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.

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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.

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The Ancient Lands: The lay of the lands

The Ancient Lands lie on the eastern coast of a large continent, which runs approximately from North to South for about 2,000 miles. The northernmost parts, bordering the arctic sea, have a cold climate with long winters and don’t see the sun for about two weeks. The very south is covered by huge jungles experiencing heavy monsoon seasons. Most people live close to the coast and no more than a hundred miles from the sea, with civilization reaching farther inland only along the major rivers that run from the highlands and mountains in the west to the sea in the east. With wind predominantly blowing from the east, ships can relatively easily up the rivers for considerable distances. As there are very few roads in the Ancient Lands, almost all trade and long distance travel is done by ship. Only the caravans that bring goods from the human lands on the plains in the west form a major overland trade route. In addition to the major population centers on the coast, there are also thousands of islands of various sizes, of which a countless number is inhabited by elves, lizardmen, or humans, but an even larger number is completely unsettled and unexplored.

The Far North: In the very north of the Ancient Lands, between the arctic sea and a long mountain range that forms a natural border to the lands in the south, lies the little known homeland of the Mari, a small population of tall humans with pale skin and rich brown hair. While most humans in the Ancient Lands are the descendants of nomads who have arrived from the west only in recent centuries, the Mari apparently have inhabited this land forever and neither elves nor kaas have any legends of their first arrival. There are few trees in the Far North and very little grows during the short farming season, so the Mari live mostly from herding reindeer, hunting elks, seals, and whales, and fishing. Few traders make the long trip over the treacherous seas, but thick animal furs and whalebone are quite valuable in many lands to the south. The Far North is home to many strange spirits unlike those found anywhere else in the Ancient Lands, whose motives are very hard to understand even for experienced shamans and witches visiting from other lands.

The Witchfens: South of the mountains that protect the rest of the Ancient Lands from the worst of the arctic winter lies a large highland of fens and bogs known to the people of the surrounding regions as the Witchfens. Very few people ever go there as there is nothing to be found that would be valuable for trade and is home to all manners of dangerous and hostile spirits. Fog and light rain dominate the weather and during the summer it’s a breeding ground for huge swarms of insects. Despite being regarded as one of the most inhospitable places in the Ancient Lands, it has been home to a secluded group of small human tribes known as the Katra, who have arrived there less than a thousand years ago. While they look similar in appearance to the Vandren who have settled in much larger numbers in the south, and share a somewhat similar language, their culture has become entirely different and they regard each other and strangers. These people live in small villages made from uncut stones with earthen roofs and have only very little metal, which they seem to get mostly from raids on neighboring lands. A peculiar trait of their society is that each clan is not ruled by a chief, but instead only has a first warrior who is loyal to an Elder Witch. The witches are almost all female and are the real rulers of this dreadful land. They don’t leave their homeland and do not accompany the warriors on raids and it is most likely that their special relationship to the spiteful spirits of this land is the true reason why their people have settled there.

Source
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The Western Forests: In the west of the Witchfens the swamps gradually turn into a forest of pines and firs that are part of the huge woodlands that cover most of the Ancient Lands. These forests, together with the northernmost parts of the great plains that lie beyond the western edges of the woodlands, are the homeland of the kaas. These beastmen are taller and stronger than either humans and elves and can wrestle easily with lizardmen – though it is rare that these two peoples meet – and are equally at home in the forests, the plains, and the barren hills they have inhabited for unknown ages. Sometimes they travel along the coast of the arctic sea in boats to trade with the Mari, but there are no roads that connect their distant homeland with the rest of the Ancient Lands. Mercenaries and explorers often travel south to the lands of the Falden and Vandren along old paths, but most of them are impossible to use with carts. To the other people of the Ancient Lands the kaas are a people of strong warriors hailing from a mystical land and they generally seem not inclined to talk a lot about their culture and traditions. There is also a small stronghold of Eylahen elves in the foothills of the northern mountain range, which overlooks the western end of the Witchfens.

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Humans with pointy ears

In Goethe’s probably most famous and classic play Faust, the honest and properly raised Gretchen falls in love with the dashing and intelligent Doctor Faust, but has some concerns about his pursues of alchemy and astrology and the highly suspicious companion he spends much of his time with. Despite all the trust she places in him, she eventually can no longer dismiss her worries and confronts him for the moment of truth: “How is’t with your religion?”

When it comes to fantasy these days, both literature and games, one of the big Gretchen-Questions appears to be “What do you think about nonhuman characters in fantasy?” No matter how you reply, there will always be lots of people all too happy to tell you why you should reconsider your stance. Some think it’s always a bad idea while others really don’t want to have anything to do with works that limit themselves entirely to humans. When it comes to Sword & Sorcery, a lot of people seem to be especially vehemently entrenched in their oppinion that it can’t really be even considered Sword & Sorcery when there are characters who are not humans in it.

One comment I see very often that appears to go for a middle ground is “I am not entirely against nonhuman characters, but they must be more than humans with pointy ears.” They have to be distinctly nonhuman in their nature and behavior or they could just have been humans in the first place. When you see a comment like that, you usually also see a great number of people who can totally get behind that and very much agree with it. But when you look at actual works of fantasy fiction, how often do you really see nonhuman characters that truely think and act completely different than humans do. Dark Sun had the Thri-kreen, a race of large and intelligent insects; Eberron the Warforged, a mass produced type of golem with human proportions build for warfare; and in sci-fi I could think of the Geth, a collective of trillions of programms that group together into artificial intelligences that control all kinds of robot bodies as fits their current needs. But these are a few exceptions out of hundreds and possibly even thousands of fictional types of people that have been made up in the last 100 years, who pretty much all very much fit the mold of “humans with pointy ears” (or horns, green skin, four eyes, or whatever).

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The Ancient Lands: A world of savage heroes and mythical beasts

Some may remember the name of the world from an RPG setting I’ve been working on last year, and which I used for a campaign this summer. With my interest in gamemastering significantly going back, I am now shifting towards trying my hand at writing stories. My current love in fiction is Sword & Sorcery, which conveniently focuses on a format of stories of shorter lengths and serial adventures instead of a single epic story arc, which personally suits me just fine. It seems much more practical for writing as a hobby instead of a profession. The more I looked into the craft of writing, the more it became apparent to me that worldbuilding for stories (be it book or movie) is very different from worldbuilding for a campaign. You can run campaigns in settings originally made for a book or movie, but that’s usually the most interesting for settings that have a lot of stories written for them. You probably wouldn’t run a campaign in the setting of Princess Mononoke, but Star Wars has everything a GM might ever want. In practice, a story setting, even an extremely detailed one, requires much less information on many things than a campaign setting. Even what Tolkien did was overkill, but writing The Lord of the Rings was really just the last thing he did with the world he had originally created just for the fun of creating a world. And in the end, 90% of all that material never gets even mentioned in the novel.

What I am planing to do here is to assemble a big toolbox of elements that I can use in stories and make references to, and also as a background that provides its own story hooks. I often find it a lot easier to come up with a story that involves the Sorcerer Kings of Dark Sun or the Priests of Set from Conans world, something that has to do with the Sith of Star Wars, or a plot dealing with the Daedra of The Elder Scrolls, than to come up with a story in a vacuum. I also find that it makes the stories feel more real. The plot does not just happen for a single reason and everything that is encountered or described in the story is in some way directly connected to the plot.

So what I am doing here with this series of articles is not about making an atlas and travel guide of the world, which enables a GM to pick locations a group of player characters can visit and how long it takes to travel between two points and what areas the journey would cross through. When you write a story, those are things you can just handwave. Maybe the journey took 10 days or 20, maybe they did have to cross a major river or mountain range, maybe not. In a game, those things are important. In a story you simply don’t mention what all happened between two scenes if it’s not relevant for the plot. Maps don’t matter. Instead, this is going to focus much more on the social and cultural side of worldbuilding. How do people from different population live and what is their relationship with each other. Where do they get there food from and what type of clothing do they wear. What technologies do they use in everyday life and what kinds of weapons and armor can they make or trade. These are all things that in most games really don’t matter or ever come up at all. In a story, they can be just as important as the plot, and in many cases have direct impact on the plot. And when a reader notices that there is a connection in a story between two things that have already been mentioned earlier, it makes the story feel a lot more realistic and unique. That’s why worldbuilding for books, movies, and videogames matters a lot. The Ancient Lands setting presented here is very heavily based on the Ancient Lands campaigns I ran in the past, but a lot of it has been shuffled around or been discarded completely, with a good deal of new elements being added to it, that make it a rather different world. Perhaps a bit like how the Forgotten Realms changed between the 3rd and 4th edition of D&D.

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I love 80’s Action Movies

I was born in the mid-80s, and for a very long time I associated the culture of that time primarily with horrible hairsytles and an absolutely appaling sense of fashion. During the 90s everything was so much cooler, but looking back at those years now, I again have to ask “what where we thinking?!” Also, when I got older, I associated 80s movies primarily with dumb, ridiculous action movies. You know, Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Just stupid explosions and lame jokes, with poor excuses for a plot. At that time, I was still too young to watch them and when I finally got around to see them 10 years or so later, but my oppinion of them was not very high.

But now that I am older, and therefore wiser, I see things quite different. Part of it might be simply nostalgia. It reminds me of when I was a kid, and we always kind of like that, even if we were not big fans of it back then. Another factor is plain and simple, that we only remember the best things. Those that were outstanding and so influential that their legacy survived to this day. I am certain there probably hundreds of action movies that were actually really stupid and nothing but explosions and excuse plots. But there also were some really good ones, which now pretty much make up my favorite movies of all time.

  • Alien (1979)
  • The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
  • Outland (1981)
  • Raiders of the Lost Arc (1981)
  • Blade Runner (1982)
  • Conan the Barbarian (1982)
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
  • The Thing (1982)
  • Dune (1984)
  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
  • The Terminator (1984)
  • Enemy Mine (1985)
  • Aliens (1986)
  • Lethal Weapon (1987)
  • Predator (1987)
  • Die Hard (1988)
  • Total Recall (1990)
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

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Primeval Thule Campaign Setting: Having a William Gibson moment

Damn you, Richard Baker! Did you steal my notes?

While browsing around on my continuous search for inspirational material for my Ancient Lands setting, I stumbled on Primeval Thule, a new RPG setting by Richard Baker, David Noonan, and Stephen Schubert that had a Kickstarter last year, but never really got a second glance from me. The final version was completed and released just last month, and with the 272 pages pdf being only 15€, I decided to make the gamble and give it a try without any helpful reviews of it being around it. And it looks good. Really good. You might even say too good!

Just after the first two pages I was starting to get a William Gibson moment. The story goes that Gibson was just in the process of finishing up the last touches on his groundbreaking novel Neuromancer, went he went to the theater and watched an obscure sci-fi movie called Blade Runner. And realized with a shock that he was seeing almost exactly the same thing as his own original and entirely new vision. Primeval Thule looks a lot like the outline for my own Ancient Lands setting on which I have been working for the last four years. A large, mostly unexplored continent of wild forests, where humans have arrived just 300 years ago, finding a world inhabited by the remains of the kingdoms of elves, snakemen, rakshasa, and cyclops, with much older and stranger beings slumbering underground and the weapons and armor technology being primarily bronze. Replace “cyclops” with “mountain giant” and make the elven kingdoms still powerful, and the description matches perfectly with the Ancient Lands as well.

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