Geek Native has revealed the ten semi-finalists for Evil Genius’ Urban Arcana world-building contest.
Each of these ten authors and designers can now expand their proposed world for Evil Genius’ Urban Arcana reboot into a 1,000-world proposal and will be paid to do so. At the end of the process, the winner will be hired.
Urban Arcana pitches
Evil Genius has given each 200-word pitch a nickname or title, and Geek Native has put those in alphabetical order. As a result, we can show you the proposals without linking them to the individual authors.
Please note the authors did not pick these working titles, and each submission may have been tweaked slightly for public display.
Chaos is King
[Leave a comment about this entry]
In the year known to much of the world as 1972, in a country then known as the Republic of South Vietnam, a group of soldiers from a distant land discovered an ancient and abandoned structure that they took for a temple of some forgotten faith. Entering it to take shelter from a storm, they accidentally performed a series of actions that completed what could only be called a magic ritual, one of immense, almost unimaginable power. Immediately, all over the world, magical beings of all sorts arose from the half-worlds in which they had been sleeping, while those of the formerly mundane world who had maintained a belief in occult secrets, or the gifts of beings beyond, now found that those powers were available to them. The planet itself was transformed, with great underground regions appearing from nowhere, causing the collapse of buildings on the surface when their foundations became unstable, and the arrival of alien cities on the land, beneath the sea, and in the sky. In the half century since, the world has become almost unrecognizable to those who lived before the return; as someone once said, “magic is loose in the world, and chaos is king.”
Ebb and Flow
[Let us know what you think]
Magic is a tidal cosmological force, a rip current of protean energy that Ebbs and Flows across the universe. During Magical High Tides, many sapient beings evolve and rise to eminence on Gaia. When Magic inevitably Ebbs, a few civilizations and powerful entities successfully ride the cosmological Tide out of Gaia; fewer still construct Magic-infused pocket dimensions anchored to Gaia and hibernate. Most perish.
Magic reached a High Tide during humanity’s early industrial era, and brought with it global upheaval: pocket dimensions unfurled, reshaped landscapes, and reintroduced magical flora and fauna. Several elder civilizations returned with the Flow of Magic hopeful to recreate their ancestral dominion.
Civilizations composed of elder races and humans waged near-apocalyptic war, brokered truces, and forged economies. Humanity and the elder races raised (and razed) stratosphere-piercing, Mantle-colonizing megalopolises, and syncretized High Tide and Low Tide laws of physics, chemistry, biology, and ontology into new wonders and threats.
Despite the potentiality of the current Magic era, scholars and visionaries of humanity and the elder races grapple with the existential threat of Magic’s inevitable Ebb: which of this Era’s cultures can survive the next Ebb? What and who are they willing to sacrifice for an enduring Gaian presence?
[Comment on Feng Shui below]
“You ever hear of Feng Shui, kid? And I don’t mean ‘western facing ficus for good luck’ either… I’m talkin’ cosmic level mojo here. Like, multiple realities and dreamscapes colliding and figuring out a way to wedge themselves together and coexist. That’s what I mean by Feng Shui. I don’t fully understand it myself, but, supposedly, that’s how it happened; somebody arranged things in proper alignment and… BOOM, Bilbo’s house is in your backyard and your neighbor’s chihuahua is the size of a moose. Like a bunch of pieces of twine that used to exist independently suddenly got twisted together to make a solid piece of rope and that’s where we find ourselves now.
Course, that was a couple of hundred years ago. Might even be a few dwarves or elves around that witnessed it happen, not that they’d waste their time talking to you or me… but magic… magic’s something anybody with the right gumption can pick up. It’s like I said before about Feng Shui: if you know how to put the right things in the right places, that cosmic level mojo can dance in the palms of your hands. Whadda’ you say kid? Feel like dancin’?”
[Let us know what you think]
It is easy to forget how much our world has changed. Literally too easy, in fact… because we are ensorcelled.
Trolls are living under the L Train. Harpies roost in the scaffolding of unfinished skyscrapers. Gnomes sublet basements over the Internet. Unicorns graze in city parks… but it all seems normal. Whatever you may think, it is not the elves, dragons, and creatures of myth that are out of place.
For humans, it was a generation ago. A troupe of castaways from a world of concrete, glass, and steel washed up on our shores. All sympathy for the travelers but it would have been better if they had given up their quest before completing the trials; if they had never found The Well. With one misspoken wish, they warped our world into a foggy reflection of their own lost “modern Earth”.
We walk this world under panoptic glamor, living a dream in service to illusion. We can, for a time, awaken and awaken others. Our world is still here; mixed among condos and supermarkets. Primeval glens disguised as neighborhood parks. An office building concealing a sorcerer’s twisted tower beneath its veneer. Cave systems transformed to subways. Uncover what is real.
Places of Power
[Discuss this idea below]
The world itself has no native magic. However, the very fact it has no magic makes it the perfect place for magic from other planes to thrive and to contain unspeakable threats.
The Nazca Lines are a set of constellations, not from this world but from another. When the constellations align once more in relation to each other, magic will once again flow from portals and through the ley lines that criss cross our world.
Stonehenge, the Pyramids, and the Saint Louis Arch. Places where magic seeps through.
Atlantis, Tir Na Nog, Shangri-La. Civilizations that never existed here other than on the other side of portals.
Camelot, the Library of Alexandria, and the Bimini Road. Places that were destroyed when magic left the last time.
Unbeknownst to most, lost to history, the elves were not native to this place. They were assigned as jailers to unknown creatures trapped here due to the lack of native magic. The dwarves were sent here to mine precious ores and craft alloys to contain dangerous creatures from across the dimensions. Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, guard the hidden prisons of the Mi-go and the Starspawn. Of the jailers that watch R’lyeh, there is no knowledge.
[Share your thoughts in the comments]
Magic is a poorly kept secret. Shadowkind needs it to live, various factions want to research, guard against, exploit, or just coexist with it. In a modern world full of governments and corporations, it’s not about who’s ‘good’ or ‘evil’. You either play the game or become the ball.
The fabric of reality is like the Earth’s Crust. Magic comes through volcano-like’ vents’. Vents can erupt (magic on Earth, Buffy’s Hellmouth), have ‘magma chambers’ (otherworlds, e.g. the Backrooms), ‘hotspots’/’ subduction’ (portals in/out of Shadow (Owl House’s door). Vents emerge, erupt, and go extinct, warping their host environment. A supermarket eruption may produce mysterious new snacks. An eruption haunted slaughterhouse will ‘process’ the whole neighborhood if nobody stops it.
Vents connect to “Outside”: a sprawling, interconnected cosmos where ‘elf’ describes dozens of separate races and cultures. Shadowkind adapts to whatever culture they find themselves among. Elven tacos and dwarven sushi are equally likely.
LGBTQIA+ history inspires Shadowkind history. Both are groups living in secret. LGBTQIA+ history commonly features diverse factions uniting against common threats. The popularity of LGBT elements in Urban Fantasy (See: almost every IP listed above) means the heroes we glorify will be among our players.
[Let us know what you think]
Remember when magic was secret? When things like elves, goblins, and beastmen stayed hidden?
Then the Atlanta Incident happened, when terrorists detonated a dirty bomb at the airport in 2014. A mage tried to contain it, tapped into a leyline in desperation, saved the city… and blew the charade wide open.
Now everybody knows. For decades strange people, often inhuman, from shadowy worlds have been showing up with no memories of their homes. Some brought supernatural talents. As for magic, it’s always been around, tucked away in the deep corners of the world, whether harnessed from mysterious spiritual energies, inner faith, the primal forces of the universe, or the power of the mind itself. Over the last decade, world powers have been reacting to this global upheaval: some to understand, some to control… some to eradicate.
The people who understand the most about the formerly hidden world know how much they still don’t know: the nature and extent of the multiverse, the true potential and source of magical power, the real history of the paranormal and supernatural… or what new upheaval might come next.
So, magic is real. Who knows what else waits in Shadows Surrounding?
[Comment on Sub Rosa below]
Magic is real and always has been. While most of humanity lives in a world where everything is as they assume the divine, the mystic, and the primal have always been with us, shaping our reality behind the scenes. The uninitiated, unaware and Mundane, ignore and explain away the fantastic. Even those who seek the hidden world pass it by as it hides in plain sight. To those who have been made Aware, all can be revealed.
Sub Rosa is a “hidden history” scenario based on folklore, conspiracy theory, and real history. In it, there is a hidden layer of magic and mad science that shapes world events. Cults, aliens, secret government agencies, and the fae influence politics, art, and entertainment, all without the rest of the world knowing.
Adventures can be ripped from the headlines, be inspired by urban legends, or taken from historical events. Players delve into the secret world as innocents caught up in events they don’t understand, agents of shadowy forces, investigators intent on exposing the hidden, and so much more. AI wizards run governments, giants and dragons sleep under mountains, madmen and demons dwell in volcano lairs, and much more awaits players in Sub Rosa.
[Leave a comment about this entry]
Twice upon a time, the gods created the Earth, with flora and fauna both magical and mundane, as well as several species to serve as caretakers.
Each god granted a gift to one of the species. Elves became masters of magic, dwarves became craftsmen, and humans would embrace technology.
Yet the Trickster god gave one extra gift to each species – desire. Desire would turn into war, and the world was nearly destroyed by those chosen to be its caretakers. Thus, the gods intervened.
The gods split the Earth into two separate worlds. One was a world of technology, while the other was a world of magic. For millennia, the two remained apart.
Yet each world was slowly dying. One could not live without the other. The gods intervened once more. The two worlds were merged back into one. Creatures of magic walked the Earth. Airplanes would soon share the sky with dragons. The ancient elven homeland of Avalon and the lost continent of Atlantis would reappear. Dwarves would find homes within the Rockies and Himalayan mountains, while halflings made a home in New Zealand.
The year is 2035. Welcome to Terra Arcana.
When Worlds Collide
[Let us know what you think of this pitch]
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke
Some say the Large Hadron Collider was the first time a hole was punched through the barrier between the worlds. We know now that we were mistaken. There have been incursions before, way back in the antiquity of humanity in which beings who are Other have approached our campfires from the shadows. These appearances gave rise to such concepts as monsters and magic, stories that, despite our advancements and reason, humanity could never really shake from the far corners of our minds. These past incursions were just that, brief appearances from unknown beings, unable to anchor in place for longer than a generation. The collider changed all of that.
In our sheer hubris, we sought to create a window to peer into the infinitesimal spaces to find meaning. Instead we opened a door that we have been unable to close and that has brought ancient species and magics to Earth. Before, these Other beings were the ones who visited us, but now, we are inadvertently destroying their world, drawing it through to ours. The Large Hadron Collider was the technological singularity that created a new mythological age for humanity.
- Evil Genius Games
- Urban Arcana 10 semi-finalists
Let us know what you think in the discussion area below.
When Worlds Collide looks very cool. Hope it gets published.
I would LOVE to play in the Ebb and Flow world. 🤩
Ebb and flow sounds so interesting! Would love to play it one day!
There’s an eerie nightmare quality to Panoptic Glamor — all these beings of legendary and magical potential working drudge jobs in offices, unaware of who they really are. I’d find it inspiring to play characters waking up to their true selves and fighting back against the bland hellscape. Reminds me of Changeling and Mage back in the day, but it’s different too — very much it’s own enchanted nightmare world.
Choices that I am interested in: Panoptic Glamor – Even though this is set in a magical other world it maintains the feel of a familiar Earth in a way many of the others do not. The magic is ubiquitous but not open to the public. It gives players a chance at discovery that I feel is at the heart of urban fantasy. Shadows Surrounding – While the magic is not exactly hidden, it does suggest further secrets to discover. It sets the revelation of magic at a recent enough point in time that it does not feel like it… Read more »
“Chaos is King – I feel like setting the instigating incident so far in the past should lead to too much technological and cultural shift for the setting to reasonably feel familiar to modern Earth.”
… fifty years ago is “so far in the past”?
In terms of social and technological development, it is a pretty big gap to handwave and say the world still turned out pretty much the same. Maybe I would feel different after reading the 1,000 word version but what I read seemed to suggest that the world was plunged into chaos in 1972. It might be a fascinating setting to explore but 2023 in that world is not going to look and feel like 2023 in the real world. Urban Fantasy isn’t exactly the same as alternate history with added magic. It could end up being very similar or Chaos… Read more »
I think that whoever promised you that these settings would look like 2023 in the real world may have been misinformed. That wasn’t any part of what was solicited by the publisher; just that you can have all the same sorts of adventures that you can have in 2023 in the real world — heists, political intrigue, action, exploration — plus magic and monsters.
The problem with Urban Fantasy is scale: unless you invoke the “secret concurrent fantasy races and magic all along” trope, the worldbuilding falls apart or gets messy, or fails to meet the prompts from the initial contest. Even if someone invokes that trope though, it leads to pretty predictable beats. We could play World of Darkness or Shadowrun for that vibe and not buy new IP. I like Panoptic Glamor, but I’m confused how it doesn’t meet your critique of Chaos is King and Ebb and Flow for rewriting the world. If I understand the pitch correctly, Panoptic is a… Read more »
The reason I say Panoptic Glamor doesn’t have the problem is because the people living in that world mostly don’t know their own history. Only people who have woken up from the glamor see the magical things. They are enchanted into thinking they live in our world and that things are mundane. The surface gameworld is like our world rather than being like our world if magic had been a tool during the cold war era. As I understandit, it would function a bit like Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City but the explanation for the underlying magical world is different. Rhiannon’s… Read more »
I can see the take. It’s kind of a supernatural matrix, then–folks awaken in a false system and gradually realize their agency. The DIE comics and subsequent rpg by Rowan, Rook, and Decard comes to mind, too. Of the, “magic is always-present and the world is more or less the same on the surface” entries, Panoptic stands out to me. But I’d also like to see a take on modern fantasy that extends past a, “the world is more than what it seems” discovery of magic in modernity narrative. I don’t want the ceiling of possibility in a modern fantasy… Read more »
If Ebb and Flow or Chaos is King (also Feng Shui) moved their instigating events sometime after the introduction of the Palm Pilot, I would consider them more seriously. I prefer my Urban Fantasy to have a hidden world aspect but it is not a requirement. Disrupting the modern world is fine but the divergence needs to either be after certain developments or otherwise allow for those developments or I feel like it is not in keeping with the scope of this project. Obviously, the contest runners do not entirely agree with me given that all of these made it… Read more »
To each their own, but I think the Arthur Clarke quote you say could have been for world building in Worlds Collide did a lot of world building when paired with the hadron collider.
Perhaps that statement was overly harsh. I wanted to know more about what made that pitch unique and the quote didn’t get me closer to what I wanted to see.
I like Panoptic Glamour and Shadowkind, I hope we get to see those in the final 3
I’m most interested in Ebb and Flow and When World’s Collide, I hope we can see those fleshed out further.
Lots of cool concepts here. Ebb and Flow definitely feels the grandest, which I really like. There are so many ways you could play with the rise and fall of magical civilizations.
Ebb and Flow- who will survive the next Ebb? I’m hoping to play and find out.
The political and faction based tension inherent to Ebb and Flow makes me extremely curious to see more. The “Ebb” as a mechanism of apocalypse seems ripe for a game of secrets, prophecy, and urgency.
Feng Shui similarly, but that’s mostly because I like the characterization and want more because I was left wanting something meatier to latch on to 😊
I feel like some entries lean too heavily on pop culture as short-hand, but under a strict word count, I have to recognize the appeal.
Ebb and Flow is by far my favorite. I played the original Urban Arcana when it came out and this really nails the vibe of the it while still feeling fresh
I really love the ideas presented in Ebb and Flow. The incoming magic and the possibility of it declining again as an almost Sword of Damocles hanging over the world keeps a really cool storytelling tension.
On Shadowkind: LET THE RECORD SHOW: I did a lot of abbreviation and shorthand to fit the idea within 200 words! Even “Shadowkind” is shorthand, a nod to the original Urban Arcana. My setting collectively calls all of the worlds that aren’t Earth “Outside”. I can’t fit the whole idea in this post, it’s huge. Let me just focus on the Geology Angle here. All references to other works are for shorthand sake, and to show that all of these other properties could fit within the framework my setting provides. We need a world that accommodates a lot of different… Read more »
I imagine every creator had to kill some darlings to hit the word count. My suggestion is to embrace that you were asked to develop your pitch as a metric of success, and focus on the next 1,000 words. Time spent justifying your decisions for a product that achieved its goal doesn’t help you build your craft or progress!
That’s the truth. For my entry, I had to cut out how magic has affected politics and trade throughout history (such as why the Pantheon in Rome is the shape it is, why the Fourth Crusade ended up sacking Constantinople, and even what JPL founder Jack Parsons was getting up to when he blew himself up) as well as how various other hominids like elves, dwarves, and orcs have been integrating with mainstream humanity (both Prince and Taylor Swift are elves. OBVIOUSLY). It’s hard to cut down 80+ pages of playable content into 200 words, but that was the task… Read more »
Feng Shui, Shadows Surrounding, and Sub Rosa sound particularly interesting.
The mental image of suddenly having the Shire in “my” backyard is hilarious and I’m curious where the author plans on going with that. The other two… the “magic was always hidden” cliche is old hat but there’s a reason why it works. And Sub Rosa invokes images of treasure hunting heroes going on globe hopping adventures for magical artifacts like the Holy Grail which is awesome…
Hey, I’m all for whatever gets us closest to the Urban Arcana that we had!
Jeff Grubb and Stan! are two of the original four designers for Urban Arcana and are part of the Evil Genius. I think if they wanted that, they could do it easily enough. Just file off some serial numbers and put out something close to the original. I think they’re looking for something new. Still, there’s nothing stopping you from running things that way.
Love Feng Shui
I think Shadowkind is my current favorite! I want to see where it goes!!! Sub Rosa is my second choice! I am excited to s e where both go with the next step!
I really like the idea here, sort of like The City and the City or a waking Dreamworld, with coexisting realities except that one of them is illusion. Seems like a very interesting setup.
Oops, my earlier comment was meant for Panoptic Glamor — I thought comments were being directed to each entry, not listed below all the entries.
The other one that I liked a lot was Sub Rosa. I’m a sucker for hidden history/interstitial stories, and the potential to put so many different story elements together and play with them all sounds really intriguing! “The truth is out there!” ;-)