Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

A year of Godsbarrow worldbuilding

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:

My first map of the Unlucky Isles, done in Worldographer on March 17, 2021

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:

The current WIP five-region map as of today

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!

(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

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

Roughing in Middenglum, my fifth Godsbarrow region

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.

Middenglum as of February 19, 2022

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.

(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 4: national relationships and wants

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.

The Ice Courts region

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.

Ahlsheyan

  • 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?

Valkenschirm

  • 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.

Skølprene

  • 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.

Myedgrith

  • 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.

Zull Pyrendi

  • 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.

Lonþyr

  • 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.

Yrfeđe

  • 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.

(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

Godsbarrow: Why not create a world map first?

Writing yesterday’s post about banked fires and leaving countries partially unmapped made me realize how much I’ve thought about this stuff over the past several months, and how non-obvious some of it might be to anyone outside my personal flesh-prison.

I’m sort of mapping Godsbarrow the least efficient way possible . . . but stitching together my big map is proof that, for me, the dumb way that creates extra work in the future is the key to my success.

Why not start by mapping the continents?

I see gorgeous continent-level maps all the time on r/Wonderdraft. And it makes sense: Look how many things in the map below I will need to fix in order to turn X regional maps (the “tiles”) into a unified pan-regional map that spans a large chunk of Godsbarrow, none of which I’d have to fix if I’d started with a larger canvas.

Future Martin is not going to thank Past Martin for the extra work required to correct every boundary on this map

Hell, even if I’d stayed at the regional scale (rather than continent scale) but started with a six-tile blank map in Wonderdraft, filled it with ocean texture, and then added landmasses one region at a time, I’d wind up with a finished map that had none of the technical issues present in the map I currently have. But I know me: That blank space would have overwhelmed me, made this feel like work, and probably torpedoed the whole venture.

Every boundary, every thing I develop, is a constraint. Starting with continents establishes a whole bunch of boundaries right off the bat. Starting without even thinking about continents leaves all that stuff where it belongs, for now: nonexistent or purely notional.

Why? Three reasons.

Because WWN says so

Worlds Without Number [paid link] advocates strongly for not building stuff you don’t need, and I agree. More than three decades of gaming, including several abortive attempts at creating campaign settings which began, full of excitement, with me creating world maps, has taught me that I virtually never need to know about continents at the gaming table.

Is it nice to know what the Forgotten Realms looks like at a world map level? Absolutely. And maybe in a published setting with the scope of the Realms, I’d expect that. (Here, as a WIP on a blog, I absolutely don’t expect that.)

But in actual play, have I ever needed to know what the continents look like, or what the whole of Faerûn looks like? Nope. Not even once.

Which flows into…

Conversation of time and creative energy

I’m one guy, doing this for fun, not getting paid for it, with a finite amount of free time and creative energy, and spending those resources worldbuilding means I have less time and energy to spend on other things — including the more gameable aspects of worldbuilding.

If I spend a bunch of time and creative energy on a world map of Godsbarrow that I don’t even need, I might burn out. Even if I don’t burn out, I will have spent those resources making something I don’t actually need and placing constraints on my future worldbuilding.

Which flows into…

Because whimsical, improvisational worldbuilding is more fun for me

I’m not here to police anyone’s “lonely fun.” I upvote those gorgeous continent maps on r/Wonderdraft, and I love that folks are making cool shit even — especially — if it’s not how I might have made it. As my wife often says, with genuine affection, “You do you, Boo-Boo.

But personally I find it much more freeing, and more fun, to develop a Godsbarrow region without any real idea what’s next door. When I step back for a minute, as I did when stitching together that large map above, I see a developing setting that I never would have come up with this way if I’d sketched out all the coastlines for the large map at once.

Toriyama Akira and the art of improvisational creation

This connects nicely to having just finished watching Dragon Ball and started Dragon Ball Z. I was curious how much of Z Toriyama Akira had planned when he was working on Dragon Ball, and apparently the answer is “none of it, or at least not much of it, especially early on.” He was just doing what interested him, following his heart and seeing where it led him, and the end product — Dragon Ball — is full of whimsy and surprises and strange turns it likely never would have been full of if he’d mapped it out from the beginning.

Circling back to Godsbarrow, if I’d written up the Unlucky Isles knowing that a slug-god-kaiju was crushing mountains to the west (in Kurthunar) and the region to the south was locked in perpetual winter and populated by, among others, courtly werewolves and mushroom pirates, I would have written it differently. For one thing, I’d have had to hold a lot more ideas in my head while writing it. For another, I’d have worried about conceptually mapping out all of the nations’ relationships with places further away, which likely would have made me lose interest.

If I synthesize all of my regional write-ups into a unified document, will I need to add and tweak some things? You bet. Just like my stitched-up map, what came later would necessarily prompt a gentle rearrangement of what came before.

But as a price to pay for capturing the original raw spirit of Godsbarrow, channeling that into the Unlucky Isles, stoking the fires of creation and diving in while they burned brightly, and creating something that I still want to continue developing eight months later, that is a vanishingly small price indeed.

TL;DR: Start small. Which is, like, the oldest RPG worldbuilding advice ever. This post explains why I started small, and why, eight months after starting work on Godsbarrow, I still love this approach despite the imperfections it introduces into the process and the WIP version of Godsbarrow.

See also: Yore

A lot of what I’ve said here also goes for Yore itself. This blog will be celebrating its 10th anniversary later this year, on August 28th.

I’ve been blogging since 2005, and Yore is my third RPG blog. I ran Treasure Tables (still archived on Gnome Stew) from 2005-2007, and ran and contributed to Gnome Stew from 2008-2016. I may have my math off a bit, but I believe I wrote 871 posts on TT and 453 on GS.

So not only does my post count here — 463 as of this one — exceed my count on the Stew, even prior to the actual 10th anniversary I’ve already posted on Yore for longer than either of my previous blogs. Yore is the one where I just do whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it, whether or not that’s an efficient way to build an audience (it’s not), get pageviews (it’s not), create a brand (it’s not), make money (it’s not), or stay relevant in the RPG hobby as a whole (it’s not).

In other words, philosophically Yore is pretty similar to Godsbarrow. I loved blogging on Treasure Tables and Gnome Stew, and look back fondly on those years. But part of the reason I’m still blogging here, nearly 10 years on (and well past the heyday of blogs’ relevance in the hobby), is because here is the place I just do my thing. Or don’t do it. Or shift gears and do new things.

I know folks out there have gotten good mileage out of stuff I’ve posted here, and that brings me joy. I hope it continues to be the case. In the meantime, I’ll just keep puttering away and doing my thing.

(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
B/X D&D Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Godsbarrow map: the first four regions (plus noodling on banked fires)

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).

The current state of Godsbarrow, created in Wonderdraft and stitched together in MS Paint

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):

My original landmass outlines for the Unlucky Isles

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 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

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.)

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Map of the Ice Courts, Godsbarrow’s fourth region

I’ve been more in the mood for cartography than writing, so I’ve finished — at least in draft form — the map for the Ice Courts before the region write-up is done. The Ice Courts sit just south of the Unlucky Isles and the Gilded Lands, and this region occupies two map “tiles.” (You can read about all the parts of Dormiir I’ve created so far in the Godsbarrow handbook.)

This is a land of perpetual winter, dwarves, aristocratic werewolves, and mushroom pirates. I love all of those things, so I decided it’d be fun to combine them in a single region.

The Ice Courts, as they stand on November 3, 2021

I’m about halfway done with the written portion. I wanted to see what a double-size region would feel like, giving countries a bit more real estate and adding a significant body of water — since my countries so far have been fairly small, and oceans haven’t yet been seen in their entirety.

It takes longer, no surprise there, but so far it’s been a fun approach. I might do the same thing for the region north of the Unlucky Isles, basically mirroring this approach but two tiles northwards. We shall see!

(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

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.)