They say a great old evil lurks just beyond the light of the moon, trapped between the sun and stars. A militant force from ages ago set on a campaign of global conquest was forever lost to the world of light; be it from curse or course mischarted. No one can say for certain what force or misfortune sealed them away as they are- as is often the case with legends, living or otherwise- but what’s known to all who walk beyond the sight of the sun is to mind the moonless night, because once a month when the sky is darkest, the men of the No-Moon Army ride again. Clad in clankering articulated armor, their faces masked by hinged grated plates, the No-Moon Army appear from the moonless mists in full-supply, their horses scratching and their siege-engine squealing for fresh oil. A mobile and well-supplied force, the No-Moon Army is a force to be reckoned with, and while they have the practical tactical wisdom of centuries behind them, their greatest asset is the element of surprise.
When they walked freely under the light from above the No-Moon Army traveled far and wide, leaving their mark on every corner of the globe. Since their banishment the army only returns on nights when the moon is absent, and while this is predictable no one can guess where on earth they’ll appear next. Some months they appear in the unsettled wilderness, far from any civilization, but other nights they’ll storm full-force from the mists into the main street of a great city or into the front line of an exhausted battle, their great barbed tower shields deflecting opposition, swords and spears striking down those who stand in the path of their conquest. They fight tirelessly, and when one of their own is felled he will fade back into the mists, leaving no trace but the blood they shed in their wake. The No-Moon Army is an iron-plated force of nature, a storm of blood and steel that can appear anywhere, and those who’ve survived their encounter with this ghastly garrison never forget the night, their pitched battle relived with the coming of each new moon.
When the earth cracks deep and fissures, hot molten rock will ooze up from the depths, searing and altering every inch of the landscape it claims. Rivers of flowing hot orange slip thickly down the sides of mountains, burning trees and rolling out into the seas, expanding islands beyond their own borders. And before it all cools into sharp black obsidian a company of slithering, smoldering Nagma settlers will be sure to follow. Born of the molten heart of the earth, Nagma are a breed of snakelike manlikes made of pure glowing red rock. This hot glowing rock cools on their exterior, forming the plates of thick stone hide that give them their distinct serpentine silhouettes. Having neither a face nor mouth, Nagma bear an intimidating facade, though they can see by sensing heat and speak in a hissing hot tone in their own language of pops, sears and boils.
Nagma go where lava comes, building their outposts on the cooling black rock left in the wake of an eruption. They come bearing tools made from small assembled metal plates, never using wood, stone or other resources, and they build small, simple houses out of obsidian and other volcanic stone. Their architecture is crude but functional, making nothing more ornate than it needs to be to do its job. Their purpose in coming to the surface is unknown, as they don’t speak the common languages, but some have formed assumptions based on observation- many Nagma are seen wielding flake-metal bo staffs, and at dawn and dusk they’re found practicing some form of serpentine martial art at the shores of their ebon outposts, leading folks to guess they come here to practice their martial art in a more open atmosphere than whatever lurks in the depths below. When Nagma settlers come they always bring canoes of yellow pumice and hooked metal poles, paddling out to sea to catch big delicious fish they assumedly can’t find at the earth’s core, leading others to think they’re here for resources to sustain themselves the way surface-dwellers dig below to find what they can’t acquire on the world above. Whatever their purpose the Nagma are a growing presence in our world, and given the earth itself sizzles beneath their searing tails many hope their intentions are peaceful, as few want to wage war against the molten core of the earth itself.
No matter how great or powerful a person thinks they are, there will always be a beast even greater and more powerful staking its claim to some unclaimable corner of the earth; a natural hierarchy of humility keeping a sea of egos checked and balanced. Some swim the depths, shattering to splinters and sailing ship who dares challenge their rule, others roam the dark caverns beneath the earth itself, causing tremors that crumble the mighty cities built above. These creatures possess power without peer, but their giant size and indominable constitution doesn’t mean they’re violent or malicious towards other living things. One example of the mighty but humble can be found in the giant Cliffback Tortoises of the chilly western mountains. Standing as tall as many whole buildings, Cliffbacks are docile hardshelled creatures known for their ability to weather harsh weather and navigate rough, uneven terrain that would spell the end of most load-bearing creatures. Possessed of four thick legs spread wide apart, Cliffbacks command solid stability when traversing the mountains, wide enough that they’re unlikely to tip over. These traits along with their passive attitudes have made them one of the few living forces of nature sentient races can harness and utilize for their own benefit.
There’s three ways to cross a mountainrange. You could burn time and go around it, you could pay out the nose and fly over it, or you can hire a Cliffback Rider and go through it. Having harnessed the natural feeding habits of these gargantuan quadrupeds, Cliffback Riders built huge howdahs on their docile shells and direct them across the mountains, offering a ride to any passenger who pays their modest fee. How did they do it? A little observation and ingenuity was all it took to master the Cliffback. There’s two things a Cliffback needs to survive: the rich green vegetation that grows midway up a mountain and the water that flows near its bases. By digging reservoirs of water at key stations on either side of a mountain route the Cliffback Rider can hitch a ride on the naturally-grazing Cliffback and point it where they want to go by positioning the sources of water they’ll inevitably come to in the most convenient places for passenger loading and unloading. They can’t command a beast so big it doesn’t have to listen, so they instead persuade it to climb across the mountains for them. The fare is fair compared to the alternatives, and those who’ve ridden in a Cliffback howdah say the ride is smooth and the view spectacular, citing it as a voyage you’ll want to take at least once in your lifetime.
There’s a place up north beyond the frozen seas where the sun smiles on a land caked in snow and ice for a full half-year, leaving the land cloaked in darkness until the sun comes ‘round again. Here, in isolation from the melting heat of the southern world, lives the fine citizens of the great Candy Commonwealth. Said to be made of sugar and spice, they call themselves Candykind, and they come in all shapes, sizes and patterns of color. In their ornate frosted houses lining peppermint roads, Candykind are known worldwide for the bleeding obvious, their unrivaled mastery of the sugary arts. Never will you taste candy so sweet, cakes so rich or treats so sour they’re said by some to be life-altering. Candykind know their way around the kitchen, and the fruits of their labor are in-demand by all races in all corners of the globe. But because of the freezing trek it takes to get to the Candy Commonwealth and back, the pride of their pastries remains a rare treat prohibitively-priced by the brave middlemen who travel and trade with the chilly chocolatiers of the far northern islands. It’s a heck of a hike, and some persons rich with resources and influence aren’t content to wait for a new shipment of these special sweets like some commoner; more than a few folks get it in their heads that if they could acquire the recipes instead- the means of production- they’d never be left wanting. Agents and hired knives are sent north to steal the secrets of Candykind, and while the Candy Commonwealth is not a warlike nation, they do not take such grievous acts sitting down. Theft of Recipe is the highest crime one can commit against the Commonwealth, and when these secrets are compromised the Confectioneries are called in to clean up any and all loose ends.
If the bakers and candymakers of the Commonwealth are the gloved right hand of the cheery and diplomatic Candykind, the Confectioneries are the dagger-clutching left hand hidden behind its back. When acts of aggression are taken against the Commonwealth, the Confectioneries are deployed to sever hamstrings and recover assets. Their duties are threefold: seek, secure, and execute. Trained in the arts of tracking and information-gathering, Confectioneries can follow the gumdrop trail of their quarry long after lesser investigators would find it run cold. Once they’ve zeroed in on an offender or group of offenders, Confectioneries approach with stealth and silence, sure to secure an area of all security and escape routes. Armed with licorice ropes, peppermint smokebombs, and poison candy dots- as well as their trusted trademark sharpened canes- Confectioneries swoop in without notice, executing their targets with extreme prejudice and recovering any and all assets or copies of assets missing from the Commonwealth. They don’t handle matters of state lightly, they’re given orders to kill as necessary to ensure no living soul remembers or tells the secrets they may have seen in a Candykind recipe- a sharpened sweet left sunk in the spine of their prey serves as a quiet calling-card and a message to any other would-be usurpers to the candy crown. And just as quickly and quietly as they’ve slipped into their quarry’s city, so are they gone to report back to their commanders and return all “broken arrows” to the right hands. The Candy Commonwealth deals in a sweet business, but if you bite off more than you can chew be prepared for things to turn sour fast, because the Confectioneries won’t rest until you misdeed is undone and you’re laid out like chalkline frosting, all guilty tongues silenced of their sugary secrets.
Demons and devils hail from planes beyond our own, lands of thumping rock music and burning mountains where the fives are high and they dig for skulls or blow things up and perceive reality in a more dilated capacity than any other known line of creatures, often known to speak with the unseen in ways no other line can replicate. But while the demons who visit our world may be loud, obnoxious, hedonistic and grossly-inarticulate in their use of language, they’re not freeloaders. They have unique talents that they’ll offer for the right price, and many enterprising demons have set up thriving businesses in our plane, none of them loyal to anyone but themselves. And if you’ve ever shipped post or parcel with the carriers in blue, you’ve surely struck a deal with these demons, whether you know it or not. They call themselves “Mailer Daemons”- spelled as such to make them sound fancier. They’re a line of outworlders who have set up shop on our soil, offering “to send whatever ya got wherever ya wants it to go,” committed to a code of conduct unmatched by any other parcel service by “super-duper pinkie swearin’ we won’t look at whatever dumb thing you’re tryin’ to send.”
Local city-states, kingdoms and alliances have their own established postal services, but there’s limitations where they can go and how fast they can get there- if the realm is at war or poor weather befalls a region, your urgent letter will assuredly be delayed or intercepted. Mailer Daemons don’t have this problem since they hold no earthly allegiance except to the customer. Equipped with nimble hooved legs and large wings, a Mailer Daemon can sprint across loose rocky terrain, thin ice and searing sands, and their wings let them sail over mountains, lakes and oceans alike. Their outposts dot the whole of the world, and they’re famous physiques allow them to dart from point to point without pause or interruption, ensuring your parcels get where they need to go as quick as possible. Their services don’t come cheap, though, and it isn’t because their job is hard, no. Mailer Daemons are great at doing what they do best… the only problem is their speed and mobility make them tempting targets for roaming Cannonesses eager to pick one out of the sky from far down range. ”Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail shall keep the Mailer Daemons from doin’ their job; but those dang sharpshooters with their big fat devil-bullets might slow ‘em down a peg. Just a heads up.”
They say war and conflict are natural elements of life, something encoded within the makeup of all thinking beings. Some would point out that there are plenty of passive, peaceful races among the sentient circles, but such claims to the contrary are often met with argument and rebuttal. A common point in the case against aggression as inevitability, however, is mention of the docile and pleasant Jellybees. A race of friendly floating folks, Jellybees drift along the cross-continental breezes that carry across the great inland lakes with hardly a care in the world. The top half of a Jellybee is roughly the height of a young person, but their long tangle of tendrils can stretch far beneath their slippery skirts. Semi-translucent sentients that they are, Jellybees take on a gentle glow when they soak in the light of a sunbeam, their internal colors mingling in a pleasant potpourri of pinks and purples. Jellybees aren’t aggressive but they’re not idle either, building their homes in the woodland regions surrounding large bodies of freshwater. Always friendly and courteous, Jellybees speak the common tongues and trade freely with their neighbors, specializing in the sale and handling of extremely poisonous reagents. Being extremely poisonous themselves, Jellybees are immune to the stings and effects of a wide range of lethal venom- from fish to snakes to insects and more- and have become expert toxicogists and masters in farming, extracting, bottling and selling these deadly components.
Some would describe their social structure as matriarchal, but Jellybees don’t actually have separate sexes, they simply bear similarity to other races’ familiar female aesthetics. They don’t choose their leaders by sex or gender either, as Jellybee society is small and democratic, each village electing its own mayor in biannual elections. Their architecture is angular and ornate, often utilizing stained glass, wood and smooth stone in their construction. Since Jellybees like to float on the air their buildings often have high ceilings and tall doorways, giving these structures a striking yet functional appearance. Outsiders have commissioned Jellybee architects to design buildings for them, but they often need to remind the architect of their need for stairs, a feature commonly absent in their native civilization. No Jellybee society maintains a standing army, a testament to their non-aggressive lifestyle, but some argue the Jellybees don’t wage war because they don’t need to, not because they don’t want to. Free-floating and full of poisonous barbed tendrils, it is a fool’s errand for a bipedal assailant to approach the Jellybee on her own terms, as their debilitating poison can inflict burning sensations and paralysis within moments of contact. And some still argue that while the Jellybees don’t directly engage in warfare they provide the means for many to kill their fellows through their stock in trade of poisons and natural venom, but Jellybees never market themselves in this way. Venom is a crucial component in antivenom and poisons paradoxically have healing applications- the Jellybees don’t question why a buyer is buying, they’re just happy to be of assistance.
Meet Necro Ned. He’s the son of two powerful geomancers who grew up in the midland hills and studied earth magic like their parents and their grandparents before them. Ned’s been pushed to study geomancy all his life. He hates it. ”Listen, Nedrick,” his parents would crow, “Geomancy is a noble profession, and as long as you’re living under this roof you’re gonna study the Earthen Arcanum! Your Pepah would be spinning in his self-woven gravechamber if he ever found out you left the family trade to study, what?” Necromancy. Ned was fascinated by the darker, much cooler magical art of the dead. Ever since the Iron Bard came through their humble village to weave his spell of thrashing chords Ned has been transfixed by the rock-and-roll lifestyle of the kids across the river who talk to ghosts and raise bands of skeletons from beneath the earth. What’s Ned ever raised from the earth? A protective wall of dirt and stone? Please, he thought, I might as well just stuff myself into my school-issue lockbox. No. Ned was going to become a necromancer, and he was going to do it by any means necessary. Working his part-time job commanding lawns to mow themselves, Ned saved enough coinage to slip across the river to the next town over and buy as many secondhand tomes of necromancy as he could. He absconded home with the right tools and the proper spell components he saw the cool kids use to summon their spectres and studied his spells in secrecy.
Months of tiny trials and experimentation passed and soon Ned was ready for the big test. Under cover of darkness he’d sneak into the village graveyard and raise a band of buddies to show the whole world and the kids in black what a cool necromancer he was. So he prepped his spells and raised his hands, uttering blasphemous invocations to summon and command the dead. Lightning cracked across a cloudless sky… and nothing happened. Distraught, he tried again. Nothing still. How could this be, Ned thought. I followed the spells to the letter and did everything by the book, how could it end in failure? He choked back tears of despair, his posture slouched, and just then he felt the ground beneath him start to rumble. The earth swelled and cracked, and up from the graveyard soil rose the coolest earthen golem Ned has ever seen! Bristling with tombstones and caskets and filled to the core with awesome bones, Ned didn’t raise the dead from their graves, he raised the graveyard itself! Oh man! It was all he could do to keep from crying, but he wasn’t fighting tears of sorrow this time. His parents were right, he had the heart of a geomancer all along! But more importantly, geomancy was just as cool as any other arcanum, and Ned couldn’t be happier. He hugged his newly-risen friend, his mind racing with excited thoughts- wait’ll the kids across the river see what I can do now! The moral of the story is to be yourself, you’re probably a cool person no matter what your talents are, or something.
It’s thought by some that all life came from the sea. From our humble roots as tiny fish, they say, every diverging branch of living beings on the planet blossomed. Some fish grew legs and walked out of the sea to become masters of land, while others stayed home and turned into clouds of tiny little cells so they can have strength in impossible numbers. This is the Origin of All Things, as its known to some scholars. And while some creatures became great in size, others great in numbers and more still become great in deed and achievement, some creatures never stood very tall nor ventured far from home, living simple lives within their comfort zones. One such creature is the humble sandsnail, a line of gentle gastropod that make their home along the sandy shores of temperate beaches where it’s neither too hot nor too cold and they’re never far from the sea.
Born in clutches of eggs buried in the gentle arms of the rolling tide, sandsnails lead a lackadaisical lifestyle inching along the edge of life’s cradle. Subsisting on a diet of kelp, dried leaves and fish carrion, sandsnails serve a useful ecological role as cleaners of debris that washes up from the sea or blows over from inland trees. Since they mostly live in the granular environment of the beach, sandsnails secrete a thick mucous from their singular foot to protect their soft bodies from drying out. While their lives are lazy, sandsnails don’t live outside the shadow of danger; being as delicious as they are plentiful, sandsnails are a common snack for large birds and shellfish. And while they can pull themselves inside their large spiral shell, sandsnails’ primary defense is to wriggle their bodies and hide in the sands, their eye stalks peeking out to watch for the passing of predators. And while this works well against simpler creatures, local sentients are not so easily fooled. In addition to being a ready source of protein, sandsnail mucous is an important component in many local waterbreathing potions, and those can fetch a higher price than even a dish of sauteed sandsnail, sausage and peppers served on a plate of pasta- a local favorite along some sunny shorelines.
There’s magic in the world. It isn’t extremely common to see it harnessed, but that’s part of what makes magic what it is. Scholars and practitioners alike have long studied the origins and innate properties of the arcane, but while their theories all share common themes, each is different enough from the others to bar them all from the domain of scientific fact. We know magic works, but we don’t fully know how or why. That doesn’t keep some of us from using it, however, and of those who can harness this ubiquitous force few have as intimate an understanding of its function as the Circuit Sages. Born of the scorched lightning fields of the northwestern region, Circuit Sages treat the flow of magic as a cousin to the flow of electricity they’ve come to know over countless generations. Draped in thick insulated robes marked with intricate linework, a Circuit Sage’s skin is thick and waxy, giving off no sheen of light or shadow. They speak many tongues but they don’t have lips, so their teeth are always bared and their voices carry on a raspy whisp. Their pupil-less eyes never blink and their physical presence has a perpetual static charge to it- they’re careful to shake hands with prospective clients so as not to give them a shock. Being around a Circuit Sage is slightly disquieting, but the service they offer is worth the price of discomfort.
Circuit Sages do not conjure, form or otherwise manipulate raw magical energy into any desired effect, be they common or uncommonly known. Or in other words Circuit Sages don’t cast spells, and they’ll be upfront in telling you this if you seek their aide. Instead, Circuit Sages read the flow of spells cast by other casters and amplify, redirect, capture and store, dampen, resist or neutralize these altered surges of magical energy using physical gestures, runic tokens or their own bodies’ innate arcane fields. Circuit Sages are masters of spellcasting support and their services have found use in countless disciplines- researchers rely on their aide to control unstable experiments, armies enlist them to enhance the potency of their spellcasters and cities under siege have called on them to help neutralize the effects of those same spellcasters. A Circuit Sage can smell magic in the air and adventuring parties have hired them to explore ancient ruins to help detect and disarm arcane traps, and even those parties who don’t bring a Circuit Sage will often purchase the stored, stolen spells they seal away in small runed stones to be released and re-cast at will. If one can get past their unsettling aura, the Circuit Sages are valuable allies to any group looking to carve out a life from a world teeming with magic.
Power is often fueled by technology. If you have more and you can do more with it, you command much more leverage and influence than if you were without. And under the salty waves of the open sea few cultures hold the reigns of technology as strongly as the Redscale kingdom. Cold-blooded and bipedal, Rescales are a race of fishpersons whose discovery of metal and rubber enabled them to develop unparalleled means of exploration and conquest, allowing them to build a great and sprawling civilization on the sandy shoals of the deep. Subsisting on a diet of non-sentient fish and aquatic vegetation, Redscales are lean and quick, able to zip through the water with ease when they’re not encumbered by burden of bulk. Their king, Lord Bubbleglub the Briny, commands the seat of power in the ornate and gilded castle at the heart of Shellspire, their central city. Built of stone and mortar, Shellspire is a winding maze of old streets and open markets bristling with commerce and activity. Redscale weaponry is built to be hydrodynamic, from their curved swords to their long arrows and harpoons, if a weapon can’t be wielded with ease in the thick atmosphere of the sea it isn’t worth the material it’s made from. Many aquatic races swear by Redscale blades and bows as their rubber-coated parts are easy to grip and their metal bits resist corrosion, on top of slicing through the sea like a baracuda on the hunt. And while merchants and craftsfish barter to sell their tools and trinkets, the real prize of the Redscale kingdom is its unique take on armorsmithing.
They call them Terranauts. Those brave Redscale soldiers, masters of the blade and bow, who answer the call to explore the lands above are intimately familiar with the incredible advancements in Redscale armory. Sacrificing their natural agility for unrivaled protection, Redscale Terranauts learn to move and work while wearing the heaviest of heavy armor, to the point that it’s an extension of their body. Terranauts cannot breathe the air above, so they rely on a series of pressurized seals within their suits of plated mail to provide them a hospitable environment in the world beyond the waves- their water-filled plate also provides them added protection from crushing or bludgeoning blows, since they’re dense with water and not air they’re extra-resistant to non-piercing attacks. Donning a helm of thick crystal-glass, Terranauts are afforded a full view of the world around them- this special glass has been carefully developed over generations to resist cuts and blows, its thick walls and spherical design making it tough to crack. And while these are both impressive technological traits, the real technological feat of the Terranauts’ armor is in the water filtration units installed on their backs, pumping air in to keep their suit of water fresh and breathable. Equipped with the finest of tools the kingdom has to offer, a company of Terranauts is well-equipped to venture beyond the deep on missions of diplomacy, asset-recovery, acquisition of resources or military exercise. And though they’re called Terranauts, their special pressurized armor allows the Redscale kingdom to expand its reaches downward as well as upward, exploring the crushing pressures of the deepest of undersea trenches. Truly there’s no point on this earth beyond the reach of the Redscale kingdom.