Taking Stock of Teraum, Spring 2019
In this essay, I'll ramble for a bit before explaining what Teraum is and what my plans for it are over the next few seasons and years.
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Taking Stock of Teraum, Spring 2019
When I first dusted off my dungeon-master's notes last fall, I was expecting to clean them up and before too long start running sessions again. But as I got more into it, I realized I had more of an interest in writing more about the setting by hand before continuing.
This led me to first begin re-writing the timeline of the setting, filling in my notes with memories. It wasn't long before it became a difficult document to handle, and it wasn't doing much to help me gain a more clear perspective of Teraum.
So I re-organized my documents and began to write an "encyclopedia," an alphabetical catalog of people, places, things, and concepts that were important to the setting.
But there, I felt like I was losing the spark of what made me really love the setting - it's hard to capture the absurdity of anything in encyclopedia-format. So I added an appendix for snippets of stories, and later, moved those to the front of the document.
This felt better, but then as the encyclopedia grew, a single encyclopedia seemed less and less useful - it was cool seeing the hundreds of little entries next to each other, but in order to learn anything about a single city, you had to jump between a dozen different parts.
Earlier in the spring, someone bought me a set of books for another fantasy setting, written for tabletop role-playing, and I had… a rather embarassing revelation.
Of course I should organize it like the Forgotten Realms or Pathfinder resources - it is in every important way a similar project.
That's going to be a big semantic change for me - for the past 5 years (albeit with a 3 year gap in between,) Teraum has been a single big document. Now, I'm going to scatter it across a variety of documents.
This'll come with its own difficulties - technical stuff like organizing links between documents or deciding where to put entries in the first place, as well as more creative stuff like what to name all the different documents.
But before I dive into shuffling around all that text, I thought it might be beneficial to you, the reader, as well as me, the writer, to step back and explain what exactly Teraum's purpose is.
If it isn't clear, Teraum is a fictional world. It's kind of like Earth - in fact, the name is a portmanteau of "Terra kun thaum," which is bastardized Esperanto for "Earth, with magic."
It first came about as the place where I set short stories as a child, and later became where I would set the Dungeons & Dragons sessions I would run. And, at its heart, that's what it still is: a convenient backdrop for me to tell the stories I want to tell.
This has led to a rather unusual scope of development for the fiction: rather than there be, say, a period of months where the 'story' is, with less detail as you go back in time, there are multiple times in Teraum's history which have been the "now," and so there are some parts of the fiction that are much more developed than you might expect. Of course, since Teraum is a world of short stories and adventures, not novels, there is also a lot of world-building you might expect to see that just… isn't there.
I make no apologies for this, however - if you want a fantasy setting which has a detailed record of which king descended from who, look elsewhere. If you want a fantasy setting where this arbitrary village in the middle of a swamp has page after page of history, down to the patterns on their ceramic dishes, but the next village over hasn't even been named: this is your place.
(I want to point out that some of the emptiness and lack of definition is intentional: it makes it much easier to work in new plotlines without stepping on my own toes.)
This doesn't tell you very much about Teraum, as a world, though. So let me try and give a quick overview - but before that:
The calendar of Teraum has 365.25 days per year, just like ours, 12 months, just like ours, and the flow of the seasons is pretty much just like ours. So when I'm talking about years and dates and stuff, they're fairly equivalent to our own.
So, about 54,000 years ago, the gods - all of them, from across the different universes, got together because they were having a bit of an issue managing all the various creatures and plants and other things they'd created while being gods: elves, giant spiders, sentient poisonous vines, those sorts of things. They came up with a plan to store all the excess creatures in what would be available as a zoo, so they could also show off their work to each other.
Thus, the gods built the Worldkeep, and because it was a rather industrial-looking thing full of corridors and different habitats, they built a proper planet around it, with oceans and continents, pine trees and salmon, that sort of stuff. That world, that they built to be a park, is Teraum. (To be clear, these are the names humans later gave these things - it's unknown what the gods called the zoo and park.)
It didn't take long before the gods got bored of the Worldkeep, and stopped visiting, and the Worldkeep began to fall into disrepair. About 30,000 years ago, the walls between the Worldkeep and the rest of Teraum began to fracture, and before long, giant spiders broke out of the Worldkeep and began to populate the dark corners of Teraum.
It wasn't much later and more creatures followed, setting up new homes for themselves across the geography of Teraum. With the creatures, the magic - a physical substance - that the gods imbued into the Worldkeep began to slowly leak out as well, working its way through the ground like veins of ore.
At this point, I need to talk to you about humans. Humans were put inside the Worldkeep along with the rest of the species, but they're quite a bit different. See, all the other species - halflings, goblins, talking trees - they're all magic. They have magic in their blood, or sap, or whatever, and it makes them special, in whatever why they're special.
Humans are not magic; they are mundane. In a lot of the universes - all those mundane ones out there, like ours, this has enabled them to thrive where other sapient life would fail, since they don't rely on magic to be clever.
But in Teraum, a world rife with magic, this meant that humans were at a disadvantage. They were still able to escape the Worldkeep, but they were unable to hold any land against the more powerful magic races. They were forced to be nomads, surviving off what they could forage.
Despite their relative hardship, humans managed to spread across a fairly large area, and over time managed to gain a foothold in what would become known as the Green Delta. (All region names I'm going to use are what "contemporary" humans would call the region. I'll cover what "contemporary" means soon.)
With permanent settlements, humans began to cultivate and shape their environment, and soon had the resources to challenge their nearest neighbors, the goblins in the Widewoods to the south, and the hill dwarves of the Central Plains.1
As the settlements grew, they found themselves with novel problems, many of which seemed to have no solution. Cities were racked with disease, class exploitation was rampant, and humanity found itself unable to expand any further.
It's unclear2 how humans learned to use magic, but it wasn't long after someone learned that they could put magic (remember, it's a physical substance) under pressure before it became an integral part of human society. Magic was the fuel for foundries which churned out vast quantities of steel, and some humans even learned how to do more, well, magic things with magic.
Magic's industrialization led to a period of rapid growth, which was encouraged by the discovery of a new continent, which had many species the humans and others of the Old World had never seen before. There were elves and halflings, both of whom were eager to trade with the humans.
The period was known as the Magic Revolution, and it was a time where humans, for the first time in Teraum's history, felt as though they were equals to the other races. Their prosperity allowed their largest city, Ack, to become the largest port in the known world, and catalyzed the development of financial and civic sciences.
After nearly a century of growth, humans learned something new about magic, that changed everything.
If too much magic is gathered in one place, it causes all magic, everywhere in the world, to use itself up. This happened, in an event called the Collapse, caused by the vast quantities of magic which were stored in the bank vaults under the city of Ack.
Magic is difficult for intelligent species to use predictably. When magic uses itself, the results are beyond unpredictable, into the realm of improbable. I'll skip the details of the Collapse now, to focus on the most important effect:
Elves, dwarves, goblins, halflings, orcs, and giant spiders are all magic creatures. They need magic to thrive, and without it, the species' lose their "spark."
Many died. Many became abominations, twisted by the magic inside them, and were killed by fearful humans seeking survival.
Some, the apparently-less magic, were simply left changed. Elves became feral, hunting their vast forests like packs of wolves. They hunted down the halflings, who became docile and dumb, until there were no more halflings. The dwarves, long-since pushed back to the mountains by human expansion, were inaccessible past their giant fortress doors.
But, humanity was mundane, so they survived the Collapse. The survivors had children, and those children grew up in a world filled with riches that were absolutely free for the taking. Humans moved onto the halflings' farms, raided old goblin hordes, and used the riches to rebuild.
This led to a period of war between the factions of humans, which continues into "present" day - 80 years after the Collapse.
Parts of the world are entering a new era of piece and prosperity, under the banner of the new Red State, but there are rumors that, in the more wild corners of world, magic is coming back.
So: magic is a physical substance, and there are lots of magic creatures in Teraum, and they all got there from this "zoo" that's buried deep underground. There are humans too, but humans aren't magic. But, they learned to use magic, but then caused an apocalypse for everyone but themselves. They had a rough time of it afterward, and are beginning to pull themselves out of it.
To implement this setting, I'm developing… an ambitious number of resources:
- Two fiction series: one assembly of random short stories called Tales from Teraum, and another that might be a novel called The Delvers. It follows an outlaw group that tries to find magic artifacts before the Red State can.
- A radio play, Past the Garden Green, which follows a group of children who sneak out past their mundane backyard to the magic world beyond.
- Guides for running tabletop role-playing game sessions set inside Teraum. I'm also working on custom rules for the setting, based on Dungeon World.
- Reference books for people wanting to know more about the settings. These'll go with the game rules, but also anyone who likes the stories.
There's also some other notions for other projects related to the setting I'm mulling over, but this seems more than ambitious enough - especially considering I make my own maps and artwork, as well.
That's me taking stock of Teraum, as it is in Spring, 2019.
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