So far I have a pretty good foundation for a world that meets my design goal to include all of the basic Player’s Handbook content. I also have the beginning of geographic groupings for each of them and am trying to think about how they interact with this world I’m creating. For this post, let’s review each of the basic PHB races and see how they’ve contributed to the overall feel.
Dwarves – I mentioned in my last post that I don’t particularly care for their name in general. “Dwarves” seems like a derogatory term in English, and it seems strange that they would be content to be called as such in the Common tongue. Luckily, the Arcane Legions approach (likely inspired by D&D, given that its dvergar are dark-skinned) gives me a similar-sounding name without the associated disparagement. They will be recognizably dwarves. To accommodate the mountain and hill subraces, I’ve decided that the mountain dwarves will be the dark-skinned dvergar that live underground, while the hill dwarves are fairer skinned and known as “gold dwarves” due to their lighter color. This also gives the city of Auricbad in Druska its name, as it was founded as essentially a trading post between dvergar and Druskans.
Elves – I like the choice to place high elves in Elenas, which borrows its name from them and ancient Hellas. The magical, intelligent society that we’ll assume forms feels really good as an analogue to the enlightened Greeks in our world. Presumably they have some hegemonic power in that region of the empire, kind of how Latin never really displaced Greek in the Eastern Roman Empire–maybe they even support the rebellion to recover some measure of their older-than-Druskan power. On the other hand, wood elves (or 4e’s version of eladrin, perhaps?) belong in Aire with other fey-like creatures, which gives it another trope to use. Drow aren’t going to be particularly important, as they’re underground and xenophobic, but there are plenty of underground caverns we might assume they could inhabit if we need them.
Halflings – Initially and as one of the more common PHB races, I felt that halflings seemed sort of fey-like (supernatural luck) and decided to put them in Aire. They’ll end up being something else when I settle my cosmology better, but no one wanted to play a halfling at this point, so it wasn’t particularly important that I cared about their origins. Remember that as a Dungeon Master you don’t necessarily have to know the answers to all of these issues. If it wouldn’t plausibly come up, if your players won’t know about it, or if you never occupy a perspective in which an answer would be known, you can feel free to pass off information as limited to whatever source you’re giving instead of an omniscient “Yes, halflings are descended from fey” (or whatever else you need to decide).
Humans – Given the normal assumptions of D&D, humans were going to be the dominant race. This setting justifies it somewhat by making them the ruling power of Druska (and Khemta, Elenas, and Elon, as elves are no more than a “large minority”), but questions about how they got there and how they treat their subjects and so on are left unanswered. I don’t need those answers yet, and they probably won’t come up. I can answer those questions and make one side or the other in this civil war more sympathetic or villainous as I desire. How do independent groups like the dvergar view the conflict? I was able to use a random rumor about the gold dwarves joining the False Emperor to provide our Dwarf Fighter an opportunity to roleplay and give his opinion on the war.
A few notes on the rarer races: Dragonborn get to be the reptilian sobekhi for now, dwelling primarily in the Barbaric Coasts. Gnomes live with dwarves and have a great Slavic-sounding name to borrow with the svirfneblin already, so I’ll use that as their general name and further cement that closeness. Half-elves are going to be fairly common in Elon and Elenas and maybe less so elsewhere. We aren’t doing half-orcs because I think their commonality makes some strange assumptions about the world in one way or another, so they’re getting replaced with full orcs as a potential player race. Tieflings, finally, get a one-off mention as the offspring of Hibernians who deal with devils, which as an area outside the empire is probably going to feel very Gaulish. However, no one’s playing any of these yet, so I don’t know much about any of them or even need to.
But as I think about other sapient races, I’ve remember that I’ve also got “beastfolk” and the artificial Steamforged lying around…oh, and I’m going to have goblins and kobolds and lizardfolk and because all of those are iconic D&D creatures. Hm. Why do we have all of these different creatures? Who created them? Why are they different? Cosmology might be the next step, then, even if I don’t particularly need it. But in the interim I’m just going to play in this setting for a few months, even though I don’t know everything and have a lot of “loose” pieces, metaphysically speaking.
None of my first batch of players cared much about deities–we had a paladin of Lathander, who chose it primarily because that’s the sun god in the PHB, but he didn’t last particularly long and religion just wasn’t a big deal to those players. That was fine, but I eventually became dissatisfied with just using the Forgotten Realms pantheon and decided that a distinct world should have its own distinct deities.
Next: how my first Cleric player solves my cosmological problems for me.