The fantasy world of Afion was developed by myself and a wide array of friends and players over the years. For the last several years, it has been shelved, awaiting a new group to explore what it has to offer.
As of this writing, I feel more like the caretaker rather than creator. The history of the setting started out way back in the long-ago when my crew of 7th Grade misfits discovered Spelljammer.
The Spelljammer campaign setting for AD&D 2nd Edition was released in 1989, and was an immediate hit with my group. My friend Lance and I had come up with extensive backstories for all of our gruff and brooding characters who started in the Forgotten Realms setting for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (2nd Edition by this point). The problem was, we always felt we were playing in someone else’s sandbox. Spelljammer offered our characters a way off the world of Toril, to sail the stars and venture between crystal spheres to new worlds.
The world that my characters would wind up on was dubbed Afion. My guess is that the name was a minor alteration of the name Albion (possibly the oldest recorded name for the Island of Britain). I know it wasn’t a reference to liquid opium. We didn’t have the internet back then to just look up any letters we smashed together to see if they were already words, and I don’t remember it being in my dictionary. So, Afion stuck. All I can remember is that I named it, because it was my world for my characters. Lance’s characters got their own world, and I can’t remember its name (it wasn’t my world after all).
Afion would really start to take shape the summer after 7th grade, when my new friend Rob and I would spend the night or weekend at each other’s homes. Those weekends were pretty much non-stop gaming sessions. I remember we hacked down AD&D 2E down to pretty much the core six stats and a d20 for everything. When we did play D&D, we would play it in Afion. We created cities, and two rival nations: the Drake Empire and the Kingdom of Rolyntyr. We created historic figures, legends, and started to really flesh out Afion. Without Rob, there would not be an Afion. Our friendship and our frenzied weekend gaming sessions would continue through 8th grade, after his family moved about an hour away. Our moms wanted to keep the friendship going, so about once a month one of us would visit the other for the weekend. When Rob would come down to visit, sometimes a few of our other friends would also come over, and we would play whatever new TTRPG we got our hands on.
The summer after 8th grade would see my family moving across the state. Trips to visit Rob became infrequent, but we maintained contact through high school by, get this, writing letters and sending them in the mail. We really wouldn’t get back into regular contact until I moved back my senior year of high school.
My new group of gamer friends in high school weren’t really interested in fantasy role-playing. They were more intrigued by this new (to us) miniature game called “Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader”, and then “Vampire: the Masquerade”.
In my own spare time between computer games, hanging out at the pizza joint, and reading comics, I still worked on Afion. I created a timeline of events, made very detailed maps of cities and countries, and continued to build up a detailed history.
In college, my old gaming group from back home would merge with another group, and we would eventually go back to D&D, with the release of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition. With the release of 3E, I was able to pick up a 2E compendium on CD-ROM for around $20. That CD-ROM also included a map-making program. Thus began the creation of what would be dubbed the “Big Ass Map” or BAMP. Why not BAM? I guess we just liked the sound of BAMP better. The BAMP went through several color ink cartridges, was then mounted on multiple pieces of poster board, then hung up on the wall of the “gaming room” in my one bedroom apartment. Yes, I turned the bedroom into a gaming room, and just put my bed in the front living room area. My girlfriend at the time was not terribly happy about that decision, but I had lived in a tiny dorm room for a year prior, so this just made sense to me. The BAMP detailed one continent of Afion: Drachenheim. Before the BAMP, Afion had been the name of the world, and the primary continent. When creating the BAMP, I realized that the region that my players would be exploring was just a small fraction of what Afion would have to offer.
History (for Afion at least) was also about to take a dramatic shift. I discarded the Spelljammer “colonization” story, with that old band of adventurers arriving on a world already populated by generic “monsters”. Afion was now something drastically different. Humans had arrived on Afion when their old world was destroyed after the dominant cultures had stripped that world of magic. Using the last reserves of magic stored, refugees boarded arks to be directed through the planes beyond to a new world. The Humans would also bring along a species created by magic that served as their servitors, known as Orcs. The arks would scatter survivors across Afion, with most of the clusters being grouped based on point of origin. Cultures from the “World That Was” were tossed around, arriving next to cultures that had been on the other side of their old world. In the Southeast tundra and ice flow region of Drachenheim, the refugees came from a culture similar to that of Nordic Europe. Shortly after arrival, the majority of the humans would rise up alongside the enslaved Orcs and slaughter the nobles trying to proclaim themselves leaders in this new land. Slavery of any sort would be deemed forever banned in these lands, and by the time of the BAMP, the people of Ardrik were a mixture of Human and Orc ancestry. By the time of the BAMP, Adrikaar abolitionists had spread the movement across Drachenheim, and none of the cultures (Human or otherwise) would continue the brutal practice of slavery.
The problem is that Afion was not unoccupied when Humans arrived. Elves, Dwarves, and other intelligent species had migrated over, brought as faithful servants by Dragon “gods” a thousand or more years prior. Great civilizations had rose and fell by the time Humans arrived. The city of Xaxchil, the jewel of the Drake Empire, known for its unique architecture, had once been the center of a Kobold trade network.
Even the Kobolds got a rewrite for Afion, sharing a common ancestry with Afionese Gnolls. The Dragons who were drawn to Afion discovered they could not leave. The world was a trap for them. It was also a twisted gift, granting Dragons immortality and god-like powers. However, they could not breed true. When their eggs hatched they produced stunted scaly Kobolds, or physically powerful and fur-covered Gnolls. The Gnolls were nomadic hunter-gatherers, while the Kobolds were more interested in building grand structures and engaging in the study of more “philosophical” pursuits.
I could go on and on about Afion, its history, its various eras, the cultures, the continents, etc. And I probably will, just not on this post.
What I’m going to talk about is where I went wrong. Drachenheim was largely based upon European cultures. The Drake Empire was very Germanic, while the nation of Ardrik was Nordic. The Principalities of Taniroth were influenced by Middle-Ages Italy. Even the Dwarven nations were heavily inspired by Gaelic and Celtic cultures. Basically, even though there were non-White people inhabiting Drachenheim, that setting was extremely white. That shouldn’t come as a huge shock. Everyone at my table during the height of my Afion campaigns was White. I came from a White background. Learned very White-coded and White-washed history. Is it any wonder that the setting I would spend so much time creating and infusing with bits of cultural fragments would be predominately White?
Afion did start to change the way some of my players looked at what D&D could be. I ditched alignment. My reasoning was, if a creature is intelligent, it is not inherently good or evil. They were all people to me. Yeah, sure, the Elves of D’Linthineal, or Oberalfen, were xenophobic and racist in particular towards Dwarves, but that was just one Elven nation, and not all of the Oberalfen shared these opinions. The subterranean Elves, or Unteralfen, were not inherently evil. And Orcs were just another group of…people. My players learned fast that entering into every scenario swords swinging was going to end poorly for them. My own ideology permeated the game, that use of force should be withheld as a last resort. D&D 3E with its ridiculous amount of skills and broadened non-combat options provided an exquisite framework for this developing world of political intrigue and high sorcery.
I realized even then, my setting was still extremely Eurocentric. So I expanded things out. I introduced a new continent to the West of Drachenheim. On the Eastern edge of the continent would be the Empire of the Sun, inspired by Japanese feudal culture rinsed through the filter of multiple white writers (“Shogun” by James Clavell, “Legend of the Five Rings” by Alderac Entertainment Group, etc.). Across the mountains to the North were the Three Cities, a nation inspired by the height of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea. Across the mountains to the west was a vast nation that simply referred to itself as the Kingdom, centered around the city of Cheng Shen (we didn’t have Google translate at the time), aka the City of Spirits. The Kingdom was inspired by the latter years of the Chinese Han Dynasty, just prior to the Three Kingdoms Era.
Because of course I went with Asiatic cultures next.
Then I introduced the Khem. The Continent of Khem was to the distant East of Drachenheim. It was a largely desolate land-mass. The Khem were an arcano-tech civilization (complete with fantasy mecha suits) that had their origin based on ancient Khemetic Egyptian cultures. When the Khem were first introduced, they were invading other nations, as they held the belief that Afion was at risk of the same destruction that came to The World That Was, and that only through restricting the usage of magic could that destruction be halted. The Empire of Khem would be confronted by a coalition of nations and people across the world of Afion, but ultimately it would be internal conflict and the rising up of the enslaved people of Khem against their own corrupt system that would end the war. It was a “world war” scenario, and the adventurers weren’t even central to the greater conflict.
There were other nations that the adventurers never explored, inspired by cultures of Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. I even had plans for introducing civilizations inspired by indigenous North, Central, and South American cultures.
I read real world history on various cultures from around the world to bring those elements to my table. I wanted diversity. I wanted to show how amazing and different and wonderful our own world was to a group of White twenty-somethings in Missouri.
And now I come to why Afion has been shelved, indefinitely. Prior to the release of 4E, I began to compile a setting source book, complete with detailed history, new classes, feats, and an overhauled spell-casting system that would ditch “Vancian” magic. I wrote around 200 full-text pages of material. Then I realized something. Not once had I asked someone other than my immediate group of White friends what they thought about what I was creating. Never did I ask someone of non-White background to take a lot at it, see if they could clean up things that I got really wrong, or that were flat-out offensive. Most importantly, never did I attempt to contract a sensitivity reader, and PAY THEM A REASONABLE AMOUNT to go through 200+ pages of setting material.
I know, it was just a game for me and my immediate group of friends. It was, and still is, a labor of love, but before I can release it in any iteration upon the world, I’m waiting to have the funds to be able to pay creators and sensitivity readers from various backgrounds to build upon the world. To make it better. To make it a world that anyone, of any cultural background, can find a place without sacrificing their culture for the comfort of the White players at the table.
I’ll never completely give it up. If nothing else, it will live on in the legend of the BAMP. It will live on in the memory I have of seeing Jeff’s smile vanish while the rest of the table celebrated, as he looked across the table at me, and then saying, “Everyone. Shut up. We fucked up. The worm never actually attacked us. We weren’t supposed to kill it. We just royally fucked up.”
Despite its flaws — Despite MY flaws — I think that for a time, this fictional realm helped make our own world a bit of a better place. And we can do that without embracing the bigotry and coded language of past creators that are systemic in fantasy tabletop role-playing games. We can use these games to help decode and break-down that kind of thinking. And get this:
We can have a lot of fun, a lot of joy, a lot of emotions, while we do it.
Afion is my personal beacon of hope. What’s yours?