When someone in Godsbarrow dies at sea, the Headless Child lays claim to them.
If they died in sight of their own god, or gods, or if their faith was strong enough, the Child cannot take them. But if not, they join the Endless Fleet, serving its unspeakably cruel captain for eternity.
And the Endless Fleet has but one mission: to bring ruin to all of Godsbarrow, and to the gods who murdered the Headless Child at the dawn of creation and discarded Its corpse into the sea — or abetted those who did, or stayed silent and did nothing.
The Child’s appetite for vengeance is as black and bottomless as the sea, and as endless as Its fleet.
: This idea grew out of the concept of the Black Fleet, in which Klingons who died honorably sail after death, which I first heard about in an early episode of Star Trek: Discovery. I’ve already got a black ship in Godsbarrow — what about an endless fleet, instead? And one in which no one sails voluntarily? And what’s the creepiest captain I can think of for that sort of fleet?
The rest flowed out of a recent session of Follow I played with my online group. We’re playing rather unpleasant gods trying to regain our former glory, and touching on hells and limbos and other unifying cosmological concepts — an area I’ve largely left unexplored in my Godsbarrow work to date.
While I was on vacation, away from my Godsbarrow map and the text file where 99% of my notes live, I kept my worldbuilding streak going by emailing myself Godsbarrow ideas. Once I’d done two small gods, rounding things out with a third felt right. I haven’t explored small gods much yet, focusing instead on regional ones, so this was a fun change of pace.
The Spynix Mandus
The Spynix Mandus, the largest pirate vessel in Middenglum’s Red Flag Isles, is in fact a small god. The constant storms, caustic seas, and tearing winds of the region keep it weak by deity standards.
It needs only the worship of its crew to survive, and in the unforgiving environment of Middenglum obtaining even that is a struggle. Most of its crews never even know it’s a god, they just respect its size and power as a vessel. Crews it deems unworthy of it don’t last long.
If the Spynix Mandus ever fell into other hands, more organized than the fractious Red Flag pirates, in calmer waters, and attracted more worshippers, this god-ship would become a force like no other on Godsbarrow.
Polnos Yalba is a small god that is also an inn.
Its location is not fixed. Quite the opposite: Polnos appears in a new location, recharges its spiritual batteries by welcoming guests, and then vanishes without warning, beginning the cycle anew.
It can be a charming place, a terrifying one, a staunch ally, a last-ditch redoubt, or a fickle, fey-touched entity. Its size, style, and other elements often change from one appearance to the next. To date, it has never lingered anywhere longer than a year.
The Selezeer Swords
The Selezeer Swords are a family of blades whose lineage spans centuries. The Selezeer family tree looks much like a human family tree, with generations of swords, child-swords, and branches that bear little resemblance to the trunk.
Each Selezeer sword is a small god. They vary in appearance and motivations, but are always sentient weapons of exceptional quality.
Apart from that, they have little in common. Some branches of the Selezeer family tree are indolent blades, preferring to stay tucked away in their scabbards, while others revel in battle-lust and keep a tally of the lives they have claimed. Some make their nature known to their wielders; others stay silent, never revealing who they are.
Aausti sages estimate the number of Selezeer swords at somewhere between 120 and 200 (although of course they have no way to be certain). Despite the claims made in a popular series of ribald Sou folk songs, it is not known how the Selezeer swords reproduce.
Today marks a year since I started working on Godsbarrow. It’s been a consistently fun process, and even when I’ve banked my creative fires I’ve still done something to make forward progress every single day.
You can find links to all of my Godsbarrow work, loosely organized, on the Godsbarrow handbook page.
Here’s my first Godsbarrow map:
Still a work in progress (as I’m re-drawing four regional maps, adding a fifth, and unifying them all at once), but here’s the map covering everything I’ve developed over the past year:
It’s safe to say that without Worlds Without Number [paid link] and Wonderdraft, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near as far as I have this past year — nor had nearly as much fun.
Assuming I don’t forget to do some Godsbarrow work tomorrow, here’s to day 366 of my worldbuilding streak!
Work on my first proper multi-region map for Godsbarrow continues apace. All of the settlements and roads are in place, I’ve tweaked a bunch of coastlines and island shapes and whatnot, and the center third has its mountains, fields, and most of its forests done.
I also dialed the white back by 90% in the Ice Courts, and shrank the area of the Abvärwinter in the west. A few rivers have moved, and Ahlsheyan has more settlements now. And of course Middenglum is being worked on along the way. (The little triangle of forts along the Ahlsheyan-Middenglum border has been fun to write up.)
Once I get all of the symbols redrawn — and finish Middenglum — I’ll go back in and touch up the colors, add a scale, and then step back and see how things look. If it all feels right, the final step will be adding a couple hundred labels to the map.
I’m not sure how to add region names, or if I’ll even be able to include them; I still need to wrestle with that one a bit more.
As of today, martinralya.com has been online for 13 years. (It wasn’t a blog until 2012.) I can’t believe it’s been that long!
2022 will actually bring three anniversaries for this site: the 13th overall; the 10th anniversary for Yore, which launched on August 28, 2012; and the first anniversary for Godsbarrow on March 16th. I guarantee I will forget at least one of them when the day rolls around!
While I’m creating Godsbarrow region by region, in “tiles” which are more or less square, I’ve also been stitching those tiles together into a larger map. As you can see on that map, it’s full of small and medium problems as a result of this rough-and-ready approach: almost nothing along the tile boundaries lines up perfectly, country names appear several times, roads begin or end at random because I forgot I had a road there on the neighboring regional map, etc.
And that’s fine! My main goal has been to safeguard my creative energy and preserve my forward momentum, and given that today is just 10 days shy of a year of daily work on Godsbarrow, that approach has been successful.
But I’ve always known there would need to be a cartographic reckoning, and I’ve kind of dreaded how much work it might involve. It hit me this morning that there would be more work if I continued working on the Middenglum map as its own entity, rather than slotting it into the multi-region poster map and finishing it there.
So I did a bit of poking around, found a Reddit post about copying and pasting landmasses, and gave that a shot. Wonderdraft’s polygonal lasso tool allows you to copy a landform on one map file and paste it into another map file, and it preserves any colors you’ve applied to the source landmass.
About 15-20 minutes later, I had this:
There’s still lots of work to do, but this approach saved me at least a few hours of painstakingly tracing coastlines. It also affords me a fourfold opportunity, one element of which came as a surprise:
Fix all the issues created by making these maps individually
Settle on a scale
Decide if I still like my mapmaking style
Tweak the landmasses
#1 is covered in this post. #2 is sort of an offshoot of #1, but involves less work. I initially chose a scale that seemed too small, then too large, and then stopped thinking about it and just kept making maps. For a finished poster map, I need a scale. In terms of my mapmaking style, #3, I still like it. I’m obviously not a professional cartographer, but if I bought a book with one of my maps in it I wouldn’t be sad.
Item #4 is what surprised me. Seeing the landmasses with no symbols or labels makes it so clear that I created this map as four squares and a rectangle, and highlights how I got better about making it look more natural and organic later on. The earlier top half, especially my first region, the Unlucky Isles, looks more “squared off” than the bottom half.
There’s nothing sacred about my maps at this stage. Godsbarrow is a world still in development, and I’ve certainly come up with stuff in the past couple months that needs to be taken into account in the write-ups for earlier regions.
Take the Red Flag pirates of Middenglum, for example. Warriors from Kuruni, always looking for a way to prove themselves, would absolutely be raiding the pirate isles of Go Quietly Strait. And the Brundiri navy, despite having its hands full in the Unlucky Isles, needs to patrol the southern Alpan Sea to keep those same pirates at bay. But when I created Brundir and Kuruni, Middenglum and the Red Flag pirates didn’t exist.
That’s Future Martin’s problem, and it’s one I’ve known about from day one. I love the raw fire of creation, just Naruto-running through region after region and keeping that fire stoked — and I know that if I’d started with a blank version of this six-tile poster map, 1) I probably wouldn’t have gotten very far, and 2) even if I did maintain my momentum, it would have felt boring and same-y compared to the weird, vibrant stew of ideas that has emerged by doing it one region at a time.
For the second poster map, once Middenglum is done and I’ve polished the current poster map, I probably will start with a larger blank canvas and fill it in one region at a time. I have a year of experience following the Worlds Without Number approach, and a year of work upon which to build, and I think I can thread the needle of staying loose and creative while also avoiding the need to redo another giant map in 2023.
Updated later in the day to add: Even with the landmasses, water, and colors in place, redrawing all the symbols and paths is slow going. I’ve spent about four hours on this today, and I’ve got all the settlements and roads and about a third of the mountains/hills done.
I believe it’s possible to copy all the symbols on one map and paste them onto another, but only as a sort of “flattened” single image which cannot be edited. While redrawing everything is certainly slower, it also gives me the opportunity to tweak as I go (e.g., I said southern Ahlsheyan was more settled, but didn’t actually have that many towns; let’s add a few).
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.
After wrapping up my fourth region, the Ice Courts, I wasn’t sure what to work on next. I slept on it and decided to fill in the blank tile on my poster-size map.
Growing up on TSR box sets, with their gorgeous rectangular poster maps, I couldn’t resist the urge to finish out a map that shape of my own. So I started my next write-up, fired up Wonderdraft, created an all-water tile to work with, and started roughing things in.
Long ago, the Ahl named this area Mē Dān Gēŋ (“me 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 took me a few days to get the landmasses and their coastlines right, and my initial concept of Middenglum evolved along with them — which is one of my favorite things about this type of lonely fun. Once I knew I was filling in my poster map, I looked at all of my favorite fantasy stuff and saw that most of it was on that map: dwarves, gnomes, mushroom people, werewolves, wintery places, sword and sorcery weirdness, non-Tolkien elves, and plenty of squabbling nations, intrigue, and skullduggery.
But one thing was missing: slimes. I adore D&D-style oozes, slimes, gelatinous cubes (my favorite D&D monster), molds, and the like.
So Middenglum is the birthplace and homeland of the null slimes, a species of 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.
Longtime readers may remember null slimes from Bleakstone, the fantasy setting I started developing here on Yore some years back. Like other elements of Bleakstone, they’re an idea I quite like that needs a little refinement. With a few tweaks, they’ll fit right into Godsbarrow.
The map will probably change (I like the strong Mordor energy of those mountains, but right now they look a bit too engineered), and the regional overview still isn’t in its final form — but Middenglum is well underway.
The final region-level step in Worlds Without Number [paid link] is to define the relationships between nations and one thing each of them wants from each of the others. Because of the sheer number of things I have to create, this step usually takes me longer than the others.
If you want to read the rest of the Ice Courts material, or check out anything else about the world of Dormiir, the Godsbarrow handbook collects everything I’ve created for this setting.
Define the relationships between the groups.
Even though Lonþyr and Yrfeđe are more concerned with affairs in their own region (the Gilded Lands), they have a foot in the Ice Courts as well. This is primarily because of their proximity to the Courts and the tendency of two of those Courts (Ahlsheyan and Zull Pyrendi) to exert their power on the sea which separates the Ice Courts from the Gilded Lands.
Valkenschirm: It’s complicated. Ahlsheyan has one foot in the Ice Courts and things are better in that region thanks to Valkenschirm’s strength, but Ahlsheyan is also part of the Unlucky Isles and has a toehold in Kurthunar, too. As such, the decision to assassinate Abäschern, while popular in the south, also froze a sizeable portion of Ahlsheyan in perpetual winter — so sentiments in the rest of the country are mixed.
Want: Though it is a state secret of the highest order, Ahlsheyan wants to relocate Abäschern’s corpse — at a minimum, further south; ideally far, far away. They don’t know if this will end the Abvärwinter (many think it will have no effect), but it’s worth a shot. Done openly, this would plunge the Ice Courts into war. But is there a way to do it in secret?
Skølprene: There’s something wrong here, but we’re not sure what it is. The Harmony isn’t what it seems, but why does no one say that? Rule by one is inferior to rule by a triumvirate.
Want: To goad Skølprene into war against Valkenschirm, leaving it open to annexation by Ahlsheyan — and bringing the Harmony down several pegs in the process.
Myedgrith: Insufferably pretentious and decadent, with weak ambitions that don’t reach beyond the Ice Courts, but useful as a foil against the other Ice Courts getting too powerful.
Want: To goad Myedgrith into war against Valkenschirm, which would destabilize the Ice Courts and give Ahlsheyan an opportunity to annex the northern reaches of Valkenschirm and Skølprene.
Zull Pyrendi: A potential ally, if it weren’t for all the piracy. Both Ahl and Zull are at home underground and in dark places, so there’s a peculiar natural kinship there.
Want: To broker a “no piracy” treaty with as many of the Zull colonies as possible. The Ahl would love to tap the Zull’s expertise in cultivating mushrooms (which the dwarves grow in vast quantities), and can offer the Zull safe, warm underground homes for expansion.
Lonþyr: Pretenders to the waves and exploiters of the stone. Rotting from within. Fat on stolen wealth.
Want: To gut Lonþyr from within by way of supplying weapons, armor, food, and other resources to the Grshniki gnomes. This operation has been ongoing for a decade, and is at a crucial inflection point: a Lon naval vessel captured an Ahl smuggling ship, but not before they sent word via messenger bird. Do we hang them out to dry, preserving the larger effort, or double down and declare war against Lonþyr? Or is there a third way?
Yrfeđe: Every realm is an opportunity, and the Yr have much to trade — and many folks who might want to leave, if offered an opportunity in Ahlsheyan. Perhaps not an ally, but they could be.
Want: To recruit a troupe of renowned beast-hunters, the Aewll Cardurh, to participate as “honorary Ahl” in the next Hühneraar. They move around a lot, they don’t like outsiders, they’re technically not even for hire…what could go wrong?
Ahlsheyan: Somewhat aloof from the rest of the Ice Courts, yet also the source of much of the food and survival expertise on which we all rely. Steadfast and reliable.
Want: To annex a largely uninhabited portion of southern Ahlsheyan. The Valken don’t understand why the Ahl care, and the Ahl don’t understand why the Valken a) want it and b) think they should get it. A stubborn martial power vs. magically enhanced werewolves is a recipe for disaster.
Skølprene: Corpse-worshippers, blinkered by their adoration for the Hated One. Insufferable at parties. But skilled at the Great Hunt, and therefore demanding a certain amount of respect.
Want: The last Great Hunt winner was a pack from Skølprene, and one of the most hardline noble houses in Valkenschirm wants them dead so it won’t happen again. They’re not concerned about the political fallout (although they should be), but even so there’s a practical issue: How do you assassinate a pack of werewolves powerful enough to beat dozens of other packs in a region-wide display of martial prowess and hunting skills?
Myedgrith: A rival we greatly enjoy needling. All pretentiousness and no bite. Still weak enough to want gods in their lives.
Want: Resentment at the size of the area Myedgrith-to-be seized during the chaos after Abäschern’s death has simmered in Valkenschirm ever since. A decade-long plan is about to come to fruition, one involving six Valken noble families, two mercenary companies, and a fifth column of Valken spies who have lived in Myedgrith since the plan was first hatched. It’s simple: a week of bloody assassinations and uprisings in border holdings, and Valkenschirm swoops in with werewolf shock troops to claim a vast swath of what is now Myedgrith.
Zull Pyrendi: A strange people. But they feed everyone, and their weird islands are always warm and hospitable. And, despite being mushrooms, they somehow play the game of intrigue excruciatingly well — in their alien manner — and can even throw a surprisingly good masquerade ball. A conundrum.
Want: To build the first embassy on a Zull island, something the Zull have hitherto not allowed. Valkenschirm has no idea what to offer the Zull, and the Zull don’t want the embassy and so have little interest in telling them. The current plan within the Valken government is to cause a problem in Zull territory that only the Valken can solve, and use that as leverage. Once built, the embassy’s primary mission would be spying on the Zull.
Lonþyr: There’s something wrong with this place, something that troubles our senses. But we can’t tell what. It’s probably best that they’re an ocean away.
Want: For Lonþyr to never become a seagoing power. The simplest path is to keep them occupied with their troubles in the mountains, and with their neighbors. So Valkenschirm has created cadres of werewolf spies who pose as đargnr, and as Grshniki, to keep the pressure on Lonþyr from those two fronts.
Yrfeđe: So low-class as to be almost entirely beneath our notice. We killed a god, but they can’t even kill some tree-shadows?
Want: The one thing the Yr do well is brew brightmead, a naturally luminescent beverage that makes you feel warm and happy and melts your troubles away — and which also glows. Several noble houses in Valkenschirm are competing to establish a dedicated brewery-and-port combo in Yrfeđe, ensuring that they will then be able to throw the best parties.
Ahlsheyan: Generous with the fruits of their ingenuity and labors, and therefore a friend. (And, for those in the know, a potential victim.) But also powerful…too powerful.
Want: To assassinate one member of Ahlsheyan’s ruling triumvirate, and then take advantage of the ensuing time of instability in various ways. The assassination will appear to be an accident; Skølen warriors, materiel, and spies are already hidden along the border, waiting for the signal to sneak into Skølprene.
Valkenschirm: They control the Holy Vessel — Abäschern’s corpse — that rightfully belongs in Skølprene, so tensions tend to run high. But Valkenschirm is also canonically the Holy Seat of Abäschern in life, so there’s reverence as well. It’s complicated, and it makes for lots of skullduggery at parties.
Want: Rumors of the existence of the Paw of Abäschern, torn from His holy body (all evidence of which is hidden by his tomb), have persisted since Abäschern’s death. Skølprene has learned that it’s being held in a secret vault beneath a manor in the capital, and they’re going to obtain it at any cost.
Myedgrith: The opposite of all that we are. But also basically cousins, so it’s complicated.
Want: To annex a portion of Myedgrith along their shared border. A secret alliance has been made between Skølprene and three Myedine noble houses with border holdings. The houses plan to become preeminent in Skølprene; Skølprene plans to roll them into the Church and then eye another expansion to the south.
Zull Pyrendi: A longstanding staunch ally. The history of that alliance is centuries old, and it’s enshrined in church doctrine.
Want: To establish a major temple on one of the Zull islands, and more broadly to use that local foothold to spread the message of the Harmonious and Celestial Abäschern. At a god-colony level, most Zull know this faith makes no sense — and besides, they’re gods in their own right. But turning down a staunch ally isn’t easy…
Lonþyr: A wealthy nation with its hands full, ripe for the plucking (if woefully uncultured).
Want: As in neighboring Yrfeđe, to seed the land with Harmonic Temples. Look how excited your bitter rival is to welcome our faith! You wouldn’t want to be left out in the cold, would you?
Yrfeđe: Theirs is a dark place, and ours is a god of celestial light. They need us to ease their suffering. And relieve them of their wealth.
Want: To build a Harmonic Temple in every major settlement in Yrfeđe. These cheerful, brightly lit, surprisingly defensible church buildings will be an easy sell for many Yr communities.
Ahlsheyan: Vexing. They have less at stake than the other Ice Courts, with so much occupying them elsewhere. Yet they supply much of our food, warmth, and trade goods. They’re so sturdy and useful…but also irritatingly good at intrigue, often without appearing to be.
Want: To intermarry the most politically powerful families in these two nations, bringing them closer together — and, if all goes well, giving the alliance leverage against the Ice Courts nations which sit between them.
Valkenschirm: Because Myedgrith is so decentralized, there are really many relationships with Valkenschirm. The most common revolve around hating that Valkenschirm is the center of everything (while refusing to acknowledge that), hating that they’re the best and most werewolf-y (ditto), and reveling in showing them up at every opportunity.
Want: The Black Pelts want Abäschern’s corpse relocated to Myedgrith, where they can worship it in the manner it deserves. Diplomatically, this is a non-starter — so the Black Pelts plan to steal it, instead. Whether they succeed or get caught and fail, this would likely start a war with Valkenschirm.
Skølprene: They could worship any god in the world, and they chose…that? They could hunt and run and mingle with the best of the best, and they chose…that? Baffling. Yet for all that, irritatingly good at courtly intrigue.
Want: To convince Skølprene to build its largest, grandest cathedral in Myedgrith, and then stretch out the construction endlessly and see how long it takes them to figure out we’re just messing with them.
Zull Pyrendi: Mushrooms cannot possibly belong in high society, therefore we shall pretend Zull Pyrendi does not exist. Except when we import all that food from them. And when they show up at parties with all the best psychedelic drugs. And when having trysts with mushroom-people is in fashion this season.
Want: A prominent Myedine noble family wants to forge a bond with a Zull colony through intermarriage. The colony objects; some among the Myedine family object, as well. But the betrothed do not, and their union could change politics in the Ice Courts in dramatic ways.
Lonþyr: It’s cute how they try to pretend to be real nobles. Why haven’t they killed their gods yet, or learned how to throw a proper masquerade ball? We’re also jealous of how unspeakably wealthy Lonþyr is, though.
Want: A joint mining operation in the Mormú-Hús Mountains, with the Myedine providing muscle and the Lon doing the mining, and profits split down the middle.
Yrfeđe: Who? Oh, those peasants. We bet they don’t even know what the seventeenth fork in a formal table setting is for. So far beneath our notice that we’ve never learned how to pronounce the name of their silly country.
Want: An especially dumb Myedine noble family wants to capture a đargnr (whatever that is) to exhibit at their next grand ball. This is a terrible idea that will almost certainly be farmed out to adventurers.
Ahlsheyan: Many find us strange; only a few do not, and the Ahl are among them. A bit uncultured, but fierce and strong on the seas. Looting their ships is always a challenge.
Want: The Zull want to start a new full-scale colony (a fruiting god-fungus hivemind) on the mainland, and since the colony needs to be kept reasonably warm that makes Ahlsheyan the logical choice. The fungal council is divided over two things: whether to colonize the Orman-čaj in the colder southern region, which would place them closer to the Ice Courts, or in the warmer northern reaches, giving them a foothold in the Unlucky Isles; and whether to do this in secret or through diplomacy.
Valkenschirm: Pompous pricks, but also fellow hunters. It’s complicated. The Zull cannot be, or become, werewolves, so there’s plenty of resentment for the culture of werewolf nobility in the region, and especially in Valkenschirm.
Want: The Zull have never won the Hühneraar, the Great Hunt (although they’ve had respectable showings), and several of the colonies are determined to win the next one. This would be so unprecedented as to risk souring diplomatic relations with Valkenschirm.
Skølprene: They worship the husk of a dead god and call it virtuous. But they always want to help, to donate, to be generous with their time and wealth. Baffling.
Want: To infiltrate the Church hierarchy using mind-clouding spores. A party of Zull diplomats, themselves spore-emitters, will secretly include several assassin-spies. The latter will disperse spores that allow them to remotely “view” Church locations, use spore-based mind reading to learn the Church’s secrets, and otherwise clandestinely commit acts of war.
Myedgrith: Everything about this place is confusing to us. Yet we can’t deny that their masquerades and balls and ceremonial activities are strangely compelling.
Want: To throw a masquerade ball that outdoes the best Myedgrith can offer. There is currently much confusion among the Zull about how best to do this, but consensus on it being a unified effort with all of the colonies contributing.
Lonþyr: A rich but prickly target for piracy. The Zull find that piracy against fellow Ice Courts is complicated, but pillaging a wealthy country across the Greatwater has few local consequences. Lonþyr has a navy, but its martial focus is to the north, fighting the Grshniki gnomes; until that changes, the Zull will continue to see it as prey.
Want: To sink their entire navy. With enough of the Zull god-colonies cooperating — not a given! — this is something they could achieve in a single season of especially ferocious piracy.
Yrfeđe: A ripe target for plunder, with a navy too sparse and weak to make them a threat. Fun to antagonize.
Want: The Zull are curious if bioluminescent fungus can keep the đargnr at bay, so they’ve quietly introduced several species to Yrfeđe’s southern reaches. If the fungus does the trick, Zull diplomats intend to propose that they be granted a large colony along the coast in exchange for supplies of the fungus, essentially carving off a piece of Yrfeđe that would become Zull territory.
Ahlsheyan: A sleeping giant, fortunately too consumed by regional problems to turn its eye on Lonþyr. If Ahlsheyan ever decided to invade Lonþyr, or even just blockade it by sea, the outcome would be utter devastation for Lonþyr.
Want: The nobility craves works of art to show their status, and Ahl artwork is renowned throughout Dormiir. A noble family has their sights set on the last piece produced by the now-deceased artist Urug Yula, a giant obelisk that took 150 years to reach its current perfect, environmentally-shaped state. Beloved throughout Ahlsheyan, this piece is not for sale.
Valkenschirm: A whole country of werewolves? Keep those fucking beasts as far away from us as possible, just in case that’s actually true.
Want: An accurate threat assessment of just how dangerous Valkenschirm actually is to Lonþyr. To that end they’ve deployed a sentient artifact under the government’s command to spy on the Valken courts: the Carriage of Venom. Lonþyr unearthed the Carriage from beneath the mountains, and while the artifact has sworn to obey the Lon it’s also quite dangerous. It can change its shape, and can dispatch shapeshifting automatons from within its interior (which is never seen). It has no scent, so the theory is that werewolves won’t be able to detect it.
Skølprene: Peace-loving, weak, and weird. Not a threat, and apparently uninterested in the politics of the Gilded Lands, so of no consequence.
Want: It gets cold in Lonþyr, and the wealthy prize heatsones from the Ice Courts. Several Lon families have offered missionaries and other church emissaries from Skølprene land for churches and embassies in exchange for heatstones, not recognizing the threat that the Celestial Harmony poses.
Myedgrith: Insufferable, but secretly much of Lonþyr’s upper class wishes they were as cool as the Myedine. Myedgrith, despite being icebound, does “high society” so well that it makes Lonþyr look like a cultural backwater.
Want: Heatstones. The Lon nobility has heard rumors Yrfeđe already has one, and now nothing but having two — or better, dozens — will do. Like Yrfeđe, Lonþyr doesn’t realize wars have been fought in the Ice Courts over heatstones. The price will be high, to say the least.
Zull Pyrendi: A strange place full of pirates who like nothing better than preying on Lonþyran ships and coastal villages. Fortunately, they’re far enough away that they can otherwise largely be ignored.
Want: To convince Zull pirates to prey on Yrfeđe instead of plaguing Lonþyr. Money might work, but Lonþyr is first going to offer to assassinate one or more targets in the Ice Courts on behalf of Zull Pyrendi. A clandestine “diplomatic” mission team has already been assembled.
Ahlsheyan: A potential ally against the đargnr (due to their expertise in surviving in darkness), but we don’t have much to offer them — so, neutral.
Want: To recruit elite Ahl tunnel fighters to join the Yr and Grshniki forces currently battling the đargnr beneath the Gilded Lands.
Valkenschirm: We have a healthy respect for wild creatures, so a country of werewolves earns our respect. But they also have time for fancy dress and parties and whatnot? That place must be strange.
Want: For the winner of the next Great Hunt to come here and hunt đargnr. This is the sort of complex, dangerous, time-consuming, open-ended problem Yrfeđe would love to hire adventurers to solve.
Skølprene: Their god (or “god”) makes no sense. But they’re stuck in the snow; we’re stuck in the shadows. Maybe they have something to offer us?
Want: Priests from Skølprene have told anyone who will listen that the Harmonious and Celestial Abäschern will save Yrfeđe from all manner of ills. This is tempting enough that some Yr want the Church to prove it by building a grand temple in Yrfeđe
Myedgrith: Neutral. We have little contact with them, and all the rumors we hear about Valkenschirm seem to go for Myedgrith as well.
Want: Heatstones. A Yr noble purchased one from a Zull smuggler, and word of this wonder — which would be welcome during Yrfeđe’s cold winter nights — has spread far and wide. Now the Yr want more, not realizing that wars have been fought in the Ice Courts over the disposition of relatively small numbers of heatstones.
Zull Pyrendi: Neutral. Yrfeđe’s minimal coastline and general lack of wealth mean it’s not an attractive target for Zull pirates, and Yrfeđe is too bound up with local problems to worry much about what’s going on across the Greatwater.
Want: Some Yr speculate that the properties of the various Zull fungi might be able to consume the đargnr by rotting out the creatures’ homes and swallowing them whole. They want to secure the Zull’s aid in their fight, and they’ll do whatever it takes — up to and including letting the Zull found a new fungus colony in Yrfeđe.
At the moment I’m not sure what’s next for Godsbarrow, but since I work on it every day I will have to pick something by tomorrow! I’ve got a Godsbarrow side project underway that I might move back onto the front burner. The other low-hanging fruit would be to pick a map edge and start a new region — probably either the blank map tile in the current big map, or someplace north of the Gilded Lands and/or the Unlucky Isles.
My slow march through the “double-sized” Ice Courts region continues! I’ve now wrapped up the historical events for each nation (as always, using Worlds Without Number [paid link]). Part 4 will cover the relationships between these nations — and then the Ice Courts will be done (at least at the regional level, and for the foreseeable future).
Assign two important historical events to each group or nation.
Lonþyr and Yrfeđe are already detailed in the Gilded Lands write-ups, so I’ve given them just one Ice Courts-related event apiece here. Ahlsheyan first appeared in my Unlucky Isles write-ups almost a year ago (!), but it straddles the Ice Courts and the Isles (roughly equally, or maybe with a bit more of it down south) and is a major player in this region, so it gets the full treatment here.
To put these events in context, you’ll probably want to peek at part 2.
Great Builders: When the Abvärwinter came, most of Ahlsheyan was spared — but the cities and towns around Kyögüŕ Sound needed to adapt. Equally comfortable beneath the earth as they are plying the waves, the Ahl began to dig. The largest settlements already used tunnels and vents to channel heat from deep within the earth, and once it became clear that the Abvärwinter wasn’t going to end these were expanded into great subterranean works that reached every Ahl city around the sound: the Orman-čaj (“orr-manh-NSAJ”). Combined with moisture from the sound — a constant source of trouble in the tunnels — the heat also makes the environment perfect for fungus farms, and the Orman-čaj provide ample food and fungus ale for snowbound Ahl settlements (and exports to the other Ice Courts).
Consequences + Battleground: Long ago, when Abäschern first laid claim to what would become the Ice Courts and to the people of the region, that territory included what is now Ahlsheyan. The Ahl dwarves, by and large, wanted no part of this wolf-god or his zealous followers. A series of wars, each lasting several years, pitted the Ahl against the followers of Abäschern, eventually driving the Ahl dwarves underground — literally.
None of their foes were adept at mountaineering (whereas many Ahl lived in the mountains), and they balked at tunnel-fighting, living in underground caverns, and the peculiarities of war below ground. Between the growing sailing prowess of those Ahl who remained above ground and the fierce martial culture that developed among those underground, the Ahl were able to decisively push back Abäschern’s forces.
In the present day, these traits are a major part of Ahl culture (and not a biologically deterministic thing common to all dwarves; Myedine dwarves, for example, have no culture of mining, tunnel-fighting, or stonework), and the rivalry between Ahlsheyan and its southern neighbors persists.
Magical Tech: The assassination of Abäschern had no effect on the sacred nature of lycanthropy in Valken society, or on the percentage of Valken born as werewolves (which is high). This blessing is part of why Valkenschirm remains the heart of the Ice Courts, conferring higher social status on its inhabitants in the courtly intrigues between nations. Centuries ago, Abäschern broke off one of his teeth and created the first Sklavengeist (“SKLAH-venn-guyst,” which literally translates to “seeker of the blessed wolf-spirit”), a talisman that can detect whether someone has the Sacred Blood (i.e., is a werewolf), and in what proportion.
Valand-Brämlings (“VALL-and BREHM-lings,” which means “wolf-singers” in Valken) found that they could create their own Sklavengeists, and this tradition has been passed down and expanded throughout Valken society. With the proper ritual, any Valken can extract one of their own teeth and create a Sklavengeist; many outside Valkenschirm also know how to do this, as that knowledge was passed down before the region split into multiple countries.
Noble Function: Since time immemorial (even prior to there being a Valkenschirm at all, when the Ice Courts were one), the nobility of Valkenschirm has maintained stewardship over the custom of the Great Hunt, the Hühneraar (“HOO-neh-rayre”), and the Lonely Hunt, the Hühneralk (“HOO-nerr-olk”). The Lonely Hunt is a coming-of-age ritual for every Valken, presided over by a noble and marking the child’s passage into adulthood. They must hunt prey designated by the noble, alone, and return with proof of their kill. The Great Hunt is part celebration, part safety valve for snowbound nations to blow off steam without fighting wars, and part sacred ritual.
It has evolved into the social event of the Ice Courts, and any year in which it is held is a busy one indeed. Hundreds of werewolves (and non-werewolves, although they’re in the minority) gather in Valkenschirm, select their prey, and then boil out into the snowdrifts in a roiling pack to stalk that prey until it’s dead. At times, this has served to muster a force of irregulars for a de facto military action, or to settle a grudge the presiding nobles have with a rival or foe; sometimes the prey is a rare or unusual creature, and not always one local to Valkenschirm. Like everything else about Valkenschirm, the Great Hunt is a considered a mixed blessing by the other Ice Courts, one they tend to resent and crave in equal measure.
Internal War: Centuries ago, in the chaotic months following the assassination of Abäschern, the notion that the ghost of the dead god was still present in the mortal realm took hold. The people of what would become Skølprene, on average, had less werewolf blood than those in the future Valkenschirm, more contact with Ahlsheyan and Zull Pyrendi, and were often considered outsiders or bumpkins amongst the elite. In this fertile soil the future church of the Celestial Harmony planted its seeds, and within a few years it had become quite powerful.
The church drove the civil war that split the Ice Courts, established the boundaries of present-day Skølprene — and then waged a secretive internal war to crush dissent and cement its beliefs as the law of the land in this fledgling nation. That “quiet war” went on for a decade, and it was one of the most vile and ruthless conflicts in Godsbarrow’s history.
People were “disappeared” by the hundreds; entire bloodlines were wiped out root and branch; skeptics were vilified in public, or they simply vanished. And barely a word of any of it was breathed in public; officially, the church opposed any such conflict. When the dust settled, Skølprene became the Celestial Duchy, and the Church of the Harmonious and Celestial Abäschern has ruled — generally in secret, hiding behind philanthropy and welcoming smiles — ever since.
Diplomatic Coup: Skølprene and Zull Pyrendi were once bitter foes, with Zull pirates raiding Skølprene’s shores and Skølen soldiers using fire and poison to assail the Zull. But in the early years of the Abvärwinter (even before anyone knew it would be permanent), church missionaries from Skølprene noticed how much better the Zull were faring than everyone else, with their strangely warm islands and abundant food. The church brokered peace with the Zull, establishing the supply line of edible fungus from the archipelago that still feeds all of the Ice Courts today.
Some terms of the peace are widely known, notably a promise by Skølprene to protect the Zull islands (with forts, ships, and diplomacy) that has been held up several times over the centuries. This has led to Skølprene and Zull Pyrendi being staunch, if unlikely, allies in the intrigues that plague this region. Much less widely known are the secret terms, which include fostering Zull colonies deep beneath church buildings throughout Skølprene, and intermarriage, with many notable Skølen secretly being human-fungus hybrids.
Economic Boom: Long ago, the Myedine hit what is known as the Hälgenvarst (“HELL-genn-farst,” which means “The Vein of Eternal Perfection” in Myedine): a vein — or more accurately, several veins in proximity — of precious metals and gems that has never run out. The portion of the Vein nearest to the surface lies within the Vulkanöl Mountains, and its location is the most closely guarded secret in Myedgrith. The balance of the Vein stretches south, deep underground, and a network of tunnels beneath the Great Emptiness connects it to other (secret) points within Myedgrith. No matter how deep Myedgrith’s miners go, the Vein persists.
Like diamond cartels in the real world, Myedgrith carefully meters the extraction of wealth from the Vein — but over time, it has made the nation incredibly wealthy. Every Myedine family of note trains and maintains a corps of miners, and reaching and tapping the Vein without other families knowing of it has become an art form — and a deadly pursuit.
The Vein is too long, and runs too deep, for any one family to control it. But anyone shut out from it entirely risks a dip in their lavish, decadent lifestyle and a corresponding loss of status. In many ways, the Vein is Myedgrith.
Resource Collapse: Before the Abvärwinter, what is now Myedgrith was rich in arable land, supplying grain and vegetables to the whole region. The changed overnight, and the result was chaos. Strife between Myedine families boiled over, with access to the Vein — and the wealth needed to import food — as its flashpoint. Entire villages became ghost towns, their refugees swelling the population of locales with food to share. Myedine left in droves, kneecapping once-powerful families and scrambling the politics of the area. The current system of access to the Vein grew out of this instability, and the families best able to navigate the tightrope walk of greed. secrecy, and measured extraction of wealth gradually brought a kind of peace to Myedgrith.
Rare Resource: The fungal entities of Zull Pyrendi are almost incomprehensibly strange to outsiders. Each colony is a god, a city, a nation, a tribe, food, fuel, and so much more. When the Abvärwinter came, another property of the Zull fungi was revealed: Despite their differences from one another, all of the fungal god-islands naturally resist the eternal winter, leaving the Zull Pyrendi archipelago warm, fertile, and hospitable to life. Previously a relatively minor player in the Ice Courts, this boon made Zull Pyrendi a real power in the region. Among other things, the archipelago became a major exporter of mushroom-based food to a frozen land where little grows, and today the islands are the “bread basket” of the Ice Courts.
Exodus: This is the opposite direction for my fuzzy ideas about Zull Pyrendi — I love it! Not every Zull god-fungus-colony is a hive mind in perfect harmony with itself, although that tends to be how they’re perceived. Ten years ago, at the same moment down to the second (not that folks keep track of time that way, but you know), several dozen Zull from Siskuzar, Imen Zull, Zull Myeen, and Myrmsk left the archipelago. Some were pirates who decided not to return home; some simply vanished; and most of them snuck into the mainland Ice Courts and then vanished.
The pirates have become infamous, and the fleet of Iskmik Zull (“ISSK-mikk”) — a self-declared god-fungus-colony — is feared along the shores of the Greatwater. The other Zull who disappeared have remained hidden, and outside of Zull Pyrendi (where they are anathema, traitors, or criminals) most in the Ice Courts have forgotten about them entirely.
Good Wizard: During the tumultuous time when the Abvärwinter was taking hold of the Ice Courts, a charismatic sorcerer, Hadubrant Twelve-Fingers (“HAH-doo-bront”), fled what would become Valkenschirm and snuck into Lonþyr. He carried with him two of Abäschern’s fangs, which gave him tremendous magical power, enhanced his cunning, and made him irresistible to the Lon nobility (though they knew not quite why; there was just something about him). A selfish schemer at heart, Hadubrant saw that by helping the Lon plunder the Mormú-Hús Mountains he could become enormously wealthy himself, so he used his magic to greatly enhance their mining operations and protect them from the Grshniki. During the decade when he assisted the Lon, their mining yields were multiplied many times over; some of the most prominent families today owe their wealth largely to this bygone era.
The time of plenty (from the Lon perspective, anyway) ended when Hadubrant — now rich beyond his wildest imaginings — simply vanished, never to be seen again.
Plague: When the Abvärwinter came, half of a Zull colony took to the seas and landed in Yrfeđe. Distraught, cut off from their god-fungus, and in a strange and hostile place, the Zull fruited and released corrupted spores throughout southern Yrfeđe. The plague was short-lived, but claimed the lives of thousands of Yr (and all of the fruiting Zull). To this day, no one in southern Yrfeđe will eat mushrooms, and most will not deal with the Zull in any fashion; that old hatred runs deep.
This post catches Yore up to all of the Ice Courts material I’ve finished to date. I’m still working on historical events (a couple to go) and relationships/wants (lots to go). As always, the headers are steps from Worlds Without Number [paid link].
Create six nations or groups of importance.
Ahlsheyan (“all-SHAY-ahn,” linguistic touchstone: Proto-Turkic), a chilly, windswept dwarven kingdom which abuts the Unlucky Isles to the south. Ahl dwarves are equally at home deep underground and plying the waves. The three pillars of Ahl society are wind, waves, and stone (representing impermanence, opportunity, and the past, respectively). Ahl “wind sculptures,” made of stone shaped so as to change in interesting ways as they are worn away by wind and weather, and not sold or exhibited until decades after they were first made, are famous throughout Godsbarrow.
Valkenschirm (“VAL-kenn-shurm,” linguistic touchstone: Old High German): The heart of the Ice Courts, and the center of all court politics in the region. What Valkenschirm lacks in size and martial power it more than makes up for in magical power: Most Valken are werewolves, and Abäschern’s still-magically potent corpse is entombed here. Years of intermarriage and close ties between the nations of the Ice Courts mean that many outside Valkenschirm are also at least part werewolf (considered a noble blessing), perhaps manifesting only minor signs of their nature.
While every Ice Court nation competes to be the preeminent regional power, Valkenschirm has held onto that honor for generations. The best balls, the best hunts, the best spellcraft, the best masquerades that lead to the best diplomacy — all of that happens here. Much maneuvering goes into ensuring that others must travel here — suffering the privations and facing the dangers of the trek — in order to really be playing the game of intrigue.
Since Abäschern’s assassination, Valkenschirm’s most potent tool in this regard has been his tomb. There are celebrations, rituals, and other events related to his tomb and death every year, and Valkenschirm has ensured that high society folks feel compelled to attend them — and to make the long, dangerous journey that entails. The other nations hate this.
One of the most coveted solutions to the problem of staying warm in a land with few trees is heatstones. Mined from deep beneath the Vulkanöl Mountains, these stones are always warm to the touch. One can keep a traveler alive in a storm. Three can heat a tent. Fifteen (or a larger, more valuable stone) can warm a hall — forever. More blood has been shed over the extraction, disposition, and possession of heatstones than would have been lost if these rocks never existed in the first place.
Celestial Duchy of Skølprene (“SKOOL-preen,” linguistic touchstone: Old High German, and as a reminder to myself, duchy is pronounced “DOO-chee” not “DOO-kee”): Skølprene purports to hold itself above the diplomatic fray that is the Ice Courts. The dominant religion, the Celestial Harmony of the Living Abäschern (commonly shortened to “the Harmony”), is based on doing good works, performing charitable acts, and philanthropy. Their “deity” is the “living ghost” of Abäschern, who doesn’t have a ghost; he’s dead. The entire faith is a sham.
This suffuses the culture of Skølprene, even among the half-wolves (with close ties to Valkenschirm), those outside the Harmony, and transplants from other lands. Underneath all the outward lovey-dovey positivity of the Harmony, human nature being what it is, sits a rotting foundation of lies, scheming, religious blackmail, dark rituals, and all manner of nastiness that takes place behind closed doors. In a region best known for mushroom pirates, eternal winter, and a country of werewolves, Skølprene is the most dangerous place in the Ice Courts…it just doesn’t look like it.
Myedgrith, Shining Lamp of Eternity (“MEEYED-grith,” linguistically it’s a mix of Old High German and made-up stuff, reflecting its history): How pretentious is Myedgrith? One, there’s a comma in the name of the country, and two, they’re particular about you referring to the country by its full name, comma and all: Myedgrith, Shining Lamp of Eternity. Pretentiousness is an art form in this majority-dwarven nation.
Always the most decadent area in the single nation that preceded the Ice Courts (which broke apart when Abäschern died), Myedgrith has leaned into that. Pleasure, putting on airs, and one-upping everyone around you are the heart of Myedine culture, leading in turn to an emphasis on overwrought artwork (e.g., an ice sculpture that takes 10 artisans a year to make, which is then melted for fun during a single lavish party), rich food, and petty disputes between housebound families (trapped by the climate and weather) that blossom, over the years, into bitter, elaborate blood feuds.
While there’s ostensibly a central government, Myedgrith is really a loose conglomerate of interrelated, feuding families who constantly jockey for position — only coming together when there’s a chance to expand the influence of Myedgrith, Shining Lamp of Eternity within the Ice Courts.
Zull Pyrendi (“zool pye-RENN-dee,” no linguistic touchstone): Mushroom pirates! Each island in this archipelago is home to its own massive fungal entity, with a roughly equal amount of fungal biomass above and below ground. The strange properties of these fungi have kept Zull Pyrendi from suffering the full effects of the Abvärwinter, and consequently the archipelago is the warmest place in the central Ice Courts.
Each fungal entity (a sort of massive hive mind, just like some fungi in the real world) spawns its own “children,” and for reasons of their own many of these fungus people become pirates. (The actual reason is because mushroom pirates are cool.) Most other mushroom folks are either farmers (and boy does mushroom farming look weird), who supply food to the snowbound Ice Courts, or diplomats, whose approach to intrigue is rather…unique.
While neither Lonþyr or Yrfeđe is part of the Ice Courts proper, 1) they’re on its map, and 2) they’re close enough to have political and other connections to the region.
Yrfeđe (“EHR-feth,” linguistic touchstone: Old English), in the northeast, is a superstitious land of dense forests, high winds, and harsh weather. Closely connected to Lonþyr by ancestry and culture, the two nations have been at odds for centuries. Yrfeđe is a rough-and-tumble place known for its timber, fish, and fortified towns, but infamous for the Wyrdanwod. The Wyrdanwod, particularly its eastern half, is home to the much-feared đargnr (“THAR-ghnir,” which means “sleeping shadows” in Emnian), who slumber inside ancient trees, or beneath the earth, and travel the Wraithsea at night to feed. Everyone in this bedeviled place carries a torch, candle, lantern, or other light source — as bright light is one of the few things that can harm a đargnr.
Lonþyr (“LONN-theer,” linguistic touchstone: Old English), along the coast of the Greatwater Āŕ, is a small country rich in gold, silver, and gems — the mineral wealth of the Mormú-Hús Mountains (off the Ice Courts map to the north), which Lonþyr has pillaged for centuries. Always seeking to encroach further into Mormú, Lonþyr is constantly fighting Grshniki guerrillas in the foothills — and struggling to retain its foothold on the southern end of Many Sorrows Pass, the only overland trade route connecting it to the northern Gilded Lands.
Lonþyr and Yrfeđe were once a single country; now, they’re feuding neighbors bound by bloodlines that span their shared border. The đargnr that plague Yrfeđe don’t trouble Lonþyr, which provokes much bitterness among the Yr. Long ago, Lonþyr pulled something dark and strange from the deeps beneath the Mormú-Hús Mountains, and this artifact — the country’s most closely-guarded secret — is what protects them from the đargnr.
Identify regionally-significant gods.
Valkenschirm is a mix of non-worship (their god is dead, and good riddance…though not everyone feels that way) and a stew of faiths and pantheons from outside its borders, which Valken nobles try on like shoes or ball gowns. This has led to Valkenschirm being a popular destination for proselytizers from many faiths across Dormiir — and, given the stereotypical Valken attitude towards deities, has also put the nation on the radar of several hostile gods who don’t appreciate being taken so lightly.
To make matters more muddled, the Scions of the Wolf are a local religion based on the blessing of lycanthropy, officially without a deity — though the hardcore believers say that Abäschern, or at least the non-shitty parts of him, lives on in all of them. Like much in Valkenschirm, it’s confusing.
The Harmonious and Celestial Abäschern — essentially Abäschern’s ghost — is worshipped in Skølprene, and is very nearly the state religion. Worshippers believe that Abäschern didn’t die but instead merely changed state, ascending from godhood to an even higher plane of celestial existence. They’re wrong: Abäschern is just dead. There are those in Skølprene who recognize this — but it’s an exceedingly dangerous thing to say out loud.
Outsiders joke that Myedgrith, Celestial Lamp of Eternity, is its own god — and they’re not entirely incorrect. By and large, the Myedine are glad to have Abäschern gone and have embraced non-worship. But there is also a persistent — and dangerous — strain of orthodox Abäschern worship alive and well in Myedgrith, the Black Pelts, who worship Abäschern’s corpse as if it were still alive. The fact that the corpse is entombed in Valkenschirm does not sit well with the Black Pelts…
The Zull worship no gods. Or, from an outsider’s point of view, their notion of god, self, nation, and city is one, and that one is each island’s respective fungal entity and its “children.”
Ahlsheyan’s tripartite pantheon is covered in the Unlucky Isles write-up — though some southern Ahl did worship Abäschern, and now find themselves either adrift and godless, doubling down on the Ahl faith, or taking a page from Valkenschirm’s book and sampling other pantheons.
Yrfeđe and Lonþyr share a pantheon; it’s covered in the Gilded Lands write-up.
On a side note, why not “atheism” instead of “non-worship”? I’m an atheist, so it’s nothing to do with real-life religiosity. In Godsbarrow, gods are real, evident, and walk the earth — as they do in Greek mythology (which is my default touchstone for how gods work this setting). Atheism isn’t really a thing in Godsbarrow because there’s no question that gods exist. One of them rules the country of Kuruni; you can have a beer with her, if you’re brave enough. Another’s corpse lies in state in Valkenschirm; you can come and spit on his tomb, if you’re brave enough. So I use “non-worship” because it makes more sense in the context of Godsbarrow than “atheism.”
Make a sketch map of the region.
I started with the map, as has become my habit, and worked on it in parallel with the written worldbuilding. It’s at the top of this post.
I have a little Godsbarrow side project bubbling away that’s competing for my writing time, which is part of why I haven’t finished the Ice Courts yet. But I am starting to feel the itch to work on a fresh region, so maybe that’ll goose me into wrapping this region up sooner than later.