Between writing the draft of this post and finalizing it, I heard a political argument about the USA and the American Indians. (If you are offended by my use of the term Indian, please stop reading - I’m just getting started in offending you.) This plays completely into my points about: “There is no level of civilization that does not have some group claiming to own what is currently someone else’s due to an ancient grievance.”
I think the points are very important to GMs who are trying to build a world with some history. While many people spend an awful lot of time reminding us how horrible we were to the Indians (and we were), they imply that the Indians were peaceful folks living the idyllic lives of the noble savage. Yeah - not so much. The second the Iroquois League settled their internal issues, they invaded the Ohio River Valley. So if we were to return the lands we “stole” (here thinking Kentucky and Tennessee) who would we return them to? The Iroquois? The Algonquian? Even in the New World, so many different groups and cultures have possessed the same piece of land over time that the question of ownership can only be seen in the modern sense. After all, 200-500 years from now, who knows who will inhabit Tennessee?
I feel the same way about global warming. What are they (not “we”) trying to return to? What’s “normal”? The Medieval Warm Period? The Little Ice Age? These seem wrong since we’re describing them as being outside the norm, but what point in time is the right climate for the world, since it has been changing constantly since the Earth formed. With no baseline, there can be no goal.
OK - This may seem to have gone completely off topic, but it isn’t. The topic really is: Just because you know how your world looks now, do you know what it looked like “before”. Have different tribes or races fought over and conquered the same piece of land countless times? If so, why were they fighting to gain it? Has the climate changed and if so, what did it use to look like? Any land bridges formed allowing colonization? I normally have only used rivers drying up or changing course due to earthquakes, but that’s because Fletnern didn’t really have Ice Ages like Earth did.
What have you done? Where are the ruins of ancient civilizations, either great ones or small ones? What caused their ruin? It could be something as simple as a famine or as complicated as the overthrow of an empire by its vassals. Did the glaciers leave boulders all over the valley or is that the result of a war between giants? There are things that ancient cultures leave behind them, especially in high fantasy settings. A burial site might contain ancient bones and a few stone tools, or it might contain an ancient spirit of evil just waiting to be freed.