After a banner day of 3 viewers, which I have attributed to failed Google searches for Imperial Guard information, we have dropped back down to zero. Good. Now that we’re alone, we can talk freely. While I had originally planned on filling space between progress updates with hypothetical battles between fictional characters (round one, as mentioned on twitter, was going to be Edward Cullen from Twilight vs Team Rainbow from Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six. Spoiler Alert: Homer shoots him in the face with a 50 BMG) my wife thought that was a little silly. Since I don’t have the first clue what people want (and sometimes not even what day it is) I defaulted to her judgement on this one. Instead, we will discuss the book, and the process behind it’s creation.
As I mentioned once in passing on the National Novel Writing Month forums, the nucleus of what is now Shattered Continent was a thought experiment involving trying to murder a dragon with a WWII-era military airplane. Without boring you with the math*, killing a dragon from a plane is kind of a pain in the neck unless you catch it on the ground and blast the smeg out of it using the elements of speed and surprise. I wanted to see the kind of world where “strafe Smaug with 20mm autocannons” was a valid option alongside “send some hobbit schmuck with a sword they got yesterday”, and decided that I was the guy to do it.
The world as originally conceived was post-apocalyptic in nature, due to a combination of open warfare and dimensional anomalies. While a great deal of knowledge was preserved, the overall collapse of global logistics and industry resulted in many people having to revert to near subsistence-level farming in order to survive. What remained of the world’s military forces had to defend against strange creatures from alternate earths, burning through what remained of their fuel, ammunition, and other expendable parts, with many reaching the stage where the bayonet resumed it’s status as a primary weapon in order to conserve ammunition. Meanwhile, what remained of academia had new anomalies to study, which would eventually lead to the discovery of magic as an actual, working means of defense and force projection and not just a means to impress the opposite sex at bars (though yes, more than one scientist-turned-mage has used magic to aid them in their quest for action).
What I ended up with in the end was very different from this. The nuclear war, and Earth itself, were discarded, and alternate dimensions became a central premise. Specifically, the existence of a world that was “easy” to reach by deliberate or accidental travelers, but hard to leave; anyone who came was stuck, and had to make a go of it on the new world. While the land was rich and fertile, sufficient to support an Earth-like population level, there was more bad news than good, item #1 being the periodic invasion of the planet by demonic forces. Happening roughly once every 20-30 years, these invasions bring open warfare to the planet, in addition to introducing new and terrible life forms into an eco-system that already has dragons, over-sized wolves, and other nasties on hand.
Magic exists, and for the better part of 3 centuries was the biggest game in town when it came to defending and/or oppressing humanity; the fact that the first true continental superpower was also the first group to harness the full potential of magic is no coincidence. Forsaking conventional technological development in favor of dedicating their best and brightest to the pursuit of greater magical power, the Empire that rose on this world managed to establish long-range trade and communication without ever building a working electrical device or internal combustion engine, and perform massive engineering projects without unlocking the secrets of dynamite. Occasionally an advanced device would fall through a rift between dimensions, but most of them took a hard enough fall on the way through to break them, and the remainder had limited use (battery power, fuel, ammunition, etc) before they became inert, either to be kept as a curiosity or broken down for scrap. On top of that, magic itself does not play well with technology; by it’s nature, technology is critically dependent on the laws of physics working exactly as intended while the device is in operation, and magic is essentially the act of human will telling natural law to go eat it’s own hat. More than a few potentially game-changing discoveries were destroyed because they were brought to the smartest person the salvaging party could think of, who promptly fried the device by trying to see inside it with magic.
Aside from the occasional crackpot who managed to make a breakthrough (which was typically discredited as soon as a mage came by and inadvertently caused the breakthrough to break down), technological stagnation was the order of the day. Science was alive and well, but the symbiotic relationship between science and technology that exists in our world (scientific study gives rise to new tools, new tools open up new avenues of study, etc) never really happened. The arrival of a new group, the nucleus of what would become the second superpower on the continent, the nation of Cardenas, changed that. Dumped from an alternate 1970s where Nixon never went to China because America was still cranky about Seoul getting nuked, they had a number of significant advantages over the locals on the tech front. Specifically, instead of being faced with the dual challenges of inventing new machines and building them so they wouldn’t get screwed up by magic, they just had to do the latter. Within a decade of their arrival, exchanges of information between the two parties fundamentally changed life in the Empire, and when the demons came back in the early 1990’s they found a completely different opposition waiting for them. Small towns and villages that wouldn’t have even registered as a bump on the road towards the major population centers were now defended by rifle-equipped militia, able to send out the alarm via radio, and could have rescue arriving in a matter of hours instead of days or weeks. During the larger set-piece battles, the invaders could be facing anything from heavy artillery mounted on airships to paratrooper-trained mages jumping out of the backs of airplanes.
Even while the war was still ongoing, there was already talk of the future. Many of the top thinkers on the planet were convinced that the world was at the beginning of a new golden age, with magic and technology working hand in hand to improve life for all people, both in peace and in war. The hypothetical golden age never happened; during the last battle of the invasion, the capitol city of the Empire was blasted off the map by a nuclear bomb, annihilating the largest demonic horde ever recorded but killing the Emperor in the process. A succession crisis soon followed, as most of the ruling families of the subsidiary kingdoms of the Empire could honestly claim to be the late Emperor’s blood kin. One of the candidates, rallying supporters to his cause by painting the destruction of the Imperial capitol as a deliberate act by Cardenas to decapitate the Empire, initiated hostilities with the Eastern nation. Caught off guard, heavily depleted from the final fighting in the capitol, and dedicating most of their resources to evacuating civilians from areas affected by the blast and it’s fallout, the initial strike inflicted heavy losses on Cardenas’ forces in the Empire, but were insufficient to break the nation’s logistics network. The mages, having witnessed the final moments of the Emperor’s life, knew that the bombing was ordered by the Emperor himself, and turned their backs on the would-be Emperor as a usurper and assassin. Every kingdom of the Empire was then given a choice by Cardenas; put your forces on stand-down and sign a peace treaty, or get your forces killed and then sign the treaty at gunpoint.
By the end of the month, most of the Kingdoms had signed, and a cease-fire was negotiated with the remaining holdouts. With even more of the Emperor’s extended family killed in the conflict, the succession issue became virtually unresolvable, with each Kingdom functionally left to it’s own devices. On paper, the Empire lives, but in practice it’s an empty throne, a dead city, and a bunch of mages and bureaucrats who are now running around sans-boss. Trade resumes between Cardenas and the Empire, but with an inescapable air of secrecy and paranoia, each side knowing that the other might throw them under the bus if they want something badly enough. Over a decade into the 21st century, this remains the status quo, and when the demons return, possibly in a matter of years, they will only find a shadow of the force that once opposed it. And if the situation between Cardenas and the Empire goes hot again, they might not find anything of that grand war machine other than wreckage.
This mess, though a terrible place to live, is a fine place to tell a story. After all, if the situation was perfect, the protagonists wouldn’t have anything to do. In the future, I intend on posting more information on the world, the people and factions in it, and likely some short fiction as well.
*Unless you like math. In which case, here the math is. First, we pick our opposing forces; a P-51 Mustang (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_P-51_Mustang#Specifications_.28P-51D_Mustang.29) and a traditional “sitting on a pile of gold and killing 3rd level chumps who came for your gold” D&D adult red dragon (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/monsters/dragonTrue.htm). Now, the plane has significant advantages in speed and firepower (yes, the dragon has damage resistance, and no, I don’t think it matters against a 50 caliber machine gun), but the Mustang has a problem when it comes to physically catching the scaly jerk; stall speed. Unlike the dragon (which is pretty much a pure vertical take-off and landing vehicle) the Mustang has to keep going above a certain speed or else it will fall out of the air. Some quick math shows that the P-51’s stall speed of 100 miles per hours translates into roughly 146.7 feet per round. The listed airspeed of the dragon is 150 feet per round, so unless that dragon does the pilot the courtesy of always flying at his top speed, and not engaging in any dirty pool like coming to a stop in mid-air or saying screw it and going home to it’s cave, there is going to be no “conventional” dog fighting here; the Mustang is going to be doing this drive-by style, trying to engage an erratically moving target whipping past him at speeds over 100 miles per hour while trying not to blunder into the 40 foot “danger zone” of the dragon’s breath weapon (I’m not getting into whether or not you can make a reflex save in a fighter plane; lets just assume that getting your plane blowtorched while you’re sitting in it is bad). While I’d put my money on the Mustang, that dragon is definitely going to make the pilot work for that kill, and if that pilot gets cocky or complacent, they might find themselves dead.