Assembling Themes

So today I’ll be taking those three themes I picked out yesterday and be assembling the loose framework of a personal campaign setting out of them – this is largely to show how those same themes that intrigue me in officially published settings can give rise to something different in the hands of anyone with the necessary mental energy and time to invest.

So, the recap, the three themes I picked out in the last post were the presence of old and powerful beings, intriguers and extremely experience politicians, who each had designs on making things go their way; the presence of absolute free will (a lawful good demon, a neutral evil devil, a society of neutral good dark elves) and the lack of any direct divine presence that goes with it, such that each church likely has schisms and dogmatic feuds over the “correct” way to read the holy texts; and the presence of essential sources of power that make it possible to ascend to something that amounts to divinity, without actually being gods or the sources themselves being divine – or even sapient.

So what can I build out of these themes?

I’m going to take the third theme and part of the second one first; let’s say there are half a dozen of these sources of power, each one keyed to an elemental aspect of the world. In addition to the familiar four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) we’ll add radiance and entropy. These latter two can stand in for positive and negative energy/holy and unholy effects for most purposes. We’ll key each of them to a concept, as well – radiance is raw creation, entropy is decay and destruction, fire is change, earth is stability, air is disorder (distinct from change), and water is patterns. I’m liable to tweak and adjust all of these if actually used in a game, but for now they’ll do.

Each of these can provide a path to immortality and functional divinity for those who seek out the means. Each of these also means a given person’s path to immortality is going to be unique, the interaction between their nature and that of the element they seek to imbue themselves with deciding the course ahead of them. A mighty warrior who seeks to become a paragon of entropy is going to have a different path to walk than a clever wizard, which is as it should be.

This, in turn, leads back to theme one. Finding the start to the path of immortality should be hard – but completing it should require the kind of focus and drive that a god needs to have. This is where our chessmasters come from – people have started the path to being godlike before, but they’ve all stalled out partway. Even starting the path grants longevity, and the farther down it they progress the longer their lifespan becomes as they become less and less mortal. Still, none of the manipulators in the world, no matter how far along their paths they are, have achieved the endgoal. Some are still trying to push down it; some think there is no end; others have given up on it; and some regret even starting it. All of them have their reasons to manipulate the world, from the need for resources for their attempt to progress toward immortality to the desire for power in its own right or a bitterness that the world keeps changing on them, as they try to enforce an eternal status quo. Some might even be manipulating events to bring an end to things, since they feel nothing should get to persist if they don’t.

And that can be tapped back toward the first half of the second theme – when mortal time scales permit free will and the shift of personalities from young idealist to bitter old curmudgeon, it’s almost a given that a long enough lifespan will allow pretty much any being to slip across the alignment spectrum. As such, anyone of any alignment can worship any faith (or mix of them), emphasizing the parts that they regard as important and minimizing those they dislike; priests get their magic regardless of the conflict between the theoretical alignment of their deity and their own. If I do this in some iteration of D20, I’ll have to think about paladins and similar classes carefully, unless I use an edition that already has an answer to the question for me.

From here, I’m usually prone to sketch out a few big-world details, often the cosmology and the deep history. As far as this goes, though, I’ll note that the world exists at a confluence point – the six elemental forces are largely in balance here, which is why it’s the mortal world. Other planes exists, with different balances, and sometimes they can interact with the mortal world or be traveled to (but rarely without risk on the part of the traveler). There are no gods on any plane that anyone can find. The dead don’t go to any plane that can be reached, although restless souls (ghosts, wraiths, and so on) linger in the twilight gloom of mingled elemental essences that qualifies as the Ethereal Plane of this setting. If something like Speak With Dead is used, or someone gets resurrected (a rare feat), nothing can be answered about the realm where the dead go; it’s a mystery.

I’m figuring there’ll be one major known continent, set in the southern hemisphere, which means things get hotter the farther north one goes and the coldest lands are to the south. It’s actually two continental plates colliding, so there’s a major mountain range in the middle, shoved up by the slow-grinding impact; rivers flow away from these mountains on both sides, and the tallest peaks in the known world thrust up here.

One thing I like from both Golarion and the Forgotten Realms are the Bandit Kingdoms of the Inner Sea Region and the Border Kingdoms near the Lake of Steam; these little nations ruled by would-be nobles appeal to me entirely because I like to give players something to strive for, claim ownership over, and establish as a base. As such, there won’t be any empires near where I start any groups off, but a region of self-proclaimed nations ruled by petty kings and vacant wilderness, some of it long abandoned and some of it still untouched by mortal hands.

And, because all good settings need a place that players who don’t want to have a keep and a country can call home, there’ll be such a place. At a crossroads somewhere a few days from any cities or towns, there shall be a place known as the Wayfarer’s Rest.

Patrons can look forward to hearing more about the Wayfarer’s Rest in the post I’m planning. (Please do consider tossing a buck; even $1 a month helps, and I’d much rather have a bunch of $1 backers rather than a single big backer.)

Next post, I’ll pick back up on Aethera, with the world of Seraos!

Assembling Themes

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