The Guide To Onyx
This document is intended to inform players about different facets of the Opal Sea campaign in Onyx. The information presented here concerns lore about the world of Onyx, and, in particular, the Opal Sea area. This common lore is available to all characters who are in any way attentive to world around them. Two points should be made clear though about this information. The first, obviously, is that what is presented here is in no way complete: there is much more to a cultural heritage than can easily be written down in a finite time or space. The second point about the lore is that although it is widely believed (and in many cases justifiedly so), that does not mean it is entirely true! As in the Real World, the clear truths about historical and mythical events become muddied with time and inattention. Do not then, as a player, be too surprised should the long–cherished tenets of your character prove to be inaccurate.
The distillate of this disclaimer, then, is this: like our own universe, the game, the campaign, and the information presented herein are mutable and subject to flux.
This campaign is fairly atypical of the D&D fantasy genre. It is unusual in its choice of venue, and because of the implications of that choice. Unlike most D&D campaigns, the Opal Sea region is not, essentially, a fantasy–version Medieval Europe. It is, in fact, much more of a mythical version of Bronze Age Babylon. Now those were the good old days: hero–kings, sacred quests, wars, famines, evil magicians, and deadly monsters. It was a time when those who could wield a sharp blade or effect awesome magics could reap glory and honor. In short, the setting has everything one could need for a fantasy campaign.
Certain differences are therefore required for the appropriate flavor. The level of science and technology was somewhat lower three millennia ago than it is now. Some things that are taken for granted now either did not exist, such as iron working, or had just been invented, such as writing. Other items though, which are unused in our times, such as the chariot, were just coming into fashion. So there are some trade–offs. At any rate, many staples of the “normal” D&D game are just not available: crossbows, stirrups, mechanical locks, and lanterns, to name a few. Weapon and armor quality, too, is somewhat diminished from the Medieval standard. However, the people of 1000 B.C. lived with these limitations, so I trust that they won’t be too restricting for the players.
Another implication of the Babylonian motif is the type of non–humans around. The Babylonians did not, in fact, have any connection with the elves and dwarves of the Tolkien, Celtic, or Norse varieties. Nor did they ever encounter orcs, goblins, giant slugs, shambling mounds, or otyughs (neo– or otherwise). You will not be encountering them either. What you will be meeting up with, though, should you be so inclined (and sometimes regardless of your inclination), is the stuff of their legends: venomous dragons, vengeful gods, evil magicians, magic lions, sphinxes, and the Humbaba. There will, of course, be many creatures that the Babylonians never met, but for the most part they will not be found within the covers of the Monster Manual.
And also in consonance with the theme is the climate. Almost all D&D campaigns are set in a temperate climate. The Opal Sea is tropical: the average temperature is 95°. Consequently, people do not tend to wear a lot in the way of either armor or clothing. Being in a tropical zone also gives you a whole different set of ordinary creatures to run into.
Other alterations in the campaign stem from my tendency to complicate things for no apparent reason. Horses, for example, do not exist. There are, however, other suitable creatures for riding. The monetary system is based on gems, instead of precious metals. There are nine months in the year instead of twelve, and so on.
There is also something else that should become fairly obvious after some play, but it will be mentioned here anyway. Much of the information here is specific to Opal Sea region, and does not apply to regions elsewhere in Onyx. Specifically, the Babylonian motif does not extend much beyond the Opal Sea. Out there, beyond the edges of the map, you will find other lands, other cultures, and other creatures. Some of the information presented here, then, while not necessarily noted as such, is in fact true only for the Opal Sea region. Now this should hardly come as a surprise, but I just wanted to make sure that you were aware of it.
A final note. When one plays D&D Oriental Adventures, one is expected to come up with Oriental–sounding names, to use Oriental weapons, fight Oriental creatures, and act within the guidelines of a “proper” fantastic Oriental culture. The submersion into all of the Oriental accouterments helps make everything seem more real and coherent. A slight disadvantage of this technique is that we are not overly familiar with Oriental cultures, hence it takes a bit longer to fully get used to them. The culture of Bronze Age Babylon is also somewhat unfamiliar to most people. What I ask, therefore, is a little patience: for the odd–sounding names, for the peculiar spellings, and for the foreign practices of the Opal Sea region. In time they will not seem so strange. And, I think, the little extra time will be worth it.
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