Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Blind Skies: A Post-Apocalyptic Neon Fantasy Setting

The gods are watching.

Blind Skies

A post-apocalyptic neon fantasy

    Long ago, civilization prospered, and bright-cities shone with infinite neon lights, blinding out the stars from the sky. We did not know why these cities shone so brilliantly, then; only that with their opulence, the natural beauty of the sky was erased. Like fools, we rebelled- and in the ashes of civilization long fallen, we now know why they shone so brightly.

    Because the gods are watching, and we wished to make them blind. Nothing blinds them now.

Blind skies is a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk fantasy, hazardous not through the radioactive fallout of nuclear war- but because of vindictive alien gods that watch from above, affecting the world in strange, unpredictable ways. The sprawling cyberpunk cities of the old world are nothing more than ruins, save for one; and the land is filled with poorly understood, irreplicable technology and esoteric magical arts. 

Blind skies is primarily inspired by Ultraviolet Grasslands, RIFTS, Caves of Qud, Death Stranding, and Hyperlight Drifter. Whilst I can't ever hope to capture even a fraction of the magic of those properties, I do hope I've made atleast something interesting here. The setting initially came out of a single prompt; "What if instead of nukes and radiation, it's elder gods and alien tech?" I then slapped on 'Cyberpunk cities existed to blind out the sky, to hide from the eldritch gods', and boom. Blind skies was born!

Pracht, the last Bright-City

Whilst the civilizations of old have long since fallen to ruin, one city of the past remains lit; Pracht, the last bright-city. The last bastion against the horrors of the sky, Pracht is a maze of cold steel and glowing neon, impressive and sprawling, and yet... Ghostly. Where droves of hundreds or thousands once roamed the tightly packed streets, barely a fraction inhabits the city now. Further still, the light of Pracht dims, and the aging technology of the ancient city continues to fail by the day, causing it's inhabitants to steer clear of the dark, unlit sections of the city, for fear of the strange things that could happen in the dark gaze of the night gods.

Neon is the hot commodity of Pracht, and land within the ever-failing swathe of lights grows scarcer every year. The wealthy live comfortable lives, never having to fear what lies beyond the city lights, whilst the poor must contend with what lies just beyond sight; beds of crime and evil, with both violent gangs and mad cultists stalking the dark in equal measure. But despite the wide disparity between the two classes, Pracht is a city of opportunity; artifacts from the abandoned sectors are unearthed daily, and bring a fine mint to the adventurer daring enough to go into the darkness and find them.

The Umbral Wastes

Outside of Pracht is a land shrouded in eternal night, the dark sky being lit only by the stars above, and the Iris; a ring of light that shines down on the world below, opening and closing in regular cycles that bathe the land in a soft purple glow. The land is dim even when the Iris is open, and is impossibly dark when it is closed- thus making the wilds completely vulnerable to the whims of the gods. Horrors crawl in the darkness of the Umbral Wastes, and the gaze of the gods twist and mutate all that their eyes fall upon.

Roving bands of gnollish barbarians, cyber-brigands, and horrific monsters are not only common in the Umbral Wastes, but to be expected; adventurers must contend with a myriad of hostile forces out in the field, and would best move with subtlety and care, lest they wish to be hounded endlessly by those who would seek them harm. Modest villages and rogue tribes can be found all across the wastes, though the majority focus on being hidden, to protect from harmful threats.

There are ruins of the old world aplenty to plunder, all across the Umbral Wastes; but to reach them, travelers must prepare for more than just violent adversaries to be an obstacle; the myriads of environments and weather patterns that can be found in the Umbral Wastes are extremely varied, along with the alien geography and other paranormal events the average adventurer will find treading the dark.

Random Anomalies and Encounters (d6):
  1. M.A.W. Storms: The most dangerous weather effect, MAW storms are when MAWS begin a dangerous replication event, where they begin multiplying excessively and spreading outward. During a MAW storm, tears in reality open and close like droplets of rain, shredding nigh anything caught in a MAW storm unprepared. It is possible to weather a MAW storm relatively unharmed, so long as you keep still, and carry a big enough magnet.
  2. Fallen Eyes: The skies above are alien, and monstrous- And sometimes, their eyes fall down to the world below. Sometimes they are small enough to hold in one's hand, other times they are large as a tank; but all of them share the same strange power, the ability to see through eachother, so long as the two eyes have gazed directly at eachother before. For this reason, the eyes are collected, and often put inside the heads of adventurers who wish to share sight with those they trust.
  3. Thinker Unions: Every few months, Thinkers drift together to share ideas, and pool their processing power together for immense mental tasks. It is dangerous to be around them in this time, as their excess thoughts unrelated to the task at hand are violently ejected from their minds as arcs of electricity- should you be struck by one of these bolts and live, you will learn things that you previously did not, should you survive.
  4. Mirror Lakes: Said to be lakes made of enchanted mercury, it is said that should the Iris perfectly reflect within one of these pools, then it is possible to bring the dead back to life, should they be dipped into the pool; they don't come back entirely human, however, as their skin becomes a silvery metal, and their eyes glow a soft lavender. Many question if the soul returns at all, or if the lake merely allows aliens to inhabit corpses, mimicking the dead.
  5. Nuaz Lines: Strange white carvings that stretch all across the known world; supposedly when viewed from above, they form the shapes of animals from the old world- knowledge that was imparted to us through the insight of the sky gods. Magic flows through the lines; if someone steps into the boundaries of the lines, and knows the shape of the creature depicted, they can channel the magic of the lines and assume the shape of that creature, for as long as they remain within the lines' boundaries. Entire tribes exist within their borders, defending the secret of their shapeshifting powers.
  6. Data Leaks: A rare event. Every so often, the Iris will suddenly close- and then re-open, replaced by a strange, chaotic static in the sky. During this time, data-disks run the risk of being erased, as well as automata running the risk of being overwritten, their minds replaced by some sort of malevolent alien. However, there is a benefit- the sky itself buzzes during a data-leak, and so the sky gods close their eyes, making travelling in the dark far safer than normal, so long as you can protect your machinery and other software.

Factions & Creatures

The ruined world is characterized by a myriad of strange folk, most of which who have arisen due to the influence of the sky gods' warping gaze. Most people in the new world are mutated, in some way- unique, unlike anyone else. Others still are entirely alien, spawned from the darkness- and as unknowable as the dark gods that spawned them.
  • Argonites: A strange race of humanoids that have found their own way to combat the gods, through breathing in a mysterious gas, and burning it within their body, forcing tattoo-like neon lines to glow across their body. Argonites can't breath normal air, and are rarely ever seen without their helmets, hiding their mysterious faces.
  • Gnoll Tribes: One of the most prolific nuisances across the Umbral Wastes, Gnolls are savage creatures that roam the waste, raiding and pillaging anything they come across. Gnolls are barely intelligent, and have little in the way of language, culture, or history- though there have been controversial studies to attempt to make peaceful contact, and prove they aren't so savage; they aren't so successful.
  • Automata: Thinking machines aren't exactly trusted, in the new world; what automatons or living machines exist are usually met with distrust at best, and outright hostility at worst- though that does not stop the few relics of the old world that still exist from attempting to continue living. Alien and strange as the machines are, few can dispute the fact that their mimicry of humanity is not only uncanny, but scarily accurate.
  • Thinkers: Strange, psychic jellyfish creatures, that float through the air as if floating in the sea. Most people believe that Thinkers are not intelligent, as they are generally unresponsive to outside stimuli- but that is far from the truth. You see, Thinkers are hyper-intelligent living supercomputers, and are usually extremely focused on a singular task. Psychically communicate with one, and you will be bombarded with a barrage of information- but attempt to decipher it, and you may learn something- or go mad.
  • Light-Barons: Light is the greatest commodity in the new world, as something even as simple as a candle can give one a small amount of comfort against the dark gods. Those who are wealthy have light, and whoever has light has control. Light-Barons are known for loaning out their valuable burnable gasses and fuels, in return for ludicrous prices and outrageous interest- but often, the less fortunate have no other choice than to accept such prices from the barons. After all, how does a poor man fight a monopoly, when they can't even keep the lights on themselves?
  • Sclerites: Sclerites are cultists of the most prolific and vocal madman to ever live, who left behind a series of data-scrolls that postulate that the Iris is the eye of an immense god, and the blackness of night is the sclera of that great eye. Sclerites push eachother to do depraved, sick, twisted acts to others, in hope of being noticed by this immense god, and being gifted dark powers and unnatural insight in return. Most agree that Sclerites are dangerous and delusional.
  • Stitchers: Known for their patchwork bodies covered in scars and stitches, Stitchers have the belief that old-worlders bodies were 'purer' than those of the new world, supposedly uncorrupted by the gaze of the dark gods. Stitchers thus go into the ruins of old Bright-Cities, ripping out pieces of long dead corpses, and attaching them to themselves.
  • M.A.W.s: Mysterious Alien Warpthings, MAWs are strange alien machine-creatures that seem to exist between realities, being half real, and half thought. Characterized by being a series of rifts in the fabric of space stitched together, MAWs open and close seemingly at random, but whilst they're open, allow instantaneous travel between two points in space. Once you find one in the wild, simply feed it junk to make it grow, and then walk through.

Lost Technology

Blind Skies is characterized as a post-apocalyptic cyber-fantasy, and as such, most technology found in the ruined world is malfunctioning and poorly understood at best. Thinking machines are distrusted, and as such those who can understand the esoteric language of computers are rare. Data-Disks are common enough, containing broken pieces of information or programs from the old world, though terminals are rare, and those who can decipher the data without machines even rarer.

The technology of the old world, despite being used daily, cannot be replicated. Weaponry is valuable, as repairs are difficult; ammo is scarce and precious, so conventional means of violence are preferred. Bladed weapons and mechanized slugthrowers are the most common type of weaponry; laser rifles and beam swords are legendary and scarce, held by only the wealthiest of men, or the most daring of adventurer.

Vehicles are a valuable commodity, as parts can be difficult to replace, and fuel scarce; though vehicles are such a valuable asset in travel that they're usually well worth the cost. Simple motorbikes, reliable hoverspeeders, or formidable gravtanks; few things compare to the utility, mobility, and firepower of these ancient machines, though few know how to operate them.

Most famous however would be the cybernetic enhancements left behind by the old world; whilst poorly understood, replacing pieces of one's body with machinery is common enough, especially for the wealthy or social elite- as cybernetics tend to come with their own esoteric powers and capabilities that far exceed that of the common man.

Terrible Secrets & Hidden Powers

In the old world, ignorance was bliss, a safety; now, nothing is safe, as we understand now what they wished to forget. Insight is both a blessing and a curse, as it gives us power over that which we understand, yet threatens to destroy us for simply knowing it.

An optional rule for playing in the Blind Skies setting, Insight is a measure of the 'forbidden knowledge' a character knows, such knowledge revealing to them the true nature of the world, whilst also granting them blessings and curses. Every time a character reveals hidden, dark lore about the true nature of the world, they gain a point of insight, at the DM's discretion.

Insight comes with two aspects; Terrible Secrets, and Hidden Powers. Terrible Secrets and Hidden Powers are both measured by dice, ranging from d4 to d10; every time you gain a point of insight, you may either gain a new Terrible Secret and Hidden Power (at a d4), or upgrade a TS and HD you already have by one step. (d4 < d6 < d8 < d10)

Terrible Secrets are ways in which you see the world differently, where the world itself has changed for you, and you alone; whether this is because you see the truth of the world, or merely because you are going mad, is impossible to tell. Every morning after a rest, roll the die associated with as many terrible secrets as you have; should you roll anything but a 1-3, you are wracked by the horrors of the world, and suffer the debilitating effect associated with that power for the day. 

You can stave off the effects of terrible secrets for a number of hours, should you fail; narcotics are a favorite of the deranged for a reason. Clouding the mind is the only respite one can find against the terrible secrets.

Hidden Powers are the mental techniques that one gets in return for such terrible secrets, giving knowledge about the alien forces that harrow our world, and thus allowing us to wield them ourselves. Every time you use one of your Hidden Powers, roll the die associated with them; on a roll of 1-2, step down the die size. Should you roll a 1-2 when the die is a d4, the power is expended for the day.

Hidden Powers (d6):
  1. Cybromancy: You have discovered that many Data-Disks thought indecipherable are not corrupted or jumbled- they contain spells. You gain the ability to use data-disks as if spell scrolls, reading and writing to them as if you would a spell scroll. Additionally, you can attempt to create a spell-scroll from an empty data-disk, conjuring a spell from the static of the universe. Roll the die associated with this power every time you; attempt to cast a spell from a data-disk, every time you conjure a spell into a data disk, or copy a spell-disk.
  2. Nuaz-Carver: You have not only learned the shape of one of the Nuaz lines, but also learned the true nature of the magic flowing through them. By carving a replica of the lines upon your own body, you are able to channel the power of the line pattern, thus becoming the associated animal anywhere in the world. Roll the die associated with this power every time you wish to assume the form of the animal, up to a number of turns (ten minutes) equal to the die roll.
  3. Carbunculus: You have learned that the pieces that make up 'you' can not only be split, but also make up entire creatures and intelligences of their own. One of your hands has a terrifying one-eyed face upon it, capable of seeing and speaking with average intelligence. With this power, you are capable of manipulating your alien hand in various ways, such as extending your fingers into articulate tentacles, growing extra eyes, mouths, or ears at the end of your fingertips, or even turning your nails into blades. Further, you may ask the carbuncle something that you do not yet know, and get a possibly truthful answer. Roll the die associated with this power every time you change the makeup of your hand, or to ask a question of the carbuncle.
  4. Automind Backup: You have learned the secret of the living mind, and how to store it's contents; you are able to eject memories, experiences, and feelings from the minds of yourself and others, in the form of silvery disks. You are then able to inject these disks into yourself, or other individuals, and have them experience the memory within. Additionally, you are capable of creating a backup of your own mind, that could be injected into another living being upon your death, in order to remain alive. You can have only one of these backups of your own mind at a time. Roll the die associated with this power whenever you backup or inject a memory.
  5. Warpmagy: You have learned the truth of M.A.W.s, and have become capable of creating your own. You are able to create smaller MAWs that last for mere moments, and only stretch between two places you can see- or you can take the time to nurture and maintain a larger, matured MAW. A matured MAW can act as a permanent transport point between two locations in space, however it takes time for a MAW to grow to that size, and they must be consistently fed to maintain themselves. If left unfed, the MAW will close. Roll the die associated with this power every time you create a new MAW, or transport through your own matured MAWs.
  6. Twin-Mind: You have learned that the sky gods can peer not only at our bodies, but within our very minds; you have found the creature that lurks within your mind, and made a covenant with it. You are capable of letting the creature take over, and pilot your body for you- allowing you to raise one mental attribute by the die amount rolled; however, you must lower another mental stat by the same die result. Additionally, you can focus on an additional subject that requires intense concentration (such as spells). Roll the die for this power every time you switch control with the creature, or whenever you delegate part of your concentration to it.
Terrible Secrets (d6):
  1. Curse of Eyes: You know that the stars are eyes, and can see them all watching you, staring; when you gaze at the sky, the sky gazes back, hateful and judging. Whenever you fail the die roll for this secret, you have succumbed to your fear of the dark gods' gaze, and refuse to be under the open sky where the gods can see you, without some sort of disguise or light- you begin to panic when in the dark.
  2. Sleep of Stone: You learn that stone is living, and breathes; the earth itself is a creature, and you can feel the beat of it's heart, the gentle rise and fall of it's breath, underneath you feet. You know that the creature stirs, and that it hunts. Whenever you fail the die roll for this secret, you have succumbed to the fear that the earth itself will open it's maw and swallow you alive; you step as quietly as possible, and must carefully move at half-speed, in hopes of remaining unheard by the earth.
  3. Lies Unspoken: You have learned that the written word is merely a gateway for terrible things, that the ancient runes of language itself hold a power over us, and can be influenced by the dark gods, and worse. After all, what is to save you should you read an errant spell, causing your heart to shrivel and die, or your mind to twist in agony? Whenever you fail the die roll for this secret, you have succumbed to your paranoia over writing; you refuse to consciously read any piece of writing. You may have it read to you, but you refuse to lay eyes upon such things yourself.
  4. Flesh's Facade: You have seen the facade of flesh, and know it's true nature. Every living thing that claims to be of flesh and bone is merely a skeleton of black stone, wrapped in bundles and colonies of writhing, poisonous worms; you alone see this truth. Whenever you fail the die roll for this secret, you have succumbed to the fear of these worms, and refuse to expose your skin, bundling as tightly as you can; further, you fear any exposed skin, seeing it for the worms they are, and refuse to touch any creature with flesh exposed.
  5. Cage of Dreams: You know the true nature of dreams, as mere fabrications crafted by the sky gods, so they may pilot our bodies in our sleep, to do their dark, terrible bidding. You refuse to be their pawn, to be controlled, and placated by their dreams. Whenever you fail the die roll associated with this secret, you are unwilling to sleep, and try to keep your eyes closed as little as possible, to the detriment of your own health. You can be put to sleep with anything that would normally bring unconsciousness- but you will not rest willingly.
  6. Starving Parasites: You have learned the secret of hunger, and understand, unlike anyone else, that none truly need to eat to live; your stomachs, they are an alien creature, influencing our minds and emotions, forcing us to sustain them by consuming and eating. You will not fall for it, and instead, will starve the creature out, let it die. Whenever you fail the die roll associated with this secret, you are unwilling to eat for the day, to the detriment of your own health; you are convinced that you are killing the alien inside you, and that your weakness is merely the creature rebelling.