World in Flames
Sanctum was created thousands of years ago from the combination of the breath of The Six Great Wyrms. It consists of a single continent surrounded by water, with several outlying archipelagos.
Eons ago, the Six Great Wyrms brought a land out of the Emptiness and breathed life into it. They named this new world Sanctum, for it was to be their shelter against the cold and isolation of the Emptiness around them. From the blue wyrm came the water around the land, from the silver came the air above it, from the green came the trees upon it, from the red came the fire that warmed it, and from the white came the ice that kept it cool. Finally, the Black Wyrm breathed and gave life unto four sentient races: Humans, Elves, Halflings, and Dwarves. These four began to carve out places for themselves within Sanctum, and the Wyrms were content with their creations. The black wyrm disappeared, and left the Phoenixes in his place to watch over the new life he had brought forth. The Phoenixes in turn selected avatars, mortal women who could channel a portion of their power and will in order to give the phoenixes a better view of and voice in mortal affairs.
This edenic period was not to last. Eventually, the Wyrms began to see only the enormous capacity of their creations for cruelty, and eventually chose to destroy Sanctum to rid the universe of the evils that they had wrought. The Phoenixes, however, decided that life had the capacity to be good as well as evil, and that the good was worth preserving. They stood at the head a joint army of humans, elves, dwarves, and halflings, opposing the Wyrms through decades of constant warfare. During this conflict, the Wyrms created the original Orcs from captured humans and elves, while dwarves and halflings became the first gnomes.
It was discovered that a portal to the Emptiness could be opened by the sacrifice of an avatar at specific locations. After decades of work, the five remaining Wyrms were bound and banished. However, this victory came at a terrible cost. All of the Phoenixes save one were killed in the struggle.
After the war ended, the sentient races rebuilt their societies with guidance from the Phoenix. Orcs and Gnomes, now without masters, were given the choice to either assimilate into society or enter exile in Construct Country. Despite the fact that the Wyrms have been gone for millennia, there is still a stigma attached to these two races.
Sanctum is divided into several regions – Plains, Forest, Marshland, Desert, Canyon, Mountain, and Construct Country. Each region has one major city. Note that just because a race or class is not common in a certain location doesn’t mean they’re nonexistent, but should you decide to play a minority character, you should factor that into their backstory and personality.
- Plains: Plains dwellers are largely farmers, and as such, tend to be very physically strong. Plains dwellers receive a racial +2 bonus to either the Ride or Athletics skills.
- Forest: Forest dwellers are in large part Elven hunters, attuned to nature through generations of accumulated knowledge and skill. Forest dwellers receive a +2 bonus to either the Acrobatics or Nature skills.
- Marshland: The marshlands are largely uninhabited, but they contain many raw materials useful in working all kinds of magic. Marsh dwellers receive a +2 bonus to either the Arcana or History skills.
- Desert: Desert dwellers are nomadic and tribal, and have learned to read their environment to help them survive the harsh conditions. Desert dwellers receive a +2 bonus to either the Ride or Perception skills.
- Mountain: Mountain dwellers are hardy folk, who have survived by being strong enough to weather the cold and keen enough to make their way through dense blizzards. Mountain dwellers receive a +2 bonus to either the Athletics or Perception skills.
- Canyon: Canyon dwellers are largely Dwarven miners and craftsmen, who pride themselves on their work and love nothing more than seeing a competent warrior wield one of their creations to its utmost potential. Canyon dwellers receive a +2 bonus to either the Arcana or Athletics skills.
- Construct Country: After the defeat of The Six Great Wyrms, the sentient soldiers they created were left without masters or a home. Despite calls by many Paladins for their extermination, cooler heads prevailed, and they were exiled to a stretch of what had once been the forest that was now decimated by the war. Construct Country is exclusively home to Orcs and Gnomes, and its residents receive a +2 bonus to either the Bluff or Athletics skills.
- Cities: The cities of Sanctum have two layers. On the surface, there is prosperity, wisdom, and the power of the aristocrats and politicians that make up the higher echelons of society. Below, however, there is a seedier side, where the poor of all races are forced to scramble to survive within the walls. City dwellers gain a +2 bonus to either the Larceny or Diplomacy skills.
While there is a common language in Sanctum, each region has its own individual speech. Many prefer to speak in the regional tongue than common, and look down on those who have to resort to it to function. This stigma does not apply in the cities or marshlands, however, as they are chiefly made up of people from across Sanctum.
Plains society is largely agrarian, with a feudal system in place that benefits the walled city of Tel Phonen. The manual work tends to produce strong Barbarians, but the level of patience and knowledge required to run a farm also means that Plainsmen are often capable of mustering the dedication required to become Monks, Paladins, or Sages. Tel Phonen is the home of the Phoenix’s priesthood, and eligible women from across the continent are sent there annually to see if they have a chance at becoming Avatars. Unfortunately, the sheer number of prospects means that many are inevitably turned down and left far from home with no means of supporting themselves. It’s not unheard of for women such as these to simply disappear, as prostitution, sex slavery, and sentient trafficking are very prevalent concerns within the walls. In addition, the rather steep class divide and nearly omnipresent racism means that there are a large number of Orc and Gnome Rogues hiding in the shadows, keeping an eye out for anyone whose wallet could be the difference between eating and starving.
Forest society is rigidly hierarchical, ruled from the treetop city of Alilei by a body of 12 female elves called the Uliren – Matriarchs in the Forest tongue. Membership in the Uliren is hereditary, and passed down to the oldest daughter of each Matriarch. Most forest dwellers can go their entire lives without ever touching the ground, should they choose to do so, and make natural Rangers and Shamans. Elven craftsmen generally have a friendly rivalry with the Dwarves of the Canyon, whose intricate but clunky mechanical creations contrast with the elves’ elegant natural constructions. Individual villages are generally granted autonomy by Alilei, but must pay the appropriate levels of respect to the nobility. Unfortunately, forest nobles are frequently corrupt, incompetent, or both. Any noble caught abusing their authority is subject to rapid, brutal punishment at the hands of the Uliren, and so it is not uncommon for nobles to hire Rogues and Sages from the lower classes of Alilei to do their dirty work for them. The forest is also not particularly welcoming towards outsiders, who frequently require a native guide to avoid being eaten by the many resident predators.
The humans and dwarves who call the mountain their home have three great passions: meat, ale, and combat. A mountain man hunting for his dinner would rather pit his sword against a polar bear than lower himself to sneaking around with a bow and securing more manageable prey. Needless to say, they make excellent Barbarians and look down heavily on anyone who would rather devote their time to more intellectual pursuits. The clan leaders are generally Paladins, for whom justice takes the form of wiping out the other clans as punishment for an endless series of wrongs dating back to before the war with the Wyrms. Mountain society is highly decentralized, consisting mostly of individual clans locked in constant combat. The closest thing to a capital city is Drake’s Roost, a trade hub and truce zone overlooking a cliff at the top of the mountain. Heavily guarded merchant caravans flock to the city from the bottom in order to barter for the spoils of the clan’s perpetual war. These spoils generally include captured slaves. Slavery in the mountains works very differently than it does on the ground – slaves are encouraged to try to escape, and if they succeed, society praises them for their ability while mocking their former master for his weakness.
Canyon dwellers, largely dwarves, take pride in their craftsmanship above all else. To them, there is no higher honor than seeing one of their creations in competent hands. This ethic leads them towards support roles such as Tacticians and Paladins. Society is largely mercantile and is regulated by the colossal Craftman’s Guild, headquartered in the city of Uth Vatmos. The Guild settles monetary disputes and provides protection for craftsmen and merchants in exchange for a cut of their profits. There have been rumors circulating for decades that the Guild is the reason that protection is required in the first place, but shops that spread this talk tend to find themselves going bankrupt. It’s not uncommon for particularly successful craftsmen to purchase slaves, treat them as apprentices, and then release them once they are able to produce satisfactory work. The business disadvantage is more than counterbalanced by the pride in one’s ability that comes along with such an act.
The nomads of the desert, mostly halflings and elves, have grown incredibly skilled at evading the hazards of their environment, from sandstorms to creatures to the sun itself. They are largely isolated due to their low numbers and the inhospitable nature of the burning sands. Desert dwellers who leave their home for one of the other regions frequently find work as assassins – aside from maybe the Forest Elves, there is no one stealthier than a Sandborn. There are several ports along the seashore that enable trade and contact with the other regions, but the most notable is the great sandstone keep of Khafital. Protected from the elements by elven enchantments and maintained by halflings small enough to fit through the many tight spaces, Khafital is both a welcoming beacon and a nigh-impenetrable fortress. Many desert dwellers have left the sand on board merchant vessels from Khafital to seek their fortunes on the seas. These merchant ships carry a large portion of the trade between the Desert, Canyon, Plains, and Forest, and run necessities from the mainland to the islands.
Construct Country is as hard a place to live as any. The resident orcs and gnomes live on a charred wasteland where very little grows. Much of their diet consists of fish from the nearby sea. The orcs and gnomes have a rather complex relationship. On the one hand, the orcs need the gnomes to give a pleasant impression to outsiders who still bear a cultural against them for their involuntary role in the Wyrm War, and the gnomes need the orcs to provide them with physical protection against the many nasty creatures that inhabit the wastes. On the other hand, the gnomes are as constantly frustrated by the orcs’ love of battle and insistence on discipline as the orcs are by the gnomes’ constant chatter and desire to avoid combat. In any given clash between the two, the orcs usually come out on top due to their sheer physical power, but it’s also quite common for gnomes to trick their larger cousins into giving them exactly what they want. Many Constructs find themselves turning to piracy to make ends meet, while others attempt to eke out livings as mercenaries, con men, and other occupations that nobody else wants.