One of the first things we did when we knew we were going to make this game a live play podcast was try and figure out how to create our characters and world. We needed to know if we were going to use a preexisting setting or create a new one. For this we realized that we wanted something entirely new. The settings I have used in the past - Terra, Escheron, Eon - had a lot of baggage in the form of references created through years of campaigns. We wanted something fresh.
As the GM, I then played around with how to best make something new and came to a realization. Unlike normal play where we make a shared story from a GM created world, we had the opportunity to create a shared world and a shared story. So instead of a full world, I approached it from a broad strokes perspective and came up with a few quick highlight reels that the groups would vote on.
Three in specific were tossed around at one point or another: a desert wasteland with strange magic domes of preserved life and civilization; a hollow planet where gravity pulls towards the inside of the crust and the center of the planet was the core/sun sky and weather orb; and an ocean world of floating and moving islands that crossed each others' paths over time and led to a strange cultural exchange.
In the end, we settled on the third and named it Caelius. The idea seemed ideal because this way, everyone could create their own island civilizations and bring ideas that would populate our world. Then we could ask ourselves how each island civilization created by a different person would affect the cultures of other islands as they met in the sky over time.
It wasn't long after when we made the decision to create a randomized template to shake things up. The world and our character choices would shift as we discovered unique combinations that make for great stories (such as a scholar cursed with forgetfulness). We wanted to bring that same random quality to our islands as well and so we built them as part of a game. I’ve described the process of building via Settlers of Catan in a previous post that can be found on our blog.
What about the planet and world as a whole though?
The planet Caelius is roughly earth sized, but it's closer to its sun. This makes the floating islands more livable. They float around at a level of atmosphere that on earth ranges from significantly above sea level all the way to the top of Mount Everest. In order to create livable zones, the temperature and atmospheric make up has to be a bit different than Earth’s by design. That’s how I came around to placing islands at different heights based on climate and culture. After each of the islands were created, I assigned them places within the livable zone of Caelius.
Caelius is separated into spheres of atmosphere as seen above. The Misting Sphere is the lowest part of the populated atmosphere. Here, constant misty fogs spring up from the Farsea and create a sort of additional cloud layer below most of the island. The Farsea isn't always covered, but the ever shifting mist draws eyes to it for those that spend their time studying what is so far below.
The Lower and Upper Spheres are the clearest area of the atmosphere and the place most populous with islands. Those islands in the lower sphere tend to be warmer and drier in nature while the upper sphere islands are colder and wetter. The Cloud Sphere is the uppermost part of Caelius that still has flying islands caught in the upwelling of magic from the Farsea. It is nearly unlivable there for how cold it is and the roiling storms that often pass through that area are a near constant.
One of the big mysteries that the people of this world obsess with is the connection between the sky above and the space below. Given the height of the islands, the view of the night sky when the skies are clear is particularly intense. On nights when the Cloud Sphere and Misting Sphere are both clear, the night sky is reflected in the waters far below creating a duality that has captured the hearts and minds of the people of Caelius for millennia. It's easy to see why so many of the deities of Caelius revolve around the sky and the sea since both are seemingly infinite expanses that cannot be reached.
Thanks for reading and for listening! I hope you enjoy the world of Caelius as much as I've enjoyed fleshing it out. If you like hearing more specifics about the setting, these spotlights will crop up as we visit places in the podcast. We’ll talk about who designed certain places and go into flavorful detail about each island and their cultures.