So now that we have a setting, let’s add in some details! One thing that can derail a campaign most are details. Why? Well, because details are at once meaningful and arbitrary. That is, details have to be consistent with your universe, and they shouldn’t establish any themes which your universe/story isn’t tackling, but they also aren’t always important. I once had to name a tavern at random. So I decided on a color and an animal/cooking object. After all, Black Bull, and the White Swan, or the Red Ladle, are all perfectly good tavern names. And this is how I ended up with the Red Bull Tavern, something Henry was so nice as to tease me about it here, and I’ll probably never hear the end of how I named the Mayor ‘Hamer’, which was intended to be pronounced “ha-Mare”, but ended up being called “Mayor ha-Mayor”. So it is important to make sure to make sure that your random details are unobstructive. But how do you craft important details that are meaningful?
This is the blurb/teaser to a universe I’ve been developing for use in a series of short stories (and soon to be an RPG):
Long ago, history tells of a great war between all the kingdoms, of magic that tore up the earth and sundered the sky, of demons and gods that walked the land, casting down hundreds where they glanced and calling down lightning from the heavens and fire from hell. These wars raged for decades, consuming all the races of the world. And when the dust parted and the blood cleared away, war was the least of anybody’s problems. The dead had risen. Few weapons could be used efficiently against the undead; mortal blows hardly even slowed them. In months, fully a third of the world’s cities were unlivable.
It was then that a major breakthrough was made: magic could damage, and destroy the undead. But while divine magic could repel the undead, arcane magic attracted them, worse, it could create them! Thus began the Great Purge. Any magic that wasn’t sanctioned by the church was hunted down, quickly and brutally.
Now, years later, the world is at an equilibrium. Maybe a quarter or a fifth of the cities and town from after the war survive, but they do survive. Each town is protected by a few priests; the larger the town, the more priests. And that protection remains under a few conditions: any magic users are turned over to the church, the church’s rituals are kept sacred, and the church can take anybody under the age of 18 into the clergy, at any time. If those rules are broken, the town risks losing its protection. And with these rules, rebuilding has begun, of cities and of roads. Of society.
But rumors linger, of rogue magic users who control hordes of undead, or of guilds of magic who seek to use the undead for their own nefarious research and goals, and worst, of corruption inside the church itself. But not all rumors are bad. Some tell of guilds of magic who seek to end the undead problem, of rogue magic-users who roam the countryside, seeking pockets of survivors or of magical artifacts that ward off the dead, and even of cities that escaped the devastation.
This is the realm of Azorius, and these are the tales of its people.
Zombies are one of the common narratives to arise in the modern era. People say this is for a lot of reasons. I can talk on and on about how zombies represent the mindlessness of the modern era, from driving to work to a day-to-day cubicle life to consumerism to the seeming emptiness of modern day choices, whether it be brands of soda or the similarity of politicians. But ultimately, this is unimportant: zombies have captured hearts and minds in the modern era.
We can trace the start of the zombie movie epidemic to three major sources. First, the idea of mindless human beings can be traced to Haitian Vodou. Second, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead can really be called the ancestor to zombie apocalypses. Finally, at some point, the idea of zombies as an infection of some sort has arisen over time, and while I cannot think of a specific source which serves as its origin, the Resident Evil movies will serve as a good exemplar.
So why am I talking about zombies? Because the first setting I’ll be writing about is a zombie setting. And as I said, a good setting plays to tropes, but denies them in some way. A setting that is nothing but tropes will seem campy. On the other hand, a setting that fully defies tropes isn’t really a continuation of the theme, but a new thing entirely. After all, George Romero never even referred to the shambling cannibals in his movie as ‘zombies’, that terminology came later. He wasn’t bringing new light to Vodun Zombies, he was starting a new genre that happened to end up connected to an old genre.
So first, I’ll have to outline what the tropes of zombie apocalypses are, and then which ones I’ll be breaking, and why. Finally, I’ll discuss the effects this has on the universe.