Shandar, The Fallen World

    For today, it’s part I of the basic background sheets for the Shandar setting – as it happens, the first test setting for Eclipse: The Codex Persona. Secondarily, some of the languages got recycled into other settings. It was an interesting way to represent some subtle underlying connections and – to be entirely honest – coming up with satisfactory names for languages is harder than it would seem.

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The Mythic Age:

   The legends say that once the sky was full of light. Darkness there might be, but it was a well of limitless possibilities – rather then an all-devouring void. The “Sun” and “Stars” looked down and the eyes of heaven were upon us.

   Then the Lords of Order and Chaos went to war, and the eyes of heaven closed. The sky wept without end as the warring gods shattered the world. Time convulsed and was remade.

   The survivors emerged from deep and shielded caverns when the skies had at last ceased to pour down venemous tears, only to find the heavens lost to them. The world had been inverted, it’s ruined lands forged into a dark prison. Volcanoes dotted the new “sky” of stone, while the eyes of heaven had been replaced by the Cinghalum – the roiling darkness that has invaded the center of our world.

   Some day the eye of darkness will open, and the last survivors will be swept away before it’s baleful gaze.

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The World:

   Shandar is a “hollow earth”; it’s people live on the interior of an enormous spherical bubble, surrounded by stone. There is no “sky” other then a vast expanse of rock faintly picked out by the light of fires, volcanic eruptions, magic, and veins of glowstone. Estimates vary, but most of the sages state that, while the “bubble” is a bit irregular, it has a radius of about 3200 miles. At the center seethes the Cinghalum – a black maelstorm of unearthly entrophic energies about 200 miles across. Occasional threads of force – the Albracht – escape the Cinghalum, to wander across the surface of Shandar like tornados of necromantic and entrophic magic.

   Whether or not Shandar has an “outside”, is a bubble (Among many?) in unending stone – or somehow turns back upon itself – is debated among sages. Few others care.

   Locked in unending darkness, Shanadar has no natural unit of time, would be virtually impossible to map even without it’s constant geological and glacial activities and it’s endless caverns. It is subject to “weather” generated by the interaction of geothermal heat and the frigid energies of the Cinghalum. It’s surface includes twisted volcanic badlands, plains of ice, fetid jungles of fungus (nourished by the radiation of the Cinghalum) and peculiar plants (nourished by earth magic). “Normal” growths are cultivated in caverns illuminated by magic, or by masses of glowstone. Comfortably habitable areas are either located near veins of glowstone and arcanely protected against corrosive, volcanic, or supernatural, weather – or are sheltered within caverns. These are a very limited resource, for which competition is fierce.

   Sadly, something in Shandar distorts teleportation and dimensional travel effects; it is easy to enter but far more difficult to depart, although “visitors” find it a good deal easier then natives do. Some ancient portals and artifacts are immune to this effect. but such gates and items are generally limited in other ways. Magic in general is difficult; while minor spells function quite reliably, higher-order magics require special measures. Other forces – such as gravity – can also vary locally.

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The Balefire of the Cinghalum:

   Dark, cold, and profoundly unnatural, the unlight of the Cinghalum is a basic element of life on Shandar. It extends the range of darksight and low-light vision and nourishes the growth of useful fungi – but these modest benefits pale compared to it’s more malevolent effects. Over-exposed flesh will begin to rot or develop noxious fungal infections. Wounds exposed to it without skilled treatment invaribly become gangrenous. Any bodies left exposed to it for few weeks will rise as lesser undead. It has a slow, corrosive, effect on unprotected stone and metal or untempered magic. Even well-shielded creatures on Shandar tend to grow, age, and decay, with unnatural speed. It is possible to tap into the energies of the banefire to power spells (especially necromancy) but it invariably requires a sacrafice of vitality. Those who channel the banefire too often, or too recklessly, risk worse then death.

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Glowstone And Its Uses:

   A blue-black or green-black ore, glowstone is dense, hard, incredibly difficult to smelt – and toxic. It is easily identified by it’s faint bluish-purple radiance. It often occurs in veins of quartz crystal, which seems to refract, amplify, and soften it’s light according to it’s own color. Larger masses of glowstone produce heat as well as light; both radiations increase rapidly with the size and purity of the sample. Glowstone poisoning has a variety of symptoms; common “paths” include fits, twitching, blindness, and insanity, weakness and great loss of weight, anemia, hemmoraging, growths, and a tendency to develop weird diseases. Oddly, victims often exhibit terrific vitality and increased magical abilities. They rarely become undead after death. Large amounts of it even seem to offer some protection against banefire.

   Glowstone can be alchemically refined – although the results are somewhat variable. It is a vital component in spellpowders, magical tempering, lightrods and fire- lances, magical inks, spell talismans, dwarven engines, rings of fortitude, lights, the creation of city walls, farm caverns, alloys, kuargor, and most magical weapons – especially weapons of “disruption”. The extensive use of refined glowstone is widely considered a fundamental mark of a civilized people.

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Common Languages:

  • Avanthari; The elemental tongue. Character’s must be able to cast at least some spells, whether thru natural talent or study, to be able to learn it. It’s “written” form involves the ability to Read/Write Magic (QV). It is most commonly used by elementals and their priests.
  • Baassinn; A language cobbled together to communicate with the Vorinax; the insect-like inhabitants of one of the nearby realms of order. They’re formidable, if less then overwhelming – but are favored by summoners thanks to their specialized caste-talents, the ease with which they can be contacted, their extreme reliability, and the fact that – while they are nearly impossible to control directly – their services can simply be purchased. The tongue has no written form; all record-keeping Baassinn have eidetic memories. The “true” Baassinn tongue uses hypersonic vibrations and chemical cues as well as words.
  • Dhuzutine; One of the more “common” demon-tongues of the chaos planes. It’s partially gestural, and is often used in invocations, summonings, and bindings. Dhuzutine is difficult for “normal” humanoids to pronounce, but a high level of proficiency in it is strongly recommended for any serious summoner. It’s written form consists of a complex sequence of subtly-different curving lines.
  • Draconic; (AKA; The High Tongue, Old Untharak, “High Melinobonean”, and Auld Wyrmish). Supposedly one of the primal tongues, either predating the world as it is, or imported from another plane. Little used outside of the practice of magic or the elven noble houses, especially since most Dragons insist that nobody else can speak it without an awful accent and mangling the pronunciation. It’s original written form is highly ornamental, as the coloring of the complex glyphs is as important as their shape. A colorless, degenerate, form is common today.
  • Elthak (AKA; Dwarven) is the most common language of the dwarven fastnesses. Despite isolation and the usual borrowing of words from nearby tongues, Elthak is still quite consistent across the known world, perhaps due to dwarven tradationalism. Unlike Ma’thak Koren – the high dwarven tongue – they’re quite willing to teach Elthak. The written form employs an alphabet of harsh and angular runes, well suited to being gouged into stony surfaces.
  • Ghedden; The tongue of the Rakkon. It’s easy enough to learn – if perhaps a bit hard on the throat – but it has very alien connotations and many words which either don’t translate properly at all, can only be translated with clumsy circumlocutions, or which can be translated in many different ways. It’s hard for any mammal to be sure of exactly what they’re saying, or hearing, in it. The few existing literate Rakkon tend to inscribe their records using dwarven runes.
  • Honodath; A tongue preserved in the rituals of a few ancient orders, inscriptions on monuments, and prayers to various Dead Gods. It’s also used in invocation magic, but that’s something of a lost art. It’s rarely used in conversation, but is tradationally used in funerals and for grave-wardings.
  • Illithid; Bizarrely by most standards Illithid has a written form, but not a spoken one. Each full “thought” is written as a spiral of glyphs. Positive or negative emphasis is shown by direction of the spiral. Empowered glyph-spirals can be used to either imprint patterns on the brain or to wipe them away. Those who know Illithid are nearly as suspect as the mind flayers themselves.
  • Korel Mordan; The language of the high gods. AKA “Soul-Speech”. A tongue which IS magic, rather then merely one which is used for it. Any living being will understand the speaker. A promise made in it is binding beyond death. It lends incredible power to spells cast using it. It is the tongue of Naming – and it is insanely dangerous. Learning it requires a Feat, as well as the investment of skill points. It can be written as Primal Runes, but this drains the scribe’s life force.
  • Ku. The tongue of Wu, Lao-Shu, or Xing (Depending on who is asked) – a far-distant land reputedly so rich in glowstone veins that the power of the Cinghalum is held almost entirely at bay, the entire realm is illuminated with a soft glow, and it’s lords have raised a mystical wall around the entire realm. Reputed to be a land of a million wonders. Of course only a few rare wanderers claim to have come from this land, and most of those seem to be refugees of some sort. Oddly enough, the written form employs Untharak pictograms (QV).
  • Levinwil; A minor tongue used in a few settlements and caverns, commonly near a surviving Dyrhyddyn. Speakers commonly “borrow” words for some fairly common elements of Shandar from Untharak or Pathor, leading scholars to believe that it’s either been imported from somewhere – or dates back to the elder world. It’s commonly thought of as a language for backwater rustics. It’s “original” written form – if any – has not survived, although it’s still written using the Hanic alphabet.
  • Low Untharak (AKA; Low Melinobonean, Tradetongue and Common) is a corrupted and simplified form of Untharak, suited for short-lived speakers, trade – and commanding slaves. It’s understood across much of Shandar, but has no written form and is usually looked down upon by anyone who’s even slightly cultured. It’s not much of a tongue for literature, precision, or magic.
  • Ma’thak Koren; The tongue of runemasters, and the high liturgical language of the dwarves. Many occult command words, ancient magical formulas, and tomes of lore, are in Ma’Thak Koren. Unfortunately, there are only a few elderly dwarves who understand all it’s nuances – and few non-dwarves who understand more then a few words of it. It uses the same Dwarven Runes that Elthak does, albeit with a few extra symbols and various subtle differences.
  • Narthian; The tongue of druids, totem spirits, and the beast lords. All animals understand and “speak” it to a (very) limited degree. Narthian wells up from the deep, instinctual, levels of the mind; “normal” sentients can learn enough Narthian to permit (limited) communication with specific kinds of animals, but even that threatens their mental stability. Fluency in Narthian is normally a gift from the totems or beast lords. It has, and can have, no written form.
  • Ophan; A near-dead language akin to classical latin. It’s said to have been the tongue of some mighty empire of the elder world. Many classics of literature and lore are written in Ophan – including a good many more tomes on ritual magic. The Hanic Alphabet is commonly used to write things in other languages however, since it’s one of the few truly phonetic systems available on Shandar.
  • Pathor; The language of the Khamroth. A liquid and rhythmic tongue. While relatively normal in most ways, the interlocking cadences of “formal” epics, songs, and poems in Pathor exert a curious hypnotic effect, and tend to settle deeply into a listener’s mind. It’s extremely difficult to interrupt – or change – such a recitation. Skilled Khamrothian talespinners and bards can draw their listeners “into” such epics. The high histories of the Khamroth are said to be so compelling that death itself will not suffice to interrupt them.
  • The “Silent Tongue”; A gestural form of Low Untharak used when silence is required. It’s slower, and somewhat more limited, then the verbal form. Oddly, it’s use may be even more widespread.
  • Untharak AKA; Drowish, Undercommon, and Darkspeech) may be the most vital single tongue on Shandar. Sadly, the many difficulties inherent in cultural exchanges on Shandar have fragmented it into numerous dialects. The written form – a complex pictographic alphabet in which each “letter” represents an entire thought or concept – effectively counts as another language but is universal throughout Shandar. It has words and elements borrowed from Dhuzutine, but most of it seems to be derived from Draconic. Dialects are usually known as “XXX-“Untharak.
  • Xe’lan; The tongue of the blood-summoners of Mazarr. It’s a tonal language, employing a variety of whistles, clicks, and other musical sounds. It’s piping beauty is a peculiar contrast to the gruesome sacrafical rites of the Mazarran sorcerer-priests. It appears to be totally unrelated to the other known languages and it’s “written” form consists of Quipa – complex sequences of knots and beads on lengths of string hung from sticks. This, like written Untharik, counts as a seperate language. As far as the Mazarr are concerned, “reading” is a specialized job for priests and scribes.
  • Yeth (AKA; Trollish, Ithaquan, and Icetongue) is the tongue of the Yeti. It’s a relatively crude language and, since most attempts to speak to – or interrogate – Yeti are futile, it’s often considered a useless one. Oddly, those who become fluent in Yeth tend to suffer from low body tempertures, icy breath, and very peculiar dreams. It has no formal written form – although it’s sometimes phonetically recorded using Hanic (QV; Ophan).
  • Zi’Lin; More of a language “family” then a language, Zi’Lin (AKA Hin, Halfling, and Vor) is spoken among the constantly redividing and/or migrating tribes of the Hin. It’s difficult to discuss anything “objectively” in the tongue, since it assigns living qualities – motivation, gender, spritual aspects, and clan relationships – to any item under discussion. The Hin tendency to eat occultly significant organs of any visiting researchers in order to steal their abilities for themselves tends to hinder conversation in any case. It’s “written” form consists of a hundred or so pictograms which can be used to mark trails, water sources, natural dangers, or territories, and to record simple messages.
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