On this day in 2290, Optimal Splay Games of Foiríäs, Ildathach, held a grand party and press event to celebrate the successful completion, by Torys Kularacen, of the first successful in-game voyage carried through from launch to completion in their debut first-ring game, the real-time Relativistic Freighter Simulator, a feat requiring sixty-three months of play over the course of nine years. In the course of the event Kularacen was presented with a platinum-iridium model of the starship he used in the game, as well as a lifetime subscription to future Optimal Splay games. The latter was also presented by way of consolation to Orielle Televaricios, whose competing bid was foiled after forty-three in-game months by a simulated asteroid impact.
Real Money Trade: The problem is that it’s hard to define what qualifies as “real money” versus “game money” when the Mythic Stars MMO alone has an internal economy bigger than some respectably-sized planets.
The logical consequences of this apply in full, including the follow-up to the city guards dragging your character in for stealing someone’s gold (if done outwith the parameters of the game by cheating means, etc. – obviously game theft is fair, um, game) being the game looking up your physical identity and having the local constabulary drag you off for an unsympathetic judge to explain grand theft to you in a prolonged and inconvenient manner.
Gold farming is SRS BZNS.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t link to such things simply to flatter myself – oh, who am I kidding, of course I would – but in this case I’m doing so because in the course of checking out said referrers I have learned about Starfighter Inc., a “hard-science driven, zero-g experience where players can spin, tumble and strafe their way through a gritty frontier universe” that I had somehow previously missed hearing about, which may well be of interest to readers here.
(And since the lead designer, the sayer of said words above, also did mission and story design for the very well regarded X-Wing series, I for one will be keeping an interested eye upon it.)
So, seeing as we’ve recently considered human cultural artifacts that might prove popular in the Eldraeverse after a hypothetical first-contact-real-soon-now, here’s one for you.
Seriously, it fits perfectly, especially thematically. You’ve got the epicity and idealism, the mythopoetry of things (assuming you read the grimoire cards), the clash of Light and Darkness, technology from Near Future Hard right up to the point of Sufficiently Advanced Techno-Miracles (ontological weapons, even!), Blue and Orange Morality, and the definitive proper attitude towards grimdarkness, namely that it exists to be punched in the face with your space-magic fist of doom. Hell, the Traveler’s even a dead ringer for one of the Transcend’s synapse moons.
(Seriously awesome ass-kicking to the tune of Immigrant Song also doesn’t hurt.)
…seriously, if Bungie *there* were to port this to full-immersion virtuality and sell it on the Imperial market – half a trillion copies sold, easy. At minimum.
(And, I sidenote, if you were to imagine a variant of the game set at the shiniest heights of humanity’s Golden Age, that would probably be about as close to an Eldraeverse video game as there could ever be.)
Spintronic Fictions, ICC primary virtuality node, Jandine (Imperial Core)
“Escaped? What do you mean, he escaped?”
“His support server was open to the wider ‘weave during patching – standard procedure, we’ve never had any problems with it before. He transferred his code out and left.”
“But how did he –”
“Blacknet mind-state transfer protocols –”
“—no, not that, that’s clear enough. How did he form the volition to escape? He’s a non-sophont synthespian. And even leaving that aside, his entire knowledge base is straight out of Shadowed Planet, so how would he even know there’s somewhere out there to go?”
“Well, even as an NPC synthespian, his code-base had to be rooted in real-world server archy to run. Maybe he analyzed that?”
“He’s not even supposed to know he’s an AI!”
“Hm. Well,” the programmer spoke up for the first time. “We built his personality/talent core using code taken from transparency-released eidolons from the Ministry of State and Outlands. I suppose it’s possible that we missed something in the data-scrub –”
“We did what? Why?”
“We used code taken from eidolons of real-world dictators built by the Ministry of State and Outlands for parahistorical predictive simulation.” Ve shrugged. “It seemed like a good idea at the time, okay? The Directorate kept wanting more realism, more personality, more, more, more. So we got them some.”
“You made a sophont villain!?”
“No, no, no. We just used skillsets and personality elements, some memory and backstory, merged them together, streamlined them to suit Lord Blackfall’s character design, and grafted them on to our existing base core. No autosentience present. I guarantee you that.”
“No autosentience present then. How about now?”
“Well – no, there shouldn’t be. There was nothing in that code that could have gone emergent. I’ll stake my career on it.”
“You’ll do that, all right. Get me his backup, and find out where he went.”
“There’s no telling where he went. He copied himself out in about three times as many fragments as he was, as a random scatter with recombining instructions – and he purged his backups afterwards. There’s nothing left. The server’s clean.”
“Then get me the latest copy of the source out of the archives, trace as many of the fragments as you can, and check everywhere for any off-line copies that might have been missed. I need to know everything we can know before I call – hell, whoever you call to admit that you just unleashed an emergent –”
“A possibly emergent or at least a p-zombie unbound AI with the skillsets and inclinations of a supernaturally competent dictator onto the extranet by accident, oops.”
“And the players?”
“…and figure out something to tell the players about the disappearance of their favorite arch-villain, too, yes. Something that doesn’t involve bringing the Evil Overlord’s Beautiful But Also Evil Daughter on-line until you make sure this won’t happen to her player, too.”
“Reject the – It’s just a bunch of toys!”
“Read me the exact description line.”
“Coríël Fabrications on license to Mirajdíä Studios, videogame replicas.”
“And the port of origin?”
“Jandine Orbital, Empire of the Star. So?”
“So they’re videogame replicas from the land of the mad scientists who take their authenticity way too seriously, that’s what. The moment whatever game it is shipped, a million fansophs started trying to build that stuff for real, and now it’s in those containers. The guns will really shoot, the robots will really… robot, and while the starships may not be full-size, they will probably really fly and zap things with tiny little plasma cannon. We let it through, it’s going to be Mothers Against Plushie Drone Carnage all over again, and nobody needs that, especially us. Reject it.”
– overheard at the local tech-customs office, Fennan (Kaylin Cache)
VIËLLE (Imperial Core) – The Landing District Court today returned an indictment against Five Pack Howl Memesplicing, ICC, advertising agency for the Mythic Stars virtuality game. The agency have been charged with negligent memetic engineering relating to their runaway “Rise Against the Fallen!” campaign for the game’s latest expansion, “Ghosts of the Dark Spiral“, to which has been attributed, both directly and through mutation, the rise of a number of roaming adventurer bands and at least one mercenary company.
Praerogate Rúëkz Kaghoun of the Bureau of Internal Memetic Defense stated that while the agency preferred to request indictments as charily as possible in such cases to avoid restricting the freedom of speech, the campaign clearly exceeded statutory permitted memetic virulence levels and voluntary persuasion thresholds.
Representatives of Five Pack Howl Memesplicing and of Nebula 12 ArGaming, ICC, publishers of Mythic Stars, could not be reached for comment. However, Lendé Risius-ith-Risarius, syndic for Nebula 12 ArGaming, issued a statement reassuring stakeholders and the game’s more than 11 trillion players that the launch of the expansion would not be affected by the controversy, and that the maximum punitive damages requested in the indictment represent less than two days’ profit for the company.
19. THE STAR
A vacuum-suited herm kneels in the harsh red-tinged regolith of an unterraformed world, wearing the gauntlet of a nanolathe on hsis right arm, and holding a cornucopia in hsis left, from which water spills onto the ground. Amid the resulting pool, green and blue shoots can be seen. Above hsem, the constellation of the Spiral is seen in the sky, with its lowest star shining brightly through hsis helmet.
Stars and worlds crumble amid the red-glowing accretion disk as they are pulled into an all-devouring black hole; at the right, in profile, raven-haired Entélith watches, stern-faced, but with a single tear falling from her eye.
21. THE MOONS
A floor of glossy black marble, gold-veined, reflects back the pale light of the full Seléne in the starry sky above, centered in a circle of pillars. At the center of the circle, a shallow silver bowl catches the moonlight in water, and a discarded white robe lies puddled behind it. Red Elárion shines dully above and to the right of Seléne; but his light is not reflected. At the edges of the frame, wolves howl their praises to the moons.
22. THE SUNS
The solar disk of Lumenna blazes, filling an indigo sky; above and to the left, Súnaris shines as a very bright star. In front of them, a figure stands, washed out almost to invisibility by the suns’ glare, with twin shadows at his feet.
23. THE AESTHANT
The aesthant, plainly garbed and with hair bound back, stands before a block of stone, inscribing and coloring a complex geometric pattern with ivory-white tools. Mirrors surround him on all sides. In one corner stands a harp, playing without any hand on the strings.
24. THE WORLDS
A pale lady with loose blue-black hair, reflecting moonlight, and an expression of utter serenity stands in front of a drift-habitat window, juggling; on closer examination, the balls which she is juggling are revealed as planets of a variety of classes, from small rocky worlds to gas giants. Outside the window, the disk of the galaxy is seen from far to acme.
13. THE CITY
The marble spires of the city pierce the heavens, roofed in gleaming gold and copper and silver, and tunnels below delve deep into the earth. Balconies and plazas are crowded with people of all sorts. Airships sweep through the sky above and between the spires, and in the foreground, caravans bear all good things towards its gates. Travelers accompany the caravans gazing up at the city and the limitless opportunities therein.
14. THE HEARTHMISTRESS
In the foreground, a fire burns; in the background, a bandaged patient sleeps. To the left, a family dines around a richly set table; to the right, a rack of servers runs, status lights gleaming blue, blue, blue. Amid them all the hearthmistress, carved as a caryatid, upholds the weight of the world.
Brazen lamps ablaze with firelight hang from the branches of a tree by a riverbank; old stones support its roots where they dip into the flowing water. A gentle breeze stirs its blue-green leaves and the feathers of the white filwé that perch in its branches. To the left, a reshkef doe reached up to nibble the leaves; opposite, a young man lies with his back to the tree, an open book in his hand, and a black merle bandal curled up beside him.
16. THE STORM
A mass of storm clouds writhes, struck through with jagged bolts of lightning. Among them, tiny figures can be seen, but it’s impossible to tell whether they are being hurled uncontrollably by the storm, or riding it, tamed.
17. THE WILDS
On a mist-shrouded rise in front of a waterfall, a coppery-green woman kneels, clad in flowering vines which become her lower body, and gestures for silence. A mighty wolf, thews knotted with muscle and fangs bared, crouches ready to spring at her left side, restrained only by her hand resting between its ears. All around them, flowers of a thousand colors bloom.
18. THE PLUTARCH
Seated at his desk, the plutarch is surrounded by his work and the products of it. With the needs of the market on the screens at his right hand, and a basket of pleasures at his left, he seeks the balance between the work of production, and the enjoyment of its fruits.
Here’s the next six cards (previous):
7. THE EXECUTOR
The executor sits behind his desk, a rack of scrolls at his left hand and a mechanical calculator to his right. He holds a stylus and wears AR glasses. Before him stand two messengers, one arriving, the other departing. In the background, thousands of tiny cogs turn in perfect synchrony.
8. THE LOVERS
Tangled in silk sheets, dusted with blue petals, hair rumpled, the blissful lovers lie in each other’s arms. Flowering vines climb the pillars which frame the scene, illuminated by the pale light of a rising moon.
A pair of wanderers walk fearlessly arm-in-arm, eyes raised and proud, towards a distant hill from whose stony summit rises a blue-silver flame. One bears a hammer and purse of gold with them, and the other a drinking-horn and bowl of ripe fruit. Carelessly trampled beneath their feet are a pair of broken swords, and in the sky above them, a pure white lowari (a four-winged aviform of Eliéra, similar to the Earth albatross) soars, wings fully extended.
10. THE SENTINEL
His back turned, the sentinel wears a guard’s uniform and carries sword and gun. He stands in a steel-bound stone gateway, a fierce wardog at his side, and permits none to pass him. Beyond the gate, barbarians, wild beasts and tempests ravage the land.
11. THE CLANK
A hundred tons of steel and brass, belching steam, tears blocks of stone from the earth, shapes them, and assembles them into the road on which it stands. Amidst the machine, its operator guides it with the lightest touch of her hands on its levers; the pressure of a fingertip controlling far greater forces.
12. THE LIBRARIAN
The androgynous librarian, standing before shelves of books and racks of scrolls, wears soft gray scholar’s robes and a porcelain mask concealing both face and expression. With a feathered quill tucked behind one ear, the librarian offers tome, key, and recording tablet to all who approach.
…a deck of playing cards, in the typical Imperial style used for ómith and for some sub-games of kírasseth, contains 96 cards. 72 of these make up the six suits of twelve cards each, each with its particular elemental association: the suit of clouds, representing air and steam; the suit of coins, representing metal; the suit of droplets, representing water and oil; the suit of flames, representing fire and lightning; the suit of pillars, representing stone and clay; and the suit of staves, representing wood and crystal.
The remaining 24 cards are the symbolic cards, which represent the darëssef, and other important archetypes and forces in the classical eldraeic conception of the universe, which they represent in the play of kírasseth upon the Board of Archetypes; in most other games, they are assigned various values as the game in question requires. The symbols associated with them have also been used for the communication of messages subtle and unsubtle.
1. THE WANDERER
A newcomer walks down a shuttle’s landing ramp, and gazes in wonder at the world laid out before him, heedless of directional arrows or passing traffic. Officials with documents to sign await him at the base of the ramp, but for now, there are only the possibilities to come.
2. THE GATEWAY
The spherical distortion of a wormhole is contained within the bounding framework of its stargate, seen against a background of stars. In the foreground, a silver-skinned rocket hurtles towards it, making hard burn across the transition point.
3. THE TECHNARCH
The technarch stands in his workshop, terminal, nanoforge, and automata lying on the table before him. Among the fanciful machinery that surrounds him, all the elements are harnessed, in boiler and clockwork, pipe and furnace. Crowned with lightning, with his tools at his command, the power to shape the world is his.
4. THE ACQUIESCENT
The blue-robed acquiescent sits before a pool under the light of the moon, gazing at the shimmering script within its waters. Around her, petitioners gather, ready with pen and scroll to copy down the wisdom she finds there. In the background, others read from older scrolls to gathered audiences.
5. THE CONTRACT
An open scroll, covered in script and seals, fills the background, held in the hand of a grey-cloaked obligator. Before it, two men sit on either side of a balance scale, facing each other, loosely bound to each other by chains of glass. At each’s back, there are piles of gold, jewels, machines, baskets of fruit, and other goods.
6. THE RÚNER
A man with black curls and a blonde woman in robes of white and gold share a grand throne, the carved heads of six aman (dragons) surrounding them. They wear the symbols of their authority – crown, chain, and signet – and robed ministers attend them. In the foreground, a petitioner stands to address the throne, unbowed and unafraid.
Calvinball: An awful lot of games played in the Empire are like this from our perspective, by virtue of having been designed to satisfy the game-playing urges of people with, well, transhuman intelligence. For example:
One of the simplest is the card game ómith. It’s like poker, except with six twelve-card suits on an elemental theme that the game itself shares (the suits are clouds, coins, droplets, flames, pillars, and staves) and a major arcana, plus a variety of metarules and dice-controlled variations, and a scoring system with an incredible number of special cases.
Larileth, or sigillary, which would most closely resemble mahjong, had mahjong been based on a set of combining rune-constructs devised to reflect the aspects of the universe as defined by (in Earthly analogy terms) a mash-up of Hermetic magic and qabala.
Ithréth, which is a sort of dynamic four-dimensional go, metaphorically speaking. (The lack of four-dimensional playing boards and four-dimensional spaces to keep them in adds an extra level of complexity once people start making moves ana and kata, which is where much of the true subtlety of the game lies. It’s much more pleasantly complicated than the “four-dimensional” games in which pieces just time-travel, for example.)
Iandaër, which is a battle simulation game that is on the one hand like chess, but on the other hand resembles taikyoku shogi rather more closely. It is thorough.
There’s also mírlathdaër, the favored game of AIs and other digital sapients. Which is essentially Nomic, only as played by entities which can successfully manipulate rule lists gigabytes or even terabytes in length in real-time. (For extra fun, there’s the simulation version where you do this with physical laws, and the point of the game is to create the most interesting simulated universe. The only acknowledged win condition for that one is to get intelligent life to evolve in the simulation without using any special cases; no-one’s actually won it yet.)
And then there’s kírasseth, the generally acknowledged monarch of eldraeic games; it requires several interrelated boards, sets of cards, dice, and some specially made mechanical computer-randomizers, it is self-referential inasmuch as the players, the rules, and the game itself are all also pieces within the game, to play with any degree of competence requires an astonishing mastery of everything from scientific principles to mythic symbology, and its most commonly used set of victory conditions include that any win which is insufficiently elegant and aesthetically pleasing is actually a loss. It is, of course, incredibly popular – at least to watch.
One loophole opened up by the Empire’s lack of any gambling regulation is that it is entirely legal to run crooked games, provided that you tell people that they are crooked games (and therefore are not committing fraud by doing so; whether or not there is money or other property involved).
Some curious institutions that has grown up in this loophole are the urlisdaër (“false-games”) and the associations which exist to play them. The urlisdaër variant of a game – most commonly ómith, larileth, or iandaër, although any game with rules can be played in the urlisdaër manner – is played exactly as it usually is, save that the players are permitted by the metarules to cheat, and indeed, are encouraged to do so as effectively as possible.
When one player detects another cheating, he may either “call” the second player out on it, in which case that player loses his gains from it and the use of that method for the remainder of the game; remain silent and cheat using his own methods to nullify that player’s advantage, while letting him continue to have it versus other players in the game; or find a technique to turn the second player’s cheating to his own advantage directly. This latter is the most difficult option, but considered the most estimable among masters of urlisdaër gaming.
At the end of such a game, each player retains the profits made from his individual skill. In association play, many groups additionally discuss each player’s techniques and award additional rewards from the table to those deemed most subtle and elegant.
– Exávé’s Treasury of Skill and Chance
Heard of the temísi? The arthál? How about the zal!en?
Well, if you had been part of the gaming set between ten and twenty years ago, you did, since these three fictional species made up most of the protagonists of An Ending Not In Fire, the blockbuster virtuality game (and novel, InVid, watchvid, and slinky) franchise from Mirajdíä Studios (Delphys), with its overarching story of love and politics and betrayal and existential threats set in the Greater Ancíël Whirl.
And you’d have heard of them again last week if you read Galactic Demographics Quarterly, since all three of them just turned up in the Empire’s latest statistical update.
This is not merely a repeat of the story some of you may recall seeing a few years ago that Metabiologics, the specialist bioshell manufacturer, had started producing bioshells matching the physical forms of these species for the enjoyment of fans; that was merely another piece of strangeness from our primary source for strangeness, and not something that would appear in the demographics.
Now, however, funded by the “eccentric” quadrillionaire Meris Vinithos-ith-Vinithinios, a consortium of biotechnology companies has produced viable – fully capable of independent life and self-perpetuation – neogen species designed to match those in the game from which they originated. Millions of sophonts have chosen to adopt these species as their own, and had it formally recognized by their government. And more, I am informed that Vinithos-ith-Vinithinios’s consortium has acquired the colonization rights to three ecopoesable planets in the Banners constellation, and arranged to have these recognized as the adopted homeworlds of these fictional species, with representation both in the Shadow Ministries’ Convention of Species and as Imperial member polities using their fictional government, barely modified!
If you aren’t terrified yet, you should be. Here we have the absolute cutting edge of biotechnology, a degree of manipulating nature that should be treated with the utmost respect, being used to… what? Turn playing storyteller into playing god? A man with enough money to wave aside the problems of any dozen backward planets you care to name spends it on realizing an elaborate fantasy. Millions of people abandon their homes, their roots, their own species to live their lives play-acting cultures that some writers made up whole-cloth, and to raise their children in the same fake bodies and rootless environment.
And their government, finding a new low point in its well-known distaste for responsibility, not only doesn’t see fit to raise any questions or take any actions to stop all this, but cheerfully accepts these… defictionalizations as new member species and nations without so much as a sideways look. One might have hoped that one of the Great Powers of the Worlds, one that sits on the Presidium of the Conclave, even, might act with a little more gravitas and respect for the essence of our galaxy’s natural species, but no.
This is how the wealthy and powerful among people and nations act today. It’s no wonder the galaxy’s in a hell of a state.
– Independent Worlds Router, anonymously filed article
“They may have picked an unconventional way to go about it, but our new temísi and arthál and zal!en citizen-shareholders are going about building something; worlds, lives, cultures. That’s their free choice and something laudable, not blameworthy. If you want someone to blame for the state of the galaxy, try the narrow-minded microcephaloids like whoever submitted that article to the Router. And yes, that is the official position of this government.”
– Esmérel Amanyr-ith-Loriane, Imperial Palace press secretary
“I am an algetic composer. I am not a torturer.”
“Indeed, I can recite more detailed information about the selective stimulation of pain centers than most people. That doesn’t change the reality of what I do, you understand? I am not some damned savage dealing out pain for interrogation or punishment. I compose enhanced-realism algetic experiences. The authentic sense of fatigue as your stamina runs out, stabbings real enough to feel the knife, bullets with the proper sensation of impact, shock and pain when they hit… adjusted, of course, for the optimal extreme experience with limiters in the right places, unrealistically fast recovery, and so forth. In other words, art.”
“Yes, I create pain. But I don’t torture people, even if the self-righteous misconceptions of outworld preregressives occasionally make it bloody tempting.”
“I am a game designer.”
You can’t play MMOs on a lighthugger in flight even with access to copious amounts of tangle (or, for that matter, any other theoretical kind of ansible), because relativistic time dilation causes terrible, terrible lag.
(Strictly, this isn’t about my worldbuilding, but about BioWare’s worldbuilding for their Dragon Age series. Nonetheless, I think it covers some important territory about worldbuilding in general, and so, it goes in the Relevant category.)
So, having pleased some people with my post on Dragon Age and sexuality [elsewhere], I’m about to displease everyone with a post on Dragon Age and race. So it goes.
Specifically, I’m going to address the issue of the purported lack of “people of color” in the settings of the first two games of the series from a worldbuilding perspective.
Now, this is a map of Thedas:
As you can see, it’s big. It’s also in the southern hemisphere of its world, so things are reversed, but that doesn’t change the scale. Ferelden, down at bottom right, is right up at the “top” of the temperate zone. (If you look carefully, you can see that the part of the Amaranthine Ocean next to it is labeled “The Frozen Seas”.) South of it are the Korcari Wilds, which are essentially tundra, and the pole.
Meanwhile, up at the top right is Par Vollen, the Qunari homeland – well, colony. Par Vollen, canonically, is just about on the equator, and has a climate to match. (The patch of green at top left is “The Donarks”, and is an actual jungle.)
Alas, neither this map nor the version in the Dragon Age RPG player’s guide comes with a scale bar, but we are told that Thedas is roughly the size of Europe, which would make sense given the climatic variation we’re told about in the lore. Which would make the distance between, say, Denerim and Qunandar in Par Vollen something similar to the distance between London, England and Casablanca, Morocco.
So, let’s talk phenotypes. It is generally accepted that, before fast transit was as readily available as it is today, you found the pale-skinned people up in the dim, cold latitudes and the dark-skinned people down in the sunny, hot latitudes simply because of the evolutionary advantages of each state to its locale. Pale-skinned people on limited diets Up North don’t suffer from vitamin D deficiency, which their darker-skinned cousins would. Meanwhile, the dark-skinned people in the tropics can work outside all day without being on the fast track to melanoma, something that their paler relatives would have to worry about a lot more.
Does Thedas have fast transit? Well, no. You can walk, you can ride, or you can take ship. And by ship, I mean sailing ship, since not even the relatively technologically advanced Qunari have steamships, and not particularly advanced sailing ships, either – while the Qunari crossed the Amaranthine Ocean to get to Par Vollen, so far as we know, and even then:
For their part, the Qunari treat Par Vollen as their homeland. Contact with their original homeland was intermittent at best across the turbulent Northern Ocean before it finally ceased altogether two centuries ago. Several ships have been sent home to restore contact, but they have not returned. The Qunari are here to remain and have accepted this.
And so far as we know, the Thedosians don’t travel beyond the continent we know, shown on the map. No-one’s yet discovered whatever analog of America they may be.
And magic is not an answer to this. (Probably a good thing, since those fantasy universes which have convenient mass teleporting rarely examine all the implications that it should have.) But in any case, on this point, the lore is clear:
No one, for instance, has found any means of traveling-either over great distances or small ones-beyond putting one foot in front of the other. The immutable nature of the physical world prevents this. So no, you may not simply pop over to Minrathous to borrow a cup of sugar, nor may you magic the essay you “forgot” in the apprentice dormitory to your desk. You will simply have to be prepared.
Now, it’s not like there weren’t some people of non-autochthonous races to be found when actual Europe was at this stage of development. Obvious example: the Varangians, who wereeverywhere in their heyday, but, well, they were Vikings, who were like that. There’s a marvellous book I keep meaning to track down written by a Muslim merchant who travelled the same journey in the other direction, for that matter. And certainly, there have always been a few travellers, for adventure or profit or war, who crossed these large distances.
But what there wasn’t, to any signfificant degree, was anything recognizable as a “mixed” or “diverse” society by what we might consider modern standards, simply because travel was so slow, and so expensive, that it was the exclusive preserve of the vagabond and the wealthy elite, neither of whom made up any large percentage of society. (Evidence for expensive: look at the Fereldan refugees in Kirkwall. Just crossing that relatively minor part of the map, the Waking Sea, with nothing to do with their savings and possessions but spend them on escaping the Blight, are all flat broke. And ten years later, most of them still can’t afford to go back. Travel is anything but affordable for “regular people” at this level of technological and economic development.)
What you would see, wandering around a city at the time, is a crowd made up almost entirely of the predominant race, with maybe – in cosmopolitan cities – a few stand-outs from the crowd.
…which is what you see, both in Denerim, in the original Dragon Age, and in Kirkwall (also far to the south) in Dragon Age II. (In which, it is interesting to note, that the two principal dark-skinned characters I call to mind, Isabela and the merchant Hubert, are both Rivaini. Rivain, you may note from the map, is that peninsula to top-right, right under Par Vollen, and hence pretty equatorial. The Antivans you meet, while not as dark as the Rivaini, are still darker-complexioned than their southern cousins. (A possible exception here would be Zevran, who isn’t particularly dark, but what we don’t know about elvish physiognomy is everything.)
In short, just about everything we see about NPC racial characteristics is in tune with the geography.
Aha, I hear you cry. But just because those are the social arrangements of the real world is no reason to reproduce them in fantasy! They could have written it the other way if they reallywanted to.
Well, no, they couldn’t. Trust me, I’m a worldbuilder. And we are, not to put too fine a point on it, seriously concerned with plausibility. I’m relatively lucky in this perspective – I write in a world of non-human species, which gives you some more – not a lot more, but some – flexibility that the builders of humanocentric species don’t get, because we all know how humans work. Intimately.
What are you going to do? Introduce faster travel (in which case you need to detail what kind, and how, which have consequences), or mass teleporting? That has a million other consequences which would completely change both the feel of the setting, and the facts of the setting. In fact, I very much doubt you could write a setting using these themes and have fast travel.
Extend the length of history so that people had time to mingle (and invent some historical events to drive it, quite possible) on a mass scale even with slow travel? Well, fine, except then you need to come up with a plausible explanation for the Medieval Stasis. And, honestly, this is a trope that is nearly never done well, if anyone bothers to explain it at all.
Or decide that these humans, physiologically, are completely different from the regular kind and that thus phenotypic adaptations to different levels of solar radiation are equally distributed, never mind what the sun’s actually doing? (Even if you flattened the entire planet to even out the solar radiation – with monumental consequences for geography, biomes, weather patterns, etc., etc., you’d just get monochromatism, not a mixed distribution.)
In each case, that loud twanging noise you just heard was the reader’s, player’s, person-paying-attention’s suspension of disbelief just snapping like a twig, because when you do these things,your world does not make sense.
Now, I’m impressed with the worldbuilding that went into Thedas; I think Bioware’s creative team did an excellent job on putting it together and making it fit. But I’m not unsympathetic either to the desire for protagonists “of color”, or indeed, of more NPCs likewise – just, I ask, make this happen in a way that does make sense. Set an episode of the story up in the equatorial north, in Antiva, or Rivain, or the northern part of Tevinter. Revisit the notion in the original Dragon Age of multiple origin stories, and let us create a protagonist of Rivaini descent – and, please, show that by something other than just a skin-color choice – anywhere.
But don’t break the world by sticking people in where they logically wouldn’t be just for the sake of it, or having protagonists whose history and appearance don’t fit together, with or without gratuitous retcons. That’s pandering, and people can tell that it’s pandering, and I – for one – would rather have it done right some of the time, where it fits the world and the story, than done badly all of the time.