The Opal Empire
Simple Truths about the Opal Empire
Elves rule everything
The gods created the world and then they created elves as its caretakers, or so the legend goes. This is not a humanocentric world. Elves live much longer than humans and are patient and crafty. They have conquered everything and everyone under the banner of the Opal Empire. Their philosophies of life and governance are very different than those of their shorter-lived cousins. They believe in harmony and peace, at least theoretically, but this doesn’t mean they’re boring.
Elves can be as ambitious, selfish, and ruthless as anyone else. You can find isolated nomadic tribes sprinkled at the edges of elven rule; these are largely considered not worth imperial notice. Sure, there are humans and dwarves within the Empire, but they are subjects of the Empress. Dwarves have a pocket of cities where they maintain some sovereignty, but they owe allegiance to the elves. The humans control a few city-states that pay homage and taxes to the Empress. There are a couple kingdoms that aren’t under the control of the Empire, but they’re ruled by elves, too.
Magic is ubiquitous and powerful
Everyone is familiar with magic. The world is full of it, unleashed by a great cataclysm and trapped here. Mortals have learned to tap these powers. Elves and dwarves have had the longest time to study it and perfect their crafts. They create great rituals that can affect entire kingdoms. When wars are fought, spells can level cities in a moment. Under the forced peace of the Opal Empire, most war magic has been secreted away and wizards and priests focus their thi on enchantments that improve life (at least for the wealthy).
Cities especially are full of wondrous magical things. There are gates that can teleport entire armies between faraway cities. Resurrection magic is commonplace, at least for the wealthy. Instantaneous communication is ubiquitous, using mirrors and connections through a mirror world (that can be “hacked” with magic).
The average peasant knows a couple oaths and rituals that make his or her life better. It’s not unusual to meet a soldier who has memorized a ritual for sharpening his sword or making his arrows fly true. Basic magic is taught to children when they learn to read, at least in principle: few have the ability to do much with it.
The world is civilized
The Opal Empire is vast, stretching from one sea to the other and blanketing a continent in elven grace. There are very few pockets of untamed wilderness left. You won’t find mountain regions teeming with evil, nomadic humanoids or marauding dragons hell-bent on destruction. The Empress’s armies and war mages have long since crushed them.
There are enormous cities and a web of roads spreading out from them. Healthy towns (you’d call them cities in any other world) dot the landscape in between. All around are small villages and homesteads, designed for farming or mining or the creation of some specific trade good. The Empire has standardized language and money and law.
Civilization is dangerous
Visit any large city, and you’ll find it relatively safe. You’re not likely to be mugged. Sure, there’s petty crime — pickpockets, con artists, some small robbery — but random violence is rare. However, this is a world where insulting the wrong person can see you enslaved or exiled to an island. The elves, who generally abhor murder of their own kind, aren’t above poisoning a rival with a sleeping potion that can cause their enemy to slumber away for a few decades (and to miss an important opportunity). Elves generally don’t see the harm in state execution of the short-lived races, even for small crimes. However, other races don’t have those taboos against violence.
Elven politics are a chess game that humans and even dwarves can’t find the patience to play with much success. Thus, they often resort to violence to solve their problems, as long as they can escape the detection of their elven masters. Your biggest enemy might be an assassin hired by a greedy human merchant or a jealous girlfriend.
The gods can’t hear you
There used to be gods and goddesses, and they ruled the universe and fought a cosmic struggle with demons and other forces of evil. They lost that war. Just as the demonic armies were about to crash through the gates of heaven, the mortal rulers of the world summoned all their magic and used it to close the gates forever. Thus they protected their beloved deities but shut themselves away from them for the rest of eternity. They had to find their own way after that, reinvent divine magic, and determine how to live in a world without gods.
They also had to fight off that demonic army. It took them thousands of years and they nearly failed, but that’s a story for another time.
Spirits are everywhere
It used to be that the spirits of the dead were claimed by deities and taken to their kingdoms in heaven or hell. With those kingdoms eternally locked, spirits now roam the earth after death. Some haunt people and do evil things. Others try to help their kin. Wizards trap them and utilize their magical power for enchantments.
Most people, over the course of their lives, join forces with one or more spirits, gaining their power. Typical folks might reunite with a late loved-one or combine with a family ancestor. Small spirits. The most daring and powerful people attract stranger spirits, though. These are old wizards, legendary heroes, ancient elemental spirits, and even angels and demons. Big spirits. A small spirit might bring its new host increased wisdom or fortitude. A large spirit can offer forgotten magical knowledge, supernatural battle prowess, and impossible acrobatic ability.
Some people strive to attract spirits that they know they can’t handle, and lose their self-control. Instead of accumulating spirits in a safe way, they become possessed and the undeath takes them over. They stop eating and sleeping and lose their minds. Sometimes their bodies die but they keep living on as an undead creature.