History of Naissus
The subcontinent of Naissus is inhabited primarily along its coasts, the interior dominated by the Desolate Plain, and the Fens. Human cities occupy a string of coastal cities to the south, known as the “Halsband” or Jeweled Coast. These cities are maritime powers, trading regularly with the rest of the civilized world across the sea to the southwest. Minor settlements extend northward up the major riverways linking the coastal trading ports with the interior of Naissus. The mountains of the northwest are home to the Dwarfholts, with their hill dwelling cousins inhabiting the rolling hills directly to their east. The Western Woods, or Elfwilt, are home to the Elves. An inhospitable mountain range hems in Naissus to the east, beyond that a seemingly endless steppe extends. The central portion of the subcontinent is dominated by the Desolate Plains, which turn to the Fens as they continue south. Only the Halflings navigate the shifting channels of the Fens, and their only city, Fenwald, rests near the southern extent of Fens. The Fens and Plains separate the west and east, increasing the reliance of all races on the seas.
No one race or empire dominates Naissus, although humans are the most numerous. The Elves are a unified people, their capitol of Llynuval rests near the center of the Elfwilt and is home to the Speakers, the governing body. Each Dwarfholt is self governing and ruled by its own Thane. The Thane of Ironholt is technically the Thane of the Thanes, although the title is largely ceremonial. The Dwarves of the Iron Hills, for instance, do not acknowledge even this ceremonial allegiance. The Halflings have no region to call “their own,” although their willingness to navigate the Fens has concentrated the bulk of their population along the waterways that crosscut this region. The humans are not unified, with each of the “Jewel Cities” operating as independent city states. Competition is heated between these cities; however, warfare is rare. A series of outposts and colonies extend northward into the interior of Naissus linking vital resources from the interior to the coast, and allowing trade goods to flow into the interior. Tieflings and Dragonborn are uncommon in Naissus, their people scattered across the globe. While lacking the peace, order, and prosperity of a proper empire, the unofficial non-aggression pacts result in a more or less functional and relatively prosperous region. Contact between the races is regular, but often strained.
Though currently not the apex of civilization, and often treated as a backwater, Naissus has a long and powerful history. The first empires originated here, and many races hold it to be their mythical place of origin. The long disappeared Tiefling and Dragonborn empires were powerful forces in the past, and their architecture still provides the skeletons which many settlements are built upon. Elf, Dwarf, and even the Halflings maintain that at various times their people ruled the entirety of Naissus. The most recent conquerors have been a series of human “Empires” which have attempted to unify the Jeweled Coast and extend inland, although with the exception of the first incursion of humans, none of these Empires have lasted beyond the death of their founders. It has been over two centuries since the last short-lived attempt, and none of the races appear poised to put their neighbors to the sword.
This world is based, very heavily, on the world described in the Core Books for 4e. Having never played D&D, the prospect of DMing an entire world was a daunting one, so I started by leaning very heavily on what was provided. However, that quickly wasn’t terribly satisfying so I began to poke, prod, and tweak the information (if only superficially) to fit the notions forming in my head. I maintained the notion of city-states, but discarded the idea of them being isolated beacons of hope in a dark and violent world. I was interested in creating a world where the concept of “adventuring” was unusual, but not because it was dangerous particularly, but because it was anachronistic, idealistic, and a little crazy. To meet that and I thought of the Renaissance, and how warfare was largely limited to small mercenary armies, and economic competition.
I maintained several standard fantasy tropes (the humans are most numerous race, Elves live in the woods with Welsh sounding names, Dwarves in their mountain fortresses, sounding Germanic/Nordic, etc) not wanting to stray too far from where my equally inexperienced party would feel comfortable, I would lead them down other paths to move them from their comfort zone. Human cities end in “-kor,” Dwarf cities end in “-holt” and Elf cities end in “-val” for ease of recognition on the map, and making it simple to identify the regions of cultural influence.
I created Naissus as a subcontinent for two reasons, one: because the notion of people being able to just trot around an entire globe with seeming ease has always struck me as a bizarre phenomenon in many fantasy universes. But also, it gives us room to expand. When we’re done with Naissus, or have advanced to levels that are just absurd to have wandering around the countryside there is a built in release valve for the party.
The “built on the bones of old civilizations” isn’t a particularly unique idea, but one that I explicitly included because it is an easy way to give the impression of a deep backstory (where I haven’t created one yet), with the flexibility to create as many layers of it as I want in the future. I can go back to Cthulic origins (a la Mass Effect) should I desire, or just a couple generations back to the last empire. It also creates lots of “zones” for my characters to maneuver in when creating personal backstories, or when others take over DMing responsibilities. Also, most all of the members of the group have professional interest in past civilizations, so it offers lots of room for their personal fortes and imaginations to play.
I intentionally fractured the world geographically, with the Fens and Plains dividing large portions of the continent. This will allow for greater diversity in cultures between cities, keeping the “flavor” of the adventures fresh. In reality cities within walking distance from each other are going to be remarkably homogeneous, regardless of political tensions I may create, by dividing them with geographic features I can reinforce the notion of each city being a different culture. As a result, it seemed “natural” that the coastal cities would be the most important, with expansions inland along natural highways: rivers.
I created the colony system in order to (again) provide a notion of tiered interaction for the characters as they advanced. They could make a name for themselves in the colonies, and as their powers advanced they would make their way to the coast and “real” political power. While this ultimately didn’t work in that manner, I was pleased with the notion, although the result was a highly maritime focused series of cultures…and an inordinate amount of time spent on boats.
But again, the overriding theme here is that I want the concept of “adventuring” to seem absurd and ridiculous (because let’s face it, it really is). This is a relatively peaceful, organized, and civilized place. If you met someone running around armed to the teeth claiming that he’s going to “stop evil from spreading” you’d call the local PD, people in the past certainly wouldn’t have been terribly different, just with burning at the stake instead of being given lots of lithium.