Worldbuilding pt. 05: history
Last time, I wrote about the eight sapient species that populated the world of Unaria. Over time, however, they changed, evolved, and created history.
My goal in this post isn’t to create a detailed history of Unaria, only a short outline of what happened over the ages of the world. When I’m about to run my first campaign in the setting, I’ll add details to the timeline focusing on the specific place and time where the adventure takes place.
A long time ago
Before starting to create random historical events, I decided that the history of Unaria would be constrained by a few basic principles:
Technology should roughly follow Earth’s history, i.e., exponential progress over time. This creates a nice natural progression that has a lot of room for old myths and strange artifacts from the days of yore.
The past should feature a great age of magic and wonder. Taking a page from Colville’s Dead Empires, this age would be the origin of all magic items and huge structures that, at the time of the characters, are now lost and buried underground (see time abyss).
Magic shouldn’t speed up technological development by that much. Since very few people are able to wield significant magical powers, magic can’t meaningfully change the history of Unaria (with the Age of Magic being the obvious exception).
There should be a single watershed event that marks year 1 for every culture on Unaria. This is for my own sake, because I like keeping track of time during campaigns and, therefore, multiple calendars could become a bit of a hassle.
Since I’m a big fan of Marx’s historical materialism, my plan is to focus on struggle and conflict: Unaria’s history will be seen through the lens of power. Each age of the world will be defined by the source of social power of that period; the name of each age has to make it clear what represented power for the people living at that time.
Making it mine
Now it is time for an overview of the history of Unaria. Each age has a short summary and a more detailed snippet of what Human civilization specifically was up to at the time. Without further ado, from oldest to newest, the ages are:
Age of Peace: starts at the creation of the universe. Different sages have wildly different estimates for how long this age lasted, but all agree that in the beginning nature ruled supreme with peace abound.
- Not much to talk about Humans here.
Age of Fire: starts with the widespread control of fire by the eight original species. During this age, might makes right and the strongest rule over the weaker.
- The Undying, precursors to Humans and Halflings, still reproduced like rabbits, lived long lives, and had their little talented minds. Unlike in the real world, however, other species offered a lot of resistance to their territorial expansion, which actually slowed them down quite a bit when compared to Humans here on Earth.
Age of Words: starts with the first divine miracles, defining an era where religion takes precedence over war and the different peoples are able to develop complex cultural rituals guided by their spiritual leaders.
- With the development of religions, the Undying find a whole new way get to justify their spread around the world. Already at that time, other species found the Undying too obsessed and ardent, too ready to sacrifice their lives for something they believed was bigger than themselves.
Age of Spears: starts with the first conflicts between clans over land and food, when local chieftains gain control over large territories through hard fought wars. Arcane magic is first controlled here.
- Once most of Unaria was populated, the different sapient species start waging war against one another and, almost simultaneously, Humans begin diverging from Halflings. The first become proud fighters and expand their territories far and wide, while the latter start avoiding conflicts and flee to nature.
Age of Laws: starts with the development of cities, agriculture and society. Large gatherings of people need laws to guide them and making the rules becomes the main way someone maintains power.
- By this time, Humans are already the dominant species of Unaria. Despite having become distinctly non-magical, their domains stretch all over the main continent and their numbers skyrocket; cities and laws become a defining feature of their civilization. Eventually, every other species will end up adopting a similar model for their own societies.
Age of Magic (~4,500 years ago): starts at the dawn of the first Human empire. The advancements in arcane magic and the development of writing allow unparalleled growth and the creation of wonderful new technologies.
- Once arcane magic is dominated by Humans, the development of continent-spanning empires becomes inevitable. The peace that flourishes at the centers of these empires promotes unparalleled magical advancements, an age where magical weapons are forged and gigantic temples are built. Human civilization achieves heights never before thought possible.
Age of Blood (~500 years ago): starts at the Branching, the moment when arcane magic became significantly weaker. Empires crumble and societies devolve into temporary anarchy before finally congealing into feudalism, where birth and blood ties determine worth and class.
- The Branching is the event that changes everything. This is the moment when the Material Plane shattered into three, giving birth to the Feywild and the Underdark1; from one day to the next, magic became weaker and these two weird copies of the Material Plane appeared by its side (complete with imperfect versions of everything in it). Human civilization was never able to recover and, for the past few centuries, it has been but a shadow of its former self.
It’s important to note that a person living in Unaria would never think of the world this way, mainly because most people don’t know a lot about the past. This division into ages is exclusively used by sages who spend their lives studying the history of Unaria.
As you might have noticed, the main theme of Unaria’s history is that the world is getting less magical: it started with incredibly powerful and magical ancestral species and ended with low-magic feudalism. Next time, I’ll talk about magic and try to explain exactly what is behind this phenomenon.
I have an idea for why the Branching happened, but no one in-setting really knows. This is Unaria’s best-kept secret and, hopefully, no one will ever find out except for the most astute players. ↩︎
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