02. The Runelands
The Compendium Tellurica
being at once an Atlas and Encyclopaedia of the manifold Runelands.
• Heritage • Atlas • Legends •
Runelands assumes the following story elements in its fiction.
The world is an ancient and magical place, but much of it is untamed.
In antiquity, the gods were real and embodied a variety of concepts, each God claiming dominion over an aspect of the world, such as war, forests, or the sea. Together with their predecessors the Titans, they shaped the Nine Worlds. Through their thriving religions, Gods exerted influence over the Middle Realms by granting divine magic to their followers and sending signs and portents to guide them. The followers of a god served as agents of that god in the world, who sought to further the ideals of that god and defeat its rivals. While some folk might've refused to honour the gods, none could deny their existence. The Deicide changed the face of Telluria forever by destroying those gods and civilizations which would not bend the knee to the Octet. In a scant few decades, kingdoms and empires which had stood for centuries were overthrown and their lands either brought under Imperial control or else left to go fallow.
Beyond the borders of Empire, city-states, confederacies, and kingdoms of various sizes dot the landscape, but these societies tend to be small enough to be manageable and not pose a threat to Imperial ambitions.
Consequently, people know the area they live in well. They’ve heard stories of other places from merchants and travelers, but few know what lies beyond the mountains or in the depths of the great forest unless they’ve been there themselves. Since the world is a dangerous place for the unprepared, and so people tend to stay close to home.
The Gods are Dead. Long Live the Imperatori!
Conflict shapes history. Powerful individuals strive to make their mark on the world, and factions of like-minded individuals can alter the course of history. Competing factions include religions led by charismatic prophets, kingdoms ruled by lasting dynasties, and shadowy societies that seek to master long-lost magic, their influence waxing and waning as they compete with each other for power. There are as many reasons for this as there are people who undertake these pursuits; some seek to preserve the world and usher in a golden age, others strive to rule the world with an iron fist. Some seek goals that range from the practical to the esoteric, such as the accumulation of material wealth or the resurrection of a dead god. Whatever their goals, these factions inevitably collide, creating conflict that can steer the world’s fate.
There is no better example of this than the Cathrican Imperators. When the campaign begins, Sol Invictus Rex and Imperatrix Cathrica Regina approach their millennial wedding anniversary, an event commemorating the end of the pogrom which shattered pantheons and drove any survivors into the Beyond.
Magic is Power.
History proves that there is nothing which is beyond a magician who is clever and dedicated enough to put in the work required, and again, there's no better example of this than the Imperators. Within the borders of the Empires, spell magic is tightly controlled, true practitioners of arcane magic are vanishingly few in number, and the magic available to them is comparatively nothing like it used to be. Divine magic is the province of the High Temple of the Imperators, while arcane magic is governed by the Guild of Practical and Theoretical Magicians. Both organizations recruit jointly, trading appropriate recruits as discovered. The recruitment process for both kinds of magic begins early, with those children who meet their stringent criteria being fostered by their sponsoring organization for the length of their apprenticeship, which usually ends with lifetime employment within that organization. Dropouts and failures are 'gentled', a process known to the Templars by which a recruit's magical talent is removed in a lengthy ritual. This is often fatal, and survivors are never the same afterward*. Full practitioners of magic caught without a license are given a chance to remedy their condition by meeting Imperial critera within a given time-period. Those who refuse are forcibly gentled, then executed.
Because of the relative rarity of arcane magic and the stringent standards required to become a Templar, science and technology have stepped up to the plate by way of replacement. Spell effects are often duplicated by technological means, and so most Imperial magic tends toward the innocuous and commonplace, such as a draught that cures diseases and heals wounds or alchemical boltcaster ammunition which mimics the effects of various attack spells.
Beyond the realms of civilization are caches of magic items guarded by magic traps, as well as magically constructed dungeons inhabited by monsters created by magic, cursed by magic, or endowed with magical abilities. Beings of magic still exist, no less common than they ever have been. In many places, these people found civilizations of their own, as in the bustling frontier city of Harbourhaven, where druids perform most of the city's civic duties under the direction of their Archdruid, an ancient Ent called Blackbriar. Elf kingdoms hide in ancient forests recovered from the cataclysm of the Deicide, maintaining only tenuous contact with the outside world. Backwoods sorcerers intuit their secrets safe from Imperial recruitment. The Powers Without whisper in the ears of those willing to listen, and share with those willing to cut a deal. Savage shaman find power flowing from the Prime Elementals. And all over the world, works of ancient magic still lurk in the shadows and the ruins, waiting to be uncovered.
* Unless they previously were known to drool incessantly while laughing at the sound of purple, in which case no change.