by Stephen Kenson
Looking to add a little magic to your game world? This article looks at a major event that can radically alter just about any campaign by adding the magic, mages, fantasy races and creatures from the world of Yrth (described in GURPS Fantasy). It can be a change-of-pace adventure or series, or a world-changing event that permanently alters the setting.
Art by Sebastien Allard
Yrth is a world existing in a dimension parallel to Earth, originally inhabited by three races: elves, dwarves and orcs. The pivotal event in the history of Yrth is the creation of the Banestorm. Nearly a thousand years ago, a cabal of dark elves decided to cast a powerful spell to bring down a bane upon the orcs and rid Yrth of them forever. In the greatest single spell failure in history, the dark elves' ritual tore the veil between worlds asunder and created a massive storm that plucked beings from other worlds and brought them to Yrth. Among these were many humans, taken from the Middle Ages on Earth, along with races like halflings, lizard men, goblins and others.
Over time, the newcomers to Yrth learned to use magic and set up civilizations of their own. Humans quickly built their own kingdoms, restricting the elves and dwarves to the forests and mountains. Technological development was slowed by the existence of magic (and by the wizards of Yrth ruthlessly suppressing any new technology that could challenge their supremacy). By the 20th century (according to the Christian calendar), Yrth's technology remained at the late-medieval level, with armored knights on horseback wielding swords. This is the world described in GURPS Fantasy.
The Second BanestormYrth's history diverges from what is published in GURPS Fantasy when the remaining dark elves formulate a plan to correct their earlier mistake. Some of the dark elf leaders were alive during the time of the first Banestorm (elves being nearly immortal), and they believe they've found a way to use that accident to their advantage. In another magical ritual, the dark elves attempt to reverse the Banestorm to remove the "foreign" races from Yrth and transport them elsewhere, along with their racial enemies, the orcs, leaving Yrth solely under the control of the elves and dwarves.
Due to the dark elves' own arrogance, or perhaps cursed with the same bad luck they've always had, their ritual doesn't work in quite the way they planned. It does massively empower the Banestorm and throw open the gates to other worlds, but instead of leaving the elves and dwarves alone, the Banestorm takes everyone, every living being on Yrth, and transports them . . . somewhere else. People are taken with only the possessions on their person and nothing else. What's worse, the spell strips Yrth of all mana, rendering the world magically "dead" and blocking any magical means of ever returning home.
The ArrivalThe people and creatures of Yrth appear on another world, simply materializing out of thin air. Their appearance is preceded by violent storms, so few natives are going to take the appearance of these strangers as a good omen. The populace appears in small groups for the most part, scattered over the surface of a continent or even the entire world. This can cause problems for people separated from their friends, family and allies and left in a strange new place. The Yrthlings will tend to seek each other out for mutual support and protection in the new world, unless they are remarkably similar to the natives and able to blend in easily. Remember, most of the human and humanoid inhabitants of Yrth are poorly educated by modern standards, and Anglish (the common human language on Yrth) defaults to modern English and German at -6. Yrthlings are likely to be very confused and frightened by the experience of being torn away from their lives and left stranded on another world.
How the dark elf ritual affects your game world depends on the original setting and the time that has passed since the ritual happened. The people of Yrth might all go to the same place, or they might end up scattered across many different worlds (perhaps everyone is sent back to their original home-world, with the elves and dwarves scattered among them). The different possibilities and permutations are nearly endless, but consider the following combinations:
FantasyThere are two main possibilities in this type of setting. The first takes place in a campaign already set in Yrth, in which case the player characters might learn of the dark elf plot before their ritual happens. The characters try to stop the ritual but fail, and they and everyone on their world are transported somewhere else. This beginning can be combined with any of the other possible settings and outcomes and it can be an interesting way to breathe new life into a stale fantasy campaign. The world where the dark elves perform their ritual doesn't even have to be Yrth, although the background with the Banestorm is already in place there. It could be any fantasy world of your choosing, and the perpetrators of the ritual don't have to be dark elves, they could be human wizards, dragons, demi-gods or anyone with sufficient magical power.
It is possible the population of Yrth could end up on another fantasy world. It may be one quite similar to Yrth's pseudo-medieval fantasy or quite different (like the Mad Lands of GURPS Fantasy II). The sudden influx of people and creatures from Yrth will certainly cause all manner of social and economic trouble for the world.
The influx of magic may be even worse, increasing the world's magical level, perhaps resulting in a High Mana or even Very High Mana world, where everyone can cast spells, but the slightest magical failure can lead to catastrophe. The magical flux can also lead to any sort of magical change you want, from a conversion to an Unlimited Mana campaign to a decrease in the new world's mana level, resulting a "low-fantasy" or even non-magical game world. A low- or no-mana world might result in the extinction of many of Yrth's magical creatures and an "industrial revolution" as the power of magic wanes.
New FrontierThe second Banestorm might transport the population of Yrth to a very primitive world or unpopulated world, much like Yrth was before the first Banestorm. In this case, the populace needs to address issues of food and shelter, and a gradual rebuilding of civilization. New kingdoms and power structures may emerge from the displaced populace. Certainly the old nobility and the wizards from Yrth will do their best to hold on to their power, but the new frontier will create many opportunities for would-be warlords and land-barons to carve out kingdoms of their own. Steffan O'Sullivan's "Yrth: 1100" (in Pyramid #13) article provides ideas about how the first "visitors" settled in on Yrth that work well with this concept.
The new world might be the same as Yrth or quite different. Consider the effects of climate, period of rotation (day and night) and revolution (length of year) on the population. The new world might even have fantastic features like a hollow center (with a livable surface on the inside of the sphere) or a sun that orbits the planet. It could be a structure like a ringworld or even a Dyson sphere, providing millions of square miles of space and virtually limitless kinds of terrain. Such a setting could make for an interesting new fantasy campaign.
And, of course, there's always the possibility that the new world is not as uninhabited as it first appears. There might be ancient ruins and other evidence of a culture that died out long before the Yrthlings arrived, providing places to explore for treasures and magical (or even technological) secrets. Perhaps the previous culture hasn't entirely died out, but merely remains hidden from the newcomers, watching and waiting.
HistoricalThe Yrth exiles could appear on Earth in any period of history (using some of the various GURPS historical worldbooks). The sudden appearance of so many people, new races and fantastic creatures, along with functional magic, would change history irrevocably, creating an "alternate history" world diverging from the appearance of the Yrthlings. How far back in history the exiles appear affects how much history is likely to diverge. Appearing in the stone-age is little different than the New Frontier setting described above, with Neanderthals and primitive humans to contend with. The exiles could appear even earlier, and have to survive on a primitive Earth with dinosaurs, new "dragons" for brave knights to slay (check some of the campaign ideas from GURPS Dinosaurs and GURPS Ice Age).
Later time periods allow you to create a "historical fantasy" world. Perhaps the people of Yrth arrive in ancient Rome or the Middle Ages. Exiled nobles and wizards from Megalos would find themselves right at home in Rome, and would no doubt immediately begin scheming to take control of the Empire. Knights from Caithness would fit easily into Arthurian Britain or the Middle Ages. In a medieval or earlier time period, the Yrthlings have the advantage of magic over the natives, allowing mages to quickly gain power in the new world. (Unless, of course, Yrth's former mana level did not come with the inhabitants.) As technology progresses, the advantage evens out. As the wizards of Yrth already know, gunpowder does a great deal to limit the influence of mages.
Sending the exiles to periods like the American Civil War, the Napoleonic Wars or World War Two can provide a very different outcome when both sides have to deal with millions of interdimensional refugees, many of whom can cast spells and are willing to offer their services to the highest bidder.
ModernWhat if the exiled populace of Yrth appeared on modern-day Earth, reversing the original Banestorm? The effect might only send the humans or it might deposit all the inhabitants of Yrth on our world. The impact of millions of displaced people appearing around the world would be massive, to say nothing of the presence of dragons, or the sudden existence of magic. The authorities would have to find some means to deal with the newcomers. The population of the world increases by several million and Yrthlings have to learn to cope with the shock of modern technology and popular culture, while Earthlings have to contend with magic and fantasy races and creatures. The Borderlands anthologies, edited by Terri Windling, offer some possible ideas of the kind of world that might result from the appearance of magic and fantasy creatures in the modern world.
SupersOne modern setting where the people of Yrth might appear is an Earth with super-humans, like the setting of GURPS IST. A world with supers won't be nearly as shocked by the sudden appearance of people able to use magic or fantasy creatures. Even the most powerful wizard on Yrth is outclassed by a super capable of punching through tank armor and invulnerable to artillery.
The appearance of the Yrth exiles could form the basis for a comic-book style "mini-series" where supers work to deal with the influx of magic, mages and fantasy creatures while searching for a suitable home for the exiles. Perhaps magical supers can figure out a way to undo the effects of the dark elf ritual, or open a gateway to an empty world where the exiles can settle (kicking off a New Frontier setting, above).
Or the exiles might be there to stay, forcing the world to deal with magic and monsters on top of the presence of metahumans. Mages become one more type of metahuman in the world, although their powers may differ from native mages (depending on the options you choose for magic in the supers setting). Perhaps the sudden influx of mana even leads to some new origins or even the creation of supers in the first place!
CyberpunkFantasy/Cyberpunk is a popular combo. The Yrthlings could end up on an Earth in the near-future, where megacorporations rule the streets and various types of mind/body alterations are available, like in GURPS Cyberworld. The mean streets of the One-and-Twenty would chew up the technologically-backward Yrthlings and spit them out, but hardy adventurers and powerful wizards will learn to adapt and turn the situation to their advantage. Some of the locals may learn to use magic, and turn to the exiles to learn more. The people from Yrth who manage to survive may adopt cyberware, or they may consider it an abomination. Certainly the ProGov, the NERCC, the Korps (and any similar totalitarian organizations) will be greatly concerned by the existence of millions of people who don't exist in any of their databases, some of them with the powers of magic at their command.
My own article "Magic on the Edge" provides some ideas for integrating magic and mages into Cyberworld that can easily be adapted for this scenario.
SpaceThere are many possibilities for dropping the population of Yrth into a space-faring campaign. First, the exiles may appear on Earth in the far-future, when humans have developed interplanetary or even interstellar travel. This is quite similar to the Cyberpunk setting described above, except the future-shock is even greater for the Yrthlings and the natives may be friendlier, depending on what Earth is like. If humans have made contact with other races, elves, dwarves and orcs are likely to be looked at as simply other alien races (and ones quite like humans, at that). Some races might even decide to settle their own colony worlds (dwarves would make excellent "belters" or asteroid miners).
It is also possible for the Yrthlings to end up on a new world somewhere in deep space. It might be a populated colony world, an alien civilization, or an uninhabited world on the fringes of known space. Presumably, the environment is one capable of supporting humanoid life, or else it will be a very short visit. Otherwise, it could be any type of world. The game might start off as a New Frontier, until a starship from Earth arrives and makes contact, at least. GURPS Unnight provides an example of a scenario somewhat like this.
In a Space setting, the impact of magic is an important question. Is mana a universal or a local force? Does the influx of magic from Yrth simply raise the mana level of a single planet or does it increase the mana level of the entire solar system, galaxy or even the whole universe? Can planets have differing mana levels and is mana restricted solely to planetary surfaces (leaving a no-mana void between the stars)? Depending on the answers, wizards may develop magical means of space travel, and gate and tech magic (from GURPS Grimoire) is a definite possibility.
Time TravelIn addition to the historical settings mentioned above, the second Banestorm would be an interesting development in an "Infinite Worlds" campaign for GURPS Time Travel. Yrth is a parallel undiscovered by Infinity Unlimited, until they detect a strange disturbance between quantum levels. Suddenly, Yrthlings appear on another parallel, perhaps even Homeline. Or maybe the Banestorm scatters the inhabitants of Yrth across a dozen different parallels. Suddenly the I-Cops are scrambling to try and clean up the mess.
They're also left with the question of what to do with the exiles. Do they settle them on a colony parallel, try to get them back home or leave them be? What if some Yrth wizard discovers a magical means of cross-time travel and is willing to share it? Does Infinity try to recruit him or make him disappear?
Perhaps the Banestorm has caused the Yrthlings to become "unstuck" in time, randomly sending them to one world after another. Worse yet, what if everyone with Magical Aptitude who passes through the second Banestorm becomes a World-Jumper, able to travel to other parallels at will? Hundreds of magically capable jumpers wandering through the multiverse could provide Infinity with no end of headaches. The Banestorm itself is also a serious threat if it doesn't stop with displacing the Yrthlings. The storm might "wander" through the quantum levels, randomly displacing people from one parallel to another, creating a massive tangle of timelines for the I-Cops to unravel.
If you're looking for a new and interesting twist for an existing fantasy game, or if you want to add some magic to another game world, have a group of knights and wizards, leading a rag-tag band of exiles, come riding out of a storm one dark night and watch what happens.
Article publication date: August 27, 1999
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