Creating a universe is a herculean task from any vantage point. I’m sure creating a real one is a real doozy, but I’m just talking fiction, of course. For well over three decades, I’ve devoted huge amounts of time to creating not one, but two: Toonaria and the Cosmoverse.
My quest was made a tad easier by sharing some concepts between them, despite their significant differences. This wasn’t laziness–I had some concepts overlap so I could explore how they are affected by their environment and opportunities. (Certain gods can be found in both, for example, but they are Not the same.) In other ways, the universes are significantly different and the tone is very different as well.
Universes being rather large constructs, we’re talking lifelong projects, here. I thought I’d take a lil break from the Mysteries of Toonaria series and spend some time talking about what sorts of considerations go into designing a universe.
First a bit of backstory: To date, I’ve designed over two dozen games (most still languishing in boxes) and have written three novels set in the Cosmoverse (one that is sitting on a shelf waiting for a good number of rewrites). I’ve also written a portion of three other novels, and wrote a huge pile of short stories set in both Toonaria and the Cosmoverse. I’ll publish as many of the best ones as I can while I can in the days ahead.
Wait a minute. You have published something, haven’t you?
Yes, finally. I got tired of seeing some of my games and stories sitting in boxes or popping up in other people’s works, so in 2015, I published my first book, Arcane Synthesis, via QT Games LLC. I have two more books due out by early 2018 (one is completely done, except book formatting, the other: The Sea of Worms, I’ll have done later this year, if all goes well.)
Actually, I’ve written a ton of contemporary plays and skits over the years as well, a large number of which I’ve produced and even acted in, both in the US and abroad. None of them were set in these universes.
Both Toonaria and the Cosmoverse are near and dear to my heart. Most of my board games are set in Toonaria, and in my spare time, I’m revamping one (Freeze Or Burn) that I created a very long time ago, along with a new card-based roleplaying game (Epic Destinies.)
As for Toonaria and the Cosmoverse, they have also been the backdrop for most of my stories and games. Chances are, countless stories could still be told in these universes long after I’m six feet under. That’s not a boast–I know I’m not perfect or the hottest author out there, but I’ve always taken my time to build into my universes plenty of mystery, and more than a little backstory, exotic creatures and fantastic places.
Of course, I haven’t been designing in a vacuum. I read books, play games and watch movies like everyone else. I’ve let many things inspire me over the years, and of course I also innovate, brainstorming new concepts and new spins on old concepts. If I find something I love and it seems appropriate to do so, the concept eventually makes its way into one of my universes, and sometimes both. I don’t just kitchen sink the universes tossing in anything that I feel like on a whim, though. I consider carefully how something might affect the rest of the universe(s) as well as the existing tone, backstory, etc. I make it feel like it belongs, or I leave it out.
As I love flexing my creativity, I can’t resist changing things, so sometimes when I have included a cool concept I ran across somewhere, I reenvision it, making it my own– changing numerous aspects. Everything from visual to psychological and origin story is subject to considerable changes. For example, I have a species of godzilla-like creatures living underwater, but they are quite different (and much smaller) than the famous one. I also have a Kong-like gorilla, but his backstory and abilities couldn’t be further from anything you’ve ever heard of. Creating is fun stuff! As I said, it’s hard work, too, but I don’t regret a moment I’ve spent designing universes.
With both Toonaria and the Cosmoverse, one of my goals was to build in ways in which the average Joe could accomplish anything. So, both universes include fantastic technology, magic and even superheroes. Some might call my work Science Fantasy genre, but I call it blended-genre. I’ve given my reasons for this before, so I won’t elaborate here, as this is already getting longish.) Just this one decision alone, blew the doors off of what was possible.
I wanted caches of exotic technology that few could understand, but anyone could accidentally activate, causing all manner of chaos and interesting stories, so I created the ancient Architects. These god-like AI have their own agendas and travel the universes leaving behind machines and objects of power for reasons of their own. They aren’t doing it randomly –these aren’t merely plot devices–they have a reason for every object they’ve placed, but the mysteries behind them are not usually obvious.
I devoted a blog post to the GodStorm recently. It is a magical phenomenon that moves around unpredictably between dimensions and universes changing everything it touches. I GM’d a long-running adventure of the gods on the QT Games forums (and WotC forums before that) a few years back that was just starting to get into the GodStorm. It ended before it’s time (I stopped it so I could devote more time to writing and designing). Had it continued, it would have revealed the origin of the GodStorm.
Why did I make it? I wanted something that even the gods were afraid of. I wanted an anomaly that could change life wherever it went, and came up with ideas on how it worked and why. I’ve hinted here and there on such matters, and couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. It can be used for so many things by Game Masters as well as by authors (yep, I’m hoping to continue having other authors write in my universes in the future, as I don’t have time to write everything.) The GodStorm has appeared in many stories (both my own, and those I’ve commissioned from other authors.) It also appears in my upcoming novel: The Shadow Reaper.
Next week, I’ll talk about magic and how I turned the concept of spellcasting on its head to provide a unique and exciting experience for both readers and gamers. Do you have a Toonarian topic you’d like me to write about– an aspect of Toonaria you would like me to reveal? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you. Cheers!