What is Rhune?
In the snowy, icy fields of the North, entire tribes of barbarians – disease-bound servants of the Thrall Lords – amass, mustering for Ragnarök. Their ears tuned to whispers sane men cannot hear, these horrid foes wait only for the guttural command of their masters. Further south, the dead gather among the ruins of pulverized cities, growing stronger in shadows of the Ghoul Stone, the necromantic bridge between Midgard and Neinferth. All the while, the good people of the South stand divided against their aggressors – the City-States of Vallinar embracing technology as a means to win Ragnarök, while the ælves and their allies battle to eradicate every trace of it. All the while, the daily tick of the Ragnarök Clock marks the passing of another season, bringing every branch of Yggdrasil closer to Ragnarök – the final battle.
Are you ready for Ragnarök?
Welcome to Rhune: Dawn of Twilight...
What is Stormpunk?
Originally inspired by some of the greatest campaign planar and steampunk settings, Rhune: Dawn of Twilight is truly its own genre, one we affectionately call stormpunk. It is a genre inspired by steampunk, but one that took a radically different turn, both in terms of culture and technology. While it certainly has some similarities to steampunk as a genre, stormpunk trades steampunk's monocle, Victorian sensibilities, and top hat for a drinking horn, a gear-shaped torque, and a gun-sword. It embraces electricity, but throws off the yoke of Earth's normal history and asks the question—what if Tesla had been a magician? What if magic and electricity had developed side by side? What if "steam" had lost the technological race and man learned to call power from the very sky itself? All of these questions, alongside the explorations they give birth to, are what give life to stormpunk.
What themes does Rhune explore?
In Rhune, GMs and players both have a variety of strong themes with which to work. Among these, the most prominent theme is the countdown to Ragnarök, a celestial event that brings the various branches of Yggdrasil into planar alignment, radically changing the face of Yggdrasil, the Great Tree. This event, alone, could easily drive countless stories, from any number of angles or perspectives. However, stories set in Rhune need not focus on this theme alone. Several other themes, some subtle and others readily apparent, make Rhune a setting ripe with adventure.
Players exploring these other themes will note that most focus on obvious opposites, polarizing player characters and inviting them to pick a side as part of their character creation. For some, this is part of selecting a race, and to some extent, their class, as well. So, prior to generating characters for any campaign, players and the GM should discuss precisely what themes would be actively explored. Whether or not a GM selects one of these themes is up to her, but when she does, she should openly communicate that to her players. Common themes (and examples of setting tie ins) in Rhune include:
Geopolitical—This theme is applicable in nearly all fantasy games, but has a special place in Rhune. GMs exploring this theme will likely set their story in the City-States of Vallinar and will run campaigns focused on intrigue, self-interest, economics, and inheritance. These campaigns may involve one or more of the Trade Families, underground groups like the Black Hand, or the regional interests of a given city. Geopolitical campaigns revolve around the ties individual characters have to particular clans, families or political factions; ties that as GM you might create or else guide your players towards, as you see fit. GMs using the faction rules might consider opening with this theme and transitioning later on in the campaign, at higher levels, when the PCs' influence widens beyond their immediate environment.
Nature vs.Technology—GMs exploring this theme will be focusing on the various ideological approaches to Ragnarök, with a strong focus on technology, its development (or discovery), and its use to win Ragnarök. This is a theme that will include a lot of racial tension (especially between the ælves and dwarves) and may be run in parallel to a campaign actively featuring racial tension or division. At its heart, however, a story featuring this theme should focus on the "rightness" of technology, its place in the world, and whether or not it ultimately harms or helps those involved in its creation or use. Stories that directly involve the clockwork gates or the automata will likely use this theme.
North vs. South—In Rhune, this is a theme that pits the evil, dark forces of the North against the civil, good forces of the South. This is a common theme that, at its core, pits the Thrall Lords (the Void-Touched giant offspring of the Old Gods) against their elders, the Æssinyr. While this is arguably the most prominent theme in all of Rhune and ultimately leads to Ragnarök, it need not be explored in obvious ways. Countless cults (many dedicated to Thrall Lords) operate in the South, any of which the GM might send against the PCs (which might appear as agents of other forces). Likewise, some brave souls might march to the wicked North, intent on freeing the damned or slaying those who spread evil.
Peace vs. War—Of all the themes, this may be the most challenging to explore, especially considering that most fantasy RPGs include combat encounters as a route to gain experience. Moreover, with the threat of war looming and military options readily available for most situations, peaceful solutions to problems are not always sought. GMs wishing to focus on diplomacy and non-violent problem solving should consider exploring this theme. Challenges that focus on roleplaying, diplomacy and creative (out-of-the-box) solutions offer a nice contrast to campaigns where the only option is the use of force. GMs with glitterfane player characters (or with followers of Alnara) will likely explore this theme, as well.
Racial —GMs should weigh carefully how they explore this theme. In Rhune, the racial tensions that exist are based on ideological choices more than on an outright racial hatred; this is something that a GM should highlight early in a campaign, maintaining a positive and constructive tension rather than reducing social matters to skin color or racial identities for their sake alone. Still, GMs should explore how social ideologies merge with racial identity, and how those tensions might eventually erupt into open conflict. This is a strong theme that deals with racism, the problem of racial identity (in place of individual sovereignty), and how conflicts develop between peoples. In Rhune, this is best exemplified by the ælves and dwarves, two races who have such strong beliefs that they have come to actively dislike (and sometimes hate) one another. Campaigns with this theme probably include groups made up of one side (dwarves and their allies, for instance), fighting the other (the ælves and their allies)—regardless of the base alignments of either side.
Raiding vs. Trading —Tradition is a prevalent force in Rhune, especially in rural areas. The traditions of raiding, slaving, and dominating those too weak to overcome outside forces persists despite the influence of the more civilized sectors of society (such as the City-States of Vallinar). So, while society (at least in the South) has advanced to a point that it recognizes the sovereignty of the individual, not everyone embraces it. This theme might also be called titled "tradition vs. progress" and could cover more traditional fantasy themes, including gender roles, family relationships, racism (although that theme is addressed above), and the problems of status.
How is Rhune different than other fantasy settings?
Before you read this as a "shot accross the bow," please understand that we absolutely love fantasy, be it rooted in the Finnish myths (Tolkien) or firmly dedicated to a world at war (like the Iron Kingdoms), or anything in between. In fact, many of these settings have influenced Rhune in their own ways, which only adds to its overall vision.
Still, Rhune is very different. Many of the traditional fantasy races (at least the standard races people who play Pathfinder are accustomed to) do not walk the Branches of the Great Tree, Yggdrasil (there are no haldlings, no half-orcs, no gnomes, no tieflings, and so on). In their place stand races who, through their slow and steady spread accross the Great Tree, have come to take their place. But that is but one factor setting Rhune apart from other settings. It's use of technology - namely electricity (and the Storm Shephards who call it down from the heavens) - that often sets it apart. That, coupled with the distinct approach of Ragnarök, an event that is not a myth, but a divine promise, that sets a darker, grittier tone. The heroes who embrace the problems facing the people of Midgard aren't fighting dragons or dark elves - they're fighting the disease-ridden servants of rebel gods who have, through their own selfish efforts, come to see mankind as little more than cattle; fodder for the final battle that defines all who await its inevitablility.
While that doesn't mean players and GMs cannot explore more common themes in their own games, it does mean that the background of most adventures will likely include elements that remind everyone just what is at stake... and how little time folks have until the branches of the Great Tree align, the heavens open, and the world people know ceases to exist.