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Author: Sharrukin

Architect of Worlds: Reality Ensues

Architect of Worlds: Reality Ensues

One element of work on the Architect of Worlds project is that real-world science in this area has been advancing by leaps and bounds for years. Not once but several times, I’ve settled on a method for modeling some feature of planetary formation, only to see some new result published that seems to demand a different model. On one occasion, while I was testing the current model by generating planetary systems for nearby stars, I literally saw the first publication of new exoplanets in a star system I had just done randomly a few days before. This can be frustrating, although I have to admit it’s also rather exciting!

Now it seems to have happened again. The current model I use for planetary system formation implements a combination of the Nice model and the Grand Tack hypothesis, which together describe how Jupiter may have formed and migrated through the early solar system before settling down in its current location. The assumption is that a planetary system’s primary gas giant will normally form near the “snow line” and then migrate inward (and possibly outward) to its final position. This is all implemented in Step 10 of the current sequence.

Now there seems to be evidence that these models aren’t telling the whole story. In a new paper, “The consequences of planetary migration on the minor bodies of the early Solar System,” computer simulation seems to suggest that the core of Jupiter must have formed much further out than the Nice model suggests. It may have formed as far out as four or five times the snow-line radius, and then migrated inward very quickly.

I need to read the Pirani paper in more detail, and see if there’s been any discussion as to how to reconcile those results with the Nice model. To be honest, the Nice model isn’t entirely consensus in the community, so a new model that fills in some of its problematic details might work.

Still, if the Pirani paper seems supportable, it may be necessary to do a significant rewrite of the second chunk of the design sequence. It’s possible that the result may actually be simpler than what I’ve got now. I’ve thought of a way to cut out some of the current sub-steps and computation, making the process a little smoother, that might work. We’ll see what develops.

The Curse of Steel: Rough Timeline

The Curse of Steel: Rough Timeline

To review the bidding: I’m working up some background notes for a novel I’ve started but gotten stuck on, with the working title of The Curse of Steel. Last time I set down some ideas for specific peoples and ethnic groups to be found in the setting – rather Tolkienesque, with quite a bit of input from the paleontological fantasy of Michael Scott Rohan. Today, here are some notes about a rough-draft timeline that can serve as a high-level framework.

  • Age of Myth (until about 9000 years before present):
    • The world spends many thousands of years in a deep glacial age. Gods hostile to human life dominate the world, led by a powerful and malevolent deity (the first Great Enemy). Benevolent gods come to the mortal world to battle the hostile deities, eventually killing them or driving them into the outer darkness.
    • During the wars, the benevolent gods ally with Elders and Smith-folk, helping them to create the first sophisticated kingdoms (but not civilizations, since they don’t involve cities) in the world. In response, the malevolent gods create the Beast-folk to serve as shock troops. Humans and the Sea-folk remain primitive, barely surviving in small refugia and taking little or no part in the wars of the gods.
    • Once the malevolent gods are finally defeated and the world begins to warm, the Elders withdraw to the divine plane to live with the benevolent gods. The Smith-folk remain behind, some of them reverting to primitive hunter-gatherer lifestyles, others looking for opportunities to practice their crafts now that the wars of the gods are over.
  • About 8700 years before the present: Several groups of Smith-folk settle in a region analogous to the Fertile Crescent, striking up a mutually beneficial relationship with the human hunter-gatherers of the region. The Smith-folk teach humans primitive agriculture and Neolithic-level technologies, helping to build large cult-centers (megalithic architecture).
  • About 8200 years before the present: Rising sea levels encroach upon a low-lying region in the far northwest, undermining the connection between the continental mainland and a “Northern Isles” region that will eventually become analogous to the British Isles.
  • About 6700 years before the present:
    • Foundation of the world’s first pseudo-city, a Neolithic population center on the edges of the “Fertile Crescent” region which grows to about ten thousand inhabitants. The settlement remains organized along hunter-gatherer lines, with no social stratification, civic cult, or record-keeping.
    • A malevolent goddess, the second Great Enemy, enters the mortal world, remaining hidden, spying out the state of the world. She becomes disgusted with the “crowding and swarming” of humans, and seeks out ways to eradicate them through infectious disease.
  • About 5700 years before the present: Farming communities begin to spread slowly in all directions from the agricultural urheimat, possibly driven by the need to avoid crowding and disease. While they migrate across the Great Lands, these farmers intermarry with and displace the original hunter-gatherer peoples.
  • About 5400 years before the present: A large landslide takes place adjacent to the northern seas, causing a massive tsunami. The last remnants of the “low country” are overwhelmed, and the Northern Islands are cut off from the continental mainland.
  • About 4900 years before the present: The first great pseudo-city collapses, wracked by disease and social upheaval. The collapse accelerates the spread of Neolithic technologies and society across the Great Lands, as farmers seek to spread out and bring more land under intensive cultivation.
  • About 4200 years before the present: Neolithic peoples have reached the far northwest of the Great Lands, and the coasts of the western sea. Farming expansion pauses for about a thousand years.
  • About 3700 years before the present: With the aid of the Smith-folk, a small population of Neolithic farmers in the central Great Lands develops bronze metallurgy. The technology is jealously guarded and fails to spread.
  • About 3200 years before the present:
    • Human farming societies cross the strait to settle in the Northern Islands, also spreading into far northern regions. The Great Lands are now dominated by farming communities, although the older hunter-gatherer populations still survive in reclusive enclaves. The Smith-folk thrive in this environment, setting up small communities and bands of itinerant craftsmen, offering technical services and maintaining long-distance trade networks.
    • Just as farmers come to dominate the Great Lands, the second Great Enemy reveals herself, openly seeking to do away with humans and return to the world to its “natural” state. Her first gambit is to encourage a series of plagues in the Neolithic populations, decimating many communities. Human populations throughout the Great Lands remain depressed for centuries afterward.
    • The incipient Bronze Age society in the central Great Lands is a victim of the Great Enemy’s activity. Bronze metallurgy is lost for several centuries before being reinvented in the “Fertile Crescent” region.
    • A large contingent of the Elders departs the divine plane to pursue the malevolent goddess, resulting in several centuries of warfare in the northwestern region of the Great Lands. The Elders recruit Neolithic-level humans as adjuncts in their war, sometimes as soldiers, more often as serfs who can raise food and supplies for the war effort. Humans still benefit from the relationship, learning a great deal from the Elders and coming to speak a pidgin version of their language.
  • About 2700 years before the present: Humans in the Fertile Crescent analog develop Bronze Age metallurgy, with some help from local Smith-folk communities. First development of true civilization (intensive agriculture, record-keeping, social stratification, organized religious cult, cities). Bronze Age technologies begin to spread across the Great Lands.
  • About 2600 years before the present:
    • The war ends with another intervention of the benevolent gods, who deliver a final defeat to the second Great Enemy. Some of the Enemy’s lieutenants (minor gods and demigods) escape the defeat and hide in the mortal world for centuries to come. One comes to lurk among the nascent civilizations of the Fertile Crescent analog.
    • With the enemy defeated, most of the surviving Elders return to the divine plane, although a small remnant population remains in the Great Lands for many centuries.
    • The human societies who directly aided the Elders in their war are rewarded with the opportunity to migrate to a very hospitable minor continent amid the western sea. There, they develop their own civilization based upon all they have learned from the Elders and the benevolent gods.
  • About 2500 years before the present: In the wide plains east of the Great Lands, a human pastoral culture domesticates the horse. This development gives these humans an advantage over their neighbors, and they begin to spread more widely.
  • About 1600 years before the present: Another of the malevolent gods (the third Great Enemy) begins to actively interfere in the development of human civilizations in the “Fertile Crescent” region. This deity is more subtle than his predecessors, seeking to manipulate humans and rule them rather than eradicate them. His activities provoke no obvious response from the divine plane for many centuries.
  • About 1500 years before the present:
    • First Bronze Age societies appear in the northwestern region of the Great Lands, and in the Northern Isles.
    • The first ships from the mid-ocean civilization begin to visit the Great Lands, although they make no permanent settlements and never remain for long. Contact with the Bronze Age tribes of the region is friendly and mutually beneficial.
    • The first human empire is established in the “Fertile Crescent” region, with the third Great Enemy lurking in the shadows behind the human kings.
  • About 1200 years before the present: The horse-breeding people in the plains east of the Great Lands develop a new set of technologies, including the spoke-wheel chariot and the composite bow. These Chariot People discover they have an immense military advantage over their neighbors, and their society becomes structured to exploit that advantage. They begin a centuries-long process of moving into new regions, taking over as a warrior elite, then imposing their language and customs on the prior farming societies they have conquered.
  • Present Day:
    • The peoples of the Great Lands, especially those in the “cradle of civilization” regions, have made the transition to an Iron Age technology. Only in a few very peripheral areas are some people still lingering at a Bronze Age (or Neolithic) level.
    • The Chariot People have invaded and infiltrated as far as the Northern Isles, and have come to dominate the Great Lands. Krava’s people are among these later arrivals, resembling early Celts (Halstatt culture).
    • The third Great Enemy remains hidden, slowly building up the power of the human empires under his sway.
    • The mid-ocean civilization is the great power of the world, sailing all around the planet, trading with everyone they find. In recent centuries they have contacted the Sea-folk and have done much to spread the “little people” all over the planet. Unfortunately, they have also gotten a taste for power, and their relationships with other cultures are becoming less gentle or benevolent.

Okay, with that I’m ready to start working on a revised version of the map, focusing on the “Great Lands” regions. If get really ambitious, I may use that map to construct a variant board for a tabletop game that I can use to generate the history in a bit more fine-grained detail. With any luck, that will help me envision Krava’s world more fully, so I can get that novel unblocked. More to come.

The Curse of Steel: Some Background Notes

The Curse of Steel: Some Background Notes

The setting for The Curse of Steel is a region whose name will translate as The Great Lands (the constructed-language word is probably something like Mortalani). This is a region roughly analogous to western Europe (or north-western Middle-earth, if I’m being honest) which has just about completed its transition to the Iron Age.

The primary inspirations here are Tolkien’s legendarium, and the fantasy of another British author: Michael Scott Rohan. From Tolkien will come the general shape of the world map, and a few pieces of back story. From Rohan will come a more Darwinian approach, in which the divine powers aren’t all so benevolent to humans, and societies are rooted in the long prehistory of a world that wasn’t created for their benefit.

The Peoples

At present I have five “races” (more accurately, hominid subspecies) in mind for this setting.

Elders

The Elders are a very ancient population, ancestral to all the others. Think of these as highly evolved and sophisticated homo erectus.

Elders tend to be shorter and more gracile than humans, but they are strong and quick for their size, and are immune to aging or disease. They are not by nature more intelligent than humans, but they have many ages of traditional wisdom to draw upon, and they have considerable natural talent with magic. Their natural lifestyle is that of intensive hunter-gatherers. When they have the opportunity, they will sometimes maintain small sedentary communities in order to practice more advanced arts and crafts.

The Elders are almost extinct in the mortal world. Most of them departed from the world long ago, to live in the divine sphere with the benevolent gods. Some return from time to time on specific errands, always apparently arriving by sea, so individual Elders and even small groups are sometimes seen.

Smith-folk

The Smith-folk are about as tall as humans, but they are stocky and extremely strong. Think of these as resembling homo neanderthalensis, although with better manual dexterity and more advanced material culture.

The Smith-folk learned advanced crafts from the Elders in ages past and are now known as the best stone-workers, wood-workers, and metal-smiths in the world. They are very clannish and insular. They tend to live in small communities within reach of agricultural society, where they can trade their craft-work for food. When that doesn’t work out, they will often revert to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle (or turn to brigandage).

Sea-folk

The Sea-folk are small hominids, about half the size of humans, not very strong but quick and nimble.  Think of them as homo floriensis who have taken to more advanced tools.

Sea-folk originally evolved on a chain of islands far away on the other side of the world, where they followed an intensive hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Centuries ago they encountered human sea-farers, and took to that life with great enthusiasm, making themselves so useful that every sea-captain sought them out. Today, they can be found in coastal communities everywhere.

Sea-folk are very gregarious, curious and imitative, good at picking up languages and mimicking local customs. They are superb sailors and fishermen, but are also known as thieves and rogues.

Humans

Humans are the default population from which my protagonist and most of her peers and rivals come. They are biologically and sociologically identical to homo sapiens sapiens, modern humans from Earth. They are the most diverse of the peoples of the world, following many lifestyles and living at a wide range of levels of technology.

In ages past, some human populations interacted with the Elders and learned a great deal from them. Transplanted to a minor continent amid the Western Sea, these were among the first to develop an advanced civilization. Today they are great sea-farers, traveling all over the world to trade with the peoples they find. In the Great Lands, they have begun to establish permanent settlements on the coasts, and their relationship with the indigenous peoples is turning greedy and exploitative.

Other humans developed civilization independently and are beginning to establish large empires of their own, but these have generally fallen under the domination of cruel and greedy gods. My protagonist is from a more “barbarian” culture, technically advanced but still at a tribal level of organization. Most human societies in the area where the story takes place are blended from ancient hunter-gathers, farmers who moved into the area in more recent millennia, and a warrior elite who arrived even more recently with their distinctive customs, language, and military technology.

Beast-folk

Beast-folk are the “youngest” of the major hominid subspecies, bred by malevolent gods in the last few thousand years. They have no close analogue in our own prehistory.

Beast-folk were bred to be carnivorous pastoralists, living on herds of horses and cattle on the broad plains east of the Great Lands. They’re also not above eating members of the other four subspecies when opportunity arises. They are larger and stronger than the other peoples, and raised from birth as warriors. They don’t make particularly good soldiers, since their logistical requirements don’t allow them to form large armies. On the other hand, they make excellent raiders and shock troopers.

Beast-folk were created to be destroyers of civilizations, and many of them remain hostile to all outsiders, feared and hated. They are somewhat variable, however; some beast-folk are less necessarily hostile, and a few have even assimilated into human societies.

Final Notes on “Races”

Yes, if you tilt your head and squint, you end up with “elves,” “dwarves,” “hobbits,” “men,” and “orcs,” but I’m hoping to play those themes in a different key, as it were.

One note: when it comes to who can interbreed with whom, humans and the Smith-folk are the ones who have been known to intermarry, while the Elders and the Sea-folk are more biologically distinctive. No one is quite sure whether the Beast-folk can interbreed with any of the others; no one really wants to make the experiment.

Villains

The stories I have in mind are likely to have a variety of villains and conflict-sources. Given that I’m aiming for a pulpy, Conanesque feel, there should be plenty of corrupt kings and evil wizards to go around. On the other hand, the big, world-shaking villains are all going to be gods.

Most spirits and gods are benevolent – or at least not interested in interfering with the mortal world. Occasionally one of the gods decides to be malevolent, emerging onto the mortal plane to pursue their own goals, actively interested in killing, tormenting, or just ruling mortals. The Elders call these malevolent beings the Great Enemies. So far in history there have been three of these:

  • The most powerful of the Great Enemies, a god of deep cold and ice. He fought to preserve the mortal world as a place of quiet, austere beauty, free of the “corruption” of sentient life. Held sway for many thousands, if not millions of years, and was only defeated by the direct engagement of more benevolent gods.
  • A goddess of disease and pestilence, who thought of herself as a champion of the natural world. She sought to protect forests and animal life around the world by using virulent plagues to eradicate sentient life. Opposed by the Elders, and eventually by a brief period of divine intervention.
  • A god of fire, iron, and warfare, who seeks not to eliminate sentient life, but to rule it “for its own good.” Currently active in the world in the present day, not apparently opposed by the Elders or by the benevolent gods.

Okay, that’s a taste of the backdrop. Next time, some notes on the initial draft timeline for the setting. Then I’m going to start working on a new version of the map, which I may also use to set up a worldbuilding-by-simulation exercise to develop the timeline in more detail. More to come over the next few days.

Reviving an Old Project

Reviving an Old Project

I’ve been rather blocked for the past month or so, as witness the lack of updates in this space for about that long. So I’m going to try something that often works for me: turn to one of the other projects that’s currently on the back burner, and see if I can push it forward for a while. By the time I run out of steam on that, I usually find I can turn back to the first project and make progress with it once more.

One of the items I’ve had on the back burner for a while is a novel, possibly first in a series, with the working title of The Curse of Steel. This is a foray into writing Robert E. Howard-style pulp, set in an Iron Age world that’s reminiscent of our own prehistory without being tied to it.

The protagonist is Krava, “the Raven,” a female warrior from a pseudo-Celtic society, kind of a younger Boudica. After a battle against orc-like raiders, in which her father is slain, Krava comes into possession of a magic sword. She soon finds it an uncomfortable weapon to own, one which pulls her into a struggle of ancient magic and foreign gods. Eventually she leads her people in a fight for their freedom and independence, against several more “civilized” nations.

I have maybe 25 kilowords of the first novel down, including a first chapter that I posted here a while back. Unfortunately, I got blocked on that because I couldn’t converge on a consistent picture for Krava’s world beyond her immediate homeland. Back in 2017-2018 I tinkered with several concepts, including a late Stone Age Europe in our own world, and a completely new world map, but none of those quite came together to my satisfaction. I also did some language construction, which will probably be useful eventually.

Yet as often happens, since I’ve left that set of ideas on the back burner for a while, now I think I can clarify and push them forward a bit. I’ve got a plan to develop some back story and a more focused map, enough that I can move ahead with the first novel when time permits. The plan involves some research, and a little worldbuilding-by-simulation, and I’ll be working on that and making posts about it over the next two or three weeks.

“Architect of Worlds” Page Now Active

“Architect of Worlds” Page Now Active

Recently I’ve noticed a big uptick in traffic to posts under the architect of worlds tag. I suspect someone out in the wilds of the Internet has called people’s attention to the project.

I’m up to my eyebrows in other projects at the moment, but today I took a few moments to create an Architect of Worlds page, accessible under the Sharrukin’s Worlds section in the sidebar. If you’re interested in the project, the advantage of that page for you is that it will include links to current PDFs of the completed draft sections. No more having to weed through old blog posts!

Incidentally, I do hope that people who find the material useful will let me know that, and provide any feedback they can as to how well or poorly the system works for them.

New Content Posted to Sharrukin’s Worlds

New Content Posted to Sharrukin’s Worlds

I’ve started building out the Sharrukin’s Worlds section of the site, starting with a section on my planetary-romance setting Tanûr. I’ve retrieved my original article “Building a Better Barsoom” from the Sharrukin’s Archive site, and have now posted that here with some minor edits.

At the moment I’m working on the first Tanûr story as a break from working on the novel, so I may produce some more content for that section over the next few days.

I think I’ll make short announcement blog-posts like this one whenever I add substantive bits of content to the Sharrukin’s Worlds section. For now, at least, until and unless I see a better way to help readers find what they’re looking for there.

Status Report (9 February 2019)

Status Report (9 February 2019)

I’m still plugging away on Twice-Crowned, although I seem to have lost some of my momentum on that project. I may spend a few days working on other items so as to stay fresh, then get back to the novel.

In particular, I’ve taken the first steps to move all of my archived content out of the Sharrukin’s Archive site and into this WordPress framework. For the moment, all I have is a parent page (visible on the sidebar to the right, under the “Sharrukin’s Worlds” link). I plan to hang several child pages from that, each covering a specific project or setting that I have in the process of development. For example:

  • The most recent draft sections for Architect of Worlds
  • Setting notes, maps, and short fiction for the Human Destiny space-opera setting
  • Setting notes, maps, and short fiction for Ancient Greece and the Danassos historical-fantasy setting
  • Setting notes, maps, and short fiction for the Tanûr planetary-romance setting
  • World-building articles I’ve written that aren’t tied to a specific setting
  • Any new projects that rise to the point of active development

This should give interested parties a chance to look at the content I’ve developed without having to dig through months of blog posts. It should also be far easier to maintain than the Sharrukin’s Archive site, which is frankly a royal pain in the nether regions to do anything with. Finally, I suspect this kind of structure might also be a convenient way to collect content on the way to developing books for publication via Amazon or a game-centered platform like RPGNow. Watch this space for further developments.

Game Design Prospectus: The Wars of the Jewels

Game Design Prospectus: The Wars of the Jewels

Still plugging away at Twice-Crowned, with about 20 kilowords down in rough draft and a little more emerging every day or two. That’s still my primary project, and I plan to keep it that way until I really get stuck on something.

Still, my brain has to stay busy the rest of the day, and one chunk of time that I can’t apply to the novel is my daily commute to and from the office. That’s about 45-60 minutes per day total . . . and there’s a single audio-book that I’ve been listening to during that time, over the past many months. At this point, I’ve been through that audiobook so many times that I think I have a lot of passages nearly memorized.

That would be the Silmarillion, by J. R. R. Tolkien.

I’m going to assume that most of my readers are at least somewhat familiar with the book. Even if you haven’t read it, you probably know more or less what place it has in Tolkien’s overall body of work.

The biggest chunk of the Silmarillion itself is the story titled the Quenta Silmarillion, the “Tale of the Silmarils,” the epic history of Middle-earth’s “First Age” that provides deep background to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The bulk of the Quenta tells the story of Morgoth, the first Dark Lord of Middle-earth, who stole three great jewels from the Elves of Valinor. This theft provoked many of the Elves to follow Morgoth to Middle-earth and fight a centuries-long series of wars against him, which eventually ended in their utter defeat. Only the intervention of the Valar and the Elves who had remained behind in Valinor saved anything from the rack and ruin.

It’s a beautiful story, and I’m quite content with having spent many hundreds of hours of my life reading and listening to it over and over. But my brain sometimes does odd things with the material it encounters . . . and one thing my brain currently seems to be doing is designing a boardgame simulating the epic action of the Quenta.

So that’s what follows: a high-level prospectus for a tabletop game with the working title of The Wars of the Jewels.

The basic design always assumes two players. One player takes the role of Morgoth, while the other takes the role of the High King of the Noldor Elves, whoever that might be at any given time.

The proposed game comes in two levels of play, essentially a basic and advanced game.

The Battle Game can be played stand-alone, with as many as a dozen or so distinct scenarios portraying the various major military campaigns of the First Age. Each scenario provides a fixed order of battle for both sides, possibly with some special rules to reflect specific situations from the original story. The Battle Game involves very traditional wargame mechanics: small chits representing military units and heroes, moving across a hex-grid map that represents most of the region of Middle-earth called Beleriand. The scale of the Battle Game would be about 20-30 miles per hex and no more than 2-3 days per Battle game-turn; most Battle Game scenarios would be no more than 8-10 game-turns long, and some would be much shorter. I would envision even a long Battle Game scenario as something players could complete in a single afternoon or evening session.

The Epic Game is a grand-strategic simulation, portraying the ebb and flow of the whole series of conflicts. Here, the scale is about 40-50 years per Epic game-turn, so that the whole period of conflict between the Noldor and Morgoth can be played out in 12-15 game-turns.

The Epic Game would be the most challenging to design, I think. Right now I’m leaning toward a card-driven scheme, in which both players draw cards from deck of random events, and can either trigger those events or use point values on the cards to carry out actions. The basic mechanic would probably look a lot like some of the card-driven games published by GMT Games.

The two players wouldn’t be entirely symmetrical in the actions they could take. Both sides could probably do things like build up manpower, settle in empty or uncontrolled provinces, build fortresses, deploy heroes, or play a game of influence among the disparate Elven and allied factions. All of those would play into the possibility of a military campaign to be fought at the end of the Epic game-turn, using the Battle Game to determine the course of a war.

The Elves would also have a set of actions involving sending heroes out on Quests. A Quest would require the Elven player to gather a few heroes (how many would depend on the commitment of action points) and then send them through a series of challenges resolved with die-rolls on a set of tables. Quests could be used to rescue heroes currently captive in Morgoth’s dungeons, to kill dragons or Balrogs, or to attempt to sail to Valinor and persuade the Valar to help. One critical Quest would be to try to steal one of the Silmarils back from Morgoth – very difficult and risky, but probably a necessity if the Elves are not very lucky with their military campaigns.

One mechanic would involve manpower. Almost every faction, on either side, would maintain a Manpower score, indicating its current population. Factions of Men or Elves would have to be able to support their current Manpower with controlled provinces – they need land to supply their armies. Elven factions would replace Manpower lost to combat casualties very slowly, but Men would replace lost Manpower fairly quickly (hence giving the Elven player an incentive to set aside lands for Men). Dwarven factions wouldn’t need provinces under their control since they’re based in big underground cities, but their Manpower would be rather severely capped. Orcs have no limits on their Manpower, but they wouldn’t grow naturally, so Morgoth would have to commit actions to build up his Orc armies.

Available Manpower at the start of a Battle Game war would determine the force pool available for each side. Units lost in the course of the war would result in lost Manpower. The overall effect should be that the Elven player will have to worry about every unit lost in the Battle Game, especially the hard-to-replace Noldor Elves. The Elves and their allies will be crippled if they lose all the rich provinces of Beleriand. Meanwhile, Morgoth’s armies should seem nearly inexhaustible.

Another mechanic in the Epic Game would involve politics among the various factions opposing Morgoth. Half of the tragedy of the Quenta has to do with distrust and outright treachery among various factions of the Elves and Men. So in the game, Morgoth will never have to worry about the loyalty of his own armies, and the High King of the Noldor will always be able to rely on his own faction . . . but every other faction of Elves, Men, or Dwarves will be more or less unreliable.

Each Elven or allied faction would probably have a Loyalty score, indicating its current willingness to actively oppose Morgoth in warfare. Factions with high scores will commit all available forces to a war, and will forward-deploy them so as to come at Morgoth more quickly. Factions with lower scores might hang back, or might refuse to send some or all of their soldiers to fight. In a few cases, a faction might even treacherously go over to Morgoth’s side! Meanwhile, if a Silmaril ever comes into play, Morgoth might be able to this system to trigger outright warfare among his opponents, as they fight for possession of the great jewel.

I envision some “chrome” systems, of course. There should be a system keeping track of who the High King of the Noldor is from one Epic turn to the next – what if Fëanor had survived the first years of the conflict? More generally, if an Elven faction loses its current leader, there has to be some line of succession. There should also be a system to generate heroes from the Elven-allied houses of Men each Epic game-turn, and possibly marry one or more of those heroes into the Elven royal houses if certain conditions are met. That’s likely to be on the critical path to Elven victory if they can’t keep Morgoth’s armies contained.

I think that sums up most of my thinking on the subject so far. I can see the whole game in my head, and I begin to think I could design and test it to completion if I had the time. Of course, it would have to be a complex bit of freeware, since there is no way the Tolkien estate will ever license this particular piece of the legendarium for such an application. Yet another creative project that’s never likely to come to fruition – although man, it would be neat to see.

Some More Greek Translation

Some More Greek Translation

Here’s another of the Homeric Hymns in English translation. This time I was a little more free with the translation, to make it fit the needs of my story more closely. Even admitting that, I’m not entirely confident in the translation – ancient Greek grammar is a bear if you’re not experienced with it – but it will do for a rough draft. This is #30 from the canonical list: To Earth the Mother of All.


I will sing of well-founded Earth, Mother of all, most revered,
Who feeds all creatures that walk upon the lands,
That voyage in the paths of the sea, or that fly in the air,
All these are nourished from thy bounty.

From you, O Queen, come fine children and bountiful harvests,
You who grant life to mortals and can take it away.

Happy are the people it pleases you to honor!
Your bounty is there all around them.

Their tilled fields are laden with corn,
Their flocks thrive, their houses are filled with good things,
In good order they rule their cities of fair women,
Happiness and prosperity are with them.

Their sons walk proudly in vigor and delight,
Their daughters dance with joy in garlanded companies,
Playing and skipping across the flowers of soft grass,
All those whom thou honor, revered goddess, with bountiful spirit.

Hail, Mother of gods, Queen of star-filled Heaven,
For this, my song, freely bestow life upon me to uplift my heart.
I shall remember thee, and now another song as well.

Thinking about Danassos

Thinking about Danassos

More forward progress on the rough draft of Twice-Crowned. As of this morning I’ve got just over 17 kilowords down.

I’ve been going back to the beginning of the story, to set up Alexandra’s situation and the reason why she has to flee from her home city to Athens. I think the first section of the novel is going to take place all in a single day, beginning with Alexandra about to succeed to her mother’s throne, and ending with her fleeing for her life with a single companion.

I’m still evolving my novel-writing technique. Decades of being a failed novelist have shown me several approaches that don’t work, at least not for me. Now I think I’m getting somewhere with the strategy of just dumping scenes and bits of business onto the page, with the assumption that I’ll whip the results into a coherent story later. When I work from extensive outlines and world-building notes, I tend to over-think everything.

One result of this strategy is that I don’t always see potential conflicts and themes until I’m already in the middle of them. That seems to be happening here. A bit of explanation may be in order.

This story has always been driven by the idea of writing a “return of the true king” tale, while turning the usual trope on its head. My protagonist is a very young woman who would be pretty helpless in a battle. She has to think her way through situations, calling upon her mental and magical talents, instead of just charging forward with a big shiny sword.

So, how do I get a story set in Classical Hellas, in which a woman has any chance of being a ruling monarch? I mean, that did happen once in a great while – we have the example of Queen Artemisia of Karia – but it was extremely rare.

I did it by setting up an alternate history, based on some of the more sensational interpretations of Bronze Age Greece. It’s not clear whether Minoan Crete or the pre-Greek societies of mainland Hellas were ruled by women, and it’s not very likely. Still, if you go with Robert Graves or Riane Eisler, those societies were probably more gender-egalitarian than the Hellenic culture that followed them. (Admittedly, this would not be at all difficult.) So let’s arrange for a survival of pre-Greek civilization into the Classical era. As I’ve documented elsewhere, what I ended up with was a city founded at the end of the Bronze Age by Minoan refugees, at the site of what we know as Syracuse. Although this city (Danassos) eventually became more or less Hellenic in culture, it remains the most gender-egalitarian society in the Greek world, and it tends toward female rulers.

Meanwhile, Robert Graves gave me one possible model for how a pseudo-Hellenic society might manage female rulership. That’s the idea of a “year-king,” in which the ruling queen selects a different male partner each year. That way, no one man could dominate, and the queen could keep various factions among the people in line by favoring one, then another. At least it might work that way in theory. No doubt, in practice, the system would tend to break down whenever a particularly ambitious year-king came along. Mary Renault’s novel The King Must Die, which is based heavily on Gravesian speculation, does a good job of showing us how such a system might fail.

There’s even some precedent in real-world Greek political structures. In Athens, for example, there was the office of the archon basileus (the “king archon”) who was elected or appointed each year. The archon basileus didn’t have that much of a role in actually governing the city, but he (and his wife) took care of some of the religious duties that had once been carried out by the kings.

So in Danassos, at least in Alexandra’s time, there is a ruling Queen who is essentially a constitutional monarch. She is the foremost religious and legal authority in the city, she has an important role in forming foreign policy, and she presides over meetings of the democratic assembly. Each year, at the spring equinox, she selects a new year-king; no man is permitted to serve more than once. The kingship doesn’t carry a lot of authority, but it’s considered a great honor, especially if the partnership results in the birth of a new member of the dynasty. Meanwhile, the city’s other administrative and military offices are filled by some combination of royal appointment, selection by lot, and democratic election. The whole structure is probably rather baroque; most Greek city-states had pretty complex systems of government.

At the beginning of the story, Alexandra is just days away from becoming the new Queen of Danassos, with all that implies.

So far, so good. It occurred to me, though, that in the real world this kind of monarchy would have rather unsettling implications. Just how does the Queen of Danassos select a king each year? She probably has lots of political implications to think about. Does she select a man from this faction or that one? Which candidate will do the most to support her rule and defend the city from its enemies? What if the best candidate for the city is a man she finds personally repugnant? What if a given Queen just isn’t all that fond of men in the first place? Does the Queen ever get a chance to pick a candidate just because she is attracted to him, or because she loves him? And even if she does, it’s just for a year, and she has to give him up at the next spring equinox.

Are the Queens of Danassos the most powerful women in the Hellenic world, or are they the most expensive prostitutes?

I’m going to have to think about that, while I keep working on the rough draft. There’s some good conflict there, and good potential for character development for my protagonist. There are also a lot of land-mines I’ll have to watch out for.