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Setting Background

Page history last edited by Araes 11 years ago

This page is at Set in Stone status. Ratings Guide

Creation Background

The basic premise of this campaign setting has been brewing around in my (Araes) head for quite some time, probably before the days of the open campaign setting call by Wizards of the Coast. However, during that call I was motivated to think about it more and codified some of the main ideas I had for it into a presentable form. Naturally, it wasn’t chosen by the committee, as it doesn’t really fit the concepts which I think they may have been looking for (as you’ll see shortly). From that time forward, I have worked on it off and on, and run a few play tests as well, to see how the general mythos played out with characters. However, for a long period it languished on my hard drive with little work.


Nonetheless, I finally broke down and decided to write again. And, due to the literature I'd been reading at the time (rereads of 1984 and A Brave New World) my inclination had been to go back and start putting some more work in on fleshing out the campaign world and giving it some historical/cultural meat.


While working on my qualification exams at Georgia Tech, I would naturally get bored and started brainstorming some ideas in my head for an expansion of the world I'd theorized which included some of the aspects from the literature I loved. Asimov, Heinlein, Dyson, Wells, and numerous others all had parts of their works that pulled at my brain. Finally, finishing a rough sketch, I buckled down and posted this beast and a history of the world as my opening salvos on the Wizards of the Coasts Forums.


Over time, roughly a year at the point of this posting, a small group of interested people have dropped about 300 pages of input and concepts into this work, helping me flesh it out. Unfortunately, I'm still working to translate that dead thread over to this format, but more will go up over time.  From its start with regressed super engineering, this setting has naturally developed into one of high magic meant for use with d20 systems (particularly D&D). If used fully, it proposes a number of drastic changes to the D&D system including a freeform way of generating races from genetic backgrounds, a freeform way of generating classes based on dividing all of the known classes into their component abilities, and a freeform way of spellcasting where all spellcasters effectively start from the same place and then specialize and grow in power organically. Basically, freedom wherever I can introduce it. The setting itself is a Dyson Sphere-like world with multiple layers and vast diversity of terrains (and area). The Gods of the setting are actually transcendent organics who have moved on to AI existence (except for one). The undead of the setting are logical plague introduced by nanoviral reanimation of corpses with each type of undead representing a distinct phase of the plague. Oh, and there are robots, cybertech, extradimensional elementals, conniving dragons, symbolically terrain linked fey, insane roaming supermages, and a bunch of other craziness. Some rather drastic changes, but at its core, it still plays very much like D&D, and its all Arthur C. Clark’s Third Law, with the somewhat overused quote of "Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic".


Shape of Things to Come

Now, with that brief intro out of the way, this article will cover the history of the campaign world in a very brief sense, the general structure of the world, and the role/origins of "magic" within the world. This setting is not a classic one in the sense of D&D or fantasy literature which tend to postulate a world imbued with a magical force that exist sometime near the middle ages or thereabouts. This concept differs in the fact that it is in fact a construct of a much more advanced civilization which fully understood the mechanisms of “magic”, but through a catastrophic disaster managed to bring about their own demise. Their final act before destruction was a desperate attempt to save as much of their life as possible within an artificial sphere that could weather the destruction and possibly find a way to re initiate diaspora after the cataclysm's passing.  (Since the initial writing of this, Greg Bear ended up creating "The City at the End of Time", which is a very close parallel)


The general shape of the world is a classic design of super-engineering called a Dyson's Sphere, in which some or all of the population live on the inner surface of a huge sphere (1 AU in radius, or more in many cases). In this particular design, the standard Dyson scheme is permuted slightly, as there are actually several layers to the sphere. All of the various internal layers rotate within a larger solid outer shell which keeps them safe from the non-existent outer universe. Many of the inner shells are also discontinuous objects existing more as a cloud of large continents with interweaving orbit patterns through the body. For an inhabitant, this can create some interesting situations of travel between continents, where various landmasses may be near to one another during only specific time periods of cycles.


Naturally, as this is a work of super-engineering, a number of adjustments have been allowed for to create such a system which could otherwise not exist naturally. Artificial gravity exists within this setting and is used to affix the inhabitants of both the intermediate and outer layers to their landmasses. In the case of the outer layer, this is not completely accurate due to some peculiarities of the universe outside the sphere, but close enough for understanding. Also, the forms of the islands themselves would naturally be prone to massive stresses, wind shears, ect… and it has been assumed for the sake of play that these effects have been negated in some way to allow for the habitation of all layers of the sphere with equal ease.


On the whole, the inhabitants on each of the layers of the sphere are completely unaware of the existence of other beings on the additional layers. In part, this is due to the technological level of advancement which is present within the sphere in most places, and secondly, it is also due to the heavy cloud mass, which is naturally dispersed across the boundaries between layers (and also serves to obscure them from each other's view.) Occasionally, there are breaks in this cloud cover, but they are rare and the tools of observation in many of the societies are too primitive to be able to properly capture them.


Light is provided to the sphere by energy columns which run through the space between layers and act much like artificial suns, tracing curving orbits through the heavens at regular intervals (unless they are malfunctioning). The energy to these columns is provided by a massive generator (more on this later) located deep within the central planetoid, which leeches energy away from the universe surrounding the sphere and deposits it within the columns. For the intents and purposes of a role playing campaign, this is an infinite fountain of energy which will never run dry within the time frame of a normal game, but for epic struggles the generator is a machine which causes fundamental shifts in the energy states of the universe, transferring energy from one location to another. However, all of the energy for the machine is currently taken from outside the sphere, where the rest of the universe resides in a destroyed state, and given enough time (millions/billions/greater) of years, this source will be depleted and all the energy of the universe will be localized within the minor locale of the sphere, supporting what life exists there and holding back the remains of the universe outside the sphere.


The proposed separation for the layers of the sphere is that technology will increase as one moves inward into the sphere. In effect, progress level (PL) will be a direct function of distance from the outer edge of the sphere. However, the maximum PL will probably exist at somewhere around PL 4 (Industrial Age, using d20 Future terminology) for normal inhabitants. The problem being that the advent of space travel would make control of spacings and civilizations within the various regions difficult.


As with many kinds of sci-fi based concepts, there’s a lot of technobabble to swallow, and I argue with myself as to whether its better to try and explain things or whether I should simply let them lie. Possibly risk falling into the trap of "A sufficiently incompetent ScF author is indistinguishable from magic." However, in the interest of this particular concept I’ll at least give premises which are somewhat malleable/forgettable depending upon reception.


The Machines of God

Alright, now that we've covered the basic shape of the world, lets move on to the real substance of the universe and how the true cogs grind in the heavens. A while ago I wrote a long essay for a gaming site where I basically postulated magic as a kind of extra elemental force in the world. In general, the concept was that magic would function as another force to be mastered by humanity, as well as all of a world's inhabitants, and its progress might follow a very similar track to our own discovery of the other five through science. In the end, it basically became a long explanation of how magic might affect every epoch of human civilization depending on its ease of interaction and what those changes could mean in terms of world events, scientific progress, and life on our planet (beasts that really could fool the eye or breath fire, a church that could actually perform miracles, ect...) However, over time my own view of this concept has shifted a bit and the newer, as well as I hope refined, version is what I present to you now.


In essence, it is presumed that at some point a grand unified theory of everything is found which ties together all the aspects of physical existence within this universe. Now, when this great theory is finally discovered, it is found that in fact all of the major forces are not only related to one another, but in fact directly tied, through the presence of something that could be called a force, but would be more akin to a line of communication between every particle of matter and bit of energy in the cosmos. In visualization, this concept is somewhat alike to the properties we have found in quarks at the subatomic level recently, in which two may be tied directly to one another across vast distances and when the properties of one are changed, the other shifts as well. (Particle physicists, feel free to correct me on this point, as my understanding is limited to conversations with your fellows) However, this property is found to extend to all aspects of force. For example, with a shift of energy or matter here, the properties of a fundamental force, such as gravitational pull on an object may be modified in another location. In addition, it is also found that in many cases this shifting of properties actually requires very little energy input into the system, as it is a balanced equation in which shifts of energy or properties at one location may be compensated for by opposite/similar changes in the energy states or properties at another. In a sense, it holds something of a ying/yang duality. What this really means though, is that for many inhabitants of the universe, reshaping of the cosmos is possible on a very personal level.


This process takes many forms, but in general it is quite difficult for a normal being to do without significant education, training, and mastery of their own self. Partially, this is because to truly accomplish great feats requires an inherent understanding of what is be accomplished and an ability to visualize the task to its most minute degrees. I.E. To possess a mastery of gravity, you must first comprehend what gravity really is, how it operates on objects, and the physical laws that apply to it. However, in many cases, this caveat only partially applies, as the ability to clearly visualize a goal and explore it from every angle is often enough to accomplish a task. The understanding of the underlying forces simply aids the process and makes true mastery of the process possible. For those without this knowledge, which is assumed for any society without access to advanced science and tools like the scientific method, the expression of their control over this force can take shape in many ways which I will now investigate. In addition, for exceptionally advanced races (such as the creators of the sphere), a number of enhancements to natural ability exist which can fundamentally improve their connection with the world around them.


In its most simple sense, this force can take shape for many people as what many would call simply a twisting of fate, or in other lingo, "the power of pure thought." Imagine points in your life when you have concentrated your very being towards making some goal or vision of your future become reality, and over time, the world did slowly shape itself to your will and form. Now, in a world possessing of this force, naturally much of this success would still be garnered simply due to the fact that your drive, resolve, and perseverance are multiplied manyfold in such situations. However, there would also be a secondary force at work simply due to the gentle tug of your mind, which would manipulate chance to make seemingly random good fortunes fall into your lap when you least expected them.


A second, and more advanced way might be with the uneducated warrior, who is simply trying to survive on the battlefield. As they strive to succeed, they would slowly learn that with training and discipline of spirit, they could strike faster, shrug of blows better, and run longer than any run of the mill drudge. Again, much of this would be due to training of their muscles and reflexes to levels beyond the normal ken, but underlying it would be a support layer of twisted physics in which their sword actually is fantastically sharp, the laws of gravity actually don't seem to apply, and the force of their limbs carries behind them the weight of a hundred others.


Moving on to the more common fantasy variants that are often covered, such as magic from such sources as D&D, these applications would require significantly more training and a level of discipline beyond that which could be gaining simply innately. Some level of study would have to be undertaken to truly grasp the mechanics at work. However, the payoff would be a host of abilities which would allow their master to twist the bounds of reality in frightening ways. For example, fireballs would be a simple matter of increasing the kinetic energy of a region of space until they burst into spontaneous flame, possibly removing all gases from the area that weren't flammable as well. This application would require a significant exchange of energy, as would all manipulation of this level, and would demand either an opposite change in the physical world or a direct energy drain from some object or person close to the "caster", possibly even from themselves. Thankfully, this is actually a fairly common factor in many systems of magic and would work well with things like channelers, defilers, "magic" reservoirs, ect...


Using such levels of control over the environment, manipulation of forces which could be directly observed by someone from a like technological level of development would be possible. This would include concepts like kinetic energy, potential energy, gravitation force, and electromagnetic force. The primary ones which it would exclude would be concepts that are not visible with the naked eye, like the strong and weak nuclear forces. Spells of flight, energy manipulation, and pure force would all be easily possible. Some which might be more tricky would be things like shape changing and teleportation, and these would require reshaping or movement of the building blocks of matter on a cellular or deeper level. However, depending on how free and loose one would want to play, even such goals might be within reach.


Other common powers from fantasy/sci-fi literature, such as the force from Star Wars could also be easily explained and realized. Force sight would simply be the personal attachment of one being to another within the universe, or possibly their attunement with the connection forces as a whole, and as these forces were shifted or modified, they would be able to feel the changes and know their path. Powers like Jedi leaping and speed are already covered as fairly basic concepts of mastering your body so that your limbs move faster than they theoretically should be able to and gravity's effect is heavily diminished in your vicinity. Force push would be a matter of imparting a large shock of kinetic energy to an object while simultaneous lowering gravity's hold on it to increase the effect. The only powers which would be difficult to explain would be things like Foretelling, which would require a linkage of this connecting force through all points in time and space as well. This theoretically could be possible, but would require huge concessions in terms of how changes could be applied across the time stream and whether time is an immutable thing. Best in my opinion to let them die or simply allow for sensing of changes at the very most.


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