Posted by: kshayes513 | October 31, 2008

Inventing Kargat

Happy Halloween!

One of the revelations of worldbuilding, is the way important and even essential aspects of a world can show up very late in the process. And an apparently minor worldbuilding question sometimes triggers an avalanche of ideas that radically alter the world you thought you knew.

Kargat, the game which the children are learning in The Master Patterns, is central to Khasran’s culture, history and magic: almost any story I’ve drafted or planned in the past 10 years has a game of kargat in it. It’s so essential now that I’ve sometimes had to work to make sure that not all my story plots hang on the outcome of a game! But it took me years to discover kargat. I started with a relatively minor question–or so I thought. Here’s the thinking process that led me to the creation of the game:

The earliest Arabian fantasy version of this world was a novel called The Crystal Lamp, because the exiled Prince gains a magical lamp made of pure, clear crystal. No genie in this lamp, it was a source of magical light and energy that he could direct at will, to help him win back his crown.

Then Khasran stopped being an Arabian fantasy, but my prince still needed a magical artifact, so I turned the Crystal Lamp into one of those beautiful crystal globes you can buy in new age shops.

But wait a minute! An oil lamp is a useful everyday object in the Middle East, so I figured the hero’s new magic crystal should be based on an ordinary object as well. What can you use a pocket-sized, polished round crystal rock for?

Hmm, maybe it’s a game piece, the Khasrani equivalent of a checker? Ooh, that’s a cool idea! So what kind of game do these people play? If they were originally nomads in an arid climate, using stones as game pieces makes a lot of sense, because stones are commonplace. Sand is everywhere, too, so let’s make the game board just a circle drawn in the sand. People throw their stones in patterns on the circle and whoever throws the strongest pattern wins.

Where do they get the patterns? Maybe from the constellations? Then they can create patterns that are variations on the basic star patterns, so there could be hundreds of different patterns with all different meanings.

Okay, but this game seems like it ought to be more than just a simple game of strategy and skill. Games can have power, too, like using a card deck for fortune telling, or the symbolism of chess as a power struggle in medieval stories. So maybe when people play this game, they’re manipulating the forces of cosmic energy that are all around them. So playing kargat is actually a way of using or directing magic.

The moment I had that concept, the game spread like grass into every aspect of this culture, and still spreads, until now I can’t imagine how I worked in this world without it.

I didn’t invent the name kargat, if “invent” means trying out different names and brainstorming and tinkering around until you find something that sounds good. When I had arrived at the need for this game in this world, I thought, “Oh, help, now I have to think of a name for this game, I hate thinking of names!”

And a voice in my head answered, very clearly, “The game is called kargat.” And so it is.

Every time I write a story with a kargat game in it, I learn something new about the game. I’m not great at board and strategy games, so any reader with aptitude in this area will think of a zillion aspects of throwing stones in patterns in the sand, that just haven’t occurred to me. Like the editors at On The Premises, who, on first reading “The Master Patterns,” asked me what makes one pattern harder than another, if playing kargat is just a matter of throwing stones in patterns in the sand? This led me to some some grumbling about having to deal with concepts I’m not good at, then to some more careful thinking, and finally to this new line about the beginner patterns: “They were simple patterns and simple to throw, demanding only a general relationship among the stones, not precise placement in the kargat.

And so the creation process goes on.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. You realize, of course, that some day we’re going to have to have a separate book on kargat, with all the patterns shown and all the rules explained? 🙂

    Marilyn

  2. Yes, there could be a book on all the kargat patterns and rules, but it wouldn’t help anyone play kargat in our world, except perhaps as a simple strategy game of pattern against pattern. Even then, it would be pretty arbitrary as to which pattern was “stronger.”
    In Khasran’s world, every player, every pattern, every set of stones, and every individual game is connected to the cosmic energies present at that moment. A pattern that wins in one situation might lose in a different situation. That’s what makes it interesting.

  3. “apparently minor worldbuilding question sometimes triggers an avalanche of ideas that radically alter the world you thought you knew.”

    Yeah, you can say that again. It still amazes me how you can spend tons of time on maps, histories, royal lineages, language syntax and it ends up being questions like “what kind of beer does this guy like” that just get the creation process spinning out of control. That and little tiny scenes you come up with that take on huge significance in sudden bursts of inspiration and give you everything you need to know about character histories and motivations.

    I liked your chain of thought on how Kargat came to be. At the end you’re like “of course” and can see how it fits. You’re in fine company making it an aspect of the world and part of your storytelling. I’ve read a few stories using chess and the tarot that way.

    And as a gaming geek, if you ever need any help with that Kargat rulebook, just let me know. 🙂

  4. “It still amazes me how you can spend tons of time on maps, histories, royal lineages, language syntax and it ends up being questions like “what kind of beer does this guy like” that just get the creation process spinning out of control.”

    I went through a phase where I thought I had to map out all kinds of detail before I started writing. Maps, architecture, all kinds of names; I remember going through my lists of Arabic and Persian names and trying to decide which names the nomads use and which the settled people use? (that way madness lies, at least for me!) Some people do like to do that kind of elaborate worldbuilding just for its own sake, but these days, I find I’m not one of them. I do the work I need for the story at hand. Which can sometimes stop my draft dead for days, if its a subject I haven’t explored before. But then, while the draft is stopped, all kinds of new stuff is popping into other parts of the tapestry to be used in other stories.

    “I liked your chain of thought on how Kargat came to be. At the end you’re like “of course” and can see how it fits. You’re in fine company making it an aspect of the world and part of your storytelling. I’ve read a few stories using chess and the tarot that way.

    I’m hopeless at chess and similar strategy games, so I’d suck at the strategy aspects of kargat! The rest I might be good at, though. I think one of the reasons I took up tarot a few years ago was because of kargat.

    “And as a gaming geek, if you ever need any help with that Kargat rulebook, just let me know. 🙂

    Thanks! Maybe when the novels become hot fantasy properties, there’ll be work needed on a Khasran RPG, too.

    Of course, I have to write a few novels first….

  5. A Khasran RPG? Cool beans! Could even market collector Kargat sets! It’ll be HUGE!

    Better get cracking on those novels. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: