Friday, April 22, 2011

Age of Blossom Technology

Due to the fast pace of advancement in the final few decades of that Age, technology varied greatly, as older devices were not yet completely superseded by newer developments being invented in an ever-growing rate.

At the height of technology stood the Elemental Crucible - a magically-sealed chamber into which permanent portals have been opened into the Realms of Water and Fire. The violent reaction between the two opposing elements produced a massive amount of super-heated steam. A single Crucible could provide for all the heating and machine-running needs of a large industrial site (such as a Dwarven city). The main drawback of an Elemental Crucible was that powerful Elementalists had to monitor it around the clock lest nasty creatures would siphon through the portals from their respective Realms. When the Ice came and civilization fell, if the Crucible was not properly shut by an Elementalist, the facility - and, indeed, the whole city in some occasions - became infested with hostile Elemental creatures.

A more primitive application of Elemental techno-magic was the Boiler of Endless Steam, forcibly binding a Salamander and an Undine into the same boiler to produce a constant supply of steam (and endless agony for both Elementals). While the typical boilers of that kind were quite large and were used to power large vehicles or machines, more advanced (and expensive) versions were small enough to include in smaller clockwork devices such as Automatons.

Firearms were common in the hands of Humans and Dwarves. The most advanced - used by Dwarven military forces - were percussion weapons, in some cases built as revolvers (both pistols AND rifles) in order to allow repeating fire; the most common, however, were single-shot flintlocks. The main disadvantage of firearms was that in order to add magic to the attack you had to enchant each bullet - which was quite expensive as spent bullets were usually less recoverable than arrows or crossbow bolts. Another disadvantage was their relative cost to produce and operate.

Crossbows, too, reached a high level of development. Precise clockwork systems allowed marksman to fire massive volleys of bolts with great accuracy and speed without having to reload. While firearms had greater damage potential, crossbows were cheaper, and, more importantly for Kobold tactics, far quieter.

Another wonder came in the form of Automatons - intricate clockwork devices that seemed to breath with their own life, driven by miniature Boilers of Endless Steam. Ranging from tiny marvels to gargantuan Steel Titans, these Automatons never reached widespread use, as their construction was difficult and expensive, and only a few powerful Elementalists knew the secrets of their creation. Rumors, however, speak of hordes of such Automatons built by the ice-hearted clerics of Koschei, metal servants of the Clockwork God, who still roam the icy wastes to this day.

Transportation also underwent a similar revolution. Not only were ships powered by steam - often produced by a Boiler of Endless Steam - but a few unique ships were able to sail underwater, their steel hulls protecting them from the crushing weight of the waters. Ancient cities used steam for rail transportation, and a few inventors bound Sylphs into ships to turn them into flying airships. Few of these wonders still linger in our Frozen Age, though.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Religion and Cosmology

While there are greater gods in the setting (in this case, the Chaotic mother-goddess Vesna/Marzanna and the Lawful clockwork-god Koschei), they are very distant and inhuman. They very rarely interact directly with mortals or with worldly affairs on the day-to-day scale. However, there is a huge number of minor Spirits present in the Mortal Realm and in the adjoining Spirit Realm, Spirits with which mortals can interact with directly, Spirits which have discernible influence over day-to-day affairs. These are the spirits of ancestors, the spirits of unique places, the spirits of old terrs or groves, of tall mountains and strange stones... Even the very minor spirits of a household (such as a Domovoi). Many creatures which are regarded, by D&D or S&W defaults, as ordinary "monsters", would be Spirits in this setting: dragons, elementals, dryads, fey, ablothes, beholders, even dire animals.

A Spirit is, first and foremost, an NPC. It can only be present in one place at any given time, and is not omniscient by any means. It can be talked with, negotiated with, fought and even defeated by heroes. Anyone can try and interact with a Spirit, even commoners, though Shamans and Elementalists have far greater chances of getting a good outcome from such interaction. Peasants leave bowls of sweet milk gruel on their homes' floor at night to invite their household Spirit - a Domovoi - to bring them good luck and help them keep their house neat and tidy; farmers leave offerings by the nearby forests' eldest tree so that the Dryad resident in it will bring them good harvests and keep savage beasts away from their children; nobles pay homage to their heroic ancestors to gain their blessing in coming battles; evil villagers might even sacrifice their first-born sons to a mighty dragon in return for good weather and bountiful harvests; and so on.

Many "Spirit" monsters - vampires, dragons, aboleths, beholders and so on - would die once and for all when slain, though slaying them in the first place won't be easy (to say the least). The Spirits of the dead which could be found on the Mortal Realm or close to it are ones who have a reason to linger there instead of going to the Realm of the Dead; "slaying" them would banish them to that Realm, but if they have a good reason to stay near the Mortal Realm (say, revenge, improper burial and so on), they'll return to haunt the Mortal Realm once again unless this reason is taken care of. When you kill a nature spirit, the result depends on its kind; slaying a wholesome nature spirit would cause the area to whither; slaying a corrupt nature spirit might be able to clean its taint from the area.

Spirits have both regular monster powers of their type and thematic Spirit powers - such as influence on weather or harvests in a given area or spells such as Raise Dead or Reincarnation. The more HD a "god" has, the more powerful its abilities. A Domovoi, for example, will have only minor cantrip-level powers helping to keep a household clean and free of vermin; a Dragon would be able to control the weather and find precious metals and so on.

During the Age of Blossom, the great Elemental Engineers created mighty contraptions based on advanced spirit-binding techniques. Essentially, they forcibly trapped elemental spirits/"Gods" in special clockwork receptacles, forcing the spirits to serve for eternity (until the binding is dispelled) as energy-sources for machines. The most common contraption was the Boiler of Endless Steam, where a fire spirit and a water spirit (a Salamander and an Undine) were bound to the same spot, endlessly producing a stream of hot steam and causing unimaginable suffering to both spirits; this allowed for very efficient steam engines without the need for fuel or added water. Of course, the spirits who broke free from such entrapment are typically VERY pissed off at mortals and might become extremely vengeful!

This is the cosmology I have in mind for my campaign world:
Essentially, the Spirit Realm is a combination of the Ethereal/Plane of Shadow/Astral/Faerie World and so on - a place very close to the Mortal Realm, overlapping in places, yet quite alien. The Realm of the Dead is where the spirits of the dead go - it is not a place of punishment but rather of rest; dead who have a strong reason tying them to the Mortal Realm (such as improper burial or great injustice) linger behind as ghosts, and can only be permanently driven to the Realm of the Dead where they belong if that reason is resolved. The Elemental Realms are the building-blocks of the universe.

Zagadur Isles

Here is a draft map for the default sandbox setting for Wounded Gaia, the Zagadur Isles (made in Hexographer).

To the north, fully exposed to the icy winds, are the Island of Ice and the Island of Ghosts. The Island of Ice was once, during the Age of Blossom a smaller island sporting a busy trading-port on a major shipping route; now, the ice chokes the crumbling ruins of this city, though much of its wealth still lies in waiting under the glaciers. The remnants of the Age of Blossom's Machines still roam this Island, and there are rumors of a temple for the inhumanly cold Koschei - the Clockwork God - located deep under the city. The Island of Ghosts used to hold a major Shaman's tower, but when the ice came, something terrible happened there, weakening the barrier between the Mortal World and the Realm of the Dead; the spirits and remains of the dead roam its cold rocks to this day.

Barin's Isle is exposed to the icy winds and blizzards in its northern parts, but the mountains along its spine shield its southern half from the cold wind, allowing massive pine forests to thrive there. Mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses and sabertooth cats roam these thick forests, and only the hardiest hunters dare to venture into their heart. Along the coast, however, lies the mixed Human-Dwarven fishing and trade town of Noringorod, and up in the mountains is the bust Dwarven mining-town of Barin's Stand, where the great Dwarven hero Barin Ironhelm made a stand against the creeping forces of ice and death that once threatened to topple the mortal settlement on this island. On the riverway Between Noringorod and Barin's Stand lies the forestry and trade village of Baringorsk, where weary barge sailors and traders rest on their journey to and from the coast/

The safest and most civilized island, relatively speaking, is Olav's Isle, shielded from the icy storms both by Barin's Isle to the north and by its own mountain range. In its heart lies fertile lands exposed by the receding sea level and filled with rich soil brought by the three rivers streaming down the Isle's mountains. The city of Olavsburg, the largest Human settlement in the Isles, lies at the mouth of one such river, and seven villages farm the fertile soil of this island. In the foothills of the mountains, a coal mine, an iron mine and a copper mine feed the craftsman's quarter of Olavsburg.

Chaotic Beastmen about on Ogokash Island, in the shade of Fort Ogokash where the dread Giant King reigns. From its frozen east to its grassy west, this island is choke-full of monstrosities and Beastmen wallowing in the Giant King's chaos, and, on occasion, raiding trading ships sailing between Noringorod, Olavsburg and Lesgorod.

The Cursed Island is a frightening place where ships and their sailors disappear in the sickly marshes where the accursed City of Arches, exposed when the sea level receded, reigns the landscape. Rumors tell of a horrible "god" - probably a major Spirit - who rules from that city and who is worshiped by the fish-men and wild Men of this island.

As its name implied, the Isle of Forests is mostly covered by thick pine forests, the home of wild beasts such as mammoths and sabertooth cats. The only settlement on this island is the town of Lesgorod, which trades in forest products, which is situated in the marches at the mouth of the Lesgorod River. Somewhere up on the slopes of the active vulcano which dominates this island lies the legendary Lost Dwarven Mine, a diamond mine now abandoned, where untold riches are rumored to remain buried underneath the rocks.

Welcome to Wounded Gaia!

"During the Age of Blossom, Nature's bounty was abundant, and the fields and orchards flourished. Civilization, too, has blossomed: mighty and magnificent empires of Men, Dwarves and Spirits grew out of the many kingdoms of the North; culture, philosophy, art, magic and the crafts reached unprecedented heights; and many new, wondrous machines were invented to make the lives of Men and Dwarves easy.

But then came Winter. Suddenly, in the middle of the springs three hundred years ago, thick clouds gathered at night and showered snow. The Decade Without Summer followed, a horrible time of frost when the rapidly-growing glaciers and mountains of snow buried the great cities of the North. The Northern fields, once yielding fertile crops, withered and died in the unending winter, bringing widespread famine - the harbinger of civilization's fall. Strange creatures, once trapped in the frozen edges of the North, now roamed freely among frozen cities and frost-choked farms.

But not all was lost. The South, once dry and arid, has enjoyed heavy rains, giving rise to new forests and fertile lands where sparse woods and dry steppes have once existed. There, south of the edge of the continent-spanning glaciers, the remnants of Men and Dwarves found refuge from the howling winter blizzards and the savage, furry beasts of the once-glorious North. Even then, these survivors were tattered, mere shadows of the former civilization. And strange new creatures, unknown before, roamed the countryside, spreading terror and fear. Even nature, once bountiful, has taken a dark, cold twist. Soon, a barbaric new Dark Age took hold, an age where the sword reigned once more.

And you, adventurers, are sons and daughters of that age, out to reclaim the remnants of the glorious past, slay the beasts that guard them, and maybe even restore a little bit of the lost splendor."

On this blog I will post my developing fantasy setting, Wounded Gaia, set in the aftermath of the Decade Without Summer and the Frozen Age that followed. It is intended to be played using the fantasy "retro-clone" RPG, Swords & Wizardry: White Box.

Welcome aboard!