Rumors, Legends & Lies for a soulslike campaign

Here are 45 snippets of lore that probably aren’t making it to the final text of Grave, but that I could imagine making use of someday. I figured I’d put them here rather than just leaving them on the cutting room floor.

This list came out of an attempt to provide d50 Dark Souls-inspired “Rumors, Legends & Lies”—that is, gameable plot hooks for groups that need a bit more guidance than just saying, “You’re undead explorers with no memories who need to collect souls to survive and/or save the world—GO!” I realized some items on my list were more personal motivations than group motivations, though, so I broke those out into another list. (Roll a d20 for the only thing your character remembers after reawakening from death.) Then I realized only about 20 of the ones that remained actually provided any real hook or call to action, and the rest were just things I thought were interesting. Then I reread my own advice about doling out information. (“But don’t get carried away. Avoid exposition. If it wouldn’t fit on a video game loading screen, it’s too much.” Oops.) I reminded myself the game I’m hacking, Knave, is stronger for its sense of economy and restraint, and I could probably learn a lesson from that. So I stopped expanding the list at 45 items, cut it from my document, and moved on.

But hey, I wrote it all, so I might as well do something with it. So, here are a handful of ways you can rope players into collecting souls, plus a handful more in case you’re looking for some inspirational material for worldbuilding and cosmology. I ended up gradually introducing a bunch of these in my own playtest campaign, and can especially attest for the utility of number 17. When it comes to getting PCs moving, memorable NPCs are even better than a prophecy that mentions them by name.

  1. Gathering souls may restore lost memories—or even lost lives.
  2. We must drink souls, or we will become monsters.
  3. Connections with others draw the soul back to the body. The surest way to survive is to travel with people you trust, and make some friends along the way.
  4. A prophecy speaks of a unlikely heroes who will vanquish the demons. One bears a mark like yours….
  5. Subsuming the souls of the Rulers of Old will confer enough power to defeat The First Dragon.
  6. The gates to the underworld will only close when pushed with the weight of many thousand souls, allowing the dead to rest in peace once more.
  7. Beyond the gates of the underworld stands the Black Throne of the Damned. Whoever sits in it can command the legions of the dead and remake this world.
  8. Mighty demons oppress the weak across the land. Mighty demons also happen to have the most treasure.
  9. The souls of archdemons, demigods, and the corrupted heroes of old can’t be safely subsumed. The only way to prevent their return is to bind their souls into relics.
  10. A strange compulsion calls us all to a distant place, barely visible on the horizon.
  11. The brightest of souls aren’t mere fragments—they can be returned to grateful owners. Follow the gentle tug.
  12. The Dust Keeper pursues you. Keep moving.
  13. Joining with enough souls permits transcendence to a higher plane, a higher state of being.
  14. Even fragments of souls deserve to rest in peace. The Grand Pyre can free them from torment.
  15. Some brave communities have begun reclaiming the land from demons, and rebuilding—but they need help.
  16. The whole world isn’t like this. Travel further, and you can escape this hell.
  17. The smithy will reward anyone who returns with her brother, after they return. “If I gave free supplies to every would-be hero who promised to save him, I’d be out of business and out of brothers.”
  18. The Great Library still stands, and it contains the answer to any whatever question troubles you.
  19. A jet black obelisk stands ready to absorb any souls presented to it. When it reaches a critical number, it will begin its journey across the cosmos, serving as an ark to find a new home for humanity.
  20. The tools and machines from before the fall were much more advanced than what has survived to this day. If one could discover the most advanced relics, it could change everything.
  21. It’s said that the abilities common to all human beings—our strength, wisdom, intelligence, and so on—have natural limits, and that a human can only subsume so many souls before one can subsume no more. And this is strictly true. But one who seeks to go beyond human limitations can become other than human—growing greater in stature, bestial in appearance, terrifying in demeanor. One wonders how many of the monsters we face were once like us, even heroes in their day, and whether there is any way to turn them back from what they have become.
  22. Deaths and despair a lead soul to fragment and fade until they no longer have thoughts and feelings—they are nothing more than thoughts and feelings, no more a person than hair sheared from the head. Subsuming them to pass on their strength and wisdom honors those who ceased to exist, but could not die.
  23. A holy order that preaches that every soul can be saved is slowly growing across the land. They share great power with their initiates, but will only admit those who foreswear trading or subsuming souls.
  24. One can only subsume so many souls before the power is overwhelming. A sorcerer in the south, however, has a remedy: dividing one person into two.
  25. Souls naturally seek the shelter of bodies. Maybe that is why they rush to the hands of those who slay their former bearer—seeking a safer body to inhabit.
  26. If you see a lifeless corpse with a soul resting upon it, it may have just been too faded to find its way back in. Or it may be a trap.
  27. Have you ever noticed that the monarchs and heroes of old were so much bigger than regular humans, just like those who grow fat on multitudes of souls now? They even had grand clothing to fit them! Could the practice of soul-subsuming have predated the fall of the world?
  28. Souls have always known secret paths that conscious minds do not. They no longer lead us to the underworld after death, but instead lead back to our companions. But where else might they lead us, if we were brave enough to explore in death?
  29. Not everybody reawakened at once. New people rise every day, as devouring souls makes room for them.
  30. Anybody who tells you that you’re “the chosen ones” is using you.
  31. Merchants provide rare and valuable services. Murdering and robbing them never goes undiscovered, and never goes unanswered. Some merchants, of course, command more loyalty than others. It keeps prices low.
  32. Successful merchants stock only a few types of goods, and sometimes use magical means to ensure that if they come to harm, their stock goes with them. After all, the once-living no longer need food or bedrolls, but may be desperate for items that kill.
  33. Magic in the tradition of sorcery channels the light of distant stars and the outer spheres, far beyond the heavens, using the caster’s own soul as a conduit. Academy mages once referred to such spells as “arcane magic,” for studying them was said to be the key to unlocking the secrets of the cosmos.
  34. Some say the divine abandoned humankind, but the sunlight and lightning of the heavens still lend their power to the miracles of old. The prayers that call upon these spells collect dust in hymnals and scriptures in abandoned places of worship.
  35. The tradition of magic known as “witchcraft” is actually a patchwork of rites from ancient religions—some matriarchal, some nature-worshipping, some outright diabolism—all lumped together and condemned by the Church as heretical. The light that powers such spells comes from the fires deep within the earth, the glint of moonlight in beasts’ eyes, and other places besides.
  36. The serpent folk are not demons, but the risen dead, like us. They’ve done a much better job of reestablishing communities, though. Too bad they put those skills to work to build gangs of killers and thieves.
  37. The exiles from across the sea sell their skills as mercenaries to the highest bidder. Apparently their people routinely wiped their memories through blood ritual even before the end, so they adapted surprisingly well.
  38. The gates to the underworld were left open when its ruler abdicated the throne. The demons in our world are all deserters from a civil war—and the ones left back home are more powerful than any we’ve ever seen.
  39. We got the idea to bargain with souls from the demons, who’ve been buying souls since time immemorial. We always assumed they collected the damned to bolster their armies in preparation for war against the heavens, or to serve as slaves, or even to sustain them as food—but now that they’re here, they’re just hoarding souls. No one has the slightest idea why.
  40. Yes, yes, subsuming a whole archdemon’s soul can corrupt you absolutely—but souls can be worn down with enough deaths, no? Could you survive enough battles to the death with one that you could finally absorb its true power, and not lose yourself to it?
  41. The dead don’t reawaken in any obviously discernable order. You might share a table with someone who lived eons apart from you, though you wouldn’t remember. Unless their people came from an age before humans walked the earth, of course.…
  42. Whatever ended this world didn’t just break the laws of life and death—it broke the laws of time itself. Consequences no longer naturally follow from their causes. We’re not just “resurrecting”—we’re unable to move into the yet-to-be. If time shifts and whirls like sand in a spinning hourglass, would-be saviors have a greater task ahead of them than shutting some damn gates.
  43. Restoring the gift of eternal death to humanity requires a willing—and equally eternal—sacrifice.
  44. If you concentrate hard enough—maybe jog the memory with some souls—you can remember the last bit of advice the Ferryman gave you before you forgot everything else.
  45. Even should you succeed to banish the demons, restore the natural order of life and death, rebuild civilization, and spark a new golden age, it will not last. And in the next age, you will play the role of the Rulers of Old, waiting to be overthrown by the heroes you will not recognize as anything like what you have become.

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