- Roz Barnes, who a few months later I married
- Oliver Johnson, co-creator of Dragon Warriors and Blood Sword
- Ian Marsh, former White Dwarf editor
- Mark Smith, co-author with Jamie of The Way of the Tiger
- Jamie Thomson, who really needs no intro here
THE SHARED WORLD
As we progressed it appeared we were heading for a 'realistic' setting in which mythic heroes and high fantasy could still be accommodated as far as possible.
[The first sign of a crack right there, if you ask me. What makes a fantasy setting interesting is the idiosyncratic focus of the creator. That 1% inspiration should come from one person. Others can share the 99% perspiration of turning some broad brushstrokes into a detailed picture. But the way we were doing it, we were headed towards “low fantasy with some high fantasy too”. More dog’s breakfast than gods of creativity! – DM]
We decided the first ten or so stories should be set in and around one city state which has a peculiar geographical location.
Some gods do exist but never obviously intervene in the lives of mere mortals. There are many other gods revered, some in the shape of historical heroes. These are not real in the sense of having power. Some are little-known cult deities worshipped by small sects.
The Empire is a theocracy, having one dominant god. The priests use this single religion as a tool to dominate all others. The God Emperor is both the secular and religious leader. The Empire attempts to proselytize, spreading its monotheistic beliefs to those on its borders before swallowing them up militarily. This is an oppressive religion, based on fear.
[I imagine I wasn’t at all averse to portraying religion as a tool of oppression, but will have been more dubious about the obvious plan to make the Empire “evil” and our city-state “good”. I didn’t come from a D&D background like some of the players, so to me that alignment approach to fantasy stinks of propaganda and I’d have been bound to subvert it in any stories I wrote for the setting. – DM]
There is no gunpowder and it is a pre-industrial early iron age world, which still includes some bronze age technologies.
The means of transport (reptilian? dinosaur? what about something like an ankylosaur, useful in battle because of it club tail, they could also be used as battering rams, crushing mud and wooden buildings like tanks.) is cold blooded and very sluggish unless warm. They can be ridden in a wooden mahout or a basket. It is sometimes necessary to warm them using fires to get them to 'start' in the morning. These beasts are important in battle. Because they move faster in very hot climes, yielding better communications, the Empire has enjoyed an advantage. They are never fast moving and messages are carried by runner. There are no horses.
[The idea of the principal riding beast being cold blooded, and the effect that would have on warfare, definitely came from me. I used it in my own campaign world of Medra. I didn’t see them as heavily armoured and slow – that sounds like it was borrowed from the chlen, the sole beast of burden in Tsolyanu. Not surprising, as most of us had been playing Tekumel for more than fifteen years by this point. – DM]
Ziggurats figure prominently.
[Odd – and possibly another unconscious swipe from Tekumel. Or is it just that the Bible has taught us to expect our evil empires to come with the trappings of Orientalist architecture? –DM]
Important buildings (palaces, temples, the amphitheatre where the demos meet, the trade exchange) are built of stone. Less important buildings are timber, then timber frame and adobe (not wattle-and-daub because those require horse or cow hair). Hovels and slums are simple mud brick affairs.
The Empire is hot, sub-tropical. It is centred just south of the tropics. The weather gets colder as you go further south.
[We reversed the globe, possibly inspired there by The Book of the New Sun or simple contrariness. The hot climate could have been another similarity with Tekumel – midsummer temperatures in Jakalla nudge 50° C – or simply because so much fantasy fiction is windswept, cold and muddy. – DM]
The city state area is warm Mediterranean in climate. The fault line, or volcanic ring of mountains, that currently contains the Empire would produce geographical quirks due to the layers of mist and molten magma lakes.
The barbarous lands could still be temperate, they are barbaric because the beasts of burden barely function there rather than because of extreme cold. But the further reaches could even be subarctic.
The Empire lies in the middle of the continent and is fringed by city states and perhaps some smaller kingdoms. Its southern border is the curved fault line caused by one tectonic plate slowly crashing into another. This has thrown up an arc of young, very high, and uneroded mountains. These old rocks have split and volcanic eruptions have added new peaks and mounds of ash. In addition where the crust is torn the molten magma has come to the surface, creating unusual conditions. Avalanches of snow reaching the lava have given rise to the layer of mists which hangs forever mysterious above the foothills.
Fault lines generally give rise to mountain ranges with one sharp face and the other more gently shelving to the plain. Is the sharp face of precipices facing north, hemming in the Empire?
[Oliver’s A-level in Geography will have come into play here. –DM]
In the centre of the fault line of mountains is an area where the two tectonic plates have not yet met, of much lower land. Our city state is a gap city, geographically sited to command the vital pass between the mountains.
The home city state is a trading centre acting as a conduit through the mountains from the southern lands of the barbarians and the lands of the city states to the empire.
We know of three other city states, one inside the empire, one more military minded than ours, and another port city on the nearest coast.
5) Social organization
Most cultures have slaves.
See religion and elsewhere. The Empire would appear too powerful to be stopped by our city state but perhaps there are other potential problems on its many borders, diverting its resources.
The home city state
It is a fledgling democracy. All descendants of the original inhabitants of the city have the vote on every issue. They jealously guard their privilege as the founders of the city state. Prominent among the demos are (i) a few Patricians, heads of what were the noble families which probably still own many of the orchards and grain fields outside the city, and (ii) the Demagogues or rabble rousers. Oratory is an important skill and the styles used would be different for the two types.
[I like the potential for political tension, an idea that I suspect came from Jamie or Mark. It’s not clear whether the Demagogues – wrong word, I know – are descended from the original inhabitants, and therefore get a vote, or are agitating from the outside. No doubt that would have got worked out in the stories. –DM]
There are mercenaries for hire here and a distinct mercenary group.
As a wealthy trade centre the city state, with its advanced culture and great minds, has been a magnet for traders, craftsmen and others who have come to live there. Many of these are very rich, but are disenfranchised as only the offspring of the original inhabitants have the vote. These people who feel discriminated against under the current system might be suborned by the agents of the Empire.
How large is the population of this city state?
We agreed the incidence of magic should be fairly low so that the intrigues, military campaigns and human interaction don't become meaningless. Of course great magics might be explained away by the people.
Theomagy: Magic practiced by priests, usually in groups within temples. Particularly strong in the Empire. This magic typically takes some time to plan and execute but can be very powerful.
Philosopher mages: A few great minds casting their spells alone or teaching philosophy and sorcery together in their schools. They use the basic elements of magic. The search for a 'missing' element has become a part of their tradition. They are flexible in their approach and can use magic extemporaneously.
The barbarian races practice shamanic magic.
One of the philosopher mages thinks he is about to develop telepathy (Dave's idea).
[That notion was attributed to me but I have no idea why I thought it might prove interesting. Perhaps I meant the kind of telepathy that allows long-range communication, which certainly features as a very rare and somewhat unreliable resource in Medra. – DM]
Given the importance of the weather on the ubiquitous beasts of burden the importance of weather magic or perhaps weather prophesy would be significant.
7) The inhabitants
The inhabitants of the city states are either olive or coppery skinned.
The barbarians are white with red or light hair. The dominant race in the Empire are black. By making black people the most dominant culture we are reversing the norm.
[The people of both Tekumel and Medra are dark-skinned, so that was obviously comme il faut for our fantasy thinking at the time, and fair enough too. Those pale, red-haired barbarians were a bit of a cliché though! – DM]
There is an intelligent race of firedrakes living on the fault line in and near volcanoes. They soar on thermals above magma lakes. They are cold blooded and need heat to fly/glide and to think clearly. Away from the heat they become torpid and slow-witted. When hot they are capable of psionics. Humans don't think the firedrakes are intelligent.
[I remember Mark particularly liked this idea and was going to write a story about a human coming to realize that the firedrakes, normally encountered in their torpid state and therefore considered just animals, actually had a sophisticated civilization within the rim of the volcano. –DM]
The expanding Empire has prospered through a divide and rule foreign policy, better use of the warbeast/beast of burden, and unified religion and thought. The Empire has reached its natural borders and there is a head of pressure building up. Its expansionist economies need more subjects and slaves.
The northernmost city state, which lay inside the mountains, has been recently gobbled up by the Empire. "Look what happened to the northernmost city state,” warn the (correct) prophets of doom.
Our home city state has been recently, or is about to be, approached by the more military-minded state nearby to look to its defence and join an alliance.
The Empire is attempting to subvert the minds of the diverse people of our city state in preparation for taking it over. It will also be working to keep the city state diplomatically isolated.
* * *
As you will have realized, we never did anything else with our shared world. That was the only time we got together to discuss it. Sometimes an idea just fizzles out, and the only way you can see that is by spending a little time developing it. In this case I think there were just too many of us to create a coherent universe. Collaboration works fine in pairs (note that only a year or two after this meeting, Mark and I had devised Virtual Reality and Jamie and I came up with Fabled Lands) but with six people in the room – it’s not an ego thing, it’s just that you all want to go off in different directions and nothing gels. Or is it that groupthink distracts you from exploring those different directions? One or t'other.
Funnily enough, if the rights to do Tekumel novels had dropped into our laps, that’s what we’d all have spent the 1990s writing. Tekumel works because it’s the vision of one mind: Professor M A R Barker’s, which has then inspired others to expand upon it. Or look at how many authors can do interesting work in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos universe, or in Mike Mignola’s Hellboy universe (a spin-off of the former, come to think of it). Or the biggest beast of all shared worlds ever, Stan Lee’s Marvel Universe.
What do you think about shared worlds? Any favourites? Or do you find that having multiple authors working in the same universe just creates a hopeless collision of styles? The earliest shared world I'm aware of is Charles Dickens's Mugby Junction, which is well worth a look: