Gods of Steam and Sorcery
Kuramen is a world which was once a High Fantasy realm; it once was crowded with Gods and Abominations, Heroes and Villains of epic nature. This age has passed, however. The Gods are gone, leaving relics scattered across the lands. The Abominations are dormant or missing, little more than old relics or strange landmarks to mark their ancient existence. The Dragons still dwell in the world, living in the distant and inhospitable parts of the world, engaged in a vastly complex Game with their counterparts on each part of the dimensionally fractured world. The ancient Heroes and Villains are gone, leaving lesser mortals in their wake who struggle to find meaning in a changing world. Thaumatechnology has arisen from half-forgotten sorcerous lore, melding engineering with mystic power to change the world beyond recognition. Coal fogs blanket the growing cities, militaries wield sorcerous weapons, and steam-driven caravans wander between the bastions of civilization. It is a world of extremes, with civilization blossoming around the cities and nations, but still subject to the mad power of the past ages in the open spaces. Life blossoms everywhere, a fecund tide that covers the world in a bizarre diversity of lifeforms, sapient and otherwise; even the moons play host to living creatures of utterly bizarre form.
It is a world of high magic, where few have the will to directly master the sorcerous powers of the arcane, divine, and psychic. It is a world of mystical technology, where lay-mages labor over primitive assembly lines. It is a world in decline, with the heroic legacy of the past nearly forgotten beneath the struggles of the present. It is a world where the rise of the steam engine and the early industrial revolution struggles to triumph over the shadow of the past. It is a world of wonder and promise, waiting to be born, but already riddled with ancient rot.
Alongside it, across a planar gulf, lies the darker twin born during the Age of Catastrophe. Touched by the darkest might of the Primordial Gods, it is a bitter place, where life is an endless struggle for survival, breeding aberrations and loathsomely fiendish horrors. Together, the two enwrap the otherworldly realm of the Fae, the planar interloper that so savaged the world and brought an end to the Mythic Age.
It is Kuramen, the world of steam and sorcery; a world waiting to be marked with the legends of the Age of Steam.
You are a traveler who has come to the mighty port city of Sengril, the largest port city on the Hollow Continent; you may be here to seek your fortune, fresh-faced to the wonders and perils of the world; a traveler seasoned to the wilderlands but unused to the perils of such a metropolis; a scholar, come to seek out the lore said to be hidden in a hundred small libraries scattered around the city; or a pilgrim, come to witness the birthplace of the Gods of Steam, a small number of the vast multitude of Small Gods around the world, who share dominion over the marvels of the Steam Revolution; perhaps you're a technologist, come to explore your craft in the Great Metropolis; or a furtitive worker of spells, come after the arcane lore hidden in the city's corners and crevices. None of you dwell in this place, yet, and so the mysteries of the streets remain hidden for now.
System notes & Characters:
For this game, I am seeking round 3-5 initial characters. Players will start on approach to the city; everyone is part of the same steam caravan, so presumably you've gotten to know each other to some degree over the last few weeks since the last major port of call, on the Aether Plains west of the grand city of Tarra-Lein. While you don't have to like your fellow travelers, you have had time to grow accustomed to them, and perhaps even helped alongside them during the troll attack that happened a week ago.
When characters are created, I require a name and a rough character 'type' for them, as well as a short background to abuse. I mean, write plots about. Possible archetypes include, but are definitely not limited to, warriors, rogues, scholars, minstrels, arcanists (with a possible specialty), thaumaturgists (ditto), engineers (thaumatech or normal), gunmages (in which case you are technically a thaumaturge), riftweavers (see below), and shamans (also below), but are not limited to such. If you have an idea, talk to me about it.
The XD20 system will be in use for arbitrating rules. For those of you unfamiliar with it - although I highly recommend the XDM book, which you can find with a quick Amazon search, or quite possibly at your FLGS (in which case you should also ask about the fortune cookie magic postcards!), character generation is as follows:
There are three stats; TAC, PSYCH, and WAH. To generate these, roll 1D8 and subtract from 15, assigned how you like - lower is better. If you are a mystical character - that is, a character capable of working magic in some form, be it the flashiness of arcane magic, the quasiscience disciplines of thaumaturgy, the reality-bending of riftweaving, or the ability to bargain with the Small Gods and spirits of the world that is shamanism - then, post-generation, subtract two from your WAH and add four points, as you see fit, to your other two scores; be sure to make a note as to what kind of mystic you are, lest I look at you and inform you that I have no idea why you think you can do something magical.
TAC is your physical score; it measures all things about your character's body. You can, if you wish, declare that you are better at a given kind of physical behavior - strength, agility, endurance, physical beauty etc - at the cost of all your other physical abilities; do note this in the sheet if you choose to do this.
PSYCH is your mental score; it measures everything about your character's mind and personality, as far as numbers can go. Like TAC, you may declare a specialty for this trait, at the cost of all others - direct intelligence, memory, common sense, charisma, and so on. Likewise place a note if you choose to specialize this stat.
WAH measures spiritual and magical abilities for your character. If you are a mystic, you automatically have a specialization in this akin to the other stats, aligned to the kind of magic you use; if you are NOT mystic, declaring a specialty determines what kind of magic you can easily learn to do, and what is difficult. Note: anyone can learn and use any form of magic - but for those who become mystics after the fact, expect to have less magnificent effects than those who begin as such.
Health is automatically 20 for all characters. Yes, this means the fragile, bookish Aver thaumaturge is potentially as durable as the hulking Orcish warrior. The difference lies in your other stats, and what they have to say about your ability to avoid being flattened into a pulp by an angry thaumically-corrupted former orc turned abominable horror.
Level is automatically 1. Don't get hung up on this, it doesn't matter as much as one might think.
All other details are as follows: if you want to make sure you have something, consider if or how your character can carry it; then, if it makes sense, write it down. If I have an objection to it, I will inform you. For anything you do NOT write down, but discover you need later, you will follow the XD20 rule: I'll decide how likely it is that you have it, and give you a D20 number to check against.
Magic is a subject that needs attention, due to how Kuramen works, but the basics for spellcasting are thus: you will inform me when you want to work whatever kind of magic you know, based on whatever magic it is established that you have studied. Any WAH specialty will be taken into account, and I will give you a D20 number to check against; depending on the situation, I may ask you to roll twice - once for the cast, once for the effect. If you are successful, and it is not a spell you have noted having before, you may write it down to remind yourself about it.
Now, the detail on magic types.
ARCANE magic, AKA sorcery, is the traditional wizards-wiggling-finger-and-speaking-funny kind of magic; in Kuramen, it is the raw stuff of magic, the radiation of the countless gods of the world. As such, it is both the most directly powerful and the most dangerous kind of magic. If you want to throw fireballs, directly heal injuries, and command mighty forces with a flick of the hand, this is the kind of magic you want. Be aware that failing your casting roll with sorcery is a Very Very Bad Thing; a minor failure will merely thump you around a bit, perhaps winding you and leaving you dizzy for a bit, but a more serious failure can actually harm you - or even blow over entirely, potentially killing you and doing serious damages to both your surroundings and your allies. If you choose it, you may also pick a specialty for it - necromancy is not a specialty, being largely confined to those chosen by Albrin, the Lord of Light and Revelation, and those few they deign to show His mighty secrets.
THAUMATURGY is the most common form of magic in Kuramen. It is broken down into numerous forms, but the two most common are alchemy and runecraft; these two are the most popular among those who are gunmages, as it is runes and elixirs that they use to enhance their weaponry. Other forms are biothaumaturgy, a time-consuming process under most conditions, and thaumatechnology, the practice of binding magical function into mechanical devices of all sorts, plus others; if you have any idea for a discipline, please contact me. The downside to thaumaturgy is that effects will always be minimal; the upside is that it is the most reliable form of magic and the easiest to work.
RIFTWEAVING is the process of attuning oneself to the planes of existence outside the world one is presently in contact with, either gaining traits related to their nature or evoking their powers into your surroundings. In order to attune oneself to a plane to use it, one must fulfill two conditions: the first is that you must be attuned to a plane that connects to the one you desire; the second is that you must either physical visit or have an artifact native to the plane in question. At the beginning, a riftweaver may only chose two planes to be attuned to from the following: Far Kuramen, Fae Kuramen, Light, and Shadow. The advantage of riftweaving is that the powers one can evoke are reliable and relatively potent; the downside is that one is limited by one's experiences and belongings in a way that no other spellcaster is.
SHAMANISM is the art of conversing with and bargaining for favors from the numerous spirits and small gods which inhabit Kuramen's vastness. Rarely are the effects impressive, or even overt; these bargains are most often a kind of temporary blessing from lesser spirits, or occasionally a more potent, longer-lasting boon from a small god. It is possible to have a spirit that chooses to travel with the character, a personal guide to the spirit world and a direct granter of one or two small, permanent blessings upon the character. For characters who are not orcish, this guide is essential, as one of the blessings granted allows sight into the spirit world; orcish shamans, being born with this ability naturally, need no such guide if they do not wish one. The advantage to shamanism is an absolute lack of any risk of backlash from a miscasting or a failed evocation; the spirits do the work, rather than the shaman. The downside is that the spirits may not cooperate, or one might not be able to find an appropriate spirit in the vicinity for what one wishes; in particularly bad events, the spirits may even curse the character, although such curses are rarely as hazardous as the other forms of magic.
A note on the cosmological structure, as requested, as it relates to Riftweaving:
Originally, Kuramen was a single reality, created by the interaction of the three Primordial Gods and the Six Who Are. What might have been a relatively normal cosmology might have formed, has an interloper not arrived in the form of the Fae Realm, crashing directly 'into' the structure of Kuramen. The result was utter chaos for a time, as Kuramen was shattered by the impact and the Fae Realm was captured in the resulting distortion of the dimensional 'fabric' of the universe. What coalesced out of the resulting mess was a three-part core to the cosmology, each with a certain slant towards specific forces and the mass of all three distributed oddly. The Hollow Continent is one example of this strange geography, as it is, quite literally, a continent roughly the size of Australia with a vast empty space in the middle.
TRUE KURAMEN is a world biased with Change, Order, and Destruction. It is the world known to all the players, as it is their home reality. It is this diametrically opposed aspecting that causes the rapid mutation of the living races that has given rise to such a diversity of life, as well as the horrific monsters that stalk the strange places of the world. If a Riftweaver travels to another world, True Kuramen can be drawn upon to loosely behave like thaumatechnology, imbuing machinery with magical effects.
FAR KURAMEN is a world biased toward Life, Death, and Discord; this mixture creates a violently dangerous world, wracked by monstrous creatures, nightmarish weather, and curious beauty. Drawing upon Far Kuramen draws upon this dichtomy of existence, allowing a Riftweaver to heal and to harm. It is the most common of planes for Riftweavers to draw upon, as the orcish race has individuals who can find ways to slip between True and Far Kuramen; indeed, Riftweaving may have been devised by them.
FAE KURAMEN is the interloper realm; utterly foreign to the cosmology's basic nature, it remains a source of trouble to this day, trying to continue 'moving' despite being snared in the middle of the two halves of Kuramen. This pushing is responsible for the turmoil of Kuramen's skies, and some of the stranger and more alien things which wander the three worlds. The fae themselves are trapped in deep slumber in their realm, and it is their nature - whimsical, capricious, and slightly malevolent - that Riftweavers may tap, treating it akin to 'wild magic' - many effects of limited nature are possible, but they nearly always have a strange twist or distortion due to the alien nature of Fae Kuramen.
LIGHT is a transition plane, linking the three Kuramens to an assortment of points on the Elemental Ring that lies outside the core. It bears no relation to Albrin, the Lord of Light; rather, it was named by those who first explored it, taking note of the pale hues of the world. It bears some echo of elemental energy, and this is the light which can be drawn upon by Riftweavers, allowing them to manipulate the light of the world they dwell in; Riftweavers attuned to Light are often adept with illusionary tactics as well as fierce blasts of light, and the most adept are able to coax light into a solid form.
SHADOW is the other transition plane; like Light, it was named by explorers, bearing only the vaguest relation to Kronath, the Lady of Shadows. It is a dark and dismal-seeming place, with few bright colors and a pervasive gloom despite three suns forever hanging in the skies. Tapping Shadow with riftweaving gives some command over the darkness and cold; illusion and deception are common uses, and some adept with it can even coerce the shadow into a frigidly solid form.
The basics about Kuramen's skies:
There is one sun, rising in the east and setting in the west; due to Kuramen's nature, however, it is only usually a yellowish hue; on some occasions - at times predictable, at other times without warning - it is known to change color, intensity, or vanish entirely for short spans of time. Some civilizations see these as omens; others see them as irritations. Regardless, they can be beneficial, or dangerous, depending on what occurs and when.
The world has two moons; one smaller one by the name of Reyn that has a distinctly blue-green hue, and a larger one by the name of Oursul (although about 25% smaller, by sight, than our moon) that is chiefly silver-white but has some black fracture lines visible on the face of it. Neither is tidally locked so their 'faces' change in addition to their phases.
Notable stars and star clusters:
The Guide Stars, a close group of six bright stars that wheel around the southern pole of the world visible to anyone on the Hollow Continent from roughly half an hour after sunset to half an hour before sunrise; even when the unsettled nature of Kuramen's split aspects causes the sky to behave strangely, these stars have always remained reliable, steadfast companions to travelers.
The Azure Spear, a star that travels across the sky slowly each year; a brilliant shade of blue, it trails an ever-paler tail behind it as it moves forever in an easterly direction, even as everything else usually wheels the other way. Every now and then, the Spear turns a bloody red, regarded as an ill omen by most, even among the feral halfling tribes.
The Hollow Star, an eerie thing that hangs against a bright blue of a nebula in the heavens, the Hollow Star is a thing of utter, indescribable darkness amid the light. It follows the same motions of the others stars, but when the sky goes mad at times, the Hollow Star merely sits in place, as if patiently waiting for the chaos to settle down. Some mages claim it is a gateway of some kind, but these mages are often long consumed by the madness of their kind, lost in a world where sane people do not venture.
'Nomad Stars' - or, as we would know them, planets in Kuramen's skies.
Fel - The Sunstriker Star, this strange star sometimes rises a scant hour ahead of the sun in the mornings, and sometimes chases it down below the horizon at night. It has a dualistic meaning, like all the nomad stars; when rising before the sun, auguries which allude to it take it as a sign of strong starts, journey, and, in darker omens, signs of flight from tragedy. When chasing after the sun, it is a sign of completion, endurance, and yet also sloth, as the sun escapes below the horizon before it can catch it.
Lemi - The Vagabond, this star wanders the heavens without regard to any set course, even when the rest of the sky is not in turmoil. Perpetually of a greenish hue, the color waxes and wanes erratically. A signifier of both freedom and dread instability, the richness of the star's hue is seen as a sign of how strong its influence will be felt. In positive auspices, it is often a good omen for those seeking freedom for themselves or others, or for those who are setting out on a journey or new endeavor; as an ill aspect, it is a bringer of unwanted chaos, uncertainty, and turmoil.
Forie - The Moon-Star, this silver star marches slowly across the night sky, lagging behind the spinning of the heavens and even the slow march of the two moons. For all that is slow, however, it is perhaps the most reliably star in the heavens, and it is by it that time-keepers track the seasons; each season's beginning is marked with Forie rising at dusk. In auguries, it is a sign of slow, deliberate progress; progress which may not be swift, but which is certain and reliable. For this reason it is also known as the Dwarf Star, after the caution and pragmatism of the Mountain Folk.
Haeyn - The Blood Star, this wanderer of the skies is a brilliant scarlet hue; it traces a strange, erratic-seeming yet reliable course as night pass by, spending the beginning and ending portions of its course going forward, but a small portion during the middle going against the course of the heavens. In omens, it is a sign of personal courage and wisdom, and of knowing when to follow trends and when to fight against them. In darker omens, it is a sign of foolishness, struggling against the cosmic order.
Crode - The Slanted Star, it moves with the pace of the heavens, but drifts back and forth across the axis of the heavens over the course of many years. When declining to the south, it casts a waning influence over auguries and omens, lessening the impact of other portents upon the casting, and is itself a sign of coming weakness, sorrow, and exhaustion. When ascending northward, it magnifies other signs in a similar fashion, and is a sign of strength, hope, and renewal.
Velk - The Ogre's Star, this start creeps at a lazy pace across the heavens, shifting but a small amount out of place with each day. It is easily the brightest of the Nomad Stars, however, and is easily picked out amid the other stars in the sky. It is a signifier of power, hate, fear, courage, fortitude, and above all else, madness, no matter what the positive or negative aspect of the omens. It is also occasionally called the Tyrant Star, enforcing its augury whether or not the other omens agree.
Zodiac Signs - The signs of the Zodiac around Kuramen's skies is a curious thing; among the few sets of stars that inevitably return to their place in the skies after the periods of turmoil that afflict the heavens, they hold powerful significance to auguries. Thirteen in number, their slow progress across the heavens as each year unfolds holds the key to the auguries cast to seek answers to any number of questions and fears.
Lupre, The Hungry Wolf - Forever snarling and snapping at the heels of Larak, Lupre is a sign of both strength and cruelty. Those born beneath the auspice of the Hungry Wolf are prone to seeking power for the sake of power itself, and are rarely content with what they have. When turned to beneficial goals, few can withstand the Wolf's furious drive to succeed, but all too often the Wolf is willing to turn his hunger upon his benefactors.
Larak, the Swift Deer - A few swift paces ahead of Lupre, the Swift Deer is a creature of wild energy and timid caution, hesitant until it senses danger, and then swifter than any other creature. Those born beneath the Deer's auspice tend toward the same timidity, and when provoked show the same fleetness in their decisions. A confident Deer is a marvelous sight, able to outpace others in their drive when they set upon a task, but too often those born beneath the Deer spend their lives in needless worry and fear.
Kitsu, the Lurking Serpent - Patiently waiting ahead of Larak, the Serpent is a creature of forethought and treachery. Those born beneath the sign of the Serpent are patient, thoughtful, and quite often self-serving. When guided to a noble path, the Serpent's patient guile can overcome many obstacles before they even arise, and diminish others enough to make even herculean tasks less strenuous. Too often, though, a serpent's cold selfishness will lead them to betray even long-time friends for personal gains.
Felik, the Hoarder of the Heavens - With their place amid the divine, it is perhaps inevitable that one sign upon the zodiac would echo the mighty Dragons of Kuramen. Creatures of powerful minds but echoing the sterile essence of their 'father' in the Shining One, their celestial counterpart likewise echoes these aspects. Those born beneath the Dragon are often creatures of strange insights not given to those born beneath other signs, but the price they pay is a certain divorcing from their emotions. Those born beneath the cold light of the Dragon are often relied upon in solving problems, but their lack of empathy and emotion often means that those who rely upon them must pay terrible prices for their success.
Orien, the Stalking Tiger - Padding along ahead of the mighty Dragon, the Tiger is a proud creature of noble grace and vain arrogance, confident it could catch the Hare if it felt like it. Likewise, those born beneath the Tiger's light are possessed of a natural nobility laced with snide arrogance; bandit leaders, cult lords, proud captains, and noble knights are all likely to arise from the Tiger's ranks. On the right path, a Tiger is a noble warrior; on the wrong one, the same Tiger is a fierce threat.
Moren, the Laughing Hare - The wily and clever Hare is a creature of perpetual alertness as it bound ahead of the Tiger's steady stride. Wary of those things which appear to be threats, the Hare is both a clever trickster and a paranoid lunatic. Likewise, those born to the Hare's glow in the heavens are prone to both msichief and fear, a strange mix that produces a strange drive to outwit any potential foes before they can become a threat. Hares of a nobler mind are silent guardians and heroic vagabonds, eternally seeking to outwit and elude those who would abuse their stations; those of a more cruel demeanor are vengeful and murderous creatures, seeking to avenge slights and threats that exist only in their feverishly overworked imaginations.
Ktlik, the Stalwart Beetle - Ensconced in a sturdy chitin shell, the Beetle trundles along ahead of the Hare, blandly incurious as it patiently awaits the future's tidings. With a courage born of resilient fortitude and a tenacious spirit, the Beetle is the ultimate guardian, and those born beneath this sign echo this. Heroic Beetles are often found in the forefront of any defensive war for their homes, first into the fray and the last to leave as they seek to shelter their fellow soldiers and their countrymen from harm. More malignant Beetles latch onto other things of value to guard, ranging from domineering patriarchs of a family to grasping misers, and in some cases even usurping power to 'protect' their homeland in a much bloodier fashion than their heroic brethren.
Kolis, the Celestial Sphinx - Mischievous, clever, proud, and deadly, the Sphinx is a riddler and a force of elemental rage when provoked. Those born beneath the Sphinx's gaze are often gifted with quick wits and ferocious tempers; able to unravel mysteries, they tend to explode into terrible rage when they feel they aren't being given their rightful due. A Sphinx committed to a just cause is an able advisor and terrifying combatant; one committed to personal gain is a villain whose simplest plots make even the Serpent's treachery look inept.
Arc, the Mighty Bear - Calm as it walks the heavens, yet infused with strength and vigor, the Bear is a warrior's sign. Even creatures which dwell in foreign elements are not safe from the Bear's furious wrath, as the Fish is all too aware of. Likewise, those born under the Bear are creatures of phenomenal strength, although not always physical. Strong bodies and powerful minds alike can be claimed by those of the Bear; those who seek a higher calling often find themselves alongside Beetles in the vanguard, lending their might to just and noble causes, or perhaps creating new things to aid the world. Those who are more selfish and bitter, however, are often cruel warlords and merciless tyrants, using their great strength to crush their foes.
Petel, the Languid Fish - Serene and at peace, the Fish is a strange creature; even knowing that the Bear can slap it from the water at a moment's notice, the Fish is still a languid creature, convinced of the eternal status quo and willing to do whatever it takes to ensure it remains so. Those who are under the auspice of the Fish are, in brighter times, clever scholars who ensure the rule of law and noble warriors defending the realm, while in more malignant periods they are the agents of conformity and control, determined to ensure the populace remains controlled and submissive.
Azure, the Clever Raven - The eternal Trickster, as flighty and energetic as the Fish is languid, the Raven is ever-curious, seeking new experiences at any cost, no matter the price, no matter the destruction wrought or the glories formerly unearthed. Ravens of a good nature are scholars who seek to aid others, or clever souls who try to free and enlighten their fellows. Others Ravens of less uplifted natures are scholars who care not for what they unearth, seeking only new knowledge, even if it leads to destructions, or charlatans and rogues who are willing to stab a friend in the back just to see how it feels to betray another.
Murisel, the Slumbering Fae - Almost as old as the gods, the fae are strange spirits from another realm, subsumed by the Age of Calamity to become a part of Kuramen, they sleep the ages away, waiting for when the Dragons complete their Game and unify the world again, releasing the slumbering creatures at last. Creatures of a different realm, the sign of the Fae brings a touch of their otherworldly grace and alien mindset to those born beneath it; sociable, beautiful, and charismatic, those under the Fae can make powerful leaders; however, the strange concerns of the Fae lead those born under it to an alien mindset, as likely to lead a psychotic cult as a noble army.
The Forsaken - One of the most terrible of the zodiac signs, the Forsaken changes where it resides in the zodiac each time the sky churns; it is a sign without redemption, an omen of gravest tragedy to those born beneath the malevolent light of its form. It is a sign of utter havoc and despair, hatred and terror. Those who grow up with this sign's influence are most often found as the very darkest of monsters - heartless tyrants and overlords, serial killers, and much worse often make up those of the Forsaken.