The Privateer Campaign
“For saltlaws lost, we shed our tears,
We broken men of wasted years,
Fields fallow lay til tides return,
And all the swirling seas will churn.”
- Ancient Certh seafarers’ song
The Privateer campaign world is one of motes — floating islands of the Material Plane — separated by huge expanses of air, the airships that travel between them, the empires and kingdoms that have formed upon them, anf the strange and powerful beings which vie for influence of them. It all began with…
Ten millennia prior to the present day, our old world exploded into countless fragments. In an instant, the sum of civilization was cast into the void, motes of earth hurling radially outward from the primal, elemental chaos at the world’s center. The motes broke apart, some failing to escape the pull of the void and crashing back downward into the swirling Undermist. Many remained, suspended in the sky, orbiting the core, and on these motes, there were a few lucky — or unlucky — survivors. Less than one in a thousand awoke after the chaos to find themselves in a drastically changed world, one bounded on all sides by precipices, and the smoking void darkening the downward horizon.
REBUILDING, PATRONS AND THE PLANES
Millennia passed and the survivors that could slowly began to regain what was lost. Some larger motes — some as big as continents — were lucky to be populated with peaceful neighbors, or even benevolent Patrons, great-winged dragons who saw the ragged races as creatures to be nurtured back into a semblance of society. Not all Patrons were kind; many dragons found themselves with scores of playthings to be devoured or enslaved. And many groups were simply alone. The Patrons were not the only powerful forces to walk the motes after the great calamity: the force of the explosion tore at the fabric of the planes, leaving areas where the border was like a thin paper wall. A wanderer stumbling into a peaceful moonlight glade might find himself in the peaceful fields of Elysium. A spelunker delving too deeply under a shadowy mountain might find herself staring into the unthinkable face of a demon from the infinite layers of the Abyss.
Thus it was: humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings and the rest, divided by great gulfs of sky, living together — or warring — on floating rocks, never again to taste of Empire. And so it would have remained, had that first adventurer not found that first portal to another mote, a tunnel through another plane, high in the peaks of what would become the empire of Aine. It also could have gone much differently if the portal’s guardian had possessed a fouler temperament.
PORTALS, GUARDIANS AND EMPIRE
These guardians — massive, wingless wyrms — became known as the Imperial Dragons for what came next. They seemed tethered to the strange gates: one dragon per portal. Some offered passage freely to the fledgling nations of mortal races; some required payment; some had to be coerced, an approach which usually met with terrible failure. Then did the mortals begin to walk across the motes. Linked pairs of portals were found and mapped, connecting several groups, establishing routes of trade, fostering the exchange of knowledge, and (in some cases) leading to conquest and slavery. Empires had come back to the world, but still the great chasms of open air limited the ambition of the common races, for it was rare to find a portal on an earthmote, rarer still to be able to travel through it, and assuming that permission was granted or taken, the journey through the dark connecting planes was perilous indeed.
The motes of the four largest human empires — Aine, Certh, Jannia and Iscarte — as well as the vast elven forests of Valaria and smaller dwarven stonemotes, gnomish lands and other kingdoms, began to feel small to their inhabitants. Skirmishes began over territory and resources, former friends wielded blade and spell against each other, and the unthinkable occurred — the slaying of an Imperial Wyrm by a wicked mage’s powerful ally, a Primal Dragon. The primals were the last of the types of great wyrm to reveal themselves, long banished from the Material Plane, but summoned back into the world by a powerful magical ritual. Made of elemental shadow, this primal wyrm slew a great Imperial of the sky, and the resulting gate’s explosion leveled the terrain for miles around. The sky-wyrm’s partner, thousands of miles away on the other end of the planar tunnel, went mad with mortal grief, crushing an entire town in its wailing death throes.
The aforementioned empires, the great calamity still looming in their ancestral memories, signed what is now simply known as the Accession, the event by which current history is measured. A vague agreement, considered peace treaty by some and armistice by others, established rules of conduct still largely followed to this day. Attacking Imperial guardians of gates would be met with swift, unified punishment. Still, attempts have been made by those who care not for Imperial peace, some successful. The portals and their guardians became the most closely guarded assets of Empire … those gates that are known, that is.
AERUM AND PRIVATEERS
Their movements limited, the most ambitious amongst the empires began to search for another way to travel between the motes, and perhaps even visit those regions with no known portals. Magical flight was possible, but nothing powerful enough to move large amounts of people or goods. Planar magic — which is only now in its infancy — was purely theoretical. The answer, eventually, lay in the motes themselves. The magical mineral known as aerum was discovered about two hundred years after the Accession, and knowledge of it quickly spread, as did the expertise required to refine it into what would fuel the first airships.
Refined aerum could keep a ship afloat in the void, or cause it to rise or sink, albeit at tremendous cost. Traveling between the motes took skill with the captain’s wheel, the navigator’s ledger, the diviner’s glass and the roughneck’s sword. Such folk are collectively known as ‘privateers,’ and in the sails of their ships and over the lands they explore is the wind of history in the making.