Lots, as it turns out. However, there are quite a few things that could break the "shared" quality of the world. So, you are asked to observe the following guidelines.
Of course, we can't -- and don't want too -- stop someone from writing just because they're not "following the laws." You can write anything you darn well please. Bear in mind, though, that if you ignore the rules, your story definitely won't be canon, and BaxilDragon may give you long mournful looks or something. And no one wants a sad dragon, now do we?
So, if you want to write a story in the Tomorrowlands universe, please read the rest of the page carefully. Some guidelins are there to limit your artistic freedom, yes, because we all have to agree on a set of rules to run a shared world by. But some guidelines are just restating what should be obvious; and some are there to help you sharpen your ideas of the world, suggest avenues to explore, or improve your writing -- so don't be intimidated by the length of the lists!
- Don't write anything that could get you (or anyone else) arrested. This means child pornography, credible threates of violence against real-world targets, etc. Also, BaxilDragon may reject any story he finds personally revolting -- although, with his standards, this tends to mean things on the order of "positive depictions of rape" or "unequivocal support of hate crimes."
- Respect the canon. For example, the New Year's Flyby happened in New York on New Year's Eve, 1996; don't have people at as if EventTheFlyby never occurred. There wasn't a second one in Seattle (or anywhere else for that matter); so don't have any dragons buzz the Space Needle on December 31, 1996. (BaxilDragon plans to eventually establish an "offical" timeline of events. Until then, he is propably the only person who knows all of what's going on, so ask him. Lots, if necessary. A list of currently established events can be found in the Events category.
- Respect other people's character. Okay, maybe CharacterDennisRedwing is actually a close personal friend of your main charact, Bob. But maybe he isn't. That's for BaxilDragon to say, not you. Consult with the character's "owner" ifyou want to use someone's character in more than just passing.
- No making real-life people into characters. This is more of a copyright issue than anything else; someone's "real self" is just as mush property as their "characters" would be. Plus, it's a quick way to get in trouble if that person reads the story and doesn't like what you've done with them.
- No powergaming. No "Unblockable Death Attacks" or "I'm a reincarnated god" or "have three wishes for anything" or "I'll hold off that tank battalion while you guys steal the gem" or "well,yes, you killed me, but I just made myself a new body." First of all, it would be stopped by the inbuilt checks and balances of the world (or other mages); read more about this in the next section. Secondly, it's in very poor taste.
BaxilDragon personal expectations. The are all equally important.
- No self-insertion. Yes, the world is based on Earth, so logically we all should still exist there. But self-insertion constrains the writer greatly, makes it more difficult to capture an audience, and at best just leads to an awkward story all around. Please, at least make an alter ego with a different name, or preferably a different character entirely. Also, read the disclaimer to find out why BaxilDragon is disallowing this. Read the disclaimer, and did we mention read the disclaimer?
- No cross-migration of characters from/to other worlds. Tomorrowlands is about people exploring their own world; dimension-jumpers have plenty of other places to go, and Tomorrowlands inhabitants should have far more pressing issues than visiting Pern. (Of course, crossovers are inevitable; this is not saying don't write them, this is just saying they won't be canon.)
- No alien invasions, nuclear exchanges (or threats thereof), or other world-endangering occurrences. See next rule.
- For that matter, no evil overlords, mad scientists, or secret conspiracies of mages out to take over the world. The world of Tomorrowlands has a checks and balance system that keeps such things from building to threatening levels. BaxilDragon hasn't revealed much about this system in advance, but for your reference, the level at which such threats are addressed is probably about equal to "World Trade Center."
- Follow the rules of magic and therianthropy. BaxilDragon has written an essay on Tomorrowlands therianthrope classification, which should provide all the necessary guidelines for the latter. As for the former: Magic is all about willpower changing reality; it can be done in damn near any way you want, as long as that's the basic principle. (No saying that magic ONLY works if you speak in rhymes, or whatever. Your character may believe that, or do it that way because it lends focus to his belief -- but other people won't, and magic will still work for them, albeit with different effectiveness.) Countermagic is basically a flat-out contest of will, and as a rule it's harder to prevent something from happening than it is to get it to happen; creativity becomes key in a battle of wills, and it's a lot easier to be creative on the offensive. Necromancy is covered below.
- No undead. When people die, their spirits go off Elsewhere, for reincarnation, or eternal reward, or whatever. Channelling the recently dead is about as far as necromancy can take you; there's no real way to "trap" a spirit into the world. If you're desperate, you can go so far as to animate skeletons or corpses with magic, but they're just that: magically animated bones or bodies. They're not tortured souls screaming for release. They don't remember their past lives or have any volition of their own. They're constructs. This rule means, by extension, no vampires. Sorry. If you have a burning need for a vampiric character, make something that looks like a vampire, drinks blood, and has weird cellular processes that break down in sunlight; it'll be a zooanthrope, it'll be mortal, and it'll be alive, but people will call it a vampire. (Plus, a bullet to the head will kill it as dead as a wooden stake.)
BaxilDragon has provided the following list of points that are good to think about as you're working on that first story.
- It would be very, very good to explore non-American events. (They say to "write what you know"; I'm American myself, and haven't traveled much, so my contributions to the canon are very U.S.-centric.) In fact, the history as currently written basically ignores world consequences of therianthropy, in favor of the American timeline; go wild with the rest of the world, as long as you're not making anything happen before December 1996.
- You are NOT required to keep stories "G" rated. Or "PG" rated, or even for that matter "R". I may have to hide explicit stories behind a layer of age verification, but I have no personal problem with posting them.
- Spellcheck, spellcheck, spellcheck! I can't tell you how much difference this single handedly makes to a story. If you're going to write in the first place, turn out the most professional product you can.
- Fiction is inherently fantasy. Anything can happen. Your story can take any turn you want. However, keep in mind that plausible fiction is good fiction; if people react in believable ways, and events unfold without too many deus ex machinae, your story will be far stronger for it. (Example: Sure, in the Tomorrowlands universe, they could potentially elect a therianthrope president in Y2K, but realistically the average person wasn't ready to vote for one at that time. Just ask yourself, "Does this make sense given what I know of human nature?")
- No casual web surfing. (your characters, not you. ;)) In late 1996, BBSes were the big thing for stay-at-home geeks, and the Internet was something you got introduced to when you left home for college. The WWW was a fledgling, and to have an e-mail address was fairly rare. Of course, in our world, the Net rocketed us into the next millennium. In the Tomorrowlands, magic became the Next Big Thing, and the 'Net got largely left by the wayside as the dominion of a subculture and a communication tool for universities.
- Cell phones are fairly common among the upper middle class, but GPSes and the like didn't really catch on, and in general any invention introduced between 1996 and today probably hasn't had quite as much impact on Tomorrowlands as it did on Earth.
- Your story doesn't have to be about magic/therianthropes; however, they've greatly shaped the world, and I'm not sure why anyone would want to write about "mundane" happenings in Tlands. (Which isn't to say human, non-mage characters can't be interesting! Just that a story with no "magical" elements whatsoever is just as easily set in "the real world" as Tomorrowlands.)
This page is largely a reproduction of http://www.tomorrowlands.org/story/contributions.html, although http://www.tomorrowlands.org/story/mechanics.html and much of the CategoryMeta information will be highly relevant as well.
"I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who."
- Rudyard Kipling