Monday, March 27, 2017

Wheelhouse Setting 4: 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 above was equal to what happened below and was cataclysmic in scope. What survived the initial impact was kept from being swept into oblivion by the Wheelhouse. 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.

Standing on a remote island in the heart of the Upfall, the Wheelhouse is positioned in the center of the shattered world. The remains are broken into twelve land masses known as drifts, each separated from one another by the endless sea of debris and wreckage. The drifts are anchored in place by the Wheelhouse. Twelve lines of power emit from the tower like the spokes of a wheel. Terminating at one of the respective Twelve Towns, this magical road is the only true access to the Wheelhouse, and it is guarded by enchanted sanctuaries as well as by the bandiar who are created there. Though the distance to each of the Twelve Towns varies, the Wheelhouse can be seen from each location. It looms in the distance, its topmost portions surrounded by churning thunderheads. Multiple spires rise from its black walls, balconies overlook the surrounding landscape, and windows show only light, but offer no glimpse as to what is hidden within.

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, and stalking the rim is the Fisherman. It is he who captures the light and sends it along its way to the Cradle Sanctuaries 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 knowledge once held by the Old Ones.

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 existence has penetrated all realities, conjoining them in the shattered remnants of what was once the mythical Dreamscape. It is here, amongst 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. Its ability 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 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 whose tears never fall for those sent to their deaths for the greater purpose.

The shadow of the Wheelhouse falls over all that remains of Mythren, and though it is dark beneath that shadow, it is also here in the wan light of the broken moon that the only ray of hope still shines.


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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Wheelhouse Setting 3: The Upfall

Myth tells of how the broken moon left its mark upon the world, tearing through ocean and land, dreams and reality. Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than the Upfall--a place that defies physics and challenges one’s very understanding of the world around them.
What is left of the world is broken into twelve land masses called “drifts.”  The drifts are held in place by the Wheelhouse: anchored and kept from breaking asunder like so much of the Old World in the aftermath of the cataclysm that destroyed Mythren. It is not an ocean or sea that separates these pieces of land. Instead, it is a great abyss whose bottom, if it even exists at all, has never been found.
Light emits from the chasm that extends as far down as the eye can see, though no discernible source can be seen in the fathomless depths below. From the light rise the fragmented pieces of mortal’s greatest achievements. Defying gravity, these broken remains—some small, some enormous, levitate from the light then float along the Upfall like a glacial river of all that was. They appear to be the remains of castles, temples, cathedrals, and towers of magic. Their splendor, grandeur, and beauty span all the history of the ages. Craftsmanship of all races now mingle in the lazy flow of the impossible stream. 

The rim of each drift is a reflection of the world’s suffering after the Breaking: a blasted tundra fractured and splintered like old glass where massive piles of debris lie scattered for miles. The ruin-strewn edges of the drifts are often haunted not only by the memory of what was, but by horrifying aberrations called “hollows.” Ghostly in form, these are not truly undead, but the wreck of elvenkind doomed to siphon what magic can be scavenged from this wasteland. They pick through the stone debris, hooded, drifting like phantoms, their faces a spidery mask of black veins, and eyes shot white and sunken into deep sockets. Too long they have lived on the Upfall rim and stared into the chasm. Too long they have contemplated this existence in the ashes of the fading dream as the magic within their veins withers and dies.
It is possible to travel the Upfall by means of the debris, and there are those who have even fashioned skiffs capable of sailing the sea of wreckage from one drift to another. To fall into the chasm, however is certain death. Only what rises from the depths carries the strange power to float along the invisible surface. All else simply plummets endlessly downward to a fate no mortal knows.
The Sooths say the Upfall reaches not only back through time into the Breaking of the world, but back into the Breaking of all worlds. It is the wound that transcends all realities, and bleeding out are the stone memories whose broken remains tumble up from yesteryear into the one unforgiving reality that remains.
It is a fraying reality...held precariously together solely by the power of the Wheelhouse.


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Wheelhouse Setting 2: 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 endless 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, and no order, save for what the Out-Towns create for themselves. The inhabitants of the Remains are forced to fend for themselves against scavengers, 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.

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 known from colliding realities and fey worlds that resulted in the apocalypse known as the Breaking. 

The ensuing aftermath left a fragmented world inhabited by disjointed people and occupied by tangible relics that had somehow 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 these incredible sites.

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 with 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 bandiar who have returned with knowledge of these frays 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.


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Wheelhouse Setting 1: The Breaking

The Old Ones looked to the moon and dreamed.

It held sway not only over the precious magic they coveted, but over their hopes, their aspirations. The curved shape was called the Laughing Moon, and as it rode the night sky the Old Ones 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 Old Ones 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, reducing cities to ash. The world was utterly destroyed in the aftermath of the moon’s breaking—shattered into fragments and held together by fraying threads woven in the splintered Dreamscape. Millions died, and without magic, the races that knew this inherent power began to waste away.

Even the gods and the other divine races, those that did not perish in the fall, fled forever. Religion was extinguished and soon the very memory of the gods and the titans 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, withered and died. The mortals that survived knew no inherent magic. The spells and secrets of the arcane world were virtually lost 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 islands adrift 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 Old Ones 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 to 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 coming. 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 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 magic leftover from the world before the Breaking—forsaken artifacts without history or context that lie scattered over a shattered world, or coveted by the dying races who rely on that magic for their very survival.

The memory of what existed before has fallen to the “soothsayers.” Some of what the soothsayers have shared is real. Much is not. There are the soothsayers 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 existence. 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.


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Monday, March 20, 2017

A Broken Moon

I dont know when the world ended.
No one does. Not anymore. 

The Old Ones broke the moon, thats what the Sooths say. 

Once, it changed shape. It was full sometimes. A great disc in the sky. Other times smaller. A half. A sickle. Sometimes no moon at all, as if the moon hid itself, maybe knowing what was to come. 

Then came the Breaking. 

Now whats left is just the broken grin. That, and the memory of what was scattered in frozen pieces across the black sky. The Old Ones broke the moon, and the moon broke us right back…the day the magic died. 

So the Soothsayers tell 
of the end of
the world.

-From the Book of Pith