Krythar: a world that almost was

One of the experiences that made me swear off proprietary software was doing some designing of a fantasy-world map with a proprietary program I have long forgotten; this would have been in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Of course the program became obsolescent and nothing else could read the map….I recently stumbled across a copy of the text I wrote to accompany the map, mod-dated 1994 but probably a few years older. There’s a continent of Krythar in the Neverwinter Nights universe, but this long predates it.

Explore with me now the world of Krythar. Because the “accompanying map” no longer exists, it will never be.

Adventuring in Krythar

Krythar is a continent designed to be used in fantasy role-playing campaigns. The Krythar materials are not specific to any role-playing system. They offer a wide variety of potential campaign backgrounds — from chivalric warfare in the Sunrise Kingdoms through wilderness adventures in the Cauldron and the Heart Forest, to battling pirates in the Stormwrack Isles or deadly intrigue in the perfumed cities of the Istrans.

Physical Geography, Geology, and Climate

Krythar is a small north-temperate zone continent, comparable in size to Australia but at about the equivalent latitude of the southern U.S. It is a bit less than 1000 miles east-west and 800 miles north-south (see accompanying map).

Overall the climate is mild and moist, shading to subtropical and tropical in the extreme south. However, a substantial fraction of Krythar’s terrain (especially in the north) is hilly and mountainous, creating a complex pattern of microclimates including a few genuinely cold and arid regions.

The major regions of Krythar include:

The Kestran Plain

The coastal plain of Kestra, shading into the delta of the Shining River, comprises the eastern extreme of Krythar. It is mild, flat, and well-watered, rising gradually from sandy coasts to the foothills of the Windward Reach and the mouth of the Shining River valley. Soils are alluvial and quite fertile, often permitting two harvests a year. The Kestran plain is one of the two most civilized and urbanized area of Krythar; it is rivalled only by the cities of the lower Istra in the extreme south. Exports include cloth, wine, dyes, and a wide variety of manufactured goods.

The Windward Reach

These are the coastal mountains of northeastern Krythar. They block the prevailing northwesterly winds, creating a rain shadow that makes the valley of the western Shining River the driest region of the continent. The tallest peaks of the Reach are around 15Kft high, with are in the 7K to 9Kft range. The soil of the Windward Coast itself is poor and rocky; further inland, the mountains support cold, dense coniferous forests on the north slopes and drier, warmer, mixed forests on the southern side.

The Reach is not hospitable country and the people of the Reach are a tough, clannish lot. There is little land more than marginally arable; they live primarily on fish, game, and tubers. The coastal towns are small; only Gull, at the southern end of the Reach, is really prosperous and that is primarily due to its trade with the nearby cities of the Kestran plain. The Reach’s exports include lumber, furs, game, salt fish, copper, and famously grim men-at-arms.

The valley of the Shining River

This is the northernmost of Krythar’s three major catchment areas (the others being the valleys of the Istra and the Greenwater). Rainfall varies from sparse at the eastern (inland) end to moderate near the coastal plain of Kestra. Soils vary from sandy to heavy and are moderately productive, with fertility increasing towards the coast. The river itself is relatively narrow and swift, with numerous rapids and few navigable stretches at any distance from the sea.

The drier inland end of the valley is good country for cattle ranching. Towards the coast farming is more successful and the population more dense, merging into the rich coastal plain. Exports include livestock, grain, and cheese.

The Far North

The northwest end of the Windward Reach is bounded by the steep-sided valley of the River Lann. The Lann valley is rugged and heavily forested, home to a wide variety of large game.

Across the valley begins the area known to civilized Krytharians as the Cauldron. This area includes the high peaks of the Hero’s Knot and the Bitter Hills to the south. It is geologically active and difficult terrain, little explored and poorly mapped.

North of the Hero’s Knot the mountains trail off into the rainy and isolated Stormwrack Isles.

All these areas are sparsely populated and not well known to civilized Krytharians.

The Mistfell Downs (Old Krythar)

This northwestern quarter of Krythar is bounded by the Cauldron to its east and the Greenwater River to the south. The Mistfells themselves are a low range of inland hills (only a few top 1000 feet). The surrounding country is primarily chalk moors and scrubby deciduous forests cut by innumerable small, winding rivers and dotted by thousands of tiny lakes. The coast is sandy and fenny. Soil is generally poor, especially shoreward of the Mistfells.

The Downs are were at one time rich country, but are now only sparsely populated. The terrain shows signs of past overcultivation, deforestation, and soil loss everywhere. Subsistence agriculture and sheepherding
dominate the local economy.

The Heart Forest and Greenwater Valley

The Heart Forest includes several thousands of square miles of dense and nearly unexplored terrain nearly at the center of continental Krythar, north of the Istra valley and west of the Marches and Shining River valley.

The Greenwater River runs nearly east-west, rising in the Heart Forest and running nearly to the westernmost extremity of Krythar. It is navigable for more than half its length, and defines a shallow valley bounded on the south by the foothills of the Irongrims and on the north by the Mistfell Downs.

The Greenwater Valley is lightly settled, and the inhabitants have little contact with the more civilized regions of eastern and southern Krythar.

The Irongrims

The great southern massif of Krythar is considerably higher than the Windward Reach or Hero’s Knot, with many several topping 25Kft. The western Irongrims are actively volcanic, but the highest peak, Fang-of-God, is situated in the smaller eastern arm. Between these is the high valley of the Coldswift River.

The only significant concentration of population in the Irongrims is in the mountain towns of the Coldswift Valley. These trade iron ore, raw gems, gold, silver, lumber and charcoal to the Tamargh coast.

Tamargh

The coastal region of Tamargh, south of the Irongrims, is temperate and well-watered by mild southerly winds; these give it a climate remniniscent of the Earth’s Mediterranean or southern California.

Thin, dry soils support extensive cultivation of grapes, olives and fruit. Small ranches and farms in the Irongrim foothills supply lamb and millet. The cities export fine metalwork and cut jewels. Proverbially, Tamargh also supplies Krythar with its keenest swords and loveliest dancing girls.

The Istra Valley

The Istra runs south from the wilds of north-central Krythar to the sea, skirting the eastern flanks of the Irongrims and petering out in a vast convoluted delta with many estuaries. The river is broad and navigable over much of its length. The valley of the Istra is wide and flat, tending towards swampiness. The climate is warm, and rainfall frequent.

The valley has long been populated and has conditions ideal for intensive agriculture, but is not a particularly healthy place for humans; disease is rampant and devastating plagues not infrequent. Nevertheless the river cities of the southern Istra are vast and sophisticated. The region exports rice, fruit, drugs, slaves, and spices.

Culture, Ethnicity, and History

There are three major culture groups of humans on Krythar. Your players will probably want to start as people from the Sunrise Kingdoms, the youngest of the three. The Sunrisers are the inhabitants of the Kestran plain and the Shining River Valley. They are recent arrivals on Krythar, having arrived by ship six hundred years ago from the east. Ethnically they resemble Earth’s Germans or Scandinavians; their dominant culture is high-feudal, similar to that of the 12th-century Anglo-French Angevins on Earth.

The oldest of the continent’s culture groups is the people who call themselves `Krythari’ or `Old Krythari’ and are so called by others — the people of the Mistfell Downs and Greenwater Valley. Their culture resembles that of early medieval Wales — low feudalism, cattle-raiding and an incredibly rich oral and poetic tradition. They are a tall, pale-skinned, dark-haired and gloomy folk, given to mad fits of courage but undisciplined; the newer peoples of Krythar say of them that they “fight like devils and sing like gods”.

The people of the Windward Reach are distantly related to the Old Krythari, but have interbred heavily with Sunrisers and are now hard to tell from the latter. The people of the Coldswift Valley towns are also of Old Krythari stock.

The third major Krytharian people is the Istrans of the south. The Istrans have mythological traditions of having migrated to Krythar from over-sea, but have been established on the continent for a very long time. Their civilizations have undergone many cycles of rise and collapse. Most have been despotic empires resembling Byzantium or Pharaonic Egypt; Istran priesthoods maintain dynastic calendars going back millennia. Ethnically, Istrans resemble various of Earth’s Mediterranean peoples; they are typically olive-skinned, wiry and curly-haired. They have the repute of being clever and slippery.

The people of the Tamargh coast are ethnically related to the Istrans and (being generally taller, darker-skinned, and more muscular than the Istran norm) resemble the Istran upper class. They are a volatile and fierce people, given to great boasts and sudden passions. They are noted for their regularity of feature and well-formedness of body and are proverbially Krythar’s handsomest folk.

Though most of Krythar’s people are human, there are substantial populations of the major humanoid peoples in various known parts of the continent, and rumors of many others in the wilds.

The most important nonhuman group is a nation of Elves that live in the forests south and west of the Kestran plain. They trade heavily with the Sunrise Kingdoms and are not an uncommon sight in the coastal cities.

There are known to be Dwarven warrens in the Hero’s Knot, the Bitter Hills and the Irongrims. Individual Dwarves not uncommonly set up as smiths and craftsmen in human cities, though only very few are known to have lived entire lives among humans.

There are said to be Halfling villages in the Greenwater valley and remote parts of Old Krythar.

Language

Sunrisers speak more or less elaborate and “courtly” dialects of Common.

Krythari have their own musical tongue (the Poets’ Tongue) which very few outsiders speak, but they are good with languages and most have some understanding of spoken Common. Krythari nobles, merchants, and
travellers invariably speak fluent Common.

Istrans speak an elaborate, heavily-inflected language of their own. The “Low” or peasant dialect has in recent historical times become quite infilterated by Common loan-words and is not too difficult for Common-speakers to understand with a little practice (speaking it is more difficult). It is almost impossible for outsiders to learn spoken High or “court” Istran, as it involves an elaborate set of social-status inflections that are dangerous to get wrong.

A Common-Istran pidgin has evolved in the trading cities of the Marches; it is about equally intelligible (and sounds about equally uncouth) to native Istran and Common speakers. Most Istran travellers can speak the pidgin.

The people of the Tamargh coast speak both Common and a simplified form of Low Istran quite different from trade pidgin.

The people of the Windward Reaches used to speak a language related to Old Krythari, but the old tongue is now almost forgotten. Most now use a rough dialect of Common embellished with words from the old tongue.

The people of the Coldswift Valley towns speak a dialect of Old Krythari among themselves but Common to strangers. A few have learned the Tamargh Coast form of Low Istran.

Nonhumans have languages of their own, but when encountered in human areas will invariably speak Common. Elvish travellers, even more adept at languages than Old Krythari, often speak Poets’ Tongue and Low Istran as well.

Religion

The most powerful religion of Krythar is unquestionably the state church of the Istran Empire. In theory, Istrans practice an elaborate henotheism (polytheism in which one god is regarded as dominant) centered around the god called `Sun Serpent’ who is the patron and guardian of the Istran Imperial House. In practice, Istran religion is as decadent and fragmented as the Empire itself, with the priesthood of the Sun Serpent exerting only nominal control over a bewildering array of temples, orders, and semi-secret societies.

Of these, the most important is the cult of the Dark Mother, nominally the Sun Serpent’s consort. The priestesses of the Dark Mother contend for power with the priests of Sun Serpent, and have in past times dominated the Empire.

The religions of Istra are served by vast temple complexes and legions of shaven-headed acolytes. Some of the most powerful orders field substantial military formations which are among the best-disciplined and most formidable troops in the Empire. The more usual weapons of religious dispute, however, are those usual in Imperial politics — the barbed rumor, the poison-cup, and the assassin’s knife.

No one religion or unified theology dominates the Sunrise Kingdoms. After centuries of conflict with the henotheistic Istrans, polytheism has become a central part of Sunriser identity.

14 thoughts on “Krythar: a world that almost was

  1. I do professional mapping for the roleplaying games industry. Along with being an early adopter of drawing maps on the computer.

    http://batintheattic.blogspot.com/2010/10/oakwatch-keep-map.html

    What was the software the original map drawn in? And do you still have the binary file?

    If you can sketch and scan in a jpg of the map, perhaps one your fans, like me, could get you a close copy of the original. The sketch doesn’t have to be perfect just drawn well enough to show general shapes and relative positions.

    I lucked out in that early on I picked CorelDRAW which managed to hang on to the present. In the past three years Inkscape (http://www.inkscape.org) has developed to the point where all the tools I use in Corel for mapping are present in Inkscape.

    In the long run the advent of the SVG format will help make some of the issues with proprietary software go away as far as maps and other vector images go.

  2. >What was the software the original map drawn in? And do you still have the binary file?

    No idea…and if I still had the binary it would have been right next to that text.

    >In the past three years Inkscape (http://www.inkscape.org) has developed to the point where all the tools I use in Corel for mapping are present in Inkscape.

    Do you have ways to generate mountain and forest overlays for fantasy maps? With a decent set of those I might be willing to try to reconstruct the map; I do have some visual memory of it.

  3. >Oh if you ever want to detail a region of your world people bound my How to make a Fantasy Sandbox helpful. Obviously you already did the first few steps I recommend.

    And, though you can’t see it, I often do a lot of the others as well. I like the way you think about these things. I’ve been looking at your stuff on geography and demographics; it’s just the sort of thing I try to get right, as you can probably see from my thumbnail sketch of Krythar. Comes of reading lots of SF, really; I want even my fantasy worlds to make internal logical sense.

  4. @esr:

    Do you have ways to generate mountain and forest overlays for fantasy maps? With a decent set of those I might be willing to try to reconstruct the map; I do have some visual memory of it.

    Check out this SVG clipart collection for RPGs. The author claims that most of these clipart pieces are in the Open Clipart library, which, if you have Ubuntu or Debian, you can install with ‘sudo apt-get install openclipart’.

  5. >Do you have ways to generate mountain and forest overlays for fantasy maps? With a decent set of those I might be willing to try to reconstruct the map; I do have some visual memory of it.

    If you like the old zipatone fills I have some linked off of my blog courtesy of John Cooper’s Gaming Page (http://www.jrcooper.com/gaming.htm)

    Woods (http://www.jrcooper.com/gameart/woods.zip)
    Light Woods (http://www.jrcooper.com/gameart/lightwoods.zip)
    Mountain (http://www.jrcooper.com/gameart/mountain.zip)
    Rough/Hills (http://www.jrcooper.com/gameart/rough.zip)
    Swamp (http://www.jrcooper.com/gameart/swamp.zip)

    Note these are all fills. I don’t have any easily accessible symbol. I have several of my own creation I can post in PNG format. If you need some let me know. I was planning do this anyway as part of publishing my How to on Fantasy Sandbox.

    Oh as a side benefit you can use them to make hex and counter maps for wargames.

    >I want even my fantasy worlds to make internal logical sense.

    Likewise, but there is a practical reason as well. When I use them to run RPG campaigns it makes the world discoverable as the player connect A to B to C using in-game and what they know from the real world. The trick is to find the right level of detail make it playable and not overwhelm the players.

  6. I want even my fantasy worlds to make internal logical sense.

    That’s one of the things that tends to turn me off of a lot of fantasy and SF. I don’t mind the fact that a fictional universe has some difference in the laws of nature, but far too often the writers act as if there are no such laws. Less Wrong’s First Law of Fanfiction is just a special case of a more general law of nature: If you propose an alternate universe in which some kind of magic/sufficiently-advanced tech is possible, that fact will have consequences. Entire ecosystems will arise that exploit the magic, with different niches in the ecosystem for different variants of the magic. The magic will be woven into their cultures (including the economies) as deeply as the automobile, telephone, and electric lights are in ours. That power can’t come free of charge. It must exact some kind of cost. That’s one of the meta-laws of nature that just can’t change.

    Most fantasy doesn’t deal with that. They have medieval technology indistinguishable from what we historically had in Europe (or perhaps Asia) and all the same social and economic structures we had, with the magic just grafted on as if it wouldn’t radically change how everything else worked.

    Maybe I was affected by Connections and its sequels. I’ve been told that there’s something wrong with me if I can’t enjoy a story that lacks internal logical consistence. I just think that the people who tell me that have low standards for entertainment.

  7. I divide fantasy into world-building and dream logic, though it’s more of a spectrum than an sharp distinction. If the tumbling images are cool enough, I don’t have to have great world-building.

  8. -That power can’t come free of charge. It must exact some kind of cost.

    Or is so vast compared to human scale that it is effectively free like the sun is relation to the earth ecosystem.

    Not to say it can’t be made interesting like an equivalent to the effect of a solar flare.

    For myself the primary object is play a Fantasy Roleplaying Game so I am selective about which logical implications I peruse. Also too strange of a result means the setting is only understandable after a lot of work. For example M.A.R. Barker Tekumel is a wonderfully realized world but because it is devoid of any western cultural assumption many US games found it unapproachable. Thus it has a small but fervent fan base.

  9. -That power can’t come free of charge. It must exact some kind of cost.

    Or is so vast compared to human scale that it is effectively free like the sun is relation to the earth ecosystem.

    But even then there’s a cost. Our ecosystem is almost entirely based on extracting solar energy in one form or other. [Exception: certain DEEP underwater critters that trade off geothermal gradients.] The sunlight that comes free to one of The Bride of Monster’s rose bushes comes at the cost to the grass in its shadow that now cannot have that light.

    Nature always finds a tradeoff. You can’t eat your cake and have it too.

  10. >Nature always finds a tradeoff. You can’t eat your cake and have it too.

    Monster isn’t putting it as clearly as he might, but he’s right. The way to think about it is this: in an ecology or market of competing agents, any “free” resource will be exploited to the point where there is competition for it at the margin. The agents will try to find ways to substitute the “free” resource for scarce resources, and some will become critically reliant on it. Free doesn’t stay free.

  11. The only exception I can think of is a resource that isn’t the limiting factor for any productive activity. The classic example is “air (oxygen) is free.” Since the use of oxygen (conversion into carbon dioxide) requires the consumption of energy and organic material, which are less “free” than the oxygen, there isn’t any pressure to exhaust the supply of oxygen, and it can remain free (except in confined spaces like underground mines, submarines, etc.).

    I think one of the reasons I enjoy HPatMOR so much is that Less Wrong has his HP looking for arbitrage at every opportunity. If there’s an angle to be exploited, someone is going to do it. In short order, the system will adjust to, forinstance, the fact that there’s too much gold and too little silver, or vice versa.

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