Building an Epic Fantasy World: Modern History, Trade, and Society

So up until this point, I’ve developed my world, Eoria, configured what technology is available, what magic works, and even what people populate it. See the last post, on the history and cultures here. Today I’ll design the modern history, talk a bit about trade & industry, and design the societies that make up Eoria.

First off, when I left off, the lowlands civilizations were disparate, which didn’t allow them to unify and push the highland barbarians or northern barbarians back. This was exacerbated by the southern jungle civilization, which I’ve named Vendakar, who prefers the other civilizations weak and uses the slave trade produced by the barbarian raiders for their own ends.

Now, into this, I want to introduce the start of modern times, the notion of a central authority or leadership. I could map out the rise of some great conquerer… but I want to give them more of a feeling of legitimacy, rather than someone who just beat everyone else down. I also want to show, again, that this world is part of a greater universe… and that mankind didn’t originate here. So, I’ll introduce a new people, the Starborn. The Starborn arrive at Eoria during a period of heavy raiding by the barbarians. They come to Eoria aboard their ship, and they intially seek little contact with the natives, establishing a secure colony on their own. However, as their technology begins to fail, they are drawn into the local politics. As a contrast here, some of the Starborn seek to remain apart, others think that they should use their weapons and technology to seize power and rule, and a third group wants to work with the natives. The three groups have a short but brutal civil war in which the group that wants to work with the natives is victorious, while the conquistadors are exiled, sent north, where they found their own nation, called Darkstar. The isolationists are discouraged by both groups and head off on their own, to try and preserve ‘pure’ technology, rather than the magic and mysticism they see elsewhere. The majority of the Starborn begin to work with the locals. In particular, they are drawn to help in the fights against the barbarians. The leader of this faction, from the previous civil war, helps to unify the smaller nations, so that they work together against their common enemies. In the process, he steps into the role as the overall leader of their alliance… eventually coming to become their High King as things solidify. The five lowlands civilizations become the Five Duchies, each independent in their own lands but unified under the High King’s leadership.

The Starborn also bring ideas of sanitation, crop rotation, fertilizers, rule of law, and other low-tech but still important elements of civilization. With the assistance of the starborn, the five civilized nations defeat the rising tide of barbarism. They also experience a population boom from the increased hygiene, improved economy, and higher food yields. The Starborn, partnered with the nobility of these lands, slowly move into leadership positions, often intermarrying with the locals. Some prefer to remain in isolation, living separately, but many become the leaders of these other nations over generations.

The reign of the Starborn High Kings is a time of peace and prosperity. The Starborn value individual freedoms and personal responsibility as well, so there remains some upward mobility in most of their lands. They also approach magic from a scientific stance, so they push the boundaries of magical theory.

Going into each of the Five Duchies, I can decide what their strengths and weaknesses are, what they trade for and produce, and what the defining characteristics are. I’ve named them: Marovingia, Asador, Taral, Boir, and Masov, roughly from west to east.

Marovingia is the furthest south, along the equator, and blessed with plenty of rainfall and good weather. It acts as the breadbasket for the rest of the Five Duchies, with huge farms that produce food over multiple growing seasons during the year. The Marovingians, unlike most of the Five Duchies, do not venerate spirits of places or ancestors… they worship their gods. Their gods are physical beings, men and women who are born with a natural connection to the spirit world, and who are able to manifest powers. Marovingians are the closest to the Vendakar Kingdom, so they are bitter rivals. Marovingia’s large population and large percentage of land ownership gives rise to citizen soldiers who fight in their legions.

Asador is a volcanic highland, of rolling plains and towering cinder cones. The people of Asador are as volatile as their lands, being known for fiery tempers and ancestral grudges. While they are likely to engage in bickering or feuds, they will work together against common foes. Asador’s plains give rise to herds of cattle and sheep and the people are split between the small towns, built like fortresses on the volcanic peaks and the roaming peoples who raise livestock and live on horseback. The volcanoes in Asador’s highlands provide power sources for their wizards, allowing them to harness that energy to power their magical inventions. Asador’s cavalry, both heavy and light, are their military strength.

Taral is another highland area. Taral, unlike the other Duchies, is much closer to barbarism. The people of Taral experience some of the strongest and fiercest winters on Eoriel, with snow depths reaching forty or fifty feet. Taral lies between two mountain ranges and the lake effect off the Boir sea buries the Duchy every winter in snow. The heavy run-off in the spring erodes Taral into steep gullies and ravines, floods fields, and feeds the multiple rivers and lakes. Due to the harshness of winter, Taral has developed expertise in enchanting, crafting sunwells which gather light all through the spring, summer and fall to allow them to grow crops underground to withstand the winter months. They’ve adapted their enchanting skills to other areas since, but each village and town is built around a sunwell and the sunwells are of extreme importance to them. The people of Taral are in constant skirmishes with the mountain barbarians as the two people feud over highland valleys to grow crops and run livestock.

Boir rests along the inland Boir Sea. The people of Boir are industrious and are often drawn to trade and exploration. They build the best ships and their shipmasters travel everywhere. Most cargoes in Eoriel travel in a ship from Boir. The shorter growing seasons mean they are dependent upon food imports to maintain their population, but they spend the long winters working and laboring, providing goods and items for export and trade. Boir’s naval forces are their primary military strength, designed primarily around defeating the northern barbarians sea raiders, who plague their coastlines.

The last of the Five Duchies is Masov. Masov is the largest and is separated from the rest of Eoriel by the Boir Sea and the Ryft, connected by land only at the Ryft Guard, a massive fortress which spans the Ryft at its narrowest point. Masov’s people are as varied as it’s terrain. In the northern lowlands, trade and industry are more important to the people, while in the southern highlands, farming and logging are what people do to live. Masov’s central area is thin, hedged on one side by the Eastwood and on the other by the ocean. Masov, however, is the oldest of the Duchies, and one of the first to support the Starborn High Kings and is seen as the cultural center for the Five Duchies. The main focus of magic in Masov is blood magic and the mages who practice their arts are the best healers in Eoriel. As a counter to this, those who stray into perversions of blood magic, sorcerers, are also more common here. The southern deserts and high mountain valleys are host to more of the barbarians in the south, while the northern lowlands are raided by the northern sea raiders, which gives the Duchy a unique perspective on threats.

With that baseline established, coming into more recent times, the High Kingdom has fallen into disrepair. The High Kings are extinct, brought down by betrayal. In the process, the Five Duchies have created their own feuds and have fought one another, setting the stage for no one Duchy quite trusting the other to have their backs. As a consequence, the barbarians and the Vendakar have been able to raid and attack more successfully. In particular, Taral is brought low by the mountain barbarians, with many of its towns and villages destroyed and its people surviving only in isolated mountain villages, small pockets of civilization against the barbarians. Since Taral lay central to the Five Duchies, it’s loss makes travel and communications between the others difficult, at best. Boir maintains travel by sea, but the increase in northern sea raiders makes that dangerous too.

The general decline of civilization means that knowledge and information are lost. The Starborn families that survived the fall of the High Kings associate less with the other people of Eoria. Lack of communication and trust means that civilization declines still more. The volatile people of Asador’s feuds erupt into full blown civil war when their Duke dies without a clear heir. Each of the Duchies is isolated and alone and the barbarians threaten to overwhelm them.

This, then, is the perfect place for my story to start. I have a rich history (which I populated with names, dates, and other fun historical stuff), I know what people are where and what motivates them. I know what magic works, what science and technology work, and how the different people can apply them. Civilization, on Eoria, is at the brink of collapse. Into this, then, I populate the characters, men and women who either want to give civilization that last push towards collapse or who want to bring it back from the brink.

That concludes my world building series, hopefully it helps other writers and, if not, then at least it proved interesting.


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