While there are top-down and bottom-up approaches to setting design (start with the gods and work down, start with the level 1 adventurer and build up), I'm far enough along in my creative life that I am comfortable juggling several balls at once. I am taking a 'through-line' approach where I'm going to consider the cosmic forces at play while also considering what this means for the guy buying eggs from the merchant.
One thing I forgot in my top ten (so it's number eleven by default) is that the setting needs to explain the rules... by that, I mean that the setting should create some sort of logical (or at least smell test passable) explanation for how things work the way they do... why do clerics use blunt weapons only? Why are halflings good at being sneaky? Why does magic work how it does?
Okay. So, my top ten got me thinking, and then in my sleep my subconscious did the rest. I woke up a handful of times in the middle of the night and scribbled notes into my notes app on my phone so I wouldn't forget. I'm going to summrize here, but odds are good that I'm going to create a 'living' Google Doc by the end of the day that is organized by sections where I will do the world building. There will probably be another for the megadungeon. I've always worked on things behind the scenes, but you can watch me build this in real time if you are so inclined. It will be a shared document, so if I'm in there working on it when you pop in, then you're in there watching me write.
Anyhow, I made some decisions.
The Fates lived before this realm. There was a time before. There will be a time after. Only the Fates know about any of this, and they have not shared a shred of it with anyone. They are not likely to do so.
They have one daughter, born when this realm was created. Her name is Veil, and she is the lesser goddess of the created world, and mankind was put her under her auspices. If and when the game adds druids, they will pay homage (not necessarily worship) her.
The Four Elemental Realms, and the creatures therein, also predate this realm. They don't care much about what happens here, in general. When they, or the titans that dwell there, are pulled in to this world's mechanations, they usually just want out. Water seeks water. Fire returns to the flame. However, from these four elemental realms the raw material was drawn for the creation of Veil (both the land and the goddess).
The Outer Planes were created concurrently with this realm. For reasons known only to them, the Fates created eight greater gods to bridge to this land. Scholars posit that they were curious what choices humans would make if given options. Humans living peacefully in a garden may have been a boring proposition for the Fates. They are drawn to conflict.
These outer planes are roughly equivalent to the Cosmic Wheel of classic D+D cosmology.
Each of these greater gods created two races: one for their realm, and one to dwell in Veil. For example, Blyss the liege of light created angelic creatures for their realm, and the high elves for Veil. At the opposite end, Abyss the queen of death (who dwells in the 666th pit) decided not to create a race, but instead claimed fallen mortals to create the undead. She's always been the trouble maker among the gods. Since Blyss and Abyss are opposites, elves have special protection from undead (they cannot become undead, and they are immune to ghoul paralysis). Abyss created the race of demons to populate her vast holdings. There's a lord of tyranny who created fiends for his world (Hell or something like it) and hobgoblins for Veil. There's the merchant god (chaotic good ish) who has the scales as his symbol. There is Roma the goddess of home, (neutral good ish) who created the halflings for this realm. There is a lord of order and master of craftsmen who created the dwarves for this realm (lawful neutral ish). There is a realm of shadow (neutral evil ish) and a beastlands (chaotic neutral ish). You get the idea.
Abyss has been messing with all of it. That girl is TROUBLE.
Blyss (who had both male and female forms) had two children, twins. The boy is Paladin, and the girl was the huntress. He stayed at home to protect it (and is something of a nephew to Roma) while the girl (I don't have a name for her yet) wandered a lot. I like this idea of elves having wanderlust, and of feeling the need to, at some point, leave home on a trail of some kind. The great hike or Sojourn or something. Maybe that's the lesser goddess' name... Sojourn is not bad.
Anyway, she met a human, fell in love, and had a bady. That baby was the first demigod; his name was Syrek, and he became the ruler of the lands of Veil. He ushered in a golden age, and he ascended to level 18 as both a warrior and magic user. So, a very powerful dude. He sought two things: Veil as his wife (though she spurned his advances) and ascension to greater godhead (petitioning the gods for this). Veil refused to marry him, and the gods met and voted not to grant his godhead. It was close, and his grandparent, Blyss, cast the final vote no - Abyss didnt appear that day (claiming that the other gods had shut her out, which was, of course, a lie). Syrek turned to Abyss for remedy (or she approached him more likely), and she crafted a dagger that could kill a god. She made him believe that he could take Blyss' power for his own, and then he must be named a greater god. His mother tried to stop him, but he killed her before killing Blyss.
Then the poop hit the fan.
All living creatures (yeah, even the bad ones) joined forces against Syrek, marching on his fortress at the middle of Veil. He had trapped the goddess Veil there, and was set to force her to marry him. However, the combined forces of all mortals (despite the work of Abyss against them in her support of the now-mad Syrek).
Oh, and Syrek had a general of his armies who fell madly in love with Abyss and ended up killihg himself to become the grand death knight, and he's still dwelling in a pit of sorrows beneeath Bryn, because yeah.
The good guys won, and Syrek fell.
That was 813 years ago.
The City of Bryn, the once golden city, still stands are the 'center' of Veil. The four corners of the world spread out from it - the wilds to the west (where the elves abide), the lands of Flame and Frsot to the north (where dwarves and giants dwell) and the broken lands to the east (lands of chaos and strife). To the south is the vast Celestial Sea, which brings visitors from other parts of Veil... and from lands far beyond.
Syrek's Citadel is still the highest point of Bryn, but it is a fallen citadel. From the idea 'keep your friends close and your enemies closer', the races of Veil have kept close watch on Bryn. Though largely a human city, dwarves and elves keep powerful garrisons here. The hobgoblins have claimed the undercity proper as theirs, and they patrol the sewers, watching over the various gateways into the halls beneath.
And the megadungeon beneath Bryn festers. Not all gates were closed, and not all hobgoblins have kept their discipline. Some have become enamored of Abyss, and a cult to the goddess of death may be growing in strength.
Some game implications:
- Elves no longer have a true god. Some have followed Paladin, while others find solace in Roma's embrace. For most, they remember Blyss and the empty old temples in sadness, where all of the statues are adorned in shrouds.
- Clerics are not allowed to carry sharp weapons, because a dagger killed a god. That's kind of a big deal. There aren't a lot of clerics, because the gods are kinda' mad at people still. It's awkward. The most common god worshipped is Roma, who has been most active. She is a protector, and it is in her nature to watch over and protect people. She has the most active and vibrant system of temples and worship as a result.
- Mortals are limited to level 10 and tier 5 magic. The gods have decided they don't want you using Time Stop and Wish against them. However, vestiges of old magic remain, and some mortals seek power beyond level 10. Abyss, as you might imagine, encourages such delusions of grandeur.
- Shadow elves might be the progeny of the shadow lord, or they might be elves that were corrupted by Abyss... not sure on that one yet.
- Abyss is a goddess of corruption; most of the minor humanoid races are derived from hobgoblins that were pulled away and towards worship of demon lords during the beginning of this age. There are lots of demon cults popping up all over the place.