kent_allard_jr: (creativity)
Kim bought me The Travel Book from Lonely Planet on our anniversary earlier this month. (January 5th, to be exact. Mark your calendars!) It was a wonderful present, both for the thought behind it (I probably won't have the money for my biannual trip abroad) and because it's a marvelous coffee-table book, with two-page picture spreads and commentary on every country on Earth. Now it's a little weird how they gave every country, no matter how large or small, equal attention, so China and Macao get the same two-page spread. Sometimes, too, the commentary can be obnoxious, as with their remarks on Ireland's infrastructure. ("Thanks to the death of the Irish tiger economy, Ireland's efforts to improve its dire roads have been dealt a setback. Good ... The Emerald Isle is best enjoyed slowly." If I was Irish, that would make me set the damn book on fire.) Still, I highly recommend it.

The Travel Book would also serve as a great template for fantasy world-building. The emphasis on visuals would be worth emulating, to show the costumes, the architecture and the landscapes of an imaginary foreign land. (I've called for more landscape drawing in RPG art before. If people live in small towns, surrounded by wilderness, designers and GMs should make that ever-present wilderness real for the players.) If you aren't an artist yourself, copy paintings or photos off the Web and arrange them together to give readers a sense of the place.

You can also use the written summaries for inspiration. For each country there's a list of "Top Things to See" ("San rock paintings around Malealea and the aptly named Gates of Paradise Pass"), "Top Things to Do" ("Buy some birch twigs and give yourself a good thrashing at Almaty's Arasan Baths"), "In a Word" ("Su kwan (The calling of the soul)") and others. Even the best worldbooks, at least for RPGs, put far too much emphasis on threats to life and limb. You should give your players (or readers) a reason they'd want to go there.
kent_allard_jr: (creativity)
Humans have practiced agriculture and lived in towns for about 10,000 years, at least in the Middle East, yet we only have written records for half of that time (since about 3,000 BC). This has long fascinated me. Five millennia of people toiling the fields, worshiping their gods, waging war and telling stories around the campfire, and all of that experience has been lost to us. I suspect their accomplishments could have rivaled, say, that of the Inca, another preliterate Neolithic civilization; we know as little about the Inca's predecessors as we do about the Samarra and the Ubaid, but that doesn't mean they were less impressive than the folks Europeans stumbled upon.

I resolved to give my fantasy world a prehistory, one that players wouldn't know about but which would leave traces in ruins and half-forgotten legends. This is contrary to most fantasy worlds, which have written records that go back eons by Earth standards. (Over 3,000 years separate the two Wars of the Ring, for example. The first War was as a distant to Frodo and the gang as the Trojan War is to us, but they seem intimately familiar with the old events at Mount Doom.) This can be justified by the longevity of fantasy races, but to me that's a reason to keep the immortal races at a distance, and declare that humans, elves, and the rest never hung around long enough to give each other history lessons.

What should a prehistory consist of? In my universe, I used myth-like stories to account for differences between people. So I came up with tales to explain migratory patters, attributing dispersions to dramatic events that sent folks fleeing all over the map. I also had the stories describe the changing relationships between men and the gods, imitating the dynamic you see in Genesis. So humans were often wicked and cruel, sometimes even depraved, while the gods were self-righteous genocidal maniacs, smiting whole cities out of disgust with human misbehavior.

I don't know if it's all a waste of time -- since few players will see this stuff, or care all that much -- but I like the way it adds depth to a fantasy world. I'd be interested to hear other thoughts on this approach.
kent_allard_jr: (Default)
New York is going through another warm spell, and people often respond to these by saying, "man, I can't wait for the rain to come and cool things off!"

I always thought this was a bit of spurious correlation: While the water has a short term cooling effect, rain itself doesn't lead to milder weather; instead the rain is caused by the drop in temperature. Here's what I thought happened:
  1. A cold front moves into an area of warm, moist air;
  2. The warm air is pushed up above the cold air;
  3. It cools as it rises;
  4. As it cools, small droplets of water condense;
  5. which fall as rain.
Is this more or less correct, or am I missing something?

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August 2012

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