worldbuilding header 2 Rough Passages

Where do superpowers come from?

Power: personal, unique power. Power is the centerpiece of every Rough Passages Tale. Who has it, what happens when people gain it, how it can and can’t change their lives, how the uncertainties and adverse aspects of power rollovers  make that world different than ours…this can be deep story stuff.*

How do those powers work? The short answer is: no one knows. That’s one of many things that makes writing about it interesting.

Everyone with a rollover powers taps into some kind of energy, but that’s where certainty ends. Some poz can see this energy post-rollover, other feel it, all are affected by it and use it one way or another, but what that energy is, or how it works?

It’s still a mystery.

Why? For one thing, it’s impossible for nulls to detect, so disbelief hampers research funding. For another, the phenomenon is less than a hundred years old. The scientific community is still at the stage of documenting, describing, and postulating mechanisms based on existing established systems.  Think radiation in the early 1900’s, electricity in the 1800’s, or chemistry in the 1700’s.

All the uncertainty results in a constellation of valid ideas, wrongheaded hypotheses, and wild-ass speculation.  It also supplies thesis fodder for doctoral candidates and researchers in every field of study from physics to psychology. Ambitious scientists dream of being the next Curie, Faraday, or Mendeleev.  And lots of them already think they have uncovered Major Truths that are dead wrong but fit the facts.

Want an example? (You’re getting one.) Take an observable fact: T-series trolls can ramp up their own abilities and provoke each other into radical physical changes by tapping into their powers near each other. At its worst, the feedback loop will drive them into a collective, destructive frenzy. They train hard to control this effect, called rampage, because a mindless stampede of berserk armored giants is hard on real estate and anything else that can’t get out of their way.

Let’s look at the current scientific model. Explanations for T-series power use are based on studies of pheromone communication and hormone-driven metamorphosis in other species. The model fits the observed data and is an accurately predictive tool…in most cases. Most importantly it allows for engineering useful tools like rampage detectors and assorted training devices. So everyone accepts it as accurate.

But as the Watchmaker of the world, I’ll let you in on a secret. Rampage and powering up aren’t triggered physically.  The model has cause and effect flipped. It’s a pure energy phenomenon, a matter of resonance and exchange from more powerful individuals to less powerful ones, one that has the effect of triggering hormone releases.

Is any of that information useful to you, dear reader? Probably not. But speculation is fun, and so is trivia collection. So I thought I would share.

The takeaway for today? Power is tricky. People are fallible. And science is a process.

*Paranormal personal powers are not the only kind people deal with every day. Power can come from social status, political position, cultural acceptance, and economic prosperity too. Upending people’s lives after they’ve spent decades establishing their place in the socioeconomic power structure that is modern society? Well. That makes for super-duper drama. And drama makes good fiction.

Oh, and the BOOKS! Here are links to the buyable stories. Because they’re awesome.




Rough Passages: A Guest Post by K.M. Herkes

Ever wanted to know more about the first time superpowers appeared in my Rough Passages world? Now’s your chance. Read on…

Why is it a reblog? Because  Em Ray invited me to take over her blog one day this week. How could I refuse? I love the fascinating and action-packed Rothganar stories (and adore the lovely background tidbits that get posted on  So I jumped at the chance to write a guest post. And when I finished writing this one, I thought, “Wow, this world-building stuff was was fun! And useful too!” So I’ve continued doing more posts like it here on, and I carried this first inspiration home today. Enjoy!

Saga of Menyoral

Please welcome the second of my guests, K.M. Herkes, to talk about the world in her Rough Passages stories. 🙂


I read the instructions as, “Talk about one of your worlds and worldbuilding. Anything you want to share.”  Here’s what came out.

Some worlds begin in stardust. They burst forth from a writer’s imagination in a glimmer of dreams and a sparkle of imagination. Mine? Mine start as raw ore, get hammered into shape through force of will and tempered in my sweat.

The world of my Rough Passages Tales started with the following raw materials: the angry sound of a slammed door, a photograph of a smoking handprint, and the thought, “Damned hot flashes. I am going to burst into flames, I swear.”

The final shining result? A world where a mid-life crisis can cause natural disasters. I twisted history one tiny bit and traced the ripples of consequence forward to a present day…

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worldbuilding header 2 Rough Passages

Superpowers = super tricky

Continuing my explanation of the letter-number-letter system that defines superpowers in my Rough Passages fantasy world. Part 1 discussed the primary powers. Onward to the rest of the dirty picture.

II: Power ratings

  • A rating is only meaningful within a power series. There’s no attempt to compare the “power” of, say, a B1 rollover who can see through foot-thick lead walls to the power of an R1 rollover who can measurably move a continent, or a W1 who can create a point-to-point teleportation gate big enough for a truck to drive through.
  • The number is assigned through a comprehensive set of objective tests. Results are compared to collected historical measurements, providing a consistent and impartial result.
  •  1 indicates the strongest manifestation if the designated ability series, a rating of 0 means practically no sign of the ability indicated by the primary series letter can be detected.
  • The change in power between rating tiers is even, but the rollover population distributes unevenly into the space. This, like primary series designations

III: Variant designation

Every power series has an alphabet’s worth of variations, far too many combinations to detail in a simple work like this. Before databases, the catalogues required multiple bindings, like an old encyclopedia set or the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. The early inclusion of additional letters to define powers was a white flag of cataloging surrender by the system’s creators. Here are some of the complexities:

  • Multiple abilities are more the norm than the exception, and some power series show more variation than others.
  • The variants are all series dependent — the same letter means different things connected to different primaries. J stands for “jump” attached to a W teleporter, meaning altitude control, but it means a medium weight restriction when applied to a W telekinetic, and something entirely different when attached to each of the assorted B sensory powers.
  • Each primary variant series has its own letter/number set of deviances, and some of those have variances.
  • Series and variant assignment still relies on subjective observation and human judgment as much as hard data.


All in all this a lousy cataloging system, but its limitations stem from its origins. The people who designed it never expected it to be permanent. Picture the poor doctors, police, doctors, firemen and air raid wardens tasked with organizing the thousands–even tens of thousands–of hysterical, confused rollovers on that first, dreadful night in the summer of 1943. Those first responders were working in total ignorance and facing a bewildering array of symptoms. An inspired few created quick-and-dirty rules of thumb to triage their charges as quickly as possible. Accuracy and precision were not priorities.

It worked well enough to be imitated and implemented on a international scale before anyone with more sense could protest. The military and the scientific community adapted the flawed template to suit their needs and stamped it with their own flourishes, and the newborn Department of Public Safety chiseled it into the stone of bureaucracy.

It’s unwieldy, and no one likes it, but unlike the Metric system (adopted by the US in 1969 and finalized in 1976 in this world) no one has come up with anything better yet. Or to be precise hundreds of excellent proposals have been offered up, but none have been effective enough to justify the upheaval and expense of changing now.

People being people, amateur cataloguers keep their eyes peeled for rare rollover types as diligently as any birdwatcher works on an Audubon life list. Trainspotters have nothing on monster buffs.

More on slang like that later. Another time. Remember, if you enjoy it, put a like on it.

worldbuilding header 2 Rough Passages

Labeling superpowers: a tricky trick.

Today I roll out the first of two posts about the superpowers system in my fantasy series, The Rough Passages Tales.

Those who might develop special abilities are known poz, for positive R-factor potential. If they “roll over” from potential to active in middle age, the Department of Public Safety assigns their new abilities a letter-number-letter classification. The first letter designates their primary ability, the number gives an idea of their power level relative to others with similar abilities, and the second letter indicates any number of assorted variations or secondary characteristics.

It’s a lousy system, but there are reasons for it persisting despite its flaws. I’ll get to that in a bit. Below you will find a list of the major power classifications developed by the Department of Public Safety.

I: Series Designations:

  • A: not used. This letter is reserved for designating secondary variants. It indicates a pure specimen of a particular primary power. For example: someone classified P1A has pyrokinetic powers in the top power tier, but has no secondary powers (telekinesis or air control are common) and no physical characteristics distinguishing them from non-powered people.
  • B: Perceptive powers like enhanced senses, inexplicable ability to sense specific traits or conditions. The variant letters for this series narrow down the nature of the perception.
  • C: The slang term “carnie” refers to any rollover who exhibits a radical change in physical appearance. Physically deviant individuals who exhibit other powers are assigned to that series, with a variant indicator. Individuals assigned to a primary C-series designation are bascially furry, scaled, or feathered people. (See also: S-series, T series.) This Hazardous Variant tables for C’s runs several hundred pages long.
  • D: Doctor. Individuals who can cure—or cause—disease or injury by laying on of hands or by proximity or any number of other ways laid out in the variant listings for this series. Most of the higher power-class rollovers in this series can heal and harm at will.
  • E: Projective empaths and manipulative telepaths. Not as rare as the general public believes. Sequestered on discovery and treated as deadly threats until certified safe by specialized F-series pyschics.
  • F: F for fortuneteller. Precognition, telepathy, receptive empathy and telepathy, and clairvoyance that isn’t tied to a sensory element—most of the typical psychic powers. Why F? The first psychic identified was a precog, and by then someone had already assigned P, T, and E to more obvious, common, and dangerous powers.
  • G: Gaia. Second-rarest series. If it’s alive, a G-series can affect it in some way. Most G’s do not survive the rollover transformation, falling prey to the overwhelming and distorting effects of their own powers.
  • H: H for hydro. Water elementals.
  • I: not used. (yet) Too easily confused with H or lowercase L
  • J: from jockey. Animal and/or plant control and/or communication
  • K: from kryptonite. A rollover whose power negates other powers. Usually specific to another power series which would be indicated by the variant letter.
  • L: not used yet. See I
  • M: not used. W got assigned first.
  • N: Nature-related powers that don’t fall into any other designation, including air-benders and weather-workers.
  • O: not used yet. Too hard to distinguish from zero.
  • P: Heat and flame elementals without a concurrent earth manifestation. Various manifestations of pyrokinesis.
  • Q: see O.
  • R: Earth-movers, magma-summoners and other stone or seismic-based powers.
  • S: S for superhuman. Enhanced strength, speed, senses, or any combination of the three. Also used as a variant letter for carnies who are also super-strong etc.
  • T: see also carnie. T from troll. Various manifestations of skin/ height/ muscle/ weight/ strength /hormonal changes. Most have enhanced senses, all can boot their strength, speed and regeneration to enhanced levels under stress.
  • U & V: not yet used
  • W: W from weird. Telekinesis and teleportation in a variety of forms from personal and passenger movement or translocation to portal opening and summoning things/people from a distance.
  • Y: Like A, reserved for describing variants
  • Z: Elevated R-factor detected, but no power develops. The rarest of primary designations, only discovered/added after the blood tests for rollover were invented.

Additional letters — or doubled ones– are often assigned for cataloging precision, but they are rarely noted outside official paperwork. (think of the extra 4 digits in a zip code)

DPS staff with personal agendas or quotas to fill can bend definitions like pretzels to justify putting particular power manifestations into designations, and the whole set-up is vulnerable to misuse. Annual scientific conferences hold high-powered discussions about the need to revamp the whole system, but no one has come up with a better one yet.

More on that in the next post (LINK HERE!) along with a primer on power ratings and variant letter designations. For now, that’s a wrap. Don’t forget your coats, and remember to tip your server.

Writing Progress, Weekend Share

First scenelet of Heartwood Take 2. I feel comfortable posting since this will be the 10% in the Look Inside preview feature. Unless…okay, true confession, I want it out in the world where someone can tell me, “oh geez, don’t, ugh, it’s slow, boring and confusing, stop please stop.” Or, ya know, the opposite. Here ’tis:

When destiny knocked on Grace Trapani’s front door, she was out back on the patio trimming the herbs in her summer planters. The rapping sound startled her, sending a jolt of panic through nerves wound tight from months of worry. The mental short circuit bypassed common sense, which whispered the pizza must be here, and jumped straight to the terror that never went away: what if it’s him?

The idea died as fast as it sparked. Grace’s ex-husband would not knock if he came to reclaim his stolen family and punish his disobedient wife. Joshua Salucci carried a Public Safety badge now that he’d sold his soul to the devil. He could break down the door with Federal troops behind him if he wanted—but more likely he would use his new Satanic powers on Grace and force her to open it for him.

That’s why Grace had forsaken him in the first place. When Josh’s judgment first came on him, when he’d embraced evil and called the authorities against every tenet of their faith, Grace had seen her doom in his eyes. As soon as the Public Safety thugs took him away from the compound—to train him, they’d said, as if they thought that would be reassuring — she’d grabbed the girls and fled for their lives.

And for weeks she’d flinched at every shadow, cringed at every stranger’s voice, moving from hotel to hotel, daily giving thanks for the savings they had never entrusted to worldly banks. Through the God’s mercy and the kindness of strangers they had found sanctuary here in sleepy Elgin, Illinois, in a home on the enemy’s doorstep where Josh would never look.

These days she could quell the static bursts of fear with facts. If Josh could have found them, he would have come to destroy her months ago. This was the pizza delivery, and the pizza was not her responsibility.

Knuckles rapped on the front door again, harder this time. Grace set down her basket of herbs and picked up the garden hose. Water hit the upstairs bedroom window with a splatter. The sash slid open, and thumping drumbeats blasted outside, chased by screaming waves of guitar and keyboard noise. Gloria stuck out her head. The so-called music drowned out her voice, but her mouth made a familiar shape. “What?”

Memory provided Grace with the proper aggrieved tone, and again when Lauren came up beside her sister and mouthed all three syllables of “Mom!”

The twins had their black curls piled high on their heads in complicated braided arrangements today, and both wore the same indignant expression. They looked most like their father when they were angry, a detail that bothered Grace more than she liked to admit. Her children had inherited his flair for martyrdom too.

Grace considered embarrassing them in public her favorite parental duty. “Your supper’s here. They’ve knocked twice already, so you’d best hurry. I left money in the key tray for you. Bring the party out back, please. I’ll set out plates and napkins for you.”

“Fine!” The window slammed back down. The music stopped, and a shout bounced through the house. “Stay there, pizza man! We’re coming!”

Grace supposed she should discuss indoor voices with them again later, but she hated ruining together time with lectures. This would be their last summer together as a family, and she wanted everything to be as perfect as she could make it.
Oh, to be young again, trembling on the pinnacle of childhood, eager to leap into the bright air of adulthood, blissfully ignorant of the rocks below waiting to break you when you fall.

She’d always feared the girls would inherit her sin and Josh’s, and last year the mandatory tests had proved it. Starting at sixteen, her daughters’ summers would be spent fulfilling government service obligations and attending classes on coping with the horror their lives might become.

Grace didn’t want them to go, but they couldn’t claim conscientious objection. Josh would be looking for a woman Grace’s age with two daughters, and the religious exemption would put them on a short list. Grace consoled herself that education was not all indoctrination, and anyway, that was a worry for another day. She didn’t need to borrow next year’s troubles when she would have a half-dozen hungry guests to manage any minute now.

Lauren’s and Gloria’s effortless socializing was a constant marvel to Grace. They certainly didn’t get that gift from her. She’d been warned that switching schools at their age could be traumatic, but they’d made the transition with a determined enthusiasm that won over everyone they met. Every day Grace saw more glimpses of the amazing women they would become.

Thoughts of gratitude reminded her to say a blessing before the meal. Most of Lauren and Gloria’s friends got uncomfortable about religion, but that was no reason to skip the formalities herself. Gloria was at the point of making jokes about Grace saying grace, but it looked like Lauren might grow into faith, not out of it. Another worry for the future, not for today. Grace could only show them the path. They had to find their own way. She’d fought for that, for them.

She bowed her head. “Thank you, Lord, for what we are about to receive from your bounty. Amen.”

It was a perfect summer evening: sun low in a blue sky dotted with clouds, rainbows dancing in the spray from the sprinklers, green plants in the freshly-weeded garden swaying gently in the rising breeze. She loved these dog days of the year when life ripened slowly in the heat.

The girls had complained about the sticky, humid, nasty, frizzy-hair-making, zit-causing, disgusting weather all morning during the yard work. The whole gaggle of them had spent the afternoon in Lauren’s air-conditioned room, painting their nails, doing those absurd things to their hair, trying on each others’ clothes, and discussing grown-up topics like the difference between second and third base. They thought they were quiet when they whispered.

Now footsteps thundered down the stairs, followed by shrieks of laughter, a sound to warm the heart of any mother raising two angsty teens on her own. Grace gathered up her little bubble of happiness and the plates to set places at the picnic table. Indoors the girls belted out shrill commentary, and the hinges on the cheap metal screen door squealed as it opened.

Silence fell, followed by the declaration of ultimate disgust. “Mo-o-om!”

Grace prayed for patience. “Lauren, honey, I told you, the money’s in the tray.”

“It isn’t the pizza.” Gloria yelled, and a second later she appeared at the kitchen door. “It’s for you. Somebody from the Department of Public Safety.”

The perfect day veered off script into disaster

The cat picture at the top of the post has nothing to do with anything. I like the picture, that’s all.