This setting contains one item inspired by each of the books I read. It
will be updated regularly, as I gather more material from a variety of
roleplaying books. It is free to use, free to alter, and free to share.
Just a little in-joke between fellow hobbyists. Comment if you actually
use it, though. I'd be very interested in knowing how that plays out.
World of UKSS
General Facts About
is no firm line between magic and technology on the world of Ukss.
Engineers use spells to create more and more intricate inventions,
using enchanted materials to create components with impossible
properties. And sorcerers use technological devices to explore deeper
and deeper into the mysteries of the Magic World.
The world of
Ukss is in the middle of an industrial revolution, with new
techniques of mass-production and automation emerging every year.
Large states have railways, select installations have electric
lighting, and even the poorest armies wield rifles. The most advanced
nations have begun experimenting with airplanes and even the most
isolated regions will import machine-woven clothes and machine-forged
limitation of Ukss' technology is that they have not yet discovered
the principle of magnetic induction. Machines with magnetic
components must use rare and expensive natural magnets, and any that
require electricity must rely on mercury batteries (mercury is a
common byproduct of and catalyst for alchemical processes and there
is a mature infrastructure for mining it in almost every nation on
Ukss), with the most essential applications indulging in the expense
of enchanting them to perpetually recharge.
The reason for
the uncertainty surrounding magnetism lies in the complex
relationship it has with antimagic. Any relatively pure iron, nickel,
or cobalt object that is brought into an antimagic field will rapidly
magnetize. What's more, they will carry their own weak antimagic
fields with them for as long as they remain magnetized. However, it
is not the case that all magnetic fields are antimagic. A natural
magnet made by any means other than being brought into an antimagic
field will have the same reaction to magic as any other similar
Because of the unimaginable wealth and power that would
surely come to the first person to unlock the secret of antimagic,
almost all scientific research done with magnets focuses on their
Vehicles and factories in Ukss are powered
by internal combustion engines that use an alchemically-stabilized
solution of acetylene and acetone known as sunbrew. Sunbrew burns
cooler than acetylene, but can be used as a fuel in liquid form and
doesn't need to be kept pressurized. Petroleum is not unknown, but is
rare enough that it is more economical to use alchemy to make sunbrew
from limestone and various forms of biological waste (sadly, this
produces a magically active byproduct that is significantly more
toxic, but the capitalists of Ukss are happy to let other people deal
with that externality).
adept in Ukss is more storied than Lilith. Though she lived before
humanity tamed magic wands and before the invention of all but the
most basic of rituals, she is said to have bargained with the gods
for a hundred types of wild magic. She was a mentor to heroes
(especially women) and a foil to authority (especially kings,
fathers, and overbearing husbands). Civilizations on all three
continents have stories of Lilith introducing them to some vital
craft (Sheyaugh says she taught them the cultivation of millet, Mu
that she tamed the first horse, and The Kingdom of Bliss credits her
with the soul-reading ritual), though how many of these stories are
true is impossible to say. It's likely that for every accomplishment
falsely attributed to her, there are two more where her contributions
have been forgotten.
Magic has confirmed that Lilith was a
real person who lived approximately 1000 years before the adoption of
the written word, but attempts to trace her origin or identify her
final resting place have been futile. Mystery cults that worship
Lilith believe she bodily entered the Magic World and is even now
exploring its farthest reaches for new discoveries to share with her
Lilith is sometimes known as "the Mother of
Demons," though this is a title that mostly promulgates in the
more inflexibly patriarchal cultures. Some say that the sobriquet is
literal, and that her early dealings with the gods culminated in a
physical consummation. Like much surrounding the demon courts, the
truth is murky, but it is undeniable that most demons revere Lilith,
and all but the most powerful are obligated to respect an oath made
in her name (though woe-betide any who breaks such an oath, whether
made to a demon or not, for the Demon Princes claim plenipotentiary
jurisdiction over any such oath-breakers.)
silver coins bearing the likeness of the Dark Mother are the official
currency of the Demon Realm. Pegged to the value of one oathbreaker's
soul, Lilith Coins are highly unstable and subject to speculative
bubbles, which is just the way the Demon Princes like it – chaos
among the ranks is believed to be good preparation for dealing with
the material world.
In the hands of
a mortal, Lilith Coins ooze blood. Not enough to pool or drip, but
just enough to stain hands or purses or pockets (vampires can,
theoretically, nourish themselves on this blood, but it takes a long
time, and there are . . . side effects). Mortals who handle Lilith
Coins frequently will eventually find their skin permanently stained,
forever marking them as one who does business with the infernal
respectable market will deal in Lilith Coins, but they do have their
uses. Foremost, demons accept them in lieu of favors, allowing
sorcerers a more reliable way of securing service from summoned
demons. Second, they can secure a promise – slip a Lilith Coin in
among the regular coins while paying for goods or services and if the
goods are substandard or the services unperformed, then demons will
come and drag the vendor to the infernal realm, where they themselves
will become worth exactly one Lilith Coin.
are extraordinarily easy to enchant with illusion magic – a quick
spell can make Lilith Coins look and feel exactly like gold or silver
in any denomination, for long enough to go through several
transactions and thoroughly obscure their initial origins. Enchanted
Lilith Coins leave behind only trace amounts of blood, unless held by
someone who has recently made a deal with a demon. Unfortunately,
disguised coins cannot bind promises.
The House of Helekar
those that reside in its walls, the House of Helekar is a temple.
They serve the Grand Harvester of Souls with utmost devotion, and if
he says there is a primordial power that guides their hands, they
aren't inclined to question him.
Those on the outside have a
different view. Helekar is a place of atrocities, a haven for
murderers, and a lure to the most predatory of the Yokai. Children go
missing near the House and the ghosts of its victims lay bound in its
There is not a government on Ukss that would not gladly
destroy the House of Helekar. Unfortunately, it moves. Sorceries
bound deep into its foundations allow it to disappear with nothing
more than a word from the Grand Harvester. It may then reappear on a
bare patch of earth anywhere on Ukss. Usually, it flits between one
distant and unmonitored wilderness and another, but its gnarled
minarets and permanently rime-shrouded frescoes have been seen even
in major cities - always for just long enough for a few unwary souls
to disappear forever.
call him "Mouse," but he is really an Awakened Rat. And he
is Ukss' most prolific serial killer. Small of stature, even for a
rat, Mouse looks cute from a distance. He uses this cuteness to draw
in his victims, but it is only too late that they see the eyes - the
murderous, hateful eyes that always give him away.
now only in ruins, the villages, temples, and battlefields
(especially the battlefields) of the Bird Civilization speak of a
time when humanity was not Ukss' dominant species. Archaeologists
have found traces on both Atalanta and Hyborea, but they suspect that
there are sites on Mu that are simply waiting for a calmer political
situation to be discovered.
Relatively little is known
about the Bird people. They were expert masons and had rudimentary
iron working, but the artifacts that survived are tools and weapons,
with no verifiable wands or charms, suggesting that they did not know
how to wield magic. Some theorize they practiced alchemy, but the
evidence is limited to some ambiguous pottery at a single site . . .
and the fact that the remains of the Bird people themselves almost
always show multiple wounds, suffered as adults and healed over
While other aspects of the Bird Civilization culture may
remain in doubt, they were indisputably a violent and passionate
people. There are several surviving fossils that preserve two
of these seven-foot-tall ostrich-like creatures in the immediate
aftermath of a vicious combat that killed both within the space of
minutes. Mass graves are likewise common. And no one has yet summoned
one of their ghosts and escaped unscathed.
reasons unknown, a rat will grow to giagantic size (for a rat - about
2-3 feet tall), develop articulate fingers, and gain the power of
speech. These mutations invariably breed true, and when these
Awakened Rats find each other, they form tight-knit bands that stay
together generation after generation.
most other Yokai, Awakened Rats do not separate themselves from human
society. Instead, they live at its fringes, finding work as
mercenaries, thieves, and, occasionally, heroes. Rat culture is very
keen on the idea of the rogue adventurer, and many Awakened Rats seem
like they belong to an older, more chivalrous age.
pests from the world of magic, Dream Beetles enter this reality
through the minds of potential magicians who have not yet found a
wand to channel their budding magical energies. They rarely stay
confined there for long, though, spreading from mind to mind like a
Dream Beetles are not a deadly threat, but they are
highly disruptive. They take images from sleepers' dreams and extrude
them into the real world to create repulsive nests of rapidly
decaying dream-matter. These can cause quite a shock to those not
used to the phenomenon, seeing, for example, a hive that appears to
be made of the rotting corpses of the infested's friends and family,
but which are merely the dream bodies of such people, absent their
real-life animating spirit.
the strangest of Ukss' Yokai, the Iotans are half-spiritual,
half-physical humanoids that are so small they are invisible to the
naked eye. They have the curious property of being roughly as
intelligent as their host organism. Mostly they hibernate in the
roots of various plants, but sometimes those plants are eaten by an
animal and the Iotans become active, inducing gastrointestinal
distress as they graze on their host's beneficial intestinal flora.
This can become a serious problem for such animals, as the Iotans are
usually smart enough to outwit the animal's immune system. Often,
they'll reach a natural equilibrium eventually, but weakened animals
have been known to die of an Iotan infection.
then, sometimes, an infected plant or animal is eaten by a human or
sufficiently animal-like yokai (goblin body chemistry is too
different, and species like the kitsune are half-spiritual
themselves, but talking horses, awakened rats, and mole people are
biological enough to act as hosts), and the Iotans gain self
This is almost always a disaster for both Iotans
and host. With typical human adaptability, they quickly spread to
every part of the host's body, learning to use almost every mineral
and protein for some craft or magical application. The infected
quickly becomes covered in boils, as the Iotans build grand
subcutaneous cities, and their bones collapse from the inside out, as
the Iotans mine ever-deeper for calcium compounds.
the damage done by Iotans is nothing more than a naive consumption of
their environment's natural resources, perpetrated without any
knowledge that their home is a living organism. However, in
especially hardy hosts, the Iotans may survive long enough to start
scientifically exploring the nature of their world. These great Iotan
civilizations will sometimes master grand ceremonial sorcery that
they can use to usurp control over the host's body. As they come to
realize the fragility of their world, their main goal becomes
spreading the infection to some other intelligent host, usually by
tricking the victim into consuming a portion of the host's flesh.
is no documented case of an Iotan civilization reaching sustainable
equilibrium with its human host. Sometimes, the host receives medical
treatment in time to wipe out the Iotans, and sometimes the Iotans
successfully flee into a new body, but in almost every case, the
Iotans consume and consume and consume until the host dies, their
civilization collapses, and the few survivors revert to their
unintelligent hibernating forms, infecting the roots of the plants
that cover their world's grave.
sages believe this to be a warning to the human race, but they're
largely dismissed as overly pessimistic.
of Ukss have a rudimentary understanding of magnetism. They know it
is the operating principle behind the compass and that it has some
relationship to the production of electricity. But they still don't
know where it comes from or how to create it directly. Instead, they
make magnets by bringing iron to the Hungry Stones.
Stones are natural magnets of incredible size, capable of pulling an
armored man off his feet at 30 paces. There are about 50 known Hungry
Stones, but more are being discovered all the time. The best theory
that scholars have is that they were ammunition in a weapon used by
the gods to defeat some invading creature of magic. Evidence for this
hypothesis is scarce, but it is undeniable that Hungry Stones are
found mostly in magic-dead areas. Anyone who could unlock this
mystery would have a weapon that governments would pay dearly for.
ancient megaliths appear all around the world, usually in the shadow
of volcanoes. Initially taken as mere monuments, it is now theorized
that they are ancient magical artifacts, created to protect the
surrounding areas from earthquakes and lava flows. All that is known
is that areas which have lost their Anchors will usually succumb to
natural disasters within a few decades.
Earth Anchors appear in areas that otherwise appear calm and stable.
Whether they suppressed volcanic activity in the past or were merely
built later, in imitation of the more functional monuments, is
unique creature has a hundred names among the people of Ukss, though
those who study it most just call it "The Forester." It is
a giant slug, at least 60 feet long, that is capable of hardening its
slimy skin to become as tough as the strongest steel armor. It is
drawn to places of devastation and ecological collapse, where it will
crawl in complex spiral patterns, a "dance" with meaning
known only to itself.
Something about the dance speaks to the
memory of plants in the soil, and within a season, everywhere its
trail of slime remained undisturbed will sprout new growth to replace
the old. Scientists have studied the slime itself and found it to be
a remarkable fertilizer, but not inherently magical. The ritual of
restoration is the slug's and the slug's alone.
Book of Tales
time to time, a lonely soul in Ukss will find a strange book among
their possessions. They won't remember how they came to possess it,
but it will seem familiar, like something they owned in childhood (or
if they themselves are children or otherwise too poor to have ever
owned a book - then as something they've dreamed of one day
Regardless of the form it takes, The Book of Tales
calls to its chosen. Even the most illiterate of them will feel drawn
towards reading the book, and after just one or two pages, they'll be
hooked. The main character will be immensely relatable, like the sort
of strong, resilient, and principled person they wish they could
As the readers get deeper into the story, they'll find it
takes on a curious applicability. The main character's trials and
tribulations are exaggerated, allegorical versions of the problems
they face in real life. And if the reader emulates the main
character, borrowing their unconventional strategies to overcome
challenges with courage and integrity, then things will generally
The Book of Tales doesn't do anything as blunt and
direct as prophecy, but in its pages, lost people discover a way to
become found. It never fails to change a reader's life for the
better, and those who best absorb its wisdom have a habit of becoming
rifles and pistols are the preferred weapons of Ukss' great
militaries, the world's most powerful warriors still prefer to use
the sword. Passing down ancient adept techniques, these masters
combine magical skill and martial prowess into deadly fighting
School of the Gunblade
most modern of the sword schools, it finds favor in semi-modern
nations like Capet and the Kingdom of Bliss. Gunblade adepts wield
swords with pistols built into the hilt. These pistols are integrated
into many of the style's katas and can be used to add power to a
thrust or to punish a careless parry. Naturally, they can also be
used to attack enemies at a distance, but the short, unrifled barrel
on a typical gunblade makes this a desperation move at
Gunblade masters can weave strikes and shots into a
complex ballet of carnage and are renowned for their ability to
handle multiple opponents at once. A common quip is that half of all
gunblade training is spent on learning to manipulate the forces of
luck, and while that's not quite true, the school's advanced
awareness techniques do lend its practitioners an air of the
School of the Chain-sword
brutal, uncompromising style, it originated in Laconia, but soon
spread to a number of widely-scattered academies that envied its
unparalleled might. Chain-swords require utmost discipline to master,
as their spinning, toothed blades can pose as much threat to a
careless wielder as they do to the enemy.
For those who master
the chain-sword, however, the style offers the promise of overcoming
any single foe, no matter how mighty. There is little an enchanted
chain-sword can't cut through, and against the few creatures capable
of withstanding its might, the adept's unnaturally powerful arms and
highly focused fury become powerful weapons in their own right.
School of the Fractal Sword
the barrens of Luna's northern hemisphere, far from places any human
finds fit to settle, there grows a peculiar species. Half crystal and
half plant, these strange formations take the shape of large,
serrated crescents, ranging in size from a dagger to an office
building. Close examination of the teeth of the crescents reveal that
each one is a smaller copy of the whole (and the teeth on those
copies are themselves copies of the entire structure, and so on, down
as small as anyone has cared to look).
A crescent of the
appropriate size can be harvested from its parent growth, fitted with
a hilt, and used as a high-quality sword. These blades have the
strength of fine steel and the weight of pumice stone. Masters can
wield them with devastating efficacy, creating lingering wounds that
are unnaturally slow to heal. Fractal Adepts are also highly skilled
at creating layered defenses that leave their enemies baffled and
Any tooth of a fractal sword may be broken off and
replanted in its native Lunar soil. Given enough time, it will
eventually grow into a duplicate sword. Students of the school imbue
this process with sacred meaning and when it is time for an
apprentice to leave the master's service, their first blade will have
been grown from a shard of their teacher's sword.
School of the Macuahuitl
many hoped this terrifying art would have passed away in the wake of
the Prism Wars, it nonetheless survives in a few of Mu's more
isolated kaers. Given the dangers of the Spectrum Lands, it is likely
to thrive in the coming years.
The Macuahuitl was old Mu's
signature ceremonial weapon, a dense wooden club with razor-sharp
obsidian blades attached to the edges. In years gone by, large
quarries on the slopes of the Helltooth mountains would produce tons
of high-quality obsidian that would subsequently be treated with
alchemy to become as shatter resistant as steel (and not
coincidentally keep its impossibly sharp edge for nearly a hundred
times as long). At the peak of the Republic, nearly every officer in
the military carried one, even if the magical art was confined purely
to elite units and civilian experts.
Macuahuitl magic is
versatile in its ferocity. Masters have been known to decapitate
horses with a single stroke, but the style itself is most feared for
its nonlethal techniques. A disciplined practitioner can bring a
victim low with dozens of shallow cuts and dazzle any potential
rescuers with flying ribbons of blood. They are also skilled at using
the wooden core of the weapon for powerful stunning blows.
School of the Flux Blade
stone is a rare material that occurs only when an extruded labyrinth
intersects a dense deposit of bauxite. The aluminum in the bauxite
becomes corrupted with magical energies and is thereafter susceptible
to being influenced by human thought. The resulting material has many
applications, though the oldest and most widespread is the flux
on a flux blade and you can reshape it into any weapon you can
imagine. Most use this power to make an ideal version of a specific
weapon they've already mastered, but some martial artists choose to
explore the flux blade's versatility and attempt to use its
shapeshifting to gain an advantage on the battlefield.
is very difficult. Not only must the wielder be familiar with a wide
variety of fighting styles, they must also be able to shift their
entire focus and concentration onto the blade at a moment's notice.
Those who overestimate their own abilities will quickly find
themselves imperiled by these lapses in attention. With the proper
mental training, however, the flux blade becomes an incredibly deadly
weapon, able to extend or contract, bend or stiffen, become lighter
or heavier, all as the situation demands. Few defenses are able to
stand against it, and few attackers are able to cope with its
unpredictable threat range.
Village" is a collective term for the hidden settlements of
lesser spirits and near-human monsters. The classic Yokai Village is
a refuge for any supernatural creature strange enough to to be
shunned by human society and smart enough to honor the Village truce.
These Villages usually reside in "cursed" wilderness, where
humans fear to tread, lest they get hopelessly lost . . . or worse.
It's unclear whether these curses are caused by the Yokai enforcing
their borders or if the Yokai simply seek out the most dangerous
lands in which to hide. Either way, a mixed Yokai Village will
welcome any of the Old Peoples who need to flee the encroaching hand
Not all Yokai Villages are so diverse, however.
Some contain only a single species. They still tend to be isolated
and well-protected by secrecy, but any unfamiliar monster that
wandered through will be treated with suspicion, at best.
villages are hidden, but that doesn't mean they are all isolated.
Some Yokai maintain a tentative contact with the outside world,
staging elaborate traveling markets that bring a little of the wonder
of the supernatural to the towns and cities they visit.
Markets do not advertise, but they are not difficult to find for the
determined seeker. Most people don't bother, because the wares for
sale mostly appeal to the appetites of the Yokai - a Giant Lynx might
find a variety of exotic rats at the concessions stand. A Vampire
might find a mirror enchanted to show their true reflection. A
Kitsune might find an incense that smells exactly like fox piss, for
the rare times she is feeling homesick.
Nonetheless, humans do
sometimes find the Goblin Markets, whether they are sorcerers looking
for rare components, adventurers looking for material to lay or break
a curse, or simply drunkards and fools, stumbling in by accident. Few
leave entirely unsatisfied, but rumor has it that some never leave at
Most Goblin Markets are not directly owned or
operated by the goblins themselves. Goblin craft is simply the
most attractive lure for human visitors, so that is what humans call
a distance, goblins appear to resemble humanity. They have the same
basic body plan - two arms, two legs, an upright posture and hairless
skin. Yet there are certain crucial differences. They are smaller
than humans, rarely exceeding four feet in height, with three to
three and a half feet being more common. Their skin is also not quite
human, possessing a mineral luster even in its most human-like
shades of earthen-brown (slate grey, jade green, and sapphire are
more common, though). Their extremities have exaggerated proportions,
with long, clever fingers at the end of their spindly arms and big,
floppy feet at their dramatically bowed legs. Their eyes, ears, and
noses are proportionately larger than a human's, and their senses are
sharper as a result.
excel at crafts, especially working in metal or gems or with complex
mechanisms. There are very few goblin magicians, but they have a
special gift for weaving magic directly into the items they create,
sometimes without consciously realizing it.
are instinctual nesters, and are uncomfortable living above ground or
in nomadic groups. Goblin homes are usually well-fortified and far
enough underground that the surface's light and noise cannot
have an undeserved reputation for avarice. Rather, because they tend
to bond very strongly to particular fixed homes, they are very
vulnerable to anxieties about scarcity. Many goblins become
compulsive hoarders, but this is an illness analogous to depression
in humans, and is usually brought on by the same sort of
Goblins hold themselves apart from other Goblin peoples. They live
much farther underground than their kin, often hundreds or thousands
of feet below the surface in cavernous cities that have been
meticulously carved over the centuries.
to a fault, Deep Goblins eschew most forms of mechanical and
electrical technology, instead relying on their own, long-cultivated
magical crafts. Though they use only the traditional arts of
stone-cutting, blacksmithing, and carpentry, their tools and weapons
are coveted by the wealthy and powerful on Ukss's surface. Any
goblin-forged blade will cut effortlessly through armor. An axe made
by a Deep Goblin will cleave an engine block in half.
Deep Goblins pride themselves on being fierce warriors who will never
back down from defending their own. They are slow to anger, but their
stubbornness has drawn out many conflicts far longer than the surface
goblins think wise.
culture of the Deep Goblins often strikes outsiders as bleak and
depressing. It is shameful for a Deep Goblin to publicly show emotion
or to flaunt their wealth in any way. Thus they dress in practical
browns and greys and adopt a gruff, stoic demeanor. Inside the home
is different. A Deep Goblin's lair is almost always decorated with
exquisite craft that catches the light of the hearth and echoes the
sounds of the family's laughter.
in Ukss are no mere bloodsuckers. They are the harbingers of the end
of the world. The vampires themselves are either unclear or
deliberately evasive about their initial origins, but they know one
thing for certain - they are the only thing that can survive the
coming apocalypse. Some vampires look upon the apocalypse with horror
and seek to delay it. Others look upon it with glee and seek to
hasten it. One thing both factions agree upon is that they will be in
no danger of running out of blood.
Most of the Tremere
vampires were magicians and sorcerers in life, and retain those
abilities even in death. Though only the most corrupt and
death-tainted wands will function for the undead, the Clan has
learned to substitute the mystical energies of their blood. As a
result, they are less physically potent than other vampires, but make
up for it in versatility and precision.
Tremere is more hierarchical than other vampire families, organizing
itself as a perverted mystery cult where deeper circles of initiation
grant access to ever more potent mystical secrets.
Tremere is despised by most other vampire families because they tend
to operate semi-openly, making deals with corrupt civic officials for
sanctuary in exchange for providing their mystical services to the
upper class. A city inhabited by Tremere vampires is extremely
hostile to other vampires, with hunters frequently tipped off when
the trespassers arrive.
Tremere oppose the coming apocalypse and will preemptively attack
rival vampires rather than risk their doomsday cults taking
vampires are ambivalent about the coming apocalypse. They identify
with one faction or the other and pursue its goals in a desultory
sort of way, but mostly they just exist night to night, with little
thought to the future.
so the Morbus. They have fully embraced the end of the world. They
work to disrupt human civilization and weaken the guardians of order.
Their weapon of choice is indiscriminate pestilence, stored in their
immortal bodies and spread through their infectious bites.
place visited by the Morbus escapes disaster for long. The Morbus
don't just spread a single disease. As immortal blood-sucking
creatures who feed exclusively off of sick and dying humans, they
tend to collect a wide variety of infections over the years. The
older Morbus will host a greatest-hits selection of all of history's
most terrifying plagues.
mortals knew of their existence, the Morbus would be the most hunted
vampires in existence. Unfortunately, few who come into contact with
them survive long enough to spread the word.
Less a faction of vampires than a
title, an Inconnu is an elder vampire who has shunned the trappings
of family and temporal power and to focus entirely on exploring the
vampiric condition. For the most part, "Inconnu" is a
past-tense sort of title, something you say about a vampire who has
disappeared, but who you dare not proclaim as dead.
though, an Inconnu vampire will reemerge, wielding strange powers and
espousing strange philosophies. It is clear that they learned
something in their
extended absence, but whether such knowledge delays the apocalypse or
hastens its arrival is something beyond the comprehension of lesser
on Ukss comes in three types - wand magic, ritual magic, and wild
magic. Wand magic is faster, flashier, and more adaptable - able to
be used in seconds, rather than the hours or days required for
serious magical rituals - but it requires the use of a special
magical item of incredible power.
are a few thousand magic wands currently on Ukss, but new ones are
rare. Historically, they were made only about once per century, by
none but the greatest practitioners of the mystic arts. In recent
years, the pace has picked up, as scholars come to understand the
natural laws that govern magic. Now, the world will see a new wand
once every 2-3 years.
is a misconception among laymen that wands create or power spells.
Rather, they act as a bridge between the magician's thoughts and the
magical realm. Each wand is attuned to a rather narrow range of
elemental and/or spiritual energies and thus is limited to creating
spells in line with the wand. A Wand of Fire, for example, can shoot
sparks or stoke bonfires, but could not summon frost or heal
work through a combination of gestures and focused visualization.
Some magicians use chants, poems, or keywords as part of their
spells, but these are purely aids to concentration. Wand magic does
not require such measures.
wands are patterned after one of the Great Wands, used by the
Creators to make the world. Great wands have a higher ceiling for
mastery than their more common imitators, but reaching those heights
requires just as much study and learning as mastering a lesser wand.
A magician who has not yet reached the limits of their current wand
would gain no extra benefit from wielding a Great Wand (aside,
perhaps, from prestige).
magic, by contrast, is broader, subtler, and farther reaching. It can
have long-lasting effects and may call upon multiple energy types at
once. Each ritual is unique and most require exotic ingredients and
elaborate ceremonies to perform. Skill in rituals does not grant one
the ability to wield a wand, nor vice versa, but the two disciplines
are often taught together for the sake of convenience.
magic is controversial as a category. It is not entirely arbitrary.
It describes a real phenomenon - creatures and people of Ukss who
have some extraordinary magical ability that they can just
magic requires neither wand, nor ritual behavior, nor any sort of
external aid. To those who possess it, wild magic is as natural as
moving their limbs.
controversy comes from the fact that wild magic is incredibly
diverse, and not necessarily innate.
Some forms, like the clock magic of the Seekers of the Hour can be
studied and learned. Those who come by their wild magic through
practice are called adepts,
whereas those who are born with their magic are called prodigies,
but many dispute that there should be categories at all.
Tremere have learned to tame the wild magic innate to vampires,
making it operate more like wand magic. This renders it vulnerable to
the same sorts of detection, warding, and disruption, but since their
wands are their own bodies (well, technically, the blood inside their
bodies), they will often have highly personalized and versatile skill
who have reason to fear magic (and to be fair, that's most anybody)
favor cats as pets. They can see partially into the magical realm and
will notice rituals as they are being cast and the tell-tale aura
that surrounds an experienced wand magician at all times. Wild magic
is hit or miss. Certainly, no cat will tolerate the presence of a
vampire, but they tend to be completely indifferent to the presence
considered the most elegant of the travel rituals, the caster folds a
piece of special silk-threaded paper into an elaborate origami boat.
Then, speaking a specially composed poem about their hopes for
reaching a particular destination, they place the boat into the
water, where it grows to full size. As soon as the caster steps
aboard, the Origami Vessel will start sailing itself to the
destination named in the poem, traveling day and night at a constant
speed and ignoring prevailing wind conditions. When the caster steps
off the boat, it disintegrates into a cloud of swirling confetti,
announcing to all that a sorcerer of considerable power has
are some on Ukss with an urgent need for power. Not for its own sake,
and not for themselves, but to accomplish some goal or defend some
principle that will live on long after their death. The boldest and
most desperate of those seek out The Tainted Bargain, offering their
lives to a creature of the magic realm in exchange for securing a
powerful champion for their most cherished ideals.
the ritual is complete, the summoned creature takes possession of the
caster's body. This is a one-way trip. For as long as the body's
physical integrity endures, it will belong to the entity. In
exchange, the entity is afflicted with a compulsion to work towards
whatever goal the caster offered - whether as concrete as "rescue
this particular prisoner from captivity" or as abstract as "work
towards equality for all". The entity does not gain control
until it agrees to these terms, and it has a last opportunity to back
out, causing the ritual to fail, but generally having a physical body
and acting in the material world is seen as desirable enough that
nearly any offer is going to find an interested taker.
powerful entities tend to be more discerning, but sometimes even they
rush into ill-conceived deals that transgress against their morals
and preferences. Nonetheless, once the bargain is made, it is
iron-clad. For all but the most knowledgeable entities, the death of
a body means they die along with it, so there are very few loopholes
for a trapped and tormented creature (though the nature of the
Bargain itself ensures that those who die while sincerely attempting
to fulfill their end will usually be able to return to the Magic
authorities are constantly trying to suppress knowledge of The
Tainted Bargain, but the ritual is relatively simple to perform and
widespread in the Magic World. Whenever a creature does break
through, it usually makes it a priority to spread the knowledge far
and wide. Such a service is worth many favors among the spirit
variant of the Tainted Bargain exists that allows a sorcerer to bind
a spirit into an inanimate object. Most spiritual beings find the
very idea beneath their dignity, but Gafflings, the Magic World's
equivalent of semi-intelligent animals (they're usually about as
smart as a clever dog or ape) will jump at the
do not have especially potent magic, but they are eager to please and
take great pride in finely crafted or well-loved vessels. If they are
treated well, they come to view the object as a nest or lair, and
will diligently see to its maintenance and upkeep. A
Gaffling-inhabited sword never rusts or becomes dull. Gaffling
clothes will subtly alter their shape to better fit their owner. In
time, Gafflings can even learn to master complex technology, allowing
for guns that never need reloading or engines that run without
Gaffling who inhabits a cherished item for a century or more begins
to evolve human-level intelligence. Their innate magic grows apace
and a hundred-year-old Gaffling can potentially bring their object to
life, protect it from fires, floods or malicious destruction, or make
it profoundly more effective than a mundane item (allowing hammers to
shatter stone, shoes to walk on water, etc).
the Primordial Flesh
exploring the limits of transmutation rituals, scholars at the
University of TBD made a stunning discovery - the stones of Ukss were
not created as stones, but as something
Something . . . fleshy.
is still unclear at this time, whether the earth was transmuted from
the massive body of a single being or the mingled bodies of an
unimaginable charnel-pile. Different types of stone will revert to
different types of . . . meat, but there is no way currently known to
determine if these meats come from different donors or from different
organs of the same donor or from a once-uniform primordial
flesh-stone subjected to aeons of geological alchemy.
is known is that consuming the flesh produced this way is . . .
unwise. It will nourish a body, but it will also change it. It is as
yet a mystery what the endpoint of this process might be, as the
unfortunates subjected to this experiment have all been mercifully
dispatched, but no one who knows of this lore thinks it leads
more dedicated vampire scholars know the nature of the earth from
another source - their ancient apocalyptic prophecies, which predict
that an eternal vampire kingdom will thrive when the primordial's
flesh reverts and fills the seas with blood.
are safe, if expensive ways to magically extend human life – with
rare alchemical substances, mined from the clouds of Aetheria. And
there are safe, if corrupt ways to extend life – with necromancy
and demon pacts. And then there is the cheap, reckless way to live
forever – through the Theft of Futures ritual.
As the victim is bound in a
ritual circle, the sorcerer draws away their years, in long streamers
from their eyes and mouth and fingertips. They then begin to age, a
year every few seconds. The sorcerer does not directly get younger,
but begins to live those years in place of their own. Only when the
years run out will they resume aging.
This is phenomenally unwise.
The sorcerer has stolen a future and such a thing is not merely extra
time. It is also the victim's destiny and potential and the thousand
paths they didn't take. The longer the sorcerer lives in those
unnatural years, the more their own decisions diverge from those of
their victim, and the more the energy of this dissonance bleeds into
the sorcerer's body. For the first victim, this transformation is
usually pretty subtle – a cast of the eyes, the shape of the
cheeks, characteristic postures and mannerisms. But more victims add
more complexity and draw the sorcerer further and further away from
their own natural destiny. After a century, they develop animal
features. After five centuries, strange limbs and organs never seen
in nature. These transformations can grant terrible powers, but the
sorcerer is no longer remotely human.
Rod of Teeth
among the most infamous of recently-created wands, the Rod of Teeth
is abnormally thick for a wand, almost like a small club or baton. It
needs the extra girth because it is studded with human teeth of every
type - molars, bicuspids, incisors - young and old, from at least a
half-dozen different "donors."
Rod of Teeth can channel the magic of identity. With it, a magician
can steal the traits that make a person unique, removing physical
imperfections, stealing memories, erasing names from the skein of
history. Once removed, these traits can be bestowed upon others, cast
into oblivion, or manifested as half-mad wraiths with a hatred for
Wand of Dreams
Great Wands are always a little perilous for mortal magicians to
wield. Not because they are cursed or trapped, but because the minds
of the Creators moved in spirals. Coming at their powers in a
straight line can lead you to places you never meant to go.
is unclear what the original purpose of the Wand of Dreams may have
been. Every magician who has ever wielded it has disappeared under
mysterious circumstances. Yet people are still drawn to its power,
for many of its wielders created wonders.
Wand of Dreams connects a magician directly to the portion of the
magical world that corresponds to their own subconscious mind,
allowing them to manifest illusions that are, to them, completely
real. More disturbingly, they may edit real things out of their
personal reality. These things still exist, but cannot affect the
wielder in any way.
onlookers, wielders of the Wand of Dreams look half-magic and
half-mad. They will undeniably float through the air while claiming
to climb a staircase only they can see or touch. They will act
completely nonchalant as an enemy's blows harmlessly glance off them.
Everything seems to go their way . . . until the day that it doesn't
and they disappear into their own solipsistic pseudo-reality.
Wand of Shelters
eccentric wand targets and manipulates personal domiciles. It can
raise a cottage from the ground, add or subtract rooms from a house,
change the facade of a tenement building or otherwise enact any
conceivable architectural change. Though it affects everything from
shacks to palaces, it works only on places where people actually
live. How and why it does this is a frustrating mystery for serious
scholars of magic.
created or altered with the Wand of Shelters can later be repurposed
for other functions, but the Wand will not work if the magician does
not use it with the sincere intent to create a home. It also won't
work if the magician is deceived about the purpose of the building by
an employer or other proxy (though it will
work if the person telling the magician about the project has
themselves been deceived by some other
patron, which scholars agree is just plain weird).
Wand of Shelters can also create, destroy, or alter items within
a home, provided they serve a domestic, decorative, or architectural
purpose. It can add new gaslights or toilets, clean carpets, place
dishes back into a cabinet or even cook a meal. It could move a
piano, but it could not tune it. Nor could it do things like stock an
alchemical laboratory or repair a bicycle, just because they happened
to be in a home.
Wand of Shelters can
harness the massive energies necessary to turn an asteroid into a
cylindrical homestead, but it really must be intended as a new home
for some intelligent creature.
Shattered Wand of Love
Great Wand of Love has abetted many terrible deeds over the years,
but in the hands of a wise and gentle wielder, it has also healed
wounds and enriched lives. Its final owner was one of the good ones,
the magician Poppy, who sought only to allow people to discover
themselves through romantic love.
for Poppy, she had enemies. She wouldn't have thought of them as
such, but neither did she worry over much about facilitating
relationships between humans and yokai, princes and peasants, or
young men and their enemies' sons. Eventually, a cabal of
sour-hearted schemers took revenge for their thwarted ambitions and
ended her life. In the process, they shattered the Wand of Love.
because Poppy was a caring soul, who held no hatred, even for her
murderers, the destruction of a Great Wand did not lead to
cataclysm. Instead, her spirit became a bridge between the
shards of the Wand, keeping it together metaphysically, even as it
scattered. Now, when someone finds a piece of the Wand of Love (an
exquisite gem that most are loathe to part with), the threads of
destiny stir to ensure that their ideal romantic match finds a
neighboring piece. Events will then conspire to bring the two
potential lovers together, and when they discover that their gems fit
perfectly together, that is usually enough to smooth the
introductions. From there, natural chemistry takes care of the
the Wand of Love finally reassembles itself, Poppy's soul will be
released to find its own ultimate reward, but it's likely that some
part of her will linger on, and the reborn Wand will be
ever-so-slightly harder to wield towards corrupt ends.
Wand of Goo
has only recently begun to rigorously study the science of wand
creation. In previous centuries, master magicians relied on
intuition, the tutelage of the Alfar, or slavish imitation of the
Great Wands to guide their craft. The results of such a haphazard
process were not always something to be proud of.
Wand of Goo is probably a failed wand. Certainly, nobody is quite
sure what the intent
behind its creation was. Scholars of magic regard it as an amusing
curiosity, and only the most desperate of magicians would actually
deign to use it. It's not . . . dignified.
has its uses, though. If a magician can cope with its constant
stickiness and the unidentifiable fluid that drips from its tip at
maddeningly irregular intervals, they will find themselves armed with
a potent tool of creation. A skilled wielder can cause the Wand of
Goo to spew forth nearly limitless amounts of a greasy, viscous
liquid that can be any color of the rainbow and either harden into a
rigid polymer or evaporate into a harmless gas. The goo is totally
inedible, but also non-toxic and chemically inert. It can put out
fires, float items that would sink in ordinary water, and is
impassible to ghosts, demons, and other spiritual beings. With
sufficient artistry, a patient wielder can even create lifelike
sculptures that are nearly indistinguishable from the real thing, at
least until they start to stain the carpets with their perspiration.
Wand of Confinement
wand makes boxes around things. Or cages. If the magician is skilled,
fences, chains, and forcefields are possible. The truly legendary
ones can cast domes over whole cities.
figure out the wand's true purpose, however. It can imprison anything
that moves. It can trap words in a whistleblower's throat. It can
trap thoughts in a victim's unconscious. The wielder need only know
that such things are there to keep them locked away forever. The
barriers created by the Wand of Confinement can be broken through,
but there is no guarantee that it will happen fast enough to save
whatever is trapped inside.
The Wand of
The primary purpose of this wand is to enhance a
target's memories, allowing them to recall distant events with
perfect clarity. Under the right circumstances, a wielder might use
this as a distraction or punishment, by bringing unbidden or painful
memories to the surface, but in general it is a therapeutic
The wand can also share memories, allowing the wielder
to shuffle experiences around even a quite large group of people. The
original possessor of the memory need not even be present. Once a
memory is enhanced with the wand, it remains inside it forever.
greatest power at the wand's command is the ability to bring its
stored memories to life, creating realistic illusions that place the
wielder (and anyone nearby) into the scene where the memory took
place. This isn't a simple playback, however, and does not rely on
anything as fragile as human recall. Instead, it's a kind of virtual
time portal. Witnesses can will themselves into the scene and
interact with the memory shadows as if they were actually there,
gaining insight into historical events that might otherwise have been
The Wand of Memory can never destroy or distort true
memories, however. It exists to illuminate the past and preserve it
for all time. That doesn't stop the occasional memory donor from
claiming deception, especially if the enhanced memory is embarrassing
or contradicts a comforting mythology. Wielders must be careful not
to run afoul of those who would see the past forgotten.
It summons tentacles. Small,
dexterous ones that can perform the most delicate of crafts or large,
powerful ones capable of tearing down city walls. Sometimes it's a
whole host of medium-sized tentacles that thrash wildly and block the
movement of the wielder's enemies. Other times, they grow out of the
wielder's back, allowing them to climb sheer surfaces or swim quickly
through the deepest oceans.
It's not the subtlest or
most versatile magic wand out there, being confined as it is to
largely physical tasks, but it has enjoyed a certain popularity
through the ages. An imaginative magician can always think of
something to use it for.
Wand of Flesh
unnerving Wand is unusually large, scaled for the giant hands of a
Creator god, and has roughly the consistency of a human tongue. For
those with the nerve to master it, it gives incredible power over
living flesh. Nearly any transformation is possible, provided the
Wand is wielded with care (wielded recklessly, it is a terrible tool
for torture). The main uses are therapeutic - regrowing limbs,
confirming gender, and reversing muscular and skeletal degeneration –
but it is also potentially transhuman. The main limit on providing a
target with superhuman abilities is a rough conservation of mass.
Muscle can be added to a limited degree, provided the target is able
to quickly eat enough calories to sustain it, but for greater
transformations, the wielder must strip the flesh from a living donor
and give it to the beneficiary. In theory, the Wand could create
titanic beings of incalculable power, but only at the cost of slaying
and absorbing hundreds of victims.
cannons remain Ukss' premier weapons technology, the advanced nations
of the Lowlands and the more necromantically inclined city-states of
the Bay of Blood (as well as anyone willing to pay any of the above a
fortune in trade) have access to a more potent weapon of mass
is made by performing certain dark rituals over a human skull and
then coating it in lead. Strictly speaking, the coating is not
necessary, but the items thus created are called "Spirit
Skulls," and they are never fired out of a cannon - the metal
merely keeps the skull from disintegrating in the barrel of the gun.
Despite its limited purpose, iron or steel must never be used, as
they block the magical energies.
fired, the skull inside the skullshot breaks apart, releasing the
murderous specter trapped inside. For a day and a night following its
release, the spirit will rampage indiscriminately, slaying any
unfortunate enough to fall beneath its claws.
skullshot specter is not the ghost or embodied soul of the skull's
former owner. Rather, it is a spiritual construct made from the
lingering energies of the owner's death. Thus skullshot may be made
from the remains of almost any person. Only when the skull's owner
was truly at peace in the moment of death does this ritual
glowing, golden liquid is extremely precious . . . and extremely
dangerous. It is a catalyst for magic. Nearly any sort magic user, be
they magician, adept, or prodigy (but not ritual casters. . .
usually) can use Primessence to dramatically boost the power of their
spells. And if Primessence were merely a weapon, that alone would
justify how tightly it's controlled by the governments of the
most dangerous thing about Primessence, though, is the way it's
manufactured. If a small dose of Primessence is injected into a
living creature's bloodstream (and it must
be a regular creature with a regular circulatory system - the process
does not begin until the Primessence is pumped through a beating
heart) then the serum initiates a complex alchemical transformation,
turning all of the subject's blood into more Primessence.
is not necessarily fatal, but it is highly upsetting. The victim's
blood vessels become visible through their skin as a complex network
of light. Any incidental bodily fluids like tears or saliva become
luminescent, even if they are not true Primessence themselves.
Survivors have described the physical sensation as a mix of cocaine
high and being set on fire.
those injected with Primessence are quickly killed and exsanguinated
before their natural magic resistance asserts itself and the
Primessence reverts to blood (a process that takes about a day and
leaves behind "only" psychological trauma).
Primessence safely involves placing small amounts on the palms,
eyeballs, tongue, or genitals (depending on the particular magical
application) and then immediately casting the spell. It is possible,
however, to inject it into your own veins. This is exponentially more
"efficient," but it is highly reckless. Each use of magic
would burn up a small, but significant portion of your own blood.
Magicians have dropped dead after an hour of nearly god-like
non-magical people who have experienced Primessence poisoning are
quickly killed. However in the day or so where they are transformed,
they may attempt to use magic. This doesn't really work except in
times of extraordinary need (although, if you've been injected with
Primessence, it's likely that you're in a pretty bad situation), but
assuming that they don't accidentally kill themselves, there's a
chance that the magic will stick around, even after the Primessence
fades (the cruel calculus here is that the odds of acquiring a new
permanent magic talent increases the more a particular effect is
precursor technology to the Dream Twister, these magically enchanted
beds are potent tools of torture and indoctrination, but they also
have some benign and even therapeutic uses. When a subject sleeps in
a Sleepteacher, they have unusually vivid and memorable dreams. If
there is no sorcerer-technician operating the Sleepteacher's
controls, these dreams are semi-lucid, but otherwise normal. However
with the proper rituals, an overseer may use the Sleepteacher to
cause the subject to dream whatever they desire.
the main use of these devices is rapid education, allowing a dreamer
to cram a month's worth of training into a single night.
Unofficially, governments often keep several Sleepteachers in the
blackest of their black sites, for purposes best left
of Sheyaugh are among the best at what they do. They have managed to
distill the essence of fear into a rather pleasant fragrance they
call Clout perfume. Used primarily by high government
officials who wish to awe their subordinates and petitioners, it is
also sometimes issued to spies and diplomats.
The beauty of
Clout is that it's almost impossible to pinpoint its effects.
Those who smell the wearer feel a vague trepidation and paranoia, but
they almost never connect it to the scent. All they really know is
that there is one person in the room who seems really
Clout. Your friends will worship
you. Your enemies will stay the hell out of your way. Clout.
The only terror is how fierce you'll look.
It's rare for the contents of a shadow safe to
disappear into the Magic World. It's even rarer for the creatures of
magic to use one as a bridge to enter the material world. What never
happens, though, is a thief breaking into a shadow safe and stealing
its contents. Even if they get past the door, they will find nothing
but an empty box. The real safe exists entirely in the Magic World
and can only be accessed by the sorcerer who created it (or,
potentially, a daring band of kidnappers who force them to speak the
activation word, though at that point the sorcerer has other
The other main advantage of using a shadow safe is
their flexible size. Anything you can fit through the door, you can
store in the pocket dimension. There is no upper limit.
of their absolute security and potentially fickle safety, sorcerers
mainly use shadow safes to hide secrets, prototypes, and mistakes -
things they may have use for later, which may prove dangerous in the
hands of their enemies, and which they can reasonably stand to
enchanted jumpsuits are made of the tanned skins of captured cats,
scrubbed and treated so the origins are not apparent. When the zipper
is pulled up all the way, the wearer is transformed into the exact
type of cat the skin was taken from (usually, because of the use of
multiple skins, this has the appearance of a calico domestic cat, but
the higher-quality cat suits are made from the hide of a single lion,
tiger, or other great cat). Favored by spies and thieves, they are
usually worn half-zipped to allow for a sudden escape. Removing a Cat
Suit requires the assistance of an accomplice who can speak the
code-word that causes the zipper to appear on the feliform's chest
(and, of course, provide the human hands necessary to pull the zipper
The Terracotta Warriors
they have fallen out of favor in the Lowlands since the invention of
the cannon, magically enchanted clay statues are still a favored
strategic weapon in the Bay of Blood and Omphalos Coast. Relentless,
pitiless, and utterly loyal, their only weaknesses are an inability
to use firearms (though they are themselves essentially bulletproof)
and the expense that goes into their creation. Most city-states can
afford to field no more than an elite unit of about 100 or so, though
rumor has it that the Republic of Mu had two full divisions that they
dared not deploy lest they be subverted by the spell-twisting of the
Indigo Legion of Rainbow Knights.
Though Terracotta Warriors are
increasingly coming to be seen as obsolete, the old stockpiles still
have their uses. With only a small amount of technological and
magical augmentation, old automatons can be rebuilt into the world's
most potent armor. Wearers of Automaton Armor have increased strength
and endurance, damage resistance comparable to the Terracotta
Warriors, and the ability to use complex tools like guns and
explosives. This flexibility makes them profitable to deploy in small
batches, mitigating the worst disadvantage of the older
Like most magical things, it is highly difficult
to make a set of Automaton Armor out of iron or steel, but sorcerers
in the Lowlands are experimenting with new materials in the hopes of
creating a new generation without the weaknesses of clay.
product of advanced alchemy, Klot is a rapidly-expanding foam that
quickly hardens into a durable polymer lattice that is highly
resistant to most conventional forms of harm. It is primarily used as
a security measure of last resort in Ukss' most well-guarded prisons
and laboratory facilities. These installations will feature "Klot
chambers" at vulnerable choke-points. When an intruder (or
escapee) enters a Klot chamber, guards may pull a lever that releases
the Klot's two precursor chemicals. Within seconds, the room fills up
with a web of sticky goop. A couple of seconds later, that web
freezes, holding everyone in the room in place. Because it is nearly
indestructible without exerting unreasonable amounts of pressure, it
is perfect for taking prisoners alive (once the proper breakdown
enzyme has been administered, of course).
Sometimes a crime is so unforgivable,
an atrocity so harrowing that it burns its way into a survivor's,
witness's, or investigator's soul. Such a soul may be alloyed with
gold to create a Justice Blade. Etched with a detailed description of
the crime that inspired its creation, a Justice blade is normally
unwieldy, dull, and extremely heavy, but becomes as light and as
strong as steel when its in the presence of one of the crime's
If their only property was unfailingly pointing
towards the guilty, Justice Blades would still be worth the effort it
takes to make them, but they are also among the most effective
weapons to use to punish evildoers. A Justice Blade is immune to all
defensive magic used by those who committed the original crime,
cutting through the most potent of sorcerous protections with
incredible ease, and any wound dealt by the sword to a guilty party
is automatically fatal, even if it's as small as a superficial
scratch. Those punished by the blade slowly disintegrate from the
inside out, eventually becoming a hollow shell of skin that will
collapse into a pile of dust at the slightest disturbance.
they require both a massive amount of gold and a willing human
sacrifice to create, Justice Blades are (usually) only created for
massive crimes with dozens or hundreds of perpetrators. Everyone who
actively participated, provided material support, or helped cover it
up will be subject to the blade's power. Once the last perpetrator is
dead (whether by the blade or from other causes), the soul inside the
blade departs and it reverts to inert gold. The gold can
theoretically be reused for another Justice Blade, but those who
craft them often prefer to keep retired blades as a memorial for the
victims of the original crime.
There's a reason spirits must make the
Tainted Bargain or become Alfar - it is very difficult to project
anything but the smallest bit of power into the material world. Yet
sometimes that bit is enough to cause big trouble. Weak minds can be
tempted, small objects can be lost, and souls in crisis can even be
possessed. There's not much that humans can do against such
intrusions, but if they're knowledgeable or lucky, they might be able
to pin the offending spirit in place.
people make more of this than they should, and you'll often find
homes in the Omphalos Coast with dozens of pins stuck in the walls in
the vain hope of warding off ordinary bad luck, but if the
circumstances are right (the pin has a high iron content and was
previously lost then found), it's possible to catch a genuine
mischievous spirit. A pinned spirit cannot move their consciousness
anywhere else in either world and may only use their powers on
someone who is currently touching the pin. This annoys them greatly,
but does them no lasting harm, as their immortal minds do not
register time in a concrete enough way for confinement to cause great
An ordinary pin can only
capture a minor spirit, those with barely more power than a gaffling.
Anything larger will shoot the pin straight out of the hole. There is
some speculation that long spears of meteoric iron may be able to
bind more potent entities, but no one has been both rich and
desperate enough to attempt it.
people, especially children, believe that if you find a pin stuck
into some random surface and pull it out, you can make a wish and the
grateful spirit will grant it to the best of their ability. In
practice, the results are . . . mixed.
This sticky, white powder is made with
iron, beeswax, and a variety of obscure alchemical substances. If you
completely cover your face with it, you become invisible to
telepathy. Anyone trying to scan your mind comes back with a complete
blank. It's not a perfect defense, because you're still vulnerable to
suggestions, memory alteration (though it becomes much clumsier and
easier to detect), illusion, and direct psychic assault, but your
secrets are safe as long as there are no gaps between your hairline
and your shoulder-blades.
It's possible to
dye soul-shroud powder into a variety of colors, which replaces the
blank result with a mental signature corresponding to the color (red
= angry, blue = sad, etc). An elaborately-patterned face painting can
deliver such sophisticated false results that the telepath might not
even realize that they're scanning a protected person . . . unless
they try to read you twice, that is.
Despite their overwhelming
power in naval combat, Chaos Drums are used only by small, highly
skilled navies. In many cases, a single ship with a Chaos Drum will
be deployed against an entire fleet. That's because Chaos Drums do
not control the weather. Instead, they make it wild. Seas swell,
storms come from clear skies, and winds blow in eight directions at
once. The more intricate the rhythm, the more pronounced the effect,
and aside from a thin bubble around the player, the Drum offers no
protection against its effects. Elite sailors in well-built boats can
evade the worst of a Chaos Drum, but the more ships you deploy
alongside one, the more you stand to lose.
tattoos feature clean, bold lines and simple geometric shapes that
nonetheless combine to evoke the abstract essence of a particular
species of animal. By concentrating on the figures and allowing their
mind's eye to walk the labyrinthine paths of their construction, the
bearer of a Shifter's Mark can transform into the depicted creature,
remaining in that form until they next sleep.
By their very
nature, Shifters' Marks must be placed somewhere visible to their
bearer. Mirrors count, however, and the most popular location is over
the bearer's heart. Though the people of Mu consider these tattoos to
be sacred, they are also used by criminal gangs from the Bay of Blood
and Omphalos Coast. Misunderstandings such as this do much to foster
resentment between Mu's survivors and the rest of the world.
Curses are a storied part of Ukss' history, but most people think
they're much more common than they actually are. Whenever a soldier,
murderer, or particularly disliked government experiences a run of
bad luck, onlookers are prone to suspecting some slow-acting curse
from one of the people they killed. In truth, there is nothing subtle
about a true Death Curse. Walls bleed. Glass breaks. Animals shriek
in fear. And if the target's lucky, they die. Worse still is to
survive a Death Curse. The worst will systematically destroy
everything the target worked to create, ruining them utterly while
striking them with some wasting disease that leaves them powerless,
wracked with pain, and bereft of aid.
true Death Curses are rare. They require a very particular set of
circumstances. The leveler of the curse must have died from betrayal.
It is not enough to be slain by some random brigand or longtime foe,
the victim must have trusted the
one who caused their death. However, Death Curses are not limited to
deliberate murder. If a death is caused by negligence, carelessness,
or even pure accident, it might still trigger a curse. Secondly, one
who levels a Death Curse must die alone. If they were abandoned or
ambushed, that's the simplest situation, but a warrior who is the
last survivor in the squad may still utter an efficacious curse.
Finally, the person being slain must either have enough forewarning
or die slowly enough that they can actually speak the curse.
most potent Death Curses are the ones where all the circumstances
apply and the curse-layer singles out a target by name. However, it
is not a foolproof precaution against curses to operate in secret,
for “I curse the one who killed me” is sufficient if the betrayal
is real, but yet undiscovered. And killing quickly is not necessarily
a defense, because ghosts can utter curses, if the shock of the death
is enough to create one. And killing the victim while they have
allies nearby raises its own host of problems.
while true Death Curses are rare, they are also unpredictable enough
that Ukss' schemers can't afford to discount them in their plans. If
a person's ambitions put them a position where they need to eliminate
a relative, friend, or sworn comrade, they often prefer to imprison,
exile, or maroon their victims, just to be safe.
largest of Ukss' continents, Atalanta extends from the southern
tropics all the way down to the south pole, and east-to-west
stretches halfway around the world. It's home to a wide range of
climates and biomes and a subsequently diverse array of cultures and
peoples. Atalanta's northernmost peninsula is separated from the
south coast of Hyborea by only a narrow channel and defines the
western edge of the Omphalos sea. That region is known as the
Lowlands and is the most prosperous and technologically advanced in
To the southeast of the Lowlands are
the Shielding Mountains. They run the entire width of the peninsula,
cutting it off from the main body of the continent. South Atalanta is
dominated by cold grasslands that gradually shift into temperate rain
forests the closer you get to the north coast.
east, the Haven Mountains define the edge of another sub-continent.
These mountains are considerably more navigable than the Shielding
Mountains, with only a few peaks extending up past the tree line. The
eastern slopes of the Haven Mountains are covered with rivers, both
great and small, making the coastal Twilight Forest region into vast,
Atalanta is difficult and expensive. The densely-populated Lowlands
and Omphalos coast have complex rail systems, but mountainous terrain
keeps them from connecting to each other. The south plains are too
sparsely populated and the Twilight Forest too wet to support much
infrastructure. The preferred method of travel between regions is
still the shallow-water ships that specialize in traversing the
Omphalos sea, though for direct travel between the richer cities,
airplanes are becoming more and more popular.
the difficulties in travel, Atalanta does have a very nearly
transcontinental telegraph network the connects human and goblin
settlements from the Lowlands to the Haven Mountains (the Yokai who
inhabit the Twilight Forest have so far demonstrated little interest
in maintaining communications with the outside world.)
A rich land of broad fields and fertile soil, the
Lowlands slope gently up from the sea to the foothills of the
Shielding Mountains. Though the climate ranges from
balmy in the north to chilly in the south, the whole region is
remarkably temperate and well-suited for agriculture. The massive
Grey River bisects the Lowlands, serving as a conduit for travel and
trade, though it has surprisingly few tributaries for a river that
size. The region as a whole is very densely populated, and
virgin wilderness is rare, save for the occasional old-growth forest
that remains protected by Alfar or other Yokai.
The people of
the Lowlands have straight, black hair and skin that ranges from
medium brown in the south to near-black in the north. Eyes range from
dark brown to hazel, though heterochromia is relatively common among
the upper classes and is thought to be a sign of magical
Language and Culture
any given date, between 20 and 30 nations call the Lowlands home. The
core of any given nation is usually a distinct language, though
sometimes linguistic nations will split for religious or cultural
reasons or multi-language states will form for mutual protection
and/or economic advantage. To some degree, though, these distinctions
are artificial. Lowlands languages share many common roots and
loanwords (especially relating to modern inventions), and border
regions are thoroughly bilingual.
The key to
understanding international relations among the Lowlands states lies
in its ongoing state of cultural vertigo. A hundred years ago, the
various national rivalries seemed if not settled then at least in a
permanent stasis. Kingdoms expanded to their natural geographic
borders and wars between them were long and indecisive. However,
rapid industrialization, and the new weapons and tactics it made
possible, appears to offer a chance to settle old grudges once and
It is not entirely clear whether increasing
nationalist sentiment is a cause or an effect of this new wave of
imperialist warfare. Despite centuries of cultural
cross-pollination, Lowlands governments are placing more and more
emphasis on small areas of distinction. It's as if the very
porousness and arbitrariness of the region's borders demands a
careful policing of the boundaries
of cultural identity to compensate.
the fervor with which the nations proclaim themselves unique, the
entire Lowlands region is quite homogeneously capitalist, and
invested in the notion of scientific and material progress. It is
common to believe that nature exists for human use, magic is simply
an unexplored branch of science, and that hierarchical forms of
organization are both natural and inevitable. Republican ideas are
gaining popularity, even in ancient monarchies, but the intellectual
foundations of republican movements are meritocratic and propertarian
rather than grounded in any universal standard of human rights. If an
individual can claw their way to the top, they deserve to be there.
The problem with traditional aristocrats is that they inherited their
positions from worthier forebearers.
Faith of the Lowlands predates most of its languages. It is not one,
pure thing, but the result of millennia of conversation, conquest,
and compromise, a tree with a thousand branches. Even far distant
nations will recognize a common canon of significant writings, but
that canon has been annotated, expanded, and interpreted by any
number of regionally important scholars and prophets. Depending on
how you count, the region has a single religion, three religions (the
universalist, nationalist, and individualist theologies), or a
countless number of religions.
The central belief that unites the
Lowlands faiths is that human beings (and mortal yokai like goblins
and awakened rats) came into being as pure spirits, beings of
limitless power, but lacking wisdom. The material world is the result
of disharmony and conflict among the spirits. Unstoppable forces met
each other in the Magic World and became immovable objects in the
material. Thus the sky and the earth and a person's very flesh itself
are all a cage, crafted by the arrogance of their unbound spirit. The
only way to escape this cage is to come into accord with other
spirits, so that your powers no longer oppose each others and thus no
longer crystallize into the material world.
How this accord is to be achieved
is the main (but by no means the only) difference between branches of
the faith. In the broadest terms, the goal is “True Living.”
Desires may be in
conflict, but truth
is, by definition, shared. So one must control desire and yield to
truth. But what is “truth?”
Ah. . .
There is broad agreement that
True Living at minimum
requires adherence to a basic moral code – murder, theft,
deception, and cruelty are all crimes of desire and take a person
away from the liberating truth. However, beyond that, there are
hundreds of local variations, each maintaining its own list of ritual
observances and everyday behaviors as the ideal guide to True Living.
However, looking beyond those
variations, they can generally be grouped into three broad
Universalist theology states that
no one will be free until everyone
is free. You might think that means the Universalists are the most
authoritarian of the theologies, determined to control everyone's
personal behavior, but in reality they are the exact opposite.
Because truth is universal, it cannot lie in the particular customs
of any specific time or place. True Living must require tolerance,
flexibility, and a respect for individual differences.
Nationalist theology is the most
straightforward of the three. It states that accord of the spirit
follows from accord in the body and mind, and thus True Living means
living by the values and traditions of your neighbors. But not just
any neighbors. Without special authority, any individual's way of
living is equivalent to any other's, and you're back where you began,
with competing and arbitrary desires. It is up to the natural leaders
– the men and women who become monarchs, ministers, and, recently,
capitalists – to guide society. Lowlanders don't believe in
hereditary merit, so even strict nationalist theologians don't
necessarily advocate for automatic obedience to authority, but they
do believe that a culture's heroes and leaders, through their great
deeds and exemplary lives, create a model for True Living. Mediocre
heirs may fail to live up to their ancestors, but the truth of the
nation lives on.
Individualist theology believes that
individuals have the power to liberate their own spirits. By
confronting and overcoming desire, one may discover the truth that
remains when nothing else is left. This is usually accomplished
through ordeals and ascetic discipline. The specific practices vary
from culture to culture, but this theology is characterized by a
respect for charismatic holy figures. A community that subscribes to
individualist theology might not be ascetic itself, but it will seek
the advice of monasteries and wise hermits in times of trouble.
The theologies mostly exist as a tool
for scholars, however. In practice, almost any place in the Lowlands
is going to have a mix of all three. You might expect republicans and
reformers to be universalist and emperors to be nationalist, and that
is usually the case, but sometimes rulers push universalist theology
as part of modernization campaigns, and populists evoke nationalist
theology to suggest that their preferred ideology is a way of True
Living. Though alternately persecuted or celebrated, individualist
ascetics can be found almost anywhere. There is a strange correlation
between their theology and the rise of secular capitalism, probably
as people seek escape from its never-ending pressure to produce and
There is a fourth branch of the
Lowlands faith, but it is rarely acknowledged as such. Most believers
find it abominable and refuse to lend it the dignity of calling it a
sect. Known as “The Mirage,” it claims that there is no such
thing as True Living, or even, ultimately, “truth.” Rather, the
material world is purely the result of spirits fighting for
dominance. Power is the only reality, and the only sensible way to
live is to pursue personal pleasure, regardless of the cost.
The Mirage is popular with capitalist
new money (traditional aristocrats may appear to live by its
precepts, but nonetheless preach a moralistic religion) who mainly
use it as an excuse to indulge in sex and drugs. Nearly every major
Lowlands city has its own Mirage Society, and their existence is an
open secret among people of a certain class.
However, not all expressions of the
Mirage are harmless debauchery. Some individuals take it extremely
seriously, and conclude from its tenets that there is fundamentally
no such thing as an evil desire. These people can become terrible
predators, and because of the deliberately transgressive nature of
Mirage Societies, may remain undetected for a long time.
The Faith has a complex relationship
with the gods. Because they live in the magic world, simple inference
would suggest that they are less bound by their desires than most
material creatures, but many gods are not great role models. Over
the years, religious scholars have developed three categories.
True Gods are those who advance their
followers' progress towards True Living. They are not necessarily
benevolent – some will scourge those who stray from the path and
must be placated with extravagant displays of virtue – but most
embody the mysteries of law, knowledge, and family. Most nations in
the Lowlands will have one or two gods that only they recognize as
True Gods, but they also share many common gods with their neighbors.
Generally, even historical rivals will respect each others' religious
canon as part of the tapestry of the Faith.
False Gods are spirits whose desires do
not bind them to the material world, and thus are free from the
burdens of humanity's arrogance, but to emulate or honor them would
lead individuals away from True Living. They embody esoteric
mysteries that are irrelevant to human existence, and thus their
enlightenment benefits only themselves. The Faith's relationship to
them is much the same as its relationship to any natural creature
(this is especially relevant as expanding industrial production
brings Lowlands states into new conflicts with wilderness alfar).
The distinction between True Gods and
False Gods is not supposed to be a political one. The canon is very
explicit on this point. With the Lowlands' history of international
conflict, the Faith was forced to confront this issue long ago. It
teaches that different groups have different needs and may require
different gods to lead them to the path of True Living. In theory,
there is never a religious justification for war, though in practice,
imperial expansion seizes on whatever excuses it can.
The third category is the Gods of
Desire. These are spiritual creatures who do not represent any form
of truth, but are not bound to the material world because their
desires are so simple and so primal that they do not meaningfully
contradict any human will. Gods of Desire tempt people away from the
path of True Living, encouraging theft, adultery, and other selfish
The distinction between gods and demons
is one of scientific taxonomy and not recognized by the Faith.
Individual demons may be classified as any of the three types of
gods, though their predatory culture leads to them becoming Gods of
Desire more often than not.
The Thief of the Unwanted
The exploits of this trickster god are a beloved part of the
Faith's canon. They liberate human beings from the burden of excess
possessions, often through elaborate heists or a variety of wacky
schemes. The stories are sometimes told as cautionary tales to
instruct the faithful in the mechanics of common scams, but they are
also often meant to be funny. The victims of the Thief of the
Unwanted are usually those who allow greed to make them callous, but
the Thief is also jokingly blamed whenever small objects go missing.
The main lesson of the Canon of the Thief of the Unwanted is that
human beings should not become too attached to material objects and
that one's possessions should exist for a purpose and be kept only so
long as they enhance their owner's life. This may seem ironic, given
the region's relentless pursuit of wealth, but the wealthy piously
cite the fact that have not yet lost their fortunes to the divine
thief as evidence that those fortunes have not corrupted them
The Industrial Revolution
are at the heart of Ukss' industrial revolution. Mechanized
agriculture is well on its way towards taking over traditional family
farms and industrial cities have been seeing large increases in
population. Nearly everything the common people use has passed
through some factory or another. This is leading to the ongoing death
of traditional modes of craftsmanship and the homogenization of
popular culture, but with the exception of the occasional piece of
folk art that has been co-opted into a nationalist narrative, this is
a problem that won't be noticed for another two generations at
Most Lowlands industrial workers get paid on a
piece-rate, usually in cash at the end of the day. This is a
deeply-ingrained practice, tied intellectually into a common-law
understanding of contracts. Day labor is the rule, and factory
overseers will usually just pick the necessary workers by headcount
from the crowd of people who happen to show up at the beginning of
A growing concern among
Lowlands states is industrial pollution. Most major cities have
serious smog problems and the toxic runoff of industrial and
alchemical processes is often allowed to drain directly into the
region's waterways. Respiratory illness is common, but poorly
Industrial production has
also led to a profound transformation in fashion. While the upper
classes of each nation still maintain their unique styles for formal
occasions, a sort of universal industrial uniform has emerged. Most
people, both men and women, wear a basic outfit of sleeveless tunic
and culottes. In the north, the tunic may be an unfastened vest and
in the south it may be covered with a thin topcoat in the spring and
fall combined with a heavy overcoat in winter. In the north, sandals
are popular, but the south prefers tall boots year-round. In the
south, men will rarely be seen outside without a stocking cap, but
women usually have hoods sewn into their jackets. Personal expression
through fashion is difficult for those without significant amounts of
money, but for those who care, accent cloths are available in a
variety of prints and can be used as scarves, sashes, or belts (more
conservative people use them as curtains).
cunning devices are among the most popular form of entertainment in
the Lowlands. A moderately-sized box of brass and steel, from the
front they resemble a theater stage. On the side is a slot for a wax
The cylinder contains an audio recording of a
dramatic performance, along with a coded parallel track that the
Theater reads to direct the motion of its many gears, bringing to
life up to four puppet performers to act out the scene as it is being
The puppets themselves are modular, and can be swapped
out for different characters, although as Clockwork Theaters become
cheaper and more common, playwrights have started writing cylinders
explicitly for the four "stock" characters that come
bundled with the base model (The Lord, The Lady, the Maid, and The
Necromantic Calculating Pools
industrial sorcerers of the Lowlands have developed one of the more
repellent applications of necromantic ritual, all for the sake of
ensuring the success of increasingly-massive mutual funds. Buying the
unburied corpses of the poor by the hundreds, they cremate them in
special lead-lined ovens to ensure that the soul lingers on after
death. Those souls are then brought to an artificial sub-realm of the
magic world and chained to one of the limitless calculating desks
that extend from horizon to horizon in neat, identical rows.
might think that randomly conscripted paupers would not make the most
effective actuaries, but time moves differently in the magic world.
In the space of a week, they might undergo a decade-long
apprenticeship where a complex hierarchy of error-checking forces
them to learn whether they like it or not. In time, the cold,
leaching numbness of the realm itself wears away any thoughts or
ambitions not relating to the job and their desks are redesignated as
"reliable," to check, in turn, the work of the pool's
The sorcerers who manage the Necromantic
Calculating Pools pose difficult statistical and analytical
questions, receiving answers in mere minutes that allow them to get a
jump on the market by making frequent low-risk trades that steadily
increase their funds' value. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, legions of
undead slaves labor for subjective weeks or months to provide their
captors with more and more detailed projections, leading to a
mathematical arms race with no end in sight.
Alternately loved and hated, banned and spread as
propaganda, The Spellbook
is a Lowlands institution. Printed into a dozen languages and
informally translated into a dozen more, it is a monthly tabloid
magazine devoted to the comings and goings of the continent's most
notorious magicians, sorcerers, and yokai.
The overall quality
of reporting is . . . not good, focusing more on romantic rumors and
fleeting moral panics than it does on substantive stories, but it has
the virtue of being absolutely fearless. There are magicians with the
power to crack mountains who have trembled with impotent rage at an
unflattering story. On occasion The
uncovers genuine scandals, and crimes the magically powerful would
rather keep hidden.
The legal status of
is highly dependent on the subject of the current issue –
governments generally protect their own pet magicians while touting
the shortcomings of their rivals, however some nations will ban it
outright, just out of principle. Strangely, this has little effect on
its circulation figures.
balmy nation near the north coast of the Lowlands is known as "The
Land of Summer" and trades extensively with the Bay of Blood. It
practices an extremely bureaucratic form of capitalism that looks on
paper like it shouldn't possibly work, but in practice is quite
This is thanks to the guiding hand
of the country's Empress, a prophetic prodigy of incredible insight
and power. She was found, 50 years ago, by an ambitious minister who
immediately recognized her potential and put her to work. Since then,
she has not visibly aged, appearing as the same serene child that was
found in a field all those decades ago. The people of Sheyaugh adore
her and believe she has delayed her own deification to stay and guide
them. She is known by no other name but The Incarnate.
is largely ruled by the ministers one level below The Incarnate.
Technically, they are civil servants, promoted by nothing but merit,
but webs of patronage and reciprocal nepotism-by-proxy are common.
Occasionally, The Incarnate will direct her highest ministers to
adopt a new law or strike an old one from the books. These actions
often seem whimsical or overly specific to other people, but in
aggregate, they serve to keep the nation prosperous in ways no
conventional economist can quite understand.
is probably a spy. That's what most people who meet him conclude.
There is no way someone with such an incisive mind, such improbable
scientific abilities, such effortlessly seductive joie de vivre could
possibly be satisfied as an investigator for the Sheyaugh Treasury.
He must be hiding something.
Kes just smiles and keeps his secrets. It's so much easier getting
the beautiful boys into his bed if he has an air of
people of Sheyaugh wear the same off-the-rack clothes as the rest of
the Lowlands, but it's unheard of not to customize your own clothes.
The preferred method is to embroider it with colorful thread (red is
best, but green is cheaper), but some artistic types prefer to use
special temporary dyes. The people of Sheyaugh like to read a lot of
extra information into a person's choice of pattern, but there isn't
a list of formal rules to it.
Stereotypically, simple geometric shapes indicate you
can't sew, or you had a friend sew your pattern for you. Faces are
for children. Trees are pretentious, but flowers are aspirational.
Birds are popular, but if you look like you're wearing a parrot
people are going to think you served in the military. Mechanical or
technological motifs are fashionable, but only if there are no
visible mistakes. Crooked stitching is seen as down to earth when the
subject is “natural,” but for things like planes, trains, and
gears it just looks like you're trying and failing to be cool.
The wealthy and well-connected don't embroider simple
knock-around clothes, but go overboard with customized formal wear
(sewn by well-paid artisans, of course). They typically wear long,
gown-like robes in one of two styles – the cape-style or the
train-style. Cape-style does not involve an actual separate cape, but
rather an oversized collar that folds down to the mid-torso.
Embroidery is limited to the collar itself, and the rest of the robe
is usually a single complimentary color. In the cape-style, you
usually want to illustrate a familiar story that can be shown off by
The train-style is more elaborate and generally
preferred by high-level ministers and people celebrating special
occasions. The whole robe is embroidered, but anything above the knee
is abstract. Representational art is reserved for a band around the
hem. However, robes in this style often have long trains to extend
the scene. It's considered the height of good taste for the lower art
to blend seamlessly with the upper patterns, but audacity counts for
something. The most conservative trend in this style is “the forest
under the stars,” with the trees near your calves framing a
predatory animal on your train. It's too traditional to find much
fault with it, but everyone who sees it is going to know that you're
playing it safe.
Food in Sheyaugh is heavily stratified by class.
Seafood is the most common protein, but there's a strict division –
commoners eat shellfish and crustaceans and ministers and capitalists
eat fish. Thanks to the movement of people into coastal cities,
over-harvesting is a major problem, but farmed oysters, mussels, and
clams are becoming cheaper and more common. Most people buy them
canned, but the middle class can afford fresh.
usually served stewed with millet, root vegetables (yams, onions, and
purple carrots are most common) and garden greens. Seasoning is
usually limited to salt and extract of citric acid, but imported
pepper is starting to find itself in more and more pantries.
Chickens are kept for eggs, but it is against the law
to eat chicken meat at anything other than a funeral. The family is
supposed to slaughter and serve all of the deceased's chickens when
they die, but these days an exception is made for the urban poor, who
only have to serve one.
By decree of the Incarnate, food grown from the
ground is for commoners and food from trees is for nobility. Oranges
and lemons form a large part of the upper class diet, though Sheyaugh
grows a remarkable variety of peaches, including one dark red peach
that is barely sweet and extraordinarily savory. People say it tastes
like tomato, but this is probably due to the color. Blind taste-tests
describe it as “sweet, juicy mushroom,” but they are better than
they sound. The juice is usually separated from the pulp and used
Fish is served braised, often in lemon, with multiple
species served together to give meals variety. Noodles are made from
wheat (the one exception to the Incarnate's rule) and eggs, though
dried pasta in elaborate shapes is gaining favor among the ministers.
Foreigners often find Sheyaugh cuisine to be uncomfortably
sour. This is taken as a point of national pride, and restaurants
that see a lot of tourist trade will warn customers away from
“Sheyaugh Sour” dishes.
Sheyaugh is the Lowlands' great low-risk investment.
Domestic demand is steady to an almost uncanny degree. Coupled with a
rock-solid currency, Sheyaugh-issued bonds and financial services are
a widely-used supplement to riskier long-term investments.
is all made possible by the Incarnate's constant low-level
interventions in the economy. It is rare for any business above a
certain size to go more than a year without a visit from a political
officer bearing some picayune regulation that somehow inexplicably
boosts profitability. The people of Sheyaugh have long since gotten
used to this routine interference, but foreign-run firms often have a
hard time adapting. The result is that most foreign investment is in
the form of minority-ownership in Sheyaugh-run enterprises.
the economy of Sheyaugh is as diverse as any in the Lowlands, its
specialty is alchemy. Their bamboo-to-sunbrew factories power half
the Lowlands, and their high-quality mercury batteries are the
standard for high-end scientific and industrial applications. They
also make a wide variety of small-batch potions and elixirs for
consumption by the ultra-rich. The Alchemist Quarter in Northshore is
one of the few places on Ukss that's capable of refining longevity
gas from Aetheria (New Gold City has one laboratory that can do it,
Yennin claims their facilities are up to the task, but don't have
enough of the gas to prove it, and Mu's extensive refining factories
were destroyed in the Prism Wars).
Northshore is the capital of Sheyaugh, a city of
almost a million people. Built on a large natural harbor, it is the
center of the country's canning industry and a major smuggling hub,
particularly for dangerous alchemical substances and outlaw sorcery.
Sunbrew is as cheap here as any place on Ukss, and the city's
air quality is commensurately low. The city has an extensive trolley
network, but popular routes, especially between the docks and the
southside slums, are constantly packed to capacity.
Northshore was lit by fish-oil lamps, and those are still in use in
large parts of the city, but electric lights are gradually becoming
available and are considered a major status symbol. Only the
wealthiest households have enchanted perpetual batteries, but many
businesses will have small, light-up signs to catch the attention of
people walking down the street.
Counted by technophiles as one of the
great wonders of Ukss, Northshore Airport is a pet project of
Sheyaugh's bureaucracy, subsidized by its government as a symbol of
national pride. It is not just that Northshore is Ukss' largest
airport. It is also the world's safest and most luxurious. No expense
has been spared to ensure that every aspect of the facility benefits
from top-of-the-line technology and magic. The runways and concourses
are lined with electric lights, and a powerful weather control spell
ensures optimal landing conditions year-round.
near-constant stream of air-traffic (Northshore is only one of three
Ukss airports capable of landing planes at night), this modern marvel
is still a massive financial liability. In its ten years of
operation, it has failed to make a profit, let alone pay back its
Because of its large size and artificially
low rates, Northshore Airport has become a key piece of
infrastructure not just for Sheyaugh, but the surrounding nations as
well. Palace watchers suspect that it is the cultivation of this very
dependence that is responsible for the Incarnate allowing it to
The Wardens of the
Large-scale air travel is still very
new to the word of Ukss, but there is great enthusiasm for it among
the world's cognescenti. So much so that the most daring among them
have gathered together to create an adventurer's conspiracy - a
vigilante organization devoted to hunting down and eliminating
threats to the expansion of air travel, especially those who misuse
it for criminal ends.
The Wardens of the Sky mostly work
alone, booking passage on flights to intercept pirates and hijackers
as they strike or hanging out in ports, listening for rumors of
trouble from the air. They recruit mostly from those that have the
wealth and leisure to travel frequently, and while few are full
magicians or dedicated ritualists, all must be capable of casting the
Cloud Chariot spell. Wearing their signature mirrored sunglasses and
stepping off a sun-dappled cloud, the Wardens know how to make a
ritual to create a Cloud Chariot is known only to the Wardens of the
Sky and they take its protection very seriously. Most of the time,
the Wardens travel incognito, hiding among normal travelers, the
better to lure out aerial threats, but sometimes, they need to act
openly, and when they do, the Cloud Chariot acts as a badge of
office. When you see an armed warrior descend from the sky on a
fluffy white cloud, wreathed in the golden light of dawn, then you
know that you are dealing with a genuine Warden of the Sky.
The Sorcerers' Benevolent Association
in the commercial district around Northshore airport, this charitable
organization has branches in every major city in Ukss. Their mandate
is to use ritual magic to improve their communities and identify and
support talented young people who may not otherwise get to study the
They are fantastically corrupt.
Though they do indeed donate their services in a
desultory sort of way, their real
business is almost entirely off the books. They are the people you go
to when you need a spell cast by someone who won't ask any questions.
At their most benign, they are a gray market for highly regulated
transformations, enchantments, and summonings that allows their
customers to sidestep government paperwork and its accompanying
scrutiny. At their worst, they sell curses, demon contracts, and
assassination spells to ruthless criminal gangs.
however, sincere in their commitment to educating young sorcerers
from underprivileged backgrounds, though those who accept their aid
have a way of finding themselves deep in debts that can only be paid
back by a lifetime of "favors."
Seven Blossoms Orchard University
hour's train ride inland from Northshore is Sheyaugh's premier
university. Built in an old ministerial estate, its grounds are
classically patrician in a way that belies the University's new
middle-class role. Seven Blossoms Orchard University is Ukss' premier
center of study for the arts of alchemy and agronomy (the eponymous
Seven Blossoms being – lemon, orange, cherry, peach, lychee,
pomegranate, and blood peach).
Though the town of Seven Blossoms Orchard was once an
out-of-the-way retreat for high-ranking bureaucrats, it is
experiencing rapid urbanization as a year-round student population
and ever-expanding university demands more and more affordable
housing and services. Unusually for a university town, the locals
have embraced the students, and the entire area is seen as a very
fashionable place for young entrepreneurs to settle down. This
harmonious coexistence is hardly a surprise, seeing as how the
Incarnate herself chose the University's location
The University would probably have a cooler reception
if the locals learned that it is the home of the infamous Poison
Book. SBOU's Alchemy department has used insights gleaned from the
Book to stockpile a wide variety of absolutely terrifying chemical
ancient horror, exiled from the self-consciously tolerant Chthonic
Empire, the Yokai known as Professor Worm is blessedly the only known
one of his kind. A boneless creature of malleable flesh, he can
contort his body to imitate almost any creature. With a wig and light
makeup, he can even pass for human, a fact he has exploited to become
a teacher at Seven Blossoms Orchard University.
is not a popular instructor. His students find him odd and
unsettling, and he has little respect for their physical or emotional
boundaries. Occasionally, one of his students goes missing, victim to
his anatomical curiosity. So far, the authorities have dismissed
these disappearances, attributing them to the stress of university
life, but if they ever discover he is to blame, they are in for a
nasty surprise - he is not only deceptive, he possesses superhuman
strength and his rubbery skin can deflect bullets and blades.
The Poison Book
a book where if you read it, it will kill you. Not quickly, and not
inevitably, but slowly, page after page, you'll get weaker. Most can
make it through a single chapter and come away with nothing more
serious than the worst flu of their life. The exceptionally strong of
will can get through a second chapter with survivable vomiting and
paralysis. Nobody has ever made it through a third.
in spacing out the reading have been disappointing. Apparently
whatever contamination you get from the book lingers in your system
for decades. Scholars have fully recovered from their book-imposed
illness only to immediately suffer fatal hemorrhages after reading a
single additional page.
Why even bother? Some do it for the
bragging rights, others to test the potency of their magical wards,
but the real reason is because The Poison Book is an encyclopedia of
weakness. If you can endure long enough to find it, you may learn to
kill anything that lives. It is speculated that even the secret dooms
of the gods can be found within its pages, though if that's true,
they are surely in the later passages, the ones that burn your eyes
out just for looking at them.
small, but dignified state abuts the Grey river, near its source in
the Shielding Mountains. It is known for its crisp autumns and brutal
winters, but also for the grace and elegance of its courtiers. It is
ruled by Hir Majesty, the Sovereign Sasha Blackberry Capet. The
Sovereign is a hard-working, practical soul, ill at ease with hir
court's pomp and formality. The masters of protocol have had to work
overtime in adapting the nation's ancient customs and rituals to hir
non-binary gender, but ze regards it as hir one indulgence in royal
prerogative in hir otherwise humble and conventional reign.
strikes many outsiders as quaintly backward, like something out of
the last century. Sovereign Sasha has been negotiating with both
foreign investors and the nation's home-grown industrialists to try
and rapidly modernize, but has been running into problems with a
capitalist class that is a little too eager to sacrifice the
country's natural beauty on the altar of profit. Capet currently has
some of the best air and water quality in all of the Lowlands,
something that gives Hir Majesty considerable clout, given its
position at the head waters of the Grey River, but ze has not yet
mastered the political maneuvering necessary to use it to hir
Despite its lagging
technology, Capet is not easy-pickings for its more opportunistic
neighbors. It has one of the premiere air forces on Ukss, in the form
of the Aeriel Excellence Squadron and its proximity to the Shielding
Mountains gives it abundant mineral resources, especially living
metal, which can not merely transform a horse into a match for a
biplane, but also has a myriad of industrial and sorcerous
applications only now being discovered.
Aerial Excellence Squadron
In the rolling
hills of western Capet, they breed the world's heartiest destriers.
Of these, the strongest and the swiftest are chosen to become the
steeds of the Aerial Excellence Squadron.
Using ritual magic,
these horses are fused with a form of living metal, growing 20-foot
long wings of glittering steel. From then on, the horses must eat
iron filings as well as grass, but the transformation seems to have
no other ill effects.
Unlike the Order of the Mantis, the
knights of The Aerial Excellence Squadron are lightly armed and
armored (aside from their steeds' steel skin, that is), but they make
up for it in speed and acrobatic skill. Because the transformed
horses are indigestible to a giant mantis, the Squadron is one of the
only groups that can meet the Mantis Riders on their own terms. The
two groups each consider the other to be their greatest rivals.
Imported, machine-made clothing is actually something
of a luxury in Capet. Every family has one or two sets of “good
clothes,” which are high-quality versions of the standard Lowlands
outfit, but except for particularly well-off urban professionals,
day-to-day wear is hand sewn from locally manufactured cloth and
patterns copied from catalogs and magazines. In contrast to most
Lowland states, Capet cloth is yak wool rather than linen or cotton.
Dying is done in the factory, but it's sold almost exclusively in
bolts. Rural families will swap cloths or give away scraps to give
each other more variety. Parti-colored and quilted clothes are
The nobility dresses in imported silk, with men in
elaborate doublets and women in long gowns (for both, though, the
more frills the better). With the accession of the current Sovereign,
court fashions are becoming simpler and more unisex, though expensive
materials and prominent, chunky jewelry will probably never go out of
Chefs in Capet are expert in a hundred-and-one uses
for yak milk. Butter, yogurt, and a wide variety of artisinal cheeses
are on every table, rich or poor. Nobles eat meat, but most yaks are
too valuable for their fur. A common peasant dish is creamed kale
served over rye bread. Whiskey is both a popular drink and an
ingredient in sauces.
Flavoring is mostly done with herbs and yak stock.
Dessert dishes are popular. Berries and yogurt are a simple dish, but
layered trifles are served in the royal court.
Capet trades extensively with the Chthonic Empire,
selling yak wool cloth and lumber in exchange for gems and magnets,
which it then resells to Lowland sorcerers. Mining is a growing
industry, especially for living metal, but many large deposits lie on
royal land and the Sovereign is wary of destroying the beauty of hir
near the center of the Lowlands region, Seljuk is an economic and
military powerhouse. Possessing an ancient culture that distrusts
magic, it has taken to identifying and capturing young magicians at
an early age, pressing them into service in the King's elite
Janissary guard. Though the kingdom lacks the wands to outfit all of
its troops, the Janissaries are nonetheless fearsome fighters, able
to exploit their connection to the Magic World to shoot straighter,
march longer, and fight completely without fear.
the Janissaries are technically slaves, as the King's personal
bodyguard, they control access to his person, making the Janissary
generals some of the most influential figures in the Kingdom. Retired
Janissaries have taken positions in all areas of the Seljuk
government, and year-by-year the combat readiness of the guard
suffers as they indulge more in the civilian pleasures they were
economic power of the central Lowlands, Seljuk has access to a wider
variety of consumer goods than any other nation in Ukss. This
includes clothing, making fashion an important form of personal
expression for rich and poor alike.
The basic culottes and
tunic style originated in Seljuk and spread through the Lowlands and
beyond as a result of their powerful textiles industry, but that very
same industry is now responsible for a proliferation of variants and
offshoots. Patterned cloth is a major element in Seljuk fashion. Bold
primary colors and metallic accents are the rule, and the expectation
is that tops and bottoms will clash in interesting ways (everyone
experiments with mixing horizontal and vertical stripes at some
point, but this is considered an adolescent indulgence that only the
classically beautiful can really pull off). Astronomical and floral
prints are the safe choice, though new manufacturing processes are
allowing for clothes with prominent graphics (Seljuk has not yet
discovered the practice of branded graphic clothing, but it's only a
matter of time).
For the wealthy, the basic style is the same,
but the materials and tailoring are much, much better. Cloth-of-gold
instead of metallic dye, higher threadcounts with ordinary cotton,
etc. The main distinction is in jewelry. Most people in Seljuk have a
piece or two of heirloom jewelry that they'll wear on special
occasions, but the rich are expected to wear it at all times. Diamond
earrings are risky – if you've got the biggest diamond in the room,
it's a major status symbol, but because this is well-known, everyone
is going to assume that the diamond you're wearing is the biggest one
you own. Other gemstones don't carry that kind of baggage, but are
consequently less daring. Bracelets must be paired with anklets and
are usually crafted to maximize jingling. Janissaries wear layered
chain necklaces, but consider it an insult for anyone but their
spouses, lovers, and heirs to do the same. Pendant necklaces on a
chain are fine, though.
The middle class will
sometimes wear high-quality costume jewelry as an affectation. Both
the rich and the working class make jokes about this practice, though
the punchlines could not be more different.
The people of Seljuk consume a prodigious amount of
beef. High quality cuts are reserved for the wealthy, but the cattle
industry has such incredible volume that even the poor have diverse
ways to prepare beef remnants. Rendered beef fat is present in almost
everything, and many households serve it as a tabletop condiment.
A typical recipe is spit-roasted beef tips and
charred vegetables (usually peppers or onions) served in a convenient
wrap. Kale is used by cheap street vendors, but given the choice,
most people prefer a common type of unleavened bread, fried in in
Among traditional communities in rural areas (and a
few particularly tight-knit urban neighborhoods), perpetual stew is a
dietary staple. Prepared in large ceramic vessels known as caldera,
the local stew is often a source of community pride. Caldera are
often elaborately decorated or sculpted (there is a usually
friendly rivalry between proponents of the aesthetic styles, so long
as you don't call a glazed caldera “painted” or a sculpted
caldera “lumpy”), and will serve as a focal point for village or
neighborhood gatherings. The stew itself is rarely truly perpetual
(although there is certain ritual magic that can extend its life
dramatically), and is sometimes called “Saturday Stew,” because
that's the traditional day to empty and clean the caldera.
Despite its thriving beef
industry, dairy products are almost unheard of in Seljuk. Most
Lowlanders are lactose intolerant, and the consumption of milk and
cheese is associated with immigrants from the Shielding Mountains.
There are a few ranches that specialize in “beef milk” for
immigrant markets, but it's expensive and most people prefer imported
That said, ice cream is a
hugely popular desert among those who can afford it, lactose
intolerance be damned. In Seljuk-style ice cream, the traditional
sweet berry flavors of the Shielding Mountains (who originally
introduced the treat) have been replaced with saltier,
lightly-seasoned nut flavors to accommodate the local palate.
Seljuk is the
major economic power of the Lowlands. Their factories produce
everything, usually so cheaply that their only foreign competition is
in products that benefit from short supply chains or
hard-to-transport raw materials. They are especially known for their
textiles and steel, but they are also leading exporters of high-tech
goods like rifles, airplane engines, and mechanized farming
Seljuk is also a major
imperial power, which means that much of its industrial output is
pumped into the military. This is a major source of wealth for
domestic investors (foreigners are restricted from owning more than
25% of any military contractor), and a bone of contention for
republican rabble-rousers. In addition to its well-equipped, elite
Jannisary units, Seljuk's air force is second to none.
The nation's main import
is energy, although it largely prefers to avoid too much reliance on
Sheyaugh-produced sunbrew. Instead, it patronizes a patchwork of
smaller foreign refineries, and will often use an interruption in the
sunbrew supply as a pretext to interfere with weaker governments.
The capital city of Seljuk
is renowned for its large and glorious moon towers. During the day,
these distinctive buildings look like long-stemmed mushrooms, but at
night the bulbous lanterns at the top are lit up like a hundred
miniature suns. “The alleys of Luminous have long shadows” is not
just a popular aphorism among the city's criminal underground, it is
also literally true. City planning is something of a new art in
Seljuk, but the local governor has been positively draconian in
ensuring that new construction leaves room for the light, and at
least 75 percent of the city's streets are well-lit, day or night.
This has led to a surge of neophilia among Luminous' mid-range
property owners, as old buildings are torn down or renovated to allow
for “sun-facing doors.”
The less fortunate will
try to capture the tower light by means of reflective mobiles or wind
chimes. A long and careful enough chain of such reflective objects
can provide an entire street with dim, if uneven light. These “Star
Alleys” are associated with the working class. “Shadow alleys,”
with no light amplification whatsoever, are home to criminals and the
poorest of the poor. Most of the darkest Shadow Alleys lie behind
historic buildings that predate the moon towers, giving the city's
political satirists an incredibly lazy metaphor.
The city's name,
“Luminous,” predates the moon towers and actually refers to the
eternal flame at the top of the Tower of the Sun, inside the royal
palace. Ironically, the hand-fed woodfire of the Tower is much dimmer
than its smaller, sunbrew-powered imitators, but maintaining it is a
sacred duty of the royal family, and its rare lapses are seen as
troubling omens for the nation as a whole.
The Other Library
the old Shadow Alley behind Luminous University, there is a library
the world's scholars speak of in hushed tones. It is not a center of
learning. It does not contain the great historical classics, nor
cutting-edge treatises on advancements in science and magic. It is
The Other Library, and
it contains only books which have never been written.
people visit only to satisfy their curiosity. The bulk of its books
are histories of events that never happened or the outlandish stories
of alien societies that no one on Ukss will ever meet. Sometimes,
though, a visitor will become obsessed. They will search the stacks
desperately for posthumous works from history's greatest authors,
diaries of their enemies (or loved ones!), or for wondrous inventions
that never were.
It's a fool's errand, but sometimes it pays
of the Black Squadron, Juno Eclipse has a fearsome reputation among
the world's fliers as the deadliest woman to ever pilot a
But she has an even more terrible reputation among
those conquered by Seljuk's imperial expansion, for her Black
Squadron is the last thing a village will see before being bombed
Juno Eclipse's main
rival, at least in her own mind, Quiet Oasis is a strongly
precognitive Janissary who transferred to the air force after her
superiors got tired of hearing her dreams of flight. There is likely
no better pilot anywhere on Ukss, though she lacks Captain Eclipse's
Given her resistance to
opening fire on civilian populations, Quiet Oasis is mostly assigned
to the air force's most dangerous reconnaissance, courier, and
extraction missions. She's been shot down more than anyone in the
fleet, but she's never failed to pull off a safe landing.
battle-hardened Jannisary who has fought her way up to command of
Seljuk's 2nd Army, Hundred Killer is a calm and methodical commander,
perhaps overly conservative in her strategies, but unmatched in
personal valor. Though it would be irresponsible to risk her on the
front lines these days, she began her career as a member of the
infantry and every soldier under her command knows that she has lived
up to her name a dozen times over (though the exact figure has a way
of growing every year).
Hundred Killer is a physical Adept of
unrivaled power, and is sometimes known as "Battering Ram,"
for the time she salvaged a siege by punching the defenders' gates
off their hinges. She is not nearly as fearsome as her reputation
indicates, but those who know her well come to see that she carries
an expertly-suppressed rage that only manifests on the field of
Seljuk is a world leader in military innovation.
They've recently introduced a new type of heavy cargo biplane,
capable of carrying up to 75 soldiers and their equipment. Initially,
these planes were reserved for the fast transport of specialists
between bases, but a special division of Jannisaries has begun to
practice the magic of Wind Catching. In theory, this will allow them
to leap from a plane in flight and glide safely to the ground, but
military strategists are still fine-tuning the deployment protocols,
out of fear that too slow a glide will leave the unit vulnerable to
being shot out of the sky.
Republic of Crosswoods
The Republic of
Crosswoods has the lowest crime rate in all of the Lowlands . . . but
it is far from safe. It is policed by an organization known only as
the Bureau, and its citizens live in terror of its agents. People go
missing when they're taken in to the Bureau's custody. Paperwork is
"lost," witnesses are intimidated into silence, and often
the families of the accused are arrested shortly thereafter. It
doesn't happen every time . . . just often enough that the common
folk get the message - never question The Ruling Council.
horrifying truth, that no one has yet uncovered and lived to talk
about it, is that the Bureau is riddled with vampires. Their mortal
agents don't do much by day except stay visible . . . and take
copious notes. The real enforcers always come by night.
Ruling Council itself is "democratically elected" in
typical Lowlands fashion (i.e. it's a free choice, but good luck
standing for office if you're not worth at least 20,000 a year). The
Bureau technically answers to them, but in practice they never
question its decisions or practices. The most frightening secret of
the Republic is that the Council is not under vampiric mind control.
The quarterly statistics are all the persuasion they need that the
Bureau is worth the price.
Of Moaning Oaks
No living soul remembers
the purpose of the monastery at the heart of the Forest of Moaning
Oaks. Did they commit some impiety that brought down a curse on the
surrounding lands? Or did they perform appeasing rituals to keep an
ancient evil sealed away, rituals that failed when they were
destroyed by enemies without or within?
explanation, the woods truly belong to the dead now. Spectres haunt
the decaying trees, and mobile skeletons claw at any life that dares
sprout up in the ruins.
Travelers shun the Forest, but
sometimes, by mistake, their path takes them perilously close. If it
does, they might encounter the land's only survivor, a giant sow, at
least as tall as a man. The sow may or may not be a guardian of human
life, but what is not in doubt is her hatred of the undead. Many
lives have been saved by her timely charge out of the mists. She will
trample effortlessly over zombie flesh, and somehow, there is a magic
to her that puts fear even into the spirits of the dead.
much is known about the protector of the Forest of Moaning Oaks,
except that she must, at some point, have been domesticated, for she
still bears a rhinestone collar embroidered with the name
The City-State of King
Mountain is a historical oddity. Fought over by empires for more than
200 years, it was eventually granted a sort of semi-independence to
soothe the tensions between the neighboring states of TBD and
The grandfather of the current Prince
flaunted tradition by opening King Mountain's first casino. The
wealth this brought in was sufficient to buy the nation's freedom and
abolish the national income tax besides.
King Mountain is a playground for the wealthy and powerful. Drawn by
its mild climate, decadent night life, and status as the Lowlands'
premiere tax haven, industrialists and aristocrats from all over the
continent (and beyond) maintain homes in the tiny coastal nation,
giving it an influence all out of proportion with its diminutive
Though, officially, the economy of
King Mountain is driven by its casinos, banks, and rich arts scene,
its real national industry may well be espionage. Despite some overly
sensational fiction, it's not true that everyone
is a spy, but secrets abound at the gaming tables, and there's
usually someone around to overhear a careless word.
goblins of Vintner's Valley live in comfortable, shallowly-dug
burrows, outfitted with all the latest middle-class comforts. They
are respectably old-fashioned, wearing styles that were popular among
humans a half-century ago. When they are not working, there is almost
always some sort of festival or gala or garden party with which to
celebrate the turning of the seasons. They are fat, rich, and
The source of this idyll is the Valley's fertility
and mild climate, which make it an ideal location for some of the
world's best dairies and wineries. The instinctive magic that goblins
put into all of their crafts manages to elevate even those natural
blessings into the realm of the sublime. Wines, cheeses, and cured
meats from Vintner's Valley are the gold standard by which all luxury
foodstuffs are measured.
Vintner's Valley is extremely
friendly to humans, provided they appear to be of sufficient social
class to afford its products. This reputation for chumminess makes it
the butt of many jokes among more worldly goblins. "Valley
Goblin" is widespread slang for those who appear to have adopted
human customs at the expense of their own heritage.
Despite being in one of King Mountain's less fashionable
neighborhoods, the Hourglass Casino does a brisk trade among locals
and those tourists who are not quite wealthy enough to afford the
more famous establishments. Professional gamblers respect it as a
place with fair odds and an understated atmosphere that caters more
towards comfort than glamour.
Yet professional gamblers avoid the Hourglass. They've heard the
rumors. That if you find the dead spot in the middle of the gaming
floor, and follow the trail of silence past the tables and into the
basement, you might find the elevator that leads down into the
foundation, and to the silent cashier with the ashen face who sells
chips made of lead that are purchased with years of your life.
In the casino under the Hourglass, the ghosts gamble. Wagering
charms and miracles and brokered lives, they are each and every one
trying to win big enough to move on and leave King Mountain behind.
The living, if they are wise, will stay away, but they are always
welcome. They are the high-rollers, the whales. Rich with life, they
can play for wealth beyond their wildest imagining.
Though, in the end, of course, the house always wins.
The Summit Center
The richest and most fabulous of King Mountain's
Casinos, the Summit Center is a disaster waiting to happen. Built on
a huge railroad track circling the peak of King Mountain itself, it
makes one revolution every day, offering its guests 360 degree views
of one of Ukss' most spectacular vistas.
Built largely of glass, the Summit Center requires an
absurd amount of maintenance, both in the cutting-edge engineering of
its rail system and in the potent and subtle spells that keep it from
shattering under its own inertia.
Yet, implausibly, the
Summit Center turns a profit. It frequently tops the list of Ukss
most glamorous hotels, and though its rooms go for an absolutely
staggering rate, they are rarely empty.
between the hubris of its design, the precariousness of its
maintenance, and the wealth of its patrons makes the Summit Center a
favored target for terrorists and revolutionaries. So far, every
attempt has been thwarted, but its security budget is large, and
getting larger every year.
in the fringes of the Lowlands most fabulous and opulent night-life,
the Phantoms are a secret society of gentleman-rogues, committed to
liberating the plundered treasures of the region's most decadent
capitalists and brazenly-lawless crime lords (on those rare occasions
anyone can tell the difference).
The Phantoms are anything but
radicals. They steal for both personal profit and the thrill of the
game, but they have a code. They abhor violence, and will never steal
from charities, churches, or museums. They are themselves members of
the Lowlands' upper crust and view their activities as nothing more
than a harmless way to embarrass those who give their class a bad
name. If, in the course of their work, they discover evidence of
truly unforgivable crimes, they will not hesitate to deliver it to
the proper authorities.
Because of this, they have made some
very powerful enemies over the years. Every ambitious police captain
in the Lowlands dreams of making their career by being the one to
finally unmask their leadership and end the organization once and for
is probably an alias, although, if it is, it's the one she uses most
often. Nobody knows where this international woman of mystery came
from, least of all the lady herself. But she does seem to have some
serious training - mystical martial arts, state-of-the-art spycraft,
and a seemingly endless repertoire of useful magic rituals (that she
always "just happens to remember" at a convenient
Sabrina has worked freelance for every intelligence
agency in the Lowlands and more than a few besides. She's unfailingly
professional and never allows her past employers to influence her
current loyalties, though if there's one thing that might tempt her
to go rogue, it's the secret of her mysterious past.
signature weapon is the enchanted button. With a quick flick of the
wrist, she can pop one off her coat to hurl at an enemy. The
subsequent explosion is rarely fatal, but does provide her with a
suitable distraction to either make a clean getaway or establish
dominance in close quarters combat.
Rocko and Scarlet
and Scarlet are unlikely friends. He's a wrestler who tours the
Lowlands, staging fights for credulous yokels. She's a lounge singer
in a low-traffic King Mountain nightclub. Were it not for a chance
encounter one night, when Rocko was providing extra security for a
Corax spy, the two would have never bonded over their shared
showmanship and unshakable moral principles.
In the years
since their first meeting, the pair has gotten together almost a
dozen times, usually to solve an unsolvable murder. Between her knack
for reading people and his effortless charm, the pair make a
startling effective investigative team.
stars of the Lowland empires' cocktail party circuit, the Kitsune cut
an impressive figure wherever they go. Fox spirits who have taken
human shapes, they have an instinctual knack for the predatory social
environment of Ukss's elite capitalists.
Many of the
ultra-wealthy value the Kitsune as political advisors and personal
companions. They are thoughtlessly ruthless and effortlessly
beautiful. Only their fox tails (of which they gain more as they age,
up to a maximum of nine) mark them as inhuman, but they have the
charm to play them off as a fashionable accoutrement.
have no sort of organized society or culture. When two fox-spirits
meet, if resources are plentiful, they may bond over their shared
hustle, but once they come into direct competition, they instantly
become deadly rivals.
are another form of Yokai that lives quietly among humankind. Though
their natural forms are tall, lean humanoids with black, grey, or
white feathers, they are prodigies capable of taking human or avian
form (usually ravens, but sometime crows, jackdaws, and other similar
birds). They also have a natural affinity for illusion magic, though
they still need wands or rituals to take advantage of it.
have an unsavory reputation among most human cultures. They feature
prominently in many tales about witches, supernatural tricksters, and
ill-omened travelers. Some of these stories are even true, though in
modern times a great many have found work in Ukss' intelligence
agencies, who value their keen observational talents and ability to
blend in nearly anywhere.
The Grey River, as the Lowlands'
primary artery of commerce and travel, has been the objective of many
of the continent's longest and bloodiest wars. Sometimes, the
combatants' greed will be so furiously out of control that they will
risk destroying the very prize they sought to conquer.
what happened in the years leading up to the founding of the Lonestar
Republic. The north and south bank empires had come to blows one too
many times over control of the Grey River's mouth, and fought without
restraint. Neither state comported itself with any great degree of
honor or dignity, but it was the south who was the first to unleash
the unforgiveable sorceries.
Even to this day, the old
capital, Friendship County, is a barren wasteland, a scar on the
earth that may never heal, but if the rulers of TBD thought that show
of brutality would cow the populace, they were sorely mistaken. After
15 years of hard fighting, they were forced to withdraw by an
undaunted guerrilla resistance.
Today, the Lonestar Republic
is a significant mercantile power, but the people's distrust of magic
never went away. Unique among the nations of the Lowlands, Sorcery
and Wand magic are completely outlawed. It is illegal even to know
how to use magic, and while most visiting sorcerers and magicians
are allowed to maintain plausible deniability, it is not unheard of
for authorities to harass suspected magic users. (The subjects of
wild magic and Yokai are much more complicated, but even though
certain talents are legal, it is not a nice place for these people to
Despite its magical deficit, the Lonestar Republic is no
military pushover. They have truly staggering numbers of cannons, and
a stockpile of mustard gas that continues to shock and vex its
southern neighbor, even after 150 years of relative peace.
contributor to their economic power is The Friendship Scar. In this
ruined land, any non-magical industrial process is completely legal.
And while the Lowlands in general is not terribly scrupulous about
pollution, the Scar factories make them look squeaky clean by
comparison. Some more progressive nations even ship their toxic
industrial waste down the river to dump in the wasteland, a practice
the Lonestar Republic is all too happy to encourage, so long as they
can collect a fee for the service.
Because it is of so little
interest to law enforcement, the Scar also acts as a refuge for Yokai
and magical Prodigies. Between the pollution and the residual magic
from the area's destruction, the land alters its residents in
unpredictable ways. It is only a matter of time before the Republic
faces an insurgency of its own, one that all the chemical weapons in
the world might not be enough to put down.
Hill Town is the new capital of the Lonestar Republic, a fortress
city erected after the destruction of Friendship County.
Knights of the Tongue
a true martial order, The Knights of the Tongue nevertheless have a
complex system of ranks and etiquette that is only half-joking. The
Knights are a social club based in Hill Town and composed of
explorers, adventurers, and the respectable bandits of the gentry who
share a singular passion - to discover Ukss's most unusual flora and
fauna and sample their taste.
this is but a decadent hobby, for others an important form of
scientific and agronomical research. Both types are fond of haunting
goblin markets and stalking through yokai-haunted wilderness, looking
to buy any vaguely food-like substance the locals might be selling
(when they're not hunting the locals for game, that is).
The Hill Town Havok
The creature known only as the Hill Town Havok represents the
Republic's sins rebounding upon them. Once a hopeful young Prodigy
with an instinctive command of the wind, he was hounded from his home
and forced to retreat deep into the Friendship Scar. The strange
magical energies he encountered there wound up amplifying and
twisting his power, until he was less a boy and more a living storm.
Eventually, driven by his loneliness and grief, he returned home, not
for revenge, but to prove his worth to the family that exiled
Since then, he has performed many well-meaning deeds of
civic service, but never without drawing down furious winds upon the
city. Whenever he shows up, shop windows break, roof shingles peel
away, and laundry snaps from the lines, never to be seen again.
Unbeknownst to him, a new mob is gathering to “put down the threat,
once and for all.”
Though magic is outlawed in the Lonestar Republic, there are still
some who dare to defy the law. Their meeting place is a bar known as
The Darks, which has no fixed entrance in the physical world. It can
be accessed only by spells and witch-roads, and thanks to the owner's
sorcery, those paths are constantly on the move. Only its regulars
can find it with any reliability, and the proprietor has ways of
stopping the wrong sort of people from becoming regulars. However,
outlaw magicians and sorcerers who manage to keep exactly the right
level of low profile may also find themselves invited for a visit.
Though the Darks has plenty of shadowy corners in which to arrange
illicit deals, the main chamber, where Joe's Girl holds court, is a
well-lit and cozy location in which to debate the intricacies of “the
Joe's Girl keeps a dangerous secret – though she set up and
maintains the bar, she did not create the Darks, nor can she entirely
control who comes and goes. Instead, she found it when she herself
was in dire need of potent magic. Though she doesn't entirely
understand or trust the entity at the heart of the Darks, she is
utterly loyal to it, for it helped her to stop being Joe (it is her
private joke – she is “Joe's Girl” as in, “the girl made by
Joe, out of her wrong-gendered body”). She would likely not kill
innocents on the Darks' behalf, but she will use whatever force is
necessary to protect it from its enemies.
The second-largest city in the Republic, New Hope borders the
Friendship Scar and is seen by outsiders as the last safe place for
“regular” (i.e. “non-magical”) people, it is a central
transshipment hub for goods going into or out of the Scar. Many of
the residents work directly in the Scar itself, but they largely
compose a distinct and separate class, as most of the New Hopers
don't want to get too attached to people so close to the edge of
That may soon change, however, as New Hope is home to a growing
labor movement that threatens to shut down the Scar factories and
topple the wealthy rentiers who dominate the Republic's politics. So
far, the military has not been called out to deal with this threat,
but that's mostly because politicians in the capital have been
dismissing the union as “Scar madness.” Once they win a victory
or two, the government's tone is sure to change.
The Pesticide Factory
Environmental pollution and exploitation of labor are,
surprisingly, not the worst of New Hope's crimes. Some of the Scar's
mutations are economically valuable. This bland, windowless factory
focuses on the Curse of the Black Sands, mutants who are shunned by
the earth, so that whenever their feet touch bare ground, an oily
black liquid rises up out of the prints left behind. Such cursed feet
can be . . . removed, and repurposed into a cheap, effective
pesticide. The Republic is unconcerned with the fate of their former
Republic of Kuru
Situated on the north
bank of the Grey River, where it meets the Shielding Mountains, and
extending north to the Omphalos sea, the Republic of Kuru is a land
of stunning rock formations, emerald green forests, and gentle
rain-showers. Its people are known for being studious and industrious
and, also, ironically, for throwing raucous festivals and feasts.
They are the Lowlands' premiere iron-workers and one of the few
non-goblin sources of enchanted steel.
Order of the Mantis
elite martial order operates out of the fortress of Great Chariot and
serves as a sort of national symbol for the people of Kuru. They are
Ukss's only heavy aerial cavalry and fly into battle heavily armed
and even more heavily armored. Partly this is to act as hard-hitting
shock troops, supporting the infantry wherever air support is needed
Mostly, though, it is to protect the
riders against their own mounts, should the beasts ever slip out of
control. For the Mantis is not simply the Order's heraldry, it is
what they ride into battle.
are natural creatures, native to the northern reaches of the
Shielding Mountains. The Order of the Mantis captures them young and
bonds them with adept candidates, who must master the magic necessary
to control them before the creatures become so large that they can
devour their captors.
Those who survive
the Order's training develop a cocky swagger, and are treated by the
people of Kuru as superstars. Though even with the Order's magic,
death in the belly of a giant Mantis is only a matter of time, giving
the Knights of the Order a live-for-today energy that only heightens
their mystique. Despite the dangers, the Order of the Mantis has
never suffered from low recruitment.
The Petals of the Lily
Half religious cult and have recreational society,
the Petals of the Lily originated on the banks of the Grey River,
near the southern borders of the Republic of Kuru. It has since
spread to Sheyaugh and King Mountain, though it has made little
headway in Capet, thanks to the traditional rivalry between the two
The Petals of the Lily are the acknowledged experts
in the cultivation and preparation of the Grey Lotus, a waterborne
flower with potent entheogenic properties. Using their horticultural
knowledge, the Petals spread the Grey Lotus to any viable
environment, the better to encourage its use by spiritual seekers and
the merely curious alike.
There is, undoubtedly, a god of the Grey Lotus, but
so far it seems to want nothing more than what the Petals of the Lily
have volunteered to give. Some of the especially faithful have
received visions that forestalled danger or led to hidden treasure,
but for the most part, the Grey Lotus brings more relaxation and
pleasure than useful insight.
Ukss' most unlikely oracle, The Mathematician is
a magical Prodigy with the ability to see the underlying mathematical
structure of reality. A ghostly halo of numbers swirls around his
head at all times, and his blank, silvery eyes don't see shapes or
colors, but rather the equations that govern the forces they
The practical upshot of this power is that the
Mathematician can intuitively create statistical models that predict
the future with uncanny accuracy. Only his own actions are beyond his
ability to account for (though he is blessed/cursed with the
knowledge of their consequences mere moments after he takes them). As
a result, he is extremely reluctant to engage with the world, instead
preferring to use the vast wealth he's accumulated as one of Ukss'
great industrialists to further tighten his security and make his
isolation from the events of the world ever more complete.
his anxieties, the Mathematician is a very lonely man, and he will
occasionally take promising young up-and-comers into his confidence.
His mentorship can be quite valuable (literally - only massed
necromantic calculating pools are as effective at playing the stock
market), but there inevitably comes a time when his predictions call
for an intolerable sacrifice and few friendships can survive his fear
of ruining the future.
began when the Tainted General, Measured Cube, lost a hand in the
Battle of White Shores. The people of Galat were so grateful for his
sacrifice that they commissioned the finest prosthetic Lowland
science could create. But though Measured Cube was only a minor
spirit, barely able to shape the flesh of his vessel, when the
surgeons attached the hand, something extraordinary happened - the
magic of the prosthetic somehow grafted itself onto his spirit.
His very nature was thereafter permanently transformed so that, years
later, when he finally lost his mortal body, the clockwork hand
somehow followed him back into the Magic World.
magical engineers of Galat discovered many wonderful and terrible
things in the subsequent decades. That the Tainted can survive having
100% of their flesh replaced with steel, lightning, and enchanted
crystal. That a divine being that is bound into a human body, grafted
onto a piece of industrial machinery, and then . . . released back
into the magic world will forever after retain a connection to that
same machinery, not just in form, but in function, so that you might
take a simple Geometrical and make it into a patron of the autoloom
(and protector of the capitalists who own them).
technology proved to be too recklessly blasphemous even for the
Lowlands, and by convention it is reserved for the most desperate of
military applications (no empire can consider itself a true naval
power if it does not have at least one demon-bound dreadnought
chained to its docks . . . just in case).
the end, though, treaties are just paper and no nation would dare
risk being the only one to not have an answer to this technology.
Clockwork gods are still being built in secret, for uses both
civilian and military. Some of the more foolish nations have even
begun using Clockwork Gods to design newer, more powerful Clockwork
Gods. These creations are invariably quite powerful, but with
additional undocumented functions that human engineers can only
barely understand. The paranoid (or perhaps merely sensible) believe
that there is a third- or fourth- generation creation these Gods are
searching for, a true Machine God that will rework the mortal world
the way that humans have transformed the Magic World.
called RWBG cloths, because they are made with red, white, blue, and
green threads, Code Cloths are made by a very particular breed of
clockwork god, and they have the strange property of being completely
unique. Not only are all code cloths distinct from each other, it is
impossible to sew multiple cloths together to replicate a larger one,
and for any square patch larger than an inch per side, it is
impossible to match part of a cloth with any similarly sized part of
any other cloth (the unique sections are actually significantly
smaller than 1 inch, but getting much below that makes it hard to
discern the uniqueness with the naked eye).
code cloths are fairly rare, because each new one takes longer to
make than the previous one, but that just gives them a high value to
collectors of fine cloth. Some excessively cautious people have even
begun using code cloths as a form of currency, under the assumption
that they are nearly impossible to counterfeit with illusion magic
(this is technically true, but the mathematical algorithm that
verifies whether something is a true code cloth is so complex that it
would require every buyer and seller to have a dedicated necromantic
calculating pool to make this a viable form of commerce).
miraculous pills of living metal take a hundred years to make.
Housing bound gafflings, they are trained over the course of a
century to love and value human beings. When swallowed, it will
completely heal a person's wounds, knitting together flesh with
threads of quicksilver and replacing missing organs with
The magic of a
Lozenge of Living Metal relies on the gaffling inside being
intelligent enough to understand the details of human anatomy and
well-treated enough to consider the living metal prosthetics their
home. An immature gaffling, or one who resents its vessel, will have
disastrous effects when introduced to a living body. Since Lozenges
can only be used once, and there is no know way to test them in
advance, the makers of such things operate under exacting standards.
Each one costs an unimaginable fortune, and they are only sold to the
rich and powerful who are desperate enough to pay whatever it takes
for a miracle.
to the east of Seljuk, on the south bank of the Grey River, is the
nation of Lydia. A generation ago, it bloodlessly transitioned into a
constitutional republic after the extinction of the main branch of
its royal family. Now, the economy is dominated by the lesser
aristocratic families, who kept their ancestral lands and properties,
and have largely parlayed them into diverse foreign investments and
controlling interests in the nation's emerging industries.
Seljuk are remnants of a larger kingdom that broke apart 500 years
ago, and so speak very similar languages (they are about 75% mutually
intelligible), worship almost exactly the same gods, and share many
of the same customs and laws. This has made them bitter rivals who
each claim to be the true inheritor to the ancient kingdom, with a
legal claim to significant expanses of the other's territory. Though
Lydia is the poorer and less technologically advanced of the two
nations, it has nonetheless maintained the balance of power through
its extraordinary powers of sorcery.
Some within the
new republic fear that the balance may be set to change, now that the
royal family, The House of the Dragon, is no more. For all that they
were highly inbred, corrupt, and prone to dangerous mood swings, they
were descended from the dragon, Dollmaker, and it was that bloodline
that was credited for their incredible skill at magic.
the employ of the aristocratic families suggest that the House of the
Dragon is not entirely irreplaceable, though. Dollmaker sired the
first king shortly before the crisis that broke apart the old
kingdom. The royal blood has spread far and wide in the subsequent
centuries, and every single living aristocrat can claim descent from
the dragon. What is less widely publicized is the fact that the same
is true of very nearly every commoner in the nation as well. As a
result, skill with magic is unusually common, with the strongest
sorcerers bearing the Dragon's Eye, a single, golden, cat-like eye,
replacing one of their normal human ones (this is very likely the
origin of the Lowland's belief that heterochromia is a sign of
currently ruled by a parliament, but candidates who lack an
aristocratic name have basically no chance of winning an election.
This is less due to popular sentiment than it is serious structural
and legal barriers to entry. Election districts follow the borders of
the ancestral estates, and though the franchise is universal, the
local offices that run the elections are appointed directly by the
landowners. Corruption is rampant and the nation's three largest
cities, as legal entities bound to the Throne Estate (now managed,
but not technically owned, by the parliament) have no representation
Among magical prodigies, telepathy might be the most
frequently manifested power. But prodigies of any sort are rare, and
telepaths who survive childhood rarer still. That's why the nation of
Lydia, in the heart of the Lowlands, created the Dream Twister.
Dream Twister is a work of ruthless cunning and clinical,
industrialized evil. It is also the only way anyone knows of
consistently creating telepathic adepts. It takes the form of a squat
pyramidal structure of eye-watering, geometrically impossible
asymmetry. The building both amplifies and taints ambient magical
energy, channeling it into a central chamber. Prospective adepts are
placed into medically-induced comas, wheeled into the room (in
batches of as many as 24, though it is rare for there to be enough
volunteers to meet capacity), and left to dream.
(and it may takes days, weeks, or months, depending on a wide range
of psychological factors and the subjects' latent magical potential)
those placed inside the chamber begin to . . . change. Their dreams
no longer connect to their own subconscious, but rather to certain
ominous parts of the magic world. At first this manifests as
nightmares (and failed subjects never advance beyond this stage), but
as time goes on, the dreamer makes peace with the dark realm and
their dreams become chillingly functional - not quite lucid, but
unfailingly focused on solving their personal problems with
sociopathic pragmatism. Once they've reached that stage, they may
wake themselves from within the coma, and become telepathic
adepts in truth.
Any telepath created with The Dream Twister
is fundamentally tainted by its dark energies. They are experts at
prying information from the minds of the unwilling, but leave only
mental wreckage in their wake. They make poor spies, but excellent
assassins. They also find use on the battlefield, cloaking themselves
in an aura of fear that will devastate ally and enemy alike.
The Girl Who
Dreamed a City
Living in the
shadow of the Dream Twister is difficult for the people of (TBD city)
The suffering of its converts echos loudly on the Astral Web and the
psychic landscape of the city is littered with the cast-off remnants
of their mutilated spirits. And so, one day, a young telepathic
prodigy decided to do something about it. She gathered the bits and
pieces of the would-be Dream-Twisted and carefully sorted them inside
her mind palace.
Soon, she had
stacks and stacks of dream fragments, unspoken passions, and wistful
memories of better days, more than any one person should be able to
hold. But she grew to meet the challenge and discovered new ways to
compress and bundle the soul remnants, so that she could rescue
larger and larger portions of the Dream Twister's victims.
It would have
been a terrible burden for anyone to bear, let alone an orphan girl
living on the streets, and so it was perhaps inevitable that the soul
fragments would begin to break down and bleed into each other,
becoming a new, unprecedented type of yokai that lived exclusively
inside the girl's brain.
The yokai are
not, strictly speaking, people. But they are made from the best parts
of people, and they were born into a world built from the girl's
compassion, and so the city they built for themselves is one of peace
and comfort. The streets are lined with beloved childhood homes. The
fields are green and gold, woven from the romance of autumn and the
hope of spring. It is always planting and it is always harvest,
because from horizon to horizon, the entire world is made from the
good and worthy parts of the spirit that had to be stripped away to
turn an ordinary person into a killer.
The girl is a
woman now. She still has many years ahead of her, but she's of an age
where she can no longer ignore the closeness of death. Tending the
city has been her life's true purpose, and now she worries that it
won't survive without her. The wise among the dreamborn yokai have
discovered pathways out into the broader Astral Web, but the city
itself is largely ignorant of its coming peril. Some great ritual
magic will be needed to give the city its own independent existence,
but if it exists, it is within the deepest recesses of the magic
world, in the library of some esoteric god or demon prince.
dragon, figures prominently in Lydia's national mythology. He was,
supposedly, a savior to the people of the nation, having the
foresight to sire and mentor a family of sorcerers just as the old
kingdom was about to collapse and thereby ensuring that it would not
fall under the sway of Seljuk. Little do the Lydians suspect that the
House of the Dragon was a lark, an experiment by a cold and ancient
mind to see what would happen when his human neighbors were wound up
and pointed in a particular direction.
not cruel by inclination, and actually has a distant affection for
the nation he created, but his goals are not human goals. He is one
of Ukss' most powerful sorcerers, and quite possibly the most
knowledgeable mortal expert on the subject of the mind. Yet it is
still a mystery to him, and so he uses Lydia as a living laboratory,
pushing and probing its citizens to investigate esoteric questions of
identity and free will.
lives in an extensive series of caverns underneath the Dream Twister.
Working through one of his humanoid puppets, he helped design the
structure, both as an experiment in the magic of telepathy and a way
of shielding his home from unwanted prophecy and clairvoyance (any
would-be seers are drawn, inexorably, to the atrocities above,
rendering him insignificant in comparison).He does continue to meddle
with his descendants in the aristocratic families, but always through
a mind-controlled pawn or through messages sent via the Astral Web.
The cloud-shrouded peaks of the
Shielding Mountains divide the major human civilizations of Atalanta
from each other. Impassible by all but the hardiest explorers, they
are the last bastion for many of the Lowlands' native Yokai.
the Shielding Mountains are synonymous with untamed wilderness among
the Lowlands' nations, they are gradually falling under the influence
of industry and commerce. Mines riddle the lower elevations and only
the most isolated still need garrisons to protect them from hostile
civilization centered under the Shielding Mountains, the Cthonic
Empire is an alliance of goblins, mole-people, and other underground
Yokai. It is moderately industrialized, perhaps two or three decades
behind the Lowlands in magical and weapons technology, but with
sophisticated electric lighting and ventilation techniques.
a diverse civilization, formed from a union between historical
rivals, the Cthonic Empire highly values politeness and ceremony. The
mole-person Emperor employs a whole legion of courtiers and diplomats
to ensure that his commands are delivered with precision and
Fashion is especially important in the
Imperial Court. Brocaded cloth and neck ruffs are standard for anyone
who wishes to look respectable, though the arms-race between
courtiers for ever-larger ruffs has led the Emperor to hand down an
official decree limiting their size.
than the alpine Yokai, the Chthonic Empire is the main impediment to
the Lowlands' eastern expansion. Through careful diplomacy, the
Emperor has secured treaties to limit the depth of mines in the
Shielding Mountains. These treaties have so far been enforced by the
Empire's superior underground engineering experience, but some of the
eastern-most nations have been experimenting with mechanized boring
machines (called "Drill Tanks" when they're weaponized)
that threaten to turn the tables.
The bulk of the Chthonic Empire is based in the Great
Vault, a giant, egg-shaped cavern 150 miles long that sits about a
half-mile under the surface. The ceiling and walls of the chamber are
covered in glowing, multicolored crystals and its extensive mushroom
forests are a dark fairyland of bioluminescence. A dozen large,
modern cities call the Great Vault home, with maybe a hundred
satellite villages existing in the twists and turns of the various
tunnels radiating out from the perimeter.
The Crystal Trees
Scattered throughout the
fungal forests of the Great Vault are sculptures of twisted wire in
the shape of large, leafless trees. Hanging from their branches are
coconut-sized green crystals which seem to burn with an inner fire.
Despite appearances, the
Crystal Trees are alive, and if roused they can untwist the wire of
their trunks to become filigreed humanoid figures with green crystals
in their abdominal cavity. Though they are physically very powerful,
they loathe conflict and prefer to flee from combat.
Occasionally, the fire in
one of their crystals will go out, and then they walk across the land
to seek the only fuel that will reignite it – a mortal soul. Being
trapped in a crystal does no great harm to the soul, but it does
delay its destined departure from the physical world. While in tree
form, these beings can commune with their trapped souls and this is
their primary means of learning about the world. As such, they much
prefer to collect the souls of great heroes and other luminaries,
though in desperate times they'll take what they can get. Eventually,
the souls always escape, and thus the cycle begins again.
The Crystal Trees can be
a phenomenal source of information, but dealing with them is tricky.
They can only communicate telepathically, and they are used to
speaking with the dead. Mind-to-mind contact runs an unusual risk of
separating the soul from the body entirely.
The Chthonic Empire is an entire
nation of subterranean Yokai, but the cities of the Slime people
deserve a special mention. Though they have integrated fairly well
into the multi-species culture of the Empire, the peculiarities of
the their physiology have led them to stand (well, not exactly, but
you know) apart from the other Yokai. The cities of their original
homeland have vertebrate districts and certain hastily-added
architectural accommodations, but they are mostly built for the
comfort of fluid bodies. They don't have "streets" so much
as "pipes" or "doors" so much as "valves."
Travel to outlying districts is augmented with pneumatic systems of
such incredible efficiency that the slime cities have become the
backbone of the Empire's industrial production.
conventional cities of the Chthonic Empire have their own
pneumatic-tube transport systems, but even a medium sized town finds
it difficult to justify a mass-transit system that can only service a
minority of the population. This gives the Slimes a reputation as
sophisticated, but out-of-touch urbanites and may bias educators and
employers towards directing them to clerical and administrative
Slime People are not the only member of their peculiar genus. There
are also less intelligent slime-animals, who wander their native
fungal forests. The most common are the slime-cat and the slime-dog,
who are popular companion animals even among the solid species,
thanks to their enthusiastic, if messy affection for their owners.
order of mole-person Adepts directly serves the emperor, using their
magical ability to sense gold to fill the empire's coffers and ensure
that too much of the substance does not wind up in the hands of the
surface dwellers. Only relatives of the emperor are trusted with this
mystical knowledge, and to further encourage loyalty, service as a
gold sniffer is often a prelude to powerful and prestigious positions
in the upper ranks of the Chthonic Empire's administration.
But though gold
sniffing is officially a state secret of the Empire, that doesn't
mean it never leaks to the public. Every few years, a gold sniffer
falls into debt or leaves themselves open to blackmail, and the price
of choice is almost always instruction in the order's secret arts.
Rogue gold sniffers walk a dangerous line. It's nearly impossible to
make someone forget an adept power, and thus the empire mandates
their swift execution, but they're scarcely safer among people who
want to keep them alive. To keep your life, your freedom, and the
money is the ultimate dream, but only the most legendary rogues are
able to pull it off.
The Priests of Truth
On the Eastern
slope of the Shielding Mountains, in a high valley, overlooking the
plains, there is a hidden spring. Legend has it that its waters pour
forth from the still-bleeding heart of a long-forgotten god. If a
mortal being bathes in the crystal-clear waters of the source pool,
they will emerge with the ability to unfailingly recognize falsehood
in all its forms.
A sworn fellowship of mystics guards this
place, both from those who would exploit it and from honest seekers
who are not yet prepared for its power. They allow only those who
have spent a lifetime in study and contemplation to brave the waters
of the spring, for the first lies it reveals are invariably the ones
you tell yourself.
Few survive this revelation.
ones who do, the monks who have spent decades purifying their minds
and souls of all self-deception (and even for those such as they, the
waters can pose a terrible danger), are highly sought after as judges
and arbitrators. Only the greatest of injustices will induce them to
leave the monastery, however, for they are as incapable of speaking
deception as they are of hearing it and the outside world weighs
heavily on them.
For aspirants who seek their wisdom, and ask
if it's worth the risk to experience pure truth for themselves, they
always give the same answer - "It's almost always better not to
know. . . Almost."
the years, many have tried to tame the Roc. The reward is obvious -
she is a giant eagle, capable of lifting an elephant in each of her
mighty claws. Anyone who controlled such a thing would have
uncontested mastery of the skies. Certainly, even the mightiest
hunter quails at the thought of confronting the beast, and every
general, warlord, and king in the shadow of the Shielding mountains,
where she makes her lair, has planned for the nightmare scenario,
where she is drawn into battle against them.
the Roc is too wild, too pure to ever be tamed. The mountain folk
revere her for it, seeing her as a symbol of freedom against the
encroaching rule of the Lowland empires. Though it would be
condescending to say they "worshiped" her, they do
occasionally leave her offerings of ox and yak. And they keep secret
a fact that would draw fortune-seekers from around the world - the
Roc's nest contains an egg. A chick is on the way.
doesn't mean to cause so much trouble, really. He's just a big,
clumsy oaf of a puppy . . .
Wait! That thing is a puppy?! That
20-foot-tall slavering hellbeast, with teeth like scimitars and paws
the size of a grown-man's torso is a puppy?
It's going to get bigger?
so Fenris was betrayed. As an immortal, he could be slain by none but
the gods, but he could be bound. Lured with succulent treats and kind
words, he bounded after his human friends into the deepest, darkest
cave anyone could find. While he was distracted with a freshly-slain
yak carcass, his captors dynamited the entrance.
You can still
hear Fenris' howls on a quiet night. They are apologetic and full of
sadness. One day, maybe one day soon, the apologies will stop and the
sadness will turn to anger.
in the Shielding Mountains, there is a valley that dips below the
tree line. Inside is an old-growth forest containing gorgeous
hardwoods and fragrant pines that have otherwise been logged into
extinction. Thanks to the fertile soil and ideal climate conditions,
some of these trees are of truly gigantic scale, the size of
battleships or office buildings.
There are magnates down in
the Lowlands who would pay millions to secure the rights to the
valley . . . and profit to the tune of millions more as they stripped
it bare. But they cannot, because the Valley has powerful protection
in the form of its own native band of Sasquatches.
their size and fearsome demeanor, the Sasquatches are peaceful
herbivores. They speak a simple language of grunts and howls, but
their knowledge of the valley runs deep. They mostly spend their time
observing the valley's animals, tending to the health of the trees,
and maintaining the rituals that keep their home hidden from the
The magic of the Sasquatches is unlike anything
else on Ukss. Though it is no match for a true magic wand, it has
spared their lands from scrutiny for hundreds of years. If
discovered, it would inspire even more greed than the valley's
untapped natural resources, but only someone as gentle and humble as
the Sasquatches themselves could ever hope to master it.
Giant Lynx of the Alpine Woods
as solitary predators, the Giant Lynx do not live in villages,
as the term is commonly understood, they do try and keep in touch
with each other, meeting at the intersections of their territories
for trade, mating, and news. The most frequently trafficked points on
the network are called "crossroads" and the Lynx name them
with smell-signs that only partially translate into spoken
The Giant Lynx prefer to have as little to do with
humans as possible. They will sometimes negotiate with isolated
mining, logging, or furrier camps, trading their services as scouts
and guides for recognition and protection of their favored hunting
grounds. However, like all cats, they can see nascent magical
energies and will often go out of their way to warn others of major
Keepers of the Council
the eastern slope of the Shielding Mountains, where the temperate
rainforest climbs to the timber line, there stands a ring of seven
stones. Erected in memory of an ancient war between the forest and
early humankind, it is the enduring token of an oath of truce. Each
stone has a steward - a man or woman who was given by their clan to
the forest to serve as both hostage and ambassador.
a mark of their service, the stewards gained the power to change into
great and terrible bears, a power they use to both protect the
descendants of the clans and defend the woods from those who harm or
their greatest power can only be used when the seven are in accord.
If they gather at the standing stones, they may summon the Council of
the Forest – the seven great monarchs of wood and grass and stream.
The Council may hear petitions from needy humans, offer advice to the
Keepers on the state of the forest and the threats against it, or
take direct action on its own behalf. It is slow to rouse to anger,
and has little pity for human weakness, but once it has committed to
a course, there are few who can turn it aside.
the Shielding Mountains are home to many powerful alfar, relatively
few come from the sacred gate at the continental divide. It is a
large rift, stretching hundreds of miles, but it is razor thin. For a
great spirit to pass through, it must accept an existence as a
split, liminal creature.
face no such dilemma, however. They are small enough to pass through
whole, and because they are not sharing the gate's energy with larger
creatures, there are more mephits on the peaks of the Shielding
Mountains than anywhere else in the world (with the possible
exception of the North Pole). These light, airy creatures rarely
descend to the earth, instead floating on updrafts and capturing
hawks to ride in thrilling aerobatic stunt routines. Mephit
hawk-riders can be fierce combatants when riled, but they prefer play
to war and will only organize against persistent threats and those
they can't outrun.
A land of rolling, golden hills, slow,
muddy rivers, and rich, fertile valleys, the Omphalos coast is
blessed with mild winters and long summers. It is almost as
capitalist as the Lowlands, but more pastoral, more religious, and
less aggressively expansionist.
on the south by an impassible, yokai-haunted rain forest, the Coast
is much more accustomed to strange disappearances, mysterious
transformations, and alien revelations than nearly anywhere else on
Ukss. The people are earthy, practical, and unpretentious, but they
take no chances with the occult. Every village and small town has its
own rituals of appeasement, and though the cities don't have the same
sort of worries, they never quite lose that cautious edge. Reverence
for nature and respect for the gods are key values.
people of the Omphalos Coast have golden-brown skin, dark hair, and
dark eyes. In the country, dark suntans are both expected and
considered a sign of a proper work ethic, though city folk view them
as an affectation that goes in and out of fashion with periodic
Religion is a daily fact of life on the Omphalos
Coast. Though some gods have sacred days, and some extraordinary
events require special rituals, most of humanity's relationship with
the divine comes in the form of day-to-day respect and routine acts
The main belief in Omphalos Coast religion is in “The
God of the Place.” The stream that runs through the village is
ruled by a god. The old hills outside town have a different god. The
forest to the south has many gods, perhaps as many as one for each
tree, but certainly one for each grove and cliff and strangely-shaped
Human places don't have gods, but only because no
place can truly belong to humanity until its god retreats to the
spirit world. This can be a voluntary retreat, to make room for
favored humans, or it can be a forced retreat, for gods that were
defeated by ancient heroes or sorcerers. However, even in the spirit
world, the gods take an interest in the lands they left behind.
Religious observances are meant to discourage the gods from returning
and reclaiming their places.
For benevolent gods, this means demonstrating that
the land is being well cared-for or that the people remain worthy of
the gift of the land. For hostile gods, this means showing the
strength of the people, or that they still possess the god's doom or
A given village may have been built on the lands of a
dozen or more gods, and the most common ritual observances happen
when crossing from one land to the next. The fields to the south may
have been carved out of the forest domain of The Tree Who Wears
Corpses, a great warrior god who used human bodies as armor, and so
the farmers will pound their chests, stomp their feet and shout a
challenge as they head out to work. By contrast, the bridge across
the stream may have been won on a bet from The Duck Who Runs Like A
Man (giving the stream its name – Duck Race), and as a tribute,
young boys and girls are encouraged to run across it whenever it's
Because a given town may have dozens of ancient pacts
or lingering spiritual enemies, the most important religious task is
remembering old stories. This is given over to the Rememberers, an
all-female tradition of sorcerers and storytellers. The job is
usually passed from mother to daughter, though there are rituals that
allow for adoption. Training begins as soon as the girl learns to
speak, and is a lifelong pursuit. However, no apprentice becomes a
true Rememberer until her mother dies. Then, if all the magics were
performed correctly, and all the rituals observed, the mother's
memories transfer to her daughter, including all the preserved
memories of the entire line of mothers and grandmothers going all the
way back to founding of the line. Genuinely new Rememberers are rare,
but it happens that lineages are broken and new lands are claimed
from the gods, and thus from time to time likely-looking girls are
taught the secret arts to found new lines of their own.
for the 11th full moon of the year, just as autumn is giving way to
winter, Vine Day officially
marks the end of the grape harvest and a celebration of a job well
it's an excuse to get drunk and act like a fool.
Day is a day sacred to the God TBD, but is primarily celebrated in
the more heterodox cities of the Omphalos coast region. There it is
an excuse to release inhibitions and express passions that have been
suppressed the rest of the year. The more decadent trade cities
compete with each other to throw the grandest parade, and in places
with a strong Vine Day tradition, anything done while wearing a
carnival masque does not count against the year's tally of
of the more staid priests of TBD try to shut down Vine Day
celebrations, but rulers and subjects alike view it as a necessary
release valve for pent-up tensions. This lavish celebration of excess
is going nowhere anytime soon.
of the Departed
is said on the Omphalos Coast that when the music plays on Vine Day,
even the dead tap their feet. Though something of an exaggeration, it
is true that ghosts may be drawn back to the living world with a
properly-staged revel. There is an entire school of sorcery that
focuses on precisely this sort of benevolent necromancy, calling the
departed back to Ukss to retrieve lost information, briefly reunite
family, friends, and lovers, and learn from the wisdom of the ancient
Vine Day is a popular choice for such rituals, both for
its associations with seasonal rebirth and because it is a time the
dead remember fondly. Though they can usually only be seen by
mediums, everybody's just a bit more psychic on Vine Day, and when
the parades are in full swing, many a bottle has been passed
unwittingly into skeletal hands.
Seekers of the Hour
within the technologically advanced areas of the Omphalos Coast, but
with followers worldwide, the Seekers of the Hour are a mystery cult
whose rituals revolve around clocks and timekeeping. The deepest
initiates, those who have studied and meditated for years, gain the
minor magical ability to manipulate clocks, causing them to run
faster or slower, stop or start, all with a thought.
Seekers demonstrate no other telekinetic of time-manipulating
abilities, and they have never claimed to offer such. To their
thinking, the clock is humanity's purest invention. A concrete
manifestation of Intellect, undiluted by personality, or even
knowledge. They believe that their control of clocks comes from a
spiritual connection to that pure intellect, and that while they may
not be able to control anything as crude as terrestrial time, their
practices allow them to influence their own celestial clock –
advancing their progress along the wheel of reincarnation or
extending their time in a favorable form.
Seekers of the Hour tend to recruit from well-to-do people, the
natural philosophers of the gentry, who use their leisure time to
ponder the mysteries of the universe. Connections within the cult can
open a lot of doors in high society, and their more or less unique
magic allows them to easily identify each other across national
Cauthrunne, The Crow
In the aftermath of a
great battle, a wounded, dying survivor may have a vision of
Cauthrunne, a trickster spirit who appears in dreams as either as a
giant crow or a beautiful woman dressed in black. She will offer a
deal to the delirious and the shell-shocked: their lives and
incomparable skill in battle in exchange for . . . nothing.
Or, at least, nothing a
human would ever notice missing. Cauthrunne is a carrion-eater, and
though she is far too powerful to manifest in the physical world,
even as an Alfar, she may accept sacrifices in her name. When she
chooses a champion, the spirits of any who fall by the champion's
hand will fly to her palace in the Magic World.
It might be possible to
deny Cauthrunne her prize by swearing off violence and living a life
of peace, but fate will rarely allow such a retirement. Her chosen
have a habit of winning battles, and even if they can resist the
temptation and quit while they are ahead, their comrades will be
loathe to lose such a potent talisman of divine favor, and their
superiors will come to rely on them more than is entirely wise.
In the end, this
form of salvation is temporary. The Crow Goddess' blessing is finite,
and her champion will inevitably face more than they can handle. That
suits her just fine, though. She can always find a new servant among
small island less than a day's sailing off the coast, Vaporia is a
community utterly devoted to its signature industry: glass-making.
The famed sorcerer-artisans are world-renowned for their enchanted
glass boats and elegant mechanical hawk familiars (made with brass
fittings and clockwork mechanisms, holding together the glass
feathers which allow them to fly), but the island also produces large
amounts of mundane glass, from the exquisite blown-glass figurines
that decorate every house on the island to industrial quantities of
simple plate glass, to sate the south's ever-growing appetite for
The culture of Vaporia is
best described as "artistic, but mercenary." They love to
show off the latest achievements of the glass-maker's art, but not
unless they've been paid first. As long-distance travel continues to
drop in price, they've been receiving increasing numbers of tourists,
eager to experience its colorful and chime-filled streets. Though
this has been an unquestionable economic boon for the people of
Vaporia, some of the old guard believe that it threatens to dilute
their way of life and replace real glass work with "shows for
Sorcerer-Artisans of Vaporia produce these elegant sea-going vessels
for a select clientele of discerning customers. Made from a form of
enchanted glass that is "grown" into the proper shape over
the course of years, the glass boats are lighter than wood and harder
than steel. Only dedicated warships are better under cannon fire, and
there is not a cargo vessel in the world that can carry more weight,
faster. Plus, a glass boat need never worry about barnacles or water
Yet for all their meritorious qualities, glass boats
are ludicrously expensive, and thus nearly every one in service acts
as a personal yacht for some sorcerer, monarch, or Lowlands
Celebrated in song and story,
New Gold City is the unofficial capital of the Omphalos Coast.
Commanding the mouth of The Big River, it is a major commercial port
and a military and industrial hub every bit the equal to anything in
the Lowlands. It is also widely considered the world's most
cosmopolitan city and is a frequent destination for refugees,
migrants, and outcasts, all of whom bring their own unique cultures
into the mix. New Gold City has a reputation as a place where
fortunes are made, true love is discovered, and the unlucky are never
The city is ruled by the
Waters dynasty. Said to be descended from the god of the Big River
itself, they are hereditary Prodigies, able to hold back floods and
divert river water to outlying farms. The current Queen, Juliana of
the Waters, highly values propriety and protocol. Her strictness and
exactitude are legendary, though she is also renowned for knowing the
birthdays of all of her servants and bestowing upon them gifts that
are as lavish as is proper for their station.
Waters dynasty lives in The Golden Palace, the only part of the first
Gold City to survive the Thousand-Year Flood. The Palace is an
architectural marvel, meticulously carved by water magic from the
gold-colored cliffs that give the city its name. The Palace is also
famous for its living paintings, whose figures move when they are
unobserved. Whether the paintings are haunted or a product of
forgotten sorcery is the subject of much debate.
The core of New Gold City's military is their
elite Boar Warriors. Dedicating their minds, bodies, and souls to the
Great Boar god of the southern woods, they fight with terrible
stubbornness, pushing past wounds to continue the battle up until the
very point of death. Though their attrition rates are high, they
count much more heavily on the battlefield than their numbers might
It is rare for a goblin to accept the Tainted
Bargain, but TBD was a master locksmith obsessed with overcoming the
last plateau of skill that keeps mortals from perfection. In exchange
for ultimate mastery, he gave his body to a god of doorways and
passages, and thus the Keyhole was born.
Nestled in one of New Gold City's famously cozy
alleys, the Keyhole sells keys. All kinds of keys. Every
kind of key. Every specific key, too. The Tainted goblin who runs the
place refuses to make them to order, but look long enough through the
sprawling rows of tiny drawers (more than could possibly fit in the
shop's modest floorplan) and you will find a key for any lock in
existence, all for the modest price of one silver coin. The trick is
recognizing it when you see it.
The largest colony of these sprites of brick and ivy
slipped into the world in the wake of The Keyhole's divinity, but
they can sometimes herald other urban deities. Like all mephits, they
are flighty and mischievous by nature, but they can also be
surprisingly helpful. Approached with an offering of garbage (their
favorite is balled-up bits of newspaper, especially if the headline
is weird or exciting), they will gladly share overheard gossip or
lead a lost traveler to any address in the city. Be careful, though,
because they live for drama, and may orchestrate messy emotional
outbursts that spill out into the streets. They especially love
coaxing unsuspecting people to return home early and catch their
partners in the act of infidelity, even if the situation is not what
it first appears.
The House of Not Yet
This house is not in any
guidebook to the occult. It is neither studied as a mystery, nor
marked as a threat. As far as the outside world is concerned, it's
just an ordinary house. But the children of New Gold City know
better. They warn each other to stay away from the house at the end
of the cul-de-sac, the one hidden behind an overgrown hedge and
wrought-iron gates. Kids who venture into that house come back . . .
The House of Not Yet Midnight sits on a vortex of
invasive magical energies. The whole structure is like a Labyrinth
that channels its inhabitants' fears and regrets, trapping them in a
time-loop of their own creation, one where they face their greatest
weakness again and again, until it is overcome. No one ever ages in
The House of Not Yet Midnight. Nor do they die. No matter how many
hundreds or thousands of times they fail, the House will not grant
them that mercy.
In New Gold City, on the Omphalos
Coast, there is a shabby and disreputable-looking building that
nonetheless has a well-maintained stairwell sinking down below street
level to an imposing door of black hardwood. Those who know the
password . . . or who have been drawn to the door by fate may pass
through to find an intimate, dimly-lit theater.
The shows at
The Nightmare Theater are lurid and disturbing. The actors wear
grotesque masks and the plots are surreal pastiches stitched together
by dream logic. A common theme is sudden, unexpected violence,
presented not as spectacle but in a way that makes the audience feel
leave the Theater feeling psychically drained.
exactly what happened. The Yokai who run the Nightmare Theater live
off the spiritual energy they harvest from their performances. But
this is not a purely parasitical transaction. Once they get a good
night's sleep, those who have sat through an entire show find that
for a few days afterwards they perceive the world with unusual
clarity. They are more tuned in to the emotions of their friends and
coworkers, more alert and observant, and much less focused on their
own problems. Whatever it is these minor gods take from their
audience, it is the energy that powers anxiety and self-doubt.
who figure out the connection often seek to return, but it is said
that it's impossible to find the Nightmare Theater unless one's
soul is burdened enough to nourish its proprietors.
The Angel of Flames
Like all large cities, New Gold City is particularly
vulnerable to out of control fires. Luckily, it has a protector in
the form of The Angel of Flames. This beloved figure has a magical
immunity to fire and is usually the first one on the scene when one
breaks out, rushing into burning buildings to save the residents and
the most irreplaceable of their possessions.
What the people of New Gold City do not suspect,
however, is that the Angel of Flames is a serial arsonist, who starts
fires specifically so she may act the hero. It started accidentally,
when a pyrokinetic demon took refuge in her body after a particularly
out-of-control blaze, but even though she was able to fight off its
mental control, the rush she got from exploiting its powers to save
lives was enough to allow the demon an avenue of manipulation. Now,
they have a bizarre, dysfunctional partnership. She is in full
control of her actions, but she also allows the demon to channel its
powers through her. She rationalizes it by telling herself that
without her lifesaving, the demon would simply kill with impunity,
but every time she rushes into a burning building, she loses just a
little bit more of her soul.
He used to have it all. He was the
best cop in New Gold City's elite Special Investigations Unit. He had
true love, and a family on the way. Then Baron Von Hendriks took
everything from him.
Now he goes by the name of Dark, his soul
as black as the funeral clothes he's vowed to wear until his wife and
child are avenged. He stalks the shadows, bringing his blade of
justice to Von Hendriks' criminal associates, eliminating them one by
one until he finds the perfect opportunity to not just kill the Baron
of Fort Doom, but to destroy
Dark has mastered the art of stealth to such a degree
that he can vanish in the time it takes for a witness to briefly
glance away. As he gathers allies for his vigilante crusade, he has
begun to mentor others in this technique.
grows more common in the Lowlands, cheap pulp novels have begun to
proliferate. Among the most popular are the serialized adventures of
Lady Harden - magician, adventurer, and elegant Omphalos Coast
heiress, who travels to the most far-flung reaches of human
settlement to battle slavers, smugglers, and those who would prey
upon the most innocent of the Yokai. Featuring over-the-top action,
lush descriptions of exotic locales, and a healthy dollop of . . .
ahem . . . romance, they are the favored escapist fantasy of socially
conscious dreamers, trapped in the industrial hell of the Lowlands'
slums. So far, they've been translated into 11 languages and sold
more than a million copies.
Little do the readers suspect that
every word of the Lady Harden books is 100% true. There really is a
Lady Harden, and she really does spend her days thwarting the worst
of the Lowlands' imperial excesses. Numerous governments would love
to have her head, but they fear if they acted openly people will
realize that the atrocities depicted in the books are real as well.
Maybe that's why she writes them.
The Daughters of Gabrielle
once was a brilliant, vibrant young woman named Gabrielle, and life
was not very kind to her. Her parents were important people and they
were determined to marry her to the son of one of their rivals, to
secure an alliance that would make both houses stronger than ever
before. But Gabrielle found she could not love any
man, and so one night she ran away from home.
many adventures and met many people, most of whom were cruel and
corrupt. Time and again, it seemed like her fate to confront demons
in human form, destroying their host bodies or collapsing the gates
through which they entered the world. She eventually became quite
good at it.
Until one day, she took one wound too many. She
nearly died, but she was nursed back to health by a beautiful, kind
woman. After a turn of the seasons, the two were wed.
her adventuring days were behind her, Gabrielle found other ways to
help. It gradually became known that her home was somewhere lesbians
could go to find safety. And though she would never have wished such
a life on her surrogate daughters, Gabrielle's stories enchanted her
young wards. After she died, they vowed to carry on their mother's
That was nearly a century ago. In the years since,
the Daughters of Gabrielle have achieved fame to eclipse even their
founder's great deeds. It's even become fashionable for well-off
families to send their lesbian daughters to serve a few years in the
Though they have more of the air of a
boarding school these days, the Daughters of Gabrielle still fight
demons with unusual effectiveness and fervor. Being chosen for a
hunting team is something the younger girls train for years to
achieve and no one wants to be the one to let down "Mama
The signature weapon for the Daughters of
Gabrielle is the meteor hammer - a fist-sized ball of pure meteoric
iron at the end of a long rope. Demons find getting struck with these
to be so painful that they will often voluntarily retreat back to the
magic world rather than face them in combat.
The Daughters of
Gabrielle produce many great fighters, but the warrior nicknamed "Big
Sister" is probably the greatest of them. Though the numbers are
in dispute, she may have slain more demons then even the original
Gabrielle herself . . . then she made the mistake of listening to
Some of the girls who served under her will still loyally
maintain that she is possessed and not in control of her actions, but
she has been working as a gang enforcer for several years and has
certainly not been shy about enjoying the fruits of her wicked deeds.
The Daughters of Gabrielle have officially, if reluctantly, declared
her anathema and the only reason she is not rotting in a cell is
because she has, on three separate occasions, fought the entire
student council to a standstill.
Anton was just a simple sausage vendor, out to make
an honest living on the streets of New Gold City. Then, one night, he
saw something he shouldn't have and a price was put on his head.
That's how he wound up halfway between life and death floating in The
As the hungry gators swam towards his barely
conscious body, he prayed to the god of the Big River, not for
deliverance, not for revenge, not for himself at all, but for
justice, that the
crime he witnessed would not go unpunished.
The Big River is
not known for caring much about human affairs, but something about
the plea moved him. The gators dragged Anton beneath the waters, but
their jaws did not close around his flesh and he did not drown.
time later, the criminals of New Gold City gained a new foe - half
man and half gator, he lurked in the city's waters, stalking his prey
and striking without warning. He is a terrible guardian, as befits
the fickle nature of the river god, but he is also beloved. The poor
and the desperate make offerings to The Gator, that they might be
delivered from the city's routine injustices and the powers that
would exploit them have been growing increasingly worried that these
offerings seem to be reciprocated.
Sandcastle's name isn't purely poetic. The people
there have mastered a peculiar alchemy. By means of a certain potion,
brewed from a mix of local herbs and minerals, they are able to
harden sand so it has the durability of stone. The resulting
buildings, which look for all the world like scaled-up children's
sandcastles, give the village its distinct character. The exact
mixture is a well-kept secret, and protecting it is the only thing
the otherwise laid-back residents of Sandcastle Village seem to take
Sandcastle is "ruled" by Mayor Wally.
Chosen by general acclaim, Wally is not your typical politician. No
one has ever seen him without his trademark robe and slippers, even
in town meetings and important trade negotiations. Similarly, his
trusty pipe is always close at hand. The two facts may be somewhat
Yet the people of Sandcastle love their mayor, and
seem to take special delight in directing impatient outsiders to take
their "urgent problems" to him.
Looking like nothing so much as a giant
onyx skull and built on
a volcanic island to the north of New Gold City, Fort Doom is nearly
unassailable by conventional means. Through the mechanical
manipulation of a half-dozen stolen Earth Anchors, the Baron (or,
presumably, anyone who holds the Fort's main chamber) can direct lava
flows anywhere on the island while the defenders stay safe behind
ancient god-forged walls. Von Hendriks did not build Fort Doom, but
he discovered and named it and it is inexorably bound up in his
"Lord of Fort Doom," Baron Von Hendriks is a mystery
wrapped in an enigma. His enemies, of which he has many, dismiss him
as a fool and a fraud, but they have never been able to defeat
He is a conqueror. A schemer. A tyrant. A raider of
cities and ransomer of damsels. Above all else, he is theatrical.
He attacks when he doesn't need to, overcomes impossible odds, and is
left with a prize he can't possibly keep. He gloats when he is merely
on the verge of victory and gives grand speeches when his forces
in retreat. He has a knack for angering the powerful and inspiring
peasant uprisings in places that have been peacefully subdued for the
past thousand years.
While his tactics are invariably
brilliant, none can figure out his strategy.
Some say he does it for the glory. Others for the challenge. Some
quip that he must have made a deal with a trickster god - peerless
might in exchange for fleeting victories. These theories all capture
part of his reasons, but his real motivation is much simpler - he
does it because he is the one and only Baron Von Hendricks, and no
one else would dare.
of Commerce Island
years ago, the self-styled “King of Commerce” fled the Lowlands
in disgrace. His vision of unrestrained capitalism was popular with
all the right sort of people, but he made the huckster's cardinal
error – some of the people who lost money on his stock market
schemes were, themselves, already rich.
his ill-gotten fortune and staying one step ahead of the Serpent
Company assassins, he paid seven of the Omphalos Coast's most
powerful sorcerers a veritable fortune to raise an island from the
sea. Over the next decade, he was able to build himself a kingdom on
the promise of a regulation-free haven for vice, slavery (sorry,
“contractual indentured servitude of indefinite duration”) and
his enemies caught up to him, but he passed his kingdom to his son,
the second King of Commerce. Having mended fences with his father's
enemies, the new King rakes in unimaginable wealth as the sole
landowner on an island where property is the only human right. Ruling
from his glitzy mansion at the head of Cash Street, he has attracted
an almost cult-like following of ambitious immigrants who believe the
only thing holding them back are the self-serving laws of lesser
of Commerce Island suffers from some of the most extreme income
inequality on Ukss. Though only the King himself actually owns land,
those who can afford the most expensive leases have free rein to do
as they like. When a powerful merchant rides through town, they are
preceded by an entourage of mercenaries who roughly push people out
of the way. The bigger and more inconvenient the spectacle, the more
status is earned among the ranks of the elite. The poor largely
tolerate it because these impromptu parades will often toss coins to
the crowd, both to mollify their victims and draw a larger audience.
theory, King of Commerce Island does have a fixed code of law. Anyone
who suffers from aggression can take their case to the King, who will
hear the arguments of both parties and require the loser to
compensate the winner. In exchange, the King collects a fixed-rate
payment from the party that initiated the suit (for indigent
plaintiffs, he collects his fee from awarded damages or imposes a
term of indenture if they lose). The practical upshot is that justice
is for sale. The poor cannot afford to access the system, and the
rich understand that they're buying results. It also means that
disputes between parties of high social status are mediated outside
the King of Commerce Island bardic tradition. One of your peers will
send a band of musicians to perform at your home, and you'll know for
a fact that it's a declaration of cold war. If you turn the bards
away, it's an admission that your security is insufficient to keep
them on task. If you allow them in, they will use their, ahem,
additional skills to rob or spy on your house. The
trick is to minimize the damage and send your rival their own troupe
of bards to deal with. As long as both parties keep playing the game,
they are equals and may resolve their disputes in arbitration
(possibly using material gathered by the bards to argue their case).
Once a party loses their nerve, then it unfortunately becomes a
matter for the courts.
hey, at least for awhile the feud had a soundtrack.
KoCi Sunbrew Holdings Consortium is the second most powerful economic
force on King of Commerce Island. It owns sunbrew refineries all
throughout the Lowlands and uses its Island headquarters to shelter
millions in profits from taxes. It also has controls a sizable
military asset in the form of its mascot -Sunny Bruce, the KoCi
Bruce is a prodigy who can transform his entire body into flame and
maintains mental control over any fire ignited by contact with his
body. He is not quite a match for a modern Lowlands army, but he can
fly at 300 miles per hour and destroy an unfortified building in a
matter of minutes.
that the Consortium would use him for that, of course. Why, he is
merely a public relations agent, teaching children about safe sunbrew
handling and lending his likeness for advertisements. It's just that
he collects a suspiciously large salary for such simple tasks, and
this has not gone unnoticed among governments that might think about
regulating KoCi Sunbrew Holdings to the point of excess.
of Commerce Island is not a nice place to be poor. Technically, it is
impossible to physically occupy space without owing rent to the King.
But sometimes, poor decisions or unexpected hardships will leave a
person with nothing. The suggested “solution” in these cases is a
contract of indenture, but even that doesn't always work out. Some
people, for whatever reason, can't or won't sell their labor to pay
off their debts. Since you can't leave the island with an outstanding
balance, sooner or later they are all forced to relocate to Freak
King has written off Freak Alley as a sort of open-air debtor's
prison. The people who live there are squatters, occupying the land
without a lease, but the alley's position near the island's sewage
runoff pipes means it's cheaper to ignore the squatters than to
imprison or exile them. From time to time, the King's private
security will raid the alley, dragging a few dozen captives in front
of an arbiter, who will impose indentured servitude as a penalty for
their outstanding debts (usually owed to the King himself, though the
King will often buy noncollectable debts for a small fraction of
their face value, if the debtor winds up in this kind of
culture of Freak Alley combines disillusioned anarchism with
reluctant solidarity. Every day is a struggle for survival, and the
residents do what it takes to make it through, but at the same time,
you don't belong in Freak Alley if you can't show the sort of mercy
that the rest of the island lacks. You can be a serial housebreaker
or violent mugger and face no negative judgment, but refuse to give
money to a disabled panhandler, or, worse, mock the mentally ill, and
you will soon find yourself a pariah in the only refuge left
available to you.
near the base of the Shielding Mountains, Canyon City is built
directly into the walls of a mammoth canyon, cut out over the
centuries by the mighty waters of the Big River. A major center of
industry, its factories are powered by giant waterwheels that are
owned by the city and leased out in lieu of regular taxes.
people of Canyon City are physically closer to the Southern
Rainforest than any other major Omphalos Coast city and have adopted
a siege mentality as a result. It welcomes goblins, mole people, and
other Chthonic Empire yokai, but other non-humans are shunned,
especially Alfar. Military skirmishes with the gods of the forest are
a common occurrence.
Prince's Folly is a carnival's carnival. It stages greater
spectacles, it hosts more esoteric mystics, it offers more elaborate
games, it is more riddled with thieves than any other show on the
world of Ukss. It is run by the Tainted, M. Corona, a refugee from
the spirit courts of the magical world.
M. Corona is, by
strict taxonomy, a demon, but that mainly manifests in an unrepentant
pragmatism. They employ thieves to keep the Folly afloat, they
sabotage rivals to make it easier to acquire key talent, they use
their androgynous good looks to seduce yokels questioning their
sexuality because it's fun, but they hold no malice for humankind.
They took over this struggling carnival in order to hide from their
enemies in the magic world, but it has become their passion and their
obsession. They want nothing more than to astonish and amaze the
mortals that attend the Prince's Folly, shaking their small minds out
their limited perspective by showing them something they've never
All demons are inherently genderless, but unlike
most of their kin, M. Corona does not disguise themselves as either
male or female. They prefer to tread the line as closely as possible,
presenting as mostly masculine, in their frock coat and starched
collar, but adding feminine touches like a floral print cravat and
dangly diamond earrings. They especially delight in awakening the
latent desires of small-town gay and lesbian visitors, and will offer
unconditional refuge to any LGBTQ person who wants to run away with
The Prince's Folly.
are many forces in Ukss that would disturb the places where the dead
are interred - Mad scientists, sorcerers, and vampires all have their
own uses for human remains, uses which would not meet with the
approval of their original owners. The Crypt Rangers are the
self-appointed guardians of these sacred places, patrolling
graveyards for intruders and using their famous tracking skills to
bring back escapees.
The Crypt Rangers often come in conflict
with necromancers and the undead, but they are not intrinsically
opposed. They will inter any necro-automatons they find in the course
of their duties, but will often act as protectors and patrons for
those sentient undead that have no desire to cause havoc among the
living. Though they are not allowed in positions of leadership, many
of the most effective Crypt Rangers are themselves vampires and
Near the outskirts of the Southern Forest,
in a lightly-wooded area safe for humans to walk, lies a small cave,
tended by an order of monks, sworn to poverty and nonviolence. The
cave is the resting place of the Blackfire Cauldron. A sacred relic
of the god TBD, it is a simple bronze pot that contains a flickering
darkness. If ashes are fed into it, they will un-burn, restoring the
This always seems to work out fairly
smoothly, not being confused by partial or mixed ashes, but the exact
mechanism is a mystery – the monks gently forbid experimentation.
As near as anyone can tell, the Blackfire works by answering a
sincere prayer for restoration. Casually tossing in a handful of
random ash probably won't do anything.
The Blackfire cannot
bring the dead back to life, but it can restore a burned corpse for
purposes of identification or dignified burial.
The Order of
the Cauldron has an itinerant branch that wanders from city to city,
gathering the ashes from the fires that periodically spring up in
such places. They return these ashes to the Cauldron as an act of
devotion. The walls of the cave are lined with hundreds of items
recovered in this manner. Pilgrims, provided they did not bring ashes
of their own, are allowed to remove a single such item, as a keepsake
of their visit and an icon of the god TBD.
the forest to the south of the Omphalos Coast, there live many
dangerous Yokai, but over the years, explorers and mystics have
identified a few dozen patches of neutral ground, places where human
beings are tentatively permitted, provided they stay on their best
behavior. The most hallowed (and harrowing) of these places are the
Red Groves, where the devoted and the desperate may come to make
offerings to the powers of the woods. It is said that the trees there
get their distinctive color from the centuries' worth of blood that
they've absorbed through their roots, but whether that is fact or
embellishment, it unmistakable that the Alfar who watch over these
groves are strange and wild, and the disembodied spirits who hear the
petitions grant enlightenment only to those who have a bit of the
predator inside them.
the Red Groves
is not just the Alfar of the Red Groves that are wild. Gafflings that
pass through the gates become vicious carnivores, consuming
prodigious amounts of meat. Their favorite prey is boar. An entire
pack will surround a single wild boar, the great beast mountainous in
comparison to their slight, fairy-like bodies, and harass it unto
death with a hundred jabs of their tiny spears. A small group of
twelve can eat an entire boar in a little less than two weeks,
devouring almost four times their body weight every month. It is
lucky for the wildlife of the Southern Rainforest that boar hunting
is incredibly dangerous for the diminutive creatures. A typical pack
of Blood Mephits will usually last no more than a year before its
numbers are so depleted that the survivors starve to death.
Huge and gnarled, the Sleeping Lord does not
entirely look like a tree. Near the center of its trunk are a
distinctive collection of knots that resemble nothing so much as a
cruel and wicked face. Parasitic vines hang from its branches, like
stringy, unkempt hair. Anyone who sees it immediately feels a
powerful sense of nascent malice . . . at first.
the vines are a thousand small, white blossoms with a scent that's
sweet and green. Subtle at first, it gradually becomes overpowering.
By the time an interloper starts choking on the perfume, it's too
late. They fall asleep, most likely to never awaken.
who sleeps under the branches of the Sleeping Lord is drawn into an
astral domain where the ancient tree rules as a god. Such dreams are
completely lucid, but they are inescapable. The Sleeping Lord likes
to imply otherwise, though. Often, he will manifest as a “helpful
ally,” who “guides” the prisoners through a gauntlet of
irrational challenges. His charges will always seem to pull through
until the very moment they openly suspect his treachery. Then, he
slays their spirits in his wrath, leaving their now-vacant bodies to
rot away and feed his ancient roots.
one knows exactly what the Questing Beast looks like, but most
hunters agree that it definitely exists. They can hear it when it
taunts them in the woods. Its call is like the ringing of bells and
its footprints are always clear and distinct. But it has never been
caught. Somehow, when the hunters know
they are right on top of it, it vanishes, to find new pursuers to
Chasing the Questing Beast is not without its
rewards. It always leads its pursuers to somewhere they didn't know
they needed to be. Legend has it that if you catch the Beast it will
grant a wish (or perhaps simply reveal an important truth - these
legends are pure speculation), but no one has any idea about how such
a feat might be accomplished.
Yokai forest to the south of the Omphalos Coast has been a potent
barrier to human expansion, but there are some humans the Yokai fear.
These depraved hunters stalk through the woods, running down any
physically manifested Yokai they can find. Any unfortunate enough to
be caught are skinned alive so that their murderers might steal their
visage. It can take several attempts for a form to "stick"
(this mainly depends on the precision of the skinning technique and
complex astrological factors of which the Skindancers are currently
unaware), but once it does, the Skindancer can take that shape for
the rest of their life. The most powerful Skindancers can take up to
five forms, though it's unclear whether this is a hard cap or just
the limits of the cult's current knowledge.
ritual can be used against humans just as well as Yokai (but not
against any animal incapable of speech), but so far the cultists have
dared not risk the wrath of human law enforcement. As they become
more emboldened by success and drunk on the blood of their victims,
this may change.
first glance, Gloomshire appears to be a normal, human village. A bit
bucolic, maybe. The people a little too
friendly, too eager to extend hospitality to strangers. But,
fundamentally, a nice place. What visitors don't realize, not until
it's too late, is that Gloomshire is not a human
village. Gloomshire belongs to the spiders.
combination of threats, venom-derived narcotics, and obscene magical
rituals, the spiders of Gloomshire keep their captive humans tightly
under control, forcing them to play-act the role of cheerful
welcoming villagers, the better to lure travelers to the spiders'
larders. Sometimes, one of these captives will break free of their
control, but that just means the spiders don't have to look so far
for their next meal.
Gloomshire has existed as a trap for the
better part of a generation, and it has worked well, but the locals
are starting to catch on. It is only a matter of time before the
spiders abandon the "village" and start again somewhere
else. They likely won't let any of their prisoners live to tell the
intelligent spiders of Ukss are not all dedicated enemies of
human-kind. Some appear to have a code, or at least are wary enough
of humanity's magic and military might to want to coexist. One such
group runs a traveling bazaar. Carried from town to town by a
colorful swarm of tame servitor spiders, the Spider Bazaar is the
best place in Ukss to buy silk and venom. Many of the spiders are
themselves enchanters of great skill, and the clothes, tents, and
rugs available for purchase will sometimes bear strange, inhuman
The Spider Bazaar never stays in one place for long.
Over the course of only a couple of days, its merchants can exhaust
the surrounding countryside of any prey animal larger than a rabbit.
In the more profitable towns, they will avoid livestock, but rumor
persists that some of the smaller villages of the Omphalos Coast have
been consigned to ruin by a Bazaar that overstayed its welcome.
hear them before you see them. In the distance, under the darkness of
the new moon, a horn will sound, playing a long, ragged note that
sounds like an assemblage of screams.. It's best, then, to head
inside, for the Wild Hunt is near. The Hounds of the Wild Hunt will
catch the scent of wickedness, and their favored prey are those whose
crimes have been successfully concealed. Thus it is that most of the
Omphalos Coast thinks of them as a scourge upon the innocent, running
down pillars of the community in their chariots of ghostly fire.
Sometimes a victim's sins will be posthumously revealed, but the Wild
Hunt doesn't care. They need only their victims' terror, as they
realize their reckoning can no longer be delayed.
“Giant,” as a term, is relative. The carnivorous
squirrels of the southern rainforest are the size of a small dog, but
their fluffy tails make them look much larger. Despite their size,
they are nearly as agile as their smaller cousins, lurking in the
canopy as they search for prey on the forest floor. Their favored
tactic is to drop bodily on an unsuspecting target, taking advantage
of the sudden shock to begin gnawing on its flesh. Up to a dozen
squirrels can feed on the same animal, and a pack can kill a
full-grown horse in less than a minute.
Something about the cursed nature of the rainforest
grants the squirrels a perverse fascination with intelligent
creatures. They will target humans and yokai to the preference of
even large and tempting pack animals. Their favorite meal is the
occasional talking horse who wanders into the woods from the Equine
Like normal squirrels, Giant Carnivorous Squirrels bury
food for later consumption, leaving many to mistakenly conclude that
their victims were targeted by human killers looking to dispose of
of the Gods
The forest is a dangerous place. The hunters among the
yokai know many occult secrets, and the lesser gods of root and
stream may be sacred, but their persons are not sacrosanct. Though
they may only be felled by hidden dooms, those dooms are often found,
and demonic alfar will feast on the flesh of the gods.
The shredded remains of a god's spirit will often sink
into the earth, permeating the roots of a tree and manifesting, many
seasons later, as a shimmering fruit. Mortal beings who eat these
fruits find themselves transformed by some lingering part of the
god's nature, usually, though not always, for the better.
Only the smallest of the gods leave behind these magical
tears. Anything more majestic than a tree or a stone or a creek will
leave behind a dark and enduring blight instead. However, for all the
humbleness of their domains, these slain gods are still gods, and
thus something sublime and infinite. To take a part of their mystery
into oneself is either an act of supreme faith, or a hubris beyond
imagining. Thus, many of the Tears of the Gods remain undisturbed by
the forest yokai, awaiting consumption by foolish or ambitious
These dry, rolling grasslands in the
south of Atalanta get their name thanks to their total domination by
the Talking Horses. Though they do not have the hands to use most
forms of technologies, the Talking Horses are expert sorcerers, able
to call down great storms or raise imposing fortresses out of the
bones of the earth. The massive herd-dances may take weeks or months
to organize, but they grant a power even dragons fear.
need for large-scale organization has led to a peculiar sort of
feudal society. The Talking Horses are ruled by their master
sorcerers, who even on an individual level command devastating ritual
magic, but uniquely for horses, sorcerers are tied to their citadels
and cannot stray to far from the seat of their power. Thus the
nomadic herds will shift their allegiances throughout the year as
they roam from fief to fief. Ultimately the balance of power is
maintained when new migrants come to replace the departures, but
different citadels have different reputations and an overly demanding
sorcerer may find their home bypassed entirely. This gives the
herd-leaders a certain degree of soft power, which they use to
bargain for more generous grazing rights or sorcerous assistance in
their various rivalries and feuds.
only other major intelligent species on the Steppes are the
werewolves. Ruthlessly hunted to near-extinction by the more
organized Talking Horses, a few werewolf communities exist in the
shadow of the citadels - client villages that the sorcerers can
exploit for dexterous labor. A few roving bands of outlaw werewolves
still exist on the fringes of society, clinging to an idealized
version of the ancient werewolf culture. Half-bandit and
half-revolutionary, they fight to break the power of the sorcerers
and the herd-leaders and establish a more equitable society. Their
code of honor dictates that they may never eat the flesh of any
creature that speaks, but the powers that rule the Talking Horses
nonetheless slander them as viscous predators - all the better to
prevent any idealistic young foals from listening to their talk of
So far, the Equine Steppes have
been protected from human imperial attention by geographic barriers
like the northern rainforest and the Shielding Mountains, but as the
Lowlands begins to colonize the Haven Mountains, conflict has become
more frequent. The boldest of the Talking Horses have a game to prove
their courage. They'll wander near a human settlement pretending to
be a dumb, Lowlands horse. When a human attempts to claim the
"windfall" of a "stray" horse, the young bravo
bolts wildly as soon as the rider mounts their back. The farther into
the wilderness they can carry the hapless human, the more prestige
they earn amongst their peers. There is extra acclaim for a horse
that is calm and collected enough to make off with saddle and tack,
though it usually takes a sorcerer or subservient werewolf to get it
hear the sorcerers of the Equine Steppes tell it, they destroyed the
werewolf civilization to protect themselves from predation. Packs of
ravenous wolves with human cunning would chase the talking horses
until they fell, exhausted, and then devour them whole. Thus it was
only natural that the talking horses would band together and strike
back against their attackers.
And to their credit, that is not
entirely a lie. The war began in defense, but it continued out of
greed. The heart of a werewolf will fetch a handsome price in Ukss'
sorcerous black markets. So long as it is still alive, it may be
transplanted into the chest of a human or canine and grant its new
bearer enhanced strength, superior senses, and the werewolves'
legendary healing ability. Though the horse sorcerers have little use
for human currency, the magical favors they've accrued have done much
to keep the Equine Steppes free from human encroachment.
the werewolf population declined, the sorcerers have cracked down on
the practice, but thousands of werewolf hearts are still in
circulation. The wealthy desire them for their life-extending
properties, but most are owned by governments, implanted in elite
soldiers who fight without fear of death.
The Free City of Tyr
Hundreds of years ago, the city of Tyr was at the
heart of the werewolf civilization, and as such it was their last
refuge as the Talking Horses prosecuted their war of extermination.
When it became clear that resistance was impossible and the
werewolves subjected themselves to the Horses' rule, the city was
given to the great Horse sorcerer, Kalak, who was charged with seeing
that the wolves would never again be a threat.
With his magical might, Kalak ruled the city for
centuries, creating an elaborate system of privilege and bondage.
Favored werewolves were given plots of land or tutelage in the arts
of magic (though the magic-using Arcanaloths were not allowed to own
land, nor were landed trustees allowed to study sorcery). Rebellious
werewolves were enslaved, or even forced to fight to the death in the
gladiatorial arena. Those who kept their heads down were allowed a
bare existence as free townsfolk, but were constantly under the watch
of the king's Arcanaloths, who needed little provocation to bring the
full force of the law against the unlanded.
It was a cruel, unjust system sustained by the
unparalleled might of a legendary sorcerer, but five years ago it
came to an end. Just as Kalak was attempting a terrible ritual to
transcend his physical body, the chief Arcanaloth, along with a
champion gladiator and an ambitious Horse sorcerer snuck into his
ritual chamber and slew him while his mind was occupied in the Magic
Tyr is now a free city. Slavery is officially
outlawed. The Arena is now a marketplace. The laws are written by an
elected council. However, despite its new democratic status, the city
is dangerously unstable. The Arcanaloths still administer the city's
justice, when they are not assassinated by vigilante gangs for their
actions under the king. The land is still owned by the old class of
collaborators and sycophants. The slaveholders may have lost their
captives, but retained their status and wealth. As a result,
elections are fantastically corrupt and dominated by revanchists and
apologists for the old regime. The commoners and new freemen could be
a potent political force, but they have no experience with elections
and are completely disorganized. Laws are nearly as oppressive as
they were under the king, but now riots are frequent.
The main bulk of the Equine Steppes eyes the
situation warily. Tyr is near the southern coast, with a clear sea
passage to the Lowlands during the summer months. Left alone, its
problems could spill over into neighboring werewolf populations, but
if the Talking Horses intervene, they may invite the Lowlands to
support the city and thereby gain an imperialist foothold on southern
Atalanta. Then again, Tyr might surprise all the great powers and
come to forge its own destiny.
These low, weathered mountains have
been ground down by centuries of erosion. But though the terrain is
gentle, the land is as wild as any place on Ukss. The original goblin
homeland, the Haven Mountains have never been truly settled by
Small, frontier towns dot
the landscape, but they must take care not to grow too large, lest
they draw the attention of a hungry dragon. They persist because
there is good money to be made prospecting, trading with deep goblins
and wild yokai, and exploring abandoned ruins from all the prior
colonies that had the hubris to think they could tame this
There are no humans native to this
region. Lowlanders are the most common, driven by their home
governments' ambitions and a strong cultural need for profit, but
nearly anybody can come here to make their fortune. The most unusual
feature of the Haven Mountains' population is the degree to which
humans and nonhumans mingle. Goblins make up a bare majority of the
population, and in many places Yokai outnumber the human population,
even in colonies sponsored by a human nation.
One of the tallest peaks in the
Haven Mountains, the Sleeper stretches almost all the way to the tree
line. Near the top, a long, sinuous rock formation spirals around the
summit, forming a caldera-like divot. From this shallow valley, long
streams of dense fog pour down the the sides of the mountain,
waterfalls of mist that puddle around the base on a cool day and
gradually fade to invisibility when the sun is high. The forest these
mists pass through is eerie and sacred. The more spiritual Yokai
gather there, and even the most secular of Lowland capitalists
hesitates to cut branches or gather stones.
Sleeper is not an ordinary mountain. It is a great dragon, one
of the few that has ever been powerful and cunning enough to reach
the end of a dragon's natural life span. As it felt the day of its
passing draw near, it called upon the deepest of draconic magics to
merge itself with the land. The forest and the mountain and the mist
all have a rudimentary consciousness, not quite as intelligent or as
perceptive as the dragon in its prime, but one that nonetheless has
access to potent and poorly understood abilities that serve to keep
the area free from human interference.
Tree of Sages
It is known among the scholars,
engineers, and magicians of Ukss that the wisest among them need
never die. If they are willing to face the perils of a long and
dangerous pilgrimage, they may take themselves to an isolated valley
in the Haven mountains to find there The Tree of Sages. If the Tree
finds them worthy, it will take the soul from their body and absorb
it into its branches, where the now-immortal sage may commune with
their fellows until the end of time.
of knowledge will sometimes seek out the Tree of Sages to answer
their questions and provide guidance to their research or inventions.
When queried, the Tree will grow faces, like wooden masks, through
which its sage-spirits may speak. Since the tree contains hundreds of
sages, gathered over centuries, any of whom could speak to any
question, the "answers" given are usually more like
symposiums (or, less charitably, "massive arguments").
Nonetheless, a discerning student could learn much, provided they
don't lose patience first.
To hear River Rat Smith tell it, there
is no finer guide to the turbulent waters of the eastern Haven
Mountains. Though small of stature, like all awakened rats, he has no
equal as a steersman, no rival as an explorer, and pound-for-pound
he's a pretty decent warrior too.
Ask literally anyone else .
. . and you'll hear much the same story, though told grudgingly and
with snarky asides about his questionable grooming, his transparent
attempts to cheat at cards, and the way even the smallest amount of
wine inspires him to sing loudly and off-key.
Still, for all
that you wouldn't want him as a roommate, he's completely unflappable
in the face of ghosts, wisps, and (if the money's right) dragons. He
boasts that no expedition of his has ever returned without survivors,
and he's almost good enough to make it as comforting as he tries to
make it sound.
The Fat Candle
Mountains attract treasure hunters, prospectors, colonists, and
mercenaries from all around the world, and most towns have at least
one shady establishment to cater to these “adventurers.” The most
storied of these is the Fat Candle, a cramped and rough-hewn bar near
the fringes of goblin territory. Lit only by a single
tree-trunk-sized candle in the center of its common room, it has many
long shadows where business can be conducted out of sight. It is here
that the slaying of dragons is plotted and where deals are struck to
plunder long-forgotten goblin hordes. It's wise to keep your pistol
loaded and your sword loose in its sheath, but for those with
ambition and nerve, there's no better place to find the sort of work
that can make you rich after a single job.
at the Fat Candle is a retired adventurer who goes by the name of
“Rapier.” He hears a lot of stories, and always has a better one
in response. Those who've known him for any length of time quickly
realize that he'd need to be two-hundred years old and in about four
places at once for all his stories to be true, but he spins an
entertaining yarn, and as far as he knows, all the original
protagonists are dead (though it's only a matter of time before he
casts himself as the hero in some customer's personal exploits).
With so much at
stake, tempers at the Fat Candle can run high. In those situations,
the bouncer and co-owner steps in to keep the peace. Nicknamed
“Legbreaker,” this powerfully-built, 7-foot-tall women is an
expert in unarmed combat and has more than lived up to her moniker.
The Boiling Sea
get to the Boiling Sea, you must travel to the far south, deep into
the interior of Atalanta's polar ice shelf. If you approach from the
east, upwind, you'll have only a day's warning, as the permafrost
gives way and scalding hot geysers spring from the earth. Downwind,
to the west, the warm air thaws a thousand square miles, making it an
improbable temperate region in the middle of the arctic.
Warmlands are home to a small, but thriving civilization. They almost
never see outsiders and are curious and friendly, but they can be
ruthlessly pragmatic when the winds change and resources become
The Boiling Sea itself is exactly what it sounds like.
A small sea, around 100 miles across, that boils like a kettle
running over. It is wreathed in a huge pillar of steam that acts as a
beacon from horizon to horizon. The Warmlanders have learned to
harness the steam to power simple industry (only their small numbers
prevent the adoption of more sophisticated techniques), but it is
dangerous work. No one has ever ventured into the center of the sea
and its cause is currently unknown.
The people of the
Warmlands have tawny skin with golden undertones. They are paler the
farther they are from the Boiling Sea, but this does not appear to be
genetic. Someone who moves from one area to the other will often find
themselves gaining or losing a tan. Hair is brown or auburn, but
occasionally shockingly blonde. Eyes are brown with pronounced
epicanthic folds. Ruddy cheeks and red noses are common, especially
among the region's heavier drinkers (their mastery of steam
technology means that flavorless distilled liquors are common and
often served in delicious mixed drinks that take visitors completely
Nearly all important business in the Warmlands is done inside of
large, public steam baths. It's believed by the Warmlanders that
nakedness encourages honesty, and even to the extent that the cynical
laugh at this belief, it's still a relaxing escape from the harsh
polar cold. The baths nearest the coast of the Boiling Sea are havens
for criminals – a body dumped in the outtake pipes will likely not
be found until the Sea melts it into an unrecognizable soup.
These expansive wetlands dominate the east coast of
Atalanta. For hundreds of miles at a stretch, the branches of the
mangrove trees are so tightly intertwined that the swamp floor exists
in a state of permanent darkness. Fireflies in a half-dozen colors
swarm thick in these areas, and it is a rare piece of deadwood that
doesn't quickly become covered in glowing, bio-luminescent fungus.
Strange vampire families call the forest home, growing powerful in
the absence of their enforced slumber. Some say these vampires are
the force behind the will-o-wisps that lure travelers away from safe
paths, never to be seen again. Others believe that there are other
powers at work there, and old gods that even vampires fear.
northernmost quarter of the Twilight Forest is dominated by the Frog
Nation. Canny to the ways of the swamp, and grown fat on its bounty
of fireflies, the Frog People fear neither vampire nor god nor wisp.
The Misty River marks the southern border of their traditional range,
not out of any power the local Yokai have to stop them, but because
they find the chillier, foggier climate uncomfortable.
Though the Yokai are the most prominent danger of the Twilight
Forest, travelers should also be on the lookout for more mundane
hazards. Sinkholes are common, and if you step into one, the mud will
close over your head almost instantly. The native alligators are
small, but unusually agile and aggressive. And from time to time,
highly pressurized blasts of water will erupt from the ground. They
are caused by the obstruction of underground rivers, and so they are
not scalding like geothermic geysers, but that is little comfort to
those pummeled to death by a spray of debris.
There are very
few humans native to the Twilight Forest. It is more of a Yokai
place, but there are a few isolated villages in the colder southern
regions, maintained by the vampires as sources of blood and (rarely)
new recruits. These people are pessimistic, with dark humors, but are
also nonetheless tenacious survivors. They have chalky white skin and
blue eyes with hair that ranges from blonde to mousy brown. They
worship the solar deity TBD, but in a terrifying apocalyptic aspect.
In their prophecies, they will be liberated from their vampiric
oppressors when their god consumes the Twilight Forest (and perhaps
the entire world) in a cleansing inferno that delivers pure souls to
paradise and consigns the monsters to oblivion.
The Frog Nation
hundred or so frog-person villages of the Twilight Forest are not a
nation-state in the modern sense, but they do have a shared national
identity. They speak the same language. They share many of the same
customs and traditions. Until recently, they shared a common religion
the Frog Nation has become riven by civil war. Radical new ideas have
shaken the normally staid frog people. A growing faction, calling
themselves the Bullywugs, is preaching a violent doctrine of racial
supremacy and hatred for the outside world.
The Bullywugs got
their start ten years ago (an eyeblink to the long-lived Frog
People), when the Prophet TBD discovered the God Egg. He cannot
explain what drew him to the wisp-forsaken shadowmurk, but in it, he
found a female Frog-person, beautiful beyond compare, but with
haunted eyes. Her belly was sliced open and a hundred ruined eggs lay
crushed underfoot. With an unnatural strength, she reached into
herself and pulled out her last viable egg and already a shadow moved
“This is my son. He dreams grippli
dreams,” she said, with the last of her strength. The Prophet says
her wounds were not fatal, but that the child's father called her to
be by his side.
Since then, the egg has
grown slowly, but has continued to show all the signs of an incipient
birth. Those who tend the God Egg have reported strange dreams, which
the Prophet presumptuously calls grippli dreams. In them, a tadpole
speaks with the voice of a man,
“I am the age that
is to come. I will be born under your guidance and you will name me
'Thunderhead.' You will fear me and seek to break me and stripe me
with many wounds, but I will endure and I will thank you for making
me strong. I will thank you by sweeping you out into the world, and
you will be as the wind that precedes the storm. The lightning has
already struck and now the world waits to hear the thunder.”
The Bullywugs don't
entirely agree on the meaning of these dreams, but they all feel like
a fire has been lit under them. They've begun to prepare for the
hatching of the egg – stockpiling weapons, engaging in mock combats
and extended war games, and gathering reconnaissance on the
communities that border their lands. The prospect of war thrills
them, and they are eager to see exactly how far the Thunderhead will
them are the Grippli, traditionalist Frog People who believe they
should live in harmony with nature and ignore the outside world.
“Grippli” is a
tricky concept in Frog Person culture. The most literal translation
is “proverbial,” but that doesn't really convey the depth or the
importance of the idea. “Grippli” is “truth,” but a
particular type of truth – it's truth revealed by observation of
the natural world and preserved in traditional wisdom. To be
an idea must have both elements – a grounding in empirical
observation and acceptance by the community at large.
grippli tale is the animal omen. The Frog People don't worship
the gods, per se. They instead believe them to be another, higher
form of life. It is wise to learn
the gods, but sometimes a god will eat you, just as you might eat a
firefly and it is right and just that they do so, because lower life
exists to feed higher life. So the Frog People attempt to observe the
gods from a distance, and take what lessons they can, and in that
spirit, it is said (i.e. “it is grippli”)
that sometimes the gods will take the form of animals (and this is
what the Bullywugs believe about the God Egg). When you are alone in
the swamp and you see an animal behave in an uncharacteristic
fashion, it is probably a god in disguise, and a story worthy of
retelling around the village fire. If, in the weeks and months of
debate that follow the retelling, a consensus is reached on an
allegorical interpretation, and if the “interpreted” story is
itself retold, so that the young will have heard it entirely second-
or third-hand, then it becomes a grippli story, part of the
collective knowledge of the Frog People.
No faction can truly
own the concept of grippli, and there is no definite authority able
to settle what is and is not grippli - that's not how it works.
However, the group that calls itself “the Grippli,” does so as a
rebuke to the bullywugs, implying that their ideas are dangerous and
radical innovations, which will not withstand the test of time.
conflict is largely generational. Frog People are biologically
immortal. If they can escape cancer, they may live for hundreds of
years. The Grippli is a philosophy of the old - deeply spiritual,
conservative, and cautious. The Bullywugs are a movement of the
young. They believe their longevity and regeneration make them
superior to other forms of life and are eager to go out into the
world and prove it.
is a chaotic time in the Frog Nation. The ideological split is
tearing apart not just villages, but families. There have been
intermittent flare ups of violence, but no deaths so far. Over time,
the factions will migrate so that Gripplis live in Grippli towns and
Bullywugs among Bullywugs, but for now, it is a dangerously
unpredictable environment for outside visitors.
Grippli knowledge is not
purely theoretical. The Frog People may take all sorts of practical
lessons from their stories. At various points in any Frog Person's
life, they embark on a Spirit Chase. Starting with a gippli story,
they search the deep swamp for a similar situation. Then they watch.
And watch. They can go weeks or months sitting in one place, or
following one particular swamp creature. And as they come to know
their target, they find their spirits coming into harmony. The Spirit
Chaser can start to access some of their target's abilities. They may
fly like a bird or glow like a wisp or bite with the force of an
alligator. Then, they return to their normal activities, now with a
useful new power to aid them in a tough spot.
Most young hunters will
treat Spirit Chasing as a sort of game, keeping an ability for a few
season before they become jaded to the grippli knowledge, but as they
age, they will begin to take it more seriously as a religious
discipline and start Chasing Spirits who don't even have particularly
useful abilities, all in hopes of becoming one with the Twilight
Forest itself. Given the long lives of the Frog People, these later
lesson may persist for centuries to come.
continent of Hyborea straddles the equator. The Bay of Blood is
defined by a spur of land that comes within sighting distance of the
northernmost point of the Lowlands peninsula. Its mouth is about 200
miles wide and it's 500 miles across at its widest point. The lands
ringing the Bay are hot, but fertile grasslands. They are densely
populated with more than 100 fractious city-states.
north of the Bay of Blood, the grasslands dry out and turn into the
Reliquary Desert. Though now inhospitable to human life, there are
grand, cyclopean ruins half-buried in its sands. The desert continues
to the north up to the slopes of the Dragontail Mountains. In the
east, it fades back into a thin ring of grasslands the border a dense
tropical rain forest.
The Bay of
The nation-state never took root in Hyborea thanks to
its abundance of powerful magic users. The lands are not
intrinsically more magical than Atalanta or Mu, but the old
civilization of the Reliquary Desert left behind many sophisticated
rituals and magic wands, and that inheritance has deformed the social
history of the continent. Every few years, an ambitious
treasure-hunter or magician stumbles upon some piece of relic magic
that allows them to conquer a city-state and turn it to their
The Bay of Blood gets its name from the innumerable wars
prompted by the ambitions of these would-be sorcerer-kings. Any
individual realm may be stable for decades or centuries, but none can
grow too large without provoking rebels, adventurers, and jealous
This hothouse atmosphere has led to many
eccentricities among the Bay's cultures. The only states that survive
are the ones who have some edge, usually some unique magic or a
powerful sorcerer as a patron.
As a result of the
intense competition between city-states, mercenary work is openly
legalized almost everywhere in the Bay of Blood (and quietly
tolerated even in the places it's not). To protect their identities
against old enemies and new employers, a tradition has emerged for
these mercenaries to wear elaborate and colorful masks. For large
bands, like The Serpent Company, their mask is standardized as part
of their uniform, but the Bay has no shortage of solitary heroes who
sport their own unique masks. The most celebrated identities
sometimes get passed down from generation to generation. It is said
that a mask worn by three great heroes will come alive and allow its
wearer to become more legend than man.
A living mask is likely to bear special enchantments, granting
superhuman strength, unnatural senses, or the power of flight. The
most common ability changes the wearer's entire outfit when the mask
is donned, so that the hero who bears it can always be recognized.
Such masks are often magically easy to hide and have a strange way of
always showing up when their owners need them most.
no single dominant racial type in the Bay of Blood. It has been a
crossroads for centuries and mixed ancestry is common. Native
Hyboreans have skin that ranges from coppery brown to deep black and
black hair that ranges from curly to coiled, but after the fall of
the Northern Kingdom, nearly the entire human population of the
continent migrated to the Bay, so there's no simple geographic
distribution of ancestral peoples.
in the few places where it is banned by the local sorcerer-kings, the
predominant religion of the Bay of Blood is the Avatar Cult. The Cult
believes that there are primordial godforms, called Avatars, in the
near reaches of the Magic World that select human beings to guide and
watch over. The more liberal branches teach that most humans have an
Avatar, even if they've not yet mastered the spiritual practices to
allow them to make contact. The more aristocratic Cults insist that
only a special few (whether a priestly caste or a select group of
heroes) can speak with their Avatars. Regardless, both believe that
the Avatars will subtly influence their charges' luck to goad them
into greater enlightenment. They can also send dreams and visions,
usually in the form of ethical or spiritual tests. It is said that
the most powerful Avatars (usually, but not always, belonging to
magicians, adepts, or prodigies) can even manifest briefly in this
world to physically intervene on their charges' behalf.
Avatar Cult is a non-exclusive religion. Adherents can and do worship
a variety of other gods, often at the Avatars' guidance. These
subsidiary forms of worship are highly local, and can cause a certain
degree of tension, though the shared culture of the Cult ensures that
even deadly rivals usually have a common theological vocabulary.
The Avatar Guides
In the Bay of
Blood, even deadly theological rivals will put aside their difference
at the rumor that the Avatar Guides are operating nearby. Few ideas
can be considered heresy in the easy-going and adaptable Avatar
faith, but the Guides managed to find one. They believe that they can
manipulate Avatars by carefully orchestrating the deaths of certain
If the Guides were mere murderers, that
would be bad enough, but they claim to have insight gleaned from
their own Avatars - that over time the Avatars they "liberate"
will change their nature, merging together, shedding impurities, and
gradually becoming more and more powerful. In time, they expect a
messiah to be born with a "perfected" Avatar, granting the
chosen one an unprecedented power and wisdom.
Whether that is
to be the end of the world or the beginning of a new one remains to
The Avatar Guides possess a unique and blasphemous
sorcery that allows them to invert the Avatars' normal guidance,
causing them to lead their charges into danger and manipulate
probability to make their lives more difficult. Though it is
sometimes used as a weapon against foes who are protected from more
conventional forms of attack, the main use of this magic is in the
Guides' brutal training rites. Abandoned in an unfamiliar city with a
hostile Avatar, the initiate must overcome the odds and learn to
ignore their Avatar's urgings. Only when they have proven willing and
able to trust their own judgment above the Avatar's are they allowed
to join in the Guides' great apocalyptic work.
Most infamous among the
mercenary companies operating out of the Bay of Blood, The Serpent
Company markets itself as discreet, professional, and willing to take
any contract, no matter how small.
detractors call it a gang of assassins-for-hire, and they're mostly
correct, but people who go up against them expecting a group of petty
criminals are in for a rude surprise. The Serpent Company's
discipline and loyalty are second to none. Though they are pragmatic
about losses while on assignment, they will go to any lengths to
avenge a comrade killed or captured outside the lines of duty.
their usefulness and disproportionate vindictiveness, the Serpent
Company has attained a sort of defacto legitimacy among the coastal
states and the more ruthless lowland empires. No one will admit to
tolerating them, but it's an open secret that they are often hired at
the highest levels of government.
One of the smaller Hyborean mercenary
companies, the Exchequers have perfectly serviceable military
training and discipline, but their real specialty is economics. They
are the outfit a client hires when they want to make sure their
military operations turn a profit.
The Exchequers employ accountants, surveyors, and actuaries
embedded in small commando squads to be deployed at key locations to
seize documents, assess property values, and weigh the long-term
benefits of capturing prisoners. Usually, an employer hires one or
two squads at a time, for special operations, but the entire company
has occasionally worked on massive nation-building projects.
founder of the Exchequers, TBD, believes that it is naive to ever
dream that the Bay of Blood might know peace. A much more realistic
ambition is to encourage limited warfare that preserves as
many natural resources, works of infrastructure, and, incidentally,
lives as possible. They built their company on the hope that armed
with the proper numbers, future sovereigns would make more temperate
city-state of Yennin is a rising power in the Bay of Blood, buoyed by
its willingness to experiment in areas of magic others treat with
superstitious dread. The ritualists of Yennin have devised magic that
interferes with the natural process of procreation, potentially
bringing to life things that were never meant to be.
most famous application of this magic is the Clone ritual, which is
already changing the way the wealthy cope with death. In the
long-run, though, their chimerical breeding program may wind up
having even more profound effects.
champions of Yennin are made from the seed of ten fathers, which is
somehow blended together and implanted in a single mother. These
champions have super-human strength, durability, and insight. They
manifest strange Prodigies, even if their fathers were normal men. If
the fathers were Prodigies themselves, these abilities may magnify as
much as ten-fold.
So far, Yennin is a
commercial power, selling the fruits of its research for unheard of
profits, but it has imperial ambitions, and the day may come when the
people of Ukss curse its champions as the vanguard of a conquering
out of the city-state of Yennin, where they have easy access to the
black market sorcery that keeps them "alive," the
Cognizants are Adepts who have developed their mental powers by
stripping away all the distractions of the flesh until only their
magically-sustained brains remain, floating in an enchanted
Despite the precariousness of their existence, the
tradeoff is largely a fruitful one. In addition to gaining telepathic
and telekinetic abilities, the Cognizants can think more clearly,
calculate more accurately, and remember more completely than normal
humans. They use this power to operate the most powerful underworld
network in the Bay of Blood.
Though there is very little that
would be considered illegal
in a region where mercenaries, assassins, and relic sorcery are
openly tolerated, there are many codes governing the movement
of magic, weapons, and people. No state wants their rivals to gain an
unanswerable advantage, and thus customs enforcement is a deadly
serious business. The Cognizants make evading customs checks into
their business, and
they've gotten very good at it.
newer ritual, originally devised in the city-state of Yennin, is
gradually spreading among the elite of every land who can afford its
exorbitant price. Using only a thimble-full of blood, or a similar
amount of flesh, from a recently-dead body, the Clone ritual can
create a perfect duplicate of the donor, complete with all of their
knowledge, memories and skills. The clone is the same age as the
donor was when they died, but cured of all wounds, magical
afflictions and infections (certain diseases, like cancer, carry
over, but scholars aren't sure why.)
secret, known only to the ritual's inventors and a few trusted
co-conspirators, is that the Clone ritual works even on the living.
The age and memories of the clones are the same as the donor when
the sample was taken,
and while the cabal has not yet figured out a use for this
information, it is working on methods of long-term flesh preservation
and spells to transfer the soul from one body to another. In the
future, the wealthy of Ukss may need never to die.
In Yennin, the indigent do
not need to worry about the prospect of affording medical care. By
law, any may seek aid at the TBD Research Hospital, without any need
for payment. The one stipulation is that if you die under their care,
they may claim your body so that it may be studied.
The poor make
reluctant use of these doctors' services, but they don't trust them
at all. Those who work for the Research Hospital are called
“Reapers,” and it is widely believed that they let patients die
on purpose, so that they may harvest their organs. Technically, this
isn't true . . . the Research Hospital's policy, both officially and
unofficially, is to try their best to save everyone, but their
doctors are scientists and not physicians, so the standard of care is
low. That this just happens to provide a steady supply of materials
for their research projects. . . is what keeps the program
Kingdom of Bliss
The Kingdom of Bliss is probably
not a true kingdom. If it has a monarch, they have never been seen in
public. There is no royal palace or crown jewels. In fact, by the
standards of most nations, it is barely ruled at all. The sorcerers
who perform and interpret the soul-readings are probably the closest
thing they have to a government, but that is an open fellowship, and
they are constantly admitting new members to help relieve the burden
of their work.
The soul-reading ritual is at the heart of The
Kingdom of Bliss. It strips away all prejudice and self-delusion to
reveal the soul's true calling - whatever vocation, lifestyle, and
social associations would make the subject happiest. Then, once the
report is ready, the Kingdom of Bliss works its hardest to try and
make it happen.
Travelers tell of an upside-down land, where
stable-muckers go home to expansive palaces and scientists and
engineers live in humble cottages. Where there is song and laughter
everywhere, but long lines for grain and water. Where there are few
soldiers, but those that exist fight with unseemly passion.
is unclear exactly how much magic is going into propping up the
Kingdom of Bliss, but it is likely that their all-consuming obsession
with making every citizen as happy as possible is the only thing
keeping them from being a major regional power.
aggressively expansionist city state has few friends, but many
admirers, mostly among romantics, authoritarians, and militarists in
societies that otherwise know better. It is a state that has devoted
itself utterly to the art of war, and every aspect of its culture,
religion, and civic organization is bent towards that end.
is the most self-regarding state in the Bay of Blood region. It
practically worships its own idealized conception of its mission.
According to the Laconian constitution, their society is broken up
into two castes - serfs, who farm the land and provide auxilliary and
irregular troops for the Laconian army and citizens, who are devoted
from birth to death to becoming the perfect soldiers (there is also a
third unofficial and unnamed caste of merchants and artisans, who are
neither tied to the land nor allowed to own it - the Laconian
constitution is not very rigorous)
In theory, this means that
Laconian citizens live a life of discipline and austerity, devoting
their days to fitness regimens and military drills and their nights
to the study of tactics and strategy. And superficially, this does
appear to be how the Laconians live, but the entire society is shot
through with subtle corruption. Though they lack taverns, bawdy
houses, and gilded palaces, they find other ways to indulge their
pleasure-seeking impulses. Sadism is shockingly common, whether
directed at serfs or lower-ranking citizens. Even the best Laconians
are hidebound and haughty and seem to delight in reminding their
"inferiors" about the purity of the Laconian
Laconia is currently a state in decline. Its
warriors are unusually fierce and skilled, but not to such a great
degree that it's worth sacrificing science, philosophy, and the arts.
And more and more in recent times, they've been facing new weapons
and tactics that their overwhelming conservatism is ill-suited to
adapt to. The more cosmopolitan wags in neighboring states like to
joke that they've become a living museum to an outdated way of
It would be foolish to discount Laconia as a threat,
though. They are a people who can feel their culture and values
slipping away from them and that makes them dangerous. They may not
be a match for a modern Lowlands military, but they can still do a
lot of damage to states that are lagging behind. Whoever they decide
will be their last blaze of glory will find themselves in mortal
The Feast of
custom originating in Laconia, it has since spread to several major
trade cities who care not for its sacred origns and simply use it as
an excuse for gambling, excessive drinking, and the spectacle of
grievous bodily harm. The real Feast of Blades is only held on
festival days sacred to Melin Daguz, but knockoffs gravitate to
whatever the local drinking holiday happens to be.
the Feast of Blades begins, aspirants drink a special potion that
gives them the ability to chew and digest metal. Then, they are
presented with a table laden with swords, knives, and daggers.
Whoever eats the most before the potion wears off wins.
potion lasts about a quarter-hour, but differences in metabolism,
body weight, and other factors can vary that time by up to five
minutes. The first sign that it's wearing off is usually bloody lips,
cheeks, and gums. The truly determined (or demented . . . or drunk)
can push past that to scarf down a few extra inches of steel, and
this usually throws the crowd into a raucous frenzy, but it is
inevitable that someone is going to take it too far and wind up in
the hospital or, rarely, the morgue.
is a blister on the waters of the Bay of Blood. A small volcanic
island near the center of the Bay, its winding caverns, filled with a
turbid, sulfurous smog, contain a rift into the Demon Courts. One of
the widest sacred gates on the surface of Ukss, it is notionally
capable of allowing even the Great Dukes to enter the world as
But that is not how it's used. Instead, Pandaemonium
Island is reserved as a refuge and reward for the demonic masses.
Those who please their masters in service, or who can secure the
proper bribes, may pass through the rift to enjoy the pleasures of
the physical world.
The revels and debauches of Pandaemonium
are infamous throughout the world. Strange lights explode over the
island at all hours of the night and the haunting screech of demonic
music can be heard for miles out to sea.
represents an irresistible allure to the more decadent sort of
partier. When a person has become numb to all safer and saner
pleasures, this one last adventure awaits. The demons encourage human
visitors, for they themselves are fascinated that bodies so fragile
are so willing to partake of their festivals. Despite the moralizing
rumors, most visitors actually survive.
The island has a
permanent human population of sunken-eyed and sleep-deprived
servants. They load and unload ships coming into the docks, keep the
feast halls in good repair, perform music (a troubadour can make a
fortune in infernal gold playing Pandaemonium . . . if they can
escape to spend it), and provide intimate services. The one thing
they never do is enforce the law, not against the demons (obviously)
and not against their human guests. Whether the natives are hostages
or cultists, not even they can say.
Demand to enter
Pandaemonium is so high in the Demon Courts that time here is
carefully rationed. The day is divided into twelve overlapping
segments. Any particular demon may stay eight hours, with one hour
set aside on each end of the period for arranging transit (even with
these rations, the lines are incredibly long). The most desirable
periods are reserved for demons of higher rank and those they wish to
reward. The concept of the time segments has filtered down to the
human workers, and they themselves measure status by which shift a
person works, though, of course, the hours the humans find most
appealing are not the same as those of their masters.
in an arid valley on the north coast of the Bay of Blood, the city
state of Dazul is built atop the Dark Spring, a turbid fountain of
shadowy anti-water that spills from the mouth of an obsidian statue.
Trapped in the statue is a Duke of the Infernal realm. The
Priest-Kings of Dazul consult with the demon on matters of state,
using powerful ritual magic to compel its honesty.
rules Dazul, but only indirectly, by playing the factions off each
other. United, the Priest-Kings are too cunning and too powerful to
safely manipulate, and thus the demon gains power by advancing the
ambitions of various favorites and carefully playing the role of the
By law, the demon may only be contacted in
front of the full assembly of 91 Priest-Kings. However, this law is
frequently violated. Those naive enough to follow it don't last long
in city's cutthroat politics.
The Priest-Kings of Dazul rule
their city with an iron fist. None dare oppose them, lest they be
forced to drink the anti-waters of the Dark Spring. One sip will
afflict a victim with a desperate thirst, as if they'd gone days
without water. A belly-full of the anti-waters will destroy a person
utterly. They will dry up within minutes and go screaming into death.
. . if they're lucky.
Those with the
talent for magic - magicians mostly, but also the stronger sort of
prodigies - may use their connection to the Magic World to survive.
They become the Unquenched, undying ghouls who seek any moisture they
can find, whether it be water or blood or crude oil, and drink it
down with a disturbing ferocity.
possible for a magician of strong will and pure intent to stay ahead
of the thirst for some time. They will still drink every liquid they
can find, but they retain enough awareness to warn away strangers and
prioritize pure waters over filth. However, in the end, everyone
succumbs. The echoes of their screams, rising up from the caverns of
the undercity, keep the rest of Dazul's citizens on the straight and
the northern reaches of the Bay of Blood, near the Reliquary Desert,
the Sorcerer-King Zarub brooded in his growing paranoia. He held a
wand that could fracture souls and break wills, but though his might
was unquestionable, his cruelty had earned him many enemies among
both his neighbors and his own people. He needed champions and
protectors, brilliant minds that could lead his armies of golems into
battle, but were so loyal they would never betray him.
was a problem that plagued him for many years until he realized there
was only one person he trusted with preserving his life and his rule
. . . himself.
so he turned to dark and terrible sorceries, summoning ancient demons
to advise him and sacrificing a hundred lives to gather his power. In
the end, he split his own soul into three parts. The bulk of his mind
remained in his own body, perhaps a little more fragile, and
certainly a lot more unstable, but nonetheless in full possession of
his powers. His two shadows, he placed in exquisitely designed golem
bodies of incredible beauty and physical might.
hope was that, as lesser copies of his own mind, his Shadow Generals
would serve him willingly. And for a time, they did. But even souls
can heal, and as the years passed, the Generals regained a portion of
Zarub's ambition. They became the very threat he feared and each
sought to claim the throne for his own.
eventually prevailed, but the people of his kingdom suffered greatly
in the crossfire. Zarub was anything but humbled by the near-loss of
his crown, and he's since become obsessed with the idea that it was
some rival magician that turned his creations against him.
the Sorcerer-King did not begin his magical experiments with his
Shadow Generals. As a proof of concept, he created an elite unit of
golem-enforcers animated by the souls of his most vicious and loyal
followers. One such golem was severely damaged in the War of the
Thirded Crown, not just physically, but mentally. Rather than start
from scratch, Zarub simply scoured away its memories. The
newly-repaired golem was a complete innocent, and found itself
disgusted by the orders it was asked to carry out. One night, while
on patrol, it simply absconded into the desert.
Now it wanders
the world, evading Zarub's hunters and contemplating the meaning of
existence. It does not yet know what it wants to do with its life,
but it thinks it would prefer not to be a weapon of war.
The Tower of Nebt Bhakau
of all sorts play outsized roles in Ukss' history, but few names have
the power to strike dread into nearly any soul who hears them. Nebt
Bhakau is one of those names. Quite possibly the greatest Necromancer
to ever live, he is the only person to have attained true
immortality. At the height of his powers, he was indestructible by
any blade or gun or wand wielded by lesser hands. It was a feat
attained only after a century of atrocities performed in the name of
Though he was never
a great conqueror or tyrant, his outrages against the dignity of both
living and dead made him an enemy of every decent person on Ukss. In
the end, an alliance of the five closest nations, from which he drew
the bulk of his victims, laid siege to his spectre-guarded tower, and
though they lost nine tenths of their forces, the survivors were able
to bind him in chains of meteoric iron.
ritual techniques gleaned from his own notes, his captors were able
to dismember Nebt Bhakau and bind his six most essential organs
(eyes, tongue, heart, hands, genitals, and spleen) into special
ceramic jars. So long as the bindings for all six endure, his
regenerative capabilities are sealed away. But if even one of the
jars is opened, he will be free to live and work his evil once
The only blessing is that each jar
contains a separate aspect of Nebt Bhakau's full power, so even if
he's reborn, he will still need to find the five other jars to assume
his true strength. For that reason, each of the five nations holds
one of the jars, with the sixth, containing his heart, entombed in a
secret location known only to the ones who buried him.
is the most open city in the Bay of Blood. According to stereotypes,
it's because the Weneti people will do anything for money, but that's
an accusation that could be fairly applied to nearly every human
society on Ukss. Wenetos' mercantile reputation is likely due to its
prominent position near the mouth of the bay and its ruling families'
endless hunger for sorcerous components.
Every sixteen years,
the city's eight great lineages of sorcerers gather together to elect
one of the families to rule Wenetos. These elections are far from
democratic, being swayed by bribes, threats, and occasional gang
warfare in the streets. However, since no family may rule for two
terms in a row, the result is a rough balance of power. None can take
control without a power bloc behind them, and none can afford to
wield their power too roughly, lest they unite the other houses
The International Mail Service
their culture's emphasis on exploration and adventure, the average
Awakened Rat is much more well-traveled than the typical human or
goblin. Some bands are permanently nomadic, moving from city to city,
continent to continent in never-ending migration patterns that take
years to complete. As a result, more settled people have gotten into
the habit of entrusting the Rats with their mail.
years ago, a group of enterprising Rats decided to make this custom
into a business venture, and thus the International Mail Service was
born. With a promise to deliver any package to any address (so long
as it's legal at both origin and destination), the IMS is the most
secure, reliable way to send letters and small, valuable parcels (the
IMS likes to boast that it has never lost a delivery to employee
theft - surprisingly the claim is true). It's not always the fastest,
but the Rats will brave fire and flood to see their deliveries
through. To those who work for it, the International Mail Service is
not just a company, it's a creed.
Most of IMS' business is
done in Hyborea, which lacks the extensive telegraph networks of
Atalanta, but they have recently started taking more and more
deliveries to Mu. As the kaers open up to the world, they are in dire
need of couriers who will risk the dangers of the Spectrum Lands.
leader of the IMS is a rat known only as Young Noble (the origins of
this nickname are lost to time, though presumably there was an “Old
Noble” somewhere in his past). Young Noble is a colorful character
to say the least. He boasts of being personal friends with Santa
Claus, and he has the autographed sleigh bells to back it up. He's
delivered mail to every continent, and even under the sea. He bathes
in tub made from the polished shell of a giant clam, given to him as
thanks for services rendered to some merfolk king. He keeps a large,
surly tomcat as a pet. He calls him “Tiger” and the relative
scale does indeed match up. There's never been a documented instance
of Tiger mauling any of Young Noble's Awakened Rat visitors (not even
the really rude ones), but when asked about it, the Postmaster just
smiles in a way that's not at all reassuring.
and Black – Discreet Clothiers
of the more infamous businesses to operate in the lax environs of
Wenetos, The firm of Bothers and Black specializes in hard-wearing,
practical clothing that nonetheless retains a touch of elegance even
as its wearer engages in serious physical exertion.
suits, in other words. They make murder suits. Oh, they wouldn't put
it that way, and in fact the bulk of their business lies in designing
distinctive uniforms for the Bay's mercenary companies. However it is
undeniable that a Bothers and Black original will never stain with
blood. Their shoes seem to muffle the sound of footfalls, and their
plain, grey overcoats will blend in equally well among masonry,
stones, and crowds. Rumor has it that sufficient gold will buy you
even more esoteric and specialized couture, and if they really
trust you they'll let you use their witch road to House Helekar.
Society of Murder
in Wenetos are serious business. All eight of the ruling families
play for keeps, and when one of them decides to remove a piece from
the board, no amount of wealth, connections, or clout is going to
stop the inevitable.
where the Society of Murder comes in. You hire them to kill you
before your enemies can do the job. Of course, they don't really
kill you, not usually (though, with Yenin's invention of the Clone
ritual, it has become
a part of their repertoire.) They just make it look like they did,
with a meticulous attention to detail. They will use whatever sorcery
is necessary to fool the investigators. They will bribe, intimidate
or . . . silence whatever witnesses could contradict the story. And
they will pay whatever it takes to smuggle you out of the city and
into a new life. All it costs you is half your wealth.
bother negotiating. They know what you have, and if you really need
their services, that money was as good as lost anyway. You also
needn't worry that it might take more than half your wealth to make
it worth their while – if you're that
poor, you'll never be able to find them.
Little Dreams toy shop in Wenetos is one of the major attractions of
the Bay of Blood. Their sorcerer-artisans create ingenious devices
with complex and surprising behaviors – baby dolls that cry and are
comforted with cuddles, miniature catapults that really work,
delicate puzzle boxes that unfold into mechanical songbirds. There is
something to amuse and delight customers of all ages.
you're well-connected, you can ask to see their “special
merchandise,” toys that bear lethal enchantments – the doll that
comes to life and attacks its owner, the wooden sword that can change
to razor-sharp bronze, the clockwork war machines at full-size scale.
Most of these creations look completely harmless and can be
discreetly shipped in bulk to the nascent insurrection of your choice
for an additional fee.
of Little Dreams' most in-demand products, puppet familiars are
usually even legal. They are articulated plush toys that may be
controlled by a marionette . . . or by a gaffling spirit drawn from
the Magic World. Unlike most gaffling-infused items, the puppet
actually becomes the gaffling's body
instead of just a home. These toys gain all the abilities of the
depicted animal (so toy birds can fly, toy skunks can spray musk,
etc), but they also have unusual occult knowledge and ways of
perceiving and navigating through the world that veer into the
Omphalos Gateway Fish Market
fishing fleets are some of the most wide-ranging on Ukss, working
both the Bay of Blood and the Omphalos Sea to bring back all manner
of diverse catches, from deep sea tuna to the strange, bloodthirsty
toothfish that swim off the coast of the Plaguelands.
enriching the city's cuisine and supplying sorcerers with aquatic
ritual components, the Fish Market is also a magnet for criminals of
all types. There is little that's illegal in Wenetos, but as fish are
frozen and repackaged for export, contraband will make its way into
the shipping containers.
a persistent belief that the powerful odors of the fish market (it
has many nicknames, the politest of which is “The Perineum Gateway”
as in, “more like the Perineum Gateway, am I right?”) serve to
keep the city's nobles from taking too much of an interest in its
goings on, and though the belief is misguided, the ruling families
encourage it, as it allows them a deniable way to interact with the
criminal underworld, and often serves as a neutral ground when
families want to negotiate with each other “off the books.”
the Living City
most ancient of the Bay of Blood's city-states, it was a mystery even
in the days of the Old Kingdom. It is a place of narrow streets and
deep shadows, made of bricks of black stone that seem to absorb any
sound louder than a whisper.
the streets move. Usually not when anyone is looking, but swiftly
enough for people to notice. When it rains, the stones underfoot grow
rough to provide better traction. The elderly and the injured will
usually face ramps instead of stairs. And a criminal who is not
swiftly caught will almost always find themselves fleeing into a
watches over its inhabitants, and while it cares for their
well-being, it also will not tolerate their defiance. It hates bright
lights and noise, but enjoys soft music, whispered conversations,
scholars hunched over ancient books, and any craft that can be done
without fire. It provides its people a limitless bounty of cool
gardens and well-stocked libraries and enforces its will with the
cruel attentions of the Shinobi.
look human, but they're not. Never forget - they are not
Maybe they were
once. Maybe they were simply so devoted to the worship of the powers
of night that they lost the daylight aspects of their personalities.
Maybe they were so obsessed with becoming the perfect adepts of
shadow that they ultimately became
Because that's what they are now. Stare at them all
you want and you will see only a flat thing, so black its contours
vanish into the whole. That doesn't seem so human, sure. But when
they come for you and you're fighting for your life, you might see a
cock of the head, a tilt of the posture, some small gesture that
makes you think there might still be a person inside. You might be
tempted to show them mercy.
Don't be fooled. They gave up
their voices long ago. They surrendered themselves utterly to their
dark patrons and it is those gods who act when the Shinobi come upon
you. They will kill you for your mercy. Any glimmer of humanity you
might see in them is as substantial as the smoke they leave behind
when they're slain.
Book of Whispers
deceptively slim volume is considered one of Ukss' most dangerous
magical tomes. It does nothing more contentious than describe what's
happening in its immediate vicinity (out to about 100 meters, though
the effect is blocked by walls), but when those descriptions include
the inner thoughts and secret agendas of any nearby "characters,"
that is more than dangerous enough.
The Book of Whispers is,
by this point, thousands of pages long, impossibly crammed into a
spine only a half-inch thick. This is despite it being literary
enough to condense long periods of uninteresting activity ("the
Prince slept through the night"). Those who own it for long
enough eventually learn that it is constantly rewriting its own
earlier pages to provide historical context, establish foreshadowing,
or point out ironies (not to mention discreetly trimming all those
paradoxical, recursive passages that occur whenever people read the
Though it never changes while someone is
looking at it (the last sentence is always some variant of "the
reader turned to the final page of the Book of Whispers"), the
sound of words moving around on unobserved pages is what gives the
book its name. Fortunately for those who would use the Book of
Whispers for nefarious purposes, the sound is successfully muffled
when the covers are closed.
hundred years ago, an ambitious young sorcerer ventured into the
depths of the Reliquary desert and returned with a treasure trove of
ancient artifacts. The most precious was a magic wand that allowed
him to create words that would bind themselves into the mind, forever
shaping it with a fixed, indelible idea that natural thoughts would
have to twist to accommodate. It was obviously a gateway to great
power, but he tried too much, too quickly. Using the wand, he wrote a
gospel of himself, a book that would force anyone who read it to
worship him as a god. . . then he read it himself. Just to check for
errors, see. He thought he, of all people, would be immune. And thus
the Perfect was born. The Perfect is wise and merciful and just and
cares for all the world.
man who became the Perfect is none of those things. He is forced to
play the role, to act
as if it was his true face, but his thoughts are still free. The
ideas from the book are a cage around those thoughts, but that only
means that he suffers severe migraines whenever he contradicts them.
Thus he suffers endless agony as he is forced to try and wield
absolute power with the infinite grace of a god.
realized, in retrospect, that his mistake was making the binding too
elaborate. He never needed a personal theology, he only needed
obedience. And thus the people of Paragon are now bound with a simple
oath – follow the laws of the city or suffer. The result is a
peaceful, orderly city, with clean streets and a population that
always acts friendly.
Outsiders can tell the smiles are fake. That terrible things happen
to those who break the facade. Nonetheless, Paragon still manages to
draw refugees from the more chaotic parts of the Bay of Blood, who
believe its safety is worth a simple oath. It's only too late that
they learn the true cost of paradise.
Perfect himself is obsessed with making an ideal city, of fulfilling
the “prophecies” that foretold a utopia under his benevolent
guidance. It is not a goal he values for its own sake, but he
believes that if he ever fulfills the technical requirements of his
binding, he might be able to contemplate escape without being wracked
by terrible phantom pains.
Those who grow up in Paragon will sometimes hear tell of
the strange customs of foreign lands. There are places in the world
where judgment is not automatic, where civil authorities have to make
decisions about guilt and innocence and then assign a punishment
proportional to the offense. Most citizens suppress their resentment
upon hearing this information. They do not wish to borrow misery by
imagining another way of life. However, there are some who cannot let
The Mercykillers are one such group of people. They
emerged from a philosophical discussion that concluded that Paragon's
way was the best possible system. Justice came from within,
punishment was both certain and absolute, and the true spirit of the
law resides inside every citizen. And if Paragon has achieved the
ultimate in justice, then every other place in the world must fall
So the Mercykillers travel the world, seeking out those
who have escaped punishment or those who have received an undeserved
(by the Mercykillers' unyielding standards) lenience. And they
administer punishment – a quick and painless death. That is their
“mercy,” that the criminals they hunt do not suffer the way
Paragon's twisting words would make them suffer. Some among their
number argue that this is a deviation from true justice, but the
Mercykillers largely believe that only those who have sworn the oath
are capable of true, internal punishment. If punishment must come
from without, then death is the closest thing anyone can achieve to
the absolute sentence that the people of Paragon inflict on
It is likely that the Mercykillers' stated motives are
not their true motives. They act like itinerant warriors on a sacred
mission, but they are obsessed with something they call “the Moment
of Pronouncement” - the instant the condemned realize they are
going to die for their crimes. The Mercykillers never execute a
target without first telling them why it is happening, and though
they pride themselves on delivering a clean killing stroke, they will
linger before raising their blades, to allow the Moment of
Pronouncement to register.
Then, as the body lies cooling on the floor, they inject
it with necrostimulant from Yennin, and perform a brief telepathic
ritual that allows them to experience the victim's final thoughts and
feelings (giving them all the more reason to strike painlessly). The
true heart of the Mercykillers as an organization is the harvesting
of these Moments of Pronouncement from the dead. They want to feel
the last few moments of the condemned's life, when they can clearly
anticipate the external punishment and know it is deserved. They do
it again and again, as if they are searching for some sign that
justice can exist without the oath.
The Mercykillers do sometimes slay the innocent (and
often kill for crimes that in no way merit death as a punishment),and
when they do, their oath punishes them. Terrible, incapacitating
headaches for several days, but then the headaches pass, as do all
attempts to go against the wand-fixed words, and the Mercykillers
consider themselves cleansed of wrongdoing.
Only one Mercykiller has never slain an innocent and
never punished anything less than a true capital crime. His name is
Blander Mul, and he is one of the organization's few true believers.
The other Mercykillers largely despise him, because he shows no signs
of the soul-sickness that drives them. In truth, for all their effort
to justify the oath, most of the order hate the oath. It is not
something they'd ever admit, even to themselves, because then their
terrible deeds would have no meaning whatsoever, but for most of
them, capturing and consuming the Moments of Pronouncement is not
truly about experiencing justice. Rather, it is a pathetic, corrupt
attempt to feel the mercy that the oath never grants.
Blander Mul is almost entirely oblivious to the feelings
of his fellow Mercykillers. He is conscientious, diligent, and
forthright, and thus has never experienced the true horror of
Paragon's oath. He naively thinks that the Mercykiller's true mission
is to bring the light of justice to places with imperfect,
Buried in the sands of the Reliquary Desert,
there is a tomb that is not a tomb. Once it was a place of glory, the
throne room of a sorcerer whose unsurpassed power was almost
enough to satisfy his ambition. Now it is a monument to his failed
The mummified body of the God-Emperor still sits on
the Golden Throne that was to be vehicle of his transformation from
human to divine. Its forbidden magic keeps him trapped between
worlds, the spark of his life-force still burning after hundreds of
years. Not quite ghost and not quite god, only his legendary
willpower has kept him from going completely mad. Destroying the
Throne will surely release him, though whether into death or
something else, no one can say.
The followers of the God Emperor of Hyborea's Old
Empire are thin on the ground these days, but there are certain
pieces of sacred lore that still manage to stay in circulation. One
particular legend concerns The Dream Stele, a modest obelisk the last
Emperor erected shortly before he made the decision to pursue divine
to legend, the Dream Stele documents the prophetic dream that led to
that fateful decision. On its sides are listed the great deeds the
God Emperor would have to perform to be worthy of joining the ranks
of the great spirit courts. If an adventurer or scholar found the
Dream Stele in the ruins of the Reliquary Desert, they might
reexamine the text to find where the God Emperor went wrong. Perhaps
to free him from his torment . . . or follow in his footsteps.
in the Reliquary Desert, the Sandcrawlers are a community of Awakened
Rats that rejects the romance and chivalry of their brethren for a
pragmatic philosophy of survival . . . or so they claim. More
mainstream rats point out that they are scrupulously honest in their
dealings, but the Sandcrawlers claim it's so their word will have
value. They'll point out that the Sandcrawlers rescue stranded
travelers and the Sandcrawlers will protest that dead men can't pay a
reward. They'll point out that they are meticulous recyclers and
careful stewards of the land, and the Sandcrawlers answer that in the
desert, you can never afford to waste resources.
settled villages along the border of the Reliquary desert have a
harsher opinion of the Sandcrawlers, viewing them as scavengers and
sharp dealers, but even the harshest of their critics would be
hard-pressed to say that they are a dangerous threat.
Sandcrawlers live collectively in massive junk-gathering caravans and
wear thick robes to protect themselves from the desert sun. It's said
that a Sandcrawler can repair any sort of technology, but only for
long enough to pass it on to an unsuspecting customer.
Built before the scorching
of the Reliquary Desert, as the God-Emperor was conquering nation
after nation, the Witness exists to preserve the culture of the White
Cliff Artificers. Made of exquisitely engraved bronze and diamond
clockwork, the Witness has a beautiful voice with a twelve octave
range and a perfect memory for songs, stories, and poems.
White Cliff Artificers exist now only in The Witness's memory, but
taverns across Hyborea echo with the sound of their drinking songs,
and the tutors of the wealthy know the history of the Artificer's
In the centuries since its creation, the Witness has
traveled the length and breadth of Ukss, seeking out small villages
and peoples under siege to learn their stories and keep them forever
the deadliest reaches of the Reliquary desert, where even the
Sandcrawlers fear to tread, there lives a culture of nomadic
lizard-people. Though they have no name that would translate into a
human tongue, the few travelers lucky enough to see them and survive
have dubbed them "the Chromatics."
are masters of light. They need no clothes, because their spells can
divert the hottest of the sun's rays. They need no weapons, because
they can hurl lances of solar fire with pinpoint accuracy. They can
make themselves completely invisible or weave complex illusions in
the air. They are so attuned to the nature of light that they don't
even speak. All of their communication is done through complex
patterns of color, many of which are invisible to the human
Because they are so difficult to find (let alone
communicate with), scholars mistakenly believe that the Chromatics
are Prodigies. And while they do have superhuman vision and the
ability to change their skin color, those traits are purely natural.
Their magical control over light itself is a form of wand magic.
Chromatics produce only one kind of wand, polished over years from a
certain type of desert crystal, but the number of wands they've
accumulated over the years would absolutely stagger the various
imperial strategists, were it to become known. Every Chromatic child
receives one as a rite of adulthood (whether carved by their parents
or handed down from an honored ancestor). Aside from wands, they use
little other technology. Mostly bags, belts, and pouches, but also
occasionally flint knives for when they need to cut without heat and
spearheads for when they wish to fight their own kind.
days of the Old Empire, Chromatic artisans had a way of etching their
illusions into crystal, using very precise beams of light. With
enough work, they could make stones that contained fully
three-dimensional images that seemed to move as one turned the
crystal in their hands. Unfortunately, the God Emperor was so
enamored with these creations that he conscripted every creator he
could find into his personal service. Thus the art was lost alongside
City of Illusion
the heart of the Chromatics' territory is their most sacred site. It
is the repository for their cultural memory. It is here that they
record their legends and deeds. It is here that they recreate the
ruined buildings they find half-buried in the desert, imagining what
they must have looked like when they still stood tall. It is here
that they share the faces of travelers, both friend and foe.
Everything the wandering Chromatics felt worth preserving has been
woven into vibrant moving images and then permanently anchored with a
bit of the Sun's own generative power.
At some point, the
Chromatics began to understand that their use of life energy had . .
. side effects. The most ancient illusions broke from their
programming, and began to act out new stories, as if they were in
truth the characters they were drawn to be. The mystics among them
pronounced this a blessing, saying that the living illusions, as they
became aware of each other, would reveal paths of meaning between
their stories. They say the center of the city is their racial
unconscious, and that the dream-like chaos found therein represents
the dreams of the Chromatic people.
For their part, the living
illusions are unaware of their role in Chromatic culture. The newly
awakened still believe they're real, and rationalize the City as a
waking nightmare. The oldest ones worship the god they're certain
It burrows under the sands of the Reliquary Desert,
grinding away at the imperishable stone of the God-Emperor's
chambers. In another two thousand years, it may even break through.
It has an unusual degree of focus for an animal, almost as if it
foresaw what it might become if it tasted the God-Emperor's
semi-divine flesh. . .
But until that day comes, the Great Serpent cannot
survive on rock and stone. When its hunger becomes too great to bear,
it stalks through the sands, ambushing bands of Chromatics or whole
caravans of Sandcrawlers. It has an uncanny knack for attacking when
its prey is least prepared, almost as if it had some way of
foreseeing the outcome of its attacks . . .
But that's ridiculous. It's probably just a big, dumb
snake that just . . . constantly . . . gets lucky? Right?
On the slopes of the Dragontail mountains,
grows a most unusual plant. Small-leafed and hardy, it climbs up
cliff faces and takes root on any old patch of bare rock. It would be
a terribly invasive weed were it not for one miraculous property -
its roots contain gold! Through some process not yet understood by
scientists, the Dragontail Cliff-clover draws in heavy metals as part
of its normal life cycle. Though the amount in any one plant is
minuscule, villages in Cliff-clover country can make a decent bit of
extra money by harvesting them in the thousands and burning them in
specialized kilns. The kilns run hot enough to reduce the plant
matter entirely to ash and leave behind only a modest, but profitable
stream of molten gold.
There is a mountain in the Dragontail Range
whose name is politely translated as "The Root of the World."
It rises far above its neighbors and is visible, hazily, from the
Reliquary Desert to the shores of the Girding Ocean. Its peak is so
tall that clouds pass beneath it, and the people of the Dragontail
Mountains can divine the weather by charting how much of its
silhouette is obscured on any given day.
Atop The Root of the
World, there sits a throne of aluminum and sapphire. Any who sit in
the throne may cast their senses out and look down from any cloud
that touches the slopes of the mountain or through any fog that rises
in the shadow of those clouds. In the days leading up to a blizzard,
this may extend for hundreds of miles, right down to the villages by
Only kings, sorcerers, and fools actually attempt to
use the Mist Throne, however, for the climb up the Root is perilous
in the extreme, and to approach the peak from the air risks angering
the ancient gods who watch over the mountain.
Occupying a highly desirable territory on the
northern spur of the Bay of Blood, the jungle known as the
Plaguelands should have been cut down a long time ago. The
combination of rich timber and strategic position should make it
irresistible to any would-be sorcerer king. But the Plaguelands are
more than capable of defending themselves.
Strange creatures boil forth from the heart of the
jungle to overwhelm any potential settlement. Cutting down the trees
does little good. They . . . adapt. After the first wave of human
intrusion, they began to bleed an acidic sap that dissolved saws
faster than they could cut. When the settlers came back with
bulldozers, the fallen trees began to explode. Now, razor-sharp
leaves will fall from their branches whenever a human so much as
approaches the edge of the forest.
And the animals themselves have become larger,
faster, and smarter. In response to the settlers' rifles, they gained
the ability to spit venom and organi-ceramic spines that are harder
than steel. When they started using airplanes, the animals learned to
leap from treetops and ride updrafts on never-before-seen membranous
wing-flaps. Everything humans do to try and tame the land is quickly
answered by some new, monstrously mutated species.
But the truly frightening thing about the Plaguelands
is that they have begun to expand.
A little over twenty years ago, it began to show an unprecedented
fury and since then its borders have expanded by over a hundred
miles. It was only stopped after it overwhelmed the city state of
TBD. The loss of an ancient culture shocked the people of the Bay of
Blood into action, and in a rare show of cooperation, rival city
states came together to contain it with an impenetrable shield wall.
The first wall failed.
The second wall has so far
held, but it's been a non-stop battle. All the cunning that the
Plaguelands used to reserve for defending itself has been turned
towards assaulting any trace of human civilization. Every day, new
variant creatures appear and all the easy ways of defeating them have
No one can explain the
Plaguelands new aggression, though conservatives like to blame
Yennin's experimentation in the biological arts. Most don't find this
a very compelling theory, however, since Yennin is the city state
most in the line of fire.
The truth is that the
Plaguelands have always existed to protect a sacred divine mystery –
the Everliving Flower, which bloomed from a seed on the first day of
Ukss' creation. Right before the change, an adventurer did the
unthinkable – they cut a single petal from the blossom and spirited
it away for alchemical experimentation.
Since then, the Everliving
Flower has been screaming in pain and shedding an endless torrent of
mutagenic blood. Everything the blood touched becomes wildly twisted
and filled with rage. Unless the wound is healed, the Plaguelands
will continue to spread until they cover all of Hyborea.
a broadly egg-shaped continent that extends from the equator in the
south to tornado-wracked dry grasslands in the north. It is the
closest land to the northern ice cap, but it still takes several days
of sailing across the Girding Ocean to get there.
third of Mu is a massive savanna of unnerving flatness. In
prehistoric times, the gods leveled the savanna and piled all the
surplus dirt into the Great Mesa, a six-mile high mound of earth with
a flat top hundreds of miles across. In the center of the Great Mesa,
perfectly aligned with Ukss' equator, is the Ascension Tower, a
massive diamond cable that stretches all the way into the Cosmic
Sphere. Those who wish to petition the Celestial Embassy may enter
the palace at the base of the Tower, and if their case is deemed
worthy, the palace as a whole will rise up the cable, eventually,
after seven days and seven nights, reaching the Celestial Embassy
To the north of the savanna is the Crimson Badlands, a
desert of red earth that was once a prehistoric sea. The region is
rocky and mountainous, though the tallest of the peaks reach only a
few hundred meters above sea level. There is a stark beauty to these
lands, as if the bones of the earth have been laid bare, but it is so
hot and so dry that few have crossed it and lived. In old Mu, the
Republic would maintain coastal cities to the north and south of the
Badlands to divert cargo and passengers destined for The Great Mesa,
but those cities were among the first targets in the Prism
Farther north, past the Badlands, lies the former
heartland of the Republic of Mu. It is now known as The Spectrum
Lands, a place where the standard rules of Ukss geography have been
put into abeyance. The Spectrum Lands were ground zero for the Prism
Wars, where the magician TBD's mad ambition held the greatest sway,
and where the Rainbow Knights were allowed to terraform the land to
better match their bizarre home dimension. The soil of the Spectrum
Lands has been scoured away and replaced by vast stretches of
multicolored sands. Strange crystalline life thrives in these
wastelands and giant polyhedral crystals dot the landscape. It is a
place of quiet dread, but is not without its own alien beauty. Humans
survive in the Spectrum Lands only by taking shelter in kaers. A few
have opened themselves to the world, now that the worst of the crisis
has passed, but many still believe it unsafe to emerge.
natural borders of the Spectrum Lands are those territories the
Republic of Mu found too dangerous or unprofitable to settle - the
Crimson Badlands in the South, the volcanic Helltooth mountains to
the West, and the Funnelcloud plains to the North. There is a strip
of habitable land between the Spectrum Lands and the Girding Ocean to
the East, the last vestige of the Republic of Mu, where they made
their last stand against the Rainbow Knights, but the political
authority of the Republic has collapsed and it currently has no
organization above the local level. It is home to villages of
survivors, and to colonies from the Lowlands, who hope to exploit the
fall of native Mu society to establish a new imperial foothold on the
The people of Mu used to have a wide range of skin
colors ranging from russet to pale pink, but the close confinement of
the kaers has evened out the human palette a bit. Olive skin and dark
hair is the most common, but mutations are everywhere. Due to
contamination from the Spectrum Lands, as many as 1 in 3 people in an
isolated settlement might have brightly-colored hair or eyes in
unnatural colors like orange or purple. These people sometimes try to
dye their hair black, but any native of Mu will immediately recognize
the shade and wonder what else they might have to hide.
years ago, the magician TBD, holder of The Wand of Illumination,
became unsatisfied with her lot. She held one of the Great Wands,
tools of the Creators, each one a key to unlocking some facet of
reality, but over time, she came to resent its limitations. She had
absolute mastery over elemental light, but deep in her soul, she knew
she was capable of more.
so she broke the Wand of Illumination into seven pieces. The shards
could no longer be used as true Wands, and with the breaking TBD lost
a lot of her immediate power, but when they were set as the focus for
slower, ritual magic, they had profound and far-reaching abilities,
unlike anything the world of Ukss had ever seen.
began the Prism Wars. Through the shards, TBD reached into a realm of
pure magic and drew out seven legions of warriors - the Rainbow
Knights - each one empowered by a different primordial power - from
the Red Legion, who could heal themselves by drinking the blood of
their enemies all the way to the Violet Legion, who marched in shadow
and were never seen until it was already too late.
people of the continent of Mu were able to band together and defeat
the Rainbow Knights, but at a terrible cost. Even now, their kaers -
underground shelters, woven with many protective spells - still stand
as monuments to their brush with total extinction. They say some
kaers still stand undisturbed, their inhabitants refusing to believe
that the Rainbow Knights could ever be defeated.
The Spectrum Lands
Here was the heart of the
old Republic. Now, it contains the ruins of a once-great
civilization. The Republic of Mu was organized, educated, and
economically powerful. Its sorcerous academies were the best in the
world, teaching many rituals, now lost, that aided agriculture,
mining, and travel. They were the foremost explorers of the Cosmic
Sphere, even without the boost provided by the Ascension Tower, and
their scientists were the closest of any on Ukss to unlocking the
secrets of electricity.
Then the Prism Wars came. TBD, using
knowledge she gained from Mu's universities and resources she gained
from its colonies on Aetheria, unleashed an invasion from the depths
of the Magic World (some even say from a reality beyond), one that
ripped up fields, tore down cities, and changed the very nature of
Many of Mu's citizens hid from the invasion in
self-sufficient underground bunkers called kaers (from an old word
for “fortress”). For fifty years, the kaers were sealed with
magic and isolated from the outside world. Though the Rainbow Knights
were eventually defeated (for the most part, some still wander the
Spectrum Lands, seeking revenge for their slain comrades), the land
itself still bears the terrible wounds of the invasion, transformed
into a place of strange alien geometries and a bright and unnatural
The people of the kaers are still in a survival
mindset, wary of outsiders, determined to guard their scant resources
with lethal force, if necessary. Strangely, since the opening,
relatively few have migrated to more congenial parts of Ukss. They
say that they are too attached to their communities, and that their
grief is too great to bear the sight of their ruined homeland, though
given the physical transformations they've undergone (many
kaer-dwellers have blue, green, or cherry-colored hair and purple,
orange, or yellow eyes), some suspect that they've become dependent
upon the energies of the Spectrum Lands and are as bound to it as the
remaining Rainbow Knights.
Nonetheless, commerce is slowly
starting to return. Bands of minstrels, actors, and troubadours brave
the waste to make well-compensated performances (the average kaer was
built on or near a prosperous mine, and was able to resume economic
activity almost as soon as the seals were broken). These wandering
performers carry the torch of old Mu, connecting the kaers to their
past, and each other. There is also an extensive trade in relics of
old Mu. Though many are traded purely for sentimental value, there
are many wonders of lost magic that would bring an explorer a
fortune, were they to find their way to the right buyer. Sadly, fakes
and charlatans abound, and many of the salvaged “treasures” that
grace the kaers were made in a colonial sweatshop.
Ago'astia, the breach point
Though the rift to the
Rainbow Knights' dimension is now sealed, the architecture of the
breach still remains. That's because it was never a simple spell, but
rather a fiendishly intelligent alien creature called to Ukss by the
breaking of the Wand of Illumination. Ago'astia exists as a
polychromatic light inside a series of interconnected crystals. It
draws on the life energy of the sun to expand its habitat, and though
these crystals are nothing more than vessels for its senses and
consciousness, it takes pride in crafting elaborate geometric
structures according to its own alien aesthetic.
Its creations don't have
to be purely decorative, though. As the Rainbow Knights poured
through the breach, Ago'astia created streets and barracks and
fortifications for them, all out of transmuted crystal. When the
Rainbow Knights were defeated, these structures were largely left in
place, as the heroes of Mu did not understand that they were
At the center of
Ago'astia is a large crystal ring, roughly 300 meters across, set
into the ground. This was the original portal, and there are several
large gaps where it was broken in the final assault. The light could
repair these gaps, but the portal itself requires the aid of a native
sorcerer to rekindle, so it has thus far not bothered. Without access
to the energies of its home reality, the Ago'astia has had increasing
difficulty in transmuting matter. It still wishes to expand its
reach, but it must now carefully choose its battles. Nonetheless, it
is cunning and ancient, and may yet prove a threat to the people of
The Stasis Vector
wasn't purely aggressive. It consumes and it kills and it conquers
not just to expand, but to create something great – the
Stasis Vector. In its purest
form, it is a shape that signals perfection. It cannot be altered or
even touched or even approached.
The clearer it's drawn, the more it incorporates the world into
itself, and the farther out the horizon inside which everything
stops. Such is the best possible
end of the world, a perfect moment captured forever.
hoped to imprint a Stasis Vector onto Ukss, but the rainbow knights
failed before it could even get close. At most, it made a few small,
vague copies, capable of ensnaring only a few dozen square feet. Even
these imperfect Vectors are hard to destroy, as any matter and energy
that passes their horizon freezes in place, leaving the core intact,
but there is a counter-pattern that may be inscribed around its
borders that causes the Vector to collapse. The trick is prying it
from the few remaining loremasters among the Purple Knights.
The Republic of Mu was
not entirely a human society, but while goblins adapted easily to the
kaers, the nation's large population of Talking Horses (second only
to the Equine Steppes) could not overcome their natural tendency
towards claustrophobia. Spending an entire lifetime in a cramped
underground shelter would be a fate worse than death. So they decided
The Nic'Epona are what
remained after they were defeated. These powerful steeds have
shimmering rainbow coats and when they run through the crystal wastes
of the Spectrum Lands, their hooves leave no impression in the
multi-colored sand. They are wholly corrupted by the energies of the
Rainbow Knights, and are now as much creatures of their alternate
dimension as they are natives to Ukss.
These rainbow horses
still possess the full intelligence of their Talking Horse ancestors,
and they still have sorcerers among them, though they are neither the
Academy-trained scholars of the late Republic nor the feudal
herd-dancers of their distant relations. They instead wield strange
spells from the alternate dimension, able to change a target's
fundamental nature by upsetting the balance of its natural colors.
The greatest among them can even run the path between worlds,
potentially offering the Rainbow Knights a new route back to Ukss.
The Shadow Tree
One of the more ill-fated
attempts to reclaim the Spectrum Lands, the Shadow Tree is a product
of sophisticated bio-manipulation magic, a half-vegetable clockwork
god (though technically, no actual clockwork is involved) that is
tied physically to a trembling aspen, planted underground and
nourished with redirected solar life energy. In theory, this aspen,
with the assistance of its bound god, should be able to expand its
root system and spawn clonal offshoots, reclaiming a large swath of
land for the people of its kaer. However, progress so far has not
The surface above the
kaer has a small grove of aspens, but the god of the Shadow Tree says
he requires vastly more life energy to overcome the alien
terraforming. The solar binding-runes on the ceiling of his chamber
are not enough. He requires blood sacrifice.
The people of the kaer
have done their best to comply as humanely as possible, taking small
samples from volunteers, but it hasn't been enough. Some have begun
to suspect that the god has his own agenda, but for the most part,
the more the people sacrifice, the more committed they are to seeing
the project through to its completion.
Hardship dogged this kaer
throughout the decades of its isolation. Crime was rampant and
shortages were common. Many believed it would not survive long enough
to unseal itself. But they were saved by the Judge.
The Judge was a skilled
leader and jurist, able to broker compromises between bitter rivals
and to envision punishments that would both satisfy the victims and
ensure that the perpetrator could still be of service to the
community. In time, the people of the kaer came to believe that he
was prodigy of justice itself.
Then the kaer opened and
the Judge expressed his desire to move on, to seek out his distant
family in another region of Mu. The people of the kaer, convinced
they could not survive without him, captured the Judge and put him in
chains. Now, he is a slave, bound to his bench by day and confined to
a cell by night.
It would be too easy for
the Judge to sabotage his captors, but though he resents his
enslavement, he cannot bring himself to issue an unjust ruling. Thus,
he continues to judge fairly, though he dare not hope that the
subject of his imprisonment might come before his court.
The kaer has built itself
a new, arena-sized courtroom it calls “The Confessional.” There,
the entire town gathers, so that they may one-by-one confess their
crimes (which may be as petty as “selfish thoughts”) to their
jeering neighbors. The Judge then assigns a penance and thereby is
the community cleansed of all wrongdoing. If something were to happen
to the Judge, it is likely that this ritual of self-flagellation will
quickly turn very ugly indeed.
The Confessional is not
just a building. It is a religion and it is a way of life. Though
they do almost everything the Judge commands (everything except allow
him his freedom), the Judge is not their leader. Instead, they are
lead by the Novice Confessor, a young man or woman chosen for their
pure nature. The Novice accepts upon themselves the guilt for
enslaving the Judge and is bound to never confess that sin (lest the
Judge become able to rule on this issue). However, even as they bear
this burden, they must still regularly confess their crimes, just
like anyone else in the town. However, the crowd is especially hard
on Novice Confessors, perhaps out of their own sublimated guilt,
sooner or later, they demand their bloody execution, for the crime of
falling short of perfection.
Then, a new Novice
Confessor is chosen, in the hopes that this time they may be innocent
enough to absolve the entire town.
the edge of the Spectrum Frontier, there lies a town that seems
to have escaped the touch of the Prism Wars. So long as its water
wheels keep turning, the people of the town continue to go about
their lives as if they didn't have a care in the world. Their town is
cheerful, prosperous, and blessed with all the arts of ancient
But when the wheels stop, whether due to seasonal
droughts, mechanical failures, or deliberate sabotage, the town grows
still. It's as if the life departs along with the power, and
everyone, from the shopkeepers to the constables to the playing
children (and even most of the livestock and pets) simply freezes
into place. The color drains from them and it becomes apparent that
they are all merely clockwork dolls, given life by some electric
maintains Manikin town, for these outages never last for long, but
they have hidden themselves well, and it's unclear whether the
village is a monument, an experiment, or a way of making amends. The
people of Manikin Town seem unaware of their unique condition (or at
least there is no power yet found that will make them admit it),
though if you earn their trust, they will confide that they often
have nightmares of ice.
terror of the grassy, unpolluted fringes of Mu's Spectrum Lands,
Dog-Eater is a warlord-scavenger who has made his fortune raiding the
ruins of cities destroyed in the Prism Wars (and, rumor has it,
looting kaers that had managed to make it through the crisis
The struggling villages that have had the misfortune
to play host to his horde of reavers view him more as a malevolent
force of nature than a man. He seems to have little interest in
conquering territory, but he has no tolerance for anything that could
be interpreted as disrespect or defiance. He earned his name through
his habit of finding the most pampered, beloved pet in any new town
to slaughter and consume as a form of psychological
Dog-Eater is beloved by his followers for his
extravagant generosity when it comes to the spoils of his looting.
Whenever he must address his followers or intimidate a recalcitrant
village elder, he dons a glittering coat made of strung-together
coins of a hundred different denominations and governments. He claims
it's strong enough to stop bullets, but conveniently, he only wears
it in situations where gunplay is unlikely.
This warlord is
a rival to Dog-Eater and will often attack his raiding parties while
they are in the middle of attacking some vulnerable frontier village.
This has happened so frequently that the only possible explanation is
that Metal Hand is deliberately sending scouts to monitor Dog-Eater's
band and report back prime opportunities. However, Metal Hand is no
hero – he will plunder both the raiders and their original victims,
and has his own reputation for ruthlessness.
rivalry dates all the way back to the beginning of Metal Hand's
career. Once an honest hunter, on one of his infrequent trips into
town, he was caught up in a raid, and bore first-hand witness to
Dog-Eater's cruelty. The villagers swore to Dog-Eater that they had
no hidden treasures, just a few simple relics as a legacy from their
ancestors. Dog-Eater did not believe them and made a great fire to
melt down every bit of metal in the town (not out of any great
practical need, but to humiliate the villagers by leaving them with a
giant lump of slag). One by one the village's tools and weapons went
into the vat and they stoically stuck to their story. At last,
Dog-Eater came to the closest thing the village had to a genuine
treasure – a bronze relic flute, woven with minor enchantments, but
effectively irreplaceable in Mu's fallen state. The villagers begged
him not to destroy it, but he merely repeated his demands. When he
didn't get the answer he wanted, he threw it in.
snapped inside of the honest hunter. He plunged his arm into the vat
of molten metal and retrieved the flute. Holding it aloft as a banner
in his ruined hand, he led the villagers in a brutal counterattack.
Dog-eater and his troops were forced to retreat, and forever after
the hunter would be known as “Metal Hand.”
the subsequent years, Metal Hand has pondered that day often, and has
come to the conclusion that the heart of the problem was that the
villagers fell into the trap of nostalgia. The Republic of Mu failed,
and venerating its relics is nothing but a weakness. He is now an
ideological raider, selectively attacking villages that he feels
wallow too deeply in the past. He is not arbitrarily cruel, like his
rival, but he is merciless. The people of the Spectrum Lands will
build a new
society, and if he has to destroy every vestige of the old to make
that happen, so be it.
The grasslands of Mu are
struggling under the depredations of scavengers and warlords, but it
has its share of heroes too. One such hero is an intense goblin woman
of indeterminate age. Known only as the Wanderer, she is an expert
swordswoman who travels from town to town riding a giant lizard. A
great foe of injustice, she will accept no payment but room and
board. In peaceful times, she lives off the land, but it's been a
long time since she'd known peace for more than a few days at a
The Sword of the Wanderer is as clean and as sharp as
any goblin-forged blade, but it bears a unique inscription that
gossips are sure must have a profound occult meaning, "WEAR ME
UNTIL YOU FIND A BETTER."
Floating Garden was one of the wonders of old Mu, an expression of
sorcerous might unrivaled by any human-wrought working in the modern
history of Ukss. Commissioned by the Republic to celebrate its 500th
anniversary, a team of 100 sorcerers worked together to lift one of
the smaller floating continents out of the skies of Aetheria and
transport it through the Cosmic Sphere, where it was set in a route
to visit every major city in Mu once every three years.
floating mountain, the people of Mu built exquisite gardens and farms
devoted to the most rarefied delicacies of Mu's cuisine. When it
appeared above a city, the local government declared a festival. A
few lucky people, chosen by lottery, were flown up to tour the
gardens. Everyone else was given wine and candy from the Garden's
When the Prism
Wars came to Mu, the Floating Gardens became the ultimate kaer, a
place of refuge for those the government thought best represented the
arts and culture of old Mu. Intended as a staging area to rebuild the
Republic, the Floating Garden was renamed the Sky Preserve.
Republic fell, the people of the Sky Preserve were forced to watch
helplessly as the Rainbow Knights ravaged Mu's heartland. Many wanted
to help, but the Indigo Knights specialized in hunting down and
killing sorcerers, and the first few sorties shook the foundations of
the Preserve, threatening to rip it from the sky.
Now, this last,
greatest repository of sorcerous knowledge is tasked with reclaiming
the Spectrum Lands, finding some way to undo the strange magical
transformation that accompanied the Prism Wars.
The Dragon Market
you leave TBD-city and head inland, riding for six days through the
Crimson Badlands, you will come across a massive meteor crater,
nearly a mile across and more than 2000 feet deep. But the ancient
signs of carnage pale before the modern ones. Carved into the sides
of the crater, to take advantage of the magic-dampening properties of
meteoric iron, are the only cages in Ukss capable of holding an
The Dragon Market is an assault on the senses.
Explosions of dragon breath, unleashed in useless rage, light up the
sky. Noxious odors of unwashed bodies waft down from the cages and up
from the mercenary armies that regularly rotate in and out of the
crater. And above all, the noise. Roars and curses, insinuating
whispers, offers of bribes, and screams of pain that seem almost
And in the center of it all is the Trading Floor, a
modest three-story townhouse, made in a popular TBD-city style, that
nonetheless seems to dominate its surroundings from the audacity of
its smallness. It is here that merchants, potentates, and speculators
gather to trade dragons.
It is rare for a dragon, once
captured, to actually leave its cage. The ownership is almost
entirely on paper, and exists purely to facilitate games of
statecraft and realpolitik. But their value is not entirely by fiat.
Most dragons, even the nastily evil ones, will honor a bargain made
to secure their freedom, making them the ultimate weapon of last
resort (The fact that the Market quite provably knows how to contact
the really effective Dragon-Hunters also serves to secure the
The proprietors of the Dragon Market are
shrouded in secrecy. Any number of heroes, rulers, and apocalyptic
cultists would love to move against the people who hold the keys to
dragon cages, and not all of them would be dissuaded by the chaos
that would ensue if those cages were thrown open all at once.
Human beings cannot easily survive in the Crimson
Badlands. It is too hot and too dry – a hellish environment for
mammals, but perfect for lizard-folk. The Khasta are the same species
as the Chromatics of the Reliquary Desert, but though they share the
same ability to change their skin color and see a broader range of
the spectrum, they do not have the same ability to manipulate light
(scholars believe the two societies diverged before the Chromatics
learned to craft wands). The Khasta are nomads who travel the
Badlands with herds of horse-dragons (large, bipedal dinosaurs) that
they use as mounts and livestock.
Before the Prism Wars, the Khasta had a peaceful, but
strained relationship with the Republic of Mu. Their territory was
nominally claimed by the Republic, but for all practical purposes was
beyond the Republic's ability to govern. Thus the Khasta would often
act as smugglers or hired muscle for Mu's criminal gangs, but just as
often, the Republic would hire Khasta mercenaries to clamp down on
illegal trade through the Badlands.
In recent years, some villages on the Spectrum
Frontier have taken to hiring Khasta to protect them from raider
attacks. A few of these contracts are honest exchanges, but most
quickly devolve into thinly-veiled protection rackets as unscrupulous
Khasta bands begin raiding the villages that do not pay.
Khasta speak in a very quiet, heavily aspirated voice
with little noticeable inflection. Where a human would emphasize
words or speak in an emotional tone, they change the color of their
scales. Much like human vocal tone, this is semi-voluntary. A calm
and collected Khasta can lie
with their color changing.
Old books tell of a monster
the size of a mountain, a geomantic parasite that could drain the
vitality from entire counties worth of land. Armies could assault
these creatures, only to be turned away by the symbiotic horrors that
lived in their lava-like blood. When the Hulgue was done feeding, it
would leap away on the massive legs it kept concealed under its stony
carapace. Sailing miles through the air, it would land with meteoric
force and a sky-darkening cloud of dust.
believe the last Hulgue was killed over a thousand years ago, but the
barren places of the world contain many large hills, and a creature
of stone may sleep for a very long time indeed.
The Great Mesa
Dominated by the looming sight of the
heaven-challenging Ascension Tower, the lands atop the Great Mesa are
practically their own world, home to many refugees from the Cosmic
Sphere, who have ridden the palaces down, just as humans have long
ridden them up.
Mountains are a range of active volcanoes that run the entire length
of the old Republic of Mu. Their fertile soil once nourished the
breadbasket of the Republic, but since the transformation of the
Spectrum Lands, they have become an imposing barrier to any who would
flee that strange and barren land.
Many of the
range's peaks regularly belch smoke, but for the large part, ancient
Earth Anchors have prevented any cataclysmic eruptions. Still, open
lava flows are not unknown, and breathing in the upper reaches can be
extremely difficult, which is likely why the land has become a haven
for the undead.
range technically continues to the south of Mu, into the ocean,
creating a series of volcanic islands. The rich volcanic soil of
these island supported large populations until recent years, but with
the death of the Volcano Maiden, there have been massive famines,
leaving entire cities abandoned, save for the undead.
The Death of
Mountains have always been inhospitable, but since the Prism Wars,
they've gotten much, much worse. Old Earth Anchors, which have stood
unperturbed for centuries, have begun to show worrying cracks, and
unprecedented tremors have forced the early evacuation of some of the
deepest western kaers.
The cause is
the death of the Volcano Maiden. Towards the end of the Prism Wars,
she decided she would break her long practice of neutrality and
declare her support for the people of Mu. And though she subsequently
launched several credible offensives, she was too tied to her home
range, allowing her to be cornered by the deadly terraforming magics
of the Green Knights.
It is no
trivial thing for a god to die. In life, she weighed heavily on the
world, and now that she's gone, everything that bore her tread has
fallen out of balance. Lush soil will grow barren. The earthquakes
are going to get worse. The Earth Anchors will fail. And then the
eruptions will start in earnest. The western half of Mu will be
obliterated, but the rest of Ukss will not be much better off. The
skies of the Lowlands will be darkened with ash. The Twilight Forest
will wither in darkness. And the Bay of Blood will turn grey.
The only hope
is that a new god can be found for the Mountains, but is there any
strong enough to take up the Volcano Maiden's Crimson Mantle?
The City of
Named for the
falling ash from the nearby Helltooth Mountains, the City of Black
Rains was always a bleak and unfriendly place, a trading hub between
the Omphalous Coast and Mu where people were expected to finish their
business quickly and get out.
Then, one day,
the Springreach mine collapsed. Two hundred miners were trapped
underground, in the hot and humid depths, with enough air and water
(thanks to the spring) to last them weeks, if necessary. Rescue was
possible, but the owners didn't see the profit in it, so they let the
miners die . . . slowly . . . of starvation. But the Volcano Maiden
was a goddess of the living earth, and as deep as the miners were,
that life energy sustained them, even as their bodies died.
Eventually, the miners clawed their way to the surface as fierce
revenants, born once more from the womb of the earth. Then they had
their revenge, first on the mine owners, then on the aristocrats and
capitalists who tolerated their negligence.
Now, the City
of Black Rains endures under an uneasy peace. The leader of the
undead, who takes the title Twiceborn, rules the entire city. Her
fellow zombies are just below her, a proletarian political machine
that oversees the tenuous capitalism still allowed to the living. It
is still nominally a democracy, but the Worker's Party is the only
legal party under the new constitution, and advancement in its ranks
is nearly impossible for anyone who has not been buried in the ruins
of Springreach, which still retain the power to bring a semblance of
life to a sufficiently intact corpse.
two hundred Reborn are committed to workers' rights with a passion
strong enough to pull them back from the grave. While their
regulations can be heavy-handed, they are always imposed with the
intent of helping the common worker. Those who have been animated in
the subsequent years have more variety. While the Grave Manager of
the Worker's Party will never approve an open ideological foe for
burial in Springreach, it is a bit harder to filter out the
idealists, the reformers, and the opportunists that may be hiding
among the living workers. As time goes on, the politics of the city
is sure to shift away from the uncompromising principles of the first
revolutionaries, though it has not yet become clear what will replace
Trade in the
city took a major hit during the Prism Wars, but living refugees
swelled its population, allowing for the expansion of its industrial
production. It exports worked metal (mainly simple tools and ship
parts) to the Omphalous Coast and the Equatorial Colonies, but as it
comes into increasing competition with Lowlands manufacturers, it
runs the risk of a military intervention to “liberate the living
from rule by the dead” (*wink*).
The Ghost Clan
A scourge to
living and dead alike, the Ghost clan is a major political force in
the Helltooth mountains. Impossibly stubborn when they were alive,
the entire Piper family was flash-mummified after they refused to
evacuate their ancestral home in advance of a predicted volcanic
eruption. Too pigheaded to die, the Pipers dug their way out of their
impromptu tombs and proceeded to consolidate their power.
In the last
days of the Republic, the Ghost Clan acted as bandits, waylaying
isolated settlements and poorly protected convoys heading towards the
Crimson Badlands. The Prism wars temporarily forced them to retreat
(their animating magics were as vulnerable to subversion by the
Indigo Knights as any other spells), but they used the time well,
becoming masters of an aggressive and domineering form of necromancy
that gives them absolute control over summoned ghosts.
activities have revolved around summoning whatever ghosts they can
get ahold of and interrogating them about the circumstances and
locations of their burial. They then use this information to plunder
tombs of any valuable grave goods or to recover any treasures that
may have been lost with the unburied dead of the Prism Wars.
Ghost Clan has largely adapted to its new, parasitical existence,
traces of the old Piper family remain. Many nights, high up in the
lava-carved valleys, there can still be heard the haunting strains of
the family's forgotten bagpipe music.
Native to the Mountains' lower slopes, these small,
furry creatures are as dangerous as they are cute. In the days of the
old Republic of Mu, they were considered a major pest, creeping into
farmlands to steal grain and hunt insects and scaring off predators
by breathing fire.
Though the flame of a Dragon Mouse is not
enough on its own to do more than startle a human, it is perfectly
capable of igniting flammable materials in a human residence. More
than one granary was burned entirely to the ground by a Dragon Mouse
that was trying to intimidate a fox, cat, or dog. They haven't had
quite the same range since the Prism Wars destroyed their major food
sources, but in the western reaches of the Spectrum Lands, there are
many scorched ruins that never actually saw battle.
the name “Bone Spirit” is a bit of a misnomer. This recently
emerged form of undead comes from bodies that were completely
vaporized by eruptions of the Helltooth volcanoes, and thus left no
remains more substantial than a pile of dust. They can manifest in
the physical world as abrasive whirlwinds of ash and bone fragments,
but those are actually ectoplasmic projections. In the Magic World,
they appear as blackened, eternally-crumbling skeletons whose breath
is superheated air. Necromancers have not yet learned to summon these
creatures, but when they do, their destructive potential will be
When the sun shines, you will feel safe in the
Funnelcloud Plains. You will look from horizon to horizon and see
wave after wave of bright green grass, bending on a gentle breeze,
and maybe you will wonder why no one has settled this pastoral
paradise. Those fluffy clouds in the distance look so cheerful. Then
the clouds will grow taller, reaching into the upper atmosphere. The
sky will darken, and the cold rain will fall. By noon, it will be as
dark as midnight and the winds will scream between deafening claps of
thunder. In the instant of a lightning strike, the half-second
daylight will reveal a silhouette looming downwards from the clouds,
the conical shape of a tornado. The sparse trees will groan and crack
and you'll be pulled off your feet. If you're lucky, a stone will
crack you on the head and the darkness will overtake you. If you're
not, the lightning will strike and you'll see the faces in the
clouds. This was not a coincidence. They were coming for you.
plains are expansive grasslands that, due to a variety of complex
geographical factors, are prone to attracting frequent extreme
weather events. There are more tornadoes in this region than the rest
of the world combined. This would, by itself, make settling difficult
– even the sturdiest building can expect to last only 5-10 years
before it's knocked down by high winds – but the naturally
inclement weather is further exacerbated by the actions of the Cloud
People, who have no interest in allowing any
ground-based civilization to take root.
It is unclear, even to
themselves, whether the Cloud People are yokai or human adepts. Most
of the time, they float through the air, mostly human in appearance
but with pale white or gray skin that is cold to the touch. When they
set foot upon the earth, however, they rapidly gain color and warmth
and will appear to be completely unremarkable human beings (their
“human” skin colors do not appear to correlate with their “cloud”
skin and demonstrate the full range of pigments). This is not a
magical disguise. A given cloud person will have a single earthbound
form that they always return to. Returning to the sky is as simple as
jumping off a high place and hoping the change reverts before they
hit the ground. As time goes on and the cloud person spends more time
touching earth, the height requirement gets steadily greater. After
about a year, even the top of Ukss' atmosphere is no longer high
enough and the cloud person becomes permanently earthbound.
This transformation also
works in reverse – the Cloud People may swoop low and carry away
normal humans. When they reach a certain altitude, the human's skin
will begin to fade to monochrome and they will gain the ability to
float in the air. This is fine, so long as the human returns to the
earth in time, but as time goes on, visitors to the Cloud Peoples'
realm will notice their shape becoming hazier and more indistinct.
Sooner or later (usually after about a year), a wind will blow
through the visitor and they will completely disintegrate. A small
number of humans have the ability to keep their shape indefinitely,
and it is suspected that this mutation is the origin of the Cloud
People as a whole.
Cloud Person culture
emphasizes the arts of scholarship and astrology, and their great
cumulonimbus cities are filled with libraries, salons, and
observatories. They have many extremely dubious (some might even say
“silly”) theories about the culture and life cycle of
ground-dwellers and it is unclear how many are truly serious (for
example, Cloud People do not need to sleep, and thus there are
long-running academic debates about why humans lay around for a third
of the day – the prevailing consensus is that they're lazy).
The Cloud People
have very few physical needs (mostly just water, which they can
attain in nearly limitless quantities by seeding the clouds), and
therefor little use for government, but they do have a class of
knight-judges known as the Lightning People. Lightning People have
hot, dark-gray skin and can change into lightning bolts at will,
striking down enemies or traveling from city to city in the blink of
an eye. The distinction between cloud person and lightning person is
not a racial one. Cloud People can train to become Lightning People,
though it is a grueling process, best begun in childhood, and
potential mentors are extremely selective. In addition to scaring
away ground dwellers, the Lightning People also mediate disputes
between Cloud People and have the power to levy any sentence up to
exile (though this technically not capital punishment, many Cloud
People regard it as a fate worse than death).
The most powerful
Lightning People are the four Storm Kings/Queens (membership in this
elite society usually turns over every few decades - currently there
are two Kings and two Queens). They don't rule
the Cloud People in any conventional sense, but they are entrusted
with stewardship of the four Storm Keeps, which grant their holders
the ability to control weather on a semi continental scale. Each Keep
controls a different phenomenon – Rain, Wind, Clouds, and Thunder –
and by coordinating their efforts, the Storm Kings can totally
control all the weather in the Funnelcloud Plains. Typically, though,
the holders of the keeps are prone to petty rivalries, ensuring chaos
in the lands below. The only thing that reliably brings them together
is the prospect of new ground-based settlements, which they will
destroy with terrible tornadoes.
Near the center of the
Funnelcloud Plains, equidistant from each of the Storm Keeps, there
is a jagged outcrop of dark stone that rises 500 feet in the air. If
you climb to the top, there is a point where the winds form a
permanent standing vortex, as loud as an airplane engine. Any message
spoken into the vortex will find its way to its intended recipient,
so long as they are somewhere on the surface of Ukss. The winds will
carry the words for as far and as long as it takes. Such
communications are not perfectly confidential, but they are extremely
difficult to intercept (though anyone nearby the recipient will hear
the words at the volume they were originally spoken, which makes
things a little awkward when the sender wrongly believes they needed
After it became clear that the Rainbow Knights
were defeated for good, a land rush began to reclaim as much of Mu as
possible. This led to the establishment of Lowlands colonies in the
southern savanna. Though they are still small and dependent upon
their home nations for support, the largest of the Equatorial
Colonies are well on their way to becoming self-sufficient.
addition to providing cheap sources of cotton, corn syrup, and
chocolate, the Equatorial Colonies also serve as a dumping ground for
petty convicts, political dissidents, and the unemployed. Ships
containing transportees operate in a more or less continuous circuit
and though as many as one in five die within the first year of
arrival (approximately half from the voyage and half from the
near-survival conditions of the colonies themselves), the growth rate
of the colonies is among the highest in the world.
The animal gods are the biggest obstacle to further expansion of
the colonies. Great herds of animals roam the grasslands and they
have champions among them. Beasts with wise eyes who scorn bullets
and turn magic back against their attackers. The people of Mu revered
these creatures as gods, and no one who has faced one in battle could
say that they were wrong to do so.
The most common animals in the savanna are brightly-feathered
avian dinosaurs that graze on the grass. They are stalked by
mammalian predators like lions and hyenas, and compete for territory
with elephants, giant porcupines, and the more reptilian dinosaurs
that wander south from the Crimson Badlands.
These elephant-sized birds are surely
very wise. Most people who meet them agree that they are very
intelligent and know many mystical secrets. Nobody has an unkind word
to say against them.
A Typhonian Peacock is
definitely as smart as a human. Some of them are even as smart as a
clever human. But they
lean on their beauty. They are conversationally skillful. They evade
questions they don't know how to answer and speak so confidently that
none dare gainsay them. They do have magic, often quite potent, but
they are Prodigies. Each one is born able to manipulate a particular
element (usually sky or flame), but there is no trick to it. They
have no secrets to share. They are simply vain enough to imply
that they do.
A tail feather from a Typhonian Peacock can be
used as a Wand of Splendor, but it is fragile and quickly
disintegrates under repeated use.
The Field of
In the vast, flat plains of Mu's
savanna, there is a place where the grass thins and the landscape is
dominated by hundreds of stone spheres, each the height of a
full-grown man. Legend has it that they were created by the god TBD
in a single night of drunkenness. Even now, the spheres are
sacrosanct, perfectly resistant to axes, hammers, and picks and
highly resistant to dynamite and destruction magic. As near as anyone
can tell, the spheres have no function or purpose. The god simply
herbivores manage to survive the dangers of the savanna by being
entirely too dangerous to fuck with. At least, until recently. New
settlers have begun to hunt the giant porcupines with high-caliber
rifles, in order to harvest their spear-like quills. These quills are
light, strong, and easily enchanted, making them perfect for
architectural applications. They are usually used as support poles
for the semi-permanent tents that make up the bulk of colonial
housing, though the rapid growth of the colonies is leading to an
increasing scarcity of the giant porcupines in the wild.
Surrounding the three continents is a vast expanse of
open water. Without the land to break them up, both storms and waves
are free to grow to massive size, and as a result it is largely
considered unnavigable. However, it is not without life. Underwater
mountains sometimes breach the surface, making for small, bare
islands that will occasionally bloom with the odd storm-tossed seed
or stranded family of birds. Some of these islands, particularly near
the continental shelf, are havens for pirates, sorcerers, or
But it is under the waves that the true life
of the Girding Ocean is found. The sea floor is deeper and darker and
stranger than anything found in the Omphalos Sea, and yet whole
civilizations thrive in its crushing depths.
yokai build magnificent cities of coral and pearl, lit by the
otherworldly glow of bio-luminescent sea-weed. There are entire
monarchies, complete with barons, knights, and courtiers, who play
out grand romances never dreamt-of by surface dwellers.
the darkness between the kingdoms, in great rifts and stygian
mountain hollows, there live terrible things. The benthic vampires
are often the least of them. Whole wars have been fought to keep even
one of these horrors quiescent, and ancient enemies will often put
aside their differences when their sages and advisors detect a shift
in the familiar currents.
There's an island in the Girding Ocean
that wise sailors avoid. It has no name. Very deliberately, it has no
name. When the sea-canny refer to it all, they do so obliquely. It is
"where the sisters sleep." Or "The place the sisters
No one is quite sure what the sisters are,
exactly. Goddesses, perhaps? Or creatures older than humanity's petty
categories. It is rare for them to directly confront trespassers, but
if you sail towards their island, you will find yourself sailing away
into stranger seas. It is a common beginning to many heroes'
The hero always survives, but it may be because only
a hero can.
The Undying Island
In contrast to Three Sisters Island, there is a place
in the Girding Ocean that many have sought, but few have found –
the Undying Island, the Field of Grass and Flowers, that decay may
not touch. Legend has it that every flower on the island is a tiny
gate, allowing the passage of miniature Blossom Alfar, who tend this
sacred place and keep it free from the taint of human greed.
For on the Undying Island, no life may completely
perish. In time (though “time” may be decades or centuries) even
grievous wounds may heal. It is believed, with varying degrees of
wishful thinking, that many ancient heroes have found refuge on the
Undying Island, guided by the gods to its hidden location as reward
for a lifetime of service. There is hope that they may return to the
world in its hour of greatest need.
The Undying Island's greatest protector is the
goddess, Violet, who permits no bloodshed on this sacred land. She
has great power over the workings of chance, and any who attempt
violence find their attacks foiled by inexplicable happenstance and
unlikely coincidences. This power is not absolute, however, and
Violet's greatest fear is that Island may be discovered by powerful
wielders of magic, who will corrupt its healing powers to work
The Pirates of
the Western Gate
Operating out of the rocky
islands of the Girding Ocean, this band of seafaring sorcerers
engages in many dark practices to evade capture by technologically
advanced Lowland navies. The most dramatic of their arts is
their ability to open sacred gates, drawing demons into physical
reality in the form of Storm Alfar.
The demons and the pirates
have a complex web of contracts, blood oaths, and common interests.
In return for giving their ships fair winds and wracking their
pursuers with lightning and gales, the demons receive a never-ending
stream of human sacrifices and treasures of occult significance.
Pirates, for their part, appear to be searching for something in the
Girding Ocean. They plunder ships to satisfying the hungers of their
demonic patrons, but what they want goes beyond mere wealth. The
sorcerers who lead them are old and cunning and know many secrets. If
they ever find what they're looking for, it could make storms look
like child's play.
intelligent dolphins, the Dargonesti do not build shelters, nor do
they stay in one location long enough to call it a home, but their
Pods are as tight-knit as any human community and last generation
after generation with a fixed name and identity.
describe the Dargonesti as the playful jokers of the sea who rescue
lost seafarers and entertain ships with their acrobatic antics.
Others as sadistic brutes who torture the helpless and take pleasure
in cruelty. Both assessments miss the mark. The Dargonesti are
for all the contradictions and complexities that entails.
Nonetheless, they are heavily influenced by the local culture of
their pod. If it is led by a craven bully, then that's what they
become. Otherwise, most Dargonesti culture hews to the hedonic
principle - if it makes you happy, do it.
have an affinity for the magical arts. Their natural form precludes
using a wand, and most rituals do not work underwater, but they have
a knack for wild magic and are some of the few people to become
adepts multiple times over. Most Dargonesti magic is what you would
expect from an aquatic creature (summon fish, protection from
drowning, etc), but they are eager students and a pod with access to
highly-trafficked shipping routes will collect an eclectic variety of
talents from friendly land-goers.
signature Dargonesti magic, though, is the ability to shift into a
human-like form. This too is an adept ability, taking years to
master, but it is so widespread, appearing even in the most
antisocial pods, that outsiders tend to mistake it for an innate
power. Dargonesti disguises are good, but rarely completely perfect.
They usually overdo the ears, though whether this is because hearing
is such an important sense to them or because they don't have
external ears of their own (or, as more likely, because it's some
private joke at humanity's expense) is currently unknown.
are immortal. The thing no one tells you about immortality is that as
time goes on, it becomes increasingly likely that you will become
trapped. A building will collapse on top of you. You will be buried
in a concrete tomb. You will sink to the bottom of the sea and have
your bones crushed by the unbearable pressure of the depths. .
Benthic vampires are those who have adapted to the deep sea.
Down far below the surface, where the sun never shines, they have
honed their innate vampire powers to withstand the terrible
environment. They are stronger, swifter, and more vicious than
surface vampires, but can no longer pass for even remotely
Warm blood is rare under the sea, especially at the
depths that Benthics favor, but they have learned to listen for whale
song. A single whale can feed a whole pack. The monsters swarm over
them en masse, dragging them to the sea floor and draining them dry
before they can drown.
The Dargonesti hunt Benthics whenever
they can, but they are no match for them one-on-one and usually wind
up being chased away from the choicest Benthic feeding grounds.
renegade mermaid was banished from the kingdom of TBD for attempting
a failed palace coup. Since then, she has made many dark pacts with
slumbering stygian horrors, and turned her new personal puissance
towards getting revenge on those who banished her. In recent years,
many of her old rivals have vanished under mysterious circumstances,
and the soothsayers have only now begun to put a name to the threat.
time will soon come for the Assassin Priest to reveal herself openly,
and when she does, the merfolk kingdoms will tremble, for she knows
well the ways of the shadowed gods, and she has so well concealed her
corruption that her name still carries weight among the
disenfranchised masses. If she can successfully reconcile her
personal popularity with her devotion to her dark patrons, she may
threaten more than just the deep ocean.
the Black Tentacle
The Assassin Priest's closest ally is a chipper talking
octopus with an unflagging work ethic and a complete lack of
conscience. One minute, she'll be taking notes on the boss's sinister
schemes, the next she'll be stabbing a traitor with a poisoned blade
. . . and at no point will she ever lose the song in her voice or the
twinkle in her eyes.
No one is quite sure what the Assassin Priest did to
earn the loyalty of this dangerous creature, but she will explain in
nauseating detail the dire fate she wishes for the kingdom of TBD.
The Northern Ice
A harsh and unforgiving land, with no soil for plants
to find purchase, and reachable only through stormy seas, the
Northern Ice Shelf has no native life. Even Yokai avoid the place.
Only the alfar spend any length of time there, and they come and go
with the unpredictable patterns of the magical gates. Some sorcerers
regard the Ice Shelf as an untapped resource, given the thinness of
the barrier between Ukss and the Magic World, but the cold and the
snow are so severe that even the promise of untapped magical power
has proven insufficient to draw permanent settlement.
exception is Santa's Village at the North Pole. Inhabited by the
largest concentration of Alfar outside Pandaemonium Island, these
semi-divine creatures labor year-round to create the magical wonders
their master delivers to those he finds deserving. Unlike his
counterparts on other worlds, Ukss' Santa Claus does not have a
specific day on which he delivers presents. Instead, he travels the
world giving gifts wherever and whenever they are most needed,
revealing his true identity only to the International Mail Service,
who deliver letters to him as a courtesy from one group of package
delivery professionals to another.
air travel on Ukss is increasingly common, there is a realm above the
sky that has barely been explored. Actually ascending into the Cosmic
Sphere is not especially difficult. Any form of magical flight that
does not rely on air resistance will eventually lift its user beyond
the reaches of Ukss' atmosphere. The real difficulties come when the
traveler is exposed to the Stellar Medium. Not only is the Stellar
Medium airless, it is full of raw magical energy, capable of roasting
an unshielded traveler alive or grotesquely mutating one whose wards
are only against the heat.
Pure elements will block the worst
effects of the Stellar Medium, though most dedicated cosmic explorers
prefer to sheathe themselves in elemental air, so that their shelter
will also let them breathe.
The rituals to maintain a
sufficiently strong elemental pocket are delicate and fickle. They
require constant monitoring to maintain their potency. The ritualists
who specialize in this work must also be powerful warriors, for there
are monsters capable of surviving the Stellar Medium who like to
preface their attacks by sabotaging their victims' protection.
Overcoming will make you perfect. All you have to give them is
everything. Though most active in the Cosmic Sphere, the eerily
perfect physiques and unnerving, frozen smiles of the Overcoming's
members are a familiar sight on Ukss as well. Presenting themselves
as a benevolent group that seeks only to use sorcery to achieve
physical and mental perfection, they actively recruit in
universities, night clubs, and sometimes even the halls of government
- anywhere they think will open doors to the rich or powerful.
the Overcoming is more than just a status-seeking cult. They are, in
fact, a collective mind, a massive superhuman intelligence made from
the best parts of anyone vulnerable enough to fall under their
influence. Their only saving grace is that they will not take new
minds by force. Trickery, seduction, and a hard sell that borders on
coercion, sure, but the final choice must technically be a free
of the key challenges to exploring the Cosmic Sphere is the vast
distances involved. Ordinary magic can take months or years to fly an
explorer between even the nearest celestial bodies. Tessers are
gigantic fauna native to the Stellar Medium with the power to slip in
and out of the magic world at will, allowing them to traverse truly
mind-boggling distances in the blink of an eye.
resemble a mix between a squid and a mollusk. They have thousands of
wire-thin tentacles that can stretch for miles outside their soft,
squishy bodies. These tentacles harvest energy directly from the
Stellar Medium and convert it into power for the Tesser's massive
brain. It's debatable how intelligent a Tesser truly is. Most
psychics who have bonded with one say that they have the intelligence
and demeanor of a small puppy, but those who have worked with them
for extended periods often come to believe that they think deep
thoughts on a scale too slow for humans to register.
will burrow into asteroids, using them as protective shells for
decades or centuries until they grow too large and are forced to seek
out new homes. Their teleportation abilities are more than strong
enough to carry millions of tons of rock and metal with them over
celestial distances. This is a fact that has not gone unnoticed among
Cosmic explorers. Coaxing tessers into adopting star ships as their
temporary shells (given their slow growth, a large enough ship could
last a century or more) and then telepathically binding them to
magical navigation thrones is the main way to build a vessel capable
of traversing the Cosmic Sphere.
reanimated body cannot telepathically communicate with a Tesser (the
creatures whine in pain whenever it is tried), but they can operate
ever other part of a ship, walking through the cosmic medium as if it
were little more than an inconvenience. In the days before the Prism
Wars, the shipping magnates of Mu would recruit entire crews from the
Helltooth Mountains, paying them a fraction of what they would a
the balance of power is reversed, with ships full of undead
“recruiting” (it's approximately 75% voluntary, though pirates
skew that number a lot) living helmsmen to pilot their ships as they
operate profitable trade routes through the cosmic sphere.
like nothing so much as a slate-grey arrowhead, the Dagger Moon is
among the most accessible of Ukss' celestial bodies. It is a mere
19km across, but orbits so low that it looms as large as the more
who have visited the Dagger Moon report that it is, incredibly
enough, a massive spacefaring vessel, put into orbit a long time ago,
by visitors from far, far away. Deciphering its inscriptions, they
have determined that the aliens called it a "Superior Star
Destroyer," which seems consistent with the thousands of cannons
they've found scattered about its surface.
one has yet figured out a way to enter the interior of the vessel and
explorers of the Cosmic Sphere will move rapidly to stop anyone who
is appearing to try. Those who know of the Dagger Moon's true nature
have nightmares that some reckless or ambitious scavengers will wake
it from its quiescence and unleash destruction on a scale Ukss has
greatest spirits of the Magic World, the gods, demon princes, and
other primordial powers, have difficulty communicating directly with
Ukss. It would be beneath their dignity to enter the Tainted Bargain
or pass through a gate to become Alfar, but dreams and omens are too
imprecise and too subject to interpretation.
is for this reason that they created the Celestial Embassy atop the
Ascension Tower. This vast, kilometer-tall dome takes advantage of
the thinness of the border between the magic world and the Cosmic
Sphere to allow greater spirits to project shadows of themselves into
the human world (the massive scale of the audience chamber is to
accommodate the often surprising bulk of such shadows).
technically, only the audience chamber is the true Celestial Embassy,
the term has expanded to include the small city that has grown up on
the "bottom" (Ukss-ward side) of the dome. Populated by the
lesser spiritual entities who may project their entire being through
the Stellar Medium, it exists to serve the gods by sorting petitions,
judging their worth, and performing the rituals to call the gods to
answer the worthiest requests. It is considered neutral ground in the
factional conflicts of the magic world and is one of the few places
where gods and demons may be found side-by-side without open
to the diamond cable are the Four Direction Palaces, the only
buildings in the Celestial Embassy capable of descending down to
Ukss. They are the temporary home of any humans, goblins, and
non-spiritual yokai who might be visiting the Embassy. By tradition,
three of the Palaces remain at the Embassy, while the fourth lies on
the surface of Ukss. In ancient times, when congress between humans
and the gods was more common, each of the Palaces was specialized to
hear a certain category of petitions, but now, the custom exists
mainly to discourage too much mortal traffic at any one
the Celestial Embassy exists at a stable point over Ukss' surface, it
is a major navigational hazard for would-be explorers of the Cosmic
Sphere. The god-forged material of the cable and dome are impervious
to any normal collision, but that is scant comfort to the sorcerers
who can't move quickly enough to avoid getting splattered along their
are locations in the Cosmic Sphere that attract miniature worlds.
These tiny planetoids range from a few hundred meters to dozens of
kilometers across. Most are empty and unexplored, but there are
hundreds which have attracted settlement from Ukss, Luna, and
stranger places still.
settlements are small villages, on average, housing two or three
dozen families. However some homesteads are the isolated estates of
powerful individuals, and a few are magnificent cities, every bit the
equal to anything on the other celestial bodies.
homestead requires its own technique to protect its residents from
the Stellar Medium. The easiest and most common is to hollow out the
asteroid and live in air-filled caverns in the interior. The thick
elemental earth serves to act as an effective shield. More
sophisticated constructions will smelt the iron out of the rock and
spin it into a cylinder that is often several times the length and
diameter of the original world. Obscure rituals will create a
gravitational pull towards the exterior of the homestead, allowing
settlers to build farms, towns, and temples on its interior walls.
The most extravagant homesteads eschew the inherent protection of
metal and stone and build on the world's surface, relying on
thrice-fold runes of binding to capture an envelope of elemental air
that leaves the settlement open to the majesty of the cosmic sphere.
culture of the Homesteads values privacy above all else. It is the
one value they have in common. Most will come to the aid of a
neighbor, in the event that they have a life-threatening emergency,
but any issue less critical will rarely rouse their attention. Almost
without exception, people homestead the cosmic sphere because they
seek to do things they can't do on Ukss - like perform strange or
forbidden experiments or create new societies that follow a full
expression of their ideology or simply hide from hide from their
enemies in a place impossible to sneak up on.
social tradition common to the Homesteads, for the rare occasions
when they wish to socialize with their neighbors, is formalized
martial arts. Every asteroid has its own signature martial arts
style, and it is a common ritual of greeting for guests to challenge
their hosts to a friendly sparring match. Every couple of years or so
(the calendar has little meaning in the Cosmic Sphere), one of the
larger Homesteads will host a grand tournament. Competitors and
spectators will travel as much as a month through the interplanetary
void to attend. Though for most it is no more than a sport or a means
of cultural expression, there are enough genuine masters to make it a
spectacle worth seeing.
asteroid homestead was created with powerful magic, but it's not
necessarily the case that anyone who calls the Cosmic Sphere home is
a potent magician. Many Prodigies are born from exposure to the
stellar medium, but even communities where the populace is innately
magical may wind up performing their maintenance rituals by rote,
without true understanding (when they even remember it all - a few
have forgotten entirely that their ancestors have ever called Ukss
years ago, Ukss reckoning, the magician Clarin grew disgusted with
terrestrial society. He came to the conclusion that the problem with
life on Ukss, the reason it had so much war and poverty, was that
most people were not blessed with his abundant natural gifts. If only
everyone were as intelligent, dispassionate, and magically talented
as himself, surely they would work together to create a
Station is his attempt to attempt to make that vision a reality.
Using specially-built chambers he bought from Yennin, he is able to
incubate clones of himself in batches of 50. These artificial wombs
predate the Clone ritual, so each "generation" of
Clarin-clones are merely infants with his genes, rather than
full-fledged physical and mental duplicates, but to Clarin's
thinking, this is the superior way. Of
society made of nothing but himself would flourish, but the point of
the experiment is that his powers, distributed evenly among the
people, would allow them to thrive even without his specific
raising the first generation himself, Clarin turned the station over
to them, to administer how they see fit. Clarin occasionally stops
by, to both check in and to rest in the only place in the universe he
feels truly at home, but by and large the clones have become
accustomed to independence. There are only a half-dozen wands on the
station, meaning that the bulk of their natural aptitude for magic
has gone to waste, but seeing as how they are more than sufficient to
maintain the population's material needs, most of the clones content
themselves with exploring science or the arts.
station as a whole is approximately 500 acres on the interior of a
cylinder. It houses fewer than 200 clones, half of which are under 15
years old. Most live in a brick and ivy manor house near the entrance
chamber, but a few of the older clones have cottages out in "the
country" It is magically cultivated to have a temperate,
pastoral atmosphere, with rolling woods-covered hills and small
streams that flow in an eternal loop. The clones themselves have an
air of the aristocratic natural philosopher. They lack their father's
single-minded megalomania, but their upbringing and environment has
deeply instilled the idea that they are the universe's most blessed
form of life.
Station practices Hundred-Fist Style martial arts, which emphasizes
rapid punches from unexpected directions, and synergizes extremely
well with their natural inclination towards teamwork.
full celestial body in its own right, Luna possesses a thin, but
breathable atmosphere and enough warmth to support sparse native
life. Because Luna has less protection from the Stellar Medium, the
surface is subject to strange energies that spawn bizarre and
eyeballs, the size of ripe pumpkins float through the air, skimming
off the psychic energies of the life down below. Sentient Lunar Kelp
uses its innate telekinesis to lift its foliage into the air.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not carnivorous, but it will
brutally attack any animal that threatens its shallow system of
roots. Other, stranger creatures live in the crags and crevices of
the seemingly barren Lunar landscape, the only thing they have in
common that they cannot survive in the lesser ambient magic of Ukss
self-appointed "Gateway to Luna," Victory Station is the
largest and most cosmopolitan homestead within easy reach of Ukss
itself. A massive construct of wood and glass, it resembles a small
city built within a giant train station. It is roughly cylindrical in
shape and open at both ends to allow space vessels to dock in the
massive shipyards that take up the middle third of the station, but
unlike a true cylindrical homestead, gravity pulls in only one
direction, towards the local "ground." Victory Station is
protected from the Stellar Medium by an envelope of elemental air
that extends for more than a hundred meters past its exterior
Station is run by the consortium of Sorcerers who built it. Despite
the immensely profitable trade and industry that comes with this
control (more than half of all space vessels currently in service
were built here), no one dares challenge them. Every day this
improbable place stays in operation is an extravagant display of the
level of magic that would be turned against any usurpers.
people of Victory Station have a very stiff and formal style of
boxing that draws derision from outsiders . . . until they're on the
receiving end of a sledgehammer-force punch.
Lunar College of Prophets
in the balmy equatorial regions of the Sea of TBD, The College of
Prophets is an organization that seeks to gather all true seers under
its umbrella, so that they might use their powers for the advancement
of all humanity. The College accepts anyone who can magically foresee
the future, regardless of whether they are Prodigies, Adepts, or
Magicians. Even Yokai are welcome to join, provided they are of
good will and honest intentions (in fact, College doctrine declares
that Yokai must be included in their definition of humanity so long
as they are not inherently and irredeemably creatures of malice - and
even then there's always hope).
College helps prospective seers hone their talents, though many find
their tutelage frustrating and vague. There is no formal hierarchy
and no official teachers or students. Rather, everyone is both. As
they are fond of saying, "you never leave the school, the
universe is our classroom." This ethos of equality and humility
is fostered in the College's members to try and keep them from
setting themselves up as humanity's rulers. Many of the more devoted
students will renounce all material wealth and national citizenship
and come to live at the College full time.
who seek out the Prophets' help often find themselves stymied by
their seeming lack of urgency and indirect way of addressing
requests. Yet the College exists precisely to turn vague prophecies
into real benefits for humanity, and they are experts on tugging
lightly at the strings of destiny.
only thing that really seems to rile up the notoriously imperturbable
prophets is when they learn of a true seer who abuses the gift of
prophecy to exploit or manipulate the unsighted. Rumor has it that
the College maintains an elite squad of psychic assassins to deal
with such troublemakers, though, of course, if such a group exists,
no one has ever been able to find evidence of its existence.
College is a largely pacifist organization, but they do practice
Crane Style martial arts as a form of meditation.
Cult of Ecstasy
they operate primarily on Ukss, the Cult of Ecstasy began as an
offshoot of the Lunar College of Prophets. These renegade seers
believe the College's project is not only doomed to failure, but also
that it must inevitably infringe on humanity's free will. As a
result, they seek chaos in all things, hoping to muddy the chains of
cause and effect so much that the future becomes impossible to
leaders of the College take no direct action against the Cult, saying
only that "they are on their own path." The younger seers
are not quite so sanguine, however. Though both organizations are
avowedly non-violent, there exists something of a cold war between
the two groups. The Cult is constantly trying to monkey-wrench the
College as a matter of principle, and occasionally groups of young
College hotheads will visit Ukss against the advice of their elders
to return the favor.
Cult uses a variety of methods (such as sex, drugs, and loud music)
to overwhelm the physical senses and achieve spiritual clarity. They
use the insights of their prophecies to find nexus points in destiny
and then work to complicate these situations as much as possible
(without violating their own oaths to respect the sanctity of human
Cult of Ecstasy practices drunken fist style martial arts.
discovered by the Lunar College of Prophets and held as one of the
terrible secrets of their order, the formula for Perfection was
stolen by the Cult of Ecstasy when they defected . . . and kept as a
terrible secret, because even those agents of chaos have standards.
is a fusion of alchemy and precognition. It is impossible to brew by
anyone who cannot foretell the future, as it requires different
ingredients each time, depending on complex astrological factors that
are impossible to calculate to a sufficient degree of precision. With
liberal application of the intuitive arts an alchemist may have,
after 3-15 days, a single draught of clear, tasteless liquid that
retains its potency no matter what it is subsequently mixed with.
the wrong hands, Perfection would be a potent tool of assassination.
It doesn't technically kill, but it does instantly and permanently
shut down an imbiber's conscious mind. From that point on, every last
scrap of the subject's soul is focused on empowering their
subconscious. Their coma dreams gain an incredible, nigh-divine
insight, at the expense of never being able to communicate such
insights with another living being.
unscrupulous prophet might dose an unsuspecting victim with
Perfection and then use telepathic or astral contact to plunder their
dreams for valuable information, but thankfully, the current
possessors of the secret are too conscientious to engage in such
underhanded behavior. Still, there are at least three doses that are
currently unaccounted for, and if one found its way back to Ukss, it
could change the nature of the Astral Web forever.
is a small island almost perfectly centered in the middle of the Sea
of TBD, at Luna's warmest, wettest point. Unlike most of the moon's
surface, life thrives here, even if the magic has made it . . .
there are many animals on The Living Island, none are predators and
none are prey. They eat only fruit, and never living bark, leaves, or
seeds. Similarly, the Island is lush with blue-tinted foliage, but
the broad-leafed trees do not compete for sunlight. On the rare
occasions when one drops a seed, it will be picked up by a bird and
gently deposited on a bare spot of ground. Animals will come from all
over the island to fertilize it with their leavings, not one daring
to disturb its germination.
on The Living Island acts with the same singular purpose. They are
all connected, joined by psychic bonds carried through the magic-rich
air of the Lunar surface. Explorers who've studied the island have so
far been unable to locate its controlling mind. Some say it's in the
plants, others in the animals, a few even say it's in the rock
itself. The best guess is that it's all of the above, a collective
mind, acting in perfect concert, to create a paradise for its
growth of The Living Island is limited by the boundaries of the sea.
Its trees will not take root on the mainland, and any animal removed
from it will sicken and die before it reaches the nearest shore. In
all likelihood, they have adapted to require the Island's psychic
energies as part of their normal metabolism. Moving a significant
portion of the Island all in one trip might suffice to create an
offspring colony, but freed of its geographic limitations, it would
probably overwhelm any world it was transplanted to.
Living Island is hostile to most visitors, though a few Lunar
seafarers know a ritual that will trick the Island into thinking the
caster is part of its collective. This ritual is completely safe to
use . . . unless you are a rare psychic prodigy who has not yet
mastered the art of mental shielding. Then the ritual will serve to
open your mind to the collective in truth.
forty-story building is made of pale purple quartz and practically
glows in Luna's magically active atmosphere. Though it hasn't been
used as such in centuries, it is also a telekinetic amplifier of
incredible power, able to combine the mental strength of up to ten
thousand prodigies and adepts into one massive blast, capable of
hurling asteroids to distant stars or cracking continents as far away
it is mostly a residential building these days, a hint of the
Amethyst Tower's true power lies in the Diorama Room. There resides a
scale model of the entire tower, minus its exterior walls. Any
changes made to the diorama are reflected in the corresponding are of
the tower, with a delay of 1-5 minutes (depending on the scope of the
not much like birds, actually. More like reptilian bats. But the
residents call them “birds” and have taken to keeping them as
pets. They are intelligent and highly trainable, and thanks to the
proximity of the telekinetic amplifier, they may also move small
objects with their minds. Mostly, they use this to knock small items
off their owners' shelves, but some rogues have managed to train them
for more nefarious purposes.
distant gas giant is visible as a pale, yellowish-white dot in Ukss'
southern hemisphere. Even with powerful travel rituals an explorer
without a tesser will take at least a decade to reach it. Up close,
it is a very pleasant lemon-cream color, with bands of clouds ranging
from pure white to tan.
depths of Aetheria are as hellishly wind-swept as you'd expect any
gas giant to be, but in the upper layer of the atmosphere, at roughly
the same altitude as its fluffy white clouds (give or take a few
thousand meters), there are hundreds of magically floating
continents. Born aloft by some inherent magic in the stone, they are
perfectly suitable for human life. The temperature ranges from crisp
to toasty, though it can get positively frigid in the higher altitude
continents. Presumably, they also get sweltering down in the lower
altitudes, but for some reason, any continent that sinks below a
certain level can no longer maintain its lift and inevitably crashes
into Aetheria's core.
pressure and gravity are roughly the same on the continents as they
are on Ukss' sea level. There is a persistent stiff breeze almost
anywhere that is not sheltered from the East, and these winds can
sometimes elevate into dangerous gales, but strangely, extreme
weather events like tornadoes and hurricanes are rarer than they are
the continents float pastel-colored sky whales. These gentle
creatures sing haunting, tuneless songs and migrate in huge,
multi-year circuits around the planet. Many cultures consider them
sacred, but just as many exploit them for a variety of economic
purposes - hunting them from primitive airplanes or strapping howdahs
to them to use them as transports or vehicles of war. Though the sky
whales possess no instinct for aggression, they can very effectively
defend themselves by diving deep into Aetheria's atmosphere, to
regions too hot and windy for humans to endure.
sky whales graze on massive beanstalks that somehow take root in
Aetheria's clouds and extend their stalks downward. Along
well-traveled grazing routes, these stalks will be at most a few
dozen meters long, but in places where the sky whales have been
hunted to extinction, the beanstalks grow to a length of several
kilometers. Some nations have taken to cultivating them deliberately,
to serve as a bridge between continents at different altitudes.
dangerous than the sky whales are the rakken, large flying predators
with worm-like bodies and gaping tooth-filled mouths that can consume
a human in a single bite. Rakken maneuver through the air with four
short limbs that constantly shoot jets of fire, allowing them to
maneuver very precisely in Aetheria's atmosphere, but requiring huge
amounts of food to sustain. They mostly prey on ground-based
megafauna far from human settlements, but will opportunistically
snatch up smaller creatures (such as explorers) when the occasion
to and from Aetheria's orbit is much more difficult than on Ukss, and
not just because Aetheria lacks its own Ascension Tower. The band
where humans can safely exist is very thin, and a traveler who slows
their descent too quickly or too slowly can be blown off-course into
an extremely dangerous situation.
safest (though not necessarily safe)
way to get to Aetheria is by finding a Cortelestial, a massive
dog-like creature with colorful spirals in its fur. Cortelestials
migrate from continent to continent, flying with a strange magic that
sounds like the ringing of chimes. They have no natural enemies and
their diet appears to consist entirely of creatures that voluntarily
walk into their open mouths.
Cortelestial's jaws are 8 feet tall when fully extended and they will
rest for days at a time with their mouths open. While in this state,
the space between their upper and lower jaw will form a magical
portal to some other location in the universe, mostly other places on
Aetheria, but sometimes Luna, Ukss, a Cosmic Homestead, or some other
unidentifiable place. What's more, the portal is two-way. Any who
spot the shimmering oval in the air may step through and enter
Aetheria. This is perfectly safe . . . unless the Cortelestial shuts
its jaws mid-transit, in which case any being or beings who were in
the process of passing through are instantly killed and digested. No
one is quite sure what triggers a Cortelestial's hunger, but it
always happens sooner or later. Then the creature moves on to the
next stop on its eternal circuit.
Cortelestial's destinations are permanently fixed. Whenever it stops
at a particular location, the portal it generates always leads to the
same place. Furthermore, Cortelestial markings are all unique. A
brave enough traveler can reliably plan trips around the creatures'
schedules, provided they don't unexpectedly become their next
civilization thrives on Aetheria, though there are deep cultural
divisions between the two major "waves" of human
settlement. The more recent arrivals descend from a colony
established by the Republic of Mu about 100 years ago that was cut
off from Ukss-side control during the height of the Prism Wars. They
are stereotypically high-tech and imperious.
"native" Aetherians are descended from various ancient
expeditions and the wide range of human magicians who have visited
the planet over the millennia. They are too culturally diverse to
classify, but by and large they do not have the technology to resist
has a dizzying variety of native flora and fauna. Between the various
continents, it has almost 100 times the land area of Ukss and strange
creatures have evolved in lands never before seen by human eyes.
dangerous, but lucrative industry on Aetheria is cloud-mining.
Traditionally, this is done by using tree-trunk thick ropes to lower
huge baskets containing up to 30 workers from the floating continents
to the alchemically rich yellow cloud layer. Needless to say,
casualties on these trips are massive. In recent years, the
Mu-descended peoples have taken to using increasingly-large
airplanes. These are scarcely more reliable, but their mechanical
harvesting tanks allow a much greater yield per worker.
gasses harvested from Aetheria have a variety of magical and
industrial uses. The most valuable is called by locals "The
Seven Year Condensate," because while it has the miraculous
ability to extend life, it is so dangerous to acquire that they say
the workers lose seven years of life for every one gained by the
the Prism Wars ravaged the Republic of Mu, the Mu colony on Aetheria
came to see itself as the standard-bearer for the Republic's culture.
When contact was lost, the colonists assumed the worst. After a
brief, but bloody civil war, the sorcerer Stasia Grendle declared
herself Empress of Mu Reborn. She was immediately
war continued for another five years until a young girl emerged,
potent in the ways of sorcery. She claimed she was the reincarnation
of Stasia Grendle, reborn with all of her knowledge and power. She
became known as The Phoenix Empress and united the factions to become
Aetheria' dominant power.
people of Mu Reborn adore their Empress, seeing her as an exemplar of
the glory of old Mu. That would likely all change if they discovered
that she was not who she claimed. She is, in truth, an ancient witch.
She has lived on Aetheria for more than a thousand years, moving from
life to life. Her power of rebirth stems from a long study of the
properties of Aetheria's more esoteric gasses. The Mu Colony
attracted her attention with their industrial-scale cloud mining
operation and she arranged to be born into a member of the prominent
Grendle family. The assassination was a minor inconvenience, but
ultimately proved beneficial as the populace serves the Phoenix
Empress with a devotion they'd never have shown Stasia.
upper crust of Mu Reborn are as decadent and corrupt group of
slaveholders as has ever existed in human society. Sure, they call
their system “emergency labor conscription,” but the emergency
has been going on for more than two generations now, and shows no
sign of letting up. While their countrymen labor in the fields and
mines, they lounge in their luxurious estates, sipping the potent
tinctures of advanced alchemy, dining on delicacies from the farthest
reaches of Aetheria, and being fanned by the humming wings of
cat-sized golden beetles known as Hurum.
Reborn is governed from the fortress at Mount Dominance. A towering
edifice of grey stone, it sports more than 500 cannons whose firing
arcs extend all the way to edge of the continent. It is widely
independent city-state founded by refugees from Mu, Riven might well
be the most technologically advanced location known to humanity. It
is a small floating continent covered with hundreds of windmills,
both ringing the city, between the farmers' fields, and built on the
roofs of the taller buildings. These windmills generate electricity
through a complex technomagical process involving diamonds that have
been enchanted to convert heat to electricity, but once the
electricity is generated, it is transmitted along wires to every home
on the island, who use it for lighting, cooking, and other simple
26 Aetherian months (approximately a year and a half on Ukss), when
the moons are mostly obscured, Riven holds a Festival of Lights,
where long strings of colored lights are put up over the central
square and the people of the town feast throughout the night.
it's more of a simmering resentment than an active feud, Riven has a
poor relationship with Mu Reborn. Riven was originally founded by
escapees from the “emergency labor conscription” that the colony
put in place when they lost contact with Ukss. Within a generation,
it had degenerated into full-on slavery that still exists today.
Though the governing council denies it, Riven sometimes acts as a
safe haven for Sortar's Army, an open secret that day-by-day brings
the two fledgling nations closer to open war.
Reborn calls them pirates and brigands. The people of Riven think of
them as heroic revolutionaries. Their general, a scarred and fearless
swashbuckler known as Jill of the Nine Lives, wants nothing more than
revenge, both for herself and for the company's founder, who was
killed in the line of duty. Using stolen (and occasionally, donated)
airplanes, the escaped slaves of Sortar's Army harass any traffic to
and from Mount Dominance, getting as close as they dare to cripple
the trade, diplomacy, and cloud mining of their former captors.
The first human
explorers to reach Aetheria discovered these curious, yet elegant
homesteads already in orbit around the mighty gas giant. They could
only speculate who built them, as the original architects had long
Since then, the Crystal Cities have become home to a
thriving culture of squatters, pirates, and magicians. Some will
trade with the gas miners on Aetheria, acting as transshipment ports
for alchemical substances of great value throughout the Cosmic
Sphere. Others are devoted to pure research, with scholars trying to
learn as much as possible about their alien builders. Most, however,
are havens for the stranded. People who lack the means to return to
Ukss, but for whatever reason cannot or will not dare the descent to
Aetheria's floating continents.
There are 12 known Crystal
Cities, ranging in size from 1km to 15km and housing populations as
high as 3 million souls. Thanks to the magic of their ancient
creators, they are self-sustaining. There are no wards or seals that
any human magic can identify, but the air remains fresh, the
waste-water pools into purifying reservoirs, and there are long
galleries near their exteriors where the crystal is clear enough to
act as a greenhouse.
The Crystal Cities all exhibit
3-dimensional symmetry and are so uniform in their layout that most
humans find them difficult to navigate. Colored paints and cloths are
prized imports, both from Aetheria and Ukss itself. Not only do they
allow for the marking of passages, they help offset the near-blinding
luster of the walls, ceiling, and floors. The scientific outposts
preserve the original white color, but even they mark passages with
color-coded ropes and flags.
Shudders in Outermost Night
The thin reality
of the Stellar Medium allows gods to manifest physically, yet outside
the Celestial Embassy, few do so. That's because the darkness between
the stars contains things even the gods have learned to fear.
Who Shudders in Outermost Night does not venture from the magic
world, but he will send tendrils of his power across the barrier,
sometimes to harrass an isolated spacegoing vessel, sometimes to act
as a bridge for his various servants, spawn, and parasites.
Encounters with these living nightmares are rare, but they are the
horror stories invariably shared by explorers whenever too much
alcohol has been flowing and the claustrophobia of the hungry
darkness begins to feel a little too close.
An ill-omened comet in a highly eccentric orbit, The
Dark Epoch is made of a strange black stone that shimmers with a
rainbow of shades invisible to the human eye. The stone attracts the
strange, writhing spirits of the outer dark and traps them in the
twisting veins of the comet's interior.
As the comet
approaches Ukss, every 200-500 years, large pieces break off. These
meteors are so suffused with Void energies that they do not burn up
in the atmosphere. When they land, the spirits inside are able to
break free of their stony prison and rampage across the surface of
Ukss, golems without a maker and driven by bizarre, inhuman impulses.
Rarely seen in the
human-inhabited regions of the Cosmic Sphere, these majestic
creatures sometimes leave the comfort of their close solar orbit to
satisfy their curiosity about the rest of the universe. Feeding
exclusively on sunlight, Star Dragons hold within themselves
incredible amounts of energy, which they may use for rapid travel or
terrible plasma attacks. As they age, their increasing energy levels
are seen in the color of the radiance they shed at all times –
first red, then yellow, then white, then blue, until they reach the
end of their life cycle, when they suddenly become pitch black.
A black star dragon has not
lost its energy. In fact, quite the opposite. They have so much
inside themselves that it can no longer escape as light. When they
reach this stage, they begin an interstellar voyage. Those that make
it will plunge into the heart of the star, exploding into a hundred
new star dragons, two or three of which may survive to make their own
voyages in turn.
in Ukss functions by connecting the magic wielder with a nearby
shadow-realm, known to scholars as the Magic World. The rules of the
magic world are not well understood. It seems to have its own forms
of space, time, and matter . . . except when it doesn't. The thoughts
of creatures in the realm of matter appear to affect the landscape
there . . . except when they don't. It is impossible for a mortal
creature to enter the magic world and survive . . . except for those
is a world without near and far. Whose landmarks are ideas and whose
inhabitants are gods. It is also a source of raw energy, enough to
crack mountains or hurl a traveler to the moon. Most magicians come
to accept it as a mystery, but the scholars of Ukss have vowed to try
and tame it.
are a myriad of spiritual creatures that inhabit the Magic World, and
they cannot easily be categorized by human beings. However, there are
two self-identified tribes that encompass the bulk of the self-aware
entities human sorcerers have identified – gods and demons.
are spiritual creatures native to the Magic World, and as such, they
all, from the least to the greatest, embody an idea. More
specifically, they embody a mystery.
Even the simplest ones spread beyond easy dictionary definitions. The
god of a particular tree is not just a spiritual reflection of that
tree's physical substance – it is the wind in the leaves and the
shade in the summer and and every kiss between lovers and
arrow-felled hawk and suicide by hanging that ever occurred and
ever will occur
under the tree's branches. The god is the meaning of the tree, and
its place in the universe, and is eternal, even though the tree is
not, because until the end of time, there will always be the tree
is the mystery of the gods. Gods can be slain, but it takes unique
banes and mighty heroes to do so, and there are always . . .
consequences. Because gods are not meant to die. Even the death of a
humble tree god will have unforeseen ramifications. The tree will
die, obviously, but also the marriage of the lovers may fall apart,
and the hunter will find his arrows forever after missing the mark,
and maybe even the suicides come back to an unholy mockery of life,
haunting the decaying tree as hungry specters. More powerful gods
like the Volcano Maiden of the Helltooth Mountains will have even
greater consequences. And were a primordial goddess like the Great
Mother to fall, the chaos that followed would be too terrible to
are not gods. They are spiritual creatures, but they are infected by
mortality (legend has it because they are descended from Lilith, the
adept). What this means, in practice, is that they are
meant to die. They don't age or suffer disease, and against human
weapons they are so durable as to be virtually invincible, but it is
not a disaster when they die. They do not require unique dooms to
fall, but merely sufficient force (though “sufficient” can mean
“enough to make mountains tremble” in the case of beings like the
Demon Princes). And when a demon dies, that is it. You have a dead
demon and the pillars of the earth remain unshaken.
do have certain advantages, though. They can relate to humans. Not
easily, but certainly with less than a mortal lifetime of effort.
They don't even need to remake their minds to comprehend mortal
concepts like hunger and fear and the linear nature of time (gods,
with their vast, superhuman intelligence, can manage this feat, but
there's always a certain degree of artifice involved). The practical
upshot of this is that demons are much, much better at addressing
humanity's desires. Pray to a god lamenting your family's poverty,
and the god may send a white bird at sunset, as an omen leading you
on an arduous journey to rich new lands in the west. Contact a demon
and they'll just give you some money . . . in exchange for a minor
favor, barely worth mentioning.
are not intrinsically evil, but they do eat souls, and many regard
humans as a variety of prey animal. A demon will not die if starved
of spiritual energy, but they will get ferociously hungry, and after
a long enough time, start to lose access to their powers (also,
demons need to consume souls to reproduce, but that only happens when
they are glutted). The souls a demon eats need not belong to
intelligent creatures, and they can quite easily survive off of
gafflings and other lesser entities of the Magic World, but their
culture does not place a high value on the sanctity of consciousness
or intelligence. The Demon Princes got as powerful as they are by
devouring ancient gods, and that remains a common ambition in demonic
the magic world, the term "Alfar" does not describe a race
so much as a particular set of material circumstances. There are
demon-Alfar and god-Alfar and
strange-things-which-have-no-human-name-Alfar. To earn the
title, one must pass through a sacred gate and take a human-like
form. They range in power from minor magicians to lesser gods, though
unlike the Tainted, they are tied to the specific place or time that
allowed them to cross over. They can only exist in places of unusual
magic - ancient groves and barrow hills, seasides and salt flats, or
among seasonal storms like hurricanes, blizzards, and siroccos. Being
inherently ageless, they can stay in the material world for as long
as their gateway endures - sometimes just a few hours, but
potentially thousands of years.
are known for their incredible skill in magic. Technically, they are
Prodigies of unusual versatility and power, but their way of using
magic is very similar to that of wand magicians. So much so, in fact,
that many wand wielders will seek out an Alfar to mentor them in the
art. If the wand is sufficiently in tune with the Alfar's normal
magical themes, the Alfar can master it almost instantly (the Alfar
describe it as "writing poetry in a foreign language"). It
is rare for an Alfar to gain new powers by wielding a magic wand, but
those that do figure prominently in human legends.
Alfar sometimes honor their best students with Alfar-crafted wands.
They are invariably quite powerful, but also extremely
Alfar will bear strong marks of the gate they passed through to enter
Ukss. This shapes their appearance, their powers, and even their
attitudes. Some spirits are drawn to particular gates and will always
become the same sort of Alfar every time they visit the material
world. A few, especially those who are worshiped as gods, will enter
through multiple gates depending on their needs, whims, or
circumstances, adopting and dropping Alfar personas like masks for
their central mystery.
spirits will compromise, like Jack of the Green, the fertility god
who passes through century oaks, crop circles, mushroom rings, and
other living gates, but never through anything that is at odds with
his plant nature. He expresses different powers in each of his forms,
but retains largely the same personality and goals.
The sacred gates that allow
spirits to enter the world are not limited purely to the mighty souls
who become Alfar. Sometimes, Gafflings (the minor animal-like spirits
of the Magic World) will pass through the gate. When they do, they
become Mephits, tiny,
sprite-like creatures with their own peculiar magic. Like the Alfar,
a mephit's personality is shaped by the nature of its entry into the
world, but since Gafflings did not have much of a personality to
begin with, Mephits seem one-note and obsessive. They can often
communicate in human languages, but their speech will rarely stray
from their preferred subject and they will, at best, pretend
to understand conversations
outside their purview. Mostly, they amuse themselves by performing
highly eccentric and highly specific actions relating to their
imposed nature (for example, Flower Mephits will go around counting
the petals on their preferred type of flower, pruning any that appear
discolored or supernumerary), but they also possess minor magic of
their own and have been known to use it for crude practical jokes.
power of a Gaffling is small enough that when one passes into Ukss,
it does so in its entirety. They may stray as far from the sacred
gates as they like and they will endure indefinitely (though many are
eaten by predators in their first few days). A mephit who survives on
Ukss for 100 years begins to develop full human intelligence, and
will often transform into a creature much like an Alfar. These
evolved mephits are often more complex than true Alfar, having had a
full century of personal experiences, but they are also less
mystically potent. They may develop their innate magic over time, but
it takes study and practice.
mephits, evolved or otherwise, are creatures of the material world.
They may never return back through the gates that spawned them. If
they attempt it, they will die, just as surely as any mortal creature
that enters the Magic World (i.e. not very surely at all, but often
enough that it's reckless to try).
mephit, or even a small horde of them, does not draw a significant
amount of power from a sacred gate, and thus the appearance of a
half-dozen minor sprites will often accompany an Alfar's entry into
Dark Alfar have an unsavory reputation among humankind, but they are
not really "evil" so much as "spooky." They cross
into Ukss during the witching hour or, more rarely, during certain
portentous astrological conjunctions. They are invisible in darkness
and in starlight or moonlight. The touch of the sun will instantly
send them back to the magic world in a puff of black smoke, but is
otherwise harmless (and does not prevent them from crossing back when
the time is again right).
artificial light, the Alfar have skin as black as the space between
the stars. Hair ranges through a variety of colors, from moon-silver
to aurora-green to rich purples and blues that evoke the complex
palette of night.
Alfar best love lonely and misunderstood things. They have a special
affinity with spiders and even the intelligent predators of
Gloomshire will let them pass unmolested. Their favorite season is
winter, when the trees no longer hide the sky. They are especially
drawn to abused and neglected children. They will whisper in the
young ones' ears, inspiring them to act out, run away, or get
revenge. If an abuser is strong and well-respected, or otherwise
tries to punish the Dark Alfar's charge, they will lure them into the
wilderness, never to be seen again.
Dark Alfar consider themselves friends to humanity, but their ways of
expressing it often bring terror and confusion. Wherever they take up
residence, sleepers will begin to have vivid nightmares (that bring
personal enlightenment or foretell an avoidable disaster),
long-buried secrets will bubble to the surface, long-suppressed
desires will find sudden and spontaneous expression, and orphans,
outcasts, and hermits will receive forbidden tutelage in the arts of
peculiar Alfar cross through the mystic gate that forms when a
meticulously planned venture fails spectacularly due to some
unforeseeable quirk of chance. They endure until an investigator
discovers the particular factor that opened their gate and solves the
mystery of the disaster. Some Dust Alfar are hundreds of years old,
the circumstances of their arrival lost to history.
Alfar are drawn to magic that manipulates probability and fate,
especially if it's used to cheat at games of chance. They seem to
disapprove of the use of this magic in general, though they rarely
express this disapproval with anything more than a stern scolding.
For truly severe cases, or when they need to defend themselves, they
have potent magic that can cause any inanimate object to crumble to
dust (or even curse others to destroy everything they touch) or age a
living creature in the blink of an eye, but they've never been seen
to use these abilities frivolously.
are generally serious, conscientious people with a strong faith in
the natural order. They get their name from the cloud of dust and
grime that surrounds them at all times. It's unclear, even to the
Dust Alfar themselves, whether the dust is attracted to them or
whether they subconsciously create it with their powers, but it
embarrasses them greatly and offends their orderly sensibilities. The
eldest of them believe that their aura exists to keep them humble and
focused on correcting the fault that allowed them to enter the world.
Born from the same chaos and
failure that allows the Dust Alfar to enter the world, Dust Mephits
are gloomy and fatalistic, convinced of the utter futility of human
endeavor. As far as they're concerned, everything fails sooner or
later, and the best they can hope for is to be canny enough to
anticipate it. They take an unseemly glee in their cynicism, and
affect a fascination with death as a way to cover for the morbid
satisfaction they take in the misfortune of others. Though they act
as heralds for the Dust Alfar, they are usually cast aside fairly
quickly, winding up in the service of necromancers or other dark
sorcerers, who dispatch them on missions such as “deliver this
threat” or “mock my enemy's grief.”
magicians and adepts are renowned for wandering from one crisis to
another, and prodigies for stumbling carelessly into dangerous
situations, sorcerers are notorious for staying in one place. This is
not entirely a stereotype, nor is it merely a practical consideration
for those whose magic relies on having access to specific materials
and tools. Skilled ritualists have a way of shaping a location to
their desires. It's a slow process, usually taking decades (or even
generations), and is largely subconscious, but as a sorcerer becomes
acclimated to a particular location, their magic becomes easier.
is never wise to take ritual magic for granted, but inside a
dedicated Sanctum, it becomes more forgiving of minor mistakes, more
accepting of substitute ingredients, and more likely to quickly take
root and endure for far longer than it otherwise might. Casting times
become faster (though still nothing compared to the ease of a wand)
and the sorcerer's spiritual and mental energies regenerate
say that a sorcerer's Sanctum is a place where the border between
Ukss and the magic world is especially thin. Because it is adapted to
their specific energies, a Sanctum will never harm the one who
created it, but the most powerful ones can have an effect on nearby
plants and animals similar (though usually much less potent) to
exposure to the stellar medium. They also have a way of attracting
immaterial yokai like ghosts and demons.
Sanctum is in many ways similar to an Alfar's sacred gate, but its
connection to the powerful mind of the sorcerer prevents it from
being used in that way . . . while the sorcerer still lives. Wards
and contingency spells are highly advised.
is not generally possible for one sorcerer to use another's Sanctum,
not unless the two possess very similar styles and attitudes. That
said, the more powerful Sanctums are those that have been passed down
from master to apprentice throughout the centuries. Over time, these
places of power become broader and deeper, allowing their owners to
work miracles with barely any effort at all.
where the Magic World touches Ukss are usually the product of design.
A sorcerer will wear the borders of reality thin in order to create a
Sanctum. A would-be Alfar will widen the cracks in the weave of
possibility to open a new sacred gate. And places like this, while
possessing some of the wildness of the Magic World, are nonetheless
as controlled and as safe as anything magical can be.
though, a connection between the worlds will not be nearly so tame.
Maybe the sorcerer loses their will while retaining their power.
Maybe something too big or too ancient attempts to traverse the Alfar
gate. Maybe the unpredictable energies of the magic world will create
a connection with no intelligent intervention whatsoever. In times
like these, there is a danger that a portion of the Magic World will
prolapse into the physical, creating a Labyrinth - a place neither
entirely spiritual nor entirely physical, where the two worlds can
mingle much more thoroughly, and posing a terrible risk to both body
aren't purely a hazard, however. There is power in them, strange wild
magics that a determined seeker might learn, were they to navigate to
the Labyrinth's heart. Even for those who would abandon the quest
before the end, there are often magical treasures, occult insights,
and breathtaking vistas that might prove tempting even in the face of
the unique and terrible beasts that often take up residence.
say the Magic World is as narrow as the space between raindrops, and
that all sacred places are connected. How true that is is debatable,
but when two sorcerers truly love or hate each other, their thoughts
will fly between Sanctums. When one Alfar sheds the blood of another,
it takes on some part of the other's nature. When a Red Grove is
consecrated, the leaves of the others shake with a sympathetic
There are rituals that exploit these connections,
allowing insults and curses and spells to bridge the gap between
physical locations. The most potent will even allow a human (or group
of humans) to cross over, if they possess the right keys and know the
words of propitiation that keep the predators of the Magic World at
Mysteries of Death
The veil between the living and
the dead runs right through the Magic World. Ghosts linger on the
near shores of the divide, spying on the mortal world and intervening
in affairs of their descendants. Necromancers may bind these wayward
souls into service, or corrupt them into the foul monsters known as
Most of the dead, however,
only stick around long enough to satisfy their curiosity about the
effects of their passing and the future fate of their loved ones.
When they are ready to move on, they hear the call of the Lonesome
Train, a low whistle from deeper in the magic world, one that beckons
them through the mist to an abandoned train station.
Only the dead have ever seen
the Station of the Lonesome Train, though many of the dead have
ventured to and from the station on multiple occasions (whether
because they are conflicted about moving on or to witness the
departure of friends they've made in the world between) and its
description is well-established in mortal books of the occult. It is
the train itself that is the final point of no return. It accepts
only a single passenger at a time and no one who has boarded it has
ever been heard from again.
Those dead who wish to live
again search far and wide for an invitation to Death's Masquerade.
Held at an unpredictable schedule in the realm of dreams, this
elegant masked affair has strict rules. The living must name a
specific soul they seek to redeem and before the night ends, the
living must remove a mask from one of their dance partners. If the
figure revealed is the ghost they named, both may return to the land
of the living. If it is anyone else, the ghost returns and the living
guest dies to take their place. The living must tell the truth, but
the dead may lie.
For the living, an
invitation to Death's Masquerade is almost always a surprise. Great
powers in the magic world arrange attendance based on the inscrutable
politics of the dead, and they don't tolerate mortals getting too
comfortable with coming and going into their rightful domain. It is
possible to use sorcery to forge an invitation, but that is a
terrible risk – if the soul you mean to rescue has already moved
on, there will be no one you can safely unmask.
She is the source of all life, the primordial
principle that drives all growth and reproduction. She is
transformation and there is a mystery at the heart of her. She
The Great Mother takes the form of an
undifferentiated orb of flesh. Her surface ripples as eyes, mouths,
and . . . other organs emerge and recede in endless seething tides of
adaptation. Size is more or less meaningless in the Magic World, but
she grows. Anyone who sees her understands. She is always
The Great Mother requires fathers for her
numberless children, but she does not mate in any conventional sense.
She consumes. She devours. Anything that touches her skin is
enveloped, trapped in a cyst of flesh as it's slowly taken apart to
fertilize new hybrids and stranger creations still.
It is said
that the Great Mother cannot create life energy on her own, but that
her divine magic can make optimal use of any she absorbs. Perhaps as
many as two births for every cell in the donor's body, though
sometimes she births new gods, made from the interwoven power of a
One need not be male to father a child on the
Great Mother. Sometimes sorcerers will call an extrusion of her power
into the material world, so that women may donate to her a strand of
hair or a drop of blood. The children born this way have a hint of
the monstrous about them, but many have created great things from the
ashes of their enemies.
The Great Mother is the tutelary deity
of Yennin. It is from her that they learned the art of flesh-weaving,
and their great champions can all trace their lineage back to
The Weaver and her Astral Web
intelligent spiders of Ukss have stories of the goddess who bestowed
upon them the power of speech. They call her The Weaver and say that
she has become so set in her ways that she can no longer leave her
lair, and thus she spins an elaborate web of refined soul-stuff in
order to bring the world to her.
The Weaver is not
well-respected among spiders. She is cunning, yes, but she lacks the
killing instinct that is what spiders value most about themselves. As
their proverb has it, "Prey disturbs the web," and for the
Weaver, that is unacceptable. Her Astral Web touches nearly every
mind on Ukss, but only lightly. It cannot catch anything as powerful
and as willful as a conscious thought, but it does snare dreams and
nightmares, ideas that have never been realized, and knowledge
stripped of all context.
It is possible, through a specially
prepared ritual chamber, covered in the thin, spindly runes of The
Weaver's first script, to contact the Astral Web. The sorcerer enters
a fugue state and their senses depart their body, attaching
themselves to a fine network of threads that rests directly on the
border between Ukss and the Magic World. From there, they may travel
to any other active ritual chamber or query the Web itself for
information about nearly anything (it is good at answering factual
questions like "how many people live in Laconia" but
terribly confusing when it comes to speculative judgments like "would
Laconia beat Sheyaugh in a war?")
Sorcerers may also
place their thoughts directly onto the Web, allowing any who ask to
hear whatever it is they have to say, even centuries later. Some
particularly skilled and malicious travelers may even encode
infectious spells into their thought-forms, delayed-action traps
which can harm, distract, or even control less savvy visitors.
the right knowledge, sorcerers can bind dream-stuff into the pattern
of their ritual chambers, creating entire fantasy worlds for those
who visit them through the Astral Web. These thought-palaces often
seem like paradise, but they are no more substantial than any other
dream. Some become obsessed with them nonetheless and seek to shut
out the real world in its entirety, but these unfortunates are
regarded with pity and disdain.
Telepaths can learn to
perceive the Astral Web without the need for a chamber, but it is a
delicate and difficult discipline that only really works in heavily
populated cities. In the wilderness, the Web is too thinly spread for
anything less than a dedicated ritual working to contact. The Astral
Web does not reach into the Cosmic Sphere at all. Many of the more
paranoid Homesteaders have moved there for exactly that
This dark art gives all
explorers of the Astral Web a bad name. The more staid sorcerers get
incredibly defensive when it is brought up. They say that the threat
is overblown and that there is at most one Dream Hacker for every
hundred honest travelers.
That may well be true, but it mostly
just means that the average person's defenses are woefully
Normally, the flow of information on the Astral
Web always goes in one direction - towards the insatiably curious
spider goddess with no particular interest in any specific human
being. Without the deliberate effort of a sorcerer, any particular
fact or dream fragment is nearly-anonymous, stripped of all but the
vaguest of identifying details.
Dream Hackers, however, are
experts at collecting these fragments and painstakingly reassembling
them. With enough effort, they can assemble a profile of nearly any
person connected to the Astral Web (i.e. everyone who does not live
in total isolation or the cosmic sphere).
If this were all
they did, it would be bad enough. Dream hackers can learn any number
of shocking or embarrassing secrets from their studies. But that's
not all they can do. Hidden in a person's thought fragments is
the key to their dreams. With such keys, they can visit a sleeping
mind exactly as if it were an active connection chamber. While they
are powerless against anyone who is awake and conscious, inside
dreams there is almost no limit to what they can do. Many people,
both innocent and guilty, have been driven mad for offending the
wrong dream hacker.
explore the Astral Web are usually safe from most dangers. Their
senses may travel to distant places and exotic dreamworlds, but their
bodies are safely ensconced in their meditation chambers. But
sometimes things happen - enemies sneak in and assassinate them while
they're prone, they become so enraptured that they lose track of time
and starve, they are struck by rare and potent curses capable of
traveling through the Web itself.
The Astral Web trembles when
it is touched by death. It is the one mystery the Weaver can never
understand. As the Lonesome Train rolls across the threads of the
Web, they begin stretch under the weight and mutate into strange and
terrible forms. Some part of the deceased remains behind, creating a
sub-realm born of the chaos of their terminal thoughts. Often, these
places are nightmares of illogic and grief and pain. But sometimes,
when someone dies amidst clarity of purpose, the realm they leave
behind is full of miracles.
Regardless of the results, the
Weaver strives to isolate these sections of Corrupted Web. Her senses
cannot access them, and she fears that ideas filtered through these
realms will poison her mind and lead her to lose touch with reality.
Unfortunately for her, it is in the nature of the Web that nothing
can ever be separated from it entirely. Explorers trade rumors of
obscure paths that lead to the more wondrous realms . . . and warn
each other of the grim fates that await those who enter the wrong
Melin Daguz - The Goddess of Upset
There are few warrior gods more feared in the
Magic World than Melin Daguz. She does not have the strongest arm,
nor the sharpest blade, nor the keenest sense of tactics and
strategy. Nonetheless, she wins, on average, half the time.
is because it's her nature to even the odds. When she fights,
circumstances twist to the advantage of the weaker side. Stronger
opponents find their weapons breaking, the weather turning against
them, or the ground crumbling beneath their feet. Weaker ones find
unexpected reinforcements or a windfall of intelligence. These quirks
of fate are never decisive. They're just enough to make it
When her power moves across a battlefield, the conflict
inevitably changes to one of desire and will. Those who win are the
ones who want it more. Because of this, she has gained an
unsought-for reputation as a champion of justice and the oppressed.
The victims of empire call out to her for deliverance, and while her
gifts are never certain, it is rare that those who seek to keep
others in chains will fight harder than those who want to escape
The Black Cow That Will Devour The
The Vampires' apocalypse story is not the only tale
told about the end of the world. In the Magic World there is a Black
Cow that feeds on the sparks of potential that may become souls. It
is a hole cut in the fabric of the universe and every day the ground
grows barren under its hooves. Mostly, the Black Cow wanders without
direction, roaming wherever the soul harvest is richest. If it finds
Ukss, it will be entirely by chance, but scholars debate how far in
the future that's likely to be. If the cosmos is not infinite, then
it is only a matter of time.
Black Penny - A God
Once upon a time, there was a penny that was
never pulled from circulation. It was never lost or stolen. Never
taken across a border or stashed in a child's piggy bank. It was a
mostly ordinary penny, unusual only in its knack for winding up on
the top of any particular pile of change. As a result, it was spent
and re-spent, at least once a day, every day, for a hundred years.
And one day after the centennial of its minting, the penny came
The spirit born from this lucky penny prefers to go by
the sorbiquet "Mr Black," but spending money is still his
business. He spends and he spends and he spends, and somehow he never
runs out. It's not any form of magical counterfeiting, the universe
simply looks out for him. He's got a face that screams "prosperity,"
and the money guys can't help but make him the bagman for any number
of perfectly legitimate revenue-generating
That's what his would-be protoges don't
understand. They admire the flash and the style. They envy the luxury
suites and the statuesque kitsune that follow him everywhere he goes.
They like how relaxed he is, how easy he makes everything seem, but
they never learn the lesson - once you start to care about the money,
you now have something to lose. A few opportunists and hustlers
manage to ride his coattails for a month, a year, sometimes two, but
Black Penny is unique. The circumstances of his creation are unlikely
to ever be repeated, and sooner or later they all find out the hard
way - his ride only has room for one.
Neither god nor demon, the Epoch Spirits don't have
much of an agenda. They simply . . . watch. Watch and remember. Not
all of history, though, or at least not all at once. Epoch Spirits
come in waves. In the build-up to great events, they gather in the
border regions. When the event concludes, they pass away into
slumber, to make room for the next wave.
Epoch Spirits imprint
strongly on the times and places they observe, and become a sort of
icon (or, less generously, stereotype) of a particular era of
history. Wake one from slumber and it is not merely a great source of
historical knowledge, it is like a living embodiment of the hopes,
fears, obsessions, and fashions of an age gone by. There is a lot to
learn from Epoch spirits, but it is dangerously easy to become
deceived by the past's justifications for itself.
Spirits are passive, vague, and dull. Even under sorcerous duress,
they seem barely capable of even noticing the acts of an individual
person. They are mainly worth observing for their habit of migrating
towards places that will be significant in the future.
The Well of
Location has little meaning
in the Magic World, but to the degree that you can talk about
geography at all, new souls emerge "everywhere," rising up
out of the landscape like embers from a dying flame. But there is one
place (and it is, indeed, a real place - humans could exist
there, if they had some way of enduring its power) where the flame is
a raging bonfire and the souls streak across the sky in long, radiant
No one is quite sure
about the purpose of the Well of Souls (presumably, the gods know,
but they're not telling). It could be the origin of human life, but
what would it add to the numberless new souls that spawn in the Magic
World's vast infinities? Some believe it is the male counterpart to
the Great Mother, just an endless font of life energy that fertilizes
the world even as she gives it birth.
Whatever the reason for
its existence, it is undeniable that the Well of Souls is a source of
great power. Sorcerers can use it to give life to bodies of clockwork
or clay. Gods may use it to shape the seeds of entire worlds. Demons
covet it for the infinite life it promises. All have abused it for
their purposes at one point or another, but most have been undone by
their hubris sooner rather than later. The souls that come from the
Well are the potential of life incarnate, and whatever shape they are
given, it is their nature to struggle against control.