So, readers mine, I am in fact working on an RPG!–but not one of those high-budgeted computerized suckers! No sirree Bob, if there’s one thing I can’t do, it’s 90% of the things I need to make such a game. I can model weapons and write, and those are definitely important for a computer RPG, but somehow I doubt any of you would be impressed if I made you pay $60 for a game wrought solely from text overlaid on absurdly detailed weapon renders.
…although if I could trick you into it I might just do it because I need the money.
Now, not quite a year ago yet, I started playing tabletop RPGs for the first time in my life. This began with a friend’s homebrew system, Eyes of Fantasy. I have a lot of fond memories from the sessions there, and I’m sure I’ll retell the stories many times over the years. Eventually, though, my inner control freak started making suggestive noises at my creative side, and wow that turned into a terrifying analogy for narcissism really quickly. Uh…
The point here is that I decided to put together my own system–one which would let me balance the crazy with the gritty and the colorful with the miserable however I pleased, both in mechanical and lore terms. Repurposing D&D was never going to work for me. D&D is balanced and works well for what it’s intended to be. I’m sure I’ll still play it in the future. But sometimes, I just need to be able to make an unused Devil May Cry character for my PC and send him out to pass down the righteous law.
To that end, I devised SpiralBrew: a ruthless bastard child combining what I saw as the strongest aspects of every system I’ve played over the past year. As its name suggests, it’s set in my own writer’s cosmology: the Twin Spirals Universe. Lore isn’t everything, but we’ve been making sure to use it to inform design decisions whenever they can mesh well. Talking about all the underlying numbers is a bit boring, so let’s stick to the main selling point: SpiralBrew has open character creation. Classes exist and provide benefits, but they’re not mandatory. The system provides a framework to keep things more-or-less balanced, but as my development mantra runs: SpiralBrew is unbalanced for fun.
Actually the balancing is fairly rigorous and also ongoing, but that wouldn’t have been as catchy and, oh dear, I’ve ruined it.
Here’s the main selling point: if you want to play as a sapient cloud of free-floating particles which uses psionic powers to form temporary limbs so it can interact with the world, SpiralBrew will let you do that. Yours will be the fairest and most balanced gas cloud… until it power-levels the right way, by hurling its nebulous quasi-form into challenges and honing its skills through constant use. If your cloud desires to become a benevolent toy-maker with an entire workshop animated solely by its own ever-growing telekinetic might, so it can! If it wants to enslave the mind of the Grand Beneficent and start a cult with itself as deity, it can do that too. Eventually.
We’re running the sucker–SpiralBrew, not the gas cloud–in Alpha right now and might even be looking for
V I C T I M S players. And by “might” I mean you’re encouraged to comment if you’re interested–though we do all this through Discord, so that particular chat/server hybrid application is a must!
Now then, on to the main event for today’s post, the thing I think you’ll all be most interested in: the setting created explicitly to house every aspect of SpiralBrew. A world I call Creation’s Fringe.
Its inhabitants call it that too, sometimes; other times they call it the Mangle-Planet, or just “this place.”
Creation’s Fringe is a colossal world presently three times the size of Earth and growing a little every year. From orbit, it appears as a distorted sphere with one enormous crack running from north to south and a few others sprouting at opposite ends of this great divide. Many pieces hover close to the main surface but not connected–like a gigantic egg-shell frozen before it fully shattered. The space around it billows with dark blue or dusk-purple gas-clouds and chunks of debris–a few even have their own inhabitants eking out a lonely existence on self-sustaining constructs held close to one another by silvery meshes and support tunnels.
Beyond the furthest asteroids and shards collected from other worlds, thousands and thousands of miles past the final hulk of an ancient star-vessel, the starscape visible from nearest the planet’s surface comes undone. Great rents waver over the distant twinklings, and in the darkness beyond there move visions to devour sanity. A single star-ship was built in an earlier age and attempted to navigate this nightmarish domain; the crew returned ten days later on the verge of death from old age, telling stories of sailing from one plane to the next across the ragged fabric of reality and never once breaching to the other worlds the distant stars promise. For all its flaws, returning to the fractured orbit of Creation’s Fringe was the happiest moment of their lives–such as remained to them.
Even from this distance, gaps between the Fringe’s segments glow with otherworldly cobalt light: this is the Uncanny Marrow, a substance or perhaps visible force suffusing the whole of the Mangle-Planet and, as far as any can tell, filling the void where its core should be. From time to time the Marrow surges up and coils around seemingly empty air. When these torrents subside, new matter has taken their place–usually only a lone person or item, sometimes a cluster of buildings from the same town on another world or an island’s worth of new wilderness. Rarely, it’s a full city and the bedrock beneath it to boot!
Only one common thread connects these new arrivals: they are, all of them, refugees from other worlds. On meeting the locals, some find their languages so different they must await the coming of a psionic to pass ideas back and forth by telepathy. Some find their own tongues nigh-identical to those of their new neighbors. The tales they tell are as varied as their races, cultures, and even technologies.
Some were delivered to the Fringe from the jaws of an apocalypse, watching through a fast-narrowing rift as the world which birthed them collapsed in fire and ruin. Some strove against evil powers and failed in the final hour–now wondering why they persist when those they failed remain behind. Some explored ancient ruins and wandered through into a disorienting plane full of impossibly-perfect geometry where every second set of edges or beautifully-polished facets lashed out towards the eye, only to sink away as the next came level with the wanderer’s gaze. Somewhere in this other place’s depths, they fell into primordial energy and madness, and awoke upon the Mangle-Planet.
It’s impossible to find any one system for which people appear in what parts of the Fringe. Some scholars argue that they’re loosely sorted by culture or common ideals; a warrior may rise from unconsciousness upon the Pillar Islands, where impossible tides leave this area or that a hundred feet under water–the waves towering over dry spaces in their shadow.
Here the amphibious Neng people organize their tidal arenas, all staffed by healers who make trivialities of mortal wounds, and the new warrior stands to make fast friends and a fine living among the old arena sharks–some quite literal!–if they’ve skill or grit enough. If this grows wearisome, the Halebeak Corsairs often pass by the Islands, and are always in need of strong arms to swing a sword or string a bow as well as haul the sails.
Yet, the same formidable warrior might stand up in peaceable Kalinger, where morning mist glistens at the foot of colorful crystal hills, plateaus and ridgelines peaking through rich black soil, and half the nation’s verdant trees remain forever in bright autumn hues. Aside from service to a noble in the periodic wars along Kalinger’s far borders or competition in its many martial schools, the warrior would find little to challenge them in this country.
Then again, some argue that’s the point–no mortal soul can subsist on strife forever. Beneath Kalinger’s fabled Jedjahrze trees, with their shaggy trunks and leaves dappled by streams of red, gold and purple that run within their surfaces like glimpses at some ethereal river, a wanderer weary of battle could forget comrades lost and bitter victories.
The newcomers are sometimes surprised to find that the Fringe has its own peoples, and many quite old at that! There are dozens of sapient species upon its surface–some organic, such as the Neng and vaguely otter-like Novgori, others far less so. The most ancient societies, often strangely for those newcomers accustomed to worlds of elves and dwarves, are human. At least, nominally.
Marrowscours, as they call themselves, comprise the most storied cultures upon the Fringe. Shaped by millennia living next to and working with the Uncanny Marrow, they are stronger, taller, and more shapely than other humans. To obsess over pure size differences, however, misses the point; a Marrowscour would still seem more imposing than an off-world human, or one from the Fringe’s own societies established further from the Marrow, even if she were only four feet tall. Their neighbors, fellow humans and non-humans alike, often accuse the Marrowscours of hoarding the Marrow and its energies for themselves.
For the Marrowscours, of course, it’s quite obvious that they’re insulating it–equally so the Fringes which draw their name from the world itself.
The Fringes are long, immensely deep gashes in the earth, forever bleeding natural creation energies skyward in concentrated, multihued beams of light. Fringe-energy can be dangerous, often warping the land around it in ways subtle or dramatic and doing much the same to people who come in contact with it! Yet many of the Mangle-Planet’s peoples have found that useful things emerge from these existential torrents as well as perilous ones. Some ambitious folk have founded settlements along the Fringe’s Fringes (a former joke which has since become more of a folk-saying). Recently, however, contact with many of these settlements has been lost; there are rumors that yet another inhuman power has manifested on Creation’s Fringe, and jealously guards these power-streams.
The stolid Marrowscours police these Fringes when they can, but as their name suggests, their greatest priority lies with a different force: The Uncanny Marrow defines Creation’s Fringe like few other elements. The world has grown large enough now that in Kalinger and other stable regions, most people live all their lives without seeing more than a trace of it. Occasionally, a Marrow Wreaking occurs to accommodate an especially large new arrival. Every thousand years or so it’ll be an entire continent, and all the world shakes and quells for a few agonizing moments before it settles back to order.
These monumental events may bathe a quiet town in rippling blue light or shade it in abyssal smoke and howling voices for a few moments, but then they pass, and the quiet town remains quiet until everyone who remembers the event has been dead a hundred years and some children argue whether the Marrow ever existed!
Adventurers, however, know better. The Uncanny Marrow bursts from crevices and even great rifts between some of the Fringe’s continents, great roiling rivers with curling streamers of power. Even reaching these raw exposures is a feat worthy of song, for reality as mortals understand it begins breaking down within a few miles of a Marrow upwelling. Gravity becomes, at best, a loose proposition: rivers split off and branch away from cliffs where they should form waterfalls, sometimes drifting lazily to the ground far from the cliff itself, sometimes streaming into glowing vapor. Trees creak and split in sickly fashion, some stunted, some adding new branches by the moment. Stones powderize under a stamping foot and some return to molten rock, glowing with off-hue violet light.
Closer to the Marrow, space itself begins distorting, often threatening to split into segments upon awareness itself. Sound cuts in and out or distorts, colors appear too saturated, details too crisp. Phantasmal shapes move at the eyes’ corners, time slows and quickens and jumps eerily–one Marrowscour’s account described how she was separated from her unit because, to her eyes, they suddenly moved ahead a thousand feet with such speed she couldn’t glimpse individual steps. They later explained that she had disappeared, as far as they could tell, and they thought she was the one pulled deeper into the Marrow’s influence.
And when the most determined heroes and mercenaries reach the exposed Marrow, they find themselves enthralled by it and all it produces to the point of madness. Reality around the Marrow has been perfected, but not to any human design. When the landscape is erratic, its lines are somehow the most orderly chaos: the divots in dark-blue rocks streaked with silver, the snaggles of vines whose flowers pulse cyan fire, the trees with their impossible trunks which appear concave one one step and, with the slightest change in vision’s angle, convex the next: something about this reality entrances those who reach it.
Even though the unattainable clarity slices the mind as well as the eyes–the geometric perfection of a bladed metallic pedestal or sprawling structure forged from dark metal with contrasting bright-crystal relief–and the phantasmagorical sights emerging from ultramarine-laced-black fog throughout the deep Marrow will drive anyone insane with enough time, they loath the idea of leaving it all. Many legends end with one more band of heroes, the hope of a people, venturing into the Marrow and never returning.
The handful whose will survives long enough report on infinite dangers and possibilities. A few hundred have retrieved artifacts of power beyond anything else on Creation’s Fringe. Most who try this, however, fall afoul of the Marrow Shades: discordant towering entities forged from living shadow and star-bright fires, sometimes of humanoid shape but always of inhuman proportions, which stalk the deep Marrows. They take no single form; these unspeaking guardians–or perhaps hunters?–can range anywhere from four to twenty feet tall. All are fearsome, but some are nigh invincible, and neither size nor appearance seems to have much relation to their power!
Despite these dangers, whole civilizations exist within the Inverse–that is, the large hollowed-out space where the core of Creation’s Fringe should be! In spire-cities carved into upside-down mountains and canyons jutting inward from the continents outside, and in no few cases on huge ships with their own farms and livestock, they make their living.
The people here subsist on a strange form of agriculture with mages and psionics attempting, and generally but not always succeeding, to form food and other essentials from the roiling Marrow itself. With the upside-down mountains as drydocks and anchor points both, they’ve slowly expanded with great chains–some arcane, some physical–linking islands of loose rock and earth to create three-dimensional archipelagos. Their lives are wondrous and terrifying at a stroke, with the Marrow forming its own reality and they eking out what part they can in it.
For all this, Creation’s Fringe runs a gamut of climates and environments. The Fringes and the Uncanny Marrow punctuate this landscape and reshape pieces of its largest regions as well as defining the borders between continents, but for those willing to restrain their travels, there’s room enough for some comfort. The coveted Hearthway nations anchor stable zones on the Fringe: safe from raw power and warping creative forces, but thus all the more imperiled by jealous mortal competitors. Kalinger is one such; like any Hearthway nation, it has much room to prosper, but never quite enough for contentment.
Such is the Fringe’s size and entropy that no one has ever succeeded in mapping it completely–those cartographers able to tolerate the Mangle-Planet’s relentless shifts can turn outrageous profits simply by keeping their maps updated! Forces like the Frost Sentinels of Mirtulla, the Boreal Lady and the Fringe’s oldest goddess, do what they can to maintain justice around the world, but there’s simply too much of it to keep it all secure. There’s always a little madness somewhere on Creation’s Fringe.
Which means that for old hands looking to get back in the game and young stalwarts embarking on their first great journey, there’s always plenty of opportunity…
(If you found this post enriching or simply enjoyed it, then please leave a like, share it with your friends wherever you may go online, and consider supporting me on Patreon! Otherwise, as I said, we are looking for people to join in the fun on this madhouse of a planet, so if you might be interested, the comments are right below!)