Of the Seas, the Stars and the Weird

Category: Fiction

The Seven Seas

Ahoy, laddies! You all surely heard variations of the phrase “Sailing the Seven Seas”, which today generally means that one has been or is sailing all the seas of the world (the IHO 1953 listed a total of 23 seas in their S-23 standard), indicating superior experience due to having seen things; or – used less with a nautical subtext and even more metaphorically – it can tell us that one is not restricted to just one area (of expertise, action, work, …) alone, but is more versatile or more mobile (in modern marketing speak, you could say: “more agile”) than others.

Interestingly enough, the term “Seven Seas” seems to be an cultural example of convergent evolution, appearing in different times and areas of the world with different seas (or other bodies of water) in mind. The Wikipedia page on the term lists several ancient & early modern origins or variations, which seems to indicate that not the seas, but the number part is the real thing we’d need to take a closer look at, but I don’t want to drift into esoterical numerology here – although I’d be interested in reading a cultural history about the significance of number “7“.

Let us focus on the seas here for a bit. I am not going to collect any of the historical or recent catalogues with their different names and waters here. Instead, I want to point out something that all of thoses lists seem to have in common: the people who made them saw a need for distinction between those areas of water. Something set them apart from each other, made them recognizable, gave them their own character – and such their own name. It’s not just “the Sea”, it’s “the Atlantic”, “the Mediterranean”, or “the Adriatic” even. Why is that?

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More Krakens, less Dragons!

Ahoy, landlubbers! Two weeks ago I had an interesting discussion about apex monsters in tabletop role-playing games, and especially about Dragons, which still seem to be the epitome of end-game adversaries in most fantasy settings. Actually, they are not even limited to higher levels or later acts in ttrpgs anymore, but are literally everywhere you look, as soon as you enter most classic fantasy worlds – and I am not only speaking of Dungeons & Dragons, where these beasts are a prominent part of the brand name since 1974, or of Game of Thrones, where the winged fire-breathers are a central part of the world’s history and the story-arc of Daenerys Targaryen and her family in particular. I am speaking of the fact that there is a List of dragons in popular culture on Wikipedia, that is just an overview/landing page for even more lists concerning the appearance of Dragons in literature, film, television, video games – and even sports! And while I can somehow understand the audience being fascinated by those close-to-all-powerful creatures (who’s not attracted to symbols of absolute power?) – those scaly dinosaurs bore me to Death, whenever I encounter them.

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The Forbidden Seas

Ahoy, laddies! This weekend I had a great idea for a TTRPG campaign that basically explores the question: “What if the high seas of your fictional fantasy world were (suddenly) off limits for everyone?” What if the use of the seas were forbidden? No gathering of natural resources, no travel and no trade allowed?

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Not all Swashbucklers!

Shiver me timbers, what is it with the monoculture of Piratey stereotypes in this popular culture’s fiction today, especially in tabletop role-playing games (which I have spoken of before)? I have to wonder: Do you all really have only such a limited imagination? I speak, of course, of the idea, that “Swashbuckler” seems to be a synonym for “good” Piratey types somehow.

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