Monday, October 12, 2020

The Conceptual Beats of Weird North

Okay, so Ray Otus' throught-provoking Gygax 75 came out in April of this year. I was very intrigued by it, but didn't really have the time to commit. Now, with a bit more breathing room, I'm going to go for it week-by-week as a think-out-loud process of expanding the implied setting of my own Weird North. The world is assumed to be ancient, strange, and filled with layered mystery. 

1. Get/create a notebook

  • I'm using this blog for this purpose. Yes, I have and enjoy many moleskine journals, but when I write creative notes on paper they tend to disappear, get ripped in half, or outright eaten by toddlers.

2. Develop your pitch

  • The world is very, very old 
    The planet itself is ancient. Dozens of world-spanning civilizations have come and gone. The current populace mostly doesn't realize it's number X in a long line of successful occupants of the world. Bizarre and inscrutable relics from past eras are buried in the earth, or stick out of hills at random. Magic and technology are cruel and indistinguishable.
  • Many realms have links to the land
    Portals abound. Whether magical, mechanical, or entirely inscrutable, the landscape is perpetually connected to out-world, demiplanes, extant planets, and spiritual realities. Portals might be obvious (blazing gateways in plain sight) or obscured (crawl into that tree root and take a left).
  • Human power centers are not alone
    Many human outposts and lesser kingdoms have scratched out a living in and on the world's surface levels, but cabals of snakepeople, demon overseers, and eldritch abominations hold sway over the greater politics of the landscape whether by obvious or covert means. Every local plot tugs on strings leading into the shadows.
  • Magic is corrupting 
    There wasn't always arcana in the world. It came from outside. As the eons churned, more and more strange energy seeped into the planet itself, whether by portal, occult influence, or mechanical summons. There are extant masters of magic, but not one of them is human. Humans can't handle much magic before they begin to lose their humanity.
  • Mercenary ambition is the norm
    With apocalyptic events having peppered the world several times over, no one makes many lasting plans. Kingdoms are small or nomadic. Villages are transient. Artifacts, outsiders, and the planet itself are armed, dangerous, and paradigm-shifting. Everyone survives, no one thrives.
3. Gather your sources of inspiration (with bonus mood board links).

  • The art of Virgil Finlay
    An infusion of evocative otherness to the fanciful and sometimes unsettling strangeness therein. I take one look at this and have ten ideas about pocket realms, occult rites, science fantasy dreamscapes, and high-risk artifact grabs.
  • The art of Ilya Repin
    Repin's work is somewhere between saturated realism and intense, but un-caricatured exaggeration of emotion and depth. Ivan the Terrible's stare still pierces me a decade after first seeing it.
  • The art of Ordilon Redon
    Between wild color or obscured grayscale, Redon manages to conjure the fantastical while also dealing with entirely mundane subject matter. This contrast does a lot to underscore the implied nihilism baked into the world of Weird North.
  • Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
    Far-flung humanity in a microcosm of experience, cross-species evangelism of philosophy and existential concepts, a mythical understanding of science and destiny, self-aware machines and the ironic timidity of absolute power.
  • Tales of the Dying Earth by Jack Vance
    Perhaps over-cited across the older fantasy RPG milieu, but a critical addition. Listless, anti-heroic protagonists. Idiot adventurers. Space-lost sanctums of inscrutible magic. Eyeball cloaks. It's weird in all the best ways.
  • World of Ruin from FF6
    Entropy wins. Your friends are gone. Ancient layers of the world are rent open and exposed. Nightmare stories become reality. Magic and technology are smashed together. God is a lie. Machines are usurpers. This is the soundtrack of the planet.
Virgil Finlay

Ilya Repin

Odilon Redon


  1. I really love the points of inspiration. Virgil Finlay is mind-blowingly good. And Odilon Redon has always been a favorite since I ran into his work in my art school days. I think the first painting I saw by him was on the cover of a book of SF written by Edgar Alan Poe. Hairy-eyeball-hot-air-ballon-thing.

    1. Finlay is too good for the pulp milieu in which he worked. His stuff is simply better than the fine-but-churned-out content from that era, however inspirational it remains (and it does inspire!). Redon somehow makes a barely-there slide from white to black do incredible things. It's quite impressive.

      Thanks for the springboard for this sort of worldbuilding, Ray!