All posts by Sean Newton

The Whirling Sands Of History – The Silent Sands

The Whirling Sands Of History - The Silent Sands

The only true desert in Calibran, it is generally said by the learned that the Silent Sands were created long ago by an accident of geography. The tall Cliffs of Ronin, thrusting up from the sand of the desert as high as some peaks of the tall Caribre Mountains, have changed the weather patterns in the lowlands beneath them, redirecting rain towards the fertile Fields of Farsalon. There are rivers that are fed by springs in the Cliffs, falling down the plateaus in great torrents. These water the desert enough that life is possible. To the west, the Cliffs are not as tall or imposing, and so the western half of the Silent Sands is not as dry. It is there that most of the food for those who dwell in the Sands is grown.

It is telling, however, that House Trystane, the noble house that rules the desert, keeps its capital in the drier eastern reaches. It is here, nearer to the greater heights of the Cliffs, where their fortune is made. The wealth to be had from gathering and preparing spices, magical ingredients, and other bounty that can be taken from the strange cliff plateaus more than pays for the inconvenience of living in a dry and inhospitable place.

In the deeper desert is also to be found another source of wealth. There are the remains of a great civilization buried in the wastes of the Silent Sands. It is unclear who they were, and there is no consensus as to even what race they were. Whether the Sands were not as dry in their time, and they were chased out by the desertification of their lands, or they found ways of living in the desolation that eventually failed them, no one knows. It is known that they were great users of magic, and many powerful artifacts have been found among the ruins. House Trystane claims all the magic found in their demesne, saying that they are too dangerous to be sold freely on the market. That they pay explorers a pittance and then make fortunes from selling the magic is probably an added inducement.

The Desert

Very few people live in the desert proper. There’s no real way to provide for a family, or even a single person, in most places in the deep desert. There are oases scattered throughout, places where water has collected beneath the surface and bubbled up to feed trees and other plants. These are usually useful only so far as they allow travelers to move between the coast, Wert’s Dune, and the Cliffs of Ronin.

The Trystanes send crews of experienced hunters and gatherers to the Cliffs. These groups ascend the plateaus, braving the dangers not only of climbing, but also from the strange creatures that thrive on the vertical jungle. They collect the raw ingredients from among the plants and animals, and other, harder to define, things that live on the Cliffs. They return with baskets and bags full of pods, leaves, innards, and so forth. Despite the danger, competition to join the gathering groups is heated. A few successful trips can make a man’s fortune. More than that, though, many find the lush greenery and the prevalence of water is for the dry desert dwellers a sort of paradise, even if it is deadly dangerous. They go from one of the driest, barest places in Calibran to the place perhaps most filled with life, a riot of color and motion.

The crews return with the raw ingredients that are processed both in Wert’s Dune itself, and in the several settlements nearby, into the spices and finished ingredients for magic, potions, and poisons that are sold throughout Calibran. Merchants pay heavy taxes and duty fees to wander the spice market of Wert’s Dune, shelling out even more money to buy great bales and crates of what’s on offer. They do so confident that whatever they pay to buy and transport their goods, they can make a substantial profit in Cathedra’s Gate, Pelaj, or really wherever they care to sell them.

As whenever there are fortunes to be made by circumventing tight restrictions and controls, there is a lively smuggling trade, both in magic and in ingredients. They use hidden oases, or those far out of the way of straight paths through the desert. They can do so and still charge less than their legal colleagues due to the tremendous tariffs the Trystanes levy. It is a dangerous profession, depending on finding small sources of water, usually hidden, among the wide, shifting sands of the desert. Worse than that, they must also avoid the patrols and watches that the Trystanes maintain to keep their stranglehold on the spice trade tight. Smugglers are usually killed out of hand when they are found, the soldiers that patrol having been given power of summary justice in these cases.

Most of the common people in the Silent Sands live in the most hospitable western portions. There, the Cliffs are lower, and the land is slightly wetter. Rivers flow south to the Narrows, and farmers line the rivers’ courses with fields, depending on the yearly flooding to fertilize their crops.

Along the southern edge of the desert is an area that is given little regard by the rest of Calibran, and mentioned rarely. The wet and salty swamps trail along the coast, the home of a strange, overlooked people.

The Salty Swamps

The people who live in the swamps are just as happy to be left largely alone, and ignored by their theoretical overlords. Their main contact with the outside world are the merchants who pass through on their way to Wert’s Dune. They dock at one of several ports along the Narrows, then travel north a short ways, led by swamp guides to caravanserai on the southern edge of the desert. There the merchants meet with new guides, wise in the ways of the desert, to take them on the final leg of their journey.

It’s these people who bring what little gold there is in the swamp lands. Really, it’s a small group that deals with the outside world. Most of the swamp folk live far away from the trade routes. In many ways it is easier to take a living from the swamps than the desert. There are some particular dangers that can make it a uniquely challenging environment, though. To start with, though the swamp is as wet as swamps ever are, most of the water is salt, and unfit for drinking. Not that you’d want to drink swamp water in any case.

The salt swamps of the Silent Sands are also the home of more poisonous snakes and spiders than any other place in Calibran, with the possible exception of Deth Forest. Like the dark elves that live in that fell place, those that live in the swamps are also experts in the making and using of potions and poisons. They have the added advantage of living near to some of the most potent ingredients, and it is not unusual for a merchant to complain of a light fingered swamplander walking off with a box or crate of expensive ingredients from Wert’s Dune. Most such thieves are never found, and many merchants suspect they are relatives or friends of the guides they hire. Most consider it simply another type of tax.

Artists and Warriors

The people who live in the desert, the subjects of House Trystane, are a strange mix. Their reputation is often that of cruel and strange people delighting in the pain of others. Many scholars know, however, that many of the wisest scholars and most powerful wizards were born and taught in the Silent Sands. Others know their warriors to be skilled and dangerous, as well as honorable and true. It’s a strange dichotomy that is not quite like any to be found elsewhere.

The common people are thought by the rest of Calibran to be somewhat savage and barbarous, and call them various unpleasant names. There are many reasons the people of the Silent Sands are objects of prejudice. What outsiders see as cruelty is often simply a necessity of living in a harsh place like the Silent Sands. The strange, stand-offish nature of the swamplanders has also added to the poor reputation of those who live under the rule of House Trystane. Combined with the perception (mistaken, but still widely believed) that those who live in the Silent Sands must be wading through wealth, and it is not a surprise that the simple folk of the Sands are hated. A great portion of the kingdom’s coffers goes to buying spices and magical ingredients. But, almost all of that money ends up in the hands of the Trystanes, rather than their vassals, and indeed, those who live in the desert are among the poorest in Calibran.

On the other hand, Wert’s Dune is a place of great learning, and the Trystanes are aware of the value of learning and study. They maintain a chivalric order of wizards, the Order of the Sharpened Quill, and a college called the Lyceum that educates new wizards and scholars. Living on top of the ruins of an older, more powerful civilization, the Trystanes are aware of the danger in playing with magic beyond their understanding. The Company of Lions is their knightly order, who have their own effective styles of fighting, and methods of teaching, that has produced a number of great warriors.

The Silent Sands is a strange place, unique among the realms of Calibran. Though the desert is in an isolated, hard to reach corner of the Kingdom, events there often have wide consequences. In any case, it remains a place of shifting sands, largely unexplored, but full of power and danger.

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Silent Sands

Talashtari: Dark Elves In Calibran


Talashtari- Dark Elves In Calibran

Elves are usually cast as good guys in fantasy fiction. They are ethereal beings that most often act as wizards, guides, and heroes. Good guys, in other words. Upright individuals. Goody two-shoes. Pretty boys. They’re popular because they often represent the best aspects of ourselves, the finest and most worthy, the most virtuous among us. In Tolkien’s Middle Earth, they are akin to an order of angels, and the authors that have came after him have followed the Professor’s lead in that respect.

Though, honestly, all that goodness can get a little boring. Who doesn’t want to give into the temptation to be bad every once in awhile?

Dark elves offer a balance to the elves of the forest. They’re a lot less cuddly. They have a reputation for cruelty that most other fantasy races can’t match. Moreover, they linger in the darkness, in the sort of places most people, for all their mature protestations, are still a little nervous about venturing into. They’re murderers, favoring not a stand up fight, but a sly knife or subtle poison in a goblet of wine. You wouldn’t want to turn your back on them.

We tend to think of dark elves as being a new invention. Unlike standard elves, their lineage is a little harder to track back through the history of fantasy fiction. However, they have their roots hundreds of years ago in Viking mythology.

Svartalfar, Dokkalfar, and Moriquendi

The word ‘elf’ comes from northern European mythology, where it was originally spelled ‘alf’ (not to be confused with the fuzzy TV alien from the 80’s). German elves were quite a bit different than the modern fantasy versions. Sometimes they could be benevolent, but more often they were nasty and cruel. Elves were supernatural creatures, always just out of sight, making magic and playing tricks.

There were several different types of elves in the Germanic and related Norse traditions. Sometimes the elves were sort-of-gods, particularly in Norse mythology where they lived in Alfheim and were allies of Odin and his family. Later traditions would tend to divide those elves into different sorts: ljosalfar, svartalfar, and dokkalfar. Or, in English, light elves, black elves, and dark elves. Black elves and dark elves might actually have been the same thing. Or, dark elves might have been another name for dwarves. As always, when looking at mythology, there’s a lot of overlap and fuzzy distinctions.

Tolkien used these ideas as the basis of his elves and their mythology. Obviously, Tolkien-ish elves evolved and changed to suit the author’s purposes, but the basic themes and ideas are still there. Light elves represented the goodness in the world, while dark elves were not entirely to be trusted. Among the Noldor, Teleri, Sindar, and all the rest, were the Moriquendi. These were the elves who dwelled in darkness. While they were not the nasty customers later dark elves would become, there was an unmistakable taint of evil.

Gary Gygax and his buddies would build on these ideas, years later, when they decided to add some more exotic villains to their game. Over time, dark elves have continued to evolve to meet the needs of each setting and writer. When we began to build the world that would become Calibran, they seemed like a natural fit for the stories we wanted to tell.

Talashtar, City of the Dark Elves

One of the ways that Calibran is a little different from some other settings is that traditional villains aren’t, in our world, necessarily bad guys. Orcs are savage and cruel, sure, but give them a wide enough berth and they’ll leave you be. Goblins are more manic and mad than evil.

Dark elves, though, are still pretty mean. They live in the darkness of their forest, far away from the center of the kingdom and all the other people of Calibran. The most you can say about them is that they are generally more concerned with killing each other than everyone else. Love and affection may be had between family members, but each family strives and plots against the others for the dubious rewards of power and wealth.

The heart of the dark elves’ world is the deep city of Talashtar. As deep as it goes, it also stretches up high into canopy of Deth Forest. The dark elves have twisted the very trees to their will, creating the necromantic ash oaks that serve as the feast halls and watchtowers of the nobility. While not evil in the strictest sense, dark elves are ruthless, striving for domination, and that is reflected in their architecture, just as it is in every other part of their lives.

Most of the city, however, lies below the ground, in claustrophobic, half lit tunnels that open suddenly into dizzyingly large caverns. The center of Talashtar is the huge stalagmite that has been hollowed and carved into the great temple of Houriel, the elven goddess of war, violence, death, and protection. From here, Houriel’s high priestess rules the dark elves, and pits the various noble houses of Deth Forest against each other, always favoring the stronger.

Elsewhere in that great cavern is the marketplace of Talashtar, where some of the most potent potions and poisons in the world are bought and sold. The most prized of weapons are also made and sold there, ones made from metal mined in the nameless mountains to the east, bordering the ever changing Chaos Lands.

Noble houses have built and maintain their own warrens within the city, the better to protect themselves. However, the earth that surrounds Talashtar is honeycombed with secret passages and hidden ways, built with all the skill and secrecy that elves command.

If Talashtar doesn’t sound exactly homey… Well, it isn’t. Nevertheless it is home to thousands of dark elves, noble and commoner. Though many may venture out into the wider world, most return to their home. The vast majority never leave Deth Forest, or never even see the world outside the city.

If you were a dark elf, what would Talashtar mean to you?

Well, you know that place, the dark, terrible place, where monsters live? The place farm boys go to become heroes, that heroes go to rescue their loved ones, and fail? The place where all the worst, scariest stories take place? The ones without a happy ending?

You know that place? That’s where you grew up.

A Place of Terrors

One of the writers was inspired to put this together, as a song that tells of the dangers of Talashtar and the dark elves.

All you who venture through the trackless wild,

and the blackest forest, dark and dead, beguiled

by beautiful and graceful elves, ought know,

the darkest elves reside here. All is woe.

This is the city that kills: Talashtar.

Murder and mayhem, lies, deceit. They are

pitiless. Flee, you traveler, should you

meet a huntress collecting heads. The few

who do escape bring tales of terror. Dread

this place where even dragons fear to tread.

In the world of Calibran, Deth Forest is on the far side of the Cairbre Mountains, closer to the wilderness than the civilized lands of the kingdom. Where the forest meets the mountains monsters have their lairs, giant spiders and lizards that are close cousins to dragons, all of them happy to gobble up a foolhardy adventurer. Add that to the inhospitable dark elves, and it makes for what is perhaps the most dangerous place in Calibran.

It makes sense then, that the dark elves that live there are some of the most dangerous people in our world. They have all the grace and magic of elves, and long lives to learn the skills they need to survive and thrive in such a dangerous place. Minotaurs may be stronger, dwarves and orcs hardier, and humans more numerous. Dark elves, though, are probably the most cunning and lethal race there is.

They are seen in civilized lands, on occasion. The Dragon King, the ruler of Calibran, spends most of his time managing relations between the various kingdoms and people of Calibran. The king sends messages to the High Priestess of Talashtar, and so she sends her dark elf servants with replies. Sometimes she even sends the taxes and tribute that the dark elves owe the Dragon Throne, in theory at any rate.

Sometimes dark elves are sent out on other errands, to buy the rare item that can’t be made in Talashtar or done without. Most often they go to trade for the ingredients for potions and poisons, or magic spells, that can only be found on the strange Cliffs of Ronin. Sometimes hunters are sent to that place to pick the necessary flowers and herbs themselves.

The messengers and hunters are always hard to miss. Their ash grey skin, and white hair, worn long in a fashion that has lasted centuries, are difficult if not impossible to hide. More than that, the dark elves that travel far from home are almost always women, which, in a world dominated by men, is remarkable in itself.

If there’s one thing that the inhabitants of Calibran have learned, through stories and songs if not personal experience, is that it is best to give the dark elves a wide berth, and leave them alone, to their own devices.

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Dark Elves

Some Kings are Better than Others


A Fantasy | Some Kings are Better than Others

There’s a typical fantasy scene you may have read or seen a few times, with the wise old king sitting on his throne offering words of advice and perhaps a blessing to a young hero. We may see it at the very beginning of a story, or it may come at the very end. It’s a scene reminiscent of the Arthur stories, and evokes a comforting ideal of authority, that it cares for us and is wise enough to use its power well. The popularity of such scenes may be due to the fact that the great majority of fantasy, particularly what we tend to think of as classic fantasy, is set in a faux European medieval world. That means a monarchy, usually, and because of the bedrock upon which modern fantasy is built (to a large extent The Lord of the Rings, itself based on the Arthur stories and English sagas, and similar stories), it also means the best possible government in the fantasy world is a good king.

For a variety of reasons, you won’t see that scene in a Calibran story, or at least not for a while. Fantasy as a whole has been moving away from the archetypal story of an unambiguously good king being opposed by an unambiguously bad one. That’s at least partly because it’s a story that’s hundreds if not thousands of years old, and has begun to show its age. But another, probably more interesting reason is that it’s a blinkered, romantic take on a much more complicated, questionable way of ruling. Our writers, however, have tried to take that old idea and put a little twist on it to keep it interesting.

The King is a Pretty Good Guy

If you could trust a king to rule for the general good, and make wise decisions, monarchy could actually work rather well. That’s probably why, despite the historical problems with it as a system of government, it stuck around for as long as it did and also why it still shows up in idealized fantasy worlds. Here’s where we, the Calibran team, take the classic fantasy idea of a good king and give it a little bit of a twist.

In the history of Calibran, there are a couple of events that define everything that came after. Before the Kingdom was founded, there were the Dragon Wars, when dragons fought each other over an ideological difference. One side thought that the mortal races, humans, dwarves, and so forth, were too dangerous to continue to exist. Those dragons did their best to wipe the mortals out, or at least destroy their centers of power and knowledge.

On the other side there were the dragons who thought the mortals had a right to exist. They thought dragons should act as guardians and guides, and share their wisdom. These two factions fought each other for centuries, with mortals playing the roles of victims, pawns, and spectators.

Eventually, the mortals became powerful enough that they could fight on their own behalf, which lead to the Battle of Farsalon. The human hero Johelm Belgrave organized a great confederation of the mortal races, killing the malign dragons, and winning freedom for the mortals. This was the first defining event.

The second came later, and was less dramatic but perhaps more important. Belgrave having died in the battle, his chief lieutenant and friend Aramnor was chosen to lead the confederation after the battle, becoming the first Dragon King. Having seen the sort of brutal rulers that had held power during the Dragon Wars, he knew that his successors could become tyrants as bad or worse. Aramnor sought, then, for a way to ensure good rulers would follow him.

In designing a fantasy kingdom, the writers had a number of advantages over people trying to construct a real world government, magic being perhaps the biggest. We had Aramnor consult with the greatest wizard in the history of Calibran, the elf Almorwen. Together, they conceived of a spell that would do what Aramnor wished. Almorwen assembled a council of wizards, sorcerers, and shamans to cast a spell that would find those with the potential to rule well, and mark them from birth with the seal of the king. Aramnor spent that time convincing the various peoples of Calibran that such a spell would work, and was in fact the kingdom’s only chance.

Both their tasks complete, the spell was cast, and the Marked system was founded. Those born Marked would have the potential to rule well and wisely, and for the benefit of the Kingdom as a whole. Anyone might be born Marked, from the highest born to the lowest, and so the throne would not just be passed from noble to noble.

More than that, to fulfill their potential and as a final proof of their worthiness, a Marked candidate would have to kill a dragon. Upon completing this quest, the previous king would peacefully yield his seat to the new. The system has brought hundreds of years of good rulers to Calibran. This is one fantasy monarchy that was designed, both by the writers and the inhabitants of the world, to be an idealized government.

The King is the Kingdom

The idea of a beneficent ruler being the best way to manage the difficult business of running a country is obviously based on the feudal system of government. That was sort of an ad-hoc system that evolved out of earlier strongman and warlord systems. In any case, monarchies had a lot of ways of justifying themselves, the most important probably being the Divine Right of Kings. And before Christianity became the big deal in Europe, there were also other ideas. For our purposes, we’re interested in the idea that the king and his country were mystically linked. A good king meant a happy kingdom, while a bad one would lead to sickness, war, and poverty.

This older idea is the basis for a lot of the shenanigans in the Arthurian legends, and the French romances that were later conflated with them. The Percival stories, with the wounded Fisher King reflecting his troubled kingdom, is the most obvious example, but there are others if you’re willing to look hard enough.

Going back, there is some good archeological and cultural evidence for this idea being an influential one. Irish and Scottish kings would symbolically marry their kingdoms as part of their coronation, and there’s evidence that many of the bog bodies that have been found were sacrifices meant to pay some price for a healthy kingdom. This is by no means an idea unique to Celtic Europe, but if you trace back the influences on most classic fantasy that’s where you tend to end up. The reality is, there’s probably some truth to this idea, though of a practical rather than mystical sort. The king was so essential to monarchist governments that his personality would determine much of what happened in the kingdom. A benevolent, kind king was more likely to make for a prosperous place to live. A venal, grasping king could make his kingdom as unpleasant as he was.

Fantasy is obviously not always historically accurate. There weren’t dragons or griffons at any point in history, and magic has always been, unfortunately, more a trick of the mind and sleight of hand. But fantasy often uses history as a jumping off point, so it can be helpful to take a look at what historical examples of fantasy tropes were like.

The King is a Jerk

The historical reality is that most kings were not wonderful people. Monarchy is, when looked at in the cold light of a modern perspective, an autocratic form of government, and of a particularly crushing kind. True monarchies depended on feudalism, which is both a system of government and an economic system. It required hundreds or thousands of people to live in abject poverty, performing back breaking labor to elevate a few lucky individuals into stupefying luxury. In order to maintain their positions of privilege, those favored were generally willing to go to any lengths, including mass murder.

Even the kings who were generally considered to be ‘good’ ruled for their own benefit and took huge advantage of their positions of power. To be fair, it was expected that they would do so. But that advantage could take the form of stealing money, corruption and nepotism, and abusing men, women, and children. By any other standard they would be accounted horrible human beings.

The closest modern analogue to a true monarchy is a warlord or strongman dictator in some small undeveloped country. If you want to get good look at what a monarchy and king was like historically, check out North Korea and Kim Jong Un. It’s a bit hard to be enthusiastic about fantasy monarchies with that in mind. That favorite fictional king would, in reality, most likely have been a bloody tyrant.

Democracy is so Great

The term ‘tyrant’ originated in Ancient Greece. It was not the loaded word back then that it is now. I don’t think this is actually true, but at one point I was told that tyrants were chosen in ancient Athens at times of emergency. Athens was a direct democracy, so most matters required that everyone eligible in the city vote on them. This was obviously a very inefficient method of making decisions, and at times when faster government reactions were required (or so a questionable source informed me), one man would be chosen to be in charge. That man was the Tyrant, and he held authority only as long as the emergency lasted. This idea got recycled into The Blue Dragon War, and the government of Kehlaktur.

Now, that might not be historically accurate, but it highlights a criticism of democratic systems. Democracy is great for a number of reasons. However, it can take a while for democratic governments to make decisions. Infighting can also throw up major roadblocks to meaningful change. As is often said, democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.

Calibran’s king might be an idealized man or woman, but that’s not to say that Calibran is perfect, or perfectly safe. The King can only do so much. The orcish tribes chafe at their restrictions, dark elf assassins lurk in shadowed corners, and there are still evil men and monsters in the world. A government based on magic, of course, leaves itself open to tampering by magic-users. The people of Calibran have always required defenders, as has the kingdom itself. But thankfully, in a fantasy world, there is never a shortage of heroes.

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Fantasy | Kings better than others

The Founding of Kehlaktur – Home of the Minotaurs


Minotaurs | The Founding of Kehlaktur

The first release for Chronicles of Calibran was The Blue Dragon War, a novella that centered around minotaurs fighting a dragon. That may seem like an odd choice for introducing a new fantasy world and series of stories. Minotaurs have never been among the A-list of fantasy races. So, why did we choose to focus on them for our first story?

Fantasy worlds are filled with a mess of magical creatures. Dwarves, elves and halflings, while perhaps the first fantastical races most people are introduced to, are the least strange creatures you might encounter in a fantasy setting. They are the most human and the most familiar, which is why a lot of writers and gamers stick with them when creating characters.

Sometimes, though, sticking with dwarves and so forth can be disappointing. Constraining, even. We have these amazing fantastical worlds to play in, and we frequently spend the most time with people that are just like us. That can be comfortable and fun. After all, many of us return to classic fantasy stories precisely because they are so familiar. However, striking out and writing stories focused on less common creatures can allow for the telling of unique and captivating tales.

World-Building With Minotaurs

While working on Chronicles of Calibran, the idea was to create a new fantasy setting, drawn from the classics. We use a lot of the tropes and trappings of high fantasy, which the whole team have loved for years. But we also knew we were going to be spending a lot of time in this world and with the people that inhabit it. We needed to find some ways to keep things interesting both for us and for the reader, adding an original twist to classic ideas. Gripping stories filled with excitement and intrigue are obviously one way to keep readers hooked, and hopefully we’re achieving that. But the choices we make in world building can also have a lot to do with keeping things interesting, and also open up opportunities for stories different than those we’ve seen before.

One choice we made was to put the focus on creatures and races that have been sidelined or shuffled off into the background in many other works. Goblins, we decided, might be a little mad, but not actually inherently evil. Orcs, likewise, are savage and occasionally brutal, but ultimately as capable of good and charity as a human or elf. And minotaurs, while still better at making mazes that anyone else, are less interested in eating people.

Everyone knows about The Minotaur. It’s a monster that goes all the way back to Greek myth, and the tale of the Labyrinth*. Huge, strong, and with an appetite for human flesh. Not exactly the most obvious candidate for a fantasy hero. He has all the hallmarks of a good villain, though. And he does play a bad guy when he appears in movies or books. In the movie Time Bandits, he appears as a savage warrior. Minotaurs have been in Doctor Who, Narnia, and even on Batman, always as villains.

Fantasy has a reputation for taking mythic creatures and people, and remaking them a bit to fit whatever crazy role is required by the story or game. Minotaurs, in the D&D Dragonlance setting, became violent, honor bound pirates, a sort of fantasy version of Star Trek’s Klingons. In that world, while strong and impressive, minotaurs were generally not nice people. They were cast as racial supremacists, criminals, and bullies.

Still, when we thought about it we realized there was potential there for some interesting stories.

Time For A Minotaur Makeover

Minotaurs in Calibran are actually pretty nice guys. We’ve still got some of the hallmarks of the race. They’re big, strong, and tend to guard their honor closely. They value strength and size, and think that minotaurs, as a rule, are generally pretty great. But, we made some key changes as well.

It’s not easy to turn a traditional villain into a potential hero. But, by focusing on the positive aspects of a minotaur’s traits, we managed it. In Calibran, violence and strength are still big parts of minotaur culture, though constrained into more socially acceptable roles. Dueling and the study of martial arts are a big focus. Every young minotaur wants to learn from the greatest martial arts masters. They may think minotaurs are the strongest guys around, but to be honest they are probably right. Their wild and savage nature comes through in a strong independent streak. In fact, it was an important decision to make them one of the few races in Calibran to never have been enslaved by dragons.

Minotaur culture is a rich one, focused on families and allowing each to find the place that suits them best. There is no king, tyrant, or other ruler, but instead a council of wise old bulls who direct their efforts. And they care as much about teaching the young nubbins as they do fighting their enemies. Most minotaurs who aren’t selected for the military end working the farm fields that surround the city, raising families and living lives like most of the rest of the Realm of Calibran.

The center of their culture had to embody all of these things. Each race in Calibran has a place that they call home. For dwarves it’s the ominous sounding underground city of Khorduum. Goblins live in the crazed warren of Daexbur, and amazons live on their dangerous and isolated island. Minotaurs needed their own homeland.

The City Of Mazes

Kehlaktur is known by a number of different names in Calibran. It is called The City Without Walls, because the minotaurs boast they do not need them to defend Kehlaktur. Strong arms and sharp weapons are enough. It’s called the City Of Mazes by visitors bewildered by the street plan, difficult for one not comfortable in labyrinths to navigate. From the Fereng Market, where visitors live and trade with natives, runs the Sword Way, the city’s main street. It ends at Sword Hall, the headquarters of the minotaur Legions that are Kehlaktur’s army. The city’s inhabitants are minotaurs, but they aren’t just fighters. There are farmers, and craftsman, and shamans. When the minotaurs go to war, there are brave patriots and small minded cowards in the same proportion you might find anywhere.

When creating a fantasy setting, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. It has to be grounded in reality. If it’s too weird, too fantastic, it can throw a reader out of story. Most cities, no matter how magical, still have buildings with walls and roofs. The inhabitants need to eat and drink, and go about their daily lives.

At the same time, there does need to be the element of the numinous. It’s still a place where wizards live, people speak with the spirits of the dead, and dragons fly overhead. The line is a fine one to walk. The key to managing it usually is in the details. Finding little ways to make the world seem realistic, even while unscrupulous sorcerers sell dreams in dark alleyways.

The obvious home for a minotaur is a labyrinth. Unfortunately, they are uncomfortable places, and not where the discerning minotaur mom is likely to raise her calves. But a city can certainly be maze-like, particularly old cities with their narrow, winding streets. To give it an element of realism, we filled it with realistic inhabitants and gave it sights and sounds that any city dweller might recognize. For the element of the fantastic? Well, it is a city full of minotaurs after all.

Kehlaktur is the first of our original world you’ll see, but it’s not the last. In the next few months, we’ll be releasing the first episodes of the Chronicles of Calibran, a serial fantasy story that will tell an epic tale in a classic, high fantasy world. The City Without Walls is not the last new and strange place you’ll see in Calibran, not the first magical city whose streets readers will tread alongside our characters and heroes.

In addition to the Chronicles, there are a whole range of short stories, novellas, and eventually longer works in the planning stages. All will take place in Calibran, and will expand and reveal the world, adding stories, characters, and settings. Hopefully, we have created a whole world as intriguing as our take on minotaurs and their city.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

*The one on Minos built by Daedelus, not with David Bowie in spandex.

Order The Dragon King (Chronicles of Calibran Book 1) now.


The Dwarven Key – Part 1

Crushed to a pulp, he was,” the dark bearded dwarf said and grinned evilly up at Llwyd.
That is unfortunate,” the elf replied. Llwyd was the newly arrived elvish ambassador, and the cheeky dwarf was his guide.
Squashed like strawberry jam. Never seen anything quite like it.” The dwarf eyed Llwyd for a moment and saw that his narration was not having the desired effect. Llwyd seemed entirely unfazed by the story of his predecessor’s demise, crushed by an incalculable amount of stone when a tunnel collapsed in the underground Dwarven home of Khorduum. Like many dwarves, Llwyd’s guide disliked elves, finding them haughty and arrogant. Llwyd seemed impervious as any of them, however, unfazed by the gruesome description he had given of the last ambassador’s death. The dwarf sighed with dissatisfaction.

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I’m a classic fantasy author, and I love it. Here’s why.

For an author like me just beginning his career, there are few things more horrifying than the prospect of my fiction being displayed for all the world to see. The Blue Dragon’s War is the longest thing I’ve ever written which has the potential for large-scale publishing, and the idea evokes the strangest mix of terror and excitement I’ve ever experienced.

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