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Author Topic: [4e] Fall of the World-Shaker  (Read 624 times)

Matthias Wasser

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[4e] Fall of the World-Shaker
« on: December 30, 2008, 09:28:36 am »
The Lord of the House of Dawn sets down the bone poker and resumes his brush. This mixture will have a little less tar and a little more blood and aspics' spit. He has cried less into it; he thinks perhaps the problem is a surfeit of melodrama. On the skin before him are zigs that ward from fire and zags that ward from rending, whorls that speak of their brief time together, incisions that go all the way down, as his sorrow, and it is in these rivets that a different mix of tar and tear will settle. As always, he is conflicted on the anaesthetic. Doing without makes precision with the brushstrokes more difficult, but its presence unbalances the mixture. The pity to which its lack moves him serves as both inspiration and distraction. This time the poppies stay in their urn; in their place, he lilts of sleep.

In the nursery, he sees smoke rise from the kindling. Soon his messenger will roost. Still, it is important not to hurry the message herself. He doesn't speed brush or bone, but his eyes do flit over, every other moment, to the pterodactyl burning into shape the mountain over.

Before long the pheonix will swoop from the Oriental Peak and rapt the screaming or laughing message; if past results are any indication of future ones, she will be immolated sometime halfway, or the content or form of the message itself will be somehow deficient. But he shall press on, keep tinkering: some dusk, his occidental lady shall recieve his salutation, and exile be exchanged for union.

* * *


A league above his city, an infant prince falls into epilepsy, but his jittering body somehow forces him to approach the ledge and look over the smoking metropolis. Mobs are assaulting officers of the law, the Tree of Hope has been chopped down, runes of hate and envy carved into it; a gang is butting its new-shaved head against the wall the separates slavery and freedom. Slavery itself is butting at the wall of freedom; unlike other armies, the Good cultists will not slaughter their victims, unless necessary, but heap upon them greater indigities by far. Architects will be forced from the construction of temples and palaces to that of dams and qanats, great art will be exchanged for folk songs and murals, spires forever skyward for slums forever outward, for rutting will be unchecked by starvation. Concubines trained in the seventy arts of pleasure will be emancipated into the dignity of pulling corn from the soil of kibbutzes. Man will be consigned forever to the ranks of the animal kingdom. It is already happening here, it will happen everywhere if heroes do not take action.

Evil help her! The boy collapses, the Seventh Eye of the Tisroc emerges her head from the blood. She feels drunk. Was she peering into the future or the present? She feels cold, grabs a cloak. Law built civilization, but Law alone cannot preserve it; it has strong hands but it addicted to binding them. This awareness is spreading. She will consult with the Sixteenth Eye; they will find young people of worth, arm them with Evil and hope against Good and despair.

* * *


It is the gorgon's hope that this chieftan is either very wise or very foolish. It is the forest's fortune that elf, being just that, is almost certainly both. She doesn't like to lie, it's beneath her duties, but now she feels, as her venom-soaked hands glide over the bones, that they call for it.

"The decree is... that your people, Prince of the Marmoset's Song, shall, upon... the solstice of winter, and the solstice of summer, and the equinox of spring, but upon no other occassions... take exactly three babes, not old enough to walk or speak, from your people, Tzapilicoa, called Mother of the Yapi, that is, three Yapion babes... less, if you choose, but no more than three... no Yapion shall resist this, nor shall either side retaliate... beyond, at least, the borders of their demense... but leave it to me to exact punishment from the traitors in totality. The whole diet of the dryads and neriads and tutelaries of fruit and hind declares this." The locks of her hair bite away her blindfold, and it falls over the castings, which she remains bent over.

"Shake your hands beneath my eyes."

There is a pause. Do they buy it? A woad-drenched hand extends itself, innocent. Will the mortal consent to the theft of her children? She can see the blood seeping slowly into the cloth. Ah. There. A jet hand marked by jewelry and hard work. She thinks the tenor of the grip suggests Tzapilicoa is aware of the secret intentions and can make sacrifices for the long term. But she doesn't know. Perhaps one day she will be worthy of the forest's sorority, or perhaps she will have to be deposed. A tyrant lizard's shattered bones reveal little of the future. Little is known but that more and more of the spirit of this way of life must be smashed, if the form itself is to be preserved.

* * *


Each dawn fewer and fewer people remember the cosmogony, and so, naturally, more and more people remember it according to their own prejudice. The Dragonborn say that the world was hatched from an egg; the Dwarves, that it was formless and storming clay and fire and water which, on some ocassion, happened to smudge together some of its substance in the form of a dwarf, who then elected to carve another dwarf, and from whose fabrication is all that is. Humans insist the world developed according to the dialectical logic of sexuality, with Law providing the basic rules of the system and Chaos introducing novelty into it; Evil investing slivers of the creation with individual consciousness and Good making them aware of each other and binding them into communities. Sometimes, in the Tisroc's iconography, the natural world is represented by a four-headed hermaphroditic hydra, cracked egg beneath it, who commands all that is with the four hierotic languages, but whom has been bound him-herself by the Tisroc. If the Elves cared about such things they might say that the world was stolen from somewhere (where? what is outside the world? it would suit their grasp of logic perfectly...), but all they know is hunt and murder and song.

It was inevitable in this yet-cooling world that Law, by its very nature, would be the first to ascend as an organized social philosophy, and it was under that sign that the Tisroc, the forever-dragon-emperor, World-Shaker, conquered, though in his person he upheld it not. A coca-chewing messenger could run for a thousand days and not encircle his realms, if she did, it would have doubled again. But the World-Shaker summoned forces beyond his control; his empire is overstretched. The ascent of Law resulted in counterreactions: Chaos to resist it, Good to overthrow the civilization and rebuild it on new lines, Evil both to resist and to preserve the threat from Good. The center cannot hold. Already bands of violent young men and women are putting down rebellions, performing palace coups, conducting pogroms against their familiies' enemies, and carving out little kingdoms for themselves.

* * *


In this thread I'm going to develop this world; it's my hope that I can give it a major update at least thrice a week until I'm fortunate enough to have other responsibilities. I'm aiming for a dark, morally grey setting with a "Lost World" aesthetic. There's no accounting for taste, of course, but I'd appreciate any criticism, suggestions, or additions you have to offer - I have no idea in what order I'll be fleshing aspects out, so if something's uncompelling or could be compelling with a little more work, I want to know. Also, at some point I'll be developing some mechanical additions to the setting (alignment, setting-specific paragon paths...), and I have absolutely no intuition about how to balance things, so any help you could offer on that front would be greatly appreciated. Because I'm greedy there are parallel threads here and here and here.

Setting Assumptions Thus Far:
  • The world is young - only a couple hundred years old. People are living in - or in the process of getting conquered by - the very first civilization.
  • The division between planes is geographic, not cosmological. If you want to go to the Realm of the Dead, walk there. The sun is literally a pheonix that flies from orient to occident over and over again; if you want to plunge the world into eternal night, go ahead and kill it.
  • The world is animistic, and divinity is immanent, not transcendent. There are no gods of abstract concepts; clerics serve Alignments or as intermediaries between tutelary spirits and mortal communities.
  • There is no metal. Obsidian, wood, and bone are used for weaponry; bamboo, skins, and magical tattoos are used for armor, most magic items take the form . All materials are frequently magically treated.
  • Alignment is an active metaphysical force. There are four: Law, Chaos, Good, and Evil. Good isn't automatically more sympathetic than Evil. Tapping into the power of an Alignment entails ritual obligations, access to new magics, and the ability to speak an alignment language with varying degrees of proficiency.
  • No arcane magic. Until PHBII comes out wizards can get reconcepted; Warlocks too (I might want to create or steal some extra pacts for them): in any event, spellbooks, alchemy, orbs, et cetera aren't used as spell foci; drugs, music, yoga, sex, dancing, the keeping and breaking of taboos, negotiation with spirits, and the hierotic (alignment) languages are.
  • The landscape is mostly jungle. There aren't any natural open plains; agricultural land is secured milpa-style.
  • Dinosaurs are the main fauna. People are probably the only mammals.
  • Sources I'm blatantly stealing from: Popul Vuh, the Bible, T├ękumel, Exalted, Glorantha, Dark Sun, Planescape, among a bunch I'm probably not aware of.
« Last Edit: December 30, 2008, 09:38:11 am by Matthias Wasser »

Pseudoephedrine

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[4e] Fall of the World-Shaker
« Reply #1 on: December 30, 2008, 01:07:40 pm »
Who are the PCs and what do they do?
Running
The Pernicious Light, or The Wreckers of Sword Island;
A Goblin's Progress, or Of Cannons and Canons;
An Oration on the Dignity of Tash, or On the Elves and Their Lies
All for S&W Complete
Playing: Dark Heresy, WFRP 2e

"Elves don't want you cutting down trees but they sell wood items, they don't care about the forests, they''re the fuckin' wood mafia." -Anonymous

Matthias Wasser

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[4e] Fall of the World-Shaker
« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2008, 10:49:28 pm »
Quote from: Pseudoephedrine;276429
Who are the PCs and what do they do?

This sentence:

Quote
Already bands of violent young men and women are putting down rebellions, performing palace coups, conducting pogroms against their familiies' enemies, and carving out little kingdoms for themselves.

intends to refer to adventuring parties (or groups for your adventuring party to stop.) Like Exalted's Creation, the setting assumes a political status quo that's fundamentally unsustainable: so you can be reactionaries putting down resistance with ultraviolence, conservatives simultaneously trying to defend and reform it, radicals trying to overthrow it and rebuild on totally new lines, opportunists carving out fiefdoms for yourselves, heroes of conquered peoples reclaiming old land, or nihilists who just want to watch the world burn - or various combinations thereof.

Of course, the various nonpolitical quests - go out into the wilderness and stab monsters, descend into the underworld and rescue your old boyfriend - are still available. There aren't any ruins of past civilizations, but there will be soon, ha ha, and I should probably stat up an already-abandoned city to fill that role. You can be the first people to discover and invent things, and large swaths of the uninhabited areas behave like the Elemental Chaos. I expect to focus mainly on the political aspects, though (with the caveat that I also expect this to develop in totally unexpected ways.)

Matthias Wasser

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[4e] Fall of the World-Shaker
« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2009, 06:15:59 am »
Demogony

The Serpent Nation rules the world with a howl and serrated claw, the open violence at the heart of organized society. They know know family but their city nor mother nor father but the Tisroc - even the wayward children. They worship with blood and fire, which are the same to them - blood is the fuel of the warrior, fire the revealed essence of buildings as they bleed; blood where a body stores heat in lean times, fire the secret essence coursing through the ceque lines - each registers the same scent on their senstive tongues. Honor demands that all offense recieve blood, and so when two Serpent Nationals make peace, they kindle together a fire. Kin to behemoths, they are covered in beautiful golden and green scales; red, blue, and white feathers. More sensitive to the changes in temperature than other races by far, each has a many-colored coat woven by herself for the cold night, sewn with runes of warmth and records of its deeds, and a sacred torch too; otherwise they go unplumed save by their scales and feathers. Tatoos and glyphs cannot mark their skins, but with meditation, prayer, and combat, a Serpent's scales themselves develop miraculous properties.

Members of the Serpent Nation are found at the bottom of gullies and mudflats, in eggs painted white with spotted blue - microcosms of the world-egg, whose spots are stars which reveal the Serpent's life and glorious death. Regional metropoles gather these eggs together and immerse them in burning blood, singing coaxing songs and stiffening songs alike. To think above the level of the common behemoth, the young National must consume one human heart, to think above the level of a clever animal, another, to finally initiate into the ranks of cultured beings, a third. This might contradict the reptilian boast to be the most ancient race, but they claim the amniotic sac of the world-egg contained enough blood for the first generations - until it soaked into the soil, enabling the creation of humanity. Metropolitan kings and Evil warrior-poets are oft enamored by the idea that with enough meditation, fasting, self-analysis, and cardiophagy, they can achieve a fourth state, more exalted yet, with, in the words of one poet, "breath to sunder cities and wings that bear as the pterodactyl's," a line most frequently interpreted to mean emotional self-control and masterly intellect. Some say the World-Shaker, unseen by most of the elites for years, has already attained this state; but then, some whisper that he has disappeared or died.

The Serpent Nation is found everywhere and raised in the cities, but the distribution of eggs is centrally controlled, as it would destabilize the empire if one city had so many Serpents as to revolt and conquer another. It is for this same reason that the clutches, eternally loyal to each other, are often switched between cities, by exchange programs - a Serpent calls city "family," but he means the noble population, not the encampment. They are raised as janissaries for the state, simultaneously the cities' slaves and owners, rising by merit and honor to more administrative positions, which they often despise and leave to the human intellectuals. "There is a people who leave knots in rope, but we are a people who leave notches in obsidian." Though the human technocrats have spun the cities into quite diverse forms, the relocation of clutches makes some things constant. The Serpent Nation prefers to keep to more sacred duties: expand the empire, prove the self in combat, compose philosophical ballads, guard the train of the huaca, which govern the course of the ceque lines and thus the health of the expanding world.

But the ranks added to the Serpent Nation decrease every day; fewer and fewer eggs are found. At some point the final clutch will hatch - will it be before or after the empire falls? (Standard rules for Dragonborn apply, except that History has been renamed Politics, to emphasize that most obscure and relevant trivia about the mortal world concerns the present rather than the past.)

The Clay People are a simpler people; barely even part of the empire, they understand the principle of cooperation, but little of sociality or politics proper. A single worker makes another from the clay; specialized, perhaps, to a particular function; notches a thousand miniscule runes of life in him, carries him to Xactotlabla, Mother of the Forgers of the Earth, or Cpuxati-nonueon, Life-Granting Kiln of Nonueon, or one of the nine other volcanos at the edge of the formed world, and there whispers a long poem in his newly-shaped ear: his tasks in this life and the life he has remembered. O yes: the dwarves can lie, and they lie their pasts to each other. There are Clay people who remember every moment of their lives, stretching back thousands upon thousands of years - could anything be more absurd? Since their stories all contradict each other and because the basics if not the details of their creation are well known among civilized folk, they are not taken seriously by anyone else. But most go on naively believing their own pasts, naively completing their assigned tasks - there remains a subgroup more self-aware than the masses of their kin, and these are the most likely to take up residence in true civilization, rather than laboring in vast teams forming mountains and valleys amid the lightning seas and burning skies. These dwarves who transcend the status of mere homunculi either doubt all their past - even up to the last moment, because it can take a while for the glammer to kick in - or contexualize it. A popular theoryis that the poem is a summoning ritual from another world (as if one could exist), one where the past is true; one's memory, then, is the clue to selfhood, the key to making the outside world in the mirror of the inside.

But these more philosophical, self-aware dwarves tend to consider themselves defective, too, and if so, they are at least a little kin to humanity, the People of the Soil, the Loam Nation. It is said that a lazy dwarf once decided to reproduce itself with material gathered from the fertile topsoil rather than the malleable clay beneath it, which explains both why humans are so lazy - needing to sleep for six or seven hours a day, and much longer if they're given the chance! - and why they make more of them in the way that they do. Sex tends to be regarded as what makes humanity humanity, explaining why the Serpent Nation often views the Dialectical School of philosophy as inauspicious - it is, some suspect, an idea of human nationalism put in purely formal terms. Humans are thus also the only people to have sexes and thus gender and gender roles: among the tribes that constituted and constitute pre-imperial humanity, women are generally regarded as superior, men being reproductively deficient; within the empire, the expansionist state is often seen as necessitating a different regime of gender relations, in which the status of men is higher - but in both realms, diversity prevails. (The male and female pronouns only describe members of the other races for lack of a better option - the languages of their world do not have this problem - and can be freely alternated.) Most humans sweat out short lives from their namesake, the soil, malnourished, feeding the metropoles. Luckier ones live as craftspeople or other free folk in the cities; but the best of all are usually slaves of the metropolis again: officials, intellectuals, people who debate and compose and manage. It is this group who view themselves as the true representatives of Law, with the Serpent Nation, their nominal masters, as its teeth and flail: though they are slaves, they live in comfort, and more are commanded by them than command them. A good deal of humanity still lives in in those tribes: but they have been flattened and enslaved for a century or more.

And they must war not only with their kin the Lawful but their kin the Chaotic: the elves, who are born human, who are hunter-gatherers like many humans, but have thrown away their humanity: both their sexedness and their awareness of the suffering of others. These monsters kidnap human children and castrate them, drug them, teach them only the joy of hunt and murder and song. All human tribes use hallucinogenics to peer into the future and into the self, but elves - who care not about the future nor insight - seem to incorporate them into their daily diet. Tracks of jungle ruled by the elves are madlands, plants growing more vivaciously than anywhere else, ceque lines discombobulated and severed, magic strange. Elvish erraticism means that an elf separated from the tribe might fancy most anything, offer its services to a group on any quest. Only one limit remains to their madness - they cannot break a promise. They are not even capable of it. But they love wordplay, often making the promises just to escape them in a particularly clever manner. Watch out. Humans are at a disadvantage fighting them, for they know the beautiful androgynes to be their own stolen children, mourning with each one cut down, but it is too often neccessary. Often one will be caught before the drugs are too fully incorporated into its sense of self - quixotically raised as humans again, these creatures are called half-elf. Though rarely acquainted with philosophy, and no party to sexuality, they would understand the logic of the Dialectical School better than any.

I don't know what to do with the other races, but I'm tempted to just make halflings a human ethnic group and combine elves and eladrin. I don't know. Suggestions appreciated.

SuperSooga

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[4e] Fall of the World-Shaker
« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2009, 09:28:03 am »
Too long for me at the moment so I'm going off the setting assumptions section. What I see there is really interesting, definitely something that catches my interest. I'll be sure to trawl through the full length of these posts when I get the chance but the overall idea seems neat.

Matthias Wasser

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« Reply #5 on: January 05, 2009, 08:25:01 pm »
Some quick thoughts: I don't think dwarves add anything to the setting; they feel kludged in. Halflings would be kludged in too. Shifters, by contrast, feel more at home; they'd be bodies coinhabited by a human and a spirit who'd fallen in love with them, perhaps, and turn into jaguars. Tieflings and Devas would be humans who practiced mystic yoga to develop along the Alignment paths. Other Monster Manual races are probably useful, but I can't think of anything off the top of my head.

Human skin is dark brown to jet black. Before they're hatched, the surface of Dragonborn eggs are meticulously transcribed and kept in the empire's meticulous horological records. There aren't any orcs, or races whose members you can murder without it having moral import more generally.

I want to get to the big post on Alignment, but I feel like I want to develop more of the social context for it first.
« Last Edit: January 05, 2009, 08:28:06 pm by Matthias Wasser »