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Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Middenglum, part 1: overview, geography, nations, and gods

After roughing in the map and concept for my fifth Godsbarrow region, Middenglum, I tucked into doing proper write-ups

Name the region.

Middenglum is the colloquial name for a region which encompasses the lawless, sparsely populated western hinterlands of Ahlsheyan and Myedgrith, which in turn bleed into territory claimed by no nation — Middenglum proper, home to all manner of ne’er-do-wells. Across the Agunune Sea (“AHH-goo-noon”) is an equally sparsely populated section of Kuruni, all but abandoned by the Kurun as it’s so far from Kura’s stomping grounds.

Long ago, the Ahl named this area Mē Dān Gēŋ (“mee dayne geeng”), which means “land of no opportunities” in Ahl. Despite its inviting protected bays, the whole area is so inhospitable and resource-poor than the early Ahl wanted nothing to do with it, and that has largely held true to the present day. Over time, Mē Dān Gēŋ became “Middenglum,” a dreary place full of society’s dregs and cast-offs. Bandits, pirates, fugitives, and scoundrels of all stripes wash up in Middenglum.

It is also, however, a secret “un-nation.” The territory bounded by the mountains on three sides and the sea on the fourth — Middenglum proper — is the birthplace of the null slimes. Null slimes are a species of sentient, psychic oozes, and they most often dwell underground. Most never leave Middenglum proper. But among those who do interact with the wider world are some of the most sinister threats to surface-dwellers in all of Godsbarrow.

Null slimes have no agreed-upon name for their species, and most slimes do not have or use names for themselves. The most prominent deity in null slime culture is the Absence. To worshippers of the Absence, voids of any kind are sacred: the tunnels they leave behind as they burrow beneath the earth, the absence of life caused by murder, the power vacuum created by an assassination, the black caves they hollow out to form subterranean temples.

Null slimes venerate the Absence in different ways. For many, using their bodies’ natural acidic secretions to sculpt holes and voids in rock, or seeking out places where there is no light or sound, are the best way to practice their faith.

But for others, nothing celebrates the Absence like causing voids out in the world. They plot and scheme, manipulating surface-dwellers to collapse governments, start wars, and hollow out people’s faith in their own gods. Middenglum is a perfect base of operations for them: Pirates and cast-offs come and go all the time, and people with little to lose are often more vulnerable to psychic manipulation. A telepathic whisper or two is all it takes to stow a null slime aboard (hiding, for all purposes invisibly, in the bilges) and begin a campaign of bloodshed on the high seas — and beyond.

Choose about six major geographical features.

  • Agunune Sea (“AHH-goo-noon”), notoriously rough, virtually always windy, and prone to long, frequent, and powerful storms
  • Jōkjār Mountains (“JOKE-jayre”), which hem in Middenglum proper on three sides
  • Go Quietly Strait, which connects the Alpan Sea to the north with the Agunune Sea, so named because sailors know it’s best to “go quietly” through the waters around Ghhol lest they draw the bloodthirsty attention of the Ghhola pirates
  • Slljrrn’s Footsteps, the collective name for the scattering of islands off the coast of Middenglum; legend has it that Slljrrn journeyed to the Unlucky Isles across the water, and wherever he paused on his travels an island sprang up from the sea
  • Twin Deaths Pass, which is the easiest way through the Jōkjār Mountains from a geographical standpoint, but actually the hardest way — because if the horrors from the range to your right don’t get you, the horrors descending from the left will
  • Umbreg Forest, a swath of bandit-haunted woodland notable for its sickly trees and poisonous flora and fauna; null slimes have carefully cultivated these woods as a source of deadly toxins, and many of Dormiir’s nastiest poisons originate here

Create six nations or groups of importance.

Middenglum is the heart of this region, and gives the whole area its name. It’s not a nation per se, as it includes portions of Myedgrith and Ahlsheyan — and its original inhabitants, the null slimes, do not use names. Most people, whether inside or outside of Middenglum, don’t know about the null slimes. Middenglum is a place where the dregs of Dormiir wash up, fight amongst themselves, raid neighboring kingdoms, and take to piracy on the high seas. But its true rulers are the null slimes: sentient, psychic oozes who most often dwell underground. Most never leave Middenglum proper. But among those who do interact with the wider world are some of the most sinister threats to surface-dwellers in all of Godsbarrow.

Ghhol (“GUH-holl”) is the largest island off the coast of Middenglum, a wind-lashed place that somehow always smells like vomit and death. Not a nation in any formal sense, it’s the domain of a sprawling extended family of ruthless pirates who bathe in its stinking pools, and whose diet consists of the mutant fish that dwell in the noxious surrounding waters — and the people aboard the ships they scuttle. They worship Ghhole, a titanic eel several miles long who slumbers coiled in the labyrinthine submerged tunnels that honeycomb the island (deep, deep down).

Consuming the polluted seawater in which Ghhole steeps is part of the Ghhola pirates’ religion, and it makes them fearless and bloodthirsty in battle. Anyone can become a Ghhola pirate. Anyone. You just have to be willing to walk the walk, and you’re in. Despicable folks of all species and walks of life wind up here. (Oddly enough, for the very brave and desperate, Ghhol is also an ideal place to hide. Assuming you can stomach living the life of a Ghhola pirate, that is…)

The Red Flag Isles are collectively claimed by the various squabbling clans that all fly the red flag of piracy. In keeping with the rest of Middenglum, this isn’t a nation in any meaningful way. Red Flag pirates prey on shipping through Go Quietly Strait, and often venture south into the Agunune Sea or north into the Unlucky Isles. The only thing they all agree on is avoiding Ghhol.

Binmeque (“binn-MEKK,” no linguistic touchstone) abuts Middenglum proper to the south. The Binme (“binn-MAY”) have learned how to thrive despite their proximity to the dangers on their northern border. The mountains help, but Binme culture is the key: Starting at age four, every Binme is supposed to learn soldiery and a trade, and one’s usefulness to Binmeque is the hallmark of one’s worth. When someone becomes too old or infirm to fight, they learn to perform other military duties: scouting, observation, logistics, cooking, etc. In essence, virtually the entire country of Binmeque is an army, and every soldier is also a farmer, trader, blacksmith, etc. (Like every society in Dormiir, Binmeque isn’t a monoculture; there are Binme who don’t follow the stereotypical “Binme path” in life.)

One avenue to Binmeque’s continued prosperity lies in providing safe passage through Go Quietly Strait to their neighbors to the west and north. Captains heading to or from the Unlucky Isles often hire Binme escort vessels to accompany them, and Binmeque maintains strategic outposts in Middenglum, the Red Flag Isles, and southern Kuruni to facilitate this business. These outposts are incredibly well supplied and defended — which they have to be, because they’re frequently attacked by pirates, monsters, and raiders of all stripes.

The sparsely populated hinterlands of Ahlsheyan, Myedgrith, and Kuruni are also considered part of Middenglum. Including Binmeque, all four nations bordering Middenglum proper have decided that none of them want this territory.

Identify regionally-significant gods.

The most prominent deity in null slime culture is the Absence. To worshippers of the Absence, voids of any kind are sacred: the tunnels they leave behind as they burrow beneath the earth, the absence of life caused by murder, the power vacuum created by an assassination, the black caves they hollow out to form subterranean temples.

The Ghhola pirates worship Ghhol, a titanic eel several miles long who slumbers coiled in the labyrinthine submerged tunnels that honeycomb the island (deep, deep down). Its body pollutes the waters on and around the island of Ghhole, and the tainted water and resulting mutant fish contribute to the depraved bloodthirstiness of the Ghhola pirates.

The pirate clans of the Red Flag Isles hail from all corners of Dormiir, and tend to worship the gods they grew up worshipping (to the extent that they care about gods at all). No god of the sea wants anything to do with the waters in this region, so no one god stands out among the many worshipped here.

The Binme venerate the Fourteen. This pantheon is composed of gender-neutral, human-looking deities whose apparent age ranges from four to a hundred, with none preeminent over the others. Each oversees an aspect of Binme culture, from various martial roles to farming, sailing, and trade. Most Binme feel closest to the members of the Fourteen who represent their chosen trade and military duties, and learning a new trade or martial role later in life brings them closer to new members of the pantheon. Well-made objects and well-grown crops (and so forth) are believed to contain the spark of a member of the Fourteen, so orthodox Binme strive to always produce their best work in the hopes of thereby attracting the divine.

The gods of Myedgrith, Kuruni, and Ahlsheyan are covered in their respective write-ups.

Unlike my recent previous regions, I haven’t mostly finished the next step — the map — at this point, so next up is putting some more elbow grease into cartography.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

The Ice Courts, part 3: historical events

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).

The Ice Courts

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.

Ahlsheyan

  • 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.

Valkenschirm

  • 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.

Skølprene

  • 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.

Myedgrith

  • 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.

Zull Pyrendi

  • 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.

Lonþyr

  • 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.

Yrfeđe

  • 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 is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

The Ice Courts, part 2: nations and gods

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].

The Ice Courts region of Godsbarrow

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.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

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Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Godsbarrow’s Ice Courts region: overview and geographic features

Happy new year, Yore readers!

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.

The Ice Courts

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!

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

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Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Dwarves in Godsbarrow: poignards and the Snarl

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.

The Snarl

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.

Poignards

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.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

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Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Godsbarrow’s third region: Kurthunar

This region is a twofold experiment. One, it diverges from Worlds Without Number‘s (paid link) directive to “make about six nations/groups,” as I’m making two new ones and using two existing ones. And two, it’s the first region that features gods as physical presences, just out there in the world doing god stuff.

And those gods absolutely define their respective nations — as it should be. At first my concept for Kuruni seemed kind of simplistic, but then I thought about it a bit more. If your god rolls up, twenty feet tall, glowing like the noonday sun, casually hefting the Diamond Hammer of the Ages — a single blow from which can knock the peak off a mountain — and says, “I like fighting,” you’d say, “Me too! Who should we fight?” And when Kura says, “IDGAF, let’s fight each other,” that’s what you do.

Kuruni is that, multiplied by an entire nation. It’s not a monoculture, but it is a culture more tightly defined and less varied than most of the others I’ve sketched out to date. Kura isn’t someone your ancestors knew, or that the church talks about, or that no one’s seen in centuries; she’s that huge woman over there, drinking ale by the barrel, and boy does she love cracking skulls.

Aaust wasn’t that, to start with. It was a largely secular nation, a peaceful place isolated by its geography and dedicated to scholarship and building stilt houses taller than your neighbors. And then The God That Eats boiled up out of the earth and started. Eating. Everything.

Kurthunar

Choose about six major geographical features.

  • The Godblight, the miles-wide — and growing — region of devastation left behind by The God That Eats
  • The Bacberand, the massive expanse of swampland at the center of Aaust (where many of the Thefaine are found)
  • The Salt Coast, the extended swath of salt marsh that forms much of Aaust’s coastline
  • Qaburzani Sound, the many-branched body of water that forms the eastern boundary of the Aaun Peninsula
  • The Great Library of the Cliffs (“Faial Thaneseie” in Aaunish), a network of canyons in Aaust carved from lip to floor with millions of linear feet of runes, accessible via scaffolds, cranes, and tunnels, and organized in a system known only to the army of sages who maintain it
  • Forge of Huradi, a holy mountain in Kuruni (and its tallest peak); Kura flattened its top, infused it with her power, and now uses it as a forge to craft weapons for her favored champions
  • The Thefaine, vast, strange obelisks that dot Aaust, attracting and warping wildlife into huge monsters

Create six nations or groups of importance.

Aaust (“OW-oost,” linguistic touchstone is Old French), which occupies the Aaun Peninsula (“OW-oon”), is a peaceful, insular place that was, until recently, best known for its vast marshes (with some settlements only reachable by flat-bottomed skiffs and barges), stilt-dwellings, scholars, the great Library of the Cliffs (millions of linear feet of Aaun runes engraved into cliffs to form a permanent library that collects works from all over Dormiir; nothing less permanent lasts long in the marshes), and the mysterious Thefaine pillars (“THEH-fayne”). Jutting high into the air, the Thefaine attract and warp wildlife, giving rise to massive — and weird — creatures. But the Aausti aren’t frail scholars who roll over and die when faced with danger; they possess centuries of knowledge and prize resourcefulness, craftiness, and survival.

Aausti culture places importance on the height of one’s dwelling. This began as a practical matter: Aaust is low-lying, barely above sea level in most places, so it’s particularly susceptible to Dormiir’s extreme tides. It’s generally regarded as worse to build high and suffer a collapse than to build slightly lower, but soundly. Drummers, signal torches, pigeons, and lanterns with signal mirrors are used to communicate between towers — and throughout Aaust, as these are all methods that work equally well in the bogs and marshes (and some are subtle enough to avoid monsters’ attention).

The Aausti ability to coexist with monsters is going to come in handy, because two years ago Aaust became best known for one thing: The God That Eats, a kaiju-sized giant slug which awoke from millennia of slumber. This monster exists solely to slither slowly across Aaust and eat anything in its way: people, towns, cities, mountains — and even several of Auust’s small gods. As it eats, it grows. It is a slow-moving apocalypse, ceaseless and inevitable.

In just two years, it has devastated a wide swath of Aaust, killing thousands as it devoured entire towns — and threatening the very existence of the nation. Nothing wounds it, nothing the wizard-sages of Faial Thaneseie (“FYE-ell thanh-ESS-ee-yay”) have tried has worked, and it’s beginning to look like only Kura — the god of neighboring Kuruni, who literally walks the earth — might have a chance of stopping it. The God That Eats can’t digest precious metals and gems, so those get forced out through its skin and left behind. This makes the devastated areas in its wake lucrative for those foolhardy enough to risk getting that close to the worm.

Kuruni (“koor-OO-nee,” linguistic touchstone is Urartian), often called the Land of Kura, is a warlike place defined by its warlike god, Kura — a glowing, muscular woman twenty feet tall, and a constant, physical presence who takes part in battles, performs great works, and walks among the Kurun. Kuruni is a place of gladiatorial combat (not in the Roman vein with slaves fighting lions, but as a highly-valued profession and the ultimate expression of Kurun values: strength, cunning, will, and fearlessness), ritual dueling, trials by combat, and other martial pursuits. The Kurun mostly fight each other, but once every generation or so they unify, turn their attention outwards, and engage in fearsome campaigns of pillage and expansion.

Ever since The God That Eats awoke in neighboring Aaust, Kuruni has been marshalling its strength — physical, magical, and spiritual — to seal the border between the two nations, establishing a bulwark against the worm should it turn to the northwest. Kuruni mercenary companies — part religious group, part family creche — have long been seeking glory in the marshes of Aaust, testing their mettle in ritual combat against the many monsters of the swamps. These days, the few that have returned have come back as wealthy people, but 99% of them don’t come back at all.

Ahlsheyan is part of this region, but I’ve already written it up. I’ve added relationships, wants, and one historical event specific to Kurthunar.

The Arkestran Dominion is also part of this region, but I’ve already written it up. I’ve added relationships, wants, and one historical event specific to Kurthunar.

Identify regionally-significant gods.

Kura (“KOO-ruh”), the cheerful but fearsome warrior-god who defines the nation of Kuruni. She stands twenty feet tall, glows like the noonday sun, wields the Diamond Hammer of the Ages — a single blow from which can knock the peak off a mountain — and loves to fight. Her existence places Kuruni on a constant war footing; war is a way of life. But it’s mostly internal war, and the conflict isn’t driven by hatred but rather by the cultural need to prove oneself in battle.

Here’s how I sum up Kura: If your god rolls up, twenty feet tall, glowing like the noonday sun, casually hefting the Diamond Hammer of the Ages — a single blow from which can knock the peak off a mountain — and says, “I like fighting,” you’d say, “Me too! Who should we fight?” And Kura says, “IDGAF, let’s fight each other.” And then you all fight each other, and drink, and boast about it, and then do it all again the next day.

The God That Eats, a kaiju-sized giant slug which recently awoke from millennia of slumber. This monster exists solely to slither slowly across Aaust and eat anything in its way: people, towns, cities, mountains — and even several of Auust’s small gods. As it eats, it grows. It is a slow-moving apocalypse, ceaseless and inevitable. Before its arrival, Aaust was largely a secular nation, devoted to study and survival, with a handful of small gods related to scholarship, the marshes, and resourcefulness.

The gods of Ahlsheyan and the Dominion are covered in my Unlucky Isles material.

Make a sketch map of the region.

I did this alongside the written worldbuilding, just as I did with the Gilded Lands. The Kurthunar map appears at the top of this post.

Here’s Kurthunar in context, alongside the two other regions I’ve developed so far:

My first three regions of Godsbarrow

Assign two important historical events to each group or nation.

Kurthunar is mainly about Aaust and Kuruni, so I’m only doing one event apiece for Ahlsheyan and the Dominion. (They both already have two apiece in my Unlucky Isles write-up.)

Kuruni

  • Economic Boom: Wouldn’t have picked this on my own; that’s awesome. Centuries ago, Kura took an interest in Kuruni’s iron mines — a rich resource that had provided the raw materials for weapons and tools that had helped Kuruni become a powerful nation. On a whim, Kura blessed the entire mountain range, infusing it with a portion of her power. Now those mines produce the purest, strongest, easiest to forge iron in the world. Kuruni ironwork is world-renowned and always in demand, and the weapons wielded by its massive (if fractious and disorganized) army and mercenary families are always of the highest quality. As a result of this boom, smiths and blacksmithing play an outsized role in Kuruni society, and Kuruni religion is largely based on blacksmithing and fighting.
  • Weak Throne: Although the Great Library in Aaust records legends of a time before Kura, in Kuruni itself there is no “before Kura” — but there was a time, centuries ago, before Kura was a constant, earthly presence. And with Kura’s constant presence came a steady erosion of Kuruni’s government. Who needs a mortal ruler when your god walks among you? Kuruni’s government collapsed, and for many years it essentially ceased to exist. But Kura herself revitalized it, creating a loose political structure based on trial by combat, feats of strength and bravery, gladiatorial prowess, and knowledge of the arts and sciences related to these things. This structure persists today, with most of Kuruni’s traditional “political class” inhabiting the least visible portion of it — “knowledge of arts and sciences.” The most visible portion is exemplified by gladiator-governors, dozens of tribal and clan-based factions fighting each other, and a culture of “if you’re fit to rule, fight me and prove it.”

Aaust

  • Immigrants: A century ago, the largest group of refugees ever to leave the Arkestran Dominion pulled off their exodus almost undetected — and they fled to Aaust. This was a purely practical choice: Aaust is close, and wild enough that the refugees believed they could hide forever. They didn’t reckon on the sheer number of giant, dangerous creatures with which they’d have to contend — nor with the Aausti’s comprehensive oversight of their own realm, even in its wildest reaches. Fortunately, Aaust welcomed them with open arms. In addition to simply being people who needed help the Aausti were happy to provide, these refugees knew things about one of the most secretive and dangerous countries in Dormiir that no one else did. Their additions to the Great Library have been numerous — and the Aausti have hidden the refugees for a hundred years. Some elves have simply become Aausti, or disguise their true nature, while others hide in the wild places; many work in and around the library. All are still hunted by the Dominion.
  • Terrain Change: Aaust wasn’t always such a marshy place. But over time a combination of its low-lying land, Dormiir’s powerful tides, and seasonal flooding turned vast swaths of Aaust into bogs, salt marshes, and mires. These swallowed and rotted many of Aaust’s forests, making timber scarce. Marshes also consumed much of Aaust’s coastline, and a combination of timber scarcity and lack of coastal ports mean that Aaust has no navy (nor even any ships to speak of). Wood and iron still exist here, but those resources are concentrated in just a couple of places. Hides, leather, and textiles are more common in Aaust than one might expect in a medieval fantasy world.

Arkestran Dominion

  • Freakish Magic: While the Bloodsong Isles are nominally part of Aaust, the lone Aausti settlement, Silotre, is that nation’s only real claim to them (and Silotre is a weird, isolated place). With four Thefaine pillars concentrated in a small area (the only other place where four appear so close together is the spot that birthed The God That Eats…), the main island is essentially Monster Island from the Godzilla movies. Long ago, a Kasdinar from the Dominion tasked with exploring the Wraithsea around this peculiar island discovered that they could guide the spawning of monsters here and shunt creatures into the Wraithsea at birth. The Kasdinar went rogue and has lived here ever since, birthing monsters into the dreams of sleeping gods. What could go wrong?

Ahlsheyan

  • Plague: Not long ago, one of the Thefaine on Aaust’s Salt Coast warped a school of venomous octopi — which then became mired in the marshland at low tide and died. The Thefaine’s magic continued to warp their corpses, and by the next high tide — the one that washed them into the Strait of Gēp Jār — they were bloated, toxic balloons. This mass of plague-filled weirdness drifted to Ahlsheyan and spread throughout its coastal communities, sickening hundreds of people. The plague eventually burned itself out when the Ahl quarantined those affected aboard a hastily assembled fleet of ships and burned all of the octopus corpses. Consequently, the Ahl living in this region tend to keep a wide berth of the Salt Coast in particular, and of Aaust in general.

Define the relationships between the groups.

I don’t need to know more about what the Dominion and Ahlsheyan’s relationships with, or wants from, each other; I’ve skipped those here.

Kuruni

  • Aaust: Previously, Aaust was seen as a playground for Kurun warriors out to prove their mettle against its giant beasts, and otherwise just thought of as a peaceful neighbor. (The Aausti don’t value martial prowess and don’t have much of a military, and there’s not much there to pillage.) But now, with The God That Eats roaming free? Aaust is a truly dangerous place where even greater glory can be won, but also one that needs to be barricaded off from Kuruni because fuck that noise.
    • Want: For Aaust to wall off the entire Aaun Peninsula at its natural choke point, preventing The God That Eats from entering Kuruni (and points beyond). This is not a popular wish within Aaust, as one might imagine.
  • Arkestran Dominion: Deceitful foes who would otherwise be the perfect opponents: ruthless, effective, and constantly on a war footing. The Kurun want to fight them toe to toe, but they only fight in the Wraithsea and through their catspaws.
    • Want: To goad the Dominion into a “good” fight, soldiers facing soldiers on the field of battle. To this end, a small cadre of Kuruni’s Egurhu Sūūt (“eh-GOOR-hoo suit”) — a spy organization dedicated to keeping Kuruni safe and strong, so secretive that it remains a secret even from Kura, whose towering rage at learning of this “cowardly” organization would end in its utter destruction — plans to infiltrate the Dominion’s navy and guide a fleet into Kuruni waters to be destroyed by Kurun ships, thereby by provoking a war.
  • Ahlsheyan: A strange, mercurial nation with vague, inconstant gods. Neutral.
    • Want: Kuruni has shipyards and sailors, but its culture does not emphasize either. Kura wants Ahlsheyan to build a shipyard in Kuruni — most likely on Langfeure Isle (formerly a part of Aaust, but taken by Kuruni long ago and turned into a military training area and embarkation point for ventures into Aaust). This would be part embassy, part Vatican, and in exchange for this territorial carve-out the Ahl would provide Kuruni with ships and naval expertise.

Aaust

  • Kuruni: Neutral to friendly. Kuruni routinely violating Aaust’s borders to come in and hunt monsters isn’t great — but given that Kuruni could easily wipe Aaust out militarily, and given that their incursions reduce the population of giant beasts, there’s an upside to the whole situation. Kuruni also provides soldiers to defend the Great Library of the Cliffs, and has protected the library several times over the years.
    • Want: For Kura to come to Aaust and kill The God That Eats. Aaust has sent ambassadors to simply ask; they were rejected for “showing weakness.” They’ve tried subtle diplomacy, gifts, and talking up how much glory would be won by slaying the worm; nothing has worked. The Aausti are starting to wonder if Kura even can kill The God That Eats…
  • Arkestran Dominion: A dark and dangerous place, but one that has — thus far — been easy to keep at bay. Aaust is naturally inhospitable to most non-Aausti, and the swamps, giant monsters, and Aausti cunning have kept the Dominion from troubling them.
    • Want: If anyone other than Kura can kill The God That Eats, or at least force it back into hibernation, it’s the Dominion — and a rogue faction of the Aausti government is now desperate enough to pursue the very bad idea of asking the Dominion for help.
  • Ahlsheyan: A fascinating place full of knowledge that needs to be added to the Great Library, and the source of much of Aaust’s imports (by way of oceangoing trade).
    • Want: The water border between Aaust and Kuruni, Qaburzani Sound, is a constant source of trouble for the Aausti. With little wood in Aaust, the Aausti have few ships; their coastline is always vulnerable to Kuruni raiding parties, adventuring expeditions, etc. They want the Ahl to sell them a fleet to patrol their coastline.

Arkestran Dominion

  • Kuruni: A threat to be managed, and less pressing than its enemies to the north. As long as Kura stays there, and the Kurun are largely content to fight each other, Kuruni can be ignored.
    • Want: The Dominion wants Kuruni-forged weapons for its vast army, and they’ve heard rumors of a vast secret armory deep within the Tiru Mountains (“TEE-roo”). Those obviously won’t be for sale, and the Dominion would rather not piss off Kura while trying to take them — so a large, diverse Kasdinar has been formed to find the armory, steal the weapons, and get away without implicating the Dominion.
  • Aaust: A stinking, salty swamp full of annoyingly resilient people and dangerous monsters. Aaust is largely a “dead” zone in the Wraithsea, and has no significant gods the Dominion could put to sleep in order to expand its Wraithsea capabilities — so this has become a place to avoid, for the most part.
    • Want: The Dominion wants The God That Eats. If its path, appetites, or both can be controlled (a big if), whoever wields that power can alter the course of nations — or simply wipe them out. This is a full-court press, with Wraithsea-based spy operations, agents flooding into Aaust in secret, mercenaries brought in for brute-force efforts (and to distract from the subtler, more important efforts), etc. Six Kasdinar have formed to achieve this goal, or portions thereof.

Ahlsheyan

  • Kuruni: The notion of letting one deity guide the entire nation is alien to the Ahl, as is the idea of basing an entire country on fighting itself. As Ahlsheyan has plenty to occupy it in the Unlucky Isles, and as Kuruni is not a naval power, the Ahl keep an eye on Kuruni but don’t generally pay it much regard.
    • Want: To know Kura is to know Kuruni, and with the arrival of The God That Eats next door Ahlsheyan needs to know Kura’s plans. To that end, they have dispatched a cadre of spies and other rogues to infiltrate Kuruni, get close to Kura, and report on all of her activities. If caught, they would have to fight a pissed-off god.
  • Aaust: A fascinating but dangerous place to visit. Aaust is full of opportunities, but since the rise of The God That Eats those opportunities have been more than balanced out by significant risks.
    • Want: To convince Aaust to allow Ahlsheyan to copy the entire Great Library of the Cliffs (by a combination of rubbings, wax casting, and extraction of slabs of cliff face) and recreate it in Ahlsheyan. Before the arrival of The God That Eats this would have been a non-starter for the Aausti, but now…

And that’s it — the whole region in one post! Next up is a double-width region that sits just south of the Unlucky Isles and the Gilded Lands: the Ice Courts.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

The Unlucky Isles, “The Region,” part five: relationships and wants

I’m closing in on a fully developed region of Godsbarrow now — and honestly, this is the first time in 30+ years of gaming that I’ve had this much of a world developed to this extent. It’s an awesome feeling, and Worlds Without Number (paid link) continues to deliver. Not only that, but five weeks into daily worldbuilding I’m still having fun, I still love this setting and want to know more about it, and I’m still not getting bogged down in details that will never matter at the table.

The six nations of the Unlucky Isles

This was the longest step so far. It doesn’t feel like it’s supposed to be a lengthy step, but at the same time I’ve got six nations so that means 30 relationships and 30 wants. That takes time! I also found myself falling into Star Wars prequel territory, as in “Who gives a fuck about a trade dispute?” — so I kept stepping back and trying to come up with new wants/relationships that avoided the trap of being boring and/or same-y.

One way I did that was by writing just one or two things a day, rather than banging out a bunch of them at once. Another was to jot down every nation’s wants after I was done, and check that quick list against the original summary of each nation to make sure I was using this step to bring out the flavor and character of each country.

I also found that every relationship and want was a potential wellspring of fun worldbuilding, which I enjoyed a great deal. Lots of new setting details sprang from this step. I also made sure that every want was either an adventure/campaign hook or a source of multiple hooks, because this process is all about creating useful, gameable content.

Define the relationships between the groups.

There are two components to this step: What each nation thinks, generally, about each other nation; and a specific thing each one wants from each of the others. My quick and dirty map with borders will help visualize what’s what in the Isles:

National borders in the Unlucky Isles

As with a couple of the other steps in WWN, this one doesn’t match the example region in the book. There are lovely write-ups for each Latter Earth nation in the region, but they don’t have national relationships or wants listed for them. Consequently, I might be doing this wrong! Or at least not approaching it from an optimal perspective, maybe?

For example, my default is “What does the government think of this nation?” rather than, say, “What does the average Brundiri think of Ahlsheyan?” I don’t know if this is the right approach, but it was a fun process and my output feels pretty gameable.

Arkestran Dominion

  • Yealmark: A dangerous wildcard. The Dominion hasn’t encountered a “mercenary nation” before, but has seen what the Free Spears can do when mobilized.
    • Want: To install an “advisor” in the court of Yealmark who, through bribery and other means, can entice the Free Spears north to work for the Dominion. If that fails, the wraith-priests will consider a Wraithsea assault to wipe out the Free Spears’ leadership.
  • Brundir: A foe that currently requires too much work to eliminate. Brundir is on the Dominion’s list to be crushed, but not at the top; their concerns are to the north (and not in the Isles).
    • Want: To use the Wraithsea to enter the god Nsslk’s dreams and assassinate him, thereby “poisoning” the waters around Brundir with his essence — and perhaps even compounding Slljrrn’s curse on the Isles. A devastated Brundir would be much easier to assimilate into the Dominion.
  • Kadavis: A juicy target. Kadavis has over 200 gods and a is a wealthy nation — a ripe prize for a country that owes much of its power to its sleeping pantheon and mastery of the Wraithsea, and which is always seeking to expand its domain.
    • Want: The Dominion’s wraith-priests want to locate one of Kadavis’ “small gods” and put them into god-sleep, giving the elves a local nexus for their machinations in the Wraithsea. If they succeed, they’ll do the same with every Kadavan god they can find.
  • Meskmur: The key to keeping the peace in the Isles. If Meskmur were to fall, or disclaim its neutrality, it would destabilize the region — making it easier for the Dominion to swoop in while the island nations fight amongst themselves.
    • Want: To destroy Meskmur through a campaign of infiltration, Wraithsea manipulation and assassinations, and other nefarious means. A large, well-financed Kasdinar (“KASS-dinn-arr,” a formal — but usually temporary — cadre of wraith-priests and their agents dedicated to a specific purpose; think Oaths of Moment in pre-Heresy Warhammer 40k) was formed to accomplish this goal.
  • Ahlsheyan: Third in line to be conquered, after Brundir and Meskmur. For now, the Dominion has a neutral relationship with Ahlsheyan, with some trade flowing in both directions.
    • Want: With its unchanging pantheon of three active (not sleeping) gods, Ahlsheyan is difficult to access via the Wraithsea. The wraith-priests want to “exhume” one of the Dominion’s slumbering lesser gods and transport them — still asleep — to a secret site within Ahlsheyan. Step one is for Dominion agents to identify that site, and a Kasdinar is currently undertaking this mission.

Yealmark

  • Arkestran Dominion: A target for expanding Yealmark to the mainland. The Free Spears are nothing if not audacious, and with Brundir having their back and the Dominion largely ignoring its own hinterlands, the southern reaches look ripe for takeover.
    • Want: To annex the Arkestran city in the marshes just north of Yealmark, along with all of the surrounding land visible on the Unlucky Isles region map up to the border of the Wastes. Yealmark correctly views the Wastes as a barrier to the Dominion reacting quickly enough to stop them (holding this territory, however, is a different story).
  • Brundir: A staunch ally and former patron. The Nuav Free Spears have become a more potent force since they established a home base, including shipping, trade, training grounds, etc., in Yealmark, and that’s thanks to Brundir.
    • Want: To add another piece of Brundir to Yealmark. The Free Spears have their eye on the disputed island between Brundir and the Dominion. Having it deeded to them would take the problem of defending/contesting it off Brundir’s plate, while also giving Yealmark a larger foothold in the Isles — and more room to invite other Nuav mercenary companies to join them here.
  • Kadavis: Potential customers, especially Kidav Taur. The Free Spears have been exploring the possibility of helping Kidav Taur achieve its independence — but the catch is that the Miarans can’t afford them.
    • Want: Rumor has it that Bruzas, the Free Spears’ primary deity from back in Nuav, once traveled to Rasu Miar and drenched the entire island in sacred blood. Where the blood pooled, strange things grew. The Spears want to find these holy sites — and if they do, they may lay claim to Rasu Miar on that basis.
  • Meskmur: A mysterious place whose neutrality means it isn’t likely to buy the Free Spears’ service, and therefore not of particular interest.
    • Want: Yealmark wants to know more about Deathsmoke Isle and the Red Twins who are said to live in its volcanoes. Their religion teaches that fire and heat are the stuff of life, but Deathsmoke appears to bring only death to Rasu Miar. The first Free Spears scouts sent to the island disappeared without a trace.
  • Ahlsheyan: A wealthy potential customer. Right now, Brundir pays better — and being granted Yealmark has won the Free Spears’ long-term allegiance. But like any mercenary company, their allegiance can be bought…and Ahlsheyan has deep pockets.
    • Want: The Free Spears have established a handful of secret outposts in the foothills of the mountain range that crosses northern Ahlsheyan. They intend to gradually build up their strength there and then offer both Brundir and Ahlsheyan the opportunity to employ the Spears in a surprise attack; the low bidder gets attacked.

Brundir

  • Arkestran Dominion: A sleeping giant, best ignored if at all possible — but if they turn their attention south again, they will need to be met with force. The Red Admiralty has spies (mainly elves) in the Dominion’s southern reaches, hard at work helping to foment the rebellion that simmers there so fighting it will keep the Dominion busy.
    • Want: To goad the southern reaches into open revolt against the rest of the Dominion.
  • Yealmark: A staunch and incredibly useful ally. The Red Admiralty sees only benefits in maintaining strong ties with Yealmark, and is careful to never imply that Yealmark is a “client state” — although elements of the Admiralty view it as one.
    • Want: To ensure control over the Free Spears, the Red Admiralty wants to bury a set of haunted relics throughout the capital city. Brundiri Afuna Kavθa (“uh-FOO-nuh KAW-thuh,” wizards who are part ghost-talker and part spirit-wrangler, and almost always haunted themselves) would be able to use those relics to bedevil, beguile, haunt, or assassinate Yeal officials as needed.
  • Kadavis: A potential catspaw, but also a valuable trading partner. Mainland Kadavis cares little for Rasu Miar, and the island itself is split between loyalists and secessionists. Manipulating Rasu Miar can help Brundir maintain its status as the principal power in the Isles.
    • Want: Brundir’s Red Admiralty wants to goad Rasu Miar (and especially Kidav Taur) into attacking Meskmur — a rival power broker and the controller of volcanic smoke that could easily be redirected to Brundir.
  • Meskmur: A twofold threat, but also useful one. One, Meskmur conserves its considerable power by remaining outwardly neutral in the Isles (never officially confirming that it is slowly destroying Rasu Miar via Deathsmoke Isle), and Brundir would like to cement its own role as a power broker. And two, if Meskmur decides the Deathsmoke plume should veer west instead, it would threaten the very existence of Brundir.
    • Want: The Admiralty wants to assassinate Meskmur’s deities, the Red Twins of Deathsmoke Isle, thereby permanently removing the threat posed by the twin volcanoes — and much of Meskmur’s hidden power in the Isles.
  • Ahlsheyan: With its expertise in shipbuilding, powerful navy, and foothold on Brundir’s doorstep, Ahlsheyan poses a threat to Brundir’s dominance of the Isles. But since Brundir took the significant half of Slljrrn Isle, the Admiralty has strived to keep the two kingdoms in a state of uneasy peace — one that still allows trade, and which avoids open war.
    • Want: To convince Ahlsheyan’s seaport on Slljrrn Isle to declare its independence and join Brundir, either outright or as a client state. The city is relatively distant from Ahlsheyan’s political center, and Brundir already controls half of the island where it is located. With the Red Admiralty in charge, this is a campaign of sabotage, diplomacy, assassination, infiltration, and skullduggery.

Kadavis

  • Arkestran Dominion: Rasu Miar doesn’t much care about the Dominion (and vice versa), but mainland Kadavis views it primarily as a trading partner with whom they’d like to do a lot more business.
    • Want: To figure out how Slljrrn’s essence created, and is expanding, the Atrachian Wastes — and then weaponize that same process against Meskmur, ravaging the entire island.
  • Yealmark: For mainland Kadavis, the future governors of Rasu Miar. Kadavis has seen the best way to buy the allegiance of the Free Spears, and they want in — but without actually giving up any territory (and the associated glory). For Rasu Miar, a juicy target for raiding and infiltration. Yealmark is such a chaotic “party island” that opportunities for both abound.
    • Want: To convince the Nuav Free Spears to take over governance of Rasu Miar, which would remain a territory of Kadavis. Kadavis views this as all upside for itself, and all work for Yealmark.
  • Brundir: An aggressive, militaristic nation with too few gods, but also pretty good at keeping peace in the Isles. The Miarans also view Brundir as the provider of the juiciest, but most dangerous, targets for piracy.
    • Want: An assassin bearing a Brundiri tattoo was recently caught in the Kadavan capital, but before she could be captured the woman dropped dead and a ghost flew out of her corpse and then vanished. For Kadavis, this was like capturing a stealth bomber: Brundir can do what?! Who was the target? Are there more of them? How can we spot them sooner? How do we capture one alive?
  • Meskmur: A hated foe for Rasu Miar; largely ignored by mainland Kadavis. For Miarans, Meskmur is what turned their inhospitable home into one that’s almost uninhabitable. No power in the Isles hates another as much as Rasu Miar hates Meskmur — and that goes double for Kidav Taur.
    • Want: Kadavis, both mainland and Rasu Miar, wants to stop Meskmur from directing the smoke plume from Deathsmoke Isle towards Rasu Miar. The mainland doesn’t care nearly as much (it’s only Rasu Miar…), but many Miarans would happily raze Meskmur to the ground if it was within their power.
  • Ahlsheyan: A trading partner, generally neutral. Kadavis buys ships and ship parts (Ahl masts are in especially high demand) from Ahlsheyan, and exports fine marble and one of its most notable delicacies, tightly sealed jars of a spicy jelly that smells like rotten fish. Rasu Miar raids Ahl ports specifically to steal those same ship parts.
    • Want: Kidav Taur wants Ahlsheyan to be the first nation to officially recognize it as a country in its own right. Representatives of the rebel government have been quietly meeting with higher-ups in Ahlsheyan, angling for an official diplomatic meeting on Meskmur.

Meskmur

  • Arkestran Dominion: A fascinating but dangerous nation. Meskmur actively seeks to stay off the Dominion’s radar…while trying to learn its secrets.
    • Want: To extract the secrets of the Dominion’s expertise in navigating and using the Wraithsea. Meskmur’s wizards are already powerful; this would make them much, much more dangerous.
  • Yealmark: An undisciplined but powerful upstart nation. They’ve never shown any enmity towards Meskmur, but presumably they would for the right price.
    • Want: To establish a combination temple to the Red Twins and embassy in Yealmark’s capital, letting them keep an eye on things while encouraging the Yeal to seek diplomatic solutions over mercenary ones.
  • Brundir: A nest of wealthy vipers. If provoked, Brundir could squash Meskmur like a bug, or simply blockade the island and starve the kingdom to death. But Brundir backs Meskmur’s role as a neutral power, both politically and financially, making it a valuable ally of sorts.
    • Want: To build a temple to the Red Twins in Brundir’s capital city, the first step in spreading the state religion of Meskmur to Brundir. The sorcerer-priests know that more worshippers will strengthen the Red Twins, and since Meskmur “controls” them that will in turn strengthen Meskmur.
  • Kadavis: A valuable ally. Kadavis makes frequent use of Meskmur’s services as a neutral meeting ground, both for Isles politics and for meetings with dignitaries and negotiators from places outside the region. Further, Kadavis is a valued trading partner.
    • Want: Meskmur wants to take over Rasu Miar. Old enmities may have been the reason why Meskmur began slowly killing the island with volcanic smoke and ash, but that evolved into a slow-motion power play. If they succeed, then the plume from Deathsmoke Isle will blow in a new direction…
  • Ahlsheyan: An ally and useful foil in keeping Brundir busy. Ahlsheyan’s triumvirate values Meskmur as a neutral meeting ground; Meskmur subtly encourages Ahlsheyan to heat up its conflict with Brundir.
    • Want: To use magic to plant false evidence of a Brundiri plot to assassinate the Ahl triumvirate, keeping their current cold war at just the right temperature.

Ahlsheyan

  • Arkestran Dominion: A long-term threat. Not because it’s an elven nation (the trite cliché of elf-dwarf animosity doesn’t exist in Godsbarrow), but because the Dominion is manifestly expansionist and ruthless in pursuing its goals.
    • Want: To incite the Dominion to attack Brundir again, starting with the divided island occupied by both nations. That would give the Ahl a chance to attack from the south, facing less of Brundir’s military might.
  • Yealmark: As Ahlsheyan is currently “under the waves” (focused on opportunity), Yealmark is seen as a potential ally — and not blamed for turning the tide in the battle for Slljrrn Isle; that blame is laid squarely on Brundir. But what can Ahlsheyan offer Yealmark that could convince the Nuav Free Spears to turn on Brundir?
    • Want: To poison the alliance between Yealmark and Brundir, enabling Ahlsheyan to move against Brundir without having to worry about the Free Spears joining the conflict.
  • Brundir: A hated foe, but a complicated one. Ahlsheyan doesn’t want to dominate the Isles through conquest, but they do want ownership of all of the islands south of Brundir. Although Ahlsheyan has better ships, Brundir has a larger navy and the allegiance of the Nuav Free Spears. So the current state of relations is largely a cold war.
    • Want: Ahlsheyan disputes Brundir’s claim to every island located between the two nations, and they want them back. All of them were part of Ahlsheyan in the distant past and feature heavily in Ahl legends, and all are home to ruins significant to the Ahl faith.
  • Kadavis: An ally bound by blood and history. Long before their current borders were established, Ahl and Kadavans intermingled, settled, and established roots in each others’ territories. There are countless Kadavan dwarves with Ahl ancestors living in Kadavis, and significant settlements of people of Kadavan ancestry exist throughout Ahlsheyan.
    • Want: Pirates from Rasu Miar plague the strait the separates the island from mainland Kadavis, making it a much less attractive shipping lane than Ahlsheyan would like. Ahlsheyan has quietly undertaken a secret pirate-hunting campaign, but the government wants Kadavis to grant formal letters of marque so they can wipe the pirates out with impunity.
  • Meskmur: A valuable partner in maintaining peaceful trade in the Isles. Whenever a dispute with another nation arises, Ahlsheyan almost always defaults to proposing a meeting on Meskmur to resolve things peacefully. (It’s least likely to do so when Brundir is the nation in question, but even that depends on which member of Ahlsheyan’s ruling trio is dominant.)
    • Want: Legends tell of a site sacred to the three principal Ahl deities hidden in the woods at the center of Meskmur. Ahlsheyan wants permission to search for it, and if denied they may attempt the search in secret.

With this step heaved across the finish line, I’m faced with a choice:

  1. Tackle the final step in WWN’s “The Region” section, which is adding faction stats to the nations/groups in the Isles. I like this step because it will produce interesting information, but it’s also most relevant only if I use WWN’s domain-level mechanics in play at some point — and I don’t know if I will.
  2. Skip that step and move to developing a starting area within one nation in the Isles. This is awesome because it means the Unlucky Isles would be 100% ready for play (and then some!) at a moment’s notice. Plus I’d get to play with WWN’s excellent local-level tools.
  3. Skip both of those steps, move one map “segment” to the north, east, or south, and start “The Region” over with a new area of Godsbarrow. From a worldbuilding standpoint, this probably makes the most sense — and I’m excited to know more about the larger nations circling the Isles, and to see how running through these steps again with a new place feels.

I guess I’ll make that call tomorrow, when I need to do a bit of worldbuilding (my daily streak is still unbroken!) and have to put fingers to keyboard.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number.)

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Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Building the Unlucky Isles: “The Region,” part four

Over the course of working through Worlds Without Number‘s steps for developing the Unlucky Isles as a region, I’ve thought a fair bit about national boundaries and how to make them interesting fuel for gaming. Worldographer’s snap-to-hex borders require a million little points and clicks, and I always fuck something up — so I went the quick and dirty route for now, good enough for all practical purposes.

The Unlucky Isles with borders, as of March 24

I haven’t named most of the islands yet, but a few points of interest jump out from this map:

  • In the northeast, the Arkestran Dominion and Brundir each claim half of one island.
  • In the south, not only does Ahlsheyan rule two islands just off the coast of Brundir, the two nations also dispute Slljrrn Isle, the holiest site in the Unlucky Isles (with Brundir controlling the significant half).
  • In the east, while all of Rasu Miar is part of Kadavis (with its mainland in the far east), a north/south split demarcates the boundary of “Kidav Taur,” a region that lost its bid to secede from Kadavis but which still asserts its independence.
  • No one claims Deathsmoke Isle, because that place is fucking awful.

The rad thing about those points of interest is that two of them didn’t exist until I rolled them on the historical events table in WWN and gave them a bit of thought (Slljrrn Isle, the divided Rasu Miar), and a third was planned — the island disputed by Brundir and the Dominion — but evolved into something interesting because of a roll on that same table.

Just like heaving the Unlucky Isles into existence in part one, the raw creativity required while developing historical events is taxing (but fun!). That’s why it’s taken me several days to finish, as I’ve been chipping away at it little by little. Anyhoo, on to the next question in the section “The Region”:

Make a sketch map of the region.

Done! Like, a bunch of times in different ways. Here’s the current regional map without borders but with all of the cities, roads, and region-scale geographic features in place (from part three):

The current state of affairs on my regional map of the Unlucky Isles

Assign two important historical events to each group or nation.

WWN includes a d100 table of historical events, and I love rolling for stuff this important and seeing where it takes me. I chose my first event — Diplomatic Coup, in Yealmark — but rolled the rest (often rolling a few times until I hit one that resonated). Several of the rolls matched up perfectly with something I already knew about the Isles, so I took them as opportunities to develop my half-formed ideas more thoroughly — which in turn led me in new directions, as any good roll-driven development process should!

Yealmark

  • Diplomatic Coup: Thirty years ago, in payment for a staggeringly large contract, Brundir granted the two islands that now form the kingdom of Yealmark to the Nuav Free Spears (buying Brundir an ally and a buffer against the Dominion — not a bad exchange, really).
  • Power Brokers: Thirty-five years ago, the Nuav Free Spears swung the tide of a conflict between Brundir and Ahlsheyan over ownership of Slljrrn Isle, the holiest site in the Unlucky Isles. Control of Slljrrn Isle cemented Brundir’s preeminence in the Isles.
    • Mortally wounded, Slljrrn crossed the middle of the island, his tears causing a forest to grow. On its northern shore, he pulled the horn of his slayer from his chest and thrust it into the earth, causing a mountain to spring up. As he died, he slipped beneath the waves; there he remains.
    • Even in a place called “the Unlucky Isles,” Slljrrn Isle stands out as an especially unlucky place.

Arkestran Dominion

  • Loss of Confidence: The last major push to expand the borders of the Dominion into the Unlucky Isles proper ran headfirst into the Brundiran navy. Ordained by the wraith-priests of the Dominion, the Falling Blade of New Flame (the name for this military campaign) involved many conscripts from the Dominion’s southern reaches. When Brundir utterly crushed their fleet, allowing the Dominion to gain only a small foothold (the disputed island between them), many southern Arkestrans began to question the sanctity of the wraith-priests and the divinity of the Dominion itself. This slow-burning rebellion is still afoot, and building up steam.
  • Terrain Change: When Slljrrn died, the coastline near what is now the southern extent of the Atrachian Wastes was a lush marshland. The waters of the now-unlucky sea leeched into the marshes, spreading Slljrrn’s curse to the land itself — and creating the Atrachian Wastes, which then spread in all directions.

Kadavis

  • Desolation: The pall of smoke from the twin volcanoes of Deathsmoke Isle most often drifts northeast, darkening the skies over Rasu Miar. Ash falls from the sky; crops wither on the vine, or simply never take root at all. There’s less smoke some years than others, but over time this phenomenon has made whole swaths of Rasu Miar all but unlivable. The Miarans rightly blame Meskmur for this, as the sorcerers’ prayers to their volcano gods ensure the smoke never drifts south.
  • Secession: Kadavis has been exiling its criminals, ne’er-do-wells, and undesirables to Rasu Miar for at least 200 years. Condemned to live in a desolate, inhospitable place of ashfall and smoke, the Miarans have never been fond of mainland Kadavis. But 50 years ago, the southern half of the island (anchored by the three cities around the Sculn Hills) seceded from Kadavis.
    • The Kadavan army crossed into Rasu Miar via the narrowest point in the channel, in the north, paying and conscripting Miarans to form militia units and accompany them as they marched south. They crushed the rebellion, but because Kadavan society revolves around displays of wealth and power, and losing the ports and access to the inner Isles would diminish Kadavis, the army was quick to retreat back to the mainland.
    • The rebellion was never wiped out root and branch, and many southern Miarans maintain that they live in the nation of “Kidav Taur” (“KIH-davv torr”). The divide between northern and southern Rasu Miar, loyalists and rebels, persists — and Kidav Taur’s government in exile still formally asserts the region’s independence from Kadavis.

Brundir

  • Twist of Fate + New Rulers: Twist of Fate says to make a positive event negative and vice versa, but New Rulers is pretty neutral — so I just made up what interested me. Thirty-seven years ago, the majority of Brundir’s ruling class — the Silver Admiralty, whose members were determined by a mix of lineage, merit, politics, and skullduggery — died within the space of a few weeks. Many of the deaths were supernatural in nature, and speculation abounded as to why — was it the curse of the Unlucky Isles? Sorcery from Meskmur? An internal coup through magical assassinations?
    • The new government, the Red Admiralty, proclaimed that Slljrrn’s curse was to blame and declared war on Ahlsheyan to wrest control of Slljrrn Isle, ostensibly to pray away the curse but really to cement their dominance of the region. Thanks to the aid of the Nuav Free Spears, this two-year campaign was successful and the Red Admiralty still rules Brundir today.
    • Like the preceding Admiralties, membership is determined by various means — though in the Red, plotting is the surest route to power. Each Admiralty chooses a color by which to be known.
  • Noble Strife: Seemed a little on the nose at first, but it actually makes sense and gives some texture to the current political climate. The Red Admiralty is strong, but riven with internal conflict: assassinations (generally unproven as such), planting cursed objects in rivals’ homes or about their person, compelling ghosts on the haunted moors to assail political foes, bitter disputes over how stewardship of Slljrrn Isle should be handled, factions split over going to war with Ahlsheyan to wrest control of the boundary islands from them, etc.

Meskmur

  • Plague: After Slljrrn’s death, a plague swept through Meskmur which killed a third of the population within just a few weeks. Divinations by the ruling sorcerer-priests found that the Red Twins, the gods said to inhabit the volcanoes of Deathsmoke Isle, could cleanse the plague. Marathon services, sometimes stretching for days, a frenzy of temple-building, and pilgrimages to Deathsmoke Isle ensued…and it worked. Worship of the Red Twins became the state religion of Meskmur, transforming the island’s society in the process.
    • And, as the sorcerer-priests later learned, giving them a powerful weapon to wield against neighboring Kadavis — in the form of the pall of smoke constantly emitted from Deathsmoke Isle, over which they exert some control.
  • Good Wizard: Long ago, the great wizard Volkias oel-Mesk (“voll-KYE-uss OLL-messk,” who was non-binary, with they/them pronouns) brought sorcery to Meskmur. They taught magic to two generations of Meskmuri before their death (reputedly at the age of 207), and those sorcerers rose to power and became the current ruling class of sorcerer-priests. Volkias explicitly disclaimed their divinity and refused to be worshipped as a deity, a request that has been honored ever since. Meskmuri revere them as a legendary ancestor — the person who turned Meskmur from a scattering of towns into a nation, second only to the Red Twins in their importance to present-day society.

Ahlsheyan

  • Great Builders: Every major shipyard in Ahlsheyan is a holy place, built in reverence to the gods of water, wind, and stone, and over the centuries they have become massive, sprawling places. Part port town, part shipyard, and part temple, the shipyards of Ahlsheyan feature tall spires made of wind-worn rocks, twisting in unusual (though structurally sound) shapes; vast aerial “sculptures” composed of sails, kites, and flags; specially shaped vertical and horizontal structures which whistle and keen in the wind; sculptures shaped to capture and play with inrushing water from Dormiir’s unusually powerful tides; and thousands of runes etched on every stone surface.
  • Inefficient Rule: Ahlsheyan’s ruling triumvirate is chosen anew every time one member dies or is otherwise incapacitated, which often leads to instability and infighting. Compounding this, each member represents one of the three pillars of Ahlsheyani faith, and one always rises to preeminence over the other two — which shifts the triumvirate’s rule to emphasis tradition, opportunity, or impermanence.
    • For the past several generations, the triumvirate has been stable and dominated by the speaker for Ebren. With the triumvirate therefore dedicated to opportunity, Ahlsheyani policy and culture has been shaped by being “under the waves.” (Were stone or air dominant, they would be “under the stone” or “under the sky,” respectively.) But all it takes is one timely assassination to change this at any time…

Like a lot of Crawford’s work, the tech on display in Worlds Without Number is deceptively simple. The language is plain and the advice is straightforward; you could easily read this section of the book and think that it doesn’t look like anything special. But the proof is in the pudding: Guided by the advice in WWN, I’m doing the best, most coherent, most gameable worldbuilding I’ve ever done, and I’m having a ball doing it.

Next up are the last two items in WWN’s “The Region” section: relationships between groups (including what every group wants from each of the others, so we’re talking 30 relationships and 30 wants!), followed by assigning faction scores. Whether I do that last bit will depend on whether I’m going to start a second region or dive deeper into the Unlucky Isles, and I haven’t made that decision just yet.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number.)

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Building the Unlucky Isles: “The Region,” part three

Like all of the advice in Worlds Without Number, the stuff about cities gets straight to the point: put the capital in the center of the best arable land, on water; put other cities on water, and near resources; if you stick one in the middle of nowhere, assume there’s a kingdom-level water source not visible on the region-level map. Given that this slice of Dormiir is all islands and water, I figured most cities would be coastal.

Because of the cool natural-looking coastlines I’ve generated in Worldographer, a lot of my cities look like they’re floating in the ocean. But on a zoomed-in, kingdom-level map, they’d be placed in a sub-hex that’s on land.

Per yesterday’s post about population figures, I might reduce the number of cities a bit — but for now, here’s the current state of the Unlucky Isles.

I added a lake and two rivers to Kadavis, because it felt like it needed them

Next up is roads! Once I get my cities stitched together, I’ll have a better feel for how much wilderness is present in each kingdom (and where those wild places are).

I also added a few ports, so that well-connected places have connections that make sense

I tried to tell some basic stories with my road placement. Brundir is prosperous, populous, and the regional powerhouse: lots of roads, and the capital city is a true hub. The western edge of the Arkestran Dominion, and Kadavis proper, are also pretty well linked-up. Meskmur has sorcery and political isolation in its favor, so they’ve got roads galore.

But Rasu Miar (the island just off the coast of Kadavis, in the east) is sparsely settled and a pretty crappy place to live, so they don’t have a robust road network. And Ahlsheyan is a bit of a mix, with some logical connections missing — because those dwarves love to sail, so some overland trade routes just never really developed.

And looking at the current state of the map, I have to say that I’m not especially worried about reducing the number of cities — because there are tons of areas that aren’t even within a hex of a city or road. Even Brundir, where fully a third of the islefolk live, has lots of areas within its borders that could be wild, lawless, and dangerous.

What’s next?

Looking ahead, I’m now in a good spot to finish answering the rest of the questions in WWN’s “The Region” section: historical events for all six nations, their relationships with one another, and — optionally, but I’ll probably do it — assigning every kingdom its faction statistics. For folks who might be reading this and thinking that the amount of work I’ve already done is at odds with the “get to play quickly, but with a meaningful foundation for your setting” approach WWN advocates…you’re right!

I could easily have skipped several enjoyable hours of figuring out population sizes, placing cities, adding roads, and twiddling the terrain to suit — and instead just finished the rest of the region questions, picked Brundir as my starting kingdom, and moved on to answering the kingdom questions. Hell, I could have skipped making an actual map and just sketched out some vaguely island- and kingdom-shaped outlines on a piece of paper (as WWN suggests in the early stages).

But my goal isn’t to get to play quickly, or even in the medium term — it’s to create My World, one that I’ll be excited to continue to develop for a long time to come.

I might use WWN to gin up Brundir in more detail and then start a fresh map one “block” to the north, covering the Arkestran Dominion — and leave the rest of the Unlucky Isles exactly as they are at the end of “The Region” process. Or I might fully develop each kingdom in the Isles, and the sub-hex around a likely campaign start point in Brundir, so this whole region is richly developed and ready for play. I’m going where the wind takes me, doing whatever moves me.

Worlds Without Number is providing structure, keeping me on track so that I don’t drift off into stuff that won’t ever matter in play. It’s the tool I’m using to ensure a solid foundation for the Isles, and for expanding my worldbuilding to encompass other regions of Dormiir. I want to create a useful, gameable setting full of useful, gameable information — and devoid of cruft, wordy prose, or other stuff that often clogs up published settings. So far, WWN is perfect for that.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number.)

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Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Building the Unlucky Isles: “The Region,” part two

This morning in the shower it hit me that in a region called “the Unlucky Isles,” with six kingdoms, only three of those kingdoms were fully contained within the Isles (the other three stretch off the map) — and one of those is “fantasy Switzerland.” Would that generate enough local conflict to fuel adventures?

But sitting down and looking at my map again, I saw that I could expand my plan to have disputed islands — originally, just one or two between Ahlsheyan and Brundir — to include a Brundir/Dominion disputed island in the north. And I figured that Rasu Miar, while it’s part of a nation that stretches off the map (Kadavis, to the east), is basically an island kingdom — so that’s four, not three. I’m feeling good about all of that.

So this evening I tucked into finishing the regional map, which needs cities in order to match the example in Worlds Without Number, plus a few more non-major-but-still-sizeable geographical features, like scattered woods and whatnot, for visual interest. After adding some terrain where I planned to put disputed claims, and some more because I liked how it looked, I turned on grid numbers:

The state of play before dropping in my cities

Population figures

WWN presents some great back-of-the-napkin math for determining population figures, and then using those to back into number/size of cities, so I started there. I counted hexes by hand, ignoring the partial/ragged coastline hexes, and jotted down the ballpark population for each kingdom (or portion thereof which appears on the map, for the three that aren’t fully contained within the Isles).

  • Arkestran Dominion, 287,000: 215 hexes not counting the Wastes = 430,000 = 43,000 in cities, but the portion on the map is lightly populated hinterlands, so that’s too high. Let’s say 287,000 = 29,000 in cities = no capital city here, so one major city of 10,000, plus 19,000 in other cities.
  • Yealmark, 84,000: 41 hexes x 2,000 = 84,000 = 8,400 in cities = 2,800 in capital city, and 5,600 split between two other cities.
  • Brundir, 840,000: about 420 hexes x 2,000 = 840,000 = 84,000 in cities = 28,000 in capital city, 14,000 in second-largest city, 42,000 in other cities.
  • Kadavis, 248,000 on Rasu Miar, 266,000 in Kadavis proper: 165 hexes in Rasu Miar = 330,000 = 33,000 in cities, but the population is a little lower in this inhospitable place, so let’s say 248,000 = 25,000 in cities = no capital here, so 8,300 in major city, 4,200 in next-largest city, and 12,500 in other cities.
    • …and 133 hexes of Kadavis proper on this map = 266,000 = 26,600 in cities = no capital city on this map, so 9,000 in major city, 4,400 in second-largest city, 13,200 in other cities.
  • Meskmur, 230,000: 115 hexes x 2,000 = 230,000 = 23,000 in cities = 7,600 in capital city, 3,900 in second-largest city, 11,500 in other cities.
  • Ahlsheyan, 550,000: 225 hexes on this map = 550,000 = 55,000 in cities = capital city isn’t on this map, so 18,000 in major city, 9,000 in second-largest city, 28,000 in other cities.

That would make the population of the Unlucky Isles 2.5 million people. That’s roughly equal to the population of medieval England in the early 12th century, which seems like the right ballpark. I’m starting to get a sense for the scope of this region, which is exciting.

I view 2.5 million as the upper bound. WWN notes that wilderness hexes don’t count, and until I have some cities in place and have drawn in some major roads, I won’t know even roughly how many wilderness hexes are in the Unlucky Isles. So I expect those stats (and maybe the number of cities) to go down a bit, at least in some of the kingdoms. (And I should note that WWN doesn’t have all this population stuff happening for the whole region at this stage — I’m electing to do it now because it’s fun, and because it keeps my map grounded so it can serve as a firm foundation for ongoing development.)

But for tonight I’m calling it here — after a surprisingly time-consuming amount of math and fiddling with cities — because it’s time to play Fortnite with the kiddo!

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number.)