Monday, February 7, 2011

Player Background Info For My New Campaign: Setting, History, Race, Class, and Alignment

Trying to make up for my Joesky failures of the past, one massive post at a time. :)

First draft---whaddaya think?

The world you live in is a dark place since the Wars. The Wars, spoken of for dozens of human generations, are shrouded in myth. What is known was mostly passed down by word of mouth, and likely corrupted by the ages. The longer-lived races may have better knowledge of the ancient lore, but who can trust them?

With that being said, this is the ancient history, as passed down to me.

It is well known that the gods created all of the earliest intelligent life on the world. Various groups of gods pooled their power to create Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Halflings, and much later the Humans. This was for the sole purpose of gaining power through the races.

It’s a tricky business, gaining power from your creations. On one hand, you have to expend a good amount of your godly power to create the races in the first place. That’s why the gods joined together in pantheons and did it as a group. The only way to counter-balance that expenditure and gain power in return is to give the creation a bit of free will, and a drive to gain power for themselves. Through worship of the creator gods by powerful individuals, and their followers, that power is then reflected back towards the gods, feeding them power.

Limits were put on the early races. They were given lifespans of hundreds of years, but out of fear their creations would become too powerful, inherent limitations were ground into the very essence from which the races were made. After all, a lifespan of hundreds of years would allow ego and ambition, if allowed to run unchecked, to enable a being to grow strong enough in power to potentially challenge the gods themselves. Or at least peel off some of the god’s followers, which defeats the whole purpose of creating life in the first place.

For millennia, the earliest races walked upon the earth and clashed with each other. They each learned to draw their sources of power from both arcane and faith-based magic, as well as from taking from the earth’s creations what they needed. Dwarves sought power through metals, Gnomes through gems, Elves through woodlands, and Halflings, well, they were another story.

Halflings don’t seem to seek much in the way of power at all. They simply seek to be left alone and live their pastoral lives in peace, enjoying the bounty the earth provides. They were a threat to no one, but more importantly had nothing anyone else wanted. So they managed to survive, and even thrive in some areas. It is suspected that the pantheon of gods that created them simply screwed up, or gave up on them after receiving very little by way of reflected power from them. Maybe they erred and invested too little of their own essence in their creation. That chance that they erred is more likely than you would suspect, because gods do make mistakes, as evidenced by Humans.

At some point, after thousands of years of the original races inhabiting the planet, an equilibrium of sorts was reached, and the races thrived in their own environments, clashing only occasionally. The elder pantheons were pleased, as their power continued to grow through their creations.

This was not to last long. Other gods became jealous. As a result of that jealousy, from the wastelands of every region of the planet sprung forth the race of Humans. They were noticeably less long-lived than other races, which is likely a countermeasure to their pantheon of creator gods giving them virtually unlimited potential to gain power. Such a decision was viewed by the elder pantheons as extremely foolish, and as a result humans were warred upon incessantly by the elder races. They were nearly exterminated time and again, but they learned to survive.

The elder gods gave their creations access to strange and powerful magicks, meant to alter the very essence of the new races, stunting them physically, mentally, and destroying their potential to gain power. These Race Plagues and Curses, as they were described, were devastating, both to Humans and to the original races. It affected every generation touched by the plagues and curses. As a result, horribly mutated creations were let loose upon the lands by way of the humanoid races.

Other pantheons, taking advantage of the chaos, took the opportunity to insert their own races onto the planet, hoping to gain bases of power. Such creations as Giants and Beholders now stalked the land, resulting in even more chaos and war.

Over the course of many thousands of years, the longer-lived races eventually felt the toll in their ranks. Their power waned, and that of Humans, Goblins, and the other intelligent races grew. A new equilibrium was gained in the world. It appeared that the gambit of the Human pantheon paid off, and their races now had a huge foothold in the world, and power was gained and reflected upon said pantheon, greatly increasing their ability to cause other races to spring forth on other planes of existence.

It is falsely believed by many, if not most, that the gods actually take part in the day-to-day affairs of their worshipers. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the most influence a god can have on a follower’s life is in the initial creation of that race. After that, the race continues on a course of existence, based primarily on the drive, limitations, and other components of the make-up of the race. A God never takes an active hand in any individual's life. To a God, their creations are no better than machines which they created that either give them power or do not. The gods don't care what they let loose upon the world or the course of the world's events except to take superficial notice so as to fine-tune their creations for the next time they decide to infest another plane of existence with life. They notice us as individuals, or even as groups, less than we notice ants. A simple analogy would be that the gods create the bow, create the arrow, pull back and let loose. What happens to the arrow, where it lands, how it flies, is out of the control of the bowman as soon as he shoots it. Them getting involved enough to let loose plagues and curses through their followers, is an event which may happen every 100,000 years.

Just as the elder races formed distinct subgroups, such as mountain dwarves and hill dwarves, wood elves and high elves, so did the humans have subgroups. Human subgroups, however, were dependent mostly upon where they were created, and which pantheon created them. It is unclear which pantheon created which species of human first, but the model was eventually adopted by all the new upstart pantheons.

At first, the character and culture of human settlements and regions was reflected by the character and culture of their creator pantheon. However, interbreeding and the growth of massive population centers, such as the fabled port city of Lukan, or the Mountainhold of Throm caused a dilution of racial distinctiveness. It also caused the breakup of power-base of the clerics of the human pantheons. Through the pantheon, certain aspects of cultural identity were imbued into followers. Now, people chose to worship one god, or even many, of different pantheons, while ignoring the rest of the pantheon, ignoring their cultural heritage.

This caused great dissension amongst the gods of the pantheons, as they sensed their power supply failing, in essence. They looked for the beneficiaries of that power, and tried to take it back. That being said, Zeus didn’t hurl thunderbolts and Odin. The battle took place on a metaphysical level far beyond human understanding. What the humans did understand, however, was that certain gods of certain pantheons warred within their own pantheons as well as against other pantheons. This manifested on this plane of existence as followers of Zeus hurling thunderbolts at followers of Odin. A battle which lasted a millisecond in the lives of the gods, until they realized what was going on, who they were taking the power away from, and decided it was still more profitable to work together, resulted in decades of war within the human races and pantheons

The elder races wisely stood back and watched the humans decimate themselves. Powerful magicks were unleashed upon the lands, and channeled into creations like owlbears, undead, and golems. After decades of war, the end result was the same as in all wars---famine, disease, breakdown of culture, generations scarred by violence, loss of knowledge and wisdom, and a breakdown of society into rule by those who were themselves rules by the basest of human drives and emotions. It was a time where survival of the fittest was the rule, rather than the exception. Also, as a result, the pantheons of the humans were forever broken. One was as likely to see followers of Thor as of Amon-Ra in the same village. Clerical power was never fully regained after these wars.

The spells a cleric of a particular god can have are determined primarily by how closely he mirrors and acts on the tenets and beliefs of that god in his daily life. The closer he is a mirror of that god, the more power of that god he can channel. The more power of the god he channels, which results in a gain of power through followers and power bases in the material plan., the more power he is given to understand the deeper mysteries of his faith. Most clerics have access to all of the lowest levels of spells, based on intuition. For every point of wisdom bonus, the cleric has access to that level of spells. However, the highest level of spells must be taught to the cleric by an elder, or through some of the great tomes of mysteries. Once the cleric understands the mysteries and arcane lore, he has the insight to use those rituals and higher-powered spells the same way as the lower level ones---he meditates on the mysteries of his faith, and calls forth the power of his god when needed. The gods let this bit of power be drawn from them because they must. There is no choice. It is part of the race creation process, part of the power that must be given to their creations in order to let them reflect the power gained through exercising their god’s power back at the gods, through worship, followers and worldly power.

Because there were so few clerics of power to survive the wars, it was now more difficult to regain that power by the surviving clerics. There was no one to train younger clerics, no one to teach the mysteries to the newer clerics. The younger ones, the ones left behind after the war, had to learn over the course of decades what would have take years, prior to the war.

A human age governed by military might and magic dawned. Many humans decided that clerics and gods were to blame for all the wars and suffering of the past hundred years, and so any clerics of great power were assassinated as soon as they were found. Lesser clerics were kept for their ability to heal, and to help control the members of the population which still had faith, but any of those which gained enough power to be a threat to the established order were killed.

Through lichdom and other foul means, mages were able to extend their lives long enough to gain the power which the elder pantheons of gods feared they might gain. Long life, combined with unparalleled ambition and virtually no limitations on power resulted in the perfect deadly combination of the next era in humankind’s history. Within 500 years of the Pantheon Wars, the Mage Wars erupted.

Ironically, the drive behind the mage wars was so that the mages themselves would be objects of worship, and so be able to gain a foothold of power amongst the gods, whose clerics they worked so diligently to destroy.

Rumor has it that there were 9 mages of power who warred not only amongst themselves, but on all human races and civilizations. The major differences between the this war and the last was that the mages wanted the worship of all sentient beings, so they warred upon all of the elder races as well, or else used them as pawns or troops (willing or otherwise) in their drive for power. The elder races, having not partaken of war in generations, were soft. It was decimation.

Once the dust settled, every place on the planet was scarred by war in some way. Some of those of the elder races who allied themselves with the mages, and became corrupted by that alliance, fled underground, forever changed. Some branches of the elder races were wiped out entirely, with only ruins showing they once existed.

It has been hundreds, if not thousands of years since the Mage Wars. No human I have ever met knows how long. All that is known is that they are over, and have been for many generations. What lies beyond this village, beyond this valley, is unknown. I have only imparted such knowledge to you as has been given to me, the stories, rumors, and myths of civilizations past.

I know it’s your desire to go forth from these valleys and explore and make your mark on the world around you. Your desire for exploration, to test yourself against the world and gain power for conquest, burns deeply within you. I don’t know what you will find. All I can say is that of all of the many who have attempted the dangerous trek over the mountains, none have returned. They may be out there right now, striving for power, ruling a kingdom, or being thrown in a ditch to feed the worms. Perhaps it’s as the old witch says, and a new age is dawning. Whether it be forged by faith, steel or magic is yet to be determined. Which race will rule it is unclear. One thing is certain--it will be forged in blood. Ancient power, long lost mysteries and tomes of lore must be pried from the denizens of ancient ruins. They can only be rediscovered by the bold, held by the strong, and wielded by the ambitious.

Good Luck. Here's a copy of an ancient map which shows the route our earliest ancestors took to this hidden valley. If you look here.....

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As you can see, the demi-human races have level limits, as in AD&D. Significantly, the PC's are limited to playing humans in this campaign. The demi-human regions, as well as their history and culture, are just as important and interesting as the dungeons and cities the pc's explore, lost or otherwise. I am treating demi-humans as encounters in and of themselves.

They are not what you would expect. An elf maiden doesn't sit around all day whittling a piece of wood she has been working on for 13 years. Dwarves are not stereotypes from the Hobbit. They all have ambition and drive. In that regard, they are not much different from humans, except that they are less intense. Contrary to popular belief, they don't sit around for days contemplating where to plant a tree, or what to have for dinner.

Clerics of different faiths are often very different from each other in the spells and powers they can wield. As described above, clerics like magic-users have to go out and seek out the ancient lore and mysteries of their faith to gain in power. To do it oneself through contemplation, without a guide or teacher, whether through a person or a book, dooms clerics to lower levels of spell use.

Also, in many places the demi-human pantheons stayed together. In some they were as shattered as the races which formerly worshiped them. In some regions there is fierce antagonism between races, in other regions it is just the opposite. Strange and unlikely alliances have been formed. It is all determined by how the war affected that particular area.

A bit about alignment: Law and Chaos don't exist as game concepts. There is simply “Us vs. Them”. Every intelligent species develops a system of internal order and governance when members of that species gather to intentionally live together. Those systems are as different from each other as the races and their regional histories are. When one group looks at another group's system, it seems foreign. If either that system or race is perceived as a threat, it must be conquered.

All systems of order and governance are based on power and control. Each system was set up to give those leaders of each race a way to have power over and control other members of their race. Often they served a dual purpose of power over one's race as well as a means to gain power over other races. The initial form of the institutions and structures with each society may have been for various reasons, ranging from benevolent rule to tyrannical oppression to sheer survival, and everything in between.

People aren't chaotic or lawful as it has been traditionally defined in D&D. They could have a personality which seeks power over themselves or others, drive and ambition, and therefore they choose to gain that power through the structures of society or outside its bounds. Some may try to conquer said structures, from without or from within, as a way to gain power over others, or over themselves and their own destiny.

As for the means of that acquisition of power, that leads us to the inevitable good and evil discussion. Good and evil as rigid concepts (and therefore as game mechanics, like spells and class benefits) do not exist. What we consider good and evil can be simply defined as what we are willing to do to get what we want in life, in terms of impact and effect on other living things.

All life is inherently destructive of other life on the planet. It has to be for survival's sake. Individuals have a choice on how destructive they are, which is primarily based on cultural upbringing and life experiences giving them an internal sense of awareness and sensitivity to their effectively being as one with everything in the universe, or not. When these factors come into conflict with what we want out of life and what we will do to achieve our desires, that's when it gets interesting.

From sociopathic not giving a shit about human life at all, to love and peace Christ kinda stuff, people run a range of what they would do to others to get what they want out of life. For simplicity, you can rank it on a scale of 1-10, from sociopathic serial killer, to Christ. Expanding upon that, people also have the same scale of 1-10 for what they would do to gain power in terms of who they would harm for: Their own family, their extended family, their town, their region, their country, their sub-race (nordic or asian for example), their race (human) Demi-humans, intelligent life, mammals, all animals, all life on the planet, the planet itself as an entity, the universe as a whole, and so on. You can fill in the blanks. Note: there is no game mechanic for this, and I don't want any numbers or scales for each of the above. Simply pick a personality to begin with, and stick with it consistently, unless it changes in game through role-playing.

All players can be whoever and however they desire as regards to this aspect of their personality. This I will warn you: being all peace and lovey and on the eternal bandwagon of oneness with the universe will get you killed really fast. The rest of the world is bigoted, prejudiced, lives in fear, and acts like it is in survival mode. It's a harsh, dark, gritty place, where such sappy sentiments result in the death of you and the ones you say you love.

That being said, most people don't give a shit about any of that. They lack the drive, ambition, will, and inherent capability in terms of brains, balls, and skill to achieve very much. They settle for a hum-drum life. They exist to be followers, lemmings, only making waves when their very existence is threatened. Most just want to live, eat, fuck, drink, propagate, and die without having to do too much or challenge themselves.

Adventurers, on the other hand, are cut from a different cloth entirely.

(More to come soon!)