Aversill Versus Other Dungeons and Dragons Worlds
In a lot of ways, Aversill is an attempt to bring back some of D and D’s early logic. In its earliest versions, it is clear that the game evolved from a wargame. Basilisks in one room, Fire Giants in the next, a stone in a third that switches the party’s genders around, and no rhyme or reason for any of it. At some point, someone explained that logic, when it applied to these fantasy worlds, made for better game play.
While I agree with this last assertion, I think it can go too far. After all, what makes monsters monsters is that they don’t particularly obey human ideas of normality or logic. Why would a basilisk be in a room next to a Fire Giant? How the hell should I know? I’m not a basilisk. But it goes further than that. At its heart, the question has more to do with whether dungeon design should be based on this kind of logic.
In Aversill, the answer to that question is sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Try it this way, you head off into the wilds and you are approaching the Fade. You start seeing the strewn about—Ruins of cities that no one can name. The question of why ruins and dungeons are everywhere in Aversill is quite simple. Reality generates these things in the Fade as if they were natural features.
A character decides to investigate. He finds the above sequence of rooms (basilisk, fire giant, gender switching stone). What logic would put all those creatures here? Well, all of this is probably the dream/creation of a Loa—a local god, perhaps even so local that it only rules this particular ruin. The creatures in the ruin think that they are alive like any other member of their race, but when pressed (why would you choose to live next a basilisk?), their logic falls apart. But so what?
This is not to say that its all randomness and craziness. Areas of the Fade tend to have their own internal consistency. If you meet a wraith who claims to be the ruler of Damberia, other creatures of the Fade may recognize Damberia and its sovereign, even if the character with the history non-weapon proficiency has never heard of Damberia. Moreover, the Center (and natural beasts like humanoids) tend to act according to a logic that is discernible. In fact, the machinations that most character will be involved in will have their genesis in the Center, not the Fade, for this very reason. Most Delvers (people who go into the Fade in order to bring back magic) think its best just to ignore the politics and relationships of creatures in the Fade.
Some other features of Aversill follow:
Superstition is Real
Using the disease mechanic, the presence of curses makes ‘the world’ a kind of force equivalent to things like traps, hazards, monsters, etc.. Basically, the unknowable forces of magic aren’t just filler in a description. If you go into a temple spoken only of mutters and whispers by the local peasants, it isn’t (just) that the Yuan Ti have resettled the place and are now using it as a base from which to launch a campaign of terror; the place may actually be cursed resulting in the withering limbs of anyone who dares plumb its depths. Most magic, outside the world of at-will, encounters, and dailys, have strange and unguessable side effects to them. The effects aren’t always malicious. More to the point, the occurance of magic has a kind of randomness to it that keeps it from becoming standard fare for the game. My hope is that this will keep the ‘magic’ of magic alive and unpredictable. I also hope that it will keep high level wizards from running away with the game.
The Gods Answer Prayers
Because the Gods are more likely to manifest their power, any of their followers has a chance (albeit low) of casting cleric spells. See Non-Cleric Prayer for more details.
The World is Scary
Basically, the world of Aversill is divided along the lines of the Dungeons and Dragons 4e cosmology mixed with the original 1e cosmology as best as possible. There’s the Shadowfell, the the Fey Wyld, and the Astral Sea. In the 1e wheel, the Shadowfell represents the negative material plane and the Fey Wyld represents the positive material plane. The difference is that by heading away from civilization, it is possible to head into these places without need for dimensional travel. Travel deep enough into the deep dark woods and you are likely to walk into the Fey Wyld. The transition is natural, but it is also gradual. Before one finds one’s self in the Fey Wyld, one is apt to first find one’s self in a forest that is growing ever deeper, ever larger, and ever darker. The peasants are absolutely right to fear these places: if they head out into them, they’ll be eaten. Paths that lead into the the Fey Wyld are called Trods. Paths that lead into the Shadowfell are called Glooms. Paths that lead into the Astral Sea or into the planes beyond are much rarer. People who find them, tend to not survive long enough to give them names.
What should be clear from the description is that Aversill doesn’t have countries like Greyhawk-large areas of human habitation where you are very unlikely to find hordes of hobgoblins or demon-infested groves because, for six day’s ride, the world has been cleansed of all but the most scant representations of evil. In Aversill, there’s a castle, farmland that’s protected for a few miles around the castle, and then a forest where all bets are off. There are roads between some of these places, but other places have no roads in or out and exist insulated from the rest of the world. While there are exceptions to this rule—large walled off cities, gnome academies atop rocky crags—in reality, these places are just as lonely and isolated as everywhere else…they just have a higher quality of life, greater understanding of the world, or just more things available for sale.
Civilization, though extremely divided, is centralized around the ruins of the first colony on the continent. It is surrounded to the North, West, East, and South by extreme desolation. Thus, it isn’t that there is, say, a forest which one may go through as a shortcut. If one wants to go East towards Havack, there is no way, by land, to avoid the barren plain called the Land of the March. One cannot go north without passing through the Glass Wastes or south without passing through the jungle wastes of the Gosh Gelios. Within these Wastelands, one may travel months without seeing civilization.
Most games are styled off a filmic version of Greek mythology where there are 10 gods run by one big guy. In actuality, Greek mythology has hundreds of gods and goddesses as well as thousands of lesser ‘spirits’ that wouldn’t have been considered all that different from Gods by the Greek peasants. Ancient Greek religion resembled, closely, Hoodoo’s system of Loas, or Hinduism and their various avatars. The pantheon of Aversill is closer to the latter two systems. Basically, there are countless ‘spirits’ some evil, some good, some indifferent, and some lacking consciousness.
If these spirits answer people’s prayers, they are considered gods. There are house gods, village gods, and kingdom gods: powerful spirits that watch over a certain area and answer prayers. At the top of this list, there are the big gods like Kord and the Raven Queen, but in reality, there are spirits that are just as powerful as the great gods but who are uninterested in prayer or appeasement. Many of these spirits, especially lesser one’s, have physical forms: a spirit watching over a burial chamber in a dungeon somewhere might manifest as a troll in order to defend its territory. For all intents and purposes, it is a troll. If it is killed, it dies like a troll. In the grand scheme of things, vis a vis the campaign setting of Aversill, the troll is actually a spirit though no one is likely to notice the difference. Who’s taking a census on trolls after all?
The inclusion of hundreds of gods, and especially of Loa, implies that the logic of ecology isn’t really as prevalent in Aversill as it might be in other games. An umber hulk might be just a really exotic animal, but its just as likely to be the form taken by a Loa. One cannot ask the rather obvious question of what the giant snake in room #23 eats when adventurers come to explore the temple, it’s an immortal spirit with only the glimmering hint of consciousness. It’s only manifested as a snake: pretending, so that it has a physical form with which to work its will.
…Or more precisely, lack of cooperation. Not everyone likes each other in Fallen Aversill and not every race is common enough for people to let them pass without notice. The people of Aversill are afraid of their own shadows. They’re xenophobic and likely to interpret the arrival of an Eladrin into their tiny village to be a portent of the gods (and not, necessarily, a good one). Dwarves have fought wars with Elves on and off for centuries. Humans are accustomed to thinking of Dragonborn as mercenaries and raiders. No one is likely to think of a Warforged soldier as anything more than an automaton and if it isn’t accompanied by a Gnome, they will probably think of it as having gone out of control.
Aversill is not a place of a happy metropolises composed of all the races cooperating. If the wood elves catch you snooping around, they’ll lock you in their dungeon. If they want to know what you’re doing at their outpost, they’ll get their answers through torture later.
In most Dungeons and Dragons games, monsters are pretty much just like everyone else. They are evil and they want to eat people, but they’re pretty much human in the way that they think. Even things like trolls and mind flayers are pretty much like people, only wicked and hungry. In Aversill, most creatures, other than human, demi-human, and humanoid races, aren’t just evil in a human sense but inhuman. From a human point of view, they’re insane: abandoned cities full of doppelgangers lounge about waiting for someone to kill and impersonate, hungry not for gold or power, but for a personality to impersonate. Evil monsters wait in underground places, cursed to sit there for eternity, waiting for an invader to kill. It isn’t possible to describe the will of a demon. It is not possible to describe the ecology of a treant. What they do? Why they do it? What they eat? What they do in their spare time? These are pointless questions. Most of these beasts live in a mythical state halfway between reality and dream. They exist only to be part of the story of civilization, but whether that story is an epic or a tragedy is unknowable by even the wisest of sages.
I suppose this isn’t that different from a regular Dungeons and Dragons game, but as the characters are able in Aversill to pass fairly easilly into the world of the Fey, time, distance, human interaction, and even natural logic are less standarized in Aversill. While amongst the mortals, characters may understand the basic laws of the land, but if they head off deep enough in the desert, it is not only possible that they will see great giants lumbering around with cities on their backs and landscapes reminescent of Dali, it is damned likely. The interesting thing about runnning the campaign in this way is that the little merchant man within a village hacked out of the Fey Wyld is not restricted to human logic or emotion. This makes every encounter, especially with spirits and magical creatures, foreign and exotic. My hope is that this will remove some of the banal triviality of interaction with template-like NPCs.