Or, let me tell you about my OTHER campaign!
I’ve written about Heliomar before, and also Green Bastion. Heliomar is sandbox-y and sorta-kinda drop-in-drop-out. At its peak, it had 10 players; it currently has 8. We average around 6 in any given session. Characters currently range from level 14 to level 16.
At the time of writing, the group are not actually in Heliomar. They’re making their way up into the high mountains of the Inner Kingdoms in the Empire of Ayuur, in the end of autumn and beginning of winter, in search of some fragments of a fallen star (which by many accounts is the store of power of the Heliomaran Goddess Whose Head Is A Star, known a long time ago in Ayuur as Estella) which will, all going to plan, power up the goliath ranger to a degree where he can start into toppling the Empire. This may work because he volunteered, while they were exploring an ancient site which seemed to give access to times and places through history, to inherit the power of one of the Star Nobles, who were originally sent out to find the fragments of the star. The same goliath ranger was until last week’s game sitting on a few bits of other information which may be of value to the party as well; they have yet to hire someone to dig through his brain, but I suspect it may be in his future.
Recent events of note have included checking in with a proto-goddess currently pretending to be a village witch, coming face to face with one of the world’s Bad Guys and surviving, discovering why the Empire is gathering up ghosts, talking to several long-dead kings and druids, being sleazed at a moleman druid ghost, being freaked out by a giant jackalope skull, and expanding the menagerie by one. Oh, and possibly releasing or partially releasing a powerful warlock-general from the early days of the Empire, and his malevolent water-spirit patron.
At this point, the party have come into conflict with a few different people in the longer term. First on this list is Marcus Andopolis, who is known in the Ayuuran capital of Nikosthenes as a dealer in Heliomaran antiquities, and someone who’s made a lot of money from it. He seemed to have something against the party in general, probably connected with their association with Nwt. Nwt (a shortened form of her full name) is a half-elf, the reincarnation of the last (possibly uncrowned) Empress of the Southern Empire. Exactly who was able to reincarnate her after thousands of years is unclear; the party found her when she was being carried off by an Ettin, pursued by a bunch of Dor-uff (walrus-men, mildly notorious slavers). Anyway, Andopolis seemed to feel he had a claim on her, and sent followers of the Crow-Headed God after the group on a number of occasions. Over time, it became clear that those followers were being resurrected over and over again, and losing some essential definition of their being in the process. Eventually, he took out an Imperial Bounty on the party, which is a complex sort of contract-backed capture order. Sometime before that, the group had become known as the Blind Spots, because they had all acquired amulets of proof against detection and location, which made it impossible for Andopolis or those working for him to find them. One of the bounty-hunters turned on the contract, and used some fairly powerful secret magic to convince the rest that he had in fact - by mistake - obliterated the party, voiding the contract. So the issues with Andopolis are somewhat in the wind at this stage, and Nwt has gone off with a (somewhat nightmarish, horse-skulled, giant) ancient celestial to fix a bunch of things that are wrong in Heliomar.
Meantime, though, they’ve come across more and more issues with Kitheros, an entity who is some sort of power-behind-the-throne for the Empire of Ayuur, and who once held a Star-Noble-connected title of “Starseeker”. In theory, he’s the Imperial Genealogist, although it’s not wholly clear what that entails. He might be a lich (certainly some folk in Nikosthenes think he is), but there are other theories as well. He does seem to have been around for the entire history of the Empire, and it’s currently the year 2337 in the Imperial calendar. Recent accounts say he was a refugee from Heliomar-as-was, before things went bad there, and that he’s been trying to do something with the Imperial bloodline. Also that he has a daughter somewhere. Overall, though, it’s pretty clear that the Empire is very much upheld by Kitheros, and the party have declared him Enemy Number One. Some of them (the goliath ranger, the half-orc barbarian, and the dwarf wizard) came into direct contact with him while they were in Nikosthenes, and were gratifyingly terrified of him. He didn’t overtly harm them, but he has laid eyes on them, which is enough for scrying. He does seem to be oddly bound by laws and traditions and titles.
We’re dealing a lot with the idea of Imperialism, and the imposition of Empire upon colonised peoples, and how that state of imposed control never really goes away. For some context, there was an “understanding” in the British Empire in particular that conquered places would, over time, become just like Britain, that rebelliousness would decrease over time, and so on, while these areas still remained secondary to and subordinate to the Imperial power. This wasn’t the case, of course, but there are still many British people - English people in particular - who have a hazy idea that Ireland is still under British control. I don’t know if this is prevalent in other ex-Imperial powers, but I’d be willing to put some money on it.
So we’re currently looking at the remnants of rebellion from centuries before, and the Blind Spots are literally stirring up ghosts of those past rebellions - kings, chieftains, druids, and other powers of the area they’re in, the Six Kingdoms (a term pretty much forgotten until now). Those are being framed, to some degree, by the Empire possibly gearing up to impose more control over Heliomar (and it looks like this is coming from the Imperial military, not the Emperor or Kitheros). The military have certainly built a golem army, and are collecting ghosts and spirits from all over to power them. There’s therefore an aspect of military and police action within Imperialism as well, and the decentralised (or at least multi-headed) nature of the machinery of Empire.
The party are currently making their way through the Six Kingdoms area, in poor weather. They’re headed for a location of which they were made aware by the ghost of an Archdruid, which will give them access to the “guts of the mountains”, in which they hope to find the star fragments, and/or some more of the Star Nobles. The mountains into which they’re headed are huge - a convergent plate boundary range like the Himalayas, but even higher, with a number of peaks in the 10,000-12,000m region. Up there, only the goliaths can really breathe in any comfort, and even they can’t reach the peaks, some of which poke out of atmosphere like Mons Olympus on Mars. So going down into the bedrock of these is going to be interesting; they’ll have literally kilometres of granite between them and the surface world. That means that just as the goliath lands are isolated within the Empire, the underground areas are going to be isolated within the context of magic, communications, and possibly even to some degree ecology. Certainly the Empire have no idea of what’s down there.
We’ve also been looking at the gods. Some of the ancient gods of Heliomar have undergone two or three changes over the long stretch of history, which have been characterised as the passing of mantles of power from one individual to another. There’s some feeling that this makes the later individuals not true gods, and certainly one individual the party met in a time-slipped place, who was waiting to fully inherit the mantle of the Scribe, the ibis-headed god of knowledge and the Underworld, didn’t seem to be much more than a mortal with an over-inflated ego. Alongside this, it’s become clear that most of the gods of the Empire of Ayuur are one god in disguise, and that god also may not be real. Although his priests do have power, so that’s coming from somewhere. And then there’s the Phoenix, who was apparently worshipped worldwide in some periods of history, and who has at least one warlock on the go in the modern era (this being the turned bounty-hunter mentioned above). In some campaign, at some point, I will have gods who are just gods; this is not it. To be fair, any reflection of Egyptian mythology as in Heliomar has to acknowledge gods changing over time, and any examination of Imperialism has to look at the role of religion in that.
Heliomar can be a somewhat chaotic campaign; there’s occasionally a realisation by one player or another that they’ve lost track of what’s happening. I think that’s more a consequence of players missing sessions than anything in the game itself, but it does connect to the sandbox nature of the campaign. I know I wrote in the previous newsletter, just a few days back, about not having expectations, but some of that was coming from recent experience - I was not expecting the group to take a side-turn and go off into the Empire of Ayuur in pursuit of Kitheros, and had been rather more prepared for them to head in the literal opposite direction, to check out the snake-people in the South-Eastern corner of Heliomar, and their Imperial ambitions. So in the space of a session or two, the whole campaign changed direction. But that is what sandbox games do, and I’m ok with that.