What is the story of Shroud of the Avatar?
At present, the exact details of the story of the Shroud of the Avatar series remain a mystery. According to Richard Garriott, the story of the first episode of the series, Forsaken Virtues, deals with identifying the malevolent force that is plaguing the land of New Britannia:
…the first mystery of the first episode, the Forsaken Virtues piece of Shroud of the Avatar, is to see how and why this new malevolence has risen in the world. You arrive in the world and the first things you discover are that you’re in a medieval world and there’s a little bit of technology developing, that the Mechanical Age has begun, but only in the wealthier pockets. And there is a new evil that has risen. It’s not a mindless evil, it’s not just in the dark that monsters rise and cause trouble; there is a very specific plan that they are executing. Your first job is to figure out who they are, what their ultimate goal is, and what they’re trying to execute right now as they lay siege to one town after another…Once you’ve discovered the nature of this new evil and the goal of their plan, that’s when you move on to the second episode.
Additionally, the world of New Britannia has suffered some manner of cataclysm in its not-quite-recent history. The nature of the cataclysm is not fully known, although one of its effects seems to have been the shattering of one of the world’s moons. Unsurprisingly, this has also had a negative impact on the Lunar Rifts that were once the mainstay of point-to-point travel in the world:
Long ago the Lunar Rifts were used to effortlessly travel through the world. As their names might imply, the Lunar Rifts were controlled by the two moons. They were considered to be almost holy ground and small villages and ornate temples frequently sprung up around them. Due to the powerful magic nature of these ancient rifts, the earth and stone around them for a hundred feet or more was more stable and protected through the eons. The result was that many of these Rifts are actually on plateaus left behind as the earth around them was eroded away.
At some point on the very edge of recorded history, something terrible happened and the Lunar Rifts changed. Instead of being an efficient and reliable travel method, many of them became erratic. Sometimes they worked fine, other times they were inert, and worse yet, other times they became portals that allowed the darkest of creatures to enter into the world. These creatures quickly destroyed the villages and temples that had sprung up around the rifts.
How do player-controlled Avatars fit into the story?
Avatars from Earth, the player-controlled characters in the game, are typically viewed with suspicion and fear by the inhabitants of New Britannia1.
Where do we start, when telling a tale? We would start at the beginning, but so much of those days have been lost to us. We can see the fragments of the world that came before all around us; under a hill near a quiet village there might be a ruined building, made of alabaster and marble, speaking quietly of days past and glories lost. Occasionally an inscription can be seen carved in a wall, a fragment in a language similar to ours, yet different enough to be unclear.
The ruins of the world past tell us little, so we turn to myth, prophecies and legends retold. They speak of a cataclysm long ago, when the sky burned and the ground tore itself apart, and the long years afterward, the cold, dark famine. The stones of the past tell little of who survived and how. The legends tell us only that so very few did.
We know a little more of their children, the men and women who rebuilt our world from the shattered past. They were a practical people, those who passed through far more than we can imagine. They left few grand monuments; you could say that their greatest monument was their own survival.
And of their children, we know more. The desire for power and control returned, as it always does, to consume the weak and the strong. Wars were fought then, amongst the ruined cities of their forefathers. New magic came to the world then, as warlords vying for power sought any advantage over each other. New, terrible monsters thought only whispered legends began to walk the earth in those days, serving their purpose in the endless conflict, even if that purpose was only chaos.
And their children understood it could not continue, and united to defend themselves against the warlords and the sorcerers. The city states arose in those days, and we learned that together we could defend ourselves. Yet still the darkness and the chaos pushed at us.
We are still a practical people, traveller. We do not think much about the why, only the how. We are young, after all, and it has not been very long in the shape of things that we have had the luxury to breathe. We are still building our world back to where we can shape our own monuments of alabaster and marble.
Legends and myths tell us little traveller, but they are very specific at times, and those are the times when legends can frighten you. I tell you this, because there is one legend in particular that should interest you. It tells that the world will begin its next cycle, led by a power horrible and great. It is very specific as to the year, traveller. And I think you can guess which year that is foretold.
And that, traveller, is why we fear you…
That said, the coming of the avatars was foretold, and they have a perhaps crucial role to play in what is to come. As such, there are some who have awaited their arrival2:
“…it shall come to pass four long centuries after the fall
There shall come one from beyond the circles of the sundered moon
Who shall bind the world together once again
From its shattered stone and boiled seas…”
– The Dire Prophecies
Greetings, traveller. I am Arabella, and I have been sent to find you. There are those who believe you are the one of whom the prophecies speak. A great burden, and a great destiny, if in fact you are the one foreseen…
In this appointed hour, we have been taught to expect one from another world, one distant from ours in both time and space…the world of Earth, of Lord British. Yes, he remains with us, and if all goes well, he hopes to meet you on your travels…
Yet, there are paths that you must walk, as the prophecies foretold. There are many who would challenge your place here, in the lands of New Britannia. There are many who have forsaken the virtues, and embraced a world out of balance. This, too, was forseen.
However, what you must always remember, traveller, is that prophecy is but a guide. Your destination may become clear, but what you make of it, and how you shape the world in your wake, is up to you. I beseech you, always remember this… and let it guide you. Always remain true to yourself, and to the virtues. For the sake of New Britannia, you must.
Where shall you begin then, traveller?
Among the seekers of truth, the elvenfolk of legend, lost in the mists of their own illusions? Can you find your way, the way of Truth, among so many who have lost their own?
Or what of the shields of courage, the brave lords of the northwestern lands who act as bulwarks, fighting in the endless war against the kobolds who shape technology and magic to challenge the dominance of man? Will you have the Courage to understand why they still fight, and will they?
Perhaps your path will begin where the dead rise again in torment, the undead armies of Spite, who have stolen compassion itself in a cold fury aimed at everyone yet alive? Can you find Love in a land so stricken with hatred?
The map lies open before you, traveller. It is only for you to choose the path of your destiny. For at your path’s end, as the prophecies have forseen, you must face the hidden ruler of this world, and then you will need all the wisdom our world can teach you…
And at that time, only fate can know what time holds in store for you. For us all.
It is time to choose, traveller…
The world of Shroud of the Avatar is fractured, having only barely clawed its way out of a great cataclysm. Its people — and races — are divided3:
Earlier, I described to you the choice you face initially; which path to take in your journey into the lands of New Britannia. Now, I will endeavor to shine some light on those choices, and the impact upon you and those you will meet. The first, your possible pathways among the seekers of Truth.
Among the truths you will learn is that much of our knowledge of the land of New Britannia is lost to the ages. The survivors of the Cataclysm four centuries past have settled in the land we call “Novia”, a large island which, while bearing the scars of that time, still harbors enough life to support our people. And others, as well… many of which you will meet on your travels. The Vertas people that live in the Forsaken Vale, for example, a new race borne of the Cataclysm which we have grown to call “elves”; Lord British has told me this may be reference to a long-distant legend that the people of Novia have since forgotten. The Vertas elves for their part are like men, but different… different enough. They struggle to live alongside the rest of us, but where a man might burn with emotional fire, an elf will be cold, distant. They worship history, knowledge and truth, and those who wish to learn the wisdom they hold would do well to discover the ways of these people. It is certain you will encounter them on your way.
The elves are not the only new race you may encounter, traveller. The lands of the southwest are rich and full of life, and that is rare in Novia. Men and mythical creatures mix throughout, and that brings conflict, as it always does. As our numbers recover from the Cataclysm, the settlements of various races meet, and begin to argue about land and water and right and wrong and truth and lies. Peace lies on a fine edge; it is an edge you may have to walk along. And always the Fomorians, remnants from the Dark Armies of wars past threaten; from their strongholds in Blackblade Pass they often strike looking for prey.
You will see many wonders on your path, traveler; the fauns of Midmaer and the barrens of Quel, the sailors who brave the Bay of Storms (whose name is well earned) seeking to take travellers to the legendary lands of Elysium, where lies the halls of Artifice. There, your destiny will take you, traveller, though it will challenge you in ways you do not yet expect.
This, then, will be one of the challenges facing you as prophesied – the journey of Truth. Will it be the Truth you wish to find? Or will it be the Truth that you wish would be? Or, will you see the Truth as it truly is? The choice will be yours…
Of the time and people of the land before, and even soon after, the cataclysm, there is little in the way of memory, and much in the way of speculation3:
The journeys of our group through the lands of Grunvald were difficult, to be sure — the undead have been rising more frequently of late and there are rumors of a great army of skeletal walkers rising to the north. Yet, the ruins hold such promise! We have found so many scattered among the plains; the local villagers take them quite for granted, having lived among them for generations. So much history, so much already lost.
We have gained something of a reputation among the people here; being generous with coin for guidance to well-maintained places of the ancients has helped with this, I suspect. When we were contacted by a fisherman well versed with the swampy islands off the coast, this generosity paid for itself more than we could have hoped.
I cannot describe the grandeur of these ruins. This was far too well preserved to be a city of the ancients; none of those remnants survived the Cataclysm without the fiery scarring that signified that disaster. Here the bricks and stones were hewn of rougher material, marking a people that had little time for decoration. Thus… her head. It has to be, we agree. The similarities with the iconography of the affirmation chambers, the very finely detailed machinery so atypical of the era… Gregory was the first to put it in words aloud, but we all agreed. This was the earliest depiction any of us have ever seen of the Oracle.
There are so many theories about the Oracle, especially for those of us who question. Of course, it is impossible to deny the impact of the Celestis Compact, and the affirmation chambers, and the Eyes. Few could deny the Oracle exists, with all the evidence of our eyes and the testimonial of those who have heard the Voice. And those who do — well, there are always those who deny even in the face of proof.
Yet there is always the mysteries, the prophecies, the shrouding. The Oracle demands doubt -– it insists on it, sometimes explicitly. No one knows what… it? she? he? The voice is always different, and always what the listener expects. Is it a machine, an intelligent device that somehow survived the Cataclysm? Is it a creature borne of magic, like so many of the wars? Is it something more, something we fear to express?
Yet, here is evidence, before our eyes. The Oracle does exist, and our ancestors saw her, so long ago, and made this great statue in her image. This is the evidence so many have sought. Here, rotting in a long-forgotten swamp outside a humble fishing village, is what could change our world…
Choice, naturally, will be a significant element in the plot of the Shroud of the Avatar games4:
When last we spoke, I talked to you of the seekers of Truth and your journey among them. Now let us turn east, to the lands of the Perennial Coast.
The Perennial Coast is a land split by ties of history, family, love, and malice. Ardoris lie split by a bay and by far more. In their twin citadels to the east and west of the bay, the King of the Loving Earth and the Queen of the Compassionate Winds remain cleaved in twain, literally and figuratively. The void between the two was once bridged by the spirit of Love, which has been missing from the land. In its absence, the people grow fearful and distant; many have tried to bridge that gap but without empathy and compassion, how can those who grow apart come to any agreement?
Yet the land faces more challenges than these. The dead, never truly at peace since the Cataclysm, have risen in numbers far larger than ever before. From the Grunvald clear to the Drachvald, entire legions of the walking dead march, implacable and unforgiving. They are led by a dread lord who, furious over a defeat centuries old, is bent on restoring a long dead empire on the bones of those who dare to live. From the dead halls of Necropolis they march, unfeeling, uncaring, and unstoppable. The Perennial Coast is wounded in so many ways and perhaps this is the final expression of a land whose heart has been turned to ashen dust. For the land to be saved, you must stop the army of the dead; yet you cannot kill all that are dead, traveler. The prophecy demands a hero and the land demands wisdom. You must bridge the void of compassion and restore the ability to feel, even if only sorrow, to hearts burnt ashen cold. To do that, you will have to walk among the dead themselves, into the very heart of the pits of Malice, and into the long forgotten empires of the dead. You must become a light among the cold and desolate, where the only warmth is the fires of centuries of vengeance.
Traveler, you must bring the warmth of compassion to a people who have forgotten, else they be consumed by death itself. The choices you make will be hard and you will have only your heart to guide you. Yet, if you fail, the people of this land will fall, consumed by death itself…
An example of these choices concerns the resolution of the conflict between the Novians and the kobolds, in the northern reaches of Novia, on the island of Norguard:
We have spoken of Truth and Love; there is one virtue left that will guide your travels in the lands of Novia. That virtue being the virtue of Courage.
There are many paths of courage. Some courage is quite easy to come by – after all, if you live in a land where daily survival is a struggle, standing against your foes becomes a habit almost reassuring. Such are the defenders of the Norguard, the knights of Valhold who have made a valiant stand for generations now, defending the lands to their south from terrors below the earth. When you are expected to man the battlements no matter what wizard-spawned abomination appears below, knowing that the survival of your family and your people depend on your will, courage becomes quite easy to find. Such were the Formorian wars, and the survival of the North.
Of all the creatures that were discovered in the Formorian era, none are more challenging, more fascinating and more terrible than the Kobold. Named, like the elves to the south, after a legend long forgotten, the Norguard at first thought them oafish and weak. They were not huge of stature, nor were they particularly savage in their first combats. Yet, the kobolds, like the men they fight, are far more than an initial glance would suggest. They are far from stupid; in fact they may be among the cleverest of mankind’s foes. They form armies, fight with tactics learned from hundreds of battles, and use unique weapons forged with their own knowledge of metal and steel. In fact, the few who have survived the kobold warrens report a level of industry in many ways beyond that of man.
The kobolds are not stupid, traveller, oh no. They know that the first, instinctive reaction of men to their appearance is that of scorn and laughter at their dimunitive size. It has, in fact, shaped much of their culture – and yes, the kobolds have their own culture, tales and loves. They have a sense of honor, in many ways more than those men they fight – and this irony, they too are well aware of. They know we men scorn them, and it drives them into an even more furious hatred of us. They call us weak, traveller, and honorless, and craven and corrupt, and worse yet. And from their viewpoint, they are not wrong. You will discover that, too, traveller, if you have the courage to see.
They consider it their duty, their own courage, to cast down the defenders of Valhold from their base in the Thrones of Skrekk. The few prisoners that have been taken have one, only one message, full of scorn and hatred returned for the race of man. That message is simple: they will never stop.
There is so much we could learn from kobolds, traveller, if we had the courage to. But courage can be very difficult to find, especially in the midst of a war of generations, a struggle of peoples. King Granus, from his throne in Valhold, has the courage of armies, and of warriors, and of a guard never lifted, a shield grown heavy from being borne so very long. It remains for you to deliver the courage of wisdom, and to see if that message can still be heard.
For if you cannot, it may be that man is no longer the master of Novia…
Of course, not everywhere has been touched equally by the Cataclysm. Parts of the Island of Novia are actually quite advanced, even prosperous6:
We have talked earlier of the pathways that you are destined to walk, mirroring the virtues that our land has forsaken… truth, love, and courage… yet once you unwind those threads, all the strands of your destiny will lead you inexorably to the city of Brittany.
Brittany, the City State of the Oracle, is the crown jewel of Novia, its largest city by far. While much of Novia still struggles to survive each day, Brittany is a land of majesty, truly a city apart. Surrounded by farms sufficient to feed its large number of inhabitants, with water flowing easily through a wondrous array of aqueducts, canals and reservoirs. The Dam of Regalis, one of the wonders of this world, can be found here as well, harnessing the elemental power of the dammed up river into etheric energy, used by the city for so much. The people of Brittany walk at night under lights man-made, brighter than the moon. A large central energy tower is here as well, using an immense etheric surge to protect the people of Brittany invisibly from the forces ravaging much of Novia.
At the center of Brittany, its keystone; the Great Hall of the Oracle. What lies within its gates and barriers, few know. The Eyes patrol the perimeter, and they do not speak, only watch. Yet here you must go, traveller; the prophecies have foreseen the path and its destination. The Oracle herself no one has spoken to directly, outside the Affirmation Chambers, yet she is the one you must meet. No one has entered the Oracle’s domain in many generations, yet you must. And what lies beyond that meeting, the prophecy is silent on, save that the world will be forever changed.
Lord British is known to the people of Brittany, though his influence has not been felt outside its gates for many an age. Though of late he is more often to be found in the lands beyond Novia, elsewhere in this sundered world in lands still suffering from the Cataclysm’s fall, still his words and advice ring true to many. Though the virtues may be foreign to many, they do know of the traveller beyond this world, and you may find, paradoxically, an easier passage here than elsewhere because of it. Yet the virtues he espouse… those, I fear, have been forsaken of late.
You may ask what relationship Lord British has with the Oracle. It is one many ask, and this is one question I cannot answer for you. Surely it is no coincidence that the rule of the Oracle, indirect as it may be, has brought peace, of a sort, to much of Novia. Yet, Novia’s peace is fraying at the edges, and soon the chaos may envelop even fair Brittany. And if Brittany’s light goes out, there is little hope for anyone here in Novia.
As for me, my name is Arabella, and if you come to Brittany, you may see me again. But for now, I must prepare you for your first destination…
Where, then, will the journey begin for those who travel across time and space to arrive at New Britannia?
Before you depart, I would like to talk about a land you are likely to encounter on your way to Novia.
The Hidden Vale has been a land apart from Novia for generations now. The Oracle still seems to be aware of events there, as much as anyone can tell, but the people there hold no love for her. Most have migrated to the lands of the Vale because of their status outside the Oracle’s dominion over the years, and the affirmation chambers, so much a part of Brittany’s landscape, are absent here, though you still might be able to find a ruined one from the last time the Oracle’s servants attempted to build such. The people of the Vale believe themselves to be free, and they are quietly proud of this.
Until recently, trade ships from Brittany and Port Graff sailed the route to the Vale’s town of Kingsport regularly, if fairly infrequently. But within the past year, they have stopped completely, and no one can say why. Was it the Oracle, asserting control over her wayward flock once again? Or does it have to do with the prophecies, drawing ever closer to their appointed hour? It is the time of portents, after all, and this portent specifically bears ill for the people of the Vale. As little as they would care to admit, they became dependent on the goods from the trading ships, and Kingsport especially has fallen upon hard times. Bandits can be found in dark alleys plotting the disposition of what little wealth remains, and good people have fled.
Most of those refugees eventually find themselves in the bustling town of Owl’s Head. Owl’s Head has no King or Baron; the people have not nearly the patience for that. If anyone could be said to rule Owl’s Head, it is the captain of the local guard, Lord Delbart Enmar (the Lord in this case being more of an honorific, and a signifier that Enmar’s family has been guard-commanders for generations). Enmar has many concerns of late; the chaos beginning to consume Kingsport not least among them. But outside the walls of Owl’s Head there lie many dangers. Wolves prowl the farmlands in packs, threatening what little of the economy remains, and to the south past Kingsport the walking dead have just within the past few weeks emerged from a hidden fortress, to what end no one can say. And some even say a dragon is loose in the hills.
The Vale values its freedom, traveller, but its challenges are many, and its survival is uncertain. And your imminent arrival is not unknown to forces that mean you harm, traveller. For they know the prophecy as well as I, and your place in it. And they are not as concerned with your welfare as I…
How many episodes will Shroud of the Avatar’s story span?
At present, five episodes are planned.
Who is writing the story of Shroud of the Avatar?
As of March 15th, 2013, Dragonlance author Tracy Hickman joined the Portalarium team as Lead Story Designer.
Tracy is known world-wide for creating the incredible worlds and stories of Dragonlance, the Deathgate Cycle, the Annals of Drakis and Wayne of Gotham. He, with his wife Laura, pioneered the use and integration of story into role playing games. He currently has over fifty books in print and is also a pioneer in the New Media publishing world of e-books and online serial publishing.
1. Update of the Avatar – 10/10/13: Combat Sigil, Story Sneak Peek, Basements, Druid Home, Bonus Rewards, & More!
2. Update of the Avatar – 10/18/13: Lord of the Manor Home, Crafting Sigil, Story Sneak Peek #2, Avatar Outfits, Basements, Scene Jam Results, & More!
3. Update of the Avatar – 10/25/13: Unity Scene Jam #3 Winners, Story Sneak Peek, City Basements, Wizard Tower, Baron 3 Pledge, and More!
4. Update of the Avatar – 11/01/13: Six Month Progress Video, Story Sneak Peek, Founder Starter Shield, Fishing Pole of Prosperity and More!
5. Update of the Avatar – 11/08/13: Scene Jam IV Winners, Story Sneak Peek & Map Reveal, Early Access Release Schedule, and the Baron Home!
6. Update of the Avatar – 11/15/13: Scene Jam & Recruit-A-Friend Winners, Skills Design, Windmill Home, Basements, Taming Turkey Call, and More!
7. Update of the Avatar – 11/22/13: Spoony Interview, Benefactor Knight Home, Story Sneak Peek, Cloaks, Gifting, and More!