By Confused Jackal Mage and Ryan St.
In the Long Seas, north of Rav, lies the Tolan, an ocean so vast that one would think that there were only islands and no greater lands. Here, on the islands and in the shoals lie many ruins of the ages that came before… cities who resisted Kontokko in the ages past or the Living Gods as they rose to power at the dawn of this age.
Long ago, the world was populated by men who were as gods, who lived in great citadels whose only constraint was the man's imagination. A great cataclysm befell the ancients, however, stripping them of their power and greatness while breaking the world. Humanity, weak and terrified, retreated into caves and forests and forget who they once were.
After many, many years, human reemerged, and began relearning the tiniest part of what they once knew. The simplest technologies were discovered anew, and the scattered remnants of humanity gradually came to know of each other once again. Banding together, they spread, and grew. Though humanity just barely subsides on the land, some of the ancient ruins have been reconquered, and upon their ancient magic cities have risen, bastions of civilization.
These ruins teem with powerful artifacts and dangerous monsters twisted by the magic that sustained or destroyed them. When far-sailors tell of the great cities of the Tolan, they speak of a handful of ruins, conquered by humanity at the edge of existence. Some say these cities have no Living God as their ruler, but others tell that their gods simply rule from the shadows, controlling these cities and their inhabits with the ancient magic turned to their citizenry's use. The greatest
The Tolan is said to be two realms in truth: The sea realm and a vast jungle that can only be entered in strange times. This latter realm is the dwelling place of the Silde who bleed themselves in the worship of dead gods. Tales tell that the Silde are the souls of the drowned, but they are known to have children and those children tell us that the Tolan is a world on the edge of rebirth. Who knows what strange potency exists in the children of lost souls?
One of the cities is now gone, and now none can enter that blasted waste. This land is called Lost Kyklos for the city that died there, for reasons known to no man. A new City, Sandrios, was built within sight of dead Kyklos, on an island with no ruin and no taint of magic. Those suspected of witchcraft are killed on sight anywhere Sandrios has power. But innumerable ruins still lie unconquered, and alien realms begin to intrude on the real world.
Tolan is a world of islands. These range in size from mere sandbars to stretches of land a few tens of miles wide. The cataclysm that ended ancient humanity broke the world into these isolated isles, and scattered the remnants of life across them. For a good example of what Tolan looks like, look at the map from A Wizard of Earthsea.
The whole of the Known Lands stretches a few hundred miles across, in a rough oval aligned north-south. The Seven Cities are scattered fairly evenly within the Known Lands. Humanity itself has spread much further than this, but there is no reliable contact much past the established 'border', as the only established communication is between the Cities and the islands under their control. As well, Cthonian beasts, avatars of storm, move in the oceans, cutting trade routes and hiding areas behind curtains of unending typhoon, constantly redefining borders simply by existing.
Magic as a whole varies by location as well. The ocean damps the flow of magic almost completely, and even the greatest of mages have nearly no power when at sea. On land, those trained for it can sense and gather the power from the earth and weild it to create magical effects. It is in the ruins, however, that magic flows strongest, and only in the ruins are mages truly in their element.
The Seven Cities
For the most part, humanity lives on the uninteresting isles, pieces of land with no trace of the ancients. Those islands with ancient ruins are full of magic, and magic-twisted aberrations that often fiercely defend their domain. Because of this, humanity for the most part avoids the ruins and their islands.
Some, however, cannot abide by this. There are many priceless treasures to be found within the ancient ruins, artifacts of great power left over from the Ancient's fall. Thus, there are always people who are willing to explore and battle the monsters fo the ruins. Most of the time, they die. Occasionally, they penetrate a little way before retreating with their finds. In seven instances, however, groups of heroes have actually completely extirminated the creatures of the ruins. With the way forward cleared, humanity flooded onto the isles, and established themselves among the Ancient's possessions. There, upon artifacts of immense power, they founded Cities, bastions of true civilization.
These seven Cities are (in alphabetical order): Aarkan, Free, Keria, Kyklos (now defunct), ((and three others I haven't thought of yet)).
In addition to the Seven Cities built on the ruins and supported by the Ancient's magic, there is one City built by human strength on bare ground, the city of Alexandrios.
Kyklos: The first of the Cities to be founded (about 250 years ago), and the location of the rediscovery of magic. A city of glittering crystal towers that reached to the sky. When other Cities were founded later, it was discovered that magic flowed strongest in Kyklos, and it soon became the center of culture. Artifacts flowed toward Kyklos, looted from other ruins, and wonders never before dreamed of became reality. Unfortunately, a hundred years ago a horrible tragedy befell Kyklos. Accounts of the event vary wildly, but there is a common thread. Horrible creatures appeared quite suddenly in Kyklos and began killing and destroying everything they could. After a short period of time, the City itself was sealed by a massive spherical barrier, which persists to this day. No communication has been received through the barrier. This event sparked the Reformation.
Aarkan: A city dominated by a single black iron spire rising high into the sky, and an extensive series of underground dungeons descending at least hundreds of meters below the surface. The artifacts filling the city were all geared, clockwork-like constructs (not that mechanical clock are known of in the world). Though far below Kyklos in terms of magical power, Aarkan is higher than any other City, and thus was a second center of magical study, though its magical methods were always distrusted. With the death of Kyklos and the Reformation sweeping the southern Known Lands of mages, Aarkan has become a haven for magecraft of all kinds.
Free: An island shaped like a many-armed seastar, Free is ringed with natural bays and ports. What's more, any wounds incurred in Free are healed within moments. As you get closer to the center of the island, even death becomes temporary. A massive Arena dominates the city, a fighting field where warriors from across the Known Lands come to fight without fear of dying.
Keria: A city of floating isles, covered in dense forest and springs producing infinite pure water. The most beautiful of all the Cities.
Alexandrios: Center of the Reformation, and the only City not built on the ruins of the Ancients. Physical and spiritual base of the Reformed Church, as well. Contains sweeping architectural achievements without the aid of any magic.
A living, organic city comes to mind…one huge magical tree interspersed with monolithic artifices of stone jutting out here and there. Probably be a combination of bush, banyan and great oak, multiple trunks, grand bushlike bases with flowers paces across, a maze of trunks. This place would probably be home to a lot of giant-size animals. This would of course be the single largest plant alive on the world…and nothing says it can't be alive, too, so if people start mistreating the plant…well, the flowers could have other uses.
The City of Winds, where the monoliths have holes in them…hundreds of holes, thousands of holes. Yet, ambient sound is muted so that everyone talks in whispers. The soothing music of the winds tends to cover everything, with every change in the winds a different song…or perhaps, a different warning, for what sings, can also scream…
The Sunken City, where most of the dwelling is below sea level, and the stone is transparent and mythically hard. You walk through tunnels and watch the beasts of the sea slide past…and sometimes, the horrors of them.
The tessarect city, where direction is situational, the geometry is decidedly non-Euclidean, and its definitely bigger inside then out. The only way to know your way around is to know your way around…because no human mind could comprehend what geometry actually made the place. Gravity is very subjective, rooms and tunnels tend to be round and people walk on them from all directions, and where you think you are going has absolutely no logical bearing on where you might end up.
The City of Motion
The City of motion, where the monoliths move on occasion, and the streets, buildings and sections of town move with them. The changes tend to be fairly sudden, quite unpredictable, but also never do real damage to the layout of the city. Why the monoliths move is completely unknown, but it has made the traditional arrangement of Wards and seperation by wealth and strata impossible to maintain, as today's neighbor might be tomorrow found halfway across the city, and beggars going to sleep in a filthy alley might awaken in front of a merchant prince's palace. Perhaps the monoliths are responding to events in all the OTHER cities…
The Mages of the City have of course asked themselves - 'why did the ancients create a place that behaves as strangely as this?' And so, some Mages will probably believe that the daily new positions of buildings and landmarks have some mystical significance. That some sort of Magical Geometry and Patterns are revealed, if you plot and study the new positionings and manages to 'see the overall picture´. - A picture that may not be there at all.
So you may see Mages flying over the City, day in and day out, mapping, sketching and looking puzzled. They will possibly wish to mark the buildings with magic beacons to make it easier to oversee the daily canges. This could lead to some interesting situations with the owners of the houses: "No, Mister Mage, you cannot put that magic dingus on the top of my roof, no sir. After you put such a thingamabob on cheesemaker Waspin's house, his wife had warts all over, and their cat forgot it was housetrained. So go stick that thing somewhere more appropriate than here!"
More World Details
The islands are basically continental, not volcanic. This means that there *is* good rock on them. It also allows for fresh water springs, which are necessary for any decent human habitation.
The most common lifeforms on a world of islands are birds and insects. This is because they can cross the islands and easily exploit new environments. Real-world experience with islands shows a massive diversity of avian and insectoid life.
Another lesson that islands teach us is that size is inverted. Things that are normally small tend to grow large, and large things tend to grow small. Anytime a species has been stranded on an island away from the main group of animals, this happens. This is basically true here as well.
The Known Lands lie in a basically tropical climate. It's not quite equatorial, but hotter than temperate. Thus, you can basically just look to popular real-world islands for inspiration on how they operate.
Obviously, the ruins don't have to conform to this at all. They can potentially have any sort of environment you want.
The Nature of Ruins
Ruins were once the playthings of gods. Well, almost. Men with the powers of gods, but nothing to do with that power. Each one is unique, and they follow very interesting rules.
Ruins are the only place where magic really works. Once, people could wield immensely powerful magics anywhere. Since the great cataclysm that shattered the world, however, only the areas that still hold the magics of the ancients allow any channeling worth a damn.
As well, each area has its own particular flavor of magic - a particular paradigm in which magic must operate. In Aarkan, for example, magic involving clockwork automata is very powerful. In Keria, flight and water are favored. In most ruins, magic outside of the dominant paradigm is as weak as in the normal world. Some, however, merely favor their paradigm, but will accept any magic. This was Kyklos' fame - virtually any magic could operate at full power, and the city was extremely powerful in itself. Aarkan is also known for this, to a much lesser extant.
Many, many ruins are known, and they are all avoided by decent folk. Only those who wish to die (or make it rich with magic plunder) land on those islands.