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.
As an aside, one of the ideas I was working on was a dwarven hydraulic empire, where those who controlled the dams and sluice gates to the fungal gardens of the vaults were the ones who held the power. Because better irrigation designs meant better farming and larger populations, the craftpriests and machinists became important members of society, protected by vaultguards. The furies are the outsider barbarians, who follow the earlier gods and are protected by their runic tattoos. Rebellion within the vaults could be controlled by withdrawing the waters, bunkering up within the dam, and surviving on stored food until the rebels became compliant, or by flooding the vault and drowning the opposition. Abandoned vaults tend to be half-flooded and filled with odd amphibious creatures and fungal growths. This also shapes where vaults are located, most being in mountainous areas close by rivers that they could divert to their weirs.
I love it and I'm stealing it. That's definitely where the machinist caste came from, and the gunpowder thing is a more recent addition. I think in my setting though, they'll be somewhat at odds with the non-mechanists, and most mountainhomes maintain an uneasy truce between the rivermaster and the king.
WHO RUNS BARTERTOWN?
Here's a rough draft!
I decided to throw some mountains around the farthest north to isolate the bears a little more, and a desert to isolate the centaurs. Greece has a mountain range too. Zahar has mountains along the coast to limit the number of viable ports- It's unclear whether this was their doing or their enemies.
So, I was considering having there be an almost colonial economic structure to the realm, as goods flow north to the capital, with the other kingdoms often feeling exploited, but I have no idea how to establish that in ACKS terms.
Isn’t there that one service that calls for an extra tax on the vassals?
You could have that, one or multiple times, and have them pay the tax in goods rather than coin. This would also lead to them often feeling exploited as extra services have a negative effect on morale, as I recall.
Could reduce land or service value and assign it to the capital, representing capital interests completely bypassing the vassal->liege relationship. (monetarily no different than more tax...)
You could depress the market availaibility of goods locally - either actually knock everyone down a market class or do it by category, depending on what you want to happen. That'd represent merchants/traders actively not even bothering to sell locally.
More detailed approach may be adjusting "capital" demand modifiers up and local modifiers down - selling gets you not as much locally as going to the capital - but you might have to inverse that for buying things locally to have the full effect - that may or may not get weird...
Oh, duh. Just have the Czar pass favors to his favorite and require duties of the rulers of the other zones. That's the most straightforward option for sure.