Monday, May 19, 2014

Revising Chirak

I published The Realms of Chirak in early 2009 as a campaign book written for use with 4th Edition. This was largely made possible by how much more accessible 4E was to DMs than any prior edition; the mechanics of creature and NPC design were much easier and more transparent than in 3rd edition, and I avoided publishing anything for 3E back then because, even though I had a fully statted 3E version of Chirak I wasn't comfortable with the sort of scrutiny the game's giant stat blocks invited from the more rigorous members of the gaming community.....or to put it another way, I knew the stat blocks worked okay for my needs, but didn't (in my estimation) work for the gaming community at large. 4E was a different beast however, a much cleaner and more transparent system that made a decent adaptation easy.

Anyway, I'm working on a revision....I've run roughly 200+ sessions of weekly scenarios set in the Realms of Chirak since since it went to publication, many of them in Pathfinder, Runequest and now 13th Age. The new one I'm working on is either going to be branded for 13th Age, D&D 5th Edition (conditional to that even being a possibility) or maybe a generic tome designed for use with any D&D-like. I do have a Pathfinder version I've worked on, and while I am much more confident these days in the mechanical integrity of the stat blocks I also have a lot more work to do to complete them....and I just cannot find the energy to make it feel worthwhile. Who knows, perspective could be quite different after August comes and goes.

Anyway, what follows is the first part of my new revision to the introduction in the book....  

The Realms of Chirak, Revised Edition

Introduction: How the World Came to its End…and a New Beginning

In today’s era of exploration and discovery much lore about the past has been uncovered by intrepid scholars seeking to understand the forces that made our world. The modern world of the Realms of Chirak are a legion of small kingdoms who aspire to greatness, but know they build upon the ruins of those who came before, who mastered a sorcery so great that none today could conceive of just what it was like to live in such fantastic times. The world of old had gods; the world of today has pretenders who seek out the shattered remnants of the ancient Zodiac Stones that powered the old gods.

In this lost age of humanity had grown powerful. Mankind lived in a world of magic and technology, merged in unique ways, allowing humankind to journey to other worlds, other planes of existence, and even cheat death. Sorcery, drawn from the lifeblood of the world’s spirit was so ubiquitous that to be born without talent was to forever be of a lesser station in life. Humans were not alone, either. The power of magic and the mastery of alchemy had led to the creation of many servitor races. Minotaurs were among one of many bestial races uplifted by the curious hands of sorcery. Animates were men of wood, metal and other inert material suffused with elemental life. These races and others were created by humanity to serve and obey. Such was this time that men were like gods.

But men were not gods, for there were already twelve deities who presided like potent elemental storms over humankind and all the world. Among the men of Chirak being a god meant being a caretaker of a great font of power, perhaps the greatest such power one could ever attain: a Zodiac Stone. The Zodiac Stones were indelibly associated with the twelve signs of the Zodiac, each of which was a pattern in the sky of stars that intersected with one of the twelve roaming planets in the sky, many of which were otherwise invisible without a magical or telescopic means of observation.

Man, in is technomantic might, had visited all of these worlds, spread to them, and interacted with their neighbors. It was through this means which certain races, such as gnomes and ogres came to reside on Chirak as colonists over time. But in the course of his voyages these planetary explorers discovered that each of the twelve worlds of the sky, plus Chirak, carried within their cosmic makeup an indelible imbuement of infinite power. This divine energy could be harnessed by the Zodiac Stones, which had existed since the stone age of man on the world of Chirak.

In the prehistoric era of humankind the Zodiac Stones were said to have fallen from the sky, and that there were twelve such powerful stone. There was a rumor of a thirteenth stone, one which encompassed the might of the other twelve, but no god in known memory has ever possessed this stone…so far as history recalls.

The gods of prehistory were different than were during the height of humanity’s technomantic society. The Zodiac Stones demanded much of their bearers, a sacrifice that was great, albeit in exchange for access to divine power, immortality of the flesh, and a legacy that could last ten thousand years. For much of the rule of man the gods were ever present, and on occasion one would relinquish his control of a Stone to a new, young candidate for the future. Occasionally strife might take the life of another, for gods could still be killed even if they were ageless and immune to disease. Once in a while a god simply disappeared….and his Zodiac Stone was left behind to be claimed by the first person of sufficient hubris.

Over the eons the power of the gods grew, the reverence was great, and the knowledge they granted their followers flowed freely. This eventually led to the time of greatness, the time when humanity was at its peak of power, and was surrounded by many other intelligent kin, including those who were from other planets, from other planes, or had been created by the alchemical hand of man. It was at the apex of this time of greatness that the Apocalypse descended upon all. Both god and man had grown too great, their hubris too powerful to escape a fall into oblivion.

The time was nearly twenty-seven hundred years ago from the current era of man. In this era there were several great empires, powerful dominions which had mastered their world as well as gained control of other worlds and planar realms beyond. Cities floated in the skies, nestled upon high mountain peaks, or even spread into the sea; there was no environment man had not conquered. The greatest of the old empires was the Mythric, an empire of unparalleled might which dominated commerce and military control of the space lanes and planar portals. The Mythric Empire was the emblem of power in a time when few worlds could conceive of such might in the hands of man.

The Mythric Empire competed with several other dominions for total control, but the strife was carefully orchestrated to insure that the competition on spurred the citizens of the world on to greater levels of success. Against the Mythrics were the people of the Inadasir, the Occultics, the Eshadai and the Yin, the Abraheili and the now lost Southern Empire who in later years would suffer a terrible fate worse than anything. At the dawn of this age these empires coexisted in a rough peace, with conflict carefully structured only to promote growth and development.

There were twelve gods at the dawn of this era, powerful beings who had already held on to their divinity for up to ten thousand years or more in some cases. These were old gods by the standards of the time, deities who had so enmeshed with their Zodiac Stones that it was believed they no longer remembered what it was like to be merely mortal.

The gods, however, were restless. The people of the world worshipped them and sought them out for advice. The kings and emperors of other worlds were entranced with their power, and the kingdoms of twelve worlds sought to invite the patron deities to their dominions for the blessings they offered.  The planar realms loomed, a product of the vast tapestry of creation in which all realities of an infinity of realms refracted away from Chirak, creating mirror worlds of endless variety, and the gods found these curious realms fascinating for a time…..but even after ten thousand years the spectacle of infinity itself could no longer sustain the interests of such beings who held such power, such vision.

How exactly the end began is a matter of great speculation for those who have the resources and ancient literature to speculate upon. Some say it was as simple as boredom spawning out of the contentment of the age. Others suggest that power and greed were motivators; that those gods labeled the Betrayers were not satisfied with the rigid order that had been imposed on their ways and they conspired to eliminate their rivals entirely, to sew chaos for its own sake. Still others feel that it started harmlessly enough, just a minor grievance that might have been settled by the carefully cultivated practice of controlled conflict in that era, and that something spun out of control; someone’s hubris took the best of him, and a slow process of escalation began. Before anyone knew it, they were over the brink of no return and the Final War fell upon the ancient civilizations of the world, made infinitely worse by the direct participation of the gods and their vast armies of planetary and planar beings.

Some suspect that the betrayer gods delved too deep into the fabric of the cosmos, and discovered dark truths about the underpinnings of reality which drove them to madness, creating a dark obsession within their guts to remake the universe in an image they found more suited to their tastes. There is some precedent to this suggestion, for whatever dark magic filled the world on the final days of the war, it is certain that unalterable damage was done to the world. No matter what direction one sails in today, you will eventually reach the storm front of an elemental chaos at the edges of the world that consumes all who enter it. Such dire magic was truly the final resort of the mad gods who were willing to sacrifice all for victory.

The historians who have studied this era have found it difficult to piece together the full history of what transpired. So much propaganda was spread, and so much misinformation as the great empires of the world ramped up from wargames to full out wars that separating fact from fiction is difficult. Much of the lore from this era comes from soldier’s journals, unique pieces of history that describe in shocking details the immense destruction that was unleashed during the war. What is known is that the “war” was believed to have started some six hundred years before it culminated in a day of apocalyptic destruction, with the murder of a god. But even before that god named Zephrys was betrayed and slain there was another murder, two thousand years prior, that was the seed of all destruction yet to come. It was with that assassination that the traditions of generations ended, and a cascade effect began. And it all started with one ambitious young minotaur named Minhauros, who earned the trust of his divine master, and then stole his power.

The gods of Chirak could create servants, imbued with a portion of divine power by means of a ritual which allowed them to remove a sliver or shard of their Zodiac Stones and place them with their chosen servants. This was a common practice in a time when having allies strong enough to stand up against one’s divine enemies was useful. Minhauros was one such agent, chosen by the goddess of the Taurus Stone then known as Yvartes. Yvartes, according to a fragment of lore from a tome kept under lock and key in the Librarium of Eristantopolis, was a stern and cruel woman but also well regarded for her alchemical talents. She was believed by some to have created the tauric races, including minotaurs, gnolls and other beasts some ten thousand years ago as servitor races, lesser sapient species designed to fight wars for mankind. It was during her travels in the southern lands of Huron that she met the shaman known as Minhauros and grew fascinated with him, taking him on first as guardian, then servitor, and at last as lover.

Yvartes groomed Minhauros for the rank of private captain on her guard. She eventually trusted him with a sliver of the Taurus Stone, making him a servitor of divine power. Minhauros served Yvartes for decades, but in the back of the minotaur’s mind he was always scheming, always seeking out some means of gaining more power.

Exactly how Minhauros learned of the means to kill a god remains unknown. Thought one could with luck and perseverance kill a deity, the odds of successfully doing so are so infinitesimal that even daring to succeed is sheer folly. Minhauros, however, did succeed. One rumor is he found the secret of the so-called “God Killer” weapon, a fable which has never proven true. Another was that he managed to gain the trust of other servitor captains of Yvartes, and that as one they turned on her, after which Minhauros then killed his allies to steal their shards of power. A third tale is that he did the opposite; killing his fellow servitors, and using the greater combined power of multiple shards to strike a fatal blow at Yvartes.

In the end, the result was the same: Yvartes was slain, and Minhauros held the power of the Taurus Stone. Though his action was heinous and the other gods moved to punish him, much to the surprise of the Twelve Ga’Thon, Malib and Zephrys refused to punish him, demanding instead that his right of power by action be granted. This shocked the other gods, who refused such clemency and instead cast Minhauros down, sentencing him to the Abyssal Realm as punishment. Their only concession was that he would be allowed to retain his power over the Zodiac Stone he had seized; they would let him lose it in the same manner as he gained the stone, or so historians suggest.

Minhauros dwelt in the planar realm of the Abyss for decades, perhaps longer. He learned of the nature of the demon races and mastered them, teaching himself the chaos magic that the demons used to mold and shape themselves through the primordial magic of alchemy into something stronger. He reached out to the mortal plane from his dominion in the Abyss and offered the same corrupting magic to other races who were easily temped, including the Xylom of Perdition.

Minhauros met another exiled prisoner named Shaligon during his time in the Abyss. The multi-limbed shapeshifter was a criminal and mass murderer, a cruel woman (and man) who had committed terrible crimes centuries earlier and had been condemned to eternal imprisonment in the Abyss, a common punishment for the worst criminals of the old empires at that time, and the basis for many modern beliefs that evil men find themselves dragged down into the Abyss when they die.

Shaligon, it turns out, had a secret: she was studying under the tutelage of Megdinon, one of the Twelve, whom himself had found a home millennia before in the Abyss. Megdenon and Minhauros fast became allies as he revealed his tapestry of dark plans for the future. This was not to last however, for it was in short order that Minhauros realized the greater value of a young, powerful ally in the form of Shaligon. Minhauros worked closely with Megdinon to learn how to become a true god, and to gain great power from the worship he received from the demon races. He sparked within the demons the seed of even greater chaos, and from this spawned the first of the Demon Lords, who were themselves like lesser gods. Minhauros’s aspect was suffused with chaos throughout this time, and he in time became as close to a demon as he could get.

After centuries of study Megdinon felt Minhauros was worthy of joining the Council of Twelve, the sacred insititution at which the gods had convened for one hundred thousand years. They stole their way out of the Abyss, backed by an army of demons from the planar pit as well as the forces of Perdition and made their way to the Council of the Twelve, to rightfully take their two places at the thrones of the gods. The initial conflict was quick and brutal, but the other gods were not prepared for the chaos that Minhauros and Megdinon had mastered; the servitors of the other gods were defeated and the gods were forced to reconcile with the elder god and his prodigy. It was reluctantly agreed that they would allow Minhauros entrance on the council by virtue of his heritage and ownership of the Taurus Stone. The other gods now agreed: letting Minhauros out of their sight had been the wrong choice, and letting Megdinon explore the darker nature of the chaotic realms of the planes was an even greater oversight. The only way to insure that these two did not do more harm was to watch them closely.

At this time the gods who ruled included the wise and beneficient Akquinarios who was the civic god of the Mythric Empire, the dualistic Pornyphiros who always offered both sides of every tale, wise Gerigos who sought to spread knowledge and peace, stern Durinalia who despised weakness, kind Zephrys who sought to bring out the good in all, secretive Ga’Thon who studied the mysteries of the cosmos, harsh Med’iniel who sought a way to the glorious days of the forgotten past, brilliant Pallath who studied the workings of the Sun itself, Malib, the dour lord of death and darkness, and Ithenor, who had sequestered himself deep beneath the world’s oceans.

The young god joined the council with surprising humility, and for a time it looked as if Minhauros at least understood his place in the cosmic scheme. This was not to last, however, for it was only a matter of time before he struck again, to further cement his power base. Minhauros had the attention of Megdinon, who was just now beginning to realize that his fever dream of a new  world born out of the elemental chaos was a genuine possibility. It was not long after that Ga’Thon approached the two, and revealed even greater visions: in his cosmic wandering he had discovered ancient secrets about the very fabric of reality itself; he felt that he had uncovered the means by which they could literally rewrite existence, to reform it in a world of their own liking. He could not do it alone, however; the might of the other gods was too great. He needed help to do this, and those who aided him would reap the glory of a universe in which they had ultimate control and design. Ga’Thon revealed that he already had an ally: Malib, who rested in the depths of the earth, ruling over the dominion of the dead.

With this meeting a special secretive council was formed, one known in later times as the Betrayer Gods by its enemies, though no one can say what they called themselves; visionaries, perhaps, or the true gods of a new era of creation. With Ga’Thon’s secrets, the mighty demon armies of Megdinon, the undead horde of Malib and the power of Minhauros these four felt that they could at last change the nature of the cosmos to favor their dark designs.

Six centuries before the day of the Apocalypse the Betrayer Gods convened for one final session of preparation. Ga’Thon had called upon cosmic powers of chaos which were ready to bring havoc upon the world. Minhauros had forged an army of disenfranchised races and demons under his command, ready to strike against the complacent human empires. Malib had pulled terrible power from the realm of shadow to forge a vast army of the dead, and Megdinon had a seemingly infinite army of demons awaiting his command. Megdinon’s eager lieutenant Shaligon was ready to lead this army into war.

The tipping point was the assassination of the benevolent got Zephrys. Minhauros gathered a trusted cadre of vile warriors and mages around him and trained them in the art of god killing. Each was imbued with a fraction of his power, a shard of the Taurus Stone, to aid them in battle as servitors. He sent his two greatest agents, Orgain and Hadrakor, to strike at the god who had once vouched for him on the grounds that all beings held some good to be nurtured: Zephrys.  He sent assassins to the other gods as well, but each was sent with a failsafe, in which failure led to the dissolution of the fragmentary shard of power they had been granted to avoid being identified should they fail.

The assassins who sought out Zephrys succeeded, but not before Zephrys turned the tables on them and managed to hide his own Zodiac Stone to prevent Minhauros’s assassins from seizing control of it. It was known that dead flesh could not sustain the power of the Zodiac Stone; even Malib, lord of the dead, dare not join his creations in undeath for fear of losing his own power. As Zephrys was mortally wounded he cursed his two assassins to each carry a third of the Libra stone in their own chests, after they had been in turn killed during the attack. The final portion of the stone was in turn carried by Zephrys…..or a simulacra of such, who spirited it away. The assassins, none the wiser for their curse as was part of the magic returned victorious but shamed that so far as they were aware the phantasm Zephrys summoned had escaped with the entire Libra Stone. Minhauros was furious, but still he had gotten his wish: another enemy eliminated.

All other attempted assassinations failed, though the strike against Ithenor was badly injured and retreated into the darkness of the oceans once more for a very long time. Nonetheless, the other gods were alert: they had been attacked, and a great effort to destroy them had been narrowly squelched. It took little to determine that it was Minhauros, the only known assassin of gods on the Council.

The early days of the war focused on vengeful armies forged by the gods themselves on a crusade to the world of Perdition where Minhauros fled to vast bastion of darkness, and into the depths of the Abyss itself to eliminate the forces of Megdinon. In these early days the battles were carefully focused on off-world locations, to keep the peace in the Empires of the world.

Eventually the forces of one god or another would weaken and be forced into retreat or even surrender. For much of the six hundred years that conflict raged and escalated things fell in this manner. War would die down, treaties would be signed, divine proclamations of exile would be announced and things would go quiet for a bit before another uprising, another amassing of power and another furious attack. The gods of the Council spent most of their time reacting and not enough time considering what the strategy of their enemy was. For much of this time they had no knowledge of Ga’Thon or Malib’s interests in these battles with the demon hordes of Megdinon and Minhauros; they were shocked and surprised when it was at last revealed that the incursions of chaos were in fact all the workings of Ga’Thon himself, and his acts of destruction proved far greater than anything the great armies had yet caused.

Behind all of this the Betrayer Gods had a plan, one in which they pushed and fought for attrition, to force social change and to breakdown the orderly nature of society. They looked for great weapons, and found them in strange places. When at last their grand vision was revealed it was with the use of a powerful living weapon: the draconic goddess Tiamat, who was due for rebirth, and who’s very being was believed to be a goddess of another plane, the first one to be born into this world of gods uniquely tied to the Zodiac Stones. In darker corners it was said that Tiamat contained within her the seed necessary to unmake entire worlds, and indeed the Betrayer Gods had a direct plan to use her as an ultimate weapon as well as a catalyst for the change they desired….but forces opposed to them realized what was transpiring and slew the divine goddess as she was born; this caused an explosion of violence as the dragonkind rebelled and joined the cause of the Betrayer Gods, who in turn pulled away from the Council during this brief period of peace and engaged in an all-out war against the forces of the opposition. Some accounts claim this period lasted forty years, but there is evidence that such transcriptions were wrong and it only lasted forty days.

 In the end, it all culminated in one final day of destruction commonly called the Apocalypse. Ga’Thon, tired of waiting and scheming unleashed the full cosmic might of his chaotic energy upon the world, engorging his form to millions of times his original size as he allowed the energies of some distant Far Realm to pour into his being. Minhauros and Shaligon, who had seized the power of Megdinon when he was badly wounded and used the power of her stone to forge an army of her own called orcs drove hard against the great empires and the armies they used to back the defending gods. Malib’s power boiled the undead of the world to the surface, giving hideous unlife to every creature that fell on the battlefield.

What happened next was a rapid succession of death and destruction culminating in the death of the gods. The destruction was so vast, the repercussions so potent that no accurate historical treatment has been given, but the best scholars of the order of the Preservationists roughly agree on this chain of events:

First, Ga’Thon began to grow, drawing on the chaos energy at the edge of creation. He pushed his way into the planar realms and began to devour the fey realm itself, destroying the Feywild entirely as he absorbed its mass. Soon his chaos-engorged form blotted out the sun as his full mass entered the physical plane, even as tendrils of chaos reached out to the solar orb and engulfed it. Gerigos, Durinalia and Med’iniel all fell during this event, unable to stop Ga’Thon. Then Pallath attempted to slay Ga’Thon, realizing what he intended, but was instead killed by Minharos and Shaligon; he fell to the earth like a meteor and was destroyed. Malib’s army of darkness and Minhauros’s demon forces had all but slain the entirety of the Mythric Empire; Malib’s prodigy, Piscrael, saw a moment of opportunity to strike and steal his master’s power but it was at that moment that Akquinarios drowned the army of the dead and flooded the rift of the Abyss with a vast body of water formed from his own mass. When it was done the armies were gone, but so was the Mythric Empire, and Akquinarios perished in his own grief at the vastness of the destruction; not, however, before he grabbed Minhauros, ripped the Taurus Stone from his chest and cast him into the depths of Limbo itself, a gigantic floating corse.

Elsewhere a despairing Ithenor gave up her Zodiac Stone entirely and allowed thousands of years of restrained aging to take her, for she could not sustain herself in the wake of such destruction. But the greatest sacrifice came next when Pornyphiros, realizing that his allies were falling all around him, seized upon the excessive loose divine energy which had formed into the exotic natural phenomenon known as the Divine Wind, to unleash a torrential fury upon the Betrayer Gods. His harnessing of so much energy ruptured the westerlands of the world but it engulfed Shaligon and ripped her to shreds; Shaligon in a moment of panic placed her own spiritual essense, her soul, inside the Scorpio Stone itself and in this way a portion of her lived on, but the Divine Wind met the chaotic mass of Ga’Thon head-on and ripped through the chaos god like a storm of razors. Ga’Thon was slain, and the vast energy of the Divine Wind was spent at this time. Pornyphiros turned to stone, his dualistic form frozen in the far west as a testament to his sacrifice; Ga’Thon’s body plunged into the lands below forming the Kossarit ranges as the elemental chaos converted his flesh into earth, stone and other elements. Much of the armies fighting in the west were annihilated in this single instant of destruction.

When the dust had settled, there was a vast sea, to one day be called the Sea of Chirak, where the entirety of the Mythric Empire once rested. A vast and horrifying mountain range rested like an immense barrier in the west, testament to the death of Ga’Thon. Buried within the Kossarit range was a great rift of basalt called the Weeping Wall, where evidence of the horrors endured by the Feywild as it was destroyed could be seen.  An immense crater where Pallath fell had obliterated an entire nation. In the south the armies of the Southern Empire had been engulfed in a sea of volcanic lava. Across the world a great, seeping elemental chaos brought about by Ga’Thon slowed to a near standstill, though it did not cease entirely; to this day the elemental chaos creeps at the edge of the world, devouring inches or even feet of soil per year. One day, scholars say, there will be nothing left if someone does not learn to harness the lost power of the Zodiac Stones and use that power to stop the destruction Ga’Thon began.

The people of that time crawled from the wreckage, their divine energy depleted, sorcerous power all but exhausted by the actions of the gods. Once great machines of technomancy had ruled the skies but now they were almost all destroyed, and what few relics were left were nearly depleted of power. The many races forged by man were suddenly free….but they were so few, and lost without the great leaders and gods of the old era. Horrible storms ravaged the land for a century. The planar beings known as fey who were migrants from the Feywild went mad as a whole, and only the youngest among them who had been born into the material plane survived the mind-searing madness of the loss of their planar homeland. A few beings prospered, or at least survived; Animates, long used to serving as the front line workers and soldiers of the human empires found themselves free of their masters, and began to consolidate their existence into strongholds that were once factories. Their logoi, once control operators for their mystical creation engines, became like gods to them, and so they rode out the storms, refining their existence from one of servitors to fully realized beings.

During this first century there was one man, said to have been a wise scholar and priest who once served Akquinarios as a servitor. He did what he could to rally humanity, to find the pockets of civilization that had not been ravaged by the destructive power of the gods, and taught them how to survive with the fallen technomancy. His name was Chirak, and when the storms at last abated, and his teachings were three generations old, the people of the new inland sea named the body of water after this beneficient traveler who taught them how to live again. So was born the Sea of Chirak, and the Realm of Chirak. The name of the old world was lost to memory, but the new world was ready to look forward.

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