Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Valus - very rough stratchings...

(Note - I really like this book)

What? Another d20 campaign setting? Aren't there enough of those already? While I actually would answer "No" (You can never have too many), Valus is a lot different in feel than any other d20 fantasy setting I've seen. And other than the tone, it's generally not too hard to integrate into any other fantasy setting, as it's mostly set on a 600 mile or so island (though it will take some doing to reconcile the background mythology).

If it's one thing that d20 doesn't have for fantasy, it's gritty, dark settings. How gritty is Valus? Well, the tag line for it is "A World Born Without Love". Okay, that (at least the last 3 ords) might sound like a Lifetime TV movie, but the tone, combined with the extensive mythology (which explains the tone), is a far cry from any other d20 setting I've seen.

Yes, there's Midnight, which is sort of Tolkien if Sauron had won. But that lacks the realistic feel to it (being Tolkien-ish), and the grit in that is somewhat cartoonish. This has "realistic" grimness. Some would say it's presumptous of me, but I would put in Valus in the same group of worlds as Harn and Glorantha.

Essentially, it's a fantasy world, but it has no "good" gods in it. The line "A World Born Without Love" isn't just a tagline, it's literally true in this case. The gods of this world don't feel love. For anyone or anything, including their worshippers. They view them pretty much only as tools or pawns.

The mythology is a bit complicated. Basically, the universe started out with one super-powerful god-godess. Then for some reason, she had children. However, this didn't turn out like she planned, so much like Eric Cartman's mother-father, wanted to perform a post-birth abortion. Unlike Cartman's mother-father, this god-goddess actually ended up killing her children, but in the process, lost her ability for love.

The corpses of her children turned into the world. But the corpses weren't completely dead. The various bits of it somehow turned into lesser gods, called the Drimm, and crawled out from within the body. There were a lot of these. They eventually started fighting amongst each other, and over the course of time, whittled themselves down to about 100 or so. Then the god-goddess intervened, not wanting them to destroy themselves completely, moving some of them to the Moon, while leaving the more peaceful ones (she thought) still on the world.

However, this didn't quite work out either. The ones remaining on the world got bored and belligerent, but couldn't fight each other directly (they promised not to, and were afraid of getting smacked by the god-goddess if they did). So they figured out how to use their magical powers to create monsters to do their fighting for them. (Most of them. All except 12, who were too dumb/idiotic to do so). So, this fighting of created monsters goes on for quite some time - the monsters that were made were horrible, essentially demons and devils and the like.

This doesn't last forever. Once again, the god-goddess gets annoyed at all the fighting (it wakes her up), so she smacks down all those Drimm that created all the monsters. And then sticks all the created monsters in hell and heaven.

Except for the 12 loser Drimm that couldn't figure out how to create monsters. Because they behaved, the god-goddess took mercy on them, and essentially gave them god-like powers, including that of creation. But not trusting them, either, she gave them perfectly balanced powers, and decided to lock them far away in a dimension, and made the Sun as a portal to it. Then she went back to sleep.

The first thing these 12 did, was to create a race of guardians, beings that would watch over the demons and devils that their breathern had created. Because before they were given powers, they were picked on by their breathern. And so developed a fear of their fellows, and the creations - the demons and devils. These guardians were Angels/Archons.

Eventually though, the 12 did start to quarrel among themselves, and start fighting. But because they were so evenly matched, they could never win or lose, and actually gained and lost power/influence, on a regular basis.

In the meantime, life had evolved on the planet below. From the seas, much like on earth. Eventually, humans finally showed up

There's not a general feeling of heavy opression, or impending doom, just a resignation to a fate. The feel reminds of Brian Aldiss's Malachia Tapestry. Or maybe Jack Vance's Dying Earth (the first novel, not the rest, which are silly). Or if you're old enough, the Jimmy Carter presidency, aka the era of Malaise.

Valus sort of reminds me of Ancient Britain (the island). There's a couple of civilized kingdoms, then an area ruled by 3 Celtic like clans (the Clarens, the and the somethings). Two of them don't like either other, and have sided with two of the factions of a former "Empire" (though which likes which isn't clear, the text contradicts itself).

There is a self described "Empire" on the island, the Empire of Carrik, but the name "Empire" is due to vanity, not reality.

Elves are not really like D&D elves. They are somewhat more like those from tolkien. Tall, aloof, haughty, jerks.

I really really like this. I apreciate the complex mythology. But I do think even if you don't want to use it (I probably won't, since I have my own campaign world I use), you pretty much can still use Valus, the island at least, as a setting. It's very well done. A-