Genre Elements: Ancient world/Steampunk/Tiki Nightmare
Intended System: Any Generic
One Sentence Premise: Steampunk Roman Empire in Polynesia
Races: Humans, Golems, 4 Elemental Races based on the 4 classical elements (players may ask to play another elemental race from the Empire's conquered peoples; the only stipulation is that new non-human races must be easily tied to the elements).
Ajaki – Stone children of the volcanoes
Shark like water people (as yet unnamed)
Surus – Bird people of the mountains, allied with air
Zoroa – A fire people who contain the fire within their bodies
Magic: Human – machine magic (mad science), ancestor derived powers and clairvoyance: Non human, magic tied to the element the race is connected to (working like Bending in Avatar).
The archipelago sits south and east of the main continent, a grouping of sixty islands that stretches for many hundreds of miles. It is dominated by its volcanoes and the principle local deity is a volcano god, Ajak, said to be bound into sleep many centuries ago by a sorceress. The other notable feature of the islands are the lush jungles that teem with life.
Thirty years ago the Empire came, conquering the northern half of the archipelago with their soldiers and machines, including their golem legionaries. They built a new city of black stone on the largest isle, naming it after their immortal Empress. The city serves as the main administrative hub, but also as the site of the yearly muster where all eligible males must report to see if the Legions will choose them for a tour of duty. This is generally determined through a series of games and trials. Opinion is split, with many people seeing it as an honour and others as another sign of the imperial yolk. Other places have been annexed to serve imperial interests, Black Water now serves as the main ship yard in the archipelago, constructing triremes and galleys.
The Empire prides itself on bringing civilisation to the islands and it's true that where the Leopard standard flies there are schools and scriptoriums, temples and workshops. There is the roar of industry and the creation of devices. Aqueducts cut through felled jungle transporting water for public baths and reservoirs and new fields grow food for people to eat. Despite this they have done little to win new friends. The Islanders resent their freedom and lands being taken and their children being taken into slavery. They look in askance at the gladiatorial circuit that sends fighters around the island cities to fight for the entertainment of the masses.
The structure of governance has been diluted by the difficulties of forming one cohesive province. Whilst Governor Claudius is officially in charge his authority is dependent on his underlings in other cities, most of whom have their eyes on his job. Being spread out so far has weakened the Empire's grip, allowing the Islanders to plot and plan ways to retake their homes. Most cities are hotbeds of intrigue as Island spies try to find ways to cripple the Empire and the Lidless Eye, the Imperial security service, hunts them down.
The rest of the islands remain free, fragmented into various tribes who remain unconquered only because the Empire's attention is elsewhere, and who all agree they should push the invaders out. However, because of old grudges and inter tribal politics the free tribes have never united for more than a season and attempts to defeat the Empire have come to nothing. There is no tribal capital but one island in the centre of the southern archipelago now serves as an official neutral ground for the various leaders to meet and debate without fear of ambush or treachery. The island is owned by one of the elemental races, the bird like Surus, who take a keen interest in the peace being kept and punish offenders swiftly and mercilessly.
Dangers and Mysteries (A.K.A. Stuff that might turn up in adventures)
In the past thirty years a long, drawn out cold war has developed, with raiding and battles between the tribes and the Empire. For some reason neither side has made much progress in its efforts to either conquer the area or repulse the invaders. There are spy networks on both sides, attempting to find an edge in the conflict, something that's complicated by the fact that both sides are keeping an eye on their allies as well as enemies. In addition, the continuing confusion has been a boon to the pirates and brigands that lurk at the archipelago's edges, allowing them to raid and steal to their heart's content. (So the conflict and its fall out basically)
As the Empire encroaches further into the jungles new rumours spread that an unknown people are striking back, many of the 'rebel' attacks against logging and new farms are nothing of the sort and the Islanders mutter about the forest god's children. So far there is no evidence that anything inhuman is causing the problems but that might change.
It is rumoured that one of the old volcano cults has reformed and is seeking the descendent of the sorceress who bound Ajak in sleep. Their purpose is not known but there is a belief that they wish to reawaken the volcano god.
One question the Islanders ask is why the Empire went out of its way to conquer the archipelago when it's so far from home. Even the Imperial citizens don't seem to have an answer, but dismiss it as part of the Empress' design.
The Island culture and the culture of the invaders are vastly different. In the Island culture the world of ancestors is close and favours can be asked of the dead if you know how to do so. Most of the tasks of life are equally shared between men and women, including warfare and tribal chiefs are elected from the people of the tribe. The tribes are primitive, using hand crafted tools and fighting with spears and axes. More advanced weapons have been stolen from the Empire over time but are still rare.
The deities of the Islanders are Ajak the volcano God, Aya the Queen of Seas and Lellar the Forest Deity, who is also called the Hidden. Both Ajak and Aya are placated in fear of what they could do, though the binding on Ajak has robbed the island people of much of their fear of him. Besides the gods they honour their ancestors, offering up food and goods to keep them happy in the afterlife. Their magic is based on asking their forebears to perform tasks for them, whether that is bearing messages, allowing them to see to far off places or to aid them in battle.
The Islanders are tall and dark skinned with brown eyes and black hair. There is little or no variation to this.
In contrast the Empire believes the world of the supernatural is far off, their gods have given them the tools to conquer the world and set them to doing so. They believe that anything beyond soothsaying and the craft of their hands would be inviting trouble. Even their machine magic is stolen, legends say the Empress dared the workshops of the Artificer God to steal the secrets of his art, using her stolen knowledge both to make herself immortal and seize power. Despite this the Empire is a patriarchy and outside the imperial court men do the ruling and fighting. The Legions favour the gladius and javelin over other weapons but also employ large artillery.
The imperial pantheon is a sprawling family that holds itself at a distance to the world, judging their worshippers by their actions. It is led by the King of Gods and his wife who consider all others to be their subjects. The Empire has no official magic except for imperial oracles. The machine magic they wield is fiercely protected and goes beyond the works of civil engineering and the creation of robotic soldiers. It is said they can create machines that allow their people to wield the power of the elements.
The Empire's native inhabitants are bronzed and dark haired. Though they have more variation in hair and eye colour blonde hair and blue eyes are rare. Players are welcome to make things up here if they wish to be Imperial but from one of the Empire's subject peoples.
The other people of the archipelago are not human; they are the children of the elements, divided into tribes of stone, water, wind and, most of rare of all, fire.
The Ajaki, the stone people, are born from the living rock of volcanoes and take their name from the god of their birth place. Tall and brutish, they are not equipped to understand the ways of technology, any tools they use are grown from the volcanoes that are their father. The Ajaki can focus their elemental essences to make themselves stronger and tougher in battle and to use the earth itself as a weapon. They are sought after as warriors by both sides. When the Ajaki die their bodies become statues, standing rooted to the spot for centuries after their time.
The Ajaki live in cities inside the volcanoes themselves, tending to the stones they eat and bathing in hot springs. They have specific caves to serve as nurseries and workshops, where new members of the race can awaken and grow from the rock and where new tools can be crafted in a similar fashion.
A close relation to the Ajaki are the Empire's unliving golem soldiers. Unbeknownst to all sides and even to the men who make the golems, the robotic soldiers tap into the same element as the Ajaki albeit in a more refined manner. Whilst they do not have the combat abilities of the stone people the golems elemental natures comes in their ability to repair themselves and other machines. Whilst most imperial officers don't even consider that the golems can think for themselves, in reality the machines have learned to play dumb and some have taken the advantage of the complex waterways and sprawling islands to desert the legions in search of their own destinies.
The water people are akin to sharks, keeping themselves aloof from the doings of the surface people as much as possible. They have been drawn into the affairs of the islands only by the arrival of the Empire either in the form of the aftermath of the sea battles between the two sides or because of the embassy that has been established on the surface above the metropolis carved into the rock below Moon's Bay, a semi circular bay that catches the light of the moon particularly well on the nights of full moon. Using the power in their blood, mystically inclined water people can control the waves, heal the sick and purify water.
In addition to the ocean the water people are tied to the moon in a very intimate manner. Their moods often reflect this, waxing and waning as the moon does. Moon's Bay is said to teem with life under the full moon as the water people release criminals, captives and creatures bred for sport and rip them apart in a frenzy. Whilst the water people can travel on land they need to immerse themselves in water once a day in order to keep themselves hydrated.
The Surus are a race of bird people, who live in the high mountains in small colonies. They were once immaterial beings who could make themselves material to talk to people but at some point their ability to fade back into the winds was lost. They are difficult for humans to fathom as they can be both sombre and contemplative and wild and playful. Often their plumage hints at their natures. Surus who tap into their elemental natures can send strong gusts of wind or throw their voices over long distances.
Despite the tragedy in their past the Surus are frequently inquisitive and like to travel across the islands in search of new experiences and sensations. Humans can find them vexing after a while as they are either too still or constantly moving. Almost all Surus can sing and often play a musical instrument (often a bellows powered as their beaks often hinder them playing other wind instruments).
The Zoroa are the fire people and they do not come to the islands in great numbers. They are ashen skinned, smoother but no lighter than the Ajak, with fiery hair and eyes. Their fire is held within their bodies, peeking out through eyes and mouth at times. They have a reputation for wisdom and good counsel but are swift to anger and destructive in their rage. When they die the Zoroa burn away until there is nothing left as their inner fire expands outwards. Those who can manipulate their elemental natures use their powers to spread warmth and light as well as the obvious combat capabilities (the Zoroa themselves dislike using fire in combat, having seen what it can do).
Of all the elemental races the Zoroa are the most allied to the Empire, most of them have come to the islands as imperial subjects. They are an insular people, content to serve the Empire and worship the great fire. Those Zoroa who are native to the island often share the Ajaki's homes, tending to the lava there in what seems to be a relationship born of convenience rather than anything else.
Fauna and Flora
This is pretty standard for the proposed area (so south east Asia really). There are a lot of monkeys, goats etc, and some big cats and things like komodo dragons. Horses are rare, being imported by the Empire but otherwise being alien to the islands. They are a very precious resource, and sell for much more than people.