Campaign of the Month: August 2018
The Praise of Old Men
Kulthea is a large planet of extraordinary contrasts. With a circumference of 27,000 miles, this seventh of fifteen worlds holds relatively few large land masses compared to the vast seas which cover most of it. Numerous volcanic atolls and islands dot the rugged surface of the Shadow World, which is largely unexplored and seismically unstable. A dearth of heavy elements keeps technology at a primitive level; for example, no chemical explosives exist, other than through the direct and extremely rare use of Essence. The world holds in orbit five moons, but only one – Orhan – significantly affects tides and currents. Flora and fauna of every manner flourish, as do several races of intelligent beings isolated from one another by natural barriers, Essence Flows, and eras of distrust and superstition .
The most fascinating aspect of Kulthea is the presence of Essence Flows, shifting and unseen energy fields akin to radiation. Essence originates in another universe where the laws of physics differ from those which we study and employ. Like a gateway, Kulthea rests upon the threshold of that other universe and is thus affected by the Flows passing to and from that other plane. In all other ways, the Shadow World of Kulthea is firmly anchored in the dimensions of time and space which we all recognize.
Some powerful beings have learned to tap the flows and to channel the Essence for both good and evil purposes. A precious few draw power from within; the most powerful of all deities are the Lords of Orhan, immortals (from Kulthea's largest moon) who predate the First Era. Rarely intervening in the affairs of the Shadow World, Orhanians are immune to the vagaries of Essence Flows and can transport themselves instantly between their home-moon and Kulthea. The virtually mythical Lords of Orhan are unparalleled in powers and often appear as extraordinarily beautiful humanoids, or alternately stand 15' high, a form more easily recognized as impressive.
Invisible and almost undetectable, Essence Flows shift haphazardly and can form temporary but genuine barriers (which can also be erected by skilled Essence-users of the highest degree). The ordinary player would rarely recognize an Essence Flow and would most likely be baffled and frustrated by it, without the costly guidance of a Navigator. No shield or spellcasting mastery can completely overcome or defy the Essence, which is the basis of all living things.
Even more terrifying are Essence Storms, a radical flux in energy that can drain or quadruple power points in an instant. Triggered by a solar flare or a conjunction of moons, Flow-storms are accompanied by high winds, lightning, and other unusual and destructive weather patterns. When caught in a flow-storm, the best advice is to take cover and to offer prayers to the highest deity.
A more reassuring aspect of the Essence (if you are a Navigator) is its tendency to form foci, permanent and temporary. Such a concentration of pure Essence occurs upon Nexus, home-isle of the Navigators. One of a handful of key Foci on the planet, Nexus serves as a gathering place for power and as a "springboard" for the Navigator's transport. In addition, hundreds of Greater and Lesser Foci exist, often rooted to a location or an object (an ancient tree, for example). Foci might boost power points or even distort or increase the intrinsic power of spells cast in proximity to the foci. A very few skilled users can control and even tap some Essence Flows.
Imbued with extraordinary powers by a freak flare of Essence, the immortal Lords ruled over the lands and waters of Kulthea for thousands of years until two camps formed. A titantic struggle ensued, tearing the world apart. Races were buried by rock and flooded by mountainous tidal waves; lands sank, and islands emerged. The wicked Empress Kadaena was slain, her head severed. This upheaval ended the First Era, and with it faded the power and presence of the Lords of Orhan.
The Second Era saw the healing of the land and the reawakening of the few races of beings who survived the cataclysms. Erratic Essence Flows tortured the world for l 00,000 years, if certain Loremasters are to be believed. Perhaps descendants of the Lords, Loremasters appeared to guide and to speed the healing of Kulthea in the Second Era. Able to tap Essence Flows at will, the remote and power-shy Loremasters tutored Elves and Men in their recovery over the course of several centuries, then all but disappeared into the mists of myth.
The coming of the Unlife, a vast power which feeds upon destruction, brought to light (and to darkness!) cults and orders dedicated to evil; Great Demons were fashioned by the most powerful of the Lords who had fallen under the influence of the Unlife, led by the Empress Kadeana. Wise but twisted in spirit, the servants of the Shadow offered knowledge beyond that which the Loremasters deigned to give such "lesser beings," and the power of the Unlife grew unfettered in the Second Era.
The 300-year-long Wars of Dominion concluded the Second Era. Weary Loremasters at last overcame the forces of the Unlife. At great cost in blood and power, the world was once again at rest, however uneasily, at the dawning of the Third Era.
It is the year 6,050 TE. The mighty and righteous Lords of Orhan remain aloof from the affairs of Men and Elves; dark cults have arisen, and black religions flourish and multiply with impunity. Right-thinking Loremasters are rarely seen and offer only words of advice, never the promise of power or weaponry. This is the Third Era, the Time of the Shadow.