The Realm of Ciarkian, Part II

Now that we’ve covered the general nature of Ciarkian, it’s time to get a bit more specific…

Arlin is one of (perhaps THE) most populous, variegated, and best-developed disks of Ciarkian. It’s approximately 22,000 miles across, with somewhat irregular edges. It has three moonlets, one sunlet (with a day of approximately twenty-five hours and a seasonal cycle of some 360 of those days. Confusingly, it’s often referred to as Ciarkian by its inhabitants since only scholars, traders, and other explorers ever wind up exploring any part of their wider world.

Unsurprisingly, Arlin was the first part of the virtual-world Core precursor of Ciarkian to be extensively developed and opened for visitors. Many of the areas closer to Arlin’s edge, or on other disks, are far less developed and variegated – and often far more hostile. The fact that numerous other, but weaker, anthropomorphic settings have amalgamated with unused sections of Ciarkian has simply complicated matters even further – especially since such areas usually come with their own races, many of which actually ARE inferior to the general Ciarkian population, and so are ripe for exploitation.

Maytheria, located near the center of the disc, is both an island-continent and a loosely-organized nation. It’s forested mountainous interior is now largely tamed (although occasional monsters do appear, and home-grown bandits and outlaws show up for more often) and serves as a rich source of wood, stone, and other basic raw materials. While relatively little of the land is suitable for grain-farming, orchards and nut-trees do extremely well in its cool, rainy, climate and the rich fishing grounds along the coast provide it’s inhabitants with plenty of protein.

The Maytherian gods, perhaps with a bit of excessive enthusiasm for proper filing and being able to sort out social ranks at a glance, elected to essentially “tag” their creations. As Maytherian Ciarkian (and visitors with suitable identities) grow in personal power and social authority, they develop species-specific signs of that power – and attempts to counterfeit those signs require constant maintenance in the face of a Ciarkian bodies tendency to revert to normal (and generally do work that well in any case). For example…

  • Canines – or at least Wolves and Dogs – gain eyes that glow with an internal fire (starting at light blue and finally, at very high power levels, seething crimson and black), as well as ever-darker fur and silver claws.
  • Equines gain crests, fancifully colored manes, small beards, and – finally – unicorn-like horns and ever-lighter or darker coats – although a few have been reported as attaining actual flaming manes.
  • Felines gain impossibly-long (but still retractable) ruby claws, golden eyes, gold-and-crimson manes, and subtly-darker fur patterns. Their power-graduations tend to be subtler and harder to read than most of the other races.
  • Foxes gain gemlike claws and manifest multiple tails as their power grows (which presumably will surprise no one). Oddly enough, their “labeling” is about as unambiguous as possible; all you have to know to sort them out is how to count.
  • Otters gain thicker, longer, and more silvery fur, ever-longer drooping whiskers, and gemlike glittering hair running down their spine and tails in ever-deeper shades (sapphire for Otters, other species vary) as their power grows.
  • Owls gain plumage in metallic colors (bronze-copper-silver-gold with increasing abilities) that leaves complex patterned markings behind when they brush against surfaces and their bearer wills it – a talent that more skilled and powerful Owls can use to write letters or draw complex illustrations.
  • Parrots gain more colorful and elaborate plumage, eventually trailing a selection of long, neon-bright plumes that leave faint trails of color in the air behind them.
  • Wolverines acquire complex, blue-and-green shaded, fur patterns, along with matching, solidly colored eyes, ranging from light blue at modest power levels up to solid emerald at the highest.

Socially things tend to be somewhat Darwinian; the more powerful subspecies – mostly the large predators – form the “noble class”, although they’re also expected to do most of the fighting since they have the physical advantages for it. Omnivores tend to come next, and the somewhat-weaker (but more numerous) herbivores make up the lower classes and do most of the farming (which they are better at and can live on). The “lower classes” aren’t especially downtrodden however; they may not have as much money, or physical strength, as the “nobles”, but they have just as much potential magic – and so individuals from lower-class species can be as powerful as any noble. Personal duels and house feuds are common enough, but mercantile concerns tend to cut across the species social boundaries in any case. Money always talks, despite the traditional system of running the various city-states via loose councils of nobles (military leaders) and the heads of major families (civilian leaders).

Slavery is traditionally reserved for foreigners (and for traitors, major criminals, and the losers of duels and bets in some of the more internally-competitive species, although such slaves are relatively rarely sold outside of their houses). While the typical brutalities of enslavement are occasionally in evidence, the fact that slaves cannot be deprived of their magical armaments – even if you defang and declaw them physically – tends to mitigate the worse abuses. Slave rebellions rarely succeed (the organization and formal magical studies of the major powers are major advantages and difficult to overcome) but such revolts can cause a great deal of damage before being finally suppressed. In general, slave owners try not to provoke rebellions; brutally dominated slaves indicate a master who is either very powerful or very overconfident (and likely soon to be dead).

Local citizens are, however, subject to indentured service. In contrast to slaves, indentured servants enjoy a variety of rights, only serve for a limited length of time, and usually serve in normal jobs; it’s just that the majority of their pay goes to their masters until their debts are paid. In Maytheria, indentured servants are usually fitted with magical bracelets; those are difficult to tamper with or remove (and it’s a major offense to try, both to ensure that debts are paid and to prevent unscrupulous families from exploiting their servants overmuch), serve as magical links to their wearers, and automatically shatter once the wearer’s term of service is up.

Technologically, Maytheria is about at the upper limits for Ciarkian – a semi-renaissance culture with (very very good) mechanical clocks, printing presses, gunpowder weaponry, a few basic (and mostly magically-powered) “engines”, mills, effective pumps, blast furnaces, rifles – and excellent sailing ships.

Wealth in Maytheria comes in the form of Zenni*, valuable metals (both magical and mundane), magical trinkets, properties, and other incidental valuables; banking services and stocks and such exist, but the arrangements are relatively primitive and such instruments are not yet a major part of the economy.

*Zenni are stamped from an alchemical mixture of base metals infused with magic drawn from the populace as their annual tax payment – and that magic can be drawn on to empower certain mighty spells or various local enchantments (Q.V. Orichalcum in The Practical Enchanter). The population is generally far more willing to give up a bit of magical power that they mostly don’t know how to really use than they are to give up actual money – and it makes an excellent way to back their currency.

The Realm of Ciarkian, Part I

Disney - Magic Music Mayhem 3 (Explored)

Image by Express Monorail via Flickr

Federation-Apocalypse Session 142 wound up a bit short of players, so most of the session went to information about the current setting. Here we have Part I.

Ciarkian is one of the more heavily-fantastic worlds, where cascades of mist pour densely down from; it’s blue-and-green tinted sky to water the land, only to flow out across tens of thousands of miles to pour in waterfalls over the distant edges of the world or pass through the gate-mists into other realms. The great turtles of the sea carry islands on their backs, but when they grow beyond the comfortable limits of the seas they take to the skies, perhaps once in a generation passing near enough Ciarkian proper to be seen. The world itself is supported by a single mighty branch of the great tree – although this is known only by divination magic since the hundreds of thousands of miles of intervening mist, clouds, and atmospheric distortion render the trunk quite invisible and the mighty cliffs of the edges of the world, along with whatever perils lurk along the branch, have made expeditions in search of the trunk things out of legend.

To accompany Ciarkian and the other world-disks supported by “nearby” branches, several other anthropomorphic worlds with less large-scale structure have lodged amongst the branches of the great tree, who’s distant and inattentive gods pay little heed to such intrusions. Whether for good or ill, however, sheer distance makes most such worlds accessible only through powerful magics or the gate-mists which offer difficult and perilous routes between them.

Low-level magic is, however, one of the birthrights of the people of Ciarkian – a fact which leads to a baroque (and generally comfortable) quasi-renaissance culture where magic is used for many tasks. What use is mass production when a master-craftsman, aided by his own magic and a few apprentices, can make all of the individually-fitted, superbly comfortable, and uniquely beautiful shoes (or what-have-you) that you need in a given area? Medicine isn’t very important when your local healer has healing spells available.

Similarly, gunpowder is known – but ranged combat is less common and effective than in reality, since Ciarkian bodies inherently use magic to compensate for injuries and basic healing spells are quite common. It’s only when the body and spirits ability to channel magic to compensate is at its limits that injuries become crippling and soon lethal. Thus an arrow through the heart or brain is a nasty wound – but no single arrow will kill a reasonably-healthy Ciarkian. Cannonballs through the chest usually work though; even trained Ciarkian warriors can rarely channel enough magic to compensate for such a wound.

Finally, while the small-scale physics of Ciarkian is fairly familiar and newtonian, the larger-scale physics tends to be the province of elemental powers and magical fiat. Turning a stream of water on a pile of dirt works normally – but somehow the mountains and borders of the world do not appreciably erode, despite the constant waterfalls pouring over them in some places. The aerodynamics of a hang glider, or sail, or windmill, work very well – but the air pressure remains constant even if you go a hundred thousand miles up or down. While there is a vague, shifting – and often quite beautiful – multicolored glow to the night sky, Ciarkian’s sun is nearby and personalized; it orbits the world and the branch it sits upon, and each of the other “nearby” world-disks has it’s own. Such tiny sunlets make up a substantial portion of the lights in the sky that can be sen when Ciarkian’s own tiny sun passes beneath it during the night. At least two of the nearby “moons” (with their own tiny sunlets) which drift slowly through the sky are known (thanks, again, to divination) to be simply immense sky-turtles that are taking a nap for a few millennia.

The Ciarkian +1 ECL Racial Template includes:

  • Shapeshift, with Attribute Modifiers, Hybrid Form and Clear Speech, Specialized and Corrupted/ only allows the use of a single animal form, comes with a strong dose of instincts, the user can’t  actually change forms (8 CP).
  • Two bonus four-sided hit dice (16 CP). As these are available at level one, they’re taken as their maximum – +(4 + Con Mod) HP each.
  • Grant of Aid with +2 Bonus Uses, Corrupted/requires an hour of quiet rest to work (6 CP).
  • Three Base Caster Levels specialized in Theurgy (9 CP).
  • 3d4 Generic Spell Levels (9 CP). Most Ciarkian’s buy at least a little more.
  • Occult Sense/Magic Sense (6 CP).
  • Nine skill points in Theurgy Skills (9 CP) – normally as +3 in a species-related Verb, three points worth of Nouns, a +3 Speciality in a practical field (such as “Magical Tailoring”), and a selection of (2 x [Int Mod + 3) specific spells that they get a +5 bonus to cast. Most adults will spend more skill points on Theurgy – but even small children can manage the occasional spell. Few Ciarkian children die of disease, or hunger, or minor accidents – but a fair number die from miscast magic.

In practice, every Ciarkian uses first-level magic – and most adults can reliably produce at least a handful of second level effects. Professional mages can usually manage some spells of level three or four. Master mages can manage some level five or six effects, Grandmasters can handle levels seven or even eight, and Archmagi can reliably hit level eight or even level nine. Epic magic of level ten and up is – as usual – virtually unknown. It’s is usually considered the realm of the gods rather than something for Ciarkian’s to meddle with. After all, the world was created, and is run, with magic like that – and meddling with it might cause major disruptions. Even worse, there’s no reason to believe that the gods will fix the world if its inhabitants screw it up. People have caused plenty of messes before without being bailed out by divine intervention.

While closely-related “types of Ciarkian can interbreed (dog-styled Ciarkians and Wolf-styled Ciarkians are one of the best examples; this usually obeys normal, earthly, genetic principles), and some of the slightly more distantly related species can produce sterile hybrids (who, oddly enough, usually possess greater innate magical powers than most Ciarkian’s), the various Ciarkian species are not generally inter-fertile. While they do tend to form mixed societies – since such alliances can draw on a more varied pool of racial talents, exploit more sources of food and other resources, and are far less likely to suffer from plagues and such – each species tends to cluster, and form clans, within their towns and cities.

Not surprisingly, Ciarkian are ideally suited for going on adventures; they’re tough, heal quickly, have enhanced physical abilities, and all have at least minor magic to help them out. As far as the world itself goes, it’s sheer scale – and the difficulties of navigating the gate-mists – ensure that there will always be frontiers, unexplored territories, new worlds, and whatever lies beyond the edges of the world-disks within easy reach of any determined explorer while the “civilized” areas near the center of the disks can remain relatively peaceful.

Their history supports that idea; in their traditions, the various High Gods cooperated to make the  world – and then delegated the task of fastening people to inhabit and claim it to the little gods of particular areas. The little gods took members of whatever species of animals caught their fancies and reworked them into people. They taught them the basics of life and set them free to claim the dominion over the world, to compete against and ally with each other, and to battle the monsters from beyond the edges of the disks without inference from the High Gods, who have given the world – and its destiny – unto it’s people.

Given the natural tendency to believe in the superiority of your own culture, this has led to an unfortunate (if understandable) tendency to believe that “foreigners” are not quite “people”, since they were – quite demonstrably – the creations of other groups of gods. Individual foreigners can overcome such prejudices relatively easily, especially if they’re blatantly powerful or influential or friendly or some such – but they do tend to taint things. It’s generally acceptable to exploit of enslave “foreigners”, even if they’re virtually indistinguishable from the various species that are accepted locally. It also leads to a fair acceptance of personal duels and house feuds and to most governments being relatively small-scale committees made up of representatives of the locally powerful species and houses.

Ciarkian was one of the more extensive and ambitious virtual fantasy worlds of the late 2050’s – an elaborate magical realm of anthropomorphic adventure. Unusually enough – and mostly thanks to the efforts of several talented writers – it’s activities and spinoffs maintained a high level of coherence and quality, which helped it remain vital for several decades. While it’s popularity inevitably declined later on, the game had already spawned a thriving realm in the Manifold and had even drawn quite a few souls to itself – primarily because it rapidly became a central nexus that drew less consistent or elaborately-designed anthropomorphic fantasy realms into itself.

The multitude of locations, subplots, and genres which were incorporated into Ciarkian, along with it’s expectation of ongoing development and lack of any preset – or concluding – storyline have allowed it to avoid resetting. In turn, that has allowed it to draw additional population from those related realms which do – with the result that, today, Ciarkian is one of the major hubs of the Manifold’s Anthropomorphic realms and is remarkably well-populated.

The Anthropomorphic Realms remain something of a backwater of the Manifold, simply because most such realms intentionally excluded humans – and so they’re virtually impossible to find or enter in human form. While taking on an Anthropomorphic form works just fine, a lot of people are conservative about their physical forms – especially when the only real “reward” is access to yet another set of fairly standard fantasy, space-opera, and questionable-taste worlds.  Similarly, with plenty of their own worlds to visit and trade amongst, few openers or gatekeepers, and form-prejudice all too common in worlds where anthropomorphs do NOT dominate the setting, most of the potential manifold travelers in the realms stick to their own set of worlds. They’re plentiful enough anyway – and more convenient, since most of the anthropomorphic realms rely heavily on magic or local technologies.