Palaethos: City Shard of the Shattered Worlds profile
Palaethos: City Shard of the Shattered Worlds
Palaethos: City Shard of the Shattered Worlds
Exploring the mega-city of a fantasy campaign one neighborhood at a time
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Palaethos: City Shard of the Shattered Worlds

Let's get started

Now that all the "overview" stuff is out of the way, let's get down to business!

Rather than hop all over the Ward 7-5 map, I think it'll be more effective to zero in on specific neighborhoods. That way we're not just generating random elements, but rather cultivating a community.

I have only the vaguest idea of what we're going to find here, but over the next month or so, we'll tease out the secrets of this little corner of Palaethos :)

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Palaethos: City Shard of the Shattered Worlds

A Brief Overview of Religion in the Shattered Worlds

There are no atheists in the Shattered Worlds. The power of the multitude of deities is made manifest through the miracles enacted by those immersed in the mysteries of their faith.

There are 22 churches in Palaethos’s Ward 7-5 alone... a testament to the power and influence of faith upon the denizens of the city. Understanding how divinity works in the Many Worlds is vital to understanding the culture of the city.

True Faith

Not all deities exalted by a religion impart reality altering power upon their disciples. There are some religions that are based purely upon a moral and ethical mandate defined by scripture.

But for disciples of the True Faiths – pantheons of ancient gods enshrined in sacred texts that have stood for millennia – the deep mysteries unlock a profound connection to the deity. As such they become conduits of their will, avatars of their might and glory upon the Many Worlds.

The Gods

The Gods represent the archetypal forms of the values of their worshipers. In this regard, they are very much like the Arcana in that they represent the DNA of civilization. The virtues and fears of a culture will be manifested through the deities they exalt, and through that exaltation, the deity gains dominion over their sphere of influence.

The Gods dwell deep in the archetypal realms of spirit and are intimately connected to their followers. The greater the number and devotion of their congregations, the greater the power they can channel into the world.

Deities are bound by one immutable law... they may not manifest directly upon the Many Worlds. To do so would threaten the very fabric of existence. So in order to exalt the unique virtues or horrors that give them power, they must channel their divinity through sentient beings that are uniquely attuned to receive and direct that power.

The Priests

Not every priest of a True God can wield the power of the deity. The vast majority of clergy are devoted servants who lead and serve the congregations and communities of the faithful. They are knowledgeable, passionate, and dedicated, but cannot manifest the god’s power in the Many Worlds.

Only those deeply immersed in the religious doctrine of the faith, those who have dedicated their lives to understanding the scriptures and embodying the true nature of the deity are worthy vessels for the god’s power. Through meditation and prayer, these avatars of the faith prepare their spirit to align with the deity.

Their favor with their deity determines the which prayers of power they may enact, and acts of great faith and devotion can increase that favor, which deeds that run counter to canonical law will reduce their favor, diminishing the power they can manifest.

God Magic

Unlike mages, divine avatars need not bother with the minutia of reweaving reality nor fear the backlash of Dissonance. They are channeling the deity’s will and as such, it is already in harmony with existence.

However, the mysteries of the faith rigidly defined, so priests do not have the ability to improvise the manifestation of the god’s magic. The prayers of power they enact are carefully defined by scripture and cannot be altered. They may, through sacrifice, discipline, rigorous study, seek to expand the doctrine of the faith to include additional prayers, but this is rare and requires an ecumenical decree to expand the doctrine.

In addition, priests may invoke the Divine Radiance of their deity. This is a raw channeling of power and very draining but is also completely out of the priest’s control. The god determines how the radiance will manifest.

For example, the Radiance of a god of War might immolate the target in flames, giving them a bonus to all weapon attacks for a battle. Later, the same Radiance might infuse a wooden shield to be strong as steel and light as a feather for the same duration. A powerful deity attuned to a fervent and disciplined priest avatar can enact profound transformations upon the Many Worlds.

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Palaethos: City Shard of the Shattered Worlds

A Brief Overview of Magic in the Shattered Worlds

With the exception of the Chyn’tah race, anyone with the will and discipline can become a mage. But, in spite of its potential to heal and protect existence, the pursuit of Magic is a profoundly dangerous endeavor, both to the would-be mage and to the already fragile continuum of reality.

The governments of most shards impose restrictions (akin to regulating the use of nuclear material in modern day) to minimize the potential for mayhem by mages, and Palaethos is no exception. So it will help to understand the way magic works.

[NOTE: For those familiar with it, this system draws heavily upon the Mage: The Ascension RPG]

Altering Reality

The act of working magic is nothing less than temporarily rewriting the laws of reality by sheer force of intellect and will. There are no “magic words of power” that enact wonders if pronounced correctly... the mage must literally reconfigure the individual threads of reality to create a desired effect.

Consider a large and richly embroidered tapestry. Casting a spell is the equivalent of selecting a dozen threads from that tapestry and replacing them with different threads without compromising the integrity of the weave.

As such, the study of magic is actually the study of the metaphysical DNA of reality. These archetypal ephemera have many names depending on the traditions that pursue them, but the most common term is Arcana. Through study and mastery of a specific Arcana, the mage can affect its threads in the tapestry of reality. My studying multiple Arcana, the mage can weave more complex magics that affect a broader range of phenomena.

Reality Resists

Reality is not a static condition or state... rather it is a continuum in constant motion according to very specific criteria. It is a river, not a mountain. So the moment a mage affects a change to those criteria, epic forces begin to work against them to restore the natural order. This is why nearly all magic fades with time and effects of any significant duration require great power to enact.

Now, to extend the metaphor a bit, not only is magic a river, but it is comprised mystical currents of great power channeling through it. If the mage is not meticulous in their reweaving, they can cause a backlash of magical energy called Dissonance. The backlash is often localized (grounding into the mage themselves), but it can encompass a larger area. The scope and severity of the discharge depend on the magnitude of magic being worked and the aptitude of the mage with the Arcana being worked.

The potential for cataclysmic catastrophe is minimal... but persistent through every act of magic.

The Arcana

There are nine Arcana that comprise existence and define the scape of a mage’s power. The sequence of their presentation also represents the flow of the existential river from the highest supernal source down through manifested existence and then returning back again.

-Prometha - the essential “stuff”, the medium through which reality is created

-Locus - the idea of space, distance, and one’s orientation therein

-Tempira - space engenders time and creates a continuum through which it can be experienced

-Corpadra - minerals, chemicals, elements... all inorganic tangible material

-Potentas - the energies that define the interactions of matter

-Vitari - matter infused with energy can engender life... from single-celled bacteria to the grandeur of the Dragon races

-Cogitra - as life becomes complex, sentience is awakened and with it the intricate alchemy of memory, perception, and emotion

-Umbrata - the echoes of the previous Arcana resonate in the ephemeral realm of spirit, creating a distorted dream realm of what might have been, what could be, and the anthropomorphic entities that inhabit those possibilities

-Desorna - the final threshold of all things as they release their essence into the Void to be subsumed back into the primal source to be cast anew into existence

As mages advance in their studies, their ability to influence the Arcana grows. From novice to master, the general progression of effect is:

Perception > Manipulation > Creation > Destruction

So a mage young in their power over the Corpadra Aracana could sense the mineral composition of a rock. Later, they could manipulate the properties of the rock, altering its shape, density, or color. Ultimately, the mage could (temporarily) create a sword or disintegrate a wall.

Improvised and Practiced Magics

For a mage new to their power, all magic is improvised. They manipulate the strands of magic on the fly in order to evoke the effect they seek.

But there are magics that have been worked for centuries, the same strands altered in the same way by generations of mages. These spells – called Rotes - have acquired a place in the flow of reality. While they are still an aberration in the continuum of reality, their familiarity to the reality weave makes them easier to cast with a (slightly) lower chance of catastrophic mischance.

Throughout their career, a mage will cast both improvised and rote magics... but the prudent mage, no matter how powerful, knows to take extra care when “winging it”.

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Palaethos: City Shard of the Shattered Worlds

A Brief Overview of the Races of the Shattered Worlds

There are five distinct sentient races currently thriving in the Many Worlds. All those races are represented in the population of Palaethos, so it will help to understand the character of the city by briefly reviewing each race.

Human (HYU·mən)

Pretty much what you’d expect with all the diversity, adaptability, and innovation that comes with the species.

Jhenni (gen·EYE)

Physical Description: The Jhenni are evolved from an aquatic species and retain some vestigial physiology from those origins. While they speak and eat with their mouths, they breath via gill-like slits in their throat. Their skin bears faint iridescent patterns that are the echoes of scales. They possess four fingers (three primary digits and an opposable thumb) and move with grace and an economy of motion.

In general, the Jhenni physique is lean with an average height of 6’ or taller. Cultural Description: Jhenni society is defined by cultural organizations, be they familial, professional, or philosophical. While individual achievement and expression is celebrated, every individual is regarded in the context of their affiliations to these groups (and their achievements or failures are woven into the tapestry of those groups). Loners are distrusted because they have no cultural context for interaction.

Jhenni are naturally gifted in working magic, particularly Spirit magic.

There are several sub-races of Jhenni bearing subtle shifts in appearance and demeanor.

Urgon (UR·gahn)

Physical Description: Everything about the Urgon physiology is tuned to survival. Their bodies are powerfully built with dense muscle mass and they possess redundant vital organs to sustain the body should the primary organ fail. Not only do they heal quickly, but their bodies grow defensive bone plating over any substantial wounds. Many Urgons cultivate these bone shards, growing “horns”, defensive plating, or bladed ridges, effectively weaponizing their bodies.

Average build for an Urgon is 6’ 2” or higher weighing 300 lbs or more.

Cultural Description: Like their physiology, Urgon society is focused on survival, both of their species and their culture. Work and purpose are prized above all else. There is no “unemployment” in Urgon society and any individual finding themselves without a task will actively seek out productive work. That’s not to say there is no art or leisure (for both are essential to a thriving culture), but they are framed in the larger context of an individual’s contribution to the larger collective. Indolence and ambivalence are subversive qualities. There are several sub-races of Urgon bearing subtle shifts in appearance and demeanor.

Chyn’tah (chin·TAH)

Physical Description: The Chyn’tah are an insectoid race. They are bipedal with appendages – two primary arms and two secondary arms for fine manipulation and balance. Their bodies are covered in chitinous plates that serve as a natural armor with coloring and contour denoting hive affiliations. They are swift and precise in their movements.

Their physiology is extremely adaptive. Cosmetic shifts to blend in to an environment can be effected in moments, while more dramatic alternations to adapt to severe temperatures or toxic environments will take longer. In time, a Chyn’tah can adapt to survive in nearly any environment.

Chyn’tah language is very subtle, incorporating not only vocalizations and clicks, but also scent and physical nuances. As such, it cannot be effectively replicated by any other species. More often than not, conversations between the species will require both participants to understand the language of the other with both speaking in their native tongue.

Cultural Description: Chyn’tah culture is built upon the collective will of the species. A true “hive mind” awareness is facilitated through their meditative practices augmented by narcotics that allow for the individual to merge with the collective. In times of racial crisis (wars, plague, etc.), this merging can result in physical and emotional shifts in the entire species.

Notions of personal property and political boundaries are not natural to the Chyn’tah (which has led to frequent conflicts with other cultures), but they adapt quickly if it means the collective will thrive.

There are several castes in Chyn’tah culture defined by transformations in their long life cycle.

Slaath (slahth)

Physical Description: The Slaath are a bipedal reptilian species, with vestigial tails they use for balance and – if necessary – combat. Their fingers end in talons that some Slaath either sharpen or adorn with razor sharp steel sheaths. They have a neck hood of thick pliant flesh that surrounds head, neck and shoulders that is unfurled and extended in times of great emotion or as a display of power/dominance.

Cultural Description: The Slaath are the most mysterious and insular of the races inhabiting the many worlds. The only known Slaath city is on their home shard of Rhazishad. In all other places they are the racial minority, gathering in the cities and settlements of other races in clusters under a dominant Meta or leader. The notion of “family” is alien to them – only the Quedran (or “order”) holds any purpose or relevance to them, a combination of holy text and life philosophy that shapes and defines every aspect of their lives.

There are several sub-races of Slaath bearing subtle shifts in appearance and demeanor.

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Palaethos: City Shard of the Shattered Worlds

A Brief Overview of the Shattered Worlds

The continuity of reality has shattered. Instead of one Universe, there are hundreds of pocket realities (called Shards) floating in a vast emptiness called the Void. These reality shards are referred to almost ubiquitously as “The Many Worlds” by the millions of sentient beings that dwell within their fragile embrace.

The first step to understanding Palaethos is to understand the basic nature of Shards, the Void, and Riftwalkers.

The Shards

Reality shards vary dramatically in size and composition, but all of them are bound by The Mist, a silvery threshold that completely envelops the shard and separates the tangible reality from the desolate Void. Walk far enough into the Mist and you will eventually find yourself in the Void (which is a horrible death sentence... unless you are a Riftwalker. More on them later).

All shards have a central nexus called a Heartstone. It is said that attuning yourself to a Heartstone allows you to rewrite the rules of the reality to which it’s linked. These are rumors only, but most established shards secure their Heartstones with mighty citadels and powerful guardians... just in case.

There are three “classes” of shard, a subjective classification based on the nature of reality with the shard and their proximity to other shards.

  • Core Shards – Standard physical laws are firmly in place here. The chemistry, physics, and biology of these shards function the same and establish the baseline against which other shards are measured (Palaethos is a Core Shard)
  • Rim Shards – The continuity of reality is more distorted in Rim Shards. Gravity may not work as expected or death may not be the final rest as it is in more predictable shards.
  • Reef Shards – These are truly bizarre realities where physical laws are warped and distorted (often with lethal results)

The Void

All shards are isolated, adrift in the vast desolation that is the Void.

Characterized by distant indigo clouds that billow serenely in the uncertain distance, there is no tangible continuity here. Being that find themselves in the Void can stand on some kind of surface, but it does not linger after their passing. Ships can “sail” through it, floating in the vast nothingness of the place.

To enter the Void is to be doomed to a slow and harrowing death. There are no landmarks, no direction, nothing to orient one’s self. Even if one could stave off the madness invoked by the utter deprivation of the senses, eventually, the fate of all things lost in the Void is to be unmade, the essential elements of being deconstituted into the vast emptiness.

Riftwalkers

There are uncommon individuals that have the ability to navigate the Void. They “hear” the reality shards adrift in the Void and can make their way through the emptiness to find them. These precious beings are called Riftwalkers and they are the only thing that connects the Many Worlds. Communications, commerce, culture... all the essential components of civilization are transported from shard to shard by the grace of these individuals.

Novice Riftwalkers can only transport themselves, but with time, they can extend their ability to include others. Special items called Void Crystals allow them to dramatically extend their embrace. All Voidcraft, from sloops to galleons, are fitted with them to allow their Riftwalker to encompass them (and their passengers and cargo) in their journey.

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Palaethos: City Shard of the Shattered Worlds

Here it is... here's the map that started all this: Ward 5 of District 7.

Let me give you some context on the scope of what we're dealing with...

There are five wards in District 7 (see map with Ward 5 overlayed on the District Map)

There are 12 Districts in Palaethos (see city map with District 7 overlayed).

We're gonna be at this for a while... ;)

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Palaethos: City Shard of the Shattered Worlds

City maps, floor plans, character dossiers, cultural traditions, fiction... an exhaustive exploration of a massive city...

If you're a gamer, a writer, or just into this kind of thing, I can promise you a veritable cornucopia of content you can use in your games and stories (or just be entertained by).

What are "The Shattered Worlds", what is "Palaethos"?

The Shattered Worlds has been the setting for all the fantasy role-playing games I've run for over a decade. It's a story universe where the continuum of existence has failed and reality has shattered into hundreds of pocket dimensions called Shards. They are referred by the local populace as "The Many Worlds".

Palaethos is one of those shards, small by most standards, but it is dominated by a sprawling mega-city that extends for miles.

Where is all this coming from?

Recently, I started running a campaign where the players were part of the City Watch of Palaethos. I roughed out a map of the city and that served for a while, but as the story grew richer and more complex, a more detailed schematic became increasingly more necessary.

But the city is HUGE!

Undaunted, I started mapping 1 ward in 1 district of this incredible city. The result is the file attached to this post.

And it's astonishing how the simple act of drawing in tiny buildings fosters the story of those buildings. As I was scribbling away, my imagination was filling in who lived where, what kind of business that was, and a whole spectrum of details about the streets and neighborhoods I was sketching in.

As I put the finishing touches on the map, my head was buzzing of dozens of characters and businesses and cultures deeply woven into the tapestry of this small part of the Palaethos metropolis.

I know I had to explore it and there was no way my players would have the time (or the stamina, inclination, or hit points) to do it all themselves.

So what to do... what to do...?

That's where WE come in, huh

Yup. I want to share all this stuff with you... the character dossiers, the enterprises and cabals, the floorplans of the bars and universities... all of it. Use it in your games, use it in your stories, let it inspire you the way it's inspired me!

I'll even be sharing the stories that arise during our explorations because make no mistake, I have NO idea where this is going. I really don't. I've roughed out dozens of places, but it's not until you start digging into the bones of an idea that you truly understand what it is you're creating.

So I invite you to join me in this adventure of discovery, adventure, and deep DEEP nerdiness as I endeavor to uncover the secrets of the greatest city in all the Many Worlds!

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Deep Background Profiles

Behind all the floorplans and dossiers is a rich story world fraught with history, legend, and intrigue. By subscribing at this level, you'll get access to supplemental content that provides context and relevance to the profiles that get shared.

  • Racial/Cultural profiles and traditions
  • Subclasses and rules supplements
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In short, you'll understand more of the awesomeness that gets shared in the public feed. :)

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The Stories of the City

Flash fiction, character interviews, and other stories, delivered in both text and audio format!

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Collaboration!

You tell ME what kind of character or business you'd like detailed. I'll work it into the tapestry of the greatest city in the Many Worlds!

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  • Business, Cultural, and Political Profiles
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