Good artists borrow, great artists steal – Laying the foundations for the Ancient Lands

When I started working on the Ancient Lands, I wanted of course to create a world that contains many of the things I already love in other settings, but would wish to be more explored or developed a bit differently. Not all the things I love, because that doesn’t really lead to consistend and belivable world, but rather to a mess of randomly thrown together pieces. But still a selection of a good amount of things from my favorite settings that I have come to love a lot. Here, I want to provide an overview of the major geographic areas of the Ancient Lands and the works that inspired them. These don’t cover the whole world, or even the whole continent, but are the selection I made for those regions I want to develop in detail, while leaving the rest simply untouched. There’s something there, of course, but I don’t know what it would be either.

  • Cold North: The cold north is the region at the very northern edge of the Ancient Lands bordering the arctic ocean. It’s open tundra and evergreen taiga, mostly inhabited by a human tribe with pale skin and brown hair, who live primarily from hunting, fishing, and reindeer herding. Some wood elves, gnomes, and kaas also have a few settlements there. There is only one major port where almost all trade in and out of the region passes through. A few of the clans are led by warlock-shamans who use their demon powers for ice magic.
    The region is inspired a lot by northern Finland, but also Icewind Dale from Forgotten Realms and the port by Luskan, while the local people take much of their style from the land of Forochel as it is shown in Lord of the Rings Online.
  • Northwest: The northwest lies in the northern- and westernmost part of the map and is the homeland of the kaas. It’s mostly subarctic forest and open moors. I don’t have too many ideas for it right now, but Skyrim inhabited by orcs seems to be a good starting point. The landscape and climate of Norway should also fit quite well.
    There is however also one big castle of wood elves, a bit like Rivendell in Lord of the Rings, but heavier fortified and more suited to the rough and cold environment.
  • Witchfens: The witchfens are a large and cold wetland that sits right between the Cold North, the Northwest, the Lake District, and the Great Forest. They are inhabited by a small population of relatively primitive and poor humans, who have both great fear and great respect for spellcasters, and are often controlled by warlock-witches. Hags and wyverns are also common in the region*. They take much inspiration from the planet Dathomir from the Star Wars novels, but also from the few glimpses of the Kokari Wilds and their Chasind people seen in Dragon Age.
  • Lake District: A good distance from the Cold North and on the eastern coast of the Ancient Lands, the water from the boggy Witchfens drains into numerous rivers and lots of lakes. The geography is of course heavily inspired by southern Finland and Karelia, as well as Scottland and Denmark (where I spend a lot of vactions both as a child and later). Lot’s of light forests and sandy plains, typical glacial landscape. It’s overall a very baltic inspired region (though not so much vikings) and primarily inhabited by wood elves, but also some humans who have come from the south, and a few gnome minning camps. I’d like to make this region my personal version of the Moonlands/Silver Marches from Forgotten Realms, and a few days ago I happened to find an old forum post somewhere, where someone was ranting that Silverymoon was way too good to be true and it must by a city run by hyppocrites who try to ignore the struggles of the little people. I actually like that idea and use that as my starting point for the major port city in the region. (Thanks Mister Silver Marches Hater.) My current campaign takes place in the Lake District near the beginning of the Witchfens.
  • Great Forest: The great forest as a whole is just massive. It’s like the High Forest from Forgotten Realms dialed up to eleven. It covers almost half the dry land on the map of the Ancient Lands and is mostly unexplored and sparsely inhabited. Of course, trying to cover all of it in a campaign setting would be silly, so I will probably focus on the parts bordering the Northwest, the Lake District, and the Elven Coast, which are the places where most of the exploration of the forest will start. Visually, I am thinking of course of Canada, Washington, and Oregon, but also the forest of California that look great as Endor in Star Wars. It’s Endor for thousands of miles in every direction. (But without ewoks.) The aforementioned High Forest but also Mirkwood from Lord of the Rings are also sources of inspiration.
  • Elf Coast: I use the term now only because the area is the location of the two largest elven cities. One is a large city of druids in the more populated parts of the great forest, while the other one is a major port city build on and partly into a cliff, and is ruled by aristocratic elven sorcerers. About one third of the region is forest (the southeast part of the great forest), one third mountains that seperate it from the Lake District in the north, and the rest small islands along the coast. The sorcerer city is inspired by a part in the backstory of warcraft, in which the queen of the night elves became a warlock and surrounded herself with other aristicratic mages, which eventually ended with a big war against the druids. The warlock-druid conflict also takes elements from the Defilers-Preservers of Dark Sun, and of course the old Jedi and Sith from the Knights of the Old Republic era. Since it’s a good distance south from the Lake District, I am thinking of a warmer and maybe mediterranean climate. I think I’ll be looking into the Black Sea region for ideas for the landscape, that might work. (Forests of California could also help here.)
  • Cliff Coast: The cliff coast is the connection between the northern Ancient Lands described above, and the southern Ancient Lands, that are more tropical. The coast is mostly cliffs while the land itself is dominated by rocky hills and a few large wetlands. I think I am envisioning something like Italy. The area around Naples should really fit very well. (Again, I was there on vacation three times.) This is the region where the human migrants have primarily settled and their largest cities lies inside a number of huge connected sinkholes that have access to caves that are open to the sea. Alongside the human residents there are visitors and merchants from all the other major races, but the real power in the city are a group of demons bound into huge crystal formations deep below the ground. These demons are fascinated by life in the material world and its inhabitants, but don’t want to cause destruction by their presence, so they had themselves bound to the crystals to contain their corrupting auras. They are still demons though and no angles by any degree, but they leave administration of the city mostly to a human council. One of the demons is the leader of an order of witchhunters, who are trained in demon magic to hunt and destroy warlocks who let demons lose on the world and use their powers without concern for the corruption they cause to the world around them. They are fighting fire with fire though, which doesn’t make them hugely popular. The idea is mostly from some early info I read about Cocoon and the L’Cie from Final Fantasy XIII (though what happened in the actual game is quite different from what I went to develop with that basic hook), but I also like the structure of the orc city Ogrimmar in World of Warcraft, which is build into the walls of a canyon maze.
  • The Islands: The islands lie a considerable distance of the shores of the Elf Coast, the Cliff Coast, and the South Coast. I’d like to pick up the idea of aristicratic voodoo elves from Eberron, but I don’t have anything really specific yet. Also a big nasty pirate haven much like Omega from Mass Effect 2. (With a dark elf thief/mage as ruler.)
  • The South Coast: The South coast is a subtropical region that is home to lizardfolk and dark elves. With that region, I want to pick up and develop the idea if Illythiir, the native homeland of the dark elves in the Forgotten Realms. More inspirations are taken from Dambrath (kind of a successor realm ruled by half-drow who live aboveground) and also Stygia from the world of Conan. Xen’drik from Eberron also plays into it.
  • The Far South: The far south are the endless jungles that lie beyond the South Coast. There it’s all lizardfolk and naga. The largest center of lizardfolk power is a huge temple city inspired by Angkor in Thailand who overthrew the naga overlords many generations ago, but many naga lords still rule over their citadels in the jungles, many of which are very powerful sorcerers. I think there’s much room to nip some things from Dark Sun. There’s also a large population of dark elves, which take many inspirations from Eberron.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *