Into the Ancient Lands: The Barbaripedia

After a lot of work of getting everything set up (and learning a lot about writing css-code), I finally got the Barbaripedia up and running as intended.

logoSince I’ve always been working entirely for non-profit and it also is a convenient way to get all the material written down in an orderly way, I am putting everything up online for everyone to read.

The first mostly completed pages are already up, covering the overview for both humans and elves.

Since I just got everything set up, there surely is still lots of room to improvement, so if you have any thoughts of any kind, I’d be more than happy to hear them.

The Ancient Lands in 20 questions

I saw a link to Jeff’s Gameblog with a list of 20 questions meant to create a quick introduction to your campaign setting that lets people know what it is about. Seems like a good idea to go through them with my Ancient Lands setting.

  1. What is the deal with my priests’s religion?
    Most priests are shamans who serve as mediators between the spirits of the land and the people who inhabit it. They perform the rituals to ask the spirits for favor and to appease them when they have become angered by something. Many villages have one primary spirit they worship, which rules over the valey the people live in or a mountain or lake that sits next to it, but shamans are not servants of any one particular spirit. Instead they see to it that all the spirits cause no harm to the village by performing rituals and sacrifices for them, and banish hostile spirits that come to the village to cause chaos. In some of the large cities, there are also local cults dedicated to specific gods like the Sun or the Moon, who are revered as great guides of wisdom and philosophy.
  2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
    Most villages don’t have stores were equipment is sold, but its usually no problem to trade for supplies if the locals are friendly. Many villages make their own axes, spears, and arrows, but shields, armor, and swords are usually made in larger central towns where the people from the surrounding villages come to trade for them.
  3. Where can we go to get plate armor custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
    There is no plate armor in the Ancient Lands. The best places to get custom made large mail hauberks or lamellar armor is in the mountain strongholds of the skeyn, a race of short grey-green goblin-like people. Another option might be to try one of the handful of large port cities on the coast, which are big enough to have specialized craftsmen for more unusual trades.
  4. Who is the mightiest mage in the land?
    The greatest sorcerer in the Ancient Lands is probably the immortal Naga-Lord in the jungles far to the south, beyond the lands of the lizardmen. Few people have heard of him or know really anything about him and he never leaves his distant homeland, but his agents and those of other naga sorcerers sometimes show up in the most expected places, though most are probably never discovered as such.
    The second most powerful would likely be the Sorcerer Queen of the city state Ven Marhend, where many nobles practice the dark arts of sorcery in the open without fear of attack from druids or demon hunters.
  5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
    Most people consider the Sun Emperor of the lizardfolk empire to be the greatest warrior in the Ancient Lands. In his current position he almost never gets to test his strength in battle, but he was chosen by the priests of the sun to be the most capable warrior in the empire. In recent years, the Lord-General of the order of warrior monks has become the most successful and feared conqueror of the Ancient Lands, who turned the army of his predecessors from one among many into one of the major powers of the Ancient Lands.
  6. Who is the richest person in the land?
    This would most certainly be either the Sun Emperor or the Naga-Lord who have almost full control over all the riches of their lands. But in the lands of the elves and humans, there are many highly succesful merchants in the port cities who are believed to be fabulously rich as well.
  7. Where can we go to get some magical healing?
    Most village shamans know some healing magic and would likely be willing to share it with guests and travelers, unless the people of their village need it more. But to someone who is from an enemy clan or suspected to be allied with them would have a very hard time to get any kind of help.
  8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, death, undeath?
    Poisons, diseases, and minor curses can be dealt with by most shamans and witches. For more severe dark magic and the powers of undeath, the loose order of the druids is well known to have studied these dark forces and is dedicated to fight and eradicate them.
  9. Is there a magic guild my mage belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
    The two largest and most influential groups of mages and shamans are the druids, who opperate throughout most of the Ancient Lands, and the noble sorcerers of Ven Marhend and the towns and mannors that surround the city. The two are bitte enemies though, and have completely opposing views about the dangers and potential benefits of sorcery. There are also numerous small and secretive groups of warlocks, but even most sorcerers consider them insane for consorting with demons.
  10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
    In most places, shamans and witches are the best place to look for alchemical brews and the knowledge of sages. Other experts are probably more likely to be found in the larger towns, but if one needs someone of very great skill, the handful of large port cities are the only place where one could reliably hope to find them.
  11. Where can I hire mercenaries?
    To fight a dangerous nearby threat, a dozen or two additional armed men can be found in almost any village, but these would only fight to defend their home from an immediate danger. To find warriors for hire one would have to go to one of the larger towns and try the taverns around the market, but the possible choices are usually few and of questionable reputation as few warriors have any reason to leave their home villages and fight for pay. When in need of large numbers of elite mercenaries, the Warrior-Monks are always looking for reasons to fight something, though they come very expensively.
  12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
    In any place where the local shamans are known to be involved with the order of druids, sorcerers are very much advised to keep their special arts hidden and pretend to be common witches. The druids are very quick to eradicate any trace of sorcery they find and few people would try to get in their way. Naga and serpent warriors found in the lizardfolk empire are usually killed on sight or captured to be interrogated and executed later.
  13. Which way to the nearest tavern?
    Most villages don’t have a tavern, but large gatherings are in the great halls of the clan chiefs almost every night and guests of the clan are always expected to spend their evening there to share new and tales. In larger towns, taverns and small inns are usually found near the market. In the port cities numerous taverns line the harbor, but more are found almost everywhere inside the city walls.
  14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?
    Most of the Ancient Lands is wilderness and most of the wilderness is full of monsters. Sometimes these wander dangerously close to villages and each clan has warriors who watch out for them as much as for warriors from enemy clans. The most dangerous beasts likely to be encountered are wyverns, manticores, and various sea monsters, which often can be much to powerful for most common warriors, shamans, and witches.
  15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?
    There is always something brewing between the High Druids of Angdal and the Sorcerer Lords of Ven Marhend and the region between these two major power is constantly seeing some small scale fighting that occasionally grows into short wars. To the Warrior-Monks war is their life, and wherever companies of them are going there is most likely to be some big fighting to be found. The worst fighting tends to be in the jungles between the armies of the Sun Emperor and the Naga Lords, but both sides usually take only lizardmen into their forces. Hunting pirates on the Inner Sea is also always an option.
  16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?
    No, not really.
  17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?
    The two best known factions are the druids and the sorcerers who have been at odds for ages. The druids are dedicated to fighting the use of sorcery and the corrupting effects it has on the land and the people that live on it and will stop at nothing to destroy the presence of any demons that have been lured into the world by the use of sorcery either accidentally or on purpose. The sorcerers of Ven Marhend believe that the study and mastery of these can create magical wonders far beyond those of common witches and won’t allow the frightened druids to stop them. The much smaller faction of the demon hunters agrees with the druids that all demons have to be destroyed, as well as those sorcerers who take the path of the warlock and make deals with them, but they think that the best way to fight demons is to fight them with their own sorcerous magic. The little bit of magic corruption they cause is a small price compared to what would be left in the wake of a rampaging demon. The Naga Lords are another group of sorcerers who have always been rivals of the Sorcerer Lords of Ven Marhend and the two groups are constantly trying to send spies and assassins at each other and to gain control over burried magical secrets from ancient times before the other find them.
  18. What is there to eat around here?
    Most people live in small villages that grow most of their own food, which to a great part is wheat, rice, and potatoes. Most villages are small and remote enough to provide plenty of food by hunting in the forests and hills, which are full of deer, boars, rabbits, and geese. Sheep and goats are also commonly kept in small herds and when human nomads from the steppes in the west settled in the Ancient Lands a few generations ago they also brought with them cows. In the jungles and southern islands there are plenty of fruits, while in the north it’s mostly berries, apples, pears, and plums.
  19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
    Ancient treasure left behind from the times when the fey ruled the world are the most prized things to be found anywhere in the Ancient Lands. While not exactly common, there are countless burried and overgrown ruins scattered throughout the massive stretches of unexplored wilderness and every small clan chief will sacrifice almost everything to get his hands on some. Especially if this keeps their enemies from getting them instead. The hunt for these ancient treasures is the main reason that drives warriors to explore the wild and that makes chiefs to send their best warriors and scouts to explore the surrounding wilds.
  20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with a huge treasure?
    Gold and jewels have little value to beasts and spirits, but those left behind by the few thousands of years ago are usually found deep in the ruins of their ancient castles and cities, which are often full of strange and very dangerous beasts not usually found near settled areas. Only a few of these ruins are well known and finding them in the trackless wilderness is a difficult challenge in itself. But even these usually have never been explored in full and there is no telling what might still be hidden in the deeper chambers. The best finds are usually made in those ruins that have never been seen by mortal eyes before and are located in the most unreachable parts of the great forests or mountains.

We are not using the Z-Word!

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the concept of Evil in my Ancient Lands setting. It got me thinking about how a story or series of stories can be given its own distinctive character by deciding what words and concepts don’t exist in their worlds. Even longer back, I also remember reading an article about a writer saying he doesn’t use the word “damn” in his story because in that world there is no damnation that could await people. And it does not make sense in a Legend of Zelda game when a character says “Gee, it sure is boring around here”, because “Gee” is Jesus. Selectively not using word is probably something that readers are very unlikely to actively notice unless they are specifically looking out for it. But I think a great number of readers will at least sense it unconscously. So I’ve been thinking some more on other words I don’t want to use in my writing.

"Why not?" "Because it's ridiculous!"
“Why not?”
“Because it’s ridiculous!”

Zombie: The original Z-word. In the world I am using there are the corpses of the dead which get animated by magic and wander around attacking the living. But these are not created by some kind of plague or being altered by a wizard, but are possessed by evil hostile spirits. They can be mostly intact or nothing more than skeletons or anything in between. While not terribly smart or displaying any real motivations, they still think. They are still very much like zombies, but they are also quite different from the common movie-zombie. Also, a zombie is something the readers know and are familiar with, and within the world of the story the walking dead are so rare that almost no character will ever have encountered them. If I call them zombies, the readers will think the protagonist thinks of them as zombies and therefore assume these are not really anything to worry about for an experienced hero. If the protagonist is surprised and does not quite know what he’s dealing with, then the reader should feel the same and that just won’t happen if they are described as zombies.

Hell, hellish: Something can not look hellish, like Hell, or like from hell if there is no place called Hell and the people in the stories have no concept of such a place.

Ghost: Still not entirely certain about this, but I think I want to avoid using the word ghost. Those are those white glowing souls of the dead with unfinished business they have to complete before they can depart. In a world that is highly animistic, the default world for an incorporeal being would be “spirit”. In case the spirit is actually a dead person, I prefer the words Shade or Wraith. Like the zombies, it keeps readers a bit uncertain what exactly it is.

Soul: Like Evil, the word soul comes with a lot of preconcieved bagage. If the life energy of a person is not immortal and going to remain what it is in some form of afterlife, the term soul seems misleading to me.

Sin: Another word that really works only in a christian context. The best analogue in an animistic world would be taboo.

Wizard: I never use the term wizard. It always reminds me too much of scholars with libraries of arcane tomes and magic wands. Since that’s not in any way similar to what these people are in my stories, I always call them sorcerers or witches or something like that.

Fire!: This is admitedly pendantery. But arrows and catapults are not fired.

(And yes, I know. I need to find some other names for Ghost Paint and Soul Stones.)

Magic items in fantasy fiction

Long before I even started to consider serious fiction writing, I’ve been running roleplaying games for years. And in many games, things like magic swords, magic boots, and flying carpets are a pretty big deal. And when you look at many classic “proto-fantasy” stories and the Lord of the Rings, magic items are everywhere. Every halfway decent god or hero had two or three magic items he acquired over his many adventures by stealing them from villains he defeated.

I am not terribly well read in contemporary fantasy books, but it seems to me that magic items are almost absent these days. And in the Sword & Sorcery of Howard and Leiber they appear to be almost nonexistent. (Moorcock being an exception here, with a prominent magic sword being almost a character in its own right.)

Like monsters, I like magic items, as unfashionable they may be right now. But unlike monsters, I don’t really see how I would include magic items in my stories. It’s not that I can’t get magic items to fit into the world, but that with all my characters and villains, I just don’t see any actual use for them. A normal sword, a normal armor is good enough; as is a normal rope with a grappling hook and you can sneak around just fine without boots of sneakiness or an obscuring cloak.

The one point where I really do like “magic items” is when it comes to alchemy. Potions, poisons, smoke bombs and the like are wonderful stuff. These are quite different from regular magic items in two ways: They can be made by craftsmen and may only be borderline magical, and they are also used up once you use them. After that, you need to get new ones if you want to use them again. Which, again, isn’t that particularly difficult as they are relatively easy to make.

But I think it’s not primarily the “mundanity” of potions and bombs that makes them so much more interesting to me, but rather that they actively do something in a noticable way that makes a lot of difference. Take our default example for half of all fantasy discussions: Frodo Baggins. Frodo has a lot of magic items. A magic sword, magic armor, a magic cloak, a magic light, and of course a magic ring. The armors special ability comes into play only once in the entire story, when Frodo gets hit by a troll. But everything Frodo did was “not die”. His sword is a magic sword, but its most interesting ability is not that it’s super durable, super sharp, and super harmful to monsters or anything like that, but that it glows when orcs are nearby. That this magic item of orc detection is shaped like a sword is really just coincidence that doesn’t actually affect its usefulness. The one time Frodo uses his magic stuff actively is his light. And this is not the item that makes him fight harder, survive longer, and hide better, but the one item that he turns on and aims at an enemy. It’s a much more interesting weapon than his sword really.

And that’s what I like about alchemical items. Any time a character uses one, you really see something dramatic happen. In a story, you probably wouldn’t mention a character taking a sip from a magic potion to heal some bruises and small cuts. Healing potions are for when the character would die without it. Smoke bombs, flash powder, liguid fire, and metal eating acid are things that really change the situation a lot. A potion that protects against fire or cold allows a character to survive in otherwise deadly conditions. They don’t just improve the odds, they enable the character to do completely new things he couldn’t normally do.

Those few ideas I have for genuinely enchanted items go into a similar direction. A magic lantern that shows the way to a magically hidden place for example, or a magic gem that glows in the dark. These are also items that you turn on when you need them to do their thing, but don’t keep running the whole time. I think making a magic item being active makes it a lot more interesting than the item just being sligtly better manufactured than mundane gear.

Forgotten Realms, the North, and the importance of art

Over the past couple of days I was rereading the old Forgotten Realms supplement The Savage Frontier. Released in 1988, it was one of the very early Realms product that expanded upon the original Grey Box set. Waterdeep and the North had been released the previous year and The Savage Frontier greatly expanded the “and the North” content. I got into RPGs and Dungeons & Dragons much later with the Baldur’s Gate videogames and when Neverwinter Nights followed four years later, there was a very active German scene of homemade online games based on that game. And for reasons that always have eluded me, that German scene was almost completely in line with the North sub-setting of the Forgotten Realms. I think there were about a dozen or so big servers and almost all of them had their game world set somewhere in The North. That was before World of Warcraft and we playing online with 20 people in the same game at the same was quite a big deal back then. We played that a lot and I even became one of the admins for the server I played at. Since I was good with the level editor I did quite some work on expanding the game world with new areas and dungeons. And if you think RPG geeks are obsessive about canon and accuracy, remember we were German RPG geeks! So I had to know all the source material inside out! Which I very gladly did.

The 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting was very brief on The North and Silver Marches wasn’t really covering the area we were building on. (Looking back, we were way too obsessed with realism and the world would have been much better if we had skipped all those huge outdoor road maps and focused more on actual adventure sites.) So our main source was the 1996 box set The North for 2nd edition. I also got The Savage Frontier on ebay, but being young and stupid and obsessed with detail, I found it very lacking and much to short and brief and didn’t really pay it any attention. It was kinda cool, but The North is about five times its size and more detail and more up to date information is always better, right?

The past couple of years I’ve been doing quite a lot of work with my own Ancient Lands setting and been doing a lot of research on what other settings did right or wrong, and I also did a complete 180 from d20 games and fully embraced rules light games. Both led me to greatly appreciate the older editions of Dungeons & Dragons and take a more serious look at the 1st edition Forgotten Realms material in particular. And as the very first outline of my Ancient Lands setting was “The High Forest, 4,000 years in the past”, I also came back to The Savage Frontier and gave it another close look.

SavagefrontiercoverAnd I have to say, I now actually greatly prefer it over The North, even though it’s much smaller. But for the last years I never really was sure why I like it more and what it actually does better. Having read the wonderful thread Let’s Read The Known World – ALL of it by Blacky the Blackball and NPCDave, I dug up The Savage Frontier another time to read the whole thing and compare to how things changed in the later versions of the sub-setting I am much more familiar with.

First thing I noticed is that it is really very short. 64 pages plus maps, you can read the whole thing in one go. But at the same time, it is still a complete setting. You could perfectly run a whole campaign with it that runs for years without having the main box set or even knowing anything about the rest of the Forgotten Realms at all. The only thing that is missing are the descriptions of the gods, but these don’t actually play any role in this sub-setting and all you need is a post-it note that tells you which domain each of the listed gods has. This book doesn’t tell you how everything works, it just tells you what it is called, where it is located, and what its purpose it. That really are the most important parts a GM needs to know to be able to create some own content based on it. The exact amount of orcs that inhabit a fortress and the name of their chief and the level of their shaman really are not that important or barely relevant. By letting the GM come up with these things the setting becomes actually more usable. You think it might be a good idea to have the party sneak into a goblin lair and fight their chief? But the PCs are only 3rd level and it says the chief has 12 HD and is always guarded by twenty warriors with 4 HD each, so that’s not really an option. We’re actually better off when these things are left to the GM. As a result, the descriptions of towns, dungeons, and regions are usually very brief, rarely more than a short paragraph or two. The Savage Frontier may be short, but it’s long enough. Continue reading “Forgotten Realms, the North, and the importance of art”

The Ultimate Retro-Pulp Fantasy Setting

A couple of weeks ago me and a few others threw around some random ideas for the Ultimate Retro-Pulp Fantasy Setting. It didn’t get very far, but even with the little we got it’s already a really cool setting I really would like to use for a couple one-shot stories or adventures.

To begin with, we have planet with a giant moon, which is the home to amazons and dark elves, who occasionally come to raid the planet riding on giant space whales.

On the planet there are the evil serpent men and the island empire of Talantis. The Talantians also build air ships, which can fly to the moon as well. There is also the great dragon sorcerer Tyrannosaurus Hex. Hawk Men are one of the minor races that inhabit the planet. There are also giant apes and dinosaurs.

frank_frazetta_thuviamaidofmarsThe moon would be even more hardcore and dangerous and only for experienced heroes. Below the surface live the dangerous Generic Brandâ„¢ Mind Flayers.

Regarding religion, the true gods are totally weird and alien beings from a different plane of reality and beyond human comprehension. There are lots of temples in all the cities, but only the high priests really know what kind of thing they are worshipping. Gods don’t intervene and don’t reveal themselves to normal people.

Colossal stone bodies cover the landscape and are the remains of titans, who were very powerful, but not true gods. There also is no real difference between a sorcerer and a priest, their magic is all the same thing.

Based on all these things, the tech level for weapons and armor would best be Antiquity. No knights in plate armor or samurai, or anything like that. That means chainmail, dragonhide, breast plate, and boob plate.

Magic of the Ancient Lands: Ghost Paint and Soulstones

Ghost Paint

The dark elves of the tropical jungles in the south make a special paint from chalk and various plants and minerals with alchemical properties that is used to draw runes on the bodies of their warriors. These runes draw energy from the spirits of the clan and the jungles they inhabit to give the warriors strength and protection. The runes can be created at different degrees of complexity, with the fully completed patterns being the most powerful ones.

Least runes are very simple and only a couple of lines and can be done in a minute. Shamans apply a few of these to themselves every morning and when going to war all the warriors are given some to protect them in battle. Even apprentice shamans can do these and scouts patroling the borders of the clans territory are often given one or two by an apprentice before leaving the village.

Lesser runes are used much more limited and are only given to special people, like senior shamans, leaders of warbands, or scouts send into enemy territory. They take 10 minutes to create and can give the person significantly increased strength, reflexes, and perception.

Greater runes take one hour to make and are therefore only used for very special situations like shamans summoning a very dangerous spirit, chiefs leading their warriors into battle, or clan champions fighting an important duel. They can give a person inhuman strength and endurance and require a great deal of magic power from the shaman that creates them.

True runes are the most powerful patterns that can be made. They take several hours to make and a very experienced shaman, but when completed they allow a spirit to take full possession of the person as its avatar. The possessed person becomes incredibly powerful, but it is widely believed that any person who has once been possessed this way could become possessed again without summoning the spirit god and then it would not be bound by any contract made with a shaman. Therefore anyone who had been given a true rune must be slain after the possession ends.

Soulstone

A soulstone is a gem or piece of bone that has been carved with many symbols that serve as clues how one could find the place where they were originally made and to which clan it belongs. A soulstone is given to any members of a Vandren clan who leave the clans ancestral homeland and serves as an anchor for the owners soul in case he should die on his journey. If a Vandren dies while in possession of his soulstone, his soul will retain its form for far longer before completely fading into the spiritworld. If the soulstone is returned to his clan, the spirit will follow it and can be laid to rest by the clan shaman in the village shrine. It is believed that the shrines in the center of Vandren villages is a source of spirit power that allows any newborn children in the village to gain some of the strength and courage of their ancestors. If a Vandren would die far away from the clan, his power would be lost to them, but with a soulstone at least some of it can be recovered even long after the person has died and his spirit almost entirely faded away.

Clans will always give very great rewards for anyone who returns a soulstone to the shrine regardless of the circumstances of its recovery. Getting the strength and courage back which has been with their ancestors for generations is more important than any indignity of paying a scoundrel or greedy treasure hunter. Sometimes soulstones pass through several hands before they reach their final destination, as it is well known that they can be turned into gold and silver eventually. The easier the clan indicated by the engravings is to identify and the closer its current location, the more valuable they are. Some highly dispicable warriors collect the soulstones of the enemies they have slain and keep them as amulets to claim their power for themselves. To almost any other halfway decent folks this is one of the most horrible things that could be done to an enemy and absolutely without any honor. Anyone with at least some shred of honor will see that the soulstones of fallen enemies are returned to their clan.

Speak no Evil, see no Evil, hear no Evil, do no Evil

640px-Four_wise_monkeysReading a recent post from Bat in the Attic on the never ending topic of alignment in Dungeons & Dragons, one part did get me thinking:

What is good and evil? That is something each referee has to define. There is no right answer, my only firm recommendation is that there is answer and that it is consistent.

I had taken numerous classes on Asian philosophy and religion at university and one of the most interesting observations was that the concepts of Good, Evil, and Sin, as we are using them in European thinking and languages, don’t really apply in other parts of the world. They are frequently used in translations of Indian, Chinese, and Japanese texts, but such translations are both incorrect and misleading.

So why, instead of simply using mechanics as a rule in an RPG, not even taking the additional step and having a world in which not even the very concept of Evil exist at all? The concepts of Good and Evil assumes that there are universal rules, which can be followed or broken, and which have been put into place by some higher authority that is universally aknowledged to have the legitimacy to do so. This makes sense within Western and Islamic thought, where such a legitimized higher authority is assumed by default, even subconsciously by most people who rationally reject the notion. But in most fantasy worlds this is not the case and all you have is multipe higher powers that propose different views of morality and whose existance is universally accepted, even if most people chose to follow only the ideals of a specific deity. But without a single universal authority, you can’t have universal rules. Trying to enforce some kind of objective notion of Good and Evil seems arbitrary at best, and entirely inconsistent at worst.

Which is not to say that the majority of humans throughout human history did not have any notions of right and wrong. In Asian models of thinking you often find a related, but different concept of Beneficial and Harmful. In particular, beneficial and harmful for the pursuit of peace and harmony. Something that is harmful might not be considered evil, and some things that are good might not be beneficial. The concepts behind the monkes are of course not “see no Evil” and “hear no Evil”. The actual meaning is “do not watch harmfully, do nor listen harmfully, do not think harmfully, and do not act harmfully”. Yes, you can watch and listen harmfully. Being a spectator to bloodsports and public torture may not be Evil, as you’re not performing any evil deeds, but you still darken and corrupt your mind.

So why not have a fantasy setting in which Good and Evil do not exist. Not only not as forces, but also not even as concepts? In a roleplaying game, especially when you are running one in a homebrew setting, this is probably very hard to communicate to the players. But I think it might be a really interesting thing to attempt in my fiction writing. Most people would probably not notice it, especially in a Sword & Sorcery setting where things tend to get quite dark by default. But completely avoiding the use of the word “evil” really shouldn’t be difficult at all.

Historians suck at naming things

“Historians/Archeologists suck at naming things” is kind of an old joke, but when it comes to Star Wars it’s even worse. Much, much more worse. Things are certainly not helped by the fact that it’s always the same four groups fighting the same conflict over and over. But seriously, how much more terrible could writers possibly be at naming these wars?

  • Great Hyperspace War: 5,000 BBY; Jedi and Republic vs. Sith
  • Great Sith War: (also known as First Sith War) 3,996 BBY; Jedi and Republic vs. Sith and Mandalorians
  • Mandalorian Wars: 3,964 BBY; Jedi and Republic vs. Mandalorians
  • Jedi Civil War: (also known as Second Sith War) 3,958 BBY; Jedi vs. Sith
  • Sith Civil War: 3,956 BBY; Jedi vs. Sith vs. Sith
  • Great Galactic War: (also known as Republic-Sith War or Great War) 3,681 BBY; Jedi and Republic vs. Sith
  • Cold War: 3,653 BBY; Jedi and Republic vs. Sith
  • Galactic War: 3,642 BBY; Jedi and Republic vs. Sith and Mandalorians
  • New Sith War: (also known as Jedi-Sith War) 2,000 BBY; Jedi and Republic and Mandalorians vs. Sith
  • Mandalorian Civil War: 60 BBY; Mandalorians vs. Mandalorians
  • Clone Wars: (could be called Galactic Civil War) 22 BBY; Jedi and Republic vs. Sith and Republic
  • First Galactic Civil War: 2 BBY; Jedi and Republic vs. Sith/Empire
  • First Imperial Civil War: 4 ABY; Empire vs. Empire
  • Yuuzhan Vong War: (also known as Great War) 25 ABY; Jedi and Republic and Empire and Mandalorians vs. Yuuzhan Vong
  • Second Galactic Civil War: (also known as New Galactic Civil War) 41 ABY; Jedi and Republic vs. Sith
  • Sith-Imperial War: 127 ABY; Sith vs. Empire
  • Second Imperial Civil War: 130 ABY; Sith vs. Empire vs. Jedi and Republic

Seriously! The fuck?!

Well, I guess that means we should get ready for the New Mandalorian War, the Jedi-Empire War, and the Great Republic War.

Worldbuilding for dummies. First lesson: Don’t do this!

Ancient Lands: Magic

In the world of the Ancient Lands, there is only a single supernatural force at work. Life force, magic, spirits, souls; it’s all the same basic energy that is found inside and between everything. This energy is what gives living creatures their strength and make them grow and heal injuries and disease. It is also what creates the souls of mortal creatures and in places where the energies of the landscape are strong, they manifest in sentient spirits of great power.

The arts of magic are the mastery of the ability to not just call on the life energy within oneself, but to extend ones mental control to the energies around one and even inside other objects and beings. When casting a spell, a mage is sending a ripple through the energies surrounding him to manipulate the energies within creatures and objects to his desire, just as normal people control the energies within their arms and legs. Magic spells can make plants grow or move, split or shove away rocks, create lightning and set things on fire, and even take some control over other creatures thoughts. To be able to manipulate the life force and magical energies at a distance, mages needs to build up a reserve of energy separate from their own life force, which they accomplish by many years of training and meditation. Once this reserve is spend, they can no longer cast any spells until the energies are restored. People who have mastered magic, and creatures that are naturally magical, require almost no effort to regain their spend magical energy. Their energy reserve has become a natural part of their own being and during rest energies from the surrounding environment automatically move in to fill the void and restore the natural balance of energies. Compared to the amounts of energy in the natural world, even the most powerful spellcasters can store only such a small amount that there is no noticable drain of life force in the creatures and plants arround them.

Blood Magic

In the earliest days of the mortal races, the magical abilities of spirits and other magical creatures was not yet entirely understood and the earliest mages did not yet have the ability to create reserves of magical energies to power their spells. But they realized that magical energy and life force is essentially the same and in no other part of a mortal creature is its life force as strong and concentrated as in the blood. Not only could these early mages use the energy in their own blood to cast their spells, they could also use the life force of other living creatures.

When the more common forms of magic were discovered, this blood magic was soon abandoned. The storing of magical energies from the environment is not only much more effective, but also much less painful and gruesome. However, unlike many shamans and witches would like to believe, the traditions of blood mages never entirely disappeared and continued to exist in some small remote places for all the thousands of years. Pure, traditional blood mages are almost unheard of in the present age. The advantages of using the magical energies of the surrounding natural world are just too great for any mage to ignore. But there are still some advantages to blood magic, which allowed the ancient traditions to survive. By drawing the life force from their own blood, blood mages can significally extend their reserves of magical energy and even make their spells stronger and more powerful than they would usually be able to. And by using the life force of other living creatures, blood mages can have access to vast amounts of magical energy for prolonged rituals and large scale magical effects, that would take ordinary mages days or week. Because of the violent and gruesome nature of blood magic, most people regard it as savage and horrific, but contrary to common believes, blood magic itself does not have a corrupting effect on those who use it or are affected by it.

Demonic Energy and Corruption

Outside the natural world that consists of the material world and the Spiritworld exists a realm of infinite time and space that is simply called the Void. Just as there are spirits in the natural energies of the spiritworld there are also beings born from concentrations of the energies of the Void, called demons. When mages learn a way to create a connection to the Void, it allows them to draw some of its energies to their own world and use it as an additional source of magical power in addition to their own. With these energies they can create spells that can not be cast with magical energies of the natural world and it also greatly increases the number of spells they can cast before their reserves are exhausted.
However, the natural world and the Void are realms of completely different laws that are conflicting with each other and bringing energies from the Void into the natural world causes it to become warped and twisted, an effect known as corruption. The demonic energies are toxic to any living things that are affected by it. Mages who have mastered their use can learn to resist its effects and may show only very little signs of the massive exposure they recieve from many years of casting demonic spells. However the land around their homes and lairs becomes significantly affected, making these places hostile to all living things, turning them weak and sick and eventually killing them.

But corruption is not simply a drain of life force, but a warping and twisting of it, and corrupted life force is still able to support life, at least in a manner of speaking. When creatures becomes entirely corrupted but do not simply fall dead, they turn into the undead. Zombies and skeletons are corpses that have become powered by corrupted energy after their death, while those who have never really died become ghouls or wights. In rare cases, a person dies but the corrupted energies that have been part of him continues to exist as a faint afterimage of a creature known as a shadow. When the corruption has been so complete that the soul itself has become corrupted, it continues to exist even after the body has died as a wraith.