Primer for New Players
This document contains the basic sketch information for the tone, style, genre, and setting of the game. In addition to the current hooks and rumors document, it provides a quick introduction to the style of game.
Genre and Tone
The genre is classic sword and sorcery and horror, like that found in the hey-day of pulps like Weird Tales. (The game's tone is especially influenced by Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, and Michael Moorcock.) Tonally, Weird Fiction tales are dark, wondrous, violent, exotic, and often sexy. Unlike epic adventure fantasy (e.g. Tolkien and those he influenced), the genre has a personal, local focus and often features flawed or morally compromised characters. Horror elements are intrinsic to the genre, which also shows traces of planetary romance (and other early sci-fi).
In the setting, the world has attained roughly 16th century technology. Merchantilism is the dominant economic paradigm. Everyday life has been transformed by the printing press, increased skill in mechanization and metallurgy, and firearms, as well as by increasing global trade and exploration. Still, the vast majority are poor, defenseless, and oppressed.
Open Table PrinciplesTop
- New or drop-in players are welcome. Individual sessions stand alone, although they occur within a persistent fictional world. The number of players per session is soft capped by the capacity of the venue, which varies. (The number of players is hard capped at eight.) Diversity and inclusivity are non-negotiable.
- There is no preparation needed before we sit down to play. All rules will be taught at the table as necessary. Character creation always occurs at the table.
- Sessions begin and end at camp or in town. Sessions always begin and end in a safe place (camp, town, or the campaign's
home base), which allows a different roster of players to participate from session to session and thus facilitates drop-in, drop-out play. If you are not present, then we simply assume that your character is off doing something else rather than participating in the current expedition.
- The setting takes place in a dynamic, persistent world. The actions of one group affect the game world for all players. In other words, the game world is essentially persistent, but is also always dynamic (in that it responds to player activity, as well as fictional developments).
Old School and DIY EthosTop
- The game is challenging. Although the rules are simpler than most full modern games, this game is meant to present genuine fictional challenges to the players, and those challenges will always have fictional consequences. As a result, the players' skill, choices, and interests matter. Success is not guaranteed; indeed, failure is an important and meaningful part of old school-inspired adventuring.
- Player skill matters. The rules of the game are intentionally schematic; your character sheet will not exhaustively list everything you can do. Rather, the game works best when you use immerse yourself in the fictional description of the world, and then rely on your knowledge, imagination, and creativity. Your character is, in a sense, the avatar through which you explore the world. Moreover, the power curves in the game are gentle. Low level characters have fewer mechanical and fictional advantages than high level characters, but they are not massively far apart in their basic mechanical power. The same is true of low and high difficulty adversaries. As a result, clever plans, creativity, and bravado allow players to level the playing field.
- The players' choices matter. The direction of play is driven by the players. For example, there is no overarching
storycreated or driven by the Referee, as occurs in a certain style of game. Moreover, all player choices lead to fictional consequences, which means that players have substantial freedom, but with real stakes.
- Fiction comes first. All action begins and ends in the fiction. Players cannot simply call for such and such a roll. Rather, they must describe how and what they do, and only on that basis will the game mechanics be invoked.
- The focus of the game is exploration of a shared world. The campaign is a sandbox, which means that players will choose what content to engage with, and will choose how and when to engage with it. Procedurally, at the beginning of each session, current rumors, situations, and hooks will be reviewed, and new rumors, situations, and hooks may be added. The regional map will also be set out on the table. Players will cooperatively choose the location(s) they will visit and the agenda that they will pursue, whether following up on a rumor, visiting a dungeon, or pursuing their own plans.
- The basic unit of play is the adventuring party. The party goes on expeditions and explores the world. Unlike modern editions of D&D, the party is the paramount unit, not individual characters. This both stems from and allows the higher-lethality play that is a hallmark of old school-style play, and which in turn allows players' decisions to entail ficitonal consequences. It also suggests that backstory heavy play is out of place; story results from the choices that the players make for their characters, given the fictional situations and challenges that the party faces.
- Characters develop through play. The game is often lethal, so the most developed characters will be those that are played the most often and which survive the longest. Backstory is strictly revealed through play.
- Players may maintain Character Stables. Players may create multiple characters, though they will only send one character on a given expedition (i.e. play that one character in a given session.). All of a players' characters form their character stable. If a character dies, the player may immediately roll up a new character, which will then be incorporated into play as soon as possible (even at the expense of verisimilitude).
- All players, including the Referee, play transparently and do not fudge or cheat. Transparency in all procedures is expected. The Referee acts more like an impartial judge (as opposed to an auteur, as in a game like Vampire). Players are likewise expected to take responsibility for the rules that affect their characters, including negative effects. It is appropriate and welcome to question to the Referee's rulings, since a discussion of these points tends to elaborate the fictional situation and help everyone involved better understand the shared world.
Magic and the Supernatural
In Weird Fiction, the supernatural is unnatural, wondrous, and inherently dangerous. It is not simply another kind of physics or technology, nor is it constrained by laws or conventions. Rather, it is perversion and corruption of the natural order. Although sorcery and the supernatural are not uncommon, common folk are deeply suspicious (and superstitious) about any hints of magic. Their prevailing attitude might be summed up as:
Magic is dangerous and unpredictable. Those drawn to its power are unstable, foolhardy, or sociopathic. No one in their right mind would trust foul sorcery or those who practice it. Better to stay home, mind your farm or shop, provide for your family, and leave the meddling with dark forces to those poor sick fools who are going to die young.
Magic takes many forms. In some places in the world, it seems to well up from reality itself, like some sort of raw, primal energy. In other places, ancient technology and knowledge has fixed it into powerful, mysterious effects. The world is strewn with unique artifacts and relics, each of which swells with scarely contained power. Meanwhile, a few bold, fearless souls devote themselves to ancient mystical techniques, technological tomes, scholarly experiments, faith leaders, forgotten knowledge, primal totems, or forbidden rituals.
Anyone can use the magic latent in an artifact, relic, ritual, or mystical place. Through dark knowledge, dangerous technology, or fierce will, sorcerers are also uniquely able to summon and control spells, which is the common name given to the extradimensional plasmic entities that Sorcerers have lured or trapped, and then bound to their very souls. Such plasmic beings, once tamed, may be temporarily bent to the sorcerer's will and forced to exercise their strange, extradimensional geoenergies to bend reality or create fantastical effects.
Reality is composed of a layer of dimensions that are completely interleafed and coextensive. Knowledgeable scholars describe the dimensions as "stacked" on one another, but--strictly speaking--they all occupy the same space. Even the most knowledgeable scholars do not know whether there are infinite or finite dimensions, nor whether the known dimensions would exhaust that number.
Among the educated and dimensionally experienced, there are at least four definitely known dimensions:
- The Otherworld, also known as the Spirit Realm, home to spirits, souls, and the animist echos of everything in the material dimension.
- The Plasmic Dimension, sometimes called the Ethereal Plane, full of extradimensional energy beings and cruel astral predators.
- The Mirror Dimension, where space is folded and compressed.
- The Fairie, a disorienting fey dimension home to powerful eldritch creatures.
Scholars have debated the existence of additional dimensions, ones whose properties are not well understood, and which may not be alternate dimensions at all. Foremost is Hell, the original home of demons. Some diabolists believe that Hell is actually a material place on this plane, while others argue that is a separate dimension. Some theorize that Hell may, in fact, be a sort of cosmic cancer that infects other planes and consumes them, and which may have already twisted infinite worlds.
Disagreements also exist about The Shadow and The Light, which some scholars hypothesize are places of pure creative and destructive energies, respectively. Even if they do exist, no one is known to have returned from either dimension, so there is no extent knowledge or insight into the truth of the matter.
Cults are common across the planet. In general, cults fall into three categories: Demon Cults, Plant Cults, and Reptile Cults (Lizards/Dinosaurs). Some cults are relatively accepted within society, but others practice dark magic, seek to bring about apocalyptic prophesy, unleash demons, or otherwise wreak havoc. Some cults are highly organized and bureaucratic, while others are chaotic and prone to in-fighting. Some cults adhere to strict codes or dogma, while other practice rituals, body-modification, social engineering, terrorism, or the whole other spectrum of human affairs. In the Kingdom of Umiyid, cults are technically prohibited, since the state religion is Emperor Worship. In practice, however, cultic activity--both covert and overt--is common.
Geography and Culture
The Kingdom of Umiyid (Campaign Home Base)
A Turkish/Arabian/North African-inspired desert empire ruled by Muawiya, the Eternal Emperor, who is reputed to have lived more than 1000 years. The capital, also called Umiyid, and is a massive metropolis of more than 1.5 million people. Most of the empire is drifting sand, isolated oasises, or gravel/salt flats. Umiyid is bordered to the east by tall mountains, and to the south by a high, rocky plateau. A few vibrant towns may be found along the main river, the Khabur, which flows west from the mountains to Umiyid (City).
Umiyid City was established where a large river, the Khabur, becomes a large delta and meets the sea. Umiyid City is divided between the fortified High City and the urban sprawl and slums of the Low City. Access to the High City is highly regulated and classist. Inside, the High City is adorned with Islamic architecture, art, gardens, markets, and expansive estates. In the Low City, villas and upscale commercial/political districts give way to sprawling squalor. Slums reach for days past massive ports established throughout the river delta.
In the south, Umiyid's second city, Al Khour, sits in a fertile, irrigated floodplain. In the west is a small city, Khasib, founded near a large oasis. The remaining towns and hamlets are small, distant, isolated, and desperately poor.
In Umiyid, the color of one's clothing denotes social station: gold, then green, red, blue, and tan. Tunics and sashes are traditional garb, and are worn with jewelry (by both men and women) and curved blades. The people of Umiyid are fiercely traditional, and many are strongly attached to their kinship or tribal networks. Honor is an important social concept in Umiyid, though the poor observe it more often in the breech than the act.
The Fire Isles
These rocky, semi-tropical islands, due west of Umiyid, just became accessible due to an unknown event that resulted in major changes in ocean wind patterns. (Previously, a storm wall of fire, lightning, and wind blew vessels away, from which the islands have taken their name.) The islands are scattered with untouched Torgisch ruins and magitech. The natives are highly alien and generally xenophobic towards outsiders.
This large island is three days sail due west from Umiyid. Burkan al-Khafion is the site of an immense Cyclopean Fortress (the campaign's
megadungeon). A shared Joint Expeditionary Camp has been established on the island by the three great powers.
A massive, lush, tropical archipelago stretching all along the north of the continent, and ranging hundreds of miles north from there. The geography is a mixture of Caribbean and South Pacific. The archipelago has began to be colonized by the three major powers (Umiyid, Venoz, and Lyriamos). It is also home to various local, independent power centers, including independent states, pirates, natives, etc.
An old Arzantim fort overlooking a deep bay, now
ruled by a pirate warlord, Oddo Zabatino. Around the bay is a no-man's-land shantytown, home to smugglers, privateers, criminals, anarchists, and exiles. Duskhall hosts a weekly market where most any good can be purchased (except slaves; slavery is outlawed on the island).
An island group continually inhabited for centuries. The Ornats are home to rare cybalt mines, which produce rare mystical elements useful in various magical rituals and processes. The island's nominally independent governemtn is currently dominated by the Pearl Sea Company.
A large island with a caldera lake in the center. Volcanic vents all over the island emit hallucinogenic gases. In addition to the weak colonial government, competing claims to areas of the island are maintained by several mystery cults, minor religions, and diabolists. On an island in the center of the lake is an extensive Cyclopean Facility of unknown purpose, with mostly uncharted lower levels that reach deep in the bowels of the island.
The League of Venoz, beyond the eastern mountains
Venoz is a Venetian-style city state that reigns as the hegemonic head of the nominally consensus-based
League of Venoz. The Venidzi are highly merchantilist, and the League fields the world's greatest navy.
Traditionally, the Venidzi cover their bodies in tattoos that record and display their exploits and experiences. Venidzi men wear baggy trousers and shirts, women wear either dresses or the same clothing as men, and the third gender may wear either, but tends to prefer tunics and wraps.
The major cities of the League of Venoz include:
- Venoz: Center of trade and politics. Ruled by the Trade Council, composed of heads of the major guilds and companies (e.g. the Pearl Seas Company, The Shipbuilders' Guild, The Glassblowers' Union, etc.).
- Pizo: A theocracy, ruled by the Church. A peaceful breadbasket city in a fertile floodplain.
- Arzantim: A major trade city. Ruled by an elected democratic counsel. Home to the Pearl Sea Company, though the headquarters of the company is now in Venoz. A center of bookmaking, ceramics, and the arts. Known for its parks, museums, monuments, opera house, fountains and plazas, wide boulevards, and other public and civic spaces.
- Genola: An industrial city, home to great wealth, but also to many factories, much pollution, and frequent labor unrest. Effectively ruled by the Vehnoni crime family, which has an outpost in Umiyid.
Ancient Lyriamos, along the rocky southern shore
The Elyriki compose a Byzantine-style empire in its twilight, ancient and decadent. The empire is home to intricate Byzantine architecture. The geography is rocky and mountainous, with interspersed mediterranean valleys, a craggy coast, and large coastal islands.
Elyriki of both sexes traditionally dye their skin in pastel shades of blue, mauve, green, or ochre, and they wear ornate clothing and accessories, including jewelry, heavy makeup, and ornate headgear. They are highly observant of ancient religious rites.
The major cities of Lyriamos include:
- Epheso: The capital of Lyriamos. A huge metropolis straddling a spit of land between the ocean and an inland sea. Governed by the Emperor of the Sun, currently Justulion XII, and his Senate of 500 aristocrats.
- Pergamot: A major city and provincial capital, governed by a Praetor. Known for its monumental Lighthouse and the Temple of Biblios, a sprawling complex of libraries that houses the largest collection of ancient scrolls and manuscripts in the ancient world.
- Thobon: A large metropolis built on pilings and terraces along and into a huge sea cliff. A provincial capital, governed by a Praetor. The seat of the Imperial Elyriki Navy.
- Crastor: A major city and provincial capital, governed by a Praetor. Built on a high, rocky plateau. Separated into two parts: the Overcity, composed of an expansive cluster of tall towers built on top of the plateau, and the Undercity, composed of a warren of complexes, markets, and dwellings built into the walls of the deep, narrow ravines that slice through the plateau. The various towers in the Overcity and the snaking complexes along the ravines in the Undercity are connected by flying bridges at different elevations. One of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the known world.
Quenzhong, in the distant southwest of the continent
Very, very far beyond the high mountain plateaus and snowy steppes lies is the extensive realm of Quenzhong, a central Asian-inspired culture (e.g. Khazak, Mongolian, Chinese). Quenzhong is an empire home to strict social castes and governed by a dynastic bureaucratic state. The Quenzhongese are skilled horsemen and savvy merchants. The empire is a major producer of drugs and silk, and—despite its distance—does engage in sporadic direct trade via old trade routes through Lyriamo, though most trade is substantially indirect, via a water route plied by adventuresome Quenzhongese and Venidzi captains.
In the distant past, the continent was formerly settled by the Torgisch World-Empire (a race of giant half-elemental troll-men, 8-10 ft tall, highly biologically attuned to the seasons). Now all that remains of the ancient empire are ruins and stories, warped by time. Most Torgisch sites on the continent were long ago looted or destroyed. Due to the gigantic scale of their remaining architecture and artifacts, the Torgisch structures are often called
Cyclopean by common folk. Little else is known definitively about the ancient people; their writing remains untranslated (even with magical assistance), and their technology and culture are unfathomable.