1. Xenovista

    Xenovista New Member

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    Of Orcs and Aztecs

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Xenovista, Feb 27, 2017.

    So I've had this fascination with tribalism/hunter gather culture (whatever you what to call it) for as long as I can remember. Be it a simple classic like The Jungle Book, the still very much alive tribal communities of South America, to cinematic feculence like the mondo cannibal movies of the late 70's. Add to that a passing interest in Mayan and Aztec history, I got to thinking that no one has really created a fantasy world based on Mezoamerican mythology.

    Then I found out about Empire of The Petal Throne by M.A.R. Barker and thought, "GODDAMN! Someone more qualified beat me to it!" Ah. The heck with it.

    Here's a very brief synopsis of the most popular world creation myth of this jungle land I'm fabricating:

    The God of Death had a daughter that is The Sun. Four other persnickety gods came along from all four direction to help build a new world to house said Sun. Each of them had their own grandiose designs for the world and refused to cooperate, actively sabotaging one another and wrecking havok on the world, destroying it and rebuilding over and over again in the process. Death got pissed off, and when reason failed, he more or less tricked them with a game of Risk to divide the land into several territories for them to quibble over for all eternity. The Four get to bicker, life gets to prosper, everyone is happy. Well, happy as one can be if you're a hunter gather covered in dirt, living in grass hut, out in a haunted jungle that not only has ferocious animals wandering about, but the added worry of powerful ancient magics mucking everything up.

    The Goddess of Witchcraft (one of the four) tries to woo Death for more favor and power. He tells that gold digger to rightfully GTFO, so she reasonably (in her mind anyway) hacks him to bits and eats His corpse; simultaneously inventing cannibalism, murder, and deceit all in one fell swoop. This of course had the unfortunate side of effect of turning her from a stunner into mummy lich thing, and so she scampers off to her territory to hide and lick her wounds, oh and swear vengeance on everyone else. All the other gods (The Sun included) go insane, and the previously ridiculous game of Cosmic Risk has just got even deadlier, when the gods realize they can become more powerful if they literally eat one another. Hence all the strife and harshness in the world can be traced back to these four perpetually scheming gods. Did I mention that the dead have a tendency to get up again unless proper funeral rites and spells are enacted?

    How true that creation myth is in this world, is also an unknown. Some tribes eschew this whole notion entirely. As there happens to be ruins all over the place from previous stone age empires that came and went, all of whom had their own ideas of how their world came to be. Naturally other empires have risen in their place and are on the decline, as new tribal warlords drum up support to kick out the current monarchs nestled atop stone pyramids, and place themselves atop said stone pyramids. Plenty of opportunity for your standard wandering murder hobo-, er I mean 'adventurer'.

    Now right off the bat, (at least to me anyway) the world feels like Game of Thrones meets Mel Gibson's Apocaylpto with an underlay of Conan The Barbarian, minus the metallurgy (which in a way it should I guess, I'm creating this to appeal to me first, with the dim hope that maybe other people will like it too). My biggest worry is that I'm treading over the same ground to the point that it ends up feeling like an exact retread but in a loincloth and a feathered headdress (and or that I lack the skill to pull it off gracefully). I view the whole concept in a way as an homage to old school pulp fiction. Tarzan also comes to mind.

    I also really like classic fantasy races like Orcs and Lizard Men and added them to the mix. But I can't help but feel like that makes the whole thing too gimmicky. I wouldn't plan on making these two groups any less humanistic, just as people trying to live their lives as best they can with what they know.

    My most immediate gripe is that pre-agricultural communities...are quite dull (or are they?). They're fine in the background and I think it would add flavor to the world, having all these littler tribes running about ala The Green Inferno or some such.

    Long story short, I have a really neat idea but don't know where to start. Obviously a big help would be reading more books on the subject of Aztec/Mayan mythology and history. I also wanted to bounce this idea off fellow writers and get input if anyone else out there has done or is working on something similar.
     
  2. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    First of all, I would perhaps think of concepts rather than using existing names like 'orc.' Monsters yes, but give them new names that are original to you. Orcs are old world ideas, and the modern notion of them comes straight from Tolkien. Below is an online definition I found when I googled 'orc.'

    Yes, by all means read tons of stuff about the kind of mythology you're interested in. (Folktales from those regions would also be a big help.) Research like this won't hurt your story at all. In fact it will give you lots of ideas for things you hadn't thought of yourself.

    Unless you are planning to do meticulous research, I would not set your story in a real setting though. (In other worlds, DON'T set it specifically in Central or South America.) Make up an imaginary world instead. One that is very similar to what is in those places. That way nobody can jump on you for getting stuff wrong. That's what Tolkien did. He didn't set his story on earth or in England, he set it on Middle Earth. So nobody can say 'that didn't happen.' Even though much of the surroundings were familiar to us, it was an imaginary world ...one heavily influenced by Norse and Saxon legend.

    I would sense that your actual story lies here:
    I think your story could be very interesting as long as you're not just re-doing a Tarzan cliché. Try not to do too much pre-planning. Instead, create your hunter-gatherer in his grass hut, figure out what his life is like, and then begin to weave him into the story about gods and supernatural beings. What is his main problem? What are the obstacles he faces before he can solve that problem? What are his goals? What happens to these goals during the story? Let the story evolve, but let that recognisable human be your POV character for most of the story. He's the one we'll identify with.

    Note that Tolkien did not make Sauron his main character—or even Gandalf or Aragorn. He made Frodo his main character. Take note of that approach to storytelling and you can't lose.

    It's always a good idea for a writer to leave their comfort zone and go exploring! Good luck.
     
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2017
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  3. Xenovista

    Xenovista New Member

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    I do have a reason for Orcs though, if only for sheer brand recognition. I've already come up with fakey olmec sounding name for the snake/lizard people, so we're good there. In addition I do have a race of flying bird men who fit the "Always Chaotic Evil" slot Orcs typically fill. The thing with Orcs is while yes, they're Tolkian in origin, the concept has grown since then due to the advent of D&D, Blizzard's games, Elder Scrolls. Most people can easily spot an Orc and instantly identify it. Orcs are familiar to me, and I think they would thrive in a setting such as this. (On a side note you wouldn't happen to know of any good stories featuring Orcs would you?). Orcs are also too often relegated as your standard mook baddie, so I would find it interesting to tell a story from a, a..."person who happens to be big, muscular, and green skinned" perspective, if that makes sense. So part of me feels that I'm taking the easy way out. Part of me feels I'm worrying too much and should just EMBRACE THE ORC!

    Or more simply, I love Orcs.

    I do intend this world to be completely fantastical, so I'm probably not going to gripe about the finer details (but the history IS fascinating). The kind of world I'm building being what it is, I'm also looking at other tribal cultures from around the world as well. One of the reasons of interest in the concept is that all human history, every culture has its roots in (for lack of a better word) primativism. Grant you, I wouldn't want to make the mistake of glamorizing it (William Golding, now and for all time thoroughly debunked the romaticization of "returning to nature" and rightfully so).

    I like and agree with your mention of protagonists being 'smaller' folk rather than the larger than life folk. While I do have named Emperors and Warlords, they're more like background events on the horizon that add to the flavor of the setting. I want to build a world in which I could tell a host of short stories within it.
     
  4. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Your story choices are yours, of course. But you did say in your earlier post that you didn't want the story to be gimmicky. Sticking to an 'orc' as your choice of monster is gimmicky—and actually comes from the wrong mythology. Why not create something like an orc, but one that's more like what Central/South American mythology would use, then give it your own special name?

    I know that every time I see the word 'orc,' I think ...shit, another Tolkien rip-off. Ditto 'wargs,' 'elves' (as characterised by Tolkien), even wizards (if they look and behave like Gandalf.) I keep thinking WHY can't writers come up with something new?
     
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  5. halisme

    halisme Contributor Contributor

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    Because to many, the term orc can be used to provide an easy shorthand for physical traits, and then you can alter the culture on top of that. Not to mention that mixing and matching mythology is how you get some of the more interesting ideas. Not to mention that OP said the orcs aren't monsters, simply tribal.
     
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  6. halisme

    halisme Contributor Contributor

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    Okay, the major things you need to do is not only research world mythology, but also the general narrative structure of mythology when creating myths. It can help provide things with a lot more of a solid core, but also consider how the religion's myth would affect society, or how the myth was created to justify what society did. There's a reason why in the Bible Eve was the one that took the fruit, not Adam. The fact that the one who caused all the issues in the first place was a female goddess in your narrative might be used in a similar way. The other issue is that pre-agricultural communities tend to be nomadic. The idea of a mass of people living the in the woods, while possible, is highly unlikely. Furthermore, tribal politics were more or less the same as feudal politics in the Aztec empire. The subjected tribes actually allied with the conquistadors to get rid of the Aztecs from their land. You have a solid base and, it just needs to be developed a little more. One thing to note though is that there would also likely be rituals to appease the gods if they were fighting so much, or possibly even tribes dedicated to one entirely.
     
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  7. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Fair enough. But if you're using 'orc' as a shorthand to particular physical traits, you're ripping off Tolkien. He's the one who first described them 'that' way. Fair enough if the author wants to do that, but some readers (like me) will be put off by what we see as unoriginal. I would be really interested in reading a fantasy based on Aztec mythology, though. Like Tolkien's was based on northern European mythology. I don't think I'd be keen on a crossover, unless the author does something VERY unusual with the story.
     
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  8. halisme

    halisme Contributor Contributor

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    Here's the thing though, tolkiens orcs and goblins are the same within Tolkien's work, just different names. Yet the image of orcs and goblins is very different with the popular consciousness. Not to mention that orcs are the most flexible race in terms of fantasy in terms of physiology. If you a compare blizzard's orcs, the elder scrolls orcs, warhammer orcs and Tolkien's own, you realise that it's actually a word that doesn't seem to link to a particular appearance, apart from green(ish) skin, and only seems to link to cultured with a focus on physical prowess.

    Not to mention that, to me, if someone made something that was basically an orc, but renamed it to something else, I'd find it just as gimmicky.
     
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2017
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  9. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    That's fair enough. I guess everybody has their own reaction.
     
  10. Xenovista

    Xenovista New Member

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    Aye, that what I was getting at. Orcs have become a bit like vampires and are no longer bound by a single author's vision alone. They've been reinterpreted in so many ways they can easily stand alone as their own creature. They've transcended their Tolkien roots.

    Still, before I set things in stone I am looking into what other kinds of creatures could inhabit this place. People of that era believed in were-jaguars and there were said to be jaguar cults (warriors that dressed up in jaguar skins). My biggest challenge in researching that right now is sorting through the various gods they believed in (they literally had a god for EVERYTHING from fire, to corn, to shoes, to stubbing your toe...).
     
  11. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    Oh, my sides. +1

    I studied quite a bit about mesoamerican society in my college days, so if you have any specific questions I'll do my best to answer. As for Gods, Chak the rain god comes to mind. Quetzalcoatl is one most people know, and I'm a fan. If you're looking for stories, google them Hero Twins and check their sweet journey through the underworld. Its literally the only instance of mosquitoes being useful I've ever heard of.

    Good luck out there!
     
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  12. Xenovista

    Xenovista New Member

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    If you could recommend good books I'd love to hear them. I'll take you up on your other offer too, once I get the time.
     
  13. Domino355

    Domino355 Senior Member

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    You know, an i teresting approach to this world could be just erasing humans alltogether. I mean, you will have the gimmicky orcs and lizard-man ect. But no humans. Your main character can be an orc, wandering around and fighting other tribes and bird-men.

    You can even have these orcs refer to themselves as "humans".
     

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