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.


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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Enhancing the Ancient Lands

I am starting a new campaign set in the Ancient Lands tomorrow, and as so often I find myself a bit doubting about the setting really being something different and not just another case of generic european middle ages fantasy. So kind of as a last moment effort, I sat down once more, going over notes to remind myself of some special features I’d fallen in love with over the last years.

  • Giant Fungus Trees: These are the one big thing that really makes Morrowind look very different from any other well known fantasy setting, even those of the other Elder Scrolls games set in the same world. Of course, it’s not an original idea now, but I think by including them, it’s adding a certain look to the setting that is still rare.
  • Magic Ponds and Wells: I like the idea of water being a substance with inherently supernatural traits. As the Japanese say, water is the only substance that can clean itself. It evaporates at the ground and when it returns as rain, its perfectly clean and unsoiled by anything, which is the reason it’s so important in cleansing rituals. In Warcraft III, the night elves can build Moonwells that replenish the health and mana of nearby units, and there are also natural magical fountains found throughout the world. The spring in Treebeards house in the Lord of the Rings would be another example. Given that the spiritworld plays a prominent role in the Ancient Lands, magic springs seem right in place as locations of strong magical power, which I prefer a lot over ley lines and the like.
  • Large Insects: Giant Spiders are one of the most generic fantasy creatures and giant beetles, centipedes, and scorpions are also quite common. Much more rare is the use of domesticated insects. Dark Sun has them, as the world isn’t very hospitable for most mammals, and again, Morrowind has giant long-legged beetles as transports in swamps and other difficult terrain. Not quite sure how to implement such things in the Ancient Lands, but it’s something I want to come back to and give some more thought.
  • Giant Lizards: Dinosaurs in fantasy are always a difficult subject. They don’t feel a lot out of place in cavemen worlds, but usually people tend to feel that they just don’t belong into a world of knights and wizards. However, the Ancient Lands is not such a world, but one of barbarians and witches. Outright using dinosaurs still doesn’t feel right to me, but there’s a middle ground here. Instead, I am going with large reptiles that are very similar to dinosaurs in all respects, but not actually based on real species. Crocodiles and comodo dragons are still existing species, and many extinct dinosaurs had an anatomy not much unlike rhinos or cattle. I created two new creatures some months ago, which really were just a bison and a camel with a different appearance. A feathered deinonychus might look a bit strange to people who grew up with dinosaur books from the 90s, but I think it makes a cool fantasy creature. I think they make good replacements for bulls and horses in the southern jungle regions of the Ancient Lands.
  • Limestone Karsts and Sinkholes: While not exactly rare in Europe and North America, large areas of limestone erroded by water has formed amazing landscapes in many parts of Southeast Asia, that actually look quite unreal and fantastic if you’re not commonly used to it. Particularly in coastal areas you get this massive monoliths rising out of the water at vertical angles, sometimes riddled with caves and forests growing on top. A bit inland, you get huge mazes sretching out of sight into all directions. It’s a natural and not that uncommon landscape feature, but one much more exotic than meadows and marshes.

These are not things that are going to feature in any significant way in the first adventure of the new campaign, but by mentioning these things every so often while describing what the PCs are seeing, I am hoping to get the players to see the world as more than just Europe with orcs and dragons.

What are the Ancient Lands?

One of the reasons to start Spriggan’s Den was to have a place to post updates on my work on the Ancient Lands, and I also plan to use it as a label to publish my RPG related material in the forseeable future. So I guess a short introduction would be in place.

Ancient Lands is a campaign setting that goes back to 2005 when I was working on the setting for a larger online project that never really got off the ground, but from which I learned a lot of things about the creation of campaign settings and my personal preferences. Work on the Ancient Lands began in earnest in early 2011 when I was dabbling in creating a revised version of the generic character classes variant rules of D&D 3rd Ed. for E6 and I really started to like the idea of a low-level setting as in the worlds of Conan or The Witcher. While I eventually abandoned the plan of using the E6 variant in favor of simply establishing a sort-of level-cap at 10th level (on which I might elaborate on in a separate post), and switched to Pathfinder over D&D, the basic premise remained the same and has seen significant development over the last two years.

One of the primary reasons to consider creating a setting myself was my dissatisfaction with the fact that most “high fantasy” or “generic” fantasy setting portray a world in which dragons, giants, elves, and dwarves do exist, but they are all way past their prime and fading into obscurity in the face of a rapidly spreading humanity. Now, in the Lord of the Rings this is an important plot element; the whole story is about the end of an era and the transition from myth to history. But there really is no reason to make this the standard for all fantasy settings. Also, settings like Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, or Eberron portray worlds that are actually emulating the Renaissance and early modernity, while I personally much favor the early Middle Ages and Iron Age. When reading sourcebooks on other campaign settings, there is almost always lots of references to the old kingdoms of elves and dwarves and their wars against dragons, giants, and massive hordes of orcs. These sections always intrigued me much more than the current age of these settings and so the basic idea of the Ancient Lands was born: A wild and barely explored world of the Bronze or early Iron Age, where humans are simply one of several races of “barbarians” and ancient nature spirits still possess great power of the lands and their creatures.

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