Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Quick(ish) Tour of Revoca Town

At first sight Revoca Town appears to be an atomized mess of bleak, narrow-windowed tower-houses and muddy alleys sullenly and suspiciously walled off from each other.

Admittedly, repeated glances do not disabuse one of that impression.

The town is, in point of fact, a brooding self-confined mess of mutual hostility, a sorry state only reinforced by centuries of Pikra-Svar, a peculiar local form of blood-feud characterized by ritualized passive-aggression and baleful stares. 

An elaborately-embossed beech post-board--weekly festooned with a host of veiled slights, oblique satire and faint praise scrawled anonymously on small pieces of vellum--plays central stage for Pikra-Svar feuds. Rankled talk of such messages typically dominate conversation for weeks (if not months) over dinners taken in the dark shadows of the windowless halls, ultimately culminating with feigning even knowledge of the physical existence of the rival individual or clan.

Fortunately for the traveler, years of near-universal repressed neighborly hate has left each towerhoused clan intensely eager for outside company. Revoca as such is unique among the towns of the Hill Cantons in not only not wanting to utterly fleece newcomers, but in actively competing to host travelers. That is...for roughly a week in which time they become too familiar and find themselves suddenly and viciously put down on the board.

People of Note
Brako the Heinous. Just outside of town sits Weapons and Shit, a one-stop hut/craft shop/dojo run by Brako, an ancient, not-yet-set-on-fire 41-year-old Chaos Monk. He's got Himyari throwing stars, shit on chains, nunchuks, kamas, fucking pommel horses. All that shit.

Princess Zuzu, Girl Wizard. The potent, precocious and precious Zuzu will trade and cast spells if you sit for tea with her and wear a party hat (and throw in some change for her next admiral's uniform). Totally not a real princess. 7th level User of Magic.

Svart the Woodcutter. Tight-lipped Xamuran rover of the mythic wilderness to the east. Though he looks like he would kill you soon as look at you, locals say he's the man to hire as a guide (50 gold suns or a 1/3rd share a session). 1st level Ranger. Hp: 8. Big ass axe.


Father Hog/Sister Sow. An immense, centuries-old, ring-eyed talking pig runs religious services in the community. Switching between the roles of a gruff but jovial, mustard-yellow-berobed Father Hog half the week and the world-wise, maternal, rouged, midnight-blue-gowned Sister Sow the rest, the pig manages to serve both the local Sundome and softshell-heretical Evening Star Lodge.

That's one dedicated pig, pa.

Places of Note
Our Lady of the Not-Lake. While most outsiders might recognize this as a flower-festooned, “country”-aesthetic pagan shrine to the Pahr lake godlet, Mojca (pronounced MOY-tsa) of the Tarn, locals will correct you, maintaining that this is, in fact, Mojca the Creek-Goddess. The narrow, broken-edged lapis-lazuli-covered pedestal the primly-painted idol rises out of seems to have been at one time a large circular (perhaps “lake-like”?) surface.

The Void Lodge. A rather large and tolerated community of heretics live in Revoca. Worshipers of Habeka the Lady are mostly members of the moderate Evening Star Society, but even members of the mystic sect the Starry Void have some aboveground representation here in the form of an underground lodge.

Which I acknowledge is a confusing way to put it.

Throvemesto. Miners make up a distinct community just to the west of Revoca proper. Behind a wooden stockade sit rows of tidy, stone dormotories. The miners, proud working folk, disdain both the “bow thugs” of management and the residents of Revoca who they view as insufferably "mental."

Hrad Morva. Perched up on the high mound north of town is the strangely contrasting sight of the Lady's castle. The bulk of an ancient earthen hill-fort jostles with the new-fangled chateau.
Places to Stay
Everywhere (see the first section above). Start with the better families with the sturdy well-kept towers near the market and then work your west through the increasingly immiserated clans. Visitors who have attained a Rank greater than that of Third and exhibiting a manner less than base are invited to dine and dwell with the most noble Knyaz Draga III “the Twitterlight" at her castle, Hrad Morva.

Or avoid the whole game (you would, with your coastal elite ways) and stay at the Four Dumplings, a quaint, three-bedroom, tower-inn run by the invasive and saccharine-friendly cat-masked widow Pani Velka. The cost in coins is cheap (5 silver ladies/night), the cost in emotional comfort immeasurable.

Places to Shop
It's simple, you can't buy anything but the barest of staples until the bi-weekly markets on Drunkday and Moonsday. Fortunately an aspiring border ruffian or murderhold procurement specialists wandering the rickety market stalls and charming refuse-decorated grounds can find an array of tools of the trade for purchase. There is always a chance of finding strange and enscorcelled items strangely on a random-seeming weekly-fleeting basis.

Revoca Town Fun Facts
Xam. Defying easy stereotype are the Xam, a tight-lipped, industrious and physically distinctive group of locals with dull-golden skin that seems to glisten sparkly in the sun. They as, a race, seem inclined to humble, physically-oriented positions such as shepherd, water-fetcher, pigkeeper or woodcutter. Uniformly curly bronze-red hair and gray-eyed with a look of perpetual menace, really they would kill you as soon as look at you.

The Xamuran Whistle. A regional dialect made up of  high and low whistles developed by Xam shephards, naturally expressing a limited vocabulary and range. Most all native Revocans can at least whistle a few cutting tones.  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Misadventure, Mishap and Exploration Challenges in D&D Wilderness

I knew the ladder was a Bad Idea. My fortysomething mind microcalculated risk and sagely pshawed it long before my ankle got caught between the doubled up last rungs.

But I had passed by earlier in my long meandering walk and it nagged at an earlier me, defying me to go up and see just what was on top of an aging, abandoned industrial block of a building. Anticlimax that's what. Four seconds of panic then a “hey idiot twist your leg” moment followed by a totally-not-worth-it pile of broken glass, a handful of steel vent ports and an obstructed view of asphalt wastes and new lofts.

Still I am glad I did it. I can even bend this back to elfgame relevance. But first some shaggy dog.
It's the summer of 1993. I, along with a gaggle of earnest, hoodied, patched and gamey-smelling anarcho-punk rawk kids, have been busy wearing out our welcome at a Madison coop house of earnest, bright-eyed local hippy-vegan kids. Aaron, a lanky (and yes gamey) buzz-headed kid from the Bay Area is holding court about the trains he hopped to get here: the long hours (days even) waiting in a yard for a "hot" express train, what kind of car makes a terribly uncomfortable ride, what it's like to get chased off by security (the “bulls”) etc. 

It's all misadventure, but I am instantly drawn in. We talk for a while and exchange piles of collage-suck xeroxed zines. His opens up a decade of doors for me. Between the shaggy dog stories of everyday life in the Bay Area hardcore scene and sweet, funny poems about Punk Rock Love, there were all kinds of misadventures filled with little mishaps. Long accounts of walking tours, most of it trespassing in abandoned industrial, almost all of that just about daylong adventures exploring the urban spaces that we most all just buzz on by.

I guess I gravitate naturally to that kind of exploration and the things that stick in my mind are always framed by some setback: the sapling breaking as I cross the creek, smashing the binding deep in the snow-covered woods on my crosscountry ski, lying in the keel of a boat retching with six-foot swells, watching half my backpacked in food for the week slide down a gorge, watching all my gear float down a creek suddenly engorged over night, running from a group of teens in the great hollow-shelled Detroit railroad hotel, running from security guards inside a shuttered factory, running from what I thought was a bear.
Me inside the Detroit Railroad Hotel circa 1997. 
Watching my dad fish out my brother who has been pulled under by the murderous current, losing my intertube with my dad and brother in a raging Kern river rapids and having to spend the afternoon climbing a mountain in shorts and cheap plastic flip-flops.

That last--which happened when I was still flush in my awkward, rpg-engrossed tween time--gets me to the relevant gaming-related point. I went home and wrote a version of what happened into a dungeon: a mile-wide underground river with some “come drown in me” boats and roaring rapids, whirlpools and secret caves. It was super crude mechanically and railroady but I remember having some kind of Shit that Can Go Wrong table. It probably was my first attempt to do real

Which leads me to my second punchline, maybe one thing that has made wilderness adventuring weak sauce in many D&D presentations is that it doesn't capture mishap well. I mean sure you have the usual beautiful organic misadventures of actual play. The “holy shit, I knew that scattering of bones and high smell of decay was a bad sign...why did we crawl in here” moments.

But generally outside of some mechanics for getting lost, food resource management and the one-off listing of things like rock falls on an encounter chart there isn't a lot of modeling of the horrible, funny things that happen that make the wilds and travel themselves such an adversary.

The closest I have seen to having a good, solid model of environmental challenge was the obscure Heart of the Sunken Lands put out by Midkemia way back when. Worked in there was a whole subsystem where the players had to deal with daily occurrences of such joys as horses going lame, jungle rot, spoiling food, etc.

I know, I know it's not rocket science figuring out these things. Maybe many of you have already homebrewed your own ways to do this (please, do share), read/adapted lifted something from other rpg products or think that it's just not a fun thing to throw into a game (maybe totally valid), but I kind of want to throw in more of that in my wilderness games. 

The wild places should have things, elements that are scarier than just the eight hit dice whozeewhatsee you run into. More ways to model hard gameable resource choices one has to make when an ankle turns, food is suddenly gone, blinding storms or the trail washed out. 

Yes please.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Campaign Reset: Revoca Canton

Summer is a traditional time of experimentation in the eponymous Hill Cantons campaign. Generally that experimentation clusters around opening up a whole new geographic area with some tinkering around the edges of things that strike my fancy (the Feral Shore phase two years ago around this time coming into being with my conscious experiment with a pure wilderness area with super-dense hexstocking and an unobtrusive domain game).

This summer I wanted to broaden the traditional Tuesday night on Google Plus stable of (absolutely great) players with some new/old friends and reset the campaign a bit from its pushing 8th level power range back to my old baseline low-level game (at least for a bit, the object being to integrate back into that campaign in a couple months). Thus Revoca Canton is born.
Click ye. 
What is this place?
Nestled up near the northeastern corner of Marlinko Canton in the Weird-haunted, barely-borderlands backhills is the smallest and (perhaps) oddest of the Hill Cantons, Revoca. Indeed it's a patch of humanity so tiny and remote that its government isn't even centered in the place. A modest little, quaintly-gabled townhouse in Marlinko harboring two ancient, retired swineherds cum public officials makes up the entirety of the cantonal Rada (council), tax collection and other administrative functions in one cranky, “it's cold in here” epicenter.

Townhouses aside the real day-to-day governing of the canton is just where it has always been with: the Lord of Revoca. Or rather, Lady, as the seat has not been held by a man for over 17 generations. Somehow, miraculously even, succession always comes back to a female of the Morva family. The closest to producing a male heir being three generations ago when the then Knyaz, Vlanka the Knob-Toed, begat three sons—only to see each die in an abrupt freakish accident—and her niece Draga I succeed her. Currently the title is held by the winsome and hard-nosed, Knyaz Draga III “the Twitterlight", who at 17 remains scandalously unwed.
What is Worth Seeing/Avoiding?
The Tarn. A cold, dark uplands lake said to have harbored its own Old Pahr nymph-godlet, Mojca, back in the hoary day. The locals in Revoca Town refuse to acknowledge the lake's existence:stubbornly refusing to address questions about it and going as far as to build a tall obscuring palisade to block its view.

The Stuz. While the Tarn is utterly ignored the thick old-growth woodlands to east are at least acknowledged—and deeply feared. Ancient beeches mix with sour chestnut, gooseflesh vines, large-leaved lime, gnome pine and a startling profusion of hypervividly-colored fungi (many said to hold sorcerous powers) on its murky, trunk-littered forest floor.

The Stuzika (or Stuz in local slang) is mythic wilderness staying always at an almost evening hour and an eternal early autumn. The Stuz is said to not just have a single, terrifying Leši (great, hairy, green-eyed woodland spirits like one would find in a sensible forest, but no less than three of wildly varying temperaments—all ruled over by a “silvan czar,” a venerable and highly erratic Leshy overlord. Travelers are advised to keep slices of salted and buttered bread at hand as these offerings are reputed to be much beloved.
They would kill you, soon as look at you.
Vlkodlak Reserve. When an infant is born with teeth--feet first--in the Hill Cantons, the parents shudder. Inevitably despite any supplications to our dear, inestimable Sun Lord, such an unlucky babe will find themselves shifting into the bestial human-eyed wolf-like creature called the vlkodlak. In times past great maroon bands of such shapeshifters would roam these backhills rudely fostering plagues among cattle, gobbling up children and urinating into any open container visible.

The great scout and wolf-fighter Nit Arseson put an to the local menace in a spirited, martial campaign a decade back, corralling these creatures into a picturesquely arid and refreshingly wind-swept strategic hamlet amply protected by march-wardens and inwardly-barbed walls. Local denizens pay in great numbers to watch the Vlkodlaks perform with charmingly morose faces their monthly ritual of peeling off their wolf skins to hang dry on tree branches.
Poor sad Vigbrand
Revoca Town. Town being a very generous term for this largish village of slate and dung-mortared towerhouses, it does fill out the role of a market town with its twice-a-week open-market. Improbably enough it is rumored that once a month when the two months are high that even Lesi (appearing no higher than a blade of meadow grass when outside their leafy home), spirit-maidens, man-wolves, marsh-witches, dirt-gnomes, chaos-monks and other fell creatures can be seen leisurely ambling among the market stalls and bidding on sheafs of barley, colorful beads, nunchuks and other goods.

Perversely enough, the townsmen maintain a charmingly rustic shrine to Mojca and all water in the town is provided from the Tarn through well-serviced, lead-pipe conduits.

A local “throves of vigbrand” mine, an eye-grating reddish precious stone attributed by legend to the agonizing stabbing death of Vigbrand, a hero-cult aspect of the Sun Lord, ensures a relatively prosperity to this isolated little burgh.

Chaos Monk Monastery. Really one shouldn't make eye contact with them.
Great Aviary of Komius Otmar. Jaromil of Dvec, a journeyman in the Schrimpschongers and Whittlers Guild in Marlinko and descendant of the great hero Adalfuns, was found dead, from apparent suicide, on the Black Altar of Expediency more than two years ago. Without descendants his famous map that shows the location of the lost Great Aviary of Komius Otmar, the crazed Master of Horse of Overking Raginmud XXXII, has become a matter of public record. Interestingly the location is revealed to be just east of Revoca in the ruggedly hilly part of the Stuz.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Suggested Readings for Running Fantasy Cities

Regrets weigh on my mind. I cut a few sections from the Fever-Dreaming Marlinko manuscript and one of them I am already rueful about is the Suggested Reading section.


The readings from the gaming product list (I will post the non-fictional and fictional suggestions if there is reader interest) are for the most part geared around the central design challenge that nagged the hell out of me during the writing and playtesting: how can we do a better job presenting gameable fantasy cities by minimizing the traditional layering of boring, not-useful mundanities (the whole “here's a hobbit bootmaker with 3 hp and two daughters” syndrome) and maximizing things that either give it more flavor or make for better adventures at the table?

The products in the list below are all things that helped me think that framing question through (though it's up to y'all to decide if Marlinko succeeds).

In-Print Gaming
There's been a good deal of digital ink spilled on this one and for good reason—it is a forceful, articulate partisan of the “can the mundane” way of running large, sprawling cities. Of particular utility at the table are the numerous generators for things such as random streets, neighborhoods, taverns, NPCs (and their quirks and motivations), etc.

In a recent social media exchange WA author Trey Causey (and for full disclosure, one of my fellow co-partners in the Hydra Collective) said:“ If you want a Lankhmar or New Crubozon, it means the city has to be almost a character. It needs to inhabit mostly a space of content in players' minds, not as much a place of spatial location."

This seems not only broadly true but something I found deeply inspiring about WA's centerpiece City (a 1930s-ish fantasy NYC). I found his general approach of imaging the hell out of the features of a city that make it unique and memorable coupled with a neighborhood focus (with sidebars and boxes for unique social features or gameable charts) to be worth reading for the how to bring out the flavor and life in a fantasy city. You get a strong whiff of it on his blog index.

Glorantha produced a wonderfully adventurable city in the Chaosium-era boxed sets (republished together with a huge expansion by Moon Design). While I found some of the building entries to be on the bland side in Pavis, the product makes up for it by having evocative and interesting factions, distinct neighborhoods (each with their own street gang), town god cult (Pavis), dwarven undercity and best of all a massive ruinscrawl in the next-door Big Rubble.

The city write-up section is a flavorful exploration of an Asian-inspired city (and thus a nice departure from the standard more Western-based city books). I love the variant equipment lists and neighborhood encounter charts.

Lesserton and Mor seems to be directly inspired by the Big Rubble or at least it's very similar (ruinscrawl next to small base town). I found Lessertown, as a good solid example of an interesting adventurer boomtown, to be surprisingly more interesting than the ruined Mor.

Out of Print Gaming
City adventures run as much or more on navigating humanity and information as they do on site exploration. As such Cities by Midkemia Press (and later Chaosium) with it's massive array of city encounter charts is a huge inspiration for its breadth and depth (covering everything from a table of accidental jostlings of and by NPCs to a sub-table for the rare appearance of gods). The back section of the booklet is an intriguing downtime system that lets players run a minigame for what happens to them between adventures. 

(Btw Jeremy Duncan's cover for Marlinko is a bit of an homage to the second edition cover by Richard Becker).

Lankhmar
First most on any list of suggested readings for fantasy cities just has to be Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar stories. TSR's first and second edition are uneven but have some highly useful urban geomorphs and a beautiful map (that allows space for said geomorphs).

City State of the Invincible Overlord
The granddaddy of all fantasy gameable cities has to make the list even for all its mundane aspects. I dig the weird little sub-systems such as the strange and vicious court system.

City State of the World Emperor
Much as above though I found much of the actual city detail to be weirder, more evocative and more interesting than its brother CSIO.

Jonril
Loaded down with a heap of mundane descriptions and some of the worst and blandest character names, Midkemia's Jonril makes the cut by having a really interesting expedition sub-system for generating missions in the nearby howling wilderness of the Sunken Lands.

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Quick Tour of Marlinko Canton

Despite being the geographically largest of the Hill Cantons, Marlinko Canton (affectionately known as “Bloody” or “Sun-Damned, Fucking Marlinko” by its neighbors) is far and away the least densely populated. Much of its cedar-covered, ferrous red-soiled hillscape lies wholly inside the Weird and its not uncommon to feel the sudden, palpable electric shockwall and instant cessation of bird song that marks entering the mythical wilds several times strolling along a country back road.

As such human settlement clusters tightly and nervously together in the Ostrod river basin. A fertile region with its rich soils bi-annually renewed by the super-nutrients of the Blood Rains brought on by Habeka the Celestial Lady's whipping of our dear Sun Lord with her silver chains.
But don't be fooled by the bucolic whitewashed and blackwood-sided villages with their smiling floral-embroidered-tuniced peasants and bluff  red-faced rural boyars, their superficial rural easiness masks a life as strange and dream-cast as their big city capital, Marlinko.

Indeed each village tries to out do the next in having numerically more and vastly more eccentric mini-contradas competitively aping the demigod-centered, ancient traditions of their urban neighbor--some tiny hamlets sporting as many as 6-7 even!

Who cannot marvel at an entire so-called “contrada” being made up of two rundown cottages and a barn dedicated to an entirely-fictitious godling called She Who Mothers a Donkey?

The tidy blood-apricot orchards and wide barley fields...but Hot Hell, I come not to bore you with such mundanities, let's get to the hexcrawl.
Clicking does the enlarging.
Scale is 2 cantonal miles/hex (3.2 of your Earth kilometers)
02.13-03.13 The Misty Isles. Deep never-lifting fog covers these isles said by many to be a pastoral paradise where cheese and apricot pastry-trees grow along gentle banks of plum-brandy rivers and rock-candy boulders. This is, of course, some bullshit, upended by the cold, hard pocket universe reality of the upcoming Misty Isles of the Eld.

03.05 Lumaš.  A tall free-standing bone-tower monument rises here in memory to the sweetest of joys: organized slaughter of co-religionists on the field of battle. A massive granite slab sits on rollers below the tower cutting off the chill tomb-warren haunts below. 

04.11-07.11 Slumbering Ursine Dunes. You've probably heard about this place.

06.08 Kugelberg. Jaromil the Old Smith's thriving little thorpe.

14.08 The Frog Demon Temple. A wide bowl in the surrounding rocky, cedar-sprinkled hills holds a fetid bog. A low causeway runs over the swamp toward a cypress-ringed mound. Beware the Batrachian Prince that Gnaws at the Soul of the World Turtle, bewarrrre. [This death-trap dungeon which my G+ group was (rightly) terrified of and refused to step into for almost three years (after losing a hireling to a stair trap in the first minute) is one of the star attractions in the upcoming What Ho, Frog Demons.]

15.10 Hrad Fraza. A fortified country estate of the villainous banking family (a redundant distinction), the Frazas. Currently displaying the fabulously-expensive, yet poorly-executed and gauche Tapestry of Xvikz (also see Fever-Dreaming Marlinko p.40).

The Inflexible Highway. An old Hyperborean stone highway stretches just over the ridge from Marlinko precisely north and south. Stubbornly its engineers refused to route it around ridges or cut notches to reduce the gradient and can be a grind to walk even with its magnificently un-shitty pavement.

16.00 Ancient Mountain Hall of the Hyperboreans. High on a flattened mountain top lies the campiest of Hyperborean faux-barbarian ruins-camp: an over-wrought meadhall raised in cold grey slate and supported by gleaming cyclopean pillars. Beneath it lies...well, a dungeon (seven whole levels to be precise).

17.07 Marlinko. Marlinko (or Marlank if you using the Nemec exonym) is a bustling, smallish, and deeply odd city of 7,000 and the council seat of the Marlinko Canton. Life there as such takes on a strange dream-logic cast even by the standards of the rest of the borderlands. It's all in Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, why are you even reading this?

17.12 Ctyri Ctvrt. A pleasant market town and port of white-washed and black-trimmed buildings saddled with a tongue-twisted name that opaquely translates to "The Quartered Fourth." A local boyar has unearthed a 500-stone beet from his tenant farmer's field in the hamlet. Most strange of all is the twisted face-like blemish near the giant beet's crown. A local shepherd claims to have heard a booming voice emanate from the storage hut where it is currently housed.

18.02 Here Be Deodands. Not terribly far from the best, most obvious and most comfortable place for unlikely travellers to camp is a series of small caves in the bank of a short creek. Living in tidy, glittering sequin-walled caves is a lair of 20-200 deodands (100% “in liar”). A wise traveler refuses their late night entreaties to “cut a sweet real estate deal with them.”

19.09 Stary Maso. This oddly-named village (“Old Meat” in the local Pahr dialect) has a remarkable tolerance for adventurers, especially given several incidents in which said itinerant ruffians sired illegitimate new local residents—and a rather inglorious and infamous incident in which the local peasantry were collectively tricked into believing into a cargo cult centered around a Golden Barge by an obese, pig-masked mountebank. Indeed the precociously-glib toddler-bastard “Lil Colonel” is a much beloved village center of attention at barnyard line dances.

21.08 Bad Rajetz. Inbred eastern hinterland town renowned for its leather goods (especially its fetishwear). Infested with diabolists, demon-lovers, crowdfunders and Old Pahr heretics. Vast caverns with great, swooping bats and fire-breathing lizards lurking in the shadowy depths are said to feed into a vast, sprawling and most improbable Undervillage. Beware of your sister-cousins.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Ten-Minute Guide to the Hill Cantons

What the Hell is This Special Snowflake?
This Slavic acid fantasy snowflake is the world of Zem. The Hill Cantons is a region proper (a loose collection of poorly-run borderlands cantons ostensibly ruled by the Overking), the name of the seven-year campaign and now a published backdrop to be ignored and smiled at indulgently like an eccentric uncle.

Zem is a world divided into four near-symmetrical parts, double bisected by the World Canal, domed by the heavenly firmament, and riding on the shell of the World Turtle that swims in a spiraling loop through the cosmic void. It is believed to have its reflection in an mirroring Anti-Reality.

Old wives also foolishly believe it to be a spherically-shaped, concentric “shellword” , a world inside of an Overworld and containing another Underworld. And that the heavenly firmament is but the illuminated rock underside of that upper layer of the world which itself elliptically orbits an outer sun, one of countless billions.

But that's crazy talk.
You can click on me. 
Where did Zem Come From?
Some believe that a dreaming Overgod in floated from Demonspace to this dimension and created it in his self-loathing/loving image. Others believe that the world is but a psychic projection of another, a shadowy cave of folk-spirits and broken platonic ideals.

What Kind of Cracked God Would Want to Live Here?
For a world dominated by a monotheistic religion (the Sun Lord and Solarity) that denies even the existence of other divine forces, Zem is crawling wall to wall with countless cohorts of failed gods, godlings, local gods, beast gods, hero cults, and atrophied gods.

Read all about it in the Hill Cantons Cosmology if you aren't asleep yet. Or see here for the Cosmological Appendix N


Just What Exactly is Up with the Weird?
The Weird is a marble-cake band of mythic wilderness/underworld and magitech other dimensions bleeding over and living in a constantly changing/moving (dialectical) tension with human civilization. It is a shifting zone of Other Reality. It's where the feral things are.

But I said it way better and with more detail hereOne of the in-game models of this is the Chaos Index campaign idea

Civilization?
Human civilization is smaller, more thinly-rooted and more inwardly-focused than our world. There's a small-scale survey of the campaign spots in Hill Cantons Compendium II , but here's the big picture rundown:

The Overkingdom of Nemec, Nurian, Heimeti, and Pahr Lands, a “bright colors” psychic projection of late 16th century Western and Southern Slavic (the Pahr) and German (the Nemec) countries. The coreland Overkingdom has three large semi-autonomous borderlands regions: the Hill Cantons, the Translittoral Canton of Hoimatbuch and the Marches of Nur (famous for its War Bears and kuduks).

Kezmarok on the Rock and Over The Water, a former empire now clinging to life in a half-ruined metropolis after 500 years by the Turko-Fae. Run by the Decade King, a monarch that until late was deposed and blinded each decade. Quite a bit written about this glorious dump here, here, and here.

Himyar, the 19th century Orientalist/pre-Muslim Arabic-ish “Scarlet Sultanate” of the south (with a splash of Clark Ashton Smith necromancy). 

Hy-Brasos, barely-settled Magyar-esque horse nomads cum feudalists with war wagons. Pity the poor dirt-gnomes, glammer-slyphs and talking dogs enslaved by them. 

The Kozak hordes, Old Pahr horse nomads. The western horde being led by Hetboy Pavol.

Oiorpata, that distant and exotic isle near the resting point of the Sun Lord's daily ride, are a fine, strong-boned, if verbally assertive race of Amazons noted for their love of high-crested, baroque helmets, polished armor, and knitting circles.  

Races and Places Weird
Hyperboreans. A long-fallen, world-spanning super-human civilization that possessed great lost sorcerous techologies (read Kirbyesque space gods/science fantasy). Shit went south a millennia ago and their Necromancer-King successor-states left great undercities and ruins on their way out.

Anticantonal Eld. Lords of one of the Cold Hell (a rigid, hierarchical anti-reality). You know, these assholes.

Turko-Fae. Grey-skinned and inscrutable, these strange turbaned warlords have laid seige lines outside Kezmarok for five centuries. They wipe clean (literally) any bit of civilization they wrestle control over.

Grugach. Crazed homicidal and anarchic they pore forth from the so-called "Summer Country" in elk-riding hordes to lay waste to...well anything.

Vlko. A lost (but found by the players) Old Pahr kingdom.

The Feral Shore. A former Kezmaroki borderlands completely wiped clean 500 years ago by the Turko Fey. Now thick with Old Pahr mythic wilderness and the center stage for the current campaign.

So Wait, Aren't We Still Talking About an Elfgame Here?
Yes, yes we are. While I will admit to slipping semi-embarrassingly into long daydreams during the real world grind, there is no childhood hand-carving figurines, collection of awkward short stories for my made-up world. The HC is a creation that has no independent force driving it other than the anarchic and organic process of layer being laid down on lair from the repeated bruising contact with the play table over seven years of running it.

It's a campaign world that has an arc divided up my discernible “phases”. Starting as a West Marches, radically plotless and exploration style campaign, it morphed into a broad-bases sandbox with layers of accreting layers of mystery. (That devolution plotted here)

Still the game, D&D and its microexploration focus, drives the setting. And all roads lead to the dungeon.