The World of Arda

NOTE: This page is a work in progress. Edits will be made for clarity. The world of Arda was created by a group brainstorming session done by e-mail, in which the each player involved would create two unique aspects for the world. These could be wholly unique or play off another persons idea. Arda was this defined by the following ten ideas:

The Aspects of Arda

1.Things are more advanced then ever**: Basically, sure, there have been lost and fallen empires in the past, but technologically and magically they were not as advanced as current civilizations. The best magic artifacts are not found in the tombs of the dead but in the workshops of today’s crafters or in the hands of groups that exist now.

This is not to say that the world is futuristic, just that it is at a more advanced state then it has been previously, at least technolically (and with the rise of the Grimer movement, possibly socially). Imagine a world with Renaissance level technology beginning their own industrial revolution. Factories are becoming more and more common, as well as automated devices powered by magical Catalysts.

2.Magic does not come from within: Magic is no longer “Point you finger and stuff happens”. Magic is used by channeling energy through Catalysts, which create the desired magical effect. Magic Users are easily identified by the Catalysts floating around their heads (think Ioun Stones). When they use a spell, the desired Catalyst moves forward, presenting itself in front of them to act as a focal point for the spell to originate from. Catalysts are Bound to the creator, and as such cannot be stolen/broken/destroyed. From a mechanics side nothing will change. From an aesthetics standpoint however Magic Users are now much easier to identify, and have a lot more flair when casting a spell.

It takes a lot of training to be able to use a Catalyst properly. Candidates usually go through years of training to be able to harness a Catalyst. To them, it is more rigorous scientific though then arcane methods. The manufacture of Catalysts is limited almost exclusively to the Five Houses of the Magocracy, a powerful league of wizards and artificers who manufacture catalysts and train most of their users. The Five Houses are usually bitter rivals, guarding their secrets from one another zealously, and often they fight one another in bitter House Wars. The Catalysts themselves are usually a piece of arcane material enclosed in a Focusing Matrix (or Focus for short). The wizards, or Conduits, can use the ley-lines within the Focus to channel the natural arcane energies of the Catalyst outwards. Ex. – Red dragon scale enclosed in a ruby Focus can be channeled outward to produce bolts of fire.

3.Clean water is scarce: Groundwater sources are easily contaminated and sitting water is never trusted. Water has to be mechanically, chemically, or magically purified before drinking. Wild creatures have some resistance to water contamination, but eventually become sick or corrupted if their only water source is contaminated. Plant-life is mostly unaffected, but usually grows more densely next to clean water. Precipitation and water extracted from plant-life is clean.

All civilized life has methods of purifying water. Civilizations grow around reliable water sources, but transporting clean water between areas is becoming easier due to mechanical advancements. Bottling clean water has been perfected, and water pipes are becoming a common sight in rich neighborhoods of big cities.

The scarcity of water means that clean water sources are usually enclosed and heavily guarded, if possible. A common setup in a small town might be to have the local well surrounded by a processing plant, which cleanses and bottles the water for selling or distribution. Many poor cannot afford clean water daily – they are often reduced to using strong alcoholic mixtures brewed with poison water just to survive. Guarding water caravans is a routine job for mercenaries (and frequent target of highwaymen). There are many groups looking to explore the world further for clean water supplies. The Odds and Ends Society, a guild of historians, cartographers and archeologists, have sponsored several recent expeditions looking for habitable zones.

4.Volcanoes darken the sky and poison the water: One of the main reasons water is so rare is that years ago the world’s volcanoes became simultaneously very active. The ash + industry in the cities quickly caused the clean water supply to run out. Because of so much eruptions the skies of the world are much darker then they should be, and it is darker more often then it is light. When this happened, the drow came out from underground and started making cities on the surface and conquering their neighbors since they no longer feared the surface world. There is also an increase in the number of night monsters who roam more often like vampires and werwolfs.

Many vampires are followers of the Path of Blood, a belief that they will be caretakers of the new world order. They realize that if their food supply (people) die off, they too will perish, so many have decided to use their natural talents as scouts and explorers, able to feed off only the far more common blood . Vampires are common foremost amongst the Drow, but their numbers are growing amongst the other races. Still, most vampires are not terribly friendly and few non-vampires as cattle. The most prominent of these vampire is the Count Veszraen Zau’ana, a Consort of the Empress. He is a cruel man whose armies are known to bring him herds of people to feast on. He resides within Night Spire in Lolthimar.

5.Dragons are domestic: Dragons are mostly domesticated creatures. They serve as mounts and as beast of burdens. They are mainly herbivores, and most lack wings due to them being bred out. Most are slightly larger then a horse and used for the same purpose. Green dragons that breathe acid have no problems drinking poisoned water and are the most popular mount with travelers. Red fire breathers are more common closer to active volcanoes. There are still flying dragons but they are more dangerous to ride due to the ash in the sky and number of eruptions. Regarding dragonborn:

The Dragonborn have been a slave race since time immemorial. Most races see the Dragonborn as little more than beasts of burden and they have been oppressed violently the few times there have been uprisings. Their inability to create viable offspring with any other race sets them apart more than their features ever could (all of the other races share enough in common to breed half-bloods—Dragonborn can’t). Dragonborn are seen as cheap slaves because they are strong, resistant, and their offspring mature very quickly: a newly born Dragonborn can be useful at manual labor in as little as three years. Dragonborn are historically the handlers for all dragonbeasts since they share an innate and natural connection. Dragonbeasts are rarely raised without Dragonborn companionship, and Dragonborn prefer to remain with dragonbeasts. Dragonborn and dragonbeasts can sense the moods and intentions of each other if they have spent some time with each other, and dragonbeasts are much more docile and pliant if directed by a Dragonborn.

Dragonborn are intelligent but uneducated. They are not permitted the same chances for education as other intelligent races. Still, they have a great skill for languages and most Dragonborn are taught by their parents to covertly listen and learn as much as they can. They are embedded in many facets of high society as servants, particularly the nobility. Some great houses have been breeding Dragonborn for centuries to match their house colors, resulting in very colorful varieties of Dragonborn. A few have even developed a reactionary ability to change colors under great duress, although most view it as a cruel display of power by their masters to force Dragonborn to change colors. Dragonborn closeness to nobility and unsuspected access has meant that Dragonborn have made good spies. Even though the nobility know to suspect the Dragonborn of spying from various leaks of information, they can never bring themselves to believe that their dimwitted servants are capable of such feats.

Although Dragonborn are resentful of dragons’ current role in this world, they have a rich oral history telling of their creation and their fall from grace. A disastrous event in the distant past brought such shame to the race that they lost much of their will to fight. Dragonborn see their place in society as the punishment for their shameful deeds, and accept the duties they must bear. Historians are unsure of what the Dragonborn are repentant for since the Dragonborn refuse to discuss it with anyone that is not Dragonborn.

The most compelling theory is that the Dragonborn—in an attempt to raise themselves to the status of true dragons—caused the downfall of the true dragons and ended the pure dragon lineage. If the rumor is to be believed, dragonbeasts are the ancestors of the ancient true dragon race, dispossessed of their link to Io and the collective dragon consciousness. That is why the dragonbeasts are mindless beasts of burden and why the Dragonborn have accepted their place in society as a slave class. They remain slaves so that they can always be the secret guardians of their ancient dragon brethren.

The cataclysm has given the Dragonborn a chance to establish themselves as a respected race and redeem their honor. A rumor has started among the Dragonborn that the cataclysm was the last step in their fall from grace, and that it is the sign that their repentance is over. They believe that they are the ones who have caused it and must therefore correct their error to redeem themselves, and that the cataclysm is the prophesied end of their judgement. A common saying among the Dragonborn translates roughly to “endure until the eggshell cracks”. Since the Dragonborn consider the world to be the one true egg of the mother dragon, the recent tectonic and volcanic eruptions are seen as the end of their waiting.

However, so much time has passed that only the most storied of Dragonborn historians have knowledge of what was causing the corruption of the water and the earthquakes. Since written Dragonborn histories have been mostly lost or destroyed, and written literacy is not common among Dragonborn, only oral histories remain. But although every Dragonborn knows the story of their fall, few understand the true causes, and none know what must be done to restore the dragon races. However, the Dragonborn believe that they must cure the dragonbeasts to restore the world to balance.

Although any city will accept the Dragonborn as drafted fighters and slave mercenaries, only the Grimers have trusted them with command. Grimers see the Dragonborn enslavement as a vestige of a racially divided past, and are trying to free them. Grimers have managed to enlist many Dragonborn, particularly those who believe that they need to find a way to restore the world and can’t do so as slaves. However, most Dragonborn refuse to leave the old cities as long there are dragonbeasts left to be protected in them, and will sometimes fight for their oppressors if doing so protects the dragonbeasts.

There are still scattered tribes of free Dragonborn, although they stay away from civilization and are completely separate from city Dragonborn. They follow the old ways and are not willing to be subjugated. They are mostly nomadic and stay close to the natural breeding grounds of wild dragonbeasts, shadowing their movements and protecting them from outsiders.

6. The Grimer movement is growing: The earthquakes that triggered the tectonic and volcanic eruptions displaced large populations and muddled ancient political and cultural boundaries. The mass emigrations of evacuees that have abandoned now untenable cities have created new settlements that are racial melting-pots near oases of clean water and safe land. Previously held animosities and racial conflicts had to be put aside when these groups of refugees came together in new pockets of civilization.

The Grimer movement—a group of anti-xenophobists identified by their excessively dirt-covered appearance—emerged when the evacuees settled in their new areas: after weeks of slow travel under a constant shower of ash and with little time to rest and no water to spare for washing, the refugees of every nation were coated in dust, ash, and grime. They converged to uninhabited safe zones—those least affected by the volcanic fallout or the Drow invasions, and with sufficient access to clean water. The refugees were composed of members of races that had previously been hostile or unfriendly to each other, but they managed to maintain a truce together long enough to found a temporary settlement and figure out reliable methods for cleansing the contaminated water supplies. The resulting coexistence—although strained—was peaceful for a while.

Some interpreted this as the purpose behind the cataclysm. The grime-covered appearance caused by the constant ash-fall was causing subtle racial features to be unrecognizable. Along with the forced cohabitation of different races in the new settlements, these side-effects were seen by some as the silver lining of the volcanic eruptions. It appeared possible to finally bring peace to the historically warring nations. The Grimers believe that the recent series of catastrophes has been retribution for the cultural and racial wars of the past and that the cataclysm was divinely designed to bring peace to the land.

The Grimers started as an impromptu peace-keeping effort in the newly settled evacuee camps. Dedicated members of every race tried to limit hostilities in any way they could so that their families would not be exposed to danger. They soon found that they had trouble maintaining peace when their racial features would elicit instinctual hatred with members of the settlements that weren’t their own race. To prevent this, they purposely stopped washing their features clean—thus gaining the name “Grimers”. Eventually, they began to enhance the masking effects of the ash with additional layers of grime, concealing their races and maintaining some anonymity. Within the first few years, they became the de facto policing force of the new settlements, and have grown into a political cause. Since then, they have turned into an egalitarian movement attempting to unify the races under one culture. The Grimers have been gaining popularity, especially with the lower classes.

However, now that the catastrophe has settled and survival is ensured, the leaders and surviving cities of the old nations have been calling for racial solidarity and are trying to rouse xenophobic sentiments in an attempt to reunite their nations under the old race lines. This has resulted in pogroms at some of the new settlements. In response to this, the Grimer movement has been gathering supplies and resistance fighters. They vow to protect their ideals and the new world order, believing it to be divinely ordained. They want to unite all races and bring peace to the land—with war if needed.

Grimers can be found in all races, although they are most common with races that sweat, such as humans, and those races most affected by the cataclysm. A smear of dirt on a cheek is seen as a public sign of solidarity with the Grimers. The Grimers respect the mineral-based races who have historically remained neutral to other races. The Grimers associate clean-washed faces with the racist factions of the old races—especially the nobility of the existing power structures. The old nations have begun to target Grimers, seeing them as military and political threats. The nobility have tried to ban face-paint, although they find it politically difficult to condemn citizens for dirt-streaked faces when there is not enough clean water to spare to wash one’s face.

7. The Gods have forsaken us…: The thought of the gods punishing those in the race wars weighs heavily on everyone’s minds. The Grimers have risen above this and race-to-race support is at an all time high throughout the lands. The one logical conclusion everyone has come to is the gods are no longer watching. How could they through this cloud of ash and smoke they’ve created? They have doled out their punishment, and left the races to pick up the pieces… or so they think.

Healing magic is a sign of what are now known as “The Forsaken Gods”. After the ash blocked the sky and poisoned the waters, faith in the gods fell away and religion was left by the wayside. The races moved on to other man-made ways of healing, most clerics now being known as “Mechemists”. Instead of spells, they use poltices, potions and vapor bombs to heal with. Characters breath in vapor that contains bacteria/retro-viruses that heal their wounds. Vapor bombs are small glass ampules that shatter when thrown to the ground, releasing the potion/poison inside. Only Mechemists hold the secret to making Vapor bombs.

Mechemists no longer dawn the traditional garbs of their respective gods, but instead opt for lighter colored loose clothing. They meticulously keep their clothing clean and wear a long-beaked mask full of various herbs that can purify water if pulled through it. (Think the old Plague Doctor masks). Mechemists who are part of the Grimers will traditionally wear grey to jet black masks, where as other Mechemists will dawn a white mask.

Clerics and Paladins of the Forsaken Gods are very rarely seen. They still draw power from the gods as the old clerics/paladins did. Due to their dependence on the old gods, They are outright distrusted and commonly hated by most of society. The Clerics/Paladins are descendent from families of old traditions seeped heavily in the forsaken gods, giving them the power to use their abilities. The Catalysts/Mechemists were created as a way to get by without the gods.

There is no love lost between Alchemists/Mechemists and the Clerics/Paladins. The work of the Alc/Mech stands in direct defiance of the gods, while Clr/Pal are walking reminders of why they’re in this situation in the first place.

Mechanics changes: Clerics and Paladins of the Forsaken Gods are untrusted and sometime outright hated. The glass ampules pretty much work the same way a ranged spell would, via the vapor.

8. The Banker’s Guild – In the wake of the cataclysm, and the destruction of the traditional state, many of the world’s guilds saw an opportunity to expand their power base. Foremost of these guilds was the dwarven Banker’s Guild. Previously, they minted the coins and tended the books of the Dwarf High Thane, but when nations collapsed, they grew in power and influence, acting as investors in new refugee cities and buying into many fledgeling industries. Now that cities have begun to grow, they have their hands in the coin purses in almost every endeavor, and profit handsomely from them. Need to build new city walls, or fund your army? Food short? The Banker’s Guild will help you out, for a generous interest rate of course.

The Banker’s Guild has insured they can control the markets by making the Guild Note (more commonly – guilders) the most accepted currency in almost every city. Merchants or cities who don’t comply will often be visited by Guild “protection” squads who will try and convince them of the errors of their ways. Even the Drow Empire treats with the Guild, and guilders are seen just as often as in the coin purses of the citizens of the Empire as their own Imperial Drachmas.

Unstamped gold is more common in the various black markets throughout the lands, with some of the more shadey smugglers and peddlers refusing to accept guilders. Should an intrepid adventurer stumble upon a hoard of gold, the Banker’s Guild is more then happy to exchange it for Notes, for a small conversion fee. The Banker’s Guild Headquarters, is located in the former Dwarven capital of Deepstone, with helpful branch locations in every major settlement.

The World of Arda

The Ashes of Arda FrostyDM