Why the winds hate elves and other stories

The upcoming Book of Ages includes the Engine of the Ages, a Microscope-like tool for collaboratively generating your own history of the Dragon Empire. Each player tells the tale of one faction (usually, one associated with their player character), while the GM mixes in other groups that may play a part in the campaign. The group then steps through the history of the Empire, Age by Age, with the occasional roll on the Random Catastrophe Table. So, here’s one possible history (we only played through the 4th, 8th, and 12th Ages, and the player characters are an Elf Wizard, a Barbarian with a 2-point negative relationship with the Lich King, and a Draconic Rogue).

Our 4th Age

13th Age icon symbolsAs you know, the Wizard King was overthrown by the first Emperor and his allies, kicking off the 1st Age. Conflicts between the Empire and the undead forces of the Lich King dominated the first three Ages, but history doesn’t get really interesting until the 4th Age, the Age of Elvendom. Elves, my players decided, are a species of planar nomads, plunging from world to world. The Elf Queen is their anchor to the physical world. She appeared in the Dragon Empire as an infant, born from the sacred Birth Tree in the heart of the Queen’s Wood. The other elves phased into existence, along with their dimension-hopping forests and cities. Suddenly, half the Empire was occupied by a vast and otherworldly forest; the Elves were worshipped as demigods by the folk of the Empire.

The arrival of the Elves at the height of their power forced other groups onto the defensive. The Lich King fled the Empire as a bodiless spirit, and discovered the barbarian tribes of the west. The barbarians worshipped their ancestors, but the Lich King was able to conquer their afterlife and imprisoned the ancestors who would not serve him. He whispered in the dreams of the shamans and priests of the barbarians, pretending to be their beloved ancestors, and so was able to warp their culture into a death-cult that worshipped him.

The Three also retreated from the Empire, fearful of the arrows and spells of the mighty elves. They allied with suspicious dwarves to create the first Forgeborn, creatures made of dwarven steel and fuelled by dragonfire, to guard their abandoned lairs. These first Forgeborn were essentially golems, unthinking machines that obeyed only their masters’ commands.

The arrival of the Elves disrupted the balance of the elements. The air elemental king declared war on the elven race, and to this day if an elf tries to fly too high, or if the High Elves build their towers above the treetops, then it draws the wrath of the winds. The fire elemental queen was even more furious, and sacrificed herself to put out the sun. For years, the sun guttered like a dying ember, and without sunlight, most of the elven forests died (the Queen’s Wood and parts of the Wild Wood are the only places where the alien elf-trees still grow).

Our 8th Age

In the chaos, the Prince of Shadows stole a silver apple from the elven birth tree. This scheme would come to (pardon the pun) fruition four Ages later in the 8th Age (the Rising of the Bad Moon), when he threw the apple into the night sky and it created the moon. To this day, the moon is an unwholesome and pernicious influence over the Empire – bad things happen by moonlight, and nights of the full moon are considered unlucky. The moon does favour the elves, though, which accounts for the elves’ reputation as thieves and tricksters.

The Elves also warred with druidic guerrillas (or gorillas, I can’t read my own handwritten notes from the session), who objected to their wizards’ continued disruption of the balance of the elements.

Under the new moon, the Lich King’s barbarians contacted the Empire. The barbarian tribes of the west traded and paid tribute to the Emperor, and fought as mercenaries under the banner of the Empire, but kept their traditional ancestor-cult religion, so the Lich King was able to infiltrate his clerics and agents across the Seven Cities. In Santa Cora, the Priestess grew suspicious of this new cult, and through her divinations discovered the Lich King’s imprisonment of the barbarian ancestors. She created two secret orders of Paladins – one dedicated to unmasking and defeating the Lich King’s spies, and another sworn to travel into the afterworld to break down the Lich King’s spiritual internment camps and free the ancestors. The barbarian cult schismed into two groups – one who worshipped the ‘true’ spirits of the dead, and one that was still in the thrall of the Lich King. Most of the barbarians in the Empire were part of the former cult, but the Lich King maintained his hold on the barbarians beyond the borders.

(The 8th Age, by the way, ended in a zombie plague, as upheavals in the afterworld briefly disrupted the natural order of death.)

Our 12th Age

The 12th Age was the Age of War, when the Empire was invaded almost simultaneously from west and east. From the west came the Lich King’s forces – the death-worshipping barbarian hordes he’d been cultivating for eight Ages. Vampire berserkers, selected for size and strength. A massive army of zombies and skeletons, enslaved ancestor-spirits chained into bone-golems, and thousands of death priests. Added to this force came a host of liches and skeletons out of the Necropolis.

13th Age - The ThreeFrom the east came the dragons under the Three. Long ago, the dragons established a manufactory on a secret island in the Iron Sea, and this automated dungeon-factory had built a whole army of forgeborn. To the dragons’ surprise, these forgeborn had grown increasingly complex and intelligent; with each generation, the manufactory had refined the design. This iron army, led by dragons, invaded the Empire from the east.

Captured humans were taken back to the manufactory and subjected to bizarre sorcerous experiments under the direction of the Blue; these experiments created the first draconics. These experiments also had an unlikely side effect – the Blue used forgeborn to assist in her work, and the forgeborn somehow isolated and stole the essence of humanity. The manufactory used this to create the final generation of forgeborn – truly alive metallic creatures, with free will and souls and absolutely no desire to be ruled by dragons.

Faced with rebellion from their own army when both draconics and forgeborn turned on them, the Three sued for peace. In exchange for dragon aid against the invading forces of the Lich King, the Emperor ceded the ruins of Highrock to the Blue, and recognised the draconics as imperial citizens.

So, in our take on 13th Age…

Elves are a declining race, greatly diminished from the days when they were worshipped as living gods. Still, they have the sacred Birth Tree that brings forth new fruit and hence new wonders in every Age, and they remember that one day, the Elf Queen will perish in this plane and be reborn in another dimension, and they will follow her en masse to their new home.

Foes of the Lich King know that while he was recently defeated, he still has two major power bases – his fortress on Necropolis, and his barbarian death-cult to the east. He continues his attempts to subvert the Imperial-aligned barbarians by kidnapping their ancestors in the afterworld, so the cult has evolved a complex system of passwords and signs – don’t trust a ghost until it gives you the correct password!

Draconics are a new-born species, the product of experiments carried out in the war. They have a complex relationship with the Forgeborn – the Forgeborn are fuelled by dragonbreath, and now that most of the dragons have again fled the Empire, the forgeborn are dependent on the draconics for survival. At the same time, the forgeborn aren’t trusted by most of the Empire, and no-one knows for sure what they’re doing out on the mysterious island of the Manufactory. (Some fear that they have a plan…)

What histories will your players create?

4 Responses to “Why the winds hate elves and other stories”

  1. Andrew Jones says:

    “Druidic Gorilla Attack” has a nice ring to it- perhaps as a 400 page campaign?

  2. FCM says:

    Uh, I was looking forward to this book, but you are making me not want it. Were elves insufficiently exotic that they needed to be dimension-crossing aliens? And what happened to the Priestess emerging as an Icon by that title for the first time in the 13th Age (core book, P24)? While I respect creativity, this material seems almost incoherent.

    • Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan says:

      Remember, the Engine of the Age is player-driven. One of the players wanted elves to be dimension-crossing aliens in our home campaign – it’s not something that’ll be cropping up in other 13th Age books, or even in the Book of Ages. It’s just an example of how the players can use the Engine of the Ages to come up with a shared history for their take on the setting.

      Player-generated stuff does tend to be more incoherent than carefully designed material, but what it lacks in elegance, it gains in enthusiasm and flexibility.

      As for the Priestess, if the GM wanted to keep that detail, she could easily say that the Priestess took over the ancestor-rescuing strike force from some previous Icon (the Psychopomp?).

    • Yonatan Spira says:

      This isn’t “set in stone” stuff (as much as any 13th Age thing is), it’s just a result of players using the Engine of the Ages to create a history of the ages.
      If the book being incoherent with things written in the past a concern for you, don’t be concerned.

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