Scrying the Ancient Races of Oerth
Date: Sun, February 06, 2005
Topic: Myths & Legends
When a a professor of history disappears, his lecture notes are compiled for lodging in the library. Those notes discuss attempts to use scrying to uncover information concerning the ancient races of Oerth's primordial pre-history. The notes are cautionary. They may, however, spark more than one adventure or may satisfy the overly inquisitive player.
Scrying the Ancient Races of Oerth
By: Glenn Vincent Dammerung, aka GVDammerung
Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.
Copyright – Glenn Vincent Dammerung, 2004
The following is condensed from the lecture notes of Professor Quindar Icarius of the Grey College. The staff and faculty wish to express their deepest sympathies to Professor Icarius’ family. A memorial service will be held in two days time in the college chapel followed by interment of Professor Icarius’ remains in the college crypt with full honors. Anyone with information as to the whereabouts of the greater portion of Professor Icarius’ body should immediately speak with the Dean. The senior seminar, Scrying the Ancient Races of Oerth, is canceled, and those enrolled will receive credit for the course.
Humans and demi-humans commonly believe themselves to be the natural masters of Oerth. But Oerth is old – far older than these younger races suppose. Oerth has known many masters and many configurations of the land, stars, and even gods. None are eternal or immutable. The planes themselves have not always been as they are now. There was a time before time.
Today, little of the very ancient past survives. And this is well, for life is of a different sort now. In the far corners of the world, truly primordial ruins hint at the strangeness of the past and what once walked where man, elf or dwarf now hold sway. Explorations of these last remnants of the ancient Oerth produce little of tangible consequence and perhaps only slightly more knowledge. Those who have delved further through mystical means have uncovered much that they do not understand and cannot comprehend. The past was different and it was strange.
The earliest intelligent life to be sensed on Oerth inhabited a single landmass, since fractured into continents and islands. The land was largely flat and often wet, with few hills, and mountains that would now be accounted only hills. There was life in the water, the air and on the land but with far less distinction than is now seen. Plants and insect life dominated this Oerth. Great dim forests of moist and fleshy plants, seemingly as much jelly or ooze, dominated the landscape. Amidst these strange blooms fantastic insects, large and small, with an almost metallic seeming, crept, crawled, burrowed and flew in great numbers.
Scrying in now fantastically old and desolate places, there is a sense that life might first have been quickened to thought among the leaves, stems and tubers of the primordial forests. But it is only a fleeting sensation of thought passing through an alien mind. It is in that mind that a blinking and oddly shuttered intelligence is glimpsed. No name understandable as such can be sensed. They were. With no sense of self, but with a sense of identity and individuality all the same.
To say they were like great insects is not accurate but is as precise a description as may be easily come by. No blood but a thick ichor passed slowly through stiff frames, segmented and sharply jointed. They saw the world through a honeycomb of senses. Sight. In all spectrums. But not sound. No feeling. But a sensation of pressure and vibration that extended into the ethereal. And smell. So many smells. Like ozone. An electric scenting that with concentration could seemingly distinguish molecules, even atoms, which they could rearrange. They spoke with these scents. Thought with scent and smell. At a molecular level.
Their cities were great piles of secretions, mixed with natural materials. Earth. Stone. Fleshy vegetable matter. They were built by larger, bulkier examples of their kind, who could not sense beyond the physical. A ruling class, thinner and spindly, could sense beyond. These lived in this world and in the ethereal. They were of both worlds. They could pass between. But that is not accurate. They were of both worlds.
Those scrying the past call the thin creatures Spectrals, for that is how they are sensed and can best be described. They nor their race can have no other name for they knew no language that is spoken. Contact with the memory of the Spectrals is disturbing to men and abhorrent to elves. While men can abide such contact and come away with only a mild to moderate confusion, no doubt the result of the alien experience, elves are rendered catatonic, convulsing or may be driven utterly mad. Elves who recover have no memory of their scrying, leaving only a mystery.
The Spectral race died out eons ago. There was a catastrophe that fractured the single great continent upon which they lived. Their society was so interconnected and interdependent that they could not survive as continents drifted apart. Their attempts to adapt to life apart from the former whole withered and ultimately failed. Those seeking a retreat into the ethereal also failed to long survive without their purely physical connection to Oerth. In the end, the entire race sang a great death song, the echoes of which can still be sensed in quiet places where an odd smell may trigger a odder recollection or quick sensation. The atoms of a memory are all that remain of the Spectrals.
The Sea Kings
From what may be scryed, the ancient races of Oerth knew no gods or afterlife. If there was not a physical or mental survival and transition to another plane of existence, there was only the grave and nothingness. They had no souls. They had no gods. Natural selection and evolution alone guided the lives and destinies of the early races. Souls and gods would only evolve at a much later date.
With the passing of the Spectrals, then, Oerth stood by for a great span of years with no sentient race to exercise dominion over the world. When intelligence is next sensed, it is in a world completely changed. Continents have formed. Volcanism and great movements in the earth have thrown up mountains, forged raging rivers and cut chasms. All are fresh and sharp, with no rounded edges; erosion is minimal. Recognizable trees, flowers, grasses and other plants soften the otherwise harsh landscape. It is a brightly drawn and clearly lit world of distinct contrasts.
Other than insects, plants and a growing variety of purely aquatic fish types, life in this age is amphibious and much of a piece. The distinction between one sort of amphibious creature and another is discernable but minimal. Those that walk are obviously related to those that swim. And each moves easily, amphibiously, between environments. Only insects fly and burrow, while plants creep cautiously, if they move at all. The distinction between one amphibian creature and another, beyond the superficial, is intelligent, if slow, self-awareness. Some amphibians are born with, or develop, intelligence, while others do not. There is no consistency, for intelligence is not yet a consistent inheritance.
Scrying along farther shores or in long dry sea or lakebeds, it is possible to see distantly an empire that spans both the land and sea without distinction. The masters of this imperium are the Sea Kings, that race of amphibians that first knew sentience. It is a strange rule, however, for intelligence is not the norm but rather an unpredictable exception to a mere dull awareness.
Those of the Sea Kings possessing superior powers of the mind continue to live among their unquickened kin. They breed with them. They eat them if no other food presents itself. There is no society beyond the most expedient and no social taboos. There is, however, an empire.
Harnessing or enslaving their slower fellows, the Sea Kings forge a genuine empire. Great cities grow on the land and flourish equally beneath the sea. The Sea Kings are aided in their drive for mastery of Oerth by the first stirrings of magic. Of an elemental and elementary sort, some among the Sea Kings can shape natural forces through will alone. Not yet magic, nor purely psionics, and bearing some resemblance to a primitive druidic power of the natural world, the greatest of the Sea Kings possessed a rudimentary control over the elements that allowed them to shape their environment, if haltingly, by means other than brute labor. This ability, like intelligence itself, appeared unpredictably.
The minds of the Sea Kings come through coldly, with a low, predatory cunning and minimal calculation. The best, or worst, of them are spasmodically inventive, given to sudden understanding of potential but with no insight or moral compass to evaluate the new thought. The idea is. It must be done. It is almost a reflex. Intelligence as sensation. Invention as feeling. The empire is ruled by the strongest that also exhibit the most frequent inventiveness that proves to serve either themselves or others. Those who agree eat any who disagree. They call it the Feast of the Most.
Sex destroys the Sea Kings. One thinks to breed only with the intelligent. Intelligence breeds true and becomes an inherited characteristic. Inheritance becomes intelligence but where intelligence was necessary to rule, now the inheritance of intelligence becomes the single most important criteria. The singly, spasmodically intelligent are oppressed by the inheritors of intelligence, until only mutually intelligent breeders are producing rulers. Conflict is different now. War is born. And the empire fractures. Where there was one whole, there are many parts. In isolation, evolution is god. The Breeds replace the Sea Kings but can neither support the empire nor replace it.
Scrying the Sea Kings is an instinctual experience. In men, elves and dwarves, intelligence is divorced from instinct, if instinct can still be applied in more than a figurative sense. For the Sea Kings, intelligence was instinctual. They were viscerally intelligent, but limited by that immediacy of thought and action. The experience of this sort of intelligence is disconcerting to men, but less so to elves. It comes through the scry as a lurching sensation almost like drunkenness. At its best, there is a period of odd fluidity of thought and action after the link is broken. At its worst, the link produces a base animalistic urge fulfillment that can surprise even the most civilized, unleashing a savage lust for immediate gratification of thought. Elves have named this the Song of Power, and they fear it.
In those places where the Sea Kings may be scryed, their memory fades into that of the Breeds that followed quickly after them. Change is rapid. Intelligence grows. It approaches understanding. It is almost thoughtful, if in an alien way. Physical change is even more rapid. Isolated, the Breeds diverge. The smoothly soft, moistly glistening and slippery skin of the Sea Kings dies out, surviving only in the Deep Breeds, living in great wet caverns. The Land Breeds develop scales. The Sea Breeds develop a thick, tough hide covered in a sliding mucous. War is constant among and between the Breeds. Rapine is the preferred method of conquest. The war is not for territory, wealth or power but for inheritance (of intelligence) and identity. The inheritors must rule. All must be bred to the inheritors.
Weaker or less numerous Breeds flee and hide, force breeding outside their group whenever they can. The situation stabilizes after and for a time. Until the first slave warriors appear. They are not descendants of the Sea Kings but of the Breeds or bred from the lesser stock from which the Sea Kings arose with the appearance of intelligence. They are different and grow more so. They fight for the Breeds. The conquered are bred out of existence or bred to produce more slave warriors. Eating the conquered becomes taboo. They are to be bred. Only the most savage continue to practice cannibalism.
Oerth is in this time warm and wet. The Breeds make a mistake and breed optimally for the environment. They compound their error by ever more selectively breeding within their groups as the wars reduce populations beyond even the Breeds power to prodigiously reproduce. Slaves become races. They have intelligence or develop it. When the Breed masters die or become too few, the slave warrior populations continue. Many distinct races of creatures come into existence. When the climate changes, the Breeds no longer rule. They are only one of many. Their memory is that of sorrow. Understanding comes too late. The surviving Breeds sing of the lost inheritance of the Sea Kings and fall silent.
Successful attempts to scry the Breeds are always chancy affairs. Each is unique. But all are violently lusting. Sometimes, if the scry is of a later Breed, the violent urge to breed out all non-inheritors is moderated by a sadness, even regret, for the lost unity of the Sea Kings, when all could breed in relative peace and harmony and the fallen were eaten. However likely wishful thinking, the sense of sorrow is as associated with Breed scrys as violence and lust. Whether man or elf, scrying the Breeds is uncomfortable. The Spectrals were disturbingly alien. The Sea Kings less so, but still vastly different. The Breeds, particularly the later Breeds, are alien in their essential consciousness but there is also a haunting sense of familiarity that can be very uncomfortable to experience. Unlike the experience with the Spectrals or Sea Kings, it is possible for a scryer of the Breeds to experience an identification with the Breeds, a stepping into their mind, a taking over of the scryer’s mind, a loss of sense of self, almost a becoming. Lone scrys are best avoided to prevent the scryer from hurting them self or others under the influence of such impressions.
The Great Reptiles
That Oerth experienced an age of giant lizards and great reptilian civilizations is well-documented, even if exact details are for the most part unknown. For present day survivals of that age, devolved mostly to a primitive savagery, still recall in faint traditions a once fantastic prominence among all the races of the world. For the intelligent reptiles of that bygone time, ancestors of today’s savages, were the greatest, most successful descendants of the Breeds and the elite of their slave warriors.
Scrys of the period of great reptilian civilizations are maddeningly difficult. The descendants of those civilizations, now fallen into barbarism, have so continuously occupied relevant sites, and almost often still do, that it is difficult to get a clear channel to meaningfully scry without myriad interference from countless and meaningless memories bleeding one over another in a hopeless babble. This is to say nothing of the hostility demonstrated toward perceived invaders, representatives of races that have persecuted the scaled folk and which are recognized as themselves descendants of pre-human or elven races held in bondage by the great reptilian races of old. What can be seen is fragmented and mysterious.
A dull intelligence cannot comprehend. There is a great roaring in the heavens. Clouds of fire hang in the sky for days on end. But nothing is burned. Then. Everything is different. Minds become suppler. Thoughts move faster. And there is magic. Not like before. Magic is more diverse and more easily worked by those with the skill. And there are gods. Great beings to whom even the mightiest bow. And there is yet another kind of magic.
A great race of lizards vies with a great race of serpents for mastery of Oerth. The first dragons appear and join with both races. The first ancestors of man and elf emerge. They are raised as pets by the reptiles. And as food. Great cities with gleaming spires rise. The reptiles know golden ages of achievement and unchallenged power. But in time, all is lost amidst unknown wars. The ancestors of man and elf grow in wild places, hunted for sport, as well as in the homes and pens of the great metropolises. When the towers of the reptiles begin to fall, the ancestors of man and elf move into the nearly deserted cities. They are changed by what they find there.
Three races of pre-humans develop. They are the Hyperboreans, the Lemoreans and the Atalan. They war on each other and with the last remnants of the serpent people, the Yuan-ti-tu, who survive the reptiles to enter prehistory. All raise great civilizations, only nearly equaled by the later Suel Empire and that of the Baklunish. All are destroyed, or nearly so, by the Great Cataclysm, when Oerth shifts 15 degrees on its axis, raising the lands of the Hyperboreans, Lemoreans and the Atalan to almost the pole, while burning the lands of the Yuan-ti-tu beneath a fierce equatorial sun from under which only the Yuan-ti emerge.
Of all the pre-human civilizations, only the Hyperboreans survive in any discernable form. Now inhabiting the polar north, the Hyperboreans appear nearly human. Over tall and thin with a slightly backward sloping skull and an extra finger and toe joint, Hyperboreans have a gray-white complexion (an adaptation to their northern home) that is almost pallid enough to pass for that of the dead if they control their breathing. Their semi-elastic skin conceals a dense bone structure and a bi-laterally laced musculature that gives Hyperboreans a deceptive strength. Scrys of this race reveal them to be one of the progenitors of both humans and elves. Such scrys are, however, incredibly dangerous. The remaining Hyperboreans can somehow sense when their ancestors are scryed and inevitably look to thwart the attempt and punish those attempting the scry. As the Hyperboreans were and are arcanely gifted, sometimes to the point of madness, the danger they pose should not be underestimated.
The Lemoreans inhabited what is now the Land of Black Ice, Blackmoor and the plains of the Tiger and Wolf nomads. A hirsute race, the Lemoreans were very ape-like in appearance with shaggy hair covering great portions of their broadly stooped bodies. Intensely passionate and warlike, the Lemoreans unwisely warred upon every other race they encountered until they were inevitably defeated and all but destroyed. Yetis and their kind are said to be all that remain of the blood of the Lemoreans. Scrys of the Lemoreans are doubly difficult because so few suitable sites survive and because the Black Ice interferes with the scrying. Some doom fell upon the lands of the Lemoreans that brought the Black Ice. After a fashion, it or something is aware. And it does not like to be disturbed. In the worst cases, the scryer stiffens and dies as his skin turns a very cold ebony. They make no sound and give no sign before dying. And no means has yet been found to resurrect or even speak with the shades of these unfortunates. Even the most fervent wishes are unavailing.
The Atalan were the greatest, most diverse and farthest flung of the pre-human civilizations. And the most human appearing, having a near physical perfection by modern standards. From their island home, now buried beneath the polar ice, the Atalan Empire stretched from what is now the pole to the furthest extent of Hepmonaland. Atalan colonies were widely scattered and both the ancient Olman and the ancient Blackmoorian civilizations are believed to have been influenced by Atalan colonies, if they are not the descendants of such colonies. Whereas the Hyperboreans were arcanely gifted and the Lemoreans were unequalled in their warlike savagery, the Atalan were divinely inspired. From what can be discerned through the mists of time, they worshiped innumerable gods and venerated countless spirits. Everything was believed to have an animating spirit or to be some aspect of the divine. The Atalan easily assimilated any type of belief, to the point of carelessness. The Atalan were undone by the veneration of entities whose worship was tolerated even when it was seen to be ultimately inimical to human, or pre-human, life. Scrys of the Atalan are the most revealing of the past. There knowledge was so tremendous, however, that it is often difficult to fully comprehend what has been discovered.
Recorded history begins with the fall of the pre-human civilizations after the Great Cataclysm. While the recordation may not be exact, accurate or even existent in any meaningful sense, after the Great Cataclysm, the outline of history, however faint, is known or may be imagined. Resort to scrying is not necessary. It would not be productive in any case for the lines of historic demarcation are now found more closely together and often appear to blur and even merge. This is the result of a continuity of events unknown in pre-history, when much of Oerth was still being shaped. This same continuity makes it difficult to scry clearly because most channels will suffer many overlapping psychic layers. Scrys of particular objects, places or individuals will not suffer such psychic noise because they are tethered by their own being but they will be limited just so.
Little, then, of the very ancient past survives. Little more may be discovered with careful scrying. This is well for life is of a different sort now. While no threat has emerged from pre-history, every scrying attempt recorded has produced equivocal results for those conducting the scry. The primordial past was not meant to be disturbed. It is past. Much of it is not better if remembered but is better if left forgotten. Man now dominates Oerth. He has no reason to question this and less reason to look backward over his shoulder. Come away. Leave the lid of the box closed. There is nothing inside.
DM NOTE - The foregoing can be used in at least three ways. First, it may provide a skeleton outline of Oerth’s prehistory that will allow a DM to answer most players’ questions in that regard (the answers may or may not have any relation to the truth at the discretion of the DM). Second, the material may be used to deal with “scry-babies,” players determined to plumb the depths of time just to see if the DM can handle the inquiry. Finally, there are adventure hooks aplenty in the professor’s notes that can spark adventures or which can provide “outs” or elaborations in another adventure that digs into the past.