Tag Archives: Shakespeare and Dragons

Thanks to Adam for pointing out that the downloads of Shakespeare & Dragons episodes 10 and 13 were broken. I think it happened when Google updated Docs to become Drive. Anyway, I have fixed them, now hosting them on my own server.

As a VERY SPECIAL BONUS… I noticed that I actually have a 16th episode, “The Missing Ingredient”, which I never uploaded because for some reason it also does not show up in my iTunes. It’s now been added – enjoy!


  • Episode 10 – Plot Part Three, Structuring Plot from Character Desires and Forces of Antagonism
  • Episode 13 – Setting Part Two, Creating Cultural Attributes
  • Episode 16 – The Missing Ingredient


Desert Landscape Wallpaper

Theme and Thematic Subjects of Arnâron

In my last posting, where I defined the Premise of Arnâron, I already touched on the next step in the development of this world: Thematic Subjects. In that posting, I picked “war” and “survival” as the two main thematic subjects of this world.

Thematic Subjects

Defining thematic subjects this early in the creation process seems to be a little tricky, because I am not sure how the world will turn out. But I don’t mind if this is an iterative process, and at least a theme will provide a guideline to work from.

War and survival are two good, powerful choices. Survival is the basic human drive; we survive in a multitude of environments because our evolution gave us the tools to do so. All other basic needs and desires – air, water, food, reproduction, and so on – are directly linked with survival. If you take away one of these things, the affected people will become desperate and do things they may otherwise never consider. They may steal supplies, resort to cannibalism or go so far as to kill or rape. Taking away basic necessities can undermine much of what we consider “humane” or “civilized”.

Now, the overall situation on Arnâron isn’t quite as inhospitable as the peaks of the Andes, but it’s bad enough to result in a global negative population growth, and it scares a lot of people. It will allow us to examine what price is too high for survival, if any; what courses of action are justified, and what solutions could be attempted in such a situation.

War, on the other hand, is not the cause for desires and needs, but the result of the same. There are many possible causes – wars can be fought over resources, over ideals, over differences in opinion, over hatred, it is even conceivable that a decadent king may wage war out of sheer boredom.

War has a very dehumanizing effect on people, and of course a very destructive effect on the societies involved. Different individuals will view the war and the need for it differently. Some may see it as a necessary evil; others may volunteer out of patriotic zeal. Yet others may even oppose a “necessary” war on moral principle.

There are other thematic subjects that the setting implies. For example, there will be the thematic subject of nature, and of the destruction of nature. Honor, loyalty, allegiance, and power are also good thematic subjects for a setting dominated by armed conflict.


Themes are the statements about the exploration of our thematic subjects. They are the approach we take to investigating the thematic subjects. Contrary to thematic subject, theme is a full sentence or phrase.

Arnâron is a basically positive, heroic, romantic setting, and thus our approach to our thematic subjects should reinforce positive solutions. War and battle, for example, may be necessary (and in a heroic fantasy, they are an important part of the excitement and adventure), but they come at a price and should only be a last resort against a greater evil. This works the same with survival: Even in a desperate situation, we must never surrender our humanity or we will not survive as human beings, merely as humanoid creatures.

It’s actually quite amusing. When I set out to write this posting, I thought I’d never be able to settle on some abstract themes so easily. It turnes out they suggested themselves quite automatically. Summarizing it as concisely as I can, I’m left with a single theme:

Even when our fight for survival leads us to desperate deeds, we must never lose our humanity.

That’s good enough for me… until the inevitable revisions.

Next up, I am again going to deviate from Paul’s series of podcasts again. I’ll ignore characters for a moment and I’ll finally start to talk about something tangible: I’ll begin to build the setting – the planet of Arnâron itself.

The Premise of Arnâron

Continuing to follow Paul’s Shakespeare & Dragons series, episode three deals with the characters’ needs. Episode four is about the objectives of world-building (I have none, really). Both episodes are sort of out of sequence, so I’ll skip them and continue with episode five: Premise!

According to what I learned from Paul, a world’s premise should be built around a driving conflict; it should be structured around a thematic subject that is reinforced by a grand conflict. The premise should inspire countless possibilities for characters with different points of views of the thematic subject. Finally it should suggest a type of action that is typical for stories set in the world and that determines the objectives a hero will aim at.

Of course the premise should also be as concise and as compelling as possible – “High concept”. It should also be noted that a premise, like all other aspects, may change and evolve over time.

So what’s the premise of Arnâron?

Arnâron is a dry, arid world – it’s not quite a “global desert”, as I want to avoid the “It’s raining on planet Mongo” syndrome, but it’s still a world that is hostile to life and the situation is slowly getting worse.

On a dying desert planet…

So far, so good. We’ve spent five words to say a lot: First and foremost, that the setting is an arid planet, a “desert world”. Despite of what I just said about the Mongo-syndrome, I think this works for the premise because it contrasts Arnâron to Earth. If you see the short description “desert planet”, this evokes specific images in your imagination and you immediately understand that this is not an earth-like planet with vast oceans. I’ve also included “dying”, which drives home the point that life on Arnâron is in decline and getting tougher and tougher in a harsh environment. This helps establish the mood of the setting, but also hints at part of the conflict.

Now it gets harder, and actually gets to a point that will be discussed in the next episode of Shakespeare & Dragons: Thematic subjects. What would stories set in Arnâron be about? Going back to its origins, I can think of several things: It’s about survival and war (Mars is the “God of War”), about fate (as the planet is literally doomed to a slow death), about violence, even about the kind of things some people will do in such desperate situations. But as a heroic fantasy, it is more about overcoming that dark side of humankind rather than the deadly downward spiral.

…wage war in a struggle for survival…

So let’s literally use war and survival as our thematic subjects. It’s not an evil war of conquest, but it’s a desperate battle that is necessary for the sake of one’s survival. This also suggests multiple approaches: Is the war really necessary? Is it a good thing or something evil? Do the ends justify the means? Are there alternative solutions? And, as mentioned before, what is each character willing to do in order to survive this environment? These are just examples of the ideas this gives me.

However, we didn’t suggest character types yet. In general, Arnâron is a heroic, romantic setting. Stories would be about leaders, villains and heroes, about larger-than-life characters. They may arise from humble origins, or be reluctant heroes – Luke Skywalker was a farmer, Han Solo a smuggler – but they will end up shaping the course of history, or at least the destiny of those around them. It is their choice whether this influence is for the better or the worse. Our protagonists should be a positive force, Arnâron is not a celebration of nihilism.


We’ll also need to define the main type of action that our heroes will be performing. This one is fairly easy; they’ll fight – often quite literally, with swords and guns, sometimes in more metaphorical ways – and they will lead others – hopefully to a better future.



Let’s try to join this together into an actual sentence.

On a dying desert planet heroes and leaders must rise to fight for a better future, as their kingdoms are locked in a bitter war for survival.

I chose “kingdoms” over “countries” and “nations” because it has a more low-tech feeling to it – it implies princesses, knights, and swordplay.

So that’s it – it’s all there. It’s pretty concise, too. I am not sure how compelling it is, but it’s a start that defines life on Arnâron pretty well. I think I could probably add some gimmicks to spark more interest and to connect Arnâron to the “mythical Mars” of Lowell and Burroughs: “…among the ruins of a fallen civilization” – “…on the shores of the ancient canals”, and so on. I think I’ll save these gimmicks for a possible revision.

Next up, we’ll discuss the thematic subjects and the theme of Arnâron. Stay tuned. And if you got any suggestions, please don’t hesitate to post them in a comment.

Start with… Tone?

As I mentioned in the introductory post about my project for world building month, I’m attempting to design this world following Paul Stark’s story-centered approach. I don’t view this as mandatory, more as an experiment or test case for Paul’s podcast.

So the first thing I need to do is also the one thing Paul talked about that I have the biggest trouble nailing down: Defining a tone for a story-world. Luckily, as I have many pre-conceived notions and because this is such a well-established (if unfashionable) genre, it’s a little easier to define for Arnâron than for other settings I am building.

Arnâron, at its heart, is a Sword & Planet and Planetary Romance setting. While there are things about the setting that are dangerous, desolate and/or hopeless and depressing, the general mood will be uplifting, of romantic heroes involved in rousing adventures and exciting battles, fighting for just causes and the hands of the beautiful princesses.

Good tone words for the setting should therefore be:

  • Adventurous
  • Exciting
  • Heroic
  • Romantic
  • Soaring

Fairly solid list for a “high adventure” setting. As with all things, this might turn out to be an iterative process… but even as a dying world this isn’t Cyberpunk or another type of dystopia so it should work as a basis.

Shakespeare and Dragon Episode 16

Paul Stark has released Shakespeare & Dragons, Episode 16, which wraps up “Season One” of the story-centered world building podcast. Episodes have been few and far between, mostly because Paul has taken the plunge to study art and become a full time artist / world builder. I wish you good luck Paul, with respect.

Episode 16 is actually a quite good episode to end Season One, and I hope that there will be season two soon. Download the episode and join the Shakespeare & Dragons forums to discuss the episode or world building in general.

Update, 2020-01-01: Unfortunately, the forums are long defunct.