Sanctum draws inspiration from classical mythologies such as Greek and Norse, the Discworld series, Black & White, and Dungeons & Dragons, amongst other sources. Though this is new ground for Duggle, there are many larps out there which have Gods in them- but very few where they’re the overwhelming focus. We hope to run this sort of game to an unprecedented level of awesome, while mixing in the classic Duggle attributes (player-generated content, unique and flavourful characterisation, accessibility), and adding some cool new ideas.
Your characters can be any humans that could conceivably exist in this world. Everything from an ignorant farmhand to a high priest or holy warrior is entirely doable, and we hope to see a lot of variety. In addition to your character sheet, you’ll also receive an individual backstory brief containing points of crossover with other characters we’ve identified, places you’ve been, things you’ve seen, and stories and rumours you’ve heard.
In addition to designing your character, you can also design any number of Gods which exist in this world. We plan to put lots of effort into portraying the Gods which you’ve all designed as consistent NPC characters. Gods will have their own secretive agendas which they proactively seek to enact by giving their mortal servants quests and tasks. To this end, there will be no downtime system, partially to free up ref time for this more important feature, and partially to ensure as much stuff as possible is actually happening in uptime.
The game will focus on the struggle for supremacy between different groups, both mortal and divine, and the inevitable conflict- both physical and social- which arises when you have a lot of different viewpoints in a single place. We hope to move away from the recent focus on ref-generated, linear plot, while also avoiding stagnation and a lack of things to do which some older games displayed, by using these Gods to make players make things happen.
Mechanically speaking, we’re going to try and keep it simple, with character power levels generally low. Dedicated servants of the Gods can be considerably more powerful, but their God will place much greater expectations on them, actively watching them to make sure they’re abiding by their commandments and setting them goals appropriate to their power. All characters can gain advancement and new abilities through consistent good play, at ref discretion.
There’s a lot to read here- however, due to the geographic size of the setting, the generally poor communication and education systems, and the general nature of Gods to keep their business to themselves, it is unlikely that any character will be fully aware of all the information here. We recommend that you read this fully, but don’t worry if you find yourself forgetting minor details– just roleplay that your character hasn’t come across that particular piece of information before.
Sanctum is set in the town of Vaivazi (vie-VAR-zee), a unique and sacred place atop a large hill at the point where the borders of three proud nations meet. Between them, these nations span a continent known simply as ‘The Land’, with Vaivazi roughly in the centre.
The Land is generally flat, warm, and dry, roughly resembling our Middle East. The most temperate regions exist in the cooler north, which hosts lush forests and meandering rivers, while the south is especially arid and inhospitable. The flora and fauna of The Land are generally analogous to our own, though stories often speak of rather more wondrous- or monstrous- creatures. On occasion, a tipsy sailor will tell tall tales of having sailed until he reached the edge of the world, or of finding a new land with sand made of gold and populated by fantastical beings- but no one knows for sure what, if anything, lies across the great seas.
Generally, society resembles that of our own Middle Ages, but with a few notable exceptions. The occasional snippet of divine insight into the natural order, alongside the proliferation of simple divine artifacts, has enabled civilisation to haphazardly advance somewhat beyond this level. However, enough areas lack developed systems of measurement that, in most cases, tracking things which we modern folk take for granted- such as age and distance- is a non-trivial activity.
The barter system is in universal use, however simple plain ‘coins’- basically small discs of valuable metals- are produced in some areas and used to facilitate bartering and make up differences. In addition, some areas, and indeed some Gods, have their own more nuanced systems, but these are uncommon outside of specific geographical areas.
One of the main pastimes is the telling of stories, especially myths and legends of the Gods and their followers. The veracity of such tales comes a distant second to their entertainment value.
Thankfully, this world is generally free of prejudice based on gender or skin colour, though other forms of prejudice- whether based on God, nation, or social standing- are extremely common. The nations and their respective leaders are generally in control of goings-on their their territories, but hardship is widespread. Whether from natural misfortune such as famine, man-made misfortune such as theft and banditry, or the wrath of a slighted God, life is hard for the inhabitants of The Land. Even the law can provide little comfort, with corporal punishment and even execution in use for the most serious crimes.
All three nations emerged after the Qizzik (KIZZ-ick) Empire collapsed many dozens of generations ago. Few details are known about it, though it is generally believed that the Empire oversaw a time of great peace and prosperity, before collapsing and fragmenting almost overnight. Although The Land is vast, people frequently travel for personal reasons, or at the command of the Gods. As such, the common language, Qizzeki (kizz-EKK-ee), is spoken and comprehended everywhere, though various local expressions and idioms often need explaining.
First and foremost, that the Gods exist is plain to see- their priests are keen to demonstrate their powers to, or perhaps on, unbelievers. As such, only the maddest of fools would truly believe otherwise. Beyond this, questions regarding the nature of the Gods become rapidly more difficult to answer, as the Gods themselves seem unwilling to divulge such information. The following is generally believed to be true by most wise and educated people, however.
Over the years many Gods have fallen in and out of favour, their fortunes and powers rising and falling with those of their followers. It is not known whether Gods are ever truly created or destroyed, or even whether they have a natural lifespan much like humans- but for all intents and purposes, this is how it appears. Any scholar with the dedication and diligence to travel and survey The Land would find tales of hundreds, if not thousands, of unique Gods.
Determining which particular Gods are in power or ascendent at any time is a complex problem. The power of individual Gods seems to fluctuate on a weekly basis, and as months and years pass previously strong Gods can fade so much that even their priests struggle to hear them. Further, tales of dark and hidden Gods regularly drift through the taverns, and of near-silent struggles between the almost-dead Gods of ages past- and their veracity is impossible to determine.
Smaller, less-powerful Gods usually draw their worshippers from the same geographic area due to the way their stories and influence spreads. Even those powerful Gods with worshippers all over The Land had more focused spheres of influence in the past before they reached their current levels.
These Gods are sentient and wilful beings, with a huge range of appearances and personalities. The term ‘God’ is used for everything from armour-clad warriors, to nurturing mothers, to horrific tentacled monstrosities. The domains of these beings are equally varied. While some lay claim to classic concepts such as ‘War’, ‘Love’, and ‘Fate’, others have domains as strange as can be imagined.
There are, however, some things common to all Gods. Despite their variability, the Gods uniformly punish ‘blasphemy’- declarations and actions against the Gods as a whole.
Similarly, drawing on the power of Gods is not a simple matter of waving a hand. Almost all such invocations require clearly calling on the desired God in the correct manner, beseeching them to perform a miracle on your behalf. Grander effects may require more complex rituals, depending on the nature and whims of the God petitioned. Needless to say, the Gods will only lend their powers to mortals who have proven themselves to be both devoted and worthy.
However, swearing ‘by the Gods’ is commonplace and thankfully doesn’t appear to cause any offense. That said, taking the name of a specific God in vain is generally considered needlessly risky, due to the vague possibility of negatively drawing their attention- though few people claim to have seen anything bad come of it.
Just as the blessings of the Gods can be grand, so too can their curses be terrible. As intelligent and tremendously powerful beings, the Gods tailor their curses to their recipients to punish specific acts of wrongdoing or teach valuable lessons. Curses are not bestowed lightly, and as such their removal requires a great show of contrition and atonement towards the offended God.
Crucially, there is no such thing as ‘magic’- both the word and concept do not exist. All supernatural powers comes from the Gods in one form or another. Whether it be blessings, boons, and benedictions for those they favour, crippling curses for those who displease them, or potent herbs or bizarre creatures placed in the wild world by their hands. Priests are swift to correct any ignorants who believe otherwise. There are also stories of artifacts- physical items which grant powerful abilities to their wielder, often pursued by the heroes of legend. In addition, there are many, far more minor and common blessed items currently in circulation.
Likewise, there is no word or concept of ‘science’. These two ideas, were they somehow to be expressed coherently, would be easily confused- as both are, fundamentally, ways of viewing the world without the need for Gods. All Gods share the view that such things are clearly blasphemous- even those whose domains would seem to encourage such things if taken to their logical conclusion.
There are, of course, a few bold individuals who defy the Gods and study these things anyway. They are known as alchemists, natural philosophers, and diviners- though this last term is by far the most common, applied to anyone who attempts to study such things or the way the Gods ‘work’. The Gods look upon such blasphemies with disdain, and as such diviners are universally viewed with suspicion and mistrust, unable to flourish or even survive outside of solitary lives deep in the wilderness or, for the lucky, the hushed and gilded halls of Qarzi.
Gaining the attention of a God is challenging, usually requiring one to demonstrate- with dramatic and creative deeds as well as words- that one is willing to align oneself to their cause, or at least be useful to them in some way. Furthermore, as many legendary characters have discovered to their detriment, drawing the attention of a God is not always a good thing, and losing it once it has been gained can be even more challenging. There are many tales of Gods dramatically intervening to aid those who desperately pray to them on the cusp of death or ruin, once they guarantee their lives in servitude- or even greater offerings- should they be saved. Such tales rarely end well for their protagonists.
Most people get by praying to the Gods as appropriate- to a God of Farming when the time comes to harvest, a God of Healing during childbirth, and so on. However, beyond their general role in keeping the world turning, the Gods do little to respond to or even acknowledge such prayers, whether they be delivered in solemn silence or screamed in the heat of the moment.
Those who dedicate themselves more strongly to a single God can generally expect to be rewarded for their devotion. But divine boons are not given lightly. The Gods expect their loyal followers to live their lives as they direct and make themselves available to work in their name. Though layfolk who dedicate themselves to a single God can expect one or two extra rules to follow in exchange for a simple blessing, high priests and holy warriors must consider the impact of their God’s commandments on their every action- or risk swift and severe retribution.
The daily expectations of the Gods on their followers can be divided into two broad categories. ‘Tenets’ are often loosely worded and open to interpretation, such that different followers of the same God can interpret their tenets differently. However, the essential spirit of the instruction remains the same throughout- and they are in no sense ‘optional’. The second category, ‘commandments’, are the opposite- unambiguous, clearly worded instructions on what to do and not to do in different circumstances. Gods often demand that those who are especially devoted to them follow one or more commandments as a sign of faith, in addition to their tenets.
Some believe that the Gods are engaged in some sort of ‘game’ with one another- either metaphorically as a massive contest for power spanning The Land and everything in it, or literally, using their believers as ‘pieces’ on a divine ‘board’ hosted somewhere. As usual, the Gods are silent on the issue.
Gods almost never manifest in the physical world- at least, not in an obvious form. Furthermore, it takes a high level of devotion to even stand a chance of hearing the voice of a God outside of unusual circumstances- such as being in the Inner Sanctum of Vaivazi.
Finally, the Gods do not generally interfere directly in the affairs of humans- there are scant few tales of a God suddenly striking down anyone, even a hated foe, without provocation. They do, however, love to meddle, tasking their trusted followers with quests to further their own agendas- such as striking down hated foes.
Vaivazi is an ancient town built on the summit of Mount Jhura (JURE-ra). It is known particularly for the Sanctum, a grand temple dedicated equally to all the Gods. Many hundreds of years ago, Vaivazi was founded by the Qizzik Empire as a neutral site where all the Gods could be honoured and better understood, and has served this purpose for many years. Legends say that the Gods themselves keep a covenant to which separates Vaivazi from the toils and stresses of the rest of The Land.
Even when strife and skirmishes have raged across The Land, Vaivazi usually seems strangely unaffected. Though the area around it is parched and desolate, a bountiful subterranean aquifer ensures the town itself remains prosperous. These blessings, and its neutrality, make the town an excellent site to host negotiations and meetings, especially between the three nations.
Many pilgrims often travel to the Sanctum, either at the command of their Gods or out of a desire to be closer to them. Many wish to linger there in order to better take advantage of Vaivazi’s boons, but quickly find themselves ill at ease. It is believed that the Gods frown upon those who linger in this holy place without purpose, and this alone is enough to keep the population of the town generally small, though it can fluctuate quite rapidly as the months pass.
While individual Gods may well have grander shrines erected by their followers across The Land, no place is as holy to all as the Sanctum. Despite its ancient construction, the Sanctum has been well-maintained by both the townsfolk and the blessings of the Gods. The massive stones which comprise much of the structure seem as sturdy today as they did generations ago, many retaining their original markings despite the toll of ages. Inside the Sanctum are many small shrines to individual Gods, and empty alcoves where new ones can be erected.
Within the Sanctum lies the Inner Sanctum, an especially holy place where those devoted to the Gods can be closest to and commune with them, and even those who lack devotion can hope to experience a glimpse of the divine. Prayers made within the Inner Sanctum seem to catch the attention of the Gods far more readily than those made anywhere else.
The town specifically does not have any written laws whatsoever, much less any sort of official government, law enforcement, or ruling body. The Gods consider their collective rule over this holy place to be absolute, and consider attempts to enact civic law to be blasphemous. This is little comfort to those who seek to exploit others, though, as this very same lawlessness frees the hands of both victims and any other interested parties to respond how they wish to any slight, whether real and perceived.
In the unusual event an important matter affecting the town itself arises, an informal gathering is held. There is never any voting at these gatherings- issues are discussed until agreement is reached or, more frequently, people grow tired of discussion and reach a compromise. This can, of course, result in different individuals within the town working at cross purposes- but life in Vaivazi, as always, goes on.
In the arid wastes to the south of Mount Jhura lies Berrain (bare-RAIN), and its people, the Berrin (bare-inn). The Berrin are composed of a large number of tribes, often centred around strong familial or ancestral traditions. Although the largest nation by terrain claimed, its people are scattered, disorganised, and relatively primitive. Though previously mostly nomadic, in recent generations the Berrin have settled down into mostly permanent settlements- though they still lack any holding grander than a large town.
Due to the infertility of the land in Berrain, most tribes cannot produce enough food from farming and hunting alone to support themselves. As such, Berrain is a relatively warlike nation, whose people frequently engages in skirmishes and raids along its ill-defined borders, journeying deep into the neighbouring nations to stealthily steal or simply take what they need. These raids can travel for days before striking deep into the lands of the other nations, making concerted defence tricky. Furthermore, each tribe has its own stratagems and approaches- while some will pride themselves on taking only what they need or ending life only when necessary, others will ransack entire towns and raze them to the ground for sport afterwards.
The Berrin value the qualities of fierce loyalty and discipline, but also of cunning and opportunism. They believe that it is good and right that strong men should naturally rise to positions of leadership, regardless of the steps necessary to ensure this. This view also extends to their religious beliefs- so too is it natural for strong Gods to replace the weak over time. Just as men should not follow a weak leader, they should not worship a weak God. That said, a good man does not openly challenge his weak superior, but rather waits for the opportune moment, either challenging him to a battle to the death or simply killing him while he sleeps. A strong leader, they argue, would not be so easily dispatched.
Their names are often harsh and monosyllabic, arising from a tradition where clear communication in battle is the imperative. Their flag is a silhouette of a desert snake on a horizontal red-and-white background. They view slavery as impractical- a slave in Berrain is unlikely to be able to even feed themselves, and certainly cannot be trusted to wield a weapon for the tribe which captured them. People from the other nations view them as violent, backwards, and uncivilised, only able to eke out an existence thanks to their brutish Gods and blasted territory which nobody can find the value in conquering.
In an unusual move, a few weeks a small tribe of Berrin launched a raid against Varvazi in the dead of night. Though this alone would be bold, the raiders have decided to hold the town, and have thus far repelled hasty attempts from Galaiya to ‘liberate’ it. The raiders have been careful to avoid disrupting the day-to-day business of the town, beyond killing any who attempt to stop them and who refuse to lay down their weapons. While the situation at present is undeniably tense, all things considered, its impact on the town has been minimal. Life in Vaivazi, as always, goes on.
To the west lies Qarzi (KARR-zee), whose inhabitants are the Qarzik (KARR-zik). Their leaders claim direct lineage from the ancient Qizzik Empire which once covered The Land from shore to shore, and Vaivazi was built by their hands many hundreds of years ago. Their current leader, Grand Savant Blue-Height-Horizon, is primarily concerned with upholding the ancient Qizzik and Qarzik traditions at any cost.
Qarzik society is based around a strict caste system. The largest caste are the slaves- whether captured in battle, purchased in trade, or simply born of slave parents. Slaves have no rights whatsoever, and are legally the property of their masters. Above them are the craftsmen and artisans, then the soldiers and enforcers. Finally at the top are the privileged scholars and philosophers who rule the nation. They are generally above the civil law in all but the most intolerable cases and take charge on all matters of great importance, from overseeing the nation’s resources to designing grand monuments to honour the Gods. Though leaving one’s caste is impossible, the relative strength of one’s position within the caste is vitally important.
Qarzi lays claim to less territory than the other nations, but the territory it does have is some of the finest, from coastal ports overflowing with seafood to mountain ranges full of precious ores. The Grand Savant and his close allies undoubtedly live the most luxurious and decadent lives in all The Land. The largest city in The Land is Qizaka, from where the rulers of the Qarzi govern. To the other peoples, the Qarzik are either aloof and arrogant fools, meddling in matters beyond the mortal realm, or ruthless slavers, lounging in luxury while their serfs toil and die for them. Though the Qarzik view diviners and their ilk with the same hatred as the other nations, many diviners are Qarzik scholars. As a people, they value patience, observation, wisdom, and intelligence across all castes, in addition to the skills and traits clearly needed to excel in one’s caste.
The Qarzik believe that all Gods are parts of a larger force known simply as ‘The Divine’, which has three distinct aspects. These are The Mother, The Father, and The Child, also known by some scholars as the Hypothesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis. The Mother embodies nurturing, and is often the God who is most helpful to the prayers of the Qarzik. Conversely, The Father is a challenging influence- often not directly harmful, but the creator of obstacles which must be overcome. The Child combines elements of both Mother and Father, and is believed to indicate the solution to the nation’s problems and the direction it should be progressing in.
Typically a single God will be believed to host each of these aspects, though the aspects can gradually ‘migrate’ over time from one God to another. These Gods tend to be invoked and respected over others in their nation. Qarzik names are often in three distinct parts, in reverence to The Divine such as ‘Grey-Sky-Flare’ or ‘Blade-Hold-Hand’. Even their flag is composed of three purple triangles on a golden background.
And finally, in the fertile grasslands of the east is Galaiya (gah-LIE-ah), home of the Galaiyan (gah-LIE-yan) people. This loose collection of disparate towns and villages is drawn together and unified by central government known as the Senate, and its people are the most populous in all The Land. Each settlement democratically elects a representative, who is sent to the Senate in the city of Syna (SIGH-na) to decide on matters of importance affecting the nation. Seats are also given to prominent nobles, high priests of powerful gods, wealthy traders, skilled generals, and so forth.
As such, Galaiya is the only significant democracy across The Land, and its citizens enjoy an unprecedented level of control over their own lives. Unfortunately, the system is notoriously slow, bureaucratic, and occasionally outright corrupt. Galaiyans value civic participation, patriotism, heroism, and honesty- even to the point of causing offense. Their taverns echo with tales of ordinary citizens who stood up to moral injustice and righted a wrong by taking the law into their own hands- though, paradoxically, they commonly still hold the rule of law to be essential to strong society.
Their names are as diverse as the settlements and peoples found across their nation, but as a people, they’re fond of titles. Whether granted by the Senate, local councils in recognition of services rendered, or by friends or strangers through casual or professional interaction, titles are taken very seriously. To mock another’s title, or interrupt them before they can finish introducing themselves, is a grave offense. Though they collect many over their lives, Galaiyans tend to introduce themselves with a few carefully chosen titles.
Galaiyans try to treat all the Gods with respect and dignity, but have laws to discourage the worship of Gods who seem potentially destructive to the nation. The Galaiyan flag is a source of pride for them, and consists of three vertical bands of blue, white, and green. Galaiya does not have a single central city or overall leader, but almost Galaiyans make an effort to know their representative and most follow reports from the Senate. Berrin and Qarzi see Galaiyans as painfully slow, stifled and constrained by procedure, or blundering oafs, willing to die for their so-called ‘freedom’ while blind to the machinations of their senators.
Though Vaivazi is, as always, neutral, it has been the tradition for many generations that it sends a representative to the Senate just like any settlement in Galaiya. Galaiyans justify this due to Vaivazi’s importance, but the other nations accuse Galaiya of applying political pressure to the town. Those in the town without experience of Galaiya’s democracy relish any chance to control their own fates, no matter how small, and are generally flattered to be taking part in these processes. In recent weeks, nearby Galaiyan settlements just across the border have launched hastily-prepared counter-attacks in an attempt to drive out the Berrin raiders who have taken up residence in Vaivazi, but have so far been unable to overcome the town’s natural defenses.
At present, these three nations formally exist in a state of truce, though this has little practical influence on the Berrin raiders, Qarzi slavers, and Galaiyan ‘liberators’ who are able to sally forth into other lands as the whim takes them. Though the current ‘peace’ has lasted for as long as this generation can remember, between the plots of Gods and man and the lessons taught by history, no one but a fool would expect it to last forever…