Setting Information

Overview

The world of Myriad begins its recent history with a cataclysm called the Great Shattering that literally split the world apart. Instead of destroying the world, however, this disaster left it almost as it was, except with the various pieces of the planet hovering around each other in a small realm of space, which are now simply called the Shards. The world's ecology wasn't affected - rivers still flowed despite lacking their sources, and almost no one died. Travel between Shards has proven impossible according to common wisdom, though rumors surface of travelers capable of moving between them, and of unstable sites where time and space mean less and therefore passage is possible.

In addition, rumors have spread about a stronger presence of "magic" in the world, as the cataclysm fringed the threads of the universe. Stories arise of strange people capable of doing things no mortal has seen except in myth, though none of the scattered kingdoms actually accept this. Stories about the how and why of the cataclysm differ from village to village, but the biggest consensus is that it must have been a group of occult students, perhaps a cult, who sought mastery over the secrets of nature and had something go horribly, horribly wrong. Most peasants blame it on power-hungry kings; most kings blame it on peasants seeking to improve their lot.

In their isolation, the kingdoms of Myriad have descended into decadent ennui, trapped by the twisted nature of the world, as though life were a winter storm that does not cease. People have packed into the major cities of each realm, fearful of the unstable borders where the shards split from one another. Agriculture has diminished, creating a large segment of starving, disenfranchised peoples. The kings and minor nobles hoard power and supplies just for survival's sake - for everyone else, strength rules the day. Competence and toughness mean you eat tonight, there's money to be had for those with quick swords and mighty hands, and there are plenty of entertainments to spend that money on.

Myriad is a land of exotic, surreal, visceral adventure, where people who can effectively focus their skills can carve a place in the world.

Consequences of the Shattering

Officially, it has been sometime between 30 and 80 years after the Shattering: recent enough that some old people remain who vaguely remember what the world was like before it, distant enough that young people accept the strange, floating rocks in the sky and rivers from nowhere as normal. No one really knows exactly how long it’s been.

What is well known, amongst those hidden and scattered few who study such things, is that the Shattering brought with it a certain flexibility to the laws of nature that seem to be in a state of continual deterioration. The generations of people that have been born since the Shattering have, at times, exhibited abilities beyond the reach of normal ken, seemingly mutated to allow them superhuman (or at the very least, extranormal) abilities. On an extreme level, these mutations have so warped some individuals that they are now something other than human, inhabiting the border regions where the Shattering split the land. For most, however, they have simply conferred a few abnormal talents.

Additional study of the Shattering’s effects has led to the rise of a form of “magic” called arcanism, a science that has gathered bizarre mathematical equations and other obscure lore together to allow people to alter the conditions of reality around them. While those who study arcanism have never merged into a society of any kind, they have been operating as individuals in secret for quite some time, creating a “shadow culture” in the kingdoms of Myriad known only to a precious few (most notably, the ruling classes, who often act as patrons for these “wizards” in exchange for services). Arcanists are often at odds with one another, as they each have a different answer to the question of what to do with their newfound, developing power.

The consequences for using arcanism are not yet fully understood, though some say insanity is the ultimate destination for any who would meddle with the root forces of the universe – certainly, some strange few choose to live on the borders where reality is most flexible, isolated in towers, pursuing mysteries better imagined than explained.

The Pattern of Settlement

Ultimately, though each land is slightly different, a general pattern has emerged for civilization in the wake of the Shattering. Much of the split land was once good farmland, and the Shattering eliminated the possibility of commerce between nations. Horrified by both the disaster and the strange, deformed beasts that emerged from the wilderness to kill, eat, and rape, most people fled the farms and small settlements that used to dot the countryside in favor of packing into the remaining cities and forts.

This has had three major effects on living conditions: there’s not enough for everyone to eat well, there’s not enough equipment to go around, and there’s not enough space to accommodate everyone. Still, the walls are nice and reassuring, and certainly better than risking the perils of the wilderness, so these conditions remain status quo. Most people are too busy trying to survive to think about being socially constructive on a large scale.

Outside the cities, whole tracts of land lay dormant, the fresh ruins of ancient greatness lingering in the wake of mass exodus. These areas are collectively called the Wastes, despite the fact that lush forests and perfectly serviceable land can be found in them. There are still some scattered settlements in these areas, carved out by the brave few who defied the Shattering to live how they choose; some of them help provide what little sustenance and raw materials are available further inland.

And, finally, there are the Borders: lands of writhing chaos at the edges where the Shards split. Very little is known about them. The tales that do surface speak of bizarre places where objects fall up and unholy things eat you first if you’re lucky. Some arcanists also live out here.

The City-State of Thuul

The starting point for the campaign is the city-fort of Thuul, a former border outpost of the Rakaat Empire that was settled by travelers shortly after the Shattering. As such, it contains an underground storehouse for provisions and well-crafted armaments that serve as the basis for a cycle which keeps whoever can control it in power. Various overlords have ruled the city since riots first decimated the garrison stationed there, all having gained dominion over the storehouses by force or treachery. It now occupies a central inland location on its Shard (also called Thuul for lack of a culturally significant name), sitting on a group of hills that overlook a long valley of grasslands and sparse woods. A great deal of fortification and construction has expanded the central fort area into a full keep with surrounding homes, wherein dwell the courtiers and minor lords.

The current ruler is named Vapash, and he has been overlord of Thuul for all of recent memory; a perverse combination of extreme paranoia and precise application of overwhelming cruelty has kept serious opposition from rising more than a few times during his reign. Generally, no one has problems with him – he keeps his loyalists well-stocked, keeps the people occupied, and responds to any major threat to the peace with terrible force. As he ages, though, he has become more paranoid and less precise – the combination of both leaves him ripe for the killing if he disgruntles too many of the wrong people.

Thuul’s major feature is its trade in fine designer drugs. One of the strange effects of the Shattering was that it altered many plants that already had mind-altering properties, to create even more potent hallucinations and other states of being. The ingredients are culled from the wilderness by intrepid groups of harvesters and, some whisper, are prepared by dark sorcerers in Vapash’s employ. They are widely distributed and nearly free to anyone in the city who wishes to escape their daily pain – much of Thuul’s populace are drug addicts without realizing it. This, in turn, gives Vapash a large, vibrant economy of favors which are another tool he uses to keep his power base stable.

A noteworthy subsection of people in the lower classes are slaves, those that provide entertainment of all kinds to others. The stressors of the living conditions create a need for catharsis and release so great that the entertainers cannot be trusted with basic liberties. From prostitutes to minstrels, actors to drug dealers – all are owned by a master of some kind, usually a retainer in the good graces of the local ruler. They ensure that the tense cities don’t explode into massive rioting and violence, keep the populace pacified to a degree, give their masters a measure of control and power among the people, and in turn are provided food, water, and shelter that are so hard to find in the streets. Some craftspeople also choose this arrangement, but they usually find that the communities themselves will protect them in hard times if they can be valuable enough.

Recent History

Shortly after the Shattering, an unusual event occurred across the shard - the spirits of the dead began to manifest and wreak havoc on the living. Apparently unable to go to their place of rest, these ghosts would frighten people as apparitions, create physical disturbances and property damage, possess people, and when emotions were strong enough, sear the flesh of the living right from their bones. No one knows precisely how the spirits were able to accomplish all this, but many have attributed it to a side effect of the Shattering. The spirits ran unchecked across Thuul for many years, until they were stopped by the first Keeper of Thuul just prior to the beginning of Vapash's reign. Court historians often ponder what might have come of Vapash's attempt at conquest had the spirits not been quelled. The event is now called the Great Haunting.

Twenty years ago, the largest and most organized of the uprisings against Thuul's throne occurred. A dissident order called the Scarlet Fist had worked its way into the city's infrastructure, uniting poor and rich, free and enslaved alike in a vision of sharing the spoils kept in the central keep and breaking their bonds. Their leader, whose name has somehow been lost, had come from the Wastes with artifacts of great power that helped him rally the populace. In a direct confrontation with the arcanists of the court, however, they were broken and chased from the walls. Some say Vapash sent hunters into the wilderness to kill them to the last man, but this remains a rumor.

The Rakaat Empire

The Rakaat Empire was once a continent-spanning empire gained via military conquest that had stood for over three centuries. It was the most technologically advanced society by any reckoning, with crafted goods that were the envy of the known world. The Shattering ripped the empire asunder, splitting its holdings into at least nine different far-flung Shards. Rumor in the empire’s remnants attributes the Shattering to divine wrath directed at the last Emperor; the peculiar coincidence of its capital city being split in half during the event does little to quiet these claims. The tales go so far as to say that, if you can survive the trip, you can go to the city and see half of the Emperor’s throne (and his corpse) – literally ripped apart by the gods. Of course, because no one has ever actually made this trip, the rumors remain unsubstantiated.

The mass exodus has left many ruins and smaller settlements empty, along with many wondrous technological devices that were once common. These artifacts carry high value in any city for their utility and ruggedness, and provide yet another means for a skilled person to make his mark. At its height, the Rak’at Empire had tech roughly equivalent to late medieval Arabia; it’s since backslid a few hundred years, with some of the better tech available but impossible to repair or reproduce.

Religions and Belief Systems

In order to ease the burden of assimilating cultures, the Empire long ago created a state religion and allowed for conquered peoples to worship their own gods much as they always had. For the exception of national festivals or Imperial visits, the priests of the state religion would instruct the populace on how to associate their local gods with the state-created ones to ensure proper unity of worship. This was actually the primary duty of the Imperial priesthood, and very few people paid more than lip service to the "official" gods.

The state religion was polytheistic, and each god manifested itself as either a virtue or vice for ease of incorporation. The gods of vice weren’t necessarily considered evil, either – there was an emphasis on pluralism and lack of fanatic devotion. Consider the perspective of someone who would pray to Lust so that he could rekindle the spark of passion with his loving wife, and you'll get the idea.

Currently, most temples have been converted to more practical buildings because of a need for the space, and there is no real active priesthood, though the gods are still commonly invoked in everyday speech. "May Wrath take you," for example, would be a common curse.

The Keepers of the Key

More recently, an order of gravekeepers has arisen in the wake of the Great Haunting, claiming to be able to keep the restless spirits of the dead at peace. The order is called "The Sacred Order of the Key," and its members are called Keepers. They are all women, and they are traditionally responsible for the maintenance of gravesites, the burial of the dead, and the administration of funerary services. Most also have limited skill as herbalists and healers. They are allowed to subsist on whatever they can scrounge from the dead, and it is a common practice to bury the dead with possessions that might be useful to a Keeper later.

The core text of this order is called the Codex of the Key, which contains two major sections: The Contract of al-Ghoulah, which is a formal agreement of mutual non-aggression between the living and the spirits of the dead, and the Rituals of the Key, which are the specific rites of the order.

It is unknown precisely how many Keepers there are. In the city of Thuul, only one is commonly known, and she goes by the name of al-Khitam.

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