Interview: Massimiliano Nigro and Fragments of the Past

Today for Wyrd & Wonder, I’m so excited to have Italian artist and author Massimiliano Nigro talk a bit about his world building project that I reviewed on Monday, Fragments of the Past. (Available here.)

Hi Massimiliano! Please introduce yourself.
My name is Massimiliano Haematinon Nigro (too long, I know…). Before becoming an Artist, I tried to be many different things: I studied Architecture, Philosophy, Finance. I changed my path many times before understanding who I wanted to be. Frustration and pain helped me remember what was my dream as a kid: to write. I also realized that I could use both pictures and letters, two different languages that can complement each other. It was like discovering something that I already knew.

Even though it’s just 76 pages, Fragments of the Past contains so much rich history. Askedoria is a fully realized world. How did you start building it, and how did you end up with such a big creation?
The key is to write about something that you love, and love is the source of your Knowledge! When you write or paint, people can see what you are doing and what you are NOT doing: your specific choices are echoes of all the things you love and know. For all my life, I have been reading ancient historians, travelers, poets and philosophers, and I use this information as a base. I started Fragments of the Past from small little things: a particular ritual, a certain metaphysical belief, artistic conventions of a specific island.

The Passage of the ‘Hermeta’ through the Crimson Strait

Where do you get the inspiration for your art and style, and what is your creative process?
I get inspiration from archaeology, myths and religion. My creative process is simple at the beginning and a mess at the end. I study and read until a specific theme, visual idea or story naturally emerge from my mind. At this point, I sketch different drawings using pencil, pen or gouache, to try out what I have envisioned. The following steps depend on what I want to convey. Sometimes I build the scene in 3d using Blender, or I paint directly in Procreate or Paintstorm, or I mix all these tools. Occasionally I use pictures of my city, Rome, as a base for a particular architecture or landscape and I paint on top of them.

A secret exchange at the Four-Eyed Gate of Psantes, South of the Hermus river.

Askedoria is not your standard vanilla Tolkien/English medieval world, not just in setting, but in content. There seems to be nothing that most people would expect from an RPG or fantasy world, such as magic, monsters, other sentient races. How did you settle on a Mediterranean-based world that lacked typical fantastical elements, and what do you think Askedoria brings to the table for a roleplaying group that’s different from vanilla settings?
I want to let other people feel and experience something Ancient, it must ring true to their hearts, they must feel the touch of the Sun on their skin. I started writing with the secret aspiration of becoming the bard of my readers. Before working, I always imagine myself sitting on a marble floor, surrounded by them as if we were in a banquet. They are the warriors, the artists, the dancers of an ancient world and I chant for them about our remote, mythical roots. The words epic and mythic have changed their meaning during the centuries, I hope my work can bring the readers and players back to their original significance, bring them back to the banquet we shared in another life. In many regards, I consider Tolkien my great Master, and I am trying to do with the ancient Mediterranean world, what he did with the Anglo-Saxon tradition.

An offering to the Panther

Fragments of the Past is a lore book; it’s full of mythology, archaeological musings and tales of legendary figures. Why place so much emphasis on the past and myths when doing world building, and how do you think this helps an RP player or writer create a story in the contemporary setting of a universe?
When we enter this world, we enter in a Reality that is profoundly shaped by Eons of Natural History and millennia of human crimes and heroic endeavors. Our family, community, geographical position play a significant role in defining what we are. Finally, we know a lot of implicit things and unspoken rules of our culture. All this Knowledge creates the framework for our particular personality. By exploring the past of Askedoria, we can interact in the setting more naturally and more harmoniously. The transition between ‘Us’ as a player and ‘Us’ as a character is smoother. We are no longer someone who is pretending to be someone else, but we became someone else during the game. A good example could be: if I want to play a story set in WWII occupied France, the more I know about the war, and the world in which that people lived, the more I can relate to my own character.

The Concubine-Oracle Tumsilt and her Peacock

We spoke a bit about the violence and sexuality in Fragments of the Past. There’s a lot of it. That’s historically in line with a lot of mythology, but you could have chosen to wipe it. You didn’t, but you balanced the genders within those concepts while still keeping the intensity of them. When we discuss gender balance in world building, it often leads to a lack of sexuality. You chose the opposite, where violence and sexuality are still very intense, but also open, factual and equal. What made you choose this route to create balance rather than, say, wiping all mention of those concepts from your lore?
I think humans are magnificent, terrible animals, incredibly ferocious and yet divinely kind. Humans are violent, and generous, honest and treacherous, they can feel anger, love, lust, fear, and all the other emotions with an incredible spectrum of nuances. I wanted to express as much as possible human reality and human condition to give life to my World, so that it rings true to the heart of the reader.

Full Moon Procession

What are you currently working on?
I am working on two books! The first one is a Rulebook / Handbook to help people play their own game in Askedoria. I think it is a very flexible setting, and people might use every system they prefer to play in it. However, there will also be guidelines, tips and strategies that might help a storytellers and players in setting up the atmosphere and create compelling characters. Besides, after many years of playing, our group developed a specific original system. It is light, simple and quick, and optimized for the harsh world of Fragments of the Past. The second project is another Lore book, it will be similar to the first Fragments of the Past: a collection of legends, myths, poems, history and artifacts. However, we will explore other parts of the world, delving more in the different languages, cities, architectures, and cultures of Askedoria that were barely mentioned in the first volume.

The Map of the Ophiotaurus Sea in the Geographical Temple of Aulea

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. How can we follow your work and projects?
It was beautiful to talk with you. If you are curious to follow the development of Fragments of the Past, you can subscribe to the project newsletter on the website (https://fragmentsofthepast.dev9k.com/) and check my portfolio (https://haematinon.artstation.com/). You can also follow me on Facebook by looking for Massimiliano Haematinon Nigro and on Instagram @haematinon: there I often share previews and some of the tips and lessons that I give to the students of my Worldbuilding mentorship program.

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