Story Title: Necropolis
Elevator pitch: The players find themselves in the initial stages of the apocalypse in a low fantasy setting. They are on the cusp of discovering their own powers as sorcerers, in a world where magic is outlawed as witchcraft. They will be forced to pick sides either as inquisitors (who believe that the only pure source of magic is faith in the Builder), or as witches, warlocks and sorcerers who must hide their activities from the Church and the zealots who hunt them. On the precipice of war, will they build forbidden alliances to unite against their common foe, Cthon, the world-eating Labyrinth?
Details: Players will take on the roles of influential people from various places in the world, who are just discovering that they have magical abilities (or who are allied with such characters), in a world where magic is both rare and strictly forbidden. This is a low magic, low technology setting, where both guns and magic are only just being revealed.
History: The northern city of Kircharest is both the center of the Church and the seat of the King. The only known magic is performed by priests of the Builder and any other kind of magic is punishable by death. Inquisitors of the Church try to root out hidden witches and bring them to justice. Accusations of participation in witchcraft are deadly serious and could result in execution. King Albrecht defers to the Church, which is the official religion of the kingdom. The Church maintains a tenuous peace with The Builder's Guild, which is an association of people who study ritual magic but escape condemnation because they openly proclaim worship of the same God as the Church (but is it really the same god?) Regardless, real magic is so rare that the majority of people have never seen any in their life and that applies equally to the ranks of the Guild, whose rituals produce, if anything, minor and subjectively experienced effects.
The other important conflict is between the old and the new kingdom. The southern cities were openly ruled by witch-kings in the past and many of the trappings of the former world remain. Most notably in the old seat of the kingdom, the walled city of Soatwol, at the edge of the Puckwoode, a massive and sprawling wilderness said to be populated by faeries and worse. Though the old currency of the kingdom (Southmarks) is technically outlawed, in practice they are preferred over the thoroughly debased coins of the North (Kirchgeld) , such that even government officials use them. And though guns were created recently in Kircharest, the nitre required to make gunpowder is still mostly mined around Soatwol, so the Old Capitol remains a very important center. Some of the elders in the south still practice witchcraft openly, or so they are accused, and it is said that there are even some villages deep in the Puckwoode where the old religions are practiced openly.
Summary of key events:
- as the story begins, the characters live in a tenuous peace between the governments of Kircharest, the seat of the King and the Church and the government of Soatwol, which nominally pledges fealty to those twin authorities.
- this is the result of a war that ended about 20 years ago and the terms of the treaty that was signed
- the discovery of guns and the increasing persecution of witches or those who are accused of being witches is driving a wedge between the two centers of power
- the northerners look down on the southerners and the only thing preventing them from harsh and open oppression of the South is that Soatwol is still the principal source of silver, nitre for gunpowder, clay and other critical products that Kircharest requires.
A brief history of the world: History is not well-recorded in this world and the recent rupture from the past has made it worse. The Kingdom used to be ruled by openly practicing witch-kings, but in recent times the Church has unified behind the power of the northern King and the King and the Father of the Church rule jointly from their seats in Kircharest.
Lore synopsis: The Builder is the hero and saviour Father of the gods. He expects submission and hard work from his subjects. He represents the technical and martial powers of man.
Cthon is a dark god that lives at the center of a sprawling labyrinth of endless corridors. Some say he is the Labyrinth itself, whose passages, like tentacles reach across the universe into many worlds. Some people visit the endless corridors in their dreams, and as they explore more deeply, they come back with magical secrets.
When Cthon's tentacles impact a world, the world changes in subtle ways. Leeches begin to accrue around the openings to Labyrinth. The leeches, the true children of Cthon, latch on to men the way the Labyrinth latches on to worlds, and through their drinking of the blood of the men from many worlds, Cthon is sustained. The leeches produce a neurotoxin that is injected by their teeth into their victims. In most this toxin produces merely sleep to permit the leech to feed, but in some this neurotoxin produces a profound dream state, in which the person enters into the Labyrinth of Cthon. Those who explore this state thoroughly learn magic in the process and become warlocks.
Those who pursue this power then enter into communion with Cthon over time, and Cthon mercilessly pits these warlocks against one another through lies and manipulation. He encourages the increasingly powerful warlocks, of many species, from many worlds, into adversarial situations with one another. After a certain point, the only way to gain more power is to consume the souls of your warlock adversaries. Those who become the most powerful are finally welcomed into the very heart of the Labyrinth, where they are consumed by Cthon (and become part of his legion identity).
Becoming a very powerful warlock is a life of constant strife, dangerous encounters with other warlocks and hiding from the Church as your power becomes increasingly difficult to conceal.
Players can choose this life or the life of an inquisitor from the Church. Inquisitors have access to much lower and less immediate and powerful forms of magic, but a stable life and the protection of the most powerful organization in the world.
In the fullness of the story, Inquisitors and witches will have to work together to have any chance of facing the rise of Cthon, who is progressively consuming their world.
Will their world ultimately be consumed and left as part of the endlessly growing confederation of dead worlds tangled in the passages of the Endless Corridors?
(I discovered this contest after midnight on the final day. I am only scratching the surface with these descriptions).
As far as the story, there will be great latitude in terms of the player characters themselves. Who they are will help define the world and the storylines.