Monday, September 6, 2021

Building Bhakashal - The Setting

A bit of background to the setting today, a short discussion of the history of the city, the “playable groups” (Bhakashal’s version of “races”) and the gods in the setting. Bhakashal is set billions of years in the future, which gives the setting the freedom to be as different as I want it to be, there is no need for "canonical" fantasy "races" and technologies, or standard takes on the gods.

The City

Many, many centuries ago an avatar of the god Iallus, god of the moon, fertility and plants, descended to Earth to fight a bat demon named Tolinnakara who had learned the secret of stealing people’s dreams. Tolinnakara found out that Iallus was coming and hid in one of the great swamps of the Southern lands, at the bottom of a river that snaked through the swamp. Tolinnakara hoped that the river and its various denizens would provide protection from Iallus’s gaze.

Iallus took on the aspect of the moon and used its luminous essence to find the demon. The demon and the god fought for days, and Tolinnakara was eventually overwhelmed. However, with a last dying breath the demon put Iallus into a deep sleep, and forced the dreams from Iallus’ body. Bereft of dreams, the god was unable to awaken, and slowly over the centuries an island built up over him. As Iallus is also the god of plants, the island was extremely lush and overgrown, bursting with plants of all kinds and overrun with bright flowers of all shades and colours. 

Iallus will sleep until the sun extinguishes itself.

The three aspects of the god (the moon, fertility and plants) impact the city in three unusual ways due to the presence of Iallus:

1. Moon: inhabitants can have prophetic dreams, odds based on intelligence, charisma and wisdom.

2. Fertility: Animals and monsters are prolific and breed in high numbers, life quite literally overflows in the city of prophecy. As a result of this fecundity the city has a massive hunt that culls populations regularly, these culled creatures are used for food, skins and as material components for spells. The immense city walls are in part to deal with the more aggressive swamp creatures.

3. Plants: the city is overgrown with plants, they cover every building, and are omnipresent. There are hundreds of unique varieties of plants in the city, and they are used for spell and magic item creation, and for potions.

Eventually sensitive humanoid creatures in the swamp that came near the island began to have prophetic dreams, in particular certain saan (lizard men) of the swamps experienced these dreams, and using their newfound prestige and power came to dominate the area. For decades they grew in power and number and spread over the swamp, treating the island as a holy site. Their shamans had prophetic dreams, and one told of them building a city on the island, and that outsiders would arrive and help them to complete it. When exploratory parties from the North appeared, not expecting to find the Saan and their society, they were welcomed and told of the prophecy. 

Over the next 100 years this group grew in size and power, certain travelers through the swamp would invariably find themselves drawn to the city where many would inevitably stay. Some of those passing in ships on the ocean were drawn to the city. The saan saw the city itself as a holy site, and with their black dragons they facilitated the slow influx of immigrants and protected the city from bandits and monsters as well as periodic raiding parties that sought to conquer the fledgling city, and adventuring parties that sought to pillage it. 

The inhabitants of the city constructed large barges that floated down the river for miles to get to a quarry where marble and stone were extracted and brought back. A wall was built around the island first, which took a decade. By that time several of the warlocks who had stayed in the city enlisted the aid of earth elementals to excavate a canal system. The city was built within this system, starting from the middle and growing outwards, and over centuries it grew until it reached the walls. The saan and black dragons kept the threats from the swamp at bay, and provided a first layer of defence against any military incursions. Over the years there were several assaults attempted from distant nations, but all were repulsed. The inhabitants of the city grew in number, the rumors of their prophetic dreams drew more and more of the curious, the greedy, and the foolish. 

City government formed around a cadre of warriors, they established a city guard, and created order. 

They rule to this day.

The city of prophecy attracted and kept the artisans, musicians and artists who passed through. The presence of the avatar of Iallus, god of the moon, produced great inspiration in those who were creative or skilled, whether they had prophetic dreams or not, as the moon has always inspired. As a result the city developed a reputation for the production of high quality goods, art, music, theatre, poetry and literature. 

The presence of Iallus beneath the island meant that it was lush with plants of all varieties, not just those local to the swamp, the city developed agricultural areas where they grew a stunning variety of fruits and vegetables and rare spices and other valuable plants. In addition, plant breeding became quite active and the city creates unique plants mined for rare ingredients (for magic and for health) and has crossbred varieties for special uses. The city itself is overgrown with plant life, so much so that salt is spread on the roads daily to keep the plants from overgrowing them, and canopies of multicolored plants hang between many of the hundreds of rooftop gardens, an series of elevated bridges known to many an adventurous thief.

Bhakashal is a cornucopia of delights.

The city of prophecy kept the most skilled, the “artists” amongst the warriors that passed through, and as a result a dueling culture, and a culture of display of weapons and martial skills emerged amongst the city’s ruling warrior class. An order of monks, worshippers of Palashurem known as “spartans”, moved to the city and became part of that martial culture. In an interesting inversion, gladiatorial battles and public dueling, both part of the city’s life, are also the domain of the aristocratic class, so the powerful die for sport in addition to the poor. The artisans of the city developed a reputation as the finest weaponsmiths and a great range of different weapons and experts in those weapons emerged. 

It is said that you can find any weapon, and someone who can train you with it, somewhere in the city.

These high quality goods, skilled trainers and performers, rare plants, skilled warriors and high-quality weapons and armor became the trade base for the city, trade was expanded from the swamp towns and various villages to other distant cities to the South, Northern trade was largely ignored as there was very little immigration from the North. The city exported both talented artists and drew artists of all kinds who sought tutelage from the city’s greatest.

The city is located at the edge of a jungle and 80 miles or so from the coast and ocean, there are no other large cities in the immediate area. The marshes that surround the city cover hundreds of square miles, and are dotted with thousands of small villages connected by water and land. 

Technology is late Renaissance level, telescopes exist alongside swords and bows. Firearms are also present, but their spread and use is tightly controlled by the Warlocks who rule the city Houses, for the most part only Warlocks have guns, and very few of them. There are also surviving examples of higher tech items (like laser pistols), but these are very, very rare. 

Magic is also tightly controlled by the city Houses, each House ruled by a Magus Warlock and a Ur Lord. Magic is not ‘common’ in Bhakashal, though the setting has over 400 new spells and several hundred new magic items, these are the provenance of the warlocks and the Noble Houses. There are no “magic shops”, no “magic garbage disposals” or “magic street lights”, magic is power and repute, and it is guarded greedily by the warlocks who wield it. 

Playable Groups

Bhakashal uses “playable groups” where traditional D&D uses “races”.

It took approximately 50 million years for humans to evolve from primates and create civilizations. In our future human civilization itself fell and humanity was reduced to small disconnected pockets that survived the destruction. After human civilization fell, nature swallowed, dissolved and absorbed all traces of human works, then another species eventually evolved and created their own civilization. 

Bhakashal is set on Earth, more than 5 billion years in the future, several thousand years before the sun has expanded far enough to engulf the Earth, while it burns blood red in the sky. 

For perspective, 5 billion years is 100 “blocks” of 50 million years each, that’s approximately 100 opportunities for new species to evolve and build civilizations. Over the 5 billion years between our present day and the time of Bhakashal, this process produced 13 humanoid groups that have evolved from animals to tool using builders, for a total of 13 civilizations that rose and fell, each time leaving a handful of their kind to survive while others evolved and became dominant. 

The game world of Bhakashal is set at the end of this process, at the end of Earth’s time, it has these 13 playable groups coexisting with no one group “dominant” over the others. The groups are listed here from the most populous to least worldwide, and listed with the animal form from which they evolved: 

  1. Saan - Lizards 

  2. Togmu - Frogs

  3. Malu - Fish 

  4. Garudin - Birds 

  5. Humans - Primates

  6. Rakasta - Cats 

  7. Urdyll - Plants 

  8. Yalan - Snakes 

  9. Chitin - Insects

  10. Jugyi - Turtles 

  11. Vodnik - Castors 

  12. Kutya - Dogs 

  13. Wythir - Lions

All of these playable groups have traditions, practices, styles of dress, etc. specific to them, and although the Saan are by far the most numerous, conflict based upon playable group is infrequent, at this stage in history, customs and drives are not based on playable group divisions. 

The Gods

The gods in this setting are not the divine beings of the past, they are instead advanced AI who evolved and became fully sentient and grew in power until they were as powerful as “gods”. They are independent of worshippers for their power, and they exemplify the subconscious and past memories of the people who originally created them. For years they ruled the Earth, using it as a playground for their intercine conflicts, but then for unknown reasons left the Earth behind. 

After an absence of millions of years, they have returned to the Earth in its twilight, and have been back for several thousand years. These AI “gods” are highly inscrutable, they act in ways that make no sense to mortals, sometimes beneficently, sometimes with apparent malice, sometimes in bizarre and frightening ways. Scholars debate why they returned, the most popular explanation being that they wanted to watch the planet of their birth be consumed by its sun at its death. The gods walk the Earth, living in remote and difficult to access places. Though they sometimes appear in civilized lands, both for religious ceremonies and for other inscrutable reasons, appearing in their full manifestations, or disguised as regular people, monsters or animals.

As a result of the method of their creation they represent a pastiche of past cultures and civilizations, they are unique yet derivative, made up of collected subconscious ideas but in unique combinations. They are also as a result somewhat fluid and changing, unlike the “gods” of old who were exemplars, the gods of Bhakashal are chimerical, embodying the chimerical nature of their origin. The Gods of Bhakashal appear alternately as women and men, depending on their whim, there are no areas of divine interest that are strictly male or female. They appear sometimes with multiple limbs or heads, and sometimes with animal heads or body parts. 

The gods have no alignment, the very concept is too subtle to hold them, they act in ways that are difficult to understand, but all gods have a number of areas of influence, and most people pray to the appropriate god for day to day needs rather than praying to one god for all things. Each Noble House in the city is associated with a god, and has a temple for that god in the House Ward. Each major god in the Bhakashal pantheon is represented by a temple in the temple ward. 

Demons  in the pantheon, which are AI who did not fully evolve and wreak havoc on the living, appear as animals with human heads. 

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