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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

About Finiens - The Out-of-Character History

Before I go too deeply into the worldbuilding and mythos and storylines, I should probably tell a little about how Finiens came about.

My introduction to D&D (and through it, Pathfinder) came first not through stumbling onto the games or being brought in by other players, but by the video game Neverwinter Nights. My first roommate in college played on a NWN Persistent World known as "The Realms of the Dragon Reach", and watching him play the game and roleplay with the other characters dragged me into it like no other game I'd played before. I purchased the game and its expansions immediately and was hooked straight through the next seven years or so. I in turn introduced it to my friend and future sister-in-law - known as Ebon_Fyre on Paizo and Belladonna or Bellamortis elsewhere - who in turn, along with my roommate, introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons 3.5.

That was 2003. Fast forward about five or six years. We've bounced from server to server in NWN and our PnP group is about a quarter through Paizo's Savage Tide Adventure Path. Due to some frustration with various players and staff members at the time, we bid the NWN server we're currently on a not-so-fond farewell and decide to strike out on our own, and make our own server. In this time, we've played on no less than six different servers, all set in the Forgotten Realms, and we've grown quite tired of it; however, we know next to nothing about Greyhawk, aren't fans of Eberron, don't like the limitations inherent in Dragonlance, and have never heard of Golarion. So we decided to invent our own world.

At the time, we called the project Stormwind Paradigm, after The Stormwind Fallacy popularized on the WOTC forums (where I lurked under the username Edge_of_Oblivion and mostly never left the safe confines of the "Let's create some new Vestiges" thread), as we felt that the SWF did an excellent job at vocalizing our complaints about the playing and GMing style and mindsets of the server community we'd just departed. We tied this further into the world by calling the continent upon which it was set also Stormwind - I at the time had not yet played World of Warcraft, so I didn't know about the existence of that particular name's prior use.

As you can probably expect, we got absolutely nowhere. While both of us had some experience with NWN's toolset, neither of us knew anything about scripting, hosting, or haks, in addition to growing greatly accustomed to the additional content our old server that we had no way of reproducing. Likewise between work, school, Ebon and my brother's moving away, the eventual collapse of the Savage Tide game, and not long after having our NWN addiction replaced by WoW, the server project never got much past the planning stages.

But Stormwind did. We developed the adventure town of Port Haven, in the kingdom of Olympia, and its desert neighbor of Denvushain, the elven forest of Sentara, the swamp-wood lair of the yuan-ti in the Sombersong Woods, the towering Titans mountain range, and beyond them the barren, barbaric realm of the Ice Claw and the distant East Asian-inspired Senkaku Islands archipelago (yes, named for the disputed territory on our own Earth). And there we sort of stopped. We'd talk occasionally about our grand plans for running a NWN server, or when that proved beyond a shadow of doubt to be an impractical goal we moved on to the idea of running a play-by-post forum community, but that likewise never played out. So for a few years the project lay fallow, untouched, almost forgotten.

In 2008, I started working on an unrelated project. One of my old hobbies was tinkering around with RPG Maker 2003, which I'd picked up just out of high school and occasionally poked around in. From time to time I'd come up with ideas for games and plots, and usually I could get a fair bit of story worked out; what would usually happen is I'd get a fair bit written then actually start trying to work on the game itself, and my lack of any ability whatsoever when it comes to sprites would usually get the best of me, and I'd abandon the project due to graphical incapability. This time, though, I tackled the project from a different direction - I wrote out the story first, using that year's NaNoWriMo competition as motivation, with plans to give the whole thing another try yet again once I was done with the story itself.

I never finished the story, entitled Altered Enigma, though it's on my to-do list. But I did invent something that would see a great deal of future use - the continent of Wachara. At the time, it consisted of a mere five regions - the necromantic desert empire of Anhur, the Camelot-esque kingdom of Galadae, the collapsed bandit-ridden realm of Naltaskar, the Romani-inspired nomadic culture of the Olori, and the barbaric anti-civilization of The Northlands. I also made vague references to the "dark continent" of Paziou, originally located to the south of Wachara; I'm not sure if I intended that to be a hat-tip to Paizo, though I might have, as I was semi-active on the forums at that time due to my running Savage Tide and getting involved in the FAWTL community there.

I poked and prodded at Wachara for several years, while our PnP group pretty much ceased to exist - after Savage Tide fell apart, we tried to shift to a play-by-post format, but it never quite held. People moved away, we lost internet contact with a few of our old players, and... well, life moved on. In 2010 I moved across the country from Arizona to Tennessee, and after a dearth of D&D/PF gaming for several years, I convinced a few friends - among them the friends now known as Scintillae and Faceless on Paizo - to give a shot at playing some Pathfinder via Skype and MapTool. Likewise, I decided to run the game not in FR, not in Greyhawk, not in Golarion, but in a world of my own creation - Wachara. Or more accurately, a then-unnamed world that I, pretty spontaneously, decided included Wachara, Stormwind, and Senkaku as separate continents on the same planet.

After a slightly fumbling start, we decided to scrap the short-lived, practically plotless game in favor of picking up Paizo's Kingmaker, which I'd picked up some time before. Halfway through the first chapter of the AP, I managed to convince Ebon and my brother to find some time in their schedule to jump into the game with the rest of us, and as the colony of Iomrall began taking shape in-game, Finiens - as the world came to be called, courtesy of Scint and her Latin expertise - began taking shape out-of-game, thanks to a collaborative effort from our group. Scint provided a home for the avian-elves of the Ael-Vari by creating the Ancient Rome analogue of Divus, as well as creating the wilderness of Seredína and the cult-colony of Eirene, and helping me flesh out the disparate Olori Lands after their unified country of Olorunium collapses during the events of Kingmaker. She and Ebon likewise assisted with some of the geographical adjustments, such as moving Wachara into the southern hemisphere and Paziou into the northern, relocating the Senkaku Islands, and the addition of the fourth continent of Teremvor and creation of its inhabitants, the Goblinoid cultures of Finiens and the anarchic lizardfolk of the Ti'Larinn. And Ebon reminded me of our original ideas for the deities of Finiens, with the Five Aspects of Existence and the Avatars that served and represented them to mortals, allowing me to discard the conglomerate Greek/Roman/Norse/etc. placeholder pantheon I'd begun the campaign with.

Stir in a few unexpected developments, wild mass ad-libbing, and bizarre PC actions during the actual playthrough of Kingmaker and voila, here we are.

Thanks to the developments of the campaign as well as Scintillae running her Council of Thieves game in Stormwind and Faceless running Rise of the Runelords in Paziou, the world has gotten several opportunities for almost all the major continents to see some level of development and attention, though admittedly Wachara has gotten the most for obvious reasons. Moreover, feedback from several commentators on Paizo's forums - from readers of the three campaign journals I've written to fellow supporters and fans of non-humanocentric campaign settings, nonstandard racial alignments, and exotic/monstrous playable races - have requested further information on the world, its peoples, its places, and its history, thus bringing us to the purpose of this blog: sharing Finiens with Paizo fans and the Internet.

So here it is. Hope you enjoy, and eagerly welcoming feedback, suggestions, and commentary.


  1. I've really enjoyed your worldbuilding/setting articles so far. :)

    Speaking of NWN, have you seen this Kickstarter?

  2. I have, Danubus on Paizo linked it earlier today and I pitched in. Here's hoping it can make the last jump to funding in the remaining week and a half!