cosmos
Andrus exists within the cosmos of normal fantasy role playing games. This includes the presence of all the expected inner and outer planes of existence. However, Andrus has a buffer demi-plane between its material form and the outer planes (celestial and infernal). The inner planes (elemental, positive and negative) are a still just a curtain’s breadth in various locations across Andrus.

This demi-plane manifests in the material world as a network monolithic stones that, once properly activated, open into tunnel like passages between Andrus and the outer planes and even between stones. To the uninitiated this network is winding and complex to navigate often leading travelers astray. To those that have studied the gateway stones, navigation can still be perilous as encounters with emissaries from the other planes of existence tend to be hostile.

The Tauran clans successfully navigated passage from their plane of origin through their innate understanding of labyrinths. The Waer spent many years traveling the network of passages till they managed to find entry into Andrus on behalf of the Fae. They managed to find natural elemental breaches through which the Fae could pass into Andrus.

The ancient masters of the human tribes travel between material worlds using gateways linked to celestial events and complex calculations thus their travel to Andrus was unimpeded by this buffer plane. With the World Gate dismantled and celestial alignments being out of sync the masters return is effectively blocked.

This buffer plane may also be a contributing factor to the lack of divine and infernal influences. If an outer planar influence wants to manipulate Andrus they have to send emissaries to establish a foot hold.

AndrusWorldMap-cleanI think maps are more important to a world builder than a player or game master. In order to properly create various cultures it is necessary to know in what type of environment they developed and have settled. Clothing, armor, weapons, lifestyles, housing, population size, celebration days, magic and nearly everything else is influenced by the surrounding environment.

Geography is the study of the physical features of the planet and its atmosphere, and of cultural activity as it affects and is affected by these, including the distribution of populations and resources, land use, and industries. Geology is the science that deals with the planet’s physical structure and substance, its history, and the processes that act on it. Tectonics, mineral deposits, soil strata and erosion due to water and wind shape the geography.

The world of Andrus was initially rendered using fractal terrain software called Wilbur. It had a ring-like shape with a lake in the center and an island at the center of the lake. At the time i had no real familiarity with landmass formation and weather patterns so i went with the generated map. The problem with a fractal generator is that you can’t take into account tectonics or weather very effectively. It will provide elevations but not much else.

Eventually I decided to tack Andrus on the ‘back side’ of Faerun connecting the two via the extreme northern expanse of mountains, tundra and glaciers. The map was redrawn by hand on hex paper. It was a better attempt at generating a reasonable map for a campaign setting but still not an especially inspiring one.

Thankfully, it’s the digital age and freelance cartographers are everywhere on the Internet. I’ve stumbled across a free world map by Tad Davis on DeviantArt that I feel will more than meet my needs for developing the geographic and geologic breakdown of my planned setting. As I’m not anticipating publishing any of this for commercial purposes use of the image is acceptable. Thank you Tad, the base maps are beautiful.

I have been hard at work breaking down Upper Andrus into logical regions of political influence. I’m not set on the titles for each region but, based on topographical features like mountains and rivers the borders are pretty tight and fairly logical. The three regions with no occupation are plateaus and tundra for the most part. There is a Lower Andrus as well but i’m going to focus on this one for now since it accommodates all my core cultures.

I’m still pondering scale. Based on the resolution and an import into Campaign Cartographer I get about 1800+ miles east to west. For real world comparison

  • North America is approximately 3500 miles from east to west
  • Europe is approximately 1305 miles from east to west

Seems like a reasonable, if small, continent with which to work at this point.

magicNow it’s time to talk magic because, outside of technology, this is the edge used by various cultures in a fantasy setting to manipulate their surroundings. It’s also the spectacular reason for anything in a fantasy setting. You can say “It’s Magic” and people just accept it… right??

Magic in fantasy settings has traditionally been broken into two types: Arcane and Divine.

Arcane magic is the manipulation of energies infusing the world using rituals, materials, gestures and special phrases. This is the traditional wizard and sorcerer style magic. This type of magic is usually a dominant force in fantasy settings. No one enjoys the destruction of a fireball more than the caster.

Divine magic is powered by a character’s faith and devotion to a specific deity or philosophy. So the character is simply a conduit for the power granted by this greater being or the strength of their belief in a specific philosophy. Divine magic has always carried the stigma of only being valuable due to the restorative powers granted to divine casters. Being the relegated to the party life-battery can be a hard role to play.

A third type of ‘magic’ called psionics has been around for quite some time in fantasy role playing games. It’s essentially the manipulation of your surroundings through the force of will. It’s very similar to arcane magic except that, traditionally, psionics do not require special materials, gestures or words to work.

Some may argue that psionic powers are more science fiction than fantasy in nature so they really don’t mesh well with a fantasy setting where everything has magic flowing around it. Psionic powers are a good excuse for science fiction characters having access to ‘magic’ of sorts. That doesn’t preclude the same abilities from being valid in a fantasy world.

In 2015 Paizo released their take on ‘psionic’ magic through their Occult Adventures source book. In this case ‘psionic’ has been shifted to ‘psychic’ dealing more with spirits, manipulation of elemental powers and mesmerizing others minds. I like both systems and think they can co-exist.

Beyond the worship of the divine and the studies of arcane scholars lies the mysterious terrain of the mind, accessed through psychic magic. – Occult Classes Intro text

In Andrus I want to use all these mystical powers but skew more toward the psionic and occult style magics than the arcane and divine.

I started by deciding that manipulating arcane power is an unpredictable and potentially dangerous process. Leaning on the established mechanics of spell failure I set a price for failing to control the energies required to generate an arcane spell effect. If you lose concentration the energy lashes back and will cause damage not just to the caster but potentially those near them. This makes arcane magic dangerous to everyone and establishes a reason that arcane spell casters are regarded with suspicion and could even be outlawed in extreme cases.

Divine magic was just about as simple; I eliminated pantheons and deities. No deities equals open season on domain influences. Instead of limiting domain selection based on an idyllic figure how about a cultural component? Asian cultures revere ancestor spirits. Other cultures believe that everything in the world has a spirit. Why require a deity to determine domain access? Traditional clerics on Andrus select one culturally distinct domain and a second, non-conflicting, domain reflecting their personal philosophies. Other divine casting classes follow the same process but many only get a single domain. I may specify acceptable cultural domains as i write up the various cultures.

Psionics, as published and revised by Deamscarred Press, stand as-is and are a more common type of mystical power found throughout Andrus. From Maje (Psions) to Ley Healers (Vitalists) the power of an individual’s will relies on no outside influences. However, it’s still considered magic for the mechanics of the game and is therefore subject to dispel and anti-magic effects.

The Paizo Occult materials are too good not to use. The Kineticist is an obvious conversion of the ‘Last Airbender’ style power, manipulating the elements using the power of your mind and discipline. The spirit oriented classes are just too creepy and cool as hooks for stories, various cultures and non-player characters.

cultureWhen does the world lore begin? This is a difficult thing to answer. Some would refer to a grand creation myth to describe the creation of the very planet in the cosmos. While an interesting opportunity to weave deep lore into the world and generate a pantheon of some sort for the sentient inhabitants to worship or fear, it’s also an opportunity to establish details you might later wish had been done differently. The creation of the physical world is less relevant overall because the setting is more about the inhabitants of the world. History, after all, is recorded by sentient beings on a world.

From this primal world, reptilian life first gained reason and intelligence. Cold-blooded, calculating, patient and cunning several distinct reptilian cultures rose and fell in power and influence. Broken between distinctly lizard and serpentine lineages two notable cultures evolved. The first and most organized of these was the Naga Imperium spanning many decades. This era was marked by bloody conflict between the servitor Nagaji armies and the less civilized lizardfolk tribes. Eventually, with the assistance of Vishkanya Oracles known as Medusa, the Naga rulers were defeated and their forces scattered. The lizardfolk ruled as the dominant sentient species for several thousand years. The Nagaji became small, scattered tribes in quiet corners far from their ancient lizardfolk enemies.

The Waer are planar wayfinders wandering the cosmos with no known home of their own. They seem to live outside time as they never appear to age physically and no one has ever witnessed Waer children. They arrived on Andrus on behalf of an oppressed culture looking for a home; the Fae. Once the Waer reported their discovery of Andrus to the Fae, breaches connected to the elemental planes allowed the nomads to reach Andrus and begin settling. Some Waer remained on Andrus observing, recording and occasionally influencing the evolution of the new world.

The Fae are actually a single bloodline enslaved and subjugated by more powerful elemental creatures on the elemental planes. After many generations the Fae began to adapt to the raw energies found on their now native elemental plane. This created four distinct branches of Fae. Once the Fae reached Andrus they began to settle areas beyond the scaly tribe lands typically favoring regions rich in their elemental affinities. The Fae quickly out numbered the slow breeding lizardfolk and the scaly influence began to dwindle from their former glory.

Another arrival around this time was the Tauran Clans. Hailing from a savage, unknown realm their size and warlike culture assured they could take whatever lands necessary. Little is known of their origins other than they revere complex patterns known as labyrinths often referring to the Great Labyrinth like many cultures refer to the afterlife. A distinct sub-race within the tauran clans is a monastic order known only as the Yikaria. They are less savage and decidedly more sinister in nature. They advise tauran clan chiefs and possess strange supernatural abilities. The Yikaria seem to serve some unknown dark power. They seek out ancient lore and powerful magic in this power’s name.

As stated in the previous entry for this series, humans are not native to this world. They were slaves to world traveling masters seeking worlds to plunder for natural and magical resources.

The Kyne Daas were the master’s trusted guard. Their unwavering loyalty was key to their master’s control. The Daas combat discipline and generations of serving their masters proved to be a pivotal resource during the uprising.

The Ekhari were ruled by powerful merchant houses on their home world. They provided the economic backbone to what was harvested and how it was accounted. The Ekhari were afforded significant freedoms to get their tasks complete. Without the Ekhari leadership and planning the battle to overthrow the masters couldn’t have been accomplished.

The Ustara came from a world of vast forests and mountains where they developed complex thinking, deep philosophies and connections to natural creatures. They became the law keepers, librarians and animal handlers for the masters. Their bond with the dragons was pivotal in the war for freedom.

The Illiwyth were discovered on a soggy planet covered in rivers, seas and stormy oceans. Their endurance and adaptability proved a valuable asset as their masters explored new worlds seeking resources to exploit.

These are the key summaries for the major cultures inhabiting Andrus.

world-conceptThis is the first in a series on how I’ve undertaken the development of a campaign setting in my spare time. I’m not a full time game designer, just an avid role player with some ideas I think might make an interesting campaign setting.

Some Background

I am a typical 40 something gamer. I grew up in the 80’s playing AD&D 2nd Edition and all the legacy games like Mechwarrior, WEG d6 Star Wars, White Wolf and several others through the 90’s. Fantasy has always been my group’s go-to genre. We adventured through all the published settings; Greyhawk, Realms, Dragonlance, Golarian and even a home brew world created by one of our long time members.

Every gamer looks to create something long term, some sort of legacy. Whether it’s a character founding an in game empire or developing an entire setting to explore, everyone wants to leave their mark.

Inspiration

Back in 1992 TSR released the Al Qadim expansion for their Forgotten Realms campaign setting. The unique cultural flavor and focus on the elements and fate really captured my imagination. I bought everything published for that setting and ran more than a few games using the region. Around 1994 TSR released the Ruined Kingdoms expansion for Al Qadim. I was immediately intrigued by the Geomancers. I began wondering what their empire might look like before their fall from power. Where did they go, from where did they come and why was their power so great? I began working on a storyline.

The more I researched and pondered the plot of a Geomancer story line the more I began to envision this group of powerful beings travelling from one world to another looking for more slaves and power. Very ‘Stargate’-esque to be quite honest. This material became the seed for a setting that bloomed into a much broader world creation project.

World Summary

  • Powerful group brings human slaves to a world.
  • Human slaves encounter natives that provide the tools to overthrow their masters.
  • The masters are forced out of the new world and access is ‘blocked’.

Instead of starting with a genesis story for the world, I began from the viewpoint of human slaves that served these world hopping conquerors. I created four distinct ‘tribes’ of human slaves ruled by this group and developed their cultures. Then I looked at the world to which these powerful masters had just dragged their empire and influences. How would an aboriginal culture interact with these invaders? Cautious but curious the native population soon discovered the new comers had no intention of being friendly.

War erupts, the natives were overwhelmed. The human tribes suddenly have to manage a new slave class consisting of these native cultures that also introduce strange beliefs and magic. The seeds of revolution are sown as the human tribes, bolstered by the native cultural influences, begin plotting to force their masters  out of this world and break their chains.

Another great war is fought against the rulers. They are defeated when even their trusted guard betray them. They are forced back through the world gate and it is sealed. The human tribes scatter across the new lands and begin to settle and establish their own kingdoms.

A few thousand years pass and this is the world into which players emerge.