All-That-Is Worldbuilding: Big City

For various reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot about All-That-Is lately. And I was poking around the wiki, when I noticed that “Big City” (capital of “Land of Ogres”, the Ogre home-land) is listed as being the slave capital of the world.

My brain started ponding this, and so I thought I’d capture my thoughts as I had them.

(If you’re not familiar with All-That-Is lore, I did a world-building series back in 2009. I think it’s a fairly interesting read, and while I’ve certainly added new features since then, it should give you an idea of the fantasy world I work on for fun.)

(And for those who aren’t interested in reading back, in summary: Ogres are big and dumb. They’re the min-maxed “fighters” of the world – extraordinarily stupid, extraordinarily strong. There are four main Ogre tribes, but this post will entirely take place within the tribal region of the “Two-Eyes”, the Ogres with a facial arrangement similar to regular ol’ humans.)

I’ve never really done much to focus on Ogres in All-That-Is. An Ogre bodyguard appears in the tale of Princess Azma, the Fairy Queen who banned magic. Slave Ogres appear in passing in Life on the Wall, operating the elevator that takes people from the top of the wall to the bottom. But other than the four tribes, and a vague war that happens at some point (the Ogres invade the Human homeland, taking over the region “Anob Neeble” and renaming it “Big Fort”) I’ve not got much about them penned.

Oh, except for one idiosyncrasy – Ogres are the greatest road-builders in the world. They excel at it, and in the same way that you might play sport, Ogres will build a road. As a result, their homeland is absolutely covered in roads. In order to leave as much room for roads as possible, Ogres primarily reside underneath bridges, where one road crosses another. They’re equally adept at making bridges.

So. Big City. Largest city in Trolland (the continent that Land of Ogres sits on) and slave capital of the world. What do we know about it?

First of all, I like the idea of the city being home to several Ogre warlords. Like big, stupid gangsters – think Jabba the Hutt, with even less smarts. They will defend their homeland to the death, they’re all corrupt as hell, they lead lavish lifestyles and ruthlessly track down anyone who betrays them, and they don’t have enough brain-cells between them to fill a small puddle.

Since Ogres traditionally live in bridges, the landscape of the city is dominated by four or five massive, awe-inspiring bridges – each of them is home to a different war-lord. It would be easy to have one warlord for each Ogre tribe, but since the city is nowhere near any of the other tribal homelands, I’m going to say that there are four Two-Eye warlords, and one One-Eye warlord (simply because that’s the nearest land to Big City)

Obviously over the years and centuries the number of warlords and their tribal affiliations will change, but let’s set this in the Year of the Bee, current year of the wiki, pre-Ogre/Human war.

Big City is just across the water from the Elven homeland, but I feel like the peace-loving Elves would have serious issue with slave trading. Each country has its own slavery laws – Ogres are legal slaves in every country (including The Land of Ogres) and so they’re the most common type of slave, and no country allows its own people to be slaves (except, of course, the Land of Ogres).

But it’s weak writing to paint an entire race with one brush, so let’s say there’s a substantial Elven community – outcasts, people who disagree with their homeland’s style of government. Violent Elves – Ninjas and warriors and the like. There wouldn’t be much of a permanent Dwarven population, but there would be plenty of Pirate ships constantly coming in and out, collecting and depositing slaves.

But it’s the Demons that I really wanted to talk about.

Demons, in the world of All-That-Is, are tiny, reddish-brownish horned people. Silver-tongued, never to be trusted, good with money. They’re your archetypal merchant/swindlers, and it occurred to me that they’re exactly what the Ogre warlords would need.

So each Ogre warlord has his own personal Demon accountant – or maybe two or three independent ones. These Demons are essentially slaves, though they’re treated extremely well – they aren’t allowed to leave the bridge that they live under, but they have their choice of rooms, slaves, food etc. In exchange, all they have to do is monitor the Ogre’s accounts and ensure that they aren’t being swindled, and perhaps advise on potential business deals – with their lives hanging in the balance, they would want to give the best advice possible.

Having a few Demons makes it harder for an individual to pull the wool over their master and mistress’s eyes – if the numbers come out differently from a few different sources, then the Ogre will know that something is up, and order all of them to be killed, pulling in a fresh batch. A few Demons could work together to hoodwink their owner collectively, but there’s a group of free Demons who offer services to avoid exactly this – once a year, they recommend every Ogre use their services to come in and check the numbers, to make sure that they aren’t being ripped off.

I imagine some Demons would enjoy the life of indentured luxury, behaving much like Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Django Unchained. Others would constantly be striving for freedom, and others would be swindling as much as they could out of their owners, and arranging the numbers in such a way that it’s undetectable by the independent Demon company. Some bridges could even be basically run by the Demons, who have arranged it in such a way that the warlord is basically a figurehead.

Big City is on the water, and so of course it would have an extensive dockland area – that would be the home of The Ogre Market – the world’s largest slave trade, with new bodies constantly being shipped in, bought and sold. The Ogre warlords have a stranglehold over the slave market of Big City, and you can find a slave of any race here with ease.

But with slavery come abolitionists, and Big City is no exception. Made up entirely of non-Ogres, the group is somewhat racist toward the Ogres themselves – their mission is to free all non-Ogre slaves, despite the fact that the majority of slaves bought and sold in Big City are Ogres. (Their stupidity and physical strength make them great workers unlikely to come up with an escape plan – perfect slaves).

They refer to their headquarters as “The Place Where No Roads Lead”, to further emphasize the distance that they keep from the Ogres, and whenever the warlords infiltrate them, track them down and destroy their base, they spring up somewhere else almost instantly. It’s rumoured that they have dozens (if not hundreds) of cells, and are constantly training up leaders, for when the head gets killed.

Actually, I like the idea of the head being a “Gray Fox” (Oblivion) type character – a figurehead who no one knows the face of. Unkillable, because he’s an idea, not an individual. Rather than a mysterious cloak or shadows hiding his identity, I’m going to literally make him a head – “The Ogre’s Head”, he’s ironically named, and whenever seen in public, he wears the face of a slaughtered Ogre over his own. The warlords can kill The Head, but another one instantly appears.

I think that’s enough to make an interesting city – significant landmarks (The Five Bridges, the Slave Market), a few groups (each of the five warlord empires, the Abolitionists, the free Demons, the violent Elves) and a few tensions (the competing gang-like warlords – especially the one from another tribe, the Demon/Ogre relations, the Abolitionists).

Suddenly Big City is a relatively thriving place, and I could quite easily see a story or three being set there.

Board Games Three

One of my various creative hobbies is working on board games and card games. I’ve come up with dozens of ideas over the years, but the three that have gotten the furthest are:

  • 1-2-3-Flag: An abstract two-player strategy game; similar to chess in that everyone has full information at all time. Co-created with my friend Ross, we actually prototyped this one and then played it for hours and hours…annoyingly, it doesn’t quite work, and even more annoyingly, we can’t work out why. It’s (almost) a lot of fun though, and we’re thinking of having a “playtest day” where we invite all of our game-loving friends around to see if anyone can work out how to fix it. It’s so close to being amazing, but it’s not quite there.
  • Zombie Grandmas from Hell: One of the problems with 1-2-3-Flag was the complete lack of theme – if we ever “make it”, it’ll probably have an ant theme (even though that makes no sense for its mechanics) but it could be anything from virus-themed to unicorn-themed and make just as much sense. This game is the opposite of that – we started with theme, and built a game around it. It’s a co-op game where you play a group of survivors in a house, protecting yourself from the oncoming hoardes of zombies.

    Again, it almost works. The strongest part of the game is execution of theme – it really feels like you’re working together to fend off zombies; as the game goes on, they begin to feel overwhelming, and you really need to work together to stop your brains from being eaten tea from being drunk. I identified the problem with it almost a year ago – it’s too finicky and logical, and you spend so much time moving the zombies that it slows the game right down (a problem which increases as the game goes on.)

  • Harvest! – the only game on this list that I have just worked on by myself, over the last few years, it’s set in All-That-Is and it’s a deck-building game about running a farm. I’ve not yet prototyped this one, but I’m hoping to in the next few days – my big fear is that it’ll be too much of a solitaire-esque game, or possibly a little dry. I’m hoping that there will be a basic element of fun that I can build on, but I won’t know until I take the time to write out the hundred-odd cards that I’ll need (ugh, deck-building games…) and playtest it with myself a few times.

I like making games, because it’s a different form of entertainment to the types that I normally work in – instead of “audience” and “entertainers”, you want the players to both drive the action and have fun. It’s setting up an enjoyable framework instead of simple entertainment, and it’s different enough from what I normally do for my brain to consider it “rest”.

Ross and I (just due to our incredibly busy lives) haven’t hung out in quite a while, so Harvest! is the game that I’ve been working on the most lately – it doubles up as a productively-relaxing hobby because I need to develop All-That-Is for parts of it to make sense – as a farming game, the seasons are incredibly important, and so a few weeks back I sat down and fleshed out the seasons (there’s five instead of Earth’s four, and I think they’re distinctly different from “summer/winter/autumn/spring clones).

Yesterday I was fleshing out some of the mechanics, and realised I’d made that classic mistake of over-complicating it. I quickly removed half the game, put it aside as “expansion fodder”, and suddenly it’s a lot more elegant. I’m keen to try it out with other people, but I know that the first two steps are “making it” and “playing it with myself numerous times”.

My cousin Gavin moved in just under a month ago, and he’s been developing a game too – Apocalypse: The Board Game*. My idea of a lovely Sunday evening – the both of us sitting next to each other, each developing our games, bouncing ideas off each other…

*is my suggested name for it, but certainly not its definite title.

It’s entirely possible that these games will never go past fun ideas, but that’s okay by me – fun ideas are, as you may have guessed, a lot of fun. And no matter what you may have heard, I quite like fun.

Today is going to be productive…and if I work hard enough, maybe I’ll have time to sit down and doodle card ideas for Harvest!


Good morning! I’m well and truly back into my routine now, and it feels great. To celebrate, I’m going to write another All-That-Is piece! If you’re archive-skimming and you hate these, you might want to skip it: if you’re archive-skimming specifically for world-building pieces, then this is your lucky day!

Today I’m going to talk about the city of Atmos, which I briefly mentioned yesterday.

I believe it was Neil Gaiman who said that “the world needs to serve the story.” It’s completely true, but I was more than a little disappointed when I heard it – I’d been creating All-That-Is for so many years with the intention of eventually writing a heap of stories and books within the universe (I still do plan to do that) and so the idea of having to change my carefully-constructed world in order to serve the story just seemed wrong to me.

After a while, I came to terms with the truth: I’m not making this world to serve some future story. I’m making this world because I want to make this world. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – this is my “fun” project, the one I work on for sheer enjoyment. If it’s more fun for me to write a novel for the purpose of world-building than the other way around, so be it! I am allowed to do whatever the heck I like in my spare time.

That sounds like a dumb realisation, but it was an important one.

So now that I can see what I’m doing (and this hobby really does give me a lot of pleasure) it’s allowed me to really do whatever’s fun: any random idea that strikes me is mine to explore at my leisure, and today I want to explore the city of Atmos.

Yesterday’s post was the first time I’d ever considered the Storm Orcs as culturally “more developed” than the rest of the Orcish tribes. So much so that they can barely be called a tribe, in fact. A number of other ideas have tumbled out of the Storm Orcs of Atmos:

  • As the most political of the Orcs, they’re likely the driving force behind tHe United triBes Of kronktoN (UTOK) – they’re the only ones who care at all about the outside world, and they managed to convince the rest of the tribes to unite (except, of course, the three Outcast Tribes) – it worked out well for everyone, but if it wasn’t for the Storm Orcs, kRonkton would just be a “wild area”, with no politics or centralised base.
  • They live in a town of constant storm: though they don’t know how how to store it (either for keeping it long-term or trading it to other places) they’ve got a constant supply of lightning. As such, they’ve had some Gnomes (the tinkerers of ATI) come in and set things up so that Atmos is the only city in the world with working electricity. (as well as the cool novelty element of this, it provides the city with a large gnomish population. Anything that intermingles different countries is more interesting to me – I’m not trying to create 10 distinct and unrelated provinces, I’m making one big connected world.)
  • Below is an image of everything that the Wiki has on krOnkton at this stage. As you can see, most of the wiki is pretty sparse (there’s a reason wikis are normally group efforts – it takes a long time to bulk it out) – also, it mentions “Ugh” as the capital and Atmos as the largest city. Originally “Ugh” was a joke name (Orcs are stupid, ha ha ha) – now that they’re much more developed, I’m not crazy about it, but I do like the idea of Atmos being the seat of power for Kronkton, but not the capital. It means that the Storm Orcs have to travel away from their home comforts when they want to influence things outside of their own city; it also gives the Orcish capital a more “Orcish” feel, whereas Atmos is shaping up to be completely different to the rest of the Orc’s homeland.

  • To the right of kronkTon you can see five yellow/browny bands – that’s the Big Desert; it separates kRonkton and the Ogre’s homeland, “Land of Ogres”. They’re the only two races who share a continent (“Trolland”) and in Big Desert are a number of Orc/Troll brigands, including a number of “Sand Orcs” (since they live outside of kronktOn, they’re not even considered Orcish enough to be included among the Outcast Tribes.)
  • An idea that I thought I’d come up with yesterday is on there as well – everything in white is where the UTOK live. Everything in dark grey is the Outcast Tribes, so it looks like they do hug the coast. It’s amusing to me when I come up with the same idea twice, years apart. I don’t have the maps on this computer, else I’d point out where the capital is, but the thin strip down the bottom right is the only way to enter the country without going through Outcast territory – and remember, the Outcasts don’t honor any treaties like “Hey don’t just kill other races on sight.”

That’s all the Atmos thoughts that are popping into my brain at the moment. This worked as a good incentive yesterday, so I’ll do it again: I’ve got 5 redrafts on my “to-do” list, as well as 6 covers to make. If I can do all that today, I’ll let myself do another world-building post tonight. (most likely on the Gnomes, because I want to talk about steam and mill power, as well as hopefully give them a little more personality.)

A few more Orcish thoughts before I go:

  • The very top of the country map above is where the Wind Orcs live. I don’t remember if I’d decided this definitively or not, but the cliffs should definitely be facing north – this makes them much less the “overseers of krOnkton” that they’d somehow become in my mind, and much more disconnected from the rest of the world. I can’t decide if I prefer this or not (it almost makes them more Desert Orcs than United) but in terms of wind currents it makes too much sense to ignore. It also gives at least part of the country a nice slope, which I like.
  • As part of that “integrating other races” thing that I was talking about, I think at least a few Angels should live with the Wind Orcs. Angels, you see, can fly, and the juxtaposition between them and Wind Orcs is interesting to me. Perhaps that’s where outcast Angels go or something like that.
  • A few Storm Orcs will have to live in the nation’s capital, but only the richest: those who can afford to pay others to recreate the electricity of their home city. They’re seeking political power because they’ve reached the limit of power that money alone can get them.

That’s all for now! As I said yesterday, if there’s any aspect of the world that you want more information about, let me know – I enjoy writing about topics that I wouldn’t normally write about, because the only way for me to write about something is to make it interesting.

Orcish Orcish Everywhere, And Not A Drop To Drink

So I finished my three redrafts! I started to write a fourth, but I wasn’t feeling it, and so instead I’m honouring my promise to myself. Here are some more All-That-Is musings, for your reading pleasure (and, more relevantly, my writing pleasure.)


As I briefly mentioned in my last post, Orcs quickly evolved from standard brutes to into a “tribal” race. There are 10 united tribes, and 3 outcast tribes: I haven’t actually considered the social commentary of this, because this has been part of the mythos for years, but unless it really strikes me as wrong for some reason, it’ll probably stay in.

The 3 outcast tribes are Mud, Swamp and Fog Orcs. They refuse, on cultural grounds, to wear clothes – for the most part, the other Orcs don’t really mind (and would just tend to look the other way) but when it comes to stuff like “hey let’s present Orcs as a nation to get the respect of the other lands”, it suddenly becomes important that your citizens are…you know, clothed.

So they’re “outcast” tribes when kronKton (the Orcish homeland) is dealing with other nations, but internally there’s no real difference between them and the other tribes, except perhaps that they’re a little more hostile. The United Tribes have all agreed to certain Geneva Convention-esque rules; the Outcast Tribes have no reason to bother doing that, but they’re not all evil chaotic murderers or anything.

(for the sake of adapting the work into visual mediums, Mud Orcs tend to have clumps of mud at random spots: often spots that would be convenient for censorship. Ditto Swamp Orcs, and it’s rare to see a Fog Orc outside of the intense, impossible-t0-see-through fogs.)

tHe uniteD Tribes oF kRonkton, as they’re officially known (Orcish language recognises the importance of capital letters; they’ve just never really gotten their head around where to put them)  is made up of 10 tribes, for at least the first few hundred years. (I’m planning on writing this stuff for the rest of my life, so anything I write now is in the early years of ATI; if I decide to change huge chunks of it, I can do it in-universe, and have a world that changes and evolves with my own preferences, without having to retcon anything.)

  1. Diamond Orcs: Living in the mountains, these Orcs mine out diamond and use it for everything from food* to clothing, shelter and weapons. Once they’ve used up all the diamonds in an area, they move on. Fast miners, good at stripping resources, but their caves tend to be temporary (and thus a bit clumsily-made.)*inspired by Narnia, diamonds and precious stones aren’t just dead, cold things: if you catch them when they’re alive, you can eat them.
  2. Stone Orcs: Cave dwellers, who (unlike Diamond Orcs) will stay in the one area forever. Like ants, they mine out an elaborate home for themselves, extending it as the tribe grows. (they also see extremely well in the dark.) – they’re much slower miners, but extremely precise stonecrafters.
  3. Tree Orcs: Tree Orcs live either in or around the trees – they’ll hollow a tree out, or build treehouses. Think Tarzan: these big guys love swinging on vines and yodelling, and if possible, don’t visit the ground much.
  4. Lightning Orcs: These are the Orcs who live in Atmos, the world’s most dramatic city. It’s constantly in a thunderstorm, and as we all know, a thunderstorm means emotional turmoil. These are the least “tribal” of all the Orcs: they harness the electricity, tend to barter for food from the other Orcs instead of buying their own, and are heavily political creatures.
  5. Water Orcs: Water Orcs reside in houseboats, travelling up and down the rivers (or around the lakes) and fishing for food. A few of them live on the coast, but the rough currents make it difficult to sustain a lifestyle there. Rumour has it that some Water Orcs somehow live underneath the water, in bubble-like permanent residents.
  6. Wind Orcs: These are my personal favourite of all the Orcs – towards the north end of kronkTon, there are massive cliffs that lead to a desert. These Orcs have carved out homes in the cliffs, and have their own personal gliders, using the heat from the desert to travel up and down the cliffs.
  7. Fire Orcs: Incredibly resistant to fire and heat, these Orcs live inside Volcanos, and hunt the tough creatures that swim in lava.
  8. Metal Orcs: Extremely aggressive, extremely social, Metal Orcs are primarily traders and smiths: they get metal from the Diamond Orcs, get the Fire Orcs to smelt it, and create weapons that they trade with the other Orcs. They primarily exist because they travel so much, and kroNkton society relies on them. They hate non-Orcs though, and will frequently refuse to trade with them (they see it as “arming the enemy”) instead attacking on sight.
  9. Grass Orcs: These are the hunter-gatherer type Orcs; they live on the plains, make huts from woven grass, and carry them around with them as they track prey and collect plants etc. They’re great with leather, which they trade to the Metal Orcs (for binding and the like) in return for hunting weapons.
  10. Ice Orcs: The least social of all the Orcs, these guys live on top of the mountains, and are rarely seen by anyone but travelling Metal Orcs. They’re Eskimo-type “rugged up” dudes, but I haven’t really worked out what they eat yet.

I invented all the varieties of Orcs after playing a lot of Pokemon, and wanting to have a land where you could travel around and see all the extremes (fire, water, ice, etc) – when I started working on a Tower Defence game for All-That-Is (I use ATI for any stray projects I play with between my bigger creative works) it worked really nicely for me as well. It’s called “Orc Onslaught”, and you use the other 9 races to build different towers to defend you against the 13 different types of Orcs.

The Outcast Orcs are relatively underdeveloped: I haven’t really worked out the difference between Swamp Orcs and Mud Orcs (swamps, after all, consist mainly of mud) and I have absolutely nothing for Fog Orcs (maybe they could live on the coast? The coast seems pretty abandoned by the rest of the tribes) but since they’re “outsiders” I don’t really need to write too much for them. They can just be all mysterious and shit.

At some point, the Dwarves come to kronktoN after they realize how many precious stones there are: fast and efficient miners, they’ll strip the mountains of all the diamonds, and Diamond Orcs will die out. (I’m thinking that living diamonds might die out at the same time) This gives the rest of history extremely rare but extremely powerful armor and weapon artifacts: no one else is ever able to work as effectively with diamonds as the Diamond Orcs.

In the same decade or so, there’s a schism within the Tree Orcs, between those who believe that you should grow a forest, and those who believe you should just grow one massive tree, feed it so that it grows huge (there’s no practical limit to tree-size in All-That-Is…in fact, that’s the definition of a tree.)

Suddenly there are Tree Orcs and Forest Orcs, and so the number of Orc Tribes never drops below 10 united tribes (or 13 total.)

Until now, I’ve never really had a good reason for this schism. I want it to be a huge deal – not an all-out civil war, but Tree Orcs and Forest Orcs will forever more have a bone of contention between them. It’s politically interesting, and as I said in my last post, anything that gets my brain buzzing with ideas is something I want to include.

Now that I’ve got a bit of personality for the Elves, their philosophy could be a reason for the split – if they believe that hurting trees is wrong, perhaps some of the Tree Orcs really identify with that, and that’s why they split off: Forest Orcs will live much more like Elves, between the trees instead of inside them. If they consider the actions of Tree Orcs  to be really disrespectful/harmful to the trees, then suddenly you’ve got a great ideological reason for these two groups to hate each other.

Why the Elves and the Forest Orcs suddenly hobnob like this I’m not sure; I’ll have a think about this. World events are always nice, some bigger cause that this can be a side-effect of.

That’s all I wanted to talk about in this post: if anyone is reading this, I used to do a thing where I’d expand on any area of ATI that people asked for. It was fun world-building in directions that I’d not normally consider for me, and for other people it was a chance to have a few words of their choice turned into several paragraphs.

So if anything has caught your interest (either in these posts, on the wiki, or in the old posts I did a few years ago) then drop me a line by any means (comment, email, carrier pigeon) and I’ll expand on any element of my fictional world that you like.


The trouble with having a routine or schedule is that when it gets thrown off, it’s incredibly difficult to get everything back on track. Last night, I picked SJ up from a Missy Higgins concert (which she tells me was excellent) and as a result didn’t get to sleep until 1 or 1:30am. I don’t function without a good 8 hours of sleep, so I moved today’s 9-5 workday to 11-7.

It’s just hit 11:30 and I’m only really getting started for the day now. Damn you, routine.

Admittedly, a huge part of the problem is the return of my addiction to Morrowind. I really do consider it the best game I’ve ever encountered, and when I’m not playing it (or reading the various wikis that detail the world’s extensive lore) I’m watching a Let’s Play of Morrowind that I’m in love with – I’ve watched four hours of it in the last few days, and I can’t wait to watch the next 100+ videos.

But writing is how I make the dollars and cents and so I need to get my head out of fantasy and back into smut. I’m planning on revising three or four stories today, with the aim of having them all published by the end of the week. (Christmas, or “Kindlemas” as it’s referred to by the other smut writers I know, is the biggest-selling time of the year, so I want as much content out by then as is possible. Next week is show week, and then I’m on holidays, so this week is my last chance to get writing!)

To warm up, I was going to write a 6-minute story, but instead I think I’ll talk about ideas that Morrowind has been inspiring in me.

There are 10 “races” in All-That-Is, the fantasy world I’ve been working on for my entire adult life. ATI could be considered a cross between Morrowind and the Discworld novels; I didn’t start reading Pratchett until I’d been working on my own world for several years, but the comparisons are obvious. It’s very light fantasy, and I use it as a way to stretch my creative muscles when I’m between projects, and explore issues that I have with other fantasy works.

There are 10 races in All-That-Is: Angels, Demons (think “imp” rather than “Satan”), Humans, Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Fairies (I was a big Enid Blyton fan as a child), Ogres, Orcs, and an invented race called Peedlings.

All-That-Is started as a Dungeons and Dragons mod, but quickly expanded as I came up with interesting ideas. Fairies and Ogres were added to appeal to my love of Enid Blyton-esque writing, my desire to have an “all-good” race (as a response to the All Chaotic Evil trope you see so often in fantasy) brought Angels in, and Demons were added to further explore the idea. (Demons are an “all chaotic” race, but very few of them are evil.)

I could talk forever about each race, but if you’re desperately seeking more information, I did a few posts a few years ago that cover each race.

Today, I want to talk about Elves.

I don’t actually read a lot of fantasy, and so each race just started as a stereotype (or at least what I thought was the stereotype) – Orcs are big and stupid, Ogres are bigger and stupider, Humans are bland and fight a lot, and Dwarves are miners…and pirates.

(I have since learned that no, Dwarves are not typically pirates. I don’t understand why; it makes perfect sense to me. They’re rough, hardy, big drinkers, and they have massive beards. Of course they’re pirates. My mistake inadvertently added a unique element to All-That-Is, which worked out nicely.)

If I find a race boring, I play with them until I have an “angle”, and then they write themselves – the dull “hit things smash woo” Orcs quickly became the tribal race, with each different tribe learning to live in a different part of their varied homeland – there are Water Orcs, Stone Orcs, Fire Orcs etc etc.

Until this recent Morrowind-obsession, I haven’t been able to find any way of making Elves interesting. All I had for them was “they live in trees”. I tried making them the “ninja” race, to move away from the archery stereotype, and a few years ago my cousin Gavin suggested a two-class system; playing off the Asian influence, making half the Elves samurai and the other half ninja, but I could never get it to work.

Back when I started working on All-That-Is, when it first moved from a combat system to a world of its own (and was for a while just referred to as “The Peterverse”) one fantasy element that I deliberately left out was the “old” world – I wanted to start a fresh world, where you didn’t just read about ancient events that shaped the landscape, you got to live them. I’ve since found the reason no one does this: if it’s a new world, you don’t get that rich, lived-in sense of history (not to mention old and abandoned ruins to explore.)

As the world stands now, recorded history starts about 200 years after the beginning of time. That gave me room to play with two or three small things, but no world events: Angels have a life-span of about 150 years, so when they started writing stuff down, the beginning of time occurred a single generation ago.

I’m thinking of working around this by having writing be invented about 200 years after the beginning of time, but no one realizing that you could use this handy “writing” idea to record history for a few hundred years after that. Writing could be primarily used for fiction, shopping lists, and instructional guides until ~500 years after the start of the world, and when they try to sift through the writing that appears before then, it’s hard to determine what’s real and what’s lunch.

That gives me room for at least a few major world conflicts; the earlier they occurred, the less people would know about them.

Playing through Morrowind made me realize how inherently racist most “cursed races” are. From the Book of Mormon to interpretations of the Bible to Morrowind, when elves trangress, they’re cursed by the gods to have dark skin.

A lot of ideas in All-That-Is come from me wondering what happens if I flip a trope. What if it’s a new world, instead of countless thousands of years old? (answer: it’s much harder to give it depth.) What if humans are a tiny minority, instead of the default majority? (answer: a unique world that can probably never be affordably filmed.) What if you have an all-good race instead of an all-evil race? (answer: the world suddenly makes a lot more internal sense.)

And so I decided to make Elves a cursed race – they used to be a beautiful charcoal colour, but they angered (insert-god-here) so much that they’re all now white, or light green/grey/tan. And they hate their new colour. This immediately appeals to me, just because of how the audience will question their preconceived notions: seeing a white “high elf” kneel in subservience each time they encounter a black human, immediately seems to contradict the image that we’re used to in fantasy. I like it a lot.

Another idea: interesting ideas invariably come from simple contradictions – Dexter is a serial killer and a hero. Walter White is a mild-mannered chemistry teacher by day and drug-dealer by night. Michael Scott is the boss, but has no authority or leadership skills.

What if Elves were highly-trained warriors, with a Spartan-esque society that focuses on combat…while being a pacifist race? (anyone who’s read the Animorph series might see a similarity to the Hork Bajir – they were huge, fierce-looking creatures, whose impressive blades and strength were so that they could pick the bark off of trees.)

The reason for the pacifism: their warlike nature was why insert-god-here cursed them so long ago. They learned their lesson, and want to be peaceful forever more. It also provides the opportunity for a few interesting cultural things: they could have moved from their old, stone, warrior cities (providing interesting ruins that can be explored) – and while mainstream Elven society could be peaceful, there could be young rebels etc that don’t believe in it.

So why do they still train in the ways of war? The answer seems obvious, and ties nicely into everything above: they attacked another land, and were punished by that land’s god (or maybe several gods banded together: I do enjoy my god drama) – while they’re sworn to pacifism, if the other land/s decide to retaliate, they want to make sure they can protect themselves. And over time, it just became the way that their culture ran. (something you see all the time in real life; why the fuck do government offices only accept faxes and letters? Who the hell uses faxes or letters any more?)

This gives us an interesting take on an otherwise-dull race (their pacifism could even go as far as to include animals and plants, making their architecture immediately interesting; they never damage the trees that they live in, and so they specially grow branches and vines to house themselves) as well as booby-trapped ruins to explore that are abandoned and overgrown without needing thousands of years to get that way.

I always know when I’ve hit something that works, because my mind suddenly starts overflowing with ideas. Self-hating pacifist warriors who live in trees? As far as I’m concerned, pure gold.

And since I write All-That-Is almost purely to entertain myself, I’m the only one who matters!

It’s about to turn 1pm and I still haven’t done any real writing for the day, so it looks like it’s time to get to it. If I get 3 full stories ready for publication today, I’m going to allow myself another world-building blog-post, so if that sort of thing interests you, stay tuned!