I found the following beauty of a quote in a beauty of an article that famed pulp fantasist Fritz Leiber wrote for the first issue of Dragon magazine. Just on the heels of a narrated head-scratching discussion between Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser about our world's wargaming, he launches into what he knows--and doesn't know--about his world setting:
It must always be remembered that I know no more of Nehwon than I have put into my stories [original emphasis]. There are no secret volumes of history, geography, etc., written before the tales themselves were spun. I rely wholly on what Fafhrd and the Mouser have told me, testing them against each other, and sifting out exaggerations and lies when I must. And while my conferences with the Twain have been rewarding, they also have been fewer than I’d wish. I have handled no little books of Ningauble or scrolls or Srith.
For the lands east of the Sea of Monsters, much can, be discovered from the stories written since the map was drawn...The Shadowland, abode of Death and said to contain what some call Nehwon’s death pole, lies east of the Sea of Monsters. Beyond it, still farther east, is the strange land of Eevamarensee, where mankind and domestic animal-kind are alike hairless, but whether this betokens an advanced civilization or decadence only, I know not.
...In "Trapped in the Sea of Stars” the Twain seek to sail to the southern continent(s) and encountering the Great Equatorial Current fail in their attempt, but appear to make some astonishing discoveries about the astronomy of Lankhmar.
...In [The Frost Monstreme] we learn of Rime Isle, a large northern island in the Outer Sea, inhabited by men who appear to be of Fafhrd’s breed at least as to size and situated due west of the Claws and due north of Simorgya (for which see “The Sunken Land” in Swords Against Death).
Punchline: from the time he first wrote about these two characters in the pulp magazine Unknown way back in 1939 until his last published story in the setting, The Knight and Knave of Swords, in 1988, he was making up the details of the world as the two explored it (an illusion of course, but it feels close). If this article is to be believed Nehwon was thus a bottom-up worldbuilding operation.
Personally I have been tugged back and forth between top-down and bottom-up world-building, wildly swinging between an appreciation of the highpoints of the two—something mirrored in the diametrically polar campaign worlds of mine, the eponymous HC (radically bottom-up) and the Domain Game's Nowhere (at least in physical geography and ancient history terms top-down).
At the end of the day, like many others in this corner of the hobby (at least those articulating them in forum and blog posts), no matter I love a setting that has Big Unanswered Questions: large gray areas on the map, unsketched histories,proper names facades—mostly unknown to the creator herself.
For sure those familiar with Leiber's stories in that setting can positively feel the exuberance of discovery that shines out of that incompleteness. Reading through them it's like being in a session of the best of extemporizing GMs, strange new facets pop up at every turn. The reader is exploring Leiber's world as it develops piecemeal.
Apropos to the broader point, but too awesome for me to not quote as a post-script, Leiber's article ends with the two swordsmen pimping Nehwon's mega-dungeons to the D&D audience:
As I regretfully parted from the Twain (somewhere in the caverns of Ningauble, of course, for they’re the only place I know of where Nehwon and other worlds link — see “Adept’s Gambit” in Swords in the Mist) Fafhrd remarked, “Don’t forget Stardock when you write for these wargamers—a whole vast Dungeon inside Nehwon’s mighiest mountain, with routes both on the mountain and inside it.”
“Better yet Quarmall, and not half as chilly,” the Mouser in eagerly. “A vasty [sic] underground world of many levels, a nation in the mines! There’s a Dungeon would send wargamers ape!”
Great stuff! I FINALLY started reading SWORDS AND DEVILTRY for the first time just last week. Loving it!ReplyDelete
Making it up as you go along is the only proper way to tell a story. Characters take on a life of their own, the writer is simply there to record, not dictate.ReplyDelete
I would agree with Brad, except I'd suggest most writers do outlines or synopses. at least with longer works. Too much whereever characters lead gets you into trouble.ReplyDelete
Now in game world building: If top-down world building is starting on a macroscale and then developing smaller, and bottom-up is small and working big, I think most worlds are "bottom-up." I don't believe (though I might be wrong) that Barker or Stafford started with the physics of their worlds, then drew global maps and filled in details with a petal-shaped throne or dragon pass coming close to the end (as a small-scale feature).
Barker started probably with a culture or a group of people and moved outward: expanding and editing. Stafford started with two cultures fighting and built a world around them, maybe.
The fact that these worlds had been "lived in" before player's ever got to them doesn't make then any less bottom-up.
"Vasty" is an interesting choice of word here. Leiber (as a one-time actor) must be thinking of Shakespeare's Henry V, where we find the line : "Can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France?" - a comment I think, on the power of the imagination and with an obvious relevance to role-players everywhere.ReplyDelete
Excellent stuff - as someone in the process of designing a campaign setting I've been hee-hawing over how much detail to set in stone before the games begin and this really helps ;)ReplyDelete
Agree that gamed worlds are shared worlds and will always have some element of bottom-up to them.
I actually think it works better to look at worldbuilding as a spectrum rather than a simple dichotomy. At either end you have the poles--which very few people fall into, really--of pure top-down and bottom-up, but between you have people falling in somewhere down the line dependent on the relative level of detail worked out before play begins.
> I don't believe (though I might be wrong) that Barker or Stafford started with the physics of their worlds, then drew global maps and filled in details with a petal-shaped throne or dragon pass coming close to the end (as a small-scale feature).ReplyDelete
> Barker started probably with a culture or a group of people and moved outward: expanding and editing.
> The fact that these worlds had been "lived in" before player's ever got to them doesn't make then any less bottom-up.
From a /narrative/ perspective - and this is what explicitly encapsulates EPT, as published - Barker's creation /was/ top-down. With a title such as "A History of the Nations of the Universe" when pen was first put to paper (or typebar against ribbon onto paper, as the case may be), how could it be otherwise? *jk*
Building ideas, playing games, etc. /before/ that stage quite probably flip-flopped bottom-up/top-down all over the place. (But note, of course, that gaming worlds in a solo manner and/or treating such in a simulationist manner is a convenient short-cut to the bigger picture rather than having "explore" those fully in a bottom-up manner).
Throw a bit of SCAish "living history" into the mix for good measure, of course. :)
> It must always be remembered that I know no more of Nehwon than I have put into my stories [original emphasis].
Well selected quote, Chris. Which shows /very/ clearly in Leiber's work and ties in with their (F&GM) own RPing/gaming origins. The narrative was built from that personal (bottom-up exploration/experience) perspective/mindset rather than from an impersonal universal one.
This is the feeling that reading Leiber always gave me. Thanks for the excerpt and reference!ReplyDelete
From a /narrative/ perspective - and this is what explicitly encapsulates EPT, as published - Barker's creation /was/ top-down. With a title such as "A History of the Nations of the Universe" when pen was first put to paper (or typebar against ribbon onto paper, as the case may be), how could it be otherwise?
Ah yes haha,that would be top-down!
But since I was talking about shades of grey I balance it with this wonderful quote from Jeff Berry about playing in Barker's early campaign (found here http://chirinesworkbench.blogspot.com/2011/08/greatest-story-never-told-part-third.html):
"Back in Ye Olden Dayes, players' contributions were part of the creative process, and often opened up new lines of thought that hadn't yet come to the Professor. Quite a few times, we'd come to the edge of the frame and see the sprocket holes go by; the Professor would divert us with one of his stories, and we'd come back next week to see that he'd written something up to answer our questions."