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» The World of Urban Arcana, canonical setting information
dingo
 Posted: Feb 16 2011, 01:40 PM
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This thread is for posting setting information for Urban Arcana, which is run by me. The initial concept, and even the name, is taken from a D20 Modern sourcebook. However, since WotC didn't exactly explain or develop the setting all that well, and I've taken enough license with the idea as it is, I figure posting the existing canon of my take on it should be fine.

As of this date, the second campaign has just gotten underway. More details will likely come from gameplay, and others will be developed as further explanations are needed. Keep in mind that this is not a chronicle thread. That will hopefully come about soon. If anyone wishes, he is welcome to contribute, but, as self-proclaimed executor of canon, I'd at least like to have a look at any submissions first.

Below is the original introduction to the Urban Arcana setting (not WotC's version), intended to help players to generate appropriate characters for Urban Arcana Part I. Not all of the information given is necessarily relevant to further installments in the saga, but is nonetheless, for all intents and purposes, canon.

Since before the turn of the 20th Century, the world has seen thousands of strange creatures appear in seemingly random places out of nowhere, creatures which previously had only existed in the imagination: elves, halflings, goblins, orcs, ogres, bugbears, and even dragons. In the eyes of practically everyone, they just sort “popped up,” wearing medieval-looking clothing (or sometimes no clothing at all), often bearing swords and other archaic weapons, and appearing as if they had just been taken out of a bloody battle. The world was baffled when the first news of these creatures, originally spotted in 1897 in rural Ireland, were circulated internationally.

The scientific community has yet to provide any explanation as to how or why these people seem to randomly turn up. On the other hand, the various religions of the world have provided no end of explanations. Some say they are spirits taken physical form. Others claim that they are newly created beings. And, of course, many believe that they are extraterrestrial beings stranded on earth.

One of the more plausible explanations was proposed by Prof. Simon Lithgow of Harvard University, who headed the first serious study of several of these mysterious creatures shortly after the news hit. According to Prof. Lithgow, the creatures somehow made their way to our world, across the veil of existence known as the Shadow, from an entirely different dimension. This was not an isolated incident; some of the creatures being studied had come over centuries before, or their families had at least. Through interviews (English-speaking beings as most of them are) and other various means, Lithgow and his team discovered a more-or-less complete and consistent picture of this other world: a vast Tolkienesque land of magic and mystery in which these strange beings carried on their lives as adventurers, merchants, artisans, farmers, and magicians. Unfortunately, all of the creatures seemed to have some form of amnesia, leaving them with memories of much of their previous lives, but no answers as to the circumstances of their appearance in our plane of existence.

It is a profound understatement to say that Lithgow took a significant risk in his explanation of the phenomenon. His fields of study were biology and sociology, not religion, yet when it came down to it, he could offer no scientific explanation, much like his colleagues before. In the conclusion of his report he stated,

“There is quite simply no way to understand what has happened from the perspective of a scientist studying the natural world because these happenings are not natural. The Shadow has no substance. There is nothing to be measured nor tested. I have spent weeks wrestling this idea to the ground, yet there is nothing for it. I am a man of science, but more importantly I am a man of integrity. As such, I have relinquished my arrogant attempts to explain in terms of the natural what is clearly super-natural.”

For this, Lithgow was ostracized in the academic community, despite the support of his employees and a number of his peers for having the courage to do what no one else did. Scientific journals either viciously ridiculed or entirely ignored Prof. Lithgow, and no university would ever fund another research project with his name on it. He had lost face with the world of science by denying her stranglehold on what was true and what simply was not, and as a result he sunk into utter anonymity, never to be heard from again.

Despite the all naysayers' efforts, the words of Lithgow continued to ring true. The postwar era saw a great wave of supernaturals appear, and more and more seem to come. This world's community of magicians is an extremely secretive one, not willing to share findings for the sake of those creatures who desire to return to their old lives in their own dimension. As of 2005, there has not been a successful reversal or controlled recurrence of the Shadow phenomenon in public knowledge, leaving most supernaturals (a.k.a., "Shadowborn"), if not all of them, virtually stuck in this world.

While there has not been a satisfactory explanation for why they materialize where, a pattern has definitely developed, as certain areas do tend to see more appearances than others. Most of the more active regions exist in in North America and include Southern California, parts of the Great Plains, the Canadian Shield, and the better part of New York State, with Siberia, the En Gedi desert, and the Vatican being the main hot-spots in the Eastern Hemisphere. The variety of creatures appearing is staggering [see any D&D Monster Manual], giving the field of taxonomy its most fascinating work in years.

Depending on the location and society in question, most Shadowborn have actually managed to make their home here, especially in large urban areas. Those who worked as laborers, merchants, or artisans tend to be well-equipped for this, as the skills they already have are still valuable in the mundane world. Practitioners of magic can find extremely interesting work, as mundane humans try to understand the mysterious and supernatural. There have even been schools of magic and houses of healing which try to continue the work they started back across the Shadow. On the other hand, because of their warlike culture, a significant number of Shadowborn have few marketable skills beyond their fighting ability, and as a result have difficulty dealing with mundane life.

Aside from the bigoted responses of some native terran groups, there one significant problem with the sheer number of Shadowborn living in the mundane world. While many do manage to adjust peacefully to the norms of their new societies, there are those who do not. Whether because of cultural attitudes, genetic predispositions, animalistic instincts, or pure desperation, the Shadowborn population unfortunately tends to include a significant criminal element. This would not necessarily be such an issue if they had the same abilities as native humans, however the element of the supernatural (as well as the non-magical but no-less dangerous and uncatalogued abilities of many Shadowborn) often makes non-native crime much more difficult to deal with, so much so that sometimes the mundane authorities simply cannot cope. In certain areas where the non-native population is more prominent, this begins to be an overwhelming problem for the general public, New York City being one such area.

This is where you, the party, comes in.

Since the 1970's, Pearson & Grey Paranormal Investigations has been the supernatural law enforcement group in New York City. While not a government-funded police force, they are willing and able to solve cases which NYPD is not. They have no official jurisdiction, however the Shadowborn community, consisting of roughly 100,000 New Yorkers, has gained a degree of autonomy and influence, more even than some of the other significant ethnic groups. With the support of this community, as well as some native groups who appreciate their work, Pearson & Grey has managed to stay in business and provide a unique service without which the city could easily descend into utter chaos.

The party will enter the scene as new recruits at Pearson & Grey. Since it is, after all, a private business, each party member will need a reason to be employed in law enforcement: motivation, relevant skills, experience, etc. They do not necessarily need to be "cops," but maintaining some semblance of order is a main goal, so there must be some point in P&G's keeping them on the payroll, some way in which they either prove that they are worth investing in or that they have something valuable to bring to the company.

This post has been edited by dingo: Feb 16 2011, 01:57 PM
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dingo
 Posted: Feb 16 2011, 02:18 PM
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Below is a document handed out to players roughly midway through Urban Arcana Part 1, intended to further flesh-out the setting and give additional perspective on the events to follow.

Shadowborn Society – Mainstream Culture

The Shadowborn of NYC are a remarkably well-connected group, in some ways like a nation of their own, despite not sharing any common land. This results from the type of leadership which arose in the community mid-century, when the Shadowborn started arriving on this plane in larger numbers at a time. These leaders were the divine and arcane magic users, the nobles, and the businessmen, naturally charismatic or creative people who understood this new world and directed the Shadowborn in their struggle for a place in it. The fight for these rights was a surprisingly unified one, as many of the creatures who came across to the mundane world realized that their lives, their identities, and even some of their power (relative to that of modern mundane society) had been lost. Therefore, they relied on each other to survive and stake a claim on American soil.

NOTE: The above paragraph is the kind of thing one might find in an SBSP pamphlet. None of it is distinctly false, but the aspects of unity, strong leadership, and even the success of the struggle for equality are exaggerated. It also fails to mention that Shadowborn gods do not exist in the mundane world, and so divine magic is impossible, since the SBSP still promotes the worship of the old gods and the authority of their priests.

Later in the 20th Century, as time went on and the overall struggle grew easier, those people of power began seeking to return to their places of supremacy, though these efforts did not go unchecked by the more common Shadowborn, the martial heroes, the peasants, tradesmen, etc. This resulted in the foundation of the Society for the Benefit of Shadowborn Peoples, an international organization with its main HQ in New York.

The SBSP is in a sense the government for the Shadowborn. Its leaders are elected by card-carrying members residing in their respective regional constituencies, and they meet regularly in New York City. This high-level group is known to be very powerful, both inside and outside the Shadowborn community.

Any Shadowborn may apply for membership in the SBSP, pending an interview with the office of the local leader. Once accepted and initiated, SBSP members gain access to special educational opportunities, jobs within the organization, and free protection and legal advice. All this they gain in return for their contribution to the organization, whether by simply paying dues, clocking a certain number of volunteer hours, or some other way of helping.

Shadowborn Society – Other Factions

Former denizens of the Underdark are often distrusted by the rest of the community, and more than a few have been denied membership in the SBSP. These then frequently band together to form support groups and factions of their own. Also, races which are known as “evil” rarely are accepted in the SBSP, and likewise form gangs, the Zombie Jugular Slashers being one exception.

Within the SBSP, there has formed a sort of sub-faction. This group of reformists, influenced by the political philosophy of the mundane world, has been pushing for a more democratic, responsible government, governed by the true needs of the community. These are also the voices speaking out the loudest in favour of charitable ventures such as the Adventurers' Guild, and for Shadowborn to apply for citizenship in their respective nations of residence.

Magic and the Mundane World

In the past, mundane law enforcement agencies, especially in the U.S., took a “shoot first, ask questions later” approach to dealing with magical phenomenon. For virtually all “mundies,” witnessing magic in action for the first time can throw them into a panic, and, unfortunately, this extends to people who carry firearms, leading to rash actions and tragic incidents.

In the mid-Seventies, the NYPD was responsible for a series of fatal shootings involving the use of magic, culminating in a media fiasco and a Supreme Court case. As per the sentencing in the case of Gheric et. al. vs. NYPD, Pearson & Grey was allowed to step in on any and all cases in New York relating to magic so that such phenomenon and the criminal activity related to it can be dealt with appropriately.

Magic and Cosmology - The Way Things Work

The following was excerpted from an email I sent to Jimbo on the day of Urban Arcana Part II - Session 1, detailing the theory of how magic works in the setting.

Earth was not a particularly magical place before the Shadowborn phenomenon began to take place. However, the reason for this is not an absence of supernatural energy, but of beings who could use it. It's a sort of blindness on the part of mundane humans to what had been going on around them. When magic users came across the Shadow, they did find energy and matter to work with, however, there was something missing from this place: gods. Virtually no divine magic is possible on Earth, and Shadowborn religion is generally forsaken in light of this.

The traditional D&D planes make up only a small cluster. When this universe began to intersect, it did so with the cluster as a whole. The gods do not transcend universes, only planes, so they cannot travel between their world and this one at will. It seems that generally only smaller, supposedly less consequential beings cross the rift, and these never by choice. Among many things, the involuntary nature of their displacement and the separation from their gods leaves many Shadowborn feeling helpless and desperate to get back home.

There is not less "magical resonance" on Earth. The difference between Earth and the Old Worlds is stability. Matter on Earth contains its energy better, keeping it consistent, whereas in the Old Worlds, energy is more volatile, and doesn't control itself. As a result, it is more susceptible to outside influence.

Magic does work on Earth, but some forms require more effort. One cannot simply grab energy from thin air and hurl it at an enemy. Energy must instead be drawn from its source, then applied. Fortunately, the Shadowborn magical tradition was mature enough to understand this change in approach, and experts were able to work backwards from the existing theory of Enchantment as a way of extracting energy from ordinary matter. Once this is done, there are ways of storing the energy for use later on. Alteration and alchemy are not stunted in this way, as they are mainly concerned with the changing of forms, and require only that which the end-product will posses, plus a little extra (no such thing as 100% efficiency). All other Arcane magics require an energy source. Incarnum (like Logan's martial arts thing) draws all of its energy from one's own body, so nothing else is needed. Primal magics require only the energy needed to communicate with the creature(s) in question.

Some materials (especially things like tomes, wands, charms, and anything used as a focus) from the Old World have been known to carry their properties with them. As such, they may be prized among Shadowborn even above wealth and honor. One thing about these, though, is that they are easily detected, as they tend to mess with the mundies' (yes, I used the Fables term) electronic gadgets. Materials with extremely static energy properties, such as lead, can be used to contain such effects.

This post has been edited by dingo: Feb 16 2011, 02:21 PM
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