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.

Ancient Lands: Spirits

In the Ancient Lands are several other world than the one which is home to the humanoid races, but compared to many other setting, the entirety of all these realms is relatively simple. There are three main realms: The Material World and the Spiritworld, which form a pair of two mirroring, but not quite identical realms, and the Void, the endless and eternal space that lies beyond them. The Material World and the Spiritworld are not eternal or unchanging, and there might be countless others like them far out in the Void. This even seems very likely, though nobody has ever been able to find anything that would prove it.

Worlds

The Material World: It’s the world of physical matter and mortal creatures. By itself this matter is lifeless and inanimate, but both the forces of nature and the spirits if all living things are maintained by life energy that comes from the Spiritworld. Most of the Material World is an almost empty space in which countless numbers of stars and planets exist. Many of which are lifeless rocks, but there could still be many thousands covered in plants and wildlife. However, even the most powerful magic rituals can not allow a person to travel between them.

Spiritworld: On a first glance, the Spiritworld seems almost identical to the Material World and might even appear indistinguishable from it until obvious signs of its magical nature are encountered. However, in reality the Spiritworld consist entirely of magical life energy that takes solid forms almost, but not completely mirroring the environments of the Material World. Every tree, mountain, and lake has a counterpart in the Spiritworld, even though they might not look the same or be in exactly the same places. Events that affect the spirits of a place might be invisible in the Material World, but can lead to severe changes in the Spiritworld. Animals and humanoids are the exception, as their spirits exist entirely in their material bodies and is separate from the Spiritworld. Furthermore, all natural forces are much more powerful, including the strength of wind, the heat of the sun, and so on. This makes travels to the Spiritworld highly dangerous to mortal beings, as their bodies are not made to deal with such forces.

Underworld: The Underworld is not actually a separate realm of existence, but rather a different region of the Spiritworld. While what most people are calling the Spiritworld is the mirror image of the surface world, the Underworld are those regions that are mirroring the inside of the planet. Since the Spiritworld is not an exact match of the Material World, there are vast systems of interconnected tunnels and caverns that have conditions that could be survived for extensive amounts of time by mortal creatures with magical protections.

The Void: The Void is quite unlike any of the other realms. It’s the space that exist outside of the universes, and concepts of time and distance have no meaning there. While physical matter can be brought to the Spiritworld and Spirits manifest in the Material World, matter can not exist in the Void and is confined to its own universe. However, the Void does have energy and some sorcerers have managed to separate their souls from their bodies and take short peeks into the Void. At the beginning of the universe, an infinitly small fraction of the Voids energy started to form into matter, creating with it space and time, and eventually all life as it exists now in the Ancient Lands. Eventually, after billions of years, space, time, and all matter will again disintegrate into the primordial energies it was made from and return to the Void. This has happened countless times before, and will happen countless times again. Not just one universe at time, but a potentially infinite number, as the Void has no beginning and no end.

Continue reading “Ancient Lands: Spirits”

Humanoids of the Ancient Lands

In the Ancient Lands, there are five main humanoid races that make up most of civilization in the setting, as well as five minor ones who live at the periphery in much smaller populations. This number doesn’t seem very low, but when you start counting monster races like orcs and goblins, a great number of settings have several dozens of intelligent humanoid peoples, with some even well exceeding 50. And once you also include other intelligent and mostly people-like looking spirits, demons, and undead, the numbers are getting much higher than even that very quickly. So with the Ancient Lands setting, I decided to really keep the numbers as low as I can get them while still including all the archetypes I like. Which actually wasn’t as difficult as I expected, since a lot of classic fantasy creatures are just very slightly different variations of the same idea. Merging trolls, ogres, and hill giants back togther takes no effort at all, and the result of fusing dwarves, halflings, gnomes, goblins, and faeries into a single creature actually got me a very interesting and fresh result.

Main Humanoid Races

Lizardmen: The Lizardmen are the dominant race of the Southern Jungles and Islands, with smaller isolated groups being found on islands and in marshes as far north as the Burning Mountains. They are on average a head taller than humans or elves and often weight twice as much, but some populations are of much more slender build. While not particularly fast or agile on land, they are very good swimers and divers and most often make their homes directly at the water. As the other races are concerned, lizardmen show few emotions or individual personalty and seem generally somewhat dull, but in reality they are not any less intelligent. The cultures of the lizardmen are among the oldest in the Ancient Land, with many of their realms predating even the earliest elven kingdoms. However, the people of most major cities consider the lizardmen to be stuck in the past and having reached the limit of their abilities. While many of the outlying tribes do indeed have no writing or barely any metal, the major cities hidden deeper in the jungles are just as advanced as any elven kingdoms.

Elves: The elves of the Ancient Lands are similiar in height to humans but tend towards more slender stature, with slightly pointed ears and large eyes. They can live well over 300 years, but a great number of them only reaches half that age due to disease, accident, or war. Elves have been living in the massive forests of the north for a very long time, but their oldest major settlements go back only 2,000 years. Most of their large cities in existance today are just over 400 years old, quite young compared to the ancient centers of lizardmen civilization. The elves of the North are often called wood elves, while a smaller group that lives in the Southern Jungles with the lizardmen is known as dark elves. Wood elves have brown skin and dark brown to black hair, while dark elf skin is ash gray and their hair ranges in shades from light gray to white and pale blond. Light hair colors in wood elves and humans almost almost indicate some dark elven ancestry. Elves are more closely related to humans than to any other humanoid people of the Ancient Lands and children of mixed heiritage are not unusual.

Humans: Until just a few centuries ago, humans were very rare in the Ancient Lands. Only two small isolated populations exist in the Far North and the Southern Islands, and they are so different in appearance that for a long time few people were aware that they were of the same race. Humans became one of the major humanoid people in the Ancient Land when elves started to trade with the lands far to the west and hired local human mercenaries to guard their caravans from hostile elven clans on the way back home to the coast. Eventually this practice led to a mass migration of human clans from the west, which are collectively known as the Vandren. A second, much smaller group of the same human people had migrated north a few centuries earlier and settled down in the Witchfens for unknown reasons. Only in recent years, with some Vandren traveling north along the coast from their new home in the Grasslands, have members of these two groups encountered each other again, and they generally don’t consider each other kin.

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Forget about creation myths

At the Giant in the Playground forum, I regularly take a look at the first outlines people have written for their own fantasy settings, either for RPG campaigns or other things like novels or webcomics. And much more often than not, these outlines start with how the gods created the universe, some war of the primordials, and the interference from hell. Which isn’t a completely stupid idea. When wondering where to start, why not start at the beginning? But I think in practice this approach to creating your own fantasy world is a rather poor one and won’t really get you anywhere.

god-creationEffective worldbuilding does not start at the beginning, but at the end. Unless you are creating a world just for the fun of creating a world, you have some kind of specific purpose for your world in mind, and usually also some general idea for it’s style. When worldbuilding is a means to an end, then it’s really the end where you should start. First think what kind of world you want to have at the end of your timeline. Think what climate you want to have, what kinds of people inhabit the world, what forms of societies and cultures there will be, and what the major themes will be around which the adventures of the characters will revolve. Only when you have established these things does it make sense to think about the origin of the world and the mythology around it.

Continue reading “Forget about creation myths”