Wyrd Daze Six: Worldbuilding with Ethnis
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I do better talking about Ethnis than about myself, but here goes:
I am Ademal, owner and primary developer of Ethnis. By day I lead the exciting life of a middle manager and server database engineer, and the rest of the time I wear a dizzying variety of hats. For World Anvil I am part of the community admin and outreach, for
How to be a Great GM I am a community admin, content curator, and stream helper, and then of course there’s Ethnis, of which I am the owner and central developer.
I like to keep busy.
Ethnis is my life’s work. I have tried to work on other projects, but the moment that they start really growing they end up getting cannibalized by Ethnis.
I hope you have a fraction as much fun reading and playing it as we do creating it.
I’m the high-adventure loving half of Ethnis. I was introduced to Ethnis while getting my
Bachelor’s in Computer Science along with Ademal. Since the first game of Ethnis I played, a decade ago, I’ve been contributing ideas. Of course that role has gotten a lot more serious as time went on!
I’ve worked as an indie mobile game dev, and I’m currently a hardware engineer, and serving as community outreach for World Anvil. With all that, Ethnis still remains the true passion, both the Universe and the RPG systems underlying it.
Ethnis is my life goal, and I hope to bring about my own skills and mindset and ideas to help make Ethnis as believable yet fun as possible. So far I like to think it’s going pretty good!
What is Ethnis?
Ethnis is on the other side of a vast divide of history. There is a war going on and everything is on the line. It’s a war between seven Banners, thousands of planets, and quadrillions of people. This war is The War, the sum of life and death; every reason to fight played out at once, a controlled burn of faith, pride, politics, money, bigotry, and necessity.
Somewhere, in all of this, is you.
You live in Ethnis, among its people. You know of the Meta, and how it allows you to command the nature of the world around you. You know of the Wayhall—the path through the stars—and you know of the Banners, the Sophont, the Sovereigns, and most importantly: The Wheel.
You know this because Ethnis is home.
Ethnis a massive science-fantasy setting which serves as a backdrop for stories in many types of media. It is a careful blend of absurdism, philosophy, adventure, horror, sensuality, and drama, and is equally apt to have you crying tears of joy as tears of sorrow. With multiple large narratives, piles of flashfic, and new content being released constantly, you’ll never find Ethnis lacking in rich stories, characters, and concepts.
Attached to Ethnis is a graveyard of video game implementations and two in-progress RPGs. The first RPG is Ethnis Core, an ambitious system which facilitates doing all of the insane things outlined in Ethnis lore such as creating life, piloting mechs, becoming gods, ruling a planet, and more. The other is Ethnis Lite, which is a stripped-down version of Ethnis Core which focuses on fast, fun mechanics and which is setting agnostic—
we already have 8 other settings by 8 other authors who are in the process of adding it to their own settings.
Fear becomes passé when it is constant.
It is our lot to rage against the dying of the light, to fight with primal furor and disarm that primordial dread of its scythe and hourglass with the wonders of science. We have slain the horsemen, stolen their steeds, and now use them to terrorize each other.
This era is not one belonging to Death, it belongs to unrepentant, unforgiving, unrelenting life.
Make it count.
Parisan Martial by Antti Hakosaari (Fullsize)
What were your inspirations for creating Ethnis?
Summarizing the inspirations is a challenge. Ethnis began as childhood ramblings about 21 years ago. It has grown since, both in maturity and scope, but the seeds (and some of the characters) of those early editions remain. Add to that a lifetime intake of media, the 10-year involvement of Barron, and a whole crew of vocal fans, and you end up with many inspirations indeed!
To name a few big ones which come immediately to mind: Stephen King, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, David Cronenberg, Studio Ghibli, Warren Ellis, and Tom Parkinson-Morgan, though I’m sure if you asked us in a month we could get you an entirely different list. The only real constant is that it reflects the issues we face within ourselves and that we see in the world. It wouldn’t be a very good experience if it didn’t have that interpersonal relationship with the readers and authors, would it?
The fact that we have so many inspirations can be a problem unto itself sometimes! We have to be tactical and section our influences out into the different parts of lore, otherwise Ethnis would just be an incomprehensible mud of ideas.
Tell us about the Ethnis Novel. Is it a stand-alone or part of a series?
Up front: don’t read it. That’s not reverse psychology—I wrote it 11 years ago, it no longer fits canon, it’s overpriced, I barely make anything from it, and I have been pestering the publisher to remove it from their listing. It’s not a terrible book, but there are better ways to support and enjoy Ethnis.
There, disclaimer done.
It was a great experience. I grew a lot as a writer and an editor at that time. I still had a long way to go, but it made me respect how much I really had to do if I wanted to be an author.
It was meant to be a part of the series, but when I return to that series I’ll be taking it from scratch instead of trying to republish the same novel. I’ve learned a lot since then, and have built the entire rest of the Ethnis Universe in that time.
Vigor Mortis by Ademal (Fullsize)
I gather you’re also planning some serial fiction—what kind of stories do you want to tell?
Since the dawn of Kyzan many millennia ago, the Ethnis has always had its major players. Over time, these groups have grown. Tribes merged and became nations, nations merged and became planets, planets merged and became Banners.
Each Banner holds a series of Values that they abide by. They also harbor dark secrets which protect them from their enemies. Most are headed by select individuals or an individual. All of them hold hundreds of planets, trillions of citizens, and enough military power to send all of Ethnis back to square one.
Faeoverin by Antti Hakosaari (Fullsize)
As many varieties as we can manage to, really. At this point I think we have more stories slated than we have life to make them. Some particular serial fiction we have at the moment is Barron’s Ethnis Eats, which is an exploration of food culture, backroom politics, psy-ops, and social media within Ethnis, but we also want to do a series about Euologists, which are essentially people who visit dead worlds and write it a Euology explaining how they failed–a bit like Speaker for the Dead but for a planet.
Personally, I love telling stories of high adventure and the exploration of cultures, while I see Ademal telling darker and more suspenseful tales. The important thing I want to get across is that there are so many stories I think we can tell in Ethnis. We are building a massive world that in time will rival the size of community-driven works like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. So if I want to explore something dark, I can. If I want to explore something bright, it’s all on the board.
Tell us about the art of Ethnis.
The art of Ethnis until just recently was whatever Ademal and his previous S.O had time and passion to draw. We got some amazing work out of it, but as time went on, Ademal started picking up Photobashing. And now that we’ve become far more public, we’ve experimented with a couple of artists. A commision here and there just to see who we can work with and who fits the unique style of Ethnis.
Right now I’m absolutely in love with Antti’s work, and it’s been a fantastic experience working with him, so I personally hope our relationship keeps growing!
What were some of your experiences playtesting the TTRPG?
I remember playing the first versions of Ethnis in college, when Ademal was first getting the ideas. I played Johnny Durange, a human sniper-medic (Essentially my Call of Duty class). It was my first TTRPG experience, and it got me instantly hooked on it. I loved being in control of my character and his interactions, it was liberating! Heck I remember in the first versions of Ethnis you actually had to act out your spells by hand and Ademal would tell you what happened. Good times that.
But since then I’ve played a ton of memorable characters that always wind up teaching me more about myself. Most of them can be found on WA in some form. Every time we played, we would find more things to trim and polish though, so even though we were having amazing fun with the stories we were always balancing that and taking feedback and implementing new systems. I think that’s going to continue for a while, especially with Ethnis Core, which we really want to be our end all TTRPG system.
Will TTRPG players be able to influence canon events in Ethnis?
My knee-jerk reaction is to say no, but in truth it’s already happened. If two minds are better than one, then a whole party of creative, invested players is going to push me to answer questions and add things I had never before considered.
The overarching narrative isn’t something that the players will be able to significantly change. In fact, I generally consider my campaigns to be non-canon because I have ideas for the books for the universe and I don’t want them or the campaigns to be beholden to each other.
Verin Kinds by Maple A (Fullsize)
Where is Ethnis at now?
It’s in a state of constant and exciting growth! Ethnis Lite is well underway, both as its own system and as paving the way for the much larger and more ambitious Ethnis Core. We recently hit a half-million words on World Anvil, and have so much more story left to tell. This is all just the groundwork for other projects—serials, books, tabletop games, video games—whether you’re skimming Ethnis as a light read or with us for the long haul, we’re going to have something for everyone.
How can people get involved with Ethnis?
Ethnis is very interactive. The best way to get involved is to jump into the Discord Community—a very active, inclusive, and friendly server full of welcoming folks. They’ll pull you into the world faster than anything else, and you’ll be around to get constant updates on the written world, the RPGs, and the games of Ethnis that we’ll be running.
Odds are pretty high that if you stick around enough you’ll end up talking us into writing the sort of content you’d like to see.
We would be humbled if you support us on Patreon. All income from the Patreon goes right back into Ethnis in the form of art and promotion.
You can also @ us on twitter with any questions you might have.
Discord Community: https://discord.gg/2Vz9gfp
It’s a Cycle.
Life and Death. Ecstasy and Agony. Love and Void. These are the elements of the Great Drama, this is the motion of The Wheel.
A stalwart crew explores distant, vivid planets, dancing with those poor folk rich of spirit and fighting against rich lords poor of morals. Their arrival staunches tyranny, their charity balms plight, and their presence brings peace. Are you with them?
There’s a party in a golden palace where every guest is more distinguished than the next.
They partake in writhing meals that morph through many properties as they cross your tongue. Chrome-plated pleasureslaves with laughs like crystal bells weep amphetamine tears while they give their all to a swan-song performance before becoming dessert. Do you attend?
In a ramshackle church on a fringe planet a girl clings to a Somnolent cross. She is whispering the Somme of Hope into its eye. Infernos full of cackling figures consume the horizon.
Angels descend from heaven like a meteor shower in the night. Do you save her?
A band of marauders plate their ship with the carcasses of raided vessels. Their tech and crew is cobbled together from every Banner. Despite a cutthroat nature brotherhoods form amongst them. Can you claim the same?
Four minuscule notches on an infinite Wheel.
Empires are forged, rise, burn, and are devoured in the blink of an eye. The divide between mortal and god is minute and the two constantly wrestle with the fact. Those who place their chips play a high stakes game, all who don’t have their chips torn from them and played anyways.
Who are you?
What are you?
Why are you?
It’s a Cycle.
There’s a Wheel and it’s spinning.