PART THE FIRST: ON THE STRUCTURE OF THE WORLDS
No one knows if there is something that can see it clearly – but in the spaces between the worlds, amidst the wild flux of dimensional energies and the reality storms, the world-lines of the multiverse coil like tangled threads. The myriad worlds cluster, supporting each others reality – pooling bits of history, of natural laws, or reality and continuity. The worlds of a cluster mirror each other like the strands of a cable or the members of a herd.
For linked groups of worlds are stronger; where one is damaged or threatened, others support it. Worlds which stray too far from their shared essence become vulnerable. Occasionally, a new world springs into being near a cluster’s heart, and souls take up residence there. Occasionally, a world-line wanders from it’s cluster – sometimes becoming the heart of a new cluster, sometimes joining another cluster- but more often falling back into chaos and being destroyed. Memetic echoes of such events echo through the spaces between the worlds in warning, and other worlds tell tales of apocalypse – destruction and revelation in one, just as the members of a cluster tell tales of each other.
The multiverse thus favors groups of linked universes. usually clustered around one or more worlds of great strength. Those “prime” worlds, filled with powers, and wonders, support clusters of hangers-on, worlds which follow the broad sweep of their history even if they are more limited realms. Prime worlds draw on the secondary ones for stability in their structure, history, and laws – much of which they have forfeited in having rules so loose as to allow marvelous powers to their inhabitants. Secondary worlds also enjoy the stabilization of history (although that is a lesser concern to them since it is not so easily altered there in the first place) and access to empowered Champions when such are needed – for there is that which threatens.
The Earth we live on… is a secondary world. The tales told here… are of the Primeworlds and their Champions.
PART THE SECOND: THAT WHICH AIDS AND OPPOSES
As for what threatens… there are those from OUTSIDE. From the spaces which are not. Things that should have been dead for eons, things that have grown into the Qliphoth – the negative spaces left behind where worlds have died, becoming embodiments of death, decay, and futility.
They are the enemies of all creation. They hunger, and feed upon the death of worlds. They lay in wait, they besiege the gates, they slip through the gaps in the defenses – and where they lay even the faintest touch, they corrupt. Where they are invited… they empower destructive madmen, and seek a bridgehead.
They are less than dust, and yet rise to do far, far, worse than kill.
Intelligent life can open the gates – and Intelligent life can close them. Throughout the history of an intelligent species, the long battle will wax and wane – most often focused upon the prime worlds of a cluster, those which can empower champions and lend their strength to lesser worlds.
What foes do the Champions face?
- Least among foes are the Petty Criminals – sneak-thieves, embezzlers, shoplifters, pickpockets, and even thugs and murderers. Such “enemies” are rarely all that threatening, and are not worth a heroes time if something more important is going on. There are plenty of Petty Criminals – and, since they are targets of the Qliphoth just like everyone else, they are usually more than willing to cooperate with a Champion when an actual menace is in play.
- The Touched are all too common. It doesn’t matter exactly HOW they were exposed to the Qliphoth. Weird experiments, mystic rituals, using (whether accidently or on purpose) some talisman of device, and all kinds of accidents will work if they happen to take place at the wrong place at the wrong time. The Qliphoth grants the Touched various reality-breaching and/or destructive powers – and damages their minds to at least some degree. Super-powered obsessive vigilantes, criminals, and psychopaths are all counted among the Touched, and all help to undermine the order of the world in their own ways.
- Warlocks – whether out of desperation, foolishness, or a (rightful or wrongful) desire to strike out – have called upon the Qliphoth willingly, and with at least some knowledge of what they were doing. Many or most believe (or believed) that they can at least mitigate the mental damage of dealing with the Qliphoth. Some of them are even right – but the mental state of those who would call on the Destroyers of All Creation for help is rarely good in the first place. Warlocks tend to become more powerful, more reckless, and less sane, as time passes.
- The Nameless: These lost folk have been devoured – a process which often wipes them from history as if they never were if they are not simply from a lost world to start with – and are little more than concealing shells for the power of the Qliphoth. While powerful, the Nameless cannot remain in a living universe for long after their shells are destroyed unless they can cause enough local damage to it’s structure to create a Qliphothic Bridgehead – and are usually fairly easily identified by perceptive heroes. A group of Nameless can easily qualify as a potential extinction event, so it is most unwise to let them gather.
- The Heartless: Some of those who fight gaze too long into that abyss. They become lost in the battle, forgetting the things which make the world worth defending. They are become void, the world their chessboard, and all those within it merely pawns to be played and sacrificed in the great war – even if the chessmasters are no longer sure of why they fight.
The Heartless generally do not directly serve the Qliphoth. In fact, they can be powerful patrons and allies for those who oppose it. Still, the greatest weapons against the Qliphoth are emotional and spiritual. The affirmation of life found in love, honor, idealism, youthful energy, heroism, determination, loyalty, conviction, and self-sacrifice empower the greatest Champions and multiply their efforts against the creatures of the Qliphoth (yes, they have vulnerabilities). Calculation, massive power, and a willingness to make “the hard choices” can help – but are not nearly as effective. The tactics of the Heartless rarely win in the long run, which does not stop them from trying to fix things by recruiting more pawns. After all, if they could understand the problem, they would not be Heartless in the first place.
The Heartless also make good hunteds: the desire to recruit pawns and agents can be just as pernacious as any other motive – and can complicate things a lot more than just having a captured hero put into a deathtrap. Unfortunately for any plans to fight them directly… they tend to be very experienced, obscenely powerful, and have great resources.
- The Elemental Powers of the Natural World need humans to focus and channel their might – but make powerful allies and empowering patrons, even if they don’t understand humans all that well.
- Then there are the Champions – heroes with any of a wide variety of cosmic exemptions from the normal rules. Sorcerers, Psychics, Mutants, Martial Artists, and more. Some abuse their power, and many of them aren’t very nice at all – but in the end all except the occasional utter nihilist are allies against nonexistence.
- Finally, of course, there are the normal folk – caught in the middle, pretty much as always.
PART THE THIRD: PLACES TO GO
Centuries ago a world started to drift away from the main cluster. Thule’s history slowly diverged as the shared souls that hold the clustered universes together were born into it less and less frequently and the links between it and the other worlds of the cluster stretched thinner and thinner – and began to break. Worse… it was a universe that allowed only minor powers to it’s residents. It’s chances of survival on its own to gather it’s own sheaf of variants around it, was not so good.
Thule’s version of the Second World War was twisted, and dark, even beyond what most of the worlds in the primary cluster experienced. Madmen, either unknowing or uncaring that they were ultimately dooming their world, called upon the Qliphoth with rivers of blood, and turned what answered against their enemies. The armies and champions of that world defeated those fools in the end – but it was a pyrrhic victory, and the lights of their reality began to go out as darkness descended.
The touch of the Qliphoth corrupted. Dark cults, twisted mockeries of humanity, and outright horrors stalked the world. Civilization – and the bonds which held Thule stable – began to fail. The Qliphoth gradually corroded the structure, unity, and coherence of the realm. Its history became debatable, its very nature began to vary from place to place as its reality was undermined more and more.
Eventually… Thule shattered. All that remains now is an incoherent swarm of fragments of reality – each tiny worldlet reasonably consistent internally (if small) – but each facing immanent doom via some Qliphothic nightmare. Each a Shard of Nightmare.
The only hope for the inhabitants of a Nightmare Shard is to either escape to a stable universe (and hope that the path can be sealed behind them) or to somehow merge their shard with a stable universe and hope that its Champions will accept their presence and can seal off the potential bridgehead
Nightmare Shards are ultimately a dilemma; they are too small to be stable. Even if you fight off the zombie horde, or alien invasion, or persuade the protective werewolf tribe to shelter you, or deal with the failing reactor that provides the only warmth in a sunless world… another menace will rise. How far will you risk your own world to save a handful of people from another? Will you try to save the entire shard, or just the people in it?
Nightmare Shard characters are normally built on a 75-point base with a grand total of 100 to 150 points after disadvantages. Any super-powers must be relatively subtle, technological, or classical supernatural so as to fit in with their origin shard.
For the Primeworlds the slow fall of Thule offered a small benefit; it relieved the pressure on the worlds remaining in the cluster. With the dimensionally-local monsters of the Qliphoth tearing at easy prey… the attacks elsewhere lessened. In many cases to the point where the battles were mere border skirmishes at the very edges of the world. With the forces of the Qliphoth held back, the Touched became rare – and fewer would-be Warlocks could manage the initial contact. With little need… fewer Champions were created.
It wasn’t exactly a golden age, but it was calm enough to let most of the world pretty much forget about the Champions and major super powers for a century or so. The Primeworlds are a little bit better than Earth – shinier, better technology, and nicer all around. There weren’t a lot of famines, or major wars, or other nonsense.
And then – just a few months ago – Thule shattered. Refugees and assorted horrors started to flee to the Primeworlds. The eternally-hungering forces of the Qliphoth turned their attentions back to the Cluster as well, attacking both directly and through their empowerment of Touched and Warlocks. New Champions were needed – and so they came into being.
Today in the Primeworlds old legends are made manifest, the Heartless move their pieces once more according to their own visions, and confusion reigns. It is a new heroic age – and the new Champions have little to guide them; the vast majority of the older Champions are long since retired or dead of old age.
Primeworld Characters are starting superheroes – usually with powers that aren’t entirely reliable yet, are highly limited, or which they do not yet know how to use. They’re built on a 100 point base, with up to 150 points worth of disadvantages – but cannot actually spend more than 180 points to start with. Unspent points will come in to play as they gain experience – tripling what they get for their first adventure and doubling awards after that until they’ve exhausted their unspent points. Many of them are fairly young as well.
The Secondary Worlds are defined by their limits. They may allow low-grade psychic powers and magic, or shapeshifters and lycanthropes, or impossibly-skilled weaponmasters, or advanced computer technology, or “steampunk” stuff, and they may be a few centuries behind or ahead – but everything in one of them is restricted to things that fit the local “theme”. The major elements of their history – their languages, nations, and so on – remains much the same as well. Other than that… they come in an immense variety.
Secondary World Characters are normally built on a hundred point base with up to fifty points worth of disadvantages and must always follow the themes of their origin world. They can grow beyond those restrictions if they spend a lot of time in the Primeworlds however.