Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Journeymen [A]

So we have Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who. The greatest sci-fi stories of their time. You can see the influences of Star Wars and Star Trek in nearly every science fiction story made afterward (and there’s a lot of fantasy which can trace its way back to Star Wars, although one of these days I’ll need to come up with a Star Trek-inspired fantasy setting).

But Doctor Who?

Nothing. At least in comparison.

You can blame an RPG called A Strange Charm for this realization and for what is following, because I’m going to be taking it upon myself to craft out the skeleton of a Doctor Who-inspired setting. I’m vaguely disappointed with A Strange Charm, actually, since it’s more “Doctor Who with the serial numbers filed off” than “inspired by Doctor Who,” but that’s okay.

Still, let’s go with fantasy instead of sci-fi, to make the gap betwixt this and Doctor Who a bit wider and require a bit more thinking about how to go about things. It’ll probably start a bit more “serial numbers filed off” than I’d like as it starts off, but as it goes on it should get some steam and start turning into something newer.

The setting is fantasy, as stated before. Let’s go with urban fantasy, first of all. Oh, there’s much more than that, of course, but there’s Earth in this whole mess, and it’s the modern day. No time travel. Let’s throw that out. It’s not strictly necessary.

But there are alternate universes. Billions and billions and billions of other timelines, and isn’t that room enough to play in, that you don’t need to go back and forth through time, too? A few thousand alternate planes of existence, or realms, as well, let’s say. Nothing like a Plane of Elemental Fire or anything like that. Just different worlds which the Powers Major created. Each of these realms has their own slew of various timelines just like Earth does.

There’s magic, and it can act very oddly. There’s the pure magic of the Powers Major which was used to shape Creation from the Chaos which now exists only outside it. This magic is produced by the Powers Major themselves and it filters down into the many realms of Creation, and how it does so determines how it functions. Certain events can shake the structure of a realm enough that how magic is filtered becomes affected, which changes how it works in that timeline (or, if the damage is great enough, the change will spread throughout all of that realm’s timelines, or at least a significant number of them).

Magic-users, out of everyone, are thus the least likely to move from realm to realm, and when they do they make sure to know how magic works in the new realm. It wouldn’t do to suddenly step into a realm where, say, magic had become tied to lineage, or had become intelligent and decided that it didn’t like newcomers, especially newcomers who had the power to force it to do things it didn’t like.

Doctor Who goes all over the place with its themes and mood, but there are still generalities which apply to most episodes to one degree or another, even if they don’t apply in a big way and to each and every one. The universe of the Journeymen, likewise, should have something like this, some sort of unifying theme which, while not present everywhere, is still quite common.

I’ll put out two qualities which I think should be given some attention. Now, I’m not saying that you have to use any of this, of course, but if it comes to the point that you’ve worked on some stories in this setting already, and now you’re on your fourth or fifth, then perhaps you could perhaps put at least a light touch of one or both of these in that story.

The most fitting mood is one of an almost subtle horror, which plays into the overarching themes as well, as you’ll see in a moment. The horror isn’t blood and guts. The force providing the horror may not even be seen for much of the story. Rather, simply the idea of its presence is what should inspire the fear. The biggest, nastiest things are rarely onscreen for long, but there is still the threat of their potential arrival. Simply through existing, the enemy is a force of fear, and it is seen only in snatches here and there, more often spoken of than perceived, and never seen in its entirety even in the latter case. Perceiving its effects is more common than perceiving it. The entire story may come to a close after resolving the consequences of its actions without being able to put a dent in the thing itself, which has since moved on.

While a mood of subtle horror is appropriate for this setting, the best theme is, I think, a sort of mixture between paranoia and optimism, and these two concepts mix together far better than you might think at first. They deal on different levels, you see. The paranoia is a personal one. You never know who is Guilty and Damned, or if there's a Shifting Spirit in the city. Nothing is as it seems and everything can be a lie. Ah, but there’s still reason to feel good about things; there’s optimism present in this setting on a general level. Even the Guilty and the Damned, as terrible as they are, pose more of a threat to individual Journeymen than to the Journeymen as a whole, or Creation itself, or the Powers Major. Cosmic threats are few and far between, and should an entire collection of worlds fall into oblivion, there are still innumerable more.

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