Bleakstone fresh start

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As of April 2019, Bleakstone is now the Crystal Marches.

This is going to be a bit raw and rough around the edges because my development of this setting has been all over the map -- which is part of why I started this wiki: to take my noodlings and scribblings about what is now the Crystal Marches and turn them into an actual book.

It started out as a list of things I thought might be interesting to include in a homebrew fantasy setting -- a list much like the one you've probably made if you've ever created a setting, or tweaked an existing setting. Then it became Bleakstone, a "fantasy western Europe" setting defined by its expanses of "bleak stone" -- these blooming, spreading petrified areas, haunted by demons and devils, which began appearing throughout the land.

I was so committed to the Bleakstone name (which I still love!) and core concepts that I commissioned several pieces of artwork for the setting from the late, great Steve Zieser, not long before his death in December 2015. But in 2018 I started wondering why I was working on fantasy western Europe in any form, as much as I love that basic model for a setting. Do we need more options for gaming in fantasy western Europe? Aren't there a lot of problems around, say, colonialism and racism that often get baked into those settings? And in 2019, it hit me all at once that Bleakstone needed to be reworked from the ground up.

After adding every piece of Bleakstone lore and all of my notes to YoreWiki, I sat back and thought about this setting. A lot.

All in a rush, I wrote up some guiding principles for a fresh start. Then a few weeks back, while trying to fall asleep, I grabbed my tablet and rewrote -- quickly, feverishly -- the core of the setting, shifting from petrified stone expanses to "blooms" of otherworldly crystal. I retyped those notes and added them here.

So right now the Crystal Marches is mostly in my head, or in bits and pieces here on my wiki -- or in a sort of liminal melange of the two. I want to turn all that awesomeness into a book people can buy and use in their games.

Reworking

  • Lenses from Amber, but called facets (because crystals)
    • Facets for how recently the bloom began and for its origin
  • Design notes are callout boxes that look like little crystals
  • Crystal blooms are gateways to other dimensions and realities
    • Put whatever you want in YOUR Marches, it came through a bloom
    • This is where the spaceship came from
    • Extradimensional objects don't last long if not near crystals?
  • No evil species, no unified stereotypes for cultures or groups
  • No racism, conflict comes from greed, politics, and the existence of magical and monstrous threats
  • Universal acceptance of gender identity and homosexuality
  • Magic enables trans people to transition, and this is commonplace
  • There are gods, but they're all just humans exploiting magic to cow the masses
  • Most religions are these assholes, some people are worshipping magic
  • Animals tend to be warped by the blooms
  • Monsters can be created by them
    • Monsters are often twisted versions of extant things
  • Bloom originates in the wasteland
    • Could be that imprisoned demons brought it here, or vice versa
    • Or that null slimes are behind it for sinister reasons
  • Region has long been known for its odd crystals, but the bloom is new
    • This is why it's called the Crystal Marches
    • It has always been an odd, haunted place, but now it's a million times weirder
  • If crystal growths are portals, have notes about PCs using them
  • No stats, system-neutral but aimed at fantasy RPGs, no OGL needed
  • I love gonzo, so lean into gonzo
  • I'm a scribbler, and this incorporates ideas I've scribbled down going back many years
    • Such as the old invisible tower full of portals
  • One domain is a fractured mess of factions and provinces, all technically part of an even more factious domain beyond the mountains

What is

  • The "bleak stone" is the fulcrum on this setting, and the most interesting thing about the original idea. Any element contained in this setting needs to be bounced off the question "How does this relate to the bleak stone expanses?"
  • The bloom of bleak stone expanses is ongoing.
  • These expanses are haunted by demons and devils.
  • Who would choose to live in a land like this? The dispossessed. The unscrupulous. The adventurous. The desperate. Cults. Fugitives. Pirates. Demon hunters. Zealots.
  • What was it like before? The golden age empire of the pre-fall skurliths, now replete with the ruins of their once-great civilization.
  • It's a land explicitly disregarded by its neighbors, dismissed as a bedeviled wasteland from which no one returns.
  • When in doubt, it's weird fantasy/swords & sorcery in tone. This is an odd place that should feel odd.
  • When in doubt, go gonzo because I love gonzo. To wit: There's a region largely defined by the presence of a crashed alien craft with far-future technology aboard. Of course it's a dungeon. Of course that tech has filtered out into Bleakstone.
  • The intelligent species remain the same: humans, null slimes, uzbardim, and skurliths.
  • Their history remains the same.
  • It's full of explicitly positive representation of marginalized people: LGBTQIA+, POC, trans*, nonbinary, genderfluid, disabled.
  • Its species avoid racist, colonialist, and problematic tropes.
  • Its cultures do the same, created from scratch with relying on real-world cultural shorthand (and the inherent bias that entails).
  • Any final publication will be preceded by hiring one or more sensitivity readers.
  • Singular they replaces all gendered pronouns.
  • No gods. The world is visibly suffused with magic; magic is wielded by people; magic can explain anything people can't otherwise explain; consequently, religion never took hold.
  • Instead of gods, there are people -- flawed, once-ordinary people -- who have proclaimed themselves to be higher powers.

What is not

  • It's not "fantasy western Europe." That's fun too, but it's also boring and problematic.
  • It's not plug-and-play; instead, it is its own place, with its own assumptions. Plug at your own risk.
  • No biological determinism ("elves get +2 CHA"). Cultural bonuses work just fine, if there are stats at all.
  • No racism. The inhabitants of Bleakstone have plenty to fight over and about without it.
  • No slavery, either.
  • Throw out all of the human societies as written (see above).

Do this

  • Use Nick Wedig's The Unbroken Circle to create cultures (Tarot deck, people from that culture are emblematic of it without being stereotyped by it)