Being an Adventurer
There was no cataclysm that brought the world low. In fact, it can't be stated that the world was ever truly better off than it is now. Sure - there are stories of a golden age of heroes and gods, but the people standing before you now, watching and waiting for your answer, are all there is. Life is tough and terrifying and dangerous and, for the most part, utterly unfair. People huddle in their cramped and muddy villages behind walls of wood and daub hoping that the underworld doesn't find them. But it did. That is why you are here.
There isn't much glory in being an adventurer. When you make an appearance the people assume, and often rightly so, that you are little more than a vagabond, scoundrel, and mercenary cut-throat. But when that doorway appears in someone's cellar, or the long abandoned farm on the edge of town suddenly has a family living in it, the respectable folk steer clear. Suddenly they need someone brave and stalwart to defend them from the unreasoning madness of the underworld. So they offer as little as they can, and stand with clasped hands and begging eyes waiting for your answer.
You might be smart, but you have an attitude problem. Or perhaps you are just unlucky enough to be the eighth son of a beet merchant. The guild were full up with bright eyed apprentices they day you showed up (a day late I might add) and your eldest brother gambled away the already meager family inheritance. The temple was going to hand you some beads and a prayer book (can you even read?) and send you right back out the door to spread the word. There were no other options. You spent everything you could find on a chipped sword and are weighing your options. Risk life and limb for a reward that you'll inevitably spend right here in this dump of a town on few nights of revelry before being run out or let the darkness under the earth devour these pitiful souls.
There is freedom in this life of being an adventurer and a strange responsibility. When the dungeons bloom you can almost sense it. When the darkness wells up inside someone and makes them hollow, you can see it in the eyes before their own family does. Hunting a pack of goblins that have separated from their mother is a pleasure, and diving into the depths of the living darkness ... well ... every time you step back out into the light laden with treasure and covered with gore you know you are magnificent and must celebrate life. Eat, drink, and be merry ... for tomorrow you may well die.
The Eradu setting emphasis mystery, exploration, the unknown, isolation, and the weird fantasy that lurks just below the obvious. Eradu isn't chained by the "common" facts of medieval fantasy worlds. At the same time, the pastiche of moral relativism and the exception being commonplace are also put aside - there is true evil and the players are on the opposite side.
The world is wilderness - vast and unforgiving. Walled settlements dot the land and do what they can to protect themselves from the dangerous of the world and eek out a living. You probably won't find maps and traveling merchants or even shops with adventuring gear. There just isn't much out there and the people don't know much beyond perhaps where the next village is (old Jyon once walked three days to Cooper's Point ... you could ask him).
A local villager might know a bit about the area surrounding her village, but will tell even brave adventurers to stay away from the woods because they are haunted by vengeful ghosts of lost children and to avoid the river at night because of the demon water spirit that resides there. The villager may be right, or she may be full of crap and just frightened. But even if there are no ghosts, a bear (infested with blakkwyrm or not) can easily tear a person apart. If you want accurate details, ask the guy in the tavern with one leg.
Eradu is old. Eradu is vast. Eradu is dangerous.
The Dreadful Wilderness
Most of Eradu is wilderness. While there are small settlements dotted across the seemingly endless landscape, they are few and far between. The space between those dim points of light are haunted by all manner of creature and littered with the ruins of times longs past.
There are few roads, although a fading trail can be found from time to time. Crumbling outpost towers from ages past stand sadly and watch the passing of the seasons. There are vast tracks of forest, improbable mountains, endless seas, scorching deserts, and dank bogs. Finding one's way without getting lost across the vastness is a feat to be proud of.
There are dire creatures that call these places home and would happily dine on the flesh of foolish adventurers. Beasts known to men stalk the land, but fouler creatures lurk in the darkness of the old trees and rugged hills. Things unseen stalk the high grasses. The movement just under the surface of the bog has thorny claws more often than not.
The landscape and the inhabitants are not the only problem in the dreadful wilderness. Fierce and strange storms ravage those who do not take shelter; not simply driving rain or blinding snow, but hails of metal shards, winds that stink of decay and cause violent sickness, and fogs that can cause madness and confusion.
The wilderness is not a place to be taken lightly. The unprepared die quickly and the experienced often barely survive.
The Urban Excressency
The majority of the world is small settlements crowded around storm-worn castles or huddling in simple huts behind rotted wooden walls, there are places where humanity has create a places where they exist in numbers unimaginable to most. These places are not simply villages that have grown larger, but dangerous urban environments of outlandish scale.
Where in the wilderness the most dangerous foes will likely be unknown horrors, the urban foe is just as often someone that was previously thought to be an ally. Dopplegangers and shape-shifters abound, but simple human nature, the twin cults of greed and pride, create the most fearsome opponents.
While constructs of human pride, the oldest of the great cities have more of a soul than one might imagine. The city has a pulse, and those that are tuned into the frequency can feel when something is coming. When retribution is near, when vengeance is creeping, and when agents of chaos are let through the gates not by human hands, but by sheer will of the urban blight itself.
The Living Underworld [credit]
The underworld is not just a dream or myth, it is a real place that lies beneath the feet of those that live in the light of day. The underworld is not simply a series of dungeons and caverns, but a place unto it’s own that follows rules and laws that are different that the world of light. It is a place of Darkness - not just the absence of light, but the absence of morality, sense, and virtue. It is a place of wickedness where creatures guard forgotten tombs and worship living demon gods. It is a place where vast treasures lie scattered and ready for the taking if the looter is willing to pay the price of his soul. Most terrifying of all, however, is that it is a place that wants to be.
Abandoned buildings left unused for too long grow grow weedy, dusty, strange. The angles twist and the geometry buckles under the barometric pressure of anti-life. Among the dust and cobwebs, traps blossom. A brood of goblins rise out of the earth and shake clods of birth matter from their heads. Exotic, threatening beasts settle down and nest; below these lairs, trap doors lead to newly-formed but entirely ancient and archetypal stairs, dank tunnels with torch brackets that never held a torch.
Sewers have to be regularly patrolled, newly-budded secret doors smashed and burned. Behind these doors may be shimmering portal mist, writhing, glistening gristle or simply mundane wall. The door is destroyed, what lays behind sealed away under rocks and incantations.
The Underworld is a place that wants to exist and blooms, grows, and will slowly devour all if left unchecked. However, the presence of a single Daylight Person causes dungeon growth to slow to a crawl if not stop completely. The dungeon is sluggish, confused when humans wander through it and it begins to wake monsters, set traps, and otherwise expel its guts to purge and frighten away the intruder.
Dungeons dream in forgotten places and long to be born. In the liminality of the taking form, the dungeon's dreams and fantasies blow like a hot breath from its hiding place and cause confusion and nightmares. Where abandoned sewer lines and city intermingle, usually in the poorest places, dungeon birth is foretold when the poor suffer from madness & mutation, plot riots and insurrection.
Dungeons also appear in uncivilized minds, in items of power too-long unused. Wizards have dungeon-bent minds, cultists, punk priests, chaos Catholics all find themselves compelled to live by nascent dungeons, total capitulation to the dungeon and it's reigning deities. Wizards summoning monsters are essentially just wizards peeling back the difference between this place and the cloaca that first ripped open their minds.