Hic Sunt Dracones
Compendium: a quick way to "Hic Sunt Dracones"
Ten things you need to know before playing :
1- Terra Antiqua is based on XVI / XVII century Europe: the Old Empire is collapsing and a New World has been discovered beyond the Forbidden Sea. Black Powder and firearms have been introduced since a century and are not rare anymore. However, as slavery is still common, technology is not really advanced: it is more likely to see slaves enhanced with alchemy or Dwarven surgery than steam engines. Where the Empire ends, the Land Beyond The Borders begins: on the maps it is completely blank apart the mournful warning "Hic Sunt Dracones". The last Dragons are claimed to live there.
2- The Church states that only One God exists. Pagans (i.e. Druids) were exterminated long ago (but some of them might still survive Beyond the Borders). To eradicate Heresy, Witchcraft, Satanism the Church created its own Army: the Witch Hunters (Paladins). They are trained in exclusive Academies and receive powerful relics that grant them special Powers. Clerics (i.e. priests and priestess able to perform magic channeling Divine Power) are extremely rare, they are normally called "Saints" and their magic is called "Theurgy". Most of the Clergy cannot perform magic at all (some of them are bards, others rogues, some fighters, most are mere acolytes). Note: as healing magic is extremely rare, people confide mostly on potions made by herbalists or alchemists.
3- Magic is forbidden. Most of the People consider it Evil. Witch Hunters (i.e. Paladins) are given by the Church the mission to exterminate all magic users (they don't mind the origins of their powers and call all of them "Witches"). PC should be extremely careful to show in public their magical abilities, if they have any. Trading magical artifacts, spell books, arcane devices is a crime (but it is common on the black market). Beyond the Borders the Church has no power, so many magic users (and druids) escaped there. The hard life conditions and the wild monsters eventually killed most of them. Some magic users found asylum in Elven Freeholds or on their Flying Ships or Floating Cities. Elves themselves perform magic with no regards for the Church commandments (they are mostly Sorcerers or Warlocks as they have no patience to study from books). Alchemy is considered a science, and alchemists can do their researches if they respect the Church tenets, however their lust for knowledge can lead to forbidden magic, demon-worshipping and eternal damnation (note: the Old Alchemy - Pristine Alchemy – was heavily influenced by paganism, therefore the Church limited its use, killing the pristine alchemists and destroying all the texts. Summoning Elementals, creating Homunculi… leads directly to the Inquisition's fires).
4- Monsters are very rare. They lives in old ruins, forests or swamps, and are hunted down by rangers who will sell their bodies to alchemists, taxidermists or rich collectors. Beyond the Borders of the Empire or in the New World (the Terra Incognita), is easier to find monsters but it is also easier to be killed by them. In the cities however it is possible to find new specimens of monsters: they are called "Abominations" and they are the results of failed alchemical or medical experiments. Each of them is unique, and desperate and lonely.
5 - Dwarves are based on the Dark Elves of Norse Mythology, not Warhammer or LOTR. They are real inhabitants of the Underground, pale and crippled, cunning and dark minded, but gifted with the ability to craft magical objects, potions and wondrous machinery. Dwarves are normally quite ugly and are extremely sensitive to sunlight. All Dwarves are consumed by a grudge against all the people living Above and they believe that one day they will rule the World again. In the Underground they build amazing cities, where slaves and machines provide all the labor force and Dwarves can spend their time studying, crafting, or scheming against the other races. There are two Dwarves sub-races: the "Black Dwarves", wild and cannibalistic, they swarm in the lower levels of the Underground, fully corrupted by the Powers of Hell, and the newest race of "Half – Dwarves", the offspring of Dwarves and Human prostitutes (female dwarves will never bear a half human child and will induce abortion through alchemy), they combine the best qualities of the original races and have a renowned knack for crime. (Note: "Forged" and "Abominations" are also common among Dwarves and Half Dwarves).
6 – Elves are based on the Sidhe of Celtic tradition: they came from The Land of Youth (Feyworld or Arcadia) and used to dwell in the Forests of Terra Antiqua before exiling themselves in the sky: they built amazing cities over the clouds and travel on the winds with their flying ships. Elves are lithe and graceful, they move fast and talk a lot. They like dancing, singing, drinking, performing magic and stealing. They are mostly traders and entertainers but some of them are Sky Pirates and ravage all the lands beneath. As It is very difficult for Elves to have children of their own, they use to kidnap human babies: these children, raised with Elven food and Elven training, become the "Changelings" (Half-Elf). The Queen of Elves still claim some Fiefs on the ground: these places are called "Freehold" and the Church and the Emperor have no power there: Freeholds became the asylum for any kind of outcast. Not only Elves are allergic to Iron, but they also fear it: an Elf killed by iron will burn like leaves and cannot be resurrected. Otherwise Elves are immortal and ageless. (Note: apparently the only Elf who can perform Divine Magic is the Queen, she heals and resurrects, therefore she is worshipped like a Goddess).
7- Orcs have been deported from the New World, Terra Incognita, as slaves and soldiers and are one of the newest race on Terra Antiqua. They are strong and resilient, with brutal features, sharped teeth and claws. Unfortunately they are all contagious and they spread an unknown Plague that attacked humans, animals and plants. There are very few female Orcs (i.e. Shaman Orcs) as they were considered useless or dangerous by slave traders, so Orcs lost most of their former culture. Anyway, as they are extremely lustful, Orcs mated with humans and created a new sub-race: the "Half Orcs" who are now accepted in the most liberal and modern cities. Otherwise Orcs are hunted down, and must live in the most difficult environments, Beyond the Borders or in Elven Freeholds. Recently some Human Nobles recruited Half- Orcs as mercenaries and granted them small pieces of Land: suddenly Terra Antiqua saw Orc Nobility ruling a Fief (where no one is an outcast and Plague is considered common like a flu). (Note: "Forged" and "Abominations" are also common among Orcs).
8- Demonspawn (i.e. Tieflings) are the offspring of Demons and one of the other races (Humans, Dwarves and Orcs – there are no Demonspawn of Elf-breed). They are imbued with the powers of Hell and often can perform magic naturally. Most of them (but not all of them) are also deformed by a Devil Mark (horns, hooves, a tail and so on). Not all of them are evil. The curse of the Demons passes through the generation and one can display hellish powers just because his grand-grand-grand mother had an affair with Hell. Most of the Demonspawn anyway live miserable lives. And as the fires of Hell burn in their veins, they also die young. Like Elves, Demonspawn can be Sorcerers as magic runs naturally in their body. It is known that some repentant Demonspawn achieved sanctity and were able to channel Divine Power.
9 - Automata (sing. Automaton) are the latest invention of Dwarves: instead of enhancing slaves with mechanical prosthetics they crafted completely artificial beings. Unfortunately not all the Automata were obedient mindless servants as planned: some of them developed a sort of consciousness and reclaimed their own independence. These "rebels" are normally destroyed, but some of them found asylum among the pariahs of the world, in the poorest neighborhoods, in the Freeholds, among Orcs or Beyond the Borders. Most of Automata were made to be Workers (resilient and strong), Assistants (with a huge encyclopedic knowledge) or Toys (i.e. entertainers, mostly made of precious materials and graceful design). They have no culture of their own and must live in fear to be hunted and destroyed by their former masters (Humans and Dwarves). Note: Automata aren't to be confused with Golem (objects animated by magic to fulfill a single task) or with Homunculi (artificial creature made by alchemists with organic components, like blood, semen and human milk).
10- Humans are the ruling race on Terra Antiqua. Widespread and powerful, they occupy all the key places of power (Empire and Church) and consider all the other races inferior. Humans are divided by inner "castes": Nobility vs Commoners. Nobility can own the Land, bear a Sword, declare War. They are not expected to pay for anything and spend their life in petty fighting or endless entertaining. There are many sub-races among Humans like the "Half-Dwarves",the "Half- Orcs", the "Demonspawn" and more specifically "The Forged" (enhanced by Dwarves with mechanical body parts), the "Abominations" (corrupted by magical, medical or alchemical experiments) and the "Lycanthropes" (whose ancestors were cursed by Pagan Clerics, i.e. the Druids, and turn into raging beasts according with the phase of the Moon). Even if they were born Human, Changelings are considered fully Elves and very few of them live among Humans (mainly ambassadors, traders or outcasts). Humans Pc have no class/alignment/background restrictions (Druids are extremely rare and not really suitable for playing, playing a Wizard could be also quite challenging, consider however the "Artificer" or "Alchemist" classes as alternative or, if you bg allows it, "Sorcerer" or "Warlock (Fiend / Faery Patron) classes).
11 - Inspirations….