1. Welcome to Purgatory
Purgatory is a roleplaying game taking place in a broken, post-apocalyptic world. Technology has degraded into magic and the society is oppressive and hypocritical. Power and wealth are concentrated in the hands of a corrupted few. Now, for the first time in centuries, the world is at flux and things are changing. For better or worse - that is where the player characters will play their part for the future.
It is assumed that you, the reader, are familiar with the basic concepts of roleplaying games. Concepts such as characters, game masters and non-player characters are not explained in detail. If you are new to RPGs, people on the Purgatory forums will be happy to assist you in getting started.
You can choose how to interpret the world. It can be seen as fantasy, science fiction or a mix of both. The modularity extends to the rules. Rules can be customized by picking and choosing optional rules. Some make the game gritty and dark, others heroic and light-hearted. Ultimately, you can choose what genre to play and how to interpret the world.
Reality is a matter of perception.
Over 500 years ago, the world was purged and forged anew. The religious masses rose in a bloody revolution against their technocratic leaders. They were lead by the charismatic prophet Aerus and his Seventeen Saints. With help of the mysterious God-Machine, they vanquished all opposition and subjugated everything to their rule. Horrible weapons devastated the world, burning the enemies of the Faith with hellfire and smiting them down with plague. Leaders of the revolution remade the wasted world in their image. Scientific thought was vilified as sorcery, critical thinking became a crime. Great purges lead to unspeakable atrocities. Enraged mobs stormed and destroyed factories, universities and hospitals. Fanatical faith replaced reason.
Aerus was worshipped as a godly figure and his Seventeen Saints became rulers of the world. On came the Burning, upon which great book pyres burned day and night. All knowledge of the times before the revolution was destroyed. Only the Holy Scriptures could tell of the past. Technology was declared sorcery under the divine mandate of the God-Machine. On came the Techmancers, grotesque cyborg magicians, puppets of the God-Machine. The sciences – sorceries – of old became their sole realm. It was their duty to purge the world of heretical knowledge, to lock away and guard the useful information and destroy the harmful. On came the behemoth simple known as the Church to rule the world in totalitarian tyranny.
As the decades and centuries rolled past, corruption and ambition coursed their ways. Nations and realms, princedoms and kingdoms broke free of the Church. Heresies arose and religious wars were again fought. Merchant princes plotted and schemed to control all the wealth in the world. All technology – now called Techmancery – became dependant on Omnium, priceless substance used to fuel machines big and small. It became the lifeline of the world. Century after century, the droughts became worse and the ignorance deepened. Techmancers became prisoners to their own dogma, unable to distinguish between mysticism and the truth behind it. Among the crumbling infrastructure and in poisoned wastelands, men schemed for their petty plots, while the world around them slowly dies.
The world is ruled by a hereditary nobility and uncompromising clergy. Merchant princes control trade between the realms and live in incomprehensible luxury. Slavery is common and encouraged by the mainstream religion. Scholarship is looked down upon and people are superstitious to the extreme. Dissident thinkers are hunted down by inquisitors know as the Shepherds. For most people, hunger and poverty are common facts of life. Flintlock muskets, windmills, rapiers, and waterwheels are the cutting edge of mundane technology. Anything more sophisticated is considered magic – Techmancery.
Recently, the world was torn in a great war between Ameracho and Pacificus. Now the guns have finally fallen silent and the War of Aresian Succession is over. The price of war has been paid full in blood.
The world is dominated by three great powers. The Holy Empire of Ameracho is an absolute monarchy ruled by ethnically distinctive nobility. They are champions of the Church and status quo of the world. Free Republic of Eurasia is a mysterious realm that has been completely isolationist for centuries. Their stagnant society is organized in strict, hierarchical castes. The Splendid Federation of Pacificus is a totalitarian tyranny lead by the enigmatic, masked Golden Lord. To his people, he is a living god, immortal and omniscient. Overpopulation threatens to push Pacificus into famine and chaos.
The Kingdom of Aresia is traditional ally of Ameracho. It is a poor, drying kingdom where the Great Red Desert spreads a little further every year. The kingdom was devastated in the recent war to an extent it might never recover from. Bandits and deserters roam the countryside. Bankrupt nobles have to deal with disastrous war debt. Ventharn is a fertile, lush realm exporting vast quantities of food to other realms. Its traditional rulers - the warlords and their khan - have been defeated. Now anarchy rules and idealistic rebels seek to unite the country as a republic. In the wild archipelago of Segmentum Minorus, clan wars are escalating into a total chaos. Piracy thrives and the corsairs threaten vital trade lines.
Under the fog of war, other intrigues have taken fruit. The Followers of Eserhaus, a group of proscribed witches and warlocks have broken away from the Order of Techmancers. They skulk in the shadows, whispering sweet poison in ears of the powerful. The Trader Union and the Guild Alliance compete for control of the Omnium trade with no quarter given. A trade war will soon follow – and perhaps a war of assassins and mercenaries.
Elsewhere, the lesser realms stay unaffected. Gloomsailors risk the dangers of the Gloom to visit the perverted decadency of Denkhatar, the corrupt splendor of the Golden Dome, and the free-minded mysticism of Lunarus. Freeports hang on to their perilous existence in the Outer Rim. On the Far Shores, the savages live ignorant of the world.
The Church controls most of the world through religion – in most realms, their supremacy is unchallenged. The Esteemed Order of Techmancers controls all forbidden knowledge. Their overtly complicated devices are the only true technology available. Creatures known as Gloomwalkers rule the darkness between the realms. Only their ships can reach the farthest reaches of the Gloom. Heretics, Techdabblers and warlocks live in the shadow of these giants, fighting for the scraps from their tables.
This new time, this Age of Upheaval is an era of opportunity. Heretics and revolutionaries, brokers, and spies, demagogues ,and diplomats, warlocks, and Techdabblers, mercenaries ,and profiteers thrive in the chaos. Meanwhile priests and enforcers, Techmancers ,and merchant princes, aristocrats ,and petty lordlings seek to maintain the old order. Ignorant and uncaring, the vast masses concentrate on doing what they always do: living and surviving among the broken, poisoned ruins of the forgotten past.
1.1 The Main Themes
The most important thing about Purgatory is the setting. It is the base and spirit of the game, a strange world for the characters to explore and the players to experience. The game can be used for many different genres. The rules support this through their modular nature. The characters might be mysterious Techmancers investigating proscribed technology, agents of the Shepherds hunting heretics, spies working behind enemy lines, merchant princes plotting in their high halls, heroic swashbucklers fighting pirates in the Gloom, scavengers going through Pre-Burning ruins… Online bonus materials include specific genre advice, campaign ideas, character concepts, and adventure seeds. If you are not sure what to do with the game, look there for ideas.
Yet, some things about the game world are so essential that they will be influential in all campaigns. These themes have a strong, underlying influence on the daily realities of the world, as well as in the past and present of the player characters.
Tradition versus change
For the first time in centuries, the world is in flux and old institutions are threatened. This creates inborn antagonism between those defending the old order and those undermining it. Ripples of greater conflicts inevitably influence smaller actors.
The Trader Union, the Church, the Techmancers and the autocratic governments are the champions of stability and order. They represent the inflexible status quo. The Followers of Eserhaus, the Guild Alliance, the revolutionaries, and the heretics seek to change things to something new and unknown. Many realms face internal changes; a woman might inherit the Imperial throne and Ventharn has fallen into anarchy. Whether the characters are wily mercenaries, swashbuckling heroes, scheming cultists, or naïve Techdabblers, they must choose sides.
Religious thought pervades every realm and organization. The Church requires absolute belief in their message. Human reason is seen as a flawed and dangerous thing. Heretics and other religions are no less demanding in their dogmas. Even those who stray towards skepticism or outright atheism have been raised in an atmosphere of blind faith.
The unquestioning faith is often the very motivation behind the greatest charities and worst atrocities. When fanatical followers of opposing creeds are brought together, disasters often follow. The mainstream culture admires devotion and blind faith even in nonreligious contexts. Facts and observations matter little among people who are raised in religious discourse. The great masses are moved by stories of miracles and magic, not by logic.
Purgatory is a game about a society taken over by religious fanatics and the mixing of magic and technology. The very concept of rational thought is strange. Closely connected with the religious influences, magical thinking dominates the way people explain the world. Even the few daring individuals who abandon the worldview based on faith can not shake its effect on their mentality.
The very idea of drawing a line between the supernatural and the natural is alien to such mentality. Everything happens for a reason and all things are connected. It is thus natural to see spirits and sorcery everywhere, even in the most mundane things. Naturalistic, scientific approach to the world is seen as sorcery of the worst kind. It is synonymous with the forbidden magical practices of the Pre-Burning Warlocks. Regardless, the lowest emotional base motivations - lust, greed, ambition, revenge, love and hate - remain the same.
Technology is degrading
One important fact is the slow and inevitable decline of technology. The religious majority is universally hostile towards any and all innovation. At the same time, technological wonders of the past are indistinguishable from the dark magic of the Warlocks. It is the duty of every faithful to destroy such artifacts. Every year, more outposts in the Gloom are abandoned as the inhabitants can no longer maintain them. Old factories that burn down are irreplaceable. There are less clockwork rifles and more pikes in every war.
Techmancers have become victims to their own mysticism. Even theirs masters are unable to distinguish the difference between magic and technology. The means have become synonymous to the ends. When Techmancers add unnecessary parts in their devices to make it harder for dabblers to copy them, the next generation forgets which parts are necessary and which are not. The unnecessarily complex machines are slower and slower to produce and break down more often.
Ghosts of the forbidden past
The history preceding the Burning is forbidden knowledge, but its legacy lives everywhere. The landscape is dotted with ancient infrastructure and ruins. Poisoned wastelands, destroyed cities and twisted forests act as a reminder of the ancient war. Some children are born monstrous.
Occasionally, old artifacts are unearthed by professional scavengers. Finding a functioning item brings great wealth – and a risk of arrest by the Shepherds. Many great cities are dependant on the ancient, failing infrastructure. Techmancers can only barely maintain old machines, with no hope of building new.
Origins of the powerful lay in the forbidden past – the Church, the Techmancers, the Gloomwalkers, the Trader Union, the Guild Alliance… They all have something hidden in the ashes of the Burning. Walking among the ruins of the past is so common, most people take no notice. It is but a melancholic backdrop to the problems of daily survival.
Moral ambiguity, moral superiority
The Church preaches absolute morality based on obedience towards the Creator and Aerus, his will come flesh. Yet the world itself is gray. Most genres only explore different hues of the gray. There is no absolute good in the world of Purgatory. Even the saintly may falter and fall. Absolute evil is equally rare.
Most of the people escape such ambiguity through religion. They find absolute morals in their blind conviction, elevating themselves among the holy and condemning the others. The true cruelty of moral superiority manifests itself among the common people, not the Shepherds. They are happy to stone their neighbors because of a perceived sin, while hiding their own. In a gray world, everyone claims to be holy, hypocritically or not. The worst deeds are done by those who genuinely believe themselves “good”.
The wavering concept of humanity
The very definition of humanity is unclear. The Blighted are a corporeal example of such dilemma, their very bodies warped by the Gloom and poisons from the old wars. Many of them are born from normal parents. Some were originally normal men whose bodies have been broken and twisted. On the other hand, Techmancers must wage a daily battle with the mekanima or they lose the control of their own bodies. Their identities and motivations are always open to question.
The game mechanics of Corruption and Blight describe the creeping effects that are turning humans into something else. The most insidious effects only affect the mind. A horribly changed Blighted might be more human than a nobleman whose mind has been twisted into a parody of humanity.
There is something wrong with the world
Even in genres not connected with horror, a specific feeling of weirdness should pervade the game. The question of humanity is closely connected to the larger world. Simply put, there is something wrong. People have strange dreams, do weird things with no apparent motivation and treat the most unlikely incidents as natural events. Sometimes it seems like some invisible, inhuman puppeteer is using humans as playthings in some bizarre play.
Thus a slowly increasing sense of weirdness is very appropriate. The surreal and the absurd go hand in hand with the horrible, as something seems to be at miss at the very edge of reality. Strange feeling here and a weird dream there should be enough to build a growing sense of something being amiss.
Secrets & conspiracies
The world of Purgatory is full of secrets. Many organizations, such as the Techmancers and the Gloomwalkers, base their power on their monopoly on knowledge. Heretics and cultists must work in secrecy to avoid execution. The Holy Church has plenty of secrets to hide, as the greatest mysteries of the faith are open only to the highest ranks of the clergy.
There are many strange conspiracies behind the facades of politics, plotting for power. Religious and occult groups tackle with each other, while secret alliances of merchant princes try to topple the aristocracy. In a world where free speech is an unknown concept, all things political not approved by the elite must be kept in secret. There are daggers in the smiles of men.
1.2 The Physical World
The world is divided by the poisonous mists of the Gloom. The Gloom is filled with darkness and death. Its touch kills men and it radiates Blight, which corrupts their flesh. Only dangerously unreliable Gloomships can pass through it. They are propelled by great sails and Omnium-fueled rockets.
The largest island of all is known as the Old World. The three superpowers occupy all habitable areas. The rest of the world consists of blasted wastelands. The farther a ship sails from the Old World, the darker and colder the Gloom becomes. Other realms occupy their own islands. Beyond the Gloom are the Far Shores, where only the Gloomwalkers may fare. The light that falls upon those forbidden shores is different from the light in the Gloom. Strange stars glitter on their skies.
Purgatory is essentially a modular game. You can choose which bits to use and ignore the rest. Most of the background materials is ambiguous on purpose. Each GM can pick and choose an explanation best fitting for his vision of the world. Different choices work with different genres. Modularity carries on to the very nature of the world. The GM chooses whether the physical world is depicted as fantasy, space opera or post-apocalyptic destruction. The important thing to remember is that the inhabitants of the world are very ignorant! They don’t know anything about the true nature of the world. Only Gloomsailors, Techmancers and few scholars know anything about true nature of the world. So even in a science fiction setting, most of the people think in terms of fantasy.
In a fantasy setting, the world was shattered and broken in an apocalyptic war. Islands float in the Gloom, with rivers and seas flowing over from the edge into the darkness. A man can walk over the edge of the world and fall off. Gloomships are sailing ships akin to 17th century vessels, except they have rockets in the aft. Techmancer generators keep the Gloom away from their decks. The Gloom is three-dimensional, but with two-dimensional aspects. Above is great heat and light, which warms and illuminates the world. Below is darkness and cold, among which unspeakable monsters dwell. Going too high or deep is lethal on their different ways. The islands floating in the Gloom form a great spiral. The Old World is in the center and the highest. The other islands are farther away and downwards. The Far Shores are somewhere very far away.
If the fantasy setting is chosen, Techmancery might be literally magic. The clockwork machines make no sense, because they are not producing their effect based on science. The Blighted are routinely inhuman and monstrous with many strange abilities. Witches and warlocks might actually know dark magic. Gloom Devils can be summoned and bargained with. Souls are for sale, prayers might be answered and anything can happen any time.
In a Post-Apocalyptic setting, Purgatory takes place in our future, on Earth. The planet has devastated and poisoned by biological and nuclear warfare. Climate change is taking its toll. The Gloom actually consists of the seas and the oceans. They have become dead and poisoned with radiation, mutagens and pollution. Climate change has made surface travel very dangerous due to unpredictable storms. Some of the states are located underneath the seas – the Gloomships are actually big submarines. Arx Machinus is an orbital station and the Techmancers control the only working space shuttle. The Far Shores are underwater bases so deep no ordinary Gloomship can reach them without being crushed.
Using this setting requires some tinkering of the geography from the GM. Inland Gloomports no longer make any sense and realms not located on the Old World must be placed somewhere on the planet. Alternatively, the Gloom is the atmosphere, that is filled with debris and dust. The Gloomships are airships risking high altitudes and speeds. Gloomwalkers operate spaceships: the Far Shores are other planets in the solar system.
Steampunk Space Opera
Steampunk space opera assumes the Gloom is space and the game takes place (mostly) in our solar system. It takes place either in our future or in some alternative time line. The Old World is Earth and Lunarus is the Moon. Mars has been terraformed into Aresia, but the terraforming was left unfinished and is now deteriorating. Arx Machinus is an orbital station near Earth. Ventharn and the smaller habitable realms are other terraformed planets. Ventharn might be Venus (although terraforming Venus is very implausible), while the smaller realms are Europa, Callisto etc.
Ancaloth is Mercury; Segmentum Minorus is the asteroid belt (which really isn’t that much of an archipelago). Denkhatar and the Golden Dome are located on the moons of the gas giants. The Freeports are likewise carved in asteroids, planetoids and perhaps even in the Oort Cloud. The monastery of Inthadur Eletia is on Pluto. Daedaros, Lucion and Asylum orbit other stars – the Gloomwalker ships are capable of FTL (faster-than-light) travel. Alternatively they are enormous space stations located in deep space. Techmancery is simply technology. Gloomports are – quite obviously – spaceports. Gloomships are spaceships which travel mainly using solar sails. Blight is mainly radiation.
Combination of Settings
A fourth possibility is to combine elements of settings. For example, perhaps the world is really post-apocalyptic Earth, but the Far Shores are located in space; or there are portals in the bottom of the sea into other dimensions.
1.3 A Different World
The world of Purgatory is in many ways different from our present world, both in physical realities and cultural aspects. This chapter provides a short summary of the main differences. Other parts of the book detail different realms, religions and their history. The world is huge, so GMs are advised to concentrate on one nation or organization at first.
Purgatory describes a dystopian world; the creators of the game in no way advocate racism, misogynism, slavery and other things widespread in the world.
Most societies in the game are extremely patriarchal and the mainstream religion treats women as sinful, flawed creatures. At best they are thought inferior to men, at worst devilspawn responsible for Blighting the world. In a light-hearted swashbuckling campaign, this is hardly an issue. The genre is full of female warriors and adventurers. In more realistic genres misogynism is a far stronger element. For example, unmarried women are never supposed to associate with men who are not their relatives without a chaperon. Women bearing arms are unheard of with the notable exceptions of the Silver People of Eurasia and the wild clanswomen of Segmentum Minorus.
Thus in gritter genres female characters need to be from those two cultures, disguise themselves as men or confine themselves in traditional female roles. Techmancers are, as always, an exception. Female Techmancers are always seen as Techmancers first and women second.
Class distinctions run deep in most societies. Nobility is born to privilege and commoners to hard work. Both are expected to stay put in their born position and not cross it either way. Should a nobleman lose his fortune, he will still maintain many legal privileges. Common people are reduced to servitude and expect being treated badly by their superiors. The few highborn who treat their underlings decently are seen as almost saintly.
Class lines are drawn in blood and extremely hard to cross. Education, dialect, mannerism, and looks all set social classes apart; wealth alone is not enough to cross them. People are subjects, not citizens. They identify themselves with their families and on the ruler they work for.
No human rights
Basic human rights is an almost unknown concepts. State censorship and class privileges stomp down free speech while justice systems are often cruel and arbitrary. In many realms, the ruling classes may do what they please to their subjects. Power is concentrated in the hands of the small elite. The common people have no say in matters of state. Religious institutions preach absolute morality and police their values with a harsh grip. Breaking social norms leads to informal or legal punishment. The cultural atmosphere is oppressive and secretive. Hypocrisy is a valid survival strategy.
The War of Aresian Succession was an especially bloody and prolonged affair. Wars in general, however, are commonplace all over the world. They are usually small brush wars, fought as border skirmishes far from populated areas. Most professional soldiers must provide their own equipment or they are provided by the captain of the company. Looting is the main income for a soldier, often spiraling into brutal devastation.
Anachronistic differences between common equipment and Techmancery make battles chaotic and bloody. The usual army fights in tight formations, mixing pikes with muskets and cannons. Cavalry are mostly light skirmishers and scouts with some noble heavy cavalry. Most battles are decided in a prolonged melee. Even a small number of Techmancer weapons can make a great difference. A single heavy clockwork gun can mow down hundreds of men when fired into a pike square. War golems are nearly unstoppable short of a lucky cannon hit.
1.4 The Rules
Rules of the game are divided into simple core rules and optional rules. The modularity of the system is intended to support different genres and campaigns. This allows different groups to play Purgatory in completely different ways. The GM should decide which genre he wants to run and choose the rules accordingly. Optional rules are divided into three classes, recognizable by icons X, Y and Z.
X identifies grim, gritty rules. They aim towards realism – often to the detriment of the player character’s survival. A game with grim rules in place is darker and less heroic than a game using only the core rules. These rules include, for example, Madness Meter (page XX) and extended physical damage rules (page XX). The more grim rules are used, the slower and darker the game becomes.
Y identifies light, heroic rules. They say goodbye to realism and aim towards cinematic, action-orientated game. Heroic rules either give a special edge to player character over NPCs or generally lighten the game rules. The game becomes faster and lighter in spirit.
Z identifies rules which add complexity and dice rolling. They might not change the spirit of the game, but definitely make it slower. On the other hand, chance plays a greater role. These rules will be loved by those who enjoy the rattle of dice.
1.5 Online bonus materials
Purchasing the Purgatory main book provides you with a code you can use on the official forums. It unlocks the regular forums, which, among other things, include free online bonus materials. Bonus materials include, among other things, adventure seeds, NPCs, monsters, rules for golems and mounts and details about history and religion.