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Thread: Trying too hard to avoid cliche?

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      Triplicate is offline
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    Default Trying too hard to avoid cliche?

    I was thinking about how to make a fantasy world that didn't rely on strict counterpart cultures. Problem is, I tend to think in terms of counterparts, possibly since I spend more time thinking about geofiction.

    I realized that my goals could often be achieved by separating aspects of a culture or nation. For example, if I want the world to have a Rome counterpart, what I really mean is that I want a large, expansionist republic with above-average infrastructure. I don't mean I want to duplicate their religion, architecture style, etc. A nation can be very different internally and fill a similar role in the world.

    But what of trying harder? Inspired by my sword-and-planet dream world, I was still thinking about ways to avoid the "barbarians from the frigid Northlands". I thought, "I want an Arctic nation that can stand up to its counterparts from the south".

    Then I realized how implausible this was. And it showed something about why I don't find making low-tech fictional worlds fun: there's not much freedom, because people have to work within the boundaries imposed by nature. In this case, as usual, it's agriculture. If you live so far north agriculture is marginal to impossible, you can't support a large population density. You're even worse off than usual in terms of supporting workers who don't supply food. Barring unusual biology, advanced technology or magic not available to others, the polar civilizations can't be a match. And then I remember why. In terms of alien planets, I know that "extremes" are subjective. They're seen from the perspective of what climate a species is adapted for. But humanity began in East Africa, near the equator. As long as I'm restricted to working with humans, polar climates remain extreme.
    Last edited by Triplicate; 03-18-2013 at 07:37 PM.
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      - Max - is offline
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    Not sure to understand the whole thing (bad english ) but you seem to think of a fantasy world regarding human real life/history standards. So you're setting yourself the limits of it while your only limit should be your imagination. For me the interest of fantasy worlds is that you can broke those limits to create something strange/new/unusual and such. Cliches in fantasy just comes from a few lack of ability of imagining something different. Just my two cents (again sorry If I misunderstaood the post)

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    Hmm... I don't know much about your world, but being "low-tech" doesn't mean people wouldn't be able to live on a polar climate. I mean, if you are considering a fantasy world, it could have magic (Does it have?), what would solve most of your problems, cuz magic can be explained just as "Thats magic!!". Of course maybe you don't want magic, or at least not something so "not scientific" basing everything on magic.

    In this last case, well, we would have to consider what is "low-tech" for you. I mean, like some folks said on another post when discussing about sawmills and smiths and technology: Tech comes usually from accidental discovering, what usually comes from the needs of finding new things. So maybe you could consider a watermill "low-tech", but for others civilizations it would be a f**ing-awsome-great-thing that would save its life. I'm not saying that maybe your north polar men have invented heater, no, but they could be a tribe of nomads, barbarians, what in this case could live on cold region, but traveling from area to area looking for better climate and more food, yet they wouldn't go farther than a specific area, cuz they know to the south there are enemies of something like that.
    Another option is to just move them a little bit to the south. Byt his, I mean a area still cold, but an area that on summer has no snow, so that they can grow plantations, and so food. An are they would have to produce lots of foods on summer so that they would have enough to get trough the cold winter. An area where they don't have cows, but Buffalos, or Llamas - or basic any other cold region animal. In places like that I could see a civilization growing up, maybe not as big as the Roman, but still one with the wish to conquer souther lands, so that they could live all the time with good temperatures.

    I don't know if its that what you were looking for, I actually didn't understand what your question was about exactly.
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      Triplicate is offline
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    (This was written before your post, Counlin. I'm letting it stand.)

    That's the point. For any fantasy world I create, I set limits. In this case, "no non-human intelligent species" (that might be better adapted to cold) is one.

    Without a reference frame, it's no fun for me. I want the familiar feel. This is, as I said, why I like geofiction, and it's why my principal (long-stalled) fiction project is pulpy science-fantasy. If I want to play with, say, Aztecs, my first choice isn't to make a world with an analogous culture; it's to work in alternate history or fantasy set on Earth, where actual Aztecs exist(ed).

    Back to the "powerful Arctic civilization", this is related to another of my musings: how to make a truly anti-colonial world? That is, not just one seen from a perspective unsympathetic to the colonizers, but one where empire-building wasn't practically beneficial? The problem is that the real world isn't neutral to empire-building; it favors it. For a world to be even neutral to it, it has to have something that, relative to the real world, creates a bias against empires. For example, there must be negative economies of scale.

    And both of these ideas came from something I heard about Dungeons & Dragons. That is, that people in its world are, on average, richer, better educated and more socially mobile that real medieval or ancient people. And I wondered "Can I make a world where that makes sense? Where, in a time before guns and steam, people can be wealthier than they were in reality?" And I realized the importance of the agricultural productivity limit. Without technology (or mass-produced magic used like technology), there are some things easy to imagine changing, but some harder. For example, I know of various fantasy ways to reduce disease and increase life expectancy (Purify Food and Drink wouln't be an unimportant spell in the ancient world...), but what I really wanted was a world that didn't have to be 90% farmers.
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      Triplicate is offline
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    (Now this is replying to the newest information.)

    My point is that I was trying for something more northern than your standard Viking-analogues.

    You hit on (and missed) the point when mentioning nomads. I'm talking about civilizations too far north for agriculture. Then they have to be nomads, and they can't match the temperate nations. Not staying in one place -> no mining -> no metals -> Stone Age forever.

    There was a reason I had no vision of what this civilization could look like. Within the parameters I want, I don't think it can exist.

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    But considering the place you said :
    Not staying in one place -> no mining -> no metals -> Stone Age forever
    , plus a polar temperature, I would say you want something like Antartida or Greenland, or even north of Russia, where there are no people living permanently till these days, what means that living on places like that on a medieval era would be basically impossible. If there was mining at least they could have some sort of trade agreement with another faraway civilization, trading metals for food by sea. But with nothing, being on Stone Age forever I really can't see anything working on a "close-to-medieval-aged-earth" world, unless as I said before you introduced magic on it, than it is a whole different thing...
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    Underwater volcanoes create a warm area in the north. In addition to better than expected production on land, it's also a great area for fishing. With the food from the sea, various small city-states have risen. Their dependence on the sea has led to them becoming the best ship-builders and sailors, leading to strong naval power and far-reaching trade.

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    The problem thinking in big empires is because usualy we take the earth experience as reference. The realms in our world take the religion as reference, everthing come after this. Big empires kill in name of god, big religious empires start to tell about god plans and take the ppl folloing the same reasons. The economic and politic can not avoid from religion, because liking or not the faith is the main power to manipulate the people.
    Look something like Avalon, all empire of is moving about a religious war around Camelot. Now comes the the point where i really like. Remove religion from the heart of ppl and start to think about survive or just power. The world of Mad Max or Waterworld, where the empires are strong, given wut they can compare, but still ruling some area.

    Like Coulin said is prior think how they will survive in the ice, farms can be a problem, probly they will hunt meat moving one place to other. I believe magic will not change the goals, since they are looking for survive. Nomads people just go to some place, if it is occupied they kill and use all sources before move again. Till someone appear and start to tell about evolution (nature or political).

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    This seems like an interesting thread with a lot of great ideas flowing. Regarding Max's comment, (and not wanting to sound too academic) I think the question of fantasy v realism is the biggest philosophical question for people who make fantasy maps/worlds. Now, plugging my own comments, I started a post called Tips for Worldbuilders where I attempt to address some of these issues. I personally don't like the 'that's magic' approach - it just seems kinda lazy.

    The title of the thread is about avoiding cliche. Again this is my personal opinion but I think the key to avoiding cliches is through developing the cultural traits of a people. As I suggest in my thread, if you start with one cultural thing, and then you slowly add to it and evolve it, you will eventually have a fairly 3-dimensional culture that feels complete and is much more original. I think that if you do that you can have a nation that is essentially Aztec (or whatever you're going for) but which is also unique, and you might find it takes you in paths you don't expect.

    I also think it is absolutely possible to create a world different from ours without resorting to cliches like magic or familiar cultures. In realistic worldbuilding you have to stick within the parameters of plausibility (that's the fun of it), but that doesn't mean you cannot invent things. For example, perhaps smelting and smithing are difficult in an arctic climate; why not make something up that can be a substitute. Perhaps there are fossilized trees which, when sharpened up (using stone tools) become as hard and sharp as steel. No magic involved, solves the problem, and it is completely plausible (since it is a fictional place it is impossible to be 100% realistic, so what you're aiming for is plausibility and enough detail to cover up the mistakes). In addition, you have a spring-board for a culture: these fossilized trees are obviously important to the people, so perhaps they have a ritual for retrieving it, or somehow it is associated with their mythology etc.

    My main point is that you have to be inventive in worldbuilding, and it has to be as plausible as you are satisfied with, but it can be done. There is no reason to accept cliches. It is probably always possible to invent a way around these problems. Even if you have to stay within the parameters that Max mentioned, the invention of a plant/animal/mineral/phenomena/ideology is perfectly acceptable, provided it is plausible. I'm interested in this topic, and, as time permits, I'll be watching to see where it goes. Hope my thoughts are helpful.
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    Hmm, I can see ways of your ideia working, and based on all the information here you could build something very plausible with no magic involved.

    I could see a civilization growing on a polar area, yet it would need some specific help of the enviroment. I would first include the rdanhenry's ideia, because indeed a underwater volcano area - we could even include geisers - would be like an oasis in the desert (and a polar region is basically a desert, except it is REALLY cold, instead of hot). This would make the area better for living. With this, you would have to think, there are not many plants that survive on a polar region, I mean, only some pines survive on north of Russia, for example, but your world is not earth, and your world doesn't have the same plants and animals Earth has - and TheHoarseWhisperer gave a good idea - so maybe it could have a plant capable of surviving on extremely cold regions, or even more than one, what would give the people there seeds/cereal/grains, or fruits, or at least wood. Of course the people would have to make a canals to the hot water get irrigate the plantations, and probably would need lots of care with the plants and stuff. The people could even have built a system to have plantations over the hot water - there are some ways, but you would need plants like rice which can grow with lots of water instead of dying like what happens with most plants.

    Surviving in so cold regions would demand meat, of course, so they may have buffalos or Llamas, or another animal of your world that provides meat, wool, and maybe milk. Fish could be easly fished from the water next to the city. Fire can be come easily if you have pines, its sap (blood, I'm not sure what is right, used google translate) is extremely flamemable. With some mining - maybe an iron mine somewhere next, or faraway, from the city - they could have iron to make objects for both defense and plantation.

    Remember, your world is not Earth, unless you want, so maybe it has no Tigers, but it has Ululos, which is a three headed cat 7 feet tall that eats oranges. Like what TheHoarseWhisperer said, you are looking for plausibility, not realism.
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