The world is a mountain…
Rich in iron and copper, with occasional silver and gemstones, the mountain Indomitable stands 3 000 metres tall. With maple trees growing on the slopes, and elderberry bushes a littler further up, Indomitable is home to 25 000 men, women, and children, all surrounded by a wall 10 metres high – at best only a moderate defence against the siege weapons of a past era. What the wall lacks in height it more than makes up for in length, surrounding the entire city state of Last Hope – the only home that you have ever known.
The last days…
The rest of the world holds the remains of an Iron Age civilisation that spanned the continent. For centuries humankind had tamed nature with sword and plough – cooperating to form great nations, competing for resources, and warring with their neighbours.
200 years ago, a comet struck the world. It landed in the deep ocean – the only direct casualties were fish and sea mammals. But the comet bore with it a strange radiation – mana – that transformed society. About 1% of all humanity suddenly had new doors open to them; some could use the mana directly, calling it magic (wizards); others could now call upon their ancient gods or natural forces and expect intervention where it had never before occurred (“clerics”); while still others, not necessarily showing any direct ability to manipulate mana, were nonetheless capable of greater combat skills than even the greatest veterans (“fighters”) or had remarkable abilities of stealth and agility (“rogues”). Of the 1%, most never identified their abilities and left normal lives, but some received appropriate training and went on to be great heroes, horrible villains, or mercenaries for hire – they came from all walks of life, and all levels of morality.
This Age of Heroes, as it was called, lasted perhaps a century. Some sort of critical mass was reached. Experts differ – perhaps the comet’s effects had reached a level of saturation, perhaps the mana was finally ebbing, perhaps some of the Potentials (as they were called) had performed some horrible magical experiment. Whatever the cause, the effects were not in doubt – people began to go insane. Losing their intellects, they became little more than mindless cannibals, hungering for human flesh. Their bite was infectious: anyone bitten and not slain by one these mana-born almost inevitably joined their ranks. Of course, as with any disease, clerics could cure this – but there were never enough clerics. Despite their mindlessness, they were not undead, and the clerical power over such creatures of the night was useless against the mana-born. They could die – to blade, spell, or accident – and many did, but there were thousands, then tens of thousands, of such creatures. They never slept, they were indifferent to weather extremes, and despite their dietary habits did not actually seem to require food.
Kingdoms fell. No villainous nation guilty of even the most horrific war crimes slew anywhere near as many as the mana-born. It was finally decided that the survivors would stake their chances on several walled cities to survive in.
Despite careful precautions, one by one these cities fell, until only Last Hope remained. Its walls have stood for a century, though not without cost; at its height, it had as many as 50 000 citizens, with current numbers only half of that. Humanity that once numbered millions has only a few thousand people left, while the mage-born numbers seem endless.
One last chance…
However, all is not necessarily lost. While any Mundane is subject to the disease, Potentials are immune. At puberty, a captured mana-born bites the teenager. An infected individual begins to show signs of the disease within an hour (and after 3 hours it is complete and irreversible). If, after an hour, the individual has no symptoms, they are deemed a Potential and send to the Great Hope Academy to be trained; all Potentials bear an unhealing scar on their arm or neck from the bite. Otherwise, a cleric cures the Mundane and other work is found. This process is not without risk, and there have certainly been accidents, but the risk must be taken. Even with the constant patrols and rigid discipline, it is only a matter of time before the mana-born manage to breach the walls, as they have apparently done for all the other cities. Every Potential is needed; some will find their talents used within the city (druids to help tend the farmland, fighters to help organise the defences), but many will be sent out beyond the walls, safe in the knowledge that they can only die to the mage-born – not join them. They search for other survivors (hopeless though it may be), artefacts of the prior civilisation (such as good weapons and tools made from stronger steel and wood), but especially for magical items, always with the goal to find something that will end the mage-born threat forever, with some chance that humanity will survive.
This is the Last Hope.