A long time ago I came up with what I tentatively call “Shattered Grounds”. It is post-apocalyptic fantasy setting, but unlike the trope (in which magic awakes after a nuclear war), it is an actual fantasy setting that experienced a doomsday.
The – as of yet unnamed – world was a normal fantasy world with dragons, wizards, orcs and humans. It also featured a vast underworld, similar to the Underdark from Dungeons & dragons. If anything, this underworld was much more extensive, with underground caverns hundreds of kilometers across.
One day, and without warning, large sections of the surface collapsed into that underworld. The continent-sized caverns caved in, causing huge valleys and lowlands, effectively lowering leaving continent-wide, kilometer-deep scars behind. The oceans of the world flowed into the now exposed underworld, flooding much of it; consequently, with much of the water gone, the surface world turned into a vast desert. Civilization was devastated and the world was plunged into chaos and savagery…
Should make for some awesome vistas…
So what’s happening in the world?
Much of the lower world is flooded and what civilizations existed there (Drow, Duergar, …) either died completely, were isolated (if they lived in caves that retained air bubbled and vegetation to refresh the air), and/or severely decimated. Any survivors will be post-apocalyptic, shell-shocked, struggling for basic necessities unless they made it to the “new continents”.
The upper world was completely devastated – regions that collapsed were completely destroyed, of course; other areas were flattened by tremendous earthquakes. Coastal cities were destroyed by huge tsunamis. Few or no buildings remain, and the death toll was catastrophic. The desertification and recession of the oceans caused further problems – erratic weather patterns, famines, and so on. For the sake of the setting, we will assume that many cities did indeed survive somewhat intact – so that the ruins which litter the landscape can actually be explored and are not pure fields of rubble. City-states are the largest surviving political entities, most peoples reverted to tribal or other primitive states. One large influence on the surface world could be an ancient Mars archetype – Barsoom of Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter series, for example, except nobody had time to dig canals.
The flying cities survived, but were dependent on the ground for trade and food. Some crashed. Some fell into anarchy. Others became dictatorships, and so on. Many of them still float over the surface, either abandoned, reverted to savagery, or maybe simply locked in isolation, their inhabitants unwilling to risk contact with the “savage survivors” on the ground.
Magic and Technology
The setting is decidedly magic-rich; it takes a magical world to justify such huge caverns. With the breakdown of civilization, production of magic items has virtually stopped. All of the magic academies – perhaps with the exception of those in the flying cities – have been destroyed, so mages are not nearly as well trained as before.
The cities could be using some technology in addition to magic. Perhaps the pre-Collapse society was 21st Century or more advanced, but in the end it does not matter since such capabilities are almost certainly now outside the reach of the people and any remaining technological artefact would simply be treated as magic.
The gods destroyed the world. Or at least did not prevent it. Worship of the old gods has virtually stopped, and the need for something to believe in is exploited by some worldly causes, but also by new religions – sects, corruptions of the old beliefs, and so on.
What are the world conflicts?
The setting would feature heavily on survival, and everything that comes with it: Men stepping on other men to survive, or to get access to some of the rare luxuries – or to defend what they do have. Others might take advantage of the chaos, and set up dictatorships. Any sort of barbarian/savage story can be set in this setting as well.
There’s also the question of rebuilding against all odds. The world isn’t dead, it just changed. Water will be scarce on the surface, but there are entire new continents to explore and conquer. New civilizations could rise here, perhaps ending the dark age of savagery that the world has plunged into.
The setting is all about big things and ideas – huge caverns, earth-shattering doomsday, cotninent-wide destruction, kilometer-deep canyons and valleys, and so on. Consequently, it is best suited to a pulp fantasy style – with larger-than-life characters, clear morals (good vs evil) which can certainly be smeared and corrupted, but it’s definitely a civilization vs darkness, cruelty vs grace and nobility setting.
One interesting variation of this might be to use Real Earth as the basis, then tear it up. The possibility to use famous cities is always an appealing one, and dragons in the ruins of, say, Paris may be fun. Still, this leaves the plausibility problem “where did all this come from”?
I like to combine and connect my worlds, so one possibility is that the Shattered Grounds setting is what happens to Enderra in the future. It would fit in beautifully with Dragonfly as well; many of the civilized races developed space technology before the doomsday and escaped off-world. The apocalypse then destroyed Enderra’s infrastructure and the world was eventually forgotten.
Future Development of the Setting
Shattered Grounds is on hiatus and has been for years – if you’d like me to work on this, vote for it in the nifty poll on the left side of the blog. 😉