A Developmental History and Partial Bibliography of Yer Shar
In mid-2016, I and one other D&D player formed a group whose membership fluctuated in the intervening years, though I'm happy to say that at least the two of us have remained constant fixtures and maintain our group even today. We started with a campaign of indeterminate length, with the promise that I would take up the second campaign at some future date. That date turned out to be much closer than I anticipated, and from November 2016 to January 2017, I furiously scribbled out a 47 page campaign setting for a world based on a handful of ideas and expanded on with a handful more. That world became Yer Shar, and it served as the setting for an epic campaign lasting nearly 3 years.
In its infancy as an idea, I started thinking about Yer Shar as one of four worlds, built on familiar elemental tropes. The structure of the world was inspired by one of the quests in the Neverwinter Nights computer game, as well as Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's Death Gate Cycle. When I started thinking about it somewhere around 2008, my life was in flux, and the idea languished, starved of attention. Tellingly, I can't even find early drafts of what I wrote for it, though I'm sure I have a map somewhere.
I didn't start making connections again to the early material until late 2016. I was certain I wanted to do a sundered earth concept, and I pounded out 10 pages of draft material attempting to explain this cosmology. That original world was called Kalatoth (a suitably fantastic name, I guess), and it was almost a direct clone of the world of the Death Gate Cycle, with each of the spheres interconnected as a vast machine. But that's as far as I got with that line.
Eventually, what I settled on was this: Yer Shar is a simulated world predicated entirely on the exclusion of dragons, who in times before Yer Shar's creation were the literal oligarchs who consumed the world. Yer Shar was created as a bubble of safety against the dragons, who nevertheless sought entry by any means. This structure leaves plenty of open questions, but I sought to cover as many bases as possible with veiled literary and historical sources.
- For the concept of the oligarchic dragons, and to make them truly monstrous, I relied on Elizabeth Sandifer's (Neoreaction A Basilisk) quotation of Nick Land (The Dark Enlightenment), who asserted that in the “approaching bionic horizon”, human mutation would give way to the truly monstrous. His go-to example was “face tentacles” (a nod to Lovecraft). But I posited that an aggressive miscegenation policy would seek to elevate the children of the most privileged so far beyond humanity as to make them unrecognizable. Dragons, then, were the oligarchs of the old world, going all-in on the monstrous as a means of preserving their bloodlines. In order to achieve and sustain their massive forms, they had to literally consume other people. In other words, the oligarchs would seek to make manifest the attitudes levied against them: if society calls them monsters, then they would be monsters.
- Jean Baudrillard and Nick Bostrom provided the simulation basis for the world, especially taken as literally as possible. Everything from gods to magic became possible by harnessing simulated subsystems, often through collective belief. This was reinforced by a reliance on hypersigils (Grant Morrison, et al), whereby feedback loops between fiction and fact alter perceptible reality. In the case of Yer Shar, the largest such hypersigil is a multigenerational migration of people, ritually bolstering a now legendary defense against a half-remembered evil.
- Simulation theory gives way easily to China Miéville’s literary definition of Jacques Derrida’s hauntology as “time out of joint, a present stained with the traces of the ghostly”, the undead past which refuses to die, or the unrealized/unrealizable future. In such a combination, nothing is lost, per se, even when time and life move on. This provides fertile ground for numerous forms of necromancy, but also facilitates other kinds of horrendous crimes perpetrated by absolute villains, as well as creative means of forgetting and being forgotten, truly and finally.
- Another major strain of thought ran through a conflation of John Gray (The Silence of Animals, Straw Dogs, and others) with the cosmic horror of Thomas Ligotti (The Conspiracy against the Human Race). People who hewed to the conflated philosophy that resulted railed against the suffering of consciousness and promised an escape for those who were willing. Their methods included a form of astral travel facilitated by a plant known as Anti-Climacus, which was in fact Søren Kierkegaard's pen name for The Sickness Unto Death.
- And finally, the original McGuffin of the world was a substance I called “albareum”, the concentrated essence of living things that facilitated large scale necromancy and which was found in abundance within dragon bones. Albareum is a Google Translation of “rosebud”, which was drawn from the film Citizen Kane.
The remaining development happened over the course of the campaign. I drew from as many historical sources as possible, trying to build regions that were coherent in both linguistic and cultural inspirations, though I took plenty of liberties along the way.
I have new ideas for Yer Shar and will likely continue working on it in different eras and more localized regions. It started as a generic fantasy world, but it continues to evolve.
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