30 Setting Hooks
Ready to begin a brand new campaign, but drawing a blank on ideas? Come inside! Take your time and look around. We have a wide selection to choose from. Feel free to pick one (or more!) and use it as-is or change it up a little.
These are simple hooks: incomplete settings with just enough information to get the ideas flowing. Any one of these could be expanded into one or more full-length subs.
- Water and Land: The world is divided amongst the three races: man, lizard, and fishfolk.
- World of Bronze: Go back to the bronze age, when the world was a much smaller, wilder place and the gods played a direct role in the lives of mortals.
- World of Dreams: Magic is only accessible to those able to travel between this world and the World of Dreams.
- Lizards of the West: Mankind went West only to discover a race of ancients who have forgotten their past.
- The Aetheric Age: Man has tamed steam using Aetheric force. Unbeknownst to him, this force has been an essential part of man’s own nightmares.
- The Return of Magic: The magic ran out long ago and was forgotten. Now it has returned… with a vengeance!
- Knights of the Rubble: The world ended in blood and fire. The descendents of the survivors are left to a world of barbarism, defended only by a new order of knights.
- Android Space: Mankind died out long ago, yet the androids he created lived on and are now part of a much wider universe.
- Free World: Rugged settlers on a hostile world fend off aggressive alien invaders.
- Star Chasers: Tired of the comforts and predictability of life in the civilized worlds? Try a life of adventure exploring and discovering on the fringes of space.
- T4-27: Mining Town: A planet driven by corporate greed, desperate miners, and delicate diplomacy.
- Of Robots and Sorcery: 100 years ago, robots descended from the heavens to attack a world which knew nothing of such things. Sorcery helped foil the attack and the survivors have since scavaged the technology left behind. But might the invaders not return?
- Caldera: A world colonized and then forgotten, the descendants must face off against hordes of invading demons. Post-apocalyptic, science fiction, and fantasy.
Additional Ideas (13)
World of Bronze
It is a more primitive age. Bronze is the height of metallurgy. In the civilized nations, the City State reigns supreme; though much of the world still belongs to the clans of the North and East. The gods are not distant beings removed from the affairs of man; rather, they are the genius locii, spirits tied to the land who often become highly involved in men's lives. Beasts of all kinds clog the wilderness and the seas, making life difficult for travelers and merchants.
The known world is made up of the island-dwelling Helioans in the Middle Sea, the Gyptians of the Southern deserts, the Chelonians of the Southeast, the horse tribes of the East, and the numerous, savage tribes of the North. To the West lies naught but distant ocean and death.
The people give power to the gods by their belief and their worship. In turn, The gods breathe direct power into their priests. Meanwhile wizards wrest secrets from the elements via alchemical experimentation. Many of the best-known warriors have the blood of the gods running through their veins, giving them tremendous strength and vitality.
Spread across hundreds of islands ranging from tiny upthrust blades of rock to land wide enough to support agriculture and large cities, the Helioans are a blend of ideals and beliefs. Some have taken to mercantilism, buying and selling goods across all the known world. Others have taken to war, breeding soldiers of unmatched prowess. And still others are patrons of the arts, science, mathematics, and alchemy. Despite a common heritage and history, the Helioans are constantly at war with each other in one form or another. Many heroes are of Helioan stock, taken to the far corners of the world by their own undeniable urge to explore.
The patron gods of the City States are given fine places to live in these lands; they are giants who lounge within enormous temples of granite and marble, directing king and elected ruler alike in the affairs of state whilst sipping wines of the finest vintage and eating of the most tender of lamb.
Living along their fertile river, surrounded by endless desert on one side and ore rich mountains on the other, the Gyptians mostly war amongst themselves. Occasionally they organize enough to go on campaign against the Helioans or the Chelonians, but they rarely stay organized long enough to be successful.
Like the Helioans, the Gyptian gods are giants who live in temples, though these gods have the heads of beasts and their temples are made of stone. The line between priest and wizard can be a thin one here, for even though they receive some power from their gods, the priests perform rituals very much like those of a wizard. All magic taught is of this variety, meaning that those who wish to have power here must learn the ways of both the priest and the mage.
Built on top of an older civilization, the Chelonians occupy a number of ancient City States split along three different lines of treaties. They have inherited a knowledge of agriculture, allowing them to turn desert into farmland through an extensive irrigation system.
Chelonian cities are made of sun-fired bricks and center around the ziggurat, a temple wherein dwells their gods, their king-priests, and their scholars. Friendships and rivalries between Chelonian gods go much further back than those of the Helioans, driving much of their politics.
Schools of magic amongst the Chelonians revolve around the summoning and binding of demons. The power of the spell and the skill of the sorcerer are commensurate with the size and fearsomeness of the demon thus bound.
The Barbaric Lands
East and West ofthe Middle Sea are the lands of barbarians. Horse tribes run free across the grassy plains of the East while golden-haired barbarians wage constant war against each other in the cold North.
- Main weapons: Spear, short sword, axe, mace, sling, bow
- Armor: Padded cloth, leather, bronze plate, shields
This is an excellent setting for exploration and combat. Numerous, ferocious beasts wander the land. Heroes can make names for themselves by bringing back proof of what they have killed and wizards are constantly looking for exotic ingredients to work with. Those with a strong arm or the blessing of the gods and in need of coin can always find work guarding caravans and merchant ships
On a larger scale, war is common between the various City States and heroes are always welcome to join the ranks or compete as champions.
"I remember chasing that desert world in the XT-50572 system. We had assumed all the orange-brown stuff floating in the air was simple dust. Turns out it was some kind of fungus that loved two things: the carbon-dioxide and sulpher soup in the atmosphere and the insides of our lander's thrusters. You see, old Terence — that's our backup pilot who's usually onboard the jumpship in orbit — had had to sit out this mission and we were all too itchy to wait for his replacement. That was a mighty unpleasant five weeks the seven of us spent in a cramped up lander waiting on the Beta-314 crew to come bail us out. And they'll never let us forget it."
— Vick Chambers, veteran Star Chaser
Habitable worlds are rare in the settled regions of space. Most are dirty, crowded places. Star Chasers are those who cannot stand to be crushed amongst the masses. They escape the anonymous drudgery of an unchallenging life by seeking out the unknown depths of space, hoping to see that which hasn't been seen and to make their mark upon the wider universe.
In addition, despite all of the advances, discoveries, and advantages of living in a star-spanning civilization, there are still men and women who feel an irresistible urge to head out into the deep unknown to see what is out there and to pit themselves against the rigors of unexplored space. Some work for underfunded government agencies to pursue pure scientific knowledge. Others work with fancier toys paid for by megacorps who expect them to turn up profitable discoveries. Whatever the means, they are all collectively referred to as Star Chasers. Star Chasers are always pursuing that next big discovery beyond the comforts of home in the star-studded vastness of space.
The player characters are among the misfits known as Star Chasers. Ever seeking adventure, excitement, and discovery, they make whatever accommodations they need to in order to chase that next star system. The least experienced tend to be hired by some sort of government agency working with an ever shrinking budget to supply them with the essentials. Despite the poor pay and aging equipment, these are the ones who get to explore for pure science. The Star Chasers who make a name for themselves often find a much better offer working for a megacorp, with an obligation to seek out new sources for mines, interesting botanicals or foodstuffs, new cultures to trade with, or any other profitable venture.
Star Chaser crews are made up of a blend of specialized scientists, spacers, diplomats, and other rugged individuals:
- The spacers' job is to get the crew from place to place and keep them, and the equipment, in working order. Encounters with hostile spacefaring races and the inhabitants of pirate havens are not unheard of and Star Chaser ships are not designed for combat, so they must be ready to run and/or talk fast. Pilots, astrogationers, engineers/mechanics/electricians, medics, and captains/diplomats generally fill the spacer roles.
- Scientists generally include astrophysicists, geologists, biologists, linguists, and any others with an appropriate field of study.
- There are usually at least a few crewmembers who have martial training and experience surviving in hostile territory. Many are ex-military, although some simply hail from the rougher rim worlds. Rim worlds are often the least habitable planets, moons, and stations, with a mostly poor populace existing under the worst of conditions.
The tone of a Star Chasers campaign can vary widely depending on the makeup of the Player Characters. Looking for excitement in unexplored space as part of the ship's crew? Care to explore the cultural and scientific possibilities as scientists who prefer to avoid violent conflict? Wish to head out as part of the rougher explorers who enjoy pitting themselves against the dangers of brand new worlds? Feel like setting up a campaign revolving around a first contact situation, possibly with an aggressive species?
The life of a Star Chaser is one filled with excitement and danger. Only those who reject the soft comforts of civilization need apply.
More than one million years ago mankind went extinct, leaving behind partially sentient AI as a legacy. These AI, many in the form of anthropomorphic robots, continued to function mostly as humanity had left them. Using the labor of less intelligent machines, they built and maintained structures suitable for supporting human life and waited patiently to serve their missing masters.
In the present time, another race with FTL travel made their way to Earth and attempted first contact. They are the Trallong: large, dark-skinned humanoids who developed on a world of jungle, swamp, and desert. They are similar enough to humanity that the AI greeted them as masters.
Trallong society is highly democratic and opposed to slavery. Once they realized what was going on, a few of their specialists reprogrammed the AI to have a more independent mindset. (However, some of the Trallong saw no problem with being served by machines and kept a number of the AI as such, but this was a very small number.)
The Trallong have colonized a number of worlds outside their homeworld. It was the expansion that brought them in contact with first the Krith-kinna (see below) and then the androids of Earth. They have developed a peaceful nature, though in their past was much warfare, so they are not ignorant of the art. There is much agonizing over the unnecessary war with the Krith-kinna.
A third species exists called the Krith-kinna. They are much more alien to human ways of thinking. There are four clans or castes (it is a difficult concept to describe) that act quite different from each other and can almost be considered separate species. Their world is one of cold desert and constant wind, with a landscape much like Mars. They attacked the first-contact team of Trallong and stole their FTL technology. They have just begun to expand from their homeworld.
All Krith-kinna have a generally gecko-like appearance, modified for bipedal operation.
The Krith-gesha are long and thin with yellow-toned skin and eyes. They are focused wholly upon the arts of war and are in constant conflict with both the Krith-shepta and the Trallong. They do not breed much, instead relying on massive cloning to replace those lost in the endless warfare. The Krith-brenna supply them with all necessary materials and the Krith-klatha run the cloning tanks and patch up the wounded.
The Krith-shepta are shorter and stockier than the Krith-kinna but just as warlike. They have a deep purple skin with black eyes. They are consummate warriors who breed naturally and often. Thus they are lesser in number than the Krith-kinna but they are superior in fighting ability.
Wholly focused on technology and science, the short and chartreuse-skinned Krith-brenna run the factories and research facilities. They waste no effort in supplying the other warlike Krith-kinna and seem oblivious when any of their own die in the crossfire.
The doctors of their race, the Krith-klatha are a pure, albino white with amber eyes and a spindly frame. Those not directly involved in medicine are responsible for growing and feeding the rest of the Krith-kinna.
PCs should be able to play any of the three races (android, Trallong, and Krith-kinna.) Removed from their society, the Krith-kinna seek to continue their ways solo. A Krith-brenna will love gadgets and wish to share with her companions while a Krith-shepta will be happy in the role of party tank. Trallong society is generally peaceful but there are many possible occupations to be had therein. An independent android will be part of a race just now finding its way into its own.
The Return of Magic
Magic is finite and replenishes itself slowly. Once, thousands of years ago, it was plentiful and the various races prospered. But over time the magic was used up. When its rivers were too low to flow into our world, a barrier grew up between the worlds of the magical and the mundane.
When that happened, all supernatural critters and spirits were trapped away in that other world. Items of power and enchanted relics crumbled into dust. The world of magic became nothing but superstition and myth.
Over time, the river of magic replenished itself until it became too great to be held back by the barrier. Twenty years ago cracks began to form in that barrier. Just a little at first and then with increasing force.
Over the past few years it has become more difficult to deny that the world has changed. More miraculous events are reported every day. Creatures of legend have begun to appear. Spirits masquerading as gods have begun gathering followers, using real magical effects to impress the masses.
Perhaps the world could have adjusted to these changes if we had all been given more time. However, six months ago, the barrier cracked wide open. The world erupted into chaos.
Dwarves began pouring from the mountain depths of Northern Europe while lumbering trolls descended from the pine-riddled heights, both hell bent on taking back their world. Elves and the fey began terrorizing the populace of the British Isles. Djinn continue to rampage in the Middle East. In the far East, demons of all kinds stalk the land.
Few of these new residents of our world are peaceful. They have all been trapped for a few thousand years and seek to take back what was once theirs.
Yet mankind is armed with modern technology and willing to fight with equal ferocity. In addition, much work is being done to explore the arcane arts. Even so, the world is engulfed in madness.
- Defending humans: Focused on survival, these are normal humans caught up in the conflict. This is a diverse group and includes anything from soldier to civilian.
- Invaders: Made up of any and all creatures from legend, the invaders take many forms. Their technology is crude but most have powerful magics on their side.
- Spirit Cults: Humans under the sway of spirits masquerading as gods. Allegiance is given to whatever capricious ideology drives the spirits.
- Peaceful Otherworlders: Not all of the returning races are aggressive. Some are naturally peaceful by nature and would prefer to either integrate with humanity or live in unpopulated areas. Some waver between evading the conflict and throwing in their lot with one side or the other to finish the conflict.
- Human Occultists: Their motivations may vary, whether aligning with Humanity, the Otherworlders, or simply looking out for themselves, Human Occultists have thrown themselves fully into the study of these newly returned arcane forces. Their organization can vary widely as well: from government lab to pure research at a university to simple covens.
- Infected Humans: Some folk started out human but have been changed by the new magic and the Otherworlders. Werewolves of the European mainland are a prime example. Their allegiances will vary.
Pick an area of the world for the campaign and use mythological creatures pertinent to the history of that region. PCs can be humans fighting against the Otherworld incursion, part of the invading force, or a mixed group with any number of motivations.
Alternatively, the timeline can be placed before the incursion but after magic has begun to seep into the world. Just as the PCs begin to gain an understanding of the nature magic, let the hordes invade.
Water and Land
There is the world of water and the world of dry land. Men rule the land, lizard folk rule the swamps and fresh water, and fish folk rule the sea.
The World of Man
Men tame the land, farm, and build villages, cities, and castles. They make treaties, they go to war, and they delve into the realms of the divine and the magical. They have spread across the open plain, through the wide desert, into the valleys and the forests, and over the mountain heights.
The World of the Lizard Folk
The lizard folk, or Slithesh, are split into a number of primitive tribes who live amongst the swamps and fens. They know not the working of metal and use rock, bone, and wood to build with. Being comfortable both on land and in the water, most live in villages of cobbled together shacks that sit partly above and partly below the watery surfaces of their homes.
The Slithesh are great in numbers, for the world is filled with areas comfortable to them and untenable to humanity. Their culture encourages both bravery and a healthy respect for their many gods of the natural world. The second-most respected of their number are the best warriors; the most respected are the shamans who speak directly to and for the spirits of the land.
Being clever, brave, and backed up by the power of their gods, the Slithesh are unswayed by the animosity of man. Neither has any love for the other. Raids into human territories are common, as are (mostly ineffective) retaliatory strikes. Occasionally, men attempt to raise armies to put down the saurian threat, but they are never able to push far into the swamps before being overwhelmed. Men are clumsy in the soggy, unstable ground of Slithesh territory, and their heavy chain armor is more a hindrance than a help.
The Fish Folk
Called Teesha, the fish folk have a culture far older and more sophisticated than that of man. Their cities grow like coral in the shallows and deeps off of the sea coasts. They have their own nations, their own treaties, and their own understanding of magic and the world and look down upon the barbarism of both man and Slithesh.
In appearance, the Teesha are bipedal with mostly humanoid features. They do have fins upon their arms and legs, webbed toes and fingers, large black eyes, and gills on their necks. They have large black eyes and unparalleled senses of smell and hearing.
They can breathe the air on land, though it tires them quickly; without their magics, they can survive for 2-3 days outside of their natural realm before their skin begins to crack and their limited lungs collapse.
The Teesha are most proud of two things: institutions of learning going back a few thousand years and their elaborate, unbroken traditions honoring the gods of the sea. Teesha culture is highly hierarchical in nature and respect for one's elders is expected.
Teesha cities are both beautiful and ancient; multi-tiered structures of stone and coral, pearl and shell, maze-like in their complexity. Works of art adorn the walls and byways, the cathedrals and the halls of learning.
Technologically, Teesha are somewhat backward. Due to the nature of their realm, they do not work in metals and must make due with the natural materials provided them. However, they have an impressive knowledge and mastery of magic, both arcane and divine, with which they manipulate their world. The magi and the priest outnumber all other professions. Hunters may use simple woven nets and bone-tipped harpoons in their trade, yet both are enchanted to strike true.
Mankind wars with himself and the Slithesh but has little to do with the Teesha, for their respective realms are too well separated. Teesha and Slithesh do not normally encounter one another and thus are neutral in their attitudes toward one another. If anything, the Slithesh would respect the deep respect the Teesha have for their sea gods.
The human world is typical high fantasy with a number of nations who worship different gods. The Slithesh are primitive yet potent adversaries. The Teesha are keepers of lore and magic.
Characters may be drawn from any realm, though a party of mixed race could present difficulties. Neither man nor lizard would be welcome in the others' homeland and the Teesha, outside of magical assistance (and this holds true in reverse), would find it difficult to spend much time in the world above the water. When designing a campaign, it would be important to set the location and the expectations of the players early on.
T4-27: Mining Town
At the edge of civilized space, a dozen jumps from the nearest inhabited system, T4-27 is a mining operation for the UKTG Materials & Processing Corporation. The world itself is a large, airless rock of unending ochre vistas, completely devoid of natural life. It has extensive deposits of the sorts of rare elements which fetch a good price in the manufacturing of technological goods and large-scale production of structural materials for star ships and space stations.
Outside of the Greeth conclave (more on that later) all of the facilities on T4-27 are built, owned, and operated by UKTG Materials & Processing. There are extensive tunnels underground with a few fortified domes protruding above the surface. A number of active mining sites dot the rock, open pits brimming with heavy machinery operated by workers and automata. Material from the sites are collected and brought to the central company settlement where the more precious elements are extracted for shipment.
T4-27, along with a number of other uninteresting chunks of rock and ice, revolves around a red dwarf star. Surveyors actively jump from one body to another, searching for more of the same valuable deposits found on the relatively larger planetoid. So far nothing has panned out.
In far orbit above the mining world sits a large space station. Much of the station is taken up by material storage as it is collected and prepped for transport back home. The rest of the station is devoted to the comfort and care of the company executives stationed so far from the amenities of civilization. Being stationed at T4-27 is a good way to make or break an executive's career. Up production and lower costs and a path is cleared further up the ladder. Anything else is a sure ticket out of the company. Due to this dynamic, the overseers of the mining operations have a poor track record when it comes to how they treat the miners.
Five years prior, the Greeth showed up at T4-27 in two small warships accompanying a smaller, unidentifiable vessel. The Greeth had never been seen previous to this encounter and they still have never been seen outside of this particular system. When they showed up they simply landed on an unworked portion of T4-27 and began to build a small outpost. They refused all outside attempts at communication and nearly destroyed the attempted approach of a company vessel.
For the most part, the Greeth ignore the mining operations. Representatives have been sent from civilized space to make contact. The Greeth have allowed some minor contact but for the most part these diplomats are quartered in the mining towns.
A number of missteps have almost ended in open war with the Greeth. UKTG Materials & Processing is terrified of such an event as that would certainly mean a loss of mining operations there. They are also uncomfortable with being observed by outsiders as they would prefer to keep working conditions for their employees hidden.
When the Greeth are open to communication it is apparent that they have a great deal to offer the other worlds in terms of technology and an understanding of the natural world. Unfortunately, when they are not in a good mood, they tend to demonstrate just how powerful their military technology is as well. There have not yet been any casualties, but there have been a number of instances of material damage to approaching ships and other vehicles.
- The PCs are hired to investigate the disappearance of a relative who went to work for UKTG Materials & Processing and was never heard from again. An initial investigation will reveal that the worker disappeared while on duty. Further investigation may reveal that the worker was killed by either company negligence or a misunderstanding by the Greeth (an event kept hidden from the non-Greeth inhabitants; revealing this information could potentially lead to a costly war.)
The PCs are part of the diplomatic team and could run into any of the following:
- They discover the horrible extent of employee mistreatment at the mines. This is something the mining company would not be happy to have get out as this is a sensitive time for them politically (they rely on charters for their operation) and could cost them much.
- Encounters with the Greeth could lead to great knowledge or brutal war. The PCs must use great tact if they wish to be successful in establishing lasting peaceful contact.
- A few curious or enterprising miners attempted to sneak into the Greeth settlement. Violence ensues. How do the diplomatic PCs handle this?
- The Greeth are gathering information for an invasion of the inner worlds. The PCs could be curious miners who sneak into the Greeth settlement and discover proof of this. Getting out alive will not be easy.
- The Greeth are actually peaceful but having difficulty understanding the other races. The mining company has sent some agents into the Greeth settlement in the hopes of stealing information about their technology. If discovered, this could cause the Greeth to decide their overtures are wasted and either go to war or simply leave.
Lizards of the West
Once, long ago, there existed a mighty civilization of reptilian humanoids. They had a great understanding of the natural world and used this knowledge to build advanced technological cities across the continent.
They made a singularly devastating mistake, these reptilian beings, when they tried to adapt themselves through the manipulation of their own DNA. In order to purify their species, they transformed themselves into asexual beings who procreated through self-fertilized eggs. Only the purest of reptiloid stock was allowed to be a part of this experiment; the rest were made sterile and eventually went extinct.
A side-effect of the sexual adaptations caused the remaining lines of reptiloid to become overly territorial, xenophobic, and to develop an irrational fear of leaving regions outside of what they considered their homes.
The reptiloid civilization collapsed. The ancient cities became choked with dust and became devoured by the creeping vine. The remaining numbers of their species withdrew into caves and underground lairs. Some died out over time while others managed to hold on to their numbers.
The members of the reptiloid race are nothing like their ancestors. They are backward, superstitious, and have only the barest of their original technologies available. As each line has been left to its own devices over the millennia, they have diverged in their cultures, language, and histories.
The full history has been lost to all colonies. They each have a story to tell of their origins but none of them are true.
When men crossed the great ocean and made it to the new land, they were amazed at both the plentiful land and wildlife and at what they thought to be the complete absence of other inhabitants. Outside of squabbles between the newly arrived and their masters across the water, men were happy to spread across this new land and make it their own.
It was not until they made it much further west, within a thousand miles of the opposite shore, that they discovered the land was not completely uninhabited. Amidst the arroyos and sandy dunes of the southwest, they began to discover the existence of that small remnant of the reptiloid race. At first the sightings were thought to be the product of heat stroke or alcohol, or both. In time, as men began to bring water to the desert through irrigation and the digging of wells, the two species found conflict.
The population pressure of humanity's spread and the intensely territorial nature of the reptiloids caused an immediate struggle between the two species.
Reptiloids are fully bipedal and do not have tails. They range from 4' to 7' in height, with the shorter ones being slighter and the taller ones being stockier in build. As their reproduction is entirely asexual, each colony will have only a few different types of reptiloid with a number of what look to be identical clones.
Colonies are always underground. Some dwell in caves while others live in complex tunnels beneath the sands. A few still live in the crumbling ruins of the old cities.
Technologically, the reptiloids are very backwards, except for the odd piece of equipment that still works from long ago. It is not uncommon to see ray guns, jetpacks, and self-propelled carriages that look like metallic spiders. Where they have lost the working items, they make do with Jockamounts (large, lumbering reptilian mounts the size of small elephants), simple forged tools (similar to early iron age implements), and whatever else the dry lands they dwell in offer.
They have long lost the ability to read the old texts and most works have long since disintegrated or been damaged beyond repair.
The ruins of the old reptiloid culture still exist but are not easy to find. Many have crumbled before the passage of time and the efforts of weather, root, and vine. Others have become buried by earthquake or sit in areas yet unseen by man.
Who knows what ancient wonders still exist within these old piles of stone and steel?
Of Robots and Sorcery
The World. One hundred years ago it could be called The World. Everyone still refers to it as such, though they know now that others worlds must exist. For, where else could the star dragons have come from, if not from worlds far away in the dark starry sky.
One hundred years ago, those same star dragons descended from the night skies and spewed forth metal warriors carrying weapons of flame and light. War dragged on for years, The World was plunged into chaos, and it was only through luck and courage that the invaders were subdued.
Now iron swords and arcane sorceries mix with the strange, barely understood technologies left behind by the invaders.
Human men are but one race upon the face of The World. They have spread far and wide, settling and usurping many lands. They war with others and with each other. Most live in a generally feudal society, with fiefdoms carved up between lords who owe fealty to those above and demand obedience from the serfs below. A few live nomadic, tribal lives in various untamed wildernesses.
There are lizard folk, obnoxious and territorial brutes who seek to subjugate all and sundry. Luckily for the other races, the lizard folk are too fractious to band together. They live in the swamps and deserts of the world, tribes of fast-spawning warriors who battle constantly for supremacy and deal heavily in the slave trade.
The most civilized and best educated of all the races are the Cyclops. On average they are a head taller than men, strong, and full of vitality. But for the single, centrally placed eye of each individual Cyclops, they could be mistaken for large humans. The land of the Cyclops is well guarded by soldiers, mercenaries, and fell sorceries. Education is available to the rich and many of the middle class, though it is hard to come by for the poorer souls. The arts are highly developed; many sculptors, painters, playwrights, singers, and songwriters are well-provided for and are considered highly regarded members of society. A typical Cyclops can live into the early years of his second century.
To the far south is the land of the snakemen. They are highly insular and will allow none else to enter their lands alive. Those seen outside their home are always secretive and will refuse to divulge anything of their culture. They are known to be among the most powerful of sorcerers. Their magics are unrivaled by any and it was their little-understood involvement in the war against the metal men which helped turn the tide.
Magic is a powerful force in The World. However, it requires many years of study and can only be practiced by those who forswear all other paths. This is purely a product of the time and effort required to gain skill in this art. Advancement likewise will take a great deal of time. Few men are able to fully master the most powerful of spells before entering their dotage. It is speculated that the snakemen live many hundreds of years and that this is how they are able to become so proficient in the use of sorcery.
Enchanted items are quite rare and many of them require sorcerous skill in order to operate. Not just any man can let loose the bolts of lightning from the wand of an eldritch sorcerer. There are neither swords nor armor of magically enhanced metals.
No divine magic exists.
Of Steel Men and Star Dragons
With the arrival of the alien invaders came artifacts of advanced technology. Starships, named Star Dragons by the locals, descended from the heavens and spewed forth beams of concentrated fire. From their bellies trod waves of robots, dubbed steel men, to deal death upon the inhabitants of The World.
Through much loss of life, exceptional bravery, sorcery, and betrayal betwixt the invaders, the attack was eventually repelled. The alien commanders within the star dragons either fled the world or died screaming. The amazing technology which they brought to subjugate the world found its way into The World. None truly understand how these devices work, yet many are able to make them work (after a fashion.)
While there has been no sign of the invaders returning, none know what brought them in the first place. It is truly possible that another wave will arrive. Will The World be ready for such a thing?
- Scouts: A scout ship for another wave of attackers has landed. They are attempting to remain hidden, but perhaps the PCs may stumble upon them. How do they react? How do they prepare the world for another attack?
- Full-Out War: The invaders have returned once again. This time they have come in greater force and are aware of the dangers they face.
- Artifact: A war chief has acquired and mastered a computer which controls any robot within a thousand miles. He plans to use this army to expand his borders. This could be a human lord, a nomadic human tribe, a lizard folk chieftain, or anyone who makes sense within the context of the campaign.
The Age of Aetherics
For many decades the world has been in the Age of Steam. Great stores of coal are unearthed to power engines of heat and water. Fuel is burned, water boils, and the resulting steam drives machines of all sorts. Turbines whirl and pistons pump. Locomotives chug across the land. Factories produce goods. Horseless carriages begin to travel the city streets.
However, in the past few years a new technology has appeared which looks to change the face of the world in drastic ways. This is the thrilling discovery of what scientists refer to as "Aetherics." By a complex combination of wires, switches, crystals, and other more obscure elements, it is possible to generate a sort of electric power wrapped up in an Aetheric field. Science has only just begun to unravel the mystery of Aetherics and what they are capable of. Some envision a future free of the dark polluting coal, which stains buildings black and makes miners die of an incurable cough. They think fondly of a future run by the amazing power of Aetherics.
Many strange inventions have already been accomplished through this new discovery. Cleaner generation of steam; glowing globes which shed dim yellow light, even at night; the production of new alloys; large weapons capable of launching cannon balls with much greater force and smaller weapons that discharge a sort of electric shock; and, when applied to the living — drastic, but not as yet understood, changes to the mind. Science has only just begun to understand how to make use of Aetherics and is nowhere near an understanding of its true nature.
There is another force in this world — and it is one humanity is not prepared to face. Unknown to most of humanity, the power of Aetherics comes from another dimension: a world of demons and the source of many terrors which stalk the darkest of nights. By making a connection with this other dimension energy is transmitted into the mortal realm, to be harnessed by these new machines.
Aetherics are not a new force in the world; neither are they newly utilized. For creatures of the dark who have long lived in this world rely upon it for their fell abilities, thus keeping their presence a secret whilst allowing them to prey upon mortal souls. Some few of humanity suspect their existence. And even fewer are brave enough to seek out and face such evils. Aetherics give power to the vampires, werewolves, and other nasty creatures of shadow and nightmare.
It is an exciting time to explore the new field of Aetherics. It is also a time when those who know about the darkness are able to put the power of Aetherics to work in combating these evils.
Common character roles include Aetheric scientists, steam techs, soldiers outfitted with the latest in Aetheric-tech, and any other kind of hero in a steampunk world, with a dash of weird science and a splash of Gothic horror. Players may be scientific explorers ready to push the boundaries of knowledge. However, this setting is primarily about combating evil with weird science. There should be supernatural threats which would make short work of a normal, unenhanced human. Armed with the devices powered by Aetherics, however, these same humans have a chance of fighting back and surviving.
It is important to remember that, unbeknownst to the world and minds of humanity, Aetherics are powered by the transfer of energy from a demon dimension into the mortal one. This same power is naturally tapped by the darker races and utilized for superhealing, transformations into terrifying beasts, great feats of strength, mind control, and other amazing feats. The evil which makes these things possible also comes from that demon dimension. Beings who fight for the opportunity to cross worlds and revel in their might over that of human weakness.
Fighting fire with fire, brave warriors face this threat without help from others of their ilk. Perhaps the heroes will discover the reality of this other plane of existence. Perhaps they will finally be able to provide proof of the existence of these creatures. Perhaps they will even find a way to permanently trap the evil in that other dimension. Just as likely, if not more so, these heroes could die horrible deaths without anyone else being any the wiser to the sacrifice...
Knights of the Rubble
More than 200 years ago the world ended in fire, smoke, and disease when our world went to war. Now the descendants survivors have crawled from the rubble to take back their future. They know nothing of our ways or technology, though some relics have persisted. As man becomes bolder he begins to do as he has always done: draw lines and seek power. Once again the strong have begun to rule and the weak are left to fend for themselves. Yet even now there may be hope; a new kind of hero has emerged from the wreckage.
A New Order of Knight
The mighty oppress the weak and those who have steal from those who need. The land is divided amongst many petty warlords. The masses huddle together and starve whilst attempting to eke out life from abused soil. In this setting of disparity a new hope has arisen. They call themselves the Knights of the Rubble and it is their sworn duty to bring justice for those who cannot find it alone.
The Knights are secretive to the extreme. None know whence they came nor how they are organized. They appear in places when needed: clearing thieves' warrens, harassing the thugs of whatever dictator has claimed a protected area, providing much needed supplies to the sick and hungry, and any other thing they feel can make a difference in the lives of the oppressed.
Each Knight is a highly skilled warrior, trained in the arts of self defense. They are as deadly with hand and foot as they are with sword or bow. They are also taught stealth, infiltration, the use of poisons, and the art of disguise.
Members of the Knights of the Rubble travel in groups of anywhere from one to a dozen and do their best to blend in with the locals.
Of Villains and Heroes
The nature of Knights of the Rubble is to play a hero out to protect the average person in a world of barbarism. This is not an easy task. While some few relics still exist from the modern day (there can still be found the occasional weapon or tool) these often find their way into the hands of the petty ruler and so are more of a hindrance to the average hero than a help.
Players take on the role of these Knights in the hope of making a lasting difference in the world of a far distant tomorrow. And while the world at large sees only warriors amongst the Knights, there are also others: support types who scout, investigate old tech for possible use in the war against those in power or to help make the lives of the regular folk more bearable, or help to heal the sick and wounded. Many souls are needed in order to make a change for the better in this dangerous new existence.
The simplest possibility is to place the PCs on a mission to take on the ruler of a petty realm. They may work their way up from minor thorn in the side of the local warlord to becoming a real threat to the power base of the area. Escalating forces would be the hallmark of such a campaign. Complications can include reinforcements, betrayal by friends or allies for profit or to protect a loved one, additional old-world tech becoming available to the warlord, or even illness and a lack of supplies for themselves. The Knights are there to look out for the people but what happens when they must choose between feeding themselves and those around them? Don't be afraid to throw off players' expectations with a well-placed addition of old-world tech.
Knights of the Rubble is a world of darkness, and yet a world filled with the beginning glimmers of hope.
The colony of Free World was established less than 50 years ago. It is a wild world, untamed as yet and populated mostly by free-spirited settlers who are unwilling to give up their new home. The citizens of this brave new planet are a rough lot, the types willing to go to their graves before caving to the whims of outsiders.
Most of the settlements here originally took the form of small enclaves, groups of people who came together for mutual benefit and survival. Some numbered less than a dozen souls while others were comprised of a few hundred. These enclaves were scattered across the planet in a generally haphazard fashion.
The world itself is thickly forested, warm, and humid. There are vast reaches of jungle, with a smattering of oceans, lakes, rivers, and seas. The wildlife is prodigious, diverse, and often dangerous. Wresting a living from such a world takes perseverance and not a little pure grit.
Only a few years ago, Free World was hit by the first wave of a new alien threat. Being at the edge of populated space, Free World was humanity's only warning of what was to come. After an initial assault upon the world, these aliens gave little thought to the widely scattered inhabitants. Instead, they set up a small force and continued on with their invasion of worlds further in toward inhabited space.
Too widely dispersed to be easily wiped out, the citizens of Free World have taken to fighting these invaders using whatever means that they have available.
There are two distinct species of alien: the yellow-skinned, humanoid Klandatha and their insectoid foot soldiers.
The Klandatha are tall, generally thin creatures with large black eyes, leathery skin, and long, delicate fingers. They have highly developed technology based on organics and an understanding of physics far different from our own. Their ships appear as gigantic, shelled creatures propelled by a mysterious, purplish plasma.
The Klandatha's foot soldiers are an insectoid race genetically modified by scientists to be obedient and deadly. Bred from a race just on the verge of sentience, there are many subtypes, each designed to perform a specific task.
PC's as Freedom Fighters
The name "Free World" has become a rallying cry for the surviving human inhabitants. At the edge of colonized space, overrun by hostiles, the hardy souls of the world have joined in a loose network of guerrillas. If they can somehow take back the world, they can choke off the invasion point and do much to hamper further intrusions into human space.
Supplies are scarce and the defenders must live by their wits and strength of will. There is a real opportunity to play up the difficulties of survival and success here. No stores exist for purchasing new equipment; PCs can use only what they can make, scrounge from the settlements, or steal from the invading aliens. Their fortunes can (and should) change on a dime. Anything scrounged from the human settlements will be easy enough to use (although it may not be in the best of repair) but the technology used by the aliens will take some getting used to. Any PCs with technical abilities will be at a disadvantage when attempting to figure out or adapt the tools and devices of the Klandatha or their insectoid soldiers. The PCs should always be outnumbered and out-gunned; if they do not out think the invaders, they will die.
As rugged freedom fighters on an invaded world, a Free World campaign is meant to be based on freeing the world and helping to repel the overall invasion. This can range from a few sessions of playing heroes to a long-running campaign that culminates with total success or complete failure. It is even possible to continue a successful game into space in an attempt to effect the total removal of the Klandatha threat.
- Plasma rifle: Like most of the alien tech, these weapons are encased in a tough, corrugated resin. There are many small nodules along its surface and a couple of nobs. When activated, it casts forth a glowing ball of green or purple plasma, which will burn or sear whatever it hits. the output is variable in power and is controlled by an unintuitive selection of the nobs on the rifle.
- Comms unit: This looks like some kind of shelled creature that attaches to the left side of the head. It has tentacles which wrap around the back, top, and lower surfaces of the skull while the main body clamps down over the ear and a transparent film projects across the left eye. While wearing this device, an individual may listen in and initiate communication with others wearing similar devices. The eye piece acts as a display screen while the piece over the ear acts as a speaker. It is somehow able to pick up commands mentally through contact with the tentacles. These devices can be remotely disabled, meaning they are only effective for a short time after being acquired.
World of Dreams
There are two different worlds: One is the realm of flesh and blood and bone. The other is that of pure spirit. The world of spirit is a strange one, hardly comprehensible to the mortal human mind. It is the land of both the dead and the supernatural and the place where all dreamers go when they sleep. No mortal mind may touch upon it outside of either death or dreams.
The World of Dreams setting is fantasy, yet the only magic is that which can be accessed while in that space outside of our normal reality. The priest must commune through meditative prayer and the wizard must enter the deep trance. Special dream witches ply the darker realms while asleep. Once in the dream world it is possible to rework the mortal one. This is a skill requiring many years of study and countless hours of learning deep concentration. For entering the dream world is one thing; maintaining awareness while there is something else.
Many exist who do not trust the World of Dreams. Some of these act in direct opposition to this power, either because of belief or out of a deep fear of what they do not understand and cannot control. To such it seems that the physical realm should be enough for the needs of mortal men.
More than a few have joined together into what is called the Order of Lightning and Shield. To those who follow this order, the World of Dreams is only meant for the natural dreamer, the dead, and the gods. They strongly believe that living men should never consciously meddle in such a realm.
Membership in this order varies by region and community. Entire nations have turned to this philosophy, though these are few in number. Other groups of the Order are mere rumors in nations which value highly the connection between this world and that of Dreams. In such places the followers of the Order of Lightning and Shield must tread lightly.
History of the Order
Despite the rank and file of the Order coming from those who have never been to the World of Dreams (outside of the normal way), its founder was once an accomplished weaver of dreams. Once night long ago this wizard, the great Tarothian, accidentally entered a place in the World of Dreams which forever altered his outlook upon his life and the lives of others. During this particular foray into the other realms, Tarothian found himself in a place of complete and total darkness. Within this great blackness he began to fear, for he could not find his way out of it. After a great deal of time desperately searching and lost to a blind panic, he heard a loud voice calling out. This voice hold him many things, few of which he has ever been willing to share with others. Mainly, though, his eyes were opened up to the real dangers which lurked within the Dream realms, places which the curious risked disturbing whilst blindly poking around.
Armed with this knowledge, Tarothian began a crusade to warn others about what he had learned. He met with little success and much ridicule for his crazed mutterings about these dark forces. Eventually he found an unexpected ally in those who lived in ignorance of the Dream World. Playing upon their fears, he was able to spread the word about his discovery and obtain the help of many. However, since the founding of the Order, his only success has been in the fracturing of humanity.
All dream magic is based on ritual. There are no quick spells as in most fantasy worlds. There is only the World of Dreams and what may be accomplished within. In order to practice this magic the wielder must enter through some form of sleep, whether that be a deep trance, meditative prayer, or controlled unconsciousness (as in lucid dreaming.) Once within that state it is vitally necessary to maintain focus; without this focus it possible that the dreamer may never wake (although often this simply means that the dreamer wakes either without success or with negative results.) With the correct focus, the dreamer must then go to work creating just the right dream. The spell is accomplished by making a symbolic representation of the change which is desired within the real world. There are many different ways to do this and each dream weaver will use their own symbols. The detail and success of the task is directly related to the dreamer's skill and patience. The effects can vary widely depending on the skill of the weaver. The wounded may be healed, truths may be revealed, enchantments may be cast.
Of Demons and Dangers
There are three types of entities in the World of Dreams: Dwellers, Demons, and Lords.
Dwellers make up the majority; they tend to be representative of their role or where in the dream world they dwell. Some are elemental in nature while others are tied to the land, a people, or an idea. There is much variety amongst the Dwellers. Whole libraries are dedicated to describing the many types and their abilities and aspects.
Demons are the most like man and also the most interested in their wants and needs. A Demon is always ready to provide information or assistance but this also always comes with a price. The demons know that their skills are highly valued and charge accordingly, though never in real-world goods.
Lords are the true power amongst their realm and demand to be treated with respect by any visitors. They command great forces and should never be underestimated.
Creatures of Magic
Man is not the only being who dreams. There are many beasts of the wilds who are also able to walk the World of Dreams, though their wants and needs are not as that of mortal men. Many are the potential effects of such creatures.
LX-526, dubbed Caldera by the settlers, was never intended to be a thriving colony. Neither was it meant to be abandoned, but when the majority of exploration shifted to more profitable directions, that is precisely what happened. By then, a few generations had been born upon the colony and few were willing to move away.
Twenty years after the last supply ship came and went, Caldera was a hodgepodge of small cities and scattered settlements upon the face of a mostly wild world. Its citizens were hardy, self-sufficient, and well isolated from the rest of civilization.
A Rent in the Cosmos
No one is certain yet of the how or the why. The first sign was when the newly buried began crawling from their graves to wreak havoc upon a nearby settlement, one of the largest. Shortly after, all Hell broke loose. Monsters in the streets, Horrors driving men to madness, death and destruction all over the small world.
Decades passed. What little civilization existed was quickly abandoned for survival. While many learned to fight the demons, both sides suffered heavy losses. Tech broke down and was jury-rigged to work again.
A new generation grew up in the rubble, with the war against the demons the only life they knew.
The World of Caldera
Caldera is a small, dense world, with a gravity somewhat lighter than Earth, but significantly less land mass. It is very rocky, mountainous, with a fair amount of volcanic activity. The first settlement was created around the mouth of an actual caldera of an ancient volcano that had long gone extinct.
There are many different types of demons, too many to easily classify, but they are a few rough categories:
- Corporeal and weak: These are often encountered en-masse. They may go down easy, but they often overwhelm by sheer numbers. They may also have strange invulnerabilities offset by similarly strange vulnerabilities (can’t be hurt by metal but melt when touched by water, for example).
- Corporeal and deadly: Sometimes seen leading groups of smaller, weaker demons, and other times seen individually, these are the ones humans have learned not to confront directly. At least not without heavy firepower and lots of layers of armor.
- Incorporeal, affect corporeal: Everything from possessing the dead to horrific things in the shadows which are nearly impossible to destroy, yet can wreak havoc of their own.
- Incorporeal, can not affect corporeal: These are the most insidious and difficult to find weaknesses for, yet they are also the ones which most affect the sanity of unprotected humans. They are the things which whisper in the darkness of night when men lay sleeping…
The Hell Dimension
Openings to the Hell dimension come and go. Often they appear within areas of extremes, such as the heart of a volcano or the frigid ice of the northern waste.
The dimension itself is one of inconceivable suffering. All types of demons dwell here, performing horrid acts on those it can pull through from other dimensions. Many who were lost from Caldera were not killed but brought here. Attempts to rescue people do not often end well, however.
It is a realm without end, a mazework of tunnels and plains of toxic environments full of dangerous demons.
Simply surviving should be the main focus on beginning campaigns, although some may wish to take it further. Is it possible to close the rents in the universe letting in the demonic invaders? Can other systems be contacted for reinforcements, or at least retreat? Can prisoners of the Hell dimensions be retrieved?
The demons can be tweaked in innumerable ways (different strengths and weaknesses, varying tactics, etc) in order to keep players on their toes.