I never get the roads, rivers, etc. on the “tile” boundaries quite right, but nonetheless I get a thrill out of seeing Godsbarrow start to come together as each region is added to the larger map.
Here’s a (clumsily) stitched-together map showing the first four regions: the Unlucky Isles (where I started, top center), the Gilded Lands (top right, my second region), Kurthunar (top left, third), and the Ice Courts (bottom, number four).
Despite all the details that would need to be tidied up as part of turning this into a finished map (mainly boundaries, but also finalizing scales and adjusting labels to suit the zoomed-out format), this map makes me happy. Godsbarrow feels like My Place in a way it wouldn’t without this map, and if you decide to play a game there I hope it will also feel like Your Place.
This is where I started, around March 2021 (in Worldographer):
I’ll go where my muse and mood take me, but the logical next stop after finishing my regional write-up for the Ice Courts would be to fill in the bottom leftmost map section. Six of my tiles, arranged thusly, is not coincidentally about the same shape as a map from the old Forgotten Realms boxed set.
I adore that set and to this day hold it up as one of, if not the, best examples of a published campaign setting designed for actual play (rather than GM wankery). Capturing some of the feel, the energy, the excitement I got (and still get) from opening that box, unfurling the maps, reading the marvelously concise and flavorful books, and playing in that version of the Realms is a core design goal for Godsbarrow.
After that, I’ve been thinking of another double-width map above the Isles and Gilded Lands, or maybe even a triple that also includes Kuruni.
Visually, that would center the Unlucky Isles as the heart of the developed portion of Godsbarrow (which, from a campaign setting creation standpoint, it is). With three tiles across the top and the ninth in the bottom left filled in, I’d also have mapped out all/most of the Arkestran Dominion, all of Kadavis, and all (probably?) of Ahlsheyan, and I’d have around a dozen countries developed at the regional level.
I like leaving unfinished nations on the map, places that need another tile to complete them. It helps the setting feel real and gives me an easy hook for future mapmaking and development.
Philosophical navel-gazing and hobby streaks
There are lots of things about worldbuilding that are philosophical in nature (like leaving countries half-unmapped). I’ve slowed way down on worldbuilding in the past few months, as I have with painting miniatures (though for somewhat different reasons), but I write at least a sentence, or make progress on a map, every day. And that snail’s pace is still producing more worldbuilding than I’ve done in decades, including much, much more cartography than I’ve ever done before.
I sum this approach up as “Something > nothing” or “Any progress beats no progress.” My interests and hobbies are like little fires, each in its own little hearth. Sometimes one fire is raging, and the others die down. In the past, I’ve let fires die out rather than banking them so that they stay alive; using hobby streaks as a motivational tool is as deliberate departure from that approach. I bank some of the fires, ensuring they don’t go out and that they’re on my radar (man am I mixing metaphors here), and let others go out entirely.
Right now I’m banking my worldbuilding fire, making a little forward progress every day, and tending to other fires that are burning hotter: watching more anime, reading more manga, and playing more Halo Infinite and Jedi: Fallen Order. And that’s okay! When those tail off, another interest or two will flare up.
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.
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.
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:
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.)
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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.