I notice that Verduria feels a bit European, which I like. What are some ways that I can replicate that Euro feel in my own stuff?
This was asked on Twitter, but it’s hard to answer in 140 characters.
For Westerners creating fantasy worlds, it’s hard not to make it European. The Standard Fantasy Kingdom is mostly European (from medieval to steampunk). The more of these elements you have the more European it’ll feel:
- A large temperate agricultural zone, sometimes threatened by nomads
- Kingdoms (with a smattering of republics)
- Parliaments (especially as a counter-power to the king)
- A division into multiple ethnic states
- Powerful nobles who ride horses and live in rural castles
- Towns, dense in population, without city planning, with a high degree of autonomy
- At least some maritime nations, with a lot of ship-borne trade
- Advanced in technology compared to other nations, or at least not dominated by larger civilizations
- Large forests where you can hide the trolls or nymphs
- Lots of pretty stone buildings
- A single religion that crosses national boundaries
- Clothing runs to shirt + pants for men, dresses for women
Visually, you would expect to see gothic cathedrals, big stone castles, Renaissance palaces, pleasant hobbitish villages. Buildings are rectilinear; roofs are either flat or A-framed. Animals, plants, and food are all recognizable to Westerners. Armies consist of horse cavalry, sailing ships, infantrymen wielding swords, bow and arrow, or pikes, with catapults as artillery; the upgrade path is to steamships, muskets, and cannons.
Linguistically, the languages could be directly influenced by Europe (as Verdurian is), and don’t stray too far from European languages. Thus, mostly—
- Standard Fantasy Phonology (English plus kh)
- Verbs marked by tense, and possibly number + person
- No gender, or masculine/feminine
- Decimal number system
- Adjectives may be like nouns, definitely aren’t like verbs
Perhaps more subtly, Europe is old. Everywhere has at least two thousand years of history, and things were probably very different 500 or 1000 years ago— different nations, different languages or religions. (By contrast, China is even more ancient, but as far back as you go, it’s still ethnic Chinese. With India, whenever anyone invaded or started a new religion, the old peoples and religions are in general still there. And of course the US is by European standards young and low-density).
Now, in all of the above, I’ve not only downplayed differences between European nations (it makes a difference if you’re aiming at England, Italy, or Poland), but also I haven’t been too concerned with actual medieval history, which often differs from the tropes that we get from fantasy and even from medieval literature. If you really want a European flair to your conworld, my usual suggestion is to read less fantasy and more history. Reality is always far weirder than imagination.
Now, Verduria started as a Standard Fantasy Kingdom, and is certainly affected by my own affection for Europe and European languages. Plus I’ve more or less tried to make Almea stranger the farther you go from Verduria, which means Verduria itself is supposed to seem familiar to Western readers. Still, it’s not designed as a mask of Europe— e.g. particular nations of Eretald are not simply caricatures of particular European nations. It does have some elements that aren’t European at all, and hopefully its history is coherent on its own level— things happen because of their internal logic.
It may be relevant that I aimed at something like 1750s Europe, and if anything pushed that toward 1800 in later work. So one thing you may be noticing is that Verduria is a little more like modern Europe than many fantasy kingdoms— it has steam power, colonies, cannons, universities, joint-stock companies, printing, religious conflicts, and parliamentary politics.
For Americans, Europe has a certain attractive quaintness, fading at the edges into eccentricity or annoyance. We see ourselves as straightforward, pragmatic, and business-oriented, Europeans as alternately charming, hidebound, and arrogant. We imagine that a duchess is somehow much more interesting than a billionaire. Harry Potter’s crumbly old castle of a school is as fantastic an element for us as his magic; Samwise’s forelock-tugging deference to Frodo as alien as the elves. These things would all read very differently to actual Europeans.
I hope that helps— I don’t know exactly what you’ve read about Verduria, and perhaps I haven’t captured what you notice about it at all!
(The picture, by the way, is of Fiesole, Italy, and was taken by my father in 1972.)