By Ruven Wolff
EDITOR’S NOTE: When we heard about Ruven’s Victorian maritime 13th Age campaign, and how he was reskinning the game’s icons as undead pirates, submarines and Luddite orcs, we knew it had to go on the blog. He’s generously written his icons up for us, and added notes on shipping and weapons in this alternate setting.
Practitioners of white magic, organized in a complex web of magic circles, secret societies and witches’ covens, each with its own magic traditions. At the heart of it all stands the Sanctum, the circle of the most powerful wizards to walk the earth, although it is said that the head of the Sanctum itself is one man, the Archmage, so proficient in magic that he is barely human anymore.
The common man will know the Societas Arcanorum as the publisher of the yearly Almanac, which contains weather forecasts, shipping routes, planting tables for farmers and other useful information – everything you need to build and nurture a civilization. Indeed, some consider the Almanac a little too detailed, a little too overbearing; but the fact is, its instructions work, even if they sometimes seem to make little sense for the task at hand and approach things in a roundabout way.
Take the planting of certain crops, which apart from watching the seasons and choosing the right soil also (apparently) requires a close eye on the phase of the moon, certain star constellations, and a certain amount of faffing about with candles and simple sigils. Dealing with the Societas Arcanorum, you never know what of their actions is self-serving and what is just part of a complex magic ritual that serves god knows what purpose – and what is just flimflam designed to keep you from realizing the difference.
The Sanctum is closely tied to the Kaiserreich – indeed, insiders know that the Kaiserreich’s infrastructure minister is none other than the Archmage himself. As such, the Societas Arcanorum is also on good footing with the Church and the Golden Dragons, although there is sometimes disagreement about how to approach their common goals.
As the world’s foremost practitioners of dark magic, the Diablo Club and the Three almost naturally stand opposite the Societas. The Three continually try to get past the Societas’ magical wards that protect the shipping routes, and the Societas equally continually researches new, stronger wards. Magical wars between the Diablo Club and the Societas often go unnoticed by the general public, unless one side reaches a particular spectacular (but temporary) victory.
Knights Templar of the Cross
Religious zealots and ruthless mercenaries whose declared goal is the complete eradication of devil worship. They will stop at nothing to pursue this goal and make little to no concessions to other factors. The Knights Templar have been known to burn towns to the ground on little more than the suspicion of devil worship, with the general populace left largely to themselves, although thankfully such excessive displays of determination are rare.
The Knights Templar consider themselves allies of the Kaiserreich, the Church and even the Golden Dragons. The sentiment is not mutual. However, each of them have had to admit that an unchecked Diablo Club would be a worse enemy (as would the Knights Templar if they don’t consider you an ally). Then again, the Knights Templar would probably ally with anyone who allowed them to go against the Club.
In particularly dark times, even the Societas Arcanorum would rather ally with the Knights Templar than concede a victory to the Diablo Club.
The Diablo Club, obviously. Both the Kaiserreich and the Church direct a considerable amount of effort to keeping the Knights Templar in check, and the Golden Dragons actively despise their practices. The Knights Templar are also somewhat distrustful of Thorgrimmaer & Forinsson Industries – who, they argue, could know what the dwarves might set free if they dig too deep?
If the Diablo Club were ever to be eradicated, there is no telling what manner of „occultists“ the Knights Templar would go against next. Perhaps even the Societas Arcanorum?
The Diablo Club
To outsiders the Diablo Club is nothing but a private club catering to the rich and bored. The truth is far more sinister. The Diablo Club is a haven of depravity and decadence, and its members tend to recruit themselves from that special breed of privileged people that believe nothing should be taboo for them. What happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse – unless it’s one of the special club outings that more often than not involves a journey to a remote island and the blood sacrifice of an innocent victim to satisfy the demons that the inner circles of the club have sworn service to in exchange for power.
Even some of its members have no idea about the true purpose of the club. The club is very careful to keep some of its influential members in the dark, as they provide a valuable defense against attempts to close down clubhouses in the civilized regions of the seas. One of those members that outlives their usefulness will soon find themselves invited to one of those island trips. No return ticket.
Allying with the Diablo Club is insane or suicidal at best. However, the club enjoys connections to the Underworld and its off-the-books infrastructure.
The Golden Dragons know what the Club’s deal is and will work against it wherever possible. So do the Knights Templar, and they are less scrupulous about it. The Church works against dark magic as performed by the Diablo Club on general principle, while the Societas Arcanorum counteract their efforts on the more abstract terrain of magic.
Thorgrimmaer & Forinsson Industries
The dwarves have always been interested in the treasures that lie on the ocean floor and beneath, and they have found the greatest treasure of all – oil. This discovery has sparked an avalanche of inventions across the seas, and today there is almost nothing of greater importance that doesn’t, in some way, run or rely on oil. Thorgrimmaer & Forinsson is the world’s foremost oil trading company as well as the largest producer of intricate machines – oil drilling rigs, tankers, cranes, even autonomous carriages, but also mechanical weapons that use an explosive powder.
The majority of dwarves is somehow involved with the company, and they offer very lucrative contract work for everyone.
The Kaiserreich has bought into T&F’s inventions in a big way. So much, in fact, that while each of them is able to exert some pressure, neither could at this point continue to exist without the other. The Kaiserreich runs on oil and dwarven machines, and T&F Industries would collapse without a steady revenue stream – dwarves may be proud workers but they know the value of their work.
The Circle of Druids would like nothing more than reduce T&F’s influence on the world, including by violent means. The company is also under close scrutiny by the Knights Templar, and of course, where there is money, the agents of the Underworld aren’t far – machine and oil shipments are a favourite target for pirates.
The Elven Nations
Far in the North of the seas there is an archipelago where the elven races live, an artistic and magically gifted people that strive for harmony. Within their own circles, that is – the laid-back wood elves generally consider the more sophisticated high elves somewhat arrogant and the latter often call the former uncivilized, and neither are on good speaking terms with the morose dark elves, but ultimately their common history unites them. Many years ago the Kaiserreich had numerous colonies on the archipelago, and it is generally agreed today that neither side showed themselves in the best light back then (although most people limit that understanding to the respective other side).
The Elven Nations no longer wage war against the Kaiserreich. That is widely considered a large step forward. However, they cannot be said to be true allies – too different are their approaches to life, and too high run the resentments from the colonial period. The fact that many elves are old enough to remember life in the colonies – “under the oppressors“, as they say – firsthand isn’t helping.
As a peaceful people, the Elven nations do not condone the Circle of Druid’s violent actions, but they have a desire for living in harmony with nature in common, and many safe havens of the Circle are located in Elven territory. Large sections of the Societas Arcanorum focus on the study and incorporation of Elven magic, although the Elves are reluctant to give up their greatest secrets, preferring to keep them within their own circles. The Elves enjoy a good relationship with the Golden Dragons, who were always outspoken opponents of mistreating colony natives and the practice of colonialism as a whole.
The Elves deeply mistrust the Dwarves’ heavy use of heavy machinery.
The world’s foremost bastion of civilization, the Kaiserreich spans the entirety of the cartographed islands in the seas. A vast fleet that travels along complex shipping routes supplies cities and islands allied with the Reich and quite a few of the independents – unless you want to contact the underworld or the elves, it’s the Kaiserreich or nothing. Generally in a Kaiserreich city you’ll find all the services and perks of civilizations, a good selection of trade goods and reasonably safe streets, and of course a church, an office of the Societas Arcanorum (from which, at the very least, the Almanac is distributed) and a tax office. Very efficiently organized, very safe, very uneventful. Very boring, according so some.
The Societas Arcanorum and the Church are integral parts of the Kaiserreich. The Golden Dragons are valuable allies, and the Knights Templar at least make for better allies than enemies, although each have their own agenda. In faraway regions, either organization is known to serve as the Kaiserreich’s official police force, strongly coloring the local citizen’s perception of the Reich as a whole. And of course the business relationship with Thorgrimmae & Forinsson is so close they might as well officially be part of the Kaiserreich.
As long as the Kaiserreich relies on machines, they aren’t going to be close friends with either the Circle of Druids or the Luddites, although neither is opposed to the idea of the Reich per se. A much larger problem is the Dead Pirate Roberts, who in his lifetime very nearly snatched the throne from the Kaiser, and his death has proven to be only a minor setback in that plan. The presence of the Three regularly threatens port cities and shipping routes.
The Golden Dragons
An altruistic mercenary and professionals-for-hire organization whose primary motivation is furthering the cause of all that’s good and just. Often employed by the Kaiserreich, anyone can hire them for an appropriate fee – appropriate to one’s financial possibilities, that is. However, the Golden Dragons will consider the impact of their missions carefully to make sure they don’t unwittingly participate in evil schemes. They will also regularly become active of their own volition.
The Golden Dragons and the Kaiserreich share many goals and work together well, but the Dragons are critical of some aspects of the Reich, and ultimately tend to feel closer to the Church.
A declared goal of the Golden Dragons is to bring down the Diablo Club. Rumours have it that the Club has already once succeeded in opening a portal to Hell on a remote island, and only the presence of a Golden Dragons fortress keeps the forces of Hell at bay. They are also not fond of the underworld and anyone who uses violence as a first resort, which includes the Luddites and the more radical Druids.
The Circle of Druids
The Circle of Druids advocates living in harmony with nature wherever possible. Members of the Circle of Druids consider the widespread use of oil the wrong path to go down and regularly point out the hazards involved. Lung diseases are markedly more common on oil ships and in other areas with heavy oil use, and there has been more than one bad tanker accident at sea. For moderate factions of the Circle, this means simply abstaining from oil use unless necessary and trying to lead their communities towards other solutions – for more radical factions it means actively sabotaging ships, machinery and even oil rigs. They are known for their use of small, inflatable boats and their self-sufficient way of life, and a few have such a close connection to nature that their feats seem almost magic.
Life on the Elven archipelago has more to offer to most Druids than life in the Kaiserreich. The radical factions will often work with the Luddites – their goals are different, but their methods are similar. Particularly radical factions will even align with the Three. The underworld’s infrastructure often proves useful as well.
Thorgrimmaer & Forinsson don’t like to see the Druids’ ships and boats around.
The Dead Pirate Roberts
Once upon a time, there was a ruthless pirate king that managed to unite enough pirate clans under his rule to threaten the Kaiserreich itself, and only a united effort could end the threat in a fierce and terrible battle. When the mortally wounded Roberts retreated on his ship, the Societas Arcanorum sent a curse after him that would prevent the ship from ever making port again. At that point, they were unaware that Roberts was a practitioner of dark magic, and after his death, he returned, over time granting his ship flight and turning his crew into the walking dead.
This was a long time ago, and only the legend remains today. It is said that encountering Roberts on the sea spells certain doom for you, as he is known to kill at will – and if you’re really unlucky, you return as a magically animated skeleton, either toiling on his ship or on a mission to assault a Kaiserreich harbour, reminding the Kaiser that Roberts is still out there.
If the underworld could be united again, things might be bad. As it stands, they’re mostly too afraid of what Roberts is today.
For decades, orcs were the most reliable and proud workers the Kaiserreich had in its employ. On any dock a vertiable arms of orcs was ready to unload or load your ship quickly and efficiently, and their sailing skills were unparalleled. Then the dwarves sold cranes to the dockmasters and engines to the ship captains, and suddenly 90% of orcs were out of a job, felt unneeded and, as orcs do, grew very angry about it. Deciding that they had no place in this new so-called civilization, they started travelling the seas, destroying machinery wherever they went. What is so wrong about working with your own two hands, anyway?
Sometimes the Circle of Druids finds the assistance of the Luddites useful. They have a great talent for destruction, but little consideration for consequences. Anyone who is prepared to pay them a day’s work for a day’s wages and can put up with their rough ways will have a good ally in an orc Luddite, as long as they don’t put a machine in front of them.
Throgrimmaer & Forinsson rightly consider the Luddites a threat to their livelihood, and the Kaiserreich considers them a threat to its way of living and modern civilization as a whole.
Usually understood to mean the official organized religion of the Kaiserreich. The Church’s main interest is the spiritual well-being of all beings. The concept of organized religion is relatively new, but in the light of threats like the Three and the Dead Pirate Roberts (and for those in the know, the Diablo Club) it tends to catch on very well. The Church offers a place for everyone who wishes to do good and live in peace and harmony with their fellow man, rather than take up arms for the cause.
The Kaiserreich offers the best chance for the Church to prosper, and they feel a spiritual kinship with the Golden Dragons as well, although their methods are very different. Philisophical discussions with members of the Societas Arcanorum are common.
The Church cannot stand the activities of those who would lead their followers to dark places, spiritually speaking, which foremostly includes the Diablo Club. However, the Church also considers the activities of the Knights Templar archaic and abusive of spirituality.
Wherever there are the laws of civilization, there are also those who don’t see a reason to abide by them, or at least those who would abuse them for profit. The concept of the underworld encompasses innumerable street gangs, thieves’ guilds, pirate crews, frauds and smugglers, any of which may be (temporarily) allied with another or (not-so-temporarily) feud with them, but all of which are united against the authority of law when it comes down to it. They are not destructive as such and most of them don’t seek to overthrow the Kaiserreich as an institution; why would you do that when you can live so comfortably in its shadow?
Anyone who has to move illegal goods or wants to travel somewhere they’re not supposed to has made use of the underworld’s infrastructure at some point. The Diablo Club will readily do so, the Circle of Druids often has no other choice.
The Kaiserreich’s police, T&F Industries and the Golden Dragons would all love to see the underworld eradicated.
Out in the untamed seas, sailors say, there lurk three monsters with unparalleled destructive potential. The Narwhal will rip the hull of any ship that crosses its path wide open with its terrifying horn, the Kraken will appear out of nowhere and pull entire tankers to the bottom of the ocean, while the massive Leviathan simply goes where it pleases and leaves nothing but wreckage in its wake. Worse still, the Three are not just animals. Each of them is intelligent, cunning and possesses the gift of magic; untamed, elemental magic that is any bit as powerful as the more formalized types and that the Three will even occasionally bestow upon mortals.
No one quite knows why the Three are so keen on destruction, but given their propensity for it, everyone does their best to avoid them as much as possible.
[There is one thing few initiated know: the Narwhal is not a creature at all, but a submarine crewed by radical separationist mages, whose Captain, known (to the crew and very few others) by the name Outis, holds a particular grudge against the Kaiserreich for its colonial policies. Yes it's basically the Nautilus and Captain Nemo. I like to keep that a secret from players – makes for a nice plot twist - but characters closely aligned with the Three might know about it from the start.]
Aside from their disciples, who are mostly in it for the power, allying with the Three is far too risky for anyone.
Any regular seafarer has much to loose from an encounter with one of the Three. The Societas Arcanorum has put powerful wards in place to protect the shipping routes, but they regularly find them broken or bypassed.
The various organizationsin the setting typically use the following ships:
Thorgrimmaer & Forinsson Industries: almost exclusively iron, oil-powered
Elven Nations: wooden sailing ships and boats
Kaiserreich: both wooden and iron ships, some sailing but mostly oil-powered, with a large amount of ships retrofitted with oil engines
Circle of Druids: wooden ships and nimble inflatable boats, often with sails, but oil engines are in use especially for the inflatables
Luddites: Sailing ships and, unusually, galleys – Luddites make a point of not using machines. Orcs sometimes use iron ships they’ve stolen from the dwarves and stripped of the engines, which is incredibly inefficient but when an orc decides to make a point he can be very stubborn about it.
Necessarily by the game’s design, weaponry moves along the usual lines of “swords, shields, bows, armor“ which may be slightly anachronistic compared to the real-life Victorian age, but is convenient and creates a good atmosphere of adventure, swashbuckling and danger on the high seas. Guns can easily be represented by reflavouring bows and crossbows. They’re probably a dwarven invention (and Luddites would make a point of not using them, either. What, can’t you shoot a normal bow that you need that fancy crutch?).
Cannons were among the first things my players wanted on their ship. In combat I usually don’t bother with assigning attack and damage rolls to them. Instead they make good vehicles for skill rolls and stunts to achieve specific outcomes or win a naval battle.