Category: Worldbuilding

The Ecosystem of Sacaan

[Note: This was originally posted on my Patreon back in January]

So it’s been a while since there was a worldbuilding post on here, huh? With many apologies to Lizzie, since it’s taken me quite so long to get around to this question:

What is the ecosystem like in the sense of plants/animals/crops? Bonus question: What’s most likely to kill you / is the apex predator?

So some of this ties back into stuff I’ve already discussed with regards to food, inasmuch as a lot of crops and animals wind up on the tables in Sacaan – in terms of crops, we have root vegetables, cabbage, cauliflower, rhubarb, rye, barley, wheat, rice (though that’s a more common staple further south), and a whole passel of berries of various sweetnesses; in terms of food animals (as opposed to fish), we’re talking sheep, goats, yak, deer, reindeer, moose, boar, rabbits, chicken, geese, porpoises, smaller whales, and seals (not all of which are domesticated, obviously).


Folk music in the world of Argentum in Aqua, a tongue-in-cheek summary

So this was originally a Twitter thread, based on a Tumblr post about folk songs of the real world, but I liked it too much not to put it up here as well. It’s heavily focused on Sacaask stuff (unsurprisingly, given that’s where ARGENTUM is set) but there’s also a wee bit of flavour from some of the other nations as well.

Oh Woe Is Me, My True Love Has Died On A Mountain/Under A Mountain/In Proximity To A Mountain/At Sea
Screw You All, We Have Knives
Screw You All, We Have Spears
Screw You All, We Have Fangs
We Won, Let’s Get Drunk
We Lost, Let’s Get Drunk
I Love You, Here’s A Knife
Our Mountains Are Better Than Your Mountains
Our Soldiers Are Better Than Your Soldiers (Because Of The Mountains)
I Miss My Mountains
Oh Woe Is Me, I Am Dying Far Away From My Mountains/On Top Of A Mountain/In Proximity To A Mountain
I Hate You, Here’s A Knife


Hairstyles in Sacaan

[This was originally published on my Patreon]

A very short worldbuilding post this time (I reserve the right to edit and expand on this one later), but one that’s probably a wee bit overdue – how Sacaask culture treats hair, and why Mortimer’s the only straight-haired person with short hair in the main cast.

In Sacaask culture, long hair’s considered the norm for all genders. Most folks who don’t have tight curls wear their hair tied back in some way, with low queues/braids/ponytails very common for masc-presenting folk and more complex styles generally (though not always!) reserved for more fem-of-centre presentations. Braids and headscarves are both used to keep hair out of the face for manual work, and those who’re travelling and know they won’t get a chance to bathe for a while will often braid their hair into what would, in our world, be called a french or dutch braid, keeping it tight to the scalp and out of the way until they get the chance to wash it properly. Wearing your hair loose isn’t a cultural faux pas, per se, but it tends to read as very casual – the equivalent of having your sleeves rolled up and your waistcoat/top button undone.

Short hair in folks who don’t have tight curls tends to be read as signifying one of three things – you’ve recently been very ill, you’re a convict, or you’re a priest.

As in our world, cutting off someone’s hair without their consent is a significant violation and not something that’s done lightly. In the case of convicts, it’s part of the punishment (as well as, admittedly, serving a practical purpose when it comes to lice and other issues), where in the case of those too ill to consent, it’s a decision taken only if not doing so would significantly impact the health of the patient or stop them recovering. Priests are a different matter, inasmuch as they choose to cut their hair as part of certain ceremonies and rituals. It’s a sacrifice, and it’s respected as such.

In terms of our main cast, Mortimer’s short hair coupled with his missing arm and his mannerisms would immediately read to most Sacaask folk as ‘recently invalided-out soldier’, and they’d react to him as such. Viola’s braid says ‘practical’ and ‘traditional’, where Archer and Fest’s low ponytails read pretty much the same as a short back and sides does in the UK. Sabbat’s loose hair reads ‘casual’, as does Amelia’s when she’s not got it braided or otherwise done up (Amelia’s also reads ‘young’ when coupled with her dress sense, which she absolutely uses to her advantage).

Clothing and Embroidery in Sacaan: Part 2 (Weddings)

[Originally posted on my Patreon ]

So last time we looked at Sacaask clothing via what some of our protagonists are wearing. This time around, I’m going to take a slightly different tack and look at a kind of clothing that hasn’t shown up in the story so far: wedding clothes.

Or, to be more specific, the kind of high formal traditional dress seen at a full Sacaask marriage ceremony, because Sacaan actually has two types of wedding: full marriages, and canvas pledges.

Canvas pledges are much more informal – no special clothing required, for one – but just as legally binding, and come about as a result of the Sacaask mercenary tradition, specifically marriages made on the eve of battle in mercenary camps (hence ‘canvas pledge’, since they’d be celebrated under canvas). As a result of their origins, canvas pledges are generally fairly simple in form: all participants in the marriage swear oaths to one another, witnessed by a chosen few trusted friends, then mingle their blood in a cup of wine to solemnise the union. In the case of canvas pledges that aren’t being made before a battle, everyone involved usually stays up late drinking and singing, and there might even be a boot dance or two if someone’s brought instruments along – none of these are requirements, however, and there’re plenty of canvas pledges that’re made quietly between the folks involved and one other person they trust and celebrated with a quiet toast, if that.

Full Sacaask marriages, on the other hand, are a good deal more loud, complex, and crowded, involving several days of ceremonies and gatherings and ritual, and culminating in a feast, a party, and (usually) everyone staying up until well into the next morning drinking and dancing. The thing that outsiders tend to comment on most frequently, however, are the clothes. Sacaask weddings are one of the few events where the really traditional formal clothing is still seen, and it’s a point of pride that, no matter how poor or humble your origins, your family can still clothe you properly for your wedding (for those who don’t have families, various of the temples traditionally step in to take that role).


Transitioning in Sacaan (Worldbuilding)

This isn’t about the experience of being trans in Sacaan – that’s another post entirely – but more a quick look at exactly how someone who wanted to physically change their body as part of their transition would go about doing that.

Unlike in our world, ‘medical’ transition in Sacaan is achieved by way of an enchantment – a powerful permanent spell tied to the soul of the person it’s cast on and sealed with a sigil tattooed onto their skin. The enchantment which allows gender transition is also the only enchantment which survived through the centuries since the Fall, since it was and is part of a religious ceremony and so the words, gestures, components and sigils needed for the spell have persisted as ritual where those needed for other enchantments have been lost or corrupted by time and distance.

Unsurprisingly, the deity whose priests are entrusted with the knowledge of this ritual is Ashkenta, the goddess of transitions, borders and liminal spaces (also knowledge, hunting, and medicine, though those are not quite as important for this specific context). Societally, Ashkenta’s priests are all considered to be neither male nor female (there’s a specific ‘they’ pronoun in Sacaask used for them which would translate out as something like ‘priest-they’ or ‘sacred-they’) and many of them are non-binary or agender in their personal conception of themselves as well.


Clothing and Embroidery in Sacaan: Part 1

(This was originally posted on my Patreon at the beginning of the month)

A question from Lizzie (via message, due to internet issues): I can’t remember if you’ve answered this elsewhere, but what does what someone’s wearing tell about their status, where they come from, etc? I remember that the lovely art of the main characters had quite distinctive common placements of embroidery for instance.

So first off I’m going to take advantage of that very nice comment r.e. art to remind people that there are character portraits of most of the Argentum crew (done by IllustratedJai, who is both a very talented artist and my partner). This is very much an ongoing project, so don’t worry if you don’t see a specific character yet – they’re on their way. 

And, speaking of character portraits, I think the best way to answer this question is actually to take a look at the folks we’ve got so far and what their clothing says about them. So!


Language in Sacaan (Worldbuilding)

[Author’s Note: This was originally posted on my Patreon back in March]

So let’s talk language. And, specifically, Sacaask – the language that our main characters in Argentum are technically speaking.  

I’ve spoken a bit about Sacaask before (Because T-V distinctions are interesting and I am a nerd), but there are a few quirks to the language that don’t translate very well into English, the T-V distinction being one of them. 

Like many languages in our world, Sacaask has an informal and a formal ‘you’ pronoun, and how people use them says a lot about who they are and what they’re trying to put across. Sabbat, for example, almost exclusively uses the informal ‘you’ unless he’s in disguise or really annoyed with Archer and deliberately putting distance between them – he’s not about to give anyone more respect than he thinks they’ve earned, and he doesn’t much care who he offends. Fest, on the other hand, almost exclusively uses the formal ‘you’ unless he’s been told otherwise, even in situations where that comes across as awkward and over-formal – he’s anxious and erring on the side of caution rather than risking offending anyone.


Sacaask Geography (Worldbuilding)

This was originally posted on my Patreon, and is an answer from February’s Q&A. Patrons get the chance to ask me (or my characters) anything, though I reserve the right not to answer anything I deem spoilery or inappropriate.

A question from Lizzie: You mentioned in the about section that the city in Argentum is clinging to the side of a caldera, how does that work geographically with the river? Have you considered making a map of the city?

So the main thing to know about the caldera is that it was the result of a magical explosion, and thus the geography around it is… a bit weird. 

The second thing to know is that Sacaan didn’t start off built into the mountain. It started as a small settlement built into the foothills, around the River Aan (hence ‘Sacaan’, since ‘Sac’ here is a prefix meaning ‘on/around’ in one of the older languages of the continent). As the settlement grew, it expanded upwards until they were building onto and into the caldera wall itself (primarily because there’re natural caves in the rock which could be used for storage, shelter, and living space). 

As the city grew, newer floors were added to the older buildings to keep them at the level of the newer streets – leading to some of the oldest parts of the city becoming a tangle of towering tenements criss-crossed with rickety bridges and ladders, where the lowest levels of the alleyways barely see sunlight even in high summer (the area of the city known as The Deeps).

Sacaan’s also technically built on more than one river – or, at least, more than one water source. The source of the Aan is outside the city, off in the mountains to the west, and by the time it reaches the city it’s wide enough that the bridges arcing over it are a major part of the city’s architecture (and wide enough that there’s an entire section of the city called Dockside), but there are two other water sources in the mountains above the city – these cascade down on either side of the complex which houses the Grand Temple, and then merge with the Aan as it flows through the city.  

I am absolutely going to make a map of the city at some point (if for no other reason than allowing me to keep the details straight in my head), and it’ll hopefully make a lot of how this works a bit more clear. 

In terms of how the city works in general, though, it’s divided up into Quarters and, within those, into districts (and smaller districts within those). The University’s in the University Quarter, the temples are in the Temple Quarter, and a pile of the richer members of society live in the Old Quarter (which is, confusingly, the second oldest part of the city – the River Quarter’s older).

So, for how this works: The Crossed Daggers (the tavern/thieves kitchen where Sabbat lives) is in Steepside, which is a part of Old Town, which is a district of the River Quarter. Dockside is also a part of Old Town (though there’s some dispute on that) and while Docksiders and Steepsiders pretty much hate each others’ guts they’ll band together against folks from outside Old Town – and if someone from outside the River Quarter comes causing trouble, Docksiders and Steepsiders will happily stand shoulder to shoulder with folks from all across the Quarter to kick them back to where they come from. 

I’ll round this out with a chunk of description which I’m still proud of, because this city:

‘Once, when the city had been significantly younger than it was now, the River Quarter had been the entirety of Sacaan. As the city had grown, it had found itself overshadowed by newer, taller, grander buildings, until what remained of the oldest parts of the settlement was now a multi-level sunken slum, crisscrossed with rotting wooden catwalks and rusting iron ladders, and possessed of enough side-alleys and back-streets that even a vampire’s lifetime wasn’t enough to catalogue them all.

And, of all the districts which made up the River Quarter, Old Town was by far the least welcoming – a dark, claustrophobic huddle of creaking timber-framed tenements and half-width paths clinging like ivy to the side of the mountain spur on which several of the more salubrious neighbourhoods of the city were built, and spreading out at its base into a sprawl of shadowed streets running mazelike through a web of ramshackle taverns, boarding houses and brothels, most of which seemed to be almost constantly being added to, repaired, or otherwise worked on.’

Dancing in Sacaan (Worldbuilding)

[Author’s note: this was originally published on my Patreon back in May]

Humans and human-shaped beings love to dance – across time, across space, across cultures, we’ve been moving our bodies to music for thousands upon thousands of years. Most fantasy cultures are no different, however human-shaped they may or may not be (though now I’m thinking about how dances would develop to take into account things like wings and tails and centaur body-patterns, and that’s a whole ‘nother rabbithole right there) – as soon as folks develop rhythm, they’ll want to move their bodies to it one way or another.

In the world of Argentum, much like in our own world, every culture and country has at least one dance they call their own, though for the purposes of this post we’re only going to look at the styles common in Sacaan (not least because they’re the only ones I’ve actually put a lot of thought into yet). 

So! Sacaask folk tend to split their dances into two distinct styles: boot dances (fast, acrobatic group dances) and slipper dances (often slower, more court-type dances). Both types are danced by all genders, and there’re some dances which blur the boundaries between the two – faster slipper dances or slower boot dances can often be danced in either style.

Boot dances tend towards faster music with a lot of clapping and stamping, and , whether outdoors or indoors, are danced in outdoor boots (which means they absolutely ruin wooden floors if danced in hobnails). Usually either all the dancers dance together, or two-or-more ‘sides’ dance in competition (real or pretended). If it’s a sides dance, expect to see one to three dancers from each side moving to the middle of the space to duel/show off at each other, including mock-fighting and moves which, if they’re not performed perfectly, have a tendency to send one or more of the dancers tumbling headlong off the side of the dancefloor.  

Slipper dances, by contrast, are danced indoor-only, tend to be slower than boot dances (though not always), and are danced in specially-made dancing slippers (unsurprisingly) or soft-soled indoor boots. Traditional slipper dance tends more towards a role-split than boot dance, though in role-split dances women can dance the ‘buck’ role and men the ‘doe’ (and third-gender/non-binary folk can dance whichever suits them).

Both slipper and boot dances can include bells (worn on the dancers’ wrists, ankles/legs and/or belts), but boot dances can also include sticks, swords, and even polearms – a holdover from their origin as displays of martial prowess at post-battle celebrations.   There are slipper dances which include weaponry, but they tend to be reserved for very special occasions – there’s a wedding dance which involves an exchange of  knives mid-dance, for instance. 

Before the Revolution, boot dance was rare in certain quarters of the city – while acknowledging it as part of Sacaan’s cultural heritage, the upper class tended to prefer slipper dance as the style of choice, and boot dance was primarily confined to taverns in Steepside and other lower-class areas (as well as the homes of very traditional nobility, who had no truck with fads and fashions). The aftermath of the Revolution saw a sudden influx of mercenaries into the Sacaask nobility – and, unlike their forerunners, these newer nobles saw no need to leave the dances of the camp in the field. As a result, boot dance suddenly gained a foothold in upper-class society once again, and now, almost a quarter of a century later, even the most fashionable parties are likely to have a least a few boot dances on the card.

(The lower class of the city never lost their attachment to either style – both slipper and boot dances have been danced in Sacaask slums as long as there’s been a city)

Sacaask Food (Worldbuilding)

[Author’s Note: This was originally published on my Patreon back in April]

From Redwall Abbey’s sumptuous feasts to Valdemar’s pocket pies and Samwise Gamgee’s memeable longing for taters, food – the preparation of it, eating of it, and lack of it – is a major component of fantasy fiction for a reason. The foods of fantasy worlds offer us a sensory window into the experiences of the characters, as well as a sense of the greater world outside the story we’re being told – and, described correctly, a single meal can do the work of ten pages of exposition when it comes to the social, environmental and political climate of a city, culture or nation. 

And, if you do choose to go that way, there’s a whole rabbithole of research that awaits you. Want to spend multiple hours on the migratory habits of herring and how they relate to the ecosystem you’re building? Because that’s a thing you can absolutely end up doing, if you’re not careful (ask me how I know. All I wanted to do was describe a damn breakfast table). 

Or, if you prefer, you could do what I’ve currently ended up doing: decide what feels right for the place and people and then backform as much as you need to from there. I’ve no doubt I’ll end up back in the culinary research mines at some point (likely when I’m procrastinating over a scene that’s causing me issues, let’s be honest), but for now I’m squarely on ‘what do I think they’re eating for breakfast?’ and then ‘and is it blatantly immersion-breakingly illogical or impossible for them to be doing that?’

In terms of the world of Argentum in Aqua, I do have a get-out-of-jail-free-card in my back pocket when it comes to logical foodstuffs. The world pre-Fall used highly advanced magitech, including irrigation and farming technology which outstripped anything which the current age of the world has access to. Though the Fall destroyed pretty much all active tech, it didn’t undo a fair amount of the terraforming and the passive irrigation setups, allowing for some crops to end up being growable in this world in climates which they’d otherwise not work in in ours. 

Add to that the fact that Sacaan’s lands are the interior of a caldera, meaning they’re planting in volcanic soil, and we’ve got a handwavey reason for certain foods ending up on the breakfast table (though I’ll admit that the marmalade is possibly a bit of a stretch. On the other hand, trade absolutely exists, and preserves and pickles are absolutely a thing which folks send back and forth). 

So what do folks in Sacaan actually eat? Well, that depends on who you are and how much money you’ve got to burn. Overall, Sacaask food tends to be calorie-heavy and fairly rich and/or sweet, especially in the city and the areas above it in the mountains – no surprise, given how cold the place is for most of the year. 

The sweetness, in the main, comes from berries and (mostly imported) honey, with berry jam as a fairly standard sweetener for black teas. Richness often comes from dairy, with cheese, cream and butter as common components of both savoury and sweet dishes. 

Meatwise, preserved meat is more common than fresh, especially for lower-class folk – salted meat and jerky are very common trail foods, as is pemmican. Fresh fish is surprisingly affordable, with both sea and river fish turning up on the plates of rich and poor (some of the poorest folks living on the outskirts of the city do their own fishing, where others trade for the dregs of the sea catch which comes into the docks). 

Pancakes are a very common street food, usually filled with either berry compote or a mixture of stewed meat and dried fruit – both types are most often served with a generous helping of sour cream. Other street foods include stew (ladled out into the buyer’s own bowl or tankard), small pies/pasties which can be eaten at the stand or hidden in a pocket to eat later, and baked potatoes with a variety of fillings. 

Sacaask food tends to involve a fair amount of root vegetables – onions and potatoes feature quite heavily – but cabbages, leeks, cauliflower and rhubarb are also a part of the city’s diet (stewed rhubarb is a very popular dessert, paired with the ubiquitous sour cream). 

Given the fact the city has two natural waterfalls running right through the middle of it, access to fresh water for drinking and cooking is surprisingly easy. Strong black tea is the traditional hot drink, though tisanes are also drunk and a sudden increase in the importing of coffee within the last fifty years has led to a flourishing of coffee houses (a common haunt for students, scholars, and People Who Want To Loudly Have Ideas At Each Other).