This is the seventh post in my worldbuilding series. If you’ve missed the earlier parts, you can find them here. If you’re already up to speed, then let’s get started!
So here we are: we have a world, we have the beginnings of a history, we have a cosmology and we’ve thought about language. Now it’s time to get our hands dirty! We’re going to track the human diaspora that followed the Godswar, five hundred years ago; we’re going to begin to fill in our map; we’re going to outline the major human cultures and communities, and sketch a few of the most prominent individuals. But before we begin, we need to think about technology.
Looking back over this series of posts, the word that I have used more than any other when discussing the human cultures of our new world is “restless”. It’s a characteristic which makes them stand out from the other races, and is at least as much a curse as it is a blessing. The orcs live in harmony with the ebb and flow of the seasons, the dwarves live simple lives devoted to warmth, family and beer, and the elves are withdrawn; only humans run at the world, seeking to discover all there is to be seen. They are not the shortest-lived race (the average orc lifespan in this world is forty years), but they are by far the most populous, their numbers exceeding the other three races combined. With all that creative energy at their disposal, then, can it really be possible that they are stuck in a medievally-inspired technological rut?
In this instance, there’s nothing wrong with holding back the march of technology. Our world exists to serve our stories, after all, and if I had a story idea that needed knights in plate armor, gleaming magical swords and the creak and lash of wooden catapults, then I shouldn’t let a preoccupation with human invention distract me. It is enough to acknowledge the problem, and explain it — the devastation in the wake of the Godswar was worse than we thought, and it’s taking them time to rebuild; languishing in the coastal regions, it is difficult to mine the metals needed for more sophisticated forms of technology; haunted by myths of elven arrogance, or constrained by ideology or edict, technology beyond a certain point is either frowned upon, or forbidden outright. Consistency is important, but we can change the nature of that consistency with the smallest movement of our foundations.
With that in mind, then, where do we go? I want a range of technologies, I want them to sit comfortably alongside the various faiths that we’ve established, and I want a sense of exploration, of new frontiers both physical and intellectual. With that in mind, I’m thinking post-medieval; I’m thinking Renaissance. The rise of science, a strong system of guilds, the slow emergence of modern political, economic and social systems… there’s a great deal to be done with that setting. We must also remember that humans are remarkably skilled sailors, and there are few parts of the world that are not familiar with their ships, traders and explorers.
Let’s take a look at our map.
The human-dominated lands — marked in yellow — are not unified as a single kingdom or empire; rather, there are various discrete political areas. The most vibrant and prosperous of these can be found on the small island to the south of the central continent. The island is a significant size — at approximately seven thousand square miles, it’s halfway between the area of Connecticut and New Jersey. The land is remarkably fertile and the weather is gentle, so most of the island’s area is covered with farms, orchards, vineyards and estates. In the north-east, however, the gentle rolling hills rise toward great cliffs, atop which stands the single largest and greatest human city. The island is named Edorath, and the city is Ren Edoratha, also known as Silver Towers for the way the great granite buildings along the cliff-tops gleam in the misty rain. Ren Edoratha is the heart of a complicated web of diplomacy, trade, innovation and culture; like Venice in the early 16th century, it considers itself the center of the civilized world. It is ruled by a council drawn from the wealthiest and most influential families; the politics involved in maintaining a seat on the council are as subtle as they are dangerous. The docks of Ren Edoratha are bustling at any hour of the day or night, and sailors from this port have touched even the farthest lands.
The influence of Ren Edoratha is most powerful in the land to the north, Faramor, the collection of unaligned towns and villages which pay fealty to the Silver Towers. Most of the landscape is forested, and communities tend to be small, tightly-bound, and somewhat insular. Many are coastal; in-land settlements track the rivers, and send barges of lumber and ore down to the coast for trade. Roads are few, but well-maintained. These towns provide much of the fuel for Ren Edoratha’s economic engine, and much political power is leveraged on protecting them individually, while also preventing them from becoming unified. In most communities, a mayor is responsible for taxation and direct contact — via the Guild of Messengers — with the council of Ren Edoratha.
To the north, some brave souls from the coastal towns of Faramor have begun to claim the unoccupied land of Bephest. Life on this wind-lashed coast is hard, and no great settlements have grown, but the folk who call it home are hardy, self-reliant and formidable sailors.
To the west of Edorath, the island nation of Istramere is a rare example of Ren Edoratha’s political failure. Unlike the scattered settlements of Faramor, the towns and villages of Istramere were successfully united by a single ruler who feared the ever-growing might of Ren Edoratha. Two hundred years ago, the massed army of Edorath crashed against the shores of Istramere, and was repelled. Since then, a peace has grown between the council and the so-called King of the Wayward Isle. Nowadays, King Walbrin sits on his throne in the city of Ist Of The Rivers, and Istramere is a peaceful and untroubled land, haunted only by occasional envy and uncertainty at the might of Ren Edoratha.
Edorath, Istramere, Faramor and Bephest were settled by the same group of refugees during the destruction of the Godswar, but not all humans followed that path; far to the north, a large group of humans followed in the footsteps of a group of fleeing elves, and settled in the cold and rugged landscape of Khrel. Agriculture in this grim land is difficult, but hunting is a way of life to men and women of Khrel. They shelter in their immense pine forests, and tell tales by the fireside through the long winter. They have little in common with other humans, but have a peaceful relationship with their elven neighbors and the dwarves across the sea, with whom they share many values.
In the west, the lands of Aydhir and Merraden are nominally human-occupied, but it is thought that there are fewer people on each continent than there are on the island of Edorath. Aydhir is a difficult land to call home, rising from the grasslands of the orc-dominated territory to the south to flat, cracked desert plains. All along the eastern coast, the ocean waves crash against sheer cliffs and jagged mountains; for a thousand miles, there is no port or harbor. To the north, the land becomes more gentle, though there are few comfortable places to settle. Merraden is more welcoming, but only a few human ships landed there after the Godswar, and much of the land has yet to be fully charted or explored. “To the ends of Merraden” is a common expression in the more populous lands, used to mean the greatest imaginable distance; hungry eyes in the Merchants’ Guild of Edorath will look to the east from time to time, and dream of what may yet be discovered.
There are a few small islands remaining, but we’ll hold those back until we’ve filled in the details of the other races, in case inspiration strikes. Obviously, we’re painting with very broad strokes, but I think we can see how humans fare in this post-cataclysmic world.
Next time, the dwarves.
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