The next step in Worlds Without Number‘s region-creation process is…
Identify regionally-significant gods.
- Kadavis — Iskuldra, the Golden Mask (“iss-KUHL-druh,” wealth, glory, recognition), principal deity in a pantheon that includes over 200 “small gods” (other aspects of prosperity, commerce, fashion, etc.) who are venerated in its many fiefdoms.
- Yrfeđe — Cniht-Cild (“KUH-neet kild”), They Who Drive Out the Shadows, was a minor deity in Yrfeđe until the đargnr came. Now they are almost universally worshipped, with the rest of the pantheon relegated to minor roles. Given the nature of gods in Dormiir, however, the continued existence of the đargnr begs a question: Why does fervently worshipping a god of light not fix that problem? The answer is that Cniht-Cild is fickle, bored, and petty; they remember how little the Yr cared about them for centuries, and now they’re exacting their revenge.
- As a result, Yr society is split between the ultra-devout (who think they’re just not praying hard enough) and the self-reliant, who look less to Cniht-Cild and more to their own torches, wits, and neighbors.
- Lonþyr — Feórþa (“fey-OHR-fuh”), the Spiked Hammer, sits atop Lonþyr’s pantheon. Feórþa encapsulates three aspects of Lonþyran culture: the hammer represents building and strength; the spike, taking what you need by force; and the whole as a mining tool, the source of Lonþyr’s wealth. The Church of Feór is the state religion in all but name, and deeply woven into every aspect of Lonþyr.
- Yrfeđe and Lonþyr worship the same gods, just in different ways and degrees. Cniht-Cild is a minor figure in Lonþyr; apart from miners, almost no one in Yrfeđe worships Feórþa.
- Garshán — The Garsháni hold that efficiency — their culture’s defining trait, alongside trade — is not the result of any one thing, but rather of many small things in combination. (“The best horse won’t get you far if it’s hitched to the worst wagon” is a common Garsháni proverb.) Garshán also has a long, intertwined history with the Sou gnomes, who worship no gods. As a result, religion is not a major force in Garsháni society, although there is a pantheon of trade-related small gods, the Uhr Theg (“oor thegg”), who are politely and convivially appreciated by many Garsháni. Garshán has also absorbed the customs of the surrounding nations where it suits them, casually acknowledging small gods and spirits from Kadavis, Lonþyr and Yrfeđe, and other lands throughout Godsbarrow alongside the Uhr Theg. (Their dour neighbors to the south, in Kostivolsk, have a saying about Garshán: “They have many gods, but little reverence for any of them.“)
- Kostivolsk — Xlě̀-Ceth (“SHLEH-keth”), who offers power and favors in exchange for personal sacrifice, is the sole deity of Kostivolsk and permits no others. 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.
- Mormú — Long ago, Nújag-Húarn (“NOO-jagg hwarn”), often called the Half-Dead, grew the Grshniki gnomes from veins of precious metals and gems deep beneath the Mormú-Hús Mountains. Every gnome it grew diminished its power slightly, but the lightless vaults of Dormiir were lonely and it craved companionship — so it continued to grow gnome after gnome until the caverns were teeming with them. When surface-dwellers began tunnel under the mountains to steal their wealth and invade the Grshniki homeland, Nújag-Húarn was too weak to stop them. It retreated deeper into the earth, and has not been seen for centuries; the Grshniki know only that it is still alive, as they would have felt its death. Some seek it out, hoping to restore Mormú that way; others have abandoned Nújag-Húarn, just as it abandoned them; and most acknowledge their half-dead god as their near-mythical maker, long lost to them.
Make a sketch map of the region.
As with the Unlucky Isles, I started with a map. This time, though, I fleshed it out down to the town/road level of detail as I went, rolling with my ideas and mapping in more detail early on, zooming in and out and switching from writing to mapping freely along the way.
By the time I was working on historical events 2+, I had a finished draft map with 100% of the names in place.
Assign two important historical events to each group or nation.
- Consequences + Internal War: Long ago, what is now Kadavis was claimed by dozens of different warlords, warpriests, and wealthy traders, each worshipping its own pantheon of gods, and all of them — people and gods — often fighting one another. Eventually, this boiled over into open warfare, and the Gilded Lands were consumed by it. The Oracle of Iskuldra, High Warpriest of the Golden Mask, emerged as the victor. The Oracle demonstrated the power of Iskuldra, and wielded that power to consolidate the disparate kingdoms into fiefdoms. She popularized the wearing of masks, both to venerate Iskuldra and to ensure that the first thing people from different fiefdoms saw was not the face of a former foe, but the mask of a shared faith. In time, the Oracle united all of these lands into the nation of Kadavis.
- Magical Disaster: As soon as I’d created Nus Palavar, I knew I wanted a classic magical disaster to give Kadavis a proper sword-and-sorcery feel. So: Long ago, when the nation was young, Nus Palavar was where Kadavans buried their dead gods. Over time, the energy of those corpses — always unpredictable, often cursed, and made more so by proximity to other dead gods — accumulated, until eventually it boiled over. Waves of chaotic magic roiled Nus Palavar, spreading out across the neighboring region. In one village, every villager dropped dead; in a nearby town, the ground turned to liquid; dozens of miles away, animals were turned inside-out.
- Now the Bloodspire, monument to the dead god Ykvida (“ikk-VEE-dah”), Sealer of Wounds, dominates the landscape of Nus Palavar, presiding over a haunted, fell place full of ruins, half-buried dead gods, magical monstrosities, and the ne’er-do-wells who seek out such places. For miles around it, Kadavis is empty — civilization having wisely abandoned, or simply never taken root, in this cursed place. Nus Palavar is practically right outside the gates of Kul Tyrar, the capital of Kadavis, and decadent Kadavans do their best to simply pretend it doesn’t exist.
- Evil Wizard: One of the options for this one is “powerful magical entity,” so this event is the appearance of the đargnr. People had lived in Yrfeđe for generations before the đargnr first began emerging from the Wyrdanwod. Why did the đargnr come? Despite decades of exploration, research, magic, and divination, no one knows. Why can’t Cniht-Cild simply banish the đargnr? No one knows (although a large segment of the population believes it’s because they aren’t praying hard enough). Why can’t they be reasoned with? No one knows. Why are they always hungry? No one knows. The đargnr simply are, and they simply do what they do. That’s what makes them so terrifying. Their predations have completely transformed Yrfeđe and Yr society; they are why this is a haunted, desperate place.
- Praetorian Coups: In the years after the đargnr first appeared, the Dýgan (“DYE-gann,” the First Axe and ruler of Yrfeđe, chosen by the Dýfeón, “DYE-fay-ohn,” the Many Axes; they’re the ruling council) fought hard against them — but also resisted the growing power of the nascent church of Cniht-Cild. By tradition, each of the Dýfeón sent 20 of their finest warriors to serve as the Dýgan’s retinue, the Fætan (“FEH-tahn,” the Sharp Blades), representing the collective loyalty of the council to their chosen leader. The Fætan saw the Dýgan leading their land to ruin and darkness (in their view), and rose up in a bloody single-night coup, slaying the Dýgan and any of the Dýfeón who stood against them. They then installed a new Dýgan from their own ranks.
- Ever since the Night of the Sharp Blades, the Fætan have been an independent force, with no loyalty to specific Dýfeón or to the Dýgan; they are loyal to the land, and will give every drop of blood to the fight against the đargnr. The system whereby the Dýfeón choose the Dýgan remains, but it’s essentially theater: The Dýgan is chosen by the Fætan, and their choice is rubber-stamped by the Dýfeón in deference to tradition.
- Freakish Magic: Just a year or two after the first appearance of the đargnr in Yrfeđe, miners in Lonþyr pulled something dark and strange from the deeps beneath the Mormú-Hús Mountains, and this artifact — the country’s most closely-guarded secret — has protected the country from the đargnr ever since. While it is rarely far from the capital and Lonþyr’s leader, a secretive group of assassins, sinister priests, and twisted wizards moves the artifact regularly to ensure that its location is difficult to pinpoint. It changes them, and over generations it has changed the ruling class in Lonþyr, as well. It warps them in body and spirit, often in unpredictable ways. Some have chafed under this strange yoke, but even they acknowledge that without this fell thing Lonþyr would likely suffer the same fate as its neighbor to the east.
- Internal War: The two halves of Lonþyr — the east, which is now Yrfeđe, and the west — were always divided by cultural distinctions, but never especially sharply. Resources formed another division, with the west having more coastline (and therefore trade) and the east having more timber, wildlife, and other natural resources. But it was dealings with the Grshniki gnomes of the Mormú-Hús Mountains that broke Lonþyr in two — and the emergence of the đargnr that made reconciliation impossible.
- The west took what it wanted from the mountains, mercilessly slaughtering gnomes as they pushed further into their territory. The east, after some uneasy skirmishes in the early days, made peace with the gnomes, trading with them and binding their two peoples together quite strongly. “Who started the civil war?” is an unwise question to ask in either nation (as is “Who ended it?”), but the end result is inarguable: Yrfeđe seceded, or was excised, and one country became two. During the aftermath, the đargnr came; generations of bad blood between the two countries have coalesced into a simmering feud that continues today.
- Xenophilia: This second region features a lot more baked-in history up front, so this is another one I’ve already got more or less done before hitting this step. 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. This is a two-way street, with the Sou picking up Garsháni cultural traits and practices — though not, for obvious reasons, religion — and carrying them around the world. There’s also a healthy blending of both cultures that exists throughout Garshán, such as great moots which take place here. Normally a Sou-only affair, moots in Garshán welcome Sou, Garsháni, and blended families.
- Class Struggle: There has always been some contention in Garsháni society between traders who prefer to ply the seas and rivers, traders who prefer to travel on land, and traders who prefer to do both. These days, it’s mostly a light-hearted rivalry — a tradition, more than an actual division. But long ago, the Wavefolk claimed superiority over the Landfolk, and both groups thought they were better than the Wayfolk (those who favored neither mode of travel). Guilds grew up around these divisions, many of which persist today, and the drive for greater efficiency and higher profits festered, leading to a long period of cutthroat conflict, skirmishes, and bad blood between the factions.
- Twist of Fate + Freakish Magic: Freakish Magic reads as good, so Twist of Fate says to make it bad instead. The Cethinzalk Church has always played a role in Kosti society, but the first priest to discover that many small sacrifices to Xlě̀-Ceth could be harnessed just as a single large sacrifice could, Àgnęte (“egg-NEW-teh”), set Kostivolsk on its path to becoming the brutal, oppressive theocracy it is today. Àgnęte, Warden of the Sacred Blood, strengthened the church, took over the government, and bled — literally and figuratively — the Kosti in service of his own twisted aims. Those aims became synonymous with the church itself, and in time the church became synonymous with Kostivolsk.
- Noble Function: Kostivolsk’s nobility lost much of its power when the church took over. They retained some of it by ensuring that noble birth was viewed as the most important factor in producing the best Bloodfolk and Chanters, and that tradition continues today. Kostivolsk’s noble families intermarry, maintain lineages, and contribute their children to the holiest of causes: dying for Xlě̀-Ceth. These families are interconnected with the church hierarchy, some of which is also hereditary.
- Urbanization: When Mormú’s neighbors began encroaching into its territory on all sides, the Grshniki were forced to retreat, then retreat again, consolidating more gnomes into fewer places. The capital city, Ilmú Feyn, became the default rallying point for displaced Grshniki. The tunnel network linking the city to various points throughout the mountains was expanded, and the capital itself grew in every direction: upward, by further hollowing out its home mountain; downward, by opening up shafts into caves below; and outward, sprawling into nearby caverns and sub-caverns. It is now one of the largest cities in the Gilded Lands — despite being all but invisible from the surface.
- Great Builders: When the first Mor created by Nújag-Húarn began to build, they built ornate, jewel-encrusted stalagmites and stalactites to honor their maker — the God Spires. When Nújag-Húarn receded from the world — deeper underground, most Mor believed — they began to bore deep vertical shafts, the God Tunnels, in hopes of reaching Nújag-Húarn. Graven with runes, studded with gems, and built to be traversed with ropes, handholds, and climbing skills, many Mor go on pilgrimages down the God Tunnels. Not all of them come back.
(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number.)
Out now: The Unlucky Isles
The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.