So here is a new thing that I’m doing. I’ve been writing a lot of articles about reinventing standard fantasy tropes. This is a really fun thing to do, but it is sort of repetitive. Does all fantasy must involve dwarves, elves and goblins? Why not try a completely original setting every once in a while. Here is my attempt at something different.
So picture this setting: there are no humans, elves or dwarves. Playable races include: alcoholic, pipe-weed smoking halfling inventors, pointy hat wearing bearded gnome slavers with Greek style pseudo-democratic society and architecture, warthog looking dudes who ride chicken like birds as mounts, laid back, party dude albino goblin miners who live in underground cities and nihilistic doomsday cultist gnomes who self mutilate and fight with nets and tridents.
Their antagonists? Tribal goat men who worship the night, sentient hedgehogs with nasty sickle swords, one eyed bird-descended giants who ride six legged rhino-unicorns to battle while worshiping entropy, and hormone driven, unruly adolescent hill-dwellers made out of living stone. Oh and there are also some elder gods that fuck you up via dreams, and magical items that will drive you insane.
Interested? Keep reading beyond the break (this is an unusually long article so I will not display the whole thing on the home page)! Let me know what you think in the comments. Do you have any suggestions how to improve or flesh out the setting? This is mostly just a rough draft.
Tales of Those Who Left
A Fantasy Campaign Setting
Table of Contents
- The Diaspora
- Those Who Left
- Davini (The Dwellers)
- Utini (The Tuks)
- Pason (The Seekers)
- Harkim (The Skyfolk)
- Vytari (The Slavers)
- Sempari (The Knockers)
Allmother is the Source. She is the mother of all life and her domain is The Materium – the physical realm. At the beginning of time she gathered all that there existed unto herself, and gave birth to all that is knowable.
Endfather is Death. He is enrtropu personified. He is the Lord of the Void and his self appointed task is to return the universe to a state of Stasis. It is said that when he succeeds in extinguishing all life Allmother will gather it up again, and birth a new universe. This process is known as the Great Cycle.
The Watcher is Justice. It’s Blazing Eye watches over the lands during the day. When it sees evil, it punishes it with droughts or storms. It strikes those who are wicked with lightning bolts. The Watcher was born out of Allmother and will die at the end of the Cycle, thus his goal is to stave of entropy and keep The Materium an orderly, vibrant place.
The Night, the Trickster and the Temptress. Born with The Materium she watches over it when Justice sleeps. She taught men to dance, sing and make make wine. She created moon and stars so that men could see in the dark, and gaze upon pretty patterns in the sky.
The Evertree, is the First Born and the Tree of Life. She was the first life to awaken in The Materium and is said to be the last one to succumb to the Endfather. Her physical form is a gigantic, primordial tree at the base of which is the Secret Grove where all the living things were said to originate from.
The Grove is The Garden of Innocence. All things that live there are inherently good and innocent. The the crown of the Great Tree is so vast and thick that the Blazing Sun cannot peer into the Grove. Night has no domain there because the Grove is bathed in the perpetual twilight of various glow fruits.
It is said that all animals of the world sprung out of fruits of the tree. The longer said fruit grew, the smarter and more powerful the animal that came out of it when it fell on the ground. Some fruits would never fall, and instead give birth to self-aware, sentient beings known as the Children of the Tree. Unlike other living things, the Children never left the Grove. They built their houses in the branches of the tree and lived idyllic, boring lives.
Dream came to existence when the Children slept. Unlike other animals their large brains did not simply turn off for the night. They dreamt, and out of that collective dreaming came about a new divinity. They called it Dream or Desire. It had no dominion over the Materium but had hold on the hearts of The Children – it gave them hopes, ambitions, desires and premonitions. Because of this, The Children are also sometimes referred to as Dreamers.
These six beings are commonly referred to as the Known Spirits. Allmother and Endfather are revered as the Elder Spirits or Eternals as they survive subsequent Cycles.
There are also the three Unknowable Spirits or the Immaterial spirits. Like Dream they have no physical presence and no dominion over the Materium. Some claim that they are older than Allmother and Endfather, and that they existed long before The Great Cycle started.
The Beyonder is the most mysterious of the three. Very little is know about it’s nature or it’s goals. The only certain thing is that The Beyonder is linked to the Eldritch Shards – strange mystical objects that can be seen and touched only by Dreamers. Few choose to trifle with the shards, as they bring only madness and misfortune to those reckless enough to seek them out.
The Collector is the most frightening of the Unknowable ones. It appears only in dreams as a shadowy figure, and cleaves Dreamers away from their bodies leaving empty catatonic husks. Few who escaped his clutches and were able find their way back to their bodies, have been driven mad by things they have seen in Collector’s realm.
The Giver is possibly the least frightening, the most understood and yet the strangest Unknowable of them all. For reasons known only to itself, it chooses to bestow gifts on chosen few Dreamers, in exchange for favors. Those gifts are always in form of some hidden knowledge, unparalleled skill, or supernatural ability as he has no domain over Materium. The favors he asks for are always strange and incomprehensible to mortals. Most consider Giver to be malevolent spirit, and doing it’s bidding in exchange for a Gift is sure way to get on the bad side of the Blazing Eye.
When Dream awoke in the Secret Grove, it planted the desire for the open skies in the hearts of The Children. Dreamers became restless and started to venture outside. Those Who Left, found the outside world to be both exciting and frightening. In the Grove they were the top of the food chain, the only sentient, self aware beings among animals. But life outside the protective bubble of the Evertree grew wild, strong and biz are. World was teeming with savage beasts, monsters and untold wonders. The Children even found partners in intellect – other tool using races that trace their lineage to baser animals.
The legends mention three names: Davi, Uti and Pa. Those Who Left call these heroes the Trailblazers, or in case of certain ethnic types their Forefathers. Davi and his people left the Grove first. They discovered the Great Plains and built a great prosperous city there, and then spread out in all directions. Uti and his tribe left shortly thereafter but their journey was long and difficult. They have almost perished until they have found a safe heaven in the Iron Mountains and discovered secrets of mining. Pa left many years later, and his people settled in the fertile Medowlands.
Those Who Left that can trace their lineages to these founders, call themselves the Elderfolk. They usually refer to other tribes as Findlings (much to their disdain). The story of Findling tribes is mostly unknown, but scholars theorize they somehow descended from the Elderfolk or have left the Secred Grove after the people of Pa.
The life on the outside was hard, and the Dreamers scattered all over the world looking for resources and save havens. Over centuries they have forgotten their way back to the Secret Grove and lost connection to the Children of the Tree and to each other.
Those Who Left
Those Who Left are descendants of the Children of the Tree who chose to leave the Secret Grove. The Diaspora left them scattered across the vast expanses. Different groups lived away from each other adopting to their environments. Despite their appearances are all the same species and can interbreed.
All Those Who Left share some basic common traits:
- They are all dreamers. When they sleep they have connection to divine. This is unique among the sentient races. See Magic section below.
- They all have similar outward appearance – short (most measure less than 5′) humanoids with spiky ears, four fingers and four toes on each hand.
- They all speak the same language (the common speech) count in octal system and use the same alphabet, which was said to have been developed in the early days of the diaspora.
Other than that, there exist six major ethnic groups (or playable races if you will):
Davini (The Dwellers)
Other names: Sons of Davi, Hivers, Smokers
Sons of Davi are City Builders. Their survival strategy in the outside world is to build vast, sprawling multi-level hives that stretch for many miles. They are famous for ramshackle, unorganized architecture that is surprisingly sturdy. Their cities do not have walls, as they continuously expand and change. Their buildings use other buildings for support, lean in unpredictable ways and are built from any and all materials that are at hand. Cities sometimes merge or split into multiple entities without their inhabitants noticing, as construction is just a part of their daily life.
The Dwellers are extremely social, which is either a byproduct of the way they build their cities vice versa. If Dwellers ever heard of the concept of “personal space” they probably dismissed it as a joke. They live on top of each other and love to gossip and babble. Their society is as unorganized as their architecture with little to no social rules or taboos. Everything is permitted as long as no one gets hurt.
Their cities are usually subdivided into districts, each ruled by a council of elders as an almost sovereign entity with own laws and regulations. Where laws and regulations mostly deal with taxation. Everywhere else they like to use a “light touch”.
They are merchants, and opportunistic tradesmen and inventors fond of clockwork and steam machines. Their creations are usually quite unstable and dangerous to use so the do not have much trade value when dealing with other races.
They are medium sized folk – usually around 5′. Their prominent physical features are large, potato shaped noses and, wide ears they can move independently when they listen to things. Their skin is rough, leathery, brownish and wrinkled. Their hair is usually brown, red or black but they go gray very early in life. Because of this Davini usually look older than they are. Their men favor large funky mustaches and sideburns.
They are big consumers of ales, and wines which would not be a problem if they could hold their liquor. Dwellers’ metabolize alcohol in weird ways – they get drunk very easily, and addicted even easier. The safer option to them is their famed pipe weed, but they abuse that too.
Davini worship all the Known Spirits, and there are districts where worship of Unknowables is not only not forbidden but explicitly permitted. Davini were the first to discover the Eldritch Shards, and have disproportionate number of Gifted individuals.
The Good: curious and adaptable
The Bad: disorganized and prone to addictive behaviors
What Davini think of others:
- Utinu: they are last to show up for work, first to show up for a party
- Pason: hicks and peasants
- Harkim: wild and scary but extremely interesting
- Vytari: way too uptight but good trade partners
- Sempari: all they want to talk about is their religion
Utini (The Tuks)
Other names: Sons of Uti, Diggers, Hatters
Among Those Who Left, Utini are unique in that they are nocturnal. They have pale, white, almost semitransparent skin, gray hair and blood red eyes that glow in the dark. They prefer clean shaven look, and short trimmed hair. Their noses are sharp and hooked, and their ears are long and narrow. All Utini have excellent low light vision, and their circadian rhythms are adapted to night life. Their skin is very sensitive to sunlight and they get sunburn easily. For that reason, they usually wear long protective coats and large rimmed hats during the day.
Most Utini consider the Temptress to be their patron spirit. Few if any worship The Blazing Eye for fairly obvious reasons. As it can be summarized from their religion, they tend to have a cheerful, laid back attitude. You don’t have to ask a Digger twice to join a party or drink some ale (sometimes excessively) which gave them a bit of a bad reputation amongst the other races. While prone to binging they are not as susceptible to addictions or alcoholism as the Dwellers.
They tend to build underground complexes, exploiting natural cave systems or following their own mining shafts. These settlements are usually quite cozy, but hard to navigate by outsiders due to poor lighting. Tuks usually call them Under-cities though they seldom approach city sizes. More accurate name for their settlements is Tuk-towns. While they do build on the surface, they tend to prefer underground housing to avoid exposure to direct sunlight.
The Tuks are excellent miners and they trade all kinds of exotic ores in exchange for food. They are not great farmers because they do not like to be outside, though they do maintain underground mushroom farms that help their settlements to be self efficient. Most of the mushrooms they eat are actually poisonous when ingested by other races, but Utini developed an immunity.
The Good: laid back, easy going.
The Bad: lazy, easily distracted
What Utini think of others:
- Davini: loud and obnoxious without concept of personal space
- Pason: hard workers but they keep to themselves too much
- Harkim: wild and uncivilized – keep your distance
- Vytari: if they could they would enslave whole Tuk-Towns for the ore they produce
- Sempari: Slavers fear them so it is good to keep them as allies
Pason (The Seekers)
Other names: Sons of Pa, Field Folk, Meadowlanders
Pason are said to be closest in appearance to the original Children of the Tree. They have soft, smooth golden brown skin, light or blond hair and small ears and noses. They are tallest of Those Who Left – tallest individuals measuring almost 5’4 to 5’6. For their size, they are remarkably gentle and hospitable folk.
Pason live of the land, and form small rural villages in fertile regions. They trade with all the other races and are primary food suppliers for Davi-Towns, Utini Undercities and Vytari fortress dwellings. While they are quite famous for their hospitality, but at the same time their society is very insular. Outsiders are very welcome to stay in a Pason village, but they will never be anything but that – outsiders. The villagers will be very careful not do discuss their village business or personal matters with you. A Pason’s primary loyalty is to his village of birth to exclusion of everything else. Intermarriage between villages is frowned upon and usually result in expulsion, unless it is part of a Founding.
During a Founding two or more villages will “donate” their members to seed a brand new community. Foundings are usually big festive events that bring the communities together as they help to build the new houses, prepare the fields and etc. After the new village is built and the festivities are over, volunteers from all participating villages settle there forming new community. They of course must relinquish their membership in their communities of origin so it is a bittersweet ritual.
Pason worship The Evertree exclusively. It is said that among all Those Who Left, Pason are the only ones who regret it. One of the most sacred Pason customs is the tradition of designating Seekera. Each village will nominate a number of it’s members to be Seekers of the Grove, and send them out into the world. It is their job to seek out any clues or rumors regarding the location of the Grove, and return back to the village every 8 years to record their findings in the village archives. If a Seeker does not return to the village for three consecutive terms he is considered lost, and a replacement is sent out instead. It is a position of great prestige, but also a great way to politely “banish” a well liked, but inconvenient individual. There is no rule about the number of active Seekers a village should employ, but there should always be at least one. The more Seekers a village can field, the more wealthy and prestigious it appears to it’s neighbors, but of course you don’t want to send out so many Seekers that you don’t have enough able-bodied men to work the fields.
The information Seekers collect often does not pertain to religious matters. Pason archives are full of minutiae trivialities, politics and gossip from all around the world. This wealth of knowledge is often sought after by other races, but Pason share it very reluctantly with the Outsiders. They amass knowledge but very rarely trade it. Vytari have been known to sack entire villages just to get to their archives.
What happens a the Seeker locates the Grove? Well, no one really knows. Seekers are very reluctant to give out information about their mission to anyone, especially other seekers. So chances are they wouldn’t spread this knowledge but quietly report it to their village and then perhaps lead their people back to their place of origin. There are stories about Pason villages being abandoned almost overnight, their population disappearing without a trace under the pretense of traveling to a site of new Founding.
The Good: hospitable, hard working
The Bad: insular, xenophobic
What Pason think of others:
- Davini: drunkards, cheaters and criminals
- Utini: lazy, good for nothing ruffians
- Harkim: they share Pason family values, in their own uncivilized way
- Vytari: wicked people with no redeeming values
- Sempari: their devotion is strange but inspiring
Harkim (The Skyfolk)
Other names: Nomads, Fetherfolk, Tusks, Barbarians
Unlike other ethnic groups Harkim are nomadic and tribal in nature. They never settle down in one place, but prefer to roam the world. Because they are hunter-gatherers who live on the move, they are considered uncivilized and barbaric, but this is far from the truth. Skyfolk are amongst the cleverest and most inventive of Those Who Left. They don’t look it though.
Harkim skin is tough dark brown or reddish and leathery – but smooth unlike the skin of Smokers. Their ears are narrow, long an pointy and articulated like those of the Tuks but about twice as long. They have large green, glowing eyes and pushed up snout like noses. Harkim males grow prominent tusks out of their lower jaw that usually stick out of their mouths and give them permanent overbite.
They usually wear their hair long, but they don’t braid it like Vytari. They also shave their beards. They often adorn themselves with feathers or long ribbons that can flutter when they ride or fly. Their garments are usually simple and made out of Petrabird skin. They use very little iron which is too heavy for their birds, and prefer wooden spears and blades made out of Petrabird bone.
The Skyfolk developed symbiosis with the Petrabird – a large avian species they have domesticated and bread for their purposes. Petrabirds are unique in that they have the fast running gait of flightless birds as well as large wings that allow them to fly in short sustained bursts. They are quite reminiscent of modern day chickens, though they are much better at flying and can cover much larger distances using soaring techniques. Wild Petrabirds usually have smaller wings and are never seen soaring or using air vents, suggesting that Harkim actually learned these by observing the birds of prey, and trained them into their mounts.
The Petrabird lifespan is actually pretty close to that of a Harkim so usually children are given a hatching to raise, train and care for as they grow into adulthood. The bond between the master and his mount is extraordinarily strong. Petrabirds whose master dies prematurely usually stay by their graveside until they die of starvation and sadness. When a Petrabird dies it is considered a great shame and misfortune for it’s master. In most cases, those individuals are given a new hatching to raise as their new mount. In tribes that own Skybarges they usually are usually allowed to stay and live on the board if they agree to perform some useful work. In smaller tribes they are often Left Behind and forced to live on the ground, training their bird so that they can catch up with them later.
A Harkim who cannot fly is a burden on his tribe and so Dweller hives often host many crippled or Left Behind Harkim who have lost their hatchling. Skyfolk travels light – when the tribe moves out, everything that the birds can’t lift is left behind. When they touch down, they build their tents from the materials that are available. Larger and more affluent tribes employ dirigible Skybarges to carry their wealth and act as mobile housing. It is not uncommon to see fleets of dirigibles passing overhead in the night. Tribes that own Skybarges prefer to sleep and rest on them rather than on the ground, feeling safer in the sky.
Harkim believe that a hunter who never lets his feet on the ground will be reborn as a Firebird after death and will be able to follow and watch over his tribe. For that reason, Skyfolk consider these particular birds of pray to be sacred and invite them to nest in their Skybarges. Firebird nests are considered a very lucky omen.
Harkim worship The Warcher, The Temptress and The Dream and call them The Concrete Spirits. They believe that Allmother and Endfather do not actually exist and that The Great Cycle is actually a silly doomsday prophecy. They believe the life and death cycle is part of natural order, and the nature is perpetual and self-renewing. They do not consider the Evertree to be source of all life, and consider the Secret Grove to be merely a legend.
Harkim keep to themselves but are not nearly as insular and distrustful as Pason. To be assimilated into their tribe you simply need to learn their customs and be able to fly a Petrabird. Just like with Pason, a Hakrim’s loyalty is to his tribe and family first and foremost. This is the reason why the two races get along fairly well despite disagreements on religious grounds – they both understand the village/tribe dynamic.
The Good: independent, strong, adaptable, curious
The Bad: insular, barbaric, often violent
What Harkim think of others:
- Davini: their cities are like puss filed sores on the horizon, cramped, filthy and smell of weed smoke for miles
- Utini: strange mole men who burrow instead of soaring, best be left alone
- Pason: they are like we were before we found our wings
- Vytari: the slavers are the enemy of all who soar under the open sky
- Sempari: they will kill your bird, shave your hair and then try to teach you about their god
Vytari (The Slavers)
Other names: The Imperials, The Shield Folk, Cone Hats
Vytari are very short (most measure less than 4′) and have rather unique physiology. They have sharp poity teeth of a predator species, and slit eyes that expand in low-light conditions. They don’t see in the dark as well as Utini but better than the other races. Their hair is usually jet black, and Vytari rarely cut it preferring to wear it long or braid it. Their eyes are yellow which is quite unique among the other tribes. Men prefer to wear full beards and the clean shaven look is reserved for slaves.
Vytari society has a rigid caste system: there are free Vytari and there are the slaves. The free people consider themselves equals, and citizens the High Imperium of Vytar. Despite the name, it is not a feudal system, but a democratic one. The Imperium is ruled and Emperor Elect who is chosen every eight years (and can serve maximum of eight terms in his lifetime) and an Imperial Senate. All citizens have a vote, and all are eligible for senatorial seats. A candidate for Emperor Elect title must have served as a senator at least for one term to be considered. The elections and senate proceedings are very ritualized process and one that takes a very high priority in their society.
The slaves are mostly Vytari but also captured Tuks, Smokers, Pason and Sempari. Hakrim are considered to be unclean and unfit to be slaves. They have no rights, and are treated as property and usually kept in very bad conditions and mistreated. They are not allowed to wear their hair long or grow bears. Most slaves shave all their hair to avoid hair length arguments. They are only allowed to use a single piece of cloth to wrap around their body as clothing. Smoker Hives are full of escaped Imperial slaves who long for a better life.
Vytari fortress towns are very beautiful to behold – built mostly from white marble with high walls, and sleek columns and arches create a commanding presence. To facilitate communication throughout the empire they build wide roads and bridges. They trade with Pason, Davini and Utini but ruthlessly stomp out Hakrim camps and do not tolerate them on their territory. They only fear the Sempari who can more than match their military might.
All the free Vytari are required to undergo military training and fight with shield and spear in a phalanx formation. Their armed forces are feared throughout the lands and known for brutal efficiency. Most Vytari soldiers wear tall conical helmets that actually serve to make them look taller and more intimidating. During peace time they usually exchange them for similarly shaped cloth hats.
The patron spirit of Vytari is Justice. They worship the sun, the Allmother, the Endfather and the Evertree. Worshiping Dream is not explicitly forbidden but is frowned upon. The Temptress is considered evil and wicked. They call her “The Dark One” and consider her a malevolent force that is to be feared, avoided, and not to be worshiped. The Unknowable spirits are forbidden to be even mentioned, but many slaves secretly pray to The Giver.
The Good: democratic, organized, efficient
The Bad: proud, violent and of course they keep slaves
What Vytari think of others:
- Davini: good trade partners, unreliable slaves
- Utini: they dig three times slower when forced to, which is the only reason we haven’t enslaved them all
- Harkim: filthy plague to be stomped out
- Pason: they make excellent, hard working and obedient slaves
- Sempari: only military might that could stand up to us
Sempari (The Knockers)
Other names: Followers of Sempar, Templars, Preachers
Sempari are probably somewhat related to Vytari – they are the same size and have similar physiological features – the sharp teeth, small ears and small noses and pale skin. Their eyes are usually purple or dark blue and they commonly shave all of their hair preferring the clean, bold look. Most Knockers however undergo painful coming of age rituals that alter their appearance. Their ears are clipped to attain a rounded shape instead of the natural spiky ends, and their teeth are filed down to appear square like those of Pason or Smokers. This is one of the most important sacraments of their religion.
The Knockers deny the existence of both the Known and Unknowable spirits. They do not believe in the legends of the Secret Grove and instead deem themselves to be the chosen race that were given a revelation of the Great Truth. The world as we know it is merely a dream, dreamt by One True God, the Great Sempar also known as The Hand of Fate. This divine being is said to be trapped in his slumber since the beginning of creation and the longer it sleeps the more wicked and twisted will his dreams become. Sempari believe that the world is in a decline because their god has slept too long, and his once beautiful dream has turned into a twisted nightmare that will only become stranger and more deranged.
Thus it is their sacred duty to wake the god out of the slumber with their prayers which involve making loud chants and knocking on wood. Most Sempari carry prayer sticks with them, and conduct prayer sessions at carefully calculated intervals. It is very important for all believers to pray at exactly the same time of the day as only combined chants and knocks of thousands of faithful have a chance to wake the Sleeping One. Because of this Knockers carefully study astronomy and geography to synchronize their prayer sessions across the world.
They are a proselytizing monotheistic religion, and they send out missionaries to other races trying to teach their faith. Sempari believe that they must convert all Those Who Left to have a chance at awaking their deity. Some fringe factions also claim that Otherkin ought to be converted but it is a minority belief. The prerequisite of faith is the ability to dream, as Sempari claim that they are able to commune with their god when they sleep. Because of this the other races often dismiss them as just weird Desire worship cult.
Most Sempari live in temple towns that rival the wealth and splendor of Vytari architecture. They build tall spires painted white, red and gold. They usually line their walls with white banners that display the symbol of their god: a five fingered palm with an eye inscribed in the middle. The temples are autonomous and self reliant, each one ruled by it’s own High Priest, who is a life-long leader. The power is not hereditary, and new High Priests are chosen from among the most accomplished theologists in the Temple in a secret vote conducted by The Anointed ones (those who underwent the highest sacrament).
The sacraments of the Sempari religion are as follows: The Becoming (which involves the clipping of the ears and filing of the teeth), The Service (which involves 8 years of military service for the temple), The Mission (which involves leaving the temple for 8 years to proselytize), The Prayer (8 years of endless prayer – Sempari learn to multitask and recite prayer in the back of their heads as they tend to daily tasks), The Revelation (involves a dream in which the faithful touches the mind of the sleeping god) and Annointment (a highest sacrament reserved for the chosen few, which gives one the ability to vote for, or become a candidate for the High Priest position).
Only the first sacrament is mandatory and required to join the religion, though most male Sempari also go through the Service as it is seen as honorable. During that time they learn to fight with the traditional Knocker weapons – the net an the trident or the heavy mace. Their military and strategic skills are matched only by the Vytari.
Most Temples prefer to convert other using missionaries and peaceful ways, but it is not uncommon for them to use force to “convince” small Pason villages or Tuk-Towns to pick up the prayer sticks. Smokers Hives are usually too huge to take by force, but ever curious Dwellers are pretty easy to convert in peaceful ways.
Sempari have a strange relationship with Harkim. The Skyfolk are notoriously hard to convert, but the Templars tolerate them because they prove to be great scouts and curries. Sempari are not as organized as Vytari and therefore a coordinated attack from few Fortress Towns could easily sack even the best defended Temple. Brirdfolk can easily pass messages between temples and help Sempari to organize defensive maneuvers.
Not all Sempari are religious. Those who do not accept the Sempoar faith however are not welcome in Temple Towns. There are many small communities of hairy, spiky eared and sharp toothed Sempari living among the Dwellers or the Tuks.
The Good: well organized, often prove to be excellent neighbors
The Bad: proselytizing, nihilistic religion they won’t shut up about
What Sempari think of others:
- Davini: they make excellent faithful
- Utini: a little too unruly but they can be shown the light
- Harkim: wild and unrepentant, but useful as we have a common enemy
- Pason: sometimes they need a little more than preaching to convince them to pick up prayer sticks
- Vytari: they are a danger to the faith, and a great enemy of our people
The world of those who left knows no magic. There are however three sources of supernatural powers: Dreams, Gifts and Eldritch Shards. Both are unique to Dreamers and linked to the Unknowable Spirits.
Dreaming is ability accessible to all playable races. When Those Who Left sleep their minds enter Dreamscape which is domain of Desire. Most of the time they just have vivid dreams, but through practice and concentration Dreamers can achieve following effects:
- Premonitions – visions of the possible future which may or may not come true
- Communications – a Dreamer can send or receive a message to someone they know. Of course there is no way to know which message is legit and which is just a crazy dream.
- Blessings – temporary buffs bestowed by the Desire, usually to charm or intellect
- Dreamquests – Dreamscape encounters in which they must conquer some fear or vice to receive permanent buff, debuff removal or madness reduction
Gifts are much more rare, and are usually handled as large skill bonuses. So if you want to make a character who is an amazing archer, or inhumanely stealthy rogue he might have a Gift that offers permanent skill buffs. Some Gifts may allow you to see few seconds into the future (without dreaming), “hear” what those around you are thinking, have supernatural sense of smell, or crazy touch powers (like mediums that can read memories of inanimate objects). The general idea is that Gifts either buff skills or enhance senses and abilities and that they are more “concrete” than the vague dream related bonuses. They come at a price though – the character will be given a strange task to fulfill. The tasks of the Giver are always bizarre, almost always perpetual/repeating/ritual and often embarrassing. For example, The Giver may ask you to give all your wealth to the first beggar that asks you for some spare change. Or to take in every stray dog that crosses your path, kill it, and make soup out of it’s bones. Failing to fulfil a task usually means losing the Gift. It may also cause other unpleasant consequences – like disfiguring diseases or madness. Usually it is best to keep both the Gift and the Task a secret as not to attract unwanted attention and scorn from those who fear the Unknowable Spirits.
The main rule for Gifts is that they cannot affect anything outside the Gifted one. So telekinesis is out for example. Also while you can ask The Giver to be really charming, you can’t have a gift that lets you hypnotize people.
Eldritch Shards on the other hand offer magic like powers to their users. They are radiant shards that glimmer with all the colors of the rainbow. If touched they allow the user to channel their energy and affect the Materium. The shards are usually used to forge magic like artifacts with set powers – so magic swords, amulets, etc. Some users find that if a shard is inserted directly into ones head it may grant wearer powers such as as telekinesis or levitation – though many attempts of actually doing this end up as failed lobotomies leaving the user paralyzed or comatose. Smokers use the shards to power many of their hand-held clockwork or steam contraptions.
Prolonged use of the shards however has ill effects. In the early stages it usually gives the user terrible nightmares. Eventually it shuts off his ability to dream completely. Shard users begin to suffer from insomnia, hallucinate and slowly descend into madness. Discontinuing use of a shard usually stops these symptoms.
This sort of thing is best left to the GM. Those Who Left spread out all across the world, so you can just draw your own map. Pason usually keep to fertile regions, Tuks like mountains where they can dig for ore. Smokers and Slavers and Knockers will build anywhere and Harkim are nomadic. So you can configure them as you want.
The three major regions mentioned in this writeup are:
The Great Plains – moderate climate steppes and grasslands that stretch for hundreds of miles. Also known as the sea of grass. It is a domain of Dwellers who build their expansive hives there. To the west of the Great Plains there is a thorn bush tundra which is heavily populated by the Westerlings. Great Plains are also a home to Holmu and a frequent flyover zone of Harkim tribes. Vytari tend to settle in the southern, warmer regions of the Plains.
The Iron Mountains – are the undisputed domain of Tuks, but also a Bower territory. Tuks rule underground, Bowers tend to own the surface. Parnasi claim the high peaks. The climate here tends to be colder, and the peaks have perpetual snow caps.
The Meadowlands – are a fertile region in the subtropical climate. They are famed for mild, spring like weather that lasts all year round, regular rainfalls and lush vegetation. It is a domain of Pason, but also home to Sempari. Harkim hunt here at least part of the season. It is also a place where you can find Devourers and Dream Eater beasts.
The idea here is to get away from traditional antagonist races: kobolds, goblins, orcs, etc.. Instead we have the Otherkin.
The Otherkin are the non-dreaming sentient races that became tool users and developed their own cultures and societies. For the most part, Those Who Left and Otherkin do not get along. The former, consider the latter to be mere animals that are uncivilized, bestial and incapable of rational thought. The latter see the former as newcomers, invaders and unnatural menace.
How do you make an Otherkin race? Take an animal or a thing, uplift it to sentience, figure out a culture it would have. The idea is that Those Who Left are still continuously finding all these new races of sentient beings out there in the world. Most of these are actually bigger and better adopted to life outside the Secret Grove than they are.
The most common types of Otherkin that adventurers may find crossing their path are:
Bowers (The Goatkin)
Other names: The Horned Ones
Bowers are very numerous, but divided people. They are fiercely tribal, and constantly fight among themselves for territory. Their appearance is that of bipedal goats. They have hoofed feet and five fingered hands with opposable thumbs. They tower over Those Who Left commonly measuring anywhere up to 6′ from hoof to tip of the horn. They have large goat-like heads adorned with prominent horns, in which they take a great pride. Their skulls are very thick and difficult to crack.
When fighting among themselves, Bowers will often have head butting duels to establish dominance. They consider such fights to be a honorable way to resolve conflicts. To them anyone without horns is incapable of honorable duel and therefore inferior.
Their technology is rather primitive. They make simple tools out of wood, bone and leather. They are quite proficient with slings, and maces. Only some tribes have developed javelins. Their strength lies in sheer force of numbers and their size and physical prowess.
Bowers worship the Night to the exclusion of all the other spirits. They often build gigantic bonfires and dance around them late into the night and drink their liquor ale until they pass out. Often they conduct drunken nighttime raids on civilized settlements pillaging and burning all they find.
They are hunter gatherers, and mostly nomadic people. They are fast runners and can cover great distances across flat expanses, especially under duress. They are also great climbers, and they often encroach on Tuk territory. They are also known to raid Pason villages. Skyfolk is usually beyond their reach due to their mobility, Smoker hives are just to vast to bother and both Vytari and Sempari have organized military that Bowers fear.
Westerlings (The Hedgekin)
Other names: The Spikewallers, The Snouts, The Wardens of the West
Westerlings are bipedal Hedgehog men – they resemble Dweller sized hedgehogs. They have prominent prickly spines on their backs, long snouts and soft bellies. Their society is much more organized than that of Goatkin. They build large permanent settlements of burrows, and they dabble in agriculture. They mostly keep to themselves, unless their territory is in danger.
Their society is mostly feudal, ruled by local Hedge Kings who control all the land in their respective domains and divide it amongst their vassals, who in exchange pledge their military service. Those hedge warriors are a rather formidable force. They wear hardened leather armors to supplement their natural spine protection, and are very efficient with their short curved sickle blades. They are more than a match to a Vytari phalanx.
Their most common territorial disputes are with Bowers and Skyfolk. They also sometimes get into extremely bloody and long wars with Dwellers when they Hives inexplicably expand onto their territories. However, unlike Bowers they are not violent or especially expansive people. Westerling merchants can often be seen trading with Smokers, Pason and even Knockers. There exist Sempari missions in Hedge Towns and it is not unheard of for the Hedgefolk to pick up the prayer sticks from time to time.
Westerlings worship all Knowns Spirits (Except Dream of course) but favor the Blazing Eye the most. Most are reluctant to give up on their polytheistic beliefs and fully convert to Sempar faith.
Holmu (The Cyclopsi)
Other names: Hornbeast Riders of North, Giants
Halmu are cyclopean race of Hornbeast riders. They come from the Great Steppes where they have been domesticating their six legged mounts for generations. They are tall (most measure over 6′) but surprisingly fragile for their size. They are descendants of some unknown avian race, and inherited it’s hollow bones and short toothless beaks but not fethers. Their three fingered hands and feet have short claws they can use for climbing or hunting.
Their ancestors used to be omnivorous nomads, but the Holmu have evolved beyond that. Larger tribes in the Meadowlands have taken up to agriculture they have learned form the Pason. Their technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last few decades – they have learned to work cloth and leather, domesticate cattle, and etc. They are also started trading their intricately patterned garments and armors with other races.
The Hornbeasts are large heavy, six legged animals that approximate a cross between a modern day horse and a rhino. They have a thick, lethery skin, hooves and a long spiral horn adorning their heads. By nature they are pack grazers, but Holmu have learned to use them both as mounts and as beasts of burden.
They usually fight from horseback using their long spears as their primary weapon. As you can imagine their cavalry is quite intimidating to the small sized descendants of the Children. Fortunately the Giants rarely bother local Pason unless there are territorial disputes. Holmu bandits are a huge nuisance on trade routes though.
Holmu have light blue skin, and only one eye. They have large tusks similar to those seen on Harkim, but beak like Tuk style noses. Males grow short bony protrusions on their heads that approximate horns. Because of this, Bowers will often fight or trade with them as with equals.
Holmu worship the Endfather exclusively. Their religion is nihilistic and similar in theme to that of Knockers. Sempari missionaries are welcome in Holmu villages and Cyclopsi often pick up prayer sticks. Sempari think the Giants are really worshiping the Sleeping God mistakenly labeling him the Endfather. The Holmu think that Sempari are fellow Endfather worshippers but call him under a different name.
Other names: Stonekin, Mountain Folk
Parnasi are slow moving living stones. Their skin is fossilized and hardened into thick dusty crust, giving them stone like appearance. They are very difficult to injure, but at the same time quite slow and mellow. They live in small tribal groups and are strict vegetarians, feeding mostly on mushroom and berries they cultivate in their mountain villages.
They would be mostly harmless if it wasn’t for the Restlessness that hits their youth around puberty. The normally slow and peaceful Stonehides suddenly get a burst of hormonal energy and find no outlet in their quiet, solitary mountain homes. So they descend down to the plains and go adventuring – mostly in groups. Their roving bands go on pillaging sprees, and can be quite destructive. Unlike Bowers or Holmu riders, Parnasi usually can’t be bought off or reasoned with. They are just rebellious kids out having irresponsible fun away from their elders.
Many crazed Parnasi end up being methodically dismembered by Vytari Phalanx, or worse – taken into slavery and used as extremely resilient and long lived beasts of burden. Those who survive usually return to their mountain homes once the Restlessness passes. Few hole up with the Knockers taken in by the serenity of their religion, or stay in Smorker hives where they take up gardening or mason work.
The dangers that await Adventurers are not limited only to encounters with Otherkin. There are plenty of other interesting antagonists:
There are highwaymen working the Vytari roads, and extracting bridge tolls. There are roving bands that attack Dweller trade caravans or Pason Foundings. Most bandit groups are egalitarian – they take in anyone who can fight or has useful skills. Escaped Vytari slaves are possibly the most common bandit ethnic group. Non-believing Sempari, Pason banites and Left Behind Harkim also show up quite a bit. Many groups will take in Parnasi or Hedgekin as “muscle” to bolster their combat abilities.
While most bandits work as independent, self governed groups there are two noteworthy “organizations”:
If you encounter a highway men alongside a Vytari road, chances are you are dealing with the subjects of the so called King of Bandits. No one really knows if such a king exists, but his subjects genuinely believe he does, even if they never seen him. The King of Bandits lays claim to all the lands, and gives permission to practice banditry on select regions to his vassals. These groups are extremely territorial, but also abide by a code of conduct: they avoid violence when possible, they never hurt women and children and they will never leave people stranded.
Reapers are the polar opposite of the King’s Bandits. They are ruthless and brutal and pride themselves on always killing and torturing their victims. They get off on fear and terror. They wear blood red headbands or armbands to distinguish themselves from the “lesser” bandit groups. They will often decorate themselves with trophies – ears, teeth or sometimes even heads of their victims. Their signature weapons are sickles and they like to refer to what they do as “Red Harvest”.
As you could imagine King’s Bandits and Reapers do not get along and often fight over territory and/or loot.
The Fallen are a self flagellating suicide cult. They believe that Dreamers were never supposed to leave the Secret Grove and that their presence in the world is destructive. They fear that Dreamers have unleash the Unknowable Spirits unto the Materium and if they are not stopped these sinister entities will pervert and corrupt the entire creation. The only solution? Exterminate all dreamers.
The Fallen draw their members from all Those Who Left – they recruit everywhere and proselytize on every street corner. They like to wear torch-hats fashioned so that it looks like their hair is perpetually on fire. Their cult usually advocates living in austerity, not breeding and committing group suicides. So in other words, they are mostly harmless.
There are however fringe groups that think trying to convince Dreamers to kill themselves is a waste of time. They prefer more active and militant approach – they band together, arm themselves with whatever weapons they can find and ride smaller settlements killing everyone they find.
Those militant groups usually take in Otherkin recruits: mainly Holmu (whose religion aligns pretty closely with the beliefs of The Fallen) and Parnasi. Hedgekin tend to be too squeemish for this sort of mass slaughter.
Brotherhoods are secret societies that often use dreamscape as a way of organizing and communicating with or recruiting members. They are mostly informal, secretive and decentralized organizations. Most of them are considered quite evil or at least up to no good.
Free Brotherhood – is widely considered “the only good one”. It’s main mission is aiding Vytari slaves to escape and find shelter in free societies. They have a secret handshake and provide shelter and transportation to anyone who needs it. However, being a member of this Brotherhood is punishable by death in any Vytari controlled territories.
The Capstone is a brotherhood of stonemasons and builders. It acts as an unofficial union / guild system. They control the industry, dabble in price fixing and etc. It is however more famous for their criminal activities. It seems that whenever there is any shady and profitable business opening up, the local Capstone members want their cut. Capstone Members have a secret greeting (hand shake and call/response), and a complex Oath of Loyalty they must recite when challenged. Breaking the Oath is punished by death.
Nodders – are possibly the most mysterious brotherhood. They are somehow linked to the Beyonder and are involved in trafficking Eldritch shards. They have a secret nod by which they recognize each other. No one really knows what are their goals or what is their agenda. It is known that crossing their path is not wise. Those who want to investigate or infiltrate Nodders usually disappear in unexplained circumstances.
The Collector steals away the minds of Dreamers in their sleep leaving only catatonic husks. If you let the bodies of taken Dreamers be, their essence sometimes finds their way back and they awake. More often, they just rot and waste away until they die. Every once in a while however, husks awake without a mind. Their bodies simply snap to life, but are devoid of higher cognitive abilities – they wake up as ravenous animals. Perhaps because they are frightened, or perhaps out malice they attack all Dreamers biting, scratching and hitting.
Those bitten by a husk are said to be marked for Collection. Next time they Dream they will see the shadowy figure and be taken, their body immediately turning into animalistic husk. Whole villages have been wiped by sudden outbreak of the Curse. Thus, the usual policy with taken is to wait a few days and then smother and bury them.
Unfortunately, this has a nasty side effect. Taken whose bodies have been killed while they were abducted by the Collector often return. Having no body they wander the world as ghostly apparitions visible only to other Dreamers. These Wanderers are usually bitter and angry at their families or friends that have killed their body and doomed them to this existence. They often haunt them, and try to disrupt their lives.
Often a Wanderer will learn to posses a body of an animal, a non-dreamer or find a vacant Husk. It is said that when residing in a “borrowed” body they can feel no pain and they can push it way beyond safe limits – they are dangerous formidable enemies.
Every fantasy world needs monsters. This one is no different. But, as mentioned before this world is supposed to stay away from classic fantasy tropes. What kind of monsters can we populate it with?
The Flock is a group mind animal composed of hundreds of individual birds. On their own, the pigeon sized Flockbirds are not particularly smart or dangerous. But when they flock together, they get smarter. A flock of few hundreds of them is said to be fully sentient, self aware and can act as a single organism. The bigger the flock gets, the smarter it becomes. Large flocks have been observed to drop Harkim skybarges from the sky by cutting the ropes that attach them to their hot-air baboons.
The birds in The Flock communicate with each other using sound. It is said that the shrill noise of The Flock’s thoughts is deafening and terrifying. Because it depends on sound, it cannot function well in noisy environments. Harkim often escape The Flock by flying into a storm. Ground based life can avoid it by hiding in caves where the echo disrupts Flock’s communication.
There has been some success communicating with The Flock. There are legends about Harkim tribes that made peace with the beast, or even used it to help them hunt. However, attempting to reason with The Flock while it’s hunting is usually not a wise thing to do.
When The Devourer is sleeping you could mistake it for an ordinary hill. It’s back is covered with dirt, grass and even small trees. When it wakes up, it looks a little bit like a modern ant eater. It has a long snout and a prehensile tongue which he uses to capture it’s pray. What is his pray? Sentient, civilized beings. The Devourer has evolved to pray on city/fortress building social races. It usually seeks out medium sized settlements and devours it’s inhabitants leaving the architecture mostly untouched. It’s sensitive tongue can fit through most windows, doors and chimneys. It’s front paws are perfectly adapted to lifting up roofs or poking holes in the ground to get to basement levels.
The Devourer is mostly nocturnal – it prefers to hunt when his prey is asleep. It seems to prefer Sempari and Vytari towns because of their compact size and medium population. The city walls these races surround themselves with contain the population within making it easy for The Devourer to lap them up. Smoker Hives are usually too large to approach directly, and Pason villages are too open (inhabitants can just scatter across the countryside).
Westerling towns would have been a treat for the beast too but because of their spines and the thorn bush vines they like to grow on their walls, it usually leaves them alone.
The Dream Eaters
The Dream Eaters are creatures that are specifically adopted to feed on Dreamers. They look like giant butterflies with intricately patterned wings. Any Dreamer gazing upon these wings will find them strangely soothing and hypnotic. Most succumb to the spell of the wings and go into an immobilizing trans. The beast then devours them sucking their body dry out of all fluids, leaving them shriveled and dry. Otherkin are not affected by the patterns on the wings of these animals. In fact, they find them profoundly bland and uninteresting.
The Fallen use the emergence of Dream Eaters as a proof that the Dreamers are affecting the world in a negative way and that the world is developing defense mechanisms to protect itself from these invaders.
This work is (c) 2012 Lukasz Grzegorz Maciak and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike license.
Tales of those Who Left is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
What do you think? Do you enjoy these kinds of posts? Would anyone like a nicely edited PDF version of this? Cause I could easily put one together and make it downloadable. Would anyone like to contribute? Anyone wants to have a crack at it and fit it to some rule-set like D20 or GURPS or something? Let me know in the comments.