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Mar 11, 2021

This episode carries content warnings for discussion of death and an allusion to drowning. 

Welcome to Sangfielle. This episode marks not only the beginning of a new season for us, but a whole new world. For the last six years, our main series campaigns have mostly taken part in one of two worlds, even though they sometimes have huge time jumps and setting resets in them. So, if you're just jumping on, this is a pretty good place to do it. You'll be along for the ride with everyone else, with no old continuity to worry about. New characters, new places, new world.

So, what is this world? What is Sangfielle? Well, the big picture is what I say in this episode's intro: Once, this was the agriculutural heartland of a vast empire which had slowly conquered this continent. Then, about 200 years ago, things started changing, and what was already a somewhat magical world became cursed and increasingly detatched from "reality." Now it's a sort of re-frontier, with touches of dark fantasy, a bit of gothic and cosmic horror, some weird west and southern gothic flair, and a little bit of general mystery on top for good measure.  

That's all you really need to know. Yes, there is a history to this continent, one of imperial devils, slave revolts, unchained magical scholars, black-clad magistrates... it goes on and on. And all of that is fine and good, and you can read a bit about it below and hear us talk about it towards the start of the episode.

But none of it really matters. Think of the big lore dump as a bonus, but there won't be a pop quiz or a test. What matters is what's in front of us.

And what's in front of us is a strange little mining town in the northern hills. And today, using The Ground Itself by Everest Pipkin, we're going to learn about that town. And in just a few weeks, we'll use this little town as a home base (or a "Haven" in the nomenclature of Heart: The City Beneath by Grant Howitt and Christopher Taylor) for all sorts of adventure.

Before we get there, though, we start here, with a patch of land, some caves, and time.

This week on Sangfielle: The Curse of Eastern Folly Pt. 1 

The Alamanac of the Heartland Rider

Peoples

Caprak (cap-ROK): The goat folks of the north put up with a lot. Dust, ash, snow. Rocky mountains with very little arable soil. They made it work, but it was the fear of all the ways it might fail that led to the Magistratum.

Carpana (car - pahn - a): Back before Aldomnia strode across Sangfielle, the Carpana were one of the many peoples who lived here. They’re little folks, three to four feet tall or so. A little like capybara, I suppose. They used to make their homes in the trees, well, not the trees per se, but in villages built on and between the branches of the lake-side forests across the heartland. Seemed like it was a good life. Lots of fruit, maybe some fish from the lakes? Little communities of 30 or 40. Anyway, then Aldomina came in, pushed them and so many others to the most barren parts of the mountains. After the panic, some moved back to their homes, but others had found new ways to live. That’s how it goes.

Devils: It’s hard to speak to devils writ large, since the only devils I’ve ever met are those from Aldomina, and maybe those still in hell are different. But of those I’ve met, I’ve happened across two distinct varieties. The first are those who come from the Throne of Dominion itself, and they’re haughty bastards always searching for a new way to demean you. The second are those who, when the panic hit, got left behind. What must it be like, I wonder, when your “grand civilization” reveals that you’re no different than the rest of the muck it left to die? It ain’t as bad as what we went through, that’s for sure, but still, you meet the devils (and their descendents) that call the heartland home, and you can tell they carry that betrayal on them like a mark.

Drakkan (drah-KAHN): They say we descended from the legendary dragons from some more wondrous age, but I don’t know that I buy it. I’ve always thought we look like seahorses. Skin pulled across spiny, exo-skeletal armor. Many of us spent generations enslaved by Aldomina, who put us to work across Sangfielle, only to be left to its devices when the panic set in. Thankfully, in the southwest, we’ve taken a home for ourselves, and one day, once the almanac is complete, I hope to make it back there.

Heritrixes (hare-uh-trixes): Heritrixes are immaterial beings, sometimes confused for ghosts, demons, or other sorts of supernatural spirits, who enter into contracts with physical hosts. In exchange for their expertise and magical power, Heritrixes are allowed to take control of the host’s body for an agreed upon period of time, giving them a way to experience the material world. I’d say that I wouldn’t sign an agreement like that, but who’s to know?

Human: A smooth-skinned, hornless type of person, mostly found in the Heartland and in the Unschola Republica these days. Unremarkable. “Except in variety,” you’ll often hear a human say, revealing only that they’re more prideful than wise.

Ojantani: Bigness doesn’t always mean boisterousness. The Ojantani, who share traits with buffalo and water oxen the way I do with the colorful seahorses of the Kay’van seas, are as often melancholic or timorous as they are the loud, stereotypical minotaur sort. If there is a cultural trait among the Ojantani I’ve been fortunate enough to ride with, it’s that they are always interested in how things fit together, and in whether or not something (or someone) has found its proper place—met with dignity and value—in this world.

Places

ALDOMINA (al-doh-mee-nah): What once stood as the name of the whole continent is now only the name of the Confederation that runs across the eastern half of the territory surrounding the Sangfielle, currently constituted by three sub-states called Cantons. 

The First Canton, aka the Throne of Dominion: Once a fledgling human empire but nearly 1900 years ago, a minor duke of some great hell led an effort to take it over. Who can blame them, the hells seem like a bad place to be. So, they took this once human empire over through a combination of bargaining, subterfuge, and force. And once they did it, and pushed what was an already spreading empire even further in that direction. 

The Second Canton, aka The Pale Magistratum (ma-juh-strah-tuhm): If Aldomina has a superego, it is the Pale Magistratum. Though its populace now lives in dense cities, the first settlers of the ash-and-snow covered Second Canton led hardscrabble lives. In order to enforce rationing and harshly punish anyone who directly or indirectly harmed a member of a settlement, the culture ordered itself around its Magistrates—holy marshals given weapons blessed by Fulmina, goddess of immediate justice, and the right to use that power as they see fit. Today, these Magistrates exist in a complex hierarchy, but even the lowest ranking members of the order are fearsome arbiters of what they perceive as justice.

Unschola Republica, formerly the Third Canton (oon-skoh-la): For a millenia, the alchemists, mage-practitioners, and cryptotheological scholars of the Third Canton complained in secret about the leash kept on them by Aldomina’s distant leaders. In their towering universities, they taught approved curricula but hid their most occult research, biding their time for a day they could split away from the confederation. And when the Drakkan revolted, they found their opportunity, using the Kay’van uprising as a cover for their own split. Can’t blame them for that, but I’ll always remember that it was opportunity, and not morality, that led them to side with us.

Free Seas of Kay’va, formerly the Fourth Canton (kai-vah): Kay’va means “Our House,” and there could be no better name for my homeland. We call it “The Free Seas,” but it’s actually a free association of communes, which we first established after our revolt over 300 years ago. Led by rebel slave and autodidact Cecile Cartine—founder of the worker-collectivist ideology which came to be known as Cartinism—not only did we managed to establish autonomy, but we also shook the very foundations of a damn near millennia old empire in the process. When it came time to build Concentus, the ringed city, I suppose we wanted to prove that it could do just as well, if not better, than any of the other nations of the continent. Which is probably why our chunk of the city is so often decorated with the flag of the revolution: a blue field, with golden sextant and machete connecting the waves to the stars. 

The Fifth Canton, the Protectorate Kingdom of Ojantan (oh-JAHN-tahn): The most recent Canton of Aldomina, added only around 350 years ago, just a generation before the Kay’van revolt. Previous to that, Ojantan was its own rival kingdom, stretching across the southern half of the continent. Because of being so recently conquered, the Ojantani dragged their feet and sabotaged efforts to move forces through their land towards Kay’va strongholds, contributing to the success of the revolution. In the old days, Ojantani was a solid place to live. Each person—even the living embodiments of their god folk—found their place in a grand social diagram. Unfortunately, sounds like some folks wanted to draw that diagram a little different. 

Sangfielle, the Heartland: Fought over for centuries, Aldomina rose to prominence millenia ago when it finally conquered this fertile land. A breadbasket for the whole Dominion, each canton  once had part of the territory (though the Throne kept most of it for itself). This is territory haunted twice: first by a bloody, buried past, and second by an uncanny, indifferent future. Many fled, but many more did not have that luxury. Today, two centuries later, the heartland has become a re-frontier, a home to survivors clinging to each other and to those explorers, occultists, technologists, and devotees of the strange, called to this land of ash, metal, and ichor.

Concentus, the Ringed City (kun-CHEN-tus): When the panic set in, the five great states responded in kind. For the first time since the Kay’van revolution, delegates from each power met and agreed that something must be done to contain the ill wind sweeping across the once verdant country. And so, Concentus was built as a collaboration. A vast ringed city, covered in magical wards, filled with those eager to delve into the heartland or to push back its most fearsome creatures. Because of relics and inventions recovered from the depths of the heartland, the gaslit city of Concentus is now the most technologically advanced metropolis of the continent. And yet, each moonrise feels like it may be the last...

Eastern Folly: A little mining town, touched by the heartland’s truth. 

Facts and Figures

The Empress Altapasqua: Around fifty years after the panic set in, Altapasqua told her people she would ride across this cursed land and purge it of its disease and danger. She only made it about three fourths of the way.

The Panic: People from the Cantons, people who didn't live here already, like to think that this all started about 200 years ago, but that's really just when the panic set in. First they noticed the soil had turned. Then it was the water. Then it was the dead walking, the ground slipping away. Then they got afraid. They call it "the panic," I think because it's easier to swallow than facing it head on and calling it what it is: "The Truth."

Organizations

The Boundless Conclave: Spread across the heartland, this religion is a (some say cynical) collection of hundreds of other faiths. Small sects, nearly forgotten cults, and unjealous gods make up this vast pantheon. As a lay member, you are allowed to use the facilities of any associated place of worship. As practicing clergy, joining the Conclave costs you some percentage of your tithe, but joins you to a network of other practitioners, places your god among the exalted many, and guarantees you at least some parishioners. In some ways, to join the Conclave is to make a bet: At least some of this stuff must be real, right? May as well throw in with everyone else and make the best of it.

The Caravan of the Coin: It goes like this: Once, a pair of brothers wanted an ox, and so they did what they were told never to do. They made a deal with Ribbadon, the great Frog God of Wealth. “Give us a silver coin,” they said, and he did, on the condition that they return the coin that year, or else owe it and its double the next year, and so on, forever. Well, they bought the ox, and with that ox they bought a pair more, and soon they appeared quite rich.

I write “appeared” because, in fact, they were deeply indebted to old Ribbadon. As the two grew in age and worry, they sought to make good on their debt, but there was one problem: They had, of course, spent that silver coin many decades ago, so they were at a loss. Until, they realized, with all their wealth, they could forge a coin like the one they were given, and fool the old frog. 

Wheelbarrows filled with silver and gold were led to Ribbadon’s court, and in a single swipe of his tongue, he swallowed years of profit in an instant, and then bellowed his judgment. “You have paid me back one more coin than you owe me, yet one less than you took.” The brothers knew instantly that their deception had been for naught, but before they could object, a curse descended. “There is no fortune too rich in taste for my tongue, and until I have my coin, on your tongues will be the only way to hold your fortune.”

When the brothers, their kin, their descendents, and even their servants returned home, they found that anything they’d carried with them had been turned into something else of the same weight. Gold coins turned lead. Prayer books transformed into straw. A rock to a diamond.

This is why you see those caravans now, hauling mysterious cargo across the grasslands and deserts of the heartland. They’re trading whatever it is they can, forever, in doomed worship of Ribbadon. Paying down interest. And looking for that old coin. They’ll tell you that the lesson is that you cannot stop change, and so you must lean in to the chaos. Let yourself and everything you have be changed by curse of the heartland. And they’ll demonstrate their new mastery over magics alchemical, illusionary, and alterative as proof of their philosophy’s power.

And yet… sometimes they’ll tell you nothing at all, the hypocrites, because in their mouths they carry cargo they are desperate to keep. It is as old Ribbadon implied: Whatever they hold on their tongues is kept from the curse.

The Disciples of the Triadic Pyre: I’ll say as little as I can because there are few words one can write about them that won’t guide them to you like a beacon, marking the ink, page, and writer to be burnt as fuel. The disciples worship a trio of gods that they call the Triadic Pyre, but it is hard to understand how these three beings—powerful though they may be—came first into alignment with each other.

From the Magistrates of the Second Canton, they took Fulmina, goddess of immediate justice, and appointed her ruler of the Flame’s Spark. From the terrible hierarchies of the locomotive Shape that runs across the heartland, they found a burning god among iron trains, whose name my lips dare not utter lest it lay its tracks towards you and I both, and aligned that beast with the Fire Alight. And finally, whether as cruel corruption or in a moment of lightness, they adopted the Ojantani Arinpata, the Smiling God of Death as their deity of Ashen Remains.

Under it all is a simple belief: Even in the heartland where things sometimes find second or third life, in the end, everything burns, everything dies, everything ceases to be. And for the Disciples, the best place to be is holding the match.

Hosted by Austin Walker (@austin_walker)

Featuring Janine Hawkins (@bleatingheart) Sylvi Clare (@sylvibullet), Ali Acampora (@ali_west), Art Martinez-Tebbel (@atebbel), Jack de Quidt (@notquitereal), Keith J Carberry (@keithjcarberry) and Andrew Lee Swan (@swandre3000)

Produced by Ali Acampora and Austin Walker

Music by Jack de Quidt (available on bandcamp)

Text by Austin Walker

Cover Art by Craig Sheldon (@shoddyrobot)