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Thread: How to -- 4th century BCE setting

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    Default Re: How to -- 4th century BCE setting

    While I'm waiting on some reports to process and need a mental break...

    Quote Originally Posted by Max_Killjoy View Post
    Spoiler: Previous post for ease of reference
    I don't have the individual states worked out in detail, because I want to bounce more stuff off potential players if it gets that far, and then go back.

    Economically, there will be different food and material crops to trade based on each state's position along the north-south axis. There will be different mineral resources as well. It's possible that there will be different secret "techniques" jealously guarded by the craftspeople of different states, not sure yet. So, there will be a lot of trade up and down the length of the region along the coast and on the one major trade road.

    The political structure will be as complicated as I can reasonably make it while still remaining functional. There's a lot of public works, flood control, fresh water supply, drainage, irrigation control, etc that need to be administered and maintained, so there's a place for a strong ruling figure in most of the cities, but the temples are also strong, and a lot of trade to enrich merchants tangentially to those other power bases, plus maybe some cities have councils of the powerful citizens who are risky to ignore even if you're the "king".

    Religion is multilayered and multidimensional. There's animism and ancestor worship, which is very personal and local and diverse, but some spirits are more equal than others; famous ancestors and the spirits of renowned places and things benefit from a feedback loop of fame, veneration, and power. There are local and clan and "profession" deities, who blur the lines with the "ancestors" who were mythical heroes and city founders and inventors of great things and so on. And then there are universal deities who are revered across the entire region (if not world, hmmm...) and have broad multifaceted spheres of "interest". Most people pay homage to local spirits and family ancestors, and to whichever deity they need to attract or divert the "attention" of at the present moment. There will also be both priests and "lay devotees" of the individual deities and "big spirits".

    The deities are not "good" or "evil" the way many RPG settings present them, but rather most of them represent concepts and things that are valued and considered important and good by human beings and human culture, but can be very dangerous when taken to extremes (for example, both freedom and order can be dangerous when pushed to extremes).

    Cutting across those layers, there are a various ideologies and cults, some of which are considered blasphemous and heretical by the established priesthoods and therefore by many of the kings and oligarchs. There are also the shattered, scattered remnants of the veneration of the older primordial "chaos gods" who according to the in-setting mythology were very alien and often acted without regard to human values or concerns, before being defeated by the more anthropomorphic deities of the current faith(s).

    I can go into more detail if someone wants, reveal some "secret history" in spoiler boxes.

    ... more on this topic, for anyone who is interested.


    Orthodox religious teachings assert that the most-high gods, collectively known as the Kataru, are the great lords and teachers, blessing mortals with life, prosperity, and civilization. They are the rulers of all creation, the lesser deities and spirits, and all mortals, and are to be revered, venerated, and worshiped, in placation and supplication.

    Long ago, in the mists of prehistory, the most-high gods fought and vanquished ancient "ungods" -- the Anzillu. These entities were alien, uncaring, and strange... disconnected from the thinking and needs of mortals. Only fragments of that time remain, scattered in the hidden, lost, and forbidden places of the world. In seizing lordship over the universe, the most-high gods made the world safe for mortals -- and all living things -- to prosper and flourish.

    As noted in the last post on this subject, most people offer placation and supplication to all the deities in turn (along with the local gods, ancestor spirits, local spirits, etc) depending on the situation.

    Spoiler: The most-high gods as I have them set up right now...

    Ersetuki, the Good Earth

    Ersetuki is the tireless patron of family, of motherhood and children. The Great Earth Mother, she encourages large families, tempered only by the need to care for every child, and considers it the duty of all women to bring new life into the world. She teaches that family means more than the individual, and that every being must have and know their place in the greater family of all living things. She loves those who nurture domestic animals, even in knowing that those animals will be sacrificed to the good of the family.

    Belumeru, the Green God

    The Great Green Father, Belumeru is the god of the living cycle and the seeds of life. He looks with great favor on all plants, both in the wild places and in the fields, and on those who tend to them. Ersetuki is his mother-wife – in the newness of the year he is the son, and in the fullness of the seasons he is the father, repeating the cycle eternally. He teaches that the cycle of life is greater than all things, greater than any individual, and that a father must sacrifice everything for his family if that is what’s needed. He views those who try to escape their greater fates with scorn.

    Ebabarra, the Eternal Sun

    Ebebarra is the goddess of the sun, of life-sustaining light and warmth. She is the eternal pure light of truth, and she hates even the kindest wavering from unrelenting honesty. She brings the soft touch of a warm day and the inferno of purgation, the spring thaw and the killing drought. She lovingly encourages perfection, and mercilessly demands it. She only relents from her burning stare because the other gods demand it.

    Ninagal-ea, Lord of the Great Waters

    The oceans, seas, and great rivers are the domain of Ninagal-ea, and he is the patron of those mortals who work that domain. His favor is the bounty of the waters, his wrath is the raging storm, the great wave, and the hungry deep. The waters are plentiful, but can be uncaring, and their vastness and power dwarf any man.

    Kagal-eunir, the Lawbringer

    Kagal-eunir is the patron of ordered life, of law and cities. He favors all things well planned, the life lived with calm foresight, and laws written wisely. He loves justice, and teaches that law and process followed rightly always reveals truth and always leads to justice. He teaches that there is a right order in all things, and that mortals fight it at their peril; a place for everyone and everyone in their place.

    Tabannusi, the Maker

    Tabannusi is the goddess of hearth and forge, of crafts and industry. She favors the making of things and the pureness of hard work done well. The making of things is her concern, less than the rewards that might come from it or the resources used; she teaches that work well done should be its own reward, and that no amount of effort is excessive in the making of things.

    Wasu-harrani, the Wanderer

    Wasu-harrani is the god of travel and freedom, who teaches that those who wander are not lost. The Wanderer demands a laissez-faire world with no restrictions, and no law beyond “do what thou wilt” and “don’t get caught.” He favors those who travel, explore, and never tie themselves down. He is the god of severed bonds, but also of severed ties – loathing slavery but also skeptical of family and government.

    Hurasamaltu, Prince of Plenty

    The Price of Plenty is the god of ambition, opulence, wealth, and luxury. He teaches that deprivation and unfulfilled needs are unnecessary evils, to be avoided through the accumulation of wealth and power. The fullest coffers, the finest things, and the greatest indulgences please him, but never so much as those who always strive for more regardless of how much they have. His followers struggle between the wanton avarice and gluttony of endless accumulation and consumption, and the grand generosity that leaves no doubt as to their righteous prosperity. Just remember that everything has a price…

    Kashavti, the Grey

    Kashavti is the goddess of the great cold – the Grey Lady of winter’s grasp, the embrace of night, and the chill of death. The black night sky and the white snows are hers, as are the stars and the strange lights of the north. Goddess of dangerous journeys, secret crossroads, and hidden things.

    Sharur, the Wild Hunt

    Sharur is the patron of hunters, the protector of wild things, and the master of wild places. The untouched and the unspoiled are her domain. As the cities and farms grow, she is the ruthless force of nature that constantly presses back. As most of the other gods are said to call on mortals to take, and use, and expand, and control, she demands restraint, chiding mortals to only take as much as can regrow. And yet she is also the bloody-minded goddess of wild abandon and survival of the fittest, her only mercy a quick ending for the taken prey.

    Pazzursetu, the Great Shadow

    The Great Shadow is both the judge and the protector of the dead. A deity of indeterminate or perhaps dual gender, and indistinct form, who rules the netherworld and watches over the dark byways of the afterlife. Pazzursetu's stories and origins are jealously kept secrets, held fiercely in confidence by her/his mystery cult.

    Cutting across the common religious ways is a plethora of cults, heresies, and eclectic philosophies.

    Spoiler: some examples

    Encoders - adherents of the Ara Principle; strive for order and structure in all things, make and live by rules, pay attention to the smallest details; there is a right way and a wrong way for even the smallest task; order is holy and divine; especially revere Ebabarra and Kagal-eunir.

    Su Du Nam - the universe is a great clockwork, everything happens according to the turning of a multitude of perfectly interwoven gears and parts; especially revere Tabannusi and Kagal-eunir

    Revelers - “Nothing is forbidden to the gods, so to be like the gods, forbid yourself nothing.”; follow the "principles of lust", they can be heard chanting “Lalu lalu lalu!”; give special reverence to Wasu-harrani, Hurasamaltu, and to some extent Sharur

    Zahnu cult - believe there was a single great creator, a prime-mover, who brought the entire universe into being, and is now gone, with internal disagreement about whether this deity died of old age, was killed and eaten by the Anzillu, departed the universe, or met some other fate; mainstream believers consider them a bit kooky, as there is no proof and nothing is gained by beliving in such an entity.

    Divinists - a secret cult of pantheists; believe that all things are manifestations of a single unified divinity -- they are considered a major heresy and efforts are made to suppress and purge their blasphemies.

    Tammites - a secret cult that would be called "gnostic" in our world; ascetics, they teach that the physical world is base, wicked, and currupt, while the spiritual world is pure and good. Considered a minor heresy, but a lesser threat and not worth purging, as they seldom have children and do not have popular appeal.

    Dalkhu sorcerers - practice blasphemous rites and sorceries calling upon the dalkhu, unclean spirits associated with the vanquished Anzillu; it is a constant question whether those who lose their minds to these dark arts are more or less dangerous than those who are able to maintain their self-mastery in the face of such strange and wicked forces.

    The Anzillu were strange alien entities, eldritch and arcane if one wishes to fall back on such terms. Consider them kin to Tiamat, Khaos, the Titans, Lovecraftian "old gods", and the "star gods" of space-rock. Legends ascribe to them perplexing behavior, at turns both whimsical and terrible, distant and intensely focused, generous and malevolent. They are now called "anathema, "most unclean", "the great sorrows of the world", and similar. Priests and zealots fret aloud that the wickedness of mortals will act as a siren call to the Anzillu lying vanquished in whatever place serves as their undying tomb, and bring on the doom of the world.

    Spoiler: the names of some of the great Anzillu lords, as still known to those who dare learn them...

    , Haunter of the Outer Depths
    Nerzhalmanis, the Watcher in the Wilds
    Evettazi, the Waking Dreamer
    Ravishu, the Fallen Star
    Zarruzassa, the Vermillion King
    Nekel of the Countless Eyes
    Avsu, the Creeping Doom
    Kalesh Sarrat Irkalli, Margrave of Ashes

    Spoiler: dark truths ahead... you've been warned.

    The Zahnu and Divinist cults are somewhat right.

    The most-high gods are lying.

    Neither they, nor any divine ancestors of theirs, created the world. In truth, no one -- mortal, god, or other -- knows exactly how things began... not even those who came first.

    Those who came first were, in truth, the beings now known as the Anzillu.

    Before their defeat, the more erudite Anzillu spoke of "before", and if asked "Before what?", they might reply, with rage or melancholy, "Before anything, before everything... before before meant anything... infinite formlessness infinitely subdivided in an infinite whole..." The plain truth is that they were the "souls" of the primordial universe, their thoughts shared at will, all of reality responding to their whim, with no consequences and no limits. "Then" one of them decided to do something new; she scattered her infinite essence across the universe, giving up her own existence to do the one thing they'd never been able to do -- create new independent life, untethered from the waking dreams of its creator(s). This fundamentally changed the nature of their reality, however, transforming it into a universe of finite objects, driven by cause and effect, which took effort for the remaining Anzillu to bend to their will. In an instant, they had become something less than they were, finite, bounded, limited, and the one to blame was also the one they were mourning. They now knew frustration, and loss, and death.

    This new reality was sundered into multiple layers as well, and the most interesting one was also the most frustrating. Here the new living things dwelled, but attempting to communicate with these new minds usually resulted in some form of spectacular and gruesome death for the little thing, releasing its spark back into the swirling gyre of energies. And even when they learned to be "gentle", the Anzillu found most of these new minds utterly simple and dull, with no new ideas and the most primal of thoughts. A few, however, could actually imagine, and think, and hold a conversation (at least until they broke).


    Those who would become the Kataru, the "most high gods", began their lives as mortal men and women, in an age and place now shrouded in myth and legend, before the rise of the current civilizations. Warriors, mystics, princes, shamans, poets, wonder-makers, scoundrels, schemers... whatever path they were on, they were driven and different, people who would have become great heroes and villains in any age.

    The culture of that time venerated nature and ancestor spirits. There were also other spirits, powerful but dark, of unfathomable motives, demons and tricksters, disconnected from the natural world. The most powerful of these dark spirits were effectively the gods of this time... granting their favor to those who were able to please their inscrutable minds. But their presence, or even their influence, seemed liable twist or even corrupt where it lingered overlong. Only those of the strongest will dared commune with their gods, lest their minds be corroded. Some were outright capricious, going so far as to demand ten thousand one hundred and one human sacrifices, and then purging in fire the city that answered the call. But still, their worship spread and grew.

    The future Kataru were drawn to the power of these gods, and had the will and the fortitude to stand in the dark fire of their presence. Intrigued, the Anzillu took these already powerful and renowned mortals under their wings. They were granted access to the courts in the realms beyond, and dined with their deities, and partook of their pleasures and knowledge. Even as they became veritable demigods themselves, these mortals learned the terrible secrets and saw the often childlike nature of the Anzillu, and how they were by any human standard, monsters. Some even sought to unmake the world, gather the shards, and find a way to bring back their lost sibling. The mortal men and women were confronted with eventual oblivion at the hands of their own gods.

    They determined, among themselves, to put a stop to it. Through trickery, theft, or betrayal, the Kataru learned how they themselves might become gods, and how they might bind the Anzillu away from the world. They learned the ways in which mortal faith and reverence granted strength to a spirit, and how a spirit could become a god. So they sought fame, and glory, and did great deeds, and secretly arranged for monuments to themselves, and covertly spread rumors of their own divinity and the wickedness of the Anzillu, across as much of the world as they could reach. Their final mortal act was a ritual to ascend bodily into the other realms, leaving no corpses behind, and keeping their full identities in a way no normal soul would. Across the known world, they were beloved, and legend, rumored to be the children of gods or gods who had walked among mortals for a time... a self-fulfilling belief.

    One by one, they sought out and vanquished the old dark gods. Unable to destroy them, instead they left them trapped in undying tombs, lost and forgotten stone prisons, locked away for eternity. The battles boiled seas, split the earth, wrecked cities, and toppled the great civilizations of the age, resetting mortal history and leaving only legends and myths of the time. With no written records, the Kataru could teach their mortal followers any history they cared to, and so they did. They painted the Anzillu not as the tragic fallen souls of the very universe, who none the less had to be contained to save the mortal world, but rather as alien usurper demons and pretender-gods, who had overthrown the true creator of the universe and sent the Kataru into exile in a long lost time.

    As for the Anzillu, they remain locked away, and only their servants -- the Dalkhu, beings born of everything left over after the breath of life was spread across all of creation by the lost Anzillu sibling -- remained free, too numerous and scattered to be tracked down to the last.


    That's it for now.

    Last edited by Max_Killjoy; 2017-02-16 at 04:48 PM.
    It is one thing to suspend your disbelief. It is another thing entirely to hang it by the neck until dead.

    Verisimilitude -- n, the appearance or semblance of truth, likelihood, or probability.

    The concern is not realism in speculative fiction, but rather the sense that a setting or story could be real, fostered by internal consistency and coherence.

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