Philosophy

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Contents

Unanswerable Questions

There are no canon answers to these questions, and there never will be. Other material may imply answers, but will always remain subject to interpretation and fallible memory. Matters touching on these questions are also places where different Ferath campaigns that I run very well may disagree.

  • What was the world like prior to about 12,000 years ago?
  • Who were the Old Makers? Why did their civilization collapse? What on Ferath made the archaeons seem like a good idea?
  • Where did the demons (and by extension Pandemonium) come from?
  • Where did the Great Trees come from? Are they, or were they ever, sentient?
  • What created the Rhual?
  • Is there true divinity in this world? (meaning, a god, goddess, or pantheon responsible for the creation and maintenance of the world and its inhabitants)

Yes, those are some pretty important questions.

Themes

On Technology

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke

The introduction of what we might call near-future technology into a generally medieval world produces a number of problems, both practical and thematic. The quote above sums up pretty accurately the way ancient technology is meant to be viewed in Ferath. It is obviously true for the average inhabitant, I think, but I should emphasize that this is the case even for the so-called "experts". No mechanist actually knows what they're doing! None! It's all trial and error, the results of which are passed down to one or two apprentices if at all. Having ranks in Device Lore means your character knows some correct things about how to activate these objects; it also means you know a lot of utter bullshit, and you won't know which is which until something explodes because you didn't understand it.

It's hard for us, as inhabitants of a world with many similar technologies, to understand how mysterious these things are to people for which they're not everyday objects. This became a slight problem in the first Ferath game I ran (dealing as it did with archaeotech in large quantities). My fault as much as anyone's. In an effort to make this more apparent for the future, I'd like to enforce a few conventions for discussions of ancient technology in this wiki:

  • Naming. No devices are named in the fashion of their modern counterpart, if any. Preferably, the names should reflect what someone utterly naive with regard to technology would think of them.
  • Functionality. To help keep players on their feet, I'd prefer if no ancient device be clearly identical to a real-world piece of technology. Similar is fine, but there should be something about it that doesn't quite fit with our technology.
  • Frequency. I can't emphasize this enough - these things are rare. Of course, in a campaign built around them, this may not be the case for the PCs, but most people in Ferath never see a piece of ancient technology. The local Mechanist cell - if one exists - will possess the handful of examples that are to be found in any given area, and will guard them jealously. Most of those who do encounter this stuff only see it in the form of archaeons (formerly known as sheens), and are therefore utterly terrified of it. Showing people chunks of tech is roughly equivalent to showing them the bleeding stump of a demon's hand. Impressive, but doesn't speak well of the holder's sanity.

Related to this is the matter of Ferath's "natural" level of technology. This varies somewhat with location. Quni, for example, is probably the most technologically advanced, as a result of its founders (exiled Mechanists from Tarsul). Quni artisans can create examples of clockwork, finely ground lenses, and other Rennaissance-level artifacts. Quni is the exception; the technological runners-up are the Tarsuli Republic and Drazadi, both of which are in something like the late Middle Ages. The Drazadi dwarves have developed crude gunpowder, but they're the only ones. The rest of the world is somewhere between that and late Iron Age. Many places make do with less, because mining metals is extremely difficult in the treetops. For various reasons, the nations of Drazadi, Ianta(the elves), Chorach, and the Emerald Imperium are all extremely socially conservative, which has kept innovation down and limited the spread of technology in those realms.

On The Apocalypse

Ferath is post-apocalyptic (okay, very post-). This may not be immediately obvious, but it's lurking in the back of every mind that considers ancient tech, and should be reflected somewhere in all the mythologies. Two things are immediately apparent to anyone who studies Ferath's ancient past: before the "great collapse" civilization was technologically advanced, and afterwards it was not. The obvious conclusion, that the collapse was in some fashion caused by technology, has been come to by some (the Green, and to a lesser degree the elves and dragons), and rejected by others (most notably the Mechanists). It is also true that magic was rare or nonexistent before the collapse, and plentiful afterwards (interestingly, no one seems to have run with the idea that it was magic that caused the collapse...perhaps because it is more integrated into 'modern' life). Not too long (a century or two at most) before that collapse, there was effectively no magic. The intersection of magic and technology is apparent in a small handful of ancient devices (like the Noemin Engine); that magic tends to be powerful and wild. Was it magic that brought about the end of the old world? Technology? Unrestrained use of both? These questions are intentionally left open, and I don't intend to ever add firm answers to the Ferath canon.

The cosmology of Ferath is, of course, highly magical - we've got demons and spirits popping out of the woodwork. This suggests the question: what were the other planes (Shade, Shine, the Spirit World, Pandemonium) doing back when there was no extant magic. This question doesn't need to be answered in full (it can be filed under "who could possibly know, that was 12,000 years ago!"), but it's going to affect the way outsiders approach the material plane. Shade and Shine may both be considered effectively eternal: there are beings on both who have probably been alive for all of those twelve millenia, but between alien psychologies and the games played by time on those planes, they have little useful insight to offer into the material world's history.

Nothing from the Spirit World remembers a time before magic, but the truly sentient inhabitants of that plane (celestials, essentially) are close enough to mortal minds that they appear subject to the same fallacious memories as the rest of us. Elementals are alien and largely uncaring of human concerns, and can be dismissed for much the same reasons as the elder inhabitants of Shade and Shine. The Spirit World is intentionally flexible in its presentation, with both the plane and its inhabitants sculpting themselves to the expectations of mortal viewers; if the inhabitants do know the Truth, they keep it well-disguised.

Pandemonium is somehow related to the Spirit World; it is a twisted reflection of that plane in many ways. If the Spirit World is everything mortals want to believe, Pandemonium is everything they pray they could forget, the literal stuff of nightmares. Unlike the other planes, it is very clear that Pandemonium wasn't always there, though opinions may differ as to whether it previously did not exist or was just inaccessible. They key factor of all stories of Pandemonium, however, is that it is the fault of mortals that demons exist in the world today. The way this is expressed will vary (Weyarist sinners, dwarves who delved too deep, even Galthazar's tale of frightened mortals nuking Deis), but that thread is always there.

For the moment, I'm not actually sure where Rima fits into all this. That plane is chiefly a border region between Shade and Shine, and might be subject to equivalent rules. But some of the listed inhabitants (the inevitables, in particular) are a little too semi-mechanical to exist solely by chance, and fit entirely too well with the archaeons and Old Makers to have no connection to them. Rima is the dumping ground of the planes, where all the drifting junk tends to settle; there may be some interesting fragments indeed amongst that junk.

On Nature and Civilization

Nature is a powerful force in Ferath. Whether or not it destroyed the old world, it certainly buried the bodies. The time since that fall is a series of rising civilizations that imploded in the face of some (often but not always natural) disaster. The contest between nature and civilization is meant to be a large theme of the world, though it need not be the central theme of any particular campaign. The form this contest takes can vary: at one extreme is humans vs. natural events (disease, storms, famine, wild beasts), at the other the battle between the different "styles" of human life embodied by tribal or agrarian cultures and the various city-building nations. In between are the self-proclaimed "agents of nature": the Green, dragons, spirits/fey/elementals, and so on.

A key part of civilization is history. History is a funny thing, because we're inclined to take it at face value perhaps more than we should. Ferath's history is meant to be unreliable; anyone investigating a past civilization should be able to find all sorts of stories and rumours about it, all of which contain at most a tiny grain of truth. Feel free to add different races' and cultures' particular versions of history, but remember that none of them (including the "official" timeline I've written) is meant to be authoritative.

There's a distinction there, however, between "setting history" and "campaign history". If a campaign is going to deal with historical events, sooner or later the "real story" must almost always come out. This "real story", however, need not remain the real story beyond the scope of that single campaign. If that seems to run counter to the sort of continuity you expect from a campaign world, I'd suggest you recall how much the study of history in our own world has changed over the years. In the end, history can only ever be a story, which will always be changed slightly to suit the teller's ideals and preconceptions - there is no time travel, and no perfectly reliable way of viewing the past, thus no way to determine with certainty what actually happened generations in the past.

There is a lot of history left kind of vague or blank. I'd like to see this eventually filled with old cultures and civilizations that have since collapsed for one reason or another. These ruined civilizations need not (in fact, should not) be of the all-powerful, globe-spanning variety we're familiar with from console RPGs. The role of the original "ancient civilization" is already filled, and it is my intent that it always remain basically unknowable. By extension of this principal, anything beyond a generation or two in the past should start to accumulate mystery and uncertainty; the older a piece of knowledge, the more interpretations/conclusions it should inspire.

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