In The Beginning: Tomb of The Purple Man

Sherman, set the way-back machine for Fall of 1995. It was a pretty sunny day outside and I was sitting in a Science Fiction English class. The professor, whose name eludes me for the moment, was an old and friendly guy. He was going over a specific passage from the novel “Book of the New Sun” and I was trying to pay attention, but this was the glory days of non-medicated ADHD goodness, so it took serious effort despite being something I found interesting at the time.

The discussion in the classroom shifted, and I found myself drawing a map of a fantasy-world continent where there were two key religions (along with some minor ones) and made up borders. The most important geological feature of the map was the nearly impassable mountain range that separated the eastern and western side of the continents. There was plenty of ore in those hills, but the western nation (Alpha) mined too greedily and exhausted the easily obtained resources, so they tried to open up trade negotiations with the nation on the eastern side (who were more relaxed in their mining practices so they still had plenty available).

Half-listening in on the discussions of war going on in the classroom, I further refined the situation on the map. The northern lands of nation Beta were adamantly Religion Y, and Religion X was in rebellion. Alpha was Religion Y, and because they wanted Delta’s Ore, they could invade Beta (under the guise of squashing the Religion X rebellion and gaining support and followers) as they march around the mountains, then move south into Delta on the other side, who for some reason are actually tolerant of those that practice Religion X despite being Y! I tossed in several more countries and ideas, but I kept coming back to theological differences in a fantasy world, coupled with a scarcity issue with specific resources (in this case, iron).

While it was a great eye and an extensive thought experiment, I didn’t have time to really expand on it. The roughly drawn map went into a binder, and while I didn’t completely forget about it, it did get shuffled in with other documents and I did not revisit the project for several months.

The First Intermission

After a, how-shall-I-say, unproductive trip to Sacramento, California… I wound up working at Xerox in the summer of 1996 at a job where it was my responsibility to create print jobs that would crash whatever printer they were designing. It wasn’t exactly high pressure, high brain-power work. I wound up (during breaks and lunch) creating a new map, one outlining the towns and cities of the Nation of Alphae, and typed up a twenty or so page summary of the various towns and sub-territories of the country, with each town getting a small paragraph describing the location.

To answer “What Does This Planet Look Like” questions, I broke out my copy of SimEarth, and started creating a planet using plate tectonics and worked to mash together enough of a large central mass to contain the mountain chain I needed. Yeah. SimEarth. It was an old game by Maxis, one of the early precursors to games like The Sims 4.

I let life evolve with only the smallest bit of tampering and let the simulation tell me what regions would be desert/swamp/ice caps. Once I was pretty happy with the layout of the world, I wound up printing a couple different pages up showing the biospheres and elevation and so on.

I still had in mind that The Tomb of the Purple Man was going to be a computer game, not a tabletop role playing game. I still have the ten page writeup of how the computer game would look, but dear lord, looking at it now is almost embarrassing.

Still, I was not really keen on the game side of things. I was world-building! I didn’t have any final ideas on the project, but man, was I working on the setting! Then, I moved across the country again, and this time it was a little more permanent.

The Birth of The Tomb

Several months passed and I dusted off the project. I knew I had a good setting. But a couple ideas were floating through my mind. Why were these people there? What kind of planet was it? What races evolved in this environment and why would Humans be there? All storyline aspects, of course, but I wasn’t quite ready to dive into making rules yet. I still had plenty of world-building to do.

But why was the planet a Tomb? Was it leftover from some kind of nuclear war? Why were they Purple? I went through several different ideas (and honestly, I still haven’t nailed it down yet) but I decided that the planet is a variant Earth-like world, where the indigenous people had somehow managed to create a kind of Nanotechnology that turned on them and destroyed all higher forms of technological equipment, breaking down copper and steel alike into organic compounds. These machines remained present in the upper atmosphere for hundreds of years, so when a spacefaring race of xeno-zoologists came to pull up some of the locals for their arboretum, the nanomachines destroyed the ships hull and the many varied and strange creatures they collected on their journeys wound up scattered all over the planets surface.

This specific idea changed over the years. I toyed with the idea that the nanomachines would also be responsible for the magical effects and miracles that existed, and fostered a delusion of Deities (which were artificial intelligences within the nanite swarms). I ultimately rejected this because it just didn’t jive with a lot of other ideas I had fleshed out for the game world. Plus, I wanted to implement an innate, spiritual side for the characters, and this necessitated a number of ‘spiritual’ planes that would exist side-by-side with the Real Lands.

So magic was just magic, miracles were just miracles, and I created a Parthenon that are referred to as “The Powers that Be” to the various populations of the planet.

But I also decided that the entire world was built upon the ruins of a “First World” and that evidence of this world is actively suppressed by the established monarchy of every nation and country. And so, the Tomb was given narrative form.

And, another narrative break…

I’m just now noticing just how long this is, and I’ve only covered the first two~three years of the game’s development. This seems to be a solid place to break for now, I promise I will continue this in a follow-up post soon.

Have a great week, everyone!