A conversation arose on twitter between @Trabant, @Ffarquar and myself about our respective fantasy worlds. This blog’s purpose is recording and expanding the World of Adel so I thought this was a good time to take these conversations from twitter and talk about the World of Adel in a different way than usual. I’ll start with a brief introduction to Adel and the themes I wanted to capture when writing it. I think this is important to begin the discussion because from there stem many other decisions I make while writing. Ultimately though, the golden rule of Adel is that it’s fun for me to write about it and imagine characters in it, so I do things in it that I find fun and interesting, and with an eye for making it fun for others.
But I will definitely get into it a bit deeper than that as we go along. If you have any questions or ideas for further topics of interest, feel free to comment and tell me what you think. This discussion can use more input. In fact if you write a post on the subject, give me the link and I will add it in here. So far, @Trabant has posted his own, as did @Bartoneus from Critical Hits.
What Is The World of Adel?
You can find the story of it in the World index easily enough. Cataclysm, new world, spirits, Intolerable War, etc. We’ve covered that stuff before, and though I have a policy to repeat certain information so that new readers can catch what they need in any article they decide to read, I will not do so here. I want to talk more broadly about what Adel is.
Sci-Fantasy: At first I thought about Adel as being fantasy, but lately I’ve begun to think of it as sci-fantasy. The Adelian culture is very different from traditionally eurocentric cultures in fantasy, and just exploring them is kind of a weird amateur sociology experiment, the way that early science-fiction thought of cultures in the sky. Not only that but Adel has many accoutrements of science-fantasy: there are robots you can accidentally wake up that will kill you, high-tech artifacts lying around, and a few people can find and carry around laser guns, often to the alarm of everyone around them. Adelian technology is schizophrenic – most of their civilization is rural farming villages out of old Asia, but then they have moving picture shows.
Rural Fantasy: The world of Adel is probably not what the literary term “Rural Fantasy” (counterposed to Urban Fantasy) actually has in mind. But it’s sort of the term that comes to my mind when I write. The culture of Adel “came out of the wood” so to speak. They are polytheistic animists, whose world is really lush and alive, and actively speaks to them in a sense (in the form of the Spirits, humanoid deities who live among and around them). They are a culture out of the wilderness.
Most of their territory is still rural. They have towns and cities of course, but most of it is still farming villages where people live in simple homes embedded within the wilderness. This is because the Adelians have a tight relationship with their world. Their world has literally erased an entire civilization beforehand. It has a very dangerous defense against the kind of strangulation that its previous inhabitants performed on it. Adelians respect and revere nature, while at the same time, knowing that they have to challenge it in certain spaces to advance. This is primarily how I think about it when I write.
I want to have spaces for more modern thought and modern ideas, and even some futuristic ideas – but ultimately it is a fantasy setting and the Adelians, like I said before, originate, and their hearts lie in, the wilderness of their world. We go there to brush up with magic spirit-deities, to confront dragons, to explore the lush and green, and to look at early civilization. But when you go to a city, there is some 19th century technology around, like the aforementioned moving picture booths (Adelians have a kind of kinetoscope, a fat cousin of the mutoscope). They’re not completely technological, because Adelian science is an amalgam of magic and religious superstition mashed in with prototypical scientific methods. But they’re there to remind you that Adel isn’t medieval Europe, and it isn’t 5th century India, and it isn’t Meiji Japan. It’s its own thing.
“Robepunk”: I was talking with a friend about how many wonderful robe-like clothes we have in the cultures of our world. The Ainu people had robes of elm bark, called Attush. They are very beautiful. The Japanese had many such garments as well like hakama and kimono. Lately though I’ve fallen in love with Hindu and Southeast Asian clothing. Essentially this is an aesthetic term. Though in the cities and the military some people wear suits and pants and such, but I wanted Adel to be a world of somewhat androgynous outfits, where everyone’s wearing some kind of modest and colorful garment associated with a non-European culture, and associated as well with rural living. I called this aesthetic “robepunk” out of my ignorance at that time of what actual robe-like garments are (I talked about the Sari, which is not really a robe, I think).
Limited But Extant Conflict: When writing about Adel I think about sources of conflict, but I don’t want it to be a world of conflict. I don’t want the whole place to be in turmoil all the time, where every wood is cursed and full of monsters, every lake has a serpent, every village is under threat at all times. I want there to be conflicts for heroes and heroines, but I don’t want the conflict to completely shape society into a siege mentality. There are limited but very real sources of conflict.
Many of these are aspects of human nature. For Adelian heroes and heroines, most conflicts would arise from human themes. Rivalries, romances, flaws like greed and lust, drive people into conflict with one another. But there are also supernatural, external conflicts. There are things from the past world that want to hurt you. There are large animals in the wilderness that could make you their prey if you aren’t careful. The very Spirits can be cruel to you just for their own entertainment – and there are Demons who are cruel to you because that’s how they feed. Adel is not a world without conflict.
Yet, Adel can be said to be a peaceful world, where peaceful adventures can be had.
Progressive Pragmatism: Essentially what I mean with it is that Adel as a culture – while their tolerance of robots and industrialism is rock-bottom low to the point where they hold committees on whether or not to burn things like old steam engines found in Lost World ruins (usually the answer is “YES BURN THE UNHOLY THING”) – are very progressive on other matters. For Adelians sexism isn’t a thing. The very idea that you’d look at a dude and go “DUDES ARE SUPERIOR” and slap a woman for trying to join the army, is completely incongruous and weird. Now, some Adelians do have what we would consider sexist thoughts – for example there are people who go “you’re dressing like a whore!” But they’re just as likely to say that to a man or a woman. Particularly because man and woman can wear each other’s clothes. And because sometimes with Iomadi and Dromedae it’s easy for them to dress and look and pass off as either sex.
Most Adelians are bisexual. For them, romantic attraction, love and lust, isn’t something you can strictly control. The wiles of fate draw people together (Adelian science hasn’t yet gotten to the point where they can declare every decision to be a product of electric impulses, and probably never will). People with more exacting predilections exist, but for most, it isn’t generally a point of contention or taboo. The wealthy upper class is sort of homophobic, because they need their kids to pump out more kids so they can keep passing on money through their very generous inheritance laws. Yet, when the upper class looks down at the lower, they characterize homosexual relationships as uncouth or childish, rather than “evil.” And not everyone believes this – a bunch of wealthy people defy the aristocratic culture on a regular basis because it is illogical and cruel to them.
Racism doesn’t exist among the Adelians – they are not strictly humans. Adelians can be pretty nationalistic jerks. An Andalian can tell a Vedarian to stuff it, and wave the Andalian flag and talk about how much the President can kick the Vizier’s buttocks down a hill. But the concept of a Iomadi (fox-eared fox-tailed human) calling out a Damakran (fish-featured human) for being a Damakran is absurd to all of them. They have different features, but that’s inconsequential. If they ever think of “us vs them” they think about Nations, because every single nation has Damakran and Iomadi and Dromedae among them. And even then, they’re currently in a period of proto-globalism where the neighboring nation is an exotic and friendly place that you’d like to travel to rather than a hell-hole you want to set fire to in order to prevent it from taking you over.
It wasn’t always this way. Like our society, Adel has had its rough spots (mainly because there were periods where Adelian society tried to emulate the Lost World – which is a stand-in for everything that’s wrong about our society). But over the majority of its history (wherever it was not ruled by the Aptoan Empire) it has been a place much more progressive than our own world, mainly because of its religious development (which does not mirror our own – this is fantasy after all).
The reason for this is that I wanted Adel to be a place of comfort and strength for all kinds of people. I don’t want people to read and think “how can I fit into this?” and then hear wails of “THERE WERE NO GAY PEOPLE IN MEDIEVAL EUROPE” or “WOMEN CAN’T JOIN THE ARMY THAT’S NUTS.” I want them to hear “there is a place in this world for you wherever you want it.” A lot of fantasy games assume egalitarianism for “adventurers” but then they have slavery and racism and sexism and homophobia because they’re drawing from medieval Europe. I don’t. I ripped out that tree at the roots. Having said that, I do want there to be places in the setting where people can confront those evil things if they choose to do so. So like I said above, there are some people who are sort of homophobic, so you can have heart-wrenching tales of torn lovers. But I put those things in secluded spaces where they make more sense to me, rather than including them as the cultural norm.
Writing About Adel
I’ve been asked before how I put together these articles. What I do is I write from the perspective of an Observer who is not an Adelian, and is writing about what the Adelians think and do as a third party, using their facts. He/She points out, sometimes, where Adelians may be mistaken on our terms (The Observer can be assumed to be from a world like ours, like our Modern Day Earth). But generally, the facts are presented as the Adelians know them and believe them to be.
When taking on this persona and writing the articles I consider a few things.
1. Adelian Knowledge Is Limited: They are not a modern culture of computer-verifiable sciences and strict models that are constantly tested and challenged and expanded with new information. Whenever Adelians find a computer they smash it because they think it has an evil computer-soul that’s going to enact a grand plot to kill them all. They extrapolate this from the fact that a group of robots with an ancillary relationship to the computers they keep finding are trying to kill them. If they find the equivalent of your grandmother’s crappy Dell computer they will crush it with righteous fury, because it is, to them, a tiny anti-christ plotting their eventual downfall. Can your crappy Dell topple a civilization? Of course it can’t.
Adelians like to draw relationships between things, they like having neat categories. They will, where possible, compartmentalize things into a coherent narrative that may not fit that way. For example, the article about Undead mentions a classification system with the magic elements – it is sort of silly to classify undead that way, but works for them. From a storytelling perspective, I as the writer of these articles use Adelian knowledge to create Adelian perspectives. They aren’t facts if we look at them from our perspective. But the world can operate in one way and the Adelians can look it in other ways. The Observer presents things as the Adelians believe them, and only sometimes does he/she mix in our world with theirs.
2. Adelian Knowledge Is Primarily Superstitious: The Adelians have found countless artifacts and writings that point to the Lost World having been an extremely advanced civilization with total control over their environment. They do not rush to industrialize, to make computers, to get a magic internet going, and to be like us. These ideas does not endear them to the Lost World – it is completely horrifying. The Adelians are primarily a culture of religious animists with very rural roots. For most of them, everything is looked at through a religious lens from a culture that has arisen out of nature. When I say “rural fantasy” I’m not talking about everyone living out in the woods, but their culture is still primarily out in the woods, even if a bunch of them wear nice clothes, watch moving pictures in kinetoscopic booths, and have a printing press. Adelians are very discerning about what “advances” in their magic and technology can be “helpful” to them, and which won’t be. Adelians are very careful about what ideas they adopt, and what cultural tidbits they denigrate. Religion colors their experiences.
So in towns and cities, Adelians have comforts reminiscent of the 18th and 19th centuries. Yet, they don’t have factories, and they aren’t (and won’t be) a Steampunk culture or high Magitech culture, despite having certain aspects of both. The technologies they have, some of which were arrived at by accident, others from Lost World ruins, have been painstakingly accepted over hundreds of years. But some ideas will just probably never flourish among them and the Observer knows this.
3. Adelian Knowledge Is Conflicting: Adel has many different classes of people that record its facts and observations. There’s the arcanists in their magical academies, who are like squabbling early modern scientists, rushing to publish before their rivals do. There are Clergy, who are like pre-modern Monks who write books that may be scientific in tone, but are primarily liturgical and explain things in a religious and mystical fashion. There are villagers and ordinary folk, whose writing style is derived from folk tales, fables and morality stories, and whose almanacs, diaries and travel logs are lessons learned and primarily moral education for whoever may someday read them (normally, their children and families). Then there are adventurers and mercenaries and soldiers who just record things drawing from their personal (unprofessional) experiences.
The Observer does not usually talk about who his/her sources are because it is too complicated. But there’s a lot of flexibility in the setting for each of these viewpoints. A story can change depending on who is telling it.