Mugs: A Review

Since I moved out of my parents’ house I’ve accumulated more mugs than any reasonable person needs. I’m also on the lookout for more. It’s gotten to the point where Emily regularly teases me about how many mugs I have. Even though she bought many of them for me. I admit, it’s a lot. But is it enough? Probably not.

So here is a review of some of my favorite mugs, some of them have a story behind them. Others are just neat.

Handmade Mug from Dalhonega Georgia

When I first moved out this was the mug I used the most often and the one that I am using as I write this. I don’t remember the name of the store where I got this mug but I do remember the circumstances.

It was almost immediately after my graduation from college, my cousin was getting married so my father and I drove down to Georgia for the wedding. My father’s sixtieth birthday was also happening that week and my aunts had arranged for a surprise party at a restaurant in Dalhonega.

After the party, my dad and I took a walk around town and wandered into a pottery shop where almost everything had been handmade by the man who owned it. We were looking around, and at this point I think we had signed the lease for my new apartment, and my dad decided that I needed a mug as a housewarming present and told me to pick one.

It’s a good mug and it’s safe for dishwasher and microwave use. Although the shape is a little unusual I really love the little imperfections from when it was made. It really adds to the uniqueness of the mug.

Saratoga Coffee Traders 10 Year Anniversary Mug

Saratoga Coffee Traders is a coffee shop in, you guessed it, Saratoga Springs. They’re also one of the best places to go to get Death Wish Coffee, which is not unique to them but they do sell a lot of it. If you haven’t had Death Wish Coffee then you need to. It’s loaded with caffeine, perfect for those morning where you want to wake up and induce a heart attack at the same time.

Besides serving various drinks and snacks, Coffee Traders also sells a selection of mugs, bagged coffee, coffee accessories, and coffee-sponsored comic books (yes you read that right). The problem is all of these cost money, so while I would stand in line waiting to order a large Death Wish I would often admire the various mugs on display and look mournfully at the price tags. So one Christmas my dad asked me what I wanted and I said I wanted a mug from Saratoga Coffee Traders.

He ended up getting me two of these anniversary mugs. These mugs are handmade and they are BIG. They are very well made and I like the colors, the problem is that they are so large that my coffee often cools down before I am able to drink it all. Because of this I don’t use these mugs often but I do enjoy them. Plus they tie in nicely to the next mug on the list.

Saratoga Guitar 25th Anniversary Mug

Okay, I know what you’re thinking.

“Damn that’s one fine looking mug. I want that mug.”

Well too bad. You can’t have it.

This mug was part of a very limited run that my father had made to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his store, Saratoga Guitar. He had always sold hats and shirts but had also talked for a long time about adding other merchandise. So to celebrate the stores anniversary he ordered a limited run of these mugs from Deneen Pottery. Deneen Pottery is the same company that made the Coffee Traders mug. They specialize in hand made, custom ceramics.

Besides being the owner of Saratoga Guitar, my father also organized and ran the Capital Region Guitar Show. A yearly/twice yearly (depending on the year) convention in Saratoga Springs for guitar aficionados. To celebrate the 25th year of being in business by father organized an after party for the 2019 show. Many of his friends came to perform for this afterparty, pizza was delivered hourly, and multiple charities came to fundraise at the event. My dad also ordered a very limited quantity of these mugs. Most of them were immediately sold or given to staff, so yeah, if you want one then too bad. You should have come to the show.

This mug is a little awkward because of the large lip, but it’s easily my favorite mug and the one I use most frequently.

Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Mug

You may not know this, but I happen to be a brother of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity, the world’s oldest and largest secret national music fraternity. Though Greek Life has many issues, fraternity members rarely live up to stereotypes, and for many fraternities provides a safe space for men to connect with other men without having to worry about the baggage that comes with toxic masculinity.

Being a part of this fraternity helped me a lot in college, I was chapter president during my senior year and since graduation I’ve continued to work with my fraternity as a regional alumni coordinator. Mostly I just send out newsletters, but it gives me something to do and many alumni are very appreciative of my efforts and it’s nice to be appreciated.

I don’t get as many occasions to wear letters as I used to, but I like keeping around a few mugs that I can break out during virtual province meetings.

American Chemical Society Membership Mug

The American Chemical Society does this cool thing where they send mugs to their members that correspond to the number of years they have been a member. This one is Hydrogen (Element 1) because it was send to me for my one year anniversary of membership. Roughly.

Unfortunately I don’t have any more of these because membership fees are expensive for a lowly graduate student such as myself so I chose not to renew. But still, I love ACS swag.

The Wisdom of Uncle Iroh Mug

This is a relatively recent addition to my collection. At the start of quarantine I got back into Avatar the Last Airbender, and I mean REALLY into it. And so did several of my friends.

Randomly, my friend Lauren, who is also a fan, saw this mug and ordered me one and I love it. Lauren is pretty cool and you should check her out. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram as a_science_life, she also founded ForensicBites, a scicomm initiative that makes new developments in forensic science accessible to the general public.

Hartwick College Mug

One of my greatest regrets from undergrad is that I never bought a mug. I was a poor college student so I would often admire the mugs and other drinkware but never bought one. Eventually, I graduated and I was a poor college student no longer. Instead I became a poor graduate student and I was finally able to buy one of the mugs I had wanted for so long.

I have no complaints about this mug but also no special praise. I enjoy the shape of it and the finish has a nice texture. The only problem is that sometimes soap scum sticks to the outside. It’s not a big deal though, and it’s a good mug.

Thanks for reading this far! This post is a little different from my normal content. If you like it and want me to create more content you can help out by buying me a coffee.

My Father’s Guitars

I’ve been thinking about my father a lot in the past week and I’ve been handling his death a lot better than I thought I would. It’s been the little things that have made the loss feel more real. Moments where I pick up the phone to call him and I realize I can’t.

Even though there was often silence between us I loved working with him. I loved going to guitar shows and talking with the other dealers. It was a great time to just sit with him and admire the music we both enjoyed. He never tried to make us be like him, he always supported what we wanted to do and never pressured us to take up guitar like him, but I could see how happy it made him when I would pick up a guitar at work and clumsily strum a few chords. It made him happy, and it made me happy, and while I will never been as good as he was it makes me happy to have been able to share that with him.

Keeping busy has helped. I’ve been helping my mother go through his things, mainly his guitars. He owned a guitar store, so of course he bought and sold them all the time, but he also had a lot of guitars in his personal collection. Some of these were investments (he treated guitars like other people treat stocks), some he just thought were cool (he had sooo many vintage Peaveys), some were built for him by his late friend and luthier Rodger Bennedict, others he had bought because he wanted to give them to my brothers and me one day.

Once we’ve had some time to process the loss, my brothers and I will go through the collection and decide who gets what, but in the meantime the guitar I will be playing is one that my dad gave me years ago.

When I was born my dad bought me a guitar, and he did the same for my brothers. He bought each of us a Seagull and held on to them until we were ready to have them. He actually tried to give it to me several times in the past few years but I never accepted it. When I lived in the dorms I didn’t feel safe taking it with me. I didn’t want someone to get drunk at a party and try playing it and I worried I wouldn’t be able to keep it humidified properly. But now my dad is gone and I have an apartment where I know it will be safe. So I took it, and it’s what I’ve been playing the last few days.

I really can’t overstate what great condition the guitar is in. The stickers were still on it until a few days ago. For those who don’t know, Seagull is a brand of guitars made in Canada under the Godin umbrella. All of their lines are phenomenal, but Seagulls always held a special place in my father’s store. Every customer who came in looking for an upgrade had a seagull thrust into their hands. My dad loved them, and he bought three of them, one in 1995, one in 1997, and another in 2000 for my brothers and me.

For twenty-five years this guitar has been waiting in storage for me to pick it up and I really cannot understate how incredibly well-preserved it is. You see, guitars are very particular, solid top guitars especially. The strings place a massive strain on the instrument, over time the neck of the guitar can warp and the bridge can start to pull away. And if the wood dries out the top can begin to crack. For this reason, guitar stores and guitar players work hard to keep their instruments properly humidified. And if the are going to be stored without being played the strings are often loosened or taken off completely.

My dad was always better at giving advice than following it. This guitar was stored in exactly the way it shouldn’t have been and it is pristine. The neck is nearly perfectly straight and the spruce tops looks brand new. All it needed was a new set of strings. You could hand me this guitar and tell me it came out of the factory yesterday and I would believe you. It’s really amazing how well built it is.

Once this all shakes out I’m going to come away with a lot of guitars. But this guitar, the first gift he ever gave me, is one I will treasure always.

Red Suns: A System Named Independence

First explored by Lester Arkwright, who claimed the system for the NATO Bloc and established an initial settlement on Franklin, the Independence System was quick to attract the interest of multiple parties in the area, primarily the Neo-Soviets and the already established NATO colonists. It didn’t take long before conflict was already brewing over the system, primarily because one of the planets, Franklin, was suitable for human life. Eventually an agreement was reached in which NATO and the Neo-Soviets would share Franklin and establish settlements in zones designated to each. Meanwhile NATO would take control of the moon of Burr while the moon of Hamilton would fall under Neo-Soviet control. The rest of the system was then declared to be neutral ground with the exception of a handful of independent settlements that were later established orbiting the gas giant Washington.

Franklin

The planet of Franklin is at one time habitable and bizarre. Like Earth, Franklin orbits within it’s star’s habitable zone and experiences similar seasonal changes, although in most regions it is more likely to rain than snow in the winter. The planet’s surface is white and chalky in most places ranging from fine sand to solid rock and during heavy rains the sand turns into a thick paste.

Surprisingly, both NATO and Neo-Soviet scientists have been able to to engineer crops able to be grow in the planet’s alien soil, although these crops require special attention. To date most crops grown on Franklin are engineered variants of potatoes, beats, and various root vegetables. More traditional crops are grown in special green houses.

Flora and Fauna

Walkers

These imposing creatures are mainly scavengers, eating whatever their tentacles can pick up off the ground. Pedestrians should beware however, the tentacles are tipped with deadly stingers. When sleeping they lower themselves to the ground in order to blend in with the landscape.

Those who have hunted these massive creatures hoping for a feast have often been disappointed. The majority of the creature’s body is its shell, which is continually extruded and grows thicker as it grows older.

Droppers

These gelatinous multi-cellular organisms resemble a giant cell. They move slowly, and attack their pray from above. This is a very painful experience, the poison they excrete slowly breaks their victims down, allowing them to be absorbed by the dropper.

Alone a single dropper is not a huge threat, but droppers reproduce via budding and are often found living in “packs.”

Coral

Instead of trees Franklin is home to “forests” of organisms resembling coral. These colonies are mostly dead except for those parts of the colonies close to the ground where they can easily absorb nutrients.

Dead coral is very brittle. It shatters easily and broken coral shards can be quite sharp. Some settlers have begun polishing coral fragments to make jewelry.

Creep

The bane of every technician and soldier stationed on Franklin. Creep is most similar to algae on Earth. It links to grow in thick mats on objects with lots of crevices. Just a small amount left remaining on a surface is enough to restart the colony, providing endless work to those who have displeased their superiors.

Washington

Washington is a gas giant slightly larger than Jupiter. Though it may not be habitable like Franklin it does possess many moons with varied environments. Many independent settlements have been established on these moons that have chosen to put themselves under the umbrella of the Rogue Star Collective. Their concerns are mostly represented by the RSC Administrators who oversee Washington Station.

Officially Washington Station is an important trade hub for the Independence System. It’s the one place were merchants of any nation know that they can trade freely. It is also a place were spies and informants often meet and secrets are sold.

Officially the Rogue Star Collective is a neutral entity within the system. However, many suspect that the value of the system has caused the local administrators to assemble a larger concentration of force than is typical for the RSC. Whether this concentration of force is significant is unknown but represents an significant unknown in the plans of many other actors.

Washington Locales

Washington Station

Washington Station was built after several independent settlements on Washington’s moons petitioned for membership in the RSC. Washington Station was then built to house the RSC administrators and representatives and to direct trade around the gas giant.

Many independent merchants have made their home on this station. The ring is full of taverns, warehouses, and casinos that do not wish to be under the thumb of other powers in the system.

Berzog Point

A small asteroid that was captured in Washington’s orbit. Berzog Point is a mostly lawless settlement administered by the Berzog Family. They don’t much care what goes on in their asteroid so long as everyone pays their docking fees.

This sounds exciting, but for the most part the people here just want to avoid more expensive docking fees or experiment with drugs that have been outlawed elsewhere in the system.

Sherman

Cold, icy, and full of interesting chemistry. Tartan is the manufacturing center of the Washing Sub-System. It’s surface is home to a number of large plantations home to self-replicating molecular systems. These self-replicating molecules harvest light from the star Independence and use that light to grow a variety of useful polymers that are sold elsewhere in the system.

My Dad Died

That’s it. That’s the title.

Image may contain: Matthew McCabe, playing a musical instrument, on stage, guitar and night
He was incredibly talented, although he spent more time supporting other artists than he did promoting himself.

He had been battling COVID-19 for about two weeks. He had it rough, but he had never been the type to admit that he was sick, but he took it seriously. I was very worried about him at first when I called him and it sounded like he could barely speak. But then he got better, and after awhile his appetite returned. He had been living alone since my parents split up. I and many of his friends arranged to have food and medicine delivered to his doorstep.

A few days ago he excitedly told me how he had eaten some of the jello I sent him. He was tired, but he was feeling better. Then yesterday morning, January 12, he wasn’t answering his phone. I called my mother, she called the police, I rushed over. I told myself he had just fallen asleep without charging his phone, but I knew. I knew. I just didn’t want to admit it to myself yet.

Over the past decade, even longer maybe, I have wondered what this day would be like. Would I have any regrets when he was gone? We didn’t always have an ideal relationship We fought a lot because he wasn’t always the father I wanted him to be. He was hard to talk to, he didn’t always care about the things we cared about, he didn’t always understand our hobbies. But I loved our roadtrips together, I loved working with him in his guitar store, and I loved watching movies with him. Whenever a new historical or war movie came out that no one else wanted to see I could always guarantee that he would want to go with me.

And he was so supportive, of everything. He was always so proud of me and my brothers and his friends say that we were all he talked about. When I first tried my hand at writing on sheets of loose leaf paper he was so excited that he bought me my first computer. He was the first to sign up to my email list, and would contact me after every post. A few weeks ago I sent him the first eight chapters of the book I’ve been writing. He loved it. I wish I could show him the rest.

Image may contain: 3 people
He loved everything we did. In high school the jazz band I was in performed at Disney World. He donated money so that everyone in the band could have an allowance to buy snacks in the park. We were at the Smithsonian in this picture. My friends and I were competing in the National Rocketry Competition and he went with us as a chaperone.

About two years ago my parents split up and my dad moved out. It was a hard two years for him, but at the same time it was something he needed. We grew closer, he became more attentive, more talkative. We grew a lot closer. I wish that we had had more time together. I wish that he had been able to fully grow into his second bachelordom. There are so many things I still wanted to do with him. I had ideas for roadtrips, I had diners I wanted to visit. I wish we had more time.

At the same time. I can honestly say that I don’t have any regrets. He knows I loved him, he knows I didn’t hate him. There’s nothing more that needed to be said and I am thankful for that.

Image may contain: Matthew McCabe and Charlie McCabe, people smiling
A few years ago he took me to see Iron Maiden in Montreal. He wasn’t a fan, but he wanted to take a selfie to prove he went. I never got a picture when we went to see Amon Amarth.

My father was very popular in his community. It has only been a day and already there has been an incredible outpouring of support. All day I’ve been on the phone with his friends, and my friends. Dozens of people have posted to Facebook about him. He was a big part of the local community and he is dearly missed. In the coming months I’ll be using this post as a way of archiving all of the tributes being made to him.

I know these times are hard, but if you have a few dollars to spare it would mean a lot if you could donate to Caffe Lena or the Franklin Community Center in the name of my father, Matthew McCabe. No one who walked into his store needing help ever left without it, but these are two causes that he kept coming back to.

Thank you. And wear your mask. Please.

Image may contain: candles, night and fire
Candles outside his store.

If you are finding this post through Google or some other means I don’t have a great way to get in touch through this website. You can send me a message on Twitter @expyblg if you need to get in touch.

Tributes To My Father

  • A celebration of my father’s life is being planned for Feb 20th and will be hosted online by Caffe Lena. Anyone who wants to say a few words can email a 3-4 minute video to reese@caffelena.org.
  • I had really only just begun to upload all of my father’s music to Youtube. He was so excited by the idea of sharing his music again. I still need to upload the rest, but you can listen to what is there so far here.
  • As long as I knew my father he was playing music. He used to bring me to his gigs when I was little. He would say I was his roadie and make me feel important, and then order me a plate of chicken tenders. Life for all musicians during covid has been tough. A few weeks ago he sang at his last gig which was done over livestream. He was so excited, it was the first time I ever heard him get nervous about a gig. You can find it here.
  • Just a few hours after his death there were dozens sharing their grief and their support. It’s so good to see that the community he loved so much loved him back. Saratoga Living was quick to share the news.
  • I spoke with a very nice reporter at the Saratogian about this article this morning. As much as I miss him it helps to talk about him.
  • Spectrum News interviewed several of his friends the other day.
  • An article from the Times Union.

The Final Frontier

I’ve made a few posts about a one-page roleplaying game that I’ve been working on called The Final Frontier. It’s a simple tabletop roleplaying game perfect for any tired game master who just wants to run a quick oneshot with their players.

While I was designing the game I tried very hard to imagine scenarios that could be solved without violence. The game is meant to put players in control of characters not used to daring adventures and life threatening situations. Instead, players are challenged to use mundane skills to solve the problems before them.

I like to think that I succeeded. In the past few weeks I played several encounters with my players.

In the first one, players encountered a cult worshipping an alien hiding under the ice of Europa. The alien was infecting members of its cult with a psychic virus that allowed it to control them. Its goal was to get enough cult members to build a ship capable to taking it back home. My players didn’t care about any of this. They got back on their ship and left the inhabitants of the Europa colony to their fate.

In the second, my players encountered a strange alien object passing through the solar system. Though they didn’t know it at first, the object was an alien probe designed to test any species it encountered. After years of intercepting transmissions from Earth the object used the harvested data to present puzzles to the characters to help its algorithms ensure that it has been interpreting the data correctly. By the end of it only player character achieved their desired surge in internet popularity and another experienced what he believed to be a revelation and left ready to found a whole new religion.

Why am I telling you all this? Because the game is finally posted on itch.io! You are free to name your own price for the game so please, go check it out be sure to tell your friends about it.

Becoming Comfortable with Failure

If you have ever taken music lessons you know what failure is like. For an hour each week you’re stuck in a room alone with your teacher while they constantly interrupt your playing, make you repeat the same few measures over and over again, and tell you that you haven’t made enough progress that week. None of it’s personal, or at least it shouldn’t be, they’re hard on you because it’s their job to help you identify your weak points and help you get better.

Ideally, the same is true for group meetings in graduate school. Though many PI’s like to make their criticisms personal, the real purpose of group meeting is to identify what needs to be fixed and where to go next.

The same is true for writing. Now, I am not a published author, but I do write a lot. Short stories, blog posts, research papers, research proposals, fellowship applications. I like to think I’m reasonably good at it.

The most important thing about writing, just like music and research, is to accept that you might have made mistakes at it and work to fix them. Mistakes, poor word choices, terrible plots, all of them can be fixed as long as you actually write it down first. Don’t worry about how it sounds or reads in the moment, just write and plan to fix it later. If you never write, you’ll never finish.

It’s also important to realize that everyone needs an editor. It can be easy to take edits personally, but remember that an editor is just trying to help you. The meaning of your writing might seem obvious to you but that is because you wrote it. A saying or turn of phrase might make perfect sense to you but might not be as commonly understood as you thought. Other edits might be because you and your editor just have a different style.

Most importantly, the project you’re working on now doesn’t need to be your magnum opus. It’s enough to finish the project and take what you learned from it and apply it to your next one. The longer you work at something the better you will get, and you will always look back on your past work and think of how much better you could have made it. Doing the best you can now will allow you to do even better late.

So rather than worrying about perfection, worry about done.

If you like content like this and want to see more, give me a follow on twitter or consider buying me a coffee. Or…you could check out my new one-page rpg game on itch.io!

Tales From The Golden Fleece Inn

“Stupid,” Sarah mumbled to herself as she trudged along. “That was stupid.”

She shouldn’t have gotten involved, should have done a better job of hiding those papers. Now all her accounts were gone, and she was alone and cold. She touched her hand gingerly to the side of her face. It was still tender. Would it bruise? Probably.

Where was she?

She looked around. She had taken off running from her apartment and how she was on a street she didn’t recognize, and she was severely underdressed for the weather. Her watch said it was nearly midnight…

This is the first story in a series set in The Golden Fleece Inn, an ancient establishment located outside of the material plane. Continue reading on Wattpad.

Gravity Wells Are Best Avoided

Jack hated landings.

He had been born in microgravity. He had grown up in microgravity. He had enlisted and spent, not accounting for relativistic effects, fifteen years Ship Time serving in microgravity. His job was simple, he went places, and he killed things. He had become an expert in boarding actions and close quarter combat in microgravity. For him, zero gravity was the default.  

Ships? Great. Space Stations? Perfect. Asteroids? Sure. Moons? If he had to. Planets? Hell no.

Planets had forests and animals and germs and far too many variables. He preferred the close, cramped struggle to the death where he could see his enemy and they could see him. Where all that would determine the outcome of the fight were his own skills pitted against those of his opponent. Planets had snipers and alien viruses and storms and earthquakes and well, you get the idea. In Jacks mind, gravity wells were something that humanity had evolved beyond and returning to them was pointless.

So basically, he really fucking hated landings.

He especially hated landings made in boxy little shuttlecraft that handed likes bricks in atmosphere while he was crammed into the shuttle with fifty other marines all of which were not suited at all for ground combat. He especially hated being sent down a gravity well as part of some hair-brained rescue scheme to protect some random colonists from an unknown assailant of unknown strength.

And he really, really hated landings made in a boxy brick-like shuttle that was hit by a surface-to-air missile that killed both of the pilots instantly, decapitated three of the soldiers sitting across from Jack, caused the shuttle to rip in half as it hit a low-lying cliff and come to rest in an alien corral forest in hostile territory far away from any possible backup.

When Jack came to he was hanging from his restraints inside the shuttle next to those of his fellows who had either been kills or incapacitated in the crash. He heard gunfire outside and from the sound of it someone had gotten the shuttle’s autocannons working and was making extensive use of them. He had no idea who they were fighting, no idea what was going on, but he knew what his job was. He undid his restraints, grabbed his low-velocity carbine designed for shipboard actions, not ground combat, and went outside to see what they were dealing with.

Jack hated landings.

Five Wonderfully Mundane Pieces of Star Wars Lore

The best thing about Star Wars is that there is a backstory for every background character, every ship, practically every grain of sand. In the movies, books, and comics we get to see so much more than the lightsabers and the big shiny battleships, and its the inclusion of all these mundane elements that helps make the Star Wars universe feel so lived in. So here in no particular order are the five best mundane pieces of Star Wars lore.

1. GR-75 Medium Transport

Wookieepedia

I just love these ships. Science fiction needs more purpose-built ships that do just one thing well. The GR-75 has a simple design that suits its purpose well, and the visible cargo pods inside its hull are a great feature that draws comparisons to the container ships of Earth while also giving it some measure of modularity. I especially like their use by the rebel alliance as troop transports and support ships. It helps to show how desperate their situation is. I can’t help but think the modularity afforded by the GR-75’s cargo pods could lead to one being made into a capable commerce raider.

2. Hydrospanner

Wookieepedia

Broken down and malfunctioning technology is a common feature of all science fiction. No point in having all those big shiny ships in your setting if they don’t break. The Hydrospanner is a small but vital bit of fluff included in both Star Wars Legends and Canon to explain how spacers manage to loosen and tighten bolts on their ships. Why? Because bringing a wrench into space would just be silly! But seriously, I love that so much detail has been provided on such a tiny tool, so much so that besides an article on Hydrospanners, Wookiepedia has an entire article on a specific model of Hydrospanner. Because of course we need to know the entire history of the tool in the hero’s hand.

3. Moisture Vaporators

Wookieepedia

Not only do they explain how humans and other species are able to survive on Tatooine, moisture vaporators explains why anyone would bother to try farming in the first place. With all the sand people, sarlacs, and krayt dragons about there needs to be something valuable in the desert to make people live so far away from the cities and it turns that thing is water.

4. Banthas

Wookieepedia

The iconic mounts of the Tusken Raiders are such a great part of the Star Wars universe. In Legends the Banthas were found throughout the galaxy. In the current canon (at least as far as I know) Bathas are found only on Tatooine. They’re a wonderfully mundane way to explain how the planet’s natives get from one place to the other and they’re so believable in their design.

5. Pajamas

Wookieepedia

Myself and probably everyone else who is going to be browsing Wookiepedia already knows what pajamas are, but I love that the good folks who update the site included a page on them just in case.

Like these listicles? Want to see more in-depth worldbuilding content? Come yell at me on twitter @expyblg or drop a comment. You can also buy me a coffee to help keep the content coming.

Geopolitical Conflicts: Using Geography to Add Conflict to Your Setting

The first thing I do with every setting is I decide on two or three countries that I want there to be. I imagine what their economies and governments will be like, and I decide if I want them to be naval power, a steppe empire, an isolated enclave, or whatever else. Then I get to work on the map and I design the map so that themes I want for each country are complemented by its surroundings.

I benefit greatly from hindsight here. While the future of a nation is not predetermined, its geography can play a huge role in its development, and I can draw on the events of the past to design the geography and conflicts I want for my setting. So let’s look at a few examples.

A Small Country with a Big Impact

Land mass doesn’t always correlate with influence. It can help of course. Russia for example is huge and benefits from a wealth of natural resources. But Britain is smaller than some US states and yet at one time it ruled much of the world. Give a small nation a resource or circumstance that it can exploit and it can play a huge role in world events.

Waterways are one of my favorite ways to do this, and we can look to Turkey, Panama, Egypt, and Iran for real world examples. Istanbul’s location on the Bosporus allows whoever owns the city to control the sea lanes that pass through it. This brought the Ottoman Empire into conflict with the Russian Empire on multiple ocassions. Russia was denied the warm water ports it craved for as long as it lacked control of the city, and Ottoman control of the straits allowed them to cut off Russia’s connections with the allies in WWI. The other countries meanwhile control major canals or straits vital to world trade, and their ability to constrict that trade gives countries that might otherwise be only a regional power a way to exert influence on a global scale.

Technology and political convenience can also grant influence to an otherwise small country. Imagine if Google had been founded in Cuba. More likely though, in a world where superpowers are vying for influence, a small country that happens to have something that a superpower wants can extract a lot of concessions from them.

The weakness of this later approach is that the benefits a country reaps will be be greater in the short term than the long term. Sea-lanes have been vital for centuries, but technological superiority or political priorities might shift in a matter of decades. Of course this could be a conflict as well and you could choose to focus on a country that is struggling for relevancy in a changing world.

A Big Country with a Big Impact

Big countries with lots of resources and ample space have a lot of room for population growth. The hard part is their size. With such long borders and so many people inside them there bound to be lots of neighbors to pick fights with and lots of internal dissidents. The country better have a robust communication infrastructure or it’s going to be hard for orders from the center to reach the periphery.

The type of government is going to be important here. Are the leaders able to address the needs of the people? Are they able to keep the peace between all the different regional factions that are bound to be present? A large country with a lot of resources can have a big role in world affairs, but without a strong foundation and internal stability it’s bound to fall apart if enough pressure is applied from the outside.

One of the challenges with a such a large country is that there’s a lot of detail to be fleshed out, but there are also plenty of small stories that can be told. Or you could write up a few vague descriptions and leave the Big Country as a boogyman that your characters sometimes have to deal with.

The Isolationist Island

Island nations are perhaps the only nations in the world that actually have a decent chance of keeping all foreigners out. A coastline can be fortified and defended in a way that no land-based border can.

This isolation may not be complete. There may for example be designated ports where foreigners are allowed to trade, but if the island has enough natural resources they may be able to keep their isolation going for a long time.

The problem of course is that it’s easy for the world to pass them by. Sure the citizens might be happy living on their island, safe from the problems of the world, but before long the world is going to come knocking and the island might very well find itself out-matched.

There are a lot of opportunities for story and conflict here. Perhaps the island is experiencing a civil war and trying to hide that fact from outsiders. Maybe the island regularly sends agents out into the world to gather information and new technologies and your character is one of them. Or maybe the island has suddenly been thrown open to the world and its people have to adjust to a new and possibly frightening reality.

The Island Superpower

Maybe an island nation wants to isolate itself from the rest of the world, or maybe because of its small landmass it lacks the natural resources it needs to compete in the modern world. Luckily for them both goals can be achieved through a powerful navy and an aggressive foreign policy. Why buy when you can take? And why tell everyone to stay away when you could just sink every ship that drifts to close to your shores?

The sea is a natural focus for any island nation, it’s the only way for any would-be invaders to reach the island after all. With a strong seafaring culture and a little know-how it could easily grow into a naval super power. Because it’s power depends on naval supremacy however, it may sometimes get dragged into conflicts it would otherwise stay away from. Britain in the early twentieth century entered into a naval arms race with Germany thanks to their policy of always having the biggest navy. The arms race was expensive and helped to ratchet up tensions between the two countries. For Germany building a strong navy was just part of joining the international community of major powers, for Britain making sure they outpaced everyone else in naval development was a matter of survival.

You might also write this as an isolationist island nation that has decided to become a superpower, or at least a major power like Japan did in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. An island superpower might grown out of a previously isolationist nation that has decided that it must grown and expand in order to be able to compete on the international scene.

Again here there are lots of opportunities for conflict. Isolationist factions might dislike the large navy and feel that it does nothing but get the country involved in foreign affairs. Traditionalists might pine for a return to the “old ways.” Some might think they country isn’t aggressive enough. Or the formerly downtrodden might see all this shipbuilding as a chance to see the world and make their fortunes…at the expense of whoever they might run into.

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