State of the blog

I wanted to share a few of my thoughts on the blog.

I think the campaign setting is coming along nicely, and each day it feels a bit more real to me. I think Age of Shambles is an interesting idea that can host a number of stories that will feel different from other campaign settings.

One thing I don't know that I made clear enough—this is all very first draft, which means there are likely to be changes. I'll highlight these changes as they happen, so they shouldn't be much of a surprise. But As I come up with new ideas or new twists on old things, I will update the blog and integrate the new ideas with as little disruption as possible.

Changes can occur based on feedback, too. This host doesn't have a great mechanism for feedback. I'm looking to switch hosts in a couple of weeks. Until I work out my hosting situation, the best ways to get in touch with me are on twitter @BartHennigan or at my email: age (dot) of (dot) shambles (at) gmail (dot) com.

And, because I've been asked, yes, I know what caused the Shambles in the first place. And, no, I'm not telling. At least for quite some time.

Shambles (Updated)

Shambles

Overview

Shambles are quiet varied in their configurations, appearance, and, attitudes. The broad, flat backs of the Shambles are of varying sizes, but most are around 30 miles in diameter 1-3 miles in diameter. Shambles walk on four gargantuan legs, with a slow, rolling gait. Those who live on the backs of Shambles don't notice the gentle roll, but people who are on a Shamble for the first time often get shamblesick for a few days.

Most people call the settlement atop the back of a Shamble a city, but the collection of farms, open land, and houses more closely resembles a large city with a few outlying villages. Sometimes these villages have names; sometimes they are referred to by their location on the Shamble (eg. Southern Andath). Caravans coming to visit a Shamble might very well get atop and then spend a week or two traveling about the back of the lumbering beast trading at various stops along the way.

For more see the Shambles, An Update post.

Movement

Shambles walk at a rough pace of 1 mile every hour. This coupled with the randomness of their routes makes it very hard for any cities to be rebuilt in the land below. The ecosystem of Vernlarum has been so devastated by the Shambles, that sand and dust are the prevailing ground cover. Spots of green dot the known world, but not many. And those that exist tend to be in mountainous areas, for Shambles do not climb into the mountainous terrain. One Shamble, Tagot, has been attempting to climb into the Mountains of Sorrow for a generation but mostly rams his head into the mountainside at a constant rate.

Shambles stop and go at intervals that, if not random, are so convoluted as to be the next best thing. They walk around 400-500 square mile areas over the course of a year. Their migration is reasonably predictable, with just enough erratic changes of course to prevent wildlife or civilization to take root in the less walked places. Each Shamble walks about in its own territory, with no overlap, though they do walk along side one another with some regularity, which gives the people atop them time to trade and interact.

Personalities

Arkers and golem-pact warlocks all say they can commune with the Shambles to varying degrees. They claim the Shambles have different personalities or at least, project different emotions. Many believe the emotions of the Shambles impact those living on their backs. Many also believe those who believe anyone can talk to a giant force of magic and nature are touched in the head and the simpler explanation is the priests are picking up on the emotions of the city and think that is coming from the animated rock or iron. But few argue that Shambles don't have some semblance of a mind of their own.

One thing people tend to agree on is the Shambles have genders. Some Shambles, like Gaena and Bratta, are referred to as female, while others like Mandith and Andath are thought of as male. There is some disagreement from time to time, but such a disagreement is rousing tavern talk and not more. But people long ago ceased referring to any individual Shamble as "it"; "he" or "she" are much more socially accepted.

Defenses

A humanoid attacking a Shamble is like a common ant attacking an elephant—the best possible outcome for the ant is that the elephant won't notice. Early in the days after the Shambling, people tried to control or destroy the Shambles. Some tried to control through inflicting damage upon the creatures. Those attempts all ended with the Shambles shaking the people from their backs or trod ding upon them. Stories tell of aggressive citizens from one Shamble trying to harm another Shamble as the two passed. The damaged Shamble is said to have reared up, at great cost of life to its own population, and scrapped every trace of people from the back of the other Shamble. No one has tried this tactic in living memory.

Power Source

Lightning rods are scattered about the backs of these creatures. These rods are made of more conductive material than the rest of the golem, and they lead down into the heart of the creature. Some theorize lightning strikes provide a continually renewing energy source. Arkers believe those rods are there for the safety of those who live on the golems' backs, and that the golems have no need for a refreshed energy source. No one has ever journeyed far enough into the heart of a Shamble to be sure.

Construction Material

Shambles are created out of various materials, resembling all kinds of lesser golems. The more popular ones are made of rock or clay, which makes growing somewhat easier. There are Shambles made of the stitched together flesh of more creatures than most can imagine. The Shamble Mandith is constructed entirely out of bones, including a great many dragon bones as well as bones none can identify. Other Shambles, like Thonk, are made of iron and steel. Gaena is constructed out of all manner of shaped wood.

Whatever material comprises an individual Shamble, it is all hard, dense, and resilient. Gaena is no more susceptible to fire than Thonk, nor is he more susceptible to rust than she.

Life Atop a Shamble

Sustenance

Those who live on the backs of Shambles are able to sustain themselves reasonably well. With the aid of druidic tenders, enough food can usually be grown. Top soil has been cultivated and laid atop the backs of the creatures, and druids have grown enough plants to keep erosion from causing irreparable harm, though regular attention by an order of druids is still required.

Wildlife thrives in the groves on the backs of Shambles, and druids keep careful track of hunters. Those who kill more than the stated limit are usually dealt with in a harsh manner. Some Shambles even have lakes or a smattering of ponds along their backs, and the druidic orders on those Shambles allow some fishing.

Trade

When two Shambles come within proximity of each other there is a flurry of trade activity. Traders and merchants all flock to the front of their Shamble to be let down on long, thick ropes attached to large gear and pulley systems. Once on the ground, they begin trading with those who have been lowered to the ground from the other Shamble.

A Trade Day lasts until the Shambles have almost left, often about a day and a half, and then there is a scramble to be lifted back atop the rear of the Shambles. Trade Days are festive, chaotic affairs, with people scrambling to find and procure goods that can't be found on their own Shamble. Trades are often haggled very quickly, as time is the one commodity no one has enough of. Many merchants do not sleep through the course of a Trade Day for fear of missing a potential sale. Some shoppers try to wait until the last possible moment to buy goods, preying on the merchant's exhaustion and fear of missing a sale.

Buildings

There are few tall buildings atop Shambles—the swaying motion of a Shamble's pace destroys any building that gets too tall. Most craftsmen and builders try and match the material of the buildings on their Shamble to the construction material of the Shamble itself. This can be relatively easy in the case of clay or rock Shambles, and it can be disturbing in the case of Mandith, the bone Shamble. When a building material is less feasible, like iron and steel on Thonk, many residents still use that material as an accent to the building's decor.

Classes of Shambles

Non-magical Classes

Martial or low-magic classes, such as fighters, rogues, barbarians, and similar classes are not much changed in the world of Vernlarum. They all have found their own little niches in the world and tend to be respected, feared, cherished, or reviled based mostly on their own actions.

Barbarians tend to roam the Wastes with raider clans, and rogues tend to hail from the various cities where they can maximize the use of their skills for profit. But neither of these are the only time those traditions appear. Fighters find employment as sell-swords, guards, soldiers, adventurers, or any job where the direct application of violent force is necessary or appreciated.

Natural Magic

Classes that use natural magic, such as druids, rangers, and shaman, are accepted as necessary by the people of Vernlarum. Druids, in particular, are the tenders of the last few, vital, green areas that provide food to the people of the world. In some cities this makes them royalty and rulers of the city. In others, they are captured and forced to labor as slaves—their skills being too necessary to "leave to their own desires".

Rangers might find employment as defenders of groves alongside druids or as escorts and guides in the Wastes. Some rulesets make rangers non-magical, which is fine. In those cases, they would be like any other non-magical class.

People don't understand druidic magic, but they respect it. More importantly, perhaps, they don't attach the Shambling to druidic magic, so they do not fear the practice of druidic magic will further destroy the world. When a practitioner of druidic magic performs some heinous deed, people tend to see that as an individual actor—not representative of all practitioners.

Arcane Magic

Arcane magic use covers a broad number of classes each to a greater or lesser degree. Wizards, sorcerers, witches, warlocks, artificers, and bards are examples of users of this magic in most rulesets. A full wizard is not the same as a dabbling bard, and if a bard class doesn't grant access to arcane-looking magic, members of that class aren't categorized here. The people of Vernlarum don't think in terms of PC classes, of course. They respond to what they see and what they're told. Flashy, eye-catching, over-the-top magic, fireball, perhaps being the most iconic example, is how people most easily recognize magic users.

When people recognize a person as a magic user, their responses vary greatly—some few judge an individual on his own actions, most believe the person is fiddling with the basic forces of nature that caused the Shambling and hate, fear, or are in awe based on that impression. Few normal people believe they can do anything to stop a person using magic, and most have no idea about the limits of magical use. To an average citizen, a mage who uses burning hands might be capable of animating another Shamble any moment.

Because of the general fear and ignorance of magic-users, few people will openly antagonize a known mage. Different cities respond in different manners. Some cities require registration of all magic users, some forbid the practice entirely on pain of death, some make their city so inhospitable with constant guard surveillance mages do not wish to stay there. It is a rare city where an open wizard's academy is allowed to operate.

The dark elf empire stands as an exception to how magic users are treated in the world. The dark elves, though injured in the Shambling, do not have a strict aversion to magic. They view magic as the best way to repair the world, and think those who ignore or destroy magic are foolish. Because of this, many magic users seek safety in the Empire, and some use the freedom granted therein to use magic for exactly the sorts of things the rest of the world fears they will.

Artificers

Magic-users whose sole purpose and effect is to create magical items and constructs are probably best left out of a game in the Age of Shambles, unless the campaign is embracing that sort of disruptive character. An artificer in a party of Golemforged is not particularly noteworthy.

Wizards

The direct and open study of arcane magic is merely a non-normative in some cities, in others it is a strict taboo. Wizards and other studiers of the arcane do their best to keep their interests quiet. Many lead dual lives, where even their closest friends have no idea of the mage's true interests and power. Those wizards who no longer wish to hide, or who which to experiment without fear, often move to the dark elf empire where there are almost no limits on what they can study.

Sorcerers

Sorcerers, who have an innate talent for magic, are heaped in with all of the rest, though those who have a little bit more knowledge of the differences might pity sorcerers for their "curse". Many sorcerers are asked by their friends and relatives if they can "just stop" using their magic. Some try, and some are even successful, though they tend to not live very fulfilled lives afterward. Others flee to the Empire to be accepted for who they are.

Warlocks and Witches

Warlocks and witches, or any other class that makes a pact with dark or outside forces are feared along with other magic-users. Like with sorcerers, the distinction between warlocks and wizards is not well known or understood by the general population, which may actually work in the warlocks' favor. Cavorting with demonic influences is rarely popular.

In a ruleset where the warlocks get access to pacts that alter the visual appearance of their powers, warlocks can choose a golem-pact. These warlocks claim to hear the whispers of the Shambles, and draw power from them. Their powers then reflect the nature of their golem pact-master: mountain golems will grant rocky and earthy powers, while iron golems grant powers that look like interlocking gears or metal plating. Whether these warlocks actually hear the Shambles and what the creatures want, are both unknowns that cause no small amount of fear to those who have looked into the matter.

Divine Magic

Practitioners of divine magic, such as clerics, paladins, priests, and the like, are very rare in the world of Vernlarum. After the Shambling, the Old Gods left the world. Many now doubt their very existence and look at those who practice divine magic as fools who still haven't let go of the old ways.

Most cities have a temple to the Old Gods, and some come and pray at them, but the temples where built in a time of great upheaval when the people of the world cried out for help they never received. As time as progressed, the flocks of these temples have shrunk so much as to make religious services comically small in the grand open areas that, generations ago, would have been filled with the city's citizens.

Many people cannot tell the difference between a cleric casting sound burst and a wizard casting wave of thunder, so clerics must often be as circumspect in their use of magic as arcane practitioners. And many arcane users carry around a holy symbol of the Old Gods to use priesthood as a cover for their magic. This has the end effect of making commoners doubt true clerics and priests.

Some rulesets don't provide paladins overtly magical effects. In those games, a paladin would be seen as an errant knight for an already lost cause.

The Old Gods

Some faithful cling to the old ways as best they can, even when people tell them, derisively, they are worshipping Dead Gods. Unfortunately, much was lost in the Shambling. All that remains is a vague knowledge of "Old Gods" and very few specifics of who these gods were and what portfolios they held. The symbol of the Old Gods, is a ring of seven rings. Sometimes these rings are fashioned from different metals or colored in the primary colors. Sometimes they are simply steel rings.

The modern teachings of the faithful of the Old Gods is to be patient and wait for their Return, to help those who need help, and to aid the in saving and restoration of civilization in whatever ways one can. Some have taken these teachings to mean nothing more than to be kind to one another. Others look for any excuse to try conquering cities and creating a theocracy.

In rulesets with domains, the domains of civilization, protection, healing, and life would be common domains for followers of the Old Gods. Followers are not limited to those, though, as almost any domain can be justified with the loose theology of the religion.

Acolytes of the Arks

Some believe the "Arkers" began as an off-shoot of the worship of the Old Gods. Others claim it is the only true religion. Either way, the Acolytes of the Arks grow with each passing season.

The holy symbol of the Acolytes is a stylized golem with a city upon its back.

The Acolytes believe the Arks, as they call the Shambles, did not destroy the world so much as save it. They claim the world was on the brink of destruction from some threat unknown to the modern world. Those non-believers call Ruiners, the Acolytes call the Saviors. Most Acolytes will openly admit they do not know the threat the Saviors created the Arks to face, though same claim, and will tell all who will listen, they know exactly what the threat was. The stories range from major war, a threat from beyond the stars, to a massive flood that wasn't recorded in the chaos of the Shambling.

Some Acolytes even wonder if the threat the Saviors foresaw has even happened yet. They believe, with some devotion, the Arks must be kept in operation and respected, else the world will end. Other Acolytes may not believe this, but all respect and revere the Arks. So Acolytes all adamantly oppose any attempt to control or sabotage an Ark.

In a system with domains, the domains of war, luck, magic, and sun are the most common domains, but Acolytes may choose any domain they think is the best expression of their devotion.

The Gods are Dead

One option the GM has to make Age of Shambles her own is to make the Old Gods entirely dead and remove all divine classes from the game. The temples might still exist as artifacts of bygone days, been repurposed for other uses, or been razed and raided for building materials.

As a consequence of this option, the Acolytes of the Arks are a much smaller and less influential group, though they still carry some political clout. People would follow these religions out of faith but would have no direct evidence of divine existence. In a world where a man can study a tome and make fire fly from his hands, faith alone might not last long. If demons and the like are able to touch the world, they would use a lack of divinity to try and establish their own.

Thematically, this option makes the world of Vernlarum even darker. With no hope of the Arks saving civilization or the Old Gods returning, many people would look at each day as hopeless as the last.

Psionics and Other Magics

Psionics, and any other magical system provided by a given ruleset, are all optional and only allowable under GM approval. Most systems fit into one of the three categories already mentioned. If an average person in Age of Shambles saw a psion levitate a stone or control the actions of another, she would assume the psion was a magic user of some kind and respond with the appropriate amount of fear.

There are plenty of spots in the world where small enclaves of practitioners could huddle together for support and learning— the dark elf Empire being premier among them.

Races of Shambles (pt 2)

Non-standard Races

These are races that are so rare or powerful that explicit GM permission is needed for a player to use one. The very existence of at least one of these races, Golemforged, changes the whole tenor of the campaign setting.

That is not to say these races shouldn't be allowed. But both GMs and players should be prepared for the repercussions of one of these races wandering the world.

Orcs

Orcs are a rare and dying breed. War hasn't driven them to the brink of destruction. Peace has. Orcs rose to the moment, and helped humanity save what could be saved during the Shambling. Afterward, humanity accepted and embraced orcs in a way they never had before.

This intermingling has left little room for full-blooded orcs. Most have accepted this change and live happily side-by-side with humans—intermarrying as they will. Some orcs, however cling to the old ways. They don't hate humanity, but they are fiercely proud of orc heritage and see the intermingling as a loss for orcs as a whole.

Small pockets of orcs gather around in druid groves and exchange stories of the old ways. Verbal history has always held a strong place in orc society, so modern orc shamans tell many stories of the past, though they often talk of past conflicts with humans as being born from a desire to be accepted or from misunderstandings and mistrust.

At least one orc leader, Grakthar in the city of Kytark, hears something different in the stories, though. He is secretly gathering orcs together to take, as he sees it, their rightful place atop the "weakling humans".

This is probably the least disruptive of the non-standard races in terms of story. The rules of your particular game will dictate how disruptive the power of orcs is over the other races.

Demonbred

At the beginning of the Age of Shambles, people looked to many different areas for comfort, power, and assurances of another day. Some of those people called upon low, dark powers. These powers now touch the world more deeply.

"Demonbred" is a general term for all characters whose race involves darker, demonic heritage. These PCs would be reviled and hated, not because of their strange appearance, as much as because some would blame them for the Shambling. Many would see demon horns as a mark of magic, which would lead to many difficulties.

A demonbred character can come from a cursed family, a true-breeding off-shoot of demonbred, or, perhaps, made a personal deal with a dark force for increased power.

Angelbred

The Old Gods have left the world, or so many believe. If angelbred walk the world of Vernlarum, then they are the last remaining sign of deific presence. Arkers and priests of the Old Gods alike would be drawn to an angelbred character seeking insight, wisdom, and assurances of their beliefs. The angelbred character, likely, has no more insight than they do.

"Angelbred" is a term for any character whose race is celestial in nature. These characters would struggle with people flocking to them for answers and knowledge they don't have. When an angelbred's answers fail to meet the expectations of those asking the question, some will become angry and assume the angelbred character is withholding wisdom capriciously or spitefully.

An angelbred character might come from a blessed family, a true-breeding family of left-behind celestials, or the individual might have been blessed by some unknown force for its own ends.

Half-dragons

Dragons exist in Vernlarum. Their power and might are well known , and feared, by people at large. A half-dragon, or any dragonman, might be met with fear and suspicion. Or he might be met with gifts and supplications, if people believe he is a harbinger of full dragons.

If a GM wishes to make dragonkind characters more integrated into the world, they can be a known, if rare, race who mostly reside in the city of Lazon—an out of the way city known to be inhabited by a number of dragons. Perhaps half-dragons are their servitors and ambassadors to the world.

Golemforged

No race would be more problematic in Age of Shambles than Golemforged, and GMs should carefully discuss this issue with an entire table to see if they want to share a game with Golemforged characters.

A "Golemforged" character is any character with a race that is in part, or entirety, golem or even golem-esque. Sentient trees would be as problematic as more robot looking creatures.

Golems destroyed an Age and prevent the people of Vernlarum from ever establishing a stable home anywhere except on the back of one. They destroyed the ecosystem and turned a lush, green land into the Wastes. Golems are hated and feared. A humanoid, sentient golem would struggle to not be worshipped or torn to pieces depending upon the mood and mindset of the people encountered.

One possibility would be to have an entire party of golemforged who awaken in ruins castoffs of Ruiner experiments in the previous Age. Perhaps all they want to do is explore the world and find their niche in it. Perhaps, somewhere, there is a facility that is making these Golemforged, and they wish to establish peaceable trade with the rest of the world. A campaign focused on story, political intrigue, and diplomacy would be a good match for this storyline.

Savages

There are other races which various rule sets make as playable character races—gnolls, pixies, minotaurs, or the like. These races mostly have a place in the world of Varnlarum. GMs will be best at helping a player find the right balance at their individual tables.

The people of Vernlarum are complete strangers to the idea of gnoll traders or minotaur bodyguards, but these instances are rare enough that any representative of these more savage races will be remarked up and face some level of discrimination.

People mostly try to just make it through each day, though, and if a gnoll returns a lost child or a minotaur stops a band of raiders, people can forgive and overlook much. Of course, the next time the city is raided by a vicious band of gnolls, that mood might change again.

Races of Shambles

Age of Shambles is meant to be a sprawling setting filled with oddities and remnants of a bygone era. This means that while there are the core of standard races, with GM approval, a representative of almost any race can find a home on Vernlarum.

In cases where the rules of game you are playing make a distinction between subtypes of a playable race, in Age of Shambles those "races" are viewed more as cultures. For example, rules might distinguish between "mountain" and "hill" dwarves. These are all dwarves. If the rules make the "hill" dwarves tougher, they are a better fit for representing newly freed slaves. If the rules make the "mountain" dwarves better at using armor, then that is a better fit for the small bands of freed dwarves scattered around the mountains.

In these cases, consult your GM for the sub race most suitable for your character's background.

Standard Races

Dwarves

When the Shambles rose, the dwarves did the only thing that made sense to them—they locked themselves away in their mountain kingdoms. Safe from the ravages of Shamblers and refugees alike, they continued their lives without much change.

That was until the dark elves attacked. The dwarves underestimated how much they relied upon surface dwellers to prevent or repeal a dark elf incursion. The dark elves had made no such mistake.

The dark elves struck swiftly with such savage ferocity, that the found themselves unable to even stall the obsidian skinned invaders. In short order, the dwarves surrendered, and the reign of their elven masters began.

No living dwarves remember their previous lives of freedom, though stories are still told in hushed whispers. A long-lived race, dwarven memory takes a long time to fade, but their masters have been efficient. All dwarves with royal blood were executed. Over the generations, any time a dwarf would lay claim to such blood, he, and all of his kin, would be slain.

The elves' own version of events, that the dwarves begged them to protect them from the Shambles above, is repeated often enough that many dwarves believe this version of events. Even more don't care either way. What does the cause or history of one's subjugation mean, when the earth must be mined and the ore worked into steel?

Slave-born

PCs who start play as slave-born dwarves have recently escaped from below the mountains. They may have made friends with a bearded dwarf who connived a way to free them, a dark elf of conscience might have done the same, or they may have braved the depths of the Deep Below to find their way free of the dark elves.

Dwarves who are slave-born are only allowed beards when they are particularly dutiful slaves. The dwarves who earn their beards wear them proudly. When dwarves escape, many immediately grow their beards as a sign, but some refuse, seeing beards as a mark of submission to dark elves.

Slave-born dwarves who escape often roam the Wastes until they encounter a caravan or tribe. This is a dangerous time for the former slave. The dark elves pay a large reward for the return of dwarves, and some prey upon the naïvety of newly freed dwarves to earn that reward.

Free-born

A small, but growing, number of dwarves are free-born. They huddle together in the Mountains or Sorrow in small bands. They are nomadic—unable to stay in place for long because of bounty hunters or dark elf slave-retrieval bands.

These dwarves have become quite efficient at hiding their trails, living off of the meager givings of the land, and fighting a guerrilla war against those who pursue them.

Unfortunately, they've also lost much of the dwarven culture. A few storytellers and shaman have arisen who claim to know the stories of their ancestors, and these have a sacred place in the hearts of the dwarves. A well-timed story of dwarven ancestors can turn a tribe of dwarves down almost any path the teller wishes.

Elves

The Mourning

Most elves encountered in Age of Shambles are known as "The Mourning". The ancient homes of elven kind, the grand forests of the world, have all been trampled to ruin. Only dust and dried riverbeds remain of their once lush homelands.

The elves of Vernlarum are in constant mourning over this loss. They shave their heads and cover themselves with flowing, scrollwork tattoos. The tattoos tell the story of the forests the elf's family came from and are copied from their parents' tattoos over the course of adolescence. The First Tattooing Day is a sign an elf has reached his adolescence, and his Final Tattooing Day is the sign of his adulthood.

The birth ritual of the elves is a song of mourning for the newborn child, that she will not ever know the peace of a summer glade, the crisp expectation of a fall, the stern demands of winter, or the hope and joy of spring. 
Elves often view it as their duty to return the forests to the world; though the task seems so impossible, most do nothing about it.

Dark Elves

Different from their surface brethren, dark elves have obsidian skin and white hair from a curse levied on their ancestors in a time long forgotten. Some say the curse twisted their hearts; others that their twisted hearts brought upon the curse.

Some dark elves, though, are reject the ways of their kin. They don't believe their subjugation of the dwarves is proper. Dark elves are the only race to not have their history and civilization eradicated by the Shambling, and some small number of dark elves see it as their responsibility to help a shattered world.

Helping others is not a popular sentiment in the dark elf empire. Some dark elves flee, hoping to fix what parts of the world they can. Others stay in the empire, hoping to fix it from within.

Dark elves, too, lost much in the Shambling. The cause of their invasion of dwarven land was the severing of their own. As Shambles began to move about the world, their weight caused many of the tunnels leading to the Deep Below empire of the dark elves to collapse. The elves faced a choice—be locked in the Deep Below or find some means of escape. The dwarven mountain kingdom presented the perfect solution.

Some dark elves don't worry themselves with larger concerns. Instead, they roam the Deep Below, fighting the twisted creatures there, looking for salvageable entrances to their ancestral cities wherein great wealth and knowledge lie.

Humans

Human mages are widely believed to be the cause of the Ruining. The term "Ruiner" is usually meant to describe the people who long ago created the Shambles and brought the end of an Age, but the term can also be used as derogatory slang by non-humans.

As much as the end of the last Age lays at the feet of humankind, so does the saving of the remnants of it for this Age. Humans are the ones who banded together with each other and the orcs to build cities atop the slow, shambling golems. And humans are the ones who invited others to join them.

Now, humans go through life in many ways as they always have—they vie for political power, ignore politics, seek adventure, seek shelter from dangers of all kinds, and procreate enough to continue to be the most populous race in Vernlarum.

Human and orc blood is now so mixed, that most humans will lay claim to some orc blood, though it is so diluted that there is no way to be sure. A strong jaw or broad shoulders could be a mark of an orc ancestor, or it could be part of human heritage. Few care enough to argue with such a claim if it is made.

Gnomes

Gnomes had a long tradition as both storytellers and inventors. They have carved out small niches for themselves along these lines. Gnomes living in the small enclave of Gno, high in the Mountains of Sorrow, have discovered the secrets of burstpowder, a black powder useful for creating explosions. They have even begun creating burstpowder rifles and pistols, though these are in very limited quantity and, some say, quality.

Other gnomes, knowing they might get left out as civilization reordered, established a communication network between Shambles. Messenger gnomes are now the most trusted and dependable way to send communication between cities. Nobles who seek absolute secrecy will even hire messenger gnomes to relay missives for them inside a city.

Gnomes have earned a reputation for neutrality in political dealings and honor that is beyond reproach. This puts a heavy burden on the younger generations who sometimes rebel against the strictures of their position. But those who rebel too much are cast out and reviled by their brethren. Being an outcast of a group of a highly trusted and regarded people who can quickly communicate one's status to everyone in the known world is not an enviable position.

Halflings

Before the Shambling, halflings were gregarious traders who faced trouble with courage far larger than their small frames. After the Shambling, seemingly not much has changed. So little that some doubt whether they understand, or even can understand the magnitude of the catastrophe.

But that perception of halflings is very wrong. They do know the depth of loss. They also learn, from a very young age, how easily the rest of the races, especially the city-controlling humans, could oust them from the relative safety of the cities.

So halflings learn to put forward a brave face no matter the cost. This leads to a brittle mania in many, and those who think halflings have all gone a touch mad aren't far off. A halfling who is called out for cowardice, fear, or not being useful will go to great lengths to prove these claims false. This has, of course, led to some very unfortunate mishaps.

Half-elves

Not much has changed for half-elves. They are still the progeny of forbidden unions between humans and elves. They are still people of two worlds with a foot in either but two feet in neither.

They understand the Mourning, but they posses humanity's resilience and work for their own ends instead of wallowing in the loss of something they've never seen.

Some half-elves have the tattoos of the Mourning. Some don't. The ones who do often feel like fakes, for they don't feel the depths of loss the full-blooded elves so clearly do. The half-elves who don't pine for a lost piece of their culture.

Because of their situation, half-elves are better able to see all sides, and many cities call upon them to be diplomats or arbitrators in disputes. Others try and lessen the loss of the forests and become druids to bring forests and land back into the world.

Half-orcs

Of all the races in Vernlarum, half-orcs and orcs gained the most from the Shambling. Orc leaders, knowing they faced an existential threat in the form of the giant golems, allied with human leaders to help build the cities atop the Shambles. In many cities, this led to a mixing of bloodlines.

There is no stigma attached to having orc blood in most cities, in fact many will lay claim to some amount of orcish ancestry now. There are some places, like the city of Mandith, where orcs and orc-bloods are still stigmatized, but most see that as odd and very old-fashioned.

True half-orcs are becoming a bit rare, as full-blooded orcs decline in number. Still, a child of two "humans" can carry enough traits of orcish ancestry to be considered a "half-orc". Parents of particularly strong or sturdy children will boast about the orc blood showing true.

An Overview

In a previous Age, the great wizards of that Age created giant golems for some unknown purpose. And then they lost control of them. These golems, called Shambles for their slow, shuffling gait, began to wander the world. They left only destruction in their wake. In short order, little remained of that Age. The Shambles had trampled it all underfoot.

The only place of refuge for most was atop the very creatures that had ended civilization. Cities were built atop the Shambles. Druids were tasked with creating arable land and forest to save as much of the lifecycle as they could. Much knowledge was lost to time or the step of a Shamble's foot.

Centuries have passed.

Life has stabilized. Dwarves, who had retreated to their mines, reemerged, but as slaves to the dark elves. Surface elves, doomed to never again know the shade and comfort of a forest, Mourn each of their births. Barbaric tribes roam the Wastes and subsist on what they can snatch in their raids on the Shambling cities. Magic users, hated for their perceived involvement in the creation of the Shambles, hide their abilities from most.

Some refuse the idea that the golems are creatures of destruction. Acolytes of the Ark believe the golems, which they call Arks, were created for the purpose of saving the people of the world. Many find "Arkers" beliefs laughable, but some find the idea that they were saved from a worse fate comforting.

For the adventurer, the world of Vernlarum holds great promise. Out there in the Wastes, lie the remains of the Ruiner civilization that birthed the Shambles. Every story about the Ruiners and their magical wealth is grander than the last. Raiders are a constant threat to the Shambling Cities, so adventurers who aid a city are appreciated and sometimes even beloved. War between cities is rare, but not unknown. And rumors abound that the City of Mandith seeks to expand to other Shambles.

What this blog is

Age of Shambles is an experiment. I want to generate a new campaign setting for the "5th edition of the world's most popular RPG". But I wanted to develop it in public and share my creation.

So that's just what I'm doing.

While my group and I are currently using the playtest rules for a specific RPG, and we plan on upgrading to the final rules as soon as those are released, I think most, if not all, of the material I present here will be edition or game system agnostic.

If you are gaming in a system that allows magic, has humans, dwarves, elves, orcs, the occasional flintlock rifle, dragons, and golems, then your system will work just fine for what I have envisioned here.

If you are one of the few people who plays at my table, you get access to the worldbook as I make it. I'll label some things as GM Secrets. While I, obviously, can't stop you from perusing those as well, I do ask you to avoid it as best you can.

If you don't know what most of that means, that's fine, too. You can choose to come here for the intermittent fiction I'll write to flesh out my ideas of the world. Or to just read about a fantastical realm unlike our own.

Or, um, to just make fun of me, I guess.

A Beginning

Jorry stood at the edge, looking out into the night. Wind tugged at his hair and pulled dust and sand across his exposed skin. The swaying motion under his feet was a slow and steady rhythm that comforted him. It also threatened to lull him into sleep. He rubbed grit out of his eyes and refocused on the dark abyss before him.

He knew somewhere down there was land. He'd even been on it once or twice—Jorry had been unsettled by the absolute stillness of the ground. Up here, on the back of a Shamble, there was always motion. Always noise. There was the creak of ropes used to haul up cargo from Below, the grinding of the Shambles gigantic metal legs as it took each step, and the steady blow of wind. And that was at night. By day, the city behind him was abuzz with the sounds of thousands of people going about their daily lives—merchants hawking wares, druids and farmers tending the grove, kids running through the narrow alleyways and screaming nonsense words, and the soft cry of nargulls.

Wait, thought Jorry, did I just hear—? His mind snapped back to the present, and he heard it again—a soft whispering call of a nargull. We're days from the coast yet.

"Raiders!" Jorry cried, grabbing his bow from the nearby railing.

Someone in the darkness below Jorry cursed. And chaos broke out. Three raiders, hulking brutes wearing sheet anchor packs began to pull themselves over the railing. Sheet anchors were large pieces of canvas used to help slow someone down when falling. Raiders used them frequently for quick escapes.

Jorry, too close for arrow work, slammed his hand gripping the bow into the face of the nearest raider. The bow hardened his grip, and he felt the man's nose crunch beneath his hand. But the man didn't plummet into the darkness below as he'd envisioned.

He just looked angry.

"Gods below," Jorry cried, "Raiders!" He didn't hear anyone else raising the alarm.

Are they already aboard? What Happened to Scand? What do they want? But he knew the answer to that last, at least. They wanted what raiders always wanted—a druid.

One of the raiders was already up and past him, sprinting for the grove behind Jorry. Another raider advanced on the guard, his axe gripped in both hands.

Cursing his bow as useless, he dropped it to the ground and drew the sword at his side just in time to meet the first heavy blow from the raider's axe. Steel rang against steel in the night. Bits of the raider's axeblade chipped off and flew into Jorry's face.

Rusty steel is no match for a slaveblade. Jorry was glad to have something go his way. He pushed back against the raider, who stumbled, growled and swung a heavy, arching attack with his axe. Jorry decided to press what little advantage he had. He ducked under the axe and charged the still off-balance raider. He put his shoulder in the man's stomach; he felt the man's wind leave him. But Jorry kept churning his legs. A heartbeat later he felt another collision, hear the wooden railing crack, and tried to reverse his momentum.

He narrowly escaped the raider's clutching hands, and he tried not to see the terror in the man's eyes as he fell backward off of the Shamble.

Jorry didn't have a moment to reflect upon the soon-to-be-dead raider. The raider with the crunched nose had recovered and was drawing his axe with a low growl in his throat. Jorry rolled to his feet and squared off against the brute. The man's large lower jaw, sloped forehead, and the greenish tint to the blood running down his ruined nose told of orcish ancestry.

Great. I don't have time for this, Jorry thought. He glanced at the grove. He could hear the sounds of fighting there now. The city, in the distance beyond the grove, was dimly lit, as it usually was this late at night. But Jorry thought he saw torches moving as forces gathered to repel the attack.

They'll save the druid. I just need to handle this one remaining raider, he lied to himself.

The raider raised his axe above his head, careless for how open he left himself, and swung down on Jorry like he was splitting wood. Jorry had his sword up in plenty of time, but the strength behind the blow knocked him back to the ground, shattered the axe against his blade, and drove his own sword into his flailing left arm.

Jorry screamed at the pain. The orc-man, now armed with only an axe shaft, drew back to pound Jorry's head into mush. And an arrow appeared in his throat, quickly followed by another. The raider spun, surprise on his face, and fell.

"Gods, a raid. I didn't know," Scand ran up out of the darkness and knelt over Jorry. "Are you alright? I didn't know."

"I'm fine, thank you—" Scand's words sank in. "You were with her weren't you?" Jorry hopped to his feet, anger replacing relief.

Before the Scand could reply, movement came towards them from the darkness of the grove.

"We got the raiders here," Scand called.

"Too bad," rumbled a low voice, "Arthax was my sister's."

Out of the darkness stepped a group of ten men, all bleeding and bruised; all holding bloody weapons drawn. Being pulled along behind the lead man with his hands bound and his mouth gagged was Tagith, one of the druid initiates.

"Tagith," Jorry said and stepped forward, raising his sword.

The man holding Tagith's bonds, and likely the chieftain of these raiders, stopped and smiled at Jorry.

"You would attack ten men with just the two of you?" He chuckled. The men behind him chuckled, too. There was no humor in any of it. "You're skilled if you killed my men. And brave, too. Give us no trouble, and you'll live. Give us trouble..." The raider chieftain said nothing. The only sounds for heartbeats were the constant clanging of the Shamble walking and blowing of the wind.

"Jorry." Scand put his hand on Jorry's shoulder, heedless of the sword wound there.

Tagith's eyes pled with Jorry. But dying here wouldn't save Tagith. Jorry knew that. He lowered his sword and backed away.

Tagith screamed around his gag, and shook his head. The chieftain didn't give Jorry a second glance.

"We have what we came for, let's go." With that he ran at the broken railing, pulling a terrified Tagith after him. The other raiders followed swiftly after. As they disappeared into the darkness below, Jorry could hear sheet anchors pop open. He didn't believe in the Dead Gods, but he said a prayer that the Chieftain's had been one of them.