Sundered World: A Primer

There are a lot of strange things in a Sundered World, but even the stuff that sounds familiar probably isn't.

Before you get started hopping islands, treading the astral—either through sheer willpower or (ideally) aboard an elemental vessel—or exploring the crumbling dominions of dead gods, there are some things you are going to need to know if you want to survive.

Without the backing of their gods, most of the Host died or went insane, and even the ones that didn't were substantially diminished in power.
—Iron Jack

Angel Gates
These stone rings mark entrances to the Angel Roads, a lattice of golden paths that were said to have spanned the heavens and connect the godly kingdoms to each other. Many were damaged or destroyed during the Sundering, but enough remain that they are the preferred mode of travel, since they instantly transport you from one place to another.

Activating one requires a period of sustained prayer, a divine ritual, the will of an angel...or the heart of one. Generally if a steading has an Angel Gate there is someone willing to open it on your behalf if you can't, but they usually charge a fairly steep price. Of course some steadings consider them holy relics, and only allow their use if you're a member of the faith or have something really important to do. Good luck convincing them of that.
—Iron Jack

Arcane Magic
Arcane magic is a combination of enforcing your will upon the mutable nature of the astral, and speaking a sequence of words derived from one the original languages spoken by the gods, primordials, or dragons. It is both physically and mentally taxing, and can have unexpected side effects, especially when there is cold iron nearby.

Cold Iron
Seeing as they're made of the stuff, this is basically the only arguably good reason anyone with any sense would deliberately visit an aberrant star. It works wonders against elves, elf-like things, and wizard magic: if you got a weapon made of it, it cuts through either of them like nothing, and if you're wearing it then neither of them can touch you.

Just, again, you have to go to an aberrant star to get it, or cough up a lot of coin. Word to the wise: if you do get it second hand make sure that any psychic residue was thoroughly scrubbed from it. Otherwise, as a vendor once told me, prolonged use can cause nightmares, hallucinations, and even insanity.
—Iron Jack

Not everything in a Sundered World is alive in the strictest sense. When most living things die their soul manifests nearby, and is usually quickly drawn away by some unknown force. Some manage to linger for a time, and for better or worse others are so emotionally attached to something or willful that they can stick around for quite a while.

Divine Magic
The gods might be dead, but their worshipers can still draw power from their corpses or angels, the astral itself, or even themselves to enact miracles. Many clerics and paladins worship and serve angels respectively, who continue to teach the dogma of their fallen masters.

Dragons are rare—though not rare enough—engines of destruction, "born" from the concentration of fear and fury given form by the intertwining of astral and elemental material. They are terrible sights to behold, composed of any combination of rock, fire, ice, smoke, and more. Born from the elements, their ancient tongue allows them to easily bend the astral to their will. Thankfully most do not often venture far from their place of “birth”. But, when they do, they leave nothing in their wake.

It used to be that you needed wings or magic to fly. Now it merely requires an effort of will. It is a common sight in most steadings to see people drifting slowly through the sky. With enough practice you can hone your mind, allowing you to fly much faster than normal. Despite the speed a lot of steadings and dungeons can have strange geography—owing to the world's lack of reliable physics—so it can still save time.

No one knows from whence the gods came. Were they always there, or were they created by some other force or happenstance? If something else created them, what happened to it? What is known is that they were: the angels that served them, their decaying kingdoms, and shattered bodies are all a testament to their deeds and power. Power that still lingers.

Gravity as Guidelines
Not only can most anyone—and thing—fly, but with a bit of mental re-orientation you can also walk on any surface of an object; as with drifting, it is commonplace to see people walking about on the walls and ceilings of buildings as they go from place to place.

Objects are still drawn to each other until they reach a certain distance, but follow the gravitational "rules" of whoever is nearby: they'll stick to walls that people commonly walk on, but if you place two things side-by-side on what most consider the ground they'll fall. Some people learn to will objects to move without touching them, and those with particularly strong minds can "lock" them in place, causing them to continue to float without even being around for a period of time.

Ley Lines
These are like angel roads, but were spun by the Weaver, an old primal spirit. Spirits, fey, and those otherwise attuned to the spirit world can sense them, making them useful for navigating the often featureless expanses of the astral—especially for dryarks—but they can also be tapped to empower primal magic.

Both the fey and spirits are often found near leylines, and islands located along one are more prolific. Where two ley lines intersect it creates a nexus of energy, which is often marked in some way: a towering tree, a mighty mountain, a ring of standing stones, or the castle of a mighty fey creature.

Primal Magic
This is the breath and pulse of the natural world. It gives birth to animals and causes plants to grow. Druids and spirits draw upon it to change skins and command the elements. Like "word" magic, drawing upon it is exhausting for those of bone and blood, though they can also call upon spirits or ley lines to fuel it. Given the prevalence of spirits, primal magic is commonplace throughout the world, either as a way to better coexist with or control them.

As mysterious as the gods are the primordials are even more shrouded in mystery, as the closest thing to angels that they had are the cthon and kytherans, and if they know anything about them they certainly aren't telling anyone.

They predate the dwarves by an unfathomable span of time, possibly even the gods, and it is said that they could raise and level mountains with a gesture, and breathe forth hurricanes so great that they could tear down even the walls of Hammerhold. Their remains, when they can be found, constantly produce whatever element or elements that they embodied, which also means elemental cores and monsters.

Where divine magic draws upon the latent power of the gods, angels, and faith, and arcane magic is effected through a sheer force of will tempered by ancient languages, psionic magic is all about using your head, and only your head, to reshape reality. Or yourself.

Psionics are commonly the domain of aberrant entities from beyond the boundaries of space and time established by both god and primordial, though some mortals have a knack for it. Unfortunately, some steadings view psionic gifts as an ill omen.

Spirits can be found everywhere, from rocks to trees, to weapons and armor, even ships, houses, and people. Most are comparatively weak, with tiny physical forms and capable of channeling prayers to perform only the smallest miracles. Stronger spirits can manifest larger, more powerful forms, and when properly supplicated are capable of nourishing entire islands and wiping out entire armies or villages.

It's said that long ago these things spawned all manner of nightmare-inducing, sanity consuming horrors, but near as anyone can tell they're dead now. Well, at least the ones that people claim to have both discovered and escaped from, because even the broken husks that are floating about out there are still plenty dangerous.

For starters when you get too close to one, space and time don't play by the rules, and as a rule of thumb if you can see one you’re already too close. Another problem is that they are made entirely out of cold iron, which wreaks havoc on magic—you know, the kind that makes your collider collide (or your anima reactor digest souls if you're one of the cambions—so even if you can escape you’d better hope that your engine doesn't break down.

The only surefire way to get away is to protect yourself is with psychic shielding, a very skilled nomad, and strong winds.
—Iron Jack

The Astral Is Mutable
The astral responds to the wills and desiresand sometimes even the wordsof intelligent creatures. Most are only capable of conjuring small, temporary objects, while those with strong wills can create larger, more complex, and longer-lasting objects. This is how the gods were able to call entire kingdoms into existence, and such was their might that even countless millenia later they still linger.

The Astral Resonates With Thought And Emotion
Though the astral responds to thought, in most cases an individual mind is either not sufficiently powerful to effect any major, lasting changes, or it is simply drowned out by conflicting desires.

If enough people desire the same thing however, the astral can respond, and when enough people desire for the same thing long enough it can create psychic ripples or echos. This effect is known as resonance, which can make some things easier or more difficult, and in some cases make things possible or impossible.

For example, if you try to heal someone while standing atop the corpse of a god of life and renewal, the task is easier because ambient resonance bolsters what you want to happen. Conversely, if you try to peacefully negotiate with some bandits in an area where ambushes and slaughter routinely occur, it can be more difficult since the resonance is tilted towards conflict and bloodshed.

Psychics and some devices can detect resonance patterns, and in the case of particularly powerful minds they can enhance it, nullify it, or even reverse it.

Living in a Sundered World
A Sundered World differs greatly from your usual campaign setting. For starters there is a lack of land, oceans, sunlight, a day and night cycle, weather patterns, and universal gravity, but it is important to note that no one even questions these differences because to almost everyone this is how it has always been.

They do not wonder why plants grow without a sun or water, because they have never lived in a world with a sun or clouds. They also do not wonder where water comes from, because they have never lived in a world with oceans or rain.

If anything it would be more shocking to them if they suddenly became bound to the earth, because from an early age they learn to walk on any surface they like, and even slowly fly about as they please.

The closest things get to normal—as interpreted by us—are the dominions of gods. There the laws of reality adhere to the desires of whichever god created it. Many possess gravity, some have a sun (or even a day and night), and still others have actual weather patterns.

Coins are all well and good among the so-called civilized islands, though what they look like, what they’re made of, and what they’re worth varies from place to place: dwarves, as well as most scions and cambions will take gold. Cambions will also take gold, because they know others are all too willing to part with other, more...immaterial things if you offer enough of it, but they also deal in favors, soul contracts, and black iron disks.

When it comes to metal, fey prefer silver and will at the least take offense to iron of any sort, and the further you get from Hammerhold, Asmodeus, and all of the other big cities the less likely people are going to accept metal that they cannot do anything with, no matter how intricate the designs or “precious” it is: gold isn't going to feed anyone, and it's certainly not going to ward off bands of orcs or kytherans.

And that’s not even considering all of the valuable materials, services, and substances that aren't coin-shaped: cold-iron (scrubbed or non-scrubbed), angel hearts, uncharged gems, illuminated prisms, soulcages, elemental cores, black ice bricks, godstone, tending to the sick or wounded, good old-fashioned labor, and so on. The most successful merchants have long lists of who wants what.

As a rule of thumb, if a steading accepts coins, then nearby steadings, as well as any other steadings connected by trade routes or instantaneous transit probably do as well. Otherwise, you’ll have to give them more or pony up something else.

Plant-life can be found in abundance on many islands, even islands without sunlight or water. This is because they are nourished either by spirits, divine prayers, or even the very essence of the astral itself, especially if there are nearby god- or primordial-corpses that radiate a powerful life-giving resonance.

Of course, these and other resonances can affect it's physical appearance and features. Does it bear edible fruit? Is it covered in thorns? Does it crave flesh and blood? In the case of primordials and elemental forces, the plant might be made of stone, appear to be a burnt out husk, or constantly produce water.

Since gravity is subjective at best, children learn from an early age how to drift or swim through the astral, often making games of it. Keep this in mind when designing a steading: buildings can extend in a variety of directions, numerous islands might be linked with bridges, and that Undercity district? You might have to actually walk across the outside of an island to get to it. Important structures are built with this in mind so, for example, windows on keeps are fortified to prevent thieves and assassins from simply trotting up and walking in.

There are a number of different languages spoken throughout a Sundered World, though given that most races were created largely by two forces, maybe not as many as you would expect.

  • Clangslang: Kytherans. Most kytherans can emulate the words of other races, but they can also communicate using a series of mechanical clicks. 
  • Draconic: Dragons, some wizards. Dragons have existed at least since the world and heavens were divided, and have their own language. Written draconic is exceedingly rare, because dragons had little reason to write anything down, and when they do they use their claws.
  • Elven: Elves, other feyfolk. The elven language is sibilant and fluid. 
  • Primordial: Cthon, tarchons, elemental beings, some wizards. There are four dialects of primordial based on the four primary elements: air, earth, fire, and water. Similarly, the written forms also vary in form.
  • Supernal: Dwarves, scions, angels, devils. A language instinctively known by angels, who were created by the gods, devils, who are corrupted angels, and scions, who were born from their blood. Over time tribes and clans of scions on individual islands and island nations developed their own dialects and slang, but they are still able to more or less understand each other. 
  • Sylvan: Kobolds, spirits. The bubbling of streams, the rustle of grass and leaves, and the whisper of wind. This is the language of spirits and their kin. Spirits that dwell near mortal communities often end up learning Supernal, most will respect you more if you take the time to learn their tongue.

Magic can be found everywhere in one form or other. Most can shape small, temporary objects out of raw astral. It is not unusual to see spirit forms manifest and move about, providing gifts in exchange for sacrifices or prayers. Runes are inscribed on servitor constructs and golems, elemental vessels, tanks to store elemental cores, and even many weapons and armor (especially if spirit bound). Angel gates instantly transport ships across vast distances.

In other words it comes many forms, and almost everyone has been exposed to it in one way or another. What is rare is the individual capable of wielding it to create more than a minor effect.

Invokers and wizards can easily unleash bolts of lightning or gouts of flame, clerics can instantly heal grievous wounds, battleminds can transform their arms into razor-sharp blades, shamans contain and bind spirits, nomads can fold space as easily as one folds a sheet of paper. They are regarded with a measure of respect and sometimes concern, not just because of what they might do, but because their way of life depends on what they have done.

Customs, rules, and traditions vary from island chain to island chain, sometimes even from island to island. When answering the following questions, keep in mind the island’s dominant race (or races) and regional location.

  • How does the island view other races? 
  • What do natives of the island value? This could range from materials to attitudes to beliefs. 
  • Do they find any forms of magic acceptable? Do they find any forms unacceptable?
  • What foods, materials, substances, icons, and actions, if any, are taboo? 
  • Do they revere anything? This could be a creature, place, or thing.
  • If they track time, when it one considered an adult? If not, how to they determine when you are an adult?
  • Do they practice any special rituals or ceremonies?
  • What do they do for fun?

Generally the overall technology level is what you would expect for your "typical” fantasy world: people use swords and bows, wear armor, and carry shields, wagons and ships are used to convey people and goods from place to place over long periods of time, and farmers have to harvest crops.

However the gods created many wondrous devices in their time, some of which the dwarves and scions have been able to either duplicate with similar results, and sometimes employ in unexpected ways. Angels, various forms of magic, spirits, and spirit bound items can also make things easier and faster.

Constructs of stone and metal are commonplace, serving as vehicles or even substituting beasts of burden. Though, to be fair, even the beasts aren't always what you'd expect: elemental horses—or rather, horse-like creatures—plod along, moving slower than your normal horse, but able to do so for much longer and while carrying more.

Elemental cores are pure elemental essence that have crystallized into a physical shape. This process happens naturally given a heavy enough concentration, but wizards have created elemental catalyzers that speed up the process. The only drawback is the extreme amount of material and energy makes them viable near a vortex.

Cores are used in a variety of ways: fire and lightning cores can be used to power devices, machines and vessels, and water cores can be used to cool machines or supply water for an island for quite some time. A broken earth core can instantly create an island, or can be drawn from at a steady rate to conjure blocks of stone.

The larger the core, the more it can do...and the more devastating the effects if broken.

Though they can be pushed along by astral winds, many vessels are outfitted with magical engines for increased, reliable speed. The most common engines are elemental colliders and anima reactors:

  • Elemental colliders smash conflicting elemental matter together to create an explosive reaction. They are the most common type of engine, easy to run (a wizard can just use her will to create some in a pinch), and very swift, but are also the most unreliable: if not properly monitored they can break down or even explode.
  • Anima reactors were of course the results of fiendish and scion, well, "ingenuity". They operate by consuming the souls of the dead that have been stored in special tanks. While most find the constant wails of agony to be unnerving, fiends take a disturbing comfort from it.

Unleashing blasts of elemental energy used to be the sole purview of wizards, mass-produced, rune-scribed rods allow anyone with a core to also pull it off. Size matters, so larger variants called bombards are a common site on ships (especially ships transporting valuable materials or people), and truly massive cannons can be found along the walls of larger cities and keeps.

Most islands do not have a system of measuring time, because there is rarely any environmental constant by which to track it. If they do, you can bet that unless two or more islands are nearby none of them track it the same way. It is because of this that there are no days, months, or years. People do not even have ages or birthdays. Instead, some islands might have customs by which they test their youth to determine when they are adults, and hold celebrations based on events.

Some islands might have some way of tracking time in various units of length, like a mechanical clock, a steady fluctuation of astral ambiance, the slowly, still-beating heart of a primordial, or the passing of Zaradica. It does not have to be precisely regular: each crop harvest might simply count as a harvest, each fishing voyage survived is a voyage, each time an angel gathers the villagers for a sermon, upon its completion it is counted as a dismissal.

A steady, ambient light can be found in most regions of the Astral, with some areas being brighter or darker than others, especially near the edges. Other areas experience a fluctuation, and in still others the light is of a different color: the Iron Circle is particularly noteworthy with its black clouds and dark, crimson ambient light, while the ambient light within the Golden Road is brighter and the clouds are golden.

The only weather phenomena everyone is familiar with is wind, fog, and clouds, and most are familiar with rain, or what passes for rain given that there is rarely any gravity.

Wind can be found everywhere, but is particularly strong near the Maelstrom, elemental vortices, and primordial corpses, where elemental forces and matter can cause massive temperature fluctuations, often with explosive results. It can also be conjured with magic, especially by wizards serving on vessels.

Unless conjured magically or within a dominion, passing clouds might leave behind droplets of water suspended in the air. Some steadings have raintowers, designed so that when clouds pass through the openings any water left behind trickles down due to subjective gravity. Other steadings have teams drift up into the sky and use specially designed sheets to gather water.

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