The Deep Secrets of the World


Throughout the book, we've left some important details undefined: how do the Deep-Explorer Dwarves travel through the world? How many leapers are there? What secrets do the Great Spirits hide?

We've done this deliberately; these are gaps that we intend for GMs to fill in when they design their worlds. This means that we don't have to saddle GMs and players with huge amounts of "meta-plot" that they have to keep track of — or that can spoil the surprise if players are already familiar with the secret parts of the "mythos."

Of course, the down-side of this is that GMs have to fill in these blanks in order to have a completed world. What is the Ashen Mind? Maybe a certain GM doesn't find this question interesting — but one of their players might want to incorporate it into their character, so that GM has to come up with a good-enough answer.

For that reason, we're going to talk about some of the setting's Big Questions, and discuss some of their possible answers; if you're a GM, you can use one of our answers, or come up with your own.

The Leapers

The Leapers are the mysterious race that formed the Shaded-Sea Peoples by forcing the Shade Elves and Shaded-Sea Ratfolk to become their tributaries.

For most surface-dwellers, they're little more than myth. While they might be well-known to political leaders and military planners, most common-folk have probably never heard of them — and those who have may regard them as little more than rumors and legends, stories that the brutal leaders of the Shaded Sea use to keep their subjects in line.

Of course, those who live underground are more likely to take the Leapers seriously, since they're a real and on-going threat to Dwarven holds, Ash Elf settlements, and Kobold cities — even if they know little about them beyond that they exist and that they are hostile. The Leapers appear from the dark and vanish into dead-end tunnels; no-one knows how they do this, where they go, or even how many of them there are. Leaper language and culture are substantially unknown, even to the people for whom their raids are a fact of life.

When the Leapers attack, they carry off treasure, captives and food — the fate of those captives is unknown, although no-one suspects it's pleasant.

Of course, some cultures know a little more about them than others. For one, the Clay Men have had far more contact with the Leapers than they would like. The Clay Men have lived deep underground since time immemorial, and they have skirmished with the Leapers since before the Empire of Man fell — and for more than three hundred years, the Leapers have been waging a campaign of extermination against them. The Clay Men are particularly durable and have offered a formidable defense, but even they have slowly lost ground. (In fact, one motivation the Clay Men had for joining the Commonwealth with the signing of the Compact was having an ally against their determined, genocidal foe.)

The Deep-Explorer Dwarves are a more recent arrival in the dark caves and caverns deep below the surface, but, as they've gone deeper, they've increasingly conflicted with the Leapers. Few outside their communities know what form these conflicts have taken, or what the Deep-Explorer Dwarves may have learned.

Of course, the generals and governors of the Commonwealth take the Leaper threat seriously — both as the power holding the Shaded Sea together, and as a threat to Commonwealth communities underground. Much of what they know about the Leapers comes from the Clay Men, who have enthusiastically shared what they know, the better to prepare their new allies to fight their common enemy. Even this leaves many important questions unanswered.

Baseline: The Few

Our baseline assumption when writing the guide — unstated, but informing many of the decisions that we have made — is that that the Leapers are a small civilization of brutal slavers, broken into Clans. They are spread out between a number of disparate settlements, linked by a network similar to the Commonwealth's Cairne stones; this network is derived from magic learned from the Ashen Mind, and similar magic is used to appear and vanish when raiding other settlements.

We assume that the Leapers evolved from solitary or small-pack hunters, with relatively little social "wiring"; in particular, we assume they have nothing like a mirror neuron complex, and have an instinctive hostility to non-Leapers — at an instinctive level, they treat other beings as either a threat or food. This is the origin of their trademark cruelty.

On the one hand, an intelligent species without the social wiring that we take more-or-less for granted in Humans, dogs, and crows is something of an interesting sci-fi concept; on the other hand, it also defines an intelligent race as almost innately evil, which is a dubious moral decision that we've tried very hard to avoid.

GMs can certainly adjust or ignore this detail.


Leaper society is divided into Hunts, Clans, and Families. ("Hunt," here, is a Leaper word referring to the pursuit of large or dangerous game in a large, coordinated group; it might also be rendered as "pack" or "chase".) In general, a city will host between four and twelve Hunts, a Hunt will consist of a half-dozen Clans, and each Clan will consist of no more than 8 families. (If a family consists of 6 or 7 Leapers on average (including children), then a Clan will consist of around 50, a Hunt will consist of around 300, and a city will have a total population of around two-and-a-half thousand.)

The famous Bedouin expression, "Me against my brother; my brother and I against my cousin; my brother, my cousin, and I against the world" might as well be a Leaper adage, especially when taken in its darkest sense; at nearly all levels, Leaper society is rife with competition. Hunts struggle with other Hunts; within Hunts, Clans strive for dominance; within Clans, families maneuver against one another; and even within families — and not only wealthy families — intrigues abound.

Of course, this means that the Leapers are often their own worst enemies; these fractures would potentially be easy to exploit, if the Leapers' enemies knew any of this was going on, or had any access to their society. It also means that Leaper factions sometimes form alliances with particular clans of other societies; Leapers are by no means above allying with a Shade Elf ride to overcome a competing Leaper Hunt.

While the Leapers don't have castes per se, they do have a brutally authoritarian and ruthlessly competitive society, and those on top often invest in keeping everyone else in their place; this means that some Hunts and Clans can get locked into certain social roles, that become all but permanently hereditary. To the leaders of a dominant Hunt, the underlings of a competing Hunt are worth less than nothing; the best place for a member of another Clan is cleaning the sewers — in fact, if they where to die down there, that might be for the best. (Of course, one difference between Leaper society and an actual caste society is that Leaper social roles can change — and dramatically — when power-structures shift.)

Leaper Settlements

The average Leaper settlement is a cavern perhaps a three or four hundred stride across, and perhaps sixty or seventy stride high; the exact nature will depend on the clan(s) occupying it, and the environment in which it is constructed. Since carving out more space is labor-intensive, many of them are built densely and vertically (a little like some large Kobold and Ash Elf burrow-cities). Buildings are jammed close-together, with neighbors often merging into one amalgamated structure; neighboring constructions or districts are often joined by elevated terraces and arcades.

Leaper construction typically uses stone, plaster, and clay; the use of dirt, wood, hide, and cloth are rare, as these must come from the surface. Leapers also design their cities to be easy to navigate (and perceive) with their echo-sight; this is another reason that they avoid the uses of skins and textiles, which diffuse echos and muffle sounds. (An exception to this is when they want to prevent an echo from carrying, as when designing a space for privacy. Under certain circumstances, echo-sight can see through solid walls, and Leaper hearing is very good in general; for this reason, blocking sound can be more vital than blocking vision, when Leapers design for privacy or secrecy.)

Because they are blind, leaper decorations are often large, unpainted, and devoid of fine detail — they cannot perceive color, marking, or fine detail with echo-sight. Leaper cities may feature large statues or abstract figures, carved of unpainted stone, finished smooth the better to reflect sound.

For the same reason, Leapers do not use signage; in their place, they use chimes, gongs, devices similar to real-world "deer scarers", and other contrivances to periodically make recognizable sounds; as well as using simple, recognizable stone forms.

Of course, Leaper cities are, for the most part, completely dark. They are lighted only in areas where slaves are expected to operate; among other things, this helps control where slaves can go.


Leapers are slavers, and the taking of slaves is a major goal in their raiding. While their echo-sight is sufficient to navigate the caves, to hunt down prey, and to carve the stones that make up their cities, they still cannot accomplish many basic tasks; a sewing needle is too small for them to see with their echo-sight, for example, and they cannot perceive (and thus cannot use) writing at all. Acquiring surface-dwellers to accomplish tasks that require sight is a major motivation in their raiding.

This means that the status of Leaper slaves can be somewhat complicated. On the one hand, the Leapers are brutal masters, utterly devoid of any instinct of sympathy to those they enslave; on the other, skilled slaves are highly valuable in their society, which gives them a certain amount of power and status. Many skilled slaves might be worth much more to a wealthy Clan than their own low-ranking Leapers — all the more because a slave can never directly challenge them for the rule of the Clan or Hunt.

This is all the more true of certain literate and educated slaves, especially temple slaves.

Temple Slaves

Leapers also have a shorter lifespan than other races do. Compounded with their ability to read, this leads to another role that slaves fill: repositories of knowledge. Slaves, especially educated slaves, and especially members of longer-lived races, may be pressed into service in temples and the houses of the wealthy as scribes, scholars, record-keepers, and living vessels of knowledge.

Many Leaper priests learn a series of powers similar to Join, allowing them to join with a slave's mind. This allows the Leaper priest access to the slave's eyes and hands, enabling them to read tombs and write records; it also provides access to the slave's mind, allowing them to store information there, or learn what other priests have stored. This means, of course, that temple and palace slaves have access to an extraordinary amount of the Leaper's most valuable knowledge, having been shared a mind with potentially generations of powerful Leapers.

Much like the regular power, the Leaper variant does not allow one mind to dominate another; rather, it creates a gestalt, which experiences, to some degree, the desires and drives of both. This means that the selecting a slave who's aims align with a Leaper priest's or nobles is vital to achieving best effect.

For these reasons, a temple or palace slave occupies a complex position in Leaper society: a slave, but also incredibly valuable and lavishly rewarded.

Leaper Magic

The Leaper's have a sophisticated command of magic.

Notably, the Leapers have had contact with the Ashen Mind, and have learned much from it. They developed their own bridge network from knowledge that it gave them, and have almost certainly developed other spells as well — twisting beams of ashen energy, summoned monsters of its design, or other powers to fit the themes you select!

The Bridge Network

The bridges are the Leaper's analog to the Commonwealth's Cairn Network. It allows them to tie their distant cities together, through hundreds of demarc of earth; it allows them to establish hold-fasts and secret redoubts in distant corners of the world; and, coupled with shorter-ranged powers similar to Leap or Journey, allows them to appear and vanish in other races' settlements to launch devastating raids.

They have managed to overcome one limit of the Commonwealth's cairns, although at a price. At present, the Cairn network requires hours to activate, and can only transfer a limited amount of mass at a time; while this does allow for extremely rapid travel within the Commonwealth, it is insufficient to carry heavy trade or move a military. Leaper bridges manifest as tunnels through space, walled in swirling, crackling, orange energy, and occasionally crossed by discharges of brilliant orange energy; through this tunnel, they weave a bridge of silvery, gossamer magical thread. The benefit of this is that the tunnels can stay open for a relatively long amount of time, allowing the Leapers to transport as much as they can move across the bridge during that time; the cost, however, is that the bridge itself is dangerous. Any object that falls off will be destroyed when it touches the boundary of the chamber; likewise, anything struck by the erratic lightening strikes that occasionally lance through the bridge is likely to be destroyed. To the brutal minds of the Leapers, the benefits of this system are worth its costs.


Drake Vitals

  • Old Age: 50 Years

  • Average Height: 1.5m

  • Average Weight: 45kg

  • Diet: Carnivore

  • DUR 30, STR 35

  • +10 COO, +5 INT, -5 SAV, +5 SOM

  • Movement: Foot 4/12, Climb 3/8, Leap 5/15

  • Senses: Acute Hearing (+20), Blind, Echo-Sight, Scent

  • Size: Medium

  • Tags: Natural, Humanoid, Leaper

  • Language Group: Leaper

  • Claws: Leapers have claws on their hands and feet.

    • Unarmed Attack, 1d10+2+DB DV, AP -1
  • Leapers have vicious sickle-shaped claws on their feet, designed for pouncing on their victims.

    • If a Leaper brings the claws on their feet to bear during a melee attack — by pouncing on a target, for example, or dropping on it from above — and they score an Exceptional Success, then they automatically grapple the target with their talons.
  • Cruel: Leapers receive +WIL to checks to resist stress caused by inflicting cruelty.

The Ashen Mind

The Ashen Mind is a major part of Fire's background. It is a malevolent force from a domain outside the normal universe, associated with themes of fire and ash. It cannot manifest itself directly on the Emerald Plane — the "normal" world is a very different place from the region it exists in; it has to find ways to project its influence onto the Emerald Plane, possibly requiring it to recruit local collaborators — or at least local patsies. Likewise, beings from the Emerald Plane — mortal and spirit alike — cannot enter the Ashen Fringe where it resides.

The Ashen Mind is ancient, hostile, and almost entirely beyond the reach and knowledge of those on the Emerald Plane — including even Great Spirits, whose domains may stretch over the entire Emerald Plane, but whose power and understanding does not extend into the Fringe. No-one knows what its ultimate goals are, why its so ceaselessly aggressive, or if there's any way to fight it; equally, no mortals know what role it's had in the affairs of the Great Spirits, or what it might know about them.

Using the Ashen Mind

You have choices in how you use the Ashen Mind. It dwells in a distant realm, with a distinct geometry, and it can't directly enter the Emerald Plane; so, one option is to simply ignore it. It is distant, alien, and powerful, and it lives in an area of strange geometry; you can treat it much like a figure from the Cthulhu mythos, as the driving villain for an "out-of-context problem," manifesting in mysterious, space-bending anomolies swirling around mysterious cults and conspiracies. Finally, it's a powerful and malevolent spirit associated with themes of fire and ash; it makes a decent stand-in for Satan if you'd like to have a good-old-fashioned "demonic" invasion — smashing hordes of outer-realm invaders with swords is always fun.

The Discoveries of the Goblin Empire


Deep-Delver Dwarves


Most of the secrest we've laid out are dangers and enemies — which makes sense, since adventures require enemies. The Guardians are a rare thing in horror-themed games: a powerful ally. Guardians also inject ideas from transhumanist hard sci-fi; we do this because of our preference for realism, because several of the authors like Transhumanist hard sci-fi, and because it makes them jarringly alien.

Guardian Civilization

The Guardians are an offshoot of the Gardener civilization, the earliest seeds of which arose more than 800,000 years ago, on a world more than 600 light-years away — the Shepherds. By the time the Shepherds first landed one of their own on another world in their solar-system — an event which occurred 776,000 years ago — they already understood much about how their own minds worked, about how intelligence worked, about the dynamics of neurons, about the chemistry of cells, and more; and they where already abandoning their original nature, and embracing their ability to manipulate and transform themselves.

They expanded: first, they settled much of their own solar systems, creating variants of themselves adapted to the diverse environments there, from carbon-dioxide hot-houses to ammonia-poisoned seas locked within asteroids. Then, they reached out, settling nearby worlds by deploying automated probes; these probes carried the ability to construct installations, robots, and bodies, as well as stored minds to occupy the colonies that they would build. They encountered other races — some impossibly sophisticated, some far less developed, and a rare few that where roughly peers. Two of those peer civilizations, they incorporated, adding to the diversity of biologies, cultures, technologies, and minds they could draw from.

They where, in general, a benign and enlightened people. They respected the autonomy of the younger races they encountered, taking pains to allow them to chart their own future and development. However, the universe is less benign — it contains threats that can wipe out a young civilization. To preserve younger races from these threats, the Gardeners founded the Guardians, an order responsible for preserving younger civilizations against existential threats.

At their peak some 235,000 years ago, the Gardeners had spread to more than thirty-five star-systems; their Guardians had also sheltered more than a dozen younger civilizations through crisis that might have destroyed them. It was then that catastrophe struck, and an ancient and malevolent force — believed to be a culture far more advanced than they where — destroyed the Gardeners.

The Gardeners where capable of constructing single probes that could colonize worlds — and produce more probes. It is almost impossible to completely exterminate such a civilization. Nevertheless, the Gardeners are no longer a powerful, thriving civilization; they have been reduced to a handful of well-hidden outposts and installations, hidden deep within dead worlds orbiting red-dwarf stars, or buried in lonely asteroids, and a fleet of probes, scattered and hidden, waiting to begin to rebuild their civilization — once they can be certain the threat has passed, if it ever does.

The Guardian order that they spawned survived the catastrophe — although in much the same condition as the Guardians themselves, reduced to a handful of well-hidden outposts and scattered probes. It also continues to operate, attempting to fulfill its original mission — the preservation of civilization against existential threats. Tragically, that mission has now come to include (the survivors of) their own parent civilization.

Of course, most of this information should never come up in a typical game; we cover it mainly because it might inform how you portray the Guardians. You should also feel free to modify or change it, obviously.

How Guardians Operate

Guardians missions are scattered throughout hundreds of lightyears. They spread much like their founding civilization did, using self-replicating probes; a probe will land on a planet, and, using sophisticated technologies — including both synthetic and biological constructs at various scales, from the microscopic to the massive — will build an outpost, supporting facilities, and bodies. The outposts then build more probes, and launch them towards unvisited stars. These outposts are always well-hidden, both to avoid influencing or contaminating younger cultures and to defend the Guardians themselves from their enemies.

These probes contain stored mind-states, which Guardians use to occupy these outposts. Some are run as software, inhabiting sophisticated computing systems; others are written into the brains of constructed bodies. Guardians have a very transhumanist — or perhaps transbiological — view of the self. They understand minds as information, and they separate individuals by how different those information-states are. They are also capable of modifying those information-states, so that individual minds can be made to be well-suited for their specific missions.

Guardians take great care to hide information about themselves, both from the endangered cultures that they seek to protect, and from their own potential enemies — including dangerous civilizations that might seek to finish the job exterminating them. Guardian outposts are always well hidden, and "primary" Guardian bases are almost never placed directly on the worlds they wish to protect. Guardians also almost never expose "full" Guardian mind-states to danger — they almost never venture outside of their well-defended and hidden outposts. Instead, Guardians may build limited "remotes" on the worlds that they seek to protect; remotes may be little more than transmitters and fabricators, allowing a nearby installation to construct resources in-the-field. Remotes are often constructed as simply as possible, making minimal use of advanced technologies; this is done both to minimize the amount of damage that they could ever do to younger cultures, and to prevent potential enemies — like the civilization that overthrew the Gardeners — from learning too much about them. They also typically deploy limited or pruned mind-states to remotes; they will never put sensitive information — like the location of Guardian outposts or, even worse, surviving Gardener installations — within reach of other races.

Both the Gardeners and the Guardians have the capability to travel and communicate faster-than-light, although they use this capability extremely sparingly; one possible theory for why they where destroyed was their use of these technologies. Guardians primary use of these technologies today is to "sync up" different Guardian outposts, allowing them to coordinate, to back up their mind-states, and to communicate new technologies.

One consequence of Guardians' transhumanist views is that they often have very different views of the self and mortality than younger civilizations do. To a Guardian, there is no meaningful difference between two different instances of one "information stae"—of one mind. In particular, they may not be concerned if several instances of a mind-state are destroyed, as long as one survives. However, as minds operate, they change; if, over time, two minds-states become significantly different, they will be treated as different individuals, both worthy of being preserved. This means that there is often not a one-to-one correlation between identities and bodies, and that individual Guardian minds — if they are identical to some other mind — may care little for their own preservation. Guardians can copy minds into and out of bodies, and manipulate them as information; Guardians may be perfectly willing to sacrifice "themselves"—or a given instance of themselves — if they know that a recent back-up exists elsewhere.

A Guardian Mission

We will describe some example Guardian missions, but one useful thing to bear in mind is that they can be as varied and bizarre as they need to be: remember that Guardians have the benefit of 500,000 years of technological development, that they drew from several different source civilizations, and that they use as much or as little of this technology as they need. This is true of both Guardian artifacts and the Guardians themselves; the Guardians have a sophisticated ability to architect their minds and bodies to be well-suited to the mission at hand. This means that individual Guardians may have wildly different biologies — or may not be biological at all — and may also have very different skills, bodies of knowledge, and outlooks.