A Pre-Apocalyptic Setting Guide
This book is about Atlantis before the tide turned. It's about Hyperborea before it folded itself between north and up. It's about Nu Yark Citee before the Mushroom Bombs hit.
This book is about a single city, Endon, and the inhabitants of that famous and notorious capital of commerce, learning, and sophistication. It's about a world slowly tipping onto its side, and all the interesting things that begin to slide at the start of a revolution. It's about people with grand dreams pushing the boundaries of the possible.
But mostly, it's about magic.
Pastoral Wizards and Bucolic Witches
In most fantasy worlds, magic is just sort of... present. You can buy a potion at the local artistically potion-seller's stall. You can train under a lone and eccentric archmage. Wizards might be common, but they aren't changing the world. In some games, you can pick through the ruins of vast magically sophisticated civilizations who, for whatever reason, Went Too Far; a magical post-apocalyptic wasteland overgrown and forgotten.
This book is about a pre-apocalyptic civilization. And who knows? Maybe, if the right choices are made, things will turn out differently this time.
Saving The World
A traditional method for solving an apocalypse in an RPG - or Godzilla film - is to crash another apocalypse into it and hope it sorts itself out. Wake up the skeleton army and hope they fight the giant space crabs. Cancel global warming with nuclear winter.
In Endon, player characters can gain power and experience (or whatever your system uses) in any of the usual ways. Alternatively, consider:
-give a level for averting a significant crisis
-give a level for inventing something
A Theory of Magic
Here's the state of the art.
Spells are living creatures. Spells, enchantments, ghosts, and souls are all more or less the same. Souls inhabit a living shell most of the time. Weak souls require the living shell to be maintained with food, water, air, etc. Strong souls, like those of sufficiently magical creatures, can ignore biology and physics.
A wizard's spells range in intelligence from pond scum to ferrets. A spellbook is a menagerie-prison. A well-trained brain is a mind-gun loaded with spell-bullets. Minor spells, called cantrips, infest the wizard's soul and bind to it. You can imagine them as extra, mutated limbs, except stuck to the soul and not the body.
Spells can be bred and trained. Copying a spell is difficult and tedious. Enchanting an object means convincing a spell to activate more-or-less permanently and is exceptionally tricky. Runes and engravings can help form a combination prison, racetrack, and factory.
It's possible this theory isn't true. It might even be wildly inaccurate. But it does explain most of the observable facts and that's good enough for the wizards. After all, Newton knew how gravity worked without having the faintest idea of why gravity worked. Thee theory of caloric fluids explains a cooling cup of tea and predicts the speed of sound in air. Radioactivity had a long and exciting life without an explanation; oil prospectors corrected for continental drift long before the geologists started paying attention to coastlines and fossils.
So maybe magic will turn out to be caloric corpuscules or planes of negative and positive energy. Maybe it will be something else entirely. But right now, for the purposes of this book, the spells-as-living-creatures theory given above is widely accepted.
Magic, Not Religion
This book deals only with magic. No miracles, no divine interventions, no holy relics. If there are divine figures on high, they're peering down at [X] with concern and amusement. Some gods might enjoy experimenting - some of them are notorious for it - but no god enjoys being tested.
|Jack T. Cole|
Table of ContentsI. Introduction
II. Endon Gazeteer (make this really short, use tables instead of paragraphs)
3. The Ministries
II. Schemes, Stages, and Setbacks
II. Grand Innovations
Appendix 1: Who Are You?
Appendix 2: What The Hell Is That Thing?
Appendix 3: For Sale, Cheap.
Grand Innovation Example: The AerialistsFlight has long eluded mankind. Magic, via carpets, broomsticks, boots, and winged helmets, let wizards soar over the masses, but their flights were always short and clumsy affairs.
When George Miles was a child, he dreamed the same dream every night. He was flying over the smoking chimneys and shadowed alleys of Endon. Following the smoke, he flew higher and higher, above the clouds, into the upper air, where the whole world was no bigger than a dinner plate or an illustrated map from one of his schoolbooks.
Lacking everything but talent and ambition, George sold rain-charms to earn enough money to attend a wizarding college. He was expelled for nonpayment of dues in his third year, but by then, he'd already developed a magic carpet capable of level flight at fifty miles per hour. Passengers and cargo were swept off, but he persisted.
Today, in a small and dingy workshop, George is working on his latest flight enchantments.
Stages1. Initial Innovation
Visit George at Stage 1 and you'll find a small building with a sign marked "Be Aware of Falling Objects". His workshop is full of magical equipment: rune-carvers, passive magical batteries, and large coils of copper wire. Small fluttering automatons bounce in the rafters, "gifts for my nieces and nephews", George will say, pointing at the brightly coloured wooden toys.
The wizard will happily discuss flight with anyone who steps into his shed. He's given up on levitation; too much power for too little reward. Instead, he believes flight relies on propulsive power alone. On a bench, lightly covered with an old rag, is the first moveable rod.
Moveable Rod (Prototype)
An iron rod, 2" long, 3" across. Hums slightly when touched. Put a small jolt of magic into it - anything will do - and it flies 100' per round in a straight line, dealing damage like a bullet on impact. Anything that can stop a bullet will stop it. It is active for 1d6 rounds and takes 24hrs to recharge without a magical battery. The rod is worth 10gp as a curiosity.
2. Public Introduction
By Stage 2, George has developed a reliable spell lineage. He has hired a dozen apprentices and purchased several large magical batteries. His new workshop is on the same site as the old one, but it's considerably larger, and has more-or-less swallowed his old brick house. Miles' Moving Miracles are crude devices, much mocked as "Deathjumpers" or "Witch Thrones".
Miles' Moving Miracles
A wooden chair with a thick cotton-stuffed seat attached to a series of moveable rods and control levers. The seat has four very large spring-suspended legs. Wheels are optional. By sitting on the throne and adjusting the ballast bags, then pulling the levers in the correct sequence, a pilot can hop up to 500' off the ground, fly horizontally at up to 20 miles per hour, then descend. A single hop's total flight time is limited to 10 minutes (and 6 miles, give or take), but travel is exhilarating and precise. An emergency featherfall lever can be activated if things go awry.
In Gilford Park, a men and women hired by Miles launch vertical observation flights every hour for a 4 gp fee. The fee slowly falls as the novelty wears off, but for a few months, it's the most fashionable and daring thing to do.
A fully operational Moving Miracle can be purchased for 10,000gp.
3. Widespread Adoption
The only thing limiting the Moving Miracles are the spells trapped in the movable rods. Each spell is slightly different; some burn faster, some stronger, some at slight angles. Calibrating a chair takes weeks.
An innovation by a rival firm, quickly adopted by Miles, adds wooden steering fins and taut canvas flaps. Calibrating a wing is far easier than calibrating a spell. The original inventor is ruthlessly suppressed by Miles and his newfound wealth. Moving Miracles develop rapidly. Wheels and skids are added. Multiple chairs, benches, and harnesses let entire families take to the air. Moving Miracles become Miras. Now sporting dozens of moveable rods, a single well-built Mira can hop-fly for fifty miles before recharging. Tinkerers, imitators, and fools flood the market. Stables sprout mirapads, landing spots for the new vehicles crowding the streets. Crashes are reported with gleeful grisly detail.
At this stage, horses outnumber Miras a thousand to one, even in cosmopolitan Endon. But every day, a few more are released from the factory complex on the outskirts of the city. A ride from one station to another within Endon costs 1gp. A fully stocked Mira costs 3,000gp. Luxury models are available, though the ones modeled on carriage frames tend to be a bit tippy.
The number of crashes has created a few pending issues. Escaped movable rod spells have colonized unlikely objects. Occasionally, a flowerpot, teacup, horse, paving stone, or pedestrian gets flung 500' in the air. Miles hasn't been informed, but his well-paid lieutenants have covered up most of the issues, blaming foreigners, lightning, and public drunkenness.
4. Scope Alteration
While flying chairs - more flung than flying - fill the skies, George Miles works furiously in his towering brick and glass chambers, filling reams of paper with calculations and drawings. By night , in secret, he sends up small test flights. They are lifted by conventional levitation spells (broomsticks, mostly) to 1,000 feet, then launched higher and higher by ever-more-powerful moveable rods. Though occasionally startled by thunderclaps and plummeting screaming aerialists, the citizens of Endon shrug and move on with their lives.
The Minister of War asks George Miles if his inventions could be used against the Hated Foreigner. Miles supposes so, and though he doesn't actively participate the war ministry begins strapping cannons to Miras. Results are both promising and disastrous. Firing projectiles over hundreds of miles using moveable rods seems plausible, if very expensive.
A prototype high-altitude Mira is worth at least 100,000gp. It has a 25% chance of pulping any riders, a 25% chance of disintegrating, and a 50% chance of launching any riders up to 10,000 feet in the air and/or 1,000 miles in any direction.
5. Height of Ambition
With full backing from the Overminister, George Miles announces his latest and greatest mission. Small-scale test flights with animals and apes have shown that the upper reaches of the air are thin and magically charged (explaining auroras rather nicely). A very high altitude flight can gain massive boost to its moveable rods, recharging the tired spells instantly. With sufficient ministerial funding, George Miles believes a Exo-Mira could fly to any location in the world, circle the globe, or even reach the moon.
Of course, hearing this, Mister Slang (pg. ##) will immediately launch a counter-propaganda campaign, asking for funding for his own moon-based schemes (which may or may not be at a viable stage).
In a field outside the city, guarded day and night by soldiers, Miles will - unless stopped - construct a massive moveable rod manufacturing centre. Every rod is devoted to the moon project. His competitors flourish, but he doesn't care. His moon-vehicle looks more like a black iron evergreen than a rocket, but its thousands of rods will surely be enough to lift a few occupants - brave, daring, proven occupants like the PCs, potentially - through the upper air and to the moon. Who knows what treasures await them on its silver shores?
6. Terminal Events
The Exo-Mira will fall over and push Endon into the sea. Messily.
Or it will rise on a column of octarine light, explode, and bury Endon in a hail of molten iron fragments.
Or it will fly into the upper air, siphon off millions of years of accumulated magic, and expose the entire world to unfiltered sunlight in all eight colours, probably ushering in an age of magical tumors and mass extinction.
Or it will, impossibly, push the earth out of its orbit, sending the seasons into freefall.
Gameable IdeasI'm going to try to create a world full of potential. Everything is proceeding along at a frantic, dangerous pace. Magical accidents increase in frequency. Clever people - the player characters - will probably make their own fun almost immediately. I want to provide a bunch of tools to make players go "Oh wait, if we combine this with that we could almost certainly..."
It's designed to bolt onto most systems fairly easily. There will be short rules for sabotaging competitors, selling prototypes, going into business on your own, etc. There will be sidebars for special events (Mira races), tables of competitors, etc.
The book is vaguely inspired by a copy of Gurps Goblins I flipped through many years ago. Apparently bits of it were lodged in my head.
Lots of illustrations of inventions, wizards, and all that.
I don't want to go full steampunk. It's not really anything-punk. The players aren't victims of an unfair system; the system is being built around them at a ludicrous, directionless pace.
Spells to Industrialize
Free association time.
Illusions. Like bubbles made of spell-stuff. Can they be stabilized? Immense utility. What about sentient illusions? Move your own soul into an illusory body? Illusions cross bred with reality?
Shrinking spells? And enlargement spells. Probably can't be made permanent, but you could probably use them to do all sorts of fun chemistry or alloying. Compression and expansion and all that.
Teleportation and portals. Overland transport, solved! Right? Probably no downsides at all. Also, teleporter to the moon because yes, that seems like a very good idea. Can you monster summon a very specific person, say, a person holding a ticket?
Moving stone and earth. Roads, giant buildings. Making the world legible by the standards of people with absolutely no sympathy or sense of ecology. What if we took all that coal and iron and put it above ground?
Messages and sending. Telegraphs! Spells racing from tower to tower. Wand relays. I should write a bit on wands. Don't get hit by a message spell; it's like having a transcription seizure.
ESP; reading the thoughts of mad people for fun.
Spheres of annihilation. What if they weren't spheres? What if you started modifying their geometry?
Rope tricks and pocket dimensions. Stick an entire new wing onto your house. Fashion for mansions the size of a doorframe (or maybe only the poor occupy extra-dimensional spaces? Nah, probably too expensive). What happens when they start colliding. Assassin who collapses rooms to kill people.
It gets a whole section to itself. All living creature alteration spells at once.
Right. So what if you take your champion racehorse (male) and polymorph it into a greyhound. You then breed it with your champion greyhound (female). What happens (assuming you're persistent)?
1. If the polymorph is permanent, no issues.
2. If the polymorph isn't permanent, issues.
Let's say sperm meets eggs, sends in polymorphed chromosomes. When the spell ends, the original chromosomes transform back, but it probably doesn't matter at that point; copies have been made, and the copies wouldn't transform back. Probably. I mean, a photograph of a polymorphed person doesn't change when they polymorph back. Since most of the cellular machinery comes from the egg things will probably still be fine.
On the other hand, when you're polymorphed, you must be creating and dividing cells all the time, and all those new cells, made with copied DNA, get polymorphed back. You don't get coated with a layer of troll slime or gain the stomach lining of a goat.
What if you hit a person who is polymorphed into a creature with more than the usual number of limbs? I can see wizards transforming urchins, poking them with pins, and then transforming them back to see what sort of morphic mapping occurs.
Can you transform someone into a creature that doesn't exist? What if you use mind-altering spells to convince the caster it does exist?
Most fire spells are probably less effective than a blast furnace and some powdered coal. Walls of force though. Those could be useful. Wind forcing.
Summoning walls of iron seems impressive, and it's definitely handy to create blast chambers and special shapes, but it's probably easier to just mine the stuff.
Geas. Geas and philosophers.