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?
[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.
[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.
[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?
[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.
[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!
[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 …]
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