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This is the first time I have been interviewed in written form. As you will see, the interview is focused on the world-building process, with an emphasis on what I did in The Way of the Pukona and Ngen Mapu, in addition to my next Mapuche-inspired project: Wall Mapu: The Surrounding Land, for Dungeons & Dragons 5E.
Interviewed by Ike Riva
Hi! My name’s Helena Real (she/her) and I’m a Chilean trans writer, editor, translator, and professional gamemaster (GM). I studied and majored in English Literature and Linguistics here in Chile, but I did my first worldbuilding when I was 17–18. At the time, I was reading Tolkien’s The Book of Lost Tales and Louise Cooper’s The Time Master Trilogy. Both the combination of Tolkien’s wordsmithing and mythology, plus my dissatisfaction with the Time Master‘s endings led me to scribble my first attempts at fantasy world mythology and history. I didn’t go far at that time, though; I only remember taking notes about gods and goddesses’ names and their respective domains.
After that, I went on to develop my own dark fantasy world in the years that followed. I called this world “The Shattered Lands” and set some of my earliest stories there. It never went past that primordial stage, though. It was far too complex and mythological to be of any practical use when writing short stories and novels, except to make them cryptic! Later on, I fell in love with Celtic mythology and legends, and tried to build my own version of it; but, it once again never evolved beyond using the language (in an amateur way) and some simplified version of Celtic names.
Finally, around 2015 I had the chance to write a tabletop role-playing game book for Evil Hat Productions. Although my approved pitch was for a Celtic fantasy world, I decided to make use of this opportunity to develop one of my childhood passions: the Mapuche people. The Mapuche are the most numerous aboriginal inhabitants of both Chile and Argentina, and although they are still with us to this day, much of their myths and legends are not kept in a “pure” state. Instead, we have the versions that Catholic priests wrote of them, in which they twisted and turned the originals in order to make way for their god.
Considering this, I pivoted the project and dedicated the next months (and years) to reacquaint myself with Mapuche myths and legends, trying to search for primary sources and, when those weren’t available, secondary sources that were respectful of what the Mapuche had actually mentioned as their beliefs, myths, and legends. Of course, this created a very fragmentary pool of sources, so I decided to add my own ideas—trying to be as respectful and coherent with the original as possible—to create a solid basis from which to create new stories set in this Mapuche world, one that hadn’t suffered through the Spanish invasion and genocide of 1536 CE onward. The result, at least in an early stage, is what you can read in The Way of the Pukona (2018).
That’s fascinating! I think that that pivot was definitely fortuitous—for both Fate players who can now enjoy a refreshing and interesting new setting, and for Dungeons & Dragons 5E players who can look forward to your next project: Wall Mapu: The Surrounding Land. Can fans expect the world of Wall Mapu to be the same as that of Pukona, or will they merely share the same basis in Mapuche myths and legends?
Great question! And yes: the world of Wall Mapu: The Surrounding Land is basically the same as that of Pukona. There have been some changes, though, mostly because of what Wall Mapu brings to D&D 5E, but also because my appreciation of Mapuche worldview has changed and evolved during the last few years. I’ve found new secondary sources as well as some primary ones, and they’ve added some missing pieces to the Mapuche-inspired world I’ve been building. At the same time, they’ve provided me with some interesting challenges in regard to (previously unknown to me) information, which I was happy to incorporate.
Well I, for one, am really looking forward to seeing more of your explorations of the Mapuche worldview! I’m curious, though, about how the mechanics of the two different systems—Fate and D&D 5E—impacted your worldbuilding and storytelling, if at all.
They did, actually. In the case of The Way of the Pukona, the flexibility of the system meant that I basically wrote a whole new set of rules to put on top of the amazing engine that Fate offers. In the case of Wall Mapu, I took a different design route; I tried to modify the underlying system as little as possible, but instead chose to make a few but major changes in the underlying—and often unstated—assumptions of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Just as an example: in traditional D&D 5E, you get most of your experience from defeating (and often killing) creatures. In Wall Mapu, not only do you not get experience points from doing that, you risk becoming corrupted. In essence, if you kill enough living sentient things, you become a monster yourself and have to retire your character. And getting rid of that corruption is, under most narrative circumstances, impossible. The only way you get to “level up” in Wall Mapu is by leveling up your community (lof). So yeah, the worldbuilding was different because, although I wanted to emphasize some of the same aspects, each tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) provided me with different tools to do the job.
I see. That makes a lot of sense! Given Fate‘s relative flexibility compared to D&D 5E, what are your plans for further worldbuilding projects after Wall Mapu? Do you want to continue building Mapuche-inspired worlds within the context of Fate, D&D 5E, or expand to another system?
At this time I have no further plans to expand my Mapuche-inspired worldbuilding to other TTRPG systems, but never say never! For now, I’m focused on finishing Wall Mapu and then looking for the best way to publish it. I’d like to revisit what I’ve already written in Pukona and Ngen Mapu with some further supplements afterward, but that depends on a lot of factors, so I can’t say they’re high on my to-do list.
On the other hand, last year I wrote a first attempt at what I can only describe as a “Mapuche Silmarillion“, a compendium of myths and legends that explain the creation of the land and the different stages or worlds that have existed—and have been destroyed—ever since. I’m excited to edit it and then look for a way to publish it. That book is the most well-developed and mythological out of all the Mapuche-inspired worldbuilding that I’ve done, so I’m really looking forward to completing it and sharing it with the world!
You can find the rest of the interview here.