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Refuge Beneath the Waves

'They said it would bring us a new age of wonder, of exploration, of excitement. I don't think this is what they meant: us scurrying around like rats in our cities of steam and steel, far away from the land and the sun.'


Kalleum, the technical marvel which men believed would raise civilization up to new and dizzying heights became the very thing which caused them to flee in terror and hide far beneath the surface of the sea. Yet still they could not abandon the very cause of their doom, for that which drove them from the open skies also became a tether to survival beneath the dark and turbulent ocean.

I've studied the old histories, read all the old clippings. Most of it's on the old paper, the kind they used to make out of plants that grew landside and not the pressed seaweed we use today.
According to the old reporters, we went from horse and mule, wagon and locomotive, to subaquatic pod and Kalleum-powered rail. Men used to be able to wander the open plains and choose where to set down their roots. Now they must make do where Builders & Co. chooses to put up walls. Well, excepting the bandits who hide out in all the sea caves (and only the gods know where else.)
— Hector Vardan, Professor of History at the University of Rawlwick


Discovery and the Early Days

Those early days must have been heady times. Humanity had stumbled upon a substance so full of power and the potential to change the world. How could they not be excited? With minimal processing, a pound of Kalleum holds more electrical and thermal power than a ton of coal. It could be used to heat water for great steam turbines as easily as it could be harnessed to light the, then new, incandescent light bulbs.
I have read numerous notes and letters between the great minds of the day discussing the various uses and ramifications of the new super fuel. At first, no one considered its use as a tool of war. Why would they? No one would have thought to throw balls of flaming coal at an enemy. The naive scientists of that time considered only its peaceful applications; envisioning a world of ease and plenty for all.
It was only later, when the dust settled and the world began to die, that these minds thought back to what they had opened the world up to and felt shame. Each and every one of those early scientists were found guilty of mass murder. Some were put before the firing squad while others were hung. I understand a few lost their heads to the guillotine
The world had its vengeance. And yet it still died.
— Hector Vardan

They call it Kalleum. Most likely after its discoverer, though that tidbit was long ago purged from the collective memory; polite folk simply do not talk about it. He must have been mad, this inventor, mad and also something of a genius. How he thought to combine the various metals and minerals which make up Kalleum, or how he figured out just the right process of heat and electrical stimulation to put it through, we will likely never know. Some incautious souls propose that he was highly admired and respected amongst the scientific community, whilst others propose that he was likely an eccentric and an outcast forced to prove himself in the most dire of ways.

But no matter the story, it is, and has always been, called Kalleum. Humanity is ambivalent toward Kalleum, for it is both the thing which makes life for us possible and the thing which could destroy us by its absence. To understand where we are today and why, one must understand how we got here. And that part of the story is not only a part of polite conversation, but also a thing pushed by every schoolteacher in every classroom in every corner of the sea. This is why one does not taunt the gods by delving too deeply into the mysteries of nature, they say.

Once the wonder of Kalleum was discovered, scientists around the world began to experiment with it. On its own, exposed to the air, it is little more than a lump of metallic rock with a rainbow of hues reflecting from its surface.

Attach wires to it, however, and it immediately sends out electrical current. It must be suspended by these wires, otherwise it sends out electrical shocks commensurate with its size. (School children of old used to play a game of 'Touch the Kalleum' whereby a thimble-sized piece of the stuff was held by one child while a friend touched wires to its surface; the one to let go first was the loser.)

Placed within water, a lump of Kalleum will begin to heat, causing the fluid to boil and turn to steam in short order. Again, the amount of heat produced is proportional to the amount of Kalleum present. Once the water is gone, the rock reverts to its inert state.

Many experiments were accomplished with the use of this magical substance. Patents were filed and men began to fill their pockets with the sale of wondrous machines. The possibilities were endless and every day the newspapers were filled with exciting new prospects.

On a larger scale, the use of Kalleum paved the way for electrical lighting and cheap mechanical energy. Prototype horseless carriages running on steam were produced, lamps of incandescent lighting began to line the streets of the larger cities. Factories and mills were able to boost output. Industry was booming.

Disaster Looms

According to the journals of many heads of state, most of which have been retrieved in the past few years by the brave scavenger crews willing to risk landside now and then, the threat of war was long expected. Though they p the threat down to the populace, many had already begun to bolster their militaries. It was not long before the subject of Kalleum as a weapon became a topic of serious discussion.
When the war started they did not use their new weapons straight away. Mostly, I suspect they were uncertain of its effectiveness against the tried and true methods. Once Kalleum weapons appeared, however, the war ended in short order.
— Hector Vardan

As technology spread so did the need for more territory. Kalleum dependent nations sought more and more natural resources, causing tensions to grow. It was inevitable that war would erupt.

In the beginning the war was quite a bloody affair. With the use of steam-driven tanks, the first subaquatics, and more efficient firearms, man had become highly efficient at killing his fellows.

The war began to drag on. In the end, out of desperation, the two largest nations did the unthinkable and began using Kalleum in the creation of super weapons. The death toll skyrocketed. Entire battlefields would be devastated in mere minutes. Peace was negotiated shortly after.

The World Dies
Within the library of landside documents are a number of faded photographs, a technology we have since lost, showing the incredible devastation which followed the war. Many are simply greyish-brown blobs that are difficult to make out. One album in particular, however, is fairly well preserved. There are pictures of bodies laying in the streets, bloated and decomposing; wheat fields turned to ash; trees collapsing under their own rotting weight; what appears to be an extended family walking alongside a covered wagon toward a dust-choked horizon, a young woman looking back to glare at the photographer.
We have adjusted quite well here, beneath the sea, but my heart breaks when I think of the hardships faced by those who had to watch their world shrivel up and die, normal people whose only hope lay in a plan of pure madness.
— Hector Vardan

That was not to be the end of it, however. Kalleum could be turned into an effective weapon, certainly, but its release into the atmosphere had a devastating effect upon all life that was exposed to air. Cities that survived the fighting were soon clogged with the rotting corpses of the dead. It laid waste to the countryside, killing off both farmer and field.

The spreading death could not be stopped. Some attempted to go underground or hole up in caves, but the airborne Kalleum still managed to follow. Crops and animal life were dying off as well.

Only one place seemed unaffected: the aquatic realm. The only effect airborne Kalleum had upon the water was to cause small, inexplicable fires to start on the surface and then quickly burn out. Sea life remained unaffected.

A New Home

The struggling survivors fled beneath the waves, using Kalleum-driven steam engines to carve out tunnels below the sea floor. Techniques were developed to extract air from water, using the electrical charge from Kalleum to split the water via elecrtrolysis. At first they survived off of the sea life itself but eventually new crops were planted in great caverns lit by huge banks of incandescent bulbs. These helped provide more air.

The caves were mined for material to build structures upon the seafloor rather than relying on the sometimes unstable tunnel systems.

Today man not only lives below the surface of the great seas; he thrives.


Steam is ever present in our undersea world. It is piped through the walls to keep us warm in these frigid depths. It is used to turn the great turbines which circulates much needed air between the argodomes and the rest of the inhabited areas. It propels the subaquatics of all sizes, from two-man pods to intercity rail and military vessels.
I have been on numerous expeditions outside my home city of Eridos, and each time I return, I am amazed at the sight of the great domes and tubes of the city encrusted with sea life at every point. But nowhere as much as the great heat sinks, where steam meets ocean cold.
— Kristoph Palomer, Geologist for K&C Mining Co

Two words describe the underpinnings of modern technology: Kalleum and steam. While electricity is used in some narrow ways, such as lighting or electrolysis, it is little understood and mostly feared. Better to trust in devices which have palpable parts that can be seen and easily understood. For that, there is steam. And for steam, there is Kalleum.

The Settlements

The cities and towns of this new world dot the oceans and seas near coastal edges. Some reside along continental shelves, while others are somewhat deeper. Materials technology is not advanced enough to survive the true ocean depths.

Seen from the outside, the largest of these settlements are rather magnificent structures. Large domes and rounded rectangles are joined by mile upon mile of cylindrical tubes and pipes. Even the smaller settlements are impressive in what they have accomplished.

With very few exceptions, every settlement has at least one of the following:

  • Kalleum, steam, and electrical plant: This is where Kalleum is stored and used to produce power
  • Agrodome: The source of most air and some food.
  • Residential zones: These vary greatly, depending on how well off the residents are.
  • Environmental processing: Providing air quality, dealing with waste, generating fresh water, etc.

Some also have additional factories, plants, processing facilities, educational institutions, entertainment zones, and areas with much finer residential domes.

The larger settlements tend to be connected by underwater rail, steam-powered subaquatics that travel safely within long steel tubes. Lesser settlements can only be reached by individual subaquatic; the more frequented areas tend to be served by regular passenger transports. The outlying towns are lucky to see the occasional merchant or itinerant traveler.

There are traveling packs of entertainers who make the rounds, bringing news and fresh faces to places who see too little of either.


All underwater vehicles are referred to as subaquatics. They are propeller driven by steam engines heated with small chunks of Kalleum.

Two-Man Pod

The two-man subaquatic pod is as it sounds. The smaller models have one seat in front of the other with bubbled domes on top to allow a view of the surrounding water. The larger ones have the seats side by side and have larger bodies for carrying small amounts of cargo.

Passenger Transport

Akin to a stagecoach, passenger transports vary in size and can carry half to a dozen people along with their luggage and some extra cargo.

Cargo Transport

Similar to passenger transport, but designed for hauling cargo. Used for everything from hauling material from the smaller mines to merchandise for traveling salesmen to entertainment caravans.


The most efficient form of transportation, rail is similar to the landside railways but they ride through covered tunnels in order to keep the tracks safe from debris and sea life.

Just like the landside counterpart, rail is good at hauling both large amounts of cargo and passengers. The extensive infrastructure required for their operation limits them to heavily traveled routes, making it a chicken-and-egg problem for settlements that have potential for growth.


The old tunnels where men first made their homes after traveling to the undersea are still used as bases for mining. The great steam-driven machines continue to churn through the rock, revealing deposits of ore of all types.

Over the years, these tunnels have continued to grow and expand. Many have been left behind and are home to both pirate and vagabond. Security patrols are ever present around the mines themselves to guard against threats, both human and animal.

Rail exists between the mines and the larger cities. They are a plump target that are heavily guarded.

Daily Life

Outside of adaptations to life under water and the technological marvels of Kalleum and the harnessing of steam, daily life is similar to how it was on land. Technology has not progressed much in the hundred and fifty years man has moved to the undersea and thus is not much different from North American and European technology of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Food Production And Industry

The great agrodomes are wonders of engineering. The largest structures in any settlement, they tower above the sea floor. Under their high ceilings great electrical lamps shine down, providing life-giving light to the plants below.

In the larger cities, space has been made available for parks, though only the rich and connected are able to wander and admire the beauty to be found therein.

Even the largest of domes are unable to supply enough foodstuffs for the full population. The great bounty of the sea is more than enough to make up the difference, making up a significant portion of the average diet.


The biggest threats to life under water come from sea quakes and structural collapse. Some of the smaller settlements have disappeared in this fashion. Even a few of the larger cities have suffered catastrophic damage to limited sections once or twice.

Campaign Use

Plot Hooks

  • There is always a need for those willing to perform guard duty over the mines and the rails.
  • Less than lawful minded PCs will find plenty of opportunities to steal from the rich and the powerful.
  • There are reports from sea hunters that some monstrous creature dwells in the depths and has been seen coming closer to the nearest settlement. There's a bounty posted on it.
  • A few brave souls will occasionally brave landside to scavenge amongst the ruins. Up above it is a changed land. Most things are dead but others have been changed. Adventure and reward await the brave, though death is never far behind.
  • A few scientists believe that they may be able to reverse the course of the airborne Kalleum on landside. They need some research material left stashed away by one of the original scientists who worked on Kalleum in the early days.

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