Building a Fantasy Campaign World V: Nations

The dominant element in fantasy campaigns tends to be nations, be it tiny city-states like the city of Greyhawk, or massive continent-spanning empires like the Five Nations of pre-Last War Eberron. Expansive and detailed nations are a staple of fantasy worlds and separate fantasy from the vague unnamed kingdoms of fairy tales.

There are a number of online tools and references that might help. Medieval Demographics Made Easy and The Domesday Book  are particularly handy, but there are many, many more.

This is the Fifth Part in a series on fantasy world building.

Table of Contents

This blog is part of a series on Fantasy Worldbuilding. The other parts are listed below

Introduction
Part 1: The Hook
Part 1.5: Variables
Part 2: Conflict
Part 3: Geography
Part 4: Races
Part 5: Nations
Part 6: Monsters and Dungeons
Part 7: Deities
Part 8: Cities
Part 9: Organizations
Part 10: History
Part 11: Economics
Part 12: Culture
Part 13: Starting Zone
Part 14: Player’s Guide
Part 15: Other Realms
Part 16: Miscellaneous

Types of Nation

Let’s start with a massive info-dump of the various types of government. For the most part I’ll be blatantly plagiarizing this from the Wikipedia article on Forms of Government, but this site was also useful.
Autocracy: Rule by one individual, whose decisions are subject to neither external legal restraints nor regularized mechanisms of popular control. Autocrat needs servants while despot needs slaves.

Band Society: Rule by a government based on small (usually family) unit with a semi-informal hierarchy, with strongest (either physical strength or strength of character) as leader. Very much like a pack seen in other animals, such as wolves.

Bureaucracy: Rule by a system of governance with many bureaus, administrators, and petty officials.

Chiefdom: Rule by a government based on small complex society of varying degrees of centralization that is led by an individual known as a chief.

Democracy, direct: Government in which the people represent themselves and vote directly for new laws and public policy.

Democracy, representative (republic): The people or citizens of a country elect representatives to create and implement public policy in place of active participation by the people.

Despotism: Rule by a single entity (group or individual) with absolute power, as in an oligarchy. Despot needs slaves while Autocrat needs servants.

Dictatorship: Rule by an individual who has full power over the country. Usually, there is little or no attention to public opinion or individual rights. The term may refer to a system where the dictator came to power, and holds it, purely by force, but it also includes systems where the dictator first came to power legitimately but then was able to amend the constitution so as to, in effect, gather all power for themselves. In a military dictatorship, the army is in control.

Fascism: Rule by leader base only. Focuses heavily on patriotism and national identity. The leader has the power to make things that do not relate to nationalism or increase belief in national pride illegal. They believe their nation is based on commitment to an organic national community where its citizens are united together as one people through a national identity. It exalts nation and race above the individual and stands for severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.

Magocracy: Rule by a government ruled by the highest and main authority being either a magician, sage, sorcerer, wizard or witch. This is often similar to a theocratic structured regime.

Monarchy, absolute: Rule by a government in which a monarch exercises ultimate governing authority as head of state and head of government.

Monarchy, constitutional: Rule by a government that has a monarch, but one whose powers are limited by law or by a formal constitution.

Monarchy, elective: Rule by a government that has an elected monarch, in contrast to a hereditary monarchy in which the office is automatically passed down as a family inheritance.

Oligarchy: Rule by a system of governance with small group of people who share similar interests or family relations.

Stratocracy: A form of government headed by military chiefs; a system of governance composed of military government in which the state and the military are traditionally the same thing and government positions are always occupied by military leaders. The military’s political power is supported by law and the society. As such a stratocracy does not have to be autocratic by nature in order to preserve its right to rule.

Thearchy: Rule by a god or gods. This differs from a theocracy as the actual deity is the head of the government.

Theocracy: Rule by a religious elite; a system of governance composed of religious institutions in which the state and the church are traditionally the same thing. Citizens who are clergy have the right to govern.
There’s a couple sub-forms of government, which I’m pulling aside as they’re less something that stands on their own and usually compliment one of the above. For example, a Democratic Meritocracy would be possible where only people with a certain level of achievement or skill would have the right to vote.

Ethnocracy: A form of government where representatives of a particular ethnic group hold a number of government posts disproportionately large to the percentage of the total population that the particular ethnic group represents and use them to advance the position of their particular ethnic group to the detriment of others.

Gerontocracy: A form of rule in which the leaders are significantly older than most of the adult population. Often the political structure is such that political power within the ruling class accumulates with age, so that the oldest hold the most power. Those holding the most power may not be in formal leadership positions, but often dominate those who are.

Matriarchy: A society in which females, especially mothers, have the central roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property. It is also sometimes called a gynocracy, a gynecocracy, or a gynocentric society. The closest nearly equivalent term for males is.

Meritocracy: Rule by the meritorious where groups are selected on the basis of people’s ability, knowledge in a given area, and contributions to society.

Patriarchy: A social system in which the male acts as the primary authority figure central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and entails subordination to the male patriarch with a specific domain or grouping.

Plutocracy: Rule by the rich; a system of governance composed of the wealthy class. Any of the forms of government listed here can be plutocracy. For instance, if all of the voted representatives in a republic are wealthy, then it is a republic and a plutocracy.
One possibility that I haven’t seen is a form of government one demihuman species ruling over others, such as humans being the only race to vote and thus hold power, or become the dictator, or join the officer elite of the military. It’s similar to Ethnocracy but different as dwarves are actually a different species from humans or elves.

As this doesn’t have a name I can find, I’m calling it Eidocracy, from the Greek term “eidos”, which can mean “species”. Most other –ocracys use Greek so this seems like the most accurate term.

It’s less overt in most fantasy fiction as races tend to rule themselves and interact less, so the idea of humans being lesser beings in elf society doesn’t raise attention. Additionally, it’s likely downplayed in the official worlds because TSR and WotC wanted to emphasise the various demihuman races were equal. But this is fine for a homebrew where you can easily have second-class citizens. It doesn’t apply to the real world unless we start opressing aliens or you consider the fact dogs and monkeys can’t vote a sign of our eidocratic system.
Unrelated to the above is the economic system of the nation. Contrary to what you might believe if you grew up in the Cold War, there is nothing intrinsically linking Communism and Dictatorships; you could easily have a Democratic Socialism or Autocratic Capitalism.

Capitalism: In a free-market economy, people own their own businesses and property and must buy services for private use.

Communism: In a communist country, the government owns all businesses and farms and provides its people’s healthcare, education and welfare.

Feudalism: A system of land ownership and duties. Under feudalism, all the land in a kingdom was the king’s. However, the king would give some of the land to the lords or nobles who fought for him. These presents of land were called manors. Then the nobles gave some of their land to vassals. The vassals then had to do duties for the nobles. The lands of vassals were called fiefs.

Socialism: Socialist governments own many of the larger industries and provide education, health and welfare services while allowing citizens some economic choices

Welfare state: Concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life.

Designing Nations

For Top-Down worlds, the first step in creating nations is brainstorming. Think about what kind of nations you want. Write down a list of potential nations, both large and small. Write down as many ideas for nations as you, more than you’ll have space for on the map.

Start with the basics of the nation in no particular order. Sometimes it’s easiest to think of a government and work for there. Other times a nation will have a hook or neat idea that serves as the basis. Nations might be built around story ideas or potential adventure plots.

Remember World Building Step One & Step TwoThe Hook and Conflict. Most nations should have some relation to your world’s Hook and there should always,always be conflict in a nation. When I say “conflict” I don’t just mean conflict with other nations, but internal conflict as well. No country is flawless. A nation of pretty, perfect, paladins is really, really boring. It may seem like a good idea to have the Lawful Good nation ruled by a kind and just king that the heroes can defend but that’s problematic. Even Camelot had its dark side. A perfect world does not need adventurers: why wouldn’t the kind and just king not send his army to fix the problems the PCs are dealing with?

Let’s look at Cormyr from the Forgotten Realms as an example. In most incarnations it’s ruled by a just king (or regent) with an army of good knights and wizards. Cormyr treats demihumans fairly, isn’t prone to open warfare, doesn’t oppress wizards or clerics, and doesn’t treat its common folk like slaves. However, there is conflict. As it’s a Lawful nation there are, obviously, laws that need to be obeyed. Limits are place on what is or is not acceptable, such as what coins can be used. Adventurers are tolerated at best and forced to buy licences to operate within the borders and peace-bind their weapons. It’s also expansionistic, frequently trying to absorb the Dalelands. The court is inundated by squabbling and bickering noble families vying for power and land and there is marked disparity between the wealthy and the poor. While the Purple Dragon Knights and War Wizards keep the peace and protect the common folk, they do so at the cost of some freedoms, and dragon knights can search people at will. It’s easy to gloss over the problems of Cormyr and play it as a good kingdom that must be defended from numerous external threats, but adventures could also involve internal threats, and if the heroes are from the Dales then Cormyr could be the antagonist or adversary for many adventures.

Even though this advice focuses on building Top-Down worlds, you don’t need that much detail in your nations at the start. A few memorable sentences and descriptions of how the regions work. Broad strokes. Once you have a solid and interesting foundation building up is easy. It’s often a matter of filling in the blanks and working logically through the cause-and-effect. How nations act, look, and feel is very dependant on their environ and neighbours.

Once you have ideas for nations, next comes placement. Look at the places on you map and figure out where nations would go. Don’t worry about drawing borders and territory just yet, focus on figuring out where you want nations to go. For a little extra realism look at the geography of your map and place nations accordingly. Nations need food and water, which means access to rivers and some arable flat land. More industrial nations would also need stone and ore from quarries and mines, which also affects their power and size. Nations will often be limited by terrain – such as rivers and mountains – which divide countries and act as natural borders. But more on that later.

Place nations logically. Don’t put the nation of merchants in a far corner of the world, put them in a central crossroads location, where road and river travel will funnel goods through them. The peaceful nation of halfling farmers shouldn’t be right beside the ravening orc hordelands or the necrocracy of the evil lich and his populace of animated skeletons and zombies.

If you don’t have enough room for each of your ideas, that’s fine. Combine ideas when possible.  If you want a matriarchal nation, a strong trade nation ruled by merchants and guilds, and a religious theocracy but only room for one or two then mix-and-match. The guild of your merchant nation might be headed by women, or the god in the theocracy could be the god of trade so the trade consortiums are also the Church. Or the matriarchal church of the moon god that has long ruled the nation is finding its lifestyle challenged by the rising merchant unions that dominate the secular power in the nation.

Combining ideas is also useful when dealing with demihuman nations. Too often the elf lands are just “the elf lands” and all territory occupied by wood elves is interchangeable. There should be the friendly wood elves, the xenophobic wood elves, the desperate wood elves, and the like. There should be a nation close to the baseline (for your world) but there can also be exception and variations on the theme.

Don’t plan on having too many large nations. Big countries are a modern invention. Prior to many modern advancements it was difficult to quickly communicate over long distances, so distant provinces would be self-sufficient and almost independent. The Roman Empire was as large as it was because they built roads that allowed easy and quick travel across the territory of Rome. Without roads, difficult to traverse terrain – such as mountains – made territory on the far side of the terrain difficult to hold: regions would be conquered before reinforcements could arrive. As such, surrounding terrain limits the growth of nations.

Large political entities are not nations in the traditional sense. Rome was a single empire, but this means it was really many, many allied and subservient nations with their own national leaders who following the wishes of the Emperor. This is why it was the Roman Empire and not the Roman Nation or the Country of Rome. Making big kingdoms work (those too large to ride across in a single day) was the point of the Feudal system: local rulers swore fealty to the king and promised to obey him, and as a reward they were given lands to rule.

Many empires in history have been short lived. One charismatic and potent leader united people under his banner and conquered land after land. But then he died and the empire collapsed. Or the empire was divided among heirs splintering the empire (or the heirs fought doing the same).

To emphasise this, here’s a couple maps of Medieval Europe. Notice the much smaller nations than current maps, which still has tiny nations by North American standards.

Many of the “countries” on those maps were also just territories occupied by small independent kingdoms or local tribes. They weren’t single entities, but it was easier to fill-in the negative space a single colour.

National Borders

Moving from the idea stage to actually drawing nations, this relies on the geography of your world. Abstract borders are difficult in a medieval world. Something like the big long arbitrary border between Canada and the US would be impossible without accurate charts, compasses, a system of longitude and latitude, etc. Borders typically use and rely on natural terrain, such as mountains and rivers. It’s much easier to say “This is our side of the river. Your side is that side” as that is unlikely to change.

Look at this map of the US and see how many borders were defined by rivers as recently as a couple hundred years ago.

When not defined by the geography, territory tended to be a little more fluid in the past. There were often regions of No Man’s Land, where a territory was disputed and there were multiple claimants. Instead of hard marked borders there would be fortified and defended border regions. The term “march” was often used for that defended territory.

As mentioned above, despite what many maps show, entire continents were not be divided up into discrete individual national chunks. People just knew where their territory ended, and even if a region was comprised of dozens of disparate feuding tribes it might be given a single name or associated with a single people. While there has often been a “Germany” on maps, the nation didn’t really exist until the early 1800s as a union of almost 40 separate countries, which became a unified empire in the late 1800s. Again, not country. Empire. Heck, even the United States is not a traditional single nation, but an alliance of 13 separate nations (the Union) that has since added an additional 37 nations.

In a fantasy campaign setting this is even more important as you need the “unclaimed” territory, which can be occupied by monsters or small settlements that cannot rely on a central authority for defence. The places where kingdoms have fallen and there might be small, isolated city states or fortified villages that stand alone. In short, there needs to be room for monsters (but that’s a subject for a whole other chapter).

As always, the above are hard fast rules that must be adhered to. Except when you don’t want to. It’s very easy to justify a larger nation that uses magic (teleportation, flying carpets, and crystal balls) to maintain its borders. If Alexander the Great had been able to become a skeletal warrior his empire might have lasted longer. There’s lots of ways to bend the rules without breaking realism.

Placing Cities

Fully designing cities is a topic worthy of its own part, so I’ll keep this simple and short, focusing on cities as a whole, rather than detailing individual settlements. On a continental scale, only the larger settlements matter, the larger trade cities, the capital, the strategic locations, and the like.

City placement requires a little extra thought. Large cities have requirements for survival. They need supplies of fresh water and are thus frequently built on rivers. Cities also need food, which means they are dependent on the surrounding countryside, which might be a network of farms and small villages. Large cities frequently amalgamate these satellite communities, expanding onto the surrounding arable land. This leads large cities to a food paradox:  the farmland feeding the city shrinks as the city grows and its food requirements increase. Many cities (and even empires) have had this problem, becoming reliant on imported food for survival.

Capitals tend to be in a central location in a country, acting as a hub for communication with messengers able to equally reach all corners of the nation. Plus cities at the edge of territories lack the land buffer to slow down invaders giving friendly forces time to intercept, making those cities vulnerable to sacking.

At the outskirts of the nation, by borders, along trade routes, or by the coast are trade cities. Trade cities tend to be a short distance upstream from the actual harbour, for defensive reasons, but like all cities these can expand and end up reaching and absorbing their harbour satellite.

Strategic locations are determined by the maps. Look at where you have passes through the mountains and place cities or fortresses accordingly. Sometimes these might double as trade cities, if they can have a stranglehold on trade and passage. Strategic locations need not be important for military reasons. Larger nations might have important cities necessary for providing goods, such as mining or quarrying towns. The settlement might have grown and serve other purposes, such as processing and smelting the raw materials prior to shipping. If the capital is farther away from the mountains there might be a city whose sole purpose is providing stone and ore, with smelters and forgers also finding work there.

The next step is roads. Connect all your major cities to each other, adjusting for terrain. As making roads is a lot of work, if it is possible to attach a city to an existing road reducing the distance the new road has to travel, then builders will do so. Roads will typically be straight as possible, but can sometimes meander due to poor planning or natural hazards. Roads built by larger empires, such as those from Rome, will be straighter as more work is put into their creation.

Roads are important as there will be smaller settlements a day or so away from most major settlements, typically between other large cities. If a town is more than one day’s ride away, then there will be a place to rest half-way. Towns might also spring-up at intersections of major roads, as they are natural locations for trade.

Fleshing Out Nations

You should have a pretty good idea of the layout of your nation by the time comes to flesh it out. There should be some cities and roads, some rough borders, and a concept informed by the hook and with plenty of conflict. Now comes the time to think about what the nation is actually like.

Some of the details of a land can be extrapolated from the location. Colder nations have more clothes while warmer nations have less, but arid regions might have more light clothing to keep off the sun. Look at your nation and compare it to the climate of places at comparable latitudes. Climate will also determine the drink of choice, as grapes (needed for wine) are limited to warm temperate locales, rice (needed for sake) needs wet land, wheat and other grains (for beers, whiskeys, and the like) tends to need larger plots of cooler farmland,  teas need a hot and moist climate, and sugarcane (for rum) requires hot temperatures and a long growing season. In rough cool lands mead might be the drink of choice not because they prefer it to ale, but because it’s easier to cultivate honeybees.

From there, look at the design of the nation. Smaller nations with many cities will be more urban and likely consider themselves civilized and advanced. If the nation is big and the cities are spread out, the nation might be more rural and wild. Nations with few rivers might be more conscious of water and rely on deep wells, which affect how many crops can be planted, so wasting food or water might be frowned upon; people are expected to eat offered food and refusing is rude, as it is a generous gift. As there is less food to spare parties might be rarer or more conservative, or focus on other activities rather than eating. Wetter nations might have a more laissez-faire attitude to food and feasts might be more common and festive.

If there are lots of trade cities the nation might be wealthy. Prosperous nations tend to be more open and have more freedoms. Lands with lots of trade also tend to be slightly more cosmopolitan, attracting traders, merchants, and travellers from other lands. Poverty tends to breed hatred and intolerance, especially in nations that were once prosperous. As nations decline in power and prestige they tend to become conservative, longing for idealized pasts when things were better and trying to recapture fading glory by embracing the values of earlier eras.

Nations can decline for a number of reasons. Other nations might be growing in power, taking wealth away from other nations. It’s possible that shorter trade routes have been found or items once in demand are no longer in vogue. Land routes might have been replaced by sea lanes, or formerly inhospitable terrain might have grown more surmountable as borders open and monsters are killed. Or a valuable trading partner might have lost some of its power, crippling economically dependent nations.

Also look at the neighbouring nations. If they’re friendly this might encourage trade between the two nations leading to greater prosperity, or there could be a rivalry between the two nations as they seek to out-do each other. Hostile nations might reduce trade, and a nation close to several adversarial lands might be paranoid and cautious.

At this point, hopefully there should be some ideas regarding the nation beyond its initial one-line description. Further description of a nation is really answering a few simple questions. Start with “What is the nation known for” and “What are the stereotypes of the nation?” Then move from there onto “How do people act?”, “How do people dress?”, “How do people think?”, “What is daily life like?”

Are the people friendly or standoffish? Are they open with money or tight? Are they chatty or silent? Emotional or staid? Devoutly religious or secular and worldly?

Stereotypes are awkward in the real world but are useful for fantasy kingdoms. It’s expected that not everyone in the nation behaves the same way, but stereotypes establish the average or typical behaviour. Just avoid making nations too similar to a real world culture unless it’s meant to be a direct analogue.

Other considerations are what they people do for entertainment. Do they like sports, fairs, jousts, or are they gladiatorial folk? Where do people spend their free time? When the PCs enter a new nation they’re unlikely to ask what the gross domestic product or major trade goods are, they’re going to want to find a place to sit down, rest, and have a drink.

Nations in War World

For my sample world, I start by thinking of the various types of war: Civil, Holy, Independence, Insurgency, Trench, and Colonial. I want some part of the world to reflect each of these. From there I make a lengthy list of potential nations:

  • Stratocracy. Almost a benevolent military dictatorship. With perpetual war, it only seemed natural that the people served the army.
  • Occupied elven nation, conquered by the above. Ruled by the military but only humans can serve making it an Eidocratic Stratocracy.
  • Destroyed nation that has sent waves of refugees into neighbouring lands.
  • Matriarchal mageocracy.
  • Isolated human nation descending into diabolism (tieflings).
  • Thearchy ruled by godking waging a holy war. The “god” is possibly an ascended human, beloved by his people whose worship grants him divinity.
  • Weapon manufacturing nation. Military industrial complex gone mad. Plutocracy that replies on constant war for profits.
  • Necromancer nation that uses undead for armies and lead by a death knight (to be different from the standard undead nations rules by a lich).
  • A falling nation, all by conquered. Fighting for every scrap of land but losing badly. Dash of post-apocalyptic warzone.
  • The nation that bred half-orcs. Land of breeders and trainers. Much animal husbandry, cavalry, use of beasts in battle, etc.
  • Civil War / fault line war. Two ethnic groups or philosophies fighting.
  • Dragonborn clans, that feud with each other when not raiding southward.
  • Colonial southern dragonborn. Founded by lesser clans that wanted their own territory. Displacing and enslaving the humans.
  • Shifter horsemen. Divide into packs. Some hostile, but most just independent.

From that starting point I assign the various ideas to the map. I shifted a few around as I did so. I quickly combined the tiefling/diabolic nation with the land in the throes of a civil war, as the southern stretch of the nation rebels and secedes from the north and its various infernal pacts.

Ignoring my own advice, I isolate the trading nation and stick it in the far north. While normally a poor location, I view the more distant locale as safer in a world wracked by war, so they’re able to avoid being directly assaulted (and have the wilder shifter nation as a buffer). They have ready access to water, lumber, and mountains giving them a range of natural resources.

Other nations are placed so there is always a potentially hostile nation (or two) nearby, for that constant warfare.

Looking at the map there are a couple blank spots, so I’ll need to think of more nations. A few blank sports aren’t a bad thing as I might have more ideas later, or need space to respond to an idea from my players. I do need a neutral trade city in the south, potentially founded by the mercantile nation.

Knowing where the various nations are I place my cities and draw my roads. Then add a couple more cities.

From there I draw the various borders. Given this is a world at constant war, several borders might be shaky or disputed. The territories are large, but not all are fully controlled and the borders not facing enemies would be wild and more lawless.

I’ll briefly flesh out two nations as examples. I like the central kingdoms as that’s where the action is. It’s the hub of activity where most of the wars have taken place. I like the idea of a benevolent military dictatorship, which might be the closest War World gets to a good nation with a just king (in this case he’d be a General). I’ll also detail the undead nation, as I like the idea but want it to be different from standard lands of the dead.

I’ll name the two lands Guimarn and Kaledon respectively.

Guimarn (pronounced Guy-marn) is Stratocracy, ruled by the military elite and the War Council that acts both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Congress. The army defends the borders and keeps the peace, and armed troops are a regular sight on city streets.  Guimarn is a large nation, having expanded its territory repeatedly over the past three generations, and has been occupying the elven lands to the north-east for the past fifty-years. Being around the same longitude as the southern US, Japan, and the Middle East it is quite warm (yet shaded from the mountains), but kept wet from numerous rivers. The western half is in a rain shadow of the tall western mountains but the eastern mountains provide rain for eastern half of the nation.

With that in mind, there is probably enough food for all yet not plentiful. Rationing is often in effect and food production – like much else – is under the gaze of the military. The people are taught to take their fair share but not more, and to expect little extra. It is a nation of restraint, self-control, and discipline. But on years with bunker crops, the surplus is celebrated. When people receive more than their share it is to be enjoyed.

Given how the country is shaping up (a nation of responsible stoic people) fashion is likely functional and hardy. With little food to spare, herd animals are likely goats and sheep kept in the rougher mountains, with the latter providing wool (only needed on the coldest days). The summers are likely quite warm with frequent small showers, so layered clothing would be common, likely cotton and linen for lightness. As the nation is so militaristic, entertainment would be martial as well, doubling as practice and displays of skill. Jousting, requiring heavy armour, would be rarer, and archery and duels might be more common. With mountains flanking the nation, stone and ore are common. Buildings are frequently made of stone, there is plenty of spare rock for solid roads, and castles are also made of heavy stone.

Kaledon (pronounced cal-eh-don) is a grim nation defended by skeletal legions. Like Guimarn it is organized and militaristic, but ruled by a single voice: the death knight’s.

Kaledon lacks the more frequent rivers and rain provided by the eastern mountains. It’s toeing on the Horse Latitudes so it will be dryer, but likely catches some wet wind from the east, funnelled through the gap between the eastern and southern mountains. Thankfully for the living inhabitants, a large river marks the western edge of the territory, providing plenty of water for crops. It takes much effort to coax the drier soil into life, but the serfs of the nation are zombified, mindless slaves who care little about working conditions.

Food is harder to provide yet not rare, and the nation does not need to feed labourers or soldiers. So the inhabitants have plenty. The nation’s soldiers are formidable and terrifying. Unlike Guimarn, which faces borders two openly hostile nations and relies on men, Kaledon is more secure despite its more exposed borders. The dead of their enemies becomes new troops for the Kaledonian army.

As such, I think the middle class lives fairly well. The workers and serving staff are zombies, left in the sun until desiccated and mummified so they do not rot as quickly. They can afford to be a little decadent. The lack of ready wood or stone for building supplies means adobe and clay would be the most common structures. Stone might be quarried for walls and for reinforcing important buildings, but this would be time and labour intensive.

The larger territory but poorer farmland mean more grazing land for animals and non-food crops meaning meat is more common and spices more affordable. With less frequent rain, mild winters, and plenty of heat the people might wear little clothing, emboldened by their luxury and tendency for hedonism. Opium likely grows well in the arid regions, so drug use might also be frequent.

The Dead King rules with an iron fist, but being dead no longer possesses the ability to enjoy pleasures of the flesh, and thus lives vicariously through his followers.

Despite all this, the people of Kaledon do not live a life of idle luxury, as they know if they are not useful alive then a use will certainly be found for them dead. They are still a nation at war, facing periodic attacks from bestial half-orc hordes from the south and their war mounts, a violent and brutal insurgency from their defeated neighbours to the northeast, and the slow static war with Guimarn to the north. The border of the two nations is scarred by deep trenches and fortifications that prevent either side from making much headway.
That’s an example of two big nations in War World. If I were building this into a full campaign setting for my players, I’d expand the other half-dozen closest nations giving each equal attention. The farther away nations might receive a cursory glance, so I know what the inhabitants are like in case a player wanted to play a distant traveller or if an adventure required someone from a far away land.

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