Long ago the land was lush and thriving and the people prospered off its bounty. As the world's flow of magic rose great cities and nations grew across the land. Then, as the flow of magic reached its height, the Horrors broke into the world. Dread monstrosities from the depths of astral space that feed on destruction and suffering, the Horrors ravaged the land and destroyed entire cities during centuries of hell on Earth known as the Scourge. The survivors managed to escaped the ravages of the Scourge by hiding in underground kaers and citadels. After 400 years the Scourge suddenly ended earlier than unexpected. With great trepidation people opened their kaers and ventured forth into the blasted land.
The denizens of Barsaive learned the construction of kaers and the wards to protect them from the Horrors from the scholars of the Theran Empire. These secrets were given in exchange for the servitude of the survivors and once the Scourge was over they came to collect. However, the dwarf kingdom of Throal united the peoples of Barsaive against the Therans and drove them out of their lands. But the Therans do not so easily give up what they see as theirs, old alliances fade and the Horrors are not completely gone from the world.
Earthdawn is, first and foremost, a game about Legends. The world is built on the backs of legends, heroes of ages long gone, and the heroes of today build the legends of tomorrow. The setting has a profound sense of history that the characters develop deep connections to as they uncover the legends of the past and eventually become legends in their own right. Characters in Earthdawn simultaneously epitomize and go beyond the traditional archetype of adventurers, striving to become enduring legends.
Magic is an ever-present element in Earthdawn. Unlike in other settings magic in Earthdawn is not solely the province of wizards and sorcerers. Every character in Earthdawn is an Adept, gifted with a deep connection to the natural patterns of magic in the world. More martial adepts like Warriors and Archers focus their magic on bolstering their physical prowess in combat. Some adepts like Thieves and Troubadours use their magic in more subtle ways. More traditional magician adepts like Elementalists and Nethermancers use their magical abilities to draw on the raw power of astral space to cast powerful spells. These different magical Disciplines influence the way an adept sees the world and color the ways he interacts with it. While no two adepts of the same discipline will be exactly they same they tend to share similar outlooks and abilities.
Another deeply ingrained theme in Earthdawn is the power of Names. Naming a thing gives it a pattern that connects it the world and those around it. The sentient races of Earthdawn are known as Namegivers. Though it may seem a simple thing, in Earthdawn the ability to give something a name is a great gift and responsibility.