Tuesday, April 26, 2016

23 Things About Assassins of the Golden Age (Part One)

We’re finally heading into the final portal for our Ocean City Interface campaign. That’s a multiworld, shared-character game using Action Cards. The group uncovers secrets as they shift from one portal setting to another. In between they return to the "real world" and deal with the struggle for reality taking place there. So far we’ve done Sellsword Company, Neo Shinobi Vendetta, Masks of the Empire, Sky Racers Unlimited, and now Assassins of the Golden Age.

This one’s possibly the craziest. It’s a mash-up of many,  many concepts, informed by my recent reading of Renaissance history…which I then disregard. The setting jams together Assassin’s Creed, Mage the Sorcerers Crusade, Lace & Steel, The Golden Compass, 7th Sea, Demon the Descent, The Three Musketeers, The Gameshouse, and more. As I’ve done for the previous portals, I assembled a “23 Things” list to present the background. The player who chose the portal developed some of the entries after I drafted the skeleton. This list’s longer than most so here’s the first half. I added a tl/dr summary note to the end of each entry. 

Pirates. Masked Balls. Legendary Artists. Musketeers. Virgin Queens. Papal Power. Italian City States. Strange Inventions. Dark Superstitions. Swashbucklers. New Sciences.

This is a Renaissance, but a strange one. Europa presents an amalgam of the age, an alchemy of incidents and eras blended together. Within that you and your fellows strive to protect the world from utter destruction. You are Assassins of the Golden Age.

1. The War: Few remember The War. It tore the world apart, shattered landscapes, erased families, shifted rivers, destroyed institutions, and rewrote history itself. Those who can recall it say they fought over Magick, but it wasn’t over that alone. The War encompassed control and freedom, order and chaos, tradition and inspiration.

Magick existed and had changed the world for generations. It did so hidden and out of sight; often at odds with temporal authorities. Such power remained in the hands of a few, those awakened to it. It isn’t that people didn’t know or believe in magick. They showed that belief via hundreds of superstitions, practices, and old rites. They knew the power of this low magick. But when they actually witnessed True Magick they responded with fear and disbelief.

This magick grew in the shadows, and over time new groups and circles emerged across the globe. In Europa, likeminded mages formed large and elaborate institutions. They believed themselves true heirs to magick, practicing the proper methods, and possessing a correct understanding of the rules. Then they came into contact with others outside Europa- sometimes peacefully, but often with suspicion and hatred. From this arose a new understanding of what magick represented.

Races of magick existed like the Fey, the Old Powers, the Wanderlands, the Djinn. But unlike those, humanity could personally create magick by imposing their will and belief upon the world. It required iron self-control combined with a specific understanding of the universe. And each magickal circle and tradition believed they held the true secret, the true code. That reality we call their Paradigm. A paradigm describes how a magician understands fundamental structures. Some might think magick comes from a central force of linked consciousness, others that it operates via a complex cypher, still others that it comes from spirits imbued in the world itself, and even more distant others that it derives from dreams.

From the magickal groups' struggle a split developed. On one side stood the Covenants. Each possessed a strong fundamental paradigm, but also a willingness to accept other’s practices as possible (though flawed). On the other side grew the Order of Reason. They came to believe only One True Way could exist. For some this came out of honest belief, but others felt such a paradigm gave them greater power and control. The Order’s true way based itself on science, reason, and an objective universe. They would set these rules as the only ones operating in the world, excluding other methods and nullifying them. The conflict grew as rising technologies and demonstrations of science pushed out beliefs based on subjectivity and superstition. Magick can change reality and that led to a fight bewtween those who want that a scientific reality and those who want a sorcerous one. 

2. The Truce: Then came The War. Both sides claim the other fired the first shot. Regardless for seven years magickal forces struggled across the world, with Europa as the heartland of the conflict. Massive Land-Fortresses rumbled across the countryside to battle Giants called down from the icy mountains; golden dirigibles clashed with squadrons of broom-mounted magi; massive repeating guns attempted to mow down angelic hordes sent to lay waste. The armies unleashed magicks both powerful and subtle: rewriting reality everywhere. History changed overnight. Now there was no Hapsburg Dynasty, now the Papacy shifted to Rome from Constantinople, now Henry VIII had a horde of sons to take his throne.

But the war screeched to a halt as reality fought back. It twisted and undid these changes, partially, inconsistently, dangerously. Mages began to recognize the power of belief and perception. They discovered witnesses to an event imposed their own vision on the world. So if a mob believed in magick, they could weaken the pull of technology. If they’d seen the fruits of science, they could pull down magick. But because the populace remained skeptical of each side, both failed. This failure created backlash, called Paradox. Paradox struck the magi, tweaking destinies, transforming forms, and summoning radical forces to destroy them.

It would be the Siege of Atlantis finally shattered the world. None can say who besieged who, but the sheer magickal might created an explosion of backlash and paradox that swept everywhere, changing everything. This was The Reckoning. Atlantis vanished into legend, new nations appeared, cities shifted, and languages evaporated. Only the magi and a handful of others knew the world had twisted and been broken. Many on both sides died or had been depowered. Those left standing from the Order of Reason and the Convenants struck an uneasy truce. They ceased open hostilities. Now forward battles and wars would happen quietly, behind the scenes. The conflict shifted into the shadows with agents stalking through enemy territory, striking, indoctrinating, and researching with equal vigor. The war between the Order of Reason and the Convenants changed the world and now there’s a truce.

3. A Panoply of Sides: Many describe the conflict between the Order of Reason and the Covenants as one of Science vs. Mysticism. But other issues are at stake, especially the question of Control vs. Freedom. The Order wants to establish regularity. They claim such systems will reduce dangers and problems. It can insulate the world from dangerous creatures and forces like Demons and Faery. Of course that means control and power. Yet some among the Order exalt individual freedom, at least for the superior person. A small number wish to distribute power to the masses. At the same time, some among the Covenants want to yoke the world to their own paradigm instead of science. Some factions have deep hierarchies to keep members in line. Some possess different levels of tolerance, acceptance of the foreign, ideas about equality. Individual members within a circle may defy expectations. The battle isn’t just science vs. sorcery, it includes control vs. freedom and other issues.

4. Your Mission: The struggle between the Order of Reason and the Covenants continues. Both contain good people who believe in using their magick for betterment. But others work to gain an edge, find a way to seize control, and bring about another war. Those people have to be stopped. That task falls to you. Each of you is a Wizard or an Ordainer, drawn into the service of the Invisible City after a betrayal at the hands of your fellows. Now you move back and forth between the sides, crafting identities, uncovering plots, and dispensing final justice to those who wish to destroy the world. You possess magick, though you may not appear magickal. You may manifest your talents as unerring accuracy, incredible physique, mastery of disguise, leaps of faith, or unearthly luck. You secretly work to keep the two sides from getting out of control.

5. Knights of the Hours: The Invisible City rescued you. Each of you found yourselves betrayed, murdered, or on the brink of death. At that moment the City brought you to its streets and made you an offer. You would have a new life and a chance to strike back at those who shortened your days. In exchange, you would maintain balance: protect the world from those who would push it to the brink again. The Invisible City reaches into all cities, allowing you to move swiftly between them. More importantly the city quietly reshapes the weave of the world for you. Some of you still possess your old identities, appearing to have miraculously evaded your fate. But others instead have a newly spun history. The City crafts new identities and covers as you undertake missions. It makes these out of revised memories, new families, and a new lives quietly threaded into the tapestry. Depending on time and investment, these may last for years. You serve the Invisible City which can quietly change reality to create cover identities for you.

6. The Covenants: While both sides once had many circles and factions, seven remained to each after The Reckoning, while only five survive on each side today. The Covenants or Traditions are called Covenanters or Traditionalists by others. They call themselves Wizards. These seven traditions have different names and alignments in different places. In Europa, the five are: The Order of Hermes (Hermetics), The Akashic, Dreamspeakers, The Quiet (Ahl-i-Batin), and Verbena. The ORDER OF HERMES represents traditionalism. They seek freedom to carry out magick within their rigid hierarchy. The world is governed esoteric and subjective principles. For them, Magick is its own end, and they have mastery over the sphere of Prime. The AKASHIC focus on personally channeling energies. They believe magick comes from the wheel of reincarnation and rebirth. Akashics perform striking physical actions with their mastery of the sphere of Force & Motion. DREAMSPEAKERS represent more mystical traditions, travelling to other realms, bargaining with magickal beings, and binding manifestations to their will. They believe our world is only one spiritual and illusory realm among many. Dreamspeakers have mastery over the sphere of Spirit. The QUIET came together out of besieged and shattered traditions. They see all things as connected and interrelated, symbolically, sympathetically, or literally. They affect change at a distance and slip through the world with their mastery of the sphere of Correspondence. Strange bedfellows comprise the VERBENA. Originally drawn from older Pagan traditions, they absorbed many religious Wizards who rejected the Order. They can be wild and unpredictable, often holding to the most ancient ways. They have mastery over the sphere of Nature. The five factions of the Covenants share a common belief in sorcery, but each believe they know the correct way.

7. The Order of Reason: The practitioners from the Order are called Crafters or Ordainers. Likewise, five groups remain part of their Order. The DAEDELANS focus on great works. They’re known for castles, estates, and fortresses. But they also craft massive machineries with singular purposes. They were among the first to consolidate the Order of Reason and wield great power within it. They have mastery of the sphere of Earth. The HIGH ARTIFICERS work in smaller scales, creating devices, machineries, and clockwork automatons. They’re said to work with stranger materials as well. The Artificers consider themselves artists and take great pride in their mastery of the sphere of Fire. The TEMPLARS blend a conventional religious viewpoint with a conservative outlook on obedience and control. They’re among the most active of the Ordainers, bristling at the peace. They have mastery of the sphere of Body, controlling their own as well as utilizing their arts for stranger creations. While the Daedelans founded the Order of Reason, the most influential faction today is the CONSIGNERS (aka the Guild). They operate through the arts and sciences of finance, economics, trade, and political influence. They play a long game, manipulating circumstances and attempting to control history itself. They move into any gap and space, echoing their mastery of the sphere of Water. Finally the KSIRAFAI (tr. Razors) existed well before the founding of the Order, having arisen out of a combination of old practices, arts, and beliefs. They operate in the shadows everywhere. They have perhaps the most global reach, though quietly. They Ksirafai act as the information gatherers and spies for the Order, building on their own sphere mastery over Mind. The five factions of the Order of Reason share allegiance to science, but each believe they know the right way to impose that on the world.

8. What is Magick? The magick used by the Covenants and Order of Reason works with and reshapes reality. Shared belief governs that, creating a consensual truth. When magi attempt something which appears nonsensical, reality works against it, creating Paradox. Backlash infects the caster, with unpredictable effects. In cities more people have been exposed to science and technology. The Order has an easier time working there with more fantastical instruments and inventions. In the countryside where superstition holds sway, the Covenants have an easier time using the classic instruments like wands and talismans. If you change reality in front of witnesses, their disbelief can create backlash.