I stumbled across the epic Mongoose 2e Traveller campaign Deepnight Revelation [paid link] in an RPGnet thread about the campaign. It sounded amazing: a 20-year mission into unexplored space at the helm of one of the most powerful starships in the galaxy, with the players running the command crew.
So much of this is like catnip to me: The multi-year mission, 10 years out and 10 years back; the amazing name, which is both the campaign and the titular starship; the epic scope, which involves confronting an existential threat; the Star Trek-like conceit that the players are almost certainly in charge of the mission (though they don’t have to be, and the box set accounts for that in multiple places); and the subversion of the typical “you’re in debt up to your eyeballs and have a half-busted freighter, go make your way in the universe” Trav premise. I’ve also nursed a lifelong desire — thus far unfulfilled — to play at least one published mega-campaign, so there’s that.
What other folks did
I did some homework before buying the box set, Googling and looking for more info about the campaign. That turned up an excellent review on Reddit — which hides its spoilers so you can read it without encountering them — that covered pros, cons, and ways this campaign actually played out for the author’s group. A second thread also proved useful, especially in seeing some of the tweaks and behind-the-scenes work required for an undertaking this massive.
Taken together, these two threads convinced me that despite loathing game prep this prep-heavy campaign was worth picking up. It’s perhaps fairer to say that I loathe most game prep, and am just fine with games like tremulus where a couple hours of prep will cover an entire campaign. The work-to-payoff ratio makes sense there — and it seems like it could make sense here, too, with a campaign designed to take roughly 50-60 four-hour game sessions to complete needing a correspondingly larger one-off prep investment. (And, notably, some prep along the way as well.)
I also loathe railroading, but buying into a campaign concept — “we’re journeying from point A to face the danger at point Z” — isn’t the same as railroading. I’ve looked at some tentpole published campaigns and felt like there was no way to avoid railroading the players, but this didn’t sound like one of those.
After a full skim of the Deepnight Revelation core box [paid link], I’ve concluded to my own satisfaction that that first impression was accurate. The endpoint will always be the same, but how the journey plays out matters.
As noted in those Reddit links, Deepnight Revelation seems tailor-made for troupe-style play, a la Ars Magica. The version of it where the players aren’t in charge of the Deepnight Revelation sounds boring; the version where they are, but also have a pool of alternate characters from the ship’s 500-strong crew, sounds amazing.
Sometimes you want to make decisions that affect the fate of the entire crew and the future of their years-long mission, but sometimes you want to take the shuttle into the irradiated asteroid belt yourself and see what happens next (without torpedoing the campaign in the process…). I played a lengthy Ars Magica campaign with a huge pool of characters, and it was one of my all-time favorites; that approach is solid gold.
Shared tracking resources
Just a cursory skim of the box set makes it clear that some sort of multifaceted, group-accessible tracking solution would be needed for this campaign. Maybe that’s a Google Docs spreadsheet or two, or a giant whiteboard, or a small whiteboard and a wiki — and so on, you get the idea.
I love the idea of a whiteboard for the most important frequently-changing values — stuff like the Crew Effectiveness Index, which is the modifier for rolls made to resolve events at fairly high levels of abstraction (e.g., “How did the refueling mission go?”), and the available store of supplies.
CEI, CEIM, DEI, CFI, OMGWTFBBQ
I’m still digesting the box set’s mechanics for resolving the many large-scale and abstracted elements of the Deepnight Revelation‘s journey — something multiple folks on Reddit noted as needing extensive reworking in their groups — and so far they don’t look like a mess. But one, I’m not done reading yet, and two, they’ve lived and breathed and run the campaign, and I’m just noodling over it at my desk. So we shall see!
That’s what’s rattling around in my brain at the moment. Now I’m going to tuck back into the handbook and poke things a bit harder.
I’ve posted about Traveller generators before here on Yore, but I’ve also used one or two I’ve never posted about — and recently found a great Reddit list of even more generators that were new to me. Time for a round-up!
My brain is in Mongoose Traveller 2e [paid link] mode at the moment, but given the broad compatibility of the various editions of Traveller — especially in terms of setting creation — these generators should be useful no matter which flavor/fork appeals to you. The only exception is the last one on the list, which specifically creates Mongoose 2e NPCs.
Sectors and subsectors you can revisit, with maps
The inimitable Alex Schroeder offers a triple threat for Traveller GMs, with some really cool features. The main Traveller generator page features links to generate random sectors and subsectors; those output on a new page, with a unique URL. (To generate a new one, you have to hit the link on the main page. Refreshing your generated page, logically enough, changes nothing.)
You can also paste in your own list of UWPs (and the list the page itself generates is preformatted to work perfectly here), or the URL of a page you just generated, and then hit the “Submit” button, and the site will also generate your subsector or sector map. (The map needs to be saved locally for future use.)
Systems, sectors, and subsectors, with options (rift, spiral arm, etc.)
If you want some options when it comes to type of sector/subsector, neuzd’s awesome Mongoose 1e generator is a one-stop shop, and includes options for rift, sparse, spiral arm, and densely populated sectors and subsectors. Those options are what make this one so cool. Do note that you can’t bookmark the results; you’ll need to export or paste them for future use.
Best of all, you can select the type of sector/subsector with this generator, copy the resulting list, paste it into Alex Schroeder’s generator (above), and the latter will create your map for you. The best of both worlds!
Systems and worlds with bells and whistles
One of my go-to sites for generators of all stripes, donjon, offers an amazing system generator that includes planetary images, a breakdown of the system, and a full work-up of the core world that includes a randomly generated world map. For a new system, just hit refresh. The simplest way I’ve found to preserve its output is to take a screenshot.
Worlds you can revisit
The PBE Games world generator is fantastic. It will spit out random worlds, of course, but you can also provide your own UWPs and it will expand them into full write-ups. Best of all, the generator provides a seed for every world it creates — just save that seed (a short string of characters), and you can plug it back into the generator anytime to re-create that world.
Worlds based on milieu, with extras
Not only can you specify the milieu and other details before generation, Traveller Tools will also tell you fun stats like refuel time, travel times and distances, and available trade goods. This one appears to be Mongoose 2e-specific (to the extent that that matters). A permalink is available for every world you create.
Mongoose 2e Traveller character generator
Traveller Tools also features a great Mongoose 2e Traveller character generator, and there’s a permalink for any character you create. You can specify age and careers or just let the randomizer do its work; either way, it’s intended for NPCs and, as the page notes, takes a few liberties with the rules to enable random generation.
Mongoose 2e characters aren’t quite as simple as OG Trav characters (which generally fit into a line or two of text), so I was thrilled to find this one.
My slow march through the “double-sized” Ice Courts region continues! I’ve now wrapped up the historical events for each nation (as always, using Worlds Without Number [paid link]). Part 4 will cover the relationships between these nations — and then the Ice Courts will be done (at least at the regional level, and for the foreseeable future).
Assign two important historical events to each group or nation.
Lonþyr and Yrfeđe are already detailed in the Gilded Lands write-ups, so I’ve given them just one Ice Courts-related event apiece here. Ahlsheyan first appeared in my Unlucky Isles write-ups almost a year ago (!), but it straddles the Ice Courts and the Isles (roughly equally, or maybe with a bit more of it down south) and is a major player in this region, so it gets the full treatment here.
To put these events in context, you’ll probably want to peek at part 2.
Great Builders: When the Abvärwinter came, most of Ahlsheyan was spared — but the cities and towns around Kyögüŕ Sound needed to adapt. Equally comfortable beneath the earth as they are plying the waves, the Ahl began to dig. The largest settlements already used tunnels and vents to channel heat from deep within the earth, and once it became clear that the Abvärwinter wasn’t going to end these were expanded into great subterranean works that reached every Ahl city around the sound: the Orman-čaj (“orr-manh-NSAJ”). Combined with moisture from the sound — a constant source of trouble in the tunnels — the heat also makes the environment perfect for fungus farms, and the Orman-čaj provide ample food and fungus ale for snowbound Ahl settlements (and exports to the other Ice Courts).
Consequences + Battleground: Long ago, when Abäschern first laid claim to what would become the Ice Courts and to the people of the region, that territory included what is now Ahlsheyan. The Ahl dwarves, by and large, wanted no part of this wolf-god or his zealous followers. A series of wars, each lasting several years, pitted the Ahl against the followers of Abäschern, eventually driving the Ahl dwarves underground — literally.
None of their foes were adept at mountaineering (whereas many Ahl lived in the mountains), and they balked at tunnel-fighting, living in underground caverns, and the peculiarities of war below ground. Between the growing sailing prowess of those Ahl who remained above ground and the fierce martial culture that developed among those underground, the Ahl were able to decisively push back Abäschern’s forces.
In the present day, these traits are a major part of Ahl culture (and not a biologically deterministic thing common to all dwarves; Myedine dwarves, for example, have no culture of mining, tunnel-fighting, or stonework), and the rivalry between Ahlsheyan and its southern neighbors persists.
Magical Tech: The assassination of Abäschern had no effect on the sacred nature of lycanthropy in Valken society, or on the percentage of Valken born as werewolves (which is high). This blessing is part of why Valkenschirm remains the heart of the Ice Courts, conferring higher social status on its inhabitants in the courtly intrigues between nations. Centuries ago, Abäschern broke off one of his teeth and created the first Sklavengeist (“SKLAH-venn-guyst,” which literally translates to “seeker of the blessed wolf-spirit”), a talisman that can detect whether someone has the Sacred Blood (i.e., is a werewolf), and in what proportion.
Valand-Brämlings (“VALL-and BREHM-lings,” which means “wolf-singers” in Valken) found that they could create their own Sklavengeists, and this tradition has been passed down and expanded throughout Valken society. With the proper ritual, any Valken can extract one of their own teeth and create a Sklavengeist; many outside Valkenschirm also know how to do this, as that knowledge was passed down before the region split into multiple countries.
Noble Function: Since time immemorial (even prior to there being a Valkenschirm at all, when the Ice Courts were one), the nobility of Valkenschirm has maintained stewardship over the custom of the Great Hunt, the Hühneraar (“HOO-neh-rayre”), and the Lonely Hunt, the Hühneralk (“HOO-nerr-olk”). The Lonely Hunt is a coming-of-age ritual for every Valken, presided over by a noble and marking the child’s passage into adulthood. They must hunt prey designated by the noble, alone, and return with proof of their kill. The Great Hunt is part celebration, part safety valve for snowbound nations to blow off steam without fighting wars, and part sacred ritual.
It has evolved into the social event of the Ice Courts, and any year in which it is held is a busy one indeed. Hundreds of werewolves (and non-werewolves, although they’re in the minority) gather in Valkenschirm, select their prey, and then boil out into the snowdrifts in a roiling pack to stalk that prey until it’s dead. At times, this has served to muster a force of irregulars for a de facto military action, or to settle a grudge the presiding nobles have with a rival or foe; sometimes the prey is a rare or unusual creature, and not always one local to Valkenschirm. Like everything else about Valkenschirm, the Great Hunt is a considered a mixed blessing by the other Ice Courts, one they tend to resent and crave in equal measure.
Internal War: Centuries ago, in the chaotic months following the assassination of Abäschern, the notion that the ghost of the dead god was still present in the mortal realm took hold. The people of what would become Skølprene, on average, had less werewolf blood than those in the future Valkenschirm, more contact with Ahlsheyan and Zull Pyrendi, and were often considered outsiders or bumpkins amongst the elite. In this fertile soil the future church of the Celestial Harmony planted its seeds, and within a few years it had become quite powerful.
The church drove the civil war that split the Ice Courts, established the boundaries of present-day Skølprene — and then waged a secretive internal war to crush dissent and cement its beliefs as the law of the land in this fledgling nation. That “quiet war” went on for a decade, and it was one of the most vile and ruthless conflicts in Godsbarrow’s history.
People were “disappeared” by the hundreds; entire bloodlines were wiped out root and branch; skeptics were vilified in public, or they simply vanished. And barely a word of any of it was breathed in public; officially, the church opposed any such conflict. When the dust settled, Skølprene became the Celestial Duchy, and the Church of the Harmonious and Celestial Abäschern has ruled — generally in secret, hiding behind philanthropy and welcoming smiles — ever since.
Diplomatic Coup: Skølprene and Zull Pyrendi were once bitter foes, with Zull pirates raiding Skølprene’s shores and Skølen soldiers using fire and poison to assail the Zull. But in the early years of the Abvärwinter (even before anyone knew it would be permanent), church missionaries from Skølprene noticed how much better the Zull were faring than everyone else, with their strangely warm islands and abundant food. The church brokered peace with the Zull, establishing the supply line of edible fungus from the archipelago that still feeds all of the Ice Courts today.
Some terms of the peace are widely known, notably a promise by Skølprene to protect the Zull islands (with forts, ships, and diplomacy) that has been held up several times over the centuries. This has led to Skølprene and Zull Pyrendi being staunch, if unlikely, allies in the intrigues that plague this region. Much less widely known are the secret terms, which include fostering Zull colonies deep beneath church buildings throughout Skølprene, and intermarriage, with many notable Skølen secretly being human-fungus hybrids.
Economic Boom: Long ago, the Myedine hit what is known as the Hälgenvarst (“HELL-genn-farst,” which means “The Vein of Eternal Perfection” in Myedine): a vein — or more accurately, several veins in proximity — of precious metals and gems that has never run out. The portion of the Vein nearest to the surface lies within the Vulkanöl Mountains, and its location is the most closely guarded secret in Myedgrith. The balance of the Vein stretches south, deep underground, and a network of tunnels beneath the Great Emptiness connects it to other (secret) points within Myedgrith. No matter how deep Myedgrith’s miners go, the Vein persists.
Like diamond cartels in the real world, Myedgrith carefully meters the extraction of wealth from the Vein — but over time, it has made the nation incredibly wealthy. Every Myedine family of note trains and maintains a corps of miners, and reaching and tapping the Vein without other families knowing of it has become an art form — and a deadly pursuit.
The Vein is too long, and runs too deep, for any one family to control it. But anyone shut out from it entirely risks a dip in their lavish, decadent lifestyle and a corresponding loss of status. In many ways, the Vein is Myedgrith.
Resource Collapse: Before the Abvärwinter, what is now Myedgrith was rich in arable land, supplying grain and vegetables to the whole region. The changed overnight, and the result was chaos. Strife between Myedine families boiled over, with access to the Vein — and the wealth needed to import food — as its flashpoint. Entire villages became ghost towns, their refugees swelling the population of locales with food to share. Myedine left in droves, kneecapping once-powerful families and scrambling the politics of the area. The current system of access to the Vein grew out of this instability, and the families best able to navigate the tightrope walk of greed. secrecy, and measured extraction of wealth gradually brought a kind of peace to Myedgrith.
Rare Resource: The fungal entities of Zull Pyrendi are almost incomprehensibly strange to outsiders. Each colony is a god, a city, a nation, a tribe, food, fuel, and so much more. When the Abvärwinter came, another property of the Zull fungi was revealed: Despite their differences from one another, all of the fungal god-islands naturally resist the eternal winter, leaving the Zull Pyrendi archipelago warm, fertile, and hospitable to life. Previously a relatively minor player in the Ice Courts, this boon made Zull Pyrendi a real power in the region. Among other things, the archipelago became a major exporter of mushroom-based food to a frozen land where little grows, and today the islands are the “bread basket” of the Ice Courts.
Exodus: This is the opposite direction for my fuzzy ideas about Zull Pyrendi — I love it! Not every Zull god-fungus-colony is a hive mind in perfect harmony with itself, although that tends to be how they’re perceived. Ten years ago, at the same moment down to the second (not that folks keep track of time that way, but you know), several dozen Zull from Siskuzar, Imen Zull, Zull Myeen, and Myrmsk left the archipelago. Some were pirates who decided not to return home; some simply vanished; and most of them snuck into the mainland Ice Courts and then vanished.
The pirates have become infamous, and the fleet of Iskmik Zull (“ISSK-mikk”) — a self-declared god-fungus-colony — is feared along the shores of the Greatwater. The other Zull who disappeared have remained hidden, and outside of Zull Pyrendi (where they are anathema, traitors, or criminals) most in the Ice Courts have forgotten about them entirely.
Good Wizard: During the tumultuous time when the Abvärwinter was taking hold of the Ice Courts, a charismatic sorcerer, Hadubrant Twelve-Fingers (“HAH-doo-bront”), fled what would become Valkenschirm and snuck into Lonþyr. He carried with him two of Abäschern’s fangs, which gave him tremendous magical power, enhanced his cunning, and made him irresistible to the Lon nobility (though they knew not quite why; there was just something about him). A selfish schemer at heart, Hadubrant saw that by helping the Lon plunder the Mormú-Hús Mountains he could become enormously wealthy himself, so he used his magic to greatly enhance their mining operations and protect them from the Grshniki. During the decade when he assisted the Lon, their mining yields were multiplied many times over; some of the most prominent families today owe their wealth largely to this bygone era.
The time of plenty (from the Lon perspective, anyway) ended when Hadubrant — now rich beyond his wildest imaginings — simply vanished, never to be seen again.
Plague: When the Abvärwinter came, half of a Zull colony took to the seas and landed in Yrfeđe. Distraught, cut off from their god-fungus, and in a strange and hostile place, the Zull fruited and released corrupted spores throughout southern Yrfeđe. The plague was short-lived, but claimed the lives of thousands of Yr (and all of the fruiting Zull). To this day, no one in southern Yrfeđe will eat mushrooms, and most will not deal with the Zull in any fashion; that old hatred runs deep.
This post catches Yore up to all of the Ice Courts material I’ve finished to date. I’m still working on historical events (a couple to go) and relationships/wants (lots to go). As always, the headers are steps from Worlds Without Number [paid link].
Create six nations or groups of importance.
Ahlsheyan (“all-SHAY-ahn,” linguistic touchstone: Proto-Turkic), a chilly, windswept dwarven kingdom which abuts the Unlucky Isles to the south. Ahl dwarves are equally at home deep underground and plying the waves. The three pillars of Ahl society are wind, waves, and stone (representing impermanence, opportunity, and the past, respectively). Ahl “wind sculptures,” made of stone shaped so as to change in interesting ways as they are worn away by wind and weather, and not sold or exhibited until decades after they were first made, are famous throughout Godsbarrow.
Valkenschirm (“VAL-kenn-shurm,” linguistic touchstone: Old High German): The heart of the Ice Courts, and the center of all court politics in the region. What Valkenschirm lacks in size and martial power it more than makes up for in magical power: Most Valken are werewolves, and Abäschern’s still-magically potent corpse is entombed here. Years of intermarriage and close ties between the nations of the Ice Courts mean that many outside Valkenschirm are also at least part werewolf (considered a noble blessing), perhaps manifesting only minor signs of their nature.
While every Ice Court nation competes to be the preeminent regional power, Valkenschirm has held onto that honor for generations. The best balls, the best hunts, the best spellcraft, the best masquerades that lead to the best diplomacy — all of that happens here. Much maneuvering goes into ensuring that others must travel here — suffering the privations and facing the dangers of the trek — in order to really be playing the game of intrigue.
Since Abäschern’s assassination, Valkenschirm’s most potent tool in this regard has been his tomb. There are celebrations, rituals, and other events related to his tomb and death every year, and Valkenschirm has ensured that high society folks feel compelled to attend them — and to make the long, dangerous journey that entails. The other nations hate this.
One of the most coveted solutions to the problem of staying warm in a land with few trees is heatstones. Mined from deep beneath the Vulkanöl Mountains, these stones are always warm to the touch. One can keep a traveler alive in a storm. Three can heat a tent. Fifteen (or a larger, more valuable stone) can warm a hall — forever. More blood has been shed over the extraction, disposition, and possession of heatstones than would have been lost if these rocks never existed in the first place.
Celestial Duchy of Skølprene (“SKOOL-preen,” linguistic touchstone: Old High German, and as a reminder to myself, duchy is pronounced “DOO-chee” not “DOO-kee”): Skølprene purports to hold itself above the diplomatic fray that is the Ice Courts. The dominant religion, the Celestial Harmony of the Living Abäschern (commonly shortened to “the Harmony”), is based on doing good works, performing charitable acts, and philanthropy. Their “deity” is the “living ghost” of Abäschern, who doesn’t have a ghost; he’s dead. The entire faith is a sham.
This suffuses the culture of Skølprene, even among the half-wolves (with close ties to Valkenschirm), those outside the Harmony, and transplants from other lands. Underneath all the outward lovey-dovey positivity of the Harmony, human nature being what it is, sits a rotting foundation of lies, scheming, religious blackmail, dark rituals, and all manner of nastiness that takes place behind closed doors. In a region best known for mushroom pirates, eternal winter, and a country of werewolves, Skølprene is the most dangerous place in the Ice Courts…it just doesn’t look like it.
Myedgrith, Shining Lamp of Eternity (“MEEYED-grith,” linguistically it’s a mix of Old High German and made-up stuff, reflecting its history): How pretentious is Myedgrith? One, there’s a comma in the name of the country, and two, they’re particular about you referring to the country by its full name, comma and all: Myedgrith, Shining Lamp of Eternity. Pretentiousness is an art form in this majority-dwarven nation.
Always the most decadent area in the single nation that preceded the Ice Courts (which broke apart when Abäschern died), Myedgrith has leaned into that. Pleasure, putting on airs, and one-upping everyone around you are the heart of Myedine culture, leading in turn to an emphasis on overwrought artwork (e.g., an ice sculpture that takes 10 artisans a year to make, which is then melted for fun during a single lavish party), rich food, and petty disputes between housebound families (trapped by the climate and weather) that blossom, over the years, into bitter, elaborate blood feuds.
While there’s ostensibly a central government, Myedgrith is really a loose conglomerate of interrelated, feuding families who constantly jockey for position — only coming together when there’s a chance to expand the influence of Myedgrith, Shining Lamp of Eternity within the Ice Courts.
Zull Pyrendi (“zool pye-RENN-dee,” no linguistic touchstone): Mushroom pirates! Each island in this archipelago is home to its own massive fungal entity, with a roughly equal amount of fungal biomass above and below ground. The strange properties of these fungi have kept Zull Pyrendi from suffering the full effects of the Abvärwinter, and consequently the archipelago is the warmest place in the central Ice Courts.
Each fungal entity (a sort of massive hive mind, just like some fungi in the real world) spawns its own “children,” and for reasons of their own many of these fungus people become pirates. (The actual reason is because mushroom pirates are cool.) Most other mushroom folks are either farmers (and boy does mushroom farming look weird), who supply food to the snowbound Ice Courts, or diplomats, whose approach to intrigue is rather…unique.
While neither Lonþyr or Yrfeđe is part of the Ice Courts proper, 1) they’re on its map, and 2) they’re close enough to have political and other connections to the region.
Yrfeđe (“EHR-feth,” linguistic touchstone: Old English), in the northeast, is a superstitious land of dense forests, high winds, and harsh weather. Closely connected to Lonþyr by ancestry and culture, the two nations have been at odds for centuries. Yrfeđe is a rough-and-tumble place known for its timber, fish, and fortified towns, but infamous for the Wyrdanwod. The Wyrdanwod, particularly its eastern half, is home to the much-feared đargnr (“THAR-ghnir,” which means “sleeping shadows” in Emnian), who slumber inside ancient trees, or beneath the earth, and travel the Wraithsea at night to feed. Everyone in this bedeviled place carries a torch, candle, lantern, or other light source — as bright light is one of the few things that can harm a đargnr.
Lonþyr (“LONN-theer,” linguistic touchstone: Old English), along the coast of the Greatwater Āŕ, is a small country rich in gold, silver, and gems — the mineral wealth of the Mormú-Hús Mountains (off the Ice Courts map to the north), which Lonþyr has pillaged for centuries. Always seeking to encroach further into Mormú, Lonþyr is constantly fighting Grshniki guerrillas in the foothills — and struggling to retain its foothold on the southern end of Many Sorrows Pass, the only overland trade route connecting it to the northern Gilded Lands.
Lonþyr and Yrfeđe were once a single country; now, they’re feuding neighbors bound by bloodlines that span their shared border. The đargnr that plague Yrfeđe don’t trouble Lonþyr, which provokes much bitterness among the Yr. Long ago, Lonþyr pulled something dark and strange from the deeps beneath the Mormú-Hús Mountains, and this artifact — the country’s most closely-guarded secret — is what protects them from the đargnr.
Identify regionally-significant gods.
Valkenschirm is a mix of non-worship (their god is dead, and good riddance…though not everyone feels that way) and a stew of faiths and pantheons from outside its borders, which Valken nobles try on like shoes or ball gowns. This has led to Valkenschirm being a popular destination for proselytizers from many faiths across Dormiir — and, given the stereotypical Valken attitude towards deities, has also put the nation on the radar of several hostile gods who don’t appreciate being taken so lightly.
To make matters more muddled, the Scions of the Wolf are a local religion based on the blessing of lycanthropy, officially without a deity — though the hardcore believers say that Abäschern, or at least the non-shitty parts of him, lives on in all of them. Like much in Valkenschirm, it’s confusing.
The Harmonious and Celestial Abäschern — essentially Abäschern’s ghost — is worshipped in Skølprene, and is very nearly the state religion. Worshippers believe that Abäschern didn’t die but instead merely changed state, ascending from godhood to an even higher plane of celestial existence. They’re wrong: Abäschern is just dead. There are those in Skølprene who recognize this — but it’s an exceedingly dangerous thing to say out loud.
Outsiders joke that Myedgrith, Celestial Lamp of Eternity, is its own god — and they’re not entirely incorrect. By and large, the Myedine are glad to have Abäschern gone and have embraced non-worship. But there is also a persistent — and dangerous — strain of orthodox Abäschern worship alive and well in Myedgrith, the Black Pelts, who worship Abäschern’s corpse as if it were still alive. The fact that the corpse is entombed in Valkenschirm does not sit well with the Black Pelts…
The Zull worship no gods. Or, from an outsider’s point of view, their notion of god, self, nation, and city is one, and that one is each island’s respective fungal entity and its “children.”
Ahlsheyan’s tripartite pantheon is covered in the Unlucky Isles write-up — though some southern Ahl did worship Abäschern, and now find themselves either adrift and godless, doubling down on the Ahl faith, or taking a page from Valkenschirm’s book and sampling other pantheons.
Yrfeđe and Lonþyr share a pantheon; it’s covered in the Gilded Lands write-up.
On a side note, why not “atheism” instead of “non-worship”? I’m an atheist, so it’s nothing to do with real-life religiosity. In Godsbarrow, gods are real, evident, and walk the earth — as they do in Greek mythology (which is my default touchstone for how gods work this setting). Atheism isn’t really a thing in Godsbarrow because there’s no question that gods exist. One of them rules the country of Kuruni; you can have a beer with her, if you’re brave enough. Another’s corpse lies in state in Valkenschirm; you can come and spit on his tomb, if you’re brave enough. So I use “non-worship” because it makes more sense in the context of Godsbarrow than “atheism.”
Make a sketch map of the region.
I started with the map, as has become my habit, and worked on it in parallel with the written worldbuilding. It’s at the top of this post.
I have a little Godsbarrow side project bubbling away that’s competing for my writing time, which is part of why I haven’t finished the Ice Courts yet. But I am starting to feel the itch to work on a fresh region, so maybe that’ll goose me into wrapping this region up sooner than later.
I’m sort of mapping Godsbarrow the least efficient way possible . . . but stitching together my big map is proof that, for me, the dumb way that creates extra work in the future is the key to my success.
Why not start by mapping the continents?
I see gorgeous continent-level maps all the time on r/Wonderdraft. And it makes sense: Look how many things in the map below I will need to fix in order to turn X regional maps (the “tiles”) into a unified pan-regional map that spans a large chunk of Godsbarrow, none of which I’d have to fix if I’d started with a larger canvas.
Hell, even if I’d stayed at the regional scale (rather than continent scale) but started with a six-tile blank map in Wonderdraft, filled it with ocean texture, and then added landmasses one region at a time, I’d wind up with a finished map that had none of the technical issues present in the map I currently have. But I know me: That blank space would have overwhelmed me, made this feel like work, and probably torpedoed the whole venture.
Every boundary, every thing I develop, is a constraint. Starting with continents establishes a whole bunch of boundaries right off the bat. Starting without even thinking about continents leaves all that stuff where it belongs, for now: nonexistent or purely notional.
Why? Three reasons.
Because WWN says so
Worlds Without Number [paid link] advocates strongly for not building stuff you don’t need, and I agree. More than three decades of gaming, including several abortive attempts at creating campaign settings which began, full of excitement, with me creating world maps, has taught me that I virtually never need to know about continents at the gaming table.
Is it nice to know what the Forgotten Realms looks like at a world map level? Absolutely. And maybe in a published setting with the scope of the Realms, I’d expect that. (Here, as a WIP on a blog, I absolutely don’t expect that.)
But in actual play, have I ever needed to know what the continents look like, or what the whole of Faerûn looks like? Nope. Not even once.
Which flows into…
Conversation of time and creative energy
I’m one guy, doing this for fun, not getting paid for it, with a finite amount of free time and creative energy, and spending those resources worldbuilding means I have less time and energy to spend on other things — including the more gameable aspects of worldbuilding.
If I spend a bunch of time and creative energy on a world map of Godsbarrow that I don’t even need, I might burn out. Even if I don’t burn out, I will have spent those resources making something I don’t actually need and placing constraints on my future worldbuilding.
Which flows into…
Because whimsical, improvisational worldbuilding is more fun for me
I’m not here to police anyone’s “lonely fun.” I upvote those gorgeous continent maps on r/Wonderdraft, and I love that folks are making cool shit even — especially — if it’s not how I might have made it. As my wife often says, with genuine affection, “You do you, Boo-Boo.“
But personally I find it much more freeing, and more fun, to develop a Godsbarrow region without any real idea what’s next door. When I step back for a minute, as I did when stitching together that large map above, I see a developing setting that I never would have come up with this way if I’d sketched out all the coastlines for the large map at once.
Toriyama Akira and the art of improvisational creation
This connects nicely to having just finished watching Dragon Ball and started Dragon Ball Z. I was curious how much of Z Toriyama Akira had planned when he was working on Dragon Ball, and apparently the answer is “none of it, or at least not much of it, especially early on.” He was just doing what interested him, following his heart and seeing where it led him, and the end product — Dragon Ball — is full of whimsy and surprises and strange turns it likely never would have been full of if he’d mapped it out from the beginning.
Circling back to Godsbarrow, if I’d written up the Unlucky Isles knowing that a slug-god-kaiju was crushing mountains to the west (in Kurthunar) and the region to the south was locked in perpetual winter and populated by, among others, courtly werewolves and mushroom pirates, I would have written it differently. For one thing, I’d have had to hold a lot more ideas in my head while writing it. For another, I’d have worried about conceptually mapping out all of the nations’ relationships with places further away, which likely would have made me lose interest.
If I synthesize all of my regional write-ups into a unified document, will I need to add and tweak some things? You bet. Just like my stitched-up map, what came later would necessarily prompt a gentle rearrangement of what came before.
But as a price to pay for capturing the original raw spirit of Godsbarrow, channeling that into the Unlucky Isles, stoking the fires of creation and diving in while they burned brightly, and creating something that I still want to continue developing eight months later, that is a vanishingly small price indeed.
TL;DR: Start small. Which is, like, the oldest RPG worldbuilding advice ever. This post explains why I started small, and why, eight months after starting work on Godsbarrow, I still love this approach despite the imperfections it introduces into the process and the WIP version of Godsbarrow.
See also: Yore
A lot of what I’ve said here also goes for Yore itself. This blog will be celebrating its 10th anniversary later this year, on August 28th.
I’ve been blogging since 2005, and Yore is my third RPG blog. I ran Treasure Tables (still archived on Gnome Stew) from 2005-2007, and ran and contributed to Gnome Stew from 2008-2016. I may have my math off a bit, but I believe I wrote 871 posts on TT and 453 on GS.
So not only does my post count here — 463 as of this one — exceed my count on the Stew, even prior to the actual 10th anniversary I’ve already posted on Yore for longer than either of my previous blogs. Yore is the one where I just do whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it, whether or not that’s an efficient way to build an audience (it’s not), get pageviews (it’s not), create a brand (it’s not), make money (it’s not), or stay relevant in the RPG hobby as a whole (it’s not).
In other words, philosophically Yore is pretty similar to Godsbarrow. I loved blogging on Treasure Tables and Gnome Stew, and look back fondly on those years. But part of the reason I’m still blogging here, nearly 10 years on (and well past the heyday of blogs’ relevance in the hobby), is because here is the place I just do my thing. Or don’t do it. Or shift gears and do new things.
I know folks out there have gotten good mileage out of stuff I’ve posted here, and that brings me joy. I hope it continues to be the case. In the meantime, I’ll just keep puttering away and doing my thing.
I never get the roads, rivers, etc. on the “tile” boundaries quite right, but nonetheless I get a thrill out of seeing Godsbarrow start to come together as each region is added to the larger map.
Here’s a (clumsily) stitched-together map showing the first four regions: the Unlucky Isles (where I started, top center), the Gilded Lands (top right, my second region), Kurthunar (top left, third), and the Ice Courts (bottom, number four).
Despite all the details that would need to be tidied up as part of turning this into a finished map (mainly boundaries, but also finalizing scales and adjusting labels to suit the zoomed-out format), this map makes me happy. Godsbarrow feels like My Place in a way it wouldn’t without this map, and if you decide to play a game there I hope it will also feel like Your Place.
This is where I started, around March 2021 (in Worldographer):
I’ll go where my muse and mood take me, but the logical next stop after finishing my regional write-up for the Ice Courts would be to fill in the bottom leftmost map section. Six of my tiles, arranged thusly, is not coincidentally about the same shape as a map from the old Forgotten Realms boxed set.
I adore that set and to this day hold it up as one of, if not the, best examples of a published campaign setting designed for actual play (rather than GM wankery). Capturing some of the feel, the energy, the excitement I got (and still get) from opening that box, unfurling the maps, reading the marvelously concise and flavorful books, and playing in that version of the Realms is a core design goal for Godsbarrow.
After that, I’ve been thinking of another double-width map above the Isles and Gilded Lands, or maybe even a triple that also includes Kuruni.
Visually, that would center the Unlucky Isles as the heart of the developed portion of Godsbarrow (which, from a campaign setting creation standpoint, it is). With three tiles across the top and the ninth in the bottom left filled in, I’d also have mapped out all/most of the Arkestran Dominion, all of Kadavis, and all (probably?) of Ahlsheyan, and I’d have around a dozen countries developed at the regional level.
I like leaving unfinished nations on the map, places that need another tile to complete them. It helps the setting feel real and gives me an easy hook for future mapmaking and development.
Philosophical navel-gazing and hobby streaks
There are lots of things about worldbuilding that are philosophical in nature (like leaving countries half-unmapped). I’ve slowed way down on worldbuilding in the past few months, as I have with painting miniatures (though for somewhat different reasons), but I write at least a sentence, or make progress on a map, every day. And that snail’s pace is still producing more worldbuilding than I’ve done in decades, including much, much more cartography than I’ve ever done before.
I sum this approach up as “Something > nothing” or “Any progress beats no progress.” My interests and hobbies are like little fires, each in its own little hearth. Sometimes one fire is raging, and the others die down. In the past, I’ve let fires die out rather than banking them so that they stay alive; using hobby streaks as a motivational tool is as deliberate departure from that approach. I bank some of the fires, ensuring they don’t go out and that they’re on my radar (man am I mixing metaphors here), and let others go out entirely.
Right now I’m banking my worldbuilding fire, making a little forward progress every day, and tending to other fires that are burning hotter: watching more anime, reading more manga, and playing more Halo Infinite and Jedi: Fallen Order. And that’s okay! When those tail off, another interest or two will flare up.
My fourth region in Godsbarrow is two map “tiles” wide, sitting south of the Unlucky Isles and the Gilded Lands. It’s the map where most of Ahlsheyan sits, plus the rest of Lonþyr and most of the rest of Yrfeđe — and new nations, of course.
As you can see above, I finished the map before the write-ups (and I’m actually still working on the tail end of the written material). But for this post I’m jumping in with the first step from Worlds Without Number [paid link]. As always, this is more or less straight from my notes in Notepad, not fully polished (etc.).
Name the region.
The Ice Courts, so called because this region is a hotbed of courtly intrigue locked in perpetual winter. Though climate and geography have always made this a cold region, the unnatural winter stems from the death of a god: Abäschern, the Wolf of Summer (“ah-bay-SHURN”). Abäschern once blessed the land, ensuring that despite its climate and geography the region was arable and full of game to hunt, and blessed its people by making them werewolves. But in time he became bored with the world, and his petty streak turned to outright cruelty. He reveled in the thrill of twisting the land to his ends and hurting his followers, and the entire region became a dark place.
A few centuries ago, the people of what is now the Ice Courts rose up, threw off their shackles, and assassinated Abäschern — and with his dying breath, the wolf-god cursed them unto a thousand generations, casting the land into winter. The curse, plus the warped energy of his magically-active corpse, keeps the Ice Courts frozen to this day.
Valkenschirm (“VAL-kenn-shurm,” linguistic touchstone: Old High German) is the heart of the Ice Courts. What Valkenschirm lacks in size and martial power it more than makes up for in magical power: The majority of Valken are werewolves, and Abäschern’s still-potent corpse is entombed here. Years of intermarriage and close ties between the nations of the Ice Courts mean that many outside Valkenschirm are also at least part werewolf (considered a noble blessing), perhaps manifesting only minor signs of their condition.
Part of the reason the Ice Courts are so full of courtly rules, fancy balls, intrigue, and polite skullduggery is that it’s too fucking cold to spent time outside. Since Abäschern’s fall, what was once one nation has split into several, and the region’s focus has turned inwards, socially and literally, with lots of infighting, political maneuvering, and posturing. Alongside centuries of refinement of this culture of intrigue, each nation has also developed its own approaches to surviving in a place where winter is the only season (magic combined with burrows or structures, digging down to geothermal vents, underground mushroom farms, peculiar trees that bear food — not just fruit — all year long, etc.).
Choose about six major geographical features.
The Abvärwinter (“abb-FAIR-win-tur”), the local name for the area cast into perpetual winter by Abäschern’s curse, which comprises most of the Ice Courts region
Kyögüŕ Sound (“KYU-goorh”), windy and partially iced-over, which separates most of Ahlsheyan from the rest of the Ice Courts
The Tadlungwort (“TADD-loong-vort”), the only forest that survived the coming of the Abvärwinter, a strange evergreen wood full of even stranger animals
The Zull Pyrendi archipelago, largely unaffected by the Abvärwinter despite being close enough that it too should be snowed under
Vulkanöl Mountains (“VULL-kann-ole”), the massive range that covers a large portion of the Ice Courts region
Webegezeug Mountain (“veh-BEGG-uh-zoyg”), the tallest peak in the Vulkanöl Mountains — and one of the highest in all of Dormiir, well over 8,000 meters
The next step, nations of importance, is long enough for a post of its own. Onwards!
The Imperium of Man stands as a cautionary tale of what could happen should the very worst of Humanity’s lust for power and extreme, unyielding xenophobia set in. Like so many aspects of Warhammer 40,000, the Imperium of Man is satirical.
Games Workshop. November 19, 2021
All of my dedicated 40k pages here include a similar note, because alt-right, fascist, and Nazi fucks sometimes gravitate towards 40k, and I don’t want my enjoyment of this hobby to be associated with them in any way — or for them to think the 40k hobby is a welcoming space for them.
The core of GW’s statement closes with this:
If you come to a Games Workshop event or store and behave to the contrary, including wearing the symbols of real-world hate groups, you will be asked to leave. We won’t let you participate. We don’t want your money. We don’t want you in the Warhammer community.
Games Workshop. November 19, 2021
That goes for Yore, as well. If you’re part of a hate group, think antifa are the baddies, think “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter” are acceptable “responses” to Black Lives Matter, or are just a racist, transphobic, homophobic, or otherwise bigoted piece of shit: Yore is not for you, you are explicitly not welcome here, and you can fuck right off.
Everyone else, Yore is for you. Thank you for reading it, and happy gaming, reading, and painting.
I’ve been more in the mood for cartography than writing, so I’ve finished — at least in draft form — the map for the Ice Courts before the region write-up is done. The Ice Courts sit just south of the Unlucky Isles and the Gilded Lands, and this region occupies two map “tiles.” (You can read about all the parts of Dormiir I’ve created so far in the Godsbarrow handbook.)
This is a land of perpetual winter, dwarves, aristocratic werewolves, and mushroom pirates. I love all of those things, so I decided it’d be fun to combine them in a single region.
I’m about halfway done with the written portion. I wanted to see what a double-size region would feel like, giving countries a bit more real estate and adding a significant body of water — since my countries so far have been fairly small, and oceans haven’t yet been seen in their entirety.
It takes longer, no surprise there, but so far it’s been a fun approach. I might do the same thing for the region north of the Unlucky Isles, basically mirroring this approach but two tiles northwards. We shall see!
At 2:30 this morning I woke up from a dream about the dwarves in Godsbarrow and the Snarl, realized it was an idea I’d never seen anywhere before, and knew this was a chance to contribute to the collective lore of my favorite fantasy species. So I grabbed my tablet and wrote it down, couldn’t get back to sleep, and got up to turn my notes into this post.
You know those tragic instances where a huge crowd (in a sports arena, lets say) panics, and the weight of all those bodies exerts a terrible, crushing, fatal pressure on anyone trapped against a barrier? That sometimes happens when dwarves assault an underground fastness.
In a warren of tunnels, all it takes is an unexpected dead end or a wave of reinforcements on either side of the fight and the two opposing forces can literally get jammed together, immobile, with nowhere to go, as more bodies pile into the same too-small space.
This is called the Snarl.
Left unchecked, a Snarl is an awful thing. Pressure and lack of air can kill everyone involved, and the sensation of being trapped in a press of flesh, with one’s mortal foes, unable to escape, is simply dreadful. (That haunting image is what struck me when I first awoke.)
Shouting and other signals can’t be heard over the din, or seen through the press of fighting bodies, so dwarves rely on smell to avoid a Snarl. Underground-dwelling dwarves in Dormiir carry tiny ampoules of scented liquid. Each unit, clan, or other group has their own unique concoction, but they all carry a powerful, overwhelming scent. When crushed, either by the force of a Snarl or actively, by a dwarf trapped in one, the vial shatters and releases its potent stink.
Especially in snug spaces already tight on air, one vial’s scent might not travel far — but the scents from several of them will. That smell signals a Snarl, and it tells every dwarf within range to halt, retreat, and then work undo the Snarl.
Some foes know of this practice, and will also work with the dwarves to untangle a Snarl when they catch a strong scent. Historically, a Snarl successfully undone often leads to a peace treaty between the dwarves and their snarl-mates, making it an oddly effective, if accidental, form of diplomacy.
I didn’t dream about poignards, but while I was lying bed, half-awake, thinking about Snarls, my brain started pondering effective weapons for medieval tunnel-fighting — and out popped poignards.
The stereotypical dwarven weapon, the axe, isn’t actually a practical choice for fighting in confined spaces. You need room to swing an axe, especially a two-hander, and tunnels and snugs and crawlways don’t tend to allow that kind of maneuvering room. (The same goes for picks, mauls, longer swords, etc.).
Dwarves who fight in tunnels prefer short thrusting weapons, especially poignards, and it’s rare to meet a dwarf underground who doesn’t have a poignard or two. Warriors often carry several, each set up to be drawn in a different position (boot, belt, upper arm sheath, etc.). Some will also carry a longer, heavier weapon — like an axe or pick — that they can unlimber when fighting in caverns and other larger spaces.
Daggers and crossbows are also popular choices. A two-edged dagger can be a good alternative to a poignard, and a crossbow offers a compact ranged option that can be fired — once — even in a narrow tunnel. And dwarves girding for battle often don spiked armor and spiked gauntlets, which work as deterrents and effective weapons in their own right.