I wanted to start talking about society in my previous post, but got completely sidetracked. I think getting the lay of the land would be helpful, so I'll focus on the various countries before diving in to cities and adventures. Let's try exploring the world again with slightly more structure.
The Kingdom of Arket
Arket covers the plains in the interior of the world's main continent, akin to the American Great Plains or Asian Steppes. Its landscape consists of grassland and slight hills punctuated with rivers and small stands of forest for as far as the eye can see. In the heart of the plain rises a steep hill with a river snaking around its base. Atop the hill sits the capital city of Kelton, resplendent with a vast castle (loosely based on Edinburgh Castle) inhabited by the king at the peak, noble houses clustered around the castle, and social strata descending in power and elegance relative to altitude.
Arket's culture mashes up aspects of Norse, Germanic, Mongol and American culture. Imagine Norsemen who learned horsemanship from the Mongols, then moved to the fertile lands around the Rhine and balanced rigid structure and personal freedom in an explosion of innovation. So if you can picture hard-working, horse-riding (though this is more of a noble or military pursuit recently), hardy, efficient intellectuals and you have a picture of the general populace. Arket still reveres the Norse pantheon of gods, though Tyr has moved into the role of a monotheistic central god at the expense of the others. Set's influence has crept north out of the desert and subsumed Loki's role in godly matters, so the main divine conflict is between Tyr and Set.
There's trouble afoot. King Rinthus was assassinated a few months back. He's been resurrected, but ancient laws of succession give him a year to get his affairs in order before abdicating. Any king who lets himself die can't be trusted to maintain the kingdom. With all the hoopla around the young bachelor king choosing an heir and regent, the Duke of Barbary recently declared his independence, taking with him Arket's only direct ocean access.
Adris sits on the easternmost tip of the plains, so not much regal drama has reached the bustling town. Lydia Darke, newly appointed Duke of Adris after her predecessor Xavier lost his life as the adventure seed of the Assassin's Knot, has been holding closed-door meetings with her advisors as of late. Nobody's quite sure what's afoot, specifically if Adris will make a bid for independence as well. At least the palisade around the town is complete thanks to labor organization by the elven general Garamond, so if the goblins or the abominations attack again the populace will have an easier time fending them off. Things have been quiet with the Earls lately - a battalion of royal troops camped out in town really puts a damper on the local thieves' guild, though the merchant's shantytown called Troopmarket has more than its share of wheeler-dealers.
Dvarfheim, The Dwarven Kingdom
Dwarven culture has been stable for centuries since they have several institutions to help keep order. Moradin holds sway over most dwarves, though some worship the Norse pantheon without animosity. Every dwarf has a family and a clan - you're born into your family, but you choose your clan. Dwarven society supports well over a dozen clans, each one loosely focused on a particular profession or group of professions. The kingdom contains several Wards, each with its own leadership structure, but everyone ultimately swears fealty to the Mountain King.
Dwarves were at war with Arket until the treaty about 50 years ago. Many dwarves still remember the fighting, but most humans who fought are well into their dotage. Dwarves typically have a hard time giving humans a fair deal since human settlements in the mountains originally touched off hostilities. The constant attacks from orc and drow invaders and the resulting attrition has caused some reconsideration of this attitude.
Ancient dwarves created artifacts known as Sage Thrones. These ornate chairs usually cause madness in non-dwarves, since they contain the collected memories of dwarven leaders and heroes. Anyone sitting in a Sage Throne gets this knowledge rammed into their brains, and if they're lucky they can ask a question and filter out a relevant answer. The first time Wulfgar used a Sage Throne, he got the first level basics of wizardry crammed into his head, but he forgot how to speak Common in the week that his brain needed to assimilate the new information.
Dwarves have unlocked the secret of weapon bonding, where the spirits of weapon and wielder feed off each other in a symbiotic relationship. Not everyone has the capacity to bond with a weapon, but nobody refuses if the opportunity comes up. In game terms, bonding with a weapon lets it level up with you. In Wulfgar's case, his axe went from +2 Ghost Touch to +3 Ghost Touch, plus any worn armor gains Ghost Touch, plus it vibrates in the presence of undead or incorporeal creatures. I think it's due for a new unlocked ability to boot.
The Emirate of Sindar
Sindar occupies the plains and desert to the south of Arket. A mainly arabic culture, their cities cluster around water supplies, like the main river flowing through Rivergate from Arket to Sindar. I basically took Egypt, had the pharaohs die out and get replaced by Islam as taught by the prophet Isa. Unfortunately, some meddling has taken place and a dangerously militant faction has been making decisions contrary to the Emir's wishes. Malik, the party's merchant friend in Sindar, fears that there may be a military coup soon. Several religious factions exist, a few of which may be crazy enough to do something drastic to destabilize Sindar even more. The internal struggle continues, fueled by recent warfare with Arket.
Most recently, Arket troops took back the city of Rivergate from the Sindari using some sort of magical killing wind. Reports from survivors detailed a swirling demonic fog that killed everything in its path, and since Arket occupied the city immediately afterward, everyone assumes that the Mage's College developed some sort of artifact. Everyone hopes that it never gets developed again given the devastation in Rivergate. This incident got the Emir to agree to a truce for now, though the party has discovered that someone wants Arket and Sindar at war and whoever that is can forge official documents from either land with ease.
The Elven Wood and The Citadel
The elves maintain a policy of healthy xenophobia, so non-elves remain in the dark about them and their odd ways. Elves don't put up with anyone destroying their wood, and they don't tend to venture out much at all. Most elves tend toward druidism rather then deism, so their culture focuses on reverence of all things natural.
The elves maintain a huge fortress on the westernmost point of the forest as it fades into plains and desert, near the city of Rivergate. Trees grow together to make the fortress out of living wood, and it has held off endless invaders over thousands of years. Everyone calls it The Citadel, and the elves use it as their military academy. All four pieces of art on the Elven Fortress card from Magic: the Gathering's Fallen Empires set inspired me to come up with this massive, living version of West Point for elves. Janik lost his hand to a Sindari ambush, and he was taken in by elven healers at The Citadel before the game began.
Lands Farther Afield
The Fisher Kingdoms contain small city-states of mostly humans tucked in a temperate seaside niche surrounded by the Dwarven Kingdom. They're loosely based on the early days of ancient Greece, but these city-states focused on laid-back debate rather than warfare. They worship the Greek pantheon with a particular emphasis on Poseidon. Most children in the Fisher Kingdoms can sail better than adult sailors from other cultures. They don't have a standing army, though every citizen must contribute to defense in some way, usually as a member of a militia.
The Gnomish Confederacy has recently been overrun by goblins, except in the capital city of Grond where the giant iron golems keep the invaders at bay. The Wild Lands sit in the frozen wastes north of Dvarfheim - only hardened Norsemen like Throrolf and Hoffman are crazy enough to live there. Rugathi occupy the Barbary Mountains on the western edge of Arket. The mountains plunge directly into the sea, making a red elf navy all but impossible. The Green Children consists of an ancient rainforest dotted with human and halfling settlements in a society based on Aztec and Maya civilizations.
I ripped off India and used Hindu culture to populate Mumbai Taru. The party hasn't visited, so it's the vaguest of sketches at the moment. Humanoid monsters inhabit the Empire of Skotos far to the south, currently under gnoll rule. The Union of Dwarves oppose these monsters, though their culture centers around communism instead of capitalism. The dwarves are allied with their neighbors the winged folk who call their home Havenaerie. The Shires contain the last bastion of halflings in the world they once dominated. The Magocracy of Timonius postulates a draconian Roman society where wizardry became all the rage, the sort of place where the Order of Hermes ran amok and took over everything
Far across the ocean on the smaller continent, the Empire of the Yellow Throne embodies the Chinese philosophy of the Celestial Bureaucracy reflected in the human rulership structure. Magic has been rigidly codified into the five elements, and monks are common. To the east, Koroku consists of mostly mountainous terrain left to nomadic herders drawn from Nepal and Mongolia. Dragonhold borders the Empire to the northwest. Their aristocrats revere dragons above all, and they're starting to mobilize an invasion force.
There are other lands with descriptions even sketchier than Mumbai Taru, but if the party ever visits I have enough hooks to give each region a unique flavor. If the party sticks around, they'll get into trouble and find adventure among those natives who want things to change. And isn't that the soul of roleplaying?
Thanks for reading!