LAYING THE GROUNDWORK
When we last left off, we had finally developed the rudiments of our somewhat complex world theater in Dragonsgate. It's been somewhat of a daunting task to develop the particulars of this quasi-historical world, but I think it's really starting to emerge with a clear, articulated shape. Within the next two steps (perhaps 3), we'll really start to see some layers of realism take shape.
In this article, I'll explore some of the major historical events that have occurred in Dragonsgate within a reasonable time-scale. This will include geological events (ie. catastrophes or significant shifts in weather patterns, such as a major drought or an ice age) as well as Events of Civilization (major historical occurrences - battles, treaties, discoveries etc.).
For starters, how did things begin? We can really explore two possible routes: (1) a supernatural creation mythos centered around the dominant pantheon of deities in the world of Dragonsgate (extant deities, not defunct ones); and (2) a more geological, scientific-oriented method. Given that we've already been treading the line between possibilities thus far, I think it's within reason to say that, given the level of realism I'm aiming for, why not go through the planetological particulars of the world and its evolution AND create a mythological genesis legend to accompany it. That we get knowledge about the world itself and some elements of its culture.
A planetary nebula - how a galaxy gets the ball rolling.
Also, planetology really is a word. It's most recognized in fiction from Frank Herbert's Dune (If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. A bit tricky to navigate, but very conceptually relevant to our ecologically frail era).
n. The branch of astronomy that deals with the planets of the solar system.So, we've established that the planet on which our setting finds a home was established through the conventional means of gradual aggregate assembly by way of a planetary nebula or some other such gravitational phenomena of comparable potency (that's getting a bit too "beyond what's necessary" I feel, so I'll keep moving). For the purposes of creating a world that isn't too alien or bizarre, we'll say that for all intents and purposes, this planet is a Class M planet (for those of you unfamiliar with the nitty gritty of Star Trek and its numerous intricacies: Class M Planet ) with all the usual amounts of Oxygen, Nitrogen and Water to make life comfortable and, well, normal.
I mentioned that we'll have a creation myth to go along with things, but at the moment, we've still yet to explain the history leading up to the modern era of Dragonsgate, so let's not jump too far ahead of ourselves. All in due time.
There is always a cradle of civilization to consider, and it creates a logical starting point for humanoid history, even if all the races aren't necessarily related. Also, the fact that we have more than just humans here does complicate any "creation myths" associated with the presence of sentient life on this world. We'll have to, as necessary, explain the presence of each of the different peoples of Dragonsgate.
I think things really should begin with the following considerations: (1) this is a low-magic setting (exploring the 'why?' behind this fact); (2) there is a society of reclusive tieflings that are associated with the bottleneck in magical power; (3) is the status quo of the world stable or turbulent? Considering this will help me lay the foundations for historical events that contributed to a predominant era of peace or discord, respectively; (4) how active are the gods or divine agents in this world (if at all)?; (5) what point in the history of the world is our setting going to be focused? We need to know how far along the world has come if we're going to explore what has happened in the intervening time between Now and the Beginning; (6) what is the health of the world at large? Are we looking at something primordial? A world in its infancy? Or are we looking at a world that has seen much, much history in its time with successive ages and eons fading to distant memory, approaching its inevitable end?
Related to that last point, that brings up an interesting issue. This is probably something I should have explored in more detail in the early stages of the worldbuilding process, but hey, hindsight is 20/20. There is a setting called Dawnforge that addresses a world in its primordial state, though, it frames the world as a more classical setting, a very fantasy-veneered take on a more mythological world, like those portrayed in Clash of the Titans (the original 1981 version) or something more modern, like Immortals or the God of War videogame series. Worlds like this have a very real, very visible footprint from the gods and supernatural elements are mundane, powerful and terrifying for everyone that witnesses them. Running a campaign in this vein is very much an Age of Legends. Alternatively, you can push the clock back even further, designing a setting that is very much prehistoric in nature and scope, becoming almost a Land of the Lost or Beastmaster inspired world. While those would have too little history to be viable options at the moment, they do create interesting possibilities for parallel worlds in the greater cosmology of Dragonsgate (something we'll have to look into a bit later).
Greek hoplites depicted on an ancient piece of pottery.
Addressing the other end of the spectrum, is a world that is in decline, such as that seen in Jack Vance's Dying Earth series. In those works, the sun is in the final stages of its life cycle and the earth is very, very old. It makes for a very bleak setting with a wash of nihilism coating everything. One of the major advantages of this kind of setting is the shear abundance of rich history and strange, inexplicable devices or ruins. Things could be present which literally cannot be explained or analyzed because there is no one alive with knowledge of the events and even the recordings of such events have long since been reduced to dust or lost to some severe catastrophe. Another interesting possibility is blurring the lines between magic and technology, so much so to the point that they are almost indistinguishable from one another, and to the people of such a world, there is no reason to understand a difference between them. For example, in Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, one of the guild's in his setting uses a device that generates 'lightning' which they use for purposes of torture. Mystified, they use this 'magical' device without understanding something as fundamental as electricity. It's a paradigm-shifting concept - that, if the knowledge of what electricity is and how it acts in the universe is forgotten, we immediately revert to our ancient, natural state of clouding the unknown with the Divine. Interesting notions to consider, of course, but unfortunately, I've spent far too much time and space on this matter - much more than I wanted to. To condense all of that, I will continue my Middle Path ideology and explore elements of both. Dragonsgate will be an older world, but one that is just starting to climb another peak on the sinusoidal path of its world history. Literally starting fresh, in a way. It won't be primordial, but much of the history of the past cycles will be buried in the Substrata of Time.
Moving on, I want to consider the other points that I brought to attention a couple of paragraphs ago. This is a low-magic setting, something that is easily justifiable enough considering the age of the world. Perhaps magical energy/fields/powers ebb and flow with the cycles of the earth's age. I like that notion, and I'll say that in this particular cycle, magical activity is at a low. On top of that, it is something that is safeguarded. I like the idea of magical power being a Pandora's Box, so, I'll say that unstewarded use of magical powers contributed to the catastrophe that ended the previous cycle of the world's history. The tieflings that guard the mystical well I'd mentioned in Worldbuilding 4 need to have a reason for doing so. Tieflings are not necessarily evil, so I don't like the idea of them selfishly hoarding the access to magical power for no reason other than the fact that they are vile and depraved. No, I actually think that the tieflings will be the survivors of the previous apocalyptic event, and their diabolic nature is a mark of the gods they are marked with as punishment for their hubris and misuse of magical power in the past. This simultaneously addresses points 1 and 2 and also creates a lot of mythological fodder for later.Book of the New Sun, Part One for those of you that are interested.
For number 3, the status quo is always turbulent. Always. For a campaign, it can start in peace-time or otherwise stable eras, but that needs to change quickly. This is also a good rule of thumb for any fictitious story. Stable is boring. People don't read (or in the case of a game, play) something because it is static and blissful. I'm not saying that the world needs to be on the brink of utter destruction constantly (unless you're running Die Hard: the CamPAIN), but something needs to happen, and quickly. The best way to grab your players' (or readers') attention is to throw them into the deep end, fast.
In regards to (4), I say that gods will be minimally "active" in the worldly affairs - after all, they're probably jaded after seeing the world be blown up not too far ago in the past. They might keep a watchful gaze on the doings of the newest denizens of their world, but they may be waiting to see how things begin to play out. I do like the idea of them occasionally walking the earth disguised as mortals to keep informed about the health of their precious world. Also, they would probably want to keep tabs on the access to magical power to ensure that the past doesn't repeat itself. And lastly, we've already addressed points (5) and (6) with my lengthy discussion just a little while ago.
So...now that I've spent far longer just laying the groundwork for my discussion of Dragonsgate's history, I'll try to keep the rest of the post to a minimum and break it up into a second post detailing the most major events (mainly to spare you readers from going cross-eyed staring at the screen for too long).
- The Great Mishap. It won't be called that, but it needs a suitable placeholder name for now. This will be the event that caused the end of the previous age of the world. It needs to be sudden, violent and dramatic. I think a battle or other major threat should be involved - maybe a monster or alien entity of considerable power that was defeated only at the cost of accidentally destroying the world itself. Maybe a Cthuluesque monster or the infamous Tarrasque was responsible. It could have even been a Godzilla or Cloverfield situation. A cadre of brave spellcasters set forth to stop the threat and unleashed a Pandora's Box spell. Tragic irony. In fact, I think I have it. A powerful villain's plans were nearing the dramatic crescendo, and the world was almost in his hands; a powerful group of heroes stepped up to stand in the villain's way, calling upon potent magic to thwart their enemy. But the spell was too potent and perhaps too poorly understood. The spell succeeded in stopping the enemy, but only because a more powerful and more uncontrollable entity was summoned through the dweomer. Ultimately, this entity would probably be some sort of terrible, Lovecraftian entity that devoured the denizens of the world or reduced the survivors to madness before departing back to the Far Reaches of the Cosmos. Now that it knows the location of this world, it could return, any day, to continue its rage.
- The War of the Nine Wands. Not too sure where this fits, but I'm digging the name. Automatically it has something to do with magic, and the name makes it sound suitably epic and dramatic. Perfect for a major event. This does imply that it takes place before the Great Mishap, though it could also be early on in the New Era before the tieflings stake out and control access to the Well.
- The Northern Exodus. This could be the event that explains the concentration of nations and people around the mid-latitudes of the world. It could also be precipitated by the Great Mishap. Still, it's getting difficult to envision how new races that would have been unaffected by the Mishap would be able to spread through new areas of the world without knowledge of the previous events or era. Maybe the gods seeded new races in the New Era. I dislike the idea due to its supernatural feel, but it might be possible to "rationalize" it. I doubt it though. Maybe the tieflings created new races to act as their successors, perhaps in an attempt to seek out penance for their previous wrongdoings. Although, if I go with the Great Mishap incident, this is hardly an act worthy of cursing the individuals responsible. They acted out of good intentions, but achieved disastrous results. Perhaps the tieflings that guard the Well are not an entire community or city, but just a cadre - the original heroes that were responsible for the summoning to begin with. Maybe the survived and were punished for their crime of using forbidden magic to summon an entity beyond their control. I like that - lots of layers. It's easy to see that we're fueling a lot of mythical elements into the early history of the second age though. Oooooh. Idea. Not sure what the technology level of Era One (prior to Era Two, aka the New Era), but what if there was a 'genetic ark' of entities that were being constructed or engineered (this is starting to become a science-fantasy setting) by the previous population prior to the Mishap and the surviving tieflings used those samples to introduce new life-forms to the broken, charred world of Dragonsgate? I'm starting to feel like there's a vein of Prometheus going on here, which is all well and fine. It's worthy of exploration later, but this could explain the vast diversity of races on Dragonsgate, their relative close proximity and distribution to one another and it also creates another ethical issue for which the Precursors (tieflings) could be held responsible and judged for their 'hubris'.
- The First Council of Nations. From the get-go, I liked the idea of the nation of Pazu being a highly peaceful and diplomatic nation, defying the typical trope of making orcs, goblins, trolls and ogres mindless, evil and depraved entities. Given the nature of the world, I think it's somewhat appropriate to have the paradigm inverted a bit (ie. a lot). Nevertheless, it would be a landmark event to note when all the major nations of the era convened to establish general protocols and relations with one another. It's not necessarily saying that the times since the first council have been sunshine and butterflies entirely; it's more interesting that it creates the possibility for a tense, dynamic, political theatre that can create and exhibit numerous sources of intrigue and political strife or tension. Those are great plot-points for any story and create a natural way to discuss the status quo of the world.
- The Construction (and War of) the Librams. No idea what this is yet, but it sounds good, whatever it is (yes, these are mostly just ideas that are coming to me as I write).
- The Maradi incursion;
the Andujan unification; the division of the crown of Algard into
the Kingdoms of Seagate and Windmarch. These are a few major
political/historical events that need to be discussed at length, and
I'll discuss them next time.