Well, mixed feelings, but I’d love to write a “setting book” or something. Here’s my current idea for a vanilla fantasy setting:
There is a massive empire of elves. It is very old, terrifyingly powerful and deeply corrupt. At its core it is a purely elven society, but the empire has accumulated a variety of human client states and principalities. On the periphery of the empire, these tend toward a common model — cities full of educated elites, elven governors and their administrators, wealthy human advisors and merchants who aspire to an elvish way of life, contrasted with a vast countryside full of hardscrabble illiterate peasants, steeped in their own religion similar enough to the elvish ways to be tolerated, always on the edge of rebellion, kept in check by draconian laws and mercenary human armies. These mercenaries have centuries of precedent and are a privileged caste within elven society. Some say they are powerful enough now to threaten the Emperor himself. He certainly cannot rule without them.
The northern-most principality became an elvish frontier 200 years ago, after a century of bitter war. It shares borders with small but energetic human kingdoms as well as the vast, forbidding and bellicose realm of the dwarves. None of the northern neighbors get along with the elves — men and dwarves share a common faith, and the human kingdoms constantly foment rebellion and smuggle weapons across the borders. The dwarves see themselves as spiritual kin and religious protectors of the humans under the elvish boot in the protectorates, and await a chance to push the empire of the elves back. And that chance is coming — the elves have discovered a vast source of silver far to the west, and the influx of this precious metal is slowly destroying their economy. Inflation is out of control, peasants are leaving their land for banditry, and the mercenaries who stand as a bulwark against total chaos see greater opportunities in establishing brutal fiefdoms than in service to their sworn master so far away. Still — for the moment — the old order prevails. Peasant uprisings are brutally crushed, priest and pig farmer alike are beheaded, and across the frontier, the dwarves begin to stir.
Yep, I’m reading Misha Glenny’s The Balkans – Nationalism, War and the Great Powers, 1804-1999, and that poor principality above is Serbia in 1800 as the Ottoman Empire begins to unravel. The Dwarves are Russia, the human kingdom is Austria. The silver glut happened much earlier (1590’s) but it’s too cool to leave out.