Apr 24

Hidden Orders

The hidden orders have no official existence within Asterism. They had their start in the days before the Fall of the Elven Empire as cabals or conspiracies, organised on patterns drawn from more conventional Asterist orders, and are sometimes (though certainly not always) religious in nature and Asterist in belief.

They exist to promote particular philosophies, ways of life or viewpoints which are not currently acceptable or legal in society at large. As long as they are not plotting treason or other crimes, they are technically permitted under the Code of Willing, which is not to say that they don't have an easier time of it when they keep their existence secret.

Some hidden orders exist within an actual Asterist order or other socially sanctioned group (such as a merchant venture or Workers' Co-Op).

Mar 02

Plains Citadel of Coriant

An ancient elven castle in the middle of the Plains of Coriant, fought over for centuries. The centaurs were created as troops by one of the battling factions.

The Citadel holds a famous rainbow mosaic of the 27 elven colours.

Mar 02

Magical Creatures

A number of magical creatures have been created, largely by the elves, whose bioengineering skills were considerable in the days of the Empire. Gryphons, wyverns (like a dragon, but with no forelegs) and unicorns are only three of the rare and peculiar beasts to be found in remote regions. More familiar and more utilitarian are the agricultural beasts bred and magically altered from ancient templates.
The most common, perhaps, are medicattle, which produce medicines in their milk and which are largely responsible for the relative rarity of epidemic disease in the Great Land. They are farmed alongside medical herbs, many of high potency.

The couriers of the White clan from over the mountains ride flying horses.

Water horses are used in rivers and at sea as mounts and to tow boats. They are horselike in the head, though sleeker and without much in the way of external ears, like a seal. Their forehooves have been replaced by large paddling limbs with webbed feet, and their hind legs are fused together and terminate in flukes. Their hair is also seal-like, and they have a layer of fat below the skin to keep them warm.

Sparksheep produce a significant ingredient of a primitive polymer instead of wool. They are so called because they sometimes build up an electric charge. Their wool is combined with several different plant materials to make hardwearing cloth or a malleable substance which can be formed into useful items and then set by baking.

Guardian Dogs are large, intelligent dogs used to guard valuables, locations, merchant caravans or people. They stand about rib-high on an average human male. They have been interbred with ordinary dogs (no purebreds were left behind by the elves at the Fall of the Elven Empire, and they had to be bred back over generations). They vary in the degree of their special abilities, but all of them can communicate by a form of simple, wordless telepathy with their handlers (conveying sensory impressions to the handler and receiving commands from the handler such as an ordinary intelligent dog could understand); be magically aware of the location of a number of items or people or of the perimeter of an area that they are guarding; track those items or people or an intruder into that area; and disable fleeing miscreants with their unearthly howl (which affects only those they target). They cannot howl and pursue simultaneously.

Naturally, spells and talismans have been developed to render people undetectable to Guardian Dogs and protect them from their howls. Equally naturally, these are illegal to create, own or use in most places which have the rule of law. Still naturally, this doesn't always stop people.

Mar 02

Lizard People

Height Average: 3'6"/105cm Range: 3'/90cm to 4'/120cm
Appearance The size of a gnome, bipedal, with a lizard tail, gills and a lizard's head, but the torso and hands similar to a gnome's.
Relations with Other Races: Dwarves Allies and trading partners.
Origin Unknown, assumed to be magical.
Location Underground streams and lakes throughout the continent; swamps.

Lizard people are a cheerful, diminutive race who inhabit watercourses and pools underground, plus swamps and marshes near where underground streams emerge. They trade with the dwarves for tools, mainly fishing spears and the like, for which they exchange valuable minerals found in the watercourses. It is speculated that they were created from gnome stock for the purpose of retrieving these minerals, which would otherwise be inaccessible to dwarves, but no historical record of their creation exists. If this is actually their origin, presumably they were created under a highly unusual contract by the Elves, who alone would have had the necessary skill. They speak a language derived from Dwarvish, but with many archaic features.
Because they live much of their lives in darkness, all lizard people learn by puberty to create magical lights which accompany them as they swim, at a short distance so that they do not draw attack onto the lizard people themselves. They also use magic to locate valuables underwater and to hunt their food (primarily fish). They generally do not use much other magic and have a simple material culture.

Several tribes of lizard people inhabit the swamp on the northern side of the Inland Sea.

Mar 02

Koslin Castle

Built after the Union of Koslin at the mouth of the Koslin River, inside a granite sea-stack, Koslin Castle is the home of the joint Realmgolds.

On the southern side, mirrors track the sun and reflect it into light-wells.

The castle is reached by a pair of air-ferries which run from either side of the river. There's also a dock at the base for supplies to be brought in.

At the heart of the castle is a magnificent library, three stories high, filled with shelves and wrought-iron stairs and accessways, the accessways themselves lined with low bookcases (low enough to lean on and look down to the floor below).

The hollowing-out of the sea stack employed a number of dwarven and gnomish craftspeople who would otherwise have been working on the tunnel through the Earth Mother's Rafters. The expense of these craftspeople was frequently brought up by conservative Golds, the Gulfport Herald, and Tried and True Party members of the Assembly.

Jan 09

Hizmay

A mainly desert country made up largely of the Great Dry, Hizmay has historically been a base for pirates preying on the shipping of the Gulf of Koskant and the coast to the north and south of the Gulf. The north coast of Hizmay is known as the Corsair Coast, and piracy and other lawlessness continues there unchecked, but the capital of Hizmay Port, on the southern shore of the Gulf at its western end, is the seat of a Realmgold who has practical control over the gulf coast portion of the realm.

Hizmay is usually regarded as a client state of Koskant (later Koslin), but there are limits to its compliance. The Realmgold's heir is attending the University of Illene, and is generally well-disposed to Koslin, but her father, the current Realmgold, delights in asserting his realm's independence in any way that won't provoke outright reprisals. Occasionally, he miscalculates.

Jan 08

Elves

Height: Average: 5'6"/165cm Range: 5'/150cm to 6'/180cm
Life stages: Puberty 20
Marriage 30-50, average 40
Eldership 81
Life Expectancy 130 (M), 135 (F). A few live to 150.
Appearance: Slim, pale; pointed ears; no facial hair. Metallic-coloured hair after which their groups are named: Silver Elves (mainly northern), Gold Elves (mainly southern), Copper Elves (mainly central). Originally, these were marks of social class.
Relations with Other Races:
Dwarves: Often in conflict over pollution, etc. in the past; now little contact
Humans: Were former slaves; trade with very occasionally, Copper Elves raid humans when they think they can get away with it.
Merpeople: Trade with.
Elves look down on all other races as inferior. Since the Fall of the Elven Empire, they have had reduced contact with other races.
Origin: Ancient race
Location: Northern archipelago, Southern peninsula, central jungles and forests.

Elves use their considerable magical abilities to shape their living environment, such as enormous trees which they encourage to grow into houses. Their historic fights with the dwarves generally involved a dwarvish mine emitting polluted water into the forest. Up to about 500 years ago, when they were more numerous, the Elven Empire extended its hegemony throughout the continent, though its rule was not universally acknowledged (by the dwarves, for example). There was a strong streak of cruelty running through the Empire, including human (and we do mean human) sacrifice to the Moon and stars. This is officially denied by the remaining present-day civilized elves, namely the Silvers of the far north and the Golds of the far south, though it's suspected that some of the tribal Coppers of the central jungles still practice it on occasion.

The Empire elves were divided into three castes, marked by the colour of their hair and other, subtler differences. The Gold Elves, the tallest, constituted the ruling class. The Silver Elves, who had the greatest manual dexterity and sensory acuity and often slightly larger heads in proportion to their bodies, took care of skilled work such as advanced magic, the shaping of plants and animals, the arts and intellectual pursuits, administration of the Empire, manufacturing and trade. The Copper Elves, the strongest and heaviest, formed the labouring class and the bulk of the army (under Silver officers).
The caste divisions were deliberately magically engineered from the base elf stock, and it was possible (though uncommon) to be taken up, or under shameful circumstances sent down, to another caste. This involved a magical ceremony and the ingestion of special preparations which transformed the hair colour, though it did not give the other physical markers. However, this was not just a transformation of the individual; the changed hair colour bred true in descendants.
Interbreeding between castes was strictly forbidden. Occasionally, for the sake of love an elf would go down into a lower caste in order to marry someone of that caste. Any children of the illegitimate mingling of castes who were discovered were sent down to the lower of the two castes.
There is only one historical example of an elf taken up twice, that is, one who began his life as a Copper and ended up Gold (in fact, ended up as the Empiregold). In a time of civil strife, the elf later known as the Red General was promoted from Sergeant to officer, and hence taken up to Silver, when he led his unit back largely intact from where an incompetent Silver lieutenant had stranded them behind enemy lines. (The exact fate of the lieutenant was not closely inquired into under the press of events, otherwise he might have been court-martialled instead of promoted.) He rose rapidly through the ranks because of his tactical brilliance, became a general, and seized the opportunity to become Empiregold, whereupon he was taken up to Gold.
At the breakup of the Empire, the elves withdrew to the forests of the Northern Archipelago and the far South, and the jungles of the equator, with the three castes largely going their separate ways. The Southern contingent was made up of Golds, the escaping remnant of the Imperial aristocracy, with a few supporting Silvers and Coppers. Most of the Silvers elected to go north, taking a larger number of Coppers with them but stranding most of the rest. The remaining Coppers, with a few Silvers left behind in the panic, were either killed by humans or took refuge in the equatorial jungles, where the Silvers became their leaders and the keepers of tradition and magic.
The equatorial elves have lost most, and the southern elves much, of their high culture; the elves of the north preserve the greatest remnant, since the Silvers were always the keepers of culture in any case. The elves tend to interact with other races as little as they can manage. When they do, they are shocking snobs, but not actually malicious; their snobbery is completely unconscious, part and parcel of their disconnection from other people's realities.
Elves in ancient times were extremely hierarchical, and it was considered quite usual for two elves of approximately equal rank to spend several hours indirectly maneuvering to establish which of them outranked the other, based on a complicated code of relationship and attainment, meanwhile avoiding the use of any pronouns for each other since all the available second-person pronouns conveyed hierarchy. The Silvers retain a remnant of this elaborate etiquette, but keep it for formal occasions. There are few enough Silver Elves that everyone knows who outranks whom, so the dances of protocol are a thing of the past, but notable ones are still celebrated in story and occasionally re-enacted.
Elven Magic differs from dwarven in both style and substance, and is rather theatrical, involving a lot of chanting and gesturing. It is strongly bound by tradition; elves do not often create new spells, but the ones they have are very reliable. They are particularly skilled with living plants and animals, though only the northern Silvers retain enough knowledge to create entirely new forms.
Elves, in contrast to dwarves, can see some way into the ultraviolet but can't distinguish colours much below orangey-red. The colours of their clothing and decorations frequently look somewhat "off" to human eyes as a result and may be decorated with patterns that are not distinguishable to humans (or dwarves, even more so). An ancient elven method of keeping information from human slaves was to write in ultraviolet ink, as Hope at Merrybourne discovered. They have 27 named colours, three of which are not perceptible by humans.

Jan 08

Corsair Coast

Though nominally located in Hizmay, the inhabitants of the Corsair Coast are not in any sense under control of the government in Hizmay Port, which is separated from them by the camel-centaur-patrolled vastness of the Great Dry. Their city of Rezinak is lawless and dangerous, a haunt of pirates, smugglers, raiders, slavers and other scum and villains of every description, from every western and a number of eastern lands. The Corsair King (or, sometimes, Queen) is nominally their ruler; this title is claimed by whoever is currently on top of the continuous spitting furball that passes for politics in Rezinak.