A somewhat surreal place that runs at a pretty high power level of magic. Lots of hourglasses, water clocks, flower clocks, sundials, orreries, sextants, Foucault pendulums, bell towers... there are ballrooms where if you can’t levitate to dance, you shouldn’t bother...
The high level of magic means that there are plenty of leylines available to boost rituals, magical quintessences that come popping out of elementally extreme locations, orichalcum and living crystal forming underground, and a fair number of dangerous creatures that turn up to make trouble.
The airships there are fairly reliable over stable ground, but require a decent-sized crew continuously using fu-equivalent abilities to keep it going over chaos.
Credit for much inspiration and plenty of ripping off is due to the creators of FASA’s Earthdawn. (Though some of the ideas for the details of style came from the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, with the soundtrack by Queen!)
Magic is a strong and respected profession on Khoras— which is just a survival trait in a place where the magic runs this high!— and the knowledge has trickled down over the centuries all the way to the peasantry. Magical paths called Disciplines (which use fu path mechanics) are wielded by Adepts, whose roles in society are those of highly skilled workers and adventurers. Many among the peasantry know folk magics, minor charms and cantrips that help with the more skilled activities required in otherwise mundane jobs. (They refer to Disciplines as Adept Magic and to wizardly and priestly spheres as Spell Magic or High Magic.)
Society is racially diverse. Humans and dwarves tend to be the diplomats and administrators, with humans tending toward the higher echelons due to their greater command of magicks.
The gods of the place are called Passions, and have been known to manifest as any sentient race of either sex.
Most dwarves dwell in the Second Hour, but their crafts are in demand throughout civilized territories. They enjoy living in the solidity of stone, preferably underground where Upandal’s strength permeates the structure of the earth. They are a people committed to excellence: they build things to be sturdy and useful, with just enough ornamentation to make them distinctively the work of a given craftsman. Dwarves and humans are the most common diplomats and administrators on Khoras.
Most elves dwell in the forests of the Fourth Hour, but it is common for relatively young elves in their second century of life to spend time in a different land to learn different perspectives on crafts. (It is rare for them to take part in government in other than an advisory role; none of the other races are interested in taking the time to achieve proper consensus, nor in proper long-term planning.) They tend to live on different timescales than humans: they take their time working on their crafts, producing elegant ornamentations and getting things just right, acting as relaxed perfectionists. (If you see an elven sword that possesses a bare simplicity and elegance, it comes from a time when they were on a serious war footing.) Their own internal economy supports this well, as they can usually provide for their needs with thaumaculture, hunting, and good population management. (Elves are not terribly fecund to begin with, and invest a great deal of time in raising their children, so elven population explosions are basically unheard of.)
Elves who spend too much time living on human timescales (they have a word for this) will eventually begin to go insane, though it usually takes decades. An ordinary elf takes their time enjoying the song of birds and the smell of flowers in life, and is only truly in a hurry for emergencies. Elves who get caught up in mortal time eventually suffer a sense of ennui, having seen it all and done it all, and begin courting greater and greater risks in order to attain the stimulation they’ve received over years in fast-paced human life. Elves in other lands are usually living close to human time, operating as craftsmen who take a while but produce something that will be a beautiful treasure for you and your great-grandchildren and their great-grandchildren... who could probably find that same craftsman, if they chose to.
Elves who reach several millennia in age begin to feel a calling to transcendent realms. They spend their time finishing up long-term projects, meditating, giving away all their possessions one by one to appropriate people (sometimes going on entire quests to find the right person), bidding farewell to their friends, relatives, and acquaintances, and then choosing a means to exit this level of existence. The most common ritual releases the stored magical energy in their body and transforms the body into a tree; those who sleep under such trees have dreams that evoke the presence of the departed elf.
The term “halfling” is a more formal usage for the same folk. Most of them live in the Seventh Hour. They are a jolly folk, who love food and socializing; they have strong standards of colloquial politeness without becoming overly formal.
Humans are ubiquitous, but there are a number of smaller populations. They are the most common race among the Hours because they combine strong talents for flexibility and magic. (Dwarves aren’t as good at magery, elves don’t want to be stuck administering at human timescales, hobbits find intrigue spoils their digestion and makes it difficult to enjoy life properly, obsidimen too loyal to their Liferock, orcs lack the patience, trolls are too clannish, t’skrang disinterested in large-scale organization, and windlings too flighty.)
The folk of the First Hour resemble continential Indians and are flambouyant individuals. The natives of the Twelfth Hour have the dark skin and curly hair of Africans on Earth, though in the cities there has been considerable admixture with other populations as they move to where the action is.
Obsidimen are rare but equally like to be found in any Hour. These beings of elemental Earth are fascinated with other societies.
The orcs of the Fourth Hour are nomadic herders and beastriders who roam the northern plains; they have longstanding feuds with the elves of the forests, but these are moderated by the Patrician of Tea and Dewfall. The orcs of the Eighth Hour are city slickers who are far less concerned with matters of honor. All orcs on Khoras are burly, tusked humanoids, standing slightly shorter but bulking far more than an ordinary human. Their skin is brown with a greenish undertone, and hair black and bristly. They live short lives, but usually pack more living into their forty to sixty years than most humans do in seventy to a hundred. Orcs are often soldiers, bodyguards, mercenaries, bards, merchants, and porters, all lifestyles that allow them to travel a great deal and feed their appetites for variety and intensity.
Trolls are most commonly found in the mountains of the Sixth Hour, but are valued warriors anywhere on the island. They are honorable folk, more formal and less hot-tempered than the orcs; the main problem most other folk have with trollish honor is that piracy is perfectly legitimate as long as it’s perpretrated against people who obviously have plenty of wealth. They don’t carry a serious grudge against those who defeated their attempts at piracy, though they often will crave a rematch. All trolls on Khoras are large folk, about eight feet tall (one level of Really Big), horned, with golden-brown skin like the Sheflek highlanders, though with an unusual grey undertone.
The reptilian t’skrang usually live in the jungles and cities of first Hour, but their prominence in trade makes them ubiquitous sights in the cities of Khoras. They possess a high degree of physical variation, with scales ranging from emerald green to powder blue to brick red, sometimes spotted or striped in other colors; crests, spikes, or fins on their heads, spines, or tails; and on rare individuals, a membrane like that of a flying squirrel, stretching from wrist to knee. As if they weren’t gaudy enough already in this variation, they seem to have adopted the idea of clothing from their mammalian neighbors as a wonderful way of producing more diverse ornamentation. Their gills can supply enough oxygen for them to function underwater for about ten minutes before they need to return to the land and hyperventilate for a while. Their expressive tails are useful in combat for balance, attacking, or parrying, and can grow back in a matter of months if severed. They are known for being active and loquacious, fond of exaggeration, hyperbole, and outrageous lies. (The dwarves say “An elf will bore you to tears, but a t’skrang will talk you to death.”) They are great merchants, experts at haggling and salesmanship.
They hatch from eggs, which are tended in a communal plot, and tend to grow up in large extended families of forty to eighty. T’skrang prefer not to organize in larger groups, as they simply see no need for larger-scale social structures beyond about a thousand people, and it’s too difficult to take over their river-side cities, formed of domes and towers, where people who can’t breathe water are at a fighting disadvantage.
Windlings look like eighteen inch tall elves with big butterfly wings; they can usually sustain about fifteen minutes of flight before needing a rest. They are found in forested areas (as long as it doesn’t get so damp their wings are endangered, as in the monsoon territory of the First Hour) and most cities. The highest concentration is in the Fourth Hour.
Windlings are small, dextrous flying creatures; this means that they are accustomed to travelling in three dimensions, and to going through holes in obstacles as well as avoiding them. The windling brain is well suited to such activities, which makes them highly curious (due to the need to see things from all sides) and excellent at lateral thinking, though not up to the level of most other sentients at linear thought. (Pressing need can make them linear as they need to be, but it’s not their normal state. Their scouts do a good job of balancing their mission with the amount of wandering that produces the best observations.) Their smiths make brooches of incredible detail, and their tattoo artists can create amazing works of art on living flesh. They consider the world a fascinating enough place that they tend to be very blunt speakers, asking straight questions, giving straight answers, apologizing if anyone’s offended, and moving on; they engage in plenty of jest and teasing, but anyone with an average level of insight can see when they’re serious and when their words can be shrugged off or returned in the same spirit. Those who have to deal with other races can adopt customs easily enough, but it’s just a game to them. They get along very well with the t’skrang.
In combat, windlings favor long-range weapons like blowguns, darts, and spears, often delivering interesting poisons to their targets. They have many weapons that can be delivered by a coordinated team of flying windlings, such as ropes with anchors on either side, nets, and so on; other weapons can be tethered at one end and carried on the other, roping a larger target around the throat.
The magic level on Khoras is high enough that nearly anything can, theoretically, breed with nearly anything else. In practice, this doesn't happen too often in nature, since most species aren't very attracted to other species, but when sentient beings intervene, unusual creatures can be created. (Mules are quite fertile on Khoras!) Over time, experimental crossbreeding has yielded such livestock as the bearded goat-cows that have a goat’s digestive system and meat flavor, the woolly horned dairy sheep that give milk and wool, and the ornery bearded billyhorses that eat anything but have a temper like a mule on speed.
Animal husbandry as practiced by lonely farmboys also gives rise to the mixups, which are a motley lot. Minotaurs and centaurs and satyrs have resulted from similar mixups gathering together, studying under druids, and performing mystic rituals to formalize their own existence. Those mixups that have not so gathered— people with a random assemblage of animal and human parts— are an underclass in society.
Khoras is ruled by the Hours, each of whom has three Decan lieutenants. Hour can refer to a land or its ruler, and is usually evident from context. The land itself is not divided up like a clock.
The Lady of the Eleventh Hour
The High Lord of Noon and Midnight
The Chatelaine of Silks and Silver
The Patron of Song and Whisper
The Exarch of Sword and Shield
The Grand Dame of Sun and Shadow
The Sultana of Dreams and Nightmares
The Mogul of Gold and Jewels
The Patrician of Tea and Dewfall
The Matron of Fields and Pastures
The Master of Twilight
The Mistress of the Mists
A shrewd human woman of ancestry that would be called continental Indian on Earth, who runs banking and mercantile activities; she often employs adventurers to protect her inter-island commerce. Her territory consists of cities nestled amidst jungle, cooled by fountains supplied by aqueducts that soar over trees. It is in the southeast of Khoras. She forms strong alliances and generally works to make it unprofitable for anyone else to bother her. Her networks of merchants, often T’skrang, distribute goods throughout the island. The architecture is reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance, though the costume varies from Indian, with saris and ??? in well-ventilated cottons and linens to the assemblages of leather straps with occasional furs on the warrior types with chips on their shoulders. Her large-sailed river and sky barges travel across the land exchanging goods. The patron of her land is Chorrolis, Passion of wealth, trade, jealousy, and desire.
The t’skrang of the First Hour produce a number of interesting exports. The river-fishers produce flavorful smoked fish (and chefs who produce delicate fish dishes in seaports and river towns across Khoras), and gather exotic spices that grow amongst the river-reeds. Other plants that grow in shallow water and on the shore produce top-quality rope and basketry that is watertight even before it’s coated, and strong enough to substitute for wood in producing ale barrels. A bit further inland, they produce water-repellent paper from the same reeds that make watertight baskets, and use berries and extracts from fish glands to produce ink that can write on this paper, in addition to other exotic “invisible inks”. Their reed flutes, syrinxes, and panpipes are also excellent, as are the musicians who play them. Mud brought up from the depths of rivers becomes strong pottery vessels; the ones that incorporate quintessential Earth are nearly shatterproof, and some are even designed like thermoses to retain heat on the inside while being cool on the outside. Some of their artists even produce magical statues using quintessential elements, such as flowing water-sculptures, bracelets that spiral up and down a wearer’s arms as they move, and necklaces whose beads change color and shape slowly.
A calm, sensible administrator and general; an elementalist, an archmage, and a dwarf. (Played by Sean Connery from Hunt for Red October with some special effects to rearrange his height and build.) An autocrat, but a just one, with an efficient bureaucracy run along military lines. He has little tolerance for inefficiency. Goes in for solid construction. Has mountainous territory with plenty of mines, alpine forests, mountain lakes, several few Shangri-La valleys, and a few volcanoes in the north of Khoras. Employs lots of his fellow dwarves, and has a fair number of elementalists working for him. The main castle is a heavily fortified structure in the Flame Mountains, which include volcanic activity, hot springs, and geysers, as well as a few glaciers. Exports plenty of metal and stone crafts, especially weapons. He has an impressive fleet of airships. The patron of his land is Upandal, Passion of building, construction, and planning. Local civilian garb is cut to resemble the common military uniforms.
A talented human illusionist of Sheflekian extraction. She gets up late. She stays up late. She encourages everything from afternoon naps to hallucinogenic experimentation. She lives in Cloudhame, a castle in the air, mixing solid illusions, sculpted clouds, and actual stone; time itself is not reliable in the castle, its rate of passage varying from location to location. (Some people even get their order of events confused there, though no one has yet figured out how to leverage this.) Living in her hilly territory in the south of Khoras between the First and Sixth Hours is just unsafe enough that all the people who really crave safety move somewhere else, so anyone still remaining has a certain amount of thrillseeker to them— many heroes come from her territory. She has a high population of windlings in her territory. The architecture is a fantastico-Arabian melange of minarets and spires and Japanesque roofpeaks; costume is Japanese-inspired, with court dress being a descendent of the elaborate kami-shimo (the kataginu jacket with outrageous shoulders and fancy collars and hakama skirt-pants or even longer naga-bakama trousers) and more normal wear being the three-quarter length haori jacket over the kimono. Even the fancy garments are cut to make it easy to step out of them for a comfortable nap or covert mission. The primary exports are aesthetic crafts and painting. She and her minions travel on solidified clouds, conveyances that resemble large, fluffy pillows. The patron deity of this land is Floranuus, Passion of revelry, energy, victory, and motion.
The dreamcats of this realm are descended in an unusual way from a long-ago familiar of a past Sultana. The legend has it that that Sultana’s familiar was given the power to enter the world of dreams, where he regularly dreamed kitty dreams that were far out of proportion to the scale of ordinary housecats in reality— dreams of cats the size of horses, or large enough to pounce on a full-grown bull for a meal. This tom lured a number of queens into the dream world, where they shared his dreams and returned, with varying amounts of power. Dreamcats vary from being the size of fairly large housecats to huge— sometimes varying depending on their most recent nap— and have the power to enter dreams and sometimes even to fly through the air in great leaps. The folk who earn the love of dreamcats sometimes find their worst nightmares interrupted by a gigantic tabby barging in and grabbing the nightmarish figure by the neck and giving it a good shake... and sometimes they find the figure dead by their bedside, reduced to the size of a doll, in the morning. One dreamcat can guard the dreams of a small group that sleeps in close proximity. (Inspired by paintings by Michael Leu, especially Summer Night Story 3.)
A very pleasant-natured human druid— pale-skinned, red-bearded— who keeps flower clocks, serves tea, and has a talent for intrigue which he uses to discourage bad ecological practices. Tends to use adventurers to catalyze troublesome situations toward resolution. Has many small settlements spread throughout his forested territory in the northwest of Khoras, which contains massive oaks and towering sequoias; the tree roads there allow a light traveller to go for miles without touching the ground. The territory extends up a range of mountains and out into the tundra beyond. The cities are usually accumulations of huge trees shaped into platforms and bowers, along with caverns under their roots. Employs plenty of elves, druids, and elementalists who use Ecos as their source of power; a fair number of windlings dwell in his forests. The primary exports are healing herbs, fruits from orchards, and carefully managed timber and furs. It is most common to see people riding chocobos in his territory (horses have trouble on the tree paths), but old tales have it that his land has fielded mammoth-riding orc cavalry supported by roc-carried marines and gryphon-riding Elvish strike forces. (Chocobos— big riding birds much like an upright moa with a larger head that’s fully covered in real feathers (unlike the emu, a thicker neck, and a fan-like tail— come in a variety of colors; the most common ones are a dusty yellow, though they've been seen in green, blue, white, gold, and black. They usually eat nuts, fruit, and leaves, but the hooked beaks that can split open tough-shelled nuts can take your arm off, and the claws that grip tree branches so well can rake your belly open. Various breeds are better at treepaths, mountain ledges, and desert sand. They can hit 40mph when sprinting.) The patron deity of this land is Jaspree, Passion of growth, caretaker of wild flora and farms. The locals tend to wear tunics and trousers in woodland colors, with similarly colored robes for the inactive. Leathers and furs are also popular among some folk. Many creatures extinct on the modern Earth roam his lands: on the steppe, giant deer (megaloceros giganteus), woolly rhinos (coelodonta antiquitatis), woolly mammoths, toxodons, doedicurus, megatheriums... It is rumored that some of his tree cities can “walk”, Ent-style, across the landscape.
A schemer and intriguer. Her seaside territory in the west of Khoras is fogged in almost every night. Employes lots of catran, illusionists, and mind mages. Exports fish and seaweed. Architecture is Ludwig Maximilian-style fairy-tale castles. The Mist Conveyers are impressive enchantments, using a combination of Illusion III to perform distance distortion and Weather to create fog around the area distorted: the effect is that any number of people from a single walker to a division of heavy cavalry enter a fog bank; the fog bank propagates along the road at speed; and when it stops, the riders emerge. Court garb involves many-layered flowing garments in a variety of shades of grey, topped off with diaphanous veils and scarves. The patron of this duchy is Vestrial, Passion of manipulation, subtlety, and deception.
A trickster— mystic martial artist and thief— who is continually challenging the balance of the island. His territory is a desert in the southwest of Khoras, with mesas, canyons, arches, caverns... His estate, the Gloaming, is a dangerous place... the thieves that work for him tend to be independent sorts who go up against the organized crime run by the Mogul of Gold and Jewels. A number of trollish tribes live in the mountains in his area, and their sky raider ships are commonly used for transport; flying carpets are also popular for moving small groups. Garb is very Arabian (djellaba, ???), though the cities are usually more a well-hidden pueblo-style cliff dwelling in hollowed-out canyon walls. The patron of this territory is Lochost, Passion of rebellion, change, and freedom.
She runs the breadbasket of Khoras, with well supervised farms and herds, selling grains, vegetables, and meat throughout the island. Her citadel is a solid place with huge storage areas to outlast famines and sieges and plenty of room for people to live in if they have to flee the countryside during a war. Lots of hobbits enjoy living here, protected by Trollish guards. When push comes to shove, she can demonstrate astonishing coordination of large numbers of horses and other draft beasts for pulling massive siege engines and supply trains, and her cavalry is superb. The patron is Garlen, Passion of hearth and healing. Garb and architecture are simple and practical here.
A banker and intriguer with connections to organized crime and protection rackets, rumored to be a subtle necromancer. Not above having people assassinated. He employs many orcish guards in his territory in the east of Khoras, who somehow seem to wind up as enforcers. He lives in a sprawling Gothic castle made from dark stone, with plenty of spikes and merlons for decoration and a massive pipe organ rumored to be powered by a chained air elemental lord who had wronged him in the past. Court garb is a Gothic mishmosh with lace at throat and cuffs, plenty of petticoats for the ladies, and lots of spots to hide small weapons. (17th c. France: le frac is the swallowtail coat, the pourpoint evolved into the veste, which gets together with the justaucorps, cravate, and la culotte to make an impressive ensemble; la jupe is petticoat breeches...) No one else on Khoras uses the bat-winged ornithopters distinctive to his rule. The patron deity of this land is Raggoch, Passion of acquisition, jealousy, and vengeance.
Poisoning and murder are considered a subtle art amongst the nobility of the Eighth Hour. They import many interesting poisons from the First and Fourth Hours.
A socialite known for morning hunts, afternoon duels, and evening dinner parties. Her territory resembles rural England, with plenty of wild spots for hunting parties breaking up the fields; her farms are second only to those of the Matron of Fields and Pastures. The architecture runs to European-style manor houses. Horses are the preferred conveyance here, but she keeps an impressive stable of exotic and magical mounts and unusual chariots and carriages that can be hitched to them. The patron of this land is Thystonius, Passion of valor and physical conflict. Noble garb is usually based on riding outfits cut to show off a man’s shoulders, a woman’s chest, and anyone’s legs.
A socialite, patron of the arts and sciences, and a dangerous intriguer. His Hour is a small, mountainous place in the east-northeast, profiting off the passes providing connections between Second, Eighth, and Ninth Hours, and the most practical route between the Seventh and Ninth. Has an excellent spy network that includes travelling performers and masters of disguise. Their skyfoil vessels are graceful creations of curved metal, bent wood, and magically morphed glass, crossing the sky on skyblades, their fan-like sails allowing them to tack into the wind, unlike normal airships. (Think El-Hazard here...) Skyblades themselves are pieces of metal that resemble the edge of an ice skate, but continually pouring mist off the business side of the blade. Under the right atmospheric conditions, skyfoils will leave narrow vapor trails. The patron deity is Astendar, Passion of love, art, and music. Local garb is Greco-Roman in the classical draped style, with chitons, chlamys, peplos, tunicas, and togas under cloaks and mantles.
An idealist (though with a firm grasp on reality) who solves problems, apt to hire adventurers. Very good at taking care of things at the last minute and judging heroic risks. Has a highly diverse territory on the edge of the forests and steppes of the Fourth Hour, the mountains of the Second, and the plains of the Seventh. The patron deity is Mynbruje, Passion of justice, compassion, truth, and empathy.
A powerful and pragmatic astrologer-sorcerer who maintains the balance of the island (played by James Earl Jones with a full beard); there is no formal leader, but the position of Noon and Midnight has traditionally led the nation of Khoras. Harsh but fair, a definite “some good things, some bad things” sort of person. Noon and midnight are the times when the solar supernatural forces are in balance, and are some of the best for working magic. He has a massive and dangerous orrery in his demesne that is a significant ritual focus and potentially lethal to interlopers while in operation. A little-used and seldom-remembered power of the orrery is the ability to open a respectably sized teleport gateway anywhere on the island. The patron deity is Distha, Passion of organization, administration, bureaucracy, and stability. The local construction and garb go in for a sort of fantastic deco-Egyptian motif, with amazing headdresses and many astrological and timekeeping motifs embroidered on the flowing robes. The High Lord wears a circlet over his pshent(?) (egyptian headdress with stripes) that can expand into an illusory armillary sphere or full orrery, allowing him to check the auspices at any given time; it sometimes merely surrounds his head, but can cover an entire room as needed.