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).
- While this thoroughly cheesy way to get some animal-form modifiers is allowed in the Federation-Apocalypse campaign, if you’re mixing Ciarkian characters with standard d20 races, it will make them somewhat overpowered. In Eclipse, just use the base costs for the various animal types and see what the total comes to. In basic d20, just tack on another +1 ECL for most animal forms, +2 ECL for Canines, Felines, and anything else with a base cost of more than forty character points. The modifiers for individual species can be found in these articles – (Basics), Canines, Felines, Apes, Equines, Bovines, and Reptiles, Birds, Bats, Bears, Raccoons, Pigs, Elephants, and Rhinos, Badgers, Otters, Weasels, Skunks, Wolverines, Aquatic and Amphibious Creatures, Cetacea, Rodents, and Rabbits, Armadillos, Anteaters, Hedgehogs, Kangaroos, and Opossums.
- 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.
- The High Frontier (ruscumag.wordpress.com)