Introduction to a broken world
At the surface, the Æthercoil campaign setting is a classic homebrew Renaissance setting using the Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition ruleset. New players can use the downloadable Basic Rules, although using the three published rulebooks (the Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide) are preferable. The main difference between this world and worlds like Faerun, Mystara, Nentil Vale, Krynn, and Oerth is an apparent lack of history. Nobody in this realm remembers anything beyond three centuries in the past. All they can recall is that a world-wide totalitarian state was crushed by the arrival of Eladrin and Dragons, but past that it is just a dark age.
While the adventures might just be curious about finding out more about their world, the players on the table will be surprised to look around the room they’re in and point at a device that his player character just discovered for the first time. Or recognize the ruins of the major city they’re exploring.
Hidden under the surface of this Tolkien-esque world is a world just like our own. A modern world.
What happened Before
The chain of events that caused the downfall fo the modern world is summed in a sentence cryptic to all but some in the realm: The end of the world began with The Chicago Cubs winning the World Series. In fact, the calenders are now numbered from the instant that the Cubs won, creating the Wrigley Reckoning, or WR. The first major campaign begins at 300 WR.
There is a general Timeline Available here.
The Three Causes
The Middle East Nuclear War
Zero-day of the Wrigley Reckoning didn’t get to reach midnight before the first nuke.
It wasn’t clear who launched it, only it was aimed at Israel.
Israel responded by activating the Sampson Protocol; the country’s not-too-secret Nuclear Program. Before the following dawn rose, almost every nuclear weapon got hacked, launched, and programmed into a carpet-bombing pattern covering the entire Middle East.
The radioactive smoke will eventually clear to reveal the absence of the Middle East. The sheer number of nukes literally wiped the landmass from the surface of the planet. What was left is reclaimed by the sea.
Scientists feared what would happen to the world by the number of nukes dropped. They never got the chance to find out.
The True Order
The mushroom clouds were still aglow when the rest of the world fell into chaos. Every country and government in the world started to collapse. Be it political clashes, environmental disaster, financial collapse, violence along racial, ethnic, or religious lines, famine, disease, or even a combination of the above and maybe some new ones, every country was affected. The whole world descended into chaos.
What remained when the smoke settled was a group that will take over the world in a dystrophic rule. Combining beliefs and attitudes from Social Justice Warriors with the perchance for violence and destruction from ISIS, this True Order created a global totalitarian rule, not unlike several classic science fiction novels. Once they got into power, they began to systematically destroy all of history. Books were burned, sites were razed, people were summarily executed. The mere mention of anything that happened mere years ago was punishable by re-education at first, death later. The True Order wished all human history to begin with them.
While it took a mere generation to erase history from the minds of the people, The True Order almost got their wish.
The second fall
The Æther Rifts
Before the True Order, scientists wondered if they could counter Global Warming with a nuke. There were many studies warning people against finding out if the two would cancel each other out. None of them would find out that they’re right. In a way.
The Sampson Protocol did manage to negate Global Climate Change with the many nuclear weapons that fell, but it created another problem: Rifts between this world and a mirror realm, originally thought to be two separate worlds, but revealed to be two sides of a twinned realm, one of light and another of darkness: The Feylight and the Shadowild.
As the two realms melded into each other, the combination generated a new kind of energy permeating the realm, unlocking magical abilities into the world and in some people, as well as dramatically changing parts of both flora and fauna. Those who know about this energy call it Æther. Especially the beings that spilled out from the Twinned Feywild and into the realm.
The True Order was neither prepared for the rifts, the Æther, nor those who arrived in their midst. Their totalitarian rule was crushed mere days after showing hostilities to the two groups of arrivals: The Eladrin and the Dragons.
Those before the True Order ponder about Aliens from other worlds visiting their home, some of them claiming that Aliens have visited Earth ever since mankind evolved into sentience. Little do they realize how right they were.
The otherworldly, even people known as the Eladrin have known of their world’s—the Feylight—connection to ours since the dinosaurs and have found a promise and potential in humanity. Up to this point, the Eladrin visits were few and far between. Many pivotal points in human progress, not to mention several religions, were brought on by an Eladrin visiting humans.
When the Eladrin saw what became of humanity after the True Order, they knew they had to be more hands-on lest humanity becomes extinct. Those who survived the True Order’s collapse have lost “the light” as the Eladrin call it. Most them stood there sore afraid with blank eyes, void of intelligence or identity, only knowing fear, obedience, and ignorance.
Only a half million humans, predominately children who haven’t had their humanity beaten out of them, approached the Eladrin. The Eladrin took that mere five hundred thousand souls and started to rehabilitate humanity. It took them several generations to undo the damage the True Order has caused, but they managed to nurture, educate, and instill The Light back to Humans, bringing them back from the brink of extinction, but into a world where they’re not the only sentient people anymore.
While the Eladrin provided the soft power in the fight against the True Order, their representatives from the Shadowild, the Dragons, provided the sheer hard force. No matter what classic novel is mentioned, no totalitarian dystrophic government has any chance against one dragon.
The True Order had to deal with one hundred and twenty-eight. All at once. The smallest one of these is big enough to use Wrigley Field as a nest. It was no contest.
The dragons claimed the land and all on it as their right of conquest. The humans that didn’t get taken by the Eladrin scattered for the forests, caves, and seas, but the dragons claimed a good number of them. Most were just eaten, while others were held as concubines.
Eventually, they settled in and started to create their own community, continuing the struggle between Feylight and Shadowild. That’s when they were surprised by a side effect by the Æther. Only one hundred and twenty-eight dragons can ever exist in this world, no more no less. A dragon egg remains inert, even by human mating, and will not hatch until another dragon dies. Most dragons are incensed at this and strive to break this limit.
However, eight dragons find themselves in a special position. The Æther has granted them a boon; they have become sources of divine magical energy. These eight dragons, one for each Divine Domain. They decided to team together and become a benevolent force in their new world—or at least that’s what they wanted to show to the people in ‘their’ world—creating the Council of the Eight.
Only a few world religions survived the purge from the True Order, Buddhism most of all. The Council of the Eight filled in the vacuum becoming the sole major religion in this realm, although they are willing to share influence with other groups. (At least, that’s the image they show.) They encourage exploration and adventuring from their human followers to find out just what happened before the True Order.
A Lost Time Redescovered
To everyone’s surprise and relief, while the True Order managed to erase history from memory, and the world regressed to a second Medival Era, but they couldn’t eradicate history completely. Brave souls managed to gather books, inventions, relics, and media from the Dark Age and hide them from the True Order. All of them gave their lives to keep what they hid from the bonfires, hoping that the True Order would fall and those left to rebuild would seek out the secluded keeps, dungeons, towers, and other reclusive locations to recover their history and their civilization.
That’s where the adventuring party comes in. A common Æthercoil campaign will involve a discovery of one such lost relic. Finding the item—whatever it is—would be a major adventure on its own, but that is only prelude.
After they find the item, the party must then figure out what they found, how it works, and how they can use it. Do they keep it hidden from those who would destroy it? (Has the True Order been eradicated from the world?) Or would they use it to shape the world around them? Will what they’ve found affect the world for good or ill, and how will it affect future campaigns?
A well-known story ended in a world in rubble, everything destroyed, all the people dead, and “Unless” drawn in the dirt by the sole survivor. Æthercoil begins from that point. Where it goes from there is up to those who are in it.