Author Topic: Gothic Earth Resource Thread  (Read 5659 times)

MAB77

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Gothic Earth Resource Thread
« on: August 08, 2022, 05:57:16 PM »

And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay.
And the flames of the tripods expired.
And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

"The Masque of the Red Death"
By Edgar Allan Poe

Masque of the Red Death is a campaign setting for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game and a spin-off of the Ravenloft setting, named after the Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name. It is set on Gothic Earth, an 1890s version of Earth where fantasy creatures exist only in the shadows of civilization. It is a world where heroes oppose the influence of the Red Death, a supernatural force and embodiment of Evil creating horrors around the globe.

Though the action of the campaign setting itself is set at the end of the 19th century, Gothic Earth is made available for player characters of any era from Antiquity to the Renaissance era circa 1650 C.E.

Note that while we previously used various third party D20 system sources to detail the game mechanics of Gothic Earth, these were at times inaccurate or contradicting. These sources are no longer considered valid. This thread aims to revise and streamline the rules to allow characters from the Masque of the Red Death setting to enter the Lands of the Mists.

Table of Content
Players that'd like to play a Gothic Earth character are also invited to consult the Gothic Earth PC Information Thread.
« Last Edit: August 22, 2022, 10:26:49 PM by EO »
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The Masque of the Red Death Setting
« Reply #1 on: August 08, 2022, 06:18:47 PM »
The Masque of the Red Death Setting

There is only one Earth and that is Gothic Earth.
Our policy is that Gothic Earth is the only version of Earth acknowledged on the server. If you play a character inspired by the real world, this is your setting of origin. Its timeline more or less echoes that of the real world, but it is important to remember that while the Masque of the Red Death setting draws inspiration from the real world, it makes no pretense of being a faithful representation of it.

The fictional setting of the Hyborian Age, Conan the Barbarian's setting, is considered as having taken place in Gothic Earth's distant past. It is briefly covered in the Minor D&D Settings Resources section.

What is Masque of the Red Death?
Masque of the Red Death is a setting derived from Ravenloft that was created in 1994 and was later updated for 3rd Edition D&D. It takes place on Gothic Earth in the 19th century, although on Prisoners of the Mists, characters may not come from after 1650 C.E. Unlike stand-apart fantasy worlds, Gothic Earth is an alternate universe differing from our world in only a few points. Magic does exist on Gothic Earth. So does evil. Thanks to the coming of the Red Death, evil has taken a major role in world events. Historical facts remain much the same on Gothic Earth, though a few dates here and there may vary slightly. The motivations behind historical figures, however, can change a great deal.

History is, in fact, interpreted according to the movements of the Red Death and the groups that oppose it. Therefore, events as simple as the fall of Rome have sinister causes. Rather than the inevitable decadence and weakening of an empire that has overextended its borders and succumbed to complacency and, perhaps, its own propaganda, Rome's fall came about due to the machinations of the Red Death and served to spread chaos and anarchy, fertile breeding grounds for evil's minions, throughout Western civilization.

In ascribing certain historical events to the workings of the Red Death, there is no attempt to excuse other, human culprits. Although slavery, substance abuse and other ills of the world can be linked with supernatural evil in Masque of the Red Death, these vices exist because humans exist who profit from them. The Red Death moves through history, but it needs willing hands and hearts to implement its agenda.

Quote from: Note from the Development Team
The Masque of the Red Death setting takes a great many liberties with what we know as the history of our Earth and the interpretation of various events. It is a work of fiction, and Gothic Earth is a fictious place. While the dates given in the chronology of Gothic Earth are more or less in agreement with the events of our Earth, the motivating forces described on Gothic Earth and the resulting changes in society are wholly manifestations of the setting creators’ imagination.

You may also note a European focus in terms of history presented. Most events described will relate directly to the history of Europe and, later, the Americas. This should not be seen as an intentional or accidental dismissal of cultures in Africa, Asia, Oceania, or elsewhere. The simple truth is that Masque of the Red Death was originally intended to allow DMs and players to enjoy adventures founded upon the gothic traditions and literature of the Western World, in the late 19th century. However, players are free to create characters from other civilizations and cultures so long as it is done in a respectful manner.
« Last Edit: August 22, 2022, 10:27:16 PM by EO »
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The World (Gothic Earth)
« Reply #2 on: August 12, 2022, 05:46:56 AM »
The World (Gothic Earth)

What is Gothic Earth?
Gothic Earth is a world cut off from other universes, though other universes may, in fact, exist. That was not always the case, however. Once the world known as Gothic Earth was rich in magical energies. The men and women who inhabited that fair world lived close to the source of magic, which penetrated their blood and powered their hearts and minds. That spirit of magical energy infused everything that lived. It served as the bond that held the world together, permeating the rocks and soil, the oceans and the atmosphere.

But a great change came upon the world, impelled by a force from another universe. From the realm of the Mists, the lands known as Ravenloft, a creature heard a summoning so powerful it shattered the barrier that held the Dread Realm apart from all other worlds. This entity, impressed and amused by the power of the summoning, decided to take advantage of the opportunity to stretch its "wings." Traveling quickly on the source of the summoning, it found itself - to the great detriment of its unfortunate summoner - in a new world filled with untainted energy. Greedily it submerged itself in the magic of the world and the world, bit by bit, responded. The deed was done and true darkness had entered Gothic Earth.

The advent of this entity, known as the Red Death, sealed off the borders of the world, rendering it inaccessible for other planar travelers, whether native to Gothic Earth or outsiders, such as the Red Death itself. (There are a few exceptions to this barrier, but those remain extremely rare.)

At least that is one of the stories recounting the origin of the Red Death. There may be others, but in the end, all that really matters is that Gothic Earth suffers from a malevolent and subtle presence - and only a few brave individuals dare to risk their all to fight that presence.

What is the Red Death?
The Red Death is a supernatural force and embodiment of Evil that was summoned to Gothic Earth in the distant past. It has expanded its corrupting influence ever since, creating horrors and spreading evil all around the globe. It is playing a role relatively similar to that of the Dark Powers on Ravenloft. The vast majority of people on Gothic Earth are unaware of its existence. Its influence may be felt everywhere, its minions known, but its nature is unsuspected. Gothic Earth characters cannot start play with any in-game knowledge of the Red Death.

The Qabals
The Qabals are secret societies ultimately seeking to rid the world of the Red Death or to thwart its advances. They work in secret, lest they be censured by their peers and targeted by the evil thing whose existence they posited. They track the passage of the Red Death through the world, noting each event that seems to have some connection with this monstrous being. They collect information to be passed on to future generations in the fight against it. They act to destroy its minions whenever possible.

One of the most important qabals in history, The Defiance, nearly managed to banish the Red Death through a great ritual, but they were betrayed from within before it could be completed. The subsequent destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria, along with most of its books and scrolls, erased most of the information about the Red Death so laboriously gathered over centuries by scholars, adepts, mystics and others dedicated to the eradication of evil. But others would carry on the fight against this great evil.

Since qabals act secretly, normal characters from Gothic Earth would not be aware of their existence.

The Vistani
The Vistani, known to the folk of Ravenloft, also have a presence on Gothic Earth. Dressed in exotic and — to the eyes of most people — scandalous clothing, the Vistani hide amid their Romani cousins and follow their traditions as their own. Treated with suspicion and often-puerile curiosity, surrounded and hidden by myth and superstition, they live insular unknown lives. Mystery adds to the attraction, drawing the curious together around their fires at night and their wagons full of medicinal substances by day. Yet there are secrets within secrets in the history of the Rom, and most who dance or read their ancient painted cards do not know the true story of the Vistani tribe.

Acceptable Sources
  • The D20 Masque of the Red Death and the AD&D 2nd. edition Masque of the Red Death and Other Tales, The Gothic Earth Gazetteer and A Guide to Transylvania are your main source of information on the setting.
  • The fictional French province of Averoigne from the writings of Clark Ashton Smith and referenced in D&D adventure module X2: Castle Amber. is canonically accepted as existing within Gothic Earth.
  • The Elder Gods and Great Old Ones of the Cthulhu Mythos, as in the D20 Call of Cthulhu sourcebook, are canonically accepted as existing within the setting.
« Last Edit: August 22, 2022, 09:29:31 PM by EO »
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Gothic Earth Characters
« Reply #3 on: August 12, 2022, 07:19:17 AM »
Gothic Earth Characters

Characters in the Masque of the Red Death setting normally differ from usual Dungeons and Dragons ones by virtue of being set in the Victorian era. Notable differences include a lack of Common tongue, non-human races cloaked in human guises, character classes that are not supported on our server and different rules for casting magic. Some adjustments are required to fit characters from Gothic Earth into Ravenloft.

Quote from: Note from the Development Team
While the Masque of the Red Death setting draws inspiration from the real world, it makes no pretense of being a faithful representation of it. Always remember that characters from Gothic Earth within our server are not meant to be accurate portrayals of their real life counterparts. That being said, it is our commitment as a community to be mindful of people's cultures as this can be a very sensitive topic. If you elect to play a character from Gothic Earth, you have a responsibility to portray them in a respectful manner. Harmful stereotypes will not be tolerated.

Languages
While Gothic Earth does not have the Common tongue per say, the previous rule requiring Gothic Earth characters to use a language slot to learn Common has been rescinded. It is left to the player discretion whether or not a character starts play knowing the trade tongue, or how quickly it learns it. Additionally, despite the similarities of Ravenloft's languages to real world languages, they aren't the same. This means a character who speaks French does not speak High Mordentish and vice-versa. Gothic Earth characters would primarily speak the language(s) of their homeland, then secondarily those of neighboring nations.

A World of Humans
Humans dominate the world of Gothic Earth. It is the only available character race of the setting available to players, but it includes the possibility of playing a Gothic Earth half-Vistana. The existence of other races is the stuff of myth and fairy tales for most. Though non-humans are actually present, they keep themselves hidden from prying eyes and their presence is unsuspected.

Half-Vistani (giomorgo)
Rare is the giomorgo, or half-Vistani, child who is not treasured by the Vistani people of Gothic Earth. As a small and singular clan, the Vistani here cannot afford to disdain anyone born of their people. Few half-Vistani, therefore, feel as outcast as do those in the realm of Ravenloft. Many children born to the Vistani these days are half-Rom. Far more rarely is a child born of a Vistani and a giorgio, or non-Romani. Some of the more traditional Vistani decry this blending of bloodlines, pointing to the loss of their abilities and the clouding of their Sight. The adjustment is difficult for the unfortunate Gothic Earth giomorgos finding themselves in Ravenloft. Though no stranger to prejudice from non-Vistani, they get no sympathy from the local Vistani and are never prepared for the cultural shock of finding themselves rejected by their own society.

The Vistani of Gothic Earth mainly speak Romani. They broke away from Ravenloft over 4000 years ago, if some of them still speak Patterna it would have evolved very differently than on Ravenloft, using words from Gothic Earth languages. As such, half-Vistani characters from Gothic Earth do not know Patterna.

All Gothic Earth half-Vistani are descended from the Zarovan clan, the only one to exist on Gothic Earth. The Vistani parent may be a darkling. Half-Vistani of darkling ancestry is a restricted subrace requiring an application.

Character classes
Player characters in the Masque of the Red Death setting often start as ordinary people confronted with the reality of the supernatural. Obviously, the classes of the setting: Adept, Athlete, Intellectual, Mystic, Sleuth and Tradesman are adaptations of the standard D&D classes to be viable in an 1890s setting and are not suited for our server. But back in the 1600s and earlier the standard classes would suitably apply. A character from Gothic Earth may take any of the Core character classes, with the following considerations:

Barbarians, Fighters, Monks and Rogues
These classes form the bulk of the adventuring population. Magic is exceedingly rare and quite dangerous to use on Gothic Earth. Most people either know nothing of it or want nothing to do with it.

Clerics, Druids, Favored Souls, Healers, Paladins and Rangers
The Red Death effectively shuts out people from communing with their gods or the forces of nature to receive divine powers. The divine gifts of these classes, including spellcasting, no longer manifest while on Gothic Earth. Paladins would start their career as righteous fighters, and rangers as skilful huntsmen. Clerics and druids would likely be perceived as ordinary priests and shamans ministering to their flocks. Healers would be perceived as very dedicated mundane healers. Favored souls would just go unnoticed, unaware of their own latent abilities.

As in Ravenloft, Gothic Earth paladins are born and do not have to dedicate themselves to a deity. Druids are almost unheard of past the Antiquity era. Clerics must be dedicated to a valid pantheon or faith. On Gothic Earth, being a priest is only a title. Anyone of any alignment can claim to be the priest of a given faith, but divine casting classes must abide by the usual D&D alignment rules to receive their powers once on Ravenloft.

More information on Gothic Earth faiths can be found below or here.

Voodan and Shamans
Shaman and voodan are the only supported character classes able to cast divine magic while on Gothic Earth. That is because one gets his powers in a very similar manner to the Gothic Earth mystic class, by communing with spirits. Few ever do so as it is a perilous practice. Not only is magic unreliable and dangerous, the shaman or voodan exposes himself to nefarious spirits that may not always be those he expects. This leaves the character susceptible to corruption and the possibility of becoming a minion of the Red Death.

Bards, Beguilers, Sorcerers and Wizards
The corruption of the fabric of magic has made arcane magic a perilous pursuit on Gothic Earth; very few people know about magic and even fewer practice it. Adepts are the relative equivalent of wizards and form the quasi-totality of arcane spellcasters in the setting. Sorcerers are rare, their numbers dwindling with every passing year. Having such abilities would make a person a liability anywhere they dwelled in, as well as a prime candidate for the corruptive influence of the Red Death. It is conceivable these bloodlines were hunted down to extinction, but some may possibly still be around by the 17th century. Most bards on Gothic Earth do not cast magic nor use special powers to enhance their performances. Those that do do so at great risk, risking their soul for art or fame.

There are rumors of beguilers working in the shadows, whispering secrets, manipulating events. They take great care to draw as little attention to themselves as possible, be it from other humans, or from the sinister forces at play.

More information on magic can be found below or by clicking here.

Warlocks and Hexblades
Warlocks are possibly the rarest of all character classes to originate from Gothic Earth, alongside hexblades and sorcerers, yet absolutely the most reviled. With the virtual absence of deities and celestials, it is a near certainty that Gothic Earth warlocks have obtained their powers through the joining of a sinister cult, by trying to uncover the mysteries of the Great Old Ones or by being dedicated to a powerful fiend summoned into the world. Fey beings are rumored to hold courts as well, but if that is true they remain well hidden from common knowledge. A few exceptions may exist, descendants of men and women who made a pact with a powerful being. Nefarious business in any case. On Gothic Earth more than anywhere else, warlocks best keep their secrets close to the heart lest they face an angry mob or an inquisitorial pyre. Hexblades, with their aura of misfortune, are known to attract agents of the Red Death wherever they go, and thus are shunned by society, forced to live underground.

Warmages
Only the earliest civilizations, those which existed prior to the arrival of the Red Death or that came to be shortly after, would count warmages among their ranks. With the advent of the Red Death, and the corruption of magic, this pursuit became increasingly dangerous over the years and was soon abandoned, along with the last remaining great schools of magic.

Dragon Disciples
Dragons are as uncommon on Gothic Earth as they are in Ravenloft, and as such, characters from this setting cannot become Dragon Disciples.

Origins:
A non-exhaustive list of possible civilizations and cultures for Gothic Earth characters can be found in the Gothic Earth PC Information Thread.

Religions:
Gothic Earth-based religions are detailed in the Religion Resource Thread and listed below. Any player wishing to portray a divine caster originating from Gothic Earth must first read this.
« Last Edit: February 13, 2024, 09:52:43 PM by EO »
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Magic on Gothic Earth
« Reply #4 on: August 12, 2022, 07:19:48 AM »
Magic on Gothic Earth

The Laws of Gothic Magic
  • Magic cannot be trusted.
  • Magic cannot be purified.
  • Magic cannot be cheated.
No matter whether it is divine or arcane in origin, spellcasting is an uncertain art, one that is ultimately indifferent to any attempts someone makes to codify and understand. Even experienced magic-users cannot always rely on their talents, and the potential for failure — or worse still, perversion or backlash — remains present at every turn.

While magic was once as "clean" an energy as on any other fantasy world, the coming of the Red Death changed that forever. The corruption of the fabric of magic is not something anyone can ever really hope to change, try though they might.

Above all, it is impossible to circumvent the terrible risks and costs involved in casting spells on Gothic Earth. It may be possible to stave off disaster every now and then, particularly with quick thinking and no little sacrifice, but in the end, magic will claim its due — most often with interest.


If the message was not clear enough, magic is not safe on Gothic Earth. No one casts magic lightly.

The fabric of magic on Gothic Earth, described as a weave or web, has been corrupted beyond repair by the Red Death. Once, a very long time ago, magic was as common and robust on this world as on any other. The complex weave of magical energy surrounding the world was readily accessible to those who knew the secrets of mysticism and arcane spellcasting. While magic has always been and shall forever remain a dangerous pursuit, it was nowhere near the threat to mind and soul that it has become in the wake of the Red Death's arrival.

The actual act of casting spells is far from guaranteed to succeed on Gothic Earth. Even minor invocations bring the danger of alerting the Red Death to the caster's activities, and more powerful or sinister incantations are almost certain to bring the wrath of this dread entity down on the unfortunate caster's head. Aside from the chance of simple spell failure, physical harm, mental deterioration and even the corruption of a spellcaster's soul are all direct and immediate risks for those channelling such energies. It is not really a question of whether the arcane arts will ruin a character's health (physical or otherwise), it is merely a question of when. Accordingly, anyone unwilling to acknowledge and accept the potential risks, dangers, complications and consequences of spellcasting on Gothic Earth is thus advised to seek a safer profession for their character to follow, if indeed such a calling exists in this dark and sinister world.

Spellcasters are rightfully feared throughout the world. Arcane or divine, it doesn't matter even if the spell is cast with good intent, tragedy will always catch up eventually.

Arcane Spellcasting
Arcane magic works more or less like wizardry in most other settings, but with the perils mentioned above. Spells are recorded in, and memorized from, a spellbook. Material, somatic and verbal components are required depending on the spell. But contrary to the Ravenloft setting where the risk of corruption depends on the type of magic, even the most benign of spells runs that risk on Gothic Earth. Spells are not cast unless absolutely necessary. Though spontaneous arcane casters are no longer present by the end of the 19th century, they would still be present in the earlier ages of the world, their numbers dwindling gradually over the years. Beguilers, wizards, and bards are still around by 1650 AD, although very rare and using magic with extreme caution; sorcerers, warlocks and hexblades live in seclusion, for they bring misfortune and danger with them.

Magic on Gothic Earth is not the codified, universal Art that it is on many other fantasy worlds. It remains an insular, personal and secretive craft that often owes as much to the culture, geographic origin and individual history of each caster as it does to the raw magical knowledge being imparted. After all, a Chinese sage and an English scholar both casting fireball still have different rituals and gestures involved in invoking the necessary magical energies, so it only stands to reason that it is quite difficult for them to decipher each other’s spellbooks.

Given how rare and personalized magical knowledge is, a student reading his old master’s spellbook must still classify and copy his master’s unique script laboriously, bit by bit to ensure that he understands all the personal flourishes his master added to the spell over time.

Divine Spellcasting
Divine magic works very differently on Gothic Earth. The Red Death prevents all connections between priests and their gods. This goes beyond not feeling the presence of their god, it also prevents priests and their ilk from receiving any divine powers or spellcasting abilities from their deity. To some the silence of the gods means that they are either dead or purposefully left the world to its own devise. The truth is a matter of philosophical debate no one will ever elucidate.

Divine spells on Gothic Earth are cast, not necessarily out of religious fervor, but through the practice of Mysticism. It is a practice fraught with danger as it requires to commune with spirits that may, or not, be malevolent. This leaves mystics susceptible to corruption and the possibility of becoming a minion of the Red Death. All forms of magic are notoriously unreliable and may backfire on the caster in horrible ways. As such, magic of all kind is feared and vilified by the vast majority of the population. It is cautiously practiced only in secret. Mystic is its own class in the Masque of the Red Death setting and isn't supported on this server. Clerics originating from that setting are not considered mystics and would not have been able to cast spells while on Gothic Earth. On the other hand, Voodan and shamanism are considered forms of mysticism and their practitioners can cast spells and use powers while on Gothic Earth. They seldom do so as it remains extremely perilous to cast magic.

More information on divine magic on Gothic Earth can be found in the Divine Magic on Gothic Earth topic.
« Last Edit: February 11, 2024, 03:01:32 PM by EO »
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The Gothic Earth Timeline
« Reply #5 on: August 13, 2022, 12:09:36 AM »
The Gothic Earth Timeline

Quote from: Note from the Development Team
This timeline is out of character knowledge. Normal characters from Gothic Earth would not know about the Red Death nor the Qabals. We share it with the playerbase to give you context on how events happened in Gothic Earth's history.

Before the coming of the Red Death, magical energies permeated the world. Men and women who attuned themselves to these energies, either through study of the world around them or study of themselves, could tap into them. These people became known as wizards, sorcerers, wise women, shamans and priests. While some groups remained tribal, roaming their lands and following the animals that provided them with food, clothing and shelter, others settled in one place, farming the land and growing what they needed.

From the settlements of these agricultural people, cities arose, becoming great centers for trade with other cities as well as places to propitiate the gods who blessed (or cursed) their endeavors. Great cities such as Hamoukar and Susa arose in the fertile lands of Mesopotamia. In Egypt, the cities of Giza and Memphis, among others, prospered, drawing their life from the Nile.

Throughout the world, magic played a part in the lives of the people, whether simple magics to bring rain and make the lands and people fertile or more complex magics to increase the practitioner’s power or grant him eternal life.

The search for the latter type of magic led to the downfall of the mystic and magical energy that infused the world.

The End Begins
During the Third Dynasty in Egypt, around 2700 B.C.E., a priest named Imhotep crafted a series of rituals and spells into the tomb of Djoser, the current pharaoh, with the intent of warding Djoser’s spirit after his death. The nature of these spells was such that, rather than have the intended effect, they created an opening into another realm and “something” came through from that other place.

That something, later to be known as the Red Death, infused the magical energies of the world with its own corruption and began a process that would slowly eat away at the fabric of magic. So slowly as to be almost imperceptible, magic changed, becoming tainted with the evil of the Red Death. The repercussions of this change would affect every spellcaster from that time forward. Imhotep himself found himself inextricably linked to the entity his magics had given entry to.

A Time For Waiting
During the centuries immediately following its arrival, the Red Death took note of its new surroundings. Even then, it was planting the seeds of a great plan to dominate the earth. Though the Red Death remained quiescent for more than a thousand years, its mere presence on Gothic Earth initiated a series of changes flowing out from one another as ripples from a stone dropped in a pond. The evil that was the Red Death latched onto the world’s magical energies, slowly corrupting them. First, powerful spells grew a little weaker, not always working as they should. Smaller spells sometimes failed entirely.

In Egypt, where the Red Death acquired its first servants, it was able to corrupt those spells that dealt most directly with life and death — or more specifically, life after death.

Imhotep’s spells and the spells of all who came after him tainted the preservative spells for the nobles of Egypt, ensuring that most of them did not pass into the Underworld with all the honors due them but remained, instead, as dreadful, undead mummies bound by the Red Death to prevent the curious from looking too closely into Egypt’s many secrets.

With these mummies, the Red Death’s legions of horror took form and would expand throughout the centuries as more and more types of undead came into existence.

In the meantime, the Red Death experimented with dabbling in human affairs from its vantage point as an interested observer.

By nudging the chaos factor here and skewing the magic probabilities there, the Red Death fostered discontent between the young, powerful nations of the world. Where the game died mysteriously, leaving a tribe of hunters on the verge of starvation, the settled community nearby experienced a bountiful harvest. It was a small matter for the hunters to see this as a sign that they should take what they needed, particular when their shamans and wise women had visions directing them to do so.

Small wars broke out between tribes, between ancient cities and between the beginnings of nations. The Red Death absorbed magical and death energies, and feasted where there was evil intent.

The Early Qabals
But where there was evil, there was also good. Priests, scholars, wise men and women, astrologers and shaman from the young cultures of the world recognized that things were not as they had been and that some new presence had entered the world. Careful to work in secret, lest they be censured by their peers and targeted by the evil thing whose existence they posited, these thinkers, some of whom were adepts or mystics, gathered together in small groups to share their ideas and to reinforce their observations.

One of their first realizations was the fact that they, themselves, could do little to stop the evil that had permeated their world. They did determine that the best they could do for future generations was to attempt to record the passage of this entity through the world, noting each event that seemed to have some connection with this monstrous being.

For centuries, these groups labored in secret to compose poems, oral catalogs and, later, written scrolls codifying their discoveries. Whether or not anyone would ever be powerful enough to confront this great force, they did not know. They did what they could and forced themselves to be content.

These early qabals had no names. Names, in that time, were power and having a name made it possible for someone to gain power over you. Those who fought the Red Death through the collection and study of information did so behind the curtain of anonymity, hoping thereby to prevent the Red Death from finding and controlling them.

The Ancient Empires
For more than two thousand years after its arrival on Gothic Earth, the Red Death watched and waited as cities grew into empires and empires rose and fell.

In Sumeria, a cup-bearer named Sargon rose in power until he overthrew the current rulers and forged his own empire around the year 2200 B.C.E. Sargon the Great, as he was called, ruled the kingdom of Akkad from the city of Agade, near the former capital of Kish. He was famous as a road builder, established a postal service, amassed a formidable number of clay tablets, which he stored in a library and ruled through governors he selected himself.

He tried to establish a dynasty, but his grandson was overthrown. Sargon’s empire disappeared after little more than 100 years.

After Sargon, Ur-Nammu revived the defunct Sumerian Empire. Under his rule, the first code of laws came into being. A century later, however, Sumer came under attack by the Elamites and Amorites, a tall folk who were formerly nomadic but who settled near the city of Ashur. The fallen Sumerians saw the collapse of their empire as a sign that the gods had abandoned them.

Some scholars see the movements of the Red Death in these events. Sargon’s library enabled qabalists to gain access to the knowledge contained in the clay tablets, while the roadways and posts enabled communication among scholars (as well as providing safe travel for merchants, soldiers and tax collectors).

The Sumerian code of laws went a long way toward establishing order in the land, providing a sense of security and safety to even the common folk. Because the Red Death works best where ignorance and fear dominate the populace, it provided a nudge here and a push there to various of its minions to topple these empires.

In the 1800s B.C.E., the Amorite King Hammurabi embarked on a path of conquest, forging his own empire ruled from the city of Babylon. Where he conquered, he established a set of laws, later known as the Code of Hammurabi, to ensure peace and justice throughout his lands, even though what was “just” for a poor man was often quite different from what was “just” for a noble or priest.

Like some of ancient history’s greatest kings, Hammurabi did his work under the patronage of the sun god, which he knew as Shamesh. Though the Kassites, a fierce mountain tribe who used horses as war mounts, invaded Babylon and greatly weakened the Babylonians, Hammurabi’s descendants continued to rule there until the Hittites sacked Babylon in the 1500s B.C.E. Here again, the passage of the Red Death can be traced, promoting unrest in civilizations that threaten to become centers of learning and repositories of arcane lore.

The same thing was happening in other parts of the world. The Minoan civilization in Crete dated back to 3000 B.C.E., becoming a showplace for gorgeous palaces and elaborate religious rituals. In 1700 B.C.E., a great disturbance, probably a powerful earthquake, toppled many cities in Crete. Though the cities were rebuilt, they would face more trials as nature seemed to take up arms against the island realm. A monumental volcanic eruption on the nearby island of Thera in 1650 B.C.E. created great tidal waves that destroyed much of Crete’s coastline. This eruption caused the sinking of the island of Atlantis, according to some scholars. The subsequent disturbances in temperature, rainfall and the harvests for several years thereafter cast great doubt in the minds of the people as to their priests’ ability to provide favorable growing conditions.

References in ancient scrolls from this time period to prophesies concerning mysterious visitors, red fogs and growing shadows hint at the presence of a sinister being during this time. Scholars familiar with the cryptic signatures left by the Red Death in the pages of history point to these prophecies as indications that the end of the Minoan Empire and the disappearance of Atlantis were, if not arranged, then urged onward by the plans of the Red Death.

In Greece, the Mycenae people moved into Greece and became the dominant culture. During this period, the Trojan War, later immortalized in Homer’s Iliad took place. In turn, the Mycenae Greeks fell to the Dorian invasion and Greece withdrew from the world.

By the time Homer wrote his Iliad and Odyssey, immortalizing an age of Greek heroes and their god-influenced deeds, Greek civilization had taken another upswing, their culture heavily influencing those around them as the city states of Sparta, Athens, Ithaca, Syracuse and other polis prospered, fought wars with each other and developed separate identities.

Again, qabalists saw evidence of the Red Death’s movements in the slow progress of humanity. For every cultural leap forward, there was a war or a tyrant or a disaster to drag society backward. The Red Death used the critical removal of great leaders through assassination, accident, sickness or death in battle to manipulate the flow of history to its advantage. These researchers have also alleged that the Red Death, in some instances, substituted doppelgangers for particularly charismatic rulers or, sometimes, used possession on certain key individuals in order to make certain that people whose goals opposed his did not stay in power unmolested for long.

Some scholars see in Homer’s poems clear references to a powerful force working behind the scenes. The actions that the heroes of the Iliad and the Odyssey take often seem “out of character” and are attributed to the workings of various gods. Students of the Red Death’s activities see these attributions to deity-intervention as oblique references to the Red Death. Even Homer did not want to draw attention to his hidden messages from the wrong people.

In 335 B.C.E., a young Macedonian general named Alexander, son of Philip of Macedon, inherited his father’s position as ruler of Macedon and continued his father’s mission to build an empire. Alexander’s phenomenal success ushered in a Golden Age of culture throughout Persia, Egypt and Greece. Indeed, Alexander spread Greek culture throughout the Mediterranean region. His untimely death at the age of 32 raised many suspicions among qabalistic scholars that the Red Death had marked Alexander as an enemy. Indeed, there is some evidence that Alexander himself was a member of one of the qabals that pit themselves against the Red Death’s depredations.

By the 300s B.C.E., the Ptolemies had established their rule in Egypt, now one of three great monarchies established after the death of Alexander. Civilization flourished along the Mediterranean coastline; also, cities such as Athens, Persepolis, Susa, Babylon, Samarkand, Tyre and Alexandria became centers of learning and trade.

By this time, the Red Death’s presence had so tainted the earth’s magical energies that the practice of magic had nearly died out. Explorers and sailors brought back tales from far away of wizards, sorcerers and nature priests who kept the secrets of magic alive.

The Defiance
In the city of Alexandria, a group of scholars, sages, adepts and mystics formed a secret society to pool their resources and find a way to purge the world of the evil that had entered it so long ago. Calling themselves “The Defiance,” this qabal made use of the Great Library at Alexandria as their headquarters and as a giant reserve of knowledge. The rooms in the Great Library held the great works of the ages, manuscripts of some of the greatest minds, including Socrates, Aristotle, Aristophanes, Sophocles, Pythagoras and Euripides, among others. The library’s collection also included rare (even then) magical treatises and mystical writings by men and women of power.

Members of the Defiance met at regular intervals to share their information and collaborate in finding a way to defeat the Red Death, for some of them had given the great evil a name. Finally, after more than a century of meeting, the children and successors of the original members of the Defiance thought they had succeeded. They put together a great ritual that, had it worked, should have resulted in returning the creature known as the Red Death to the realm from which it came.

The enemy, however, was already in their midst even as they planned the ritual. Despite the wards and protections the Defiance had constructed about their meeting place within the Great Library, one of their number was, in fact, a servant of the Red Death. Some recent studies of the history of the Defiance suggest that a red widow, disguised as a mystic named Inclavia, had infiltrated the qabal. Working from within as one of the members of the Defiance, this creature served as a conduit for the perceptions of her master.

Just as the qabal began their banishing ritual, a minion of the Red Death, a respected Church leader named Cyril, who had made a pact with that entity, selling his soul for power and adulation, led a group of outraged people to the library. With cries of "heretic" and “blasphemer” on their lips, the crowd stormed the Great Library, broke in upon the ritual and dragged the participants into the streets. Many members were killed or badly injured by the attack. A few fled the city. One of their members, a woman named Hypatia, who was a distinguished scholar, mathematician, and philosopher, was brutally martyred for her beliefs.

The Defiance had fallen, its members either dead or fled, broken in body and spirit. The subsequent destruction of the Great Library, along with most of its books and scrolls, erased most of the information about the Red Death so laboriously gathered over centuries by scholars, adepts, mystics and others dedicated to the eradication of evil.

The Red Death's Shadow Grows
After the disappearance of the knowledge contained in the Great Library, few people had the resources to oppose the plans of the Red Death. By the beginning of the 6th century, the Red Death’s influence spread throughout Europe and into Asia and the Orient. The American continents and the islands of the Pacific remained, as yet, free of the Red Death’s control. But since those who could protect the world from the Red Death had suffered an almost irreparable defeat, it seemed that it was only a matter of time before the Red Death would exercise control over the entire world.

With the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and the rise of the barbarian tribes throughout Europe, the era known as the Dark Ages of Western civilization began. Much learning, including any knowledge of the Red Death, was forever lost in the ruins of looted and burned cities.

Elsewhere in the world, other civilizations prospered. In the Americas, the Mayan culture took the form of numerous city-states ruled by a hierarchy of priests. In Africa, the kingdom of Ghana arose around the trans-Saharan camel trade routes.

The surviving members of the Defiance fled to other centers of learning, or else sought refuge in places as far away from civilization as possible. Some traveled to the ends of the earth, seeking anonymity as a sort of protection from the Red Death that had marked them for destruction. Others hid themselves in the emerging monastic orders. From the ashes of the Defiance grew other orders, studying in secret to preserve what little magic they remembered and make certain that the Red Death did not corrupt everything utterly. Some of these small groups vanished after a short time; others fell to corruption. A few survived, however, managing to pass along their knowledge to succeeding generations of members.

Whether they remember their original goals or whether they have fallen utterly under the control of the Red Death or whether they simply forgot what their purpose used to be, all present day qabals trace their beginnings back to the Defiance.

Out of the Stone
Though the Red Death held sway throughout Europe during the Dark Ages, the Byzantine Empire remained relatively free of the Red Death’s dominion. In Europe, many of the qabals (or shadow orders, as they were called for existing in evil’s shadow) fell to the corruption that surrounded them. Though many of the Goths and Celts showed a high degree of “civilization,” albeit one dependent on tribes rather than cities and oral rather than written traditions, other groups were little more than marauders and bandits, looting and pillaging the remnants of earlier civilizations.

In the midst of such chaos and lawlessness, however, a few lights of goodness and knowledge continued to shine. Monasteries kept alive not only the written culture of the world through these dark centuries, they also preserved what few pieces of secret lore remained. Both monasteries and convents also served as hiding places for some of the new qabals. Other qabals sought shelter within pagan communities in Ireland and Scandinavia, while communities of scholars in the Middle East gave succor to their own wise men and women.

Many of the illuminated manuscripts of Europe’s monastic period contained coded rituals and information about the Red Death encoded in the illuminated designs and flourishes.

In the middle of the 6th century, a king named Arthur arose in England, uniting the warring Briton nobles to defend England against the Saxon and Scandinavian invaders. Under Arthur, learning flourished once more, civilization began to reassert its order throughout the weary British Isles, and the seeds of knighthood and chivalry took root, to blossom in later centuries.

Most importantly, within the heart of Camelot, Arthur’s great castle, a strong and powerful qabal grew, ready to take up the mantle of the Defiance. This qabal, which called itself the Stone, had as its leader none other than the legendary adept now known as Merlin, though his real name remains a mystery.

Joining together with other adepts in Europe, Arabia and the Middle East and Northern Africa, Merlin established a network of connection among the qabals that stood against the Red Death. Calling themselves the White Wizards, they opposed the fallen, corrupted qabals. Using their magic to communicate with one another, the White Wizards were able to identify and destroy many of the minions of the Red Death as well as put an end to some of the corrupt qabals.

Under Merlin’s leadership, until his mysterious disappearance, the Stone and the White Wizards made great inroads in their task of spreading the light to places sunk in shadow by the Red Death. To some extent, they succeeded. If nothing else, they ensured that the world did not fall at that time to the plottings of the Red Death.

Plagues and New Monsters
In 542, a plague that began in northern Africa was carried by shipboard rats to Constantinople. From there, the plague spread quickly throughout Europe, halving the population. Scholars of the supernatural indicate that the plague coincides with the first appearance of lycanthropes, and that many of the plague rats were, in fact, wererats created by the Red Death for this express purpose. While other shapechangers existed in some cultures, many of these, such as werebears, were beneficial members of their tribal society.

Some metaphysicians who studied the growth of evil suggested that the Red Death had decided that the time was right to introduce new monsters to the world. Wererats were but the first of many to follow.

The Holy Roman Empire
In 800, Pope Leo III crowned the warrior-king of the Franks as emperor of a new, “holy” Roman Empire. One of Charlemagne’s first actions, as a new convert to the Christian religion, was to declare Christianity the official religion of the new empire.

Many of the qabals that fought the Red Death saw this event as a victory for the forces of good and light. A unified empire would make sharing resources and information easier and would unite church and government into one governing body that would bring justice and order to a beleaguered Europe.

Ironically, the forces of the Red Death saw this as a victory as well, since a unified church and state would make it easier for a tyrant to gain control of many resources at once.

Those who were not Christians but who yet fought the Red Death grew fearful that this move portended distress for them. Pagans in northern Europe as well as Islamic and Jewish scholars in Africa and the Middle East realized that the Holy Roman Empire, in adopting Christianity as the one, true faith, had opened up a rift between themselves and other religions.

In 867, a great schism divided the Christian church into two parts, one ruled from Rome and the other from Constantinople (formerly Byzantium). A further division, this time on the political front, took place upon Constantine’s death in 870. His three sons divided Europe among them, creating artificial political borders and introducing an element of divisive nationalism that made it harder for qabals to work within each other.

For the forces of good, the overall result of the formation of the Holy Roman Empire was less than perfect. Persecutions of non-Christians divided qabals along religious lines, making the sharing of information about the Red Death more difficult than before. In addition, a good number of men and women who had grown in their magical powers were captured and put to death by church zealots who labeled them heretics and witches.

The forces of the Red Death, however, did not claim as much of a victory as they would have liked. They had hoped to utilize a unified Empire as a means of disseminating their evil and corruption. They did not perceive that the qabals had grown strong and quick to identify minions of the Red Death. Even divided, the forces of good provided a surprising amount of resistance to the evil horde.

The Erosion of the Stone
The Red Death’s counterattack began slowly. More and more hideous creatures appeared in the world. The dead walked, things that had no right to be crawled up from the depths of the earth and descended from the heights. Whether created for specific purposes — and many of these creatures were sent to destroy some highly placed member of the Stone or one of the White Wizards — these beings of darkness remained on after their tasks were done, waiting for other prey to find them.

Hounded by many authorities, pursued by foul monsters, destroyed from within by their own connections with the world’s tainted magic, the members of the Stone and other qabals fell by the wayside. Some individuals died gruesome deaths; others disappeared. Still others simply left the fight, broken-hearted and weary of the constant struggle.

Soon no qabal trusted anyone outside its own membership. The Red Death had succeeded in dividing its foe. The Crusades would deal them a near-fatal blow.

Crusades of Death
Beginning with the 11th century, a series of Crusades, or Holy Wars, sent armies of knights and untold foot soldiers away from their homes in Europe on a quest to free the Holy Land, and specifically, the city of Jerusalem, from its Moslem rulers in the name of Christianity. Though the crusaders believed they were doing the work of God, the destruction they wrought was incalculable. The Saracen armies, as well, fought for their idea of religious truth. Both sides suffered and died, and their homelands were the worse for their loss.

As one Crusade followed another, the object of the crusaders' quest grew more vague. Unable to reach the Holy Land, the Fourth Crusade, in 1204, sacked the city of Constantinople and initiated a process that would end in the demise of the Byzantine Empire. The crusaders returned, rich with plunder. Some did not return at all, but hideous creatures that assumed the forms of these unfortunate knights returned in their place. Thus, the Red Death placed spies — doppelgangers and rakshasas — in the heart of Europe, seeded among the nobles.

The forces that opposed the Red Death, the qabals of resistance to the growing evil in the world, were fractured and unable to present a unified front. They could do nothing to prevent the slaughter of the Crusades and the enmity between Moslem and Jew and between Moslem and Christian that would continue to haunt the future. Once again the plans of the Red Death bore bloody fruit.

The Great Destruction
In the mid 1300s, one of the greatest disasters in European history occurred. Traveling from the eastern lands, from Asia and the southern Russia, the Black Plague swept across Europe and the British Isles. Once again, many of those who died were members of shadow orders opposed to the Red Death. Fully one third of the population of Europe perished in agony.

Though the disease itself was a natural byproduct of the Oriental rat flea, carried to Europe by rats from merchant ships, the processes whereby flea-infested rats found their way on board ships bound for Constantinople and other ports with access to European trade routes was, in part, orchestrated by servants of the Red Death.

The Rise of the Phoenix
Though the Red Death seemed to make great inroads in western Europe, every action eventually produces a reaction. In the 14th century, a qabal arose in Italy made up of brilliant minds, wise mystics, philosophers, scientists, artists and other men and women of good will and great talent. Calling themselves the Phoenix, after the mythological bird of perpetual death and resurrection, this qabal spearheaded advances in the arts and fledgling sciences.

Many historians fluent in the secret history of Gothic Earth credit the Phoenix for being the catalyst from which the movement known as the Renaissance sprang.

A few scholars of forbidden lore indicate that the Phoenix owed its sudden genesis to a minion of the Red Death, a lord who repented of his actions and foreswore his former master in the interests of rescuing humanity from the destruction that loomed in its future.

The Renaissance
The Catholic world had just recovered from the Great Schism that pit the French against the rest of Catholic Europe and resulted in a period of nearly 40 years in which two popes reigned, one in Avignon, France, and the other in Rome. In England, the warring houses of York and Lancaster began a long struggle known as the War of the Roses that would last through the latter half of the 15th century and result in a victory for the Lancastrian house of Tudor. In the Middle East, Timur (or Tamarlane), who had led the Mongol hordes across Persia and Turkey, died in 1405 before trying to conquer China. This left room for the rise of the Ottoman Empire, and for the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453.

In China, the Ming dynasty continued its rule, while the Ashikara Shogunate rose to power in Japan. In Central America, the Aztecs established the grand city of Tenochtitlan, while in South America, the Incan Empire continued to evolve.

Against this world backdrop, the Renaissance blossomed like a brilliant flower in a tumultuous garden of growth and riotous upswelling. Some of the most talented individuals came together in Florence, Italy as well as in other Italian city-states in an outpouring of culture and celebration of human nature such as had not been seen since the Golden Age of Greece.

Indeed, the Renaissance brought about a rebirth of interest in classical knowledge and art and, with the renewal of classicism came the opportunity to study once again forgotten works of ancient philosophers. Thus, many members of the Phoenix were able to obtain manuscripts from the classical period that re-acquainted them with knowledge about the Red Death that had long been consigned to the ashes of antiquity.

Many believe that great men like Leonardo da Vinci, the architect Brunelleschi, the painters Piero della Francesca, Raphael and Michelangelo were all members of the Phoenix at one time or another. Some even believe that Savanarola, the preacher and religious purist was, though misguided, a fervent warrior against the Red Death, despite his aversion to secular art and literature. Other scholars have offered evidence that the political genius Niccolo Machiavelli had fallen under the influence of the Red Death; some even contend that a creature masquerading as Niccolo Machiavelli was responsible for the actions of that individual, actions that led to the eventual downfall of the Phoenix.

The 15th century also brought about the rise of the Red Death’s most powerful servants. Vlad the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia in life, met his death and arose as a powerful vampire, the lord of all the vampires of Eastern Europe and a bitter enemy of the forces of enlightenment and goodness.

The timeline of the Gothic Earth setting goes on up until the 1890s, but this chronology has reached our threshold of 1650 C.E. No characters from Gothic Earth on our server can be from a later time period.

More detailed historical information on specific eras and civilizations can be found in our Gothic Earth PC Information Thread.


Source: D20 Masque of the Red Death
« Last Edit: August 22, 2022, 09:31:51 PM by EO »
Best Regards!
MAB

Dev. Relationist for the Dark Powers.
1 Castle Road, Castle Ravenloft, Village of Barovia.