Back in 3rd edition, I created my own D&D setting. It wasn’t very good, but I’m still very attached to it, and want to use it as an object lesson in improving. I also want to show people that everything comes from somewhere, and your old work can help become foundational to your new work.
Content Warning: Some of the old text is going to feature some unconscious cissexism and sexism, and I know there are a few unknowingly racist terms that I used.
Alright, so previous bandaids were about my decisions that were thoughtless and badly thought out, like ‘Kyngdom’ as a name, or barely scrubbing the name of Cimmura. The thing is, Dal Raeda, the Eresh Protectorate, and Amenti represent what are some of the best designed pieces of the setting, the places where I had good, fundamentally usable ideas.
The rest of things is where it all gets a bit soft, and also where I did some things that are uncomfortable, and now with the benefit of experience, I realise are pretty damn racist.
You might have notice that I’ve avoided showing any maps of this world, because it’s all in flux now.
I’ve managed to construct a basic – well, calling this a map is generous, I know. This is the basic position of the ‘countries’ of the main continent in Cobrin’Seil, which is called Bidestra. Now, this is the kind of thing you get when an Australian tries to make Europe in that I made four proper countries, one of which with no territory, slapped down a big forest and a frozen north, and said ‘well, that’s enough countries for a continent, right?’
Setting aside for now that this continent is really empty considering it was meant to be ‘big as Europe And More,’ let’s just address the things that are there. Also, because of my background, gigantic chunks of it are just… open spaces with nothing but ‘a big forest’ in it. There’s a chunk called ‘the north waste,’ which I still like but is such a cliche people make fun of it, and having bits of my world made fun of make me feel bad, so I try to avoid giving them the opportunity. There are however, some ‘setting chunks’ that are reasonably undeveloped.
When I made these setting chunks, I wrote about them as if I was writing wholly fleshed out areas, when I absolutely was not. It gives the whole thing a sort of ‘first draft’ effect. This time, I’m going to give you a flying rundown on the remaining areas, things in them I like, and the things in them I do not and need to fix.
Corrindale is a vast forest that I applied to the top half of the continent like paint. I knew I wanted things to keep space between the various settlements, but I literally could not conceive of ‘a country.’ This used to be a forest full of elves, but now it’s got the Wu-Kan (and I can talk about them another time).
Corrindale has cities up in the canopies, big treehouse population centres that don’t really do much interacting with the ground, full of funloving monkey people inspired by Journey to the West. Imagine if Son Wukang had a D&D culture that tried to live up to him, but still settled down enough to make settlements and have a culture and a population.
I like Corrindale’s name, I like its style, and I like how it represents a society that differs from ‘the civilisational,’ and I like the idea of big tree houses and a wild forest full of spooky monsters. I want to keep it.
The Burning Eye
The Burning Eye is a mountain that blew up, up in the frozen northern area past the forest, that I imaginatively called ‘the frozen north.’ It’s a typical wartorn hellscape, frozen stuff and lava stuff, just a generic kind of battleground space. I didn’t do any fleshing out of the space, really, but it mostly mattered as a place my half-orcs could come from. I didn’t at the time want to just replace or displace races from the player’s handbook, but I firmly believed the half-orc was not good enough.
The result is a kind of mish-mash of ‘north’ tropes and generic Barbarian Fantasy, human-vs-orc stuff. Not that I have a problem with orcs in-setting, it’s just this is as good a place as any to address the fundamental way to see orcs.
So my current thought on orcs and half-orcs is that while there are absolutely going to be camps of orcs out in the bandit wilds, these are to the orc as a culture what human bandit groups are to humans. The idea that orcs as a race are always one way or another can probably persist in the human cultures that only ever deal with bandits, but spaces for larger positions of stable orcs that can manage and maintain communities. If they keep to themselves, like the Wu-Kan, there might be a reason for the predominant cultures to have no idea what they’re doing or where they are.
Hey, I’m gunna need some spot to put down orcish culture. That’d be cool.
The Crystal City
Wow, this whole idea sucked!
The Crystal City was a single city on a mountain, somewhere, where the ‘underdark’ was trying to push its way up and out of the mountain, and the Sun Elves (one of many elf subraces), had built a city to protect that point. This city was all crystal and glass and very pretty, and absolutely not what you’d build as a military beachhead, and also why would you build a city on a war front like that, and if you did, wouldn’t you build it to some purpose like a war college or the like?
This was a bunch of stuff I kind of felt I ‘needed’ in the setting – a place for underdark beasties, a special way to demark ‘it’s in a big interconnected cave,’ a player-approachable ‘drow,’ and a place for my, special, more-magical-than-magical elf, and even a place for there to be black dwarves, oh boy, that’s just a problem.
I think the Underdark is a neat enough idea but I do feel it should be left to the Forgotten Realms. Underground kingdoms are perfectly fine, but having a big thing that connects the whole world called ‘The Underdark’ is a really weird specific trope, and just replicating the Faerun version can involve bringing along a lot of their baggage.
Drow, as conceived of in standard D&D, and Lolth, and Derro, and Duergar, all are a big mess of ‘oh dear’ racist stuff. I’m not a believer in the idea of poisoned media, where if a racist made something to be a racist caricature, that everyone who creates later, unaware of that root, possesses and has the same racism. Even that aside, though, the whole story of these ‘dark deep races’ doesn’t appeal to me now, and I think I have more interesting ways to do the whole thing. This is going to be part of revising the elves from the ground up.
This started out as a budget Ravenloft, because I needed a place to put Mordavia. Mordavia is the fourth and maybe-best part of the Quest For Glory series, and it’s basically a transylvania style horror setting, with things like wandering zombies, rotting monster beasts, ghosts, vampires, and a whole bunch of that good stuff.
I knew I’d need Kryphaneos and I wanted players to have a fear of the place to start with, so I had to mention it as a spooky place a few times before the players ever went there. I didn’t want it to come out of nowhere, because that made it feel more like I was making stuff up as I went, and my ego didn’t favour that.
Anyway, this means that Kryphaneos was both made in a rush and made out of ripoffs. It has a generic, vaguely suggested ‘evil overlord’ in charge, it uses the Ravenloft idea of the mists, and in the more cringey ways possible, it invokes the word ‘g*psy’ to refer to an entire culture of nomadic werewolves that heroically fight vampires. Which may, yes, sound badass, but it’s a super asshole thing to conflate with the people that term slurs.
Returning to this country is going to involve a wholesale rebuild, and either get rid of everything and give it just a generic ‘it’s a spooky place’ short writeup, or an actual in-depth examination of how to make a country horrific, and what can cause that, that isn’t inevitably something someone would go out of their way to fix.
Also, all the city names I made for gothy locations in my teen years suck ass.
I had a whole second continent to the south, which included ‘Shapier’ and ‘Tarna’ and I don’t remember if I gave them meaningfully different names. This continent has some good things and some bad things about it.
The ‘good’ thing about it, that I like, is that it’s a space where I did explicitly put cultures inspired by Western African cultures, an Egyptian culture, and two Middle Eastern cultures, and crucially, I also didn’t fill in a lot of detail here because I didn’t know what I was going to do here. This space was cordoned off to be useful for, again Quest for Glory stuff, but the players were not into going to ‘Tarna’ so I never did.
The ‘bad’ thing about it is, well, while I may have had a space for cultures like these, and a conception that it’s good to have other influences in my work, I never did anything here, and the only place I really got ideas from for this place are from another source, set of videogames. This is the problem of photocopying a photocopy.
Now, personally, I think it’s best to simply not do anything with cultures that I am so alienated from, but to also present a part of the world where these cultures can exist for those people who do feel confident enough to work with them. I wonder at times if it’s cowardly to simply mark out spaces and leave them unfilled, but the task of becoming so familiar with things like Noncolonial interpretations of African mythic relationships to the Dungeons and Dragons adventurer fantasy seems to simply be a task of a full study. I think I’d just rather make it clear that these spaces exist, sources for characters like this are in the world, and leave it up to players to make those choices themselves.
I did put one thing on this continent I like, which is there was a continent-wide empire of ‘Sorcerer Kings’ that I stole from Dark Sun. They were defeated by the people of this continent, and their impact was mostly on this continent. This means there is an ‘ancient civilisation’ here, but there’s a clear continuity in history as to where they came from, and a clear explanation for why their stuff isn’t being used now. This is, purely by accident, an example of a historical event that had an impact on this continent that crucially, has nothing at all to do with colonialist visions of ‘ancient civilisations.’ It’s just a bit of typical nonsense that is replicated in other parts of the world – an empire formed, it was bad, it did some bad stuff with magic, then messed up, then it was over and people had to cope with the aftermath.
I do like the name ‘Arnea’ for the continent though.
The main action we’ve been talking about has been on Bidestra, which is just the name of the first continent. I don’t mind that. It’s a solid name. You get to stay and won’t need revision.
Rel Astra and Shar Turoc
I stuck an island, the size of Australia in a space between Arnea and Bidestra, and it was meant to be an island with a mountain range around the edges, keeping people from settling it. High cliffs and inhospitable winds, which kept people from getting into the center of this – again – island the size of Australia, to find the inside of the continent was the isolated home for the entire Oriental Adventures setting.
I like the term ‘Rel Astra.’ It’s a neat term. There was another continent, which got less than a line of text, ‘Shar Turoc’ and was meant to occupy an ‘Across the Sea’ kind of space. While these names are decent enough, these places are very much just blank spaces, made to make sure I had enough space for when I wanted to jam other stuff into the setting.
These are perfectly fine things, but after this much time I think it’s pretty evident I’m not about to fill in these spaces. It’s much better to work from a center and build outwards than to try and define all the spaces I might need.
I will return to this topic more in another month, but I hope this month has been a good, solid first-look approach at revising a project like this, and showing what I feel about what I needed, and how I’m going to make things work differently.