This is the first of a two-part “Beyond Dread Portals in a Nutshell”, looking at the setting. Part 2 (coming tomorrow) looks at the system.
If you’ve not come across mention of Beyond Dread Portals before, its a completely self-contained game by Paul Mitchener, a burgeoning powerhouse of British RPG writing (partial credits Hunters of Alexandria, Age of Arthur, Starfall, Mythic Britain: Logres). Currently standing at 250+ pages sans art-work this is Dr Mitch’s post-D&D take on multidimensional fantasy adventure gaming.
Hoping to Kickstart this one, once I’ve cleared the decks of some outstanding work, probably either by the end of this year or at the start of next year. I’ve got a full draft of the game, which initially started off as Paul’s homage to Planescape, but mutated into its own thing. It’s a large fantasy setting, where a magical city-state of Ys sits at the centre of an empire of other worlds connected by magic portals (hence the title). Its also a ruleset – which I’m tagging as post-D&D. It takes D&D as its starting point and then cuts and adds to it to make the ruleset match the setting. The nearest analogy is I can make if that second wave of AD&D 1st edition settings (Planescape, Dark Sun, Ravenloft etc.) had been self-contained games with modified D&D based rulesets. Bear in mind Paul also takes into consideration 30 years of games design on top of that, although he does so in a way that isn’t jarring to the starting point.
So here’s a quick look at the setting: The Empire of Ys
What is the Empire of Ys?
Ys is a city on a ringworld. Although it has well-defined districts, these magically shift and change from time to time. It used to be human ruled Empire which aggressively conquered and colonised other worlds, using magical portals (the Dread Portals of the game’s title). Recently, Ys was invaded by the undead mega-fiend the Autarch, who now sits uncaring in the imperial palace, occasionally enforcing its will through the Guilds and the Noble Families, but otherwise allowing the empire to function as it did before without much interference.
The other worlds are:
- A fallen colony world, whose portal is officially closed. A dark world of endless caverns, rich in minerals and metals (which initially drew the Ysians) but inhabited by monsters (which is why they left).
- A well-established colony, the source of much of Ys’s food, controlled by playing off rival Kingdoms against each other.
- At first contact a dead desert world full of ancient ruins rich with treasure. This is the world the undead Autarch came from.
- Another colony world dominated by two factions, The Empire of the Lion and the Three Kingdoms.
- An ocean world dotted with islands.
There is a system of Guilds that run various functions of the Empire.
- The Guild of the Arcane.
- The Army.
- The Temples of the Six.
- The Guilds of Headsman (Assassins).
- The Society of Crafters.
- The League of Explorers, who mount expeditions through the portals to the other worlds. All the player characters are members of this Guild by default, as well as one other.
- The Black Rose. A merchants’ league.
- The Steel Hand. An organisation of thugs, enforcers, bodyguards, general henchmen.
- The Emerald Hand. Once a diplomatic and spy service, now stripped of its powers by the Autarch it appears a motley crew of knowledge-hungry scholars and performers.
- The Five Noble Families:
- The Acarni – as their name suggests they consider themselves to have a monopoly on magical matters. They are decadent powermongers who pretty much run the Guild of the Arcane.
- The Lantari. Followers of the Goddess of Love and War they are practical and militaristic. They have a close association with the Army.
- The Solari. Some say they are a house in deep decline after the banishment of their patron goddess Solaria (or Dawn) by the Autarch. Other say they are just plotting in the shadows.
- The Telani. A rich house of merchants who prosper through the activities of the Black Rose.
- The Valerii. Sinister and Machiavellian, they openly back the Autarch.
Overall the setting is a fantasy renaissance setting, where instead of ocean-borne trade the city-state of Ys profits from its business with the worlds it is in contact with through the magical portals. Without the regular edicts of the human Empire and the vague but fearful orders that occasionally come from Autarch, there is much political infighting between the Guilds and their agents. There is a patronage system, and the player characters like everyone else will have a patron who will help them in return for support.