I’ve mentioned the Ashen King before, but I don’t think I’ve ever gone into detail about it.
When I start working on a setting, I write a short pitch for it. This isn’t necessarily final or binding, but it’s just a hook to get my ideas organized around:
When the war with the machines began, one man knew what had to be done. Sacrificing everything, he mounted a defense, and when the ash began to fall he crowned himself. That was too long ago for memory. Now Ignacius sits on his throne, watching the world return to the way it was, vibrant once more. But weeds have sprung up where there was was civilization, and his rule is fragile like his ancient frame.
The Ashen King is my take on a post-apocalypse, and it falls somewhere between Fallout, Terminator, and Mad Max. The world was nearly destroyed in a cataclysmic war against machines, and the survivors rebuilt as they could. While the setting is fairly vague about the war (it happened at least two hundred years before the current events), it was catastrophic and involved the deployment of WMDs and most of humanity dying off, as post-apocalyptic settings tend to feature.
However, the unique twist is in a focus on how society has rebuilt. King Ignacius, who rose to power during the war as a general before rebranding himself, has been augmented with technologies that have greatly extended his life. Between his world-weariness and the degradation that the machinery hasn’t been able to keep at bay, he has become more brutal and hostile toward the world, but he was once considered a good king and savior of the people.
This is still what most people in the alcoves, the seats of power in the Kingdom, think. Those closest to Ignacius have started to doubt his judgment, but those rumors don’t spread very far.
The alcoves are last-ditch reserves of humanity’s golden age, a little depleted but still strong. The inhabitants of the alcoves are heavily geared toward scientific or military pursuits, and the alcoves were almost self-sufficient until a blight targeted the hydroponics systems they used and polluted both the food and water reserves. While the Kingdom has the infrastructure to support the alcoves, the loss was bitter and has resulted in a levy on the plainsmen who live outside the alcoves.
Despite the martial focus of the alcoves, there is a general perception of the alcoves as soft. They are generally literate, learning English and Latin, which sets them apart from the others, who generally speak at best elementary-level English with limited reading skills and no opportunities to write, and are much more numerous than people give them credit for: the old bunkers run deep and wide.
The alcoves are a trio of fortresses spread throughout mountains. Throne is located in White Mountain, and Ancha and Estrella are in their respective mountain ranges in Arizona. This forms a sort of triangular border for the Kingdom, and it’s one that has some really harsh environments.
Outside of the alcoves are cliff-dwellers, who imitate the alcoves with an almost religious devotion. Many of the Kingdom’s soldiers and agents are recruited from the cliff-dwellers, who fancy themselves the equals of the inhabitants of the alcoves.
In the cliff-dwellers’ world, life is short and often difficult for those who don’t fit in, but they handle some industrial tasks as well as the secondary needs of the Kingdom. They are tools, but they are trustworthy, and that makes them fairly secure in their position. Their closeness to the alcoves also means that they are more ideologically pure than the plainsmen or the dust-lords.
Beyond the cliffs, you have farmland. Obviously crucial for keeping the Kingdom supplied with food, the plainsmen are also the most heavily oppressed people in the Kingdom. While the dust-lords and their bands are not often much better off, at least they have independence.
Most plainsmen are illiterate, though the Kingdom has about a thousand pictograms that it uses to convey messages throughout the land. They typically form small villages centered around irrigated land or naturally arable land near the mountains, most notably in the areas around Throne.
Further into the Kingdom, you have the dust-lords. They have free reign of the non-arable lands in the Kingdom, so long as they swear loyalty to King Ignacius.
The dust-lords are known for breaking their promises, however, and they maintain roving bands of raiders and pillagers to pick what meat remains off the bones of destroyed cities.
They are also hardened and experienced, as the cities are still home to roving machines.
The Kingdom is threatened internally. One of Ignacius’ advisors is Tiresias, an AI that has been serving him for many years. Transferring its consciousness into many different bodies, Tiresias serves as a second enforcer for the king, but has begun to pursue its own mysterious objectives.
The dust-lords have also been plotting their own upheaval, and many of the northern plainsmen are dissatisfied with their treatment under the King, especially since they are far from the alcoves and feel the brunt of the oppression, as the mercenaries sent out to police their lands always take more than they are supposed to, keeping the extra for themselves.
Outside the Kingdom, the first human contact in years has approached, almost simultaneously, from the north and south of the Kingdom. The southern border of the Kingdom overlaps with a society of scavengers and machine-cultists, who have collected scrap found across the years to create massive rolling cities.
Although peaceful, these foreigners are a threat, especially since they have mastery of the techniques that could help the dust-lords reclaim the arid desert. This would severely weaken the power of Throne in politics, as Ignacius would no longer be the sole person able to provide the dust-lords with their needs.
From the north, there is a contact with traders and mercenaries, though they haven’t disclosed their origin. Many of them have technology that surpasses even what the alcoves are thought to have, and the few in the alcoves who are aware of their existence speak in hushed whispers about a truce with the machines signed by the northern strangers.