Worldbuilding: Walking the Manticore

If your world is odd, it should have odd jobs. Manticore-walking. Dragon-washes. Demonic contract editors.

…Wait, those might be regular lawyers.

The limits of human ingenuity have ever expanded, but nothing puts them to the test like a determined person out to put food on the table. If there’s something out there that needs to be done, or that enough people want done badly enough, someone will be out there making money at it. For better or for worse.

(Sometimes for very much worse. Two words: Human trafficking.)

Think of the things your hero needs done to do his job. Or that your villain needs done. You can’t run an empire on fear alone, much as many Evil Overlords would like to. Faceless minions have to eat, too. Just ask Sauron.

Odds are whatever your world is, it’ll need normal jobs. Customs. Clerks. Executioners. Shipbuilders, anything from rowboats to space. Librarians. Politicians.

…I know, I know, but politicians are marginally better than a bunch of people getting together and deciding they don’t like group Y and hunting them down with rocks and shell knives. Ask Hypatia of Alexandria. And they’re supposed to be better than monarchs who thing they’re born to rule because. Now if someone would just remind our current crop of politicians of that….

Here’s where the worldbuilding gets intriguing. Depending on your setting, even normal jobs may have a hint of the fantastic. How do you write antivirus software for a partially cyborged brain? Does the farrier need special horseshoe nails for a mount used to hunt down werewolves? Does the cuneiform tablet have to be written on a specific kind of clay to be considered admissible in a court of law? Could a plumber’s typical day on the job include mad science experiments very unhappy to be flushed down the drain?

This is particularly important to think about if you’re planning for your hero to be an amateur detective, or someone in the wrong place at the right time. If you throw your average 9 to 5 cubicle worker directly into a confrontation with the Sidhe, it’s likely to end horribly. But if that same 9-to-5er is the guy everyone counts on to feng shui the workplace, or even just to go get the pool of lottery tickets because they seem to be lucky….

Then you’ve got a wedge for your hero to be just a little out of the ordinary. Meaning it’s more plausible for them to survive when the world goes crazy.

Not to mention, if you really want to have fun writing a story, why not picture the oddest job out there that you’d love to have if it were real? Unicorn herd wrangler, where you get up before dawn with black tea strong enough to stand your hair on end, because the darned horns spook at the scent of coffee. Deep-space salvager, working from old mission reports and a gut feel for how gravitational fields and stellar winds might have drifted the wreck years and centuries later. A blessed plumber, armed with salt, iron, and bleach against the water monsters crawling up the drain.

What would be fun to do – absolutely amazing to do – in the world of your dreams? Then let your characters do it.

After all, you’re a writer. That’s one of the oddest jobs of all!

21 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Walking the Manticore

  1. If there’s something out there that needs to be done, or that enough people want done badly enough, someone will be out there making money at it. For better or for worse.

    (Sometimes for very much worse. Two words: Human trafficking.)

    *shudder* Yeah. Did a good job describing that in A Net of Dawn and Bones. Paraphrased the cop a few times to get through to folks who were (probably only for rhetorical effect) demanding markets without considerations of morality.

    The great thing about fantasy is that you can think up these changes– and then follow them through. While still having fun.

    Could a plumber’s typical day on the job include mad science experiments very unhappy to be flushed down the drain?

    Good way to establish your setting– is this a high magic, loony toons style world? Have the plumber smash the third experiment of the week with his adjustable wrench to shatter the whole “wow this is scary” description you just finished. Is this a low magic, more serious world? He either mentally scans the checklist for “how to deal with this rare but known issue” (think like carbon monoxide) or struggling through the Company Standards book looking for what to do for “tentacles coming out of toilet” — listed by color, alphabetically. So, is that more violet, amethyst or grape?

    (I am totally picturing Cedar’s “cleaning in process” magnet here.)

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Ours LIVES on top of our kitchen stove– there are elves that come and fleck spaghetti sauce and crumbs on the stove. Even when I haven’t cooked tomatoes on the stove for a week…..

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  2. My Hero Academia does this really well with the hero support items and costume designers. No more sewing it together yourself, and no need to have a machine shop in the basement. You (or your school) hire people to handle that. Means you can wreck your suit or equipment and get a replacement more easily than if you were hero-ing out of your own pocket.

    So even though it leads to a fair amount of inane superheroes running around, it’s not hard to see the benefits of the system. If the hero doesn’t have to worry about keeping a roof overhead, food on the table, and a bed to sleep in as much as the early heroes did, he can concentrate more on, oh, tracking down the yakuza guy with the why-is-she-so-bandaged “daughter” than he would be if he was paying for everything himself. Though I will say that releasing one’s real name to the general public is…. Not a good idea. Codenames exist for a *reason,* people. Bureaucracy and celebrity are a bad mix.🤦

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  3. A detail I came across recently was that some medieval communities would require locals to have _some_ sort of official job, or be evicted for vagrancy. (Presumably these were the younger offspring of wealth and power, living on a stipend, and no one wanted them to have free time to go play bandit during the daylight hours.) So the guy who has to go into the sewers with a spear to hunt slimes might be really jealous of his cousin, who gets to have a real life with a spouse, offspring, social importance . . .

    Heck, Gygax even mentioned in the 1e DMG that ‘younger children of gentry’ were a prime source of novice adventurers. Having experience with annoyances that 0-level humans can handle, but would rather not, would explain how they became 1st level when most humans can’t make the leap: They already survived their ‘funnel’ (as Dungeon Crawl Classics puts it).

    For something sci-fi, I can see ‘hibernate while the computers spend 5-10 years scanning this area for the wreck’ appealing to some people. Maybe you can’t leave behind investments because you can’t trust anyone to look after them instead of looting them, but showing back up decades later after you finally find a score, everyone that you couldn’t get along with dead or at least _much_ older, but now you’re back with both youth and the wealth of whatever you found? With sufficiently toxic relatives, it’s got to seem worth it despite the risks.

    -Albert

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      1. Then the relatives or their children come at you, demanding that you restore the ‘missing’ funds from your trust accounts that were depleted while you were away, because ‘you have a responsibility to your family’. Or they insist that you pay the debts they racked up on various failed ventures.

        -Albert

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      2. The judge (who happens to have become a family friend while you were gone) cites irregularities and declares that the previous arrangement stands. Now, here’s your share of the bill, with interest and late fees for non-payment . . .

        -Albert

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      3. Be nice, Albert. Using other people’s lives for stories only works when you file the serial numbers off.

        That’s when you and your fabulous wealth hire a nice discreet hitman.

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      4. The judge thing was a brainstorm. Schmooze him and it biases judgement calls, so it seemed like a good way for a charming sociopath to sleeze favorable legal decisions.V, I hope your legal council knows their legal precedents, for all that it seems like a weak saving through in the case of moral turpitude.

        That said, part of it was drawn from personal experience: My mother’s eldest sibling spent their father’s accumulated wealth on a drug habit, so I know that family can’t be trusted with informal estate access. Also, reddit is full of tales of relatives coming back later with hands out.

        -Albert

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      5. To make it work as part of a story, you – or rather I – would want ‘screwed over by narcissistic sociopath family’ to be part of the try-fail cycle, so they’d get a first victory by taking advantage of the protagonist’s previous gaslighting from them, then when the protag goes salvage hunting and comes back with a decent score they’d have sleezed the legal system to dump all their obligations on the protag in the last couple of decades.

        Then after the protag discharges it through bankruptcy, carefully avoids any further entanglement, gets another ship, and heads out to pick up the _rest_ of the known salvage (which is stored only in one brain, the databanks having been wiped clean) . . . the toxic relatives escalate to violence. Probably deputized as a system guard crew (Space coast guard), with a plan of civil forfeiture plus interrogating the protagonist for the salvage location to pick up the rest of it.

        Protag ends up employing paranoia contingencies and making a break for it to a hypertube leading to a system that refuses extradition with Sol.

        ————————–
        I’m thinking the salvaging is from Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud harvesters, done in the early days of space exploitation when the UN rule about no commercial development of the Solar System was enforced. Eventually that got relaxed, but quite a few harvesters were lost figuring out what not to do when you’re more than a hundred AU from Earth. They aren’t considered worth salvaging by major corporations, because the hypertube FTL cheat is an inner-system setup, due to Newton and Einstein still being in charge of real-space movement.

        Probably should have an early scene where the protag takes a few days to watch a hypertube launch, try for sense’o’wonder in describing how the other half seems to accelerate and then disappear into the alcubierre waveform. Insert legal reason protag can’t get permission to go through one to a new system and new life.

        Anyway, individuals willing to hibernate 5-50 years can coast out there and go looking. They have to go out personally because if they stay in-system and wait for a report, it ends up being a race with others, so better to be on hand when a wreck (or a rocky body worth claiming/harvesting) is found.
        ————————-

        -Albert

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  4. Now I want to see the 9-5 cubicle worker dealing with the Sidhe.

    “How did you handle their constant lies and misdirection?”

    “I’ve been untangling corporate buzz speak for decades. These guys are hilariously straightforward.”

    “That’s great!”

    “Don’t be too happy. They let me go because I taught them about semi-actualized synergistic flex teams. They’re fast learners.”

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  5. Hypatia (and lots of other Alexandrians in other riots) was not killed by actual shells.

    They were baked clay roof tiles, and they were named shells because of their shape. (And in some places, they were stamped with shell designs underneath, for whatever reason. Maybe a designer mark.) Get clonked on the head with a baked clay roof tile or several, or get cut up with the sharp shards… not nice. But there were always lots of shards around, especially if you grabbed a whole bag of them out of the neighborhood dump.

    Most Roman cities, including ones as far away as Britain, had some kind of roof tile manufacturing industry. So yeah, stoning people or clonking people to death with roof tiles was a thing in the ancient world.

    Nobody murders you with thatch or shingles, AFAIK.

    Liked by 1 person

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