City of the Giants
The Iridian Army: The Iridian Army has been serious business for thirty years. With the danger the kingdom has been in, every male child is required to serve a stint when they turn seventeen, and the nobility will actually put themselves in debt to buy officer’s commissions. Mostly they watch the border forts and fend off the occasional giant monster attacks, but the elite units get sent into battle against the Thirteen themselves.
All your characters are soldiers in the Iridian Army, stationed at the same watchpost on the northern frontier. The army will take anyone with useful talents – not just warriors, but also bards, criminals, priests, and magicians of all stripes. You can pick how you ended up there.
The Seven Great Houses: The Seven Great Houses are the seven most powerful families of landowners, moneylenders, and government ministers in Iridia. They all swear fealty to the royal House Havell, but at the cabinet level, the various Great Houses pretty much run the kingdom. The other six Great Houses are House Mulin, House Coye, House Odilon, House Valere, House Gerin, and House Sauvage.
Any character can be a retainer of a Great House, and any character who takes the Noble background may choose between a cadet branch of House Havell (no closer than 5th in line to the throne), or anywhere in another House’s line of succession, excluding the reigning Dukes but up to and including the direct heir. The Great Houses have a proud warrior tradition, and martial PCs are bound to do especially well in them.
The Temple of the Triune Dawn: The Temple faith is the official state religion of Iridia. They believe in a sky god, whose three aspects – the sun, the moon, and the stars – each hold power over the various dominions of the earth. There is one order of the priesthood for each aspect. As this is the state religion on paper, the law dictates that every Iridian citizen is a believer. In practice, much of the population follows the pagan Old Faith in secret. The Temple’s Inquisition is dedicated to rooting out pagan sects, hunting monsters and the Old Powers of the Earth, and performing exorcisms.
Any character can be a believer in the Triune Dawn. Characters with a religious background may join one of the three Orders, but do not gain any special powers for doing so. A cleric or a paladin may draw their powers from the Triune Dawn by joining an Order appropriate to their character. The Sun’s power is mostly protective and the Moon’s mostly destructive, but none of the three Orders require any particular alignment. Not everyone in the Church is totally rabid about hunting down the pagans. You can still play an Inquisitor if you want, but maybe ease up on the zealotry if there are other players rolling up elves or druids (Note: there are).
The Old Faith: This is the traditional Druidic faith of the land. It is a pantheistic religion that worships fey nobility, elemental lords, and the Old Powers of the Earth. In theory, the Inquisition has forced its adherents to operate secretly in the forest, as the Old Faith’s traditional animal sacrifices are illegal, but the old ways have friends in high places. Each hierophant conducts his own rites, leads his own flock, and teaches his own successors independently, and incorporates so much local folklore that it’s practically a different religion between any two towns. It’s pretty cosmopolitan as animal sacrifice cults go – one of the universal rules is that you pay respects to the local gods wherever you go.
Any character can be a follower of the Old Faith, but would be wise to keep their faith secret from the Temple inquisitors. You do have to be either a Druid, a Cleric, a Warlock, or a Paladin to lead the holy rites.
The Royal Academy: An Iridian institution built to train warrior bards and instruct them in song, lore, law, swordplay, and wizardry. Academy Bards are considered legal representatives of the crown with the authority of judges. Like unlicensed doctors in the real world, unlicensed magicians aren’t respected enough to practice professionally in Iridia, but an Academy degree pretty much bestows instant legitimacy.
Any character with an academic background can be an Academy graduate, but only real actual Bards earn the right to preside over the courts. Any arcane spellcaster with an academic background can start with an Academy degree if they want to ply their trade professionally.
The Eyes of Iridia: The Eyes are a spy organ personally loyal to the ruler of Iridia. They gather information from around the realm, carry out secret commands, pull black ops commando raids, and operate above the law. Some say they also serve as a clandestine squad of superspy assassins. The organization is well funded and very secretive, often building fake conspiracies and laying false trails to frame the King’s political opponents for their actions. Little is publicly known about their activities, but it is widely speculated that these days they are mostly being deployed against rival Great Houses and the Thirteen.
Any character can be an agent of the Eyes of Iridia, but Rogues, Rangers, and Bards do especially well as field agents.
The Prodigal: There is only one kingdom left of the High Elves, and it is preparing to depart the world for good. A few of its people still linger as itinerant wanderers. These are the Prodigal. The surviving refugees, along with a few cells of “elf-friends” maintain an underground transportation network. No one knows the whole network, except that it eventually winds up in Athenspire. Elf-friends have their hands marked with a secret rune that only elves and other rune-bearers can see. If any elf-friend willingly betrays their charges, the rune will burn a black scar onto the flesh of their hand. Similar invisible runes are scribed on walls and doors as trail signs and warnings of danger. They have many friends in low places, and their contacts can sometimes get them access to ancient elvish knowledge.
All High Elf PCs automatically qualify as one of the Prodigal, but any character can choose to be an elf-friend, in which case you can start with the secret mark.
The Syndicate: The Syndicate is a loose council of six major crime rings, the leaders of which meet in a secret council called the Confraternity. The Confraternity helps Syndicate gangsters jointly face external threats and resolve incidents before they escalate into city-wide gang wars. Member organizations are expected to defend their territory against internal threats and competition without help. Each crime lord tries to stop competition within their domain. If this fails to take, the Confraternity as a whole simply requests that the newly risen leader swear the oath and take a chair at the table. Refusal results in stabby death. Failure of a member power to maintain its own turf can also cause the rest of the Syndicate to decide that it is too weak to be a member, turn on them and carve up their assets. Such is honor amongst thieves.
The Syndicate will employ any character with useful talents and a cavalier attitude towards legality, but most of the higher ranking members are Rogues.
The Circle of Twilight: This secret society of warlocks, sorcerers, clerics, and illusionists operates in cells within the capital of Iridia. You get in by saving the life of an existing member, or by being one of a current member’s eldest three children. All members are issued cloaks, masks, and code names when admitted. Little is known about their agenda, but the cabal is something like a cross between Hogwarts, a Greek house, and the Illuminati. They have many agents and a secret language of hand signals and code phrases which may only be taught to members of appropriate rank. An unmasking to the public is a breach of security that gets you kicked out of the club, and the whole organization around you restructured to minimize any damage your knowledge could cause. The outer circles come from all walks of life, but everybody knows the lucky few promoted to the Inner Mysteries are taught real actual magic.
Any PC can start in the outer circles. Any PC who can cast an illusion spell or cantrip may start the game having been admitted to the lowest rank of the Inner Mysteries. Among other more obscure requirements, you have to learn a new level of spells in order to be admitted to each subsequent rank of the inner circle (there are six ranks total, of which the highest is the Council of High Poobahs).
The White Wizards: Rumor persists of a shadowy cabal of ancient powers, free of allegiance to sovereign or nation. Set in motion by the Powers that Be, their supposed mission is to oppose the powers of darkness with secret machinations and wide-ranging plots. This loose alliance of powerful heroes, great lords, and ancient sages supposedly meet in secret to guide the fate of nations. Their methods include subtle personal interventions, loose networks of unwitting agents, or using unsuspecting heroes as pawns to perform great deeds. Conspiracy theorists talk a lot about who might and might not be a member, but nobody really knows anything solid.
You cannot start the game knowingly involved with this society. Frankly, no one credible is even really sure that they exist.