Welcome to the world. You’ve just been born! I’m sure your parents are very proud. You’ll soon find that in some ways, this world is very much like other worlds you may have known. For instance, a great hodgepodge of sentient beings, no doubt including you, live in and around it. There are many ruins and unexplored reaches dotting the land, a couple Dragons here and there, and even a few old-fashioned dungeons. (Few villains these days really appreciate the beauty of a well-tuned dungeon… but I digress.)
Of course, this world is also quite different from other worlds you may have encountered. To begin, it might be wise to familiarize yourself with the history of the world you’ve been born into. By all means, read on.
Once, this world was like many others in the Astral Sea, a string of bright pearls strung together by portals and webs, spun threads of belief and power. The material world, the Middle Realm to travellers, has long been a stable, enduring world of little interest to more cosmopolitan plane-dwellers. Of course, the powerful men and elves that dwelled there thought otherwise; their great empires rose and fell over the ages on top of the bones of the vanished Hyllken. The details may never be known, but somehow the diminutive Hyllken crafted a vast empire, replete with magic and mystery. But one day, every Hyllken and the entirety of their empire vanished. Naught remains of the Hyllken themselves but bones, but their empire itself can now be found miles underground. When their ruins and remains were buried within the earth, their ancient and powerful magics immediately caused a bloom of growth and change in the mold and fungus there, creating an enormous cavern system lit only by the intermittent glow of magically-charged moss. But the powers unleashed by the Hyllkens’ fall didn’t stop at simple fungus; two species found their destinies forever changed by this insidious energy.
From simple beasts came two great underground races, empowered by the great magical energies harnessed by the Hyllken and implicated in their destruction. From wily scavenging canines came the Gnoll, and from powerful herd-beasts came the Minotaur. Few surfacers were aware of the daily clashes that occurred miles beneath their feet, interminable conflicts that make the greatest wars of the surface seem uninspired and short by comparison. By the same token, few residents of the underworld were aware that far above existed a green realm basking in the light of the sun, practically free of the fungus and damp and dark that marked their home. Although passages between the two realms did exist, they were few in number and uniformly extremely dangerous, taken as home by fierce creatures and supernatural powers invested in keeping the two realms apart. Magic travel between the realms was blockaded by the ruins of the Hyllken; attempting to do so was a quick way to wind up entombed in stone or simply dumped out into the Astral Sea. And so, for interminable aeons, the two halves of the Middle Realm remained largely unaware of and unaffected by one another.
The Middle Realm was flanked in the great ring by two reflected worlds, the Wildlands and the Grey World. Strong currents always flowed through the Wildlands; it was situated on top of a major ley current in the Astral Sea, and it has always had more than its share of magic and mystery on account. The powerful elf-kin Eladrin emerged on top of the heap after millenia of development, though the deep woods would likely always belong to the lesser Fey cousins the Eladrin left behind, chiefly Gnomes and other prankster spirits. The plains would no doubt continue to be dominated by the scattered Beastman tribes; conflict between their nomadic journeys and the sprawling Eladrin spire-cities was forever inevitable. Even though the plane was always in flux, with dramatic power shifts between the Fey courts every season and the ever-looming potential of a catastrophic Mana Storm, most of the Wildlands inhabitants did not mind; that was simply the nature of their home. In time, it became their nature as well.
The Grey World, called Erff by its inhabitants, got the short end of the stick in the mystic realm. While the Wildlands lay directly in the path of untold ley lines, the Grey World had only a single paltry line to supply it. As such, the world developed unusually strong natural laws, immutable in the face of even the strongest wills of men. The magic that did exist was only truly visible at the very smallest levels, down to the unknown realm of particle physics and quantum reality, and few among the Grey could truly delve into that realm – they simply did not have the tools. That is not to say that the Grey World’s inhabitants did not achieve great things; indeed, their cities and contraptions were near-legendary among plane travellers of a technical bent. The Dwarf-kin built the first engines and dug the great mines that fed the metal-hungry cities, built and dwelled in by Orks and their descendants. The mighty Dragons that graced the skies and caves of other worlds never had their chance to shine on Erff, devoid of magic as it was, but the dragons were too proud to simply die out as they should. Over the millenia, they shrank and changed, perhaps subconsciously cleaving to the form of man. Thus, from primitive lizard stock was born something kin to dragon, and these Dragonborn could be found throughout the great cities, empires and corporations of Erff.
Two further shadows flanked these mirrors, both realms of great power and spiritual might. Narvandier, the Mundus Diabolus, flanked the Grey World, sharing its mechanical bent but in possession of a greater degree of magic. Although not quite the hellish plane envisioned by backwater inhabitants of the Middle Realm, Narvandier had a well-deserved reputation as having been left unfinished by the gods. Raw flows of lava and tectonic activity dominated much of the landscape, transforming and immolating it at a moment’s notice. The only safe places for most mortal races were the grand cities of glass and metal that dotted the fiery plains, home to powerful spirit-beings, called Demons by fearful mortals, and their mortal servants, labelled Tieflings. The frigid highlands, rendered livable by their great height, were inhabited by a race of tundra-roving Giants, sometimes called “goliath” after their most famous son. Power is everything in Narvandier, and found in short supply: power to tame the ferocious environment, power to command those under you to whatever ends, power to change the very nature of things, and the power to build, from this hell, a heaven — for you and yours alone.
Twin to Narvandier but far removed was the plane of Empyrea, the Mundus Angelus. It could be found through the deepest reaches of the Wildlands, deep in the swirl of ley energy passing through the world. Empyrea is a world made almost entirely of energy; power has never been in short supply, but control is key. In truth, however, power and control are but two sides of the same coin, and many mortal scholars found creeping parallels between the ambitions of Angels and Demons. Yes, the great Angels dwelled in Empyrea, vast faceless spirit beings of great wisdom and completely inscrutable intentions. Their almost-immortal Deva servants, created male and female, maintained the lush meadows and built the great cities in the clouds. In the over-charged environment of this world, everyday unions between mortal races could not produce true-born offspring. Much to the dismay of Empyrean parents, any offspring brought forth with the blessing of the plane came out subtly twisted, blessed and saturated with power. These Spellborn, “genasi” in the language of the elves, soon found that no matter their former race or elemental affiliation, they could only breed true with one another. In time, the Angels relented and allowed space for their unlikely children to build, and now their towns ring the great celestial cities in the foothills and woods.
Separating these two opposed realms lay a vast expanse of Nothing. It was called The World’s End and the Empty World, but these names did not do justice to the real thing. It was not a world wisely entered by the unprepared — portals and passages themselves soon fell into Nothing. Many unprepared travellers became Nothing themselves, and there was no god or power that could save them. Those who survived entry described it as an endless glowing expanse of white, with no visible horizon but the indescribable white ground beneath their feet. Every so often, almost an infinity apart, lay small bubbles of substance, whispered by many to be the domains of the gods, for no one without the spark of the divine was able to gain entry. What lay within is hotly debated among scholars to date; the Mysteries of the Sixth World may never truly be known.
What is known, however, is that on one fateful night, observers in the Middle Realm looked up at their sky and saw five stars in a ring around their third moon, the Ghost Moon. This had been sighted before, and was thought to be a great portent of the nature of their world and its neighbors; they were right, but not quite in the way they anticipated. As the mages and artists sat down with their quills to sketch the Convergence, something unthinkable happened; the Ghost Moon began to shimmer and flicker, growing more indistinct by the second. The moment it would have faded from view, it suddenly reappeared and collapsed inward, imploding with a roar that shook the stars themselves.
The few plane travellers in the Astral Sea at the time know the true story; while these events were unfolding, great upheaval was taking place in the Sixth World. When it ended, the Sixth World, the dividing line between the angels and demons, and indeed the anchor for the entire ring, simply ceased to be. The ring of worlds collapsed like a spring breaking loose, slamming together into a single sphere. The five realms were thrown together and intermingled at random. The ring ceased to be, replaced by a brand spanking new world.
It’s safe to say that after the Convergence, the world was all a bit chaotic. No piece of land seemed to know which of the five realms it came from, and as a result, nothing was truly real for quite some time.
The survivors called out to the gods, and found only silence. No one knows if the Sixth World had been the dwelling of the gods, formed a link to them, or simply took the conduit to divinity with it when it died, but since that day not a single prayer has been answered. This has not dulled religious fervor, of course; in many camps, it has blossomed rather prodigiously. In the place of the gods, these new cults venerate the Powers.
The Powers are somewhat enigmatic. Cobbled together from the greatest elemental lords, magical entities and other unaligned spirit beings, these beings dwell throughout the world in realms they have carved out of the chaos around them. Calling them beings is often a bit of a stretch. For instance, the most visible Power in the part of the world you’ve been born into is the Pyre, a great column of white-hot flame, spearing out of the depths of the earth into the sky.
The Powers unconsciously form the land around them, taking the raw pieces of world and forming them together into something similar to their Realm of origin, but wholly new. This influence has spread over time. Today, some twenty-odd years after the Convergence, the world is beginning to come back to normal… for a given value of normal, at any rate. There are still pockets of chaos all over, but the continents have settled, the major geographic facets of the world are stable, and people have begun to live their lives anew in their new and different homelands, with their new and occasionally very different neighbors. (Try waking up one day to find that your new neighbor is a Demon Overlord with her sixteen Tiefling pets.)
Communication between the realms of the Powers has yet to be stabilized, however. In many places, citizens born under the rule of one Power will never be offered the luxury of knowing what else is out there, just over that next hill. Of course, adventurous sorts make this their life’s calling, and although fewer of them die in their beds of old age, those that do insist that the choice has made all the difference.
The Pyre and You
You have been born into a large, walled, stone city on a hill, known to it’s inhabitants as Pyre’s Hope. The origin of the name is fairly transparent, although who determined that an enormous eternal jet of flame was in fact a symbol of hope is somewhat unclear. Fortunately for everyone, the Pyre is indeed a force of justice and hope. It is harsh justice, as one might perhaps expect of a near-divine flame, but it is a damn sight more than the chaos of the Convergence has offered thus far. It is not known whether this outlook has come to be through the trust the people place in him or through an innate tendency.
He is not alone in the city, however. Wherever the Pyre’s light falls it casts a Shadow, and she is always nearby. Contrary to popular belief, the Shadow is as real and as tangible an entity as the Pyre. (The Shadow is named a ‘her’ because her visible manifestations are often sinuous and sensual, especially as compared the Pyre’s more male-oriented brashness and harsh outlook – and vaguely phallic shape, naturally.) Although her methods are not as forthright and unflinching as that of the Pyre, the Shadow is equally concerned for the well-being and safety of the city.
Curiously, the Pyre and the Shadow work well together, opposites though they be — the Pyre being a force of bright, harsh fiery wrath and the Shadow a dark, cool, stealthy and merciful sort. There is no light without shadow, but both are necessary: the Pyre provides the people with light and security and zeal, and the Shadow grants them freedom, pleasant sleep (and other nightly excitements) and deniability. Broadly speaking, that which the Shadow conceals from the righteous does not concern them.
Both entities are unaligned, since although they focus on different aspects of their city and indeed have their own moral outlooks, these outlooks are unconcerned with such notions as good and evil outside their sphere. The Pyre seeks justice and upholds the law, giving hope to the righteous, but is downright brutal at times. The Shadow provides freedom and safety, but she can be fickle and often ignores the petty cruelties of a life in the shadows, seeking ever after that elusive excitement, that first new rush. Therefore, although both entities are nominally forces of good in the world, the darker aspects of their natures take their toll on the city they yearn to protect.
Whether you choose to remain in this city as you grow older or your path takes you elsewhere, something tells you that you will one day come before it in a moment of great significance. Perhaps it’ll be your coming of age, or the day you return a victorious soldier, or on the eve of your father’s horrific death. Like many people born in the city, you notice a small mark somewhere on your body that reminds you of either a flame or a shadow, marking you as a special birth. Whether this mark will play a role in your upcoming destiny is unknown, but such things are often portents, and such portents rarely ring falsely.
Who are you?
(who who, who who)
So tell me, young one, who do you think you are? You’ll want to inform me which of the Sentient races you are, which profession you think you’ll likely be when you grow up, and, once you’ve read on a little and have gained understanding of your ancestry and your world, a little bit about your family and what you expect to encounter growing up in or around Pyre’s Hope.