<Homebrew> The Port on the Aster Sea

Mallus

Legend
Any feedback is appreciated.

Synopsis: the action takes place in and around a port city on the shores of a metaphysical sea after an end of the world.

Setting: the world is a narrow band of mundane reality commonly called the Middling Lands, or by some, the Clutch, situated between the Aster Sea to the east and the Interior to the west.

The Aster Sea (Astral) leads to other planes of existence, which the port locals think of as islands. To sail east on the Aster is to sail away from human understanding. It is dotted with islands populated by monsters of ever-decreasing comprehensibility . Sail far enough and you’ll reach Azazoth/pure chaos.

The Interior is a vast primal land resembling a mythologized Australian Outback that corresponds to the psyche. Travelers in the Interior are frequently attacked by the things they fear the most; their personal demons. Travel far enough into the Interior and you’ll reach the Ultimate Self (first yours, then God's).

History: the world was once a normal planet that got “unraveled” during the Calamity, which separated the World Before from the World After.

This was either the result of an apocalyptic final battle between the Dragonborn and Tiefling empires, or the result of their apocalyptic cooperation in an attempt to halt Time and thus prevent the coming Age of Men.

The Port: possible names: Port Saudade? Port Aubade? Port Worlorn?, Port Yesod? Port Tav?, Port Eschaton? Port Erewhon? Port Nowhere?, Port Meirion?, Penultima Thule?, the Port of Interzone?. [edit] maybe the port should be nameless? Or Nameless?

  • The port is ruled by a Governor. He in turn claims allegiance to the never-seen Duke Beyond the Sea, who might be immortal, dead, or the product of the Governor’s paranoid delusions. Portraits of the Duke resemble the Horned God in fancy dress.
  • The port lies in the delta formed by two rivers; the River Livia and the Ossuary Flow, which originates in the Interior. Strange things sometimes float in on the Ossuary; empty stone boats, giant infants in reed baskets, potential Messiahs.
  • In a way, the city is every port city of the World Before folded together into one; a riot of different architectural styles and eras. In some places this is the result of normal building on top of previous construction, in others it’s a parfait of folded, urban space-time, including bits of the future world yet-to-come. In the port you never quite know what you’ll find in someone’s basement…
  • The Preservation Alliance seeks to preserve historic architecture. Its secret mission is to recover ancient relics and future wonders.
  • The Oceanographic Guild attempts to chart the whole of the Aster Sea, which is the most dangerous pursuit in the world. It’s made up of mystics and suicides.
  • The Geographic Society attempts to map the Interior, which is the second most dangerous pursuit in the world. It’s made up of mystics and suicides who are afraid of water but like camping.
  • The fractious Guild of Revelry controls most of the vice industries. Rumor has it its masters seek a monopoly on the very concept of pleasure.

The Sea and its Environs:
  • The Sea to the east has many names: the Aster, the Disaster, the Sea of Dreams, Quiddity, the Twilight Sea, the Sea of Shadows, the Sea of Means, the Sea of Ends.
  • Its water varies from day to day; from saltwater to fresh, from the consistency of bitter tears to the clear, cold of fresh regret. Sages say it’s always exactly what people need.
  • Despite governmental warnings, the poor, foolish and desperate swim/bathe in the sea. Parents warn their children not to put their heads underwater. Those that do sometimes emerge changed, or as Changelings, or as entirely different people. Some bottle its water for drinking.
  • The city beaches are full of romantics and suicides.
  • The Eladrin hail from the Blessed Isle, not far off the coast. They are originally from the ‘Waking Lands’. They insist the entire time they spend in this world is a dream.
  • The Elves insist that world was the dream, one from which they wakened after they heard the call of the Great Girding Forrest.
  • Various nearby islands are home to various mythological races; shapeshifters, minotaur, vampires, etc.
  • Somewhere in the Sea is the lost island of Mu, where the Men of the World Before are said to hail from.
  • Some people claim to be able to sea the souls of the dead departing in black boats from the coastline around the port. Worse, some claim to see the souls of dead coming back to be reborn.
  • Far to the north of lies the Unassailable North, home to hardy, free, savage peoples (think Fafhrd et al.). Beyond that lies the Frozen Pole.
  • To the South the lies the Snake States, home to drugged, corrupt bureaucracies. Full of slavery, eunuchs, lies and treacheries; lands crisscrossed with slow, swollen rivers and tarry black lakes full of poisoned water (think Conan-esque S&S or the snake nation from Eddings). Beyond them lies the Burning Pole.
  • West of the city lies the Great Girding Forrest and the Border Kingdoms, full of warring feudal states, knights, and magical forests, the kind of place where men hunt stag-gods, maidens and each other. Beyond the Borderlands lies the Interior.
  • The sun rises in the west and sets in the east, into the sea.
 
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Good lord, very nice. I'm not sure what to add. It has a lot of potential for specific adventures, though I don't see any driving underlying need for adventure (not that every setting should have that, of course, indeed most don't).

Is the Interior all scrubland and/or rainforest, like the outback, if so, is there any way for it to have more varied terrain?

I like Port Erewhon, but I'm a simple man.

Reminds me a little of Exalted, to be honest.
 


Mallus

Legend
Ruin Explorer said:
Good lord, very nice.
Thanks.

It has a lot of potential for specific adventures, though I don't see any driving underlying need for adventure (not that every setting should have that, of course, indeed most don't).
It's meant for rotating DM's, so I tried to keep in metaplot/central conflict-free.

Is the Interior all scrubland and/or rainforest, like the outback, if so, is there any way for it to have more varied terrain?
Good question. It's supposed as panoramic as the Outback, vast under a pitiless sun, but not quite so uniform (hmmm, checking wikipedia, there's a lot of variation in the Outback, it's just all spread out) or empty. I see plenty of room for snow-capped mountains, rift valleys concealing lush jungles, enormous-yet-somehow hidden lakes. When you first enter it seems terrifyingly empty, later it seems terrifying full. I'm also pretty sure the landscape changes from journey to journey, but I'm not sure how to convey this in a way that makes mapping the Interior seem like a worthwhile pursuit/campaign theme...

I like Port Erewhon
It's a classic.
 



Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
I did a similar thing once with My Blackport homebrew. Blackport was in proximity to no less than five stable "Nexus Storms" - rips in the frabic of reality that allowed parallel realities to cross - This meant that from Blackport a ship could sail into three entirely different worlds which had their own set of stable and unstable Nexus storms. Unstable storms moved and like real storms could come sweeping in throwing a ship into an entirely random dimension.

The PCs were part of a Crew sent to chart the stable Nexus Storms and ended up fighting an island of Ghouls, Sky Pyrates and the Great Sea Dragon - unfortunately the campaign was never completed

Anyway if anyone knows the game Pyrates where you guide a pyrate ship through various mazes (one of which features a dragon) thats where I got my inspiration from...
 

I'm also pretty sure the landscape changes from journey to journey, but I'm not sure how to convey this in a way that makes mapping the Interior seem like a worthwhile pursuit/campaign theme...

Could it be that maps work perfectly in the Interior only if you were the one that created it or were with someone that used it in the past?

Therefore "guides" would really just be charting their own inner souls, showing it with others to come to a shared understanding of the Interior. Stealing a map is near-pointless, while going without one is bordering on the fool-hearty.

And you could have whacky happenings when two different maps or two different groups run into each other.
 

Imperialus

Explorer
Just a thought but have you considered running it as a sort of proto-Sigil? Lots of weird stuff going into/coming out of the ocean but without the Lady of Pain sitting there saying "Now everyone play nice... on pain of... pain!" It hasn't been in anyones best interest to take it over because while it isn't difficult to find the port, but unless you have charts, it's really difficult to find your way home.
 

Mallus

Legend
Tonguez said:
This meant that from Blackport a ship could sail into three entirely different worlds which had their own set of stable and unstable Nexus storms.
I'm really digging the idea that magical/metaphysical travel is linked to physical travel. Sailing to different worlds rather than just "BAMF! we're there!" or "Hey look, a portal!". Good idea keeping the number of reachable other worlds small. I'm trying to resist the temptation of filling the Aster Sea to the brim with islands. What I really need is a small, manageable number of highly iconic places to visit.

Unstable storms moved and like real storms could come sweeping in throwing a ship into an entirely random dimension.
Did the storms ever make landfall? If so, what effects did they have?

The PCs were part of a Crew sent to chart the stable Nexus Storms and ended up fighting an island of Ghouls, Sky Pyrates and the Great Sea Dragon - unfortunately the campaign was never completed
Too bad, sounds like a cool campaign.
 

Psion

Adventurer
Incidentally, there was a take in the Pirates Guide to Freeport that suggested a setup like this for Freeport.

Imperialus said:
Very cool. I like the whole Ocean=Astral Sea idea.

So did I; my River of Worlds game, based on a take on this idea I first saw in FFG's Portals & Planes, is pretty much this concept.
 

Mallus

Legend
Intense_Interest said:
Could it be that maps work perfectly in the Interior only if you were the one that created it or were with someone that used it in the past?

Therefore "guides" would really just be charting their own inner souls, showing it with others to come to a shared understanding of the Interior. Stealing a map is near-pointless, while going without one is bordering on the fool-hearty.

And you could have whacky happenings when two different maps or two different groups run into each other.
This is terrific stuff. I was picturing successful Interior guides as monks... now I'm picturing them as monk/therapists (and some as monk/therapist/big-game hunters --though I'm entirely sure what that means yet). I imagine there's some professional debate between Guides as to how, exactly, this should be done...

Travelers into Interior need guides that know themselves (have maps), otherwise the risk of getting lost is astronomical. But the guide can only take them through their interior... so at some point they need to abandon the new traveler.
 

Mallus

Legend
Imperialus said:
Just a thought but have you considered running it as a sort of proto-Sigil? Lots of weird stuff going into/coming out of the ocean but without the Lady of Pain sitting there saying "Now everyone play nice... on pain of... pain!"
I hadn't made the Sigil connection --my Planescape experience is limited to Torment on the PC-- but that's a great way to describe the setting.

It hasn't been in anyones best interest to take it over because while it isn't difficult to find the port, but unless you have charts, it's really difficult to find your way home.
I know the port is raided frequently by monsters and not-quite-men from islands in the sea, as well as by their neighbors to the north and south, but I admit, I hadn't thought about outright conquest from beyond...

... that makes a good metaplot though. The port in the beginning of the Age of Men that unfortunately takes places after the end of the world. Who'd want to colonize or conquer it? I'm certain there's a good answer for that...
 

RabidBob

First Post
Excellent setting, very Clive Barkerish! Maybe I didn't read fully but it was not immediately obvious to me what direction from the city the outback is - to the west?

Silly question, but - where does all the food come from? I've been considering a setting on and off for some time based on the "Thief" games which would be totally city based and that's all there is to the world, the city, its politics and struggles for power (no play nice here). But I'm having a hard time visualising it as cities require a large resource base. I think I may be able to nick some ideas from you and blend in the "city on the edges of realities" concept ...
 

Mallus

Legend
RabidBob said:
...very Clive Barkerish!
You noticed? :)

...what direction from the city the outback is - to the west?
Yes.

Silly question, but - where does all the food come from?
The port sits smack in the middle of a strip of real, normal land perhaps 100 miles miles wide (or bigger? not sure yet) and more than that long --the last remnant of the World Before. The geography is more-or-less normal, with settlements, agriculture, etc.

Also, there are fish in the sea. Eating them is technically a crime according to a Governor's Edict, but everyone knows the Governor is a raving paranoid, and hungry people have little use for Edicts. So the poor eat fish from the Sea... the ones that don't talk, anyway. For the most part...

I think I may be able to nick some ideas from you and blend in the "city on the edges of realities" concept ...
Steal away!
 
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Mallus

Legend
Some new stuff from my friend and collaborator Rolzup, who is going to run this campaign.

  • The Eternal Bureaucracy, which co-exists with the city in some metaphysical way, processes the spirits of the dead, assigns them an afterlife, and ships them across the Aster Sea to their final destination -- ideally. In practice, the Eternal Bureaucracy is just as riddled by corruption, red-tape, and general incompetence as any mortal agency. More so, even. The majority of the dead spend years waiting to be processed. Centuries, in a few cases.
  • A sort of shantytown of displaced souls has grown up around the city, where the dead spend their time waiting until the Bureaucracy will see them. There are, of course, Things that prey upon these luckless bastards, resulting in plenty of available bearths on the Black Ships....
  • For those who wish to cheat the whole process, they can seek out the services of the Lithogenic Guild; Medusae and their kin, who will (for a fee) turn their clients into stone so that they can await the End of World in peace and relative safety.

He also proposes a train, "I had the idea last night of enormous Stone Golems, working to an exacting schedule, taking turns pulling a string of cars to and fro with chains of improbable size....", but he's not sure it fits.

I think it does; a train pulled by giants running north to south, carrying goods from across the Sea of Dreams to snowbound barbarians and drug-addled snake cultists (and all stops in between).

I replied, "One of the phrases I keep coming to is: "It's the dawn of the Age of Man that unfortunately takes place after the apocalypse". Trains are a great symbol for human --'mortal' in this case-- ingenuity, industry and ambition. I love the idea that the overall setting theme is this vibrancy set against a backdrop of melancholy, people making the best of it after the end of the world, a port city of great energy, full of promise and progress, despite the fact that here, the living, cohabit with the restless dead.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Mallus said:
Did the storms ever make landfall? If so, what effects did they have?

Yes the Nexus Storms did and generally this meant that landscapes were warped and sometimes bits of entirely alien worlds were pulled in transforming the geography and sometimes dropping alien monsters (abberations). I never really took the idea far before the game ended but at one point the PCs did find the bulk of a ship in the center of a acid desert before being attacked by Bullywugs riding Acid-spitting Wyrms
 

Mallus

Legend
Tonguez said:
Yes the Nexus Storms did and generally this meant that landscapes were warped and sometimes bits of entirely alien worlds were pulled in transforming the geography and sometimes dropping alien monsters (abberations).
I like that. I can have storms that blow in from the Aster Sea which sometimes carry with them Immortals, Aberrations, and creatures of Shadow. Maybe this is the only way these creatures can enter the world (barring the Immortals that originate in the Interior and those than arrive on the Black Ships). I'm picturing storm-chaser magicians running along the beach during a hurricane, weighed down by ritual spellcasting accouterments, hoping in vain to bind something from beyond.

And maybe storms that originate over the land --Juxtaposition Storms? Superposition Storms?-- whose vortexes open into the past, into the World Before, allowing forward-only time-travel.

...but at one point the PCs did find the bulk of a ship in the center of a acid desert before being attacked by Bullywugs riding Acid-spitting Wyrms
Nice.
 

Mallus

Legend
More details...

  • Deep in the Interior is a mist-shrouded lake on a high plateau, sometimes called the Mandaean Plateau, which only those 'clothed in virtue' can approach. The lake is the source of the Ossuary Flow. In it is the skeletal corpse of God. Bones of all shapes and size from His body break off. Frequently. They're washed over the edge at the Elohim Falls (or the Falls of Adam --too much? Help me out here) and are broken on the rocks below. These shards eventually wind up the Middling Lands, lining the embankments of the river named for them.

    Sometimes, unbroken bones are found. These contain fresh divine marrow, which is the sole component of the Raise Dead Ritual. Obviously, the chance of finding these bones increases the closer you are to the source. Sometimes a lucky child in the port will discover a whole bone (and a nursery rhyme that's also a serviceable Ritual) and revivify a dead pet or relative.
  • Residuum is literally the residue left by the tearing apart of the World Before. Ground up bits of creation from which magical items are milled, disenchanted, and made again. Some items that originate from the Interior and Across-the-Sea can't be broken down into Residuum, but they can be used to impart special properties/abilities.
 
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GoodKingJayIII

First Post
Cool stuff. I've always liked the idea of the Astral Sea as a literal sea. I like how you've incorporated a lot of strange metaphysical elements into the "real" world. I don't know if it's been mentioned before but there's lots of potential for Lovecraftian mythos and Far Realm scariness. Can't wait to see more.
 

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