February started with COVID and ended with a war. But we got some TTRPG work done in between, against everything.
by Jakub Wisz
While we’re finishing work on the full manuscript for Aphelion Toolkit, the Aurorae setting worldbuilding continues. We covered the rowing Temel in the last episode, and earlier we also talked about the Khradi and Triveni peoples – both articles mentioning the adversarial Nväldi people. So, in this episode we’ll talk about them in a bit more detail, answering some of your questions from previous blogs!
The Nväldi are a warlike culture inhabiting the islands created by Maer’s destruction, up the gravity well where the mists are scarce and one can sometimes see glimpses of the great darkness beyond. Their great Republic has fallen into ill times after a catastrophic culmination of war with the Khradi, forcing these proud people into careers seen as beneath them merely a century ago. Nväldi lords were brutally brought low by the times of strife following the defeat. They’re now forced to find a new way of life in cooperation with the former subjects – Triveni, as well as other cultures – including the most hated Khradi clans.
The Nväldi derive from the Khradi clans – they were once the uppermost clans inhabiting the frozen wasteland islands. Thanks to their warlike nature and distance from Maer they were the most accomplished in opposing the Hegemony’s onslaught, serving as the bulwark for the rest of their people with ruthless hit and run attacks. After the Patrish were decimated in Maer’s explosion and following natural cataclysms, Khradi raiders took their chance and chased the retreating Hegemony’s fleets back to their homelands. Most clans were content with independence and focused on rebuilding their lives, but the Nväldi ancestors followed the routed Patrish to Maer. The brutal raids that followed brought them a wealth of loot and captives, but for the most unrelenting this wasn’t enough.
Captain Yoril Adrada of the Veld clan led his crews up the gravity well to form encampments on the islands newly formed by the disaster – their jagged, rocky surfaces still red-hot and steaming. Others set up raiding outposts on conquered islands to lay siege against Maer.
Together, the clans devastated Maer’s surface and the Patrish stone cities were constantly raided from the skies and ground – until the Khradi encountered Triveni. The inhabitants of Maer’s Mycelium were seen as easy prey by the pirates, nothing more than nomads dwelling in tents and cutting houses into fungal forests like wild animals. When the clans plundered them, they unknowingly disturbed the Triveni House life cycle. The Triveni were far from weak – they still carried on the glory of the victorious liberation war against their Patrish masters. Faced with what they’ve seen as a new threat, Triveni warriors swarmed from underground, wardancers sprouting everywhere around the pirate ranks, harassing them day and night.
Seeing these unexpected forces of what the Khradi thought were Patrish soldiers, Adrada’s pirates withdrew back into the mists.
Many debates followed on how to face this new threat, and calls for more crews were sent back to the League. Even reinforced by a full force of Khradi clans, the Triveni still outnumbered them five-to-one. Captain Ardrada thought the only way to stop the counteroffensive from Maer was getting more soldiers – and knew just where to look for them. In a feat of desperation, the Veld clan magicians sacrificed the captives and bound their spirits back to their bodies – thus creating the first generation of ourdr – better known as “drykava” in the Khradi language.
Triveni armies were forced back under the ground, and Ardrada prepared to root them out from Maer’s dungeons, but an unexpected betrayal halted his triumphal march.
Khradi clans revolted at the news of what means were used to defeat the foes and cried for vengeance on those who deprived so many of their deserved next life. Yoril Adrada and his circle of conjurers reeled at the insult and turned the ourdr hordes at their treasonous brethren, forcing their fleets to retreat to Khradin-controlled lands.
Adrada and the few Veld clans who remained loyal to him took to their fortresses in high mists, settling them permanently. Ourdr proved useful not only as expendable warriors, but also an easily maintained workforce, quickly establishing new clans in which every living person could live like kings – named Ård, or “highest” by the settlers. Ardrada and his descendants solidified their rule and detached themselves from the greater Khradi culture, as their language and habits drifted apart.
The newly established Ård Nväldi – or Highest Veldfolk in Khradi language – became a republic ruled by grand Veld lords, whose reach extended far into the Domains. The Ård way of life was that of honorable warfare and conquest, each lord commanding hundreds if not thousands of ourdr servants and warriors, as well as animated ourdr ships and siege engines made of combined animal, human, and machine parts.
The Khradi with whom their former kind were at constant war throughout the republic’s existence fought against the Nväldi cohorts with even more ferocity than during the wars against the Hegemony, as there are no fiercer adversaries than former brethren. They took to calling the ourdr ships “drykava,” from the mournful howling with which the undead descended on their prey. They fought fiercely, but couldn’t stop the advance of ourdr fleets, and one by one Khradi clans were forced to abandon newly conquered islands or surrender and become part of the republic.
The war became desperate for the Khradi as the Nväldi grew in power and numbers with each new casualty – until the battle of Navia. The Nväldi fleets cornered their hereditary foes back to their seat of power, certain they will soon retake Navia, and with it take full control of the domains. Fate decided differently, however, as Khradi unleashed the full power of utrval siege engines, devastating the ourdr fleets. Even though Navia’s forests burned into ashes, the Nväldi might was broken. Various vassals and conquered clans turned on their overlords before they could rebuild the lost armies, and soon the Ård Nväldi were cut off from the Domains, limited to their islands.
Hard times ensued as the ourdr warehouses stood empty, and the people were forced into menial tasks to keep their civilization going. Petty rivalries between lords turned into wars and raids, tearing what servants and resources each had into shreds. The fallen nobility retreated into their now cold castles as the common folk and subject worked the infertile islands, crystal and gold mines left unworked.
The arrival of Triveni merchants bearing anchor stones gave the Nväldi a chance at rebirth, and the nobles had no choice but to put their fortunes into good use as trades and captains, sailing the mists once more. Their hands and minds are more used to swords and sorcery than abacus and the steering wheel, and the Khradi didn’t forget the wounds and horrors of war, but a new day may yet rise for the Ård Nväldi.
The inhospitable Ård islands were ejected from Maer during the ancient cataclysm, and have little to no life on them, let alone proper wards. They were first settled as forts and mooring ports for ships, and the current Nväldi society reflects that. Cities are close-knit, walled off, and warded with runic magic instead of ancient monoliths as are most of the islands in the Domains. Large sections of wilderness, warehouse districts, and factories are completely unwarded and exposed to the cold void – sure death for anyone but the ourdr.
Without the steady influx of corpses gathered in raids that the Nväldi could use as workforce the islands’ cities and sparse farms fell into somewhat of disrepair. The towering spires and crystalline, sprawling cities built from massive quartz veins are still maintained, though only some sections are inhabited due to failing wards and lack of infrastructure. Great sections previously holding the vast ourdr workforce were closed off, as well as most grand palaces – their owners moved to smaller, easier to manage residences. Looters and opportunists sometimes brave those dead crypts holding mythical wealth, though most of them never make it out alive as the Nväldi lords protect their palaces with deadly traps and armies of ourdr. Even the mansions without such defenses pose a threat to looters, as wild beasts often take refuge within the once splendid halls.
The Nväldi still use the ourdr as soldiers and servants, though the treaty with the Triveni states they must limit those practices to their own dead, and keep the servitors on the Ård Islands and their ships. Many warlocks perished during the wars or the following poverty, leaving their undead hosts to rot away. Some of them stand idly, waiting for time to weather them into dust, others repeat the last command given to them for all eternity, while yet others went mad like the fleets destroyed above Navia (now known as Pogorya), and stalk the lands in search of magic and life force to devour. Yet other, most powerful ones once serving as advisors or binders creating more of their kind became avidly self-aware once their shackles fell, and demanded their place among the living. While the aristocracy and the common serfs see those ourdr as rebellious tools to be put down, some of them did manage to secure a livelihood as mistlord crews, or even captains and overlords holding domains over entire islands.
After the republic’s fall, the Nväldi society consolidated and became close-knit, ending the era of isolationist decadence, when warlords would live as far away from each other as possible – often with only a couple dozen living in cities of thousands of inhabitants.
The new generation of Nväldi live in townships closer together, ruled by hereditary autocratic states, though the families who can afford to own land state their law and custom above that of the island’s government. The undead ourdr are an as common sight as ever, though their numbers shrunk dramatically since the times of the republic.
Though the old nobility still holds out in their crystal spires and mountain villas, a new elite emerges from the city streets. The arrival of Triveni traders brought new life to the ports. Though built with warships in mind, they were quickly refurbished to accommodate trade – and from them, a new nobility emerged: rogue mistlords. Those would-be nobles with titles and barely anything more to their name quickly invested in remaining ourdr galleys, refitting them to hold cargo instead of troops. They took to the filaments with passion, earning new wealth in equal measure by trade and plunder. The old clan lords see those self-made aristocrats as common thieves and coin pushers not worthy of attention, but it is their hands that shape the Nväldi present and future.
The Nväldi live on seven major islands, from which Yarydom, Tärnogor, and Ård Veldegråd are most prominent seats of populace and trade, housing most of the old aristocracy and mistlord fleets. The islands of Lyed, Häfnogor, Yvaldegråd, and Kåmsö are icy rocks of flash-frozen Maer seas launched higher than others during the cataclysm. They’re homes to hardy hunters and ice miners mostly. A myriad of smaller islands and asteroids spans between Maer and Ård Veldegråd, housing plenty of smaller settlements and a few warded farm islands.
The Nväldi society is deeply divided on the use of modern inventions in their lives. The farm folk and isolated aristocracy clutch ancient traditions and tools of the trade, desperately holding onto conservative values of their lives. The rogue nobles and denizens of cities on the other hand embraced the change of times fully, using enchantments and mechanisms freely. Seeing Nväldi pirate crews carrying both spellwands and irondrakes, or even integrating machinery into their ourdr creations is commonplace in larger cities and rogue fleets.
Nväldi music is somber, full of drums, chants, whistles, and long stories about ancient times and heroes. Aristocrats enjoy the arts as they were at the height of the republic, played by massive orchestras, both living and ourdr. They fill their residences with panoramic battlefield tapestries, banners, and animated or undead sculptures following the regular, majestic patterns of dance or sparring for the lords’ viewing pleasure.
The mistlords enjoy more maritime cadencies, shanties, and songs of zhmey hunts and pirate exploits. Their ourdr crews and playthings are limited by Triveni treaties, but the rogue lords are not ones to be constrained by laws. They improvise with glee, creating ourdr made of taxidermied animals creatively reconstructed in new shapes, and sewn together to fit their roles. Ourdr sailors with hooks for hands and wolf, bird or zhmey heads are commonplace, and even more, creative combine creatures serve as entertainment for mistlords and their crews.
The common folk always strived to parrot the nobles as much as their stature allows, forming clear divisions in the modern era. The inland peasantry revels in somber tones and sagas during their days of hard work making a living off the obsidian plains, while the city folk cherishes sea shanties and wild merriment of their pirate benefactors.
Because of their elevation above the Domains, the Nväldi have limited access to the Mists and the magic that they bring. Some auroran filaments reach the Ård Islands, but their potency is limited, forcing them to rely on supplies from below to maintain their magic.
Because of that, the Nväldi venerate martial prowess instead – bringing more arcane archers, or spellswords into the fray than other cultures, but very few dedicated magicians. They use the rune magic from the Triveni and the anchor stones, but also the ritual sorcery they inherited from the Khradi forefathers and the necromantic binding rituals developed on their own.
Those rituals are used to reanimate their dead as servants and crews for the ships – known by them as ourdr, and as drykava by the Khradi. The undead servitors used to be the main force of the Ård Nväldi fleets – they fielded hundreds of ships animated by spirits, and crewed by ghoulish sailors. Nowadays the servitor hosts are somewhat limited in scope by necessity, but even the most humble Nväldi household aspires to have at least one ourdr servant.
Human corpses are preferable materials for ourdr hosts, specially prepared and mummified to prevent them from falling apart and befouling their surroundings. The Nväldi nobles’ dead are raised as advisors, bound with their own spirits, retaining a modicum of self-awareness, while the foreigners and common folk are bound in silent husks enchanted with whatever spirits the conjurer came up with – it doesn’t matter as long as the creation can follow commands and keep from tearing at good people’s throats unbidden.
Mistlords often create hybrids and chimeras from human, animal, and zhmey parts to serve their needs and fancies, while the common townsfolk pay to have at least an imp for their services. Imps are combined creations made of small animals bound with semi-sentient spirits, weak of frame and chaotic, though still capable of following simple commands.
The Nväldi are tall, broad-shouldered folk with red or blond hair, impressively towering over the other peoples. Their islands high above the Domain’s gravity well face less of a downward pull than lower lands, thus making everything subjectively lighter and allowing people and beasts to grow tall. The Nväldi is a statement to that phenomenon, with their elongated features, ears, and fingers. Though taller than most folk in the Domains, they’re physically more vulnerable and fragile than their neighbors from down the well. This doesn’t always hold true for Nväldi born and raised in the Domains, such as those living in mixed Khradi and Nväldi settlements on Pogorya. The height seems to be an adaptation to lower gravity more than any kind of hereditary factor.
Nväldi clothing is usually bright, tight pants and wide, puffed shirts with cutout sleeves and high collars adorned with crystalline jewelry, often with crimson finishings, and decorations from animal fur. The nobles, old and new alike, tend to wear elegant armor and faux-armor cuirasses together with delicate galligaskins or leggings, and riding shoes. Ceremonial arms like sabers or daggers are a statement as much as weaponry, though the mistlords usually choose to forfeit bejeweled blades in favor of solid cutlasses. Some scandalous pirate nobles went as far as to forgo the traditional blade in favor of spellshots and other modern weaponry.
The landed aristocrats favor powders, wigs, and subtle facial makeup, while the mistlords choose audacious displays of colorful face paint, as much to spite the traditional arts as to rival each other in excess. Aristocracy and rogue nobles alike abandoned Khradi khaldakapas long ago, displaying their familial and realm allegiance through banners and scarves emblazoned with their coats of arms – often elaborate and colorful. Every Nväldi noble carries their coat of arms somewhere on their attire – often repeating multiple times.
The common folk in cities tend to follow whatever wild fashion and makeup their local rogue aristocrats dictate, while ship crews and farmfolk are happy with comfortable skintight pants or galligaskins and plain linen shirts. Some of the wealthier ones parade in cheap copies of the luxurious fashion of their lords, though such displays often inspire amusement instead of the intended respect from their betters.
Nväldi favor armor made of leather encrusted with quartz plates and iron. They wear lamellar vests and conical helmets to battle, armed with javelins, sabers, and shields.
The Nväldi are expert archers as well, having few equals save the Khradi. They adorn weapons and items with knotty vine patterns and their bodies with kirava blood tattoos, depicting their deeds in their chosen profession in an intricate knotwork.
Many rogue nobles choose to forfeit parts or all of the armor in favor of displaying the deeds carved in their skins, counting on intimidation and enchantments to protect them in battle.
Ourdr servitors are led to war with spears, wicker shields, and little to no armor, as they can’t be stopped in ways other than magical banishing or massive damage to the body that prevents its mobility. Even if an ourdr falls, its summoner can simply repair the damage, or bind a new spirit to its husk.
Nväldi nobles favor fighting with an open hand, to keep it free for spellcasting during combat, as do Nväldi spellswords and sailors – the latter do so to have a better grip on the decks or dirty tricks rather than magic. Using the free hand for ranged weapons like irondrakes or spellwands in a flamboyant fashion is common among the nobles and ship officers while reserving the main hand for a blade. Regular sailors and infantry often abandon melee weapons for spellstaves or longdrakes, letting the ourdr servants deal with close combat instead. Nväldi never use shields, seeing them as unworthy of a warrior, though those who can afford it keep an ourdr or two in proximity to intercept attacks with their bodies instead.
Nväldi rarely use animals for cavalry, except occasional yvwernai squads accompanying larger ships. Some mistlords experiment with ourdr mounts, as the undead are more durable than living animals, and obey any order – though such creatures are relatively rare.
Lower gravity allows the Nväldi to build bigger ships and raid settlements below them with devastating flash attacks. Getting back up the gravity well is a more difficult matter, which is why Nväldi ships often fall prey to Khradi pirates after the raids or trade missions when large vessels struggle to climb back home. The same phenomena letting the Nväldi exert naval superiority so easily makes them vulnerable to their enemies. The introduction of mist wheels and clockwork engines allows them to mitigate that problem, as does heavier firepower of broadside-mounted longrakes and dart throwers.
On the isles, every Nväldi has the strength of two men, but the same holds true to local fauna and other inhabitants of the Ård isles – as well as numerous icy asteroids floating in the thin mists. Because of that Nväldi cities and settlements are surrounded by tall walls, often topped with sharp spikes to prevent beasts from jumping over. The houses are built of the abundant obsidian rock and stone, while the crystalline manors and aristocrat residences tower over their subjects. Such enormous constructions would surely crumble in the Domains, but the Ård islands exert little pressure on the filigree constructions, and the most prominent ones are additionally secured with enchantments – some most powerful nobles, like the Veld lords, even bound ourdr spirits into their castles.
Mechanical tools making work easier are popular in city centers and harbors, but less so in the countryside, where people rely on beasts of burden and traditional tools instead. The Nväldi aren’t great inventors, but they happily integrate whatever technology they can get their hands on and reinvent it from pieces they have. Ourdr servants are easily modified, replacing their undead body parts with machined tools and enchanted instruments. Just like hybrids of multiple creatures, such creations are common in Nväldi cities and harbors, but rare in conservative aristocracy’s lands. The landed aristocracy sees those combined creations as plebeian and prefers to fit units of human ourdr carrying tools and weapons in hand. More and more, even those stagnant realms adapt modern weapons, as they need to remain powerful to keep from becoming prey to the mistlords.
The Nväldi share the Khradi belief that they’re souls of those who perished in the Land Of Blue and Green, though they don’t worship ancestors or await their next life after they pass from the mists. Instead, they choose to hold onto this life as hard as they can, believing it’s the only afterlife they’ll ever get, and it’s up to them to make the best of it.
The Nväldi don’t waste time repeating the names and deeds of forgotten ancestors, reveling in their own accomplishments instead – as long as their name resounds in the hearts and minds of others, they will never be truly gone. Those few Nväldi who managed to carve a legend lasting longer than their lives are remembered as truly devoted to their memory, and held as an example of making the best out of life.
Some Nväldi choose to turn themselves into ourdr while still alive, forsaking the mortal coil for a chance at true immortality – though few can afford or master magics required to perform a binding ritual powerful enough to succeed in those attempts.
Every Nväldi who can afford the freedom to do so lives their lives as if every day is the last one, clinging to what they value most – be it ancient heritage and wealth, adventure, entertainment, or pleasures of the flesh. After all, you only get one chance at an afterlife.
Nväldi used to rule the Domains with an iron fist, and many outsiders hold that against them. Often distrusted or even hated for their past alone, the newly revivified Nväldi society threads on uneven ground, forging new alliances and waking old hostilities. The Khradi are as hostile to them as ever, though other peoples are willing to give Nväldi a chance – often at their own peril, as rogue mistlord crews see no better invitation for plunder than a welcomingly open door. Honest Nväldi traders face an even greater challenge because of the vagabond nobles’ exploits but can do little to stop them.
The Nväldi society is a perfect example of how volatile life can be in the Domains. Once underdogs turned overlords, the wheel of fortune chose to crush them once again. The future will show whether they’re capable of bringing themselves back up once more, and how will their society look when the new order of things solidifies. For the Nväldi society, the only constant in life is change, and even life itself shouldn’t be taken as granted – or necessary for survival.
Stay tuned for more Aurorae lore drops and Aphelion Toolkit news – we’re now deep in beta testing, and things are looking up!
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Check out other Jakub’s articles about the worldbuilding of Aurorae RPG – our upcoming science fantasy game of cosmic horror and wonder.
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Monster design challenge: an utterly alien, incomprehensible – yet fully sentient – species competing with humans in Aurorae RPG.
Traders, mages, and mercenaries. Living in the Mycelium, Triveni embrace their fungal overlord with their food, custom, and architecture.