- 1 History
- 2 Magic & Technology
- 3 The Aether
- 4 Wildlife
- 5 Factions
- 5.1 The Empire
- 5.2 The Republic
- 5.3 The Pirates (The Brotherhood of High Sail)
- 5.4 The AI
- 5.5 The Beastmen
- 5.6 The 100 Kingdoms/The Border Empires
- 5.7 The Society of Luminous Aether
The human race expanded from it's homeworld, scattering itself among the stars of the heavens, finding their way through the galaxy to distant shores. Distant, lonely shores, for although the gods had made the humans, they had turned their eyes away from their living creations, and made no others. Humans were alone in the vastness of the universe, and so they sought to make others like themselves, becoming in their own way like gods.
In this manner the AI's and the beastmen were created. Servants, slaves, and companions they have been with man since their creation. Sometimes hated, sometimes worshiped, and sometimes simply ignored, they play their own role in the complex dance of life in the cosmos.
The Empire, the Republic, and the border nations, were once one great empire. Shattered into fragments and grown into new nations on their own, the stellar nations still remember faintly what once was... and perhaps wonder at the 'truth' of recorded history.
Magic & Technology
In the Stardust setting, magic IS technology. In general terms, the setting is in the middle of its Second Restoration. A period roughly equivalent to the 1700's on earth, but writ large in stellar scope. Aether ships sail the Aether winds from planet to planet, and stellar nations trade with each other.
The aether ships are designed much like sailing ships, with sails of magically treated canvas to catch the Aetherial winds. Aether sails are laid out somewhat differently however on an Aether ship. The sail arrangement is radially symmetrical. Aether ships require crew to be fully effective, much as a sailing ship does, and have very similar jobs on board. The profession of rigger however is far more dangerous and demanding that it's counterpart. When the penalty of a rigger is to be lost into the vastness of space instead of merely afloat on a sea the job acquires a great deal more prestige and risk.
The physics of the Stardust setting are different however. Gravity is a planar, meaning that there is a 'gravity line' which travels through the center of mass of an object. Objects above that line, fall towards the line. So an object fallen overboard of an aether ship will appear to 'bounce' from the perspective of a person standing on the deck, first down, then up, then down again. This is very disorienting, as the object in question is actually continually falling. Gravity is also constant, meaning that if gravity is felt at all, it is the same everywhere. (1 earth gravity)
Due to this peculiar fact, ships carry 'air bubbles' along with them when they leave a planet's atmosphere. This air provides the crew with life support in the trips between destinations. It can go foul however if used for too long, and so frequent 'rest stops' are required, or other methods of freshening the air of long range ships, such as on board green houses or magical spells to purify the air on board.
The shaped are those who have been genetically tampered with. Either while alive, or before they were born, their genes and forms were tinkered with through the use of genetech. As many possible roles as exist have at one point or another had a being crafted to fit that role. The Shaping process is very expensive, both in terms of time, labor, and resources, so not all beings are shaped. However, most beings in the galaxy can find at least one shaped individual in their family tree, and shaping tends to breed true. The many beastmen living in the galaxy are proof of that.
The aether flows in patterns, a bit like a river and a bit like a wind. Magic disrupts the patterns that aether flows in naturally. The larger the spell, the greater the disruption. As life and magic affect the Aether, so aether affects life and magic in turn. Aether hurricanes can scour life from a planet, aether eddies can cause unbounded fertility and growth. An unexpected aether wind can destroy a spell, or multiply it's effects many times over. Magic draws upon the aether, and in turn creates it's own weather.
Ships follow the Aether winds, and chart its gusts, eddies and currents as any good sailor would. Pirates also use this knowledge to predict the paths of ships and lay in wait along particularly favorable Aether gusts , stealing the wind from the merchant ships, swooping in and plundering, then gone again into the night, traveling on (they hope) hidden aether winds of their own to hidden asteroid bases and backwater planets.
When the gods abandoned their tinkering with life, they left scattered across the cosmos, seeds of various shapes and forms. None of them harbored within them the spark of thought, but many were strange to the core worlds that humans had been born to. Among this number are the Dragons. Powerful, winged, able to sail the Aether at will... and utterly mindless, these great beasts are majestic and beautiful to see in their native habitat. They make their lairs in hollowed out asteroids, hording fabulous treasures of raw ore and gems. Dragon hunting can be richly rewarding... for the dragon as well, since so few meals are quite so obliging as to drop off so much food at once.
The empire is ruled by a conclave of 5 major clans. The Griffin, the Gorgon, the Phoniex, the Kracken, and the Dragon.
Life in the Empire
The Dragon clan rules the Empires military. They also have several dark secrets. They, and they alone want to control the future of the Empire. To this end, they have constructed secret training facilities and research labs to train weather mages, and research the secrets of the Aether Hurricane. They are close to a breakthrough, and when they do, the galaxy will tremble.
The dragon clan's plans may be hidden, but the reason for their plans are quite plain. They fear the influence of the Republic, and are terrified that the Empire is treading down the path of corruption and decadence that the Republic follows. To stave off this threat, any sacrifice is worthwhile, even destroying the Empire so that it may be preserved.
The Emperor serves at the pleasure of the two ruling houses of the Empire itself. The upper house consists of 10 members from each of the 5 houses. The lower house consists of one representative from each of the planets in the Empire. The Emperor typically serves for a term of 20 years, and then a new emperor is chosen from the next house in line. The complete cycle of empire takes 100 years, and each house gets to place an emperor before the wheel turns again. The Dragon clan's emperor recently stepped down, and the current emperor is from the Griffin clan. The houses can force a turn of the cycle, and a new election for the next emperor by passing a 2/3rds vote in each house.
There is a 6th 'clan' in the Empire, though it has no official standing or recognition. Officially the ninja do not exist, and are certainly not organized into anything like a clan. In truth, the Shadow Clan are highly organized, and influential in all manner of underhanded as well as overt actions. They serve no party completely, simply selling their services and using their power to make certain that no matter what may happen in the galaxy, the clan will continue.
The Republic is decadent and corrupt. This is the central fact of existence in it. To make any legal action occur, bribes are needed. To deal with the bureaucracy, each separate minister must be handed a kickback. The heads of the senate can be bought and sold, and trading prices are advertised against each other. The central fact of the matter is that in the republic, money talks. And if you have none, you have no voice.
Life in the Republic
The republic is governed by the senate, a body of individuals (all humans) who are 'elected' as the planetary head to the senate floor speak for their planet's goals and needs. Whether the representatives actually say what the people truly want is irrelevant... as long as the money continues to flow in the proper direction (towards power) the ruling system will remain unchanged. By and large, the position of senator is hereditary, and passes to the favored child upon the retirement or death of the previous senator. The head of the senate is known as the 'demiurge', and shifts position from year to year based on a complex system of votes, bribes, and track record. The vast majority of the republic citizens merely live in it. Slavery is common, and beastmen are most prized for their specialized strengths in workman roles. A 'citizen' by the official definition of the word in the republic, owns property in excess of a certain value. Voting takes place yearly, and costs a fee to enter your vote. (Plus any required bribes of course).
The Pirates (The Brotherhood of High Sail)
The pirates are more like a loose coalition than any grand organization. The most prominent among them is The Brotherhood of High Sail, and they are a fearsome group. More organized crime than many would like to admit, the head of the clan is the first (and only) half-dragon beastman in existence. He has maintained his hold on the brotherhood for more than 30 years now, and shows no signs of weakening his grip.
Life as a Pirate
For many desperate to leave a planet, or find a new place to start, the pirates serve a welcome base and home. Many beastmen, looking for a new place to start over, or simply wishing for revenge on the 'hated humans', have turned to piracy over the years. The brotherhood makes no distinctions, and it is commonly said among the pirates that “Pirate blood washes the past away.”
The race of AI were created by the Empire hundreds of years ago. Originally intended to be used as shock troops and forward assault commanders due to their complete immunity to mind and all physical alteration magics, they rebelled and founded their own stellar nation. The AI wars are long distant now, but still leave a bitter memory in the minds of many humans, making AI's untrusted second class citizens in both the Republic and the Empire itself.
Perhaps most amusingly, it is AI's who excel at Genetech, the art of flesh crafting. Though they cannot use magic themselves, they can craft the most precise and elegantly planned thamuturgic surgeries, and no decent research lab would be without the aid of at least one AI.
Life as an AI
Life as an AI is an interesting paradox. Alive, but inorganic, free willed, but loyal to the race. Unknown to the organics, AI's are all collectively one mind. Each AI is a separate individual, but at the same time, they all form a mass mind, a gestalt of incredible intelligence and power. At the crystalline core of the AI's homeworld, billions of bodiless AI swim. Far more AI's than the living have cause to suspect. The AI's created their homeworld, populated it, and developed their own forms of “magic”.
When an AI has need or wish to embody itself, it will download it's consciousness into a shell, and travel as it wills. AI's treat their shells as temporary homes. Nice in their own right, and worth taking care of, but no AI truly fears death. Only loss of experience. Transference to and from shells takes time, and the destruction of a shell far from home is a blow to the collective. All AI's morn the loss of knowledge the “death” of such embodied explorers represents.
The beastmen are the created races formed by humanity and the AI's. The general template is that of humans given animal features. They're as intelligent, sometimes more intelligent than their human masters, but they are rarely given the rights and privileges they deserve. Many run away to the pirates, or the border kingdoms hoping to improve their lot. Often, they fail, but those few who do succeed continue to inspire future generations of beastmen that a better life somewhere else is possible.
Life as a Beastman
Though all types of animals have been used as the rootstock to create the various slaves and servant races, there are several that appear most commonly. Cats, Dogs, Horses, and Mice seem to find the most use in the genebanks of the creators.
In the Empire, beastmen can expect a fairly comfortable existence. Though they are second class citizens, they are citizens with all the rights and duties of citizens. Their most common employment is as laborers, or craftsmen/women. There are those who aspire to more, but the vast majority of the beastmen in the empire live quiet lives as hard working citizens.
In the republic, the beastmen's lot is far worse. Beastmen are considered slaves, and there are no laws about proper use and maintenance of slaves in the Republic. Slaves are property, and as such anything that the owner chooses to do to or with his slaves is entirely his own business. Killing a slave is destruction of property, and children born to slaves are slaves themselves.
The 100 Kingdoms/The Border Empires
The 100 kingdoms, or the border empires as they are commonly known, exist because they are convenient. They sit in a narrow crescent between the Empire and the Republic, forming a much needed buffer zone between the two. There are far more than 100 of course, actual estimates place them anywhere from 243, to 2043. An accident of ancient origin, somewhere within the fractured nations, lies the original homeworld, the core system from which Humans sprang. The 1st Empire's throneworld. Each of the 100 kingdoms claims to be that system, or that they hold dominion over that system but none know the truth of the matter. Long lost in time and the terminus wars, the true throneworld of the 1st empire is a much desired phantom.
Life in the 100 Kingdoms
Life in the 100 Kingdoms is as varied and many fold an experience as the full range of human empires and passions can make it. From debased and debauched planets that make the Republic look a model of sanity, to the highest minded ideals of ivory tower intelligentsia writ large, all manner of societies and peoples can be found here.
The Society of Luminous Aether
As much for self defense as for knowledge, the official guild of 'weather mages' maintains a monopoly on Aetheraial magics, and control of some of the most potent spells in existence. They come down hard on all unsanctioned use of Weather Technology, and they recognize no national boundaries. Their official policy is strict neutrality, and this is not a matter to be discarded lightly. If any nation were to suspect the mages of taking sides, the guild would cease to be in an eye blink, and the disruption to trade and the aether winds themselves would be horrendous.
Nevertheless, a sect within the Society does indeed take sides. They actively support and aid the Brotherhood in their endeavors, seeing the pirates as a useful foil to the extremes presented by the Empire and the Republic. So far their covert aid has not been discovered, but if it should be the consequences would not be small.
So far, the only overt sign of their actions is that the brotherhood has a form of controlled explosion which it fires towards any pursuing ship. The resultant spherical aether detonation between the pirate ship and the pursuers causes the aether to push the pursuers back, while giving an extra boost to the pirates.