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  • The Underworld [PEACH]

    Imagine a mountain range, vast beyond reckoning, its lower slopes vanishing into mist and shadows and its peaks piercing through the gray, overcast clouds above. Streams of black water run down from the peaks, joining together to form rivers, lakes, and even oceans upon the mountain slopes. Imagine a system of caves within these mountains, as endless as the mountains, immense enough to hold nations and echoing with the whispered dreams of dead gods. The Underworld is something like this.

    Two forces shape the Underworld more than any other. A terrible gravity weighs upon everything in the land of the dead, drawing it down into the darkness. Called Oblivion, this force of entropy consumes everything that falls into its maw. Opposing the pull of Oblivion is Creation, to which all things in the Underworld retain some anchor. Ghosts hold tight to memories of their former lives, of friends and enemies and duties unfulfilled. Even nations long dead maintain ties to life, the ruins of their lands and the descendants of their citizens preventing them from sliding into Oblivion and becoming lost forever.

    An untold variety of lands dot the Underworld, each a shadow of some culture and shaped by the memories of the dead who dwell within it. Nations in the upper regions of the Underworld much resemble the current cultures of Creation, warped by the strangeness of unlife and the passions that drive ghost society. Further out and down, the dead of nations that haven’t been seen in centuries follow strange traditions and lead lives of macabre melodrama. The lower slopes of the Underworld, beyond the plague-rotted kingdoms of the Contagion dead, are as often as not peopled with ghosts that no longer seem human or never were human to begin with.

    Countless rivers cut across the landscape of the Underworld, flowing with black water brackish as tears, pooling in places to form lakes and even oceans before pouring further down and away to Oblivion. When ties to Creation falter, the rivers of the dead can wash whole kingdoms away. Some drift forever, carried here and there by the tides until they are lost in the darkness, but most come to rest somewhere lower on the Underworld’s slopes. An unlucky few are caught by cruel currents and whirlpools and pulled under, dragged into the Labyrinth below.

    The Labyrinth is a vast cavern system, worming its way beneath the dead ground. Large enough to swallow cities whole, the upper levels seem much like normal caves, carved by water through rotten stone, but as one descends the tunnels become strange and sinister. Voices whispering beyond the edge of hearing, passages connecting in impossible ways, time crawling or racing by, phantom lights flickering in the distance, and other spectral phenomena become increasingly common the deeper one travels. Those brave enough to plumb the Labyrinth’s furthest depths and lucky enough to survive the dangers lurking there may discover the source of Labyrinth’s malevolent nature: the Neverborn.

    The tomb-corpses of the enemies of the gods slain by the Exalted in antiquity, the Neverborn sleep fitfully in death. Anchored to Creation by unbreakable fetters, they rest just above the all-consuming darkness from whence no one has yet returned.Only the mad, the very brave, and the very foolish seek the tombs of the Neverborn, for the horrors that trouble the dreams of the Neverborn bubble up into the Labyrinth, sometimes given shape and a semblance of life by the psychoplasmic nature of the Underworld. Other things dwell with these form-given fears, the shadows of slain behemoths and the ghosts of demons too powerful to die quietly.


    Living Among the Dead

    On the surface, day to day existence for ghosts in the Underworld does not appear much different from the daily lives of mortals. Farmers plow, plant, weed, and harvest. Merchants buy and sell. Weavers spin thread and work their looms. At first glance, all seems strangely normal.

    Underneath the seeming normalcy, there is a hollow emptiness. Where the daily activities of mortal life are about sustaining that life, the activities of ghosts are about habit and routine. For ghosts, all the necessities of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter, are merely luxuries. A ghostly farmer does not grow crops to feed his family. Instead, he labors because the labor is what he knows, what he is comfortable with, and the thing that has defined his identity for as long as he can recall.

    Once past the veneer, ghost society begins to show its oddities. Ghosts seek out services that would be impossible among the living, such as moliation to reshape their features or a check up on their Fetters, while supernatural goods such as shrieking gems and soulsteel ore are sold in the same markets as bread, wool, and lumber. Hungry ghosts are tamed and trained like warhounds. Professional ancestors supply aid to their living descendants in return for offerings and prayer.

    At the heart of all the strangeness of ghost society is the central focus on emotion. Souls in the Underworld crave the catharsis and fulfillment that only deep emotion brings, sensations that the dead have a greater difficulty in achieving than the living. Such feelings provide a sense of purpose to an otherwise static existence and to sustain them ghosts engage in an endless series of romances, betrayals, feuds, and diversions. From housewives gossiping about the latest scandals in the neighborhood to kings waging centuries-long wars, ghosts are driven by a need for passion more than necessity.

    Much of the hustle and bustle comes from ghosts who have become trapped in simple routines, either because they were broken by life or because their deadened emotions left them unable to hope for more. Called drones, ghosts such as these are surprisingly common and form the bottom rung of ghostly society. Their ceaseless, repetitive existence often makes them useful to other ghosts. They slave endlessly in the mines or in farm fields, requiring no pay and needing no oversight to keep them on task, and those who deal in soulsteel often choose these unfortunates first when capturing new raw materials for their work.

    The rest of the activity belongs to ghosts who are not quite so staid about their lot in death. Some seek closure, trying to resolve the unfinished tasks that drove them in life, while others seek meaning in their new situation, inventing hobbies or grand designs to keep them occupied. More than a few find ways to return to Creation, there to observe or to meddle in the lives of their friends and enemies.

    The souls of the dead are not the only residents of the Underworld. Heretical gods, escaped demons, rogue elementals, and even faerie creatures can be found here and there, pursuing goals and inclinations strange to the mortal mind. Mortals can be found in the Underworld, but they quickly become an exceedingly rare sight as one journeys away from Creation. The difficulty of finding nourishing fare in the mostly sterile Underworld makes long term settlement impossible, not to mention what mad or desperate ghosts will do for a taste of living blood.

    Trade and Travel in the Underworld

    The prevalence of rivers means most travel in the Underworld occurs by boat or ship. The swift current provides an easy journey downstream, but makes the return trip much more difficult, so much so that rivers along trade routes will see teams of plasmic oxen, ghostly slaves, or effigy golems drawing barges and ships upstream along towpaths. Good harbors along the many lakes and oceans form important transshipment points and make their masters wealthy on taxes and the strange goods valued by the dead - Essence-charged crystals, ever-burning pyreflame, and more.

    Overland routes are also shaped by rivers, as many can only be forded safely in a handful of places. Because of this, a well-placed bridge can make a nearby town into a thriving trade hub for as long as the the bridge stands. Inevitably, the ties that hold one side of a bridge or the other to Creation crumble or a new land forces its way between them and the bridge is rent apart. If the nearby town is lucky, travel across its new neighbor might be viable and the bridge merely needs rebuilt. Just as often, the distances involved or the shifts in terrain render the bridge useless and the town dwindles from a lack of activity.

    For the especially brave, the Labyrinth presents an alternative to more traditional means of travel. Down in the many tunnels are passages that connect places without regard for distance or that allow those who travel through them to cross great distances while time passes more slowly for others, allowing a team of porters lead by an experienced or lucky helldiver can bring goods to market in incredible time. The Labyrinth, however, is home to specters, hecatonkhiroi, and other plasmic dangers and can shift its nature without warning. Those who dare its chambers and become unlucky might be devoured or become lost forever.


    Navigating the Labyrinth

    Those who are not content to travel the Underworld’s rivers or find their way overland can take their chances within the Labyrinth. This network of tunnels and chambers stretches under all the known lands of the Underworld, providing an alternate method of travel for those who can overcome its difficulties and dangers. For those that stick to the upper levels, the Labyrinth is almost as safe to navigate as any other cavern: full of pitfalls, narrow passages, winding tunnels, and pitch darkness. Staying in the upper levels, however, provides few benefits over other methods of travel.

    Deeper down, the Labyrinth becomes both more dangerous and more useful. Aside from the strange treasures that can only be acquired in the Labyrinth’s depths, travelers can find passages where time passes more quickly than in the Underworld above and routes where a dozen miles of tunnel connect places hundreds of miles apart. These deeper passages, however, see dangers that rarely trouble the upper passages. The nightmares of the Neverborn drift through the Labyrinth like storms, stirring change and horror and then passing suddenly. Where no one is, these changes seem random - as many tunnels pass time like a glacier grinding downhill as where time races like a lover’s heartbeat - but where they catch a rational mind these storms take on terrible purpose from their victim’s fears. A man terrified by heights might find himself navigating a narrow, crumbling bridge over a crevasse of seemingly bottomless depth, while a ghost afraid of spiders might find the walls suddenly coated with cobwebs and a swarm of arachnids the size of dinner plates skittering all about him. A fear of things that lurk in the darkness could easily become actual monsters prowling beyond the lantern’s light.

    For these reasons, only the brave or the lucky become helldivers and prowl the Labyrinth for a living. Those wishing to navigate the Labyrinth do so by making a (Wits + Survival) roll against a difficulty set by the Storyteller. Short trips through the upper reaches of the Labyrinth are difficulty 2 at best - it is still far easier to become turned around underground than above - while long journeys or expeditions through the passageways nearest the Neverborn can easily be difficulty 5. Failure results in the traveler becoming lost, with each previous failure cumulatively increasing the difficulty of any subsequent rolls to find the way by 1 (to a maximum of 5). If the roll succeeds, the traveler and any group he is leading manage to find their way to their intended destination and any successes he garners above that required to meet the difficulty can be spent to improve the trip’s results.

    However, every die that comes up a 1, 2, or 3 is rolled as a pool against a difficulty of (6 - the navigation roll’s difficulty). If this second roll succeeds, the group encounters at least one nightmare as part of the trip. The actual results and the difficulty it poses to survival are determined by the Storyteller, though he is encouraged to take into account any Intimacies the travellers might have, especially those based in fear. Passageways might change course (requiring a new navigation roll), chambers might flood with bile, the walls grow teeth and lashing tongues, scenes of worst fears play out behind unbreakable crystal, or monsters might take shape from dread and pain.
    Enhancement Cost
    Reduce travel time by 10%
    (Can be purchased a number of times equal to the base difficulty)
    3 threshold successes
    Route passable for horses 3 threshold successes
    Route passable for wagons 5 threshold successes
    Route passable for mammoths 10 threshold successes
    Reduce “Nightmare” dice pool by 1 die

    (Can be purchased as many times as desired)
    1 threshold success




    Masters of the Industrial Elements
    Upon the Rock of Tradition: The Memorial Exalted
    Ghosts: A Revision (2nd Edition)
    The Underworld (3rd Edition)
    ​From The Crucible: Crafting As A Struggle

  • #2
    Dark Kingdoms

    Unlike Creation, it is difficult to generalize about the regions of the Underworld. Where one can say that Creation’s South is almost universally hot and arid, the same does not hold true among the dead. There is seemingly no logic to where the lands of the dead are in relationship to their homelands in Creation. The dead of two nations who were neighbors in life may be hundreds or thousands of miles apart in the Underworld while the shadow of an avalanche-killed mountain village might exist across a river from a stretch of sun-seared sand dunes peopled by the shades of desert tribesmen.

    When a drastic shift in Creation gives birth to a new land among the dead, the new region arises from beneath the waves somewhere in the upper reaches of the Underworld, displacing other lands in a cascade of earthquakes and tsunamis. Such shifts can bring new life to the region - sometimes literally in the case of a shadowland - and signal that somewhere a grave kingdom begins the gradual descent into the forgotten past.

    Because of this gradual mobility, the kingdoms of the dead are best understood not in terms of direction but in terms of distance. Scholars have divided the Underworld into a series of bands, based upon the age and relationship to the living that each land holds: the Brightlands, the Highlands, the Lowlands, and the Bleaklands.


    The Brightlands

    The lands nearest Creation are called the Brightlands, for here is where the memory of life is strongest. When the newly dead first manifest in the Underworld, they and their grave goods appear somewhere within the Brightlands, manifesting in whatever kingdom currently corresponds with the place of their death. When first formed, the Brightlands are usually low in population and poor in resources, but regular offerings from the living provide most of the Brightlands with a steady supply of new wealth and goods. This condition makes raids into the Brightlands for slaves, goods, and soulsteel regular occurrences in some places, as the newly dead often do not have the numbers and organization to resist effectively. As the number of dead accumulate, eventually a tipping point is reached and predatory nations hunt for easier pickings elsewhere.

    A phenomena unique to the Brightlands is the formation of shadowlands. Caused most often by massive numbers of deaths in Creation, shadowlands are an intrusion of Creation into the Underworld and allow relatively easy passage between the Underworld and Creation. Ghosts seeking to enter Creation and complete their unfinished business make pilgrimages to such places, while such rarities as fresh blood and salt make their way into the Underworld. Shadowlands are particularly prized by the Abyssal Exalted, serving as beachheads into the living world for their armies.

    In physical appearance, the Brightlands are much like the places in Creation that they mirror. The wind blows across open plains, forests grow, the stars shine, and the rains fall. However, the corpse-elements of the Underworld sometimes bleed into the landscape. The sky may periodically rain blood, trees might have bone-white bark, and the wind may carry with it bits of pyre ash. This is especially prevalent within demesnes, where fountains might bubble with bile or a cavern might grow death’s-head mushrooms the size of small trees.

    Brightland Locales

    Seven hundred years of reverence for the dead have built strong links between the city of Sijan and the Underworld, giving it a reflection in the Brightlands. There the idealized tombs and graves of thousands have stacked one on top of another, creating a city of lofty towers and underground catacomb-apartments larger than its living counterpart. The spectral inhabitants of Sijan conduct a brisk trade with the living, importing prayers and offerings and exporting ghostly services, rare woods, quarried stone, and more in return, facilitated by the nearby shadowland.

    That shadowland, the forest of leafless trees called the Black Chase, predates the city, its origins lost to time. The Sijanese, both living and dead, fear to venture too deeply into the forest, for those who do sometimes do not return. Strange tales abound as to the cause of these disappearances, from a roving hekatonkhire to shadowy forces that swallow travelers into the Labyrinth.

    The city’s politics are tangled and convoluted. The profusion of princes and potentates buried in Sijan, many from different cultures and backgrounds, has given rise to a large aristocracy among the dead, all used to power and the trappings of nobility. While the city is nominally ruled by a council of the city’s forefathers and morticians, the cliques and cabals of former lords and ladies wield a large amount of influence in the city’s laws, policies, and politics and favor trading is common.

    The ghosts of those who die and are interred outside the Imperial City find themselves manifesting near Zehng, City of Penitents. A relatively young city in the Brightlands, it was founded a few centuries ago by the ghosts of Immaculate monks, who struggled to reconcile the tenets of their faith with their existence as ghosts. The temples of Zehng now preach a doctrine that emphasizes the Underworld as a state of purgatory, a time for souls to free themselves of the vices and attachments that held them back from proper reincarnation.

    Those who accept the doctrine of the city’s priest-kings live in poverty, perpetually in a state of fasting and prayer. The particularly devoted are chosen to join the priesthood or to spread the faith as missionaries. Those found to be insufficiently faitUhful are brought to the temple dungeons, there to receive “mortification of the flesh” until the priesthood decides they have been sufficiently humbled. Newcomers to the city are quickly found and converted, at spearpoint if necessary.

    Conditions outside the city are no better. Slavers raid into the region, taking advantage of the stream of new ghosts coming from the Imperial City. Each day, at least a handful of new ghosts manifest, confused at their new surroundings and easy pickings for slavers. Without the guards and walls of the city, most such ghosts are collared and dragged away.

    The white granite towers and cathedrals of Mankalvar draws ghosts from near and far. The thriving necropolis owes its success to a robust tradition of ancestor worship among their descendants. Prayers, offerings, and churches built in the names of deceased forebears manifest as a constant stream of new goods and ever-grander structures to enrich the lives of the ghosts living within the city. The ancestors of major families jockey for status against each other, guiding their descendants to success over other families and competing for wealth and influence.

    In return for a constant flow of offerings from thousands of family shrines and hundreds of churches, the living benefit greatly from the self-interested benevolence of the great families. The blessings of their ancestors confer success in business, fertility in marriage, and victory in war, while wisdom whispered to living leaders guide the course of politics. Woe befalls those families who allow their living scions to fall to poverty or, worse, die off completely, dooming the family to an afterlife of insignificance.

    Across a swath of the South, when the moon is dark and the scent of ashes drifts on the wind, the Bone Serpents ride out of the White Bone Valley and into the lands of the living. This clan of ghosts raids the caravans of living merchants, dragging men away into the darkness with nets and lassos made of human skin. Given their name for the carved bone tokens that decorate camel harnesses and armor, the Bone Serpents vanish as quickly as they appeared, blown away like dust upon the wind.

    Those taken by the Bone Serpents are never seen again by the living. The raiders return to their home in the Underworld, a desert valley of blood-red rock and bone-white sand, and offer their captives as sacrifices to their goddess, a hecatonkhire in the form of a miles-long, two-headed snake. In return she grants the tribe great boons - feverdream wisdom, poisons that affect both living and dead, and tokens that weigh spirits down to the material world.


    The Highlands

    As soon as the newly dead cease to manifest in a place, it becomes a part of the Highlands. Glutted upon the riches of decades of offerings, the Highlands are some of the most prosperous regions of the Underworld. Here, generations of noble dead squabble with one another in grand dramas of court intrigue and illicit affairs, armies war ceaselessly upon one another to avenge long dead insults, and the common dead continue to go through the motions of the drudgery that shaped their mortal lives. Trade with the farther reaches of the Underworld bring grave wonders to enrich these kingdoms while the exploitation of the Brightlands continues to pump new vitality into their economies.

    The spectacle and melodrama that is typical of Highland kingdoms is a thin veneer over a rotting heart. The monuments, lineages, and traditions that tie these kingdoms to life have already begun to deteriorate and collapse, leading up to the inevitable drift towards the darkness. The mortal passions of the citizens begin to dull, leading either to ennui and Lethe, deeper obsession, or to new and strange experimentation.

    This craze of emotion that begins to consume the citizenry carries over to the world around them. The stars might flicker like candle flames or the forests become overgrown with black briars and bony thorns. Mountains might become stylized, sculpting themselves into cliffs of sheer obsidian or gnarled granite valleys howling with winter wind. Such changes aren’t complete and total, but are often quite noticeable.


    Highland Locales

    The oldest land still found in the Highlands, Stygia was founded in the First Age, anchored by sorcery against the pull of Oblivion. Any trace of the land it once mirrored has long since vanished from Creation, but its stability has allowed it to grow into the largest city in the Underworld, each of its many districts large enough to be a city in its own right. A patchwork of styles and cultures make up the city, with graceful gothic spires looking down on ramshackle tenements and Ebrenese vilas standing next to Oarken pagodas.

    Above the city, hung from the sky itself, is the Calender of Setesh, an enigmatic device of gears and lanterns. Created in ancient days by the city's rulers, the Dual Monarchy, the Calender moves the stars of Stygia through the heavens and orders the destinies of the city's inhabitants. The Dual Monarchy, ghosts whose origins have been lost to time, rule the city according to the design of the Calender and the dictates of ghostly passions. Their laws are enforced by a legion of jade effigies, a bequest from the burial goods of a long-dead Solar, and an army of ministers and priests ensure the smooth running of government.

    Stygia’s shadow stretches long, bringing tribute from far and wide, sent by other lands hoping to curry favor with the great necropolis. Those that succeed gain favorable trade agreements, engineering assistance with civic works, military support against their enemies, and more. Those that fall out of favor with the city might find their merchants turned away at the city’s gates and other nations pitted against them in proxy wars. Most of the teeming millions who live within Stygia’s walls care not, caught up in their own petty dramas.

    A great ocean, the Sea of Blood takes its name from the reddish hue of its dark waters. Ringed by prosperous city-states and dotted with islands, hundreds of trade ships ply the Sea of Blood, carrying spices, silks, gems, and more. Such a bounty of goods breeds pirates like rats and the navies of the cities bordering the seas constantly hunt the aquatic brigands, leading to naval battles both large and small.

    Pirates are not the only danger to be found upon the Sea of Blood. The hecatonkhire Charybdis, a ship-swallowing whirlpool hunts the sea, devouring ships and sailors whole and giving birth to storms and lesser whirlpools. Leviathans, plasmic remnants of great sea monsters, swim beneath the waves and vent their rage at death upon passing vessels. Despite the dangers - or perhaps because of them - there are treasures to be found in the Sea of Blood and ghostly divers, who need not breathe, salvage lost cargo from shipwrecks or search for crimson pearls in forests of plasmic kelp.

    One of the many cities along the shores of the Sea of Blood, Cypress Bay is built around a natural harbor at the mouth of the Acheron River. Originally a collection of driftwood shacks, the sheltered bay made the village a natural stopover point for pirates looking to resupply or lay low after a brush with a city-state’s navy. Over time, the village grew into a thriving, if disreputable, port city. Now buildings built of silver-grey cypress wood sprawl out into the swampland surrounding the bay along muddy, rutted roads, some built upon stilts above pools of stagnant water. Iron railings and fixtures are whitewashed to protect them against the damp air but nevertheless rust bleeds through everywhere like bloodstains on a shroud.

    Cypress Bay is a place willing to turn a blind eye to the source of a man’s cargo so long as the price is good, where those willing to work the lines regardless of a captain’s loyalties can go to find a berth on a ship. The city’s drydocks are busy, servicing ships from up and down the coast, and the city’s markets see a brisk trade in goods of all stripes, both those from the sea trade and those brought down the Acheron River from inland.

    The city has no stable leadership. Various pirate admirals, crime bosses, merchant princes, and city-states have taken control of the city from time to time, but none have managed to maintain control for more than a few years. The city is simply too valuable to destroy but also too difficult to hold. The air of danger and the excitement of risky business suits the citizens of Cypress Bay too much for them to bow the knee to any ruler beyond appearances.

    Along the rugged course of the Elmrest River, a covered bridge forms the only passable crossing for miles. The nearby town of Foggy Glen thrives on the trade passing over the bridge, providing supplies and rest to travelers heading overland, but the town has a sinister side. On nights when the sky is overcast and the stars are dark, strange spirits haunt the area, trailing fog in their wake. Neither ghost nor god, these spirits have been known to accost travelers by night, tormenting souls for their own amusement.

    The most prominent and dangerous of these spirits takes the form of a dark horse and cloaked rider, carrying a lantern. It rides the roads beyond the town, peering about as though searching for something in the mist and darkness. Those who draw close and peer within the shadows of cloak’s hood realize that the rider’s neck ends in a ragged stump, the hood hanging upon empty air. The spirit sometimes passes by travelers, others it interrogates in an unknown tongue and a voice like crackling flame, its speech issuing out of the lantern dangling from its hand. When the spirit finds the traveler’s response lacking, as it inevitably does, it lashes out and rides the offender down. The rider’s tireless steed leaves pursued travelers with only one hope of salvation: to cross the covered bridge. Some unknown force keeps the rider and his steed from setting foot upon the bridge or crossing the river, providing a hope of safety if one can merely outrun a master horseman.

    Lying along the broad flood-plain of a desert river valley, Ma-Hat-Itrew is a land of kings. In life and in death, the kings were worshipped as gods for as long as their now forgotten homeland endured. While living, the kings commanded that great tombs and monuments be built to carry their glory with them into the afterlife and their people labored mightily to build them. Their funerals were lavish, as befitting god-kings, and that wealth went with them into the Underworld.

    Ma-Hat-Itrew is a land of pyramids, obelisks, temples, and statues, surrounded by a sea of rippling barley stalks. The monuments abound with gold leaf and inlays of lapis lazuli, alabaster, and red jasper, all polished and gleaming, and the walls are painted with grand murals of ritual scenes, of warfare, and of the affairs of court. Reed boats ply the broad river, either as fishing vessels or carrying goods from one end of the kingdom to the other. Peasants labor in the fields to stock the royal granaries, overseen by hard-eyed taskmasters, and citizens and merchants haggle in open-air markets beneath colorful awnings. The god-kings still rule over the land, with each former monarch’s powers and privileges set by centuries-old agreements and the worship of a forgotten people. Festivals held in the honor of one or another of the ancient rulers occur almost weekly, full of pageantry symbolic of his station, duties, and privileges.

    Though the line of kings and the culture that supported them has fallen, the tombs the rulers were buried in still exist in the Southern deserts of Creation. Ancient priests carved grand and terrible curses upon the tomb doors to ward away thieves and robbers, curses which the kings strive to enforce. Those foolish enough to tempt the wrath of the ancient god-kings find themselves tormented unless they repent and return the goods they stole, with skilled ghosts sapping their health, troubling their dreams, and poisoning the fruits of their labors. The fear of such ancient curses still brings a trickle of worship to the god-kings, placations uttered by the people who now dwell in the river valley that the citizens Ma-Hat-Itrew once called home.


    The Lowlands

    After centuries of decay, a kingdom will eventually join the Lowlands. Here the offerings that enrich the afterlives of the newly dead have begun to fade and become scarce and the nature of ghostly existence has had time to warp souls in inhuman ways. Specters and the denizens of the Labyrinth are more likely to be welcomed in the Lowlands, as their strange appearances and mad ideologies are less at odds with the populace.

    The most famous of the Lowland kingdoms are the Plaguelands, those places whose time as part of the Brightlands was cut short by the Great Contagion. Among the green-tinged dead of the Plaguelands, the last memories of the Shogunate are played out, distorted by time and yet still possessing a melancholy splendor. Also found in the Lowlands are the empires of the Deathlords, sprawling unions of countless kingdoms.

    The fading connections to Creation manifests itself in a greater degree of influence from the elements of the grave in the landscape. Rivers might run red with blood or freeze solid despite summer heat. Tilled farm fields might grow bones instead of wheat, the whispers of ancient prayers might fill the quiet moments of the day, or incense smoke roll in like fog.

    Lowland Locales

    Once the capital of the River Province, the city of Hollow was decimated first by the Great Contagion and then by the Fair Folk invasion. Almost the entire population of the city was cut down in a short time, flooding the city’s Underworld shadow with new citizens just before Hollow broke away from the Brightlands in the wake of the radical change and depopulation visited on Creation. The city’s ghostly nobility, composed of the shades of former Terrestrials, tried to manage the influx and maintain their positions in power, but the torrent of fresh souls proved more than they could control.

    Today, the city’s social classes are still muddled somewhat. The first daimyo’s court is still mostly made up of pre-Contagion ghosts and still wields great influence upon the city, but with half the city’s population made up of the Contagion dead the last daimyo and his advisors have joined the city’s grand councils. The trade guilds, the city guard, and the bureaucracies that oversees the administration of the laws are riddled with Contagion dead, especially in the outlying, newer districts of Hollow.

    The Contagion dead may no longer be a true underclass in the city, but those slain by the Fair Folk are not so lucky. Some of those who fell victim to the faerie were twisted body and soul, passing into the underworld with physical deformities or strange appetites. Others had faeries feast upon their dreams and emotions, leaving them psychically scarred in one way or another. Originally shunned by others for their strange appearances and occasional madness, the faerie-killed dead congregated in slums and existed on scraps. There, missionaries of a specter cult found easy converts to their faith. Since then, a subversive, somewhat nihilistic movement has been growing among the disaffected and downtrodden in the city, festering for centuries now. Angry resentment and victimization have become part of the emotionally-sustaining drama of these ghosts’ lives, a societal problem waiting to erupt into violence.

    In the middle of a large forest is the tent-city of Revel, one of the festival cities. Here, parties, parades, and other festivities happen constantly and shades drift from one to the next without end. Brothels, drug dens, and bars operate at all hours. Originally the shadow of a logging town, the citizens long ago abandoned the idea of spending their days in familiar toil and go about their leisure with a passion. Now the only reason trees are cleared is to make way for more tents and pavilions and most of the work is performed by effigy servants of one stripe or another.

    The city owes its revelry to the bottomless bounty of grave goods and the wealth of generous patrons. These various festival masters run their enterprises like lords and control the type and tempo of the city’s festivities. Being banned from the tents controlled by a favored festival master and knives in dark alleys are seen as sufficient to keep the peace and so the parties only occasionally erupt into drunken brawls or riots.

    Beneath the waves of the Precipean Sea rests the shadow of the city of Luthe. In the First Age, it was a beautiful city floating upon the waves, but the sorceries that kept the city afloat failed during the Usurpation and the city sank into the ocean. Now, the city lies on the bottom of the sea, inhabited by the shades of all those who drowned when the city sank. The buildings now sprout coral, sponges, and sea ferns in a rainbow of pastel colors and seaweed grows in the fields surrounding the city.

    The city’s citizens, not bothered by an inability to breathe, have adapted to life underwater. Some have even moliated themselves into forms more suited to their environment. Many sport webbed feet and hands, fish-like fins, or octopus tentacles. Speech is difficult underwater and carries strangely, so the Luthians have developed a language of simple hand signs and gestures with which to communicate underwater. Newer construction, mostly of cut, unmortared stone, rises in towers with doorway-sized openings at every level for swimmers to enter more easily. Trade with surface dwellers is facilitated by floating platforms anchored to the sea bottom with long kelp-fiber ropes, from which trade goods are hauled up or lowered down by porters and hand-cranked winches.

    Life, or rather death, in the city is not without its troubles. Icebergs calving off the nearby glaciers of the Silver Coast can bring frigid temperatures to the city and complicate trade as the drift by. Leviathens, more often a problem for ships, are sometimes drawn to the city, where they can hunt the city’s streets until brought down or driven away by the city guard. Most often, the problems are internal. The city’s leadership did not drown when Luthe sank, leaving the ghostly citizens to turn to others for leadership and splintering the city into factions. The various groups have jockeyed against one another for so long it has become almost like a dance, with betrayals, coups, and alliances all merely part of the music. The city is currently ruled by a council of leaders from several major factions, but the government is overthrown or reformed every decade or so. It’s only a matter of time before it happens again and the drama of social upheaval starts anew.

    Upon the Fields of Rusted Iron, a battle always rages. Originally a battlefield between two nations, the bitter hatred of both nations resulted in a hundred years of war and the deaths of thousands. In the Underworld, that same hatred led to the ghosts of fallen soldiers to pick up their weapons and march to battle against each other again. The war has run so long that the narrative of battle and death has become the whole purpose for existence for many. Peasants rebuild farms and settlements around the edges of the Fields in order to relive the terror and sorrow of the pillaging and burning of their homes and the soldiers of both sides are happy to oblige. The battles have drawn mercenaries, bandits, and thrill seekers, blurring the lines between both sides of the endless conflict and some soldiers no longer care who they are fighting, only that they are fighting.

    The Fields of Rusted Iron take their name from the changes wrought upon the battlefield by the constant war and the warping of the Underworld. The ground has been stained a rusty red by plasmic blood and the metal shards of shattered weapons and armor and from it grows brambles of black iron and feathered arrow shafts. Broken spear shafts and tattered banners dot the fields, marks of past defeats. From time to time, earthquakes ripple through the battlefield and change the lay of the land, shifting the course of rivers and moving hills and ridges about.


    The Bleaklands

    Hovering just above the dark mists that mark the outermost boundaries of the Underworld, the Bleaklands are the last gasps of a dying memory. Held back from passing into the black unknown by only the most tenuous threads - a last bloodline, a few stones stacked one on the other, or a passing mention in a moldering tome - the kingdoms of the Bleaklands are home to the most ancient ghosts in the Underworld. Warped by the millennia of obsessions necessary to hold to existence against the pull of Lethe, ghosts in the Bleaklands can often seem inhuman. Indeed, some are not human in origin, but instead the last vestiges of nearly forgotten races from the Time Before.

    The Bleaklands are almost completely consumed by the passions of their residents and the influences of the Underworld. Caverns gape like skulls, forests grow branches like grasping skeletal hands, shadows stretch long and sinister, and tombs transform into grand and gothic structures, all as a backdrop to cities of black angels, wizened old crones, incarnations of hunger and horror, and other strange forms.

    Bleakland Locales

    Drifting somewhere in the icy waters of the Thanotic Ocean, Yuba struggles against oblivion. The land has long since lost all ties to Creation and should have slipped away into the mists at the edge of the Underworld, never to be seen again, but its ruler foresaw the calamity to come and took action. Miles of shoreline are filled with banks of oars manned by teams of ghostly slaves while Yuba’s mountain ranges sprout masts and sails like strange white trees. A hundred years of stonemasonry have chipped away at the island until it possesses a crude prow, easing the effort needed to fight the current, while an incredible construction of gears, pulleys, and soulsteel serves as a rudder and maintains the island’s course.

    The effort of transforming an island into a workable ship has not been easy. Mountains have been quarried flat, the stone dumped into the sea to lighten the island. Forests have been cleared in order to build masts and braces for the thousands of sails and looms labor endlessly to provide replacement canvas. To secure the labor and supplies necessary to build his island-ship, the Amir of Yuba used his armies to plunder his neighbors and enslaved hundreds of ghosts, acts which gained him no shortage of enemies.

    Yuba has not thwarted the grasp of entropy completely. The oar slaves must periodically be replenished - either due to escapes, Lethe, or the depredations of coastal raiders - storm-broken masts must be replaced, and a hundred other things procured or the waves will carry the island beyond the edge of the Underworld. Few city-states in the Bleaklands are willing to trade with Yuba, the legacy left to the city-state by the wars fought to build the island-ship, and so Yuba turns to piracy to supply its needs.

    High in the Adari Mountains, a range of grasping onyx spires and jagged granite cliffs, the ghosts of the Alaun congregate. A pre-human race which was driven to extinction after siding against the gods in the Time Before, the shades of the Alaun are somewhat avian in form, with curved beaks, thin bodies, reverse-jointed legs, long, narrow necks, and a feathered coat. Their villages and towns are collections of granite towers, tall and thin, clinging to the steep slopes like mussels to a pier footing.

    Deeply distrustful of humans and their departed souls, the Alaun keep to themselves and only a few outsiders are allowed to venture into their territory or see the inside of their vaulted halls. Still, the Alaun desire goods that can’t be found within the mountains and valleys they claim as their own. A few merchants, not so much trusted as grudgingly tolerated, are allowed to bring their wares to a handful of trading posts. Plasmic cattle, preserved fish, soulsteel ingots, and other raw materials are exchanged for strange works of artifice, tomes of forgotten lore, and magics unique to the Aluan.

    In the First Age, the city of Radzeta rose like a jeweled crown from the snow and ice of the northern tundra, a city of silver and crystal shining in all the colors of the rainbow. Ruined beyond repair by the battles of the Usurpation, the wreckage of the city now lies frozen beneath glacial ice. The city’s reflection lived on in the Underworld, however, ruled by the ghosts of its Solar queen and her Lunar consort. Captured as it was in the midst of the war, the queen and her people set about repairing the damaged city, attempting to recreate its living glory.

    They succeeded, after a fashion. Radzeta is now patched in many places with soulsteel, the wonders of First Age artifice replaced with grave goods, and the sorcerous workings reimagined through necromancy. The centuries of labor and construction have reshaped not just the city but also its inhabitants. A dozen castes of ghosts, shaped by passions and moliation to suit the tasks to which they have been put, continue to labor at expanding and improving the repaired city. Hulking, oversized laborers quarry, mine, and haul. Stout, many-armed craftsmen churn out forged iron, blown glass, and carved wood. Spindly artisans with flexible limbs and many-jointed fingers produce intricate clockworks, etch delicate crystal, and all manner of fine work. Ruling over them all is a nobility of ghostly necromancers, each unearthly beautiful or grotesquely hideous according to their whim and madness.

    Radzeta’s prosperity draws immigrants, which the city readily accepts. Those with money, skill, or influence find places for themselves in the middle and upper classes of the city, while the homeless and poor are readily welcomed into the laborer castes and reshaped to fit their place in society. However, the city’s industry has grown large enough that it can no longer acquire enough raw materials to sustain its relentless pace. Some of the city’s workshops, foundries, and forges stand quiet and workers who have known nothing but ceaseless toil for centuries are left idle. Among the living or the younger dead such would mean a shift to other employment but for these ancient ghosts this is unthinkable. Their purpose for being has become tied up in the act of building and making, transforming idle time from a respite into torment. Work gangs have taken to raiding each other’s building sites for materials or dismantling finished buildings to build anew and the strife in the city is only growing.


    The Labyrinthian Kingdoms

    There is another place where cities and lands are found: the Labyrinth. Inside the twisting passageways and cavernous vaults, ghosts of many stripes make their homes, willingly or unwillingly. Some of these places are shanty towns cobbled together by ghosts hopelessly lost from the surface. Others are whole nations swallowed by waves and whirlpools from the surface above. A few are blasphemous temples, carved from bleeding stone by mad specters and consecrated to the worship of the hekatonkhire or the Neverborn.

    Called amphiskopoloi, these scattered settlements can be worlds unto themselves, trapped within the nightmare effects common within the Labyrinth. Some might have districts spread through fractures in time or buildings that are smaller within than without. Others might live in chambers that wail and weep an endless rain of tears or manifest hallucinatory images of death and pain. The psychoplasmic nature of such phenomena can sometimes become self-reinforcing, where a community’s fears or desires are magnified and reflected back upon them, such as a fear of the dark causing the darkness to become burning cold, giving them even more reason to fear the darkness.


    Labyrinthean Locales

    In the middle depths of the Labyrinth stands the ruins of the city of Ruebroc. Swallowed up ages ago, the city is now home to the Disciples of the Burning Eye, a cult of specters, and their captive slaves. Their god is the Eye of Desolation, a hecatonkhire that takes the form of a sphere of crimson fire, who demands constant sacrifices and the Disciples hurry to obey. They raid the surface for captives and feed them, one by one, to the Eye of Desolation, who sears away their corpus until nothing but their shadow remains, burned into the stone.

    These shadows take on a semblance of life, crawling across walls and floors in search of prey. The shadows crave physical substance above all else, seeking to devour ghosts with their ephemeral claws and icy teeth, but fear the light of their progenitor. They congregate in the tunnels around Ruebroc, waiting for some sliver of shade to allow them to slip into the city and terrorize the captives there. When not laboring at whatever projects the Disciples set for them, the captives huddle for protection on roofs and in open spaces throughout the city, avoiding the shadowy interiors of the ruined buildings. The Eye of Desolation is the cavern’s primary source of light and it wanders about, surveying its domain as the whim takes it, making the cavern’s shadows erratic and dangerous.

    The Disciples of the Burning Eye believe that one day the Eye of Desolation will burst free of the Labyrinth and take its rightful place as the Underworld’s sun, purifying the lands of the unworthy with its piercing gaze. For now, they use lanterns lit by Eye’s flames to venture to the surface to seize more sacrifices for their god and to preach their strange gospel to those who will hear.

    In the upper reaches of the Labyrinth is the Starless Sea, a vast, underground ocean. The cavern that Starless Sea occupies is so large that journeys of months have failed to find a cavern wall. Here and there massive columns of stone rise from the water, some colonized like islands by ghosts cast adrift in the inky black. The cavern echoes constantly with the sound of waterfalls, as cracks and holes in the roof pour rivulets and streams down into the Sea below and whirlpools and rivers carry it away and down into the deeper layers of the Labyrinth. Driftwood, flotsam, and even the broken hulls of ships sometimes make their way down into the Starless Sea, which the sea’s residents scavenge and use to build their homes or makeshift rafts. A few daring helldivers fish the waters, for things swim under the surface with pearl eyes, iron teeth, and golden scales. Those that make it back to the surface make a fortune. Those that don’t have their boats torn asunder and are devoured whole.

    Somewhere in the Labyrinth, the town of Lost squats in a jagged fault. Populated by ghosts who no longer have a sense of where they are, the citizens stay because they no longer wish to brave the dangers of the Labyrinth’s tunnels. Over time, enough travelers have found their way to Lost that the town is jammed with homes and shops, built of stone and stacked one atop the other. Some of the town’s citizens go about their days as though they were not trapped within the Labyrinth, cultivating blissful ignorance of the dangers around them. Others venture out into the darkness for supplies or sit dejectedly in corners waiting to find out what end will come for them. A rare few gather the courage to leave and brave the Labyrinth again in hopes of finding the surface, most never to return.

    At the uttermost depth of the Labyrinth, a cavern opens above a shadowy pit from which nothing has returned. Above the pit hangs the Sepulcher of Shattered Hope, like a castle of jagged emerald obsidian built upside down. The size of a small city, the Sepulcher's battlements, balconies, and towers follow no natural order and seem to shift at the edge of vision. Chains stretch above the chasm to anchor to the walls, supporting swaying bridges of iron and stone. The gates, wrought of gold and lapis, open themselves to admit a rare few, mostly specter pilgrims come to worship directly. Here, dead since the Time Before, slumbers one of the Neverborn.

    Near the Sepulcher shadows are cast in reverse, as though trying to flee the darkness ahead, and the air grows chill. Those who have entered and returned speak of rooms laid out to an alien logic, floors paved with ivory, and a susurrus of voices just beyond the edge of hearing. Some have returned bearing extraordinary grave goods or speaking bleak wisdom. Others simply do not return.

    Last edited by Kyeudo; 02-16-2016, 04:17 PM.



    Masters of the Industrial Elements
    Upon the Rock of Tradition: The Memorial Exalted
    Ghosts: A Revision (2nd Edition)
    The Underworld (3rd Edition)
    ​From The Crucible: Crafting As A Struggle

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    • #3
      This is fantastic and Yuba is sick as hell.


      But sexually.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Ellis View Post
        This is fantastic and Yuba is sick as hell.
        What's the weakest part?



        Masters of the Industrial Elements
        Upon the Rock of Tradition: The Memorial Exalted
        Ghosts: A Revision (2nd Edition)
        The Underworld (3rd Edition)
        ​From The Crucible: Crafting As A Struggle

        Comment


        • #5
          Pretty cool. A few suggestions:

          -I think you can push the "height" metaphor further. Dig deep enough underground in the Brightlands and you reach the Highlands. When an area enters or leaves a layer, it falls from the sky or sinks beneath the earth. And so on.

          -I think people's beliefs about the afterlife should affect the shape of the Underworld. If there were Christians in Creation, their ghosts would be judged by some mysterious deathly force and sent to "heaven" or to "hell", both of which are in the Underworld. Since religions tend to be regional, this fits pretty well with the way you have the Underworld divided up...the Underworld corresponding to two Immaculate areas might be close even if those areas are far apart. Some afterlifes could be quite pleasant, but unfortunately even the nicest afterlife is affected by the nature of the Underworld as a whole. And since the Immaculate Faith is pretty anti-Underworld, it doesn't generate a pleasant afterlife.

          -I think it would be a good idea to talk a bit about the Deathlords, even if they're no longer the primary focus of the Underworld.

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          • #6
            WIth the "height" metaphor, I wanted to keep to the idea of the Underworld as a metaphorical mountain, held together by the tension between memory and entropy. It also allows for a more natural relationship between areas - trade is hard to conduct when you have to climb into the sky or dig a tunnel. It also allows for easier interaction with the metaphoric association of rivers as boundaries between life and death. Besides, Malfeas is already doing the "layers" thing.

            Having beliefs shape the Underworld region you end up in would be interesting, but Creation hasn't been portrayed with much religious variety. We have been given only one creation myth (which is de facto true), we don't have any examples of gods competing for "supreme diety" status -most local gods are seen as "our god" rather than "the only god and only source of spiritual truth" - and reincarnation is a major assumption for much of the setting, rather than an afterlife. Basically, I don't think I could pull it off without rendering it a pastiche of Judaeo-Christian religious beliefs seasoned with some Asian and African beliefs lifted from a cursory read of Wikipedia.

            With the Deathlords, I am hesitant to touch them. Right now, we don't know much about them or how they relate to the Underworld. They are rulers, but how much of the Underworld do they rule? Do they have opposition to their rule or do the Deathlords only have serious opposition from each other? What is a Deathlord? Are they just powerful ghosts or has something special happened to them that elevates them above ordinary ghosts? So many questions with answers that have a serious impact on how a Deathlord dominated territory should be portrayed. Depending on some answers, Radzeta might be an example of a kingdom ruled by a Deathlord. On others, the Solar-ghost ruler of Radzeta might fall far short of the stature of a Deathlord.



            Masters of the Industrial Elements
            Upon the Rock of Tradition: The Memorial Exalted
            Ghosts: A Revision (2nd Edition)
            The Underworld (3rd Edition)
            ​From The Crucible: Crafting As A Struggle

            Comment


            • #7
              The lack of religious variety in Creation kinda bothers me, for what it's worth. Seems pretty unrealistic (and not in a good way) for an entire world to end up so homogeneous.

              Who knows, maybe 3e will do something about it. But at the moment it kinda feels like there are four religions: the Immaculate faith, praying to your ancestors, sucking up to the nearest semi-major god, and venerating the Incarnae. Ideally each of those would be an enormous category with tons of entries that have little in common, and there'd be plenty of religions that don't fit in any.

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              • #8
                A rare few gather the courage to leave and brave the Labyrinth again in hopes of finding the surface, most never to return.
                Well, of course they don't, that's the point.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by God_of_Awesome View Post

                  Well, of course they don't, that's the point.
                  That's the joke.



                  Masters of the Industrial Elements
                  Upon the Rock of Tradition: The Memorial Exalted
                  Ghosts: A Revision (2nd Edition)
                  The Underworld (3rd Edition)
                  ​From The Crucible: Crafting As A Struggle

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Sanctaphrax View Post
                    The lack of religious variety in Creation kinda bothers me, for what it's worth. Seems pretty unrealistic (and not in a good way) for an entire world to end up so homogeneous.

                    Who knows, maybe 3e will do something about it. But at the moment it kinda feels like there are four religions: the Immaculate faith, praying to your ancestors, sucking up to the nearest semi-major god, and venerating the Incarnae. Ideally each of those would be an enormous category with tons of entries that have little in common, and there'd be plenty of religions that don't fit in any.
                    I've commented on this before, but I think one big stumbling block is that diversity of religions is a little funkier with a single true cosmology as known by omniscient players. Not much point in claiming Sol created the universe when the players know it's not true and anyone who believes it is a chump. The other big stumbling block is that the writers aren't gonna devote a load of space to arcane theological schisms that nobody's ever gonna use in a game.
                    That said, I really liked the Yozi cults someone came up with for.... an Infernals rewrite, I think? Basically they completely reinterpreted their Yozi, like Malfeas was an omnibenevolent king and Adorjan was the expression of joy. Interpretations and reinterpretations and misinterpretations like that can go a long way (see also: is Exaltations of the Dragons or from the Dragons?)


                    But sexually.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Ellis View Post
                      I've commented on this before, but I think one big stumbling block is that diversity of religions is a little funkier with a single true cosmology as known by omniscient players. Not much point in claiming Sol created the universe when the players know it's not true and anyone who believes it is a chump. The other big stumbling block is that the writers aren't gonna devote a load of space to arcane theological schisms that nobody's ever gonna use in a game.
                      But what about elements focused on particular places? Suppose that Halta has a religion dominated by that forest god of theirs - perhaps with a mythology around the world growing out of a seed or something. Could we not get some details similar to what we get about the Immaculate Philosophy? How about a place where the local religion has been forced underground by the coming of the Immaculates? There are ways that greater theological diversity could be injected into the setting.



                      Masters of the Industrial Elements
                      Upon the Rock of Tradition: The Memorial Exalted
                      Ghosts: A Revision (2nd Edition)
                      The Underworld (3rd Edition)
                      ​From The Crucible: Crafting As A Struggle

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Hold on, this deserves a thread all of its own.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          You've created something a lot more appealing than prior versions. I can't help but project a Fallen London/Sunless Sea vibe on it.

                          Has anyone done a good Abyssal conversion yet?

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by squidheadjax View Post
                            You've created something a lot more appealing than prior versions. I can't help but project a Fallen London/Sunless Sea vibe on it.

                            Has anyone done a good Abyssal conversion yet?
                            Hah, that's what it reminds me of! I think Mr. Eaten would be an excellent Deathlord.


                            But sexually.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by God_of_Awesome View Post
                              Hold on, this deserves a thread all of its own.
                              Eh, I certainly wouldn't mind the traffic through this thread.



                              Masters of the Industrial Elements
                              Upon the Rock of Tradition: The Memorial Exalted
                              Ghosts: A Revision (2nd Edition)
                              The Underworld (3rd Edition)
                              ​From The Crucible: Crafting As A Struggle

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