Building a Fantasy Horror Setting

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So one of the big reasons I started this blog was to kind of two fold. The first was to provide an outlet for the random writing thoughts that I have to inspire myself and others to be better. This, in theory, would allow me to network a little with other writers and generally introduce myself to the world of writing. The second was to be a place I could share information and updates on the novels that I’m working on. The little short stories are nice and all, but the meat and potatoes of what I write is my baby called The Night Reign Chronicles.

About 11 years ago, I had this idea that I would create my own world for a Dungeons and Dragons game. I’ve been a gamer for a very long time and I (along with my usual players) had grown too familiar with the standard worlds out there such as the Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Greyhawk, and so on. All of these wonderful places had lost their shine to them. I already knew everything there was to know and the excitement was gone. My players and I craved something more, something new. It was a time when little gaming companies were exploding onto the scene due to the free d20 license provided by Wizards of the Coast to use their system to produce and sell your own worlds. It was an exciting time for gamers everwhere as new and exciting places were popping up all over. Some were bad, some were decent, but I still craved for something more and I knew that the only way I was going to get it was to make my own.

So I sat down with a notepad and pencil and began to build a world that I called Destiny. It was a world where everyone had a destiny to follow, for good or bad. I tried to design a place that was new, yet familiar with the DnD crowd. There were your standard humans, elves, dwarves and orcs. There were dragons, devils, and a pantheon of gods to fit the individual. There was a map in color pencil of the various kingdoms, empires, wastelands and grand forests. I wrote a brief history of the world and how the nations came to be and how the races were born. After six months of work, I proudly presented the world to my core group of players and asked for everyone to give the world a test run.

Everything went well at first as the players went about exploring this brand new place and began asking questions. That’s when thing started to fall apart. Continuity errors started popping up from a history that I pieced together from different ideas. The lack of depth to the mythology created a void in the emotional strength of the history. It was basically Forgotten Realms redesigned by a teenager with their own not so clever ideas. It was a mess and my world called Destiny failed to live up to the name.

Several years passed as I put the world away and focused on other things and other gaming experiences as my life went in a bad direction. Thankfully, I was able to crawl my way out with a renewed sense of being. New changes in my personal life brought back the desire to create once again. I dug out my old maps and notes and studied them for awhile to figure out what was wrong. Once I looked past all of the obvious errors listed earlier, I came to the base conclusion that the world was nothing new, it was just a rehash of the same things that everyone else had already done. If I wanted something truly special, I needed to work with a better foundation.

With that in mind, I began building the world of Night Reign from the idea of dark epic horror fantasy. There are some horror settings out there in the game universe, most notably Ravenloft, but not enough that I felt the genre was overly saturated. The first step in designing this new setting was to do what I should have done the first time which was establish the mythos of the world, how it came to be. Once the beginning of the world was established, I was then able to write a general history of the world  up to the present point that I want the stories and games to take place.

It was important to remind myself to keep with the general theme of fantasy horror when writing the history of my new world as I have a tendency to just put something in that sounds cool at first thought. This is what got me in trouble the first time around. I would have to take those cool ideas on the second draft of the world history and twist them end over end until it was saturated with tragic heroism and unforeseen betrayal. Both of these quickly became reoccuring themes throughout the history and by the time I was done, I had this fifty page historical treatment written full of awesomeness.

The next stage of designing my fantasy horror setting was to have people read it and remind them that this wasn’t written for novel purposes, only reference material. The feedback came back good and so we moved onto the testing phase of this new world which we did in our usual way, we started up a game and played it. Once the gaming had shown that the world had a solid foundation, it was time to take the next step and write a novel set in this new world.

 All of that roughly brings me to where I am today, running DnD games in the Night Reign world to keep it fresh and interactive while writing novels that show the heart of what the world is. My first novel in the series of the Night Reign Chronicles is Prince of the Dawn; a story about a young prince who has been in hiding since the fall of his kingdom to the Ilium Empire. When his mentor and guardian is taken away from him, he is forced to to come out of hiding and fight the Empire. This becomes the first step in a long journey towards reclaiming the Dragon Throne from the Empire and restoring light to a world enveloped in eternal darkness.

My hope is, one day, to get this thing published. The second draft is already done and now it is time to draft to perfection. Just remember that just a simple set of words can become just the tip of an iceburg of something much more grand and powerful. Don’t be afraid to play around with something until it works because eventually it will work, you just need a little patience until it shows itself.

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