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World-building Wednesday is a thing that originated on Tumblr, I think. I like the idea, and I’ve been meaning to post something for it for months, but I kept missing the day and then forgetting about it until the next Thursday. But no more! I need something to occupy my time until I can find a job, so I’m going to try to post something every week; although I might take November off, because I’m planning to try NaNoWriMo. I’ve been making up worlds for ages, but I’ve never been very structured about it, and way too shy to post any of it online, so if anyone has any constructive criticism I would appreciate that. LET’S TALK ABOUT COOL FANTASY WORLDS, GUYS.

(By the way, I’m trying out a plugin to crosspost to LJ and DW from my website, hopefully this will work…)

This first post is going to be a little short, probably, because there are a lot of nuances for this place that I have yet to work out. Turns out it takes a lot more effort to construct a culture if you don’t know as much about their environment. Everything is going to be set in Mediterranean climates from now, ok? (No it won’t, that is a total lie. I have so many papers about Scandinavian prehistory open right now.) The world in general is a fantasy (or maybe alt-history? I might still put in some monsters or something) world, but prehistoric instead of pseudo-medieval. Because I think that’s super-cool and I couldn’t find anything like it in books. Although maybe the point is a bit moot now, since I’m ageing up a lot of the places to Iron Age – Early Medieval levels for my NaNo story…

The topic of this post is definitely at “prehistoric” tech levels, although a form of written communication does exist (it isn’t representative of spoken language, however). The place doesn’t have a language or name yet, but I’ve been calling it The Northern Island. It’s kind of my pseudo-Europe, at least in terms of climate (hemi-boreal), but hopefully it won’t end up hideously cliché! Here’s a rough map:

It’s the northernmost inhabited landmass of this world (at least at this point in time), and fairly isolated. It’s not too far from the nearest continent, but you would still spend a few days of sailing without any shore in sight. The map might change slightly as I keep working on it, but the basics are:

The island is the remnant of a much larger landscape, drowned under rising sea-levels. It’s roughly teardrop-shaped, and consists of a rim of mountainous highlands surrounding a flat plain tending to marshland. I don’t know exaaaactly how geographically feasible that is, but just go with it. On the northern tip there is an old eroded volcanic crater, overgrown on one flank by an extensive, dark, and imposing forest. There are actually bits of forest all over the place, but that one has particular significance to the inhabitants of the island (scary shit lives there).

The population of the island is split into two major groups: those that live around the bay and on its islands and are largely sedentary, and the groups based around the southern mountain range and the central plains who are seasonally nomadic.


The two group’s territories.

In the winter, the nomadic people congregate in large settlements in the southern foothills and along the major rivers. They live in what are basically large examples of European long-houses, holding something like 30 to 40 people each. The inhabitants of one settlement, which I’m going to call a community, number a couple of hundred, probably. My sense of scale is not the best for these sort of things, but that seems sustainable to me. (I may look up what calculations there are for this later, but that might be heading too far into “avoiding the difficult business of coming up with plots in favour of comfortable nerdery” territory) Monsters and creepy supernatural things have free reign over the northern half of the island in the winter and it is considered a bad idea to leave the settlement.

In the summer, the members of a community split out into smaller sub-groups and spread over a large part of the plain to hunt, gather, and tend to the land. They don’t really farm, as such, but they manage some animal populations and woodlands and encourage useful plants, that sort of thing. Some also stay near the mountains and exploit the resources there. (There’s metal ores around, but the technology hasn’t really taken off in a big way quite yet.)

Another thing that happens during the summer is the upkeep of borders. Territories and paths between them are carefully delineated and marked. Groups are partly familial and partly based on a ridiculously complex role system, which is part gender, part astrology, and part profession. (They recognise three sexes — plus one, linguistically, for ‘unknown’ — and 4 or 5 ‘aspects’ on top of that which are associated with certain behaviours and character traits and determine how you’re supposed to dress, talk, and the role(s) you fill in society. I am unable of designing cultures without a shit-ton of restrictive rules to bother my characters with, apparently.) Each group owns territory collectively, made up of the land rights of each of its members, and all of the groups together make up the territory of the community. This isn’t necessarily one coherent stretch, but you don’t tend to get things like one community’s land completely surrounded by another’s.

Each group has a base camp within their territory, where they collect resources for the winter, occasionally meet to exchange news and goods with each other, and all come together at certain key points of the year. From there, the group splits off into even smaller, single-aspect groups, which go off to fulfil their various roles. (Oh, you’re also not meant to get with people of the same aspect, who are coincidentally the people you spend most of the summer with. Which is why the winter deity is not only in control of all the things that want to kill you, but also one of the patrons of romance and sexytimes.)

I haven’t entirely worked out how joining or leaving one group (due to exogamy or whatever) works, so shhhh. I’ll figure it out later. Child-rearing and inheritance are probably going to more or less communal affairs.

The coastal dudes are much more sedentary. The area is rich and relatively sheltered, so there’s not much of a need to disperse. They do move inland occasionally in cases of bad winter storms. Their social structure — as well as language and basic religion/cosmology — are the same as of the inland islanders, although the various roles to fill within the community are of course slightly different, and they have a greater marine focus. Some communities also build pile dwellings, especially the island ones. They do maintain the same customs regarding the upkeep of territorial rights and maintained of paths, and carry on a good deal of trade with the in-landers, who don’t have a lot of access to marine resources, since they don’t have any rights on easily accessible coast land.

That’s pretty much all I have on these guys for now, apart from a little bit of mythology, which I think I’ll save for a later post. Now I have to go draw some Homestuck fanart before I explode with fannish glee.

Mirrored from The Random Planet.

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October 2012

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