Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Setting Update: The Wheelhouse

It appeared in the aftermath of the Breaking, an enormous tower spanning many miles and stretching so far into the sky its top reaches could not be seen. There were none present to see its inception, though storytellers and bards over the centuries have offered tales and myths to explain its mysterious arrival. Whether it was built or summoned is unknown. The truth is, none actually know for certain where the Wheelhouse came from. The purpose of this god-like tower, however, is clear. The Wheelhouse is the only power holding the broken remains of Mythren together.

The world that was should have been lost with the breaking of the moon. The destruction rendered in the sky was only the beginning of the cataclysm for the surface world as fiery fragments rained down with ruination in its wake. It is said that the Breaking sundered not only this world, but all worlds connected to Mythren—a collision of realities and fey realms and a collapse of time and space. It was in those moments of utter destruction that the Wheelhouse arose, dreamlike, out of the chaos.

It is a place shrouded in myth, and none alive can truly say what the tower is, or who or what resides within its highest reaches. Yet there are some answers, though few, as to what the Wheelhouse holds inside. Within its deepest levels exists the Dreaming Pool. It is a vast body of water, lit from within by tiny spheres of light that float and bob in the still water like jellyfish. The chamber housing the pool is immense, illuminated only by the small pinpoints of light in the water. Stalking the rim is the Fisherman. It is he who captures the light and sends it along its way to the Cradle Sanctuaries of the Twelve Towns where that energy is used to infuse the bandiar with life. A hooded apparition that carries a long, netted pole, the Fisherman’s origins and identity are as mysterious as the tower in which he dwells.

Muses and sooths are also known denizens of the Wheelhouse, though their origins stem from the outside world. The muses, beautiful young gypsy girls touched with the power of prophecy, fill the dark chambers and corridors with their song. It is a type of magic they weave—one of many types the Wheelhouse relies upon to maintain its existence as well as its hold on the surrounding drifts. Sooths are children brought to the tower and educated there in all things relating to the Old World, as well as relevant happenings in the Remains. The ancient tomes and scrolls used in their education are merely a fraction of the artifacts vaulted here, however. The Wheelhouse is the last great bastion of collected knowledge and tales, called the Chronicles, once recorded by the Mystics.

Empowered by one such relic are the branded, those who serve the Wheelhouse as regulators of forbidden magic in the Remains. Upon their face is a rune-marking that grants them the ability to drain arcane power from a given source. They are sent out to the drifts when enchanted items are found by those living in the Remains, or on rare occasions, when magic is irresponsibly wielded by the bandiar. They, like the Wheelhouse itself, are an unforgiving lot willing to make the necessary sacrifices for the needs of the many.

There are others, too, that dwell within the tower, though their natures and identities remain hidden even from others who have spent time within the walls. What is not a mystery is the fact that out of all that has survived the so-called end of the world, the Wheelhouse stands as a seemingly omnipotent lynchpin to a fraying existence. Likely its presence has penetrated all realities, conjoining them in the shattered remnants of what was once the mythical Dreamscape. It is here, among the drifting wreckage of all that ever was, and all that was ever dreamed, that the Wheelhouse draws its power.

Yet its power is slowly fading. The necessary energy required to hold the world together has taken a dire toll upon the tower, and as conflict and rebellion grow in the Out World, the magic of the Wheelhouse decays. Recovered artifacts and reclaimed magic help to fuel the Wheelhouse, but already the strain can be seen as more of the Twelve Towns fall and the Sanctuaries are abandoned. In these locations no more bandiar can be created to bring order to the chaos, and the consequences are apparent not only in the Out-Towns, but in the drift itself. The Twelve Town of Teel, for example, was betrayed and the Sanctuary broken. When this occurred, the entire drift suffered a quake so powerful that the line of energy extending from the Wheelhouse buckled and the drift fell to such a degree that buildings faltered, towns were destroyed, and those living closest to the Upfall rim tumbled off into the abyss. The Twelve Towns are both empowered by the Wheelhouse and in turn provide power back to the tower. The more that fall to corruption, rebellion, or ruin, the weaker the Wheelhouse becomes.

It is a fine line that separates the remaining fragments of the world from true oblivion. The Wheelhouse employs its resources—the bandiar, the sooths, the muses, and the branded—in a grim and unforgiving setting where death is not only a possibility, but often an expectation. Sacrifices must be made if the world is to continue. Whatever entity rules the tower knows this all too well.

The children of the Wheelhouse are but tools of fate and to serve the tower is to serve a faceless master. This master is not one to shed tears for those who die in service to the greater cause.

Though the shadow of the Wheelhouse looms over Mythren, it is in the wan light of the broken moon that a ray of hope still lingers for the future of the world.


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Setting Update: The Remains

The Out-World, or the Remains as the broken world is called by those living in it, consists of everything outside of the Wheelhouse and its Twelve Towns. Sundered land masses, called “drifts,” are all that is left behind by the cataclysm. Some of the drifts are enormous, like continents in size, while others are more like fractured pieces of a whole, linked together by elaborate bridges spanning the bottomless chasm known as the Upfall. Each drift consists of different terrain and environments, providing a wide variety of lifestyles for those who dwell upon them. Out here there is no law of the land, no High King or Queen, and no order, save for what the Out-Towns create for themselves. The inhabitants of the Remains are forced to fend for themselves against marauders, outlanders and the monsters—both in creature and human form—that wander the dangerous roads. Time has brought people together, but scarcity of supplies and distrust continually tears them apart.  Loyalty is rare, given begrudgingly at times to good providers, or demanded by local tyrants. But out here, the notion that “nothing lasts” is etched into the collective conscience. Even the most brutal tyrant will see their rule broken, and even the most fortified town will know a raid. It is a world built on the ashes of greatness, after all.

The aftermath left a fragmented world inhabited by disjointed people and occupied by tangible relics that shattered through the thin veil of one reality and into the next. The remains of impossible structures jutted from the ruin of broken earth, standing as a testament to mortal man’s overreach. As the years passed, these things were scavenged or destroyed, but their appearance left an undeniable impression, and many of the towns in the world abroad stand as tributes or reminders to those incredible sites.

Typically the Out-Towns consist of inns, brothels, herbalists, merchants and tradesmen. Some have churches that worship a vague and faceless entity known as the “On-High,” and most have a deeply seeded distrust of all things related to the Wheelhouse. Despite their basic similarities, however, each of these towns are distinct in every aspect from their layout, style, history, and demeanor. Much of this comes from the influences they have seen from colliding realities and fey worlds that resulted from the apocalypse known as the Breaking. 

Inhabitants of the Remains have moved like magpies into the abandoned dwellings and locales of long-lost cities that still stand. New structures incorporate elements of old Mythren: inns built using stone walls or age-old columns, streets cobbled together using the bricks of long lost roads, cracked faces of once-great statues layered into fortified walls. These towns are poor reminders of what once may have been, but the haunted faces of the inhabitants—a mix of ethnicities and mingled races forced to interbreed solely for some hope of survival—show a grim  resignation to this shattered reality. Their existence lies in the shadow of broken dreams from a broken world.

Many of the mapped locales of the Remains are known for housing “frays.” These are shimmering portals that glow with fey magic linking the broken world together. Each of these frays have been contained in stone archways or frames and act as doorways to distant locations that are otherwise inaccessible by normal means of travel.

The Out-Towns housing these magical gateways keep them guarded and will often even charge a toll to anyone choosing to access them.  One could travel from town to town, or even drift to drift, if provided the correct knowledge or key. Each fray leads to an entirely new location, and the greater the distance from the Wheelhouse, the more outlandish the Out-Towns accessed by the frays become. There are adventurers who have returned with knowledge of these locations that suggest that some portals lead not only to a place, but also to a distant time. A when, rather than a where.

Travel through the Remains, be it the roads of the Out-Towns or the shattered   debris-filled sea of the Upfall is an invitation to danger. But despite the promised peril, it is here among the wreckage of all that once was that the truths of the ancient world still linger.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Setting Update: Survivors of the Breaking

The world before the Breaking was a place filled with magic and inhabited by numerous races. Gods and titans influenced mortal minds, but it was the denizens of Mythren who truly shaped the world. Cities and empires prospered across the continents for many long ages, thriving even far below the surface of the world in the dark reaches of the Deep. There was war, of course. Famine, plague, and the rise and fall of great kingdoms and greater men. But interwoven through those dark pages of history was magic, culture, aspirations, and a dream of a future yet to come. And then we broke the moon, and all was lost.

The survivors called it the end of the world. Indeed it was, but so much more. The Breaking brought more than merely the sundering of the moon, but the utter destruction of Mythren. Many of the magical races were lost entirely as their innate magic was quenched and their lives withered away in its absence. Those that retained their magic were later hunted for it, reduced to refugees in the wake of the catastrophe. To survive, many races intermingled and the pure elven bloodlines that had existed for thousands of years thinned to a dream-like memory.

But life endured. Over time the surviving races of Mythren began to carve out settlements for themselves. Some chose to dwell within the protected walls of the Twelve Towns, while others preferred to seek a living beyond the watchful eye of the Wheelhouse. Bit by bit, this shattered world was remade and the races that inhabited the lands beneath the broken moon began a new history.

Setting Update: The Breaking

The Mystics of old looked to the moon and dreamed.

It held sway not only over the precious magic they coveted, but over their hopes and their aspirations. The curved shape was called the Laughing Moon, and as it rode the night sky the Mystics knew power that shaped the very world. It was great magic, though maybe not meant for mortal desire. With the taste of such forbidden fruit came the hunger for more. Yes, the Mystics loved the moon and all it offered. And naturally, as with all things, they broke the very thing they loved most.

When the world ended, magic and reality collapsed together. The effect was devastating. The world was utterly destroyed in the aftermath of the moon’s breaking—shattered into fragments and held precariously together by fraying threads woven in the collapsing Dreamscape. Millions died, and with arcane magic bleeding out of the broken world, the races that knew this inherent power began to waste away.

Even the gods and the surviving titans, those that did not perish in the fall, fled forever. Religion was extinguished and soon the very memory of divine power slipped away to myth and eventually even their names were forgotten.

The moon, which had always held sway over magic, was now broken, hanging as a ruined curve in the sky, the debris from its destruction still strewn about it, trapped in orbit. The races that relied on magic for their existence, those that had lived and ruled throughout the long ages of Mythren, watched as their power withered away. The mortals that survived knew no inherent magic. The spells and secrets of the arcane world faded into distant memory as the basic need for survival outweighed the curiosity of an intangible power.

The world, or what remains, is now a collection of scattered pieces like massive islands on a boundless ocean. These divided land masses are called “drifts,” and between each one lies a sea of debris known as the Upfall. The overhead sky is haunted by the broken moon—a reminder of the insatiable greed of the ancestors and the consequences of their overreach. But littered throughout the drifts are the ruins of what once was. And more, the echo of those numerous collapsed realities still linger.

It was during the aftermath of the Breaking that the Wheelhouse appeared. The land masses would certainly have disintegrated over time were it not for the stabilizing power of the Wheelhouse which connected each drift like the spoke of a wheel. 

There is no record of its construction. No map exists of what the lands looked like before its appearance. It is a great tower, so massive in size it could house an entire town within its walls. Multiple spires rise from it, balconies overlook the surrounding landscape, and windows show only light, but offer no glimpse as to what is hidden within. Storm clouds forever churn above its highest reaches as arcs of lightning crackle overhead and the sound of thunder fills the air for miles.

But the terrible truth is that the power of the Wheelhouse is at long last fading, and the magic housed within it must constantly be replenished. The only way to do this is to allow the magical pool in the base of the Wheelhouse to absorb arcane energy left over from the world before the Breaking—enchanted relics, forsaken artifacts without history or context...even the surviving magical races represent potential resources.

The memory of what existed before has fallen to the young historians of the Wheelhouse called sooths. Raised in the confinements of the tower, these children alone have access to the truths of the ancient world. Some of what the sooths have shared is real. Much is not. There are the those who exist to share history, and there are those who exist to maintain the lies necessary for civilization to crawl from the ashes, forgetful of the horrifying reality that led to the edge of oblivion. The commoners who have survived have been told these lies to keep them from uncovering the hidden truths below the surface of the broken world. But those truths do remain, and the bandiar—those bound to fate—have the ability to uncover those truths and bring them to the light.

These heroes are neither gods nor men, but something in-between. They exist perhaps to hold this world together by the fraying threads that remain. Their loyalty, however, is not to those who live within the Twelve Towns and certainly not to any who exist beyond in the Remains.

Rather, they are servants of the Wheelhouse itself.

Children of the Breaking.

A Letter From the Creator: About That...

The Laughing Moon world has been a part of my life for more than twenty years. The world itself was born much in the same way that my very first short story was written—I ran out of other people’s work, so I decided to create my own. Granted, you can’t really “run out” of D&D, but my aspirations began to grow beyond the borders that someone else had built. I needed my own sandbox, and over my newly made castles I hung a sickle moon. A lot of time and a lot of energy went in to those castles, and I was fortunate to rarely be building them alone.

So it came as some surprise to gamers and readers familiar with Laughing Moon when I quietly decided to leave that world.

After all these years, I’m saddened and a little embarrassed to admit that, in short, I lost my way. I can’t exactly put a finger on it, but I think it is fair to say that for whatever reason, I no longer had stories to tell in that world. It’s not that I didn’t love it, I did, and do, and always will, but in my older age, the setting itself began to reveal some ugly truths to me. I mentioned that the world was created because I wanted to grow beyond the borders of other fantasy stories or games. Looking back, in truth, I think that Laughing Moon was more of a love-song to all those far off places. As much as I wanted to offer up my own ideas (and for the record, I think I did to some degree) the world itself wasn’t really all that different or original.

But a lot of years and a lot of love went into it, and after having walked away, I felt that I needed to offer up some form of resolution. Conclusion, might be a better word.

So...I blew up the moon and watched my world crumble.

That’s a little dramatic, to say the least, but contrary to T.S. Eliot, I wanted my world to go out with a bang rather than a whimper. I imagined a story of unbridled ambition, selfishness, and greed. I imagined a backstory where, ultimately, the protagonist became the antagonist, and in the end, in an effort to shape the world around him, he destroyed all that he loved the most. And in so doing, he brought an end to Mythren. My inspiration was deeply personal. Art imitates life, after all, and I did some ugly soul-searching through this long process. I deconstructed myself and my fictional world all at once, I guess. At the end of that path, however, all of this felt right. The destruction of the moon was symbolic and felt fitting as a final chapter for many reasons. I thought I could wash my hands of these twenty-plus years and move on.

And that’s when something unexpected happened. 

Out of all this destruction I had an image sink into my head that I just couldn’t shake. I saw an apocalyptic world, and in the sky overhead was what remained of a sickle-shaped moon. I saw the Wheelhouse tower looming huge and god-like, and for the first time in a very long while, I felt the tiny flicker of a creative spark once again.

Ironically, by destroying everything I had spent years building gave me the freedom to finally create something that felt fresh. This broken, post-apocalyptic fantasy setting that lingered has stories left in it after all. There’s beauty in the breakdown, so it seems.

It is in the dawning of this new setting, Laughing Moon: Wheelhouse, that I invite you to join me. We’ve dreamed ourselves back into the world under the Laughing Moon...what’s left of it...and here we find not only the broken moon grinning from the sky, but the shadow of a great tower cast over the remains of a place we used to know.

To answer the question I get most often, yes, this is still the same world under the Laughing Moon. This is Mythren. But while you may hear some familiar names or see familiar places, things have certainly changed. It is a shattered landscape with a tragic history, full of unique locales and dangerous new corners to explore. After all these years I think I’ve finally designed a truly interesting and complex world of my own. What’s more, this is a setting that provides a rich new context for story-telling—both for me and for you.

We have a new world to shape. Fresh stories to tell. More dice to roll.

I’d like to invite you along for the adventure.