Note: please don't post in this one yet, I'll have a lot of posts to reserve.
A short explanation: a long time ago, I started posting and writing a setting called Etherworld on here. I stopped at some point, because I saw it was becoming kind of an incoherent mess, where I would change ideas as I wrote them, and then older posts would barely be connected to it. So, I told myself I'd walk away from it, take some time to think it over, and then write it in one go before posting.
That has not happened yet. But I want to run a game in the setting, and a half-done one is better than nothing for that. And I'm not sure it will ever be done.
Quite a few sections are shorter than I'd like them to be, especially world descriptions. Perhaps I'll add more details to them later.
So, let's get this started:
„It was a thousand years ago, when the Council of Archmages, the most powerful mortals to ever live, declared war on each other. For each of them wanted to be the only one to wield such power, a power rightfully reserved tot he LORD only. And while they sat safely in their Ethereal fortresses, around them the Earth was torn asunder by fire and storm, and demonic armies marched across the shattered world, devouring and enslaving the living.
But the LORD had mercy on his believers, and he gave them a new world, akin and yet different from the archmages' Ethereal fortresses, a place of trials where they would grow strong and rebuild, and from where they would eventually reconquer the world...“
-The First book of Redemption, the World that Was
“When a man is out of balance, his family is thrown out of balance. When a family is out of balance, their village is thrown out of balance. When a village is thrown out of balance, the province, the country and the world soon follow.
Worlds, be they the Old World or the New Worlds, are as heavy weights balancing on the point of a needle. They are as single knots in a net that connects all things.
Man acted against nature and ignored his place in the order. and so, the weight fell, the net was torn, the world was ended.“
- Teachings of Master Perbane
„It is typical of the reactionary mindset to blame the destruction of the Material Plane on the arcane sciences. The uneducated mind often fears that which it does not understand, and from that fear, it is only a small step to blame, to hate.
Now, what we do know is this: approximately one thousand years ago - the exact date is uncertain - a catastrophe resulted in the complete destruction of the Prime Material Plane and its subsequent invasion by entities from the dimension commonly known as the Far Realm, coinciding with the disconnection of the Starplane
Some mortal races, our ancestors in fact, escaped this cataclysm by escaping to the Ethereal Plane. I do of course not need to stress how important the often-blamed magic was for this exodus: without scholars of the arcane sciences to create new demiplanes, often under cost of their lives, few would have survived even the first year in the Ethereal.
Of course, this had the side - effect of fracturing the mortal races, as they were now isolated for several hundred years in demiplanes, which no one could enter from the outside. Leaving them even on short expeditions was tremendously dangerous and rarely proved worthwhile.
It was, after all, only eighty years ago that the Shipwright's Guild first perfected the Aethership and the Planar Penetrator, thereby once again bringing the worlds back into contact with each other. and these are, I must stress once again, both inventions only made possible by arcane magic.“
-Danard Aqueon, Magus of the Sixth Circle, Caligo Polymagic University
Re: Aether from the Ashes: Etherworld Second Edition
A Short Introduction to the Aether
We came from another world. that much, all legends agree on. some say it was a paradise, some say it was corrupted, but all know that it was much larger than even all the new worlds combined, and that it is now gone. Scholars called this world the Material Plane.
No one knows exactly what the catastrophe was that shattered that world into splinters, but the mortal races had to flee it on the only way that was still open to them, to another dimension, the Aether.
Before the Material was shattered, the Aether was largely uninhabited, and even now, few can live there without the aid of magic. the Aether is a world of mists and protoplasm, of half-formed ideas and images, where there is almost no solid matter of any kind.
It is only in the demiplanes that civilization is possible, small bubbles of stable reality in an ocean of raw potential. Demiplanes were fashioned by the strongest of mortal mages as fortresses against the incursion of the Far Realm, and as places where life could continue when the world was gone.
A demiplane, essentially, is a dimension separate from the Aether, fashioned in whatever way the original architect, an arcane caster of immense power imagined. Most are spherical and one or two dozen miles across on the inside, but smaller when seen from the Aether, spheres of may be half a mile in diameter, that shimmer like mother of pearl and bubbles of soap.
For nearly a thousand years, these worlds where closed off to the mists outside, and only few brave and enterprising individuals dared to leave them on often pointless expeditions, for resources are scarce in the Aether and the demiplanes care fully closed to outsiders. A few worlds still kept tenuous contact, but these are rare exceptions.
Then, on the world of Caligo, several inventions were made in rapid succession that should change life in the Aether forever. the aethersail which allows the construction of large ships that can traverse the Aether propelled by its intangible winds, the navigation chamber, which enables the plotting of exact courses and the precise determination of one ' s position, and the planar penetrator, which can open a formerly closed demiplane from the outside and allow entrance.
This was the birth year of the Guild of Shipwrights and the Core worlds. since then, a Network of trade has sprung up between several worlds and a new society was born, built on trade and exploration. the Shipwright's Guild has become, by far, the most powerful and the richest organisation in the known Aether, maintaining an absolute monopoly on these key technologies.
Still, this new civilisation is still young, vigorous and growing. Tales of strange new worlds come to the Core worlds every day, and the ships of brave explorers carry riches beyond measure.
2. Major Organisations of the Aether
The Shipwright's Guild “Through the Guild, the light of civilisation is spread into the darkest corners of the Aether. I won't lie to you. Of course the Guild looks for profit. Everyone looks for profit, in one way or another. What is ethics but a way of making sure that not only one, but all profit? And in the end, the individual profits most when society profits. What the Guild wants, is a stable, civilized, rich, happy Aether, because then, it is a profitable Aether.”
-Guild Master Salasso Tirmina Pelagino Bonieri Molgrave
“Th' Guild? Wha' prime hole do ye come from that ye don' know all about th' Guild? … Ah, well. 'Course I know th' Guild. Everyone knows th' Guild,. It's simple, ye see. Everthin' ye see out there? That's all the Guild's. The ships, the buildins an' the people. Yup. The Guild owns us all, some jus' don' know it.”
-”Hairy” Joll Marnes, first mate on the free ship Estrella
“If the Guild was so intent of “spreading the light” and “bringing civilisation”, why don't they share their technology? Why are they so intent on keeping their monopoly, if sharing it would make us all richer, trade easier and progress faster? I'll let you put the pieces together yourself, but in the end, it adds up to “gold”.”
-Khaira Silverhair, Rogue Trader on the Whitefire
The history of the Shipwright's Guild begins 87 years ago, the year now known as Guild Year zero (GY 0). at the time, only a few brave adventurers left their homeworlds even if only to travel to neighbouring demiplanes, much less deeper into the Aether or even to the Planes beyond.
Two who dared to do just that were Rane Blackwall, a carpenter who thought himself a swordfighter of some skill, and an artificer named Tario Etta Ragi Eregasio Pivoli of house Corava, a house of bankers and money lenders and one of the few organisations that regularly outfitted planar expeditions on the off-chance that some of them might survive to return home with the treasures of some forgotten world-shard, elemental outpost or abandoned demiplane.
They set out at the head of a small party of mercenaries, house guards, scouts and mist raiders in search of treasures of the world that was. What they found instead was a harrowing journey: they were beset by thirst, starvation, nightmares, monsters and once even Nathri.
However, the worst part of their story was to come when they found themselves in the path of a tangle of gale riders, tiny spiderlike ethereal critters that travel across the Aether pulled by sail-like webs made of their silk. It is not known what exactly happened at that point, but historians agree that while the other members of the caravan could flee and survived, Blackwall and Pivoli stayed behind in the party's camp.
Some say that they were simply exhausted, others that there was mutiny involved or, in a popular tavern tale, that the two were simply too drunk to be roused in time. The official Guild history claims that Pivoli and Blackwall were so fascinated by the aethersails and the possibilities they held that they decided to stay behind and study the gale riders more closely. In any case, the pair was swept away by the whispersilk sails of the tangle. When the small handful of survivors finally returned to Caligo more than a week later and without their leaders, Blackwall and Pivoli were presumed dead, swept away by the wind and starved, as happened to all who lost their way in the Aether without supplies. House Corava spent lavishly on a public funeral ceremony for their lost son.
All the greater then, was the surprise when another two weeks later, a Caligan fisherman spotted something strange drifting on the Elder Sea: two castaways, half-starved, holding onto a flimsy construction of pearly white wood and shimmering golden silk both holding onto small chests of arcane machinery as if their life depended on it.
Blackwall and Pivoli were carried away for miles and days by the migrating tangle, to a long, bare shard of Material Plane rock covered in ghostwood trees, where there gale riders made their nests. Using only their tools and wits, they had, there, built not only the first aethership, but also the beginnings of the navigation stone. With that, they made their way back to Caligo.
House matriarch Carnaia Sylva Tor Celessa a-Corava, a shrewd Businesswoman even before, immediately saw the potential inherent in these new technologies that had dropped into her lap. She founded dozens of further expeditions out into the Aether lead by Blackwall and her nephew Pivoli, gathering more whispersilk, ghostwood and the arcane ingredients necessary for more navigation machinery, followed by years of testing prototypes.
Six years went by and House Corava started to lose more and more of their influence in Caligo as the other Council Houses began to assume they were squandering their money on more of their mostly pointless expeditions. Rumours were beginning to circulate about the matriarch's beginning senility, and the first speculations about who would assassinate and succeed here weren't far behind.
Then, every thing changed.
It was Guild year six, though no one called it at that, back then. the first Aethership had laid anchor outside Caligo, and others were following soon after that in Belamin and Ember. These ships were not prototypes any more, though still far from the sleek construction of modern traders or battleships. essentially, these were built like Caligan water crafts, with decks, cabins, masts and sails, even though much of that made little sense in the gravity - free environment of the Aether.
These ships all delivered the same message: that House Corava had founded the Shipwright's Guild and taken as its headquarters the hitherto unknown world of Sirnia, which was to form the heart of what they called the Core Worlds, worlds that were deemed politically stable and economically profitable enough to be connected by the Guild's trade Network.
The Guild laid down its new rules, the Guild Law: Guild members were to be exempt from all laws of the worlds they would visit, only only have to answer to Guild courts. No world government was allowed to tax the Guild or any of its members, and no good the Guild traded was to be placed under any tariffs, customs or restrictions. No one but the Guild was allowed to build ships, but they could be chartered at exorbitant prices. the new Guild silver Florin was to be legal currency on all worlds.
The reward for complying with this Guild law was being connected to the Guild Network and sharing into the wealth the yearned and the discoveries they made. None-compliance lead to isolation.
The houses of Caligo eagerly jumped onto the chance. On Belamin, never a world to hold one opinion or to have one central infrastructure, opinions were as diverse as they were on any issue. The senate of Ember was careful at first, noncommittal, but a bloody revolution of a trade-hungry merchant class soon changed that opinion. The Asha'im, when discovered, were skeptical and feared losing their precious metals, but eager for resources. and Spire... Spire took to this new challenge with flying colours and thirsty blades.
Of course many worlds did not comply at first. Some ships were, and still are, attacked, but the first aether-capable Guild marines were soon trained to replace the mercenaries of the first years, as were battlemages, alchemical weapons and siege engines.
The Guild, however, soon learned that military power alone does not win friends, and so they changed their tactics to argument and impression, showing off their massive wealth to what many in the Core still deem primitive border savages. Some of the first Guild laws had to be stricken from the record, such as total legal immunity, and between the pressure of their own merchants and the promises of coffers full of taxes, dozens of worlds soon joined the Guild Law as border worlds.
The Guild, meanwhile, grew rich beyond the wildest dreams of pre-Guild traders. Shipping metal, water, wood and technologies from the Core to resource-starved border worlds, and returning with holds bursting with food, exotic spices and animals, and soon, cheap border labour.
Trade and exploration
One of the Guilds greatest enterprises, and in all likelihood the one that consumes the most resources is the exploration of new worlds and trade routes. The Guild' s economic power stems in a large part from the fact that many worlds which were abandoned for a thousand years did not get through that period without lacking at least some essential resource in the end. Metal, which the Guild can take from Ashaton, wood, from Belamin, food from Ember or water from Caligo are scarce often enough that the holds of any explorer are filled with those goods first.
In return, the Core world need not resources, but luxury goods and food. Nobles and merchants associated with the Guild hunger constantly for any novelty from the unexplored worlds beyond the border, and any gentleman worth naming owns a collection of curiosities. While new worlds are no longer discovered weekly, as they were in the beginning years, the trade Network is still constantly expanding.
Upon discovering a new world, Guild explorers are advised to very strictly follow a program set down by the Guild based on long experience. From the first contact and the opening of a world's shell, the explorers should try their hardest to appear as superior as possible in every aspect. The Core Worlds, so the impression given to the „savages“, are healthier and stronger, more civilized, organized and advanced and, most of all, richer.
Native markets are flooded with luxury goods and rare resources at prices that seem, to the natives, to be little more than gifts, in exchange for paying handsomely for any unique good a world may have. If the world has any infrastructure problems or is under threat from wildlife or Nathri, the Guild may even offer to solve those problems in the spirit of friendship. iIn this stage, a world is referred to as an open world.
Of course, all this posturing and goodwill is soon cast aside when talk of business comes up a few months later. The Guild uses quite clear terms to make certain that if the natives want to continue to enjoy the friendship and wealth of the Guild, they will have to join the Guild law as a Border World, and give numerous legal and economic advantages to the Guild. In exchange, however, the new members of the Guild Network can use aetherships for transportation to other worlds, their traders can charter Guild ships, and even apply for full Guild membership, a complicated and costly process that involves a small army of bookkeepers and accountants descending on every piece of written material in a given world.
Novice members of the Guild are given their own ship, limited charts of the most well-known and safe trade routes and license to conduct their own business.
New worlds are no longer opened by military force, as happened a few times in the Guild's earliest years. Now, the Guild Marines are used mostly for defence: against Nathri, the pirates that are becoming more and more numerous in the Border Worlds as the trade network expands beyond a size that can be tightly controlled, against aggression from newly opened worlds and, of course, against the undead and other dangerous wildlife.
There is only one other thing that brings down the wrath of the Guild, usually in the form of assassination: researching navigation cores or planar penetrators. Both machines are likely to explode when tampered with, but after more than eighty years, inventive scholars and artificers have found ways to disarm most of these safety features.
Still, as far as is known to anyone in the Core Worlds, no one has ever discovered any of the secrets of the Guild artificers and those who investigate them too deeply tend to vanish or suffer fatal accidents. Even splinters of a destroyed navigation stone, however, will fetch impressive prices on the black market among Rogue Traders.
Guild politics are, essentially, simple. The Guild seeks to maximize long-term gain. For this reason, it favours diplomacy over aggressive negotiations, civilisation over wilderness and mutually beneficial agreements and grow th over massive immediate profits.
Of course, not every one loves the Guild. The Rogue Traders are a flourishing organisation, and many Opened Worlds defy the Guild and refuse to become Border Worlds. Artificers and wizards begrudge the Guild their secrecy with their amazing new technology, while merchants dislike the monopolies on ship building and certain trade routes.
The Guild, however, prefers to buy off enemies and transform them into friends or, where that is impossible, to wait until the enemies have died out and are displaced by a younger, more open generation. Standard tactics in the case of a newly explored world turning out to be hostile, as an example, are to document the phenomenon, leave behind samples of various Guild goods and return twenty or thirty years later for another attempt, this time better armed.
A good example of this successfully working was the empire of Ember: The orthodox Imperialists of the first contact refused to deal with the corrupt and greedy Guild, but it took less than a dozen years for sects to form over the issue of the Guild and, after a violent revolution helped by Spire, the new government was more than willing to join the Core Worlds.
Membership and Ranks
The Guild actually has very little in the way of a centralized organisation. Most duties are taken on by merchant members, who otherwise all act more or less independently on each other. Trade rights, such as the right to explore new sectors, run especially profitable trade routes or monopolies on certain goods are distributed in Guild auctions between the members every year, with the profits going into the maintenance of ships, military units and Sirnia.
The Guild has, however, three divisions that are owned jointly by the entire enter prise: the Marines, including fortifications, the heaviest warships, barracks and training institutions, the clerks and bookkeepers, including Guild-owned banks, which specialise in giving loans and letters of credit (of course with better conditions for members), and the various branch offices and warehouses maintained in all major ports, in which Guild members can rent storage and office space.
Membership in any branch but as a Guild merchant is a complicated process. People with useful talents, be they skilled controllers, navigators, scouts, diplomats or accountants, are usually contacted by the Guild, and not the other way around. What follows are years of schooling, background checks, Guild instruction in Sir and, for security reasons, magically enforced oaths of secrecy and loyalty.
Ashaton: The Guild sees the world of Ashaton as one of their most valuable, if costly, investments. The Asha'im are, most certainly, the most stable society in the core worlds, but also one that is very difficult to work with, with their many layers of tradition and custom governing every aspect of their lives. Still, the Guild needs Ashaton's metal, sacred though it may be to the Asha'im, and they do their best to appease them, as they do not want to anger a nation that commands an army of golems and war machines.
The Faceless Cabal: The Guild as a whole hates everything about the Faceless with a passion, even though there are few members not paying them off in order to guard their trade secrets. The Guild has too many secrets to allow an organisation like the Faceless to exist, and Sirnia has posted rewards on every corpse of a Faceless Spy brought to any Guild office. In fact, freelance Faceless hunting has become a popular activity amongst adventurers, at least those few with any means of identifying them, which, so far, no one reliably can.
The House of the Sun: The Guild and the House share an interest in research and exploration, and they are willing to pay well for both. Being rich and peaceful makes them overall very interesting business partners, and so the two organisations are on good terms, even if their goals do not coincide.
The Order: The guild sees little fault in the Order: the organisation supports existing political structures, favours the establishment of strong monopolistic hierarchies and is essentially against social upheaval for any kind. All of which favour an organisation that is already firmly entrenched in all places of power.
The Retrievers: These people are valuable, if prickly customers. They have a never-ending demand for weaponry, alchemicals, exotic materials and recruits. And in exchange, they can teach many valuable lessons: the guild tries to train specialist squads of marines to deal with any possibility, from pirates to elementals, and protecting the mind against Madness and the Strangeness is a useful thing indeed.
The Faceless Cabal
“We offer services. Services everyone important needs appreciates, though no one wants to admit it. The bad news is, we spy on you, and we know all your secrets. The good news is, for a fee, a substantial fee that you will nevertheless be willing to pay, we can also spy for you. Or rather, tell you the secrets of your enemies, which we already know. In detail.
And, if you think about it, are we not a positive force upon the Core Worlds? How many crimes are uncovered by our actions? How much corruption, that would otherwise fester for decades more? We represent the blinding light of truth shining upon the darkest corners of your souls, because we known what you did.”
-Diplomacy Form 4-XVII
“Extra, Extra! Read it in the Gazette! Are key members of the Living Houses actually Faceless? Has the Cabal compromised the council? Courtesan Estrella Moladi unveils all the secrets in an exclusive interview! Only in the Gazette!”
-Paper boy on the streets of Caligo
“Of course the Cabal is a threat. But it is a threat we are ready to face. Our security systems are fully able to distinguish between Faceless and normal customers and employees. All accounts are absolutely secure, and will remain so in the future.”
-Melna Dilby, director of the Caligo Merchant Bank, who later turned out to be a Faceless Spy when she vanished along with the contents of a secret vault
The history of the Faceless Cabal up to about thirty years ago is, in all likelihood, not known to anyone outside its ranks. That was the time when, for the first time, a Faceless spy was found, and that literally by accident.
The son of a merchant family upon Ember, a youth by the name of Atashes, had been crushed under the wheel of a wagon that had fallen on its side. His chest was caved in, and within minutes, he had died. But then, his servants, who had desperately tried to save him, noticed something strange: his body almost seemed to be dissolving, the lines of his face and his body were losing shape, as if they had been made from soft clay. In the end, in Atashes' place lay a creature with willowy, slender limbs, ashen grey skin and, most remarkably, a face that was completely featureless, except for a narrow slit of a mouth and two large, glossy black and lidless eyes.
Further investigation showed that the creature must have been an unknown type of shapeshifter and spy of remarkable skill, perfectly copying the scion's appearance, mannerisms and speech for an unknown amount of time.
The discovery soon led to a veritable witch hunt in the core worlds, and over the next year, maybe a dozen more of the Faceless, as they were now called, were discovered. It was at that point, that they made themselves publicly known. To show their skills, they started by printing announcements in the Core Gazette, revealing several closely guarded secrets of various merchant houses, banking institutions, Guild members and nobles.
After this initial shock had passed, the tone changed: the Faceless were offering their services. They would, so they told the important people of the Core, spy on everyone equally and impartially, hoarding all the secrets in their extensive archives. These secrets would be used for two reasons: monetary gain and the protection of the Cabal and its homeworld.
Quite simply, the Cabal would charge a certain price in gold, in exchange for which a faction's or individual's secrets would not be shared with that person's enemies. Valuable pieces of information could also be purchased, for a price, as could, if requested, assassinations.
That information was taken in almost the same way across the Core Worlds: in a mixture of fear, greed, and thinly veiled hatred. Soon after, the Faceless set up official offices in all of the Core and several Border Worlds, even though most of their business was conducted in secret.
Within the Ranks
No one outside the Faceless quite knows how they are organized, though many have tried to find out. Both magical and mundane methods invariably seem to fail to produce any useful results. What is known of them, mostly from information they have volunteered themselves, is this:
The Faceless have an unknown and unnamed homeworld somewhere in the Guild Sphere. Since, so far, it has escaped discovery (or, at least, publication), it is assumed that it is either one of the barely explored Known Worlds among the Border Worlds, or that the inhabitants are amazingly successful at projecting an aura of innocence when explored.
The Faceless seem to be masters of biological engineering. Their state, much like an insect hive, is divided into castes and, as far as can be told, all the members, though individuals with their own personalities, are unfailingly loyal to it. Among themselves, they only use castes and a kind of serial number to identify and address each other, such as Spy Form 395-XXI, or Combat Form 31-XL, the first number, so it is assumed, designating a subcaste, the second the individual.
The most common known caste is the Spy caste, mostly humanoid creatures with know facial features that are able to assume not only the shape, but also the voice and smell of a target creature by changing their own bodies. These forms, so is assumed, are infiltrated into most organisations in the Known Worlds.
Above the Spies are the Combat Forms, faceless able to not only shift into the forms of creatures they have replaced, but also to change their size and grow biological weapons such as claws and fearsome teeth from their bodies in order to rend unsuspecting victims. These are used for when direct defence is required, and to carry out paid assassinations.
Diplomatic Forms are the only caste known to identify themselves readily. These work in the Cabal's offices in the Core Worlds, taking contracts and working on the carefully cultivated public image of the Cabal. These forms have silver tongues and are able to make the Cabal look like a positive influence on the Core Worlds, even to it's greatest enemies.
Other than those three forms, other forms are only vaguely known. There is talk of so called Shaper Forms, those responsible for creating new types of Faceless, and Thought Forms, who integrate all the data known to the Cabal and guide the entire organisation's course.
Rules Note: Basic faceless spies are well represented by Eberron's Changelings or, if these are not available, by Doppelgangers. Combat forms are easily produced by using lycanthropic templates (though they would not spread a disease that turns victims into more faceless) or grafts and shapeshifting classes. Of the higher forms, little is known, but Diplomatic Forms would most likely have levels in charisma-dependent classes and high social skills, while Shaper and Thought Forms would have levels in magical classes.
The Guild: There must be spies in the Shipwright's Guild, as there are in almost every organisation in the Known Worlds. Many secrets of individual Guild traders have indeed leaked out, though, so far, no amount of money paid by Rogue Traders or enterprising merchants has seemed sufficient to uncover the secrets of Guild Technology. It seems that, so far, the Guild is still better at keeping their innermost secrets than the Cabal is at finding them.
Ashaton: There are few secrets among the Asha'im. They share most of their production processes with anyone willing to spend the years required to learn them, processes which so far have proven far too complicated to ever be industrially viable. That, coupled with the fact that Shemesh could prove to be a potential way of uncovering the Spies, means that there is not much Faceless activity going on in that plane.
The House of the Sun: Even though they describe themselves as a political non-entity, the House continues to be of interest to the Guild. Immortal creatures, after all, have an eternal life of little shames and scandals to look back on, and an eternal life of amassing riches to pay for them. And one never knows when a society might suddenly become interesting, so the Cabal keeps an eye on the House.
The Order: The Order is an interesting and profitable organisation to infiltrate simply for the fact that it is well respected on most levels of society, as well as enjoying the confidence of those in power. Furthermore, if underlings are told not to question their superiors, it is much easier to replace said superiors.
The Retrievers: The Cabal infiltrates all organisations it can find simply on principle. Someone will always be found to have interest in whatever they uncover. But the Retrievers are simply less interesting than many others, because they have less of a hand in politics than most.
The House of the Sun “The past was a better time. Believe me, I was there.”
-Lord Ishkabele the Eternal
“Under my watch, the last glories of the old age will not fade away. The dusk of will not overtake the remaining glories. I will find the treasures of the past, and preserve them, for they must never be lost. Only the past can be our guide to the future.”
-The Sun's Creed
“It's over. The old world might have been a paradise or not, but in any case, it was a thousand years ago, and only a bit of debris here and there remains. That is all. Even those who still lived in it have to see that we can not live in the past.”
-Lord Wilming Renward
In a way, the House of the Sun has existed as long as Ashaton and seen thus, it represents merely a logical continuation of Ashai ideals, expanded to all worlds. The House's philosophy is simple: the Demiplanes in existence today are merely pale shadows compared to the greatness of the world from which mortals came. Even though mortalkind could never hope to bring back this greatness, they should at least try to preserve of it whatever they can.
The House first came into being as an interplanar organisation when a delegation of Asha'im ventured forth on one of their rare trips to visit the caves of Belamin, both to assess the structural integrity of the ancient tunnels, and to examine the art collections stored within.
Between the curators of those collections and the visiting Asha'im, the new movement was born. Both Asha'im and Belaminans associated with it began donating some of their gains from selling metal and wood to the Guild to the cause. Accounts on the Guild banks were founded, and used to build more museums and libraries upon Belamin, and outfit the first expeditions.
The House has set itself three primary goals: to preserve the knowledge of the Old World, to preserve its artifacts, and to preserve it's inhabitants.
For the first two, expeditions are sponsored, to the Prime Shards, the Border Ethereal, the Border Worlds, and the Aether beyond. Adventurers traveling to any of these locations are likely to be paid well for doing so, if they are ready to sign contracts that force them to hand over any interesting Prime artifacts for inspection by the House's own scholars.
Whenever creatures are found that at one point in their lives actually lived on the Prime, the House becomes truly active. They will send scholars to interview the creatures, offer them the sponsorship of the House and any protection or luxury they may desire in exchange for their tales of the Old World.
There is only one other goal that inspires the House more than any other: the search for immortality. Any alchemist with promising leads about the formula of the philosopher's stone, druid with new insights into reincarnation and the nature of souls, artificer with new ideas about mechanical bodies or necromancer with aspirations of lichdom may find scholarship money with the house to further his studies. The House knows well that even the few elves, small gods or ghosts who still remain from the fall of the Prime will one day die, unless they take action, and then no one will truly remember the Paradise of Old.
The Guild: The Guild is, to the House, a necessary evil. They provide two services they need, exploration of new worlds and transportation to them. If that transportation was free, all the better, but overall, there is not much political ambition between the two.
Ashaton: Ashaton is the House's world of origin, and most Asha'im embrace the House's ideal whether they know it or not, simply by their respect for artefacts of the Prime and everything old. The House, of course, bemoans the fact that the Asha'im's memory is imperfect, and hopes to one day perfect the process of soul transference.
The Faceless Cabal: The House likes to believe that it has little to hide and only few things to find out and therefore does not officially do business with the Cabal. Of course, no group of people has ever been without its dirty laundry, and so sums of money in fact regularly flow to the Cabal. The House also wishes to be immediately informed of any secret attempts at finding true immortality.
The Order: The relationship between House and Order is a complicated one. On the one hand, many of the powerful have ties to both organisations, protecting their power and seeking longevity. Both organsisations, as well, have an interest in keeping existing structures in place. On the other hand, many in the Order do not trust the House at all.
The Retrievers: Relations between the House and the Retrievers are, at least, respectful. They share a common idea in that the Prime Material, before the Cataclysm, must have been beautiful, though their conclusions drawn from this are very different.
The Order “Know your place, and you will know peace.
All the evils of the world come from those striving and struggling for what is not theirs to own. Be content, and peace will follow.
Happiness can not be achieved through material possessions, or through overcoming difficulty, for those who strive to defeat adversity will only find themselves facing bigger problems. Serene acceptance of what we should not strive to change is the root of a good life.”
-The Book of Order
“Isn't it easy for them to speak of acceptance? These judges and teachers, sitting at the top of the pile being fed and clothed by their students. What about us? Should we just accept being beggars for the rest of our lives? Should we smile and nod, while our children starve and our wives die of the vapours? Or is it time to act, my brothers?
We say that the rebellion should start right there. Find those who tell you to be content, and you will have found your oppressor.”
-The Ringleader (an illegal anarchist publication in Caligo)
“It may not sound acceptable to us, who seek, first and foremost, for knowledge, and who seek to spread the light of civilisation. But the Order produces results, that much is undeniable. No other form of society has so little crime, produces people so content, so happy. That is certainly worth admiring, and worth studying.”
-Seshara Mai, Lantern Companion
The Order only came to be called that name nearly fifty years ago, at the first Belaminan Conclave, when philosophers, clerics and wise men from all over the Known Worlds met to pool their wisdom in order to create a unified philosophy of peace and propose a system of government for all Worlds.
The Order philosophy has many roots, and aspects of it could (and still can) be found in most Known Worlds in some form or another, as numerous ideas were considered and amalgamated into the Order's central teachings. One goal, after all, was to create a system that would appeal to a wide variety of cultures.
The Caligan concept of the Unborn, and people being born to different lives strongly influenced the Order's ideas on fate, and the fundamental inequality of the rights of people, and this was only reinforced when the Emberite caste system was considered as well.
From the Ashai came the concept of a perfect state in the distant past that was lost due to the imperfection of people, and the idea of the acceptance of the wisdom of elders. The importance of the constant discussion of teachings between wise men found strong resonance in the philosopher-culture of the Belaminans.
When the first teachings were established, the Order soon spread across most of the Known Worlds, as wise men returned to their own worlds with new ideas and plans. The religion, if it can be called such, has broad appeal, but has been more well-accepted amongst the educated and the already rich, as well as people traditionally considered wise, such as teachers, judges and priests.
The fundamental teaching of the Order is that every person has their own place in a grand hierarchy and that, by finding and accepting their place in that hierarchy, one can find peace and happiness, the two grandest virtues the Order can promise. Inversely, strife comes from the desire to improve one's station above what is appropriate. Those who seek to earn riches, or the respect of their fellow man, or wish to gain skills and offices that are not given to them by nature will only struggle in vain.
Hierarchical relationships are at the heart of everything the Order promotes. Students should respect their teachers, children their parents, peasants their rulers, soldiers their officers. But these relationships always have two aspects: while one must respect his superiors, one must also always have the best interest of one's subordinates at heart. Power is not a goal to be searched, but a responsibility that those destined for it must accept.
While the Order teaches lawfulness and hierarchy, it places little emphasis on the Law. While the law of the land must be respected, as it represents the passed down words of one's superiors, the Order also notes that the decision of a wise judge counts for more than a general law, which can not account for specific situations in the way a wise decision can.
Finally, the Order teaches peace and nonviolence. Talking and reaching consensus is the preferred method of solving conflict.
The Order supports the establishment of stable power structures. The Guild is the most stable, all-encompassing power structure there has ever been. As such, many in the Order see it as their duty to support the Guild, even if they may secretly doubting if the Guild really has the best in mind for all layers of society.
The Faceless Cabal: The Cabal is, to most, the anathema of all the Order stands for. They rise above their station, they employ underhanded tactics and, worst of all, they remove and corrupt the rightful leaders of the people. If ever anything had to be exterminated, it was the Cabal.
The House of the Sun: While preserving the old, wise and powerful may indeed seem like a good idea to some of the Order, a majority thinks that immortality reeks of hybris and rising above one's station. There might be mutual respect, but very little warm feelings.
Ashaton: The Asha'im have much to speak for them: they respect the elders and their knowledge, they know their place, they seek little improvement, only to preserve what once existed. And while changing one's very nature from humanoid to construct may seem unnatural, the Asha'im are still the Order's strongest supporters.
The Retrievers: What is past, is past, or so many of the Order would say. While respecting the old is good, one can simply not bring back a world that was destroyed. As such, the Order sees the Retrievers, if anything, as warlike and a bit ignorant, and prone to upsetting the social peace.
The Retrievers “Once, we all came from one world. And then, what did we do? We let ourselves be chased from it, like cowards. Not today! Today, we take back the world!
They call it horrors beyond human imagination. Let's see if they are beyond the Sword, as well! Perhaps we were not meant to know, but I say, we are meant to slay!”-
-Malnar Calderon, Retriever Paladin, The Battle of the Velvet Rift
“I see no fault, per se, in wanting to study the Cataclysm, what it left behind, or what caused it. Now, of course, in many cases, studying it ends in madness, but that should hardly be a deterrent for a truly determined scholar. However, I think it has been quite conclusively shown during the Veil Wars that running at living, phase-shifted mountains with blank steel is not a promising tactic, but a suicidal waste of time and effort.”
-Magister Selenian Plutonis, Professor for Prime Astrology
“I have never seen the Prime before the Cataclysm. They may tell me that it was the more beautiful than any world created by mortals.
But here I sit under an ambervine pergola, sipping a glass of Belamin B.G.Y. 24 while gazing out at the burning Azureon, and I just can not bring myself to think that any world that has been lost to the Strangeness and shattered into myriad pieces could ever compare to this, even if we conquered it.
It is nostalgia. Escapism. A desire for a paradise that will never exist, and most likely never has. It is a harsh truth. All truth is harsh.”
-Agmundr Hrodulfson, the Poet-on-High
As an organisation, the Retrievers only came into their own only after the establishment of the guild Law and the trade network between the Known Worlds had solidified. The Paladin Malnar Calderon, today revered as the first High Retriever traveled the Known Worlds recruiting like-minded folks to flock around his banner.
His philosophy was simple: the first world, the Prime material, was as perfect as any world could ever be, given to mortals by the Outer Gods as a gift. Mortals, flawed as they are, had squandered this gift. They tried to set themselves up as gods by using Arcane Magic. Magic, however, is a power reserved for gods, and its misuse shattered the first world, resulting in the cataclysm. To counter this catastrophe, there was only one thing mortals could do: take up arms and defeat the Strangeness with steel and will, their natural, gods-given powers.
Calderon was highly charismatic, an inspirational speaker as well as an impressive warrior, and soon his followers were soon in the thousands, warriors and mystics, priests and penitents. They flocked to the Border Ethereal and there, where the Strangeness touches the Aether, they began to prepare themselves, studying protective techniques against the madness and honing their martial prowess.
Finally, years after he began, Calderon declared the Veil War begun. The Retrievers began crossing over into the Prime, battling the outgrowths of the Strangeness they encounter. Little progress was made or years, but Calderon kept his men's spirits high, calling this a spiritual battle as much as a physical one, a test of their will.
But after three years, even Calderon's speeches began to ring hollow, and a new weapon had to be found. Calderon found it in Ashaton. The Asha'im, who longed themselves for the Prime of old, outfitted him with golems, war-creations of incredible power, that had no mind to be corrupted by the Strangeness, and no flesh to be warped.
What follows was called the Battle of Twisting Steel. Golems by the dozen crossed over into the Prime, beating back the Strangeness, at least for a while. A Bridgehead is formed, and for the first time in over a thousand years, a mortal walks on Prime soil, as Calderon himself crosses over.
Their victory was shortlived: seven months after the bridgehead was first established, something new awakes on the Prime, a new expression of the Strangeness and the effects are felt throughout the Border Ethereal. Retriever Veterans (those that can still speak coherent sentences) describe it in a multitude of ways, as “a shadow, the colour of rainbows”, “an ocean of black, oily liquid, swallowing the world” or “a heap of twisted, pulsating flesh, the size of a mountain”. The creature attacks the Retrievers on the Prime and the Border with devastating effect. The golem legions are scattered, though some of the war-creations are said to still exist on the prime, and the bridgehead is lost. Later, this is called the Battle of the Velvet Rift, though none can say why.
The worst loss, perhaps, was that of Calderon himself. Ever since the Battle of Velvet Rift, he was never heard of again. Vanishing in such a way was not unusual, for nearly a third of the Retrievers was never accounted for after the battle, with neither their corpses nor any survivors ever found. Some fanatic Retrievers maintain, to this day, that Calderon will return one day with the Lost Battlebrothers, and once again retake the Prime.
After this loss, the Retrievers lost much of their drive. They built a mighty citadel in the Border Ethereal, protected by all the ways known to keep the Strangeness at bay, on the exact spot corresponding to the former Bridgehead on the Prime, though most of the Retriever's activity, these days, is focused on the Known Worlds, trying to gain more support for future endeavours.
Modern Philosophy and Actvities
With the loss of both their leader and their army, the Retrievers have become less primarily militaristic than they were a generation ago. They still train warriors in techniques to resist the Strangeness, and their main goal is still fighting it. However, their means of accomplishing has changed.
Their first and perhaps most demanding task is to suppress cults to the Strangeness. These weird psuedo-religions crop up every few years, usually in the poorest, seediest parts of Caligo, Waketown, Ember or the Spire. Each of those cults is different, some worshiping the Strangeness itself as a divine phenomenon, some specific entities, some trying to ward of an apocalypse, some praying for it, some simply sharing a common, recurring nightmare that drives them to certain actions. The Retrievers think that all these are symptoms caused by the Strangeness, and that the have to be fought to keep the Strangeness at bay.
The second is training. The Retrievers still train their recruits, and anyone willing to learn (and donate, often enough) in techniques to resist madness, mind control, involuntary shapechanges and other undesirable effects of the Strangeness. Preparedness, so they say, is the only way to stop the invasion of the Strangeness they fear.
Third is research. As much as it pains many Retrievers to admit it, they did fail in their mission, and fail hard. If they ever hope to succeed, they need to know their enemy. Find a weakness to be exploited in a force that defeated a united plane and shattered worlds. Beyond the apparent impossibility of the task, they face two problems: first, the overwhelming majority of scholars interested in the Strangeness also at least dabbles in Arcane matters, employing the very forces even the more liberal and modern Retrievers detest. Second, the Strangeness has the rather unsettling tendency to react in unpredictable ways to being studied, turning those studying it mad, into cultists or staging points for an incursion.
Of course, preparing for a war needs financing, and so, more and more of the Retrievers find themselves doing odd jobs that have little direct connection to their long-term goal. They work as trainers, mercenaries, guards and experts on the Strangeness, selling their expertise at arms and mental fortitude for money.
The Guild: The guild is vital to the Retrievers. Every newly discovered world is a new pool of resources for the great undertaking, and the more united the worlds are in their goals, the sooner they can fight back the Strangeness. Also, the Guild is a great customer.
The Faceless Cabal: The cabal has, usually, little need for mercenaries or meditation techniques, and their area of interest intersects little with the Retrievers. As such, they prefer to leave the Cabal alone.
The House of the Sun: Preserving the Knowledge of the Ancients, and especially whatever stories they can tell about the Prime is a noble effort, and one the Retrievers fully support.
The Order:A society at peace with itself provides a great recruitment pool for the Retrievers, and every civil war and border skirmish is a waste of resources that could be used against the Strangeness. But the Order also discourages war of any kind, even against the Strangeness, so relationships are tense, at best.
Re: Aether from the Ashes: Etherworld Second Edition
3. Demiplanes “Demiplanes. Worlds. There are many names, and they all mean the same. We all know what Demiplanes are, as we live on and in them. Unless we have any Shardite students here, of course. Or elemental students. No offence. Oh, and students from the Shadow world, yes. Now, where was I?”
-Magister Findelwald Tungsten, Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geology
Demiplanes are artificially created worlds. Most of those known today, be they in the Border or the Core, were created during the Cataclysm, when they were most sorely needed. None, as far as anyone can tell, were created since, but there are worlds, such as the dreaded Moil or Neth, the Living Plane, that are far older.
All of the cataclysmic planes, which are those making up the vast majority of the inhabited Known Worlds, share a few common features:
From the outside, they are perfect spheres of around half a mile in diameter that float in the Deep Aether. They can have many colours, but most are slightly opalescent, reminding some of pearls. All worlds have a world wall, a shimmering wall of unyielding force that envelops it on the inside and outside, and most worlds can not be entered without knowing some secret password or ritual, at least until they were first opened by a Planar Penetrator, at which point they are open to all.
On the inside, Demiplanes are vastly larger than on the outside, the largest dozens of miles in diameter. They can have almost any composition and structure their creators could think of and most exhibit some weird and often unique magical or physical phenomenon.
At the exact center of every Demiplane lies the Heartstone. This magical gem is a remnant of the creation process that defines the exact nature of the Plane. It is utterly immovable, in some Demiplanes even floating in midair. Additionally, the creator of many planes have bound magical effects bound to the Heartstone, which are continually activated on the plane. Examples of this include the weather systems of Bellamin and Caligo, or the eternally regenerating resources of Ashaton , which are all thanks to the effects of their Heartstones.
The Demiplanes continually move through the Aether, blown by the invisible ethereal winds, changing their positions relative to each other. It is this fact that makes ethereal navigation so difficult and unreliable.
4. The Core Worlds
What are the Core World
The Guild's network is wide and diverse, spanning over a hundred worlds and linking them with trade routes. However, amongst those worlds, there are six of a preferred status, that are referred to as Core Worlds. Sirnia was the first, of course, the Guild World itself, from where the Guild controls the bureaucracy and guild courts and administers trade routes and the distribution of goods for maximum profit. Caligo was included as the ancestral world of many of the first guild members, and with it came Belamin and Ember, not only for their resources, but also they already shared connections with Caligo. While it is technically possible for other Worlds to join the Core Worlds if they can prove their economic, geographic and political security and stability, only two other Planes were allowed to join, so far.
The Core Worlds were, with tremendous effort, stabilized in the Aether, so that they barely move relative to each other. From this nexus of six stable worlds, the Guild trade network stretches outwards like a gigantic, three-dimensional web. The Guild makes a careful effort to direct the flow of most goods through the Core Worlds, even if they are destined from one Border world to another. The taxes and tariffs resulting from this have given the Core Worlds riches unparalelled in worlds that were used to living with the barest minimum for a thousand years.
Interestingly, art and fashion are living through an interesting development. In the Core, everything has to be exotic. Emberite politicians pay outrageous wages for unusual servants and bodyguards from the Border and no Caligan Gentleman can host a party without showing off some new curiosity found by an expedition to a hitherto unknown world or corner of some distant plane. In the Border, however, the opposite is taking place: Core-inspired fashions are the big thing and the petty aristocracy is desperate for any news of trends from Ember or Caligo, in order to appear civilized to any visiting dignitaries.
Belamin “What is worth preserving of the Bygone Age? Not the empires, and the politics, they brought only strife. Not the magic, for it could not save the world, and will only break it again. Safe two things, and two things only: save nature, for it is beauty. Save art, for it is truth.”
“I am not saying that art serves no purpose. Art stirs up emotions, and emotions are the most powerful tool there is. The guild does admire art, but it does not acquire it. It has, however, need to acquire wood. Vast quantities of wood.”
-Lura Moggach, Guild Elderwoman
“Oooh, how picturesque!”
When the Cataclysm loomed near on the prime, a circle of druids and bards came together to create a demiplane, not to save themselves, but to save the greatest achievements and wonders of the dying world.
They raised the new world of Belamin from the Aether, a land of craggy mountains and deep forest. All attempts were made to create a land as close as possible to the prime in all aspects. The sky was blue, the Earth bountiful, even a sun was created, a bound ancient elemental of radiance that would sit at the center of the world to provide light and life.
They brought mystical and rare creatures from all over the land to live here: the fey of nature, mystical beasts, rare and exotic animals. And in the endless caves beneath the mountains, they stored the art of the prime, paintings, statues and crafts of all kind, all that was judged beautiful.
Only few went to live in that plane, afterwards. Some of the druids and bards, to become keepers of the land, to see that the art was maintained, and the nature watched. To conserve the nature of the plane, there were never much more than a few hundred to a thousand mortals here, in in three semi-nomadic tribes and numerous smaller groups that lived in the wild on their own.
Belamin has been part of the Core Worlds since before the term was officially used. The Belaminans have always kept their border to the Aether more open than most, and as a result they had loose ties with the inhabitants of Caligo and Ember even before the Guild was founded, though these ties were maintained only by small groups of brave individuals launching themselves into the Aether without ships or proper navigation.
Since Belamin has joined the Core Worlds, it has become the location of much activity: though many of the inhabitants do not like it, the world is the Known World's prime repository for wood, including many rare and magical woods that are much desired by the guild.
Since the world's culture is strongly focused on the oratory, the Belaminans make great diplomats and traders, when they put their minds to it, and many captains, traders, ambassadors and orators hail from the world, or go to there to study.
Belamin was conceived to contain many of the most productive climate zones of the old Prime, all in close proximity. The entire world is basically a sloping plane. At one end lie forested swamps and mangroves, and from there, the climate becomes gradually colder as one encounters broadleaf forests, pine forests and mountain heaths, before the world turns into jagged, bare mountains where the land meets the worldwall on the opposing side.
Traditionally, and by the law of the tribes, Belamin is divided into three areas, the warm and swampy Lowlands, the rainy, forested Midlands and cold, mountainous Highlands, each inhabited by one tribe. Much of the Lowlands is separated from the Midlands by wide, but shallow expanses of water.
The landscape and flora of Belamin may remind those who still remember it of the Prime, but it is both smaller and more grandiose in scale. Condensed, some call it. There are towering black cliffs a mile high and glaciers bristling with jagged blue ice a mere few hours walk from shallow green swamps teeming with life and towering trees so tall they seem to touch the sky. Hundreds of species of plant grow here, and nowhere else in the world, from unassuming green creepers to perhaps the most beautiful of all, the translucent gemstone orchids.
Those trees are, indeed, Belamin's most precious resource, for in the deepest depths of the forest, many magical woods grow, such as the fabled Dark- and Heartwood, hard as steel and many times more valuable than gold.
Below the ground, however, lies a whole other world on Belamin, the caverns, as they are imaginatively called. Twisting tunnels lead down form many spots in the surface, to deep, magically dry caves in the rock where ancient art and writings from before the Cataclysm lie stored. The caves are kept in total darkness, and often sealed to prevent damage. However, they are not guarded, and anyone is free to look at the art whenever they want, as long as they can brave the dark cave labyrinth and remove nothing. Artists often travel to the shallowest caves for inspiration, and climbing the many miles down to the deepest caves is seen as an especially trying pilgrimage for sinners and adventurers.
While there are only few mortals living in Belamin by tradition, there are untold other creatures there. No other world has a diversity of animal life even remotely comparable. On top of that, the creators made a point of saving as many rare magical beasts, fey of nature, animated plants and elemental creatures as they could find. It is often jokingly said that one can not turn over a stone in Belamin without the stone complaining, and it is not far from the truth: in this world, everything is potentially alive, and even the rocks may merely be sleeping elementals.
Perhaps the most impressive of these is the “Sun” of Belamin, an elder elemental of radiance that bathes the entire plan in powerful, golden light infused by positive energy and makes the unparalelled growth possible. This ancient, creature, sworn and dedicated to its duty, is bound to the Heartstone of Belamin, which hovers alongside it under the greenish-blue sky. The Heartstone is a disc of perfectly black, opaque stone, which changes its size in slow, twelve hour pulses, letting only tiny, starlike points of light through at night. The heartstone, which is extraordinarily complex, does other things as well: it regulates the temperature and weather of Belamin, creating four seasons, as well as snow, rain and occasional violent storms.
While there have been conflicts between the tribes and the druidic circles and shamanic hermits common to the plane, these were almost always resolved peacefully: the Belaminans have developed a culture of conflict solving based on words and wits. While small conflicts will be deescalated in regulated contests of debate, tale-telling and intimidation, strife between the tribes is solved in the annual Thing, where matters would be debated and, if no satisfactory resolution is to be found, the Skalds solve the matter in their ways.
Of the great historic Skalds of Belamin, many tales are told, though many seem unlikely. Cynemaer Alfsong was said to have a voice so beautiful that the sun trees would weep around him. Legends say that the Empress of Ember herself came to visit him, and abandoned her jewels at his feet, saying that their beauty would forever seem pale to her now. Roderich Ansoberth was said to be over six hundred years old, and responsible for charming the sun into staying in the skies forever. Perhaps the most famous is Theodoar Thundervoice, who came to his name when he learnt how to split boulders in twain with a single word, and repelled a Nathri invasion by defeating one warrior after the other in intimation contests, talking for a week without resting.
Naturally, not all Belaminans are peaceful, even when their culture traditionally discourages battle. Youths from the tribal villages have their own traditions: humiliating the other tribes in every conceivable way is a long-standing tradition and risky sports, displays of bravado and spectacular pranks are very respected ways of gaining status. The raiding of cattle and other goods is not a rare occurrence either, though most these, short a “Fee for Keeping your Goods safe”, are usually returned at the Thing.
Most of the Belaminans, if they do not follow any of the major philosophies, worship nature in a rather vague and abstract way, keeping a thousand oral customs of when to do or not to do certain things, of the right times for hunts and harvests, of what to eat or not to eat, of the sacrifices that must be made at the rocks, groves and ponds of powerful spirits. There are few priests on Belamin, and even the druids are seen merely as those who have dedicated more time to the study of spirit lore rather than divinely invested by nature in any way.
Apart from these commonalities, the three tribes have very different cultures.
The Lowlanders are nomadic, traveling the swamps, rivers and mangroves on large house boats and rafts, fishing with throwing nets and barbed javelins, the same weapons they use skillfully in warfare. A lowland man, it is said, can outswim a shark and wrestle an alligator any day of the weak.
The Midlanders are the most sessile and culturally the closest to the other “civilized” Core worlds. They live on large farmsteads, massive living buildings housing three or four generations of one family clan, surrounded by stables and barns, ringed by strong wooden palisades to keep the wandering and not always friendly forest natives out. They herd cows and plant crops on small forest clearings and are seen as richer, though perhaps also lazier and softer, by the other tribes.
The Highlanders are quiet, solitary people, living in small families on the meagre heaths and stony crags, mountain hunters and goat herds. The Windsong, as they call it, is often the only communication between families, a way of sing-song shouting that can be heard even on distant peaks. The sling is a Highlander's weapon of choice, and their master slingers can reliably kill a man at two hundred paces.
On the whole, the Belaminans have an interesting reputation amongst the other Coreworlders: they are seen as somewhat barbaric, loud and direct where the common courtesy of the Emberites and Caligans demands a hundred words and a thousand hidden meanings. But for all that, they are also shrewed investigators and often skilled orators, as the Guild has found time and time again when they tried to purchase Belaminan wood in bulk, only to run into a wall of rock solid spiritual conviction. Those Belaminans that turn from their plane not rarely make great explorers, traders and captains, or feared pirates, if the mood should strike them.
There are no cities or grand structures on Belamin, the kind that might be encountered on Caligo or Ember. There are the scattered farmsteads of the Midlanders, the low stone huts of the Highlanders and, twice per year, the Swimming Town when the Lowlander's boats meet in the great lagoon.
Doru is the greatest tree in Belamin, where by tradition, the Thing takes place. It is an impressive tree, as wide in diameter as a small ship is long, and high enough that legends claim that from the tallest branches, one can touch the sun if it sits low in the sky. Under the wide branches, there is almost total shadow, and no other plant can grow, so that a natural space of bare earth, trampled down by a thousand years of meetings, is left free. Since joining the Guild, the Belaminans have erected more permanent structures here, a wooden house three stories tall that surrounds the great trunk. This is the Court of Worlds, founded soon after the establishment of the Core Worlds, where six judges, one from each Core World and a Guild clerk, listen to grievances between world governments, over trade and politics.
The Belaminans have built their own port, before the Guild could do it for them, and as such, Greenport is a far cry from the square brick buildings and fortifications of Tridentport or Organport. Here, delicate woodwork has been fashioned into hollow spheres, connected by walkways and tubes that allow even the non-accustomed to easily move in the weightless environment of the Aether. And over everything grow plants, creepers and orchids, adapted by the druids to weightless conditions.
A brick- and cobblestone road, once perfectly smooth, but already pushed out of alignment by intruding roots, leads from the Port to the Court of Worlds. Along the miles of road, rangers patrol regularly, to keep the more ferocious of the forest's inhabitants away from those coming to court.
Ashaton “Though the body is flesh, adamant is the soul, and through all the ravages of age it may not change. Though the mind is as quicksilver and ever-shifting as the whims command, it flows away in the winds of time, and only the soul, the adamant soul, remains.”
“It is sad, so sad. Once, they had all the mysteries of the planes and of life, and they only use them to prolong their deaths. They all died, they just don't remember it.”
-The high retriever
“A bloody opportunity. That's what Ashaton is. A gigantic, lost opportunity. Elsewhere, we melt down horseshoes and ****ing cooking pots to make enough nails to build the ships, and in Ashaton? The bloody metal grows on those damn trees. It's a shame they don't use it for anything useful. They would cry like little girls if they could over whether or not that bloody wire they bloody worked on for the last twenty years looks like their bloody sister's eyelash, but they won't make anything useful. Psh. Let them all die, then go in and get the damn metal, I say.”
-Ragnar Ulrikson, Captain of the Virgin's Tear
Ashaton was founded as a mine, though not by miners themselves. It was not one of the worlds of the exodus that were created following the destruction of the Material that was, but far older. The oldest runic records refer to it as the gift of the Soulforger, a title scholars assume refers to either the creator of the original world, or a deity of the Shattered Planes revered by the original miners. It was a demiplane closely modeled after the Planes of Earth and Minerals, to provide self-restoring, never exhausted metal veins.
The Plane was never intended as a save haven for refugees from a dying world, but much like beggars, people running for their lives can not exactly be choosers. There is evidence, in the oldest records, that food and water supplies were brought into the Plane to enable the survival of the colonists, and that the still present fungus farms were hastily erected, but this was not even remotely enough to feed what must have been, back then, thousands of refugees.
Civilian structures were built quickly, mining quarters expanded, large halls chiseled from the rock. but the main problem was still the food. hundreds starved, and when their corpses could no longer be buried and where thrown into the deepest chasm of the demiplane instead, countless ghosts, mad and hungry, began to haunt the halls. in their desperation, many turned to cannibalism, and so, in the depths of the Abyss, the first Ashai ghouls arose, another threat to feed on the few that remained alive, gaunt, famished terrors stalking the dark.
Then, one nameless alchemist had an insight from reading a piece of ancient scripture: „Though the body is flesh, adamant is the soul.“ With necromancy and alchemy, by processes long forgotten, he bound the spirits of the dying to the living adamant veins in the heart of the demiplane, storing their souls and minds for eternity in an existence between life and death. Most of those that were alive fashioned themselves bodies of the same living metal and vowed to do battle on the feral ghouls and restless spirits, to reclaim their world for the day when they might return to life.
When the Guild first explored Ashaton, they classified it as a lifeless rock and one of the least habitable worlds they had ever encountered. It was only eight years later, in Guild year 21, that a team of adventurers went deep into the heart of the system of caves and tunnels that forms this world that they found the Esh-khoma, the eternal holy wall, that surrounds Shemesh, as the inhabitants call their heartstone, and the warlike, but ultimately reasonable inhabitants therein.
From the outside, Ashaton looks more dull than most worlds, not shimmering as opal and pearls, but a muted light grey. Unlike most worlds, there was never an easy way into Ashaton, even when it was opened with a Penetrator, because the world is filled with a solid sphere of stone lying directly under the shell, and so most explorers would simply find themselves standing in front of a smooth wall.
There are entrances, though, shafts dug out into the Aether for air and supplies. Most always led and still lead to winding, serpentine tunnels that were dug to follow ore veins at some point in Ashaton's pre-cataclysmic history. Many of these not been entered by any living or, indeed, reasoning being for centuries, and are now inhabited only by slithering fungus creatures, the cave ghouls and the darkness, all of which rarely leave any would-be treasure hunters alive.
Even when they are empty, the Ashatonai caves are far from harmless. There are sudden, gaping chasms and crevices and winding labyrinths were one may never find a way out. But there are also rare and beautiful sights: caves filled with crystal towers yards wide and reflecting all the colours of the spectrum, glittering veins of gemstone and precious metal and hidden lakes of perfectly pure water, undisturbed since before the cataclsym.
The Guild, craving Ashaton's metal resources, has built an aether port for Ashaton, however, and has secured and widened several passages leading to the innermost chambers surrounding Shemesh, where the Asha'im live and work on the living veins.
These veins are still common in Ashaton, even after millennia of mining, because, like living creatures, they grow, almost like the roots of a gigantic tree, slowly refilling spaces that were mined in earlier centuries. In some places, old mining tunnels have been completely filled by dozens of metal strands winding around each other.
Not many types of creature still survive in Ashaton. There are, of course, the Asha'im, creatures of living metal. These are not crude shapes of stone and clay like the golems that served as their prototypes. The miners and artificers fashioned their own future bodies with create care , molding their bodies from adamantine and the finest mechanisms they could conceive. The body of the Asha'im are like beautiful watches, full of spinning clockwork and clicking gears, inlaid with precious metals, their faces like silver masks with beards of copper and dark bronze. Each has the dwarven sigil EMET carved upon his forehead to bring the body to true life.
In personality, the Asha'im are solemn, careful and reserved, a feature only enhanced by their often inexpressive, motionless features. They can live for centuries if they are not violently destroyed, but as they age, deep grief and longing for the glories of the Old World begins to grow in their soul, and many end their own existences willingly, following the honourable path and arming themselves for a last, violent pilgrimage to Tehom or simply removing their hearts from their bodies and dying. Their numbers, therefore, are ever-dwindling, for they produce new bodies to be inhabited only slowly and rarely. Their memories of the Old World grow distant as they age and many a hopeful scholar has come to know disappointment when questioning them about it.
An important aspect of Ashai culture is their respect for everything old. Many of them are near a millennium old, and they will prefer one idea over another simply because it has existed for a longer time. They distrust all that is new. Their war machines work on designs that are centuries old, and once one of them has found a schema that is deemed to work well, it will be followed. They spend their time listening to the dead of the ancient past, who are, at the same time their families, and no new soul has entered Ashaton since it was created, as no children are ever born here.
Rule Note: The Warforged of Eberron are suggested for use as Asha'im, as the living construct subtype and their modular nature serves perfectly to emulate a race of artificers and smiths that have fashioned their own bodies out of metal.
In recent years, some few brave living beings have set up residence in Ashaton, to make their wealth as miners and artificers, mostly of gnomish and dwarven stock.
Most tunnels of Ashaton, however, are not safe. The cave ghouls, distant, more feral cousins of the ghouls of other planes, stalk the halls. They have smaller bodies, but longer limbs, and are able to scale even overhanging walls with their curved claws and wet, sucker-like hands. The Ashai ghouls are almost blind, but able to smell living creatures over long distances, and they will never abandon prey unless destroyed or threatened by the light they fear.
In the deepest and most distant tunnels, there are things even darker than the ghouls. The deep chasms of Tehom are filled with dark waters and slithering creatures grown from the abandoned fungus farms, the primeval shadows that have never seen any light and the dark acts committed in these tunnels in the desperate years after the cataclysm.
Finally, there are the Ashai war machines, engines of destruction the Asha'im set free to decimate the ghouls and reconquer their plane. Some are dumb golems, blindly wandering the tunnels and striking dead whatever they find, but there are more sophisticated war machines, crawling things in the shapes of spiders and scorpions that lurk in ancient halls.
For all these reasons, travelers to Ashaton would to well not to leave the guild's safe paths.
Ashaton has two things in abundance: metal and darkness. The first is all the inhabitants need, the second is all they care about. Though no one knows how this is possible, the cave ghouls somehow increase in numbers in Tehom, though there are no bodies there for them to feed on, nor people to be transformed, nor spellcasters to create them magically,every few years they pour forth from the depths by the hundreds, to throw themselves on the defences of the Asha'im.
Therefore, the Asha'im have only two pursuits in life. Military service, which they take up only out of a sense of duty, but with no joy, and the forge, in which they create both new war machines and, more importantly to them, new bodies for the spirits of their loved ones to inhabit. Most Asha'im will create only one or two bodies during their entire existances, but they will work over these for decades, even centuries, to make them perfect. The facial masks will be built on the memory of every aspect of a loved ones face, and the bodies should be not only beautiful, but also strong and dexterous to provide for all the needs of the new inhabitant. Only when it has been perfected is the body sent to the Ore Orchard so that a new soul can be implanted.
The government of Ashaton is a complicated process. The inhabitants are few and lawful enough that no big bureaucracy is needed to govern them and, indeed, to an outsider it might seem as if Ashaton has no government at all. The Asha'im pay respect to each other based on a complicated system of age, skill, inheritance and achievement, but they will rarely if ever call each other by any kind of official title. Instead, they all remember the traditions and laws, and follow them, reminding each other that they are in a time of crisis and have to pull together if they ever want to succeed in bringing all the dead back to life. There are, of course, conflicts and crime, but these are solved swiftly and brutally by the entire community.
A few Asha'im leave the main community, and the main ore veins that carry the spirits of the dead, to build their own isolated workshops in remote areas of the plane, miles from Shemesh and the lighted center of the plane to work on their own projects, free from the often stifling beliefs and traditions that govern every aspect of life behind the wall of fire. These are seen as traitors by the orthodox Asha'im, who have turned their backs on the sacred traditions and their own flesh and blood, the spirits of the dead, and their responsibility of fashioning new bodies for them.
Shemesh is the Heartstone of Ashaton, a single, flawless diamond twelve feet across, hung from the ceiling of the gigantic hall of Levor in a fine net of mithral. It not only keeps the living veins growing, but also creates the only light in Ashaton, a light that can rival any in the known planes in intensity. This light is scattered and concentrated by a complicated system of crystal prisms, lenses and silver mirrors to fill the outer tunnels and chambers of the inhabited parts of the plane. It is said that the light of Shemesh dispels all falsehoods, so that no illusions and shapeshifters can exist in the hall. Since the Ashai have heard of the Faceless, they have started a new monthly ritual where they all gather around the Shemesh to prove their identity. Whether this has any real effect or not is unknown, as no Facless spy has ever been discovered this way.
Finally, most of this light ends up empowering the Esh-Khoma, the secured perimeter around the innermost chambers of Ashaton. Despite its name translating as “Wall of Fire”, it is not a true wall, but instead a series of parabolic mirrors and powerful lenses which are used to paralyze and burn any ghoul which makes it this close to the Heartstone.
Inside Esh-Khoma lie the halls and workshops of the Asha'im. They need no food or sleep, and so, most of them have no private rooms but their own little workshop. However, they love to talk, and so, they have untold halls and forums, each dedicated to a special occasion. Since the Asha'im are immortal and they pride themselves on being able to work for months without taking any breaks, each single stone is worked to the highest standard, carved with images of the glorious past.
Air, almost exclusively used by the Asha'im not for breathing but to fire their forges and smelters comes into the world by way of the Neshamah, a series of tubes and passages connecting the inner chambers to the Aether outside, where phlogistated air is directly created from protoplasm. The Neshamah is, in fact, shaped to create sounds almost like a gigantic pipe organ, to signal the precise flow of air and any possible disruptions to the Asha'im operating the forges. These pipes have been carefully tuned, and even the tiniest repair work on them is given only to a special group of Asha'im who have mastered both music and masonry to the highest degree.
The Metal Orchards are where the Asha'im gain their metals. Here, the metal veins have been carefully cultivated, so that they grow out of floor and walls in branching shapes resembling leafless trees and banks of coral. As these veins also bind the revered spirits of dead Asha'im of earlier ages, comparably little of this metal is taken, and only under careful consideration. If the body of an Asha'im is destroyed beyond repair, the adamantine heart of his body is removed and brought to this hall, to be planted into the ground where, soon, veins will grow over it and form a new metal tree, which will contain the Asha'im's soul. The kind of metal, so the Asha'im believes, reflects the personality of the departed. The Asha'im can, in fact, communicate with the trees via complicated necromantic processes and so talk to these spirits which, unlike most in the Aether, show no sign of deteriorating or going insane.
Near the Orchards lies the Nexus, where all the metal veins of Ashaton meet in a tangle the size of a building. Here, the spirits of the dead reside, bound to the metal veins. The Asha'im come here to reside amongst the remnants of their former loved ones, even though necromantic or psionic talent is necessary to talk to them.
Necromancy is, a sacred art to the Asha'im. They have no bodies that could be raised as lifeless abominations, and suffer few of the afflictions a necromancer can curse the living with, but they appreciate the art of communicating with spirits, and the talent of influencing the ghouls of Tehom.
Sanctified necromancers spend their time in the nexus, talking to the dead and relating their words, which are given much weight, to those who still have bodies. The dead are seen as wise, and difficult cases of law, where much interpretation of the traditions is required are brought to them for decision.
The Halls of Living Laws is where the Asha'im store all their traditions, laws and sayings, engraved in their runic script upon tablets of metal taller than a man. In the belief system of the Asha'im, words can never perfectly capture all the subtleties of a law, so that the spirit of the Asha'im who wrote a particular law is always bound to that tablet, so that students of the law can discuss its intent and nuances and gain a deeper understanding. Influential scholars and interpreters of a law are also, sometimes, bound to the same tablet, so that for those able to perceive the bound spirits, the hall more resembles a busy forum full of loud, heated, often angry discussion than a solemn archive.
Tehom is what the Asha'im call the deepest abyss of the plane, a dark chasm filled with black, oily waters and monstrosities so powerful that not even the Guild, in their efforts to pacify the world have ever reached it. It is said that near it, the very shadows become alive and that the darkness swallows all illumination, so that no torch, crystal or spell can shed any light on its depth.
Organport, maintained by the Guild, is Ashaton's only port, maintained to deliver the valuable metal of the dark world to the other worlds. It resembles a fortress more than a port, with ballistae and magical fires protecting the tunnel entrances nearby. Guild marines trained in tunnelfighting and slaying ghouls are constantly stationed here to protect the passages to the metal orchard.
The Guild: The Asha'im mistrust the Guild. They need resources from the other worlds, and the Guild's help in dealing with the ghouls and shadows from Tehom, but they are reluctant to give up even a single bar of copper or iron, let alone mithral or adamantine in exchange. A few of the Asha'im renegades, always more forward looking than most, have joined the Guild as artificers, however, a fact that does not exactly endear the organisation to the orthodox Asha'im.
The Faceless Cabal: The Asha'im praise honesty and openness highly, even to the point of offending people more used to the occasional white lie. They therefore abhor the very idea of Faceless, even though it seems that the Faceless largely ignore them.
The House of the Sun: The House came from Ashaton, and the Asha'im respect it. It seeks out those which are, in many cases even older, and therefore wiser, than the oldest Asha'im, an endeavour worthy of praise. They are maybe a bit too proactive, and certainly too interested in finding new technologies instead of applying the wisdom of their forbears, but though misguided, their goals are noble.
The Order: In the Order, the Asha'im see a philosphy that agrees with them well. They seek to know their place, as the Order does, and respect for their elders and betters is built into their very nature. Many Asha'im, if they ever concern themselves with religion, join the Order.
The Retrievers: Another great customer for Asha'im resources, the Retrievers have an endless thirst for new weaponry for any kind and even the largest of war machines the Asha'im can offer. Ever since the Ashai golems proved such a vital weapon in the Veil Wars, the Retrievers have great respect for the Asha'im, treating them as their greatest allies.
Re: Aether from the Ashes: Etherworld Second Edition
Caligo “The center of culture and sophistication in the Known Worlds. The cradle of civilisation and art. Home to all the greatest inventors, artificers and explorers. From here came the Aethership, the art of navigation, the founders and the guild. It is, quite simply, the greatest of all worlds.
We were born from hardship and turmoil, and we never grew complacent with what we had. We are the nexus of innovation.”
-Magister Calveria, Introduction to Caligan History
“It's a place to do business, and no doubt about that. The biggest, most diverse one in the Known Worlds, certainly. More money flows through the pockets of many a Caligan banker every day than flows through some Border Worlds in a lifetime. I don't much care, to be honest, whether it is better or worse than other worlds, it is a necessity.”
-Walgar Brebiniad, Guild Trader on the Fool's Gold
“It is a hellhole, in every definition of the word. The lower classes are listless wretches who care neither about sin, nor virtue. In the Undertow, a thousand criminals wallow in every secret vice. Their rulers are worse. They have made decadence an art, and call it a virtue. They are depraved beyond the imagination of other men, and the sooner a torch is taken to the entire World, the better, for whatever Caligo touches, it ruins.”
-Hierophant Delivrin as-Sambar of the Ascetic Monks of the Unfathomable Depth
“Well, yeah. Why do you think we came here?”
-Huskarl Rikard Torvaldson, a visitor
“I once met a girl, a girl from Caligo,
With eyes as deep as the sea.
And she told me that girl, that girl from Caligo
That she'd only ever love me.
But one day my girl, my girl from Caligo,
Was off with another man.
She left me my girl, my girl of Caligo
And I felt as if I might die.
And she said, my girl, my girl of Caligo,
When I just asked her “Why?”
“For I am a girl, and a girl of Caligo,
We lie just because we can.”
-Traditional Aetherfarer's Song
Caligo was always imagined as a safe haven for people. Twelve great magi came together to build a world as complete as they could make it, each contributing their specialty. They signed an accord, outlining the geography and the division of the land. It was planned that each of them would select fifty people from amongst those people they trusted most and deemed most worthy to form a new and better society.
The plan failed. Raskahan the Traitor, a Sahuagin shaman, saw his race die as the oceans of the prime changed to slime and acid or boiled away into the void. As a master of water and weather, he began to channel more and more of his power into Caligo, burying much of the fertile land under an ocean and introducing savage storms. Over the protests of the other signatories he began saving more and more of his people into Caligo, ignoring the limits they had set in order to make the new society sustainable.
Things went out of hand. The other signatories soon began fighting amongst themselves, as each began bringing in more people of their own to counter the Traitor's power. The elements of the new world became unbalanced, and the Signatories began to slay each other, until only the Traitor and two others remained, the Dragon Hyormir Stormheart and Elera Iriana, an accomplished Luminist.
In a final push, the Traitor tried to flood Caligo entirely. The waves rose and almost swallowed the land, and a powerful storm extinguished Caligo's sun. The other two signatories pushed back, in a disparate attempt to stop him. It is said that in this struggle, that consumed the life of all three and shattered Caligo's Heartstone, the final shape of Caligo was determined.
The surviving mortals found themselves in a difficult situation: they were many more than intended when the world was founded, and though Caligo was intended to offer luxury to the Signatories' chosen, it was now much diminished, devastated by the floods and storms and retaining little of its antediluvian beauty.
The remaining Chosen were few, but they were the most capable survivors by far, having been hand-selected by the Signatories. After deliberating the situation, they imposed a new philosophy and political system on the plane: the Living Houses.
From the outside, the system may seem strange and even cruel, but it has a certain brutal simplicity. The world of Caligo, so the Chosen, was intended to be inhabited by the best and the brightest, and to offer them all the comforts needed to preserve civilisation. However, there were simply not enough resources to offer this life to anyone. Life, they said, was to be enjoyed, and making everyone suffer hardship could not be the goal.
Therefore, they would divide the Caligans into two strata: the Living and the Unborn. The Unborn, legally declared not alive, were to do all “simple” work, from fishing to farming to mining, while all complicated craftsmanship, as well as the pursuits of politics, the arts, magic and science were left to the twelve Living Houses, made up of the Chosen. The Unborn were to have few rights and fewer resources, at least until they could prove their worth in some way and thereby be “born” into one of the Houses.
In effect, the Houses formed a rather traditional aristocracy, though one with the promise of elevation based on merit in many fields. Even in these days, the Caligans hold many contests every year, with the promise of Birth into one of the Living Houses if anyone's accomplishments were deemed extraordinary enough.
There are, in effect, only eight true Living Houses left today, and their power is much diminshed. House Corava has, in effect, been completely absorbed into the Shipwright's guild it founded. House Stormheart, born of the dragon Hyormir, consists of only one Living member, the Dragon Turtle of Clavis, who was the only creature chosen by the dragon as worthy. House Iriana has become the two magical orders of the Keepers of the Spring and the Starwardens, who are to keep watch over Sky Arch of Caligo and keep its weather and environment in its carefully preserved balance. While they still have a word in world politics, and one that is given much weight, their day-to-day activities leave them little time for world administration. The Dragon Turtle, instead of elevating mortals, has founded the School of the Water Dancers, a martial academy on Caligo's most outlying isles.
These Water Dancers have been officially in charge of Caligo's defenses for almost three hundred years now, ever since, in B.G.Y. 289, Nathri of the Zatavira swept over Raider's End and attempted to invade Caligo City, only to be stopped, under heavy losses, by Water Dancer students.
Caligo, however, was not always an innocent victim of Nathri attacks. The Mist Raiders are a traditional organisation with an ancient history. It was an outlet for martial tendencies amongst the Unborn. Every three years, raiding parties were formed and let out into the mist, to find shards, Nathri tribes or even other worlds, to attack and plunder anything worth bringing back to the perpetually resource-starved Caligo. These Raiders, some say, are direct spiritual ancestors to the Guild, the only known organisation foolish or brave enough to regularly launch often suicidal missions into the deadly desert of the Aether.
The world of Caligo is dominated by water. Water fills the world to two thirds of the height of the sphere, creating oceans trenches dozens of miles deep and leaving only islands to breach the surface. These islands, once intended to be merely the top of tall mountains, are bare and rocky, with steep cliffs and hills of slate and granite, covered in bare soil and crippled, twisted mountain pines.
The oceans that cover much of Caligo are wilder than one would assume from water only a few miles wide. The weather is wild, even with an entire house trying to keep it in check, and floods, riptides and cyclones are regular occurences.
There was, however, so much water that the Signatories could not simply let it fill the world, or there would be no dry ground remaining. Instead, a layer of water covers the world walls of Caligo, a mere foot thick where people have to pass through from the ports outside, but becoming almost a second ocean overhead.
Light comes into Caligo only from the Star Splinters, tiny remnants of Caligo's Heartstone that shine with bright light, each in a different colour of the rainbow. They are arranged in the Sky Arch, a mile-wide expanse of glowing water that stretches over the dark Caligan sky. The Arch pulses and stretches, changing orientation and illumination regularly, thereby simulating a day and night cycle, though it never gets completely dark or any brighter than twilight.
The shards of the heartstones are still one of the dominant features of Caligo, as they still have magical powers in them. Storm shards control flows of air near them, star shards create light and wave shards control currents. Combining the shards, the Caligans have created some truly astounding structures: tunnels of air that extend below the ocean, currents of water flowing through the air and pockets of fresh air even in the deepst caves.
Below the land lies not only the ocean, however. Ancient cellars, twisting caves and fissures and many a channel built over into a street or building wind through the rock Caligo is built on. Collectively, the locals refer to these passages as the Undertow, and it is said that in the miles of tunnels that lie below the land, terrific crimes and the perverted rites of a hundred mad cults take place every day.
Of all known Worlds, Caligo has the most diverse makeup. Each Signatory selected people to the best of his ability, and with the Traitor's betrayal, many more specialists came in to fight in the battle for Caligo, or rebuild afterwards. A thousand years have passed since then, and intermarriage, magical experiments and the odd mutation have resulted in a society where few, if any, people are still of what might have been considered“pure” blood before the Cataclysm. Caligan society, however, cares little about these distinctions, putting more value on actual accomplishment over blood.
Below the waves, the situation is not much different. The Traitor brought in at least a dozen aquatic races he wanted to save, and though there is little exchange between the races above and below, the water-living are just as intermixed and diverse.
On land, there is little animal life in Caligo. Goats, cats and dogs are the only domestic animals, though they have been bred to a variety of uses, from draught dogs to mill goats. There are a few wild crows, ravens, pigeons and sparrows, and a variety of insect and rodent life, but not much else. Under the water, the diversity is much greater, and as a result, most Caligans traditionally depend on fishing for their livelihood.
Traditionally, Caligan society knows only two strata: the Living Houses and the Unborn, though that system has been weathered away much, since the Shipwright's Guild came into being. Contact with other societies has shown the Caligans other ways of living, and the influx of resources from trade and exploration has done much to improve the life of the Unborn.
Still, some traditions die hard. While hundreds or thousands of travellers come to Caligo every day for trade and work, many of the traditional society still frown at any public displays of strong emotion or even just clothing that is too colourful, especially if they come from someone who has not earned such a place by being accepted into a Living House.
On the other side, the distinction of being Living has worn away just as much. Where once being Living meant a decent life and some luxuries, with the riches of the Guild many of the Living have become examples of an enormous decadence to rival the rich and noble of any known World.
There is one thing still keeping that society in check: the Wraiths. When the new rules of Caligo were laid down, the houses were aware that there was a line between being alive and being corrupt. The Wraiths exist to police that line. Their charge is to make sure that the unborn know their place and do not try to rise above it unless they prove themselves, and to ensure that the living use their responsibility wisely, with lethal force, if necessary. They are selected by other Wraiths, anonymously, from the ranks of the living and perform their duties always hidden behind characteristic white, featureless masks and black suits.
Caligo City started out as a fishing village of flint and granite houses surrounded by the parks and mansions of the living, and that fact still shows. It is now the heart of the guild network, but conservative laws passed by the Living Council mean that, while the city has grown massively to cover most of the free space on the mainland, much of what has been built is in the same style as what was there before, massive, dark buildings, separated by canals and connected by bridges. Similarly, not everyone is just allowed to live here: the traditional Unborn still live in the Old Town around the bay, but apart from that, most of the space is taken up by the town houses of the richest merchants, built and intended mostly to flaunt their riches. This has produced a feeling of superiority in the original inhabitants: the Unborn take pride in their frugality and flaunt it just as much as the new rich, while the Living, for the most part, have sold off their holdings on the main land for the isles. Monuments, mansions and parks now cover most of the area, or that which is not taken up by ports and canals
Among the isles, of which there are thirteen major ones, some deserve mention. Clavis, Monos and Claustre are dedicated entirely to the Water Dancers and their monasteries. In recent times, they have become important enough as a fighting school and provider of high-class mercenaries that the guild has dragged several shards to the Aether outside Monos to build Monk's port.
Sky Anchor is important for it's function in enabling the Wardens of the Spring control the sky arch, Caligo's source of weather and light, which can be accessed only from here and the Sky Pillar, the tallest mountain in the center of Caligo, which touches the top of the word wall.
Blackrock is just what its name implies, a bare rock standing out of the sea. Until guild contact, rebellious living were imprisoned there. These days, Blackrock prison is more famous for housing guild traitors and dangerous magical creatures and artefacts no one knows how to safely dispose of.
Every city, of course, has its underbelly, and in Caligo, it is more literal than in most places. The Undertow is a collection of old cellars and ruined houses sunken beneath the ground level, watery caves and passages kept aerated by ancient storm shards, canals since covered up by bridges and squares simply built over them and all the things people built underground in ancient times to keep them out of sight. The network under the mainland is at least as large as the city built on it, and no one knows its full extent. It is the lair of aquatic monsters from the traitor's house, cultists and worshippers of strange dieties and concepts just as much as a convenient pathway for smugglers, rogue traders and other criminals, since it is entirely impossible to keep such a large extend of tunnels under any kind of supervision.
"Caligo is a calcified fossil run by corrupt nobles pretending to be philosophers. What has their culture produced, in the last century? Nothing. Everything good to come out of that place has stayed outside of it, here, in Waketown."
-Kiardun Skelwore, Respected Man
"Waketown is a cancer growing on a healthy city. It is a breeding ground for all manners of crime and villainy, of disease and anarchy. It should be removed, with extreme prejudice."
-Theremi Garaldo Belisori Illorien es-Corava
"Well, we have to live somewhere. We are "civilized" now, after all."
-Danara Sayage, Nathri Elder
Caligo has strict laws about who is and is not allowed to settled there that, basically, amount to an income barrier. And yet, as the guild network's prime node and its origin, Caligo has an immense attraction to all manners mercenaries, sailors, mercenaries, prophets and adventurers of all kinds.
Over time, the outskirts of Caligo's Trident Port grew from a loose collection of taverns, abandoned warehouses, walkways and hastily built shacks into a sprawling community that is estimated to house more people than the city itself.
Organisation, here, has always been very lax. Technically, Waketown is both outside of Caligo and the Guild jurisdiction of Trident Port to which it is, at this point, only loosely attached. In earlier years, various gangs, cartels and merchants controlled the town and the power struggles were bloody, but with help from the Order, a citizen's council and militia was formed that has kept the worst off the streets for more than twenty years now. With a mixture of diplomacy and well-applied violence, the council has successfully managed to get everyone from gangs to Nathri outcasts to form one community.
The city is home to hundreds of small communities, usually living together in one house. Family clans of weird creatures from the outer worlds, merchant houses and businesses too small for proper buildings in Trident Port or Caligo, every kind of shady business known to the Aether. Each is headed by a Respected Man (or Respected Woman, Respected Nathri or Respected Tentacled Monstrosity), which has a seat on the council, which, as a whole, regulates disputes between communities and anything affecting the town as a whole.
Waketown is a city truly adapted to weightlessness, to a degree that no place outside the Evershard could possibly match. Starting from one of the outermost rock shards of Trident Port, called the Shardheart by most, the city has grown in all directions without any regard for style, safety or an arrangement that is even remotely clear to outsiders.
Most of the building materials are scavenged, as the Aether itself offers little building material beyond the mists itself. Somewhere in the depths, there must be buildings of actual stone and timber, but they have long since vanished under a crust of salvaged parts of wrecked ships, condemed buildings, barrels and anything else that could be dissembled and stuck on a rock.
Where Caligan society is highly regulated, that of Waketown is almost the exact opposite. There are only few crimes that the council and its militia will get directly involved in: murder, theft of the property of another Waketowner, slavery, kidnapping. Apart from those crimes that directly hurt others in ways that make it difficult for them to defend themselves, keeping order is left to the individual communities.
As such, almost everything from necromancy to exotic drugs and eldritch cults can be found somewhere in Waketown. It is a hotspot of runaway guild engineers, wizards studying areas of magic not tolerated at the universities and artists and philosophers studying the most extreme of experiences. For all that, few things that are new and stand the test of time ever come out of Waketown: the freedom of hte place means that few ever cooperate on anything, and that few find the focus to ever develop any idea to completion.
"All hail Her Azure Brilliance, the Empress of Ember, Daughter of Suns, Mother of Fires, Fountain of Life, Most Beautiful Soul, the Supreme Light, the First Word, the Flower of Judgement, Zenith of Mercy, the Blinding Emminence...
-The Imperial Herald
"Ah, I suppose it's nice if you like it that way, with all that bright light and heat and if you like working as a farmer, I guess there's always a demand for your profession there. But it's not really for me. You know, because of the civil war and the murder sects and the castes..."
-Tarry Blue, Navigator
"It is oppression! It is the worst kind of oppression, because we can never rid ourselves of our oppressors without dying ourselves! We can't even lock them all up without starving. No, whoever made this world took oppression to entirely new levels, I say!"
-Nikhil Abhay, of the Eclipse Revolution
The creator of Ember is known only in the abstract sense: he was the first of a dozen divine emperors. As with every emperor since him, he had a long list of titles, though historians speculate that "father of fires" was more literal with him than with most emperors since then, since, whoever he was other than His Azure Brilliance, he had an unparallel command over the magics of fire, light and life.
For most of its history, Ember was an exceptionally stable society. Though its caste system was rigid, the craftsmans' and peasants' castes never openly rebelled against the noble caste that was so clearly physically and magically superior to them. The traditional Emberite religion of reincarnation and divine emperors had likely much to do with this, as rebellion against the Emperor would doom not only the body, but the soul for many lives to come.
The advent of aethersailing was the first event in a chain that would overthrow much of Emberite society. Almost overnight, the formerly small craftsman's caste spawned powerful merchant families, some of which richer than some nobles. The divine order, it seemed, was thrown out of balance.
There was little immediate fallout from this, as most merchants were content in joining the Shipwright's guild and letting the nobles handle the political affairs or Ember, while enjoying their riches. But the first seeds of discontent were sown amongst the lower castes.
Then, Spire was discovered. The warlike world exploded on the political stage with all the power of a cyclone, demanding a place amongst the core worlds. And with it came the philosophy of the Iron Soul, of taking one's own life into one's hands.
It took ten years, but in the end, the revolution flared up, fueled by a thousand years of oppressed peasantry. With Spirian weapons in their hands and iron in their souls, the peasant's caste overthrew the nobles, stormed the Sun Palace and slaughtered an Emperor they no longer believed to be divine.
They were mistaken.
When after weeks of fighting, an angry crowd dragged the emperor out of his palace and threw him over the the edge and into the fires, the cliffs shook, and the fires went out.
For three days, Ember was in darkness, and the plants began to die.
The peasants were almost sheepish, as they met with the nobles and crowned a new Empress, the old emperor's new daughter. The fires flickered and over the next day began to burn again, though many say they never burned as bright as they once did.
What no one expected was just how popular the new Empress would turn out to be. The young woman was not only charismatic, but also a shrewed politician.
Though initially kept under house arrest by the revolutionary guard, she met with representatives of all castes and classes and went out amongst the people, to listen to their grievances and problems. In the end, a parliament was formed, consisting of a chamber for each caste and Her Brilliance as its head, with the authority to pass laws and conduct foreign trade.
The armed struggle has, at least, be turned into a political one, though it is not much less fierce. No less than two dozen parties, none, on its own, strong enough to dominate even as part of a group, squabble over every issue with all the fierceness of a Nathri honour duel.
The fires define Ember. Where other worlds have ground, or an ocean, or open air, Ember has fire. Amber and golden flames, tall as the trees and mountains of Bellamin, constantly flicker and burn in the depths.
The fires, however, are no ordinary fires. Though hot and certainly lethal to anyone touching them, their light is also infused with a considerable dose of vis vitae, positive energy.
The light, which never goes out, is nourishing enough that plants adapted to Ember can grow without much need for soil or water, sustaining themselves entirely on the golden energy. This makes Ember the bread basket of the core: the hanging, dark blue plants grow on every surface that is not regularly weeded.
The fires have other effects as well: they can destroy the undead, and are therefore used to immolate the dead on Ember to prevent them from raising as ghosts. They have a beneficial effect on many otherwise almost certainly lethal diseases, drastically improving the chances of recovery. Sanatoria where the rich infected with the Border Pox, Material Twist or Misty Consumption can bathe in the sunlight are a major source of income for the world.
Ground, however, is sparse on Ember. Steep spires, called pillars by the natives, rise above the level of the flames. They are topped by white-stemmed, blue-leaved trees, the wood of which has been used for almost every building on Ember. Emberite architecture consists of fragile wooden arcs and bridges between the spires, which support both the native's homes and the ever-present hanging plants they harvest.
The oldest of these bridges are many hundred feet long, leading some to theorize that the earliest settlers must have been able to fly.
There are only few building made from stone, because every block quarried must be taken from the spires which support everything. There are watchtowers on the outernmost spires that are built on stone foundations to guard against monsters from the aether and nathri raids, and of course the imperial palace.
There is a trend to use more stone in recent architecture, as both money and stone are plentiful, after the arrival of the guild. The house of parliament, planned to become the most mangificient building in all the Core, is being errected from only the most expensive and exotic stones from across the worlds, though there is no end in sight to the building process.
As in other core worlds, race is less important to the Emberites than status and money. Unlike most worlds, however, status is physically visible, at least amongst the noble caste.
While the lower castes of Ember of all races tend towards dark skin and hair (if they have hair) and short stature, the nobles are often a head or more taller than those of other races and physically much tougher. Some are even born with blue skin, the colour of which gets lighter and even luminescent the higher the rank of the parents, ending with her Azure Brilliance, whose skin, when She is excited, is said to be blinding even at a distance.
Re: Aether from the Ashes: Etherworld Second Edition
5. Life in the Core Worlds
Magic and Technology[
Magic is everywhere in the Aether. However, it is free and untamed magic for the greatest part. It lies in the bubbling Protoplasm and the landscapes of the Core Worlds, not in the hands of mortals. Compared to the Prime of old, there are few things in the Aether that might truly be deemed nonmagical. Plants drink magic from the soul of the demiplanes, animals breathe it in air that has been recently created from primal chaos. Everything has power, here, from the storms of the Spire to the light of Ember.
Sorcerous talent has become rare in the Aether: many sorcerers sacrificed their lives to form the demiplanes that saved the mortal races, and a thousand years of inbreeding amongst small populations did little to save the remaining bloodlines.
Wizardry did not fare much better, though for different reasons. When the Starplane was destroyed, the ways of magic changed. Wizards found that some spells no longer worked, and others had unexpected results. In the years of hardship that followed the Cataclysm, few had the time to study these new laws, as survival was a more pressing matter, and for centuries after that, organized study of the magical arts was the domain of a the few who found the time and resources to do so.
These days, wizards often spend decades pouring over ancient scrolls and tablets, telling of magical feats that could be wrought by the ancients of the Material, when magic was tame and followed simpler rules. Any wizard who manages to find a new spell, by translating an old one into a ritual that works in the Aether, or even by researching something totally new, will be celebrated highly among his peers for thus increasing the total sum of magical knowledge.
As matters stand in the Core Worlds, magic is still a thing for the rich. Most of the population of any world will have seen wizards, and spells being cast, but they won't have directly profited from them. Magic is bought and employed by merchant and noble houses and, of course, by the Guild, which has a neverending appetite for the gifted.
However, whenever a magical formula is found that is stable and secure, it is immediately examined for its economic viability and, whenever possible, turned into technology that no longer requires the presence of a mage to operate. It becomes technology. Of course, the resulting magical items are still far too expensive for even most nobles to afford, but the guild, at least, generously outfits its marines and ships with magical machinery, from the well-known Navigation stones to shipboard weaponry and alchemical goods.
The perhaps most widely distributed of the magical sciences is alchemy. While alchemists continue to search for the universal solvent, the true transforming agent, the pure essence of matter, ways to transform the humanoid soul or the secrets of divinity and creation, they produce truly astounding amounts of useful processes that are used in the production of machinery and in potions causing untold useful effects. Alchemy is, in most cases, the only non-environmental magic the average Core World Peasant has access to, as potions are comparably affordable and ubiquitous.
Currency in the Known Worlds
The most common coin in the Core, but also an increasingly in the outer world, is the official Guild coinage known as the Sirnio, a small coin a bit less than half an inch in diameter. The currency is known as extraordinarily stable, as, so far, any attempt to counterfeit it was met with the deployment of guild marines and, in some cases, experimental weapon artifice.
There are other currencies, of course: the Empire of Ember pays in sparks, small amber pearls infused with the golden light, which are worth more the brighter they grow. Perhaps the second most stable currency is the Ashai standard, a small cube of gold made to weigh one Ashai standard weight, and have sides the lenght of one Ashai standard length. In the end, there are about as many currencies as there are worlds, though most border currenencies are traded at their metal value in the core, at best.
Re: Aether from the Ashes: Etherworld Second Edition
7. Minor Organisations of the Aether
The Rogue Traders “A simple idea, we always thought. Those who make an invention get to use it. Why would anyone invent a new technology, or create art, or engage in any endeavour, if they were not paid for it? Sure, there are idealists. The Guild can not afford to be so generous, as we have fleets to maintain. But we do much good for the Known Worlds. And yet, we are constantly undermined by greedy individuals, out to make profit by stealing our inventions. How much good, do you think, would they do with these inventions? Not much, I tell you:”
-Kivi Aceix, Guild Trader
“Thing is, we care little where our goods come from, out here, as long as they arrive at all. When a shipment full of Ashai iron arrives in our ports, I won't ask the one who brings them whether he is licensed or not. I will ask him for his price.”
-Pertim the Third, King of Greenvoid
“Why, exactly, should only one organisation have the right to trade? By what right to they impose their tariffs, and kill anyone who tries to reproduce their technology? The free flow of trade is essential to a free society, and we will fight for it.”
-Khaira Silverhair, Captain of the Whitefire
The Rogue Traders are almost as old as the Guild is. From the beginning, some simply would not accept the idea that Guild technology would be forever out of their reach, and that one organisation should so totally dominate the Known Worlds. The Rogue Traders are not an organisation as such, more a loose, collective term for unlicensed traders of all kinds, whether they sail with expired guild licenses, built their own inferior ships without secret guild technology, or simply stole a fully equipped ship from a Guild Trader.
Amongst certain parts of the population, Rogue Traders have won a certain romantic appeal: amongst the readers of Penny Dreadfuls and adventure novellas, they are seen more as charming scoundrels, fighting an unjust monopoly than the opportunistic and often ruthless businessmen most turn out to be in reality. The most famous of these, perhaps, is Khaira Silverhair, a trader, adventurer and occasional pirate, famous for her custom-built ship full of stolen guild technology, the Whitefire, built entirely from Ghostwood and with sails the colour of flame.
It has been said that out on the Border, where many worlds are often not visited by Guild Ships in years, there are near as many unlicensed as licensed traders, profiting from scarce patrols and mostly absent regulations, but only the most daring Rogue Traders would ever dare sail directly into the Core.
There have been, of course, more organised groups of Rogue Traders over the years, small cartels dedicated to stealing, researching and perhaps even publishing Guild Technology, but the Guild has rather ruthlessly stamped out all of these attempts, so that only solitary Rogue Traders have any chance.
8. The Aether
Structure and Navigation
The ancients often used the metaphor of an ocean to explain how the Aether worked. Now, we don't have oceans as they had, here in the demiplans, but at least we have seas, in Caligo.
Think of an Aethership as a sailing ship. It can be streered from island to island, on the surface of the water. That surface is the open Aether. But there are more directions, aren't there? Now, the ship can't dive, as a swimmer can. it would skin, and it can not leap into the air above, as a seagull might. It's the same with navigation.
-Magister Nictor, Basic Navigation
Now, travelling in the conventional Open Aether is not really all that complicated. There is some three-dimensional geometry, some extrapolation, and a large deal of guessing than we tell our captains. No, if you want a real mental challenge, you should start thinking about plotting routes in more dimensions than just three. Navigators who can travel elementwards are always wanted. Just skimming the Deep for a few hours in the right spot can shave days of your travel time. I once knew a fellow who thought he had a method for skipping into light. No one believed him, of course, but he did vanish on one of his travels soon after."
-Reshker Neel, Navigator
"Just... just don't listen to that talk of extra dimensions. There's up, down, north, south, west and east and that's enough for me. Gets me where I want to go."
-Sicner Kray, Traveller
Re: Aether from the Ashes: Etherworld Second Edition
9. Creatures of the Aether
The Fey: Nightmare and Daydream “We can give you all you need. All you have to give up is that little inconvenience called reality.”
-Lord It Is Always Following Behind of Nightmare
“It's a magic sword. Just think about what you could do if you had a magic sword.”
-Lady If I was Strong Enough of Daydream
“And Kuranes reigned thereafter over Ooth-Nargai and all the neighbouring regions of dream, and held his court alternatively in Celephaïs and in the cloud-fashioned Serannian. He reigns there still, and will reign happily forever, though below the cliffs at Innsmouth the channel tides played mockingly with the body of a tramp who had stumbled through the half-deserted village at dawn...”
-H.P. Lovecraft, Celephaïs
Dreams are powerful, and even more so in the Aether, where they take on real form in the Dreamscape. But the Dreamscape has its own predators, who prey upon the minds of the weak, and these are the Fey.
In mortal legends, the Fey may be recalled as the beautiful, fickle and cruel spirits of nature. The Fey of dream have kept the first three aspects, but their lineage has diverged in ancient times from those of the Fey of the Material Fey of Nature, and the Outer Planar Fey of Freedom. They are creatures of the mortal mind, feeding on ideas and emotions. They are able to find the dreams of mortals in the Dreamscape and enter them, taking on a role in the dream as it plays out and, if their power is great enough, even influence the dream to produce a preferred kind of emotion in the mortal.
The Fey of Dream are divided by mortal scholars into dozens of species, castes and natures. To the Fey themselves, however, these matter little: they are able and wiling to change their shapes and their allegiances at any opportune moment. What matters more, to them, is the nature of their power. The Fey feed on emotion, and the more they feed on one feeling, the more their affinity to it increases until, in the end, they are all but unable to invoke or feed on anything else.
The first division of the Fey is into the Wild Fae, the Court Fae and the Dreamlords. The Wild Fae are those who have not found one recurring, enduring dream to latch themselves onto, or who are unwilling to commit themselves to one emotion. They wander the Dreamscape alone or in small nomadic groups and, seek out and participate in any dream they come across. These Fey are almost shapeless, able to take on nearly any form in order to fit into a dream, and they are officers in a dream of war one day, monsters in a nightmare the next, whispering trees in a dream of peace the third.
The Court Fae are part of one of the two Fae Courts, Nightmare or Daydream. They are Fey who lead a more regulated life, with a net of promises, favours and allegiances to other Fey. More importantly, they have chosen a preferred mode of operation and thus have joined one of the many castes of Fey. In Nightmare, the Fey are divided into castes based on the kind of emotion they evoke in mortals whose dreams they feed on, such as the Beansidhe of fear, or the Leanansidhe of lust. In Daydream, they join castes based on the plans and goals they give mortals, such as the Muses of art or the Furies of Revenge.
The Dreamlords are the rarest kind of Fey. They have found a persistent dream, one that does not fade from one night to the next, but one that lives on across many nights. Some are the recurring nightmares of mortals with a trauma they have not overcome, others the enduring dream worlds of the great dreamers that build kingdoms in their minds that they visit again every night. A rare few, perhaps only a handful or a few dozen, are the Lords and Ladies of dreams shared by many mortals, the basic terrors and wishes of all mortalkind.
It is a mistake to believe that the fey of Nightmare only bring unpleasant dreams, and those of Daydream pleasant idleness. Their names do not refer to that.
The Fey of Nightmare, instead, are those who feed on and try to inspire in mortals their deepest, subconscious emotions: fear, lust, hatred. If they ensnare a mortal and make a pact with him, they do not want that mortal conscious. The Fey of Nightmare eject the mortal's mind out of his body, into the Dream, where they keep him permanently imprisoned in the Dream that feeds them. The body is left as a vegetable or, if the Fey is powerful enough to do so, as a puppet that enables them to see and act on the mortal world through its eyes and actions.
The Fey of Daydream feed on desires and plans. While they live in dreams, they only feed on them when they must. Their preferred form of sustenance is conscious or mostly conscious mortals, those who make elaborate plans in their mind, too elaborate to ever succeed. Those who in their daily lives build elaborate fantasies of revenge on a slight provocation, or who dream of works of art they can never achieve. The Fey of Daydream want these mortals to slip just gently over the border of dream, into half-sleep or drug-induced reverie, so they can share their minds and feed on these dreams. Daydream, more so than Nightmare, offers pacts to mortals, promising help in these plans that is never enough to entirely fulfill any ambition, but just enough to further nourish it.
All Fey of Dream, no matter their kind, share a few aspects in common. Firstly, they are all highly charismatic, beautiful and convincing, and able to ensnare weak-willed mortals with only a few words and gestures, if they want to.
Second, unlike the Fey of other planes, those of the Dreamscape have no inborn connection to the raw forces of nature and magic. Their sphere is the mind and even the least among them has some insight into their own, that of others, and the future, which manifests itself as psychic powers of telepathy and clairvoyance. Of course, many old and powerful Fey will study the arcane arts, or make bargains for it, but it does not come easy to them.
Third, they can change their aspect and shape. The Wild Fae, who have never bound themselves, can take on almost any shape they wish, changing their flesh as others change clothes. The Court Fey, as they refine their influence over dreams, lose some of that shapeshifting power as they bind themselves more to certain types of dream and certain roles in them, and the more powerful of them can merely disguise themselves, but not truly change. The Dream Lords, in the end, can only slightly change their faces and the Queens of the Fae Courts are truly locked in one shape for all their existence.
For all their power, however, Fey have a few limitations placed on them. Promises and oaths they make are binding to them. Even being forced to break a promise under magical control robs them of some of their power. Gifts and favours made must almost be returned in kind. And finally, a Fey can never lie directly. Of course, that does not mean they can not twist the truth, tell only half of it or simply remain silent. Similarly, they are masters of twisting their own word and any promise and gift around on itself, so that they will, in the end, almost always get the better out of any bargain, no matter how clever a mortal thinks himself.
They have one other weakness. The Fey are creatures of dreams and minds, illusions and half-truths. There are, however, objects in the world that have a kind of inherent reality to them. Materials that resist. Objects that their magic can not influence or change. Iron is the most famous of these, and the subject of many a legend. The Lords of Fey can twist a thousand wards around them until no fist of man or tooth of beast can touch them, but a single iron-tipped arrow can still slay them. They will stride confidently through the wards of many a mage, but a simple iron-banded door will thwart them. Imprisoning Dream Lords in castles of adamantine at the end of the world, guarded by dragons has proven ineffective to hold them, but steel manacles render them powerless. Iron is not the only one of these materials. Other metals, to a lesser degree, are imbued with similar symbolism. Heavy, unmoving Lead is not well-loved by them, and elemental Earth they fear most of all.
The Departed: Death and the Aether
Maybe on the Prime, there might have been uncertainty as to what happens after death. Not so in the Aether. Everyone in the Aether is familiar with death, and what happens after it.
With the destruction of the Starplane, the souls of the dead can no longer move on to their rightful afterlives. There is no punishment for the wicked, no reward for the faithful. Instead, the spirits of the dead linger on for a while, lucid but almost unable to affect the world. Then they slip into madness, plaguing the living as ghosts, before they lose even that last bit of humanity and become nothing but faint echoes.
These stages are well-known and documented. Less than twenty-four hours after death, usually around the next midnight, the spirit of the departed returns. In this stage, they are mentally quite coherent, in full possession of all their memories and faculties. They are grey and incorporeal, and not able to affect most items in the mortal world except those specially enchanted to do so, but they can still converse with their loved ones, and say their good byes.
The next stage is perhaps the most horrific one for all those involved: over a time of days, the departed's memories slowly begin to vanish. They forget the names of objects, their childhood, the time of day or mathematics, before the decay accelerates and takes away their memories of their loved one's names, their emotions and finally their identities. Some spirits, through extraordinary concentration, meditation exercises and a strong will, can extend this process to weeks or months, but in the end, they all succumb.
What happens next depends, perhaps, on the individual. The spirit turns into a mad, vengeful ghost that acts like a wild beast, almost purely on impulse, guided only by the last shreds of emotion and memory of the deceased's mind. Most turn aggressive and many develop terrible new powers, so that they have to be warded off or destroyed at this stage.
Those who survive this stage slowly begin to lose their cohesion, becoming fainter, wispier, more like shrouds of mist than humanoid shape. In the end, they become the faint echoes that form the essence of the terrible ghost storms and dream echoes that haunt the Deep Aether.
Most cultures have found ways to deal with this brutal reality. The Asha'im have made the binding of spirits the basis of the entire culture. On Spire, the bodies of the dead were for centuries ejected into the Aether with little ceremony, to form what was called the Ghostwall, a labyrinth of dead bodies and vengeful ghosts that surrounded the plane as a first line of defence. On Caligo, the bodies of the dead were displayed openly and the spirits of the dead respected and even revered when they returned, before they were ceremonially destroyed by priests and sacred warriors. On Belamin, wards were placed on the bodies before they were buried, so that the ghosts would remain trapped in the mummified corpses and on Ember, they were burned in the solar fires that would destroy the soul along with the body.
Even these days, no ship or caravan can traverse the Aether without some measure of ghost protection, and orders of Ghost Warriors are as common as worlds, as no world has ever gone without devastating spirit rampages for long. In fact, in Core World Law, the improper burial of a corpse is seen as a crime on the same level as murder.
It is of little surprise then, with death so imminent and visible, that magical elixirs and methods of age-prevention are a flourishing trade like no other. Barely an alchemist has not tried his hand at the philosopher's stone or the peaches of immortality, no necromancer has failed to try and divine the fabled ritual of Lichdom, no artificer has not tried artificially prolonging life. So far, no save and reliable method has been found.
10. Other Planes
The Elemental Planes “An' there I was, right? Standin' in this cave. Now, it wasn't like any cave we see here, on Bellamin, no Sir. First, there was no gravity, right? So we were all jus' walkin' on the walls. Second, an' that's the important part: all the walls an' floors were made a diamons. Diamons the size o' this here house.”
-”Poor” Rom Margle
“The elemental planes are, fundamentally, not very well suited to life as we know it. They are monolithic places, in the case of the Plane of Earth, quite literally. Places of the utmost extreme. We are all made of water and earth, air and fire and positive energy. But we don't want to be in a plane only made of either of them. They are the building blocks of matter, not matter itself.”
-Shri Paranvakar, Magister of Planar Interrelations, Caligo Polymagic University
“Yes, of course the Elemental Planes are valuable resources. Endless expanses of clear water and fertile soil. Wonderful. But they are a resource we can not reach in any economically viable way. We can all dream of connecting the Evershard directly to the Plane of Water and pumping a few million gallons out into the Aether in order to feed all the hungry masses. But we can't do that. And do you know how many ships return from a trip to the Elemental Aether? Not the Elemental Planes themselves, mind you, just the overlapping regions of the Aether. One in every seventeen. Of course this includes badly prepared adventurers. But the numbers for official trade expeditions aren't much better. And that is without the chance of ending up as arena slaves for some Dao Khan.”
-Lura Moggach, Guild Elderwoman
The Elemental Planes. For many in the Core, they represent a distant, barely understood World. It is a place where a sailor's strangest yarn is set. A place for adventure novellas, not actual life. A place none of them will ever see or interact with.
These Planes are the origin of all matter and energy. Endless expanses of the four atoms and two energies that combine to form everything else: life, death, growth, decay, void and matter. But, and that is important, they represent these things in their purest and most primal form, uncompromising and deadly. All of these Planes will kill all but the hardiest travellers, often in seconds.
Nevertheless, these Planes have their own inhabitants, though these are as extreme as their worlds. The best known groups are the various elementals and genies, and their rulers. The politics of the Elemental Planes are complex, with many more power blocks than just the twenty-six Planes. For one, there are the eight Archomentals, ruler of the four main Elemental races of Earth, Air, Water and Fire, that form the Courts of Elemental Good and Evil. But, more importantly, there are also the four races of Genie, the Dao, Marid, Djinn and Iffrit, who have taken a vested interest in the mortal races, and whose nobles have the magical power to back this interest up.
The Elemental Planes present, essentially, gigantic untapped resources. With endless amounts of water, or soil, or minerals, or heat, many of the problems of the Core Worlds could be solved forever, if those resources would be accessed and controlled. But, and this is the fundamental problem, they lie behind the Elemental Aether, they are deadly, and they are inhabited.
The Guild has tried to establish diplomatic ties with the Noble Genies and the Archomentals, as well as various other factions of the Elemental Planes. The problem with this is, however, that to these endless worlds, the Aether barely matters, except, perhaps, as a means of circumnavigating enemy lines in one of their neverending, titanic wars and schemes. Every day, more elemental soldiers die on the battlefields between earth and air or fire and water than there are people in the Core Worlds. They simply don't have anything of interest to the elemental rulers.
11. A Timeline of Etherworld
A note on timekeeping: years in Etherworld are commonly counted as Before Guild Year (B.G.Y.) and Guild Year (G.Y.)
B.G.Y. ~1000: The Cataclysm. The Starplane is severed, and all contact with the Outer Worlds and their Gods and Powers lost. Consequently, the Strangeness invades the Prime Material. Many great spellcasters give their lives to create new worlds in the Aether for the prime races to inhabit, thus founding the Etherworlds.
B.G.Y. 289: Nathri of the Zatavira tribe attempt to invade the world of Caligo, but they are repelled by the Great Turtle and its followers, the Water Dancers in the Deepmist Battle. The Water Dancers are officially charged with training warriors to defeat any future invasion.
G.Y.0: The guild is founded as its founding fathers find the secrets of the navigation chamber and the Aethersail. The world of Sirnia is colonized by the guild and becomes their headquarter. The first functioning Aethership prototypes are developed.
G.Y. 6: Establishment of the Guild Law, and declaration of the first Core Worlds, Caligo, Belamin and the Empire of Ember. The Guild becomes a major economic and political power.
G.Y. 14-16: The first Nathri wars and founding of the Guild Marines. Skirmishes are fought all over, until the Guild “pacifies” or scatters all the tribes known to live between the Core Worlds, to protect their shipping interests.
G.Y. 21: A way is found into Ashaton for the first time, and contact is made with the Asha'im. Their wealth of mineral resources makes them a prime candidate for joining the Core Worlds.
G.Y. 24: The world of Spire is discovered and accepted as a Border World.
G.Y. 26: The charismatic Malnar Calderon founds the Retrievers, a military order charged with reconquering the Prime Material from the Strangeness. They are charged with finding any masters able to teach techniques able to resist the strangeness, be they martial, magical or otherwise.
G.Y. 28: Spire's application for Core World status is denied. The prickly and warlike inhabitants take the news badly and go to war in the Northern border, attacking Taiden, the homeworld of an influential guild trader that had a hand in denying them. This marks the first and, so far, only instant where one world conquers another, and Taiden is declared a Spirish colony.
G.Y. 31-34: Magnar Calderon calls the Retrievers to arms, beginning the Veil Wars. They cross over into the Border Ethereal and declare war on the strangeness, using magical methods to break into the Prime and battling any creatures met there. They suffer major setbacks, as strange magics destroy their soldiers or drive them mad.
G.Y. 35: Magnar Calderon contacts the Asha'im and contracts a legion of mindless golems from them, warmachines that are immune to magic and madness and thereby can survive on the Prime for a time. The Battle of Twisting Steel follows, and the first, and so far only, bridgehead on the Prime is held and established.
G.Y. 36: Seven months after the Battle of Twisting Steel, something new awakens on the Prime and strikes back at the Retriever's Bridgehead. In the following battle, the golem legion is scattered or destroyed. The effects of the battle echo throughout the Border Ethereal, and many go mad or are forever lost or twisted. Magnar Calderon is never heard of again, and the Retrievers build the Vigil Eternal, their border citadel, on the spot corresponding to their Bridgehead.
G.Y. 39: The Belamin Conclave. Philosophers, priests and shamans from all over the Known Worlds gather in Belamin to discuss their ideas. They found a new philosophy incorporating all of their ideas for a stable society, the Order.
G.Y. 42: As more and more shipping lanes are cut off, the Guild begins Operation Firebreak, a military campaign to eradicate pirates and border world based raiders in the Eastern border. The first prototype guild dreadnoughts are used in this campaign.
G.Y. 47-48: The peasants of Ember rebel against His Azure Brilliance, the Emperor. While the first rebellion is soon crushed, Emberite merchants ask Spire for help. With the assistance of Spirish shock troops, thunder-forged weaponry and, most importantly, basic training, the middle class soon overthrows the Emberite aristocracy. His Azure Brilliance is killed, resulting in the Three Nights, when Embers fires go out. He is hastily replaced by his daughter, and Her Azure Brilliance signs the new constitution, instating a parliament with three chambers, representing the peasantry, merchant class and the old aristocracy.
G.Y. 56: The Faceless Cabal is found to have infiltrated society all over the Known Worlds. Soon thereafter, they are established as a business.
G.Y. 61-69: War of the Tribal coalition. To avenge their losses in the Nathri Wars fifty years prior, sixteen Nathri tribes unite under the Marujama shamans and elect a chief of chief to declare war on the guild and the Known Worlds. Shamans from different tribes pool their knowledge of the Deep Ways and of magic, resulting in a guerilla war that leaves a dozen worlds in ruins and the guild scrambling for control for almost a decade.
G.Y. 87: The Present Day.
12. Ways and powers
Magic, so wizards say, is the fundamental power that pervades all of existence. It is the reason that in some places objects have gravity, while others they don't. Why fire burns, and air can be breathed. It is a power that, at first, seems chaotic, but actually merely follows strict rules that are not apparent to mortals, and that can change massively from one place to another.
It is these underlying patterns wizards study. It takes years of dedicated work, of course, to understand these rules, and of those that do, few then have the willpower necessary to then take control of those forces. For these reasons, and because of the difficulty in finding working magic in the Aether, wizardry is rare.
Sorcery is even rarer. Sorcerous bloodlines, those few that still suggested, were lost to attrition and inbreeding in the years after the Cataclysm. Those few that are still born, however, are amongst the most formidable people in the Aether, able to instinctively feel and control the underlying energies of the worlds.
Since surviving spellbooks from before the Cataclysm are rare and often barely sufficient as a basis for research into post-cataclysmic magic, sorcerers are highly-sought after by magical institutions: their instinctive magic comes pre-adapted to the Aether, and watching sorcerers weave spells can often show a wizard how as-yet unknown magics can be made to work.
The gods are gone. No trace of true divinity has been found since the cataclysm. Many, in these days, doubt that all the ancient stories of mighty beings creating worlds, able to see the future weeks in advance with perfect clarity, wielding magic more powerful than any wizard's and able to be I several places at once were ever more than the escapism of primitives. Beings of such power, that clerics could talk to and demand miracles from seem beyond the believable even in a world of magic. Only very few still believe in the Outer Gods, those entities from the Outer Planes that once existed, and most of those because they still remember, however faintly, the Prime and those deities.
That does not mean faith is dead, however. Mortals, it seems, will put their faith in almost anything that can provide them with power or protection. Elemental Lords, Genie Sovereigns, powerful nature spirits and the Fey are all commonly worshipped in open or secretive cults. Some go so far as to worship the Strangeness, those entities that have destroyed the prime material plane. There are more exotic cults, too, those that dedicate themselves to abstract philosophies until they can draw power from that dedication, or those that worship distant, impersonal deities they know will never answer them directly.
In the end, it all comes down to Faith. And if enough faith gathers in a philosophy or institution, it will bring forth clerics, otherwise ordinary mortals who draw magical powers from their unshakeable faith and devotion to create miracles.
Perhaps there are those out there who truly have special souls. Who are born with some spark others lack, a tiny glowing ember of the fire that was once kindled by the faith of mortals. The Outer Gods, those entities men worshiped in the old days until they grew bloated and almighty on faith, no longer exist. But faith, faith still exists.
Some mortals have a gift for speaking to the hearts of men, whether they have that divine spark or not. Men believe in them. In their ideals, their deeds. Legends accumulate around them in their lifetime. It is believed that they can truly work miracles, that they can not fail. And for some, this becomes true.
Divine Magic does not gather only around clerics, those who devote themselves to an ideal. It also goes to those who are ideals. Some gather religions around themselves, active, true worship, and they become small gods. Others just live their lives in the respect of their peers, almost, but not quite worshiped as gods, and they become Favoured Souls.
Ghosts swarm the world. From the cataclysm, when millions died every day, through the modern times, when all the dead of the many worlds can not pass to their afterlives, ghosts pervade all matter on the Aether. And while they break down and lose their cohesion and memories, they never quite vanish. The essence of ancient and powerful beings still exists in the air people breathe and the soil on which they walk.
Essentia is the base essence of life and existence. It is what remains of a soul when it has decomposed for a thousand years in the Aether. Some spirits are stronger than others, powerful beings that have left shadows of essentia behind.
The users of the Magic of Incarnum are born sensitive to these energies. They sift through the ghostly mist around them, and find these stronger spirits, binding and absorbing them. They were born with the power to learn from these ghosts, to take up some of their memories and skills, the talents of creatures that have been dead for a millennium.
Some say that they are the true heirs of the material plane, taking up the power of its children to take vengeance on the Strangeness. Others call them opportunists, feeding on the energies of the dead for power.
Vast gulfs of time and space, magic and meaning lie between the worlds of the Aether and what scholars call the Shattered Planes, or Outer Worlds. Since the Silver Void, the plane of stars, was destroyed in the catacylsm, faith and souls no longer flow there, and no divine miracles return.
Even though there is no direct link between the divine worlds and the Aether, the Outer Gods are not forgotten: among the immortals and the long-lived of the Aether, they are still remembered, and there are still worshippers surviving.
But strangest of all are those few individuals who have studied the ancient lores and have learned, by obscure magics, to reach across to the Shattered Worlds and contact the Old Gods and their Outsider servants. Deprived of their worshippers, the Outer Gods have become twisted shades of their former selves and near powerless, hungering for even a tiny bit of energy to be leeched from a binder, so that inviting them in becomes a dangerous process.
Of course, for every true binder, there are a hundred impostors, those who pretend to speak the word of long-lost Outer Gods to worshippers desparate for news of their patrons. Many cults were built around these prophets, and most fell to enraged worshippers killing their false leaders.
The Sublime Way
The Ways of the Sword are as varied as the worlds they come from. Scholars say that most schools ultimately trace their way back to nine ancient, ancestral styles, likely hailing from the Prime and widespread before its destruction, but now, so the saying goes, there are as many styles as there are swords.
On the Core Worlds, there are a handful of famous schools:
The Water Dancers of Caligo teach three basic styles, all based on fluid, dancelike steps, reading the opponent and a seamless integration of offence and defence into the same movement. Breaking Wave is a style that focuses on heavy blows, incapacitating an opponent in a single strike. Masters of Water Splitting Stone, as they call these strikes, can punch a hole through metal walls with their bare hands. Unending Flow is a style that focuses on using throws and holds that use an opponent's strength against himself. Biting Wind, finally, is a style that focuses on rapid movement and the supernatural elements of water and allows the practitioner to control and summon the energies of ice and water.
The Wraiths teach a style called Passing Shadow, which focuses on stealth and assassination, and its masters are said to be able to kill a general addressing his troops or an actor on stage without ever being seen.
The Spirians have but a single style, but one they use to perfection: the Iron Soul, a style which teaches the unity of blade, mind and body (the Iron Soul does not allow or teach weaponless combat) as well as the fact that a warrior must always keep his honour and composure. Its masters not only become almost unequal masters of the sword, but also able to shrug of almost any attack, be it mental or physical.
Some warriors who have dedicated themselves to the Order have come up with a style themselves, based on the Order's teachings, which they call The Eye of the Storm. When necessary, these calm warriors turn into true whirlwinds of desruction, facing down several enemies at once without showing a hint of emotion.
Re: Aether from the Ashes: Etherworld Second Edition
Appendix 1: Rule notes
Magic in the Aether
Many of the most powerful magical effects known in other campaign settings do not work or only work with difficulty in the Aether. With the loss of the ethereal and outer planes, spells and items that accessed them have lost their power as well. What follows are a few suggestions and guidelines for dungeon masters to decide which magics would fall under this rule, and how they could be adjusted. Summoning and calling: Of course, creatures from the outer planes, especially outsiders, can not be called to the Aether, even if they still exist. This limits the lists of most summoning spells, and especially calling spells such as Planar Binding and Planar Ally. These spells can instead be used to call Elementals or Genies and other outsiders of the elemental planes for service. Transportation spells: Most transportation spells work by accessing the astral plane and as such no longer work in the Aether.
Especially the long-distance Teleportation range of spells have the additional problem that they go against one of the fundamental setting premises of Aetherworld, that travel should be arduous and time-consuming even with aetherships and should therefore be disallowed.
Traveling via the Shadow Plane, as with the shadow walk spell, still works, both from the perspective of the Shadow Plane still existing, and under the premise of difficult travel, though the dungeon master may wish to include additional dangers of the Shadow Plane on such journeys.
Short-distance teleportation such as dimension door might be disallowed, or it might be explained as working via the strange pathways of the Deep Ethereal, such as the Nathri use for their Ways. Ethereal Spells: Spells and abilities such as Ethereal Jaunt or the Ninja class that make a creature ethereal of course no longer work on the Ethereal Plane, where everything is already ethereal. These might instead turn a creature incorporeal, or they might simply not work. Extraplanar and nonplanar space: Extraplanar space is often explained as being on the Astral Plane, which lies outside of conventional reality. With the destruction of the Astral, such space likely does no longer exist. This would make spells such as the Mage's [Building] line and bags of holding impossible. Alternatively, these might be ruled as accessing tiny, specialised ethereal demiplanes that are temporarily created for the needs of the spell or item. Contacting the Gods or Outer Planar entities: Since the gods and various outer planar entities likely no longer exist or at least can't be reached, they can not be contacted by Contact Other Plane and similar spells. Such entities might contact creatures of similar power such as the Archomentals or Genie Lords (which however do not have knowledge even remotely approaching the week-long foreknowledge of the gods) or they might simply be disallowed. Alignment-bound Magic: The outer planes are the planes of alignments and faith. With their destruction, the gods and most of alignment based magic would be gone. Spells such as Detect [Alignment], Magic Circles against [Alignment] and spells which deal aligned damage might be removed from the game, or they might be explained as being simply powered by the personal beliefs of the user, in which case they might be limited to divine casters.
Knowledge (and Heal)
Since Etherworld is set in a world that fundamentally differs from many of the assumptions of a “normal” campaign setting, in that it is not set on the Prime Material Plane and, indeed, much of the planar architecture is fundamentally changed, it is suggested that Knowledge categories might likewise be changed to reflect this change in focus.
A change in the application of the Knowledge Skill to identify monsters should likewise be considered. A scholar would not study an entire type of creatures, as they would often be quite diverse, but creatures from one location. What follows is a list of suggested knowledge categories and which creatures types would fit into them. Core Worlds: The Core Worlds, their geography, natural phenomena, history, laws, customs politics and
isations, such as those described above. Outer Worlds: Border Worlds and Open Worlds, their geography, natural phenomena, laws, customs and resources, tales and legends about worlds outside the Guild Sphere. The Aether: The Elemental Aether, Open Ethereal and Border Ethereal, its inhabitants (such as the Nathri, the Mistborn and various monsters) and their customs, Ethereal phenomena such as cyclones. +2 synergy bonus to Navigation and Survival in the Aether. Most Undead would belong in here. Elemental Planes: The layout and creatures of the elemental planes and the politics associated with them. Creatures of the Elemental Type, and Outsiders hailing from the Elemental Planes such as the Genies. Arcane: Magical rituals and items, magical institutions and traditions, magical signs, sigils and ingredients, creatures created by magic such as constructs, or embodying magic such as dragons or magical beasts, undead created by magic. Technical: Maintenance, development and use of alchemical items and mechanical constructions employed by the Guild and various other organisations, as well as engineering, architecture and related subjects. Religion: Knowledge on not only the large religions, which are also covered by knowledge: Core Worlds, but about the religions of the Old Material and the Outer Gods, the small cults of all kinds that spring up all over the Core and Border Worlds constantly, their practices, symbols and famous practitioners. General theological theory. The identification of non-elemental outsiders and Small Gods, divine magic. Esoterical: Knowledge of the strangest phenomena known in the Aether: power sources such as Incarnum, Pact Magic or Psionics, the Plane of Shadows, the Dreamscape, the Prime Material and the Outer Planes. The Fey, Aberrations and Oozes. Medicine: Also serves as the Heal skill. How to cure various injuries and sicknesses, information about rare diseases and how to cure them. Humanoids, Monstrous Humanoids and Giants. Natural: The rare and strange study of how things act when no magic is involved with them directly. Subjects such as Geology, Botany and nonmagical Physics. Animals, plants and Vermin.
A note on Mortal Races
I have taken some effort to avoid naming any mortal races in the entries on the core worlds. While I have some personal ideas on which planes correspond to which races, race is ultimately not as important in this setting as personal power, political allegiance and core or border origin, and the GM is encouraged to put in whatever races they and their players would like to play and encounter.
There are a few exceptions, such as the notes on the Faceless and the Asha'im suggesting changelings and warforged, respectively, and the Traitor of Caligo being explicitly called a Sahuagin. Even those, however, can easily be changed by the DM to whatever they see as a fit replacement: the traitor can be of any aquatic race, I merely like the look and flavour of the Sahuagin.
Appendix 2: New Rules
Alchemical Items Distilled Life
Distilled Life, or Vis Vitae, is, quite simply, life in a bottle. The oily solution is filled with so much positive energy that it takes on a faint golden-green glow. It functions in an identical fashion to a potion of Cure Light Wounds, except that it is entirely nonmagical. To create: Craft: Alchemy DC 25 Market Price: 75 Gold Pieces
Everbright, or as the scholars call it, Distilled Luminiferous Aether is a weightless, invisible and intangible material that permeates all things that are translucent, forming the medium which waves of light use to travel through the air. The name is perhaps ill-chosen, as the material is not related in any way directly to the Aether, the mists or protoplasm. It is ubiquitous in nature, but exhibits interesting properties when distilled: when a strong light source falls upon it just before it is bottled in a light-proof container, the light is stored within.
Everbright is used to transport light to dark places, where it is allowed to escape slowly. Most commonly, the light of magically bright sources is stored in this way, but coloured light has also been used for various measures. The typical Everbright flask works as a normal bull's eye lantern except that it can store up to four hours of light while weighing only half a pound. If the light of a magical source such as a daylight spell or Ashaton's sun is stored, the light becomes twice as bright, and affects those in its radius as a daylight spell. The lanterns are fashioned in a way that lets the Aether escape only slowly, so that the lantern can be refilled by simply exposing it to light for as long as it is supposed to give of light afterwards. To create: Craft Alchemy DC 25 Market Price: 150 gold pieces for one lantern
Phlogiston, or Elemental Fire, is used in many alchemical and technical processes, despite the difficulty of its production. It is an orange-glowing, weightless, gaseous substance that radiates tremendous heat without ever consuming itself or any fuel. A sphere of Phlogiston, which usually hovers in the air motionlessly unless moved by wind, deals 3d6 fire damage to anything it touches, and 1d4 fire damage to everything within five feet, unless stored in a special metallic container. Even creatures resistant or immune to fire receive always at least half that damage, unless they are elementals of the fire subtype, which are healed 3 points of damage every turn they touch the magical fire instead.. To create: Craft: Alchemy DC 30 Market Price: 500 gold for a one-foot sphere
Stabilized Protoplasm, Flask
While Protoplasm is ubiquitous in the Aether, it is difficult to bring into any place that isn't on one of the ethereal planes. However, Protoplasm can be stabilized via an alchemical process and sealed into containers. A flask of stabilized protoplasm contains half a pound of protoplasm that can be released for controlling as a standard action. Unless controlled, the protoplasm forms into a hovering, shimmering sphere that stays stabilized for one round before dispersing into a 10 ft. cube of mist that grants 20% concealment to every creature inside or on the opposite side of the mist. The mist evaporates after one minute, during which it can be re-condensed by a controller. To create: Craft: Alchemy DC 18 Market Price: 50 GP per flask
Ur-stone, or Elemental Earth, is a golden metal of enormous density and hardness. In fact, it is so resistant (hardness 60), that no one has ever managed to work it into any shape other than the small spheres alchemists produce, which are mainly used as ballast. A cubic inch of the material weighs nearly a pound, while a cubic foot of it weighs more than 1500 pounds. The material has one other power it is utterly immune to magic of any kind (infinite spell resistance, as a golem), and thus can not even be shaped in that fashion. Finally, creatures of a chaotic nature fear its touch. The touch of ur-stone deals 2d6 points of damage to any creature with damage reduction that is overcome by cold iron, or cold iron and/or some other material or magic. To create: Craft: alchemy DC 30 Market Price: 200 gold per one-inch sphere
After year-long study, you have finally learned how to create artifical living creatures from non-living matter in your laboratory, to serve as livestock or servants. Prerequisites: Craft: Alchemy 8 ranks, Knowledge: Nature 8 ranks, Heal 4 ranks Benefit: You can create Animalculi, alchemical copies of living creatures, in your laboratory. This is fundamentally different from crafting other objects, however, and both more involved and more complicated.
First, choose a creature to be created. The creature can be any animal or vermin, and is created with the Animalculus template (see the Template section, below). You must succeed on a knowledge (nature) check DC 15+HD of the animal first, in order to gather enough knowledge to successfully create it.
Second, you must prepare the raw materials. Creating a living creature requires raw materials worth 25 gold pieces per HD of the creature, and one vial of lifespark per four HD of the animal (you may split a vial amongst several creatures).
Third, you need a laboratory. This must be any room large enough to house the animal and yourself at the same time. In the room, you need a vessel large enough to store the animal, which must not be tampered with throughout the process.
Fourth, you can begin crafting. Creating the creature takes one week, plus one day per HD of the animal. You must succeed on a craft (alchemy) check, DC 15+HD of the animal every day. Failure on any of these checks means that the animal is not successfully created. During the first and last day, you must spend 8 hours working on the process, after that, it only takes 10 minutes per day to monitor the growth.
You were born amongst the ghosts of the Aether, and for some reason, they see you as one of their and won't attack you.
All incorporeal undead creatures start out with an attitude towards you of no worse than indifferent. Furthermore, you can communicate with even non-intelligent ghost. By meditating one minute together with a non-hostile incorporeal undead, you can gain a vague impression of their memories. You find out the ghost's name, if they had one in life, and whether they have any still-living relatives, as well as a vague idea on how they died (you could tell they were violently murdered, but not necessarily the precise circumstances or who killed them.)
However, the living find your presence slightly uncomfortable, and you suffer a -2 penalty on all charisma checks made towards living creatures.
Animalculi are artificial animals, fashioned by alchemists from nonliving materials. Many see the creatures as twisted mockeries to be destroyed, but it takes a careful eye to even notice the difference. While artificers can create perfect copies of animals that seem to be alive, they have not yet found the secret of souls, creating soulless husks instead.
Since most of what is used in the production of Animalculi is lifeless material, alchemists skilled in their production are much sought after on many worlds that lack the resources for large-scale livestock farming, but have the means to produce the necessary growth vessels and raw materials.
Animalculus is an inherited template that can be added to any animal or vermin. Their production reqiures the Animator feat. Type: The creature's size and type do not change.
Special abilities: Soulless: Animalculi do not have souls. Therefore, their souls can not be trapped upon their death, nor can they be drained or otherwise removed, nor used for power. Animalculi have a +4 bonus against all charms and compulsions, but they can never profit from a morale bonus of any kind, and they are immune to all spells and effects that create emotions, such as Rage, Good Hope or Crushing Despair. Obedient: Animalculi instinctively know their creator. They are always initially treated as friendly towards him, and the creator gains a +6 bonus on all Handle Animal checks towards them. Attributes: Charisma -4, to a minimum of 1. Challenge Rating: +0
The nobility of Ember stands out. Literally. They are a head or more taller than most of their compatriots, their skin in bright hues of azure blue and faintly glowing even in daylight. Those high nobles with the gift of fireblood, as they call it, are fiercely protective of their bloodlines and few would ever consider tainting it with common blood.
Emberite Highborn is an inherited template that can be added to any humanoid, monstrous humanoid or giant. Type: The creature's type does not change. Special qualities: Inner fire: The blood of highborn emberites is not red, but a bright, firey orange. They have fire resistance 5 and always shed light like a lit candle. Their natural healing is twice as fast. Finally, while in Ember, they do not need to eat or sleep. Spell-like abilities: Lesser vigor 3/day, at a caster level equal to the Noble's HD. Abilities: Con +2, Cha +2 Level adjustment: +1
Generations have passed since the worlds were opened and mortalkind spilled forth into the mist. Already, some of the most hardy and adventuresome folk live in the Aether permanently. Some are merely second or third generation Aethersailors, eschewing worldfall more and more for the open mists. Others have made their homes stationary, not just on the Evershard, but amongst the ghostwood trees and rocks of other shards along the trade routes, where supplies are still possible to come by.
Whatever their reason and home may be, it was soon discovered that children born in the Aether show strange changes in their anatomies. Without gravity pulling at them every day of their lives, their bodies have become light and frail, but they have also gained new powers, an inherent insight int the mists and their movements. Their appearance changes in subtle ways: the colours of their skin, hair and eyes is pale, often pale grey, but their skin also tends to shimmer in strange colours when seen under the right light, waves of faint, pastel colours passing over it. These Mistborn, as they are called, are highly sought after by the guild, priced as controllers and sailors of unmatched skill.
Mistborn is an inherited template that can be added to any corporeal living creature. Type: The creature's type does not change, except for animals, who become magical beasts. Special Qualities: Mist affinity (ex): Mistborn can see twice as far in the mists as other mortals. Furthermore, Control is always a class skill for them, and they have a +2 racial bonus on control checks. Protean Blood (su): A Mistborn's blood is filled with the protoplasm that makes up the mists they come from. By dealing damage to themselves with an attack (by biting, stabbing or otherwise harming themselves), they can draw tiny amounts of blood that serve as raw material for their control skill. For every point of damage they deal themselves, they can produce one eight of a pound worth of protoplasm.
Furthermore, they have a +1 bonus to their caster level with all transmutation spells, and a +1 racial bonus on all saves against those spells. Slight Build (ex): Mistborn are petite, with long, slender limbs and frail bodies. This makes them count as one size category smaller than their base race whenever it would be advantageous to them. Attributes: Dex +2, Wis +2, Str -2. Level Adjustment: +1
Belief is a strange thing. It's said that in earlier ages, there were entities known as Gods, or Deities, that were almost omnipotent, able to create new worlds and mortal races at will, and yet they were only empowered by the faith of mortals and could only live on the Outer Worlds, those strange realms no modern scholar can comprehend.
And yet, though the Starplane is severed, faith does not just vanish. It once could move mountains, some say. Mortals still believe, though now that the Outer Gods no longer walk among them, most of their religions have become stranger, more complicated, their faith invested in concepts, abstract powers, entities beyond that do not interact with mortals personally.
Or at least, that's how it is for the Core Worlds. Out on the Border, there are other worlds, where desperate mortals have turned to worship almost anything. Some worship their rulers, some powerful magical creatures that have survived on their planes, and some even worship animals as harboring some kind of divine spirit.
When the object of worship recognizes that fate and starts to culture it, things happen. They do not turn into gods, not truly, for the Demiplanes are not as mutable by human faith as the Outer Worlds. But they do become vessels of faith, able to work small miracles.
Small God is an acquired template that can be added to any creature that has an intelligence score of 3 or greater. A Small God uses all the base creature's statistics and special abilities except as noted here. Type: The creature's type changes to outsider, with the native subtype.
Special Abilities: The Small God gains the following special abilities:
Immortal: Small Gods do no longer die from old age, and they take no penalty to their physical ability scores for aging. Spellcasting: a Small God gains the ability to cast spells a Favoured Soul with a caster level of three, gaining spells known and spells per day as a favoured soul of that level. (Note: many take more levels of Favoured Soul as they age, representing their increasing power. Their spellcasting from class level is added to that of their Domains: Choose two domains for the Small God. The Small God can use the domain powers of these domains as a cleric of their Hit Dice. Furthermore, they add the domain spells (up to their maximum level of spells known) to their spells known from the Favoured Soul class. Divinity: The Small God gains a +2 luck bonus to all saves, skill checks, ability checks and their armour class. Furthermore, they gain 1 luck reroll per day, which they can use to reroll any single d20 roll per day. Alternatively, they can use their luck reroll to let any other creature within 60 feet of them reroll a single d20 once per day. Spell-like abilities: Imbue with Spell Ability 3/day. Abilities: Constitution +2, Charisma +4 Level Adjustment: +3 Challenge Rating: +2
In the open ethereal, one is constantly surrounded by the whirling, rainbow-coloured clouds of protoplasm and half-formed ideas known as the mists. Some individuals, known as shapers, know how to control and form the mists, forming images and, eventually, fully formed objects, which, however, quickly fall back into mists.
Those with a talent as shapers are rare and highly valued among aetherfarers, especially for their ability to improve visibility by pushing away the otherwise impermeable mists and to create temporary replacement parts for damaged ships on the fly. Skilled controllers can expect an officer's salary if serving on a guild ship, and even higher payment if they risk working for pirates or rogue traders.
Control is a class skill for all classes.
All uses of the control skill only work while on the open ethereal plane.
Create Image: You create a figment, a ghostly image formed from raw protoplasm. This works like the Silent Image spell and has a base DC of 15 to create an image filling one ten-foot cube or less. You can choose to increase the DC, filling one additional ten-foot cube per point of DC above 15, to a maximum of 16 cubes at DC 30. The resulting image is a supernatural effect, and has a DC of 11+your charisma modifier to disbelieve if interacted with.
Create Object: You can create a transitory object of up to one cubic foot in size, as if by a Major Creation spell at DC 20. For every +1 you choose to increase the DC by, the object can be another cubic foot in size. This use of the spell takes ten minutes, and you can only create one such object at a time. For complicated items, you must still make the appropriate craft checks. When brought to any place not on the open ethereal, including ethereal demiplanes, the object becomes translucent and fades away after 2d6 rounds.
Push Mists: You can mentally push the mists away from you, creating a sphere of improved visibility around you. The bubble has a diameter of two times your skill check result in feet. Inside the sphere, no other control powers can be used. Keeping the sphere open requires no active concentration, however, if you lose consciousness, the sphere collapses.
Pull Mists: The opposite of pushing, the mists can also be pulled closer and made denser, hampering vision even more than normal. At a DC 10, you can create the equivalent of an Obscuring Mist spell centered around you, which lasts for one minute and counts as a supernatural effect.
I think it would work well with the technology system in place here. They may also be more useful than Wizards, given the changed nature of magic. Just a thought. Also, keep it up! This really looks like you've thought it out nicely.
"Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day" --Charles Dickens