Worldbuilding Part II - The People
Welcome to the second part of our worldbuilding series in which we are, as Bob Ross would put it, making some big decisions. If you missed Part I, I recommend checking it out. It might be confusing otherwise.
Last time, we worked out the history of our setting and a bit of color here and there. Of course, an RPG setting wouldn’t be very conducive to RP without people. Let’s figure out who they are and how they live.
- We are few in number in this accursed land. Most rarely have contact with anyone outside our own small steading or village, and strangers are viewed with deep suspicion.
- We live in communities called circles. These are settlements ranging in size from a steading with a few families to a village of several hundred. Some circles belong to nomadic folk. Some powerful circles might include a cluster of settlements. We trade (and sometimes feud) with other circles.
- We have forged the Ironlands into a home. Villages within the Havens are connected by well-trod roads. Trade caravans travel between settlements in the Havens and those in outlying regions. Even so, much of this land is untamed.
One of the things I really like about this worldbuilding system is that it’s full of levers and dials that you can tweak to end up with wildly different worlds, even if you use the stock campaign setting. Do you want to play in a world where the people live in small, insular groups? Or would you prefer something more akin to clans? Or, are you more interested in the dynamics that cities and trade can give you?
If this game were going to be happening more directly after the great war, the first option would probably be the best one. I think instead, we will begin in the time when dwarven society is just starting to get back on its feet. The third option is the other extreme, and we definitely aren’t back to a place where the land is tamed again.
Not too hard and not too soft. The middle option is just right.
So we have middling communities, which might be collections of dwarven clans who have banded together. But how do these communities opperate? You can learn a great deal about a culture based on how they govern themselves.
- Leadership is as varied as the people. Some communities are governed by the head of a powerful family. Or, they have a council of elders who make decisions and settle disputes. In others, the priests hold sway. For some, it is duels in the circle that decide.
- Each of our communities has its own leader, called an overseer. Every seventh spring, the people affirm their current overseer or choose a new one. Some overseers wear the iron circlet reluctantly, while others thirst for power and gain it through schemes or threats.
- Numerous clan-chiefs rule over petty domains. Most are intent on becoming the one true king. Their squabbles will be our undoing.
Up to this point, I’ve had a pretty easy time figuring out which option I wanted to pick, but these are all very exciting choices. One of them even has “clan” in it! This is going to be a tough call, so let’s think through them one by one.
Leadership is varied…
The first option could give us a pretty broad pallette with which to paint our story. In one village, there might be some akin to a mayor, elected by his people. Nearby we might find a valley with several villages all ruled by a despot.
Pros: Lots of potential for variety
Cons: I like the idea of having generally understood customs and expectations that Ida can work with.
Each community has an elected leader
This one has a distinctly orderly feel to it, and it gels with my mental model of what these dwarves are like. Maybe this form of government is a cultural hold-over from the time before the war? It feels fairly enlightened. On the other hand, the dwarven lands are quite expansive and it’s difficult to imagine that everyone ended up with the same structure.
Pros: Consistent with what I think a nascent cultural revival might look like, and I can see this form of government providing the springboard the dwarves need to start climbing back to where they used to be.
Cons: Perhaps a little too consistent.
Really, the only thing going for this one in my mind is that it has “clan” in it. I think it’s definitely possible that this might be where this young civilization will end up in the future, it’s a little early for it now. Also, I think there’s more than enough danger to be had without folks fighting over land.
Pros: for this setting, almost none.
Cons: all of them.
I think the most interesting option is a marriage of the first two choices:
Most of our communities are governed by their own leader, called an overseer. As our traditions from before the war dictate, every seventh spring, the people affirm their current overseer or choose a new one. Some overseers wear the iron circlet reluctantly, while others thirst for power and gain it through schemes or threats.
Not everyone chooses to follow the old ways, though. There are places ruled by warlords. There are wandering clans whose leadership is decided by combat. There are even rumors of a group that lives high in the peaks whose leader is chosen by a sacred bird.
I like this because it gives us most of the pros, yet mitigates the cons. That’s what we’ll go with.
This is another one of those lever-and-dial situations, as you’ll see. Just how stable and safe are settled lands and the places in between?
- Here in the Ironlands, supplies are too precious, and the lands are too sparsely populated, to support organized fighting forces. When a community is threatened, the people stand together to protect their own.
- The wardens are our soldiers, guards, and militia. They serve their communities by standing sentry, patrolling surrounding lands, and organizing defenses in times of crisis. Most have strong ties to their community. Others, called free wardens, are wandering mercenaries who hire on to serve a community or protect caravans.
- Our warbands are rallied to strike at our enemies or defend our holdings. Though not nearly as impressive as the armies that once marched across the Old World, these forces are as well-trained and equipped as their communities can manage. The banners of the warbands are adorned with depictions of their Old World history and Ironland victories.
I think we’ve covered why the last option is out, so we’ll just leave that one be.
There’s an interesting argument to be made about the middle one. The concept that’s been percolating in my head for Ida is that she’s a hunter of beasts, maybe even some kind of…well, warden. I imagine her to be not unlike your archetypal ranger as far as her duties are concerned, so perhaps this one might fit. Before we make a snap judgement, though, let’s have a think about the first item.
We mentioned before that the land is rich in minerals and what not. Then again, people don’t eat minerals. Has the land recovered from the ravages of the war, or are food and clean water still hard to come by? I think there is room for some lovely juxtaposition between resource scarcity and the “enlightened” governing structure we chose before. I imagine people with dirt under their fingernails, trying to scrape by and build themselves back up to something resembling stability, while at the same time clinging to old traditions as a reminder of who they once were.
Maybe, as before, there’s room for a compromise here. In general, the land is sparsely populated. There aren’t great lines of supply and trade yet, so there certainly aren’t standing armies. Probably not even sizeable militias. Maybe some of the larger circles have found a decent place with sufficient access to the necessities to have dedicated protectors, though. Nothing standardized or codified in any charter or anything, but perhaps ubiquitous enough that wardens from different settlements sometimes run across each other and share news and knowledge.
Here among the ruins, supplies are too precious, and the lands are too sparsely populated, to support organized fighting forces. When a community is threatened, the people stand together to protect their own. Instead, we have wardens. The wardens are our hunters and our protectors. They serve their communities by standing sentry, patrolling surrounding lands, and organizing defenses in times of crisis. They often range far from their communities in search of threats (and game), and occasionally cross paths with wardens from other settlements. In the absense of traders, this is how we get our news and knowledge of the world beyond our little pieces of it.
Ironsworn is generally a low-magic game. In the stock rules, there are no big, flashy spells to cast. Instead, there are Rituals you can use, which have significantly subtler effects. However, this is yet another configuration option of sorts you can set as you choose. It doesn’t change the character options you have available (at least not the ones the game comes with out of the box) but it does affect the world around you.
- Some still find comfort in the old ways. They call on mystics to divine the fortune of their newborn, or ask them to perform rituals to invoke a bountiful harvest. Others act out of fear against those who they suspect of having power. However, most folk believe true magic—if it ever existed—is lost to us now.
- Magic is rare and dangerous, but those few who wield the power are truly gifted.
- Magic courses through this land as the rivers flow through the hills. The power is there for those who choose to harness it, and even the common folk often know a helpful ritual or two.
The lore of Kalemin contains a great deal of overt and powerful magic. The Dwarves there, however, are not well known for their use of powerful sorcery. I find myself at a bit of an impasse. There is indeed magic coursing through the land as described in the third option, but I don’t know that I want that to be a major thematic element of this game. I think instead that we’ll use the first option.
Perhaps there is a great deal of magic for those who might know how to wield it, but that’s simply not who the dwarves are. Their magic is tied to rituals, runes, and divination. In general, we’ll be using the first option, with the understanding that there might be other characters down the road which demonstrate one of the other options is also possibly true.
- A few Ironlanders still make signs or mumble prayers out of habit or tradition, but most believe the gods long ago abandoned us.
- The people honor old gods and new. In this harsh land, a prayer is a simple but powerful comfort.
- Our gods are many. They make themselves known through manifestations and miracles. Some say they even secretly walk among us. The priests convey the will of the gods and hold sway over many communities.
Kalemin is a world in which the existence of deities is pretty much a given. Most cultures and peoples across the world follow the same deities (although they may have different names for them). However, the history, and our gameplay experiences in the world in other games, have led us to the conclusion that the gods have stepped back from direct intervention following the pantheon war.
Therefore, while the third option was once true, it is more likely that the second one is the best here. This game will be set fairly close to the conclusion of the war between the gods, so there will be those who remember a time in which the gods performed miracles (and sometimes atrocities). However, that is no longer the case.
But the people do still pray.
To be concluded…
As we add more brush strokes to this world’s canvas, I imagine an image of our setting emerging from the dark background. We’ve figured out what kind of land we’re in, and what kind of people live there. We have but a few more choices to make and we’ll be ready to dig into character creation and start play in earnest.
But first, we get to decide what sorts of external circumstances we might run into along the way. It should be quite exciting indeed!