I’m currently working on my third region of Godsbarrow, Kurthunar, so this post and those that follow are me catching up on moving my Gilded Lands material from my PC to Yore.
Name the region.
The Gilded Lands, so named because most of its nations are wealthy, and most of that wealth comes in the form of precious metals and gems extracted from the mountain range that sits in the middle of the region. Gilding also implies decadence, and in a sword and sorcery context maybe even rot and decay. The largest nation here, Kadavis, is both decadent and, in places, rotten; and most of its neighbors are rotten in their own ways.
Choose about six major geographical features.
- Mormú-Hús Mountains (“MOHR-moo HOOSS”), rich in gems and precious metals, and the source of much of the wealth in this region (and its name)
- Cæfester Woods (“KAI-fess-tur”), deep and teeming with wildlife
- The Wyrdanwod (“WEER-dan-waud”), which surrounds Lake Be-Hédan, providing Yrfeđe with timber and fish; its eastern half is dark and full of terrors
- Seat of Iskuldra, the sacred mountains where Kadavis’ primary deity, Iskuldra, rules her Court of Masks and oversees a squabbling pantheon of hundreds of small gods
- Lake Valkayan (“VAHL-kye-ann”), so large it’s practically an inland sea, which links Kadavis, Garshán, and Kostivolsk
- The Black Lakes, silty, mineral-rich lakes with geothermically heated warm water
- Many Sorrows Pass, the only easy overland link between the northern and southern nations of the Gilded Lands
- Nus Palavar, the haunted graveyard of Kadavis’ small gods
Create six nations or groups of importance.
Kadavis (“kuh-DAVV-iss”), the heart of the Gilded Lands. (A signifanct portion of Kadavis — notably, the island of Rasu Miar — extends west into the Unlucky Isles.) Kadavis is a prosperous, decadent kingdom composed of dozens of squabbling fiefdoms. Kadavan culture places great value on ostentatious displays of wealth and glory. Masks are a key part of Kadavan society, the fancier the better.
Yrfeđe (“EHR-feth”), in the southeast, 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.
Their existence — and predations — have kept Yrfeđe from becoming as wealthy as the other nations of the Gilded Lands. 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. Unlike the other countries in the Gilded Lands, Yrfeđe has a good relationship with the Grshniki gnomes of Mormú, trading timber, fish, and other goods for mining rights, gems, and precious metals — and working together to keep the đargnr at bay, as they also stalk the tunnels of eastern Mormú.
Lonþyr (“LONN-theer”), 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, which Lonþyr has pillaged for centuries. Always seeking to encroach further into Mormú, Lonþyr is constantly fighting Grshniki guerrilas 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.
Garshán (“GAHR-shahn”), in the northeast, is the only country in the Gilded Lands whose wealth does not come primarily from the Mormú-Hús Mountains; instead, it all comes from trade. Garshán is the “gateway to the east” for the Gilded Lands, bringing goods overland and across the Lachyan Sea. Garshán has excellent roads, and ships, and their traders are well-known throughout the Gilded Lands.
The Garsháni have been marrying Sou gnomes since the two cultures first encountered one another. Garshán is populated primarily by a mix of humans, half-gnomes, and (on the water, especially in the bays along the Lachyan Sea and on Lake Valkayan) by Sou gnomes. Garsháni society tends to be focused on efficiency, and the Garsháni believe that every journey which is both swift and smooth honors the Uhr Theg (“oor thegg”), the celestial family of trade-related small gods who make up their pantheon.
Kostivolsk (“KOSS-tih-vollsk”), is a sinister halfling theocracy that stands in stark contrast to its western neighbor, decadent Kadavis. Kosti culture was shaped by their strange, oppressive deity, Xlě̀-Ceth (“SHLEH-keth”), who offers power and favors in exchange for personal sacrifice. The bigger the sacrifice, the greater the reward. The Cethinzalk Church (“KETH-inn-zalkh”) rules Kostivolsk, largely because it has proven so adept at managing — and weaponizing — what Xlě̀-Ceth can offer. Draining half of your own blood, or taking a vow of permanent silence, or repeating Xlě̀-Ceth’s name until you faint is all well and good — but true power comes from convincing thousands of others to do a little bit of that on your behalf.
When the đargnr first emerged from the Wyrdanwod, just south of the border with Yrfeđe, the church began a ritual which has continued unbroken for centuries. Every major church started a chant to Xlě̀-Ceth, accompanied by ritual bloodletting and ceaseless dancing, which has never ceased. Some families are born to become Chanters, Deathdancers, or Bloodfolk, and will die in those roles; particularly devout worshippers will intone the Ceaseless Chant for days on end, stopping only when they drop dead (and someone else picks up the Chant). The ritual is still working to this day; the đargnr do not trouble Kostivolsk.
Mormú (“MOHR-moo”), a narrow strip of mountains smack in the middle of the Gilded Lands, is the home of the Grshniki (“gurr-SHNEE-kee”) gnomes, who originally claimed the entire Mormú-Hús mountain range as their homeland. Their deity grew them from veins of precious metals and gems deep in the earth, and Grshniki have a sheen to their skin, hair, and/or eyes, evocative of gemstones, veins of silver, crystalline mineral deposits, etc.
Mormú has been assailed from all sides for centuries, with Kadavis and Kostivolsk pushing into their territory from the north, and Lonþyr and Yrfeđe doing the same from the south. (The underground portion of Mormú is considerably larger than the territory on the surface.) Some Grshniki have cooperated with their neighbors — capitulated to their oppressors, other Grshniki would say — or even become citizens of those nations. Others have rebelled, waging a centuries-long guerilla campaign to to reclaim the whole mountain range. One thing almost all Mor agree on, however, is that they’re not giving up another inch of ground.
Linguistically, Kadavis, Garshán, and Kostivolsk are supposed to feel vaguely similar. My linguistic touchstone for Kostivolsk is Proto Slavic; I riff on that for the other two. Yrfeđe and Lonþyr share a common tongue, Emnian (“EMM-nee-unn”), for which the linguistic touchstone is Old English. Garsháni has evolved to incorporate Tamosi, and in its present state it’s a hybrid of the two languages; almost all Garsháni speak Tamosi, as well.
(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number.)
The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.