[13th Age] Opal Empire -- Help me brainstorm different things

edited September 2013 in Game Design Help
Opal Empire is a new setting I'm creating for 13th Age. It's inspired by Eastern history rather than Western medieval history, but I wouldn't say it's Chinese or Japanese or Indian or anything in particular. I borrow ideas from all over the place and try to twist them into something unique and original.

I'd love to riff ideas with you guys.

Topics:

* The nature of divinity and divine magic. (Starting here.)
* Elf Queens



Divine Magic

So in this universe, ages ago, the elves and dwarves and humans worshiped decent gods and goddesses the way you'd expect in a typical FRPG world. Then the indecent deities from the underworld started winning the divine war. As hordes of demons started flooding through the gates of heaven, it looked like the forces of Evil would destroy the Good deities. The good races had very powerful magic by this point and used it to shut the gates to heaven and hell. This was a hard and permanent choice.

Shutting the gates of heaven meant no connection to deities anymore. That means:

* No divine spells.
* Nowhere for souls to go when you die.
* No parental deities proscribing morality nor punishments for violating the rules.

Over time, people solved some of these problems. They figured out that people produced divine mana through prayer, ritual, and belief. They refashioned their temples as efficient mana collectors and learned how to imbue their priests and monks with magical power (divine spells).

They quickly realized that disembodied spirits could be helpful or troublesome and developed funereal rituals to prevent a wide undead plague. Culture evolved to embrace a sort of spirit worship. Some people figured out how to capture spirits for magical purposes (new arcane spells) or for personal power ("leveling" by possessing spirits).

Without deities taking souls to heaven or hell, people are easily resurrected (into their own body, if it's not too damaged) or reincarnated (into any handy, empty body). It used to be hard; now it's easy. Not exactly cheap, so it's reserved for the wealthy. Hell, you can just "upgrade" from one body to another with a ritual, if you get tired of the old digs.

Philosophy has evolved. Elves follow a belief system based loosely on some elements of Buddhism and Taoism. Dwarves have a belief system based loosely on Confucianism. Mostly, they don't need gods anymore. Human religion evolved into an optimistic "some day our gods will come back to us, you'll see" system.



What are some other implications of this world? Culture, religion, philosophy, magic, technology, and so on?

Comments

  • Are disembodied souls indestructible? Has any nefarious person figured out a way to use them as fuel or material?

    Why do people go to the temples? Is there a kickback program for spending time praying / refilling divine magic batteries?

  • I agree that a solution to the "overpopulation" of souls would be to use them as a resource/fuel. Otherwise you're going to have a lot of haunting/undead. The "funeral rites" have to send them somewhere, or turn them into something else.

    Are there factions actively trying to break down the gates to heaven?
  • I think, so far, people haven't figured out how to destroy souls but they know how to trap and harness them for power. Pretty much all arcane magic traps and harness spirits. You don't need a person's spirit to cast a firebolt; a toad's spirit will do.

    The world IS plagued by hauntings and undead. Adventure ensues.

    Yes, there are factions trying to break down the gates to heaven. And hell. I think some angels and demons got trapped in the middle world with all the people, and they're losing their faith, too, and maybe their minds.

  • If priests and divine casters are not representatives of a god's ascribed code of morality, what do they represent? Philosophical concepts or political opinions? Have there been political groups that have set up temples to advance their goals? (Paladins of Democracy, or Neoliberalism?) If they are given their power by temples of people and their belief systems, do these people hold them accountable to represent their views? If so, do they have any power to give more power, or to take it away if they do not believe their opinions are adequately represented? Or is that power locked in to the priest/paladin?
    If it is locked in, what DO people do to others that violate the code/concept they invested in them?
  • consider that spirits could consume other spirits as a solution to your problem. The more they eat the more powerful they become, etc
  • Ooh. Neat idea, Tulpa.

    James, priests and other divine casters are representatives of temples. They need their temples to get their spells. Higher-appointed priests determine who gets the mana. It's very political. I think the temple priests are accountable through a hierarchy to larger temples and such, and there's probably a Grand Temple in the capital (though it'd be very interesting to let a kingdom other than the Empress' home kingdom control the church). I want there to be political tension between the temples and the state.
  • Can casters steal mana from people directly, but it is then corrupt? The art is forbidden, occulted, and difficult.
  • That's sinister. I love it.

    The way I'd envisioned spiritual mana is related to intentionality. Prayer is directed, focused, purposed intention and that creates power, or at least distills it into a usable form from a person's everyday life energy.

    The occult mana-stealing form substitutes for the consensual prayer with nonconsensual villainy. The villainy is what becomes the root of the required intentionality, so it's a corrupted form of mana.
  • edited September 2013
    When someone lays a dying curse on your head, you'd better watch out. Their mana-spirit will lend itself to harmful magics that target you, or could even fuel spontaneous magic by itself. They could even Will their spirit energy (as in "Last Will and Testament") to a family member or friend, to empower said recipient enough to enact revenge on the murderer.

    Edit: Heck, there's a character right there; a Justicar who collects the souls of murdered people, and uses them to fuel divine magics against the respective murderers
  • So why do people still pray and perform rituals? What do they get out of it? Is it in exchange for protection? Do the Temples gives them a kickback or something?
  • So why do people still pray and perform rituals? What do they get out of it? Is it in exchange for protection? Do the Temples gives them a kickback or something?
    To me the answers are really, really obvious.

    Partly out of habit, right? They used to go to temple when the gods insisted on it, but that was a long time ago.

    Partly out of fear. People aren't 100% sure that the gods can't hear them. They only know that they can't hear the gods or receive power from them. Who knows, that could change, and then the faithless might be punished.

    Partly because it's expected of them. There are societal pressures to go to temple. Where would you get married if you didn't have a temple? Who would cremate you?

    Partly because it's enjoyable in its own right. Temple services include meditation and contemplation.

    Partly because they want their temple to have power. Temples do protect their faithful. The temple provides food, healing, guidance, and protection. As the world is full of real dangers, some of which the average citizen is powerless to fight, the world needs empowered clerics.
  • When someone lays a dying curse on your head, you'd better watch out. Their mana-spirit will lend itself to harmful magics that target you, or could even fuel spontaneous magic by itself. They could even Will their spirit energy (as in "Last Will and Testament") to a family member or friend, to empower said recipient enough to enact revenge on the murderer.

    Edit: Heck, there's a character right there; a Justicar who collects the souls of murdered people, and uses them to fuel divine magics against the respective murderers
    That's pretty awesome stuff. STOLEN.
  • If the gates are shut to heaven and hell? and no souls can return. Then also no new souls cannot enter.
    Depending on how many spare souls are kicking around the balance might out way births resulting in undead being born?
    or some blank persona !!! The Lost !!!


  • The temples and priest thing and manna ?

    I like it but how about in this closed system ( The gates I mean ) nature reacts to this abomination.

    Nature or the physical world is trying to reconnect to the invisible and fix this balance.

    How about the priest are becoming Gods them selves and the temples are slowly fading into myth?

    You get the idea?

  • I'm going with "souls are indestructible," I think. But if population is increasing, it does make you wonder how that works. Maybe there are Soulless who are not undead, but they're not whole beings either. Basically, your "Lost" people. Cool.

    I'd rather not personify the natural world this way. That takes a lot of impetus off the NPCs and PCs to change things. I'd rather have vast plots where people are trying to reopen the gates (or keep them shut).

    I'm already playing with the "if we don't have gods, will people just invent new ones?" idea. I think a really powerful personality -- i.e., Icons in 13th Age -- have the potential to become Godlike. At what point do they cease to be normal people and become divine? What is the nature of divinity anyway?
  • edited September 2013
    Hey have a look at this some good ideas here http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090816112414AABM2DB

    I like this explanation thus the "nature of Divinity" is that a supernatural Intelligence works though agencies (religion) to effect the life of an individual.
    So the priest begin to influence their followers Supernaturally.


    and becoming immortal.
  • It's arguable that priests already influence their followers supernaturally. That's basically the function of a priest, right? I think you mean something more specific, though. Perhaps influencing their future actions, at a distance, subconsciously?
  • edited September 2013
    Yea I guess the priest influence followers supernaturally,,, so maybe Divinity means omnipresent, everywhere at once?
    They can take the form of any physical thing, even imagined thing.
    There God head is everywhere like a Hydra cut off one head another appears. This would mean the ascended priest has moved into a deferent plain of existence. The same plain of Heaven or Hell but the bit this side of the Gates.

    That helpful person,,, in there actions you feel the divinity.
    In your suffering,,, it is your Gods bidding strengthening you.

    Divinity is within and without.

    The Lost could be fought over by the ascended priests (Gods), easer to influence. Even seen as the pure ones by the populace once embraced by the chosen God.
    Also this period of being lost is fraught with danger of Evil divinity. Lost hunted and sacrificed or sold for Evil divinity, like a prophet.

    A NPC could be the hand of some Evil Divinity, the Sword of the God.
    Physically born perfect without a soul, but perfect for the will of some God. In this the god trains the Physical body and mind to become the best it can. No soul to fight over its use.




  • I could see people using magic to make their own magical Hell as a prison for the really really bad souls that shouldn't be let back into the world.
  • @CarpeGuitarrem: and the rich creating a sanctuary for their own souls after they die. Heaven for the elite.
  • Can a repository of souls be mined for data?
  • edited September 2013
    @Adam_Dray: fair enough. It seems it would change the dynamic between the priesthood and the populous, but I figure the priesthood could spin their message to keep people in fear of the gods' return and inevitable wrath.

    It would be an interesting societal element, though; a Priesthood fully aware of their own hypocrisy, demanding the people worship a god they literally know is no longer listening, all because the act of worship still benefits the priests. Imagine the kind of person that'd take, to stand up there an lead a ceremony to an absent god knowing full well you are doing basically milking the congregation like cows, all while feeding the hopes and fears of the people you supposedly serve. You can't even hide behind your faith to convince yourself it's still in the name of your god, because you (more than ANYONE else) is acutely aware of your god's absence; that the prayers of the congregation will never be answered.

    Is the ritual of worship enough, or does it require some level of faith to generate magic energy? Can the congregation simply go through the motions, or do they have to BELIEVE?

    Imagine a priest in some small rural town doing the weekly rituals, only to find his supply of magic dwindling; the townspeople are still going to the ceremonies but are secretly losing hope and faith that they mean anything; only the priest knows, because the magic energy is shrinking. How does he reconcile that? How does he boost his congregation's faith in a god he knows is gone? (shudder).

    EDIT: Even worse, let's say he uses his magic to boost their faith, only to find to his horror they are now putting their faith in HIM instead of the god, and it works; magic energy begins to climb, but now the town is building idols to HIS name. Does he allow this to continue; morphing his town in a cult for their own protection, but risking the wrath of the mother church?

    (I wanna play this as a Dogs in the Vineyard variant)
  • I could see people using magic to make their own magical Hell as a prison for the really really bad souls that shouldn't be let back into the world.
    very Superman Phantom Zone, but it works well for this setting. STOLEN.
    @CarpeGuitarrem: and the rich creating a sanctuary for their own souls after they die. Heaven for the elite.
    I think they prefer to just keep living. As long as they have access to fresh, young bodies, there's always a place for their spirits. The rich can live forever, assuming they don't go insane.
    Can a repository of souls be mined for data?
    Wicked. My BRAINFRAME will finally have a setting. Thank you.
  • @CarpeGuitarrem: and the rich creating a sanctuary for their own souls after they die. Heaven for the elite.
    I think they prefer to just keep living. As long as they have access to fresh, young bodies, there's always a place for their spirits. The rich can live forever, assuming they don't go insane.
    Hmm, actually...if you've got "mining souls for data" in the works, I could totally see rich, elite souls making a transhumanist/Gnostic cyberspacey "Heaven", though maybe that gets too techie.
  • It would be an interesting societal element, though; a Priesthood fully aware of their own hypocrisy, demanding the people worship a god they literally know is no longer listening, all because the act of worship still benefits the priests.
    I think that'd be an interesting /character/. I could factionalize it, but I'd rather suggest it as a character idea and let someone /play/ it. Society as presented in the setting should represent the vast majority. The exciting corner cases should either be rare NPCs or suggestions for PCs, leaning more toward the latter, because cool PCs always trump cool NPCs.
    Is the ritual of worship enough, or does it require some level of faith to generate magic energy? Can the congregation simply go through the motions, or do they have to BELIEVE?
    Great question. Answer best left to the individual GM's personal cynicism.


    I'm including a lot of cyberpunk tropes in this setting, you'll see.
  • Hmm, actually...if you've got "mining souls for data" in the works, I could totally see rich, elite souls making a transhumanist/Gnostic cyberspacey "Heaven", though maybe that gets too techie.
    There's already a mirror world -- literally a world inside mirrors, a sort of Plane of Reflection -- that people exploit as a kind of cyberspace. It's new, so people haven't entirely figured out how to lock down their mirrors yet. Arcane hackers called mirrorrunners can scry through a mirror into almost any other mirror, and with the right ritual, they can transport themselves and other people into the mirror world, which is conveniently dungeon-like (the only real "dungeon" environment in the setting, probably).
  • So are there no new souls at all? Even babies are just dead poor people who couldn't afford a new body so had to go through rebirth, which wipes the memory. Perhaps it's also the only real punishment. Perhaps some people manage to bottle some of their memories before they die so they can reabsorb them when they get old enough. Perhaps there's a market in experiences.
  • I'm undecided on the new souls thing. On the one hand, it's grim and awful and therefore awesome. On the other hand, it might be too much and threaten to become the center of the entire setting and it's just not that important to me.

    In my own campaign, I'll probably say that new souls are still being created and it seems they're being generated by some poorly understood process related to elemental magic. If I were to do this as a product, I'd offer a couple alternatives (and "no new souls" is one of them).
  • edited September 2013
    Mirrors: Could people put a sheet over their personal to prevent scrying? I guess you could still hear (tiny mirror listening bugs and tracking devices!)

    Any mirrored surface, or just 'true' mirrors? (silver backed glass)

    I like the mirror-world being the setting's dungeon crawl a LOT. Keeps the fun dungeon crawl cliche in the setting, but separate from the 'real' game world. Do mirrorrunners use an avatar in the mirrordungeon or their real bodies? I'd be amused if characters in this setting have a D&D cliche mirrorself, with more realistic character types for the 'real' game world. (Modern narrative rules for the real game, streamlined Old School retro D&D rules for mirrorrunning).

    Back on topic-ish: Can the dead access the mirrorworld?

    New religion to crop up after the godpurge: Giant golem filled with / fueled by the souls of his followers: "Our god is real, 30' tall and AWESOME. See? he's standing right over there. If you are a good follower he'll eat your soul and you can live with him and everyone else in his mighty frame FOREVER."
  • In prior invocations of my mirror world (I've used it before in other campaign settings), you could create a new character to dungeoncrawl with, and change it up for different missions. If you died in the mirror world, you were kicked out and couldn't get back in for a while, but were otherwise unharmed in the real world.

    Yeah, you can just cover a mirror. Any mirrored surface works, but silvered glass provides a truer reflection without warping. Warping increases the difficulty, so you might be able to jump into a stilled pond but it would be much harder to use it for mirrorrunning.

    I don't think the dead can enter the mirror world, no.

  • Okay, so I renamed the thread to indicate that it's all about brainstorming DIFFERENT THINGS. Nothing about the Opal Empire is off topic.


    Another thing I want to brainstorm: Elf Queens

    There are four elf queens, each with her own kingdom named after the four seasons: The Spring Queen, the Summer Queen, the Autumn Queen, and the Winter Queen. The four queens are sisters, all very old (each more than a thousand years old). Effectively immortal, they hop from body to body as it suits them.

    The appearance of their elven people suggest the seasons. Winter elves are pale white with ice blue eyes, etc. Cliche, but it works.

    The Summer Queen is currently the Empress of the Opal Empire. The queens vie for power and have settled into a sort of cold war. There's not much overt violence anymore but there is a lot of spying, economic sabotage, and the like. Other kingdoms have held the Imperial Throne in ages past.

    The Spring Queen is inquisitive and not terribly aggressive. She has the best spy networks and the largest libraries. She has used her long life to become an expert on all manner of topics. She is a sort of philosopher and historian. She knows a lot about magical theory, but isn't necessarily the best at using it.


    I know next to nothing about the queens and their kingdoms. Ask me questions. Suggest ideas. =)
  • What about the missing sister?
  • I don't understand. Is that a trope?

    I have a group of nasties off to the east called the Marsh Witches. One of them could be the fifth elven sister.
  • Are you attached to using the four seasons as the motif here? You see the "faerie courts of the seasons" really frequently, it'd be cool to see a twist off of that. What else has four phases or aspects in your world that the Elves could key off of?
  • The Opal Empire setting uses "four" as a motif, so something ought to use the four seasons somewhere. I realize that the faerie courts of the seasons thing is done a lot, but I was hoping to put a new twist on it. Sometimes choosing the familiar gives people a much-needed anchor.

    That said, I'm not wedded to it. We could use the four elements (Queen of Fire, Queen of Ice, Queen of Wind, Queen of Earth) or the four forms (Queen of Life, Queen of Death, Queen of Order, Queen of Chaos), or the cardinal directions (though that gets a bit "Oz").

    As this is a brainstorming thread, I'd love to share ideas, even if they diverge from my original vision.
  • I'm picturing the Autumn Queen (The Harvest Queen?) as an agent of inquisition, of death, and of direct force (to counterbalance her opposite sister).

    Winter, the season of slumber, of repose. Maybe she holds court over the mirror-world? Also balances her counterpart; the summer queen holds the most authority over the physical world, so Winter holds sway over the immaterial.
  • How about their kingdoms appear as the seasons change ? but saying that winter conditions could be found by going north, south or up a mountain,,,,,,,, so its only the other three which fluctuate more.
    Like Halloween the barrier between worlds thins at these times of high season. But winter can be crossed by journey.

  • The seasons of the queens and their nations could be further extrapolated to the birth, youth, adult, death associations. The winter elves used to be the stewards of souls to their next step, and now are twisted by their lack of connection to the cycles. Lost souls still come to them, and they feed them into cursed, necromantic nodes or craft them into taboo and desecrated forms.
  • Lots of cool ideas!
  • That said, I'm not wedded to it. We could use the four elements (Queen of Fire, Queen of Ice, Queen of Wind, Queen of Earth) or the four forms (Queen of Life, Queen of Death, Queen of Order, Queen of Chaos), or the cardinal directions (though that gets a bit "Oz").
    You could tie the Queens to all three things. The Winter Queen is also queen of the north and of Order and Ice. The Summer Queen then rules to the south, in a land of Fire and Chaos. The eastern land of the Spring Queen is governed by Life and Wind, while the western lands of the Autumn Queen are the lands of Death and Earth.
  • Yeah, that's the way I was thinking, Nick. =)
  • That's some cool depth there. I especially like the characterization of the Autumn Queen.
  • Tell me about their personalities and how they scheme against one another.

    Remember, I've already set some things. They live thousands of years. They typically don't fight with armies outright, unless it's very profitable. Also, this whole thing is based more on Eastern culture than Western culture. The rest is up for grabs.

    I'm gonna swap Order and Chaos for the Summer and Winter Queens.


    The Spring Queen (also Life, Wind, East) is all about collection of knowledge. She's a genuinely good person, but she's not stupid or naive. She's ambitious, too, and has great ideas about how she'd rule the Empire. Truth be told, she'd probably be the best at it, but her Summer sister is more devious than her and more willing to break things in the long term for short term power.

    The Summer Queen (also Order, Fire, South) rules the Opal Empire as Eternal Empress. I imagine her as fierce and decisive, but short-sighted. She can be vindictive and jealous, a little hot-tempered when crossed. She has a court full of husbands and male consorts, plus a huge number of other servants set up in an ancient hierarchy. She's a bit of a political "chess player" but she can be a little impatient so she often has to compensate for her blunders with military might.

    The Winter Queen (also Chaos, Ice, North) to be the opposite of cold. She's often disarmingly warm, friendly, and helpful. She is probably also the meanest of them and the cruelest schemer. She's manipulative and prone to mood swings. When she feels slighted, she can be very petty and passive-aggressive. Unfortunately, she finds slight easily. She gets along with her sisters well enough but pits them against one another.

    The Autumn Queen (also Death, Earth, West) is approachable, practical, and calm. She has a bit of a flat affect but she inspires trust in people. She is the most philosophical of the four sisters, constantly contemplating how things begin and end. She is patient but moves quickly to take advantage of rare opportunities, especially those she's carefully set up over decades or centuries. In her mind, everything is going according to plan.
  • The four queens are four Icons for the game right? Which makes me wonder what my other choices would be for an Icon to follow.

    Maybe one of the gods or lords that the four queens pulled down? Like the lord of the gates of heaven? I'm sure he must still have a cult hanging about, trying to get those gates opened and their old lord back in power.

    What about the Icons that want to become gods but need to pull down the four queens before they can do it? The Lord of Void and Great Old Tree would like to move on up and take some power, I imagine.

    And what might happen if the four queens are deposed? If the Summer Queen is removed from her throne, does the world no longer get a summer? If not, I'm sure that's what she's willing to tell everyone.
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