Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Demons

The following is based on an excerpt from a tome attributed to an apprentice of Ferin of Felmonte. It is a text that has been condemned as heretical and dangerous. Though the Church claims that the text brings only misfortune to those who read it, its contents have proven valuable to Arcanists throughout the centuries. The veracity of its content is questionable, according to the devout, but it is the only text providing a dispassionate analysis on that rare field of esoterica, Demonology.

In the beginning, Aura floated alone in the Elemental Chaos. His nature was cold, solitary intellect. As he wandered for countless millenniums, he dreamed of order. He collected pieces of matter from the Chaos, and began to form a world out of them. He searched deep into the Chaos for the pieces needed to build the world.

Deep in the Chaos, it is said that Aura found a door. This was the first created thing that Aura had ever seen which he had not built. He chose to open the door. Why? It is truly unknowable.

From out of the door, flying screaming armies of elemental destruction poured forth and began to lay waste to the things that Aura had built. An entire world burned at the hands of these demons.

This is why Aura created the angels, to serve as his soldiers against these beings. The angels fought a war against the demons lasting 800,000 years. Finally, Aura forced the hordes back through the doorway into their black abyss. He chained the doors, so demons could never again tear down his creation.

The Abyss still exists behind a mighty locked door in the depths of the Elemental Chaos, and its denizens can be summoned and bound to service. The Devils of Hell were the first to perfect this art and teach it to their followers. It is a dangerous practice, not to be undertaken lightly.


The text goes on to describe several difficult and costly rituals for the summoning of demons.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Infernalism

Infernalism is practiced in every corner of Auracrux. In some places, that worship is open.

In Amerisawa, devil worshiping priests sacrifice willing victims on the stairs of ziggurats. In the equatorial mountains of Chenti, Half-Orc tribes ritually scar themselves with the signs of Arch-Fiends to enhance their battle prowess. In the halls of the Underdark, Drow hierophants lead supplicants to the gates of Hell to implore whatever powers remain for reentry.

Conversely, most civilized regions outlaw the practice of Infernalism. In these places, secret ceremonies are held in candlelit grottos, or deep in the forest. Though not all Drow worship the powers of the deep, many still practice their familial traditions in private.

The exact form Infernalism takes in each cult varies, especially as very few agree who holds the keys of Hell. Several schools of thought have emerged.

Orthodox Infernalism: The schism in the Aurist church has obvious implications for any wishing to worship its antagonists. Orthodox Infernalists position themselves similarly to Orthodox Aurists. In their belief, the Great War was merely a precursor to the foretold world ending conflict. Vestelion still rests in hell, his blade guarded by Tiamat until such a time as wickedness has produced enough blood sacrifices to usher in his rebirth. Orthodox Infernalists emphasize the importance of establishing states dominated by systemic evil, in order to have armies and land in place for Vestelion's return.
Commonly Practiced by: Amerisawans, Chenti Half-Orcs, Kalifrans

Chaotic Infernalism: Certain Infernalists believe that Vestelion became manifest at the Battle of Felmonte and was killed, but not before dealing a fatal blow to Aura. These cultists worship a diverse array of lesser devils who they believe now wage an esoteric war for domination of the universe. This war has six factions led by each of Vestelions generals, the arch-devils Asmodeus, Baalzebul, Belial, Dispater, Mammon, and Mephistopholes. In this belief system, one must be careful to balance one's loyalties. While there's something to be said for being the passionate follower of the eventual victor, it's also not bad to hedge one's bet. This means cults who practice this belief system often feature a great deal of clandestine in-fighting and backstabbing.
Commonly Practiced by: The Drow

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Tiamati

In terms of game statistics, the Tiamati are nearly identical to the Dragonborn presented in the PHB. Make the following changes:

Languages: Thalind Pidgin, Drow
Skill Bonuses: +2 Dungeoneering, +2 Intimidate

Also, disregard the fluff text for the Dragonborn, as the history of the Tiamati is quite different indeed.

The Tiamati are an enigma. Brought out of the earth by the Drow as slaves, they can now be found throughout the known world. The Tiamati themselves know nothing of their origins--were they found and subjugated by the Drow, a result of some alchemical experiment, or born of some unholy union? Being that the Tiamati are slaves or children of slaves, most are poorly educated and taught to lead a brutal lifestyle. However, those who are free value their freedom and the opportunity to advance themselves.

Most Tiamati adventurers will be freemen. This means one of several things. They escaped from their masters, earned or bought their freedom, or they are the child of a Tiamati who did one of the above. Most Drow will not permit their slaves to go free, so most Tiamati who earned their freedom did so after being sold to a non-Drow master. In Abar and the Northlands, slaves of Humans are afforded a great deal of social mobility, and many Tiamati have earned their freedom in these places. In Porre, slavery is illegal. Whenever a Drow master is punished for his crime, he must free his all of his slaves. Many Tiamati so freed find themselves in such financial hardship, however, that they return to their former masters.

Freed Tiamati have differing perspectives on the Drow. Many despise the dark elves for enslaving their people, and either shun their company or seek to bring harm to the Drow. On the other hand, many Tiamati find themselves the objects of distrust by the "surface races," and find that the Drow share a common language and are willing to pay modest wages for a strong laborer.

The Tiamati tend to follow the religion of their masters. This creates an interesting situation in some Drow households, where the nominal religion is Aurism, but the family secretly follows the Infernal traditions of their ancestors. Where this is the case, the Tiamati slaves usually practice Aurism without knowing their masters' true spiritual persuasions.

Medrash knocked twice on the side of the parked wagon. As he waited for a response, he looked out over the dark waters of the Placid Sea. A strong wind blew off the water and made Medrash shiver a little. Though other inhabitants of Seastar complained about the heat, Medrash didn't mind it at all. In fact, he and other Tiamati hated to go out at night, when the sun stopped beating down on their scales and the temperature dropped.

From inside the wagon, a complicated return knock signaled that Medrash was to climb inside. He hoisted his enormous mass up into the back and took a seat in the dark. He smelled the familiar stench of dried blood, and felt around with his hand. His fingers came into contact with the ruddy bearded face of a Dwarf. Another disposal job...

The wagon came to a stop near the rushing water of the river. He heard the driver hop down nimbly from the front, and saw him peak up into the back. He was a dark skinned Elf with white hair and a triangular scar on his right cheek.

"Come on, Lizard," the Drow said, "we gotta get these bodies into the water. Don't drag your feet."

Medrash despised Drow, especially this one. His name was Xulgos, and he was the boss's little brother. Among the Drow, cruelty was common, even between family, and it was no different with the Fillith clan. Xulgos had been branded by his sister for some failure or another, or perhaps simply for her amusement. Xulgos was no victim, however, whatever ill treatment he took, he simply passed on to lesser members of the guild--thugs like Medrash.

Medrash hated all Drow. But it hadn't always been that way.

Medrash had been the slave of Ursma, an Abarian diplomat, since he was a child. He had worked diligently for Ursma in many capacities--bearer, guard, stable-hand--anything Ursma asked, Medrash had done. After many years of service, Medrash had saved enough coins to finally buy his freedom from the man. He fondly remembered the day when Ursma, with tears in his eyes, broke the iron bracelet symbolizing his slave's servitude, and thanked him for years of loyalty. Medrash wished Ursma peace and prosperity for him and his family, and left the estate.

For several weeks, Medrash savored the freedom to walk where he wished and do as he pleased. He eagerly presented himself to Abarian merchants around Seastar, hoping to find a job with the help of Ursma's letter of introduction. But they all turned Medrash away. Soon he was running low on coins and hope.

When Myrymma, a Drow Sorceress, approached him and offered him fair wages to serve as a guard in a warehouse, Medrash was eager to accept the offer. He had heard from other Tiamati that the Drow were despicable and cruel, but Medrash had never worked for one himself, and figured the tales were an exaggeration. Besides, he would be an employee, not a slave.

Myrymma provided Medrash with good equipment, hearty meals, and steady work, but the Tiamati began to become suspicious of the Drow. First, Myrymma insisted that he pay her for the equipment, food, and lodging. She said she would keep his account and pay him when he broke even. Worse still, Medrash was soon asked to do more than guard a warehouse. His considerable strength was put to use breaking the bones of Myrymma's debtors and fighting clandestine battles against cloaked humans in dark back alleys.

Now, Medrash knew he was again a slave. He knew this time, he would never escape. The grasp of the Underbelly was too strong and stretched too far. Nowhere in Thalind was safe.

Medrash toiled alone to carry the bodies to the steep bank of the river, tie weights to their legs, and throw them in. The entire time, Xulgos cursed at him, spat on him, and muttered to himself.

"You have it easy, acid breath, no responsibilities. Just do what you're told, and the dark elves will figure everything out. We put a roof over your head, feed you, all for mindless work. When assassins come from the Merchants' Guild, they aren't gunning for you, they're after dark meat."

Medrash kicked the last body into the water with a splash.

Xulgos continued, "Not once have I heard one of you monsters say thank you, either. You beasts eat us out of house and home, and you don't care one bit. Stupid filthy ingrates."

Medrash closed his eyes and flared his nostrils, then breathed in calmly. He turned around and looked Xulgos in the eyes, before roaring forth a spray of corrosive acid all over the Drow.

Xulgos fell to the ground, scratching at his skin, his now blind eyes wide open as he breathed in to scream.

The scream never came, as Medrash's scaly foot had crushed the Drow's head before he could let the air out. This was the first kill in Medrash's war against Myrymma. He would rather die free, than be a slave again.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Barbaric!

video

The rising tide of barbarism in Auracrux is one of the major differences between life before and after the Great War. In talk amongst civilized folk, the same names are still traded about--Porre, Norbury, Abar, Diurgontruili--but the power wielded by these nations is not what it once was. In fact, though they were once kingdoms crisscrossed by patrolled roads and populated with un-walled towns, these political powers are now little more than city states.

In the space where countless peasant farmers once swore fealty to distant crowns, now live the barbarian hordes. If a comprehensive census of the known world were possible and desirable, it would certainly show that most sentient beings live among these tribes, with a lesser number living in the agricultural areas surrounding the major city states, and the smallest number being the actual inhabitants of the far flung bastions of civilization.

It would be a mistake to paint the many barbaric tribes with any broad brush. Religiously, they are quite diverse. Primalism, for example, is not practiced exclusively by barbarians, nor are barbarians its sole practitioners. Many of the white-skinned plains barbarians of Porresia follow local variations of Aurism. Conversely, many peasants in the arid agricultural land near Norbury follow a primal folk-religion, producing Druids and Shaman of great power.

The more remarkable barbarian stocks include the following:

The plains barbarians of Porresia: These folk are descendants of peasants cut off from Porre during its fall in the Great War. Their independence was imposed upon them by the situation, and as such their culture is much different from that of the Norburgers. The barbarians possess many cultural traditions handed down from their Imperial past, but twisted by generations with little outside contact and no access to literacy. Religious practice among these tribes includes Orthodox Aurism with unique local twists, and Primalism.

The Half-Drow barbarians of the Charred Mountains: When the city of Porre was reclaimed by the forces of Gerald Xavier during the Great War, most of the Drow occupiers were executed or escaped into the earth. However, many Drow commoners were cut off from the capital and fled into the mountains. Having foreseen the decline of their nation, they elected to live in the Charred Mountains of East Porresia. They intermingled with local humans and humanoids, creating a unique racial stock. These barbarians still practice Infernalism.

The Dwarven barbarians of the Kharad Mountains: At the beginning of the Great War, the Kharad Dwarves were utterly devastated and their holds demolished. Many of the survivors made an exodus with Ula and Firyn Gray after the Great War to live amongst the Khalid Dwarves. Those that remained make their living mostly on the faces of the mountains or in shallow caves. These Dwarves practice Primalism.

The Quayar barbarians of East Chenti: The wood elves continue to live barbarically in the sylvan forests of East Chenti, though their past hostility against the high elves of Vailan seem to be much less in this time. The Quayar are the original followers of Primalism.

The Half-Orc barbarians of Central Chenti: With the waning power of divine and arcane magic, the Orcs of Central Chenti found raiding the villages of the Northlanders much easier. One particular spoil was so often taken, that the tribes began to lose their identity as Orcs, their bloodlines so diluted as to make them all unidentifiable as either Orc or Human. Various tribes have different belief systems, including Primalism, Infernalism, and Reconciliation.

The desert nomads of Abar: An incredibly hardy group of people has managed take advantage of the sparse living to be made in the Abarian desert. The desert nomads might not even be classified as barbaric, as their life features a great deal of trade with the city states of Abar. Often, the nomads will bring exotic hard to find resources from the desert into the cities for trade. These nomads practice Primalism or Orthodox Aurism, often mixing the two.

The drake-riders of Amerisawa: These barbarians are copper skinned humans living in the Amerisawan wastes across the mountains from Abar. They have been known to ride their drakes in raids across the mountains, attacking Azhirah, Dazhibad, and Thalind. Infernalism is the most common religion amongst the Amerisawans.

The seafarers of Kalifra: Dark skinned human barbarians of Kalifra have developed a nautical culture and have been known to attack the western shores of Chenti and Porresia. Mixed Kalifran heritage is somewhat common in both Zheng and Fellemonte. Kalifrans practice a Primal belief system.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Notable Persons: Clan Vestkalindar

"I have not seen fit to dabble in what passes for spells in this dark age. As a mage, I could fly to all corners of our nation, bridge the gaps between worlds, create new life, bind an elemental power to my service, and more. These so called wizards and sorcerers of today play with mere cantrips. Only through the study of rituals and artifacts do we have any hope of rekindling the power of old. Only through these studies can you find the proper formula for saving the Elven people.
~Erion Vestkalindar, patriarch of his clan, speaking to a group of young mages at the Vailan Academy of Magic


Erion Vestkalindar is the last known being who can claim the title of Archmage. Of course, with the Arcane Source of old still choked off, his power is much diminished. Erion is an influential member of Vailan society nonetheless. He is an outspoken opponent of new Arcane practices. Under his leadership, the Vailan Academy forbids its members from practicing the "spell" abilities common to adventurers of the Dark Age. Instead, the Academy focuses on rituals, alchemy, and the study of residuum. Erion believes that the Academy's experiments will one day restore vitality to the Elves. Though Erion has lived long (longer than any known Elf), it is widely expected that he cannot hold out much longer. The future of the Vailan Academy is uncertain after Erion's inevitable passing.

Erion's passion for restoring the Vailan line is ironic when one considers that Clan Vestkalindar is the most numerous line of Half-Elves in the world (with House Xavier of Abar a close second). Clan Vestkalindar originates from the many offspring produced by Erion before the Great War. Erion, after the death of his Elven wife in 2376, began to take many wives from among the Northlanders. This is forbidden under the strict Aurist law practiced in Diurgontruili at the time, but archmages had historically been afforded a degree of freedom in line with their extreme power. After the war, Erion divorced his human wives and his lived as a proper widower ever since.

Yarika She-Vestkalindar was one of the eldest of the Half-Elven Clan Vestkalindar. His nature may be typical of, or perhaps responsible for, the tendencies of the Clan as a whole. Yarika survived the Great War. Afterwards, despite his loss of arcane power, he continued to lead a life now legendary for romance and swashbuckling adventures. Most tales of Yar's exploits are considered apocryphal, but they still have a major impact on Clan Vestkalindar and its self-image. The legends are strange, including one that he turned into a Troll under each new moon and went about visiting the homes of young maidens throughout the land. In another story, he claims to have been present at the Battle of Fellemonte. In this telling, he was locked up by an Angel of Justice in a multi-dimensional box. When Yar heard the sounds of battle, he twisted the Ethereal plane in order to escape out of the 13th corner and appear hundreds of miles away in his father's conservatory.

Yar was long-lived, just like his Elven father, and enjoyed a long retirement in Diurgontruili. It is said that he reconciled with his father and contributed heavily to his research over the past fifty years. Just last year, Erion informed the people of Diurgontruili that Yar had passed away. The Elves barely remarked on the Half-Elf's passing, but many Half-Elves of Clan Vestkalindar made long pilgrimages to observe the mage's passing.

"Young ladies must be certain to shut up their windows at night. My mother always told me that Yarika's stubby Troll fingers are too clumsy to undo the latches and get in, so he only visits maidens with open windows."
~Half-Elven old wives' tale

Monday, June 21, 2010

Seastar--a walk along the Axis

The City of Seastar is the opening setting of Auracrux: Rebirth. It is a bustling and prosperous city with a cosmopolitan population of roughly 15,000, making it one of the five largest cities in the known world. Seastar has existed as a trading post as long as Thalind has been habitable. Its position at the mouth of two major rivers feeding into the Placid Sea makes it a natural location for maritime trading with Fellemonte, Norbury, Diurgontruili, and the Northlands.

Since the establishment of the Special Dominion of Thalind, Seastar has served an important purpose as the crossroads where the three major interests controlling Thalind meet. This makes Seastar a place of political intrigue as Norburgers, Porresians, Abarians, and other interests struggle for influence.

The Axis is one of the most important geographical markers within the city. It is a wide avenue running from the docks, through the warehouse district, around the Rock of Rivers (a dramatic stone promontory jutting out from the splitting of the twin rivers). From there, it continues as two roads, the left and right axis, until the roads converge again where the rivers meet. Once the road is unified again, it proceeds through the middle of Aura's Square (where temples of the Western Church and the Orthodox Church sit adjacent, competing for the hearts and minds of Thalinders), and down through through the markets to the wall of the city where it terminates at the Farmers' Gate.



Randall, the son of a herder from Norbury, made his first visit to Seastar at age sixteen. His father, a simple and pious man, had warned his son of the wickedness that prevailed in Seastar. He preached about the moral weakness planted by plenty and the physical infirmities set in the flesh by a life of leisure in the city. For years Randall's father had made annual trips to Seastar as a hired sword to guard a trader's caravan. This year, Randall was brought along--to toughen him up, to see the dangers of immoral living, and to earn the family a few spare coins.

The air in Thalind was humid and Randall's clothes stuck to his body. Mosquitoes were everywhere, and Randall's boots would stick in the thick black mud if he stepped even a foot off the road. Randall was relieved but not impressed when he caught his first glimpse of Seastar across the verdant swampy fields.

The city was surrounded by a wooden wall, much less solid looking than the walls of Norbury, though these walls were much longer to accommodate the larger city. They were a mere twelve feet high. As they approached, he could make out a gate just wide enough for a wagon. Four flags hung above the gate. Randall recognized the flag of Norbury, and the hated flag of the Imperials, but had to ask about the other two. His father, feigning annoyance at the boy's question, was clueless to the flags' meanings, but the merchant, a gregarious fellow, was happy to tell Randall of the distant Abarians and they're exotic flag, and also of the simple flag of Thalind.

Once they were among the others waiting around the gate, the merchant instructed them to set up camp to rest for several hours while he left his name with the guard and paid his taxes. Randall was alarmed at first to see before him so many inhuman creatures, many of whom he recognized as the villains of his grandmother's tales. Dark skinned Elves, slimy scaled Tiamati, mischevious looking gnomes, and other strange creatures milled about. Randall whispered a prayer to Aura for protection, and also uttered an invocation his grandmother taught him to ward off the capricious spirits of the sea. This he knew was blasphemy, but he figured he ought to play it safe with so many strangers around so near to the ocean.

After a time, Randall and the rest of the caravan were approved for entry into the city. He and his father were allowed to set off on their own while the merchant conducted business with a gray skinned Dwarf. Randall began to feel the fear leave him and instead became exhilarated by the varieties of scent, sight, and sound coming to him in the marketplace of Thalind. Merchants of every race Randall had ever heard of offered an array of products from parts of the world Randall had thought were fairy tales.

After a long walk through the madding crowd at the heels of his cursing disgusted father, Randall was astonished at the sight of two spectacular temples on the opposite sides of a wide square filled with beggars, bards, monks, missionaries, and merchants. On his right was a temple decorated with golden statues of strange beasts with wings and dazzling arrays of gems serving for eyes. Many dark skinned men in exotic robes sat on the stairs of the temple smoking pipes which produced unusual and enticing aromas.

Randall's father grabbed the boy by the hair, "Pay no mind to those olive skinned heretics. The true Aurist gives his confessions on this side of the square."

Randall's father made his way to the opposite church, a structure no less opulent than the other, but decorated in a style more familiar to Randall. Flanking the entrance to this temple, ascetics sang hymns in Old Porresian. Randall knew few of the words, but remembered that the hymn was one of forgiveness for Vestelion the Penitent. If he remembered his catechism properly, he thought each verse of the hymn was meant to stand in for a decade of attrition for the defeated arch-devil.

Randall's thoughts soon strayed from the catechism when his father closed the door of the confessional booth, leaving the boy in the sanctuary. Randall grabbed up his father's knapsack and dashed out into courtyard. Today was Randall's first day as one of the teeming masses of Seastar.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Rebirth

This blog is intended to be a repository for my thoughts regarding the relaunch of my campaign world, Auracrux. I suspect the primary function of this blog will be a place for me to think out loud and measure my own progress towards a fully realized playable millieux. Secondarily, it will serve to update those of my players who are interested in getting more information about the revival of Auracrux.

I expect to post more information similar to the invitation packets sent to my players, including updates on history, geography, notable persons, etc. Furthermore, I plan to make some blog posts about my evolving game philosophy, reflections on the system, theme, etc.

In this first post, I would like to discuss a major decision in the form of Auracrux: Rebirth. I have chosen to use 4th Edition D&D as the rule set for this game, despite Auracrux's origins as a 1st Edition AD&D game. This choice might have surprised some who remember my distaste for the grind that seemed to take hold at Paragon tier.

That distaste did motivate me to return to AD&D. Last winter, I attempted to run The Temple of Elemental Evil in AD&D for a group of folks locally in State College. Though I believe everyone involved got a small measure of enjoyment out of the game, it was not the wonder I remembered. There were a lot of questions about why things worked certain ways, or even disagreements about basic positioning and its meaning for mechanical resolution. I found that I was unable to justify many of the arcane rule sets governing life in Gygaxian D&D. In my own mind, AD&D is a complicated whole that produces a fun and complex game world. But it requires a great deal of complicated charts, tracking of minutiae, and player/DM hostility to bring that result about.

On the other hand, 4th Edition, for all its warts, is an accessible straightforward attempt at creating a fun game. I learned a great deal in running my first 4e game, and have since spent a lot of time reading others' reflections and advice. Also, I am currently playing in a 4e game run by my friend Jon. This game has been enjoyable, simple, and tactically engaging. 4th Edition does a great deal of the work for the DM, and this shows at the table.

The main points in support of 4th Edition include simple encumbrance, built in tactical decisions, general lack of ambiguity, and lack of time consuming minutiae like spell memorization and item saving throws. At some point in the future I will blog about how I plan to address the only major con of 4e (in my mind), the danger of grind.