Season 1 Episode 12: Illness is your Ally

In this episode, I describe my Dunari inoculation process.

I explore the benefits of using illnesses in your world building.

And the Strange but True details the spread of a most unusual illness through one of Dunari’s many inter-dimensional gateways.

Key Takeaways:

Exploring basic inter-dimensional inoculation processes.

Learning how to use illnesses to add depth to your world.

Show Notes

Each show will be summarised in letter form. These are the letters I would have written to my family and friends if I’d been able to do so at the time.

Reading time: 8 minutes.

Dear Everyone

Did you know that when the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in Central and South America in the Sixteenth Century they brought measles and smallpox. The native populations had no resistance to these diseases, so they were decimated.

This enabled a tiny Spanish force to conquer a continent.

I discovered today that part of the reason I was confined to Ganhook’s compound was because I could have caused a similar disaster.

The authorities were afraid I might have carried a disease through the gateway that could decimate Dunari. To think of myself as a plague carrier wasn’t nice. And to think that there were diseases in Dunari that I was vulnerable to was equally unpleasant.

‘Before you pass beyond these walls,’ Stain Cat said. ‘You need to be inoculated.’

I asked, ‘What can kill me outside?’

‘Everything,’ Shinytop replied.

Apparently, there was an awful lot of ‘everything’ that could kill me. I’m talking about disease and illness and parasites, not the more acceptable things like monsters and evil spirits.

Dying by monster would have been preferable to dying by some flesh-eating disease. Quicker, too.

Stein Cat went on to say that while there was a healing home ward in the compound, she’d do the inoculations in my room. She never gave a reason for avoiding the ‘home ward’, but when Shinytop added that nobody liked going there, I was happy enough to stay where I was.

If the dead were afraid of this ‘healing’ place, I wasn’t going near it.

Now, I’m not bothered by needles. I did, however, feel annoyed that I had to get a City of Bones and a Brogant inoculation.

Why did I need an inoculation for a place I’d never been to?

Worse still, they didn’t use needles. They used children’s pets. These creatures had been bred over millennia to carry antibodies to all known local human diseases. By licking the child’s skin, they pass a steady feed of antibodies until the child built immunity.

Unfortunately for me, I hadn’t had a pet assigned to me when I was born. So, as a shortcut, Stein Cat would open a wound in my arm, and use two ‘pets’ to directly transfer antibodies into my bloodstream.

Obviously, I wasn’t happy about this, but I saw no way around it.

And at least they’d asked my permission first.

‘It won’t hurt,’ Stein Cat said.

But when she cut my arm, it did hurt. Terribly.

I hissed, ‘You said it wouldn’t hurt.’

‘Ha! That’s not pain,’ Stein Cat smiled. ‘That’s just an itch.’

I didn’t appreciate Stein Cat’s humour. But two could play at that game. I said, ‘Why are you doing the inoculations? Wouldn’t it be safer if your ghost that died from Catnip did it?’

‘Catnip?’ Stein Cat said.

I fought back a smile. So, she didn’t know what Catnip was. I said, ‘Yeah. The disease that cats catch from humans back home. You might catch it from me.’

That shut her smart mouth up.

To cut a long story short, Stein Cat produced a knife, made cuts on my upper arm, and produced two creatures from a box to lick the wounds.

All I saw of these little beasts were red eyes, snouts, and teeth. The rest was a blur.

When it was done, and I finally had the courage to check my arm in the mirror, I was delighted to see that Stein Cat had used the knife to ‘draw’ the wounds on my arm. One resembled the upper skull of a monster, while the second portrayed a Brogant grow mound.

I say ‘delighted’ because I’d always wanted a small, cool tattoo. And if these scarred, I’d have two of the coolest tattoos I’d ever seen.

Of course, they were standard marks to certify I was inoculated. But when I asked if they could be brightened up a bit, Stein Cat applied some ink.

I just hope nobody complains about these tattoos when I make it home. (Hear that, Mum.)


‘Illness is an ally,’ Stein Cat said during my inoculation. ‘When your enemy is ill, you have an advantage.’

Okay. That was extreme. But indirectly, she was right.

When it comes to world building, illness is your ally.

It’s mostly overlooked, and rarely capitalised on.

But illness is there to be exploited.

Example: If the king catches malaria while he’s in his luxurious home, and there are medics and cures available, the kingdom won’t be affected. But if the king falls ill on the eve of a great battle, far from home and without proper help.

Well… The world could change.

The Conquistadors were an example of this.

So, if you were doing some inter-dimensional travel, and contracted some otherworldly disease, virus, or whatever, what might happen if you brought it home?

Could it spread?

Could you decimate the world?

Or suppose one of your characters is exploring (or visiting) a new part of your world, could they bring home an ‘exotic’ illness?

In War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells saved the world with bacteria that killed the Martians. A technologically advanced invading force was destroyed by tiny creatures we had adapted to coexist with.

Could the same have happened to us if we had invaded Mars?

If you want to think about this concept on a lower, less destructive level, think about food poisoning. Occasionally, while visiting a foreign country, the food will make you ill.

Delhi belly. Montezuma’s revenge. The Nile Runs.

It goes by many names.

In Dunari it’s called Skid Tommo.

What is it called in your world? And what safeguards can you imagine for your characters to protect them from spending days on the toilet instead of exploring the world.

This will add depth to your world. It makes your world more relatable to your audience because the folks in your world suffer from illness, food poisoning, and all the rest, just like us.

To begin with, the food I received in the compound was basic, which was good. Had I caught Skid Tommo, I would have suffered, not least because I hadn’t packed spare underwear before passing through the gateway.

After you’ve created a few minor uncomfortable illness, think about everyday viruses like flu that your characters can suffer.

And for every good illness, there’s an opportunity to create a good cure. Do your characters have a medicine cabinet at home? What’s in the medicine cabinet?

What’s the equivalent of doctors, and can they be called to home visits?

What do you do when you catch a winter flu? And what are you unable to do?

Have some fun, Create a list of things you can imagine that might heal insect bites, sterilise and seal wounds, or give relief from Delhi belly.

Cook up some food bacteria or other semi-embarrassing things. Create a travel medicine pack for your characters and give them reasons to use it.

Think about how an illness might identify your protagonist as a foreigner?

The Blue Face virus is a relatively harmless City of Bones condition. But if you saw someone with blue face, you’d know they were an outsider because everyone in the city was inoculated against it.

Illness is your ally in world building.

From using flu to affect your character’s mood, to using a plague to devastate the world, illness is your ally in world building.

As usual, the Strange but True story is available on the website.

In my next letter I’ll do a summary of all the podcast episodes to date. I will also write about some of the more unusual things that happened in my early days here, things I haven’t had time to write about before.

Until then, Goodbye.

Or as we say in Dunari,