Thursday, February 27, 2014

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - Valley of Bees and Burial Mounds

This small valley within the northern cold forests contains a microclimate which is unusually sunny and warm for the region, and during the warmer months is home to innumerable hives of wild bees which swarm far and wide. A nature spirit guards these hives, and while it is possible to receive some honey from the swarms if one knows the proper rites to appease this entity, actively harming the hives can trigger its wrath, whereupon it will organize all hives in the area into one vast swarm. Fleeing at the highest possible speed is recommended in such instances.

Northeast of the Stone Totem Valley the local Inland Tribes buried their honored dead - their great chieftains and shamans. As it is customary among their people, they are buried with weapons and other treasures (occasionally magical) to ease their journey into the next world. Retrieving these treasures is not recommended, as it may incur not only the wrath of the tribals but of the dead themselves, who might rise from their graves to avenge this theft. Others, especially dead shamen, have become undead thanks to their own enchantments or sheer strength of will, and they have buried deep into the ground and into a nearby cliffside. From there they sometimes travel the lands, learn of the latest news, and sometimes appear before frightened tribals to make demands of their descendants. Their goals are unclear, but they do seem to have plans and stay in contact with each other.

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Where I read the Bible for Gaming Inspiration - Genesis 2:8-17

Continued from here.

"[8] And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
[9] And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
[10] And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads."

Now we come to the Garden of Eden myth, and it seems only fitting that Urbis should have a First Garden analogous to the First City. But where to locate it? Well, verse 2:8 specifically mentions "eastward", so how about placing it way east, in the Tsan Empire (the local China analogue)? It only seems fair, since the First City is an Atlantis analogue, and hence "western". This also implies that Kortus ascended to Godhood in the far East (echoing once more the Peaches of Immortality). His worship spread into the west until his eastern roots were forgotten by most, and now many faithful even see his eastern and western aspects as two different entities! A quick search of Wikipedia for Chinese deities reveals the Eight Immortals, which would fit a recurrent theme - mortals transcending and becoming deities, which (according to the backstory mentioned before) certainly fits Kortus!

As for the equivalent of the "Garden of Eden", I've had some imagery floating around in my head since reading the Dictionary of Imaginary Places (though I don't remember the exact entry which triggered this line of thought). Basically, there is a far northern province of the Tsan Empire which would ordinarily be too cold for agriculture - but four enormous warm rivers pour out of a huge central mountain (which is considered "holy" and home to numerous monasteries), cascading down waterfalls until they reach the plain, where they spread out until they fill a larger square which ultimately drains into the sea. From each of the rivers numerous irrigation channels branch out. As the water emerges from the mountain it glows and has healing properties, though this effect lessens as the water travels away from its source. Roughly speaking, the geography looks like this - with the large square representing more than 200 miles on each side:

Let's say this entire province was the Garden of Kortus, and his most valuable plants (i.e. the ones granting immortality) were growing on the slopes of the mountain. When he ascended, he cast other mortals off the mountain, though in the millenia which have passed since then various monasteries have managed to establish themselves - and Kortus does not seem to mind. A few of the Peaches of Immortality yet survive, and the monks fiercely protect their control of them. Naturally, they send a few to the Tsan Empire as tribute, which seems enough to keep hostile takeovers at bay - the mountain slopes favor the defenders, and nobody wants to risk damaging the peach trees!

"[16] And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
[17] But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."

Verse 2:17 is interesting, since we all know that's not actually what happened when Adam and Eve ate from it. Anyway, let's assume that the Tree of Knowledge survives in the Garden of Kortus as well - but as a much deeper secret than the Peaches of Immortality and whatnot, and only the most enlightened monks may eat from it, as only they can face its earth-shattering revelations and stay sane. This will not turn them into deities - Kortus presumably took that information with him when he ascended, although there are always monks who try to figure out how he did it by studying his other works..

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Where I read the Bible for Gaming Inspiration - Genesis 2:1-7

Continued from here.

Chapter 2

"[4] These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,"

The word "generations" implies that were more than one preceding set "of the heavens and of the earth", which ties in to the notion that the kabbalistic Qlippoth are the "shells" or remnants of earlier creations of existence - which I first came across in +Kenneth Hite's GURPS Cabal. In Urbis, the Qlippoth exist as the abode of demons, which broke into the world after a massive magical accident in the Eternal Storm region. Back when I wrote this, I was working on expanding the cosmology of D&D 3E/4E - but Pathfinder actually has the Qlippoth as distinct entities, as the original inhabitants of the Abyss who were later displaced by demons. So let's say the Qlippothic shells - remnants of earlier universes - have broken through into our universe at the Eternal Storm (as well as other, lesser and frequantly temporary gateways elsewhere). What mortals perceive as the "Abyss", the abode of demons, is actually little more than a scab - an infested wound in the world that represents a boundary between the physical plane and the deeper, alien realms of the Qlippoth. Demons are the souls of mortals and other creatures which got stuck in that wound. They present a terrible danger to all mortals, yet by their very existence they also keep the Qlippoth at bay. Whether this wound can ever heal remains uncertain.

"[5] And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.
[6] But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.
[7] And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."

OK, first of all: Didn't God already create man (well, "male and female") back in Genesis 1:27? What happened to them, so that he would have to start anew? Where they just earlier models like the Qlippoth? And if so, are they still around in some form?

Urbis has a more "naturalistic" approach to the evolution of the world than the Bible, of course - so let's assume some kind of earlier humanoid species which may or may not have passed on their genes to what became modern-day humans, similar to how Neanderthals have passed on their genes to Europeans. I am tempted to use Blavatsky's Lemurians, who, being hermaphrodites, were "male and female" as described in Genesis 1:27. And (as I had forgotten), I've actually mentioned something like them in Urbis, as the inhabitants of the Lost Continent of Lamar.

But let's get back to verses 2:5-6. This sounds like the world had been actively seeded, but nothing was able to grow yet because there was no rain - until "a mist [went up] from the earth" and watered everything. Perhaps the aboleth bio-factories I mentioned earlier were actually terraforming engines that turned a desolate rock ball into a planet with vast oceans of water? This would certainly be a more favorable environment for the aboleth. Furthermore, the water wouldn't even need to be imported from off-world. A Decanter of Endless Water is rather cheap, yet can produce up to 30 gallons of water per round, or 5 gallons per second -157,680,000 gallons per year. Since there are 326,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons of water in the Earth's oceans, that means that if you have about a million decanters it will take you about two million years to create the oceans from nothing - a long time, but the aboleth are nothing if not patient. It certainly must have been a sight to behold, with multitudes of geysers ejecting water into the dry air where it would turn into mist and finally condense out again once the atmosphere had its fill...

Monday, February 10, 2014

Where I read the Bible for Gaming Inspiration - Genesis 1:23-31

Continued from here.

Chapter 1, Continued

"[24]And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
[25] And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good."

I find it significant that the Earth "brought forth the living creature". Are there underground bio-factories that can create living creatures, similar to the aquatic ones in my previous post? That reminds me of the Tarma Swamp, a location in Urbis where dinosaurs are emerging from just such an ancient structure. Perhaps these bio-factories have been programmed to "sample" various life forms to prevent their extinction, and then re-create them at a later date when their species have become extinct. Since this provides justification for many more dinosaurs than it would otherwise be plausible (not to mention other prehistoric beasties), I am all in favor of this.

And what is the "Beast of the Earth"? The Tarrasque and other kajiu-like beings left over from the earliest phases of life on the planet, beings which are immortal but cannot beget offspring of their own? Presumably the same beings which created the biofactories (proving the Intelligent Design hypothesis) created these creatures as well, but for what purpose? Perhaps, if their creators are the abominable aboleths, they are intended as civilization smashers - if any other sapient species becomes too powerful, the kajiu emerge and lay waste to their civilizations. Only the aboleth are programmed to be served - they and their servants, who are dependent on aboleth mucus to survive. Thus, as the civilizations of the competitor species are trampled beneath titanic heels, their only chance of surviving is to surrender themselves to the aboleths, who get new toys to play with.

"[28] And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth."

While the exhortation to humans to be "fruitful and multiply", as well as "subduing it" are frequently cited by religious groups, the aspect of replenshing the Earth often seems to be ignored. What does that mean in Urbis terms? Well, let's get back to Kortus, our deity of agriculture. Presumably he wants agriculture to spread, and thus calls his followers to make all the desolate places of the Earth fertile, including deserts, northern tundras, and so forth - and in this day and age, some of his followers might even see this as a call to terraform desolate planets, like the Mars-analogue Surtus (however, potted plants, hydroponics and other forms of growing plants not collected to the actual soil and ground are likely of lesser interest to them).

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Where I read the Bible for Gaming Inspiration - Genesis 1:8-22

Continued from here.

Chapter 1, Continued

"[11] And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
[12]And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good."

The phrase "after his kind" is curious, as at least in English - since plants tend to use the "neutral" gender instead of the masculine. So "whose kind" do the plants produce seeds of - God? This implies that the seeds of herbs and fruit trees - or at least, those herbs and fruit trees initially created by God - are also the seeds of Godhood, or at least immortality. This echoes many myths such as the Peaches of Immortality and, of course the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life from the biblical Garden of Eden.

Looking at the list of Urbis deities, the most likely candidate for plant-based ascension to divinity would be Kortus - but he is also the God of Death and the cycles of nature. Let's say that back in a mythical age Kortus was a mortal farmer, but the most proficient farmer of all times. He improved his plants until they made all beings who ate from them whole and stopped their aging, and shared their seeds and fruits freely with others. His greatest creation was the Tree of Life, whose fruits caused his ascension to Godhood when he tasted them. However, upon ascension he became aware of how his gifts had been abused - despots hoarded his seeds and doled them out to their loyal followers while oppressing those without access to them and fighting their rivals with the goal of maintaining their monopolies. Thus, he removed his Garden from mortal eyes and decreed that the cycle of life was meant to be, and that mortals questing for immortality were wrong. Nevertheless, some of his seeds and fruits of Immortality may have survived or smuggled out of his Garden, and the faith maintained that some rival deities attained their status only because they stole a fruit from the Tree of Life.

"[14] And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:"

The obvious interpretation of this are the stars, but of course we want to go beyond the obvious (especially since stars are mentioned separately in Verse 16), and look for another high-atmospheric phenomenon. Since they "divide the day from the night", this phenomenon would be especially visible during dusk and dawn. And as it happens, Urbis already has a suitable phenomenon - Rods (named, of course, after the cryptozoological phenomenon of the same name), which are visible "especially at dusk and dawn and other times with unusual lightning conditions." Since they are "for signs", sometimes they gather in vast constellations in which diviners may be able to read the future. Since they are "for seasons" and "for years", these constellations will be especially common during the equinoxes and solstices.

"[20] And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
[21] And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
[22] And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth."

What is noteworthy here is that "great whales" are the only type of creature mentioned specifically. Furthermore, the waters "brought forth abundantly" "every living creature that moveth". What if all these creatures that sprang from "the waters" did actually come from the "great whales" - which are not actually whales at all? This brings to mind the aboleth-made aquatic brood factories which I mentioned here for the Cold Frontier campaign. What if most life that sprang up on Rothea (the main world Urbis is set on) sprang from such aquatic factories - that it was seeded on this world by the aboleth (or their distant ancestors)?

Also curious is that fowl (meaning birds) are not supposed to multiply on, or above, but in the earth. Is there a vast subterranean refuge for birds somewhere in the depths of Terra Profunda? Perhaps this is a vast subterranean cavern complex (illuminated by phosphorent fungi and plants, no doubt) sufficiently isolated from the rest of the world that no mammals ever got there, similar to New Zealand (which only had bats as native mammals until humans arrived on the scene). The sole entrance is somewhere on a remote island within the World's End Archipelago, and when some birds accidentally reached those caverns millions of years ago, they multiplied and filled every conceivable ecological niche otherwise filled by mammals.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Where I read the Bible for Gaming Inspiration - Genesis 1:1-7

I maintain that inspiration for role-playing games can be found anywhere. However, some sources of inspiration are more fertile than others. With that in mind, I plan to look at one work of literature that is so tightly interwoven into the very fabric of Western Civilization that most people can't spot its many influences because they are everyhwere - the Bible.

To be specific, the King James Bible, and I plan to go through every book in turn in my search for inspiration (though no promises whether I will ever finish it - right now, my work schedule is rather busy and this is not my only major gaming project, so updates will be rather sporadic). This is not intended to be any serious exegesis of the Bible - the goal is to mine it for gaming ideas, not trying to figure out what the authors actually meant with each and every verse, so "creative re-interpretations" in the style of +Kenneth Hite's Suppressed Transmissions will be rather common. In particular, I will focus on adding new stuff for my own Urbis setting, but that doesn't mean I will limit myself to it.

With that in mind, let's get started - with the Book of Genesis.

Chapter 1

"[2] And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."

The "Face of the Deep" - an evocative image, isn't it? How about taking it literally instead of viewing it as a metaphor? What if is there are some gigantic creature or phenomenon inhabiting the ocean depths? When I came across the verse some time ago, I came up with the following for Urbis:

"A recurrent phenomenon of the Great Western Ocean are the so-called "Faces of the Deep". Observed only at night, these are large patches of illumination within the ocean depths which look like faces when seen from above from a passing ship. Often these faces are recognizably human, but just as frequently they are of decidedly non-human shape, and at times from creatures which have never been seen on Rothea. Sailors generally believe their appearances to be major omens, and have all sorts of superstitions about what kind of face will portend what fates. So far, no explorer has managed to find a Face of the Deep and to dive down to it quickly enough to discover what causes their appearance."

"[3] And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
[4] And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness."

While the very next verse makes clear that this, in fact, refers to the Day, what if we look at this "Good Light" as a separate entity? Perhaps it was the very first angel created by God? In Urbis terms, perhaps it is an elder entity mentioned in numerous mythologies and religions which can be invoked with the right rituals, with emanations of various strengths. Those who are within its radiance feel calm and peaceful, ceasing all aggression, while "creatures of darkness" (such as undead and the truly wicked) flee from it. Using Google Translate, we come up with a Greek-ish name for it - the Protofos. Many scholars believe it to be the remnants of the very first light of creation, though nobody is for certain - nobody has ever managed to communicate with it.

"[6] And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
[7] And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so."

Waters floating above the firmament? That is, in the sky? Sure, if you want to be boring about it you could interpret that as clouds, but I think floating lakes high up in the atmosphere are more interesting. In Urbis, I already have a high-atmosphere phenomenon - the Boreal Wind, so it's not as if strange stuff floating where it's not supposed to be is unprecedented. Let's say there is a substance called "float dust" with natural buyoancy - light enough to float to the upper reaches of the atmosphere where its buyoancy is counterbalanced by the thinning air. What's more, it can bond with water, granting it the same buyoancy and causing the water to clump together until its density in the water grows too thin, which causes the water to plummet and break up into smaller clumps. Alternatively, the floating lakes can lose their water via consensation, exposing the float dust again and scattering it.

From the ground, the "floating lakes" were long mistaken for ordinary high-altitude clounds until mages actually visited them. Needless to say, floating dust is extremely valuable, but harvesting it from the floating lakes is tricky - none the least because these lakes serve as breeding grounds for high-altitude ecosystems. Many flying creatures come here to spawn, and their larvae live in the water until they grow large enough to fly on their own - which of course attracts numerous predators preying on the larvae. If a late collapses suddenly, this may lead to the infamous "rains of tadpoles" and the like.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - Ponds of Time and Crystal Falls

North of the Mound City Ruins there is a series of small, crystal-clear ponds dotting the plains. When walking past them during calm weather, the explorers will notice that their reflections in the waters are delayed for a few seconds. By concentrating on a particular pond for a minute, the explorers will be able to see what was reflected within the waters at any particular time of their choosing. This is fatiguing, and additionally each successive attempt during the same day has a cumulative 1% of attracting the attention of yeth hounds, who live within the reflections and will track the observer through the ages until they emerge in this world during the next night. This chance decreases by 1% for each day the observer stays away.

As an observer needs the precise time of an event to observe it within the pool (observation occurs in "real time" and it is impossible to "fast-forward), it is difficult to get useful information in it. While tribals, First City visitors, Mothman warriors, and even the Great Darkness will appear in them if viewed at the right moment, finding such moments is next to impossible. However, it is possible to figure out the moment when the ponds were created by a process of elimination (as the ponds did not exist prior to it and thus events prior to it cannot be observed) - it was 1,263,846 years, 3 months, 17 days, 13 hours, 22 minutes and 17 seconds ago, where an enormous, multi-sphered entity can be seen manifesting in the sky above and weeping fluids down to the ground where the ponds form, while comparably diminutive Outer Dragons are attempting to fight it and eventually succeed in banishing it from this realm of existence.

North of the inland volcano the mineral rich waters of its many geysers and hot springs accumulate until they rush over a large fall, dropping 30 yards in cascades until they hit the canyon floor. The mineral rich waters have caused the growth of a multitude of crystals, making the fall a sight to behold (especially in sunlight). Unfortunately, the area is also inhabited by a crystalline horror, which is adept at hiding among the crystals and ambushing any creature that comes near.

Note: An index of Urbis-related posts can be found here.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - Apple Orchard and Treants' Court

In the foothills of the coastal mountains the forests begin to wane, as the soil becomes less fertile and there is less shelter for the trees. Nevertheless, in one region seven times seven small stands of shrubbery withstand the wind, each protected by a vast apple tree spaced 49 yards from the next tree in a perfect grid pattern. These apple trees grow wild apples, grown without grafts and each different from the next - and generally not very tasty for a human palate. Furthermore, each tree is truly ancient - if they were cut and their rings counted, they would turn out to be 327 years old. The Coastal Tribes tell of a pale man coming from the East, many winters before the arrival of the Inland Tribes, who planted those trees using secret magics to bless them, returning to tend these trees again and again for several years before finally vanishing further into the West.

In the mountains north of the Bandersnatch Footprints there is a small clearing where six cornifers are arranged in a rough circle. With only a little imagination these trees seem to have faces, arms, and legs as part of their trunks and roots. This is not an illusion - these trees are actually elder treants who have slept here for many generations and have now been overgrown with moss. Only magic or the most violent of disturbances will rouse them from their sleep, and even then they will require some time to fully wake up - but once they do, their wrath against any defilers will be tremendous.

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.

Monday, February 3, 2014

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - Fey Gardens and Ravine of Whispers

North of Ghost Crab Village there is a small valley where numerous herbs, berries, and other useful plants can be located. At first glance, these seem to be wild growths, but anyone familiar with gardening and agriculture will realize that they have been carefully tended. These are the works of a group of five dryads who live here, but they will generally stay out of sight of intruders unless the intruders are known to them. Instead they will generally leave the defense of their realm to a small tribe of twigjacks who will mercilessly harass intruders in any way they can until they leave (and then some). A few shamans (from Ghost Crab Village and elsewhere) are allowed to come here to trade, and the twigjacks are too scared of them to bother them.

Northeast of the Trade Outpost one of the many rivulets flowing into the main river has formed a small ravine, rarely more than 2 yards wide and 3 yards deep. People approaching will hear a low murmuring that at first seems to come from the water, but upon closer approach seems to come from a multitude of human voices. These are ancestor spirits of the Coastal Tribe, and those who know the proper name of one of the ancestors and the correct rites can call on one of them to answer questions about the past or share secret knowledge. The various Hunting Lodges know how to call upon their mightiest warriors while shamans know how to call shamans of the past, but neither will be eager to share such knowledge with outsiders.

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.