Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yep.  Today's my birthday.  Last year was a Big Round Number™ so this year is just kinda "meh" and anti-climactic.  But, it's still my birthday, and that means some small celebration of the fact that I came to be.  For me, I'm giving some thought to my roots; the things placed in motion that led to me being born.  The lives and actions of my immediate (and less immediate) ancestors.

And... as such, I'm giving some thought to the inception of my setting, DARK•HERITAGE.  I don't mean how I came to think of it (I've already done that thought experiment here, here, here, here and here--best read in that order), I mean the internal history of the setting.  So far, I've resisted going too far back, or telling too much about the history of the setting except in somewhat immediate terms.  There's a reason for this.  Three of them, actually.  First, it isn't likely to be relevant to any gaming (or fiction) in the setting for quite a long time.  Therefore, it isn't a high priority to develop.  Secondly, it's a factor of the fantasy genre that writers like to come up with long time lines and histories.  I'm purposefully avoiding this in part to distance myself from traditional fantasy, but also because this usually tends to be overly long, tedious and somewhat bloated.  If done right, it can be pretty cool, but I'm not going to take the chance that I don't have the chops to do it right.  And thirdly, whatever history there is, will no doubt be a Secret History.  After all, this is "D&D rules, Call of Cthulhu paradigm."  And the Lovecraftian view of history is well documented in stories like "At the Mountains of Madness" and elsewhere, as a dark, secret history that man does not know about, and indeed flees from the knowledge of, because it does not imply a bright heritage or future for mankind as a whole.  It implies, in fact, a DARK•HERITAGE.  Heh.  No coincidence there.  Nope.

Anyway, as a Secret History™, it's best left undescribed.  Heck, I'm not even interested in necessarily describing solely for my own benefit.  Leaving it undeclared means that I have flexibility to hint at all kinds of stuff, but not really decide what's going on for a long time.  This is, to use an analog from gaming, similar to the death of Aroden in the Pathfinder setting.  It's one of the most important events of the semi-recent past in terms of getting the setting to the state that it's in today, and yet it's completely unexplained.  The Paizo developers have pretty much said outright that they have no intention of ever publishing the "solution" to the mystery of Aroden's death, because it works better as a mysterious thing that happened in the past then it does as something with a published solution.

For what it's worth, Keith Baker said something very similar about an element in Eberron; the mysterious "accident" (or maybe it wasn't) that completely destroyed the nation of Cyre, created the Mournland, and brought the war to an end.  Nobody knows what happened there, and there's no answer coming anytime soon, if ever.

I don't know that I like the notion of never having an answer to mysteries, but certainly there's no rush to get there.  The setting loses a significant amount of its mystique (and thus its appeal) when certain big mysteries that all of the characters who inhabit the setting itself don't know the answer to is revealed to the readers/players.  Then again, as the capstone to a long campaign or novel series, you like to see those kinds of things finally answered too, or they become irritating loose ends.

Secret city of the Elder Things
The problem with a secret history is not only that it needs to remain secret to be effective--at least for quite some time, but also that it needs to contrast to the mainstream history.  One of my complaints about Doug Hulick's novel Among Thieves, which I quite liked otherwise, was that it presented a secret history of the setting before the established history was... well... established in the mind of the reader.  Therefore, the impact of the secret history was pretty minimal.

So, for today, I'm thinking of giving a few big picture views of the history of the world of DARK•HERITAGE.  These views are fairly well-informed, internal opinions that certain people or peoples of the setting may have.  But they are not perfect.  The formulators of the opinion are not perfect in their knowledge or their process for acquiring knowledge.  These big picture views probably contradict each other--or they may treat with subjects that do not intersect exactly.  They can't literally all be true.  In fact, they might be completely untrue.  But... it's the best you can get.  This is, in fact, much more knowledge than I'd be likely to give to a player in a campaign set in DARK•HERITAGE, at least at the outset of a new campaign.

Mainstream View History of the World:  In the beginning, there was nothingness.  In the midst of the nothingness, elder, chthonic consciousnesses formed.  These beings, by their basically instinctual and non-sentient natures, spawned descendants.  From these came the first Great Spirits, the Primordial Gods.  The Primordial Gods created the world, but it was very different in form from the world today.  In time, a new generation of gods came to be.  These are the gods we know now.  They had a plan to create Mankind to people the world, but the harsh, alien nature of the world would be inimical to the life of Mankind.  Therefore, the gods went to war with the primordial gods, and overthrew them.  Once the way was cleared, they created Mankind, and sent them forth across the face of the world.  Mankind today worships the gods as not only their creators, but also their protectors who paved the way for them to come forth.  Of course, this doesn't mean that the gods are necessarily benevolent, especially to individuals.  The Gods are, therefore, propitiated in an attempt to continue their favorable practice of relative non-intervention, and so they can protect the world in case the primordial gods ever arise again and attempt to wrest the world back from the hands of the mortals and their divine protectors.

First Secret History of the World: Paraphrased from an esoteric academic associated with the Universitat at Razina two centuries ago, as published in the book De Vermis Mysteriis.  The book itself has been outlawed, and its author, who's name is expurgated from the historical record by the Inquisition, was tortured and put to death.  Fragmentary copies, and other works that paraphrase or summarize the book do exist, and from such is this history mostly constructed.

In the beginning there was raw chaos situated amongst a sea of nothingness.  The friction between these two states created the first consciousnesses, sentiences, or vast spirits of intellect.  Over time, these beings create the concept of "place" and places are made from the chaos within the nothingness.  One of these places is the World.  To perpetuate their "place" these vast consciousnesses create, perhaps consciously, perhaps merely as a side-effect of their acts of creation, the first life.  Prior to the coming of human life, other beings dwelt on the world.  Some of these were attuned to the chaos, and others to the nothingness--humanity, however, was attuned to neither, but capable of using elements of both.  This is the foundation of mortal sorcery.  With the advent of mortal sorcery, the consciousnesses took notice of humanity, and humanity was put forever at risk of annihilation.  The greatest of mortal sorcerers--beings of vast power that no one today can comprehend, took up arms against this threat and banished the consciousnesses to somewhere Outside; a prison or Hell created for them, where they slumber and sleep fitfully, unable to directly threaten humanity again until some day in the far future, when the stars are right, and the prison opens and the End Times come.

The survivors of this war ascended to Godhood, and became the first deities worshipped by early humans.  Direct knowledge of them faded over time, and the gods worshipped today are the pale echoes of truth that was once widely known.

Second Secret History of the World: Paraphrased and summarized from a book brought from across the sea by the jann when they arrived on the shores of the Land of Three Empires.  The book, Prophecies of the Daemon-sultan by Abdullah al-Azrad presents a secret history of the world theory, including surprising and disturbing details that seem to apply quite well to the Forbidden Lands--even though the jann did not live on the same continent and should not have known anything about the Forbidden Lands before arriving on these nearer shores.

In the beginning, the world was filled only with plants, and beasts, and other low creatures that arose spontaneously by the natural forces that created the stars, the sun, the moon and the world itself.  But a thinning or tearing in the walls between our world and the Worlds Outside allowed for alien intelligences to come into our world, and from such is the root of humanity.  "Engineered up" from the beasts to serve as the slaves of these alien races, humanity suffered in cruel humility for millenia.  Finally, heroes who understood the basics of sorcery could start to stand up to these aliens and had weapons capable of dealing them harm, although the use of sorcery was usually as deadly to the user as to those it was used on (hence its general state of outlawry today in any civilized society.)  The first Great King, Jhaddar al-Mazad, was finally able to defeat these aliens and exterminate or drive them from our world to the great Worlds Outside.  The tear or thin spot was "patched up"--although the patch is not perfect, and strangeness still leaks through in slow and insidious fashion.  The center of this leak is Leng, a desolate plateau located in the area known today as the Forbidden Lands, and from there, this alienness spreads slowly but surely throughout the world.

But the heroism of Jhaddar al-Mazad allowed for the freedom and development of human society.  It is said that he will be reincarnated someday in the future when the strangeness from Leng threatens to rip open the boundary between the World and the Worlds Outside anew.  This time, however, the seal will be perfect, and the aliens will be shut out forever.

Third Secret History of the World: Summarized from personal communication that a researcher from the Academy at Porto Liure received in an interview with a vampire elder from Tarush Noptii.  Never published, but circulated in limited form as a series of hand-written notes.

The supernatural and alien life forms didn't come to earth prior to humanity; it fell from the sky in the distant past.  Tarush, the fallen god of Tarush Noptii, was only the most recent of the fallen gods to come to earth.  A large concentration of them fell in the Forbidden Lands thousands of years ago--maybe tens of thousands of years ago.  Maybe even much longer ago than that.  The entire plateau of Leng and the mountains that surround it are their prison, and unknown Kadath, that dark, mysterious fortress-city, was meant to keep watch over them.  Servitor races meant to be "wardens" and "prison guards" for the gods still wander the area, in many cases their purpose forgotten, which is why that place is so much more alien and so much more dangerous than anywhere else.  Who created these servitor races and gave them their mandate?  Why, newer gods, who took over from the Old Gods and imprisoned them in the Vaults of Zin for all time.  But the time will come when the newer gods will in their stead be the older, out-going gods who will be overthrown, perhaps by mortals ascended.  (Or undead ascended, as the case may be.)

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