The setting is an apocolyptic future, though one where civilization is starting to come back, if it can avoid plunging itself into yet more devestation. The world had been very similar to ours through the art and culture of the Renaissance and Ming Dynasty to the beginning of the 18th century as ships sailed the seven seas and the 47 Ronin get their revenge. However not long after this magic was rediscovered, and changed their course. While development of technology like steam engines stalled, magic allowed for amazing new advancements like flying castles, being able to regenerate, and having a magical talking cat as a pet. However alongside those improvements to everyday life, more and more nations developed Magics of Mass Destruction (MMDs). Initially the concept of mutually assured destruction kept their use in check. But once too many nations had them that concept became meaningless because for certain types of attack it would be virtually impossible to determine which nation had used the MMD.
It isn’t known to this day who was doing what in the opening volleys of what is called the Apocalypse War. What is known is that eventually every nation was using everything they had against all of their enemies in hopes of minimizing the damage they would take.
The result was worldwide devastation, the land rendered inhospitable in many ways by the different MMDs; such as volcanoes, poisoned earth, zones of twisted reality, and ravening hordes of bioconstructs, war golems, or undead. In time the concept of a “nation” essentially vanished from the thinking of the small bands of primitive survivors scattered around the world. These days relatively few people even know what the names of the old nations and ethnicities were.
As time passed, the survivors started building themselves out of their desperate situations. When they started communicating with each other what arose instead of new nations were cultures. Instead of having geographical boarders, these city states and bands of people were scattered and intermixed all across the globe, linked by shared ways of doing things or using magic. To an extent the cultures were always in tension, even if they might trade with each other. Individual city states of one culture would occasionally go to war against a neighbor belonging to a different culture. And always you have the issue of children leaving their home culture for another. As a result the cultures tended to be very insular, especially with respect to children. You can’t leave your home for something else if you don’t know it exists.
Because their population grew rapidly and they were able to terraform wastelands on the outskirts of land claimed by other cultures, Therian tribes increasingly started bumping up against the territory of other city states. This set the stage for what came to be known as the War of the Lake. The spark that started the war was actually an accident. A Magitek head researcher had run out of places to store his chemical waste, and holding tanks are relatively difficult to produce these days. So instead he looked around for a different solution and discovered a pre-Apocalypse War waste pipe. Once he determined that wherever it went was quite some distance away from the city, he dumped the waste into it without giving it much thought. Where it went was to an old storm water runoff retention basin that a Therian tribe had converted into a healthy and lush lake with a village built up around it. The results the pipe unleashed upon them were horrifying. The few terribly injured and poisoned survivors traveled to other Therian tribes, often with dead or dying loved ones in their arms, and begged for help getting revenge against what they assumed was a deliberate attempt to obliterate their tribe in order to claim their land. Word spread, and one day a mighty hoard of Therians descended on the entirely oblivious Magitek city. Mercy was in short order that day. A few airships escaped the city and contacted non-Therian cultures begging for help against the onslaught and calling up favors owed and alliances made. As those groups started attacking the Therian hoard, other tribes of Therians joined to help their fellows. This process spiraled out of control and eventually most of the planet was involved. Ultimately the Therians were defeated and negotiations started. In time, people got to the bottom of what had actually happened. While an uneasy peace took hold around the world, it could not erase the anger of those who had lost loved ones in the conflict.
There was also the question of what to do with all the Therian prisoners of war, which in some cases included all survivors from a tribe. Many were consumed by rage and a lust for vengeance against those that had killed their loved ones and families, others were filled with sorrow or psychologically broken from the terrors of war or their losses. While it wasn’t always clear who had done what, it was known that many of the prisoners had racked up kills of their own and not always just against enemy soldiers, so many cultures felt justice demanded they not simply be set free. However keeping angry Therians with their magic and biomorphs in prison was deadly and costly. In the end magic collars were developed. They essentially enslaved the individual by suppressing their memories from before they were collared, filling them with calm, and giving them a predisposition to follow orders. It was claimed this was a mercy for such traumatized individuals, or at the least much more humane and enlightened than giving them “what they deserved”.
Thirteen years after the War of the Lake tensions are rising again, and not just with the Therians. Once the Therians had lost it quickly became apparent that some city states had lost a lot more than others, and many opportunistic moves were made by individual cities states against others. These left a lot of hard feelings all around, and there is talk of coalitions of city states planning to band together for massive attacks.
In game, characters from certain cultures could have collared Therians in their control, or would at least have some in their tower. As always, these represent generalizations as opposed to rules.
Bushido culture: They have taken responsibility for most of the Therians that they had captured, and more or less treat them like their paid servants from their conquered cities. As collared Therians are calm, follow orders, and are not predisposed to speaking unless spoken to, the Bushi actually tend to prefer them.
Celestial culture: The celestials felt a responsibility to keep Therians from falling into abusive hands, but are too fearful of what might happen if the collars were removed, so many collared Therians are found in Celestial cities. This is very awkward for the celestials who oppose slavery and if anything treat the collared Therians better than their fellows. Therians are still expected to “put in honest work,” but the celestial giving them orders usually appears quite embarrassed.
Magitek Culture: The Tech Mages don’t generally have slaves as such, however they often have minions whom they can be rather absent minded about in terms of payments and such. The collared Therians generally just blended in with the other minions and at least get fed well enough for their labors.
Netherkin culture: Netherkin are highly variable, but some have certain cruel needs in order to continue their existence. Those were more likely to have gotten involved in the war, and may have relished the opportunity to gain some thralls.
Pactmaker culture: This culture already had the concept of indentured servitude, and so individuals gladly took “responsibility” for as many collared Therians as they could. They treat them as slaves, but “rationally” in that they generally seek to keep them in good health and decent spirits.
Therian culture: The Therians largely stayed on the same side of the conflict and would free their collared fellows if they could.
Wanderlust culture: This culture doesn’t keep any collared Therians (or much of anything).