Friday, July 8, 2022

An Exercise in Saturday Morning Cartoon-Fuelled World-building

Magworld Comic Cover Mockup
Characters created by Owen & Brian Rideout
Character art created with Hero Forge
Used in accordance with their EULA
I like to feed my son's creative play with home-made toys and creations whenever I can. A favorite of his is "standies": paper minis based on characters he loves. I got the idea after I bought Hankerin Ferinale's Index Card RPG Core 2e and saw his paper mini template for TTRPGs. Over the years, a fresh-printed sheet of minis has been his preferred reward for a lot of accomplishments.  I have built sheets of minis based on Minecraft, the Octonoauts, Nintendo 's Kirby games, and Plants vs. Zombies. Grabbing a few images off of a wiki and plugging them into a template has given my kids hundreds of hours of play, 

Recently, he has started asking for designs that are a little harder to reproduce. Netflix's Action Pack was an incredibly difficult to make standies of, as there was very few screenshots online, no fan art, and nothing like a fan wiki. I ended up taking a lot of visually busy promotional images and spending ages cutting out the characters. 

When he asked for me to do the 2021 Netflix reboot of He-Man and he Masters of the Universe as standies, I took about a half an hour trying to sort a signal from the noise, and being reminded of that horrid Kevin Smith intestinal scrape "Revelation, before I surrendered and told him it can’t be done.

"He Man and the Masters of the Universe ", ©️2021 Netflix

"Aeronaut" character design by Owen Rideout
Art created with Hero Forge,
Used in accordance with their EULA
Rather than quitting,  I decided this would be a chance to turn a failure into an opportunity, and instead offered to help him design his own original characters, and a story for them.

I sat him in front of Hero Forge, a program he's loved to play with in the past, and told him that if he made up a few heroes,  I'd make up a few villains,  and then I'd turn them into paper minis for him.

I asked him if he wanted to do science fiction, fantasy, or maybe a science fantasy piece like He-Man to get him started. And before long he was working with me to make a character that he saw as the hero of his own imaginary cartoon.

The Characters Round 1

"Dragonslayer" character design by Owen Rideout
Art created with Hero Forge,
Used in accordance with their EULA
DRAGONSLAYER started off a bit He-Man inspired, but soon developed some unique traits: his armor was made of red, blue, and green dragon scales. He slew Dragons... but only ones that hatched as Dragons, not men turned into Dragons by greed... to cook their flesh, which heals any illness, or gives people the power to understand birds. (My son loves the Reginsmol, and sees Fafnir as the best villain ever.)

Given his faerie tale start, I made ICEDRAKE as a villains. A blue-skinned ugly faerie with dragon wings in a motley. I imagined him a mix of Jack Frost and an evil dragon. At first I suggested he would be tiny and witty, but mu son was determined that he should be a king of ice Dragons and larger than life. A devil figure for his world.

He then wanted a beautiful dark-skinned sorceress with teal wings who had the power to control the weather. This WIND SORCERESS, he told me, was the first magician, and teaches DRAGONSLAYER many things. As we explored his ideas she became almost a goddess figure.

He then decided he needed me to make a Witch. So I got the idea of a hollow-eyed goth girl with a slingshot that launches bottles of unstable poison. It was then that he insisted that the bad guys never be human. Heroes are human but the bad guys should be faeries, monsters, or spirits. So, I made her an Elfin creature with dark alchemy skills. This SHADRA became the touchstone for an idea: the faeries are jealous of humans and want to steal the world from us.

So far so awesome.  Who was our next character?

"Wind Sorceress, Icedrake, and Shadra" character design by Owen & Brian Rideout
Art created with Hero Forge, Used in accordance with their EULA

"Dwergal" character design by Owen Rideout
Art created with Hero Forge
Used in accordance with their EULA
My son decided he wanted a wizard who was the opposite of my Witch. He loved the idea of nemesis that figures that so strongly into He-Man. So we ended up with DWERGAL, a young wizard fresh from wizard school. He had a cat who helped him with his magic, and made exploding crystals  that were also launched by slingshot.  When I delved into what a wizard College was like, he decided that they were new, cropping up all over the place, and DWERGAL was the first educated wizard in his region.

I made a magic-wielding 90 million year old snake man with an Egyptian feel, figuring that SARPENTIS, would be something a six-year-old would think was cool. He told me that it was cliché. I was impressed that he knew the word, and granted him that. But I stuck with it.

My son insisted on a Thief with high tech gadgets next. One who was a prankster. The silly sort not ashamed to carry a rubber chicken and a bag of stink bombs. I offered the name TWIZP on a lark and it stuck. My son went on at length about his tricks gadgets excitedly.  I suspect the fact that we are on a Roald Dahl kick and currently way through Matilda might have something to do with it. In any case, he certainly is an odd, puckish character. I wonder if the few David Tenant era Doctor Who episodes he saw were an inspiration.

"Twisp & Sarpentus" character design by Owen & Brian Rideout
Art created with Hero Forge, Used in accordance with their EULA

"Star Man" character design by Owen Rideout
Art created with Hero Forge,
Used in accordance with their EULA
Then he blew my mind with a heroic astronaut who was old and wise. This didn't feel like anything we had read or watched lately. This STAR MAN (name my suggestion) carried a hand held tractor beam for battle and as a tool.

World Building

I asked if magic and technology were always around together in his world. He said "No." Magic was gone for thousands of years and just coming back. That is why Magic Schools were new and DWEMBEL was unusual... I asked how this applied to WIND SORCERESS. He tried on a few stories and then settled on the idea that the WIND SORCERESS was the last magician of a pre-historic magical age. 

She wrapped herself in stasis holding onto the last sparks of the world's magic to save it and help it grow. When it was ready she returned magic to the world... But with it came both good and evil. Monsters also returned. And faeries. The evil being who destroyed magic in the first place, ICE DRAKE was one of the first to return.

STAR MAN was on a mission to discover why magic faded away in the first place, and serves as a mentor for DRAGONSLAYER while he helps WIND SORCERESS discover her past. DWEMBEL helps because he hopes that WIND SORCERESS can teach him more than magical books can. (My son thinks spell books in Dungeons & Dragons are silly.) TWIZP is an old friend of DRAGONSLAYER along for the ride.

This was with little prodding from me other than a few questions. It was his own mashup of He-Man, Doctor Who, P.J. Masks, Narnia, Harry Potter, and the bits of the Prose Edda I have read him.

The Characters Round 2

When I pitched characters to him, he started to exercise a great deal of veto. He nixed the pack of furry humanoids with big, toothy maws that work by telepathy. And when I created the evil swordsman who mocks the ways of the Samurai called DISHONORED, he insisted I follow the no-humans rule, and had me make him into an evil spirit. When I made a humanoid dragon who and was a musician, he suggested that she was the kind of famous person who got greedy for fame as well as money, and was turning into a dragon as Fafnir had done. We called her DISCORDIA. I gave her a relationship with Ice-Drake as his untrustworthy and back-stabbing second in command.

 About the only bad guy he let me build as I wanted to was a wood-dwelling giant druid who had decided to turn his magical power to command the elements of Fire and Earth to evil. Which became PYROS.

"Dishonored, Pyros, & Discordia" character design by Owen & Brian Rideout
Art created with Hero Forge, Used in accordance with their EULA

My son figured that in a world where magic is new and technology old (and almost as good) a tech genius was a must, and so finished his set with a technology genius called AERONAUT. He designed him to use the cool technological wings he saw while I was searching for character wing options myself earlier, combined with a mechanic outfit, and a few other cool bits and pieces I put together for him.

AERONAUT was about the only character he didn't have a major role in his story about seeking lost magic. But he figured that no one could go on a quest in a world of magic and technology without making friends with someone who could fix and explain technological marvels. He decided that because he could fly and fix things, he was afraid that the wind and storms ICE DRAKE brings would destroy flying machines forever.

Is it genius-grade world-building? No.

Is it cool? Yes. At least as cool as any cartoon made in the last 40 years. Except maybe Pirates of Darkwater.

And that alone makes it a worthwhile thing to share. The imagination of a kid is amazing. And if they can look at the way their favorite stories are told, with a little guidance, they can create something that very much feels like one, with only a little prodding from a grown-up.

Hopefully I can use it as the jumping off point to introduce him into some rudimentary wargaming or use it as the basis for a TTRPG campaign with him one day.


  1. Man, this was one of the most refreshing things I've read recently. Top-notch Saturday morning cartoonery. Your kid is awesome!

    1. Thank you! I am a big fan of my son's creativity.