and building materials.

    Killing a single crab provides enough food for a small village for a week or more, but its prized shell is durable and strong in armor and highly valued in trade crafts independent of boneworking. Even the shards of its shell is valuable for arrows and shovels. More then two dozen common tools are based on this beast's shell alone. Not to mention the religious importance of the crab. It is a rite of passage for men, it is used in matrimony ceremonies, it's powder is used for divining. As they cannot be controlled or confined, special hunter teams are used to kill them, usually wearing the armor made from previous kills. Those who are tasked with this duty are revered and praised, but usually have short life expectancies as a result.

    Embellishments end when you start basing your entire world's culture on it. You are not going to see 'steel' in my world, but a few strange exceptions existed early on. One of my main characters was impaled with a spear that was driven into a tree as punishment against a divinity. (Trying hard not to let too much slip...) As a result, the 'divine spear' which is a unique type of metal is used heavily by the main characters and is pretty overpowered, but it does melt and is destroyed later on. Shards of the spear are likened to pieces of the True Cross in Christianity or the Lance of Longinus. Though that is about where the similarities to our world end. The 'artifact' itself is iconic up until a climatic point, in which it is destroyed with the 'death' of the antagonist. It enters legend and myth soon afterwards.

    Take my word for it. If you ever see the words 'chainmail' or 'sword' or 'steel' in my novel, then I have horribly failed. I've so carefully assembled my world that you wouldn't need to make comparisons, because their ways are really different then Earth ways. Which is why I am bashing my head in on the matter of leather right now; because the culture which discovers and uses it shouldn't get it as a starting tech, but the MC knows a few tricks and can make low grade leather.

    I didn't mention that did I? I have a tech tree. Yeah, you heard me... tech... tree. The very progression of the culture is based on resources and tools that allow for a certain combination to be made and make advancements. Combined with a timeline overlay I can ensure temporal stability. Though I take precautions so as not to irritate or confuse the reader. The level of 'realism' in fantasy is kinda awkward, but if you are able to see how people live their lives and sustain themselves, then you've made something original.

    An embellishment is a decoration; my worldbuilding is not 'decoration', it is the nuts and bolts that hold the societies themselves together. I've interwoven them pretty tight so that their values, morals and responses to situations can be summarized with a broad sense, but they provide functionality.

    Last section. I've done some pretty heavy thinking under Patricia Wrede's questions which really helped me set out a clear world, which is why even manners and gestures are important to know fully about. Salutes are done with the fist over the heart. Burping shows appreciation for a meal. Even crude often joke related subjects of bathroom humor and sex are unique in the culture! All five 'major' ones have differing takes on bathrooms... no toilets exist as you think of them! One uses piss pots and requires women to make public use of them as well, the tanneries require it! (Which brings me back to my earlier hassle listed above). I'm more then content to answer any question about how the culture works, because it is not for decoration, it is a living world. I intend the reader to be drawn into the culture's mindset and viewpoints throughout the story. Most authors limit taverns to info dumps and fighting; my world's 'taverns' are places for ceremonies, town gatherings and just about anything BUT fighting. They serve the societies purposes and not as plot devices.
     
  10. Reptile Hazard
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    Reptile Hazard Member

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    You're never going to be able to please every single person. Might as well go with what you like, make the story you like in the setting you like.

    Unless you're writing a geography book about your made up world, readers will take more interest in the story rather than where it is taking place.

    Like you said, there's a reason why fantasy tends to go that way: it's because we as writers (and any kind of artist really) take inspiration from the real world. Everything, and I mean everything anyone creates is inspired by the something in real world. So all those people saying fantasy should be about creating entirely new worlds with new elements and all that stuff is being rather unrealistic, to be honest.
     
  11. Furyvore
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    Furyvore Member

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    Here's an example of something you can do. Make your world the moon of a gas giant similar to Pandora in the movie Avatar. We already know what our moon does to our oceans (think of the tides). What will a massive planet do? Perhaps your characters have to be aware of potential tidal waves overtaking land every time they get near water. a Natural tsunami that is not caused by quakes, or landslides, or meteor impacts, but rather the gravity of a heavenly body. Perhaps you can have certain creatures able to take flight during the high tide times, when the gravity of the gas giant is counteracting the gravity of the moon, thus allowing these birds to take flight only when the gas giant is high in the sky (so the positioning of the heavenly bodies will affect when your characters can fly away from an island or something).

    Likewise, the gravity of this gas giant will cause tectonic problems all over the moon. You can make dramatic quakes occur out of the blue.

    If you want to make drastic changes within the regular Earth, then perhaps you can try taking the planet on a different evolutionary path. Maybe there was no asteroid to wipe out the dinosaurs, so the people have to be wary of a T-rex attack constantly.

    You can look into the scientific theories of what our planet looked like over the ages, and possibly place your story during one of these times. I distinctly remember watching a documentary that claimed the Earth used to be completely saturated with Oxygen. The result of this excess oxygen is large insects (which isn't to uncommon in fiction nowadays), and a massive forest fire when lightning ignited the oxygen in the air.

    good luck on your world building
     
  12. Zykerion
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    Zykerion New Member

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    Many many thanks to all the responses to this topic. It's very much greatly appreciated.

    A small note I wanted to mention is that I wanted to get the ball rolling on more of a discussion type topic rather than me trying to mine for ideas for where to take my setting in particular.

    To Complex: I enjoyed reading through all of the elements that you put up there. And I really like the enthusiasm you have for your own setting. A few questions I would like to raise, though, and this is nothing at all against what you're trying to do. First, if you are trying to avoid terms like 'sword' and 'steel' and other such things, then what terms are you using for the commonplace things within this setting? If a pointy thing on the end of a stick is allowed to be called a spear, why wouldn't the name for a sword have developed in much the same way within this world's language? Second, how do you maintain relatability to your world while maintaining the 'everything is different' element within the setting?

    I think I understand what you're trying to get at by your statement of not needing comparisons. But as I mentioned above, if they're so wildly different, then how is anyone going to be able to identify and relate to your cultures and how they live and behave?
     
  13. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    There's this idea that the fantasy genre has to fit into this contructed setting and style and I know what you're bringing up by saying that they all seem to fit into a sort of 'default' medieval European setting. It's popular and appeals to a lot of people because it evokes a different yet culturally comfortable time and deals with fundemental human ideas like good vs evilbin a setting that is often beautiful, magical and adventurous.

    World-building is an intricate and complex process and difficult to do well. I often read books where the ideas are there and so is the potential but the world built is superficial and lucklustre. World building must go beyond the basic setting, culture, customs, language, dress, etc. A great book doesn't have to address every detail of a world (in fact sometimes the less said the better) but it must build a world that a reader can explore beyond the narrative. Look at Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, etc. These stories create vivid worlds that live beyond the medium they're delivered on. Don't fall into the trap of taking a pre-existing setting or world and (as mentioned above) embellish upon it. That's when a world feels superficial and forced and that's when a reader will have a feeling of deja vu. Not every fantasy is a variation of the Lord of the Rings.

    Though the generic advice is to read as much as you can and do research, I think the most important thing that you can do in the process of world-building is to know your world. Get to know your characters, understand your world, the people, the history, the culture, etc. If you don't believe in your world then no one else will either.
     
  14. Complex
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    Complex Senior Member

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    I'll try to be brief on this.

    What is a sword? A sword is a highly specialized tool used for war. Other tools can be far more effective then a sword, but a sword is iconic and often the main weapon of fantasy heroes, even if its not practical. In my world, swords do not exist because they are not practical. Take the humble axe, it has a lot of power and force behind each swing. The axe is used for felling trees and the most common tool for certain types of farming and wood production. A spear is typically a weapon for war, but the spear actually key to my society to spear fruits on trees (Ladders are too bulky) and fight a large group of predators from a relatively safe distance. Daggers (made of bone usually) are for dining, carving and is the most common tool and sometimes a weapon. For personal combat, the spear is usually backed up with a number of daggers which never extend to sword lengths. A certain type of sickle and scythe are used in combat as well as farming. A really unusual variant exists serving only for hunting and light warfare use to inflict crippling damage (i.e severing the crab's armored legs) and deal killing blows in ways which distance and great force are required at mid-range.

    If you get really nitpicky a type of 'sword' exists similiar to a cane knife or machete for clearing of the vast growth of vines and moss, bark and samples. Most being just over dagger length, but very much different from the iconic medieval swords or katanas most come to mind with. Again, made of bone with a serrated edge for cutting rather then slashing or stabbing. The only time these weapons will be useful in combat is if the enemy is unarmored and allows you to draw the blade over the flesh. Most hunters were strong armor of bone and shells wrapped in leather to simply survive hits from the beasts, these slashing weapons are entirely useless in combat. Might as well try to pierce turtle's thick shell with a kitchen knife or slash it open. True, it is capable of killing with a good stab, but so's any one of a dozen other piercing weapons that do not have 2+ ft lengths behind them and have little agility.

    The reader will see other weapons then swords. Swords are not practical, but that is not to say society doesn't have weapons. War is a unknown concept. The nations never fight each other. Mostly do to the main factor that the gods rule the nations and they are peaceful rulers that maintain a strong grip of power and control. As they are immortal (for all intents and purposes) there is no 'regime change' and no 'heirs or successors' they are the definition of stability. And if something DOES happen, the gods are more then capable of physically stomping entire armies by themselves. A 'flee on sight' mentality dominates border skirmishes or trade wars, knowing full well that they simply cannot be stopped.

    Some gods are weaker then others, the pottery goddess for one is a complete pacifist (really minor character), but she is capable of walking through fire and picking up huge boulders with one hand. She makes industrial kilns for any town which requires or requests one. She is a legendary drunk though, completely does an about-face and becomes combative and violent; with a tendency to whisk men away to her bed... often by force. She's not too much of a threat, but still poses a hassle on the main characters as a result. While the more war-like ones are used for culling the most dangerous of beasts, often in droves, by request. The character with the spear makes his first skill on a sizable snake with ease, then takes out two 'bear-sized' wolves with a single strike each. When hurt in battle his wounds regenerate almost instantly, unless you sever a limb or his head which could temporarily take him out. Even complete destruction of his body will not kill him or any other god. They are just unstoppable game-changers and my story is about them instead of some 'mortal' hero.

    To summarize the feel of the tools and tech: I'm only going to go into 'forest' culture which makes up the largest portion of fleshed out work. Houses are constructed within a certain species of tree, called a Homewood. Homewood trees are massive thousand year old trees which have died do to a parasitic blight and are the sites of large homes consisting of a dozen or more 'families' (I'll explain below). Implements from beasts and wood are very common; so much so that like our furniture is made of wood, theirs is as well. From the animals come food and leather for clothing, pouches, and clothes. Treated sinew is for stitching and binding, scraps of hide make various powerful glues. No part really goes to waste in this very frugal and utilitarian society. Medicines are from the forest's plants and roots. Without delving into a full scene, consider that everything in your house was made of simple and natural items found locally, that's what it is like in my world.

    The culture is very different; right down to its core concepts of what constitues normal relationships. Even though each Homewood tree is exceedingly large, and can hold several regular 'families' just fine, the structure of society puts the gathering of individuals in this unique way more of a 'clan' or 'horde'. A proper English definition escapes me to describe this very basic grouping properly, since it is considered obscene to have multiple male-female relationships producing offspring and living under the same roof as an entire 'clan'. It completely upends the whole 'mother' and 'father' aspect along with definitions of marriage and being 'kept'. Its not uncommon to have 10-20 children in the household at once as a result, leading to a 'brood mother' who is tasked with keeping the little ones in line, watching their education and serving plenty of food so they grow up strong and healthy. As a result, all women work like the men, even if pregnant, right up until the time of delivery and then once recovered go directly back to working. Strangely enough... that seems almost modern nowadays.

    I think I am revealing too much still, but if you PM me I can go into more details with specifics.
     
  15. Zykerion
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    Zykerion New Member

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    These are all really interesting concepts that you've presented, Complex. But reading through it, I'm noticing a few inconsistencies. Allow me, if you would, to point some of them out. This is by no means an attack on your work, as I think most of your concepts are very interesting ones, but there exist a few problems, as I've stated.

    The first is the concept of your gods and how they handle your setting. From what I understand, your gods rule over each of these nations. Something I'm not hearing exactly is how the gods are structured. Are the gods against one another in some fashion? Are they all together as one big whole? For the former, I think you would most definitely see the concept of war being invented, so the gods can use their mortal worshippers against the other gods. For the latter, if the gods are all together and work as one, then why do these separate nations exist at all? The way you've explained them above also sounds like they aren't so much peaceful as much as the populace lives in constant fear of the gods' retribution. This in essence makes your god-rules tyrants, which brings up another interesting issue, that of technological development. Who is guiding the tech development of your people? If it's the gods, why exactly are they improving and enhancing the lives of their subjects? Access to newer technologies destabilizes the whole system, which you've described as being very stable (this destabilization element could be utilized in many effective ways within a story, as without it it seems like the world is a very stagnant place). If it's the people, why are they developing these new technologies? If they can pray to the gods who very much exist and get generally whatever they need from them, then technology to improve their lives is something of a moot point. The last thing I'll note on gods is that if your story is about these immortal, seemingly unstoppable people, then what makes them interesting to the reader, and how is your average reader expected to relate to them?

    Secondly, you seem to have made a few contradictions in your establishment of the concept of war. You mention that there are several implements designed both as tools and as implements of light warfare. You then go on to state that the concept of war is entirely foreign to these people because the gods eradicate anyone who so much as touches the idea. You illustrate this by stating that border skirmishes are very short because the gods simply erase the aggressors if they continue. If the concept of war doesn't exist, then these border skirmishes shouldn't happen at all in the first place. The people wouldn't know what a 'skirmish' was. A trade war seems even less likely due to the mere existence of your gods. They seem happy enough to provide whatever their people need, so you've invented a 'cornucopia technology', which renders trade somewhat pointless, I would think.

    Third, while swords do serve essentially only one purpose, they are far from being impractical. Swords, once trained in their use, become very mobile and agile platforms. They are by no means slow, or impractical in their purpose, which is to kill. I see no reason as to why these people would not develop sword technology specifically to deal with the giant beasts that roam around their world. Rapiers, for instance, were designed specifically to get between the plates on plate armor. This same sort of function can easily be applied to your giant crabs, as their chitinous plating would have natural gaps to allow the beast to move. I think you might also see the development of things such as war hammers, designed in a way to crush their way through the plating on these crabs, or any other sort of armor, as a means of applying overwhelming force to deal their damage, rather than cutting and slicing.

    I think I've covered everything I wanted to mention, and as I said, this is simply intended as a means of helping you go through your setting with a bit more of a fine-detail comb, and solving any potential problems.
     
  16. adampjr
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    adampjr Member

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    My only comment here is that there is a reason the technology developed in the real world the way it did. Even in a different setting, once they figured out how to make swords, swords make a lot of sense. I think its reasonable to include similar things to our world.

    But, I would certainly read something about your world, complex, it's fascinating at the very least.
     
  17. AlexLB
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    AlexLB New Member

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    In my opinion, which is far from perfect, is that with World Building: keep it simple.
    I like the idea of having no steel, in fact go the whole hog and have no metals at all and drift into the stone age. The dangers facing your characters with big beasts is amplified by the fact there's nothing advanced to take them down with.

    While, in my Sci-Fi, there are metals I pervert them enough to make them the world's own. Take normal steel, in my world it can either be manufactured to be solid (expensive) or take it at its cheapest: flexible, like rubber hosing. That keeps my characters having anything that their culture can't realistically have. I became tired of reading about poor cultures having high technology and still can't whoop the bad guy's butt.

    I never go overboard, in fact I don't even think too much about tectonic movement, solar flares, moon's affect on tides, how many moons, gravity, unless it plays a vital part in the story. This, again in my blinkered view (anything away from a computer screen) is keeping it simple while still altering bare facts.

    If you want something different in your world, away from the normal stuff:
    Try stone age society, threatened by a DISCOVERY of a new compound that is more durable than flint and stone. It can be shaped while in maintaining a liquid form. The power and use is down to the user, so if a psychopathic warrior wields the compound it can pretty much cause major damage, if a farmer handles it, it cam help him till his land. Now what if the hero used it? Peace loving, would the compound be as lethal as the warrior's? Or would the hero have to turn insane to seek revenge for the destruction of his home?

    Just an idea (which, damn it I wished I kept to myself now :eek: ) It's away from the medieval society, doesn't need steel. (may have gone a bit off topic, but the new puppy's on a pee mission and very distracting)
     

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