Most of this world’s inhabitants have long forgotten the race from whence they came, forgotten even that they have common ancestors, but once they were all the same in their differences.
First (or last of a long dead race; that’s too far back even for us), there were the Sparks. Sentient beings of pure energy, interacting with the world, but without mass. These souls were playful individuals with no sense of purpose but to enjoy life. A group of them decided to experience what the world would be like with physical forms, a daring and ultimately fateful move.
They enjoyed their new experience for a time, flitting easily from shape to shape, but eventually they grew tired of the weight. It was only when they tried to divest themselves of their bonded mass that they discovered they could not. Shaping, adjusting what they had was easy, but removing it proved too difficult a task.
At first the Shifters were angry at this entrapment, but as time continued, they grew to love their physical forms. For, you see, it was only through physical form that one soul could experience the touch of another. And so, they came to crave the community of others like themselves.
For awhile, they coexisted in peace, each believing the perpetual claims of identity, but then, as must happen eventually, someone lied. That lie became the basis of a terrifying realization: without stable forms, how were they to establish identity? And without identity, how was community to function, their only solace for their physical entrapment?
And so it was decided that in each location, a physical form perfectly suited to their environment would be chosen, and each individual would choose but one manifestation to portray. Shapeshifting became forbidden, sacrosanct. This decision created the majority of the world’s races: the desert-dwelling Vultures, the rainforest’s symbiotic Treefolk, the undersea squidlike Vampires, and the underground Dwarves with their unending schism as to the superiority of metal or rock.
During this divisive time, a Shifter was born without the ability to change forms. He was oddly helpless, with an easily penetrated outer layer and a fragile inner structure, though his endurance of perpetual motion was unequaled, and his motor flexibility unparalleled. Many around him took his unchanging form as a sign from a God: this is what their forms should be. And so were the Humans created, functional, but oddly unsuited to any environment. The First human and his followers claimed the fertile plains south of the dwarves’ mountains on the largest continent and swore to exterminate any who did not follow their beliefs.
The humans propagated quickly, safe in their calm, abundant environment. But as often happens, many of their children had different ideas about what their God had meant. For why choose one weak, inefficient form, when they could have the form their God had chosen – and another? These rebellious humans were eventually forced from the growing human villages, outcast for their different beliefs. Through their abilities, they crossed the mountains to the varied northern lands, becoming the last of the known races: the Lycan clans, humans who claim one animal form as a bond with the land. Each clan chose a different form, dependent on where they chose to settle: wolf, bear, lion, hyena, cougar, snake, and coyote.
As the centuries progressed, the races forgot that they ever had the ability to shift, forgot why the taboos against identity theft were so strong (though they remained in full force, as old injunctions are wont to do). Each race became cut-off from the others until further advances could be made.
It has now been nearly a millennium since the first shifters chose unchanging forms. In a rare moment of productive creativity, the vultures have created flying machines to aid their naturally light forms and crossed the sea. Their discovery of the rainforest and subsequent destruction and overuse of its many resources, threatens the existence of the treefolk, some of whom have built boats to flee.
Alerted to the improving technology of the other races by ships sailing across their oceans, the undersea vampires have chosen to infiltrate the other races using their remarkable abilities, keeping watch lest they someday pose a threat.
And the humans, striving always for technological superiority over everything and everyone around them, have entered the industrial age, building seafaring ships and drills to explore their world. In their explorations, they discovered the lycans. The humans tried to claim lycan territory and enslave them by force and trickery, decreeing that the lycan shifting ability makes them accursed by the human God. A hardy folk, and troublesome to chain, the humans found the lycans more difficult to subdue than first imagined.
Inspired by the noise of the human drills, a few curious or foolhardy dwarves have wandered out from under the mountains to traverse the human realms. Each has their own aims and abilities, and none are quite the same.
War is coming; war is here. It is an age of exploration, of conquest. Industrialization makes weapons widespread, and the return/discovery of the other races has brought the world into turmoil. Will you fight to defend the slaughtered treefolk by repelling the vulture threat, save the lycans from invasion, or participate in the creation of a human parliament?
Unbeknownst to most, another threat hovers on the horizon. With chaos on the rise, the spark inside all races is connecting more strongly to forces beyond easy understanding; Magic is returning to the world. At the same time, new means of energy form unusual and rare combinations… but someday soon, these “Steamworks” may change the face of the world. What kind of person will you be?