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Essence: A Bit of Fiction, and Stuff

So, here we have a bit of fiction I’ve been working on. It’s intended to be an introduction to the setting/gamebook for my Essence Campaign Setting. So, here is a telling of the Legend of Nera of the Emerald Blade. I hope you enjoy.


Essence 20

Welcome to Essence. This ever-expanding record is meant to give form to the many, many stories of the realm. When I put the Essence RPG together, I plan to put all of these together as chapter headers. For now, I just hope you enjoy them, and maybe come to understand why I love this setting I have forged with the help of dearest friends.


“Where did it come from?” she asked in wonder gazing up into the leaves of the Golden Oak.

“No one knows for sure,” he said gazing at her. “It has stood since before the Mists fell.”

She reached out, paused, and then touched the tree with something between
reverence and awe. “It is… it is so beautiful.”

He thought he saw a tear appear at the corner of her eye, but that couldn’t be true. Solnyr do not cry – everyone knows that. “It is. It is one of the Great Gifts, the true wonders of Tyrce not made by man or nyrian or diathen. Not that diathen make wonders, of course” he added this last with a wry smile.
She didn’t notice his smile – she just gazed at the intricate veins of purest gold that ran through the bark. “It has gold – I thought humans were greedy for gold. Why have they not stripped it bare?”

Garek reached a three fingered hand to the great tree and gently stroked it. “It isn’t really gold. It’s Orichalcum – the Keerians call it Golden Jade. Neither tool nor essence can cut it. When the bark falls of its own accord, the men send their priests to gather it and melt it down to make Crown and Sceptre for a new Empress. The Tree only gives them enough for each coronation.”

She turned to him, wide-eyed – more emotion than he had ever seen from her. “Then – then the tree was made by the Gods as proof of the Crown’s claims to the Mandate?”

Garek looked thoughtful, turning his head from one side to the other. “Yes… and no. No one really knows where it came from, but if the legends are to be believed, the Tree was forged of purest love and honor – as was the Silverleaf in Sheria and the Heavenly Willow in Keer. If you want to believe the legends, then all were wrought of the same love. Would you like to hear the legend, Ale’ah?” he tried to sing the title as she had sung it, but he knew he had butchered it. He was a Weaver of Essence, not a singer. Only a bard could hope to do justice to the Solnyr tongue.

She didn’t seem to mind. In fact, Garek was certain he saw a faint smile at her lips – although whether it was amusement, curiosity, or affection that inspired it, he would never dare to guess. She sat, putting her small pack to her side and gazed up at him. Her legs were crossed at the ankle, and her chin rested on her knees. The posture looked uncomfortable to Gerek, but he had seen it often enough to know that it meant attentiveness in a Solnyr. “They will not trouble us if you tell me the tale here, under the tree, will they? It is sacred to the humans, isn’t it?”

“It is – and to my people, as far as that goes. But they know we cannot harm it. It is eternal, and no mortal thing can bring it harm.” He looked into her eyes, smiled, and told the tale.

Long, long ago, before the Mists fell, there was a great warrior named Nera Greenblade. The way they tell it here, she was a Minosian, but I’ve heard it told with her as a variety of human races: a Sherian, a Keerian, a Bseri – once, I heard the tale with Nera as a non-human – one of the sidhe, I think. I don’t believe that. She was human, if she ever was at all. Which race of humanity she came from is only important to humans.

She was not clever, or beautiful – or even pretty, nor was she possessed of might or mystic power beyond the ken of humans – but she was a true hero. Nera saved the lives of many over and over again. When the fey lords went mad and went on a Wild Hunt, she protected her fellow humans. When the fey retreated, she protected the goblins and other sidhe from the vengeance of man. She fought for peace always – but she always fought. Often with her long emerald blade, but when she could, she fought with words. Do you see?

She was proud – and rightly so – of her prowess, however, and often boasted that no woman or man could best her among fey or nyrian or humankind.

Tales came, however, that there was one man who perhaps could – a lone hunter in the Icy Wastes north of where the Terrison Holds are today. Far, far north where the Ice Bears and Frozen Lizards hunt one another for food and sport, there was a man called Kalah the Last – one of the ancient Sil, the ones humans call Dragon Men.

When Nera was confident that Fey and Man would be at peace for a time, she ventured north, seeking Kalah. It is said that she searched the frozen north for a decade seeking him out, but I don’t believe that part. In the end, she found him, and challenged him according to ancient human custom. Kalah, who knew nothing of human rites new or old, merely gazed back at her, enraptured, for she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, for a dragon’s eyes see no beauty in form, only in spirit. Kalah had never seen a mortal maid – his whole life was ancient war and the hunt, and he fell immediately in love with her, and he would not fight her. He would not harm her, and vowed that as long as he lived, he would never let her come to harm.

Nera tried to fight him anyway, but her months – I think it must have only been months – in the Icy Wastes had finally made her frail. She collapsed, and Kalah was at her side, stripping off his furs and wrapping her in them. He then carried her for a day and a half to his cabin, using his fiery breath to keep her warm. He spent a year nursing her back to health, caring for her every need. She taught him the Human Tongue, for there was only one such language before the Mists. He taught her Sil, the ancient language of his people. They hunted and sparred and lived together for a decade – and span I believe. They had found that rarest of treasures: true love. In fact, I do not think they would have come south at all, but something terrible happened.

No one knows exactly what it was, but something… horrifying happened. Some sages say it was a tear in the very fabric of the Realm. I do not know if I can believe it, but one story I heard from a traveler in my old village – which he claimed to have seen on an ancient tablet in the Imperial Museum – was that a comet burning brilliant green had rent the night, and the invaders had come from beyond the Realm of Clouds, from the stars themselves. The legends say whatever it was lived on fear and pain and misery, and that they had not pleasure but to spread it. Wherever the terror had come from, it threatened all the races of Tyrce with its malevolence. The Gods had forged the Diathen from the greatest animals of the wilds to aid humans and nyrians in battle against them, and the combined force of humankind, the diathen, and all the nyrians together, even standing with the Choir Celestial, were no match for this Legion of purest evil.

A young girl – most versions make her a chacal or one of my kind, but I don’t think it matters – found the two greatest warriors in the north, and told them what was happening with her last frozen breath. Kalah had no love for the peoples of Tyrce, but he would not let Nera face the Legion alone, and so they went, far again to the south.

The two great warriors first met the Legion north of the Chraestalwood, and in that battle, it is told that the combined force of Nera’s Blade and Kalah’s Spear – called Soulsaver – rent the back of the World Dragon, leaving the Rift – 1,000 feet across and bottomless, still seeping the evil of the Legion blood spilled that day. They fought the Legion through the Chraestalwood, joined by the forces of human and fae and nyrian and diathen as they went. In that great battle, Kalah sustained many wounds, but his vow to protect Nera never failed – she was unscathed, all the way to where we stand now, after a full week of constant battle.

Where we are now – that is where Kalah made good on his promise to protect Nera until he died. An arrow, bound with a dozen demon souls, pierced Kalah’s heart, and put him past any power of healing by mortal or god.

He fell, and told Nera he loved her with his last breath. Nera fell to his side and held him, covering him in tears turned to something more than gold, wrought from despair and true love.

At first, the Legion was nearly giddy, feeding from her abject misery – until one sought to touch her, to mingle her misery with physical pain as spice. That one fell, writhing and dying – and the others who had fed on her misery began to fall as well, poisoned with her purest love.

Then she rose to her feet and turned. It is said that no creature has seen true rage since that day. She raised Soulsaver in one hand, and her Emerald Blade in the other, and let out a scream that Zartinus, the Dark God/Goddess of Vengeance and Storms him/herself echoes to this day in the sound that follows lightning when it tears across the sky. It was a sound of pure sorrow, pure misery, and pure vengeance.

Nera swung her blade end felled armies. She thrust Soulsaver and drove back hordes of the Legion. The combined forces of humans, faerie, diathen, and nyrian could only follow her, mopping up the survivors.

She fought for a full year, across the whole of Minosia, across the Dreamsea, into deepest Sheria seeking only to avenge her fallen love, and when she felled the last of the Legions, she screamed again. She cast he sword and Soulsaver away from her, and where they came to rest no one knows. She fell to her knees and said only ‘It is done, my love.’ Then she began to cry tears of Mythryl, and her broken heart took her to the Gods.

Where Kalah fell, the Gods planted a new tree, and fed it with Nera’s tears of orichalcum, and this Great Golden Oak grew. Where Nera fell, the Gods planted another great tree, and fed it with her tears of Mythryl, and thus The Silverleaf grew. Where Soulsaver struck the ground in Keer, before vanishing into legend, they planted yet another tree, and fed it both orichalcum and mythryl tears, and the Heavenly Willow grew with its leaves of adamant.

The whole of Tyrce mourned,and even the Dragons wept bitter tears. In their infinite mercy, the Gods brought the Mists so that we could forget the horror, but they left enough clues behind so that we could remember the lives and deaths of Nera and Kalah – and so that we could understand the living monuments left to Honor, Love, and Just Vengeance.


Of Campaign Worlds and Game Systems

Huh. I seem to be picking up daily views with only bi-monthly content. I wonder how much more views I would get if I published more often… Which is very meta-site and entirely off the point, which, outside of the title of the post, I haven’t even gotten to yet.

While tooling away at Elements, I’ve become more and more distracted by campaign settings of Game Masterings past. Two settings in particular: The Essence Setting and my 1,000 Storms setting. I don’t view these distractions as a bad thing. I’m trying to design a game system where both of these very different settings can be used equally. I’m not sure it’s possible, for a number of reasons I’ll eventually get to, but I sorta want to try. The real problem I’m facing is that I’m not sure if I should.

I suppose I should talk a bit about the settings and their differences before I dive in. They’re both fantasy settings, and neither one is set on Earth (I find I enjoy having geographical freedom when designing campaign settings), although 1,000 Storms is similar to a dystopia cyber/diesel/Martial Arts-punk Earth, and Essence is… well, complicated, these days. So, before I get into my issues, here, then, are (sadly very brief) overviews of two of the campaign settings I’ve run games in in the past.


This one is kind of tough to summarize… It evolved out of some of my earliest gaming, and reached its apotheosis (so far) while I was in High School, gaming with friends, most of whom I still keep in touch with to this day, some 17 years later (wow… I’m getting older…) Back then, Essence was pretty straightforward. It was a non-standard High Fantasy setting. Although it missed out on the Elf/Dwarf/Halfling/Orc paradigm, it contained (and still contains) several other fantastic races, from the aquatic Myralnyr to the fae Daoine Sidhe to many, many others. A lot of the world content came from that age-old campaign, ans involved a great deal of player input.

Now, Essence has grown to monstrous proportions in my mind. It has become a genre and epoch crossing setting, divided into time periods that, within them, cover just about every genre of play except any sort of Earth Historical. The time period we were playing in back in those old high school days has shifted towards Dark Fantasy crossed with Indiana Jones/Tomb Raider-esque exploration. A lot of mythology has developed, mostly based on ideas that came up while sitting around a pool table in our friend Joe’s basement.

Basically, it’s a Fantasy setting that contains within it many other genre with greater or lesser degrees of Fantasy attached to it. The Essence Heroes of the original game have become permanent Historical (even Mythological) fixtures in the game in much the way characters like Eliminster and Mordenkinen and scimitar-wielding Dark Elves became fixtures in other, more commercially successful fantasy settings I could mention. Meanwhile, if only in my mind, the setting has continued to grow.

One of the underpinnings of the setting is the Essence – various different energies that act sort of like a combination of the classical Elements of Alchemy and The Force from Star Wars – they are a source of power to the talented and/or trained, and suffuse everything. Essences come in flavors, some familiar (Earth, Wind, Water) some less familiar (Sun, Moon, Life, Death), and some that I think are fairly unique or at least very rare.  Essence suffuses the setting whether the time period calls for High Fantasy, Magipunk, Super Heroes, or what have you. Were a mage plucked from one point in history and placed down in another, his or her magic would still work, since it’s all based on the same energies. Thus, even cross genre play is made fairly easy.

The Essence Setting started out as an Advanced Dungeons and Dragons setting, but the classic games were played in GURPS. I have also used 3e and 4e Dungeons and Dragons for the fantasy portions of the game.

1,000 Storms

This setting is very different, and was partially inspired by the Final Fantasy game series. Well, sort of.

The world it takes place on – Storm – is a fallen one. People hide from the ravages of the wild in domed city-states living under strict population controls in a caste system. Only one sport – Blood Ball, which has weekly body counts in the low teens – is played. All forms of martial training are outlawed and vilified, but some few families still train their children in secret, and some rare wandering masters still take students under their wings. The price for getting caught is dear.

1,000 Storms has a lot of themes: Lying just to Live, Opressive Government, Conspiracy, Privacy (or the lack thereof). The setting is part J.R.R. Tolkien, part George Orwell, and part William Gibson, with a healthy dose of Jet Li. Or something like that.

1,000 Storms was originally run using a diceless game system that I had come up with that I don’t think I ever came up with a name for. It was very story driven, and the system itself involved developing characters from childhood. Character Creation was integrated into the game, and it was supposed to be tough to tell when you were done making your character; in a very real sense, you never did finish character creation.

1,000 Storms could work in another system – that’s not the issue – but I really wish I could find, dust-off, and try again with that old homebrew. I think it had a lot of potential.

Should I go On?

So, here’s the thing I’ve been grappling with: should I go on trying to create a single, universal system? Or should I skip the single universal system idea and get more… specific? I want a universal game system, but it has occurred to me that there really is no such thing; will any system that runs Essence well also run 1,000 Storms well? Is it even reasonable to hope that it could? Probably not.

I maintain that gaming is essentially System Agnostic – you can play any sort of game you want with any sort of system you want. That said, some systems are better suited to some things rather than others. You can, for instance, do completely story-driven, combat-free play using the full ruleset of GURPS, with 500 point characters, well defined super powers, and all the combat stats you could want, but it isn’t the right tool for the job. You’d be better off with a system that was a lot simpler in structure.  Truth & Justice, maybe.

So, I don’t know. I’m seriously considering trying a campaign setting specific system. Any comments?

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