Thursday 27 December 2012

Dead spirits

"The lonely dead know only anger, and vengeance, and their own will. They are not some romantic idea that obeys logic and society, their goals are often enough inachievable, and they cannot be reasoned with. I will teach you how to capture and unite them with the Great Spirit, and that is the only way we have of dealing with them." — Collector Novi Blue Seas, to her apprentice
Among the several kinds of spirits on Kitas, dead spirits are the most common "artificial" ones. Dead spirits come into being from people dying under bad circumstances - murder, intense pain of mind or body, while obsessed with one thought, from incorrect or missing burial rituals - or simply because they believe they must become spirits. Dead spirits are wrathful and insane. They are obsessed with getting justice and will leave when they get it - which may be as easy as setting up a tombstone. In harder cases, spirit collectors are called. Dead spirits have the general shape of their former self, but strangely dislocated in places, with bones shining through and a clearly visible dark heart. Only powerful spirits can attack, but their presence always causes discomfort or damage - from headaches to heart attacks. All dead spirits will attempt possession.

Artist's notes
Ghosts and haunted places were among my favourite stories as a child, from poltergeists to banshees, Wiedergänger, Aufsitzer... the dead spirits of Genius Loci have many of those powers. They are not helpful at all, not to be trifled with, and can be encountered anywhere, which should be a lot of fun in stories to come. Darkhearts are powerful enemies of freedom, and therefore the dark heart suited the dead very well (I am very glad I had this idea).

Monday 3 December 2012

Genius Loci races: Elves

"Everyone is different, but elves are more different than others."
— kitaian proverb

Elves are indeed a strange folk. Their bodies work differently; what is normally edible or harmful kills or heals an elf. Some say it's because elves are slow inside - maybe they are right, elves live for over eight centuries. But then, no-one is as fast as elves. Their speed, balance, and elegance are legendary.
Elves have nearly black hair, green-circled black eyes, and beastlike features - all of them; for elves all look the same, like twins. Actual twins are one person in two bodies, extremely rare, and quite feared. There are no half-elves; children of elves are elves as well, and elves are more often than others subject to racist prejudice.
Elves can be voices for their entire lives. They can communicate with spirits easily, and many spirit collectors are elves.

"The most frightening person I can think of? An elven twin assassin."
— Oyofe, mercenary

Elves depend on an intact environment. A long unchanged town, even bustling with people, will do just as well as a beach or forest. It's fresh destruction that affects them; mining, logging, large construction sites. Many elves are engineers and architects to ensure a nature-friendly process.

Mentally, elves are often absent, or seek solitude. They long to understand a wisdom that seems just beyond their reach, making them prone to mental disorders like obsessions or paranoia. They partake in society less and less with age, focusing on their meditations.

Artist's notes
Every good fantasy setting needs elves; I found them the most difficult race to design. I dislike the over-powered elves of common fantasy: unbelievably beautiful, overly smart, and - of course! - magical. I wanted the Genius Loci elves to be a people than can be interacted wit, that can appear as normal inhabitants of the world, yet retain some of the mysterious qualities of traditional elves. I think they turned out okay, with the similarities in appearance and spirit affinity. By the way, elves are equally often mages and wizards.

Friday 9 November 2012

More Starmaker

"When we looked down into the valley, the ground gave a sigh, then moved upwards and stretched, until a gigantic figure stood in front of a watching sky. Slowly, she turned towards us, and we tried hard to grind time to a halt before we would have to meet her gaze."
— Junikälla Honi, traveller

Artist's notes
The plan when painting Starmaker usually is to create a portrait, put it in absurd scale or unreal surroundings, and then add abstract and strange elements until it's creepy enough. I often think her to be clad in white, but I like her in black as well.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Elementarians: Fleeters

Fleeters are one of the four kinds of elementarians, associated with each of the elements. Fleeters personify water, the power of the north. They are of jellyfish-like consistency, but very large and can walk on land, although they prefer to swim. Fleeters are playful, enjoy the company of river spirits and children, and are the first to help when a dryad enters the lands. Helping the dryad, that is.

 "A fleeter lives in our river and attends our summer's end festival each year. And every year it floods the entire city hill in its excitement, and is then crestfallen to see that we don't like our homes to swim away. It always helps to clean the next day."
— Grehja Sumin, Sawan craftswoman

Fleeter water is said to have healing powers, and fleeters often settle disputes (compromise is a principle of the north); they also innocently rearrange the landscape they live in, making them the elves' nightmare. As all waters, they wash out the ground, and fleeters are filled with tiny specks of gold that make them glitter.

"The fleeter of Chirahoni river ended a speaker war before it reached its peak. The people of that land are so grateful, the fleeter can easily be considered the wealthiest of them all."
— Dret, historian

Artist's notes
Fleeters had a wide range of inspirations, from the Nightwalker of Princess Mononoke to centaurs some thing I saw in a "Tales of the Darkness" comic once. I wanted to avoid a too dragon-like appearance and overworked the concept a few times. It may still not be done, but I definitely like their character.

Thursday 9 August 2012

Nature spirits

There are several kinds of spirits in the Genius Loci setting, the most common being nature spirits. They live in natural objects and landmarks - from small plants to mountains, from rocks to major lakes and rivers - but some very old artificial objects have attracted a spirit as well. There is no hierarchy between nature spirits; the size of their living place and their power are closely related, but no spirit can make his place change out of its nature, like affecting the shape of a tree.
Nature spirits resemble a floating skull with a handful of segmented tails. They are usually friendly and playful; they speak little, but giggle a lot.

"Being led by nature spirits to get somewhere is a tricky business. The bigger spirits don't like to leave their homes, and the smaller ones seem to enjoy your company too much to just lead you to where you want to go."
— Cyma, traveller
Artist's notes
Nature spirits don't die when their home is destroyed, but they will be grumpy about it. I wanted Genius Loci to be largely free of religious conflict, and turned to animism. On Kitas, people apologize for destroying natural landmarks or killing animals; the spirits in turn don't take revenge (usually). And of course the kodama spirits from Princess Mononoke were an inspiration. Threr is only one spirit per tree in Genius Loci, though.

Sunday 29 July 2012

Genius Loci races: Dwarves

Dwarves are small, strong, sturdy, and a very colourful - and hairy - people. While only men have beards, the pelty soft hair has to be tamed, for dwarven hair never stops growing. If they don't just shave to save time,  dwarves like to wear elaborate fashions with multiple braids, combs, and needles. Colours can be changed with nutrition; eyes, hair, and the spots can all be changed. Unaffected, dwarves have maroon eyes, mauve hair, and light blue spots; since they require quite a lot of sustenance, though, that is a rare sight. Dwarven hands are sensitive and delicate, dwarves never lose their bearing, and - a source of many interesting building habits - can see through stone. This, of course, makes them expert miners; but dwarves also like to be cooks or surgeons, or singers, for dwarven voices carry far and wide.

"After Plokin was destroyed, it was mostly dwarves who rebuilt it. Within only a few years there was a new, thriving metropole. Conspiracy theorists say they also made it so that they can look through every wall. You can believe it or not, but the richest citizens of Plokin are dwarves."
— Bereban Djife, innkeeper

The dwarves' autophobia is legendary. They are deeply afraid of being alone, and the few that actually do live or travel by themselves are noticeably odd. Because of this, dwarves tend to live in cities rather than remote villages and have large families, and since they also live for up to four centuries, the clans have extensive family trees, often spread over many countries. Dwarves have a liking for parties and festivities, often take part in large-scale projects, and love to travel.

Artist's notes
I love how the dwarves turned out to be, and the exotic appeal of their colourfulness. Since I always wanted to have things a bit more different than your average fantasy settings, it was clear that my dwarves would not be silly drunkards, or be only miners and smiths. Artistically, it was the first race I decided would have different facial proportions, and spaced their eyes much wider than humans'; I like the effect of it, they look familiar, but definitely not human. And their hairdos are great fun to paint.

Saturday 21 July 2012

Traditional costume

"The natives of Markohan are wonderful to behold in their colourful dresses. Each of an array on traditional accomplishments grants them one more colour and fabric to wear, and their masters are a splendid sight indeed."
—  Rafach'queai, diplomat

Costume is a vital part of kitaian cultures. Many have symbolic parts, like colours or specific accessoires. And since clothing and attire tell so much about the wearer, most people, even in foreign countries, will not change their costume as long as it's survivable - furs may not be worn in the hot desert, but their wearer will insist on his ochre sash representing his leadership. How strict a dressing code is varies widely, however; while some peoples define everything from threads to colours to cuts, others only demand a somewhat similar appearance.

"Oh, to be stripped of the blue, and the stingray leather! I had tried myself at the noble art of boatmaking and failed - now I am marked. What worse fate than to be without the colour of the sea!"
— Sadda-Lon Daia, Markohanese
Artist's notes
Costume is an important part of my world's design. Costume sets people of different origin apart, different descendance, wealth, influence, occupation, age... I often dislike the modern look of games, as well as the gritty, "medieval" approach of starving peasants in undyed, torn tunics. Most of my inspiration comes from historical costumes; I am always interested in small bits, like Vikings inscribing their hands and nails with rune-charms, or that the ancient Egypts believed their life force could escape through their throat and wore necklaces as protection.

Monday 16 July 2012

Genius Loci races: Humans

There are three types of humans: the dark-skinned southern, the blockier northern, and the flexible gderan. All of them have black hair and dark eyes. The southerners are more enduring, the northerners hardier, and the gderans dextrous. Most of the human population in Gdera is indeed gderan, while the other continents have mixed populations. Common to all humans is that they suffer ridiculously easy from the common cold - a steady source of jokes to other races.
The shimmer is far stronger in humans, resulting in a gleam that, without protection, will cause eye damage over time; gderans protect themselves with paint, veils, or masks. Gderans don't do well with animal fats, and many are vegetarians.

"Humans often worry they might stand out - more prone to mental breakdowns than others, more war-like, more ignorant; less talented, less supportive, not as sure. The good news to them is, the average-ness of humans is quite often what holds a society together."
— Stone giant

Humans tend to be curious, and are equally fatalistic and optimistic. They have a tendency towards cynism and philosophical short-sightedness, and at the same time suffer from helping syndrome and weltschmerz. They are regarded as one of the most discrepant peoples of Kitas.

Artist's notes
I thought about introducing subtypes into other races as well, but the humans are only slightly different in themselves; and when I think about it - the garren, dwarves, and raganaj are very different from one another, so humans have a right to be diverse as well, I guess. I never liked the human-centristic worldview often seen in sci-fi, and sometimes fantasy, and humans are no important race of the Genius Loci setting; neither in numbers nor occupations.

Tuesday 10 July 2012


Kitas has three main landmasses: Sawa in the north, continent of fire; in the south Lozir, the lands of air and earth; and Gdera in the west, the lands of life. The myriad of islands in the sea of the Singing Ryaq are considered the continent of water. 

"Don't think that only landmarks need to be charted. Speakers put places of power in their atlases, voices know the genius loci, shankeh every road and route."
— Zahkhi, shopkeeper

Four main oceans divide the lands: the dark Great Ulah around the north pole; the Green Ryaq between the continents; the deep Blue Trimal in the south, and the vast Singing Ryaq. Furthermore, the Pillar Street between Sawa and Lozir is famous for its many rock spires.

Artist's notes
The physical shape of Kitas has come a long way. I drew the very first map a few weeks after I invented the setting; it was then a tiny world with practically no water, and I had spent no thoughts on actual geography. The next maps showed the single continents, and I have refined those maps a great deal since then, I'm still adding tiny landmarks. There is also a map creation tutorial in my art blog.
The joy of having an entire world at my disposal is that, whatever landscape I come up with, there is room for it somewhere. I could draw Kitas landscapes for the rest of my life and not be done. Many fantasy worlds, especially in games, are to small for my taste (I don't want to run through the world forever without reaching any place, of course. But just a wee bit bigger).

Tuesday 3 July 2012

The night sky

"The moons in the sky are as useful to us as flowers on the fields; we do not have to concern ourselves with them, but life is richer if we do. However, it is said that the moons have strange effects on fleeters."
— Jio Farsight, wizard

Two moons accompany Kitas through the sky: the large orange one is called Companion ("Begleiter"), the smaller white one Runner ("Läufer"), circling both Companion and Kitas in a fast pace. The large turquoise star is called the Eye, visible just before dawn and just after sundown, and good telescopes show that the Eye has a herd of own moons. Kitaians can see two nebulae in the night skies; the summer shows golden green clouds littered with stars almost filling the sky, the winter features a smaller, deep purple nebula with dim dots of light.

Artist's notes
I was influenced by the wonderful night sky of The Elder Scrolls game series; I had loved it since Morrowind, and it was clear to me that I wanted a nebula as well. When I couldn't make up my mind between two colours for it, I decided to have both, and therefore two nebulae.
The stars play no significant role in Kitas' magic or superstition. While some cultures believe the moons have an effect on people, the stars are mostly good for navigation. There is no astrology on Kitas, and no prophecies; I have always hated the idea of fate.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Races: Garren

The garren (sing.: gar, also "the scaled people"), are a multicoloured lizardlike race with four
fingers and a spinal crest. The tail is flexible, but clumsy, and can be used as a weapon. If the tail, fingers, or other small body parts are lost, they can be grown back. The crest is covered in soft thin scales and flexible between stabilizing spikes. The colour and pattern can be changed by eating certain foods; the patterns are not predictable. Garren have quick reflexes and are very enduring; they are also cold-blooded, and prefer the warm regions.
"We were halfway towards the tavern door when a gar drew his blades and exploded among us. Within the blink of an eye he had created a carnage the likes of which I've only seen on the battlefield."
— Riinan, mercenary
Psychologically, garren are impulsive and usually the first to act. They tend towards polarized views; being aware of that, they readily seek counsel for important decisions. On the bright side, life isn't boring with garren around; while they can be incredibly lazy, they like sports and love to experiment.
"If you get a garren trader alone, act, and try to rush him as much as you can - you'll get even the most ridiculous contracts through. But be careful of the voices' sign - they are not the same as those garren who have never heard."
— Valini Jiraal, trader 
Artist's notes
I've been asked if a tailed race would voluntarily wear trousers. My answer is, yes of course they would, if their culture tells them to; since there are no cultures on Kitas that don't wear anything, the garren would be dressed.
A tail is a nice body part to play with in pictures; while I imagine the tail to be lizard-like and dragged behind, it can also flinch and twitch like a cat's. Sometimes in fantasy settings, lizard folk are slow and dim-witted, violent, or heavily armoured; garren are a lot more like birds, agile and curious.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Concerning wempons

Wempons are large beasts for riding and carrying. They are almost four meters high, have long horns pointing sideways, are scaled on top and are otherwise clad in thick dense fur. They have large burrowing claws also used for climbing (yes, there are trees on Kitas that can carry a beast of almost four tons), their muscular tails can grab. They are mostly vegetarian, preferring leaves, fruit, and roots, but also eat bugs and the likes.

"Sometimes I wonder why I put up with all this nonsense from that beast. It bites, it kicks, it tries to spear me with its horns. But then it wakes me in the middle of the night to flee from lava, runs over highwaymen, scares off most predators, and intimidates the innkeeper to go down with the stable price. So, all things considered, having a wempon is like have a best friend, albeit a really grumpy one."
— Martel, traveller

They are great mounts if one can get along with them. Wempons are picky about riders and hard to get used to being rented; usually they belong to only one person. Riders climb their mount holding on to the horns or stepping on a bent leg. Wempons need additional training to serve as packing animals, but can then carry great loads - some nomad tribes have herds of them packed with an entire village worth of belongings. Wempons don't like having things dangle over their legs, so the riders' legs have to be out of the way and are pulled up on the saddle.

Being sent to herd the wempons is among the least favourite jobs for youngsters; the beasties will push them around and be hard to look after. On the other hand, it's a good way to become friends with one that will be a loyal mount later.

"Strange to see how friendly wempons are with children, almost like bug fairies. Even stranger to see how vain they can be - once you get the holiday dress on them, they want to keep it, and the paint, too. Silly creatures."
—Martel, traveller

Artist's Notes
These beasts were among the first creatures I stuck with when I began developing Genius Loci, and their design has never changed much. My main inspirations were anteaters, watussi cattle, and pangolins, but there's a bit of elephant and camel in it too, the latter mainly in their behaviour. I often put them in paintings because I imagine them to be ideal travelling companions, even if I made them sound pretty disagreeable. There are also other riding animals in development; for example, riding birds, seen in the salt flats landscape of the "Introducing Genius Loci" entry.

Thursday 7 June 2012

The Area, and Starmaker

The Area ("Die Gegend") is the parallel mindworld of the Genius Loci setting. It is a global mindscape that can be entered at any point and time, and shows a great deal of own will. The Area is most riddlesome, diffuses the borders between minds, and dazzles the travellers' perception, but also holds great wisdom. Many travellers are cosmologists seeking deeper understanding, answers to a mystery, or need help with spirits. Other travellers are voices, and former voices accompanying them. The real world and the Area influence each other to some degree; the rules are mysterious.

Certain rituals shall ensure the safe return of the traveller. Protective charms exist, but are rare, and a stable mind is the best armour one can have in a land that seems to be made of thought. Those who enter do not leave a body, but are not fully material in the Area either; it is unknown what exactly happens to the body. Items can sometimes be taken from the Area, sometimes not, and it has a knack of keeping things from the travellers arbitrarily.
"The borders between yourself and your surroundings were blurred in the Area, as were those between your companions and yourself. Anyone's nightmare could become everyone's."
— Nin, traveller
 Inside the Area, one will find a landscape that quickly becomes twisted, confusing, and dreamy. Travellers find it increasingly difficult to distinguish between the real world and the Area. While seemingly arbitrary, the Area is not considered evil, but too complex to understand. It does hold treasures of knowledge; but it is hidden in riddles and wrapped in illusion.


Starmaker ("Sternenschaffer") seems to be the only constant inhabitant of the Area and has never been seen outside. She is very mysterious, and it is unclear whether she is an actual person or just another illusion of the Area; even the earliest travellers report meeting her. Starmaker is named after her favourite sign and mark; a shining star that she leaves as a clue. She appears as a human woman with blonde hair - very rare among humans - and golden eyes that seem to be and look everywhere. She is as willful as the Area itself, and, like a dryad, follows a set of unfathomable rules.

"In the same eyes we looked and looked not, from the same voice we shivered and did not. She was a sparkle of moonlight on a moved pond, a spirit in the wind - never clearly seen, but known to be there."
— Kan Rama Jin, elder voice

Artist's Notes
I have always liked surreal artwork, figurative speech, and symbolic meanings. The Area is a way of really going overboard with that. More than in other Genius Loci artwork, the invention goes both ways - sometimes I paint and forge rules out of the result, other times I plan ahead before I paint. The Area is not a dreamworld in the classical sense, nor a ghostly aftzerlife. It was mostly influenced by the Norse otherworld, where you could end up after just crossing a hill or something equally mundane, and that is how the Area works as well - most importantly, unforeseeable.

Saturday 2 June 2012

Introducing Genius Loci

Genius Loci is a fantasy setting where spirits walk among the people, legendary creatures cause the rise or fall of empires, and varied races share unique cultures. The mystical landscapes of Kitas, as the world is known by those who dwell there, are soaked with magic and teeming with riddles and legends.
This blog documents my development of Genius Loci as I explore the various in-world aspects of this “riddlesome fairy-tale” through drawings, sketches, and short articles about, well, everything! While much of my art appears on my other website,, many smaller works will be exclusive to this blog.

How is Genius Loci special?

The Genius Loci setting works outside of stereotypes often found in fantasy settings. It is an attempt to create a fantastical, believable world with a story to it. Two worlds, actually, because Genius Loci is not just one place: the real, material world of Kitas is accompanied by the mysterious Area, a dreamlike parallel world that can - and should - only be entered with special precautions. While not entirely without substance, it is a mindrealm where things are not as they seem.
The setting constitutes that race and culture are independent of each other. Members of the same race do not automatically agree, and there is no such thing as a dwarven country, or elven language. In other words, the idea of multi-ethnic cultures is taken to a whole new level on Kitas.

A fantastic world

Genius Loci is a latin term that means "spirit of place". Kitas is filled with all manner of spirits, making it a very magical world. Nature spirits are caring, curious, and self-sufficient; the spirits of the dead are grief-stricken, violent, and vengeful; spirits known as “echoes” are leftover images of people who may not even be dead; and the most feared of all, the titular spirits of place - the genius loci - themselves, are incredibly powerful entities that can come into existence anywhere, seemingly at random, pushing its destructive will on everything and everyone within its domain.
In addition to the setting’s numerous spirits, the very continents of Kitas are infused with magic: each is dominated by the elements of either water, earth and air, fire, or life, strongly influencing their landscapes.

Names and translations

I'm German, and the original names of terms within Genius Loci are German as well. If a name can be translated, it usually will be, though I will mention the original name as well. However, because of the nature of language, sometimes the feel of a name is changed, as within the famous rhyme of the Four, so it may be that I cannot find any suitable translation. In these cases, I will share the original German, and leave the translation to you.


This entry has been edited by Kody "Corvell" Cowell, in December 2017.