A Misplaced Kingdom

Inside the Forest, Under the Moonlight - Caspar Friedrich 1830

Once upon a time, as a younger, foolish man (like just over a year ago) I started a blog. There was a lot that went into that and a lot that led up to that, but let's leave it at this: it was something I'd always wanted to do, and getting emotional and writing nerd shit remains something I want to pour myself into for a lot more years.

(The next few paragraphs are some more weepy personal blather because apparently this blog also doubles as therapy for me, so feel free to skip down to the title below. TL;DR: here's a project I've been toying with and plan to start working on in earnest.)

I set myself some rules/goals/principles when I got started. I called them The Cares of a Carelord, which I still think is a pretty good descriptor. And one of the chief amongst them was the promise to show my work:

"I care about showing my work, in every sense...for me it's so valuable to see how the sausage is made, and that tends to be my favorite content from other people so I'd like to do a lot of that myself."

That was only part of what I meant though. I am, it may surprise those who know me to hear, a relentless perfectionist. I say surprise, because often this takes the form of never doing anything that I don't have a 100% guarantee of succeeding in, or giving up almost immediately and settling for a slapdash result rather than investing energy in something that may never satisfy me. So part of what I wanted from the tenet of showing my work was showing that I was working. Showing the incomplete bones of what I was attempting to make, as a sort of promise to the world and to myself that I would stick with it, whether or not it ended up perfect.

Hence also "Glass Bird Games," and my "Glass Boy" moniker. It has a deep significance to me, relating to the campaign through which I met the love of my life...might tell that story as well, someday. But serendipitously, it took on another meaning to me. I want to be transparent. See-through. Though I'm an intensely private and shy person who keeps much of himself to himself, I want to throw everything into my writing. I want to shed shame and all the skins of false personas, and remain only my pure core. My heart of glass.

I've made strides toward that goal, but I haven't gone all the way. I've kept my dearest ambitions locked up inside myself, perfect and pure and unsullied by the imperfection of reality, of my limitations, of any attempt to develop them beyond flashes of insight and vague vibes. I'm going to change that.

So call this a late anniversary post. One year and some change into this blogging thing, I've done a lot and not enough. Let me tell you about one of my darlings that I dearly hope I don't have to kill. Let me tell you about:


KORNOG: THE RETURN HOME

Morning in the Mountains, Caspar Friedrich 1823

(Mood music, activate.)

Ages ago, the kingdom of the Dwarves was sunlit and gleaming with beautiful things. Yes, the gifts of the deep earth and her dark, echoing bounty. But more important things, as well. A beautiful people, content and curious and hopeful. Communities, tightly-knit and built to last. Cities brimming with art and music and science and magic. And everywhere, even in those cities, the beauty and quiet of the wilderness, allowed to encroach here and there, artfully, reverently.

That was very long ago, though. And though nobody is quite sure how it happened, the Dwarves lost that kingdom. Misplaced it, in fact. And for many, many years they wandered land and sea and the places beneath, searching for it. For there was no home that would do but their kingdom. Their home. Kornog.

And at long last, a fortunate few found it. Overgrown and overburdened with the mystery of all the things they'd forgotten, generation after lost generation. Lives spent on wandering, while they were treated as larceners or layabouts or leeches by the people of the lands they crossed, rested in for a time. That'll beat a whole lot of joy, and culture, and knowledge out of a people. Not the beauty though. That still lives in them, still sings in their sunlit faces when the sun is permitted to light them.

And as for the rest, the knowledge...well, they intend to know. They intend to learn it all again. From the quiet frontier town of Heuvel they set out, they and any of their friends who might wish to settle down in a beautiful home of their own. Kornog is a vast wilderness now, mysterious and terribly perilous. Many do not return from their sojourns. But what price would you pay to reclaim paradise? To make it your home, and share it with every other soul who has a need? To safeguard it from the grasping hand and gleaming spear of those who've kept you in shade all this long time?

Anything. Anything and more. So get to it, friend. The Misplaced Kingdom is waiting.

Kornog is what I'm half-seriously calling a "cozy hexcrawl," taking aspects of many of my favorite fictions* and jamming them into a framework of hearth fantasy and ruin delving and community building and wilderness exploration. Don't let the "cozy" bit fool you - this world is full of danger and survival is not a guarantee. What it is not, however, is nihilistic. Death is a tragedy, not a farce. People matter, even when they put themselves in deadly situations. Especially when they do that, because Kornog is, at its heart, optimistic about human nature. The adventuring life in this world is not something relegated to self-destructive clowns looking to make a quick buck by raping someone's heritage and making off with their cultural artifacts. These people are heroes, even if they're heroes of the small-time, grimy and slightly odd sort.

Not that I don't enjoy the sort of nihilistic, amoral adventuring vibe. I just need to consume it in moderation before I start feeling sort of yucky in my soul compartment. Same also for the presumed tone when it comes to modern D&D characters; Avengers-ass ubermensches whose actions cannot be examined as anything other than definitionally good, because they are the heroes. And please don't take either of these broad characterizations as a damnation of either OSR or modern sensibilities, but rather as stereotypes that I would like to steer away from in this setting. I'm looking to thread the needle between the two, in a way. I want small, humble, strange, hopeful characters who define their heroism through their effort and sacrifice, not through predestination. I want scrappers with hearts of gold, with the weight of unfathomable secrets, tragic history, uncaring nature, and relentless plutocratic authoritarianism bearing down on them. And, ridiculously, impossibly, I want (hope) to see them succeed against all those forces, because in the real world we are not doing so hot.

Kornog is the Breton word for "west," or "west wind" (as far as I've been able to make out from questionable internet sources). It's also the name of my favorite folk band, who I can't seem to stop posting on this blog. This dual meaning sets up a contrast that is key to the setting. "West" evokes the West Marches, the quiet airiness of nature. Folk music suggests the busy warmth of a crowded gathering place. The staggering horizon of unmapped wilderness, waiting with arms wide to welcome those who would walk its hidden paths. The comfort, community and love that listening and sharing and playing folk or traditional or Celtic or whatever music has given me in my life. These are distinct but complimentary sensations, wells of profound meaning, of spirituality one might even say (if one was a fucking geek like me). I want to express them both with all the care they're owed.

I know this is all a little short on details or other such trivialities, and that's because I still have a lot of work to do before this thing takes any cohesive shape. But as I said above, while this is my pitch to readers it's also a pitch to myself. A promise to myself that I will build this place that I want to share and explore and inhabit with my friends, and with you.

That's why this is going up on the blog unprompted and unshared. If you've stumbled on this and read through it, I hope you don't feel it was a waste of your time, but at the end of the day this really wasn't for you, as self-indulgent as that may sound. If it does strike a chord with you and you are interested in hearing more, please stick around. Lots of stuff is hanging around in mostly-finished blogger drafts and will be showing up here soon.

And Brent (if I may be unbelievably self-indulgent one more time), I know you're probably reading this sometime in the future feeling like you haven't lived up to your ambitions on this thing, haven't written enough, still have such a long way to go, and...shut the fuck up and keep going. You care about this, and you're having a blast working on it. Nothing else matters.

Here's to another complicated, wonderful year (and change) of nerd shit, gang. Profound thanks to you who have taken the time to read my stuff. It's meant the world to me.

*And here they are, my inspirations: Ben Robbins' original West Marches posts, Jason Lutes' Perilous Wilds, Michael E Shea's Ruins of the Grendleroot and Jeremy Strandberg's Stonetop, all of which I discovered in a one-month stretch that reawakened in me a long dormant, desperate desire to roam and explore the quiet places of the world. The sorts of grand journeys undertaken by humble folk that Tolkien waxed lyrical over, far more the Hobbit than the Lord of the Rings. Hollow Knight and Hyper Light Drifter and other games that empathetically explore and examine cultures through their corpses. Dungeon Meshi and other fictions that deal with the concept of "adventurers" in a gentle and affectionate manner. A fascination with archaeology and the Milwaukee Public Museum that consumed my childhood.  And not least, my personal journey (still in progress) in getting a fucking clue about colonialism and global politics.

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