Ten Things you need to know about the Polychotomy

Ten Things you need to know about the Polychotomy

The concept of a list like this is of course stolen from the Eberron Campaign Setting – it seemed like a good idea to the DM. The original inspiration for the campaign setting was Planescape-y, but it has shifted with time and further reflection. A significant influence on the way the geo(sic)politics of the setting have developed is The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. No other specific inspirations had anywhere near as much effect – in particular, the basic ideas were firmly lodged in my head before Monte Cook’s Beyond Countless Doorways was released – not that i haven’t lifted the occassional idea from his free webstuff about the book. I’ve also grabbed the occasional thing from Eberron that looked cool, pirated my previous campaign world for a couple of ideas that weren’t explored enough there, and basically grazed on geek culture for anything that seemed nifty.

The first five points are story-internal. The last four or five are story-external.

  1. Shards: There is no single central plane of existence on which most adventures will take place. Rather, at some unremembered time in the past, the world was broken into a huge number of diverse mini-planes, commonly called Shards. Some connections between shards are stable and have lasted for centuries. Others are extremely transient.
  2. Phyles: As a result of the lack of traditional geography, traditional politics based on control of territory no longer function. Intelligent beings have organized themselves into a variety of groups (called “phyles”) for mutual protection and economic gain. Relations between the phyles are constantly changing, sometimes breaking out in alliance, diplomacy or open warfare.
  3. The Nature of Religion: While some religions in the polychotomy are specifically theistic, worshipping one or several (purportedly) divine beings, others are nontheistic, pantheistic, or in at least one case rather vigorously atheistic. Religions by and large concern themselves with questions of orthopraxy – both in ritual and ethics – and leave questions of belief to the philosophers.
  4. The Nature of the Soul: Intelligent, living beings are composed of a number of parts, at least two of which might be called a “soul”. As such, while death is by no means irrevocable and final, reversing it often involves dealing with complications.
  5. Arcane and Divine Magic: The two ways of accessing magical power are quite different from each other in the polychotomy. All practitioners of divine magic find it necessary to regularly spend time focusing, praying, and preparing their spells. Practitioners of arcane magic invariably find this more than a little confusing, as, other than a need for rest and meditation, they can produce their spells wherever and whenever they wish.
  6. Tone: The tone (and very little else) of the campaign is influenced somewhat by cyberpunk, and thus also somewhat by film noir and pulp fiction (which, after all, influenced cyberpunk).
  7. Rewards: In contrast to the standard D&D campaign, where looting the bodies of slain enemies is almost invariably a good idea, in the polychotomy PCs will need to be careful as to whom they loot. While it is safe to regard monsters unaffiliated with the phyles as sources of treasure, despoiling the corpse of a member of a phyle may result in his co-phylists looking for revenge (admittedly, so might killing the members of the wrong phyle). Adventurers gain their rewards at least as often by being hired to perform difficult tasks.
  8. Alignment: The standard D&D system of alignment does not exist in this campaign setting. Two mechanisms – Purity/Taint and Phyle Standing – take parts of its place. But the campaign does not enforce objective standards of good and evil.
  9. Non-core Sourcebooks, Psionics: Aside from Psionics, most general-purpose material published by WotC (and some published-campaign-setting stuff) has a place in the polychotomy. The DM continues to work at incorporating more such materials.
  10. The Mysterious Tenth Point: Much is not what it appears to be in this campaign. Indeed, even this tenth point may not exist. As we read in the Heart Sutra, “Form is precisely emptiness / Emptiness precisely form.”

Ten Things you need to know about the Polychotomy

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