Monstrous Humanoids vs Beastmen, more Chaotic Chaos

UNDEAD:

So, now that we've covered the three elements as being correlated with mind, body, and spirit, we can establish the dead as lacking one of the three. Some dead people persist through sheer force of will, or ancient rituals, resulting in disembodied spirits (Since we've established that "Spirit" is one of the three parts of a life, we might as well refer to a glob of pure intentions and emotions as a spirit, since that's what we're talking about inside people anyway. It's just weird to see them floating around and going ooooo.) Non-evil ghosts are simply referred to as "the dead." The "Undead" are created when Corruption begins to fill in the gaps. This can be a total replacement (IE: A spirit might gain a body of pure Corruption) or a partial replacement (IE: Ghouls retain most of their body, but the Corruptive process adds claws and other fun stuff.) This can occur naturally when corpses are left in highly Corrupt areas, or via spells and rituals. 

Mindless undead are not automatons, and have very limited memories and attention spans. They default to attacking a nearby living uncorrupted creature, moving into a Corrupted area, or wandering aimlessly (here expressed in order of preference.) While undead do not "Tire" in the sense of requiring rest, they do consume energy when they move and act, and require a steady supply of Corruption to sustain themselves in the long term. Gruesome murders and cannibalism are hallmarks of the undead because they are easy sources of Corruption.  Zombies and other 'cheap' undead are in particular not ideal vessels for holding Corruption, and thus steadily weaken when removed from a Corrupted domain and denied anything to defile. Better constructed undead, especially mummies, are usually fairly watertight containers, and can safely go dormant for long periods of time without 'leaking' energy.

Vamparism and Lycanthropy are essentially different strains of the same disease, with the former being more spiritually Corrupting and the latter more physically oriented. Both affect all three spheres, however, bringing a suite of changes to their physical, emotional, and mental processes.

Lichdom is achieved via rituals meant to carefully channel Corruption exclusively into the body, in an attempt to achieve immortality without the insanity that accompanies mental Corruption. Of course, playing with pure evil is a very dangerous game, so results are generally mixed. While most liches are spellcasters, the ritual can be performed on anyone, and so-called Death Knights are fearsome indeed. The most successful Liches may seal their mind and spirit inside an object (if they're wise, an indestructible one) which then controls the body as long as it remains within range. The exact range, and the degree of control a Lich can manifest from inside his phylactery both vary wildly between individual Liches. Feel free to have your Lich be a Sauron copy-paste, where he has to be physically touching his phylactery at all times or be reduced to ineffectually glaring, or let him retain full spellcasting ability from inside the phylactery. Maybe the phylactery is a "staff of wonders" that casts spells unpredictably... 

Phylacteries are heavily warded to keep the mind from being excessively Corrupted; this shielding also makes them very hard to detect magically. DMs are encouraged to inform the party that not every lich has a phylactery, and that even if this one did, there's very little way to determine which magic item could allow the Dark Lord to return. It's up to them how much treasure they want to throw into a volcano before they feel safe. 

 

NEVERMIND, UNDEAD CAN WAIT

 

While I was brainstorming for this, Sarusama mentioned that his pet peeve was elves.  The next day my roommate mentioned that he hated elves too. Here are my thoughts:

Elves are an excellent example of a fantasy race that gets portrayed many different ways, many of which make sense, but you also sometimes see an 'average' elf that represents an amalgam of conflicting traits. Elves are environmentally conscious, but great metalworkers, despite the fact that metalworking requires environmentally destructive mines as well as lots of timber to run the forge. (Unless the elves are burning coal, but that'd be even weirder, right?)

Elves like humans and trade with them, despite the fact that "Elven" is generally the highest grade of craftsmanship in any RPG. Are humans the elven equivalent of China, mass-producing low-quality goods? Is there an elven market for mass-produced low quality goods?

The settings where elves make the most sense to me, as presented, are Dragon Age and Skyrim, because in these settings there's been a massive war between elves and other demihumans. Humans don't normally ally with the competition, after all.

So, with that in mind, I ask myself: What are the really central traits of elves? I came up with:

  1. Pointy Ears
  2. Long Lives
  3. Inherently magical
  4. Likes nature.

Since we've already got a world where magical energy is very prevalent and important, we might as well use that. What if elves are migratory, based on the natural ebb and flow of magical energy? They need the magic to sustain themselves, because they're the magical race. Elves don't build cities because they don't stay in one place. Elves don't do much traditional agriculture because they're not around to tend fields in the long term, and they don't really need to because they instinctively travel wherever food is most plentiful. After all, if any area is full of water mana this year, it's also probably very lush and fertile and there's fruit everywhere. Their low birthrate, which was otherwise really weird, makes perfect sense if they're super long lived and trying not to overtax the land so that their hunter-gathering is sustainable.

Different regions have different opinions of elves, but most view them positively because the presence of elves correlates almost directly with prosperity: If they're around, it'll be a great harvest, or there'll be tons of deer or something. Elves are also master craftsmen, since they have long, long lives to practice, but they're limited by what they can produce without many permanent fixtures, so they're always happy to trade. 

On the other hand, there's also a lot of room for tension. History shows that lots of people hate nomads, and it explains the conflict of deforestation- Instead of being concerned about forests on some sort of abstract hippie level, elves view every piece of nature as part of their home, because they have lived or will live pretty much everywhere.

Another part of the conflicting opinions about elves is that there are, as mandated by the RPG gods long, long ago, different breeds of elves, following different ley lines. Some of them are probably very aligned with elements, so you might have Earth Elves that are kinda swole and only hang out in the most earth-aligned places. Some might actually not migrate, but just maintain small communities that stick very close to a single node, so you can still have ancient elf temples.  (Final note: I agree with Alex's diagnosis that elves need to be long lived, not immortal, and that 200-300 years is a good lifespan.)

Also, while we're doing demihumans, let's hit the others:

Dwarves are fine. I don't have any real nitpicks with them.

Gnomes don't need to exist. We've got kobolds as our kooky engineer tricksters! Or just play an anemic dwarf.

Half Elves... wait, what? Why would that exist as a race? That's not a race. Just play a human or an elf and write it into your backstory. Maybe this could be a proficiency.

Warforged: I love warforged! They're fun. I don't think they're a particularly good fit for this setting though. We've already got a lot of other things going on, and a construct race awakening is a big plot thing on its own.

 

ADDITIONAL NOTES, UPON REFLECTION:

The migratory path of elves is determined by their clan's seer(s) which practice a mixture of astrology and geomancy to attempt to predict where mana will bloom next. Because their entire society is based on this, their predictive abilities are better than most human astrologers and seers, albiet only within the specialized field of vague large-scale trends. TLDR: If an elf tells you Winter is Coming to the North, then you start thinking about whether to move south or invest in high, strong walls. He might still be wrong, just like a weatherman, but he's probably a really good weatherman.

Beyond that, most elves are untrained in the art of divination, and have only a limited magical sense of direction that will allow them to migrate towards an area currently blooming, but it's the difference between planning a nice family barbeque at a designation and simply walking hopefully towards the smell of smoke.

PC Elves should be able to build stable communities by tapping into ley lines and growing giant elfy trees whose fruit is rich with Vitamin M or something. I don't want to just exclude them from participating in the endgame. PC Elves are also not required to migrate; the elven need for mana is fairly minimal, and satisfied by rolling around (metaphorically unless the player so chooses) with the wizards and fantastic creatures and locales that are an adventurer's daily grind. Elves migrate mostly for the boosted natural productivity that enables their hunter-gatherer lifestyle, not because they're super mana addicts.

Also, it should go without saying that if some elves are elementally aligned, then Corruption-aligned elves exist, and do with that as you will. I'm not super invested in Drow.

 

The traditional four elements are Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. I've always felt like this wasn't the optimal way of dividing things for a lot of little reasons. Fire, as our modern minds know, is a process rather than a substance. Air, Fire, and Water also all share a lot of traits; which one is the element representing change? Would that be fire, which is literally a change? Water, with its ever-shifting currents? Wind, which is formless to begin with?

To this end, I propose rolling fire into air. (I'm calling it Aether for right now until I think of something better.) They're both very fluffy, and only having three primary elements just makes everything a lot simpler. Plus, as an unexpected bonus, it now tracks nicely with the human experience: Aether is spirit/emotion/willpower, Water is mind/knowledge, and Earth is the body. The energy types exist within these or between them.

While we're here, let's throw out "Arcane" and "Force" as energy types. Spells can just exist as the elements we've been talking about if it matters. If it shoots magic bullets at something, those deal physical damage just like arrows. Healing is air magic, since it's primarily a spirit thing. Teleportation goes under water because water has a strong narrative connection with travel. Etc. Again, when we get closer to time for me to run this campaign I'll look into setting the nitty-gritty details.

Elementals should not have any kind of pseudo-ecology. They're like diamonds, formed from extreme concentrations of energy on other planes. Actually, earth elementals might BE diamonds, who knows? That seems a little gimmicky. Scratch that. So in order to acquire and bind an elemental, a wizard has to first locate one within some great (frequently extraplanar) maelstorm. They're thus very rare and very powerful, because little elementals are boring and work to trivialize magic. Also, because I believe in consolidation, Aether elementals are djinn, Earth elementals are True Golems, and Water Elementals don't track well onto anything in particular. Water is associated with knowledge and travel right now though, so their role tracks very well with the kind of things that a wizard has a powerful extraplanar servant for. They scry, they teleport, and they whisper secrets. (Perhaps, as the most cunning of the elementals, they demand a "price" for their services.) I like the image of the magic mirror with the face protruding from the surface and leaning down towards you. "Can I carry you from this place? Boy, all the world's one river."

Dragons! My nitpick with dragons is that they take too long, and move through too many stages. It takes a hundred years for a dragon to reach horse size, and two hundred after that to outweigh a gelatinous cube. So my solution is that they can hatch at any point of their development. A dragon egg, left undisturbed, sits quietly and absorbs energy. The type absorbed determines the type of dragon. Thus, eggs left in a volcano make red dragons, and eggs acquired by the church hatch into gold dragons, as they soak up righteousness. Wizards love dragon eggs for this property; they're the thaumaturgical equivalent of the glass of water you dip your paintbrush in, if paintwater had the potential to destroy you utterly. Wizards can also harvest the stored energy, and dragon eggs are the most "common" ritual component, to the degree that anything involved in epic level magic can be called common. Most wizards do not have a dragon's egg, but amongst the handful of 14th level wizards, maybe half of them do, with about half of those having two or more.

Once a dragon hatches, it is first and foremost naturally charismatic. Dragons are the natural lords of the Material plane, and everyone knows it on some level. (This does not mean that they have mind control; mortals tend to respond to draconic authority in the same way they do to mortal authority, albiet often more dramatically. People with an anti-authority streak hate dragons.) When they signed the Big Pact of Light and Dark that every setting has, dragons were the signatories representing the Material plane. Some dragons can shapeshift, and prefer to interact with human society without revealing themselves.  (this is the origin of some of the world's legendaries heroes, who appeared from nowhere, amassed a large following almost instantly, and then vanished, promising to return when the time was right.)

 

Stay tuned next time for Planes, Undead!

So, I was sort of at a loss as to what kinds of societies to populate this world with! Then my roommate started talking excitedly about Aztecs, because that's just kind of a thing he does sometimes. Apparently the Aztec creation myth is that the evil gods murdered the sun's mother while she was pregnant, and he burst forth from the womb fully formed, fought all of them, and forced them to retreat into the sky. The Aztecs perform blood sacrifices to keep the sun strong because otherwise the Stars Will Return. 

That seems like a fun foundation for a kingdom! Plus I think it's pretty rare for Aztecs to get to be the good guys, but in a world where evil is real and active, they're a lot more justifiable. Just have the sacrifices be voluntary and nonfatal- community blood drives to generate extra Divine Power.

Now, how much divine power should a nonfatal blood sacrifice be worth? Let's make two numbers real quick, a low one and a high one.

Lowball Calculations: When a human is killed, 10% of their divine power remains in the body. This means that 90% of their divine power exists tethered to the body, but not in it. Furthermore, since blood is only one part of the body, a lot of that divine power is in bones and organs. And, since we're not using ALL the blood, it's further subdivided. Our formula looks something like XP value times 10% times 30% times 10% (Portion that is in the body at all, portion that is in the blood, portion of the blood we're extracting.) a commoner is worth 5 XP, so a pint of blood is worth .015 points. Every 66 humans that do this generate one extra point. That's pretty underwhelming.

High Calculation: Just because 10% remains in the body after death doesn't mean that 90% of the soul's energy is free-floating. After all, if 90% of the energy is obtained in sacrifice, then THAT's the number we're looking at! Furthermore, if it's a willing sacrifice, then there's minimal reason to assume that there's a 1:1 ratio of mass to energy, as if divine power were butter spread exactly evenly over the body. If we really wanted, there's nothing to contradict the idea that people could bleed a very small amount and choose to trade away 50 or 80 or even 90% of their divine power by cramming all their energy into those few drops. That's kind of silly though.

I think a fair compromise is that the rituals of our Aztec kingdom produce, overall, 50% more Divine Power than a comparably-sized kingdom, and as such, they can support dramatically more divine classes. This is represented by having abour 30% more clerics, priestesses, and bladedancers, and dramatically more Paladins.

However, this is not without cost. In order to rapidly replenish the spiritual energy of the people, the Aztecs throw three festivals per season instead of one, and invest heavily into agriculture. This reliance on infrastructure limits their ability to expand, and their cultural dedication to eradicating evil wherever it may rise takes a heavy toll on their military. In short, they've got a really high income in basically every game resource, but they constantly spend all of it.

This is reflected culturally. They love bright colors, loud noises, strong drink, and give truth to the term "war party." They're also generally selfless, brave, and brash.

Finally, I want obsidian to do something cool, but I haven't decided what kinds of magical properties to give it.

Put all of this together, and you get a faction the players will almost exclusively hear about because obviously there's no reason to visit a small kingdom that's doing fine. Aztecs will show up other places, and generally make good allies, and obviously when we get to the Domains at War phase, they can be the cavalry that show up at the last minute to make a losing fight winnable. Because ever since I realized it was an option, my life goal has been to do this scene https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kl5tG3fRZhk but with these guys https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUhVCoTsBaM

 

Also I should really think of a name that isn't Aztecs for these guys because it's important to at least rename the cultures you're stealing from for your RPG setting. I'm terrible with names, so suggestions are welcome!

Quick Setpiece:

A country best known for long, harsh winters. A string of little villages on the outer rim, who have a strange custom. They hoard. They gather as much of every resource as they can as often as they can. Then, every three years, when the heavy snowfall comes, they bury their houses and hide. Anyone who goes outside is never seen again. Sometimes, when the snow melts, a house will be gone- nothing but ash and worthless rubbish in its place. The elves take everything of value as they migrate through. Or perhaps they stay for the full duration of the strong winter; nobody goes outside to check. The Ice Elves know that this world is cruel, and they are fortunate to have found a place where they are on top.

Aztec was a fairly broad term meaning "those from Aztlan," referring to their mytho-historical origins (they came from somewhere else, but their origin story was edited over the course of the empire). The three groups within the Aztec grouping were the Mexica, the Acolhua, and the Tepanec. The Mexica were dominant in Tenochtitlan, the Acolhua in Texcoco, and the Tepanec in Tlacopan (this was the famous "Triple Alliance" that ruled the so-called Aztec Empire with Tenochtitlan as the dominant partner of the Alliance). The Alliance overthrew a Tepanec empire ruled from Azcapotzalco. When Cortes overthrew Hueyi Tlaotani Moctezuma, it was with the aid of Tlaxcalteca allies. Swapping around so that the Triple Alliance is Acolhua, Tepanec, and Tlaxcalteca would let you use real names that are unfamiliar to most people.

 

Obsidian is sharp. Well-knapped, it's sharper than steel. I would give obsidian weapons +1 damage, but make them slightly expensive, and they tend to be slow - a one-handed macuahuitzoctli imposes -1 on initiative, and a two-handed macuahuitl (which could decapitate a horse) imposes -2 on initiative, as they have to be swung like clubs and are fairly massive.

 

Triple Alliance warriors also used the atlatl (a thrower for long, slender darts), tlahhuitolli (bow), tematlatl (sling), cuahuitl (club), tepoztopilli (obsidian-bladed spear), quauhololli (stone-headed mace), tlaxemaltepoztli (stone-headed axe), and tecaptl (dagger). They wore salted quilted armor (take quilted cotton, soak it in brine, and hang it to dry in the shade; the crystallized salt helps protect against blades) called ichcahuipilli and carried shields (chimalli). The animal warrior societies wore tlahuiztli (animal hide, leather, and cotton), sometimes over ichcahuipilli. A hardwood helmet called cuacalalatli protected the head; most were carved to look like animals, with the warrior looking out of the jaws.

So, going down the list of humanoids, I encountered mermen. That's probably something worth thinking about, right? I'm not going to do anything too revolutionary with mermen; but it's worth recording which archetype I'm going with: The ocean contains monstrous fish-men with huge milky eyes and horrible gurgles. Most tribes live fairly placid hunter-gatherer existences, eating raw fish and trying to avoid the ocean's megapredators. When a group comes into contact with humans, one of two things happens:

The fishmen become scavengers and opportunistic thieves. Worked metal, wood, and cooked food are all available exclusively on the surface, and so at night they inflate their sacs to the fullest and creep onto land for a few hours, hoping to grab something of value. If they encounter a land-dweller, both sides typically react with intense violence driven by fear, and both are aware of this, and so take pains to avoid encounters. Many coastal towns have strong locks and aboslutely no night life by custom, although naturally, there are always a few who don't believe the myth, and most of them never bump into a fishman at night.

Sometimes, however, a coastal village is visited by a congregation of Deep Ones, fishmen who have migrated from the ocean's depths for a singular purpose. First, they exterminate or recruit the local fishmen into their cult. Then they tell the humans of the great beast-gods that lurk in the depths, of the terror that they could bring, but also, of the possible rewards. The Deep Ones ply the surface-dwellers with promises of beneficial magic, as well as treasure dredged from wrecked ships. Often, the treasure includes anything the local fishmen had stolen over the years- long lost heirlooms returned at last.

 

TLDR: Innsmouth fishmen. Done.

 

Gnolls: Gnolls are hyena people. Hyenas are actually pretty intense, right? I know exactly two things about them: They're best known for maniacal laughter, and although they have many dog-like aspects, they're actually part of the feline family. They're a cat's best impression of a dog.

That's pretty metal. I think gnolls deserve to be metal. I think my gnolls are desert-dwelling speed freaks. It's been less than eight years since I saw the new Mad Max movie, so I'm still pretty jazzed about it. What goes fast in the desert, though? I can think of three things.
1. Cool hovery land-ships. Magic!
2. Camels, I guess?
3. SANDWORMS.

Well, two of those are pretty easy to do. What about the land boats, though? What kind of pricing are we looking at for those? Well, what if we do it as an automaton?

Let's say we want something like a small sailing ship. So 600 stone capacity, and 45' per round movement speed.

Automatons have a default 60' exploration speed, which means 20' per round movement. We spend one special ability to double that! Now we're at 40' per round. Good enough! This puts it on par with a slow horse's combat speed, which is good. How do you have an exciting boarding action if it's too much faster than horses? I'll make a note though that we can always double it again.

So far, 1 special ability. Now we need the 600 stone capacity. HD 6 and two doublings will get us a 720 stone capacity. Total cost 27,000 and can be commissioned from a 3rd level mechanist. That places it as well within a Duke's purchasing power, and even a Count could afford one by saving up for a few months.

Admittedly, we do have the issue that it can technically only carry one passenger, and it'd be prohibitively expensive to increase passenger status to the size of a full ship. I'm not sure why passenger carrying is so expensive. Probably to prevent things like this from breaking economics. Maybe I'll just not worry about the economics of it. Maybe I'll use the prohibitively expensive values and say that most of them are in service for many decades, so they have time to make back the cost.

The important thing is that desert princes commision these things for trade, and sometimes gnolls steal them, leading to fantastic war rigs.

Speaking which, desert princes! I'm thinking of having the gnolls live on a southern continent that is mostly desert, but boasts successful and wealthy kingdoms. The gnoll-filled desert seperates them, so they rarely go to war with each other directly, preferring to compete via trade and hiring mercenary armies.

For the gnolls, what about magitech hover-bikes instead of ships? Maybe, as hyena-like scavengers, there's no way any herd animal is going to let them ride it, so in order to move more quickly on raids, they've had renegade machinists make them levitating "iron horses" that they use to strike without leaving tracks.

Oh, for sure, for sure. That was never even a question. Isn't that on the cover of ACKS? "Every Campaign Is A Law Onto Itself, But Also Must Have Hoverbikes."

I just figured that the average (successful) gnoll raiding tribe would have a big jabba style sand barge that they stole and put spikes on, and then a variety of weird little vehicles to travel around it in a fleet. Some of which would be single-person hoverbikes.

Gnoll Dust: This small bag contains a dust which is shiny and chrome. If inhaled, gain the Berserkergang proficiency for 3 turns. The dust is extremely fine, and users will have a residue of silver about their mouths and noses. 

(Trnasmog.: gain profiency: 20; 1 creature x1, self, x0.5, 3 turns x0.8, arcane x1, beneficial x1)

so there is beauty in this world after all

So, continuing down the list of beastmen: Ogres, Giants, Trolls. The big guys.

I've always felt that elemental giants were kinda stupid. I mean, fire and frost are Norse, so there's a strong mythic resonance, but unless you're doing something very nordic where Frost Giants are a faction, I don't think they're super important. Let's cut them. Hill and Stone giants are boring because they're just big dudes. They don't have any real narrative purpose that couldn't be filled by an ogre or a bandit with hefty thighs.

Cloud Giants are really weird though. Weird enough that we can extrapolate something interesting from them. Who are they? Why are they in the sky? I can't think of a really cool biological reason why they'd be in the sky. I don't think they're like, seagull beastmen, or they just naturally need that vitamin C (clouds.) I think living in the sky has to be a choice. What does the sky have to reccomend it? Well, safety from natural predators, but if you're a giant with the know-how to build a flying castle, you probably don't have any predators. I guess we don't know that the castles fly. They could be on naturally flying islands.

I think cloud giants live in the sky because it's a preference. A flying castle is a great lair for a wizard. The sky is peaceful and isolated, and you can simultaneously travel to look for magical ingredients and stay at home! Plus, wizards love height. It's a fact; that's why they always build high towers. A flying tower is as high as it gets. Now, not all cloud giants are wizards per se, but they all lead wizard-shaped lives. There's probably a castle with a cloud giant swordsman who does research on different sword techniques and is searching for the perfect sword metal, and he's written book-length essays with titles like "On the Viability of the Capo Ferro Maneuever In Opposition to Thibault: A Close Examination of Agrippa and the Unseen Geometric Implications of the Thrust: A Rebuttal."

I imagine that the success of this lifestyle varies wildly. Some actually do wind up achieving tremendous progress and become masters of their art rivalled only by the world's greatest. Others probably just waste their lives writing bad books and speaking pretentiously about how enlightened their isolation makes them, like a whole race of Henry David Thoreaus.

 

Centaurs are mongoloid in culture, since the horse-people are a natural choice for horse-people. Seems straightforward. They hang out on the steppes and have horse archers, it's all good. They're also part of the Borya empire. They're a "recent" addition, having been conquered post-rebellion rather than being a founding member.

Lizardmen... exist. I guess they live in swamps? I'll come back to them. A founding race of Borya though.

Panzerbjorn exist, because there needs to be an armored bear faction. They live in the frozen north, and are a founding member of the Borya, but are considering secession. They're just not sure if they can get away with it yet.

Halflings don't exist. 

Minotaurs exist, but not as a race. There's probably exactly one minotuar, and he's made of shadow and terror, and came from a wizard with a hangover and a crossbreeding cauldron.

Ogres. Let's make ogres fun. Let's make ogres smart, but vicious. Let's make ogres the Fallen. As I see it, an ogre is like ten times the weight and strength of a human, so he needs to eat at least ten times as much. Trouble is, he doesn't have a good way to do ten times the farming. I guess an ogre farmer could push a plow himself and cut the horse out of the picture, but I don't see that working super efficiently.

So ogres grew up somewhere with a very, very lush biome. Ogres are from a volcanic jungle region, where the ash enriches the soil and there's massive wild boar. Actually, ogres might be boar-men. I'll think about that. So the ogres grow up in this region, but they're ultimately confined to it, because they starve to death outside of it. Then they discover other demi-humans, who don't eat anything, and build these huge farms! An ogre family can trash a humanoid baron, claim leadership of the village, and then live happily off the taxes. Most races don't even mind too much about the change in leadership; the old boss is dead, long live the new boss, did you see him punch that hydra to death? To the ogres, it seems natural. The way of the world. Of course the strongest are in charge. It's their manifest destiny.

Now there's a massive ogre empire. The ogres are calling the shots for a half-dozen subspecies of human. Some of the Ogre Magi start getting into dark rituals, and it catches on espicially in the capital. There's a cultural shift away from proving supremacy to just enjoying it. For those who aren't magical, there's always lavish construction projects, gladiator arenas, and general excess.

A lot of ogres suspect there's something wrong with this. Some agitate for change, or help secretly arm their servants, but most of them commission flying carpets and fuck off into the sky to one day become cloud giants. In the midst of this exodus, the great hero Caesar emerges. A field slave, he strangles his ogrelord with his chains and then forges them into a weapon, travelling from village to village picking fights and amassing a band of faithful companions with interesting backstories. The rebellion wins, and the ogres are driven back to their homeland, once opulent and imperial, now twisted and blackened, a permanent bastion of corruption. Also it's called Zahre, so that all the Zaharan feats are still appropriately named.

The rebellious territories re-organize themselves into a new empire, called Borya, after one of Caesar's fallen companions. He himself ascends to godhood, as the Master of Chains. Chains feature heavily in Boryan iconography. His companions become the founding saints of the... religion. DAMN IT. DAMN IT I WAS SO PROUD OF NAMING THE EMPIRE AND THE MORDOR I FORGOT THAT RELIGIONS HAVE NAMES.

There. I covered ogres and established the main empire in the game as well as explaining where the big spooky volcanic wasteland comes from. I'm going home. Names. Ugh.

So, I was thinking about Beastmen and Demi-humans. If you elevate beastmen to demi-human status, then it seems weird to have, you know, hyena-men, lizard-men, bear-men, and.... short men. It just seems more coherent if elves and dwarves are beastmen too.

So, elves are bird-men, and dwarves are badger-men. You've got your shifty thief-broker Raven-Elves, your mysterious and terrifying Owl-Elves, your gregarious Parrot-Elves...

So what makes beastmen? Lots of things! Sometimes it's the natural byproduct of generations of living in a particular high-mana area. Sometimes gods take it upon themselves to 'improve' the locals, molding them into a preferred shape. Sometimes it's a deliberate act by humans in an attempt to improve themselves.

The bear-men of the North are bears that an ice-god granted intelligence and thumbs.

The centaurs are self-made, having used magic to fuse themselves with horses for obvious reasons.

The ogres are naturally occuring- they soaked up the strength and vigor of their volcanic homeland.

The toadmen were created by the ogres as servants.

The lizardmen were rewarded by their swamp-gods.

Nobody is 100% sure about gnolls. Some postulate that a bored god decided to create a violent, chaotic race for their own amusement. Others believe that their manic intensity marks them as having been twisted by the firey mana of the desert itself.

Dwarves and Elves I haven't decided yet, and welcome suggestions.

 

Let's have a dwarfy post.

Dwarves in the Borya empire are emphasized by pride and strength. They enjoy mining, metalworking, and war. They're traditional, conservative, and ruled by Mountain Kings. Each dwarfhold is an independent city-state, which makes alliances with its neighbors as it sees fit. Sometimes every mountain gets together for the secret Dwarven Counsel, although this happens only twice a century. Three times in known history, the dwarves have voted to elect a tyrant-emperor to shepherd all dwarves through a time of great crisis.

Most tropes that apply to klingons or vikings apply to dwarves.

Except, of course, for the Deep Dwarves that discovered gunpowder and the religion of the Makers. They're the Dwarven Machinists, dedicated to glorifying an ancient god of metal and wheels with their own creations and tireless industry.  Their cult spreads slowly but surely along the upper echelons of dwarven society.

What's the deal with lizardmen?

What if they don't like the cold?

What if OGRES don't like the cold? It makes sense for a race from a volcanic rainforesty region to love fire magic, and then naturally the rebellion can be all about the ice magic. That's a fun reversal- I feel like Ice isn't usually a good thing. But ice keeps your food from rotting, keeps the ogres away. Plus you can make water out of it pretty easily, so ice is really just swole water.

So lizardmen can't deal with the cold because they're from the warm, swampy regions on the border with Zahar. They were the first conquered by the ogres, and fought them the longest and the hardest, and they're among the most dedicated members of the Boryan empire. Unfortunately, Caesar started the rebellion in the far north, and the cultural history of the war is one of ice versus fire. The capital city, and indeed, most important cities, are in areas with brutal winters as part of this cultural/military legacy. Lizardmen who can't take the cold can't be where the important things are happening! Lizardmen who can't take the cold are seen as unpatriotic. Lizardmen who can't take the cold guard the border with Zahar, and sacrifice themselves by the thousand every time there's a big resurgence of evil. They're the Night's Watch, and get about as much respect and gratitude in setting (That is to say, none.)

Also, ice and chains is super metal as a motif for an empire.

Susan, I'm going to need a DNA sample so I can clone you several times to fill out my gaming table.

That sounds awesome! I'd love to be a table full of me. Plus, I can harvest them for organs if this body becomes untenable! Just give me a mailing address and your preferred bodily substance, plus a fifteen dollar deposit that you'll get back when the clones are successfully grown.

On-topic, I've decided that my campaign map, rather than the suggested 30x40 for a total of 1200 hexes, will be 100x100, for a nice round 10,000 hexes, or five million square miles. If you were to lay my map over a map of the earth, it'd cover about 2%!

Luckily, the 24 mile hex level is pretty easy to map, since you basically just take the paint tool like "aaaand this is desert. Thiiiis is desert. This is some farmland, couple forests, I'll add a capital city later.... Then desert again! And now a coast! Whoop! 30 hexes of ocean seperate these continents!"

I'll post the rough draft once I'm finished; I'm using the free version of Hexographer, which is pretty great.