The Sea of the Dead
- Long ago, people just...ended. They grew weak, and feeble, then simply ceased to be. The ancients looked upon their existence and found it wanting. In their mercy and infinite wisdom they declared "This shall not be!" and set their minds to the task. Nothing survives of how they achieved this miracle, but we know their hearts were large and full of charity; for instead of keeping this for the elite few, they chose to grant it to all mankind. His Reverence Eramus Qualm, 2000th birthday speech.
10,000 years after a form of immortality was discovered and spread to all humankind, humanity leads a quieter, simpler life . Everyone can live forever; no wound is ever truly fatal short of immolation, and only the most serious of injuries will have any lasting effect. There's just one problem. The brain. Yes it will grow back, but the memories won't, and if it truly dies then the people come back...wrong.
Modern life consist of enclaves of humanity eking out a living on remote, inaccessible locations. The eternally young cling to small, isolated settlements balanced precariously above the living sea of ancestors. This sea consists of trillions of ravening zombies.
Immortality is an everyday fact of life in this world - everyone stops aging at an approximate physical age of 20 and any non-fatal wound will heal perfectly in a week. As long as it doesn't kill you. Eternally young persons who live facing the terror of their own mortality because they have a look at the Afterlife every morning, and it roars and hungers for the flesh of the living....
The most grievous of wounds will heal in a week or so, and even a lost arm or leg will return in a matter of months. Despite this, it is possible to die the true death, but it is just as possible that even a man who is torn to pieces may have a pieces capable of rebuilding themselves. Except in a few exceptional cases, funeral rites consist of a simple and rapid burial at sea.
- With a thud, the merchantman slammed into the mooring posts, and the crew scurried to secure the vessel. Kirklees rang his bell three times while he kept a watchful eye, mindful of the need to suspend his vessel before the lures were withdrawn. He'd never had a ship sink at its moorings, but the locals sure as hell wouldn't help them raise it up and clear the deck.
- A reply of "look out below!" came down, followed immediately by cables hurled from the dockside cranes. That was sloppy, Kirklees thought, aware of the danger of a swinging cargo cable knocking a precious crewman overboard. He determined to take that up with the harbormaster as soon he was back on land.
- "She's secure, sir." cried the bosun.
- "Very good, lets hook up the basket then, and see what we can get out of these savages." A night away from the constant roar of the sea would be enough.
Among these isolated communities, brave souls "sail" the zombie sea by hanging meat on several booms extending from the boat, and essentially crowd-surfing their way forward. These flat-bottomed and high-sided barges have offer great risks for their crew, but also great profits from isolated communities desperate for the goods they provide. Only an master mariner and crew have the skill to trim the meat "sails" that steer and propel the boat without sucking the sea out from under it. Some larger and more sturdily-built vessels have emergency wheels and wooden anchor-shafts that can be dropped at a moments notice to support the vessel in rough seas, and some even have crude safety cages in case of disaster.
There are two terrors that haunt even the most experienced crews, the first of which is becoming becalmed; a crew that runs out of livestock must find meat somewhere. They face the hard choice of either trying to secure flesh from the sea itself (which is dangerous at the best of times) but this is unappetizing to the sea, and means slow travel. Otherwise, they must draw lots and risk joining the ancestors from their wounds.More than one vessel has returned with missing limbs or even missing crew-members and a grim oath of silence.
The second is a simpler yet more atavistic fear. The seas are littered with the hulks of vessels whose crews were too inexperienced, too careless, or simply too unlucky to reach their intended destination. The wreckage of their once-sturdy hulls linger, serving both as a serious navigational hazard and as silent witness to the last, brutal moments of their crews.
Civilization still exists
The level of civilization varies wildly from island to island. Many small and isolated islands without access to any great resources have been reduced to a barbarism, scratching a bare existence in the dirt without ever straying from the roar of the sea. Often, these peoples worship the ancestors who call to them from below. Others have great wealth because of their natural resources, industriousness of their people, or simply because they are a convenient way-point on a longer trade route. Many great merchant cities simply have large expanses of arable land, and can keep enough livestock and enough trees to maintain a merchant fleet. Some have preserved ancient traditions or have small libraries, while princes maintain an iron grip on decrepit workshops capable of producing otherwise impossible artifacts. There is even a handful of mines, desperately extracting the almost priceless metals from beneath the earth, at constant risk from cave-ins or breaking through to some ancient flooded structure or one of their spoil heaps collapsing into the sea...
And finally there are those who risk it all, exploring the ruins of the ancients for wondrous treasures, risking it all for riches unseen for ten thousand years. A trade where everything is won or lost with the opening of some antique hatch. The great lords fund well equipped expeditions who use wooden caissons, diving equipment and movable barriers to systematically explore the sunken world. Other more desperate and amateur efforts simply rely on finding some exposed point of entry - some islands even have unexplored complexes. More than one great island has been lost by a foolishly opened doorway or an accidentally collapsed wall.
- Some say the ancients are still here, sequestered deep below the earth as they complete their work, their second gift. Some say they are watching still, and reach out with an invisible hand to guide us and make sure we are safe. I hope these are true. But what I truly know, and am infinitely thankful for, is their great gift of life. His Reverence Eramus Qualm, 2000th birthday speech.
Olhm Archipelago: a sample campaign map and island guide to a small collection of islands
The Sea Churned: some writefaggotry from /tg/
Night on the Lost Topekansa more scribblings; The Lost Topekansa encounters a vessel in distress.