email me if interested firstname.lastname@example.org
The world you live in is a dark place since the Wars. The Wars, spoken of for dozens of human generations, are shrouded in myth. What is known was mostly passed down by word of mouth, and likely corrupted. The longer-lived races may have better knowledge of the ancient lore, but who can trust them?
With that being said, this is the ancient lore, as passed down to me.
It is well known that the gods created all of the earliest intelligent life on the world. Various groups of gods pooled their power to create Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, and much later the Humans. This was for the sole purpose of gaining power through the races.
It’s a tricky business, gaining power from your creations. On one hand, you have to expend a good amount of your godly power to create the races in the first place. That’s why the gods grouped together in pantheons and did it as a group. The only way to counter-balance that expenditure and gain power in return is to give the creation a bit of free will, and a drive to gain power for themselves. Through worship of the creator gods by powerful individuals, and their followers, that power is then reflected back towards the gods.
Limits were put on the early races. They were given lifespans of hundreds of years, but out of fear their creations would become too powerful, inherent limitations were ground into the very essence from which the races were made. After all, a lifespan of hundreds of years would allow ego and ambition, if allowed to run unchecked, to enable a being to grow in power to potentially challenge the gods themselves. Or at least peel off some of the god’s followers.
For uncounted millennia, the earliest races walked upon the earth and clashed with each other. They each learned to draw their sources of power from both arcane and faith-based magic, as well as from taking from the earth’s creations what they needed. Dwarves sought power through metals, Elves through woodlands, and Halflings, well, they were another story.
Halflings don’t seem to seek much in the way of power at all. They simply seek to be left alone and live their pastoral lives in peace, enjoying the bounty the earth provides. They were a threat to no one, but more importantly had nothing anyone else wanted. So they managed to survive, and even thrive in some areas. It is suspected that the pantheon of gods that created them simply screwed up, or gave up on them after receiving not much by way of reflected power from them. Maybe they erred and invested too little of their own in their creation. That chance that they erred more likely than you would suspect, because gods do make mistakes, as evidenced by Humans.
At some point, after millennia of the original races inhabiting the planet, an equilibrium of sorts was reached, and the races thrived in their own environments, clashing only occasionally. The original pantheons were pleased, as their power continued to grow through their creations.
This was not to last long. Other gods became jealous. As a result of that jealousy, from the wastelands of every region sprung forth the race of Humans. They were noticeably less long-lived than other races, which is likely a countermeasure to their pantheon of creator gods giving them virtually unlimited potential to gain power. Such a decision was viewed by the elder pantheons as extremely foolish, and as a result humans were warred upon incessantly by the elder races. They were nearly exterminated time and again, but they learned to survive. The elder gods (or, some say demons) gave their creations access to strange and powerful magicks, meant to alter the very essence of the new races, stunting them physically, mentally, and destroying their potential to gain power. These race plagues and curses, as they were described, were devastating, both to Humans and to the original races. It affected every generation they touched. As a result, horribly mutated creations were loosed upon the lands by way of the humanoid races.
Other pantheons, taking advantage of the chaos, took the opportunity to insert their own races onto the planet, hoping to gain bases of power. Such creations as Giants, Dragons, and Beholders now stalked the land, resulting in even more chaos and war.
Over the course of many thousands of years, the longer-lived races eventually felt the toll in their ranks. Their power waned, and that of Humans, Goblins, and the other intelligent races grew. A new equilibrium was gained in the world. It appeared that the gambit of the Human pantheon paid off, and their races now had a huge foothold in the world, and power was gained and reflected upon said pantheon, greatly increasing their power, so they could cause other races to spring forth on other planes of existence.
It is falsely believed by many, if not most, that the gods actually take part in the day to day affairs of their worshipers. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the most influence a god can have on a follower’s life is in the initial creation of that race. After that, the race continues on a course of existence, based primarily on the drive, limitations, and other components of the make-up of the race. A simple analogy would be that the gods create the bow, create the arrow, pull back and let loose. What happens to the arrow, where it lands, how it flies, is out of the control of the bowman as soon as he shoots it.
Just as the elder races formed distinct subgroups, such as mountain dwarves and hill dwarves, wood elves and high elves, so did the humans have subgroups. Human subgroups, however, were dependent mostly upon where they were created, and which pantheon created them. It is unclear which pantheon created which species of human first, but the model was eventually adopted by all the new upstart pantheons.
At first, the character and culture of human settlements and regions was reflected by the character and culture of their creator pantheon. However, interbreeding and the growth of massive population centers, such as the fabled port city of Lukan, or the mountainhold of Throm caused a dilution of racial distinctiveness. It also caused the breakup of power of in the human pantheons. Through the pantheon, certain aspects of cultural identity were imbued into followers. Now, people chose to worship one god, or even two, of different pantheons, while ignoring the rest of the pantheon, ignoring their cultural heritage.
This caused great dissension amongst the gods of the pantheons, as they began to war on each other. That being said, Zeus didn’t hurl thunderbolts and Odin. The battle took place on a metaphysical level far beyond human understanding. What the humans did understand, however, was that certain gods of certain pantheons warred within their own pantheons as well as against other pantheons. This manifested on this plane of existence as followers of Zeus hurling thunderbolts at followers of Odin.
The elder races wisely stood back and watched the humans decimate themselves. Powerful magicks were unleashed upon the lands, and channeled into creations like owlbears, undead, and golems. After decades of war, the end result was the same as in all wars—-famine, disease, breakdown of culture, generations scarred by violence, and a breakdown of society into rule by those who were themselves rules by the basest of human drives and emotions. It was a time where survival of the fittest was the rule, rather than the exception. Also, as a result, the pantheons of the humans were forever broken. It was as likely to see followers of Thor as of Amon-Ra in the same village. Clerical power was never fully regained after these wars.
The spells a cleric of a particular god can have are determined primarily by how closely he mirrors and acts on the tenets and beliefs of that god in his daily life. The closer he is a mirror of that god, the more power of that god he can channel. The more power of the god he channels which results in a gain of power through followers and power bases in the material plane., the more power he is given to understand the deeper mysteries of his faith. Most clerics have access to all of the lowest levels of spells, based on intuition. For every point of wisdom bonus, the cleric has access to that level of spells. However, the highest level of spells must be taught to the cleric by an elder, or through some of the great tomes of mysteries. Once the cleric understands the mysteries and arcane lore, he has the insight to use those rituals and higher-powered spells the same way as the lower level ones—-he meditates on the mysteries of his faith, and calls forth the power of his god when needed. The gods let this bit of power be drawn from them because they have to. It is part of the race creation process, part of the power that must be given to their creations in order to let them reflect the power gained through exercising their god’s power back at the gods, through worship, followers and worldly power.
Because there were so few clerics of power to survive the wars, it was now more difficult to regain that power by the surviving clerics.
A human age governed by military might and magic now dawned. Many humans decided that clerics and gods were to blame for all the wars and suffering of the past hundred years, and so any clerics of great power were assassinated as soon as they were found. Lesser clerics were kept for their ability to heal and to help control the population which still had faith, but any of those which gained enough power to be a threat to the established order were killed.
Through lichdom and other foul means, mages were able to extend their lives long enough to gain the power the elder pantheons of gods feared they might gain. Long life, combined with unparalleled ambition and virtually no limitations on power resulted in the perfect combination of the next era in humankind’s history. Within 500 years of the Pantheon Wars, the Mage Wars erupted.
Ironically, the drive behind the mage wars was so that the mages themselves would be objects of worship, and so be able to wrest a foothold of power amongst the gods whose clerics they worked so diligently to destroy.
Rumor has it that there were nine mages of power who warred not only amongst themselves, but on all human races and civilizations. The major differences between the this war and the last was that the mages wanted the worship of all sentient beings, so they warred upon all of the elder races as well, or else used them as pawns or troops (willing or otherwise) in their drive for power. The elder races, having not partaken of war in generations, were soft.
Once the dust settled, every place on the planet was scarred by war in some way. Some of those of the elder races who allied themselves with the mages, and became corrupted by that alliance, fled underground, forever changed. Some branches of the elder races were wiped out entirely, with only ruins showing they once existed.
It has been hundreds, if not thousands of years since the Mage Wars. No human I have ever met knows how long. All that is known is that they are over, and have been for generations. What lies beyond this village, beyond this valley, is unknown. I have only imparted such knowledge to you as has been given to me, the stories, rumors, and myths of civilizations past.
I know it’s your desire to go forth from these valleys and explore and make your mark on the world around you. I don’t know what you will find. All I can say is that of all of the many who have attempted the dangerous trek over the mountains, none have returned. They may be out there right now, fighting for power, or being thrown in a ditch to feed the worms. Perhaps it’s as the old witch says, and a new age is dawning. Whether it be forged by faith, steel or magic is yet to be determined. Which race will rule it is as yet unclear. One thing is certain—it will be forged in blood. Ancient power, long lost mysteries and tomes of lore must be pried from the denizens of ancient ruins. They can only be rediscovered by the bold, held by the strong, and wielded by the ambitious.
Picture history in the time of the Roman Republic and earlier. Sumeria, Greece, Carthage, Tyre, Scythia, Babylonians, etc. Their religions were not ones of good v evil. It was basically protection from "them" or "it", whoever "them" or "it" was. It was about survival. Pray to the gods of agriculture for crops, fertility for propagation of the species, storms for protection from bad weather, god of the sea for protection on long voyages, war for victory in battles, etc. There were no gods of good v. evil, no gods of the little guy v. the big guy. The entire culture of the whole world, pre-judeo-christian days, was the world as I described it. The gods/religion define a culture's moral norms. There may have been individual acts of kindness, but no common morality saying that it is good to live a life being good to others and helping them.
Pre-christianitty, it was all about greed, conquest, power, might, wealth, and glory. There was no moral veneer over it. The Romans and every other empire or tribe would conquer those who had something they wanted, sell the rest into slavery, and take all their stuff.
And then there were the 99.999 % of the people who were the peasants with no hope. They lived short ugly lives. They were born, they reproduced (and most of their kids died young), and then they died, ignorant of most everything around them. They lived or were killed at the whim of anyone around them with even a little bit more power, which was basically everyone except for other peasants. It took a special sort of person to rise through that culture and achieve those things without being born into the higher classes. Those would be the player characters. This was the world the peasants lived in, and they knew it. It was a harsh life and the peasants lived it bitterly.
Post-christ, the world stayed exactly the same, the same stuff happened and continues to happen, except the peasants thought otherwise, because they believed the leaders and religions that all of the pursuit of greed, conquest, power, might, wealth, and glory was actually done for "good" and against "them", the "evil-ones". They believed the world was a good place, and that being an ignorant peasant was a good thing, because they would share the kingdom of heaven—"blessed are those that eat shite every day, for they shall eat shite with me in heaven…etc…" It made them feel the equal to everyone else in the world on some level, a level which was meaningless in actual living day to day. They still lived and died at the whim of those more powerful, they still couldn't rise from nothing to the heights of power (except for very rare exceptions, which were touted as the norm, to encourage the peasants to keep working harder), and they were still ignorant of the world around them.
My harsh and gritty world is simply the world of pre-christian days, and also the world as it is today without the glossy veneer of "good" religion, and government and corporate propaganda.
To me the best part of D&D is the whole exploration of the unknown, and starting from nothing and making it big in the world. The fighting and looting are just a means to those ends. Starting with advantages, backgrounds, and a character backstory are later developments in the game from 2nd edition. Everyone used to just start from a small village with nothing, and set out to make their mark on the world. That's how I like it. The story of the characters begins when they first step foot on the road out of their village. They write their story through their actions from that point on. They are a completely blank slate up until then. Character motivation doesn't come from backstory——the motivation is the same as everyone through the last 10000 years of history who left their small little world of a village/town/bubble and set out to do more, make something of themselves, escaping their tiny little world and gain fame and fortune. How you go about doing that IS your story. Everyone else just stays in the village, lives, breeds, and dies.
You learn about the world through the game. And the characters will learn about it from roleplaying. As soon as they set out from the village they will learn as much as anyone they meet, if they just take the time to talk and you the players make the most of the encounter. At the same time, they make contacts, and develop a place in the world. The new editions miss out on all that, with knowledge checks to determine if you know something, and skipping roleplaying elements by just rolling intimidate or persuasion checks to discover info, as they focus on the combat to the exclusion of all else.
You don't have to be from a secluded mountain village, but at best you'll be from a small podunk village somewhere, you'll know the names of the villages a day's journey or less away, and may have even been there once or twice in your life. You'll know the names of the geography around you. You'll know some of the broad history of the world as told through bard tales who come through the village every few years, and from stories passed down to you from your family—-great great grandpa fought in this battle or that 150 yrs ago, for example, and his stories were passed along, in distorted form of course, to you. Your village won't be part of any nationstate in your eyes, because you pay no taxes and no one from the nearest nationstate ever showed up to tell you it's owned by them, even though on their official map it might be. There will have been no formal schooling, few books, so you only have a rudimentary knowledge of reading and writing, and knowledge of anything else comes mostly from an oral history.
You'll know that the country or nationstate of such and such is over the mountains to the east, across the river to the west, etc., but it will have as much meaning to you as someone describing where countries in the middle east are orally to you when you are 14 yrs old. About as relevant as New York City was to us as a "real place" when we were 12. Merchant traders may pass through every year or so, along with the bards if the village is lucky, an event for a great village celebration, as people from the outlying farms come to town. The main "town" may total 3 buildings—-the church, the trapper/trader/merchant's business, and maybe the home and farm of the couple most prosperous farmers, as well as a gathering hall, and a bar of sorts, which may be part of the gathering hall. The village is a self-sustaining entity for the most part. Subsistence farming, no currency—trading goods and commodities is the way people survive. There may be a hedge wizard in the village, who took on an apprentice, but at best he is 3rd level, and old, and maybe even of a family of wizards who never did too much in his own life. He would be the source of books and knowledge apart from oral history—-him and the local church of course, which always puts its own spin on history. The same way its been for most everyone throughout recorded history until the last few hundred years.
You'll know of the big wars mostly through stories the bards tell, about heroes in the wars, like the Illiad was most people's source of info about those wars. It may not be factual or accurate, but it is a way to pass on info. You'll know of the other races the same way. You've never sen an elf, dwarf, etc, but you've heard they may live "over there", many days journey to the N/E/S/W. Once, a merchant caravan or Dwarves passed through the village 2 generations ago, and someone in the village still has a dwarven crafted bowl to show for it. You know that there are Orcs, and worse in the woods, so you never go there at night. Heck, so-and-so's grandfather once killed one and so-and-so has the skull on his wall to prove it, a family heirloom. Besides, there is a Keep 15 days journey away that holds of the Orcs and other foul monsters, so why worry about it.
As far as characters: You could be the wizard's apprentice, the acolyte of the church, the guy who is nimble fingered and dextrous, who likes to tinker with mechanical stuff and is good at sneaking in the woods when he hunts, as well as climbing trees to get the good eggs, or the guy who always went around with a stick pretending to be a warrior from the tales, who picked up every little bit of info on how to fight he could, and had guards from the merchant caravans teach him stuff whenever he could get them to. He may have had to do their laundry, watch their horses, etc in exchange for the teaching.
With that in mind, feel free to create a background. But like I said, your characters' stories have yet to be written.
Good v. Evil:
My brother and I had a discussion about the concepts of good and evil in this campaign. I explained to him that the concepts of good and evil as motivating forces don’t exist in any meaningful way. Imagine a world whose entire history has been war in the pursuit of power. Don’t picture life as you know it in sunny ol’ Connecticut. Picture life having grown up in one of those African countries where millions are hacked to death with machetes, where women are raped and their bodied mutilated on a daily basis, where babies are torn from their mother’s wombs just because one tribe doesn’t want the other tribe to continue. That’s more like the world everyone lives in here. The fairy tales tell stories like this. Their history is made up of this. There has never been a God of Goodness, Peace and Love. It is and has always been kill or be killed, survival of the fittest. Even Halflings are more jaded, cynical, and untrusting than in most settings. If the average level of “goodness and fellowship among men” on earth as we know it is 5 on a scale of 1-10, in this setting it is 3 at best. People are in survival mode, fearful, untrusting of strangers, prejudiced, and suspicious. It’s like a dog that has been trained to fight in pit fights. Go try to pet one and see what happens. At best, you have groups banding together for mutual protection and safety. Trust is hard earned, and comes after a long period of demonstrated behavior.
Dovetailing with this was a question about my most recent post, wherein it was asked “If there is no active role of the gods or divine intervention; what is the purpose of the cleric? Who is to counterbalance dark magic and demonic forces?”
That question assumes clerics play a role of good guy against bad guy. The active role of clerics in my setting is to gain power through might, gold, and magic in this world, in order to attract followers for their gods, in order for their god to gain in power, which results in the cleric going up in levels. That’s it. There are no gods of good, nor gods of evil. No gods of death nor gods of light, dawn, and new beginnings. People are like batteries for the gods, the stronger and more powerful they become, the stronger the a god becomes, if that person is a follower of that god. The cleric's role is to be a bigger battery, growing in power to attract more batteries/followers so the god becomes more powerful.
The clerics act more like the mafia, in that they act as a force of protection or aid for their followers, while trying to take other faiths’ territory (followers) and erode their power bases. As long as the end result is greater glory for their god, the means don’t really matter except on an individual basis, as to what each cleric is willing to do in pursuit of power. The religion itself doesn’t dictate means to an end, it just sets the overall goal. Clerics try to attack, sabotage, and ultimately conquer other faiths, even at times other faiths of what were formerly their original pantheon. In exchange, they give their followers aid and protection against threats, whether the threats be enemy faiths, evil demons, or the loanshark looking to collect money on an old debt.
Devils, Demons, and the forces of darkness are no different, and very often less of a real threat, than the clan of elves over the hill, the tribe of orcs on the march through your pasture, or the cleric down the street who kidnapped your kid, blamed it on someone else, and “miraculously” rescued him in order to get you to convert to his faith.
Holy water doesn't exist. Any spell with an alignment in its name, like detect good or protection from evil does not exist. There is no balancing of dark magic and demonic forces, because clerics themselves are sources of dark magic and demonic forces. Whatever it takes to get followers.
For example, take the goddess of agriculture. Normally considered in most versions of D&D to be an airy-fairy type goddess, usually peace and goodness, with pseudo-hippies as followers. It’s different in this setting. Imagine you’re cleric of the goddess of agriculture in a small farming village. You’re the main cleric in the village, the serving the god with most everyone in the village as his followers. The cleric wants to protect his god’s power base by way of protecting the followers interests so they don’t leave him in favor of worshiping another god. If the settlement up the river damned the river which provides irrigation water to your followers’ farms, you need to do something about it. If the cleric of the god of agriculture has an amulet to raise the dead, he may sneak into the graveyard of the village up the river, raise the recently deceased members of the village, and let them loose on the village. While dead grandpa is killing his baby grandson in the crib and then feasting upon him, the fighters who work with this cleric will lead a hit squad to assassinate the village elders and village clerical leaders, while the rest of the followers smash the damn, and loot possessions of all those who don’t convert to the faith of the goddess of agriculture. Since her might is obviously superior to the patron god of the village that damned the river, as demonstrated by the death and destruction they just witnessed, it is likely there will be some converts.
People tend to view others from their own perspective and life's experiences, and expect people to be similar, which is why this approach seems foreign to many. After talking with my friend who survived Haiti under the Duvalier family, and my friend from Serbia/Yugoslavia who survived the perpetual wars there, I know that this way of thinking about and viewing the world would not be at all foreign to them at all. It would be an intuitive way of looking at the world.
Maybe if I didn't call them human, elves, halflings, and dwarves people wouldn't be shocked at the grim outlook, and it wouldn't be a shock to the sensibilities at how these folks in my setting act and view the world. The definition of human is a broad vague concept, depending on your point of view. Chimps share 99% of the same DNA as human beings, but they clearly are not human, right? How much empathy for your fellow human beings do you need to have to be considered human? People would be shocked at how many sociopaths are running around. Most of them are made, not born, but a shocking percentage of people are born 100% sociopathic—-meaning they are born lacking any capacity whatsoever for human compassion. They would feel absolutely nothing if they stuck a knife through a kid's eye. Many of these people end up in jail, but what about the smart ones who know they are different, and realize that because human beings naturally never expect monstrous behavior from other human beings, they can take advantage of that lack of understanding and work their way to the top? These people end up at the top of the political, military and corporate establishments, where such behavior is rewarded because of the success it gives these establishments.
Definitions and social norms change depending on the time and place people live, as well. Consider the Romans—it was common practice to conquer a land, kill off any person able to fight, and sell the rest into slavery. Slavers followed the army around. They would literally commit near genocide almost everywhere they went. It was common practice, normal, and the slave thing was just another way to make money, not only for the slavers but for the soldiers who joined in hopes of plunder—-just just gold, but rape and slaves.
Anyhow, if you want to put into story game terms, I am exploring the theme of greed, ambition and power through an rpg. Which I think is closer to the roots of where rpg's came from than many realize, what with the purge of all of that in second edition with the code of ethics and all that. Many people have never been exposed to such a game, and for many it is a taboo subject, violating political correctness.
I know the theme is not for everyone, but for me its far more interesting than the cliché and simplistic battle of good v evil.
Humans are the only allowed PC classes.
Magic items are very rare. There are none of the +1 variety. There is no market for them, due to their scarcity. No magic stores, or friendly wizard guilds willing to take them off your hands.
Magic item creation is longer and harder than in the rules. Multiply by two to ten the number of days and the cost, depending on the item, and expect a quest for at least one rare component. Finding grimoirs detailing how to make a certain item makes it much cheaper/less time. Doing it a second time is much cheaper/less time than the first.
Monsters vary withing a certain range as to their toughness and abilities. There are no cookie-cutter zombies, for example. Some have more hp than others, some have odd abilities. However, you won't find a 30th level zombie, nor a 1st level red dragon. They only fluctuate within a limited bandwidth.
Clerics can hunt down lost spells related to their particular god and/or pantheon. Much knowledge has been lost in the wars, with spells and clerical power being some of it. All clerics can cast spells listed in the book. However, special spells given to the first clerics to be passed down, as a form of control over their followers and a tool for preserving the cultural integrity, have been lost. They can be found, in the same way Mage spellbooks can be found—-meaning they have to be hunted for, discovered, and pried from the current owner's hands, or looted in a dank dungeon which was once an ancient temple to the gods. Spell research is permitted only to the most loyal of clerics, and only for spells which fit the pantheon or deity.
Teleport, Dimension Door, and other fast travel spells do exist, but their level is much higher than listed.
Mages pick a new spell to add to their spellbook automatically upon leveling, but only once every 6 months. They still have to pay research costs for them per the rules.
Rolling 20 to hit = max damage, or 2 dmg rolls, players choice. Rolling a 1 = miss a turn, or get a free attack on you, players choice.
Training is required between levels in order to level up. 2 days per new level, cost = 5 gp per new level.
Searching is assumed at the standard movement rates. DM rolls a d6. Special searching takes more time, must be described, and may trigger a random monster encounter due to extra time and noise involved.
Protection from/detect good/evil does not exist, as alignments do not exist. These spells become protection/detect others hostile/potentially hostile to me or mine.
Oghma: Knowledge, engineering
Goibhnie: Crafting, invention
Zeus: Air, lightning, storms
Hephaestus: Mining and smithing ores
Hermes: Thieves and liars
Thor: Thunder, battle
Aegir: Storms and the sea
Modi: Courage and Berzerker Rage
Uller: Hunting, archery, winter
Hel: Death, sfterlife
<u>Desert: Egyptian </u>
Osiris: Nature, the dead
Isis: Magic, fertility
Enki: Rivers, oceans
Inanna: War, poison, trickery, subterfuge
Ki: Snakes, nature
Nanna-Sin: Moon, night