Players: John, Emily, Andrew, Michelle, Kevin, Matt(?)
System: D&D 4th Edition
Gods of Akhelaten III: Sea of Dreams
It's been thousands and thousands of years since heroes stopped the Transcendent and saved the world from itself. Since then, people have slowly left the world, retreating to new little worlds of their own creation - there are uncountable numbers of these now.
The players begin on a peaceful idyllic world, and seem to have a dull life ahead of them. Unfortunately, fate has a kobold's sense of humour, so that's quickly going to change...
Players begin at level 1, in the small temple village of Vosseden in the world of Edelweiss. There are plenty of unusual people to be apprenticed to; if there are weird people in Edelweiss, Vosseden is where they end up. Well, except the kobolds, they have their own awful country to the southeast.
Your character is likely to be young and just an apprentice or low-ranking peasant militia. Or perhaps they are gifted but have no-one to teach them and are forced to explore their powers on their own (psionic characters are likely left to this fate). Maybe you're a kid with grandpa's sword. Either way: you're not expected to be very responsible, and definitely not supposed to be saving the world or anything like that.
Exceptions allowed, of course.
- Inherent bonuses are in effect
- Agile Opportunist does not exist
- Feats that grant untyped bonuses to defenses instead grant feat bonuses, unless there is a requirement attached (e.g. a bonus only vs opportunity attacks)
- Elves got renamed in previous games, but you can call them "elves" again. Alfgard was cut off when you shattered Elohkava, nobody has seen or heard of the captial-E Elves for tens of thousands of years. But it's still a perfectly good word for weird pointy-eared people, so.
- Encounters adapt to the party, so don't worry about balance or effectiveness. Pick something fun, because you're gonna be stuck with it for the next five years.
The world now consists of a vast galaxy of pocket worlds, strung together by portals. No two worlds are quite the same, although people like to organize them into categories because there's always that one OCD guy with a galactic map and a lot of time on his hands. Collectively, they are often called "the Dreams" (more artfully, "the Seven Thousand Dreams", despite there being a lot more than seven thousand of them, and more colloquially "everywhere" or "allwhere"); generally "the world" refers to the world you happen to be on, and "the universe" to the Dreams at large.
Worlds tend to be classified by the aspect and amount of magic that fills them, which is often related to the seed that allows the world to exist. Some worlds are created and maintained by powerful archmages, others by gods, and many by an orichalcum shard or relic. Removing the seed causes the world to decay and eventually die.
Players begin on Edelweiss, an Idyll world on the edge of the Dreams. A peaceful place... until we get involved, anyway.
Edelweiss is an old world, and has - as far as anyone can tell - always been around. It was one of the first stable Dreams, and has existed on the periphery of the universe for a very long time. It was founded by Sedenya, the goddess of plenty and of the harvest, and she has maintained it for thousands of years.
There is only one working portal out of Edelweiss, leading to the nearby Grey-world of Isot; that world in turn connects to several others, and acts as a local crossroads. Magic does not work on Isot, which makes it a pretty good place to trade, and so markets and trading houses and all the associated trappings of civilization sprawl across that world.
But that doesn't extend to Edelweiss, which remains an isolated place devoted mostly to farming. The "capital" of Edelweiss is the town of Vysteig, with a population of about ten thousand people that balloons to almost twenty thousand during harvest season, when it's time to deliver the year's crops through the portal to Isot. Numerous small farming villages with aggressively functional names like "Pumpkinberg" and "Flatfield" surround Vysteig and reach far into the rolling hills and fertile fields of Edelweiss.
Southeast of Vysteig rise the Verdant Mountains, and in the foothills is the temple-city of Vosseden, a little village devoted to the goddess Sedenya and her festivals. Most people make a pilgrimage to Vosseden at some point in their lives, to pay their respects to the Harvest Goddess and ask for good fortune. For the most part they get it, although the goddess rarely makes a personal appearance; she likes her world dull, quiet, and industrious.
Past the Verdant Mountains are the parched badlands of Thokla, where the kobolds live. They manage to eke out an existence there, and oddly enough operate open-pit quarries and mines. They trade raw resources with the rest of Edelweiss and seem to be content with that. Nobody really bothers them because they are small, insane creatures and have annoying squeaky voices. "Kobold marble" is local slang for something that's nice to have but annoying to get.
Scholars who care about this kind of thing have identified several categories of worlds. List to be updated as I make stuff up.
- Idyll: Minorly nature-aspected worlds, where crops grow tall and animals grow strong without getting too out of hand. Often home to farming communities and cities. Idyll worlds are usually the safest worlds and tend to be heavily populated. (Edelweiss)
- Crypt: Endless necropoli, a resting place for the dead of a forgotten age. They have no surface, no sun, just mazes of tomb-filled halls. Oddly not filled with undead - in fact necromancers are almost powerless in the crypts. Filled with other monsters instead.
- Grey: Low- or null-magic worlds, often ruled by the sword (when inhabited at all). A tough nut to crack for mage-empires, and that may be the reason they exist at all. (Isot)
- Raven: Horrific, nightmare worlds from which there is no escape, not even in death. Believed to be a myth. Also believed to drift freely among the Dreams and occasionally eclipse other worlds, bringing horror and stealing those who have sinned. Serious people insist they're just superstition. Very serious people live in terror of them.
- Charm: Enchanting woods that hide dangerous fey. (Eldarest)
- Cinder: Flaming hells of endless lava, fire, and demons. (Shol)
- Dust: Grey silty wastes, full of restless dead. Believed to be the work of raven-worlds.
- Deep: Caverns and dwarves and sometimes worse.
- Flood: Worlds of deep ocean and calm lakes. Some have land, others don't.
- Charnel: Grotesque living worlds made of flesh and bone. Some are self-aware, others are just icky. Unpopular, for obvious reasons.
The gap between worlds is an incomprehensible gulf of nothingness, the formless chaos outside of reality. While maps of the Dreams are usually drawn as if there is some distance between the worlds, crossed using portals, there is no such physical separation. Wizards have yet to come up with a good metaphor for how the worlds are actually arranged; the closest they got was "like the flavours in a good sandwich" which they agreed was close to correct, but far from making any actual sense.
Despite there being no matter, energy, space or time within the void, minds exist within it. Alien thoughts that drift deep in the darkness, stirring occasionally; just as mortals can impose their will on the void and create new worlds, so can these beings impose themselves on mortal worlds and create... something else. Some warlocks have deliberately contacted them in an attempt to harness some fragment of their power, and to date none have survived: most go insane, some disappear, and it's believed that even the most successful simply draw the attention of a monstrous alien god which devours their world. This is hard to prove, of course, since all of the research of the wizard in question - and the world they stood on - disappears forever.
Nobody knows where these beings come from. They could be the natural inhabitants of the void, or they could be something mortal that has gotten lost in the void: a dead god, an ancient wizard, or perhaps the final form of the Charnel-worlds. They could even be a single mind, viewed at different times. It is a mystery that nobody is particularly keen to solve, given the apocalyptic consequences of trying.
The Spell of Binding
The Spell of Binding is an ancient ritual that can imprison any god. It is incredibly difficult to perform, and has only been used successfully twice before; every other attempt has failed. It was used once to bind Sarig, a god of magic, and usurp his place; later, Sarig used it to bind Arawn, a funeral god, when he was getting too close to the truth about Sarig's plan. Recently, Baelthazar used it to bind and capture Sedenya, the harvest goddess of Edelweiss.
After the end of the Transcendent's third and final war, the new Gods of Akhelaten chose to destroy Elohkava and spread its orichalcum components all over the world, filling it with new and strange magic not seen since Elohkava's construction eleven thousand years before.
Meanwhile, the Sisters of the Paradox followed Breeny as she left to create a new world. They studied at her feet and learned much from her - and a few returned to the world with this knowledge. Breeny's magic, combined with the orichalcum shards, allowed people to depart the world and create new ones.
It was quickly learned that without some kind of anchor to another world, the new worlds would drift off and be lost forever in the darkness between worlds; it is believed that these worlds still exist, and are the source of the raven-worlds, but people believe a lot of crazy things about the raven-worlds (for example, that they exist at all). So portals were created, to tether the fledgling worlds together.
Over time, the web of worlds expanded, and the original world - the True World - was abandoned entirely. The path back home has been forgotten for millennia, and searching for the True World is something of a profession for some adventurers. After all, it's the source of the orichalcum shards, and getting your hands on a shard means the power to create your own world.
Random legends and historical figures:
- Woman and Wolf: there's an old legend about a thief who comes for anyone rich and powerful and cruel. She is always accompanied by a wolf, and she rarely steals actual wealth - instead she brings them low by taking something they'd forgotten the value of, like their voice, or youth, or sight, or family, or memory. More generally, a lone traveller accompanied by a magical animal is a very common heroic trope.
- The Dark Architect: the original wizard who figured out how to create the Dreams is still out there, toiling in seclusion. Occasionally she appears in legends as an eccentric mentor, or more often as a misguided but well-meaning mad scientist, responsible for creating the raven-worlds, or the crypts, by accident.
- The Six Treasures: legends say there are magical orichalcum treasures from the True World, which maintain different worlds in the Dreams. In stories, heroes take the treasures and use them to defeat evil - and then return them, because otherwise the worlds that depended on them die. Traditionally there are six, but people are creative and the exact number and nature of the treasures changes constantly. It's all story, of course, because orichalcum is too dangerous to work with and nobody would be crazy enough to try and make it into a sword. The traditional six treasures are:
- The Dawn-Breaking Sword - an orichalcum blade which can only be wielded by the pure of heart, and can cut through any bond. It frees slaves and is the bane of tyrants.
- The Codex of Infinite Planes - a book with orichalcum pages (preposterous!) that lists everything and everyone in the universe. A source of endless knowledge for legendary wizards or heroes who just need a clue.
- Rod of the Feymarsh - a magical rod that can hide anyone and anything in a shroud of darkness. Often sinister but never evil, the Rod is usually a lesson that Dark Is Not Bad.
- Crown of the Bloody King - an ornate crown that makes the wearer into a powerful leader and general. It can only be claimed by killing its wearer, which often requires a bloodbath of epic proportions. In the stories, it's usually seized from an evil king, and the heroes turn its powers towards fighting a just and noble war.
- Bracers of the Heavy Heart - magical bracers that make the wearer almost invincible. Quite heavy, and sometimes that's used to symbolize the weight of responsibility or conscience. Sometimes wearing the bracers gives the wearer a conscience if they didn't have one, and are used to turn an enemy into a friend.
- Staff of Defiance - an orichalcum staff tipped with a long crystal shard. Renowned as the only weapon which can kill a god, and often used in stories where the heroes defy a seemingly unstoppable enemy. Sometimes a spear instead of a staff - the difference mostly lies in how pointy you think the crystal is.
So WTF was going on anyway
Well we are never going to get to finish the campaign, so I might as well spill the beans.
Ouroboros is what the Gods of Akhelaten eventually became. When the mortals moved out into the Dreams, Kurikavaeri decided there needed to be someone devoted to making sure the whole thing didn't fall apart, and to protect the way back to the True World, so he created Ouroboros. For twenty thousand years, Ouroboros has kept balance by applying force where it was needed to prevent anyone from attaining enough power to seriously threaten the Dreams as a whole. Chief among the architects of this balance was their grand strategist, Sister Wanderer of the Sisters of the Paradox - over time her name would eventually simply become "the Wanderer", although you knew her as Metla.
TL;DR: the dragon Illuminati
Kurikavaeri's End And How Things Turned To Crap
Eventually Kurikavaeri decided that the myriad worlds needed to be forged back into a single world again. Short version: he failed. Something unexpected came up, and he had to stop the spell before it was complete - unfortunately the backlash destroyed him. After his death, leadership of Ouroboros passed to the second of the three Gods of Akhelaten: Baelroth, the God of War.
Baelroth did not appreciate being awoken, and he chafed under the requirements placed on him by leadership and by being a god. He sought to escape the yoke of divinity by returning the Silver City and creating a Deva body for himself, so he would be maintained by his own power rather than the obnoxious prayers of mortals.
Unfortunately the Deva tend towards megalomania, and that wasn't the Transcendent's choice - it's just a flaw in the technology. So Baelroth returned from the Silver City as Baelthazar, Deva of War, and began forging Ouroboros into an army. His plan was to steal gods and create more Deva, programming those Deva to raise armies and empires of their own and go to war against each other. However, the Deva were instructed never to kill each other, so inevitably the Deva on a losing side of a war would escape and go elsewhere in the Dreams to start the process over. It was Baelthazar's twisted vision of Ouroboros' goal: "balance", in the shape of endless war and chaos.
Several members of Ouroboros refused to be a part of Baelthazar's plan, and they left the organization; the ones you know best are Metla/Wanderer and the parents of John and Emily's characters. Metla has spent the last twenty years trying to stymie Baelthazar, and it is no coincidence that the children of her former allies are suddenly swept up in her plots.
Sha And The Last Hope
Kurikavaeri isn't entirely dead, however. Remember what Metla said: the art of shikigami - creating homunculi from folded paper - was like any art, it had its everyday uses, and its masterpieces. Well, at the moment of his death, Kurikavaeri refused to die without an heir to carry on his work; bereft of materials, he reached out and tore off his own shadow and folded it like paper, creating a shikigami which he imbued with as much of his knowledge and drive as he could before death took him.
This shikigami, the shadow of the dragon king, is Sha. Somewhere within her jumbled memories is the spell to unite the worlds... and the reason why it failed.
The Three Paths
There were three groups you could theoretically ally with - Metla and her agents, trying to restore the old Ouroboros and bring her vision of balance back to the Dreams; Baelthazar and the new Ouroboros, looking to plunge the worlds into glorious eternal war; Balsheba and the legions of Hell, seeking to destroy Hell and set the devils free.
Of course, I fully expected you to Third Option (well, Fourth) and ally with nobody. Still, each had their own ending, plus a Perfect Ending where you could return to the True World, face the Staring Eye, destroy Alfgard, and reunify the worlds - bringing peace to the Leviathan and the Eye simultaneously. Provided you figured out that was even possible.
The Staring Eye
I should probably get into what the Eye really was and how to defeat it. ... hm, another night.