Essay Mini: On Elfs and Dwarfs

They are actually spelled elfs and dwarfs in the plural. Not elves and dwarves. Thousands, if not millions, of English speakers for many long centuries has been using the correct spelling. Tolkien got it wrong and now too many people also spell the plural of those two peoples wrongly.
Elfs. Dwarfs. No V in the name.

Essay 12: Use Psionics!

I know, that’s heresy. Psionics are scifi’s version of magic! It has no place in fantasy!

Look, speculative fiction…that is to say, what fantasy and scifi both actually are, alongside horror and a few other things now called their own genre, are actually all the same genre. It’s a huge genre. And there was no split, originally. That was done out of marketting, not out of literary, concerns. Publishers called stories with a focus on swords and magic fantasy and spaceships and blasters scifi, and forced writers into one of those two genres, ignoring the tropes of the other. But they’re truly the same genre, and we’ve lost an amazing genre in speculative fiction if we let this split continue on. Imaginative fiction has all the room of all of human imagination to reside within!

There’s no credible reason that psionics can not be in fantasy, likewise, there’s no credible reason that magic can not be in scifi. Both exist with the same purpose in mind and often have the same effects. Instead of copying and renaming and remaking somethign perfectly fine, just use the original. Instead of spells of telepathy and mind control, just use psionics. Magic has its own strengths and flavors, and psionics does as well. There’s no need for one to mimic the other.

I mean, if your fantasy world can fit magic (and typically a few diffeent types), a whole bunch of deities, a bunch of demons and devils and dragons, monsters and magic talking swords, ghosts, vampires and zombies, elfs, dwarfs and orcs, spirits and ancient kingdoms, steampunk and magitech, alternate worlds and planes of existence, and all the other myriad other oddities that a fantasy world typically consists of, why the hell would it not fit psionics? Did the pool suddenly become full, or did your imagination just suddenly become dull and uninspired?

There’s things you can do with psionics also.Typically a fantasy world will have a ‘Common Tongue’ a language that ‘everyone’ speaks. Be it called ‘Common’ or ‘Basic’ or (perhaps with some hubris) ‘English’, it’s assumed that everyone speaks that language.

Blatantly impossible.

There’s no universal language in our world, and we’re all humans. Yes, different cultures (and yes, culture is where language springs from!), but you’d think that with ‘Racial Languages’ that many fantasy worlds have (which also does not make sense!) then there’d never be a Common language to work with! Why should the elfs care about a supposed common tongue? They got Elfish, it’s already superior and more beautiful and they speak it perfectly well, thank you very much. Dwarfs couldn’t care about Common either, it probably does not have enough synonym for rocks, ores, and beards! And there’d definitely not be enough synonyms in the Common tongue for the word blood for Orcs to even bother with it. A ‘common language’ in no way makes sense.

But using psionics to universally communicate? That DOES make sense! Even if only a percentage of the people can communicate so, there’d be enough for people of all stripes to be able to effectively communicate across linguistic barriers. Traders and diplomats could hire psions to negotiate on their behalf. Armies would have a few to issue their terms of surrender or deliver the new laws the conquerers expect to be obeyed. Professionals of all stripes would use them for contracts or to get the details of a job they been hired for. A swordsmith could see exactly what a special client wants in their sword and its dream design if a psychic is able to display that image into the smith’s mind.

Psionics doesn’t need to be a perfect communication system either. Some languages just do not have words or concepts that others do. Orcs may not have the concept for peace, and elfs may not have the concept for war, or at least the word for it. Mental images would be able to make up for some loss of understanding, and could be used to show the other party exactly what you’re intending or wanting. And while not a perfect system, it would be a far deal better, and more believable, than a laughable concept as ‘a common tongue’.

Essay 11: Naming Conventions

First off, naming is a cultural thing. An elf growing up in an orc culture will have an orcish name. The same elf in a human culture will have a human name. A human growing up in an orc or elf culture will have an orc or elf name, respectively. And so on. It works for any member of any species living in any culture at all. In a mixed culture, the naming convention will likewise be mixed. Some traditionalists in the culture may have more traditional names of their traditional culture instead, but by and large, culture defines name use.

Secondly, do not use -stan or -shtan as a part of the names of your locations in your fantasy world. It’s a suffix from the Farsi and Sanskrit languages means ‘place of’ or ‘land’. Unless your fantasy world has a very strong presence of Persians (for Farsi) or Bharatans (the people we in the west tend to call ‘Indians’), or at the very least, a Middle Eastern culture, it never fits and looks completely foreign. It looks like you do not know what you’re doing, and people are going to read your works thinking you don’t really know what you’re doing or understand things.

Also, without a strong Japanese presence, either with actual Japanese people (or above, with actual Bharatan or Persian people) or a culture based off of it (a Fantasy Japan like Rokugan, a Fantasy Persia or Fantasy Bharata), do not include the word ‘Maru’ in the name of your ships. It’s literally Japanese for ‘ship’ as in, ‘name of this ship’.

For that matter, I’ll just tell you the rule I’m giving examples to above: Do not use specific real world words of real world languages for the same things in your fantasy world. Do not ‘transplant’ words. Unless you have a people that are heavily influenced by that language, such as having a fantasy version of that real world people. I don’t care what the language is, or what the word means, just don’t use specific real world words with certain meanings for the exact same thing in your world.

If you want a good, firm naming system, first make up your made up language. Then take the components of your language, by which I mean your letters or your syllables that comprise your language (Japanese, for example, is made up of syllables in place of letters), then make a random generator for the names. Dice make a good one. Roll an eight sided die (a d8) for the number of letters in that particular character’s name. Then use a six sided die (a d6) for vowels, each vowel corresponding to one of the numbers. Excess numbers means the letter is your choice. For consonants, do the same thing, but use a bigger die type than the amount of consonants in your language (If you have 24 consonants, use a d30, 18 use a d20, etc), and any extra numbers means your choice. Keep rolling and alternating between vowel and consonant every so often based on how you think the name looks. If you go with a syllabry based language, it’s even easier. Just make out your syllabry and roll up which syllables comprise the name.

But whatever you do, no longer use portmanteaus, please. That’s when you combine two words together. Thinks like ‘Silvercloak’ and ‘Beardsword’. Just don’t, they look ridiculous. It’s OK if it’s the name of a group and the name has meaning to that group, that’s excusable. But as personal names? No, it just looks silly, always. Put an end to ‘Flint Ironbeards’ and ‘Bfiogherj Elftestes’.

Also, make names that make some sense and look like they could be someone’s name.

Astute people will see that I break my rule against portmanteaus in the ‘Isles of Doom’ story with the character named Ironguts. Very good! That’s true. But I’ll let you in on a secret: He’s a parody character, parodying the tradition of portmanteau names and the halfling/hobbit peoples. Also…well, just read his story on the website.

Essay 10: Weapons, War and Magic

To start this section, I posit the question far too many people doing fantasy literature asks: “How does a normal warrior beat a magician?” The answer is simple.

By sticking their sword in the mage’s gut.

The other answer is also pretty simple. How says that the warrior has to be ‘normal’ in the first place? What is normal? Have you ever read the legends of our real world heroic warriors? The Fianna of Ireland had to be able to jump over shields and have to use a simple stick to deflect nine spears thrown by nine of their companions tossed simultaneously to be considered part of this warrior elite. Cu Chullaine (there’s so many different variations on how to spell his name!) was able to throw a spear through several people just by tossing it with his foot! Why can’t your warriors be Shaolin style martial artists like from a wuia film? Why can’t magic swords deflect the magic cast at them? For that matter, why can’t a regular sword cut through the magic when the sword is wielded by a highly skilled and determined warrior?

But let’s disreagrd that. Let’s work on the illogical assumption that a warrior can do nothing but swing a sword (by the by: ho-hum, how boring). An arrow will fly further and faster than any spell can be finished casting, and a mage isn’t going to be casting anything while dying of bloodloss. Spears and daggers can easily be thrown, and both of those, not swords, are the most commonly used weapons of both heroic warriors and common soldiers.

From the magician’s perspective, magic should never be instantaneously cast. Maybe the weaker, smaller, lesser spells, the ones that don’t matter so much. But assuming that fireballs are tossed as fast as a flamethrower? That is absurd. As many typical fantasy worlds mimic D&D, let’s point out here that D&D had a balance built into it: Spell components. A wizard needed to be able to move their hands in arcane gestures, while speaking the spell, while sacrificing spell components to fuel the spell. This takes time, meaning the ‘normal warriors’ can react to magic being used, but also gives ways to prevent magic from being used. What happens when the wizard’s spell components are stolen? They can’t cast those spells any more. What happens if a wizard’s hand is cut off? No more spell casting for them for any spell that requires hand gestures. Just how many diamonds worth five thousand gold pieces really are there in a fantasy world? Some spells being cast willy nilly have no believable basis and make your story a total farce. There should be wizards battling one another just for the rarest spell components just so they can use the spells, or at least prevent opposing wizards from being able to cast the magic!

Speaking of wizards and opposing one another, why the heck does the ‘normal warrior’ not have a magical unit on their side? Combined forces destroy single units. Also, just how many wizards are going to be fielded on a battlefield? They should be extremely rare making them specialized units, or so common that a ‘normal warrior’ also has magic in their repetoire. Not even an elite unit of wizards is going to be able to match the chaos of a battlefield brought on by cavalry, infantry and archers, and those are just regular units from our own history. They’d be beset by griffon riders and dragons, enemy wizards and giants throwing boulders. They’d have the ground torn out from under them by dwarfen miners, or the sky fall on them from deities tossing thunderbolts due to the prayers of their worshippers.

I say this because if you do have combat magic, you’re going to need to figure out how wars are waged in your world, because people will try to use any and every advantage they can in combat to defeat their enemies or conquer their neighbors. You want a more straight on fight, between a single warrior and a single mage? Look at the beginning of this section, then read classic ltierature of the ‘swords and sorcery’ subgenre. Conan. Fafhrd and Gray Mouser. Watch ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ even. The answers are already there, and this is before you even get into the “warriors could always do more than swing a sword” fields I laid above.

If you do have combat magics, like I said, you’re going to need to figure out how to incorporate them into wars. Even if you do not have combat magics (and this section goes for priestly types who gain magic through prayer), you’re still going to need to figure this out. If you have mages that can only enchant, your army’s nobles and officers are going to want enchanted items to use. Even something simple as bracelets that give good luck would be highly sought after by the army, putting the wizards to work on producing as many of them as possible. Diviniation magic only? That sounds like a great method for a tactician to work out their plans, or an advisor to tell the king whether to wage war or sue for peace with their rival. Necromancer? Hey, free undead troops on a battlefield.

In short, if you’re a magician, do not expect your life to be your own, in any believable world. You’re going to be pressed into service by the local ruler to try to get advantage with their army. You’re not likely going to be able to do your own studies in your own tower, unless you’re in a region ‘unowned’ by any political entity, but then, you’ll face off against bandits wanting to sack your tower to pilfer it. The lawless lands will be rampaged by marauding monsters and brigands, at least there’s stability inside of a kingdom. The price for a bit of safety is just your service to the ruler.

But, as I say in the technology section, technology springs from need. Wizards screwing around with you? Guns stop them. The repeating crossbow stops them, and that was invented around a century after the aeolipile, and nearly a millenia and change before the period fantasy worlds wish to be. Ceramic balls or eggs with the hole plugged can be filled with various powders and thrown at wizards. Said powers can be tear or sneezing powders, powders that somehow render magic useless (such as weakening the mana, or preventing it from being focused, or having a reflective quality that the wizard casting the spell gets the spell hitting them instead or also, etc). Trained wizard killing attack dogs would be common. But wizard slaying weapons and techniques would be more so. You’d have warrior traditions built around the ability to counter and kill the wizards, rendering wizards a rare commodity or a simple corpse.

Magic in a world is not going to exist in a void. Figure out how it interacts with everything else, but more importantly, figure out how everything else is going to interact with it. Because there’s two things any king is going to want to do when they find out wizards an control magic: Use the wizard for their gain, and have people to destroy any wizard that steps out of line.

Essay 9: Technology, Diseases and Dark Ages

First, cut your sewers. If you’re doing a faux-medieval era fantasy world, they do not exist. They did in the Roman Empire, and they did throughout China after a certain early point in history, but in Europe after the fall of Rome? They don’t come back again until very recently in history, and definitely did not exist in the periods of history that typical fantasy worlds try to emulate.

Second, if you’ve got full plate armor, put firearms in your setting. In the real world, such armor exists almost a century after firearms do, and exists as a response to firearms! That armor was the first attempt to make ‘bulletproof’ defenses. You can’t have a technological response to something if said something doesn’t exist!

Also, farmers did not have proper farm equipment until trade with China was re-established and the Chinese technology was learned by Europeans. China and Korea both also made the printing press centuries before Gutenburg was born, and long before either firearms or full plate armor. So having those in your world means you should also have the printing press and a more widespread distribution of books. It may not be a large amount of books, governments and kings may limit which books may be printed, but it should at least by the start of mass printing and books priced low enough that even peasant farmers can think of buying one every so often.

The aeolipile or the basic steam engine, was invented by Hero of Alexandria (his actual name, not a title) in the 1st century of the common era. This is at least a millenia before the feudal era so mimiced in a typical fantasy world. This means that, with all those inventive peoples in a typical fantasy world, steam engines could, and perhaps should, exist before plate and mail does, and almost certainly before all thsoe crazy polearms do. I’m not saying you must steampunk up your world, that’s your choice. But I am saying it’s not out of the boundary of reality to do so. And that mechanical focused peoples, perhaps dwarfs, should have something with it. Dwarfs should have at least steam powered mine carts and maybe a steam engine hammer system to process metals into a uniform shape.

Technology is a big factor in disease prevention. Let’s talk about cholera. Poop in your drinking water, your society will suffer with it. Functional sewers obviously nearly eliminate that particular disease. I know I said you should get rid of sewers, and you should. But a character (re)inventing them because they finally understand, “Hey, we should not poop in the water we drink!” could be a potential in a story, even minor.

Tuberculosis (also known as ‘the consumption’) is a deadly disease that the victim of it dies by drowning of fluids in their lungs. Yet a simple technology that elevates the head portion of a bed upwards at an angle (such as we have in hospital beds today) will completely prevent the death from occurring. Tuberculosis kills when a person who suffers it lies flat on their back and sleeps. The fluids do not build up in their lungs (which causes the drowning and death) if the body is at an angle while sleeping, for gravity helps flush the fluids down and eventually out of the system. That’s why a sufferer won’t die from TB while standing up.

The simple act of boiling water, which can be done on an industrial scale for a society with minor technology, elminates so many other diseases it would be absurd to name them.

But diseases can also wipe out technology. It may strike us as odd, living in a highly technological world as we do now, but technology does not continue ever onwards and upwards. Technology can, and has, been lost. If no one’s left alive that knows how to build, say, a railroad train, then whatever trains that have been built are it, and once they’re gone, they’re done. No more trains for that society. Not unless some other person invents them again (and perhaps differently than before) or the knowledge is regained, perhaps in the form of an old book or diagram. Have a disease like the Bubonic Plague (which, by the by, is not hard to have in a fantasy world, that came from rats of one area of the world coming to another via ships, a common thing in most fantasy worlds) and you can soon see entire branches of technology and society ending. People who are immune to the disease, such as say, elfs, would become superior over others who suffer from it on sheer fact that their social and technological progress is not stymied by the massive die off brought on by the epidemic. Worse, combine the disease carriers into a conquering species, and you have something like Orcs dominating the world with better weapons technology and immunity to a disease ravaging the surrounding peoples.

And dark ages exist. But not in fantasy worlds, for some reason. But civilization is six missed meals away from chaos. If people don’t eat for three days straight, they’re going to rise up against whoever is in charge and destroy them. It’s all but guaranteed. We don’t think of it in the western world because we have excess food right now. However, something as basic yet fundamental as food has destroyed entire empires almost overnight. Afterwards, there tends to be a massive die off until the population stabilizes to what levels food production can support, yet a lot of the prior civilization’s advances will be forever lost. Sewers, swordmaking techniques, armor, how to ride a horse (an aside: the stirrup was invented in Asia, your fake European knights aren’t going to have them), even which food is edible or not is going to be lost. Society will crumble and regress back to a lesser existence. The dark ages of Europe took Europe from the height of the Roman Empire to nearly an early Iron Age civilization overnight. Dark ages are great for fantasy settings, because they’re the prime reason ruins exist in Europe. You can have ‘magic swords’ that are in no way magical, but still superior, on simple account of the adamant forging knowledge of a prior civilization being lost to the current ones, making adamant swords superior to the iron ones of the current era.

What I’m saying is simple: Some technologies in fantasy worlds should not exist, some that do not should. Technology, diseases, and dark ages, those are the real influences over history. The rise of one over another completely changes how civilization in one era is from a prior or future era of the same society. That technology never advances in a straight line but in leaps and bounds and extinctions and reinventions, and is never universal. Just because China knew how to till the land for farming does not mean Europe knew that also, until the technology came to them and they learned it, same with the printing press. Just because both dwarfs and gnomes may have a technological revolution based around the aeolipile does not mean they travel down the same path either, technology springs from need first and foremost. Diseases are likewise not universal (not even in the same species) and have a much larger impact on history than any ten kings you may list in your timeline. And dark ages are assured to happen, but crawling out of them is not.

Essay 8: On Culture

People will say ‘make it real’. Let me amend that: Bad people will say ‘make it real’.

Real cultures are not ‘real’. There’s no actual logic to them. They’re believable. Actual cultures have things that make no sense to a foreigner (Japanese thinking blood type dictates your personality, for example, or Japan and Korea believing in ‘fan deaths’. Certainly people having to walk only on the right side of the road, or left. There’s too many to list) and many that also make no sense to a native of the culture.

So don’t make a culture ‘real’. That implies you’ve got a system and working on a plan. Cultures don’t do that. They just exist, a mass of tangled social intricacies that have to be lived to be understood.

A culture is a combination of a social group’s language, folklore, mythology, ritual beliefs and superstitions. They’re alien to non-natives, but not impossible to learn. Learning another’s language means great strides to integrating their culture into your capacity to understand the culture. Learning their folklore and myths adds new layers to their culture.

But while all the layers work together to make a society’s culture, not all of them have to make sense within said culture. They can, and often are, contradictory, even within the same ‘level’!

And while talking about language, learn a foreign one before working on your fake one. You may not notice it with your native language, but language makes no sense at all. Oh, there’s a logic to it, to a point. But languages have exceptions and exclusions and twists and turns making them a many nuanced thing. Structure it to a point. Certainly make some grammar and what letters are in it. But language is not a planned out thing and can not fit to a plan. It evolves and morphs, fairly rapidly. And sometimes it makes no sense.

While speaking of letters, not every language has the same 26 that English does, or for that matter, 26 letters at all! Hawaiian is a full and complete language with only 14 letters! And even if another language does share the same number of letters and same letters, rarely are they ever in the same order as the English alphabet. For a quick constructed language, cut the number of consonants of the English language down by about 8. Make the letter H and/or Y a vowel (they oftentimes act like one after all) or add one of the vowels of Hawaiian or Korean or another language. Learn what a dipthong is and give the language a few. Give it one or two tripthongs. Say what order a sentence is structured in, and how a question is asked. Look at a writing method you’re not used to and describe it in your writing, be it Cyrillic or Korea’s Hangul or China’s hanzi. No need to make it fully detailed.

Just give enough culture to make it believable that the culture can exist and people live with it. Going into too much detail will make it less believable, typically speaking. Going beyond that means that your story becomes nothing but a textbook in prose form about a fake culture. We just need to believe in the culture and its people, not have enough material to try to emulate it in our real lives!

Essay 7: Fantasy Means Fantastical

The Europe that never was is the typical fantasy setting. It’s staid and its boring and it reflects in absolutely no way what Europe actually was. The real Europe of the pre-modern times was dirty and half of it was ruins. There were no sewers (and I abhor any fantasy setting that includes ‘early adventurers’ travelling into sewers, typically to kill ‘dire rats’) and people’s waste were tossed into the same river they washed their clothes in, gathered their bathwater with, and used to drink from! Now, I have a standard of civilization: I only consider a people who do not poop in their drinking water to be civilized. So Europe only recently became a civilized place! Sadly, a few modern day countries are still pooping in their drinking water.

Anyway. It’s a fantasy world. Fantasy setting. Have flying castles and islands (I do!). Let people live on clouds like in Jack in the Beanstalk. Have other worlds, like an Elfland or the Celtic Otherworld. Even Sidhe or Fairy Mounds. Let Asgard be that island across the channel.

Don’t have your people ride horses, have a cavalry made up of dire horses! Or mini elephants! Or tigerquines (tiger horse mixes). Or anything.

Let animals talk and walk like people. Fables and myths all over the world have done it, every single culture. Let them teach lessons to heroes, or be heroes themselves.

Swords can talk, so can spears. Hell, let them dance and frolic!

Plays are not done on stages, but with illusion magic, so people see three dimensional movies from travelling illusionists.

But unless your fantasy world really needs it, don’t let it be just a poor fake Europe that even Hollywood would scoff at. They’ve been done, all terribly. Make your fantasy world be fantastical. Otherwise it’s pretty much bad historical fiction.

Failing that, let it be Fantasy Japan, or Fantasy Korea, or Fantasy China, or Fantasy Persia. Rokugan from ‘Legend of the Five Rings’ is a pretty strong example of a Fantasy Not-Japan. I’m not saying do a not-Rokugan. But a Fantasy Not-Persia? That would be something worth reading!

But whatever you do, let your imagination have fun. It may be the only time you can allow it do so.

Essay 6: Magic Means Magical

If ‘magic’ means everyone gets the same end results performing the same ‘magical spells’, it’s not magic. It’s science. It can be replicated and duplicated. People who have the same training will get the same results. Just like in science.

After you wrote out your precious spell lists, burn them all. Then do a better magical system.

Look at real world mythology. We have tons of different magical systems in our world. We got the Dreamtime of Australia. Dozens of various magical systems from all the tribes of Native Americans (of both continents that share the name America!). Japan had a half dozen themselves, China about that many. Korea has two or three. Vikings had run magic, and Celts had a variation unique to themselves. Celts also had the Druids on top. The Middle East is home to probably another half dozen magical systems from pre-Islamic times, and Africa is home to probably three times that amount. Russia had a magical system that included Bogatyrs or ‘God Carriers’, where they thought the bogatyr held the spirit of a particular deity within them and was granted powers due to it.

We have no shortage of magical systems in the real world you can be inspired by. Use them. Work from there. But there’s enough with the ‘typical spell list’ style of magic that any more is just, as one bad comic book writer was wont to say, ‘surplus to requirements’.

If magic is not magical in your setting, it means you’re doing it wrong. Heck, even doing magitech would be a welcome thing!

In my ‘Isles of Doom’ story, we start with the assumed typical default of spell lists and schools that seems rampant in fantasy settings. We then very rapidly move on from there into different and unique pathways and change up magic to make it actually magical again, at least for the Isles.

Essay 5: On Races, Racism and Species

First off, even if you’re trying to mimic a Europe of centuries past, stop with the white people only. The human species has always been an explorer species, and people from all over have always, even before recorded history, been around people of other ethnic groups and cultures. With few exceptions. It’s hard to walk to an island like Japan, England or Ireland after the landbridges to them fell under the sea, so there are periods when some people are isolated by geography and oceans. OK, that’s acceptable.

But those times are brief. Boats are easy to make. Even ancient boats, the first kinds that civilizations would produce, can travel long sea cruises, much less to an island just across a strait or channel.

Then there’s the even braver and more skilled, such as the Pacific Islanders, who, in boat technology barely above a raft or canoe, inhabited all of Indonesia and Micronesia and Singapore and Tahiti and New Zealand, but also Midway and Hawaii and possibly even America.

So there’s no excuse not to have other ethnic groups represented in your fantasy world. And I don’t mean the token one or two. I mean neighborhoods full of them. Merchants and trades from all over. Slavers. Mercenaries that settled down. Prisoners of war that got released. Religious missionaries, explorers, refugees. People will always move from one spot to another and integrate cultures when possible. And there’s always people who will mate and marry exotic people that are not native to their area.

And then there’s Egypt. There’s a reason it used to be called the ‘Crossroads of the World’. Egypt had not only native Egyptians, but Nubians and Libyans, Arabians and Hebrews, Persians and Romans. Assyrians tried to conquer it, Babylonians had trade missions to it. There’s evidence of Africans from far south coming to Egypt and Celts living there.

It is completely uncalled for to have an only white people fantasy setting. Not even the dark ages of Europe had that.

Also, it’s a fantasy setting, make it fantastical. What prevents blue skinned humans from living in it? Green? Orange, purple? Or other?

Now, I wish I didn’t have to say this, I really do. But. I need to say it. Don’t be a racist. Don’t have racist characters. Do not make racist comments with your characters. Just don’t. It’s a fantasy world, derogatory terms made for our world would not make any sense in it. Further, what prevented your world from being integrated for long periods of time? Now, typically someone is going to say here, “The sole exception exists if the racist character evolves as a person and eventually does not become racist, coming to accept others.” But all too often, the racist character trying to be a better person is just a mouthpiece for the author and the ‘evolution’ is barely there, takes too long, and is never done right. All too often, a member of the ethnicity the character dislikes saves the character in question and the racist character accepts their savior as a fellow human being and friend. Not all of that savior’s ethnic group, just that one individual. So just do not do it.

Now, on species: try to be different and unique. Enjoy the fact you’re doing a fantasy world, if you’re using non-human peoples. Have a unique take on elfs and dwarfs. Make up some awesome species. In our world, there are magnitudes of order more insect species than all the fish, bird, reptile and mammal species put together. Have one or two intelligent insectoid species. One of the best stories written is from the ‘Hunter X Hunter’ manga, and adapted into an anime, about ‘Chimera Ants’. It is creepy, it is profound, it is exciting, and it is very philosophical. If you can read it, do so, if you can watch it, do so, but try to do at least one of them.

But regardless, no matter how unique they are, make your species believable. Not human. Not human-like. Believable. They could be alien, with a culture anathema to what humans know and understand, but so long as they’re believable and the reader can understand what they’re doing and why, you have a true winner.

And if you absolutely ‘must’ do a story that would be racist in an all human cast, shift it to speciesist. Have the character suffer from xenophobia and have them be a ‘racist’ against one of the fantasy species. Don’t use real world derogatory terms still, for it still wouldn’t make any sense (in fact, would make much less sense!), but it would be acceptable for a person to hate and discriminate against, say, Chimera Ants or Halflings, because we do not have any in our world. There’s none that would take offense to your story.

It’s probably not a wise idea, still. But at least it would be more acceptable. But whatever you do, do not, ever, make the all dark skinned version of a people an all evil culture. No more drow. No more “all dark elfs are evil” at all. Or dark dwarfs. Or whatever. Because only the dumbest or most racist of your readers do not know what you’re really doing. And it’s extremely offensive and has no place in literature. It was offensive when Gygax did it, and it still is, and it always will be.

In fact, it’s probably a good idea to never have an ‘all evil people’. That doesn’t exist in the real world, it’s not likely to exist even in a fantasy one. Cultures may be skewed towards evil, but are far more often just contradictory to the accepted social norms of others. Trolls, for example, may be considered ‘evil’ because in their culture, cannibalism of humans may be a great feast. Certainly, from a human perspective, eating humans is an evil act! And orcs may have a culture based around vengeance, trying to kill for even the smallest slight, but not every orc is going to believe in that. Further, culture is not species. Culture is the accepted communal beliefs of a society, and while certain people (be it orcs and trolls in a fantasy world, or Arabians and Russians in the real world) are very often born into one culture, in no way is a culture exclusive at all. Humans born into an ‘orc culture’ would act like orcs. Russian spies during the Cold War living in America who had a child born here would have their child raised in an American culture. But don’t even do that ‘this culture is all evil’ either, because moral absolutes do not exist and make the story and the world you set up into a farce.

Nothing is ever ‘all evil’. Just conflicting value systems.

Essay 4: On Deities

In the real world, a pantheon of deities were worshipped all together. This may have been forgotten by long centuries of a culture of monotheism in the Western, Middle East, and African sections of the world, but very large sections of the world still worship multiple deities and pantheons.

The same kind of pantheons within fantasy worlds that are never worshipped correctly.

To the Vikings, no one worshipped Thor. They worshipped the Nordic Panthon, which included Thor but also Loki and Odin and Freyja and Baldur and Heimdall and so on. They venerated the entire group of deities, good and bad. They tended to try to placate the worse ones, so that Loki or Hel would be happy with them and not visit despair against them. The ones that would be listed as ‘good’ in an all too typical fantasy world, such as Thor and Odin, were worshipped in a way to emulate the deities. They were role models on how to act and behave, what virtues to have. Courage, honor, defense of your family and home, they looked at Thor and others for these and then tried to be that themselves.

In way too many typical fantasy worlds, the entire pantheon exists, but people only pick a single deity to worship. It’s monotheism a la carte. Instead of worshipping the entire group, asking Loki not to be evil to them, they just worship Thor and that’s it. They don’t even give lip service to the other deities, who, in a fantasy world, are typically incontrivertibly real! You can not only hang out and eat with Loki, but punch him in the face!

This makes absolutely no sense at all. All these deities are real, and what’s worse, entire other pantheons of them are real, but you’re only worshipping ONE of them? How’s that even work? You think the others are fake? That they’re somehow not as powerful? Not worthy of your worship? Doesn’t that make the worshipper of a single deity an egomaniac in the extreme as well as pathologically incapable of seeing the nature of the world in front of them? And frankly, if the deities were real and interacted with the world on a daily basis, every single mortal should be worshipping at least one (and the smart ones would hedge their bets and worship them all!).

Then there’s the fact that deities actually give powers to people. They usually give the same powers to everyone, no matter who the worshipper or the deity is, or the nature and method of their worship. Even the gods of death and disease tend to allow healing magic to their followers! What insanity is that? Now, sometimes there will be some lip service paid to that absurdity by having ‘Cause Light Wounds’ or some similar effect instead of healing magic, but it’s not guaranteed and, all too often, optional. Then each deity tends to have a small grouping of spells that are exclusive to deities with the same portfolio, so every thunder deity can grant thunder spells to their followers, but this also is not guaranteed.

In reality, though, Thor should only grant, if any spell at all, one or two unique just for Thor. Loki should give a small number for his worshippers. People who worship Thor and Loki should get access to both sets of spells, but only when the brothers are civil to one another and not during their periods of hostility. Someone who worshipped Thor and Ra, on the other hand, might have access to a few thunder spells from Thor and a few sun spells from Ra. And except for some very minor spells, there shouldn’t be anything universal. And I mean minor. Being able to pray for light, try to divine the future, and be a mouthpiece to their deity should be it. No healing, no curing disease, nothing.

And for that matter….why should deities even grant spells to people who worship them? Why can’t they just be role models for their worshippers to aspire to be? Let the worshippers of Thor attempt to act with Thor’s courage, but that’s it. No need for the thunder god to grant thunder spells to his followers, let his followers try to be more like the thunder god. Which may include waving metal hammers in thunderstorms and electrocuting themselves.

After all, if deities were real, and if deities gave magic to people who prayed to them….just how much of a religious schism should actually exist in that world? And we never see a story about that! We have three religions in our world that all worship the same deity, and they’ve been slaughtering each other for over a millenia and change now, and it’s still happening now! What kind of insane world would exist when worshippers are granted superhuman powers (even just casting light or minor cure spells is something no regular mortal can do after all!) but their enemies are also granted such powers? We’d have religious wars, obviously. And it may perhaps be worse if only a small number of deities grant those powers. Surely, human nature being what it is, the few with power would force others to worship or die. At the very least, obey or die. We’d have superpowered fantasy Talibans. We’re faced with the options of a religious cold war, a massive religious hot war, or a bunch of religious fundamentalists forcing everyone else to worship as they do…and if the converts now gain the same powers through worship that forced them into the worship in the first place, do they then go out to try to convert others, or do they try to gain revenge on the people who forced this upon them initially?

Fantasy deities make no sense, the way typical fantasy worlds are made. I implore you to look at how real world religions exist, which may include, shock of all shocks, looking beyond the one you may worship (or raised to worship), study what makes them work, and go from there.

Or. have the major and shocking twist of no deities at all. Even D&D, the biggest supporter of the trope, has had several (very good) settings that had no deities in it. Try it yourself. Want something to fill the void of the deities? Try animistic traditions, like Shintoism or shamanism, where everything has a spirit and the spirits of some things, like the sun and moon, may be more important and powerful than others, like the spirits of storms, who in turn may be greater than the spirit of a particular rock or tree. Or a single mortal.