Friday, 2 May 2014

Dragon Pharaoh of Phratil: Setting Basics

One of the earliest D&D rulebooks - though not the first.

So you've seen me ramble about the rules I'm considering for my D&D game.  But what is this setting that I speak of?   What do I have in mind under the title of Dragon Pharaoh of Phratil?

Definitely an influence.
My old D&D setting of Phratil was a fairly generic D&D setting.  Sure, we had some weird odds and ends - Humans with Egyptian gods, Arctic Norse Elves, monotheistic Romany-a-likes, master craftsmen orang-utans or what have you... but most of this was a pot pourri of bits and pieces nicked from other settings, either D&D or otherwise.  Pieces of Spelljammer, Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms and Eberron were crudely welded to Doctor Who, Warhammer, DC Comics and Pokemon.  God help me, I ran an entire adventure around   I didn't so much "borrow" as "nick from so many sources that people couldn't quite keep up".

Similarly, genre varied wildly.  Dungeon crawls sat next to murder mysteries sat next to urban crime dramas sat next to comedy capers.  God help me, I ran an entire adventure themed around David Bowie songs.  (It started with an angel called Zhi'Chei who fell to earth.)  It was, in a way, the ultimate D&D experience - a mishmash of everything, D&D being not a perfect simulation of any one type of novel the sort of game in which Conan, Van Helsing, Fafhrd and Harry Potter are sent by Aslan to search for Excalibur in Mordor so they can slay Count Dracula and his army of Skaven.

Yeah, kinda like that (From What If Comics)
For Dragon Pharaoh of Phratil, I want something a little different - while set in the the same world it would be centuries into the future and a radically changed setting .  God Emperor of Dune is a big influence, and Warhammer 40,000 might not be a bad comparison either.

This is all very much beta, so opinions and suggestions are sought!

The seal of the Dragon Pharaoh.  Various different organisations under her command use the same symbol but with different colours: for example, Draco Deus's seal is a blue ankh on a black background.
 "All hail Pharaoh Tineen Cleopatra, Daughter of Isis, The Serpent of The Aymans, She Who Is Opalescent Of Appearance, Dragon Pharaoh of Phratil on the occasion of the 956th anniversary of her ascendance to the throne.  Praise be that we have been blessed to live in the glory days of Her rule rather than the anarchy that came before.  Draco Deus Miserere."


Once the Phrati Empire was ruled by Pharaohs that were but men - emperors and empresses who at times claimed to be divinely inspired or blessed, at other times ruled as any other secular hereditary ruler might.  The Empire was large and powerful but coexisted alongside numerous other kingdoms, princedoms, city-states and freeholds on the globe whom if traded, negotiated and sometimes warred with.

From the Old Kingdom heartland in the southeast to rebellious Iascaire in the northwest and from The Marches bordering the Elven Princedoms to the Darkon River that marked the start of the Reptilian South; the Pharaohs ruled over a large feudal empire if a sometimes fractuous one with numerous dukes, counts and barons squabbling internally.

Pharaoh Cleopatra Ayman on the occasion of her coronation.

In the latter half of the 11th century, however, great changes came to pass.  The Ayman dynasty of Pharaohs were in power, a family who seemed prone to strange mental illnesses and infant mortality - but in Crown Princess Cleopatra Ayman, the mysteries in the blood was refined enough to reveal a latent telepathic talent.  She received a basic education to allow her control of her talents for her own safety, but no more - politically a ruler who was skilled in magic, especially in mind control, would not have been accepted by the nobility.

Cleopatra, however, was too bright and too curious to leave her power unharnessed: and there were those who saw a chance to curry favour with the princess in her illicit hunt for power.  A minor religious organisation, The Cult of the Dragon, opened it's library to Cleopatra and inducted her into its mysteries - they taught her much of sorcery they had gleaned from Draconic teachings, hoping in doing so they would have a powerful ally.  Eventually she was even offered the chance to partake of their most sacred rite - a ritual in which a draconic blood infusion would enhance the sorcerous powers of the recipient, granting them some of the innate magic of a dragon.

Most recipients of the ritual simply gained more power and perhaps some minor physical changes - sharper nails, yellow eyes or rougher skin were easy to cover up.  A minority underwent more radical changes over time, starting to appear as though they were a Human/Lizardman hybrid.   None could have predicted at the time that Cleopatra's transformation would be the most radical ever - one that would grow more and more overt over the decades until she had grown gargantuan in size, had wings sprout from her form and had become indistinguishable from one of the great wyrms that sleep beneath the mountains.

When she inherited the Headdress of the Empire, Pharaoh Cleopatra Ayman II seemed just a normal human ruler and her connection to the Cult of the Dragon was a secret..  As the years passed, her transformation became noticable to all and her affiliation to the Cult of the Dragon obvious - but by guile, diplomacy and force she was able to crush any dissent.  Infused with magical energy and granted a nigh-immortal lifespan, she was no longer just another ruler - she was the Dragon Pharaoh of Phratil.

"I swear to the Pharaoh to be a loyal soldier to the Phratil Empire: protecting its security and peace; protecting and defending it on land, at sea, in air or in the void; inside and outside the Empire; obeying military orders; implementing my leaders’ orders; and protecting my weapon which i will not leave until death."
    - Oath of the Sa'ka


Many centuries have passed since the Dragon Pharaoh was crowned and the world is a very different place to the one she was born into, with not even the longest living Elf still alive from that time.  The Phratil Empire of that time was bound to a single continent of one world, with minimal relations to the other continents - now the Dragon Pharaoh claims fealty from lords across multiple planets, connected by the Astramancers who fly vessels across the void between worlds.
Special schools exist for people with magical ability to train as Astramancers and pilot the magical helms that control the carracks, triremes and galleons of the skies.  Traditional naval crews are still required to operate the rest of the vessels.
The Dragon Pharaoh sits upon a tripod of powerful controls that allows her to rule her empire.  The first is Draco Deus, the priesthood that arose from the Cult of the Dragon and which deifies the Pharaoh.  Worship of the Imperial Cult is encouraged as loyalty to the Empire, claiming the transformation of the Dragon Pharaoh came from divine will was a form of apotheosis.  The traditional Phratil gods of Osiris, Ra, Isis etc are still venerated but those who do not praise Cleopatra risk being culturally ostracised as unpatriotic.

The second are the Sa'ka, or Dragonborn as they are commonly known.  While the individual provinces of the Empire raise their own armies, the Sa'ka are loyal only to the Dragon Pharaoh.  The soldiers undergo a variant of the same ritual the Dragon Pharaoh took on, with a specially prepared essence including her own blood converting them from normal men and woman into reptilian warriors.  A small, elite force feared across the known worlds, the Sa'ka see action both defending the Empire from foreign foes and keeping rebellious populations in line.
Not all Dragonborn are members of the Sa'ka: they breed true and there are always those who retire, desert or are removed from service due to injury rather than die in the ranks.  As such they are rare but not unheard of in civilian life.
Finally there are the Wyrdstone Bombs, the epic weapons of mass destruction which prevent all-out war between the major powers through mutually assured destruction.  Outside powers cannot escalate combat too much without risking a catastrophic reprisal.

The Phratil Empire's project to develop such weapons is allegdly codenamed "The LCB Department"

The general populace of the Phratil Empire, then, are told to worship their leader as a god; have the threat of fire-breathing warriors descending from the sky if they disobey her edicts; and that if anyone tries to invade her, she will respond with total destruction.  Such it has been for hundreds of years.  Dukes, Kings, Warlords, Emirs, Shoguns, Prime Ministers...... other major players come and go, but the Dragon Pharaoh remains.

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