Monday, July 27, 2020

The Stories You Share

What follows is the introduction to my players guide to Jorune Evolutions, my psychedelic retro-gaming reimagining of Skyrealms of Jorune that I discussed here. For your delectation I've added in a random table or two to give you the flavor of the background...

The Stories You Share

You share stories around the village campfire, on sweaty lunch breaks in the durlig fields, or over stiff drinks in the dust of the crystal mines. It's what you do to pass the time. When a mendicant storyteller shows up you are quick to share food and drink knowing you're in for a good yarn. You developed this art out of a need to hold onto the past, when humanity’s technologies of collective memory had all been lost. 

In the stories you share, the travelers, your ancestors, sailed the vast sea of stars aboard the Ship, a vessel filled with miraculous Earth-Tec, cornucopia of miracles. Why these sailors of sidereal gulfs came to Jorune; whether to spread the enlightenment of their civilization; or fill a gnawing hunger for resources; or as exiles seeking new beginnings; or to satiate the curiosity of Father Iscin to know and understand all things; on this tales differ.

But tales agree about this: on arrival the travelers suffered twin traumas. First came loss of contact with mother Earth, cutting your ancestors off from the rest of humanity. In most tales it is said that Earth was destroyed in some great war. Second came the Days of Slaughter, an internecine conflict between your ancestors and the shanthas, one of several sapient species of Jorune. The cause of conflict with this strange race is unknown. Some stories say that the travelers overstepped out of fear, violating treaties in desperation after the loss of contact with Earth; others that the shanthas saw their moment to strike and rid the world of these unwelcome visitors in their hour of weakness. 

Whatever the spark, the violence ignited was conflagration. For it is said the shanthas breathe isho like we breathe air, and can fold space and time, and were everywhere and nowhere, and dyshas, the likes of which have never been seen since, unweaving the very being of man, dissolving him, turning him inside out, driving him mad, merciless, a genocide. Some stories have it that humanity rallied, striking blow for blow in great battles with the help of their Earth Tec; others that Iscin unleashed in his grief and rage a terrible hidden power to slay the shanthas; in other the shanthas, their bloody work done, simply vanish to their hidden kingdom. 

But when the fighting was over the Ship and the wondrous Earth-Tec of the travelers were destroyed or somehow lost. The few surviving travelers, bereft, faded into the forest and mountain, and became once again hunters and gatherers. The struggles were many: the pain of isho storms; the poisonous flora and fauna; the alien beasts that overmatched naked humanity; the catastrophic conjunctions of Jorune’s seven moons that bring with them apocalyptic tides, sweeping across the continent; the frequent earthquakes that rend the earth and spew crystal formation to the surface; and strife with other inimical sapient races of Jorune. 

But in time, humanity built a place for itself. Your ancestors learned, once again, to farm and to leech the toxins from native flora and fauna. You learned to work wood and metal with your hands, and to mine with simple tools and ferret out the rare veins of metal ore. You literally reinvented the wheel, and learned once again to build ships with your hands, and to sail the seas. You mastered the many natural resources of your new world. You learned to collect and prepare the abundant limilates (herbs, drugs) that open the gateways of perception, healed, envigorated, and produced countless effects; you learned to harvest and utilize powerful crystals, repositories of strange powers. You domesticated beasts of burden like the loping thombo and the lumbering bochugon. Were your ancestors to see your civilization today, they would say with amusement that it stood at roughly the material level of 15th Century Europe, with glaring exceptions. 

The Rediscovery of Earth-Tec and the Dream of the Egg

In your grandparent’s generation, the city of Ardoth united the realm of Burdoth and led it to victory in the Beam Wars. The dharsage (emperor) of that time was the first to locate and claim a cache of ancient Earth-Tec—a discovery that was to transform the prospects of humanity. Peace has now reigned for more than a generation, in part through fear of the searing beams of Burdoth’s energy weapons, and in part through the shifting diplomacy of the Council of Ardoth that represents various constituencies and surrounding realms, not all human. 

At present, a small number of energy weapons and other wondrous devices are made available to drenn (citizens, neo-feudal landowners) on a basis of patronage and need. This technological patronage and the hunger for precious Earth-Tec has spread the system of drenn throughout Burdoth, tying the elite of the realm to the dharsage. The nature of Earth-Tec is shrouded in secrecy. It is rumored that there are higher mysteries known only to the current Dharsage Khodre Dhardrenn and the Circuit Men, her strangely inhuman red-caped inner guard. Wild speculations about this organization are part of daily life in the hookah bars and limilate dens of the capital and beyond.       

Other changes are afoot of unknown significance. Two years ago, the Dream of the Egg came to humanity. One summery night, while isho storms raged across Burdoth, half of the human population had the same dream, of an iridescent egg, majestic and enigmatic, suspended against a misty lavender background. The egg seemed to turn and yet all were sure that it hung still--perhaps only the perspective on it shifted, revealing different facets of its tessellated surface, complex and endlessly engrossing. The dream had an urgent air to it, as though some unnamed command were being expressed; the dreamers awoke with a feeling that there was something left undone. When the dreamers realized that the Dream of the Egg had been shared, first perplexity, then mass hysteria ensued. Since then, the Dream of the Egg has been shared by the same half of the population 15 times. Theories about the egg abound and egg cults proliferate often under the sway of charismatic charlatans.    

Unhinged Egg Speculations, Heard Around Ardoth (1d6)

  1. The Egg is the beating heart of Sho-Caudl, mother Jorune, calling out to us. She offers rebirth if we will only accept her call! 
  2. Listen, the Circuit Men are behind the dream. The Egg is some kind of Earth-Tec they're using to control people's minds, so they can produce a new consensus reality...where dissent is impossible.
  3. The Egg is a harbinger of the end times. It is said that the Travelers dreamt of the Egg in the days before their great fall. The eyeless demons are coming for us!
  4. The Dream of the Egg is a sign of the purity of humanity. Those who are chosen are by the Egg are blessed. Have you had the dream?
  5. The Dream of the Egg is witchcraft, some kind of muadra curse they're working on us as revenge, because we're always lording it over them. 
  6. I heard the Ramians (a non-human sapient species) are poisoning our water. The Dream of the Egg is literally brain damage from their accumulated toxins. You can get rid of it by drinking only your own urine and rusper for two months. 

Post-Human Evolution

Although ascendant in Burdoth, humanity does not stand alone. It is said in your tales that Iscin raised to sapience some of the animal children of Earth that the travelers brought on their ship. So were born the bronth (bear people), woffen (wolf people), blount (frog people), and the cursed cruagar (cougar people). These Iscin races walk among you, and have spread across Jorune to lands of their own.

Humanity is undergoing rapid changes. Although sensitive enough to isho to suffer from the isho storms, humanity is not as attuned to the isho as native creatures of Jorune. But sometimes children are born to human parents that are small, with a far greater sensitivity to isho. These are the muadra (mwah-dra). Other children are born large, with a greater resistance to isho, making them immune to the isho storms and other native isho threats. These giants are the boccord. Over generations, using spiritual techniques and meditative disciplines in the "kerning bays" (ashrams, dojos), muadra and boccord have learned to harness the isho to produce dyshas (psychic powers), sometimes to the alarm of humans. 
Often shunned, the boccord and muadra have mostly bred with those of their kind, so that over many generations new populations have arisen that can, in the present day, barely interbreed with humans. 

Other of humanity’s offshoot have diverged further, taking to the water, such as the salt-water salu and the fresh-water acubon. The wild tales of wanderers allege other, far stranger, descendants of humanity exist on Jorune, although little is known about them, at least by villagers like you.  

Your Character

Your character is a young adult (~16-20) from one of the innumerable small villages of Burdoth. Whether miners in the foothills that sprawl across the parched plains of the southern Sobayid, or lumberjacks from the forested glades of Glounda, or durlig farmers in the fertile Gauss Valley, village life is limited and unchanging. It follows the rhythms of the seasons, except when interrupted by the catastrophes of drought, pestilence, or raiding. True, village life has its pleasures, loving, dancing, drinking rusper (a savory ale), and storytelling. But above all village life is working: endlessly laboring, eking out collective survival from a land to which humanity is palpably ill-suited. To make matters worse, the villages are squeezed by the yearly cletch (tribute, tax), collected by the village kim, a consortium of drenn (citizen) landowners from the region. Part of the cletch goes to sustain the glittering capital Ardoth, the rest lines the coffers of the drenn who make up the kim. 

It is against this backdrop that generations of young villagers have travelled to the capital Ardoth, seeking a better life as drenn. The easiest way to drennship is through military service, which costs a decade of life (the best years), but wins one a modest pension and citizenship. The Dharsage army is rigorous and authoritarian. About a half die in service, or return wounded and ruined. 

The other route, dangled like a bright fishing lure before the village youth, is to become a tauther (one undertaking tothis, the citizen application process), earning drennship through independent service to the realm. To even apply for tothis, one must pay the fee of 100 gemules, pocket change for many in Ardoth, but a king’s ransom for a villager. Often a youth comes to Ardoth carrying the whole life savings of his family, or even of the village, for sometimes they will pool their resources to send one or two of the most promising village youth for tothis. Many arrive without the fee, hoping somehow to hustle up the money to begin the process—most sink to a life of crime and disease, or return home bitter and hungry with broken dreams.   

You are tauther. You have travelled to Ardoth, paid the fee, and begun your tothis. Along with your cohort, you have received the education in basic weapons training, physical culture, literacy, and civics. With precious little time or money to explore Ardoth, still your mind has been expanded, as you have met villagers like yourself from different walks across Burdoth. Your cohort might even include muadra or boccord, or the animal children of Iscin: bronth or woffen. You have also studied under adult teachers, likely the first drenn to treat you with respect and care. The destination for your service has been chosen, provisions for your caravan have been secured, and your final day in Ardoth approaches. 

It will not be easy. You will rise or fall together as a cohort. You will labor at communal tasks in the village to exchange for their hospitality. You will pay off your enormous toth-debt to the dharsage, who has provided for your expedition, by recovering precious resources, limilates, crystals, rare fauna or big game, ancient artifacts and devices. Throughout this process, you must acquire precious copras (signatures) on your shared chalisk (amulet). These you will win by proving yourself worthy to the drenn you will meet, either members of the village kim, or military commanders in the area, or any others who once were tauther themselves. 

But as tauther you will have some advantages. As agents of the dharsage, you are beyond many of the yords (laws). You will be able to go where others may not, passing freely in and out of the perilous forbidden zones. You will be allowed to use dangerous proscribed dyshas to defend yourselves. You will be permitted to acquire and traffic in limilates without licenses. You will be able to engage with the enemies of humanity. People will not ask too many questions about what you do, provided you respect the village kim, and prove yourself valuable to the community.   

Welcome to Jorune. 

In the next post, I'll talk about how Jorune Evolutions handles stats and the always delicate question of race as a sci-fi post-human classless OD&D hack. You will also learn more about the rich trans-human setting.  


  1. Solid.
    I am curious about your addition of the Egg Dream.
    Your reading of Tauther certainly differs from mine, but yours certainly has the sense of historical weight behind it (Feudalism).

    I hope you continue to post these on MW, as InoReader looks a bit involved for me at present.


    1. I'll keep posting on MeWe for sure. People are so spread out now, it's hard to find everybody in the G+ diaspora. As for the interpretation, I'm not presenting this as a reading of Tothis as it figures in the source material (where it's far less exploitative and more genteel). What's driving my way of doing this is mostly what I think will be fun to play. I like the way it (1) Keeps the players free agents, (2) Ties them to the village where they're located, (3) Embeds them in whole patronage thing where they have to win copra from drenn with opposing interests and politics, but (4) also forces them into exploration in order to meet regular debt payments. (Part of the background is that I'm not using XP for GP, or gemules that should be, I guess. So I'm availing myself of the Traveller way of handling debt as a motivator in the early game.)

    2. [Hours delayed reply due to electrical storm]

      I think it will go over well, and I am very eager to continue reading this series of posts.