Introduction to Atheria: The Ourathan Isles

   For today, it’s the next piece in the Introduction to Atheria series – the Ourathan Isles of the Lunar Magic Domain, widely regared as the most uncanny and untrustworthy place on Atheria, not excluding the Illusion Domain. As always, the birthright packages can be found on the Races of Atheria page and the characters for the setting use the abilities from Eclipse: The Codex Persona, a classless d20 system (also available in a shareware version HERE).

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   The Ourathan Isles include 114 widely-scattered small islands with a total surface area of some 438 square miles. The largest islands of the group have surface areas of 31, 28, 24, 18, 17, and 14 square miles. While the climate is cool to temperate, the area is subject to dramatic tides, massive storms drifting in from the storm domain to the northwest, and has long days (greatly extended by the aurora which rolls in from the realm of light to the northeast) and short nights. Save for the occasional more sheltered or inland patches, the soil tends to be thin and rocky, and fresh water is scarce. Offshore, powerful tidal currents and bores imperil shipping and spawn numerous whirlpools and undertows.

   Despite this, the isles are surprisingly lush and green (if more inclined to scrub, peat, and similar vegetation than trees) thanks to the adaptive abilities bestowed by the regions lunar birthright. Most of the local birds, animals, and plants are capable of surviving both in and out of the sea, can handle salt of fresh water, and boast a wide variety of defensive adaptions – armor, claws, toxins, and so on (often determined by what conditions they faced in their early lives) – which, unfortunately, most of the things that eat them can readily adapt to. The local humans can digest most of the local cuisine with little difficulty, visitors are advised to treat it with caution or, preferably, to bring their own supplies.

   Like the Isles of the Sunset the earliest settlers of the Ourathan Isles were storm-driven mariners from Parack and occasional refugees from Kharidath: few explorers intentionally put out to sea through the Storm, Illusion, or Destruction domains if they could avoid it. Most early settlements failed: too few people (and often no women at all), too much salt, too many toxins, too little water, and numerous dangerous animals were enough to hold things up for centuries. Still, eventually children were born on the Isles or the seas around them, and settlements spread.

   Today, thanks to their shapeshifting and psychic abilities, which allow the settlers to accomplish surprising amounts of work, gather the resources of the sea with remarkable efficiency, and survive on very little, the isles support nearly 20,000 people and a surprising sense of community. Between their low-grade telepathy, and ability to take on human (or larger forms with training) form to work and smaller ones for daily life (note that giving birth is an exception: while there have been attempts to use forms that give birth more easily than humans to avoid the dangers of childbirth, without mighty magical intervention a child is what it is born – whether that is human or animal), they can stretch their supplies of food, fuel, and living space considerably – at the price of accepting the occasional casual death from predation, storm, and accident. Shapeshifting also allows relatively easy travel between the isles, at least when the weather is good. Since wood suitable for building ships is rare to unheard-of on the isles, this is fortunate.

   Unfortunately, the combination of the rebelliousness of the refugees from Kharidath, the fierce independence of Parack, and the feral instincts derived from frequent shapeshifting, tends to counterbalance that sense of community: the isles swarm with small competing covens, feuds and squabbles between the various small clans are a way of life, and casual violence is all too common. A surprisingly high percentage of the “pets”, “familiars”, and livestock are in fact enslaved or indentured humans or bound spirits. The locals may all share a common culture, understand each other well, and stand united against the perils of the sea and any outsiders who come along – but that doesn’t mean that they don’t treasure their own feuds.

   The isles produce reasonable amounts of salt, fish, and bizarrely-adapted plants and creatures, and their products – exotic fibers, scales, drugs (including many with bizarre psychic effects), pearls, toxins, foodstuffs, and intoxicants. They are poor in lumber, metals, fuels, water, crystals, minerals, and most basic supplies. Most transactions are by barter, since what metal coinage exists is highly valued (and is usually stashed away). While shipbourne smugglers and traders do reach the isles at rare intervals – buying slave-“familiars” and other exotics – the few locals who risk the run to the mainland in avian or dolphin-form carrying small quantities of goods in dimensional pockets actually provide almost as much actual trade.

   The Ourathan religion rejects most notions of “divinity”. They recognize the existence of endless numbers of mighty spirits and entities, but deny that they are any more than spirits cycling through incarnations, their powers waxing and waning with the shirting structure of the cosmos. The cosmos itself springs from the ceaseless interplay of the eightfold powers of Creation, Order, Preservation, Transformation, Light, Life, Darkness, and Death. They may pact with local spirits and entities, or with avatars of the eight great powers, but the do not worship such lesser entities – only the pure forces themselves are worthy of such awe.

   Of course, given such abstract beliefs, it is unsurprising that religion plays relatively little role in day to day life in the Isles. The effect is compounded by their casual views of death: they are well aware that spirits pass on to new incarnations. It isn’t especially uncommon for the spirits of the dead to be bound into animals – which they can then shapeshift back into human form. Such bonds will eventually fail, just as any other life-extension technique will, but such “resurrections” are relatively common in the isles if the original body and spirit can be recovered.

   People from the Orathan isles are usually regarded with considerable suspicion. Since EVERYONE there uses Witchcraft, their abilities with it are generally far more developed than those of mainland dabblers. Of course, it’s also a fairly easy birthright to conceal. Secondarily, the fact that everyone there can shapeshift creates considerable social complications. Oddly enough, the Lunar birthright is the only one that has a “carryover” effect: children borne by a lunar-birthright mother show a distinct affinity for Witchcraft and may take an initial Pact with no explanation whatsoever.

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