Coldforged: Foundation of the Setting

I’ve been working on my own, personal campaign world for over 20 years, and this year, I’m going to put together everything I can recall, remember and find about my setting with the goal of having something that is relatively close to publishable at the end. This week, I lay the ground work and set the stage. Come, join me, and become part of the adventures of Tysis.

A Labor 20 Years in the Making

Even before I begin detailing the world, I want to briefly talk about where the world came from, what drives it, and what makes it – at least in my opinion – a unique adventuring setting with hundreds of opportunities for all sorts of characters.

Tysis, the world, idea and continent, started when I was in middle school as a place that would house my eternal campaigns. I had read the stories of people playing D&D not only as a set of singluar adventures that their characters would go on, but as a world that grew and changed with the characters as they accomplished their goals, experinced their lives, and became the stuff of legend to future, younger characters. It was always my intent to host as many games as I could on the world I created, So I built it in the best way my 12 year old brain could. It wasn’t elegent, particularly original, or amazing in any right. It was as close to stock standard as one could really get, Except that it was extremely cold.

Cold was something that I’d become enamored with in the D&D setting since seeing the best picture of a cold adventurer ever. The North Watch by Keith Parkinson

This image held me extremely tight, and though I’ve never made anything even close to it, I still love it 20 years later. I wanted to make the world that this guy, this poor, cold, bastard, lived in. So I did.

The Groundwork

For a number of months, I toyed around with it, and the concept stuck in my brain. I had to make a cold land, but how would I do it? I didn’t want to lock out any of the standard adventures, but I did want the cold and misery of the frozen ice to stick to the setting – Though I have done poor work giving it impact, as cold often slows the games down. What emerged were the founding and continuous pillars that guide my world building even to this day. These are the four tenents that drive the choices I make and the style of games I run and, I hope one day, the style of games that someone else can run in my world. These four pillars are basic, yet strong.

Pillar 1 – The Gods are Real, and Cannot be Disbelieved.

This pillar is both the first pillar and the one that matters the least. To me, I was bothered by the distant and fractious gods that populated most of the worlds that I played in, where they were simply a nod to give Priests and Druids powers that were different from the Magic Users, and sat along the sidelines at best. My world, I decided, would have gods that were both distant and absolutely, truly, undeniably real. Atheists wouldn’t exist because there was no reason for them to exist. The god’s power and glory would be visible to everyone on a daily basis. The Gods themselves, however, would be aloof and distant. They would have a preoccupation of their own, I determined, one that made sure that they needed people but didn’t dictate their time. While I wanted the gods to be undeniable, I did not want to re-experience the stories of Kelmavor. There would be no gods on the prime material fighting top keep their station. Lastly, I despised the concept of the gods relying on their followers for power and status. Gods, as they exist historically, simply were, no matter how many worshippers they had or how devout they were. I wanted gods in a much more historical context, and that leads me, lastly, to the final context that I wanted the gods reflecting. While most of the pantheons of traditional D&D settings were ridden with strife, most of them were united against a common enemy. There wasn’t a ton of love lost among them, and they certainly didn’t see eye to eye, but they were on the same side. I wanted my gods to reflect that sense of kinship and conflict.

These tenants defined what I would develop, ever so slowly, the gods of the setting. They were distant and undeniable, united as one against a common cause and reliant on worshipers not for power, but for assistance towards a common cause. All of these things coalesced into the concept of an ongoing Godswar, where the Pantheon was fighting continuously against a great and powerful enemy who could easily tip the balance of power. To expand on this concept, each of a gods followers could come and join the war after their death, provided a Valkyrie claimed them for one of the gods. And thus, the background struggle of the world was created, embroiling even the gods in a perpetual conflict against something far more villainous than they, though I didn’t know yet what that was.

Pillar 2 – The Elements are the Focus of the Cosmos

I’ve always enjoyed the Elemental powers. They give a much different feel than demons, undead, or even the basic orc. They give a feeling of unbridled wrath and of nature unleashed, and I find that compelling. The elements also give a natural conflict to the world, where Air, Earth, Fire and Water are your main drivers. This would even, it turns out, drive how I created the gods and their enemies, the Accursed, as they are born of, and part of, the elemental conflict. This should also apply to creatures and characters, who would reflect the elemental power struggle and the monster types would become a part of the world’s identity. Creatures would often be subdivided into one of the four elemental types, and identify with their representative element.

This, though, brought into stark contrast the focus of my cold world and the elements themselves. Where Air, Earth, Fire and Water were traditional, it might not make any sense for a place so cold, so bitterly frozen, to see Water as a basic element. Ice, probably, would be a better representation of the world, and to compliment that, I figured I would also make a change I had wanted to for a while, and make elemental earth a bit more different.

I decided that the elements of Tysis would be Fire, Air, Ice and Stone. The other two missing elements, though, I didn’t want to abandon entirely. The People of Tysis, and of the world at large see very little difference between, and do not become conflicted by, the conflation and multiplicity of the elements of Ice, Air, and Stone. Air also means lightning, and thunder, as sound and electricity course through the thunderstorms in the sky and the snows that blanket the world. Ice, too, also means water, as one and the same they exist, albeit with a frozen compatriot and a liquid one. Ice is no more not water than water than an arm is of a person. they are one and the same, though they can be treated differently. lastly Gems, dirt, rocks and magma are all part of stone. The people of his world see no difference between the aspects of the elements and the element as a whole, though there are people who specialize their magics in one or more branches of an elemental type. A Cryomancer is no less an Aquamancer in the eyes of the common folk, than a mage who can breath underwater. The same holds true for Stone and Air.

With this decision, It also meant that I would have to have a very different cosmos. The traditional fight between Good and Evil is the basis of the Great Wheel Cosmology, I would need something that better reflected the elemental conflict that I had placed at the center of my universe. Changing the planes wouldn’t be easy, but I thought I had a good idea for where I would go with it.

Pillar 3 – The World Would be Gritty

I had adventured for years and years in High Fantasy worlds. There were gods and demons, wizards and titans, magic items by the bucket and fantastical, bizarre races as players. I wanted very little of that for my world.

Instead of high, powerful fantasy, I would stick with the low, gritty and basic fantasy. Magical Items would be rare, and only sometimes powerful. High-level magic wielders would be rare, as would the more mystical beasts. Dragons and Demons would be impactful, dangerous encounters that would resonate with the players. The characters of this world would also, as much as I could influence, be down to earth. No monstrous races, no strange beings, nothing that couldn’t pass as a standard humanoid creature most of the time.

This also meant that the game would center on local and regional events that meant more to the players and the characters then the grand, world-shaking events that High Fantasy generally runs with. There would be few world domination plots, or cosmic shakeups or demon lords that need slain. Instead, there would be local warlords, dangerous princes and ravaging beasts. It would be a world where the character and the hero were made not by their magnificent items and their boastful stories, but instead by their heroic deeds and local renown.

Pillar 4 – The World Would be Brutal

Building on the gritty world concept, I also wanted the world to be brutal. Danger and adventure mean little without personal risk, and I wanted the world to reflect both grittiness and its general cold temper by being brutal. Enemies would be unforgiving, the environment would be unforgiving, and the people who inhabit it would be unforgiving. There would be hideous injuries, death and worse waiting beyond the confines of the scattered town and cities of the continent, but the rewards and adventure would be worth the risk.

This brutality worked well with the cold theme, reinforcing it with a sense of cold indifference to the lives of those living in the world, and it worked will with the concept of the elements, as they are often ruthless, destroying anything in their wake, no matter age, sex, or race. The brutal world would be the one which would reflect my ideaology with the world the most, but it would most likely be the one that was the hardest to implement, as many players are used to living through even the least informed decisions. I would have to be careful, though. Danger pushed too far in the wrong direction begets caution and deliberation, and deliberation is often the slow, boring death of fun.

Foundational Success

With these four pillars in place, I was ready to start building my world. As with any organic system, this wasn’t a deliberate or specific set of rules that I fashioned prior, they were concepts that evolved as the world came into be. Well, except for the Cold, and the Gods, that is. Those were foundational concepts that I had decided on before building the world.

Now that I’ve laid the groundwork, I am going to work forward into defining the world itself. I don’t know what order I’ll be doing these articles in, and I’ll be trying to do it in a fairly logical method, so please bear with me, and if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Until next time!

Jonathon