The ancient world is no more, a mere legend lost beneath the Boiling Seas over seven hundred years ago. The remaining continents float amidst the great void of the sky. Thousands of feet above, the firmament shines cold and thin; thousands below, are the endless storms of the Boiling Seas, or the Maelstrom, in the Dwarven parlance, a churning infinity of roiling clouds, lightning, and madness. Airships ply the skyways exploring, trading, and making war, while the races of the world continue to adapt their ways to the new world.
More than a thousand years ago, a mystical faction war broke out amongst several different guilds of arcane practicioners, the majority of which were primarily human. Raging for centuries, they eventually began to devastate the landscape and tear apart the very fabric of the land. Eventually, the Eladrin attempted to step in and stop the wars by reason, then eventually by force. Though well intended, their magical might, combined with that of their dragon allies, in the end only escalated the conflict. The methods of magical warfare included not only earth-shattering spells, but the raising of armies, often by enslaving other races or even creating new, more specialized races from existing prisoners of war and dangerous, experimental magical rituals. Records disagree about precisely how the world adopted its present form: some say the continents themselves were repulsed by the devastation of the landscape; others that the rest of the world simply boiled away into Chaos.
All surviving continents and islands carry veins of a common but valuable ore referred to as Lodestone. This dark, magically ferrous mineral provides the lift and stability that prevents the continents from crashing down through the boiling seas. The largest half dozen landmasses only ever laterally drift a few dozen meters in any given direction, and maintain relatively stable directional orientation, but smaller masses with less inertia are free to drift more, most often colliding with other airborne objects. With changes of temperature and weather, things can be found lower, closer to the Maelstrom, or higher up, in the icy frost of the Firmament. Landmasses that sink are heated from beneath by the Boiling Seas, causing them to rise again, while those masses that rise too high inevitably cool off in the frigid winds, sending them back down. This leads to extreme temperatures being frequent but short, usually only lasting a few weeks, with changes in altitude and weather all too frequent. The largest continents have a much smaller variation, the bulk of their lodestone deposits being insulated deep within their mass, thus maintaining a much more consistent temperature.
Any given amount of lodestone has what is called a native altitude, and even when mined and separated from its original vein, it rises or falls to find equilibrium at the original native altitude at which it originated. In general, a mass of lodestone can support a relatively equal mass of other matter and remain at its preferred altitude. Adding more weight will make it sink proportionally farther below its native distance. In addition, the relative equilibrium of an individual amount of lodestone can vary greatly depending on its current temperature.
As above, so below. The outlay of the planes follows the overall structure of the world in a very literal, though not practical sense. According to the most learned scholars, the Maelstrom is actually a physical manifestation of the Elemental Chaos, and, if one could ever survive falling down for miles through the roiling storms, presumably one could actually find themselves within the Elemental Chaos, and, if falling further, could drop down into the demon-wracked shores of the Abyss itself.
Conversely, an astronomer observing the night sky would easily observe, drifting amidst the constellations, various bright, multicolored bodies, not quite stars. If one could survive a trip up, up, and up again through the frozen, airless nothing of the Firmament, one might eventually find themselves in the Astral Sea. From there, it might simply be a matter of years sailing toward a particular bright point of light, which would slowly resolve into the Astral Curtain of one of the Astral Realms, from Celestia to the Nine Hells.
As the Material Plane has suffered, the Feywild and Shadowfell both seem to still reflect the previous state of the world in many locations, though for how long, none can say. Thus, both realms have become a refuge for many dangerous beings, whom found their structures more convenient than the sparse real estate of the new world. Thus, it is said that most of the more powerful dragons actually retreated to the Feywild, carving realms out for themselves amongst the fey, magical beauty. Though the Shadowfell remains the realm of the dead, dark rumors circulate of new empires arising throughout the old reflections of the previous world, in the ghostly echoes of lands long lost beneath the Maelstrom.
Though both realms tend to have a lot more ground than the Material Plane, they in general cannot serve as viable travel routes, due to their denizens.
Common theory holds that the current state of the world owes its existence to the corrupt and power-mad arcane magic-users of long ago, and this is not so much considered a prejudice as it is accepted common wisdom. Learning about the past is considered a necessary evil by many; as is making use of certain magical principles extrinsic to oneself, such as ritual casting or the use of certain utilitarian artifact equipment. The distinction lies in whether or not the power is actually channeled internally, as such practices obviously cause madness and death to the practitioners, those around them, and the world as a whole.
Taking the place of Arcane practices are the emerging Sciences. Through careful observation of the natural world, followed by (not always) careful experimentation, new fields of study and practical application have begun to make possible things that once were only accomplished through magic, and in entirely too short a time frame. In the past few centuries, emerging engineers have begun producing everything from new methods of transportation and farming to ever-more creative ways of lethal warfare. Though viewed askance by most as quirky if not downright hazardous, these new technologies have made possible an new quality of life for a few, and inspired new trade and conflict.
The most impressive and widespread invention of the day remains the Steam Engine. Originally developed as a quick and efficient way to heat lodestone, engineers soon discovered a myriad number of uses for the driving pressure build-up caused by their invention. Soon, steam engines all over were providing not only heat, but locmomotion to various devices, from tools and weapons to wagons to skyship propellers, enabling the creation of much larger and faster ships.
Transportation around the continent between landmasses takes several forms. Some manage to find living flying mounts, highly prized in this world. Existing Elven communities favor gryphons, while the Hobgoblin Armada is rumored to have several evil dragon allies that can ferry important officers or act as fearsome artillery, though these are rare. Some engineers use heated air dirigibles, which are cheap, but fragile and subject to winds, or fixed-wing aircraft, though these still are only capable of short range, can carry barely more than a pilot, and are prohibitively expensive. Goblins and gnomes tend to favor these designs for specialized missions.
Most of the main trade, travel, and warfare, however, come from ships with upper keels of lodestone, or entire hulls and superstructures mined directly from the continents themselves. Such stone finds default equilibrium at whatever altitude it was originally mined, and thus provides a platform which is subject to much less catastrophic failures as other craft, as it has a natural failsafe altitude and is as durable as the rock from which it was quarried.
The main difficulty comes from propelling craft of such great mass. Many use sail power at least as a back-up, deploying sails with a surface area several times that of the hull’s cross section, though most ships are found using steam-driven props. Altitude is controlled by heating or cooling the rock, so the larger masses of lodestone tend to have less leeway, though moderately sized ships carry wood or coal-powered steam boilers to heat the stone and drive the propellers. Depending on the engineer and the stone available, ships may default and reach equilibrium much lower or higher. High-default lodestone is rarer and much more expensive, as it can carry more weight at a more standard altitude, though newer techniques involving the application of a steam boiler can allow shipwrights to use much more economical lower default lodestone. It is possible to load a high-default ship with ballast, most often water or smaller amounts of lower default stone, which can then be dropped to change altitude.
One common trade good is the powdered and alchemically refined form of lodestone mined from different altitudes. It can be used as ballast (in either direction), and can be bled off in small increments very easily. The downside: large changes of altitude tend to be one-way trips, though some smaller ships carry supplies of both to constantly adjust equilibrium, though this is expensive and limited. Such dust is also used in special life vests called float harnesses, and when worn close to their native altitude weigh effectively nothing, or when worn just below their native height allow large jumps. Some blacksmiths have experimented with lodestone armor alloys to lighten the load of personal armor, but this is problematic, as it tends to only be useful at certain balances of altitude and temperature.
If within approximately a hundred feet of its original native altitude, lodestone tends to drift slowly until settling at its comfortable equilibrium. If beyond this distance, it rises or falls at normal falling speed. Essentially, the lodestone itself finds gravitational equilibrium is its native height, though all other substances are affected by gravity normally, being pulled down into the Boiling Seas..
All of these amounts are subject to changes in load carried or extreme temperatures. A mean altitude for most such rock at comfortable temperatures has been set by the various skyfaring races as Zero altitude, and the shores of a large majority of landmasses can be found within a few hundred feet of this level. Drastically lowering the temperature of these stones would place them just at the upper edges of the Maelstrom (and plunge them within it if they carry any sort of load). Heating them to boiling sends them several hundred feet upward, which is often sufficient for normal travel with a low-default ship. Heating them more, such as with heats consistent in a forge, would send them skyrocketing into the stratosphere, though sustaining that heat in the frigid cold, especially on a large vessel, becomes a logistic nightmare, and can lead to catastrophic failure in the event of a meltdown.
Several different technologies for air travel exist, all of which have their merits and drawbacks. Certain races tend to favor and perfect certain designs, but many unique designs ply the skyways, constructed and piloted by all manner of daring captains.
The Hot-Air Dirigible: Both of the closely related Dwarven and Gnomish parlances have a variant of the word “dirigible” meaning roughly the opposite of “durable.” This comes from the verb “dirig,” often translated into the common tongue as “to easily and often intentionally break an item, (preferably by sneezing, in the Dwarven context), so as to demonstrate it had no business being constructed in the first place.” Hot-air vessels are flimsy, nearly impossible to steer, and almost uniformly lacking in a failsafe. Still, when lacking in lodestone or forgeable metals, even a basket weaver with some knowledge of engineering can make a flying machine. This is a vehicle of choice for tourists, enthusiasts, and desperate shipwreck victims. Some elves use a plant-based variant of these, tethered in place far above their forests as lookout posts, though they never voluntarily use them for travel over distance.
The Fixed-Wing Aircraft: Whether using explosive rockets, more common steam-driven air props, or even mostly mythical magical propulsion systems, fixed-wing aircraft technology relies on continual forward motion and airflow over the shape of the wings to provide lift. They remain in limited use for several reasons. Physically, they remain much more difficult to engineer than any other form of craft. Failure of the propulsion systems usually means a crash, whether into the side of a mountain or the Boiling Sea. They have such a poor weight-to-lift ratio that they usually can carry only a single pilot plus one passenger or a small payload of explosives, and their prodigious consumption of fuel gives them an extremely short range. Still, those races that have access to them swear by these blisteringly fast craft in specialized situations, including shorter scouting and courier missions, and, in the case of the Craggen, air assault. Traditionally, only gnomes and goblins possess the right combination of genius, low body weight, and a disregard for personal safety in the face of technological innovation required to actually build, much less fly one of these.
Lodestone-Keeled Vessel: A mass of lodestone, quarried in a horizontal pillar shape or a series of spheres, nacelles, or pylons, forms the upper core of a hull of wood, metal, and/or hide. This is the most common base design, and many variations on it exist. Most use sail power, though a growing number, especially warships, rely on steam power to drive propellers and heat the lodestone for extra lift. Some engineers have even found ways of cooling it as well to achieve lower altitudes. Such vessels always carry ballast to balance their loads; most often water, but in some cases also carry lodestone or its powdered equivalent of varying default altitudes. They can often reach respectable cruising speeds, but, being primarily large masses of stone, sail-powered versions have little more control over their direction than a dirigible, as, unlike watercraft, they lack the utility of water resistance, relying on trade winds. All races equally use these, though designs tend to favor steam power; only employing sails as a back-up, with sails of canvas, silk, or light leather, with grappling tethers used to slow or stop them.
Lodestone-Hulled Vessel: Essentially a small island or atoll carved nearly entirely from Lodestone into some sort of hollowed shape, this design is simple though time-consuming to make and often nigh impervious to conventional assaults, but suffers even more from the lack of maneuverability that stone-keeled vessels demonstrate. In addition, though they can support a much larger payload, their altitude is much harder to regulate, as heating, cooling, or ballasting such a large amount of stone is usually grotesquely inefficient. These vessels are most often used as large merchant ships with well-known regular trading routes or mobile military command bases, with the exceptions being a few dwarven floating citadels and a half dozen giant floating trading posts, mostly run by neutrally-minded goblin capitalists. Such ships most often use sails to cruise, steam-driven propellers for maneuvering.
Living Mounts: Though not technically a vessel, winged animals deserve special mention, as they most definitely play a vital role. Those elves that choose to leave their forests almost exclusively ride trained gryphon mounts, while the Hobgoblin Armada is known to retain the services of a small number of evil dragons. Other large winged creatures may be in use in small numbers, but these are the most well-known.
Upwellings of the Maelstrom: Sometimes, when the continents drift low, and the Boiling Seas stir, small reflections of the madness of the Elemental Chaos seep up through cracks in the bedrock, infusing things with wrongness. Dead things tend to rise without any help from the Shadowfell, while living organisms develop disturbing mutations and aberrations. Obviously, the areas formerly part of the Underdark are much more subject to this effect than the surface, and often have caverns and tunnels wide open to threats from below. Rarer and much, much worse are the occasions where a boiling storm front rears up to wash over the land, carring not only such infusions, but also occasionally depositing beings of the elemental chaos, or opening tears to the Abyss, or even other, more alien places.
Geography of the continent of Zhia:
Avernia, the last human Empire, occupies a thick peninsula on the Westermost end of Zhia, the largest known remaining landmass. A long arm of the Father’s Arms mountain range (called Moradin’s Feet by the humans) almost wholly divides in two the North and South regions, with only a few rough passes connecting them. The Emperor’s Road runs along the west coast ledge, and is the only convenient land route between the two, divided in half by Vergence, the economic trade hub of the Empire, a stronghold perched right at the end of the mountains, overlooking the wide ledge and protecting the Emperor’s Road.
Vigil, the capital of the Avernian Empire, has fallen, the ashes of the Palace of the Setting Sun long cooled. Craggenwafte ships patrol the coasts and major riverways from the sky, enslaving or slaughtering all they can find. Their forces move to cut off Vergence, a large fortress and trade hub on a small strip of costal land connecting to the Southern baronies, and block all refugees from fleeing. The few remaining isolated inland communities are not long for this world, and their surviving populations must flee to the forests and seek refuge at what Dwarven gates remain open, or perish.
Deeper inland, the remote bluff fortress of the Imperial Martial Academy at Horn’s Halt still holds out under aerial siege, though with no hope of relief in sight.
North Avernia is a healthy but rough land of rocky foothills and thick forests. Ill-suited in general for crops, previous to the invasion it was well-known for its mining, lumber, and ranching, and its people, both nobles and peasants alike for being hardy, self-sufficient, and patriotic, with those of higher birth designated from others primarily by additional responsibility. Most families, both noble and commoner, carry a strong respect and tradition of military service.
Other Places of Interest: Bastion (Northern city/fort), Ambush Valley, Dead Pines, Rocks Run Red (cattle market and sight of a historical battle), Veteran’s Rest (retirement community and hospice for convalescent military), Vergence (Trade Hub of the West), Aviary (Trains carrier pigeons, some flying mounts), Gathol Pass (difficult path over the mountains to Southern Avernia), Mason’s Envy (Dwarven-made trade town down the valley from their gates), You-Shall-Not Pass (Nearly impossible pass into Karad River valley, Riverloop (stilted town in the loop of a river), Seven Staves (old Elven Wood, now petrified, but still inhabited by humans and others), Headstone Wood (petrified forest, not so tame), Renegade’s Folly (sight of battle, lonely town), Horn’s Halt (sight of a battle, bluff fortress of Imperial Martial Academy), Bad Joke, The Cordonement (stepped small wasteland hit hard by the storms), Woolentown (sheep market),
Vergence: Port, Military supply hub, and North/South tollway. Debtor’s Drop, The Bulwark (rounded fortress/market), Broadview Tunnel Tollway.
A land of low rolling hills and flat, fertile plains, South Avernia was the breadbasket of the Empire, its warm, humid fields overflowing with crops. The southern nobility cultivated a reputation as cultured, civilized ladies and gentlemen, known for dueling but not military service, for consumption but not production. Conversely, the peasant population, proportionally much larger than in the North, has a general reputation for being uneducated, subservient, and dependent upon their lieges for direction and subsistence.
Other Places of Interest: The Baronies (Estonia, Neveria, Castica, Vastia, Lumeria), Fallen Star Lake (Rich resort retreat of the Baronies), Esterdrop (Easternmost cliffside city, remote and poorly defended), Bella Locale (Resort town on Fallen Star Lake), Shankerton (Black market town along mountains, not far from Vergence, tunnel under mountains).
Privateers: Of course, a significant minority of humans do not fit easily into these categories; many are artisans or independent merchant traders, or simple hermits, trying to live independently. Of course, the control over mercantile industries by the Southern Baronies makes it quite hard to make a living outside of their influence, so much that some humans turn to privateering or smuggling to make a (dis)honest profit. The occaisional human can also be found throughout the world, usually as a slave, mercenary, independent craftsman, or privateer.
-Khazad Gathol: Literally Translated as “Dwarven Fortress,” this impenetrable dwarven delving sprawls primarily beneath the great convergence of the eastern and western branches of the Father’s Arms mountain range, beneath the great peak of Mount Karad. The largest known remaining community on the continent, no force could possibly breach its gates by direct assault. Nearly self-sufficient and almost wholly subterranean, many of the thanes in the Khazad Gathol wish simply to bar their gates against the influx of human refugees and wash their hands of the surface conflicts, though many dwarves and gnomish allies yet dwell on the surface and serve in the airships of the dwarven Home Guard. Through tunnels long existing since before the breaking of the world, the dwarves can gain access to any of the lands on the continent, and fiercely guard these hidden gates from all but their most trusted allies.
Karad River Valley: A rocky and sparsely populated but vast stretch of land between Moradin’s Arms, the valley is nominally under the jurisdiction of the dwarves, though many smaller communities make their homes here. The Karad River flows down past the river waypoint and trade town of Shadowater, beneath the great hulk of Thane’s Hulk, the tallest mountain on all of Zhia.
Felek Plains: A fertile region of plains watered by mountain runoff and the Karad River, and protected from storms by mountains to the east and west. Many smaller communities of different races make this area home. While dwarven patrols frequent the major roads of this area and the Home Guard keeps the peace of the skies, most of the small communities are left to themselves to govern and trade amongst the larger community. Midway down the coastline, the Karad River spreads out into a rocky delta, where the experimental and highly competitive Gnomish Incorporations for Promoting Technological Advancement (GIPTA) of Watercog, Waterwheel, Millville, Sprocket City, and Boomtown sprawl across the canals. A haphazard marvel of gnomish experimental design, the entire conglomerate city uses the force of the flowing river delta to generate power, giving much of the canal city powered automation, including the lights, factories, forges, and public transportation.
Sheltered from precipitation by mountains on all sides, the Grey Wastes are a vast expanse of rocky, barren foothills that give way to endless grey dunes. Sandstorms rip around the valley, giving brave or foolish captains a fierce trade wind, if they can sail it. Somewhere deep within the desert, it is rumored that the mythical Sinking Sands drain from the desert down into the boiling seas, though not quickly enough to have emptied the desert yet.
-Sinkhole: An isolated community located on the edge of a deep pit running clear through to the bottom of the continent. Lodestone veins run along several parts of the crater wall, providing the largest source of the substance outside of the dwarven lands. The settlement is actually a series of trade towns surrounding the hundred miles of cliff face, with various communities keeping to themselves and their own operations, and often competing for trade. The lodestone here has a relatively low native altitude and is quite abundant, and is therefore quite cheap. Folk of many races, from human refugees to dwarven outcastes can be found here, and newcomers to the town would be wise to make allies with one side of the crater or the other, for little rule of law governs the towns.
-Sandshore: An isolated trading post, this town serves as a waypoint for the few ships that sail around the Northern capes of the continent. It also is known for dealing in artifacts recovered by nomadic tribes from beneath the grey sands. Recently, the tribes have been finding more and more artifacts, and the large influx has encouraged skyship captains to continue to make the journey, preventing Sandshore from succumbing to the desert.
A hard, sparse land, populated mostly by chaotic, violent tribes of orcs, giants, and worse, in the service of their dark gods. The sprawling goblin trade-city of Promontory Point thrives on the easternmost edge of the continent, drawing all manner of beings to its narrow, noisy streets and its famous Bloodspire Arena. The land is sprinkled throughout with broken or much-rebuilt ruins of an old human society, rumored to be the one from which Argus Arigulus lead his people in exile, and many rumors persist of deep, hidden dungeons in the western foothills, rumors that claim many date to before the breaking of the world.
-Rotmire River: Part long, slow river, part lake, mostly bog, with hundreds of miles of pungent swampland extending to either side. The choking vines and infested waters hide many dangerous species, not the least of which are the tribes of lizardmen along the swampy, overgrown shores, and a strange fish-like species that haunts the depths.
-Ironspire Mountains: This relatively small range of mountains is largely uninhabited by civilized folk, being the only range not under the control of the dwarven thanes, with rumors of a resurgent kingdom of Giants emerging from within the steep, dark slopes.
-Giant’s Run: This small river valley connects the Sinkhole and the southern end of the Grey Wastes, though very little trade gets through along the ground or water due to the periodic raids by Giants. The goblin capitalists often hire mercenaries to push back the raids and incursions, but these troops lack the fervor and discipline shown by the dwarven home guard in other areas.
The Labyrinth Wood:
The last large hold of the Elven people, this immense wood is rumored to hold ancient trees that date back to before the continents floated, and the elves brook no trespassers, even those that would fly high above the trees.
-The Great Mirrormere: a large, clear, icy lake nestled between two arms of the mountains and the Labyrinth Wood. A few tunnel landings open upon its waters from the dwarven kingdoms, and boat trade between them and the elves of the Labyrinth Wood remains open.
The Evolution of the Crossbow: The favored weapon of technically-minded combatants everywhere, engineers have taken the simplest point-and-shoot platform available and created endless specialized variations. Ranging in size from a palm-sided dart thrower to the gyro-gimbaled steam-loaded grand ballistae of the Imperial Navy, the crossbow has seen countless innovations in range, loading, material, and ammunition. Current widespread modifications to the launchers themselves include spring-steel arms, pully-assisted steel-woven strings, internal spring propulsion, steam-driven reload cycles, fine-ground glass scopes, and gyroscopic stabilization. Ammunition runs from the spiral-cut wind-cutter sniper bolts to specialized hollow liquid-payload ammunition, capable of either exploding on impact or even injecting their contents directly into a target. Other even more specialized ammunition includes grappling hooks, net spreaders, lightning capacitor stunners, razor-flechettes, and adamantine-tipped armor-piercers.
River Rail: Running from Waterwheel up the Karad River Valley, stopping at Shadowater, and through the very gates of Khazad Gathol, the River Rail is a high-default lodestone train of cargo and passenger cars, running along a vertical set of parallel rails. When traveling up the valley, the train is loaded with light cargoes like grains and cloth going to the dwarven kingdoms, and its own default propels it up the very gradual incline. When coming down, it is loaded with heavy goods, including metal, ore, and low-default lodestone, as well as water ballast if necessary, gradually sending it coasting downhill. A long track of in-line wheels hold onto the opposite side of the rail from the car as it ascends while hanging up off the top rail, then at a switch at the end, descends suspended down from the bottom rail. As the train travels, the wheels not only keep it in line, but also generate light, heat, and automation for the interior of the cars. It has very poor acceleration in either direction due to the very gradual and long incline, but can reach speeds of up to sixty miles an hour, and the ride itself is known to be one of the smoothest and quietest of all gnomish vehicles. Four trams operate the six-stop circuit at all hours of the day at regular intervals, and the journey from one end to the other has been timed to take exactly four days, with cars arriving daily at either end every other day.
Bloodspire Arena: More than just a pit for people and creatures to die in, the Bloodspire Arena is a towering granite, basalt, and iron marvel of goblin ingenuity meant to impress even the most violent and jaded warrior with its brutal grandeur and lethal innovation. While actual straight-up duels happen, they are rare. More often, events involve captured slaves or monsters, large steam-powered death engines, moving floors, obstacle courses, mazes, and full-scale battles, all of which take place in a constantly changing, three-dimensional environment, around which typically sit upwards of ten thousand screaming, bloodthirsty fans. Deaths are even more common in the stands than in the Arena, though the goblin capitalist operators try to keep regular wealthy visitors out of harm’s way, the better to ensure their continual return.
Cragg: The homeland of the Craggenmensch, or Hobgoblins and their cousins, this continent was recently struck by a horrible disaster, spurring the desperate exodus of a homeless people and their Armada’s campaign of conquest over Avernia. Knowledge of this tragedy is not common knowledge on Zhia. Incidentally, this is also the name borne by the current hobgoblin mountain fortress/flagship. Flag: Black Gauntleted Fist on a red background.
Ahn-Khet: Thick, lush jungles surround much of this bowl-shaped continent’s exterior, while a vastly tall mountain range dominates the interior, nearly high enough to block any ship manufactured today. The only way into the rumored interior of the island is to brave the jungles and pass through the few tunnels leading inward. The entire outside of the island is ruled by the vicious snake people and their dark gods, though they keep tokens of other races for slave labor and sacrifices. Some goblins have made brief safaris, and are trying to have permanent posts established that can begin to exploit the living wealth of the rich jungles.
Bonegrinder Alley: a long, broad swath of rocks and atolls, spinning and smashing together with enough force and frequency to threaten even the best navigators. A whole ecosystem of hardy, windblown seed plants and airborne fauna thrives hear amongst the brutal collisions, and it is valued as a shortcut and hide-out between ports for pirates.
A quick primer on how the DnD languages work in this setting. The number of languages will remain relatively unchanged, though certain dialects will prevent easy communication at first, until certain circumstances are met in character.
Imperial (Common): The human tongue. An ancient and convoluted though flexible structure that borrows modern vocabulary from many other languages. Difficult to learn, easy to speak and be understood, though difficult to speak properly, even for many native speakers. Still in fairly wide use, though Dwarven and Goblin are spoken more, especially in certain regions. Many old human religious texts from the days of Argus I are written in the dialect Old Imperial, a mortal language with strong though mundane aspirations back to Supernal, and can be difficult to fully comprehend without training in Religion or History, especially for non-native Imperial speakers.
Draconic: The language of Dragons. Many older arcane texts are written in this. Only some careful scholars continue to learn this language. Kobolds speak a gutteral, primitive dialect of this, though not different enough to prevent communication.
Dwarven: The language Dwarves, Halflings, and Gnomes, each of whom have a smattering of their own strange idiom and vocabulary, though usually not enough to prevent easy communication, save for the use of certain technical terms. A stout, no-nonsense language that over-defines anything the speaker considers important and generalizes all else with as few sylables as possible. Both the basic grammatical structure and the nuanced differences of varying cultural speakers strongly reflect this principle. The most common language on the Western half of the continent, and a common second language for Northern humans due to their proximity.
Elven: As in the book. A rare and beautiful language in a decline matching that of its people. Elven speakers tend to use a great deal of metaphor referencing the natural world, while the Eladrin tended to favor poetic turns of phrase regarding more conceptual virtues, and had a strong penchant for literary allusion. It was considered a social coup to allude to a famous work and have your rival not recognize it. Both versions are easily understood by opposite speakers. A distant fourth language spoken in human lands.
Goblin: The predominant language of the East, and of trade. A strange dichotomy of precise legalese and vicious cutthroat idiom. Often spoken by the savvy businessmen of the South, as well as traders, merchants, and pirates. Quickly becoming the most spoken language in the world. The Craggen dialect is a sparse, hard dialect, with few idioms unrelated to war, only baring minor to moderate resemblance to modern Goblin Trade Cant; though both originated from the same source, they quite obviously split off some time ago. Even native speakers of one have great difficulty communicating with the other, though someone that knows one dialect can slowly muddle through and eventually pick up its sister language with great time and effort. Though its vocabulary is very limited with regard to non-military pursuits, Craggen lends itself easily to pronunciation by many races, and is easy to understand whether whispered, shouted, or lip-read.
Giant: Another language in decline, spoken by only the most savage tribes of non-goblin humanoids. Often characterized by much yelling and arm guestures, though holds a surprising, possibly intentional potential for rhyme. The ends of common or obvious rhyming phrases are often left unspoken to add emphasis by allowing the listener to infer the intended ending, a difficulty for non-native speakers that lends emphasis to a speaker’s words.
Deep Speech, Primordial, Abyssal, Supernal: All pretty much as in the book, and not the concern of players at the start of the game.
Ships and Fleets:
The Imperial Fleet:
Though largely recently obliterated in the Battle of Vigil, the Imperial Armada was once the most formidable tactical strike force in the air. Though they fielded few large-scale floating fortresses like the Dwarves, their scout carracks and destroyers sported the best and most advanced designs money could buy, excelling at highly specialized offense and defense. Given the Oathsworn’s focus on survival, they tended to have a rather innovative focus on stealth and survival. In addition to employing significant camouflage and silent-running techniques, including deceptive paint schemes, baffled propellers, and smoke screens, Imperial ships tended to be resilient, using designs with multiple redundancies to make sure they kept flying and got their people home safe, no matter how much punishment they had received.
For offense, most ships, especially destroyers, tended to favor extreme long-range, but highly accurate surgical strikes. Their highly advanced gyroscopic, gymbal-mounted, steam-loaded grand ballistae were deadly from over a mile away even with normal ammunition, the Oathsworn also packed significant amounts of explosive warheads, Lodestone-seeker-eaters, and anti-personnel shrapnel bolts. The Oathsworn also favored baffled-prop magnetically guided torpedoes as well. As per their doctrine of Survival, the human fleet tended to excel at stealthy, first-strike capability more than any other ships in the sky, and spared no expense at pursuing this idiom.
Only the few Imperial Dreadnoughts followed a more standard defense/offense design, though were focused primarily on port defense. These shared much of the hard fortifications of the Dwarven Home Guard, while at the same time maintaining a destructive capability equal to that of several destroyers. Sadly, the three known, the Kord’s Strength, the Moradin’s Resolve, and the flagship Bahamut’s Will have all fallen recently in defensive actions with the Craggen.
Unfortunately, most of the existing fleet was forced into a direct defensive action for which it was not optimized and severely outnumbered, resulting in its catastrophic loss.
The Dwarven Home Guard:
Though not the biggest or fastest, the ships of the Dwarven Home Guard are quite possibly the toughest, especially for their modest construction cost. Smaller frigates and cruisers sport a series of modular lodestone slabs, supporting a frame of thick iron armor plating sloping down on the sides, giving them the appearance of thick, wedge-like mining picks. All weapons reside hidden behind sliding iron plates, and even the propellers themselves hide within thick sleeves of armor plating on the sides and bottom of the ship. The four capital ships in the armada are nothing less than the peaks of small lodestone-rich mountains, carved in vaguely ship-shaped fortresses, and lifted wholly from their berths, each a unique and impenetrable work of dwarven craftsmanship, a flying citadel complete with armories, forges, and berths for gnomish fixed-wing attack craft. All use steam power almost exclusively to heat their lodestone, spin their props, and fire their weapons. The favored weapons of the dwarves are steam cannons and steam-loaded ballistae, firing numerous different mutitions, from stone balls and ballista bolts to containers of liquid fire and caustic acids.
Der Craggenwafte: Mined exclusively from the black lodestone-rich basalt of their homeland and framed in fire-hardened, blackened iron-reinforced wooden planks, the assault ships of the Craggenwafte are longer and lightly armored, favoring full-on frontal assault, their weapons being of much wider variety and dubious make. They tend to favor more dangerous weapons, especially flame-throwers and catapult-launched explosives, and are usually unconcerned with collateral damage. In addition to mounting more weapons and firing ports per ship, each favors a reinforced, blackened stone and steel battering ram on the prow, making its front profile nearly impervious to direct fire. Given enough speed, a direct hit from one can split even the most reinforced hull. Most also tend to tether a few goblin rocket pods to their undersides as assault craft. The one capital ship, the Cragg, is nothing less than an entire 10,000’ mountain ripped entirely from its base, carved equally with fortifications and bas-relief of scenes of warfare, rampaging dragons, and homages to Bane, god of military conquest and power. Dotted with hundreds of props for propulsion and dozens of anchoring chains, the Cragg still has enough room to tether nearly all of the hobgoblin attack cruisers and slave ships. Within its vast bulk lies the entire infrastructure of their war machine, including foundries, a shipyard capable of building up to four cruisers at once, room for over a million passengers (whether slave or no) and a full cathedral to Bane.
Goblin Merchant-Marines: Save for the Cragg, the goblin capitalists of Promontory Point float some of the single largest vessels ever made. Less ships and more floating trade hubs, most are lodestone-hulled hulks, essentially large hollow shells covered in sails, floating with the trade winds. The half-dozen or so of these Goblin Galleons, while massive, pale in comparison to the Goblin Grand Bazaar, nothing less then a small chain of islands tethered together into one huge mass of moving mercantilism. The goblins tend to favor haphazard, dangerous defenses that cause severe collateral damage, especially piloted rockets (which carry more rockets), though they usually attempt to barter their way out of any conflict first, as withdrawal or escape is usually impossible in their ships. If they employ their larger weapons, they usually are enacting a scorched earth policy of mutually assured destruction, a known deterrent that makes sure that, even in their defeat, their enemy has gained nothing through their destruction.