The Cthoul are horrific creatures that exist as much in higher dimensions of realist as they do the Material Plane. Though their forms can shift and morph depending on the circumstance, their true nature being too foreign to mortal comprehension to ever be entirely perceived or grasped, they are most often encountered as think humanoid creatures, with bulbous heads, long tentacles emerging from their lower face, and spindly, clawed fingers.
The Cthoul are not native to our reality, and much of their power comes from their power to draw rules of operation from their twisted, alternate dimensional extensions to wrap and pervert the natural environment. Their home dimension–a palce so wrong by any reasoned thought it is known only as the Inversity–is not well understood, though it is known it has easier access to the lands of Leng and the FiendWebs than normal space. It is believed to be a reality that was entirely formed from the unconscious dreams of the Great Old One, Cthulhu, and that the Cthouls appearance is a trifle of the cosmic demands that reality made on life which evolved from it’s befouled origins. The Cthoul themselves do not speak of this theory, and while they alternatingly venerate and enslave horrific elder beings, they have no special affinity for, or understanding of, Cthulhu.
Ancient, often mind-shattering histories of long-lost alien civilizations claim that once the Cthoul ruled a vast Empire that spanned all of known existence. But that ur-reality was split, with different gods and other cosmic powers scrambling to carve out alterverses over which they would hold sway, and the Cthoul were cut off from much of the mortal mortal existence. Now they can reach realms conceivable by humanoid minds only rarely, though their banishment was neither complete nor absolute. Their twisted star vessels of indescribable color seem able to invade our reality only when those who crave their secrets summon them, or the conjunctions of planar energies form weaknesses in the weft of spacetime they can violate.
Cthoul’s very presence places pressure on the sanity of those who perceive or approach them and they seem sustained (or at least entertained) by this effect, causing them to also be known as lucidivores or “mind eaters.” They are physcially extremely strong and resilient, though each Cthoul appears to be harms by some substance or energy, but there is no commonality to what that is. They also have powerful psionic powers, and know fell magics that can pervert, twist, corrupt, and blast everything from common matter to the very souls of those who oppose them.
Cthoul plans always follow some horrific, aberrant logic, and often involve steps that occur on alternate planes of reality, making their purpose or goal literally incomprehensible to mortal minds. That said, their schemes and efforts always seem bent on creating horror, fear, pain, and despair, and some appear to take particular pleasure in torture specific species, personality types, or even accursed individuals. to be the object of a Cthouls attention for years, or even generations, in particularly dreadful, for they cannot be bargained with or trusted, and their minds can conceive of ordeals no sane being would contemplate, much less inflict on living beings. And even if driven off, slain, or utterly destroyed in normal space, most of a Cthoul exists in reality beyond the reach of even the most powerful outsiders, and once their multidimensional selves heal, they can return to execute more foul events.
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The Avarice cult steals from the sin cultists’ enemies… but also eventually steals from the other sin cultists, and is destroyed by the Wrath cult.
The Wrath cult strikes at the sin cultists’ enemies, but eventually gets itself killed.
The Lust cult drives the passions of the other cultists, and is drawn especially to Pride cult.
The Envy cult tries to demoralize the enemies of the cult, but ends up destroying itself by attacking the Lust and Pride cults.
The Pride cult can’t help but talk about how great the cult is, revealing themselves and the Lust cult in time and getting rounded up.
The Gluttony cult is then nearly alone and, having fed on the riches of the other cults, is too out of shape to accomplish anything when it tries to consume more.
And the Sloth cult?
The sloth cult does nothing, surviving the destruction of the other cults, and spreads the rumor it is destroyed. Then, it grudgingly restarts those other cults, so it can avoid having to do anything else to keep its foes from finding it.
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So, there’s a really big Bundle of Holding deal with over $100 in superhero game stuff for MUCH less, going on now (June 26-July 16, 2018). It includes two of Jacob Blackmon;s awesome RGG products, the Super Powered Bestiary and Super Powered Sourcebook.
And that got me thinking.
I’ve always been a fan of heroes who have good rogue’s galleries—villains who make up a regular set of threats for the hero. Lots of heroes have great rogue’s galleries—Daredevil, the Flash, Wolverine, and Superman all come to mind. But for me, without a doubt, the two best are Spider-Man and Batman.
And even better, they’re swappable!
You can take the idea of Batman villains and apply them to Spider-Man, and vice versa. You can also swap the bat- and spider-themes of those two characters.
And if you are running a supers game, this kind of thing can be a quick way to have somethign that feels familiar, but isn’t a direct copy of an existing character. Here are some quick swap-out characters a GM could use to build a world quickly, and still have some depth and surprises for PCs.
Bitten by a radioactive bat, the “friendly neighborhood teen chiroptera” got his (fairly terrible) nick-name from the media when he first began trying to solve crimes in Jersey City, in a homemade hero costume.
Punching Judy (Harley Quinn)
Venus Flytrap (Poison Ivy)
Ugo Fate (Hugo Strange)
Doctor Winter (Mr. Freeze)
Pumpkin Jack (Scarecrow)
When his billionaire Australian parents were murdered while on holiday with him to Empire City in the US, the child who grew to be one of the most feared villain knew he needed a symbol that would strike fear into the hearts of criminals. A symbol… like a blood-red huntsman spider.
Green Gargoyle (Green Goblin)
Bombay (Black Cat)
Professor Kraken (Dr. Octopus)
Wasp the Spider-Killer (Kraven the Hunter)
Herr Geier (Vulture)
Komodo (The Lizard)
Body Doulbe (Chameleon)
Volt (Shocker. Or Electro. Doesn’t make a big difference)
Sometimes all you need to flesh out a world, are a few espy pastiche homages. 😀
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Microsetting: The City of Hoard
I’ve been on a bit of a Starfinder RPG and general essay kick recently, but I’m still a big fan of fantasy RPG settings in general, and Pathfinder in general. So as a palate cleanser, here is a microsetting, the City of Hoard!
The City of Hoard
It’s not formally called “Hoard” of course. It’s listed as Draconis Rekai Achael in the old Imperial Charter of Settlements, Drakkenhelt in the dwarven tunnel-maps, and Aerivermaeli in the elven Songs of Places. Among the academic writings and speech of most dragons and draconic-oriented scholars, it’s Brarguren’s Canton, an acknowledgement that the mighty Brargured has carved out land acknowledged by other nations as hers, and hers alone. But even those learned individuals generally call it “Brarguren’s Hoard” in casual conversation, and from that long title most common folk have taken to just calling the city “Hoard.”
Brarguren was an active dragon in her youth, traveling extensively as soon as she ceased to be a wyrmling, claiming temporary territories, exploring lands with no sapient creature settling them. There are numerous credible accounts of her worldwide, suggesting she did not limit herself to any one continent or trade route. Many of those tales speak of her establishing herself on the edges of major civilizations, speaking to their scholars and acting as patron for their great artists. Though she spent no more than a few decades in any one place in her first few centuries of life, she was intellectually active and curious during these visits, each year doing as much research and learning as any member of the shorter-lived races could manage, and thus compiling numerous lifetimes of knowledge in just a few hundred years.
She gained cunning and power in equal measure. Early descriptions of her make it clear her coloration was “bright” and “metallic,” but never matched her to a single hue. She can breath fire, but has also proven to have draconic and magic talents that allow her to breath acid, and ice, and even frozen acid. She can access the power of sorcerers, druids, and even witches, leading some to suggest she has studied as a shaman. She is also a mistress of illusion, or transmutation (or both), and certainly her appearance in the past few centuries has shifted and changes enough to suggest she is keeping her true nature secret, though she always has the same piercing, nearly glowing, amber eyes.
No one is sure when she became fascinated by architecture, urban planning, and landscaping. Perhaps it was when she carried out a vendetta against the Order of the Broken Claw as a young adult, joining and leading armies to sack the order’s cities on both sides of an ocean. Perhaps her visits to the continents of the Ivory Empire, Jade Kingdoms, or the lands of the Spice Road as an adult and mature adult piqued her interest in how different cultures build and grow settlements. Certainly her Guild of Masons was established at that time, and she forged alliances with dwarves and elves both to aid and learn from their greatest artificers, fort-builders, and urban engineers and planners.
What is known for certain is that as an old dragon, more than 4 centuries ago, Brarguren stopped her regular travels and claimed her Canton, a rich land with access to ocean, trade, field, and ore. The land surely would have been claimed by some nation before her, located between small kingdoms and in a route between major empires as it was, if not for the gorynych that laired there, and the twisted mutant cult that worshiped it. Brarguren was not the first dragon to seek to destroy the wicked creature known as “The Three Sinners,” but she was the first to succeed in destroying the gorynych and scattering the cult.
And to mark her success, she claimed the piles and piles of treasure the Three Sinners and its minions had collected…. And built a city.
People claim that early on no one lived in Hoard, but of course that’s not true. Expending money as a waterfall expends water, Brarguren hired hundreds of planners and thousands of workers. Even before Hoard had a finished building, it has inhabitants. Nor where buildings the first permanent structures to be raised. Brarguren had roads laid, and aqueducts, canals, wells, and cisterns built, long before any buildings. She gave broad guidance to her lord architects, and insisted their plans be revised many times, but did little of the direct planning herself. The first city was to be designed to house 10,000 citizens in wealth and comfort, and to have a network of towns to support it, but she also demanded plans be in place for it to grow. Even the names of its major sections, “First Ward, Second Century Ward, Third Century Ward,” showed what her plans were for its expansion.
Now, Hoard is 310 years old, a city of nearly 50,000, and one of the most powerful and wealthy trade cities in the world. Though Brarguren is the unquestioned owner and ruler of the city and the surrounding valley, including it’s roads, dozens of supporting towns and farms, minor auxiliary ports and shipyards in nearby islands, she rarely takes a direct hand in ruling or protecting it. The Canton Guard serve as both city guard in Hoard, and ranging military force throughout Brarguren’s lands, and the Dragonfire Wardens act as scouts, investigators, and game wardens further from the city. Both answer directly and separately to Brarguren, though their Lord Commanders (Guard Commander Alvric Krakarral—a human investigator—for the Guard, and Warden Commander Jealis Irontusk—a half-orc hunter—for the Wardens) are cagey about how how those reports are delivered. But 72 years ago when Brarguren devoured the then-Guard Commander Thurgen Thurgenis, the dragon made it clear she would react if her forces failed to report as she expected them to. Her lack of direct action since is taken as proof the Lord Commanders are doing as they are supposed to.
However, neither of those forces run the city (or any of the townships),and lack the power to makes laws or edicts. Laws are made only by Brarguren herself, and she hasn’t changed the short list of basic rules (outlawing slavery, insisting on equal basic rights for all sapient creatures, establishing the civil and paramilitary organizations in her lands) in almost a century. Edicts come from the Council of Stakeholders—made up of guild leaders, religious heads, neighborhood alders from Hoard and town magistrates from supporting settlements, representatives of the Guard and Wardens, hereditary members from important families, one judge from each court circuit, and ministers of various Hoard city offices—and are signed by the Marshal of the Exchequer (or become law without the Marshal’s signature if 2/3 of the Council of Stakeholders agree to do so after 90 days… which almost never happens).
The Marshal of the Exchequer acts as the chief executive of Hoard, oversees legal cases against any member of the Council of Stakeholders or judge within Hoard, and is in charge of the budget of the entire region. Since taxes are surprisingly low in Hoard, and city services are quite high, there’s a persistent rumor that the Marshal of the Exchequer pays for things directly out of some vast supply of wealth Brarguren has accumulated. While every Marshal of the Exchequer has always denied this is the case, and the city has had budget troubles many times over its three centuries of existence, the rumor remains common.
As for where such a vast pile of treasure might be kept… no one knows for certain. Brarguren dives into and flies out of the ocean harbor on most of the rare occasions she makes an appearance in the city itself, but no one has ever found any sign of an aquatic lair. The city center includes a massive, round, fortified building known as The Vault when used as a landmark, but it has no known entrance and its purpose is secret. The mountains that border the valley Hoard sits at one end of have numerous caves, but none have ever shown size of draconic habitation. Everyone agrees Brarguren must have at least one secret lair, but no one can agree on where it is, what it’s like, or how much treasure is piled up in it.
But it is known what treasure has gone into it, at least on some occasions. Brarguren does not directly defend Hoard or its lands, unless a threat arises so great only an old dragon could oppose it (such as the arrival of the Archtitan Oceator, more than two centuries ago), or when the Guard and Wardens have already suffered major losses and are clearly being overwhelmed (such as during the Wightblade Plague nearly a century ago). When she does become directly involved, however, she takes everything of value possessed by any foe she defeats—from Oceator’s Trident of the Wave-Gods to the ghost swords left over from the Plague. Hoard is safe from nearly any direct threat, but does not receive the spoils of war from foes it’s draconic owner finishes.
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CODEWORLD is a campaign setting that borrows heavily from a number of popular cartoon, comic, and toy franchises where the heroes and villains all have fascinating codenames, like Black Adder, Magnum, Overkill, and Code Blue.
It could be used for a heck of a supers or super-agent game, or even the backdrop of nearly any modern, sci-fi, or science-fantasy game system. This is a world with four color action, but no masked superheroes to speak of. Its tongue is firmly in cheek, but lovingly so.
Rank Three Code Groups
Rank Three groups are even less impactful than Rank Two groups, often with much more limited membership or resources as well as a more tightly-defined area of concern, but within their wheelhouse are still more impactful than normal organizations. In some cases Rank Three groups are a single powerful individual, who simply lacks the support and scope to be a Rank Two group, but is more potent than any individual in most Rank Two code groups. Rank Three groups at least have the potential to grow into Rank Two Groups, and a Rank Three group can go toe-to-toe with a unit of a Rank One or Rank Two Code Group in the right venue.
CRONOS is a cult that believes the original deity, the progenitor of all god myths, can be awakened by creating enough death and misery. They are lead by PROFESSOR RAGNAROK, who is imbued with some kind of supernatural power, though it’s exact origin and limits are debatable. CRONOS works to create mass disasters and start wars, which often brings them into conflict with S.T.E.E.L. and occasionally VIGIL.
The CYBERPACK, lead by the heroic STEELWOLF, protects the lost continent of Urheimat, and seek to find and neutralize threats from the pre-Atlantean nations. Originally the CYBERPACK were an elite anti-terrorist team, who chased a MAMBA Snake Charmer into a huge storm in the Indian Ocean, and crashed into Urheimat during a rare conjunction that exposed one of the entranced to the submerged continent. While STEELWOLF and her people were badly damaged, they were found by the ancient ZARSEN, ancient robots set by the residents of Urbeimat to protect it after they left it. But the ZARSEN did not know human physiology and mistook the anti-terrorist unit’s wolf-mascot on their patches and canine-based codenames as a sigh they were partially canine. Thus when rebuilding them as cyborgs, the ZARSEN gave the CYBERPACK wolf-based abilities and partially canine appearances. The CYBERPACK has access to the ancient Urheimat ley-gates, allowing them to quickly move to any continent, but only at one of a few dozen locations.
DOCTOR LICHGATE, is a human who bonded with a FEL GHUL spirit, who is generally a frail older male but can for a temporary period transform himself into a powerful, monstrous skull-faced, green-skinned form. The doctor is seeking the Twelve Crystal Menhirs that the pre-Atlantean nations used to control every aspect of the world’s weather, tides, and day/night cycle, causing him to always be searching for entrances to the three LOST CONTINENTS, Meropis, Rutas, and Urheimat. He is aided in this by the MADNORMALS, mutant humans with a few animalistic-appearing traits who (when exposed to the LICHGAS created by the doctor) can assume much more powerful, twisted, bestial forms.
DOCTOR LICHGATE controls a single Crystal Menhir, the ONYX SPIRE, which allows him to travel back and forth between the normal world and the CAIRNWORLD, a version of the Earth where nearly everything has died. As only the doctor controls access to the CAIRNWORLD, it serves as a nearly impregnable base for him to operate from, and while he can only travel between worlds at places with strong ties to death, it also allows him to travel easily and secretly worldwide.
HACK, INC is a distributed cyber-mobster syndicate that performs computer-based crime-for-hire. The most members of HACK, INC have codenames they use online, and avoid ever meeting anyone in person, though the most elite members often have Hat Racks, where numerous hackers are brought together to work as a collective (often without being made aware they are hacking for HACK, INC.) Only a few agents are aware that HACK, INC is ultimately the tool of AUTOMALA, a self-aware program that seeks to ensure its own existence by spreading itself into every computer-controlled device on Earth… very much including the POLYMECHS, CALIBURN, and the systems in use by MAMBA and S.T.E.E.L.
VIGIL is an international NGO disaster search and rescue team. They operate out of the SAFEHOUSE, an enormous dirigible mobile base that carries a number of VIGILANCE VEHICLES, or VVs, including VIGILANCE 1 (a supersonic jet plane and communications center), VIGILANCE 2 (a high-speed, heaving-lift aerostat roughly half the size of the SAFEHOUSE, and able to carry any 2 other VVs), VIGILANCE 3 (a reusable orbital rocket), VIGILANCE 4 (a rescue sub capable of being dropped into the ocean from the SAFEHOUSE, or VV 1 or 2), and VIGILANCE 5 (a high-speed digging machine). The SAFEHOUSE, and VV 1, 2, and 4 also have support centers for EXO-SHELLS, modular suits of powered armor designed for operations in extremely dangerous conditions (though many of their rescue gear options can also be used in a combat capacity, and they possesses modular less-lethal munitions for use when needing to potentially incapacitate hostiles when performing rescue operations in a war zone). EXO-DRONES launched from a support center can fly new EXO-SHELL modules into the field fairly quickly.
WICKED WENDY is a powerful necropath, who also appears to be some kind of psychic vampire. She is the only creature who can travel between the normal world and CARINWORLD under her own power. She and DOCTOR LICHGATE dislike each other, but see no benefit in fighting one another, given CAIRNWORLD is a whole planet. WICKED WENDY carried a tattered teddy-bear, MISTER CHUCKLES, which is inhabited by a demonic spirit (and thus is self-mobile, and can fight with eldritch knives, claws, and fangs) that urges her to create chaos and misery, but is also entirely loyal to her and wants to make her happy. WICKED WENDY is in love with the OMEN KING, an ancient god that might also be progenitor god worshiped by CRONOS, or the FEL TYRANT of the FEL GHULS… or might not. The OMEN KING sends her omens through raven messengers, but seems to be limited in what he can do. WENDY plans to awaken/free the OMEN KING, and doesn’t care what cost must be paid by anyone for that to happen.
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CODEWORLD is a campaign setting that borrows heavily from a number of popular cartoon, comic, and toy franchises where the heroes and villains all have fascinating codenames, like Black Adder, Magnum, Overkill, and Code Blue.
It could be used for a heck of a supers or super-agent game, or even the backdrop of nearly any modern, sci-fi, or science-fantasy game system.
This is a world with four color action, but no masked superheroes to speak of. Its tongue is firmly in cheek, but lovingly so.
Rank One Code Groups
These are the largest, and best-known code groups. They are among the most important forces on Earth.
POLYMECHS are sentient, sapient robots able to take on multiple forms–normally one that is roughly humanoid and one that closely resembles a vehicle. They are divided into the GUARDROIDS (which include Morality Circuits that cause them to struggle to act in ethical ways and protect weaker entities), the dangerous WAR MACHINES (which are locked into carrying out ancient military operations despite their original foes having long-since been exterminated), and the COMPUTECHS (which are free-willed but lack anything recognizable as ethics, and function on pure pragmatism).
The three groups all originated in different extra-terrestrial societies, with the WAR MACHINES the oldest (having destroyed all the biological entities that created them), the COMPUTECHS nearly as old (having survived as probes and exploration surveyors for a culture that died out long ago when their system was consumed by a red giant star), and the GUARDROIDS only a few centuries old (having evolved from assistance-AIs created by a race that suffered a slow decline as devolution caused them to be less and less viable, even as younger civilizations attacked them, including the WAR MACHINES).
All three POLYMECH groups were ravaged by a 3-way internecine war that left their numbers radically reduced and their resources depleted. The WAR MACHINES seek out new worlds (such as Earth) and seed them with enough of their kind to conquer it and turn it into a support planet for their endless conflicts. The GUARDROIDS attempt to send a unit to stop such efforts and preserve as much of the invaded world’s culture as possible, and the COMPUTECHS think it’s a bad idea not to keep an eye on any world where the other two POLYMECH forces are fighting.
Because their advanced technology is well beyond Earth’s tech base, and support is far way, all three factions prefer to remain camouflaged as much as possible on Earth, revealing themselves and their true battle forms only when absolutely necessary to achieve a major goal.
S.T.E.E.L. is the Special Taskforce on Espionage and Enforcement of Law. It is an international force, operating alongside but separately from the U.N., which draws its members from the elite forces of most of the Earth’s nations. S.T.E.E.L. operates only against threats deemed by all its supporting nations to be a serious risk to the collected nations of Earth, which generally includes international terrorist cells (most often MAMBA) unaffiliated with any member-nation, extraterrestrial threats (including WAR MACHINES in specific, and POLYMECHS in general), and lone madmen and apocalypse cults. S.T.E.E.L. has its own chain of command, its own (small) fleet of military air, water, and land vehicles (including a single submersible aircraft carrier, the U.N.S. Ironside), and an extraterritorial prison for extraordinary prisoners (Codename: Limbo).
PROJECT HELM is a semi-independent division of S.T.E.E.L. that uses vehicles enhanced with retrofit POLYMECH technology, which was confiscated by S.T.E.E.L. after several early clashes with the WAR MACHINES, and partially reverse-engineered in conjunction with a COMPUTECH who felt giving humans more advanced technology was the only way to maintain a balance of power on Earth.
Since the POLYMECH tech used by PROJECT HELM is retrofit, and its neural inputs are still too advanced for any mechanical or computer input device to control, PROJECT HELM operatives use helmets with neural relays to allow pilots to learn how to control specific “Great Helm” vehicles that have various POLYMECH tech in them (some of which are capable of partial transformations, such as from car to boat, or motorcycle to powered armor).
MAMBA is a ruthless terrorist organization, built by a coalition of billionaire oligarchs who seek the means to anonymously impact international politics, and manned with the spies and operatives of failed states, renegades of nations with recent revolutions, zealots who challenge the status quo at any cost, and angry repressed people willing to allow the ends to justify the means. While no nation on Earth publicly supports Mamba, enough powerful people with vast resources support it to give it a huge (if decentralized) military branch and incredibly effective cybercrime, covert operations, and assassination branches.
MAMBA generally seeks to gain power at any cost, and has had infrequent but not unproductive collaborations with the WAR MACHINES. The most far-reaching of these was a project where the WAR MACHINES aided MAMBA scientists in building incredibly advanced mecha known as the FOE-BOTS, which were used to artificially boost the apparent size of the WAR MACHINE presence on Earth in an effort to convince the nations of the world to capitulate. However the FOE-BOTS are cheap knock-offs of true POLYMECHS, able to change form from battle mode to some camouflage state, but not functioning beyond the most basic level in that camouflaged mode, and requiring human pilots to operate. While that plan failed, the FOE-BOTS division of MAMBA remains one of its strongest units, and are the most common antagonists of PROJECT HELM.
Rank Two Code Groups
Rank Two groups are either significantly less numerous than rank one groups, or less powerful, or a combination of both, but they still play important roles in world events even if they aren’t as well known.
CALIBURN is a solo hero who appears to be the last of the STAR KNIGHTS (who place their life essence in soul rings so their android knight bodies can fight eternally against the vile FEL GHULS, a semi-unliving race of space sorcerers and shapeshifter). However, he has done his best to equip a small group of young people who have a natural talent to see FEL GHULS true nature even when they are shapeshifted, creating the STAR SQUIRES, who have spirit disks that boost their natural psychic abilities in random ways when triggered, giving them a new set of powers (and codenames and costumes) whenever they are used, but which can only function for one hour out of every 24.
The FEL GHULS wish to create the Negalife Ritual, which will kill all life on the Earth and raise their FEL TYRANT, an elder god that sleeps beneath the Pacific Ocean.
KAIJU are giant monsters created by the FEL GHULS to subjugate the world. Opposed by the RONIN FORCE of giant robots that represent the only joint effort between the GUARDROIDS, CALIBURN, and S.T.E.E.L. Because the KAIJU threat is unpredictable and requires massive firepower to oppose, and are most often fought in international waters, the RONIN FORCE is largely left to handle such matters with little outside interference. While most of RONIN FORCE are giant mecha with multiple human pilots there are two exceptions, LASER LEOPARD, a giant robot controlled by a transplanted STAR KNIGHT soul-ring with no memory of its previous life, and ROCKET OMEGA, the enormous POLYMECH transforming ship that brought the COMPUTECHS to Earth, but has sense decided the FEL GHULS desire to wake their FEL TYRANT is the greatest threat in the galaxy.
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This is the third and final part of a series of articles looking at how to contextualize the starfaring species of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game into the world of the Really Wild West, a setting hack that uses the science-fantasy rpg for a campaign with magic, monsters, and weird science in an alternate Earth in 1891.
When looking at the Starfinder Roleplaying Game species for things I can use to tie them to a fantasy-science-fiction-pulp version of the real world, sometimes I have gone with cultural or game ability elements… and sometimes I have leaned on fantasy versions of biology, as is the case with shirren, vesk, and ysoki.
Shirren are big bugs, which means they should have evolved someplace that supports larger arthropods. The largest land-dwelling arthropod currently in existence on Earth is the coconut crab, which is found on islands in the Indian and Pacific Ocean. Assuming they originated in the same regions in the timeline of the Really Wild West, shirren would have built their own island cultures (perhaps in conjunction with other species, perhaps not), and spread in Ancient times as trade blossomed throughout the Indian Ocean. This takes our ancient shirren to China, Egypt, India, Java, Somalia, and southeastern Europe. While they would have spread worldwide from there, I assume those regions along old trade routes going through the Indian Ocean still have the largest, most integrated populations of shirren. That gives me guidance on what cultures they might be drawn from, and what traditions they could have, without claiming something small-minded like “Arabs are shirren” (which erases real Arabs and eliminates numerous cultural advancements, historical figures, and real-world ethnicities from being part of RWW, and is also pretty structurally racist).
Australia leads the world in reptile biodiversity, so that’s where I am having my vesk evolve. That has vesk populations being tightly concentrated in Australia, New Zealand, and surrounding islands. I’m guessing I’ll need to add a frontier wars or “Lizardman War” (as the colonial powers call it) between the British Empire and various vesk groups at some point, and chances are the vesk lost. But by now, they’re at least partially integrated, and some will have travelled throughout the British Empire, despite suffering a fair amount of racism. While vesk likely have a lot of native culture that impacts their fashion, those that travel abroad are likely to adopt Western clothing sensibilities when in western nations, including the Really Wild West.
Note that this is a change from my original thoughts on vesk, which was to make them the product of Doctor Moreau’s anthropomorphization of animals. I can hold on to that idea for more minor species (as I add them), but it ended up feeling too limited for a “core” species, and had some connotations I wasn’t comfortable with.
In the real world, rodents are populous on every continent except Antarctica. They date to the Paleocene on the supercontinent of Laurasia, spread across landmasses, crossed oceans, and pretty well got everywhere (even Australia) on their own, without human intervention.
So as much as I am tying most starfaring species to specific region of the Really Wild West? Ysoki are everywhere.
And they got there first.
With cheek pouches as built-in bags (allowing them to carry goods—even water—long distances before the invention of sacks or gourd-bottles), bonuses to Stealth and Survival, and darkvision? Ysoki were the main competition with humanity for global domination. Much as there were Neanderthals and other cousins to homo sapiens sapiens who didn’t make it, there were multiple lines of ysoki through the ages, though none of this is well understood in the RWW year of 1891.
In general, every culture has a ysoki element to it. There are sure to be exceptions—Egyptian cat-worshipers may not have taken to ysoki citizens, some ysoki clans likely existed in regions without significant human presence.
But the core assumption in Really Wild West is that ysoki are everywhere from the most remote, paleolithic cultures, to the suit-wearing bankers of New York.
Speaking of context!
Sigils and Sorcery
And entirely random campaign setting idea.
In the Age of Achievements, the Empress of the Bhan created the Sigilbhan, a massive, complex rune that granted her and her agents the power to detect and quarantine evil outsiders and undead, so that no matter how powerful they were, they would be locked away rather than return to the outer planes and reform as new horrors.
Sadly one of the Empress’s son, Drau, believed that as a loyal agent of the empress he deserved rewards and power for working to promote good and overcome evil, and asked to be given the power she used the Sigilbhan to lock away. When she refused, telling him that the reward for doing good was a word with more good in it, and his actions did not prove true virtue if he performed them only to receive worldly rewards, Drau secretly swore to take the power by force.
Drau created his own rune, the Feldrau, which could infect the spirit of those it touched, and used it to turn many of the people of the world into drau-versions of themselves.
It is unclear if the people were once all one, but as the feldrau tainted those it touched, the became the drau-elves, drau-dwarves, drau-gnomes, dra-orcs, and drau-folk humans.
Drau lead an army against the Empress, drawing on the power of the Sigilbhan to grant his drau-forces powerful sorcerous abilities, shadowed versions of the true magic of the sigil.
He believed the Empress could not defeat Drau without shattering the Sigilbhan, which held vast planar evil within it which would be unleashed. The Empress tried to leach more power into the minor sigils of her agents, but when that did not stop Drau, she shattered he Sigilbhan, destroying or altering all Bhan and driving Drau and his most powerful agents mad with the sigilshock. Then, before the dark powers within the Siiglbhan could escape, she healed the Sigilbhan with her own soul energy—ceasing to exist in any form. The Sigilbhan now has no mistress, and it’s form is imperfect, leaking fel sorcerous power into the world.
The Bhan Empire fell. Darkness, both supernatural and just that born of fear, greed, hunger, and jealously, tore the empire apart. Lesser evils that had hidden in the edges of wastelands of the Bhan Empire rose and spread, causing wyverns, and giants, and aberrations to overrun much of the world. And brigands, tyrants, and thief kings did much the same.
But the Sigilbhan, sigils, and sorcery continued. Nearly two centuries have passed, and scores of small kingdoms, city-states, and warlords have arisen.
The sigilbearers have inherited minor sigils, those given to agents and nobles who rules under the Empress, though such power is inherited, and while sigls have great power of light, such power *can* be used for evil.
The imperial church worships the person of the Empress in the form of the Sigilbhan–they know her sacrifice destroyed her intellect and consciousness, but believe the remaining sigilbhan, which mostly just fuels the sigls and slowly leaks the dark powers used for sorcery, is a deity and if enough belief and good will is focused into it, it shall be reborn into a true deity.
Sorcerers take the fell planar power leaking from the Sigilbhan and use it to create powerful magics. Though the source of their power is vile, the sigilshock destroyed the most powerful feldrau sorcerers, leaving Imperial agents who had studied drau as the most powerful source of sorcerous study. Most sorcerers claim they *must* convert the power of darkness leaking from the sigilbhan into other magics, or it will turn into native demons and haunts… though the imperial church generally disagrees, and sorcerers are sometimes tainted, and become drau.
Where there were once a single people, the bhan, there are now many groups—though most humanoids acknowledge they are ethnicities of a single people, and can generally interbreed. And of course, some are the drau, who appear no different than their non-drau brethren until they ingest so much fel energy their eyes, hair, or both are bleached to a uniform white. Most towns fear the drau, but it is hard to say who is and isn’t until a drau has vast powers.