Planes for the Ice Ages and some History

I’ve been thinking more about my ideas for a Pleistocene inspired setting and how I can combine it with the general outline I’ve already drawn out for my new mystical wilderness world. And I really like where things are going.

The world consists of three primary realms. The natural world of Earth, Water, and Air sits at the center as the home of humanoids, animals, and various nature spirits. It’s the realm of the elements from which druids draw their magical powers.

Above the natural world exists the celestial realm. It’s the world of stars and moons, home to strange and elusive beings that are pure spirits with no physical substance, and the source of the magical powers wielded by mystics (clerics).

Beneath the natural world is the underworld. It’s the realm of demons and infernal fire. The infernal fire is found in the essence of demons and volcanoes. Sorcerers and warlocks gain some of their magical power from the infernal fire, but also draw on the energies of the celestial sphere.

In addition to the three main realms, there are also the forces of elemental fire and elemental cold. They are the driving forces of the seasons but also the cycle of the ages. The elemental fire is manifested in the sun, while elemental cold seems to come from both everywhere and nowhere. Nobody really knows for sure if fire and cold are equal but opposite forces, or if cold is simply the natural state of the world that will reassert itself whenever the warming influence of the sun is waning. But some people believe that there is a counterpart of the sun beneath the eternal ice of the north pole.

Ancient myths shared by most temples and cults tell that for most of the existence of the world, all the lands were covered in ice and snow, cast in eternal darkness without the warming light of the sun. But like the changing of the seasons, there is a cycle of the ages, and after hundreds of thousands of years, the sun will reappear and the world awaken from its long sleep. Glaciers melt and forests grow back, and new animal life returns to the world. But eventually, these ages of the sun will end, and the world return to its natural state of lifeless cold and darkness.

The oldest tales of known history begin with the end of the last Great Frost. This world became inhabited by the fey, giants, and serpentmen who made its wild forests and plains their home for many thousands of years. However, their world ended with the beginning of the Long Winter some 10,000 years ago. The Long Winter was not a true Great Frost that would end all life on the surface of the world, but the sun became dim and the great glaciers in the far north began to grow and expand south, covering much of the known world under their ice. During the Long Winter, the fey went to slumber in burrows under the earth. The giants survived in small nomadic clans roaming the cold tundra at the feet of the glaciers. And the serpmentmen fled far to the south where the warmth of the sun allowed for forests to survive. During this time, even the gods went to sleep, with only the celestial goddesses of moonlight and darkness watching over the frozen world.

The Long Winter lasted for 6,000 years until spring finally returned to the known world and the great glaciers began to melt. Plants and animals returned to the warming lands, but this time they were also accompanied by people. As they explored these new lands, they came upon old ruins of the elder races and discovered in them the secrets of magic. These first sorcerers became the first mortal kings, establishing both the Western and the Eastern Kingdoms, which became the centers of the newly rising civilizations. Not all barbarians were happy with the rule of kings, and many clans continued traveling further north into the expanding forests to evade their reach. With the Western Kingdoms and the Eastern Kingdoms regularly fighting among themselves, with each other, or against the ancient Serpentmen Kingdoms that have survived in the South, there are always people looking to the wilderness in the North to seek a new life among the barbarian clans. A vast land promising freedom and adventure.

Magical Pleistocene

After spending a month with a really deep dive into The Savage Frontier and having recently started playing Skyrim again, I am currently having a lot of subarctic environments wandering in my mind. My first thoughts for a new setting had been to fall back on trying something in an Indo-Iranian Bronze Age style with perhaps some Mediterranean elements again, since I really don’t think anyone needs yet another Viking setting. But I had also set out to start something new and fresh instead of just stirring around the same pot of ideas that had gotten somewhat stale after ten years. And I did tinker around a bit with Baltic and Slavic setting elements in the past, though ultimately nothing really came from that. Instead of doing more Bronze Age stuff, which I still think is greatly underserved in fantasy, I think doing something more influenced by late Iron Age and Migration Period Northern and Eastern Europe could also be really cool. Also a pool of ideas for fantasy that barely anyone ever seems to go fishing in.

I already had the idea for the new setting that there was a fairly recent Ice Age that erased all the ruins of the Ancients from the surface, leaving the few remnants of their empires hidden away in underground caves. And I really love the common thing in lots of old Sword & Sorcery art to have human barbarians alongside long extinct animals from much more ancient aeons. The idea of having a late Pleistocene environment combined with broadly 4th century Baltic and Slavic people actually does sound pretty fun to me.

I’ve been thinking for a long time that the typical European lineup of animals in Fantasyland is pretty boring. Wolves, bears, horses, cows, and wild pigs are just so everyday pedestrian for someone from central Europe. There is nothing really fantastical about it. But you don’t really have to go that far back and you have mammoths, ancient bisons, and sabre-toothed cats in the same places. Which are still perfectly realistic animals because they were real, but also much more foreign and exotic.

Growing up in Northern Germany, pretty much smack in the area where the massive glaciers of the last three ice ages reached their greatest extend, Ice Age stuff popped up quite a lot in my childhood. Often in school, but of course natural history and archeological museums around here usually had Ice Age exhibitions as well. I thought that stuff was pretty cool, but when you’re seven years old it’s not nearly as interesting as dinosaurs. Way more awesome than fluffy elephants. Back then at such a young age, I had no frame of reference for the time scales involved. But looking into these things now, I find it really fascinating that all the lands around here and to the north were nothing but bare rocks and sand under hundreds or even thousands of meters of ice only 12,000 years ago. And had been in that state for some 100,000 years. Everything that exists north of the German central hills and the mountains of Czechia is less than 12,000 years old. Even all the wilderness of Scandinavia that seems as ancient and untouched as anything can possibly be in Europe goes only back that far. All the plants and animals that exist there migrated to these lands only very recently from warmer lands to the south. And the Ice Age wasn’t a short temporary exception that disrupted the natural environment. The last three Ice Ages each lasted for about a 100,000 years each, with the periods between them only some 20,000 years in length. The fact that Northern Europe has an ecosystem right now is actually weird and not typical for this part of the world. I find this hugely fascinating and a great source of inspiration.

I am now considering stepping somewhat away from having the main civilization of the new setting consisting of warring city states ruled by immortal sorcerer-kings like Dark Sun or Morrowind, and instead putting the focus squarely on the wilderness beyond the border of civilization. The lands in the largely untamed wilderness where the clans that rejected the new structures of civilized kingdoms retreated to, and where people fleeing the reach of the current kings attempt to find refuge.

Studying The Savage Frontier in much greater detail than I ever did before has given me a lot of insights about how that region of the Forgotten Realms is structured and how its map can be a great inspiration for adventures that are not spelled out in the texts. But it also made me notice various aspects of where the design falls short and things could have been set up in much more interesting ways. So at this moment, I am very much considering to take the ideas I already came up with for a new setting and turn them into something that could be regarded as my own take on the overall concept of the Savage Frontier and Skyrim. But more alien and more weird like Hyperborea. And without Vikings.

A short history of the world

In the ancient days, long before any mortal memories or records, the world was home to strange civilizations of mysterious inhuman elder beings. They may have ruled over the surface lands for many hundreds of thousands of years and raised great cities and empires, but nothing of them remains. Some 10,000 years ago, great glaciers moved south and buried the land to the shores of the sea under miles of ice and snow, anihilating everything in their path and grinding it into dust.

After several thousands of years, the age of ice and snow came to an end, with the glaciers retreating and the barren rubble slowly turning into new forests. As life returned to the northern lands, so expanded the reach of the serpentmen, who claimed much of them for their ascending empire. For over 2,000 years the serpentmen empire span across the lands on both sides of the sea, but even their time eventually came to an end.

Dark haired barbarians from the east settled on the borders of the empire, and as they saw the power and reach of the serpentmen decline with every generation, they eventually invaded the northernmost provinces, creating a mighty kingdom around the Great Lake. As the serpents retreated further and further south towards the coast, the power of the Lake Kingdom grew, and it became home to many great sorcerers. Though like the serpents before them, their time of greatness and power wouldn’t last forever, and their great cities and towers were abandoned and fell into ruins. The remaining people eventually mixed with other barbarians in the great Woodlands to the west and the mountains in the east, becoming the barbarian tribes of the Witchfens and the Plains.

Though the empire of the serpentmen had survived the rivals that had driven them from the northern provinces, they had lost much of the great power they onces possessed. So when new barbaric peoples appear on their borders, led by four powerful sorcerers who had united the tribes under them, the serpents stood little chance to resist them, though the wars of conquest ranged for many decades. The invaders conquered all of the great Grasslands and much of the coastal lands north of the sea, driving the empire from the north.

Greatly weakened by the decades of fighting a losing war, the serpentmen eventually suffered a great revolt by their mortal slaves in the provinces most directly affected by the fighting, which ultimately led to the creation of the new kingdom of tbe Southlands.

With the hated serpents now no longer on their borders, the sorcerer lords turned towards securing their own hold over the lands they had conquered, and soon came to be elevated to be worshiped as living god kings. They also became each others greatest enemies, competing over the most valuable farm and graze lands along the large rivers that run through the great valley of the Grasslands.

After the death of one of the god kings and the conquest of his land, and the usurpation of another by his closest lieutenant, the three remaining realms have been at war with each other every few decades. The increasing taxes, endless conscription of soldiers, and ruthless pursuit of dissenters by the templars during these wars have frequently driven farmers and deserting soldiers to flee into the densely forested hills that surround the Grasslands on the west and east. The mixing of the refugees with the local barbarian tribes has led to new unique societies that follow their own rules and customs.

Over the last ten years, the fighting between the god kings has become excessively fierce and destructive, causing peasants, merchants, and even some nobles who have fallen out of favor to flee into the wilderness in numbers rarely seen before. Instead of integrating with the people who have lived in the hills and valleys for many generations and adopting their customs, the recent newcomers outnumber the native villagers in many places or even set up entire new towns of their own.

Priests and Mystics

The gods and the Divine are mysterious forces whose influence is present everywhere in the world, but whose own presence remains always hidden from the perception of ordinary mortals. To bring together the worlds of mortals and the Divine is the role of priests and mystics. The two are widely seen as more or less the same thing by most common people, but their backgrounds and abilities are vastly different.

Priests, and their acolyte assistants, are servants of the gods who maintain their temple, teach their followers, and perform the many rites to communicate between the gods and their worshippers. Priests do not have any magical abilities or special powers that make them different from other people. They perform rituals to plead the gods of their cult for guidance and help and protection for their villages and towns. The gods will react to these pleas in whatever way they deem appropriate, or they may not, and they do not speak their will to their priests directly. Sometimes priests receive visions that they attribute to their gods, but these are always vague and require a great deal of interpretation.

Many temples are build on special holy sites that have unique divine powers of their own and are revered by the local cults as miracles send from specific gods, which are typically the chief god or even only god worshipped in the temple. Some are in possession of holy relics that possess similar powers. To manifest the powers of a holy spring, sacred tree, or divine relic usually requires a simple and short rite, which typically is known only by a small number of priests. Performing these rites is like using a magic item, but require no special abilities other than knowledge of the rite.

In contrast to that, mystics are rare and special holy men and women who have reached a form of enlightenment that has revealed to them a deep comprehension of the Divine Source and its presence and working within all things. This understanding and awareness allows them to practice a rare form of magic that draws directly on the Divine itself and grants powers that have always been impossible to achieve for even the most powerful sorcerers. Most mystics have been devout worshippers of various gods before their enlightenment, and remain faithful to the teachings and valuesf their cults. However, they have a much deeper awareness that all the gods are still only different reflections of a much greater divine truth, and the distinctions between specific gods are typically much less important to them than to the priests of the many different temples. Many mystics regard the gods and their myth as powerful symbols and examples for living in harmony with the Divine that unites all things, and so large numbers of them continue to wear the robes and symbols of their cults and spread their teachings. But mystics are typically seen as somewhat removed from the temples by priests and sometimes even outright heretical, so they rarely have close associations with major powerful temples of the greater cities. They are however typically held in high regard by common people, especially in more remote areas where people are used to numerous small temples practicing somewhat different rites in every village with no central authorities on religious matters. Mystics are much more rare than priests and many people never are wittness to their miracle powers in their whole life.

I am typically not a fan of cleric type characters, but I had briefly been thinking about what something with a similar role to psionic powers could look like in my setting. With the other supernatural stuff going on already, the simple cleric framework seems like a pretty fitting match with just the right presentation and integration into the gameworld. The idea for priests controlling the miraculous powers of holy sites is directly from the D&D Companion Rules, which introduced them as alternative sources for divine magic for elf and dwarf villages under a rules system where only human characters have access to different classes, like clerics. I always thought that was a really cool idea since I first saw it, and much more interesting for worldbuilding than having a spellcasting cleric as priest for every village chapple. By customizing the specific spells that a holy site can produce to match the god that is seen as the creator of the site, making visits to a temple for services becomes a lot more interesting. Instead of every service being available in every generic temple, customized spells mean that players have to consider whose god’s temple in the area might be most likely to be able to help them. This makes different gods actually relevant to how things could play out during the game.

Good artists borrow, great artists steal

So let my show you my loot haul.

I am never able to restrain my gushing over the worldbuilding of Morrowind. While the gameplay of that game is of somewhat dubious quality and characters and quests leave a lot to be desired, the kind of very unique world it presents always had a huge influence on my perception of fantasy world, similar to Star Wars for space settings. There is a lot of the world of Morrowind, and to a small extend also Skyrim, that I am just blatantly ripping off for the new setting. The dominant civilization are strongly bases on the Dunmer and their three living gods, Almalexia, Sotha Sil, and Vivec. Except that in my setting, they are not a tribunal ruling over one kingdom, but three bitter enemies that go to war with each other on a near regular basis. The Camonna Tong and Morag Tong are very interesting templates for criminal organizations, and I like the way the Ashlanders represent the idea of barbarians who have escaped to the edges of civilization because they oppose the changes in traditions enforced by the god-kings.

I also think that the Redguard and Orsimer are quite interesting as well, at least as they are represented in Skyrim. I think I can use them for another urbanized kingdom to the south near the lands of the naga, and for the highland barbarians.

I also really like the way the Daedra fulfill the role of demons in the setting, though I want to take that idea and make it much more actually alien and weird. More Hermaeous Mora than Sheogorath. And of course, Morrowind is where I got the idea of the wildlife consisting primarily of various dinosaur-like reptiles and insectoid monsters instead of the typical familiar dogs, horses, cows, and pigs. I’ll definitely be reviving the honey caves ideas that was based on the kwama egg mines. I used them once and it was really fun.

While I love the Dark Sun campaign setting for AD&D, the things that I see as worth stealing basically just mirror things that I’m already taking from Morrowind. The sorcerer kings are like the Tribunal, the Templars as their warrior-priest enforcerers are just like the Ordinators, and the approach to slavery is very much the same. I feel you can’t really evoke the style of a Bronze Age society that is different from a medieval one without large parts of the population and economy being slaves.

Various ideas with a similar style come from Kenshi. This weird little game is actually a lot like Dark Sun, except that before the world turned into a desert wasteland, it wasn’t a magical fantasy world but a technological sci-fi world. But in the state that it is now, life turns out to be very similar. My two favorite idea from this setting are the Shek and the Hivers. The Shek are a take on something not too different from orcs, and one of the main inspiration for the highland barbarians. The Hivers already served as the main inspiration for my take on slightly insectoid goblins. Which were one of the last things I created for Kaendor, but I think will be a much better fit here. One of the two main powers on Kenshi is the Holy Nation under their Phoenix King, who rules over a nation of slaves with the help of his elite Paladins. Yeah, basically the same points as covered by the Tribunal and Ordinators of Morrowind and the Sorcerer Kings and Templars of Dark Sun. The other one are the United Cities. Who are despotic slavers in their own right, but still come out looking much better from the Holy Nation. They gave me the idea to have a fourth nation of the dominant culture consisting of loosely allied city states in the coast that have banded together to stay out of the grasp of any of the god-kings.

In the post about my ideas on magic and demons, I already mentioned Demon’s Souls. While the design styles of the setting is completely different from what I am going for, I find the supernatural concepts of the game very inspiring. The ideas that humans can become demons if they consume their energy opens very interesting possibilities, and the idea that regions can become shrouded in permanent fog while demons rampage inside of it is also really cool. The lands of Boletaria have little in common with what I am working on now, but conceptual ideas like these are pretty big in my mind.

A very similar case is Thief. Another game I’ve been gushing about many times in the past. Again, the type of city that the series is set in looks nothing like the kind of cities that will be found in the new setting. But everything that has to do with the Pagans is just pure gold for what I have in mind. The Pagans are a reclusive cult that exists somewhere between druidism and rural demon worship. Exactly the kind of interactions I am going for with my spirit worshiping barbarians. I am actually pretty sure that this game is where I came across the idea originally. The Trickster demon-god and his leafy lieutenant are great spirits, and I totally love the witch that is the main antagonist in the third game as a villain that might work wonderfully in my campaign. I also think that the organization of the Keepers is a really cool archetype for a cabal of arcane scholars who have much more benevolent intentions than the demonic cults they oppose, but are far from being clear cut good guys either.

Something I remembered only a few days after I’ve already been tinkering with ideas for a coherent setting concept was my experiences with diving deep into the published setting material for the Unapproachable East region of the Forgotten Realms. When I decided that I want to make a new setting from scratch that better represents the ideas I am interested now than organically grown tangle that Kaendor had become after close to a decade of trial and error, I made a decision to stay away from any Dungeons & Dragons or Middle-Earth material. But as I did mention in my post about reading through the various sourcebooks, there actually is fairly little of the typical Fantasyland stereotypes in that section of the Forgotten Realms. There’s no orcs, dwarves, drow, mind flayers, or beholders to be found anywhere, or mentions of trivial teleportation or magic item shops. It is quite strongly inspired by medieval Eastern Europe, but scratch a bit away at the paint and there’s actually a lot of stuff that I think can go straight into my new setting. My final thoughts had been that the setting material that existed for the region was full of great ideas, but at such a surface level of detail that you would still basically have to create your own content that is inspired by those prompts to run a great campaign. And in that case I could just make a new world myself. And now seems like a perfect time to completely carve up that setting and scavenge it for its most interesting parts!

The barbarians and witches of Rashemen look like a great starting point for my forest barbarians. I planned for them to have a Baltic style anyway, so the weird mix of Slavic and Germanic elements should be pretty easy to switch out. The Red Wizards of Thay in their original incarnation are just what I need for one of the three god-king nations. Blend them together with House Telvanni from Morrowind and you got a great magical oligarchy. The barbarians of Narfell are more steppe nomads as presented, but I think I can still take a good amount of stuff from them for my highland barbarians. I think I also want to have something like the ancient demon summoners of the Nar Empire whose ruins are still slumbering under the ground, many still haunted by summoned demons. I’ve long been fascinated by what snippets I had read about the independent city Telflamm and its Shadowmasters thieves guild. As it turned out those snippets were really all there is about them, and this is now a great opportunity to have some fun with expanding them. And finally there’s the kingdom of Impiltur, which is really more an alliance of city states than a centralized nation. And as such the second inspiration for the alliance of city states that oppose the god-kings, together with the United Cities of Kenshi.

While outside of this specific region, the biggest disappointment for me when reading the classic Forgotten Realms material was the city Westgate and its Night Masks thieves guild. I thought these were something big like Baldur’s Gate or Silverymoon, but the actual content is severely underwhelming. I want to make the port city of crime and vampire assassins that I envisioned a reality.

Finally, another important resource that I added to my pile is Red Tide. When this resource on running sandbox campaigns came out in 2011, it made quite a splash, and when you read it for the first time without much knowledge about running sandboxes, it’s really quite amazing. The setting that is presented is quite interesting, but there’s not a lot worldbuilding ideas that I find useful to copy. Much more important are its thoughts on how you set up and expand a sandbox campaign. The tools provided in the book where later overhauled in Spears of the Dawn and then more recently in World Without Number, but I actually really like the version in this one a lot more. The most interesting to me is the system for creating courts with just a very small number of NPCs and conflicts and complications between them. With the way that I envision the new campaign to play in practice, dealing with the important leaders of other strongholds, villages, clans, cults, and gangs will probably be a primary driver of the action. The tables for creating villages with interesting local problems might also come in very handy at a later point. And while I don’t expect there to be an awful lot of dungeons in the campaign, the ruins sites tables might also turn out a quite useful tool when the antics of the players require new content to be welded together on very short notice.

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.