We’re rapidly closing in on the one year anniversary of Vaarn, which I’m defining as the first time I DM’d a game session in my current ongoing Vaarn campaign. It’s not exactly the genesis, but it’s close (there were two playtests before that session that never led to full campaigns). I decided to go back and look at the very start of Vaarn as a game-world, the original notebook pages which grew into the RPG setting we all know and love today. I thought it would be interesting to share a few of those pages, with some comments about my creative process and writing method.

This is the very first page of Vaarn content that ever got written down. You can see I already had the concept for the playable ancestries we find in the first issue of the zine, and the ‘true men’ have a familiar caste structure. Newbeasts were called ‘wise beasts’ at this point. Interestingly, the first mention of a vault anywhere connects it to the wise beasts. You can also see I was playing with calling the mycomorphs ‘sporeborn’.

The second ever page of Vaarn content. This is a profession or class list of some kind. I think I may have intended for these to function a bit like Troika backgrounds. Vaarn is starting to find a voice here- the mould monger and water merchant feel very Gnomon to me. We can also see that I played around with calling the country Ulurur (glad that didn’t stick).

Playing with graphics for titles. You can see I was thinking about calling it ‘Vuluru’, and there was also some concept of ‘the Vaarn’, as if Vaarn were referring to a particular culture rather than a region. Also there was an umlaut in Vaarn at one point.

Fans of Caves of Qud will know that the arcology of Yawningmoon is a location referred to in the game. I sometimes write names from other stories down to riff on them, but in this case it didn’t seem to spark anything. You can also see the first draft of the text that eventually appeared on the back of Vaults of Vaarn #1 here.

Vaarn has an umlaut again here. The diamond structure in the bottom right was a visual expression of the themes I wanted to explore in the game world.

Another attempt at laying out the themes. I think I intended this one to function a bit like the spark tables in Electric Bastionland. Also some names for ability scores, some Vaarnish weapons, and a character rolled up from scratch.

Some material concerning the Titans, and a drawing of Gnomon! It doesn’t look that different to the version in issue 2.

NPCs for a dungeon, some bits of dialogue and phrases. I like to play around with words and see how they sound when I write them – experiments here with ‘plastywaste’ and ‘glaucous’, which is an awesome word for a particular dusty shade of blue.

Writing down some real-world desert animals and plants to get inspiration. Also the first appearance of the languages of Vaarn, including the Faatongue (which I think predates the Faa nomads – I came up with the language first, then had to think of people to speak it).

More experiments with words, and the birth of the Faa nomads. Also the ‘gestalt choir’ hivemind, which is a pretty interesting unused idea which I might look into resurrecting somehow.

Potential factions for my Vaarn campaign (including the Court of Wassail from Silent Titans, which I thought could fit into the blue desert somehow.) You can see that I got thinking about my own take on the buried cybernetic Titans on this spread.

Last but not least, the first stab at writing up a monster list for the setting. Quite a few of these beasts actually made it into Issue #1, although some remain unused. I had completely forgotten the lizard lions used to come in different colours, and I now have no idea what a daggertongue was.

I hope this brief look at Vaarn’s earliest days was interesting. My notebooks are full of little scraps of ideas that usually don’t make it, but from day one Vaarn seemed to be growing larger and larger, claiming page after page. A year later, I’m really happy with how far it’s come.

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