The Setting
The Darkrealm system as a whole, and the Allornus setting, adheres to the philosophy that a fantasy setting is at its best when it is engineered to tell stories of a certain tone and theme, and this is best achieved reductively. As a result the rules are not universal, but tailored to best depict the specific needs of Allornus. The rules do adapt well to other settings, but often with some heavy-handed alteration to core elements like statistics or skills. For this reason, these setting manuals - guides to the setting-centric philosophy behind the rules, as well as expanded rules, are written with the intent of conveying key features of the setting (such as magic, the divh, the in-game presence of the natural world and so forth) and showing how they mesh with the rules.

Genre and Themes


It is understandable that a reader might look at the Darkrealm, and see a generic fantasy setting, and treat it accordingly. However in keeping with the idea that catering to a family of stories a world best achieves tone, Allornus is designed to be best reflected as an example of Low Fantasy and Dark Fantasy. Still, the setting is on a public site, and ultimately it is up to an individual group of players how to use it, and to be creative and take it somewhere else is always welcome.

Dark fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy which combines fantasy with elements of horror. The term can be used broadly to refer to fantastical works that have a dark, gloomy atmosphere or a sense of horror and dread. In many cases this tone is achieved by employing an antihero as a protagonist, but because a Director is predominantly responsible for tone, and has no direct influence over the player's choice of protagonists, this must be achieved in other ways. Primarily, Darkrealm does this by emphasizing the unpleasant nature of medieval life. The health of the denizens of the setting is usually poor, with relatively minor injuries leading to death for many in the absence of any medical care, and life expectancy is low. Starvation is common, not because of marauding bandits that can be defeated, but often for economic reasons that are difficult to overcome. Government is far from perfect, and most countries simply have no practical alternative to serfdom, and even slavery is largely accepted in many regions. Players who stand up for slaves, find cures for magical plagues, kill corrupt rulers or steal food for the starving, are bucking the social norm, but then that's what makes them heroes. If they don't or can't stand up for slaves, or save the starving and infirm they're not villains, they're just obeying social norms. After all, no one man can save the world, and that is one of the key features of the Dark Fantasy. In addition war is the norm, and everyone take their turn being the aggressor. No one is truly in the wrong, and most sides have a reason for doing terrible things to one another, leading to a moral ambiguity that characterizes the genre. Nearly everyone, no matter how terrible, corrupt or evil, can justify their actions to themselves.

Furthermore the supernatural world is more threatening than fantastical. Magic is a dangerous, hidden secret usually wielded by those who have more call to do evil than good with it. It goes wrong more often than not. This usually means that the initiated magician is more of an antagonist, and that magic is something to be feared and mistrusted within the narrative. This even extends to the divine. While a few gods (or divhi in the parlance of the setting) might be considered evil, none could really be called good. At best they protect people because they have an agenda, and at worst they simply ignore them. Divine beings aren't concerned with the affairs of mortals except where they have something to gain. This makes religion a little more desperate than more traditional high fantasy, with people working to appease gods more than searching for favours from them, and with even benign gods seeing individual people as expendable pawns more than valued and beloved servants. This is primarily how the setting presents itself as a Dark Fantasy.

Horror

One of the defining elements of Dark Fantasy is its closeness to horror, and Darkrealm, as a world with monsters and magic, tries to embrace this and perhaps even take it a step further. Horror is a genre which is intended to, or has the capacity to frighten, scare or startle by inducing feelings of horror and terror. It creates an eerie and frightening atmosphere. To this end magic is intentionally grotesque, and distasteful in the Darkrealm setting. The consequences of a miscast spell are over the top, and are usually terrible. Madness and corruption are heavily associated with the supernatural so that the supernatural becomes, quite rightly, something to be feared rather than studied or unravelled, and something never mastered.

While many creatures are outlandish and alien, in deviation from the conventions of both Dark Fantasy and Horror, they are simply animals. A monster is something with weight, not a mere obstacle to be overcome. It should have a back story, motivation, and no two monsters should ever be the same. Each should present a unique experience, a unique challenge, and occupy its own niche in the world, with suitable gravity surrounding it. Whether it be magic, monster, or something slightly more mundane like the horrors one man can inflict upon another, there should always be a sense, at least fleetingly, that it cannot be overcome, or at least that it is far more powerful than the meagre heroes who dare stand against it. Characters should be encouraged to celebrate every time they win a battle, even if it is uncertain whether or not they will win the war against injustice and cruelty in the world.

TV Tropes: Categorizing the Setting

There's a great website called TV Tropes, that both summarizes those storytelling urges of creatives out there, and reminds them that they're not as original as they think they are. A small collection of tropes are certainly good indications of the ambitions behind the Darkrealm Setting, and the rules derived to represent it.

Setting: Dark Fantasy, Low Fantasy, Black and Gray Morality, Culture Chop Suey and The Dung Ages.
Magic: Magic is Evil, The Corruption
Religion: Jerkass Gods, Disproportionate Retribution.

Combat

One of the defining features of many RPGs is certainly combat and danger. In keeping with the tonal aspirations of the Allornus setting combat isn't quite so glorious as it could be in other settings. Particularly lethal combat rules, and an absence of magical healing mean combat is generally considered one of many options, rather than the assumed approach. This has been done for a number of reasons. Firstly, in keeping with the horror tone, violence is made more impactful by making combat encounters bloodier affairs, and players can expect combat heavy games to lead to a number of permanent injuries to their characters. If embraced, these can still be interesting aspects of a good character. Furthermore, this means that combat encounters are quicker, and usually more descriptive and visceral, which lends itself well to play-by-post and plot-heavy games over action-oriented ones. There may be a shift of thinking for some players (and even Directors) to not simply running into battle whenever the opportunity presents itself, but the setting is designed to support that shift away from combat-centricity as best it can.

Creation and The Divines


By design, there are many alternative stories about the creation of the world. The uncertainty this creates seeks to make the setting richer, and to make the religions of the game less central, and more 'mortal' - in the absence of divine confirmation, all religions are nothing more than well-meaning mortal agendas at best. The creation of the world, and its races revolves around three parties: the Creator, an ancient and alien divine being that predates everything, and the divhidre that were born of his flesh (or merely fragmented in his mind) in the moment of creation. The Elementals, the souls or the world, tied to the land and sea as the soul is to the body, who formed the world. And the Paragons, mortal beings raised to immortality to parent a race of their own, and who inherited the world when the divhidre quashed the elementals. Collectively, however, all of these powerful immortal beings, worthy of mortal adulation, are called 'Divh'.

The Creator and the Seven Divhidre

In the beginning, before anything truly 'was', there was only the Creator. A being that existed outside space and time, for space and time did not yet exist. This Creator, for reasons as to which mortals can only speculate, created a seed. A thing that was, and in giving form to reality he forever changed everything, because for something to exist everything else must either exist or not exist. And to exist is to have scope, no matter how vast, and to be in some way finite. That seed was Fire, first of the elements, and because it Was, so the Creator came to Be. And while most mortals lack the understanding to even contemplate what the universe was before the Creator made Fire, what they do know is that this creation set off a chain reaction that gave rise to the world.

Looking upon the folly that he had wrought, the Creator sought to unmake Fire, but it was already too late, and in that moment the Creator was split into seven parts, and these were the Divhidre. Whatever names mortals know them by, the Divhides are hate, love, charity, greed, happiness, sorrow, and need. And fearful that they would be unmade with the Fire, they opposed the Creator, and they were many, and they overcame the Creator. But the elementals grew in number and power, and rose up to challenge the Divhides. And so, to overcome the elementals they tore the Creator in twain, and half of the Creator became Fate, and so time was born, and with it the world acquired a beginning. And, as philosophers will have you believe, also an end, and thus an inscrutable and ultimate destiny, when all would eventually be undone.

The Paragons and the Elementals

While the Creator was in conflict with himself, it became evident that Fire Was, and by its nature it must have fuel, and so it became apparent that Earth Was, and it was the second element. And so Air, Water, Light, and Dark came to be. But there was still only a single reality. With the schism of Fate from the Creator, so all reality was also torn forever in two, and all things became of one or both of these worlds, and they were joined together by the bridges that were Life and Death, last of the elements, and the elementals were bound to the prisons that were their physical forms until Fate deemed the world's destiny was final unmaking. The first world was the physical world, that of the elements, where time was law, and time defined mortals. The second was that of spirit, older than the world of physicality, and the barrier kept the Creator from touching the mortal world. Thus did the shadow world come to be, and thus were the elementals born - the vital life energies of the eight elements.

And in time, the elements combined, and beasts came into being in the mortal world, and they were given form that best served the elemental that ruled them, but they had no souls. And eventually a single kind of beast was born of no elemental. These were the changelings, and they alone had soul. And with soul came choice. And with choice, the ability to choose their own shape. These changelings came to be on two great continents, once the world had cooled and the Divhides quashed the elementals. The Isle of Beasts and the Isle of Men. Each chose a single being after which to shape themselves, and while the changelings of the Isle of Beasts chose their example, their paragon, from the beasts around them so as best to navigate their world. But the men invested their image in the finest of their number, in what many have called an incestuous celebration of their own form.

Whether beast or man, invested with the zeitgeist of everything that was that people, these paragons became the immortal embodiments - the elementals of their chosen people. And now they remain the most worshipped beings of the world, whether they have left it or not.

Philosophies, Schisms and Ancestor Worship

Of course there are other faiths amongst all of this. Cults, and even entire faiths, devote themselves to the worship of mortals, or the pursuit of a philosophy, way of life or ideal. Some worship powerful mortal beings, others venerate soulless beasts whose forms are so perfect, or so mighty that they are perceived as divine. Many individuals claim that the Divhides are dead, never existed, or have no right to be worshipped. Others give them thanks as saviours of the world from the Creator. Others venerate their own dead, or celebrate beings that guide their lives in less obvious ways, so subtle that outsiders might doubt they are anything more than fancy. Such is the rich spiritual life of Allornus.

Races of Allornus


The mortal races of Allornus fall into three camps. The first is the Myrnamun, changelings who chose their forms to emulate the beasts around them, so as to best master their lands. They are the bear-kin Bärchak, legendary metalworkers; the stork-man Kenu, famed for their capricious machinations; the nomadic crab-herding Orkûn, part plains cat, part wild boar; the mountain dwelling Skrāl, a lethal mix of man and bird of prey; the rampaging goatmen called the Urgrol; and the wolf-goat Vargör, enslaved by the Ghans. Next are the landsmen, a human-like race split into seven tribes; The An-Heir, Ghans, Haedar, Iri, Malorns, and Ral, as well as the Tribeless, born of the wandering Iri. Neither men nor myr entirely, the Zard invaders proved tenacious survivors, able to mate with other mortal races, leading to the halfbreeds, the Goblyns and Hobgoblyns - inheritors of their vanquished bloodline.

The origins of the Mhulak are mysterious, and even they seem to have forgotten them, but the Mariners, their ancestors, were great ogrish giants who came on city-sized boats from an unknown land somewhere beyond the sea. Somehow forewarned of the coming of the Sundering, they fled underground and became hunched, pallid and retiring. Those that did not retreat lost their culture, becoming the savage Caliban, though even amongst the Caliban those of frozen Kardesia seem to have rediscovered some fraction of their lost civilization.

While some races, like the Taruun, the Nofo, the Zard, have passed from the world, these are the only mortal races of Allornus, and there are no known civilizations beyond theirs.

Magic


What would a fantasy setting be without magic? Darkrealm takes magic a step further than a lot of settings, in that there is no science. The science of the world is magic. The key to understanding this is that when the elementals were bound to their bodies, they were bound by laws. These laws of nature, the physics, the chemistry, the sciences of a magical world, are aesthetically similar to those of the real world - that is to say that they produce a similar world on the surface - but they are not the same. The very world of Allornus is flat - a continent floating in a vast ocean that eventually falls away into the ever expanding void. But magic is not just knowledge of these natural laws, because in an event known as the Sundering, that forever changed the nature of reality, the natural laws were briefly broken, and when the world snapped back together there were fractures, gaps, loopholes that could be used to pervert and warp the very laws of the universe, and these profane secrets are also magic of their own kind.

Hedge Magic

In a magical world, hedge magic is the science - the laws of the elementals. Alchemists study minerals, those substances that can be mixed to cause effects. They study the proportions of different raw elements, Fire, Earth, Air, Water and so on, that make up all things. The learn to combine these substances to release these raw elements, or to create new combinations. They understand the properties and effects of raw materials. Meanwhile diviners study the signs that signal the future, the present, even the past. With the birth of Fate time came to Be, and with a beginning to time came an end. And with a beginning and end predestined, so the path between them must also be predestined. This predestiny leave tracks through reality that a diviner can follow like a huntsman tracking stags.

The Sundering

When the Nofo, first amongst the tribes of men, consumed their paragon, this ultimate cannibalism - a mortal race consuming, and thus reuniting with the physical incarnation of its collective soul - the barrier between the mortal world and the shadow world was temporarily broken, and the Creator was able to reach through and unmake a part of the world, before all of the Nofo were slain and the balance between worlds returned to normal. As well as manifesting a timeless period of unimaginable horror, this left the world permanently and irreparably broken. And this allowed its laws, once irrefutable, to be perverted. When the natural laws snapped back into place, some of those laws were changed, and now imperfect, loopholes were opened for those who knew where to find them. Some paragons took their own lives, to safeguard the world against another sundering. Others claim that they will not abandon their people, and remain, making their people strong, but risking the world's unmaking.

Channelling, Madness, Corruption, and The Gift

By contrast to hedge magic, or perhaps in advance of it, channelling is taking advantage of those loopholes the sundering left open. Those mortals who studied the lores of hedge magic discovered that at the most extreme end of that study, lay the ability not to understand the laws that keep the universe whole, but channels to subvert them. Rites and rituals that bend these laws, or work around them. But these are unnatural things, and invariably magic begins to unravel the very nature of everything it touches. Meanwhile, the mortal mind is simply not equipped to comprehend a world free of the constraints of the laws that bind the elementals. And so magic irreparably corrupts body and mind, even when executed with caution and precision. And such is the nature of magical lore that seldom is caution even possible, let alone desirable to those power-hungry or foolish enough to expose themselves to such forces. Sadly, while most magicians are simply unwound into their composite nothingness at the eye of the arcane storm, it is the innocents who are only exposed to the emanations of their perversions who must live with the corruption forced upon them.

Those who survive the corrupting touch of magic, changed but not destroyed, know its unnatural touch perhaps ironically as The Gift, and one not touched by the gift will never truly be able to wield any magic until a seed of its taint dwells in him. The gift eventually, inevitably, drives all it touches mad, and in the worst cases transforms their bodies until they are a warped mockery of the mortal beings that they once were. But many aspects of this process can be seen as a boon. What is worst is that the ability to reshape to world like a divh is a power few can taste and then deny.

The Regions of Allornus


Allornus is a big place, and the closer you get to the setting, the more detailed it becomes, until it can seem overwhelming to a newcomer. However Allornus is not intended to be taken as a whole, but rather as a series of independent settings, with relatively little overlap with, or awareness of, neighbouring regions.

  • Ahlonia: Ahlonia Isle is a southern subcontinent of Allornus. Rediscovered by Ralstaan explorers, the influence of their culture is clear, and Ahlonia's history near whitewashes the earlier Irian influences that almost certainly predated even the sundering. A pretty familiar western-European fantasy setting, with two great landsman nations separated by a forest full of Goblyn raiders, the far eastern wastelands are home to lizard-riding outlaws and vigilantes and small, isolated towns.
  • Iria: The long-broken empire of the Irian landsmen, and also the homeland of the Urgrol, Iria is made up of diverse realms that vary between traditional Irian rule, more progressive tribeless culture, or Haedrasian encroachment, all based around large tracts of wilderness in the north. Nations have diverse identities shaped around predominant local industries, distinct histories, and diverse religions in reaction to the departure of the Irian paragon Irik.
  • Ralstaa: The ragged south-eastern portion of Allornus is dominated by sinister and supernatural woodlands, and equally inhospitable mountains and coastline. This is the homeland of the Ralstaans. To the west, the unified, but not united, kingdoms of the High Kingdom of Ralstaa make war on one another, while in the east strong nations that refuse to reunify into some semblance of an old Ralstaan empire keep an uneasy peace. The Ralstaans are defined by stark class divisions, an unforgiving and ruthless warrior-elite forming the ruling class and clergy both, and the lower classes struggling to eke out a living amongst brutal wilderness.
  • Ghania: The Ghanish Divhi Ghanda fell into a half-dead sleep after battling one of the five evils of the world. His people lost their faith, with the nobility descending into uncaring decadence. Early in their history the Ghans enslaved the Vargör, and these once-fearsome myr are now the backbone, and labour force of their society and serve like loyal hounds as Ghanish culture decays into a malaise they call the Dooms. The most recent and staggering of these dooms, the Doom of the Beast, saw many Ghans return to elemental worship, and retake their autonomy from the Vargör and the Ghanish overlords by force.
  • Haedrasia: The apex empire of the age of mortals has proven to be that of the Haedrasians, and this in no small part is because of all of the landsmen paragons only Haederas remains, and he has chosen to lead his people to domination. Haedrasia is a magnanimous but absolute overlord. A military machine of incomparable efficiency that subjugates its conquered subjects utterly, but brings them the vast benefits of junior membership in a vast and mighty empire. Conquered by magic generations ago, no one is above the persecution of the Haedrasian secret police, the lictors, in their quest to purge the taint of the forbidden from the world.
  • Nardaan: The northern subcontinent of Nardaan is defined by the extremes of its environment. Home to the last of the free Malorns, and a number of Haedrasian colonies, the mountains running through the heart of Nardaan block daylight permanently from the northern territories, and the cold treats this land worse than even the more northerly climes of the Bear Tundra to the east. Here a new faith devoted to the idea that there is but a single divine being has emerged mere generations ago, and its meteoric rise threatens to spread unchecked over the chill waters of the Nardane straits.
  • The West: The western kingdoms stretch from the Bosot Mountains, down to the Bair of Suiriene and the Aruman Sea, encompassing the massive Inner Sea and the vast savannah of Taurvann, and the mythic ruins of Arumthar, hugging the eastern edges of the trackless wasteland known as the Battlewaite. This land has no overarching culture, with Goblyn, Hobgoblyn, Tribeless, Irians, Kenu, Orkûn, and countless others rubbing shoulders, giving each realm and each region distinct characteristics and peoples, if not racial backgrounds. All of it eventually harkening back to the ancient Kelorn Empire, the now-crumbling peak of myr civilization.
  • Maldaakore and The Fringe: And finally, beyond the Bosot Mountains, also called the Still Peaks, lies the much-maligned land of Maldaakore, home of the Maldraks. When men first came to Allornus, the Malorns wandered while looking for a home, and somewhere in a horrific odyssey through the Battlewaite, the slipped into the Shadow World. There they were saved by a mysterious divine being, that led them back to the mortal realm, but only if they cast aside their paragon entirely, to worship him. Now they live in secrecy, dominated by a fell religion that relishes cruelty, driving outsiders from their borders with profane malevolence. And yet beyond those mountains, who can say what remains of their once-complex society of poets and philosophers.
Darkrealm: The Allornus Setting
The Word and Deed, The Encyclopaedia Arcana, The Land, The Book of Swords, The Manual of Stealth, The Writ of Kingship