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Concept: The Dark Golden Age

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The Dark Golden Age is a relatively classic fantasy setting, but unlike most of its kind it does not use Tolkien or the standardized tropes based on his works as a base line. Instead, The Dark Golden Age orientates on classics such as Conan, the Island of Dr. Moreau and Pokémon, with a thrown-in minor cataclysm, just for the laughs.

For centuries, the world of the Dark Golden Age was ruled by wizards and spellcasters. But since magic comes in tides, ages of high magic and ages of low magic alternate and the current Age of High magic has come to grinding halt. Old structures of authority around powerful wizard-potentates collapse, and new groups strive for power. The old magocracy makes place for new kingdoms. The mundane majority which was subjugated for centuries rise again and sheds the joke of their former masters, technological developments which were hold back for centuries through the wizard’s dominance blossom up, while the sheer wonder of magic shrivels. 

Example Characters

Similar to the cmapaigns, several reviewers mentioned that tit wasn't that easy to imagine the kind of characters you could play in The Dark Golden Age. In the following few posts, I try to present a few character ideas I had for the setting. They would roughly form a group of competent adventurers and would work well as generalists for a Ferronian or Venna-based campaign.

Additionally, The Dark Golden Age fits well enough to the genres of Sword and Sorcery an poltical intrigue fantasy, so that characters from these genres usually would find a place in here as well. Good inspirational fantasy literature in this regard include for example Conan or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, but also A Song of Ice and Fire, the First Law trilogy or The Lies of Locke Lamora.

While I usually tried to avoid obvious historical paralells and alegories, there are some similarities which could work as an additional source of inspiration for characters, such as the pre-Marian Roman legionaires for the Thurian army or Condottieri from the Italian Rennaissance for the Eastern League, but these are more rough examples.

 

 

 

The Smart One: Saira, the Seeress

Saira was the daughter and only child of a rich far trader and merchant of the harbor city of Ros in Venna. She grew up either in the city or on board of her father's merchantman.. As her father wanted her daughter to marry a noble and bring the family itself into the ranks of the gentry, she also loved the sea and became a regular cabin girl by chance; this granted her the upbringing as both a noblewoman and a sailor.

It was for everyone surprising when Saira's magical Gift started to show. This does not only shatter any chance of a prestigious wedding, it also almost ruined the the reputation of her father. She became the apprentice in the library city of Krapgar, to learn how to control her abilites and showed a remarkably talent for divination magic, even though she never mastered more than the basics of summoning magic. Against the will of her father, who still dreamt of joining the ranks of the gentry through marriage arrangements for his daughter, she staid in the academy until the end of her education. Now mostly disinherited and left alone, she looked for an occupation and a place for her life, and joined the crew of a privateer.

But the life on board did not treat her well, and due to many harassments by her shipmates, she swore to leave the service at sea and start to live on her own.

Saira is the intellectual capacity of the group, not only trained in the ways of magic, but also confident in the fields of etiquette and negotiations. She is also a competent sailor and never lost her longing for the open sea.

The Big One: Hadrian, renegade Swordmaster

Hadrian grew up in a small hamlet in southwestern Thuria. His mother died during childbirth, and his father, a simple dirt farmer had to bring him up alone. Hadrian was a large and very strong child, and when he was ten, he was already taller than his father.

At this age, his father sold Hadrian to a travelling swordsman, who was a journeyman of the Brotherhood of the Nine Swords, a secretive elitist society of dedicated monastic swordsmen. This swordsman, Gorm Rabar, searched for apprentices to teach them the arts of swordfighting, and Hadrian became an interested and fast-learning student. When he turned 17, Hadrian himself prooved his worth as a swordsbrother and became a journeyman of the brotherhood himself.

After his apprenticeship, he left the order's monastery to travel the world and hone his skills, but his decision to join a mercenary company was not very liked by the council of masters. As a mercenary, Hadrian's swordmanship and his genuine strength earned him a reputation as a fierce fighter and he became quickly a sergeant of the company he served in, the Blood Hawks. He fought in border skirkishes between Thuria and Venna, and against the Ustern rebels in the East.

He was soon taken in the service of the powerful Marakh merchant dynasty in Ferron and acted as the financial power house's champion and enforcer in its conflicts with its rivals.

When he and his banner of men came to a plantation of a rival house and the captain ordered to burn it down and put everyone to the sword, Hadrian refused.When they started to kill and rape the plantation's farmers, he draw his swrod and killed them. Dierra was a peasant girl whose family was killed by the maroding mercenaries, while she was raped and tortured. Hadrian took her with him, out of pity and guilt. Against the traditions of his order who only accepts men in his ranks, he declared her to be his apprentice.

House Marakh claimed him to be a deserter and oath-breaker, but could not publically convict him, out of fear to be connected with the illegal attack against the plantation. Even though, Hadrian earned himself the emnity of the powerful merchants.

The acclaim of a female apprentice has also lead to a certain rivalry between Hadrian and Beldan, another journeyman of the Nine Swords Brotherhood. Beldan, a traditionalist through and through, fears that Hadrian's step to teach the order's arts to a girl could bring the whole order and its traditions down. The two had fought several spectacular duels.

Hadrian is the group's weapon of mass destruction. He is highly efficient and professional warrior, trained by an elite order of swordsmen and he is also a reliable moral pillar of any group. He has made many enemies and few allies, but he has gone his own way.

Campaign Seeds

In several of the reviews was mentioned that people had their problems to imagine what kind of scenarios would fit into the setting of The Dark Golden Age, and thus I tried to come up with an assistance. In the following, I try to describe 20 or so campaign seeds which would work well in the setting.
The main elements are warfare, espionage and intrigues, treasure hunting and confrontation with large monsters, because, these are the pillars of fantasy gaming.

A similar list for character concepts and archetypes is going to follow.

General Campaign Ideas:

Treasure Hunters: The Ruins of the old magocratic palaces and proverbial wizard towers might be rife with riches and old artefacts. Magical items were plentiful once, but nowadays their manufacture is mostly lost and the ownership of such an item – any item – is seen as an important symbol of wealth, power and prestige. Professional treasure hunters who search the old places of power and come with anything they find – from minor magical items of comfort (who doesn’t want to own a pair self-repairing, self cleaning boots) to artefacts of great power. Unfortunately, the ruins which were not plundered in the last years or so are untouched for good reasons, and can be veritable death traps.
It’s Indiana Jones meeting Thief meeting Tomb Raider meeting Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser.

Monsters at the Gate: The inheritance of the magocracy does not only include flickering magical lights and slowly crumbling magnificent buildings. Centuries of experimenting with transmogrifying magic and a long-standing tradition of arena combats with newly created beasts has let to a population of aggressive and often highly dangerous creatures that roam the land. Not all of the beasts are fertile, but there are also many who do not seem to age. Out there, in the wilderness, there are monsters, and they threaten people, trade routes and villages. Professional Monster hunters might travel from village to village, or hunt dangerous beasts for bounties, while more wealthy – or crazy – hunters treat the different beasts as targets for big game hunting.
It’s the Witcher meeting Jaberwocky meeting Pact of the Wolves meeting Aliens.

The Pioneers: The cities have no future. Space is plenty, but there are too many people on a heap, and too little food around. So, there is a steady transmigration from the cities to the unclaimed lands outside. New settlements are set up everywhere were there is land to plow and a steady water supply. The life of this new settlers is tough, as it requires hard work and a friendly contact to the natives, while the usual natural threats and the supernatural beasts in the wilderness threaten the very existence of any such village. Player characters could be settlers out for a new hope for land and subsistence, or they could be hired pathfinders and mercenaries who protect and guide a trail of settlers to their new home.
There is no lack of frontier or pioneer literature which can act as an inspiration for this. You are the Americans, so you probably know much more about this than me anyway.

For Gold and Glory: The Dark Golden Age is not a peaceful time. The successor realms are only established for a short time, and most of them need to secure their claim of power with sheer force. For this, they need soldiers, and mercenaries who are willing to fight in small border skirmishes or protect important trade routes. Prestigious mercenary units more and more replace the standard levies and feudal arrays, and might defend or destroy any of the new realms. A mercenary campaign would feature loads of combats and warfare, but also a bit of intrigue and perhaps even desolation.
It’s the Black Company meeting Wallenstein meeting A Song of Ice and Fire.

The Power is ours! The lack of stability of the new kingdoms is not necessarily a drawback for the player characters; a ruthless, clever and charismatic warlord could use this weakness as a benefit for himself and try to carve out a kingdom for himself. A campaign focussing on such a warlord and his retainers is a great way for a sandbox campaign.
It’s Conan meeting Mount & Blade meeting William of Normandy meeting the Sforzas.

Ferron Campaign Ideas:

In the Name of of the Great Duke: The Great Duchy has just emerged from a long and bloody civil war, which has claimed terrible losses, overall exhaustion and war-weariness. Many of the defeated nobles are still in power, and the days of the alliance between the Great Duke and the Tyrant of Launam seem to be numbered. A new civil war, just as terrible as the previous one has become a threat – if you don’t stop it. In this campaign, the player characters are agents of the Great Duke. It is their job to spoil plots and assassination attempts, discover conspiracies, spy on “allies” and enemies alike and to keep Ferron together by any means necessary. This campaign is rife with intrigue and treason.
It’s James Bond meeting the Borgias meeting the Three Musketeers.

Claiming the Nodices: The riots and pogroms against anything supernatural have turned Ferron into a dangerous yet luring country for spellcasters. The magical places, are abandoned and promise power to any spellcaster who is subtle enough to sneak into Ferron without being noticed by the still superstitious and hostile population. This has led to a shadow war in Ferron, where small circles and individual wizards fight for the nodices, while at the same time hide their presence from the public eye.
It’s Foucault’s Pendulum meeting Witchcraft meeting the Freemasons.

Adventures in Venna:

The Proud, the Few: The kingdom of Venna has little power on the administrative level, and not much influence on the clans, petty lords and their ilk that make the foundation of the kingdom – there is only one group who acts both as the Queen’s Justice and a symbol of national identity: The Paladins, travelling knights, judges and keepers of the peace travel in small groups and sometimes alone through the kingdom and try to make it a better place for its denizens. While the paladin orders are not very popular with the nobility and ruling class of Venna, they are dearly beloved by the people.
It’s the Seven Samurai meeting the Knights of the Round Table meeting the A-Team, all dressed up as the knights templar.

Keepers of the Great Library: The Great Library of Krapgar is a unique treasure, a place where the remaining knowledge of several centuries are collected. The library is in a desolate state: There are not nearly enough scholars to keep the library intact and fight against the mold and the mice, but that is only a part of the tragedy: The real trouble is, that the scrolls and books of Krapgar contain a fair share of truly dangerous knowledge – and there are plenty of wrong hands around groping for these texts. In this campaing, the player characters are young novices, perhaps even young students of the magical arts who try to protect the knowledge of their library from warlocks or even Sascrian agents.
It’s the Name of the Rose meeting the Library of Alexandria

Adventures on the Whale Islands:

New Blood: The Urudu have ruled the islands for millennia, and their claim of a celestial heritage is essential for their claim and the overall stability of the society of the islands. In fact, the Urudu are a dynasty or caste of daimonids, but the dogma and rituals of the islanders et them apart. The caste has its problems though: The “divine blood” has begun to run thin in the ruling house, and a few … interesting traits have begun to appear as a result of the tendency towards incest that the panic for the loss of the divine spark has let them. The Urudu knows that it needs new “family members” and has asked the clans of the islands to gather the lost cousins on the continent, and thus these sent out war parties and slavers to bring the lost cousins home. A New Blood campaign can either focus on the war parties trying to find and capture as many Daimonids as they can and bring them back to islands, or for daimonids who are suddenly hunted by bands of slavers.

The Trade Outpost: The Whale Islands promise exotic goods and riches for anyone who can convince the natives to trade. For a daring mercer, the chance of getting rich with selling continental goods here and buying exotic goods for the import are great, and thus are a veritable lure for several trading guilds. Therefore, the Whale Island Trade has developed in a veritable trade war between different merchant houses and guilds and the player characters as the agents of one of these guilds are right in the middle, trying to secure contacts and profits and to avoid being instrumentalised by the islander’s clans for their wars as well.

Adventures in Sascria:

The Exodus: The prejudices and pogroms against nonhumans and spellcasters from their country of origin to better places – and Sascria might have the lands and resources, but the country’s leaders have become paranoid and try to secure their country by recruiting the often gifted beastlings and daimonids for their own purposes. Player characters can be either agents trying to attract these new folk for the greater good of Sascria and their own, or they can be among those who dare to travel to the last magocracy and join is cause of preservation.

Headhunters: Sascria needs the Gifted to survive, and in the mind of the Sascrian leadership, the country must survive to protect civilisation itself. Therefore, a new generation of spellcasters is needed, and small war bands under the leadership of a Gifted are sent out to collect gifted children – by diplomacy and bribery if possible, by force if necessary. Now, these “Childtakers” travel the land and search for those with the Gift to bring them “home”. The player characters could either take the role of the headhunters and trying to find and “liberate” the children, or they could be parents, Vannian paladins or just guards who try to bring their children back home. Another interesting yet unusual campaign would focus on these children in Sascria trying to flee and go back home.
It’s Hogwarts meeting the kidnappers.

Adventures in Thuria:

Aristocrats and Soldiers: The meritocratic ways of social improvement in the Thurian army has led to a new class in power in the Republic: The decorated veterans who are legitimated through their military services and successes, and who have gained significant influence on the political matters of the republic, as they are a steadily growing group as long as the wars continue. On the other side, the old aristocrat families who have long-standing wealth and landownership and who rightly feel to be the founders of the Republic feel threatened in their political powers and more often than not blackmailed by their own armies, who are more loyal to their own. This has led to a unsteady shift in political power in the republic, where old aristocrats and veterans struggle for votes and candidates in the political organs, and the player characters are right in the middle – perhaps they belong to one of the aristocratic houses, or they are decorated warriors who have changed the battlefield of open warfare for the battlefield of politics.

Freedom or Death!: The power of the republic wanes, and the marks in a revolt. Now is the time of brave freedom fighters to break the Thurian yoke and bring back sovereignty and freedom to the occupied client kingdoms. The player characters are these freedom fighters, and they face a still terrible enemy.
It’s Braveheart meeting Vercingetorix meeting the Inglorious Basterds.

Adventures in Rhyrgia:

The Sarkan Storm: The Sarkan tribesmen are unruly neighbours, and the conflict between Rhyrgian farmers and Sarkan nomads grow worse. Unfortunately, a powerful chieftain of the Sarkans has united several tribes into a formidable force that plunders the outskirts of the kingdom and threatens to overthrow the Rhyrgian nobility. Now the nobility must muster all forces they can to face the onslaught of the horsemen.
It’s Attila meeting Genghis Khan versus the Kievan Rus and Merlin.

The Rise of the Druids: Druidism is one of the major religion in the north, and one that has a long-standing, vibrant religions at that. Now, the old druid order slowly expands, and the faith actually crosses the borders out of Rhyrgia and into the South. The characters are missionaries and priests of the faith, and try to spread their belief in the southern realms, while facing the usual prejudices against Rhyrgians and against organised religion as well.
Depending on the campaign style, this could be a crusade campaign or one focused on theological debates, or both, making it Lionheart meeting Merlin meeting Dogs in the Vineyard.

Adventures in the Eastern League:

The Siege of Brug: The undertown of Brug was a wonder to behold when it was in is prime. Nowadays it is a deathtrap and home of the fastest growing and perhaps dangerous population of beastlings in the known world. The kobolds of the Brugian underground may even outnumber the surface population and the pressure of this steady growing population has led to a dire war for resources, among the kobolds themselves and obviously with the surface dwellers as well. The situation has grown desolate, and the proud citizens of Brug pay top bounties for slain kobolds and mercenaries who are willing to fight back.
It’s the Descent meeting the Mines of Moria meeting Aliens (I know, I had that one before. I happen to like creepy things in dark places).

The Secret of Marakamdar: Yes, this is the big one. The world’s largest dungeon, the greatest of all mysteries, the secret of how the population of a whole city could just disappear. The answer is probably: Take the most scariest thing you could imagine and consider a plot of how it killed / ate / incarcerated every single living being in the town. Marakamdar is something like the setting’s ultimate challenge for player characters, the greatest treasure, but also the greatest threat.
Maracamdar is like Prypiat, only in a fantasy context, and filled with gold and other treasures.

 

Fenris's picture

Woah

Don't you think it is a bit overkill - There are now more campaign ideas for this than for any other setting, perhaps for all the other settings combined.
Please hurry up, I want to see the characters you have in mind.

Thanks. I want to win this

Thanks. I want to win this competition after all and as the things are right now, I need more votes and hopefully better ones than now. Two people have already improved their ratings, and hopefully more are going to follow. I like this too much to give up on it yet.

And the one thing I don’t like about many of the other settings is that even when they are based on a good idea, they tend to be a bit too focused for my taste. Some are even one trick ponies with little difference between overall global setting and a specific campaign setting, which makes the game very “small”.

Fenris's picture

a different philosophy

That's a different philosophy behind it; you try to build a world, whichg includes several settings (your kingdoms and realsm and such). Others have build a small setting, and perhaps expand on it later on.
The problem with the second apporach is that the setings are often shoehorned into one specific direction and any expansion can easily look tacked on and not very original.

Places to be

National states and feudal society structures are a pretty novel development in The Dark Golden Age, which only ascended after the collapse of the magocracy; the magocracy rule was almost completely focused on large city states, while the region between these cities were just … there, but not really important for the ruling class except as a dumping ground for unwanted projects and dissidents. Through the decline of magic-powered infrastructure, these regions became sud-denly much more important and regional authorities appeared – sometimes new rulers crowned themselves after a conquest, others were elected or acclimated by their subjects. Still, settlements and towns are rare and far between, and many of these settlements have to struggle hard for their survival, as food and other resources are hard to get and some of the dumped projects of the magocracy proved to be very effective predators… 

 

Places to Be:

The Great Duchy of Ferron
Ferron, also called the Great Duchy by its citizens, is the largest and oldest of the new-found realms in the Dark Golden Age. Modern Ferron was created by the self-proclaimed Grand Duke Axerius of Gatei through a tactical alliance with the Tyrant of Launam. Between these two large and powerful city states the Peninsula which forms Ferron's territory was conquered in a few years and the bloody civil war that ravaged the country was brought to an end.  Averius was not content with conquest alone, but formed a functional administration out of his new territory through granting yielding opponents their titles and lands, and he invested heavily in a new infrastructure, building streets and founded small settlements to reclaim the land, which he granted to his loyal soldiers. 
Modern day Ferron seems to be a peaceful country; the population is still war-weary and the rule of the Grand Duke is better than most, and since the end of the civil war, the country has grown in wealth.

But under the peaceful surface, there is a turmoil: Many of the nobility were forced into submission but feel no love for their new ruler. The alliance between the ruler and the Tyrant of Launam is collapsing, and with it the very foundament of the realm.

Ferron was the first region to shrug the magocracy rule, and this was a result of terrible riots and pogroms against anything that was conscidered to be supernatural. During the long civil war, people were suffering and looked for scapegoats, which again were found in the ranks of the beastlings, spellcasters and other "witches and warlocks". As a result, the Grand Duchy is the least "magical" region nowadays, and the population is still heavily inclined against non-humans and spellcasters. On the other hand, this very fact makes the peninsula interesting for spellcasters because this means that many of the local places of power are unclaimed and an ambitious yet subtle mage could grow very powerful if he manages to tap these unused sources. 

From a metagaming perspective, Ferron is the setting for the low magic adeventures and campaigns. The country's instable social situation and feudal pecking order makes the region rife with intrigue and espionage. 

 

The Kingdom of Venna
Venna is the second largest realm after Ferron, but while its eastern neighbor was united through warfare and political maneuvers, Venna formed up almost by accident. For a long time, the land that forms the modern country of Venna were a number of unclaimed territories and miniature fiefdoms with only the large cities of Krapgar and Dabhla as solidly installed local authorities. While Dhabla became a “free city” controlled by a council of local landown-ers and merchants, Krapgar remains a true magocrat city up until today. The unification wars of the neighbor Ferron led to a large population of war refugees who settled westwards, into the then unclaimed areas of Venya. The different refugee groups – including the majority of Ferronian beastfolk  – settled in Venna and mixed with the native population of the country. Out of fear of further expansionism of their aggressive neighbours, the different leaders of native tribes, refugee groups and the city representatives came together to form a nation in the so called “Crown Convent”. Unfortunately, the Crown Convent was unable to come to a compromise every relevant group could live with and never ceased to exist.
Until this day, Venna is an ellective monarchy, with the Crown Convent as the kingmaker, and a queen who has little but representative power.

Venna is a very heterogenous country with strong local authorities and only a token superordained power. What unites the kingdom is mostly the wish to not be the subjects of any other ruler and a strive for independence, but most of the rulers know well enough, that they have to cooperate if they want to stay in power, since none of the small realms within the kingdom is strong enough to survive on its own.

For the dramaturgy, Venna is the "peaceful hinterand". There are skirmishes and  conflicts here as well, but compared to many other regions, the kingdom is almost idyllic. This is an important place to have in any campaign setting, because this practically means that Venna is a safe haven, and something worth to protect.

 

The Whale Islands
The island nation of the Whale Islands has always been somewhat apart from the culture on the continent. The islanders – calling themselves the Ardyn (“true people”) never were really a part of the magocracy, and some of the more traumatic events of the wizard like the massive use of transmogrification magic for entertainment purposes  never took place on the islands. 
For more than 3000 years, the Whale Islands are governed by the dynasty of the Gurudu, the Divine Mandate. Even though no member of the Gurudu was ever able to cast even the most simple spell, the dynasty is seen as directly supported by the gods, and the very thought of raising a hand against them is seen as terrible sacrilege. Indeed, the Gurudu are a dynasty of Daimonids, and can claim to be the descendants of the Heavens, but despite this ancestry and the high regard of the Gurudu, they do not rule the islands outside of the palace city of Phri Val itself. Instead, the islands are ruled by powerful clans, who are officially all subjects to the Gurudu, but in reality, they are highly independent and wage nigh endless skirmishes and intrigues against each other. Remarkably, these wars are so ritualized and coordinated around a stan-dardized protocol, that the islands are prospering despite the nigh constant state of war. Attacks against the civil population are heavily shunned upon, battles are pretty much prear-ranged meetings on neutral grounds, and more often than not, only small token forces of the different clans fight against each other instead of the whole armies.
 

For game purposes, the Whale Islands are an exotic place, with a very different culture and customs than on the mainland. They are a threat sometimes, especially when the clans send out pirates to plunder the coasts of the mainland to booster their wealth for the inter-clan warfare, but they could also be invaluable allies, as the art of seafaring is nowhere as advanced as on the islands, and trading connections to the Whale Islands would create a good outlet market for continental products and open the access to rare and exotic goods which then could be sold for high prices on the mainland.

 

The Sascrian Magocracy
Sascria is the last realm of the where the old magocratic social order has not changed. The towns of Sascria – the realm has no large cities – are still ruled by wizard councils, the rural areas are still mostly untouched and full of wild and dangerous creatures, and the majority of the population has heard so much propaganda of the superiority of the Gifted over mundane people (called “the Soulless” in Sascria) that they actually started to believe it.

Still, Sascria face the same problems every magocratic system faced: The magic doesn’t work as effective and easy as before, the old spells that hold up the infrastructure are faltering and sometimes just disappearing and there is a significant lack of young wizards who could follow in the steps of the current generation of magocrats. The rulers of Sascria have faced these challenges with a callous but efficient strategy which has become almost synonymous for the country’s ruling class. If spells become harder to cast and maintain, blood magic must fill the gaps, and this requires sacrifices, preferably of sentient creatures. If there are not enough potential Gifted born within the country, Gifted children must be "harvested" outside of it. Within a few years, Sabscria has turned from a peaceful land of scholars into a warmongering country that sends out war parties hunting for captives to Thuria and Venna, and so-called Witch Hunters, small troops under the leadership of a junior wizard which are sent out to find children with potential and bring them to Sabscria. Neither the war-ridden Repub-lic of Thur nor the loose alliance that forms the Kingdom of Venya has the power to risk an open confrontation with the Sabscrian magocrats apart from a few punishment expeditions, and even those are risky.

Sascria is the closest thing to card carring villains The Dark Golden Age has; but still, this depends greatly on the perspective. The Sascrians – both the mundane and the ruling class of wizards – feel that the Age of Magocracy has created wonders of knowledge and culture which were unheard of before, and which are rapidly lost throughout the world. The only place where this knowledge and cultural achievements have at least a chance to endure the next century or so is in Sascria. Pogroms against spellcasters or non-humans, which were common place in Ferron and appear tragically often nearly everywhere else are unknown in Sscria. And while the mundane population is subjugated, their overall life quality is much higher than those of a self-proclaimed “free” dirt farmers in one of the other realms. You can’t eat freedom, and great gestures and hollow phrases doesn’t make the water supply run. Magic does.

 

The Republic of Thuria 
Thuria is the central realm of Gondal, and in many ways it was the most typi-cal one as well. The Republic was one of the first domains where the old magocracy was overcome by mundane heroes and warlords, and it was the first ‘real’ nation that was founded in The Dark Golden Age for a very long time (technically, Ferron is older, but Thuria was already a stable nation while Ferron was still torn apart by its civil war) . After the overthrown magocrats were killed or driven away, new rulers came together and formed the Republic. Influential local nobles and clan leaders elected the Archons, the rulers of the land. The glory of Thur was immense, the country led a few border skirmishes and “freed” other neighboring countries from the magrocratic rule to make them a part of the republic – Ustern, Marve and Tesaya became vassal states of Thur and effectively subjugated marks of the republic. This expansion ended after the Republic lost two wars in quick succession, at first against the then newly formed Great Duchy of Ferono and a year later on the western border against the warrior caste of Sascria. 
These two bitter defeats broke the military backbone of the Republic, and shattered the belief of the ‘newly joined’ countries in the Republic's invinicibility. This lack of confidence lead to the uprisings which are still going on to this day.
Modern Thuria  is a country that slowly bleeds out in a war with too many fronts. The Republic has grown too fast in its expansionist phase and the social and political infrastructure for an empire of this size never existed. The new vassal states on the border of Thuria were not able to defend themselves, granting easy victories which made the Republic and its leaders arrogant – until the Feronian archers and Sascrian Canians taught them humbleness again. Now, the Republic tries to hold its territory together, leads different campaigns against the rebels in Ustern, Marve and the hinterlands of Tesaya, without achieving more than token successes, while the rebels also seem to be unable to beat the Thurian armies as well.

The Republic is an ambivalent place, similar to Ferron, but coined by different conflicts. There are many things that work well in the Republic - people can climb the social ladder (mostly through military service), the Republic has a strong meritocratic aspect, humans and no-humans live together quite peacefully (at least most of the time), but on the other hand, the Thurians are seen as warmongers, and they have lost a few too many wars in the last years to keep their expansionism going. Still, their pride does not let them go from the territories they have conquered.

Thus, Thurians make good allies or player characters, but they are also prime antagonists for a guerilla campaign.

 

Bifetra
The island nation of Bifetra (the island’s only city has the same name) has become a refuge for beastfolk of all kinds. During the magocracy, Bifetra was a prestigious stud for all kinds of magically created creatures for the pleasure and luxury of the rich, who could afford an original Bifetra beastfolk slave or arena creature. This fired back badly when the protection spells that kept the breeding pits and barracks of the creations  in a spectacular light show, and the numerous creatures of the island quickly overcame their creators and guardians.

Bifetra became a fanal for the enslaved beastfolk, and their holders as well. Paranoia about further slave rebellions led to a harder situation for many beastfolk, especially the free ones who were felt as a potential threat throughout the world – and many of these started an exodus to the island of Bifetra, hoping for a more tolerant society of their equals.

The result was ambivalent. Bif Tera is one of the few places i where Beastfolk vastly outnumber humans but without the outer pressure of a large majority, the different tribes of beastmen live pretty much separated from each other and open enmity between different tribes – especially between the numerous catfolk and the other tribes – has become a common appearance. The island is not very fertile, and the nutrition of the different people is hard work. Hunger and poverty are common problems in Bifetra. The remaining humans are subjugated and enslaved (if they haven’t fled to the main land) and are treated worse than slaves anywhere else. There are several vocal leaders of beastfolk tribes on Bifetra who support a full-blown genocide of the island’s remaining  humans, and only their status as valuable property offers a bit of protection. Among many of the Bifetran beastfolk tribes, human meat has been declared a delicacy, and these tribes – especially catfolk – treat their human captives as little more than lifestock.

Bifetra is an utopian vision gone horribly wrong. Instead of a promised land the island has become a war-torn island full of paranoid little tribes. Bifetra is a very bad place to visit, or to live, even for beastlings. For campaign purposes, it is a good thing to have "the bad place", if only as a contrast, to create an extra dangerous environment. 
 

 

The Kingdom of Rhyrghia 
For reasons not known to most people, Rhyrgia has always been the country where the birth rate of Gifted children was much lower than anywhere else, which made the coun-try not only very different in its social structure from the “true” magocracies farther in the south and also made the country a playground for smaller intrigues. For centuries, Rhyrghia was a backwater country, its people the butt of jokes for the more powerful city states in the south and east. Rhyrghia was the country of smelly dirt farmers, delusional warlords, and hedge mages who have troubles to invoke a magic light. More importantly, Rhyrghia remained a country where religious beliefs stayed common while they became stigmatized in the South; while this underlined the superstitious backwater reputation of the country in magocratic times, the druids who form the clergy class have maintained a long-standing tradition and a vast collection of knowledge, which may even match the collective scriptures of the magocratic rulers elsewhere. In addition, no other country has mastered the transition from the magocratic age to the Dark Golden Age nearly as well as Rhyrgia, and the former backwater country has become the sleeping giant of the lands.

Rhyrghia is a kingdom, ruled by the high king in Qular, but the feudal structure of the country has prevented a strong central power while the local nobles have strong influences at least in their home domains. Nonetheless, many people would argue that the druid cult is the true power in the country and rule it behind the coulisses – and probably more efficient than the aristocratic rule anyway. The more powerful nobles have usually druid counselors and rumors of a “druid conspiracy” which plans to take over the rule of the country are prevalent.

Rhyrgia is the new boom country in The Dark Golden Age - a region which once was treated with condecendence and rarely taken seriously but which somehow managed to make the transition from one era to the other remarkably well. Rhyrgiais also one of thinnest populated areas in the world, and the dark forrest in the country's west and the frugal steppe in its east  makes it still dificult to maintain a civilized way of life. 
 

 

The Sarkan Tribes and the Sarkan Steppe
The Sarkan Steppe is not a nation, but the homeland of the different tribes of the Sarkan people – or at least of the Northern tribes, as there is a smaller tribal population further south in Ustern as well. The Sarkan Lands are officially a part of the Kingdom of Rhyrghia, but due to the immense sociocultural differences between the Sarkans and the Rhyrghians and the very limited influence of the High King on the tribes, this affiliation is mostly limited to the official titles and a few tributes the tribesmen pay.

The steppe and its surrounding plains are the lands of the Sarkan horsemen and they have kept their culture more or less intact during the magocracy and its aftermath. The Sarkans are a clannish people, and have little intertribal organizations. Each tribe controls a vast area and travel with their herds – mostly cattle, but also a large breed of domesticated ostriches – through their territory. This lifestyle requires vast territory since Sarka is a harsh country. This need for space often leads to conflicts between different tribes about pasture grounds and water holes, but also with the Rhyrghian farmers or expansionists of the Eastern League. This form of sustenance also limits the size of tribes, and tribes that grow too large have to split up to guarantee its survival. Some-times, these split tribes start to feud quickly with each other, others form long-going alliances with each other. Only ambivalence between these tribes is rare. In the last years since the territory of the Sarikans grew smaller through an increase of settlers in their traditional homelands, this process doesn’t work as well anymore, because the necessary space for the tribal groups is just not sufficient anymore. Therefore, young Sarikans have begun to migrate southwards and either become assimilated into the societies of Rhyrghia or Thuria, or serve as mercenary troops in the Thurian wars.

Sarkan tribes are bound to travel, and their social order and culture are affected by this. Mo-bility and the ability to ride are seen as elementary skills, even though the majority of the tribes – the elderly, children and women – do not usually travel on horseback but in the large carriages of the tribes. The Sarkan society is based on strong gender roles – men are hunters, herdsmen and warriors, if needed, women are housekeepers and craftsmen. Despite these traditional roles, both sexes are considered to be equal, and even though tribal chiefs are almost exclusively male, the traditional council of elders who counsel the chief and act as the tribe’s jurisdiction usually consists of as many male and female representatives. In addition, exceptions in the gender roles are usually accepted if the talents or interests of a young man or woman do not cope well with the traditional roles, and while “weaving men” are often mocked, “riding women” are often highly respected and idealized wives. As the old Sarikan saying states, “A man whose wife rides well is a lucky man.”
 

The Sarkan are the "wild people" of The Dark Golden Age. They are unbound, live by different rules than the sedentary majority of the population and are often at conflict with these; they are sometimes seen as primitive barbarians or noble savages, but most of the time they seem to be stranger to the townsfolk of Thuria than the neighbouring beastfolk.  Besides, horse nomads are cool.

 

The Eastern League Remnants
The cities of Dai Oli, Brug, Ras Madin, Sakarat and once Marakandar once formed the Eastern League of city states, large cities east of the Sarkan tribelands who had little territory but a certain culture and language in common. In many ways, the Northern City States are the archetypical remains of the ma-gocratic age: When they were founded, the hinterland was just not important, and magically enhanced infrastructure made the large and dominating towns run smoothly. Now, after the magocracy’s decline, the city states start to collapse. The infrastructure does not work any-more, the people of the town hungered and left for places where they could grow food, the outer districts of the towns lie in ruins and the inner districts are slowly showing the neglect and the decay. The League itself is in no better condition; after the complete destruction of Marakandar and the almost open state of warfare between two of its members, the alliance of old only seem to exist in the name anymore.

All of the eastern cities share a common structure – the towns were built in rings, with the central citadel in the centre. The citadel served as the palace and academy of the ruling ma-gocrats, and was always the largest and most spectacular building in the town. Around the citadel, the inner ring featured the market place, the local administration, the most temples and the large arena, so that the cultural and social centers where easy to access. In the follow-ing rings, the normal citizens lived, with a hierarchy based on the distance to the centre – the richer and influential a citizen was, the closer he lived to the citadel, and the now abandoned outskirts were left to the rabble.  

Unlike the Sascrian magocrats who avoided centralization (and arguably saved their culture through this), the Eastern League  were fully controlled and centralized and followed a clear social hierarchy and a strong urbanism. The different towns never saw the others as equal, but had a very specific favoritism for the own city and small scaled wars – often little more than skirmishes between the creations of different vivisectionists, arena beasts, beastfolk warriors and the local city militia were as common as the seasons.  In spring and summer, the armies clashed, in fall and winter they retreated and reformed, just to fight each other in the next year again, without ever resolving anything. Whenever one of the cities grew to power-ful, a loose alliance of the others formed against it. The warfare was so standardized that the population just thought of them as normal, and with the exception of the soldiers (who were usually recruited from the lower classes and therefore didn’t measure anyway) and the inhabitants of the hinterlands (who were primitive monkeys in the townsfolk perception anyway), the war did not even had any casualties or lead to any results apart from a few dead soldiers the ruling cared less about than their more impressive creations.
Only when an outside power threatened this status quo, the League citiies formed a larger alliance and stood together against the outside enemies.
 

The City of Brug
Brug is the westernmost of the League's city states and also the smallest one – at least over ground. The ‘undertown’, the system of caverns and tunnels beyond the city is probably just as large as the city itself and what was once a project of prestige has become a major threat to the town. Nowadays,  Brug feels besieged, but not from outside its walls, but from below. The undertown was mostly abandoned when the magical lights flickered and failed and the magic of the place slowly faded – at least by humans. For many of the numerous beastfolk of Brug, the undertown became a new home. Especially the kobold population, already seen as a plague before, exploded and took over vast parts of the underground. While the caverns and underground facilities offered a great living space for them, these are no places to grow food, and the kobolds started to raid the surface for food and anything else they found. The humans living over ground started to fight back, close every access to the undertown they could find, but that proved to be an impossible task. The kobolds can pretty much appear everywhere in the town, overwhelm any guards and disappear into the darkness again. Expeditions sent underground just disappear when they run into a kobold ambush or one of the worse creatures that roam the undertown. 

Over the ground, Brug is an almost rabidly purely human settlement, where anything or any-one not looking human enough is automatically suspicious. The Brugians have become paranoid and fearful, and look out for scapegoats who could be punished in proxy for the raiders from the underground. 

The Kingdom of Ras Madin
Ras Madin always had the problem and the advantage that it was the most central of the five city states, and that the traditional wars between the city states usually took place in its territory. The city therefore tried to get as little as possible involved in the usual conflicts, and instead tried to establish itself as a neutral point between the others. This worked reasonably well, and Ras Madin became a major junction of trading routes in the area, grew rich through the trade and usually featured the embassies of the other city states. Even more so, Ras Madin was the place the rich and powerful went to experience something special and unique; the town featured places of entertainment for pretty much every taste, every drug known to mankind (and a few unknown ones), slaves for every taste, the largest arena and the most spectacular arena fights (the Arena of Ras Madin could be flooded and was large enough to perform battles between full-blown warships and sea creatures). 
Every ten years or so, Ras Madin became involved in one of the wars, and the trade broke down for a short time, but the town always recuperated quickly, until the end. 
When the magocracy collapsed and the social order of the city states with it, Ras Madin en-tered a serious crisis. The numerous slaves and gladiators revolted, and actually conquered a large part of the city which they controlled for several years. The fearful citizens of the town summoned a mercenary army consisting of Sarkan tribesmen and diverse beastfolk, under the leadership of the aging Thurian mercenary Hogra. The mercenary army besieged the roused slaves, captured their quarters – and the rest of the town. Hogra declared himself king of Ras Madin, and established a hereditary rule. Nowadays, Ras Madin is run by a military tyrant, but the Hogrian Dynasty has brought something like security and order to the city, and is therefore quite popular with the local citizens, despite its totalitarian style of leadership. 

The Duchy of Dai Oli
Dai Oli was always the largest of the League's city states, and the most Ferronian as well. The city a-ways tried to establish a power base both in the north and in the south and became an important trading centre for the north-south axis. 
When the magocracy collapsed, and the other city states were torn apart or even completely destroyed, life in Dai Oli remained surprisingly peaceful. With the probable exception of Rhyrgia, there are few other places were  the transition from magocracy to a mundane government was  that peaceful – the local wizards just declared their own disempowerment, left the citadel and became citizens like everyone else. There were a few street fights and a small revolt, but nothing serious compared to the large scale social collapse everywhere else. After a few years, the five dukes of Dai Oli formed a hereditary rule over the city, and after the unification wars in Ferron, they followed the Feronian example and granted land to merited citizens while a new infrastructure outside the city was slowly formed, including new villages and towns. 
Due to the peaceful transition, many wizards from Ferono fled to the new-found “Duchy of Dai Oli”, because the pogroms against the Gifted never really took off in Dai Oli. Other prob-lems occurred, though. 
Modern Dai Oli has changed from a centralistic city state into a slowly developing feudal country based on a Ferronian example. During the Unification Wars in Ferron, many refugees fled over the bay to Dai Olian territories and settled down there, which accelerated the process of cultivation of the hinterland. 
Through the Copper Hills, the lands of Dai Oli are divided from both the roaming routes of the Sarkan tribes and the more militaristic rivals in Ras Madin. Nonetheless, the tension between the wealthy settlements in Dai Oli and the militaristic monarchy of Ras Madin are steadiy increasing, and there are rumors of war and regular small skirmishes in the Copper Hills.

The City of  Sakkarat
Sakkarat is the northernmost city state, and the one with the highest share of beastfolk in its population. While not all of the Beastfolk people are recognized as equals of the human ma-jority, some bloodlines, especially catfolk and ursines are well-accepted and a constant sight within the city limits.
Sakkarat faces the same problems as all of the large cities of old – the infrastructure of the city is not sufficient anymore without massive magical support – but unlike the other states, the Sakkarat hinterland is harsh and frugal and is not well suited for settlers and agrarian communities. The Sakkarite solution to this problem was unique and has perhaps saved the city from starvation and ruin: Instead of settling in the hinterland, the Sakkarites prepared a large fleet and invaded the Storm Islands in the East. Vast amounts of the Sakkarite population resettled to the islands and formed a new society there, taking the pressure of overpopulation from the original city. The large share of beastfolk in the city is partially caused by this resettlement policy, as the majority of the invaders of the island and the new Stormlanders were humans, while their beastfolk neighbors remained behind on the mainland.

The Ruins of Marakamdar
Marakamdar was the second largest of the City States, and due to the plentiful ore supplies in the surrounding mountains. Marakamdar controlled a vast army of slaves which mined the silver and gold mines and a similar large army of beastfolk warriors to control the slaves. The magocrats of Marakamdar created the kobolds as the perfect mining slaves, small for tight tunnels, fast growing and reproducing to replace those who died in the mines. The plague of kobolds which plague cities and wilderness alike in the Dark Golden Age  took its origin in the mountains around Marakamdar. 
Marakamdar was once a great, pulsing city, rich and beautiful beyond all recognition, but today, it only consists out of empty ruins. The destruction of the city was the death knell of the Age of Magocracy. Nobody knows for sure how exactly Marakamdar was destroyed – the rumors range from an uprising slave army which massacred the townspeople to a bound daimon who broke its bonds when the magic grew weaker, but nobody knows anythin exact. The fact that the whole city is abbandoned has proven to be a major lure for treasure hunters and adventurers, but few who left for the ruins ever returned, and thus a nimbus of danger and terrible threat is nowadays usually associated with the empty shell of a city.

 

The Eastern League, or better, the sorry remnants of the League are the very core of the Dark Golden Age. Here, the most defining elements of the campaign setting - the ruins of the time of high magic, the beastfolk, the giant arenas and the decadence of an age of wealth and power meet with a new world order where the ambitious and cunning can claim the power, the old order has collapsed and the current people are trying to get by in the slowly crumbling cities, or the growing pioneer villages - while the surrounding lands are still haunted by roaming monsters, and from time to time Sarkan tribesmen. 

And then, there is the big mystery: What happened to Marakamdar? And what kind of treasures can be found there? The city was filthy rich in its high times, due to plentyful mines, and all that wealth and gold is probably still there. But what if the thing - or perhaps the person - who wiped out the population of a whole city is still there?

 

People and Species of The Dark Golden Age

There is only one sentient species in the Dark Golden Age which is actually native to Gondal and developed naturally: Humans. The other sentient species were either created through magical manipulation (so-called transmogrifying magic) or are the descendants of extraplanar travelers.or other daimons.

The vast majority of the population are just humans, with little special about them. A few of them were born with the Gift, allowing them to summon and control daimons and thus gain magical forces and powers, and in the age of magocracy they became the unchallenged rulers of all the lands. There are different ethnicities and cultures of humans in The Dark Golden Age, from the nomadic tribes of the Skirren to the still intact magocracy of Sascria, but they all have in common that they are humans.

From a dramaturgy point of view, humans are the standard fare. Every other species or culture defines itself at least partially through the way they are differentiated from them, and most other species are descendants from humans anyway.

 

Beastfolk or Beastlings are a catch-all term for magically created hybrids from humans and animals; they often combine the features from both parent species. During the Magocracy, the creation of Beastfolk – or other hybrid monsters – was a leisure time activity of wizards to show their own creativity, talent and ability to create powerful – or at least attractive – creatures for pleasure, warfare or arena combats. The breeding of Beastfolk or other monsters for arena combats was a source of prestige and income, and the frequent arena tournaments were also a way to entertain the mundane masses with bloody spectacles.

The most common Beastling breeds are Canians (dog people), Felinians (catfolk), kobolds (ratfolk) and Ibixanim (goat people). Rarer breed include the powerful Ursines (bear people), Aulak (owl-people), Ragari (hawk or eagle people), Selkies (otter people) and the towering Minotaurs.

This list is by no means complete, and it is not only possible but very likely, that there are many other very small breeds or even unique creatures out there.

The combined Beastfolk population forms the second largest slice of the overall population but that doesn’t mean that they are that numerous after all. It is safe to assume that there are eight to ten humans for every Beastling, and that roughly half of their number belong to the incredible fertile kobold breed.

From the dramaturgy perspective, the Beastfolk are “The Others”: They are both alien and familiar, they tend to fit in a specific niche and allow for very custom characters with unique strengths and weaknesses.
Plus, otter people. I want a game with otter people. Cute, little otter people. I mean, what kind of person wouldn't want otter people in their setting? 

Generally speaking, anthropomorphic animals are nothing new. Which is okay, because to be interesting, a setting probably should include both new facettes, or at least arrangements and something comfortably familiar.

 

The third group, and a very small one at that, are the Daimonids or Infused: They are “mostly” humans, but were also changed through transmogrification magic. Instead of animals, their physical being was adapted by summoning a Daimon and binding it to the host body, creating people who are more – or from another perspective less than pure humans. Their abilities and traits are as variable as the Daimons that are fused with them. In some places, they are treated as diabolic “demon breeds” and have to fear for their life, in other regions they are worshipped as harbingers of the gods and treated with the utmost respect.
It is sometimes rumoured that people born with the Gift – the ability to “see” magic and thus manipulate it through summonings – are a natural occurrence of Daimonids which happens before birth. If this is true, spellcasters are no complete humans anymore but something else.

If the above rumour is true, then spellcasters are probably the most numerous form of the Daimonids and more populous than all other varieties of these combined – and nowadays, fewer than one in thousand still have magical powers.

From the metagaming perspective, the Daimonids allow to play characters who are exotic and unusual, little unique snow flakes with unique powers and abilities and, perhaps more importantly, unique aesthetic components – a character with dark blue skin, glowing red eyes and white hair, for example.

 

The last, and rarest of all species, are True Daimons who can physically embody in the world of The Dark Age and reside here. Most of these Daimons were never summoned but have or had the ability to travel between spheres and worlds and came to this world.
The best known of these True Daimons are the dragons, and their former servitors, the G’w’h’l, or Gwail, as they usually pronounced. Thanks to a slave revolt of the Gwail, dragons are nowadays extremely rare, but their former servitors have lost their bonds and created small yet stable communities on their own.
Unlike the Beastlings and Daimonids, who usually don’t form of their own, but are assimilated into the larger human communities, True Daimons usually form small singular communities on their own, which exist only in one place, but with little interference with outsiders. Many of these communities are highly isolationistic, and for good reasons: the superstitious fear and hatred for these True Daimons can often threaten their lives outside if they are alone.

True Daimons are there for the very exotic parts and creatures, the truly weird and alien concepts that you always wanted to include in a game. The other species are all mostly humanoid, but that is probably not true for te majority of the True Daimons which could effectively take any form.

 

Rough Population of Sentient Species in Percent:
True Humans: 90 %
Beastlings: 5-8%
Daimonids (including spellcasters): 1-2 %
True Daimons: > 1%
Others: 1%

 

Magic and the Arcane

Magic is everything you want it to be. There is no "correct" interpretation of magic, and pretty much every interpretation is valid as long as it fulfills the one mandatory prerequisite: It must make sense in itself and should never contradict the rules it is supposedly based on.

So, the one commandment for magic in The Dark Golden Age is  the same as anywhere: "Thou hath to make sense!"

 

There are still a few specific details which should fit into the setting as well:

  1. Magic was once  common, and is now fading and becoming exceedingly rarer.
  2. Magic allows for the merging of creatures and beasts and to create completely new ones, if you have the right "raw material"
  3. Spellcasters were once powerful, but were actually overthrown by angry mobs, at least in some places
  4.  Once it was easy to create magical items as well, nowadays this is nigh impossible.
  5. Players should be able to play spellcasters without being either overpowered or a hindrance.

 

These are four simple corners of the setting's supernatural powers.  The 1st and the 3rd are practically the same, but this is not only a question of quality, but also of quantity - back in the old days before The Dark Golden Age, there were not only many spellcasters, they also had a lot of power, and not only in the supernatural department but also in political means. The inheritance of this are still around. The magical creatures created through transmogrification are still around, and are perhaps even more dangerous now without the proper spells and rituals to counter them.

This would create a neat niche for player characters - professional moster hunters and protectors of communities. 

Magic items might once have been plentyful, and perhaps used for simple, everyday means - magic light bulbs, water elementals bound to create a clean and available water supply - or sheer luxury, or at least comfort taking the form of self-cleaning, self-repairing clothes animated jewelery. Nowadays, these items have become rare and a sign of great wealth. Owning a magical item, even a very common one like the said magic light bulb has become a sign of wealth and power. 

This creates a niche for adventurers - treasue hunting. Player characters can become rich and prestigious by delving into the ruins of the former masters of the arcane - and plunder anything that has a magical aura. 

 

I am actually thinking that the ideathat magic comes in ebbs and floods is not the best way to initialise the status quo in the Dark Golden Age; as RHManiac already pointed out, this is a concept that's not that new. So it is perhaps more interesting to treat magic as a natural ressource which slowly regenerates if treated carefully but which was so thoroughly exploited by the magocracy of old; this creates basically two forms of magic, one careless yet powerful one that furthers the decline of magic, and a soft, reluctant form of invocations that is not as powerful but also not as harmful for the fabric of the supernatural. 

There are probably still natural sources of magic (I though about ley lines that crisscross the lands like veins, with places of powers where the these lines cross) and thus mystical places and vistas, and the spellcasters who control such a place are often very powerful. 

The problem with this concept is that it might appear as a heavy-handed analogy for the real world  handling of natural ressources, so this requires a bit of tactfulness or it feels like a sermon.

Another idea is the Voidstorm, a "natural" phenomenon that appears from time to time and which is basically a wandering antimagical maelstrom, that also brings nightmares and other terrible visions and is actively harmful for magical creatures and deploits magical items.   

And finally, the way magic works. Magic has the great advantage that it can be whatever you want it to be, and thus are only partially limited in the details and forms by the practicality of the game; therefore the atmosphere can be adjusted to the flavor of the campaign. For the Dark Golden Age, magic should be powerful, but not overwhelming. It should be easy to create things, like the whole transmogrification magic, but from the logic of the setting where the old system of power is overthrown by petty warlords and adventurers, it should probably not be that powerful in a direct confrontation. And, because spellcasters should be an option for player characters as well, they should not be useless. 
This means, that a highly ritualised system of magic with elaborate invocations and ceremonies would fit the above requirements - it would be powerful if used correctly but needs a lot of time, which makes it not very overwhelming in a direct confrontation, and with the right options, player mages could still be powerful, but would require a lot of planning and thought. 

 

The next thing would be entirely magical creatures, or Daimons (this is the original Greek form of the word) who could be called to the physical world. Daimons include anything that is not from this world, spirits, elementals, but also creatures who can or could, when the magic level was high enough. travel one from dimension to another.  Daimons is a collective term that include many different beings - some sentient and as intelligent as any human, others mindless sprites with no personality whatsoever; some benevolent, other actively harmful. 

To add yet another element, and a threat level, it was established that bound spirits are used for any kinds of tasks - the example of the water elementals who cleanse a town's water supply, a minor fire elemental could create an eternal flame, or a daimon bound to a tome as an immortal counsellor which remembers anything - there is no limit to the possibilities. Now, with magic on the decline, these bounds are weakened - and many daimons are released. While it is unlikely that most of them can exist for a longer time in the physical world without being bound or summoned, their release can lead to a short and dangerous discharge of their powers - and in some cases their wrath about years, perhaps centuries of imprisonment.  

Likeswise, these daimons are very likely to be used in the transmogrification magic as well, as this would allow to create creatures with very rare and spectacular abilities.

 

Now if we put this together, we suddenly realise that the vast majority of spellcasters are in fact, summoners who summon and bind daimons to do their dirty work. Magical items in this setting are de facto the "prisons" of daimons of all kinds.

This doesn't mean that there aren't innate magical abilities - the fact, that the sheer number of spellcasters is declining indicates that the magic gift is an innate trait, and that it probably requires a certain talent to summon and control spirits to do your bidding. The most obvious here is The Second Sight, the ability to see magical auras, invisible and corporeal beings, other Gifts like empathic healing, or the gift of Prophecy are other neat tricks. 

One staple of fantasy that does not appear in The Dark Golden Age though are hordes of mindless undead.  There are a few undead creatures - created through daimons bound to a corpse - but they are rare as the creation of such a creature would be the equivalent of creating a magical item. That said, there are certainly a few of these around, but if you could create a golem or another animate guardian why settle for something comparatively fragile as a human corpse?

To summarize: Magic in the Dark Golden Age profits from Places of Power, and usually  invokes the summoning of daimons. Likewise, magical items are usually fetishes  - a daimon is bound in them and empowers the item with a certain ability of the daimon's domain.  Magic Users have few powers on their own, but can channel the powers of supernatural creatures, the daimons, through rituals and ceremonies. 

  

Expanding a few elements

As a response to several of the reviews, I will ttry to expand on a few elements of The Dark Golden Age in the following. For a better understanding and general structure this will be divided into four seppearate comments - Magic and the Arcane, Places to be and Adventures to have, people and characters and finally, Plots and Hooks.

 

The things I like about the setting are several; mostly the basical assumption that anything that appears in the game needs a logical explanation, an approach which should be mandatory, but is unfortunately exceedingly rare, especially in fantasy. 

This leads to a certain automatism in the development of the world, because if any event should have a plausible cause (or better yet, several ones, because monocausality is not very common), you can actually see the setting developing itself. 

So, things I think are awesome and belong to the Dark Golden Age include the following details and assumptions. 

 

Yet another response

 "I know we are not really in this for the money, but if we put out another FH setting, it will really set us back in the eyes of most consumers. [...]

"Basically, any fantasy setting put out publicly has to go up against the 800-pound gorrilla of the room that is D&D (both 4E & 3.5)."

I think that this perspective is bizarre. Fantasy as a setting might be dominated by D&D, sure, but it is also by far the largest setting - with an overall bulk of interest and publications that probably shadows all other fantasy genres combined, and which includes a lot more niches than any other, mostly because it is not as focused.   

If anything, it would be a reckless decision to publish anything but fantasy, based on the usual favorites of the audience. With the exception of Call of Cthulhu, there aren't many non-fantasy games with a high survivability. 

 

Allow me to counter...

"If anything, it would be a reckless decision to publish anything but fantasy, based on the usual favorites of the audience. With the exception of Call of Cthulhu, there aren't many non-fantasy games with a high survivability."

Really? I can name several...

Shadowrun
Champions/Hero System
GURPS
Vampire/World of Darkness
Star Wars
Savage Worlds
Mutants and Masterminds
Traveller (despite many near deaths, this one keeps coming back from almost nothing)

That's just off the top of my head. However, I am in a unique position to be able to do this. I have been gaming for 30+ years, and I own a game store.

Currently, the only fantasy-based games that sell well in my store (and others whose store owners I correspond with regularly) is D&D4E/Pathfinder. Other, really good fantasy games pretty much languish on the shelves. Savage Worlds has two *WONDERFUL* fantasy settings in Shaintar and Hellfrost. They don't sell well. Runequest. Great game... doesn't sell a lot. Rolemaster is still around, but it sells so little outside of Iron Crown's web-store that it might as well not exist as a going concern. The Dark Eye... fantastic game... sells great in Germany (its country of origin), but here in the States, store owners can't give it away. Earthdawn... just released its 3rd edition... wonderful background material, but most folks have no idea what to do with it since it is not Tolkien-esque fantasy, and thus, doesn't sell well.

None of this is meant to be proof positive, but it is meant to shake the thinking that whatever our first project is has to be a fantasy-game to be popular. It doesn't, and based on my observations, if we put out a fantasy game that isn't a supremely stellar product and a completely unique take on the genre, our will sit on the shelves alongside the games I mentioned above, and that is not what we want.

To that end, I am *HIGHLY* critical of any fantasy concept brought to the table, because I have seen the genre done to death, with a lot of games passing by through the years. Anyone besides me remember Ysgarth? How about Chivalry & Sorcery? Dragonquest? All good games released in the early waves of role-playing just after D&D began to hit big back in the late '70s/early '80s, and all never found a foothold in the industry against the 800-pound gorilla of the room, D&D.

My main point is that I'm not saying that we shouldn't release a fantasy-game at all. Just that if we do some fantasy-based game...

1) It shouldn't be our first product...

and

2) that game needs to be PHENOMINAL in its total execution (art, rules, setting, etc.) in order to get noticed at all.

Given that, no fantasy setting that the Swarm has come up with thus far meets that criteria.

Riposte

Gurps, Hero Systems and Savage Worlds are pure systems, not settings, and while I don't know much about Hero, and don't care about Savage Worlds, one of the earliest publications for the current edition of Gurps consisted out of the trinity of Magic, Fantasy and the Setting Banestorm, while the current most succesful lines of official supplements is the Dungeon Fantasy line. Mutants and Masterminds also goes more into generic territory.

The World of Darkness is dead and gone and replaced with its own clone.

Star Wars was just cancelled in its third reincarnation (and in many ways, Star Wars is more a Fantasy in Space game than Science Fiction)

Traveller is barely responding but kept alive by a few original fans, but as you pointed out yourself, it suffers through a constant cycle of death and rebirth, it is an original phoenix in space.

And Shadowrun is a class 1 original fantasy system, only with a few adjustments for the technology. The dragons and elves are kind of an indicator here.

Certainly, I do not have your expertise on this; I don't own a game store, nor do I know many people who do. I can only express my opinions here. (The fact that I am writing from the other side of the Atlantic may also add a bit of a different perspective).

My impression is, that many more people are interested in fantasy than in other genre. If this is a fallacy, than I am wrong.
(BTW: what about Exalted? I thought that was one of the bigger systems as well.)

And I only wrote a review of my own settings because that was encouraged in the last update, and in the discussion of the mist and Shadows setting; yes, I think my ideas are great. I can understand that this seems a bit odd, but I honestly did not try to manipulate the vore here (if anything, getting my wife involved here is probably more problematic than this).
This sarcasm was a bit uncalled for, I think.

I think that you have very legit concerns, and certainly you have much more experience than me from the distribution point of view, but based on the impression that I got, I do not share your analysis.

Apologies... and a rebuttal =)

You're right that my last (now deleted) comment was a touch out of line, and I do apologize. I was unaware that Mike encouraged people to do exactly as you did with his last update. My bad. Mea culpa. I do apologize.

Now onto the rebuttal...

As for GURPS, HERO System, and Savage Worlds being pure systems, you're only somewhat correct.

Savage Worlds is pretty much the only one that was set up to be so originally.

HERO System is an outgrowth/extension of the earlier game, Champions. Due to this, HERO is still the best rules set to do superhero gaming with. As a generic system, HERO can do anything, but only a few things well.

GURPS was set up to be a system from the outset, but was an extension of Steve Jackson's earlier work for Metagaming (the company) called the Fantasy Trip. Take the Fantasy Trip (Melee & Wizard), steal liberally from HERO system, streamline the whole, and you've got GURPS.

Saying that the World of Darkness is dead and buried, replaced with its own clone is kind of like saying that D&D is dead and replaced with its own clone. I understand that many people share your sentiment about both games, but that fact that I have books on my shelves that are labeled "World of Darkness" and "Dungeons & Dragons" and they do sell disproves their non-existance. You may not like what the World of Darkness has morphed into, but that doesn't mean it is not a going concern.

Yes, Star Wars just cancelled its third incarnation, but until then, it's been going for almost 20 years in some form. Plus, by calling it just a fantasy game in space, you pretty much lump in ALL RPGs into the fantasy genre. At what point do we draw the genre line, and who is fit to judge that?

Shadowrun's first three editions I would agree with you is fantasy with technology trappings. With the fourth edition, technology REALLY comes to the fore to dominate the game to the point where the fantasy elements are really just sort of overlays anymore. Race is really not that big of a difference anymore, and the differences between magic and many technological effects in the game have narrowed considerably.

Exalted is TECHNICALLY a fantasy game... an over-the-top, anime-fueled fantasy game... I'm not sure how it sells elsewhere, but around here, in a town of 100,000+ people, I have one customer who buys it on a regualr basis. I wouldn't call it a popular item.

You are correct in that fantasy, as a genre, sells better than any other. However, the bulk (i'd have to say 92-95%) of fantasy RPG sales in gaming come from D&D4E/Pathfinder. Most other fantasy games are pretty much ignored. What I am finding is with the current dissatisfaction with the current iteration of D&D, people are branching out and trying new games OUTSIDE of the fantasy genre. Some of my best sellers currently outside of D&D/Pathfinder are Savage Worlds and its associated settings, CthulhuTech, Eclipse Phase, and Hollow Earth Expedition.

Your perspective is going to be different than mine, since you live on an entirely different continent (my guess is Europe) than I do. I know my local scene VERY well, my regional scene PRETTY well, and my national scene better than most. Beyond those borders, my knowledge is spotty at best.

I welcome the debate. It's fun... and educational for both of us. =)

peace... RHM

No harm done.

I was also a bit perplex when I saw the first own-comment; that's actually quite understandable, and now after all is cleared, I think that's no problem anymore.

Here in Germany, the things are a bit different. The original World of Darkness was one of the four most important RPGs at all (the other were The Dark Eye, the local dominator of all things RPG, Call of Cthulhu and Shadowrun). D&D was one among the rest of "other games", like many others. The introduction of the NWoD was a spectacular failure. The line was discontinued after a year or so, and is now pretty much dead and gone. There is still an active community of OWoD players, though.
The story of D&D 4 is similar, but even more spectacular in its own way. I don't know anyone who plays it and the line was abandoned after only four months.

The typical German RPG typically is a post-apocalyptic setting. Or The Dark Eye (which is pretty much "everything that ever was remotely succesful in any RPG comprised in one tiny setting").

There are a few pearls around, though.

In the whole fantasy debate, there is still one arguement that hasn't been mentioned: If you can't beat them, join them. As far as I know (unfortunately, I don't know the details) it is still possible to produce games under the pathfinder or D&D licence, and there were always several quite succesful 3rd party settings for D&D.
So why not writing a setting under the premise of using either D&D or Pathfinder as the core rules? Sure, that's certainly not the most innovative approach, nor is D20 even close to my personal favorites, but still this should be regarded as an option and might even be the safest alternative. And, with a bit of homebreing and a few options, you could still create something new and interesting.

DnD / Pathfinder Rule System

I both like and dislike this suggestion. On the one hand, for the most part the systems have been proven to be effective (I won't speak of 4th ed), and it would let us leach off of the success of the existing systems. On the other hand it ties our game to the system, and if they bungle it (like having to choose between basing it off of 4th ed, or the now discontinued 3.5), we will be forced to suffer the consequences without any control. Also, there is the money factor involved with getting licenses from them. Finally, I have seen games do this, like Chaosium's Dragon Lords of Melnibone, but I haven't seen hardly any of them do well (admittedly, my experience is limited), and with a broad system like DnD seem more like expansions or moduals instead of something unique and on their own. Some of the best systems I've played outside of the core big ones have a rule system that fits the game as a whole. The skill system of gurps works perfectly for Call of Cthullu, which relies primarily on RP and skill usage. OWoD d10 point system allowed for the players to create diverse characters with branching abilities while keeping the system crunchy. And DnD's system is designed to be open enough to let players and GM's do more or less what they want.

What I'm getting at is if we want to use an existing system, which I think is risky, then we need to find one that fits us well. From what I've seen, most people here want a setting that is rather specific setting in that it limits the GM's and player's creativity while providing them with an existing world to play in. I know DnD is very broad and open, so the rules wouldn't fit well with most of the settings submitted, and if we tried to do it with a broader system, it would just be a loose spin off of DnD. So I'd suggest looking into other systems then that are designed to fit into specific niches.

I'm of the opinion myself that the rule system can make as big of a role in how popular the game is as the setting itself. For example, the setting of DnD didn't change from 3.5 to 4th ed, but the popularity plummeted because a lot of people didn't like the simplified rule system. Making our own rule system would be difficult, an administrative nightmare (we are gamers after all), and time consuming, but in the end I think it would be worth it since we could turn out something completely unique.

Well, that was my $.02

A response

" There are two things that throw me off - one that you already have a system in mind that is homebrew and not described here, and two is Pokemon."   -Mikeb.

That are genuine concerns; I have deleted the passage the specific homebrew, because that isn't that important to me anymore, and a more modern and innovative system would probably be a lot better.

And the Pokemon thing... I don't like pokemon much, either. This is more like a deconstruction of it - using similar monsters and a cultural impact of these competitions, but the aesthetics and brutality more common in dog fights or bullbaiting (an old British 'sport' of setting up fights between bulls and bulldogs). The traditions of these arena fights are more similar to some arena events, which appeared  from the Roman Republic to the 19th century. The romans used spectacular, exotic animals to fight against each other, to answer the age-old question "In a fight between a rhino and a hippo, who would win?" (My guess is on the hippo; those are agressive mean beasts).  In the Magocracy of the Dark Golden Age, this was expanded to  "In a fight between a fire-breathing  lion and a four-armed sentient gorilla armed with nunchucks, who would win?"

It's just simpler to describe it as "It's like Pokemon, if it were a PETA's nightmare, and wizards who build monsters for fun", based on the assumption that more people are familiar with pokemon than they are with the Bear Gardens of London.

And yes, I think that pokemon is an euphemism-ridden retale of dog fighting. Without any real injuries and cutified into diabetes. 

Vignettes

These are small sample scenes to capture the atmosphere and mood of The Dark Golden Age. Theys should help to understand the moot and ideas behind the setting.

And hopefully, they are fun to read.

 

The large hall was only a shaodw of its former glory. Once, the floor was covered with a precious mosaic, but many of the small stones have been lost over th time and the small wholes have disfiguired the group of dancers it once showed. On a small pedestry on the end of the hall, a throne was arranged. The mighty chair was carved out of the bones of large beasts and covered with the precious fur of a great tiger, but it was shadowed by the mighty shadow of the man sitting in it. Warlord Meiken has grown old, and the scars of many battles has carvd up his skin, but despite his age, his vigor was still obvious. He lifted his pokal and the warriors assembled in the hall cheered. "This has been a great year! And we have made many victories over the weaklings in the vales, and the cowardly riverfolk. I salute you, brave warriors of Darro Dane!" And the warriors answer alike, stomping their feet, lifting their cups and cheer and howl.

 

The old arena hadn't been used for years, and its once imposing stone blocks showed cracks and graffitis. But the circus was no longer abandoned; the mercers, spicers and slavers had raised their market stands, and the place was filled with smells -the strong perfume of exotic spices, as well as the odours of sweat and dirt. The traders shouted and rivalled in loudness. Their stands showed the treasures from all over the world, some genuine treasures, some worthless baubles, and similar trinkets. But all was overshadowed by the large slave auction in the middle of the sand. Here, were once mighty gladiators faught against each others and were convicts were slaughtered by abominations and monsters, now slaves were sold. Beautiful girls, and muscled longshoremen, strange-looking beastfolk and scarred children, all stand on the simple wooden stage and carried the rough iron chains.

 

"There are still the evil ones among us!" The voice of the priest cracked, and small drops of saliva sprayed from his mouth. In the shine of the torches, his hairless head looked like a fleshless skull. "They are still among us, the witches and warlocks who where with demons, the creatures born out of sin, the monsters and abominations!" The ecstatic crowd lamented and screamed in abhorrence. "It is the will of the gods that we cleanse the world of these mockeries! It is the will of the gods that we purify the world again." It is the gods will!" His voice raised to a crescendo and the chorus of the crowd answered with a steadily repreating parole. "Cleanse it with fire! Cleanse it with fire! Cleanse it with fire!"

 

The body had went limb, but still blood flow from the vicious cut in the throat. The carcass of the sacrifice hung from its feet, the once beautiful face disfigured in agony and now masked by the flow of blood. The blood collected in the vast cauldron, and already started to clot. The grey-haired sorceress stepped towards the cauldron and let her robe drop to the floor. She wonce had been beautiful, but the age had not been merciful to her. She stepped into the warm blood, and shuddered. She sat down, crouched into the fluid, and dove into it. When she raised again, the blood sticked to her skin. Her hair was a bloody mess, everything seemed red and the metallic stench of blood filled the air of the room. But under the blood, her hair was black as a raven's wing again and the wrinkles had left her skin. "I hate this ritual," she said to no one in particular, "but I love its effect. This should do for this year."