NOTE: The following refers to a prior article on OpenQuest, some D100 games listed here, and some non-D100 games.
The Polar Continent lies at the South Pole of its world, but being the approximate size of Eurasia its “northern” regions vary from sub-arctic to temperate. Most human settlements have formed in the more habitable circle, so large barriers in traversing this circle – mountain ranges, a semi-frozen gulf, and a chain of volcanos – have created distinct cultures.
Within the past few centuries missionaries from a heretofore unsuspected northern continent1 crossed the oppressively hot Equatorial Sea to land at White Rock Point and the Rurikan Imperial Capital. Originally the words of the prophet Talu were just one religion among many, but with two generations it seized power in the Rurikan Empire and among the peaceful freeholds of White Rock Peninsula.
I originally conceived as “The Polar Continent” as an arena to throw d100 systems at each other. My concept has evolved, but it might be easier to adapt the sketchy ideas I have to OpenQuest.
The Taluan Faith
The Taluists2 crop up in two of the three mega-settings, so I’ll sketch them out first.
Believers in the Taluan Faith fall into four categories:
Lay Members can pray for miracles, but probably won’t be heard unless they pray en masse. On the other hand, the number of Lay Members in a region forms a barrier to (other?) magic: magics often weaken or fail outright in the Taluan Dominion.
Initiates have undergone a ritual consecrating themselves to the One God. They can pray for miracles with more effect (especially if they follow and spread the faith). Initiates can become Monks who retreat from the world to pray, Evangelists who spread the Faith by words and example, or the last two types, Clerics and Templars.
Clerics have taken vows to lead Lay Members and Initiates in eighth-day rituals and in their daily lives. Clerics can also perform “Rites” which are definitely not ritual magic; most involve healing, good luck, good harvests, etc. but some available to the higher eschelons can influence minds and inflict curses. Clerics have a few to several ranks based on their piety and the type of Rites the hierarchy allows them to conduct. (Originally I ranked them as Acolytes, Priests, and High Priests according to OpenQuest 1 and 2. Maybe that’s banned now?)
Templars are, essentially, witch-hunters and monster-hunters. They eschew miracles and most Rites3 for mystically-augmented senses and physical abilities, which they claim are gifts from the One God. The One God supposedly forgives their minor transgressions (like murder) if it rids the world of sorcery, spirits, and magicians. (Combine D&D Monks and Paladins with Warhammer Witch-Hunters and you get Templars.)
I sketched out so-far systemless rules where the presence of a large population of Lay Members or a Temple interferes with casting spells and using powers, Initiates of all kinds accrue “piety points” to perform miracles, Clerics have a list of Rites separated by the minimum level to cast, and Templars use something like martial arts or Mythras Mysticism.
I’m still working that part out, but since the Taluists are mostly the Bad Guys I’m leaning toward the following:
A simple five-level system where the Dominion of the One God interferes with Magic Casting checks depending on the density of Lay Members.4
A system where Initiates have a percentile Faith score. While some Rites simply establish the Dominion or otherwise build the Taluan world, certain Rites – notably Abjuration – turn Magic Casting checks into Opposed Rolls against Faith. Faith also determines divine intervention chances.
- Alternatively Abjuration, Taluan Altars, and Taluan Temples simply increase the Dominion level by one step. This may require less die rolling, but honestly I like Opposed Rolls as it makes the struggle against Taluan anti-magic more tangible.
Originally I divided Templar powers into “Paths”, but now I’m thinking I just treat them like One Magic spells with the following changes:
Templars use a Mysticism skill instead, defaulting to the sum of INT, POW, and CHA (since some are sensory and others interpersonal).
Templar “Disciplines” have idiosyncratic Critical Success effects, e.g. the skill boosting ones increase skills by +50% instead of +20%. Most Critical Failures cause the Templar to lose the Discipline until the Templar performs the Rite of Atonement with another Templar, but there may be exceptions, e.g. divinatory Disciplines provide false information.
Most Disciplines contribute to the Templars’ mission: hunt down witches, sorcerers, mutants, monsters and demons by being tougher and faster. Some involve their ability to sense magic, or coerce cooperation from Lay Members and unbelievers. And some of my Disciplines are just weird, such as my parody of the D&D Paladin’s “Sense Alignment” ability. It’s the capstone of Templar abilities, apparently. Not healing; that’s for priestly Rites.
The Rurikan Empire
The Rurikan Empire dominates the Eastlands, as geographers call the region east of the Gulf At World’s End and west of the Fire Mountains. The Taluan Faith is the state religion, with the Emperor as head of both the state and the religion. (Although the Archbishop of the Council of Bishops, interpreters of the Taluan Faith, secretly disagrees.) The Eastern Taluan Faith puts more store in hierarchy, titles, and pomp than the “simple” faith of missionaries or the Western Temple, but both are essentially the same religion.
As a Taluist theocracy the Empire bans all magic and hunts down all mutants and monsters. (This poses some problems for travelers from very far away.) Rumors that the Highborn, the human subspecies5 who comprises the Rurikan noble class, secretly practices an ancestral form of sorcery are almost surely false.6
Templars killed nearly all sorcerers and “Magi” (priest-sorcerers of pagan gods); survivors fled to the western enemy nation of Zanathar, secure behind a wall of mountains. Opposing the Taluists and the government, however, are the Enlightened Magi, who use subtle effects and slow, careful rituals instead of the powerful magics of sorcerers and Magi.
I originally thought of using BRP for the Eastlands. So, for example:
- “Enlightened Magi” use Enlightened Magic, without restrictions based on the four elements.
- Sorcerers use something like the Sorcery system of Magic World and some spells from Advanced Sorcery.
- If the Highborn used magic (which they don’t) they might also use sorcery.
Even under OpenQuest I still think I can adapt Enlightened Magic:
- Circle 1 Magic becomes “Subtle Magic” that probably will end up looking like another Mythras Mysticism/“One Magic” mashup.
- Circles 2 and 3 Magic become ritual magic.
- Circle 1-3 alchemy becomes regular alchemy.
Sorcery could be either Personal Magic or “One Magic”, because I guess I really hate Magic Points now.
The only custom systems are Taluan powers (noted above).
The Great Salt Marsh
On the northern coast of Rurikania lies a huge salt marsh. An imaginary line between the center of the marsh and the pole marks the boundary between the Imperial heartlands and the Western Provinces.
At the northernmost edge of the marsh lies the Black Ziggurat, an ancient structure of evil reputation. Some say those have entered never left, while others point to partial maps of the place in the Imperial archives. The Imperial Museum contains several scholarly papers linking the Ziggurat to the vanished Dark Elf culture, all under lock and key. Most people, therefore, assume its builders were demon worshippers.
The Imperial Army, though, is more concerned about the Devilkin7, Beastfolk8, Mutants9, Reptilemen10, and Uruk11 tribes that live in and near the marsh.
- The Devilkin, Beastfolk, Reptilemen, and Uruk may use sorcery.
- Uruk may also have a form of proto-alchemy.
- Nobody knows what lived or lives in the Black Ziggurat.
Zanathar lies at the southwest corner of the Eastlands, surrounded by the Western Territories that the Empire claims but doesn’t really control. It’s a harsh, chilly, mountainous land which encourages all forms of magic as another tool for survival and dominance. While notionally a kingdom, it’s more a collection of city-states whose princes grudgingly obey their king. The King of Zanathar is backed by his Chief Wizard, whose phenomenal magical abilities is only matched by his command of statecraft. Some believe the Wizard may one day take the throne for himself.
Sorcerers, far more common here, use standard sorcery.
Other disciplines of magic found in Zanathar include:
- Mageia, the power of the Magi, former priest-magicians of Rurikania.
- Necromancy, either the summoning ghosts to answer questions or the reanimation of the dead to serve as deathless warriors.
- Thaumaturgy, the discovery of principles of magic beyond specific spells by dedication to a book of magic, domain of magic, or purpose.
- Theurgy, the practice of summoning beings from the Supernal Realm for assistance.
- Diabolism, Theurgy gone bad, in which the summoner calls on infernal beings and sometimes binds them into objects.
The Wizard and his students some form of improvised magic similar to Ars Magica, Mage, HarnMaster, or GURPS, plus the equivalent of Unlimited Mana to turn the power up to eleven. (Because, again, I guess I hate Magic Points.)
The Fire Mountains
A mountain range that includes active volcanoes, the Fire Mountains are home to most of the Dragonkin12 tribes, and maybe some actual dragons. The tallest mountain is the Great Dragon Mountain near the coast, while the second is the Star Tower Mountain not far from where the Fire Mountains join the Polar Mountains.
The Polar Nomads, who travel the slopes of the mountains that ring the pole and keep its terrifying winds in check, often venture down these mountains in the winter to keep warm.
The Drenn of the Middle Lands have sometimes been sighted here.
Some have reported stange lights in the sky some nights near the Star Tower Mountain, and strange human-like beings descending the mountains days later. Most people leave these Visitors alone.
- The tribes probably use sorcery. Shamans of the Polar Nomads use spirit-based spells.
- See below for the Drenn’s peculiar alchemy.
- The “Visitors” are a bit of a mystery, and I’d like to keep them that way. Some of them may use psionics; others may use other things.
The Middle Lands
The Middle Lands is a nebulously defined place as of yet. Right now I think of it as a giant post-Arthurian Britain, with scattered kingdoms connected by dangerous roads. (Very like the one in “A World of Qi”, actually; the anime DragonQuest: The Adventures of Dai inspired both.)
Human magics include “hedge magic” (herbalism, occult knowledge), ritual magic including the worship of many gods, and the alchemy of their neighbors in the Westlands. Perhaps some practice Sorcery.
A few humans(?) practice Witchcraft similar to the Renaissance rules but in a less Satanic, more “cosmic balance” / Terry Pratchett sense.
Some nonhumans in the setting practice stranger arts.
- The Drenn, a mysterious blue-skinned southern people who practice both normal Alchemy and Mad Science.
- The Hobgoblins, short greenish nomads in gaudy caravans who look harmless but secretly protect themselves with “wise women” who practice psychic powers and/or ritual magic.
The most common systems look like Ritual Magic, Alchemy, Sorcery, and one or more skills comprising “hedge magic” which isn’t really magic. I’d have to tweak Renaissance Witchcraft to fit the setting, and maybe pull in “Island Magic” from Pirates & Dragons.
Also I need decide what Drenn mad science can actually do and settle on what the Hobgoblin “ultimate defense” actually is before I begin on a system for either.
The Great Forest
A fey-haunted and impassible region separating the Midlands from the Westlands. A few Beastmen tribes and lone witches make their homes at the edge of the forest.
Just off the coast of the Great Forest is a grassy island containing only a stone table. Some have creatively named it Stone Table Island.
- Witches use Renaissance Witchcraft.
- The fey are essentially creepy monsters, so I’ll probably steal from Call of Cthulhu, Dark Streets, and any other horror source I can find.
A second branch of the Taluists took over the White Rock Peninsula, formerly the holiest and least cold site on the Continent, and have gradually spread north and east. Three cultures attempt to resist the Western Theocracy include:
The Aeslanders, once masters of the Theocracy’s “Holy Lands”, now find themselves pushed into the colder regions of the continent. Beyond force of arms they’ve turned to shamanic practices, rune magic, and the powers of a bloody war god.13
The Northern Kingdom, sandwiched between the Great Forest, the Ocean, the Holy Lands, and the remnants of Aesland, discovered that Taluan powers do not suppress alchemical tools and preparations. While some practice Sorcery or the Old Religon, most citizens with magical talent have been drafted into the High King’s alchemical weapon foundries and potion breweries.
The Vanaheimers, on the coast of the Gulf at World’s End and protected by the Black Mountains that run to the base of the White Rock Peninsula, use their political savvy, minor magic, and the protection of their gods, the Vanir14, to ward off Taluan influence.
The largest city in Vanaheim, Vannsport, has especially unusual residents and visitors:
- The Atalan, once a fierce warrior people, wandered the Seas Between Worlds after their continent’s destruction until a band of them found a home in Vanaheim.15
- The High Elves arrive in white ships to buy common and uncommon goods with platinum. They speak mind-to-mind with each other, their shorter servants the “Low Elves”, their fellow High Elves manning their single outpost in town, and their many illegitimate progeny the Elfkin.
- The Lemurians16, a dark-skinned folk in bright flashy clothes, arrive in huge galleons and bring strange wares to the shores of the Polar Continent. Woe unto any pirates who try to rob them …17
- Odd folk arrive by sea or land but talk strangely and bear advanced alchemical gear not made on the Continent.
- Odder folk arrive in no sea-ship, wear all-covering robes, and frequently depart before sunrise.
To represent the Westlands as envisioned I’d need Aesland’s shamanic and runic magic, the effects of the War God (on NPCs), the divine magic of the Vanir, “sorcery”, and alchemy … in addition to the Taluists and whatever “Visitors” show up in Vannsport.
Originally I thought of running the Westlands using Mythras. So:
- Aesland Shamans use Shamanism, Folk Magic, and something adapted from Mongoose’s Vikings.
- Northern priests of the “Old Religion” use a mix of Folk Magic and an adaptation of BRP Allegiance for (infrequent) divine interventions.
- Sorcerers would use … Mythras Sorcery? (Which I still think is too fiddly, but hey, maybe that’s why it’s dying.)
- Taluist Priests would use a variant of Theism or some custom system.
- Templars would use Mysticism.
- Vanaheimers would use Folk Magic.
- Vanir Priests would use Theism.
Adapting these systems to OpenQuest might prove onerous, so instead:
- Alchemists use alchemy.
- The following use sorcery, probably the “One Magic” system:
- Priests of the northern goddesses (Disir) and the Vanir.
- Shamans, with some “spirit magic” and “rune magic” spells thrown in.
- Sorcerers in the Northern Kingdoms
- normal Vanaheimers
- Priests of the Disir and Vanir gain minor bonuses and benefits based on a system from SimpleQuest, a cut down version of OpenQuest.
- Taluists would still use an adaptation of the systems I described above
- Vanaheim and the Black Mountains have a mysterious anti-Taluist effect: magic works fine, but Rites go wrong and Templars lose their “holy” powers. The Gray Foothills between peninsula and mountains are “neutral territory”: the Taluan Dominion ends despite all the Taluist laity living there, but followers of Talu and of the Vanir still have their full abilities.
- Vannsport residents have mild subspecies-specific powers:
- Atalan are ageless skilled warriors who heal preternaturally fast.
- Elfkin mostly have weak subspecies-specific telepathy. Few learn their absent parents’ (ancestors’) complex disciplines.
- The people of Little Lemuria know about other worlds and technologies, and may carry strange artifacts to defend themselves, but are mostly just flashy.
- Other Visitors have powers borrowed from numerous D100 or non-D100 sources.
So that’s Alchemy, One Magic, Divine Favor something something, Taluan Dominion, Taluan Rites, Templar Mysticism, the Vanir anti-Dominion, and a few scattered special abilities if I feel like introducing them.
The Gulf At World’s End
The “Gulf At World’s End” is a huge gulf that divides the “Eastlands” to the west from the “Westlands” to the east. Its waters are choppy, and its northermost shore is the ice fields near the Polar Mountains that encircle the South Pole. Until recent advances in navigation, it was the “end of the earth” for both Westlanders and Rurikanians.
Yet somewhere in the warmest waters of the Gulf, somewhere near the northernmost point of Rurikania, lies the Sea Spire, glimpsed mainly by lost sailors. Allegedly it’s a spiral tower sticking out of the water as if the entrance were under water. Around the outside is a spiral road, with alcoves every ten paces or so. Some of these alcoves are actually archways leading deep into the structure, but according to legend those who attempt to map the internal structure go mad.
Mapmakers have noted that if you draw lines between the reported location of the Sea Spire, the location of the Black Ziggurat, Great Dragon Mountain, Stone Table Island, and the White Rock, you form something like a perfect pentagon. At the center of the pentagon lies the South Pole. It’s a curious coincidence.18
I briefly sketched out the Northern Continent but didn’t come up with anything interesting: mutants and monsters in the central badlands, city-states growing into nation states along the coasts and southern peninsula, mysterious Sorcerer Island from which powerful form of sorcery sprang, sorcerers running amok, only Talu’s followers could stop them (except for the other sorcerers and anti-sorcerers who also stopped them), ungrateful continent wouldn’t let the Taluists take over, new Sorcerers’ Guild instead, blah blah blah. Pretty much just explains the Faith’s loathing of magic, mutants, monsters, and secularism. ↩︎
“Taluist” means “believer in the Taluan Faith”. “Taluan” means “of the prophet Talu or his religion of the One God”, or sometimes “the language of the Taluan holy books” or even “the bloodline of the first Taluist missionaries”. (I should think of better names for the last two.) I think I’ve been consistent with this usage … ↩︎
Their work requires consecrated spaces and blessings on weapons, plus a Templar-specific “Rite of Atonement” when they lose their way. The rest they can do without. ↩︎
The Dominion took its inspiration from Ars Magica wherein Christianity suppressed the powers of wizards in populated areas. ↩︎
Longer discussion, but in short I think of traditional fantasy races as “subspecies”, i.e. not a true species because they can interbreed with humans and produce fertile offspring, but genetically distinct enough to stand out in a crowd. Other subspecies include Big Folk and Little Folk (giants and dwarfs as stable subspecies) as well as various strains of Mutants (e.g. devilspawn, beastfolk, witchbreed). ↩︎
I.e. true. One reason they conquered the “lowborn” almost a millennium ago was their unique form of “battle magic”. Plus superior tactics, saddles with stirrups, longer reach, better steel, years of battle … ↩︎
Human Mutants with features suggesting classic demons. ↩︎
Human Mutants with features suggesting animals. ↩︎
Human Mutants with random mutations, like classic mutants. ↩︎
Sapient, bipedal reptiles at an approximately stone age level. ↩︎
Humanoids with brutish features and keen toolmaking minds. Their craftsmanship fetches a high price in the Empire. ↩︎
Like reptilemen, but with brighter scales and more ego. ↩︎
Elsewhere in the multiverse a few dozen Atalan conquered whole nations. These Atalan took a good look at Vannsport and decided to retire. ↩︎
Yes, their continent sank. Slowly. They made contingency plans. Those plans largely failed, but the Lemurians and their culture are still alive. ↩︎
Cannons in worlds without gunpowder? A selection of personal weapons from countless worlds?
Frequent battle drills? A maze of corridors only the crew can thread? Traps built into the ship itself? When you’re a lone trading ship from a sunken continent no countermeasure is too paranoid. Tucker and his kobolds would be proud. ↩︎
Yes, fine, I based the structure of the continent on Magic: The Gathering colors and Chinese elemental associations. Happy now? ↩︎