Tuesday Teaser

It is Tuesday, and time for a teaser. This week I am going back to my second book in the Domains series, Bloodlust: Will to Power. In this book Gavin finds himself in a dark space, seeking revenge against a Gladiator who is considered to be well above him. He is forced to journey to the Killerès Circle, the heart of the brutal Death Leagues.

Bloodlust: Will to Power

Bloodlust: Will to Power

The Killer’s Circle surprised Gavin. None of the descriptions or rumours that he had heard about the Domains most notorious house of slaughter captured the essence of the place. The arena was much smaller than the Supplicant’s Arena, seating perhaps a thousand, all in luxurious private boxes. The arena itself was made from blocks of black stone, with tall fluted obsidian columns spaced five paces apart, with bases carved like screaming skulls and capitals carved into the likeness of grinning Gladiators. The fighting grounds were half the size of a standard venue, and cunningly built to maximize the sense of intimacy between watcher and performer. Even the sand seemed a little whiter than traditional, almost as if it had been bleached or perhaps carefully sorted for the purest colour, no doubt to better to show the blood that would be spilled. The entrances were ornately framed and all of the accessories were tasteful, gold, silver, black lace and burgundy velvet. Gavin imagined that it looked very much like the inside of well-appointed mansion.

The ceiling of the arena, however, was a forest of corpses hanging on chains, a grotesque mockery of a butcher’s cold room: the remains of those who had been killed on these fighting grounds. Rabble, Mon-sters, and Gladiators hung there, some whole, many in pieces; a constellation of gore. Gavin had been warned about it, but the sight still filled his throat with bile. If he failed, his body would join that ocean of quivering meat. It was no wonder that Valaran had been so disrespectful to Omodo’s corpse given that this was the league he frequented. Gavin looked away quickly, lest he begin to take in details better left un-examined, wounds and faces. What threw him most was the smell. Despite the forest of decaying corpses thirty feet above his head, not to mention the foul air of the city of Dregs, the Killer’s Circle smelled like crushed roses with a hint of strong, dark coffee and wine. The juxtaposition of savagery and decadence unsettled him; there was no pretence of sport here.


Gotham: My impressions so far.


Batman rarely tops the superhero list in my books. I like old favourites like the Killing Joke or The Dark Knight Returns, and the second of Nolan’s recent imagining of Batman was one of the few that I like (too bad I hated the third with blinding passion).

I admit to being increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of a billionaire hero playing vigilante. Much of this is based in ideology. Let us move on.

So it goes without saying that I had no interest in the show Gotham, which is set in the time just after Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed. Batman isn’t even in the show, only a very young Bruce Wayne, damaged by grief and unable to retreat into the dual life that marks the fully grown superhero.

Yet I watch the show now. This, despite a mediocre pilot that tried a little too hard, screaming “HEY THIS GUY WILL BECOME VILLAIN X (Y or Z)” every time a new character was introduced. I think geeks in general will like the show, although hardcore Batman fans might not like the way it retreads continuity (although, to be honest, I would bet they are used to it by now).

The acting is pretty decent, especially the interplay between Benjamin McKenzie as Jim Gordon, the main character of the series, and Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock. The key to the series, in my mind, is how these two interact, along with the magnificent machinations of Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney, the shows current leading villain. These veteran actors ground the series nicely, allowing the characters who will later become super-villains to develop without the series losing its way.

Donal Logue in particular, is a treasure, as a sleazy, but down-to-earth Harvey Bullock. I liked him in Vikings, and I love him in this.

The show has a lot of obstacles to overcome, especially without Batman there to satisfy the fans, but so far it seems to be getting better and better. Here are some of the reasons why I love it.

  • The Reverse Dirty Harry: After my recent diatribe about Dirty Harry, I sat down and watched an episode of Gotham. Eventually it hit me that one of the things that I love about the show is how neatly it turns that old idea of the the loose cannon, screw procedure, shoot first and ask questions later kind of cop on the head. At one time police procedurals were full of rebel cops who flaunted the rules, and the law, to get the bad guy. Gotham is too, but the main Character, Jim Gordon is the rebel because he wants to impose a sense of law and order on Gotham, one where respect for justice and following the law are not divergent. Essentially he is the only honest cop in a corrupt city, without the other cops coming off as goons. Benjamin MaKenzie plays him well with grim, unbending intensity as he uncovers just how bad Gotham can get and gets his own good actions thrown back at him.
  • Harvey Bullock: Harvey is both Jim Gordon’s partner and his nemesis in many ways. Harvey is the everyman of Gotham: he exists to show us what the people of the city are like and how it became so corrupt. It pleases me to the core that Donal Logue plays him as a lazy, self-serving, ignorant redneck, but that the character is still immensely likeable, even lovable. This is something I feel is lacking in many stories about corruption and broken systems: the idea that the people behind them are not necessarily evil, unlikable, or even ugly. Harvey Bullock is deeply flawed, very cynical, and nicely human, and played with a fine nuance thus far.
  • Bruce Wayne: Young master Wayne is just a very smart, very odd boy with a lot of money and a drive to find out what killed his parents. What they seem to be using this character for interests me as he uncovers the inner workings of Gotham in a determined fashion. In many ways he is the reader identification hero, helping us get to know Gotham’s upper crust from a confused outsiders perspective. In this, he is a counterpart to Jim Gordon, who is getting to know the workings of the city from street level. This dichotomy works nicely for what is a series that has an epic scope.
  • The city itself: Gotham is a wonderful mix of the familiar and the fantastic, blending street scenes with casual glimpses of mad opulence and crazed gothic grandeur. Thus far it adds a very distinctive character to the show, one which I hope develops without going over the top like some of the older batman movies did. A good example is the Gotham police station, a beautiful old hall with wood and brass and wonderful railings and staircases which is just a hive of people crammed full of desks and impromptu jail cells always full of activity. It reminds me of some of the wonderful old schools that we had in Ontario before a certain government sold them off cheaply to the private sector.  It is just the right mix of ancient and modern, and speaks of good art direction at some level.
  • Ambition: The scope of Gotham is bigger than it seems. The writers seem to want to tell a tale of a city, of grand plots in slow motion, of the clash between order and chaos, and yet to keep it on a human level. With superheroes and comic book villains thrown into the mix. Part of me wonders if the show is good enough, will they keep it running until Bruce is old enough to become Batman and wouldn’t it be interesting to see how that plays out with all of the rich backstory they have examined and exposed over several seasons…

So yeah, give it a shot. I certainly don’t regret watching it thus far.

Cities in Fantasy: Decay and Ruin

A ruined Toronto...

An example of a modern city, decayed…

I just finished watching the final episode of True Detective (season 1, I hope they make more). I enjoyed it immensely, and felt it was a worthy end to a good series. I might write a review of it, but only after I have had some time to mull it over.

One of the artistic flourishes that I really enjoyed in True Detective were the amazing shots of decaying urban areas. This dovetails nicely with what I wanted to write about tonight, the use of decaying and ruined city-scapes in Fantasy.

As Fantasy broadens, branching out into regions far removed from its pastoral, feudalistic roots it is inevitable that it will cover urban themes. Some of the best writing in Fantasy these days including such diversity in tone as Jim Butcher, China Mieville, and Neil Gaiman.

I like the idea of using cities in Fantasy, and this includes ruined and decaying cities — cities that have been abandoned, are falling apart, that are trying to reclaim lost glory, or are slowly being overcome by nature themselves.

This is a separate idea from corrupt cities, a more common trope in pastoral Fantasy, where  all urban areas are seen as havens for moral corruption and generally a blight upon the world. If the first thing that pops into your mind when you think fantasy city, is thieves, then you are familiar with this 😉

When I think of decaying cities, I think of urban areas where the sense of community has been fractured. Places where the will to keep the complex systems required to advance and grow a great urban area has been lost or subverted. This is something that we are certainly familiar with in western culture, where many of our cities have started to show infrastructure decay. Decaying cities make for a great atmosphere in a Fantasy novel — that tension of a civilization that is between renewal and ruin and the dynamics of the people who live with it.

Here are a couple of  examples of the use of decaying cities in Fantasy

  • Grundoone, the city under siege: This one was from a Fantachronica campaign. Grundoone was an old city, once the capital of a prosperous land. However, a great rent appeared in the earth, and all manner of foul creatures spilled forth. They ruined the land and attacked the city. Grundoone survived, partly because the citizens of the cities made a bargain with a cadre of Vampires to pay a blood tax in return for their assistance in beating back the war. The city, however, in constantly under siege, and over the years almost everything has been sacrificed in the name of creating a more defensible environment. Great villas have been replaced by narrow, orderly houses protected by immense walls and impressive watchtowers. Once welcoming gates are now defensive mazes, while farmers markets and bazaars have long since become armories and drill yards. Of course, the city survives partly because of the influx of crusading knights and partly because some people would much rather pay a tax in blood than in money (you know who you are!).
  • Urumquatal, the jungle-eaten city: Urumquatal is an ancient city that was once the heart of a great empire. History rolled on and Urumquatal lost its preeminence. It did not fall into ruin, however, and continues to survive to present day. The city is populous and bustling, but the outer wards are starting to give way to nature as the aggressive growths of the jungle encroach, eating old stone and overturning less popular statues, and the cobbles of roads that are rarely used these days. Rats and worse thrive in these places, giving the city a worse reputation than it deserves, something the current residents feel touchy about. They do their best to stave off the jungle, but Urumquatal is not quite important enough to regain its former splendor.

Ruined urban areas are also interesting settings. Pastoral Fantasy often has ancient ruins showcased as part of the idea that the past was somehow purer and more glorious than modern day, but urban fantasy can go far beyond that tired old trope. Ruined cities can act as a warning, a preview of the consequences of failure. Ruins can also acts as a place of gestation where the death of one civilization gives rise to another.

Here are a couple of examples of the use of ruined cities in Fantasy

  • Bogrut’s Nest, formerly Daigara: Bogrut led the sack of Daigara twenty years ago. As he was taking the city the great ogre chieftain noted the magnificence of the place and ordered that any human who could show their worth should be spared. This diminished the bloodbath somewhat, and provided the Ogres with a swath of highly skilled ‘helpers’. Daigara has truly been destroyed, looted, and despoiled. The great temple dome has been toppled so that Bogrut’s son could build himself a throne. The statues of the founders have been melted down to provide metals to equip the ogres with new armour and weapons. House and buildings have been demolished and rebuilt for new occupants, who have learned much from the dead city and are ready to show the world…
  • Glimmerlight: Hundreds of years ago Glimmerlight was once a massive city, powerful and populous. All of that changed in a single day — the eruption of a massive volcano buried the city in ash and mud. Few of the residents escaped. Glimmerlight now attracts monsters, who lair in the ruins, and adventurers who seek the treasures that still lie somewhere in its depths.  Gold, gems, trades goods, and many other objects wait for those who can find their way in through old sewers and tunnels built by previous expeditions. More importantly, the wise know that deep within Glimmerlight lies an important and well protected library containing magical lore that has long since been lost to the outside world….

Cities in Fantasy: Moving beyond the Pastoral

Fantasy cities can feature very unique environments.

Fantasy cities can feature very unique environments.

I am fascinated with cities, both modern, and ancient. Perhaps this interest comes from living much of my life in the country near a university town, about an hour away from Canada’s largest city. As I have matured, these communities have changed as the the town spreads outward, reaching for a greater connection to the city, while the older, more successful denizens of the city have spilled over into the quiet countryside looking for the pastoral life. Their is a certain magnificence in watching these interactions, like the feeling on gets from watching a tree grow or a great work take shape. Some things are best experienced in the fullness of time.

Urban themes are not new to Fantasy, but they are often under-represented. Even more complex modern Fantasy often limits itself to a Dickensian representation of the city: a place of corruption and chaos, squalor and oppression. There are a few exceptions, and a growing number of Fantasy writers seem to be interested in tackling city life both from a modern perspective and from periods analogous to anything from the late medieval to the napoleonic. I enjoy many of these shades of Fantasy, including such divergent works as Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell, Promise of Blood, or the Dresden Series. Perhaps it is the heady mixture of my fascination with cities and my love of fantasy that makes me prize these works above all.

Naturally I have tried to run city based Fantasy games. Some work well, and some fail. The ones that work best have a great deal of depth, treating the city as a character itself rather than simply a setting. Cities change, while castles are static, and many players will want to be a part of that. Here are some of the more interesting themes of the city that can be worked into Fantasy works.

  1. The Melting Pot: People constantly flow into and out of the city. These migrations can become a source of intriguing character backgrounds as well as a reason for conflict as new people become involved in the city’s power structures. Even migrations within a large enough city can denote a drastic change, especially in places where certain addresses are synonymous with success or loss. In Fantasy a city is a great way for many wildly different characters to meet, allowing a creative writer to convey details about the larger world with these characters and their actions within the city. Individuals all have different reasons for being in the city, but they are all united in having to experience the city itself.
  2. Complexity: Cities are complicated. It is not simply a matter of mazes of roads and infrastructure built up over time, which can be interesting enough, but more often the hidden social complexities that make a good urban tale. Multiple institutions are required to keep a city running and working properly, often with many more form simply to organize the chaos. In a Fantasy setting, the complexities of magic lend another resource and another layer of complexity to the city. If magic is common enough it will influence a city’s infrastructure in some way, and if it exists at all it will certainly influence the social structure. Just look at all the magic and superstition in real world settings. These competing interests create friction which can lead to much greater complexity of story than other settings.
  3. Opportunity: Cities are place of opportunity. Whatever draws that many people together and keeps them together is bound to create opportunity. This can be as simple as jobs or as something more dramatic like a Fantasy city that is built around a place where reality has bent, making it the only place where people can work magic in a world. Opportunities can often occur as a result of serendipitous meetings between people, tying back to the social aspect of the city.
  4. Corruption: Cities are also places of corruption. This is not to say that corruption does not exist outside of the city, which is laughable, but rather that cities can refine corruption in the same way that they refine other institutions. A larger population means more customers for elicit products as well as better hiding places for large scale criminal enterprises. With so many competing views it is often easier for the truly corrupt to slip through in the city.
  5. Revolution and Democracy: Democracy comes alive in the City. It is that constant dance of new ideas, compromise, and the need to engineer behaviour on a grand scale that creates the environment where a concerned citizenry thrives. In the modern day, one can live a fairly informed cosmopolitan lifestyle in a remote area because of our advanced communications, but in the past that sort of exposure to ideas and information was nearly impossible outside of the great centers. Revolution, even guerilla warfare, ultimately targets the cities as the centers for change in the end. These themes have yet to be deeply explored in Fantasy, but I think, as we reach a troubling point where Democracy faces a new enemy, that they are very much on the minds of many Fantasy writers.

Cities are places of change and coming together in all their aspects. They can be both positive and negative, and I look forward to exploring them in my works and reading how other Fantasy writers use cities in their works in everything from modern cities with supernatural elements like Vampires and mages, to mad steampunk and classically inspired cities.

Fantasy World-Building: The Kirif


Pillar Coral. Picture these the size of a fifty story building to get an idea of the spires of Kirif.

As I delve deep into my third book (wow), I find myself at a juncture where I am expanding upon the world. Much of Warbound: The Shield Maiden takes place beyond the borders of the Domains of the Chosen, on the “lost continent” of Ithal’Duin. I am going to share some of my initial world building ideas here. There is a long list of does and don’ts for fantasy world-building. If you are looking for direct advice I would try the worldbuilding and fantasywriters pages on Reddit. Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson also have great podcasts and other material on world building. I’m not going to expound on those, but rather go through my own process, which is decidedly utilitarian.

Goals: Ithal’Duin and Kirif

My starting point in this endeavour, other than the world I have created thus far, is to outline a few goals for each civilization and the continent as a whole. Some of these are based on flavour and history, while others are very, very story driven. I will share some of my original goals regarding the civilization of Kirif on Ithal’Duin.

  1. History [general goal] All of the civilizations on Ithal’Duin must be juxtaposed against the Domains of the Chosen. For various reasons the Domains are a very familiar society, early America as settled by the Roman Empire if you will. The names are all easy, based around the Chosen, with only a few hints of the civilizations that existed before the Reckoning and the reconquest. The Goal with Ithal’Duin is to create something more exotic.
  2. Alien Flavour [general goal] The Domains are mostly free of the after-effects of the reckoning. The walls of Krass never fell before the wild magic or the hordes of tainted. The people of the Domains consider themselves the last bastion of civilization and have a very imperialistic past. On Ithal’Duin I want to explore more alien realms, where people learned to live with the wild magic.
  3. Motive [Kirif goal] Kirif is the friendly realm on Ithal’Duin; a society that seeks to ally itself with the Domains. They are willing to cede territory to one of the Chosen and act as a base of operations on the continent.
  4. Appearance [Kirif goal] I want Kirif to be a beautiful, trade oriented society with a style of architecture and cultural traits that are immediately striking.
  5. Politics [Kirif goal] I don’t want Kirif to be a monoculture. The Domains (and the Wyrn) are the grindstone of my world. I also need a fair bit of internal and external strife for story reasons.
  6. Language [Kirif goal] I want the language of Kirif to be a little wierd.

Outline of The Spires of the Kirif

This is a very general outline of Kirif, each point corresponding to a goal above. I realize that this takes a lot out of the romance of world-building, but it is meant only to be a general overview. For me, the real world-building is in the details that I “discover” during the writing, hence I prefer to go in with a strong outline, but leave space for growth.

  1. History [general goal] Kirif is made up of refugees who took shelter in a series of sub-tropical coastal caves during the worst of the Reckoning. These caves were close enough to water that the people could survive by sneaking out to fish, hunt, and gather. They would have been reduced to basic subsistence if not for magic; eventually they learned a form of symbiotic biomancy that allowed them to gain control over their environment, such as a type of coral and some fungus that were changed by the reckoning. Kirifan magic is thus very specialized and not nearly as powerful as the magic of the Domains. However it is so evolved that the species that are in symbiosis with the Kirif respond to those who do not have the gift. Almost all Kirif bond with a parasite that breathes underwater for them.
  2. Alien Flavour [general goal] The Reckoning changed the Kirif. They have odd eyes and their skin is covered in tiny scales, giving them a slightly reptilian look. Most Kirif have very loose kinship bonds, based around their Spire. Children are raised communally by the spire and basic family structure is replaced by relation to the King and Queen of the spire. Those who have no spire make up an undercaste and are always clamouring for new territory.
  3. Motive [Kirif goal] The Kirif are powerful, but they are surrounded by many enemies. The coral with which they build their cities is slow to adapt to new areas, while their Allegiance with the Domains gives them an ally who can support them against the rest of the continent, and also change the internal political balance in Kirif. They value trade and are hungry for friends, but also understand the need for might if they wish to grow. The don’t understand land warfare, particularly attack and siege warfare, nearly to the extent of the Domains.
  4. Appearance [Kirif goal] The Kirif created their own Islands by manipulating the growth of coral and fungus. Eventually they learned to grow huge Spires and shape them into buildings and even fortifications. They are like coral skyscrapers now. These Spires became central to their culture and organization, similar to the castle of a noble house. The Spires have “Kings and Queens”, Bloodlines with whom the symbiotic coral are most attuned to, giving them tremendous power within their home. Individually their clothing is meant to be worn in and out of water and mostly consists of bathing suits. There is less of a nudity taboo, which is not unusual for sub-tropical coastal cultures, and might heat up the story a bit. They love jewelry and consider beauty and art to be of great import. Also they have carnivorous guard dolphins who have rights similar to the Spireless.
  5. Politics [Kirif goal] The Spires are at odds with each other. This is partly based on the strains of coral that each spire is based on. As the coral spreads and grows it comes into conflict with other spires. Wars can occur and some Spires can be destroyed or forced to move. Those without spires are always seeking to start new spires, but the spires gang up to stop them and keep space for themselves.
  6. Language [Kirif goal]  Kirif has basic words can be spoken underwater, it includes unusual sounds like chirping sounds designated by * and clacks designated with a !. To the people of the Domains it sounds like singsong gibberish.
  7. Most importantly, the Kirif have a very different attitude to the magic and the Gift, at least to start off 😉

Tuesday Teaser

Tuesday teaser, a bit of architecture:

The outer walls of Dun Mordhawk keep rise out of the steep sides of the jagged rock, curving to present as little flat surface as possible to outward attack. The stones that make up these walls are closely fitted and polished slick, even after centuries they show little sign of wear and no moss grows upon them; a sure sign of magic. Intricate machicolations line the parapet, providing an easy way of attacking enemies trying to attack the base of the wall and some defence against flying foes. Strong towers, round and squat provided many angles from which defenders can safely fire against any assaulting force.

The main gate is guarded by a fortified bastion cunningly built to slow down an attacking army but provide little cover against attacks from the main walls should it be taken. A thick drawbridge runs between the bastion and the main gate, made of rune-carved iron-wood beams stout enough to withstand considerable damage. The ditch under the drawbridge is an extension of the rocky hillside; and when the bridge is closed it gives the impression that Dun Mordhawk is a rocky island amid floating amidst surrounding hills. A heavy portcullis and a long entrance-way covered with convenient murder-holes for defending archers, gunners, and spearmen await any enemy strong enough to overcome the bridge.

The newest addition to the fortress, a large short barreled elemental flame cannon, waits to greet any who penetrate the courtyard. It is the type of weapon that destroys formations, not fortifications.

This is a machicolation:

Its like a downward facing arrow slit. This is an extreme example.

Here’s part of an unusual fight scene. I have to mix it up a bit to keep the action interesting.

The rules for the match were simple. Gavin was meant to find his foes and defeat them. They would, in turn, be hunting him. The only difference between this and a regular match was the environment and the added uncertainty of not knowing what enemies he faced, how many there were, and how they were coming at him.

The trumpets sounded. Within a heartbeat the roof of the maze above him became translucent to anyone looking up from below, obscuring Gavin’s view of the audience. He could still hear muffled sounds and see vague shadows but no details beyond these. He snapped the traditional salute at the crowd nonetheless, confident that while he could not see them they could certainly see him.

As he stepped further into the maze, his footfalls cushioned by the deep moss. He noticed a mist start to form low to the ground. He doubted it would rise high enough to obscure the action but it would certainly make it hard to see footprints in the moss or a small, crouching creature. A nervous tingle caressed his spine at the thought.

Logistics in Strange Worlds

“Lembas. Elvish waybread. One small bite is enough to fill the stomach of a grown man.” – J R R Tolkien.

My sister works in the Canadian North, a defence attorney on circuit around the vast, rugged territory of Nunavut, which encompasses some of the coldest, roughest, and most remote places in our land. This week, as she ventured out on a new circuit for the first time, she ran into a cascading series of travel issues that resulted in her being late to court, missing baggage and clothes, and then stranded in a the small community of Gjoa Haven. While she was there she reflected on how different the inconveniences of travel made life in the North, especially for permanent residents. Here is an excerpt from her ruminations:

“In the South (In this case she is referring to southern Canada, Ontario to be exact), we have so much choice. So much cheap and abundant choice about just about everything, from where we shop to who we have as our dentists to how we wish to travel; plane train, or automobile. When I lived in Ontario, I lived in a small town called Shedden, west of London Ontario and more than 200 km from Crieff, where my parents live. To get home, I turned right on the 401 and then right again on Hwy 6 South. It took me about an hour and a half on good day, less on a really good day. I could pursue my profession where I wanted and still see my parents and grandparents regularly, all thanks to the ease and low cost of travel in the South.” – Deanna Harris.

This got me to thinking. Travel is something we take for granted in modern day, but often serves as a plot device and an integral part of world-building in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Magical and mundane methods of travel that differ from our can drastically alter the feel of a setting. If a science fiction setting does not include some method of faster-than-light travel then it will limit the size of any Galactic empires. Here are a few logistical considerations that I think are key in world-building.

1) Speed — How far can a person travel in an hour/day/month/year? This is perhaps the most important travel question in any setting. Towns and inns will often be set up along major routes at intervals based on a day’s travel by the dominant method of travel (or the dominant method of travel when they were founded) and where major routes cross. If you have instantaneous travel like warp-gates or planar portals you can bet your bottom dollar that the dominant powers will build some form of post to control travel there, if only to prevent their enemies from catching them by surprise. Even road quality can make a difference: the Roman Legions were able to exert control over such a large area partly because travel within the Empire was made easier and faster by their roads. These roads also encouraged trade because they were safe and faster than dirt paths. The legions were also disciplined enough to march for long periods which allows them to cover a much greater distance during the day than most armies at the time. Speed is essential to any narrative involves a lot of travel. If travel is slower it means that rare resources from distant places command even higher prices from those who need them. Slower travel also means greater regional variation between dialects, languages, and culture. It makes central education and control harder as well.

2) Cargo — A ship might be slower than a horse, and even have to take an indirect route to get to a particular destination, but it can carry a hell of a lot more. This obviously matters a great deal for trade. Extensive trade systems involve moving massive quantities of goods. In areas where ships are impossible it might mean a need for massive caravans. Caravans carrying precious cargo attract raids and need guards and so on. In the Terminator, the titular character is unable to bring anything back into the past when he travels, which means he has to search for weapons and clothing immediately. Lack of cargo capacity can make a big difference in construction: it is hard to build a palace out of imported marble if you can’t bring it in by ship or some other form of bulk transport.

3) Fuel/Limitations — Gas stations are a ubiquitous sight in modern day. Expect something similar for whatever fuel is required by your dominant modes of transportation. Helium and Hydrogen stations for Dirigibles. Fueling stations for certain kinds of space ships. Fuel, as we can see with oil and gas, can become a plot point in an of itself in narratives with large scale conflicts. This is true even of muscle-powered travel where food is fuel. Fuel can limit travel on extended trips, especially into areas where provisions are hard to come by; even foot travelers will have to carry more food while vehicles rapidly become useless if no fuel is available. Cargo can make a big difference in this case, as can means variation. Brandon Sanderson does away with conventional logistics of large medieval armies in the Way of Kings, with certain types of mage being able to conjure food if they have an uncommon, but easily portable type of resource in the gem-hearts. Other limitations, like a need for a landing strip for a plane or the difficulty of a magic ritual can alter a method of travel, and how it changes the world, significantly. A steamship has different limitations than a sailing ship, and so on.

4) Knowledge/Exploration — It helps to know where you are going. In some cases a map or special can be more important than a method of travel in a story. Treasure maps, knowledge of where the next oasis is in the desert, and even hints of what exists where you are going can really effect logistics. Language barriers also effect travel and while their effects on world-building may be obvious on other levels, it is not often taken into account with travel and trade. Knowledge is something we take for granted in the modern day, even in our well-mapped fantasies, but it posed a real challenge to people moving beyond the thresholds of their homelands in the ancient worlds.

5) Means Variation — Different people have access to different methods of travel. If one group has access to a form of travel that others cannot match it can give them a tremendous advantage. This advantage can create Empires: think of British Sea power, Druids traveling between stone circles, or Dragon riders: their mobility is as much or more of an advantage than brute force because it allows them to leverage their assets over a much wider territory. Those with access to special forms of mobility will almost always be in the dominant classes, either because they can afford that rarer form of travel or because they can use it to gain power or wealth. Just think of the advantages that a man with access to a horse or cart-oxen would have in the old days over someone who did not. The navigators in Dune have tremendous power because they control much of the means of travel (though not the fuel)

6) Local Variation — Local variations in travel will change the way a specific place feels. A crossroads town that sees a lot of traffic will be more worldly than a mining town. A port will pick up some of the customs of the sea and attract faraway travelers.  You are unlikely to find a cosmopolitan place that is hard to travel to. Variation often depend on local resources. Terrain itself is the most important local variation. A desert is hard to traverse because of lack of food and water, as well as the difficulty of travelling on sand. Thus there are few cities in deep deserts. Mountains and swamps pose entirely different problems. In Science Fiction this often represented as planets/places that have access to space travel and those that do not. In Fantasy magic can make a difference as well, with magical barriers isolating communities or strange riding beasts that only live in one area. I was particularly enamoured of the Stiltwalkers in Morrowind, huge creatures that could traverse the island very quickly.

Other issues of logistics are equally important as the travel question, Middle-Earth or Westeros may be cool but we’d probably miss indoor plumbing after a while (Among other things). Crossing a desert or a mountain pass are rarely arduous in modern day, but can easily be the focal point of an entire book in a medieval fantasy setting.

1) Communications — is communication faster than travel? Instantaneous communication is still changing the modern world. The impact of being able to share information across vast distances is staggering when you think about it. If communications aren’t faster than travel methods it makes detecting invading armies more difficult, which leads to things like castles and stronghold to keep a permanent foothold in important territory. There are plenty of unusual methods of communication in fantasy and sci-fi each with their own quirks which influence the setting. Astropaths in 40k are living beacons that help guide ships and communicate over vast distances, but their rarity and the danger inherent in their powers inform the setting, making it isolated and grim.

2) Food and Weather — even if food is not the primary means of fuel, it is still a necessity in long distance travel. Water is an important consideration as well. Almost no cities were built away from convenient sources of food and water outside the modern era. Ease of travel has alleviated this, somewhat. Weather is another consideration for travel and local custom. In Europe, warfare was nearly impossible in the winter months, and “General Winter” is still credited with many victories even as recently as WWII.

In Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale the Chosen have access to many unusual methods of transportation. Steamships, magically enhanced horses, and even airships make an appearance. These methods of travel, combined with sophisticated communications, allow the Chosen to rule over a vast Empire. Gladiators are forbidden from using most of these methods of travel and communication because of lessons learned in past rebellions, which means they often have to travel by foot. The fact that the Gladiators have to travel with Grey-Robes also serves as a limitation. The Gladiators often feel out of sync and isolated from the rest of their world, and the limitations on their communications and travel are as isolating as the walls around the Gladiator’s quarters which separate them from the rest of the Domains.

The same is true for individual Domains in some cases. Chosen Eudora prefers to keep her Domain wild, which makes it very different than the rest of the Empire, and far less inhabited. Chosen Moltar’s Domain is isolated by cultural barriers and laws as well as mountains, very easy for men and women to travel to, but sometimes hard to leave. Because of their mystical prowess many of the Chosen are able to build and maintain structures in places that others could not, such as Brightsand Halls, raised on stone pillars,  Chosen Giselle’s garden fortress in the desert.

Overall the citizens of the Domains have an easier time getting from one place to another. The roads are excellent, and winter only limits travel for normal people in a very few places. Magical roads, steamships, and well organized trade routes make travel within the Empire much easier than in the world outside. Trade is very important within the Domains, and regional variations are such that goods are moved about with great frequency. I’d rank it as close to 19th century real world, but with much closer to the classical age in terms of contact with the outside lands and cultures outside the Empire. Other factors that influence travel are the dangers of the taint and frequency of attacks in any border area. One of the flaws of the first Bloodlust book is that I should have had an ambush or attack to demonstrate the occasional dangers of travel off the beaten path. Next book I guess.

In the timeline I am writing about the Domains are slowly adopting new technologies as the magic of artifice becomes more and more available. The Chosen are long-lived, which I have decided acts as a general hindrance to adopting new technology. However, they are now on the cusp of a revolution in travel with Steamships and trains and so on becoming not only possible for individual Domains but adopted by the people of Krass. The main effect of this will be to make it easier for the Empire to expand. New methods of travel make for better ways of bringing power to bear at distant borders. Of course, a new Chosen will need to carve out their own territory…

Edit: I have no idea why I originally wrote Brian instead of Brandon… oops.