Worldbuilding Wednesday 8/15/18: A Few Noble Families

Here’s something a little different, a set of randomly generated noble families (with a little tweaking) for use in a roleplaying game or as story background. I find that when these disparate elements are put together, the story or adventure may practically write itself.

What would happen, for example, if Vylen Lemugia returns home and finds his cousin does not want to give up the seat? What if Vylen then entices Parapha Ithrilmarsh, through seduction perhaps, to help him get back into power?

Ready-made noble families

House Alaartis The Alaartis are a noble family of good-looking astronomers who serve the current king. Their seat is at Streudberg Fortress which also houses their many telescopes and star-gazing instruments. They have foreign investments, chiefly in the textile trade. It is with these the current head, Lemelaura, concerns herself. Lemelaura is a voluptuous, middle-aged woman with a scandalous past. She is widowed, but has many lovers. Her eldest son Barceaso  has been chosen as the heir to succeed her. The crest of this family is a chained and collared lioness on a field of yellow.
House Uberwinter
House Uberwinter controls the largest caravansary in the city and they also own a number of warehouses. The family has a reputation for being open and outgoing. The current Duke, Tamnesham, is a handsome, stocky man in his mid-30s. He is unmarried, but patronizes several courtesans. Their seat is at Skyhessen and their crest a red castle on a black background.
House Lemugia
The well-educated Lemugia family control the city’s armories from their holding at Vitchhessen Fortress. They are also moneylenders and speculators. The current head, Edyseas, is serving as regent for his cousin Vylen Lemugia, who is in his early 20s but being educated overseas. The family’s crest is a severed hand dripping red blood on a maroon background. Their motto is, “Without knowledge, there is no gain.”
House Inthrilmarsh
The greedy, ambitious Ithrilmarsh family make their fortune crafting various poisons. They are also invested in silver mines to the west of the city and currently own two mining outposts. The current Lord, Jozuph, is an elderly, effete man who is rumored to have a wasting disease. His heir is his granddaughter Parapha, his  other children having suffered “accidental” poisonings in learning their family’s craft. The Ithrilmarsh rule from Nostorof Tower overlooking the Garden District. Their crest is a pair of scales above a shepherd’s crook.
House Yieland
House Yielant owns the majority of the farmlands around the harbor. They are the most boisterous of the city’s noble families and imposing in appearance, tall and strong with curly black hair. Lord Somunaë keeps them in line with a combination of judiciousness and tact. He enjoys hearing news from foreign travelers and will often host them in his castle. He and his wife, Shenice, have five children. Their seat is at their ancestral town of Garamond and their crest is a gray vulture wearing a crown.


Beware the Loup-Garou! Especially if he’s turned green.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 8/8/18: Heraldry


Crests of German cities

Crests of modern cities in Germany.
Top row, left to right: Stuttgart, Nurnberg, Tubingen.
Middle row: Atzelgift, Honigsee, Nachtsheim.
Bottom row: Falkenfels, Trechtingshausen, Flogeln.

The production designers for George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones TV series have done a smashup job creating a fantasy world like Medieval Europe (in spite of those ice-zombies and dragons) and that includes crests for the feuding noble families of Westeros… from a Kraken for House Stark, to the more conventional lion for House Lannister, the most villainous characters of the show. Real-world crests, however, out-do them in terms of sheer weirdness, as the above illustration shows.

The use of coats of arms and crests, in the European sense, grew out of medieval warfare. (Japanese nobles had their own crests and system for designing them.) Men in the units needed a way to identify their own side in the thick of battle and lacking cell phones and radios, came up with simple, brightly colored patterns that could be discerned across far distances. The designs were often worn in the form of a surcoat, a loose tunic worn over their armor. In times of peace, the crests identified individual knights in jousts and other festivities. Family crests grew from these simple origins to include symbols relating to heroic deeds, fiefs, origins, sources of income, and marriages and other alliances. Over time municipalities, guilds, and schools adopted crests as well. A whole language grew around the need to describe and design coats of arms; The History Learning Site of the UK as well as Historic UK gives helpful information about these more technical aspects. And if you want to make your own, this site is easy to use.


Coats of Arms, Crests, and Sigils

A golden scythe between two green, striking snakes

Closed book with yellow covers on an azure background

Roaring, rampant lion on a field of green

Knight in black armor holding a war hammer and a round shield

An upside down arrow in a ring of ten stars

A staff above a sheaf of wheat

Pelican holding a red banner against a calm ocean

Two krakens separated by a yellow vertical stripe

A white lily surrounded by six eight-pointed stars

A sleeping lion beneath an azure ewer pouring water

Two yoked and standing oxen, each facing a dancing satyr

Red rhinoceros in battle with a wild boar

Vintner seated on a wagon within a ring made of bunches of grapes

Five unlit candles above a beetle wearing a crown

A gorgon seated on a stool within a circle of trillium flowers

Seven interlocked spirals in different colors

Six crescent moons on a blue background

Golden cockatrice standing on a seashell against a field of brown

Sea-lion holding a ship’s wheel between its front claws

Purple merchant ship in silhouette, against a sky blue background

Maiden riding a bull and holding an upraised sword

A swimming eel on a background of white and purple stripes

Swan with stag’s horns

Gray fox seated in frontal view between two burning birch trees

A sleeping rabbit with four suckling young beneath a gold chalice

The Cool Girl

The Cool Girl

A horror trifle I wrote in two hours, flexing my Lovecraft muscles. Slightly NSFW.


Lexi wanted to be one of the cool kids at Miskatonic Prep.

The Cool didn’t call themselves that, of course. The not-cool had named them that. The Cool had the latest clothing, the hottest haircuts, the most current buzzwords, activities, and interests. Their coolness didn’t come from socioeconomic status, or intelligence or social savvy. If Lexi could articulate the quality, it was as if some deity had touched them with her/his/its fingers, elevating them above the rest. Those who were cool knew they were cool, and it gave them an easy grace in the world. They were the ones those cup of life was filled to brim. Those they gave their favor to were touched by their magic, and in time, they might become cool as well.

Lexi was attractive, intelligent, had a wealthy pedigree, but she was not one of the cool ones. Her family had moved to Arkham eight years ago and were still seen as newcomers, while the cool ones were oldbloods. If she was honest with herself it was for a lack of concentrated effort. She had an inner revulsion to whoring herself to her betters in the hope their specialness would rub off. But it was also because she suspected she didn’t have any potential to be special, and so didn’t even try.

It was a fact of life at Miskatonic Prep that the Uncool whispered often about the Cool, and what the Cool had supernaturally given or taken to get that status. There was a rumor of caverns beneath the school, accessed via secret tunnels in the dormitories’ laundry room, and also of ceremonies in the woods. Other rumors were of spells chanted into bathroom mirrors marked with blood. Lexi scoffed at these, but one night, drunk on stolen liquor, heartsick for a Gitane-puffing Cool boy who didn’t know she existed, she crept out of the room she shared with her roommate and headed for the girl’s bathroom down the hall.

Continue reading

Universal Indifference

Do you think the universe actually cares about you?

Exo [Review]


by Fonda Lee
Scholastic, 2017

Of all the YA science fiction I’ve read so far (and keep in mind it hasn’t been a lot) Fonda Lee’s Exo is the only one I’d call true SF. That is, an out-there premise is given and the author extrapolates from it, showing us the effects it has on science, the environment, human society, and human relationships, all of which are worked seamlessly into the story so the panty lines of extrapolation do not show. It’s a tough order, and some YA authors choose not to do it, using robots, starships, and aliens as the Star Wars universe uses them… as elements of fantasy. Instead of doing this Lee demonstrates her worldbuilding logic continuously in the story, and in fact it helps shape the story.

The setting is about 100 years into the future, after Earth has been conquered by an alien race called the zhree. The zhree resemble stubby mushrooms walking on six tentacles, like a shorter, friendlier version of H. P. Lovecraft’s Elder Things. Their occupation of Earth came about because they needed an outpost against the Rii, a rival race. Naturally, humankind fought back, but lost because of the zhree’s superior weaponry. However, the zhree are more kindly colonizers than despots, and certain humans they choose adopt into their “tribe” as liaisons, diplomats, and peacekeepers for zhree rule. The chosen humans receive the alien exoskeleton that the zhree invented for their own soldiers which makes them faster, stronger, and more able to absorb damage. The exoskeletons are not rigid, but something like a thin, transparent web that flows over the wearer’s skin. The story gets going when one of the peacekeepers, a young man named Donovan, goes to arrest a group of human anti-alien terrorists and instead gets captured by them.

It’s Old School SF, and sufficiently complex not to bore me… in fact, it’s on the level of many older SF written for adults, like Rendezvous with Rama, for example. It’s something of a thriller as well, incorporating escapes, explosions, and battles, and a political potboiler, as the true nature of the relationship between the zhree and humankind is revealed, and how the terrorists’ goal of driving the zhree away means not liberation but danger for the entire planet.

Lee does an exemplary job of balancing out the opposing sides of human alien-collaborators and human alien-opposers, giving each member valid and logical motivations for doing what they do. Each side demonizes the other, but to the reader, there are no clear Good Guys and Bad Guys. To the story’s credit, Donovan does not switch allegiances after he is captured – that would be too facile. But his lines do blur a little, and he begins to see beyond his blinders, and after he discovers a shocking family secret, his allegiances get called into question.

The story kept me guessing about this even as I was sure he’d never betray his friends and father. Yet, he does eventually rebel, and the consequences are heartbreaking. I don’t want to reveal too much of it. It’s the rare book I want readers to discover on their own without me spoiling things. It would make a wonderful anime series, or a live-action one spread over several episodes, and this is the course I hope it takes.

There were neat touches everywhere in the book, like a festival performance — described by Donovan as “silly” —  with a chorus of zhree younglings and human children singing together holding hands, and a flashback to Donovan’s implantation of his exoskeleton at age six. If I had a criticism, it would be that the chapters in the first part of the book, those dealing with Donovan’s internment, are too often ended with scene-wiping cliffhangers or explosions, and his attraction to a human girl who is one of the terrorists seems a little shoved in, though it’s the sort of thoughts a young, somewhat sheltered guy might have. Adolescence is for dreaming, after all. But again to the story’s credit, Donovan doesn’t run off with her or have a mad affair with her (as might happen in another author’s hands) and though she moves out of the action for the second half of the book, she certainly influences his thoughts and actions.

In short, recommended. There’s a sequel out too, and I will definitely be reading that.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 8/1/18: States of Confusion

Future New York, according Matt Groening

Continuing my series of randomly generated names for fictional U.S. states that sound similar to the existing ones. This time, I’ll tackle the Mid-Atlantic states. Grand Theft Auto, from Rock Star Games, has been there before me, allowing players to be one of the bad guys stealing cars from “Aldernay” (New Jersey) and its urban area of New Guernsey. (On the West Coast, Los Santos, San Fierro, and La Ventura served the same function, subbing in for Los angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas, respectively.) What other states may have been up and down the Eastern Seaboard, full of Ferraris and Corvettes to steal?

Imaginary U.S. States, Mid-Atlantic Region


New Jellan

New Selensay

New Zymnsy

New Jelensea

New Saltsea

New Sedgsey

New Talsey


New Yorth

New Gark

New Orb

New Lork

New Thork


Near Tors

































Zombie Walk

Zombie Walk in Venice, 2016

Worldbuilding Wednesday 7/25/18: Clothing of Distinction

Making up things for characters to wear can be tedious sometimes, especially for a culture that has no earth analogue. Do we default to Medieval-normal (which wasn’t very normal at all), stick to the faux-Medieval we are most familiar with from endless movies and illustrations, or strike out on our own into new territory? Sometimes costumers strike a balance, like the Medieval-seeming-but-with-a-twist designs for the TV version of Game of Thrones; other times, they go hell bent for leather, like Paco Rabanne’s bizarre, never-again-repeated designs for the 1968 Barbarella, or Eiko Ishioka’s creations for The Fall and Mirror, Mirror.

Princess wearing a duck on her head… excuse me, swan… in Mirror, Mirror.

In SF and fantasy writing, the immortal Jack Vance always managed to clothe his protagonists in something bizarre,  and Robert Silverberg as well, who portrayed a woman wearing a giant amoeba in his SF retelling of  Heart of Darkness, Downward to the Earth.

If you want to strike a middle balance between plausible, historic, and memorable, here’s some (randomly generated) ideas.

Clothing of Distinction

Alligator hide clogs

Violet-dyed wool felt apron sewn with rough crystals

Knit wool shawl decorated with brightly colored pompoms

Tiger skin shoes

Red cuirass decorated with rough wooden disks

Emerald green dragon-scale loincloth

Woven tree bark shoes worn by youths under the age of ten

White wolfskin mittens sewn with freshwater pearls

Sheepskin headpiece decorated with eagle claws

Yak hair underwear

Indigo-dyed overskirt decorated with tiny silver bells

Green lambswool earmuffs with straps of gilded leather

Gray wool stockings sewn with old buttons

Dyed rabbit skin robe

Purple vest decorated with tiny silver bells and brightly colored tassels

Gilded leather slippers with lace insets

Velvet gauntlets decorated with baby shark teeth

Long orange kilt ornamented with copper beads and rough crystals

Snug snakeskin vest

Short felted wool tunic lined with satin

The Doll

The Doll threatened all by its very presence.