Weapons locker’s on your right, the enemy’s straight ahead. Win and you’ll be richer than the dreams of avarice, or at least going to sleep with all four limbs intact this time. But victory may have a devastating cost.
1. Welcome to the world of Pyrrhus. Weapons locker’s on your right, the enemy’s straight ahead. Win and you’ll be richer than the dreams of avarice, or at least going to sleep with all four limbs intact this time. But victory may have a devastating cost.
Pyrrhus is a world of perpetual war. Violence is the universal language and the cornerstone of society. The known world is still recovering from the after-effects of catastrophe some hundred fifty years ago, by the local calendar. The glove was thrown, the hammer dropped, the destruction all but total. The shape of cultures, of nations, even the very landscape was changed. Some said it was the war to end all wars, the War of the Gods, but the rest knew better. War doesn’t change.Or… does it?
In the ruin-filled continent, packed to the brim with squabbling fiefdoms, principalities, kingdoms, empires, republics and combines, one city still shines in pre-cataclysmic splendor.Bastion, the City of Crystal and Steel. Concrete, pavement, metal and light ring outward in circles of wonder, spires clawing at the sky while mist pools in the neon-drenched streets. Flicking lights from computer and radiovision screens reflect off oil-slick puddles, and the coated masses hustle below flickering ghosts of the past. Every grand market and dingy back-alley shop holds wonders, and every grand plaza and seedy street-rat bar has some opportunity for the enterprising young adventurer. Bastion’s neutrality is enforced by the Sentinels, fearsome pre-Cataclysmic guardians armed with powerful weapons and psionic wards. Under the Sentinels, Bastion allows people from all corners of the world to meet and trade in relative peace. Peace, what a foreign concept! There might be hope for a better world yet, if some enterprising young do-gooders push it along enough. Of course, maybe instead they’d just like to get filthy rich instead.
If they survive the mysterious hostile aliens, enemy armies, mad scientists, cyber-crackers, corporate hit-squads, criminal masterminds and unstoppable ancient relics of the Age of the Gods, that is. Have fun!
Commence Wargames & WizardsPyrrhus is a campaign setting designed as a backdrop for tabletop gaming with the BIWA Role-Playing rules system. This is a world where might makes right and constant warfare is the rule. After a horrific cataclysm about one hundred and fifty years before the present, the three great nations of the world were effectively shattered. Into this political power vacuum arose an almost endless number of smaller nations, countries, kingdoms and what have you, all battling for dominance over land, resources, ancient cultural and racial enmities, and plenty else. The powerful can always find a reason why they need something more, and everyone under them gets dragged along.
Into this world go you, our intrepid heroes. Pyrrhus is a world of endless opportunity for adventuring sorts, filled to the brim with ancient empires both remembered in battle-cries and forgotten in graves, dilapidated ruins reeking of treasures, legends to pursue and megalomaniacs to catch. You’ll probably want to start in Bastion, the only city in the world untouched by war, neon-drenched streets winding beneath dizzying spires, all full of every sort of person and being and every sort of technology and wonder sandwiched between fantastic old-world science.
Bastion has endless stories to tell, like the Sprawl of William Gibson’s cyberpunk stories or the Gotham City of DC Comics’ Batman. (Indeed, those two cities were a great influence on the look and feel of the place.) But there’s more than that. Plenty of nations have agendas to advance, and there’s room enough that MCs and players can make their own to their hearts’ content. There are mysterious visitors from the stars occupying desert craters, subterranean dungeons, crumbling military bases, and high-tech floating laboratories travelling on the ocean waves. We’ve tried to provide all the idea seeds and tools an MC would need to tell a good story.
Maybe players want to save the day from scheming advisors, shut down hostile mega-corporate takeovers, or just kick in the door to the secret underground military base and start blasting with your shotguns. Maybe they want to make a difference in the world, make things better, reconcile ancient hatreds and put an end to the warfare. Maybe they’re just in it for the shiniest toys. It’s always up to you, really. We’ve got a place in our hearts for Gary Gygax and Zeb Cook both, and Pyrrhus is meant to accommodate role-playing (amateur drama!) and roll-playing (shootin’ up bad guys for experience points) equally.
The 21st-Century Gentleman’s Guide to Pyrrhus
Pyrrhus’ setting can best be described as ‘Alternate Modern’. The world’s technology level is roughly equivalent to our world’s early 1980’s. Computers exist, of the glowing teletype text on black screens variety, and there is some limited networking, enough that ‘hackers’ find a demand for their work. Transportation is by automotive and motorbike rather than horse and caravan. The weapon of choice of militaries is the automatic rifle instead of the spear, and street thugs prefer big shiny wrist-breaking handguns to daggers. Business empires frequently wield as much power as nations, and are often much richer. (We don’t have cell phones, because there’s too many classic story tropes that access to cell phones kills dead. Think about it.) Things have progressed along roughly similar paths as the real world, with two great differences. The first is that unlike the real world, where humans are basically decent (or at least, just want to be left alone), the cultures and society of Pyrrhus grew up around the wholesale embrace of violence as a solution to life’s problems. The second major great difference in the path of development is Magic.
Psionics, psychics, ESP, spells, wizardry, sorcery, call it whatever. Magic is real. Magic is real enough and common enough that people react to it roughly the same way that people in North America react to the sight of a pigeon. Roughly two thirds to three quarters of the population are psychic. About 15% to 20% of the population are powerfully psychic, able to do things with their minds and a few impressive-sounding syllables what it would take expensive machinery to do in the real world. The most advanced tech are careful fusions of mechanics and psionics, substituting or bypassing the limits of physical laws with psionic effects.
There are three categories of magic which every power falls into, each named for one of the three great pre-Cataclysmic societies and each messing with the mundane world in a fundamentally different way. Menhir powers are the most ancient, a primal force coming from the bones of the land itself, stretching the laws of reality to enable mighty feats. Celestial powers come from, and are inspired by, the stars and extraterrestrial forces, warping the rules of reality to enable unlikely and spectacular effects. Akashic powers fuse psionics with technology, making machines work better or differently than they ought to, and effectively breaking the rules of reality.Three kinds of psionics. Enhance laws of the universe, bend the laws, break the laws. From magic comes Menhir-enhanced berserker strength to shrug off a face-full of buckshot, Celestial-twisted bolts of light offering up a staircase over the barb-wire fence, or Akashic-altered submachine guns ignoring that whole ‘ammo capacity’ problem for when you just really need to go Sylvester on some bad guys. Just as well, Menhir-enhanced construction results in buildings literally sticking to sheer vertical faces without supports, Celestial-enhanced skyscrapers reaching high into the sky despite the objections of gravity, and Akashic-enhanced motorbikes making travel across hundreds of miles a matter of a few hours, instead of the weeks a horse would take. The more advanced theories of electromagnetism may not have been discovered, but when you can simply bend the air to transmit radiovision pictures hundreds of miles instead, who needs them?It isn’t any wonder that war is bloody when anybody you meet could be packing a hydrogen bomb in their gray matter.
People are strange when you're a stranger
Most of us like humans, if only because statistically speaking we likely are one. But in the world of Pyrrhus, humans are just one of many races spread out on the continent. Creatures in Pyrrhus come in all shapes and sizes, each with multiple distinct cultures, nations and histories of their own, each with their own opinions on the others formed by diplomacy, history, trade, and the business ends of their firearms.
The Pyrrhic Geographic Society wants you!
The Bunkerbusters campaign setting takes place on a supercontinent called Pyrrhus, a single giant landmass with a dizzying variety of environments. Great salt deserts boiling with heat lie to the north, frozen wastes which none have passed beckon from the south, and in every direction lie forests, mountains, valleys and plains, all bearing the unmistakable mark of the warfare and conflict that have shaped the continent.
Roughly near the middle of the landmass lies the sole center of neutrality among the world’s factions, the Free City of Bastion, drenched in neon and mist from the top of its spires to the bottom of its streets, patrolled by sentinels from an ancient time. Scattered in every direction around are fiefdoms, kingdoms, empires, principalities, republics, theocracies and confederacies, all vying for land and resources, led by master tacticians with grand plans of conquest or just petty tyrants looking to get enough land to build a bigger palace.
Cities of the old Empire spread out like fields of dancing light, Hegemon communities brave the most extreme weather and unexpected places, and Menhir fortresses dot imposing peaks and darkest forests.
The massively irradiated Blight to the north-west, the aftermath of a long-forgotten battle, gives way on the south to Scarberg, a mountain with a massive slice taken out of the middle, whose sheer walls are now lined with elaborate carvings and gravity-defying homes. The Crying Mountain, an autonomous enclave of powerful businesses and cartels, drips with a perpetual dew that gives the territory its name. The mysterious, unsettling Eye, the glass crater left by a wrecked Duranta vessel, beckons from the White Wastes, great salt deserts where once oceans stood millennia ago. Hrokr monasteries dot the peaks of the Cloudforge Hills, promising secrets of science and magic to those willing to beat the odds of disaster on the tricksters’ roads.
National and societal identity is often equally as important in Pyrrhus as race. Though individual cities and towns may be peopled heterogeneously, particularly Hrokr enclaves, most of the upstart nations on the continent are composed of a mixed variety of races and cultures, most of whom identify with one of the three major pre-Cataclysmic civilizations: the Akashic Hegemony, Menhir State, and Celestial Empire. Many of them see themselves as the one true rightful inheritor of one of these fallen states, and feel a duty to attempt to reunite the wayward under their banner. People are bound by ties of political beliefs, family history, or even just which fizzy sugar-water beverage they prefer. There’s more than enough reason for conflict everywhere you go, and once the cycle of violence starts it is very, very difficult to stop. That doesn’t mean someone won’t try, though, does it? Even if not, your opportunities await.
Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.
The world of Pyrrhus is designed to offer the players and MC two things. The first is, of course, to give us an excuse to use the extensive combat rules. Role-Playing Games are, after all, descended from the medieval miniatures war-gaming played on felt-covered card tables in wood-paneled basements of 1970’s Lake Geneva, and combat is the major part of the BIWA rules system. That’s fine. War-gaming is fun.
But over the years, plot and background has become just as important. It’s not enough to kick in the door and attack the Orc with a Greatsword, we want to know why he’s there. What’s he doing? Does he have plans of his own? Are you making a widow of his wife or orphans of his children by treating him as just some obstacle? You monster. Get out of this house.
No, you don’t have to take it that seriously if you don’t want to. Games are supposed to be fun. But Role-Playing Games offer much more than just a backdrop to fight things, they offer a chance to tell stories, design elaborate plots, let players create a character and see what that character does. ‘Playing a role’, as it were. Pyrrhus is meant to offer the opportunity for both in equal measure. There’s fighting, there’s conflict, and it’s for some sort of reason, however petty or grand that reason might be. This campaign setting is designed to give you those reasons, make players think about what they’re doing, while still letting you take out the bad guys and rake in the treasures. Amateur drama is fun.
Stories can be set in the City of Bastion, in one of the provided lands, or MCs can simply design their own; there’s plenty of room for expansion. The rest of this book will contain descriptions of places, people, societies and history of this world, all the better to spark some ideas.Now get out there and have some fun already.
Learn more about the regions of Pyrrhus here.
Faces in the Crowd:
The Pyrrhus setting included with BIWA is a world like ours in many ways, but different in many, many others. One of the major differences is that there’s more than one sapient, tool-using animal walking around to think ‘Why?’.
Pyrrhus has a long history, and though conflict is a universal constant, the ‘who’ and the ‘why’ have changed many times. It wasn’t so long ago that Pyrrhus was under the control of the three great ancient civilizations: the Menhir State, Celestial Hegemony and Akashic Empire, grand multicultural societies of immense size and very different character. Even though they are gone now, Pyrrhan society and culture still feels their touch in the modern age.
The upshot of this is that in Pyrrhus you don’t have to be human, but a different creature entirely, with a different upbringing, personal outlook, ancient and personal history, and a different skill of inborn skills and abilities. From cackling trickster crow-men, grim and determined underground-dwelling master craftsmen, technologically advanced reptiles and even artificial constructs finding their own meaning of life, the races of Pyrrhus offer an array of choices for players to help them fine-tune their characters’ abilities and inspire histories and motivation.
Pyrrhus is a society where multiculturalism is the norm – the three great civilizations included all races under their banners, bound together by history, philosophy and culture. That isn’t to say there aren’t stereotypes, of course, but any race is a viable choice in any particular player group, and though there are clear preferences, any race can choose any power source for their special abilities. You are not what you were born, but what you can do.