Crafty Christmas Day 2: Sunchaser Setting Preview!
Fantasy Craft features six genre capsules similar to what we included in Chapter 7 of the Spycraft 2.0 Rulebook. Of these, perhaps the most obvious is traditional fantasy, which is exemplfied by Scott Gearin's Sunchaser setting...
Rise like the sun, hero, or we will all fall to darkness...
Gather ‘round youngsters, gather ‘round. I know your Da’ taught you about the dark times when all men were enslaved in the Underheart and the Crone wiped her boots in our blood. No doubt Gram’ tucked you in with a story about Longtooth the brave, his beloved Snowblade who died to see us free, Brighteyes who never gave up hope, and of course that wily trickster, the Rascal. Good stories all, and truer than you know, but now I’ll tell you of the world they led us to.
Just over that rise runs the Moru-braid, the greatest of all rivers in the valley, winding together the Thousand-Rivers into a single course. I’m sure a few of you have fetched buckets from it when the wells were low. Named for the Lady of the Moon, it rolls across the lands of men like a lock of Moru’s hair fallen from the heavens. I’ve seen its source and mouth with my own eyes. You there! Your sour face says that you don’t believe, but I know the ‘Braid’s entire course for I rode with the Rascal in my youth! Oh, mention of the Rascal makes you more skeptical, does it? Think, boy. It’s not like he stopped chasing the sun when he got here!
The Moru-braid’s source lies far to the south in the Black Peaks. A pure spring gushes out between great crystals more than twice the height of a man. Fill a skin at that spring and the waters will last you three weeks they are so sweet and filling! Below that lies the High Mirror, yes, the very mountain lake where the Rascal bested the Drake-king in a riddle game and won 300 years of peace for the last of Snowblade’s people. The College of Riddles stands over where the great river joins the Rimewater, and many of the finest mages in the world learn their letters there amid the snows.
Here on the Anmai Plains, the water slows and pools, curling through farms and fields on its way past fair Pahdris, the City of Kings. It is here that men first set foot in the Thousand-River Valley, fighting for their lives as the Crone’s goblin soldiers chased them like you would stalk a lost sheep, knowing it cannot escape you. Ever the general, dour Longtooth lead the goblins to the Moru-braid and taunted them from great rafts, using his own people as bait. A flood swept away Ahset and goblins alike, and at that cost we slept free under the sky at last. The Rascal’s folk, the Jano, found countless ruins scattered across the Anmai like children’s blocks thrown down in a tantrum. They also found the last of the elves. Some great calamity had destroyed the strength of that ancient race and only a final few remained huddled in the ruins. As Anmai welcomed the Jano, so the Jano adopted the elves and these days there is hardly a palace or farmhouse that doesn’t have a bit of that fey blood flowing through it.
The river runs north, turning fierce as a wounded boar when it enters Longtooth’s Roar, the canyons and cliffs that separate Anmai from Gron Ver, the great swamp. There the hero Brighteyes, priestess of the Shai, lead her kin searching for Longtooth and the lost Ahset. Instead she found a battlefield. The Ver is home to more than birds and beasts! Cunning Vessa with shining black scales made war with the mighty Erron, the tree-spirits of the swamp. Even the Erron, who have memories longer than their branches, had forgotten the cause of the feud. Where others saw calamity, Brighteyes saw hope. She taught the Erron and Vessa both the worship and the glory of Avva the Sun-Lord. Uniting saurian and rootwalker in shared faith, the Shai built a nation of light in the midst of the dark waters of the Ver.
Beyond the swamp mists, a thousand miles or more from here, the Moru-braid pours at last into the lapping waves. Here Longtooth’s broken rafts were swept out to sea. Cast ashore like driftwood, he was the first of men to gaze upon the Fang Reaches. Those bitter spires of stone dot the grey waters like the teeth of some fallen drake-god. The Ahset found great carvings along the cliffs and kindred souls in their builders, the Dwarves. Those stalwart miners knew the Underheart and the Crone of old, having themselves been enslaved so long ago. They made a blood-pact with the Ahset to stand together against her creatures and now ply those far off seas as one people.
Yes, we have done well in the years since our flight. We have built cities and empires, colleges and farms, but all is not suncakes and firebloom wine. The Crone has never forgotten us, and with every passing year the omens grow darker. Her goblins stalk the roads by night and the nobles bicker over who should be king. The Century Briar blooms and the Crone’s 99 knights are loose in the land. Ever is she reaching out with her black, black claws to pull us under once more.
So whether you grow up to be a fruit merchant or farmer, wind-knight or sunchaser, you must never forget: the Crone is coming and we will need heroes the likes of the champions of old if we are to remain free!
Traditional fantasy is in many ways the benchmark of fantasy fiction and roleplaying. It speaks to all ages with classic works of young adult fiction like Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain and distinctly adult stories like David Eddings’ Belgariad and Malloreon. It includes many of the most broadly popular fiction series of all time: Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series and of course J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It is perhaps the single most recognized roleplaying genre, adopted as the core ethos of hundreds of game systems including the granddaddy of them all, Dungeons and Dragons.
Three features define the essence of traditional fantasy: a diverse cast of heroes, sweeping landscapes, and escalating stakes. Traditional fantasy makes the hero party its centerpiece, often celebrating characters of different nations, and races if more than humans inhabit the world (indeed, groups regularly include every ‘civilized’ nation and race before a campaign’s through). While not every traditional fantasy protagonist starts out as the greatest or most skilled individual his home region has to offer, most realize this potential in time, and it’s this time-honored progression that lies at the heart of most RPG experience systems. Sunchaser exemplifies this genre with a collection of cultures and races that share a common legacy, allowing players to mix-and-match a wide variety of backgrounds that are already familiar to everyone. Just as helpful, this shared history keeps the focus on beating the challenges the world throws at you rather than becoming embroiled in inter-party squabbles.
In traditional fantasy worlds, the heroes move against a rich backdrop, detailed and compelling both in history and geography. Mountains are higher, plains are vaster, and seas are bluer and more treacherous than the players have experienced. Cities are places of action and wonder and the deep, dangerous wilderness is populated by ferocious creatures and tough, reliable souls. All these places are rooted in exotic stories of past heroes and deeds, incredible tales that influence and often guide the present-day characters’ actions. A common example is travel, which is an important feature of traditional fantasy; over the course of a campaign, the main characters often explore most if not all the locations presented on a world’s map. Sunchaser lays out exactly this sort of heroic sandbox in the Thousand-River Valley, a huge collection of terrain, settlements, and ruins to discover and explore.
The enduring thrill of traditional fantasy is driven by its rising stakes, with stories often spanning multiple books and spawning campaign seasons lasting well over a year. Each challenge tempers the heroes’ mettle but also introduces new and more dangerous threats. While a single hero may begin his journey with the simple task of finding a lost pig, in the end he and his assembled companions often find themselves deciding the fate of the world for generations, if not forever! Likewise, your Sunchaser characters may begin as a free spirits seeking adventure and fortune, but they can quickly advance as key figures in a world-wide struggle against the Crone’s rising tide of evil armies emerging from the Underheart.