I gave the group some setting info before and during the first session. The setting is not traditional and I didn't want to blindside them with all my weirdness. So I tried to just throw it all out there and be up-front about it. It was probably too much. Maybe I'll just start everyone off in a gladiator pit next time, fighting for their lives with no explanation.
The setting is fantasy ancient Mesopotamia. Humans and a lot of other genetic freaks were created to serve as slaves by the Anunnaki, who ruled as living gods. Elvish and Dwarvish civilization was wiped out back when the Anunnaki first arrived in their spaceships. Clouds of forgetfulness descended, setting those civilizations back into the stone age in a matter of days. Their ancient knowledge trapped in books while they have forgotten how to read. Rumors persist of Dwarven cities sealed off somewhere deep underground, but the Anunnaki sent down robots and all kinds of mutant horrors to hunt those guys into extinction millennia ago.
The party is starting out in the town of Niru. Umma, Kish, and Niru were once all minor suburbs of the city Kutha. After some weird rumors about stuff going on down in the Underworld, Nergal (the god of pestilence and war) led an army of followers, all his magi, and many demons through the streets of Kutha and into his ziggurat temple named Meslam in the center of the city. From there they went through the magical gateway, stormed the fortress Ganzer, and fought their way through the seven gates of Ganzer and into the Underworld. They haven't been seen since.
Shortly after, all of the other Anunnaki gods sealed up the magical gateways to the underworld in their ziggurats. Then they were all suddenly late for some appointment up in the sky. They all took off in their shiny silver skycraft saying things like "Take care of everything while I'm gone" and "I'll be right back" and "It's fine, it's fine, EVERYTHING IS FINE NOW JUST GET OUT OF MY WAY!"
That was fifty years ago. Now weird portals open and close on the surface world sometimes, unleashing demonic horrors. The wild races like elves and orcs are growing bolder, attacking travelers and outposts. The magi of the ziggurats, former middlemen of the Anunnaki, are running out of high level scrolls and are beginning to get desperate. They are looking for heroes.
Vampires, demons, and other monsters have begun to crawl up out of the ziggurat in Kutha. The people of Kutha fled and now the walls of Umma, Kish, and Niru are surrounded by tent cities of makeshift hovels full of refugees from Kutha. The monsters stay mostly within the walls of Kutha and feed on the zombies who must pass through there on their way to the Underworld. Mostly. The Ulu does roam around the countryside a bit, and vampires sometimes. It's a problem. Especially since the Ulu is over 30 feet tall now and just seems to keep growing as it eats more zombies, demons, living people, and livestock.
|The Kutha Ulu|
Anyhow... Magi of various faiths have come in and taken over the town of Niru. They would like to get into Kutha and take control of the ziggurat there. They can't seem to agree on what to do with the ziggurat after that, but they are working together right now just to get in there. Niru is across the river from Kutha, and the Ulu and vampires seem to have trouble crossing the Euphrates, so... that's nice.
However there are a bunch of orcs, and elves, and all kinds of other troubles that seem to be descending upon Niru from the opposite side. Supposedly there are a bunch of old caves that the wild races are gathering at. There is also an old elven wizard tower in the woods somewhere with a dungeon below that is full of monsters, maybe even a dragon.
The people of Niru are busy farming, baking mud bricks, cutting down trees, and collecting stones to use in making new homes and improving/expanding the walls of the city. The magi have been hiring adventurers, watchers, and scouts to protect the citizens as they venture away from town to do this work. That is where the PCs come in. The PCs get free room and board in a big open one-room hall along with all the other desperate vagabonds who've signed up. Two free meals each day, the first meal is runny porridge, and the second is called "Mystery Stew". I assure you that the mystery ingredient is not love. However, they do earn 1gp per day, and maybe they can buy some love with that.
Oh, did I forget to mention that any time a member of the slave races created by the Anunnaki dies they rise again as a zombie after a day or so and then make "the long walk" all the way to the Underworld? It's an even longer walk now that all the ziggurats have their magical portals sealed. The only one still open is in Kutha, so all the dead are walking to Kutha now. If you can afford it, the lamentation priests of the magi say that they can perform rituals on a dead body to send the spirit straight into the Underworld without the body needing to rise again in order to make the journey. Some people prefer that, but others are more traditional and want to take their body with them. Anyhow, the walking dead are mostly passive if you stay out of their way. Sometimes they'll get bitey if it's night time, or if you mess with them, or if they see their killer and a chance for vengeance. Once a zombie tastes blood they forget all about their trip to the Underworld and will do whatever it takes to drink more blood and remain in the land of the living. They are pretty much vampires at that point.
Character Creation Document
House Rules Document
Special thanks to Jeff Rients since I feel like I mostly just steal his gaming documents and then slightly alter them to suit my needs. Thanks dude :)