From Burning Wiki
BURNING CHALDEA, PLAYERS GUIDE
The action takes place on a small prime material body in a cosmology loosely based on the traditional Dungeons & Dragons trope, albeit with some big pieces missing, some other pieces added, and some familiar pieces that fit together a bit differently.
Until recently, the known world was ruled by a great warrior named Kordaava. Kordaava gained control of the world by allying himself with a young, but powerful, Egyptian deity of evil named Set, who provided him with an army of demons that no mortal force could stand up to. These demons are stationed around the world at various important palaces and seats of government --- what these demons do next, with their commander fallen, is the opening scene of the game.
The known world is roughly the size of the Mediterranean region of Europe, with a large sea (or small ocean, if you prefer) mostly surrounded by land to the north, east, and south but opening up in the west toward The Great Sea. To the north lies a vast land of varying terrain stretching from the great sea in the west to the Garnon Forest and Mountains of Treve in the east. Prominent cities are Saratov, Astrakhan, Larkt, Port Kar, and Lanai. Saratov was the capital of Kordaava’s empire and all of these cities lie along the coastline or major waterways of this region. These are the major cities of this time.
Circling south past the Garnon Forest lies a large arid plane of mediocre quality with only one settlement of note, a small fishing village recently renamed Kordava, the birthplace of the historic figure who was born here. To the southeast lies the Cloudforger Mountains from where the dwarves ruled centuries ago. To the south, the Mountains of Chaos and Murnia, a land populated by the strangely alien tenders of deep vegetative lands.
To the west, almost as a stalwart guardian against The Great Sea, is the large island of Perrin, home of the best shipwrights of Chaldea and numerous dragons.
No one is quite sure what lies beyond The Great Sea except for the feared agitars, enemies of all races and masters of lightning, who dominate the skies from their pegasi mounts --- at least when no dragons are about!
Not much is known about Chaldea prior to around a millennia ago except that the dwarves ruled the plane. In those days the dwarves primarily lived on the surface and mined for mineral wealth that was readily accessible with only modest effort. They built magnificent fortresses above their mines and had plenty of elbow room to spread out and live peacefully, with occasional tufts amongst clans, primarily over trade disputes, family lineages, and mineral rights.
THE GREAT WAR BETWEEN DWARVES AND DRAGONS
And then the dragons arrived and began their great war against the dwarves. The dwarves at the time had only a modest tradition of combat, before the days of the great warrior Clanggedin, and the might of the dragons was awesome. Over the ensuing decades many of the great dwarven citadels were destroyed and their wealth plundered. But the dwarves learned quickly and retreated more deeply underground, refining their abilities at warfare, fortifications, and stonemasonry.
To step up their efforts the dragons created the kobolds, small humanoids with a fierce spirit who could easily fight in the spaces too confined for dragons. But the kobolds lacked strength and finesse and did not evolve quickly enough to suit the dragons. Realizing they needed tougher minions the dragons began scouring other planes for armies which they hired as mercenaries or simply impressed into service. Many of the mercenaries were humans or of the various humanoid varieties: orcs, goblins, ogres, ettins, dogmen, and so on. Dragons skilled at magic tapped into the enchanted nature of the Garnon Forest and other places where the veils to other planes were weak and summoned monsters to wreck havoc. During this time of exploration the dwarves began to believe the threat was over until massive armies arrived and began carefully organized assaults against all of the remaining Dwarven strongholds.
When the dragons took the Throne of the Gods for their own it appeared as if all that were left was a mopping up action. And then came the great betrayal --- the most prominent and powerful of the dragons rebelled against the other dragons and came to the aid of the dwarves, teaching them powerful magics. His name was Mirithian, the mithril dragon. Some say this is why dwarves love mithril beyond simply the fact that it is so rare and precious.
Mirithian’s betrayal created a domino effect within the ranks of the dragons. Not much is known about the internal politics but apparently many of the dragons had already grown weary of the war and perhaps had forgotten even why they were fighting. Other dragons began fighting each other over territories they had won and races they had subjugated. Still other dragons seemed far more interested in various affairs they had embroiled themselves into on other planes. Some were simply content with “sleeping it off” for awhile.
This great war between the dragons and the dwarves lasted for about one hundred years, long enough for the oldest dragons to become “ancient”. For the past 900 years many of these dragons have spawned offspring to varying degrees and sages have begun referring to the original dragons as elders. Many of these dragons began to think of themselves as above the affairs of mortals.
THE DARK TIMES
As the interests of dragons turned elsewhere these armies from various planes settled in and began warring amongst themselves and each other. This era is known as the Dark Times for many accountings have been lost and civilizations destroyed before they even began. Toward the end of this era some prominent city-states emerged: Saratov, Larkt, Port Kar, Tanai, Perrin, Astrakhan, and within these cities humans established a slight edge over the other races.
Many dwarven communities still remain on the surface, but the “heart” of dwarven culture has receded underground, deeper and deeper. As dwarves went deeper and humans strengthened the orcs and their kin have made good use of the near-surface holds the dwarves left behind.
Appearing on the cultural map during this time---but claiming to have been here all along---are the elves. The sages say the Garnon brought the elves. The elves say they brought the Garnon. Either way, if they existed before this age they existed only in myth and mystery. Whereas other races bend to the trends of power, wealth, and time the mission of the elves has been consistent. The wood elves have come to protect nature, the high elves have come to study magic. (There are no grey elves in this era of Chaldean history on this plane.)
RECENT HISTORY --- A BRIEF ERA OF EMPIRE
Fifty years ago if you would have suggested that a vast empire would arise and bring peace, everyone would have scoffed, “It’s not possible! There are too many races and too much animosity, no one could do such a thing.” That was before Lord Kordaava arrived on the scene. Through an unholy alliance with a young Egyptian deity named Set, Kordaava raised an army of demons from the Swamp of Conn, a dark marsh in the Garnon Forest where the Garnon River flows into the sea. This army was fearsome and none could stand before it. Within a mere 20 years Kordaava took control of vast territory that included most of the known surface world. His conquest was brutal and thorough, coining the phrase (at least in Chaldea), “Join us or die.” His word was law and there was no room for compromise. However, for those who cooperated, there was room for justice and accommodation. Kordaava demanded only servitude and conversion to the church of Set.
Kordaava established Saratov as his capital and during his 30 years of rule the city flourished. A great library was built and sages from across the land were invited to come and study. This library was to grow and flourish until destroyed by Jallakeel five millennia in the future. From Saratov Kordaava rules his empire peacefully as delegates, merchants, envoys, and governors from all over traveled to pay homage, conduct business, enter treaties, settle disputes, and court favors. All the while guided by the watchful eye of the serpent deity.
Suddenly, in the prime of life, Kordaava has died of unknown causes. In this age there is no resurrection or white lotus flower that can bring back the dead, although some deities claim to have such powers.
What will happen next? Will Kordaava’s empire survive? It was established for such a short time that it’s difficult to imagine that it will. Speculation is running rampant.
A great empire covers much of the known world. But it has lost its leader and the future is uncertain. Of immediate concern, what will all these swamp demons do? This overarching question colors every conversation around the world.
The prominent races of this time are humans, dwarves, elves, orcs, and dragons. When the campaign begins there will be guidelines on what races are available to play. [Currently I’m thinking at most one dwarf, one high elf, one wood elf, and the rest humans.] Experienced Chaldean players may recall that I tended to “play up” racial advantages. That was a result of 5 more millennia of evolution. The races of today have advantages, but not as pronounced as they will in the future.
On the surface, humans are now more common than any other race, but they are still the minority. If you count folk who live underground, perhaps orcs outnumber humans --- but who can say? Humans crave comfort and power and due to their short lives they are ambitious and industrious. They have taken well to city life and farming alike. Humans are pretty much as you’d expect, with the caveat that they have to share power more than they’d like to due to the power of other races.
Race Relations: Humans associate commonly with dwarves but sometimes find them patronizing. “If they’re so smart how come they almost got wiped out by the dragons? If it weren’t for Mirithian they’d all be dead now.” “They keep talking about going underground to catch up with their kin, why don’t they hurry up and get on with it?” When humans talk about elves they are probably talking about wood elves (high elves are quite rare). “Elves are eco-terrorists who care more about squirrels than us humans.” “They sure are pretty though---I’d love to do one!” “I hear they’d as soon shoot a human as an orc.” Humans fight and even co-mingle with orcs. Orcs are brutal by nature, which offends more civilized humans, but garners respect from barbarians. “Orcs are brutal, vicious, psycho-paths that can’t be trusted.” “If I’m in a serious fight, I’d rather have an orc on my side than just about anyone.” Humans fear dragons. “If the dragons go on the warpath again it’s us humans that will bear the brunt of the attack!” “Let’s go kill one.”
Out of the five prominent races, the dwarves are definitely on the decline. The dwarves who remain now risk being cut off from their kin who have delved into the earth. This is a topic of much debate over late-night ales. Almost yearly a host of dwarves bands together into a great migratory pilgrimage to “catch up” with their kin through tunnel passages that are becoming longer, increasingly treacherous, and more difficult to navigate. It’s speculated that within a hundred years this trek will become too difficult for the young or elderly. The dwarves who remain tend to be those with strong ties on the surface, perhaps through wealth or status. Some are simply rebels or outcasts. A recent, somber trend has been sterility --- the surface dwarves are losing their ability to bear young.
Race Relations: Dwarves find human company pleasant enough and dwarves will often bless humans with dwarvish wisdom on managing property, wealth, and governance. Dwarves also love to talk as if representing the entire Dwarven race, whether he or she has the authority to do so or not. “Soon you’ll have to manage this plane without us so let me explain a few things.” “Watch out for dragons, they like to use what we call a claw-claw-bite routine.” “Best to keep your wealth diversified so you can’t lose it in one fell swoop.” There is no general dwarvish opinion of elves; the two races have not interacted in a major way. A specific dwarf’s reaction to an elf is going to be random, based on local rumors and the prejudices of associates. “I hear they like forests. They can have ‘em for all we care.” Dwarves hate dragons with a passion. Mirithian is the exception, he is revered. But dwarves tend to conveniently forget that a handful of other dragons helped Mirithian and most dragons of today weren’t even around during the Great War. “Don’t matter if he was alive back then or not --- he’s a dragon and he deserves to die.” “The only good dragon is the one whose head will eventually hang above my fireplace.” Rules changes from Burning Wheel. Chaldean dwarves of this era are not nearly as long-lived, divide all age references by two.
Wood elves are excellent archers and foresters. Almost every forest of note has a major elven colony who tends to the needs of this forest with a mission of protecting its health, including plant life and animal life. This does not exclude humans from hunting or logging, but humans must do so in a sustainable way or risk conflict. Some humans choose the conflict. But orcs are the bigger problem. Woodland monsters are tolerated as long as they are the natural order of things, but if they become too big a nuisance the elves will have to deal with them as well. The wood elves take these challenges seriously and have chosen a difficult path to walk.
Race Relations: Wood elves understand that the best of humans have a strong heart and can be loyal companions, but these are the exception not the rule. “Their eyes are closed to the beauty that surrounds them.” “Allow your trust in a human to grow slowly, no faster than the growth of a tree.” “Few humans respect the natural order of things.” Elves seem to know more about dwarves than dwarves know of elves. Elves recognize dwarves as kindred spirits, their love of stone and minerals is also a love of nature, although it’s driven more by greed and self-imposed ostracism than respect for natural forces. “They were fine stewards of this land when it was theirs---our presence was not required like it is today.” “Never come between a dwarf and his greed.” “Yes, I respect dwarves --- doesn’t mean I’ll eat with them.” Of their high elven cousins wood elves almost never show signs of envy. “The high elves were Correllion’s first born and are therefore first among all races.” “We tend to the health of the world so they can tend to the health of the universe.” Relations with orcs are very stressful as they have no love of nature and, indeed, relish in its destruction. “Humans can sometimes be reasoned with, but orcs are bent on destroying everything they touch.” “Not in my forest!” Relations with dragons are rare for most dragons have no interest in plundering the forest for its resources. Some dragons take to the forest for their seclusion and protection and elves will simply keep their distance. “That’s one neck of the woods we don’t have to defend.”
Rules changes from Burning Wheel. The traits Born Under the Silver Stars and Fair apply to PC elves, if they wish, but not necessarily to every wood elf. [I’m still debating the Grief rules --- it changes my idea of elves but I like it!]
High elves embody the grace and beauty of the finest elves of Tolkien tropes. They are rare, but not quite as removed as what experienced Chaldean players will recall from the future. They share the wood elf love of forests and animals but have dedicated themselves to loftier discoveries: magic and cosmology. They do not have the edge and natural distrust of others like wood elves do, for high elves lead privileged lives---perhaps even sheltered---lives. And their magical, centered nature tends to calm and disarm others, bringing out the higher nature of all beings. High elves have a charming and well-groomed beauty and most will be received in a court of humans, dwarves, or orcs with no delay. Dragons see through this, however, and will treat a high elf however it pleases.
Race Relations: High elves value humans for their industriousness and spirit and are far more patient than wood elves of human foibles. “We must carefully guide humans; their lives are too short to know themselves.” “Humans bring us amusement.” High elves value dwarves for their mastery of artificery and respect their age-old defiance of extinction. “We must be patient with dwarves, they have lost much.” “One should listen to dwarven council, there is wisdom in their simplicity.” “Dwarven greed is as deep as the earth.” High elves understand the hatred and brutal life of orcs. They disagree, of course, but recognize it as pure. But high elves will not waste much time on them. “Seeds planted in orc hearts will bear no fruit.” “We disgust them. Their hatred for us surpasses their hatred for all others, even though they know us not and have not the heart to hate them in return.” High elves have a weakness for dragons as they are the only race that matches high elves in magical nature and aptitude; as such, dragons are viewed with a mix of awe and fear. An elder dragon causes a high elf to look deep inside and ask questions best left unanswered. “We must study the universe and stay ahead of the dragons or they will become the masters of Chaldea.” “We are grateful to Mirithian for turning the tide in the Great War, but we must never turn our back on him.”
Whereas the fairer races are weaker in this time than they shall be in the future, the orcs are the opposite. The orcs of this age are strong and not to be taken lightly. Orcs know no pity and feel little remorse for life’s tragedy, their grief has been twisted into raging hatred of light, life, and their own dark selves. This manifests in the utterly brutal conditions of orc life, and orc is far more likely to be killed by his own kin than in battle against hated enemies. Orcs hate all others because they remind them of what they once were and what they will never have. They hate their masters because of their power over them. They hate humans, dwarves, elves, and even dragons because they are ignorant and blind to the truth of life: life is pain and death, joy is for the enslaved and benighted. “You live a lie, we are truth.”
A thousand years ago dragons were of one purpose, to take this plane as their own. Their war against the dwarves is well chronicled, although they see the history quite differently. Exactly how they see it is outside the realm of PC knowledge but suffice it to say they would not characterize it as a loss! Even Mirithian’s “great betrayal” is merely a footnote. Most will say that they simply lost interest in such a smalltime goal and will wax on about how their current goals (or sleeping) are much more important. Every dragon has different impressions of various races but generally dragons find humans boring, orcs annoying, dwarves greedy, and elves with an overly-inflated sense of their own importance. They only take seriously the gods and other dragons.