This week we are joined by Ed White, here to tell us about his series Battle Avatars
Can you describe your world or setting?
Battle Avatars takes place in the wider Salvoverse; a multiverse of stories (spoilers) developed by me and my studio partners as a place where our characters can interact. A proper multiverse, where some worlds are unfamiliar to my characters and vice versa the characters of my buddies. Stores I began to create, to doodle, and to write about when I was 7 or 8 years old—drawing stories when I was nine (inspired by the first comics I bought at the same time and from which I know the date) are alive today.
The setting of the books is within the so-called game Lenscape Online.
Given that this book is a portal fantasy as well as a GameLit and Xianxia-inspired story, it is not too much of a spoiler to say the Lenscape is an environment created somewhere very real, for an insidious purpose.
The setting is specifically the Ice Age Earth of 12,000 or more years ago, a time I’ve always found fascinating. I wanted to know whether possible human civilizations or cultures thrived in the period. Where they wiped out along with many mega fauna in the Younger Dryas event? This is now a much-publicized event, one caused by a combination of cataclysms or singular phenomenon: possible increased solar activity, one or several meteor impacts, or geological upheaval. What a setting for a game!
How did you build this concept, what research did you do?
I can now justify my many hours playing online, on console, and on table top as “research.”
I chose this setting without recent research, because of my childhood fascination fed by mysteries of the unknown in the Time Life books, Scholastic books, and many a tome on the world’s mythologies. I devoured that stuff, looking out for shows like In Search Of (hosted by Leonard Nimoy), and documentaries that might air on Sunday nights on the networks and later on Cable TV with the advent of the Discovery Channel and History Channel.
I chose it because so many worlds/stories in gaming take place in a pseudo medieval period or setting. I wanted the deep fantasy of swords and sorcery (Conan and Robert E. Howard), of fallen civilizations and much of what inspired the creator(s) of Dungeons and Dragons. Beyond the western fantasy, I was exposed to Eastern Fantasy in my early teens and I never looked back, having had hints of it in anime like the Shogun Warriors (giant robots, but hey) and the earliest Final Fantasy games—my passions.
Atlantis and the fall of its civilization intrigued me as much as the question of what was the savage Earth of that time like? Tales of the “Sea Peoples” invading the coasts of the Mediterranean as recorded by the Egyptians. What about the antediluvian times? The megastructures dotting the planet and the alignments to (as we are learning today) the north of actual magnetic north of twelve thousand years ago. Fascinating. Who ruled the planet then? Man, or God…or something else? Could the Hyperboreans or the Lemurians have existed alongside other lost cultures long before Atlantis rose and fell?
Why did you choose this setting?
Myth. The abrupt nature of the Younger Dryas event, meteors raining down, super solar flares, the mass flooding caused by the melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and the general horror and chaos that likely shaped the myths and legends of cultures around the globe and which still impact us today, here in these sort of interviews and the sci-fi and fantasy genres (as well as several thrillers).
This setting, this era, with its worlds of fallen science and recovering magic suits the genres of progression fantasy, of Xianxia and its quest for godhood and immortality. Where and when did the gods originate? During these ancient times? Deities not so ancient, as in Chinese myth, where humans who ascended to immortality and to deification and worship, alongside far older, elder beings—gods or otherwise…
In the Lenscape, there are remnants of Atlantis and Lemuria waiting to be uncovered, as well as descendants and inheritors, remnants of both that are playable characters: fodder for encounters, adventures, combat, mobs, bosses, and legendary monsters that populate the world. I should say populated the worlds in the case of the legendary monsters: *spoilers*.
What’s unique about your world?
It is hard to say these days, with the proliferation of communication across the globe, through social media and the internet, whether anything is truly unique. Everyone feeds off of the ideas of others, enriching or reinterpreting them. The ideas, passions, and inspiration drive new stories by way of how a creator choses to tell their story. I choose to wrap mine within a GameLit, Xianxia, portal fantasy displayed as a gaming environment, which is not unique within the wider progression fantasy genre that has developed. The genre is primarily fantasy, but by its very gaming elements also embraces science fiction.
Battle avatars blends science and magic, something many frowned upon in the past, but has spread across the self-publishing industry like wildfire and a passionate readership. I placed the setting purposefully in the end of the Ice Age, ten to twelve thousand years ago, because many other games fall within the medieval/jungle adventure setting of an indeterminate era (I surely use jungles a lot). I wanted to use the megalithic structures, the huge temples, the vast ruins, the gigantic walls, the cyclopean aspects of ancient life and the mystery of these fallen civilizations and arcane elements like standing stones and magic that may have derived from ancient Atlantis or previous cultures.
The cultivation and Taoist elements in Battle Avatars focus on an understanding of self, and of Earth Energy (ley energy), which lends itself to cultivation novels, wuxia, xianxia, and xuanhuan. That blending renders a unique product, because it is the blend that I refined versus how another author might refine those elements, those ingredients – a la cultivation within your internal cauldron—your dantian—to refine impure aspects into an epitome of intent.
These are stories that are equally unique, exciting, and fun.
How do you explain the science or magic in your world?
I explain it across the Salvoverse simply as this: science approaches a goal from one side, and magic from the other side—a person attempts to achieve the same goal with either science or magic. Sufficiently advanced science is not necessarily “magic” or perceived as magic. Science that is so inconceivably advanced that it may as well be magic does exist, but both exist. So too do magic systems so complex, they are almost a scientific method (“over-explained” as some enthusiasts might say).
Ancient Atlantis and other cultures, other dimensions (universes/realities), and other planets developed magical devices with unique names under the umbrella term arcanology, which can also read as “the science of the arcane,” but is not our precise intent.
Battle Avatars gives us a simpler view: one aspect of the Salvoverse.
Within Battle Avatars, arcanology is present. The magic itself is presented through the lens of cultivation: drawing on “animystic” sources. Animystics are another such word in the Salvoverse, derived from animism and the worship of spirits and nature.
Ley energy or Earth Energy as it is referred to in the series can be broken down to primary components called ki and re, from which all else comes—all the way to a Unified Field Theory. From a scientific stand point, this gives us an understanding of how magic functions and vice versa. The component necessary to a Unified Field Theory is not so much a spoiler but something I want revealed within the series as well as the mechanics of magic, rather than presented here.
Magic itself, and the use of common gaming mechanics, attributes and skill trees all come into play as do the forms and tenants of martial arts in the cultivation aspects of the series.
Battle Avatars incorporates dantians (which the series refers to as cauldrons), strengthening and purifying the body, developing and harnessing auras (plural) and subtle bodies *spoilers*. Later books will show developing a core, seeking immortality and godhood. The series is about developing the body through the vital forces—the life force—using the most refined resources so as not to continually reintroduce impurities to your body and its systems.
What was the most surprising thing you found out while researching/writing your latest book?
There’s no one surprising thing, as I’ve deep dived into developing worlds for so many years. What struck me is how wonderful the genre is and how quickly it is developing. There is great potential for the sub-genres and a wealth of stories to be told.
What you often find talking to new authors is the desire to write something that is completely new and never done. As I mentioned earlier, to clarify…there is nothing new under the sun. Find what readers enjoy and write to market? No, not exactly. Like cultivators, refine and present a new take on the stories we love, because the audience always wants more. What is unique? An author can refine a story in more than one way and when presented to beta readers and editors, receive feedback. Even before that point, a choice must be made of what to present and how to cut it—likened to a cut of a movie. What is the final cut? Which one do you decide on?
What was surprising? How writing is like cultivation, but it should be, whether it is Taoism or agricultural, we start with the seed of an idea and it grows.
How do you handle the food in your world?
Talking about agriculture: food.
Food in LitRPG/GameLit features quite heavily—bacon is quite a thing, but hasn’t it always been? Oddly enough, bacon features in Battle Avatars because the MC cannot eat many types of foods because of the nervous system disorder that is killing him. He can’t even enjoy food before it dies, as many types of food make him violently ill. The smell of bacon is a massive spoiler readers will miss. It is okay, they will be reminded at the appropriate time of reveal.
Food in games is often as important as rest to replenish health beyond temporary fixes. While many health potions and spells can restore a player’s health in many games, for Battle Avatars, rest and food are essential to restoring health. Cultivation is another key factor, but we will focus on food here.
In book one, the MC recounts a story told to him by his older sister. The MC, David, shares my passion for the ancient worlds and worlds hidden from view. David’s sister told him stories of heroes lost in the Otherworld, and tales of the fae, who steal away babies, replacing them with foundlings and changelings.
The Faery Folk are real in the Salvoverse and so is the Otherworld. When venturing into the Otherworld do not stray from the path, or you will lose all sense of self and memory, becoming forever trapped in the Otherworld, unable to find your way out or know to do so. Sound familiar? Do not eat of the Faerie foods, or you will suffer the same consequences.
This all ties together the idea of portal fantasy and game worlds and…spoilers.
David loves foods, he works in the food industry and made plans to open a restaurant and club with his now celebrity chef friend Jonesy. Jonesy’s new gaming group is peopled by fellow workers in the hospitality industry. Food is a big part of their lives and David enjoys the ability to consume foods in the Lenscape.
I also like to play with the idea of agriculture and possibly extinct forms of fruit and vegetables along with those created for the Salvoverse.
Of course, in the period of the Ice Age, or its decline, there are some honking big pieces of meat walking around, and I lead into eating woolly mammoths and mastodons.
Do you have a recipe that you could share, maybe one that our readers could try, based on the food in your world?
While I could talk about the legends of Russian explorers and nobles dining on woolly mammoth or mastodon meat from ten thousand years ago, I will refrain from doing so. Such fresh meat is served at the Wilds Inn, a prominent location in the books. Overall, the food itself in the Lenscape has its purpose beyond healing, one tied to David’s theories and his sister’s stories of the fae.
I will include a real recipe enjoyed by one of the primary Salvoverse characters outside of the Battle Avatars series: a recipe for piki bread. Is he really from outside Battle Avatars? Maybe…
5 tablespoons masa harina (dried corn dough from native blue corn)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup hot water
Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Pour in the hot water and whisk the batter for a few seconds until it is smooth.
Heat a skillet over low heat until it is warm.
Remove the skillet from the heat. With a pastry brush, brush on a layer of batter, using broad strokes all in one direction. Immediately apply a second layer of batter at right angles to the first layer.
Return the skillet to the heat source and cook for about 1 minute. The batter will sizzle and evaporate all moisture before it is done. As soon as the hissing stops and the surface of the bread looks dry and crinkly, peel it off with your fingers by starting up one edge with a table knife, then grasping it by hand and pulling up gently. The layer will peel away easily. Lay it on paper toweling or a baking rack to dry completely and proceed to make 3 more pikis to lay on top. Do not place the piki on a plate once baked, since it will further steam them and cause them to become sticky. Once you have 4 layers, roll them loosely into a scroll and set aside. Serve slightly re-warmed or at room temperature with corn pudding and honey for a true Salvoverse food.
Piki bread is also great with salsa.
What was the most mundane item that you used that really has cool tech or magic behind it?
The most mundane object is the SX/GN baton. It is a baton one or two feet in length that can telescope (extend) in length to as much as seven feet long. At seven feet long, it is really just a staff—the most basic of weapons. Man’s first weapons were sticks and rocks. In ancient times, ancient man picked up sticks and beat each other with them. In this sense, the ley crystals socketed into a SX/GN baton are rocks.
As a player levels, so too does their baton—adding ranks and tiers to is as they socket ley crystals or sedes to the baton. It starts out as a staff and melee weapon. A SX/GN baton is both a scientific and a magical object and ley energy is channeled through it with cultivation forms and skills learned by the players—ley bending. Ley crystals are the vital forces made solid, refined, and are beast cores dropped by mobs, whereas a soul box is “dropped” by humans and other sentient beings. Like a Jedi is able to hone their abilities and connection to the Force, so too do players and potential Battle Avatars within the Lenscape.
Baton, staff, rod, scepter, pole, even spear or glaive—different words for the same object, the same item, different versions a person can create in the Salvoverse. Within Lenscape, it is called a baton and used as a tuning device, a channeling focus. The item represents the PC’s SX/GN—their external link to the vital forces until they strengthen their body to process and survive these powerful forces.
What did you include that you wish was real today?
The immersive devices for entering the Lenscape, but when you find out what they are, you wouldn’t want them. In one example component, you might.
Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
To explain the Salvoverse: it is a shared universe begun many years ago with the intention of experiencing a multiverse and encounters between characters not our own, rather like an old school RPG, and for which we developed RPG gaming rules. Why? We did so to prevent our story development from descending into an argument over which character was stronger, faster, smarter, and to structure battles between them. This then helped us develop encounters with our own characters, my protagonist against whatever antagonist I create. It extended into an understanding of physics as applied to these statistics, the power of explosions, wind, weapons, volcanoes, earthquakes. If a character punching the ground created a crater (hello Dragon ball and One Punch Man fans) how much force did that take, and how big the crater (depending on the type of surface involved)?
All of that to say: we developed a gaming system and had no way to display it save for going into game development alongside our graphic, comics, animation, and conceptual work. With LitRPG and GameLit, those stats can be on full display, within the story, for fans of it and for us to enjoy too. I sure do (although I never got into drawing and writing for the math).
There is a lot to come in Battle Avatars and other series in production, but I do not want to overwhelm readers with the world-building—it is always in service of the story.