The Origin and Recent History of the World of Five Moons

Here’s an in-character historian’s description of the known history of the World of Five Moons.

World of Five Moons

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One hundred and twenty-five years ago, the Entities brought thousands of people from another world to this one. These first people, called the Pioneers, came from many parts of their world, and brought their many cultures with them. How they were brought here is unknown–their histories passed down through the generations can only agree that they were going about their normal lives, and suddenly awoke in this world, after a Great Sleep that claimed them in the middle of their current tasks.

Their world, Earth, was a strange place, with large land masses and little magic, but advanced knowledge of crafting. They had one moon, not five, and daylight came from a great star called “the Sun” rather than our Sunspider moon. They had machines called “cars” that would transport them at great speed on the ground, “planes” for traveling through the air, and “phones” for speaking to each other over great distances. They had wars over land, resources, religion, ideology, the color of skin, and the shapes of eyes. In their ignorance and malice, they had poisoned their world, and had come to the bring of destroying all life at least once. Most Pioneers realized our world was a fresh start for them.

Even the best minds among the Pioneers were unable to recreate their strange devices in our world; they claimed that physical reactions that should have worked as they did on their old world simply did not. Much of our world–like walking, swimming, farming, and hunting–was as it was on Earth. Other tasks which were impossible on Earth–like conjuring fire, or healing with an act of will–were possible and commonplace here. Not knowing how to return to their world, the Pioneers resigned themselves to their new island home, built simple shelters, and got on with living.

A few months later, the changes began to appear. Human eyes enlarged and functioned better in dim light. Noses broadened and became sensitive to faint odors. Other people grew new teeth or shed the ones they had. Their flesh rippled and contorted, forming knobby tumors and pustulent growths. The Pioneers called it cancer, and feared they were all doomed, for all of them were affected in some way, and speculated the green moon was poisoning them with radiation. The changes got worse, and some people grew too weak to work.

And then the Second Sleep happened–every man, woman, and child awoke in the middle of the day, their flesh healed and strength restored. The Pioneers recognized the same after-effects of the Great Sleep that brought them to this world, and knew this was another intervention by unknown Entities. A few Pioneers had lingering memories of strange glowing creatures inspecting their afflictions with multiple spindly arms. The wiser Pioneers speculated that the Entities who brought them to our world had also cured them of their new illnesses, and granted some of them the power of shaping.

Shapers could read the language of flesh–what the Pioneers called “DNA”– as a scholar studies the pages of a book. Through intuition and practice, the shapers understood the writings of life hidden in the smallest piece of a creature’s body. They saw that that book not only contained pages about humans, but about the many other creatures from Earth, as if our flesh were made an archive of life from another world. This mixing of pages had confused the Pioneers’ flesh, but the shapers were given the power to control and enhance these changes so the Pioneers could survive in our world. The shapers could give enhanced vision like a cat, a keen nose like a dog, or countless other features from Earth’s animals. The earlier, unchecked changes were the Pioneers’ bodies trying to recklessly adapt to whatever threat or challenge presented itself; the shapers were created to be the guides, advisors, and menders of flesh. Shapers were compelled to look after the sick and driven to help the Pioneers thrive in the coast, mountain, forest, and plain. They understood the connections between every human–that we are all pages from the same book, whether my skin is brown and yours is white, I am a woman and you are a man, or whether we are short or tall, for these are but words in the book that may be skipped over by some, whispered by others, and shouted by a few.

In time, the Pioneers had explored the borders of their island and had made forays into two others nearby. Those who set out to see lands beyond that soon encountered the Barrier, a magic wall of water and storm winds that prevented any progress. Dozens of expeditions attempted to breach the Barrier, and all failed–something, perhaps the Entities, wanted to keep the Pioneers in place. So the Pioneers created families on the First Isles, studied magic, told their stories about war and music and obsolete technology, grew old, and died. Generations of humans lived their lives on those three islands.

Now, 125 years later, explorers have reported that the Barrier is gone, and return to the First Isles bearing news of other settlements of people–people with cat eyes and ears, or pig snouts, or bat wings, or bear claws and teeth. Humans whose forms have taken a different path, despite or perhaps because of their shapers. Some of these settlements are hostile, some are wary but willing to trade, but–verified by shapers on both sides–undeniably human at the core.

Shapers have been able to duplicate or reverse these transformations, going to or from these new “races” of people. After living for over a century without conflict over physical appearance, old bigotry raises its head in a new form. The cat-like “elves” are aloof and arrogant. The pig-like “orcs” are brutal and gluttonous. The bat-like “goblins” are paranoid and cowardly. Yet they have the same flesh as us, and some of our people manifest the very physical and mental traits these other races are criticized for. It seems that whoever added animal DNA to the human book neglected to remove the chapters that made us inclined to fear and hate that which is different. In our world, where the old definitions of race are but dust on the skeletons of the long dead Pioneers, there are communities people who prefer their “own kind” and shun outsiders over superficial differences, like the people of Earth who killed each other over different interpretations of a religious document.

We are doing this to ourselves. Again. Humans were given a second chance on a new world, and some insist on waging war. Against other humans.

So our young people set out on boats and travel from island to island, looking for trade, battle, knowledge, or just to see what other secrets are hidden in our world. News has trickled back to the First Isles about strange sources of magic, old civilizations that predate the Great Sleep and may be completely inhuman, and encounters with the elusive serpentine dragons who manipulate flesh and magic more easily than any shaper or wizard. Our civilization was isolated since its inception; it seems we have reached the point of transition to adulthood and decide if our place in this world is traders, explorers, conquerors, or destroyers.

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If you like this post and where these ideas are going, please check out the kickstarter for my Five Moons RPG, which uses these ideas. Thanks!

Five Moons RPG cover

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32 thoughts on “The Origin and Recent History of the World of Five Moons

  1. My favorite part was when the Entities cured the illnesses of the Pioneers and gave them the ability to mutate themselves via shaping to adapt to the new world.

    This makes me wonder about the technological level of the setting. The Pioneers had engineering expertise and attempted to make modern Earth technology, but to no avail due to different physics at play. However, they later learned magic. This makes me wonder if magitech exists where the Pioneers created devices using magic instead of conventional Earth physics. And how common the magitechnology may depend on whether or not the Pioneers were able to pass on their expertise to the next generations. This isn’t even considering the other worlds’ technology.

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    • That’s a good question, and will be something individual GMs can explore. For example, you already know how I feel about crossbows vs. bows. You could just as easily throw guns into that “2H projectile-firing ranged weapon” category and treat all three the same. In-setting, these guns could be half mechanics, half magic. (If the GM wanted guns in the campaign.)

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      • Very true! A lot of fun possibilities. (Though, I’d personally take advantage of the design space to make fantasy firearms a bit more interesting than that. There’s not enough interesting weapon choices for ranged fighters).

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  2. This is really cool. I already have ideas forming around the ethos of this setting. I actually like the relative youth of the world. It means that it’s possible some really really old people might remember the transition (130+) especially with the ability to modify DNA.

    Even if most things can’t be replicated in the new world, I’m sure the smart ones would have recorded it. Still, part of what makes people so intelligent is the ability to reference more information than they can put in their head.

    At the very least I’m sure some would have gotten to making some mechanics using simple machines. Although, I can see the major set back because they are making everything from scratch including the tools to make the machines as well as materials not being the materials they think they are.

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  3. This reminds me of Ravenloft, complete with potentially horrific unknown powers running the whole thing. Not that that’s bad mind you, just that you might want to take it in a firm direction to avoid any pitfalls that other world/system fell into.

    An island still cut off from the others might be a cool and frustrating thing for players along with a class or very rare spells that summon those ancient barriers and smaller, weaker versions. Wall Wizard? Barrier-Magus? Barrister (Maybe acting in a comparable capacity to the old earth profession)?

    What’s at the outermost border to the islands? Another barrier? Or does one just float off into space?

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  4. Love it! I had my own campaign world for awhile, where everyone was human (or rather all the interbreeding–and I think I had like 7 races that contributed including Dragons) and had various “traits” that belied their heritage. So those with Elven heritage were tall, skinny, and lithe.

    And there was a whole theme about Devos (the people’s knick name for devolving or de-evolutionizing peoples. Some went back to cave-man and some devolved into their primary heritage). All Devos were treated as lesser and inferior and were often hunted mercilessly by the authorities.

    Which is of course why part of the campaign included a moment when all the characters were forcefully devolved via magic.

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  5. I like many of the concepts here. For example, the idea of “entities” abducting Earthlings and bringing them somewhere different panspermea style is a tried and true one. I also like how vague the description of the entities is. They match the definition of the CR 22 Mythic Monster in Paizo’s Bestiary 4, but it is just as easy to twist them into something Lovecraftian and horrifying.

    That said, I’m not a fan of the vagueness in the reasons as to why technology “doesn’t work” in this setting. If this is true, the hows and why are extremely important in order to establish what sort of player hijinks can and cannot work on this world. For example, if its electricity, then does this world have lightening? If a mineral’s density is affected, then how does that affect swords or whatnot? Honestly, this seems like a detail that does more harm than good and the better response would be, “The people couldn’t acquire the minerals necessary to rebuild their technology and over several generations, their fantastic, new powers rendered the need for reengineering technology obsolete.”

    Also, I’m not a big fan of the “every classic fantasy race that you know and love is now an animal hybrid,” i.e. cat-like elves and bat-like goblins. Instead of adding anything new or interesting, it feels more like changing something simply for the sake of changing something. And although I understand what you’re going for with the undertone of “humans are humans,” the writing is a little too heavy-handed in this description. Even though you got rid of alignments, it sort of paints people into the corner of, “people who judge you because you’re a pigman instead of a catman are bigots,” which given the themes isn’t entirely different from saying that, “these people are Always Chaotic Evil.” The writing would be stronger if you made it very clear that the people who are being racist might have a reason for acting so despite the whole “Everyone’s human,” theme. Sort of playing it up a, “everyone’s human, but humans never change,” tone to dim down the political message a bit.

    But hey! That’s just my opinion. Take it as you will.

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    • “They match the definition of the CR 22 Mythic Monster in Paizo’s Bestiary 4, but it is just as easy to twist them into something Lovecraftian and horrifying.”

      Eh, I’m sure a lower CR could be fit into those monsters based on high level caster capabilities, as if the Moons are high-level threats, I expect the shapers would be something could face as well. So hopefully Lovecraftian notion isn’t the notion they’re arbitrarily invincible, since in their respective stories, they actually could be defeated (albeit temporarily).

      “That said, I’m not a fan of the vagueness in the reasons as to why technology “doesn’t work” in this setting.”
      That’s understandable, consistency is important to building a setting, and I think part of why may bother one is the fact that D&D Wizardry “was” science. The Material components for various stuff were science puns, Famously Fireball was making gunpowder, Scrying was like a TV set, etc. Heck, Wizards even used INT to further the notion, so they could easily be depicted as scientists! It’s generally considered easy to separate “Magic” from “Science” as two different power sources, despite they’re both the study and manipulation of way our world works (whether “world” in this case is fictional or otherwise).

      Anyway, that said, I think just because our conventional ways don’t work as well, doesn’t mean we didn’t get some tech made, no doubt some of 5 Moons minds would’ve found a way to recreate the technology through adapting to the slightly altered physics of this world.

      “every classic fantasy race that you know and love is now an animal hybrid,”
      I can be relatively fine with it, reminds me of Dragonball, or its to create a world with wide variety of cast that you’ll see among the world (especially in the art). It’s kinda like Sci-fi’s explosion of aliens might see everywhere in particular series, just here in a fantasy version. Albeit any sufficiently advanced Fantasy setting basically reveals itself to be Sci-fi in turn, which is fine, as they were once one & the same I recall in the 80’s (definitely helps to open the mind once people realize these things, including that w/Superhero Comics).

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    • “That said, I’m not a fan of the vagueness in the reasons as to why technology “doesn’t work” in this setting. If this is true, the hows and why are extremely important in order to establish what sort of player hijinks can and cannot work on this world. For example, if its electricity, then does this world have lightening? If a mineral’s density is affected, then how does that affect swords or whatnot?”

      My take on this setting is it’s a world where science does not exist and cannot exist. Science can only exist when you can predict what will happen in the natural world, ie: the sun will rise in the east and set in the west, if wood gets hot enough it will burn, etc. But here, there is no sun and people can make fire without regard to chemical reactions. It’s a world where the replicability that science requires just isn’t part of the natural order. The world is unreliable in that way.

      Instead of responding in a logical, scientific way, the world and everything in it responds to you according to your skill in interacting with it. (Things that are based on skill are inherently unscientific, which is why on Earth alternative medicine is impossible to study scientifically.) Not only that, but some people are better at that interaction than others. A skilled blacksmith would be able to reliably make quality swords not because of a formula but because he has learned how to “shape” the metal how he wants. Where on Earth, an unskilled but highly intelligent person could reliably make steel (the essence of science), on this world, that person would have no hope of doing so without practice. A skilled blacksmith on this world could conceivably be able to make steel without coke, and perhaps even without iron.

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      • Not sure I agree that it has to be spelled out. I remember 2nd Edition (and probably 3rd through 3.5) Forgotten Realms basically said that technology didn’t work. And then gave no explanation for it other than “that’s the way it works in the world.” I’ve also read several novels where characters would run across ancient artifacts. These ancient artifacts were actually technology before some fall from civilization brought the people back to a fantasy world. Something had happened and this technology no longer worked. Why? Good question. But it isn’t something that needs definition.

        If for the very reason you give for wanting a firm explanation. The more you define, the more potential for exploitative loopholes you create for characters. The more you use simple, declarative statements–Technology does not work–the less chance you have for player hijinks.

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    • {That said, I’m not a fan of the vagueness in the reasons as to why technology “doesn’t work” in this setting.}

      Are you comfortable with the vagueness for the reasons as to why dragons are able to fly (impossible in Earth physics), 20-foot-tall giants are proportioned like humanoids (ditto), giant insects don’t suffocate despite not having lungs (ditto), and so on? Those things are never explained in the game; they are a hand-wave to allow us to tell fantasy stories without having to constantly justify the science behind why things work. The “no technology” rule for the setting basically means, “no, player, your character can’t invent gunpowder, or batteries, or an internal combustion engine.”

      {Also, I’m not a big fan of the “every classic fantasy race that you know and love is now an animal hybrid,” i.e. cat-like elves and bat-like goblins.}

      It’s no less weird than dozens of intelligent humanoid races evolving on the world at the same time with the same tech level, or the same number of intelligent humanoid races being created by deities at the same time (if you’re a god and can create intelligent life, why do so right next to some rival god’s intelligent creations? If you’re the orc god, why not create a Planet of the Orcs where your people can thrive without all those damn elves shooting at them?)

      {Instead of adding anything new or interesting, it feels more like changing something simply for the sake of changing something.}

      Except it makes sense *in the context of this setting*. As much as Dragonlance’s “gnomes aren’t a unique race, they were created along with the kender out of dwarves who were chasing a magical flying gem.”

      And, as I said in the kickstarter, you can ignore the DNA-based aspect of the setting and just play it as a straight-up fantasy RPG.

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  6. When I read your article on reshaping I thought you had gone to far. I thought race would be a defining part of who you are. With this back story it makes perfect sense. At this point there are so many different races in PF that it is difficult to justify how they all exist. Here a weird race is just a guy who went to/is/was experimented on by a shaper. There does not need to be another member of that race anywhere and yet you will not be arrested or killer on sight. It is more akin to seeing someone today who extreme body modification.
    Racism is wrong but even more likely in a setting like this. What we know of the animal the race is based on will be assumed to be part of the person. It is nearly impossible to separate the effect of race from the effect of culture.
    Was every solider who hated the “Japs” (to use the dehumanizing, offensive racist term of the era) in WWII evil? Can a good person have consistently evil action (racism)? I am glad we do not need an actual answer to this for any sort of mechanical reason. They are good themes to explore in roleplay and mechanics make the answer to easy to find.
    Unlike earth being of a different race means actual physical difference. Orcs really could be more prone to violence. Again this is not something that should be coded into the game.
    Is a warlike culture and evil culture? Those conquered by Rome arguable had better lives after conquest then before. Glad we do not need a mechanical answer to this.

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    • Thanks for the reply. And yes, “extreme body modification” was a term I used to explain the world to the artist and potential freelancers. And yes, the questions you bring up are exactly the sort of roleplaying ideas I want to be important in the setting. 🙂

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  7. Using the term “DNA” serves as the one thing I’m not a fan of, for the following reasons.
    1) It’s a science/technobabble term used in a fantasy setting with characters using fantasy speak. It would work if the game and characters used our language, but that’s not the case here. Even so, a better term would be “genetics.”

    2) DNA/genetics don’t actually work like this. Yes, realism arguments normally don’t apply here. However, I bring it up because this fictional portrayal already exists as a very tired trope in science fiction (“LEGO Genetics” on TV Tropes). As applied here in the setting, this trope carries significant negative connotations that is more likely to break a reader’s immersion than other “realism arguments” because most audiences already associate this trope with cheesy, poorly researched writing.

    3) Most importantly to me, I feel you devalue the concept by associating it with pseudo-science. The idea of there existing a mutable metaphysical entity determining the physical form of a creature sounds incredibly awesome. Considering that the lore and ecology of every humanoid creature revolves around this “language of the flesh,” I strongly believe it deserves its own term rather than using an existing one that not only breaks the tone of the game, but also has a strong disconnect with the actual concept itself.

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    • Actually, all of the DNA stuff is perfectly reasonable within a scientific framework.
      You’ve heard the “humans share 95% of their DNA with chimpanzees? It’s true. We have a 90% similarity with cats. Cows 80% and so on. It’s not that we have X% of our DNA being “cow DNA,” it’s just that (because of evolution), much of our DNA is devoted to common things like “this is how to make a cell membrane,” “this is how you make a nucleus,” “this is how you tell a cell to divide,” and “be bilaterally symmetric.”
      Humans are already able to insert genes from one creature into a radically different creature. Rabbits that glow because they have jellyfish DNA. Cows that produce human milk because they have human DNA. Goats with spider DNA that produce milk containing strong proteins similar to spider silk. And so on.
      So the idea of a more advanced race (aliens, outsiders, whatever) having an advanced ability to do this isn’t pseudoscience, it’s an extrapolation of something we can already do.
      The LEGO Genetics analysis page on tvtropes actually says, “yes, this sort of genetic alteration is possible.” The *trope* is, “gene-slicing works overnight to create a giraffe with an elephant’s truck.” The analysis page says, “no, it’s not an overnight change,” but points out you could use genetic engineering to create (for example) a frog with butterfly wings. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Analysis/LegoGenetics
      Which is no different than a shaper altering a person’s auditory cells to express whatever programming cats have that give them more sensitive ears than humans do, and stimulating the target’s biosystem to rapidly churn out new cells under that programming so the change takes place in a few hours instead of slowly from a neonatal origin.
      It’s all valid science.
      I have a bachelor of science degree in chemistry. I know stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hm, interesting! I stand corrected. Though, I imagine there’s much more to it than merely rewriting genetic code, something handwaved for the rule of cool as with the Bows vs Crossbows discussion. I read some snippets of the such, but it’s great to hear it directly from a chemistry scientist about the matter. Especially considering that, as a software engineer, I’m not allowed to watch the movie Swordfish when there’s a flippable table within my reach.

        Still, that was a minor point. I still believe the idea is too awesome to simply call it “DNA,” but I guess I cannot blame a BS of chemistry for wanting to use the term. I’ve been criticized for using computer science terms for my science fiction game!

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      • Meh, the Pioneers called it DNA, doesn’t mean the modern PCs call it that.
        And I get you on Swordfish. My videogame designer friend Josh has a funny bit he does about Every Hacker Move Ever:
        Hacker: I’ve never seen this kind of security before! *type*type*type* I’m in.
        🙂

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    • If it were up to me (or when running a game of Five Moons) I’d personally either:
      1) Make up a word, preferring something simple and evocative
      2) A descriptive term, such as “strand of existence” or “corpus script.” This could also expand what the concept could be. I would imagine an experienced shaper could divine some information about a creature’s soul from examining the corpus script of their natural body, which would also have some implications for undead and body snatchers.
      3) Combine words together to form a new one. “Langcorpus”
      4) If some reference to genetics/DNA is still preferred, then make up a word vocally inspired by it (d’nah, dayna, jinetex, netex). This implies modern people in the world of Five Moons misinterpreted the Pioneers’ initial description of the concept.
      5) If all else fails, use Latin! “Language of the flesh” translates to “inguam carnis.”

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      • I like corpus script. It evokes images of stockholders reading from old stock-ticket machines and old computers w/punch cards which I could totally see the magic looking like (plus blood and glowy lights). Warped and broken scripts from “body snatchers” and undead sounds interesting too. Though I imagine only the ones working the “science” of shaping would call it that, the layperson would mash it into something simpler like the ignorant often do.

        I’m a fan of the Akashic Record concept, where all of existence is stored in a racial memory/astral plane that might be tapped and used by mystics for all manner of things, from casting spells to researching lost lore, so how about “Akashic Script” for shapers and trading in “Kash” (as a literal term for what you gain/lose) for the shaped?

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      • I envision that every corpus script may clue in the nature of the soul it belongs to, something I pictured because every body in 3.5e/PF is keyed to a soul, as indicated by the magic jar spell. So an experienced shaper may be tipped off that their client is an undead in disguise or a creature that has stolen someone’s body by noticing that their soul doesn’t seem to match the soul described by the corpus script.

        Akashic Record concept sounds pretty cool. I always wanted to run a science fantasy campaign that takes place in a future with magical computers where wizards cast spells by coding programs that alter the metaphysical script defining objects and executing them. Five Moons strikes me as a great system to do this because the magic system strikes me as similar to how I envisioned the programs to work and I’m certain there will be mechanics around DNA/genetics/corpus script. I could even set it in the future of Five Moons’s campaign setting. Five Moons is sparking my imagination wild lately.

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  8. Pingback: Kickstarter Reviews: Five Moons RPG | The Black Coyote - the Original Inclusive Gamer

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