Welcome to Azgaarnoth
Population: ~70 million (not counting those not under census; all told, probably closer to ~110 million)
Area: ~5.5 million square miles of land
The globe upon which Azgaarnoth rests is roughly equivalent to that of Earth, with a similar annual period around its star. Azgaarnoth's yearly cycle is slightly shorter, an even 360 days, and each daily cycle runs a similar 24 hours.
The "continent" of Azgaarnoth lies south of the equator, and occupies about an eighth overall of the globe's surface. What lies to the north, east, and west of Azgaarnoth is not known to most who dwell there, as expeditions in those cardinal directions have universally met with either failure or disappeared into the unknown.
Because of its relationship to the equator, Azgaarnoth's northern latitudes are warmer than the southern; in fact, the equator actually runs through the northernmost cities of Merevets and Svishek. The preponderance of water surrounding the various nations of Azgaarnoth, coupled with the relative low altitudes of the landmasses, and the pervasive heat, all combine to form a landmass that is almost universally hot, flat, and wet, particularly in the northernmost landmasses (Al'Uma, for example). As one travels further south, temperatures cool off, and in the southernmost parts of Azgaarnoth, it is not uncommon to see snow in winters.
Playing in Azgaarnoth
Azgaarnoth is a world that is the collision of three major Earth-ish cultures (Western, Arabic, and Asian) alongside a more traditional Tolkien-esque "bad guy horde" (the Hordes). However, several deliberate steps have been thrown in to distance Azgaarnoth's nations and cultures from the traditional fantasy trope.
For starters, Azgaarnoth lies south of the equator, thus the various climates grow hotter to the north, and colder to the south. More than that, the world has been in steady decline for the last several milennia, and is just starting to pull its way back out. Owing to the near-constant state of conflict over the last ten milennia, the population of Azgaarnoth is quite light, as population counts go, though certainly large numbers of creatures that would never sit for a census count also populate the world. Major cities are 25,000 to 50,000 in size; most cities are closer to 5k to 10k beings.
In the center and western portions of the Azgaarnothian map, the "Western" nations, Liria and her rebellious spawn (Travenia, Travesimia, Bedia), are nations exhausted by conflict from both inside and out. Liria was once a proud empire stretching from one corner of the map to the other, doing battle against her ancient Hordish enemies. But the stress of governance and fighting an implacable foe led to first one rebellion, then another and another and another, all of which she was unable to dispute and unable to reclaim. Such rebellious children found governance no easier, either. Each in turn faced their own internal rebellions as well. An uneasy peace has settled across the nations of the West, but ancient distrust and unforgotten history could easily flare into open war once again, particularly if looming threats fade and leave no easy enemy to unite against. To the southwest, on the continent of Chidia, three major powers engage in near-constant warfare with one another, battling by proxy there, lest the carnage of war strike too close to homes too recently ravaged and barely recovered.
To the northeast, where the land is still hot, but water is plentiful and grasslands stretch from horizon to horizon, the religious-dominant nations of Al'Uma, formed of tribes of horse-borne who ride over those wide grasslands, where they wrestle with each other over theology, ancient grievances, and sometimes just for fun. This distinctly Arab-influenced culture is split between two religious figures from their history, related by theology but distanced by doctrine, and the two battle each other incessantly only when they do not battle their more ancient enemies, the Hordes--even though those Hordes migrated south (and then south again) ages ago. The Al'Uma slowly teeter towards religious chaos as the unifying force that held them together slowly seems to be less and less relevant.
In the east and southeast, the Hordes themselves have fractured and split--twice. The "classic" orcs-and-goblin-hordes, the Hordes of Ulm, are in the far south, battling against a "dark" empire, Dradehalia, whose "darkness" stems from an iron and unbending will to survive against that Horde. The second group of Hordes, the United Hordes of Tragekia, lie to the north of Ulm. The Tragekians have begun to discover the power of civilization--and some of the restrictions and rules around it--and rest on a knife's edge of either sliding back into barbarism or moving to join the rest of the world in civilized discourse. The third of the Hordish collectives is even further north, and further down the path of societal growth. Made up of stragglers who chose not to flee south, this group was ruthlessly united by a far-thinking minotaur two milennia ago, and is by far the most racially-egalitarian, not only of the Hordish world, but all of Azgaarnoth. Yithia--the lands of the Principality of Yithi and the Theocracy of Zhi--is a land that truly cares more for what one does than how one was born. This is the Asian-inspired culture, complete with many of the traditionlly Asian approaches to the world, including a strong faith in acnestral spirits and mysticism, and Yithia sports a hot, wet, grassland-and-swamp climate to go with that Asian mindset.
To the south stands the lands of Dradehalia and the Ulmhorde, both forbidding and foreboding. Dradehalia, where a dark, mysterious, and genuinely frightening figure has forged a brutal weapon out of the darkest of crises. Known only by the moniker of "Dread Emperor", he rules with an iron fist, and nothing further is known--not even if his rule for the past centuries is by one person, or if each successor takes up the name and mantle to keep their enemies guessing. The Dread Emperor came to power by being willing to do whatever was necessary to ensure his nation's survival against the howling Hordes of Ulm (who keep to the pillaging and plundering "old ways" of the Hordes) crashing down upon his people--but in the time since, a more disturbing question arises: Is the Dread Emperor willing to let go of whatever dark and foul magics and deeds he felt necessary to secure his peoples' freedom, or will he utilize them and enhance them, seduced by them to seek to conquer the known world, all in the name of that "security"?
To the far west, wilderness has reclaimed much of what once (according to legend) was civilized ground--where once roads and cities might have flourished, only ruins and overgrown forest now stands. Northern Bedia is a landmass easily rivalling that of any other in Azgaarnoth, yet currently hosts only two minor cities, and a small handful of villages, towns. Deep forests, tall mountains, and rich wildnerness offer opportunity and danger in equally vast quantities.
In short, Azgaarnoth finds itself at something of a crossroads--while the unyielding enemy against which they have struggled for several milennia seems to be slowing down and/or looking to integrate more with the world, the unity they once had has long since fractured and split. With so many different axes of alliance and power, so many different groups working to cross-purposes (even if they seek the same end result), and so many different players on the world's stage looking to advance their own cause (or tear down another's), will Azgaarnoth ever reach a point of true peace? Or will all slowly but surely backslide into increasing chaos and anarchy, until nothing but the barest rudiments of society exist, trampled repeatedly under the iron-shod boots of weary soldiers following orders dispatched from the iron-clad grips of warlords, dictators, and would-be consquerors?
All assuming something more dark isn't waiting in the shadows for the right time to strike, of course....
Curious as to the history of Azgaarnoth? Start with the Timeline, or perhaps dive into the Ancient tales told around the tables of scholarly discussion. Or perhaps you prefer to understand the modern world, instead. (Keep in mind some of this evolved a little as I was creating, so if there's some inconsistencies, let me know, I'd like to find and resolve them.)
Azgaarnoth has four moons, sits fourth in its solar system of seven planets, and orbits a yellow sun similar to Earth's. It has an annual cycle of 360 days (which is broken into twelve months of 30 days each, though the different nations have different names for the months) and a daily cycle of 24 hours.
The common world
Azgaarnoth's population density is relatively sparse, approximately 20 people per square mile. (For comparison, Europe in 1300 had around 80 million people over an area of just under 4 million square miles, which is the same rough population density: 20/sq mi.) Of these, roughly 8 million live in urban areas (cities), approximately 10% of the total population. (Contrast this to the modern world, where ~80% of the population of North America or Europe live in urban areas; in 1300's Europe, that figure was 5%.)
Being a commoner in Azgaarnoth is not as dark as some might expect; in fact, compared to the Dark Ages of Western Europe, commoners enjoy a relatively brisk and peaceful life--although the details may differ depending on which land one calls home. For most of the world, life is similar to that of the European Renaissance: life offers a great deal of options to those who choose to stay at home and apprentice to a master, learn a craft, hone it through years of use, eventually becoming a master and opening up apprenticeships for a new generation.
Food is, for the most part, plentiful, thanks to the intervention of gods and clerics. Agriculture remains a dominant role for the commoners of Azgaarnoth, with many of the traditional cereals (grains), vegetables, fruits, oils, meat, milk, fungi, and eggs that players would know from European and Asian backgrounds. Rice is particularly common among diets across Azgaarnoth. Fishing is a staple activity, and the preponderance of rivers across the continents means that fishermen are often found even several hundred miles from the nearest coastline. Much of Al'Uma agriculture is nomadic pastoralism (herds of livestock moved across the grasslands for pasture) combined with subsistence farming, where much of the rest of Azgaarnoth practices a combination of subsistence farming and intensive farming. Several merchant guilds specialize in the growth and distribution of intensive farming agriculture, and most intensive farming heads to the various cities around Azgaarnoth.
Towns and villages dot the landscape across most of the continent, though some lands (particularly the Al'Uma to the northeast) are more sharply divided between urban dwellers and nomads. Villages usually boast some economic activity beyond just subsistence farming, and towns often have artisans that make goods for sale locally or remotely through a system of guilds that transport and sell wares abroad. Most villages have at least one inn, which often doubles as the tavern and local meeting place, and most village inns run at at least half capacity most of the time. Most towns will have several inns, several taverns, a few general stores, and usually one or more shops of specialty. Some towns, depending on cultural, religious, or organizational influences, may even sport a bookseller (that often acts as a library and/or schoolhouse to the locals).
Bandits in most parts of the world are generally rare, though certainly not unknown, and while most cities certainly have their "poor quarter", lower classes are not relegated to crushing poverty of the deepest despair. Raids on isolated villages do happen (particularly in the "wilder" lands of Northern Bedia, or where open warfare dominates the land, such as on the continent of Chidia), generally once or twice in the average villager's lifetime, but less often than having a son or brother or cousin go off to war and never to return. "Monsters" are more prevalent, since what one commoner may term a "monster" is what another might term "fellow citizen", but what traditional D&D considers "monsters" generally fall within the descriptor of "the Hordes", and the Hordes have founded, and administer, their own nations.
Like most worlds, magic is found throughout Azgaarnoth, but to the average citizen, it is an unachievable dream to wield it. Aside from those few who are born with it in their veins and go on to become sorcerers (training or no), or those who forge unthinkable pacts with unfathomable beings to become warlocks, magic remains the province of deep study, commitment, and practice. The magic of clerics, paladins, and druids requires dedication to a higher calling; the magic of bards, rangers, and monks requires study and practice. Mind-magic, aka psionics, is available in more widespread fashion in Yithia, but is still available for study in the West--if one has the dedication and time to devote to it.
Character-creation Starting point
Azgaarnoth has plenty of choices for a character, ranging from the traditional dwarves and elves to their traditional enemies, the orcs and goblins.
In addition, several new classes roam the Azgaarnothian lands: Artificers look to build the weapons and tools they need to get by in the world, Mystics peer into the shadows using the power of their mind, Pale Masters prefer to explore the darker areas of necromancy and undeath, and Shamans work with the spirit world all around them to guide and protect them.
Additionally, for those players whose characters have reached some success and are looking for futher specialization, several prestige classes are available for multiclass. (I haven't used prestige classes before, so let's talk before you get your heart set on them--we may need to tinker.)
No world would be complete without courts, kings and queens, nobility, intrigue, espionage, and warfare. The nations of Azgaarnoth have all that in high amounts, with enemies and allies in all directions--both within and without. Players may also want to take a look at the various Cities of Azgaarnoth, as a way of developing their character's backstory.
Curious to know where and how your character fits in to the Azgaarnothian fabric of society? Consider the various cultures and Backgrounds available. (Note that this is not particularly strongly fleshed-out yet.)
Then take a look at the various organizations that make up the world. Nobility, arcane, divine, militant, merchant, monastic, and roguish, there's any number of different forces at work trying to shape Azgaarnoth's future.
Azgaarnoth holds many different beings as divine: the Kaevarian Church is monotheistic, believing that Kaevar, the One, is the only being worthy of veneration. The Trinitarians broke from Kaevar millennia ago, believing in the Three-in-One instead. The Al'Uma, on the other hand, put their faith in the Prophet... or his Disciple, the Apostate... instead. Still others quietly believe in the Dailian Heresy and seek to avoid drawing on any divine power whatsoever, lest they reduce the gods to nothing. Others hold beliefs in a pantheon of deities, while still others seek to find the divine in nature or in spirits. No one religion dominates the world--and most have strong opinions over which one should.
Be sure to check out the Game Notes for some notes on homebrew options I like to use.