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Author Topic: An original dark fantasy setting inspired by feudal Japan [M seeks F characters]  (Read 792 times)

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Offline BardingTopic starter

:: Shireshoto ::
An original historically-inspired fantasy setting by Barding

The forest hides much.

The mountain’s roots and the mists that cling to them come morning and dusk. The fox who runs, hunter and hunted, darts one moment towards birdsong, and stoops the next towards a saltlick at the feet of an ancient tree. It stains the lacquer-black bark in glittering white, as if the sea has turned tides round this tree for centuries, and its wood has drunk of it long and deep in all that while. And yet the ocean is a hundred ri from here, and has been since these isles rose from beneath it.

The six peasants who are peasants no longer, for they have slipped the yoke, fled their fields, their lord, the valley that saw them born and expected to see them die. They speak in low voices, as if fearful that the birds will hear their talk. Of finding and joining the One-Minded Many, and better days to come. Of home, and hunger, and winter. Of overproud samurai, and where their pride will lead.

The ronin who walks beneath the branches, treading soft and small with patience. Hers is the gait of a woman with nowhere to be, and no occupation now but walking. Unlike the runaways, she was made masterless, by no choice of her own. A moment of glory, and then a lifetime cursed to shame, she and her master died back to back in battle. But five days later, she woke to pain – sword-wounds and arrows, clothes stiff with blood and armour caked with dirt – risen again where her master lay dead.

The castle, burnt to black stones and bare rafters. Birds roost there sometimes but seldom stay long. Slow, down the years, the forest’s hems gnaw at its ruin. In time the trees will swallow it, and take back what was taken from them to build it, long ago.

The thing of horns and tusks that sleeps in its shade and dreams fevered dreams of the sea where spirits swim, stranger and farther than ever mortal knowledge can hope to go.

The forest hides much in its shadow and quiet. But beyond its reaches, war rages in Shireshoto, as war always has. In a land where death refuses some and makes their broken bodies mend, war stretches thin and constant as an owl’s cry on the wind.

Shireshoto is a cluster of islands. Some large and with mountains for their backbones; some small, barely rocks, risen from the sea. But they are tight-knit, like the cracked and half-healed sections of the same scab on the ocean’s body. Sea-Bridges older than history span, black iron and ancient etched wood, between the larger islands like sutures holding them together. But otherwise, the Shiren islands stand isolated, in a green expanse of ocean.

Their history is a fraught one. It was once the battleground of two mainland empires, the Yuan and the Hangsul, but for centuries now Shireshoto has existed in isolated independence, under its own imperial family.

Nearly immortal, with their longevity sustained by draughts, drugs, and the constant efforts of court alchemists, the emperor or empress is a living sign of divine favour — that the gods of sun and sea look kindly on Shireshoto. Illness and age cannot kill an emperor, but they will die to blades and poison as will any man or woman. But as age and death haunt all living people, the position of emperor is an enviable one. Moreover, the continued life of an emperor is an omen of stability, and the coronation of a new emperor is a herald of great change. As such, the dynasty is rife with assassinations and coups, whether as attempts to seize unnatural long life by others in the imperial dynasty, or at the hands of rebels and dissidents seeking a powerful symbol to usher in the new order they pursue.

Despite this, the role of emperor is mostly a religious one. The emperor exists in this age to bestow power upon those who truly rule: the shogunate. Whichever noble clan holds the fortress of Kuroishi holds hostage the palace, court, and capital city of Eioto, and with it commands the empire’s power. The shogunate polices the land, commands the fealty of all lesser clans, and has in its grasp the whole feudal framework of Shireshoto, duty and loyalty and taxes and all. That is, until another contender for Kuroishi arises. And there is always at least one clan with designs upon the shogunate.

In the shadows or under the open sun, the clans whose fiefs comprise the nation vie against each other, positioning themselves or those they support to rise as the next shogunate. This is always the way. These things comes in cycles. Since before its independence there has been war in Shireshoto, to one extent or another. Grudges play out between daimyos and their descendants, passed down through the clan like wealth and names are. The shogunate and the imperial throne are both strong lures to ambition and violence. But also to blame for the constancy of conflict in this part of the world is a simple strange truth: death in Shireshoto is unusual.

While the emperor cannot die any long fading death, they can be killed. There are those in Shireshoto, however, who death refuses. They age, and in time will die, but until then they cannot be killed by common means. Break their bodies and they will only heal. They will always come back. Even the greatest violence will only delay them. It has all the trappings of a curse. No regard for class or caste, family or deeds. Rather it strikes at random, raising peasant and merchant and samurai alike from suffering that should have killed them, to suffer again perhaps, and again, and again…

It’s these Shimugen – these undying ones – who drive and perpetuate Shireshoto’s clans wars, and wars for the shogunate. They make sure there are always bodies for battles. They set inhuman examples of bravery for those not gifted with the same curse they suffer under. And whether as mercenaries, assassins, or in service or leadership of samurai clans, they often influence events in one way or another. Of course, some simply try to live their lives as normal, going on as they did before. But marked as they seem to be by fate, greatness may not find them, but trouble will always tend to. And in a world so obsessed with caste and class, Shimugen may rise beyond their station, if not to respect and honor, then at least to fame and wealth.

Strife is native to this world, and in Shireshoto it reigns supreme. This era in particular is one of blood and ash.

A war rages for the shogunate, and within this great war smaller wars are fought. Clan strives against clan. Many hope that when this era remakes Shireshoto, their family will be better placed, richer, with greater deeds to its name. Many other clans hope only that their family will survive, while its enemies fade from history.

The surrounding stormfronts that once isolated the islands have lapsed of late, and mainlanders and westerners – Nanban – have begun to land on Shireshoto’s shores. They bring trade, firearms, mercenaries. But more than that, they bring new faiths and ideas, suppressed by the status quo, but finding footholds all the same. Their faith in the West is called the Lay, but in Shireshoto its followers are called only the Hidden.

A movement of monks and peasants is gaining traction too: the Single-Minded Many. Philosophers and revolutionaries, they seek  freedom from the feudal system and a more equal society. Whether by isolating themselves from it in wild places, or hacking new fiefs and communes for themselves from the ashes of the old order, this is an age that will still see them forced to fight for their cause.

And as ever, the wild places of this world remain weird and hostile, touched by the tides of the Spirit Sea that overlays and lies beneath the reality of all things. Where the Spirit Sea is strong it makes for otherworldly places. It sows madness and enlightenment in the minds of men and women, creates spirits and monsters from people and animals, and gives voice to ghosts in the land of the living.

New faith grows in the shadows, for all its adherents are oppressed and hunted. Once-great clans collapse overnight. Peasant rebellions spread like brushfires. And the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Offline BardingTopic starter

The Nitty-Gritty

That’s the preamble. The flavour and tone of the setting, and the broad strokes laid down on the page — the map too, if you clicked through that link. But now down to the nitty-gritty.

Shireshoto is a a fantasy setting heavily inspired by Japanese history. Specifically the Muromachi period, of the 14th to 16th centuries, and the Sengoku Jidai. It’s part of a wider original worldbuild of mine that I use to create fantasy settings based on but not confined to strong historical parallels. It is, however, not an alternate universe of the real world. There are differences, strangenesses and for every parallel there’s also a contrast. Still, Shireshoto remains a land of samurai and shogun, shinobi and sohei, and peasants just trying to get on with their lives beneath it all…even when destiny has other ideas.

I’m looking to tell stories within this setting. I don’t have particular plots in mind. Just the setting itself. And really, even that’s detailed in places, but vague and loose in others. I’d love to brainstorm plots and characters with any prospective cowriters, perhaps work to fill in the blanks in this setting. Together I hope we can come up with something gripping and inspiring.

Before we go any further though, here’s what I’m looking for:

Above all I want quality writing. I don’t care what tense you prefer to use, or whether your write in first or third person. On that front I’m easy, adaptable, and happy to experiment. I won’t, however, budge on quality. And by that I mean more than just good grammar and a fluent grasp of English. I mean detail and a grasp of pacing and rhythm. A sense of style, preferably appropriate to the story’s tone.

I’m looking for writers capable of playing female characters. Your real life gender doesn’t bother me. What I care about is your ability to create and play interesting, balanced characters, every bit as psychologically complex as any real person worth a damn.

Creativity. Imagination. A dash of enthusiasm and maybe even a tendency to get carried away when thinking, creating, plotting and scheming? A love of brainstorming and world-building, perhaps. Those wouldn’t go amiss. And nor would a fondness for literature and interest in history.

Talking of history, I recognise that a working knowledge of relevant history and culture would be useful here. However, this is an original setting and not a direct translation of a real world time and place. As such, creativity and a willingness to research and ask me questions are more important than a solid academic grounding in the subject. (Though obviously that’s very welcome too!)

For further details, head over to my O/Os page. Have a read, and if you like, PM me and tell me what leapt out at you. Tell me where we agree and where we might not. Tell me what interests we share. Anything that particularly excited you, and perhaps any ideas you might’ve had while reading.

If this suits you, and sounds like it appeals, PM me with your questions, your curiosities, your interests, and ideas. I look forward to discussing them with you, and brainstorming what we might do with this world I’ve created. For now, I’ll leave you with a list of my wider inspirations for this setting, and I look forward to hearing back from you all soon.


The jidaigeki movies of Akira Kurosawa: Ran, Throne of Blood, Seven Samurai, and so on. Takashi Miike’s new wave of brutal samurai features, such as Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, and Thirteen Assassins. Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori. Far too much time spent on Wikipedia. And, in a roundabout way, video games like the Dark Souls series, and more recently, For Honor.
« Last Edit: July 17, 2017, 10:56:38 am by Barding »