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Oa, E-Po, and The Artificer Priests

Non-fever Dreaming Miércoles

I woke up Wednesday morning dreaming about the Eye of the Needle, an airship based setting I sketched out some time ago. I'm positive that this happened because I was reading the Unearthed Arcana named Ships and the Sea. I had been thinking in my little bit of spare time about reverse engineering the ships to create a process for building custom ships.

Before talking about the Artificer Priests, it's important to read the post linked above. If you don't have time, the key piece of information is that the airships can travel through the needle back and forth for several days in a row with plenty of reserve engine power. Unfortunately, they can only travel 20 miles, a hard limit, from the needle once they exit. Any attempt to surpass that limit fails with the ship gently coming to rest exactly 20 miles from the nearest edge of the needle.

The Artificers

The engines that power the ships traveling through the needle seem semi-intelligent with an ability to avoid collision with other similar ships. Both the ships will drop into a much slower speed until the threat of collision is gone. The engines themselves have a similar barrel shape with no obvious means to propel the ship. There are no visible controls on the engine, yet turning, pulling, and pushing the ships' wheel directs the ship effortlessly.

The folx that make these engines have a religious devotion to the creation of the engines. They are happy to share how the engines are created, but no one has been able to push through the dense religious tomes and iconography to understand the process. The information about how they came to the knowledge of engine creation is provided below. The source comes from their own writings.

Oa Worship

In the side of hill a day's journey away from the city, lies the Temple of Oa, the Creator, the Originator of Breath, and source of the divine language. The Artifice Priests have journeyed daily to this temple to perform sacred rituals and take holy sacraments since the needle was discovered and the city built around it. At that time, however, they did not call it The Needle, instead calling it the Endless Chasm.

Oa was discovered by the first pilgrims, but she spoke in an unknown tongue. As pilgrims and priests listened, she revealed wonders and miracles in visions and later written books. All in a language neither recognized nor understood.

The thousands of E-Po were discovered soon after. Each egg shaped object lay motionless and spoke the language as Oa when approached. Inside the eggs were more tomes and treasurers, all beyond understanding. Oa was vast, but the E-Po were small by comparison, about the size of three people.

The First High Priest

The woman that became the first High Priest listened for years. She listened to the pilgrims' ignored questions and to the comforting, but alien voice of Oa.

She decided one day to tell Oa the history of her people before they moved to the Endless Chasm. She told the old stories and described the basics of how people survived. She talked about her culture and the lands of others that lived far away. She wasn't sure why she made this decision, but she continued for weeks and months. Every day, for a couple of hours, she told Oa about her life, her people, and her understanding of the world around her.

One day, Oa asked her a question in the young woman's language. Oa's questions became discernable and her answers to questions were pieced together. Oa taught the pilgrims her language and the written language in all the books.

The First Artificer

As Oa and her followers began to understand each other, a pilgrim asked about the the Endless Chasm was. Oa answered that it was a trade route to a city that lay on the other end. She described it as a tunnel, but it was she that named it The Needle. She described a large, egg-shaped rock in the middle that she called The Eye.

An older pilgrim asked how she could travel to that city.

She created the first airship to travel the Needle. She learned from Oa the secret of using one of the thousands of E-Po to create a magic engine to push the ship through the Needle before coming out the other side to that city.

The Master Artificer

When the Master Artificer was a young student, he asked The Question. E-Po were becoming harder to find and some of the engines made from them did not work. Oa answered with a message that described error and corruption. But then she asked her own question of the young acolyte.

"Did you wish to repair this error?"

After a pause, he stammered a yes and offered obseqious praises.

Then Oa revealed the secret to making engines without sacrificing an E-Po, master creation of Oa. She taught him how to create a vast well. Although the surface appeared as water, it was pure, divine energy. Free to make engines from more the common materials was wood, iron, and semi-precious stones, it became possible for more and more travellers to journey between the two cities. The engines could be made in any size, large or small. Cargo ships could be constructed.

Cities on both sides of the Needle grew, however the Second Question arose when it was discovered that the new engines could travel no further than 20 miles from the Needle's edge.

When the Master Artificer asked the Second Question, Oa spoke again of corruption and error. She asked again if he wished to repair the error only to reply that he could not do so at this time. From that time forward, there was a prophecy of a Great Artificer that would come and answer the Second Question. The Great Artificer would be worthy to dispel the corruption and error that enshrouded this knowledge.

Life of the Artificer Priests

Artificers that worship Oa are called priests by each other. They speak and read the language of Oa as well as Common. They make many kinds of objects to provide for their welfare, the most profitable of those, the airship engines. They will not, however, make weapons of any kind.

They make harvesting golems and mechanical clocks. They repair older machines and wonders as well as farming implements used in nearby fields. They are generous and thoughtful, rarely raising their voice in anger, eager to help others through their creations.

The Other Temples in Town

Many students have created shrines and temples near the Needle. Recently, one shrine, the Children of E-Po, boasts that their members can walk the Needle in a day without fear of pirate attacks. They claim to understand the runes engraved on the sides of the Needle.

They offer their services as couriers between the two cities.

How Do You Present a Setting?

It's a question, not a statement because I am researching how others do it. So far, my favorite way to present a setting, especially unusual ones, it found in The Petal Hack by Brett Slocum.


In three short pages, this overview delivers what players need to know about what makes Tékumel good and what makes it different. Brett also provides information about why characters would go on an adventures and links to learn more about the world. For all my reading about Tékumel, I never felt like I could run an adventure there until I read this brief introduction.

For anything I've read to date, this is my gold standard for explaining a setting to players. To abstract it a bit, I want to tell players the following:

  • These things exist or are in abundance (Magic, Deities, etc.)
  • These things do not exist or are scarce (Calvary, Iron, etc.)
  • Things to know about Culture(s) (Ethics, Politics, etc.)
  • Very brief overview of places (Five Empires)
  • Why characters go on adventures
  • Links (not pages in a book) to more information.

What Would Wizards Do (WWWD)?

When Wizards announced that it was releasing The Guildmaster's Guide to Ravinca, I waited for it to be listed on Amazon to see the Table of Contents. (I won't be able to buy it until maybe Spring). I wanted to see how they would present a new setting. I figured that the page count would be longer as 5e has more intricate rules that first edition of The Black Hack.


picture of TOC from link to Amazon's preview images of the book

To my surprise, the Welcome to Ravinca section was also three pages. Reading further, though, it seems those three pages only cover three of my six items on the list: These Things Exist/Are in Abundance, What is Different, Things to know about Culture. Maybe it also includes an overview of places, but I won't know until I read it. The currency item struck me as odd. I've rarely encountered a group that cared about what the money was named nearly as much as its composition. (Just tell me if it's a gold piece, silver piece, or copper piece.)

I was not surprised that more information about the setting is in the book instead of external links. Linking to information about Ravinca in Magic: The Gathering doesn't necessary inform players of Ravinca in D&D. Outside of that, Tékumel has also existed in several different RPGs whereas Ravinca is a setting new to them.

It feels a bit like comparing apples to oranges, but gives me some information to answer my big question. Both books provide a very brief overview that covers the distinctive elements of a setting. Both books seem to cover elements of the overview in more details in subsequent chapters. However, I still think that a short paragraph that states why a character is adventuring in the setting is valuable before discussing how to generate an adventure in that setting. I will admit, though, that I am very biased to a setting book containing a player section and a separate GM section.

What Would Monte Do (WWMD?)

Looking at the Numenera Core Rulebook, I have to guess from the full-size PDF preview from DriveThruRPG, that pages 11 to 14  cover the brief intro to the Ninth World. I'm not including the Getting Started section or the Why I Wrote This section. Without more detail, I went to the Numenera website to get an overview of the setting.

In 574 words, this elevator pitch manages to provide an overview of all but two elements: These things do not exist and Links to more information. The main idea of the setting is that anything is possible, so it could be argued that limits do not exist. That said, I believe it would be more fair to say that it includes everything I would want to imagine playing in the world. It accomplishes its small word count by suggesting possibilities. It invites the reader to fill in missing gaps. (I suppose as a promotional piece to encourage sales, it has a different audience that an intro in the purchased book itself.)

What Would Anyone Else Do (WWAED?)

Looking through other systems, Rune Stryders for EABA has a short page about Ruhn that says a lot about what is different, but leaves out descriptions of any known places in the setting (that is covered elsewhere in the book). It is engaging and pretty straightforward, but feels too brief for my tastes.

The Hellfrost: Player's Guide for Savage Worlds uses two pages to introduce the setting. It seems to cover all the items I mentioned at the beginning. Magic is unreliable (What is scarce), winters are getting longer and colder (What is abundant), a sketch about the kingdoms (places), a bit about culture change as a result of the war, and even a couple paragraphs of where players can start.

Lastly, many old-school settings use tables to detail a new setting. It is an indirect method that allows the GM to discover the world as much as players do. For my Samoora setting, I have only one encounter table so far and it features creatures, magic, and terrain that is not covered in the summary. Using tables provides a lot of utility with an economy of words: if done well, it's not just brief, but evocative of the setting.

For example, one entry on my encounter table references sentient beings not mentioned in the player's guide.

You encounter a pair of neighboring tiny villages. One has three dozen forges with blacksmiths toiling in full plate mail. The other village contain a handful of one room huts containing a dozen or so swords hanging on the walls. There are no doors in any structure in the two villages. While you are deciding what to do, several men arrive dressed in full plate armor. They are silently wheeling in raw iron ore on carts. Their armor is caked in dirt.

I'm not saying that I've written this entry well, but I provide it as an example of something that is encountered that is best not explained in advance. I don't want to write up every race of sentient creature in the first few pages. I'd have to create an entire book for all of them.

I may decide to go this route as I enjoy it the more I think about it.

Conclusion (WWID?)

Again, I don't claim to have the answers, but I think Brett introduced Tékumel very well in a short space. He covers six essentials things that players (and potential GMs) need to know about a setting before diving into the details. I like talking about what is missing or scarce in a setting as much as talking about what new and different elements exist. Looking at other examples, I imagine that two or three pages is the right size to provide a solid overview. In my next post I plan to link to my Introduction to the Samoora Sea using these examples as a guideline.



Jar Burial in the Land Beneath the Winds

In human cultures, it is common for the dead to be buried in large jars. The preferred method of burial (and the most expensive) separates the bones from the flesh. The bones are then placed in a large ceramic jar decorated with various writings. This jar is sealed with a wax and clay mixture that makes it watertight. The flesh is liquified and placed in a second sealed container. The second container is marked with a single glyph that represents the wheel of rebirth.

The bell of the bone jar is approximately four feet tall and about five feet in diameter at its widest point. It stands on four feet that are curious bound by chains near the feet. The feet are four different sizes, one extends into a three-foot diameter disk. The entire jar stands about five to five-and-a-half feet tall. The other jar, with the liquified entrails, sits on the large disk of the "odd" foot, placed upside-down.

This elaborate burial ceremony is intended to prevent the body from being animated by wizards or demons. Both wizards and demons seek to reanimate the whole body in an effect to gain the knowledge, spells and/or skills the deceased had when they were alive. Without both the bones and the flesh, wizards and demons cannot create the magical stones that would contain the deceased memories, knowledge and skills. (The truth is that these elaborate measures do little to deter wizards and demons.)

More importantly, it is intended to prevent ghosts to re-integrate with their bodies in an attempt to prevent their reincarnation. It is believed that if the ghost somehow manages to re-enter the bones, the shaking caused by its attempts to escape the bone jar will spill the contents of the second jar. It is believed that without the flesh, it is impossible for a ghost to re-enter their former bodies. This turns out to be true. There is such a great fear of a spirit re-entering its former body that the widespread reach of this custom has relegated the existence of a re-integrated body into myth and fairytale.

For those that cannot afford ceramic jars, clay jars are used instead. If the family of the deceased cannot afford jars with feet, the bone jar is made to sit flat on the ground. The liquified entrails are placed in a sealed metal box and buried in cement under the bone jar. Cement is very inexpensive, but cannot be made very thick. For this reason, to prevent a ghost from opening the second jar, it is buried at least three feet into the ground. Theoretically, it would be easier for a ghost to re-integrate into the body if the burial is done this way, however, the poor usually have little reason to avoid the wheel of rebirth.

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