How to make Thassilon seem ancient.


Lost Omens Campaign Setting General Discussion

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This is a minor critique of a series I generally enjoy and am actively DMing.

The ancient empire of Thassilon is over 10,000 years old but there hasn't been much focus in art direction or flavor text to make it seem so. Its mysterious pedigree rests upon its ruins, latin-esque language and 'sin' philosophy, but culturally and technologically it could exist in modern Golarion without an anachronistic hitch (the iconics and the Runelords apparently shop at the same stores).

Yeah, this is partly due to the fantasy genre - where technological development marches to a dead drummer - but I still think there could be more emphasis placed on the differences between the ancient Thassilonian civilization and current Varisia. The passage of time needs to be expressed more acutely in the details: the culture, building materials, clothing, art, the rot...the sheer alienness of a people so ancient.

My players are enjoying the ride, but if I told them Thassilon fell 200 years ago and not 10,000, I don't think they'd bat an eye.

So, with my little whine, are there any things that you have done in your campaign to add a sense of scope? How do you help your players differentiate an old civilization from an ancient civilization?

Frog God Games

Part of the anachronism problem lies in the fact that, technologically speaking, Thassilon was probably ahead of where Golarion is now. With its cataclysmic destruction, much was lost that Golarion is only now dredging back up to par on. Golarion 8,000 years ago...now there's where you see BIG differences--maybe mud huts and such, who knows. At least that was my take on it in writing #6. Not sure if I've heard anything official along that line.


DUST...

No seriously I can see where you are coming from on this one and it's not an easy thing to fix. I think that this is the underlying problem (if it is a problem) with the fantasy gere in general. But it's partly fixed, I suppose, by the difficulties encountered in the everyday person trying to find anything out about the ancient civilisation. It's early days yet for the setting though and so far I for one am enjoying finding out the history that is slowly being revealed. I guess it's down to the individual GM to work his / her magic on the setting.


I would say really try to press home the uniqueness of Rune Magic and the scale of the monuments. For the latter, think the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and how — even to this day — we have no idea how they managed to engineer and construct those monuments. Try to transmit to your players the feeling of standing at the base of the Statue of Liberty and looking up...that's the sense of awe they should have looking at the Irespan.


Selk wrote:

So, with my little whine, are there any things that you have done in your campaign to add a sense of scope? How do you help your players differentiate an old civilization from an ancient civilization?

I haven't ran the Pathfinder series yet, but I'm just now reading Burnt Offerings and asking myself the same question.

My first thought: there shouldn't be much of <i>anything</i> left that isn't either magically preserved, or made of stone or alien materials. Wooden torture racks with leather straps and metal hooks? Not likely to survive, I would guess.

Still, my gut feeling might not be accurate. A real-world reference for this would be the tomb of Tutankhamun, who was interred roughly 3300 years ago. His stuff survived quite well over that time (including wooden articles, and even an ostrich-feather fan). But of course Egypt is a fair bit drier than Sandpoint.

My general thoughts: have the surviving objects be made of alien materials. Make Thassilon virtually unheard-of. Make what little is known of Thassilon be pure legend. Perhaps have only legends of a kingdom ruled by giants, and give different peoples vaguely similar creation myths about a flood, and an escape from servitude to giants.

But this is just me thinking off the top of my head, and I've only skimmed anything past Pathfinder #1.


I got rid of stuff that says "last 1000 years"... like the wooden walkway in the catacombs of wrath. Also, I added a lot of smells and water damage from 10,000 years of dripping groundwater.


After 10,000 years, the climate and even landscape would be completely different. Shifting courses of rivers and sedimentation might have totally buried all the ruins, requiring major excavation to get into them... or changing sea levels over 10,000 years might mean the coastal ruins are now inland, or under water. Post-glacial rebound (if their last 10,000 years was anything like ours) would have cracked the walls and caved in the ceilings. Heck, in a California analog, the earthquakes would have long since completely caved in all the structures and thrown down all the monuments, where plant growth would pull them apart and ultimately convert them to saprolite. Certainly everything organic (including wood) that wasn't mummified or magically-preserved would have rotted to nothing.

I typically game with geologists, who'd call "shenanigans" in an instant, and probably pistol-whip me. I'm gonna have to address all of the above somehow (any suggestions?) or else go with a vastly shorter (1-2 orders of magnitude) time frame.


Something I have done was certainly change up materials. (A good fantasy analog for this sort of thing is "All the Weyrs of Pern" when they

Spoiler:

find the original colonist settlement that had been buried under the ash. Plastic was interesting for them to find, as they had lost the means and methods to make it.
) For Netheril in the Forgotten Realms, I emphasized glassworking as a basis of difference. This abandoned Netherese settlement/observatory had varying strengths of glass for windows, stairwells, "privacy glass" etc.

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Kirth Gersen wrote:

After 10,000 years, the climate and even landscape would be completely different. Shifting courses of rivers and sedimentation might have totally buried all the ruins, requiring major excavation to get into them... or changing sea levels over 10,000 years might mean the coastal ruins are now inland, or under water. Post-glacial rebound (if their last 10,000 years was anything like ours) would have cracked the walls and caved in the ceilings. Heck, in a California analog, the earthquakes would have long since completely caved in all the structures and thrown down all the monuments, where plant growth would pull them apart and ultimately convert them to saprolite. Certainly everything organic (including wood) that wasn't mummified or magically-preserved would have rotted to nothing.

I typically game with geologists, who'd call "shenanigans" in an instant, and probably pistol-whip me. I'm gonna have to address all of the above somehow (any suggestions?) or else go with a vastly shorter (1-2 orders of magnitude) time frame.

That depends really on how much is happening in the world, geologically speaking. Fantasy worlds tend to be amazingly stable both sociologically and geologically - except for when suddenly, they aren't. ;(

However, most of the problems can be easily "fixed" if you are not too hung up on official timelines. Just divide by a factor of 5-10 to get roughly where you want to go. It really makes no difference in terms of being near-mythical past if the reign of Thassilon was 1000 years ago, rather than 10000 - if anything, it might make some of the otherwise very cryptic info a little bit more accessible.


Been having a bit of trouble with this too, at least the big number of 10,000 years, which is quite a long time for a worlds development ( I am reminded of the awful Forgotten Realms timeline that just seems like random numbers thrown out there because if its size.)

I have been contemplating more of a leaning to the Leng/Far Realms elements as a twist to the backstory. Maybe Thassilon as described is indeed a memory, but what if its the memory of a far older, otherworldly race/society (10,000 years is quite different in their perspective, perhaps, more feasible.) What if its discovered that the ruins now found and explored, can have been confirmed to not have existed even say, 5 years ago. Makes the "Rise" in the title stand out a little more, rising not from the past, but from another place entirely unknown to use.

You could go a lot of places with this...

Sczarni

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Greg A. Vaughan wrote:
Part of the anachronism problem lies in the fact that, technologically speaking, Thassilon was probably ahead of where Golarion is now. With its cataclysmic destruction, much was lost that Golarion is only now dredging back up to par on. Golarion 8,000 years ago...now there's where you see BIG differences--maybe mud huts and such, who knows. At least that was my take on it in writing #6. Not sure if I've heard anything official along that line.

Thats how I see it too. Certain books and such may have been found, with pictures in it depicting the powerful of the old empire. Current tailors see these pictures and go "oh, that looks pretty/comfortable." and try to emulate it. they only partially succeed - thus the more fluid and 'special' looking of the runelord's robes versus the iconic's robes. Most of the remains of this civilization is stone or protected from the elements by stone, similar to the pyramids, or the the other man made of the 7 wonders of the world. I see 8,000 years ago the survivors living in the ruins of the civilization, using the books and other flammables to fuel the fire

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Kirth Gersen wrote:

After 10,000 years, the climate and even landscape would be completely different. Shifting courses of rivers and sedimentation might have totally buried all the ruins, requiring major excavation to get into them... or changing sea levels over 10,000 years might mean the coastal ruins are now inland, or under water. Post-glacial rebound (if their last 10,000 years was anything like ours) would have cracked the walls and caved in the ceilings. Heck, in a California analog, the earthquakes would have long since completely caved in all the structures and thrown down all the monuments, where plant growth would pull them apart and ultimately convert them to saprolite. Certainly everything organic (including wood) that wasn't mummified or magically-preserved would have rotted to nothing.

I typically game with geologists, who'd call "shenanigans" in an instant, and probably pistol-whip me. I'm gonna have to address all of the above somehow (any suggestions?) or else go with a vastly shorter (1-2 orders of magnitude) time frame.

Spoiler:
In Burnt Offerings, the adventurers delve into a statue, only from the top - because a change in the landscape has moved the statue underwater, and tipped it to one side...
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Kirth Gersen wrote:

... Heck, in a California analog, the earthquakes would have long since completely caved in all the structures and thrown down all the monuments, where plant growth would pull them apart and ultimately convert them to saprolite. Certainly everything organic (including wood) that wasn't mummified or magically-preserved would have rotted to nothing.

I typically game with geologists, who'd call "shenanigans" in an instant, and probably pistol-whip me. I'm gonna have to address all of the above somehow (any suggestions?) or else go with a vastly shorter (1-2 orders of magnitude) time frame.

I used to game with a geologist and my wife is a high school science teacher, so I feel for you, man. I got off to a slow start about emphasizing the bizarre antiquity of the Thassalonian culture, but I've had a few ideas since I started:

I'm de-emphasizing the "preservation magic" of the Thassalonians, saving such for only the most magical of items. Instead, many of the Thassalonian objects were crafted of unusual materials.

Iron objects were wrought of a corrosion-resistant alloy, a dark metal resembling meteoric iron. Odd reflections or unnerving images are visible within the metal, shapes resembling faces and hands frozen in horror or twisted in wrath.

Some wooden items (such as the wooden platform in the Catacombs of Wrath) were described as cunningly-carven stone or weirdly-tinted ceramics, each covered with Thassalonian glyphs promising divine vengeance, vaguely-described but blood-chilling curses against those who tamper with them.

Rather than concluding that Thassalonian costume resembles more modern styles, I emphasized the unusual design of their garments. It's not like the players will have seen representative samples of Varisian attire, so I describe the Thassalonian clothing in ways that will remind my players of ancient styles: Women with bared breasts (decorated with gold jewelry and gilt designs) and both sexes wearing elaborate robes over linen loincloths. The lower classes often preferred simple loincloths without robes: Apparently, it was a warmer time.

Technologically, the Thassalonians did not use the wheel (regarding wheels as having ominous supernatural significance) and had not domesticated the horse, their leaders taking great sport in hunting the small, antelope-like horses found in the land at that time. These cultural activities (along with pictures of slave armies) can be seen in mosaic designs within some of the ruins.

I suspect that Varisia is tectonically stable, with few earthquakes of note. Perhaps the ancient stone giants revealed secrets lore of the earth to their Thassalonian masters, secrets that allowed them to tap into the potential power of the earth, coincidentally relieving the stresses that cause earthquakes. With 10,000 years to build up again, perhaps Varisia is overdue for a massive quake, something that could mark the climax of the series: The fall of a Runelord might trigger the release of magics preventing such events, leading to catastrophic quakes and tsunami. (I haven't read Chapter 6 yet, so I don't know how well that would fit in.)

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Selk wrote:
The ancient empire of Thassilon is over 10,000 years old but there hasn't been much focus in art direction or flavor text to make it seem so. Its mysterious pedigree rests upon its ruins, latin-esque language and 'sin' philosophy, but culturally and technologically it could exist in modern Golarion without an anachronistic hitch (the iconics and the Runelords apparently shop at the same stores).

Spoiler:
Physics hasn't changed over time in our world either - I assume that the rules of magic are constant "natural" laws.

The Runelords were rulers of a vast magical empire whose extreme dictatorship was far more controlling than anything current to Galorian - the economy and political structure also appears to have been heavily centralised (i've not seen any evidence for the existence of shops in Karzoug's realm, let alone a sense that they functioned similarly beyond the existence of coinage).

The citizenry lived under a strict two caste system (militia and provider) underpinned by slaves and ruled by archmages - fairly different to modern Varisia

The ruins were built by enslaved giants - A culture in which slavery is the norm is pretty different to that of modern Varisia. And these slaves are giants...

Magical Technology (runewells, Hellstorm Flumes et al) that has no modern Galorian analogue was used by the runelords and their serveants.

Different gods were worshipped (Lissala, The Peacock Spirit, Minderhal and Desna) and were worshipped secretively as the Runelords crushed most worship.

Cyclopean ruins were built using architectural techniques (including magics) lost to modern Galorian.

...this is all just from the article on Thassilon...

The Exchange RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

Somewhere along Chapter 4 or 5, provide Thassilon star charts. With significant differences among the "fixed" stars. The planets may or may not be the same ones in the sky now, but if so, their orbits are entirely changed.


Anonymous User 28 wrote:
What if its discovered that the ruins now found and explored, can have been confirmed to not have existed even say, 5 years ago. Makes the "Rise" in the title stand out a little more, rising not from the past, but from another place entirely unknown to use. You could go a lot of places with this...

Not sure how well this fits in with the endgame (I have yet to receive Episodes 5+), but that idea is REALLY cool. If you do adapt it that way, can you pretty-place make a thread for it and keep us posted?

Sir_Wulf wrote:
Iron objects were wrought of a corrosion-resistant alloy, a dark metal resembling meteoric iron. Odd reflections or unnerving images are visible within the metal, shapes resembling faces and hands frozen in horror or twisted in wrath.

Nice imagery, that. I'll definitely try to remember to use this one (with your permission of course).

Chris Mortika wrote:
Somewhere along Chapter 4 or 5, provide Thassilon star charts. With significant differences among the "fixed" stars.

As always, Chris, you are a bubbling wellspring of exceptionally good ideas. Thanks!

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Anonymous User 28 wrote:
What if its discovered that the ruins now found and explored, can have been confirmed to not have existed even say, 5 years ago. Makes the "Rise" in the title stand out a little more, rising not from the past, but from another place entirely unknown to use. You could go a lot of places with this...

Great idea. Also...

Spoiler:
When one finishes off the last adventure, it would allow the Xin-Shalast to vanish once the heroes leave. Could help keep the players from becoming solid gold kings and queens. Figuring out how to get back could be a fun high-level arc, if the players don't want to stop playing after getting rid of Karzoug. I'm imagining it would work something like the city of the monks in The Shadow. :)


I game with computer programers, teachers, etc. Educated folks with advanced degrees and such. No one ever bothers to call shenanigans on anything in a fantasy world. You just have to try not to bring too much modern baggage to the table.

I'll never understand why someone would complain about 10,000 year old pieces of wood but not worry about the bodiless flying batwinged head down the hall that can shriek without lungs. Most things that use wings to fly in D&D would never get off the ground in the real world, so you could argue that magic holds them up. But if you grapple their wings they drop, so the wings aren't just decoration. I guess the magic is in the wings.

If you can create undead, shoot lightning from your fingers (in a perfectly straight line regardless of the conductivity of the environjment) and all of the other stuff that routinely happens in fantasy, why would you assume that wood rots at all? Just assume that Physics would be very different in a world with magic. Wood and metal objects take a variable amount of time to rot. Sometime a long time, sometimes super short. Based on the needs of the plot.

Some people would resist this idea because the couln't use real world knowledge to estimate the age of things, but there would always be an in-game way to figure it out.

Anyway, /Rant

Some of the ideas posted here to explain these issues away are great. But in a fantasy setting, the possibilities are endless, so you could come up with explanations all day long if you had to.


Michael F wrote:
Some of the ideas posted here to explain these issues away are great. But in a fantasy setting, the possibilities are endless, so you could come up with explanations all day long if you had to.

And coming up with good ideas for those explanations is EXACTLY what we're after here, because some of us do have to. Granted, real-life physics works poorly in-game, but there's a point at which all suspension of disbelief goes right out the window. If I stuck to your explanation, my players would all insist that their characters could fly, wield 37,000-foot-long swords, and automatically hit on all attacks because physics didn't apply to them, and everyone would stop playing in a heartbeat. Your players obviously don't care if nothing makes sense, but mine require a bit of internal consistency.

Dark Archive

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Thompson's Magical Waterseal. Guaranteed to last at least 100,000 years or your soul back.


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10,000 years is a very long time, archaeologically and culturally speaking. Such timeframes are best suited for the early civilizations of dwarves and elves (even with their long lives and strong historical traditions, that's approximately 100-200 of their generations in the past). For human civilizations, 5000 years is a better time-frame (approximately 250-300 generations, with much weaker historical traditions).

As far as presenting the feel of antiquity, the suggestions on 1) eliminating non-durable materials unless preserved (either by environmental conditions or magic) and 2) changing some of the materials to strange and possibly other-planar substances (given the Runelords' abilities and tastes) would work well. Instead of normal (or even meteoric) iron for surviving weapons and armor, maybe Thassilon used bronze strengthened by the sacrificed souls of criminals and slaves; or perhaps obsidian infused with shadow-substance (such "Shadow-wrought" items would be non-metalic, immune to magnetism and rust). Instead of wood, surviving items could be made of an otherworldly substance similar to bone or ivory.

Even in the real world, electroplating has been used for thousands of years (on a small scale with simple acid batteries). It's not a huge stretch for an empire built on magic to come up with other "lost arts."

When dealing with cultural differences (art, clothing, decoration, jewelry, etc.), you could simply draw on real-world sources. You might be able to use the details of ancient Babylonian and Sumerian societies with only a few changes. Or you could draw on ancient China or Vedic India. Or maybe Crete and Phoenicia.


Kirth Gersen wrote:
If I stuck to your explanation, my players would all insist that their characters could fly, wield 37,000-foot-long swords, and automatically hit on all attacks because physics didn't apply to them, and everyone would stop playing in a heartbeat. Your players obviously don't care if nothing makes sense, but mine require a bit of internal consistency.

There's a difference between "Crunch" and "Fluff", as the kids say these days. The Crunch is the rules, but you need to be more Flexible with Fluff.

You can't wield a 37,000 foot long sword because it's explicitly covered in the rules. A sword that big would be beyond colossal and not possible for a medium creature. But you can take the monkey-fist feat (or whatever) and wield slightly bigger weapons than average.

Most of my players have a very good understanding of 3.5 Crunch so we almost never have problems with the rules.

10,000 year old ruins with surviving bits of wood falls under Fluff in my book. The consistency bar is set much lower. You just have to keep an open mind about the stuff that doesn't directly impact the plot.

Keeping track of all the Crunch is headache enough. If you think too hard about the Fluff, your head will explode!

As the DM, it should be easy for you to tell when the players are getting confused by mis-interpreting some background fluff. Perhaps it was poorly thought out or short on details. When the players start worrying about an apparent incosistancy, it's a pretty quick fix to inform them "You have heard that ancient magical construction methods apparently allowed stone, woods and metals to survive for eons".


Michael F wrote:
There's a difference between "Crunch" and "Fluff", as the kids say these days. The Crunch is the rules, but you need to be more Flexible with Fluff. You can't wield a 37,000 foot long sword because it's explicitly covered in the rules. A sword that big would be beyond colossal and not possible for a medium creature. But you can take the monkey-fist feat (or whatever) and wield slightly bigger weapons than average.

That might work with your group; not mine. My players decry monkey-grip and the like as "stupid" and "cartoonish" and unanimously requested that it not be used in our games. I'm held to a slightly higher standard of crunch AND fluff both, which is fine by me; it forces me to be a bit more creative than would otherwise be the case.

I refuse to say, "Because I'm the DM and I say so!" And if I use "it's magic!", I'd get an immediate inquiry as to why detect magic doesn't work on all the old stuff... and then the following conversation would likely ensue:

Me: They used magical construction methods, not magical items.
Players: Can that be done? I want to research it, so that I can make a magic staff that doesn't detect when someone uses detect magic. Maybe I could design spells that don't detect, either...
Me: No, it's just the materials. They're not magic items or spells; they just last a long time.
Player: Wait; they last so long because of magic, right? So, either they ARE magic items, or they have spells on them. Either way, detect magic should work unless someone cast magic aura on them.
Me: That makes sense... OK, they detect as magical.
{Later, in combat in ruins} Player: I cast dispel magic on the ceiling, so the preservation spell will fail and it will cave in on them!
Me: No, the CL is too high.
Player: Can't be; it detected as Faint Transmutation when we checked.
Me: OK, well, then, the preservation spell will break, but that just lets the thing go back to aging normally...

You see where this is going? Yes, I can make that declaration, but then I need to back it up and make it consistent in-game, cruch-wise as well as fluff-wise. I could tell off the players, but honestly, we all enjoy the game a lot more when that kind of thinking goes on. I mean, why not dispel the ceiling, if that's consistent with the ceiling still being there after 10,000 years?

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Kirth Gersen wrote:


Me: They used magical construction methods, not magical items.
Players: Can that be done? I want to research it, so that I can make a magic staff that doesn't detect when someone uses detect magic. Maybe I could design spells that don't detect, either...
Me: No, it's just the materials. They're not magic items or spells; they just last a long time.
Player: Wait; they last so long because of magic, right? So, either they ARE magic items, or they have spells on them. Either way, detect magic should work unless someone cast magic aura on them.
Me: That makes sense... OK, they detect as magical.
{Later, in combat in ruins} Player: I cast dispel magic on the ceiling, so the preservation spell will fail and it will cave in on them!
Me: No, the CL is too high.
Player: Can't be; it detected as Faint Transmutation when we checked.
Me: OK, well, then, the preservation spell will break, but that just lets the thing go back to aging normally...

You see where this is going? Yes,...

I would handle the conversation a little differently.

Me: They used magical construction methods, not magical items.
Players: Can that be done? I want to research it, so that I can make a magic staff that doesn't detect when someone uses detect magic. Maybe I could design spells that don't detect, either...
Me: You can certainly try and research the method - but these guys had an awful lot of time to do the exact same thing, and this is the best they ever came up with. Still like to retire your character to make ageproof chairs?


Okay, first of all, I ask everyone to look back at Greg V's post. He postulated that the Thassilions were actually more technologically advanced than modern Varisians, not less. In other words, if a Thassilonian were alive in modern Varisia he would think the world had taken a step backwards in development not forwards. Just look at all the Thassilonian ruins. Thassilonian wizards and sorcerers were more powerful than they are today and Thassilonian scholars knew more about the world. Not only did they invent the wheel they moved passed the wheel to floating magical platforms. It strikes me as perplexing that people want to make the Thassilonians seem more primitive when they were clearly superior.

While there is a 10,000 year gap between modern Varisia and Thassilon, people seem to forget the 9,999 years that have gone on in between. In that time dozens (if not hundreds) of cultures and people have come and gone. Perhaps that wooden bridge isn't Thassilonian after all, but was built by people from a different time period. 10,000 years is also a better time period than 5,000 and certainly better than 1,000, otherwise the dwarves, gnomes and elves recollections of Thassilon might ruin the plot of the modules (Hey, I remember my elven grandmother telling me about Karzoug).

The other thing you can do with ancient ruins is to make the D&D game work for you. When someone asks you why the wooden platform hasn't decayed you say "it's made from darkwood. Darkwood doesn't decay like normal wood, instead it dries out and petrifies". The same goes with why the statues haven't fallen over. Ancient powerful Thassilonian magic prevents large-scale seismic activity. You could also go with the geologically stable world, which makes sense in a world with such a large number of cave systems and ancient dungeons.


Before someone argues against my darkwood quote, here's a few pre-prepared responses.

Q: If darkwood doesn't rot why does the wood rot spell work on it?
A: That's magical decay, not natural decay.

Q: Why can't I get petrified darkwood weapon or armor?
A: If you can pry that petrified darkwood club and shield out of that 20th-level Thassilonian mummy's hands go right ahead. Of course, my other response would be "fine, just pay triple the usual cost and you get a petrified darkwood breastplate that has hardness 8 instead of 5."

Grand Lodge

to make it all seem more ancient... good one! I like this thread

It is suggested by scientists that civilization began after the Ice Age ended, some 10,000 years ago. Ancient Egyptian and Chinese cultures go back some 5,000+ years and are among the oldest civilizations known. That leaves some 5,000 years of our history unknown.

Now, Golarion is a new setting, without the complex histories of some settings. As the world develops I expect a time line to develop that helps with this very problem. That is the problem with entering the game world at its beginning I suppose.

So, until then a few simple fixes could be having modern civilizations reusing old building materials in new construction. That happened in our own world all the time, and I expect still does. A local pub could be partially made of stones with ancient inscriptions, and not all are Thessalonian.

Metal objects could be made of something other than iron, copper and bronze. Thessalonian weapons were made of mithril or adamantite or star metal or whatever. Wooden objects could have been made of Dark Wood, or the extinct Celestial Oak, or the rare SIlver Pine.

Also, when the PCs come to town and say "Hey the ancient Rune Lord is about to reawaken!" You can have the local population reply with "The who Lord of what? Dude, what ya been smoking?" In other words, Modern Golarion has no clue about a civilization 10,000 years old.

Or just play it off as Atlantis to modern earth. "Thasalon! Oh by the gods, you're one of those conspiracy nuts, aren't you. Next thing you'll be telling me the Gnomes have built secret flying machines and elves come from another world after crash landing their secret gnomish flying machines at the Rosewell. Oh and let's not forget the infamous Mages in Black!"


TerraNova wrote:
Still like to retire your character to make ageproof chairs?

Exaclty. It sounds to me like Kirth Gersen's players spend more time trying to "break the game" to get an advantage than actually trying to solve the plot. I know that judgement is a bit harsh, but it seems a bit inconsistant that they would avoid broken feats like monkey fist and then try to use dispel magic to collapse an ancient ceiling.

When the folks at paizo thought up an ancient civilization that used magic to make monuments to last longer than normal, I doubt they envisioned that it would cause someone to re-purpose dispel magic as a blugeoning weapon and all-around wrecking ball. If that's the first thing that you think of when you hear the description, I think you're missing the spirit of the campaign.

You could solve the problem easily enough by saying:

"They apparently used strong magic in ancient times to strengthen the buildings. The magic has faded with age and things are now starting to wear out. There's not enough magic left to study in order to easily figure out how they did it, and there's not enough magic left that dispelling it is going to accelerate the collapse."

We only recently started and my players haven't actually entered the catacombs yet. But the more I read over the descriptions to get ready for next weekend, the less of a problem I see. There are a few things that have survived a bit long, yes. But many of the items in the area are described as decrepit. Broken shards of pottery, torture implements that are rusted to the point of being unrecognizable. The lids on the pits collapse easily.


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Phil. L wrote:
10,000 years is also a better time period than 5,000 and certainly better than 1,000, otherwise the dwarves, gnomes and elves recollections of Thassilon might ruin the plot of the modules (Hey, I remember my elven grandmother telling me about Karzoug).

I picked 5000 years as a good timeframe because that's about how long ago civilizations arose in the real world (~3000 B.C.). 5000 years is still 50 generations to the elves (on par with 800 years for a human). They may have some information, but much of it was probably lost during the upheaval when Thassilon collapsed (think of how much knowledge about Rome would have been lost if the Mongols had conquered Europe).

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Phil. L wrote:
Ancient powerful Thassilonian magic prevents large-scale seismic activity. You could also go with the geologically stable world, which makes sense in a world with such a large number of cave systems and ancient dungeons.

Good idea!

I'd postulate that the innumerable monoliths dotting the Varisian landscape control Varisia's natural seismic activity.

This could be one reason the asteroid strike that created the First Darkness didn't overturn the entire landscape.

Bakrakhan fell beneath the waves because Karzoug had, for a long time, been systematically weakening the monoliths erected by Alaznist. Perhaps he planned a cataclysmic attack of some sort, but got preempted by the Starfall. This could explain the remnants of the giant statue in Burnt Offerings, right on the line between Karzoug's realm and Alaznist's Bakrakhan.

-Derek


Michael F wrote:
It sounds to me like Kirth Gersen's players spend more time trying to "break the game" to get an advantage than actually trying to solve the plot. I know that judgement is a bit harsh, but it seems a bit inconsistant that they would avoid broken feats like monkey fist and then try to use dispel magic to collapse an ancient ceiling.

Not inconsistent at all, once you get to know them. Collapsing a ceiling by exploiting a weakness--a weakness that they carefully deduced themselves--would fall under what we all consider "cool." Somehow being able to wield Manga-sized swords just because you take the feat is "lame." Maybe my sample convo was off, but in effect they don't try to break the game at all-- just make it more immersive. So I'm not really so much trying to solve a problem on their end; I'm trying to beef up the level of internally-consistent detail and preparation on mine.

Michael F wrote:
When the folks at paizo thought up an ancient civilization that used magic to make monuments to last longer than normal, I doubt they envisioned that it would cause someone to re-purpose dispel magic as a blugeoning weapon and all-around wrecking ball.

The people I like to play with definitely think outside the box. They don't so much care if an idea gives them an advantage or a disadvantage, as long as it fits the campaign details and seems "cool."

--------------------------

Phil L's darkwood suggestion was a really excellent one, which I'll doubtless use--as was Derek Lane's suggestion about the monuments being the key to an epic spell forcing a state of geological stability. Thanks! These are ideas we can sink our teeth into and work with--they add a rich level detail to the campaign world without being at all inherently silly.


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I think the thing that people with other play styles don't catch is that this sort of intense player attention to detail isn't necessarily one-upmanship or an effort to break the game. For some groups it's an essential part of the fun, because if you aren't paying attention you miss all the really neat stuff.

I have a player who *really* loves to figure things out. He made a point of learning about stone giant society in #4, and used it to craft an unusual and very stylish plan for taking out the BBG's forces. If I'd said, "Dude, never mind about stone giant marriage customs, just get on with the plot" the game would have been a whole lot less fun for both of us.

I really love the fact that when he heard about Conna's remarriage (side event in our game) he immediately saw what that must imply, and started taking it into account in his further plans.

But if the players are there to figure things out, the world has to be detailed exceptionally well or it falls apart. 10K Thassilon has been tough for me; in retrospect I wish I'd done 3K. Languages are a big deal for us--I remember the thrill that went down my spine at the PCs' reaction to hearing letter-perfect court Thassilonian spoken for the first time--and it's hard to imagine how the PCs can still communicate with certain groups at all. (They have been cut off for 10K years and don't speak Common; they've had 10K years to change their language, so their Thassilonian should be well-nigh unintelligable.)

Mary


Thanks, Mary! Your group sounds a lot like mine. We love it!
If you all are anywhere near Houston, TX, we need to have a tag-team Golarion session one day...


Mary Yamato wrote:
I have a player who *really* loves to figure things out.

I think the key might be that you only have one player. He has a lot more time to analyze things and come up with complicated plans.

I have a six player group that meets monthly.

The large group dynamics seem to limit really over-the-top ideas, because there will always a few folks that want to stick with the conventional approach due to risk aversion. And in published adventures, the conventional approach usually isn't that hard to find. And with six characters (somewhat min/max), the party has a lot of resources to throw at the "direct approach". Otherwise known as the "classic two-pronged assault with only one prong."

Since we only meet once a month, most questions about inconsistancies in the plot or background get anwered via email. I'm rarely put in the spot of having to answer a question "out of left field" during the game. Our infrequent games probably cause everyone to focus on getting through as many "plot points" as possible during the face-to-face session. I try to use a lot of in-game visual aids and between-game text documents to make sure that everyone is up to speed on the plot so far and the campaign background.

One (or more) of the six players will have a conflict practically every other game, so we're often having to summarize everthing for that person between games. As the DM, I can learn a lot about what the players are thinking as they discuss the plot amongst themselves via email. It lets me make sure things aren't passing them by. Overall, I don't think our group misses that many details, but they probably don't question things around the edges if they feel that forward progress is being made and that the current plan will succeed.

Grand Lodge

Kirth Gersen wrote:
Michael F wrote:
There's a difference between "Crunch" and "Fluff", as the kids say these days. The Crunch is the rules, but you need to be more Flexible with Fluff. You can't wield a 37,000 foot long sword because it's explicitly covered in the rules. A sword that big would be beyond colossal and not possible for a medium creature. But you can take the monkey-fist feat (or whatever) and wield slightly bigger weapons than average.

That might work with your group; not mine. My players decry monkey-grip and the like as "stupid" and "cartoonish" and unanimously requested that it not be used in our games. I'm held to a slightly higher standard of crunch AND fluff both, which is fine by me; it forces me to be a bit more creative than would otherwise be the case.

I refuse to say, "Because I'm the DM and I say so!" And if I use "it's magic!", I'd get an immediate inquiry as to why detect magic doesn't work on all the old stuff... and then the following conversation would likely ensue:

Me: They used magical construction methods, not magical items.
Players: Can that be done? I want to research it, so that I can make a magic staff that doesn't detect when someone uses detect magic. Maybe I could design spells that don't detect, either...
Me: No, it's just the materials. They're not magic items or spells; they just last a long time.
Player: Wait; they last so long because of magic, right? So, either they ARE magic items, or they have spells on them. Either way, detect magic should work unless someone cast magic aura on them.
Me: That makes sense... OK, they detect as magical.
{Later, in combat in ruins} Player: I cast dispel magic on the ceiling, so the preservation spell will fail and it will cave in on them!
Me: No, the CL is too high.
Player: Can't be; it detected as Faint Transmutation when we checked.
Me: OK, well, then, the preservation spell will break, but that just lets the thing go back to aging normally...

You see where this is going? Yes,...

I would certainly allow them to do all the research they want. Far be it from me to not allow them to research ancient magical knowledge that has been lost to the ages.

I think my reply would be something along the lines of "That is a great idea, you dedicate yourself to researching the lost ancient methods of magic and item construction. Please retire that character as he will spend the remainder of his life researching. Now, make a new character, minus one level, similar to dying and coming back."

And then to counter the ceiling caving in thing... that is really easy. " Ok, your dispel actually works. It will likely take about a century or so for the natural course of decay and deterioration to cause the ceiling to collapse. Mark that spell of your list for the day and what else do you do?"

These are easy to counter. A little common sense and not letting them be munchkins will do the trick.

Grand Lodge

Derek Lane wrote:
Phil. L wrote:
Ancient powerful Thassilonian magic prevents large-scale seismic activity. You could also go with the geologically stable world, which makes sense in a world with such a large number of cave systems and ancient dungeons.

Good idea!

I'd postulate that the innumerable monoliths dotting the Varisian landscape control Varisia's natural seismic activity.

This could be one reason the asteroid strike that created the First Darkness didn't overturn the entire landscape.

Bakrakhan fell beneath the waves because Karzoug had, for a long time, been systematically weakening the monoliths erected by Alaznist. Perhaps he planned a cataclysmic attack of some sort, but got preempted by the Starfall. This could explain the remnants of the giant statue in Burnt Offerings, right on the line between Karzoug's realm and Alaznist's Bakrakhan.

-Derek

DUUUUUDE!!!!! that is such a GREAT idea!

really that should be made official stuff there!

The Exchange

Krome wrote:

DUUUUUDE!!!!! that is such a GREAT idea!

really that should be made official stuff there!

Heh heh! I aim to please, Krome! Glad you liked it. Now, if the Paizo guys would just give it the official stamp of approval... ;-)


Krome wrote:
These are easy to counter. A little common sense and not letting them be munchkins will do the trick.
Kirth Gersen wrote:
I could tell off the players, but honestly, we all enjoy the game a lot more when that kind of thinking goes on.
Mary Yamato wrote:
I think the thing that people with other play styles don't catch is that this sort of intense player attention to detail isn't necessarily one-upmanship or an effort to break the game. For some groups it's an essential part of the fun, because if you aren't paying attention you miss all the really neat stuff.


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Michael F wrote:


I think the key might be that you only have one player. He has a lot more time to analyze things and come up with complicated plans.

I have a six player group that meets monthly.

That's certainly a different situation, and makes much stronger demands on the GM to control the pacing.

I have had a six-player group that played in the investigative style, but we were all in college at the time--we played 6-7 hours a week and hung out with each other in between to discuss the game. Alas, I can't do that anymore. (The one-player game is the result of having to choose between playing 2x week with 1 player or 1x month with 5 players....)

Everything has to be fine-tuned to the group you have; one group's solutions won't necessarily work for another.

Mary


So my group made it into the catacombs. I described the ancient-ness and everything, but at first they didn't have a lot of time to question it as there were sinspawn trying to eat them.

When I brought it up during a snack break, one of the players agreed that the 10,000 year old wood was a bit silly, but he wasn't going to mention it becuase he knew there were an infinite number of possible stock answers to explain it. He said it wasn't incongruous enough to break immersion for him, but that when he's the DM he tries to edit stuff like that out.

He then pointed out that with all the preservative magic, the stone in the walls and the wood of the platforms should be worth some money. So the PCs should just give up on defeating the monsters and just start tearing up the environment and selling it off piece by piece.

I had to shoot him down and say that the preservative magic was fading and would be disrupted if they stated taking things apart. I'm sooo mean! ;^)

I think their biggest disapointment came from the fact that there were tons of doors in the catacombs, but none of them were locked. I guess the locks don't last as long as everything else? So the Champion of Freedom with ranks of Open Lock didn't get a chance to use his skill. This was a problem because every time he uses the skill, all the players like to shout "FREEDOM!" Good Times! So I had to throw in a few locked doors. Naturally the guy rolls a 2.


Heh, I had this same realization today. We were playing and came Skull Crossing and I was amazed the flood gates still worked. 'Corse I am used to these questions of time and scale. I am building my own world/setting...and its age makes the Thessalonians look young. However, that world has some serious differences in how time passes and stuff.
As for the preservation thing, I might explain it as magic was used to transmute common elements, (stone, wood, leather, fish), to be more resilient to erosion, then dissipate with in a few days or months leaving a non-magical material that is its self resistant. Think of it as magicly accelerated petrification. You can't detect it because it isn't magical any more, and you can't research it, because it doesn't have anything to research. Seeing as how the microscope hasn't been invented yet.

OH! I like the idea of the Thessalonians being like Atlantis. (YAY! SGA!) That in the whole downfall thing a lot of the knowledge was lost. This remind you of the Romans and the dark age? Maybe the Thessalonians didn't all die off, maybe they left in space ships? Seriously, that would be cool. Weird, but cool. Okay, maybe they just made a pocket plane and are living there happily. That was something my group seriously thought of when the age of worms was about to occur.


Keep in mind that Thassilonian culture and technology was directly inherited from Old Azlant, so use what additional sources you've got there to augment your players' (and your own) understanding of the them. I can tell you from my work on From Shore to Sea that a lot of new elements of these cultures were introduced: buildings and structures that were magically grown from a coral-like substance, favoring of glyph and rune magic, lots of themes of orbiting and levitating devices (it emphasizes a high-minded laziness; I always figured these noble people would work as little physically as possible), clearly defined yet unusual architecture, and unusual technology with consistent themes that hint at the culture's mindset.

The companion book to FStS, Sunken Empires took those ideas one step further. Sure, we "genericized" them, but the intention was to show what was left of an ancient Azlant-like/Atlantean culture, and there are chapters on incredibly advanced lost "arcano-technology" like firearms, arclights, and charged hoplite armor all powered by mystical vril batteries. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. If you've got a player really into figuring things out, let them discover a coral-encrusted weird glyph-covered cylinder with all the wood bits rotted off, and let them go crazy figuring it out how it works...until they find an intact battery, plug it in and blow a hole in the wall.

And that's just Pathfinder stuff you can get right now. Some of my source material when working on these cultures was James Churchward's The Lost Continent of Mu, Donnelly's Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, and the incredibly awesome, written-by-a-17-year-old-medium-channeling-an-ancient-Atlantean A Dweller on Two Planets by Phylos. Crazy stuff that does a great job setting the stage for lost cultures that are both ancient and incredibly advanced, albeit along tangent historical lines that are perfect for fantasy roleplaying. Pick up a cheap used copy and pick through it.

Just some suggested reading!


"I had Crystals!"

Seriously, notice how whenever anyone talks about Atlantis or other ancient advanced civilizations crystals always seem to play a major role?

Remember how no one in modern Golarion knows how to make ioun stones? All the ioun stones used today are plundered from ancient runes. It could be that those stones are what keeps the Thassilon buildings from decaying and when they're removed everything starts to fall apart.

Another way to emphasize the differences between and ancient civilization and a modern one would be through writing. Not just in the language, but in the materials used.

Today we think of books, or scrolls. But suppose Thassilon didn't have paper either? What if the library in Rise of the Runelords was filled with clay tablets, or etched gold sheets? Suppose the Runelords didn't have spellbooks, but instead went to a room in their towers every morning where their spells had been carved into the walls (side note, a NPC I once created was a wizard transformed into a dinocroc-like monster that lived in a lake. In his moments of lucidity he'd recreated his spellbooks by painstakingly carving his spells into a grotto's stone walls.)

What if your players found a ancient wizard dressing in knotted robes and discovered that the knots were a form of writing (like the Inca's Quipu) and were his traveling spellbook?

Also, though it might be a bit off topic, check out this article about historical things we picture incorrectly.


Firest wrote:
But suppose Thassilon didn't have paper either? What if the library in Rise of the Runelords was filled with clay tablets, or etched gold sheets?

Great minds, Firest! You should have been a patron! The books contained the Archives in Shore to Seaare in fact etched sheets of precious metals that levitate near the reader like ioun stones. A lot of Azlanti stuff orbits and floats -inspired, of course, from their obsession with those enigmatic little devices.


I shifted the fall of Thassilon-equivalent to about 5000 years ago for my RotRL run, to explain how certain monuments could have survived to the present day. (And still, only environmentally sealed dungeons and most monumental pieces of architecture were present in a regognizable form.)
I used the unfamiliarity of language, the art style that was way too realistic, detailed and full of disturbing details to be produced by any of the preceding civilizations known to PCs that occupied the same place, and other minor details, such as septagon money pieces to underscore that PCs are dealing with something unusual.


FatR wrote:

I shifted the fall of Thassilon-equivalent to about 5000 years ago for my RotRL run, to explain how certain monuments could have survived to the present day. (And still, only environmentally sealed dungeons and most monumental pieces of architecture were present in a regognizable form.)

I used the unfamiliarity of language, the art style that was way too realistic, detailed and full of disturbing details to be produced by any of the preceding civilizations known to PCs that occupied the same place, and other minor details, such as septagon money pieces to underscore that PCs are dealing with something unusual.

Money is another interesting way to hammer home the differences of an ancient culture.

There's nothing to say that Thassilon valued gold and silver like modern cultures. As decorative metals certainly, but there's no reason they automatically had to be used for currency. Imagine breaking into a treasure vault and discovering tons of copper coins, or worse, coins that only looked like gold and silver.

Modern pennies, nickels, and gold dollars have very little copper, nickel, or gold in them because their respective metals cost so much more than a coin is worth. The Runelords might have run into the same situation and come up with a similar solution.

Thassilon could have used paper money, or since I suggested Thassilon didn't have paper earlier, wooden slats branded with the seal of the issuing Runelord.

And what about Rai stones? There could be a great central bank of Thassilon buried out there somewhere with row upon row of great disks carved out of different stones and metals. From ones made of granite and quartz, to massive disks of gold weighing thousands of tons. When the Runelords or high Nobles of the empire wanted to transact business they would contact the bank magically and ownership of the disks would be transfered without the disks moving anywhere.

Scarab Sages

Michael F wrote:
He then pointed out that with all the preservative magic, the stone in the walls and the wood of the platforms should be worth some money. So the PCs should just give up on defeating the monsters and just start tearing up the environment and selling it off piece by piece.

Same sort of thing happened in my game, only with money. The party found the ancient Thassilonian coins in the Catacombs, and have been discreetly peddling them around as ancient relics. Since they had to hunt around to find a buyer, and they are 10,000 year old artifacts, they fetched quite a good price. They refused to provide any additional information for gold, like where they found them, etc. though. I let them make a fair bit of money off of the first batch of coins they sold, but when they went back to the well with dollar signs in their eyes, they caught the interest of an agent of the Aspis League. Then they had to compete against an opposing group who were after Thassilonian relics for the cash, not the valuable information they might have (at least that's what concerns the wizard in my group, ancient magic!). Since then, they have kept all their discovered locations (and the expensive relics in them) quietly to themselves.

I also ran into a problem with the language. I have a wizard in my party that specialized in ancient Thassilonian history and language, and maxed out his ranks in it. I want to expose him to information and glimpses into Thassilonian life, without making the translations too effortless. Rather than rule that comprehend languages did not work on Thassilonian, I sort of "made stuff up" and created several "tones" which drastically change the meaning of words/symbols. I made martial, bardic (storytelling, myths), divine, monastic, and of course arcane tones, so that even though he "knows the language", he still has to spend time translating the information based on whatever tone or perspective it is written from. Not being a language guy, I am sure there are better solutions, but so far he is buying it immersion-wise.

As far as making them seem a very different culture, I am borrowing heavily from Sunken Empires and their rune magic, as well as homebrew stuff I made for Netheril and never got to use. I plan to use crystals for a lot of things(a la the ancient technology from Stargate), including the Jorgenfist library (look at the stones man!). I have had a couple of small artifacts discovered that don't really do anything noticeable, but radiate an unknown schools of magic (sin, and rune). These two changes will hopefully convince my players that they should tread lightly with Thassilonian places and items, since they are dealing with ancient, advanced magic they aren't familiar with, which creates the "anything can happen" tension that I am hoping for.

Keep the stories coming with more details, I need help for the future, since the wizard has decided that he is going to become the next Runelord before the AP is over!

Contributor

One detail you might incorporate is having the artwork depict animals and plants that have since gone extinct. (You could also use intelligent species, but PCs are likely to interpret that as clues about what's to be found in the dungeon and miss the point.)

Much of the actual 10,000-year-old art in the real world is foreign to us in part because it depicts animals that no living eye has ever seen or will ever see. That world is gone.

In Golarion things will of course be different because it's a fantasy setting with a much more tumultuous history, but it may still be worthwhile to drive home the point that the entire world that gave rise to Thassilon is gone. Not just the society: their world. 10,000 years is an enormous chunk of time.

The lines on their maps are different. The trees they used for building materials have gone extinct (this might, incidentally, also double as an explanation for how their construction survived: oh sure they had long-lasting handwavium trees back then, but those have all died out since). The minor vermin that might survive in some corner of a sealed complex have, over thousands of generations, evolved along a narrowly specialized path suited to that micro-environment. The big animals that they used as beasts of burden, hunting companions, and sources of meat-milk-wool-horn-hide are extinct. Leave odd footprints in their stables and unusual bones in their kitchen refuse piles -- things that could be distant ancestors or cousins of the species your PCs know, but obviously not cows or chickens themselves.


Part of what I included and eluded to is that Thassalonian culture used magic that was different than what is used today. It was at the same time more primal and more refined than what is used today. And it was influenced by the foriegn powers of Leng and other places.

Just about everything in a Runelords enclave radiates magic. So, it's actually tougher and more time consuming to find real magic items. And it can be confusing as well. Dispel Magic will work as written on simple cast spells and items, but things like the magically consturcted walls and buildings have multiple magical effects on them, that each must be removed separately. And so on.

One of our players (Diviner Mage) took Thassalonian as a language a tthe start and he's been slowly teaching it to the rest of the party.

Instead of derailing the adventure, it is giving me a chance to add clues, plot, and red herrings to the adventure while also continuing the mystery of Thassalonian culture.

"Wait, giant tower? Is that a tower that is just really big, a tower built for use by giants, or a tower made of giants?"

heh heh heh....

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