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Returned Maztica

Anek

New member
I actually looked up Merrouroboros when I first was looking into things, and I couldn't find anywhere that appeared to resemble Maztica on the map, even though it very clearly can find the "North America" stand in continent. [Of course, I missed Mazti on the map of 2e Maztica, so ... maybe I'm not the best at this] and also did this to help play into the ideas of "True World" and more Aztec origin myths that let those be true while not being contradicted by other setting information. One thing that often bugs me in fantasy settings is when there is a 'known history of the origin of the world' which shows that one group was in the right about their creation myth, and other groups were wrong. This isn't so much an issue here, as it is just a larger bug bear of mine in Fantasy mythology.

As for the Tabaxi, they've 'been around' in some form or another since 1st edition, and I think their popularity in 5th edition is more a factor of cat humaoids taking off more in popular culture. That said, I always leaned more toward the idea that the Tabaxi were always a very curious people but had plenty to occupy them in Maztica with all of the various strife and conflict going around in that region. As a result, few could ever manage to leave the continent, save for some rare exceptions, until the time of 5th edition. This relates to the more stable Maztica that means that the Tabaxi tribes are now less focused on simply keeping their tribes alive, and many more are now able to fulfill their curiosity in ever more far-reaching lands. Speaking of the Tabaxi, one recurring NPC I've created in my campaigns is a Tabaxi by the name of "Wandering Wind." More or less he started out more as a joke / rumor where the players in the Chult campaign would find the initials 'WW' carved into various tombs / ruins / other places they thought had been completely forgotten about. With rumors circulating that there is said to be a legendary explorer who has traveled the length and breadth of Toril and beyond.

That all said, a lot more of the stuff I focus on in the campaign / world building is a lot more of the mundane day-to-day running of the cities / peoples as I feel being able to throw in the occasional piece of window-dressing into a scene helps sell a place more than any of the higher minded cosmology can. To that end I've been working on various 'ways of life' for Mazticans as of 5e from food, to culture, etc.

One main aspect of all of this is the idea that the two special types of magic introduced in the setting Hishna and Pluma are both 1) Far more useful than in the original campaign box, and 2) a central means of focus in the campaign setting. In this way, it helps to differentiate the setting, make the magic feel more 'unique' and also help give reason to certain tropes and tools often applied to meso-american fantasy.

At their core Pluma and Hishna are still magics highly connected to magic items, and creation of magic items with very few aspects of them translating to casting spells. This keeps in line with the description and intent set forth by the original campaign box, but simply expands upon it more to help it work better in 5e which is a far different beast from 2e.

Pluma is often associated with beneficial abilities, with few of it's tools used to cause harm save for Bows and Spears. Pluma magic is often associated with feathers, which gives their magic items unique properties based on the feathers. However, these feathers work as 'charges' with the magic of feathers lost or weakened as they are spent. This necessitates them being re-imbued with magic once more by a Pluma-crafter. Generally this also gives Pluma one other core feature to it (that is more designed around 5e magic items in mind) which is that Pluma items, when used sparingly are a bit worse than similar versions from Faerun, but when used all at once, often provide far more powerful abilities. However, the recharging process is not always so simple, as to recharge Pluma magic, a Pluma-crafter must be in a Peaceful location, ideally a place surrounded by birdsong. This means that it is hard for a crafter to be brought to a dangerous locale, say right next to a battlefield or dungeon, and be able to recharge Pluma. This helps to strongly tie Pluma to peace, tranquility, and the items become far more powerful when the party has a peaceful location they can return to.

Hishna on the other hand is associated with harmful attributes, or improving one's ability to deal harm to others. It tends to involve ritual and ceremony that help their magic along. In keeping with the idea of it being tied more strongly with Zaltec, much of Hishna involves offerings of humanoid blood. Weaker rites and less powerful items only require humaoid blood, but stronger rites and items require that blood to be specifically of a slain humanoid. Combined with it's strength in combat, and reliance on blood Hishna is a extremely difficult magic to use for many people who are not in the business of death and killing, but for those who are often near the battlefield or dealing with humanoid foes it can be a magic that is easy to meet the requirements of.

In this way, Pluma and Hishna are very much two ends of a spectrum with one serving better in peace, and the other in violence. However, much as it originally was, they are not tied to a single deity but to all of the Maztican pantheon. With each type of magic able to serve it's own ends and purposes. Further it helps show the shift of the Maztican people as they will often rely on one or the other depending on the situation. Though Quotal has no Hishna, and Zaltec has no Pluma.

[Also note that a lot of my magic items are designed around the idea that the party is going to be far from villages in a lot of dungeons / explorations so they will not be easily able to recharge their pluma items. If this isn't the case, then Pluma becomes far stronger]

Some example items: (Still a rough work in progress)

Pluma:
True Feather bow: This bow is a +0 magic (long)bow with three feathers on it. A feather may be used to grant a cumaltive +1 bonus to hit and to damage for the next 24 hours. Multiple feathers may be used in this manner to grant a larger bonus (I.E 2 feathers may be spent to make this a +2 bow for 24 hours) Once the feather's have been used, they must be recharged by a Pluma-crafter

Feather of Featherfall: While this feather is on your person, you may cast Featherfall. Once this feather has been used, it must be recharged by a Pluma-crafter
[ ^ More or less replicating spell scrolls for certain items]

Hishna:
Jaguar Claw: [Attunement] This claw serves as a +0 Insignia of Claws while worn or carried on your person. If this claw is dipped in a ceremonial bowl filled with humanoid blood (6 oz) and a ritual is performed then the Claw becomes a +1 Insignia of Claws for 24 hours. However, if the claw is dipped in a ceremonial bowl filled with blood from a slain humanoid (6 oz) and a ritual is performed in the name of Zaltec then the Claw becomes a +3 Insignia of Claws for 24 hours.

Sarificial Bowl of Bless: This small bowl is stained with blood, and while holding it the user is aware of a ritual that will take one hour to perform and require that the bowl be filled with blood of a humanoid (6 oz). If this ritual is done, then the user is given a boon that lasts 24 hours or until it is used. This boon may be used to cast the Bless spell without consuming a spell slot or requiring any material components.
 

Anek

New member
One thing I forgot to mention:
Hishna and Pluma magic can not have it's material components substituted by a spell focus. Further Pluma often requires feathers as components, and Hisha requires claws, scales, and bones. On the other hand, the material components do not have to be directly manipulated with the hands, but instead only need to be on their person. As such, many casters of Pluma and Hishna magic will incorporate the components into their garments and armor such as Headdress of Feathers, Feathered capes, or necklaces made of claws and bones, or armor with the bones and scales integrated into the armor.
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
Personally, I try not to reinvent the wheel, which is why I am seeing plumaweavers and hishnashapers as Artificer subclasses. They fit the class thematically very well, and if this means that Maztica has far mire artificers than mainland Faerun, then I hardly have a problem with that.
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
Okay, some further replies...

Hey! I am really glad I found all of this.

I have been working on my own Custom Maztica setting for 5e, and I found all of this stuff extremely helpful in plotting things out.
I do have a few ideas that you may or may not wish to take, and I thought after reading all of your stuff, it was only fair to share some of my own thoughts / ideas on the narrative and setting.

First thing is fist, I really disliked how the original box set went out of their way to make Mazticans... just worse than those from the Sword Coast. It really just sort of seems like rubbing salt in the wound after re-telling one of the more... terrible examples of European conquest in the history books.
Yeah, I hear you. I have been known to rant about this at length. The plotline also largely deprotagonizes them - even the ultimate villains turned out to be imports from Faerun (well, the Underdark of Faerun).

On the other hand, the way they just dismissed human sacrifice as "it's all an evil trick by evil drow!" without really going into the metaphysics is also disappointing. Aztec metaphysics and philosophy really did provide for some good justification for all this sacrifice business ("we need to pump spiritual energy into the configuration of the current world, so that we can stave off its inevitable end for a bit longer!"), and I think it's important to make this a part of Maztica. Whether or not human sacrifice is necessary will be a matter of continued moral and metaphysical debate in my version of Maztica...

So I tried to change quite a few things in that regards, not to mention trying to bring up more of the newer knowledge we have on South America and Mexico pre-columbian civilizations through satellite scans, and the like. [Such as their much more complex highway system]
Yea, the Mayan highway system also impressed me when I read about it, and I will definitely include a variant.

Finally, I tried to give them a bit more... interesting... pre-history that lets the true world feel just as important as other major settings.
This is a largely empty canvas, and I have quite a few ideas for remnants of batrachi and aearee ruins. You can never have enough pre-human ruins. ;)

The first thing I expanded on was the nature of the "True World" itself. I took bits and pieces from Aztec myth and the ideas of FR history, to come up with the idea that, as of 5th edition, the Mazticans were living in what they called 'the 5th world'. The 4th world was when they were shunted off to Abeir, The third world was when they were in Toril, the second world was when the planet was still known as Abeir-Toril, and the first world... was from before Maztica was part of Abeir-Toril at all, but still a part of the fabled 'true world'. The lands of Maztica were originally part of another material plane, and one that had it's own Gods, creations, and peoples upon it. However, due to an ancient war between the Gods, one that ended the two great deities of Kukul and Maztica. With Kukul now absent, and Maztica now gone-but-dreaming. The World was ultimately subsumed in a great Cataclysm that, depending on the telling is endless beasts, rains of fire, floods of blood, or gale storms that ripped even mountains asunder. Regardless, the True World was lost, and the Maztican deities reached out for aid, and in doing so found Ao. With a pact forged between the gods of Maztica, and the over-god the land of Maztica was transplated from the dying First world, and placed with Abeir-Toril. Magics of Pluma and Hishna are both from the First World, and though the people of Maztica today do not know the truth of the matter, they yet know the myth of the first world, and that they now live in the fifth world of the True World, as decreed by the Gods.
I prefer to assume that "Kukul" and "Lord Ao" are the same entity. Yes, Kukul was reported dead. So what? Gods have returned to life before (<side-eyes the Faerunian pantheon>). Otherwise, you risk portraying Maztican gods as subservient to an entity which so far has only featured in Faerunian theology - which has all sorts of unfortunate implications when you compare it to the Christianization of New Spain.

However, there is far more to this story for setting significance than just that. There are parts of the First World that were left behind that yet persist. Yet more bargains had been struck that day than with the Maztican Deities and Ao. The First world yet stands, however it has been shattered and now lies within the Abyss, many of it's Gods turned and twisted into Demons. The fallen First World does not interact much with the Blood War however, but instead they yet plot, and scheme those entities wishing to reclaim the missing pieces of the First World, and bind them together in the Abyss where they can yet expand their power.
Hmmm... I have been reading the book "Aztec Philosophy" in recent months, and what struck me is that in contrast to European metaphysics, Aztec philosophy is pretty much missing concepts of "Cosmic Good" and "Cosmic Evil". The fundamental force of the universe, teotl, is both non-sapient and amoral, but constantly driven to re-create itself in new forms.

Thus, while demons should of course be known to Mazticans, they should be known as "dangerous, harmful spirits" as opposed to "exemplars of Cosmic Evil". "Evil" is what is harmful to people and society, not what "detect alignment" spells say (and perhaps fortunately, these have been downplayed in 5E anyway).

Thus, I'd be hesitant to have demons play too large a role in the setting. The concept of the "Blood War" wouldn't be too alien for Mazticans - much of Aztec philosophy is about paired opposites that constantly struggle each other yet define each other. But rigid alignment axes are inappropriate for the feel of the setting IMO.

OOC: This can be used to help introduce / expand upon a lot of the rich history of MesoAmerica, a lot of which has been lost or so completely hidden that we know very little of it, such as the Olmec or other deities that we know next to nothing of except for the name. Also can be used to help introduce 'forgotten' Gods, that are ancient rather than just producing new ones.
Well, if you compare the Maztican gods with Aztec mythology, there are a few obvious missing pieces. Like entities responsible for the dead...

(More later...)
 

Anek

New member
On the other hand, the way they just dismissed human sacrifice as "it's all an evil trick by evil drow!" without really going into the metaphysics is also disappointing. Aztec metaphysics and philosophy really did provide for some good justification for all this sacrifice business ("we need to pump spiritual energy into the configuration of the current world, so that we can stave off its inevitable end for a bit longer!"), and I think it's important to make this a part of Maztica. Whether or not human sacrifice is necessary will be a matter of continued moral and metaphysical debate in my version of Maztica...
That's one reason why I was working on the Hishna / Pluma magic so much was in part to help explain why a large part of the magic unique to Maztica fed into the whole 'sacrifice' aspect of the culture. I wanted to expand it to give it largely different, but familiar powers because I'm always hesitant to introduce something that has a distinct cost (such as sacrifice) that is more or less equal to something that provides the same benefit without a cost. After all, if you could get the same magic powers from sacrificing people as you could get from being a cleric who didn't sacrifice people it would simply make the entire act seem like a false choice. If that makes sense.

I prefer to assume that "Kukul" and "Lord Ao" are the same entity. Yes, Kukul was reported dead. So what? Gods have returned to life before (<side-eyes the Faerunian pantheon>). Otherwise, you risk portraying Maztican gods as subservient to an entity which so far has only featured in Faerunian theology - which has all sorts of unfortunate implications when you compare it to the Christianization of New Spain.
Ah, a lot of the stuff with Ao and having them move to Forgotten Realms was much more inspired by the Imaskari and the Mulan, specifically the migration of the Egyptian / Untheric Gods to the Realms. I don't really see Ao as part of the Faerunian pantheon, and more as a general caretaker of the entire setting, as evidenced by his ability to more or less do what he wills with things such as the God Wall of the Imaskari, or the events of 4th edition.

Ultimately, a lot of the ideas for Maztica being from 'another' world comes from some of the older (and retconned) parts of early FR lore that had much of the world consisting of the Realms being made up of several pieces of other worlds, including 'our' Earth that were "Forgotten". Also it helped by making things easier to expand upon in a way that needed less in the way of connecting with FR lore, especially for a group of players who ... sadly... care less about the specifics of learning about the cosmology of FR as they care about interacting with the Fantasy aspects of Meso-America.

Hmmm... I have been reading the book "Aztec Philosophy" in recent months, and what struck me is that in contrast to European metaphysics, Aztec philosophy is pretty much missing concepts of "Cosmic Good" and "Cosmic Evil". The fundamental force of the universe, teotl, is both non-sapient and amoral, but constantly driven to re-create itself in new forms.
It's interesting you mentioned this, because I did stumble upon this in some of my research. I am not a history / anthropological student or expert, so most of my stuff is from a more amateur standpoint. That said, I used demons for the forces that the world fell to because of the Nature of the Abyss and how it is 'endless and shifting' in form which could easily allow for the expansion of large tracts of space and land to the Abyss without having to retcon how the Abyss works. Adding more levels to an infinite realm is far easier than fitting it into any of the existing extra-planar locations In addition, I found the concept of teotl to be very much 'chaotic' in alignment, and thus having opposing forces within the setting be aligned on the Chaotic axis (From CG <-> CE) led me to making the more corrupt forces Demonic in nature.

If you wanted to still include the 'fallen' world, then another idea I was playing with was to put it in Limbo, though that made less sense than just having the Abyss pull in a broken world. Still though, the idea was less to have a "Cosmic Evil" for the setting so much as it was to have a large group of antagonistic forces to Mazticans at large who were interested primarily in Maztica.



--

Ultimately, one of the main goals I had with the setting was to create a place that could, if one knew nothing of the Sword Coast, or Waterdeep, or Faerun could still be invested in and find to be a full setting that is exciting and interesting. Without having the baggage of having to know FR lore as a prerequisite to knowing how Maztica worked. A lot of the 2E setting was built in a way that is very much the opposite of that, in the sense that it used one's knowledge of how Faerun worked to draw players in, then introduce them to Maztica. At the same time, however, it is not like Maztica is a separate planet from the Sword Coast, and should have things be similar to other aspects of the Realms. In that sense, there is trade, hold-over influences in the colonies, and creatures that are present in both. In addition, I want Maztica to feel like a place where one can feel pride from being there. The cities are large, and well designed, trade is flourishing, and many of their cities have ammentities that many cities in the Sword Coast can not hope to match. (Such as Zoos, Schools, City Design, and more all drawn from historical knowledge of Maya and Aztec at the heights of their respective power and prestige) [This will be expanded upon soon when I talk more about my notes on the society / culture of Maztica in my version of things]
 

Anek

New member
(More of my setting stuff / notes)

Agriculture:

Maztica is a land rich in natural bounty, and the people have used this to cultivate a large number of crops. While many are native to the region, ever since the arrival of the Golden Legion, and the shift to Abeir the land has only grown richer with variety of crops and animals. This expansive system of crops, groves, and more recently ranches have given the people of Maztica a true treasure cultivated by their farmers.

Their most bountiful crop by far is Maize (or Mayze because 'the 90s') and it comes in a multitude of colors. Red, Yellow, White, and Black and rumors of yet more colors existing under the careful guard of hidden clerics and druids of Watil. Each of the colors are primarily regionally grown in the North, South, East, and West parts of Maztica and only small amounts of it are exported to the other regions for use in ceremonial purposes. This lack of export is in part due to it's prevalence in all regions and the primary crop of the people, and also due to a certain regional favoritism for each color. This is so much so that traders and travelers have gotten into brawls over disputes on if their regional variety of Maize was superior to the local variety. There are even rumors, and myths that clerics of Watil secretly feud and war with one another on which color of Maize is truly dominant. Still other rumors even lay claim that there exist varietys of Maize that are magical in nature, and can confer properties upon those who consume it.

While Maize may be King of the crops, Cocoa is the Queen. Massive groves of Coacoa trees are tended to in many of the Farming villages and towns within Maztica and in those that can house Cocoa groves the tenders of these groves tend to be treated a cut above other farmers often being treated as a step above other farmers in terms of respect, housing, and positions within the village. Indeed, in some villages the Head tender of the Cocoa grove can be counted among the leadership of the village, often representing the farmers and growers of the village in internal affairs. This prestige in due in part to the difficulty of cultivating and protecting the Cocoa trees which need to be defended against a host of diseases, pests, and other problems but also because of the history of the Cocoa bean in Maztican culture by large. Long ago it was used primarily in religious rites and exclusively those which meant that the original growers and tenders of the groves were considered to be in service to the priests, putting them high up in the class system of any village, especially those smaller ones with only a handful of priests or warriors. Eventually the Cocoa bean was expanded to serve as both luxury food item, and as a form of currency in several parts of Maztica. While this was a step down in the importance of the ones who tended to the Cocoa groves it still left them in an important position, especially when the village's funds would be derived from the strength of the harvest. Indeed, even with much of Maztica moving over to the more widely used coinage system thanks to the influx of trade combined with the natural gold wealth of Maztica, many smaller villages still use the Cocoa bean in trade transactions. It is most common among smaller villages among the farmers for whom gold and silver are too significant a coinage for use in daily transactions. Even in villages where the Cocoa is not used in currency at all, it is still one of the most desired luxury crops as the demand for it in Maztica and beyond is always incredibly high. There are even traders and merchants who will swear that upon the back of the Cocoa bean Maztica may rise to become the economic center of all of Toril.

While the above two crops are significant, alone they would not let Maztica rise to the agricultural heights it has achieved. The land also boasts several varieties of bean, squash, tomatoes, Chilies, Yucca (which is refined into Tapioca), Vanilla, and more. In addition to these, Maztica has since seen the additions of sugar, coffee, tea, and rice as further crops that now grace the many fields of Maztica. In part thanks to the tireless, but often understated efforts of the followers of Watil to make even the most foreign of crops prosper under the Maztican sun.

In addition to all the crops grown purely for consumption, many fields of Maztica also sport mass fields of cotton which are used in cooking as Cottonseed oil, and in clothing and banner making. Not to mention some small crops that are grown for the dyes that are extracted from them in the making of the famous colorful attire of Mazticans.

[If you want more 'explanation' of crops in the style of Maize or Cocoa feel free to ask]

In addition to all of this, Maztica hosts many varieties of animal and creatures that are consumed for their meat. One of the primary animals that were harvested for their meat in controlled environments were Ducks. However Mazticans also often made use of undomesticated turkeys and deer to feast upon as well. Much more of the game and meat of Maztica was hunted down in the wilds. Until the coming of the Golden Legion, much of Maztica's meat was through hunting, as Nula frowned upon any large scale domestication of animals for meat. After the Golden Legion, and the introduction of cattle there have been more efforts at ranching within Maztica, though they tend to be rare and limited to the areas that the former colonies inhabited before the shift to Abeir.
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
A quick note: I don't think that teotl can really be described as "chaotic" - ironically, the old term of "Concord Opposition" fits better. It is Creation and Destruction, Chaos and Order. "Paired Opposites" are one of the fundamental configurations that teotl manifests itself.

Incidentally, this also means that Qotal and Zaltec represents such paired opposites - they fight each other, but they also complete each other, and their struggles create vital parts of the world.

Furthermore, I would move away from specific alignments for the Gods - "Zaltec Viperhand" is just one specific expression of the greater Zaltec complex.
 

Anek

New member
I'll try to avoid too much of a discussion on Chaotic vs Lawful here, but I see your view and I can certainly understand that.

Incidentally, this also means that Qotal and Zaltec represents such paired opposites - they fight each other, but they also complete each other, and their struggles create vital parts of the world.

Furthermore, I would move away from specific alignments for the Gods - "Zaltec Viperhand" is just one specific expression of the greater Zaltec complex.
I agree with you fully here. To expand on this, let us not forget that in the version of events where Quotal was 'sleeping it off' it was Zaltec who stepped up and managed to bring prosperity back to Maztica along with the other Gods. In addition it was Zaltec who Kiltzi fled to in that telling of the tale. If we accept that the Gods of Maztica work differently, and that blood sacrifice is less a 'evil choice the gods want' and more a 'nessecary aspect of how the God's powers work' then we can see this period very clearly as one where Zaltec had the best interests of Maztica at heart, and only took the steps he did because when one's domain is War, Fangs, and Blood then the tools he has to help the people are limited.

Without jumping ahead in all the notes I have too much, I will say that Zaltec and Qotal (and all the Gods) -do- care about Maztica and their people, but also can be, as you have stated numerous times, massive dicks about it as well. After all, much like how War is often portrayed as a bad thing in most societies, we can't exactly deny that there are times when people have to fight or risk being destroyed. In the same way, while Zaltec is less useful when times are peaceful and prosperous, he is downright vital to the people of Maztica in times of war and danger. Likewise, Qotal is great when things are peaceful and prosperous, but his powers are so much weaker when it comes to having to, say, stop an incursion of monsters from destroying the village. (As was reflected in my descriptions of how Hishna / Pluma worked)
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
The way I see it, in Maztican metaphysical and theological thought mortals need to empower their gods so that the gods can keep the world running. And the sacrifice of blood and hearts is especially potent for this purpose.

But there are other approaches as well - prayers, ritual, sacrifice that does not involve killing humans. Whether human sacrifice is truly necessary is an ongoing debate.
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
As for crops, domesticated animals and so forth: I am going to assume that as long as they are useful, the Mazticans will use them. The Native Americans of North America certainly took to horses readily enough.

This also includes crops and animals from Abeir, which is an opportunity to make the land more alien. Furthermore, I see Pezelac as prime "herding country", since the region was fairly underdeveloped and boring in previous descriptions.
 
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