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A World Enough and Time
There isn't enough time. I have been very, very busy this year. I am homeschooling my six year old--lots of fun, but it takes time. I read when I have time. And I am back to gaming with my wife and a few new friends. I am also working on my make-a-fantasy world project, and that is going well, I think. Anyway, I have decided to put the history of the world, Mahdi, up here for others to look at. Let me know what you think. It will help me out a lot.
I will have to put this up in sections, so look for follow up articles soon.
Since Dungeons & Dragons went in a direction I did not like, I have been looking for another role-playing system, and I find Pathfinder works best for me and my players. So, my world uses a lot of the mechanics from Pathfinder with adjustments to meet my own purposes.
A Cautionary Introduction
What it is
Mahdi is a world I developed with my players over many years, many sessions, and many pots of coffee. Slowly we worked out what worked, and discarded what did not, and the world has changed with us over the years. It could change with us because its initial concept was very flexible and consciously unfinished, full of places that had not yet been explored and were little known to the players and the gamemaster, places, cities and races that existed in an ambiguous “over there”. Over time, the blank spaces were filled, but some still remain, and that is a good thing. It leaves others who play the game room to play and adjust the world to their own tastes. All the usual fantasy races are represented, by their defining mythos and interrelationships are defined in my own way, with complications and truisms of my own invention. These were necessary adjustments at the time, as any game you play first at the age of eight has to change by the time you are twenty, or something is very, very wrong with it, and with you.
What Mahdi is not
Mahdi is not a world for atheists. This is no knock against atheism as a position on the question of faith. I lean that way myself. Strangely, I lean the more strongly towards atheism the more I deal with self-declared truly religious, staunch Christians. I have not yet met the proselytizing Muslims and Jews of the world, but they would probably strengthen my fondness for irreligion just as my neighborhood fundamentalists do. However, Mahdi is not an irreligious place, and there is no room for atheism within it. This is because religious faith is not a philosophical idea in the world, but a way of interacting with reality, and that reality is divine. The earth is Mahdi, the All-Mother, not an abstracted fertility concept called Mahdi for convenience or story-telling purposes. The avatars of the gods, both as animal spirits and mortals who participate in divine capacities and acts, are real inhabitants of the world who may are seen, invoked, feared, and whose presence, or absence, forms a type of divine communication. In this world, atheism is a form of madness, a refusal to see and interact with the world as it is, in which reality is deformed by a false structure of perception and belief into an illusory, dangeorus landscape, mistaken and malformed, of limited use to the madman.
A matter of interpretation
That the divine is real does not mean that the will of the divinities are interpreted in the same fashion throughout the world. In fact, the nature of the divinities, their relationships to the mortals in their care, and the purpose of man within the plans and plots of the divinities vary widely over the cultures of the world. Dissident prophets appear, some of whom may truly be in contact with the divine, while most are merely mad, deluded, or playing a great con on the gullible. As with mortal to mortal conversations, divine to mortal conversations are plagued by error, misinterpretation, and false assumptions. After all, the lived reality of a mortal and the reality of a god are vastly different, and the goals and ambitions of mortals are rarely those of gods.
Therefore, if you as a player or as a gamemaster are uncomfortable with fictional gods treated within a game as real powers, this is not a setting that will work for you. The deities are so fundamental to the setting that it cannot be played effectively by giving them less than their due.
Playing a pagan
The reality of the deities as a plurality brings into play a concept that is alien to the monotheistic structures within which most of us have spent our lives as believers or unbelievers. This is a truly polytheistic world, in which all deities are real, active powers that can be placated, pursued, loved or feared, but they cannot be denied existence or easily relegated to a nullity. That a particular deity is not needed at this moment does not mean they will not be necessary at another moment, nor that they do not exist at all except in the imaginations of other characters. An intelligent polytheist covers his or her bases, recognizing that they are in a world composed of divinities working together to make a reality. Ignoring one produces a deficient mindmap of reality and will bring consequences, usually to the detriment of the character. DO NOT SLIGHT THE GODS OR THEY WILL SLIGHT YOU.
Changing roles of the gods in the career of a character
The gods are real. Their reality creates the world the characters inhabit. However, characters and the gods develop their relationship over time. Young characters at the beginning of their careers are scarcely worth divine notice. They may remain beneath divine notice unless they prove themselves especially gifted, faithful, brave, or useful. This will happen, or not happen, in the course of their adventures, formed in their interactions with the world and the consonance of their ambitions with divine plans and controversies of which they have no knowledge. Should the gods notice them, the characters may begin to participate more fully, though still without intimate knowledge of the gods and their plans, in the schemes and goals of the divinities they please, or pay the price demanded by gods they have displeased. Finally, should characters survive a long time, and perform at a high level through their lives, honoring the gods and fulfilling the services demanded of them, they may begin to share more intimacy with the gods who have chosen them, becoming directly advised and counseled in their efforts to strengthen, or to undermine, the world’s foundations. In other words, young characters worship, heroic characters serve, and elite characters become divine allies.
Here we go…
With these cautions, you are ready to enter Mahdi. We begin with its history, a history that focuses on the actions and stories of the divinities who compose the world. Every character of average intelligence will know this basic history of the world, with those of higher intelligence, high status, and the clerics of the world knowing more specific details, although those details will show the coloring of their cultural background, details that are contained in the histories of the world’s races and the histories of the various nations that have come into being on the world.
Midgard Campaign Setting
- Paizo Games
The Midgard Campaign Setting is very good. I like the thought that went into its design, and the products I have seen associated with it are of high quality.
The History Begins
The Ages of Mahdi
Mahdi does not have a written secular history. The cults and temples keep chronologies. Various families and nations have epics of self-promotion and pride. There are also traveler’s tales, often excessively romantic and full of falsehoods, and the occasional treatise on military or magical matters, written by career soldiers and mages, and thus marred by the ambitions and secrecy of their authors. Due to the ambitions of nobles and the common trusted falsehoods of the nations, common citizens have a rather flawed sense of the past. People of Tryshtar, for example, commonly believe that the House of Narashka is mad, but virtuous, the House of Andarik is incapable of betrayal, and the Throne of the Sun was established in the Sixth Age. The average citizen, in other words, knows much that is untrue and exaggerated.
The world’s chronology, determined by reference to the records of the various cults and temples, should not be taken as true in the way that a chronology of the American Revolution is true. First, they address a time period in the distant past for which no records outside the much later writings of the temple monks, clerics, and servants exist. Second, these records were written to serve the interests of the cults that kept the records, and so what they say is more often linked to the pride of the temple and the promotion of the importance of the particular deity to which it is dedicated than to any other object, including historical truth. House histories, important for establishing more recent history, suffer from similar problems regarding authorship and truth. The Houses keep histories to honor their ancestors and promote themselves within a given polity, not to establish an objective record of the world. The story of the world’s creation and history presented here is general, not specific, and details may be filled in according to the will and imagination of the gamemaster and his or her group of players.
The Divine Ages
The story of Mahdi begins in the ages before time, the uncountable years in which the Immortals were alone. The uncountable years form the Divine Ages, and mortals know of this period only what cult traditions tell them. The stories and legends of these ages are the foundations on which all that is mortal came to be, and so they are known in summary to all educated men and women in the world.
First Age, the Age of Stillness
Before the birth of Time, there were the Three: Mahdi, the Earth; Vetrais, the Vault of Heaven; and the Beyond, Chaos’ own Formlessness. Mahdi was still within herself and without voice. Vetrais was still above her and without voice. Beyond Vetrais’ broad cloak, Chaos was a wild wind of Voice without meaning, communicating not even with itself, but sounding insensibly in the Dark.
Chaos pushed against Vetrais, perhaps seeking a way to Mahdi’s smooth skin, perhaps only because Chaos must move and Vetrais was in the way. However it was, and here is the first Mystery of Generation, Vetrais was pressed against Mahdi, his rain on her stone, and from this unintented untion were born the First Ones, the Nine Old Gods: Jakoba, Mistress of the Veil; Hesper, the Singing One; Maineau, the Hunter; Miad, the Deep; Elladine, the Burning One; Belier, the Mountain King; Ensa, the Fire Dancer; Averos, the Storm-Bringer; and Kalos, the Shadow King.
Where Mahdi and Vetrais were silent, and are silent still, speaking to mortals only through signs, the Nine had voices. Each had a unique voice, unlike any other, and so it was, and is still, that the Nine speak to one another haltingly and often fail to comprehend one another, though they are all divine, all immortal, and, according to some cults, without a flaw. It is the nature of mortals, corrupted and compromised, that makes the Immortals appear to have fault where, in truth, they do not, but are wholly perfect in their individual natures.
According to the Sacred Chronologies, the Age of Stillness lasted 5,000 years, a measure chosen for its symmetry to the rest of the sacred history.
The Second Age, the Age of Grazhak
During the Second Age, Elladine, the Burning One, seared her mother, Mahdi. The goddess of the sun was young, careless, and arrogant in her power. She dared even to fling sunbolts into the Vault, burning through the Shield of Heaven, into the Beyond, where, most unfortunate for Elladine and for mortals, a bolt of fire burned that portion of Chaos which had formed itself from the many Voices into Being—Grazhak, the Wolf.
Grazhak was injured, enraged and vengeful. He entered the created world through the rended Vault and hunted his attacker, fair Elladine. When he found her, he punished her through her difference, raping her and forcing her to bear his pups, the Three Brothers. Firstborn was Rache, Lord of Vengeance. Holding to Rache’s heel came Ruhe, Lord of Battle, while last born, golden as his mother, came Audaz, the Harvester.
Elladine had no love for these cubs, the Wolf’s sons, and would have nothing to do with them. She ran, and Grazhak no longer hunted her. His vengeance was done, and he had cubs to care for. Some followers of the Brothers say Elladine was most angered by the cessation of Grazhak’s desire for her, this humiliation exceeding her initial disgrace and injury. However it was, Elladine returned to her parents in wrath and shame. She swore vengeance, but her story of terror and loathing only stirred the curiosity of Jakoba, Mistress of the Veil, who found in Grazhak novelty. He was the one thing on the created world she did not understand, the one mystery she could not pierce. Elladine cried on Maineau’s shoulder, rousing him to be her instrument of vengeance, as Jakoba sought the Wolf and the cubs Elladine had abandoned.
Jakoba found Grazhak. She loved his Mystery, and she loved his cubs, especially the last born Audaz with his golden hair and abyssal eyes. She raised the abandoned cubs as if their mother, and to them she is the Dark Mother, while to the Wild Wolf she is wife, for she honored his wildness and made no attempt to tame him. She hid him from her brothers within her Veil until, caught in the pains of delivering her own pups, she withdrew her protection from him for a moment, and he was caught at her side by Maineau.
Maineau the Hunter threw his spear, Erizhkaguhl, the Sorrow Spear, but Grazhak leapt aside and avoided its deadly intent. Jakoba could not leap, and the spear pinned her to the ground. Divine blood fell upon Mahdi, and where her blood fell, the long-thorned Birthrose grew, a potent healing herb of great rarity. This violation of divine flesh caused the gods to declare the First Law: Kin shall not shed the blood of kin. Throughout all the lands of Mahdi all nations and peoples have their own variation of custom drawn from this original law.
Pinned by the Sorrow Spear, Jakoba delivered the Three Sisters, and they are all stained with her blood. First-born was Ihira the White, mistress of pain in its surge and its ebb. After her, holding hands, came Kasia the Merciful and Delektai, Lady of Pleasure. All were beautiful. All were perfect in limb and feature. Only Ihira drank the blood of Jakoba in her first breath, and so it is that she participates in mystery more strongly than her sisters.
Jakoba was of the Nine, and so she could not die, even from a wound delivered by so mighty a weapon as the Sorrow Spear, it’s blade forged by Belier in the depths of Mahdi’s heart. She could not die, but she could weaken, and she was weakened for a long time. She convalesced without complaint, nursed in her father’s arms. While Vetrais rocked his favored daughter, he spoke to her his great secrets, the names of things and the souls hidden, sleeping, below him in Mahdi’s hair, flesh, and blood. She mended the Vault where Elladine had pierced it, and after mending it, she stitched the answers to the world’s secrets upon it in starsigns. As Vetrais changes the arrangement of his cloak, so the starsigns change their message so that those able to read the secret language of Jakoba’s needle may prepare themselves and the peoples of Anwyll for their tasks.