Tsemes, the Lost City, A Portable Setting
History is a lie. The world is not so small nor plain as we are told. Beyond the boundaries of what we know lie places and cultures undreamed of, dead and dust for centuries, with sophistications and art beyond what we conveniently perceive as proper for the distant primitiveness of their time...
--graffiti on the wall of the Temple of Water
There was a time of plague, when all the world seemed to lay dying. The animals would give birth to a lesser order of beast, and these in turn bred true until the first species ran out. So too did it come to past with all the races of women and men, until no longer did the same variety of lithsome, hulking, or squat forms grace us. The garbonancias wept in madness and bled themselves to death as their sight failed. Their spirit helpers fled and would come no more to this place...
--Earliest known fragment of "Chronicles of Tsemes"
In a distant place, six thousand years ago, a magician known as Vllamos came to the town of Tsemes. No one now remembers Vllamos' race, nor her origin, but she came at a time of ill happenings, and the Umar of Tsemes called her for council. Vllamos and the Umar spoke, and together brokered a compact. Vllamos and Umar unveiled their plan to the people of Tsemes, and most of the people accepted.
Those who followed the Umar took up all they owned, their livestock and their families, and left Tsemes, following Vllamos through the mountains. Some stayed in the abandoned town, and none know what became of them.
On the third day of the journey, they followed a track that none had known before, and came upon places they had never seen, even those well-aquainted with the mountains. Some were lost upon the trail, and never seen again. After the fourth day upon this hidden track, the people of Tsemes came upon a great and lush valley, full of trees and life, broken by the odd ruin of dressed white stone. Here, Vllamos unrolled a heavy skin, on which was detailed the plan of a mighty city. The Tsemeshi, following the instructions of Vllamos and the Umar, settled there to build their city.
There they stayed, and prospered.
Tsemes, the City
Vllamos the Magician provided the plans for the city as well as the knowledge to build it. Some say she lived to see the completion of the original city, although that took over three hundred years.
The city itself is built within a steep, cone-shaped valled edged with tall cliffs. Each building and street is made from concrete according to the recipe Vllamos provided, and faced with dressed stone quarried from these cliffs. The buildings tend to be five-sided towers three or four stories tall, each with spiralling stars built up the outside, the walls pierced by three-foot diameter windows of colored glass set in iron or wood frames. Normally, the roofs of these towers are flat-topped, with a door to allow others access to the outside, but some are covered with domes of bright, flashing metal.
The road is a spiraling two-lane affair, beginning at a three-story locked gate at the top of the valley, where tradition holds the Tsemeshi first entered. From there, it winds around in great lazy arcs, rising on covered bridges over the river, winding down to the deep pond at the bottom of the valley.
Worthy of note, of course, are the Four Temples and the Tomb of Vllamos. When Vllamos set to build the city, she went among the children of Tsemes and chose out those whom she said were garbonancias, and broke them into four groups according to the elements, and gave unto each group one of the Spiritstones. And each spirit was bound to the children, and they to it, and both prospered thereby.
So the Tsemeshi built the four temples, one to each element, and the children and their stones went to live in them. Each temple is a great four-sided step-pyramid, eight stories tall with a circular tower of stone four stories tall at the top, and many chambers underground besides. The temples are built at the base of the valley, surrounding the deep pond that the river forms there.
The Tomb of Vllamos is the great gate at the start of the road, which guards the entrance and exit of the valley, and whose outbuildings serve to house the Umar, the body which maintains Tsemes. The Umar are part elected officials (well, elected officials who can trace their bloodline back to that of the original Umar) and part mystics instructed by Vllamos.
That's not to say the entire city consists of towers, pyramids, road, and gate. Over the millenia dozens of styles or architecture have come in and out of vogue, and some areas are definately better-kept or higher-class than others. Particularly prominent families, like the descendants of Umar, maintain linked towers or unusual square-shaped buildings. Rumor has it that the latter were erected over the ruins the Tsemeshi found in the valley.
Tsemes, the Forgotten
Whether Vllamos found or somehow created the valley, no one knows. But the valley where Tsemes sits is a fragmentary metaplane of some sort, tied to Earth via an astral rift (the path through the mountains the townfolk of Tsemes originally crossed). The four powerful elemental spirits brokered a bargain with Vllamos, who built artifacts for the spirits to inhabit while the mana left. With the backing of four powerful elementals, the magician-architect Vllamos and the Tsemeshi built a city to preserve the magical knowledge of their Age during the downcycle as well. The magic of Tsemes is still to that of Earth, and so Tsemes has lived most of its existence through the downcycle, when magic was almost non-existent, as well as the turbulent rise of magic that followed in 2011.
To this end, before her death, Vllamos constructed the Elemental Priesthoods. Devoid of any actual magical theory, each Elemental Priest is bound to the elemental spirit within their temple, who provides them with power (via a variant of the Shared Potency Metamagic) and spells (each elemental knows spell appropriate to their element, described below, each of which is modified by the elemental spirit's Spirit Tap power). With the power of the spirits, the Elemental Priesthoods managed to maintain some minor magical ability even through the downcycle. The Elemental Priests comb the young of the city for budding magicians and adepts, and divide them evenly as recruits. Naturally, there is a certain amount of bickering and internicene strife between the temples, but none of the spirits allow their followers to get out of hand.
The Elemental Priests work together at times when faced with the threats the return of magic and their full powers have brought, such as rogue magicians, insect spirits, shedim, ghouls, and other weird paranatural creatures which occaisonally lay seige at the Tomb of Vllamos.
Vllamos also instructed her own children (by Umar) with actual magical theory. Unlike the Elemental Priests, these Umar mystics can create their own spells, and some many different spirits...although they rarely do so. Their duties are to police the Elemental Priests, maintain and expand their knowledge, and to protect Tsemes. The latter especially has grown difficult, because Vllamos' original plans for the city were designed along certain geomantic principles, and the different architectural styles in the city, along with the occaisional disastrous plague or fire, have left them with a great deal of rebuilding to do.
Tsemes, the Lonely
The bustling city of Tsemes holds over 300,000 people, with 3,000 of those belonging to the Elemental Priests and another 1,500 or so belonging to the Umar mystics. Not bad, given an initial population of less than a thousand.
Thankfully, Tsemes isn't the massive City of the Inbred you might think. The Astral Rift to the city remained, and was occaisonally stumbled upon by outsiders, who were welcomed as much for their diversity as any knowledge of the outside world they might bring. Vllamos herself taught the Umar mystics as much as she knew about combatting inbreeding (not much, admittedly), but the politics of the city have kept the population from decaying too badly, at least away from the Umar, who have fallen into albinism, among other things.
While it may seem a bit backwards, perhaps no more advanced than the Middle Ages, Tsemes isn't a complete wash. Lacking the facilities to develop most technologies, they've advanced their knowledge of agriculture, chemistry, genetics, manufacturing, mining, optics, sanitation, and recycling as far as magic and resources allow. The Umar are actively interested in reliable electricity, but haven't managed to determine a sustainable source yet besides solar power, which they lack the resources for. Phosphorous and other glowing chemicals are often used as lights underground or in basements.
Gunpowder is a rarity in Tsemes, but only because the chemical processes are relatively difficult without a ready supply of materials. Generally, only the Umar possess the knowledge and capability to construct and use firearms, but they have refined and augmented this knowledge to the limits of their ability. Many Umar specialize in crafting and maintaining their own pistol, rifle, or shotgun and the ammunition for it, which are equivalent to modern firearms in power and quality.
Most of the city is ignorant of the outside world, listening only to the Elemental Priests or the Umar expound the "Chronicles of Tsemes," which is the official history of the city. Small radical groups have formed regularly throughout the city's history, attempting to guide the Tsemeshi around the notion that there is an outside world and they should care about it, but most of them eventually try to oppose the Umar or overthrow the Temples and are squashed for another generation.
Tsemes, the People
The Tesmeshi national sport is politics and philosophy. Arguably a democracy founded by Umar and Vllamos, no-one who can't show a direct descent to the children of Umar has ascended any of the 300 council seats. Rather, each Umar is supported by a group of Tsemeshi numbering between a dozen to several thousand, and is the subject of byzantine plots and politicking over obscure political, philisophical, and historical causes. The large Umar family holds over 2,000 eligible members, not counting husbands, distaff relations, or the mystic Umar, whom recruit anyone they see fit.
Most of Tsemes tend to be matriarchal, but about ten percent of the population are patriarchal. UGE and Goblinization was expected, and even looked forward to so much so that political groups began forming around the concept five hundred years before the first Spike Baby hit. Discrimination against trolls, orks, dwarves, and elves exists among some groups, while others eagerly try to get them to back their Umar and marry their sons. Changelings were unexpected, and caused massive riots followed by an agreed-upon re-vote for the last election (held every six years).
The Magic of Tsemes
During the downcycle, the elemental spirits guided the Priesthoods in picking out those children who were garbononcias--adepts and magicians--and bonded with them, enabling some magic use even during the lowest dips in mana, and making best use of the occaisional spike.
The mystic Umar, however, had no such aid available. Vllamos had given them the knowledge of certain tests they could conduct on potential applicants, but for most of the downcycle a growing number of Umar mystics lacked Talent. That changed seven hundred years ago, when the Umar magician-scientists discovered "astral photography"...the same daguerrotype photography techniques recently re-evaluated in the "real" world. Armed with this technique, the Umar were much more successful in recruiting garbononcias to their order, although a third of the Umar remain completely mundane, although better versed in magical lore than even the heads of the Priesthoods.
The Priesthoods' magical tradition is made up entirely of adepts-> none have ever manifested as full magicians. Indeed, astral projection remains unknown among them (probably a good thing, as the results of trying to project on a fragmentary metaplane might well be fatal), while astral perception is universal among them and the mark of a true priest. The priest-adepts are divided into three orders:
Tsaltosh, Meinin and Llyorm.
Tsaltosh - Adepts trained in spellcasting, conjuring, divining and enchanting, the Tsaltosh are always trained first in Astral Perception and then Magical Power relating to their magical skills. The Tsaltosh tradition allows them to summon elementals as Hermetic mages do, though only elementals affiliated with their particular element (water elementals for Water Priests, et al.), and cast spells. Each Tsaltosh learns spells directly from the spirit within their temple, and is never taught any magical theory in order to design their own (indeed, they do not know this is even possible, increasing their dependance on their temple spirit). Some rogue Tsaltosh have been known to learn spells from the spirits of /other/ temples or their Priests, but they indebt themselves to foreign and unknown powers should they cast them...as well as alienate the spirit within their own temple. Tsaltosh initiate in groups of six within their temple, with the elemental spirit of their temple serving as the Avatar for each initiatory group and instructing the adepts in metamagic as it sees fit. Oaths are required as the first ordeal when initiating.
Tsaltosh receive +2 dice when spells and spirits dealing with their element, and -1 dice for dealing with spells and spirits from all others.
Each temple spirit is a Force:18 Great Form Elemental of the appropriate type; among their powers are Aura Masking, Divination, Sorcery, and Spirit Tap. Priest-Adepts may learn Masking, Divining, Invoking, Quickening, Reflecting, and Shielding from their temple spirit. Priest-adepts may be allowed by the temple spirit to go on a vision quest, where they fast and meditate for (Quest Rating) days, at the end of which they undertake an astral quest to the Elemental Plane corresponding to their temple spirit. There, they may learn Absorbing, Centering, or any adept-specific metamagic except Limited Astral Projection. Some Tsaltosh work on developing powers such as Aid Spell, Living Focus and Magic Sense.
Divining skills always involve some use of the garbononcias' element, such as scrying in a pool of water, pyromancy, and the like.
Centering skills make use of epic lays handed down by the temples, which may be sung or played on a musical instrument (wind instruments for Air, drums for Earth, strings for Fire, and any number of odd instruments for Water, including pipe organs, glass harmonicas, and gargling.)
The maximum Force for any spell taught by a temple spirit is 12, although Tsaltosh commonly learn them at lesser Force than this.
Clean Air, Detect Poisonous Gas, Mist, Smoke Cloud, Steam, Thunderbolt, Thunderclap, Wind
Clean Earth, Detect Crystal, Detect Metal, Detect Poisoned Earth, Petrify, Shape Earth, Use Skill (Farming), Use Skill (Mining)
Control Fire, Detect Fire, Fireball, Firewall, Flame Aura, Flamethrower, Ignite
Clean Water, Create Water, Detect Water, Freeze Water, Shape Water, Splash, Waterbolt
Meinin - The healers of Tsemes, Meinin always develop powers of Astral Perception, Empathic Healing and Pain Relief first. With the lack of healing spells, the Meinin priest-adepts are trained in medecine (Biotech skill) and counseling (Psychology skill), ministering to both the minds and bodies of the people. Other powers of the Healer's Way include Eidetic Sense Memory, Empathic Reading, Empathic Sense, Enhanced Perception, Improved Ability (Biotech or Psychology), Kinesics, Multi-Tasking, Pain Resistance, Rapid Healing, Resilience, and Sustenance. All Meinin undertake a geas against sharing what their patients have told them in confidence, instilled with the belief that caring for the mental and spiritual wellbeing of their patients during confession is a sacred duty...and one enforced by the temple spirit.
Like Tsaltosh, Meinin initiate in six-priest groups, as above.
Llyorm - The Warrior-Priests of the Elements. Each Llyorm must start off with Astral Perception, Killing Hands(any level), and Elemental Strike. In the case of Elemental Strike, Air warriors may learn Blast and Smoke, Earth warriors may learn Metal and Sand with Elemental Strike, Fire warriors learn Fire (or Hands of Flame), and Water warriors may learn Ice and Water. Different elemental effects cannot be combined, and once learned must /always/ be used when the Llyorm uses their Killing Hands power.
Llyorm follow a series of related martial arts (treat as Boxing) based on hitting things. Following this tradition, Lloyrm primarily develop adept powers to enhance their Killing Hands strikes, such as Delay Damage, Distance Strike, Inertia Strike, Nerve Strike, Penetrating Strike and Smashing Blow. Any power that can reasonably be deemed useful in combat may be developed, but Warrior-Adepts traditionally develop their flashy striking powers first, and young initiates who focus on other powers instead are often openly looked down upon (unless they have a habit of winning, in which case they are talked about behind their backs).
Llyorm serve as the police force of the Umar and of their temples, and are often boisterious, dressing and dyeing their hair in very loud styles and colors, listening to unusual music, and submitting themselves to tattoos, piercings, brandings, and the like. They disdain the use of weaponry (mainly because they aren't any good with them), and gang up on any Tsemeshi who threatens them with one (cutting back on the use of weapons in general). Weapon foci in the shape of brass knuckles and the like are generally considered unsportsmanlike.
Like Tsaltosh, Llyorm initiate in six-priest groups, as above.
The total members of each priesthood meets once a year, to affirm their bond to the temple spirit with a gift (1 karma), and to share in a great feast.
The mystic Umar possess are the only Full Magicians in Tsemes, and may summon both elementals, city spirits and ancestor spirits. Unlike the priests, they have a full knowledge of spells and magical theory, and may learn any they wish; although they rarely cast them, preferring to keep the Priesthoods in the dark to their true powers. Sometimes nicknamed the Architects, the mystic Umar are well-versed in Geomancy and are often seen directing construction to keep the city as close to the original plan as possible...Umar lore holds that Vllamos' design protects and hides the city, while maintaining the astral rift at the Tomb of Vllamos so that the tenuous connection between Tsemes and the "real" world continues to exist. The mystic Umar do not astrally project, being fearful of the consequences, but often engage on metaplanar questing, which they are quite skilled at. Attempts to engage on an Astral Quest to the "real" world have always resulted in the unexplained dissapearence of the questor, so Umar mystics have unanimously decided to avoid this for the time being.
The unTalented mystic Umar are generally architects, engineers, scientists and theoretical thaumaturges, each studying the lore originally provided by Vllamos and expanded upon by millenia of research by Umar scholars. It is not uncommon for unTalented mystic Umar, especially those proficient with the lore of firearms, to engage in detective and forensic work, employing priests of the various temples to aid them in tracking down and defeating magical threats such as Infected, insect spirits, ghosts, and paranormal animals.