Design Journal #2: Conflict in Totems of the Dead, by Matthew Kaiser
Totems of the Dead is a world that barely remembers a time of widespread peace and prosperity, when the wilderness was not something that need be feared. This world has long since fallen into an age of chaos and bloodshed. This devolution has many once great civilizations teetering on the edge of collapse. Apocalyptic prophets, sorcerous serpent cults, and barbarism are spreading plagues upon the land. So lets take a brief look at six of the larger sources of conflict in Totems of the Dead:
1. The Arrival of the Skadians: The Skadian settlers who came to the Untamed Lands had to conquer and displace a number of tribal peoples to establish themselves. While many of these conflicts have simmered down, many of the Skadian’s neighbors still nurse a grudge over the land forcibly taken from them. Meanwhile other Skadian groups, known collectively as the Sea Wolves, still raid the coastline, pillaging native communities and Skadian villages alike.
2. Spiritual Turmoil: The Skadians did not come to the Untamed Lands alone. A slower immigration of linnorm dragons, frost giants, and other such creatures followed them to the Untamed Lands. Like their human counterparts, these mythic beasts have disrupted and displaced local monsters and spirits, sparking conflict in the supernatural world that often bleeds over into the human realms.
The Skadians also seem to have brought with them the mysterious ‘Spirit Mist,’ a supernatural fog that blankets the land and weakens the barriers between the physical world and the spirit realms. When the Spirit Mist rolls in, one must beware of ghosts, illusions, and supernatural terrors lurking within the ethereal vapors. Of course this much upheaval in the spiritual world allows evil sorcerers to work black magics and dark rituals hitherto undreamed of.
3. Environmental Decline: For unknown reasons, the crop yields across the land are falling. This famine is causing food shortages where there was once surplus, and has served as a stressor on inter-tribal relationships. Old enmities grow fiercer and new rivalries are igniting across the land. Landlocked tribal confederacies must go to war to expand their territories and feed the people of their shining cities. When supply runs short, some needs can only be answered with blood.
4. Foreign Invaders: Foreign invading forces now beset the Untamed Lands on both coasts by. The Atlanteans, a bizarre human culture ruled by Sorcerer-kings and possessed of advanced magic and technology, are invading from the eastern ocean. Their last attempt to conquer the Untamed Lands might have succeeded had their troops not been recalled to squelch a slave rebellion in their homeland. Now a second wave of Atlantean invaders threatens sweep over the land. Meanwhile the fierce Ruskar have descended from the frozen Northwest. These warriors are as cold and fierce as their frostbitten homeland, and they bring with them strange magics and terrible war-beasts. These vodka-fueled warriors weave webs of death with whirling steel blades and stain the arctic snow red beneath their booted feet.
5. Ambitions of the Maztlani Empire: A third battlefront threatens in the south, as the great Maztlani Empire completes the massive Coatyl road, linking several strategic oases to make the Great Barrier Desert far more passable than any point in history. With the ability to march their forces northward through the desert, the Maztlani now cast their imperial ambitions on the lands to the north.
6. Revenge of the Serpent People: In the background an ancient reptilian race plots from the shadows. The remnants of an ancient pre-human empire, the Sheti serpent people bide their time with cold-blooded patience, coiled and waiting to strike the heel of the embattled human civilizations. They vow in the names of forgotten gods to take back a world that was once theirs.
If ever the land needed heroes, that need is now.