People are complex, fascinating creatures.
No matter when a story takes place, be it in the past, modern day, in some alien future or deep in the roots of Tolkein-esque fantasy, each involves people. Even those elves and dwarves are written through the lens of humanity, and though their mannerisms and customs may be strange to us, these inhuman characters are still people. They express emotions more often than not, have love and hate in their hearts, and are just as complex as a human.
I’ve been writing a great deal as of late–it’s one of the many reasons I haven’t been posting here for a while (others include, but are not limited to, laziness, a temporary site-wide crash, work, looking for better work, attempting to see my family and friends…). The Ember Trade, my latest project, has been in the works for years, though it’s taken many forms. I’ve gotten to the fourth major section (of an estimated 5) so things are moving along well, but I hit a snag recently. A few chapters into section 4 I have found it nearly impossible to write. My main character is stubborn and though interesting, there’s an air around him right now that I don’t like. So, after a bit of slamming my head against the wall looking for a way to beat through the block, I stopped.
Something I learned over the course of my college career was that you had to apply yourself, want to succeed and make the effort. On the flip side, it is easy to over-work or over-stress over your work. Taking breaks from whatever project it is you’re working on can help immensely. Besides, writing (and most other endeavors that take time and effort) happen over multiple sessions. Sometimes you must stop typing, stop researching, and do something fun.
For me, that manifested itself in The Witcher 3, a video game with a vast and complex world to explore, play, and fight in.
The world of the Witcher is impressive. It’s filled with raw violence–earlier today I cut a monster in two and them proceeded to burn another few with magic–but it also doesn’t shy away from making you feel for those who live in its world. I came across a wrecked ship. It was just a tiny thing, swarmed by these blue creatures called drowners. They spit and gurgle and claw at you mindlessly, but the two travelers in the boat didn’t stand a chance. I wouldn’t have thought much of them while looting their things, but then I came across a letter on the younger of the two. I read it and discovered the the boy was sent overseas so that he might have a better life than his parents, who hoped to be rejoining him and his relatives shortly. They were very optimistic in the letter, yet their son lay dead at my feet and his coin in my pockets.
Later I walked into a pub and a man wanted to play cards with me, so I bet five coins and we had ourselves a duel. It was close–I’m not very good at the mini-game Gwent–but I ended up winning both the bet and one of the man’s cards.
A third odd encounter, and the most recent, I assisted a sorcerer in the game with acquiring some goods. She then revealed to me that she was hoping for an escape from the violence and the swampy area she lived. She turned mice into mares, turned our combat-ready armor into fine clothing, and told me she intended to recreate the fairy tale of Cinderella (though the origin story is different in The Witcher, the fairy tale so far appears to be about the same). We then rode off into the moonlight. All the while I couldn’t help but laugh.
These experiences in the game got me thinking about my own world, the one in which The Ember Trade takes place, and how people might spend their time when they are not at war or smuggling things.
Enter: Roth & Fable.
In the world of The Ember Trade there are a lot of companies. Among them, Roth & Fable Games Co. They’re very good at what they do, which is print quality cards, and that’s just about it. Still, there is a big market in gambling thought the empire, and their market is loyal to them. In short: Roth & Fable are my answer to the question above. What do people do in my world besides work, sleep, engage in the black market and fight? They drink and they gamble.
Above is an image of a few cards from a basic deck of cards you can find anywhere in the empire. There is a story to them–the game is based upon another which was cast out of the empire when two rebellions bore symbols upon the cards. These are the re-prints, the result of what the game became after the empire outlawed the symbols of the snake and the sparrow. The sun, flower, and hearts upon these cards mean nothing. However, some remember Aób, the old banned game. Some of the old decks and dice remain. When the rebellions in the northern colony of Averreach arose again, so too did the banner of the sparrow.
Above: Ceppic Cards, ie: the empire’s basic playing cards.
The world is complex.
Never forget this. People play just as much, if not more, than they fight. When looking at the world I’d created I found it to be lacking in that area. Surely I don’t want a whole chapter of my characters sitting at a table drinking and tossing dice, but this sort of thing needs to be a part of the world. It informs the reader of how it works, and in this case the backstory of why the rebel Sparrows are named the way they are. Maybe next I’ll explore the idea of what a theme park might look like in this c.1900’s empire.
As for these cards, I’m making a few finishing touches and will likely have them printed soon. I’m excited to play the game for real, not just write about people playing it. When I do I’ll be back with a bit about how it’s done. So hopefully you enjoy these little posts about my card games. They take a great deal of time and thought, so I don’t expect them too often, but apparently I can’t keep a regular posting schedule so maybe next time you hear from me it will be about this new abstract sci-fi card game I’ve made in which you’re racing through the 4th dimension.
That sounds pretty cool, actually.
Title photo credit: Lou Levit