The world has not ended, but it is not as it once was. No one knows why it happened, or indeed quite what it was that did happen, but the reality of the Upheaval cannot be denied. All felt the waves of power that were unleashed stabbing into their minds, or if the churches are to be believed, their very souls, though as it passed not all could see what had been done to their world.
Those who lived in the cities noticed little change, not until the steady stream of caravans through the gates began to slow, and the survivors aboard those few that made it spouted forth their tales of terror, the wave of nothingness closing in on both sides of the road they travelled, horses erupting in panic and breaking loose of their bindings, cantering into the enclosing emptiness and vanishing from sight. At the time, none knew why the road they stood on remained, while all around them little survived barring a few landmarks: some counted their blessings, some, such as the mages who had pulled up their defences in time claimed credit, while others put it down to sheer luck. We know better now.
It is in the nature of people everywhere to leave their mark upon the world, to shape their surroundings as they see fit, whether it is sowing crops that the land may provide food, building a road to speed the travel or simply a shelter to keep the rain off. In many ways, the Upheaval was simply the epitome of this. As best as the scholars can tell us, the power that those unknown few set upon the world that day reached into our minds, every single one of us, and asked a simple question “What is the world you know?”. We now live in the answer.
The cities are unchanged, by and large, their streets walked by a thousand times a thousand people each day, and the roads used by traders, along with the wayside inns they frequent remain for the same reason. Beyond that though, what we have come to know as the Consensus ends. Where does your bread come from? Somewhere you perhaps understood that there must be a farm, where grain was harvested and milled. Maybe you even know that there’s a stretch of farmland eighteen miles north-east of the city, where a farmer presumably presides over acres of productive fields. But could you describe the fields? Could you picture every detail, truly and accurately in your mind? Of course not. In fact, probably no-one could, save perhaps the owner of the fields, if they had spent their entire life tending them. While the precise thresholds are still uncertain, accumulated evidence would suggest that one person, one mind, no matter how detailed the memory within, was not enough to spread the Consensus.
That’s not to say that you wouldn’t find a farm there, were you to travel those eighteen miles, following first roads where they remained, then pick your way along Consensus paths and tracks, then striking out into the Flux towards where your destination should lie. After all, hundreds like you were reasonably confident of the farm’s existence and rough location. What you find however, is unlikely to be the farm that once lay there. There will be crops, there will probably be a few cows, and a farmhouse. There might even be a Farmer, and some Farmhands, though on balance, it would probably be better for you if there weren’t.
Even beyond the cities, of course, some places were well known and frequented by many, and you will still find them out there, as pockets of Consensus within the expanse of the Flux, waiting for unwary travellers to stumble upon them, or determined explorers to carve out the way, trusting to luck, the best maps they can obtain, or the skills of a Wayfinder. Many such endeavours are doomed to failure, weeks of wandering the Flux coming to nothing, or the travellers falling prey to Bandits, Wolves or worse. Those who succeed, however, have much to gain, both materially from what they find, and from the reputation that quickly builds up around those who do so. What lies within the Consensus alone cannot sustain the society that existed before the upheaval. Whether to hunt, to harvest or to reclaim what has been lost, we must look outwards to the Flux, and inwards to find those willing to brave it.
The setting picks up two years after the Upheaval (which took place in the middle of summer), and is centred upon the city of Acryn, the continent’s largest settlement. The first winter to come in the Upheaval’s wake was hard, thousands dying of starvation as food supplies suffered from a harvest that had largely been lost. The spring that followed was a frenzy of activity, as the land within the bands of Consensus surrounding the cities was hastily planted with as many crops as possible, but few could conceive of many surviving another year on accumulated stocks. The foundation of the Wayfinder’s guild, however, and increasing understanding of the nature and navigation of the Flux, allowed a limited harvest to be gathered from farmland that had lain outside the consensus, sufficient for Government instituted rationing to bring the city through the second winter, especially when combined with the increasing powers of the priests of the Tender. There were deaths, there were riots, but the city pulled through, and the story was the same for most (though not all) cities on the continent. Refugees initially flooded to the cities in droves, but the numbers quickly tailed off, and it is thought that few now remain living elsewhere.
The harvest from the planted crops, though meagre compared to that drawn from the verdant pastures of the countryside, combined with Flux farming and the population decline has just about stabilised the food situation, though rationing remains in effect and meat is a luxury afforded only to those who can pay for hunters bold enough to enter the Flux.
Now that starvation is no longer an immediate concern, the city council and others in positions of power have begun to turn their attention towards adapting to the new state of the world. Despite the hopes of many, it seems more and more likely that no reversal of the Upheaval is imminent, and that if Acryn is to reclaim its position as one of the most powerful city-states in the world, changes will be required and work must be done. Regular contact has been re-established with the majority of towns and cities within a few hundred miles, but a huge amount of the cross-continental trade and communications that were previously taken for granted have yet to be restored, never mind those with nations across seas or oceans. The city council is willing to pay handsome rewards to anyone involved in expediting this process.
Much, also, remains lost somewhere within the Flux. Farms, estates, mines, outposts - many are still out there somewhere, sufficiently inhabited at the time of the Upheaval to be established as Consensus, but nested within miles of Flux wilderness, waiting for agents of the city or their former owners to reclaim them.
For all these reasons, now is a time when anyone brave, foolish, curious or desperate enough to strike out into the world on behalf of patrons or the city can make both a name for themselves and a tidy profit, and a sizeable community of adventurers has arisen to fill this niche. The best few are famous across the city, and some have experienced rapid rises to positions of temporal power. For each one of these exceptional individuals, however, many less talented (or simply less lucky) have lost their lives, for the Flux is very, very far from a safe place. Rumours, emanating out from grizzled veterans in the adventuring taverns, and repeated and embellished as they pervade the city’s consciousness, suggest that there are dangers in the flux unlike anything the world has seen before…