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D&D 5E Homebrew Setting: Ashen Lands discussion and suggestions.


Shaper of Worlds
What the heck? I'll put it here.

So the Ashen Lands came together because I was playing on a heavily modified Conan Exiles server and had a group of people who wanted a new fantasy setting to go with the Isle of Siptah map release/game update. So I tried to weave some of the stuff from that setting into a 5e game setting and chaos ensued. The Isle of Siptah server died on the vine, but at least I managed to get the Ashen Lands out of it. But looking over LevelUp, I might make this a 5.5e setting to take advantage of Morrus's design team and their very cool choices.

Setting Overview
The subcontinent of Iobaria juts out of the eastern edge of the continent of Hanolia. To the south, the deserts of Kalanthe guard the northern edge of the continent of Khumbasi just across the Junian Sea. Both Iobaria, and the setting itself, take their name from the Empire of Iobaria, of which Iobar was the Capital and the name of the Ruling Family, a bloodline of Dragon Sorcerers. Their magic and personal magnetism allowed them to create an empire that conquered Kalanthe, all of Iobaria, and even stretch across the Obdari ocean to distant lands of Xian in the east.

It became known as the Ashen Lands twenty years ago, when a coalition of spellcasters from across the Empire, and outside it, called down such pyroclastic fury as to utterly destroy Iobar and it's holdings on what came to be known as the Day of Night's Fire. So named, for the ash and smoke blotted out the midday sun for hundreds of miles, but remained lit by the glowing embers of what was.

That was 20 years ago. Since then, the Seven Cities of Iobaria have vied for control of the region, battled off would be Sorcerer-Kings, and settled into an uneasy peace. Vast stretches of land remain unclaimed between the different groups due in part to various treaties, but primarily due to the Druidic Circles who seek to heal the world by stopping nature's continued destruction and taming at the hand of mortals.

Race and Culture
Taking queues from different designers, in particular Eugene Marshall and Arcanist Press and LevelUp, I've broken race into two segments. Heritage and Culture. However, I moved away from the core idea of still holding to Racial Cultures as default. Instead, Cultures are tied to Regions, Subcultures, Race, and level of Cultural Assimilation.

Elfy-Elfs don't really exist in the setting (And the Elven Heritage Culture is basically a Polynesian Islander concept). For a Magocratic elf, like Faerun's Sun Elves, you'd make an Alfheimer Elf. An elf from a Nordic/Viking style region. Or you could play a Falconhurst Elf, cosmopolitan Elf, or a Falco, which are elves who have recently settled in Falconhurst and haven't yet adapted to the prevailing culture.

In this way, a given race provides you a lot more individual options for how you want to move your character forward. The provided Heritages are:

Dwarf (Driven up from the deeps by flooding of the tunnels millennia ago)
Drow (Literally a corruption of the word "Drowned" as the entire elf nation was swept underground by the massive deluge that drove the dwarves up)
Gearharts (Pseudo-Warforged)
Gravetouched (Undead-ish)
Half-Orc/Orc (Mechanically identical, narratively barely different. two thumbs!)
Heiligschein (Holy Children)
Pactborn (Tieflings, but with more variety, again!)

Class Identity
Something I recently made a large thread about... Classes in Iobaria have identities. If you say "I am an Artificer" to some random nobleman he'll understand that to mean that you're a member of the Alchemist's Guild of Falconhurst and probably on Official Business. Telling people you're a Sorcerer means many will scoff and some few will be deferential due to your noble blood and presumed social status. And if you say "I am a Druid" you're liable to get tarred and feathered, if not run out of town on a rail.

Sorcerers: Mortals didn't know magic for most of early history. We cowered before Dragons and Beholders and monsters with strange and dangerous powers. The Gods did not share their gifts with us. It was love that first put magic into mortal hands. A Dragon of the Eight Kings Mountains loved a mortal with such tenderness that form their union sprang the first Sorcerer. And he used magic to defend his people, and was lauded and elevated. In time more sorcerers were born to other bloodlines, and to his. And other mortals began to study the sounds, the movements, and the tools of magic. They became the first Wizards. To be a Sorcerer is to be born to power. To be a Wizard is to Earn It.

Artificers: A relatively new study, largely centered in Falconhurst, involves combining low-tier magic with scientific processes to create new outcomes. These artificers have begun publishing their work and spreading it to the other kingdoms... But this new style of magic has grown out of their original role as stewards of the Falconhurst Sewers and Guards in the Council's employ. New technology and techniques have transformed the Alchemist's Guild into a talented force of investigators particularly well suited to deal with Magical Crimes. But it's a lonely life, Alchemy... and more than a few Artificers began creating "Children" for themselves in the form of Gearharts. Mechanical people with wandering souls.

Druids: After the Circle of the Raven was destroyed by Iobar nearly one hundred years ago for refusing to bow to the Emperor's demands, the remnants of the Order gathered like minded druids and shamans to form the Circle of Annihilation. Since then, the circle has grown year over year becoming more and more antagonistic toward the encroachment of "Civilization" upon the wild lands, and has spawned other movements as well. The Circle of Dread, in particular, is well equipped to contain the "Civilized Folk" of Wolde behind their walls.

Warlocks: There is little in the way of Fiendish Power in the Ashen Lands, as the realms beyond do not fit with "Standard D&D" cosmology. Instead, many Warlocks turn to the power of Vestiges and the Wasteland, a plane of existence where the Gods discarded things they should never have made, and where mortal potential and imagination dies. Mountains of Lustful Daydreams tower above veritable oceans of Wasted Youths, while Imaginary Friends wander, lost, looking for the one who created them... and becoming less and less friendly as time passes... Warlocks tap into ancient magics, Occult tools largely viewed as obscene and corruptive by their very nature.

Warmages: The Iobarian Empire employed skilled spellcasters, it's true. But it also fielded entire units of Warmages. Cantrip-Casters who improved their low-level magical talents in such a way that they could keep fighting, unleashing volleys of arcane power upon their foes. To teach these warrior-mages, four schools were built across the lands, each teaching the basic framework of War Magic, but each also holding their particular style of magic-combat. From the sneaky house of Rooks to the martial house of Knights came deadly spellcasters. (New Class, from GitP forums)

There's more, but I don't wanna go overlong and these are the Big Ones".

The Empire conquered many lands and was not delicate about destroying the altars and temples of "False" or "Fallen" gods. In the Ashen Lands there are temples to only the Twelve Gods.

Six Gods hold no names. No identities. No faces. No iconography. They are Gods of Crisis. Their temples are where you go when a certain tragedy befalls, or you seek forgiveness for certain acts.

The Unloved: God of those who are Abandoned and Lost. Of Death and Mourning beyond the Funeral. Of quiet reflection in solitude.
The Unbeheld: God of those afraid to be Known. Of shy people and wounded hearts that dare not love, again. Of Thieves and Rogues.
The Fallen: God of those who have done wrong and seek redemtion. God of Liars and Prisoners, perdition and glorious escape.
The Blameless: God of Accidents. Of random happenstance and it's consequences. God of picking up the pieces of a broken life to build something new.
The Fearful: God of Self Loathing. Of night terrors. God of worries about tomorrow and lessons of the past. God of shame and nameless sorrow.
The Loss: God of failed Businesses. Of stolen wealth. God of those who are maligned by strangers, fragile positions, and shifting allegiances.

Beyond them stand the Champions. They hold no names. No single face. They appear in the world as Paragons to inspire those who need them.

The Warrior: God of War and Strife, Camraderie and Competition, Anger and Vengeance. Conquest and Protection.
The Raconteur: God of Acrobatics and skill, of chance, of theft, of discovery. The Thief and the Detective, Cat and Mouse.
The Mage: God of Knowledge and magic. Of self-knowledge and education. Of spellcraft and solitude. Haughty and Arrogant.

And above them stand the Gods Manifest. Three deities who are not gods of any specific domain or crisis or identity. But are truly -gods-. Of which I only have one named. Phaedra. Gotta work on that. >.>

Broken into four broad categories, characters who cast spells get access to -all- of the spells of a given category, though the spell lists are a little more limited and directed than general 5e.

Arcane Magic: Directly manipulates reality through intention, ritualized movements, and spoken words. Can come from Within or from Without. Magically charged locations or items can also improve the efficacy of various spells based on what they -are-. Magic is generally Abstract but objects and locations tend to be representational. That is to say a Dragon's Tooth improves a spell that matches it's breath weapon's damage type.

Divine Magic: Gifted by the Gods, it can be taken away if abused, or put to a purpose one (or more) of the gods dislike. And with only 3 deities capable of granting you the power you ask for, you might have to ask your Mother goddess if your Father god won't give you the power you need.

Occult Magic: Ancient magic tied to the founding of the world. To Old Gods and the eras before the Twelve became the gods of Iobaria. Magic is almost entirely representational in it's design and use. If you want someone to feel they're being burned, make a doll and burn it. You want to stop someone from running? Drive nails into the footprints they've left behind. Easy to learn magic, but hard to find.

Primal Magic: The cycles of life and death, the magics of the Fae realms, of growth, of animals, of the storms and the elements. First learned by those who sought magic to resist the first Sorcerer Kings, those who were willing to petition before the Fae courts in the ancient places of the world.

The Seven Cities
Seven Cities stand in the Ashen Lands. Each city is it's own state, controlling land and sea in all directions, but rarely with impunity.

Alfheim: Settled by Elven Refugees millennia ago when an Island of Old Things was dramatically raised from the sea and much of their people were swallowed up into the great whirlpools and dragged beneath the world, Alfheim boasts the largest population of Elves. In a land of ice and snow where winter is fickle and may remain even through the summer months, those who settled the region took swiftly to raiding for survival, mostly into the lands of Raven's Reach, to the south. (Very "Viking" in style.)

Falconhurst: In a sheltered bay on the Junian Sea, Falconhurst stands the wealthiest and most populace of the Seven Cities. A cosmopolitan city with a diverse population it's architecture is a jumbled delight, with Mekritan buildings standing in the shadow of Kalan towers and Walden manors. Boasting the most comprehensive sewers in the known world, Falconhurst has diverted an entire river under it's streets to provide fresh water wells and pumps to every district and running water to the wealthiest inhabitants. (Kinda Waterdeepish.)

Kalanthe: The oldest of the Seven Cities, Kalanthe was founded long before the first Iobar was born of draconic union. This desert city stands an oasis between two rivers as they make their way to the sea. The jewel of the desert is a title it wears well, as Kalanthe's main export is precious minerals and gemstones, as well as easily forged metals. (Very Sumerian in style.)

Mekri: The first dwarves to reach the surface after the Deluge drowned their ancient holdfasts and created the Sunless Sea was the mountain fortress of Mekri. Exceptional craftsmen and soldiers abound in Mekri, regardless of Heritage, but few who trade them the supplies they need understands the existential threat they face beneath the Mountain... or why they're so obsessed with the permanence of death. (Very Egyptian in style)

Valka: Castle Valka stands at the Divide, a massive mountain pass connecting Iobaria to Hanolia in the west. Here, soldiers guard the wall in the last True Bastion of Iobar's ideals and identity. Farmres and Philosophers spar in a complex social hierarchy to see their children placed in positions of military acclaim for their years of service upon the wall in the hopes that their family will advance in social status. (Very Roman in style)

Wolde: The shadows of the Deoric forest loom across the Princedom of Wolde, and dark things creep beneath the weighty bows. An Old Growth forest haven, filled with rolling hills, plunging waterfalls, and stark cliffsides, it is populated by a superstitious and painfully polite people who hold very close to traditional social customs.. for one can never tell when you are speaking to a neighbor or some supernatural thing that wears his countenance. (Very Barovia)

Zaporo: The swamps and marshlands of Zaporo have largely been home to bullywugs, trolls, and lizardfolk for the history of the Ashen Lands. But on the Day of Night's Fire that changed. The poor, the downtrodden, and the enslaved were allowed to flee from the doomed city-state, and claimed for themselves lands few mortals would fight over. And in 20 years they've gone from refugee camps to a thriving, if still unstable, city-state. (Very Backwater Louisiana)

Going Forward:
Mostly I'm asking you folks to tell me what you think of this setting. To ask questions about different aspects, and to help me find satisfactory answers. Feel free to discuss any aspect of campaign setting design, or ask questions about topics I haven't covered, and I'll provide you with what I've got or work with you to figure out satisfactory answers!
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I would first get the players buy in to play. I used to make worlds and change things to make it cool and found the players expected something else. Changing classes and races may not be what they want and just saying that the PHB race or class does not exist tends to cause problems.

Barring that, I like the overall feel you are going for and it looks like you are putting a lot or work into the world. I like the nameless gods part best along with the other flavor to the gods. Having no racial gods is something I have gone back and forth on before and can see each 'true' god of whatever having faces that show to different races as what they want to see and not the true form of the god.

The old Dungeoncraft articles are good to aid in making a setting. I think rules 1 or 2 was to add secrets to everything you create. Each secret can be uncovered over time and gives you the ability to help explain behind the scenes things.


Shaper of Worlds
I would first get the players buy in to play. I used to make worlds and change things to make it cool and found the players expected something else. Changing classes and races may not be what they want and just saying that the PHB race or class does not exist tends to cause problems.

Barring that, I like the overall feel you are going for and it looks like you are putting a lot or work into the world. I like the nameless gods part best along with the other flavor to the gods. Having no racial gods is something I have gone back and forth on before and can see each 'true' god of whatever having faces that show to different races as what they want to see and not the true form of the god.

The old Dungeoncraft articles are good to aid in making a setting. I think rules 1 or 2 was to add secrets to everything you create. Each secret can be uncovered over time and gives you the ability to help explain behind the scenes things.
I really appreciate your feedback, Aco! I do have a group based out of a small town in Wolde called Leister which is caught in a struggle between the Prince's desire to enrich the nation by expanding the only reasonable port town in the city-state while the locals are resisting what they view as overbearing outsiders ruining their small town. While both forces wrestle with each other, smugglers, dangers of the Deoric forest, and Deep Water foes are rising up from beneath to create a massive potential crash.

Add in the vampire that lives in the town, the pack of werewolves working with the Circle of Dread in the forest to the north, and the rise of the New Court over the Old Court of the Fae and they're in for a hellacious time!

Fortunately, the team is made up of an Alfheimer Pactborn Druid (Who basically has to hide everything about herself while more and more people pay attention to her heroics), a Walden Half-Orc Warmage (Who is using his illicit relation to the Royal Family as a bastard to force the Prince to send him to Warmage college and help his homeland), and a Mekritan Drow Ranger (Who is a bit of a wild-card thanks to his long journey from Mekri as a caravan guard for a group of miners and craftsmen by the Prince to expand the town)

Honestly I was a little sad he wanted to go Mekritan rather than be a Drow Corsair, fanciful pirates who sail the Sunless Sea hunting aberrations in the Underdark.

So far it's been fun and interesting. I'm just hoping to expand beyond that!


Shaper of Worlds
Gonna go ahead and add a few documents to this thread from Homebrewery where I've been doing some stuff.

Races of the Ashen Lands - The Homebrewery The master document for player Heritage/Culture choices, though individual adventure paths will have their own specific twists.

Wolde and the Deoric Forest - The Homebrewery A small overview of the region and some of it's dangers. As well as Political Highlights.

On Wine Dark Seas - The Homebrewery A short overview of the current adventure that I provided to players who were choosing whether to play it, or Of Ice and Pinions.

Of Ice and Pinions - The Homebrewery The alternate option for campaign path. I wanted to run my first Ashen Lands Campaign either in Wolde for the fun Gothic Horror Elements or in the remnants of Raven's Reach.

Both adventures are heavily adapted adventures based on the skeletons of WotC campaigns for ease of play on Roll20 using map packs and tokens all pre-labeled and such.

There's more... but I don't wanna overwhelm.

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