New Frontier Map

Yeah, I said I want to start from scratch without reusing old stuff I made for Kaendor.

But I like what I like, and so it does all look pretty similar to older maps. This is a first sketch to get an idea for the general layout and the style I want to evoke with the different cultures.

As can be seen from this map, I am happily ripping off Conan and The Elder Scrolls. And while not shown on the map, there’s also plenty of Eberron and Kenshi in the cities and factions that I have in mind.

Deities & Demons

Couldn’t help myself with the title.

Starting a wilderness and stronghold building campaign setting with supernatural cosmic beings is a bit backwards, but that was one of the first things that popped into my mind and it kept running with it until it quickly turned into something that I think is really solid and might even be final already.

The big inspirations I am drawing from are the ALMSIVI Tribunal and daedra from Morrowind and sorcerer kings from Dark Sun, the Deathless of Aernal and the Inspired of Sarlona from Eberron. Also the demons and soul arts from Demon’s Souls and the Pagans from Thief. Several works that have been mentioned here before plenty of times, but ideas from Demon’s Souls and Eberron in particular are taking things in a quite different direction.

A Concept of Spirit

Both mortal beings and demons are understood to have three different components that make up their existence. A body, a life force, and a mind. As an analogy, the body is like a lamp, the life force is like oil, and the mind is like a flame. Any kind of self is in the flame of the mind. If the body runs out of life force, the flame is extinguished and the individual ceases to exist. However, the life energy of a living creature can be stolen and consumed, either in part or completely.

Many demons feed on the life force of other beings, and consuming the life force of demons is a great source of power to sorcerers. But by adding demonic life force to their own, sorcerers become more demonic in nature itself, even though the change might be outwardly invisible. When draining the spirit from other beings, it is only the life force that is being consumed. If all of a being’s life force is taken, the mind is simply extinguished.

In the analogy of the lamp, ghosts can be regarded as a kind of smoke. There is a direct link to the flame and the nature of the flame affects the appearance of the smoke that lingers, but the original mind already has gone from existence. Ghosts are kke echos instead of a voice.


The natural environment that surrounds mortals and in which they live is both a manifestation and the origin of a universal, supreme divine force. The Divine is in everything and off everything that makes up the natural world and the creatures in it. While the Divine is far beyond mortal understanding and perception, it manifests itself in various aspects known as the gods. These gods are understood to be separate from each other, but also parts of a greater whole that even they can not comprehend in their own limited experience. Mortal cults highly anthropomorphize the gods, appearing humanoid in iconography and behaving like people in myths, to contrast them from the alien strangeness of demons. But ultimately the gods are more like formless forces acting within the ultimate Divine. Individual gods don’t hold domain over specific aspects of the natural world or mortal life, but each of them is believed to have a greater control over certain aspects than others. There is no single god of storms, but there are many gods that are worshiped because of they are believed to have the power to protect people from storms. As a result there is no standardized pantheon shared across all cultures, and the religions practiced in no two temples are exactly the same.


Everything that comes from or exists outside of the natural environment and the powers of the gods is regarded as demons or demonic. Unlike the gods, all demons are physical beings, bound to a single body they can not be separated from, though often not tied to a single specific shape. As a general thing, larger and more alien demons tend to have greater supernatural powers, but their looks can be deceiving. More powerfhk demons have the ability to communicate with their minds across vast distances and even control the minds of lesser beings. But since their minds are a creation of the life force bound within their physical bodies, true demonic possession is impossible. The closest thing to that is sorcerers consuming too much life energy from demons and adding it to their own until they effectively become indistinguishable from demons themselves. But their minds are still the original flame, only know burning a different kind of fuel.

The category of demons includes many kinds of beings that would considered as spirits or fey in other contexts, but they also include incomprehensible, reality-warping leviathans from realms never seen by mortal eyes.


In a number of city states, the traditional worship of the gods has fallen back in importance behind the cults of living god-kings. These powerful monarchs claim that they are physical incrnations or avatars of gods and that they possess great divine powers to repell invading armies and force demons to their will. Though in practice the abilities they display are little difference from those of extremely powerful ancient sorcerers.

Cultural Traditions

Priests perform great rituals and sacrifices to request aid from the gods for protection and prosperity, to which the gods will respond through action in whatever way consider appropriate. The priests themselves possess no magical powers.

Typically, demons are seen as very dangerous, hostile to mortals, and never to be trusted. However, the druidic cults of many barbarian tribes see things as much more complex, with some demons being useful protectors and teachers of magic, and even caring for the people who honor and serve them in their own strange ways. But even druids agree that all demons are extremely dangerous to deal with.

Most sorcerers keep their magical powers secret and instead appear in public as nobles, merchants, alchemists, or scholars. Only the most powerful of them make no efforts to appear as regular people, as they have little to fear from regular people or worry about being bothered by local lords.

To New Frontiers

I started working on the Ancient Lands that eventually evolved into Kaendor around the same time as I was setting up this site nine years ago. Lately I’ve been trying several times to get back on that horse again and continue creating new material for the setting. But I just can’t find the spark that motivated and inspired me to make it, and in hindsight I notice that I haven’t really been that into it for well over a year now. Tinkering with space opera and toying around with ideas how I might do a post-apocalyptic campaign were mostly distractions to keep me creatively occupied, but my real love and passion is for Sword & Sorcery heroic fantasy. And now I feel that Kaendor has probably been done. I’ve been revising and overhauling it several times over the years and even tried to disassemble it and repurpose the pieces for the Shattered Empire to spice things up again. But while I think those ideas were pretty decent, it just never had the joy and excitement that I had in the past. I think now it’s time to start with something really new from scratch. A new fantasy setting tailored to a different type of campaign, with a different set of basic assumptions that serve as the foundations for a new type of world.

Some of the ideas for the new setting might sound very familiar to people who remember reading older stuff I wrote years ago. Mostly they are things that I really wanted to incorporate in the world of Kaendor, but they mostly remained things that I wanted to work in but never really became part of the existing whole. That setting originally began as an attempt to construct a version of the Sword Coast of the Forgotten Realms as it had been 4,000 years in the past, and I guess you just can’t get the DNA of the Fantasyland established by Tolkien and Gygax out after the fact. Which is why I think it really is important to start all over with something really new.

Style Ideas

This is probably were things are most familiar. This mostly is stuff that I’ve been loving for a long time, but which Kaendor never really managed to bring to life. This time I don’t want them to be grafted on, but be foundational elements from which everything else expands.

The new world is an alien and exotic forest moon around a blue gas planet. It is inhabited by numerous big prehistoric beasts like giant reptiles and large insects.

The original great civilization of the world were the naga, and the great empire of the serpentmen once covered much of the continent. But their power has greatly declined and they have been reduced to a permanent state of constant infighting between the serpent lords over the title of emperor.

The lands in the north fell to slave uprisings and barbarian attacks long ago and are now home to several humanoid Bronze Age civilizations. These take rough cultural and aesthetic influences from Indo-Iranian peoples for the main kingdoms and city states, and from Turkic and Baltic peoples for the more barbaric societies.

The humanoid kingdoms are ruled by various god-kings who claim to be immortal and have divine powers to repell naga invaders and force demons to obey their will, but their actual abilities are no different from extremely powerful sorcerers.

Gods are immaterial entities that are different manifestations of a supreme ultimate divine source that is beyond any mortal grasp or comprehension. The gods don’t hold special domain over specific aspects of the natural world or human life, but each of them has strong affinities to various elements. Each community worships a small number of gods who are associated with things that are most important to their lives, and no two temples in the world practice exactly the same religion. Everything supernatural that is not a manifestation of the divine power of the gods is seen as demons or demonic in nature. All demons are physical beings with a permanent body just like mortals, though many can communicate and control with their mind over great distances. Druidic cults among barbarian tribes believe that not all demons are hostile or all magic evil, but they still know that they can be extremely dangerous. Some demons have vague resemblances to wild beasts, but most are very alien in both appearance and minds.

Campaign Concept

I am a strong believer in worldbuilding deaigned specific to purpose. Before putting anything on a map or creating a single location or power, it is necessary to specify what kind of campaign is going to be set in the world and what kinds of things are intended to happen during play. Of course you can always just create a fantasy world according to whatever whims of your fancy at the moment, but this temds to results in settings were anything is possible and nothing is promoted over anything else. But when running a campaign, the group needs to be on the same page on what kind of story the characters are in so that they and the GM can work together instead of against each other. And having the right kind of setting for the campaign can shoulder a huge part of the burden of that job. A purposfully designed campaign setting has content that attracts the players to engage with certain themes and modes of play, and also sets up invisible soft barriers to not drift away too far from the campaign’s focus by not presenting much to interact with outside of its intended scope. A diplomacy and politics campaign doesn’t need much detail about the survival challenges in the wilderness, and it actually helps maintaining the focus when there isn’t really much of interest for the players to do in the forests and hills. So even when the players are free to “do anything”, a purposefully designed world will keep the campaign on focs without the players ever noticing barriers.

For this new setting, the main focus of mode of play that I am aiming for is establishing, expanding, and defending of strongholds in the wilderness. Forbidden Lands already exists as a game system for such campaigns, and the sandbox tools from Kevin Crawford’s Red Tide are also big inspirations to me for populating the surronding environment with various neighbors. A huge inspiration that really got me hooked on the whole idea is of course the videogame Kenshi, which really is very much the same thing in a post-apocalyptic desert.

What I see the campaign to mostly consist of is surviving the dangers and obstacles of the wilderness while trying to gain control over valuable resources and making alliances and deals with other inhabitants of the area for trade and defense against common enemies. Managing the stores of supplies and finances or governing over subjects are aspects of domain play that I find both not very interesting and not really suited for a group game. Conveniently, the mechanics of Forbidden Lands already have a similar focus.

Interactions with the leaders of neighboring settlements being such an importantt part of adventures, establishing different factions with different wants and needs becomes obviously a very important element of the worldbuilding. Players need to be able to quickly understand the demands and negotiating positions of other groups in the area, and easily figure out what kind of group they are dealing with when encountering new people. Of course, everyone having their own secrets and additinal agendas always makes things a lot more interesting. But for the players being able to be proactive in navigating their social environmwnt, the primary conflicts of the big picture should be really easy to grasp. No matter how straightforward and obvious things may seem to a GM who comes up with such things, they are always much less clear to players who only work with fragmentary information and can easily fill in blanks with completely wrong assumptions. When players encounter a new faction, they should immediately have a good picture of who and what they are dealing with, so that they know where to apply their leavers to accomplish something. Even when there are more hidden layers behind it that will become evident only much later. The goal is to make the players think they know what to do to change things to their benefit, and avoid them becoming paralyzed because they don’t understand how everything fits together.

With the focus on negotiating with neighbors, making friends through providing services, and neutralizing hostile leaders and monsters, the world does not need to provide a large number of big dungeons that somehow are still full of treasures that nobody else has looted yet over the centuries. This is probably the biggest difference to the worldbuilding of Kaendor, where the whole history and society was set up specifically to create such an environment. Dungeons and other ruins still have a place in the new frontier wilderness, but that would be primarily as lairs where the PCs confront a major creature, NPC, or supernatural phenomenon. These lairs don’t need to be big or have a large variety of puzzles and other obstacles, and they don’t need a lot of ancient treasure scattered all over the entire place. Huge labyrinths are actually to be avoided, as they will take a lot of time to explore and cause an interruption in the current events the players have been observing and engaged with. Player freedom is good, but it’s also highly desirable to avoid them loosing track of something they’ve been engaged with because they got distracted, and potentially struggling later to pick up where they left off months ago.

Going with the Forbidden Lands system, character advancement is unaffected not only by the discovering of treasures, but also the slaying of monsters. A consequence of this is that the setting does not require a large collection of different monsters with a wide range of power levels to keep fights from getting repetitive. A bestiary of just one or two dozen creatures should suffice and it can consist almost entirely of agressive animals and quite powerful demons with not much else in the middle. And with intelligent creatures, their design can focus strongly on creating interesting social situations than variety in combat. Hunting a monster can be a much bigger part of an adventure than finally cornering it. Which I think opens up some really interesting new possibilities with monster design and how to integrate them into the world.

Next Time

I already have a vague general outline for the environment of the campaign and the factions that inhabit it, which build on the principles I outlined above. But those will be an entire post of their own.

Dungeons & Swords & Sorcery

I’ve written about my thoughts on how to evoke the style of Sword & Sorcery in a fantasy adventure game before in the past. I’ve been thinking about it again recently while looking to find the spark again to continue work on my setting, and my thoughts have been revolving primarily around the role of dungeon crawling in a Sword & Sorcery campaign.

While classic dungeon crawling is a very fascinating and fun form of gameplay in its own right, I think the archetypical dungeon crawl is not a good basis to build a Sword & Sorcery campaign around. The classic dungeon crawl, with its complex underground labyrinths, countless traps, secret doors, and numerous small hidden stashes of treasures all over the place naturally promotes a play style that is very cautious, methodical, and calculated. It encourages players to progress slowly and with care, to examine all the small and possibly insignificant details, and to take any precautions before following through with well thought through plans. In a well deaigned dungeon, this can be hugely exciting and thrilling. But it’s a kind of exitement and tension that is very different from the style of Sword & Sorcery. This is a style that is all about fearless and even reckless initiative, where fortune favors the bold. Heroes are certainly relying heavily on cunning and trickery to take down foes much stronger than themselves, but often these are things improvsed in the heat of the action and more of a gamble than much of a plan. In a Sword & Sorcery themes campaign, players spending a lot of time over maps and rummaging through large boxes of tools to disable a dangerous mechanism with a minimum of risk is something that you want to avoid, not to have as the default approach to playing the game. While a lot of useful things can be taken to create a great Sword & Sorcery campaign from oldschool roleplaying, the classic dungeon crawl probably isn’t one of them.

Still dungeons as a concept and an environment are really cool and absolutely have their place. But I think they need to be approached quite differently.

The first thing that I see is that dungeons should be relatively small in scope. Typically in a Sword & Sorcery adventure, a dungeon is only one chapter of a larger story. As such, I think dungeons of a size that the players can get through in two or three hours should be quite big enough. Heroes usually don’t enter a dungeon to explore its secrets, but to track down something or someone specific that they have good reason to believe to be somewhere inside. Going into a dungeon is usually more a kind of raid than an exploration. Get in fast and quietly if possible, grab what you came for, and get the hell out again fast. The dungeon is not a place to be mastered or conquered, but to be survived.

As I said above, in a Sword & Sorcery style campaign, we don’t typically want the players to stay in one place long and go through everything with a fine comb. There are two main ways to encourage that. The first one is to avoid having the players be weary of traps. If every floor tile could be a trap, things will slow down a lot. And most of the time, there won’t even be any actual danger in the first place. Environmental dangers and constucted defenses against intruders can totally work, but they should be announcing themselves to the players instead of  being hidden. Be it obvious pits of spikes, moats with hungry crocodiles, a hallway with mummies in open coffins that line the wall, or two dramatic gargoyle statues on top of the gate. What we want to accomplish is to have the players understand that if a passage looks empty and perfectly safe, there is no point for them to stop and take all the time consuming precautions to make sure there really is no trap. And this has to be absolutely consistent. It might seem fun to have a completely unexpected trap jump at the players now and then, but when you do it once, the plaeyers learn that it could happen at any time when they don’t expect it, and then they will always expect it.

Similar to the placement of traps is the placement of treasure. Having some spare change hidden between the couch cushions to reward players who spend the time to check for there is a great way to encourage them to really search everything in an area they come through, and it can be quite a lot of fun for players to do this easter egg hunt. But just as wit traps, this is something that w don’t really want in Sword & Sorcery adventures. Instead of lots of small portions of valuables being hidden all over the place, I think having just one big hoard of all the treasure in one place works much better. Yes, it’s all the joy of discovering treasures crammed into a single scene instead of having it spread out evenly, but that also means to joy in that moment is more intense. This hoard can be placed right behind the greatest danger in the dungeon, but it doesn’t have to. Getting the whole haul out while the biggest threat is still on the prowl can be even more exciting. And the main pice of the loot could also be somwthing that might be a very powerful weapon against that threat when the players encounter it later.

A Tale of the Past

Feeling particularly fed up with the D&D Fantasyland cliches, I found the motivation to resume work on Planet Kaendor and go full out with the Sword & Sorcery treatment. I once again had Kenshi and Conan Exiles on my mind, and now Forbidden Lands. (Also Morrowind, because I always do.) When I last ran out of steam, the setting seemed a bit bland and stale, but I think a new backstory could do wonders to give it the spark it needs without reworking the geography and culture in significant ways.
Long in the distant past, the lands between the Sea in the West and the Mountains in the East was home to the northern civilization of the Rakshasa and the southern civilization of the Naga. Eventually the two rising powers came into conflict, which turned into centuries of warfare. As the wars dragged on, both sides unleashed incresingly devastating sorcery, turning the forests that made up the borderlands between the two powers were into a blasted wasteland. Even when armies managed to cross the burned plains to lay siege to the enemy’s cities, there was no way to possibly hold a city that was taken on the other side, and so the original plans for conquest gave way to a rage of blind destruction. As the desolation spread further into the two great woodlands and both sides exhausted their power, invasions became more difficult and less frequent, until eventually they simply stopped altogether, with nobody having any claim to victory.

Where the burned wastelands slowly recovered over time to turn into a great plain of grass and shrubland, the two battered civilizations did not. When the shared enemy from the outside faded into the distance, cities turned against each other, further reducing both realms into hollow husks of their former selves.

Eventually, human barbarians from the Mountains in the East came down into the depopulated plains. First to hunt the abundant grazing beasts, but then to settle the fertile banks of the great rivers. Three shaman kings managed to defeat the last rakshasa lord ruling in the plains and somehow gained immortality for themselves in the process. Each of them claimed one of the former rakshasa cities for themselves as conquerors, though two of the cities had already been abandoned long ago at that point.

While human civilization grew in the plains, they always stayed clear of the great ancient woodlands to the North and the South, as the Rakshasa and Naga that continued to live beneath the trees were still terrible foes to face. But over the last generations, hunters and explorers have dared venturing deeper and deeper into the northern woodlands, and rumors spread that the Rakshasa seem to be gone. Many have doubts that these ancient beings have truly disappeared for good, but to many people in the western plains, possibility of a life beyond the reach of the sorcerer kings is very much worth such a risk. The northern woodlands are not just calling to those who wish to escape the grasp of the sorcerer kings. Abandoned rakshasa castles and towers promise powerful magical artifacts that might have been left behind and forgotten, and whose value could be beyond measure.

That is not dead what can eternal lie

…and with strange aeons even my Kaendor setting may be finished.

As far as I am able to trace back, I first started working on Kaendor in February 2011. It’s undergone so many overhauls and revisions in the 11 years since then that I don’t even recognize many of the things I wrote about back then. Some elements I had discarded at some point but then had come back again in a later version. But overall, the general broad strokes concept has remained very much the same. A low-ish level D&D setting set on a forest world with small Bronze Age populations, abandoned by the ancient fey, and with sorcery being a demonic power that corrupts the people it touches and the lands around it.

There’s been many times I started to get tired of always working on the same concept, and it never turning out quite as I wanted, and so after some months of not really doing much with it, I sat down to start working on something completely new from scratch. But always I keep bringing back old ideas for places and creatures from Kaendor, until the whole place starts to look just like the one I just left behind.

I think I’ve now accepted that I am destined to keep coming back and working on this world forever.

And that is fine.

Because it’s a really cool concept.