The Dawnlands is a sword and sorcery setting for D&D 4e. It is a “points of light” setting where civilisation is rare, monsters and other terrors are common, and magic is common. It encompasses an area approximately 1000km across from north to south, and 1250km across from east to west
Some basic features of the Dawnlands:
An early iron age feel. The city-state is the largest form of political organisation. Populations are small. Leaders rule through charisma, loyalty, and personal power. Plate armour and crossbows are new inventions, as is woodblock printing. Literacy is uncommon. Trade is rare and difficult, but vital. Food and other needed supplies are scarce, and supplies are tenuous. Money is uncommon. A good swordarm can make you chief of a village. Slavery is all too common. People know about the existence of magic, even if they don’t know the specifics of how it works.
Places to come from:
The Orthocracy of Kaddish: A city run by priests, mages, merchant-princes and other oligarchs who compete with one another for control of the city, but work together to keep its population from rioting and revolting. The Kaddish are a passionate, inquisitive people that tend towards extremes. The very best and the very worst can be found amongst them. The Kaddish are descended from the Dawnmen, and preserve their ancient art of soulforging, by which they create new races and alter old ones. The Kaddish crave endless variety – new philosophies, religions, art, and even species come from their work. They tend to be human, elf, dragonborn, tiefling or drow.
Dwer Tor: The other city of the Dawnlands. Dwer Tor is run by eladrin and dwarves, organised into specialised castes dedicated to knowledge (the thaumates) and statecraft, trade and warfighting (the optimates) which oversee vast masses of helots. The king of Dwer Tor lets the various colleges and noble families run the city and its many colonies which keep the helots fed. The finest engineering, the best craftsmanship in the Dawnlands, and the richest merchants are all to be found in Dwer Tor. The ruling classes of Dwer Tor are eladrin and dwarves. Helots are usually humans, halflings or elves.
The Nomads of Kadiz: The former rulers of Kaddish, driven out hundreds of years ago by the oligarchs. They have become clans of nomads who wander the plains, controlling the trade between the two cities. The nomads raid relentlessly – for women, for steel, and for cattle. Though savage, they have kept alive the ancient traditions of Kaddish and the Dawnmen, and are no mere barbarians. They are the heirs to the mightiest kingdom ever seen in the Dawnlands, and they will never forget this. The nomads are mainly humans, elves and [[half-elves]].
The Forest People: The confederation of tribes found in the western rainforests. They are an insular people trying to drive the colonies of Dwer Tor from their land. They share a common experience of the Forest Dream, induced by rituals, drugs, dancing and other ecstatic means. They have contact with many strange people, including the mysterious Salt Men who come from across the sea. They tend to be halflings, elves, lizardmen, and even stranger creatures.
Races to be:
Dragonborn: Created by the oligarchs of Kaddish as a warrior species, Dragonborn are widely employed as soldiers, guards and powerful labourers. Politically, they are usually connected to a handful of temples in the city who worship serpentine and draconic idols. Dragonborn is a good race if you want to play a mercenary, a veteran soldier, or the agent of a powerful oligarch.
Dwarves: Dwarvesare traders, warriors and specialists in Dwer Tor, but they can be found across the Dawnlands. They are usually members of the optimate class in Dwer Tor, which means they are skilled in statecraft, administration, and fighting. An optimate is a member of a noble family which normally supports him, but black sheep may be banished, assassinated, or otherwise removed from the city. Dwarves tend to have very brown skin, but light coloured hair. Dwarves are a good race if you want to be a wise leader, a heavily armoured warrior, or a nobleman.
Eladrin: Eladrin came hundreds of years ago from a mysterious kingdom to the south called the Kingdom of Falling Stars. They are usually members of the thaumate class in Dwer Tor, which specialises in magic, engineering, and other technical skills. A thaumate has a college (an “ecclesia”) with which he is associated and to which he is expected to be primarily loyal. A college is composed of a number of families, who may intermarry with members of other colleges. Eladrin in the Dawnlands do not venture regularly into Feywild, except if they choose to teleport, and this mode of travel has given Dwer Tor many peculiar architectural features. Eladrin are pale with fair hair. Eladrin are a good race if you want to be an expert on history, magic, mechanics or other esoteric subjects, or if you wish to play a master of magic.
Elves: Elves and humans are not sharply distinguished from one another in the Dawnlands, and elves are considered more closely related to humans than eladrin. Elves are commonly found amongst the Kaddish, the Kadiz nomads, and the Hill Elves, though they are only dominant in the last group. Since the last Hill Elf city was destroyed centuries ago, they are a dying people. Elves tend to have nut brown to copper skin and brown hair in all shades. Elf is a good race if you want to play a self-sufficient wildman, a barbarian, an urban gangster, or the priest of a strange cult.
Half Elves: Half Elves are very common amongst the Kadiz nomads and Hill Elves, since the two groups raid one another for slaves and warbrides. They are often used as go-betweens when the two groups meet, and they are fully integrated into their cultures. Half Elves range across human and elvish skin-tones. Half Elves are a good race if you want to play a nomad warrior, or a priest, loremaster or warlock of the clans.
Halflings: Very often the slaves of other races, halfling-run societies are only found amongst the Forest People. Because of their low status in Kaddish and Dwer Tor, many revolutionaries and heretics are halflings rebelling against their lot. Goblins are halflings who were soulforged long ago by the Dawnmen to hunt for gold and silver. Halflings are a good race if you want to play an outsider in the Dawnlands, a revolutionary or idealist trying to overthrow civilised society, or an ordinary farmhand aspiring to glory.
Humans: The third most prolific race after the gnolls and halflings. Humans are mostly found in the Orthocracy of Kaddish and amongst the Kadiz nomads, but are present almost everywhere. Humans are closely linked in popular imagination with horses, since they are the most prolific riders and breeders, and were the original discoverers of the secrets of riding. The racial variation amongst humans in the Dawnlands is different than in real life. The Kaddish and Kadiz range from pale to olive-skinned, and are tall and dark-haired, with brown or hazel eyes. The Salt Men are brown-skinned, with pale hair and green, grey and blue eyes. The eastern men from across the desert have skin that is a true black colour, with true black hair and true black irises that blend into their pupils.
Tieflings: Tieflings and drow are the results of the same soulforging technique applied to humans and elves respectively. They are a distinct subculture in Kaddish known as “the Burnt” that is generally very hierarchical, with a few powerful and charismatic leaders organising gangs, factions and companies of followers who carry out their will. Tieflings tend to be magenta, crimson, violet, navy and black-skinned, while drow range from dark-purple to black-skinned. The Burnt are a good race if you want to play a character with divided loyalties, a thief, conman or outlaw, an inventor, artisan or specialist, or an explorer.
Classes to be:
Cleric – Clerics are shamans and holy men who have been granted their power by strange entities known as daimons (distinct from demons). In exchange for a promise to work towards the daimon’s goal, the cleric recieves supernatural power. Clerics are distinct from priests, who are specialists in rituals to propitiate the gods, and clerics may venerate any gods that are appropriate. Daimons may be of any alignment, and many have strange and inscrutable goals.
Fighter – Kaddish has a civic militia used to put down riots and wage war on quarrelsome neighbours, as well as specialised schools of fighting that produce expert killers to serve the oligarchs. Dwer Tor’s optimates train in warcraft, while mercenaries are just another commodity the city’s merchants traffic in. The nomads and the forest tribes both produce expert warriors simply through their ways of life.
Paladin – Just like clerics, Paladins receive their power from daimons, usually militantly-minded ones. They are wandering holy warriors who can use their charisma to whip up frenzied mobs from cowed villagers. They are generally unwelcome in more civilised parts of the world unless times are desperate.
Rangers – Rangers are most common amongst the Kadiz nomads and Forest People where they often start as messengers, diplomats and envoys between isolated settlements. Some of the Kaddish assassin schools teach the combat styles of rangers.
Rogues – Common in cities, rogues are often agents of power lords and oligarchs. Dwer Tor has organised criminal groups, arranged into colleges just like the thaumates, who train new members in stealth, trickery and deception. Revolutionary movements in Dwer Tor and Kaddish are another way that many rogues get their start.
Warlocks – Fey warlocks tend to be found amongst the Forest People, while star-pact and infernal warlocks are more commonly distributed. Infernal warlocks are especially common in the cities, where even demon worship is tolerated so long as its followers don’t challenge the powers that be. Warlocks are very commonly priests of cults as well, moreso than any other class.
Warlords – The study of tactics and strategy is most advanced in Kaddish, where aspiring strategoi may even be given command of a slave platoon for a gladiatorial combat. In Dwer Tor, warlords are generally optimates who carry on family traditions, and they are often battle-tested in the colonies.
Wizard – Wizards are members of a religious tradition called “the Knowledge” which supplements other beliefs rather than replacing them. There are three different branches of the Knowing, each of which has its own ritual style. The Logokratonic tradition is most popular in Dwer Tor, and focuses on words of power. The Psychomimetic tradition is Kaddish, and focuses on images, meditation and visualisation. The Sarxian tradition is found amongst the monstrous races and draws power from sacred substances and correspondences.
Some common terms:
The Dawnmen – the founders of the ancient city of Kaddish, now gone. They conquered the Dawnlands long before recorded history, then faded away, leaving only a few wonderful traces of their existence. The Dawnmen seem to have been men and elves, though no one knows for sure what they were.
The Hill Elves – the ancient enemies of the Dawnmen, and later, the Kaddish. They are now a broken, fading people whose ruins dot the landscape of the plains. Once civilised, they are now cannibalistic, superstitious, and obsessed with vengeance. They share many of the customs, myths and culture of the Kadiz nomads, but the two groups hate one another. Despite the name, Hill Elves are only mostly elves. They also include humans, half elves, and gnolls. The Hill Elves are a monstrous race.
The Monstrous Races – the peoples who were never conquered by the Dawnmen. Everyone who is not Kaddish, Kadiz, or from Dwer Tor is a member of a monstrous race, even if they live in great settlements or confederations like the hobgoblins, gnolls or Forest People do.
The Plains of Kadiz – a place of great adventure, the centre of the Dawnlands is covered in tens of thousands of square kilometres of plains. It is dotted with rift valleys, broken land, geyser fields, and other signs of tectonic activity, as well as with many forgotten ruins, strange tribes of humanoids, and terrible monsters. A vast, empty place in which a soul can lose themselves and never be found again if they desire.
Soulforging – rhe process by which the Kaddish create new races, including tieflings, drow, dragonborn, vampires, ghouls, liches, goblins and many other races. It is a state secret, taught only to a few rare individuals selected to be master soulforgers. The Kaddish rarely use this power wisely, and a common punishment for criminals is a trip to the crucible-creches in the heart of the city.