View Full Version : Game Setting: *Ravine
10-09-2005, 02:32 AM
Well, this is ambitious of me. Second thread, and I'm laying out the details of a campaign world. Sort of. You see, it's not quite finished, in the same way that the Tower of Babel was not quite structurally sound.
I've run two campaigns in this world, and they both failed dismally, mostly because I suck as a DM (the details of which are a topic for another thread, or perhaps not a topic for another thread, but certainly not a topic for this one) (EDIT: yet it seems I included them anyway). I like to think I do a good job at creating settings and stories, though, even if I've had my doubts about THIS setting.
I'm posting this for two reasons. First, my first thread, in which I posted a rip-off of a zombie with a neat twist that I spent all of two hours on, was well received. At least one person said they were going to use it, which surprised me, and everyone who posted liked the concept. So, if people get excited and inspired over something that I spent two hours on, what will the reaction be to something I spent months on? (Abject horror, probably.) I doubt anyone will actually use this setting, but people might want to borrow a concept here or there for their use or have an utterly unrelated creation triggered by something they read here. Call it composting.
Second, I feel that this setting is flawed and KNOW it is incomplete. I hope to fix both. Pointers, tips, and critiques are welcome (desired, even), but I also want to invite people to add bits and pieces where they like. I'd love for this thread to become an open collaborative project, though I don't really expect it, but even simple comments like "have you thought of having the dwarves be ____" would be very helpful. Also, responses like "I really think this part is a neat idea" or "that part sounds so boring/problematic/cliched" are useful.
I intend to post this in several parts. The first part (now) will be less about the world and more about my design philosophy (or lack thereof), the "history" of the creation, and a few horror stories of how it just didn't work in practice. Not very interesting, I know, but able to refer back to it will help everything else make sense, so people will only ask "What were you THINKING?" a dozen times or so. The second part will be vague details about the overall physical and political geography of the world, more a table of contents with teasers than anything else. The third part will be about the world's creation (in-setting) and very ancient history. Fourth will be some of the world's metaphysics, and fifth another point of history (more local, not so ancient), though I might decide to merge these two. After that will be a series of posts where I go into detail (or not so much detail -- as I said, the world is incomplete) concerning the various locales, races, and power groups. I won't fix the order of presentation for these, but will order it according to posters' interests.
And without further ado (save saying that it's without further ado, and saying that I'm saying it's without further etc)....
----- Design History -----
Let me start by saying that when I did this, I had absolutely no idea how to design a campaign world. I still don't, but at the time I REALLY didn't. I'm half-ashamed of some of the things I came up with here. Let me also say that I HAVE read the Giant's articles on this site about world building, and learned a great deal from them, but HAVEN'T applied them to this work yet, so bear that in mind.
I decided to make this world just for the hell (I'm allowed to say that on this board, right?) of making a world, and I got exactly what I wanted. I'd played in Forgotten Realms and a single heavilly-modified Dragonlance, and read many of the novels for both (teenager, what can I say?), but wasn't (and still am not) that familiar with the settings.
What I wanted was a world with nationalities. I didn't like the idea that everyone, everywhere spoke Common. I didn't like the idea that long swords and longbows were in use everywhere. In short, I didn't like the idea that the world was homogenous. In retrospect, that's what guided my creation of this world. I put together a patchwork of very different nations and tried to reason out how they would interact. I also decided that most of these nations would be at war, just to make life interesting. The strong character differences between these nations, I think, gives Ravine its feel. Though I would change a lot of their details (and maybe overall concepts), they would definitely remain distinct. It's one of the parts of the game I like. One campaign the players can be in a low-magic, industrial setting and the next they can be in an aggrarian metal-poor world, and the next in a dark-age Inquisition nightmare.
So, having decided to have the world defined (beyond its physical geography, which can be sumarized with the name "Ravine") by a bunch of feuding nations, I started trying to brainstorm what those nations were. Bad Move. I came up with a really, really cliched bunch. More on those in later posts.
As mentioned, I ran two campaigns in this world. Most of what I'm posting is reconstructed from memory, or dredged up from the notes of the second campaign. The first campaign was a real-life game with my old group. (I hated my old group, for reasons you will see, but I also miss them.) It was envisioned as a journey-epic, carrying a rather bulky artifact from the Lower Ravine to the Upper Ravine while being pursued by various power groups for various reasons, culminating in the end of the current age, the beginning of the new, the revelation of several world-wide plots by all powerful beings, etc. It, ah, crashed before they even left on the main journey, though the game did last about eight months. (That's probably part of what went wrong, there.) My fault, really, though blame does also rest with a certain chronic no-show. The second game was IRC, with completely different people, and it was set against a backdrop of the Iron Tower's invasion of the Borderlands. It lasted maybe six sessions. In the world's chronology, though, the second campaign was set some amount of time (probably a few years or a decade, I never really decided) before the first.
My first group. Arrgh, I hated my first group. They would pounce on any inconsistency, and given that I'm easilly flustered and find DMing to be high-pressure, there were a lot of them. I was always in a state of half-panicked "I can't do this!" brain-lock. But, worse, I could never get them to take the setting seriously. One guy refused to look at setting information, just said "my character woke up under a tree with amnesia, there, backstory done". Then there was the chronic no-show who was neat when he did show, and not when he didn't. Then there was Jim, who was neat all around (and that's why he's the only one I'm naming), but couldn't roll above a 4 on a d20 and was thus really dejected most of the time. Then there was the guy playing the barbarian, who was, in a word, disgusting, whether he was having his character try to rape the females of a goblin tribe they'd come across, or hunting for a brothel in a small hamlet... and the player was always MOPING when his character didn't get his way. Plus, as mentioned before, I suck at DMing, and made the mistake of throwing in a few high-powered NPCs to hand-hold the PCs.
And none of these things was made easier by my ABYSMAL inability to come up with good names, or amnesia-man's inability to take anything seriously. For example, Evos Carnos, aka Modern (or "Incarnate") Elven, the current tongue of the elven people, struck me as a good name for a language. Until, three seconds after hearing it, amnesia-man broke out laughing and shouting "meat tongue! meat tongue!" and referred to it as that for the REST OF THE CAMPAIGN. Then there was Ingles (the Lower Ravine, and its local language by the same name). It was the starting locale, so everyone got the language for free, and promptly started calling it English. (That one, I should have seen coming.) When I decided that I was changing both the region's and language's name to "Sherem" (the players had been informed that the setting was a work in progress and some changes might be made), it took less then ten seconds for them to be calling it "Share 'em" and coming up with various crude jokes involving the new name. The less said about the NPC I named Jetta, the better. (Hey, I'd FORGOTTEN about the car.)
The gods of the setting were of less interest to me. I put in the default gods of DnD as place-holders, and eventually came up with some (but not enough) new gods to take their place. (Unfortunately, I introduced these changes during the first campaign. Dophillia's name will always conjure the echo of "Dolphin lady!" in my brain.) It's part of the setting that could use some more developing.
Meh, I see that I've spent more time remaniscing and talking about talking about the setting than actually talking about the setting. Ah well, this was meant to be an introduction. I'll get down to business in the next section, provided there isn't a great outcry of disinterest.
One campaign the players can be in a low-magic, industrial setting and the next they can be in an aggrarian metal-poor world, and the next in a dark-age Inquisition nightmare.
I think that explains your Tower-of-Babel problems right there :) Detailing each nation is going to take about as much work as making a whole new campaign. This is not necessarily bad, since the results would be worth it, but in my experience it's hard to spend a ton of effort on campaign development if there's nobody playing it yet. (I have a whole collection of unfinished campaigns...)
So in your shoes, I would detail just one nation, and start a group with a mission focused on that one nation, and collect ideas for the others during play.
As for your first group: yeah, it sucks. It sounds like they went over the line from having fun to actually mocking you. Maybe you should have been playing Toon, then you could at least hit them with big hammers :)
It got me thinking, though. It might be that your campaign world, in addition to requiring a lot of work from you, might also require a lot of work from the players to get into it. Once again, I'd advise to start the first mission in a single nation, and just let them know that other nations are 'different'. Or, perhaps, they start in one of the oppressive nations and their mission is to escape to a nicer one? Either way they'll have a gentler introduction.
10-09-2005, 06:47 AM
Having realized that my earlier post lacked any substance whatsoever, I decided to go ahead and post the overall geography NOW, rather than in the morning like I'd planned.
Okay. Technically, it IS morning. Why do these things always bug me at 2 AM and keep me from getting back to sleep? Is it my diet? It's my diet, isn't it? Freaking jalepenos...
----- Ravine Geography and Cultural Overview -----
The world of Ravine is centered on a (surprise!) great canyon, somewhat winding but overall fairly straight. It runs from east to west and is about two thousand miles long as the crow flies. Its walls are sheer, reaching up to five miles tall in some places. It is also very broad, being on average about fifty miles wide, twenty-five wide at its narrowest gap and almost a hundred-twenty five wide at its broadest. (So I guess it's less of a canyon than a pair of escarpments facing each other, but whatever.) Many rivers flow over the walls of the Ravine (making truly spectacular waterfalls) and join a single river (known by many names along its length, more generally as The River), which flows west to the sea. The entire Ravine floor is a great flood plain, and during late spring and early summer most of the canyon floor is under slow-moving water. Houses are built on stilts, most everyone owns a canoe, and towns and cities resemble either great boardwalks or are ringed by sloping dikes. With the exception of the Borderlands, the Ravine floor is very good for farming, but also mineral poor; metal is a precious commodity. The highlands tend to be mineral-rich but bad for farming.
The bottom of the Ravine is divided into three regions, which aren't so much nations as one part-nation and two sepperate ongoing political meltdowns. The Upper Ravine, to the east, is one great lake and home to two parts of the great Elven Empire. Their capitol is built on a city suspended on a magical lattice from the two walls, while below High Lake is home to an extensive water elf civilization. More on the elves in a later post.
Further west is the Middle Ravine (also known as Torrem), predominantly human in its makeup. Though it and the Lower Ravine were once united under a single ruler, it has since fragmented into countless petty holdings of dukes, earls, counts, and whatever-they-want-to-call-themselves lording over serf farmers and feuding with their cousins over who should have gotten the better inheritence three generations back. Over a decade ago, the Iron Tower (more on them later) conquered Torrem, which is to say that it allied with half the nobles against the other half, which it also allied with. Though the Iron Tower maintains a, well, iron grip on the land, assimilation is proceeds but slowly. Most of the petty nobles retain their power but have been incorporated into the Tower's local structure of authority. It doesn't help that the serfs are used to being left alone and treat their contribution of the harvest to the nobility as a "go away" fee.
The boundary between the Middle and Upper Ravine is indistinct. The gray "not quite one or the other" region is known as the Borderlands. The Borderlands are rocky and rugged, with a steep descent westward, and do not flood. Their political makeup is akin to the Middle Ravine, though the Iron Tower isn't in charge yet.
West of that is the Lower Ravine (also known as Sherem). The narrowest point of the Ravine marks the border, and is known as the Torrem Gap in Sherem and the Sherem Gap in Torrem. Sherem is even less organized than Torrem. Not only does it lack any nobility, but the populace (mostly farmers, plus a few necessary specialists) is famous for its vicious rejection of authority in all forms. The country side is idyllic, while the cities are lawless arenas of competing powers trying not to look like powers.
West of that the Ravine cuts through the aptly-named DragonWall mountain range. It narrows to less than three miles wide though, at this point, the water is salty, and people don't consider it to be part of the Ravine at all. People going to the DragonWall region tend not to come back and, though little confirmation leaves the DragonWall, it is generally believed that such foolish travellers aid draconic digestion immensely. The DragonWall runs along the ocean north and south into the next worlds.
(The term "world" is used in the old sense, like back when you had the "Old World", "New World", "Oriental World", etc. When I refer to a different world, it's not another planet off somewhere, just a very different land that hardly anyone goes to or comes from.)
The walls of the Ravine, and the regions atop them, are refered to as Northwall and Southwall and are broken down as Upper Northwall, Middle Southwall, etc. Only three passes are known to lead up and down the walls, and they are the holy-of-all-holies for trade, strategic/military control, and travel. No expense is spared in improving these passes to handle ever-more volume of foot traffic and trade goods. In addition to these three, the elves of the Upper Ravine seem to have little trouble getting up and down the walls, or from one wall to another, and it is confirmed that the tunnel network of the dwarves of Middle Southwall connects from the Ravine floor to the top. Less reliably, there are constant rumors and legends of secret passes leading up or down the walls, which tend to result in wild goose chases and a continued absense of new passes.
In addition to the Upper Ravine, the elves also have solid control over most of Upper Northwall and Upper Southwall.
The Middle Northwall is controlled by the Alliance of the Iron Tower, which is one of your less friendly evil empires. It is controlled by a church worshipping a tight pantheon of four gods. Any other god is a demon, and worshipping it is punishible by death. None humans are demons and must be killed. Magic users consort with demons etc. Every decade or two region launches another crusade against one of its myriad of foes, and generally fails dismally. Recently, though, they've gained control of North Pass, which cuts down from the eastern extent of their territory into the Borderlands.
Between elves and Tower is a rugged, rocky expanse, with grasses and nomadic herders and hunters. They've long had a grudge against the city-folk to the west, and wild elves often roam freely among them. Ever since the Iron Tower's first crusade against their homeland, the elves have kept this buffer "state" of nomads well supplied with quality bows.
The Lower Northwall is mostly thick temperate rainforest. It is home to the Dragonkin, decendents of half-dragons with a grudge against the world. A double handful of city-state "clans" worshiping their dragon ancestors and run according to the worst principles of Machiavelli. Status is granted to those who demonstrate the most draconic features -- scales, snouts, teeth, wings. Most rulers are humans with one or two quirks, though... anyone with too many features is seen as a threat and quickly disposed of. Normal humans are kept as slaves and breeding stock and treated worse than dogs. The Dragonkin will often raid Alliance lands for more slaves, and the Alliance has very little luck penetrating the vast rainforest for purposes of rescue or reprisal.
The Middle Southwall is the Khajaran mountains, under which the dwarves reside. Dwarves are generally more interested in trade and their clannal bickering (which can grow quite violent at times) and their constant war with drow than what's going on outside their tunnels but, when they DO notice what's going on outside, it's usually because whatever-it-is has managed to tick them off. Dwarves are technologically advanced, armed with crude gunpowder weapons and holding the secret to trade with the south. They are in a chronic state of war with the Iron Tower (which has a foothold at the south side of the Bridge of the Heavens), the elves, and the Dukes of Fer.
Between the elves and the dwarves is the gnomish nation. The gnomes are very unmilitant, and spend most of their time working diplomacy and right-of-passage agreements to keep the two races apart. Their major export is precious stones, and they have a near-monopoly on gem cutting. They also control the Gem Pass, which cuts from Upper Southwall down to very near High Lake.
Lower Southwall is controlled by the Dukes of Fer. The dukes are a varied group, racially, and are technological innovators. Gunpowder weaponry abounds, steam power is slowly being dveloped, but no one is yet interested in labor-saving devices, because there is no need. Each Duke rules over the hundreds of slaves required to run their technology, working them to death and then raiding Sherem, at the base of the Iron Pass, for more. A magic-suppressing field rests over the entire land.
South of them is the land of the druids, the original inhabitants of Lower Southwall, who are being pushed further back every day as the Dukes seek out more raw materials for their machinery. Not much developed here.
The elves sepparate the Ravine from the eastern world and don't allow travellers through, but rumors describe a vast tiagra of noble wizards ruling over mundane serfs. To the far northeast is a great glacier, and to the north a huge tundra overrun by orc hords, and to the northwest rugged mountains controlled by giants. To the south, beyond the dwarven lands, is a great desert. None of these are condusive to passage, trade, or exploration.
Grah. That's it. Off to bed.
10-09-2005, 07:54 AM
Cool, but the very first thing I thought of was, What lies beyond the Ravine? This is somewhat of an important question to work out, a group of PC's could cast Fly by 5th level and decide to go wandering off outside your entire world...
10-09-2005, 12:37 PM
*Imagines giant anti-magic/anti-psionic fields as clouds covering the entire top of the world like a roof*
10-09-2005, 02:04 PM
Huh. Thought I was clear about that. "Northwall" and "Southwall" do indeed refer to the cliffs defining the Ravine, but they also refer to the areas beyond it. Leaving the Ravine isn't the easiest thing in the world, but it's possible, and what's in the highlands on either side (the Iron Tower, for example) is part of the setting. With the exception of the dwarves and the elves, no one has actually built into the walls themselves.
10-10-2005, 12:01 AM
Okay, I went and decided that my order of presentation was slightly messed up, so I'm tossing it. Here is:
----- A Little About Elves, Degeneration, Elven Creation Myth, and the True Origin of the Universe -----
When detailing (or at least outlining) the Elven nation, I was working with a very common, very poor concept. "It's a nation. Of elves. Because there has to be a nation of elves somewhere, right?" That's about all I had decided when I put the word "elves" in the big blob on the eastern portion of the map (and much the same for the dwarves). I soon decided to make them an ancient, secretive, dying race, which was less a way to rationalize their isolation in one exclusive nation, and more ripping off Tolkein to fill in the blanks. (Hey, it's DnD tradition.) However, I like what I came up with next.
Elves have a different concept of magic than, say, wizards or clerics. They believe that magic is the power and essence of uniqueness, of specialness, of exception and surpassment. Spells tap magic and harness its power, but that doesn't make them magic themselves. Indeed, standardized spells (such as cantrips) are a bit mundane by their standards. However, the master swordsmith and the blade he spent two years perfecting is magic, even if a wizard would just call it mastercraft. Great works are magic. Great monuments are magic. Great feats are magic. The ordinary is not.
This is relevant for two reasons. The first is that, during the Third Age of the world, the elven concept of magic is pouring out of the land. The second is that elves are an inherrently magical race; if they weren't magic, they wouldn't be elves.
The two combine into an unpleasent experience which elves refer to (when they refer to it at all) as the Degeneration. An elf that lives an ordinary life filled with only ordinary accomplishments, no particularly harsh trials, average suffering and joys, nothing unusual at all -- in short, a mundane existence -- will cease to be an elf and degenerate into a "lesser" race. There isn't enough magic in the world for everyone to be elves, and with more of it leaving the world each day, it's every elf for himself and degeneration take the hindmost. To most elves, this is a fate worse than death.
Since adventurers are special almost by definition, players never have to worry about their elven characters degenerating, though their characters are free to worry about it a great deal. I used to have a rules mechanic where elves could temporarily degenerate due to null-magic or a dispel magic spell or the like, but I've since tossed that out as being unbalancing, unfair to the elves, and too much of a headache to work with. So it doesn't much affect the PCs. But it does shape elven society from the foundation up.
Elven creation myth:
[I was lucky enough to find this, verbatum, in my notes for my second campaign. Just a copy and a paste and...]
Elven legends tell of the origin of the world and the god who created it, Alaerus. First Alaerus sculpted the land, decorated it with beings mundane and mystical, and spent many years wandering the high lands and the great cliffs and the forests and the seas and the whole of nature a thousand times over. But eventually even the perfect world he'd created began to become somewhat overgrown and long in the tooth. Alaerus created a new race, a sentient race, to help tend his creation: Dragons. He made them shrewd and cunning, gave them a fondness for riddles and beautiful things, so that they would share his tastes. He made them majestic and awesome to look upon, so they would not be an eyesore. He made them powerful without equal, so they could tend the gardens of the world without fear of predators. But soon the dragons grew haughty and chafed under their tasks. Though their forms were nearly perfect, their minds were not suited. Many rebelled, and withdrew to caves and caverns under the earth, where Alaerus could not follow. Alaerus, seeing that dragons would not do as caretakers of the world, bred the remaining dragons with magic itself, and produced elves. The elves were happy to tend the land for their creator, and in return Alaerus gave them his blessing to grow and thrive, and thus did begin the Second Age of the world.
For a thousand thousand years, the elves spread over the whole of the continent, worshipping Alaerus and tending the land and building a great civilization. There were five breeds: The high elves, holiest of all, who devoted themselves to the skies and embodied the element of air. The Sylvan elves, who devoted themselves to the great forests and embodied the element of wood. The Wild elves, who devoted themselves to raw, untouched nature and embodied the element of fire. The Gray elves, who devoted themselves to the harshest of lands and embodied the element of ice. And the Sea elves, who devoted themselves to the lands beneath the waves and embodied the element of water. But even among these perfect races, there arose dissent and rebellion to the kind rule of Alaerus. These treacherous elves abandoned their duties, and fled Alaerus's anger by delving deep into the earth, that unholiest of elements, where Alaerus could not follow. There they found a new god, Ularros, who they fell to worshipping. Ularros, blackest of the spirits in the unholy darkness beneath the ground, reshaped the perfect elves into the vilest of creations. Thus were the drow created.
Alaerus knew nothing of this. What was beneath the earth was beyond his sight. And he had other troubles. The elven race had grown much too large. It thrived. It teemed. Though Alaerus enjoyed wandering amongst his people, delighted in their stories and their art and their very existence, the race was too large to exist. Elves are magical beings. To be an elf is to be unique, special. But elves were no longer special. It was ordinary to be an elf. There loomed the great disaster for the elven race, and it was only Alaerus's hand that prevented this disaster for so long. He laid down an edict of population control, and his people obeyed, and all should have been well, but it was not. Somewhere beyond his sight, elves were multiplying.
The drow came out of the earth then, the entire race of them. They claimed to be fleeing some great calamity, asked, begged to be taken back into the fold. But Alaerus knew better, for Ularros had come with them. By his Word, the goodly elves imprisoned the drow, and Alaerus did battle with Ularros.
The battle was worse than Alaerus expected. Though he commanded the powers of the surface, powers of life and light, Ularros had the powers of the earth, powers that Alaerus did not comprehend. Alaerus was forced to focus more and more of his attention on the battle, until the climax of the battle, when Alaerus was utterly focused on the dark god's defeat. Ularros was banished back to beneath the earth. Yet the damage had been done. For just an instant, Alaerus's protective hand had been withdrawn. The Catastrophe which had been awaiting the entire elven race occurred.
Elves are supposed to be magical creatures. But they were magical no longer. They no longer did new and exciting things, for everything that was to be done had already been done. They no longer created new art, for all the art there was to create had already been created. Their sheer numbers reduced them to the status of ordinary and mundane. Elves are magical creatures. Elves are magic itself. When an elf ceases to be magic, he or she ceases to be an elf. This is the Degeneration, and it swept across the race in that one tragic instant. Thus were the lesser races born.
Drow became dwarves. Wood elves became halflings. Wild elves became orcs and the goblin races. Gray elves became gnomes. Sea elves became merfolk. And high elves, by far the most prolific, most numerous, most COMMON, became the least magical race of all: Humans.
Elven civilization shattered, and magic began flowing out of the world like blood pulsing from a mortal wound. The few elves that survived the transformation retreated to the truly magical places of the world, to bask in the uniqueness of the land and stave off the Degeneration. Thus began the Third Age of the world.
This is, of course, the elven perspective on events -- High Elven, in particular. (The other Elven breeds tend to not refer to the High Elves as holiest of all, and tend to attribute the destruction of their civilization to other faults.) The actual creation-story, below, is one I never told my players and which most characters in the setting have no clue about. I planned to have it revealed at the climax of the first campaign, ending the Third Age and beginning a Fourth, where magic flowed back into the world, at which point most characters in the world would have at least heard of it. I present it here, because it parallels the elven creation myth very closely and explains a lot about how the world is.
The Creators (the only name for them) are a race of psionically powerful beings from another universe. They fled to the plane of shadows to escape some calamity, and from there came to this universe, which was nothing but a shadowy void. They decided to create a new home for themselves. They errected the Gate of Worlds, to sepparate this universe from all the others and seal out the forces which had forced them to flee here, and then flooded the plane with magic, the pure unbridled force of creation. They created the planes as they had remembered them, and then set about crafting the world they were to live in. However, they had trouble maintaining the world. Though they could craft it however they liked, everything would start falling apart they moment they took their hands off it. This would not do. So they looked for help.
The Creators wanted a servant, one who would attend to the details of things. Then they thought of an army of servants, an entire race of them, which would attend to their needs once they decided to live in the world. So they opened up the Gate of Worlds a crack, and invited a god, Alaerus, to come help them. "Make for us a race of beings," the Creators told Alaerus, "To build great cities and great works. Make them excel in the ways of poetry, music, theater, all the fine arts. Make them beautiful to behold and honorable in their ways. And give them a love of the world, so that they will gladly dedicate themselves to maintaining it."
Alaerus found the challenge an appealing one and, after a few botched attempts (including the dragons), created the elves. The Second Age passed beautifully. All was right in the world... until Alaerus discovered the Creators' true intentions for his race. Conquest, slavery, every moment of existence in service to the Creators, their cities and arts stolen for the Creators' luxery. He would not stand it.
However, Alaerus was very closely watched. Though mortal, the Creators were very powerful and knew the universe even better than Alaerus did. Together, they could banish him through the Gate of Worlds, and then there would be no one to protect the elves. So Alaerus split himself in two, and half of him -- a dark, deceptive, ruthless, secret half -- became Ularros. They were distinct, but not entirely sepparate -- Ularros is more a second personality than a distinct god. Alaerus continued his work as he always had, kind and gentle towards the elves, watched carefully by the Creators. Ularros did the real work in secret. He whispered to some of among the elves that a great callamity was coming, and drew them underground. "Follow me below," he told them, "and you will be the salvation of elves everywhere. You will never die from history. Your accomplishments will never fade. Your glory will be unsurpassed, and you will be honored for it." Ularros lied -- that was his way. From the first whisper into the ear of his first victim, he was already plotting the new race's demise, a blood-sacrifice necessary to save elves as a whole.
Meanwhile, Alaerus went before the Creators and confessed a problem. "Something is going on beneath the surface, and I can't go there. I tell the elves not to go below, but a few defy me. They are DOING something down there, and I don't know what, but it is unbalancing the world. I need an ally who can go below and be my eyes for me." He mentioned nothing of Ularros, nothing of his belief that this was the culmination of the plot which Ularros had been created for, and the Creators didn't know to ask. They had long ago become lazy, accustomed to leaving things up to Alaerus while they languished in their pocket-domain and waited for the work to be completed. So they let the Gate of Worlds be opened once more, and another god, Kharaj, to be invited in. When they opened the Gate, Alaerus watched, and learned how it was done.
Kharaj went below, eager to explore the new world, and met Ularros. "Here," Ularros said. "These are the drow. I give them to you, all but a tenth of them. Reshape them to your liking. Make a new race." Kharaj did not like the drow in the least, and did as Ularros asked. He slew all but a tenth of them, and from their bones forged the dwarves.
Not knowing what was happening, realizing only by their god's mad laughter that Ularros had betrayed them, the drow fled into the upper world and into the arms of their former brethren. The surface elves arrested them, and asked Alaerus what to do. Meanwhile, the first dwarves were coming to the surface as well. The Creators were puzzled. "We did not authorize this new race," they said. "Is this what Alaerus warned us of?"
Confused, they went looking for Alaerus. They found him, and in a questioning more intense than any administerred before, so intense that Alaerus could not resist, they learned of his love for the elves, and his refusal to let them be turned into slaves, and his creation of Ularros. This angered them, and they attacked him with the intent of throwing him out of the Gate of Worlds.
It should have frightenned them instead. Kharaj was closely watched, as was Alaerus, but Ularros was a new power, unaccounted for... and, in confronting Alaerus, the Creators had left the Gate of Worlds unguarded. Ularros threw open the Gate and called to all the universes, "Here is a fresh world, widely peopled! Come, gods and goddesses all! Make it your own!" And come they did, an invasion of deities.
The Creators could handle one god. They could, they thought, handle two. Three had been pushing it. The dozens that came charging through the Gate were far, far beyond their abilities. They fled into their pocket domain, sealed themselves off, and hid. There they plotted the banishment of the usurping gods from their universe, and set a plan into motion. They created the World Gem, an artifact that would collect all the power they had imbued into the creation of the world, and with that power they would one day cast the gods out and seal the Gate again forever.
Thus began the theft of magic from the world.
Meanwhile, the surface elves had grown uneasy with the drow. Ularros whispered to them, "They are rebels, heretics that dwell within the earth, unclean! Kill them for their infidelity!" And so the elves began to discuss the execution of their cousins. Ularros went to the drow and told them, "Do you hear them plotting your deaths? Rise up against your captors to save your lives! I will protect you! Then flee below the surface, and I will preserve you for all time!" Though the drow had been betrayed by Ularros, they did indeed hear their captors talking about killing them, and were desperate. What followed was the Drow Revolt, where the drow with Ularros's aid first killed their gaolers, and then bumbled about the great cities of the elves looking for a way out, killing anyone they ran into.
When Alaerus finally was free of the Creators, he returned his attention to the elves and was dismayed at what he saw. "Elves killing elves! Against every one of my edicts, elves have slain elves!" His voice thundered over world, stopping all who fought. "I withdraw my protection! For one day, live without my blessings, and then return to me on your knees begging forgiveness!"
But Alaerus didn't know that the Gate of Worlds had been opened, and in that one day a horde of gods fell upon the world, reshaping it to their liking, creating all the lands and all the races that they wished.
The Creators were originally going to be the major, though hidden, villains of the first campaign I ran. Psionic shapeshifters, manipulating the nations of the world from behind the scenes in an attempt to destroy everything magical, so that the magic would be freed to flow into the World Gem and complete their preparations to reclaim the world. Most of the nobility spoke in a strange, ghostly moaning style known as the Noble Tongue (their cultural equivalent of the royal "we"), and I had envisioned this wonderful "Oh $#!+" moment when the players realized that these shapeshifters were incapable of speaking any other way. The Creators, you see, were dopplegangers writ large, and their favorite tactic was identifying influential people, drawing everything of importance from their minds, killing them, and assuming their identity. To make life more interesting, a lot of the nobles began immitating this style, and thus spoke the Noble Tongue without being Creators. I had also planned for that campaign to climax in another wonderful "Oh $#!+" moment, which went something like this:
Me: "You hear a very strange sound, like a CRUNCH, only musical. That gem that magic has been pouring into for the last thousand years? It's CRACKING."
Players: "Uh... spellcraft check... would now be a good time to be leaving?"
Me: "No. Now would not be a good time to be leaving. Several DAYS ago would have been a good time to be leaving. A month, perhaps."
Players: "Oh $#-"
Yeah, I know, load-bearing villain cliche. Would have resulted in a not-so-nice romp through the outer planes before they finally found their way back.
The release of magic back into the world and the destruction of the Creators' home and anonymity would have ended the Third Age (and with it, the degeneration and many of the power structures the Creators had infiltrated) and begun the Fourth, in which Ularros, operating under a secret identity and having manipulated the PCs into their quest and knowing what was coming, has positioned his cults and armies as the only ones prepared to fight the "new" threat (something of a devil's choice, there). Except, of course, that the campaign bombed, possibly because I script things too tightly and don't leave the players much freedom. Coming up with neat stories isn't always a strength for a DM, you see. Or, at least, getting attached to them isn't.
Anyhow, I'll get back to the elves when I cover the various nations and power groups. Next up, a look the history which shaped the political geography of the Ravine.
10-10-2005, 12:28 AM
I haven't read much past the first post (because I'm literally falling asleep), but I have a suggestion for naming things, since your players seem to make a mockery out of things you name. Pronounce names before finalizing them. A lot of fantasy names look cool on paper, but don't work when spoken. Also, simple names are more likely to show up than those bombastic five syllable monstrosities players usually come up with.
10-10-2005, 01:20 PM
Well, I said history was going to be next, but then I realized that it wasn't all that important. So here is:
----- The Sorcerous Guild -----
Stretching throughout the human lands of Ravine one will not find the arm of the Sorcerous Guild. The Sorcerous Guild does not exist. It is a rumor concocted by the flippant and those seeking to deceive their way into power on the backs of a mob. For that matter, arcane magic no longer exists -- it might have once, but as magic abandons the world it takes divine intervention to harness its power. So it's really rather pointless to burn at the stake that man who you fools think is a wizard. Put those pitchforks and torches down and stop behaving like gullible little children.
The secret Sorcerous Guild exists to protect all wizards and sorcerors, and some of the more flagrant bards, from the depredations of the ignorant. Through the effort of a "Big Lie", the Guild perpetuates the illusion that wizards and sorcerors are a thing of the past and no longer exist in this world, thus protecting its members from charges of witchcraft. Its success is in proportion to the co-operation of the local mages, which is generally distributed by how the local geography reacts to arcane spellcasters. In Elven lands, where magic is not a thing to be feared, the Guild makes absolutely no attempt to keep it a secret. (Well, yes, there ARE still ELVEN wizards, but they're an inherently magical race. The rest of us could no more use our magic to cast spells than use our wings to fly like birds.) Along the Upper Northwall, under the baleful gaze of the Iron Tower and the Inquisition, the Sorcerous Guild succeeds in hiding nearly every last wizard and sorceror. In most lands, where mages are viewed with fear and suspicion and sometimes become the target of mob violence but are not persecuted as a matter of official policy, the Sorcerous Guild succeeds fairly well at keeping the secret. There will be legends everywhere of mages, but few actual specimens.
The Sorcerous Guild is not overly concerned with keeping the secret from everyone. Anyone with enough time, energy, intelligence, and resources will be able to see through the lie. Then again, anyone with the desire could probably not be convinced in the first place. Rather, the Sorcerous Guild works at deceiving the population as a whole. Rumors, legends, and fables are fine -- there are always rumors, legends, fables, and the more outlandish the better. But so long as people in general do not see blatant demonstrations of arcane magic, the secret will be kept.
To this end, the Sorcerous Guild can become a bit... aggressive in its recruitment methods. It requires every mage, member or not, to keep his or her magic inconspicuous. For some, this just means using less-than-obvious effects (such as subtle bardic magic) or finding ways of explaining more obvious spells. (It's alchemy, you ignorant fool, not magic! or Of course I can cast spells. I'm a priest operating with the blessings of the great god so-and-so.) But for many it involves forceful induction into the Sorcerous Guild. Those who chafe under the demands of the Guilds become renegade, under warrant of death by the Guild's authority but in general left alone unless they cause trouble. Those who insist on catching the public eye will usually find the local mages attempting to carry out that warrant.
Unlike your standard guild, though, so long as a mage isn't too blatant, the guild doesn't require much. No dues, no compensation, no tasks to perform.
The Sorcerous Guild is commanded from the mage-ruled tiagra highlands east of the Elven Union. At this point, it is a collaborative effort by many different wizards with many different motives. Some want to organize the wizards into power groups and transform the mundanes into serfs. Others want to check the bigotry, hatred, and mob violence against mages everywhere. Others want to provide a counter to the expansion of groups like the Iron Tower, while others... and so on.
These orders are relayed westward (and in other directions) through a series of contacts, who are unfortunately trusted more than they should be. (Though some spells allowed much more direct communication, few wizards are able to cast them and the Guild is uncomfortable making these individuals either the lynchpin of or privy to every communication with its cells around the world. More conventional measures are the usual par for the course. Most of the key members of the Sorcerous Guild are Arristocrats with a level or two of Adept -- those with PC levels are pretty rare.) In particular, orders passed through the Elven territories were regularly altered until the end of the fourth age. Everything which reached the Ravine proper was carefully crafted to keep magic among humans a secret, to give it a status of nothing but rumor and wishful thinking. This was to make the elves seem special and powerful by comparison to the humans, which in turn would (supposedly) help stave off degeneration. This policy ends with the coming of the fourth age, throwing the cells of the Sorcerous Guild around Ravine into confusion and chaos.
The part about elves altering the nature of the sorcerous guild was going to be one of the plots of the second campaign, which also ended up going nowhere but got there a lot faster than the first campaign. You see, one of the characters was a high elf, daughter of a powerful Senator, who at birth was discovered to have the symbol of Reenolm the Changer (a human god of magic, chaos, and destruction, focussed on upsetting the established order) on her forehead. The Senator ordered her banished and left in the wilderness to die, but instead she was adopted and raised by wild elves.
The player had come up with this part, and then told me to fill in the details accordingly. OH how we evil DMs love to hear that. I decided, first of all, that the Senator wasn't acting out of fear of Reenolm, but rather outright shame and fear of degeneration. His daughter had been marked by a HUMAN god. Oh, the humiliation, and oh the danger. Though, yes, the deity aspect is special and whatnot, among high elves ANYTHING human is mundane, ordinary, and treated like a plague-bearer. Even associating with something mundane is thought to bring on the degeneration. The Senator had his daughter sent off because she was, first, a carrier of degeneration (though she actually wasn't) and, second, a bit of an embarrassment for someone of his station. He arranged for the wild elves to find her, believing (wrongly) that they didn't care about degeneration, and not really wanting his daughter to die.
The real purpose of the mark of Reenolm was this: Reenolm was very, very angry that the elves were making magic seem non existent, safe, and bound, and was determined to change things. To this end, he selected the newborn daughter of one of the main members of the conspiracy to cause its downfall. As the campaign progressed, the character would receive visions guiding her to an eventual confrontation with her dad. Dad, in turn, having realized that his daughter was not going to live her life in obscurity and having grown ruthless over the last century, sent the occasional assassin to have her dispatched before her connection to him became public knowledge.
Though I'd planned to have them go through many, many sessions in the Borderlands, preparing for an inevitable invasion by the Iron Tower, I'd thought to eventually have the group dispatched east to make direct contact with the Sorcerous Guild and ask for aid. In the process they would discover the discrepencies in the Guild's orders, and that would lead them, on the return trip, to a confrontation with Daddy and a bunch of very powerful elves.
.... as mentioned, the campaign bombed after six sessions or so.
Next up, provided I don't change my mind again: The Order of Lacquer
Oh, and if you've read this far, please post SOMETHING in reply. The few responses are giving me the impression that most people aren't interested, and if that's the case I really don't want to be taking the time to type all this.
10-10-2005, 02:54 PM
Cool, but I personally wouldnt use a world like this. New gods means more work figuring it out. And dwarves are as bad as/worse then drow? I LIKE DWARVES! Magic + Dragons = Elves? WTF? I also don't like the idea of a big god who's in charge of everything, the idea of wood as an element, and the idea that earth is unholy. I mean...what are clerics supposed to do? hover? And couldnt then someone be dirty enough and sneak past a cleric who couldnt see through the 'earth'? Very ergh.
10-10-2005, 05:27 PM
Don't worry, I'm reading it and liking every bit. Thanks for clearing up that "Northwall/Southwall" confusion though. More!
10-11-2005, 05:38 AM
A few points of my second-to-last post that seem to require clarifying in response to SB's complaints.
First, dwarves are not drow. *Period. *Let me repeat. *Dwarves are not drow, any more than humans are high elves, and actually a good deal less. *Nor are they worse than drow, allignment-wise... the allignment tendencies of both races are DnD standard. *Nor are dwarves actually related to drow. *While humans are either degenerated high elves or descended (usually quite distantly) from degenerated high elves, dwarves were actually one of many races created by their god (in this case, forged from the bones of dead drow), a concept which the dwarves, if aware of, would much prefer. *The elves merely THINK that dwarves are degenerated drow, and their mythology reflects this. *They are not on good enough relations with the drow, or the dwarves for that matter, to ask. *(I feel that any campaign setting should have a few pieces of common idiocy along the lines of "elephants have no knees" or "heavier things fall faster".) *Similarly, elves are not the product of dragons bred with magic, any more than humans were shaped from river clay; both fanciful ideas appear in myths, and that's where they belong, to judge by SB's "WTF" response. *(Though there ARE theories that clay crystals were a sort of proto-DNA which at some point upgraded to carbon-based life...)
Second, there is no overgod. *Anywhere. *At one point, Alaerus was a caretaker god-of-everything, and also the only god anywhere in the universe, but that changed either with the creation of Ularros, or the coming of Kharaj, depending on your view of the Alaerus/Ularros duality. *(Are they two gods? *Different aspects of the same god? *One god with multiple personalities? *Since there's no body for both of them to share or not, the line is blurry, and since it's not even loremaster-knowledge until the fourth-age, research is a bit chancy.)
The reason that Alaerus can't go underground is that this is Ularros's domain. *The aspect of him that dealt with that part of the world is no longer Alaerus any more. *I'm not going to go invent exact mechanics of how deep underground underground is, but it'd take more than a layer of dirt or even a shallow grave to qualify. *High elves (though not the other breeds) are so used to the outdoors and so uncomfortable going underground that they've incorporated it into their religion as a sort of taboo, known as "leaving Alaerus". *It's not exactly forbidden -- many of their great heros leave Alaerus during their quests, because they must -- but it's seen as very, very dangerous, with no one to guard you against a spiritual fall. *This is one god that won't walk by your side in hell, because he can't. *Clerics of Alaerus, however, can still memorize and cast spells while underground, without their god's presence, just like clerics of no god at all. *Most other religions don't even FEEL (much less declare) that the ground is unholy, and most other gods don't have any trouble extending themselves into the subterranean world.
Similarly, the elven philosophy categorizes wood and ice as an elements. *Magical experts laugh and scoff. *The two hold great composiums to hash over the same talking points of the debate every five years, because that seems to be the only way the audience members can get any sleep. *The rest of elven society just rolls its eyes and ignores the whole freaking flame war. *(No, the composiums are not a defined detail of the setting, just me having fun with the concept.)
Now, the moment you've all been waiting for! *(Or not...)
----- Things I Forgot To Post About the Sorcerous Guild! -----
Just a lone yet important detail in this erratta-entry before I get on to the Order.
Anyone with cause to write magic has reason to know Magros Standard, and wizards have a very special reason to use it. *Magros Standard is a language which the Guild discovered/invented almost a century ago. *Though it is of limited utility in communicating, its true value is as a technical language. *Magros Standard gives precise definitions, measures, meanings, and instructions for magic use, and encompasses the science of spellcasting.
Magic, including scrolls, components, and spells in a wizard's spellbook, can be in either described in Magros Standard, or a shorthand unique to the spellcaster. *Magros Standard is a particularly bulky language, because it must account generally for a wide range of possibilities (such as a wizard's birth race, birth gender, births stars, various other concepts which need not be catalogued and don't change for the spellcaster) which are givens for a particular spellcaster. *When scribing a spell for personal use, for example, the spellcaster doesn't need to know which words or hand gestures to use if he were an orc. *Unless he IS an orc, in which case he doesn't need to know the appropriate ones for a human. *Either way, he can use the shorthand. *If scribing it for general use, or demonstrating the spell to students, the shorthand becomes impractical, and Magros Standard is the language of choice. *Of course, only wizards learn spells this way, but being able to read a scroll is important to all magical classes and one or two others. *Read Magic will work on either Magros Standard or a shorthand, but is unnecessary when the writing is in Magros Standard and the character knows that language. *Knowledge of Magros Standard gives a +4 synergy bonus (yes, a +4) to Spellcraft checks when Magros Standard is involved. *It is a legitimate bonus language for any starting class with Spellcraft as a class skill, but remains cross-class or not according to the Speak Language skill.
Magros Standard, being so bulky, takes ten times as long to accomplish most anything as a shorthand. *This includes spells in a wizard's spellbook (ten times as many pages, though added expense is as ordinary high-quality paper and not the normal per-page cost of wizard's spellbook) as well as casting, scribing, creation, and activation times. *(Spell activations in shorthand can be mimicked by other casters or someone with Use Magic Device.) *Spell completion is an exception; though it takes longer to figure out how the thing works, actually completing the spell still only requires the final key.
There is, though, one final advantage to Magros Standard. *A spellcaster's shorthand is both unchanging and highly personal. *If studied very carefully, it can reveal details of the workings of the caster's mind and soul. *This involves a very large amount of material (usually a wizard's spellbook, though several spell-activation items made by the caster and trigerred in the shorthand will work). *Given a full day to study this material and a spellcraft check of DC 15 + the target's level, the studying mage will receive a permanent +4 insight bonus on all saves against the target's spells and spell-like abilities. *Also, they can tailor their own spells to the target's weaknesses at the moment of casting, inflicting a -2 penalty to the target's saves against those spells. *(This use of Spellcraft cannot be retried until more ranks are gained or more material acquired. *Taking 10 is not allowed, as the study is very intensive, nor is taking 20, as a character generally won't figure out whether his theories are right or not until he tries them.) *For this reason, wizards will guard their spellbooks very jealously, letting only their closest and most trusted companions (if anyone) have access to them.
Obviously, this all applies most directly to wizards. *Priests still have their spells injected into their brains by angels with trumpets and hypodermic needles. Sorcerors... well let's just say that my metaphor for THIS one makes the last one look pretty. *And so forth.
Anyhow, that (hopefully) taken care of, here comes:
----- The Order of Lacquer -----
Throughout the human, elven, dwarven, and gnomish lands you will find the Order of Lacquer. *Their calling is knowledge; discovering it, cateloguing it, publishing it, indexing it, teaching it, distributing it, and preserving it. *In lands where the Order is accepted, it establishes libraries and posts, creates investigative services and universities, and keeps the town criers informed of what is new. *Where it is not welcome, it goes anyway, with books stored in underground cellars and lessons conducted in darkened parlors. *Despite having no lands, no armies, and no citizenry, it is arguably one of the greatest powers in the world of Ravine.
The Order of Lacquer was originally created as a front for the Sorcerous Guild in the Ravine. *Though it is now quite independent of the Guild, it remains closely allied with it, providing a front for their activities and shield, repository, peace, and privacy for their studies. *In addition, they are very closely associated with the church of Undalomar the Wise, god of learning, and patronized, supported, and utilized by many of the wiser local rulers. *Their libraries and schools are open to anyone for a small but not inconsiderable fee, in the former case which includes librarians to help find the books the character is looking for. *For a much larger fee, the highly knowledgeble librarians will bring their personal knowledge to bear in the character's aid. *Though the library is officially neutral in most endeavors, it unofficially frowns on horrific acts and suppression of knowledge; if a character comes to the library searching for information in pursuit these things (and the librarians WILL know), the patron will be subtly harrassed, persistently unaided, and usually defeated by the headache which passes for an organizational system.
Unfortunately, some secrets are not hidden quite well enough to withstand professional ferrets. *The Inquisition of the Iron Tower strongly disapproved of the connection with the church of Undalomar, and the libraries and universities in Iron Tower lands were forced to disassociate from them in Alliance Lands. *Then the Iron Tower insisted on tight control of the universities curicula; in response, the Order surrendered the university grounds to the Tower and let them run them as they may, which turned out to be very badly. *Then a different Inquisition discovered the connection between the Order and the Sorcerous Guild, and the Alliance branch of the Order was driven underground. *Though all of this shook the Order's vaunted neutrality, it had received just as bad treatment in other lands (though never in quite so LARGE a land), and simply kept a stiff upper lip and went about its business.
The final straw, however, came with the invasion of the middle Ravine. *Libraries were torn down. *Over a hundred thousand books were siezed. *Most of them were burnt. *Librarians, professors, and students alike were massacred whenever they were found, most tortured for confessions and then burned alive. *For the first time in its history, the Order went to war.
The Order's lack of armies hasn't seemed to inhibit its ability to fight a war, nor has its lack of lands. *Abroad, it has brokered alliances between the city-states, rousing some of them to prepare for invasion while there is still time and combine their forces into united armies. *It has backed rising powers attempting to bring order to the Lower Ravine, engaged the elves in allying with the Borderlands, talked the dwarves into supplying black powder weaponry to both, and gotten the gnomes to finance the entire endeavor. *Within Alliance territory, it gathers the best intelligence, coordinates between resistance groups, and stires up dissent wherever possible. *If anyone can be said to be leading the fight against the Tower, it's the Order of Lacquer.
Next up: Since SB expressed interest in them, DWARVES!
10-11-2005, 10:40 PM
----- The Khajaran Empire ----
Middle Southwall is a huge mountain range (or, rather, the intersection of two ranges) stretching hundreds of miles east, west, and south. The mountains are icecapped year-round, and most have permanent glaciers between them. Beneath the mountains, in an extensive network of tunnels, natural caverns, ice caves, and lava chambers, you will find the dwarven empire.
The dwarves mostly worship a single god, Kharaj, who they believe forged the dwarven race from the bones of the world. Eight dwarven men and eight dwarven women were created, creating a total of sixteen clans. All dwarves are experts on their own geneology, as determined by their ancestor; males trace their male-line ancestry back to the original totem of their clan, and females do the same for their female-line ancestry.
In theory, there are supposed to be two rulers of the empire, one ruling the men, the other the women. Authority and status are inheritted from this line, with first children gaining more authority from their parents than second, which receive more than third. Thus, the first son of the first son of the first son of the first son etc of the first dwarven male rules the males, provided his father is still alive. In practice, though comparing and verifying geneologies is a long and difficult process, one which is made worse by the priesthood's feuding with the state, both groups' byzantine beaurocracies, intentional delays by those concerned that a given candidate might be a bad ruler, and the annoying fact that none of the clans can quite agree which of the original ancestors was forged first (beyond the simple word "mine"). The result is the fragmentation of the empire into smaller kingdoms, each king being the confirmed (through or despite greater or lesser degrees of beaurocratic sleight of hand) inheritor of the locally dominant clan for that particular region of the underground. Though independent, the kingdoms are usually willing to let other kingdoms live and let live (though not without an occasional scuffle), and will usually unite if a broader external war threatens.
However, not many wars truly threaten the dwarves, and most dwarves don't care about the ones that don't. Dwarves don't LIKE wars, because wars interfere with trade. Dwarves don't like fighting wars on other people's territory, because that means acknowledging that there is a world beyond the Empire and trading partners' bazaars. Dwarves like fighting on their land, where the terrain and defenses favor them and supply lines (always a perenial problem for their overblown beaurocracy) are kept short.
For example, the war with the Elven Union. Eighty-some generations ago, elves came to the region east of the Khajaran mountains, declared it a magical place, displaced the local humans, and settled there in great numbers. The two empires quickly became aware of the other's presence and, after a few diplomatic feelers, sent a pair of ambassadors to meet in neutral territory to determine if they could coexist. After a fruitful day of revelations, discussing imperial interests, trade potential, resource shortfalls, regional concerns, and the like, the two ambassadors (now, if not fast friends, at least cheerilly chummy) called it a day and settled down to the important business of sampling each other's liquors. Three hours later, the elven ambassador, deep in his cups, clapped the dwarven ambassador on the shoulders and declared, "You are a fine man, and a fine people! Who would have expected it from a being with drow for ancestors!" Matters quickly went downhill from there, and the two empires have officially been at war ever since. Yet, while neither empire is willing to take the first step towards peace, so too is neither particularly interested in prosecuting the war. The elves adopted their favored practice of organizing a buffer state (the previously fragmented gnomes) between the two empires, which then denied either beligerent right of passage, and then simply waited for the dwarves to do something to prove that they were actually a threat. The dwarves manned defenses and waited to slaughter any elven army that entered their territory. After six millenia, no major battles have occurred, and none are expected. Though there are isolated gray elf conclaves in the peaks and glaciers of the mountains, and regular skirmishes with them do take place, there is not much dwarven will behind them.
Other wars that the dwarves are in include one against the Dukes of Fer (who refuse to control the overzealousness of their slavers, or at least restrain them from practicing in Dwarven territory), one against the Iron Tower (which has created a magical bridge across the Ravine that the dwarves can't figure out how to destroy or take, but has never succeeded in pushing more than ten miles into their territory from that bridgehead), and at least two kingdoms to the south of the great desert. And, of course, the ongoing contest with drow for control of the tunnels. Dwarven society as a whole couldn't be less interested. Wars come, the empire holds, wars go, and trade and clan squabbles last forever.
Though I have an idea of the general feel I want for the dwarves (as explained above), they've always had less detail developed than I wanted. I'd always hoped to give each clan a distinctive feel/concept, but never really got around to doing it. For example, I'd imagined three different types of warrior clans (one female, with traditions emphasizing strategy and logistics, and two male, with one emphasizing bulk tactics and the other guerrilla warfare), one technological clan (which has developed black powder and shard (shot) cannons for use in the war with the drow). Then there are the Sand Dwarves, which aren't even a concept so much as an image: Dwarven sailors on sled-ships that run over the desert, spear-guns mounted on their sterns, and watch out for that boo- ... yeah, cliched, I know. Then there are the ice dwarves, which actually embrace magic and aren't the most mentally stable folks in the world, living in the glaciers and snowfields up on (gasp!) the surface. I also need to detail the various kingdoms, figure out which clans are in charge of them, imports/exports (which are VERY important to dwarves), and, for that matter, have some idea of where they get food!
Though Kharaj is (with only rare exceptions) worshiped as god of the dwarves, the god has different aspects. Chief above all is Kharaj the Forger, the creator- and ancestor-aspect, though there is also Kharaj the Warrior, Kharaj the Sagely, Kharaj of the Surface, and Kharaj the Destroyer -- a dark aspect responsible for all the evil in the world, which the dwarves pray to for mercy. Most dwarves pray to the various aspects as the times and circumstances require, though a few devote themselves solely to one aspect.
Next up: Umm.... hmm. Let's make it the Dragonkin, to get away from the Iron Tower for a bit.
10-12-2005, 01:17 PM
I really like your stuff. Be confident about it; don't say "Oh I am a sucky DM," because you're not!
10-12-2005, 04:51 PM
Actually, I am. *What you're seeing here is my strong side, setting-creation and story-telling, which I think I'm pretty good at, though this setting doesn't quite measure up to my normal standards.. *What you're NOT seeing is me sitting at the head of the table, stammering for a minute straight because the players did something unexpected (though utterly predictable) and I have no idea how to react. *DMing requires, far more than setting-creation and story-telling, the ability to both organize and improvise, and neither in my wildest dreams of truth-stretching could be called my strong points.
Anyhow, here comes:
----- Dragonkin -----
Once, near the begining of the third age, dragons and mortals mingled freely with elves, dwarves, and gnomes, and as can be expected for dragons that can polymorph, the occasional progeny was produced. *Unfortunately, these half-dragons were usually abandoned by their draconic parents to be raised by the mortals, and mortal society was.... less than accepting. *Outcasts, they wandered the world in search of hinterlands in which to lose themselves, eventually conglomerating in the uncivilized rain forest of Lower Southwall.
All this left scars. *The current Dragonkin have come to hate and reject their mortal ancestors, and have on more than one occassion launched wars of retribution for their abandonment. *Even now, they will kill any dwarf, elf, or gnome they see on sight. *They embrace their draconic sides, trying to emulate dragons in a sort of cult manner. *
The current Dragonkin are no longer half-dragons, not by any measure. *They are, rather, humans, though recessive draconic traits keep popping up.... the occasional breath weapon, vestigial or gliding wings, scales, tearing-teeth, reptile-eyes, and so forth. *These traits distinguish the true Dragonkin from their human chattel, and also serve as an advertisement of closeness to the original dragon ancestors.
That's not necessarilly a good thing, though. *Those with very few traits are seen as little better than human, and given whatever scut work the humans can't be trusted with. *Those with too many traits are seen as powerful and dangerous, and usually killed pre-emptively.
Though decended primarily from gold, silver, and bronze dragons, Dragonkin society is very much evil. *Rule is kept by naked force, and when power changes hands (or merely attempts to change hands), heads roll. *Of all the forms of slavery practiced in the world of Ravine, that practiced by the Dragonkin is perhaps the most horrific. *Humans are a source of labor, "breeding stock", and, among at least two clans really interested in mimicking dragons, a food source. *(They don't see it as canibalism... after all, the Dragonkin aren't human, are they?) *A few experiments in mobilizing them for war resulted in dismal failure -- the humans' understandably poor morale and even worse experience with combat led the Dragonkin to conclude that they were useless as soldiers. *As far as most Dragonkin are concerned, humans aren't even intelligent; they are animals. *If one escapes, it is not because he or she was willful, but because some idiot forgot to secure the pen properly. *As such, these Dragonkin will not employ them for any form of labor that they would not use an ox with hands for.
Dragonkin society can't be said to be "organized", because it is actually quite divided. *There are thirty-fourty [I haven't decided on hard numbers] bronze-age city states scattered throughout the rain forest. *Though the area is administered by a council (with one vote per city), this council is less of a Parliament and more of a U.N. -- it generally deals in strong warnings or interventions against agressive city-states than in laws and governance. *Each city-state is ruled by one of fifteen clans, each devoted to an embodiment of one of the fifteen dragon types, five good, five evil, five neutral. *(These are actual gods, not dragons.) *In addition, a sixteenth "god" (which, though tecnically a god, is not a sentient one), the World Dragon, is worshipped by all. *Dragonkin believe that the entire world and all the other planes are just the World Dragon's shadow, and that magic is the World Dragon's breath. *The good dragon-gods embody such aspects as destruction, death, judgement, so forth, and are seen as hating the Dragonkin (probably for good reason). *They have few worshippers, and those worshippers are generally more interested in praying their way to safety from their god's wrath than in actually doing good works.
Every Dragonkin starts in the slave pens, as the vast majority of the population is human and the traits distinguishing the Dragonkin don't appear until six to eight years of age. *At that point they are pulled away from the slave pens, given tutors, indoctrinated in the superiority of the Dragonkin race, taught to hate the other mortals, and generally have the ways of Dragonkin society beaten into them. *On the first day of winter of their sixteenth year, they are banished from their home-city, forced to wander for at least two years, at which point they can choose their own clan and be adopted into another city as adults.
Though most human slaves have their wills beaten out of them by the age of ten and are worked to death by the age of twenty, a few prove strong enough to escape into the hinterlands. *Countless tribes of escaped slaves and their decendents live out there, generally doing everything they can to avoid Dragonkin attention and "taming parties" and surviving off of crude stone-age technology. *This is one of the areas where the Druids of the south are most active, providing humanitarian aid, helping slaves escape, making the rain forest very unfriendly to Dragonkin about to find the tribes, and (very rarely) organizing active resistence to the Dragonkin.
The Dragonkin are in a perpetual state of border skirmishing with the Iron Tower. *They consider the slaves taken from the border towns of a higher quality than those found in the forest or bred in the pens, and the Iron Tower considers (with more justification than usual) the Dragonkin to be demonic. *However, the Dragonkin are more interested in border raiding than deep raids, much less a war of extermination, and the Iron Tower finds itself unable to penetrate far into the forest, more in need of the Ravine's agricultural bounty than a secure western flank, and more driven to the destruction of elves, dwarves, than Dragonkin.
About the only people that Dragonkin get along with are halflings. *Halfling merchants are eager to trade with the Dragonkin (who have access to a lot of exotic spices and unique artwork), and Dragonkin, oddly enough, don't feel much animosity towards halflings.
Dragonkin speak Wyrmic, a special language adaptable to the variety of tongues and mouths which the various traits produce. *Draconic is reserved as a religious tongue, and is available to Dragonkin clerics as a bonus language.
I came up with much of this after reading the 2nd ed Council of Wyrms setting and thinking, "what would a world of half-dragons be like, if all the dragons left?" *I added quite a few themes from Salvatore's underdark drow, and also a few from Conan, and came up with the Dragonkin.
Though isolated from Ingles/Sherem, the Dragonkin played a very large role in that first campaign. *One character, a human sorceror, was born in Dragonkin lands, with a Dragonkin mother who kept telling his child that he was really a Dragonkin when, in truth, he was not. *The sorceror came to believe that his sorcery was draconic trait, and determined to achieve the status in his society that he was due. *One botched power-play later, he was on the run, and one feather-fall spell later, he was down in the Ravine where the Dragonkin couldn't follow. *His long-term purpose was to grow in power, return to his home-city, and take his rightful place.
Then there was amnesia-man. *While the player was constantly getting on my nerves, he did give me an opportunity that DMs dream of: a character with amnesia. *I decided that a priestess of the lone city controlled by Clan Silver had fallen in love with one of the breeding slaves, and finally made the connection and realized, from Silver's perspective, why the Dragonkin were so evil. *She instituted reforms in her city, freed the slaves, married her own lover, and basically turned Dragonkin society on its ear. *The slave tribes quickly gravitated to the city and were eagerly welcomed. *When a disgusted Topaz city, nearby, moved in to put things right, they were outnumbered fifty to one by high morale humans that weren't interested in the traditional ruler-duel style of warfare. *The Council acted quickly and accomplished what had never before been done: *Mustered and united the forces of every city. *Clan Silver was utterly crushed. *In the last moments, with the greater Clan fleeing the city to avoid retribution, the priestess used her magic to send her husband away. *She suppressed his memories to keep him from returning and getting himself killed, and sent along with him a bodyguard.
This made for some... interesting interactions. *Amnesia-man had several symbolic tatoos, which marked him as both a slave (old) and also a king (the king, since there was only one city) of Clan Silver. *Though he had no idea what these meant, the sorceror did. *HE was constantly trying to wrack his brain (for more reasons than just idle curiosity) to figure out whether this was the work of a tatooist with illusions of grandeur, or if a human actually DID become king and, if so, HOW? *The "weird look" became a session staple. *Then there was the bodyguard, who had tatooed on HIS face a symbol that indicated he'd taken an oath of silence. *Which was frustrating, because he seemed to know everything, but refused to say.
Finally, there was the barbarian who'd started out east of the Iron Tower but didn't want to have much in the way of people-interaction in his wandering that eventually led to Sherem. *(This decision was made in ignorance of the setting, not in spite of it.) *Since the only way to get him there would normally have been through the Iron Pass or the Elven Union, I had to be creative. *I'd decided that his wanderings had taken him north and around the Tower, than south through Dragonkin lands (which is mostly hinterland, he got lucky and avoided any encounters), to the Southwall, where through sheer luck he discovered a previously unknown pass down. *(Unknown passes aren't ruled out... they're just not covered. *This pass ISN'T part of the game setting, but rather was part of the campaign.)
It was sheer BAD luck as things turned out. *Short on local coin, the barbarian sold the tale of his wanderings to a local cartographer, who was unfortunately close to one of the power centers vying for control of the Ingle/Sheremic city. *While not enough people have teleport/fly/so forth to really impact the movement of bulk trade goods or armies, this power group did have access to a halfling sorceror of less than moral persuasion, and often "disappeared" rivals by teleporting them up to Dragonkin lands and selling them to a Blue city for nice chunk of gold (which the Dragonkin don't have much use for). *Desperate for cash, they sold the information that the barbarian had found a pass (though didn't remember where it was) and the direction the barbarian said he was going to wander in to their friends. *This city, eager to control the pass and thus gain a strategic advantage in the slave raids that would eventually result, immediately sent shamans, sorcerors, and every Dragonkin with gliding wings it could muster to retrieve the barbarian. *The characters figured part of this out, eventually, though they got it mostly wrong; there actually WASN'T an evil cartographer's guild out to get them, and they COULD trust the mapmakers in this setting... at least as far as they could trust anyone.
The first session began with the barbarian and a wandering elf both seeing the guy asleep under the tree (and another one, the NPC, up IN the tree), and wandering over to say hi. *(This being out in the rural areas, travelers often stop to exchange a few words). *Then they spotted a party of Dragonkin come to capture (though they didn't know it) the barbarian, and another party of Dragonkin come to capture (though they again didn't know it) amnesia-man. *That's when all hell broke lose, members of the Blue Dragonkin party attacked the Council Dragonkin (thinking they were competitors for the pass), someone spotted the elf and immediately there were some after HIM, and the adventurers fled into the swamp. *Though the Dragonkin lost them for a while after that, they kept turning up here and there, and the party could NEVER figure out what their agenda was, because there were actually two groups with two different agendas.
Right. *Lots of tangents. *Next up, the Elven Union.
10-13-2005, 04:08 AM
All right! *It's the race that everyone loves to hate, kobolds dragons ogres kender elves!
----- The Elven Union -----
The Elven Empire is divided into five distinct nations, defined by the five breeds of elves. *(Drow aren't included.) *The capitol is in the high elven city over High Lake. *Each nation sends a delegation of up to a hundred elves to the Senate. *Each delegation gets one vote, and three votes in favor are required to pass a measure. *In addition, the high elf delegation chairs the Senate and has veto power in the face of anything but a unanimous vote of the other nations. *Because of this power set-up and the resulting intriguing, deal-making, and so forth, little is accomplished "domesticly", and the five nations remain fairly autonomous. *Most laws passed on the level of the Union deal either with interactions between the nations and their territorial boundaries, or foreign matters and interests.
Thus, the Elven Union is best addressed as five different nations. *Each nation largely consists of its defining breed, but outsider elves from the other nations are freely adopted in at the lowest rung of society. *All the nations have three points of commonality. *First, the common language of all elves is Evos Carnos (Incarnate, or Modern, Elven), though the ancient tongue Evos Memos (Remembered Elven) of the Second Age is used for many official (and especially Senatorial) purposes; for this reason it is also called Evos Unos (Union Elven). *Second, with only rare exceptions, elves worship Alaerus; however, each breed worships a different aspect of Alaerus and has a significantly different emphasis and manner to their religion -- many subtleties of which their neighbors consider heretical. *Finally, there is the Degeneration; I've mentioned it before, but it is worth repeating that the fear of it defines elven societies, and that the different assumptions that elves make regarding degeneration shapes each society differently. *Most elves believe their empire to be on particularly magical land (or suspended over it, in the case of the High Elves), and perhaps they're right, and perhaps that helps stave off degeneration, or perhaps it doesn't. *A typical rumor is that the continent across the western ocean is entirely magical, and that anyone who reaches it need not fear degeneration. *Of course, the sea journey is hazardous (the DragonWall must be crossed, and then, with no real port, the ships must be built by hand) for all but the most powerful few. *Still, an elf that feels degeneration coming on will often risk it, and the migration of elves westward through the Ravine is a common sight if one knows what to look for.
(I, ah, did mention I was ripping off Tolkein, didn't I?)
The high elven city is a marvel of magical engineering, suspended over High Lake and the Upper Ravine like a great cobweb. *Support wires criss-cross, houses dangle over nothing, stairs and lifts and gondolas connect everything. *The original structure, for social reasons we'll get into in a bit, cannot be improved upon or expanded; there are vast empty sections of nothingness over most of High Lake, and the metropolis consists only of key nexus points. *Where the city population has overflown, extensions have been made and anchored into the walls of the Ravine or a small chain of islands in the center of High Lake.
High elves in particular hold to the view that magic encompasses specialness, uniqueness, and surpassment. *Great works of art bestow upon their creators, their owners, and those around them their aura of magic, thus protecting those people from degeneration. *Pristine and breathtaking places of nature do the same. *Great, heroic deeds preserve those who commit them, and those who witness them. *And, on the flip side of the coin, great acts of villainry, horrific acts of destruction, and vile eviliness do the same. *So long as they are not ORDINARY. *Mundane things are shunned; those in the presence of anything deemed mundane (including, especially, other races, scut work, et cetera) are felt to be at much greater risk of degeneration. *High elven society thus revolves around being special, or being around what's special, in any way one can. *However, it is also very rigid. *Those who have achieved greatness cannot be surpassed within their lives; to do so is seen as an attempt to bring degeneration upon the race's greatest souls. *Such a crime results in a great loss of status if the attempt to surpass the great one failed; if it succeeds, it is punishable by death. *Disrespect is treated similarly. *This desperation is the rot that eats away at the world's hautiest breed.
High elven economy is complex and confusing to the outsider, because no currency or barter is used. *The only coin is social perception of status. *To offer a gift to someone of high status is to honor and confirm their status; for someone of high status to accept that gift is to confirm that it is of a level of magic appropriate to the receiver, and thus enhances the status of the giver. *To rebuff the gift states that it is not worthy of the receipient, and hurts the giver's status. *On this basic form of interaction, the entire economy of the high elves is based. *Since crude economics like bartering and dealing in coin reduce status, this only occurs at the bottom rungs of society; sicne those are most prone to degeneration anyway, what's the loss? *Those highest in status rule the nation; anyone can request entry into the High Elven Senate (usually honoring it and its members with every other word), and though the exact threshhold is more intuitive than precise, roughly the highest one percent are allowed to join. *The High Elven Senate is also the delegation to the Union Senate, though most delegates delegate the task (as interaction with outsiders lowers status).
Of course, not all accept the current order. *Those near the bottom rung of society are not permitted to rise; to do so endangers those above them, and they are punished by it. *Therefore, they are kept in both poverty and (supposedly) at the greatest risk of degeneration. *The Elven Resistence is a permanent feature of high elven society, consisting of those who MUST rise at any cost, even the law's. *They call for reform and change, they do everything they can to rob status from those above them. *And yet, at the same time, they are part of the whole system; the leaders of the resistence are just as greedy in grasping at notoriety and their own form of status as the Senators. *The great historian Tulen, in finally doing the unthinkable and revealing the details of this social balance, wrote: *"The most distressing aspect of this whole state of affairs is not, contrary to what some may say, that our whole civilization depends on denying status, and survival, to these lowest classes. *Nor is it most distressing that the those who most visually reject this act, in doing so, become the ones must guilty of perpetrating it. *No. *It is that we have no deeds for the sake of deeds, no heroism for the sake of heroism, no beauty for the sake of beauty, no self-sacrifice which is not self-reward. *What is most distressing is that I am writing this solely to enhance my own status, and those who read this and approve will reward me solely in hope of enhancing their own. *THAT is the soul of our race."
(Oh, btw, this economic system is based on a slightly more complex, though somewhat less desperate, system from a SF story called "The Moon Moth". Can't remember the author's name, and the plot isn't the point, but it's a real thought-provoker.)
Grah. *I meant for this to all be one post, but I'm tired. Next up: Elves, continued!
12-15-2005, 03:30 AM
No, this isn't thread-necromancy, or whatever you call it here.
Well, maybe it is. RISE my new corpse minion! RISE INTO UNDEATH!
I original broke this off because... well, because I have the attention span of a kitten on pixie stix. (Stixes? Something like that.) Mostly, it was because I was thinking in terms of starting an Iron Tower campaign on these boards. I figured that PbP would help me compensate for the "flustered" aspect by removing much of the immediate decide-this-second time pressure. So I went into designing that... and got distracted by something else... and so on and so forth.
But now my meandering consciousness has brought me back to compiling the world, getting feedback on it, and (maybe) spreading ideas and getting a few in return. Hurray for memes!
So, since I'm Raise Deading this thread to continue its original purpose, the minor fact that it's been dead and burried for two months isn't a problem. Right? After all, it has no less value now than it did originally. So nyeh. (Whether it is POSSIBLE for anything to have less value than this did originally is another question entirely.)
So. Enough about unearthing things that should be dead and burried. Where was I? Ah yes. ELVIS ELVES!
------- The Other Elven Races ------------
Sylvan Elves: Though most elves feel a special attraction to "magical" places (remember, this is the elven conception of magic, not the Spellcraft skill conception of magic), Sylvan elves revel in them. There are thousands of secret vales, glades, springs, and such places on the upper North- and Southwalls, and they've discovered most of them. Their lifestyle is pastoral and somewhat traditional for DnD (read: I haven't developed them much), but they believe that the mystical nature of these locations is what staves off Degeneration, and they put down very solid roots. They are loathe to leave them, but unlike the High Elves they acknowledge that past generations must give way to the present. At a certain venerable age, an elder is cast out from whatever recluse he or she has lived at until then. The legend of a highly magical continent across the sea resonates very strongly with Sylvan elves, and most of these elders (and quite a few youngsters) attempt the likely-suiciadal trek through human lands and then past the Dragonwall to the sea. Sylvans Degenerate into halflings, whose itinerant nature contrasts strongly with their originators. Sylvans don't view their Degenerated with the same dread that the other elven races do, but rather take a paternally tolerant attitude towards halflings, welcoming them into their recluses. Each recluse is governed by a council elected by its adult citizens, and each council sends a single delegate to the Union to make up the Sylvan delegation.
Gray Elves: Gray elven society is structured around their military, believing discipline and martial prowess to be their salvation from Degeneration. They seek out the most inhospitable climates, cheerfully stating that it will "toughen them up proper". This has meant that most of them have settled in the Great Glacier marking the edge of the Northern World, the glaciers in the peak of the dwarves' Khajaran Mountains, and the great desert marking the border of the Southern World. They are organized around their Units, with a clear chain of command. Each unit usually builds an outpost or a fort where they base, and sends out hunting and foraging parties from those bases. The overall society is ruled by the General Staff, a council of the highest-ranking officers, which in turn sends a detachment of five of its members to represent it in the Union. Every gray elf serves in the military, starting at the age of five as foragers, fletchers, craftsmen, and the like, and advancing through the ranks, starting at the bottom. Wounded and crippled are delegated to logistical or material support. These elves make war a way of life and regularly skirmish with dwarves, humans, wild elves, gnomes, and each other just for the sake of having someone to fight. This isn't regarded as a REAL war, just passing the time between wars. (The war with dwarves is regarded as a declared unwar. The war with the Drow is deadly-serious, but the dwarves are between here and there, so not much fighting goes on.) The gray elf views him- or herself as the epitomy of martial discipline, and looks with disdain upon the corrupt city-folk (high-elves) and the soft treehuggers (Sylvans). They respect wild-elves individually, but consider them as a whole too undisciplined to accomplish anything. Grey elves are the only elven race to utilize mass troop formations, though they will just as readilly employ the commando/guerrilla tactics favored by their less warlike kin. Gray Elves degenerate into gnomes, who generally prefer domestic lives and thus leave the military for (literally) greener pastures, rather than continuing service or stepping back into the roles for cripples. These gnomes are viewed as deserters, creating a source of tension between grey elves and gnomes. Though a few degenerates don't "desert", they still suffer under the stigma of prejudice.
Wild Elves: Wild elves have a Jungian view of Degeneration. To them, everything has a balance, and Degeneration is what happens when an elven soul falls out of balance. Civility must be balanced by barbarism, mercy by cruelty, good by evil. They believe that each soul has an opposite half, the Animal, and that a sort of union must be made with this other half for good mental and spiritual health. (Compare real world models of Animal Guides, Jungian Animae, shoulder angels/devils, etc.) Denying this secret half, as the rest of elven society does, will cause it to rebel and consume the elf's body in Degeneration, but giving it what it wants too often is to become it voluntarily, with the same result. The area between is a dangerous tightrope-thin region to walk. That wild elves degenerate into orcs (and, in a few cases, goblins, hobgoblins, and other goblinoids) says a lot about the traits posessed by the Animal. Because of all this there is no wild elf society per se, just the common philosophy and travails of barbaric existence. Family units form only briefly. Mothers raise daughters, fathers generally raise sons, and husband and wife usually divorce to go their sepparate ways when the children of their union are able to walk unaided. The children are taught everything the guardian parent knows, and abandoned at the beginning of puberty to fend for themselves. Wild elves are generally introspective, self-contained loners, though they will often come together for social gatherings and feasts. They can usually be found on the plains of highlands west of the Elven Union; they mingle freely with human barbarians of Northwall, often joining their tribes on a temporary basis (which, given elven lifespans, can mean several decades). Bear in mind, though, that these are generalities, and no elves violate the generalities of their kind like wild elves. There is no overall government or even system of settling disputes; to be a wild elf is to be a kingdom unto oneself. Delegates to the Union are usually decided on a "whoever cares enough to show up" basis, and it is left to the Union itself to impose a system of order upon the delegation. (The current system, which has lasted about four decades, is "whoever's been here longest speaks for the wild elves". As no wild elf has stayed there for two years, they form a major swing vote.) Wild elves worship both Alaerus and Ularros, the latter representing the Animal and ruling over the darker side of the spirit. They see the relationship between the two gods as being a contrast, like day and night, rather than the rivalry other elves see it as (or the semi-union it actually is). For this reason, most other elves treat wild elves as dangerous, dark heretics.
Water elves: I haven't done much with water elves, except to decide that they're very reclusive and secretive, never-quite-trusted because no one knows anything about them. Gee, what a cop-out flash of genius! They live below High Lake and only rarely send a delegation to the Union. Then it is usually with specific instructions or demands rather than a broad mandate to negotiate and legislate. Water elves also control the surface of High Lake (though they are rarely seen there), and no trade passes across their lake without their permission (and, usually, a fee).
Drow: There are very few drow in the world of Ravine. They never really recoverred in numbers from the Revolt... but that's had its advantages, because, since they are a rarity, drow don't suffer from Degeneration. This was Ularros's explanation for his betrayal of the drow during the Revolt (sacrificing the majority so a few could be saved), and it was generally accepted by the race proper under "or else" conditions. They hold a deep, defining hatred for all the other elven races, but are too weak numerically and too isolated from the other elves to do much about it. They are located deep under their old home of the Khajar mountains, which has since been taken over by dwarves. The drow hate the dwarves even worse than they hate their surface kin and are in a constant state of war with them. Not much more about the drow... they're just... drow. Okay, I probably need to work on them too.
12-15-2005, 01:07 PM
I've read through it all in one setting, so my head hurt a bit. Okay, ALOT right now. But I think it is wonderful. The amount of detail in the story is incredible and... just... WONDERFUL. From what I gather, your problem is the actual DMing. So do you know what to do? Go and DM something. No matter how much you prepare, it is always a possibility that the players do something that really screws up your plans. Only by facing such situations can you learn how to handle them. "Rolling with the punches" is one of the most important things you have to learn as a DM. Sure, it can be frustrating when your characters crit out the guy you wanted to be a recurring villian, or you can be tearing your hair out when your characters walk in a direction you would never predict. That is when you have to come up with a new plan on the go. Okay, so they killed the BBEG before he actually became the BBEG. Why not make it so that the one they killed was a clone, or a polymorph. Just use your creativity to turn the originally bad outcome to something good. Some people base their ENTIRE campaigns on randomness. They create a "playground" and invent things on the go. You, on the other hand, do not need to do this random invention as you have already made an exellent world. So here is my best advice. "Go out and DM, play and talk with your players, have fun, remember that it is only a game, and most important of all, take the surprises with a smile." Remember, you may surprise your players quite often too ;)
12-15-2005, 04:28 PM
A short post for a short people!
----- Halflings -----
I haven't put much thought into halflings, and most of it is pretty standard DnD faire. Halflings in Ravine are welcome (or at least tolerated) in nearly every nation, even the most intollerant. The xenophobic Iron Tower treats halflings almost the same as it treats humans. Dragonkin, and even the orcs, goblins, and giants of the deep north will trade peacefully with halfling merchants (though they will also do the brigandry thing if encountered on the open road). Halflings have no nation to call their own. They settle in the nations of other powers, and it's a rare community that doesn't have its share of halflings. Some will live all their lives in one nation, even integrating themselves into the power structure as full citizens, while others will pick up and leave every few years, headed elsewhere. Some never settle down. When they migrate, it is usually in groups of extended families heading to the same destination. Their wagons are distinctive and large (built on a human scale), making them almost houses on wheels. When these groups settle down, it is in close proximity, and they retain tight family- and social-relationships in later generations. Being allowed most everywhere, halflings are the most successful merchants and peddlers. The halfling language is Vagonich, though they take to local tongues fairly quickly, and most speak Trade Common. (Trade Common is like Common in DnD, except that most people don't speak it, mostly just merchants, diplomats, and other people who deal with foreign languages a lot. Think of it like Esperanto.) I modelled them after a sort of cross between jews and gypsies in Europe (not that I'm particularly an expert on either group, more of a "feel" thing than anything else) and their names tend to be of that sort.
Halflings have a dualistic religion, focussed on the Guider and the Fouler. The religion is casual; it emphasizes the nature and the relationship of the two gods, but has very little in the way of a religious chronicle or dogma. The Guider, well, guides, keeping the halfling from becoming lost (on the road, in life, in afterlife... a wide concept), while the Fouler does the opposite. Halflings pray to both, though with the Fouler it tends to be a prayer that he will foul OTHERS. ("Please please please don't let the Watch find me!"). Halfling legend claims that the Guider placed a charm of protection over the entire race, which keeps others from persecuting them. Individuals can hate all halflings, nations can have a gripe against a particular halfling or group of halflings, but large organizations and nations just have a sort of blind spot to the possibility or persecuting halflings in general. Unlike most legends, this one seems to actually play out in reality.
12-15-2005, 04:40 PM
Hey, good work on the halflings. Especially the "Guider/Fouler" part. I found it quite creative, but then again I loathed LOTR so you could have taken it from there, but at least it sounds original.
12-15-2005, 06:49 PM
ok, awhile back i made a campaign setting where i made up and entire world with everything about it already described.
Latvia- based on rome, everyone is very decadent. low technology, high magic, olympic pantheon
Abascathe- based on Native american cultures, less of a country more of a territory.
Gaul- based on celtic culture, think scotland and you've got it nailed.
Avalon- home of the elves. no mortal can set foot on the island and no elf who has left the island can ever return.
Gaulish mountains- home of the dwarves.
Akkadia- egypt based kingdom. high technology, low magic, also home to the gypsies and the cossacks.
Mandarin Empire- rokugan, completely unchanged.
to make every nationality worth while i gave each heritige benefits to game play.
Avalon- i never had a character from avalon, but i believe it's benefits was pluses to caster lvl.
akkadian- +2 to survival in desert and always succeed at "intuit direction" (yes this was 3.0) checks aslong as the sun is visible.
cossack- +4 to ride, and mounted combat feat for free
gypsy- required to take 1st lvl as a "nomad" class but gains 2 languages for free and nomad does not count as an extra class for the purpose of judging xp penalties.
Abascathan-automatically able to communicate with character's totem animal once per day as with "speak with animals" but only functions for one type of animal.
Latvian- starts game with wealth of a character on lvl higher and all knowledges are class skills.
Gaul- Rage 1/day unless playing a druid, a druid could cancel any other rage at will with an opposed charisma/caster lvl check.
Mandarin- could play any rokugan class or race and got a heritige feat for free.
then i started limiting what classes could be from which areas. like wizards had to be from avalon or Latvia, druids had to be from Abascathe or Gaul, rokugan classes were only from the mandarin empire.
everyone had fun, but the problem i found was that the world was too big. we'd spend entire sessions just traveling from one country to another. now when i create campaigns that big i install some kind of world-wide travel network like airships or trains or teleportation circles. either way the party has to pay money to travel free of danger, but it doesn't take up the entire session just in travel time.
12-16-2005, 04:33 AM
Three brief entries here that I haven't done much work on:
----- The Gnomes, The Dukes of Fer, and the Druids -----
The gnomes can be found on the Southwall, occupying a prime piece of real estate between Middle Southwall (the dwarves) and the Upper Southwall (the elves). Their nation isn't much of one, and exists largely through elven intervention. The elves have made various trade concessions with the gnomes, offering them access to the worlds East and South, provided that they maintain a functioning government and a solid army of defense, and deny dwarven forces right of passage through or under their lands. The dwarves help gnomish merchants cross the southern desert in exchange for a similar denial regarding elven forces. The gnomes take the job seriously, but it's a job, not something they undertake because they want to. They are domestic in nature and generally unconcerned with the world at large. Gnomes are expert tinkerers (but not Tinker Gnomes), and are known for their mastery of black powder, clockwork, and gem cutting. The latter two, along with magical tools and oddities, make up their prime export. Gnomish gems in particular are so consistent, of such fine quality, and so perfectly marked, that they've become a sort of international currency, to the point at which the rate of exchange for coins is only partially what the metal can be melted down for, but also partially the rate at which the gnomes will exchange gems for them, the latter being an even easier transaction than the former. (The Iron Tower's currencies are, of course, excepted, since good Alliance members would deal neither with gnomes nor their gems. Since the Alliance HAS no foreign trade worth speaking of, it's not much of a loss.) I'm not sure yet what their government is like, but I'm leaning towards a monarchy, since I don't have nearly enough of those for a fantasy setting. The gnomish god is Gummy Halfheart -- again, I haven't thought of much, but I think there's a story behind that name. The Gnomes controll High Pass, better known as the Gem Pass in their honor.
Lower Southwall is controlled by the Dukes of Fer. The Dukes are technologists. While gnomes and dwarves might have black powder, the Dukes have steam power and steam cannons. Their territory is mountainous and choked with coal smog. Their cities (really more fortress towns) are called Holdings. Each Holding is ruled by a Duke. There is no real central government, but Machiavellian horse trading and power blocks produce enough of a consensus to hold of the dwarves to the east and the druids to the south. Technology is somewhat Victorian era (with emphasis on all the stuff that would make people ooh and ah, like moving pictures, rather than truly practical things), but the social and economic makeup is very feudal. Each Duke (or in rare cases duchess) is raised from a noble class to authority by their predecessor's will or abdication. Only the nobility are allowed to make or use all their fancy inventions; the serfs (slaves is the accurate, but unused, term) may work them, stoking fires or muscling cannons into position, but the nobles must be the ones in direct command. Very few of the devices are labor-saving because the reliance on the serfs shelters the nobility from the need to save labor. The serfs are usually worked to death; the Dukes replace them by employing slavers that kidinap dwarves from the east, vassals of the Druids to the south, and (through the Low Pass, also called the Dukes' Pass, the Iron Pass, or Slaver's Road) humans from the land of Sherem in the Lower Ravine. The Dukes don't care about race; they are gnomes and halflings, humans and dwarves, without a care. A magic supressive-field has settled over the entire nation; I haven't worked out the mechanics to this, but it is a bane to elves and most will avoid it like the plague. The Dukes have no religion; they acknowledge the existence of gods but place themselves above those gods in importance.
South of the Dukes, with no access to the Ravine at all, are the Druids and their vassals. This actually refers to both the cultural model (Celtic-like priests) and the class. The Dukes are constantly encroaching on the Druids' lands, gobbling up more resources, and the Druids are constantly fighting back. Their religion, unsurprisingly, focuses on honoring and defending nature for nature's sake. Though this nation is the spiritual homeland of druids, many others of the religion (and class, the latter implies the former) can be found throughout the world. The religion is anamistic; there is no god, so much as forces, powers, spirits, and flows. In addition to the Dukes, the Druids have taken a particular interest in checking the abuses of the Dragonkin and the Tower, and druids can be found supporting resistance against both powers.
Ah, like I said, haven't put much thought into any of these. In my experience, the Dukes are the most troubling, and I'm strongly inclined to say they can't be taken as a PC background.
12-16-2005, 01:04 PM
I like it, and I don't think the duke would be a big problem. If I had played that game I'd want to be as far away from them as possible.
12-16-2005, 01:31 PM
Ok Reltzik you've got good stuff here. More than enough to play a campaign with. My advice: take one small part of it, grab a group of friends, and play in it. Don't worry about any more metaplot or worldbuilding, because now you get to fill in the details of the little bitty space the characters will be in for a few months of real time, until they hit about level 5 and can adventure around your world.
So now, instead of worrying about the Elven Nations, create the local pub the characters invariably will start in. Instead of worrying about kings, gods, and race wars, worry about the CR 1 crossbow trap that will be on the first door of the goblin-filled basement the players will tackle on level 1.
12-16-2005, 03:55 PM
In a word: OHmygodmyheadhurts.
I can't get through it all right now, but I would give you this advice for now:
1) Your world is very complex and thought out. You put a lot of work into it. This gives you an advantage as a DM. But, you need to figure out how to introduce this to your PC's as they play in it. Most PC's don't want to read 100 pages of story setting. Most want to have the world come to life as they experience it.
2) You need to have room for your PC's stories. Technically this isn;t a requirement... but if your PC wants to have a father on trial for murder that he is trying to raise money to save (i.e. Haley in OOTS) is there room for that in the campaign, or do you see that as a distraction?
3) The advice of Richiliu above is priceless. A campaign world is often judged on two things- the detail of every encounter and the detail of the world as a whole. If the entire world is detailed, but the starting hamlet and dungeon are just filled with not very well thought out PC's and places, the experience will not be memorable.
4) You have done a good job on the world- next just practice DMing. I don't care what people say, everyone can be a competent (although not great) DM with practice and research. But you need that practice.
12-16-2005, 11:53 PM
Richelieu and Jurel: *Yeah, I kinda figure that's the mistake (EDIT: *ONE of the mistakes) I made the two times I tried to run a game in Ravine; I focussed too much on the world and not enough on the campaign. *I am currently working on a third campaign set in the Alliance of the Iron Tower. *Hopefully I'll avoid that mistake this time around and instead discover a bigger one to make. *I'm going to keep posting this, though, in case people are interested. *It might give them ideas for their own games, or they might have some ideas to contribute to this setting.
On a tangent, this is my second time writing this post. *You see, the oh-so-helpful people at IBM decided that having "back" and "forward" browser keys on my keyboard would be a convenience. *As a further convenience, they put these keys right next to the arrow keys. *As a further convenience, accidentally pressing the BACK key instead of the UP key that I might be using to scroll through and proofread a post loses all the data I'd typed. *As a final convenience, my keyboard now has two fewer keys. *I should have done that years ago!
----- The Human Lowlands, King Ormic, The Time of Troubles, and the Tower's Crusade -----
The Middle and Lower Ravine -- Torem and Sherem, respectively -- are fairly similar in nature. *Both have predominantly human populations. *Though they speak different languages, Toremic and Sheremic, the two tongues are very similar. *Both countries have rich soil but little in the way of minerals, especially iron. *Their armor tends towards leather, studded with wood; their weapons are predominantly wooden, with a predelection for spears and crossbows. *The Ravine is mostly one big flood plain, and every spring the River breaks its banks and drowns the land from Northwall to Southwall. *Cities are surrounded by great dikes [EDIT: *D-I-K-E-S as in dams to hold back water from lowlying areas, you stupid filter] of sun-baked clay (more hills than walls, walking up them is easy), while more rural communities design their homes to float or build them on stilts. *Canoes are an essential item for any rural household. *The way that the flood eases the transportation of supplies, equipment, and soldiers makes spring campaigning season, and the Ravine traditionally eschews land combat for naval.
Eight hundred years ago, King Ormic arose out of lower Sherem and, through conquest, united the lowlands of Ravine from Dragos Swamp (a saltwater marsh [EDIT: Salt + Water Marsh. Again, stupid filter.] marking the begining of the River's passage through the Dragon Wall and marking the west border of Sherem) to the shore of High Lake. *His rule survived numerous revolts, wars, invasions, one plague, and one assasination attempt. *The second attempt succeeded, though, and his death without a clear heir tore the empire apart.
The dark ages that followed were known as the Time of Troubles. *Ormic had succeeded in eliminating the nobility as a class in the Lower Ravine, they being the most dissatisfied with and greatest threat to his rule; he hadn't finished the task with the Middle Ravine, and those nobles were scared by what had happened to their ilk in Sherem. *Upon his death, the nobility of Torem revolted and succeeded in breaking away. *Sherem couldn't reconquer them; it was locked in a several-dozen-sided (no one ever got an exact count) war of succession. *Ormic quickly came to be seen as a symbol of the peace, order, and justice which had vanished, and came to be worshipped as a god.
That war had no victors. *The people of Sherem eventually got so sick of various contenders to the throne drafting them into armies or confiscating their crops that anyone attempting to organize a campaign became the target of mob violence. *Soldiers were ostracized by their families; would-be-kings shunned by their supposed subjects. *The region disolved into a state of pure anarchy, with government not only non-existant but also impossible. *Rural communities held together through the personalities of strong leaders and even stronger familial ties. *Cities held together out of the need for markets and power deals among guilds and churches... though they were almost unlivable for the turf wars, lack of planning, and lack of ordinances. *Rural life was more peaceful, if still rough-and-tumble. *The people of Sherem looked at what was happening in Torem and decided that they were better off for it.
Torem had become an even-worse political meltdown. *It consisted of city-states and districts ruled over by a much-weakened arristocracy. *Many attempts were made to unite Torem, but with so many parties, all remembering the last emporor with distaste, any near-victor was quickly betrayed by dozens of formerly neutral bystanders. *In this way, the most competent lines were weeded out, and the remaining nobility has long been known for purebread arristocratic narrowsighted incompetence. *There was no controling authority. *The nobles warred and feuded with each other, sacrificing their people on petty whims, for petty gains, over petty offenses. *The serfs eventually learned that the best way to deal with the nobles was to keep their heads down, hand over the required tributes of grain at harvest, and develop alarming limps whenever the military came to press them into service. *They regarded the nobles with contempt, and were generally happy to leave them to themselves. *Forced to deal with a peasantry that didn't support them, the nobles evolved a new model of warfare around elite mercenary squadrons of ships; small-scale duels between proxies.
In the final century of the Third Age, the Iron Tower's Crusade invaded the Ravine through the North Pass. *Its goals were conquest of the rich farmlands, forcible conversion of the human and halfling populations, and the erradication of all the other races. *The Tower began by creating a diversionary fifth column of religious converts and bringing key Toremic city-states into its Alliance. *Then, when the spring waters resided, it launched a mass invasion of the remainders. *Unprepared for land combat and unable to rally the peasants to a solid defense, the remaining nobility joined the Alliance under terms indistinguishable from surrender. *The Alliance left the nobles in place, hoping that by maintaining the existing power structure it could digest the conquest more easilly. *A poor harvest in Torem (a consequence of the chaos caused by the Crusade) brought campaigning to a close for the year, and rationing was instituted throught Torem. *Winter closed the trade arteries of the Alliance highland, and then the spring flood took the Alliance by surprise; though it was practiced at making up for a harvest shortfall in one portion of its lands by surplusses in another, it had not factored the flooding in when planning its relief convoys of grain into the conquered territory. *Famine swept across Torem, the starving Crusade disintegrated into desperate, indisciplined units, and the peasant population (already fed up with a government much more intrusive than the old nobility had become) rebelled. *It would be years before the Tower finished consolidating its hold on Torem.
That gave Sherem time to organize the defense... except that Sherem was the last place to expect to ORGANIZE anything. *Those foolish enough to attempt it died quickly at the hands of the mob. *But then came a man named Pleidin from the lowlands near Dragos swamp, claiming to be the reincarnation of King Ormic, come to mount a defense against the invaders. *Both the Order of Lacquer and the Church of Ormic backed up the claim. *Whether this backing was genuine or simply a matter of expediency is anyone's guess.
King Pleidin secured control to key cities, bringing law and order to them for the first time in centuries. *He forged an alliance with the dwarves, then pressed, trained, and organized a small land army in time to send it east against the renewed Crusade. *The outnumbered, outweaponed, and outexperienced force met the Crusade's army at a ford in the River in early fall, allowing itself to get caught with the River at its back. *But it was a ploy. *The dry grass of the field had been soaked with lamp oil, and when the Alliance's forces charged the Sheremic general set fire to the field and withdrew across the river. *Prepared members of the Sorcerous Guild secretly countered the magic of surprised and unready priests of the Tower. *The Tower army was routed. *One in three crusaders either burned to death or was trampled in the rush to escape. *Then a small strike force of dwarves cut across the surviving army's supply line and forced it to pull back to its bases in Torem. *The next spring, King Pleidin rowed up the Ravine with thirty galleys and a new weapon, called Dragon Fire: *Sticky, flamable, gooey mud collected from Dragos Swamp, representing utter death to the wooden ships of the Toremic. *He struck at key supply depots and bases, completing the disordering of the Crusade and giving himself the time he needed to finish forging his kingdom. *For the nature of his victories, King Pleidin has earned the title "the Fiery". *But despite these victories, Pleidin lacks the strength for a counter-invasion of Torem; it remains solidly in in Tower hands.
12-17-2005, 02:07 PM
The second game I ran was set in the Borderlands, specifically out of the city Jerrain. *Thus, this is the area of the setting which I've put the most detail into. *It's also the area for which I have the most surviving notes. *Much of this is copy-pasted from files on the setting which I emailed to my players. *Can electronic files even gather dust?
----- The Borderlands -----
Region: *The exact border between the Middle Ravine and the Upper Ravine is a matter of some dispute. *Originally, it was a precise north-south line marked by the city Marett, the provincial capitol of Prince Padolm. *In past centuries, the boundary between the Middle Ravine and the High Ravine has come to mean the border between human and elven territories -- that is, most of the west shore of High Lake is in the Middle Ravine, while the lake itself, and the southern, northern, and eastern shores, comprise the Upper Ravine. *This boundary is some 120 miles east of the original. *Over a century before the end of the Third Age, the Iron Tower erected the Bridge of the Heavens across the Ravine, and this landmark has come to mark the border in common parlance. *The bridge runs roughly northwest/southeast, and is roughly 100 miles south-southwest of Marrett. *Generally, the region from the Bridge of the Heavens to High Lake is called the Borderlands.
Terrain: *The Borderlands are mostly rolling hills sloping down to the west. *The land is fertile, but not so fertile as the majority of the Ravine. *The River does not produce the great floods typical of the region, though High Lake does rise considerably in spring. *Land not cleared for farming is forested in oak, elm, and sycamore, in the west, with the occasional meadow, while in the east pine, fir, and redwood is more common. *There are countless vales, valleys and hollows hidden away in the hills, and much of the land remains wild. *Dozens of villages and towns serve as trading posts and markets for farmers, and one is usually within a day's walk of some community or other. *Most are ruled over by a duke, earl, baron, count, or other noble with some such title. *The title itself is important only for the posturing of nobles towards other nobles and in all other respects meaningless -- the noble is In Charge, answering only to one of the region's two princes. *Springs are plentiful, creating a network of tributaries which feed into the Roaring River.
Weather: *The Borderlands possess a moderate climate. *Winter snows are only common in the east, and those light. *A few frosts are often seen every winter, but they are generally mild. *Still, evening usually brings a deep chill, lasting through to a morning fog which hangs thick across most of the Ravine and which carries the chill through to the bone. *On sunny days this fog tends to disperse between ten and noon, and on windy days it scarcely forms at all. *Storms tend to come during the spring, usually with heavy rains and gusting winds.
Cities: *There are only two significant cities in the Borderlands. *Marret, a small city with a population of about 8000 located roughly in the center of the Borderlands, sits high on Crook Hill and is ruled by Prince Padolm. *The Prince is not so much evil, authoritive, brutal, or cruel, as he is stupid, selfish, lazy, and insensitive to the wants, needs, and suffering of the peasantry. *He rules the nobles, no one else, and the nobles rule their peasants in any manner they see fit, which is normally rather inhumanely. *Rather than be conquered by the Iron Tower, Prince Padolm (or, more accurately, his much more capable and ambitious chancellor) negotiated a treaty giving him entry into the Alliance as a sovereign state, with authority over the whole of the Borderlands. *The Inquisition runs rampant over most of the hinterlands with Chancellor Assain's blessing, and Assain's name is widely cursed throughout the region by anyone who has suffered at the hands of the Iron Tower. *The banner of Marret features a wolf's head, and the city and its ruler are often referred to as the Borderwolf.
The city of Jerain sits on the shore of High Lake, and is ruled by Prince Flemmet. *The line of Flemmet is far more humane than the line of Padolm. *Prince Flemmet is strict with the nobility under his authority, holding them answerable for crimes they may commit against peasantry, and he has been rewarded with a prosperous realm free of rebellion. *Jerain has long maintained excellent relations with the water elves inhabiting High Lake, and through them trades with the elven empire and the exotic lands of Eastwall. *In the three years since the Iron Tower began invading the eastern Borderlands, refugees of all sorts have flocked to Jerain, tripling its population to 28000. *Jerain's flag is a green stripe running diagonally across a yellow field, but a common image for its pendants is a green-and-yellow dragon, originating in the legends and fables of the city and seen as a symbol of good luck. *"Jerain and the Dragon" is a common cheer among its citizens.
Landmarks and prominent features:
High Lake marks the eastern edge of the Borderlands. *It is a clear lake spanning most of the Upper Ravine, about 450 miles long and 250 miles wide.
The Great River, referred to as the Roaring River in the Borderlands, winds down the center of the Ravine. *Due to the fast nature of the river little water traffic takes place on it, most of it heading downstream.
Heaven's Bridge, or the Bridge of the Heavens, is a silver, magically constructed span across the Ravine, from Northwall to Southwall, about 25 miles across. *It is visible from up to 100 miles away on a clear day.
Northwall and Southwall, the northern and southern walls of the Ravine, run from about 3 miles high at the Heaven's Bridge to about 1 mile high at the eastern extent of the Borderlands.
The Gem Pass, also known as the South Pass, is a trail that leads up and down the Southwall just south of Jerrain, allowing a healthy trade with the gnomish lands. *It is one of only three known paths in and out of the Ravine.
The Gem River plunges over the side of Southwall just east of South Pass at Gem Falls, from where it flows into High Lake.
The North Pass, or Iron Trail is a pass leading up and down the Northwall, north of Heaven's Bridge and north-by-northwest of Marret. *(Another pass, far to the west and leading up Southwall, is called the Iron Pass. *This causes less confusion than one might think.) *It leads up to the lands of the Alliance of the Iron Tower and is the principle route of invasion being used by the Iron Tower into Torrem. *The Iron Tower maintains a strongly-garrisoned fort at the pass's base.
Stairway Falls is where the Winding River pours over the Northwall, about 120 miles east of the Iron Trail and 70 miles north of Marret. *The falls are actually several waterfalls dropping down tiers of the Northwall, hence their name. *They produce the Winding River, which feeds into the Roaring River some 45 miles north-northwest of Marret.
The Elven Capitol: *Though part of the Upper Ravine, the capitol city of the Elven Lands can be seen stretched across the Ravine like a golden, dew-laden spider web. *It is visible from the shore of and the ridge surrounding High Lake on a clear day.
Humans are by far the dominant race of the Borderlands. *In the west, the Inquisition has begun eliminating the other races in its usual manner -- executing any it can find, causing the others to evacuate. *Many halflings have left the province of Marret as well, despite the Inquisition's acceptance of that race, due to their somewhat unequal status under the Iron Tower. *Dwarves have long been trading partners from the west, but they too have withdrawn, and rumors persist that the dwarves are preparing to move their war with the Tower down into the Ravine.
Most of the other races evacuated to the east into the province of Jerrain. *Humans still remain the dominant race, but there are also halflings, gnomes from the Southwall, and especially elves from lands east.
Before the coming of the Inquisition, a casual smattering of gods was worshipped in the Borderlands:
Dophilia, a goddess who is the embodiment of good and tolerance, and who is worshipped across most of the lands. (Domains: *Good, Knowledge, Protection)
Temera, goddess of the harvest, worshiped throughout most of the Ravine (Domains: *Earth, Plant, Animal)
Ormic, former King elevated to godhood, worshipped by nobility in the Middle and Lower Ravine (Domains: *Law, Strength, War)
Fiadin, tender and burier of the dead and guide for dead souls, worshiped throughout most human lands (Domains: *Death, Law)
Leemre, the Healer, worshipped exclusively in the borderlands (Domains: *Healing, Sun, Protection)
Vybyrn, God of the Wilds, worshipped exclusively in the borderlands (Domains: *Plant, Animal, Chaos)
Yorrin the Gold, God of trade, worshipped in the Middle Ravine and Borderlands (Domains: *Travel, Trickery, Law)
Undalomar the Wise, God of learning, worshipped in most human lands *(Domains: Knowledge, Magic, Chaos)
Imolt, Goddess of Fortune, worshipped solely in the borderlands (Domains: *Chaos, Luck, Trickery)
Kharaj, the SoulForger, god of Dwarves, worshipped in many aspects which are treated as distinct gods:
Kharaj the warrior -- War, Luck, Chaos
Kharaj the sagely -- Knowledge, Magic, Law
Kharaj of the surface -- Plants, Animals, Strength
Kharaj the forger -- Fire, Earth, Healing, Good, Sun -- creator of the Dwarven Race, universally honored.
Kharaj the Intercessor -- Evil, Magic, Destruction, Protection, Trickery -- prayed to to protect one's family from dark forces
Alaerus, the god of the elves, also worshipped in many aspects:
Alaerus the High -- Air, Magic, Good, Knowledge
Alaerus of the Waves -- Water, Magic, Travel
Alaerus of the Woods -- Plant, Animal, Good
Alaerus the Wild -- Luck, Strength, Fire
Alaerus the Harsh -- Protection, War, Law
Gummy Halfheart, god of the gnomes (Domain: *Good, Earth, Magic, Trickery)
The Guider, god of Halflings (Domains: *Travel, Good, Protection)
Other gods were feared by the general populous. *Though only the vilest of individuals worshipped them, they were well-known and spoken of in dread. *Many, though, will pray to these gods for mercy if they run afoul of forces under their domains.
Malorn, embodiment of evil and the eternal opponent of Dophilia (Domains: *Evil, War, Destruction)
Pollux, God of disease and blight, known throughout human lands (Domains: *Death, Destruction, Earth)
Wermic, God of marauders, worshiped by goblin races everywhere (Domains: *Strength, War, Destruction)
Behem, Lady of the Storms, goddess of natural catastrophes (Domains: *Earth, Fire, Water, Air, Destruction)
Reenolm, the Changer, feared in most human lands and embodying the ends of all things (Domains: *Magic, Chaos, Destruction, Death)
The Bladelady, goddess of murders and betrayal (Domains: *Evil, Chaos, Death, Strength, Trickery)
Ullaros, god of the Drow (Domains: *Evil, Earth, Magic, Trickery, Death)
The Fouler, dark god of the Halflings (Domains: *Trickery, Evil, Death)
The Inquisition has brought with it the Great Pantheon, a tight grouping of four gods which must be all be worshipped and worshipped in exclusion of all others. *While the Iron Tower readilly acknowledges the existence of other gods, those gods are seen as forces of evil to be battled and never, ever prayed to.
Pareeme: *The over-goddess of the Pantheon, who rules over the afterlife of the faithful (Protection, Law, Sun, Strength)
Kaeleme, the Collector of the Dead, who gathers up the souls of the faithful and protects them from evil gods. *(Death, Good, Law, Protection)
Fateeme, the Warrior, who battles the forces of evil. *(Law, Destruction, War, Good)
Coreene, lady of life, who oversees and blesses the daily lives of the faithful *(Law, Healing, Luck, Good)
Few humans devote themselves to only one god. *Most are either indifferent to the deities, or pray to whichever god is appropriate in the situation. *Similarly, elves and dwarves will typically pray to whatever aspect of their god is appropriate at a given time.
The dominant language of the area is Torremich, the language of the Middle Ravine. *Trovichen, the language of the Iron Tower, is naturally gaining a great deal of influence. *Evos Carnos, or Common Elven, has a great deal of influence in the upper Borderlands, as does Nommith, the Gnomish tongue. *New Derros, the Dwarven tongue, has its influences in the lower Borderlands. *Common, of course, is spoken everywhere, if not by everyone. *Vaggonich is spoken almost exclusively by halflings, but can be heard wherever they make their communities. *Among the learned, Draconic, Magros Standard (the common tongue of wizards), Evos Unos (High Elven), Old Derros (Old Dwarven), Aquan, and Sylvan are common courses of study.
As the campaign was based out of Jerrain in particular, I put much more detail into it than I did Marret.
Power structure of the city: *In theory, the city (and the region at large) is officially a monarchy ruled by Prince Flemmet, who has absolute authority over all decisions and political bodies. *Excepting Flemmet, there are five classes of person in Jerrain. *Nobles inherit their rank from their ancestors, but there are limits to their powers and they are held accountable for any crimes they commit. *Flemmet delegates most responsibility to the nobility, offering guidance and handling extraordinary tasks beyond their abilities. *Peasants are the common folk, and they are generally free to live and conduct their lives as they choose (within the normal framework of the laws, of course), but may occasionally be impressed into civil service for emergency projects. *They are not allowed to own land. *Citizens are -- any peasant may become a citizen by volunteering for the armies or civil services of the province, and may be recalled to service at any time. *Nobles manage the services by district. *Slavery does exist in Jerrain, but a person can only be made a slave for a crime or breach of contract, only for a precise period of time, and is protected by the law from his master's abuse. *There are no born slaves. *Children occupy a unique legal status, akin to slavery to their parents but with more protections and fewer obligations, with freedom granted when they reach their majority.
In practice, there are four powers within the city, of which Prince Flemmet is only one. *The second is the nobility, which form their own society above and apart from those they govern and most of whom are looking to expand or "restore" their privileges -- all for good reason, of course. *Prince Flemmet cannot run the province without them, and any noble rebellion would bring the province down in ruins, and thus he must walk a careful line between denying them their wishes and letting them grow even more powerful. *Though it is within Flemmet's power to create new nobles, those nobles would be ineffective without established ties to the existing nobility, and while he may strip a noble of rank that noble would retain influence among his former kin. *The increasing population of the province has forced Flemmet to restructure the entire nobility, leaving them confused and resentful, but normally he is successful at keeping them happy without giving too much away. *The third power is the Temple of Dophillia, a religion with great popular support which has become the spokes-organization for most religions fleeing persecution from the Tower. *This influence generally falls on the side of peasants and citizens, and is thus welcomed by Flemmet and unwelcome among the nobles. *Finally, the Order of Lacquer has become a focus for the learned. *Its library has produced several weapons which are key in the city's defense, and the Head Librarian is a close friend of Flemmet. *The powers get along in fair coordination, but each is distinct and has its own agenda.
City Layout: *Like most cities of the Middle and Lower Ravine, but unlike most cities in the Borderlands, Jerrain must contend with the spring floods. *It has done so in the traditional manner, by building an earthen hill around the city proper. *The city proper is thus shaped like a very large bowl, some three miles long northwest/southeast and half that width. *In response to the looming threat of the Iron Tower, Prince Flemmet ordered a second wall (this one more defensible than a mere ridge) about half a mile out from the first. *In addition to being built on a similar earthen hill, the walls are twenty feet thick and thirty feet high, not counting the height of the hill they are built on. *They do not completely encircle the city, but extend about a third of a mile into the lake on the either side of the docks, producing an artificial harbor. *Between the outer wall and the inner wall, three emergency districts have been established. *While officially these districts house Jerrain's two armies and the allied Elven army, in practice they have also become overflow housing for the flood of refuges, and for provincial services displaced from the city proper by the sudden population surge. *The land between the walls has been dredged, and the lake allowed to flood in. *Buildings in this section of the city are either built on stilts or, more often, designed to float, and lashed together to form a town instead of a collection of boats. *Two roads lead from the outer wall's two gates into the inner city. *They are about twenty feet below the water-level and kept dry by stone walls and pumps. *They can be easily flooded as a defensive measure.
The inner city is divided into districts, with major roads running in most cases along the districts' borders. *Each district has its own noble in charge of it, and each noble has been charged with making his or her district ideal for a certain type of industry or resident by Prince Flemmet. *The districts are usually referred to by their specialty, but the city is in many ways much more homogenous than the names of the districts would suggest. *For example, while the Market District, located near the two main gates of the inner wall, is indeed an extremely large market (the largest in the city), it is far from the only market; the borders of nearly every district serves as that districts' market for its goods, and a nearly-as-large market exists (unofficially) near the docks. *Similarly, while there is a district especially for renters, there are more inns closer to the gates. *Two districts -- the gate districts -- specialize in nothing but the needs of travelers, especially the housing for beasts of burden which aren't allowed much deeper into the city. *Three districts along the south-eastern edge of the city serve as racial neighborhoods for Halflings, Gnomes, and Dwarves, who live there more because they like to be among their own kind more than any official force, yet those races can be found living nearly anywhere in the city. *If anything, the districts reflect a half-hearted official policy and generalities more than any precise division of the city. *Other districts of note include the Royal district, where Prince Flemmet resides, the Library district, which houses the Library of Lacquer, the Religious district, where most respected religions of the area have an established temple or shrine, and the Dock District.
The Services: *Jerrain maintains several civil services. *Each service is volunteer, but all can impress peasants into duty in case of emergency. *Normal services include the Civil Guard (serving police functions), either Army (the Skirmishers or the Phalanx), the Health Corps and the Brigade of Engineers. *These services are technically provincial in extent, and draw many more volunteers, proportionately, from the hinterlands than the city. *(Every yeoman farmer must have volunteered at some time in order to own his land, to give an idea of this.)
Daily Life: *Life in Jerrain these days is a fast-paced frenzy. *The people work hard, preparing for the Iron Tower's next inevitable siege. *The flood of refugees has strained the city's living quarters beyond acceptable limits, and from dawn to dusk there is a hammering din of new construction going up. *Yet the gathering of allies -- a stronger Elven presence than has been seen in human lands for centuries, wizards and sorcerers walking around almost without secrecy, the alliance of different religions and traditions transplanted from a hundred different isolated towns and villages -- has produced such an alchemist's brew that no one is quite sure what will come out of it. *Everything is new. *Each new day sees the birthing of a dozen new enterprises and unexpected partnerships, and the general mood is energetic, enthusiastic and, when people stop long enough to survey their surroundings, wondrous.
Most long-term residents live in their place of business. *Normal work usually begins an hour after dawn and continues through to dusk, which is when the recreation normally begins. *Most nights people will visit a tavern, or go to see a play, or engage in some other form of entertainment. *Meals are normally some combination of bread, vegetables, and meat, with a tendency towards stuffed foods. *The water not being safe to drink, most beverages are alcoholic, though tea (imported from the east) is a common, if expensive, alternative.
The majority of residents are interested in religion but not particularly religious themselves. *Most attendees of the temples, churches, shrines, synagogues, and congregations are "tourists" rather than devout believers. *Many who are devoted to a particular religion have highly abstract notions of what their religion means, which frequently do not agree with the versions presented by their priests.
Crime in the city is low -- extremely low. *Part of this is the economic boom which the city is undergoing, and part of it is that there has never been a significant social stratification or gap of wealth between the poor and the rich. *Add to this the divination magic practiced by many investigators in the city guard, and severe crime isn't that pervasive. *There exists no organized thieves guilds (beyond the occasional gang or team of thieves, which do sometimes get into turf wars). *Still, with so much money floating around, and with so many people to hide amongst, a little will disappear from time to time. *Such thefts usually happen in secret -- cat burglary rather than alleyway muggings -- and the more experienced thieves will take only small amounts from each victim, rather than rouse up the city's ire against them.
The age of majority is ten for both boys and girls. *Until that time, they are under the guardianship of their parents. *Afterwards, they are peasants in their own right, free to enter civil service or find employment of their own. *(One of the changes implemented during last year's siege was the establishment of a universal schooling system, which all children four years and older are required to attend three times a week.) *Most young adults, however, tend to enter apprenticeships and learn a craft rather than enter service immediately. *Not only does being a skilled laborer make it more likely they will be assigned to a better service job, but citizenship is of little use until the young man or woman is ready to establish his or her own business. *Apprenticeship is, legally speaking, slavery moderated by certain contractual obligations of the master, but in practice it is typically more humane. *After the apprenticeship is over (usually a term of about ten years) women tend to marry and men tend to go into service (usually a five year term, after which they marry and start their own business), but this is by no means the exclusive pattern. *In theory, women are granted all the same rights as men -- in practice, there lingers a social stigma against women that handicaps them in most jobs and follows into the service.
Diplomacy: *Jerrain is currently at war with the Iron Tower. *Despite its wealth and populating, Jerrain is heavily outmatched and must rely on skirmishers and raiders to hairy the Tower's supply lines and blunt the strength of its army every step of the way. *The Borderwolf's alliance with the Tower is only the latest occurrence in the perennial feud between Jerrain and Marret, be it over borders, extradition of so-called criminals and escaped slaves, or a hundred other issues.
There exists a nominal alliance between the dwarves and Jerrain, despite Jerrain's own alliance with the hated elves. *Though the dwarves are too far west to be of significant military aid, the gnomes refusing to allow any military force through their lands, the dwarves have sent a contingent of engineers and artificers to bolster Jerrain's defenses. *More importantly, the dwarves form the main communications link with the unconquered territories in the Lower Ravine. *There are also half-promises and vague mumblings of a dwarven counterattack striking the Tower's flank if it should weaken its garrisons in the middle Ravine.
The gnomes remain studiously neutral in all conflicts. *Nevertheless, they are on good terms with Jerrain and Prince Flemmet in particular, and Flemmet remains their solitary route for the gem trade into the Ravine, much to dwarven disgust.
Jerrain has always maintained excellent relations with the elves. *Indeed, Jerrain is the only human province that the elves will lower themselves to truck with, and a legion of elven troops is currently quartered in the third emergency district. *It is Prince Flemmet who holds this alliance together. *The water elves don't so much respect him as worship him. *Not only did they broker the alliance with the elven nation at large, they're also the ones which maintain the trade connection with the east that kept the city well-fed during the last siege.
Though most people in the city know little about the lands beyond the elven territories, rumors persist that Flemmet has enlisted their assistance as well, both in a favorable provisioning trade and in a military alliance if the elves can be persuaded to allow humans to cross their territory.
Military forces: *Jerrain has two armies at its disposal. *The Skirmishers consist of woodsmen, hunters, and explorers, who serve as scouts, raid the Tower's encampments at night, slow their army's march, and raid their supply lines. *Skirmishers operate in squadrons or Raids of ten, organized into four Camps which rotate through duties four months at a time. *The Phalanx consist of battle troops, pikemen in a line supported by knights, and troops of the wall. *Both forces together theoretically number exactly two thousand men, but in practice patriotic fervor has increased this number to about two thousand each, the spares occupying supernumerary positions. *A third army of elven troops is also within the city, numbering two and a half thousand soldiers, though this number is also a vague quantity as at least half that number of elves have journeyed to Jerrain as independents and support both the elven army and the Skirmishers, despite having no official attachment with either. *The elven forces are almost wholly skirmishers and commandos in nature, though a solid army of Gray Elves is rumored to be coming to reinforce the Phalanx.
The Province: *
The province of Jerrain is like much of the Borderlands in its nature. *Each village, town, and community is ruled by a noble, but Prince Flemmet's protection extends across the entire province, and the nobles have more obligations than privileges. *Most farmland is owned by citizens, yeomen who have performed service for the Province. *By and large, the territory has a frontier feeling to it. *Towns and farms comprise about ten percent of the land, with maybe fifty percent unexplored and housing gods-know-what in the way of creatures, monsters, and bogeymen. *Most farming families, as much as a day's travel away from the nearest village, have an independent, I-can-take-care-of-myself attitude. *While the city of Jerrain is well-defended against the Iron Tower, the province as a whole is not, and entire communities have been abandoned in the face of the marching army.
The land around High Lake itself rises up across five or ten miles to form a rim three hundred feet higher than the level of the lake in winter. *Spring floods push the lake's shore up nearly half this distance, and any houses built within these boundaries are built on stilts to keep them above water even during a flood. *The South road leads from Jerrain across this ridge at what is termed the Jerrain Pass. *The "pass" is not particularly low compared to the rest of the ridge but rather the only flat stretch along an otherwise rocky and irregular ridge which provides easy access for vehicles and large numbers of people. *About eight miles north along the shore from Jerrain is Mercine, a rather small and innocuous-looking town if one ignores the lack of stilts or dikes. [EDIT: As in dams. I'd say "stupid filter", but I'M the one that keeps using the word.] *Mercine appears to most people to be totally abandoned, and is flooded every spring. *About the same distance further up the shore, High Lake produces the Roaring River and sends it down the Ravine along a maze of white-water hills.
Across the ridge, about 20 miles along the South Road, one will come to High Crossing, a town of about 3000 people, poised at four major crossroads. *The South Road continues west. *The North Road splits off from it here, crosses the Roaring River at Ferry Point, some 12 miles later, continues upriver to the village of Bend 7 miles beyond, and then turns westward to parallel the river and the South Road across the entire length of the Ravine. *The Southpass Road leads south from High Crossing, passing by the small community of Genree after 9 miles and then continuing on to Gem Falls -- that is, the Falls themselves and a town by the same name. *The road then bends west, paralleling the Southwall for about ten miles until it reaches Southpass. *Towns further downriver than High Crossing and Bend have been largely abandoned to the Iron Tower as indefensible. *There are additional communities scattered among the hills near Jerrain, but none serviced by roads.
That campaign was set in the months leading up to the second siege of Jerrain, which occurred while the Tower was consolidating its hold on Torem. *Jerrain broke that siege and two more since, and remains the only (nominally) part of the Middle Ravine free of the Tower. *Though it was a secret at the time (and thus not revealed to the players), it has since come out that Prince Flemmet is not human at all; rather, he's an Ancient bronze dragon (the same mythical Dragon that is symbol and good luck charm to Jerrain), but spent most of his time polymorphed into human shape, faking his death every few decades and then taking the form of the next "heir" in his line. *(This came as a rather nasty surprise to the Tower at the breaking of the Second Siege. *Flemmet expected to lose the support of the population when the secret came out, but Jerrain is more devoted to him than ever.) *Killing Flemmet is near the top of the Iron Tower's priorities.
12-17-2005, 02:33 PM
Reltzik. If I were you, I'd HTMLize all this and post it as a website as a campaign resource for you, your players and an appreciative public. It'll make it easier to cross-reference the substantial - almost overwhelming - amount of information you have here.
Add a notice board/forum to the site to deal with the between session admin, sidequests, private plot convs between you and your players, any questions/suggestions they may have on the setting, etc.
I'll second Richeleiu's suggestion, you've got more than enough background built for a campaign lasting from levels 1-20 (and into Epic if that's your thing). Get out there and play it so your players can add their input to all your hard work! :)
You know, all this material has quite put me to shame. I started my latest campaign with about 2-3 pages of hand-scribbled notes, a map of the Eastern seaboard of North America, my own general knowledge about pirates and colonial America and my gaming books. Nothing near the scope and scale of your work.
12-19-2005, 01:02 AM
----- The Alliance of the Iron Tower -----
It's not evil. *It's just misunderstood. *Honest.
It was one of the big bad guys in my two games, and I always knew that the Iron Tower was a complex entity. *But I never really developed it much. *All I expected the PCs to see of it was the front -- the war front -- and that's all I really developed a feel for. *There were other baddies -- Dragonkin, Dukes, elven intrigue, cartographers, monsters in general -- but somehow the Iron Tower was always the elephant in the corner. *Part of that was geography; considering Torem, virtually every land was a neighbor of the Tower. *(And it wasn't the nicest of neighbors.) *Part of it was sheer scope of ambition; no one else was out for world conquest, all the other villains were either small individuals/groups or were content to make a nuisance of themselves in their own localities. *Part of it was the themes drawn from the worst part of the Countereformation, mixed with Nazi Germany genocide; it's the kind of evil empire everyone loves to hate. *But I think that the biggest part of it was that of all the baddies I came up with, the Tower had the most potential to be a thought-provoking morally ambiguous. *This might be why my next campaign is going to be set in it. *I'm doing a little work on the Tower's creed at large, but it's still a fairly vague thing.
The Tower: *The center of the Iron Tower's power is the Iron Tower itself. *The Ravine bows southward along the middle of its length, and the Iron Tower is perched on the Northwall where it creeps into it. *The Tower is both magical and ancient. *Its gleaming metal never rusts, its foundation never weakens. *It towers fifty stories high, which might have something to do with the second half of its name. *The current inhabitants have added to its top floor a brilliant beacon, which turns local night into day and is visible from most of the Ravine and Middle Northwall. *It is the center of all religious authority in the Alliance and home to the greatest and oldest worship-halls of the Church of Four. *The Church of Four and its religious adherents are newcomers to the Tower. *The origins of the Tower itself are lost in history. *It may date back to the Second Age. *It may even date back to the First.
Religion: *During the rein of King Ormic, a religious -- or, rather, anti-religious -- upheval was sweeping the Lower Southwall. *Society was rejecting its old ways; an influx of dwarven and gnomish influence had brought notions of science, progress, and cold practicality to supercede religion, tradition, and morality. *Many of the displaced and abused fled into Sherem, but found that the lowlands made them homesick. *They hated the floods, hated the languages, hated the way everything was green and nothing made of metal could be had at a reasonable price. *They were misplaced, malcontent, unfamiliar with the practices needed to survive in the Ravine.
Ormic turned a liability into an asset; he offerred passage through the Ravine, all expenses paid, for those willing to colonize the Northwall, in hopes that they would bring some stability to the region. *The majority of the refugees accepted. *The climb up the North Pass was grueling; the lands atop wild and uncivilized. *The pass itself was a focal point for the barbarians, and the refugees migrated westward rather than settling on the spot. *The tribes harried them, assaulted them under cover of darkness, made off with women and horses. *Finally, they came to a land where the barbarians would not follow, one dominated by the Tower.
The Tower itself had been sealed for as long as anyone could remember. *Its base was surrounded by skeletal remains, picked clean by carrion birds. *The tribes knew that anyone who touched the iron walls died, and they believed that if the shadow of the Tower fell across them, it would steal their souls. *The refugees soon discovered the former, but they also realized that proximity to the Tower meant safety. *They camped there, drinking from a nearby river and hunting the wild birds.
One day, the youngest daughter of the head priest thought she heard her dead mother calling to her from the Tower. *She went up to the main door, opened it, and went inside. *There she found not only her mother's spirit, but the spirits of all those who had died at the hands of the Dukes' forerunners, and those who had died along the way. *They took her up a hundred flights of stairs and brought her before the four goddesses of the Great Pantheon. *Saint Natalia's experience marked the beginning of the Church of the Godesses; its account, and what Natalia did after, became the most important chapter of the Church's holy book.
The religion is centered around a concept of purity defined by spiritual faith and goodness. *The world is inhabitted by all manners of evil, and people serve them more often than they fight them. *The Godesses want to help people, but normally can't tell those who would aid evil from those that won't. *(This is not a fault of the Goddesses, but of mortals.) *Only the pure are recognizable as being worthy of their blessings. *Central to the Tower's vision is the idea that when all souls become pure, an army of all the dead souls will be led forth from the Tower and evil will be vanquished from the world forever.
As the coming of Saint Natalia, the First of the Pure, approached, the evils became frightened and manifested themselves more directly, as demons. *The demons could not fight the Great Pantheon directly, but by keeping people from purity they could thwart it, and by slaying its followers silence it forever.
The Great Pantheon, all of it, answers to Pareeme. *She is seen as commanding figure, the epitomy of rulership and authority, stern but maternal. *Her presence among the four is seen as proof of her compassion for humanity; she is intervening directly. *Her symbol is a shaft of light (which is sometimes abstracted as a diagonal stripe of white or yellow on a darker field), and her domains are Protection, Law, Sun, Strength, Good, abd Knowledge.
Kaeleeme's job is saving however many souls of the dead as she can, and bringing them to the upper fifty floors of the Tower, where they remain safe from the demons until the world is purified. *The pure are immediately snatched up by her, but she doesn't always notice when the impure die; the more impure, the more likely to slip through the cracks and be left for the demons. *Since the demons would fight tooth and nail for these souls, Kaeleeme's seen as something of a warrior figure. *She is depicted as aged, stooped, grey and wirey. *Her personality is felt to be sad and weary. *Her symbol is a kite shield of some light color on a field of pure black, and traditionally faithful are buried beneath a shield, or have their graves marked by shields. *Her domains are Death, Good, Law, and Protection.
Coreeme's job is to bless the daily lives of the Pure. *She's depicted as a beautiful maiden, always engaged in some sort of work, any sort of work. *She is Pareeme's heir, and when the world is purified Pareeme will turn rulership of it over to Coreeme. *Coreeme is depicted as pure even by the standards of the Pantheon, and conversions and purifications fall under her purview as well. *Her personality is energetic, tireless, and happy. *Her symbol is a flame, symbolizing the comforts of a hearth and the shelter that surround it, as well as the forge, the cauterizing brand, and the harvest flame tradition. *Her domains are Law, Healing, Fire, and Good.
Fateeme is the goddess of holy war. *She is seen as marching with every army of the Pure, sharing in their fate, dying every time one of the Pure soldiers dies and rising again every time a Pure soldier steps forward to take his place. *She is the one destined to command the forces of the Great Patheon in the final battle against the demons to reclaim the lost. *Usually depicted in full (sometimes pierced and bloody) armor but without a helmet, her face scarred but still fiercely beautiful, her sword leveled to point at the enemy. *Her personality is determined, fearless, and angry. *Her symbol is a sword of light, often tilted diagonally over a dark field, with the hilt down. *Her weapon is the bastard sword, and her domains are Law, Destruction, War, and Good.
[Yes, these are potent. *The Ubergoddesses of the Tower have to be. *Also, these domains contradict what I sent my players for the second campaign and posted above -- this version is more recent and the one I'm sticking with. *For now.]
History: *The Tower has done extremely well over the centuries. *Starting from a community of a few thousand, it has spread across Middle Northwall and rivals both the Elven Union and the Khajaran Empire in size. *Its spread over the Northwall was surprisingly peaceful. *The religion spread faster than the government; most of the Tower's growth is a result of religious conversion and pilgramage. *As the Tower's strength grew, civilization as a whole spread through the region, as many of the barbarian nations learned means of agriculture and industry from Sanctuary and settled down. *Soon entire nations were being converted at a time, and rather then suborn themselves to the nation of Sanctuary the simply allied with the country as equals.
The Alliance is huge and stretches much further north than most of its enemies think. *The southlands are urban and industrial (well, for Middle Ages technology), while the northlands are rural and agrarian frontierlands. *Most of the southern nations are feudalisms, but the northlands is the recently settled frontier and competence is at a premium among its nobles. *The land is tundra, the farming is not much beyond subsistence level. *Rivers form the major trade arteries, but either freeze or drop to unnavigable levels during winter. *I'm modelling the northland area on Siberia, so Russian-sounding names predominate... though politically it's also a bit of Wild West thrown in. *I've put less thought into the southlands, but I'm thinking of giving them a late Byzantine feel. *The uncivilized natives to the north are generally peaceful, eager to trade, and are gradually being converted; those to the east, heavilly influenced by "elf-demons", are much more warlike and need to be conquerred.
The Tower itself is the religious authority, and the seat of the Alliance's ruling council is in Sanctuary. *Though the Alliance is not just military in nature, and the Emperor (the temporal head of the Alliance) has authority to pass laws over the Alliance as a whole (though they may only forbid conduct or set standards, that is, edicts AGAINST) and order the various heads of states to implement certain actions (edicts FOR). *The Emperor is answerable to the council, though. *Every Emperor must be confirmed by the council, and a two-thirds majority may issue a vote of no-confidence and strip him of his authority, though they don't have the authority to actually remove him from the throne once he is confirmed. *Since most learned figures in the Alliance are members of the church, and the Church itself has no prohibition against its priests wielding temporal authority, the Church and the Council are not entirely distinct. *The Emperor has direct authority over the Crusades, but must work with the Council to handle issues of supplies, equipment, recruitment, and the like. *The motivation for the Crusades is entirely religous, and has nothing to do with chaotic neighbors, population overflow, food shortage, or a surplus of ferrous metal. *Oh, no, nothing at all.
The religious enemies of the Alliance are many, but they all amount to the same thing: demons. *Nearly every other religion is a ploy of demons to lure people away from purity and misappropriate the power of their faith. *There are only three exceptions: The worship of Ormic (who the Tower maintains is a saint rather than a god; worshipping Ormic seen as misguided and mildly blasphemous, but not morally wrong) and the Guider and Fouler (which are the Little People's names for Kaeleeme and Fateeme, respectively, and perfectly acceptable). *Though conversion of those who worship demon-gods is the ideal, quite often the demons have so warped the minds of their victims that they will make war against the Pure. *Often, it is necessary to kill their worshipers in self-defense, or simply to silence them before they twist more innocents. *Demons also take the variety of mortal forms that appear trustworthy; they are not. *Unless it is a person (be it one of the Big People, humans, or Little People, halflings), it is a demon and must be killed before it can do some unspeakable evil. *Finally, some people make pacts with demons in exchange for power; these mages have allied themselves with the demons knowing what they are and must be killed.
The Crusades fight these enemies abroad, but they are subtle and insidious. *A more precise response is required. *Enter the Inquisition... er, Inquisitions. *There are technically three of them. *One deals with false religions, one with arcane magic users, and one with "monsters". *Again, they are not entirely distinct; it is the rare Inquisitor who isn't a member of at least two. *The Inquisitons answer directly to the Tower, which would cause friction with the temporal Alliance if there existed a serious distinction between the two.
The politics and the geography of the Tower are still very ill-defined, and I need to get into them more before I launch my campaign. *The main thing to recognize about the Tower is that, while the empire itself may do a great many evil things, its people are not evil. *(Well, there are your usual bad apples, but even those are less common in the Alliance than elsewhere.) *Like I said at the beginning of the post: *It is not evil. *It has just misunderstood.
EDIT-ADDENDUM: A handful of languages are spoken in the Alliance. Most have roots in the various tongues of the assimilated nomadic cultures. There is an ancient religious tongue that is strongly related to that spoken by the Dukes of Fer, called Trovichen. Alliance Common is the practical language of the land and spoken by a thin majority.
12-19-2005, 01:19 AM
A few minor final notes I didn't know where else to put.
The world has three moons. One is a lot like our own (big, bright, round), while the other two are much smaller (about the thickness of a twig at armslength) and irregularly shaped. "The Moon" refers to the large one, and the others are significant only as curiosities and navigational tools. One of these moves north-south through the heavens instead of east-west, and changes shape instead of going through phases.
There are almost four-hundred and twelve days in the year, and a little under twenty-six days in a month. Thus most societies' callenders divide the year into sixteen months, though how many days are in is usually determined by whether the callender is lunar or solar in nature.
Gods don't directly intervene much. They're interested, but they generally keep their hands off, for reasons of great philosophical dispute. One theory, in line with Tower dogma, is that very few people are ready to hear what the gods are saying; not many people can receive visions or words from the gods, and most of those who do receive them imperfectly, as riddles or inscrutible omens. True visionaries, like Saint Natalia, only come along every few centuries. Divine magic is entirely a product of personal faith, and just because a divine-magic user worships a particular god doesn't mean he or she has any insight into what that god does or doesn't want. Unless, of course, they cast the right spells, or the god gets pissed off and disrupts their magic until they straighten up and fly right. (Given that they can't cast spells any longer, asking them to fly at all is unrealistic. Then again, what does realism have to do with fantasy?)
Okay! That's the setting! If you were refraining from commenting up to this point, please do! General feedback is wanted, but what I'm really interested in is specific suggestions on this-or-that point or to put into this-or-that gap. And to everyone who's already replied, thanks for your input!
12-19-2005, 05:45 AM
You may want to think about keping years at 365 1/4 days and months at around 30 days, this is mainly due to player convienience. Unless it is supremely important to the setting, then all it does is get in the way when players start thinking they have more time left than they do, or start rushing because they "have been working for 11 months and only have 1 year to complete the task, when it is a 2 month return journey!"
In general, this is why many of the same conventions exist between most games and our world, trees are green, tall, and evergreen, people eat food that is harvested in the summer... etc etc. A week is seven days, a month is about 30, and a year is 12 months. And no confusion.
12-19-2005, 06:21 AM
Wow, that was an amazing read! You've certainly put alot of thought into the world, and created alot of intriguing cultures and personalities. I find myself wishing I could explore them further, learn more about the scuffles and intrigues of the dwarven clans, or the twisted half dragon society, and thats definitely a good sign. In fact, pretty much every faction seems to have something interesting worth exploring.
As someone who enjoys studying languages IRL, I must say I've alwayed agreed that language didn't play enough of a role in most settings, (particularly how the presense of an almost uninversally spoken common made taking other languages largely superfluous) and I think you've done a good job making them a more important factor.
I'd also say I disagree with Goumindong that the calendar should be earth standard. Thats actually another thing that's always bothered me about alot of settings - that it just conveniently happens to match ours exactly. As long as it isn't too awkward or confusing, it really shouldn't be a big deal to remember, though probably couldn't hurt to remind the players from time to time, especially when time-sensitive planning is going on.
Actually, my only major complaint at this point is that alot of the geography is a little confusing presented purely as descripitive text. I frequently found myself wondering whether areas were along the walls, on top of the walls, or outside the ravine entirely. A map (which I'm sure you have) would clear alot of that up though.
Oh, and having a major upheaval called "The Time of Troubles"... Isn't that a little... Forgotten Realms? Might consider renaming that.
Excellent job, though :)
12-19-2005, 06:31 AM
I've got three words for you.
Start... Playing... Now...
Seriously, you need to DM this world. What good does it do for you to keep this marvelous world all to yourself. I want to play it and see how it works in real life. Honestly, the best way for me to help you would be to comment on your DMing, not your world building skills. I know that you are wonderful at building worlds, as you have already shown with the Ravine. Now, PLAY IT. Become a better DM. I know you can do it if you just try.
12-20-2005, 03:31 AM
In response to various comments:
My current plans for the upcoming campaign involve sticking all of this on a website. That website will include this information, cross-hyperlinked, along with various maps and game-assistance tools. Like geography, battles and dungeons are also difficult to visualize as purely descriptive text. Likely this will look horrible, but one can hope. (This is also a good chance for me to practice my Java + HTML skills. Or maybe XML. I'm rusty on one and need to learn the other.) I'm already drawing up villains and Evil Plots for the campaign, and hope to be posting for players in a month or so. Unless the KOPS problem catches up to me before then.
Silivren kind of spoke for me when it came to the objections and of carrying conventions over, but I would like to add the one reason of my own he didn't state: sometimes you just have to do something DIFFERENT. There's nothing wrong with A setting having an Earthlike year and month (weeks, of course, are entirely arbitrary), but when ALL of them do that's a problem. Sometimes you just have to throw out a change to get people to question their assumptions. I've personally found that the coincidence tends to nag at me and fritter away at my suspension of disbelief wherever it might occur. Obviously you don't want to change EVERYTHING, but in moderation it should be fine.
In regard to the Time of Troubles, the name was chosen with malice aforethought. Say "Time of Troubles" in connection with any DnD group, and most of them will immediately think "Forgotten Realms meta-plot meltdown period" (or some similar identifier). This depresses me, because the term is not only a wonderful title for ANY society-shattering meltdown period, but it also originally referred to a rather amusing (from a vast distance of time and space, of course) and significant episode in Russian history that is just begging to be mirrored in a campaign setting or five. (The title "False Dmitri" alone is worth its weight in gold. Which isn't hard to pay out if one posts it electronically.) So this is my jab at FR, or rather all those ignorant fools who associate the term most strongly with FR: See? OTHER people can use the phrase too! Yeah, okay, it's a little bit petty, and is probably distracting, but someone has to redeem the term, and it might as well be me because I'm not making any money off of it anyway. (Oh, and it works decently in the setting. I suppose that's a factor too. Aheh.)
12-20-2005, 03:41 AM
Well, then I'll just wait until you're done with your world and see if I can help more then. You've done a wonderful job.
12-20-2005, 04:18 PM
I'm with Silivren here. Once I started reading this I couldn't stop, and I want to see more.
This is definately a setting I would take a group through, and I'm impressed at the amount of detail you have with regards to the origin of the species in the world.
On another note, if you want any help doing the HTML side of it all, send me a PM. I'm happy to volunteer my services.
12-20-2005, 06:50 PM
Ah, I'm going to have to brush up on my Russian history then. I can't say I'd ever heard of the term "False Dimitri," or heard of "Time of Troubles" outside of the FR setting.
Also, Tarlen brought up a good point. I love not only the detail in the creation of the races, but how they pretty much all have the story wrong. Too often in fantasy, myths and legends are exactly the way it happened, and everyone who has any knowledge about their people's history is accurately informed. I find it alot more believable that, like in real life, even witnesses to the event don't really understand what is happening, so they make up stories to explain it in a way that makes sense to them.
This also creates the very strong potential to create the kind of fundamental misunderstanding that can lead to dramatic tragedies, such as the one you set up between the Elves and the Drow, who, at least to start with, were every bit as good as their aboveground cousins, but through no fault of their own wound up betrayed and hated by everyone around them.
I also have to agree with Maryring and others on this, the real solution to your troubles isn't adding more detail to the setting, its practice at DM'ing. Once you get used to it, it becomes easier to respond to unexpected player decisions and ad-lib new characters and situations.
Actually, (and I hate to say this, since you've done such wonderful work above) its been my experience that over-detailing a setting can actually work against you sometimes, as you then have to make sure that material you ad-lib is consistent with what you've written down. Then again, i've always been more of a "seat of the pants" GM, favoring a more "sandbox" style of campaign.
Hey, as long as its fun, right? :)
12-20-2005, 11:08 PM
My comments, unfortunately, can be summed up by a general desire to have you stop doing anything other than fleshing out this campaign setting even more than you already have, purely for my continued amusement. I did like it that much, you know. ;)
I'd be inclined to say that putting everything into a wiki might be the best way to provide cross-referencing capabilities, but that's just me. I happen to like wikis.
12-20-2005, 11:11 PM
I was thinking wiki as well. Makes the editing easier, and as DarkLight pointed out, the cross referencing a LOT easier.
12-20-2005, 11:24 PM
Plus if you post the link here, people who liked it will go through and obsessively link every single word to the proper place. ;)
12-21-2005, 02:56 AM
I'm tempted. So very tempted.
I've worked with a wiki-clone before (as a guest at someone else's site, the whole extended 2nd gaming group hung out there), but I've never run one myself. How much work is it to set up? Can I stick one on my (currently empty) geocities site, or would I need my own server box? (Fat chance.)
In any case, I will provide a link here to the site once I get it up and running, regardless of what software I use. (Since it's free pimpage for the PbP game I'll be starting up at the same time.)
[The above falls under the standard "if everything goes according to plan" caveat]
12-21-2005, 03:17 PM
I seriously doubt you'd be able to set up a Wiki on Geocities. Certainly the last time I used Geocities you couldn't do anything like that. Of course, the last time I used Geocities, there was no such thing as Wikis, Blogs, OotS, and so much else.
12-21-2005, 03:48 PM
I know of a couple of websites that use Geocities as the basis for their Wikis (the Il Bethesiad constructed culture group being the major one). A Wiki is no more work to establish than a common or garden website.
All the best Reltzik ;)
12-21-2005, 06:21 PM
Reltzik, thank you. Thank you for posting this setting publicly (mind if I steal some elements?), thank you for giving hope to similarly verbose setting builders like myself, and thank you for your persistence in developing world details in such wonderful profusion! I'm looking forward to seeing the site, and hoping it goes up without a hitch.
12-22-2005, 08:35 PM
I love it! I love it! I love it!
Please build more and share it with us. It's a wonderful read for an aspiring world builder / DM like myself.
What I am most amazed by is the intricacy of the various fact-rumor-belief discrepancies you've created. How do you come up with them? I'm really bad at coming up with "wrong but believable" rumors / beliefs
12-28-2005, 12:46 AM
Ravine deserves better than the third page. Also, I want more opinions on it. And to have a wiki made for it. ;D
12-28-2005, 04:30 AM
I like that its dark. Not as dark as I would make a campaign setting (and I will, at some point in the near future. And hopefully I'll be able to dig up a collaborator or two of Reltzik's skill.), but dark nonetheless. I've always wondered why its just assumed that Tolkien-good races, which are civilized, get along and fight the Tolkien-evil races, which are barbaric. I also agree that a map is needed, because I often found myself saying, "wait, I thought group x inhabits area y, but he just said that group z does, so where does that leave group x?" As for the realism in language, I would agree that it makes the game unrealistic, but, currently playing in a campaign where there is no common (on these very boards!!!), I can see why common was created, because in role playing terms, It becomes difficult to communicate with other players. As such, I regard it as a necessary evil.
12-29-2005, 01:23 AM
This is the best campaign setting I've seen in a while. It amazes me how people can take cliched elements of fantasy gaming and produce big pieces of awesome. If you have a domain, I would be open to hosting your wiki / forums / etc for free, since I pay for a certain amount as a webhost and don't really have any clients yet, so it's going mostly unused for now, and I can promise better uptime than the server GITP's forum is on. ;)
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