What's this? A last-minute reading challenge? How strange. You don't usually see these from me.
Long story short, this summer camp has been somewhat different for me. It ended just after my first proper holiday in years began, and I've spent the weeks afterwards looking at people's work whilst travelling the streets of Utrecht, Amsterdam, London, Oxford, and a few other random places. It also meant that for the very first time, I was able to actually be in the same timezone as a majority of people in the Summer Camp chat. You don't really realise what a difference that makes until you've seen what it's like to live in Australia. Most of the day, the chats are dead - it's only when Europe begins waking up in the evening that it comes to life (can you tell that I enjoyed it? Can you tell that I don't want to be back?). As soon as I got back, too, I fell sick. I'm still
sick. We're not sure what with (it's not Covid, not if my repeated self-tests are any indication, but it's close enough in symptoms) but it's been absolutely abysmal and I've been off work for an entire extra week. No, I'm not particularly happy.
Anyway, bio from me aside, the Reading Challenge
is a very sweet community-based feedback challenge from the WorldAnvil team. The goal is to read 9 articles across 3 different user-chosen Summer Camp prompts and provide feedback to the authors, then highlight them here and explain how exactly they've inspired you.
Naturally, I've.. read a lot of things this Summer Camp. Remembering
what I've read might be a bit hard. I've been told this challenge ends at the end of the Summer Camp stream, which begins in less than three hours from 'now' (with now, of course, being 1:30am Australian time), so I've certainly got to go fast. So - let's begin.
Reading Challenge Entries
Prompt 1: A tradition or ceremony which confers an honor on someone
First Blood by Stormbril
This article is what encouraged me to do the reading challenge in the first place. Stormbril continues to prove he's an absolute master with writing, art, and the combination of the two. The article succintly explains the background needed for an unfamiliar reader and quickly descends into some beautifully laid-out prose, something I rarely see done well
. This is done more than just 'well'. The prose has flavour and explains in a very visceral way what the more dry text of a Wikipedia-style article could not, pulling in references to the rest of the world as needed but never once feeling forced.
And can we talk about the decorative designs around the prose box? The CSS is gorgeous.
From an inspirational standpoint, this encourages me to work prose
into my writing more often. I usually refrain, sticking to more neutral perspectives unless the occasion to tell a story comes up, but... perhaps brightbleed
should whisper of the burning pain it causes, or Gaia's Lament
should have an account from those living in the lamented lands. Ideas to hold onto!
But under it all, I felt powerful. Like I could do anything. Like I could make things. Make something of myself.
The High Dive by Ademal
I may have some significant self-bias towards the works of Ethnis. Ademal, Barron, and all who collaborate with them are just so freaking talented, and this tradition is no exception. Though the article is very short (which is a trend in Ethnis, and not at all a bad one), it holds enough context and information that I don't have an issue figuring out what the heck
is going on.
Like with Stormbril's article, this is again a masterclass on including prose with the usual text of an article - if not more so, because it includes far less of the background and relies more heavily on the text instead of the supporting world in which it sits. Though it isn't entirely clear what prompts people to skydive through a tunnel of extreme turbulence, it's evident enough that it's an intense and magical experience for those daring enough to try. Have I mentioned that the prose is beautiful? The prose is gorgeous.
Again, if we're talking inspiration, this is another solid reminder and example of how to truly paint an image with words that goes beyond the standard structure of what WorldAnvil has to offer. And though I've done it many a time, I'd just like to take a moment to appreciate the CSS. Ethnis is still just gorgeous.
It's just a few minutes but it's the most breathtaking few minutes of your life. You feel the power of wind no greater than at that moment.
Last Flight by Riverfang
The other two I chose for this prompt were relatively short and prose-heavy; this is the opposite. RiverFang chooses to instead honour the slow, mournful tragedy of a dragon's death with a beautiful ceremony in which the dragon may return to the earth, transforming from corpse to ore in a ritual that sounds both stunning to witness yet weighty to understand. These articles, where an author makes you truly feel the impact of what they have written, are my favourites.
I'd also like to take a moment to appreciate that not only does RiverFang make this ritual wonderfully touching, but she also ensures it's highly relevant to the rest of her world. She pulls in mentions of the traditions and habitats held by a majority of the dragons, covers their history in brief summary, and even uses this as a way to sow resources throughout the world.
I've done similar with things like arcite
to a lesser extent; this article certainly encourages me to draw stronger ties between the world's boons and scars, and the people and species living upon it. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, RiverFang does here what I wish I could have done in something like Memory's Pathway
. It's just gorgeous.
Dragons were the rulers of the skies, one of the Divine Races blessed with the knowledge of the gods. Why should they be relegated to a mortal death, one with little meaning but so much suffering at the end?
Prompt 2: A tradition or ceremony which confers an honor on someone
Cuille by ShadowPhoenix
Here, ShadowPhoenix cultivates a lurking genetic curse spread down from a deep betrayal of elvenkind - and does it in a way that manages to be both captivating and extremely informative. She not only fills the body of the article with a detailed history of the subject, but does so in a way that satisfies almost every possible question from "when did it start" to "how did nobody notice". The condition is not particularly hard to explain in terms of how it behaves, yet she expands on the basics of "it halves their lifespan" to make clear the exact way it progresses, the societal impacts, and indeed how it begun. She even goes into detail on how it can be lifted, which is a very nice touch.
Overall, inspiration-wise, it strikes me as intriguing to play with curses that have run deep into the genetics of various people. Though I have a lot of more traditional curses and ancient tragedies, I don't currently have anything written for species-wide curses (unless we count the drow
). That's a fantastic idea, and one I shall consider for my second campaign.
I do find it funny, personally, that we have a coincidence in how we name things. The Altan'Luu of her world are those that stood by the gold dragons that can one day lift the curse of Cuille when they have seen their kin be redeemed; Altanluu
, as expanded on in the Aletheian Empire
's sidebar, is a golden dragon in Istralar. We must clearly use the same languages - "altan luu" means "golden dragon" in Mongolian!
Please, guide them to a lighter path and may they redeem themselves once more. When they do, lift their curse and set them free.
Mage Burnout by Lyraine Alei
This is just a really well-written article on a condition that every mage in Corive needs to look out for. I love the idea of consequences for magic. Power should always have a weight to it, a consequence for going beyond what should be available to mortals. In Istralar, those consequences manifest in divine punishment or disturbing external effects, but in Corive, the punishment is tied to magic itself. Not only does Burnout usually kill the mage, but it ensures they cannot be resurrected even if they do
survive - and their magic would forever be diminished. Horrifying. I love it.
I'd particularly like to highlight the detail put in here. Lyraine talks about the effects across physical, mental, and metaphysical levels, details the cause and potential instigating incidents, covers the history and even the treatments. Though there is no cure, she makes it clear that it is possible for someone to survive almost untouched in the rarest of incidents. She even goes into detail on a related physical condition caused at the epitome of someone's need. I cannot be alone in comparing both forms of Burnout to a Final Fantasy limit break, though with dark consequences far beyond that
History describes Burnout as the last weapon of any mage - poems and plays are written describing the tragedy of battles coming down to a single mage and their desperation to protect their home towns leading to destruction.
Mark of a God's Disfavour or the Divine Curse by AmélieIS
Having just read Heaven Official's Blessing, this article is particularly amusing to me. I love works that combine humour with worldbuilding, and it's particularly entertaining to see gods knocked off their all-knowing ever-worthy pedestals to be ushered down to the level of mortals - though it's not quite literal in this case. Amélie here describes the sheer petty bullshit
the gods pull on their mortal followers, with very little oversight on the part of the gods - as she also describes how easily the gods could kill said mortals. It's an immense imbalance of power, with links out to articels on appeasing gods and mortal possession to really reinforce that.
Naturally, with the extreme misuse of power by gods throughout Istralar - see the First Divine War, Second Divine War, the Arcane Compromise
, the Broken Peace
, the Worldrend, and even the Shards of the Void
- I'm a fan of gods misbehaving in everyone else's settings, too. Maybe I should ply some curses around, though I'm not sure my players would thank me for it... oh wait, I already did!
What Amélie's article does have me questioning, though, both in her world and mine, is what mortals can do to handle this. How can mortality stand up to the divine tyrants? Can they even do so? Is there any possible way?
Of course, there is no proper curse, and this is just a popular conception. In reality, the gods are just so pissed off that they follow the mortal around to mess up with their day.
Prompt 3: A tradition or ceremony which confers an honor on someone
Travairtín Pools of Qalˈqat by Yelrafekim
You know how sometimes you open an article and begin reading, and find yourself completely sucked into the world you've stumbled across? That's what happened for me with this beautiful piece of writing. Yelrafekim dives deep into etymology, history, description and it's just really good
. I know, I know, I sound a little bit repetitive at this point but seriously, this is really well-done. This article would not be out of place on an actual Wikipedia page as part of our world, and I'm sure it'd convince people easily. Everything feels so real, from the early traces of life over a milennia ago to the current-day status of being a protected World Heritage Site.
Something I'd like to borrow particularly for my own worldbuilding is the explanation of etymology. I use a lot of real-world languages in Istralar, combined often with fantastical interpretations that to me have a meaning, and yet I never share these - or if I do, it's in veiled mentions in the midst of a panel of text. It's lovely to see Yelrafekim delving deep into conlangs with their worldbuilding, and though I'll never dive that deep, I could at least describe the meanings I do use!
Located just north of the town of Qalˈqat, the striking natural feature was formed over the course of millennia as the warm, mineral-rich waters of nearby thermal springs poured over the hillside, leaving behind deposits of carbónáit minerals which in time formed the dramatic white stone landscape.
The Verdant Gorge by Ononomad
I'm absolutely stunned that this is the first article I'm listing here that includes Midjourney, considering how much I've been using it. Ononomad marries beautifully generated images with fantastic, detailed descriptions of a tiered gorge here. There isn't much in the way of history, but there doesn't necessarily need to be - Ononomad creates a beautiful geographical scene with pictures and words alone, and the opening quote gives an incredible starting vision of what this place must be like.
The way Ononomad splits this area into its sub-regions and
provides illustrations for each (again, Midjourney is a lifesaver and they've done wonderful things with it) is great, and I'm hoping I can draw on this in the future. I've been sprinkling only a few images in each article - I think the Broken Peace
and Order of the Heartblossom
have some of the most images thus far - but this is one of the articles that points out how much more I could do.
But then, a glimmer of golden light was our only warning, our eyes too shocked to register it properly, and we were upon it, within it. Blinded, blinking as we rushed out from the darkness. And finally, as my vision cleared, I beheld the most wondrous of sights I had ever seen.
Lapin Shard by Kitoypoy
First and foremost, I want to compliment the absolutely gorgeous CSS and layout of this article. This is lovely from the moment you first lay eyes on it, and that's before you begin reading the text. Though this is again one of the shorter articles, it's a reminder that short is not any less informative, complete, or good
An anchored shard in the sky inhabited by rabbits draws on a number of different myths, intentionally or not, and I love
seeing the influence of those little inspirations. Moon bunnies are very much a thing in Eastern culture and it's fantastic to see a rendition of that here - and a bit less literally than the Loporrits of Final Fantasy XIV! Kitoypoy brings in a lovely origin myth and a touch of religion to what might otherwise be a pure mystery, and it's the things left unsaid that I enjoy most. How did it actually get in the sky? Was it really the goddess, or something else? How does this island keep all the others afloat?
Not every question needs an answer, and Kitoypoy demonstrates that here. The populace can come up with their own answers, but whether they are true or not doesn't need to be cemented in stone. That
, I love, and though I already do play with that concept a lot, this is a cute reminder to continue. And can we talk about the fact that under the gentle nature of this article, under the rolling farms and praying rabbitfolk, there lies a brutal apocalypse and the end of a world? Apocalypses don't always need to be full of grim nothingness, as they've made blatantly clear!
As the world ended and the goddess Thaya died, the Mother Rabbit cried out in fear and despair. She prayed, "Goddess, even though you are dying, we your children still need you one last time.
As I write this, I sit here stunned as the prizewinners for SC2022 are revealed. I've won three, at the moment, and that has me absolutely gobsmacked. Clearly, I'm doing something right. I'm so happy with the work I've done this year. Midjourney has been an insane
addition to my personal flow, both for being able to lay things out properly and to inspire me. Having an image that perfectly captures what I've been picturing has helped me write with more passion than I could have ever done in previous years, and the constant writing and roleplaying I do with my players (particularly Albie and Owl!) has helped me grow as a writer to no end. I don't think I could be here, writing to my current standard, without the Discord and without participating in all of the previous events. Every year's an improvement.
My campaign draws itself to a close, slowly and steadily, with my players finding themselves soon up against the threat of the Earth-Mother's Gift
- one of the final unopposed Shards. When it ends, I get to kill the gods and birth my own - a process that, behind closed doors, has already begun. I look forward to writing gods and magic, to revealing the continent of Kudara
, and to writing the final eulogies of the characters I and my players have grown to know and love. It's going to be a long and exciting process.
On WorldAnvil, too, I want to make some changes. I still haven't written some of the main cornerstones of my world. Xin-Jiyu
were the first two continents visited in my campaign, and indeed they did not leave Valathe for the first years
of my game. Yet those places do not have articles. This trend continues down to the countries and places they've been themselves, and I really do need to go through and at least allow the world to be somewhat more complete at a base level.
I'd also like to go through a number of my old articles - a process I've already begun with things like the Tengeriin Fleet
- to replace old copyrighted art with new Midjourney/Photoshop creations. I've got a lot to do, and I've already begun my task!