System Agnostic: Creating a World from Random Races [Rescentia Part 2]
Note: This is the second post about Rescentia, a world I designed with the challenge of using random races. You can read part 1 here. TLDR version is start with a standardish D&D world except orcs manage to kill most everybody. Fanatical druidic grippli hold the swamps, nomadic desert people sorcerers blend with fire elementals to become emberkin (irfit) and hold deserts, strix hold mountains and keep knowledge alive and don’t give a s**t about Orcs, catfolk play hide + seek and spread out. Orcs fall to infighting and half-orc rebellion, half-orcs move out to claim human inheritance becoming the setting’s new ‘default’ race. Meanwhile, humans who escaped to celestial realms and became aasimar come back, launch holy war against almost everyone to reclaim their inheritance (with notable dissenters).
Rescentia is a land that has spent the last decade recovering from centuries of unrelenting war, perched on the cusp of what may be the next great war.
The land is littered with innumerable ruins left behind by the orcs who looted what they understood and left everything they didn’t abandoned as they continued their near-indomitable march towards conquest. Countless ancients cities, keeps, mage towers, and dungeons filled with any number of treasure stand abandoned, left behind by impatient and incurious orc-hordes and now -perhaps- claimed by other forces. Major geographic features have been shaped and altered by the long wars of Orc-Tide – rivers and mountains moved and blasted against armies, forests transformed to deserts to produce siege engines, and farmlands reclaimed by savage nature once the orcs moved on. In places, the lingering effects of the magic released in ultimately futile attempts to stop Orc-Tide still scar the land.
While there are token populations and hidden enclaves of many races, these small minorities have very little impact on the continental politics of Rescentia. Instead, the significant power blocks are described below.
The Ring of Zankar (Grippli)
Before the Orc-Tide, none of the other races much considered the grippli. Their enemies busy with the orcs, and their own birth rates nearly matching that of the orcs themselves; the grippli rose in prominence in the early days of Orc-Tide. But when the tide finally crashed against their swamp lands and mangrove forests, they fell to the onslaught like so many others. They might well have lost all had it not been for the rise of the Ring of Zankar.
Zankar was and is an ancient, colossal, possibly immortal frog that has sat -seemingly in snoring hibernation- along the eastern coast for untold centuries. Most grippli thought it little more than a curio, while a minority worshiped the unconscious creature as the embodiment of nature incarnate. While the grippli were losing ground to the Orc-Tide, a group of seven of these faithful received a vision from Zankar and began their holy war.
These fanatical druids rallied the tribes and fought successfully against the orcine invaders using divine gifts fused perfectly with hit and run tactics. They also inducted nondruids into their circle, believing that all grippli were especially favored by nature and that each had their place in the circle. To mark this change in traditional druidic custom, they re-titled their order a ‘ring.’ In time, the vast majority of grippli swore allegiance to the worshipers of Zankar, recognizing it as the guiding force to continue resisting Orc-Tide and providing direction for the future.
Eventually, the orcs turned their attention elsewhere; leaving the swamp lands to the ‘froggies’ and pushing into the richer elven and human lands. Zankar’s inquisitors and druids claimed victory publicly, while privately they consolidated power and prepped for the orcs’s inevitable return. The Orc-Tide would return they knew, and only their faith in Zankar would see them through.
When the Orc-Tide fell in on itself, the Ring of Zankar took it as a sign that their time for expansion had come.
The druidic leaders of the grippli now use their abilities to expand their mangroves, preaching that perfect ‘nature’ should truly be swamps where the grippli (as favored of Zankar) can truly thrive. Powerful druidic magic is used to expand the wetlands, increase rainfall and raise temperatures as the Ring of Zankar work at bending the ecology of Rescentia to their whim. Holy mangroves with tree-grown villages now claim a full half of the coast and spread ever inland, bringing the grippli into conflict with the Consortium City-States, the Reclaimer’s Crusade, the sundry emberkin sorceror-kings, and Inviolate Crags alike.
The Sands of Iron and Fire (Irfit/Emberkin)
To the west, where the rolling prairie met the sand dunes, the Orc-Tide faced nomadic tribes of men. These were fierce individuals, hardier than most humans but still no match for the seemingly endless orcine armies.
Yet they would not yield.
Their numbers dwindling, the desert tribes relied ever more heavily on sorcerers and creatures summoned from the elemental plane of fire – allies with which they had ever had a special affinity. As the endless years of war ground on, the distinction between ‘wielder of flame’ and ‘creature of flame’ blurred as sorcerers and warriors alike called fire spirits into their body to increase their ability to fight for their peoples. They gained power to face even greater orc troops and -as a side effect- increased carnal lusts. Praised as heroes, these transformed ‘emberkin’ sired innumerable children before the individual warriors and wielders of flame inevitably fell before Orc-Tide. And so the tribes changed – their alliance with fire elementals transforming their society and their very bodies.
And just as their forms had changed so too did their society, their worship of individual power ever increasing.
The tribes never settled on a central government; each nomadic bands was usually led by an especially powerful and charismatic sorcerer-king or queen jealously working to defend and expand their own power. These individuals were mostly selected based on the capacity to battle an army by themselves. These monarchs tended to be short lived, leaders were expected to ‘burn brightly’ for their clan before falling before Orc-Tide.
As the wars raged on, the ironcraft of these tribes improved (thanks in part from secrets whispered to them from their allies) and they built some of their only permanent structures: massive pit mines where huge gouts of flame tore away rock and sand to reach the ore below and titanic tri-glass forges where the metals could be smelted into the weapons of war. The emberkin mass-produced the finest armor, swords, and war golems – enormous clockwork forms powered by burning sorcerer cores.
These tribes fought ceaselessly until the ebb of Orc-Tide and kept fighting even when it ebbed, simply changing targets.
With the absence of orcs, the sorcerer-kings and queens of the various emberkin tribes have turned their attention to one another and the other races of Rescentia, each seeking to continue to expand for their personal glory. While their crafted goods are in high demand, their tempers and powers are rightly feared.
The Inviolate Crags (Strix)
The black-skinned, winged strix had little of value to the orcs; they were considered to be worth the effort of extinction mostly due to the fact that they existed. Still, claiming the crags became bothersome as the strix proved to be a formidable opponent to the Orc-Tide. Renowned as great archers with the ability to fly, the strix stymied and harried orcs till the local warchiefs took their charges elsewhere. Amongst all of Rescentia, strix society was least affected by the Orc-Tide and its ebbing. They have access to the most ancient learning as their unbroken universities and libraries have existed since before Orc-Tide.
Many of Rescentia’s finest finest monks and wizards hail from ancient tower schools built amidst tall mountains, many unreachable by foot.
Most strix seldom venture outside the crags as it is easy and expected for the scholarly race to become lost in study of the knots of their history, their endless libraries of books, and learning that extends farther back than most realize.
The Vagabond Merchants (Catfolk)
During Orc-Tide, the catfolk held no territory, or perhaps it is more accurate to say that they held all territory. They prided themselves on staying hidden, and thus safe; forming what amounted to a running guerrilla war wherever orcs occupied. Fleet of foot, the catfolk kept tenuous lines of communication alive between the communities that had slowed the Orc-Tide; hoping that in allowing for dialogue they could create circumstances for the orcs eventual defeat.
As the ebbing drew back Orc-Tide, the catfolk turned their attention to creation of a dispersed mercantile empire. If the various other races each form a spoke on the wheel of Rescentia, the catfolk are the central bore that connects (and profits from) them all. Let the other races build monuments to their vanity and make war with one another over meaningless lines on a map, the catfolk intend to make their coin.
A significant minority of catfolk can be found in most settlements and cities of Rescentia; and their large fleets of sail-wagons ply the roads between, filling the wilderness with the sounds of their music. The catfolk have become masters of maps, rumors, and making coin via trade.
The Consortium of City-states (Half-Orcs)
A loose alliance of half-orcs working to reclaim ruins and rebuild some semblance of pre Orc-Tide civilization, the consortium tries its best (and often fails) to settle disputes and organize defense amongst the various half-orc settlement and tribes; ranging from nomadic groups still somewhat modeled after orc warbands to city states with governments ranging from oligarchy, to monarchy, to fledgling republics. The consortium is only just beginning an agonizingly long process to reclaim the lost knowledge and skills possessed by the pre Orc-Tide ancients. The half-orcs still struggle to make meaning from their twin orc and human inheritances. While half-orcs are the most numerous race on Rescentia, their power is the most split as they still struggle to find a ‘middle-past’ through their own cultural and racial inheritance.
The Reclaimers (Aasimar)
When Mierva whisked her worshipers away from Rescentia, they spent countless generations in the celestial realms. While amongst so much light, their bodies changed and they began to intermarry with celestial beings. They also became embroiled in celestial politics, served as soldiers in wars against the lesser planes. But no matter how much they changed, they clung to Mierva’s promise that they would one day return to their homelands and reclaim their birth-rite.
Ten years ago, the day finally came.
The goddess commanded the still faithful descendants of the Rescentia exiles to gather in the shimmering city of Rism. When all had assembled every stone, every building, and every inhabitant was transported by Mierva back to Rescentia and placed in the center of the continent. Rism is now a shining city on a hill (the largest in all of Rescentia) high walled, imposing, and nearly blinding to all the other races who approach its high walls.
Upon return to the mortal world, these aasimar launched into the the Reclaimer’s Crusade, proclaiming the whole of Rescentia as their rightful inheritance. Their potent divine magics have helped them expand, even as their lack of knowledge about life on the material plane and hard-headed inflexibility has thwarted their schemes.
Since their return, the majority of the reclaimers do not recognize their long-lost cousins amidst the half-orcs or the emberkin, vowing to fight the ‘orcs’ and ‘demons’ until the end. A minority has learned or intuited the truth, and works desperately to change attitudes before the high priests of Mierva finish their ‘fact finding’ expeditions and launch Rescentia into the next great war.
I very much enjoyed the challenge of randomly selecting races and crafting a world where they made sense, try it yourself (and leave your one paragraph world pitch) in the comments below! Oh, and if you liked this post be sure to share it.
[Art by Paizo]