Friday, November 30, 2007

Godtouched Races: Humans

When I was originally designing the setting of Aarn, I found myself perplexed by the tendency of fantasy role players to avoid playing humans. They weren't as "exotic" or interesting as elves, half-elves, half-orcs, halflings or dwarves. It was a common trope that the most advanced civilization in a setting would be dragons, or reclusive elves, or some bizzare otherwordly race.

I figured that this may have had something to do with humans being portrayed as the "everyman" race. Young, plucky upstarts who, if you'll forgive me for using the expression, live fast and die hard. This could be considered an attractive archetype for heroes, but when the entire race is portrayed in this way, it gets stale rather quickly.

While my humans may be young compared to the other races, the lizardlike ardlins instead fill the role of the "new kids on the block," with humans having moved past their growing pains into the role of dominant world powers. In fact, the current human civilizations do not even represent their peak. As described in the "A Brief History of Aarn" post, humans once had a world-spanning empire that had dominated the entire habitable hemisphere. Brought down by their own folly, they left a scar on Aarn, changing a full fifth of habitable land into a large, shattered chain of islands.

In the world of Aarn, the eldest and most powerful spells, the ancient temples, and the distant, secret cities filled with wise, overly pragmatic and world-weary mages all belong to the human race.

To be human in the world of Aarn is to instantly have an advantage both cultural and racial. Humans make up the largest population out of all the godtouched, and they live in the farthest reaching areas. Compared to other godtouched, their average life span of 80 years is actually slightly above the racial average, especially when one considers extending ones' life with magic.

The population of humans on the planet numbers at around 30 million, split up over seven groups of distinct cultural and racial differences. The seven main human subraces are as follows;

Jerolan: Living primarily in Zenninfal, the westernmost subcontinent of Aarn, jerolans have pale skin that tans easily and hair that that starts dark but in some individuals bleaches crimson with over-exposure to sunlight. They have stocky builds, with an average height of five feet eight inches. Their current major power base is the kingdom of Cerenbaun, though in times past they politically dominated a much larger slice of Aarn than they do currently, being named after the collapsed Jerol Empire. Jerolans make up about 25% of the total human population.

Rensvaja: Living primarily at the tip of the southernmost subcontinent, Rensvan, the rensvaja have dark skin that ranges from chocolate to a deep and rich purple-gray. Their teeth, fingernails, and the whites of their eyes are amber colored, while their hair tends towards greenish and purple grays, like the color of tree bark. Their average height is six feet even. Isolated from the rest of aarn by thick, impenetrable jungle and treacherous seas, their culture has diverged greatly from that of other humans. Their society is governed by a rigid caste system based primarily on ones' aptitude for magic, which they consider holy. It can be argued that the rensvaja are the only human subrace who still worship Jennin in the "old way," their prime religion being a combination of monotheism and ancestor worship. They are quite populous, and make up 30% of the human population.

Yesshan: Living in the Yesshan deserts, these nomads are characterized by olive skin and dark hair. Their average height for males is six feet two, while their average height for females is five feet six. They do not gain weight easily, having high metabolisms. They are a proud and isolated people who have a rich history. More than a millenium ago, they had a wide and influential empire to their name, whose fall could mostly be blamed on the spreading Yesshan desert. From an earth-analogous standpoint, their racial characteristics could be considered a combination of middle-eastern and east-indian peoples. Yesshans represent a solid 10% of the human population.

Habrukan: The subrace of humans who live primarily in the snowy north of Aarn are named after their subcontinent of residence, Habruk. They are characterized by very pale skin, light colored hair that grays in their mid-teens, broad shoulders and body fat that distributes evenly under their skin as they gain weight, as protection from the cold. Their average height is six feet even. Culturally, they are fond of tattoos, drink, sailing and stone-cutting. Their largest kingdom is named Freshdan, which is geographically isolated by unforgiving mountain ranges and a rocky coastline. Habrukans represent around 8% of the human population.

Kaipu: Remnants of the original human civilization, Kaipu are primarily islanders who inhabit the eastern islands and the eastern section of Habruk. They have almond-shaped eyes, skin tones that range from pale to tan, and a wide range of hair colors, including natural pinks, greens and golds. They are noticeably short and spry, with an average height of five feet four inches, though those of their race who live on the Habruk mainland are noticeably taller and paler. Due to difficulties in regularly crossing the sea that separates the eastern islands from one another, they are highly conscious of hereditary and cultural divides, and do not consider themselves a single unified race. Kaipu represent approximately 6% of the human population.

Iga: A "mutt" race that can trace its ancestry to a mixing of blood from nearly every other subrace, the Iga live in and around the eastern coast of Aarn's supercontinent. The iga are named for their main kingdom of Igakari, which is a kingdom that rivals Cerenbaun in strength and resources. More a cultural subrace than a physical one, the features, builds, and hair colors of igas can vary widely from individual to individual, and it is their accent when they speak that makes them recognizable. Ascetics and believers in education and higher learning, the igan academies and mages schools are the best in all of the known world. Igas make up 15% of the human population.

Aledoran: Named after the secret hidden city of Aledor, these isolated people have lived in and maintained the only human city that survived the cataclysmic destruction of the first human civilization. Overexposure to magic over generations has led their skin to be iridescent and practically translucent. Their hair is usually pale yellow, and their irises milky white. They are quite reclusive and even legendary; most consider their existence to be a myth, and the city of Aledor itself floats on a cushion of magic over a long island-continent largely populated by dangerous dragons. With a small population of barely over 100,000, they are only worth mention due to their power and exotic appearance.

Everyone else: Those paying attention will notice that my percentages don't add up to 100; this is intentional. The livable hemisphere of Aarn is very wide and diverse, with many islands and isolated kingdoms where unique sub races of humans may develop. Consider the remaining 5-6% of the human population to be breathing room where I can insert small populations of exotic islander humans here and there in the future.

The Gods Must Be Obscure

Listed here are gods who, while not important to the culture of Cerenbaun, did create godtouched races that still survive to this day. Some of these gods are dead. Some of them have lost all but a fraction of their influence. Some are still powerful, but virtually unknown in the kingdom of Cerenbaun, or even unknown to most of mankind.

All of them are worth knowing about, if only to give the existence of the less powerful magic-using races some context.

Gretash - God of Poison - So obscure even the greatest of scholars have overlooked his mark on history, Gretash was a god of poisons, absorption, change, and adaptation. Known for creating the first godtouched race, the medusea, he was killed at the end of the War of the Gods alongside his sister, Retla. Although some medusea remain who remember his name, the medusea themselves are extremely hostile to other godtouched races, and are themselves threatened with extinction. It may soon come to pass that only the gods remember his name.

Retla - Goddess of Martial Combat - The sister of Gretash, Retla was the creator of the naga race, who are closely related to Medusea. Some pockets of naga still worship her, and pray to her in matters of warfare, stealth, security, and unification between spirit and body. There are a few naga who believe fragments of her remain after her death, and hear their prayers, though only the most desperate of them expect the prayers to be answered with genuine divine intervention.

Vizdane - God of Curiosity - Vizdane was a fey who stayed out of the War of the Gods, and created his godtouched race well after the war had ended. That race, the spirit animals were in fact created during the period that the afterlife was horrifically broken. To give his children a choice in what happened to them after death, he granted them their infamous ability to possess the bodies of the living after their death. Unlike most gods and their godtouched races however, Vizdane was never given an opportunity to abandon his children. The spirit animals were the ones who in fact abandoned him, changing their allegiance to the One Mother, seeing her as a far more worthy deity.

Atanna - Goddess of Mountain Winds - Aiming to be a major player in the War of the Gods, Atanna created the all-female harpy race, granting them the ability to breed successfully with any other godtouched race. In this way, she hoped for them to always find a way to survive. She has fallen into obscurity in recent times, unable to maintain interest in her portfolio when she abandoned the harpies after the War of the Gods ended. Sherpas and other mountaineers still make regular prayers to her though, not only asking for favorable winds, but also asking for protection from her now-feral children.

Fenille - Goddess of Peace - Considering the War of the Gods foolish, Fenille created the satyrs, a pastoral race that she hoped would teach others how to live in harmony with one another. While noble, her effort was largely fruitless. By living the quiet, peaceful and harmonious life that Fenille loved so much, her Satyrs proved to be easily overlooked by more ambitious races and gods. She is prayed to in all matters of peace and comfort by satyrs and non-satyrs alike, although like her godtouched race, she herself is barely an afterthought.

Zaov - God of Earth - Zaov is considered a stable and grounded god, who can provide emotional and physical strength to those who need it. His major focus is self-reliance, and in times past he actively campaigned for people to search themselves for strength instead of asking for it from him. His godtouched race is the noble yet monstrous centaurs, who have not felt the presence of their god for quite some time. This suits them just fine; they consider their abandonment the greatest honor, understanding that their god finally felt they no longer needed him.

Occus - God of Oceans - An exceedingly powerful god, Occus is the god of the seas and everything in them. Honor, superiority and pressure are but a few of his many aspects. He is the creator of the merfolk godtouched race. Mankind would like to consider themselves the masters of Aarn, but the glory and age of the Merfolk kingdom would do them shame. Despite his power and standing among the other gods, Occus is barely known at all on land, due to the fact that his Merfolk remain quite xenophobic, and are rumored to have exterminated all other seaborne godtouched races. Even sailors who have heard of Occus pray to him with trepidation; they do not wish to incur his wrath simply by making themselves known to him.

Tancoda - God of the Plains and Herds - Tancoda is worshiped heavily in the kingdom of Igakari and the surrounding area, the valley of the lawless eastern border being his home. He is Venrisha's major rival in the domains of wilderness and beasts, though while she focuses more on the primal and bestial nature of those domains, Tancoda's approach is more orderly. His dogma is that nature will respect those that respect it, and his godtouched race, the ghrok, are a reflection of that belief. The ghrok themselves appear quite savage - they cannot speak and appear monstrous. They look like a humanoid cross between a horse and a warthog. However, they are quite intelligent and have a close-knit social structure. Those that look below the surface will see that the language of the ghrok consists entirely of graceful hand signs and flowing gestures, and like nature, the ghrok will respect those that respect them.

Chentri - Goddess of Domination and Self-interest - Chentri is a fearsome goddess whose past glories far outshine her current status. It was Chentri and her insectoid godtouched race of the valdrex who slew Gretash and Retla, ending the War of the Gods. Since that event, she has matured and learned that domination is not in one's own self-interest when said domination almost results in the destruction of the entire world. She had adopted the ideals of patience and methodical planning, choosing to dominate the other godtouched races through slavery and economic dependence. Her valdrex followers have become shrewd businessmen and traders, who traffic in worldly goods just as often as they do in slaves. Valdrex themselves are normally not well-received by the other races.

Vau - God of the Sun - Vau was arguably the most important god next to the One Mother in times past. An active participant in the War of the Gods with his phoenix godtouched race, he too withdrew most of his influence from the world in the aftermath of that conflict. Despite this, he continued to be worshiped in droves until the god Jennin created mankind. Technology and magic became more important than the warmth, light, and safety provided by sunlight, so his influence plummeted. He is still worshiped today, but usually only by tribal animals who only have the slightest hint of a godtouched's sentience.

Maswe - Goddess of Protection and Wisdom - A reclusive goddess, Maswe created the godtouched race of the sphinxes to watch over and document the events in the War of the Gods. She is a goddess who takes joy in simple observation, but also considers herself a sentry and protector who sees past the petty games that gods and fey play. She secretly considers the effect the godtouched races have had on the world of Aarn far more meaningful than any action taken by a her divine kin. Her utmost wish is for the godtouched races of Aarn to eventually grow past the need for gods, and also develop the ability to protect themselves from the pranks, meddling, and whimsical experiments of fey. In this respect, she considers humans to be the planet's ultimate hope, but recognizes their power is also its greatest threat.

Reksha - Goddess of Fire - A passionate and primal goddess, Reksha is a rare example of a god who created a godtouched race against her own nature. The salamanders that she created are cunning, patient, cruel and solitary, while she herself is flamboyant, flighty, full of life, outgoing and carefree. Her passions and interests burn hot and fast, and she holds no regrets over completely consuming an object of her love. She may have created her salamanders in an effort to balance her nature, and give them strengths she feels she herself lacks, but if the subtle and introverted behavior of salamanders have influenced her at all, it is difficult to see. Those who have had the fortune (or misfortune) of dealing with her directly can only describe her as an all-consuming conflagration, that one can easily lose themselves in.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Gods Must Be Fake

As if the personalities, genders, portfolios, and names of gods shifting from region to region weren't enough, the nature of divine magic has made it particularly difficult for mortals to determine which gods being worshiped are even real in the first place.

Divine magic is the magic of the Astral Sea, its users tapping into the unlimited potential of dreams and bringing that energy into the material world. Many believe that without being sponsored by a god, mortals cannot bridge the gap between the material and astral and are unable to cast these spells. The headache begins when one considers that even a lowly fey can grant divine spells to a mortal. It gets worse: Mortals who have especially faithful, dream-like, or simply air-headed personalities don't need any sponsorship at all to cast their divine spells.

As a result, even the worshipers of false gods can cast spells. The following is a list of particularly popular or influential cults in Cerenbaun society that are based around gods who have never even existed.

Brevvis - The God of Bureaucracy - Unlike many other gods who do not really exist, Brevvis began as an intentional scam. Brevvis' followers must fill out prayer request forms in triplicate and then wait 7-10 business days for processing. Once the waiting period has expired, the prayer-ee will be inconveniently contacted by a servant fey with a memory stone to do a scripted recording of the prayer. The prayer-ee must then wait another 3-5 business days for further processing of the prayer request, at which time the prayer-ee will be sent a letter containing a platitude to address the prayer. Cash on Delivery. The prayer-ee will also receive a mandatory prayer registration and satisfaction form letter that must be filled out or the prayer-ee will be reminded to fill it out by a servant fey every day at 4 AM (also COD). The prayer-ee is also signed up for the Brevvis mailing list that includes singing telegrams, ideas for new prayers, suggestions for old prayers, and general thoughts on Brevvis' generosity. If one wishes to cancel this service one must send a prayer cancellation letter that includes every platitude received during the service and all copies made of such platitudes. The prayer-ee must then make a journey at their own expense to the central Brevvis temple for memory altering in order to remove the platitudes from their minds. Note: Memory alteration does not actually work. Brevvis' clergy is actually a large group of shape shifting fairies and grassrunners who visited the hell of Bureaucracy and found themselves inspired for the greatest prank ever.

Uilitro - A myth perpetrated by an especially mischievous fairy, Uilitro is the god of humor. Like the fairy who created his legend, he is thought of as a very mischievous figure, though not subtle. One of his trademark actions is the "Pie to the face blitz," which is often repeated by youths who especially idolize this deity. Perhaps the most humorous part of this false deity is how popular he became, and how he developed his own throng of very faithful followers.

Sueiffa - Goddess of Dustbunnies - No one is sure how this mythical goddess first became worshiped, but she is a favorite for the more cuddly death cults. It is said that every ten millennia, she summons a monstrous storm of dust that buries everything, threatening to destroy the world.

However, because it's only dust and blows away easily, her followers can easily explain how none of her attempts have ever succeeded. Sueiffa's cultists are loved for dusting other peoples' homes for free, collecting the dust for their temples. The more overzealous members have been known to break into exceptionally dirty homes at night, tie up the residents, clean everything, and then leave.

Ectias and Bom - Gods of Destruction - The followers of Ectias and Bom are always at odds, because both of their gods have identical portfolios. The two cults are constantly playing a game of oneupmanship, trying to prove that they are the better followers, and by extension, they have the better god. This makes them very dangerous, because their gods just happen to enjoy big booms. Members of these two cults are constantly hunted, yet the dogma of their gods proves to be a very popular one, and there is never a shortage of new converts. Fireworks were their invention.

Tubus - God of Lost Socks - In the town of Spain in the Shanbar Province, there is this god who is almost unanimously worshiped. It is common knowledge in mystic circles that the town, for the past 300 years, has been tormented by a particularly playful feline spirit animal who steals all the socks left out to dry. The inhabitants of this town refuse to believe this information however, and instead worship Tubus for the sake of lost socks everywhere. The spirit animal in the meantime has used the socks to build a massive ball of yarn in the woods that has become a local "holy" monument.

The Gods Must be Crazy

Like there are gods who have come to prominence due to the popularity of the ideals they uphold, there are also gods who have achieved and maintained a very large role in religious society simply because of which godtouched races they decided to create.

The following is a list of important gods worshiped in Cerenbaun society who created a godtouched race, and the role said gods have in society because of, or despite it.

Sehkteth - The Goddess of Dragons - Fundamentally greedy and aloof, Sehkteth is every stereotype of the dragon personified. She is prayed to over concerns of money, business, territory, memory, riddles, games, sleep and respite. She is said to be very introverted, to the point that she wishes to be left alone, and treats others how she wants to be treated - with cold disinterest. Despite this, she has many worshipers because of her wide influence.

Fagelis - The God of Temperance - The brother of Coralis, the god of sensation, Fajelis governs the moderation that Coralis does not. He governs the concepts of sacrifice, frugality, health, the proper regulation of body functions, abstinence, hunger, and tolerance. While this not well known, Fagelis created the godtouched race of Unicorns, though he abandoned them after the War of the Gods, and has since expanded his portfolio on its own merit. He is usually worshiped by ascetics and medical workers, but prayers to him are very common, especially after a night of worshiping Coralis.

Jennin - The God of Man - Jennin is not a very popular god among creatures who are not human. He is seen as a troublemaker and an upstart who gained power by creating man. Among men however, he is their patron and chief deity. He is the god of knowledge, literacy, technology, progress, and civilization in general. He is also worshiped by humans who practice magic, especially wizards. As a living god, he makes his presence known occasionally, and has been known to appear to men whenever he deems the course of their civilization needs a nudge in a certain direction or another.

Nektos - The God of Undead - To put it mildly, Nektos is quite a character. He is the god of undeath and perversion, and enjoys nothing more than twisting something to draw out a reaction of horror or embarrassment from someone else. He seeks to further his own power by subtly controlling and protecting all undead, who he hopes to form into a massive army. Recently he has also been prayed to in matters of death and dying, though this was mainly due to the conspicuous absence of the One Mother. Now that she has returned, it is unknown which of the two will maintain hold of the domain of death. He is undeniably evil, but also charismatic. When he manifests, he is often seen as harmless or simply playful instead of his more nefarious nature.

Venrisha - The Goddess of the Wilds - Venrisha is goddess of beasts, animals, and the feral life. She is sister to Nektos and shares in his love of perversion, though her pastimes tend to be more about perverting the courtesies, manners and shames of civilized life. She governs over the hunt as well as her beasts, and also seeks power like Nektos and Jennin. Jealous of their achievements, she created lycanthropy as a disease to pervert men and cause them to become feral beasts. Despite her distaste for civilization, she envies it as well, and also created the civilized anthromorphs to further pervert Jennin's domain. Ironicly, the recent absence of the One Mother allowed her to gain more power in the eyes of civilization, with her name being invoked in matters of beasts and wilderness as often, if not more often than the name of the One Mother.

Raphalla - The Goddess of Fertility - Until recently, Raphalla was a cult goddess of plants, fertility, love and family who was known for little more than creating the godtouched race of the plant-like orchaein. Like Nektos and Venrisha, the absence of the One Mother allowed Raphalla to gain in popularity, filling the empty niche left by the One Mother that could not be filled by Nektos nor Venrisha. Her prominence in society has now been called into question due to the One Mother's return, and tensions between her followers and the followers of the One Mother are high, despite love and acceptance being important themes to both groups.

Seikin - The Goddess of Dreams - Seikin governs the world of creativity - this includes dreaming, lying, deception, secrets, hopes, inventing fiction, creating works of art, theater, music, and other tasks that require imagination or self-expression. It is said that Seikin created the godtouched race of the dreamlings, who seem to have been extinct for quite some time, yet the lore of their shape-changing abilities never seems to die. She is loved by artists, charlatans, those who pray for a better future, and those who guide the world. While the consensus is that she is a goddess, she appears as both male and female on different occasions, deceiving even her own followers.

Leeshia - Goddess of Procrastination - The youngest god, Leeshia has been known to humans for not yet deciding her portfolio. Within the past 75 years, Leeshia finally made a decision she had been waffling on for some time and created the newest godtouched race, the ardlins, a combination of goblins, lizard men, and velocirators. She is prayed to in matters of indecisiveness, apathy, decision making, inexperience, shame, and neutrality, though her own ardlins have a very different picture of her. They see her as a goddess of ingenuity, resourcefulness, problem-solving, survival, and plucky resolve. These two conflicting notions of her nature are beginning to assimilate into one another, though two worshipers of her may have extremely different views on Leeshia's true nature.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Gods Must be Bigshots

The following gods are gods worshiped in and around the area of Cerenbaun. All the gods in this list have never sponsored a godtouched race, underlying their importance to society. Importantly, a god's portfolio has little to do with the powers of the god, and more the powers that worshipers have chosen to attribute to the god. A god's portfolio is self-perpetrating in this manner, but varies widely from region to region. A god's name, personality, or even gender can also vary similarly, so we'll be sticking to the religious views most of the people in Cerenbaun share, for simplicity's sake.

K'tellos - The God of the Fey - K'tellos is a horrific creature that defies description. He governs nightmares, fears, the moon, the hidden depths of water, caves, the night, darkness, mystery and insanity. He is the eldest god and existed even before our planet or the One Mother. Rumor is that even the fey have not heard from their god in several millennia. Many hope that he no longer exists, but just as many worship him fanatically, trying to resurrect him and have the waking world destroyed by an army of his minions.

The One Mother - The Goddess of Life and Death - The One Mother is the second eldest god. She is the governor of life, death, sadness, joy, love, compassion and fertility. She is said to be constantly weeping from experiencing the labor pains of life, the suffering of survival and the loss of death. She was also said to be constantly joyous of all those who live in harmony, who respect their fellow creatures, who experience love, and those who simply enjoy living. Worshiped by maidens, farmers, midwives, morticians and therapists, her followers noted a distinct absence of her presence for the past fifty years. Her presence has recently returned, but something about it has changed, and many fear what their Goddess may have become in her absence.

Kenerrin - The Goddess of Magic - Kenerrin is the goddess of magic and the stars, and unlike many other gods, not much else. The realm and control of magic is so wide and diverse that she needs no other aspects. When depicted, she commonly has 12 faces representing the 12 magical elements surrounding two larger, central faces. She is prayed to by anyone who dabbles in magic, whether they be wizards, elemancers, divine casters with no patron, or simply those who wish to have some kind of magical resistance or protection from her supernatural ability to shape the world.

Jhett - The God of the Breach - Often depicted as an old man with a flowing, tangled beard of green and purple, Jhett is said to live in the Jhettan Storms, the impassable storms that prevent us from reaching the other hemisphere of the planet. His domains include storms, turbulence, chaos, change, gates and portals. He is most often prayed to by pilgrims, sailors and travelers for safe journeys, but it said that he is fickle and gives and takes his blessings freely.

Coralis - The God of Intensity - Primarily the god of sensation, Coralis' portfolio is especially wide and diverse. He is prayed to in matters of sex, passion, mind-altering substances, drink and food, pain, beauty, and indulgence of any kind. There are quite a few different sects who follow him with wildly different beliefs and practices. For instance, the Food Mages of the Shanbar province say prayers to him on a very regular basis, but so do mauraders, sexual deviants and those who suffer from addiction.

Diviana - The Goddess of Conflict - Diviana is worshiped by those who are experiencing or about to experience conflict. She is prayed to in times of war and natural disasters. She is also the representative goddess of both justice and injustice, the resolutions of conflict. Her images are very common in the justice system, and both the criminals and the police and prosecutors will make appeals to her.

Nea - Goddess of Adventure - Appears as a young teenager with a bubbly and infectious personality, Nea often shows herself to heroes or people who are on the path to achieve great discovery. Her followers pray to her on subjects of open mindedness, discovery, travel, searching, self-fulfillment, accumulation of experience, danger, risks, thrill-seeking, and excitement. Those who quest and adventure are her prime subjects. She is also a very popular deity for those experiencing a midlife crisis.


Considering that sometimes it is far more useful to describe a setting by referencing that which has inspired it, I've decided to create a list of intellectual properties that have influenced and guided my own feelings while creating my world. While certainly not complete, perhaps reading this list may further help people understand where I am coming from in designing the world of Aarn.

Slayers - This anime's carefree and lackadaisical style even in the face of impending world destruction is what made me decide I wanted to create a story along the same lines, and has helped set the tone of my entire world. My anthromorph race was also drawn from the beastmen tribes of this series.

The Last Unicorn - The first fantasy story I was ever exposed to, the influence of its romantic notions, merging both fairy tales with more serious storytelling, and inserting modern anachronisms can be seen everywhere in my works, both Aarn related and non. If Slayers is my major inspiration, The Last Unicorn is the original seed that helped me know I liked Slayers when I saw it.

Greek Classical Myths - Not to be underestimated, much of my inspiration for the setting also comes from works such as Ovid's Metamorphosis, and the vast majority of fantasy creatures from my setting have been lifted almost directly from ancient Greece, in many cases taking popular contemporary monsters and bringing them back closer to their original Grecian roots.

Celtic and Germanic folklore - In olden times, fey were not friendly and cuddly nature spirits, but were instead supernatural races of unknown power with alien views of the world. Inspired by these tales, I have brought the concept of fey back to its more primal, frightening state. Celtic style music has also helped shape the tone of many nights of brainstorming.

Sacrifice - A computer PC game that should have been more popular than it was, Sacrifice's quirky style, double crosses, myopic gods, and insanely new and bizarre takes on classic creatures has helped teach me how to think outside the box when it comes to creating a fantasy environment.

Errant Story - This online comic's story has given me insight into the way the modern ideas of gods can exist in a fantasy setting, and has helped shape much of my setting's religious satire.

Dragon Ball Z - As much as I hate to admit it, many of my ideas of the afterlife being run by demons who are not quite evil, but simply bureaucratic, can be traced directly back to this series. I would like to say that I was instead inspired towards this path by Pratchett or Douglas Adams, but I've yet to read the books of either of their series. I know, this is a crime against nature, and I plan to atone for it soon.

Neverwinter Nights -
This game, and to a lesser extent, the pen and paper Dungeons and Dragons game it is based on are directly responsible for me getting the idea to adopt the world of Aarn into a role playing setting. Without these games and the friends I have made playing them, Aarn would never be on the path it is today, and may never have been developed at all.

Record of Lodoss War - While not so much an inspiration in content, this classic story based on a roleplaying group's adventures has helped excite my imagination towards the benefits and potential of role play as not only a method of participatory fiction, but also as a spectator sport.

The Lord of the Rings - Virtually no one can escape how prevalent this work is in the contemporary fantasy culture. The simple existence of the work forces me to be influenced by it, simply because everything else is, whether it admits it or not. I find myself in the very interesting position of developing a world that is both as far from Tolkien as I can possibly make it, without also alienating his fans. It is for this reason and this reason alone that my world is devoid of elves, dwarves, or any hobbit-like creatures.

A Briefer History of Aarn

The driving force of the world of Aarn, the creatures that have brought about the most change by far, are the fey and the gods. Having existed in a timeless space, these creatures became addicted to the concept of causality when they first experienced the material world, and turned it into a vast game whose rules only they fully understand.

The most devastating and influential events in the past of Aarn were all due to the interference of the fey and gods, either directly or indirectly. The war that split the planet into two halves - one accessible and one not, was one of the first of many such events. Other events include the invention of magic, the creation of intelligent creatures that could use it, the destruction of the old afterlife system and the creation of the current one, and the birth of undead creatures. Many of the fey and gods have suffered keenly at their own follies, but not as much as the mortals they created.

Most mortals in Aarn simply struggle to survive. Known as godtouched, they are trapped in a cycle they do not fully understand nor comprehend. Many turn to adventure in order to learn, grow, become famous, gather riches, or simply assert that they are not simple pawns in the game they can barely see.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Brief History of Aarn

In the beginning, before the existence of time, there was the Astral Sea.

The lord of this domain was the elder god K'tellos, and it was populated with his children, the fey. The nature of this place before time began was so alien that it is hard to describe. Imagine an existence where all possibilities existed simultaneously with no rhyme, reason, nor causality. In short, it was like a single, endless waking dream.

Then, time began.

It is unknown if she was acting on her own impetus, or if she was following some divine purpose given to her by K'tellos, but the fey we now know as the One Mother, the Goddess of life and death, tied the Astral Sea to the material plane. She either found or created a world orbiting a lonely star, and populated it with plant and animal life. This world she named Aarn.

Several hundred fey were caught in the wrong place in the wrong time, and they became more a part of Aarn than of their former home. Warped, angry and bitter, they became the soul twisters, horrible creatures who only exist to bring death and suffering to the material life they blame for their incarceration.

The processes inexorably tied the Astral Sea to the time stream, and for the first time the fey knew what it was like for one thing to cause another. Seeing causality as a new toy, a great many fey began to flock to Aarn, following their trapped soul twister siblings. Once there, they adopted corporeal or semi-corporeal forms, and limited their godlike powers in order to truly relish and experience causality. The playful and mischievous godlike creatures created strictly-followed rules so they could truly experience causality in all its forms. They continued to play the resulting game to this day. and show no signs of stopping.

The first major event of this game came when a fey named Gretash did something no fey considered possible. He took some of the local creatures on Aarn and fused their forms together into a single creature. He infused them with an uncanny intelligence that allowed them to understand their place in the game. And with the help of his sister, Kennerin, he gave them a gift that until then only the fey had access to - Magic.

The resulting creature became the first Godtouched race; the medusea, and sparked off the War of the Gods.

Every ambitious and curious fey out to create a name for themselves immediately followed in Gretash's footsteps, creating their own intelligent and magically-inclined creatures. Dragons, unicorns, phoenixes, sphinxes, salamanders, valdrex, merfolk, naga, and a plethora of other races were created, each with a fey sponsor that was quickly elevated to the position of a god.

Other fey became gods in other ways, by claiming aspects of life that these intelligent material creatures deemed important to them. Kennerin became the goddess of magic. Coralis and his brother Fagelis became the opposing gods of sensation and temperance. Diviana became the goddess of conflict and justice, and she and Kennerin became the mediators of the entire affair.

The wars themselves quickly grew out of hand. Entire races of Godtouched were driven to extinction. Continents sank. Storms grew. Magical energy output by these wars wracked the entire planet, threatening to devour and destroy it.

The One Mother, in an attempt to mitigate this damage, appointed a fey named Jhett to become "The God of the Breach," a god whose only purpose was to govern the storms and prevent them from causing more damage than intended.

Despite Jhett being created as a new mediator in the conflict, the worst happened. Retla, the goddess of the naga, and Gretash were both killed. It was not the first time the fey had experienced death; those living as pretend material creatures had died all the time, but those fey had always returned, taking a new form. Retla and Gretash were both destroyed utterly; neither entity continued to exist in any recognizable form.

The war was immediately called to a halt, but the damage had been done. The magical storms unleashed with the death of two gods grew to unstoppable power. Jhett, in cooperation with the One Mother, Kennerin and Diviana, harnessed the energy of these storms and used them to divide the planet into two spheres; one that had been the site of the war, and the other which had been largely untouched.

The hemisphere that had seen the most fighting was declared a "safe zone" that no fey, god, or Godtouched could enter, allowing at least a part of the world to heal. Jhett's ring of storms enforced this decree. The surviving gods collected the Godtouched and moved them all to the other side of the world, and told them that with the destruction of their old homes, the war was over.

Most gods then abandoned their godtouched races to fend for themselves. However, even with the destruction caused by the War of the Gods, many other Gods and fey with designs on Godhood began to scheme on ways for them to gain power, and gain a leg up in their on-running game.

By far, the worst of the offenders was Nektos. Changing the core theme of his portfolio from mischief to the similar theme of perversion, he discovered the ultimate way to express his power and influence, and the other gods, weakened by the war, were in no position to stop him.

Using his power, he perverted the very process of life and death itself. Rending the system of soul absorption and reincarnation put into place and maintained by the One Mother, Nektos created undeath - a process by which souls freed from their body were trapped in the material plane as ghosts, or where their bodies reanimated, powered by Nektos' own perverted will.

What Nektos did not consider was that he permanently broke the process by which souls were supposed to rejoin the One Mother, and then be reincarnated. All creatures that died were becoming ghosts trapped in the inbetween - a shadow of the material plane that exists on the border between the material and astral worlds.

The psychic energy released by these trapped souls began to pollute the Astral Sea. Fey caught in this pollution were becoming trapped in the material world as a result, bolstering the population of soul twisters, and creating other new evil and life-hating fey types. Even K'tellos, the god of fey themselves became trapped in the material world by this pollution. Fearing the devastation he might cause on Aarn if he lost his mind, he immediately forced himself into a deep slumber at the bottom of the deepest lake he could find.

All living creatures with souls dream - the process of dreaming actually transporting their souls to the Astral Sea itself temporarily, where the limitless potential of the place is reflected in their dreams. This process is required for souls to remain healthy and vibrant, and K'tellos in his power used the same mechanic to not only keep himself from becoming twisted, but also maintain contact with his home and continue to allow his children to hear his decrees, though transcending his own dreams to communicate with his children requires great effort, and severely limits his power as a result.

In effect, collectively as a race, none of the fey had the power to fix the damage Nektos had caused. Despite his apology and his agreement to help them find a solution, not even Nektos had the power to put things back as they were.

As a result, the fey found a solution in a race of quasi-material parasites that had found and settled in the Astral Sea - the demons. The fey had been aware of the demons for some time, and considered the race of demons to be the spectators to the great game being played by the fey. One of the special abilities of the demon race was the ability to create material constructs in the Astral Sea, and this was exactly what the fey required. As a tithe for existing in their seas, the fey demanded that the demons create an afterlife that would store the souls being trapped in Nektos' inbetween, clearing the Astral Sea of the psychic pollution.

The demons, of course, agreed. They created the nine hells, and unintentionally introduced the idea of religious dogma to the Godtouched races. Demons were personally barred from setting foot on Aarn ever again, due to the headache this caused the fey.

Far closer to the present day, a scant eight thousand years ago, another monumental event occurred. A fey named Jennin elevated himself to the status of Godhood by taking the humanoid animals known as giants, and turning several tribes of them into the Godtouched race of mankind. Fearful that a second War of the Gods and third cataclysm would befall the world, the gods took little notice of this, and allowed Jennin to proceed. The other Godtouched races however did not, and attempted to exterminate the race of man.

Man only survived through the actions of two other Godtouched races - naga and sphinxes. Jennin rewarded the currently godless naga by adopting them as holy mediaries between himself and humans. The sphinxes asked for no reward, and instead began adopting human settlements as their territory, subtly protecting them from outright attack.

Once mankind had asserted their dominance, they formed a massive culture that dwarfed all the others from all other Godtouched races. They created an empire of magic and powerful technology in the far east, and their temples and cities began to spread to all corners of the magical hemisphere of the world.

With the help of their god, they even created a new form of magic - wizardry - which gave those casting it unprecedented power and control over the effects unleashed. Many other Godtouched races learned to harness wizardry as well, but it was always viewed as human magic.

Experimentations with the most powerful forms of wizardry however came with a price. A magical detonation shattered the easternmost subcontinent and mankind fell into a dark ages, in which they forgot their past, and even forgot the aid that the naga had given them in their time of need. Kennerin and Jennin collectively decided to put a limit on the scale of magic that could be cast through wizardry, and mankind was allowed to remain living despite this tragedy.

Over the course of thousands of years, mankind recovered, and maintained their position as the dominant Godtouched race, though their competing cultures were only a shadow of their former selves and forgotten past. There are many different kingdoms and practices, with the most powerful in recent memory being the Jerol Empire, which suffered an economic collapse less than 500 years ago. Most humans still speak a dialect of the Jerol language even to this day.

Most recently, there are quiet murmurings amongst the fey and the gods that a second War of the Gods may be on the horizon. Following in the footsteps of Jennin, Leeshia, the goddess of decision making and procrastination has created a new Godtouched race - the lizardlike ardlins. As a race, they seem to be 75 years old at the most, and are suffering many of the same prejudices and hatreds that mankind experienced when humans were first created. Frighteningly, the ardlins show just as much promise as humans did, with ardlins having an innate talent for machinery and working with their hands.

Further destabilizing the situation, a scant 50 years ago Nektos continued his mischief. In order to grant his sister, Venrisha, goddess of the wilds, more power, he purposefully infected the weakened One Mother with a curse that drove her mad. Her behavior shifted more towards a goddess of death than a goddess of life. She had to be sealed in order to protect the world of Aarn, and Venrishia, Nektos, and a handful of other gods temporarily took over her duties.

She has just recently been released from her seal, and none know if her sanity has returned, or if she now poses the greatest danger the world of Aarn has ever faced.

An Introduction

My name is James Cummins and for quite some time I've been involved in creating my very own custom role playing world. I plan on turning a product of this world into my senior project for graduation from Bard College in May 2008.

In the meantime, I'll be using this space to keep track of my ideas and to allow my friends and those interested by my system to keep track of progress.

Over the next few days, I'll be publishing in this space old setting-specific material that I will go through and edit to be up-to-date with my current ideas. Afterward, I'll use this space to muse on the nature of the game-play mechanics themselves, which has been my current concern.

For those who would like a taste of what has come before, there is a woefully-neglected forum thread I've posted at Be warned! Much of the game play information in that thread is out of date; my system is no longer d20 based, and now follows a dice mechanic similar to the Storyteller, White Wolf, or Shadowrun systems.

Everything else after that is very much in the air, so please forgive any untidiness of thought over the next few months, and expect retractions, dead-end ideas, and other changes to the system as I explore and experiment.

Finally, for the sake of posterity I will avoid any retrograde edits in this space, and simply make new posts for any significant changes. Eventually I will create some other space for organizing current up-to-date information and game rules.