Of Beasts and Men: Worldbuilding

I’m going to lay out the world I’m designing, both because hopefully my wordsmithing skills will be interesting and worthwhile enough to be a gift to the forum, and also because I would appreciate feedback and suggestions. I’ll upload a map as soon as my cartography minion manages to drag his behemoth masterpiece to a scanner that can accommodate it. For now, I’ll describe.

The central theme of the world is that the Unnamed Empire has recently expanded into the Unnamed Pagan Kingdoms. The Empire’s colonization process is slow because the only access to the Pagan Kingdoms is through a fairly narrow land bridge, bordered on one side by the Stormridge Mountains (which are both cursed and full of goblins) and on the other side by the Sea of Terror. Recently, the Empire appointed an Exarch with a sizeable army to stabalize the Eastern kingdoms and bring them fully under the dominion of the Empire.

The Pagan Kingdoms have theoretically bent their knees and voluntarily accepted entry into the Empire, but there are many who would see them united against their common foe. The Kingdoms are the primary setting of the game, consisting almost entirely of borderlands territory.

The Unnamed Empire is heavily based on the Roman Empire culturally, (or at least, on my 7th grade history recollections of the roman empire. If anyone feels compelled to give advice regarding their culture, that’d be great). The primary innovation is that the gods in their pantheon have a dual nature: They believe that the god of the sun, when displeased, becomes the god of storms. The god of the sword becomes the god of the axe (He’s the god of war in either case, but as the sword he represents things like discipline, honor, and good strategy, while as the axe he represents negative qualities of war like bloodlust, destruction, and chaos) and so on.

Meanwhile, the Pagan Kingdoms are a mixture of my 7th grade recollections of Native American culture with a little bit of Eastern culture mixed in. Their pantheon consists of animals, each of which embodies a personal trait (So where a Roman general might pray to the gods of Knowledge and War, a Pagan general would study texts regarding the Raven and Bear to learn Cunning and Strength.) The animal’s domains are thus loosely based off the tenants of Bushido as I remember them from my days playing L5R. “Worship” for these gods involves performing acts that exemplify their key attributes, often through ritual. (So, for example, theoretically any show of Strength would please the Bear, but traditionally, most people carry a pig to the top of the nearest mountain, because that’s the USUAL show of strength.)

Finally, the subhuman races have their own Chaos Pantheon- The Teeth (pain), the Claw (destruction), the Tendril (temptation), each of which represents a different aspect of the Outsider. There are also cults of the Eye, who do not act against civilization directly, but are sworn to give aid and protection to those who do.

Susan, thanks for sharing your setting! 

A few thoughts that immediately jump out at me:

1. Why is the Empire expanding into the Kingdoms? I think you have an interesting opportunity to use the ACKS domain and trad e rules to show why. For instance, maybe the Empire's land values are low (representing depleted soil) while those in the much-less-populated Kingdoms are high. Maybe there are lots of trade goods in the Kingdoms that the Empire craves. Etc.

2. What is the relationship between the Empire's faith and the Kingdom's faith? Is the Empire suppressing or tolerating it? How do they correlate to caster classes? The obvious mix is Clerics in the Empire and Shamans in the Kingdom. Is there a place for Bladedancers or Priestess or Witches?

3. How do the two realms see mages and arcane magic?

4. Where do the subhuman races live? Do they threaten the Empire in any way? 

5. Are there any existential threats to the setting? I often find that ACKS plays very well if you mix boiling political tension with latent existential doom. The "Big NPCs" (kings and dukes and high priests) begin the campaign distracted by the political confrontation, while the PCs are slowly uncovering the reality of the terrible dangers that threaten the realm. 

In my original Auran Empire campaign, the political situation was a civil war between the Exarchs, while the existential threat was the Awakening of the Chthonic Gods. 

In my Oriental Adventures campaign, the political situation was a civil war between the Shogun and the Emperor, while the existential threat was the opening of the Gates of the Dead and return of the Demon-King.

In my current Opelenean Nights campaign, the political situation is the death of the Emperor and border tensions with Kemesh while the existential threat is...hmm, I think it's the PCs wandering around awakening every slumbering evil in a 500 mile radius.

In any event, if there's one recommendation I can offer for happy ACKSing, it's to try this mix.


Oh wow, these are some fantastic questions!

I haven’t quite nailed one down yet. I could do the Coming of the Outsider, which would thematically be very similar to the Awakening of the Cthonic Gods. I could also do the Return of the Necromancer. Actually, I could probably roll the two into one pretty neatly.

Also any assistance with naming things would be greatly appreciated.

Great stuff. I think your setting will rock. I love the idea that magic works better high up in the air as an explanation for wizard's towers. 

As far as naming, here's a short essay I wrote for the Auran Empire setting. I think where people go wrong in naming things is that they are too consistent. They either put everything in English, or put everything in a foreign tongue, and they ensure everything has clean, neat names. Real naming is a lot more wacky than that. 

In terms of the actual naming itself, the easiest thing to do is to use a real-world language as your analog for each of the faux languages in your game. So Latin is the language of the Empire, while you might use Lapp, Finnish, and Siberian names for the Kingdoms. A more challenging proposition is to create constructed languages. 


A Note on Names and Language

In geographic and historical writing, the proper names used for places and people vary widely depending on the language used in the writing. For example, the region once called Germania by the Romans is now called Germany in English, Deutschland in German, Allemagne in French, and Niemcy in Polish. Which of these names is proper entirely depends on which language is being used.

The proper name used by a language might not mean anything in that language. If the proper name is older than the language, it might be a name inherited from a prior language, and therefore meaningless in the current language. For example, London (founded 43 AD) has no apparent meaning in modern English (which dates to 1550 AD), being inherited from the Latin Londinium. On the other hand, if the proper name is younger than the language, it might be meaningful in that language. For example, the name United Kingdom (established 1707) is meaningful in modern English.

Because of these properties, proper names beautifully convey the flavor of their history and origin. In writing the Auran Empire Campaign Setting, we have aimed to convey to English readers the flavor that the Auran Empire’s proper names would have to its own denizens.

Therefore, the proper names appearing in the Auran Empire Campaign Setting were developed as if the language being used were Common Auran. Proper names meaningful in Common Auran were then translated into English, to be appropriately meaningful to English readers. Proper names which were inherited by Common Auran from other tongues were transcribed in English letters, but were not translated into English.

The table below illustrates this practice with some proper names from the setting along with similar real-world examples.

Proper Name

Translation and Transcription from Setting Language

Similar Real-World Examples

Jutting Mountains

“Jutting” translated from Common Auran into English

“Mountains” translated from Common Auran into English

Rocky Mountains

Meniri Mountains

“Meniri” transcribed from Classical Auran

“Mountains” translated from Common Auran into English

Himalayan Mountains

Kingdom of Kemesh

“Kingdom of” translated from Common Auran into English

“Kemesh” transcribed from Kemeshi

Republic of Egypt

Southern Argollë

“Southern” translated from Common Auran into English

“Argollë” transcribed from Classical Auran

South Africa

Auran Empire

“Auran” transcribed from Classical Auran

“Empire” translated from Common Auran into English

Roman Empire


“Tarkaun” transcribed from Classical Auran




Further thoughts on arcane magic:

Imperial and Raven traditions differ considerably. To that end, I’ve decided to write up some tables for randomly generating jargon. I doubt I’ll ever actually roll on them, but it’ll be a useful thought exercise for keeping in mind the different cultures.

When discussing magic, Imperial mages will use lots of polysyllabic phrases, often of the name-adjective-noun format. They might say that a Find Path spell involves calibrating a detector for natural emanations using Bigby’s Artificial Ratio.

Imperial Names:

  1. Mordenkainen’s
  2. Archibald’s
  3. Theopold’s
  4. Tarkamere the Lesser’s
  5. Bulimont’s
  6. Fairmont’s
  7. Barbalute’s
  8. Madfellow’s
  9. Pratchett’s
  10. Antipode’s

Imperial Adjectives:

  1. Reticulated
  2. Recursive
  3. Subdivided
  4. Semi-exponential
  5. Artificial
  6. Imaginary
  7. Proprietary
  8. Emasculating
  9. Hyperbolic
  10. Whimsical


  1. Theorem
  2. Conundrum
  3. Ratio
  4. Polarity
  5. Convergence
  6. Regression
  7. Opposition
  8. Exploit
  9. Interval
  10. Rotation

Meanwhile, because the study of magic is less scientific in the Pagan Kingdoms, when a Raven discusses his magic (a much, much rarer occurrence) he’ll be more likely to use phrases that sound less like instructions and more like koans. He might say that a Find Path spell relies on understanding the memory of true north, the lessons of iron, and the heart of the forest.


Behold! After much suffering, the conversion of my player’s gorgeous hand-drawn map into a hideous but far more ACKS-functional hex-map is nearly 80% complete! There are still a few towns I haven’t copied over, and the text currently lacks any unifying scheme, but by and large, I’m pretty proud of it.

My one concern is the same concern I had during the drawing process, which is scale- Are things about as far apart as they should be?

Awesome! I think your map is both gorgeous and intriguing. Lots of places I’d like to explore. (What’s behind the river that ends in the scrub plains, where there’s a fish symbol?)

I may be missing something, but what is the scale of your map? The default ACKS scale?

Not knowing the scale, there seems less sea between the Empire and the Kingdoms than I was expecting.

The fish is, at current, a lake, something I was surprised to find there was no real symbol for in Hexographer. I haven’t actually written anything fun for the lake yet, but rest assured, there are many fun things that can happen at lakes. Sunken temples, sleeping leviathans, tempting nymphs…

I was working under the assumption of the standard 6-mile hex when I drew it, but that produces a map that’s way, way smaller than ACKS assumes (A 40x30 map means 1200 hexes, which just squeaks under the minimum size to be a “Kingdom” in ACKS terms). If I stick with 6 mile hexes, then the lords in the Pagan Kingdoms will end up being Counts and Marquis in game terms. I will probably have to call this the 24-mile hexes map, and then produce a 6-mile version for just the Kingdoms.

We did make a deliberate decision when drawing the map to draw much less sea than would make sense for a barrier- This was largely because we wanted to avoid making the map 2/3rds water. At the time, we figured we’d just handwave it as being an unusually dangerous and squid-filled body of water, forcing all but the most foolhardy boats to hug the coastline and avoid deep water (thus making boats far less practical than normal). Perhaps I’ll talk to the group and see about simply declaring that there’s, say, three times as much water as is actually drawn. (At this point, I have yet to learn how much water is a good amount, so suggestions are welcome.)

Lakes in Hexographer are typically made using a water hex or a thick water line drawn in the shape of your lake.


There! I think I can call this 24-mile hex Campaign Map pretty much done. Note the color coding: Blue=Empire, White=Human, Red=Beastman/Monster, Teal=Independant Vassal State to the Empire. Half-submerged hippos are towns.

Nice! I like the map, but I’m curious as to what kind of climate you imagine these regions having. The land looks pretty flat, but it would appear that some places must get a lot more rain than others - some of those swamps are huge! Were you imagining those grasslands in the east being the result of human (or humanoid) activity, or are they lands like the Eurasian steppe or the Great Plains of North America, that just don’t support many trees?

I hope you don’t take my questions as criticism; I just really like maps and I’m curious about the way you designed this one. :slight_smile:

Obviously a map of a fantasy world doesn’t have to make real-world sense, but climate can have a huge impact on culture and even politics, so I was interested to know if you’d given it much thought.

I wouldn’t worry about it too much; a narrow body of water can still be a barrier. After all, the English Channel is barely more than 20 miles wide near Calais. Even if the pagan kingdoms don’t have anything like the English navy, sea monsters and other navigational hazards might serve much the same purpose, especially if the Empire hasn’t had a compelling reason to take an interest in the east before now.

As I begin constructing the regional map, I find myself curious as to how much should go on the player’s version of the map, and how much should be reserved for my Judge’s map.

All right, I’ve pretty much finished my Player’s Document for the group. It contains the campaign and regional maps, setting information, and roleplaying advice/requirements.


In working on the economy, I noticed there are no demand modifiers for swamps. Do you guys have any suggestions on how to model a swamp town?