The Layout and Races of Arista

So, still talking about my homebrew world for DnD 5e. Let’s jump straight in, with a quick note. I don’t do a lot of geography, and since I often play sandbox games where players are not limited in where they can go I always felt weird leaving a cardinal direction empty. If I couldn’t say what was in that direction, I was sure not only that would be the first direction they went, but it would reflect poorly on me to have not thought  of it. Still I think things worked rather nicely. Also, I did everything in relation to the Human Kingdom, because it was the starting point of the plot I was crafting.

The Outlands, far to the West, is the home of the weakened goblins and other savage creatures. Between them and the other kingdoms lie the Three King Mountains, so named for the Three kingdoms which are housed within. Beneath the mountains lies the Dwarven Kingdom and the restored city of Harth. Amongst the Mountains valleys and slopes range the orc tribes, ruled by a king elected by the tribal chiefs. The third kingdom is that of the giants who are secluded amongst the peaks and clouds of the mountains.

I also included into the map two sections of the mountains, the White Tips a little further north and The Ringing Mountains to the far north. The White Tips denoted the section of the mountains where the orc tribes lay while the Ringing Mountains were Volcanoes in the extreme north and home to Fire Giants.

The foothills of the mountains are honey-combed with old caves and there are many secluded areas in which monsters and giantkin can be found. It is thought many of these beasts have moved into areas abandoned by the orcs after their massive causalities in the area.

There is a single large pass through the mountains, called Grimsdell Pass. It was because of this pass that the goblins were able to crush the dwarvish defenses. The pass was too large to fortify or patrol effectively, and it allowed the goblins to surround the dwarves. Defense of this pass fell to the humans, as part of their land rights, and marked their western-most border. It as the human’s second king, and first to claim the title of Witch-King, who solved the issue of defending the pass. Over the course of a year he bent his magic to the creation of an enchanted forest, known now as Grimsdell Wood, which sealed off the pass. Most who seek to pass through the wood without royal permission are never heard from again, and it has kept all but the smallest forces of goblins at bay.

It is thought that inspiration for the Woods came from the kingdom’s eastern border, a mysterious place known only as the Beastlands. When the allotment of land as decided both elves and dragonborn seemed eager to place the humans between themselves and the massive stones that mark the Beastlands borders. No one knows what lies beyond, as no one that has gone more than five steps into the perpetual fog has ever returned and even those who have gone less have lost limbs to the beasts that prowl the border.

Many of the lands I was creating in Arista were civilized lands, places where monsters would be less common than everyday people. I wanted a place to terrorize the players, a section of the map where I said “If you go there, you will likely die” even as high or mid level adventurers. Never got to use it. Though, a player wanted to come from an order devoted to fighting Lycanthropes, called “The Shepherds”. I agreed and decided that the Lycans came from the Beastlands, raiding villages and carrying people into the mists

To the south of the Human kingdom of Toril are the Feylands, home of the elves and gnomes. Perhaps demoralized by their losses in the near endless warring, the elves have retreated back to their forest home and not made any aggressive overtures towards their neighbors. Their border is fiercely defended by the “wood elves” who patrol it. Just inside the border, if you are allowed to cross, lie small towns of wood elves and gnomes. No one is allowed deeper, where the reclusive “high elves” dwell in the city of Revis. It is rumored that a third race of elves lives beneath the surface, but these “dark elves” have never been seen by the wider world and if they do exist they seem to have no interest in the surface world.

To the immediate north of Toril are the Barrow Hills, a remnant of the rule of the mad Human king Varis. Varis believed that humans deserved more land for their efforts in the Goblin War and that they would take them by force. However, the humans did not have the strength to defeat any of their neighbors, so Varis used necromancy, raising his dead soldiers as zombies, ghouls and other abominations. The plan was ill-conceived and all that remains is a vast stretch of land where the undead roam seeking flesh to consume.

Beyond the hills are the city-states of the Dragonborn. The land is volcanic and covered in ice. The dragonborn are proud of their ability to live in this harsh land and of the paths they have carved through the Hills to connect them back to the other nations.

I have since added a few rough areas. A great desert beyond the Goblin Empire where the Goliath Nomads live. An Arabian style great city beyond that, where Genie Lords and their Genasi children live in the shadow of a great mountain which contains passage to the Elemental planes. Also, somewhere to the South of the Goblin Empire is a Yuan-ti empire, on the border to the ocean. The ocean also touches deep behind the Feylands, in places long abandoned by the elves.

And that is the basic structure of Arista. Now to move on to the races. I would note, I drew heavily from base DnD lore or from other sources for most of the Dieites, I will try and point out things that are entirely my creation where appropriate. First up are the Elves and Gnomes. When I originally thought up the plan every race was getting a seperate write-up, however the Wood Elves and Gnomes lived side by side, and would therefore share a lot between them, so instead I started breaking things up into sections.

Elves and Gnomes: In fitting with their history, elvish society is still very martial. A child attains adulthood by preforming a complex sword kata and then completing three bullseye strikes on distant bow targets. Anyone who cannot is considered still a child, unless a high-ranking lord or lady intercedes on their behalf and that is reserved for incredibly rare and precious talents. The Elven Royalty generally lives apart, with Queen Luaf holding court outside the gates of Revis and her husband King Amon holding court within the great city. Some speculate whether or not this is a holdover from the times of the great campaigns, to prevent both royals from being assassinated in the same attack. (One thing I tried to do was reflect the mechanics in the fluff, that is a partial answer for the sword and bow training, as all Elves are proficient in these weapons, actually that probably shaped a lot of why I chose certain details over others)

The typical Elvish Pantheon is small, including only three deities. Chief among them is Corellon Larethian, patron of Beauty, Magic, and Warfare. His symbol is a silver starburst on a blue field. Also known as the Preserver of Life Corellon believes it is his duty, and that of his elvish children, to protect all that is beautiful and good in the world. Corellon generally appears as male, but is a very fluid diety and has also appeared as a female and a Hermaphrodite, which has led to very fluid gender views in elvish culture as a whole. Corellon has many allies in his battles, but chief among them are the other two prime elven dieties. One is Sehanine Moonbow, who protects the dreams of the elves and guards their spirits against madness. Her symbol is the moon, most commonly the crescent moon which is seen as the most beautiful of moons. Some believe the Lady of Dreams is Corellon’s lover, but no evidence exists in the Cycles, the stories and mythologies of the elves, to support this. The other is Solonor Keen-eye, The Great Archer, who protects the elven borders and hunts great beasts to maintain the balance of the world. He is most commonly worshipped by the Wood Elves, who share his duty, and his symbol is a silver arrow.

The majority of Wood elves live in tree houses, connected to nearby houses by means of rope ladders. While some believe this is because of some deep connection to nature the truth is that it was entirely a tactical decision. By remaining in the trees wood elves can attack their foes via archery, leaving an enemy to either attempt to overcome elven bowmanship, or attempt to destroy the trees themselves while death rains down from above. To date, no more than a dozen villages have been destroyed in the entirety of elvish history.

Unlike the Elves, Gnomish society is very subdued, generally revolving around academics and humor. Compared to their elven brethren the gnomes seem completely without hierarchy or structure, content to leave such things to the elves and obeying their laws. If there is any structure to be found it is within the Gnomish Academy of Scientific and Magical Research, Discovery and Experimentation. Many gnomes do not consider themselves full adults until they have made a discovery or presented a thesis to the Academy board, and the academy staff holds great power within the community. The current Dean is Alston “Oneshoe” Dimble Nyx Roondar Murnig.

The normal Gnomish pantheon also contains three gods, led by Garl Glittergold. Garl, also known as the Sparkling Wit, is a god of Community and Humor. He is the main protector of Gnome-kind, teaching that a stable and united community is the best defense against the troubles of the world. That and a good laugh. Garl’s symbol is a gold nugget, though his followers often wonder if it is fool’s gold. Garl’s two brothers also watch over the gnomes. Nebelun, the Meddler, god of inventions and tinkering whose symbol is a cog and Baravas Cloakshadow, the Sly one, God of illusions and traps whose symbol is a cloak and dagger. Unlike the elves, the majority of gnomish dwellings are half-buried in the ground, beneath the trees where the elvish dwellings are located. This puts the gnomes in more immediate danger, but most foes cannot fit in the small entryways easily, and are more concerned with the elves sniping from the treetops to bother with the gnomes scurrying beneath the ground, this is often a tactical miscalculation.
Wood Elves: The wood elves are the elves most commonly seen by the outside world. They are the guardians of the Feylands, protecting their borders from outsiders. They have a second, odder, mission as well. They also watch the inner border that separates the Feylands from the High elf capitol, Revis, to prevent “anything unusual” from leaving “without permission”. They do not know why they have been given this mission, only that it has been a sacred duty for over 750 years. Occasionally royal emissaries call upon the wood elf and gnomish “best of the best” to enter the sealed city on secret missions. Many never return, and those that do are haunted by what they have seen, though none ever speak of it. The wood elves who accept this duty are known as Solonor’s Arrows, since it is clear they face some terrible threat within their homeland.

Gnomes: No written record remains of the gnome’s discovery by and alliance with the elves, and that is exactly how the gnomes want it. Many centuries ago, while the elves were still young and the dragonborn unconceived, the elvish scouts ran into a tribe of savages, half mad and bestial, to the far east. These were the gnomes. Something told the elves that these savages were capable beyond their current state and they took the gnomes in and recultured them. Gnomish lore states that some great power cursed them into that state, and it seems to still be active. Occasionally, though more often in the Forest Gnomes, perhaps due to their affinity for the wilds, a gnome is born with this wild rage, behaving as a savage beast. They are hidden away by their brethren in secret tunnels and caves, kept safe and secret until one of three things occurs. Either they conquer the rage and banish it, they learn to contain and live with it (leading to a log line of proud gnomish “barbarians”) or they die. Gnomes refer to those who die as “The Great Sacrifice”, though the origin of that term has been lost to time. This gnomish history is found in many old practices, such as spirit quest coming of age ceremonies, that many communities still follow in secret.

All of this they hide from the elves, living beside them as scouts, inventors and occasionally fierce warriors. Gnomes aren’t the only ones with secrets though. The Feyland capitol Revis is magically sealed and no one is allowed inside. The only exceptions being when Royal Emissaries call upon the best and brightest to carry out secret missions past the city wall. Those who enter rarely return, but those who do suffer from terrible nightmares and never speak of what they have seen within.

One final note about the Gnomish pantheon. As far as anyone can remember or prove there has only ever been Garl and his brothers, but ancient, broken records speak of two sister goddesses as well. The gods remain silent on this, but the mystery has led many gnomes to leave their tight-knit communities in search of “The Lost Sisters”

When trying to write up the Beastlands, I knew I would need a reason for its existence. I decided it was the location a great power was sealed within, a primal force. This eventually became a mad Titan king, son of the Earth itself and so powerful even the gods could not slay him. However, he threatened to destroy the world, and plunge it into the first era of beasts, where all is either hunter or hunted. To stop him, I needed a powerful ancient race, but they process would scar them and destroy the glory they had acheived. It helped especially when I learned of the “Lost Sisters” in DnD lore, but realized that their was no official usage of them ever. So I decided that this Titan had been sealed, and the Sisters had sacrificed themselves to bind him within the Beastlands. The rage continues because the Sisters are still connected to their people, but it is a weakening connection. I’m not sure what would happen if he was freed, except most likely a TPK (Total Party Kill) and a lot of furious thinking.

High Elves and the Drow: The High Elves believe it is their sacred duty to protect and nurture the world and they take this duty very seriously. It led them to attempt to conquer all lands, so they may all be protected equally, and it also led to a great tragedy. After the Rift events the high elves responded quickly and decisively, studying the portals and seeking to prevent more from opening and unleashing something more terrible upon the world. However, their research instead weakened the fabric of reality, leading to a massive breach in the heartlands to what they have termed “The Far Realms”. From the breach have spilled countless abominations and aberrant creatures, many with incomprehensible powers and abilities. After a bloody struggle, the elves were able to contain the breach, keeping the worst monstrosities from entering the world, but they have never been able to close it fully. Instead they have sealed the breach and the city in a massive magical barrier, to limit the damage until they can seal it forever.

The breach has had many strange effects on the elves, many high elven children are born with strange mutations, some even with powers garnered from the “Taint” as it is now known. Nothing the elven mages try seems to be capable of combating this, though Taints gained later in life are curable. The Taint and the sealing have had may effects on the high elf society as well, forcing many to remain on the ground, the city now resembles more closely a beautiful human city. Also, though martial proficiency is important, the difficulty some have with such tasks have allowed for magical proficiency to supercede it in importance for the coming of age ceremonies. (Not as clear as I could be here, the mutations range from strange looking skin or eyes to tentacles for limbs or twisted limbs, so a person with tentacle arms finds the art of the sword difficult and being born with strange legs makes climbing more of a chore)  

Hoping for some clue of a cure the High Elves have sought the reclusive Drow, or Shadow Elves. When the breach first broke, it did so in the middle of a heavily populated area. All of the people in the area should have been destroyed in the devastating blast. However, one of the Elven Goddesses saw what was coming, and in a desperate attempt to save her people threw herself between the Far Realm energies and those elves caught in the blast zone. The Taint infused her, twisting her body into a half-spider monstrosity and driving her mad with fell whispers of betrayal and fear. So was born Lolth, paranoid, dangerous, and mortal foe to the Far Realms. Those in her shadow during the transformation were stained by it, their skin blackened, their hair whitened, as though everything had been flipped. The sun burns their eyes, now sensitive to the light, and they retreated underground, taking the fight to the worst of the abominations hiding there. Unlike their brethren on the surface, the drow do not suffer from the Taint. It is believed that the massive exposure that Lolth protected them from has inoculated their system, protecting them from further damages. The cost was heavy though.
On her best days Lolth remembers her past life, her love for the world and its people that she sacrificed everything for. On her worst days she believes every being has betrayed her and seeks her death, perhaps even herself seeking to destroy her. Her people have grown under the effects of their mad goddess, paranoia, betrayal and intricate plans and counter-plans are staples of Drow society. The best remain friendly, in their own twisted way, but they are easily turned into deadly enemies. Acting as a liason between Lolth and the other elven gods is Vhaeraun, Lolth’s son, who wears a half mask. It is said the mask allows Vhaeraun to change his identity, allowing him to weather his mother’s paranoia when she inevitably turns against him. Vhaeraun and his followers hope to reunite all the elves at some point, but many question if that is his true purpose, or even if he is who he claims to be.

The Drow are governed in a House Republic system and Matriarchy. With various regions and duties falling to different houses, the heads of whom meet to discuss overarching policies. It is an unstable and volatile system, but is somehow kept afloat even during the most trying of times.

There is a lot that could be said of Drow and DnD. I generally like the Drow as they are portrayed, since they are such a twisted version of the normal evil empire. However, they are a playable race and making them “evil for evil’s sake, but good if the players want them” wasn’t going to fly. Then I caught a wiff of something, in an article there was a line about Lolth’s plans and how the Goddess of Spiders and Chaos may possibly be crazy. Well, what if she was definitely over the deep end and everyone knew it. The Far Realms is the source for “all the Cthulhu” in DnD, it could easily drive a goddess insane with over exposure and if she is crazy then I can play her people completely random. One drow family might attempt to “poison” a rival by putting a blueberry in the Matron’s drink, hatch a whole elaborate scheme to pull it off even, and the other family could retaliate with arsenic. Sure, they are constantly plotting against one another, but in the gentlemanly one-upsmanship manner that wouldn’t destroy their society. They are all mad, to one degree or another, and that gives them a very distinctive flavor I think, and removes them from the “Evil” side of the equation without changing some of the fun they bring to the table.

Dwarves: The Dwarves have many cultural features that make them unique, mostly stemming from their choice of home. By living almost entirely underground where there is little sunlight or running water Dwarves have adapted to a diet of fungi, molds, and fermented drink with the occasional meat supplied by deadly cavern dwelling creatures. There are not two races of dwarves, as some believe, living within their mountain kingdom, instead the differences have arisen from an ancient cultural debate as to which traits make the superior warrior. This is a serious subject for the dwarves, whose nation is under constant threat from all sides. The dwarvenlands are centered around the city of Harth, and it could be accurately said that the city of Harth encompasses all of the dwarven territory. This is not only because Harth is the sacred ground where the Firstborn were forged by Moradin, but because somewhere in the Labyrinthine City lies the entrance to the Dwarven Hoard. Worship of Moradin is centered around the Smith-priests, and every pious dwarf is a smith or jeweler of some caliber. This being the case dwarves have long ago created more objects than they could possible use or sell, and most creations are offered to Moradin as a show of faith. A dwarf is free to do whatever they like with their creations, pass them through family lines, sell them, even give them away, but anything unclaimed or without a proper owner is also given to Moradin. These practices have gone on for countless centuries, and the Hoard where the offerings reside is said to be the largest collection of wealth in the entire world, if not all the planes. Due to its sacred existence Harth has only been abandoned once in the entire history of the Dwarven people, during the initial goblin invasion. This is the greatest shame of the dwarven people, often referred to as “The Time of the Sundering”. When they retook the city it was sworn that they would never again leave, even if it meant the destruction of their entire race. The dwarven borders are under constant threat though, from Giants, orcs, The Goblin Empire, monsters from the depths, the rare and mysterious “Shadow Elves”, and even human thieves and treasure hunters seeking the fabled Dwarven Hoard. This constant war has led to an interesting gender divide though. All Dwarven men are required to spend 20 years in either the Stoneguard Army protecting the borders, or within the clergy. The Stoneguard patrols the borders and acts as the first line of defense, and they fall under the command of the Lord Protector Erik Grimbeard, who many outsiders refer to as the Dwarvish King. Many dwarves, seeing this duty as a sacred task serve for much longer, rising through the ranks to oversee the border patrols and command regiments. New recruits are always left under the command of the best commanders, to prevent unnecessary loss of life. With many of the men defending the far-flung borders of Harth the day-to-day running of the city falls to the women who are required to spend 20 years either in the clergy or serving in law enforcement under the rule of High Judge Lian Truthringer, who outsiders often mistakenly refer to as the Dwarvish Queen. This has led many to mistakenly assume she and Erik are wed, which is completely false, and in reality the offices are lifetime elect positions. The police force is often referred to as the Iron Rods or just The Irons, mostly for the cudgels they use when breaking up bar fights caused by off-duty soldiers. The term is used mostly with respect though, as the police force is also the final line of defense for the city proper and they train ferociously to be worth at least three of any regular soldier in combat.

The other major political force is that of the clergy, who rule over the holy smiths and the traders. The ruling group is the Council of Three, with the positions being the Fire, The Hammer, and the Anvil. They are also the keepers of the Archive, the written record of dwarven history and legends. Including the creation of their race. The Legend holds that Moradin (the Soul Forger and God of Protection) forged the Dwarves as a dowry offering for his wife Berronar (the Reverend Mother and Goddess of Healing and Law), breathing a portion of his divine essence into their forms. For many dwarves this means that they hold within themselves the essence of divinity which must be nurtured and stoked into the near-divine status of “Sainthood”. A Sainted dwarf leaves his vessel behind, to watch over the Dwarven people and serve directly under his King and Queen. Sainthood is bestowed for achievements beyond that of ordinary folk, even achievements that are not necessarily “good” in nature as long as a lesson can be learned from it. This means that there are thousands of Dwarven Saints, some more recognized than others. The two most commonly accepted though are Dumathoin, The Silent Keeper, and Abbathor, The Avaricious.

Duamthoin was a dwarf of few words, The Archives claim that he only spoke seven times in his 300 years. He was a simple dwarf, a miner not a warrior, but he felt his duty strongly. One day, deep within a new shaft, a cave-in killed three of Dumathoin’s companions and revealed a nest of horrid beasts. A path to escape was clear, and it was a long-term expedition so no one would miss the team for years. No one would have blamed Dumathoin for fleeing; however, the dwarven dead are sacred and fleeing would have left them to be devoured. This Dumathoin could not accept, so armed only with a crude maul Dumathoin stood over his deceased friends, guarding them for 15 years without food or drink until a second team stumbled upon them. Then, wearied from his vigil, Dumathoin fell saying only “’Twas Right” before passing on. Moradin. Having seen his dedication, promoted Duamthoin to forever stand guard over the sacred dead.

Abbathor’s tale is markedly different, and is instead seen as a cautionary tale. When he lived Abbathor was a master craftsman of vaults and safes, an expert in securing the wealth of others. He was renowned for his skill, but in his heart darkness festered. Abbathor constantly saw the wealth of his brethren, wealth which far exceed his own, wealth they could not protect without his skill and knowledge. As the years passed his bitterness grew, until he began installing secret entrances into his vaults, so that in the dead of night he could slither inside and take precious works for his own. Finally, his pride and greed led him to pierce the sacred depths of the Dwarven Hoard, to steal from Moradin himself. Inside he grabbed a bejeweled dagger and sealed his doom. Furious Moradin descended upon Abbathor for his treachery, and in punishment Moradin cursed him so that the touch of gold and gems was painful to him. Then, he set Abbathor to guard the Hoard, forever in sight of limitless wealth which is forever out of reach. Abbathor winds through the ancient tunnels, dressed only in rags and the dagger which cursed him tight in his grip, a warning to all dwarves of the downfall of greed.

The dwarves were the first race I worked with when trying to re-craft a culture and pantheon for each race. A way to make sure that every race felt different than “strange humans”. They were also the first ones whose official Pantheon I looked up, since the book I had mentioned a single Dwarven God, but five elvish ones. Looking at the pantheon wasn’t inspiring though, I didn’t like most of the dwarvish deities. So I decided on the above. Every DnD world includes Moradin and the story of him forging the dwarves, and learning Moradin had a wife I made them the sole gods of the dwarves, demoting the others and then building a semi-catholic type of system (I say this knowing next to nothing about Catholicism of any type, beyond the fact they have Saints).

Dragonborn: The Dragonborn try not to discuss the origin of their species. If they do it is to speak of old hatreds against the elves and their atrocities, but the origin of the Dragonborn has shaped their cultural identity. Dragonborn constantly strive to prove themselves the best in everything that they pursue. Physical strength and endurance are popular choices but this trait applies to everything from baking to philosophy. As an extension of this the Dragonborn have competitions year-round within their city-state and then every five years a grand competition is held between all of the city-states, with the winners often leaving to prove their skills against other races in other lands.

The dragonborn agreed to take the harsh northern lands as their own after the Goblin War, but were forced even further north when the mad-king Varis led the Human kingdom of Toril against them with the aid of necromancy. The remnants of that war are the Barrow Hills, which the Dragonborn must constantly travel through to contact and trade with other lands. To combat the voracious undead, Priests of Bahamut generally accompany caravans and the southernmost city-state of Plath is the religious center of the Dragonborn.

The lands the Dragonborn now inhabit are a frozen wasteland, with snow-driven plains and glacial mountains rising from the East. To the West lies massive volcanoes, belching smoke and lava. These natural dangers are compounded by the two bordering nations of Ice Giants and Fire Giants. Both have broken the Ordning, the social order of giantkind, by rebelling and seeking to rule over all creatures, including the Cloud Giant Princes who live above the 3 King Mountains. The Dragonborn, being between the two expanding nations, are in a defensive war. Luckily, the Giants are more concerned with crushing their own kin into submission than in conquering the dragonborn, giving the dragonborn a needed edge in defending their lands. Their pride prevents the nobility from telling the other nations of their plight, believing that to prove their people the strongest they must not only survive in this wasteland but defeat both giant empires by themselves.

This incredible independence, or stubbornness, is found within their religious structure as well. While they do technically worship the dragon gods Bahamut and Tiamat, they see them more as ultimate forces of nature, the pure essence of the conflicts within the world given form. Thus they do not believe divine power is a gift from these beings, merely that they can call upon the excess power created by their conflict. The dragonborn have never called upon their deities to intercede on their behalf, believing that if there is a challenge they must first attempt alone, then with friends and family, and then as a nation. Only when they have utterly failed on all levels will they call upon the gods, and many believe it would spell the end of the word itself.

A few other notes of the Dragonborn lands. They are divided among 15 city-states, each with it’s own nobility and ruled either by a committee or a single powerful family. The harsh conditions of their lands prevent farming, so the majority of their food is meat from the hunting the dangerous beasts which dwell within their territory, from the yetis and winter wolves to the massive Remorhazes and even their White Dragon kin whom they consider to be more beast than dragon.

The dragonborn were interesting on two fronts. First, the independence I describe actually came straight from the book, and I loved it. That pride was something that changed everything about the Dragonborn, esecially when I decided they were created by the Elves, leaving a conflict between their pride as the best and the reality of their history. Also though, it was at this point I realized that I didn’t want everyone to have a Western style kingdom with a king and queen. So I instead mashed what little I knew of Vikings with the city-state structure of ancient Greece, and this felt better to me. Tiamat and Bahamut being the deities worshipped by the Dragonborn also came from the book, but I slightly twisted the nature of the two. While reading through the book I noticed something odd, Tiamat and Bahamut  were the Goddess of Evil and the God of Good, respectively. No other deity was listed that way and combined with the common idea that dragons were the most ancient race, I decided to make the two more philosophical force than persona, literally being the representations of good and evil, yin and yang.

Orcs: While many other races consider the orcs to be uncultured brutes the truth is actually that orcish culture has remained powerful and unchanged for thousands of years. Though it can be a savage and unforgiving culture.

The orcs believe that when the first races were born the gods drew lots to determine where the races would live. However, the other gods tricked the orc god Gruumsh, not wishing for the orcs, whom they saw as ugly and vile, to have a place in the world. Furious Gruumsh struck back against the gods, declaring that if no place would be made for them then the orcs would wage war until all lands were theirs to claim. While Gruumsh raged, for his children were still unable to enter the world, his wife Luthic used her magic to sneak into a deep cave where she gave birth to the first orcs.

From that day forth the orcs ranged, claiming all lands theirs. Gruumsh ruled the horde with an iron-fist, and set forth these laws: Only the strongest can rule. You may never wield a weapon you did not make yourself. You may never wear armor, unless it is made from a foe who have killed yourself. Women will be subservient to men. They shall focus on raising warriors but they shall not fight themselves. Magic is a crutch for the weak and shall be spurned.

These laws served the orc tribes well, until they encountered the dwarves. Dwarven steel blunted orcish weapons and shredded orcish armor. Despite their greater numbers and ferocity it was clear that the orcs were at an overwhelming disadvantage. Seeing thousands of her children felled Luthic begged Gruumsh to allow the women to join the war with their magic, even if only to heal the warriors they could save. Seconding the Cave-Mother’s plea was Ilneval, Gruumsh’s second-in-command and chief tactician who saw the potential for victory in Luthic’s proposal. Gruumsh refused, declaring nothing could truly stand in the way of his hordes, victory was only a matter of time.

However, the orcs were devastated by their war with the dwarves, and almost completely wiped out when the Goblins swept in from the West. So few were they that even Gruumsh had to swallow his pride and agree to an alliance with their enemies, and made the pact to only conquer westward, leaving his “allies” free from his people’s advances. It was their only hope for survival.

The deal though came from Ilneval, and he and Luthic have come to a secret pact. Realizing Gruumsh’s pride would destroy their people they have begun chipping away at his commandments, with the realization that they will need to betray their leader when the time is right, to allow the orcs the power to truly rule the world. Now, deep within their caves orc mothers teach new concepts to a slowly evolving breed of orc. Acceptance of Magic, the Strength of Women, The Might of Steel. Slowly and quietly a new age of orcish history is unfolding, and if Gruumsh discovers the plot his fury would shatter his people and their pantheon beyond repair.

Most orc tribes have regained stable numbers, and villages range throughout the valleys and forests of the 3-King Mountains. Each village is lead by an elected chieftain, generally confirmed through a ritualistic bout of wrestling to prove his strength. Each chieftain is a member of the Grand Council, whose leader is picked from amongst them and again confirmed in a wrestling match. The current Council head is Holg of the Shatterhammer Tribe, a staunch conservative but one who honors the alliance pact. He is aging though, and will soon be replaced, an event which fills many with unease.

As it has been said, orcs are very steeped in traditions, and one of the most important is the coming of age ceremony for a young warrior. The warrior is stripped and sent into the wilds for a full week (10 days). Their quest is to kill the deadliest creature they can, to prove their strength to the community. The armor and weapon they make during this journey is considered sacred, and will be used until it is destroyed. Women ceremonies are secretive, and happen deep within caves where no man has ever tread. In these caves women pass on secret knowledge and magic, in case great need arises.

As I mentioned last week, orcs were an evil race I decided to refluff, since half orcs caused problems for a player I had and orcs occupied a very overcrowded place in DnD. The laws were my way of figuring out why orcs fought in hide armor with crude clubs and spears instead of the way other races do, with iron and steel. The official DnD reason is because they are stupid and violent and evil, so it doesn’t matter, but I needed them to be less 2D for this to work. I was actually a little stunned to find the Orcish pantheon so well planned out, and the story of Luthic and women not being allowed to wield weapons come straight from the lore I found. However, orcs were an evil race and that meant that a lot I needed to change or not use, after all it’s fine to have misogynistic, hate-filled conquerors as an evil race, but not as a player race. That’s why I decided that Gruumsh, while still in charge and largely unchanged, was being betrayed by his wife and general, for the benefit of the orcish race. I also totally want an NPC (non-player character) who is a female orcish fighter, traveling the world and doing battle in the traditional manner, to prove the Gruumsh and her people that the women can fight as well as the men, her struggling with using iron weapons and armor in the outside world, but then realizing the loophole of becoming a smith.

Tielfings: Many of the other races are uncertain if the Tieflings are an off-shoot of humans or their own unique race. Both humans and Tieflings are adamant though, they were once one people. However, where some humans claim the Tieflings were corrupted by dark powers after turning away from the gods, Tieflings have a different tale. They recall the last age of their home world, when a terrible foe descended upon the human empires. The power of the gods faltered, debate raged over whether they had been abandoned or merely being tested. The enemy marched ever forward, laying waste to everything before it, and in a desperate gamble the lords of a forgotten empire struck a deal with the powers of darkness, a deal for the power to protect their people and lands. Thus were the Tieflings born of fire and war. The Tieflings of today are divided about how they feel about this tale. Some wonder if the price was too high, especially since they lost the war anyways, and seek redemption from the gods. Others say that the gods abandoned them, betrayed their trust, and it was only through the Tiefling’s power that anyone survived, therefore they shun the gods. Instead the seek inspiration from a tale of the last days. They say that when the world fell and the portal opened a group of Tiefling heroes wielding the full might of their people stayed behind to delay the enemy and assure humanity’s survival. They are known as “The Lost Legion” and their sacrifice and courage are examples of the best Tielfings can be, standing against the tides of evil where even the gods tremble.

Because of the very divisive nature of the Tiefling relationship with both other Tieflings and humans there are two unique institutions. One is the secret village of Zoldyck, a Tiefling only area where those hunted by zealots or who have suffered greatly can find peace and security. The second is the group calling itself the Duskblades, who act in two ways. First, they hunt down Tieflings who would turn towards evil and tyranny, as this will harm other Tieflings who would suffer the reprisals of the churches. Second, they battle with human groups dedicated to “cleansing” Tieflings in the name of some greater good.

Unlike the other races Tieflings do not have a unified government or organization, except for the two mentioned above. Mostly the Tieflings are ruled under the same government as the humans. A community might have special rituals or celebrations that are unique to it and not shared by any other community. “The Festival of Remembrance” is a common celebration of the sacrifice of the The Lost Legion, and it is widely observed. Tiefling communities generally do not have coming of age ceremonies, as an individual’s childhood ends depending on their unique circumstances.

Tieflings are another race in DnD that I love, but have a lot of problems. The story is generally the same, some humans long ago made a deal with the Nine Hells for power, corrupted their line, things ended horribly but the Tieflings remained, tainted by the dark power. For me though, that doesn’t work. You couldn’t have a race made from a single family, or even two, you’d need a large portion of people to make the deal and live long enough to have kids afterwards, kids who weren’t killed for being the children of evil devil worshippers. However, once I decided that the Far Realms were the reason the old Human world fell, it clicked. What if the deal for power was not a deal of greed, but of protection. Tieflings may still be shunned and hated for their bloodline, but that does not mean their ancestors acted incorrectly in the face of horrors from beyond space and time.

Humans: The human kingdom of Toril is the newest power in Arista, but it is one of the most vital. It was created as a buffer zone between the Dragonborn and Elvish empires and also placed in front of the mysterious and dangerous Beastlands. The human’s control Grimsdell Wood as well, to aid the orcs and dwarves in containing the Goblin Empire. How the human’s actually patrol and protect the wood is a matter of speculation, but everyone knows that most who enter the wood without royal permission never return. Despite it being a fact that human society is the most religiously devout they are also incredibly devoted to arcane studies, believing that the arcane power is a gift from the gods meant to either ascend to stand beside their deities or to simply be used a weapon in their wars on the dark forces. The degree from which one focuses on the divine or the arcane can vary widely from individual to individual but most wizards do still worship to some degree. The lack of a deity of magic or of the ancient primal arts has led to significant debate as to the morality of the pursuit of these arts, but with the kingdom ruled by the arcane Witch-Kings it is a minor philosophical point to all but the most zealous. The rule of an arcane power in a culture devoted to the divine may seem strange, but the system was devised by Timothy the Sage to prevent religious debates amongst the churches from destroying their fledgling kingdom. By tradition the monarch is neutral in regards to the gods, either worshiping all or none in equal measure. The current Witch-King is Thaddeus Cromwell and is generally regarded as a fair and competent ruler. His wife died some years ago during a Troll hunt in the western foothills, and his heir Evalynn hasn’t been seen much by the public since then, most likely kept within the castle for her own safety.

One the most fascinating aspects of human culture is the breadth and depth of their pantheon and their acceptance of deities seen as dark and even evil by outsiders. They also divide their pantheon of 13 major deities into various substructures, which no other race has ever felt the need to do. The first substructure is “The Triad of the Heavens”: Pelor, Selûne, and Shar. Pelor is the god of The Sun and Healing, and is commonly worshipped amongst all levels of society. Selûne is the goddess of the Moon, Stars, and Love. She is often shown at Pelor’s side, standing together against various foes. Shar is the Goddess of Loss and the endless darkness between the stars, she is Selûne’s twin sister and a complicated figure. On one hand she is the goddess of mourners and is often called upon in the days following funerals or great tragedies. However, Shar’s own grief has evolved into an all-consuming night and her most zealous followers believe endless pain and loss, followed by oblivion is the true path of humanity. Most people though simply pray that The Lady of Loss will one day smile again and hope to stand by her as she stood by them in their grief.

The second major substructure is the Four Corners of Law and War: Helm, Bane, Rao, and Arveene. Helm is the God of Justice and Guardians and is usually seen as the Shield of Humanity. However, Helm’s most devout believe the Law is an iron framework, unbending and unforgiving with strictly divided hierarchies. This dichotomy also plays into Helm’s opposing force, Bane the god of War and Tyranny. Bane’s goal is the complete subjugation of all people under his banner. If Helm is the Shield, Bane is the Sword. Many of Bane’s more moderate worshipers though point out that Bane accepts all races and people, and judges them on ability alone. They also state that the empire Bane seeks is a necessary measure to prepare the world for the Great Wars to come and ensure humanity’s continued existence. Somewhat opposed to both deities is Rao, the God of Peace and Reason. Roa’s followers are more united than the others, but their doctrine is not exactly as one might first assume. Raon’s understand that sometimes force is the only option, and will fight when all other avenues of resolution have failed. However, they believe that true lasting peace is only possible through reason and understanding and thus seek to spread understanding between opposing parties wherever they go. The final deity of the Quartet is Arveene, the Breaker, Goddess of Individuality, Retribution, and Liberty. Arveene stands in opposition to Bane, but also to Helm whose laws she sees as oppressing the weak. She has no personal quarrel with Rao, but her violent nature and refusal to compromise keep them at odds. Arveene is one of two deities who it is known ascended from mortality to divinity. Legend holds that Arveene’s family was destroyed by Bane. Vowing herself to destroy the Black Lord Arveene began a one woman war, nearly ended in single-combat against Bane himself. However, she was defeated, and cast down the mountain on which Bane’s keep resides. Despite her broken body Arveene’s spirit and oath remained strong and she somehow ascended to divinity to continue her war against oppression of all kinds.

Arveene was a goddess of my own creation, based off a god who was close to what I wanted, but not close enough.

The remaining deities have various combinations, but one of the more common is the Triad of Civilization and The Mysterious Ones. The Triad consists of Oghma, Fharlanghan, and Waukeen. Oghma is the God of Knowledge and Invention, Fharlanghan of Travelers and Exploration, and Waukeen is the Goddess of Trade, Merchants and Shopkeepers. The three hold an extremely tight alliance, as their domains support and uplift each other.

The Mysterious Ones are Vecna, Nerull and Mask. Vecna is the God of Secrets and was once human before becoming an Arch-lich and then a God. Nerull is a deity of Murder and Death, a foe to all who live. While Vecna’s worship may be used to protect important secrets and keep knowledge hidden, Nerull’s worship is incredibly rare, for he is only called upon to sow death and destruction. His followers believe that if they slay enough of the living Nerull will grant them power and perhaps even stave off their own demise. The final deity, Mask, rules over thieves and shadows. It is said that neither Vecna nor Oghma know Mask’s identity, gender, or plans. Mask moves in absolute secrecy, but it is known that the deity respects ambition, luck, and cleverness and that if you achieve high enough you may find yourself playing a part in one of the incomprehensible plans of the Shadow Lord.

As I might have mentioned last week, all of the common gods and goddesses of DnD are, in my mind, actually just the human gods. With this realization came a second, humans had a ton of gods, these 13 are a short list, and I had more besides to act as minor gods and goddesses worshipped locally. So, in keeping with this and with our actual history, humans are the most religious of all the races. It would be rare in Arista to find a human who does not worship at least one diety. However, I wanted to keep Arcane and Primal seperate from Divine, so I purposefully took out the dieties of Magic and Nature to prevent that overlap. My one problem with the Pantheon is Nerull… I think I may switch him out for a different death figure, he’s cool and all, but is so extreme as to be pointless, since only the crazy would worship him completely and demons and devils can fill that role better.

Halflings: The Halflings are both the quietest and loudest of all the races. They are travelers, peddlers, and entertainers. Instead of cities Halflings live in caravans, constantly moving from one area to another. Despite this, if pressed, non-halflings could say little about what halflings are like, because they are such an insular race. They will trade, entertain, and almost anything else with the other races but they do not allow many inside their trust and inner circles. This is a calculated move by the Halflings, to protect them and their families. This dichotomy between the public and private lives of Halflings is almost all-encompassing. The truest aspect of this is also the Halfling’s greatest secret.

The Halfling’s have only one deity, the goddess of protection and lawfulness, Yondalla, who is the Shield of the Halfling people. However, Yondalla has a second side, the Goddess Dallah Thaun who is the dark aspect of Vengeance and Theft. When a halfling caravan is attacked or wronged Yondalla’s followers will care for the wounded and rebuild. Dallah Thaun’s followers will disappear into the night, seeking vengeance and recompense, to make those responsible know the folly of attempting to prey on the Halflings. The secrecy of Dallah Thaun’s existence is paramount, and any Halfling who reveals her will be hunted and killed, as well as anyone who might have learned or heard the secret. Her secrecy is a defense , if confronted the Halflings can honestly say they follow Yondalla, who everyone knows is a goddess of good and law, keeping her dark side in the shadows where she can do the work that is necessary to keep her people safe.

One of the most important times in a Halfling’s life is their First Performance. Until that time a Halfling is considered a child, and works under the supervision of an adult. The Performance can be anything, from the lead in a play, a solo musical, or even selling trinkets of their own design, but it is the first time they are allowed outside of the protection of the adults. Sometimes, after this trial, a Halfling decides to leave their home caravan, to see the world on their own, bringing back important ideas and trade secrets. The only other time a Halfling has been known to willingly leave their caravan is when they fall in love with a member of a different caravan during a rare meeting of two traveling clans. Such unions are seen as especially blessed, more so as they also give the Halflings the opportunity to perform for an audience as keen and quick-witted as themselves, a true test of skill. The only other time this occurs is during the Carnivál, a once a decade event where all the caravans and lone Halflings gather together in a secret valley in the White Tip Mountains, the same place where a portal dropped them centuries before, to share news both joyous and tragic and celebrate in a month-long nonstop party.

I found Yondallah/Dalla Thaun on the internet. I don’t know if it official or someone’s homebrew but I fell in love with the idea of a single goddess with two diametrically opposed sides and ran with it.

The Layout and Races of Arista

One thought on “The Layout and Races of Arista

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