Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Setting: Draco (First Age)

Common to both Terra and Draco are mysteries and questions about what came before the First Age. On Terra, this question took the form of, "Why did we seem to lose so much knowledge about the past?" On Draco, the question is, "Where did we come from?"

Human civilization on Draco is limited primarily to one continent, Contel, on the southern hemisphere. Contel is divided into seven nations, an in each nation is an extension of the Dragon System, a spiritual engineering project that grants living beings access to "magic". The origin of the Dragon System, although within the limits of cultural memory, remains a mystery; the people who traveled the continent and built the temples among what otherwise amounted to anarchy are described most clearly as "Hardened sages, bitter in temperament, preoccupied with an idea they are not wont to explain, and more than willing to do violence to any who oppose them."

The seven nations of Contel are Azael, Tiyoma, Ooria, Daeyul, Alyon, Seyona, and Yora. They contain, in order, the Elemental Dragon Temples of Fire, Thunder, Wind, Earth, Wild, Water, and Void. The last, Yora, is also the home to various religious orders; by dictate of the Yunian Order, all known religions must base their operations there. This is, apparently, not unrelated to the spiritual phenomena that occur around religions on Draco; spirits known as Angels may haunt a person or object, and use magic (with some difficulty) to aid or hinder them. The churches, and some specialists in Yora, exist to give order to this process, making it a somewhat saner proposition. The main church of a religion is considered home to the Archangel, and it is believed that the calmness and Void-element nature of Yora helps them keep a clearer mind, making them sane and helpful rather than evil or vindictive.

The Yunian Order, previously mentioned, is a society of masters spread across Contel, but centered on the city of Aeda, the capital of Daeyul. They accept into their order anyone who is a master of any skill--in other words, anyone who can meaningfully contribute to the Order's own library of knowledge. In return, everyone who is accepted into the society can access this library, barring only a few taboo subjects.

Aside from Contel, there are two known continents, both vaster in scope. The first, Anstra, is mostly on the northern hemisphere, and is easiest to reach from Contel via the port at its southern tip; the second, Katran, extends across both hemispheres and is by far the largest. Katran is mostly reached by travelling east from the edge of Anstra, and is little explored. Anstra (being easier to circumnavigate by boat) is well enough mapped as far as coastlines go, but the interior is too dangerous to explore for most people. (There is also a fourth, smaller continent, undiscovered in this era, which has no intelligent life.)

Both are home to various feral populations of Evoloid halfbreeds, and naturally are also home to a few roaming Evoloids per se. Evoloids, a miraculous (or, by other accounts, freakish or demonic) race, are wont to bring races out of being mere animals by granting them intelligence and a human-like form--by mating with them, a process about which the less is said, the better. This, like the Dragon System, is one of the strongly peculiar situations on Draco, which was clearly engineered by someone or something, but the history of which is not known.

The Evoloid halfbreeds, who are often feral but (by all accounts) can be civilized given effort, vary quite a bit in their properties based on not only individual history, parentage, etc, but also by the species (plural) which are mixed into their genetic code. This becomes extremely complicated (and awkward) considering that halfbreeds can always breed with other halfbreeds, even of different lineages.

Evoloid halfbreeds are largely shunned or viewed as second-class creatures by the human population of Draco, although they are considered a fascinating research opportunity by many Necromancers, who view their complicated genetic code as an adequate base for bio-transformation magic. Generally, they are not allowed onto the continent of Contel, unless they have received a pass from the few human settlements on Anstra, certifying them as sufficiently civilized. Similarly, the Evoloid race is given short shrift, although there is no such thing as a "Feral" Evoloid; they seem to be genetically predisposed to being gentle, even affectionate. It is wholly unique to their population, indeed, that they get along with every animal species, and every plant species, that has been tested. Only intelligent creatures (feral halfbreeds not among them, although "civilized" halfbreeds are) seem wont to do them harm.

When speaking of race, there are three other peculiarities on Draco, none of them related to Evoloids. First is Proto, a peculiar substance with the appearance of soft white clay, which nonetheless is a living substance. It is notable in that its properties can be changed by spellwork to appear as, and have the properties of, virtually any other form of biology, from bone to flesh and fat to wood, spore, and mold. It is psychoreactive--so highly, in fact, as to be very dangerous to the touch, as it can accidentally become part of your anatomy, but responds in peculiar ways to your emotional state. It is highly prized by enchanters and necromancers for its varying uses and abilities, but is perhaps most widely known for being the base of several kinds of necromantic (and horrific) viruses, collectively called Proto-viruses or psi-viruses.

Second, and related to proto, are the Fae. Most common in the deep forests of Anstra, these are small (3"-9"), winged human-looking creatures. However, their biology is distinctly non-humanoid, and can only be described as repurposed Proto; they have no organs, and must feed by either a form of osmosis, or by absorbing "magical energy". Perhaps most notably, Fae are parasitic; they can attach themselves (not physically, but spiritually) to a creature, becoming Fae-ra, and in this form they slowly learn complexities of language, culture, tool use, magic use, etc, providing of course that the host knows such things intuitively. They do not speak, but have a limited form of telepathy, which can be expanded through practice to be the mental equivalent of speaking out loud (such that it can be heard by most or all people in an area). In all cases, Fae-ra do not exert any real control over the hosts, instead becoming by all accounts a willing tool of theirs. If two people, both possessed of Fae-ra, fall in love (as has happened only a handful of times), the Fae-ra will apparently merge (spiritually) over time, becoming a psychic link between the two hosts.

Fae can attach to more than just intelligent creatures, however; they can attach to trees, animals, feral halfbreeds, etc, and rather than taking on human-like intelligence, they become essentially a copy of the host creature in all but form. Tree Fae-ra, for example, will usually fly above the trees, soaking up sun, and have little to no interest in goings-on. Note that it is possible (and looked askance at)
for a non-intelligent Fae-ra host and an intelligent one to merge as described above. Mystery surrounds this, but the only real records of this being observed end as follows: "[the subject] claimed, with all sincerity and straightforwardness, that there was nothing amiss in his relationship [to the wolf], and that the two simply had a working relationship that made them inseparable... one is left to assume, from observing them, that this is the case, but I think I have no desire to explore further in any case."

The third mysterious race is the Gritten, who seem exclusive to the rocky northern wastes of Anstra. They are wholly crystalline in form and structure, and all attempts to use any magic to observe, monitor, or affect them meet with instant and complete failure. They seem to operate as a hive-mind, and seem in many ways insensitive to all else around them, except the use of magic, which attracts their attention. Nothing comparable to them have been describe anywhere else on the planet. They are, however, alive, and shamble around the rocky wastes aimlessly. Their forms are only vaguely humanoid, and vary from day to day. Little if anything more is known about them.

Profile: Seyona

Seyona (the water nation) is the easternmost nation on Contel. It is by all accounts a feudal nation, with a large number of noble houses, and also a nation of trade and commerce; although they are a large importer of goods, they are also a great exporter, usually of finished, enchanted, or refined goods. It is structured in many ways as a magical-industrial nation, with large, offensive, and opaque structures along the main trade routes which are dedicated to some industrial or magical task. All the main cities are walled, and most are controlled by some noble faction or other, often to the exclusion of outsiders. Most frequently, a given citizen's allegiance is not to the nation of Seyona, but to their local Lord or Lady.

Merchants are, according to some, a separate and higher caste in Seyona, but this does not appear to be literally or legally the case. The only particular accommodations which Merchants receive over others is unfettered access to cities, and this is still, in some cases, restricted only to market districts. Nonetheless, crime by travelling merchants is a frequent problem, as they are likely to be gone from any given city before the crime is discovered.

The magic of Seyona is predominantly Water, consisting largely of enchantments, bindings, magic circles, and manipulation of an object's magical self. According to reports widely circulated in the Yunian Order, it is also by far the least balanced nation of the seven, elementally speaking, to the point where most Void-element casters do not wish to live there.*

Seyona has a substantially above-average population of necromancers, although they are forbidden by the Yunian Order, largely based on the misconception that Necromancy is, in practice, a form of enchantment (and therefore Water magic). Such practice remains a criminal activity, but as there is no small amount of corruption in the nation, in many places it gets by under the radar.

Seyona is also home to a sororal society known as the Keystones. They keep their organization, members, and practices heavily secret, mostly by use of special Water and Earth magic to create out-of-plane meeting spaces. The magic in question, collectively called Wardwalking, allows travel into objects, although in order to hold even one person completely, the material used must be carefully prepared with Earth magic. These out-of-planar meeting spaces are dangerous, and essentially impossible to detect, when planted within existing architecture. They are typically expansive pieces of stone, which are likely to have several places which can serve as a viable entrance or exit. These locations can also be entirely inaccessible physically, and only can be accessed magically by skilled (and well-informed) use of the Wardwalking spells. (The Yunian order also uses Wardwalking as a means of fast transit across the continent, by making use of leylines, which seem to serve admirably in this capacity)

There is also a substantive problem of human trafficking in Seyona, due to the problems of high population density, Wardwalking as a common practice, high crime rates among traders, and many locations that are off-limits to investigators. Some effort is being made, but by all accounts it is not a high priority. The Keystones, as one of their founding premises, do not tolerate such crime if they detect any hint of it, but it is a particularly difficult crime to track down even once you have the proper knowledge and tools.

*Elemental balance, it is generally understood, requires equal usage of the six elements, and the balance of a location affects the way casters see the world. A heavily imbalanced place will, in fact, allow you to see and understand certain elements better than a perfectly balanced place, but at the expense of losing clarity with other kinds of magic. Void magicians must maintain both internal balance, and some amount of external balance, to maintain their non-elemental clarity, which is a daunting task.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Prophecy and Time Travel

I make this commitment now: the Demonsword Project rules-as-written and setting-as-written do not support travel into the past, and as a direct consequence, do not support prophecy (knowledge of the future, or in other words, knowledge travelling to the past). This seems to be a strange statement, especially when you realize the official canon suggests that time travel may have happened.

The justification for this is iterative time-space--in other words, this moment erases the one that just passed. The past does not literally exist anymore, and therefore cannot be traveled to; similarly, the future does not yet literally exist, and you cannot discover anything about it by prophetic means. By mundane means, by all means try; meet people, learn physics, understand the world and predict it, but it is a guess, not prophecy, binding or otherwise.