the HeX coda a sci-fi game for neverwinter nights(tm) by stefan gagne
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the HeX coda world guide

Note: The following information details the history and workings of the HeX coda world. This information will be revealed to you as you play the game, as well -- you won't miss out on vital details by skipping right to the module itself. This may help you design a character that makes sense within the game setting, however, and provides a good preview of what you can expect to see...

The World

Welcome to the Asylum

There are worlds where dragons soar and graceful elves fight brutish orcs. Wizards cast earth-shaking spells, and swordsmen valiantly fight for just and noble causes. Worlds of adventure, danger, and high fantasy...

Then there's this place. Unfortunately.

Here, dragons only seem to exist in pulp fiction, creations of artists with equal parts imagination and free time. Elves can be seen trading on the stock market and enjoying a coffee far more often than they stride through the forests with cloaks talking to trees. Wizards are either corporate lackeys or power-crazed outcasts, and are frequently hunted down and shot before they can cast any earth-shaking spells. Swordsmen had better be carrying a permit if they intend to fight, and even then it's rarely for a just and noble cause. This is a world of mundane business, perpetuation of the status quo, and comfortable living for the middle class.

It's known mostly as 'the world,' at least by people with money and power. For everybody else, it's the Asylum.

Still, it could be worse. At least most people, at least the people who matter, are well fed with a roof over their heads and a steady nine to five job of some sort. Medical care is readily available, and urban centers thrive with prosperous business. Wandering into frontier territory is a good way to get a double headed throwing axe to the face, yes, but who would want to go there anyway? Guardian forces of nations keep trouble out of the civilized world, and the civilized world gets to sleep easy without worrying about hordes of orcs. Everything ticks along like clockwork, peaceful and safe...

But it wasn't always like this. Last time the civilized races tried to get their act together, it went very badly indeed.

History (or, "Try, Try Again")

History isn't very profitable -- and in fact can be hazardous to your health, since the powers that be prefer folks not to poke around arcane artifacts left behind by past societies. Hence, there isn't much record of the past. But what is known is that it can be separated into three phases, commonly known as "tries." Mostly because the tried and failed miserably.

The First Try consisted of largely primitive societies, constantly fighting for survival against the beastly monster races. Territory and how well you could hang onto it was the name of the game; survival was everything. Nobody had time for luxury in this cutthroat age. Mushy, warm cornmeal and water counted as a five star dinner and it was impossible to get any good dry cleaning for your tattered loincloth.

Exactly how the first try ended isn't very clear. Some theorize that they finally figured out how to harness the arcane arts, and the magic they attempted to use against monsters backfired. More scientific minds theorize that a series of cataclysmic earthquakes shook these primitive societies to bits, utterly decimating the population. Either way, every single culture from that time period stopped dead in its tracks at about the same time, and that's all she wrote for the first try.

Civilization did much better during its Second Try. The arcane arts were certainly discovered by this point, as most of these societies centered around the amassing of great magical power. In fact, it's entirely possible that their society was more advanced than ours... but with great power comes great responsibility. And a greater chance of screwing up everything, as the second try ended in one gigantic war between the high-powered cultures, raining mutually assured magical destruction upon all peoples. Some of their artifacts were left behind, but discarded as people moved on from civilization's ruins. These mistakes taught the survivors one important lesson -- magic was too dangerous to go unchecked.

Decades of primitive war followed, as the Asylum struggled to get its collective act together, its collective ducks in a row. Then, thankfully, the Cathedral Corporation emerged, and thus began the Third Try -- the most stable, secure, and prosperous phase of civilization. One which will, with hope, last until the end of days...

The Cathedral Corporation and the Arcane Arts

The magic which tore apart the Second Try would not be given a chance to tear about the Third Try. It would be leashed and taught to obey its masters, never to run wild across society again. The Cathedral Corporation pledged to ensure the future through the use of magic -- and the absolute control of magic.

The Cathedral developed new arcane techniques, providing them at discount to the rebuilding nations of the world. Constructive spellwork and medical arts were the first order of the day, with communication systems and other quality of life issues following soon after. Profits soared, as nations willingly traded gold for the tools they needed to stabilize themselves -- but that wasn't all they traded.

Any nation that wanted to work with the Cathedral had to agree to pass and enforce laws which strictly limited magical use to the Cathedral and the Cathedral alone. This monopoly was required, not just because the company enjoyed being phenomenally rich, but because otherwise society would crumble and competing groups could wield the arcane arts against each other as they did in the Second Try. The nations fell in line with Cathedral thinking immediately; if they didn't, their neighbors certainly would. And armed with Cathedral weaponry, those neighbors would very likely stop being good neighbors before long...

Now, this would've been a prime opportunity for the Cathedral to take over the Asylum, holding dominion over all peoples. But they didn't want to rule -- at least, not directly -- and were content to simply become the central lynchpin around which the planet spun. They didn't even raise prices phenomenally to put magical goods out of the hands of the peasant folk; why bother, when they were so rich to begin with? Of course, certain special spells could be reserved for the highest bidders... but they didn't need the bad PR, so they could handle practically giving away much of their technology to the lower classes as well.

By acting benevolent dictator in all but name, the Cathedral prospered, the nations prospered, the Asylum as a whole prospered. Monster races were no longer a problem, their weak magics nothing compared to the Cathedral's arcane arts. People could focus on making a living, not struggling to live. And so, all was well.

Of course, the cost of this stability was de facto slavery to the Cathedral. But after a thousand years, few cared anymore. This was simply... the way things were.

Which brings us to today, and the state of the Asylum. Its people, its quirks, its enemies...

Faith and the Lack Thereof

The comfort and security the Cathedral offered also meant a decline in world religions. Who needed to cling to desperate belief that there was something beyond this life when there was food on the table and plenty of money to be made? People were far too busy getting on with their lives to worry about such things.

Another factor contributing to this was the association (Cathedral-encouraged) that religions were involved in the downfalls of the First and Second Tries. There was plenty of archaeological evidence that cultures based on worship existed, and look where it got them? Ideology of idolatry led to nothing but misery, in the end. The monster races usually worshipped beastly gods, and look how well they were doing -- no central air conditioning systems to speak of!

Since all religions, regardless of leaning, are treated as unfashionable cults it's common for people who do wish to believe in something more than gold to move away from urban centers in favor of the wild lands. There, they have to survive in the same territory as the monster races, and deal with the ever-encroaching borders of civilization. It's a hard life, but for those with faith, it's all they can do.

The Civilized Races

The good peoples of the Asylum can be divided into a number of races. All of them have two legs and two arms and a head, and that gives them some sort of unity. There's still a degree of racism to be dealt with, however...

The most common race are the humans. Smooth features, small ears, an average build and height compared to the other groups. Since they exist in the middle of the spectrum for physical capability -- as well as existing at the highest levels of the Cathedral Corporation -- they're the meterstick by which other races are judged.

For the most part, elves get along well with humans, and half-elves are quite common. Elves tend to be a bit craftier than humans, excelling in areas of both business and magic. The dichotomy comes from the fact that they originate out of great forest kingdoms, which held faiths of nature magic during the Second Try. Elves have to fight that instinctive "tree hugger" nature if they want to make a place for themselves in urban human society. Some don't make the change, preferring to distance themselves from civilization and the Cathedral. The ones that split away rarely come back, and are subject to funny looks if they try.

The dwarf kingdoms don't mix with humans very much, but not out of any particular hatred for them; they're just too busy being phenomenal miners and engineers, which requires mountain living away from the urban flatlands. They get along like gangbusters with humans in a business sense, with dwarf merchants frequently traveling the world to sell the raw materials and mechanical constructions the dwarves specialize in. Dwarves tend to focus on one of three areas -- mining, machinery, or fighting. After all, it's dangerous out there in the wilds, and someone has to protect the workers. Dwarven warriors are quite respected as a result.

Unfortunately, halflings tend to get the short end of the stick in the pages of history. Traditionally they handle the agriculture that keeps the rest of the Asylum well fed, but who cares about farmers when the real money is in magic? It's not uncommon for young halflings to wander away from their breadbasket communities to look for excitement in the big cities, but they'll encounter endless short jokes and other jibes when trying to mix with the taller folk. Halflings are seen as unimportant in the grand scheme of things, and often fight to improve upon that image.

When it comes to bad public image, though, it's hard to top the gnomes. Gnomes are innately magical, even if the degree is very small. Since non-Cathedral magic is illegal, gnomes are treated with suspicion from day one -- many unfortunately live up to this self-fufilling prophecy by becoming frustrated with civilization and leaving to become magic-obsessed, power-hungry wizards. The ones that stay do their best to keep a low profile, to avoid the eye of the Cathedral falling upon them. The courts tend to be very harsh on gnomes caught practicing magic, harsher than they'd be on the other races.

It is possible to be lower on the ladder than gnomes, however. Half-orcs are barely tolerated in civilized lands. As orcs are one of the monster races, the only reason a half-orc could exist is unpleasant to even think about. Such progeny are often employed as menial labor, which they're expected to be grateful for. It's common for them to run off to try and join orc camps, which treat them about as well. A hard life indeed.

The Monster Races

When civilized folk think about the monster races, the first image to arise is the orc. Orcs are very common, and are the most antagonistic towards the nations of the world, the most likely to fight against society encroaching on their turf. They're brutish warriors who use weak but chaotic magic, and are held up as the example of why magic must be controlled by the Cathedral. Other similarly hostile races exist, such as kobolds and goblins exist, but they're more likely to fight each other than deal with the stronger races -- unless they align with the orcs, which is rare.

The disastrous results of the Second Age are also out there, magical creatures bound to this plane from the various energy planes -- beasts, elementals, demons. Some say these creatures have a religious origin, but research mages of the Cathedral show they're simply manifestations of the various sources arcane arts draw from. Common folk know little about these mysterious races, because the Cathedral and various nation armies do a good job keeping them out of man's borders.

It's possible to summon a monster through magic, of course, but the Cathedral likes to avoid those spells since the chance of them going awry is simply too great. Magic like that was responsible for the failure of the Second Try, after all.

The Undead

Even if some of the more arcane beasts are unknown to people, the undead certainly are not.

Persons who are exposed to magical energies for great periods of time, by either being wizards or working in areas soaked with the results of spells long past, have a tendency to arise as undead upon dying. The undead, driven mad from their exposure to dangerous magic, are a source of danger to all living things which they innately hate. Undead manifest in a number of forms, from skeletons and zombies to more intelligent lichs and mummies. You can even become an undead if the infectious, diseased magical energies which made them are passed on to you.

The Cathedral Corporation takes great care to purge any undead before incidents get out of hand. When a cluster of undead are found, usually after a magical accident or due to new settlements stumbling across ancient artifacts, they swing into action immediately. Normally the Cathedral doesn't get involved in violent battles, but this is the exception to the rule, and expert undead hunters are trained by the company to deal with these scenarios.

Their own workers would be subject to undying, but are given special treatments every month to assure that death will result in a normal passing.

The Hex Coders

The Mission Statement

So, the world is prosperous and safe, even with monsters and the undead out there. The Cathedral is a benefactor for all and very few go wanting. According to company propaganda, the Asylum is no longer an "asylum" at all, but a Utopia...

What's the problem?

The problem, as many who actually disagree with the company line state, is that the Cathedral holds intense control over everything. They don't clamp down very hard, but they do clamp down in subtle ways to ensure their continual dominance. Restricting magic is a very big part of that, since without the ability to create your own arcane techniques, you're limited to only what they're willing to sell you. If they choose not to research something, it'll never be researched. If they choose to charge more money than you can afford for something you want or need, you're out of luck. All peoples of the Asylum are slaves to the Cathedral -- and most of them are perfectly happy that way. Cathedral security is very much like a drug.

Rebellions rise now and then, people who want to challenge the Cathedral -- but the nations who are so closely tied to the great corporation are quick to crush them. It seems that the Third Try will forever be dominated by the Cathedral, since none are strong enough to challenge them directly.

The Hex Coders are not challenging them directly.

The organization was started by a gnome named Dayvid, who simply loved magic and the development of new spells too much to ignore his yearnings. Even though he formed the group with a rebellion-minded young human named Lester Zapata, he's managed to keep the Hex Coders focused on research and idealism rather than open aggression. Dayvid has no real hatred of the Cathedral, but he believes that all people have a right to knowledge, mundane or arcane.

Yes, allowing others to cast spells could potentially result in Second Try style magical warlords -- but wasn't the Cathedral already technically a magical warlord? As the sole source of the arcane, all it would take to lead to tyranny would be a new generation of corporate overseers with a more aggressive attitude. Only with knowledge could the people be ready for that eventuality.

And so, "The Hex Coda" was born. The underground newspaper, published monthly, details how to compile your own spells using an innovative rune system that employs sixteen runes instead of the Cathedral's eight. While other "rebels" simply pirate copyrighted spells, Dayvid creates his own -- as do the others who believe in his cause. These spells are released free from copyright, free from control, free for all. (Illegal, mind you, but free.) They are open magic systems, with full encouragement to take the work and improve upon it yourself...

So far, the Hex Coders have not had much of a following outside of the dozen or so people who pick up their outlaw publications. The revolution has not exactly spread like wildfire. But steadfast, Dayvid continues his work, in hopes that one day the world will wake up to the tyranny of the Cathedral.

Roster 'o Rebels

Dayvid Davince (Gnome / Wizard, Hex Coder Leader)

Dayvid is a mild mannered gnome who isn't really cut out for the task of leading the charge against the Cathedral. But he has one true love, and that's magic... he loves to research, to learn knowledge, to compile new spells, to experiment. His fondest wish is for the Cathedral to leave him alone and let him experience the joy of hex in peace. But since they won't, he's willing to work with others who share his views, and take on the risk that comes with criminal activity. The alternative, to abandon the arcane, isn't acceptable.

Lester Zapata (Human / Bard)
Unique Ability: Bardsong
Team Power: Enthrall Enemy

Where Dayvid has little revolutionary zeal, Lester has it in spades. He hates the Cathedral and the system of lies, corruption and control it represents; he's likely to go into a tirade against them if you let him. Exposing the lies and doublespeak of the Cathedral is his goal, in an eternal quest for The Truth, which he worships with a zealot's ideal. Exactly why he hates the Cathedral isn't clear, but it likely has to do with his self-crafted artificial left arm. This mechanical device is the central focus of his research, as it includes sound generators that transform music into magic that assists his allies.

Miranda (Human / Fighter/Weapon Master)
Unique Ability: Warblade Configuration and Mastery
Team Power: Battle Tactics

One of the first to join Dayvid's cause was a young woman who has no need of her family name. Miranda is a warrior-mage to the core, and lives to perfect her fighting techniques -- and her weapon, the Elemental Warblade, which she crafted herself. She's a casual and easygoing person, despite her seriousness about her work; she enjoys collecting rare wines and spirits, which can be an entertainingly dangerous combination with her penchant for fighting. Initially she joined Dayvid out of sheer hatred for the Cathedral; anything she can do to ruin their day brings a smile to her face.

Pandy Monium (Human / Rogue)
Unique Ability: Arcane Security
Team Power: Chaotic Effect

Pandy has issues. Born with shock-white hair, it's assumed she's actually a sorcerer, someone with wild magical ability and all the problems that come with it. She is capable of releasing that power in one random burst, which can help or heal those around her, but she has little control over it to date. This wild power has also given her serious psychological problems... sometimes she speaks in rhyme, sometimes she speaks in gibberish. She can be cheerful and upbeat one moment and homicidally scared out of her mind the next. Despite her tendency to make a scene in public, she's a very useful Hex Coder, with a savant-like ability to reverse engineer ancient arcane systems.

Daniel Monium (Human / Cleric)
Unique Ability: Deadspeaker
Team Power: Battle Leverage

Monium is not in fact Daniel's family name, but he chose to adopt his sister's preferred moniker when he took Pandy under his wing (and away from a Cathedral orphanage for disadvantaged youths). He specializes in channeling belief into arcane energy, faith in humanity at large becoming his weapon in battle. Exactly how he does this is a bit of a mystery, since he refuses to pass along his spells to Dayvid for publication. He's allowed to stay with the group since he cares for Pandy and supports Dayvid's efforts faithfully.

Your Role Within the Group

As a new recruit to the Hex Coders, you are, sadly, heroic enough to align yourself with a lost cause such as this. You're not likely to backstab the group and align yourself with the Evil Wizard Foo who wishes total world domination. There's plenty of flexibility within that, however; even if you're thrown your hat in with the cause, how you accomplish your goals is up to you. Naughty and nice are both possible within the need to fight evil and save the world and so on. You don't even have to hate the Cathedral with a burning passion.

Regardless, you also have an interest in the arcane -- as either a practicer, researcher, or simply protector of the public arcane knowledge ideals. Even straight warriors with no innate magical knowledge can become proficient in the use and modification of magical weaponry.

Also, how well you get along with your peers will factor into your successes. Alienate them and risk them not helping you when you need it the most; get along well with them and they'll watch your back as a good friend. Their team powers will likewise grow and reach new heights of effectiveness if your relationship is strong. Romance with your coworkers is also possible -- if you're what they're looking for in a partner -- although this could take some time to build. All good things.

Picking Your Class

Because magic in this world works differently than you might expect, and all roles have some relation to the arcane arts the Hex Coders specialize in, your class is interpreted thusly:

Barbarian: The barbarian combines a battle-hardened approach with some real-world adventuring skills, acting as a protector to Hex Coders working in the field. There are few true "adventurers" in this world, but the barbarian who bears firsthand knowledge of the wild lands fits the bill. He might also have an interest in magical weaponry, and artifacts from ancient civilizations found in his travels.

Bard: Like Lester, you specialize in the combination of sound and magic, resonant spells that echo like music to boost the Hex Coder's effectiveness in battle. You also have more travel under your belt than most, and more knowledge of the world around you than some suitcase who commutes to work every day until he dies of bowel cancer.

Cleric: Because there are no "gods" to call upon in the Asylum, you focus on transforming your ideals and emotions into a channelable power. Various energy planes are yours to draw from, and you have an innate understanding of the disease known as undying -- and how to cure it.

Druid: Your magic is intrinsic to nature, tied to the living energies radiating from all living things. This makes your job pretty unpleasant since the Hex Coders are based in an urban environment, but work in the field is right up your alley, and the perspective you bring to the group is quite unique.

Fighter: Your knowledge of magical weapons and their uses is quite impressive. There aren't too many people who actually fight in this world, with a tenuous global peace in effect, so you've gone out of your way to train in the use of martial weapons. Just in case.

Monk: Your goal is to become one with magic itself, to let your body become an extension of that power. Through your art you find peace with this energy, and can use it to your advantage. Ancient artifacts may grant you additional knowledge and wisdom, as Second Try cultures practiced martial arts far more than modern day ones.

Ranger: Like a druid, your magic is tied to nature, but you also specialize in hunting and tracking, even in an urban environment. You're the detective of the group, capable of discerning fine details from a scene with precision. You also kick booty with dual weapons.

Rogue: An expert in not only mundane traps, but magical ones. Security systems are your friend, as you know how to hack into them, control them, disarm them even set them for your enemies to fall into. Pandy has some overlap with your skill set, but two heads are better than one.

Sorcerer: As someone born with innate magical ability, you've likely been discriminated against all your life, assumed you'd one day sink into dangerous madness. Society tolerates your existence as a kindness, but no further. Falling in with the Hex Coders only makes sense, even if you have trouble with the idea of writing down your spells. They just come naturally to you.

Wizard: A perfect fit for the Hex Coders, you research and create your own spells using Dayvid's rune code. You yearn to learn new magics, and to establish yourself as a great in the field of the arcane. Of course, doing this in PUBLIC will get you killed, so watch it.

Arcane Archer: Obviously, your magic is focused on the art of archery. It's a very specialized discipline, combining the research-mage attitude of a wizard with the precision of a ranger. You can do some really impressive stuff with the right bit of wood and string.

Assassin: You're not much of a fit with the Hex Coders, but 'death from above' is always welcome in a tight spot. Backstabbing them all is not an option, but barely tolerating the fact that you can't find employment anywhere else certainly is.

Blackguard: Sorry, but a champion of evil doesn't make a whole lot of sense here. You're not going to be able to doublecross them, after all. But using somewhat nasty tactics to achieve the company goal, well, that's all good. Except it's not good. You know what I mean.

Harper Scout: Who exactly are these 'harpers,' and what are they supposed to be scouting? You belong to a secret organization so secret that it's a secret even to you, aside from having its pin and knowing the handshake. Still, your potion brewing makes perfect sense in this context.

Shadow Dancer: You utilize the darkness itself in your magical practices, relying on the energy potential of light (and the null potential of shadow) to do some really impressive stuff. Your area is quite specialized, and you're probably the only person in the world who can do it.

Champion of Torm: Who exactly is this 'torm,' and why are you a champion of him? But a champion of GOODNESS, well, yeah, that makes sense. Even beyond the level of a cleric you make your idealism into a reality through your faith-channeling.

Pale Master: Beyond a cleric's understanding of how to end undeath, you can create it in really sick and twisted ways. It's a strange art, and probably frowned upon by Dayvid, but it's unique and worthy of study from a research standpoint.

Red Dragon Disciple: No living person has seen a dragon. But they must exist, given you've got a sporty pair of wings, yes? Like a sorcerer, you were born with innate magical ability -- yours emerges in the form of superhuman abilities.

Shifter: Obviously, your magic focuses on shifting from shape to shape. Like a druid, you're hopelessly out of place in an urban environment, but your magic is quite powerful and unique. Perfect for Hex Coder study.

Weapon Master: Beyond the fighter, you specialize in one weapon, and can actually enhance its magical potential through sheer willpower. You likely crafted your own weapon and are constantly seeking to improve its capabilities.

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