Physics are shallowly altered, in order to make a different situation possible.
- Combustion engines (Possible explanation: A dissociation of heating and expansion?)
- Chemical explosives (Possible explanation: Partly the same as above. Fire may act different in general.)
- Generators/motors (Possible explanation: Limited magnetism? Compasses don't exist either.)
- Electronics (Possible explanation: Semiconductors don't exist?)
- Electric telegraph (Possible explanation: Everything has a higher electric resistance, severely limiting range?)
The planet is considerably larger than Earth, but the environment is mostly the same. The range of temperatures is more extreme, from a boiling-hot equator(creating a belt of constant enormous storms broken by sterile land) to poles that have dry ice. The known world consists of a continent cluster similar in shape and size to the predicted Pangea Ultima, which covers a smaller portion of the planet than Eurasia does ours.
This world and others are the result of interaction between the overworld and underworld, planes of existence that are wholly incompatible with physical reality. From the overworld flow the primordial energies of creation, before being given form by the underworld by having most of their infinite potential destroyed. This process generally doesn't stand out as anything that someone from our world would easily recognize as not being normal, with one major exception;
On rare occasions, a being from the overworld reaches in and impregnates a human woman. The experience is not sexual, or easily described. No cases of it happening to other forms of life are known, and no pattern behind the times and individual women chosen has been discerned. The result has been dubbed a demigod; A human with a direct link to the overworld woven into his body and mind. Demigods, as well as their children(but not grandchildren), the quartergods, are immortal; The mechanism behind this phenomenon is unclear. They are not entirely immune to time, though; All eventually become sterile, and by then show at least some signs of aging.
In addition to that, they can summon creation energies and form them with their mind; However, it is difficult to give them a useful form, and far more difficult to give them a lasting form, so the effect of this ability on the world has been very limited.
Lasting magical creations include the 'godspheres', each with its own permanent unnatural function. Apart from that, they are pretty consistent; A small perfectly spherical object, visible only for distorting light in a way that no natural substance can quite replicate, extremely light(a few were lost as they floated to the sky), and indestructible except through magic.
Working around the physical restrictions, technology has reached 20th century levels in some fields. Vast mechanical computers are used for scientific calculations, cryptography, music synthesis(translating code to etchings on records) and many other things. A network of partly-automated semaphore towers sends messages across great distances, aided by the distant horizon. Factories channel the kinetic energy of flowing water, wind and muscle into power tools and sophisticated arrays of automated machinery, and store it for transport by winding springs and compressing air. Muscle-powered vehicles range from bicycles to harvesters to ships, while pneumatic trains are driven along pipes by pumping stations. Alloys of extremely precise compositions and internal structure are available and well-understood.
Photography is unavailable, but may be possible.
Melee weapons have the primary role, if not because they need no ammunition, then because they can be aimed at awkward angles to get around an armor suit's best parts. Since decent plate armor is common, military weapons are usually optimized against it; Either to crush it with blunt force, or pierce its weak points. Blades are more commonly used against lightly-armored enemies and in non-military settings. A sword's crossguard is often shaped as a light warhammer, improving its performance while held upside-down.
Ranged weapons include mechanized crossbows that can be reloaded from a magazine with a simple motion, larger belt-fed arrow-launchers that can shoot quickly and continuously while driven by a tightly-wound spring, and airguns. The latter are powered by at least one tank of compressed air, releasing its contents onto a projectile to accelerate it to greater speeds than bows are practically capable of. Compared to real-world guns, power-to-caliber ratio is low; The best rifles are about as powerful as the real world's pistols, and cannot reliably penetrate good plate armor in one hit.
Larger weapons which require at least a cart to move around include trebuchets, flamethrowers, and multi-stage cannons. The latter have pressure-sensitive valves in the barrel some distance from the breech, connected to other air tanks. As the projectile passes by, they open, raising the pressure again, and accelerating the projectile to even higher speeds.
Things have been changing far more slowly than in the real world.
Founding of Vaharra
~20,000 years before the present, a demigod was born to a weak, but sophisticated tribe, and was named Vaharr. Technology at the time was medieval at best. He wandered the continent, driven by the desire to understand what he is, which gradually gave way to the desire to understand what makes everyone what they are. Along the way he fathers ~60 children, and defeats the older demigod Ba'al.
After many temporary roles of leadership and counsel to leaders, each adding to his fame, he assumes indefinite control over a tightly-knit alliance he fostered. During his early, patient reforms of the organization and its constituents, some of his children rise to various high-ranking roles within it. Then the expansion begins; Whether through settlement, diplomacy, economic manipulation or brute force, more lands and peoples are incorporated into the organization. Meanwhile, the central authority's control is strengthened, both in comparison to local authorities and in terms of what it's allowed to do.
A quasi-religious organization, which would later be known as the Imperial Cult, is founded; Its most visible roles are to organize the teaching of moral values both to children and adults, and to bring communities together. But its primary purpose is to provide a kind of cultural immune system; a basic and useful creed that will make it difficult for other, potentially problematic ones to spread. This was part of an extensive, ongoing project of cultural manipulation, meant both to change the Empire from within and to spread what would become its ideals, so that more peoples will join willingly.
The Emperor's Avatars are created. Each pair of these magical communication devices transmit sound between themselves with no delay, regardless of distance. Their cores are godspheres, created by Vaharr: Each pair's cores are actually a single object in two locations, which is how they are able to interact without anything passing in the path between them. Their number is limited, however: As their creation process is partly random, partly not understood, and partly unknown, no one has been able to replicate it.
Eventually they set their sights on the Great Central Desert; A wasteland in the center of the main continent, dry due to distance from the sea. The Empire has spread in a rough crescent shape around its corner, and began to enter it; First with roads, then with water channels and settlement, and eventually with vast landscape modifications that altered the climate. Deep within the mostly-empty region, a meticulously-planned city was carved out of a great plateau of continuous rock, which would later become the capital, ready to become the center of a remade world.
Today the Vaharran Empire rules over a billion people. Within it, immortal rulers enact plans that stretch into eternity, reshaping land, systems and people alike.
Prometeia was born some time after the Empire's founding, apparently the first since Vaharr. Although she shares his interest in helping society progress, her approach has been less involved and direct: Usually appearing disguised in a sensitive time and place, and through a few acts causing a disruptive chain of events, hopefully changing to course of anything from a few people to a whole country for the better. Although she often foils Vaharr's plans, he welcomes her discovery of their flaws in the long run.
She had only ~20 children, but managed to pass more of her otherworldly quality to them; They appear younger than Vaharr's children, and have a greater ability to willingly use magic. Some of her mortal descendants also have this ability, but its appearance in them is unpredictable.
Annun was born not long after Prometeia became sterile. He had no known children, and mostly sought to transcend the physical world by "shedding his lower aspects". The painful practices he developed to that end eventually destroyed his body; Whether he succeeded or simply died, a religion seeking to follow in his footsteps was created in the process. Centered in the city of Illorum, it grew into a theocratic empire, Vaharra's main rival.
- Honesty and sticking to one's commitments are central virtues in Vaharra. Spoken oaths are legally binding, and people are generally careful with what they say. Predictability also tends to be appreciated.
- The Scepter is the Vaharran currency. In cash it takes two forms; Small bills of waxed paper, and spheres of toughened, precisely-stained glass. (Some other countries use stainless steel coins)
- Some government jobs carry with them a special prestige; Their holders are marked with a very complex tattoo, made with a machine and very difficult to replicate. Law and custom afford them some special privileges, but if they disgrace themselves enough to lose their position, their tattoo is branded over with hot iron.
- The Inquisition is a government agency, tasked with understanding the behavior of the human mind in groups, and monitoring cultural changes. Although they have no enforcement power, they work closely with the Imperial Guard(federal police, supreme court, etc), often assisting them in investigations or recommending action based on their own.
- The Lictor Corps is a branch of the Imperial Guard. Its thoroughly-vetted agents are primarily bodyguards, but also political officers keeping their charge in line. Many positions of authority are assigned at least one lictor, who does not take orders from the position's holder, and may arrest or kill him if necessary. Most lictors have at least a few 'proxies' under their command.
- A Vaharran may become a slave by only two ways; Voluntarily, or as a sentence for a crime. In the latter case it may be 'conditional slavery', which, depending on the sentence, can forbid the owner from freeing the slave or allowing him uncontrolled contact with the public.
- Although conscription is an option, it's not used very often; Vaharran soldiers are typically all volunteers, with a large portion of them serving until they're middle-aged or older. The force that does most of the actual fighting most of the time is the Legion.
- Foxes have been domesticated. Feral ones, generally of the smaller breeds, are a common sight in cities.
- The most powerful computers are called 'greater analytorums'. Despite filling a large building, they're quieter than most lesser analytorums; Noise represents imprecision and inefficiency, and a machine this complex can afford little of either. A greater analytorum is usually built, maintained and operated by a family, becoming part of its identify over the generations. Each one is different, its idiosyncrasies fitting the family's own; They come to understand it intuitively, and often find it difficult to explain things about it to outsiders, even to other experts.
- Networked periscopes combined with lenses for magnification, along with independent telescopes and some sound-channeling infrastructure, are used for mass surveillance in many settlements, especially cities.
Manipulation of the masses has its limits. Though Vaharrans are immersed in a culture of perfectionism, it was believed, and later demonstrated, that much potential for personal ability remains untapped. Two massive projects were instituted to unlock that potential, first using the most advanced understanding of psychology and biology, and later expanding it.
The first examines upbringing and training; The way the mind and body are shaped by their experiences, whether during one's early years or later on. Aside from generally improving training techniques, the result was numerous programs in which people are raised for specific roles in service to the Empire, their training beginning in early childhood. They are typically orphans, children of criminals or those previously raised by the program, or products of the second project.
The second examines heredity. It was already known that some physical and mental advantages and disadvantages, as well as more quirky traits that are harder to classify, run in the family. However, even the most exceptional families did not seem to produce inherently exceptional members with much consistency. Therefore, the methods of selective breeding that have reshaped animals and plants started to be applied to humans, knowing that only the immortal directors heading the project would see the results.
Participation in the project has always been voluntary, and involved only a small portion of the population. Information on the participants and their relatives was meticulously collected and analyzed throughout. And after thousands of years, distinct breeds have been created, consistently showing combinations of exceptional abilities never seen elsewhere, some verging on the superhuman. Most have been bred for specific roles, while some are better-rounded, being selected for more general things like longevity and intelligence. However, many have collected problems along the way; Some were undesirable mutations that could not be eliminated without culling promising lines, and some are natural side-effects of otherwise helpful traits. Many of them also have a strange appearance, more divergent from the rest of humanity than any of the Empire's myriad ethnic groups; People not accustomed to them often react poorly, their sensitivity to human features leaving them unsure, on some level, of what they're looking at.
The projects are often combined into single programs, taking inherent advantages and precisely crafting them into some of the Empire's most potent tools. Though generally loyal, each such program is a race and culture unto itself, often with a very different worldview to that of most Vaharrans.
- Vaharrum: The capital.
- Aikor: Location of the original capital.
- Liran: A relatively recent addition, joining peacefully.
- Mariassus: A hotly-contested province. Home to a large proportion of soldiers, and fortresses with steel-clad walls.
- Drolentine: Site of a grand experiment, incorporating breeding programs into an official caste system in the center of society.
- Riekka dur Darat: The third of the great empires, with distant origins as a union of the Riekkan and Dartic nations. Its rich and highly idiosyncratic culture makes it especially difficult for outsiders to understand, and all but immune to conversion by the Vaharran or Illorene creeds.
- Albellan: An island nation allied with Illorum but not incorporated into its empire, mostly notable today for its highly-developed industry. It was once the seat of a vast empire, mostly concerned with controlling trade, whose word-rich language(Albic) and legal principles are still used far and wide. Its advanced chemical plants were used to mass-produce narcotics for export(accounting for a large portion of its economy), along with weaponized incendiaries for when other governments tried to interfere.
- Limnos: A city-state between Vaharran and Illorene territories. A non-interference agreement between it and the two powers stands, and both have been trying to win it over through cultural influence for a long time. As a neutral meeting point, its territory allows much contact between people of the rival empires that would be difficult elsewhere, becoming the site of much debate, trade and espionage activity.
- Windmarch: A vast, sparsely-populated region, with many independent but culturally-similar states.
- Southreach Peninsula: The widest strip of land known to pass through the equator. Farther from its storm-blasted coasts, it has been completely sterilized by the heat, though there are remains of plants and animals that suggest it was not always so. No one who passed through the hottest part returned to tell about it.