Setting Project: The world of Ballad
So, I have had a stressful life of late. I distracted myself by coming up with a new campaign world. Some people drink, I apparently come up with fictional worlds.
Ballad is a high fantasy setting. It is leaning into a lot of mysterious magic rather than the notion of magic like technology that you find in Eberron or Ravnica for instance. I also started with the premise that humans were rare. The assumption in most settings is that humans are the “us” stand-in and not innately magical. They are the neutral default and all other races are alterations on the human base. This is problematic and should be discussed, but I will save that for a different post.
I started thinking about a world where that was not the case. Where all the sentient races were actually magical and the humans were the distrusted rare species. Sort of like how Tieflings and Drow are presented in several other settings.
Once I had that decided, I chose to go ahead and write some world rules. This would help me come up with a vision of what the world would look like. I had a vague notion but I need to define the edges of it.
- Humans are rare and distrusted for their past deeds. They are not native to the world of Ballad. They built an empire and a 1000 years prior and tried to take over the whole world following their god who was corrupted. They are seen as tainted by their association with the mad god.
- The god, Exhalthen is the only god in the world and he came with the humans. Something corrupted it and that is tied to the fall of humanity. Its corruption also created devils as the celestial host split based on what Exhalthen did. Clerics do exist but most don’t follow this god.
- There are no empires. The world is populated by a thousand kingdoms of various names and styles of government. The last empire was the Human one that fell 1000 years prior and no one wants to repeat that. There are Accords in place that the greater Fey and the Genie Sultanates signed to agree that no one kingdom will be allowed to rise to become an empire.
- The world largely developed via the interaction between Genies on the one side and the Fey on the other. Genies command elemental sultanates with powerful elementals showing fealty. The Fey courts are complex in their relationships which are based on contracts to keep their realm ordered. The difference between a spirit and Fey can be…fuzzy.
- Wizards are rare and special, but magic is very common. Warlocks and sorcerers are more common. Small common magic items are relatively easy to come by, but more powerful things are harder to find. Not unlike Eberron there but without it being like a technology. Wizards pass their knowledge from master to apprentice. The search for unknown magic and arcane secrets are things which wizards will quest for. While wizards are rare, it is not unusual to find 1 or 2 in the larger cities of the world. Wonderworking crafters often get their minor magic from deals they strike with the Fey or the Genies.
- Names are important to magical things. Anything more than the most basic common item(Like ever burning torch, potions or the like) has a name. That +1 sword has a name and history. That magic armor has a name. The ring of invisibility has a name. They are all special. Yes, knowing someone’s truename is magically significant. Onomancy exists in this world.
- The world of Ballad was created by a song. The complex interplay of the song made the separation in spirit and elements that formed the Gentried courts of the world. Their interactions with the harmony made the world. It is said that knowing the proper songs that can interweave with the music of the world and change it. Yes, this means I will be writing a bard subclass.
- The cosmology of Ballad is more fluid than the great wheel. The further away from Ballad, you get the more alien things become. Different planes like the Fey or Spirit realm, called the Gentry Courts, are close by to the world and mirror it, but there are no outer planes, just increasingly alien Realms. One might find a passage into a Genie Sultan’s domain in a mountain, or a desert. One might find the Fey courts in a deep forest or in the heart of a city, hidden from easy sight. There are ways to pass to an Astral Sea, and this is indeed how the humans and their god entered the world, but the further out you go on the astral sea, the closer to the alien far realms you come.
- There is little difference between demons & devils, they exist in pockets of the world corrupted by the gods fall from grace. Angels and other celestial exist essentially on the same mirrored realm as spirits or Fey. The Realms devils and demons exist in are on the same planar realms as the Gentry Courts, just in corrupted portions. There are no 9 hells or the like. Just places of spiritual and material corruption near the world people live in.
- History does have cycles and every 1000 or 2000 years the world goes through a massive upheaval and change. This means there are ruins and secrets scattered throughout the world from previous ages.
- Clerics tend to be tied to a church dedicated to a philosophy with saints representing an ideal of the philosophy. St Balthazar is the Saint of Knowledge and Arcane. St Haran of Rowe is The Saint of Trickery. That sort of thing. Their power would still be like that of any cleric in any setting. The domains would just be better represented by the Saint and their church. Using St. Balthazar as an example again, his church would be centered on a library he founded in a city. His church, the Monastic Order of St. Balthazar could be found in various places around the world founding churches and searching for ancient and arcane lore. Their Clerics would likely be of the Knowledge Domain, where a Cleric of the War Domain would be of a different Order which had a different saint.
There are still clerics of Exhalthen but his worship has been forbidden in most places. The fallen mad god is now seen as evil by most people, but there some humans who believe in an old form of his faith where he will protect them and they may still believe he is good.
Devils & Demons also foster worship of Exhalthen in mystery cults. They ultimately wish to collect souls and converts to revive him from his torpored prison.
Anyways, I now have some skeleton to build a world on. This is very much in a similar vein as the Nintir Vale setting with points of light. The world is big and mysterious and open for people to put what they want in if I were of a mind to publish it.
A few more notes.
All the native races are sort of defined by their relationship to the Genie and Fey courts. This explains their more supernatural characteristics.
Orcs and related are tied to Genies.
Goblins are related to Fey, particularly Unseelie.
Halflings are in the middle of the two races and is probably the most numerous race. Their luck is tied to their middle status.
Elves are clearly Fey tied as are Gnomes.
Dwarves, Tieflings, and Goliaths are tied to Genies. Tieflings, in particular, will have a different back story than the standard one. Their powers are elemental, not infernal.
I will need to write a subrace for humans that is distinct and different from their usual presentation. I am leaning towards giving them some sort of advantage on resisting spells, but I am not sure. That may be the next post I do.
I will probably decide on the history of the humans fall, what caused it, what caused the god to go mad, and what the world did to stop it. I have vague ideas but I should put them down on paper.
I obviously will want to run a game in this setting at some point this year. Once I get a few of the specifics I will do that and see how people like it.
I hope you enjoyed my little side project. What do you think? Do I have the beginnings of something cool here?