Excerpt from “The Chromatic Books of Horrors & Heroes,” the Byzantium Notebook, by Ben-Derek Hayes (Circa Age 13)

Excerpts from another of the “Chromatic Books of Horrors & Heroes” by Ben-Derek Hayes.  The Byzantium Notebook is particularly interesting because while the core of it was written in one school year (and, I would guess, a school year when Ben-Derek Hayes was learning some basics of Humanities, Classics, Philosophy, and/or some similar coursework), numerous expansions on its core concepts have been scribbled on scraps of notepaper, ridiculously long pharmacy receipts, and birthday cards and folded into the larger notebook. None of these are dated, so I cannot expand the age at which Ben-Derek Hayes wrote them, but pretty clearly this was a working notebook throughout years of campaign-running and worldbuilding.

Among other things, the notebook’s early focus on who the gods of various regions and species and cultures are, and what agents serve those gods, slowly expands out to be a whole (and if not unique, at the least unusual) cosmology designed to allow for all the elements Ben-Derek Hayes wants in his fantasy ttRPG campaigns. As the cosmology evolves it gets rewritten, in whole or part, over and over. Some old versions are relabeled as heresies (the Tsarnuk Hersey of One Principality being the earliest example of this). While I have only copied out sections of cosmology that seem to be the “final” take in the Byzantium Notebook, stitching together from various corrected sections as best i can, I must say I adore the idea of taking old worldbuidling ideas and reusing them as heresy and incorrect world theories. If there are people in the real world who insist the planet is flat, then surely other crackpot ideas are going to take root in something as gonzo as a multispecies, multiplanar, multideity fantasy realm.

The illustrations in this notebook were images clipped from various magazines, often collaged together, and definitely focused on being cool and interesting to a 13-15 year old, rather than appropriate for publication. I have done my best to be true to the spirit of those pasteup pictures using the art of Warmtail.

COSMOLOGY

In the beginning, there was nothingness. As that is all there was it was also, perforce, everything. The Nothingness was content to be nothing and everything, for there was no difference to the Nothingness. But much as we can be of two minds, so too was duality part of everything, and thus part of the Nothingness. The two most potent dualities were the Possible and the Impossible. Time did not exist, so there is no way to describe or even comprehend “how long” the Possible and Impossible coexisting within the Nothingness that was both all and naught.

As an aside — despite being before time, this state is sometimes referred to as the Pristine Epoch, for there was no conflict, no pain, no anger. When a lahki strives to achieve perfection through a return to the Pristine Epoch, what they are trying to do is bring total destruction, for if there was nothing, there would be Nothingness, and thus everything. Lahki are, of course, driven my mortal minds, and mortal minds cannot comprehend the Nothingness from before time. Thus, all lahki seeing to bring about the Pristine Epoch are ruled by idiots, charlatans, or madmen.

How or why the Possible and Impossible came into conflict within the Nothingness is just as unanswerable as “when” it happened, but at the moment time began, the two were already locked in a struggle that was ancient and exhausting. It is impossible to say if the Possible was stronger by nature of being Possible, or if that appellation was only granted to it because it won, but within the Nothingness the Possible came to be Everything, and the Impossible was locked away behind the Outer Brane, the thin fabric that separate the morphic and often unlikely Outer Planes from the Grand Koas beyond it. And, even as the Possible grew, developed, and evolved, the Grand Kaos did so as well, despute being Impossible and not properly existing, and it is from this came the Kaos Gods, the urges that lost the first conflict and which do not exist, but wish to exist with such strength that their incomprehensible, noisome, disquieting nature still influences the Possible reality.

Because they were the first Possible things, every elder concept became the ultimate expression of that concept. These are better known as Gods, but it is again a mistake to think of gods in terms mortal minds can grasp. The God that formed from the concept of time is only and purely time. It is in no part thought, patience, desire, concern, or action. The Ur-Time is a god, and as a god it is everything but only what makes up time, and does nothing time does not.

Gods, in short, do not want anything, or work toward anything, in any way a mortal can comprehend. They change, but on scales and in ways unknowable and unnoticeable to anything comprised even partially of flesh, blood, skin, bone, thought, breath, emotion, life, or death. Gods are distinct and different from even the mightiest of angel, oldest of devil, or reality-bending draconic sorcerer psionic ninja, in that they literally cannot be even partially perceived, affected, damaged, or influences by a creature with any of the mortal traits. This naturally leads some mortals to shrug and say Gods must not exist, because no magic, lore, ritual, relic, technology, or ability that can be accessed at any level, in any way, can interact with a God at all.

And, fair enough.

However, the Gods can interact with creatures comprise exclusively of essences such as the concept sthat make up the Gods themselves, but are each a blend of essences. Still entirely beyond the understanding of any mortal, these entites can have urges, desires, and plans, for while one may be made of the essential essence that is time, it can also have swirls of forethought, regret, age, ancestry, and dozens of other concepts adjacent to time. The God time is only time, but there are a dozen, or a billion, lesser coalescents of only essence that bring more concepts to time, so that they can do more than just those things time can do.

These are known as the Principalities, and while no mortal can directly speak with or trily understand a Principality, the most powerful of mortal endeavors — the work of ancient artifacts, archmagics, philosophical constructs of a thousand generations — can influence and be influenced by Principalities. Such interaction is as no more than the flutter of a butterfly’s wings on a charging bull, and only a tiny fraction of all mortal who shall ever exist can reach the enlightenment and empowerment needed for even the briefest of such overlaps, but it is real, tangible, measurable, and recorded. And, the Principalities can easily interact with those creatures which sit outside the laws of gross matter. Such “outsiders,” including angels, archons, demons, devils, aeons, and a few or unnumbered more, are in part the wisps of the Principalities’ essences that have leaked free of their purified state to blend with planar energies. Angels are not just creatures native to the outer planes, they are in part the tracery of Principalities’ energies themselves, and thus naturally align with and sere those Principalities from whence they came.

Disbelief in Principalities exists among mortals, but it is far less common than disbelief in gods. Indeed, most mortals skeptical of the existence of Gods ask why anyone would think to invent a level of entity entirely beyond mortal comprehension in any measure, when Principalities can be proven to exit, and anything some belief systems ascribed to gods could, instead, be the work of Principalities. Indeed, many belief systems do focus primarily on Principalities, though such systems aren’t mainstream in the Commonlands.

It is, however, to worship Principalities by name and treat them as gods, even when it is understood that the true gods are an unknowable, incomprehensible level above Principalities. Gods are omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnibivalent. They have no limitations, but also no driving force. Principalities, conversely, are of a power and scope literally beyond measure, but not truly infinite. Similarly, while Gods never work together, nor ever oppose one another, principalities can and do all the time. Often their limitations seem reasonable — Urgar-Mawt, the King of Crows, is a Principality of death, the underworld, rulers, horns, crowns, night, black feathers, black clouds, and storms; the fact his angels cannot be summoned into daylight except at a grave seems reasonable given his essential connections.

(The King of Crows. Art by Warmtail)

In other cases the powers, limitations, and preferences of a Principality or their outsiders and worshipers feels entirely random and arbitrary. Anath’al, the Witchwife, is the Principality of witchcraft, secrets, silence, sex, research, poison, change, finding truth, passion, pain, and patience. Why, then, will she not harm children, and randomly grants entirely common folk the service of seven of her witches as lovers and advisors for seven years, as long as they agree to neither marry nor bring forth children of their own in this time?

No one knows, or if they do, they aren’t telling.

(Anath-al. Art by Warmtail)

Those Principalities are too far from mortal entities to mix or interact with them in any typical way, they can consort with the most powerful of outsiders. Whether this is truly breeding as living creatures see it, or more some kind of guided evolution, the fact remains that sometimes archangels, elemental dukes, demons princes, aeon magisters, and similar entities do sometimes produce offspring with Principalities. These creatures are often thought of as “lesser gods” (though Lesser Principalities would be a far more accurate description), and are sometimes worshiped in their own right. These Lesser Gods also can interact directly with mortals, and some seem to have been created specifically to do so. The Dragon Empress of Varghun is a good example of this, her 1,000-year reign definitely moving forward the goals of the Wyrm God that spawned her with a Demon Princess.

Should a Lesser God mate with a mortal, the end result is always extraordinary in some way, with demigods, godlings, heroes, paragons and abominations all possible.

Chromatic Books of Horrors & Heroes Index

As I translate and post more excerpts from these amazing analects of creativity, I’ll post the links to the end of the first Horrors & Heroes post, so serve as an Index for all the Horrors & Heroes content.

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About okcstephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the publisher and lead genius of Rogue Genius Games. Owen has written game material for numerous other companies, including Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, White Wolf, Steve Jackson Games and Upper Deck. He also consults, freelances, and in the off season, sleeps.

Posted on June 20, 2022, in Appendix O, Game Design, Microsetting and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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