Comprehensive Guide to CotC
HARDHATS REQUIRED! Work in progress and placeholder art ahead.
It should go without saying but Cinders of the Cataclysm is a fictional universe, completely alien from our own. The species developed without influence of our human technology or morals, they suffered different challenges from us and thus developed in a different direction.
Their struggles and values are different than our own and Beyond Reality is not trying to "push a political agenda" or trying to "say" something with this universe. For instance, just because Dunia is a flat world doesn't mean we are flat-earthers. This universe stands on its own and with its own values. Please do not use this as a political weapon in your real life struggles and if you feel offended by what's in this world, try to think about it as explorative fiction. Not a statement.
That said, we are always open to feedback and if something in it has deeply offended you, is written in a way that could be construed as propaganda or even worse: gets things wrong through ignorance, we would love to hear from you. We are not a huge team of 100's of writers. There is no way we can cover all grounds and know everything. We would love the help. Send us a message here on Worldanvil or join our discord.
This article will attempt to provide you with a core thread to follow through the world of Dunia and the role-playing setting of Cinders of the Cataclysm [CotC]. If you love the concept but do not understand where to begin reading and where to head from there, this article is for you. It will explain some common concepts, give you a condensed history lesson and point you in a direction of further reading. If you are interested in some high-level meta concepts behind the design of this setting, you can peruse Cinders of the Cataclysm Meta.
The article is spaced into a couple of sections, each designed to give you a quick rundown on different parts of CotC. You do not have to read all of it at once, but each section gives you the bare minimum to understand the setting.
CD10: Celenia D10 RPG System, the RPG system used for this setting
Celenia: The universe in which all these settings take place.
DS: Dark Shadows. A dark fantasy setting, set a millenia before CotC.
CotC: Cinders of the Catalysm, this setting.
Would you like to know more? -> What do all the acronyms mean?
There are no humans. Never were any humans. Get them out of your head and be prepared to enter a universe that evolved without influence from us in any way. With that out of the way, let's dive into Cinders of the Cataclysm!
Cinders of the Cataclysm is in a subgenre of cyberpunk and science fantasy. Cyberpunk as a genre is very much about individual struggle against the oppression in power. CotC exasperates this by putting the corporate oppression in a society that not only used to be hyper-religious but also has advanced incredibly fast technologically, essentially inventing an equivalent of nuclear power in their "middle ages".
This meant that while technology raced, societal advance was left behind. A lot of old and outdated ideals, traditions and mindsets still cling to a society far beyond what they were made for, good or bad.
Mental health and stoicism
Fusion City is the only remaining city that retains some semblance of the modern world. We'll get to what happened to the rest of the world later, don't worry, but let's focus on the modern Dunian society for now. It is descended from a warrior culture, heavily set in tradition, strength and honor. Being strong was the guiding line for everyone and showing weakness meant that you could risk being ostracized or challenged by someone below you.
This "strength before everything" mindset has left the world with a society so focused on hiding problems that mental health is a gigantic problem. Office workers all take copious amounts of psychoactive stimulants just to be able to meet quotas and there is virtually no mental health care to speak of, as no one admits to having mental issues. Poverty brews crime as people refuse to be seen as victims.
And a LOT of people have mental health issues because of how utterly out of sync their society is with their biology. Two species in particular are having bigger trouble than others adapting to this fast-paced, high-stress, capitalist "utopia".
Cinders adheres to a specific aesthetic. It is drenched in 80's cyberpunk, neon and retrofuturism and when played you are an action hero of an 80's action flick. In spite of how dark and dystopian society is, there is still a tinge of hope and RAD over it.
Rule of Cool!
To really understand the world of CotC, you have to get into the 80's RAD mindset (play the video, the music will assist you!) The rule of cool is everything and technology can do anything! It doesn't matter if it's wildly impractical if it looks awesome and still works within the confines of the setting. Entire forehead-replacements to implant a cybernetic sensor suite? Sure! Complete limb replacements with retractable claws, blades or guns? Absolutely!
The entire aesthetic of CotC is based on 80's comic books and retrofuturism. Cars have a industrial, boxy look to them, yet are sleek and futuristic. Weapons and tech is large and clunky, yet function in ways we can only dream of. The dominating storage media are giant racks of tape-reels that outperform our most advanced storage technology. The main communication device is an implanted nano-circuit chip with a holo interface. These things effortlessly coexist in this universe.
RAD is everything!
It makes little sense from our "grounded in reality" view of our world, but in the confines of the RAD 80's style of CotC, it's how things work. If you've ever watched 80's action movies, cyberpunk related anime (like Cowboy Bebop, Akira, Ghost in the Shell or Cyber City Oedo 808) you'll understand where we're coming from. Everything is rad, cool and appearance is everything. As long as it serves the narrative and the rule of cool, anything goes, within the boundaries of the rules.
Cinders doesn't attempt to be real or reflect any kind of real world we know of, but it attempts to preserve an internal consistency and remain believable, reminiscent of a possible real world. There are fantastical elements, but they're not mystical or magical, but explained with science. The action movie simile comes back here. Your character is a hero, but they are also just a person.
The People of the World
One thing that immediately gets people a bit wierded out is that Dunia lacks humans. There never were any humans and no one in Dunia is familiar with the concept of humans or humanity.
There are seven primary species who live together in what is modern society. Thanks to their long history together, these species do not live in any significant segregation or hold xenophobia or discrimination against one another, but consider the other species to be equal members of society. While there is no outspoken or outright racism between the five sapients in the world, there are still some undercurrents of discrimination. The majority of society has come to accept that the species have have different strengths and weaknesses and it's understood that you won't see many dru'un as CEOs or PR people and you likely won't find many vindral in physically demanding professions like CorpSec or the Fusion City Police Force. The real racism and discrimination is instead aimed at wastelanders and particularly against mutants, who are not part of society, in the minds of the citizens.
The civilisation is collectively known as the Kykr civilisation, but that term isn't without controversy due to how the Kykr treated the dru'un subspecies and Hessak before their emancipation, seeing them as little more than primitive barbarians.
Dulzuun, mountains of muscle
The dulzuun are heavily built boarmen, embodying the dru'un stereotype as nothing more than mountains of muscle. Dulzuun are incredibly tough physically but struggle with complex mental tasks. Their evolution premiered strength, aggression and resiliance, leaving them disadvantaged with the complexity of modern society. They are by no means dumb, but with short tempers, lack of patience and severe learning difficulties, they struggle to succeed in the fast-paced technological society of today.
Nilvan, nihilistic opportunists
Another of the dru'un subspecies, the nilvan are nimble, quick and clever. Most nilvan are nihilistic and self-serving, stemming from the fact that the vast majority of their species was wiped out in the Cataclysm. With a dwindling genetic diversity, the nilvan expect to be extinct within a couple of generations. Most suffer from the looming destruction of their species and turn to self-serving nihilism to survive. Often found as professional mercenaries, operatives and even assassins, the nilvan are cunning, quick-thinking and unmatched in a sprint. No one outsprints a nilvan.
Vindral, cold and stoic
Vindral, a species of minute Fay-like people who are most known for their deadpan logic and peculiar oestrous cycle. The vindral are the only remaining descendants of the exctinct fay. They were the original progenitors of the Kykr civilisation, banding together with the illim to fight off the extinction they faced at the hands of the fay, who banished them from their lands. Their fay anscestry makes them different from the others in more ways than their appearance. These sylph-like, angelic creatures are slaves to their origins and go into heat a couple of times a year, but stay cold and detached the rest of the time. They also do not age visibly in the same way as the others. Vindral are cold, logical and incredibly astute. What they lack in social skills and physical prowess, they more than make up for in their devotion to academia, logic and complex mental tasks. Many of the world's greatest inventors were, or are, vindral.
Kuna, jovial and charismatic
Kuna, a collection of cunning canine-like species with fantastic charisma and a killer sense of smell. They are clever, agile and creative. Their charisma, charm and social skills make them excellent "fronts" for corporations, musical artists or actors. They are often found as PR personnel, politicians and sales people. Ever curious, kuna also end up in the journalism profession. The kuna are the third species to join the original Trifolk Alliance, that formed the basis for what is the Kykr civilisation today. Somewhat stigmatized due to a congenital, genetic disease, every kuna born carries the seed of a genetic disease that can spell horrible calamity if it triggers, turning these otherwise lovely people into savage predators.
Hessak, nimble and reclusive
Hessak, a species of short and nimble lizardfolk. Stemming from a hive species in the then tropical islands in the far south, the hessak have multiple abilities unique to them. The Kykr enslaved them hundreds of years ago and selectively bred them into a labor force, eradicating any traces of their biological castes. Now a binary-sexed species, the Hessak are small, nimble and surprisingly strong for their size. They function well in most professions, but thanks to the lingering stigma of their enslavement that, like the dru'un, ended only 250 years ago, they are still not a common sight in the upper echelons of society.
Illim, creative and honest
Illim, a species of strong, durable and candid people. The closest analogue of "human" you get in this world. The illim is one of the older species in the world and was one of the two original species to start the Kykr civilisation several millennia ago. The illim are carefree, beautiful and curious. Their curiosity and almost single-minded determination makes them great innovators and many Illim are behind some of the greatest discoveries of the world. Thanks to their candid straightness, many people trust illim as leaders and politicians. They don't slack in the physical department either. While not as durable as the dulzuun they can hold their own in a tussle.
Zalra, ambitious and driven
Zalra the final of the dru'un. Zalra are horned goatmen with a strong sense of self, confidence and a drive to succeed. Boisterous and confrontative, Zalra have great success by being ambitious and intimidating. Like their nilvan and dulzuun brethren, they still suffer the stigma of slavery, struggling to climb to the higher rungs of the societal ladder. But never underestimate the tenacity of a zalra. It could be a fatal mistake.
Not as strong, nor big, as their dulzuun siblings, nor as speedy or nimble as the nilvan, the zalra still excel as mercenaries, ring-fighters and police officers. They have good physique, decent eye sight and a keen eye for firearms. With their versatility, enduring bodies and driven personalities, they make for excellent operatives for shady corporations. Many of the world's most infamous jinx' are zalra.
A society focused on the individual
A society out of touch
The progress of this society has not managed to eliminate the societal pressure of physical appearance: it has exacerbated it. The civilisations of Dunia discovered an enormously powerful, virtually infinite power source in their equivalent of early medieval age and progressed through the technological ages far faster than we did. Their tech is hundreds of years beyond ours, but their societal progress is hundreds of years behind. Not only are they still stuck in a feudal mindset, they also have their warrior traditions underneath, forcing everyone to appear strong.
The only thing they've mostly defeated that we struggle with is the discrimination of women and racism. While both exist to an extent, they are developed beyond us in those regards much thanks to how gender roles functioned in their feudal societies and the original alliance between the three major species of the time. These factors contributed to making sexism and racism less relevant and allowed the species to accept each other's differences and strengths, rather than devolving to petty race-struggles.
With a society built upon the unification of three vastly different species, and later the incorporation of two more, tension between the species was relatively small and the different species came to appreciate each other's strength and recognize weaknesses.
What they haven't progressed beyond is the sense of self. The world of Cinders of the Cataclysm is an even more self-centered, self-realization paradise than our own world. Society is a commercial, ad-ridden nightmare with every pleasure and self-realization product you can imagine. If it can be sold, it is sold. People have little regard for others as they step over corpses to get where they want to be. Ruthless capitalism in its absolute prime and not many find anything wrong with this. People don't hate the rich because they rich are callous scum, they hate the rich out of envy. Because the majority of people haven't made it there. Yet. One day they'll get there.
Dunia is the world of dreaming large and knowing you can get there if you just try hard enough and beat everyone to the punch.
The world of Dunia
The world, as it is known to the people, is called Dunia and it is a (mostly) flat world, covered by an energy dome. Dunia is suspended like a floating island in the empty vastness of an endless void of "water", known as The Abyss. While the structure of the world and its life-preserving dome would be an enigma to be solved by us Earthlings, the Dunians know of no other way of existing. To them, this state is the norm and the way it's always been.
Dunia is quite a bit smaller than Earth, with the main continent of Arjin being just above two thousand kilometers across from the west to the east coast on the widest spot. There are three main landmasses:
- Arjin, home to the only known surviving civilisation of Dunia
- Naréin, the eastern continent, now nothing but an endless desert
- Celenia, a smaller continent to the south of Arjin. Previously a prospering, high-tech society, it is a barren winter hellscape today.
All of the surviving civilisation, as far as is known, resides in the western reaches of Arjin, in an area known as the Akelan Wastes. This is the location of the one surviving city: Fusion City. But there are also scattered settlements in the Shadowmark outside, so that doesn't rule out survivors elsewhere in the world.
History, in short
The world's history is rich and long, but the short of it is thanks to a falling out between the fay and the vindral, the vindral were exiled from the fay homes of the Winterweald, a great forest that used to be in the frigid north of Arjin (the main continent).
The Vindral Exiles
The vindral were facing extinction at the hands of the Fay and fled south across the Crimson Straights, the sound between the Winterweald and the rest of Arjin. They encountered the illim on the Blood Coast and found refuge among the warm and welcoming people. Over time, the vindral and illim allied with the kuna of the southern plains and formed the Trifolk Alliance which eventually became the Kykr civilisation. Unified in their hatred of the fay, they grew their civilisation and its influence.
Enslavement of the Dru'un and Hessak
Eventually, the tribalistic raiders of animalmen known as the Dru'un and the Hessak lizardfolk were enslaved by the Kykr, who were far superior to them in technology and societal prowess. The Kykr bred the Dru'un and Hessak into a workforce for manual labor.
The Kykr civilisation flourished, eventually discovered Shadow Power and entered a prosperous industrial age.
A growing society
With such massive technological advances came political and moral advance, which eventually led to the Dru'un and Hessak's emancipation. They were taken in as citizens of Kykr society. Centuries of enslavement and biological tampering has left them slighted and disadvantaged in society, but while this has started to change through societal advance, the Dru'un and Hessak are still disadvantaged in the cutthroat corporate society built largely on mental prowess rather than physical might.
Continued use of shadow power eventually led to the collapse of the Shadow Realm, a neighboring dimension rich in an energy-dense material known as "Shade" from which the energy to fuel the Shadow Power Plants was taken. The result was The Cataclysm, a world ending event that destroyed the world, killing the vast majority of people living in it.
Only one city survived the devastation of the Cataclysm. Fusion City was one of several megacities constructed throughout the world and was the first one to be entirely powered by experimental fusion power plants. This fortunate fact was what allowed the city to survive. Since every other city was heavily integrated with shadow power the energy from the Shadow Realm had a direct conduit into the hearts of civilisation everywhere, except Fusion City.
The massive dome and Perimeter Wall that protects Fusion City was enough to protect it from the searing energy of the Cataclysm and while everything outside the city was destoyed, the city suffered comparably light damage. The Perimeter districts suffered some devastation in the form of collapsed buildings and high radiation levels, but all in all, the city survived.
While the city survived, society did not. The first decades following the Cataclysm saw a societal upheaval unlike ever before. Millions of people lost someone dear to them. Corporations and governments were collapsed or were outright destroyed. Society, as it was, ceased to be be. At least for a while. In the end those most fortunate and powerful became the rulers over the rest. Corporations shifted their propaganda and advertising. They painted themselves as the heroes. Helping society rise out of the ashes. Like Cinders out of the Cataclysm. It did not take long before this became the new norm and society fell into its new, comfortable footprints.
Fusion City is the last vestige of civilisation left in the world. A giant, glass and concrete monstrosity, housing over 100 million people, living on as if the Cataclysm never happened. The wastelands outside is a no-man's land that everyone has all but forgotten. It is a lost world to them, and everyone is far too busy thinking about their own career to bother with the wastelands.
Everything outside of Fusion City is referred to as the Shadowmark, or colloquially "The Wastelands". The immediate area surrounding Fusion City is covered in ruined structures from before the Cataclysm, but beyond the ruined perimeter there is nothing but rocks, mountains and deserts.
The wasteland is home to the few survivors of the Cataclysm. People who lived in secluded areas, far from civilisation or worked in underground complexes were protected from the devastation brought by the Cataclysm. Those people survived the searing destruction and are now trapped in the scorched remains of the world as Dunia holds on to life, desperately trying to recover.
Over the hundred years since the Cataclysm, the survivors have gathered together in small settlements around the wastelands. They huddle near regions that have fresh water, wells and struggling vegetation. They farm whatever will grow and tend to their livestock to survive. Traders travel the wastelands between settlements, bringing wares from one to the next.
The harsh landscape and difficult living conditions have turned the wastelanders resentful to the city folk, whom they call "Domedwellers". They are suspicious of strangers and trust no one. Wasteland Raiders roam the lands in search of prey, attacking villages and settlements. Life in the Wastelands is a daily struggle for survival.