The world of Anthan is characterized by three unusual traits. First, it is an aquatic world whose surface is 90 percent ocean. Second, the main landmasses are the tips of oceanic ridges. Third, and most unusual, is the multitude of islands suspended hundreds of feet above the ocean which drift about the world, known as driftlands.
The name "Anthan" is a tentative word, as are all proper names in this document.
The ocean of is called "The Undersea" by the land dwelling inhabitants, since it lies under the driftlands. The ocean inhabitants call it "The Deep" with great reverence. All of Anthan is covered by the Undersea except for some scattered islands and the exposed oceanic ridges. Many of the scattered islands are exposed seamounts.
The oceanic ridges are called by many "The Underlands", since they are the lands below the floating driftlands. A few call them collectively "The Serpent Spine" because of a myth that they is the remnant of a great world encircling sea serpent. Some underlands are very long, very narrow landmasses. Others are strings of archipelagos. They are not true mid-oceanic ridges like those on Earth, though they are highly volcanic. Generally a ridge has the form of a long narrow plateau with strips of lowland, although some underlands are more peaked and jagged.
The underlands are continually being lifted up as rock wells up over eons from the interior of the world.
Occasionally sections of the underland plateaus will break off and become airborne free floating islands, called driftlands. These driftlands can range from small islands fifty meters across to huge megaliths several kilometers wide. Smaller diftlands can form but they are not stable. Their altitudes are only a few hundred meters above surface. Driftlands are complete ecologies and the medium to large islands are commonly inhabited. Their upper surfaces can support a variety of vegetation types, although heath and scrub are the most common. The under surfaces are in perpetual shadow and have developed a unique biome.
Driftlands will drift in the winds, but tend to stay along the invisible magic currents that circuit the interior of Anthan. They are repulsed by the surface of Anthan, so it is rare for them to bump into high underland peaks, though they can bump into each other on occasion. Needless to say, a driftland in motion has immense inertia.
Driftlands can undergo great climatic changes as they drift from latitude to latitude. For some driftlands this can be catastrophic as a tropical ecology suddenly enters the arctic. Most driftlands will have settled into a somewhat stable path, so that this process produces an irregular seaonal variation. The larger driftlands will have stabler circuits, or may even be stationary if the surrounding weather patterns and geology are right.
No one knows how many driftlands there are. In regions where the wind and magic patterns are right they will be common sights in the sky. They can be seen virtually everywhere on Anthan, although it is very rare to see more than one on the horizon at the same time. Even rarer is the region where they are not seen at all during a given year.
The "lifespan" of a driftland is several thousand years. Legends tell of driftland kings who grew so arrogant that the gods punished them by dropping their kingdom into the undersea. Such legends may have their basis in fact since a flourishing culture has little defense when its land descends below the waves.
The shallow seas, adjacent to the underlands, have abundant fisheries, kelp beds, and thriving pinnepod populations. The deep oceans contain a variety of cetacean species, as well as the dreaded sea serpent. The seas near the northern pole and its glacier covered landmass are home to orcas, baleen whales, and pinnepods. There is a vast variety of shorebirds, gulls, albatrosses, terns, and other aquatic avians everywhere on or near the ocean.
There is a specie of kelp in the deep ocean will grow large mats that float on the surface. These can be walked on with care, do make excellent nesting grounds for birds.
Because of the high plateaus and peaks, the leeward side of many underland masses are arid or desert, while the windward sides tend to be forested. Rainforests are common, both tropical and temperate. Scrub and heath dominate the heights of the plateaus. Lower plateaus will sometimes have narrow strips of treeless grassland.
Large creatures are uncommon outside of the oceans. Other than the dragons of the north and their kin, the largest animals are the bear, mountain lion, and tiger. Large horses do not exist in Anthan, but smallish burros and ponies can be found. Cliffs are common, and so are cliff dwelling birds, mountain goats, and more unusual cliff dwelling creatures.
The size and drift pattern of a driftland have the largest effects on their ecologies. They just aren't big enough for aquifers and rivers, so their vegetation is dependent almost solely on rainfall. But being isolated landmasses, rainfall is fairly common. The smaller driftlands can't retain as much moisture, so they tend to be dominated by scrub and heath. Because of the constant winds, forests are rare, but the larger driftlands can have woodlands.
The underside of the driftlands are in constant shadow. Fungi, lichen and the occasional fern are the predominant plant life. Bats are common, and some birds will nest underneath. Nearly universal are the driftcatchers, small crustaceans that dangle several feet below the underside from a sticky cord to catch insects and the unlucky small bird.
The wyvern is common on driftlands. Over the centuries the driftland people have domesticated the wyverns for mounts. Wild wyverns are very dangerous, but even tame wyverns have have nasty dispositions. Related to the wyvern is the wock, about a meter in length that lives underneath the driftlands or occasionally on the cliffs of the underlands. They have even fouler temperments than the wyverns.
With the extensive ocean coverage on Anthan, it is not surprising that several cultures have made their homes on the sea. The dominant ocean culture is that of the Marranan, which live entirely on large catamarans and barges. They are the world's premier sailors, and are central to the trade that occurs between the various underlands. Another culture related to the Marranan reside on the scattered isles and archipelagos of the tropic regions. The isles of the temperate seas have cultures similar to those on neighboring underlands, just more prone to fishing.
The Marranan and their influenced cultures believe that the lawful gods and paradise lay beneath the ocean, while the evil gods and hell are above the sky.
Only primitive cultures reside on the arctic seas, or more accurately, the ice shelves. They subsist on whales, seals, and other arctic game, and tend to be migratory people.
The shallow seas bordering the underlands are home to the Selkie, or sealmen. The are humanoid, covered in short dense fur, and well suited for aquatic life, though they are air breathers. They can be found throughout the temperate and arctic seas. They do not build cities, but will dig out caves on rocky islands or coasts.
There is an endless variety to the underland people. Nomadic cultures are extremely rare. So are large cities. Rural agriculture centered on villages and towns is the norm. Very common is the separation of the human cultures into "highlanders" and "lowlanders".
There are two related species inhabiting the mountainous regions of the underlands. The Wulan are a diminuative race generally friendly to their human neighbors. No two Wulan are alike, some are fat, some skinny, some with disproportiate limbs, etc. All appear as grotesque caractures of humans. The Kran resemble Wulan but tend to be a bit taller, are furred, and less prone to mesomorphic body types. They are generally unfriendly to neighboring humans. The Wulan and Kran have been off and on enemies for eons, with the Wulan dominating most wars. As a result, most Kran reside in less desirable climes, such as arid and arctic regions.
The Wulan mythology tells that they are the original people of Anthan and that humans arrived from elsewhere later on.
The driftland cultures originated from the underland cultures. They excel in the arts, engineering, and magic. There is variety to the driftland cultures, but nearly as much as with the underland peoples. They generally regard themselves as the "rulers" of Anthan, and all other cultures as vassals. Some merely want tribute. Others view themselves as benevolent masters and feel some sort of obligation to their subjects. These latter tend to be the stationary driftlands, or those with regular drift patterns.
Although the mounted wyverns they use make excellent cavalry, wyverns as pack animals is inefficient. The use of ladders is out of the question. Dirigibles of sorts exist, but they are uncommon. Because of the difficulty getting cargo to the driftlands, tribute generally consists of slaves and non-bulky goods. A few of the larger driftlands have learned to make skyships, using the same principles as the driftlands to keep them aloft. These driftlands can exact greater tribute.
Some underland cultures have learned to hide until passing driftlands go away. Most underland people have no interaction with the driftlands other than handing over the loot every several months or so. Because of this, the underlands do not view the driftlands as their masters, rulers, or kings, but as bandits and theives. The driftlands do not press their claims too vigorously, for wyverns are easy targets for archers, and it's damn hard hitting a recalcitrant subject with a rock from a quarter a kilometer up. A nation that gets too rebelious gets known to the other driftlands however.
A few driftlands are stationary. These exert greater influence over their subject lands. Some may even have rope bridges to an underland plateau or peak.
If you haven't figured it out yet, magic pervades Anthan. It's what causes the unusual geology of the world. Magic is generated deep within the world, and circulates in currents under the crust.
Weather magic is very important on the driftlands.
People speak of a "shadowland" where you go when you die. It is not the final destination of the dead, but a place they must pass through on the way to their final destination. The existance of a shadowland could help explain the occasional appearance of otherworldly shades and creatures of nightmare.