Chapter One: Ioun
Welcome to IounWe made our way across the Red Wastes, for days, but still no sign of the Lost Temple of Ge Xagyg, I’m beginning to wonder if the information I got from my usual source was correct. Gakusha, the gnome scholar that was usually good at finding lost things wasn’t having much luck either.
“Over here,” the strong voice of Horoki Skywatcher thunders over the desert, proving once again the goliath was strong voice as well as arms and legs, “I think I’ve found something!” Sure enough, the crumpling remains of a long lost and forgotten temple recently revealed by a large sandstorm is on the horizon; our quarry found.
A search of the ruins didn’t improve our moods. “There isn’t anything here,” bellowed Vreeto, our Grippli scout.
There was supposed to be a gold-laced altar here; surely the desert tribes haven’t found and pillaged the ruins this quickly? We did avoid one of their patrols just yesterday, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable that they might have already been here.
But, alas, our luck worsened even more as we began to leave. “Look on the horizon, something is coming,” Horoki informed us as she made her way to our group. All I could see was a large disturbance of sand. In short order, a large group of Thark warriors came upon us. We took positions along the ruins and prepared to receive our “guests.”
We would learn today who of us were to be the Masters of Ioun!
—Karsen Katar, Knight of Zodanga: A Memoir
Ioun is a world of beauty, danger, drama, and horror. A world where swashbuckling heroes battle merciless villains across ancient vistas or above shining cities, in a world where science is magic, and adventure is always a whisper away.
Noble warriors ride dinosaurs into battle, swords in their hands and blaster pistols on their hips. Crafty sky-traders dodge air-pirates and thread the needle of storm clouds in the name of profit. Scholars sift through ancient ruins, looking for bits of eldritch technology to complete their new inventions. Kings and revolutionaries alike poor over antique maps, looking for high ground and choke points, ever wondering if their energy crystals will hold out just a little longer.
Adventurers abound in Ioun. Explorers and scouts are always in demand, as are mercenary warriors, bodyguards, spies, smugglers, and scientists. In a world of danger, those willing to face that danger can make a lucrative living—for as long as they remain alive
What adventures await you?
The Nine Nations
The known world was once dominated by a continent-spanning empire, but is now divided into nine major nations, each striving to forge its own destiny.
Exum: /ɛkˈ.s(j)um/ The Serpent Queens of Exum are cruel, but their land is full of dark beauty and artistic de-lights.
Kaol: /kɑː oˈleɪ/ The savage jungles of Kaol hide ancient ruins and the secrets of lost technology.
Korad: /koə æd/ Formerly the center of the Koradan Em-pire, Korad boasts the highest technology of all Ioun.
Lothar: /loʊ ðɛɚ/ Once a colony of Torquas, Lothar is a strict theocracy that values cold steel and hard work over modern, fallible technology.
Thark: /ðɛɚk/ This desert nation is known for its no-mads, ironglass, and vicious raiders.
Dusar: /do͞o sɑːr/ This isolated land of poets and plantations is as gray and gloomy as the people who live here.
Torquas: /tɔɹk æs/ This once-proud nation has been all but destroyed by mysterious invaders from the north-ern skies.
U-Gor: /yo͞o ɡɔɹ/ The hunters of this southern land stalk the snow in search of game, ever wary of predators, both natural and human.
Zodanga: /zoːdāng-ɑː/ The main rival of Korad, Zodanga boasts a kingdom of modern factories defended by dinosaur-riding cavalry.
History of Ioun
The Ancient Age
No one knows who the so-called Ancients were or where they went, but they left amazing technology in their wake. The most common theory has it that, when faced with some calamity, the Ancients hid their mysterious machines in vaults beneath the earth. When the crisis ended, the Ancients were gone, leaving these technological tombs untouched, for a time.
Records from the time before the Koradan Empire are spotty, but it's known that Ioun was populated by people much as it is today, though there was much more conflict between the various cultures. Empires rose and fell as one kingdom conquered another, only to be conquered by another in kind. Koradan historians call this “Age of Darkness” a time of terrible chaos and barbarism which, while tainted as Koradan propaganda, is probably somewhat true.
It was during this time that old kingdom of Korad was founded, and the seeds of the Empire were sown.
Elder Machines and the Ancients
Zephis the Scholar, a citizen of Korad, was exploring a system of caves along the western sea when he made a world-shaking discovery.
He found a crack in one of the walls of the deepest cave. Slipping through it, he discovered a vast un-derground city that had clearly been left by the Ancients. While the Ancients had left plenty of other ruins across the land, none were as intact and untouched as this city.
The legends claim Zephis spent a year in the abandoned city, experimenting with the elder ma-chines there and decoding what he could of the Ancients' glyphs, until he made the ultimate breakthrough: ioun crystals. Once he realized that these crystals were the key to bringing the forsak-en machines back to life, everything changed. The power of the Ancients was his.
He took his new-found knowledge to the king of Korad, who gave the young scientist anything he wanted in order to study the elder machines.
Zephis gathered the brightest scholars in all of Korad. With their wisdom to help guide him, and the riches of the king to support him, he established an organization to systematically study the secrets of the Ancients. Working together, the group used the principals of the elder machines to create their own ioun crystal powered devices known collectively as "crystal machines."
After his passing, this informal group of scientists and engineers became known as the Philosophical and Technological Order of the Elder Machines — or more commonly, the Machinist Order.
Rise of the Empire.
As the Machinist Order unlocked the secrets of the elder machines, the king of Korad used those ma-chines to improve the nation. He built roads, canals, and massive buildings. Korad became the shining jewel of the west.
But all that was nothing compared to the first airships. Barriers to overland travel became a thing of the past. Rough hills, rushing rivers, dense forests, and even towering mountains were no longer obstacles to the ambitious Koradans.
Clearly, the king realized, it was time to expand. It was time for conquest.
Over the next three hundred years, Korad spread across the whole continent, overpowering the other tribes and nations with the power of their crystal machines. The best army in the world was of little use when faced with an enemy that could fly.
Conquered territories were garrisoned by military personnel and heavily taxed, but largely allowed to maintain their current government systems, so long as those governments agreed to follow Impe-rial edicts. Life under the Empire could be harsh, as its taxes and quotas cared little for the circum-stances of the people who had to pay the levies or produce the goods. If a drought all but wiped out a nation's food supply, its people were still expected to offer the required tribute. Those that were una-ble to keep up with the Empire's demand had their people taken as slaves to serve either in Korad proper or inone of the other conquered territories.
Spread of the Order
One of the reasons the Koradan Empire was forced to expand was that it needed resources for its ma-chines. Most of them required ioun crystals for power, which were found in deposits all across Ioun. Other regions also had vaults of elder machines hidden beneath ruins of the Ancients, which the Machinist Order needed to advance its studies. Finally, the Empire's economy was fueled by raw materials: for example, wood from Zodanga and ironglass from Thark.
As the Empire spread across Ioun, the Machinist Order spread with it. The Order established chap-terhouses in each conquered region that served as clearing houses for any elder machines that were discovered. Because of the great distances in-volved, the chapterhouses were largely independ-ent, and did much of their own research and study without the oversight of the central Machinist headquarters in Korad.
The Order also added new members to its ranks from the occupied regions. Locals who showed an exceptional aptitude for technology were adopted into the Order, given a top-notch education, and allowed to rise to the highest ranks. Parents often pushed their children towards the Machinists, knowing it was one of the few ways for non-Koradans to get ahead in the Empire.
The Imperial Age
The so-called Imperial Age was a time of glory, decadence, and stagnation for the Koradan Empire. For centuries, the Empire had been expending its resources on expanding its infrastructure in order to conquer the rest of Ioun. Now that it had done so, it turned those same efforts towards achieving the pinnacle of comfort for those living in Korad. (Outside Korad, crystal machines were strictly regulated, and ordinary citizens were prohibited from owning them.)
The Koradans built enormous, sky-scraping buildings, fleets of flying vehicles, and eccentric crystal machines that offered little practical value but required vast amounts of resources to produce. They didn't care about the costs. The resources came from the provinces: that's why those provinces were there.
But the people who lived in those conquered terri-tories were unhappy with the imbalance of power and wealth and began to resist the Imperial occu-pation. The Zodangan rebellion was certainly not the first, and would have been crushed easily by the Empire's military might, except that at the same time, the Order was having its own crisis of conscience.
The Machinist Order was established to learn the lore of the Ancients. When the Empire grew, it took much of its strength from the technology the Order provided, and in return gave the Machinists the resources they needed to fund their exploration and research. But over the centuries, as the Empire's domination of Ioun became secure, the Empire gradually stopped supporting the Order. This was especially true for the chapterhouses in the outer provinces, which were largely left to fend for themselves while the Order headquarters in Korad wanted for nothing.
As a result, the provincial chapterhouses relied more on the locals and set deeper roots into the societies around them. They started teaching the local children basic math, literacy, and history in exchange for the resources they needed. As more children from the provinces showed they had a gift for technology, many of them stayed in the province rather than going to Korad for training, thus strengthening the ties between the local chapter-houses and their neighbors.
All this came to a head when the chapterhouse in Zodanga discovered a vault of elder machines. This was the first major discovery in decades, and the Machinists in Korad were very excited. They demanded the cache be turned over to them at once.
The Zodangan Machinists refused. It was their find, they said. They had the first rights to it.
Enraged at this insubordination, the Koradan Machinists called for the other chapterhouses to shun the Zodangan house. Only a few of them did. Many sided with the Zodangans, saying it was time the outer houses got the same respect and resources that those in Korad did.
The Machinist leaders turned to the Imperial military and asked for its help to bring the unruly Zodangan chapterhouse to heel. The military agreed. But when its forces arrived in Zodanga, they found that the locals had joined in the defense of the chapterhouse and were armed with the Machinists' own crystal machines. The army was repulsed and forced to flee back to Korad.
This was the first victory of the rebellion. And the first step in the fall of the Empire.
Fall of the Empire
Zodanga had been trembling on the edge of insurrection for years. The incident with its Machinist chapterhouse pushed it over the edge into all-out rebellion. Armed with Machinist gear, its people rose up against their oppressors... and lit the flame that would eventually burn the Empire down.
The Empire had grown corrupt and complacent. By the time its leaders realized the seriousness of the situation in Zodanga, other provinces had already started their own revolutions. The Machinist chap-terhouses in those provinces were joining the lo-cals and arming them with Imperial-grade weap-ons, vehicles, and other crystal machines.
The Empire didn't fall in a day, or even in a decade. But within fifty years of the Zodanga uprising, Korad’s sphere of control was pushed back to the coastal plains. Rather than face war on its own doorstep, the Empire signed peace accords with the newly-freed provinces and officially halt-ed its policy of conquest and colonialism.
The century immediately following the fall of the Empire was one of freedom and chaos. Some of the provinces, such as Thark, had been devastated by the war. Others, like Torquas, remained relatively unharmed because most of the fighting had been far from them. Leadership and governance was in question: did the provinces go back to the governments they'd had before the Empire, or had those governments betrayed their people by serving the Empire for years?
Without strong leaders or the Empire to keep the peace, ancient rivalries reared their heads. Tribe turned on tribe and province on province in innumerable border skirmishes and retaliatory attacks. This was made all the worse by the weakening of the Imperial infrastructure, which devastated some of the provinces' economies. Things were looking grim... and then they got worse.
Invasion of the Black Ships
No one knows where the black ships came from. The most likely theory is that there is another empire in the far north of Ioun, but no one truly knows. Of those who have gone to seek the black ships' source, none have ever returned.
What is known is this:
After the fall of the Koradan Empire, when the provinces were just getting back on their feet, a fleet of black ships appeared on Ioun's eastern shore. Each was at least fifty feet tall, propelled without sails, and full of horrors. The ships stopped offshore in Torquas, where they disgorged flying vehicles filled with soldiers, war machines, and caged monstrosities.
The invaders washed over Torquas like a black wave. Their weapons were obviously crystal ma-chines, but of such power as to make Koradan designs look like toys. They destroyed anything and anyone in their way, demolishing entire cities as they blasted their way inland. They captured people as they went, rounding them up in invisible nets of force and hauling them back to their giant black ships.
No one could tell if the soldiers of the black ships were even human. Even today, there is debate. They were encased in hard black armor, full helmets and solid faceplates. When killed, the fallen were found to be humanoid, but pale and sunless, with overly-large eyes. None were ever captured alive.
As refugees streamed from Torquas to nearby Zodanga and Lothar, those two nations sent what troops they could to help defend the rest of the nation, and contain the invaders. Zodanga reached out to Thark and Kaol, who contributed what they could to the effort. Zodanga even dis-patched ambassadors to Korad and Exum, who sent airships full of food and weapons.
What followed was a brutal, nine-year war pitting every nation in Ioun against this mysterious invader. In the end, the black ships withdrew. Nothing would ever be the same.
Torquas was destroyed. What was once a thriving seaside province full of fishermen and merchants was reduced to smoldering wreckage. A large part of its population was taken captive or killed; those who survived fled to Lothar or the other provinces.
The black ships left weird horrors behind. The ruins of Torquas were now dotted with strange pylons made of unknown metals that thrummed and hummed and glowed. Their purpose and origins are unknown. Scientists, soldiers, and treasure seekers alike are certain, that, at the very least, they hint at the possibility of other elder ma-chines buried beneath the wreckage.
The invaders also brought a menagerie of strange beasts trained to protect their camps, hunt for prisoners, and kill their enemies. They left their beasts behind, whether by accident or intent is left to debate.
Many still prowl Ioun, hunting for prey, both human and otherwise, living reminders of the bloody battles that nearly destroyed the land.
It has been fifty years since the black ships sailed from the northern skies. In that time, the provinces have rebuilt as best they could, and re-established themselves as Free Nations. While peace may be on their lips, their hearts still strive for power, and the peace has been uneasy at best. Tensions rise and fall as the seasons, and angry words often given rise to battle. Border skirmishes and the like are not uncommon, despite numerous calls for unity.
Korad has officially put its aggressive policies be-hind it, and embraced its new role as the center of an economic empire rather than a military one. Zodanga has arisen as a new political and economic power, rivaling that of Korad. The two nations are engaged in a cold war, as they continually jockey for political and economic dominance over Ioun.
In this time of rebuilding and change, there are opportunities for fortunes to be made and adventures to be had.
What's All This Then?
Ioun is a setting for the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition role-playing game. It owes a massive and intentional debt to the "sword and sorcery" fiction of Robert E. Howard, the "planetary romance" fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the many other homages to their work that has come before. Ioun, as a setting, seeks to use the Dungeons & Dragons rules in a few unique ways... Namely, there's no magic!