This month’s RPG Blog Carnival topic is The Summerlands, hosted by Tales of a DM. The idea of creating a world of eternal summer was interesting, and fit in nicely with where I wanted to take the blog. The end result is below. My plan is to post about this world for the next few months, actually. I have about 20 different posts planned, from races and sub-races to backgrounds to classes to thoughts about running adventures here. When it’s all done, I might wrap it up together into a PDF or something, if there’s anyone interested. Then I’ll move on to another world, maybe something involving pirates or space hippos.
This week’s two posts were originally one post, but 2500 words is a bit much for a blog, I think. (I’d have to start calling them blongs.) Today: a basic overview of the land and people. Friday: creation stories of the Summerlands, some limitations on races and classes, and a feat that is central to life here. Here’s to experimenting with fast worldbuilding…
Land of eternal summer, constant warfare, and internecine conflict
Geography and Peoples: The Summerlands are a strip of coastline hundreds of miles long, enclosed by a mountain range that bows in-land to meet the sea at the northern and southern ends. At their widest point, the Summerlands stretch no more than a few hundred miles inland before meeting the mountains, again.
As the name implies, the climate never changes, maintaining an even temperateness at all times. There is no “growing season” or “harvest season.” Where crops are grown, they are rotated regularly, and if someone is sowing, a neighbor is probably reaping. Sometimes, storms sweep down from the mountains or in from the sea, blanketing the Summerlands in a warm rain.
Along the coast, the sea kin humans fish and hunt, living primarily in small, tight-knit communities, defending themselves from the sahuagin that lurk below the waves. High in the mountains, dragons nest, hatching their centuries-long plots and ensuring that the owl-like tyton carry out their will, ruling over their cousins, the enslaved strig aarakocra. In between, the varanus lizardfolk rule the southern rain-forests, caught up in their own ideological struggles, and the reven dragonborn build their city-states in the central plains, vying with one another for control of the rivers. The wildren dwarves rule the forests to the north, the tribes cycling between permanent homes that extend from the treetops to the underground caverns. Outside of these power-centers, the frog-like grippli defend the wild places, and the fey tunder go where they please, hindered by none (often out of fear of retribution).
These geographic territories were established long ago, and most Summerlanders are so concerned with their own conflicts that encroaching on another group’s territory is less important than fighting old battles. Tradition also maintains that most races avoid involving themselves in the conflicts of their neighbors. After all, the varanus in their rain-forests need little from the plains territories of the reven, and the reven are too concerned with attacks from other reven or dragons to risk trying to expand into the deep forests of the wildren.
No Summerlander needs to worry about freezing to death, and no Summerlander starves (unless that starvation is the result of war or a dragon’s decree). The dangers of the Summerlands are the dangers of Summer: disease, insects, beasts, and war. Clouds of mosquitos bring malaria, while giant plant-creatures stalk the forests. In some places, ancient enemies vie for dominance, as with the grippli and their monstrous cousins the bullywugs, and the sea kin and the sahuagin. In other places, no outside enemies are needed. The city-states of the reven serve to feed their wars with one another as each reven warlord-king (called Greatwyrm by their people) vies for increased dominance over the fertile grasslands (while at the same time being careful not to conquer too much, lest the dragons take an interest).
Most regions are self-sufficient, growing locally what is needed for survival. Non-food resources, however, are a source of constant trade. In the mountains, the tyton run mines of wildren and strig slaves, pulling ores out of the earth to be worked by reven metalsmiths. In the forests to the north, wildren and reven loggers, under the supervision of grippli wardens, cut trees to ship downriver to one of the few sea kin cities, where they can be milled. Trade is slow, as is travel, but the technology is improving, helped along by magic, and the dragons have not chosen to stop its advancement, yet.
In the Summerlands, time cannot be marked by the seasons. There is a sun in the sky, and it rises and sets, but it never seems to move farther away. The days are all the same length, and equal to the nights. Summerlanders tell time by the phases of the three moons, Col, Lych, and Ato.
Few who live in the Summerlands consider the winter, never having known one, and whether they are protected from the cold by magic, geography, or isolation on a temperate plane, no Summerlander knows for sure. If winter happens elsewhere in the world, the climate in the Summerlands is insulated by warm ocean currents and mountains. If the oceans and deserts do go on forever, and the Summerlands are an demi-planar oasis, then the tunder may know more about how the Summerlands came to be than anyone suspects.
Society: Although their numbers are small, under two hundred, the dragons nesting in the Skytop Mountains are the greatest power in the Summerlands. All Summerlanders fear attracting the attention of the dragons, whose spies watch constantly for warlords or mages whose power is growing too great, but the dragons themselves are distant, rarely seen masters. While the dragons pose a theat throughout the Summerlands, their hand is most strongly felt in the mountains, where their proxy overlords, the tytons, rule with iron claws.
Acting as rulers in the dragons’ stead, imposing their rule on the strig and on criminals and slaves from all over the Summerlands, the tytons themselves only wield power because they speak with the voice of the dragons. As many strig have learned, to rebel against the tytons is to incur the dragons’ wrath, so while individual tytons may fall easily to blade or claw, the victory is rarely worth the price.
The dragons ensure that no reven becomes powerful enough to unite the dragon-kin city-states, and their spies are careful to pit the leaders of those cities against one another at every opportunity. Some reven city-states control hundreds of square miles, such as the military theocracy of Toka Zjedhur and the democratic, egalitarian Kryesor Madj, but most are small tribal communities of farmers and herders.
The wildren are nomadic, although their cities are permanent fixtures. Each wildren tribe moves from city to city with the seasons, and the cities themselves seem slightly out of proportion for the wildren that inhabit them, as though they were built by a different people, for a different purpose. Whoever built those cities crafted wood and earth equally, as even the smallest begins high in the trees, which have been shaped into houses, and descends deep into the earth, into expansive caverns. At the foot of the Skytop Mountains, where the forest ends, the largest of these cities rests, which the wildren call Dragon Tyr. Once every five years, all of the wildren clans gather there to trade and negotiate tribal movements. For those few weeks, Dragon Tyr is the largest city in the Summerlands, and non-wildren are equally welcome to trade and broker agreements.
Where the forest meets the sea, the reven, sea kin, and wildren have build the city of Halcyon, the final stopping-point for the thousands of trees the wildren ride downriver to be milled, then shipped down the coast and upriver again to reven cities. While upriver, the grippli make sure that all the trees are replaced, sea kin with no interest in fishing or sailing flock to Halcyon to make their fortunes.
Along the central coast, at the entrance to the vast Mangu Bay stands the great lighthouse of Twilight’s Eye, rising higher than forty reven, with the largest city on the coast at its feet. Twilight’s Eye is one of the few cities in the Summerlands where all races mingle freely year-round, and its Council of Four consists of a sea kin, a wildren, a reven, and a grippli. As Twilight’s Eye is as far as a being can get from the mountains, there is even a community of free strigs, one of the few of its kind. No race, including the dragons, can take credit for the lighthouse, whose beam constantly scans a horizon free of ships, and the few who have tried to explore it say that is descends as far into the ground as it does into the sky, but all who have descended have left either their lives or their wits in its depths.
There are many small cities and towns along the coast, each run of the same family of sea kin that founded it.
The grippli, on the other hand, build no cities. Their tribes settle for a generation in one place, but each successive generation moves on, and grippli only gather when the swamps or forests of the Summerlands are threatened, such as when the reven Greatwyrm Steelclaw the Unyielding set about burning the Forest of Eyes, during his campaign against the reven of Kryesor Madj. Within days, his forces were routed by grippli from around the Summerlands, reven armor and greatswords proving no match for the collected arrows and poisons of the grippli.
Ruins: While the wildren make the most use of their ruins, there is no part of the Summerlands that is free of evidence of older civilizations. Throughout the plains, there is evidence of ancient castles whose walls no longer stand, but many of whose dungeons lie undiscovered and unexplored. The varanus treat as holy sites the gigantic statues, many stories high, some standing upright, some fallen, and some completely underground, that can be found in the southern rainforests. In the mountains, dragons often make their nests in structures carved out long ago by a race long dead. While the coastline is largely free of such ruins (although some coastal caves lead deeper underground than is natural), some sea kin speak of abandoned cities beneath the ocean, sometimes occupied by sahuagin, whose buildings seem to have been built for walking, rather than swimming.
Hacking the Summerlands
I wanted the Summerlands to be self-contained, but they could just as easily fit into any existing world, isolated from most of the continent by the mountains and the dragons. The region is about the size of California, an area of about 170,000 square miles, so it could support more than 1000 dragons (assuming that a dragon’s hunting grounds runs about 1000 square miles, which is actually an enormous area). In a world without cars, that leaves a lot of room for small cities, rainforests, more temperate forests, and coastal regions. Every geographic region has isolated plot hooks, and a few larger story elements span multiple regions. I love the idea that there are humans, dwarves, halflings, and dragonborn… sort of.