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 Post subject: Setting Info
PostPosted: Fri Mar 13, 2009 9:41 am 
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This thread is meant as a repository for hard facts about the setting.

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 Post subject: Re: Setting Info
PostPosted: Fri Mar 13, 2009 9:43 am 
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The cities and Ascended society

Grettir wrote:
(The number of cities lies) somewhere between fifty and a hundred.
Ian.Plumb wrote:
In these cities height equates to status. The further from the jungle you reside the higher your social standing. At the very peak of these zigurat cities sit the great temples of the gods, a secret city within each metropolis.
Grettir wrote:
Cities sit atop perfectly circular conical mounds reaching heights of about 400 meters; the sides of these mounds slope upwards at a steep angle of somewhere between 45° and 60° and are sculpted into terraces for cultivating food. Their upper three quarters are also riddled with caves where mushrooms are grown.
The jungle comes to exactly within 200 m of the foot of a mound and does stop there abruptly, unnaturally, rising up like a green wall. On this glacis, a tarry, viscous black oil bubbles up in scattered ponds. This earth-oil is gathered by labourers and brough to the cities, where it is used in lieu of wood to feed cooking fires. For any wood needed to manufacture anything it is still necessary to venture a few hundred paces into the deadly and hated jungle. The same is true for obtaining any meat apart from chicken and small tree-rodents, which are kept in the cities; meat is therefore an expensive rarity.

The cities are populous, 20k to 100k people, and they have not been built by their inhabitants. They, and the causeways, look as if seamlessly carved from a single slab of a very slightly translucent, jade-like material to hard to be cipped by any known means. The cities are labyrinthine, with few actual streets, this function is fulfilled by a maze of interlocking courtyards and walkways. In essence, every city is a single building, the components of which look much like a pueblo (do a Google picture search if you don’t know what I mean).

Also, there’s a large spring bubbling atop every mound, in some sacred temple chamber. It provides water for the city, the flow-off running off on side into the jungle.
The gods provide for their people by: Having given them the mounds and cities and causeways; continually giving them supplies of fuel and fresh water without the need to venture into the junge; keeping jungle and animals away from mounds and causeways. All of this needs to be sustained by blood sacrifices.

As height equals status the component buildings get higher towards the center of the cities, where one finds the towering and sprawling temple complex. Here are the sanctuaries of the gods, the ritual and the sacrificial chambers and courtyards, the facilities of the city administration and government, quarters for temple guards and temple slaves, observatory towers, oracle chambers, and the living quarters where the priests and their key servants live in luxury with their families. The cities are ruled from here, by a coterie of high priests (social A-picks), and the temples are hotbeds of intrigue and an almost unbearable constant jockeying for advancement and position. Behind closed doors, the temples are very worldly places indeed.

The city-dwellers have a strict caste society, without any possibility of social advancement past one’s caste. Cross-caste marriages are expressedly forbidden and cross-caste sexual intercourse punishable by sacrification for all involved.
The lowest caste are the labourers who serve as porters, tend the terraced fields and the mushroom caves, and provide all manner of unskilled labour. The next caste are the artisans, mechants and traders, from the poorest to the richest. The next caste are the warriors, all of whom are either directly or indirectly in the temple’s employ. The top are of course the priests. Outside and below the caste-system are the slaves, mostly owned by the temple.
Caste alone does not always directly equal social status. A rich merchant would be treated with similar deference than a warrior, and a high officer would command as much respect as a low-ranking priest.
All castes save the priests are equally eligible for sacrifice.

Basic clothing is light sandals and loin-clothes; labourers seldomly wear any more. For more elaborate dress a kilt is added, or a kind of sleeveles tunic, or an equally sleeveless vest worn open. Any cloaks are largely representational affairs. Full attire for priests is of course much more elaborate and includes elaborate headgears and often also masks. Tattoos, mostly ornamental and often on neck and/or face, are common among both sexes of the higher castes; each of these tattos has a meaning.

The floods mean that all existing animals are either aquatic, amphibic or else able to fly or to climb and live for extended time on the trees. Consequently, there are no animals suitable as mounts or beasts of buren. Loads are carried by porters, and all travel is done on foot, or in palanquins for priests.

The city-dwellers do not mine, but the gods have in the distant past endowed them with many items of bronze, copper and tin; even though these originally numerous items are painstakingly passed along and recycled, they are now not quite as ubiquitous as they once used to be.
Offensive weapons used by the city-dwellers are daggers, short swords, hatchets, maces with stone-heads, spears, javelins, slings, and short bows. For protection they utilize small and medium shields and bronze helmets of the pot-type. High-ranking warriors might have bronze greaves for forearms and/or shins and a bronze pectoral strapped to the chest.

The city-dwellers are heavy drug-users and smoke a number of different drugs in a variety of pipes. They are likewise fond of alcohol, especially of the more effective distilled type. As the raw materials for all of these recreational substances need to be gathered from the nearby jungle at enormous risk, drugs and booze are expensive.
Ian.Plumb wrote:
The gods have not been seen in living memory and many have pondered whether they ever existed. What is clear to all is that their priests are all to real -- and all too powerful. Their prestige brings wealth, power; everything that is -- is theirs for the taking. But the priesthood itself is the great game, where the initiated vie for control of the great cities. Coups are regular, bloody, and decisive. Support rapidly shifts between those who would challenge to be arch-priest of their city. Other cities meddle in the power structures, seeking advantage within their own walls. And none play the great game better than the women, whose ruthlessness is matched only by their cunning.
Ian.Plumb wrote:
The priesthood rules the city. Within that priesthood, the women are the better players of the games of intrigue that determine power within the enclave.
Think HBOs "Rome".
higgins wrote:
Different (yet essential) functions are given to both genders.
Grettir wrote:
There is one main sacrifice every year, like Ian suggested. Being this sacrifice is the honour that people compete for, and the victim will be some kind of patron-saint of the city for the year to come; he is assisting the Gods in protecting the city.

But he can’t do that alone; he needs helpers, the blood of other sacrifices. On every holy day, a person needs to be sacrificed – and there are about fifty such days in a year. These sacrifices will not ascend to the Gods, they will become a kind of fuel and sustenance for the main sacrifice. Very devout or very community-minded people consider it even an honour to be sacrificed in that way, but most don’t. There are very few volunteers; about 90% of the sacrifices have to come from elsewhere. This source is criminals and malcreants. The punishment for even middling crimes is sacrification. The temple holds cells where a small “supply” of victims is incarcerated for some time, so that they are at hand for holy days.
Grettir wrote:
We don’t need a definite number, it’s sufficient that all players are aware that the number of sacrifices is large, but not crushing. A sacrficie every couple of days, but not daily or hourly sacrifices. Gruesome, but not prohibitive. Part of the priests’ perceived responsibility is to constantly read the portents and question the oracles wether the Gods need new sacrifices to sustain the cities.
Grettir wrote:
For a thousand years, the Gods’ need for sacrifices has increased slowly but steadily. The Gods have forseen this, and therefore they have engineered human society in a way to be a handy and easily accessible supply of potential sacrifices. Whenever the Gods commanded an increase in sacrifices, they have previously done so in omens or visions or oracles – which is of course not to say that the priests have not occasionally sacrificed without direct command, either out of preemptive obedience or just to strike terror into their subjects.

But very recently, something happened that the Gods didn’t foresee – their need for spiritual sustenance through sacrifice has suddenly increased in leaps and bounds. They feared that such a momentuous command would only obeyed if pressed home substantially, and so they re-emerged from the Forbidden City to demand the sacrifices in person.

With the Gods’ new decree, all but the largest mound-cities are brought close to the brink of what their population can actually supply in sacrifices without decreasing; the smaller cities are actually pushed over this brink. Especially in them people begin to ask themselves what this is going to lead to.
Grettir wrote:
(The warriors) are a tool of the priesthood; the mass of the population doesn’t really profit from the warriors’ existence. If the warriors procure the sacrifices that keep the city going they become a vital and useful part of society, and I am for a change not keen to allow them any place than that of enforcers – maybe loyal, honourable and truly devout, but still enforcers.
Jake Norwood wrote:
The warrior class is small, subservient to the priestly class, and has its own rules and traditions but is not adored by the populace.

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 Post subject: Re: Setting Info
PostPosted: Fri Mar 13, 2009 9:44 am 
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Slavery

Ian.Plumb wrote:
I also think we should allow for the possibility of inter-city warfare, particularly as a source of slaves for the city. Where the objective of a raid is to capture rather than kill. This could be quite ritualized, where cities have agreements in place where slaves are returned after (...)
Ian.Plumb wrote:
Think ritualised raids rather than wars with battles. The causeways are the only way of traveling from city to city.
Grettir wrote:
There are not many slaves, certainly under 5% of total population (the ancient city of Rome is estimated to have had no more than 7% slave population). There little slave-trade. Slaves are almost exclusively temple-owned, though the temple leases them and does sometimes even gift them away. Most slaves are captives from ritualized wars with other cities; those are only slaves for time, usually 10 years. Because of that all slaves are reasonably well-treated; they may be punished, but killing them is considered murder, even if done by the owner. They do all kinds of labour, form lowly ones to quite specialized artisan-work. If they are diligent they can expect small tips. Slaves are exempt from being sacriced (they are too inconsequential). They are allowed to speak, but should better be respectful if they want to avoid punishment.
Crow Caller wrote:
Sexual Encounters would certainly happen though they are technically not allowed and are punishable. However I see some masters turning a blind eye.



Believes and spirituality

Ian.Plumb wrote:
The creation myth talks about a war between the gods and the demons. The gods found the children of men and sort to protect them. The demons found the children of men and sought to destroy them. As the final battle approached the gods talked to their priests, whom they loved most of all for their unceasing devotion, and taught them all things and gave them all wisdom. They explained that this final battle would see the final destruction of their age old foe yet the cost would be great -- it would be many years, if ever, before the children of men once again were granted the honour of seeing the gods face to face.
Grettir wrote:
The city-dwellers’ mythology is that they were originally living into the terrible jungles, possible created by an earlier generation of gods (many ancient mythologies held that the current gods where not identical with the creators of the world, whom they overthrew and replaced). When the Gods took over, they created the mounds and led all men into safety. From this ascend to the mounds, the city-dwellers still call themelves the “Ascended”. Some of the Ascended did later turn their back in ingratitude upon the Gods and again descended the mounts to live in the jungle, where they devolved into subhuman beasts; these are, of course, the Descended, whose very name implies that they were once living on the mounds.
Crow Caller wrote:
The Descended hold to an older tradition that teaches that the Jungle was once a Paradise that provided everything for their ancestors, the people lived as one with nature, then the gods came and built their abominations, the Jungles rebeled agaisnt these cities and grew wild and dangerous. Thus the gods are the cause of the problems, not the liberators.



Naming conventions

Crow Caller wrote:
Whilst City Folk (The Ascended) are called by their names, like Pac and P'tah etc. etc. I would like it if Descended were called by their name meaning, like Jade Tear, Running Bird, or Swims like Rock.

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 Post subject: Re: Setting Info
PostPosted: Fri Mar 13, 2009 9:45 am 
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The jungle and the Descended

Ian.Plumb wrote:
It is a vast area, say 10,000,000 square kilometers
Grettir wrote:
The floods are not tidal waves, but they are also not natural, including the seasonal ones. The rivers don’t seem to bring the water from some upriver source, they merely bubble over, like water rising in a bowl that’s filled from below. The rivers’ water level rises dramatically, in a way that can’t be regarded as natural. Water levels rise by about half a meter per minute, sending river water spilling over the banks and rushing into the forest at a speed surpassing that of any world-record sprinter. The water rises to heights of five to ten meters (before the Aswan dam was built, the flood of the Nile reached a reliable seven to eight meter high mark every year, so that’s very feasible) and then stops. Once every few decades, it’s a spring flood, rising to a height of about twenty meters instead. The flood stays at high level for half a month to a month, then it drains away rather quickly, at about a meter a day.

The flood is seasonal, but only vaguely so. Humans have learned to narrow down the timeframe of its arrival to a span of two months, but there’s absolutely no telling when during these two months it will come – the primitives can retreat their youngsters to the trees before this time, but they cannot avoid venturing to the jungle floor for so long a time. With every flood, many hunters are drowned or smashed to their death against trees by the swirling waters. Even worse, there’s also no way of predicting just when a flood is going to rise to epic proportions.

A flood means deprivation to those trapped on the trees, maybe even starvation. And while it lacks the force to break trees, it washes away the soil; sometimes, even a large tree sags down when his roots are exposed, and if that tree happens to carry a human encampment, sends them to the piranhas, crocodiles, and poisonous water snakes and equally venomous palm-sized water beetles below.
Ian.Plumb wrote:
The jungle isn't just generically dangerous, it is dangerous with a purpose. The jungle isn't just dangerous, it is inimical to human life. Over time though the Descended have built their body of knowledge to the point where, in spite of the jungles' design intent, they are able to survive and their numbers slowly expand.
Ian.Plumb wrote:
Everything in the world has evolved itself over time with the single purpose of killing humans ever more effectively, ever more imaginatively.
Ian.Plumb wrote:
People can live in the jungle, eeking out a grubby, sub-human existence.
Ian.Plumb wrote:
Those who live in the jungle are regarded as sub-human by those who live within the cities.
Ian.Plumb wrote:
Descended communities are very tight knit and operate like military groups in enemy territory. To relax is to die. To be distracted is to die. Their unarmed combat skills are exemplary. They are highly adaptive and skilled at using the materials they take from the jungle. Their weapons are made from the bones of the animals that stalk them, laced with the poisons so prevalent in the forest canopy.
Grettir wrote:
The Descended are not usually warlike towards each other, they have enough to worry about without that
Ian.Plumb wrote:
The Descended have a culture but they don't have technology beyond adaptation of the materials they find.
Grettir wrote:
No matter how much they may evolve culturally, the jungle just does hold no room for them to improve their living conditions by even the tiniest bit. Never. Not in a million years. The jungle’s just too inimical to allow space for technological and civilisatory advances that would better the primitives’ existence.
Grettir wrote:
There is no way how even the very best outdoorsmen can actually thrive in the jungle; the struggle for existence needs to be so brutal and unceasing that it leaves zero room for development and advancement. The jungle holds no prospect but naked survival. Nothing else. That’s the price the primitives pay for their freedom. Their existence is reduced to nothing but existing, and even the highly developed capabilities of their sharpest members haven’t it guaranteed.
Ian.Plumb wrote:
The Descended would be actively looking for those city-dwellers who are prepared to risk all to leave the city. Their culture would include the notion of educating newcomers and protecting them until they have acquired the body of knowledge needed to survive and actively participate in Descended life.
Ian.Plumb wrote:
The belief that sustains them, their faith, is that there is a way out of the river basin. Its vastness though and the horrors that are said to lurk at its edges have prevented any of the Descended from escaping the jungle -- and returning. But whether any have actually made it beyond the jungle is unknown.
Crow Caller wrote:
Primitive spirituality (is) something in the lines of gettting back to nature, the Primitives veiwing the Cities as abominations and their gods as tyrants. The Jungle, even though it is can kill you, it also gives life, and freedom.

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 Post subject: Re: Setting Info
PostPosted: Fri Mar 13, 2009 9:45 am 
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Gods, Servitors and Artefacts

Grettir wrote:
The Gods do really think of themselves as divine or at least semi-divine beings and thus follow a strict regiment to prevent themselves from getting “polluted” by contact with the world – masks, gloves, heavy and multi-layered robes, thick-soled sandals, using go-betweens wherever possible, complicated rituals of purification, that kind of stuff.
Grettir wrote:
The gods, a race of man-like beings, have been living in utter seclusion for over a millennium and have completely left the running of affairs to their priests. In their secluded residence, they were attended by servitors, originally men, but altered by the gods either genetically or, probably even better, through selective breeding and ruthless, cruel surgery, to be better able to wait upon their masters. It is first and foremost these servitors, equipped with some of the secret arts of the gods (i.e. magical technology) who are now sent among men to impart the gods’ wishes to the priests and to humanity at large.
Grettir wrote:
(Servitors) are created by administering certain drugs to pregnant human women (not that anybody would know that). Imagine the worst of them along the lines of what you would expect to find in a 19th century travelling freakshow.

Some of their changes may be ritualistic and need not fulfill any practial purpose at all, but you’d usually not see those outside the forbidden city. For the messengers of the gods expect dwarves or giants, people with only one eye in the center of their foreheads, or guys with one or more withered or strangely elongated limbs, or with weird body pigmentation, or no body hair, or missing finger- and toenails, or nostrils instead of a nose, or a second set of vestigial arms, or guys completely without eyes. Maybe even a deliberately created pair of Siamese twins. Freaks, but not beasts.
Grettir wrote:
One or two specific Vagaries to a specific level per device, maybe even with limitations; for instance a Conquer 2 device working only against humans. And maybe no Vagary 3 devices at all.
Grettir wrote:
The devices have more sophisticated and multiple uses, and are extremely hard, or next to impossible, to figure out without guidance.
Grettir wrote:
The gods are not anymore able to duplicate the more impressive feats of earlier generations of gods, but I’d prefer it that they should still be able to maintain, repair and manufacture the lesser items of power.
Grettir wrote:
In the center of the the net of causeways and their mound-cities lies the Mountain. Its slopes, ridled with eyries of deadly birds of prey, rise first gradually and then sheer to a height of 2000 m or more, where they form a mesa, the home of the Gods. A single causeway runs to the Mountain and vanishes in a cleft in its side, a narrow canyon said to lead up to the top of the mesa. No man has ever gone there and returned.

In reality, unknown to all men, it is not a mesa, but a caldera. The cleft in its wall does not go up to the top, but continues all through the cladera wall, to the central caldera valley, which is the true home of the Gods.

“The Mountain” is a common way to refer to the Gods, as in the religious formula “The Mountain has spoken”.

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