Author Archives: raymond_bingham

Lore Galore: Age of Wonders World Timeline

While we are currently working on expanding the Age of Wonders universe, we have prepared this detailed timeline, which contains all key events that happened in between Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic and Age of Wonders III.  This timeline will answer questions concerning the activities of key characters, disappearance of entire races, as well as raise some new mysteries!

Shadow Magic Recap: Phobius

After the war of the Wizard Kings, the restoration of the Circle of Evermore was supposed to bring back peace and balance of the elemental forces. But the magical cataclysm caught the attention of a greater evil. From the void, demonic shadows gathered.  They struck Evermore first. Merlin and the Circle are caught unprepared and were marooned in limbo, called the Shadow World.

Meanwhile, a Human Emperor called Phobius established rule over the Blessed Continent.  People, frightened of all things magical, flocked to his side. Feeding the paranoia, Phobius set out to root out practitioners of magic. In this magical vacuum, the Shadow Demons gathered their strength and began devouring souls.

Faced with a common threat, rival siblings Meandor and Julia of the ancient Elven House Inioch put aside their conflicts. Together with the human wizard called Merlin and his otherworldly Syron allies; they drove the shadow demons back and defeated Phobius. The world returned to peace. This happened in the year 382 of Queen Julia’s Rule.


Now follow the key the events that have transpired between that time and the start of the Age of Wonders 3 campaign.

QJR 384 – Shadow Flight: The Syrons and Archons follow the retreating Shadow Demons beyond the ShadowAoWSM_demon_warriorf Gate.

QJR 385 – The Decade of Peace – Most Wizards find their realms decimated from the Shadow War. They gather their remaining forces and repair their lands. Meandor (the Wizard of Death and High King of Dark Elves) and Julia (the Wizard of Life and High Queen of the Wood Elves) rule what remains of the surrendered Phobian empire in peace. Merlin is sceptical about the new times and wishes to be forgotten by most, but makes an exception for Julia.

QJR 387 – Having seen the fall and redemption of her brother Meandor, Julia seeks a way to heal the conflicted natures of all elves and to restore them to the state they were in when her mother, Queen Elwyn, was young. Julia’s duties as queen require her to abandon her search, however. Merlin vows to continue to search for the means of mending the Dark and Wood Elves together, knowing the peace it would bring would make Julia happy.

QJR 387 – Delegations of Human representatives petition Julia for power to seek their own sovereignty. Queen Julia is sympathetic, but after the reign of Phobius Meandor does not trust the Human race. Because the two rule together, she respects his wishes and sides with her brother, denying their petition.

QJR 390 – The Syron and Archons return from the Shadow Realm, pleading for help from the world’s greatest heroes. They claim to have found other worlds falling prey to the Shadows. Meandor is sick of the constant squawking of human complaints and proclaims his intent to leave the world of Athla to exterminate the forces of Shadow.  Heeding his call, Wizards and Heroes follow Meandor’s lead as rumors spread of whole worlds full of riches to be discovered. Merlin also leaves to investigate these claims. Meandor leaves three of his most trusted servants, a Triumvirate of dark elf leaders, to rule in his place. They are named Saridas, Werlac and Hester.

Queen Julia also remains behind to care for her people and rule the world of Athla.

QJR 391 – With Meandor gone, a deluge of requests inundate the courts. It becomes clear to Julia that most Elves, due to their immortal nature, are unfamiliar with the immediate nature of humans and their needs for quick resolution of things an Elf might find tiresome or unimportant. She attempts to teach the Triumvirate of Dark Elves about the nature of humans, but Werlac is uninterested, Hester hostile to any advice, only Saridas listens intently.

QJR 394 – After four years of constant petitioning from representatives of all the races remaining in Athla, Queen Julia gathers her closest advisors to address their requests. With the help of Saridas, Julia formulates a plan to allow the other races the rights and powers to rule themselves. She drafts the original charter for what will become known as The Commonwealth.

(YC – First Year of the Commonwealth – Founder’s Day is a holiday held on the day the Council of Kings finished drafting the Commonwealth’s Laws of Governance.  Most sages agree this year marked the start of the Third Age of Wonders.

1 YC (395 QJR) – The Council of Kings – Julia gathers the remaining rulers of the land to the Valley of Wonders. She presents the Charter of Principles, and asks the rulers present to accept it as their law. A number of rulers refuse to relinquish the way they rule their people. Among them various Orc, Draconian and Goblin clans, the Tigrans, a group of Dark Elves led by Hester, and all the Frostling Kings. They withdraw from the Council of Kings. The remaining kings, wizards and heroes agree to abdicate their power to the people, opting to form the first Ruling Synod to establish common rights and laws that enforce equality for all their subjects. They name their new government: The Commonwealth. Stronghelm City is officially declared to be the capital. The Commonwealth is a law-based society, without preference to race, creeds or birth right. Its citizens agree to resolve their differences using courts, rather than violence.

2 YC – 200 YCAn Era of Common Glory: An unprecedented era of peace and prosperity ensues for the Commonwealth. During this time, the borders of the Empire expand beyond any other empire ever known in the world of Athla—even beyond that of the Elves prior to humanity’s arrival.

10 YC – 33 YC – A Long Courtship – With their responsibilities as rulers diminished both Julia and Saridas begin a courtship. Saridas, who has been smitten with the Elven Queen for years, pursues her favor. Julia seeks to mend her relations with the Dark Elves, in the same sense she did with her brother Meandor. During a season of peace, and with Merlin and Meandor gone, Julia makes many efforts to meet with the Dark Elves in general, and Saridas in particular. One night, while walking beneath the trees and moonlight, he discovers her truest desire to heal the physical division between the Dark Elves and Wood Elves, so that they are one people again.

33 YC – An aged Merlin returns from the Shadow Realm. He claims to have been away for 1500 years, though he has been gone from Athla for less than 50. He tells of many realms, fragments of kingdoms, and portals found in the Shadow World, where even the passage of time is not the same as it is on the Blessed Continent. Most of the Wizards that entered the labyrinthine realm have disappeared behind this endless realm of smoke and mirrors. His words are used by demagogues to create fear and hysteria. A movement springs into action demanding the Shadowgates throughout the world be closed. After much debate, the Shadowgate at Sunbirth Citadel, which is considered a remote wasteland, is designated to be the only Shadowgate to remain operational within the Commonwealth.


35 YC – The Noble Exodus – After years of work establishing the Commonwealth, nostalgic (and often bankrupt) noble houses grow tired of the idea of equality and seek the old ways of ruling. They form a small, but mostly unpopular, movement to take their power back. After a quick and mostly nonviolent conflict they are given the option to leave Athla altogether through the Shadowgate or remain in Athla, stripped of their noble titles.

37 YC – Sunbirth City – Merlin is appointed guardian to the last Shadowgate in Sunbirth Citadel. He invites Julia to join him in the study of the weird phenomena in the region. Her affinity with nature and life magic lead them to a deeper understanding of the nature of Mana and its regenerative properties in the very world of Athla.

39 YC – Julia leaves Sunbirth City and Merlin to care for her people. Merlin realizes that Julia’s heart is with the plight of her people, and putting aside any potential rivalry secretly decides to help Saridas achieve Julia’s dream. He disappears for years at a time, distracted by his newfound quest, leaving the people to freely create massive wealth with very little oversight. All other shadow gates are now destroyed, and many of the people far from the last Gate start to forget the pain of the past.

66 YC – The Frostling Kings, tired of being pushed to the fringe of the fairest lands, attempt to break the Commonwealth’s hold. After two years of war, the Frostlings are driven out of Brisska and far into the north. All subsequent diplomatic overtures are met with disastrous results. They refuse all contact with the Commonwealth, barricading themselves in a land of permanent ice and snow.  From this time on, none of the people known as Frostlings hold any lands of significance within the Commonwealth.

94 YC – What remains of the Tigran Race abandons the Continent of Kesh, and their desert holdings. There is no explanation for this migration, and their cities lay alone as great stone ruins to be swallowed by the constantly shifting desert sands.

99 – YC – As Wizards explore realms beyond the Shadow Gates, Commonwealth explores finding rich new lands on Athla itself.  A call is made for colonists to fill the newly established colonies far across the seas and in unspoiled distant lands.

100 YC – The Last Shadowgate opens, this time from the inside. A delegation of Archons request assistance from Wizards and noble warriors to join them in what they call “The War Without End”. They wish to speak with Merlin, but he is gone. Merlin has been missing for a decade now, and even his apprentices don’t know where he is. Few in the land join the Archons. They warn the Commonwealth Synod that they are becoming complacent, and if they do not remain vigilant they will bring great calamities upon Athla. After they leave, the Archons are declared false prophets and dissidents by some of the wealthy and influential Sunbirth nobles. Queen Julia withdraws from the Synod, freeing up her seat to a new member.

117 YC Saridas travels to Evermore seeking lore to help realize Julia’s dream of healing the Elven people.

125 YC – Because of their impatient and ambitious nature, a majority of the Commonwealth officials are now Humans, with Dwarves making up most of the rest. Draconians are tolerated less and less, and some taverns don’t allow them inside.

131 YCMeandor’s Return: Meandor opens the last Shadowgate from the inside. He refuses to talk with anyone, barricading himself in a wizard tower. He seeks counsel of Julia and Merlin. The Commonwealth’s Ruling Synod demands to be included and is ignored.

132 YC – Last Exodus – A rampant rumor spreads throughout the land about a new power that has been discovered in the Shadow Realm. This power is vast and untapped. Many of the remaining Wizard Kings in the land set their global enchantments to protect their holdings and then gather their forces. They converge on Sunbirth Citadel and travel into the Shadow Realm to lay claim to this new great power.

135 YC – Merlin returns from the Shadowgate. He goes to meet with Meandor. When Julia arrives, Meandor unexpectedly fields a massive army, marching on Sunbirth City. Julia returns to her kingdom, and begins to stockpile supplies. All year long she demands tributes of any form, to be gathered and stored. Julia empties her treasuries. Merlin is seen in Evermore, reclaiming the Wizard’s Throne. Saridas leaves Evermore after a stranger helped him to find what he was looking for.

136 YC – The Cataclysm: The armies of Meandor sack Sunbirth City. Strangely they do not kill anyone who retreats, allowing them to leave in peace and take what they can. He clears the land around the city, and then drives his forces into the Last Shadowgate. Julia invites the refugees to her realm, where there are supplies for their subsistence. Before the Ruling Synod can react to Meandor’s treachery, Merlin destroys the Wizard’s Circle in Evermore. He channels the power of the destruction through his Wizard’s Tower in the Sunbirth Citadel: in a huge cataclysm the last Shadowgate is destroyed. The Shadow Realm is sealed off from the world of Athla. Merlin’s ritual to destroy the last Shadowgate destroys the power of all Wizard Kings remaining in the Athla. No longer able to enrich their domains with their enchantments or control the prosperity of the lands they control, natural calamities destroy many cities and regions.


137 YC – The Great Dearth – With the Wizard Kings losing their power, a great famine covers the lands of the Blessed Continent. Crops fail. The rains refuse to fall. The whole land suffers. Julia and her Elves save many lives by carefully rationing supplies that they stockpiled.

140 YC – Hunted and despised, Merlin seeks asylum with Julia, but the people, demand he be delivered to the Ruling Synod for execution as a traitor. Julia, in an effort to appease the outraged people, orders Merlin’s execution.

141 YC – Saridas returns from his voyages. He discovers Julia in a weakened state, no longer a wizard of life. He attempts to teach Julia the ways of rudimentary sorcery, but her heart is not in it. She has no more interest in the arts she once knew. They remind her of all she lost. Desperate to seek counsel, he enlists the aid of a group of druids. They remind Julia of the ways of the natural world. She is naturally gifted and dedicates herself to healing her lands.

142 YC – Voices in the Ruling Synod of the Commonwealth accuse Julia, and by extension all Elves, of knowingly allowing the sacking of Sunbirth City and profiting from the refugees, even though Julia shares her supplies for free.

143 YC – A young Lord, Victor Degrance, organizes the homeless nobles and merchants from ruined Sunbirth Citadel and raises a small army. He starts raiding the Elven lands of the Eastern Commonwealth. Instead of hording his wealth, he feeds his followers. He blames Julia and all Elves for the starvation in the land, using the stores of the elves as evidence that they have means while the rest of the empire starves. He notes that the Elves hold the richest lands in the realm, ignoring their counterargument that Elves are natural stewards of their ancient homelands. Victor convinces the Commonwealth Synod to parcel out lands traditionally held by Elves since the beginning of known history to non-Elves. This is an enormous insult to most elves driven from their ancient homelands.

146 YC – Slain and beaten, driven and betrayed, the Elves gather in the West, and choose Saridas and Julia as protectors.

148 YC – Saridas proclaims the ancient and unconquered Elven homeland, Sylvanus, a safe haven for Elves. He refuses to give up the Elven lands held in the East. Masses gather in these ancient woods.  Saridas and Julia begin collecting the powers and resources required to perform a powerful magical ceremony. Rumors about their motives spread throughout the Commonwealth, accelerating the intolerance and hatred against Elves in the Commonwealth.

150 YC – The Mending – Julia and Saridas unite in a ceremony that heals the rift between all Dark and Wood Elves present, restoring the ancient race of Elves: the High Elves. They reinstate the Elven Court in protest to the Commonwealth, which demands the Elves surrender their lands for the benefit of all the other people in the land. Saridas declares the western portion of the Commonwealth to henceforth be Elven Court territory. The High Elves appoint their own local lords and elect their own ruling body. Then, ignoring their objections, they elevate Saridas and Julia to be their King and Queen.


151 YC – Julia announces that she is with child and steps away from ruling to focus on the start of her family.

153 YC – Rumors start to spread about the old Archon cities, long since void of the divine beings. Remote and almost forgotten, their dwellings are said to be haunted.

154 YC – Rise of an Emperor: After a near complete recovery and unprecedented prosperity thanks to stripping lands traditionally held by elves, the Commonwealth declares King Saridas, Queen Julia and their High Elven Court enemies of the Commonwealth. Among the Humans, the hysteria is at an all-time high. They fear the Elves are plotting to kill them all—as was a tenant of the Dark Elves at one time, and now these new Elves could be Dark Elves in disguise. Victor uses the uncertainty to consolidate his power.

155 YC – Victor convinces a majority of the Ruling Synod that an executive body is necessary to manage the powers of the Commonwealth—much like the ancient Wizard Kings of old. He proposes that he be elevated to Emperor in the case that there is a threat made against the Commonwealth. This would be a temporary position that would only exist for as long as the Commonwealth were in true danger. The Synod sanctions the creation of the station of this Emperor In War, and despite the Elves’ objections to it, the majority of the Commonwealth enthusiastically endorses Victor to serve in this position.

155 YC – 225 YC – The Uneasy Peace: The Elven Court and Commonwealth remain at odds. The Commonwealth position is that the Elven Court constists of rebels who have declared independence and who should give up their holdings since they belong to the Commonwealth. The Elven Court says they simply withdrew from the Commonwealth since it abused its power to steal their lands from them and that they should be left alone. Minor skirmishes happen from time to time, but there are also a lot of high-level talks, usually held at the Council of Origins in the Valley of Wonders. A solution is never reached.

157 YC – A new form of religion becomes popular in the Commonwealth. Demand for strange Shrines that empower their followers with enchantments outstrip the new sect’s ability to build them. Many Shrines are idols of the disappeared Wizard Kings.

158 YC – Prince Thannis is born.

161 YC – Though no official announcement has been made, rumors in the court are confirmed that Julia is pregnant with a second child.

168 YC – After another typical Elven pregnancy of 8 years, Julia gives birth to her second child, a beautiful High Elf daughter she names Sundren.


172 YC – Emperor Victor conceives a child. He names him Leonus.

173 YC – Heartwood Halfling Massacre – The Halflings within known realms in both Elven Court and Commonwealth inexplicably disappear after this great atrocity.

175 YC – The Dwarves of Rockwall form a trading alliance with the Elven Court, claiming neutrality in the political turmoil faced by the Elves. They are the first race to form such an alliance—having already strong trading ties to the Commowealth.

196 YC – Leonus has his first military success against a ravaging band of Orcs. He uses technology and machines to secure his victory. He is proclaimed hero and defender of the realm. An Academy is established to further develop mechanical powers.

200 YC – Edward is born to a lesser noble family. His father has fought with Leonus and they have been distant friends since. His mother was schooled in the ways of mathematics and philosophy. They are both devoted to the Empire and believe in its ideals.

201 YC – Victor dies, and his son Leonus takes his place as Emperor In War.

204 YC – Ships from the outer Colonies of the Commonwealth appear on the horizon. They share tales of rebellion. Colonies are falling.

205 YC – In reaction to the trouble with the colonies, and after a long fruitless struggle of reconciliation with the High Elves, the last remaining political opposition to Leonus gives in. The Ruling Synod abdicates its power to Leonus, declaring him to be Emperor Eternal. High Priest Voraditius crowns him in a lavish coronation ceremony. Emperor Leonus consolidates his hold on the last remaining noble houses in the Commonwealth. He sends envoys and powerful ships to take back the lost colonies on the outer edges of the Commonwealth.

215 YC – With the success and unprecedented security provided to the Commonwealth Empire thanks to their illustrious Emperor, Voraditius dismantles the Cathedral to the Allfather and proposes a whole new theology, proclaiming Leonus a living god, a Savior of the free people. The people once worshipped the dead heroes of their past, so why not a living hero—one in the flesh? Emperor Leonus declares it is his divine duty to reign in the High Elf separatists and bring them soundly back under the care of the Commonwealth.

224 YC – Order has been restored to most of the outer colonies of the Commonwealth. With tributes flowing into the Capital, the Emperor turns his attention back to the High Elf separatists, demanding they give up their lands immediately. Opposite to the trend, Brisska declares its independence.

225 YC – Start of the Campaign: the Commonwealth calls for talks with the Elven Court in a last attempt to avert all out war.


Dev Journal: Introducing High Elves and the Elven court (story part II)

In the previous part of our story dev journal Halfling hero Ham Binger interviews Age of Wonders III writer Ray Bingham about some of the things that have happened since Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic. In this journal we continue and talk more about what happened with Merlin and Queen Julia.

[Ham:] So let’s talk a bit about the setting for this story then… I think most fans are wondering if Julia and Merlin get together and make baby wizard elves?

Halfling hero Ham Binger.


[Ray:] The story starts with Julia’s children, but they’re not Merlin’s. They never marry and they didn’t get their “Happily Ever After”. In fact, as you know, Merlin has become an outcast and a pariah.

[Ham:] Of course I knew all this, living on the Blessed Continent as I do. Imagine my surprise to see the trailers and see that Merlin’s back and with his head attached to his body, especially after Julia ordered his public execution.

[Ray:] She did.

[Ham:] Wouldn’t he be dead, then?

[Ray:] You’d think that, but Merlin and Julia are both clever and love doesn’t just die, but sometimes it takes a backseat to saving the world.

Merlin was executed in Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic. Or was he?

[Ham:] So I assume there’s a reason behind all this. Things you refuse to divulge, so could you skip that—let’s talk instead about the change the Elves have undergone. Tell the players about the Mending.

[Ray:] Right. Well first, in order to understand it, Julia fell in love with a remarkably clever and caring Dark Elf King named Saridas.

[Ham:] Which might come as a shock to some players, especially if they played through the first games.

[Ray:] Yes, the Dark Elves and Wood Elves were mortal enemies. Meandor, Julia’s brother, sought to kill Julia. He formed the Cult of Storms and led the Dark Elves, but when the Shadow Demons appeared and started consuming the world, Julia and Meandor became close allies. Once the Shadow Demons were driven away, Meandor led the assault against any of the last remaining traces of the Shadows into the Shadow Realm.

[Ham:] So Meandor set up Julia with one of his buddies?

[Ray:] King Saridas was a trusted friend of Meandor, but not a Wizard. Therefore when Merlin sealed all the wizards behind the last Shadow Gate, he remained and became the King of the Dark Elves in Meandor’s absence.

[Ham:] Which made me wonder how he managed to keep Julia in this world. She was a wizard too.

[Ray:] In order to seal off this world from the Shadow World, Merlin had to destroy the Wizard’s Circle in Evermore. In that moment, all wizards in this world lost their powers. It was quite tragic, and an affront to the elves and archons; the reason Merlin became so hated.

[Ham:] Fickle people. They hated the wizards when they ruled, and they the hated losing them.

[Ray:] With no wizards in the world, every realm withered. Think about it this way. When you control the weather to make your domains more productive, the population depends on it. The whole world had become dependent on this power. So when it was gone, the consequences were terrible. Whole populations starved. Fruitful lands turned back to deserts.

[Ham:] Yeah that was a rough time. I remember I ate a couple meals a day during that decade. Tough times, indeed.

[Ray:] Saridas had been smitten with Julia for a long time before she lost her powers.

[Ham:] Who wasn’t?

[Ray:] It was a dark time for Julia. She had lost more than power. She was so alone. So it was Saridas, who never left her side. He gave her something to learn. He showed her that there were ways to embrace magic without being a full-fledged Wizard. He rekindled her love of the natural world, which would lead to the type of power she would embrace.

[Ham:] I remember. That’s when Julia started to dream and smile again.

[Ray:] It’s quite the story. In the quiet moments they spent together, Julia expressed her greatest desire to Saridas, and Saridas found a way to make it come a reality. He searched the world for the magic necessary to bring about the Ceremony known as the Mending—his search nearly killed him—and yet all that is backstory.

Mending ceremony of the wood- and high elves.

[Ham:] He explored places I was more than happy to avoid.

[Ray:] When he was certain, he presented Julia with her wish: A ceremony that would unite the Dark Elves and the Wood Elves into a single race once again. For the spell to work, the two would have to give themselves wholly one to another.

[Ham:] So they married and lived happily ever after… right?

[Ray:] Using magic they gathered the Dark Elves and Wood Elves, and by the power of their magical union had a transformative effect upon all the elves, calming the hatred, healing old wounds. That’s how the High Elves were formed.

[Ham:] Restored to what they were before the arrival of Humanity, before the great Schism that drove them apart. So I take it now that they’re better they’ve forgiven the humans and this whole Elven Court is their own way of fostering life in peace.

[Ray:] That was Julia’s dream. Sadly, the Elves didn’t forgive once they were healed. Like all fresh new powers in the world, they are intent on ruling. Many in the Elven Court believe that they should rule in the same way that the ancient king Inioch ruled.

[Ham:] Him again? So wait. Are you saying the conflict in this game is between humans and the Elven Court all over again?

[Ray:] I’m a fan of the symmetry. We’ve come full circle, this time the humans have established a “way of life” and the Elves are new.

[Ham:] Symmetry? You realize only writers care about that stuff… Sigh. Fine. So the Elves are aggressively taking the country back, and so next let’s talk about the Commonwealth.

The World since Shadow Magic: The Commonwealth

[Ray:] Right. So the Commonwealth was formed when many of the wizards and heroes were either eliminated or passed into the Shadow Realm to hunt the evils that lurked therein. You remember from Shadow Magic, that the Syron were the slave race of the Shadow Demons and their world was one of many that had been consumed by these demons. Well, the prospect of discovering whole worlds was a huge draw to many of the most powerful wizards. To eliminate war, the Wizards entrusted the ruling of Athla back to the people. When it was founded, it was a nation founded upon principles of law, freedom, and opportunities to all who would abandon the sword for the sake of prosperity. All races shared power equally in the beginning.

[Ham:] Ah. The idyllic days of the Commonwealth were wonderful. And they lasted about as long as a dream.

[Ray:] The Commonwealth brought great benefits to the people that joined. Originally, the innovations and shared technology benefited the people, and few territories didn’t willingly join. Knowledge was shared between all who sought it, and great libraries were established. Of course, as is the case with most empires, this lasted about as long as the Empire continued to grow. Once shortages appeared, however, and the prosperous started losing their affluence, things changed.

[Ham:] Let me guess, the Halflings rose in power and destroyed life’s balance?

[Ray:] Actually it was the Humans.

[Ham:] Surprise, surprise.

[Ray:] Short-lived, they reasoned that they needed to look out for themselves above all others. Of course there are other races that are short-lived, but I doubt they ever fully thought they needed justification. The Human noblemen used a hundred different schemes, but the end result was that as the Empire expanded, more Human noblemen were appointed than any others. Some races were relegated to roles in society—like Goblins are garbage collectors. While other races became despised– like the Draconians that are despised because they believe they are dragonkin. Other races simply disappeared altogether, under mysterious circumstances—like the Tigrans who just abandoned all their cities leaving little trace behind. In their absence, the Humans continued to favor humanity above all the other races, and soon the Commonwealth became a mostly human endeavor.
And that’s why the Elves are in conflict with the Commonwealth. They see their world being overrun, they remember the ancient age when they ruled, and they cannot abide the injustices.

[Ham:] And the Halflings? I assume that in AoWIII the Halflings are a force to be reckoned with.

[Ray:] You do realize you’re not a typical Halfling, right? Most Halflings really don’t go to war.

[Ham:] We just need a really good cause, like um… a massive feast, or warriors made out of cookie dough. Then we’d fight…Okay fine, as long as I get a little private time with Queen Julia, and my Halflings aren’t massacred needlessly for a plot-point, I suppose I’ll be content.

[Ray:] Um… yeah, about that…

[Ham:] I DO get a little private time with the immortal Queen Julia, right?

[Ray:] Well. Not really?

Queen Julia, Saridas and their daughter

[Ray:] Well, first… You should know the Halflings are my very favorite.

[Ham:] The Halflings do have a major role, right?

[Ray:] More like NO role.

[Ham:] No role? Wait? How will players know of all the heroically silly things we Halflings do if they aren’t in a starring role?

[Ray:] At least I vetoed the idea of having the Halflings massacred. But yeah, there’s currently no playable Halfling race anymore. I’ve been reassured this won’t be a permanent solution… but um… no, as much as I would love to, I really can’t make the story about the Halflings.

[Ham:] … You are dead to me …

[Ray:] At this point in history, your people were well assimilated into the Commonwealth and Elven Court, and you really have no beef with anybody, so you didn’t go to war like some of the other races. See? Isn’t that nice? You’re not a racist race! SO be grateful.

[Ham:] Where’s my Mace of Holy Smiting?

[Ray:] Hey now, remember, Halflings are peace-loving.

The new campaign and story descriptions

[Ham:] So who’s going to be the hero? Sounds like the world’s full of troubles, but what about the heroes?

[Ray:] Well Julia had two children. A son and a daughter. The son is a great Prince, who is everything you’d think a son of Julia might be, while the daughter is clever and tired of the political games of the Court. You can probably guess which one ends up taking the starring role in the Campaign. These two siblings start the initial campaign for the Elven Court side of things. On the other side, you play an idyllic young officer from the Commonwealth. He grew up believing in the way the Commonwealth should be, rather than seeing how it really is. The two sides come into conflict and there are points where the player gets to decide how to solve that conflict. There’s a whole host of great supporting characters as well.

[Ham:] None of whom are Halflings.

[Ray:] No worries, Ham. You’re still featured in the game—or at least your writings are.

Sun and the moon represented in the High Elves crest

[Ham:] My writings? You mean all those books I wrote while exploring the world?

[Ray:] Right. It’s actually quite cool. Instead of how we’ve done it in the past, the Heroes and Units in AoWIII don’t have typical descriptions. Instead, I searched through the libraries on Athla. For the Unicorn, for example, I found a song written by that master Bard, Willa Loveday. I found a snippet of writing from a Wyvern breeder, Katie Handler, who wrote about her Wyvern that forms its description. And who can forget your expedition to the deserts of Kesh written in the book “Where’s Symba?”, in which we discover that the Tigrans left behind empty ruins and only the Beholders remained behind.

[Ham:] So you copied an assortment of ancient tomes instead of writing it from scratch? Wow. Life’s rough for you as a writer. Where’s my royalty check?

[Ray:] Just think, a whole world of people gets to read of your adventures. They’re great fun. Just one more way that AoWIII is one massive story. And I think that’s pretty cool.

[Ham:] I guess that’s cool. Most of my writing was intended as a last will and testament to my posterity, in case they ever find my body, hopefully they’ll know how I meet my final doom. I’m quite surprised it hasn’t happened yet.

[Ray:] About that…

[Ham:] So I think we’ve covered more than enough topics. This interview is way long. I guess I’ll conclude the interview by asking if there’s anything else you want to add?

[Ray:] Well just that like most things in AoWIII we’re under development. Things change, but as you can tell, we’re doing our best to provide a very immersive storyline to go along with all the fun new tactics and strategies that players will be required to master. There’s still a lot I haven’t even mentioned here. And there are a lot of questions still to be answered—even after AoWIII is up… questions for more sequels. We’re in great shape to keep the story going for another Age of Wonders!

High Elven units

High Elven units

[Ham:] Well I’d better head back through the transdimensional warpgate disguised as a garbage can in your world. (Those of you at home, do be careful when you step into a garbage can, it may transport you to a different world.)

[Ray:] Before you go, I have one question for you…

[Ham:] Sure, what?

[Ray:] Well, you first appeared in AoW, the original game. Many hundred years after the current game and the typical lifespan of a Halfling is about the same as a human, so how is it that you’re still alive?

[Ham:] The world of Athla is a mysterious place, full of all sorts of mysteries.

[Ray:] That’s no answer.

[Ham:] You can’t handle the truth.

[Ray:] C’mon, just tell me the secret to your longevity. Please?

[Ham:] Ponder the meaning of… Mmm, Bacon.

[Ray:] Where’d that piece of bacon come from!? Come back! Wait! That’s no answer!

[Ham:] Gotta run. It’s been real. Just remember this the next time you decide it’s a good idea to ignore the Halflings.

[Sound of transdimensional portal opening in a garbage can …]

[Ray:] Bye?

Dev Journal: The story so far… (part I)

Age of Wonders writer Ray Bingham performing the delicate art of script writing in his stairwell.

[Ray:] Greetings fair friends and fellow travelers in the World of Athla, home of the Blessed Continent! It is I, Ray Bingham, the humble writer for all things related to Age of Wonders, happily reporting for blog duty!  I have an exciting twist for this blog entry.  I invited a guest from the game to join us. He’s going to conduct my interview and I will answer his questions to the best of my abilities.

The well-groomed halfling Ham Binger.

My guest is everyone’s favorite, a Halfling hero of legend.  He traded the island of Aldor for a kiss from then a young Elf princess named Julia. He’s a writer of tall tales, a reluctant explorer, an expert pony-rider especially when fleeing a battle and extremely lucky to still be alive.  His name is Ham Binger.

Ham. Welcome to the blog!

[Ham:]  Hi Ray. Nice to see you again. Might I say, you’re one handsome fellow.

[Ray:] As are you, my fine Halfling friend…

[Ham:] Gained a little weight? Among my people, that’s a sign of good fortune! There’s a Halfling saying, “If no jiggle when you wiggle, then get a little biggle.”

[Ray:] Biggle? Really?  By your jiggle, I assume you’re still eating seven meals a day?

[Ham:] It’s a dangerous world. You never know when it will be your last meal, and I’d hate to die on an empty stomach.

A little bit of history

[Ray:] So what topic should we start with?

[Ham:] Before we get into the actual story, tell me a little about how things have changed since you wrote the first game.

Since the first AoW game, Ray’s family has also expanded quite a bit.

[Ray:] Well, when I started writing for Triumph, it was around the time my first daughter was born. Now that daughter’s driving a car. I have four daughters and a son. Life just gets busier. I’ve moved a number of times, and…

[Ham:] Yeah, that’s nice Ray, but I was talking about the game. How has game writing changed?

[Ray:] Oh. Right. That. Well games in general have changed quite a bit since the first game. Back when we first started, few games had blazing fast photorealistic 3D, but today reading a story makes most game fans flee in terror. I think Age of Wonders fans, besides being terrifically good-looking and intelligent people, want a story to go along with a game that challenges their enormous intellects.

The original Age of Wonders received high marks for its story. We created a branching campaign that had different endings depending on your choices, and two starting points: good or evil. I actually wrote that story like I was writing a full novel with six different endings.

The Wizard’s Throne was a huge adjustment for me. The whole mechanic changed, so Lennart and I worked out a story that would account for the arrival of Wizards into the world.  Unfortunately the campaign was pretty linear and some say that story was our weakest.

[Ham:] Can you say ‘Julioch’?

[Ray:] Ugh. Yeah, Inioch made such a great villain in the first series, we couldn’t resist that…

[Ham:] Poor Julia. She just never gets a break, does she?

[Ray:] By the time Shadow magic came around, I originally opted out of writing that, because I wanted to do novels. A few months before the alpha for AoW:SM, I get call from Lennart saying their writer had backed out, leaving them in dire straits. I agreed to come back, mostly because I have a deep respect for my friend from the land of wooden shoes, windmills, dikes, and tulips, and because it really is fun, even if it sucks up every last ounce of my free time.

Shadow Magic was interesting, though I always felt we were forced to rush it. Overall, I like the whole feel of Shadow magic, I go back and read a lot of my old description work and they still make me laugh.

[Ham:] So you still play the old games?

[Ray:] Oh yes! They’re classic. When I started writing for AoWIII, I went through and played all three games over again, from start to finish—all the campaigns. With sites like the games are cheap. I may have cheated on a couple of the maps (That final AoW:SM campaign map is a killer pain!), because I knew how to edit the campaign maps, and I gave my leaders Dominate, High Defense, and Lightning Strike, but it was all for the sake of research… at least that’s what I told my wife when I wasn’t helping her with the dishes.

All three games are still very playable and addicting.

[Ham:] Right. Research. So you played all these games, and then you came to the point of your reminiscing, right?

[Ray:]  My point is that we’re continually evolving, creating fun ways to bring an engaging story, but never forgetting where we came from. This game is so rich in source material, and like most good stories, we don’t tell all of them, we layer them one on another.  We have hundreds of stories we could’ve told. We’ve got nearly 2000 years of game history to draw from, carefully recorded in the world’s timeline.

I’m really excited about how we bring the story to the players this time around.  The Campaign, specifically, is a mix of all the best aspects of prior versions.  We’ve had the time to do it right.

The AoW team innovations

[Ham:] You keep saying “we”. Is this story process collaborative?

[Ray:] Absolutely. I try to inject as many of the game elements into the storyline—because the rules of the game are the rules of the world. But I don’t play the game regularly like some of the developers, so I rely heavily on the developers to clue me in. Lennart and Godwin have been great.

[Ham:] Godwin?

[Ray:] Godewijn Perizonius. I anglicized his name, cuz I don’t “sprecken zee Dutch” and he has way too many letters in his name. Godwin’s the architect behind the scenario maps and campaign. I work very closely with him. He and Lennart are very thorough and keep me from writing novels into every chapter of the campaign. They focus the story to the core elements, as I have a tendency to want to elaborate on tangential sidestories. The AoW world is so ripe with fascinating ideas, alas, they make me choose. Again, keep focused.

[Ham:] Speaking of focus.

[Ray:] Right. So as I was saying, the campaign story is epic. It’s told from the point of view of two rivals. The player choosing which rival they will play: the Elven Court, or the Commonwealth. The story in both branches will have one major decision point, which means the campaign will different endings depending on your choices. Because the campaign’s slightly shorter than AoW1, I think players will feel greater motivation to play all the branches to their respective conclusions.

Another nice feature of the campaigns is that nearly every map is a different leader—characters you collect as you progress through the campaign. They start out as heroes, but then you give them a chance to lead, and each leader has a different set of skills, which is a major new feature of AoWIII.

All in all, I’m thrilled by the features in this campaign. As you can tell we have taken the most popular aspects of each campaign and applied them here within the confines of our budget and schedule, and I think it’ll be a real hit.

What has happened with Merlin and Julia since Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic? Read about it and more in the next development journal.