[Archive] [9th Age] Tips for Background Writing


Copy-pasted from the 9th Age Forum, in case anyone would find it useful in their own story-writing or suchlike:

You are free to use any and all of my stories and background material as basis for your background. You are also free to use any and all Warhammer illustrations of mine straight off, should you find anything useful. You’ll find the most dense pieces written by me and others in here, and the rest in the other links in my (Admiral’s) signature on CDO. And don’t miss Thommy H’s army book or Grimstonefire’s WIP Liber Chaotica: Hashut.

My tip is to make your own background as rich as possible, with as many possibilities for players to fit in their own strongholds and themed armies as you can cram into the fluff. There should be a bewildering plethora of different cults and sects worshipping different aspects of the same god, and even, heretically, different gods. There should be lots of nods to the wider otherworldly realm of Daemons, and lots of ties-in to your version of Chaos and Daemons. These are Daemonsmiths and enslavers of Daemons, and this should show in their mythology and permeate their worldview.

Likewise, their brutality and ravenous hunger for power, slaves and conquest shall be the lead words. Theirs is an imperial society built upon domination and the trampling of the weak; upon cruelty and fell deeds to make a heart of stone bleed. Their religious practices are ritualized cruelty, their language is harsh, their treatment of slaves and others is abominable. Their Dwarven roots are still apparent in their craftsmanship, their hardiness, their stubborn nature, their conservativeness, their loyalty to clan and kin, and their inventiveness; but theirs is a corrupted nature, a twisted nature, one defiled and violated by an unyielding and oppressive (bull) god demanding sacrifices, wars and great labours and monuments to be erected in His dark glory, to praise His might and virility, and to stamp His dominion and His chosen tribe’s dominion over lesser mortals and over life and nature itself. Theirs is a worldview of mysticism, of dark omens and of the capricious will of cruel gods on high. Theirs is a dark empire, a realm of shadow and flame, of ash and slag, of smoke and molten rock, of metal and soot, of enormous slave plantations and hellish manufactories and (primarily) open-pit mines scarring the face of the earth itself. They are a mysterious people, an enigmatic race, one obsessed with order and chaos alike. Their culture would be strictly patriarchical (in contrast to uncorrupted dwarves), with harems and polygamy where their distant, hated cousins are monogamous, and their entire lives would be geared toward producing as many children, slaves, crafts objects, great works, conquests and heinous new discoveries as possible. Theirs is a realm of wastelands, but not bereft of navigable rivers and coastlines. Always leave room for lots of naval combat, and the ability of powers to reach across the globe with fleets and battle all other factions!

Make abundant use of ancient historical sources in Mesopotamia in particular, but also in surrounding bronze age territories such as Anatolia where appropriate. Learn from Assyrian cruelty and propaganda, and from both Assyrian and Roman ingenuity, warcraft, industrious nature and brutal conquests. Learn from their systems of slavery, of their deportations and killings and maimings and flayings and geldings. Know that the Infernal Dwarves’ worldview is one of strength and weakness, of master and slave and of soaring ambitions carried on the broken backs of foes and slaves alike; not of right or wrong or good or evil. Their morality is entirely different. Ancient pagan/polytheistic religions will serve well as a basis here, not least in their mythology. Yet learn also from the 19th century industrial revolution, and make a twist for the darker, with uncounted masses of Orcs, Goblins, humans and others trapped in the treadmills of infernal industry. And by no means ignore Tolkien’s ingenious showcase of Mordor Orcs’ slavery in that nightmare landscape. And do not shy away from tying your version of Chaos Dwarfs well into the wider Chaos, as is right and proper.

Just a tip. Feel free to explore mine and others’ writings on CDO to see for yourself. :slight_smile:


is this yours from the 9th age forum Admiral?



This message was automatically appended because it was too short.


Much appreciated. You’re very generous to provide those tips for their (and our) collective use.


Not so generous as you think. He’s secretly written a sorcerous binding contract into the background code that will make anyone a Chaos Dwarf slave for life if they use a drop of text from the site… How do you think CDO acquires so many slaves?

BWA… Bwa HA… Bwa HA HA HA haaaaaaaaaaaaa…


I thought it was a bit mesmerising



Jackswift, the dark secret is now revealed… :hashut


One thing to consider, is how you portray Infernal Dwarf numbers. In 4th edition forward, GW portrayed Chaos Dwarfs as very small in number and reliant on vast hordes of slaves. However, in Tamurkhan, FW realized that the more life there is, the more death there can be, and the more there are, the more you can do. As such, FW CD background took a U-turn in this regard and made the CDs a slowly but relentlessly expanding empire with a slowly but relentlessly expanding CD population, despite occassional disastrous bumps in the road. I realized the same thing when I started to write CD fluff, and played up FW's slow population increase with harems glowing hot, so that you had vanilla Dwarfs slowly declining from ancestral greatness, and Chaos Dwarfs slowly ascending from ancestral smalldom.

By all means portray Infernal Dwarves as a minority of their realms' populations compared to their hordes upon hordes of slaves, but my advice is to don't overdo it, and by no means stress that the total numbers are very small, because they shouldn't be. The more beards you have, the easier it is to throw away thousands here and there in wars and catastrophes and slave revolts without the impact seeming too stark, as has always been the case with High Elf and vanilla Dwarf disasters in WHFB.

Tolkien set the course for Elves and Dwarves as doomed to decline and ever diminishing. So very much else he came up with was brilliant, but as a standard resort in fantasy this theme is truly a scourge to the genre. It's time to break free from doomed elder races, at the very least in case of Dark Elves and Infernal Dwarves to underline that they have chosen a very different path from their less malignant cousins, and are reaping the benefits from it. (Ideally, one would see many places where strong elder races have utterly defeated and pushed humans to the margins to live and fight among Greenskins and other wild races, but I understand if 9th Age won't do this because of faith to the inspirational fantasy material.)
1: Take note from the very best fantasy maps, and aim to make a detailed world with lots of waterways, isles, peninsulas, rivers and seas that stretches long inland at places, thereby enabling each and every faction access to raid, trade, send out settlers and attack one another via the great highway of the preindustrial world. Water. This is one example of how it can be done:

In other words, don't make the world just a mass of jumbled-together shapeless blocks without interesting shapes (not that there is much risk of this, but still).

2: When making up the world, always add more cities, kingdoms, rump states, smaller realms, independent citystates, mage centres, mystical ruins of ancient time, peoples and tribes than you at first stretch might be inclined to. The more the merrier, and the more there is, the easier it is for people to imagine their army's home region to have a place. This drive for lots of small fringe stuff and a varied patchwork of a map should of course not mean that you would shy away from having some large, dominant empires, such as Sonnenstahl, which are major driving forces in the world.

3: Pirates, sea monsters, cursed areas of sea (magical Bermuda triangle, basically, perhaps where some ancient mumbojumbo lies sunk beneath the waves). These are always welcome. Pirate coves, infamous monster lairs, permanent maelstroms and the like could dot the coastlines and oceans, adding some variety and areas of lethal peril, some of which may be hard to avoid for merchantment because of bottleneck straits. Perhaps even a ghostly sea battle or two raging for all times between zombies and ghasts upon rotting-away hulks at a cursed spot.

4: Always leave lots of sparsely populated hinterlands, wastelands, deep forests, mountains and other wild areas, where political control might be infrequent and fragile at best, and where often independent sedentary peoples may try to carve out a living never far from a fortified holdfast, while the wilds are roamed by greenskins, undead, beastmen, monsters and whatnot.

5: Have hints at sunken or underwater civilizations, hints at fishfolk, hints at wars raging under water, hints at coastal villages where the inhabitants disappeared, carried beneath the waves by mysterious sea peoples, according to scared and disbelieved witnesses. Always fun.

6: Don't be shy of adding colossal monuments. And the odd canal and tunnel. Maybe even warning beacon system(s). And some border walls akin to Danevirke, Hadrian's Wall, Limes, the Sumerians' Amorite wall and the various walls of the Chinese warring states, which predated the great wall.

Much of these are obvious things, especially for anyone familiar with Warhammer, but it won't hurt to mention them out of good hope for a truly phenomenal fantasy world getting fleshed out by the hard-working 9th Age Team.

Got any more tips and ideas of your own to share? Then fire away!

A few tips for 9th Age world map
I recall that the Dev Team said they were going to use a map closely modeled after the real world...

Emperor Zoron
Which, unless the map is already set in stone with no changes allowed (and without knowing how that map actually looks), gives us a good example of how to apply the above tips: Make corresponding continents of South America and Africa more interesting in coastlines than they are in reality. Retain their shapes, but break up their coastal areas a bit with jutting peninsulas at odd places and bays and lagoons at others, add some more isles. The corresponding patch of Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Zanzibar could be a narrow, hooked archipelago. The Horn of Africa could be allowed to be well into breaking apart from the continent (since it's a geological process a bit underway in reality; in fantasy you could even have lavalands where the sea rift ends), thereby creating a narrow rift sea as the tectonic plates pull it apart. Leave some softer curves to said continents, nothing should be busy everywhere. Also, the sea and waterways could be allowed to stretch well into the equivalent of Central Asia by having some kind of connection between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, a simple little twist to a real-world based map based on real-world natural history.

Just some friendly tips, from someone who has drawn fantasy and real world maps since 8 years of age, and has seen a lot of fantasy maps. The aesthetic lessons from it all seem to point in one direction: Do sealines more interesting than this bulk. Basing something on the real world map isn't a hindrance. :)
Do a better job than Games Workshop in portraying practically globally widespread wild races. Someone who thought that Orcs & Goblins only existed in the Old World and Dark Lands could be forgiven, since GW took very little opportunity to use them elsewhere. There were possibly some frost Goblins in Naggaroth, Savage Orcs in Southlands, and by 8th edition Black Orcs in the Mountains of Mourn (a very clever addition on GW's part, which brought the Warhammer world into the Ogre Kingdoms). For the 9th Age equivalents, make use of Greenskins at many different continents. There should be Greenskins from Nippon and Cathay to Ind, Araby, Estalia, Naggaroth and Lustria. Orcs & Goblins are always good enemies to have close at hand, and a good guarantee there'll always be war in a fantasy world.

Also, having them globally widespread opens up doors such as Sand Trolls in Greenskin armies roaming the hinterlands of Araby, shaggy frost giants and ice Goblins at the shores of Antarctica, and Greenskins armed with sharpened bamboo weaponry in the far east. Most of these new local variants, or even all of them, wouldn't ever warrant any new option or unit type whatsoever in the army list, but could inspire players to convert and paint unique armies built around strong exotic themes.

For Beastmen, you'd see Tigors in Ind and have Satyrs/Gors common in forests and jungles almost everywhere, although they'd be harshly pressed and far from thriving nearby Wood Elf and Lizardmen lands (and also, if this hasn't already been implemented in the Sylvan Elf background, please include many far-flung scattered Wood Elf enclaves and little forest kingdoms making their encounters at the battlefield with armies from foreign parts seem that much more credible than the Athel Loren-focussed WHFB variant).

You want marauding wild races almost everywhere, including duking it out not just a little in the equivalent to the Chaos Wastes. Expect to see some Marauders with flayed Orc hide cloaks.

Just a tip. :)

A tip for 9th Age Greenskins & Beastmen as common wild races