Jonny Nexus

Writing, life, politics

Date: February 24, 2018

Sleeping Dragon: Geography

Like many a fantasy world before it, the Sleeping Dragon is an analogue of our own Europe. I could give some kind of academic style answer to that, involving much talk of metaphor and historic analogue, but the truth is that since the Sleeping Dragon has elements of a comic fantasy novel, one in which I make jokes about standard fantasy settings, it made sense to have a standard fantasy setting.

At the heard of the setting is the Empire, which is what our Europe’s Holy Roman Empire (a.k.a. Germany) might have become had Russia not existed. (In the world of Sleeping Dragon, there was no equivalent of Russia for the very good reason that the territory where it would have existed was instead home to orcs, beastman, and other assorted barriers to human civilisation).

Map produced by Jacob Rodgers

Once the Empire occupied only the territory between the Middle Sea and the World’s End Mountains. But after the development of ranged weapons firing bolts of pure mana, its territory expanded rapidly; within a century it stretched more than a third of the way round the world, to the borders of the Empire of the Sun[1].

To the south of the Empire are the Border Principalities, a patchwork area of notionally sovereign princedoms, some not much larger than the metaphorical postage stamp. Beyond that is merely burning desert, home to hardy nomads and scattered cities.

To the north lies ice, and warriors famed in equal measures for their resourcefulness and savagery.

Around the Middle Sea, which is this world’s ancient cradle of civilisation, lie other human realms, sometimes enemies of the Empire, often rivals, but still bound by common bonds of species[2] and culture.

Dotted across the lands of man are other species: in the forests one often finds halflings; in the canyons and caverns of the World’s End mountains one finds dwarves. Once, relations between these different species were difficult, but now legally protected rights against discrimination and a commitment to multiculturalism ensure that all three species can live and work together peacefully for the common good.


And finally, across the Western Ocean lies the lands of the Elves. Once they lived in the lands that now form the realms of humanity; indeed as a species they predate humans. But humanity’s arrival in this realm displeased them; the energy humans threw into their so short lives changed the world in ways they found unacceptable. After several millennia of increasingly uncomfortable coexistence, the elves built a fleet of wonderful ships and set sail for the then empty lands that lay across the Western Ocean. There they dwell still, locked in a relationship with the lands of humanity that is not war, but not quite peace either.

[1] And yeah, that is a sort of Japan / China mishmash, and yeah I get that when fantasy settings do that, it rides roughshod over huge cultural, ethnic, religious, historical, and linguistic differences in a manner that is a best, Western-centric, and at worst, quite dodgy. But like I said, I deliberately wanted to start with a very typical, standard fantasy setting – and then twist.

[2] Strictly speaking, if I was really wanting to get the standard fantasy feel I’d say “race” rather than “species”. But that word (rightly) has such negative connotations in that I’ve decided in this case, linguistic discretion is the better part of narrative valour. (Well if I’m really strictly speaking, my copy-editor Ro Smith suggested I use species rather than race, and upon reflection I agreed with her).

Sleeping Dragon: Gadgets & Items

Sleeping Dragon’s world is a world of magic, not electricity, with the universal laws of magic explaining that universe in much the same way that physics explains ours. The devices that Sleeping Dragon’s civilisation is built upon are powered by magic, having been designed by mage-programmers and mass-produced in factories.

In our world, one word can often serve two meanings, with the correct meaning being obvious through context. For example, a mouse can refer to either a rodent, or a pointing device. Or if I tell you that a tank once crashed through the ceiling of my bedroom I’m referring to a water tank, while if an elderly German man raised in East Prussia tells you that back in 1945, a tank crashed through the wall of his family’s house, he’s referring to a T34[1].

Similar double-meanings exist in the world of Sleeping Dragon, but they are different double-meanings, typically derived from either:

  1. The spell that a wizard would have cast to perform this task back in the days before magic and magical items became mass-produced (e.g. a wizard would once have cast a whisper spell to communicate at a distance, so now people carry mobile-phone like devices that they refer to as “whispers”).
  2. The device originally designed for other tasks that a wizard would once have enchanted to perform a different task, back before the physical item being enchanted was specifically designed for that purpose (e.g. where once a wizard would have grabbed a broomstick / sweeping brush, and cast a levitate spell on it, now engineers design what is essentially a flying motorbike, which then has a levitate spell cast upon it – but which for historical reasons is still referred to as a broomstick).

The point here is that while to our eyes it might seem strange that when the inhabitants of the world of Sleeping Dragon can be referring to either a flying car or a rug when they refer to a “carpet”, but it’s no more strange than us using the word “tank” to refer to an tracked, armoured fighting vehicle[2]. We don’t notice it, because we’re used to it[3].

To make things a little easier for the reader, I’ve put a glossary at the start of the novel. Here’s a sneak peek.

bolt noun

A ranged weapon firing a beam of pure mana. A modern refinement of earlier wands enchanted with lightning bolt spells, bolts are available in small one-handed versions and larger two-handed versions.

broomstick noun

A small personal flying vehicle for one or two passengers. Originally a broom magically enchanted with a levitation spell, now a metal spine equipped with handlebars, seat, and footrests, and propelled by a mana-powered lift/repulsion unit.

buggy noun

A wheeled ground-transportation vehicle, typically seating two to five persons, controlled via a steering wheel and pedals, and propelled by a mana power unit turning a rotating drive shaft.

carpet noun

A personal flying vehicle carrying two to five passengers. Originally a rug magically enchanted with a levitation spell, now a metal monocoque shell propelled by a mana-powered lift/repulsion unit.

crystal noun

A round, flat-screened device used to broadcast entertainment and informational programming via ethereal plane transmissions, originally derived from crystal balls used for communication.

dial noun

A timepiece, either wall-mounted or free-standing, or worn on the wrist (a wrist-dial). Originally passive outdoor devices requiring sunlight to operate, dials now use chronological spells to track the time and a magical face to display it.

guard noun

A law enforcement officer, often a member of a city or town guard.

herb noun

Collective term for plant-derived psychoactive substances. Herb is often ingested in powdered form via the nose and is illegal in most jurisdictions.

mana noun

The fundamental energy force that powers all magical spells and devices.

oracle noun

A mana powered device incorporating thinking spells. Used for data calculation, analysis, and storage. Smaller models typically incorporate a crystal screen for display and a keyboard for input.

pictograph noun

Image of a person, scene, or object, taken by a camera. Originally saved on paper magically sensitive to different wavelengths of light, pictographic images are now usually downloaded to oracles in informational form.

pictographic memory noun

The ability to remember or recall information, particularly visual information, in exact detail.

wagon noun

A larger wheeled ground-transportation vehicle, typically used for the transportation of cargo, controlled via a steering wheel and pedals, and propelled by a mana power unit turning a rotating drive shaft.

whisper noun

A personal communication device used for person to person voice communications. Originally derived from the use of whisper spells for long-distance communications.

whisper verb

To contact someone using a whisper.

worm noun

Colloquial term used for Empire City’s underground rapid transportation system.

So now if I talk about leaning out of a carpet with a hand-and-a-half assault bolt in one hand, and a whisper in the other, while trying to evade the herbed up nutter who’s pursuing you on a souped up broomstick, and thinking maybe you should just have stuck to white-collar crime using oracles or picking pockets on the worm, you’ll know what I mean[4].

[1] That’s a hypothetical example, but back in the mid-nineties, when I was just starting my career in programming, I met a German guy who in 1945, at the age of 15, had been conscripted into the German army. His career ended somewhere in East Prussia when he stumbled across a tank whose turret was already turning towards him. Luckily the shell missed, and he was captured. He ended up in a prisoner of war camp near Stalingrad where he was fed only watery soup and was to hard labour. Pretty soon, he realised he was going to die if he didn’t change something. (Of the four million German soldiers taken prisoner by the Soviets at the end of the war, only one and a half million survived to eventually, some years later, go home, with the other two and a half million being worked / starved to death). Then a guard came around asking for engineers. He wasn’t an engineer; he’d been a schoolboy. But he had been at the German equivalent of a grammar school, so he put up his hand and was taken away to a drawing office. The older men there quickly clicked that he wasn’t an engineer. But they covered for him, and taught him. In 1948 he was released. His family were gone, and the family home was now in communist Poland, so he made his way to West Germany, enrolled in university to study engineering, and ended up becoming a successful businessman. When I asked him how he felt about his experiences he just said, “It was a good training for life.”

[2] The reason why we call tanks “tanks” rather than the more obvious “landships” is because when, in 1915, the British army were developing the first tanks they wanted to keep it secret. So they developed a cover story that they were intended as mobile water tanks for delivering water to the troops in the trenches, and in keeping with this referred to them as “tanks” – and the name stuck.

[3] I should give a hat tip here to Harry Turtledove, because this whole area of language and terminology is a line of thought that occurred to me having read his Great War series (an alternate First World War in a world where the Confederacy won the American Civil War). In this timeline, it was the USA who developed the first tanks, and their cover story was that they were mobile water barrels. So through this entire three book series, and the WWII trilogy that followed it, you have the phrases “barrel” and “anti-barrel gun”. And you know what? It ingrained itself in me. Right now, some ten years later, if were to read the phrase “three barrels appeared over the horizon” I’d be picturing tanks in my mind.

[4] That’s a made up example by the way, any not any kind of scene or plot line from the novel. You’ll have to wait for someone to produce a Sleeping Dragon RPG if you want to see that scene played out.

Countdown to Sleeping Dragon: An Introduction

The Sleeping Dragon, my third novel, is set in what I call a “post-Tolkienesque” world. Five hundred years previously, it possessed all the standard trappings of a typical fantasy setting – kings, wizards, warriors, magic, dwarves, dragons, and elves who’d been so pissed off at the rise of men that they’d sodded off over a western ocean in a monster sulk.

But that was then, and by the time of my novel’s now, the world has changed beyond all recognition.

After enduring thousands of years of largely unchanging culture and history, the discovery of the means to mass-produce and commoditise magic triggered a tsunami of world-changing events and developments. Adventurers equipped with hand-held weapons shooting beams of pure mana tamed the wild East, broke the power of the once lawless Orc tribes, and looted so many abandoned dungeon complexes that paper money had to be invented as an alternative to wheelbarrows’ worth of not-particularly-valuable gold.

It is now a world encircled by flying ships and linked by a web of instantaneous communication links. Huge metropolises, each home to several millions of people, sprawl across what were once unspoiled landscapes.

And all of this is powered by magic; there is no electricity in this universe.

The once heroic past is apparently over. Where once adventurers wove tales of myth and legend, now they wield their skills and talents in towering arenas against programmed constructs, competing in sporting contests for audiences that number in the millions, their prize not glory or treasure but sponsorship and salaries beyond the dreams of the average Joes who worship them.

The story of the Sleeping Dragon is built around a central question. In a world changed so utterly that heroism itself seems an obsolete concept, will there still be heroes?

From Sleeping Dragon’s prologue…

Five figures sit around a table. In a heroic age, these men are heroes. They have humbled tyrants, slaughtered dragons, and reduced entire tribes of rampaging orcs to tears. Occasional difficulty with taxes aside, no man or beast has bested them, and no challenge have they feared.

Until this day.

For even they feel stunned disbelief at what has just been revealed.

One of them, a priest, clears his throat before breaking the awed silence created by his previous announcement. “And so that, gentlemen, is that. In a little over five hundred years our world as we know it will be destroyed. Civilisation will fall. Starvation and plague will stalk the land. All that we value, all of our learning, all that we hold dear: gone. Nothing left save dust and ashes.”

At the far end of the table sits an armoured warrior, his sword and shield placed on the table before him. The sacred symbol painted on the shield testifies to his faith and piety; the bloodstains and nicks on the sword bear witness to the fury and vengeance with which he has recently expressed that faith and piety. “Are you sure?” he asks.

The priest nods, his face a solemn mask. “The runes do not lie, Sir Ethelded. Nor the stars, nor the cards, nor the numbers. I have consulted them all, and it is certain: in five hundred years the sleeping dragon will wake and bring forth an apocalypse upon our world.”

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