Worldbuilding Wednesday 12/11/19: Christmas Scents

No gingerbread men were harmed in the baking of these cookies.

This time of year holiday scents abound. There’s the usual Pine and Balsam, Gingerbread, and Sugar Cookie. But to really move sweet-smelling merchandise, novelty is required. Yankee Candles has one scent I like in particular called After Sledding. The name is memorable and brings up memories of playing in the snow, while the smell is a combo of sawed wood, fresh air, chocolate, and Christmas spices. If the candle had just been called Winter Fun, I might not have been attracted to it as much.

Need a holiday scent? Here’s a randomgenned list.


Christmas Scents

Peppermint Champagne

Mrs. Claus’s Spice Cake

White Cardamom

Frosty Christmas Berries

Christmas Morning Coffee

Incense and Oranges


Midnight Toast

Exotic Berry

Golden Embers

Winter’s Hearth

Snowball Fight

Mischief Brewing

Green Christmas

Santa’s Brownies

Pink Cardamom

Winter Depth

Festive Homestead

Bough and Bonfire

Wintry Coast

Red Velvet Yule

Red Winter Coat

Sunrise Sleigh Ride

Honeyed Orange

Snowed In

Morning Cocoa

Chocolate Orange

Golden Pine

Horrible Christmas Album Covers

Croation pop singer Kićo makes a pretty glum Santa on the cover of this album, often cited as one of the worst Christmas album covers ever made. He doesn’t even convey the solemnity of a traditional Father Christmas. He’s just… there. Hungover, or wallowing in existential despair.  His version of “Jingle Bells” featuring a banjo isn’t much better, though I have to say his voice is very manly. Zvoncici, everybody!

Christmas with Kico – Jingle Bells


Santa travels to another planet in a spacesuit tailored to his needs. But though the little boy gets a rocket, the little girl has to make do with a mundane doll. Not fair! Still, the song is cute, with clever lyrics.

Space Age Santa Claus


I really don’t get Sufjan Stevens, beloved of hipsters. It’s petty of me, but he sounds like just another average white guy with a whiny voice. Plus he’s way too precious. I dislike this album cover too. It seems like a riff on mean-sounding holiday parody songs like “All I Want for Christmas is to Be Molested in the Shower.”

That Was the Worst Christmas Ever – Sufjan Stevens


Jeering at the Brady Bunch is like shooting fish in a barrel, but I’m going to do it anyway. Their voices are only average at best and their management was clearly capitilizing on their wholesome popularity with this release. Plus that damn dog isn’t even looking at the camera.

Oh Come All Ye Faithfull – The Brady Bunch


I never heard of these guys but they bring on the funk, as well as poising themselves for some sweet kung-fu moves.

Christmas Got Funky – Jimmy Jules and the Nuclear Soul System


This guy didn’t even bother to put on a beard! How lazy can a would-be Santa get? Plus, the poor little white poodle looks tragically butchered in the grooming department. He doesn’t have the fluffy topknot and shaggy ears of the other two and looks embarrassed about it. This really bothers me. Poodles should match, damn it!

Lenny Dee – Sleigh Ride


I don’t know a lot about Senor Tonto except he’s the Italian equivalent of Sufjan Stevens. He also does a mean version of “Hurray for Santy Claus” a little known Christmas song from the awful failed film Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Worth a listen if only for the annoyance factor. One of the instruments used on it was a Texas Instruments Speak & Spell.

Hurray for Santy Claus – Senor Tonto


“Hello, Santa? The fighters have been scrambled and the nukes are coming in. You’ve got two minutes to make it to the bomb shelter.”

Electronic music compilations, mostly on the Moog, began to be widely released in the early 1970s. I think this was the first Christmas one. The songs are peppy, but bloodless.

Switched On Santa – Angels We Have Heard on High


I love the graphic design of this album cover. So clean and powerful with its limited shapes and color palette, it’s almost like a homage produced by an artist today. But the music is, well, weird.

The Singing Saw


Pinky and Perky are two English puppets beloved by Britishers of a certain age and hosts of a children’s TV show. After the success of Ross Bagdasarian’s Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas album, they, or rather the studio singers whose voices were sped up, entered the market, competing with other wannabe animal stars like The Grasshoppers, The Nutty Squirrels, The Busy Beavers, and Pepino the Italian Mouse. Fun fact: Ross Bagdasarian was the writer and sound engineer for the rockabilly hit “Witch Doctor” and later used the studio tricks for the voices of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore… who were named after three record label executives he knew. Meanwhile, Pinky and Perky ended up as Christmas ham.

Pinky and Perky – It’s Christmas Eve


Despite their stilted poses these guys rock. ’nuff said!

HE5 – Silent Night

Worldbuilding Wednesday 12/4/19: Birth Signs

An Asian Zodiac adapted for Australian use, with Australian animals in place of the traditional Chinese ones. I’m a platypus.

One of the perks of worldbuilding is creating a zodiac, or set of birth signs, for your particular setting.

The Western Zodiac* is the most familiar model and is named for the path the sun, moon, and planets take through the constellations on their journey through the sky. The constellation the sun is in when it rises becomes the birth sign for those born on that day, but the constellations other heavenly bodies reside in have an influence too. Such influences, in ancient times, affected all aspects of civilized life: when to plant and harvest, get married, wage war.

But there are other systems. Asian cultures have birth signs delineated by year instead of month, as everyone who eats at a Chinese restaurant with a paper placemat knows. They also come in a cycle of 12, each year named after animals, and each year also receives an elemental designation from a list of five (earth, water, fire, metal, wood) so the whole forms a cycle of 60 years. A Fire Monkey person is likely to be dying as new Fire Monkeys are being born.

Mesoamerican birth signs are a little more complicated, based on four interlocking cycles, one a year cycle of 365 days, the other a 260 day sacred cycle in which each day has a unique name, a number from 1 – 13 and a day sign from a roster of twenty. The cycle repeats every 52 years, so in that period, the only people sharing the same birth sign are those born on the same day.

But, back to the birth signs. The fun thing about them is creating correlations. My Western Zodiac sign, Virgo, has as its gemstone the sapphire, the aster as its flower, the hummingbird as its bird, and the maiden as its symbol. According to various memes, my Disney princess is Belle, my bread is whole wheat, and my wakeup time is 3 AM, “but then goes back to sleep and wakes up at 12.”

Whatever system you design, it’s easy to create a bunch of correlations for its birth signs through random generation or the roll of some die. Here’s some samples.


Semutal the Boar

Color: Scarlet
Number: 7
Item of clothing: Stockings
Part of body: Feet, ankles, calves
Scent: Clover
Habitat: Wetlands
Foods: Salmon, figs, parsley
Metal: Copper
Element: Metal
Time of day: Dawn
Symbol: Three crossed spears
Characteristics: Confidant, teasing, fortunate, generous, self-indulgent

Goiox the Key

Color: Gold
Number: 5
Item of clothing: Gloves
Part of body: Hands
Scent: Tobacco
Habitat: Mountains
Foods: Chicken, turnip, onion, anise
Metal: Gold
Element: Ice
Time of day: Evening
Symbol: Key
Characteristics: Bold, righteous, energetic, stubborn

Acas the Young Doctor

Color: Gray
Number: 4
Item of clothing: Wig
Part of body: Hair and scalp
Scent: Hazelnut
Habitat: Urban
Foods: Lobster, bananas, lovage, nutmeg
Metal: Lead
Element: Earth
Time of day: Midnight
Symbol: Three interlocked cubes
Characteristics: Wise, faithful, inquisitive, detached

Shaajot the Wolf

Color: White
Number: 20
Item of clothing: Ribbons
Part of body: Neck
Scent: Spearmint
Habitat: Tundra
Foods: Eel, truffles, lemon
Metal: Iron
Element: Wood
Time of day: Evening
Symbol: A fang above a quarter moon
Characteristics: Determined, mysterious, passionate, intellectual

One could go on and on with this, including chord, state of matter, sexual position, drug, type of literature, compatability with other birth signs, etc.

* Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. To make things complicated, some consider Ophiuchus, the serpent-bearer, a Zodiac sign also, bringing the count to 13.

Welcome, Winter.

An early 20th century representation of a Scandinavian frost giant, from the silent movie Conquest of the Pole  by French film pioneer Georges Méliès.  To me the creature looks more like a goofy Russian ventriloquist’s dummy.  Which is no less horrible than a bloodthirsty spirit to my eye, but probably not what the director intended.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 11/27/19: Let’s Talk About

Venus Verticordia by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In Greek mythology Aphrodite was the goddess of love, but she had a surprisingly macabre beginning. Legend says she was born of the sea-spume cast up on shore after the Greek god Cronus cut off his father Uranus’s genitals and tossed them into the waves. Also strangely for a goddess of love, her own lovers tended to be weak or betray her. Aphrodite’s meddling in the human realm did not go over so well either, as the Legend of Paris attests.

In Roman mythology she became Venus, a name better known to Westerners. In previous centuries it denoted a beautiful paragon of a woman, but in recent decades its power has waned. Mention “Venus” and most people will think of the planet, or a statue without arms. To me, Aphrodite has a younger and fresher feel. Venus sounds stale and matronly.

Looking for a goddess of love for your fantasy world? Here’s some variations.


Variations on Aphrodite
































Jimmy’s Got a Problem

Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s pal, got up to all sorts of trouble in the 1950s, so much so that he had his own comic. This was one of the milder issues. Note the comics authority code at the upper right, probably the reason why such bizarre storylines became commonplace — violence and mayhem had become definite no-nos in this decade.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 11/20/19: Minor Magical Items

Some magical items are very useful to the recipient. Some are cursed, or useless. But more often than not they have a minor kind of magic, helpful in a certain situation. Here are some of those items.


Minor and Mundane Magical Items

The Wizard Kift’s Small Dirt-kicking Satyr: A diminuitive statue of a satyr that comes to life on command, kicking dirt in the faces of the wielder’s targets.

Jesserine’s Philtre of Feline Acrobatics: When a drop of this is poured into a feline’s drinking water, they will amuse their owner for hours with their gymnastic shenanigans.

Minchzar’s Sketching Book: A minor but very prized item that allows the user to sketch creatures in the nude even if they are wearing clothing.

Philtre of Gentle Harmonizing: This potion enables the drinker to sing background vocals even if they have no singing talent.

Cuff of Rebellion Containment: When worn by a teenager, this piece of jewelry ensures they will not talk back to their parental figure(s).

Invisible Hummingbird: Circles around a target’s head and pokes at their scalp with its beak.

Lute of Catastrophe: When this cursed magical instrument is played nothing but boos and catcalls come from the audience.

Glaive of Nasal Defense: The wielder of this weapon will never suffer any damage to their nose.

Helm of the Curmudgeon: When worn this cursed object causes the wearer to kvetch constantly about unimportant things.

Box of Soothing Gold: This small wooden box contains a gold powder that, when sprinkled on burns, rashes, or insect bites, soothes the irritation. Can be gathered up and re-used. Despite appearances it is not real gold.

The Orange Notebook of Disguises: Contains 5 to 20 pages each featuring a mask that can be cut out of paper. When worn, the mask creates an illusion of disguise on the wearer’s face. However, the illusions are not very good. There is a 50% chance any onlooker can see through it. Chance decreases with distance, however. The masks are mostly of humanoid creatures: elves, goblins, humans of various ages and races, and they do not affect the wearer’s clothing or body.

Mace of Scratching: Looks like an ordinary mace, but can extend itself to offer soothing relief to itches anywhere on the wielder’s body. Can also be used as a weapon though it is non magical in that regard.

Fragrance of the Fox: This ungeant is usually found in a small metal tin. The waxy substance, when applied, will make the wearer smell exactly like a fox, which is to say not very good. But it is useful for passing undetected through the woods. Lasts 12 hours.



Unsavory Satyr

Isn’t this guy a shady character! He’s got a buckskin and pointed ears like the mythical satyr but no hooves.

Peter Paul Rubens, 1638. On display at The Prado, Madrid.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 11/13/19: Steampunk Characters

gender-reversed Victorian couple

Here’s something you don’t see every day: a gender-reversed Victorian couple!

Steampunk as a genre got its start with The Difference Engine and The Diamond Age, both set in a alternate world Victorian England. So, it bears to follow that Steampunk characters have English language names that were popular during that time. There are no hippy names like Rainbow or Phoenix in Steampunkland, and neither are there Jasons and Jennifers, Ryders and Reillys. It’s all very very Anglo and to modern ears a bit stuffy.

There’s some steampunk fiction using non-Western settings, like India orJapan, but for the average Western reader the antique luster of the names is not readily apparent. To a native of that land they would be, so I advise asking one for advice should you be writing in that setting.

Here’s a list of randomly generated names for English-speaking Western-oriented steampunk. As many steampunk characters are adventurers, inventors, or nobility of a sort, I included titles.


Steampunk Characters (Western World)


Millicent Flora Lesshe

Sister Edna Ulska

Luisa Rachel Isfield

Miss Samantha Clothmeadow

Theodosia Ann Sinclair

Epona Lovar Hollylock

Dr. Anthea Leergold

Mary Vandermilk

Thea Saltwold

Lady Eglantine Norwood

Professor Iphigenia Westley

Ada Mabel Gutch


Sir Ronald Answith

Zachariah Willows

Fletcher Phillip Lectrostan

Commodore Trajian Telljoy

Captain Simon Lexhart

Alonzo Brass Angel

Hillary Poorgarden

Ensign Lucius Lovebloom

Morris Wyckant

Professor Atticus Edgar Hoosier

Constable Reginald Bloodnought

Israel Alexander Woolson


Rat Dance

Even rats like to dance.