The world of Raea

I’d love to introduce you to the world of Raea, a place I’ve been visiting in my imagination for almost twenty years now. Not only have I written many stories and songs about this place, but I’ve had the opportunity to share it with many of my friends. Dozens of people have created characters in Raea and have played out epic stories there through a tabletop RPG. So in many ways, I don’t feel like I created Raea. Instead, I feel like I’m a park ranger who knows his way around. I wouldn’t be surprised to run into others who know many parts of it better than I do.

A crude map of Raea (I’m not a visual artist, so please bear with me):

Rough map of Raea

I used the admittedly childlike convention of triangles for mountains, green swirls for forests, arches for hills, yellow dots for deserts, and light blue shading for bodies of water. The circled stars are capitols, black dots are towns/cities, and red dots are points of interest. The major land trade routes are in orange, and the major water trade routes are in dark blue. I left out many details, like country borders and smaller settlements, so that the map wouldn’t get too cluttered.

Whenever I create a map, I start with geography first. As discussed in Jared Diamond‘s Guns, Germs, and Steel, geography plays a heavy hand in the balance of power among peoples and nations–at least over long expanses of time (the short run becomes infinitely harder to predict). From there, I try my best to reason out what the weather patterns probably are based on latitudes, figure out where the natural resources are located, and then figure out where humans would most likely settle based on those factors. The process of world-building snowballs from there.

But the process isn’t entirely “bottom up” (in this case, from the land and its resources up to the civilizations built upon it). There is also a “top down” approach, one that takes into account what works well for stories. This particular map has gone through many variations based on what inspired and moved people during collaborative, improvised tabletop RPG sessions. If you aren’t familiar with what this means, think Dungeons and Dragons or the opening of Stranger Things, but using a game design of my own that is targeted to this world. Such tabletop RPGs are the contemporary equivalent of Homeric storytelling, but with a very interactive audience. In Raea’s case, certain maps lent themselves to tales that both explored the human condition (such a serious umbrella term!) and were just fun. The core characteristics of those maps kept returning, iteration after iteration.

2 thoughts on “The world of Raea”

  1. Ever since I read the Lord of the Rings (and then again the Wheel of Time), I have always wondered whether I could draw a map as beautiful of a world as imaginative.

    I love what you have done here because it evokes so much of that pleasure I got when staring at a map of the Shire and imagining myself zooming down into a corner.

    I hope you start writing about the people and stories that live in these places. Like how dangerous is Robber’s way? And why do the Gypsies travel there? And what is dark about The Dark?

    1. This makes my day! And by the way, now you’ve got me thinking about creating a zoomable map 🙂

      I’m really glad you ask me about Robber’s Way, the gypsies, and The Vast Dark (my apologies–it’s hard to read that name in my handwriting there). Genji’s territory ends right past the Marshtides, though sometimes one of the five Great Houses (including the “unspoken” sixth house) claim territory beyond that. On the other hand, Dawn Rune’s official country border doesn’t begin until the Scroll Plains start, and it’s marked by gypsy patterans made of stone. So that means on this major trade route, there is a long stretch of territory that is either contested by two nations or falls under no one’s dominion. Highway patrols are unreliable, magistrates in one country blame the officials in another for any mishaps or tragedies, and the road itself exists in the blind spot of the law. This means that bandits and criminals thrive along Robber’s Way and can make a living lightening the shipments of others. In fact, there is a particularly famous Dawn Rune criminal lord named Aakeem who is such a “regular” in stealing from merchants and transport wagons on Robber’s Way that he’s on a friendly, first-name basis with many of the people he robs. He even lets them off “light” sometimes if he accidentally robs their caravan more than once. He’s also known as a pirate on the Evercalm and the Grimwaves. (I have artwork for him–I’ll have to post that eventually).

      As for why the gypsies travel along Robber’s Way: having no nation, they make a continual journey from The People’s Republic of Obsidia, down along the eastern shore, to Dawn Rune, then across Robber’s Way to Genji, and then up north into Gallant, then Valdis, then all the way back to Obsidia again. This journey takes a year, and they are in the north during the summer and in the south during the winter. Along the way, they pack their technologically sophisticated wagons full of goods from these different nations and prosper trading them along this vast route. When they venture across Robber’s Way, they make a point to hire extra retainers and, at night, will sleep with their wagons hitched to one another in a defensive circle.

      The Vast Dark is a part of Selva’s absolutely vast jungle floor, which is so dangerous that Selvans have built a skywalk out of the gigantic branches high above it. You and an entire transport wagon can actually crisscross all of Selva entirely on the gigantic branches of the trees which rise hundreds or in some cases *thousands* of feet high. I can’t stress enough just how gigantic and ancient these trees are. Selvans aren’t your typical “fantasy elves”–they are very open to outsiders, are known as businesspeople with transnational interests and investments, and enjoy a syncretic culture. But one thing that unites the different provinces of Selva is this: the traditional passage/rite of adulthood is to survive a single night on the forest floor, where mapinguari, lethal cloaks, and other terrors roam. The Vast Dark is the worst part of this jungle floor, and there’s so much to say about it that I’d better save it for its own post!

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