In the north seas there’s a small chain of sizable islands removed from any major continent, where rolling hills and chistled mountains define the horizons. Where once, its told, a tribunal of territories shared the islands, now only the Grand Gummi Garrison remains. Thought to be distant cousins of the Candy Commonwealth, the Grand Gummi Garrison is a militant order of soft, squishy creatures wearing soft, squishy armor and riding soft, squishy steeds. While they seem sweet on the outside, the Grand Gummi Garrison is rabidly empirical, driving their territorial competition into the seas and claiming every inch of land they can find in the name of their King, the greedy George VI the Gobstopper. Given how sweet they seem on the outside, it’s hard to believe a group like the Grand Gummi Garrison would deal in invasion and oppression, but their history is written in gooey globs of glucose and blood.
The three realms of the northern isles once lived in harmony- the hardy Hardbodies with their mastery of might, the twisty Taffidyls whose bowstrings stretch and strike the Heavens, and of course, the Gummi Garrison, whose soft arms were better for diplomacy than acts of aggression. Their old king, George III the Gracious, was the backbone of the sweet tribunal, able to broker peace between the Taffidyls and Hardbodies, who famously competed for greater shows of military strength. The Gummi Garrison lived in the shadows of these armies, ever fearful of being consumed by conflict, until George III had had enough, and struck upon a plan. Using their power of persuasion, agents of the Gummi Garrison learned the technology behind both armies’ arsenals- the Taffidyls’ potent bows and the mallets and lances of the Hardbodies. Then, on the eve of a tribunal summit, the Gummi Garrison capitalized on a conflict and turned each tribe’s own technology against them in a sudden show of sugary strength. The Hardbodies’ mallets could not crush the squishy bodies of the Gummi Garrison, as they would spring back into place, and arrows sunk into their soft surfaces instantly closed up. There was nothing either army could do to hurt the Gummi Garrison, who cracked and pierced their former-friends one by one, beating them to the shores, leaving them little choice but to drown or die. With military power in their possession the Gummi Garrison no longer lived in the shadow of giants, no. Now all the isles were theirs to claim, and so they have sought to grow and expand for generations since, never the sweet speakers they seem at first taste.
Rare are the times one would consider an object or article of clothing a creature unto itself, but rarer still are the moments when such a thing presents itself as peer among those who might wield or wear it. Such is the case-of-occasion for the Robe of the Grand Magus, a thick woolen garment wiser in the ways of weaving wonders than many meaty magicians. Once worn by the Grand Magus herself- a storied and secretive sage and sorcerer whose thread on the weave of fate was frayed- the Robe was found among her personal affects when her solitary tower was broken into by a messenger alerted by an absent reply to his knock. Local spellcasters heard tale of the Grand Magus’s disappearance- and nary a trace of her was anywhere to be found- but when the gawkers gathered at her gateway they were greeted by the Robe itself, risen and fully-animate.
The Robe of the Grand Magus is a curious thing, believed to have soaked the magical aura of the Grand Magus herself the way it would blood and sweat. The Grand Magus’s essence is deeply woven in the fibers of the old cloak, and the Robe remembers many of the gestures needed to invoke ancient acts of the arcane. The Robe of the Grand Magus doesn’t speak, but instead communicates by gesture of its hood and sleeves, floating about as though it were draped around the body of its former owner. The Robe radiates power, and more than a few would-be usurpers have attempted to don the Robe for themselves, but each met a gruesome, ashen end as the Robe drew the life and knowledge right out of their bodies, leaving naught but fragile husks behind. The Robe of the Grand Magus doesn’t show any outwardly aggressive tendencies, but it defends itself readily, its repertoire of skills expanding with each fallen fool.
In the sandswept deserts of the central eastern continent, some of the world’s oldest and largest monuments can be seen from great distances, cresting the golden horizon when approached from any point on the compass. An ancient civilization thrives in the Sandstone Valley, but no monument standing bears likeness of or pays tribute to any king or queen. The absence of a monarch becomes more apparent the deeper you enter the central city of the Carrybacks, a proud race of sentient insects famous for the feats of strength and endurance their little bodies are capable of. Thick blue shells marked with bands of red protect these industrious insects from the sweeping sands of their nigh-inhospitable homeland. Their most famous trait is their fantastic capacity to carry weight on their backs, a trait exploited by ware-hocking merchants and loot-hungry adventurers alike- a Carryback can haul far more gear than any comparatively-sized race on the planet. Although their relatively small size allows them to go some days without a drop of water, Carrybacks cultivate an assortment of water-drawing desert plants within their communities. Upbeat and sociable, Carrybacks are experienced craftsbeetles with members pursuing a broad range of disciplines, but of all the things they love to build it’s perhaps a story they love to craft the most.
Once, long ago, the Carrybacks lived in collective hives, governed by an autocratic Queen whose reign was recognized by birthright from generation to generation. The Carrybacks’ hardshelled bodies are famous for their capacity to carry many times their own weight on their backs with little effort, and for a long time it was believed the Carryback Queen’s bloated, gigantic soft abdomen was the sole source of vital nectar needed by the entire community to survive. Thus, holding monopoly on survival, the Carryback Queen would traditionally command her hive to build her beautiful sculpture and jewelry and construct gigantic, extravagant monuments in her honor, hauling sandy stone blocks brick by brick on their hardy backs. Life was difficult for the lowly Carrybacks, until one tired worker happened upon a discovery: the prickly plants that peppered the desert sand- long believed to be dangerous- were actually full of water! And water not only sustained the Carryback, it was more refreshing than the Queen’s nectar! Word spread quickly among the lower ranks, on up the ladder to the Queen’s own guard, and needless to say the Carryback Queen was disposed of overnight. The monuments ordered by generations of Queens were subsequently dismantled, their stones used to build tall, artful sculptures, each an expression of the Carrybacks’ freedom to create as they please, living and thriving in the shadow of no lord or master.
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.
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.
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.
A vital element of the predator/prey dynamic is that the tastiest little critters will also be the fastest and most elusive. If they don’t have the means to fight back then they’ll be doubly-ready to flee like the dickens. Many predatory creatures have adapted to these bursts of speed by mastering the art of stealth, which in turn leads potential prey to become impossibly perceptive. Each side of the chase continues to up the evolutionary ante, and for some carnivores this means approaching the hunt from novel new angles is all but mandatory if they want to stay fed and survive. This is an area in which the cloud cobra excels. Slithering along the grassy lowlands and coastal regions, cloud cobras are a unique breed of snake identified by their faded, sky-colored hide, goggle-like markings and distinct red roundels. Subsisting on a diet of rodents and small birds, cloud cobras used to stalk the tall grasses to inch closer to their prey, but when they grew wise these intrepid snakes began climbing trees to leap down from above. This worked splendidly, but trees are limited in the range they offer, so if the cloud cobra wanted to stay competitive, it needed to raise the stakes.
Perhaps the most unique trait of the cloud cobra is its hood and tail. While cobras are able to spread the ribs of their necks to fan out hoods as a sign of aggression, cloud cobras have adapted these bones and tendons to enable them to sail through the air like long gliders. Using their adaptive bodies, cloud cobras can climb tall trees, coil their muscular bodies and leap into the air, wherein they tense and stiffen to become aerodynamic, controlling their movements with a simple pitch and tilt of their bodies. Cartilaginous fins have grown on their spines and the tips of their tails to help them maintain better control in the air, and their cloudlike coloration camouflages them from any potential meal below. A typical cloud cobra will spot its prey from above and dive down in complete silence, striking head-first with its venomous fangs to latch onto and incapacitate its victims. Its venom is potent and any struggle it encounters is shortlived, and soon the cloud cobra swallows its freshly-slain meal, as snakes are wont to do. Conversely, cloud cobras are a favorite snack among hawks and other large, violent birds.