Note, I have never actually run a game in this world. I started working on it many years ago, before D&D 3.0 was released. So, it was originally heavily influenced by the 2nd Ed AD&D rules. Then, I switched over and built it around the Rolemaster rules. Then, I switched back and rebuilt it under 3.0. Now, I'm trying to go for largely system-independent. (Ed. note: Except, of course, that now I am building my own d20 variant around it.)
I'm going to put some stuff up here, just so I don't lose it.
First, an overview. I deliberately designed the world to keep the action contained to relatively small, but geographically diverse, area. I also wanted something different thrown in, that could be used to explain a lot of oddities. So, pretty much, I had a small asteroid hit a patch of coast similar to the west coast of the US. It fractured the plate, and created an enormous crater which filled in with the ocean. So, you end up with an area with a nicely contained body of water, for excellent shipping and travel, surrounded by a ring of land. The ring of land means that it's difficult for a peasant to move from one kingdom to another, leading to distinct cultures and histories, but adventurers can pretty easily experience them all without stretching either imagination, or the timeline.
To the west is the ocean. Given that there is such abundant trade between the Seven Kingdoms, there has been little pressure to build large ocean-going ships. As such, most of that area is largely unexplored. Especially as there is no indication of another significant body of land anywhere close.
To the north are harsh mountains, beyond which are tundra and the icecap. There are a few people that live and explore up there, but not many.
To the east is the major mountain chain. The immediate east side of the mountains are covered with a dense forest, and is very rough terrain. This is largely populated by fairies, and tribes of feral halflings. Beyond that, the land opens into desert and grasslands. This area is inhabited by tribes of goblinoids. While small groups of humans have made settlements in the area, it is largely uncivilized. No explorers have ever made it to the other side of the desert, and returned to tell the tale.
To the south, the Mediterranean-like outer coast of Is-Ka'ander breaks up into a number of islands, below which is the Sea of Storms. This is an area of sharp rocks, moving shallows, and rough weather, which make travel through it almost impossible. There are tales, and even occasional artifacts, from the lands beyond. But, it is a land of legend, not someplace that any rational person would want to go. (In an RPG, it functions as a catch-all for people from cultures that I haven't integrated, such as the Orient, and a place for possible later expansion).
There are, as you might expect, Seven Kingdoms to the world. Well, specifically, seven human kingdoms. The kingdoms underground aren't counted, for whatever reason.
At the southernmost edge of the region is the ancient kingdom of Is-Ka'ander. It's people are very organized, and very expansionistic. Much of the history of the entire region can be mapped by attempts by Is-Ka'ander to conquer them all. Most recently, only a few centuries ago, the Lich Lord
The basic culture of Is-Ka'ander is a blend of several eastern Mediterranean cultures, including Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, and Greece. They have a very rigid class system, and it is very rare that anyone is able to move up through it. At the top are, naturally, the nobility. However, the nobility are different from the commoners in one important aspect. They are able to wield the power of magic. All noblemen are able to cast at least basic cantrips. The use of magic by anyone not of the nobility is a crime punishable by death. It is with this power that the nobility maintain their hold.
On the west side of Is-Ka'ander is the mouth of the inner sea, and the ocean. To the east and north, then, we come to the kingdom of Tsoi. This is a harsh land, and a harsh people. They have been repeatedly brutalized by warlords, both within and from without, sweeping across the land. They have no rich resources for trade, and are instead a sort of breadbasket for the region. And, of course, large-scale agriculture rests on the back of large-scale slavery.
The basic culture of Tsoi is Eastern European, with different districts corresponding to Georgia, Hungary, Albania, Romania, and Poland. You don't really get the Ukraine or Finland, as Tsoi doesn't go quite that far north. But, the lord is a Czar. It is also a land where many different religions overlap, as one of the few freedoms the people do enjoy is freedom to worship who they wish.
A bit farther north, on the northeast corner of the inner sea, is a great salt marsh. This area, and the broken plateaus above it, are known as Arras. As you might imagine, this area is heavily patterned after the British Isles, particularly from the Anglo-Saxon era. They mostly live off of animal husbandry, including cattle, sheep, and goats.
The basic culture is similar to the Celtic culture of the Mabinogion, Fionn Mac Cuiall, and Cu Chulainn. There are a number of Clanns, led ultimately by an Ard Rhi, or High King. Women enjoy a great deal of freedom and influence, though their roles are still largely dictated and circumscribed. The Clanns do frequently fight amongst themselves, though much of the fighting is more sport than earnest battle. When they fight outsiders, though, their rage and fierceness is unleashed, and they can cause the most seasoned warriors to think twice about facing them.
On the northern tip of the sea, the highlands of Arras drop off again into a remarkably pleasant and fertile bowl. This bowl contains the kingdom of Lhianna. This kingdom is a near-paradise of easy and abundant agriculture, phenomenal artists and craftsmen, extraordinary personal freedoms, and the premier universities in the Seven Kingdoms, the rival academies of Feaux and Oeuf. (This kingdom is based on the sort of idealized fantasy kingdoms found in many novels, such as Valdemar and Pern, in which evil and pettiness are almost universally rejected, and freedom and respect are the rule of the land.)
However, life is not perfect here. First of all, such a prize jewel is the target of numerous attacks from the Jarldoms and Caledonian Clanns. Second, Lhianna was the home of the merlanes for hundreds of years. The merlanes were mages who focused on classifying, breeding, and altering creatures. When
To the north, are the Great Jarldoms. Technically, this isn't a kingdom currently, as there is no one ruler. But, at several points during the history of the Jarldoms, they have had one, that they refer to as the Vuornikonig. As such, the rest of the kingdoms still tend to treat the various city-states of the Jarldoms as a single kingdom.
The Jarldoms, naturally, are similar to the Scandinavian cultures. They fish in the great Ice Sea beyond the peaks of the Rimgard mountains. They hunt in the forests, and trade with the dwarves/mahkluks who live under them. Unlike the Scandinavians, however, they cluster in great, ancient, fortified cities (think Helm's Deep and the like). No one is entirely sure who originally built these cities. But, whoever they were, their craftsmanship was beyond human.
(Ed. note: As I moved the setting from traditional high medieval to Renaissance swashbuckling, the Jarldoms made less sense. They are currently out of the picture, and being replaced.)
The entire western peninsula is claimed by the Kingdom of Davrakotia. And, few care to dispute their claim. As the peninsula was once the sea floor, it is a peculiar patchwork of bare rock, reasonably fertile hollows, and salt deposits. No one could call it a rich land. Further, it was ravaged not once, but twice, by terrible war magics from invading Is-Ka'ander forces. It is extremely difficult to grow anything nutritious in the entire land, and disease is a frequent problem.
The people, however, have adjusted. First, they make money from the salt. But, they need slaves to mine the salt, and the slaves rarely last long. One ingenious king went to the other kingdoms, and offered to take in prisoners from all the realms, for a modest fee. Another king worked to attract some of the finest jewelers and other craftsmen. While they have to trade for all their raw materials, Davrakotians do turn out some remarkably beautiful finished goods. Their most lucrative trade, however, is mercenaries. They have tremendous mercenary academies, which compete against one another in grand gladiatorial combats. They hire themselves out as armies, to protect shipments, or to hunt down bandits.
The final kingdom occupies a small group of islands in the middle of the sea. Amazza stridently objects to the name "kingdom," however. First, because they are ruled by an elected council of elders. Second, because they are entirely ruled by women, so would be more accurately called a "queendom." Indeed, the only citizens in Amazza are women. It was originally created as a haven for female slaves who had escaped from other nations. It became a haven for any number of women, attempting to escape the sexism and restrictions of the other kingdoms. Today, their supreme law speaks to this. Any woman who sets foot on Amazza is immediately free (should she be a slave), and is absolved of past debts and obligations. Any man who sets foot on Amazza is immediately enslaved.
The women have developed a culture remarkably similar to Classical Greece or Rome (depending on which aspect you look at). One might think that a handful of rocky islands could hardly support themselves. Indeed, for many years, that was the case. But, it was discovered that the islands contain large veins of a mysterious starmetal. This metal has a number of peculiar, semi-magical properties, and is the key to creating both mithril and adamantium. It has also influenced the soil of the islands, and a number of unique plants and animals grow there, with properties that are avidly sought after.
Unfortunately, the culture of Amazza is beginning to fall victim to its fundamental instability. The new generation of Maidens are asking themselves how enslaving men is any different from enslaving women. These men, for the most part, are innocent of any wrongdoing. Also, they recognize that the other kingdoms don't take them seriously. If they are to gain respect, both from themselves and from others, they will need to change. But change is never easy.
There are, of course, other political entities in the world. The mountains to the east of Tsoi are riddled with small fiefs, that are remote enough and scrappy enough that the Czar doesn't consider them worth conquering. The "dwarves" (more about races in another post) have two kingdoms underground, one under each major mountain range. The halflings have three main tribes, each with dozens of independent family units. The first tribe are feral, and live in the wilderness, close to nature and their fey halves. The second tribe are essentially gypsies, traveling among the human settlements as traders and entertainers. The third tribe are sailors, each family unit belonging to a ship.
Finally, there are the "elves." The elves are not native to the Seven Kingdoms. About thirty years ago, a fleet of a dozen amazing winged ships floated in from the uncharted western ocean. The elves seem to want to recruit the human kingdoms to help them in a great battle in their own land. The leaders have spread themselves to the courts of the Seven Kingdoms. Individual sailors have entered the population, though whether they have jumped ship or are acting on some subtle form of orders is unknown. They certainly tend to cause a stir wherever they go.