You might have noticed that we tried something a little different last week in presenting our first Setting Quickstart — a little bit of semi-fiction meant to get your creative juices flowing. There are a lot of ways to build settings for your game; this one was meant for a fairly standard fantasy game (D&D, perhaps?), but it might be worthwhile to explore how some of the core assumptions of the setting we were hinting at first arose.
This is really part of the story of where one of my Unreal Worlds came from…but we’d love to hear from you about yours.
A Place for Unused Ideas
It also helps to have a wealth of ideas for characters that you’ll never get to play. In the homebrew process, you can finally implement all those complex backstories, sometimes expanding them to be histories for entire races. For example, I have always wanted to play a character that, because of some dramatic oath “never to show his face to the sun” until or unless some dramatic condition is met, only shows his face in darkness, always wearing a scarf or mask during the daylight hours. I had originally conceived of this character as a member of some monstrous race or outsider caste, but that’s tough to apply to an entire culture in a fantasy game.
Still, I like the idea of a mask-wearing culture. Since I’m expanding the idea, for convenience, to an entire race (it’s a unifying characteristic that makes them instantly identifiable to the PCs), the oath has to be “big” enough that everyone would follow the custom. Since the idea original idea stipulates that faces are only covered in sunlight, I decide that the race I decide is angry at (or otherwise opposed to) the Sun god, and that’s why they swore their oath.
But why are they pissed?
Reaching Into the Real World
I conclude that they’re pissed because they live in a desert – a place that, at least according to their legends, used to be a beautiful green paradise. Since it’s not a paradise any more, they concluded that the Sun god has betrayed them, scorching the earth in vengeance for some perceived insult.
Now I need some context – who suggested the veil-wearing?
I’ve now got a veil-wearing culture in the middle of a desert, and I recognize that this definitely has some Arab/Islamic overtones. So, I decide to continue the parallel, at least to the degree that I can in a pantheistic fantasy world. I also arbitrarily assign these characteristics to elves, for the simple reason that it plays against type (no forests for these elves!). I decide that these elves need a Mohammed-like prophet in order to lead them in their rebellion against the Sun god, a devotee of the Sun god’s opposition – a god of Rain, Rivers, and Water.
Our prophet probably can’t insist that the Sun god isn’t real (like Mohammed would have) since he lives in a fantasy world where the gods take a relatively active hand, but he can probably assert that the Sun god is a big jerk, and that the elves (who really need a different name than “elves” if I’m going to keep distancing them from their nordic/celtic roots) should really follow the Rain god, who really loves them.
Identifying Key Conflicts
So now the Rain god and the Sun god have to be rivals, or the whole thing falls apart. What are they arguing over? Easy – a chick! Each of them claims to have been the Consort/Husband of the Queen of the Gods, who is now no longer around, thus preventing mortals from actually knowing which one it really was. This explains the rivalry, but not why the Sun god scorched the earth in the first place (or, perhaps more accurately, why the elves think he scorched the earth), thus rendering the Rain god an attractive alternative.
So, I go the easy route. I explain that the elves used to be more traditional elves, living in the forest, etc. However, in the long forgotten past, the Sun god asked them cut down part of their forests and build great arks to sail across the sea to a new land, in order to protect the other goodly races from a cosmic threat (a cosmic threat that, at this point, I don’t need to define). So they go, and the lands they find are beautiful and green, and all is well.
But then, desertification begins, perhaps due to the Sun god’s negligence, perhaps due to the interference of another cosmic actor. In any case, some elves conclude that it’s the Sun god’s fault, prompting them to turn away from the god they once revered. As desertification continues, the prophet of the Rain god (Let’s call him the “Rainbringer” – it sounds elven, dramatic, and its self explanatory) gathers more and more followers. This presumably pisses the Sun god off, and desertifcation accelerates accordingly, driving even more elves to the Rain god, and now we’re back to where we started.
Now, this is not actually the entire process – it has to fit in with how the humans work, as well. I wrote all this with D&D in mind, so there should probably a spot for Dwarves, as well. Since the world has to encompass all of them, their histories, myths, legends, and practices must reflect the character of their previous interactions. Since I have a pseudo-Islam on my hands, I decide once more to borrow a page from real life, and embroil the humans and elves in a conflict reminiscent of the Crusades and/or the Spanish Reconquista, as both sides conquer and lose territory in apparent service of their gods!
Names Matter…Sort Of
So I’ve got still got work to do, but I’ve got a solid concept for these elves. But what to call them? I chose something that’s actually not arabic at all – “the Tuatha.” Those familiar with celtic myth with recognize the word as part of the “Tuatha de Dannan,” which is much much much closer to Irish than it is to Arabic. However, since my elves were originally more traditional (before crossing the sea to come to their current homes), I wanted a name that would reflect that heritage, without being too obvious to someone not familiar with all sorts of different real life myth cycles.
…I also checked with an Arabic linguist to make sure that all the sounds in “Tuatha” exist in semitic and/or persian languages. They do, so I left it. However, if I put it in formal print, I might commit that ultimate fantasy faux pas and put an apostrophe or two in there, to add artificial exoticness.
So maybe they’re actually the “Tu’atha” or the “Tua’tha” or something. Or Tu’a’ath’a’.*