These are notes and ideas about how the world of Epic India works.
THE HEROIC DETAILS
What’s my base of operations?
Kashi (Varanasi), holy city on the banks of the Ganga. Thousands of years old, the oldest city in the world, founded by Shiva. Famous ghats, including the Burning Ghats. The most holy centre of pilgrimage, Vishwanath temple, the Golden Temple.
Do I look different from everybody else?
Probably not, unless a barbarian or spell caster, in which case, you are outcaste.
Most people speak Sanskrit. Languages other than Sanskrit include Kirati (spoken by the Kirata from the Himalayas), Nishada (people of the forest and hills to the north and west), Dravida (people from the south), Yavana (foreigners from the west), Saka (northern foreigners), Parada (eastern foreigners) and Pahlava (a southern tribe).
How do I make a living?
Guards, priests, thieves, or perhaps you have come to Kashi looking for adventure and riches.
Have I been doing this long?
No, 1st level.
Are we at war or peace?
At constant antagonism with the neighbouring states, especially Kosala to the north.
What am I doing with these other guys?
Some of the PCs are related (cousins) and most of them know each other. It’s a big city, but it’s more like a number of big connected villages.
How are lives affected by magic?
The world is believed to be full of magic, gods and demons, though for most life is pretty mundane (and often harsh). Clerical magic is sanctioned, but sorcerers and wizards are outcaste and feared.
How are lives affected by religion
Religion affects every aspect of life. The hindu pantheon is worshipped everywhere. Brahmins struggle for power with the Kshatriyas.
Who or what is going to try to kill me?
Mostly other humans, but the world is full of demons and magic as well.
Where can I sell this loot?
Kashi is a big city with markets and traders from all over the land.
THE MUNDANE DETAILS
Who’s in charge?
King Khsetravridha??, a great hero. The high priest of the golden temple, the Kashi Naresh, also holds considerable power.
Who has the biggest army?
The king. There is a large standing army (including elephants and chariots and the like) which is supplemented in time of war by militia.
Who has the most money and power?
The three castes vie for this. The king and temple are balanced, but the merchant class grows in power and wealth. What about the Thuggee?Who maintains law and order?
The king and the watch. Wealthier areas employ private watchmen.
How hard do poor people have it?
Hard, as well as being from lower- and outcastes. Kashi, as a pilgrim town, attracts more than its share of beggars, lining the streets around the temples and along the ghats.
How do people travel and how easy is it?
The land between cities is dangerous and people tend to travel in groups for protection. Bandits, robbers and thuggees are a danger.
What are the best known landmarks?
The ghats run for over a mile along the north bank of the Ganges. At the western end is the monumental palace and in the east the Burning Ghats and the holiest temples, including the Vishwanath temple (dedicated to Lord Shiva) and Vishalakshi temple on Meer Ghat (dedicated to Sati, first consort to Shiva). Running behind the Ghats is a maze of narrow alleys, cheap hotels, hidden drinking dens, brothels, thieves and beggars.
Why is everybody celebrating?
Shivaratri (March 12), Holi? (March 1), Diwali (Nov 5)
What do people do for a good time?
Drink, but not publicly. Smoke and eat Bhang (again, this is not polite behaviour, though some holy orders do so openly). People tell stories. Bards and musicians are respected. Performances of the holy stories are popular. People play dice and gamble.
How weird does it get around here?
Demons with cannons. Kings with goats heads. Gods covered in eyes. Monkey warriors with giant maces. Ash-smeared holy warriors with spikes through their cheeks. Drought-causing giant serpents. Rat people beggars. Pretty weird.
THE SCHOLARLY DETAILS
How did the world come to be?
The four castes were created from the sacrificed Purusa. Or Narayana (Vishnu?) caused the universe to be from his banyan leaf. Or Brahma created man a few times.
What is the nature of the gods?
Thousands of them, and the Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, all aspects of Brahman. They have all the character flaws of humans (and then some) and get involved in human affairs (or used to). Through great austerities humans can even come to rival the gods in power.
What is the source of magic?
Magic comes from the gods and through doing great penances. Many ascetics gain great powers but choose not to use them, focusing on loftier goals.
What happens when you die?
You are reborn (samsara) as a plant, animal, human or god, until you perhaps gain liberation from the cycle (moksha). This might mean merging with Brahman, or going to a heaven. Sinners go to one of the hells (narakas) and those for whom the correct rituals are not performed come back as ghosts. The ancestors dwell on the moon.
What cycles or events define the calendar?
The solar year and seasons. We are currently in the Kali Yuga, the fourth and final age, the age of vice. It is the year 2502 and the 42nd year of the 60 year cycle, the year Kilaka. (1st September (Tula) 600 BC.)
What do you see when you look in the sky?
The sun, moon, stars and planets. Many of them gods.
What constitutes cutting edge technology?
Cannons (in the hands of demons). Chariots. Iron was common by 600 BC and steel was in use by, perhaps, 300 BC.
Where do monsters come from?
Ancient races and demons, enemies of the gods. Nagas (cobras) appear a lot in myth.
Which is strongest: magic, gods or nature?
Gods, with magic sometimes getting too close for their comfort, and then nature (but with floods, droughts, the Himalayas, deserts, rivers, not to be taken lightly).
If I drop off this balcony, what happens?
Gods, demons and ascetics frequently break the rules in the myths.