Fantasist's Scroll

Fun, Fiction and Strange Things from the Desk of the Fantasist.



Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Dog which is in the evening time.
The moon is a New Moon

New Version of MovableType!

Hey, we’ve upgraded to the latest version of MovableType, version 2.51. And, thanks to the upgrade, we’ve added a search engine to the blog. I’m still reworking the stylesheets, but otherwise, it went quite well. Enjoy the new features!


What’s in a Name?

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning.
The moon is Waning Crescent

“Give a thing a name and it will somehow come to be.” -George R.R. Martin

Names have always fascinated me. The name of a foreign country can inspire awe or curiosity. A person’s name can determine how they are percieved by the world. Or, if they’re a character in a book, how the reader reacts to the person. Names can provide inspiration or inspire fear. The mere mention of Dracula or Frankenstein conjures an immediate image for most people.
Often times, when I need a bit of inspiration, I look to names. The name of a character might inspire a story. The title of a visting dignitary or scholar might suggest a plot or setting. But, where to come up with such ideas? Well, the encylopedia is a good place to start. I remember as a kid all the articles there that fueled so many flights of fancy and journeys of the imagination. But, that limits us to the real world. What if we’d like to go way beyond the known or ordinary? Well, there’s always fantasy literature and science-fiction encylopedias. But, for something newer and more original, try The Page of Name Generators. Here you’ll find a name generator for every occasion. And, it’s also the inspiration for my own Story Generator. Enjoy it! And let your creative mind run wild!!



Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Be your own dictator!

Or, whatever kind of ruler you might want to be. Someone on a ConCulture list I belong to posted a link to a site called NationStates, a new, interactive game of political experimentation. It’s by an author of a book called Jennifer Government and it’s his spin on viral marketing. But, really, it’s just a cool little game. The only problem you’ll have is the pace, which is slow, and getting signed in to the game! There are so many people playing that the server is constantly overloaded.
So far, my little nation has only dealt with one small issue, but I hope for more opportunities to show the benefits of a militaristic meritocracy in action. Only time will tell. The site has been active since November 2002, but there are over 9,000 nations going. Pretty crazy. Of course, I have no idea how many of them are active at all. For all I know 8,500 of them have been abandoned. And, there might only be 12 players running hundreds of nations each. There’s really not any way to tell. In any case, it seemed like a cool experiment. I look forward to seeing how it plays out.
If you’d like to visit my little slice of the NationStates world, the Holy Empire of Megaria is up and running!


Medieval Lives

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

What am I reading this week?

This week it’s
Medieval Lives: Eight Charismatic Men and Women of the Middle Ages
by Norman F. Cantor. I’ve read the first section and so far, it’s pretty good.
Obviously, it’s a study of several people from the Middle Ages. Generally, they’re famous people, but “famous” is a relative term. If one is a scholar of Medieval history, they’re well known. If you are new to the subject, this is a fairly easy introduction to some of the movers and shakers of the Middle Ages Europe. Each chapter focuses on a different personality, showing how they might have acted and what their lives might have been like in a fictionalized way. Some liberties have been taken with the fine details of speech and mannerisms to make the subject more accessible to the modern reader, but I don’t think anything really suffers in the translation.
Again, I haven’t finished this book yet, but, so far, it’s pretty good. Easy to read for a book on such a heavy, and occasionally dusty, subject. I wouldn’t rely on this book for a scholarly study or paper, but it’s a breezy introduction for the lay person.


3 out of 5

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Dog which is in the evening time.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

At most, that’s all I can give the new Legend of the Five Rings series.

And, honestly, that makes me a little sad. I wanted to love these books. I really did, but it wasn’t until the third book in the series that a plot started to really develop.
The Legend of the Five Rings was a collectable card game, then a fantasy role-playing game before it was a fiction series. I fell in love with the FRPG because it was based in a mythical Japan that never was called Rokugan and featured wonderful art. In fact, before the latest rules revision, I collected just about all the books just for the art and the ideas they sparked. Then, something wonderful happened. Wizards of the Coast had the folks who wrote the fiction that was sprinkled throughout the game books whip up some novels with the further adventures of some of our favorite characters. And the Clan War novels were really good. There were seven, one for each of the Great Clans featured in Rokugan. Each book focused on one Clan but really move the plot along. The plot line was based on tournament play of the card game, so it got a little strange a couple of times, but it was pretty good over all.
Then, much to my delight, a new series of Legend of the Five Rings books came out. So, I bought the first three without even reading the back cover. Man, that was a mistake. The first book, The Steel Throne, was so scarce on plot that I couldn’t find it! I had no idea what this book was supposed to be about when I was done with it. But, I’d already bought the first three, so I pressed on with the next one. The Wind of Honor is by, in my opinion, the best author in the series, but even that didn’t save this book. Again, a meandering review of characters, but not much on plot. Then, finally, the third book, The Wind of War, started to actually show some signs of a plot. And, it even explained what was supposed to be happening in the first two. Apparently, the whole series is about a struggle to find a new Emporer for Rokugan. The “Four Winds” are the dead Emporer’s children, but there’s no explanation of how they got their nick-names or what they mean. This second series is sadly lacking in some of the basics of good fiction which the first series had. In fact, I bought the second series books based solely on how good the first series was!
Ah, well, at least it was a quick read and was a nice asian setting. It was a decent counter-point to the non-fiction I was reading at the time, too, which was also about Japan.

So sad that commercialization seems to kill the good things about new settings and ideas. I sure hope I don’t let that happen to me.


Creativity and Originality

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Does it really exist?

It seems like the wrong category to put with this title, but it really fits. I have several half-baked ideas for stories, but they’re all set in fictional worlds filled with people and places that don’t have names. Why don’t they have names? Because, I want to make their names new, original and not quite like anything that already exists. I want to, at least partially, dislocate the reader from their usual preconceptions about fantasy literature. So, I invented a continent that is in the Southern hemisphere. That inverts the standard Euro-centric notions of hot and cold, not to mention civilization and barbarism. But, that’s still not enough. So, names…
I want names that sound like they come from an asiatic land of some kind, but not one that can be easily identified. Not quite China or Japan, or even India, but close to all three. Now, I could just use names from each of those cultures and sort of mash them around to get something “new”, but that seems too much like cheating. The alternative I came up with, though, is so much harder: a set of invented languages. In fact, a whole set of interrelated and interdependant created languages. Yes, yes, “just like Tolkien”. Except, of course, I’m not a linguist and I don’t know Welsh.
And, therein lies the rub, I am, in fact, not a linguist. I don’t know hardly a thing about linguistic rules for sound change or grammar or morphology or phonology. Frankly, the whole process is so intimidating that I’m just about at a loss for where to begin. I tried using several different language creation programs, but they never quite produced good enough results. Close, but not quite as good as a natural language. I tried using software that just created words from source data of various kinds, but that fell short, too. The words came out okay, but how should I use them? How should they be related? Eventually, I stopped trying to make a whole language and focused only on enough words to make some meaningfull names. But, even that seemed to get bogged down in the manipulation of the software and data, ultimately producing no results.
So, in a way, I’ve come full circle. I’m back to simply not knowing how to start. I’ve been reading the various e-mail lists for ConLanging and come to the conclusion that a hybrid method might suit me. Generating series of words to choose from, but determining my own relationship between them, if any. And, I can use a spreadsheet to track them all. Or, perhaps, a simple database. But, of course, that puts the work back on me.
Now, I have to figure out how to be creative and original. I have to hear the language and the names people call each other in my head. I have to not only see the destinations that my characters are headed toward, but what they’re named on a map.
Can it be done? Yes. Can I do it? Maybe.


Here There Be Dragons

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

What is it about dragons?

Last week, I watched a really mediocre movie on the SciFi channel called “Dragon Fighter“. It wasn’t that the acting was bad because I expected that. I mean, an action adventure movie about dragons being brought back to life? And the dragons breathe fire? No, I wasn’t expecting Lawrence Olivier. But, I was hoping that the dragons would be good. Alas, they weren’t.

First of all, the dragons were huge. I mean, these things were the size of a Lear jet. Now, that is a really, really big predator. Which means, it needs a lot to eat, right? But, they never really showed how this thing ate. It just kept snacking on scrawny, little humans. Not once did these things go for a nice, juicy cow or even a goat. Nope, ate exculsively humans that were shooting at it, in fact. Go figure. If my lunch were shooting at me, I’d start a new diet!
Then, there was the fact that it breathed actual fire. Okay, that’s not so bad, but they never explained it at all! They never even tried!! It was just “Oh, it’s a dragon, so it breathes fire. Everyone knows that!” What a joke! At least Reign of Fire did better than that!
And, also, there was the way the darn thing looked. The effects were just horrid. It didn’t even look like a good rubber suit, much less like a lizard. At least Godzilla has some kitsch value! I could have forgiven all the rest if the effects had been any good.

Why is it, I wondered while watching this lackluster film, that dragons are always so huge? I mean, think about it, a 425 pound lion is going to make a mess of the average person. Imagine a 500 pound lizard with acidic, poisonous drool that can fly. Even if it was land-bound, that could tear apart a pre-gunpowder civilization. The komodo dragon is a nasty enough beast, and it’s real!
This is what I was talking about in my entries about building a more realistic monster. These dragons weren’t even close to real and, frankly, I’m much more frightened by the real komodo dragons!

So, now I guess I’ll have to write a story about more realistic dragons. But, I can’t duplicate what Anne Mcaffrey did with Pern. I’m not sure how I’l do that, yet, but at least I know what not to do now!
Well, off to work!


Games and Realism

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning.
The moon is a First Quarter Moon

What goes into making a “realistic” world or game?

That’s an age old debate, actually. There are those who critisize Dungeons and Dragons for not being realistic enough, but, of course, the creators never really intended that it should be too terribly realistic. They were after smooth game play, which is what they got. Now, the current rules (3rd edition, as of this writing) are a better simulation of an imagined reality, but the game play suffers a bit for that realism. But, the more historically “pure” find that anything with that much magic in it can’t be very realistic at all.
There are alternatives to the standard Dungeons and Dragons, high-magic worlds, though. For one, there’s Columbia Games’ Hârn. And, the creator of Hârn, N. Robin Crosby, has written a nice introduction to that world. One thing I particularly like about his intro is that he reveals a certain amount of his methodology. (Readers can find that introduction here.)

Way back when I first found Hârn, it captured my imagination because it was a fully fleshed-out, authentic, working and coherent world. There really weren’t any other fantasy worlds designed for games that could say that. The closest thing would have been D&D’s Greyhawk, but even that left significant holes for the gamer to fill in on their own. For one thing, Hârn had a set of detailed, realistic-looking maps. It wasn’t done in a “arty” way, but more like a modern map might be drawn. And the “Hârndex” was a sort of Medieval Encyclopedia Brittanica. It had rough drawings that seemed authentically old and simple text. But, it was enough to ignite the imagination.
The other thing that impressed me so with Hârn was that the consequences were all pretty well thought out. In fact, that’s one of the reasons the designer gives for keeping magic fairly rare. Lots of magic being thrown around make it hard to work out all the potential consequences a society might experience. And, for me, it really added to the authenticity. The magic described in the text felt like Medieval magic. It was somewhat crude and mysterious and just a little bit random, too. It seemed to draw on ancient powers of the Earth that were frightening and dangerous. And, how else would that kind of culture, with a “realistic” education level, see magic? It would be a horribly frightening thing. Of course, so would a trip to the barber or the apothocary, but that’s in there, too.

Perhaps “realism” isn’t the right word. “Authenticity” describes it better. Hârn felt like a real place with real people because of the effort that the designer put into authenticity. Not only do the details work independantly, but all the parts fit into a complete, authenic whole. It’s that authenticity that made Hârn so interesting to me and keeps it in print and selling today.

In many ways, the details and authenticity of Hârn became the goal which I aspired to reach. Perhaps, one day, I will.

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