I have more ideas than I know what to do with. One of them is a setting for a steampunk fantasy novel or series, called The World Beneath the Arch. This is a planet of ocean covered with islands, the largest of which is smaller than Australia. Two maritime empires, the Norumbegans and the Kuruvians, have set their flags flying over every corner of this world and are now preparing to fight it out for supremacy.
I started posting about this for the Twitter hashtag #WIPworldbuilders. Alas, time constraints and an Internet outage kept me from keeping up with it. This post represents my attempt to catch up.
3. What is your world’s position in its solar system?
The World Beneath the Arch is second from its sun, between a larger planet and a much larger planet. It isn’t always easy to see these planets, because…
4. What orbits around your world? Such as moons, satellites, etc.
Instead of a moon, the World Beneath the Arch has Saturn-type rings scaled down to fit an Earth-sized planet. The people know about the rings, but still call them “the arch” the same way we call the Earth turning to face the sun “sunrise.” (I’ve noticed that fantasy worlds either have a moon just like Earth’s, or multiple moons. I wanted to mix things up.)
Since it has no moon, its only tides are solar tides. Even in the age of sail, before the steam engine, sailors traveled at their own convenience.
Questions 5 and 6 concern constellations, meteor showers, and other celestial phenomena.
In the temperate zones, only the brightest stars and planets are visible even at midnight. The rest are washed out by archlight. People are aware of the stars—in fact, the days of the week are Sunday, Archday, Earthday, Windsday, Starsday, Fireday, and Waterday—but they can only do real astronomy at the equator, where the arch is seen on edge, or the polar regions where it can’t be seen at all.
Meteor showers happen, but of course are harder to see. The auroras are not only visible, but sometimes reflect off the shadowed part of the arch, making it just visible at midnight in winter. Opinions differ on whether this is a good or bad omen.
7. Does your world have a summer?
It does have summer, at least outside the tropics. Having no moon, its 364-day year is divided into 90-day quarters separated by the solstices and equinoxes. The summer solstice is celebrated by many of this world’s cultures. (So is the winter solstice, of course.)
8. Does your world have natural disasters?
Indeed it does. Cyclones, earthquakes, volcanoes, even tsunamis. Although tsunamis don’t spread as far because the whole planet is basically an enormous archipelago, so there are lots of places where big waves get broken up.
9. Are there environmentalist movements on your world?
The most advanced parts of the World Beneath the Arch are just getting started with industrialization. Environmental movements tend to be more local than global at this point.
10. What is the weather like on your world?
It’s got the same variety of weather as on Earth. On average, it may be a little wetter because there are no vast deserts and only a few small ones.
11. What is the topography of the main location like?
I haven’t yet decided what the main location should be, but Cerrion, capital of Norumbega and largest city in the World Beneath the Arch, is on the tip of a narrow strip of land that separates two rivers until they flow into the sea. Its climate is roughly that of western France. (I originally wanted it to be sort of an expy of London, but when I drew up the map I realized it would be much warmer. Just as well. Fantasy needs another ersatz London like it needs more elves.)
12. Are there any national parks in your world?
There are a number of small national parks, plus a lot of private parks and hunting preserves, and a few small islands with unique ecosystems that great universities have purchased and sequestered for study.
14. Does tourism exist in your world?
Tourism is something only rich people do at this point. It’s only become possible because of the expansion of the two great empires centered around Norumbega and the Kuru Archipelago.
The few who have explored distant lands have found the ruins of a dozen ancient civilizations, each of which appears to have been suddenly destroyed at the height of its power.
15. What kind of animals exist in your world?
All the ones we know, plus reynards, tybalts, bruins, chanticleers, unicorns, jackalopes, jabberwocks, jubjubs, bandersnatches, sea serpents, and maybe some more.
Questions 16 and 17 concern hunting and extinction.
A reynard is like a cross between a fox and raccoon with about the problem-solving skills of a chimpanzee, and every poultry-keeper’s worst nightmare. Reynard-hunting is an upper-class sport like fox-hunting, but much more of a challenge—reynards can swim, climb trees, leap from tree to tree, and know the raccoon’s trick of drowning a hunting dog in deep water.
Centuries ago, one of the early High Kings of Norumbega killed a sea serpent that had invaded the Sea of Cerrion. Its skull was incorporated into the dais of the Norumbegan throne, although this throne room is now rarely used, and only for ceremonial purposes.
Wolves and jabberwocks have been hunted to extinction on the island of Norumbega. There are two ways to hunt a jabberwock—go into the woods with a weapon (vorpal or otherwise) and hope you find it before it finds you, or wait until spring, get a whole bunch of hunters together with bows and/or guns, and invade their nesting grounds.
22. What kind of animals can be kept as pets in your world?
Apart from the usual pets, the reynard can be tamed, or at least persuaded to cooperate.
The jubjub is a bird of prey that hunts in packs, like the Harrier’s hawk of the American west. You can use them in falconry, if you like living dangerously.
23. Are there aquatic animals in your world?
There are many. The most notorious are the sea serpents. The females have to come up on land to lay eggs, which limits how big they can get—they’re rarely more than forty feet long. (Which is still enough to ruin a walk along the beach.) The males are much rarer, but can grow to as much as a hundred feet long.
24. Is food and water scarce in your world?
It shouldn’t be—the human population, though extremely varied, hasn’t had a chance to grow so numerous as to overburden the planet. That said, there are places where food and water are hard to come by, and other places where there’s plenty of food but it never seems to get to the people who need it most.
25. Is there sacred or holy ground in your world?
To all branches of the Church of Clear Sight (the Norumbegan and Kuruvian established churches are both branches of this) the face of the clock is a symbol of the mind of God, and the clock towers of churches are sacred. There is an absolute prohibition against using them for any warlike purpose. Even food stored in them has to be for civilian refugees, not soldiers. Violating a church is the only war crime for which a soldier is turned over to the enemy for punishment.
Very few people know the real reason for this.
26. Does your world have a creation story?
It has many different ones. The Church of Clear Sight has no official account of creation (which makes life less frustrating for scientists) but many of the old pagan (or “Clouded Sight” as they call them) creeds have their own. According to the Norumbegan Book of Clouded Sight, the World Beneath the Arch was created by the orgasm of two primordial beings, Ur and Kahia, which met in the void and fell in love—which, as someone on Twitter pointed out, means they subscribe to the Big Bang Theory.