Welcome to Cildaire, a Fledgling World, the first regular series of articles I have in store for 2016. This will be a world-building focused series where I discuss different aspects of my process and the specific world I have created for gaming and writing purposes. There is, at this point, still a ton of work to do in Cildaire – even after 12 years.
Since this is the first post in the series, I will be discussing Cildaire as a whole, how it was originally envisioned, and some of the major transformations it has undergone in its many iterations. Going forward, each post will aim to discuss a certain location, mythology, culture, political power, or event within Cildaire’s history. If my writing or my gaming introduces a new aspect, I will certainly double-dip by using this series as a way to flesh out something new. If I run into an issue with chronology or with a gaping black hole in my world’s concept, then this will be my forum to resolve the dilemma.
The germinating seed of where we are today started in a smoke-stained and slightly sticky apartment on White Street back in Grand Rapids, MI. I had recently started a second job as a bouncer and met a group of five guys who would become my brothers-in-arms at the bar. We were definitely an atypical group of gamers, as decks of Magic cards would easily be set aside for a game of beer pong when the bartenders, waitresses, and random ladies we met at the bar came over. There were RPGs scattered amongst school books and beer bottles with swarms of drowned cigarette butts everywhere. It wasn’t my apartment, but I am sure, if the old beige (probably it was originally white) couch was still around, my ass print would still be embedded in the right cushion next to the arm rest.
I started gaming with these guys who I now call Brothers, and loved every second of it. Dashaun ran a stellar D&D 3.5 game, supporting the characters’ unique storylines while still running an overarching story for the group to live in. I was given ample opportunities for my characters to shine and explore their interests. I was given ample opportunities to explore new characters. Most importantly, I was given ample magic to smite my foes with.
Things started to shift though. Dashaun voiced an interest to play in the game rather than run it – I was definitely interested in building a world and letting the players tells stories there. So I pitched an idea for a campaign I called Saints to Sinners. The players would create characters who would start as genuinely good, and then be forced into impossible situations where, no matter their choices, someone would believe them to be completely evil or heartless. It was an instant sale and so I began working on the world.
I love naming things; people, places, events, what-have-you. It’s something I am good at (or at least I think I am) and I get a lot of pleasure in having names which fit their location or person. So, of course, for the world I was going to create – the fruit of my imagination – I simply used the name of the county in Ireland where some of my ancestors came – County Kildaire. I couldn’t do better on my own, even after several pages of notes. Kildaire sounded strong and teeming with magic. In my mind it was ancient and full of fantasy. Sometimes the only name that will fit is a unique oddity like Raepoch Tryv – sometimes, it turns out, the name Jack fits perfectly.
I started working on a map, and envisioned a location whose default geography would be much like Ireland – a verdant continent with plenty of hills and lakes. Kildaire had a few key locations to start. Iopa, the capital city located on an island in the middle of the continent. Look, I never said I was good at this world-building thing, just passionate. Queen Laima Ragana the Duchess (intentionally as pretentious as I could make it) ruled the land and was known to be a very skilled sorceress who could manipulate fate.
I wanted to create my own Arcadia as well, and it came in the form of Simpleton’s Cove and the Vyum Woods. Simpleton’s Cove is still one of my very favorite places and perhaps it was due to our game starting out there. I created a serene inlet called Greenwater Bay and a smaller town where, as fate would have it, a lot of famous adventurers went to retire. The bay and town were surrounded by the Vyum Woods, the largest forest in Kildarie, which was comprised mostly of old-growth redwood-sized trees that held leaves in the shape of, and larger than, human hands. Because this place was my idyllic setting, the leaves were in a constant state of Michigan fall colors – reds, oranges, purples, and yellows.
I also had one more location well fleshed out. The place which has undergone the most changes throughout Kildaire’s history – Ravenglass. Ravenglass sits on the westernmost shore of Kildaire and looks out towards Thundermist Wall (a waterfall that reaches to the sky and runs the entire length of the western horizon) across the Ocean of the Gods. If you’ve read some of my fantasy writing, then you know Ravenglass is a prominent location. Again, some of my ideas were silly and rank with fantasy excess. I have worked a mythology into some of these ideas, but you will have to wait for future posts to learn more.
Here is the hand drawn map I created for my gaming group:
Kildaire, Land of the Five Ashes
The gaming group disbanded after a few years, and I was left with a world which had some good bones, but which suffered from every novice world-building trope imaginable. I had the basic idea of a pantheon and a few gods which I am still happy with today. Since the players were gone, I was left thinking about Kildaire from a different angle – I now had to tell the stories of my own characters, and I decided to abandon them all.
I started thinking about less heroic stories and found a major hindrance in the world-building I had done for role-playing. Most of the world revolved around fitting elements of Dungeons and Dragons in to help accommodate player interests. Where is the proverbial woods where all the Elves live? Which mountain range held the dwarven kingdom of which all fantasy settings were required to include? These sorts of things had slowly crept into my world without my realizing it.
When the realization hit me, I began killing darlings left and right. I vanquished kingdoms, eradicated pesky species, and stopped thinking of the denizens in terms of character classes. There was a mass exodus of Wizards and Warriors and Monks and Bards and Paladins. What remained felt spacious, and soon ideas began to flow.
Cildaire, Land of the Five Ashes
This latest iteration has been a slow burn compared to the last two. It has taken time, writing, and more thought than the last two versions combined. I started asking more important questions and addressing the sorts of issues needed on a continental scale. I began thinking of things such as faith, culture, mythology, politics, and the sorts of corruption which inevitably springs from them. I started envisioning shining beacons of humanity and then looked at them through the grimy lenses of realities such as poverty, power, and control. This isn’t to say that Cildaire is a dark world – it is far from it. However, I try not to gloss over such issues. I even have the pre-writings to a story of an alcoholic beggar who was formerly the prince of thieves before being unthroned.
The absolute foundational tenet to how Cildaire works is simple yet vast – Belief equals existence. I will say it again. Belief equals existence. This idea struck me while dealing with family issues involving a grandparent, and I started to develop an idea of my own belief, which immediately translated into my writing. I will talk at greater length about this idea in a later post, but suffice it to say, it has been my experience that people’s perception of an elderly person changes dramatically when the fall down and break a hip.
Through my pre-writings, brainstormings, and abandoned drafts, I continue to hone the law of Cildaire. Think of this concept in terms of the Boogey Man – if enough parents tell enough children there is a crazy man who eats children lurking in the woods, and if enough of those children truly believe the story, then we now have an issue with a demigod or avatar stalking the woodline at dusk, hoping for a stray meal to wander about. I started working this rule into the mythology of the people and spun a few pourquoi stories to help give life to some of the world’s geography. I will post a story in the future about The Underman, who serves as a great pourquoi story.
Needless to say, this post is longer than I wanted, but there was a lot to share. My next installment will be more focused and succinct.
I’d love to hear about the germination of your world, or the key concept interwoven throughout it, so feel free to post a comment below. As always, I’d love if you subscribed to the blog using the section in the right sidebar.