Friday 24 April 2020

The Map of Aclas

Drew a world map of Aclas, for my own use and the players'. This kind of map would be avaliable from any cartographer, found in many major cities.

I might make a more easily edited pixel one? Still, there it is. Subject to change.

Monday 13 April 2020



There is absolutely no solid evidence that points to the existence of Carnifexes. They're a particularly gruesome myth, nothing more. Our anthropologist colleagues like to talk about how the myth of the carnifex fits into the greater scheme of underdark mythoi.

They've helpfully labelled it 'Motif 4A, Possession via Blood Infection'.

The myth of the Carnifex usually describes one of two origin points: The first is the consumption of unclean or 'tainted' meat, from some lightly described fauna. The second is from the ingestion or injection of 'unclean blood'.

Some anatomists have suggested that the Carnifex was the way primitive Underdarkers explained away the dangers of blood transfusion.

After the meat or blood enters the body, the victim will, according to tales, begin to act irrationally - anger, or fear, are the main responses, perhaps adjusted for the setting in which the story is being told. The classic motif in these tales is the victim reporting hearing a whispering in a language they do not understand. 'buzzing at the back of the neck', as one collection eloquently put it.

Some alchemists have suggested that this is linked somehow, to the role that the 'brain-stem' plays in psionic processes. Of course, psionics are poorly understood and possibly best classified as magic. For more studies on Psionics, see Alphon's Powers of the Mind or Simico's Processes of the Spine.

(A scribbled note in the margin: 'If you can find a copy!')

On with the myths. As this whispering increases in intensity, the victim begins to display both increased appetite and debilitating nausea in turns. This often leads to vomiting and irritability. While the increased appetite is certainly an outlier, the consumption of ordinary 'bad' meat can be linked with nausea, certainly.

Myths are reticent to fully describe stages beyond this, however, the condition is repeatedly described as carrying no risk of fatality.

One account collected from an isolated hamlet in Caudann (a region of the Underdark populated by a varied group of the native folk, and crossed by many underground rivers) has more to offer:

'The flesh boyls, and becomes twysted. They are as clay yn the Carnyfexes clawes.  Now, There ys No Hope for the poer sod. Burn theyr effects and consygn them to a deep grave.' 

This suggests infectiousness. If Carnifexes are representative of a real disease, it is surely an easily transmissible one. This hypothesis does rely on 'folk wisdom', however. I must reiterate the lack of actual evidence for any of this.

Reports from the Kessek Expedition that suppose to record the later stages of Carnifex infection are almost definitively false. Kessek (unwelcome in most universities already, by that point) describes one of the Expedition's porters developing 'a distended jaw' and 'clawed hands'. A fanciful explanation for a negligent loss of personnel, I would wager.

A further note. We shan't bother further printing any of Kessek's writings, for most of them are obviously either fabricated or plagiarised.

While a disease that seriously affects the behaviour of an infectee and causes extensive physical changes would be of serious concern, i highly doubt such a thing could exist under the sun - or indeed, beneath the earth.

Friday 3 April 2020

The Steel Mace

On Aclas, Paladins are not linked to religion. Their role – as the violent defenders of their faith – is occupied instead by the Orders Militant of the Church of the Maker, clerics and faithful who enact good old-fashioned violence in the name of the Pantheon.

Digression: The Pantheon

The ‘Gods’ of Aclas are not really considered to be true gods. They’re regarded more like saints or bodhisattvas, ascended mortals who are exceptional and ‘holy’.

There’s 48 ‘Aspects’ ranging from Thieves to Oaths to Destruction to Healing, representing the Divine Portfolio of The Maker. When the Maker left Aclas some 10000 years ago, she gifted these aspects to the people of Aclas. Or, they were stolen, it’s hard to say.

Either way, the Aspects have been occupied by successive mortals since then – when a person dies and ascends to the Astral, they can challenge an Aspect for their position – for example, the position of Aspect of Thieves is based on whether the aspirant can ‘steal’ the position from the previous holder.

Every Aspect has had at least three holders by now, some as many as twelve. The most recently ascended Aspects are Atalan, Goddess of Invention, and Torc, God of Thieves, each of whom ascended within living memory. In life, Atalan was the inventor of ‘Vis’, the magical fuel which powers all of Aclas’ steampunk shit. She invented Vis only 40 years ago, and achieved apotheosis only 28 years ago. It’s entirely possible a party playing in Aclas might have members older than some extant Gods.

When an Aspect is dethroned, their Clerics don't immediately lose all their magic, the Aspects in question just lose the power to create new ones. 

Some Aspects have been in their positions for a long time. Yxamor, the God of Destruction, was one of the first five dragons in life, and has held the position since his untimely and surprising death 7000 years ago.

Back to the Orders Militant

Mostly consisting of people D&D5e would class as Clerics, Fighters and Rangers, the Orders Militant are your go-to folk for violence in the name of The Maker.

Most of the time, this is directed against Demons, Voidlings, Evil Spirits, etc. Historically, it’s also been directed against the not insignificant portion of Aclans that don’t worship the Maker (either preferring her legendary enemy the World Serpent, or denying her Godhood outright).

As such, the Orders Militant are kept on a tight leash these days.

Still, some Orders operate without oversight, and without much control. One such Order is The Steel Mace.

The Steel Mace

This Order Militant operates under the Faith of Ysault, the Goddess of Rulership. Ysault is a long-standing goddess, and a very cunning one. In life, she was the last empress of a mighty empire called Argonne, which has long since been consumed by the Mercurial Wild.

Her clerics are usually the ones administering rites of coronation, confirming noble weddings, and basically just generally being lackeys to the rich and powerful. They’re usually fairly disdained. All Clerics of Ysault must respect the wishes and commands of their societal betters. If a king commands it, the cleric must carry it out. They’re not really PC material, to be honest.

However, a small, unmanaged subset of Ysault’s church operate in pretty much the opposite manner. Found only in covert cells, spread across Etra and Zymech, the Steel Mace are a group that work to exclusively topple corrupt and unfit rulers.

Rumours suggest they had a hand in deposing the Zyrna Dynasty of Ziracaa, in toppling the ancient monarchy of Hevashim, and, more recently, they have been accused of helping to spark the Iskorian Civil War.

Whether these whispers are truth, no member of the Mace would confirm. They live their lives covertly, speaking the ancient Argonnish language amongst themselves as a form of code. They’re in almost every major city on Aclas – cells have been reported as far afield as Cordiss and the City of Ghosts.

Despite their Militant nature, the usual purpose of the Mace is observation. They identify a cruel, arbitrary or just downright evil ruler, and slowly find their way to that ruler’s territory, over the course of three years.

Then, the small incitements start. Your new neighbour wonders aloud who would replace the local Baroness, were she to fall ill. The big man down at the pub complains about the Count’s latest skirmishes with his neighbours. A young postwoman accidentally delivers someone’s letter to you – a damning indictment of your town’s mayor.

All of these people are members of the Mace. They are creating the idea of a world without your corrupt ruler. And if they do their job well, pressure is applied, and the ruler’s ways are changed. Or, the ruler is changed. Either way, the Mace win, and your new neighbour moves away in a few years, you stop seeing that big man down at the pub, and that young postwoman changes route.

But sometimes corrupt rulers simply crack down, or revel in the attention. And then, the Mace put on their cloaks. These cloaks are a bright, sunshine yellow, Ysault’s holy colour.

You wake up one morning to see your new neighbour leaving his house, clad fully in plate mail, with a silken yellow cloak.

The big man stands up from the bar, goes up to his room, and comes back down in chain mail and a yellow cloak.

The young postwoman carries no letters, instead, she wears gauntlets and a breastplate. And of course, a yellow cloak.

All of them are carrying steel maces.

And they advance as a group – maybe fifteen, twenty of them. They assault the corrupt ruler’s holdfast. Ysault’s magic and their own skill with weaponry is legendary.

And, if all goes well, the next morning, the town crier announces that the Baron’s niece is now in charge, or some new mayor has been elected. And the people shudder, and move on.

Obviously, the powerful hate the Steel Mace. Any cells that are uprooted are usually driven out or executed. Those that the Mace protect, the ordinary folk, are nervous of them – nervous of the idea that all the great revolutions of Aclan history were just the machinations of Militants in saferooms. Can anyone be sure either way?

In truth, the Mace themselves do not know. Their records are scattered and imprecise, due to their decentralised nature. But they view their task as a sacred duty, and they do not let mere fear or isolation stay them from toppling those who abuse their power.

Magic Items of the Steel Mace

Cloak of Hidden Intent
(Requires Attunement)
This cloak has a powerful enchantment that can be activated by speaking the command words, which are: ‘Repel all seekers of my name.’

Anything wrapped in the cloak – including you – becomes indistinct and unidentifiable unless the target can succeed on a Wisdom Save when perceiving it.

The dimensions, nature and appearance of whatever the cloak is touching become indistinct and hard to remember. Like a dream, you know what they look like when you see them, but as soon as you look away, it slips from your mind like sand through your fingers.

The only thing the cloak cannot obscure is the object or person’s weight. Plate mail still feels as heavy as plate mail, a Kobold still feels as heavy as a kobold.

Most Cloaks of Hidden Intent have non-replenishable charges, designed to discourage their wearers from acting in haste. Only high-ranking members of the Steel Mace have cloaks without a limit on the number of uses.

These cloaks are always a bright, warm, yellow colour.

Mace of Justice
(Requires Attunement)
Maces of Justice appear to be plain steel maces, of a fairly unremarkable design. They are +1 magical weapons, usually, although +2 and +3 variances exist.

They can be activated by whispering the command words to the mace, which are: ‘Swift Death to Tyrants.

Upon activation, the user must think of a single person who has done an act the wielder of the Mace considers to be evil, or worthy of violent retribution.

They have to genuinely believe this. No spoofing the mace. A committed pacifist could not activate the mace.

For the next 24 hours, the mace deals extra damage to the selected target (and the selected target only) equal to the wielder’s Proficiency Bonus. Furthermore, the Mace’s wielder can use an action to have the quickest path to the target illuminated in golden light, which is only visible to the wielder.

As with the Cloaks of Hidden Intent, most Maces of Justice have limited uses.  

Mask of the Obscured Mind
In the past, the Steel Mace have been thwarted by rulers who use magic, psionics or torture to reveal the identities of Steel Mace Militants before they can take action. In one such case, in 1720, nearly 200 Maces were wounded or killed, when the contemporary Monarch of Idraan used a group of Psions. They uprooted a decent percentage of all the Mace cells in Etra. This was crippling for the order, perhaps the reason for reduced presence in recent decades.

As such, high ranking members of the Mace developed these masks in order to take the deception a step further. After an elaborate ritual, a willing creature may place this mask on their face, upon which it will absorb their current personality and memories, and construct for them an elaborate fake life based loosely on their own one.

The creature under the Mask’s effect believes these lies wholeheartedly, to the point where a Zone of Truth cannot detect them.

At a later date, some trigger occurrence – like another member of the Mace meeting you and speaking a pre-agreed code-phase – will cause you to impulsively seek out the Mask, wherever you hid it, and place it on your face, regaining your old memories slowly. This is fairly traumatic, and only the toughest Maces are selected to be ‘False People’.

If the mask is broken, all of your memories come back at once, knocking even the toughest person unconscious for an hour as their brain goes: ‘Uhhh. What?

I think it could be kind of interesting to have a party member turn out to have secretly been a hardcore militant Mace the entire time. Still, this isn’t something you spring on players. Conspire with your players in secret, it’s great fun.

Playing a Member of The Steel Mace

Is fairly easy. Just inform your DM that you want to give this weird concept for a character a shot, and then play a Cleric, Fighter or Ranger serving a god of kings, queens and civilisation. Or, in a setting where the lore isn’t weird, an Oath of Crowns Paladin with a custom Oath.

Spirits and Paladins

Spirits are omnipresent in Aclas. They physically occupy the ‘Otherworld’, an extradimensional space overlaid on Aclas, which can be accessed via portals, or through mirrors on the full moon.
Spirits are essentially magic given form. 

They are similar to, but different from ‘Figments’, the denizens of the Astral Sea (the realm of dreams and the afterlife). Figments represent individual experiences and ephemera; each Figment is spawned from the love, hate, fear, beliefs or nightmares of one particular person, whereas Spirits are more solid, and are influenced by the broad conceptions of all sentients.

This is why Spirits often take the forms of the ‘four elements’, even though alchemists have identified that the world is made of at least 70 elements, with the number rising every year. The Aclan subconscious as a whole has not got the memo that iron isn’t just fancy earth.

The other thing that makes them different from Figments is that they are influenced by subconscious thought, but are not exculsively shaped by it. In truth, Spirits were around before folk, and will probably be around after them. This accounts for certain idiosyncrasies.

Still, people’s conception of what a Spirit represents can shape them:  Dog Spirits, for example, are kind, and loyal. Fire Spirits are greedy, and all-consuming, but have a charming hearthside manner. Earth Spirits are stubborn and slothful. River Spirits are merchants and kings. Raven Spirits are erudite, chatty necrophages.

Spirits cannot act in contravention to their nature. Unlike Folk, who are infinitely mutable, or Figments, who ignore all logic, Spirits are defined by what they are. A Spirit of Pain cannot be a healer.

Spirit Folk
It is a common phenomena for cultures of Folk who settle in the Otherworld to take on characteristics of spirits, and eventually absorb those spirits within themselves, to live in harmony with their soul. They become a people of concepts.

Examples of Spirit Folk include Wizened, who are kin with the Spirits of Fear, Changelings, who are kin to the Spirits of Mirrors and Mist (a dangerous bunch) or Genasi, kin to the Spirits of the ‘Four Elements’.

We have not yet seen Hydrogen Genasi, but they are a possibility.

Many spirit folk reside in Reality, not just in the Otherworld – communities of Dryads (Plant Spirits) can be found across Etra, and all kinds of Genasi live in millions in Arvinia and the moving city of Suryan.

Other well-known kinds of ‘Spirit Folk’ include Trolls, semi-immortal regenerators who worship themselves as gods. It is unknown what Spirits they represent, but suggestions have included Gluttony, Arrogance or Idiocy.

Paladins are those who have made an agreement with a Spirit in exchange for magic. The spirit ‘possesses’ them, more accurately it inhabits their body, increasing their physical capabilities and giving them magic.

The reason that Paladins swear Oaths, is that if the Paladin acts in contravention to the nature of the Spirit giving them power, it causes the Spirit pain. A Paladin sworn to an Air Spirit cannot be a stubborn, set-in-their-ways home bird. They need to be a fast moving, free flowing, unrestrained force of nature.

Aspirant Paladins often consult with multiple Spirits, looking for one that matches their world view.
In this manner, Paladins are a similar class of being to Giant Animals (Spirit Possessed Animals. ‘Dire’ Animals are possessed by Demons.) and Treants (Spirit Possessed Trees).

Paladins are not associated with religion in Aclas. As opposed to the traditional D&D world, where an approaching Paladin implies lawfulness and goodness, the wild-eyed beggar who has just wandered into your town, all the while talking to himself, may be a Paladin of a greedy Earth Spirit, or a destructive Lightning Spirit, or a thirsty Blood Spirit. 

He could just as easily be playing host to a loyal Dog Spirit, a peaceful Rain Spirit, or a docile Cloud Spirit. It is impossible to tell. As such, Paladins are treated with wary respect – it’s hard to tell just what they’re capable of.


To reflect this range of origins for their powers, every Aclan Paladin can choose a different damage type for their Smites, as Radiant might not make sense for, say, a Shadow Spirit or a Forest Spirit.

Furthermore, Divine Sense becomes Spirit Sense, allowing the Paladin to detect the presence of otherworldly entities such as Spirits, Figments, and worse besides.

Channel Divinity gets renamed to Channel Spirit, but is effectively the same.