Isladja is a forgotten country in the shadow of a dark age. Sheltered by mountains north and south, desert in the west and sea in the east, Isladja appears to be a refuge in chaotic times. Nothing can protect it, however, from the ghosts of an empire buried in Isladja’s own soil.
Isladja is a fantasy setting for Tox RPG, loosely inspired by a country dear to my heart: Romania. Like Romania, it was the outer reaches of a vast empire that collapsed, leaving it without the skilled labor and resources to maintain the country it once was. Isladja is also a fusion of cultures, blending histories, languages, and magics from two great empires as well as smaller neighbors to the south.
Magic in the world of Isladja is called the Wyrd. The Wyrd and its side-effects are revolve around themes of personal identity. How the wielder’s identity influences the world through magic depends on the the culture and personality of the individual. Some align their identity with an ideal until that ideal begins to change them and their environment. Others are touched by spirits, becoming an avatar of that spirit and taking on aspects of its nature—whether willing or not. Some alter their identity temporarily with masks to become more powerful. A few, reviled sorcerers steal the bones of powerful individuals to assume their traits and powers.
The following post contains Isladja’s history, magic, and geography.
A Dark Age
Isladja was once the border between two large empires. Most of Isladja was the western-most holding of an island empire called Ilid, bordering on a desert empire named Zaraloft that stretched to Irqar. The island empire collapsed, and in its wake, chaos reigned for a time. Isladjans refer to this time as the Calamities. Cities and roads fell apart without money or trained craftsman from Ilid. Strange plagues ravaged the larger towns. An earthquake reshaped the center of the country. The earthquake sunk the middle of the country, splitting one of Isladja’s largest rivers and creating a swamp.
During the Calamities, the Zaraloft withdrew into the desert, leaving Irqar behind.
Slowly people rebuilt a portion of the county. Where they could, they left the old cities behind to crumble and created new villages. Harvest Moon, Merchant’s Rest, Haven Cove, all have ‘shadows’: ruined cities nearby that their ancestors abandoned. These cities lack the elaborate stone and concrete architecture and infrastructure of the Ilid empire, mostly built with wooden huts and thatched roofs, although Merchant’s Rest & Haven cove do have a simple stone keep. Mossy Shores appears to be a new town as well, and everyone seems to remember that there was an Ilid city nearby… but no one knows where the ruins are.
Mills and Fair Winds are the only Ilid cities still populated. They have been renamed, because the old names are considered ill omens. However, neither shed it’s name entirely. The superstitious whisper Fair Winds original, Ilid name: Darasiv. More skeptical residents of Fair Winds itself may eschew superstition and boldly refer to their town as Darasiv, and themselves as Darasivians. In contrast, the pragmatic Millers have more uniformly adopted their “new” name… although their new name is simply the Isladjan translation of the Ilid name for the town.
Irqar retains is Zaraloftian name, much of its culture, and its demographics. Loss of Zaraloft resources and personnel was the only Calamity it suffered.
Generations and generations have past. The oldest elders vaguely remember stories they heard as toddlers from their great, great grandfathers who actually lived through the calamities. Such stories are now highly exagerated and distorted. Information is precious, as books are rare and most of the population are illiterate farmers or trademen. The histories, philosophies, sciences, and arcane texts left behind by Ilid are moldering in ruins or in the hands of rich collectors, as are the occassional imported Zaraloftian tome. Much of Isladjan culture is shaped by oral tradition and folk superstitution.
The language of Isladja itself is a fusion. Ilid was the official language for a long time, stamping out the native dialect. However, Isladjans borrowed many Zaraloftian words and concepts. After the collapse, a few almost-extinct native Isladjan words and grammar patterns crept into the language as well.
Striking cultural differences divide the rich of Isladja and the rest. The rich communicate with other countries, occassionally traveling themselves. Many of the wealthy or educated classes are, in fact, foreigners and not native Isladjans themselves. They have access to some knowledge from greater epochs, and they view the mysteries of the past as a secret for personal gain, protection from invading countries, or a means of founding a new empire. They sometimes employ treasure hunters or adventures to raid the ruins of Ilid and other Wyrd sites.
The majority of the population lives season to season, in the same small villages that bore their parents and grandparents. They are distrustful of the Wyrd in general (although they sometimes encourage low-level supernatural ‘knacks’ that they falsely view as separate from the Wyrd). They are even more distrustful of anything Ilid or Zaraloftian. Only the most desperate, adventurous, or ambitious of this class will explore Ilid ruins or seek out by themselves or accept pay from wealthy patrons to do so. Such are typically viewed as suspect.
The farmers and tradesman attached to larger towns labeld in the map above may be slightly less superstitious or xenophobic, but they have much more in common with villagers in terms of education, wealth, culture, and sympathy than they have with the wealthy that live among them.
Magic of Isladja: They Wyrd
The Wyrd is a word borrowed from Isladja’s neighbors to the south, and originally referred specifically to their own brand of magic “The Way.” Isladjan’s more frequently use the Wyrd to refer to any path of magic. Regardless of culture, there are a few commonalities between the branches of magic.
- All magic stems from a sense of identity. That identity may be one’s own personality refined, or it may be an external identity adopted or thrust upon an individual. The strength and integrity of that identity is what alters to the wielder of magic and the world around them.
- No human personality is perfect. The flaws in an identity used to channel magic transform the weilder of magic as much as the identity’s strengths do. Even spirits that manifest in the human world cause strange side effects, as their pure identity ripples through our muddy fabric of reality and warps.
Elivid: The Righteous Path
The Righteous Path (Elivid) is both the official religion of the Ilid empire and a brand of magic. The core belief of Elivid is that the universe works by the power of certain principles or virtues. When someone aligns themselves with a virtue, the virtuous principle is able to change the practicioner… and through the practicioner, the world. Someone aligns themselves with their virtue (or Righteous Path) by embodying the virtue in thought, word, and deed, as well as by removing from their thoughts, words, and deeds any items that contradict said principle.
The most purest, most powerful virutes in the Righteous Path are thought to be Discipline, Honor, Judgement, Passion, and Genius. However, not all people are able to embody such lofty virtues as these, however, and people are allowed to choose other virtuous ideals that are viewed as lesser or mixed versions of those five, pure ideals. Most practioners, however, do not succeed in embodying any principle enough to acheive magic results.
Priests of the Righteous Path vehemently deny it, but one does not need to embody a virtue to win power. Even ambiguous or negative traits can be lived so thoroughly that the leave their mark on the practicioner or the world.
No props or items are necessary in the use of the Righteous Path, although individuals sometimes adopt a symbol or reminder of their principle that can become a channel for their power (or a crutch for their abilities).
The magic of The Righteous Path tends to focus on augmenting the practicioner herself: enhanced senses, physical prowess, insight, combat ability, etc. Powers directly affecting others, and powers involving deception, and powers involving transformations are rare. Once a practicioner is so bonded to a virtue that they can gain power from it, they tend to lose power if they contradict the principle. The integrity of their bodies or minds weakens along with the integrity of their character, causing them to weaken, lose access to their powers, or even to take bodily injury.
Elivid is the most widespread form of magic in Isladja, but it is especially strong in Fair Winds and Mills.
Il Athwah: The Seeming
Il Athwah is the primary form of magic among Zaraloftians. Unlike Elivid in Ilid, it does not enjoy any official or centralized support. The core principle of Il Athwah is that the world responds not to your innerself (which is inaccessible to the world), but to your seeming: the you that you project. There is a relationship between the inner self and seeming: aspects of your inner-self you may not be aware of or in control of escape into your seeming. However, you have some conscious control over your seeming, allowing you to alter it. The more control you have over your seeming (either by aligning it with your inner self, or by cleverly manipulating it in opposition to your inner self), the more likely you are to work magic. The face and the eyes are viewed as the primary vehicles of one’s seeming.
Almost all practicioners of Il Athwah use a mask when attempting forms of magic, and sometimes during non-magical practices like meditation. Rumors exist of powerful sorcerors with so much control over their own face, their face can become a mask—they can completely change their seeming at will. Some groups belief that special concoctions can alter ones seemings, the way alchohol can alter one’s personality, but these can have dangerous side effects.
The magic of Il Athwah is very flexible. Some branches of Il Athwah, like the Righteous Path, focus on augmenting the magic user. However, other branches focus on affecting the world around the user by altering ones seeming. Unlike Elivid, Il Athwah is especially good at deceptive or transformative magics. The limitations of Il Athwah tend to be a dependance on external items (masks), and the psychological disconnect between one’s seeming and one’s inner self. This disconnect can cause madness, and some people believe that if one deceives the world by altering one’s seeming, the world will retaliate and turn against the magic user. Such beliefs are nebulous, but they have their strong devotees.
Il Athwah is most prevalent in Irqar, but practicioners of it stretch across the southern trade route to Fair Winds and beyond.
Zani-Atins: The Spirit Touched
Zani-Atins means “spirit touched” in native Isladjan. It refers not to a practice of a magic, but to a class of people who have become magical through contact with Zani, Isladjan spirits. The nature of these spirits varies widely, but they all have a few things in common. None of them have ever been witnessed to attempt any form of human communication. Some are silent, some shout unintelligible sounds. All seem to embody some theme from the natural world. There are stories about a bird Zani who flies, can see distant places, and can change the weather. Other stories involve a Zani of sleep who either heals the sick or sends them on to eternal rest. Lastly, there are no “good Zani” or “bad Zani.” All can inflict hurt or harm, and it can be difficult to decipher which they are about to do at any given moment.
There is no set pantheon of Zani only a collection of oral tradition that grows stronger the closer one is to The Veil. Some claim there are thousands of Zani. Others claim that there are only a few, but they appear in many different forms.
Those who are touched by a Zani (and survive) are said to imbued with spirit power. A portion of the Zani’s spirit inhabits them, and they gain both personality traits and powers related to the Zani that touched them. The nature of the powers varies widely, and depends on the nature of the Zani involved. These powers also come with weaknesses related to the Zani. A fire Zani-Atins, for example may become impervious to fire but then be weakened or harmed by water.
There is no concensus on when or why Zani choose their targets. Half the time, the person already seems closely aligned with the nature of the Zani… but the other half the time the choice makes no sense at all. Some claim (perhaps inspired by Il Athwah) that Zani choose those whose inner self most reflects the Zani, regardless of how the Zani Atins had appeared to others.
Zani stories are most common close to The Veil (in the villages surrounding Harvest Moon). Zani sightings are rare in Fair Winds, although a few immigrants tell the Zani stories of their native lands.
The Wyrd (Proper)
The Wyrd (proper) is the distinct form of magical practice from Ustovija to the sound of Isladja. Is relatively rare, but not unknown in Irqad or Merchant’s rest. Wyrd practicioners believe there is a way, pattern, or destiny to the natural world, including human history. One brings only misery (in the long run) by attempting to control or change fate, as Elivid or Il Athwah practicioners do. Instead of emphasizing ones identity to assert control over the world, one attempts to release one’s personality or ego. What remains is perfectly in harmony with the Wyrd and able to effortless take actions that seem impossible for those that struggle against the Wyrd.
Of course, few jump straight to complete enlightenment at once. Most learn to accept apportion of the weird, releasing those aspects of their personality that fight against it. The portions of the weird that one accepts determine ones capabilities. One who accepts the Wyrd of time may learn to slow or speed it up. One who accepts the Wyrd of the human body may strengthen it, heal it, or even harm others. The accepts of the Wyrd that one struggles with define the side effect of Wyrd magic. One who attempts to control others (failing to accept the Wyrd of choice) will find themselves causing people to make the worst possible choices.
Mana: Bone Magic
Mana is a form of magic officially banned in Ilid. Practicioners of Mana believe that the residue of a powerful person’s identity remains in a persons bones after death. Manans, therefore, seek to collect bones so that they can channel this residue for their own purposes. The more powerful the person and the more complete the skeleton the hold, the more of that person’s identity they are able to channel.
The practice of mana is view by most as unforgivably disrepectful at best, at worst violating the spirits of ancestors and causing them torment in the afterlife.
Mana is rare anywhere, but most likely to be found in the strongholds of the old Ilid empire: Fair Winds and Mills. However, the Barrows form an irresistible temptation for Manans, so they can be encountered as far as Harvest Moon.
Fair Winds is largest, most prosperous city in Isladja, and has been the capital since the beginning of Ilid occupation. Fair winds imports goods in exchange for raw lumber or ore from Mills, Zaraloftian goods from Irqar, and durable foods from the northern grasslands.
All cultures flow through Fair Winds, although Ilid culture is strongest here. Value the infrastructure and knowledge imported from Ilid during the occupation, bemoan its decline, and are heavily skeptical of stories about the curse the felled the Ilid empire. Residents assume the Calamities were either exaggerated, several different events conflated into one, or simply a coincidence. The only tragedy was the departure of Ilid resources (and the opportunity for political advancement on a much larger scale). Fair Windsors, above any others, are most likely to fund expeditions to study (rob) Ilid ruins around the country.
However, old Darasiv has its own shadows and mysteries. Collapsed or forgotten basements hold tomes of lost knowledge… or even magical items. Not every Ilid sorcerer followed the Righteous Path. Manans and stranger things still lurk in this old Ilid city.
Millers have a chip on their shoulders. They are the miners, lumberjacks, and carpenters that provide the raw materials which form the backbone of Fair Winds’ exports. Yet Fair Winds, they feel, takes the lion’s share of the profits. They are a pragmatic group of people, and not particular endearing to the rest of the country. Shortly after the collapse, when most abandoned their cursed Ilid cities and started new villages with new names, Mills remained where it was and simply translated its Ilid name back into Isladjan.
Like Fair Winds, they have ghosts from Ilid occupation left over. While they don’t ignore them, as the Fair Windsors attempt to do, they feel like the real dangers are being flattened by a tree your felling or the collapsing ceiling of a mine. There may be some curses left over in Mills from the collapse, things rising in the Bones of Astremar not far north… but the mines take men every day. And usually, it’s the falling rocks or the mine dust that takes them. Not the mine lurkers.
Sorcerers in Mills are most likely to choose whatever branch of the Wyrd suits their fancy, and adapt it as they see fit. They are more likely to use their powers in practical ways, like ensuring the safety of their goods and maneuvering Fair Winds into better trade agreements. For most Millers, adventuring in remote locations on the chance of finding treasure is too fanciful. Of course, since they never abandoned their Ilid roots, they don’t have to go far to mind abandoned mines, tunnels, and temples.
Irqar thrives as the last watering hole before a long stretch of desert on the trade route to Zaraloft. Irqar also receives trade from southern Kingdoms. Although Merchant’s Rest is technically closer to the southern pass, travel over the grasslands to Irqar is faster and safer.
Like the rest of the country (except Fair Winds), Irqar often lacks the skilled artisans to maintain the more elaborate architecture. Older structures either crumble or are awkwardly patched. Much of the populace is illiterate, although the merchant and upper classes are educated and retain quite a bit of their original Zaraloft influence. The upper class will speak Zaraloftian in general, although they also speak Isladjan in order to communicate with the rest of the country. Most of the lower classes speak only Zaraloftian or only Isladjan, relying on the overlaps between the languages to communicate basic ideas to each other. A few are Ustovijans, although they face a fair amount of prejudice.
As the gateway to Zaraloft, Irqar has many Zaraloftian treasures, oddities, and mysteries… and of course is more influenced by than any other Isladjan town.
Merchant’s Rest tries its best to cultivate a reputation for fantastic hospitality, despite its location in what much of the country agrees is a haunted forest. It always struggled with rumors of the Iretree and malevolent spirits or beasts attracted to it. After the Ilid empire collapsed, Merchant’s Rest rebuilt the farther than any other town to avoid being associate with a second curse.
However, travelers to Zaraloft, or those headed south to Ustovija that can’t afford passage on a ship, have few options for stops on the way to Irqar. Merchants Rest is by far the safest. If anyone is crazy enough to want to explore the Irewood, the Cursed Lake, or the Bones of Astremar, typically Merchant’s Rest is their last stop. The innkeepers and merchants are happy to charge them a pretty penny and make their last night a fine one.
Culturally, the permanent residents of Merchants Rest are Isladjan, but the there are a high proportion of travelers in the town from many countries. Many languages are spoken, and several types of magic and be seen. It does boast the most practitioners of the Wyrd (proper), but that is disputed by both Irqar and Mills… and isn’t very many in any case.
Haven Cove is the safest shelter in Isladja during inclement whether. Before the collapse and the abandonment of the Oridea Mine, it competed with Fair Winds as a trade center, attracting more cautious merchants with its safer harbor. While they have lost much of their trade and population, they are still able to sell the food of the Norther villages for other necessities. Haven Cove is a sleepy town, for the most part, without much magic, although it is the closest town to the ruined Ilid magical university now called The Vanity of Knowledge.
Like much of the north, it has much native Isladjan culture… although being coastal had more Ilid influence than Harvest Moon.
Mossy shores is a small village, mostly known for two things: good fishing and the mysterious lack of its shadow. It is clearly a rebuilt Isladjan town, without traces of Ilid architecture. The village elders agree that there was a nearby Ilid city, but no one can find the ruins.
Harvest Moon was the capital of Isladja before the Ilid occupation, and has regained some political status since the collapse. It is the strongest seat Isladjan culture, and even during the Ilid years, Isladjan nobles were brought out to the Barrows for traditional burial. After the collapse, Harvest Mooners were eager to shed their cursed Ilid city and start anew, rededicating themselves to their native culture.
There obsession with cultural purity however, breeds a certain amount of xenophobia and those of strong Ilid or Zaraloft descent are rarely shown a warm welcome. Those who openly practice foreign magic are told directly that they are not welcome. Harvest Mooners, however, regard the Zani-Atins with a combination of awe and pity. They feel sympathy for those set a part through no fault of their own, some jealousy for their power, and caution for the strange occurrences that haunt them. The do feel a certain special sense of pride, however, whenever the powers of a Zani-Atins put a practioner of Elivid or Il Athwah to shame.
Harvest Moon attracts Isladjans from all over the countries for native holy days, celebrated close to (but not too close to) the Barrows or The Vale. You could also access both the Irewood and the abandoned Oridea mine from Harvest Moon. Although, why you would want to is behind the earthy folks of Harvest Moon. In fact, they may give you bad directions, because your better off not arriving at your destination anyway.
Places of Interest
The Veil is said to be an early gateway to the world of the Zani. It appears as a long, narrow corridor between tall mountains with a bright white light shining far in the distance. No one has ever actually seen a Zani coming from or going to The Veil, but those who claim to have seen a Zani say there is a distinct feeling or atmosphere to them that emanates from The Veil as well. The Veil was regarded as sacred long before the Ilid occupation, and is the reason Isladjan nobles until the collapse were buried in the Barrows.
The Barrows is the ancient burial ground of Isladjan nobles. It is a city of crypts and mausoleums, many built out during the Ilid occupatione. It was said to have been blessed or protected by the Zani of sleep/death: those who attempted to rob graves would be struck with irresistible tiredness, finding themselves laying down in a freshly dug grave, never to awake. More recently, however, it seems cursed and people whisper of the barrow walkers and the dead that refuse to sleep. No one has been buried here for a long, long time.
The Iretree (and the Irewood named for it) is the third major supernatural site that predates the Ilid occupation. Stories disagree as to whether the Iretree is a Zani itself or if it is a tree that was cursed by a Zani. Stories agree though, that it looks like a claw, has no leaves, and attracts evil spirits and creatures. Every storyteller has a different reason for the ire of the ire tree.
Will the mines of Mills are largely coal, iron, and copper, Oridea was known for gold and precious metals. The mines were abandoned during the camp and the town of Oridea is a ghost town. No one knows what happened to it. However, most Isladjans agree that if there are mine lurkers in Mills, there’s worse in Oridea.
The Vanity of Knowledge
This Ilid university was devoted to the study of all magical arts (and why the Righteous Path is the superior one). It boasted a huge library and monasterial solitude that drew mystics from across the empire. However, in the collapse, Isladjans lost its name and refer to it as the Vanity of Knowledge. Many feel like if the Calamities were brought on by a curse, the Vanity of Knowledge was somehow involved.
Even if it weren’t haunted, the magical protections laid by its residents would be enough to prevent would-be pillagers. But by all accounts, it is haunted. Some say even the Zani fear to visit this place.
The Bones of Astremar
Astremar was one of the biggest cities in the late Ilid occupation, as it lay on a route between Fair Winds and Oridea Mine. In the Calamities, an earthquake struck and collapse huge underground caverns and collapse this portion of the country. The Galit river forked, and filled the area around Astremar with water, creating the cursed lake and turning even the very streets of Astremar into a swampy mire. Little is known about it, although people seem to recall some sort of connection between it and the Vanity of Knowledge.
The Lonely Road
There are Isladjan stories about a lonely road that never appears in the same place twice. If you walk it for a little bit, you might find what you’re looking for. If you walk it for a while, you may never be seen again.