[The World Below] What Became of the World Above?

Matthew here once again! Last week we ran a poll to see what people interested in The World Below wanted us to cover this week, with the choices being the forbidding realm of Longdeep and one of the game’s central mysteries: what became of the World Above?

The World Above captured just two more votes than Longdeep, and so here we’ll see some opposing views regarding what took place in the World Above and why so many people descended into the World Below. Now, you may read this and think “but that’s not a categorical answer!” and you’d be right! There isn’t one immediately present. But that doesn’t mean one won’t reveal itself via clues, releases, and lore dropped throughout the game.

The World Above is, as mentioned, a central mystery. What could cause a mass exodus from the surface to the subterranean depths of the Vast Underneath? Nothing good, is a pretty fair response. But that’s not to say characters in the World Below don’t attempt to discover the truth. Some claim the guilds scattered through the World Below hold the secrets in their archives and temples, while other brave (stupid) adventurous types decide to launch expeditions to the surface world and find the answer first-hand.

Such a course never ends well.

Nevertheless, it’s important to cover origin stories, even where they’re conflicting. As game creators, we want players to have lots of tools and inspiration for their characters, and we want Storyguides to have plentiful resources to tell their tales. If you want characters discovering artifacts, peoples, and histories from the World Above, you can absolutely do so. If you want a game where characters can put together an expedition to brave the surface, you can certainly try. While the World Below’s focus is on life in the underground, people always want to understand their past.

It’s just a tragic thing that in The World Below, discovering the truth provides no guarantee of enlightenment or hope for a bright future. To illustrate this fact is Rich’s artwork of a surface-touched humanoid. They don’t look particularly friendly, do they?

Teja Gotth, Alabastar Knight of Fortress and Artificer Supreme of the Artificers Guild, tells all.

We ventured too far in our pursuit of technological wonder. Eventually, our kind were making machines that could fight our wars for us, and with each successive development, their weaponry grew in its destructive magnitude. It should have come as no surprise that eventually these weapons were turned on their creators, or the explosions grew so vast as to render the World Above unlivable.

Some inhabitants of the World Above had prepared for such an eventuality. They dug shelters and secure caves in the earth, stocked them with sustenance supplies and tools, and methods of distraction. Most importantly, through these sanctuaries they found routes to a deeper world beneath their feet, until then unknown to them.

As annihilation seemed certain, the six greatest minds reached out to their families, friends, communities, and those who they deemed worthy or most useful for the objective of surviving deeper than their bunkers allowed. They gathered the people they could, and at the last minute, they began to dig.

Millions were lost. Perhaps more. Only thousands made their way down, into six colonies led by six of the world’s champions. And from them, we can each trace our paths back to those initial, faltering steps downward. We can still find pieces of the doomsday technology here and there, but most of it is on skyward levels, and possesses about as much stability as a corroded Kaos rock.

Joanne Pail, Captain of the Oriasis Crown, Wanted for Heresy by the Temple of the Benevolent Earth, provides her pious view.

The cataclysm was naught less than divine punishment. Now, if you ask some folk, you’ll be told we were all killed during that cataclysm and that makes us the restless dead, the world around us our afterlife, or waystation of sorts before we go on to meet our final reward.

To that, I say “bunk.” If we were dead, why can I still cut myself, bleed, and suffer the pains of the living? If we’re dead, why can we interact with flora of all sorts? Are we to imagine that mushrooms have an afterlife too?

Nah, it was divine punishment for wrongs we committed… Or perhaps it was the whims of gods we couldn’t understand, and they were up there fighting it out, only for us to get caught in the backsplash.

Ah, I don’t know. Stronger minds than mine have tried to figure it out, but one thing’s obvious: you can’t cause an exodus of thousands without a god being responsible, or at least involved.

I blame the divinities. Have done ever since I was old enough to form a word. Will do until the day I die. And you know something? If I were wrong, why haven’t those gods punished me for such heresy?

Chalyce, Warden of the Pillars, Hero of Telver’s Hearth, speaks of cycles.

These things come in cycles, right? We see it down here too. The world is livable, then it ain’t, then it is again. Look, none of us are old enough to remember what happened up there, and for whatever reason, nobody from that time took the occasion to write a bloody thing down about it, or if they did, it’s stored in some guild vault or collapsed cavern. So, all we’ve got is guesswork, and what I guess is based on what I see around me. And what do I see?

A world that opens tunnels and closes old ones. A world that spits out flesh-eating fungus next to nourishing lichen. A world that eats our dead and provides sustenance to the living. A world that blasts us with frigid air one day and blazing heat another. There’s a cycle to it, and the World Below’s cycle’s sped up! The World Above must have been on the livable cycle for a century, maybe a millennium of generations. Down here, you get a Bruma season and then everything changes.

It’s really pretty simple if you open your mind to the possibility. Our time came because the World Above couldn’t support us anymore. But one day, it’ll be ready again, and when it is, we must be prepared to leave this chaotic mess of carnivorous tunnels and death drops, and march back up to greet Sol in the sky.

Many Possibilities; None of them Good

It’s possible, even likely, that some of the Well Liches have been around for long enough to remember the Great Descent, if they didn’t purge the memories of that apocalyptic time from their minds with Kaotic magic. Getting one to talk on the subject is another matter, but some are known to be more conversant than others.

The guilds are the true storehouses of information in the World Below, perhaps more so than the various religions and philosophical schools that spring up in dark spaces. When the guilds first formed, it wasn’t to spread information or lend their fellow survivors a hand, but to protect information pertaining to their subjects of interest: cartography, artifice, excavation, exploration, biology, botany, stratigraphy, history, and finally, trade and currency. As they hoarded their troves of intelligence, with it they separated knowledge of the World Above between them, locked them in their archives, or in some cases, destroyed all records in their possession.

The guilds realized early on that information is power, and groups that control information are the ones controlling what the average person knows and can ever hope to understand. They tantalize new members with secrets and guidance, but deep in each guild’s heart is a piece of knowledge regarding the truth of what befell the World Above, and why thousands were forced to flee beneath the surface.

Why do you think the Great Descent took place and what do you believe to be the state of the World Above? Feel free to discuss here, on our forum, or on our World Below channel on the Onyx Path Discord.

Next week, we’ll post a blog entry about one of the following, but you have to comment below to say which one you want to see. The choices are:

  • Two of the Callings in The World Below

(two of the playable Paths in The World Below, acting as a combination of belief, profession, and destiny)

  • Two of the Peoples of The World Below

(your heritage might influence your cultural outlook in The World Below, so here we present two of the peoples available for play in this game)

15 thoughts on “[The World Below] What Became of the World Above?”

  1. Some interesting threads there! For what it’s worth, i think it was because of Aliens!

    I vote for the People of the World Below next.

  2. Callings

    A few theories from literature (spoilers for decades-old stuff):

    * Phantom Dust game: There never was a World Above, at least not here. Everything is the figment of a single shattered mind.

    * various PKD stories: It’s all a lie. There was a great war, but it ended long ago and the World Above is perfectly habitable.

    * Death Gate Cycle books: the “good guys” ended the great war by splitting reality, but their planned utopia fell apart.

    * Gorkamorka (spinoff of Warhammer 40k): asteroid-riding orcs irradiated the surface, splitting human scientists into primitive Diggers and Mutants who retained most of the techno-magic. The World Above’s environment has mostly recovered, but cultural rifts are harder to repair.


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