Erebus
Basic Assumptions

Man’s World

As far as humanity is concerned, “people” and “human beings” are synonymous. Humans greatly outnumber the demi-human “races”, or more correctly subspecies. Nearly all Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings live in isolated enclaves in wild and inhospitable lands, and few humans ever meet one in their lifetimes. Scholars and farmers alike regard rarer or more remote creatures, like Giants, shape-changers, Cambions, and Un Men, as mere fairy-tales.

Furthermore, most human cultures in Erebus are deeply sexist, classist, and ethnocentric. Men do “real work” and make decisions, and women tidy up and raise children. Peasants grow and gather food, artisans make useful goods, merchants move food and goods from place to place at an unhealthy profit, and knights and nobles tax everyone else “for the common good”. Cultures, religions, nations, provinces, and settlements cannot compare to one’s own.

The only egalitarianism in Erebus comes from outcasts. Outcasts of “civilization” include mercenaries, beggars, thieves, tomb-robbers, knights errant, and pilgrims. Barbarian cultures, less hierarchical but more conservative, leave only a few escape hatches for nonconformists: shamans, hunters of the deep wilderness, and soldiers who seldom come home.

According to rumor, fanatics in the Reblik Of Jagarbi strive for a society where Dorlanders and Olgur live in harmony, women can do almost any work a man can, and peasants choose their own leaders. It will never work.

Law vs. Chaos

Priests, mages, and scholars throughout the ages regard Erebus as a battleground between Law and Chaos. To some, Law and Chaos are mere philosophies or perspectives. Lawfully-inclined beings see an orderly world where all events have a greater meaning. Chaotically-inclined beings suspect that this mundane and predictable world is but a fragile island of stability among vast, impersonal, and inconceivably powerful forces. Most humans cleave to the middle road, wherein the world sometimes obeys laws and sometimes makes no sense.

Ancient tomes speak of Law and Chaos as real forces, perhaps even gods or pantheons battling for the fate of the world. In this view, the forces of Law impose impersonal rules upon the fabric of reality, while the forces of Chaos subvert and abrogate those rules to make reality conform to their whims. A consensus of learned men regards those tomes as puerile fiction.

Entropy

In some cosmologies, Chaos ultimately destroys what it infects, reducing all things to the inchoate state before creation. Other, more subtle thinkers regard Entropy as a separate force, outside considerations of whether the universe follows rules.

Entropy, simply, is the tendency for all things to degrade. Living things grow old and die, mayflies and ancient trees alike. Dead things turn to dust, water wears away rock, and winds turn prairies into deserts. Civilizations and empires have faded due to invasion, plague, disaster, and dark magic. Some say even gods of old, their worshippers gone and their temples turned to vine-covered ruins, dwindled and died. (One’s own god is eternal and undying, naturally.)

Faced with the eventual dissolution of everything, some heretics have forsaken their gods and abandoned responsibilities to their lords. They preach that all effort is futile, all hopes vain, all life a slow death. Priests and nobles deal harshly with such useless layabouts.

Nature vs. Magic

In children’s tales, magic flows freely, woven throughout the natural world. In Erebus, adults, particularly mages, know that magic violates the natural order, suspending the world we know to bend to a wizard’s will. Magic warps the world, makes it briefly something strange and frightening. Most people fear users of magic, even holy men who manifest only powers of healing and protection.

Nor is magic simple. Apprentice mages learn complex rituals, formulas, and patterns. They memorize incantations in unknown languages, words without meaning reduced to sounds which a mage must perform precisely or risk disaster. For even the simplest spell, one must stuff one’s head with nonsense that briefly coalesces into a miracle before vanishing from one’s mind. Civilizations past have worked wonders, according to legends and tomb-robbers’ tales, but mages of this age, human and elven alike, know only fragments.