My progress on creating the Ancient Lands setting for the last two years has always and regularly been slowed down to a crawl by two major obstacles: Making good names for all the people and places, and creating a good historic background for the world. History always seemed very important to me because I’ve seen it used for such marvelous effect in the Dragon Age and Mass Effect games. Not because there were so many fascinating tales that are exciting to hear about, but because historic events explained why all the major groups have grudges at each other and which encounters between two or more people are powder kegs with lit fuses before anyone has said a single word. It explains which subjects are touchy and where you need to tread carefully when attemting to negotiate, and also which buttons you need to push to get two people to kill each other. Dwarves hate elves? So what? That’s not very interesting. What do you do with that? Giving some hint why they feel that way makes a huge difference.
So to have a rich environment for complex interactions between characters from different cultures or factions and get some ambiguity into the conflicts, you need to have a history for the setting. But try as I might, I’ve never been able to come up with anything but a few general ideas, never really making any progress with the setting. But now I’ve sat down to sift through the sources for some ideas I might be able to adapt. And realized there isn’t really anything either. Elric might be an exception (I’ve read only two random stories), but in Sword & Sorcery he is always the exception. But when I look at Conan, Kane, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and the early stories of the Witcher (not very far with the novels yet), there actually isn’t really anything either. Two of the best Sword & Sorcery RPG settings, Dark Sun and Planescape don’t have any history at all in their original (and true) incarnations.
And now that I think about it, the history elements from the games that inspired me are extremely brief as well. The story of the Krogan in Mass Effect is the most complex and difficult of them all, but it is also very, very short. The Salarians needed super soldiers to defeat the seemingly invincible Rachni, discovered the Krogan and gave them space ships and advanced weapons. After the Rachni where defeated the Krogan didn’t want to stop conquering planets and give back the weapons. So the Salarians created a bioweapon that could drive the Krogan close to extinction within a generation (annihilating them would be inhumane) and the Turians used it. Now Krogan civilization is a shadow of what it once was and the Salarians refuse to make a cure and let the Krogan population grow again. The Krogan are pissed, the Salarians and Turians have no regrets, and while many others sysympathize, the idea of the Krogan increasing their numbers doesn’t sound very appealing either. There are other old conflicts like that in the setting, but those are even much more simple. But the really great thing about them is that we don’t really know the name of a single person who was involved in those events or any planet where something happened. There also is no date or any numbers of populations or worlds. Because none of that really matters to understand the current situation and why Krogan are always hostile to Salarians and Turians. In the stories of Conan, everyone fears the warriors of the Cimmerians or the Picts, but we’re never really told anything about specific wars or battles in the past. Conan fought in the battle at Venarium when he was young, that is all we have. And I now feel confident that I don’t need any more than that either.
So here I present the complete and very short history of the Ancient Lands.
- Many centuries ago fey races from the Spiritworld built great castles in the world of mortal creatures and they often took elves and lizardmen as slaves, so the other primitive peoples hid deep in the forests and mountains.
- At some point the shie began to abandon their castles, letting them fal into ruin and leaving their abandoned slaves behind. Some slaves understood the farming they had done in the fields of their masters or had seen them work with bronze, and as they faded back into the wilds, the basics of these arts spread among the other savages.
- Humans had been hiding in the most impassable mountains far out of sight and never been taken as slaves. They also avoided the elves and lizardmen, so they did not learn about metal and farming until thousands of years later
- In one great city of the naga, a group of lizardmen slaves secretly worshiped the Sun and gained the magic power to face the naga sorcerers and start a rebellion. The rebels defeated their masters and created the Mayaka kingdom.
- The Neshanen elves discovered the secrets of naga sorcery and learned to use the power of demons for themselves. The druids of the Falden thought it to be too dangerous and tried to destroy them and the ongoing conflict of the two groups has led to many wars between Falden and Neshanen armies.
- Naga and Neshanen sorcerers are constantly trying to steal each others magical secrets and burried magic treasures of other Ancients for as long as anyone can remember.
- Eventually human Vandren came down from the mountains to trade with Falden and Takari and many Vandren became mercenaries for Falden chiefs. Some generations later three half-elves started a monastic order based on the equality of all people, with no distinction between clans and no slaves and masters. It quickly grew to include Vandren, Falden, Ruyaki, and kaas.
- A warrior monk of the order decided that he had enough of trading great amounts of goods for every small piece of metal for their weapons and armor and take control of some mines for the order. That worked out really well and for the past hundred years their ships have been cruising the Inner Sea to take over any town that has something which they want but would be too expensive to buy, recruiting whoever wants to join their army. The sages of the order do not approve at all, but their opinion has stopped mattering to the warrior monks a long time ago and many of them have never been to any of the original monastery towns.
- In the North Falden and kaas clans have been fighting for control over copper and tin mines for a very long time, and very often they are trying to drive each other out of the region entirely. When they think their rival clans are getting too strong and could become a threat, they raid each other for loot with which they can pay allies to fight at their side. (Which doesn’t mean that kaas are never raiding other kaas or Falden never other Falden, but kaas and Falden never ally with each other.) Since the Falden have the most trouble with the warrior monks, the kaas have a quite high oppinion of them.
- The Demon Hunters are mostly Takari who have special mystical training to fight demons and sorcerers and always travel the Inner Sea to fight and destroy them. That makes Takari very unpopular with the Neshanen and enemies of the naga. Since the Mayaka also hate the naga, they sometimes are trained as demon hunters as well, as do some Vandren. However, since they use sorcery to destroy demons, the Falden Druids see them as no better than sorcerers who use demonic magic for their own benefit.
That should provide enough hate to last for countless stories and adventures. No need for a timeline or the lives of any specific heroes.