Setting:Unified Setting/Secrets of Everoc
Digging too deep is a common phrase on Everoc. Roughly meaning foolish or reckless, it is what happens when one is blinded by the promise of great riches and neglects caution in its pursuit. A gambler betting too much at cards, a rake seducing the wife of a powerful noble or a merchant taking out huge loans to corner a market are all digging too deep.
Digging too deep has a darker meaning. Everoc is a peaceful, prosperous land, but those who ask too many questions or let their curiosity get the better of them often come to a bad end. Literally it means to go to deep into the earth, an activity that has lead to the greatest tragedies of the dwarves, a race to whom tragedy is as common as the noontime mittagbier.
There are many things the inhabitants of Everoc do not talk about. Some say it is a habit of the taciturn dwarves, others that it is the influence of the superstitious corgyn. Those who dwell there know that to speak of a thing gives it power and attracts their attention.
THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS. No PCs should start a game knowing any of this, and this information should be very difficult to acquire. Except the part about the Dread Beasts, but even then, details should be very hard to find out about.
Historians speak of a time when the Dwarven Lordships were united, lead by a mighty emperor dwelling in the greatest fortress ever crafted by dwarven hands. The legendary lost fortress of Koganusan (roughly translated as Boatmurdered in the common tongue).
Outsiders know little of this period of dwarven history. Tales speak of epic battles against a multitude of foes, an increasingly erratic line of emperors (notably Mad Emperor Sankis I) and a plague of madness sweeping across the land affecting dwarves and wildlife alike.
Mighty dwarven expeditions were sent to recover the city from whatever befell it. The role of these armies is unclear, being variously described as reinforcements, rescue missions and a mining term describing the deliberate collapse of an unstable shaft to save the rest of the mine. Perhaps the closest equivalents are lance or sterilize. The fate of these armies is maddeningly vague and in some cases they simply disappear and are never spoken of again.
Tales of Koganusan grew increasingly wilder as the years passed. Most of these are so grotesque they can only be propaganda, spread by the Dwarven Lordships to discredit the previous Imperial Era. The eventual fate of Koganusan is recorded since the dwarves record everything. However that knowledge is locked away in the deepest of vaults, accessible to few dwarves and no outsiders. Suffice to say that the dwarves will neither speak of it or reveal the location of the fortress. This has not stopped adventurers from seeking it out, hoping to reclaim the treasures said to lay within. If any have found it, none have spoken of it.
The fall of Koganusan and the end of the Dwarven Imperium happened so long ago that only the elves have contemporary records. Interestingly enough all of those records are under a Black Seal, embossed with the sigils of "Demon Death Place" and can not be opened to anyone except under the decree of the Vanawil government.
There are many dangers found in the depths of a dwarven fortress. Cave-ins, explosive gas-pockets and the other dangers of working beneath a billion tons of pressing rock make a trip through the Water Forest look pleasant in comparison.
All of those dangers pale into nothing compared with the threat of an unleashed Nidhogr.
Dwarven religion tells this tale of the Nidhogr: "The Sun Within, Wotan, was a benevolent god that carved the Dwarves out of rock, taught them metallurgy and a writing system. The dwarves prospered beneath Everoc, establishing many large strongholds and cities. They crafted wondrous items, and their wealth was greater than all the surface civilizations could muster. But then, Valpurg (thought by some to be the draconian Belial) approached Wotan and asked him for the knowledge of the deep. Wotan, being kind, obliged, but Valpurg used the secret arts to forge the Nidhogr and the Wyrms, great beasts that invaded the deep halls and almost destroyed the Dwarven civilization. It took the might of Wotan, aided by mighty champions, to halt their advance, and in the process Wotan lost much of his former power and retreated into a sealed hall where he now rests, awaiting the time of the final battle."
This much is known, the Nidhogr are creatures of incredible power and even greater savagery. Their origins are unknown, but due to common superstition are believed to be unleashed on any fortress that digs too deep. Some are found beneath the earth, others come out of the wilderness. Varied in shape they are united in their unquenchable thirst for blood, suffering and death.
One saga that is sung of the Nidhogr is that of the great champion Meng Kolmonom in the fortress that now bears his name.
As the saga tells it, Kolmonom dug too deep and trembled in fear. Soon their fears were realized as a great wyrm dubbed Slöl Sluxlol appeared on the frontier. Slöl moved slowly to increase the dread its presence created, batting aside all forces sent against it. The defenses of the fortress were ripped apart like papier-mache and the dread beast roared in contempt as it entered the great hall.
But then arose a champion, Meng Kolmonom. Taunting the dread wyrm he and a few brave companions lured the creature deep into the foundations of the fortress. Leading his men he fought the beast until the rest of the fort diverted an underground river into the caverns below. Even as the foundations of the great dwarven city were swept away by the flood, causing widespread devastation, Kolmonom and his band held back Slöl. Until finally in a great crash they were trapped beneath the onrushing black waters.
Weeks later, as the fortress was repaired, the scene of the final battle was drained. No trace was found of Slöl.
There is a dwarven belief that the Nidhogr can never be killed. Instead they reincarnate, with all of their memories and antagonisms intact. That the Nidhogr will eventually become so cunning and powerful that they will destroy the entire dwarven race and then the world. It is something dwarves prefer not to discuss.
Everoc is home to a huge variety of wildlife, ranging from Beak Dogs (velociraptors, ridden by wild goblins) to Wolves. Many of them are well known outside the continent including carp, elephants, and rhesus macaque.
The ones on Everoc can be different. Different as in murderous, deadly and relentless.
While the stories are scoffed at by other races the dwarves know the truth. Normally placid wildlife can be imbued with a cruel, predatory intelligence. Mere animals become remorseless killing machines. You can see it in their eyes. Hardened warriors can be staggered by looking into the eyes of a giant carp when its eyes are filled with malicious hatred. Dwarven tales of ordinary wildlife behaving with hostile, seemingly intelligent intent are so widespread that overseas dwarves of stout character are known to panic at the sight of a harmless carp or elephant.
How and why these beasts become dread is something dwarves prefer not to discuss.
Roughly 800 years ago, the goblin homeland was destroyed. Legends of the time speak of a great battle in the heavens between the gods and invaders from a dark place, outside of reality. These legends are dismissed as primitive superstition by all but the goblins, who insist they made a great sacrifice to save the world and the elves who refuse to speak of that era.
But in the dustiest of ancient necrotexts, and in the darkest rumors of the dwarves there is a tale of a new god, stitched together from the corpses of the Outsiders and animated by the darkest of goblin necromancy.
Long ago in a time now forgotten, say some stories, the ancient necromancer lords searched too hard and deep for knowledge in the dark. They woke the nameless horrors that sleep beyond the world. Those beings came and the gods had war with them, a fight for the survival of the world and all its past, present and future, for the outer gods would devour time itself. Yet those ancient necromancers were the ones who finally drove the Outsiders back. They took the body of a fallen god, one of the Outsiders with his head and lower body crushed to naught and his hands sliced clean away. They woke his flesh again with the very power of their enemies. Thus risen was the Phantom Shadow Beast, Bongo Bongo, and deep below the earth he beat the rhythm that tied those ineffable horrors to time, forcing them to flee or else to age and die.
It is said when the people of the earth venture deep, beyond the clang of anvils and the echo of words in their halls, to the deepest, darkest silence of the uttermost depths, they may hear the distant rhythm that echoes up from beneath the world. The beat of Bongo Bongo.
Yet another reason not to dig too deep. Yet another subject the dwarves prefer not to discuss.
Everyone knows that a dwarf is as solid as the rock they mine. Practical, level-headed, and blunt the dwarven character is so widely known they are frequent comic-foils in theater and puppet shows.
Except in Everoc, their homeland. Dwarves already live under conditions of unspeakable stress. Tight confines, back-breaking labor in confined, lightless conditions and the constant danger of cave-ins or explosive gas. That's nothing. The dwarves can handle that.
But in Everoc dwarves can crack. They drink more alcohol, they obsess over work more, they are gruffer and more abrasive. Moodiness, withdrawal, suicide and outbursts of berserk frenzy are constant plagues. In terrible cases these emotional disturbances can spiral out of control, and more than one fortress has fallen to insanity and murder spreading like wildfire.
It is a subject the dwarves prefer not to discuss, saying only that the unfortunate individual or fortress lacked iron. Iron in this case is not a metaphor, but the actual chemical element with atomic number 26.
Historians and naturalists of Everoc have written volumes about the varied races, biomes, flora and fauna to be found there. None of them have written a word about its oldest, most powerful and influential inhabitants, if such a term is appropriate to beings who ignore concepts like time and space.
Rule #1 of The Gentry is you do not talk about the Gentry. Rule #2 of The Gentry is YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT THE GENTRY.
To speak of The Gentry is to give them power and attract their attention. They already have more power than even the draconians could dream of, and the last thing any living being wants is to attract their attention.
What they are is unknown, even amongst the few who whisper of their existence. They are cold, alien and cruel beings from somewhere outside our world, possibly outside the entire universe. They can twist reality like a pretzel at their whim and if Everoc is not their home, it is a place they like to visit.
Their influence has shaped dwarven civilization. The proto-dwarves who arose on the continent learned quickly that iron was anathema to The Gentry. They learned to love iron, to live underground where they could be surrounded by it, and to disdain the surface where no such protection was found. The alternative was to become the plaything of predatory extraterrestrials. Dwarves call their homes fortresses for a reason, even if they no longer speak of it. They are fortresses not against carp or goblins, but against the Gentry.
Thousands of years ago The Gentry grew bored and created the corgyn, to act as their servants. It is a burden the corgyn have suffered under ever since, sacrificing their best and brightest to become playthings of The Gentry at an annual contest of bards. The Gentry are not their gods. They see them as a burden placed upon them by the gods they worship and hope will reward them for their endurance.
The Gentry are seldom seen. Even the corgyn who serve them the most may host "guests" once every decade or so. But their influence over Everoc is clear. Clear but deniable. Despite the madness, the dread beasts, and the Nidhogr it is a peaceful, prosperous home to many. A good life can be had, as long as you don't dig too deep.
The Gentry had their biggest effect on history when they made war with the Draconians. Eventually, they got bored and left, but this war was a significant contributor to the madness which lead to the downfall of the draconians, and also likely accounts for two races. The Gentry made the Corgyn. The Corgyn don't seem to serve any purpose, besides following the Gentry's rules, but in the past they fought draconians. The Gentry may have also created the Doobies. The Doobies may have originated from the war between the Gentry and the Draconians (according to the rare naturalists who study such matters), but the Doobies could have been created by either side. Or they could be Gentry made flesh, or the fourth elf clan. Or they could be something else entirely.
Players: No. You can't play a member of The Gentry.
GMs: The Gentry are not NPCs. They aren't monsters. They aren't gods. They are beyond all of that. They are creatures of childlike malice, bound only by their own whims. Their mere presence on Everoc has given birth to some of the greatest horrors the world has ever seen, merely as a side-effect. Only the corgyn and a few dwarves know of the ancient rules and loop-holes that can allow you to survive an encounter with these alien beings.