Casting Runes 2: Populating a Peculiar Place

This post continues the exploration and implementation of RuneQuest 6th Edition for the creation of a sword and sorcery campaign setting.

Decades ago, when I was running fantasy stories as a matter of course, my worlds were planets circling stars and followed the laws of physics as I understood them. About the only thing that marked my fantasy worlds as different from the universe we live in was that magic was an accepted part of daily living. As I grew to be more capable shaping the worlds of my games, the way that magic was connected to and helped to shape daily living evolved, but never to a point where it didn’t feel tacked on to an alternate history setting. I turned my back on fantasy with a great deal of finality and between 1990 and 2010 did not run a single fantasy game. If memory serves, I played in a run-through of the original Ravenloft to help a budding DM get a sense of what might be required to run a campaign set there, and I fooled around with Ars Magica and Sorcerers Crusade, but that was pretty much that. As I mentioned earlier, Vampire: Dark Ages does not count, and Ars Magica and Mage are less fantasy and more alternate history to me – with magic thrown in. Here it is 2013 and I am getting closer and closer to launching the first new fantasy setting of my own devising in more than 25 years. I figured if ever there was a time to go big or go home, this would be it.

The Cosmology

In this setting, science should have the tacked on feeling that magic so often has in fantasy settings. Magic and accessible deities are the foundation of this world and their involvement has profound effects on the shape of society and the very fabric of reality. Hanging in the void connected by divine power, archetypal congruity, and the collective belief of the souls dwelling within are three levels or realms.

  • The first, a crystal sky roof with heaven, and the domains of the gods strong enough to remain there, above it.
  • The second, an earthly realm home to all the mortal and immortal creatures born, and those which serve the gods but do not walk among them. This realm is extensive, and bounded by terrain to intimidate the denizens of the world and prevent them from meeting the gods. Dragons and other monsters enter the world from the void beyond the world, given shape by fear. If one digs deep enough, flies high enough, or walks far enough one will enter the Forming Lands. With wit and fortitude those who journey there may ultimately enter the lands of the gods either high or low, find the tracks of the sun and moons, journey to heaven or hell, and bring peace to the dead…. or bring them back to the lands of the living.
  • The third realm lies below the earthly realm and is a hell for the dead and those gods who cannot or will not rise to the heavens.
  • A fourth realm is dream, but it is not ephemeral, it is as real as anything else – just separated by the thinnest wall of sleep. In one’s sleep one may meet the dead. Heroes in dreams may wrest new thoughts from the fantasies encountered therein, and carve new lands yet undiscovered, but now waiting beyond the horizon where nights before, there was merely void.
  • Finally and with finality the void itself surrounds and seeks to unmake all that these realms represent. Should people travel so far as to reach it,  True Heroes can force form on formlessness, slay dragons, wrestle the gods of the void, spread truth, create truth, and change all that is and was.
Society 

Under the different guises through which they are worshipped in all the lands of the earthly realm, the strongest deities have cast society in a form which suits them. Customs are simple, trust that the gods will provide is essential, and the development of tools to ease one’s burdens is suspect. The daily labor of mortals is not of primary concern. The resistance to the hunger of the void is.

Most societies in the earthly realm are built upon the understanding that the day is for working and earning the approval of the gods, and the night is for the souls of dreamers to be tested by the forces of the outside to extend the firmament or lose ground. Most societies firmly accept that what is done and what is dreamed are equally real.

Religion in this setting is a fire fanned by the crossing agendas of numerous gods vying for more reverence, and further complicated by the agendas of priests and worshippers alike. Trade and War touch as many souls as Religion, but rarely as deeply. Regional, dogmatic, and species-related differences in religion are often bitter, wide-ranging, and seen as some sort of challenge by or entertainment for the gods.

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The People of the Firmament

There are five main groups from which players in this campaign will be able to initially draw characters. More may come in time, but for now these five form the sort of framework I am interested in exploring with this setting.

Humanity

Humans dwell anywhere and can learn anything, but have an affinity for tools and logical systems. Some make machines powered by the laws of physics, some make machines powered by arcane laws. The former are rebels and risk much, the latter are a part of everyday life. Humanity, after uncounted ages of stagnation has begun to look for other ways to work their will upon the world, and to their surprise and the consternation of the Priests, not all the deities are displeased. Humanity is the most plentiful of the intelligent species in the earthly realm, and seem to occupy a place of love in the hearts of most gods – for good or ill.

Near Humanity

The Plenthans

The Plenthans dwell underground, ostensibly due to a punishment laid upon them in ages past by a displeased deity. It is said that they have come to terms with this punishment and turned their shame into the foundation of a truly pious culture. No one doubts that they have long since earned the forgiveness of their gods, but lest they forget they have chosen to remain underground and apart – standing between the surface dwellers and the horrors that all know may be found in the depths of the earth. They are the most human of the near human species and if cultural and religious barriers can be overcome may find slim chances of interbreeding to be possible. Like all the other groups but humanity, they have a cultural distrust of complex tools, arcana, and machines. They are rooted in the physical, are deeply religious and technically proficient. They value hard work and do not trust machines which do work for you, only those which magnify your own input. Their arcane lore is very simple, very practical, and lasts a very long time. Their population is kept small and controlled due to social convention and the economics of supply. In general, they are a hardy lot, well-educated in the classics and religion, but with an introverted social structure that eschews wide social contact.

The Blessed

The Blessed were once another species entirely – some believe they were animals raised to sentience by  virtue of their nobility and sacrifice. They and their family lines have earned and retained the pleasure of the gods, been granted immortality, and forms more pleasing to the deities. Still vulnerable to violence, disease, and privation, their span of years is said to have no count should they remain in the good graces of their deities.  They have great arcane ability linked with the elements and travel – even between the realms it is believed, although such a thing could only be at the discretion of the gods. Their society is static, they are tied to tradition and obedience. They do not innovate they preserve. They do not challenge, they protect. They have a strong warrior culture in a carefully controlled balance with  a strong academic culture. As a species they do not breed nor reproduce, but rumors have spread across the firmament that from time to time worthy individuals are added to their ranks and made welcome.

Humanoid Species

The Fidrans

The Fidrans dwell near or on the sea and are the source of much speculation and wonder.  Mysterious, given to the arcane, and with mercurial temperaments  they often feature in the stories and legends of others. Their arcana deal with the flow of forces, the gleaning of knowledge, the erosion of the static, and the chaos of the weather. Culturally, they seem opposed to lasting structures being built except to serve the preservation of the history of the world. They have many fluid social structures in their regions of control, and typically form nomadic groups. Their populations may dwell upon the shores, upon the sea in great fleets, or below the sea in sprawling communities of potent magic and divine protection. As travelers and freebooters, they are often linguists of skill and readers of emotions. True or not, they are seen as seekers of secrets, tales and lore. Despite much pleasant experimentation it has been proven that they cannot interbreed with the other groups, but are always willing to experiment further with the right partner.

The Alira

The Alira are a splinter race of humanity whose forebears were granted the gift of flight and the gifts to understand it. These changes have made them distinct and separate from humanity. Often close socially and culturally, communities of humans and communities of Alira have moved away from attempts to breed. Literally worlds apart physically, the Alira are meant to dwell in the houses of the wind between the firmament and the crystal sky. To dwell with one’s feet mired in the earth is madness. At rest in the sky, the are less substantial, like wisps of wind. They dwell in cloud cities coaxed into chaotic forms of vapour and mist only they can really navigate as the cities shift endlessly from shape to shape. Winged, they may fly or interact with the world by taking on substantiality. A warrior race, given to passionate debate and the refinement of ideals into pure forms, the Alira are poets, philosophers, iconoclasts, and inspiring leaders. Their grasp of arcana is practical and fit for their needs of communication, inspiration, and battle.

The Setting

This world is one born of violence moving toward peace. Those who answer the call to heroism will not know rest, nor praise until they are claimed by death… or somehow, raise themselves to the lofty heights of the gods and demand reward.

 

What sort of stories will we discover as we play?

 

Stay tuned~

 

 

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