Saturday, September 6, 2014

Content Constitution: World kernels

World building is a tricky art and one that I'm working to get better at as time goes on.  In this first installment of Content Constitution, I'll be laying out the basics of the three campaign worlds I in which I reside when I'm in my own headspace.  Future Content Constitution entries will talk about where I get world building ideas from and how I incorporate them into my campaign world.

Before I start talking about my own content, I'd like to plug the World Building Academy, which publishes regular content about how to create a world from scratch.  There's a mailing list that gives you regular updates about things you ought to think about (but probably haven't) like transportation limitations.

For those of you interested in getting in greater depth, consider checking out Deborah Teramis Christian's (she of World Building Academy fame) book World Building Tips.  I'll also plug Kobold Press' Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding.  I haven't read Deborah Christian's book (aside from the emails to her list that made it into her book), but her email updates always bring a lot to think about.  The Kobold Guide is fantastic though.  It's a quick read with multiple essays.  If you are really serious about working on your own campaign world for a roleplaying game or for a novel, I suggest reading each essay in turn and then using its tips and tricks to better flesh out your world.

And now, without further ado, here are my three worlds, from oldest to newest:


Aeyn was inspired during my high school days when I had a habit of laying on my bedroom floor between the two speakers hooked up to my stereo and listening to my music.  It was a great way to tune out everything that wasn't whatever I happened to be listening to.  As a rather misanthropic kid, I did this a lot.  One day, I was listening to Brandy by Looking Glass.  You can listen to it here or read the lyrics here.  I've always liked how a song that's mostly about two people (three, if you count his life, his lover, his lady: the sea) manages to create an entire city with a bustling harbor.  And thus the city of Aeyn was born.  Aeyn is a free city state centered around a massive castle.  It's also the last of the human-dominated realms to have significant dealings with the Elven Queendom of Moonshadow to its northeast.  Moonshadow has cut off contact with humans ever since the night that the Empress was assassinated and the infant heir to the throne went missing thirty-five years ago and a regent began ruling in her place.

Here's the regional map.  I did a surprisingly large amount of design work on Aeyn in high school, and I'll add some to this blog from time to time.

To the northwest stands Waxholm, a thaumarchy ruled by a council of archmages.  To the east are Cabral and Balawa.  Balawa shares a southern border with Moonshadow, but the elves let few cross the border into their lands.  It's recently militarized and people expect an invasion of Cabral any day now.  Aeyn, Cabral, and Balawa are bordered to the south by a mountain range, with a single large pass in Cabral that leads to the Caliphate of Sahara in the south.

Within the city of Aeyn, Castle Aeyn stands as a reminder of a massive battle fought by humans and elves together against an ancient enemy, the Phyrrans.  Milennia have passed since this battle.  During that time the city grew up around Castle Aeyn.  Castle Aeyn itself exists out of phase with the rest of the universe.  Most cannot even enter the castle's confines.  Of those who do, none has ever returned.

The Vishkanariad

The Vishkanariad came into being more slowly than Aeyn.  Rather than springing fully formed from my head its underlying concepts accreted slowly over time.  Of the three worlds it remains the least formed.  I had been re-reading The Wheel of Time series in preparation for the final book and my flight was delayed at Dulles airport (alas, not an uncommon occurrence).  I started musing on fate and luck and how my life (and other's lives) might have been different if my flight had left on time or if I hadn't gone to the airport at all.  Was it luck that caused me to miss my flight or was it foreordained?

Suddenly, I thought of the Land of the Foxes and the Snakes from The Wheel of Time.  What was their world like?  We see so little of it in The Wheel of Time and I was curious about how it could be further fleshed out.  At the time I was just getting back into RPGs and to Pathfinder specifically.  The snake people seemed like an analog to the vishkanya.  The foxes were clearly kitsune.

Suddenly I had an idea of how they were different.  The vishkanya are a highly urbanized people and also highly stratified by class due to a complex racial caste system.  The castes consist of commoners, an artisan class, a warrior class, a priestly class (born of the warrior class but marked with distinctive ridges on their heads at birth).  Each has different colored scales.  They are ruled over by an Imperial caste with coloring identical to that of the commoner class.  They worship Lady Fate and their her priest astrologers divine all things future in the stars.

The nomadic kitsune also live within the Empire.  The two groups live in peace, but associate little with each other.  The kitsune worship Lady Luck and she guides their movements across the forests and plains of the Vishkanyan Empire.  The Vishkanyan Empire is bordered on the west by a massive desert and to the north by tall mountains that are believed to stretch all the way to the world's northernmost point.  The legendary fortress Agharti, where both the vishkanya and the kitsune were created, lies within these mountains.

There are no humans on this world.  They were exterminated eons ago by elemental forces that rose up against them when they first appeared on this world.  They took sides in a greater elemental conflict and lost.  Their alliance with the forces of earth was short-sighted and the combined forces of fire, water, and air wiped them from the planet.  Some few human-like creatures remain, the elementally descended and the kitsune are said to take a second form reminiscent of their human friends upon occasion.

The Kyrine

The Kyrine was born out of an NPR article about life in war-torn Southern Sudan.  Refugees were living in an island in a river there.  I'm not going to say a lot about the Kyrine Valley and the Kyr people livnig there in this post.  That's because the Kyrine is my current project and most of the design I do on this blog will expand upon it.

The Kyr River flows north from the chill peaks of the Taubourin Mountains in the south.  As it approaches the cliffwall that separates the Kyrine Valley from the Castlecoast far below, it breaks up into a wide alluvial delta.  The Kyr have lived in the valley as long as anyone remembers and are divided into three major ethnic sub-groups: settled farmers in the northwestern part of the river valley, nomadic hunters and gatherers in the northeastern and southwestern parts of the valley, and a boreal tribe that lives within the fey-touched woods in the valley's southeastern quadrant.

The Kyr River Valley.  As you can see, I'm not great artist by hand.

There have been three major population movements into the valley in the last century.  First, the dwarves broke through to the surface of the Taubourin Mountains in the south.  Like the Kyr people, the dwarven pantheon is headed by the great god Venturi, whose form both races believe they were created in image of.  Many of the Kyr consider the dwarves as the lost race of the "Fourth Kyr," who vanished beneath the mountains when Venturi's city was attacked by his corrupt brother Nehemeh.  Some dwarves believe this as well, but the belief is not widespread and is considered heretical by those that do not hold to it.

Roughly twenty-five years ago the Abangans invaded the Kyrine Valley.  The Abangans are native to the desert east of the Kyrine Valley.  They attacked the valley en mass, fleeing what they claimed was certain destruction by insect hordes that have arisen in the southern part of the desert.  The insects began their terror after a group of Abangan adventurers broke a seal in a mysterious temple in the southern part of the desert.  Since then, insect life in the desert has multiplied.  Such insects heedlessly attack all Abangans.

Fleeing the insects, the Abangan marched west, conquering the native Kyr people.  At this time, the Kyr live as a servitor people to their Abangan overlords.  Most of the northeastern Kyrine Valley is under Abangan control and the northwestern part of the valley is pacified as well.  Nomadic Kyr have formed a resistance movement in the southwest, sheltered by the giant, mysterious wendigo-worshipping kalooski elephant-people that live in the foothills of the mountains there.

The boreal Kyr in the southeastern woods have successfully repelled the Abangan invaders, but have been essentially cut off from contact with the rest of the Kyrine Valley.  At first this isolation stemmed from an attempted Abangan siege of their forest.  But, Abangan siege forces were lifted almost a decade ago and few have emerged from the forest.  Of those that have ventured in, almost none have returned and those who do are made speak of impossibilities occurring in the forest as if they were common.  They tell tales of mountains made of butterflies, talking animals, trees or whole forests that are there one moment and gone upon second look.  They also tell tales of a golden skinned people claiming their ancient rights to the woods.

Finally, in the last three months halfling refugees from the Castlecoast have flooded north up the Great Climb, which connects the northwestern quadrant of the Kyrine Valley with the lands of the smallfolk below.  These refugees claim monstrous sea creatures have besieged their cities.  Entire settlements have been covered with tidal waves and children vanish in the night.  The Castlecoast was always a dangerous place, but never had it seemed under active attack from the ocean before.  The cause for this attack is unknown.

So, those are my three big campaign worlds right now.  I am not actively GMing any parties in any of them right now (and, truthfully, Aeyn and the Vishkanariad might make for better novels than campaign settings).  That said, I continue to work on expanding them and will do so on this blog.  Feel free to adopt the materials you see here to your own home campaign.

What do you think of my three little worlds?  Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.