World-Building, Part 3: Good Writers Steal

I’m not Tolkien, so I’m going to steal everything I need from somewhere else.


J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is the greatest fantasy novel ever published. Sure, you can argue that some people have done it better or played with tropes more effectively or been more entertaining. I get that, but my statement stands.

However, I’m not Tolkien, so I’m going to steal everything I need from somewhere else.

Arcane Legions was an intriguing tabletop miniatures game that came out a few years ago before being discontinued. Mechanically, it used formation bases to highlight small-scale army tactics–okay, I can’t describe it much better succinctly, and that’s not important anyway–but it’s the setting elements that I need. You see, Arcane Legions used a warped version of history to tell its story–in its universe, a strange mist transformed the world during the early days of the Roman Empire. Now, the fledgling Roman Empire under Octavian, Greece and Egypt under Antony and Cleopatra, and the Han Empire from China are all fighting to take control of the world using the new magics and monsters created by the mists. Wells Expeditions used this background to create a recognizable world that still included expected fantasy tropes: dwarves were dvergar, Slavs transformed by the mists into gray dwarves, while many of the Mongolians were transformed into orcs–excuse me, “Kor.” Mummies animated in their Egyptian tombs, Gaulish druids had real magic powers and could actually talk to beasts, priestess of Vulcan could literally throw fire: all in all, the setting really clicked with me.

You can probably see where I’m going with all of this.

Now, I need to hide things a bit, and some explanations simply don’t matter or aren’t helpful to me right now. The other sapient races don’t need to be former humans for this setting, and I don’t really need three major imperial factions to make a game asymmetrical and theoretically more interesting and replayable. I don’t want to take their real-world names, either, but what I can do is take inspiration from this source.

Let’s take another look at our map. (You’ll see a better one eventually.)

Druskan Empire

Notice anything about the relative positions of major powers? Well, as our setting story indicated, the major opposing powers are the Elenas-Khemta bloc and Druska. If you squint very hard and assume that the basic continents match up, you can tell that, conceptually, this is a map of the Mediterranean flipped upside down. Elenas is Greece, carried by Marc Antony–I mean, our “False Emperor” here–and Khemta is Egypt, ruled by Adara-who’s-definitely-not-Cleopatra.These two nations in yellow oppose the totally-not-Roman Druskan Empire.

For our races, too, we’re going to steal things. We’re going to borrow “dvergar” for our dwarves because that sounds cooler (and why would they be okay being called “dwarves” all the time), and Mongolian orcs become our orcs of “the Far Lands.” The dvergar are also going to create steam technology for us because they do it in Arcane Legions and this also lets us introduce a version of Eberron’s Warforged, who are basically fantasy robots. Elves get to be part of Elenas because I want a nearby place with a lot of them. Halflings seem kind of mystical, so let’s put them somewhere far off and make it different from where we throw tieflings. Gnomes? Well, I guess they live underground somewhere.

But we also want more than just the basic D&D stuff. Greece in Arcane Legions becomes home to centaurs who were transformed by the mist, and Crete is home to minotaurs, so we’ll adopt those as well. So as not to make our cosmology too complicated, we’ll group them under “beastfolk” and sort out the details later. I still need to work in dragonborn somewhere, so I’ll borrow the sobekhi (lizardfolk) from Green Ronin’s Hamunaptra setting and throw them in our North Africa analogue. (Note: this actually changes down the road, as do a few other decisions listed above.)

Well, it looks like our theft is paying off. By borrowing so many elements of the Arcane Legions setting, we’ve established the major powers and interactions of our setting as well as a number of races and their places in the world. We still have a few things to work out, but there’s a solid foundation in place.

Thought question: What do you think Elon represents? What about the red areas?

Next: we continue to sketch out the different races and where they belong.

Author: lpivellius

I am a gamer of all kinds. Sometimes I write about them.

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