Hollow Worlds of the Really Wild West
Before we begin, a scheduling note. I am moving from Indiana, back to Oklahoma this week. As a result rather than do four small posts Tue-Fri, you are getting one big one now. And some bonus content. A week’s worth of blog material in one day. As a result it covers a few related topics, rather than being tightly focused. My expectation is that by next week I’ll have at least set up a laptop on a box and have an ice cooler for a chair, and can post as normal again.
Some Design Goals
One of the things I have realized about the Really Wild West is that I want it to feel like some of my favorite weird west, Victoriana, steampunk, and genre-blending stories (many of which are listed in the inspirations page, here). Stories that surprised and delighted me when Dracula and Sherlock Holmes fought, or the Nautilus rams Martian Tripods, or cowboys deal with dinosaurs, sorcerers, and aliens.
Things that… just aren’t that unusual anymore. Between the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Cowboys vs Aliens, and Penny Dreadful, late 1800s fiction and genre blending is not only fairly normal, a lot of things have become nearly passe. Having Doctor Jekyll run a monster-hunting secret society that conflicts with an ancient mummy just doesn’t do it for me anymore. All those elements are too common, explored, and available.
But I do want to do things LIKE that. Not have archaeologists race to find the Holy Grail in Hatay, or seek the treasure of the Knights Templar hidden by the Founding Fathers, but for the Club of Nobody’s Friends (the oldest dining club in England) to have to hide the the three parts of the Scepter of Dagobert (the oldest of the French Crown Jewels, which had been left with the religious pension fund known as Queen Anne’s Bounty) from the Serpentin Vert (“Green Serpent,” in French, a secret society of poison-themed mystics who wish to use it to take control of the Dragons of France), and thus have hidden the sections in old wine cellars in abandoned 1700s New France mansions overtaken by the swamps of Louisiana.
That gives me the blend of stuff I want.
While hopefully avoiding treating colonialism as a good thing, treating any culture or peoples as orcs to be slaughtered, or making caricatures of real-world groups.
So, I want to create NEW legends and myths, drawn from the era and feel of the things I have loved, without just retreading Dracula, the Grail, Frankenstein’s Monster, Martian Tripods, and Billy the Kid. Instead of focusing on werewolves, talk about coyotes who can take on human form for one lunar cycle if they eat a human’s heart, and are vulnerable to any weapon that has never taken a human life. Undead are gulchers and whistlers, rather than just ghouls and zombies.
Not for every encounter. It’s the Wild West, sometimes you just get jumped by outlaws.
But for setting pieces and major plots? Then we build on the new mythology to make the Really Wild West earn the “Really Wild” title. Then the outlaws are Junk Golems spontaneously created from steam train Iron Horse 4771, which blew up when its experimental Fire Elemental Engine was sabotaged to ensure the Arcane and Arkansas Railroad would lose out on a contract to Zeus Skyboats–resulting in the boom sky town of Oklahoma City (established recently in 1889) becoming wealthy–a fact the Junk Golems plan to fix by destroying it.
You know… Really Wild.
And this brings us to “The Hollow Worlds.”
In the world of the Really Wild West, it is accepted there is a Surface World — everything common and seen and (mostly) understood. There is the Esoteric World, or perhaps multiple Esoteric worlds, wherein the spirits move, ether flows, Astral Projection is possible, and Theosophy is mapping out the powers of spiritualism.
But with the discovery of Agartha, the concept of Hollow Worlds has become commonplace. These are definite, concrete places you can walk to under the right circumstances… that may or may not be part of the Surface World. Agartha is actually part of a Hollow Earth. But there are also places that seem to exist in some kind of “Hollow Space.” Buyan is only accessible by the Surface World some of the time. Frozen Lomar is from the dim and ancient past… but somehow seems to be a place people still encounter from time to time. The fact dinosaurs exist in Agartha, and the Americas, and nowhere else convince most scholars that there are Hollow Mountains that lead from those continents to Agartha, and that perhaps vast caverns also exist in which lost civilizations and alien societies may dwell.
Atlantis rose, and fell, and is gone. All the lands of the Surface World are inhabited by *someone*, save Antarctica (as far as anyone knows). It is to the various Hollow Worlds the great explorers and conquerors now loom to find a fresh frontier.
And Mars, of course. If anyone can figure out out to get there.
These are some of the most commonly accepted Hollow Worlds.
(art by Oscar)
Agartha is the Hollow Earth, and entire world within the center of the world. Long rumored to exist, it was considered by most to be little more real than Mu or Lemuria… until Professor Lidenbrock made an expedition to there and back through a volcano in Iceland, and returned with proof of his discoveries. The professor is largely retired now, but his daughter Gräuben Lidenbrock runs “Lindenbrock Excursions,” and has established three major routes to the Hollow Earth, all through Northern Europe. She is expending considerable resources to attempt to be the first to find the theorized link from the Americas to Agartha.
Agartha is filled with Asuras, Dinosaurs, Giants, Megafauna, Impossible Golden Palaces which can be seen in the distance, but never reached), and a few small enclaves of sapient species known on the surface world (descended from, at least, vikings and Chinese soldiers who found their way there in antiquity). It’s interior is also filled with particulate gravity-blocking cavorite, which can be sifted from the air at great expense to form lighter-than-air metal.
Buyan is an island or continent (reports are unclear) inhabited by angels, demons, fey, or the spirits of the departed (unclear), that can appear in any lake or ocean. It is the source of weather (which is guarded by two dragons known as the Talon and the Serpent–Gagana and Garafena), home of the legendary city of Ledenets (from where the warrior-priestesses the Zoryas endlessly forge the chain that keeps the Doomsday Hound Simargl bound to the star Polaris so it cannot devout all the stars and destroy the world), and the place one must go to begin a quest for the Alatyr, the “burning white stone” which may or may not be the rock Jesus stood on when he preached to his Disciples.
Most information about Buyan comes from the Dove Book (Golubinaya Kniga), a book of mixed pagan and Christian lore banned by the Russian Orthodox Church. There are 20 core versions of the book, ranging from 20 to 300 pages long, and hundreds of local variants of those core 20 versions.
However, the advent of Theosophical methods of divination have determined Buyan, or something like it, is real, and it’s location and route to and from it are mutable. Many theosophicers believe Buran is Etheric, existing in an Ether through which spiritual energy and thought travel.
The land referred to as Frozen Lomar is a pre-humanoid civilization that may date back to the Pliocene Epoch, and nearly all sign of it was lost due to later glaciers. Frozen Lomar is noted as being located “within the ice cap,” but there is no hint if that is to the north or south. It is know the Lomarah, the denizens of Frozen Lomar, accessed and studied the original Pnakotic Manuscripts, scrolls which described elder gods and horrific eldritch truths. The Lomarah added to the Manuscripts, perhaps creating several different versions. However no copy of the Pnakotic Manuscripts remain. They, and frozen Lomar, and known only because of quotes from an also-lost Greek translation (the Pnakotica) are referenced in a few other works of antiquity. While there are rumors of a Pnakotic Brotherhood that seeks and is ruled by the Manuscripts, sometimes linked to the Faustus Society, there is no verified proof they exist.
Frozen Lomar is believed to have created various outposts, also in the Pliocene, which are also lost to time. A few such have been reported by explorers to Agartha, vast caverns in Argentina and Missouri, and one mist-shrouded island in the Pacific. These all describe huge cyclopean structures, black runes that can only be read by indirect moonlight, strange aberrations, hex-shaped stone constructions, lore crystals, blind cultists, and hairless ratlike semihumanoid cannibals. However, such encounters invariable end with the Lomarah Outpost sinking or being destroyed by lava, so reports are always second-hand.
A few expeditions claim to have stumbled from such outposts into a still-vibrant Frozen Lomar itself… though thsoe who claim so often seem too crazed to be taken as reliable.
Many esoteric book on magic and the supernatural written in the ancient period reference a city of great wisdom called Hsan. These reference suggest the city is so ubiquitously well-known that no description of its location or nature is necessary. By the Fall of Rome, no one seems to know anything about it. It is suggested to lie East of Persia and West of Qi.
The symbol of Hsan is noted to be a winged and horned lion with two tails of differing lengths. This symbol has been spotted by telescope on at least one Impossible Golden Palace in Agartha, leading some to think Hsan is in a Hollow World adjacent to Agartha, but somehow separate from it.
During the reign of Roman Emperor Philip, who ruled from AD 244 to 249, armoes and emissaries from the “Northern Roman Empire, Silbannacia” arrived in Rome and offered an alliance. They had coin, apparently magic weapons and armor, and claimed to serve “IMP MAR SILBANNACVS AVG,” under the grace of the God Mercury.
They also carried banners of the lost Roman Ninth Legion, which had dissappeared centuries earlier.
Then Emperor Philip was deposed, and the emissaries vanished.
Silbannacia shows up a few more times through history. Apparently late-Roman soldiers, in chain but with strange weapons that “fire plumbes of vapour green,” and swords and spears that produce the same green gas, they arrive in strange corners of the world. Sometimes they are peaceful allies to small groups of the lost. Other times they sack, kill, raid, and make off with some object or person. There are numerous accounts of them in the records of natives in North and South America, dating back thousands of years.
And recently, a few sightings have been reported near wildernesses in the Far West.
Very little is known of Ungol. It is mentioned almost exclusive in its absence–the banned text Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten notes the “Dust of the Letterless City is Death,” and then lists five sections of the German alphabet. Each section is in common order, but the sections themselves are shuffled and one letter is missing from each section. If you note down each missing letter in order, you get u, n, g, o, and l. Some archived copies of the Maladicta, an unholy book used by hags, dare to mention “Ungl/Ngol.” The Code of Hammurabi proscribes the same punishment for “naming or marking the Name of the Forbidden City that is not Gol” as it does casting a spell upon a man unjustly (trial by holy river).
Some undead cry out “Ungol! Ungol!” just prior to destruction.
Okay, that’s a rundown of some Hollow Worlds.
Let’s move on a bit to something we touched on in the article on fenrin… the the Paderborn Edicts, which evolved from the First Council of Paderborn.
The Paderborn Edicts
In the hsitory of the world of the Really Wild West, the Paderborn Edicts were an important set of laws established by the Council of Padernborn in 785 under Charlemagne, and were designed to codify interactions between different “Uberklug,” a term used to indicate all creatures capable of emotion, thought, speech, and self-awareness (often translated as “sapient”). In addition to dwarves, elves, humans, kasatha and ysoki (all common in the Holy Roman Empire), it included noted representatives and scholars of centaur, gnomish, nuar, and shirren groups. Leaders of 4 major religions were present, as were representatives of 12 more. At least one dragon, one inevitable, and one sphinx were present as advisors.
The Paderborn Edicts established that communication with or gaining power from “achaierai, azatas, daemons, demodands, demons, devils, efreeti, lengites, sahkil, slaad, tindalosi, yeth, and the spirits of the dead” is always wrong and can (and should) be banned, while other forms of divination and magics are not inherently evil. Further it makes a distinction between magi and wonder-workers, and “hexen,” or those who spread, use, or wish to command evil powers.
While the original Edicts were far from complete, new councils were held every 101 years to update them. Rules on being a Hex Hunter were established (for hunting down only evil and murderous spellcasters, as opposed to the much more mercenary and often wicked “witch hunters” who often scourged areas), various religions “vetted” as no better or worse than any other, more creatures added to those not to be trusted (from qlippoth in 886 to, most recently, manasaputra and oni in 1795), and so on.
Most European nations have built their laws on magic on the Paderborn Edicts. While for centuries magic has been seen as uncontrollable and unpredictable by sapients (“Magic and monsters are real — as are lighting and typhoons — but there’s no point in mortals studying or trying to control it”), where laws were seen as needful (while a man was unlikely to be able to cast a spell, a deal could be cut with a faerie, after all) they were built off the Edicts.
While many of the laws and rules were seen as metaphors in Europe and the Americas (“of course giants and dragons exist, and I suppose angels must, but none of that is common or normal, and wizards are mostly fakers or fey playing tricks”) in the past century much more of it has been taken to be literal. With the rise of Theosophy defining some natural laws behind magic (and laying out ways it can be taught like any other skill), it is expected the 1896 council will potentially rewrite the Edicts from scratch.
See You Next Week!
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Posted on June 2, 2020, in Anachronistic Adventurers, Microsetting, Starfinder Development and tagged Game Design, gaming, Geekery, Really Wild West, Starfinder, Worldbuilding. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.