The Wyzard Setting Essays
Here are some setting essays for my Fantasy Trip campaign.
- 1 Known Gods
- 2 Astronomy
- 3 History
- 4 Technology
- 5 Magic
- 6 Almanac
- 7 Geography
There are many, many beings of sufficient power to arguably merit worship. This can be construed as a matter of scale. A demonic imp with delusions of grandeur might eventually teach a troupe of small monkeys to bow down and give it offerings; the relation of a demon price to its human cultists is not different in kind.
Because of the great many deities in the world (which might range from a gigantic alligator of ancient and inhuman intelligence worshipped by a tribe of goblins, to an actual extraplanar being with plenary powers over the material world), there will never be a comprehensive list of them. If a player invokes or worships some given being, I'm inclined to assume that being exists, in some sense, if it can be fitted into the setting in any sensible way. Because the gods demonstrably and obviously exist, often inconveniently so, the arrangements of churches and temples extant in many fantasy gaming worlds have no place here. Clerics are trained to deal with whatever god is appropriate, and the profession has secondary functions such as managing the transition between life and death (whether preventing the transfer in the case of healing spells, or enforcing it by blowing up skeletons with Turn Undead.) They are generally not given to religious awe (they know how the sausage is made), unless some feigned or genuine ritual ecstasy is more likely to impress the marks.
Still, for purposes of versimilitude, I will list a few deities and describe them, so that players can gain a sense of the setting as it exists in my head.
The Hungry Man
The world's psychopomp and most widely recognized deity of death. He appears as a huge but emaciated gnoll, with spidery limbs and a big sack over one shoulder. When a being dies, and the corpse is not properly disposed of, their soul is collected by the Hungry Man and taken away to the Empty Lands, a featureless gray wasteland of infinite size. He curses the dead with his own endless and insatiable hunger, so that they spend eternity tearing at each other's substanceless flesh in an attempt to fill the utter emptiness within. It is occasionally possible for unusually clever and determined souls to somehow find their way back to the world from the lands of the dead. However, their hunger follows them, thus resulting in the strong tendency of the undead to desire the flesh, blood, or life energy of the living.
He Who Waits Behind the Walls
A curious but deeply sinister being, or potential being. Venerated largely by corrupt scholars, He Who Waits Behind the Walls is said not to exist in this universe yet, but may be brought into it if his history is completed. That history consists of fragmentary tales of horrific events, which seem to be either fictional, or fictionalized versions of real events. There are also philosophical concepts and alternate moralities that are considered to be component's of his corpus. His cult's major activities consist of hunting down pieces of his history and ideology (they either have some method of separating random textual detritus from authentic fragment's of His History, or perhaps they are delusional) and tricking the world into accepting them. This is the process by which they believe they can help Him into the world. If the content of his corpus is indicative of anything, his cult's success in this endeavor would be a very bad thing.
That Which is Concealed Beneath the Surface
A Lizardman deity of great antiquity, this being is venerated as an icon of strength and fertility. It is usually pictured as a great crocodile or alligator submerged underwater. While worship of That Which is Concealed likely dates back to the Lizardmen's civilizations before the dawn of human history, it is still actively propitiated both by the degenerate Lizardmen of the modern era, and often by humans who live in hot, swampy, or jungle-like environments. The ritual veneration of That Which is Concealed is generally a barbaric affair, with great bonfires in the humid night, and secret, orgiastic rites.
The Rime-limned Queen
A being of vast and ineffable knowledge, the Queen came to the world from the stars, and is now said to float in the heavens amongst the Moons. Rites to her are conducted at night on high plateaus, and often involve strange lights in the sky and consorting with otherworldly beings. Her clerics often display strange scars and disfigurements. The Queen is taken quite seriously by demons and devils, as she has demonstrated the ability to interdict them from passage between their realms and the earth.
The Guardian of the Eighth Spiral
Usually depicted as a huge mass of serpents, heads and bodies extending from a sphere made up of all their tails melded together. A kind of protector-spirit which is set on places which are to be absolutely forbidden. There are very few clerics devoted solely to this deity; they tend to convert to its special service after already achieving great power through a prior path. This deity is also sometimes invoked in proceedings to deliver horrific curses on one who has committed a major transgression. For example, a host who killed his guest in violation of Hospitality might have his body permanently infested with small, flesh-devouring worms in this deity's name. No one knows precisely what the Eighth Spiral is, nor what happened to the previous seven.
The Wolf of the World's Ending
A being of enormous size and unlimited destructive potential. The legends describe this entity as a wolf, which is bound about with chains of red-hot iron, and trapped in the very center of the world. This description is largely poetic, although not completely inaccurate. The creature has indeed been imprisoned, by who knows what power, at the planet's core. All educated people know that the Wolf is the root of lycanthropy, as it sends dreams of beastial madness up to the people on the surface of the world. These dreams are of such power that they can not only unhinge the mind, but also contort the body into a supernormal wolf, or some other animal shape that is sufficiently rooted in the Jungian realm. The prophecies that the Wolf's eventual escape from its prison will shatter the world into splinters is, unfortunately, probably accurate. However, by monitoring the activity of volcanic eruptions (caused, of course, by the Wolf's struggles and contortions), sages estimate it will be at least ten thousand years before there's anything to worry about.
The Drinker of Spilled Blood
Despite its ominous name and grisly eating habits, the Drinker can be a fairly benign deity. It requires no more sacrifice than that blood be spilled, and is just as satisfied to have an animal's throat cut, or two dozen people giving up only a little blood. Keeping the Drinker satisfied prevents infestations of mosquitoes and other biting vermin. However, its attention is also sought out by those wishing to become vampires, as the attentions of its servitors are necessary for that process (absent some accommodating senior vampire.)
The King in Yellow
One of the rare deities with a clear alignment, the King is explicitly associated with Chaos. Along with portents of doom and disaster, which the King may in fact be the cause of, he is a source of Arcane magic and other secret lores. Destroying the difference between truth and falsehood opens the door to the King; he is called upon by certain plays and cunningly-engineered masquerades.
Demons, arcane magic, and many other dangerous phenomena originate among the outer darkness where the stars wheel and laugh. Across the indigo gulf of time and space, horrors and unnatural power come to visit the world of men. Beware the ice-rimed creatures who descend from the sky, for their journeys have been long and their places of origin strange beyond reckoning. Who knows what ends they may pursue, so far away from their natural place in the cosmos?
There are three moons orbiting the world, spaced evenly around a single orbital period. Thus, at almost any time, there is at least one moon in the sky, and many nights there are two. One bears a reddish cast, the other a bluish one, and the last is a dark slate gray. They are considered to be the primary sources of magical power in the world, and also rich with demonic and other entities who may be summoned by some means or another. It is thought that there are likely entire civilizations dotted about their surface, perhaps of incredible antiquity.
The following are in roughly chronological order, although poor record-keeping, the occasional shipment of history books from alternate worlds or dimensions, and the encroachments of Chaos have left history in a slightly confused state. The world has a lot of history, which in general is not worth recounting in detail. There have been a near-infinite number of lesser kingdoms and empires across a geographic space comparable to our own Earth, with all the carnage and comedy that that implies. However, there are a few major eras that will give an overview of world history.
0. The Precursor Era
There are occasionally objects or devices, such as the Cidrian Gates or the Sublunar Machinery which seems to correspond to some time or people before the era of the Lizard Kings. Anything that old which is still operational can be presumed to have unimaginable power and sophistication. They may have been built by prior human civilizations or by entities even further removed from our understanding.
1. Early Human Colonization
Early Human Colonization. During this period, large numbers of humans arrived on the planet via unknown means, and engaged in widespread terraforming and genetic resequencing of themselves and everything else they could get their hands on. The early colonies “failed,” in that C&C with whoever sent them was lost, and whatever early governments were established collapsed. Humans went through a period of barbaric savagery, and then got it out of their systems.
2. The Lizard Kings
The Lizardmen were for a time the apex sophont on the planet. They built great crystalline devices that ran on psionic rather than technological or magical principles, subjugated humans when they felt the need, and built massive ziggurats. Eventually, humans defeated them via some means unrecorded. The modern Lizardman is a brute beast that cannot even read the hieroglyphs of its ancient ancestors, much less operate the strange science to which it should be heir. The Lizardman brain is formed differently from the human one, and communication between the species is often difficult.
3. The Amaranthan Empire
The Amaranthans arose out of a small but wealthy kingdom by a bay, where innovative magicians laid down the foundation-stones of modern sorcery. It was a darker, cruder magic that they practiced, but they were insatiable for more power. Within a handful of generations, the leaders of the Amaranthan kingdoms had as much magic in their veins as blood, and they conquered the vast majority of the world. Between their spells and pre-Saurian technology and learning they recovered from deep fastnesses, they easily brought to heel the feudal human societies that arose to fill the vacuum left by the Lizard Kings.
Their ways were debased and vile, but they crushed kingdoms as a dragon might smite a bugbear.
4. The God-War
A heavily chaotic race, the Amaranthans eventually rebelled against those beings claiming the status of deityhood. It galled them that any being should arrogate to themselves a higher station than what their Emperor appointed. Thus began the dreadful God-War of the Amaranthan Empire. It raged on for centuries, and the Amaranthans did in fact manage to subjugate the four major elements - to this day the great elementals are unusually susceptible to the antique sorceries to which the Amaranthans bound them. The war did not end, however, and each new year brought more powerful beings into conflict with the unbelievable might of the Amaranthans. The great houses were eventually tempted to rebel against the endless war, and the Empire self-destructed in a decade of blood and fire. This left the world and humanity at the mercy of all the things they had pissed off. Hint: It was almost everything.
The ruins and deep fastnesses of the Amaranthans are still considered to be some of the most valuable and dangerous sites for adventuring; they had vast wealth and had created innumerable artifacts. It is said that there is somewhere a desert wasteland, at the center of which is a huge black obelisk engraved with the names of all those deities slain during the God-War.
5. The Long Night.
Little enough of this era is recorded. Vengeful gods and demons and various other potent beings preyed on humanity and dominated their cities. Much awful tribute was extracted, and the lore of the Amaranthans was destroyed whenever it could be found. The tech level at this time was definitely more medieval in character, as humans were lucky if their masters allowed them pointy sticks, in most places.
6. The Thracian Hegemony
The Thracians began as a small group of seafaring nations, which eventually conglomerated and combined their efforts. Through a massive conspiracy, they managed to help each other throw off the yokes of their inhuman masters and institute democracy. They revived the pursuits of technology and complex financial instruments, and through a combination of laser-armed airships and disaster capitalism they were able to free most of humanity from the thrall of various Vampire Princes and Demon Cults. They rapidly became masters of the exchange of goods, and proceeded to dominate, incorporate, and subvert every economic entity they could come into contact with. Their complex arrangements of ownership and finance allowed them to trick simpler peoples out of their wealth with impunity.
They also reached incredible heights of technical prowess, and mastered the physical realm in a way that had not been seen in millenia. While the Thracians disfavored the use of direct sorcery, they did recover and disseminate some of the more orderly Amaranthan works on the subject. They also made advances in the creation of arcane and technological devices. The most notable achievement of the Thracians, though, was that they created a standardized system of coinage which is still nearly universal.
7. The Decapitation
The leaders of the Thracian Combines attempted to make treaty with the various Lunar civilizations, just as they had done to the monstrous kingdoms that had existed on the terrestrial sphere. For whatever reason, the negotiations fell through, and ended in several nights of blood and fire. When the smoke cleared, the Thracian civilization came apart at the seams. They had always kept their leadership and industrial base centralized, to maintain their hegemony. Unfortunately, that meant it was all destroyed by the swarm of meteorites that turned their capital city into a morass of smoking, flooded craters. Bereft of leadership, barbarians and lesser kingdoms raided and destroyed the remaining centers of Thracian power. Their society disintegrated, and the lore of operating their great machines and mysterious facilities became lost.
8. The Interregnum
In the aftermath of the Decapitation, a wide variety of wars and disasters destroyed much of what had been built, and the human population of the world was much reduced.
9. The Age of City-States
This is the time during which our campaigns take place. Over much of the world, humanity has reorganized itself into independent and semi-independent city-states. There is trade and communication between the various civilizations, but vast waste-lands full of ruins and ancient roads occupy the space between them. Human civilizations seem to be somewhat drowsy at this time in history, and the people of the world are plagued by hedonism and sybaritic boredom. Greed takes the place of ambition, and everywhere men and women take the low and easy road to comfort. Globe-spanning ambitions are distinctly out of fashion.
The really notable difference here is that while vast knowledge is available (and easily so – PCs are likely to have at least a modern understanding of the sciences, and Mages may be well-versed in theoretical physics or unreal mathematics), material culture lags far behind. That being said, the situation in most civilized lands is not at all comparable to medieval Europe. In the distant past humanity had the wherewithal to re-engineer species to their liking, and so there are many extraordinarily convenient plants still cultivated. Some have use as contraceptives or make effective healing salves. The Library Tree produces broad, regular leaves that when dried and cut into shape can be used as archival-quality paper. A wide variety of food plants and several types of mushroom are known to be results of the original sequencing project; they can be easily and rapidly farmed, and are tailored to human dietary needs. Etc. For this reason, simply supplying the population with food is not the crushing burden it was in real-world medieval societies, and even impoverished areas have sufficient time for leisure and social or intellectual pursuits.
Many technologies that have an extremely high payoff to effort ratio if you are already at a high Roman or Renaissance-era level of technology are still used. Movable-type printing presses are not common, but they have supplanted scriptoriums in all but the most remote regions. They’re just too easy to build in comparison to how much effort they save.
The essential difficulty is that the creation of an industrial economy is a great deal of work, and nobody is really inclined to go to that kind of effort. Anyone with the resources, ambition, and will to build a steam train or an air conditioner factory is probably better off becoming an archmage and summoning various demonic servants and succubi to while away the decades of ennui. Also, the creation of industrial facilities is occasionally interfered with by powerful druids or angry Great Red Wyrms, and so sometimes it’s just better to stay discrete.
There are many resources and artifacts which can be recovered from the underground sites of previous cultures, and those can be of use to the people of today. Powerful mages are capable of crafting science-fantasy gadgetry of all kinds. There are a few places in the world where devices of advanced technology are still manufactured on a small scale, but the expense to obtain them is phenomenal.
Some powerful persons make use of wireless communication sets, there are Spelljamming ships in extremely rare circulation, Baleful Rods (a variety of self-regenerating energy weapon) are comparable in availability to magical items, and there are places where Spike Throwers (electromagnetic acceleration weapons – touchy, but effective) can still be purchased new. Generally, though, items of advanced technology should resemble early-to-mid twentieth century science fiction. See Jack Vance and Barsoom, rather than Star Trek or Peter Watts.
The humans of this world have received a number of genetic tweaks from their ancestors. While this doesn’t mean superpowers or anything crazy like that, it does mean that disease and infection are extremely rare, that people live longer and stay healthier than should be possible at their tech level, etc. Extensive exposure to stress and equally-extensive training can unlock the potential for incredible physical feats, provided it’s kept up over time. Basically, the world runs according to D&D rules, and part of that is that humans are slightly less susceptible to some problems and have just a bit more potential. Also, people tend to be better-looking, so picturing things like an action movie isn’t completely inaccurate.
Additionally, humans have phenotypes that do not exist on our world. Unusual hair or eye colors, or complexions, or an extra joint on one’s thumbs or pointed ears or what-have-you are common in some areas, and are not usually remarked upon.
Powerful mage-scientists are also able to make exotic hybrid creatures, which can be useful (lizards of burden), pathetic (duckbunnies), or terrifying (owlbears).
During the latter parts of the Amaranthan empire, a famous wizard compiled the Summa Arcanum, a set of ten massive volumes that organized and simplified the study of arcane magic. This text was violently suppressed during the Long Night, but the Thracians briefly popularized (and then quickly banned) it. The first two volumes lay down the theory, practice, and notation of arcane magic. The next six each correspond to one of the Orders of spellcraft (first level spells are First-Order spellcraft, etc.) The last two cover magical engineering and artifice. Each of the books covering an Order of spellcraft contained the twelve spells that the author considered to be most illustrative of the core principles of that Order, with only minor consideration given to usefulness.
While the Amaranthans were thoroughly in favor of any citizen who cared to spend the time learning magic, later civilizations (and jealous archmages) have found this undesirable. It is now no longer possible to find a complete copy of any volume of the Summa, even fragments of the individual volumes are of great value, and an intact copy of the entire series would represent wealth and power beyond dreams of avarice. Provided, of course, that you could dispose of it before being removed from circulation.
The seventy-two spells originally contained in the Summa are still by far the most commonly known dweomers on the planet.
Coinage and Precious Metals
The valuable coins of the current era are drastically, although uniformly, debased. It was found by the ancient Thracians that there was insufficient in the way of genuine gold and silver to fuel their mighty trading empire. So, they debased the coinage in order to accomplish two ends: One was to make the wealth of their nation more finely divisible than the large gold disks which were popular at the time, and the other was to defeat the worst of the coin shaving and similar undertakings.
So, they standardized their coinage into three major types, all of the same size: The copper coin, least valuable and pretty much all copper. The Silver coin, of middle value and containing a substantial portion of silver, although other white metals went into its construction and made it more resistant to wear. The Gold coin contained very little actual gold indeed, although it still had a pretty yellow color to it. The new alloy was in fact many times stronger than pure gold, and so defeated those who would jingle their coins in a rough leather bag to gather gold-dust.
All the coins were made with a ridged edge to defeat shaving, and were relatively simple flat slugs with some text or a simple symbol on them. To defeat counterfeits, their alloys were precisely calculated and the formula kept secret, so that their density was precisely determinable. In this fashion, a merchant with one of the standardized weights and a scale, a marked glass tube, and a bit of clear water could determine the genuine-ness of any coin with relative ease.
While the Thracian Hegemony is no more, the trade network they established was so widespread that their coinage became the standard in every civilized land in the world. To this day, no kingdom with economic aspirations deviates from their formulae, and wealthy merchants take pride in having original Thracian weights with which to examine suspect monies. The weights are crafted from adamantine, and so are practically beyond adulteration themselves. In essence, coinage is treated as a kind of commodity. It is created and dealt with by money-changers and similar persons of precise skills and grasping nature. Nations and nobility rarely dabble in the minting business - the normal extent of that activity is to order all coins be stamped with some patriotic phrase, or a simple image commemorating some event. Actually changing the value of coins is seen as too disruptive to the easy flow of commerce.
There are denominations of coin which are made of more valuable materials, or which are less-adulterated due to being minted in days ancient beyond reckoning. These will be treated as special treasure. The adulteration of the coinage is why a simple gold ring might be worth ten or even a hundred gold pieces, even though it has an encumbrance value equal to only a single one.
Each month consists of four weeks, each one of eight days. The Eighth day of each week is, by tradition, some type of feast or holiday. While the identity of that feast or holiday can vary wildly from city to city and nation to nation, it is nonetheless usually taken as a day of rest from labor. A master who gives his slaves any great amount of work on the eighth-day is usually seen as a skinflint. Each year consists of thirteen months, for a total of 416 days in a year. The moon's orbital period used to precisely coincide with the months, but it was disrupted during the same disaster that caused the world to begin wobbling on its axis, thus creating the seasons. They are now more distant, having an orbital period of five weeks. The Lunar calendar is therefore of very little use.
In cultures that keep track of Birthdays in any sense, it is most normal for a birthday to be recorded as the feast-day ending the week of that birth. The other days of the week are undifferentiated in the mind of the populace, and are often not even named in anything other than an ordinal way.
The Hollow World
Scholars, of course, know that there is no hollow world, and that the entire business results from drastic misapprehension and ignorance.
It is indeed possible for those who are willing to brave the dangers of extended travel through vast, uncharted caverns in the world (and the unspeakable creatures, forgotten by the light of day, which inhabit them) to come to a strange and entirely different planetary surface, which sits under a different sun and different stars. The people of that sphere, of course, insist that their own sphere is the true one, and that the world of the traveler is in fact the hollow world of their own planet. Both the native and the traveler have committed the fallacy of dimension-centrism. In fact, it is the same planet, but with two different surfaces areas in alternate areas of spacetime. The tunnels are those places where the (contiguous) surfaces wrap in and around four-dimensional space
It will be most helpful to picture the arrangement as a Moebius Strip, or more accurately as something like an arrangement of interlocking Klein Bottles. Or, perhaps, that won't be helpful at all.