Arcana-punk: A World of Magic

The standard DnD world starts with a number of assumptions, one of which is “magic is real”, and then settings start quibbling about how much magic, or how special magic is in the world. Eberron was the first “world” setting where magic was given a more “common place” theme, and where magic started to replace technology, but what about a world where the replacement was even more pervasive, what about a world more like a magic meets cyber-punk distopia?

The concept for this setting started in pondering if Eberron had gone far enough in incorporating magic into the setting, and what changes could be made, and would be needed to make magic even more common in a setting than is seen in Eberron, and then there was the idea of the 80’s (and later 90’s) anime Bubblegum Crisis being used as the basis for a DnD campaign.

World Assumptions:

A Dark World: The world isn’t dark because there is no Empire, but rather it is dark because the empire is evil, the world the PCs know, at least, is dominated by Merchant Cartels who care little for the people, and lots for their own wealth. In this world greed is not merely good, it is law. Governments still exist, and while they are democratic on the surface the corruption of the merchant cartels has made it a farce for those willing to look beyound the arcane glow of the everbright lights.

The World is a Fantastic Place: Despite the disenfranchisment of the people who live in the world and the rise of the heartless cartels, the world remains a fantastic place. Magic is common, and people make a living doing “low magic”, golems are a staple, and their tireless strength has allowed the construction of wonderous cities with crystal towers and so on.

Ritual magic is readily available, with most people knowing a few common rituals like Make Whole, Fastidiousness, Purify Water, and  such.

The World is Now: The past and future are less important in this world than the present. Most people are unaware of the distopia in which they live and only see the benefits. Magic has lifted them from agrarian society cowering in villages from the terrors of the world, through to a bustling magic fueled world of light. Of course for those who seek, or need, ancient treasures many are rumoured to exist, fabled items of great power, saught by powerless nobles, and supposedly horded by powerful cartels.

The World is Known: Very little of the world has not come under the heel of the arcana empowered races, and even where they do not rule absolute their influence is felt. The mysteries of the world are not in unknown places, but rather hidden in the shadows of the merhcant cartels’ towers.

Monsters Are People Too: The stranger intelligent monsters are gone, the last Dragon killed ages ago, and the beholders and such even further in the past. As people mastered the rudimenty aspects of arcane magic, and used them to spread across the world they stomped out those things that opposed them long ago. Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, and similar all exist, but they are little more than just “people”, and races from other planes (like Eladrin and Shades) are long vanished, along with their forgotten planes.

Adventurers Are Exceptional: In a world where magic is common adventurers are still exceptional people, while the fighter might use make whole to fix her armor after a battle, those who call on the arcane arts in battle are still rare, and special individuals. Adventurers are found in the employ of the merchant cartels, or in special departments of the police force, or rarely in specialised mercenary companies. Put simply adventurers are not gold slaves of the cartels, they don’t have 9 to 5 jobs, they do stuff that is dangerous that no one is willing to pass over to a golem, because no one (except maybe villains) wants a golem that smart (this means warforged are a campaign hook, be they PCs or enemies).

The Civilised Races Won: While legend says the ancient races banded together for protection, at some stage they won. As far as most people are concerned the “light of civilisation” shines across the entire world, it is only the few who can see the cancer that grows in the light.

Magic is Everyday: In this world many things that are part of the real world have a magical equivalent, the horseless carriage, zepplins, sending stone networks, and so on, and even far more potent things that in the real world are still pipedreams like humanoid robots (roles performed by golems). It isn’t “a golem for everyone”, but jobs in heavy industries, mining, construction, and even sex trade have all seen golems fill jobs once held by people.

Gods and Primordials Made the World, People Remade It: In ancient times the Gods and Primordials shaped the world and made it how they would, as people mastered the world they reshaped it in part to their own will. Cities are now a dominant landscape feature, sprawling metropolisis of millions of people found around the world, connected by teleportation circles for those who can afford it, or airships of one sort or another for most people. Jungles have been felled, rivers damed, land reclaimed, and the wild has been made tame.

Gods are Gone: There are those that still believe in the gods, but the divine spark is gone, the belief that made the gods powerful has been supplanted by the wonders of arcana.

People are Mighty: In this world power comes from people, mastery of the body (Martial Power Source), mastery of the mind (Psionc Power Source) and mastery of the arcane (Arcane Power Source). As arcane knowledge has risen, divine and primal powers have faded lost to the benefits of arcana.

Overview:

In short this campaign takes elements of the real world, and gives them a steam-punk feel (but with no pretense it isn’t magic), while also looking to the dystopian future of the 80’s and 90’s cyberpunk fiction for inspiration. While things like guns should exist, they should be mechanically the same as the various crossbows and bows. In this world the “arms race” of our real history has always been broken down by the existence of magic, and the extrordinary individuals that master the Martial paths. Afterall masters of power are far more deadly than a few people with easy to use weapons, a single wizard can devestate dozens of people with guns every few seconds, it is only the most adept users of such weapons that the world’s great heroes ever need to fear.

A Campaign Seed:

As mentioned part of the inspiration for this particular setting idea was the Bubblegum Crisis series from the 80’s and 90’s, and this gives the basis for a campaign seed. In the series the main main bad guys of the setting (rather than the villains) are basically robots, many are disguised as normal people, but transform into dangerous (and usually much larger) combat robots and the series heroes (the adventurers) are a mercenary company that fights these new rogue robots.

In this setting the PCs should be more ignorant of the nature of the golems than some of the characters in the inspirational series, but should still be operating in a gray area of the law, a legal company engaging in vigilante activities. The enemies should then be golems that have been illegally modified to have military capabilities. Initially the threats are small, a single rogue golem, but as the villains move their plan forward the golems become more powerful and better armed, and their goals (replacing all people with golems) should become clear.

In addition to conflicts with the obvious bad guys of these rogue golems, and whoever is behind them, the PCs are also positioned to have conflicts with the police, engage in more routine mercenary work like “escort this person”, or “rescue this person” and so on. Indeed it is these first types of missions where the party should start, and into one of them that the main plot of the golem uprising should spill.

Being this is a DnD setting with a strong emphasis on Psionics and Arcana, the ultimate villains can be from the far realm, and this lets you get plenty of wierdness into the adventures as well, especially around the transformation of apparently normal looking people into the rogue golems.

 


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