So, I’ve really been struggling with what to post. I haven’t been working on my stories, being focused on some RPG’s coming soon (and binge watching anime I admit), but I don’t want to post any of my new campaign stuff in case players find the link on Facebook and read it. Thought about posting some backstories for the pre-gen characters I just finished for Cold Steel Wardens, but a brief glance through showed me I still have some bugs to work out.
Instead, I’m going to start posting info on my Dungeons and Dragons 5e world, Arista. There for a while I was putting a ton of effort into this homebrew world, but the group it was meant for fell apart and I haven’t been back to 5e since. I will use this world again, but there were somethings I did with it that I’m very proud of. Problem is of course, I also just pulled a lot of stuff from existing DnD lore, because it was good and I didn’t need to reinvent the wheel.
To help make this slightly more interesting I’ll take this opportunity to also talk about why I made some decisions, kept certain things and changed others.
So, to start this out, “Why did I start this world?”
Arista came about from a few places, mostly problems I had with DnD, 5e, and Fantasy worlds in general. The first and biggest problem was that Goblins are very much joke monsters, which irritated the crap out of me. Goblins were sneaky, devious, dangerous creatures in myth, but they are often portrayed as comically stupid and cowardly in DnD games I’ve seen. I prefer my goblins more like they were portrayed in “The Dresden Files”, badass swat/ninjas of the Fae realms. The best part is that I didn’t have to change much mechanically. 5e made goblins sneaky and hard to pin down, just up their mental stats and play them intelligently and they are a terror, even if you can kill them in one shot.
My second problem and how I started writing the world of Arista instead of just a campaign came from reading the Gods and Goddesses section of my Players Handbook when I first got it. Instead of a single pantheon as I was used to seeing, 5e included multiple pantheons and, more importantly, race specific deities. Reading through the section though I noticed a lot of unbalance, for example Moradin was the only dwarf god mentioned, and he was also a god of law, while there were five elf gods mentioned, and I believe they also had a god of law, then there was the “Generic” gods of law in each setting. That never seemed weird before 5e, but reading thru and seeing that we had the “Dwarven God of Law and then “The God of Law” made me suddenly realize that what we actually had and what I’d actually been seeing for a long time was “The Dwarven God of Law” and “The Human God of Law” all the “generic” deities were just the human gods, especially when you realize that while every other race had “racial dieties” humans never did. So, I decided to set down a culture and religion for every race, unique to that race, while doing research into what DnD lore stated in each case.
This also helped me in another way, the majority of the work I did for Arista is on the cosmic scale. I know the best advice ever given to a GM is “start small” but I can’t do that. The massive forces in the world are what shape so much of what happens and why. I feel I need to understand what the goals of the major players are before I can begin looking at the smaller scale wars between them. Plus, this was a perfect excuse to go in and learn a whole bunch of stuff that I never got to learn, because it is never listed out anywhere I can find in the core rulebooks.
Instead of posting the cultural and religious parts first, I’m going to post the “Quick History”. This was the first part I showed the players and I wrote it similarly to a historical account. I’ll put the text in italics and then comments in plain text. Next week I’ll do the Layout of the Lands and each races “secret history” which includes cultural details and the pantheons.
Very few things are agreed upon regarding the earliest years of the world that became known as Arista. One of these is that the dragons were the first race to walk the lands, arising from the blood spilled by their ancient gods Bahamut and Tiamat who are locked in eternal combat. The first war of many.
Dragons were first, mostly because I didn’t want to decide on an “Elder Race” but also because Dragons represent Primordial power to me and I wanted to keep that.
The next races to walk these lands were the elves and the dwarves. Each will claim to be the eldest race and each will claim the world was created by their gods. The name of this world, Arista, came from the elves who felt the need to name this world after their wizards discovered the existence of others. The name means “Living Art” and was adopted by the other races to come.
While the dwarves have always been content with their underground kingdom, and have never had dynastic ambitions, the elves were voracious in claiming the surface as their own. This ambition led to the creation of the Dragonborn, though the exact details have been lost to time.
Some claim that the elves tried merging their power with that of the Dragon’s, to the mutual benefit of both. The experiments were unsuccessful though, causing physical mutations that led to the birth of the first Dragonborn. The elves tried working with their afflicted brethren, but the dragon’s avarice took over and the Dragonborn warred with the elves, seeking to rule them.
Others say the elves were jealous of the Dragon’s might, and stole their eggs to enslave newborn dragons to their will. The elven magic mutated and stunted the newborns though, giving rise to a race of semi-dragons unable to reach their full potential. Undeterred the elves sought to keep the Dragonborn as slaves, until they revolted and attained their freedom.
So, the first hole I needed to fill was why name the world? It’s really an odd thing if you think about it, so I decided that they named it because they realized they were not only in the multiverse and so needed to differentiate themselves. I decided on it being the Elves because they are the great Arcane masters, and honestly the Dwarves didn’t care enough to explore the multiverse.
I like making the Elves expansionist conquerors. They aren’t necessarily doing it for bad reasons, as I’ll mention in their entry they did it because they were tasked with defending the world by their Gods, and the best way to defend the world is to first control it’s lands. The Dragonborn section was me finding an interesting way to fit in the race from the PHB. I really like how they turned out.
Regardless of which tale is the truth, the elves and dragonborn fought bloody wars against each other for centuries. During this time the Dwarves, in search of ores and jewels, discovered the Orcs. The orcs claim to be as ancient as the Dwarves and Elves, perhaps even more so, but the other races point to their savage and primitive culture as a sign of their youth. It is true that orcish culture is savage and violent, and the orc’s ultimate goal is world domination, but do not be fooled into thinking them simple. Their god, Gruumsh, believes in physical might above all else and orc tradition demands that their weapons be handmade from wood and stone and their armor only be made from the hides of enemies they have personally killed. With such a clear technological disadvantage against Dwarven Steel it seemed obvious that the Orcs stood no chance of victory, yet the fighting raged on for centuries. In those days the orcs outnumbered the dwarves many times over, and occasionally orc chieftains would rise whose tactics decimated the dwarven army with brilliant insights and strategies. Most scholars agree that the orcs only lost their war with the dwarves because of their hubris and traditions.
In a recent DnD campaign I had a player who was very upset by the assumptions of the Half-Orcs. For those unfamiliar with DnD, that assumption is that an Orc male raped a human female during a raid. It bothered him to such a degree that I tried messing with the lore for that campaign, fairly well I might add. When crafting Arista, I kept that in mind. Looking through some wiki’s I found that the Orcish pantheon was much more elaborate than I had been led to believe. In addition, DnD is overflowing with “barbaric humanoid races that live in tribes and raid the civilized folk”, so just turning the entire Orc race (fluff wise not mechanically) into a playable civilization was the best move I thought.
This history of violent warfare ended 800 years ago with the Rift Events. The most famous of these events occurred during a conflict between the combined Elvish and Gnomish army and the forces of the Dragonborn. Midway through the battle a massive portal opened between the two sides. Each side, thinking it was an attack by the other, turned to engage. They were met by a desperate and half-mad force of Humans and Tieflings, refugees from another world. The details are sketchy but two things are known to be true. None of the refugees retained any solid knowledge of their home world or what they were fleeing from. Most scholars claim it must have been a natural catastrophe and that the strain of interplanar travel wiped their memories. Others, with fragmented accounts, claim the refugees were fleeing from some great foe, one whose terror drove them mad. The other truth is that both armies were decimated by the end of the event, likely caused by the confusion of a three-way battle between the desperate refugees and the weary armies.
In the months that followed the human leaders desperately negotiated for land and supplies with both the elvish king and the dragonborn council. It looked hopeless as each side refused to give an inch of territory, until word came from the the west. The second Rift did not bring refugees, it brought a horde of beasts which overran the dwarven city of Harth, overran countless orcish villages, and tore through the weakened elvish and dragonborn lines. The first human king, Timothy the Sage, recognized these creatures, calling them Goblins. He gathered the leaders of the other races together and formed an alliance with the guarantee of land once the war was over. Together they pushed the goblins and their forces beyond the dwarvish mountains, though the effort took the better part of a century.
As agreed the kingdoms gave land to the humans, each using the humans as a buffer against their enemies and the alliance has held together to this day. Another important aspect of the alliance treaty is that the orcs agreed to focus their conquest westward towards the goblin empire, instead of eastward towards the other kingdoms. This agreement is uneasy and temporary though, and many wonder of the wisdom of allowing the orcs to recover their strength knowing they will one day turn on their allies.
The final event of note in Arista was he arrival of the Halflings. They first appeared a year after the Goblin War ended and have since traveled through all the civilized lands. They are entertainers, tinkers, merchants, and often accused of theft and murder as all travelers are. There is no solid evidence for these crimes though, and the Halfling goddess Yondalla is said to frown on such practices, as the Halflings often point to in their defense.
So, finishing up my history I made sure to give some origin to the Humans, Tieflings, and Halflings of the world. They all arrived via dimensional portals. This also gave me a chance to introduce the big obvious threat (the Goblin Kingdom) and also a way to hint at a second major threat (whatever chased them into Arista). This Second threat also gave me a good reason for Tielfings that I really like, but is not covered in the history. A lot of big things about each race was not put here, because when a player picked their race I gave them the “secret” documents for that race, representing that a human doesn’t neccessarily know everything or really anything about the elves or the dwarves, after all, without study how much do any of us know about our foreign neighbors. I thought it was more exciting and I’ll try it again in my next campaign I think, since this one didn’t go far enough for me to really get a solid read on how the players took it.
Also, yes, Gnomes just suddenly appear in the historic record and there is a very good reason for that.