Where is this Kaendor anyway?

I think by now it's really high time to finally get around to writing up a proper introduction to what this Kaendor thing is all about, other than being some kind of fantasy CRPG.

Kaendor is the name of a world, or perhaps more accurately a collection of settings, that I have been developing and using for several campaigns that I have been running for different RPG systems since about 2009. There's never been a fixed world map or persistent geography between the different campaigns, nor a specified history, and over the years whole countries have been dropped from it, and various creatures that inhabit it come and gone. But all of the campaigns had many consistent elements that tied them together, like the many worlds of Final Fantasy games, FromSoft's Soulsborne games, or maybe even the Zelda games. Adapting Kaendor to a videogame format opens up new possibilities to present ideas and concepts that are difficult to bring to life in a pen and paper game, just as there are things that are interesting to play with in your imagination but would be really complicated to put on a screen. As such, the setting for my videogame will once again be a new iteration of the world, tailored specifically to work with and make use of the technological capabilities and limitations of the medium.

The Influences

Kaendor is a product of my long interest and passion for both RPGs and high fantasy world. Which so happen to have both start with playing Baldur's Gate, which will have been exactly 25 years ago some point this summer. But among all the works that I've read, watched, and played since then, a small handful are standing out most prominently as having their marks all over Kaendor.

The first two go all the way back to the early 90s when I occasionally saw episodes of Masters of the Universe and Conan the Adventurer on TV. I can't say I was a big fan of either, but both have a very distinctive look to them. And of course are very pulpy Sword & Sorcery shows with mighty warriors, evil sorcerers, and lots of cool and exotic monsters. I then forgot about them by the time I was 10 or so, but the memorable imagery would come back to greatly influence me later.

Right after that came the classic Star Wars movies, which I am fairly certain I saw for the first time in 1995 at a friend's house, and we all watched over a weekend. In particular, it was Return of the Jedi from 1983 that made the biggest impact on the look and overall feel of Kaendor when I got started with fantasy worldbuilding over a decade later. The inside of Jabba's Palace and the forest of Endor are probably the two primary touchstones for Kaendor's visual style. And there's a lot about the design of the Emperor's throne room that really speaks to me as well.

Another movie from that time is Conan the Barbarian from 1982. While the tale about a powerful swordsman on a quest for revenge isn't the kind of story I am interested in telling, I love pretty much everything else about it. Other than being set mostly in deserts instead of forests, this is again a major reference for the look and atmosphere of Kaendor in my imagination. Finding a way to replicate the color grading and lighting style of these two movies is one of my main goal for the game's graphics.

Coming to videogames, it was four titles from the early 2000s specifically that made a huge impression on me and greatly influenced how I would imagine my own original fantasy world years later. The first one is Baldur's Gate II and its expansion Throne of Bhaal. The second one is Morrowind. These two games pretty much define the color pallet that my own game is going to have. Beige, pale orange, dark brown, and faded olive green. If you played these two games, you surely know what I mean. But Morrowind also really impressed me with its approach that a fantasy game does not have to medieval Europe with added magic, but instead could also take the form of an alien world with a medieval level of technology. The inclusion of Imperial settlements and ordinary human characters always felt like the biggest disappointment of the game's worldbuilding to me. I always felt like they should have fully commited to an exotic world with no European influences at all.

Another game that came out around this time was WarCraft III, and more importantly its expansion The Frozen Throne. I quite like the Orc and Night Elf campaigns from the main game and the Night Elf and Blood Elf campaign from the expansion. And, oh look, the Orc campaign and the Blood Elf campaign both have that same color palette I mentioned above.

The fourth game in this list is Knights of the Old Republic. I am a huge Star Wars fan. And while as a general thing, nearly all the Star Wars works that I really love came out before 1999, this game is one of the few notable exception. Having replayed it a few more times in recent years, it's not really that great as a game, but it certainly is a very memorable experience despite it. And the environmental design is perhaps the most stunning I've ever seen anywhere. Despite the very basic graphics, the top level of Taris, the plains of Dantooine, the village on Kashyyyk, the city on Manaan, and the Valley of the Dark Lords on Korriban rank very high among my favorite places in any games. This has even become my main reference for the graphics detail I want to achieve, as it manages to have such a stunning look with really basic models and textures.

And I am sure that really being into these works in the years when I was 15 to 19 is entirely coincidental to influencing my design aesthetics this much.

In addition to all of these, there's also two comic series that I only discovered much later, but actually both started in the mid 2000s as well. They were: Conan and Knights of the Old Republic. Those two again! They are completely different stories with their own characters, or at least a quite different take on Conan. I think this is actually a coincidence that they share the same sources as two of the other works I mentioned before. The Conan comics have a very cool way in which they depict the supernatural from the much older original stories (often using a familiar color palette) and create really impressive visuals for interesting and exotic locations. The KotOR comics are also gorgeous looking, but what captured me about them the most are the characters. Zayne and Jarael are both fun and compelling heroes that you can root for, but their stories and heroics happen on a considerably lower power level than you typically see in Star Wars or most heroic fantasy. Which makes the challenges they face and the courage they display much more relatable and meaningful. It's perhaps the most important source for the kind of storytelling I want to have take place in Kaendor.

A General Description of the World

Kaendor is a world very much inspired by the Sword & Sorcery lineage of fantasy. The stories of Robert Howard, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, and Clark Ashton Smith. Though the game itself, in its gameplay and narratives might not be exactly what the common perception of Sword & Sorcery stories implies to many people. Kaendor is not a particularly bleak or violent world, as fantasy settings go, but it is one where conflicts are not oversimplified good against evil or take place on a grand stage for the fate of the world, and magic is a strange supernatural force rather than an easy replacement for advanced technologies.

Kaendor is deliberately designed to not appear as an alternative version of medieval England that has magic and mythological creatures. The common archetype for fantasy settings, particularly in games, that has become somewhat established under the name Fantasyland. Kaendor follows a different tradition that has its origin in the earliest Sword & Sorcery works, that I think would be perfectly described as Dinosaurland. I think most people already know this type of fantasy worlds fairly well. It's set on a planet that is covered in lush jungles, towering mountains, and humid swamps, that are home to many dinosaur-like creatures and pleistocene animals. They tend to be very wild places that are often inhabited by barbarian tribes, but typically also include numerous city states inspired by various Bronze Age cultures. There are often witches and shamans, but sorcerers appear most typically as powerful tyrants and conquerors, and there is little distinction between a sorcerer and and evil priest. There are almost never any dwarves or elves, though the people might not all be exactly humans. And creatures that are very similar to orcs or ogers are quite common, though rarely called that explicitly. There's almost always plenty of demons, but never any angels. You almost certainly have seen this place, and many times. It's Dinosaurland.

Kaendor is a world that I want to feel like it is both very old, and its civilization fairly young. The natural state of the world is wilderness, with areas inhabited by people being the notable exception rather than the rule. And civilizations tend to be small and very decentralized. The rulers of this world are local warlord strongmen rather than emperors claiming control over large portions of the world's population. In many ways, this is a pattern of social structure and settlement that is very similar to that seen in many works of Post-Apocalyptic fiction as you see in say Fallout, Kenshi, and the D&D setting Dark Sun. The cultural references I am using to create the societies of Kaendor are mostly from the Bronze Age, like Mycenaean Greece and Hittite Anatolia, but I'm also a big fan of the cultural mashups of the Hellenistic Empires from Antiquity, like Seleucid Persia and Ptolemaic Egypt, which were ruled by a Greek elite for many centuries. And some bits and pieces from central Asian people who moved into the Black Sea region during the Migration Period at the end of Antiquity.

With these primarily cultural influences, and a big love for dinosaur-infested jungles, it's always seemed the most fitting to have most civilization be located in a Mediterranean climate, like Italy, Greece, and Spain, and also California and southern Australia. It's a climate that has long warm summers that typically don't get too terribly hot, but can still see considerably winter snow in the mountains, even fairly close to the coasts. And of course, being a coastal climate type, it allows for civilization to concentrate right on the edges of the sea and have a strong culture of sailing and sea trade as well. Which is very convenient in a world of dense forests, great swamps, and few roads.

The Supernatural

Supernatural forces have a very strong presence in the world of Kaendor, but their direct influence is very difficult to perceive by most people, and controlling them outside the grasp of all but a very few. The supernatural world is vastly greater than the limited realm of mortal perception, on a scale that only the rare initiates of the supernatural can even begin to grasp. What most people understand conceptually is that the gods exist in a world that is larger than their own, and that somewhere out there, there also exist demons. But the real shape of reality is vastly more great and mysterious than all but a few can even imagine.

Magic spells generally don't produce and flashing lights and sparks. Sorcerers don't hurl fire and lightning. Instead, magic spells primarily take the form of illusions, divination, and mind control, or the creation of invisible wards to protect against supernatural beings. The summoning of such beings typically takes the form of long and elaborate rituals and is not something that a sorcerer could use to protect himself when being attacked by surprise.

On the surface, Kaendor doesn't do anything radically new or innovative as a fantasy setting. But this is a style of fantasy that seems to be paid fairly little attention by creators in any medium, despite it having a very clear and recognizable iconic style. And I think there's a lot of really cool and interesting stuff that can be explored in this type of Sword & Sorcery world.