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D&D General Homebrew Setting - Tieflings: Chosen of Asmodeus

So I'm re-launching a D&D group with family friends after a preliminary session last night. The campaign went on an extended hiatus after my wife passed away in the summer of 2021 (she was one of the players). We're going to start afresh, and discussed some character ideas.

The other characters bring a much darker tone to things, so I am taking all their backstories and riffing off them/iterating on them to come up with a setting.

Setting implications from the characters backstories:
  • There is a cruel, tyrannical tiefling empire (probably a proto-totalitarian one)
  • A plague, probably on the scale of the Black Death in magnitude, devastated the land about half a century before the present day.
  • Some dwarves, at least, are hidebound traditionalists.

This post/thread is focusing on the dwarves of the setting. Anyone have any cool iterations on this, do feel free to come up with something.

One of the players will be playing a dwarf rogue who is rebelling against his paternal family's wishes for him - that he carry on the family tradition of brewing (generations of his patrilineal line were and are brewers).

New posts in this thread with more lore:
Tieflings: Chosen of Asmodeus (post)

Dwarves: Children of the Stone-Father

The dwarves believe themselves to be a dwindling people, though as the lands rebound from the Wracking Plague, some see hope on the horizon.

In the Elder Times, dwarven steadings and fastnesses delved into many a mountain, and the greatest of these had Deeping Ways connecting them. But then came the Long Wearing, as civil war and calamity in the lands beyond their bounds eroded their power, followed by enemies of the dwarves and forces devoted to the Powers of Chaos, which overthrow their fastnesses. Those dwarves who survived these disasters and defeats fled, whether traveling to such mountain halls as survived the Long Wearing or settling in the lands of the Younger Folk, as they call humans.

Most of the dwarves in the Free City of Parneth (of which more below) are descended from dwarves who fled the fall of the ancient halls of Arad Kor and Arad Hin, to the north, or from the mountain fastness of Wœceleth (on the island of the same name in the Inner Sea), seized by the Great Wyrm Glondauthor. The former disasters are now beyond the memory of living dwarves, while only the oldest dwarf gaffers and gammers recall the flight from Wœceleth.

The Stone-Father
To learned humans, the Stone-Father is thought to be one of the Ancients of Law. To the dwarves, the Stone-Father is the Creator - of dwarfkind if not the entire world. Dwarven myth has it that the Stone-Father fashioned the first dwarves out of stone in the First Days.

During the Elder Times, the dwarves reckon that the Stone-Father bestowed decrees upon them. The Four Decrees of the Stone-Father are the foundation of traditional dwarven life, and they are inscribed (in stone) at the entrance of any dwarf mountain-hall, as well as above the thrones of dwarven thegns or in prominent places in the council-halls of clan elders. Many dwarven clans and families possess small (stone) carvings of the Decrees, which they usually keep near the entrances of their homes, for all who enter to see.

The Decrees of the Stone-Father said:
Thus Speaks the Stone-Father:
1. You are the Stone-born, the Children of the Stone-Father. From the rock you were fashioned. The Craft of working it was bestowed upon you. To it you must return.
2. Never forget that which is owed you and that which you owe. Repay like with like: debt with recompense, gift with gratitude, injury with vengeance.
3. You stand where you are by the toil of your forebears. Your loyalty and labour belong to your ancestors and your kin.
4. Fulfilling your duty is your highest calling.

In the dwarven mountain-halls, a great body of dwarven jurisprudence has grown around interpreting the Decrees and applying them as the foundation of law. In the lands of the Younger Folk, dwarves live by whatever precepts they feel best represent the spirit of the Decrees amongst themselves, while (usually) obeying the laws of the lands they live in. Traditionally-minded dwarves, for instance, endeavour to live as much by the laws of their forebears as possible.

Common Dwarf-isms
Some common dwarf sayings:
"Glondauthor's gales take you!" (May you be beset with troubles)
"By Glondauthor's fangs!"
"Stone-Father's beard!"
"Alberich took the Deeping Ways to the Stone-Father" (Alberich passed away, probably of natural causes/old age)
"Patient as the Younger Folk" (recklessly impatient)
"False as a Fathomless" (despicable; an inveterate and evil liar - to describe a dwarf thusly is to pick a fight with that dwarf)

The Free City of Parneth
The game will likely be set mostly in and around this Free City.
The Free City of Parneth is one of a string of city-states along the northern shores of the Inner Sea. It is part of the large swathe of Northern Marches that act as borderlands between the tiefling-ruled Empire of Bal Kaeroth, the expanse of steppeland known as The Vast, and the Shattered Kingdoms across the Inner Sea.

Some notable features of the Free City:
  • Like many grand cities, it is built upon the ruins of the past. Much of these ruins now lie beneath the earth, where they collect unwholesome residents.
  • It is one of the few cities in the Northern Marches with a sizeable enclave of tiefling refugees from Bal Kaeroth.
  • The Free City is ostensibly ruled by a First Speaker, who is appointed by an Assembly of wealthy aristocrats and guildleaders, and whose role is to defend the city from outside danger, maintain order within, and occasionally arbitrate disagreements or conflicts among the city's elites. In some years, the First Speaker can truly be said to be a leader or ruler; in others, they might be a puppet of particular Old Families (the "old money" aristocrats) or guild interests. The First Speaker usually governs for life once appointed, but can be removed by a supermajority vote in the Assembly.
  • It is the home of the Collegium Arcana, which might be the only formally-established scholarly institute for the study of arcane magic and wizardry on the north shores of the Inner Sea.
  • Most of the city is made from locally-quarried limestones. Some of the homes of the wealthiest are made from a mixture of granites and (usually exotic/imported) hardwood, while cheaper wooden clapboard is more common for the boarding houses and multifamily dwellings of poorer parts of town.

The Dwarves of Parneth
Parneth doesn't have the largest enclave of dwarves living in the lands of the Younger Folk, but it is sizeable. Most dwarves live in Old Quarry, a community built out of what was once the quarry for the city centre. One dwarf family, the Aldcutters, is established enough to be considered among the city's Old Families. (Considering some dwarves have lived as long as several generations of Old Family folk, there are dwarves who are somewhat disgruntled at this state of affairs.)

Some notable features of Parnethian dwarves:
  • There are a handful of dwarves, known as Radicals, who reject the Decrees of the Stonefather.
  • There is a dwarven "mafia" for lack of a better term that controls the flow of illicit goods into and out of Old Quarry (and might even have contacts with criminal networks in Bal Keroth).
  • Many dwarves sponsor expeditions to fallen dwarf fastnesses, whether the famous ones noted above or not, whether out of a desire to see if they can be recovered and resettled, or with a view to recovering relics or treasures.
  • They usually frequent their own pubs, where they can count on fine dwarven brews being served, rather than Younger Folk drink (which they tend to disdain, deservedly or not).
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First, condolences on the loss of your wife.

For the dwarven community in Parneth, you might want to consider what are the traditional trades of these traditional dwarves in a younger folk city? Brewing, mining, soldiering, construction?

How much do you want to lean on, or consciously distinguish it from, being like a Jewish diaspora ghetto? You have a traditional society, fairly tightly knit, with a long cultural history and their own tongue in addition to the local common. Other common dwarven cultural models are Norse vikings and Scottish clan focus. Decide if you want to go that way or consciously avoid them.

Since you are building off of the player driven points in developing the world you probably want to think about how the dwarves interact with the plague, did they weather it better than others due to dwarven constitution? Were they decimated population wise and are reeling from it? How do they deal with a destabilized world that is rebuilding?

Also the tiefling empire, what is the empire relationship to dwarves and the Parnathian dwarves' orientation to the empire?

@Voadam Thank you. And thanks for your questions!

For the dwarven community in Parneth, you might want to consider what are the traditional trades of these traditional dwarves in a younger folk city? Brewing, mining, soldiering, construction?
Brewing is obviously one (since that's the one a player character picked). Masonry and smithing (of various kinds) are obvious choices for city life I would think. If there's a quarry or mine nearby, those would also be common; mining families who have found themselves settling in a land with no nearby mines would have to find something else to do, which might help slowly drive the adoption of "non-traditional" trades. Dwarven cities need light, so chandlers would be a possible (if perhaps rarer) trade. Less common in a "sunland" environment would be the growing and tending of "crops" of Underdark-style subterranean moulds or fungus for food, flavour, medicine, or recreation, but you might imagine a few families tending a small "garden plot" of such stuff in a cellar.

How much do you want to lean on, or consciously distinguish it from, being like a Jewish diaspora ghetto? You have a traditional society, fairly tightly knit, with a long cultural history and their own tongue in addition to the local common. Other common dwarven cultural models are Norse vikings and Scottish clan focus. Decide if you want to go that way or consciously avoid them.
I don't want to hew too closely to historical parallels, but I suspect they're unavoidable to some extent. I imagine when the dwarves first arrived, especially what with seeking refuge from calamity, it would have been somewhat like the settling of Irish in North America during and after the Potato Famine. Going with what I'm personally familiar with, many years hence, I'd probably imagine the Old Quarry community as very loosely resembling something like a North American city Chinatown more than, say, Montreal's Jewish Quarter. I do hope that the "Stone-born/Children of Stone" angle adds an "alien/fantastic" distinction.

Since you are building off of the player driven points in developing the world you probably want to think about how the dwarves interact with the plague, did they weather it better than others due to dwarven constitution? Were they decimated population wise and are reeling from it? How do they deal with a destabilized world that is rebuilding?
I imagine they did weather it better than others due to dwarven constitution - but not by a whole lot. If this plague is about as significant as the Black Death in Europe (so a circa one-quarter to one-third drop in population, with a two-century recovery period), which I think is a reasonable historical analogue, then any given population of dwarves probably had an average mortality rate about three-quarters that of a given population of humans.

It would have probably felt far more significant to dwarves with their long lives - imagine a fifty-year-old dwarf, who probably has two or three hundred years of life to live, suddenly passing.

In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if the trauma of the plague has helped spur both the Radical movement among some dwarves, and fresh interest in reclaiming relics of their history from their abandoned ancestral homes if not reclaiming those homes themselves.

Also the tiefling empire, what is the empire relationship to dwarves and the Parnathian dwarves' orientation to the empire?
The empire probably threatened the conquest of the Free City and other nearby regions in the past, so I am sure the Parnethian dwarves would generally be hostile to the empire's ambitions, though they might be fairly apathetic about its existence as long as it's "over there".

Any dwarves who live within the bounds of the empire and haven't successfully resisted conquest would be subjugated. They'd likely be less oppressed than humans on average - without going into too much detail, the empire seems to have something akin to a caste system that the player envisioned as being enforced by food supply (reminiscent of The Hunger Games if memory recalls) - but still oppressed. I don't myself envision this empire as formally enslaving people except incarcerated prisoners; say rather that one's life opportunities are formally constrained by caste just as one's food supply is.

Tieflings: Chosen of Asmodeus

The Chosen of Asmodeus are mighty, but their empire faces manifold dangers and challenge - from within as from without.

In the Elder Times, there were humans who abandoned the Old Faith in the face of the Powers of Chaos, turning not to the Light, but to a being known as Asmodeus. In exchange for their devotion, loyalty, and obedience - indeed, their very souls - they were granted the gift of infernal magic. This process changed their forms: they became tieflings. From their Throne City of Xalundh, these tieflings forged an empire: the Empire of Bal Kaeroth.

This empire spread, conquering and subjugating the lands around it in the name of Asmodeus, and the tieflings prospered and grew many. As the empire spread, few in the lands north of the Inner Sea could foresee how they could be checked. Yet they had overstretched, and their advance slowed and was even reversed as waves of raiding nomads from The Vast, attacks by dragons from across the seas, internal strife and rebellion, and eventually the Wracking caused their retreat from many of their frontier territories. The Empress Molora III, Fist of the Almighty, dreams of retaking the Northern Marches, but for that the empire must rebuild and gather new strength.

In this setting, Asmodeus is an Ancient of Law - a powerful being of Cosmic Law.
In the First Days, Asmodeus promised power to any who would serve him - the more this service is unending and unquestionable, the greater the power. For most, the price is too high to pay, but when it means victory against the Powers of Chaos, it seems not so dear after all.

In the Empire, these obligations are laid out in the Tracts of the Almighty, a text that claims to provide the history of Asmodeus' work in the world and that details the rewards of those who venerate him. The Tracts also specify in great detail the hierarchy of the Empire and how the lives of those under the Empire's rule are to be governed.

The Empire holds that these Tracts are the words and commands of Asmodeus himself, eternal and unchanging. There are those who might dispute this, claiming the Tracts have changed over time, but such heresy is to be stamped out, and these forgeries burned.

While the first tieflings perhaps all owed their souls to Asmodeus, that has not been true of tieflings born since then. They are marked by Asmodeus, but to shackle their fate to his will requires a recommitment on their part to the pact made by their forebears. Only tieflings who choose this path are vested with greater infernal magic than is a tiefling's birthright.

Few ever refer to Asmodeus by name. The faithful call him "the Almighty" at his command. Other folk usually refrain from speaking his name for fear that he can hear it spoken and curse the speaker. Among such folk he is "the Accursed", "the Great Betrayer", or "the Enemy".

Common Tiefling-isms
Some common tiefling sayings:
"The Almighty watches."/"The Almighty watches, indeed." (A benediction of greeting or parting among faithful tieflings; it is spoken in exactly this way by tieflings of equal stature; when tieflings of unequal stature greet or part one another, the higher-status tiefling speaks first and refers to the lower-status tiefling - "The Almighty watches you" - while the lower-status tiefling speaks second and refers to themselves - "the Almighty watches me [or us] indeed".)
"The right path is obedience and loyalty - to the Almighty Asmodeus, to your Imperator, and to any set in authority above you." (This is the very first line of the Tracts of the Almighty, and is the only place where Asmodeus' name is written, and is one of very few contexts in which his name is permitted to be spoken among the faithful.)
"The Almighty decrees your portion and your due." (Another quote from the Tracts, which is formally used to justify the hierarchical organisation of the Empire, and used informally to suggest someone's fate or circumstances - positive or negative - are deserved by virtue of being the will of Asmodeus.)
"Faithful as the Enemy" (A saying among apostate tieflings, who view Asmodeus as the greatest of betrayers; this is a grave insult)

The Subjugated
Any non-tiefling under the rule of the Empire is among the Subjugated.

The Subjugated are also subject to hierarchy - a caste system that determines how they can expect to be treated by their tiefling overlords, what food and goods they are permitted to possess or consume, and what life opportunities they can gain for themselves.

Broadly, this hierarchy is (top) dwarves > orcs > humans > kobolds > human-tiefling hybrids (bottom)
I'm not sure yet what PHB races will be available, much less any others, based on who's in the party. Elves will probably exist in the setting but more as individual folk who have crossed over from the lands of the fey instead of a whole people. As fey, I'm envisioning them as being seen by the tieflings as inherently tied to Chaos, and so the Empire puts any elf who falls into its clutches to death.
One of the players, who came up with the idea of the empire of tieflings, decided to have a human-tiefling hybrid as their ancestry, and also decided that they were the lowest folk in the empire.

The tieflings usually keep communities and settlements segregated by ancestry- a town of kobolds likely won't have humans or dwarves living in it, for instance. A few tieflings might dwell briefly in a community of Subjugated on business, and Subjugated might dwell in tiefling communities as household servants or low-status labourers.

No one in the Empire is, strictly speaking, enslaved, save for those sentenced to hard labour by the Empire's laws. However, no one who isn't a tiefling can hope for what passes for a good life, certainly not compared to tieflings. The Empire appropriates most of the economic and agricultural output of Subjugated settlements, and then distributes what it sees fit to those settlements, in accordance with the place of their residents in the hierarchy. Folk who take positions in the tiefling communities can hope for better food and amenities, but at the cost of always occupying the least-valued labouring roles and being continually at the beck and call of tieflings.

This does create both motivation and opportunity for smuggling and black markets, as well as for revolt.

Tieflings, having once been human, can interbreed with them. While tiefling-human hybrids are the lowest of the low in the Empire, no shame ever attaches to an Imperial tiefling for having such a child with a human, or for having the sort of relationship with a human that might result in a child. However, within the Empire, tieflings may not marry humans, and any tiefling-human hybrid is ineligible for any inheritance from their tiefling parent. Outside of the Empire, such mixed-ancestry folk are usually treated as tieflings are in whatever community they find themselves.

The Tieflings of Parneth
Many tieflings find the Empire's rule objectionable, whether for purely personal reasons or because they come to oppose it on moral grounds. Others may not care about the Empire as such but reject the veneration of Asmodeus. Such tieflings are usually known as apostates, and, faced with what might happen if their beliefs are discovered, they usually arrange to flee.

Other tieflings might once have been loyal, but have been exiled for one reason or another - often for the "crime" of falling into disfavour among new rulers or, whenever a succession to a position of authority is contested, for having backed a losing side (with the winners seeing to potential threats to their power). These tieflings are called exiles.

The Empire has produced many apostates and exiles over the years. Most choose to cross the Inner Sea, to put as much distance between themselves and the Empire as possible (not least because they rightly fear being hunted).

The largest community of tieflings on the northern side of the Inner Sea, outside of the Empire itself, is found in the Free City of Parneth. Most tieflings live in the North Quarter, a more-or-less middle-class district known to house many of the trading costers that run out of the Free City. The most established tieflings live solidly middle-class lives, while newer ones tend to live working-class lives; few tieflings are destitute, but apart from the odd guild leader, none have yet to join the city's elite.

Humans in Parneth basically treat tieflings as another sort of humans, with an exception made for anyone known to be new to town - such folk are viewed with suspicion until it seems clear they aren't Imperial spies. Apostates reject the distinct cultural practices of Bal Kaeroth, and so their descendants rarely practice them. New exiles face an adjustment - often a harsh one - to a city where they do not command any particular respect, or even notice at times, but they and their families are most likely to try to keep cultural practices from their old homes, especially commemorations of holy days; after many generations these have become opportunities for public ceremony and celebration, almost more commercial and civic than religious devotions to Asmodeus. Some apostates appreciate how Asmodeus and the Empire would disapprove of these proceedings, and find a spiteful enjoyment in them.

Many tieflings of Parneth sponsor and support apostate and exile tieflings newly-arrived in town, as well as any non-tieflings or hybrid folk who manage to flee the Empire's bounds. Unfortunately, there is often a considerable overlap between the networks they have built to smuggle in contraband or smuggle out escapees, and black-market networks serving the criminal underworld of Parneth.

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