Savage Worlds: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
Introduction to John Beddoes - On The Races of Arcanum
Within the realm of Arcanum there are several kinds of thinking creature, and the resemblance which all of them share is obvious even to the most casual and unlettered observer. The modern naturalist, unable to accept the superstitious explanations which are offered by Religion, must find some other means to explain the similarity between peoples as disparate as orc and elf, human and halfling, ogre and dwarf. Why do all known races of thinking creature stand upright and walk upon two legs, count five fingers upon each hand and five toes upon each foot, and see with two eyes? It may please some to believe that the hand of an Almighty Creator was at work, and yet if one sits before different pulpits one is bound to hear different, and conflicting, tales of that Creation. None of these fables sort well with what we are daily learning by our study of fossils and our observation of the natural world. If our understanding of Life and its history is to expand, we must do better.
In the interests of this greater understanding, then, I have undertaken to create a new system of classification for the various Races of Arcanum. In this venture my own observations as a naturalist have been enriched by much study, and a diligent application of the valuable data gleaned by other scientific researchers. I have also consulted some experts in the field of Magick, when I felt that Science could not provide an adequate explanation for certain phenomena. The end result of my efforts will, I have no doubt, be displeasing to many and wholly satisfactory to almost no one. Men of Faith and men of Science alike will howl for my blood, condemning me as a heretic; practitioners of the Mystic Arts will call me a dabbler and dismiss my theories with the same carelessness with which they treat all the products of Natural Philosophy. Nevertheless, I must submit my theories to universal inspection! If I am wrong, I challenge my peers to show me the error of my ways with reasoned argument and sound evidence, rather than the shameless assassination of my character and general hysteria with which my theories have been contradicted thus far.
In this treatise I will deal chiefly with what evidence the conjoined Sciences of Paleontology, Ethnology and modern Biology have been able to discover, but I cannot say that I am wholly free of debt to several noted practitioners of the Art. Most particularly the Alchemickal expertise of Wandrei Lightbrow, Ph.M. at the Hall of Applied Magicks in Tulla, has been of inestimable help to me, especially in the dating of fossils and the isolation of certain mystical vibrations in living subjects. I also learned much from my correspondence with Master Olaius Wyrmius, the esteemed Dean of History at Dernholm’s Academy of Higher Learning, who instructed me in the theory and practice of Necromancy in the ancient world. And I cannot ever find words sufficient to express my gratitude to the Wayfinder of my journey aboard the T.S.S. Cerberus, the lady El’ena Crowe. She was not only first to listen to my thoughts on Natural and Supernatural History with any patience, but was also kind enough to assist me in my inquiries, by allowing me the opportunity to interview many of her elven friends, acquaintances and relations. She was even good enough to grant me her hand in marriage on the morning of May Eve, last year, by which gift she has made me the happiest of men. The following pages, and my remaining years upon this earth, are dedicated to her.
The first grouping of Arcanum’s intelligent peoples are the three which I have come to call the Minute Races, these being the Dwarves and their cousins, the Halflings and Gnomes. The Minute Races are easily recognized by their stature, which never admits of a height greater than some 50 inches or 130 centimeters, even in the largest representatives of their race. They are also recognizable by the proportions of the body, which are somewhat different than those exhibited by humans and their kin. Minute peoples tend to have heads which are larger in proportion to the torso and limbs than one would see in a human subject. The limbs, especially the legs, are also shorter and thicker.
Ogres are the last survivors of a very ancient and potent magickal working, which has only lately begun to wane, after having been initiated nearly one million years ago. Roughly 900,000 before the present day, the fossil record shows us a wild outburst of magickal activity, an unprecedented surge of sorcery which affected life on Arcanum for millennia after. What caused this sudden cataclysmic storm of Supernatural Selection, we may never know for certain; all that we can say now is that the magickal agencies at work at that time were enormously strong, far more powerful than the forces which any modern-day mage can command. A great many organisms were created then which survive to this day, albeit in small numbers.
In this distant Epoch of Enchantment we find the origins of many legendary species, including the kraken, hydra and sea serpent; Wyrms, dragons and drakes were brought forth at roughly the same time. Many pre-existing species were substantially altered, as in the case of the unicorn and the firebird; others were merged into chimeric organisms like the centaur and manticore, for reasons unknown. Humans, which pre-date this Epoch by some two hundred thousand years, were not left untouched by the general pandemonium; although the majority of our forebears went on unchanged, some of them were vastly transformed by magick. When the fantastic whirlwind of Supernatural Selection died down some four thousand years later, two new species had emerged, and thereafter co-existed with ordinary humanity: these being the elves and the giants.
True giants are no longer among us. We know that they existed; we can still see the cyclopean stones which they arranged in the Dark Fens, if we care to travel there, and visitors still come yearly to the Giant’s Dance of Morbihan to see the pillars they erected to mark the dawning of the Midsummer sun. We have also found their fossilized remains, and one or two impressive skeletons have been assembled at Tarant’s Museum of Natural History. But the giants of Arcanum left behind more than their bones; they still walk among us, in the form of their living descendents, the ogres and half-ogres.
It is in the classification of the Median races – orcs, elves, humans and hybrids thereof – that my theories on Natural and Supernatural Selection always meet with the most resistance. I have no illusions in this matter; the religious beliefs of many are at stake, as well as a host of assumptions which are regarded as unassailable truths by the vast majority of our civilization. Nonetheless, I am a man of Science, as are my fellows in the fields of Natural and Supernatural History, and I must make my judgements based on evidence, not wishful thinking.
It is therefore my painful duty to state that all the median races, including the orcs and elves, are descended directly from human beings, by a process of Supernatural Selection. The evidence which has accumulated in recent years, through the science of Paleontology and the art of Forensic Alchemy, leaves this matter in no longer in any doubt.
Such a statement, simple as it is, sets all former systems of classification on their collective ear, and also directly contradicts the teachings of countless religions. Those who have been pleased to associate various races with mystical “Elements” will not be glad to know that their theories are not supported by the fossil record we have available. And even those learned readers who are able to tolerate speculation on the origins of humankind will often balk when we turn the same scrutiny on orcs and elves. The premise most difficult to accept is this: two organisms cannot create offspring together unless they are closely related. Although every naturalist and farmer knows it, we are reluctant to accept the same premise when it is applied to ourselves! It is nearly impossible to make the average elf, orc or human accept the truth: the very fact that half-elves and half-orcs exist at all must mean that we are cousins to one another. Further more, the fact that both half-elves and half-orcs are fertile, viable hybrids, rather than sterile sports, means that the relationship between the parent species is very close indeed!