Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Collection Services

To make up for the long drought, here's a campaign idea I came up with a little while back, called Collection Services.


Making deals with the devil is easy--after all, the devil wants people to make deals, since it's just about the only way for him to collect human souls at death. Only the absolute worst of humanity goes to hell naturally, so there's a premium on human souls. Various demons offer various things for souls: wishes, vengeance, wealth, money, fame, power, any number of things. The terms of the deal are just as varied: souls collected in one year, ten years, one hundred years, at the moment of death, soul of a firstborn child, and so on.

Unfortunately, many of those people wish for things that they then use to try and cheat the devil of his due. When that happens, the collectors are called in. Collectors are former humans, shaped and twisted by the powers of hell and sent back to earth to act as the agents of demons, who cannot directly affect mortals due to ancient pacts with the Creator. Collectors are sent in small, elite teams that can make quick judgment calls in the field on how to go about the collection, whether to be subtle or blatant, violent or diplomatic, and so on.

In between missions, collectors are given leave on earth to act as they will--rape, murder, pillage, have a happy home and family life, whatever. When the call comes, though, they must drop everything to meet with their collection agent, a demon who gives them their assignments. Fail an assignment, and it's back to the pit. Keep succeeding and damning others, and it's high living for as long as you keep up the "good work." Sometimes, that means sending an absolute sack of garbage screaming into the flames. Sometimes, that means stealing a crying woman's baby, or scraping up what's left of a life of charity and good works after a moment of horrible weakness.

You are a collector, one of hell's repo-men. May god have mercy on you, because your employer certainly won't.


More on Marikuhl soon!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Back to School

Well, today is the first day of the new school year. It feels like things are looking up! My schedule is pretty good, I have an interview for a new job next week, and I got the Hellfrost gig! I just need to sign the contract and mail it to TAG, but after that I'll be working on the Hellfrost conversion project officially. I'm so excited about working for Triple Ace Games; I've admired their stuff for a long while now, and working for Wiggy Williams is going to be a real treat.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hellfrost

There's a rumor going around that Triple Ace Games is looking for a freelancer to convert their awesome Hellfrost setting to Paizo's Pathfinder RPG. Well, not so much a rumor as it is that Wiggy Williams, TAG's head dude, posted about it on the Paizo forums. I applied for the job, and Wiggy says that they'll be doing their determinations over the weekend. Wish me luck!

Strands of Fate

While I normally talk about Savage Worlds on this blog, I'm sure by this point that my readers (*cricket, cricket*) are aware that I play and enjoy lots of other games. Pathfinder is a dear friend of mine, as is World of Darkness (in both Classic and New Coke flavors). Over the years, though, there's one game that I have tried several times and receive a weird sort of frission from playing, in that I badly want to like it, but something always seems off to me.

That game is FATE.

The bastard daughter of FUDGE, FATE is a generic system with a free license that has most recently been used by Evil Hat Productions to power their award-winning Spirit of the Century and the much-anticipated Dresden Files RPG (based off Jim Butcher's excellent novels), as well as by Cubicle 7 Entertainment to power Starblazer Adventures and Legends of Anglerre. All of these games have been internet darlings, but I've just never been able to "get" them. Maybe something in my old, grognarded-up brain has trouble grasping the design principles of the system, but I've always seen them as "hand-wavey," or "metagamey." Even though I love the hell out of certain indie games (like Evil Hat's brilliant Don't Rest Your Head), I always have trouble grasping FATE.

Part of it is the nature of the beast. FATE's most current iteration (3rd Edition, for those keeping track) has never had its own corebook. All of the existing games for it are fairly devoted to their own idiom. Dresden is a modern-magic detective game; Spirit is a roaring '20s pulp game; and so on. Anglerre has options for running either heroic fantasy or grim-and-gritty fantasy, but ultimately it's still geared toward a fantasy game. With this in mind, I started to wonder if the real problem with me getting into FATE was that I could never face the rules on their own ground, so to speak; they always had baggage, always had little elements of legacy code that didn't mean much of anything to me. I had been telling myself for a while that I would reinvest my energy into FATE when someone finally got around to putting out a truly generic corebook for it.

Well, somebody finally did. Void Star Games, under the auspices of lead designer Mike McConnell, has set out to strip out all the old legacy code from the various iterations of FATE and put together a truly generic core rulebook for the system. With my long-standing desire to like FATE, and my lack of solid exposure to the current rules system (I've played a few short demos of various FATE things, but it never stuck), I thought that this would be the perfect time to try and get into the game.

Fortunately for me, Void Star decided to run a beta playtest for the corebook, called Strands of Fate, and I was able to jump in. I'm currently browsing through the opening of the beta release, and I have to say that the book is attractive if nothing else. If they put anywhere near as much craftsmanship into the final product as they did into the beta, then I'm very much looking forward to seeing it. I'm not that deep into the rules yet, but from what little I've seen, one of my biggest concerns about FATE is no more: "the ladder."

Whenever I demoed FATE before, I would get told about target numbers, but also that each target number had its own adjective descriptor, like "Good," "Average," and so on. I never could understand why it was necessary to use those adjectives, which didn't actually carry any sort of standard numerical weight, other than dedication to older editions. Really, it reminded me a lot of the old Marvel FASERIP system, which operated on similar (equally confusing) principles. Now, just a short way into the book, I can see that the ladder of adjectives is no more; everything is dealt with by target number alone. That's a huge relief to me as a potential player and GM, and it clears up a lot of confusion.

I hope to do more reading on Strands of Fate over the weekend and keep up the review work, and do some actual playtesting in the next week or so. Keep an eye out to hear more!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Western Baronies: Ecology

The climate, terrain, and environment of Marikuhl is as varied as its inhabitants, ranging the gamut from chill and frozen northlands to steamy tropical jungles to enormous mountains and everything in between. The original settlers from the Old World landed on the coast and simply made their way inward, creating “bands” of habitation from north to south along the continent. A few later colonies followed the rivers to more inland areas, creating habitation further into the continent than the originals had managed to reach.

Toward the northern end of the continent lay the mountain ranges that shelter Marikuhl from the Asatru barbarians. While the northmen sometimes come across the peaks, they prefer the open seas, so imperial territory officially extends right up to the slopes themselves. In the south, imperial dominance runs to the gulf and adjacent plains that connect to Teotihuacal. Technically, Marikuhlian lands traverse the Galatean continent from east to west, but everything west of the great Corundum Mountains is baronial territory and dealt with in its own section.

In the north, the area surrounding the Greyshield Mountains is rocky, interspersed with thick coniferous forests. This area is cold most of the year, and snow falls for over half of it. The region is not quite tundra, but it approaches taiga at its worst. This area is home to animals of enormous size, gigantic versions of more common beasts such as wolves, elk, eagles, and even badgers. Such dire animals are noted for their ill tempers and territoriality. The northern provinces are also home to several related humanoid races possessing shaggy fur and foul dispositions. Collectively known by their Ko’Manna name of saskatch, they are noted for devouring human flesh and being a constant threat to exploration.

As one travels south along the coast, the area quickly becomes warmer and wetter, due to the influence of the mild ocean winds. During the autumn, these coastal regions are often flooded or swamped by huge storms, but the weather is calm during the rest of the year. These areas are home to heavily lumbered deciduous forests, and much of the central coastal region is tamed. A few strange beasts remain in the forests, preying on lumberjacks and other woods folk, but this area—close to the imperial capital of Vasting—is one of the safest in the country.

Further south from this are the sandy coasts of southern Marikuhl, and inland from those lay balmy wetlands and hot swamps. These regions remain extremely dangerous to outsiders, home to any number of venomous snakes, giant insects, water-dwelling humanoids, huge reptiles, and—supposedly—degenerate cannibals living in the depths of the swamps. From the early days of exploration, a great many people died in despair in these areas, giving rise to groups of abominable undead, men and women who died in such anger and pain that their corpses rose from the muck to destroy the living.

Inward from the coastal provinces is a small range of mountains called the Ironweals, home to much of the mining industry in the empire. At one time, this area was the sole supplier of corundum to the empire, but as the mines have dug deeper, the mineral has become more rare. Underground beasts and strange humanoids have forced the empire to permanently garrison much of its standing army nearby to protect its mineral interests, and the miners themselves have had to become proficient warriors to avoid death at the hands of hideous monstrosities. The surface region is home to mixed coniferous and deciduous forests, as well a large number of lakes, rivers, and springs. Goblins and goblinkin are particularly common in the Ironweals.

Past the Ironweal Mountains, the land becomes more level, finally flattening out into broad, vast plains, interspersed by rocky plateaus and mesas, occasionally broken by wide chasms. This area is home to all manner of big cats, such as lions and leopards, as well as huge birds and stranger beasts. A few unusual humanoids dwell in this region as well, but most of them are far more shy than the eastern ones and avoid contact with humanity whenever possible.

In the far south of the plains region, just before reaching the sea once more, the land abruptly rises and falls in a series of ridges. This area is heavily forested, creating a large jungle region that eventually ends at the southern inlet of the Atlantean Ocean. To the west, the region drops off into tropical plains and grasslands, eventually giving way to the lands of the Teotihuacal. The Marikuhlian jungles are full of arboreal life, such as apes and tree cats, as well as a large population of reptilian humanoids, such as lizardfolk and kobolds.

When the first settlers colonized Galatea, they found an untamed wilderness, full of possibilities and dangers. The Ko’Manna had learned to live alongside nature, taking only enough to survive and moving on when the land needed time to recover. They understood the dangers of the local flora and fauna—and of Galatea’s other inhabitants. While the Ko’Manna were the only native humans, a great many other intelligent races lived in Galatea, and still do in many places.

Though the Ovidian settlers have long since become the Marikuhlian peoples, though they have lived on Galatea for seven centuries, they are still ignorant of many of the land’s greatest mysteries. The Ovidian way was to build large, crowded cities, and the original settlers followed suit. Safety in numbers was the keyword of early settlement, and even today, most Marikuhlians live in or near large cities. While Galatea’s resources have been greatly strained and deeply damaged by the number of people living there, huge tracts of untouched wilderness remain between the Marikuhlian cities, places where people fear to travel.

The Ko’Manna were justified in their fear and respect for the natural world—the Galatean ecology is a dangerous one to the uninformed or the arrogant. When the Marikuhlians unified and expanded, the threats did not go away, they merely consolidated at the edges of civilization. Even now, there remain vast regions within a few hours’ ride of a major city that no living human can claim to have seen. Every day the Marikuhlians extend their conquest of nature a little further, but nature is hardly giving up without a fight.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Western Baronies: Religion

RELIGION

The religious institutions of Marikuhl are starkly divided between two disparate and seemingly incompatible faiths that nonetheless continue to coexist. Most common Marikuhlians worship the old gods of the state religion, called Ma’at (“balance”), who form an intricate mythology of related deities and interrelated worship. Many noble Marikuhlians at least pay lip service to Ma’at, though their true allegiance frequently lies with the other half of Marikuhlian faith: demon worship.

Officially, Ma’at condemns the practice of demon worship, viewing it as corruptive and damning. However, the leaders of the faith have long since come to the practical realization that opposing demon worship among the nobility is likely to affect only the amount of donations they receive each year, and not change anything about the practice itself. Quite simply put, while Ma’at offers spiritual salvation, inner peace, and a lasting legacy of faith, demons can offer actual power.

The number of demons in existence is unknown, though some arcane scholars believe that a new demon is formed from every ill feeling, each cruel action, and any unpleasant happenstance. If they are correct, then the number is essentially countless. Most Marikuhlians understand that demons exist in a spiritual limbo, able to perceive the mortal world but unable to interfere in it unless invited in by a mortal. They are barred from action unless given leave—though “leave” can often be given unintentionally by the ill informed.

Demons hunger to enter the world of men and can offer much in the way of incentive. Once they establish a foothold, their power grows greatly, even to the point of offering mystical prowess, unholy luck, or fiendish cleverness to their supplicants. What they gain in exchange for these favors is unsavory in the best of times, and can range from simple material goods to favors to the sacrifice of men, women, or children. Some look upon the successes of their fellows, however, and decide that such prices are worth paying. While demons can twist the spirit of their contracts, they must honor them to the letter, and so long as all debts are paid in full, many feel, no harm can come to a bargainer.

These two competing ideologies counterpoint the deep social divide in Marikuhlian society, with the common folk just trying to lead lives of prosperity and normalcy while the nobility constantly plays power games with those lives. A few commoners turn to demon worship in an attempt to escape the drudgery of their lives, just as quite a few nobles avoid demon worship and still genuinely revere the gods of Ma’at, but generally speaking these trends hold true.

There are many dozens of gods worshipped in the Ma’at faith, but the following six are the most often prayed to and have the most temples built in their honor.
Wey-At, god of justice and law. The head of the Ma’at pantheon, Wey-At is sometimes known as “the Just King,” representing the role of nobility as both rulers and servants of the people. Wey-At is typically depicted as a broad-shouldered man with a heavy mustache, one hand on a sheathed sword.
Virgil, god of peace. Wey-At’s brother, this god is usually shown to be silent in myth and legend, and statues in his honor typically depict him as a younger, softer version of Wey-At, wearing the robes of a scholar rather than the armor of a warrior.
Ira-Aten, god of hunters and woodsmen. Ira-Aten was once far more popular in Marikuhl, befitting its status as a frontier nation, but his forest temples are less visited now than they once were. This deity is usually shown as a tall, wiry man with long hair, carrying a hunting bow and surrounded by foliage and animals.
Marya, the bountiful mother. The patron of agriculture, motherhood, childbirth, and the womanly mysteries, Marya is usually shown as a beautiful middle-aged woman wearing a hair-covering shawl and a long blue dress. As mother of all things, Marya is the god prayed to most often for mercy or aid.
Sofya, weaver of fate. Marya’s only daughter, Sofya is invariably depicted as a teenaged beauty carrying an hourglass in one hand and a bloody knife in the other. She represents the inevitability of death and the possibilities of the future. Her priestesses are said to hold the secrets of prophecy, and many seek their knowledge of the future.
Castur, god of war and madness. This warrior-deity is depicted in statuary and art as a blood-soaked berserker, naked to the waist and surrounded by the corpses of his enemies. Castur is the madness in the heat of battle, the fury that drives men to do terrible things. The Marikuhlians believe that Castur is present at every battle that is fought, and that the battles with the greatest atrocities are the ones in which he participates.

As mentioned above, the number of demons in existence is virtually without number, but a few of the known ones are more popular than others. Any potential demon worshipper can learn the rites necessary to call a random demon from the spirit plane, but many Marikuhlians would rather depend on the tried and true than risk summoning a useless demon or, worse, a genuinely dangerous one. The following are some of the better-known demons, descriptions of their powers, and the magical schools they typically grant to their mystical worshippers.
Asteroth, demon-lord of chaos. It is said that while other demons lurk in the spirit realm awaiting summoning into the mortal plane, Asteroth remains there despite having been called forth. While he extends his influence into the world, he remains in the spirit world, for only there is it possible for his true form to exist. Asteroth allows his followers to summon pieces of him to act as servants and minions, though their forms inevitably dissipate after a time. (Conjuration)
Ba’al Zevuv, demon of pestilence. This is the demon that was summoned during the Scourging, and that prevents Marikuhlian occupation of Ovidium. It is said that Ba’al Zevuv, when not hunting his hated foes, dwells at the heart of the nation he destroyed, lounging on a throne of bones and holding court over his undead thralls. (Necromancy)
Beleth, demon of fear. This demon teaches her supplicants to be paranoid and cautious, instilling them with a drive to protect themselves and their interests that approaches the insane. She typically appears as a black-skinned woman with dead-white hair, and ceremonies to her involve terrifying others, often to death. Still, her cautious nature and terrible wrath make her a fine choice for those seeking defense rather than offense. (Abjuration)
Hastyr, demon of madness. Often called “the Unspeakable,” Hastyr’s most common manifestation is of a blighted leper wearing tattered yellow finery. His worshippers grant him mastery of their bodies for short times, effectively becoming possessed, in exchange for the power to rend minds and conceal the truth. (Illusion)
Ithaxa, demon of cold. Ithaxa’s powers over the winter months and creatures of cold draw many ice-hearted individuals to his service. The Ko’Manna sometimes call Ithaxa “the Hungry” for his ability to instill cannibalistic hunger in those that draw his ire. Most of his rituals involve the consumption of human flesh. Often, these disgusting rites allow them to steal the strength of the dead. (Transmutation)
Kuhultu, demon-god of the Atlantean Ocean. This is the demon summoned by the Ordo Astra Lyceum during the War of Vengeance to destroy the Ovidian fleet. Kuhultu has dominion over the entire Atlantean Ocean, though he sleeps almost constantly, answering his faithful when their dreams touch his. He is known to induce madness during such visions, but all the plenty of the sea is his to offer. (Divination)
Molech, demon of fire. A powerful demon indeed, Molech offers the power to destroy one’s foes with flame and chaos. However, only one thing attracts Molech’s dire attention: the sacrifice of a child by burning. His “blessings” are always destructive but undeniably powerful. (Evocation)
Shaitan, demon of deception. This manipulative seducer offers his supplicants powers over the minds and emotions of others. It is said that much of his time and effort is spent in setting his minions against one another to amuse himself by their struggles. (Enchantment)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Western Baronies: Imperial Culture

IMPERIAL CULTURE

The Empire of Marikuhl is a despotic imperialist aristocracy, corrupted by the acquisition of too much power too quickly without the application of restraint or mercy. Recent years have twisted the empire even further, sharply dividing the nation’s interests between the demands of the nobility and the necessities of the economy. Still, at its heart, the empire was founded on a principle of freedom from distant masters and loyalty to the emperor. These concerns are still in the hearts of the average person as well as many nobles.

The primary facet of culture and daily life in the empire is obedience to the emperor, and by proxy to his immediate servants, the noble class. This obedience is shown by the common folk primarily by leading lives of quiet anonymity. Nobles have much more expected from them, and are consequently granted both broader powers over commoners and greater responsibilities to their superiors. The emperor himself is seen as both the most powerful individual in the empire, and the one with the greatest responsibility to its safety and continuance.

No one in the empire truly owns property, save the emperor himself. All land is owned by the emperor personally, and noble families pay taxes to the imperial treasury for the right to develop the land granted to them. Only a handful of times throughout history have a major noble family failed to pay taxes, and each time tragedy resulted. These ownership laws are enforced by the loyalty of the people to their ruler, as well as by virtue of the emperor having the largest standing army in the empire. Noble families other than the emperor’s are restricted on the size of their military forces, but the emperor’s legions are staffed with soldiers drawn from all across the empire.

Most commoners live lives of little note, usually as laborers, farmers, or other types of unskilled work, living on property allowed to them by their noble masters and paying rent for the privilege. Some are given the opportunity to serve in the Marikuhlian military as grunts and cannon fodder, called conscripti, positions that actually hold some level of respect and accomplishment for the common folk. Career soldiers often come from family lines of the same, and many conscripti are as skilled at the arts of war as any noble. Conscripti from long lines with distinguished records are sometimes adopted or married into noble lines, making the military occupation even more attractive to the downtrodden masses.

A development of the last couple of centuries is the rise of an unofficial “merchant class,” commoners with money enough to virtually own their own property and employ other commoners in their businesses. These merchants frequently form guilds, unions, and other forms of organizations to regulate prices in their area, monitor new businesses, and safeguard their interests from outside merchants and the noble class. The recent Succession War has left merchants and nobles deeply distrustful of one another, despite the fact that they must work together to keep society functioning.

The nobility of Marikuhl is divided into two categories: major noble families, and minor noble families. Major families are those lines descended from the twenty-one original rulers of the Marikuhlian colonies, though five of those lines are now extinct, leaving sixteen great families, including the imperial family. Minor families are nobility instituted since the inception of the empire to aid in the bureaucracy of imperial life, govern regions in a major family’s territory, or raised up from virtuous and worthy commoners. The creation of a minor family is a significant event, and each major family has only a handful of minor families serving it.


CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

The average citizen of Marikuhl has few rights other than to bring grievances before his ruling family’s magistrates, which guards only against crimes committed by other commoners. Nobles are largely immune to prosecution under the law, except crimes committed against other nobles. Such crimes are arbitrated by the noble’s superiors, if committed against a member of the same family, or an imperial magistrate for inter-family struggles. Crimes against an imperial representative are always dealt with by an imperial magistrate, and often by a group of several working together.

Punishments for crimes are typically swift and without reprieve. Marikuhlians do not believe in prisons as a method of social correction, so most punishments tend to be immediate in nature. Minor crimes are dealt with by fines, forced labor, or forfeiture of possessions, while severe crimes are typically punished by maiming or execution.

Nobles can sometimes escape punishment in criminal cases by accepting exile to the Western Baronies, while imprisonment is frequently reserved as a necessity for individuals too useful to kill but too dangerous to allow freedom. Commoners cannot opt to be exiled, though many, when faced with the possibility of death or maiming, will abandon their lives, take their meager possessions, and flee west. These poor souls often change their names and live out their days in fear of being discovered. Especially dangerous escapees sometimes warrant the attention of a magistrate, or the posting of a bounty.


TECHNOLOGY

The empire is one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world. With their emphasis on military development, the quality of steel has been drastically increased in recent centuries. By the same token, the production of rare-metal items, such as from adamantine and mithril, is commonplace in the empire for those wealthy enough to afford it. The Marikuhlian skill in metalworking has also allowed the construction of more stable and durable objects that utilize metal in their construction secondarily, such as wagons, barrels, and so on.

One of the great innovations of the western migration was the development of a type of covered wagon that could act as both storage and living accommodation over long journeys. This wagon has also acted as a prototype for the new carriages designed for long hauls between the empire and the baronies, creating a significantly more comfortable traveling environment for passengers and messengers. These covered carriages, sometimes called “stages” for their shape, are also more defensible, a necessity with the prominence of the Ko’Manna raiders.

Artificers have long worked with ways to turn the black powder used in fireworks into a viable weapon, but the grain size of the substance makes such use impossible, even in large-scale weapons. The battlefields of the modern day are largely the province of armored knights, given aid and backup by legions of archers, with foot soldiers and armored infantry acting as storm troops and cannon fodder. Siege weapons are common as well, especially the trebuchet and catapult. Foot soldiers are often given crossbows to use in need, though longbows are the obvious weapon for true archery units. Horse archers are utilized as hit-and-run troops by many armies, to great success.

The power of steam has been harnessed in small ways, most of which are impractical for normal people, but artificers keep up with the developments in the hope of creating useful devices from the bulky engines. The lack of anything hotter-burning than wood has largely stymied this development, though alchemists have shown some success in substituting wood with chemical fuels.

The influx of corundum into the empire has increased the crafting of items of mystical power in recent years, though such creations are still extraordinarily rare. The energies empowering the crystal are still drawn from the chaotic power of the universe, making the use of any magical item an exercise in both caution and wonder.


FOREIGN RELATIONS

In many ways, the foreign policy of the empire reflects the worst things about it. Truthfully, most of the empire’s vices can be directly traced to its history of aggression and distrust toward foreign powers, especially those of the Old World. Marikuhl was originally a peaceful, agrarian nation, provincial in the extreme, until the War of Vengeance changed the nation’s character forever. From that point on, the Marikuhlians were no longer happily complacent in their own freedoms—outside powers would be made to respect their authority.

Many of the events of the centuries following the War of Vengeance are dealt with above, but specific considerations should be noted in the Marikuhlian dealings with foreign powers. Specifically, there are no official relations with the Old World any longer. The demon summoned during the Revenge remains in Ovidium, unable to pursue its destined enemies across the ocean, but forever preventing them from returning to the Old World.

Any Marikuhlian that sets foot on Ovidian soil is immediately aware of the demon’s presence—and that it is aware of them. From that moment forward, the demon will relentlessly hunt down the intruder, incapable of resting until the “invader” is dead. So long as even one Marikuhlian draws breath, it will never be freed from its duty, and no Marikuhlian in the Old World will be able to rest easy.

The demon requires time and energy to find its target, thankfully, making short sojourns onto the continent possible. The many islands surrounding the mainland are not protected by the demon, making them feasible locations for diplomatic envoys and small military bases. Small groups and individuals are also harder for the demon to find than large groups (such as military columns). The military control of Marikuhl over Ovidium was effectively broken by the Revenge, however, and all modern Ovidians are aware of the fact.

Marikuhl has done little to build bridges with its former parent nations. The mutual losses suffered by both regions mean almost nothing to the despotic government, while the Ovidians openly flaunt their immunity to Marikuhl’s superior military by offering highly imbalanced trade and harboring pirates and privateers. Had the Marikuhlians the power to remove the offending nations entirely, they would likely do so, but for now their rage is impotent and turned inward.

While the imperial court is aware of continents other than Ovidium, the general consensus about such places is that they are irrelevant and unimportant. They are too distant for regular trade, or even regular contact, and the continents of Galatea and Ovidium present more than enough challenges without seeking out new ones. Even much of Galatea remains unexplored, more than seven centuries after it was first settled by the Old World.

The known peoples of Galatea besides the Marikuhlians are also something of a mystery to the arrogant empire. To the north lies the lands of the Asatru, a tribal seafaring people only recently united under a single banner. As pirates and raiders, the Asatru are interested in the Marikuhlians only as targets for their predations, and the Asatru represent an enemy that the Marikuhlian navy can sharpen its teeth on. The south is the home of the Teotihuacal, an expansive empire at least as old as Marikuhl and perhaps older that is even more blatant in its worship of demonic forces. The “gods” of the Teotihuacal pantheon are little more than bloodthirsty demons that demand almost daily human sacrifice. The empire would gladly destroy the southern folk, except for the considerations of distance and poor terrain. As well, some whisper, the empire fears the power of the southerners’ demon-gods.


CLOTHING AND APPEARANCE

As the hodgepodge descendants of almost two dozen different cultures brought together by a common government, the Marikuhlian people are extremely varied in skin, hair, and eye tones. Their builds range the gamut from tall to short, from wiry to broad. Few commonalities about their general appearance can be made, not even that they dress similarly. With the provincial differences in local fashion, and the combination of a burgeoning middle class with the older upper class, the fashions among the elite of Marikuhl change almost as quickly as the seasons.

A few things stay in fashion from year to year, at least among the common folk. Most Marikuhlian commoners, both male and female, tend to wear trousers, loose shirts, and sandals. In the colder climes of the north, full shoes are worn rather than sandals, and the whole outfit is topped off with a heavy cloak or long parka. A common affectation among male commoners is to wear a vest decorated with the local colors, whether provincial to show national pride or the colors of the local noble family to show loyalty. Many commoners will also wear cheap jewelry, typically earrings or bracelets, which have been passed down through the family for generations.

Until about a century and a half ago, hair length was a requisite for women to show off their cultural status—the longer the hair, the greater the status. Only the oldest and most conservative nobles enforce this tradition, however, and women of all stations have begun to wear their hair at any length. Shorter than neck-length is still considered somewhat scandalous for noblewomen to wear, and many women of common birth hesitate to let their hair grow much past their shoulders.

Men of noble birth frequently wear their hair long, tied up into topknots at formal affairs or when holding court. A few younger nobles have begun wearing their long hair in loose braids or ponytails to flaunt tradition, but long hair is still seen as very important for a nobleman’s image. Older noblemen sometimes wear exquisitely crafted wigs in late age to conceal their impending baldness. Commoners, merchants included, typically wear their hair short as a matter of practicality—long hair gets in the way of honest work by commoners, while the merchant class is still struggling to create its own independent identity.

The most recent widespread fashion statements include long dresses for noblewomen, typically brightly colored and patterned, and tightly form-fitting. Such dresses are typically clasped at the shoulder with high necks, though a few have a high collar in the back with a swooping V-neck in the front. Noblemen’s fashion currently includes the addition of a long overcoat in place of the more traditional mantle or cloak.

A common aspect of cultural distinction in Marikuhlian society is the wearing of weapons. Traditionally, commoners have been forbidden from the bearing of arms, save in the direct defense of the nation or at the order of a noble. Such restrictions have only rarely applied to the carrying of tools that can be used as weapons (such as cutting knives, wood axes, and threshing flails), but the wielding of swords, spears, and bows has long been the province of the nobility and their favored servants.

The carrying of a sword is an important part of the Marikuhlian aristocracy’s heritage, and many such swords have been passed down through generations until they acquire names and legacies unto themselves. The most common weapons wielded by Marikuhlian nobles are the longsword, a favored weapon of military families, the rapier, popular among lines noted for their skill at dueling, and the bastard sword, so named because of its popularity among the minor families that invented it. Many female nobles carry weapons as well, though their short swords and daggers are more often for show than for usage. In Marikuhlian society, carrying a sword is a sign that you are ready and willing to use it, and duels for honor among the nobility still happen fairly often.

The burgeoning merchant class still technically belongs to the ranks of the commoners, making the wielding of weapons for self-defense somewhat problematic. To circumvent the issue, merchant typically only carry daggers on their persons, but surround themselves with guards and retainers trained in the use of “peasant weapons,” such as clubs, hammers, knives, sickles, slings, bolas, nets, and so on. For those merchants that seek to emulate their betters, a few have coerced their local governments to pass laws permitting the carrying of weapons for a license fee. These “armed merchants” will often use the privilege to carry a short sword as well as a crossbow, though sometimes a merchant will become truly skilled enough to wear a larger sword openly.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Western Baronies: The Modern Empire

THE WESTERN EXPANSION

Rather than persecute or judge the remaining nobles, the new emperor declared an armistice to the war and a pardon for all parties involved. Publicly, the nobles were commanded only to set aside their differences and work together to rebuild what had been lost. Privately, however, the emperor’s advisors were plotting to make certain that this emperor’s reign would be more peaceful and robust than the last. The emperor, too, was concerned—he had seen his father murdered, his “loyal” subjects turning on him like a rabid dog on its master.

The noble families and merchant leaders most complicit in the beginning and continuance of the war were closely monitored for further signs of dissension. Such spying would eventually attract their attention, however, and the court knew that a permanent—or at least long-term—solution must be found soon. Thus, with this in mind, a plan was hatched to remove the more dangerous elements of society while enriching the empire as a whole.

In the past, the few explorers to travel beyond the Corundum Mountains in the west had returned with tales of glorious riches, including the rare and prized crystals for which the mountains were named, gems necessary in the construction of items of magical power. The west was known to be home to only uncivilized tribes of the barbaric Ko’Manna, unclaimed by any imperial force or family. It was decided that an ideal solution to social pressures at home, including the flagging economy, was to open the western lands for settlement.

An imperial decree was issued: any man could journey west and claim land, and so long as he paid taxes on that land appropriately and on time, it would remain his possession. Since in the empire itself, only nobles could truly own land, the idea of property ownership sparked the minds of many commoners.

As well, any landowner that could pay taxes of a certain amount for a period of no less than ten years would garner a noble title for himself, to be passed along his family line. Merchants and ambitious commoners alike virtually drooled at the thought of gaining a noble title, earning recognition and greater social standing for themselves and their families. Nobles also paid close attention to this decree—it threatened their power in a way that demanded they retain a presence in the west, a presence that would strain their resources and diminish their prominence in imperial affairs.

Those nobles and merchants deemed most “dangerous” by the imperial court were strongly hinted to that maintaining western holdings would ingratiate them to the emperor—and that not doing so would bring down trouble upon them. Caught in a bind, the most troublesome elements of the empire were undercut tremendously with virtually no effort on the emperor’s part.

The western migration attracted folk from all walks of life: commoners seeking a better existence, nobles hoping to increase their holdings, merchants looking for respect and power as well as wealth, and criminals following their livelihood. Tens of thousands of them streamed across the passes, accompanied by an imperial legion to safeguard the construction of a new city. This city would be the official imperial capital of the region, a place where the emperor’s handpicked representative would ostensibly oversee the new provinces. Due to the vagaries surrounding its inception, this city would come to be called Cenotaph.

The western migration relieved many of the stresses of the day, but more were coming.


THE EMPIRE TODAY

The modern Marikuhlian Empire is like an oak tree infested with worms: strong on the outside, but corrupt and weak in the interior. The noble families, their numbers significantly smaller due to the Succession War, hold less power than even a century ago, and the emperor has largely become a figurehead for the council of advisors and delegates that once were his court. The power of the merchant families is great, but so is that of the vast and varied crime syndicates. Indeed, so many merchants deal in the illicit, and so many crime families in the legitimate, that it has become hard to tell the two apart in many cases.

The average commoner has enough to eat to stay alive and keep clothes on their backs, but little besides. Public education is lacking, and public services virtually nonexistent for the poor. Almost everything is based around one’s ability to pay—taxes to the nobles, money for goods to the merchants, more to the crime families for protection, and only a small amount set aside for the earner. The traditional way of serf and master has been left behind, but few rights or protections have arisen for the common folk.

The little power left to the imperial family is largely from its connections to powerful mage-priests, demon-worshipping sorcerers who have long served the emperor and his kin. Their hunger for corundum continues to be a major expense for the imperial family, while the dregs of the supplies are then resold to the lesser noble families for their own court sorcerers to utilize.

The noble families divide their time between their Marikuhlian concerns, where all of their political power and much of their economic wealth is located, and their baronial interests, where there remains much opportunity for advancement for the bold and the lucky. This keeps their attention divided, allowing the merchant class to frequently run roughshod over them and permitting the imperial court to further undercut their political ambitions.

Common folk, greatly emancipated from their lowly social status of a century ago, frequently abandon their lives to travel west. Many die in the journey, and still more find the western lands impossible to adapt to. Still, they try, seeking a better life beyond the horizon. Those who remain behind do their best to survive and adapt in a bad situation, especially now that the possibility of social advancement exists. Most never rise above their position of birth, however.

The empire is far from dying, but it is sick. This sickness could, given time and allowed to continue unabated, spell disaster for the old empire of Marikuhl. Hope remains, but it is as narrow as the edge of a sword.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Western Baronies: The Rise and Fall of Imperialism

IMPERIALISM ASCENDANT

After a century of peace, followed by a decade of war, Marikuhl had transformed from a carefree frontier nation into a mighty world-threatening empire[1]. The aid offered to the emperor by the Ordo Astra Lyceum had its terrible price paid—during the war and after. One hundred years of human sacrifice also changed the character of the empire. Its leadership became significantly more jaded, more inured to horror and compromise. Though the war had been won, demon worship forever became embedded as a constant in the Marikuhlian nobility and public consciousness[2].

The War of Vengeance left a deep and abiding mark on the Marikuhlian persona, making the people more conscious of war and the nobility more aware of the potential of military force. The necessities of military action over the decade of the war forged the Marikuhlian Empire into a militant and rigid hierarchy, one in which military service was the highest goal a commoner could achieve and in which nobles were expected to be generals.

Quelling the remaining rebellions in Ovidium and exacting tribute from the defeated took the better part of a century, during which Marikuhl grew fat and strong on the labors of those who would have been their masters. Finally, after the end of the century of repayment to the demon-god of the Atlantean Ocean, Marikuhl extracted its interests from Ovidium and turned its attention to home. The society there was unlike the one that had existed before the war—more politically charged, more militant, crueler. Demon worship was as common as the following of the gods from the Old World.

Over the following centuries[3], Marikuhl solidified its hold upon the eastern half of Galatea, ignoring the largely desolate lands beyond the Corundum Mountains in the west. At the same time, the Marikuhlians, expanding for the first time in over two hundred years, drew the attention of forces both to the north and south of their empire.

To the north, a savage and clannish people called the Asatru[4] had ceased warring with one another and began turning their gaze outward. The Asatru had once been a seafaring people, descendants of an ancient colony long forgotten by the empire that spawned it, but their livelihood had been destroyed by the Marikuhlian pact with the demon-god of the ocean. The storms that prevented the Ovidians from crossing the ocean also prevented the Asatru from fishing. Starvation decimated their numbers, and it took them long generations to repopulate. Finally, their numbers strong once more, they rebuilt their mighty ocean fleet and began preying on Marikuhlian trading ships and Ovidian tribute vessels.

South of Marikuhl, lay an empire with a history spanning many centuries, the land of Teotihuacal[5]. The Marikuhlians knew of a distant land populated by strange folk, but only during the expansion period did they actually have cause to encounter them. Where demon worship was an accepted, if somewhat distasteful, part of life in Marikuhl, in Teotihuacal it was the norm. Frequent and public blood sacrifices and daily bloodsports were the accepted order in Teotihuacal, all under the fanatical rule of a group of god-kings—arcanists drawing immense power from their demonic patrons. As imperial lands encroached upon their ancestral lands, Marikuhlian citizens began to disappear from their homes, victims of Teotihuacal raiding parties.

Both of these problems would occupy Marikuhlian public consciousness and the military’s attention for the next two centuries.


TROUBLED TIMES

While vanquished, Ovidium was far from content with its lot. Many of the countries that had stood aside in the War of Vengeance came to regret their actions, feeling that if they had aided their former enemies, then perhaps they could have beaten back the colonials[6]. Now that Marikuhl had demonstrated its power and quelled its rivals, they feared, the day would come when Marikuhl’s expansionism would lead them to conquer the rest of the continent. The continuing Marikuhlian presence in the neighboring nations did little to allay their fears on this matter, and the noted continuance of demon worship in Marikuhl only made matters tenser.

One hundred and fifty years ago, a leader of one minor nation began forging secret alliances with neighboring leaders, seeking to build a coalition to stand against Marikuhlian ambition when the time came. The rumors of a gathering army were reported to Marikuhlian spies almost immediately. Before the War of Vengeance, such a rumor would have been greeted with cautious concern, and right after the war, it would have been met with humorous disdain. In the centuries since the war, however, the Marikuhlian leadership had grown paranoid of threats and greedy for resources—an unstable combination even at the best of times.

Based on these rumors, the military was mobilized and prepared for battle against once-harmless Ovidian countries. Even the battle-hardened soldiers of Marikuhl showed pause, however, when they found that their opponents were militarily weak and hardly a threat at all. Even the basic mutual defense agreements made by the Ovidians fell apart under the hammer of Marikuhlian force, and nation after nation fell in stunning fashion.

Desperate to save their people, a group of Ovidian sorcerers turned to dark patrons for aid in much the same way that the Marikuhlians had done so long before. This time, however, they did not simply seek to delay the invading force, as had the Marikuhlians, but to utterly destroy it. Such magic exacted a higher price than they were truly prepared to pay, however. While the demon-god summoned up by the Ovidians wiped out nine-tenths of the Marikuhlian invasion force, the population of their entire nation was consumed, to the last man, woman, and child.

The few remaining soldiers returned to their commanders, beaten and broken by the sights they had seen during the demon-haunted night thereafter called “the Scourging.” Faced with a crippling shortage of manpower and a possible mutiny if they chose to remain, the leaders of the army chose to limp back to Marikuhl, skeleton crews manning the ships that once held hundreds. While the nobility publicly mourned their losses, privately they fumed over those losses. With the army diminished their previous stranglehold on power was loosened, perhaps fatally.

The people did not take this opportunity to rebel, as their leaders had feared, but only stoked their anger against the Ovidians. Their faith in their noble ruling class was harmed, however, and the common Marikuhlians gained a deep distrust of their leaders. This distrust, and the weakness of the noble families, allowed a burgeoning merchant class to rise from the commoners, gaining power and influence in areas of daily life that had once been the sole province of the noble class[7].

Where nobles could once simply order their commoners to perform labors in exchange for a portion the food they themselves had grown by virtue of controlling a large military force, the losses in the Scourging War made such simplicity impossible. Now, those that had money could gain greater service than nobles, who were forced by necessity to themselves offer payment for things once theirs for free. As a corollary of this fact, merchants—who were expert at producing goods or moving them around in such a way as to generate profit—could make money more efficiently than nobles—whose sole skill, generally, was rulership[8].

The noble families gradually grew weaker as the merchant class strengthened, their control over the non-military aspects of Marikuhlian life slipping dramatically. Within a decade of the losses suffered during the Scourging, many merchants were living as well as their betters had done; within two, many merchants were the de facto rulers of their regions and provinces, governing through the regulation of trade while the nobles were too weak to stop them.


THE SUCCESSION WAR

The Succession War of half a century ago initially started as a conflict over the rights of individual noble families as compared to the inclusive powers of the imperial court[9]. Over the last decade, the imperial family and the emperor’s court had been placing more power directly in their own hands, circumventing the traditional checks and balances of provincial control by passing sweeping laws that affected all territories equally.

The initial thrust of these laws were actually designed to hamper the power of the merchant class, now that the empire’s army was back up to strength and the reigning emperor strong enough personally to envision their defeat. With the merchants thus hampered, however, trade slowed and stagnated, making goods more expensive locally and regionally, as well as damaging the remaining trade interests of many noble families.

Those nobles that had adapted to life under a strong economic system resented the trade law changes, while those that had not done so were too poor to truly benefit from them. The new taxes greatly benefited the emperor’s family and those families that had gained his favor, but few others saw profit from the alteration.

As the emperor’s court grew richer and more decadent, the rest of the nation suffered in poverty. Many merchants continued to trade goods under cover of night, turning to smuggling and racketeering to make their profits. Crime rates soared as even normal people were forced to turn to crime to support themselves. The nobles, ever struggling for dominance, entered the contest as well, bringing finesse and skill to the tables of the underworld.

The war was truly happening in the shadows and dark corners of the land for months before it was officially declared. When a minor noble family was implicated in the death of a merchant family leader ostensibly under the protection of a major noble family, the two groups went to war. Such a thing had never been done in the empire before, and all too quickly, now that the traditional means of settling grudges had been passed by, old hates and rivalries came to the fore. Within a month, most of the noble families were at war with one or more of their fellows.

The imperial family struggled to remain above it all, impartial and beyond reproach. Fear of the imperial legions and remaining respect for the emperor’s line kept the noble families from acting against the emperor directly, but they stayed deaf to repeated pleas to end the conflict.

Five years passed with the empire locked in a nearly constant state of warfare. Entire noble lines were extinguished in the conflict, and the common people suffered greatly. Starvation became a real concern in many provinces, as well as increased bandit activity, the commonality of criminal syndicates, and the rapaciousness of the army. In battles, few distinctions were made against military or civilian targets, and the citizens of rival provinces were often seen as little more than spoils by an invading force. The war raged on, no end in sight.

In the fifth year of the Succession War, a battle spilled over into imperial territory, and a legion responded to the encroachment with lethal force. Both enemy commanders turned on the interlopers, and the legion was destroyed, nearly to a man. When the dust settled, the emperor decreed both families at fault and commanded that they be eliminated. Rather than wait for the command to be fulfilled, one of the families—no one is quite sure which—had the emperor assassinated. Now truly leaderless, the empire collectively drew its breath in horror.

For over six hundred years, the line of the emperors had been sacrosanct, untouchable. Now, an emperor had been murdered by those that called him liege. The other noble families rallied around his death as a point of honor, setting aside differences to destroy both families—for in their eyes, both had been to blame. When the dust settled, and those two families had been eliminated, a truce was brokered with the new emperor, oaths were renewed, and the nobles looked out upon their folly and wept.


Notes:

[1] Much like America did after World War I. Admittedly, the timeline here isn't a direct analogue to American history, but it's a fantasy setting, so I've got some leeway.

[2] If one were politically minded, one could interpret this as America's increasing willingness to compromise its founding principles in the face of expedience.

[3] I leave this time vague here, but I believe I later establish the overall amount of time that Marikuhl has been around, so it's possible to extrapolate it from that.

[4] Yes, Vikings. Everything is better with Vikings. Especially if they're stand-ins for Canadians. =3

[5] Also, Aztecs. I tried my best to depict the neighboring cultures as not actually worse than Marikuhl, just a different kind of corrupt. This isn't a personal commentary on Canadians and Mexicans so much as it is a way to build up the Old West's mythology into a coherent sense of otherness. In the milieu of the Old West, all "foreigners" are dangerous; at least the natives have some sort of nobility amidst their savagery.

[6] This really is the sort of regret that France's nobility felt in aiding America's revolution when their own people rose up against them a few years later. Other colonial powers would look back on the American and French revolutions as the beginning of the end of the colonial age, though Britain would continue expanding well into the 20th century.

[7] The rise of the middle class is a necessary step toward the settlement of the west.

[8] This is intended to be a direct comparison to the decline of samurai power at the end of the Tokugawa Period, leading into the Meiji Restoration.

[9] Yes, it's the American Civil War.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Western Baronies of Marikuhl: The War of Vengeance

THE WAR OF VENGEANCE

A century of easy peace and prosperity passed for the Marikuhlian Empire, its various provinces holding on to their colonial identities with pride and their noble families ruling well and with light hand. After the heavy-handedness of the old empires before the secession, no one wanted to risk public ire again by putting too much pressure on their people or their resources. Expansion halted as population growth slowed; without a constant influx of new settlers from Ovidium, the need for more land abated.

All of that ended in an eyeblink when a huge war fleet landed in Medrach Province and overran the provincial government within a day. From their beachhead at Medrach, the invaders made known their intentions: they had come from the Old World, newly united under a single ruler, and they intended to take back what they saw as theirs.[1]

The early weeks of the War of Vengeance were a bloody and futile affair, with the Marikuhlian forces beaten back time and again before the sheer size of the Ovidian army. More ships landed every day, and things seemed grim for the young empire.

An increasingly desperate emperor turned to his greatest advisors and generals for answers. At first, none were forthcoming, and it seemed that the empire must fall before their enemies. However, from obscurity came a cabal of sorcerers who offered their aid to the emperor. Magic, long a feared and reviled force in Ovidium, had flourished once more on Galatea, out from under the heel of oppressive and fearful governments. While Marikuhl had never officially sanctioned arcanists, neither had it persecuted them. This cabal, the Ordo Astra Lyceum, revealed to the emperor and his court a way to turn the tide of battle—though the cost would be terrible.

With heavy heart, the emperor accepted the cabal’s bargain: in exchange for a century of human sacrifice, the order’s patron, a mighty demon-god of the sea[2], would turn the seas against the Ovidians. Without the aid of their navy to speed battles or to allow reinforcements, the Marikuhlians would have time to organize a suitable defense. As well, the cabal would grant their services to the army itself. While magic was of little use against large numbers of men, its aid in destroying key personnel and facilities was invaluable.

The empire turned its significant resources to the manufacture of weapons and armor, the production of siege engines, and the indoctrination of soldiers. With a year of stalemate guaranteed by the emperor’s terrible bargain, the Marikuhlian Empire returned to the war in a far better position. The fearless Marikuhlian soldiers, fighting not just for their homes but for their way of life, harried the depleted Ovidian forces across the southern provinces of the empire, finally rooting them out of their last strongholds and sending them scrabbling for the deadly embrace of the sea.

It took nearly three years, but the Marikuhlians were at last successful. The expulsion or death of nearly every Ovidian invader was not enough to sate the newly awakened Marikuhlian bloodlust, though. The people cried out that the War of Vengeance would live up to its name—that they would have revenge upon those who would attempt to usurp their sovereignty. The nobles heard their cry, and a massive effort was put forward to build an invasion force. Within six months, with the aid of the demon-god of the sea and a massive building effort, the Marikuhlian fleet made their way across the Atlantean Ocean and back to the continent of their origin—where they would be victorious.

The end of the War of Vengeance was as one-sided as the beginning, but no salvation made itself known to the embattled Ovidians. Any empire that aided in the invasion was cast down, its leaders slain, its army shattered. Those that had not been complicit in the War of Vengeance were given a simple message: stand aside or share in the same fate. Since most of the remaining empires were losers in the Ovidian Ascension Wars of the previous century, and thus barely recovering themselves, the choice was easy.

Within five years, the empires of Ovidium were no more, and the Empire of Marikuhl had made its supremacy in world affairs known.[3]


Footnotes:

[1] Yes, this is intended to be a fantasy version of the War of 1812, turned up to 11.

[2] Cthulhu, basically. In later stuff about the Marikuhlian Empire, I make the Lovecraftian stuff a lot more clear.

[3] Like I said, dialed up to 11. The War of Vengeance starts off as a fantasy version of the War of 1812, but sort of ends as a fantasy version of World War I: "America gets big and goes to Europe to stomp all over everybody." Of course, the Marikuhlians are invaders this time around, and that ties in neatly with some of the themes of the setting, particularly about how barbarism saves civilization, but also condemns it. Giving in to violence is the only way to protect yourself from violence, but it also turns you into the thing you're fighting.

Western Baronies of Marikuhl: History of the Empire

ORIGINS OF MARIKUHL

Eight hundred years ago, the empires of the continent of Ovidium[1] were strong and confident in their power. They held ancient rivalries and passed down grudges from one generation to the next. Many wars had come and gone on Ovidium, leaving regions of the continent with blood-soaked histories dating back centuries. Finally, however, the wars had paused long enough that several of the empires began to look beyond their own borders to lands that had been hinted of by scholars in old times—the legendary Western Lands.

A dozen unsuccessful naval expeditions across the Atlantean Ocean[2] left a bitter taste in the mouths of many governments, but others kept trying. After years of trying, one such expedition took root on the eastern shores of a continent that its discoverers named Galatea[3]. This land quickly became known by its nickname, though: Nova Mundi, the New World. The success of one colony inspired the launch of dozens more, many of which were modestly successful. After fifty years of colonization, almost twenty self-sufficient tributary colonies had been established along Galatea’s green and prosperous coast.

With the passing of decades, the Galatean colonies grew and encroached inward on the continent, pushing back the native peoples, the Ko’Manna[4]. While early contact with the Ko’Manna had been peaceful, colonial expansion and greed caused tension with them in less than a generation. The Ko’Manna lost much territory but gained a new innovation: horses. Fleeing west, the Ko’Manna became horse nomads, many tribes giving up their traditional homes rather than have to face the foreigners in open warfare. Several tribes of Ko’Manna actually integrated with the colonials, becoming a valued and vibrant part of life in a number of the colonies.

Communication with the Old World became more sporadic as tensions among the old empires increased. The colonies reflected these attitudes at first, acting toward one another with hostility and spite. Gradually, however, the colonial citizens came to realize that they had more in common with one another than with their originators back home. Many colonies had become so thoroughly dependent on one another for trade and economy that the rivalries of their empires could not be practically pursued in any fashion.

Finally, as had long been expected, war broke out once more in Ovidium and the many empires of the Old World demanded that their colonies follow suit. Orders for colonial food, soldiers, weapons, crafts, and aid of all sorts passed down to the regional governors, who then had to face the rancor of their people. The overburdened colonies groaned beneath the weight of their own needs added to the demands of their distant masters. Many regions faced deprivation, while others had to deal with insurrections against the local government.

At last, a leader emerged to take command in this time of strife. His name was Marik d’Amici[5], and he was a nobleman who had long been a staunch supporter of greater freedoms for the colonies. As civil unrest became more common, Lord Marik led a delegation of nobles from all of the colonies to make certain decisions for their people’s well being. Seeking to insure their own livelihood and the survival of their people, Lord Marik’s council came to the inevitable and difficult conclusion: to stand against the commands of their empires, they would have to be united, and they would have to cut all ties to their original homelands.

It took surprisingly little effort to unite the colonies beneath Lord Marik’s banner, and the brief skirmishes needed to expel imperial military forces were hardly worth the appellation of “war.” Busy with their own affairs and wars, the various empires of the Old World put aside their desire to punish their wayward children until they were finished with the matters at hand. It became an unspoken condition of the war that whichever empire triumphed would have first pick of the colonies when the time came to recapture them.

In a matter of scant months, the Galatean colonies had gone from territorial holdings to a single nation, united in spirit if not in origin. The many races and nationalities of the colonies celebrated their new freedom from distant masters and lauded their noble lords with praise. Lord Marik’s council was elevated to the status of rulers, and Marik himself was crowned Marik I, first emperor of the Empire of Marikuhl[6].

From these twenty-one families rose the ruling caste of Marikuhl, each family holding sway over one of the former colonies, now provinces, plus an additional region now set aside as the personal demesne of the imperial family. Each ruling family set up subsidiary noble families to keep account of their holdings and to administrate the daily goings-on of the provinces.


Footnotes:

[1] I called the "old world" Ovidium because it was evocative of Ovid, a Roman historian and poet, which set the tone for the old world as being "classical" and ancient.

[2] This is to tie the "new world" into the real-world myths of Atlantis, as well as to keep a touchstone with actual history. The Atlantic Ocean is also named for Atlantis.

[3] Galatea is the woman created from a statue by Pygmalion. The imagery I was trying to evoke here was of a new world made from the efforts of explorers, embodying it as a woman who came to life by the will and desire of her creator. It also continues the Greco-Roman theme of the old world.

[4] For the native peoples, I was looking for a world that included "mana" (magical energy or life force), so I shortened "cooperating-with-mana" and redubbed it a bit to make it look exotic. As a note, the Ko'Manna are human; there are no non-human PCs in the setting.

[5] Again, the naming is to emphasize the Romanesque sense of the old world. Also, it's a setup for the eventual name of the empire.

[6] Take "America," slur it to "'mericuh" and conflate it with "miracle." You get "mahr-ih-KOOL."

Western Baronies of Marikuhl: Intro

So it occurred to me that I've never posted up the medieval fantasy Wild West setting I wrote ages ago, Western Baronies of Marikuhl. When I wrote it, I was looking to create an Iron Heroes setting, but the elements work well enough in any action-oriented roleplaying system. Essentially, I wanted to capture the things that were iconic about the American Old West in film and literature, and then retrofit them to a medieval-fantasy setting. Remove guns and replace them with swords, but otherwise try to capture the feel of the Old West with magic and dungeon-crawls.

Over the next week, I'll be posting up the pieces of the setting (and there's a lot of it). Feel free to let me know what you think about it!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sign of the Zodiac: The Empowered

THE EMPOWERED


People with extra-human abilities can be generally divided into four categories, all gathered together under the catch-all name of “the empowered.” Beneath this general grouping, there are:

Zodiacs
The twelve bearers of the Zodiac Signs. This is naturally the most exclusive group, since there are only twelve such individuals at any given time. Currently, all twelve Signs are in the custody of the United Nations peacekeeping forces and are assigned to specially trained operatives. Not all twelve Signs are active at all times, due to manpower shortages, training schedules, routine testing, and casualties, but the UN does its best to make sure that at least six Zodiacs are in the field at all times. These heroes are also sometimes called Alphas.

Betas
This parlance has really only become common in the last decade as studies of Annunaki science and Omega genetics have paid off. Anyone with human-produced artificial powers, whether a robot exoskeleton or gene-spliced claws, is a Beta. The term was intentionally coined by the media as a bridge between Zodiacs (“Alphas”) and Gammas. It is widely believed that science may only be a few short decades from unraveling the secrets of the Zodiac Signs. Some humans with no powers except for resources and gadgetry are also sometimes mislabeled as Betas.

Gammas
Any empowered individual using an Annunaki relic to gain their powers is known as a Gamma, from the mathematical symbol for “variable.” Most relics grant far lesser powers to their wielders than the true Signs, and they are incredibly unpredictable. Some relics offer only instant death to anyone that touches them, while others transform the bearer into near-gods. Still, the promise of power has lured more than one person into relic-hunting. Others simply stumbled onto their relics by chance and have had to learn how to use them haphazardly. Gammas (sometimes called "Gizmos") have a reputation for being “small fry” and for being villains, since all of the Zodiac Signs have been in the hands of heroes for decades now. Reliquary sciences have led to the advancement of human technology at a rapid rate.

Omegas
Sometimes called “Zeds” or “Z-Twos,” Omegas are the result of the Hiroshima detonation, humans who were poisoned before birth by the released radiation of Annunaki technology, developing strange and aberrant mutations. Many Omegas are hideous monsters, twisted mockeries of the human form that suggest the nightmare shapes of the Annunaki themselves, while others could easily pass for normal—until they use their terrible powers. If anything good can be said about the Omegas, it is that Gammas have become more accepted since they appeared. The study of the so-called Omega Gene has become a major field of scientific endeavor in the last thirty years.


THE ZODIAC

The twelve Zodiac Signs have existed for thousands of years, drifting in and out of human history with the force of myth and legend. They have wandered the entirety of the world, though they are believed to have been created in the Middle East by a prehistoric figure called Gilgamesh who fought the alien slavers known as the Annunaki. The Zodiac Signs imbue their holders with amazing, seemingly supernatural powers, usually including increased toughness and longevity, but limited only by the willpower and force of personality of their bearer. The powers of each Sign seem to follow a general theme—Aries grants amazing combat prowess, while Pisces gives powers of healing—but they seem to rewrite their abilities for each new user. Perhaps the only constant of the Signs is that once they are bonded to a host, no known force save the wielder’s death can separate them.

The United Nations tells people that the Signs are currently all possessed by their Zodiac Division, which is comprised of dedicated individuals trained for years to act as a Sign-bearer should a current one fall in battle. The truth is somewhat different. At any given time, the UN only controls eight to ten of the Signs, with the others being missing in action. As well, the UN does not choose the Sign-bearers—the Signs choose their own wielders through some unknown process, traveling from their fallen host to search for a new one in a matter of moments.

Should a Sign-bearer fall in battle or die of old age (which has happened, albeit rarely), the Zodiac Division immediately mobilizes to find the new Sign-bearer and bring him into the fold before something can go wrong. The rare rogue Sign-bearers get reported to the media as especially powerful Gammas to preserve the UN’s secret (and the reputation of the Zodiacs). Occasionally, however, a Sign simply goes missing for months or years at a time, resurfacing just as mysteriously as it vanished. Signs also go quiet sometimes, spending weeks or months inert; it is during these rare quiet periods that actual research on the Signs is conducted.

Every Sign has certain personality types to which it seems to be drawn, and offers broad categories of powers. There are mythological and astrological associations with the Signs as well, and the practice of astrology remains just as popular in the modern day as it did in prehistory despite ample scientific opposition to its veracity thanks in part to the popularity of the Zodiacs.


Aries: The Ram

The master of warfare and strategy, Aries offers its followers melee combat prowess unmatched by any lesser warrior. Any weapon is deadly in the hands of an Aries, and every bit of terrain a key element to victory. An Aries thrives in situations that require courage, leadership and strength, though their aggressive nature sometimes leads them into rash or impulsive action.

Aries is a masculine sign, and its element is Fire. Diamond, also called adamant, is the birthstone of the Aries, and their preferred metal is iron. Red, white and black are the colors of Aries, colors commonly associated with warfare. Physically the Aries is tall in stature, and athletic in appearance. Even an Aries with a poor physique seems much fitter than he really is. Aries tend to have short, military-cut hair, even without cutting it. Their natural expression is that of a scowl, and they have great difficulty at showing mirth or joy easily.

Power Associations: Super-strength, invulnerability, mystic weaponry, close combat prowess, fire-based powers.


Taurus: The Bull

Resourceful and dependable, the Taurus is the epitome of defensive combat just as the Aries is the epitome of aggressive combat. A Taurus masters her own body to become tough and stable beyond the ability of others to move or harm her. Because of their desire for stability and forethought, however, a Taurus can often seem dull, argumentative or conservative to others.

Taurus is a feminine sign, and its element is Earth. Emerald is the birthstone for Taurus, and its metal is copper. Pale blue, light green and mauve are its preferred colors. Physically, individuals born under the sign of Taurus tend to have a full and square face, large and expressive eyes, and thick, often curly hair. Generally, there is something distinctly sensual about their appearance—earthy and full-figured. They are usually of average height.

Power Associations: Invulnerability, regeneration, force fields, immobility, earth- or metal-based powers.


Gemini: The Twins

The Gemini is a dualistic individual, on the one hand adaptable and articulate, and on the other fickle and insensitive. A Gemini’s abilities focus on interaction and the ability to become what others seek to see and hear. Cunning diplomats and moving speakers, a Gemini’s greatest flaw is his inability to be his own person—a Gemini ever mirrors others.

Gemini is a masculine sign, and its element is Air. The birthstone for Gemini is the pearl, and their metal is silver. Both represent the fluidity of personality and expression that Gemini consider essential. Gemini prefer white if they must pick only one color, but their true calling is in the panoply of the rainbow. Physically, Gemini tend to have a straight and narrow nose, long limbs, high cheekbones, large hands and long fingers.

Power Associations: Duality, speed, quickness, emotion control, disguise, shape changing, telekinesis.


Cancer: The Crab

Cancer is generous and devoted, capable of offering healing and care to others even at greatest cost to herself. Visionaries, teachers and lawgivers, the sign of Cancer lends itself to those that place the good of others over their own well-being. Unlike Taurus, who seeks to defend their physical selves, Cancer protects their rights and souls. Their devotion can easily turn to zealotry, however, and Cancer can seem controlling or even domineering at times.

Cancer is a feminine sign, and its element is Water. Ruby is the birthstone of Cancer, with its connotations of blood and health. Cancer’s colors are silver, white and black, muted tones for the seriousness of their calling. The physical characteristics associated with Cancer are below average height and short legs; many Cancers are also somewhat pudgy. A Cancer usually has dark hair, a round face, a pale complexion, and small eyes. They sometimes walk clumsily, for no readily apparent reason.

Power Associations: Group defense, invulnerability, healing, natural weaponry, water-based powers.


Leo: The Lion

Ambitious and independent, but ultimately noble, a Leo finds his truest calling as a leader of men. From magistrate to king, a Leo is born to greatness. Perhaps because of this regal bearing and their aristocratic calling, Leos also have a reputation for being overbearing and luxurious, without any concept of the value of money. A Leo does not request—he demands, and expects to be heard.

Leo is a masculine sign, and its element is Fire. Leo’s birthstone is the royal peridot, a jewel of nobility, and its metal is gold. Gold and purple are the colors of Leo. Leos tend to be large in all physical features. They are usually tall, with broad shoulders, large hands and feet, and tend to be quite tan. They keep their head held high and look down their noses at others, and have thick manes of light-colored hair.

Power Associations: Empathy, mind control, unnatural charisma, super strength.


Virgo: The Virgin

Purity is the watchword of the Virgo. Not just physical purity but spiritual purity as well. Not all Virgos are literal virgins, but even at their worst they seem virginal. A Virgo values innocence and justice, and is willing to pursue truth and moral uprightness to almost any extreme. Their modesty and discretion can make them seem prudish and perfectionists to those who have lower standards of excellence.

Virgo is a feminine sign, and its element is Earth. The Virgo’s birthstone is sapphire, blue and placid, and their metal is quicksilver, better known as mercury. Grey and deep blue are the representative colors for Virgo. Physically, individuals born under the sign of Virgo tend to have a graceful figure, a round head, large and clear eyes, and refined features. They are usually of slightly above average height, and their limbs are long and graceful.

Power Associations: Empathy, invulnerability, mind reading, energy powers.


Libra: The Scales

The sign of the Libra is one of the most valued in the Zodiac. With its penchant for balance and moderation, and talents that lend themselves to fairness and equality, Libras are judges, peacemakers and builders. Unlike the Gemini, who is skilled at copying another’s viewpoint and mimicking it, a Libra excels at actually understanding both sides of complex issues and finding ways to balance them. Some see Libras as easily swayed thanks to their willingness to shift views, however.

Libra is a masculine sign, and its element is Air. Opal is the birthstone for Libras, and has become the traditional precious stone in the garb of judges and magistrates. Steel is a Libra’s metal, and its colors are lavender and pale green. Physically, individuals born under the sign of Libra tend to have a graceful figure, charming appearance, a high forehead, and a “trademark” dimple. Libras are of above average height.

Power Associations: Mind reading, empathy, emotion control, telekinesis, air-based powers.


Scorpio: The Scorpion

Secretive and intense, a Scorpio revels in mystery and enigma. They understand that knowledge is the truest currency—and that the fewer people who know a given thing, the more valuable it becomes. Their innate talents lend toward being spies, thieves and infiltrators, and some Scorpios take their assets a step further to become assassins. Even friendly Scorpios hide things from their loved ones, and their inner passions often drive them to become manipulative or cruel.

Scorpio is a feminine sign, and its element is Water. The topaz is Scorpio’s birthstone, and, like Libra, its metal is steel. Scorpios have a natural affinity for maroon and black. The nose is the most prominent physical feature of the Scorpio; it tends to be large and hooked, aquiline. A Scorpio’s eyes are dark and piercing. Their faces are angular, and their hair dark, sometimes with a red tinge in direct light. A Scorpio’s body is short and thick, resembling its opposite sign, Taurus.

Power Associations: Stealth, invisibility, quickness, superhuman dexterity, natural weapons, magnetic powers.


Sagittarius: The Archer

Born with an eagle eye and a steady hand, a Sagittarius is a master of archery almost before he can walk. Freedom-loving and idealistic, the Sagittarius hopes that someday every person will embrace his broad-minded philosophy. At his best, a Sagittarius is open and honest, accepting of others, while at his worst he is impulsive, tactless and rebellious without good cause.

Sagittarius is a masculine sign, and its element is Fire. The birthstone of Sagittarius is turquoise, and its metal is tin. Blue and white are the colors of Sagittarius, though pink is also sometimes used. People born under the sign of Sagittarius have a large and well-shaped head, with a high and broad forehead. They possess a tall and broad figure, and fair hair that tends to grow long and wild.

Power Associations: Ranged combat prowess, energy projection, quickness, super speed.


Capricorn: The Sea-Goat

With their birth sign so closely resembling the traditional emblems of devils, it is no wonder that Capricorns are regarded with mistrust and suspicion. A Scorpio might stab you in the back, but she would do it in a moment of passion—a cold, ambitious Capricorn would do it with perfect calculation, having decided your doom months beforehand. A Capricorn’s mystical powers make them no less strange and terrible to others, but their hard-working and serious natures make them reliable allies to anyone willing to associate with them.

Capricorn is a feminine sign, and Earth is its element. Garnet is Capricorn’s birthstone, and many mystical properties (including summoning powers) are attributed to that gem. Electrum is the metal of the Capricorn—neither truly gold nor silver—and its colors are brown and dark green. Physically, individuals born under the sign of Capricorn tend to have dark hair, steady eyes, a dark complexion, capable hands, and prominent cheekbones.

Power Associations: Strange luck, pseudo-arcane powers, mind shielding, warding and defense, deception.


Aquarius: The Water-Bearer

The Aquarius looks into the depths of the human mind, seeking meaning in the pursuit of the intellectual. The urn held by Aquarius in myth does not hold only water, but the very water of life—the urn is the receptacle of all knowledge. Though somewhat detached because of their intellectual pursuits, an Aquarius is friendly and progressive in his personal life. He seeks knowledge not just for its own sake, but to share it with others and improve their lives by doing so. Their erratic pursuit of esoteric learning can make them eccentric and self-centered, though.

Aquarius is a masculine sign, and its element is Air. Amethyst, purple and full of palpable magical force, is the birthstone of Aquarius. Brass is its metal, and its colors are various shades of blue and purple. Physically, individuals born under the sign of Aquarius tend to have finely chiseled features and a slender figure. Male Aquarians are often somewhat soft in features, while females are somewhat broad-shouldered and strong looking but also fair.

Power Associations: Mind reading, mind control, super intellect, illusions, general psychic powers.


Pisces: The Fishes

With a sign that governs both beauty and health, a Pisces almost literally glows with attractive well-being. Where a Cancer would heal wounds, and a Virgo would heal spirits, a Pisces wipes away disease and pain. As well, their focus on appearance lends itself easily to the manipulation of appearance—illusion and reality mix freely for a Pisces. Sometimes impractical and even escapist in their fantasies, a Pisces is sensitive, creative and artistic. “Enchanting” applies to a Pisces in every sense of the word.

Pisces is a feminine sign, and its element is Water. Aquamarine is the birthstone of Pisces, and platinum is their metal. The colors associated with Pisces are aquamarine, purple and mauve. Individuals born under the sign of Pisces tend to have heavy-lidded and liquid eyes, a tall stature, and a broad physique. Their hair grows long but thin.

Power Associations: Healing, regeneration, aquatic powers, unnatural charisma.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sign of the Zodiac

It's been a while, but I'm not dead! Just very busy. In return, here's the outline for a superhero campaign I've been working on, Sign of the Zodiac.


SIGN OF THE ZODIAC

Earth is a troubled world, a world in need of heroes. But then, it always has been.

At the dawn of time, beings called the Annunaki called Earth home. They built a grand civilization on the backs of human slaves, making their homes in enormous towers of gold and diamond. Their technology was advanced enough that they did not need servants, of course, but the possession of slaves was a status symbol among the Annunaki, and Earth slaves were especially prized.

Cruel and inhuman as the Annunaki were, no human could truly say they truly understood their masters, who possessed seemingly endless magical powers. They slew men for sport, pitted their slaves against one another in gladiatorial fights, made them construct monuments though they had the power to do so more quickly and efficiently, and turned the primitive world of Earth into a paradise for themselves—and a hell for its natives.

The people labored under their masters for countless centuries, unable to think even of the concept of freedom because of the Annunaki’s uncanny powers of mind control. Finally, there came a day when a single man arose from the masses of humanity to call for an end to the tyranny. His name was Gilgamesh, and in his wake was rebellion. Charismatic, resistant to the powers of the Annunaki, and possessing great physical strength and intelligence, Gilgamesh learned the secrets of the Annunaki “magic” and turned it against his former masters. From among the people, he chose twelve champions named for the constellations and granted them weapons to use against the Annunaki.

In time, Gilgamesh and his Zodiac defeated the Annunaki, cast down their mighty towers, and drove them from Earth. The first hero and his companions passed down into the annals of myth and legend. Over the centuries, the regalia of the Zodiac would sometimes resurface, usually no more than a piece or two at a time, and epic legends of heroes and villains would be birthed from their appearance. Similarly, pieces of lost Annunaki technology would sometimes be unearthed in the strangest places, leading to “natural” disasters or the rise of petty tyrants. History is speckled with the legends of such occurrences, shrouded in the language of mysticism.

As the 20th century approached, such events became more and more common, and the governments of the world started taking notice. The British Empire was the first to connect the legends and strange events together, leading to their imperial push in the Victorian Age. Those in the know had put together the bits and pieces of history, creating a terrifying tapestry that they could not afford to leave in the hands of enemies. They never managed to garner more than a few scattered relics of this hidden past, but their scramble for power led to other nations discretely participating in the grand game as well.

World War I was the beginning of the end for the British Empire. While it won the war, it lost much of its spirit keeping the dangerous Zodiac Signs out of the hands of Germany and its allies. The Zodiac heroes on the side of America and England were tired from all the fighting and hoped to retire gracefully. Unfortunately, several mighty relics falling to Germany and Japan spurred the Second World War, during which the secret finally became stretched too thin to keep. By the end of the war, costume-clad heroes bearing Zodiac Signs or wielding Annunaki relics were flying alongside American bombers in the European theater or guarding warships from attack in the Pacific. During this time, anyone with super-human abilities (regardless of source) became known as the empowered.

By 1945, Germany was defeated and Japan was holding out only from sheer desperation. Unable to crack the atomic secrets held by an Annunaki ship uncovered in the American southwest, the government of the United States ordered their most powerful Zodiacs—codenamed Aries and Taurus—to unleash their full power on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Though reluctant, they were persuaded by the military high command that such a display would ultimately result in the loss of less human life.

Something went terribly wrong. Instead of becoming simple demonstrations of Zodiac might on Japanese soil, the incursion turned into a full-on battle between the American Zodiacs and a cadre of Japanese soldiers wielding Annunaki technology. In the three-day-long fight, both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were totally devastated, slaying tens of thousands of innocent civilians, inundating others with deadly radiation, and destroying buildings like matchbook houses. Finally, one of the relic-users tried something he had never done before, and for a brief second, Hiroshima was bathed in the fires of the sun. None of the empowered survived the battle, but the Japanese government was so demoralized by the attack that they finally surrendered.

After the end of the war, the world powers realized that another such conflict might mean the end of humankind. To avoid such a nightmare, a new organization was established to maintain and monitor the Zodiacs. The group, the United Nations, became a clearinghouse for diplomacy and negotiation, as well as the final arbiter of international conflicts. Armed with the power of the Zodiacs, no nation wanted to stand against the UN. The following decade saw peaceful relations between powers that once despised one another, at least on the surface. Truthfully, nations still fought and warred, they just did so on a smaller and more hidden scale. Since Zodiacs were only brought out for the most dangerous and significant situations, countries found that they could kill each other as much as they wanted, as long as they did so quietly.

The breakthrough in Annunaki technology came during the 1960s in Japan, as the government struggled to deal with the civil strife brought on by the rejection of American peacekeeping forces and the burgeoning population of Omegas. An Omega university student surpassed all of his peers when his Omega Gene went active, allowing him to leap decades ahead in raw technical prowess. By the end of the 70s, clean-energy engines were common and the internet had become a global phenomenon—and Japan had become the wealthiest country in the world. Many secrets remain to be pulled from the Annunaki relics, most of which still defy analysis. Still, it’s an exciting time to be alive.


The Present Day

The year is 1984. Jimmy Carter is the president of the United States, after winning a narrow victory against an actor-turned-politician from California. His efforts as a peacekeeper and humanitarian have made him incredibly popular with the international community, though he is little-liked by his own countrymen after several contentious decisions regarding his dealings with Communist nations. Still, America is wealthy, safe and powerful, riding high on its victories in the World Wars into a glorious future.

The Soviet Union is a mighty country, rival but not enemy of America, under the leadership of Konstantin Chernenko, though his ill health makes it seem likely that another leader will rise to take his place all too soon. Glasnost has been good to Russia, allowing the country to preserve its Communist ideals while still becoming more open to the world at large. America and Russia bicker amicably in the United Nations, while playing their long-term game of chess against one another through intermediaries in the third world.

The third great world power of this era is Japan, though Japan’s might is economic rather than military. With the large population of Omegas within the country, Japan has essentially supercharged its economy with laborers who exceed human strength and endurance, businessmen who can read minds or predict stock trends, and scientists capable of intuitively designing advanced computers and electronics. Their military, while substantially smaller than that of most major nations, is composed primarily of Omegas as well. The Japanese Self-Defense Force, or J-SDF as it is known, is the single largest organized group of Omegas in the world.

Much of Africa is in the grip of various Beta and Omega warlords, ruling over their territories like feudal kings without United Nations sanction or cooperation. China is restructuring itself as a pseudo-Communist state and rapidly becoming the Soviet Union’s primary local rival for power. The Middle East is a land of peace since the end of world reliance on oil, though just as prosperous thanks to their undertaking of major archeological and scientific study of the many Annunaki ruins beneath the surface of their lands.

Europe, on the other hand, has become a renewed hotbed of conflict since the German reunification in 1980 as the nations of the European Union, long engaged in rivalry with the Soviet Union, must now also contend with the German Federation. As well, England seems to be on a new imperial push after leaving the European Union in 1979 and conquering Argentina during the Falklands War of 1982 against United Nations political opposition. South America is rapidly restructuring its previously fractious governments to stand against English aggression, gaining a new foothold in the world community and building allies in the UN.


Modern Technology

Because of the rapid Japanese advances in electronics, computers, and robotics during the 1960s and 1970s, the modern day is a time of incredibly advanced technology. Cell phones, little more than science fiction a decade ago, have become a major part of the global communications network, and the InterNet (International Network) of home computers is rapidly gaining popularity as well. First world nations have access to nearly-unlimited power, most cars are electric, and virtually every citizen in the world’s largest countries owns a personal computer as well as a vehicle.

Along with the benefits of advanced technology have come the drawbacks, however. Energy weapons have taken the place of ballistics on the battlefield, and most security forces are now armed with “bolters” (plasma bolt weapons) or “sizzlers” (laser weapons) as well as advanced ceramic body armor. Only the most common criminals or concerned citizens use gunpowder weapons anymore. (The American right to bear arms was recently upheld to include “personal arms” like rifles and handguns but not “military arms” like bolters, but getting a military weapons license is easy enough for the wealthy.) Primitive force field technology has managed to banish the brief fears of nuclear war, after the development of the atomic bomb in 1969. Virtually every major city has a force-screen generator, allowing it to deflect incoming missile attacks, though these screen generators have only limited battlefield application.

Medical sciences have advanced along with civil and military sciences, making most forms of surgery simple outpatient procedures. Cybernetics have become quite improved, allowing people with missing limbs to regain almost full functionality (if not sensation). Exo-frames are becoming more popular in the medical field as well, used for restoring mobility to people with major bodily paralysis or granting it to individuals with mobility-related birth defects. Major strides have been made in cracking the Omega Gene, allowing for simple genetic manipulation and modification of individuals. Such “enhancements” have become very popular in some nations, leading to entire subcultures of body modifiers.

Space travel has been aided by the proliferation of free energy, and the United Nations has both a working international space station (named Lagrange Station) and a moon colony (ostentatiously called Luna City). A manned Mars expedition is expected within the decade, and corporate investors are pushing to allow private industry access to Luna City. Should they succeed, the sparsely populated moon colony could become a real city in very short order. Space exploration is considered vitally important for Earth, since modern people know that aliens exist, and that they’re likely to be hostile if the Annunaki are any standard to judge by.

The most unusual application of modern science is so called DT-science (short for Dimensional Theory science), the study of Annunaki technology. Most Annunaki relics store the bulk of their mass in sub-spatial dimensions, protruding only the necessary pieces into “normal” reality. The friction between dimensional strata is the basis for zero-point energy, the nearly limitless energy source that has made modern life so comfortable. The manipulation of dimensional layers is the origin of the seemingly miraculous properties of Annunaki relics (and the Zodiac Signs, of course), but little more than this is certain, even today. The few human made zero-point reactors are town-sized facilities, capable of putting out a small fraction of the power of a fist-sized Annunaki weapon.

***

Next post: The Empowered!