Setting Design Report 37: Back on Track

As always, you can find all the posts in this series by clicking here.

Phew! It’s been a while since I put one of these out, and while the intensity has dropped a bit, I haven’t been totally idle on this project, either. Unlike some of the previous posts, this one’s going to be a bunch of small capsule summaries of areas that will probably eventually get a full-sized post. I don’t have a huge amount on any of these yet, but that doesn’t mean I have nothing cool to share, either.

A New Name

If you’ve been keeping up with this series, you’ll know that for a while I was calling the world Exadria … which is way too close to Matthew Mercer’s world of ExaNdria for comfort. I think I’ve come up with something else that will work, so the planet is now called Actyrean. Using that exact combination of letters comes up dry in a Google search, so I think I’m good.

A Sinister Fleet

Like some of the earlier posts in this series, this one will have a playlist at the end. That’s because while I was listening to Sabaton’s standalone track Bismarck I had an idea: an entire fleet of ghost ships, undead, and sea monsters stretching back centuries into the world’s antiquity. I’m calling this sinister fleet The Tomb Armada, and its flagship is a legendary “unsinkable” battleship that was brought down after a battle that lasted three days. The Tomb Armada is unmistakeable on the horizon because of the number of different ship types it is comprised of. Relatively-new battleships from the last two decades sail next to tall ships and caravels from the world’s history. The admiral of the fleet is an ancient lich named Rantson Michatos. Unlike most liches, Michatos is very comfortable in close combat and uses teleportation magic to move from ship-to-ship during naval battles, commanding his forces and harrying the enemy in equal measure. I’m still working on goals, numbers, and so on, but I like this idea for an adversary (and probably Adversary) group.

A Rotting Edifice

Next up in the list is Strathilwood, the ancient home of a number of the world’s elves. Strathilwood is kind of designed to be everything awful about the corruption that surrounds money and power. Between their long lifespans, magical prowess, and imperious demeanor, elves seemed like a perfect stand-in for everything that’s bad about Washington, Wall Street, and the Ivy League. Wealthy almost beyond description, the city of Strathilwood is a beautiful, classy place with its architecture carefully integrated into the forest it’s constructed in. But the city is served by an oppressed underclass of people who are literally kept out of sight in a massive underground city underneath the estates and is patrolled by a ruthless “private security company” called Spearleaf. It’s another Grim City, but it’s more subtle than Alchova or The Citadel of Serpent’s Stone.

A Home in the Sky

What’s a setting like this one without at least one flying city? A disappointment, that’s what. The sky city of Stratonus, peopled mostly by birdfolk and mothfolk is a massive collection of floating islands connected by bridges that slowly travels across the world, trading with cities on the surface and providing a home for people who prefer to live high above the ground. It’s a gray city, but unlike some of the other places in the world with that distinction, it’s getting better, not worse. The society there has become aware of some of its abuses and is working to correct them.

Some Methodology Notes

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this yet, and if I did, it was way back, but one of the things I’m working on in this setting is trying to get rid of the idea that there are races that are inherently good and evil on a genetic level. At the same time, I do enjoy the variety of different abilities and flavors that the traditional fantasy races have, so what I’ve been doing for societies is I’ve been picking the two dominant races for each and have been doing at least one good and one bad example of each as both an aid in interesting setting design and a concrete example that any sapient race can go very good or very bad.

So for example, Laraloch-Thistivuel is good with dwarves and elves, Alchova is evil with tieflings and waspfolk, Highflats is good with gnomes and raptorfolk, The Citadel of Serpent’s Stone is evil with dwarves and humans, etc. Each society is colored by the aspects of the two dominant races that live there. I have a long way to go still. I haven’t even touched on centaurs, dragonborn or goblinoid societies of any stripe yet, tieflings and waspfolk need a good society, and I have a bunch of custom races too.

The end goal here is to undermine some of the latent racism that exists in a lot of fantasy worlds without getting rid of interesting player options along the way and making everything the same. Also in service to this goal, I’ve redesigned some of the racial abilities to feed less into those stereotypes (and also because some of them are in non-core books I can’t touch). So for example, orcs aren’t bloodthirsty and aggressive in this world. What they are is a mountain of raw physicality. I’ve given them a slight speed boost (like wood elves), poison resistance, and so on. In addition, they’re largely immune to muscular degeneration from inactivity. Once an orc is in shape, they stay in shape, even if they switch to a sedentary lifestyle. I’ve also done away with racial penalties to mental attributes when designing races (which is pretty easy in 5e; most of the races in the first-party books are a +2 bonus to one stat and a +1 bonus to another one with no penalties at all).

Conclusion and Playlist

That’s all I’ve got for this one, folks. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Bismarck: I’ve got two versions for you. Sabaton’s official video and Minniva’s cover. Both are great.

Metal is for Everyone: I just really enjoyed this song. As you probably know by now, I’m very anti-gatekeeping, and this song made me smile.

Photo by Antoine Beauvillain on Unsplash

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