Back in the early ’80s, one of my Chaldea players asked me, “Has there ever been a time when one person ruled all of Chaldea?” My initial response was to say absolutely not. It seemed preposterous to me that one person could rule an entire world of orcs, elves, dwarves, humans, dragons, magic, and monsters galore. But then I thought, If one person did rule all of Chaldea, that person would be one badass!
Once I put it in those terms, of course I had to go through with it. I told that player, “Yes…but only once. 5,000 years ago, there was a demigod of Set named Kordaava. He was the only person in history to ever unite all of Chaldea under a single rule. Then, at the height of his glory—after building a worldwide empire—he was assassinated, and to this day, no one knows who did it.”
When I decided some twenty years later to run Chaldea using the Burning Wheel game system, I decided to go back in time those 5,000 years to when Kordaava ruled the world. My players had, of course, heard of Kordaava in legends, so that helped build up the expectation of a world ruled by the only person powerful enough, ever, to rule the entirety of Chaldea. While we were playing, all the players knew that at some point Kordaava would be assassinated. But they didn’t know when. And I had so much fun playing what was essentially a fantasy version of the Roman Empire that I kept putting off the moment!
The story of Alexander the Great was a big inspiration for me in developing Kordaava. I loved the story of the warrior-king who takes over the world using brawn, strategy, and a little luck…and then, of course, who dies tragically. In the case of Kordaava, I decided he would rule Chaldea for a lot longer than Alexander ruled “the world” of his time. At this point, my inspiration migrated from Greece to Rome in that I figured if Kordaava ruled for forty years, this would be long enough for a strong critical mass of the empire to survive his death. Forty years was long enough for Kordaava to build a foundation, long enough for a generation to grow up knowing nothing else, long enough for most who opposed the empire to die off or grow too old to object.
Another creative influence on Kordaava is Conan. Kordaava was my adolescent warrior fantasy: strong, wise, handsome, and a badass warrior. Just like Conan. Did I mention he was tough?
In terms of narrative structure, Kordaava plays an interesting role in Chaldea; in one sense, he’s the most central character in the entire story. But the story begins with his death. So you never see him “on camera” except in flashbacks and such. But his presence is everywhere because after he dies, everything goes to hell. The result is a story where instead of the action being driven by a character, the action is driven by the absence of a character. We learn about Kordaava entirely through flashbacks and how people talk about him. And reactions to him are all over the map—from adoration to apathy, from love to hatred. And everything in between…