A grab-bag of setting details.
The Festival of the Fulcrum
Relevance: Global, this is a cosmic event affecting the entire world.
The Festival of the Fulcrum is a five-day holiday between the Old and New year. It is said that during this time the Gods associated with the Cosmic Balance – known in Arcol as the Dancer, Minstrel, and Thief – rest from their usual duty of keeping the Balance in check. With the Balance free to shift, wild exuberance and excess are the order of the day, and it is usual to hold enormous feasts. There are many godly festivals around this time, when the extremes of the various alignments are emphasised. It is also a time to spend with community and family – but it is said that those who head into the wilderness at this time can find themselves embroiled in strange adventures as the Gods exploit the somewhat more fluid cosmic rules to move their pawns in unexpected fashions.
Gods of Chaos
Relevance: Cosmic; whilst different cultures have different takes on the Gods, they do have an objective existence which is difficult to deny, and the matter of the Moon is of profound importance to the metaphysical order of things.
The commonly accepted God of pure Chaos (Chaotic Neutrality, in system terms) is known in Arcol as the Jester, though arguably the Jester is a fraud; the only deity embodying absolute Chaos is the Primal Fire, which was trapped within the Moon at the dawn of time. Were the Fire to ever escape, though, it would mean the certain destruction of the world, the near-certain destruction of this plane, and perhaps the destruction of the entire multiverse. So the Jester’s claim of sovereignty is respected, because even if the Jester is a giggling loon and the prankster of the Gods, they at least show some awareness that there’s a time and a place for everything – a good joke depends on good timing, after all. The Primal Fire and its worshippers, however, have little hope of ever being socially acceptable; the combination of bad habits and an implicit antipathy to Creation doesn’t do them much credit.
Two Ancient Empires
Relevance: Global, the entire world was under the grip of the Shining Empire and the Grand Old Empire was, whilst not quite as large, substantial enough that few places were not at least influenced by it.
In ancient days, after the creation of the world, after the Sage and the Tyrant departed to forge the upper and lower realms respectively, but before mortals began to rule themselves, sovereignty over the mundane world was given to the Burning Judge. Back then, of course, she was called the Shining Judge – but no less a creature of Lawful Evil, and her rule was tyrannical. Eventually, a rebellion of mortals, led by humans, overthrew her. (The reason she is the Burning Judge today is that they set her on fire during the rebellion. It did not kill her, but the desecration of her throne room convinced her that her lawful sovereignty over the world had been lost and prompted her to withdraw to her current stronghold in the Sun.) The global Empire ruled by the Judge was known as the Shining Empire.
In somewhat more recent history, a new Empire originating in the far East spread literacy, philosophy, craftsmanship, science and the command of magic across the world. The Grand Old Empire, as it is affectionately known in those lands it once ruled, was founded by a philosopher who was a devotee of the Sage, and whilst its history was not exactly spotless it is still lauded as a historical model of good governance. It collapsed in the age of the Flux, a horrifying plague during which entire nations died and the dead walked.
Relevance: Dwarven culture.
The dwarven strongholds underground are in a state of constant warfare against the creatures emerging from the depths – for the deeper down you go, the closer you get to the chamber at the centre of the world where the Laughing Wolf is bound, and to gateways to the lower planes created by the descent of the Tyrant. For the most part, dwarves seen on the surface fall into three categories. First, there are those who are specifically assigned tasks to accomplish on the surface, either by the dwarven authorities or the gods they serve. Second, there are those who have been given the long-term role of fostering good relations with the surface peoples, the dwarves realising that they will have to call on such alliances in times of dire need. Both of these are respectable and honourable callings, even when the tasks involved last for generations.
The third category is less honourable, however. Ever since the dawn of the race, there have always been a few dwarves who abandoned their homes, friends and loved ones for the sake of living what they thought would be an easy life on the surface (even though wise dwarves know that the surface worlders have their own problems to contend with). First generation deserters are hunted down by the dwarven authorities in order to take them home and put them back at their posts, though in some cases the surface authorities might have something to say about “their” citizens being snatched from the streets. Interestingly, the hunt is less intense for the offspring of deserters – never having been born into mainline dwarven society, “deserters” of the second and subsequent generation have no place assigned to them in it, and indeed wouldn’t be welcome if they did try to return. There is therefore a small diaspora of surface dwarves who are effectively divorced from the dwarven homelands entirely. Of course, in the event that the efforts to catch and repatriate deserters ever failed, the diaspora population would begin to grow at an appreciable pace.
Relevance: Human communities in the forests of West Arcol.
The foresters, hunters, charcoal-burners and other communities who live in the forests of western Arcol retain a range of superstitions, not least due to widespread Druidry amongst their people, the misremembered teachings of heroic Rangers passed down the generations, and the increased magical and spiritual activity in the area caused by the close proximity of the elven kingdom. Not every forest-dweller believes every superstition, but most will believe a fair few. Here are some examples. (OOC: Thanks to Shimmin for coming up with these.)
- A fisherman always throws the first fish he catches back in the water for luck – “one for the river” and so on.
- After you have put a worm on the hook, spit on it for good luck.
- The person who swears while fishing will not catch a fish (offends the river spirits..?).
- Use an even number of hooks on your line for luck, as fish will not bite if the number is odd.
- If you are hunting and see three ducks flying, don’t try to kill them, for they are messengers sent out by the other ducks to see if everything is all right (or, a nature spirit travelling? Or an old folklore figure?).
- Show respect to an old oak if you pass by.
- Never kill a grasshopper when hunting.
- A deer can hear stomach grumble, so don’t hunt on an empty stomach.
- Always show respect to an animal you’ve killed, especially a fierce one: “Put up quite a fight” and so on.
- Before a hunt, share a drink and pour one out for Green Jenny (a sort of hunting, do-gooding folklore figure of the woodlands).
- Put a wreath of willow wood behind the door, so bad luck will get trapped (it doesn’t have an end, so the bad luck can’t escape). Burn it on Ash Night in spring when the new willow leaves appear.
- The state of the tide when you’re born indicates the state of your family fortune when you die…
- Always tether a horse with the moon behind it.