This week we had the pleasure of our spotlight focusing on Istralar by WorldAnvil user Hanhula– an imaginative expansion on the Paizo universe from Pathfinder, famous for Gnome Punting.

World Anvil Spotlights are community events that are held on the WorldAnvil Discord Server; each week we choose one Worldbuilder from the community, and interview them about a different article from their world each day… In the Spotlight Roundup, we bring you the highlights!

A gnome being punted from Hanhula's Spotlight Roundup

A gnome being punted- image from Hanhula’s Day One Spotlight Roundup

Day One Roundup

The much debated, often hilarious sport of Gnome Punting was the topic of day one. Han weighed in on everything from the rules, history, and motivations of the sport to the ethics of it! Here are a couple of questions that highlight day 1.

What is Gnome Punting, and what does it involve?

A. For those caught unaware, Gnome Punting is a sport that is the unholy child of American football and throwing Gnomes in the air. The sport was born from the classical need to kick a gnome into the sky, something that’s been in my personal life since I was introduced to D&D through a gnome sorceress. The way gnome punting was refined into a sport is pretty simple: you aim to punt a gnome further than the other person without them catching it and returning it.

What is the involvement of the Gnome to the process, if any. Do they literally play the role of the ball and only the ball during the process of the being thrown from one side to the other side of the field?

A. Pretty much, yes! They aren’t allowed to interfere with the game intentionally – no casting spells to confuse people, no throwing up illusions of extra balls – and are mainly in it for the thrill. Gnomes are a smaller and weaker race that focus on magic, and before arcane magic was widespread, they had to mainly rely on innate fey magic or swear themselves to the divine for protection. This has meant that they were extremely oppressed throughout history, and the bigger races (i.e. anything taller than around 3ft) liked kicking them around for fun.

There’s a solid reason for them actually enjoying this, though: gnomes rely on new experiences/thrills to survive. If a gnome begins becoming bored, the colour begins to drain from their bodies in a process called the Bleaching. Very few survive that, and those who do live extremely serious and dull lives. Being a gnomeball is a practically guaranteed way of avoiding the Bleaching if there’s nothing else exciting on, and they often do enjoy the thrill of flying through the air. (The Bleaching is from Paizo, not from me).

Despite Gnome Punting being a popular sport, there must be people who oppose it. Are there groups of these people, and if so, how do they protest?

A. Amusingly, yes. Those groups are generally led by humans, half-elves, and other races that find it hard to understand the gnomish obsession with silly experiences. Half-elves and half-orcs, usually raised in human society, face extreme oppression for what they are, and project part of that onto the act of Gnome Punting, believing it to be something concocted by gnomish oppressors that the poor gnomeballs have been tricked into. Humans often find it incomprehensible, in addition to the point of view that oppression/slavery is rampant in Gnome Punting.

And if they’re on another continent than Xin Jiyu, or if they’re in the Sunari Wilderness, there’s some grain of truth to their protests. Some less scrupulous organisations do force their gnomeballs into the act through bribery, enslavement, and trafficking, much like humans are forced into certain acts in our world. Those organisations tend to use less humane protections, and don’t care for the lives of the participants nearly as much as the official version. However, the existence of these lesser groups does not mean the entire sport should be stopped.

In particular, People for the Ethical and Humane Treatment of Feyfolk Including Gnomes (PEHTFIG) – initially a druid-run organisation for stopping the mistreatment of the First World’s residents – stages protests against any Punting they come across, and has previously tried to ‘save’ gnomeballs through force.

Generally, protests are simply done with signs, illusion magic (if there are mages in the group of protestors), and angry slogans/chants, however. Actual disruption of the pitch has, in the past, resulted in the angry participants letting loose on the protestors… Which hasn’t helped either side, to be honest. But when you try to interrupt a low-intelligence polymorphed troll’s fun… At that point, it’s your own fault for what happens.

So let’s say that we are in a big city like Aletheia. Would it be normal to have a Gnome Punting stadium of some sort there

A. In the actual city, likely not – whilst there are plenty of gardens and areas for sport, Gnome Punting tends to require a dearth of buildings and breakable objects around it. It’s usually played outside city walls or in specially-protected areas, as the distances involved can get rather extreme if adventurers or more powerful beings get involved. Aletheia, as well, is the capital of the world’s largest Empire – thus there isn’t exactly much space for something like that. So the city’s gnomes/gnomeball players will head into the city’s farms and fields to play out where it’s safe, instead.

Fun fact: Thrinda Flametongue, Archmage and creator of Thrinda’s Arcanium, is actually half-gnome and has a demiplane dedicated to the sport. Naturally, as an arcanist (which is, functionally, a combination of wizard & sorcerer), her version tends to be a little more… interesting.


Day Two Roundup

Today we ventured into the mighty and ancient city of Aletheia, losing ourselves into her streets seeking the exotic and the strange! The discussion covered a wide range of topics, sometimes straying from the city, so we’ve picked some that guide us through the sights and sounds of Aletheia!

Can you give us some insight into this article? It’s a pretty long one, and you seem attached to it!

A. This article is long and I’m very proud of it. Aletheia was one of the first cities to exist when I began building Istralar, and though it’s changed a fair amount, it’s still a bit of a darling to me. The varying themes of metals and light that run through it are fun to toy with and mean a surprising amount behind the scenes (spoiiilers…), and I hope you guys enjoy getting to peek through its gates. Thank you to all reading / participating.

Your article makes it clear that the skyline of the city is dominated by the golden spires of the Imperial palace. As I look from afar, what else will grab my attention as I approach the gates?

A. Assuming you’re entering through the Golden Pilgrimage trade route, your eyes would be immediately drawn to the gleaming armour of the Aletheian City Guard – a mixture of humanoid and android guards stationed around the city – but your ears would catch the sounds of the Silver District’s traders calling out their wares. As you walk closer, various traders from all across the country (and further beyond!) would push past you as you take in the sights, sounds, and exotic smells of the city for the first time. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of gold atop the mountains – as Altanluu, the city’s guardian dragon, rests there.

I am guessing the Golden Pilgrimage is quite the busy road, who is around me? What do they wear, what do they carry? Am I to expect to be searched entering the city? and what are they looking for?

A. It’s currently mid-Spring, and news of Princess Ashlyn’s return, heroism, and engagement have spread. Rumours of the current Heir, Crown Prince Cyne, seeking a suitor have also flown across the world, and many are seeking to either claim his heart or cash in on those who are. Around you travel noble families from as far away as Tsukirai, dressed in the finest silks, and many traders from the Empire bearing odorous herbs, strangely animated plants, and many barrels of alcoholic drinks. As you enter the city, the guards search you and your belongings for any forbidden drugs, dangerous arcane artifacts or creatures (unless you have a permit, of course). If they find nothing, you’re warmly welcomed into the city and given directions to a local inn named the Dragon’s Drink.

What drink might the Dragon’s Drink be famous for within Aletheia?

A. The Dragon’s Drink is extremely popular for the various dragon-themed ales and cocktails it creates! They have a drink for just about every known dragon type, each at varying strengths. Death’s Kiss is themed around white dragons and their chilly frost weapons (and is filled with a disturbing amount of chilled vodka), whilst the Time Warp is a particularly special cocktail themed around the rare Time Dragons that has been known to knock unsuspecting tourists out for a week if they don’t follow the bartender’s instructions.

If I wanted to buy a keg of Time Warp, would I be able to? And would it come with instructions? What are the instructions?

A. If you wanted to buy a keg of Time Warp, they’d obviously ask for you to give them advance warning – it’d take a bit to make – and the price would be pretty steep. Well into the hundreds, past the price of even whiskies. The instructions are given in the form of a long rhyme that can be summed up as “do a jump to the left, take a step to the right…” and many other dance moves, culminating in a line of Draconic that advises you take a shot of dwarven vodka and a bite of gnomish whimsyfruit first. No, they’re not meant to make sense. But for some reason, it works. Skipping the dancing causes the negative effects to kick in.


Day Three Roundup

We discussed the Shards of the Void, a dangerous and volatile topic! There was so much to cover about these pivotal objects, so we could only choose a few questions that give you a glimpse into a little of their storied nature!

Give us a little intro, maybe!

A. The shadows at the edge of your vision seem to flicker, and all of the everyday noises of your environment – the winds outside, the hum of your computer, and even the whisper of your breath – seem to fall quieter.

It is time to discuss what happens when life itself is twisted beyond comprehension. It is time to consider what exists past our reality. Before there was arcane magic, before humanity understood how far they could reach – there was destruction, there was anger, and there was Void.

I hope you’ll enjoy hearing about the harbingers of an apo– ahem, about the Shards.

We are talking about a series of ancient weaponised artifacts. Have any of the heroes of your adventure ever found or had to find one of these?

A. Precisely. Six of eight potential shards are listed on the page; created pre-Worldrend in an ancient war between the gods. They’re essentially what happens when a deity takes fragments of the space between worlds and weaponises that by feeding said fragments the essence of life. That’s actually one of the main plotlines in my game!

Interesting! So you talked about the essence of life, talk to us a bit about its nature. In your world, what exactly is the essence of life?

A. Regarding their appearance in my world: The Gemstone of Life was found in the elven city of Ilendras; it spread black shadowy roots across Serendel Forest, and absorbed the souls and bodies of any who died in its vicinity (kind of like the soul stone/snap, now that I think of it). The Spiritblade was first found by their companion, Kazric, who didn’t understand why his sword kept eating souls, but enjoyed using it anyway. When he dealt the finishing blow to the Gemstone, the eruption of power between the two Shards instantly transported everything in its vicinity to the realm of Pharasma, Goddess of Death, and my players were charged with hunting down all 6 and destroying them. They’re currently after the Unbroken March.

The essence of life boils down to a creature’s soul, and to the energies that bring it to life and let it grow. Plants may not be sentient, but they do still have lives – and the Gemstone slowly corrupted those lives and stole them away for itself, before its destruction.

You’ll notice that each Shard also leaves a significant effect on the minds/hearts of those around it, too. As much as they require the life-energy as a fuel, they also recognise the living as weapons of their own distorted ‘will’. That’s part of why they’re so terrifyingly dangerous.

So the gods had somehow the power to use this essence and combining with pieces of the void to create these gemstones? Am I getting this right?

A. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll refer to the specific god in question as the Shade. He was the one to figure out how to reach out of the normal planar boundaries and take aspects of the void, and the one to combine them. Not every god would have this power; in fact, if any of them tried it nowadays, they’d likely be destroyed by other members of the Pantheons.

Think of the space between worlds as the kind of place where the Outer Gods/Great Old Ones from Lovecraftian mythos – Cthulu, Yogg-Shoggoth, etc – hang out, by the way. Nothing comprehensible lives in the void.

So there is a “demilitarisation” in a way or at least moratorium on their use?

A. Kind of. The gods are relatively equal in power, but one doing something that risks the stability of the universe by risking unleashing fragments that want to consume everything? That would take the spirits of any potential worshippers and worlds away? That’s not going to be allowed. The gods do try to maintain the stability of existence, after all.

We hoped you enjoyed this interesting spotlight roundup. Check out Istralar by Hanhula on WorldAnvil for more reading. We’ll bring you a new spotlight next week- but if you want to join in on our next spotlight and offer your own questions, join us the WorldAnvil Discord!