For those of you who have no clue what's going on in this place (this includes me, but don't tell anyone). Stuff about the setting. Largely copy-pasted from chat logs with slight alterations, so if it's a tad messy, you know why.
Tech level and such can be found in the second post.
It resembles the Warring States period in Japan, or the Eberron Last War for a fictitious example. Point is, it's been going on between multiple city-states and so on (big kingdoms have, for the most part, yet to become much of a thing) for a very long time now.
Each PC is a shaman, used to support a community with their magic, and act as a superweapon of sorts in the war. Basically, every nation worships the local nature spirits and minor deities (more or less interchangeable).
A shaman, on the other hand, can actually make use of this, by making a contract with a spirit. Only up to one at a time. The spirit MAY give them some appropriate magic. Usually does, but not much. On their own, spirits just use some helpful but slow magic. This makes many communities in otherwise impossible locations pretty doable.
The shaman also has an "avatar form", where they temporarily act as a host to the spirit, giving the two joint control (sort of, I'll elaborate later) over the resulting form, which is the spirit's body. This can be a lava giant, a thundercloud, a roc, a huge spider made of ivy, a human-sized figure made of light, a swarm of locusts, whatever, depending on the spirit. Generally, the shaman controls this body. The spirit CAN, unless it's weak or the shaman is very powerful, take over at any moment. They just don't because, you know, no point. They're working together.
There is, however, a catch anyway. Human bodies are not meant to house gods. Keep the avatar form up for more than a couple minutes and you'll get incredible fatigue/possible illness, or just outright pass out as well if you keep it up for longer. In fact, it's technically possible to die from this. The spirit will almost certainly leave by themselves before this happens, though. Obvious thing to do. So in practice it never happens.
A shaman still has a fairly shortened lifespan, though. This is why there aren't many, combined with the need for strong mental/physical fortitude, and the ability to bargain effectively with spirits. There's no actual rare ability required. Just not many volunteers and even fewer acceptable ones.
Prolonged transformations can have mental effects. Say you turn into a spider for twenty minutes. Physically, you then go back to being human. Mentally? Mostly, but not entirely. Not for a while, at least.
On the typical belief system: It's pretty much spirit worship wherever you go, at least for anywhere remotely nearby. Actual customs and rituals will vary by the ones in that particular village. Though in practice, it's part worship, part business - the whole shaman thing kind of represents that. You give a fair bit to the spirits, yes, but you definitely expect their help in return.
And spirits change hands with the places they're tied to, which adds a new significance to land grabs/taking over a given town. Assuming the previous shaman is dead or releases them, that is.
Typically, they won't have as much of a say in the new community till they've been there for a while, but they're still quite well-respected. The general consensus is that almost no spirits are bad, as such. Some just end up in the wrong hands, and it's not really something anyone should fault them for. For the average, non-shaman person? Fairly simple. Just take advantage of the benefits, make the odd offering, and that's about it.
Shaman vs. Priest (vs. Capcom): A shaman is a priest. A priest is not necessarily a shaman.
Think of the role as... hm. The difference between, in D&D, a priest (important member of a faith) and a cleric (miracles and blunt trauma everywhere).
Basically, a priest is important, knows all the rites and such, and would probably be quite good at talking to spirits, knowing all the rules, that sort of thing, and will probably be teaching a new shaman about these things. A shaman is chosen based less on knowledge and more on the mental/physical fortitude the job requires. They're the ones that actually fight regularly, use what little magic they're given to help their community, and so forth. In a way, it's a sort of scholar/practical miracle worker division.
The average shaman will be slightly less well-versed in all the proper rules and intricate rituals, but will obviously have a very good idea of all the stuff that's immediately relevant to them. Also, rites being attended by a shaman will be somewhat rare, because they add nothing over the inclusion of a priest and, all else aside, have more immediately practical things to be doing.
Shamans do, however, have one advantage: If you want to know something about spirits, you can frequently just ask the one that's with you and get an immediate answer.
First of all, the pre-medieval thing has been dropped. Quality of life is, roughly, medieval-quality or a good bit better. While nations are rare (and often short-lived), walled-in city-states of varying sizes are common. Technologically, the world is actually behind medieval times in many ways and unlikely to advance any further. After all, why bother? Instead, the world is built entirely on the back of spirit-based aid. Some things, like irrigation and medicine, can be handled manually, but spirits are far more effective for this, so regular offerings to them are seen as a better solution. Other things, including entire settlements (say, one in a desert) are nearly or outright impossible without help, but quite feasible when spirits are involved. Sometimes it's a matter of possibility, while at other times it's one of feasibility and convenience.
Before you ask, yes, forts and castles exist. The starting location will not be one.
There are small tribal camps here and there that only use science, though. That's to say that they have a better grasp of these things than almost anyone else, but it's as a result of a complete refusal, for whatever reason, to use spirits and their magic. The result is that they're quite good at what they do, but they still can't even begin to compare to the effect spirits have, and have to deal with a considerably lower life expectancy/quality of life, not to mention the fact that their communities are considerably smaller. It's not particularly rare for a camp to just get swept up and lost in whatever war happens to be going on there at the time.
Rulership is heavily priest and spirit-based. That is, for the most part, a community/city-state's rulership is either a hereditary position, or a council of some sort (which may have a good few priests in it). Particularly progressive locations might even bother asking the populace's opinion on some things, but it's rare. However, if a priest or shaman has something to say to the ruler, it will be taken quite seriously at the very least. And, of course, if a spirit offers their opinion or makes a request/demand, no one's ever going to dispute that. Mayors do not, as a general rule, argue with gods.
On spirits: Spirits are, for the most part, a monolithic species. One of them working against another, let alone outright fighting or harming each other, is pretty much unheard of. Sure, it's widely agreed that a spirit housed in an enemy shaman is fair game, but that doesn't really harm the spirit. The point is that spirits almost all work together, or at least stay on good terms with each other. There are technically some spirits that are supposed to go after renegades and any of their kind that do something unacceptable in general, but in practice, this never comes up.
On a semi-related note, no one has actually seen a spirit die/be killed. The latter may not even be possible, much like fighting a spirit directly. It's more or less just a presence, after all, and not necessarily even a visible one unless it wants to be. If it's even possible for a spirit to "die", then it's unclear if it's a conventional sort of death, or if it means something else entirely for a spirit. They certainly aren't telling.
New spirits are typically, created by idea-fission. Essentially, a bloated spirit that takes on too many aspects in its portfolio through various sorts of worship (this actually has nothing to do with power) will eventually split. The new one is mentally and physically completely independent, albeit quite possibly heavily shaped by their aspects, at least early on.
Lastly, contracts with spirits are not, in fact, binding. They're an agreement, but not actually magically enforced in any way, for the spirit or for the shaman.
I think that's it for now.
The original names of the towns that later became the city-state of Morningveil have been forgotten for some time, and its current name is the result of multiple debates between the priesthoods of Eos and the rain spirit Anshar, before finally agreeing on a name which they felt represented both equally (Madrich was, for obvious reasons, left out of this).
By and large, Morningveil is a prosperous farming city, the fields extending quite some distance beyond the buildings, but still within walls - one can never be too careful, after all. A combination of a naturally semi-arid environment, as well as light and rain on demand (or preventing either) ensure that a considerable variety of crops can grow in large amounts with little to no difficulty. As a result, a great deal of the city's income is derived from exports of spices, particularly pepper, and cotton - a crop which, if not for the guaranteed and extremely localized rain, would be quite out of the question here.
The city has three major celebrations each year: The two solstices, and a harvest festival in mid-september, set more as a convenient and broadly appropriate time than one meant to coincide with any particular harvest. While Morningveil will allow visitors in to some degree, including - rarely - from states they are currently at war with, they are still closed off for the most part, as is usually the case for any nation.
Morningveil has a population of roughly 32,000.
Customs: The priesthood of Eos contains a single "dawngreeter", who is meant to stand on the roof of the temple each day to meet the sunrise, then later the sunset, observing each and reciting an appropriate prayer.
In addition, houses must be lit during the night. The richer members of the city are typically expected to help provide some illumination for those who would be unable to afford any of their own. In addition, a large fire is kept burning in a glass box at all times in the centre of the city. Whether a few houses go dark or not is largely irrelevant, but the core of the rule is this: Do not, under any circumstances, allow the city to go dark.
No meat, bones, bodies or anything of the sort are allowed within either of the two temples, since death is seen as tainting the sacred ground.
Anshar's temple must be washed completely on the outside each day (but only after the sun sets - other work takes precedence), using only water brought from walls, reservoirs and the like: Use of water magic to speed up the process is, for obvious reasons, forbidden.
In terms of gifts, besides the obvious answer of food, spices and cotton are well-received at the temple of Eos, as are candles, lamps, and anything else capable of providing light. Anshar, on the other hand, appreciates offerings of fruit, vegetables and drinks - the more water needed to produce it, the better. A watermelon, for instance, would be quite well-received. Partly, it serves to reaffirm his contribution to and mark on the city. Those who cannot afford any offerings are not expected to bring any to either temple, as the spirits have clearly done little to help them. As with any offering, time and effort count for as much as actual value of the gift.
Madrich has little presence in the city: He has one shaman, no priests, and no temple. He is there when needed, and his presence may be requested at a major funeral (purely ceremonial, as the soul in question is long-gone), but by and large, people understandably prefer to avoid him.
Of the two cities currently at war with Morningveil, Willow Glen is by far the smaller and closer of the two. The glen that serves as its namesake is largely gone now, cleared away to make space for farms, housing and extensions of the city walls, but the willows remain, planted here and there as the symbol of the state.
The city itself has, for the past few years, remained in a curious mix of prosperity and sharp decline. Resources near the city are primarily claimed - or more often, simply made too dangerous to reach - by its enemies, and when all is said and done, Willow Glen is not a large city. For some time now, it has simply lacked the manpower needed to put up much resistance, let alone launch any counterattacks, and the same is true of repairs to the city's damaged walls, or indeed keeping it running in any capacity.
The solution, as is so often the case, lies with their sole shaman, and the life spirit he channels; their names are, for the moment, unknown to those outside the city. Large groups of golems and other animated objects fill most of their army's meager ranks, as well as tending to most of the tasks within its walls, to the point that Willow Glen quite literally runs itself to some degree. Such constant and extensive use of magic has taken an unsurprisingly heavy toll on the shaman's health: While young, it seems doubtful that he will survive for more than a few years. Should the people of the city be unable to find a replacement by then, the city will follow suit the moment its lifeline falls.
Cairn Gorm, at a considerably longer distance from Morningveil, is a rather more significant nation, serving as the name of both a collection of modestly sized cities and the mountain they rest on. Cairn Gorm is a notoriously secret and somewhat paranoid nation, shutting out any outsiders, which has led to no end of speculation on the nature of its inhabitants. Some say that the cities are populated only by the living dead, or that its residents feed on nothing but stone, diverting all their resources towards the next conquest.
Naturally, none of this outlandish speculation has any basis in reality. The truth is that an obsessive pursuit of self-sufficiency has, at the cost of lacking a few luxuries other nations might enjoy, left the people of Cairn Gorm with absolutely no need to rely on the rest of the world. Their shaman - or rather, the most prominent of a number of them - is, unlike the elusive cornerstone of Willow Glen's survival, quite well-known.
She goes by a pseudonym of the Stone Hand towards the outside world, out of a belief that placing one's name in the hands of an enemy is too great a risk. She can call on the power of Obelisk, a spirit of stone and earth - another assumed name - and uses this to maintain a simple yet effective defense for the many parts of Cairn Gorm that has, thus far, proven flawless. When any one of the cities is in danger, she is capable of quickly arriving there, moving near-instantly through spots of enchanted earth, and raising a dome of stone around it, sealing the city off completely, save for air holes.
While Cairn Gorm seems unassailable for the moment, attacks from it are, fortunately, infrequent: The traveling distance between the two (a little over two months, for an army) renders regular assaults completely unfeasible.
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