By Peter Chiykowski
A few strategically placed lore details can add oodles of depth, character, and immersion to a fictional world, but knowing where to start (and stop) in developing you're setting's lore can be intimidating. I created the standalone Fresh Ink and Ancient Song: Lore Fragments Expansion as part of the Deck of Worlds campaign to help with this tricky part of the worldbuilding process.
Last month I did an early release of the complete PDF set of decks and expansions, so I thought I would revisit the sneak peek of the Lore Fragments Expansion that I published last year with the updated card artwork and rules.
Amazing cover art by the EMBERWIND team!
The Lore Fragments Expansion
Fresh Ink & Ancient Song is a deck of 60 cards for prompting the creation of in-world lore for fictional settings. It contains 30 Opus cards and 30 Flourish cards that can be used with The Story Engine: Deck of Worlds or on their own. Here are some examples.
Each Opus provides 4 cues for the format of a piece of lore, such as a folk song, building plaque, wedding toast, textbook, prayer, or creation story. All Opus cues can be interpreted through writing and many cues can also be performed or rendered through visual art.
Each Flourish provides 4 cues for an optional quirk, stylistic flair, or creative challenge to make the lore or the process of creating it more interesting. You may draw and tuck multiple Flourishes for a greater challenge, or discard Flourishes for less restriction.
Example lore creation: the story of the first long summer
Let's build on the Meandering Desert, which I used to demo the Culture Keyholes Expansion in our last blog, Culture Keyholes: Asking Questions at the Heart of Worldbuilding.
Here's the random Lore Fragment draw I pulled for the Meandering Desert.
"WRITE A TRICKSTER STORY / BUT MOTIVATED BY PETTINESS"
A few notes on the combination I chose:
- I was tempted to sketch an artisan's toolbag in the Steadfast Workshop (making them magical), but I'm such a sucker for trickster stories. Still, I think this could have been a really fun choice.
- I also really got into the idea of a love ballad about someone planting flowers on their late lover's grave because I was really attached to the death rituals I came up with in the Culture Keyholes update.
But like I said, I LOVE a good trickster story and Loki was all over social media feeds when I pulled those cards last year, so I thought I'd dive into the spirit of petty chaos and sibling rivalry. I particularly like trickster stories that explain natural phenomena, and I thought it might be fun to come up with a story that explains the "SHORT OR LONG GROWING SEASON" cue from the Attributes ceck. I also had an inkling I could pull the death ritual of planting desert flowers on graves in mourning into the same story.
Here's what I came up with after one draft, doing a bit of editing as I went:
This is the story of the first long summer.
In the time before maps, there was no desert. There was only the vast and verdant Green, and it was ruled by three sisters: Shrew, the forager; Wildcat, the hunter; and Jackal, the scavenger.
Each sister had her season. In spring, Shrew would nibble the roots of trees, bushes, and flowers to awake them from winter slumber! In summer, Wildcat would hunt the creatures that scampered through the underbrush, relishing the rush of the chase. In autumn, Jackal would pick clean the bones and grumble about her lot. And in winter, the three sisters would retreat to their dens and rest.
But as seasons came and went, Jackal grew jealous. She did not know the ways of root, stem, and petal the way that Shrew did. She could not safely tell which berries would fortify you and which would sap your strength and boil your bowels. But she also did not know the way of tooth and claw as well as Wildcat. She was tired of waiting all through spring and summer for her chance to pick spoiling meat from the bones left to her. So she devised a plan.
One winter she left her den and slinked through the snowy woods to the home of Shrew.
"Sister Shrew, our dear Sister Wildcat is complaining of an empty belly," she lied. "She lazed in her hunt all summer and begs me now to bring her food to gnaw on until winter ends. I will bring her all the winter roots and berries I can find, but you must tell me how to tell the bitter from the sweet, the poisonous from the preserving."
Shrew's knowledge of foraging was sacred to her, but so was the life of her sister, so she told Jackal all she knew—how to tell Baneberry from Bucksweet, or toxic Redroot from the sweet coils of Earthmallow that grow deep in the soil, even in winter.
"Very good," said Jackal. "I will gather all the food I can carry and bring it to our poor Sister Wildcat. And I will tell her that it all comes from you, so she knows who to thank for the trouble." And she vanished into the cold forest with a swish of her tail.
Out in the woods, breath misting in the cold, Jackal used her new knowledge to gather every poison that grows from the earth. These she brought to the den of Wildcat.
"Sister Wildcat, our dear Sister Shrew sends a gift. She has been bragging that she is the hardest-working of us, and that she gathered enough food for winter to feed us, her lazy siblings. She insisted I bring these roots and berries to you."
"Hmmm..." said Sister Wildcat, raising a bushy eyebrow. "That doesn't sound like our Sister Shrew. She is indeed hard-working, but also humble. Still, only she knows which roots and berries to pick, so surely this is her gift, and I will gratefully accept it."
And with those words, Wildcat gobbled up all the poisons Jackal had gathered. Soon she began to sweat and ache, her belly churning with distress.
"What has our dear sister done to me?" she asked, mewling pitifully.
"Poison! It must be poison!" Jackal declared.
"Then I will find her, and I will crush her with the last of my strength!" And with that Wildcat lept up and bounded to Shrew's den. With one massive paw, she struck the ground and collapsed Shrew's home atop her poor head, burying her forever in the earth.
Jackal smiled a toothy grin.
"Why are you smiling?" growled Wildcat.
"Because you've killed your own sister, and now you will die, and I alone will rule the Green."
Wildcat roared with grief, but she felt herself growing weak. She knew she could not overpower her treacherous sister now, so instead she put all her strength into a uttering a curse.
"I curse you, Sister Jackal, with all the power of summer. May the noon sun shine hot and long. May it wear down the proud and tall-standing trees so that the shadows you hide in are burnt up. May it hammer the Green so that the only thing to grow are the hardy flowers our sister loved. May it coax blossoms from the earth year after year so that the land remembers her and your treachery."
And then, with a gasp, she died, leaving Jackal to rule over a land of bones and sand and flowers and ruin.
The Cult of the Shrew say that the story reminds us to always look for flowers, for it is only by finding Shrew's buried wisdom that we can find our way back to the Green. The Cult of the Wildcat say the story teaches us that we must think carefully before we unleash our strength and fury. And the Cult of the Jackal say that the story is about atonement, for it was Jackal who passed on knowledge of herbs and roots to us. But that is a story for another time.
It's got some rough edges here and there, but overall it was a lot of fun and I think it connected a lot of the cues from the micro-setting using the cues of the Lore Fragments Expansion. It also did exactly what I designed the Lore Fragments Expansion to do: create lore that broadens and deepens the world. The three animal cults in the second-last paragraph are ones I've love to explore more.
And a bonus lore fragment
In the course of writing the story, I had the idea to also use the mnemonic device + pottymouth cue combo as inspiration to write a crude poem for remembering Shrew's herb lore:
Redroot will give you toots,
Bucksweet gets you high
But be most wary of Baneberry
Or you'll shit until you die
(This is some high-brow stuff!)
That's all for today! If this blog piqued your interest, you can pre-order the Fresh Ink and Ancient Song: Lore Fragments Expansion here!