Inspired by the steady progress on my adventure, as well as a recent J.R.R. Tolkien Binge (whom I must shamefully admit to have never read fully, being forced to grapple with unwieldy dutch translations until I finally bit the bullet and shilled for the complete trilogy + Silmarillion) I am pressed to outline a sketchy timeline for the Age of Dusk as a sort of teaser for the adventure to come. While I don’t expect to cover even a fraction of the events described below in any modules I put out, the cardinal rule of ‘if you put it in it must do something’ shall be upheld.
Timelines and setting chronology is in a bit of a rut in the OSR. Still fighting off a hangover from a diet of decades of barely digestible Forgotten Realms wood pulp and terrifying obscenities of meta-plot, it is understandable that the elfgaming public would heed the siren song of fiercely anti-Tolkinian proselytizers like James Malesewski, who was an avid advocate for the semi-emergent world-building of the Sword and Sorcery Genre, and would eventually drink unwittingly from a poisoned chalice. Without the trappings of a larger context, adventures can be interesting of themselves but remain ultimately limited in potential, dependent upon the weirdling ways of the GM or the vagaries of character development (it in itself a scorned thing) or else serve as mere placeholder. DnD is nothing if not a game of exploration and a good adventure in one’s homecampaign brings with it new insights about one’s campaign setting.
And what a formidable challenge for module writers! Either adventures are small in scope so they may easily be tucked away in tiny nooks of the campaign world without causing undue disruption, have gaping holes of emptiness where meaning would be so the GM may shape it to its needs like an overbearing child beauty-pageant parent or be fine tuned to a particular setting or milieu, forcing the GM to either tinker heavily and risk losing out in translation or cast away his aspirations of world building and be a second fiddle to the dreams of other men. Our lot is a tough one.
I am strongly in favor of the third option, preferring material that is colorful if challenging to adopt to one’s homecampaign to material that is generic or deliberately contained. One of the most enjoyable aspects of DnD is the escapism, the thrill of playing some heroic character in a distant, wonderful world, for which we require verisimilitude and thus DEPTH. This is why NPCs can have character traits that have nothing to do with their in game mechanical effects, towns have buildings that are not inns, shops (universal thank you) or temples and those little two paragraphs of backstory exist in your module. To enable you to evoke that all important spirit of immersion, Holy Father to the Son and Holy Spirit of interesting strategic and tactical challenges and the narrative cohesion that glues the whole together.
And what is more important to immersion then Time? Settings like the Devoured Lands or adventures like Palace of the Metegorgos tend to fall short in inspiring despite being aesthetically interesting because there is no sense of the passage of time, merely a static backdrop against which adventure is had. If there is a backstory it is a one that leaps out behind the curtain of events fully formed, following from no precedent and ultimately, leaving no mark upon the world. You are never convinced the author believes his own fictions. Solitary gears spinning in the weightless vacuum of a hollow sphere.
If adventure is to have discovery and that discovery is to inspire then the target of exploration must have inside it HISTORY and more importantly HIDDEN HISTORY so as to have REVELATION. The Palace of Unquiet Repose, my upcoming adventure, will have all of these things and more and thus a small primer on the history of my partially crystallized setting, the Age of Dusk, must needs occur. I apologize for any atrocities of grammar I have unwittingly committed in some of my older articles (and this one too!).
Timeline of Events, starting from the Creation and concluding in Final Night. Let it be known that between each Age there are great gulfs of time, wide and deep enough to swallow countless civilizations whole, and that for each one to be mentioned in this short chronicle a dozen have risen up and fallen into ruin unmarked and forgotten. Do not then fall prey to the tendency to assign to each described item or an origin from this short list. It is ever so that more things are forgotten then there are known, especially at the end.
The interval between periods is left ambiguous. Each period is marked by the apperance of the Tesseract Tree; a numinous enigma and at times catalyst of change, beholden to no thing upon the world. I describe events on a vast scale (i.e The Kings of Men or The Children of Summer) but this should be taken to mean that the mean product of the combined actions of each people amounts to the results described. In every faction where there are men there are always leaders, dissenters, nay-sayers and rebels.
The Creation Event: It is not known if some omnipotent agency gave shape and purpose to all of creation for designs unknown or whether it was merely ground out by the churning of Blind Celestial Engines. Perhaps in the Age of Dusk, when Final Night is nigh, a terrifying Revelation may at last be had.
A great globe of molten rock is placed in the firmament of the heavens, and a great fire ignited in the fabric nearby so the world may simmer and broil under its unforgiving glare until Final Night itself.
(Age of Stone) The Birth of the Morr and the War of Stone– From the cooling rock congeal the first beings. Cthonic entities of rudimentary urges with bodies expressed by matter but not of matter, they shape the land with thoughts that span years and wage inexplicable, slow wars of annihilation against their kin. For ages inconceivable, the earth resounds with grinding century-long death cries and trembles under battles that see the birth of continents. These first beings are called the Morr, the Slow Daemons or the Anaghakhorem (Those Who Came Before).
It is whispered the Tesseract Tree appeared first in this Age and revealed the Birth of the Weapon, though whether as a gift or a warning, and whether this be truth or deception, none can tell but the Morr, who keep their secrets.
The Coming of Life – After long ages, true life is seen on the world, and angular rock and barren soil is soon covered with lichen, tree, grass and fern. All manner of beasts come to cover and flourish in the land, in the Sea and Above the Land. Some of the Morr learn how to shape the thoughts of Beasts and bend them to their will, but this avails them little in their Slow Wars of Stone. Claw and Fang cannot harm Stone. Few of the Morr retain the art, and little room is there in the minds of the Morr’d for non-essential things.
(Age of Song) The Long Reign of the Children of the Spring –
Shepherds and Kings of Beasts and Plants, the Children of Spring grace the world with their emergence and tend, cull, hunt and sing for an age and a day. They are protected from the designs of the Morr for their thoughts are like Water, and do not long retain anything imposed upon them.
The Tesseract Tree appears but the Children heed it little, and soon forget about it.
(The Age of Dawn) The Birth of Man –
Whether grown from shambling ape or shaped from its base clay for designs numinous or fell, Man emerges upon the stage of history to make his mark upon the world. Uncomprehending it bears witness to the appearance of the Tesseract Tree. Shambling tribes stumble in the dark and scrabble over meat and warmth. Even armed with stone, wood and bone, stumbling in the darkness of his own ignorance, Man is the greatest of beasts.
– To both deal with and celebrate man, The Children of Spring undergo their first metamorphosis and become the Children of Summer. No longer plant or animal, they become like unto Greater Men; Graceful, Ageless, Beguiling and Terrifying so that they may better shepherd, guide, beguile and hunt man.
– The first of many tongues of man spring from the songs of the Children of Summer, and the Children were pleased, for ever has the gift of speech been a weapon against Man.
– Understanding and trade and love there is between the Children and Men, but never friendship. Ever did man chafe at his bonds and desire mastery over himself and others.
(The Blind Age) The War of Stone and Flesh – After long ages of Slow War, a new way of war is found. Ever probing and blindly reaching for things to shape to their designs, the Morr find in Man a weapon beyond any other. In the span of a single thought of the Morr, the War of Stone changes irrevocably. The mind of man is kneaded, shaped and honed to the Lore of the Morr and the Knowledge of Stone and Iron.
Now the war is not driven by the slow shaping of stone by thought but the stroke of pickaxe and the shaping of brick in hearth. Driven by dreams of the Morr, the Tribes of Men hew down the forest and erect great cities of Stone in grotesque, terrifying shapes, shaping Stone so the Morr are multiplied thereby. Within a few generations of men less then a tenth of the Morr remain upon the face of the world, so potent is this new weapon. Some of the older Morr, who lack proficiency in this thought-shaping art, cower in the depths of the earth or atop great mountain tops, shaping themselves to become formidable bulwarks proof against the reach of man.
Man is a puppet, primitive and unaware of his duress, but even so the Children cannot cope with the new Men of Stone and Iron. Ancient Forests are hewn to kindle great forge-fires, arrows of bone shatter against mailed soldiery and even sorcery must bow before spear walls, granaries, bulwarks and swords of iron. Men pray to the conglomerations of geometric shapes they have carved into their walls, without thought or self-awareness. They write of taxes, war and politics but all is grey. Of philosophy, music and poetry, there is none, for there are barely words to express it.
Heedless of Song, Art and Beauty, Man makes War upon Man with empty-eyes. Afeared of these blind automatons, the Children dwindle with their shrinking forests.
The Tesseract Tree appears on the field of a great battle between the Morr, and all the assembled hosts of men witness its appearance there and are granted knowledge of Good and Evil. Both hosts did drop their spears and shields upon that field and wept, for Joy and for Anguish, founding upon the site of the Tree’s appearance the city of Sybarr.
In that moment, there was born Volition and Sin and the Soul and Men would forever be burdened by these until Final Night erases all that comes before.
(The Age of Noon) The Rise of Sybarra – Wily and wrathful were the Children of Summer, teaching the Men of Sybarr their language, poetry, sorcery and music. Armed with sorcery and stirring artes, the Men of Sybarr begin their war against the combined might of the Men of Stone and Iron. Far more deadly then even their newfound Sorcery is their religion.
The Men of Sybarr pray to Gods like unto themselves, but greater in any aspect. And whether these gods were revealed by the Tesseract Tree, or dreamed into being by Awakened Man, it cannot be said. Know only that they were real, and their creed was like rich wine compared to the grey desolation of the worship of the Morr. Soon the Men of Stone and Iron were no more, and the Morr faded into memory, lingering on the highest mountain peaks or in the deepest caverns.
– Where once the Men of Stone and Iron toiled in precise grids to the slow thrum of geometric demons now they tore down their ugly monoliths and replaced them with glorious idols to a thousand new gods. There was majesty, beauty, divinity and life, and there was hubris, avarice and wrath.
The Men of the Age of Summer were a bold and energetic breed, founding empires and kingdoms and working great miracles of stone, steel and sorcery. Many nations grew from the disparate tribes of Men but none greater then Sybarra, an Empire that at one time spanned the world. Of its wars, its tragedies, its glories and its depravities a thousand volumes of lore may be filled. A thousand kingdoms and empires rose and fell, but Sybarra endured. In the Age of Dusk, none can imagine its majesty, its cruelty and its courage.
– Of the Immortal Gods of Men, much is written but little is truly known. The Least among them are like unto the greatest of men, shaped in their image but superlative in their beauty, strength and charisma. The Greatest of them are Power Incarnate, assuming physical shape as one would don a garment, their true nature formless and imperishable.
– At its height, Sybarra was said to be so mighty in size, lore and armies it commanded the fealty of the Least of Gods, and bargained with the Greatest. Ever more was asked, nay, demanded of the Gods of Man.
It is known that in time, the Gods became weary from granting the prayers of men. Within the Highest Citadel atop mount Siur (literally “the Highest”), they bade their Smith Gods to craft giants of gleaming metal with the heads of beasts. The Sial-Atramentar (Hands of the Gods) were sent out to guard the temples, grant the prayers, work miracles and do the works of the divine so the Gods may finally rest.
The Rebellion of the Sial-Atramentar – Gods as well as men are prone to the pitfalls of Hubris and Sloth. Too well did they craft the Sial-Atramentar, of unbreakable adamant, and gift them with the Divine Fire. Their minds were sharp and cold, their wills were iron and their pride divine. Beneath impassive masks of platinum and adamant, a murderous anger was kindled.
When the six-headed Theresion the Radiant toppled the pillars of the Temple of Yazhan, collapsing the structure upon the prostate bodies of the Sybarran Imperial Family, a cry of savage joy was heard throughout the temples of the Empire. The Sial-Atramentar made war upon Gods and Empire, aided by upstart kingdoms and evil or foolish men, for long had the Sial-Atramentar twisted the will of the divine so as to turn the hearts of men from them. Sorcery, Divine thunderbolt, Sybarran Steel and millenia of battlefield lore were pitted against legions of adamant, with a Titan’s Strength and the Might of Gods themselves. The Sybarran empire was torn asunder in civil war, uprising and betrayal.
The Immaculate Host of Sybarra did break and was sundered before the burning aura of Isorekh the Teacher. The Brother Gods Isol and Ison did fall in battle against the invincible Aurum and the wiles of Argentum. A thousand stories of tragedy, heroism and betrayal were made in those years.
Under Scaramanth the Unchained, the silver features of love goddesses now mutilated and hideous looked up from within a garment of flayed hides upon the Highest Citadel itself.
The Reforging and the Doom of Sybarra –
But the Gods did rally and sallied forth from the Highest Citadel, garbed in their finest armour and armed with their direst weaponry; The Spear of Atun, the Cinder-blades of Aiur and the Pillar of Midnight. Fire was pulled down from the sky and the earth was split until Sybar was laid waste and the Atramentar and their followers were no more.
Wrothful and Shaken were the Gods at this rebellion, weeping bitterly at their losses and retreating to their highest Citadel in dismay. In vengeance and fear and heeding the worst among them, they skewed the Scales of Judgement, and the weight of each Sin was magnified a thousandfold. A moribund cloak fell upon the peoples of the world and only the prayers of the most devout were heeded. The Sial-Atramentar were forged anew, but duller in mind and each with a single flaw so that they would not rebel anew. These did not walk into the lands of men but guarded with eternal vigilance the gates of the Highest Citadel.
Of the Remnants of Sybarra, a Broken Power, little more can be said. Fearful and repentant had become its scattered people, hesitant and introverted, living in the glories of a greater past. Others raged and tore at the imposed fetters of the divine, cursing the gods of their ancestors and the cruelty of the world.
Of these nations, there arose one who was more fell, more cunning and more vengeful then all others. Armed with blackest lore spirited away from the Highest Citadel itself, the Nation of Tzyan rose from the ashes, remembering well the lies of its vanquished teachers.
In the ruins of the Greatest City on Earth, a defeated people looked upon the Tesseract Tree with fear, incomprehension and hatred.
To be continued.
The Rise of Tzan:
Of all the disparate nations of the Lands of Autumn left in the wake of mighty Sybarra, none were so depraved and so bitter as Tzyan. Tzyan the Wretched, Tzyan the Accursed and Tzyan the Vile was it named by its neighbours, until their tongues were stilled in fear, for the Tzyanese were a fell breed; ruthless and ferociously intelligent, with long memories and unspeakable appetites.
Everything that came before they sought to overthrow and invert. Their language was invented whole cloth and crafted to express their contempt and hatred for all things, rendering the world in base and vulgar terms. If they worshiped anything it was power, but they were too cynical and treacherous for true devotion. It is said their rulers practiced upon their populace a breeding program of tremendous intricacy, breeding not for strength or health but only for depravity and evil.
When the air resounded with the alien horns of the dread legions of Tzyan, men quailed in fear. The Horrors of all the Ages, brought back with black arts honed in Towers of Black Glass and Iron marched under the banners of its Sorcerer-princes, each a figure of gem-encrusted obscenity and evil unseen in any age. Little did men comprehend their motives until the Sacking of Soluk, when the among their fell host could be seen one of the victims of the War in the Heavens and Upon the Earth; The reanimated corpse of the War-God Cirophaumas, his body pristine save for the mortal wound that felled him, mindless but still empowered with smouldering embers of the Divine Fire, sundered the Gates of Soluk and crushed the life from its seven champions.
For this reason Tzyan had twisted and corrupted its own population, until all were born damned. In its hatred and arrogance, it would ascend to the Highest Citadel and overthrow the very Mandate of Heaven. The Scales of Judgement would be toppled, and all Sin would be expunged. So it was that Tzyan considered itself Holy, and all others profane.
The spent Nations of Men mustered against Tzyan but this time none had strength left to withstand their evil. Temples were turned into charnel houses or monuments to Sin. Millions died screaming, foul deaths. Nightmares walked by night and day. There was darkness and despair upon the earth.
All seemed lost until the Nine Gates Opened once more and the legions of The Highest Citadel again marched forth to do battle.
The War in Heaven and Upon the Earth and the Begatting of the Weapon:
Against the might of the Sial-Atramentar and the Power of Heaven, even Tzyan could not stand for long. Its numberless hordes were thrown back shrieking into the pits they were rendered from. Its vile sorceries and storehouse of profane artifacts and living weapons were a poor match for the Divine Fire and the Adamantine Legions the Sial-Atramentar. City by city, nation by nation, Tzyan was repelled. Hope flared once more in the hearts of Men.
But they cheered too soon, for other Powers, long since forgotten, took the stage once more. For the Morr had watched the great wars of man with interest, and it was not long after the rise of Tzyan that they sensed a flaw. In the minds of men turned to the worship of the Divine, Song and Beauty, the Morr could find little purchase. In the minds of the Tzyanese, who strove to render all base and contemptible, the better to master it, they found ample sites for their hooks and anchors. Thus the Morr sent Dreams to the people of Tzyan, and the Tzyanese bore witness.
It is not known whether the Morr devised the Weapon, or whether it was revealed to them through the Tesseract Tree in the Age of Stone, or the Morr themselves were merely the unwitting agents of its conception, shaped by it even as they shaped others. Within the fertile valleys of Mazhuria, hidden from divine sight by wards and nullifying sorcery, the Tzyanese labored tirelessly upon their final creation. It is now forgotten that many of the Morr feared the Weapon, which was like unto a Terrible God to them, and tried to warn Men, but none but Tzyan could hear their thoughts, and Tzyan heeded them not.
A Serrated Mountain of Black Glass was erected upon the plains of Mazhuria. When its shape was a true expression of its nature, the world stilled in silent fear and all men quivered in horror and awe, imparted with the knowledge that a transcendent Power had manifested upon the world.
The Age of Noon had ended.
When the hosts met on the fields of Sriatus, on the site of the Sybarran Capital, nearly all of Tzyan had already been sacked, its spires toppled, its peoples put to the sword, its horrors consigned to the flames. The Legions Adamant stood before the last of the hordes, their ranks bolstered with re-animated godlings and men inscribed with the hideous geometrical marks of the Weapon. The horde shrieked in tones no human throat was made to utter and charged driven by a single will, heedless of danger. As the hosts battled, the Weapon entered the war for the first and last time in the Ages.
To be continued.
UPDATE: Spelling check, fixed up some of the sentences and diagnosed my irritating tendency to repeat nouns and adjectives in a single sentence.