Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Beyond the Crystal Frontier - A Gazetteer of the World

Fabulation, Tall Tales, & Lies.

The gem robbers and drifters of the Crystal Frontier come from every corner of the world, but they are often reluctant to speak of their homelands. It is difficult to learn much in the heat, dust, and desperation. Too many fear their own past: crimes committed, families abandoned, gods profaned, and lives failed. Others simply do not care to remember, living in the present, or in dreams of a future after some final big score. More have lost their memories to drink, lotus, chagga, mad weed, crystal poisoning, or sorrow. Perhaps it is simply the nature of places and times … they race towards change, but even unchanging each looks very different from the vantage point of a different life.

Information about the world beyond the Frontier is always vague, conditional, and disputed. Everyone knows that the Bull Kingdom is ruled by the Warlock King.  That to the South and West it builds his armies. Everyone knows that the port city of Aurum Ferro over the Maiden Tomb mountains is one of the great trade hubs of the world. Everyone has a different idea what all that might mean and everything else, all the detail and nuance is rumor and insinuation.

This doesn’t concern most people, who see five days or fifty miles travel as an epic journey. The roads are dangerous, and strange lands worse still — unknowns, filled with odd people and odd custom. Maps, while common enough in the past are no longer reliable, and the majority of travelers use only itineraries, lists of points along the road. The best itineraries mention rivers to be crossed, landmarks sighted, and the direction of roads ... but the majority are simple lists of easily memorized and often incorrect place names.

Inset is a newer map of the world, allegedly copied from the floor of the Library of Honorable Shipmen in the Capital of the Successor Empire. None have heard of the library, but the Capital has thousands of genteel ruins full of hidden knowledge. More detailed information is also available - usually in the rambling of drunks or from rag paper pamphlets sold for pennies and written with an eye towards the sensational.

1D8 Rumors About the Bull Kingdom
Moebius Drew One or Two Castles
The Bull Kingdom is to the South and West of the Crystal Frontier. Its capital is the great island city of Matricex, or “The City of Orchards” as it is called in the Kingdom’s popular romantic operas. Despite its youth, the Bull Kingdom is a powerful and growing ”Resurgent Kingdom”, led by its Warlock King and his court of sorcerers. While the land is ancient, the Kingdom was carved out from the Imperial Dependency of Kosse Sildar only 60 years ago when its ancient “Silver Princesses” and their military matriarchy were extinguished and overthrown in violent revolutionary upheaval.

1. The Warlock King is a horrific tyrant who rules through fear and dark demon pacts. He turns his enemies and allies alike into demon hosts and murders thousands a day in sacrifices to the Kings of Hell!

2. The Warlock King is a philosopher who cares deeply for the nation. He ended land indenture and opened the military, church, government and sorcerers’ cabal to all. Yes, there were excesses in the past, but the King did not order the massacres and has always regretted them.

3. The mountaineers are still loyal to Kosse Sildar and a secret Princess reigns among their villages, they are not bandits — they are soldiers in a long war to return the Bull Kingdom to just rule.

4. The Bull Kingdom is a place of ancient chivalry, and takes honor seriously. Even the bandits and farmers believe in the code of the duel, the freedom of honorable persons, and standing by one’s word.

5. Magic is tightly regulated in the Bull Kingdom. Wizards and sorcerers must register and pay a bond price. Foreign practitioners risk having their spellbooks confiscated or worse if they are found without a permit.

6. The Kingdom is regimented like an army camp and the Warlock King’s armies are growing each year, he may have given each of his subjects freedoms and universal rights, but he’s also given them a soldier’s pack and a pike.

7. The peasants' ancient gods, The Red Bull of the Earth and the Honeyed Goddess are worshiped again! In the Bull Kingdom, Kosse Sildar’s Earth Serpent is not forbidden, but her church wanes.

8. Demon hosts haunt the Bull Kingdom’s hills, both remnants of the war and escaped from the King’s dungeons. It is always hiring monster hunters and knights errant to hunt them, but is a wild and harsh land without real governance.

1D8 Rumors About the Pyre Coast
Roger Dean
A narrow strip of Terra Nullis beyond Umber Havens. Nominally an Imperial holding it is a blasted land of fry hills that acts as a buffer between the Empire and the breakaway Maritime Province. It is notable as the abandoned battlefields of its Southern reaches are the desolation of Zubrab, a gigantic Sanguine Wyrm.

1. The Pyre Coast is a land out of time, broken, rocky and poor, inhabited only by goat herds with stone tools. Add the wreckage of a sorcerous war and a plague of wyrms and it is nearly as cursed and inhospitable as the ruined Heart Provinces.

Zubrab, the Everhungering Wind is a dragon of war, a bloody red wyrm birthed by human conflict, like all wyrms, a curse of the gods. Its desolation swarms with his hideous spawn, some almost as big as their parent. Yet the wyrm also calls to men and women maddened by war, and they flock to Zubrab’s lands. Beware of Red Riders, as they know only cruelty and violence.

3. The coast itself may be ruined, home to furtive herders, but the Pyre Sea is dotted with island ports, where trade flourishes: whalers, fishing fleets, smugglers and the privateers of several nations dart among its islands, all prey to sanguine sea wyrms spawned from Zubrab.

4. The drowned city of Angel Reef, once a wonder of floating squares and delicate spires that climbed from the warm blue sea, was destroyed by the Maratime’s. The wreck that remains, sunken or awash, ghost haunted and home to sea worms is one of the richest ruins in the world.

5. An island in the Pyre Sea is home to a tribe of sorcerous sports: golden skinned, 7’ Giant who heal wounds at an unnatural rate. These people live in hidden splendor surrounded by the luxuries of the old Empire. They seek guides for an embassy to the Capital — they wish to state their obvious perfection and assume the Imperial throne, as is clearly their due.

6. Ruins older than the Empire cover the coast, many carved into the likeness of birds and men. Most are empty, but some few still hold hidden caches of ancient gold.

7. There is something older than humanity asleep beneath the Pyre Coast, some spirit of wilderness and primeval power. It will never wake, but it stirs and dreams now, and its dreams hunt the coast, fel beasts that devour flesh and soul.

8. The people of the coast itself — skin clad, flint armed goatherds, are angry and tired. There are more of them then one expects and they have a leader in the sorcerer Nine Horn, called the Ibex King. A red harvest is coming.

1D8 Rumors about the Capital and Empire
Phillipe Druillet for Psychedelic Urbanism
The wounded heart of the world. A metropolis the size of many kingdoms, it takes days to cross on foot, and even now, much declined, is said to be home to three million souls. The Empire it rules is likewise still vast and powerful, comprised of five semi-independent provinces, connected by canals, brimming with the miraculous works of a lost age, and ruled by a line of Emperors uninterrupted since the first days of humanity.

1. The Emperor is mad, the hideous product of incestuous union and cursed Celestial blood. He is but one of several all imbeciles brimming with uncontrolled sorcerous power, kept carefully sedated and tractable, to be replaced when necessary. The Imperial See and nobility really rule.

2. The Capital is a shattered wreck, the world’s greatest living ruin. Tons of treasure are removed from it each year, traded for grain or simply plundered from its overgrown palaces and tumbled spires.

3. The men and women of the insula, the bright colored band of the demes, control the Capital and make it run. Despite their constant internal conflicts, it is an orderly town with bowered streets, proud straight buildings, and countless squares, fountains, and monuments.

4. The Capital’s burnt districts hide bands of fallen men, kingdoms of Blackheart ghouls, and the clans of beast thralls escaped from the ruined factors. It is a wilderness of stone and brick.

5. The spires of the Palatine Mountain are half deserted, ruined, or abandoned to their servants … their lineages are too noble to marry, too poor to keep up appearances, and too eccentric to repair their fortunes. A land of rich pickings.

6. The Empire is rotting, swarming with doomsday cults and encumbered by predatory bureaucrats, but it will take centuries more to die. Even the greatest Resurgent Kingdom is nothing compared to Imperial Might. No squadron of finely armored knights can fight a Celestial chained inside a war body, and while 99 of 100 in Imperial service are gone, there were once hundreds of thousands.

7. The arcane ceramic, bonewhite, was the most common sorcerous material of the high Imperial period and one of the most enduring. Bonewhite arms and armor, which despite the name many colors, are still somewhat common in the capital where the factors used to run ceaselessly. Some even say that a few artisan compounds and mercantile dynasty still know the secret to its manufacturer - a secret worth more than immortality.

8. The Empire was and still is a vast bastion of bureaucracy: forms, laws, secret languages, patronage, favor and vast buried systems of record keeping still operate. Only now the understanding of them is lost to all but a few. Like sorcery, even a fragmentary grasp of Imperial formalism and ritual provides uncanny power.

1D8 Rumors about the Umber Havens
Roger Dean Always Works
Beyond the high passes and long dark ways of the Maiden Tombs stand the Umber Havens, where the Empire’s commerce flows in and out with the tide. The great port of Aurum Ferro, anchorage of the much diminished home fleet rises from a poisoned salt marsh. What were once rich fields, protected by levees and hydro-engineering have been reduced to a magically poisoned mangrove and marsh by war and neglect.

1. Aurum Ferro is a rich town, a slow beating heart of global trade, and one of the few areas of unmitigated Imperial splendor.

2. Aurum Ferro is the anchorage of the Home Fleet, the Successor Empire’s mighty navy, as well as the Privateer Fleet of mundane vessels. It is a garrison town and the real power there are the admirals.

3. Like the Pyre Coast, war with Maritime has mortally wounded Aurum Ferro, half the city was drowned when its sea wall was breached, and trade halved. It’s just a matter of time before it all collapses.

4. The marshes and even Aurum Ferro are home to the Crouch, a rare species of spontaneously evolved "not-men". Most live in the marshes, hunting and fishing from their small stilt-villages. To some humans they are a nightmare, cockroaches given the speech of humanity, living off rotten flesh. Others find them little different from men and women, save they are slight, chitinous, and preternaturally skilled with machinery.

5. The Maratime War ended with the plague ravaged fleet immured in the mangroves south of Aurum Ferro. Only half of them made it out. They did for the Maratimes’ fleet still, but few vessels have survived. The plague fleet is still there: scuttled in the shallows, lost in an endless green tangle.

6. The disaster that befell The Umber Havens happened long ago. Like most of the Empire, destruction came from sorcery grinding down to a disastrous halt. Salt water intrusion, sea wall failures, forests aflame, alchemical agricultural run off — the clay lands used to be forests and the marshes low rolling fields.

7. The swamps, towns, and cities of the Umber Havens are filled with cults and hedge sorcery. Perhaps more than any other part of the empire the Umber Havens is home to seekers of hidden truths and alternative ways. Not all are sinister, but enough are to give the Havens a bad reputation.

8. The patron saint of Aurum Ferro has returned, the Beggar Emperor walks the docks and low streets of the city in the body of a child wearing a brown and fraying robe. He has come to tell us all of the end, and has made himself a holy court among the urchins, beggars, ragmen, and rats.

1D8 Rumors about Blackacre
Roger Dean - A Man with an Airbrush and a Vision or Three

Where the gray mudflats off the cold Shallow Sea climb to meet the soaring trunks of the primeval Blackwound forest. A harsh land of endless drizzle threatened by raft born ghoul raiders from the Mud Isles and beasts from the fern choked darkness at heart forest heart. Its inhabitants, both hereditary convicts of the interior’s lumber towns, and the fishers and dye workers of the Templar Coast, toil ceaselessly with fatalistic faith.

1. The Carceral Templars, marked, masked, and grim rule the Blackacre. They hold it in holy trust to defend from the ghouls across the water. To succeed they have locked the land in discipline — Saint’s law that issues with the finality of iron from the five colossal prison fortresses along the coast.

2. The preachers, legates, and other priestly bureaucrats of the Imperial See have direct ownership of Blackacre and rule with gangs of fanatics and inquisitors. Their brutal oversight spreads from the log castles of the lumber towns, extracting wealth for the churches’ sole benefit.

3. Blackacre is a falling province, the ghouls of the Mud Isles sail in greater numbers each year, raiding as far South as the Crystal Coast and Torres Azure in the Bull Kingdom. The ghouls have their White God, but the Carceral Templars who should stop them have only schisms among their orders, aspirations of power elsewhere, and ever fewer resources.

4. Blackacre will disappear in a generation or two, the Empire’s spirt wanes while the soul of the forest is eternal. Camps and town empty to be reclaimed by fern, sapling, and bramble. Every month more of the Empires' subject, free or chained, convict or guard, flee into the shaded depths of the Blackwound—they join the forest’s people, the Lui, or feed its many horrors.

5. On the coast, just over the border in the midst of the deep bay known as the Black Mirror, the monestary Mont Sainte Bec clings to a rock column. While much of it is in ruins, the monastery has existed for eons and once held divine relics of some forgotten avian god.

6. Deep in the forest the last remnants of The Old People linger: glass houses, often guarded by forest creatures and haunted by incomprehensibly alien ghost that run screaming through the translucent walls. Obviously these ruins hide ancient power and wealth.

7. In the forest of the Blackwound a power greater than the old Empire’s sorcery waits — the trees themselves. The Lui of the forest say the Great Trees are older then the world, and they have a slow might that will outlast foolish intruder, devouring or transforming them until the trees and forest are all that remain.

8. Across the narrow sea, the Mud Isles brood, lingering and hateful — the drowned corpse of an old rival that refuses to sink. Yet, they are not a lawless waste, and the name “ghoul” is an exaggeration. In recent years the newly empowered Church of the White God allows some trade — and issues formal, voluminous, visas for those who will delve the isle’s ruined capital, the sunken City of Lead.

1D8 Rumors about the Blue Meadows
The Work of Roger Dean
North and East of Blackacre, the Blue Meadows are an Imperial province in the foothills of the Heavenshard mountain. Once a military March, shielding the Empire from the barbaric ambitions of the Pine and Icehells, the past centuries have transformed the Blue Meadows into a trade hub with these same grim Northern Lands …one that grows ever more powerful, ever more independent, and ever more like the North.

1. The Meadows are the safest and best ruled province. Smooth roads, patrols of state paid rangers, a standing army, and military hostels every days’ ride along the high roads. Taxes and harsh authority are the price for order  something too often forgotten in less civilized lands.

2. The great trade city of the Blue Meadows is new, Tilpardy Town, is new built under the protection of the sorcerous engines and lightning casters of the Terico XXII’s primary fortress. It is a glimpse of old Imperial might where the ancient weapons still function and the soldiers are both well trained and well paid.

3. The Bear Owl is at home among the peaks and magical flower dells of Blue Meadows allow them to evolve into white feather giants who gorge on plantations of valuable blue flower. The Jaeger clans of the Blue Meadows hunt them, even making the famous landeule spiced sausage from the meat, but there is something more there, a connection beyond mutual predation.

4. To call the Blue Meadows an Imperial Province is to dignify a convenience — the Emperor and his See have little hold there. Only the word of the Tilpardy has the force of law, and the family long ago began to intermarry with the pale otherworldly nobility of the Icehells, it is hard to believe their alliance is still with the South.

5. The name of the province comes from its traditional export, blue liquors, distilled from magical alpine flowers that grow in great and carefully tended abundance high in the peaks. Blue liquor is a panacea for illness and disease and its trade has brought distilling families and the owners of meadow plantations great wealth.

6. The rose pink clay of Blue Meadows alchemical ceramic was once a marker of quality that rivaled the bonewhite of the Capital, but the factors and mines are all long closed. Sealed suddenly as their sorcerer magnets abandoned them, the vast works must still be filled with ancient magic and perhaps even their pale, blind, magically altered workforce, still surviving and breeding in the dark. If so do they dwell content in a subterranean utopia or has abandonment by their gods and the darkness turned them resentful and scheming?

7. On the border between the Blue Meadows and Blackacre stands its second city — the Freeburg of Titanplage. A riverine trade port where the raw wealth of the Meadows, Pinehells and Icehells is transformed into luxuries and shipped south. The rich town is coveted by all the northern powers and the prideful independence of its scheming, dourly religious burghers is a likely trigger for an Imperial civil war.

8. The Blue Meadows is on the precipice, goaded to the edge by pride. Even as it joins the rest of the Empire in contented decline, its unruly neighbors are no longer the simple barbarians of Imperial hagiography — easy to exploit, overawed by pomp, and crushed against the rock of discipline. The shadow tribes of the Pinehells are a sophisticated federation and the Icehells have always been a mighty slumbering power.

1D8 Rumors about Green Hive
You Guessed It! Roger Dean
To the East of the Umber Havens is the Province of Green Hive, whose lush rolling hills and broad meadows provide the Imperial world with its grain, wine and honey. The lands fertilized and imbued with alchemy and half forgotten magic. From the provincial seat of Telestiar the ancient 19th Dowager Judge Lehai clings to another season of life and the ancient province stumbles on filling the world’s coffers and granaries.

1. Green hive burns every Summer when the Noon Crusade rampages across it, plundering and stealing farmers from the fields and marching them off into the Solar Empire. Those they don’t kill they blind, for their faith reserves the light of the sun for its believers.

2. Dowager Judge Lehai is well over a century old and has long been pushed into dementia by tonics and puissant geriatric narcotics. Her anointed successor Marcellus Lehai is no better, a heretic mad for military greatness.

3. The 19th Judge has held Green Hive safe in her hand for ages - wise and kindly, a grandmother to generations. She is no soldier of course, but her successor and cousin Marcellus is — only his genius for organization has stopped the Crusaders.

4. Creeping sedition! The Syndicates own vast swathes of Green Hive, slowly stripping smallholders and lesser nobility of their lands using the dishonorable tools of debt, hard dealing, and mercenary armies.

5. Dust storms out of the burning waste of the Heart Provinces churn across Green Hive’s fruited plains spreading poisoned ash, disease, and demonic possession. With them come the song of the Bone Singers, planting unnatural vitality in old bones — to rise, slay and empty the land so the herds of the hill tribes can again graze free.

6. Green Hive’s woes all grow from the same cause. The soil is tired, worn out and dying, and with it the people struggle as the ancient crops fail lacking arcane fertilizer. Every field lost: drained of magic, leeched of nutrients, and given over to weeds and flowers is another village of staunch Imperial yeomen reduced to servitude by the syndicates or set to roam the verges as bandit clubmen.

7. Marcellus Lehai propagates the tri-heaven heresy and the unkindness of universal reincarnation … is it any surprise that many turn to the older ways? The spirits of place grow stronger with each traveler hung on a tree of woe or beekeeper immured in her hive by desperate devotees of the manes.

8. Crusaders! A heretic Judge! Bone Singers and vile Mercantiles! The honest folk have one champion — the King of the Greenwood and his merry bands: The flaggents of Cannoness Cudgel, Villius Red Hood’s mystic order, The Jolly Giant and the little big men. The forest rangers remember the Emperor’s name, even if the Empire does not!

1D8 Rumors about Dawn Rill
Roger Dean Again
On the Empire’s fortified eastern border, abutting the tangled forests and crushing poverty of the Thorn Lands, Dawn still is safe and very very rich. The culture of noble excess, feud, and intentional ignorance proves dangerous though as even gorged on the majority of the Empire’s wealth Dawn Rill’s delicate and ordered perfection is breaking down under the external pressures it refuses to acknowledge.

1. The wealth of Dawn Rill is illusory. More and more houses are deeply in debt: to the Imperial See, to each other, to syndicates, and to foreign powers. These debts are so vast they can never be collected, but they fuel wars, unwise alliances and assassination.

2. Dawn Rill feeds on lives, hundreds from the Capital go each year to take jobs as servants, but none return. Even the gardens of the great estates are watered in blood to make the wicker beasts and living topiaries of the arborist cults.

3. Over half the great houses are fallen: burned in garden wars, slaughtered by vendetta, sacked by servant uprisings, poisoned by vice, annihilated by excessive hobbies, eaten by debt or lost to a lack of carnal vigor … all that remains are their names and derelict manses, still full of centuries of plunder.

4. Dawn Rill roils at the edge of catastrophic war. House armies draw the greater part of Imperial military strength, built around cores of ancient war machines and fleshed out with entire tericos still allegedly under the Capitol’s control. Add mercenaries from every corner of the earth and any dispute over a property line, slighting remark or poor taste in wine can end in a field of 10,000 dead.

5. Everyone knows the Empire is failing because the Emperor’s blood is failing - curdled and poisoned by a lineage of incest and the blood of the heavenly thrones … but in Dawn still there are others who have the Ryan blood and remain hale. Hidden but ready to emerge and lead the Empire back to greatness.

6. While many houses have fallen and more exist only on paper or in the shells of mansions and palaces along the flower shaded canals of Dawn Rill… their servants remain. Both human and magically created serviles with the mien of charming animals. These cast off menials are themselves a rising, subtle force -- the keepers and brokers of ancient lineages and dead sorcery.

7. On the eastern border of Dawn Rill the Empire fights a “century war” against the pitiful remnants of the peoples of the southern Briar States, now long driven to flight or near extinction. Still trench-lines, camps, fortresses, and towering war machines battle against the land itself. Ancient arcane engines blast broken trees and thorn, and a great victory consists of slaughtering a half-dozen starving foresters. Yet the war must go on to earn noble wastrels the respectability of medals and high commissions.

8. The very earth and waters of the Rill is gorged with an eon’s sorcerous decadence. Decorative magical flora and fauna, unknown anywhere else, abound in a strange, beautiful, and often deadly wilderness. Among the enameled grottos, flower forests, picturesque follies, lily covered ponds and ivy draped statutory lurk flower knights, midnight swans, golden fawns and the jeweled ursid—beautiful killers al

1D8 Rumors about the Heart Provinces
More Roger Dean
Smoke on the horizon South of Green Hive, East of the Pyre Sea, and on the borders of the Solar Papacy. Beyond the borders the land still burns, roiling even now with the after effects of the war that ended the Demon Emperors' reign of slaughter and founded the Successor Empire. The splendors of the ancient world crumble amidst a howling waste fire, bones, and ash.

1. The Heart Provinces are not impassable - all one needs is the right talismans against the poison moonlight and air demons. With that all the treasures of the ancient Imperial Capital are yours for the taking.

2. The Debatable Land at the edge of the Heart Provinces is not empty — it is and always has been home to the Hill Tribes, pony riding, black clad, death worshippers - once tamed by Imperial power, but returned to their bone singing ways and the rule of Dead Kings.

3. Above the Heart Provinces the False Moons of ancient sorcerers hang in the sky. Palace orbs of alabaster, obsidian and brass seemingly beyond reach, still filled with the treasures and spellcraft of their missing masters.

4. The treasures of the Heart Provinces and the true Capitol are beyond reach — cursed, dragged into the fires of annihilating chaos and returned as demon cities: ruins that live, hunger and hunt. Vast mind and soul destroying assemblages of suffering, rage and annihilating power.

5. The smoking verges of the Heart Provinces support life of a sort - magically warped, poisoned and damned hamlets and villas barely clinging to survival. Many exist only as larders for powerful demons or worse that protect them in exchange for a regular sacrifice of souls.

6. The Bone Singers of the ash wastes and grave pit that form a desert around the ancient cities are the only human power within the Heart Provinces, but they too are strange, necromancer sects of the most pragmatic, ruthless sort who deny the power of the gods.

7. The Heart Provinces are not entirely ruined, odd pockets of healthy land persist, oasis in a desert of ash and flame. Sorcery or flukes of geography have preserved them, but these havens are never safe, as it takes great power and ruthlessness to hold them.

8. The Blackheart plague began in the Heart Provinces and its immortal, cannibal victims linger there in the thousands. Some claim they have reforged a false Empire, still loyal to the Demon Emperors that use the hoarded wealth of the past to spread cults and plague secretly among the provinces.

1D8 Rumors about the Pinehells
Roger Dean
West and North of the Blue Meadows are the forests, crags and cold fens of the Pinehells. Behind a curtain of black needles, the Hellsmen remain. A people of clans and villages, the largest along the coast, they take freely from the vast conifer forests that cover their mountainous land and hold themselves apart from the warmer, richer lands to the South.

1. The magic of the Pinehells is old and grim, its shadow workers steal the shadows and cold hungering souls from the living and the dead, binding them to the living or into inanimate objects. Among the Hellsmen they are often leaders of their clans, not simply because of their connection to the unworldly, but because many are generations old.

2. The weakness of the Pinehells has always been the much admired independence of its insular clans, willing to work together only against an invading foe. In the past years this has changed and clans are consolidating into confederations. Why is unclear: intermarriage, peace and mutual advantage or conquest by a single power and terrified alliance against it?

3. The small sleek ships of the Pinehells rage across the northern sea, seemingly immune to the extremes of weather and cold. While they are hardy and excellent sailors, it is the Hellsmen’s penumbral sorcery that allows such feats of navigation. Made from bones and souls the greatest of their vessels slip from shadow to shadow rather than over the waves themselves.

4. Among the trees and crags the ravens now speak as one. Always significant to the peoples of the Pinehells, the birds now talk openly to humanity and they warn of end times and offer that only though who follow their Carrion God will survive to feast on the ruin of the world. Many are listening.

5. In the shadowed darkness beneath the densest pine tangles, where the black trees absorb all light and sound is the Amber Palace. Ancient spires of petrified wood peak above the drifts of needles, but the Hellsmen will only speak of it in euphemism and riddle: as the orange mirror, the black lodge, the scratching in the loam.

6. One of the most feared creatures of the Pinehells is the unicorn. Bigger than a bull and covered in thick fur, unicorns hate humanity: hunting, tracking, and killing with a singular ferocity. Humanity of course hunts them in turn, as the unicorn’s powdered horn is a sure cure for curses and magical ailments as well as an aphrodisiac, euphoric stimulant and aid to cognition.

7. Fragmentary Old Imperial sources say that the Pinehells were a possession of the Empire, held by the largely Kosse Sildarian “Legio VIIII” (The Silver Bulls). There is no other record of this formation, but the Hellsmen remember. Lineage songs claim ancestry from warriors who drove the horned Southerners from their forts and walls - until they fled beneath the pine roots. Where they remain, damned and hateful, breeding with the “wyrms of the earth”.

8. Hellsmen are relatives of the Icehellers to the North and East, and there is both trade and intermarriage. As much as the people of the cold lands may treat them as wayward and simple cousins, the two cultures share a disregard for outsider entities such as the Celestial Thrones and Demons, and even now the Icehells extend their influence, backing favored leaders and shadow binders.

1D8 Rumors about the Icehells
Still Have to Mention It's Roger Dean
At the top of the world, a land of vast glaciers, snowy tundra and cold death. Few travel there, but the Kingdoms of Ice trade with what they call the “burnt world” providing furs, ivory, iron, glass and purple orichalcum in exchange for luxuries.

1. The people of the Icehells, snow pale, white haired, purple eyed are not entirely human. Their slow, strange ways come from some admixture and adaption of soul and flesh — alchemical, sorcerous or inhuman ancestry, not even they know.

2. At birth each child among the Icehells is bound to a spirit twin, the ghosts of one or more of their ancestors who share their bodies, helping them resist the elements and advising them. For the high families of the nobility these lineages are vast and ancients, a chain of spirits a thousand years long fighting for control of the mind and body of their distant progeny.

3. Much of the Ice shells are gray glaciers, vast, inhospitable, and malicious. Ice-blind prospectors with frost black noses claim that through the limpid ice of the glaciers they have seen castles and scaled, reptilian armies frozen in time. Now the world changes and the ice melts.

4. The people of the Icehells are ancient and their citadels and buried cities date back to before the Old Empire, a power content to endure rather than expand. This is because they are dead. Most Icehellers are ghosts, spirits of bygone eons wrapped in frozen flesh and fine furs.

5. There are no gods in the Icehells, but the prophets of the dead and the speakers for the ancestors that provide their ritual life say this is because of eternal vigilance. The cold darkness and vast heavens glowing with endless auroras spawn belief and divinity like a thaw brings gnats. Infant gods must be hunted and slain, along with those foolish enough to welcome them, or the Icehells will descend into schism and religious violence.

6. It is so cold in the Icehells that magic itself freezes, creating sheets and curtains of raw, pallow, jale, and ulfire ice that can be harvested, or melted to create natural portals to other places, times, and worlds.

7. Necromancy is the dominant form of sorcery in the Icehells. They do not consort with entities from beyond the terrestrial, and instead bind and command the bones and frozen flesh of the past. Generals atop bone wyrms and siege mammoths pulled from the glaciers are the least of it - the Icehellers are master of the subtlest arts of decay, marshaling joyful and fierce hordes of ancestral spirits to patrol their borders and guard their cold walls.

8. At the edge of the Icehells a Throne Celestial rests at the heart of a dead city. Wrecked and fallen from the sphere of order, its Hosts and Principality linger, and they are a curse, spreading perfect static order -- for the crimes of these celestial predators the Icehellers have a deep hatred that extends to those, like the Successor Empire, who ally with the Thrones.

1D8 Rumors about the Maratime
Still Roger Dean 
South of the Umber Havens and across the Pyre Sea the Province Maratime was once a part of the Successor Empire, until the Expeditionary Fleet mutinied, declaring its High Drougaruous the true Emperor and the province seceded. Warm seas speckled with isles whose white cliffs rise from clear blue bays to lush salt meadows and rich palm forests. The Maratime boasts openly that it is the true Successor Empire, a culture, and in many ways it is, only antiquated and generous with a harsh freedom thanks to the influence of the native nautical culture of its isles.

1. At the heart of the Maratime the copper cliffs of the Turquoise Atoll rise from the sea around a vast and busting harbor. The jeweled City of Palms is half built into the cliff walls and incorporates several Imperial stone ships, a single tiered pile that shadows the luxurious villas, rich orchards and lush forest of the island beyond. A free city of commerce and knowledge, the City of Palms welcomes all with wealth or skill to make it their home, while those without find themselves rounded up to toil in the rowing benches of the Maratime’s trade galleys or shipped to grimmer rockier islands to dig guano and boil leviathan blubber into sweet oil.

2. The Maratime is ruled by its Sea Kings, descendents of the Expeditionary Fleet’s captains, who form plotting seething court of petty despots under the powerless gaze of their false Emperor. Their constant struggles for power end too often in pointless violence, and their wasteful displays of pomp rival even the excesses of Dawn Rill, but the Lord Captains still control the stone ships and with them the islands.

3. In the City of Palms, the Emperors’ Shrines stand along the same road as PineHell ancestor idols, and a Basilica of the Red Sun. The Maratime forbids no cult or church, but among its natives and increasingly the naval nobility, worship focuses on the mystery cults of sea deities: The Salt Queen, Scarlet Jaw and the Amaranthian Spiral. What these alien powers want is unclear, but their power and benefit to their worshippers is indisputable.
4. Captain Nimrud is a mythical figure, a mutinous mate of the Imperial Octres “Red Throne” who seized the great warship to prey on his former masters until the fleet itself revolted. The Red Throne’s fate (and existence) is debated, but the Lord Captains of the Maratime are uneasy about those who call themselves Numrud’s Sons struggle against the rule of Sea Kings with brazen acts of piracy.

5. Many isles, some small and some large dot the shallow sea of the Maratime, not all are inhabited, and many others hold only small fishing coastal villages. In the dense interiors of some such islands strange half sunk monuments have been discovered. Black or white stone colossi of bird and lizard, half buried, but hollow and filled with golden artifacts.

6. The floor of the Shallow Seas are blanketed with dead ships: from storm, war, and piracy. While the limpid water reveals the wrecks as they undergo the seachange and provide home to the seas’ teeming life, many have another legacy with crews and ships that linger in the world as spirits or revenants. While ghost ships are often predatory, some are more mysterious, simply marking a passage or even aiding living vessels through storms of around dangers.

7. At its best the Maratime combines the stability and depth of sciences of the empire with the spirit of a Resurgent Kingdom that doesn’t fear the new or demand perfection - only function. Most obvious in its naval arts, even as its stone fleet crumbles, new technologies and forms build fleets of swift sunbeki and deadly galleasses armed with experimental weapons of natural philosophy, chemics, optics, and pneumatics in place of ancient sorcery.

8. Fleets and Admirals come and go, but the people of the Shallow Sea remain and it is their power and culture that creates the Maratime. Their connection to the old gods under the waves ensure the wealth and protection of the isles, and their weather witchery keeps the fleets strong and on course. Still, they do not plot revolution against the naval waning aristocracy, just a steady erosion of its difference. The Spiral teaches that while the surface remains calm, the currents flow beneath bringing all to its coils. So it is with the invader, changing each year to become one with the isles rather than changing them.

1D8 Rumors about the Solar Papacy
Philippe Druillet
The grass seas stretch to the east of the Empire, endless and fertile. A province of the Old Empire, what is now the Solar Papacy was once a settled land of farmers and cities, but the Imperial Catastrophe that destroyed the Heart Provinces struck them as well, and a pastoral culture of nomadic horse peoples arose from the wreckage to rule the grasslands. United only in the past century by an aggressive solar monotheism, settled life has returned to the sea of grass, as the Popes of dawn, noon, and sunset create temple farms and returning crusaders erect keeps to guard their kidnapped serfs. A powerful Resurgent Kingdom driven by deep wells of faith and a sense of grievance with the world that abandoned the grass seas to destruction, the Papacy makes war with armies of the best cavalry in the world.

1. The smallest of the three papal dominions, the southwestern Orange Sunset Papacy seeks to expand into the hills and habitable wastes at the verge of the Heart Provinces. This has led to disaster as the Pony Tribes, their Dead Kings and the Bone Singers have crushed every force of chivalry sent against them. The matter is before the synod of bishops, but it is unclear if they will act before the Bonesingers.

2. Frequent crusades are the most well known aspect of the Papacy. Almost every year armies of knights and mounted bow-armed varlets ride west into Green Hive where they murder, plunder and kidnap Imperial free farmers as labor for the temple and noble farms of the Papacy. These crusades have grown smaller and less fanatical in the past decade, now primarily a way for second sons, other destitute members of the knightly class and ambitious Sun Priests to seize wealth and subjects for themselves.

3. The sun is a lone ever-conquering god, but the colors of its light illuminate different truths—schism and conflict form a rising undertone to Papal unity. In the east the Yellow Dawn Pope rules, while the north and west of the Papacy are the seat of the Red Noon Pope. The ambitious southern Orange Sunset Pope clings to the smallest state, but its newness and external threats have forced him to pragmatic innovation while greater church control and regimentation. The Noon and Dawn Popes remain traditional, but differ as in the East the nomadic and liberal folkways of the horse nations dominate, while in the Noon Lands cling to the fanatic rigidity of the early solar creed.

4. There are many who have long denied the divinity of the Immortal Sun, as its priests show no evidence of power from their god. Their miracles are the product of rote teaching in fire magic through memorized “prayers” that academic sorcerers identify as concealing the essential vocal and somatic elements of standard incantations. Yet, some of the Sun Priests, especially those associated with the Yellow Dawn Pope, seem to make miracles with something else, drawing fire from the earth itself - though if this is sorcery, a demonic pact or divine favor no one can say.

5. The Papacy and chivalry are a veneer of belief over brutal barbarism and have more in common with the Demon Emperors than the Old Empire or the noble simplicity of proper pastoralism. The religion demands mutilation or death for unbelievers and even recent converts are tied to the land and subject to corvee. When the abominations of slavery and demons worship are finally proven the Empire will unleash its tericos and no matter their number and chivalry the Knights of the Sun will perish in their thousands.

6. The keep and temple towns of the Solar Papacy are small things with muddy streets and curtain walls, but on the plains still stand ruins of the past, dead cities of the Old Empire, broken arches and fallen spires of titanic size and glittering pavements overrun by grass and shrub. While the upper levels of the dead cities are burnt or long plundered, expeditions into their depths have proven lucrative, though the Papacy forbids them as a heretical dalliance with the past.

7. The religious laws of the Solar Papacy are contested by those of the horse borne, armored nobility, who are ever more devoted to the principles, rights, and strictures of chivalry. Treated with an almost religious fervor the knights of the Sunlands treat any who follow them with great esteem and armored riders, while they may find themselves challenged to contests of arms are cherished and protected from the church, regardless of their heresies.

8. There are few towns in the Solar Papacy, only fortresses that hold the farmers to their lands, and larger temple farms. The church maintains these fortified monasteries, garrisoned by ever larger groups of militants friars and papal guards. Such permanent settlements allow heavier and more productive industries and interdict important water sources for the nomadic nobility’s herds, increasing papal control each year.

1D8 Rumors about Distant Lands
Roger Dean Allegedly
The world is vast and unknown. Its seas wide and deep, mountains tall, forests dense and deserts unmapped. It can never really be known or mapped in its totality, and it is not alone in the vast dark of the endless night. There are always places more distant, the subject for whispers, legends and dreams.

1. Beyond the Shallow Sea, past the Gates of Dawn and the Sea of Flame stands Undefended Ib. To some it is the last outpost of the Old Empire, a sleepy port city on the curling tip of Jungles of Midnight, a haunted city, where no weapon can be drawn and traders come for the most exotic cargos of death dreaming blue mango and cockatrice feather. The jungle beyond is stranger still, and at its heart lies the imperishable, yet half-devoured corpse of a primordial deity and the secret of immortality.

2. Wedged between Dawn Rill, The Solar Papacy, and the Pinehells the tangled rain lashed forests of the Briar States are a place of misery and opportunity. Encastlated in some ancient past they are now defined by thorn choked, moss draped castles ruined or whole that loom above foul muddy thropes, black chestnut orchards, snail hatcheries, and swamp millet paddies from every knob of rock or fold in the land. The forests themselves are full of beasts and horrors that have preyed on men for a thousand years, but its petty lords care nothing for their retainers' pasts and are willing to trade hardy mercenaries, carved blood amber and green steel for foreign luxuries.

3. Constant renewal is the true secret of the universe, and its power is found in the deep furnace of the world: melting the dross of history and peoples that imagine they rule because they crawl upon its surface. Only the molten heart of the world is eternal and only the hidden land of Vehesui knows its secrets and worships it. Because of this Vehesui endures. Vehesui watches, and sometimes it acts with subtle influence or by unleashing the walking mountains that contain a spark of its god to destroy any who threaten its anonymity.

4. South of the Shallow Seas and Provence Maratime is a thin and sandy continent. Life and a few Maratime colonies cling to its shoreline, but the interior is a waste of red iron flakes, bone dust, gypsum, and rock salt inhabited only by titanic beasts. East beyond these impassable deserts stands a city of the Old Empire, empty and frozen, its streets radiating from a pyramid of black glass that contains the collected sorcery of the ancients.

5. Before the Old Empire, but after humanity learned to smelt metal, the world teemed with warlords and rulers of 100 kinds: humanity, near-men, beasts and other things. They are all gone now, and only humanity remains. In this time a warlord rose to rule the known world, a false king whose empire was cruelty and the most vile wizardry. Eventually he was cast down, but his works remain in the hidden places of the world, awaiting his return with wellsprings and artifacts of power.

6. The world is older than we can imagine, and humanity is not its first ruler. When it was young and fecund the world was the toy of lizards that walked like men. Little evidence of their dominion remains, fragments of grinning saurian statuary or tumbled ruins worn by time. The lizard kings are not dead however, only sleeping outside of time, and their stars are realigning, just as the world grows warmer.

7. Beyond the terrestrial sphere, the darkness between before the fixed stars roils with conflict, for the Empyreans track across it in their crystal palaces, hunting the beasts of the void and waging their endless wars over pride and resources. Beyond them the outer dark of the vasty deeps, where light and time themselves are frozen and the void gods tunnel inward, devouring everything in their path.

8. Dragons! Wyrms, born of abiogenesis at the sites of human catastrophe they are tied to the sites of such disasters and marked by them. A wyrm’s color is the surest indication of its source and powers — sanguinary reds and oranges derive from war fought without restraint, stygian tones from disease and the annihilating absence of color from the sudden mass destruction of nature’s wrath. Basking in reflected tragedy, a wyrm grows vain and powerful, birthing swarming spawn that slither outward to devour everything within their reach. So are the desolations made. Enthroned in ruin, the great wyrm is a baleful beacon, projecting the emotions of its creation: rage, despondency, and terror.

I don’t like most imagined worlds - especially in RPGs. I usually find them tiresome, derivative (partially by necessity), and useless. This applies just as much to my own settings as well as others. Yet my players and readers of my adventures often ask about details.

“What’s a Tomb Astronomer?” “Who is the Warlock King?” “Are Empyreans Elves?” “Who are these Carceral Templars”? “Are there humanoids in this setting” “Why doesn’t Scarlet Town have Clerics who can cure disease?”

I don’t know. I don’t actually care all that much even. I can create an answer to these questions, but I don’t want to say it’s “THE” answer. Instead I think fantasy needs blank space. I write and present things without answers, though again, I may have thought up an answer … it doesn’t need to be shared. Exhaustively documenting setting information for a reader or my own players is a waste of time unless it’s something that will matter to the grubby lives of desperate tomb robbers. I don’t see RPG characters as heroes (not by destiny anyways - though heroism comes as a wonderful surprise), and normal people don’t understand the world they live in: history, the motivations or machinations of others, and the events of distant lands are all mysteries. They are mysteries to most of us, at least to some degree, and they are more incomprehensible for those who live closer to survival.

So, unlike adventure rumors, these rumors of the Terrestrial World or Successor Empire setting are not strictly true. They are designed to be open to multiple readings, contradictory and sometimes off-putting. The goal is not to create a gazetteer, but to offer something more akin to the actual state of common knowledge in the past and present. From Roman itineraries to Baedeker’s, information about travel has often been a set of myths, vague promises, and single impressions expanded into general elements of local character. These sorts of guides are insufficient for the real world, and even more for the fantastic. As much as RPG players seem to clamor for details about fantasy lands, these are often useless in play, especially for a setting focused on location based exploration. Instead take some vague rumors and mold them to the content one has for one’s table or which develops in pay. Referees don’t need to know everything about the setting either, and NPCs lie a lot, especially about things that are far away. The only way to discover what’s over the mountains is to climb them.

Second, I profoundly dislike wilderness adventures and long-distance travel in RPG. I enjoy writing, playing, and running dungeon adventures. Comparatively wilderness travel in RPGs is almost always a joyless bus-trip between fights that occur in undefined spaces much like an old side-scrolling video game’s parallax background (without the detail good pixel art can offer). It’s not the sort of game I like to play and I increasingly think the “Wilderness Tier” largely exists because old editions of Dungeons & Dragons have trouble maintaining tense dungeon exploration when characters gain magical and other resources that can trivialize its challenges. Gazetteers that tell the population of towns or the minutiae of a region’s government won’t improve this issue - either the mechanical issues of older systems’ power curve or the dullness of hex and biome based wilderness description. Other games and styles of play may do things better, Ryuutama for example, but to travel beyond the Crystal Frontier seems to me something best glossed over by means of caravan and boat.

For now this is it. This is the larger world of the Crystal Frontier. It may change and expand if I end up writing more about these places, and especially if I write adventures set in any of them, but this is enough I think. It won’t get in the way of expanding setting or playing and it should leave room for just about any interpretation one wants at one’s table.


  1. Just started reading through this. Excited to read more of the larger world of the Crystal Frontier here over the next week. Thank you very much for sharing.

  2. Honestly I wanted to use this setting for a narrative based 5e campaign, but after reading this I guess I feel like I shouldn't? I don't wanna go against the creators wishes and do things to his world he'd find tiresome and useless

    1. I wouldn't worry about that - the point of this post is largely that setting is what we all make of it at the table. Your Crystal Frontier (which is only a tiny part of the larger world presented here) can be entirely different then mine. The reason I've offered vague, sometimes contradictory rumors rather then details and typical gazetteer stuff is precisely because the setting exists only as a structure to hang one's own games off of -- that is whatever works for your table and players.

      As the creator - my wishes are do whatever the heck you want with this stuff. Take what you like, discard what you don't. Add, subtract, and change.


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