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Writing Fantasy Books:
What will a traveler encounter on the roads in your world?
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Writing Fantasy Books:
What will a traveler encounter on the roads in your world?
I am answering random questions today about world building, over on Reddit and decided to take my answers from there and expand upon them even further over here. So that's what this page is. Me rambling on about various aspects of world building techniques I use when writing the Quaraun series. The questions I am answering are embedded here. Clicking the link in the embedded question will take you to the original Reddit page where you can see the original answer along with other people's answers. If you wish to comment, you can do so on the Reddit page where a place to do so is provided.
Writing Fantasy Books:
What will a traveler encounter on the roads in your world?
I once had a reader who emailed me to say/ask:
"So, I'm reading Vampire Leprechaun of Fire Mountain. I'm about 100 pages into the book and nothing has happened yet. When does something happen?"
They explained that the characters were just walking for miles and miles and miles and...
uhm...yeah....that's what the story is about - them lost in a Fairy Forest, wandering aimlessly for miles.
So we are messaging back and forth about the issue, me wondering what they were expecting to have happen, them confused about what the book was. Pointing out that this volume is #5 of the series, and supposedly they had read the 4 previous volumes....though I really don't think they did based on their "When does something happen?" question. :P LOL!
What was the problem? It turns out, they THOUGHT the series was going to be an action packed adventure of D&D questing type monster battling type stuff. They thought this because they had read an article stating that the main character was one I had played in my local game group for years and the novels were based off the actual game sessions which I had kept notes of for a few decades.
The problem? They neglected to read the part of the article which stated the series was "slice of life literary fantasy" and told the story of what happened OUTSIDE OF THE GAME... the stuff NOT battles, and monsters and questing, but rather the journey, the traveling, the random stops at taverns and campsites.
The whole series, all 130+ volumes of it, every single novel, is the every day life of a wandering vagabond wizard as he just travels the open road. There are no sword fights, monster battles, wizard duels, or anything else remotely action packed in any novel of the series.
There is however, LOTS of traveling and sightseeing, to the point that it reads more like travel fiction.
Quaraun is the main character, a wandering "wizard for hire" so, he's in every story. In a few stories he's travelling alone. In many stories he's travelling with 1 or the other or both, of 2 fellow travelling wizards. Some times they meet up with an "adventuring group" and will then have 4 or 5 or more characters traveling with him. Sometimes he'll meet up with a merchant or a caravan or a wagon train or a family just off to visit relatives. So you never know from one novel to the next who he's going to have as traveling companions... just whoever he meets on the road who is going the same direction.
So... answering your question...
>>Depending on the setting, travel can be a lengthy process and one that is often glossed over without much detail. I'm of the opinion that the journey can be far more interesting than the destination.
>>So picture a random traveler in your world. What will they encounter? Will they have interesting stories, worthy of regaling a crowd in a tavern?
Okay, first a lay out of the continent:
The stories are set in an alternate-Earth-like place, with geography that closely matches Quebec, Nova Scotia, Maine, New Hampshire region. Thus summer are cool and short, spring suffers torrential rains, falls has hurricanes, and winters last from October to May with blizzards back to back and snow that reaches 20+ deep. The main character mostly travels along the coast, rarely going more then 2 miles inland from the ocean. Other Earth-like regions exist (deserts, prairies, jungles, etc, but the main character rarely travels to them.)
- Cities (with 1,000 to 2,000 people) are few and may have 200 miles or more between them. These are often built along rivers and have large mills where many people work at. Cities have stores, shops, and mercantiles not found in smaller towns. The Market centers re big a busy. The cities each have multiple taverns, inns, and whorehouses.
- Towns (500+ people) are few but more common than cities and maybe only 100 miles between each one. Towns often have a "market square" where you can find merchants and farmers from nearby towns. There is usually somebody there selling something every day. Most have both a tavern and and inn and many have whorehouses.
- Villages (fewer than 500 people) can be found about every 10 miles. Usually made up of farms, and having large field of crops all around them. On the coasts they are made up largely of fishermen. Villages have a "market day" where local farmers, bakers, fishermen, weavers, etc, set up carts. Some villages may have their own blacksmiths or mills, but many don't and travel to the nearest village that does. They may or may not have a tavern or an inn, but likely will have a whorehouse with it's own pub in it.
- Settlements (fewer then 100 people) pop up here and there, wherever a group set up camp and then decided to stay. Rarely do these have houses. Most families living in their wagons, carts, vardos, tents, yurts, etc, These are like campgroup shanty towns. Places where travelers, homeless, drifters, etc stop and stay. The populations fluctuates as most people will set up these groups to have a place to settle in during rain or snow seasons when travel is difficult. They are basically stop over points that no one stays at for more then a few months. There may or may not be one or two permanent buildings.
- What will a traveler encounter on the roads in your world?
- Other travellers: Unless you are traveling deep in the heart of Faerie regions (vast forests with 100+miles between each house), the roads are not as lonely as they seem. There are always other people, mostly Humans, to be encountered on the way. Trade between populations is always happening, so you'll often meet merchants or peddlers. Farmers are always heading to nearby villages to trade their crops for supplies. Same goes for craftsmen and fishermen. People travel to mills to get grain ground to flour. People travel to towns and cities to buy items they can't buy in their own town.
"A day's journey" is considered to 8 to 12 miles, so usually you can walk from one village to the next and always have a tavern/inn/etc to sleep in at night. Because of the relative closeness of settled populations, people are constantly going back and forth between towns/villages to visit relatives or make trades.
At harvest season (August, September, and October) the roads are especially busy with farmers with their mule trains, horse drawn wagons, and ox carts off to make trades.
You'll meet merchants and peddlers all year.
In "Deep Winter" (January, February, and March) most of the roads are closed (because trucks with plows will not be invented for another few hundred years!). This time of year, going outside is a death sentence as the temps drop to -40F, wind chill factors drop to -120F during a blizzard. Travel is dangerous and not recommended during Deep winter.
- Highwaymen and bandits: A common problem, especially on the outskirts of cities and larger sized towns. They are always on the look out for lone travellers, especial ones that look wealthy or appear to be carrying a valuable wagon load. These men are dangerous cutthroats, often rapists, and usually won't think twice about murdering you for a small bag of coins. They tend to set up small camps on the outskirts of cities, then wait along roadsides to ambush anyone they think is easy pickings.
Because the bandit problem is so bad in certain areas, there are some roads that no one dares travel on alone, and will only travel in a large group of others. In these regions you also rarely see female or children travelers, as most men do not feel it is safe for their families to travel in these regions.
- Washed Out Roads & Land Slides" Because it is sandy soil on rocky coastlines, the roads are constantly washing out. Mountain streams turn into small rivers in spring with the snow melting runoff and hurricanes in fall tear up anything spring left behind. Travel thus often involves, hiking off the road and through the forest without any marked trails to guide you, to get around downed trees, gaping road washouts, collapsed bridges, etc.
- The Blizzards of "Deep Winter" (January, February, and March) This time of year, going outside is a death sentence as the temps drop to -40F, wind chill factors drop to -120F during a blizzard (a blizzard is a North Atlantic hurricane with snow instead of rain; the requirement being minimum 3" of snow per hour, minimum 75MPH winds, and a snow fall accumulation of over 3 feet per storm; blizzards are relatively rare in our real world, do far more damage then a hurricane could ever dream of, though people like to call any deep snowfall a blizzard, not really knowing what the actual definition of a blizzard is - true blizzards only occur in the coastal region along Bay of Fundy; which is the location of this fictional world, thus they get hit hard by blizzards).
If you are travelling in Deep Winter, you need to be prepared to set up camp possibly for several weeks. You want to have a lot of food and furs in your pack. Blizzards show up without warning and can bury you in 10 feet of snow per night, and can last several nights in a road.
- Faeries - Phookas: Common. Shapeshifters. Deadly. Eat anything that moves. Known for their psychotic blood frenzies. Can appear as anything, any animal, and person, even your best friend. Usually appear as a small injured Shetland Pony limping along the side of the road. When you try to help them, they turn into fire breathing black unicorns, stab you to death with it's horn, eat your entrails, dance in your blood, then wear your skull on their horn like a crown. Usually live in swamps and marshes along the coast. See here for full details: https://www.eelkat.com/Phookas.html
- Faeries - Little Old Men: Leprechauns Uncommon. Tricksters. Usually harmless. Tiny old men, usually around 4 feet tall, centuries old, they delight in tormenting travellers. Rarely do they intend to hurt anyone, but pushing you off a cliff for a good laugh is certainly something they would do. They like to turn acorns into "gold" then send travellers on wild goose chases in search of pots of gold that are nothing more than rusty buckets of acorns.
- Faeries - Little Old Men: FarDarrigs Uncommon. Tricksters. Deadly. A type of Undead Leprechaun, similar to a vampire, they have insatiable blood lusts. Noted for wearing patchwork leather coats made out of the skins of their (mostly Human) victims. After each new kill, they sew your face to heir coat and then dye their coat red using your blood.
- Faeries - Little Old Men: Clurichauns Uncommon. Tricksters. Usually harmless. A type of Leprechaun, they are not obsessed with gold and instead are obsessed with drinking. They are noted for setting up illusionary taverns in the middle of no where. Lonely and seeking a drinking companion, they like to lure travellers to their drunken doom. Once a traveller goes inside to get a drink, they may be trapped there for centuries, before the Clurichaun let's them leave,
- Faeries - Little Old Men: Red Caps Uncommon. Tricksters. Deadly. A type of Feral Leprechauns. Vicious serial killing, Human eating, mad men who will tear you to shreds, wear you head for a hat, and paint their bodies with your blood.
- Faeries - Little Old Women: The Banshee Sisters: Bean-Nighe and Ben-Neeyah Rare. Tricksters. Deadly. Two old women who died in child birth and now haunt swamps and mountain streams, washing the blood stained clothes of murder victims. Usually can only be seen by someone who murdered a child. They haunt the nightmares of the child's murderer, often driving him to suicide. You can read one of Quaraun's encounters with them here: https://www.eelkat.com/bean-nighe-and-ben-neeyah-in-the-swamp-of-death.html he and his companions had stopped for the night to sleep in an onl abandoned church in the woods across the road from a swamp.
- Faeries - Little Old Women: Aswangs Uncommon. Shapeshifters. Deadly. The main source of their diet is newborn infants, though they will eat any Human, Elf, or Faerie that they can get. They prefer to fins a larger sized village, kill the mid-wif, take her form, then prey on the pregnant women who come looking for midwife services.
- Hell Hounds: Vicious black dogs with glowing red eyes. Sometimes they are fire breathing. Sometimes their fur has flames leaping from it. Basically a pack of huge supernatural wolves. They are not common, but cross roads from time to time and are known to attack anyone that crosses their path.
- Vampires: Rare, but have been encountered often enough that few travellers dare be on the road at night. these are classic, old school, undead, blood sucking Nosferatu-type corpses that rise from the grave at night. Only out at night or on cloudy days.
- Shambling Dead: Rare. Usually means there is a Borka, Houngan, or Necromancer in the area. These are zombies, undead corpses that were animated by magic. Usually harmless, because they are being controlled by powerful spells. They are a terrifying sight (and smell) to encounter, as their corpses are rotting and pieces dropping off. They retain feelings of hunger and can be trained (like a dog) by giving the meat treats when they obey commands correctly. While they do not have the sharp intellect of a living being, they do retain some limited levels of intelligence, emotions, and feelings. Like dogs, they become deeply loyal to their masters and will do anything they are trained to do on command.
Strong poisons are used to reanimate these corpses. Being bitten by one, infects the person bitten. The poison slowly kils them. They eventually become a Shambling Dead. Usually a Feral Undead.
- Nzambie: Rare. A type of Shambling Dead. They are servants of a magic user, controled by psychic spells. Some Borka, Houngan, or Necromancers make Nzambies to do heavy labour such as harvesting crops, building houses, etc. These magic users often travel with caravans of these minions. Typically harmless, they can become deadly in seconds if the Necromancer feels you are a threat and tells them to attack you. Like piranhas they will reduce you to bones in seconds. Rarely seen outside of the farms they work.
- Feral Undead: Rare. A type of Shambling Dead whom have no master controlling them. Dangerous. The classic brain eating "Walking Dead" style zombie. They'll eat any flesh they encounter. They are basically running wild in packs/hoards. Usually these packs of Feral Undead occurred when the wizard controlling them dies and there is no one left to tell them what to do. Some Feral Undead are people who were bitten and turned and thus have no master controlling them. Because they roam aimlessly, they may be encountered any place, any time of day.
- Liches also known as The Wild Hunt: Rare, but more common than other types of undead. The wraith-like remains of Elf and Faerie wizards who commit suicide in an attempt to become immortal. They are now frozen skeletons made of glowing ice. They use illusions to pretend to be any living person or animal and often live alongside the living, in regular houses. A Lich may live in a town for decades with no one being aware the person is really and undead monster. Liches must feed on the living to survive, otherwise they go mad from starvation and become mindless monsters.
There are so many more things a traveler might encounter, but these are the things my main character encounters most often, thus why they are the things I chose for this list.