Friday, June 29, 2012

Legends of Joshero



This is an incomplete short fiction piece I did a while back, set in Chirak. Maybe putting it on the blog will inspire me to finish it. This tale focuses on an adventure of legendary Espanean adventurer Joshero, in the lands of Sabiri (about a great deal more of which was presented on the blog earlier this year).

Legends of Joshero:
Invaders of the Sun

1.

In twelve hundred years, not a single member of the Ha’cathan clan had seen so many men crossing the Valley of Atharam. “Perhaps there are twenty thousand or more, just like the messenger said,” commented Ihamac. The young, rangy Sabiri man scratched absently at a sore spot on his chalk-white skin where the darkened leathers of his jerkin had rubbed over many days ride.

“No my friend, there are more than that. Many more.” The larger, older man beside Ihamac was not Sabiri, and bore the rugged, handsomely dark features of the Espanean islanders. His garb was Sabiri-made, however, and bore the same tribal markings as Ihamac. Although he was no member of the Ha’cathan clan, he was widely regarded as their friend and ally.

“We had best inform the camp that there is no good fight to be had here, not unless Kobal himself should stride forth on the field of battle to win the day for your kin. These Helians are a dangerous lot, and they march for war. But whither they travel, I cannot say. To the east, most likely, when they exit the pass. Perhaps they mean to siege Westgate, or Fartheren. Those are the only cities in this barren land of any worth.”

He spat out a wad of tobacco, a good local mix, and then reached for his pouch to pinch more. “Let’s ride.”

Ihamac nodded eagerly, and rushed down the slope from their vantage point to retrieve the immense Sabiri war stallions which relaxed in thick fields of grass near a trickling stream. “You are very wise, Joshero!” He called out. “Many of our warriors would love to fight the Helians, but they would surely die. And for what? So we can stop them from drawing toll on the city dwellers? Hah!”

As the man known as Joshero strode down the hillock to join his young friend, he nodded vigorously. “Aye, right you are. My people may populate Westgate, but I renounced them long ago. Now, lets be about this business of moving the clan out of harm’s way, young warrior.”

Together, they mounted the immense stallions, beautiful horses that strode proudly about in ornate leather barding and woven saddles. The horses of the Sabiri were as proudly independent as their masters. Joshero patted his on the neck as they moved to a trot, away from their observation point. This beast would eagerly ride in to an army of twenty thousand and more, ready to cleave its own share of heads in, he thought to himself. These were good people, who bred good horses.

The two riders made haste, leaving the Valley of Atheram well behind, veering westward, eventually, towards the region known locally as the Fields of Rhamm, after the ancient king of the forgotten Lucari.

Once, around an evening campfire, as the Sabiri enjoyed their drinks made from fermented mare’s milk, Joshero was privy to the tale of the mysterious Lucari. A proud people they were, he was told. So proud, they stood defiant before the very gods of the Apocalypse, refusing to budge from their land, even when the very body of the destroyer, Ga’Thon, fell upon the world to the west, forming the dreaded Cossarit Mountains. For two hundred and one nights they fought off the marauding armies of chaos, until at last their city was buried to the tip of its highest spire in the bones of the dead. Those few Lucari who survived the battle turned from the empty fields of death to once more rest in their fabled city, only to find that it could not be found. The mounds of the dead hid the city so completely that none of the warriors could find any sign of it. Even as they dug through the mounds of mouldering dead, the dreadful magics of the dying god Ga’Thon enervated the land, and sapped the very life from the earth so completely that no living being could sustain itself, and so the Lucari were forced to leave, lest they die. Meanwhile, the women and children of their land were entombed beneath the mounds of the dead, trapped forever more in a terrifying hell, unable to escape the oppressive weight of Ga’Thon’s dying soul.

This was widely regarded as one of the happier tales the Sabiri liked to tell. As dour a folk as you could ever meet, the hard, nomadic ways of these people fascinated Joshero. He remembered asking what had become of the Lucari warriors who left their lands at the end of the tale. One of the elders, a shaman called Ucero, had remarked, “Why, I am certain that there runs within our very veins the blood of the Lucari warriors. For to establish their race anew, they used the wanton magics of the ancients to construct new wives from the white clay of the riverbeds, and bedded these women, who in turn birthed the first of the true Sabiri kin. Such is the reason we have the chalk grey skin that marks us apart from all other men. Such is the reason we have no mirth, for the Lucari knew nothing but suffering. And finally, such is the reason we have no gods save the demiurge Kobal and his wife Amorgas, for we are self-made people, in the truest sense. Sabiri are the way of the future, untainted by the ancient magics which ended the world and the gods of old.”

Joshero took that to be a folktale with more than a grain of truth to it. These people probably did descend from older stock, survivors of the Apocalypse. Folk as practical and hardy as the Sabiri were destined for survival.

The journey back to the camp of clan Ha’cathan took six hours. Nestled within a wide ravine where a favored water-hole was located, the people of Ha’cathan tended to their horses and bison, worked leathers, harvested local seeds, smoked meats and tended to daily life as usual. The Sabiri were sophisticated, as nomadic people went. They were fine metalworkers, though they preferred to barter with the western Pelegar for metal wares when they could, for they were poor miners, and had mastered bronze but found iron and steel to be exceedingly rare. Joshero was welcome among the Ha’cathan for this reason, among others. The prince-chieftain, Mave’tos, knew Joshero to be a master smith from his native land. And he knew the secret of folding steel upon itself to strengthen a blade to amazing hardness. Joshero had promised to make Mave’tos a broadsword of such folded steel, in exchange for the hospitality of the prince and his people.

As they entered camp, young men and old alike came out, to swarm about the two riders, asking them many questions. Apparently, Joshero and Ihamac were the first two to return from scouting.

In the distance, the women clustered about, studying Ihamac coyly behind their prolific gold and silver piercings, a popular fashion among the Sabiri women which Joshero found appealing in its exotic, barbaric manner. The women of these people were far more direct and capable than those of his own kind, he mused. A few glanced his way, as well, including the mysterious and beautiful Mittariin.

As Joshero dismounted, the prince pushed through the thronging crowd of men to face him.

“You are first to return,” the prince mused. “Joshero, you never fail me. What have you seen? Was the messenger from clan Ra’makath correct? Are the Helians invading our land?”

Mave’tos was a tall, lean man, powerful even in his middle years. He was adorned with many ornate runic tattoos, the mark of a powerful magician among his people. Some said he had given himself over to the Spirit of the Asp, though others claimed he was bound to no animal spirit. The magic of these people was foreign to Joshero. He did not understand their totemism, which was nothing like the classical occult arts he had learned in Espanea.

“My prince, they are many more than the messenger claimed, but aside from that, everything he said is true. They are Helians, and more. I am certain I saw mercenaries from the region of Zann amongst their kind, for they carried the reed tower shields and spears of those people. I also saw orcs out of Gurzatt, the beastly sort, hard to mistake with their barded armor and wicked snouts.” He shook his head. The men around him cursed and spat. Sabiri despised all orcs, who were said to have sprung from the blood of Shaligon as it spewed from her neck to the earth in the Apocalypse.

“Do they march on us? Joshero, if they come to slay my people and take our ancient lands….” the prince asked intently. He looked ready to fight, though Joshero knew better of him. The prince was a public braggart, ready to defend his people. Privately, Joshero knew him to be a man of peace. He would much rather his clan lived to father a new generation than die in a massacre.

Joshero continued. “It seems that they travel with the intent to siege. Among their swollen ranks I spotted many wagons loaded with the means to lay siege to high-walled fortifications, such as ballistae, catapults, ladders and towers. Most were parted out, for ease of travel, which means they have a long time yet before they reach their intended goal. I speculate that they will turn east when they leave the valley, and make their way for the coast. We are not their target.” No, he thought to himself. My people, the Espanean colonials of the coastal cities, are certain to be their target. There was nothing else in this accursed land of endless hills and plains that could possibly interest the Helians, he mused.

Ihamac stepped in. “Joshero thinks we should move away from this area, my prince.” His voice shook a little. The young man was growing gutsy, Joshero mused, to speak directly to his prince. From around them, cries of dismay at running from an enemy rang out. The Sabiri were a people laden with machismo.

The prince stroked his narrow beard. “Aye, Joshero knows the right of it, for we are not kin with the city dwellers of the coast, though some of our own have succumbed to such soft and wayward lives. We will move our camp to a new location for now, and await the passing of this army. Should they seek us out, we will stand then and fight. But I will not spill any blood for the men of the coast.”

Clever, Joshero mused. Mave’tos sidestepped the issue of the army passing through clan territory, using clan resources from the land, by drawing upon the timeless enmity of his people with the colonials and progressives of his own kind. Why die for men who had turned their backs on the only true way to live in harmony with the land, indeed? Hah!

The crowd began to break up, as Mave’tos and his sons barked orders to men and women alike to begin breaking up the camp. Tents would be disassembled, children rounded up, food and other goods bundled for travel. There was a lake, some thirty miles west of here, far from the path of the army, and hidden in a basin which no Helian could possibly know of, said the elder shamans of the clan. There, the people would be safely hidden by the spirits of Kobal until this untimely interruption had passed.



Joshero set about to aiding the family who had accepted him in as a blood brother. Ihamac was the youngest son of the family, and the best tracker. His father, Thatarac, was a grizzled old veteran of many seasons at the age of forty, with three strong sons and a single daughter. His wife, Eshebi, was heavily involved in clan politics, and an esteemed priestess of the Cult of Amorgas. Josheros found them good, plain hearty folk. No deceptions, no pomp and circumstance as he would find among his own family.

“Joshero, it is good that you are with us. The prince values your council.” Thatarac greeted the two near his family tent, grasping hands with Joshero, then patting his youngest son on the back. Eshebi brought out a skin of fermented mare’s milk for the men. In the shadows of the tent Thatarac’s daughter smiled coyly at Joshero. She was barely fifteen summers, but already commanded the attention of the young men around her.

“Thatarac, you have have been a fine host. I shall help your family prepare for the journey.” Joshero joined his host family in preparing for the journey.

As they worked to disassemble the tent and pack their wares and possessions on to the backs of the travois which would drag behind their horses and bison, Eshebi approached Joshero. She was of middle years, like her husband, but held her youthful looks well. “Joshero, perhaps you should work on our smoke tent. I think…..someone would like to see you.” She smiled slyly. Nearby, her daughter giggled. He shrugged. Though it was considered taboo for Sabiri women to lay with foreigners, he seemed to have transcended the relationship with this clan to a new plateau. At least one woman, Mittariin, had taken advantage of his newfound status.

It was while Joshero worked the knots out of the leathern straps on the tent used to smoke meat that two slim, ashen grey arms adorned with silver ringlets snaked around his waist. He smelled the heady cinnamon scent of oiled perfumes in his nostrils, and felt the firm, muscular curves of a woman firmly against his back.

“You will leave soon,” the woman said in thickly accented Espanean. It was one of the traits which most attracted Joshero to Mittariin, her desire to learn of other lands, other languages. He turned about and lifted her from the ground, hugging her slim form tightly to him, her black leather buskins tight against her bodice. Her long black hair cascaded across her shoulders, barely concealing a line of silver earrings running down each ear, and the prounced studs which marked each corner of her full ebon lips. By the Sacred Stones, Mitariin was woman enough for him!

“You presume too much. I like your clan. I wish to travel with your people for a long time. And you are far too desirable to be left alone for some other man to claim!” She giggled quietly at this. In some ways, he knew mittariin was as outcast as he, for she was an orphan, who had been adopted in to the clan when she was only five summers. Found on a battlefield where her clan had been annihilated by a war paty of Kraggit orcs, Mittariin had no clan lineage to inherit, no bridewealth to make her more appealing to any other than another wayward soul. Like himself, Joshero thought.

“Joshero, I have known you a short time, but I see much honor in you. You will not let an army march on your own people, even if you have renounced your ties to them. It would not be right.” She paused a moment. “When you go, take me with you.” Her deep grey eyes looked up in to his, pleading. “I have no one here. No one save you.”

Joshero pulled her even tighter, stroking her ebon tresses. “If that is what you wish, you will. But I have no plans to leave, yet. I must first see to it that the clan is taken to safety, and perhaps then I shall discuss this matter with the prince. You are right. I could not live with myself if I allowed my kinsmen to die before this horde. Though they would gladly throw me to the wolves, I must never do the same.” How this woman knew him so well, after only a few weeks with her, amazed him.

Together, they finished disassembling the smoke tent, and loaded it on to a travois for transport. Within a matter of hours, the entire community was gone, packed and loaded on the backs of the horses and bison that were the sabiri lifeblood. Together, the community of some two thousand nomads began the westward journey to the Lake of Eshual, in the hidden basin.



It was a day later, as the great caravan moved across the rolling hills of grass to their destination that the scouts were spotted. Along a southern ridge line, a trio of mounted rider appeared. They seemed to study the carvan with some interest until a half-dozen young warriors broke free of the caravan’s trek and charged the observers. The distant observers turned and fled, pursued by the whoops and cries of the horsemen, who fired volley after volley of arrows.

When at last the warriors returned, they dragged a corpse behind them, strung to the largest of the stallions. Mave’tos rode forth to study the victim of the impromptu war party. The body had the hairless ebon skin of the men of Helios, and wore light quilted pauldrons, bronzed cuirass and padded gauntlets and greaves. He was riddled with barbed Sabiri arrows.

“The other two escaped, though badly wounded,” said the lead warrior. He was agitated. “Their horses were light and swift. I believe they were scouts for the army.”

Mave’tos nodded. “Unfortunate that they escaped. They will report that we are out here, and may come looking. We must make greater haste. You,” he gestured to the lead warrior. “You will find fifty men who will take up watch behind the caravan. Drag brush behind your mounts to obscure our trail, and stand watch for any signs of pursuit.”

Joshero rode forth at this time, reigning in beside the arrow-riddled body. “If your shamans are on good terms with any elementals, I suggest drawing their kin down in wind and rain to help obscure our trail.” He dismounted and squatted down beside the body, studying a peculiar image hammered in to the bronze curiass of the dead man. The image was reminiscent of classic sun symbols, with a trio of eyes centered in the solar disk.

Mave’tos kicked the body. “You seem to recognize this symbol,” her remarked.

Joshero shook his head. “No, that is the problem. I have never seen this symbol before. And I can tell you that it is not the symbol of the Empire of Helios. The three eyes are a symbol of sacred trinity, though. I saw that once, in the texts I studied in my homeland. They represent the phases of time. The past, the present, and the future. The eyes reflect our observation of this passage. It is a very old symbol.” He shook his head. Mysteries upon mysteries with this strange army from the south!



It was nightfall when the caravan reached the crest of the ancient basin in which Lake Eshual rested. The caravan crested the rim and began descent along the ancient path that was known only by the Sabiri. Joshero had never seen this basin before, and in the moonlight he could barely make out the sparkling expanse of a large, ancient body of water, several miles in length.

As they journeyed toward the lake’s edge, Joshero noticed numerous odd, ancient boulders which protruded from the ground along the path. As he passed close by one, he realized that it was carved stone, in the image of a great, ancient head. “Gods fallen,” he muttered to himself. “what manner of deviltry be these?”

Mittariin, who rode quietly beside him on her gray mare, perked up. “You see the stones of judgement, once the source of powerful ancestral magic. In times forgotten, when our people were united under one banner, these immense stones were watchers and guardians, imbued with the souls of our most revered ancestors. They spoke to the truth within every man’s soul.” She grew quiet for a minute. “Some among us can still feel the spirits within, wondering why we have forgotten them.”

Joshero nodded, as he fingered the pendant of his old order around his neck. “I sense it. They radiate faint, but very old magic. They may be older than you think. I saw similar idols once, in a region called the Thousand Islands.”

Mittariin nodded, thoughtfully. “Islands, and Espanean word. The Sabiri have nothing in our tongue for a body of land trapped by water. Promise me you will take me to see these wonders, one day.”

Joshero laughed. “Aye, I shall. One day, when I am good and ready. With you at my side, I shall.” He could almost see Mittariin’s eyes sparkle as her mind’s eye imagined such wonders as the tropical islands from which Joshero hailed.

When at last the caravan reached the open flats near the water’s rim, they found the rough stone foundation of an ancient structure, perhaps a citadel of some sort, Joshero mused. Even so close to midnight, the clan pushed quickly to dismount and begin assembling their tents in the new location. Before dawn, it was as if the community had always been there. Joshero, who had worked through the night, was exausted, and quickly took to bed inside Thatarac’s tent.

His deep sleep went uninterrupted until late in the day, when he awoke to the image of Ihamac leaning over him, shaking Joshero furiously. “Come!” he shouted. “The warriors arrive, and they have another clan with them!”

Joshero stumbled out into the afternoon sun, to stare in the distance at the advancing party. Indeed, the warriors sent to guard the caravan by the prince were closing in, but in their midst were what looked like a curious mix of Sabiri, mostly women, children, and the elderly. They had many horses, but only a few bison in tow. The women were wailing, a keening noise that Joshero had never gotten used to. It meant they grieved for the dead, for dead husbands and sons.

The people were refugees of clan Ra’Makath, the first Sabiri clan to encounter the army. Indeed, they had sent messengers out to allied clans with warning of the approaching horde. It was just such a messenger which had alerted the Ha’cathan.

When Joshero arrive, prince Mave’tos was deep in conversation with a stately older woman, the wife of the now dead chieftain of the clan. “They were set upon by the Helians,” he commented to the Espanean as he arrived. “She said that a man named Korvair leads the army, and he told them that they must join his ranks or perish.” It went unsaid that no Sabiri would ever submit to the rule of a foreigner, especially a Helian.

The woman stepped up. “Yes, our men held rank against the horde while those who could not fight took flight. We had hoped they would follow, that perhaps some of the men were able to escape the assault and follow in our retreat. But we have not seen a one.”

Mave’tos shook his head. “Then they died honorably, and shall be judged well in Kobal’s eyes. Your clan is safe with us. We shall protect you here, along the shores of the sacred lake.” And with that, the Ha’cathan reached out to embrace their sister clan in their sorrow.

Later, Joshero sought out the prince to speak with him. “Mave’tos, I grow concerned that this great army is not all it seems. They move under an ancient banner with arcane significance, and they would dare to try and conscript a people well known to be as unfettered and defiant as your own. I have spoken with others,” Mittariin, he thought, “who feel that it is necessary for my honor that I journey to my kinsmen in the cities to the east, to warn them of this danger.”

Mave’tos grimaced at Joshero. “I would not advise this, but understand your need. As we must protect our kinsmen, I understand why you should wish the same for yours, even if you have been cast out from them. If you must go, take some men with you. I am sure there will be volunteers, to aid you on the journey as guides and protection.”

Joshero nodded. “I need the help of but a few. With permission of his father, I have found Ihamac an excellent scout and guide. And I should wish to bring one other, the woman Mittariin with me, if you will permit.” Mittariin, as an orphan and adopted of the clan, held Mave’tos as her spiritual father, and was his property until released to another man.

“I so will it, you will do well for Mittariin. My son, Cavela’tos, will also accompany you. He is a strong man, and knows the lands better than any in the clan.” Mave’tos stopped, and gripped Joshero by the shoulders. “My friend, you have not yet made my fine steel broadsword as you promised, nor have you taught me the secret of folded steel as is common amongst your people. Do not forget this.”

“I always fulfill my debts,” Joshero grasped Mave’tos and hugged him firmly. “For a woman such as Mittariin, I shall also make you a parrying dagger to accompany the sword. Do not worry, my friend. I have faced much worse in my time.” And Mave’tos knew this to be true, as did any man to look in the depths of Joshero’s haunted eyes. Many years had he traveled the great expanse of the Realms of Chirak, and numerous were his trials and adventures.

It was decided that haste was the order of the day. Joshero gained permission from Thatarac to take Ihamac with him on the journey, which delighted the young man to no end. Cavela’tos sought out Joshero, dutiful to his father’s wishes to aid this significant friend and ally. This son of the prince, second oldest of six, was tall, muscular, and reknowned for his archery on horseback. He kept his hair short and he wore only one tattoo, the mark of archery, from which he could conjure forth unerring marksmanship. Cavela’tos wan a man of few words, though, always choosing wisely those rare moments when he did speak.

Mittariin was last to join the party, appearing in tight leather jerkin and breeches, dyed the traditional black, with a short saber and bow ready. “You can fight?” Joshero remarked, and she punched him in the arm.

“I am Sabiri,” she responded. “It is what we do.” And that was that.

The small party left the encampment just before dawn the following morning with little fanfare. Celebrations were for the victorious. It would be a long time, Joshero mused, before he could claim such accolades.



2.



The journey eastward was swift for the four travelers. During the journey, Joshero noticed more than one occasional, curious glare from Cavela’tos directed at Mittariin and himself. During their first night around a dark camp, for it as agreed that to make fire would be unwise, Joshero caught Cavela’tos staring at him in the moonlight. “What troubles you?” He suspected he knew, but decided it was best to confront the young prince now.

“I am baffled. My father has given you Mittariin. She should not be with a foreign man.”

Joshero nodded. “But she is orphaned. Your father may give her to whomever he wishes. She would contribute nothing to your station…” Cavela’tos glowered and then moved away from the circle of the camp. No more was said of the matter.

Later, resting in his arms, Mittariin whispered in Joshero’s ear. “The prince covets me. He has spied upon me from afar for some time now, but his father would never permit such a relationship. It would be inappropriate. He envies you.”

“Aye, I suspected as much. He had better get over it. We have no time for childish games out here.”



That morning, as the sun loomed over the western crest of the Cossarit Mountains, the party broke camp and resumed their furious ride east. It was late in the day when the smoky trail of the vast army was spied.

“’Tis larger than I thought,” Cavela’tos muttered.

“With such a force, they must mean to crush all of the colonials. There will be no negotiations with these people,” Joshero shook his head. “We must turn to the north and ride with haste to break around the army without passing too close to their scouts and stragglers. If we are found out, then our purpose becomes mute. Thanks be that such a force is only as fast as its slowest units, and that those great wagons of theirs are finding the wretched turf of this land difficult going.”



3.



Joshero and his crew rode hard and fast for days upon days. Once, they avoided a patrol of scouts who appeared to be with the Helian army. Another time it was a rival tribe of horsemen, Sabiri who were drunk with the power lust brought on by the sanguine affections of their Demon-God, Boolion. But despite these obstacles, Joshero and his haphazard band arrived at Fartheren, westernmost of the old colonies, and the first city to lie in the path of the advancing Helians.

Joshero wasted no time in making brazen entry in to the parlor of the Espanean governor of Fartheren. With Mittariin riding behind him, and Ihamac and Cavela’tos riding to either side, he made for the gates of the governor’s palace, sending the surprised and amazed guards scattering. The gates were wide open. Why wouldn’t they be? Fartheren had not been attacked in eighty years, not since it was taken by the Sabiri and turned in to a proper city of trade for the nomads.

“By the devils, it’s Joshero!” one of the two guards shouted out. “Riding like Perdition’s on his heels, as always.” The older guard dusted himself off from where he had thrown himself.

The other guard fumed in anger, and went to ring the alarm bell. “I’ll alert the palace, we have a madman loose!”

The old guard put his hand on the cord. “Aye, that we will, but it’ll be to let them know Joshero is back, and he wouldn’t be riding like that unless something awful comes. We’d better be ready.”



When Joshero bounded from his horse, shoved open the wide double doors to the palatial suite of the governor, and marched his way forth in to the man’s private chambers, it was with a determination he had not felt in years. His love may have been for the barbarians of this land, but his loyalty was with his people, his countrymen.

So it was that Joshero, sweat-caked dust and grime covering his body, wearing the leathern armored hides of a Sabiri warrior, stood before the pristine and elegant countenance of Endraberdo, the acting governor of Fartheren for the Espanean colonists.

“My lord,” he stopped but a moment, then bowed slightly. “I come bearing terrible news. There is a foreign army advancing, possibly Helians from the south and west. They head directly for the colonies of Espanea. I have abandoned my position with the Sabiri that I once asked you for permission to allow me to indulge in, sir, that I could warn you of this impending disaster.” Joshero studied the man carefully. Was he going to disregard the warning, or would he appreciate the full imperilment this heralded for the Espaneans of Fartheren?

The governor smiled. “Joshero, my son, you are ever the alarmist. You see an army and simply assume hostile intent. No, my son. We will not fear this supposed threat you claim to have seen.” He turned to look out through a stately window to the dusty fairgrounds outside.

Joshero was mute with astonishment. “You cannot be serious. The city will be destroyed!”

The governor shook his head, and then gestured to his right. From a side door behind a curtain stepped a tall, lean sabiri man with chalky skin and an elaborate series of runic tattoos. It was Madvaros, the lord of the Fire Tower. He let out a wide, sickening smile laden with sharpened teeth. Four more men, armed soldiers of the fire temple, poured in behind him.

“You bastard,” Joshero muttered. “You sold us out.”



END PART ONE


Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Truth About Spec Work

Matt Bors posted this video he found about the evils of Spec Work and why the concept in general is bankrupt, both from the perpspective of a designer and a business. Worth watching for anyone who is trying to build a portfolio of professional work!


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

An Index of "Tales from the Watchers of the Sullen Vigil" Articles


Newer Articles: Sarvaelen for Swords & Wizardry Complete

These articles are written "post-conversion" of my effort to craft Sarvaelen into a Swords & Wizardry setting. I'll group them first, and the older edition articles will follow. The revisions will work to clean up and solidify the setting, which presently is a fascinatingly incoherent string of scenarios with allusions to a larger world, but missing many details.

Monsters of Sarvaelen: Creatures encountered by the Sullen Watch
S&W stats for Ghuls, Feyril and Naga.

The Mountain City of Asvinar
A remote mining town southeast of Aelghast in the Claw Mountains.



Older Articles:

These older articles include all original Sarvaelen content, which was aimed first at T&T 7.5 and then later at BRP and Legend.

A Gazetteer and Redux of Aelghast (the revision of article #1)

This entry provides a overview of the key kingdoms and cultures of Sarvaelen, and a gazetteer on the border town of Aelghast and environs. It includes details on feyril and ghuls.

The Temple of the Whispering Dark (the first scenario)

This scenario takes place near the Watch Tower and Aelghast and deals with a mysterious ruins in the wastelands of Camrinal.

Hexblades of Legend (includes some details on hexblades in Sarvaelen)

This order of eldrtich knights includes material intended for Sarvaelen and a short section at the end on how the hexblades fit in historically.

Hexblades in Castles & Crusades

An adaptation of the hexblade for C&C, complete with new spells.

The Naga of Sarvaelen

This article introduces some details on the Stormsinger coast and the enigmatic empire of the Naga.

Dragons of Sarvaelen

This article discusses the nature of dragons in Sarvaelen and how the corruption of the Old Gods has affected them.

Dread Zarvande

This is a short introduction to the ruined capitol of old Camrinal, which is now a vast "dungeon" waiting for the foolhardy to seek out and explore...or die trying.

Thaerinal

The haunted southern lands beyond Aeronost, ruled from the shadows by the Bog Witch.

A Map of Sarvaelen

At long last I put together a rough map. It will be fleshed out in more detail over time, but it provides a working geographical framework for much of the region discussed so far.

Anton Dainasere, Demon Hunter

An interesting tale and NPC to encounter in Sarvaelen.

Lizard Men in Magic World

The iconic inhuman reptilian foes of many classic tales, statted for MW/BRP and with details on their place in Sarvaelen.

The Original Article

This is the first article I did on a lark, and is notable for including T&T stats as well as the original treatment that all else cascaded from. Going forward I have pulled a revisionist stunt (also called "pulling a Lucas") and the new article at the top of the list replaces this one...




Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tales from the Watchers of the Sullen Vigil – Gazetteer and Redux


Zaravande at its Height

Tales from the Watchers of the Sullen Vigil

This is my first attempt at a revision of the material I have so far produced for the Sarvaelen campaign. It effectively redacts non-human races of conventional type and replaces them with the hint of more exotic human cultures instead; exotic nonhumans (like the ghuls) remain, fitting with the now decidedly non-Tolkien take that is the aim of this revision. After the new gazetteer material I include a revision of the first article on the Watchers, showcasing the town of Aelghast and its curious folk.

Under this revision, we now have the following distinct cultural groups:

The Survivors of Camrinal: The ancient empire of Camrinal was a vast, dominant power that subjugated the old kingdoms to its rule. Camrinal not only rules by force of arms but by force of magic as well, for it indulged the aristocracy of its era with a culture of free experimentation and arcane dabbling that eventually led to a deep magiocracy in which only those who demonstrated sorcerous talent were allowed to hold the reigns of power, ownership of property or positions of strength. Magic had, in this now lost era two centuries gone, become ubiquitous.

When the fires of destruction rained down upon Camrinal in the Final Conflict, the vast majority of the old empire was wiped out, but many of its lesser citizens and a few elites survived. Today these survivors are mostly found as changed beings among the population known as the ghuls, but in some odd corners of the world there still exist untainted purebloods, though they often do not realize their own lineage.

The People of Emon: Also known as the Emoniae, the people of this distant land exist far in the west, beyond the ruined expanse of the wastelands of Camrinal. Emon was the greatest independent threat to Camrinal in its era of rule, and the Emoniae were a culture of sorcerers much like the Empire. When the Final War erupted, their lands were devastated, and the Empire sought to exterminate their greatest rivals as quickly as possible. When the conflict ended with the destruction of Camrinal, most of Emon’s warriors were caught in the destruction, and destroyed. Still, there were plenty of survivors back home, now mostly dwelling in ancient, deep enclaves within the vast Adasatrak Mountains where they stood guard against the outside world.

Today the Emoniae are still driven by magic as a way of life and such arts find a greater acceptance within their mountain fortresses than anywhere else. The Emoniae remain isolated and tend to mistrust the young eastern kingdoms that have arisen from the ashes of the Final War. It is also the only land where the study and worship of the Old Gods is still permitted.

The Dour Atlenar: When the southern kingdom of Atlenar, with is brilliantly-scaled dragons and their riders assaulted the Zaravande, the capitol of the Empire, most of the dragon riders of this fallen kingdom perished. When the unholy energies of the burning spell bathed the world in fire, it slew the entire army and its dragonflights of Atlenar, and laid waste to the lands south, leaving cities and villages burning as the unholy wrath of the Emperor was channeled through the maddening power of the Old Gods he called upon. No one can say for sure what might have happened to this kingdom had they not comprised the single largest contingent of forces allied against Camrinal, but for this reason the wrath of that terrible spell burned Old Atlenar almost as badly as it scoured the earth of Camrinal itself.

The Atlenar are the people who survived that scourage two centuries ago, mostly folk who were deep in the south and far from the center of the conflict, or who dwelt in smaller villages and townships in the wilds, escaping the purging fires that razed nearly two dozen strong cities and fortresses to the ground. The nature of the Atlenar today was shaped forever by this catastrophe, leaving them a brooding, dour folk who look with a great pessimism on daily life but at the same time embrace each day as if it were their last. Atlenar are known to be shrewd risk takers who regard all others with suspicion, especially anyone who might have a trace of Imperial blood in their veins.

Atlenar has not recovered from its fiery doom, though its people have returned to a more clan-based way of life. The lands of Atlenar are dominated by the politics and rivalries of these twenty-odd clans that stem from the dominat families of their surviving ancestors. They treat their northern neighbors in Aeronost as allies, for they remember that after the devastation many in Aeronost traveled south to aid them in their time of need. Today the Atlenar also worship the monotheistic faith of Nevereth, the All-Mother as a result of this influence from Aeronost.

The Aeronost: Much like the other lands devastated by the final doom of Camrinal, Aeronost has had a time of recovery and growth to restore itself to a semblance of civilization. Unlike Emon and Atlenar, Aeronost was not nearly as affected as those kingdoms for by the time of the last conflict in which the forces of old rallied into a great force to siege the capitol of Zaravande, only pockets of resistance still existed in Aeronost to try and aid in the conflict; most of the old kingdom had been devastated after twenty years of continuous conflict with Camrinal, its people subjugated by occupying imperial forces. As a result, when the unholy fires and terrors of the Empire were unleashed to destroy their attackers, Aeronost experienced little of the devastation, and its people soon rose to overthrow and drive out the surviving forces of Camrinal that escaped the doom of the Empire by virtue of their station on Aeronost’s lands.

Aeronost remained a peaceful land after the end of the war, recovering and rebuilding, driven by the new young church of the goddess Nevereth which espoused a monotheistic faith that eschewed the Old Gods, blaming the corruption of those gods for the fall of the Empire and the ruin it left upon the lands. These same missionaries recruited many folk who traveled abroad to aid in helping those devastated by the war’s end. This helped greatly to expand the following of Nevereth, who was rapidly adopted as the savior goddess of most of Sarvaelen’s kin.

About one hundred years ago the first wars of succession began in Aeronost as various nobles and warlords began to aspire to restoring their lost kingdom’s might. It was forty years ago that the first true king was recognized, to whom most current nobles swear fealty to today. Since then Aeronost has grown and developed into a strong, young kingdom and a policy of open overland trade has made it a lucrative cooridor for such between the young kingdoms of Sarvaelen.

Iandei: The iandei are a curious lot. The stories of the iandei, who stand on average shorter than most men, averaging only five feet in height, is that they were actually men taken centuries ago as prisoners and slaves from the kingdom of Sammar (though back then it was known only as the mysterious lands of Shul as Sammar had not yet risen to power), turned into servants of the empire. During the Final War many iandei escaped and took up arms against the Empire, serving as foot soldiers in the armies of Emon and Atlenspar. When the terrible energies of the last conflict in the war bathed the world in fire, some of the iandei somehow escaped doom, and as a people found themselves without their cruel masters, free at last.

Today the iandei have vibrant communities within the borders of other kingdoms, but they tend to remain insular as a community and as such tend to hold to their own. They have, like so many others, embraced the worship of Nevereth but they never truly let go of their old ways during the centuries of subjugation as slaves of the empire and worship a curious form of animistic spirit worship that harkens back to their homeland of Shul. The spirit worship of the iandei is a deeply kept cultural secret, and they build all temples beneath the ground, usually hidden away, known only to the other iandei of the community.

The iandei do not get along with any descendent of Camrinal which takes pride in their ancestry, but they do have a curious respect and pity for the ghuls of the wastelands, seeing them as having suffered greatly for the error of the Empire’s ways. As such, iandei such as can be found in Aelghast are known to take pity on ghuls who seek refuge or aid and so allow them into the community, albeit as second class citizens.

There are more kingdoms and cultures to be revealed in time (such as in the northlands, and across the sea in Sammar), but those shall be saved for another time. What is outlined above comprise the interlocked groups which can be found adjacent to the wastelands of Camrinal and the Stormsinger Coast.



A Gazetter of Aelghast - Redux

Note: I’ve kept the BRP stats in place for now, which are easy enough to use with Legend, but going forward I shall either make all future entries specifically for Legend or keep them dual-statted.The text below is largely the same, with specific changes in culture/race as indicated…and a big change in the section on what I am now calling the feyril, making them decidedly more creepy and malevolent….and Skipner all the more tragic and interesting as a result.

Background

The Watchers of the Sullen Vigil are an order of knights who patrol the desert expanse west of Aeronost, ever watchful of the ancient evil that once boiled like a dark plague from the westerlands of Camrinal. None have tried to venture deeply into the deserts of that forsaken land in decades, fearful of the plagues, monsters and worse that are said to now inhabit that derelict kingdom. Still, the watchers do occasionally encounter a fell beast which has found its way out of the wastes to threaten the caravans that skirt the desert’s edge, and once in a while they spot an ominous looking ruin, sometimes a simple structure, other times something more sinister, lurking at the edge of the horizon. When they notice these things, the watch will sometimes send the boldest among them to investigate, to put down any threat that may lurk within. Sometimes, however, they like to contract out…

Recently in the crossroads town of Aelghast the watchers posted notification that they sought out any daring adventurers or mercenaries willing to investigate a mysterious complex which had been spotted not twenty miles in to the ever-blowing sand dunes of Camrinal. The notice says little, other than that such adventurers would be provided food and lodging at the Watch Tower of the Sullen Vigil, and a sum of 500 gold pieces for the proper survey and clearing of the structure, with suitable proof of the deed.

The Watch Tower is located ten miles west of Aelghast, directly against the edge of the great dunelands beyond which mark the territory of Camrinal. The eldest watcher and commander of the order is Sir Dalin Tanare, a man in his mid sixties with an injured knee who remains remarkably healthy for his age and condition.

Dalin will brief any interested souls as to the problem. Apparently, the curious ruin, a long, ruinous temple entrance to what appears to be a vast building completely buried beneath the sands was exposed during a recent sandstorm. No record of a building from old maps of Camrinal during the time when it was a living land suggests such a building existed. He wants to know what it is, and he wants any monstrous infestation purged. Two weeks ago he sent eight young agents of the watch to do the deed. None returned, though a subsequent scouting party found evidence of the expedition horses and squires devoured and strewn about the desert sands in front of the complex. The scouts returned, shaken to the core by the inhumanity of what they had witnessed. The scouts reported that a strange, unnerving whispering sound like many inhuman voices arose from the entrance to the temple, and they feared for their lives at the sound of it.

Dalin explains that whatever loot in the old temple lies within is theirs for the taking, but his coffers offer 500 gold to the troupe in payment for surveying and clearing out the ruin. If they can’t complete the deed, he will still pay them 200 gold for word on what lies within….if they survive the encounter!

With that, the adventurers are offered bunks in the commons area of the tower, fresh meals, and access to what resources as can be provided (up to 150 gold pieces worth of gear, weapons and armor taken from the tower’s stores and armory as needed; no magical items are available).

Dalin Tanare, Commander of the Sullen Watch
Human knight
STR 18, CON 21, SIZ 14, DEX 10, INT 15, APP 17, POW 12 EDU 14; DB +1D4 HP 17 MW 8
Sanity 41 (Max 60) Madness Threshold 8
Notable Skills: Insight 45%, Listen 50%, Spot 60%, Track 45%, Climb 50%, Dodge 64%, Ride 80%, Sword 90%, Axe 85%, Bow 45%, 1H Spear 80%, Shield 65%
Weapons: Scimitar (1D8+1+1D4), 4 javelins (1D6+1D2)
Armor: Scale (6 AP) plus Target Shield (15 AP/HP)
Wealth: about 50 gold pieces on his person, but the watch coffers contain 6,800 gold in funds.
Special: Dalin keeps a holy relic around his neck, a Reliquary of Saint Trimerene which holds a vial of her sacred blood. Supposedly placing a drop on the lips of a dead man will return him to life. This is true (and there are about 50 drops’ worth in the vial) but such a man must immediately make a Sanity Check or return with 3ED6 sanity loss, maddened (roll on the longer temporary insanity table), acting like a psychotic lunatic. Success means he or she returns, but with a blank memory of his or her past, and no memory of what transpired in death (does not affect skills, only memories of life events).

Typical Knight of the Sullen Watch
Human knight
STR 16, CON 15, SIZ 12, DEX 13, INT 11, APP 14, POW 10 EDU 10; DB +1D4 HP 13 MW 6
Sanity 50 (Max 50) Madness Threshold 10
Notable Skills: Listen 45%, Spot 50%, Track 40%, Climb 60%, Dodge 50%, Ride 65%, Sword 50%, Axe 45%, Bow 50%, 1H Spear 60%, Shield 60%
Weapons: Scimitar (1D8+1+1D4), 4 javelins (1D6+1D2)
Armor: Scale (6 AP) plus Target Shield (15 AP/HP)
Wealth: 3D6X5 SP and 2D6 GP each



Gazetteer of the Region:

This town is located ten miles from the edge of the desert wastes. It is a free town, belonging to no principality or king, answering instead to the local governor, the elected iandei Charaden Grimes. Grimes is a scrupulous banker and he insures the town does not suffer for want, taking advantage of the confluence of roads at the town to encourage traders to stop and sell wares before moving on. In so doing, they tend to bring a fair amount of currency in from the caravaneers, their guards and servants. All told, Aelghast has a population of about 1,500 individuals, of which more than a third are iandei, as the original township was founded near the local hillside enclave of Burgester, which remains now as a burrough of the town.

Aside from the iandei, the town has two other notable populations: there is a small but distinct population of ghuls, the haunted once-human folk of Camrinal who survived the devastation of their land two centuries ago when the Great Old War of Mages took place, and the naga of Sydaris, the exiled clan of serpentfolk who were forced inland centuries ago by the Empire of Kadatha when chieftain Yazzad Sydaris stood up against the Living Goddess during that same war.

There are perhaps 100 naga in the region, all adapted to desert survival but dwelling in the subterranean hotsprings just a mile south of Aelghast proper. The naga have maintained friendly relations with the humans and iandei of old Burgester, and tolerated the influx of caravans and traders after the new routes sprang up for overland trade with the rise of the young kingdom of Aerenost rose to power several decades ago, uniting the torn land for the first time since the war.

In contrast, there are perhaps 200 or more ghuls in Aelghast, and they are forced to dwell in a shanty on the outskirts of town, as the little folk distrust them. The ghuls migrated here from the desert three decades ago, following their leader, a tall, gaunt and deathly man of their kind named Galios. Galios convinced the leader of the Watch at that time to permit his people passage out of the deserts, and that they were harmless kin. The watch has kept a close eye on them ever since, and the iandei have tolerated them, but they remain second class citizens and are not allowed to own property in the area. Still, the ghuls seem content to dwell in Aelghast’s shantytown, a place still far superior to their old domain in the desert, apparently. There are rumors, of course, that they have constructed a network of catacombs beneath the north hill graveyard on the outskirts of town and occasional accusations of tomb robbing are cast about, but usually nothing comes of it. The ghuls, for their part, provide cheap labor and work hard to earn their keep.

Ghul Stats
STR 3D6, CON 3D6+3, SIZ 2D6+6, DEX 2D6+6, INT 2D6+6, APP 2D6, POW 3D6 EDU 3D6
Attacks: Claws (1D4+DB) or Bite (1D3+DB); Ghul bites can cause a Potency 60 vs. Resillience sickness in those bitten, as they develop debilitating nausea within 1D6 minutes of receiving such a bite. The effect last 1d6X20 minutes. This nausea cuts all skill checks by one half while in effect.
Cannibals: Ghuls are known cannibals. The ghuls of Aelghast restrain themselves, and feed only on their own (so far as anyone knows) and the dead (suspected but not proven; they are very careful to avoid being caught). Any ghul that feeds off of living kindred flesh recovers 1D6 HPs for the meal. This can be done once per day (i.e. once every 24 hours). Ghuls recover 1D3 HPs in this fashion from animals.
Half-Dead Immortals: Ghuls don’t age. They look like zombies, with rotting skin and bones visible, clearly not being quite “alive” yet not dead, either. They are immune to the effects of disease.
Seen Too Much: Ghuls have already experienced some amazing horrors in their time. When a ghul suffers sanity loss, if the loss is not equal to or greater than his madness threshold, then he loses no sanity at all. Conversely, if it meets or exceeds his madness threshold then he loses all of the sanity points rolled, not the difference. Ghuls also start with one permanent mental disorder (roll randomly or choose).
Note: Regular ghouls prowl the wastelands, too. They are truly undead beings, however, driven utterly mad by their state of existence. The civilized ghuls that are descended from the survivors of Camrinal regard the more conventional ghouls as “ferals.” Most humans can't tell the difference if they don't give the ghuls time to talk and prove their sanity, first. It is also unknown of the undead ghouls are simply normal ghuls who have at last succumbed to madness, or if they are more distantly related.

Only in Aelghast are ghuls tolerated to walk among the truly living...

The Lucky Starling

One of Aelghast’s most famous establishments is the Lucky Starling, a tavern and wayfarer’s inn run by the deformed dwarf Skipner Faust. Skipner likes to show off the cage with his “lucky starling” in the aviary-like interior of the tavern, as he claims the starling is actually a manifestation of the pagan deity Wishara, the goddess of luck, which has let him capture her due to his entrancingly good looks (so he says). The tavern itself remains a popular spot for merchants and adventurers to reside at while passing through.

Skipner Faust
half human, half feyril Innkeeper and Wizard
STR 6, CON 16, SIZ 5, DEX 22, INT 20, APP 16, POW 18, MPs 18; DB -1D6 HP 10 MW 5
Sanity 87 (Max 90) Madness Threshold 17
Notable Skills: Bargain 95%, Etiquette 75%, Fast Talk 75%, Perform 65%, Persuade 75%, Craft (Brewing) 85%, Sleight of Hand 50%, Appraise 75%, Gaming 70%, Knowledge (birds) 100%, Insight 75%, Listen 85%, Sense 50%, Spot 75%, Dodge 95%, Stealth 90%, Daggers 50%
Weapons: Ice Pick (dagger, 1D4-1D6)
Armor: Soft Leather (1 AP)
Mage Spells: Blast 75%, Change 50%, Control 75%, Diminish 50%, Dispel 50%, Enhance 60%, Heal 75%, Illusion 80%, Invisibility (racial ability) 100%, Teleport 50%
Wealth: 32,500 gold pieces carefully hidden away beneath the inn, at the rear of an ancient tomb-catacomb he discovered years ago, guarded by traps.

Feyril are short, dwarf-like men who have developed a superstitious reputation thanks to the folklore which precedes them. The stories speak of how feyril are not really men at all, but a curious sort of creature born from the turbulent, bubbling dreams of the mad goddess Matrigias, said to have been the first of the Old Gods, and that she was accosted in terrible ways by the male gods who were unable to control themselves. From this horrific union she became pregnant, bloated from one horizon to the next with the spawn of the world, and when she at last broke water she was destined to give birth to all of the animals of the world. The stories say that Matrigias was driven mad by the endless spawn of animals which crawled from her womb to populate the world, and that she shed unbearable tears of blood and water at the endless pain. From these tears grew the feyril, squat and toad-like little men that were described by some as almost like infants in appearance, but horribly wise to the world due to the suffering of their mother. The feyril crawled forth, to extinguish any joy or revelry where they found it. Such was it that when mankind was at last born into the world he could know joy, for the feyril had stolen all of the pain and suffering of their mother by then. It was only later than humanity came to fear the feyril, for they found the joy and merriment of men to be offensive, and sought to extinguish it by means of murder and fright.

Skipner Faust is half-feyril, though he is commonly believed to be a deformed dwarf, marked by an accident of birth. His affinity for magic comes from his twisted father’s side, who was a feyril that fell in love with a poor common woman some years ago, whom he found helpless and near death in a forest, having been cruelly savaged by men of the nearby village who had their way with her. Something deep within his father’s ancenstral heritage stirred, and his father took the woman into his care, nurturing the wounded soul and caring for her. He then proceeded to murder all of the men who had done her wrong, and to terrorize the village for many more years until at last it was abandoned, regarded as haunted.

Skipner was sent away by his mother, a sad soul who hoped for better of her son than the life of misery and murder that was the lot of the feyril, hoping that his mixed heritage would allow him a chance to live normally. She sent him the Aelghast, where he studied various trades under his mother’s uncle Ballistar, who ultimately taught him the art of brewing. Skipner also studied magic under the tutelage of the ghul sorcerer Malastran, who was impressed at the dwarf’s talents. Ultimately Skipner became a talented mage and excellent businessman, and when Ballistar passed away he willed his property and brewery to Skipner. Skipner then founded The Lucky Starling some years later after capturing his lucky bird during a trade expedition to the coast.

The Whisperman Mine

Aelghast’s most popular local product is from the Whisperman Mine just nine miles northwest of the town, a mining colony which has operated for years. Dalton Whisperman is a short, burly Atlenari known for his penchant for smelling out precious metals in the earth, and he’s been mining this area for decades now. Some suspect his mines have gone deep enough to tunnel into the subterranean caverns that are said to riddle the ground beneath the deserts, for as the story goes when the mages of Camrinal released their ultimate war magic, it not only destroyed their enemies and their own kingdom, but it cracked the very earth, leaving it a hollowed expanse. No one knows the truth of this, though, but there is thought to be some truth to such statements every time Whisperman and his crew come into town with a fresh haul of iron ore, silver or better….despite their wealth, the haunted looks of his men suggest that they have seen much beneath the sands that they would rather not.

Dalton Whisperman
Atlenari Explorer and Miner
STR 19, CON 20, SIZ 8, DEX 13, INT 13, APP 15, POW 15 EDU 13; DB +1D4 HP 14 MW 7
Sanity 64 (Max 75) Madness Threshold 12
Notable Skills: Bargain 75%, Command 50%, Craft (Mining) 85%, Demolition 75%, Repair 50%, Listen 45%, Spot 60%, Track 50%, Climb 75%, Dodge 35%, Ride 35%, Sword 50%, Axe 75%, Shield 65%
Spells: Blast 75%, Command 50%
Weapons: Great Pickaxe (2D6+2+1D4); flintlock pistol (1D6+1)
Armor: cuirboille hard leather (2 AP)
Wealth: depends on whether he’s struck a motherload or not, but he usually carries 2,500 gold around to do upkeep and pay his men.













Monday, June 25, 2012

Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 reprints....whoa!



It's up on WotC's site as an official announcement here. And not just straight reprints, but premium edition reprints.

This is a smart move. I can honestly say I think I'd prefer the more structured and less inflated (ironically!) mechanics of a good core 3.5 ruleset with a choice selection of splatbooks and add-ons over Pathfinder. Don't get me wrong, Pathfinder is good, but it's design bumped up player power by a noticeable margin without doing a lot to also bump up the equivalent challenge levels of monsters. I have also never liked the increased rate of feat acquisition in Pathfinder. I do, however, love the way Pathfinder manages skill ranks so I'd probably houserule that into a 3.5 game.

Also, and this may sound petty, but I really do prefer playing the game with the official stats for mind flayers, beholders, githyanki and other D&D icons. Call me shallow, but...well...SHALLOW! Now gimme!

So yeah....going to be pre-ordering these new editions ASAP (saves me my eternal ebay search for the pefect set that's also at a decent price; an impossibility for 3.5 edition books!)

POSTSCRIPT: After comparing and studying the Pathfinder books and the D&D 3.5 material online, I realize that Pathfinder really is, by and large, still a pretty decent progression of the system on its own. Funny, but I'd never noticed how much nicer the PF art is compared to the 3.5 art until directly comparing the two (at least in the core books).

Anyway, I'm not sure having mind-flayer stats, beholder stuff and so forth is quite worth the price of these premium editions, but from a collector's standpoint I think I would like to have them. A shame WotC can't actually produce their own direct sequel to 3.5 (as opposed to what they actually did do with 4E, which was an entirely different game system that coincidentally shared some mechanical relationships and existed in the same general world-space). I'd be keen to see what sort of organic development a hypothetical 3.5 would look like if someone worked it over in a way that kept the 3.5 core intact while trying to address issues with it. Pathfinder, of course, does that but maybe in a way that feels a bit less like a "fix" and a bit more like a "work-around."

Armless GM Presents: 4E Actual Play in the Realms of Chirak

My buddy Keith linked this actual play narration of his ongoing Chirak campaign....pretty cool! There's something really neat about hearing of other tales and campaigns set in one of my campaign settings, but I think this is the first time I've heard one done narratively in a presentation like this.

I have to say, I am impressed at Keith's ability to pull this off online...I'm so old fashioned in my tabletop ways that I've never quite been able to grok the process of PbP,  Grounds, skyping/ventrilo, etc....but Keith does a great job of it.



Watch live video from armlessgm on Justin.tv

Friday, June 22, 2012

Revising Sarvaelen



So....I'm thinking of doing some edits/revisions to the Sarvaelen campaign, alias "Tales from the Watchers of the Sullen Vigil," that I was running on Fridays for various systems. Here's my thoughts:

1. This started as a fun Friday exercise with T&T in mind, thus why it included leprechauns and hobbs (halfings) but it quickly expanded to include BRP and then later Legend stats. As it evolved I realized that I had some ideas for this campaign that I feel are beyond the scope of....or better suited to, I guess....more traditional pulp fantasy elements; pre-Tolkien, if you will. Or, to put it another way, I think I'd like this campaign better if it were free of elves, dwarves, halflings and their ilk. Not free of nonhuman options, though....I like the ghuls and the naga, for example....but a campaign setting where humans are dominant, and what nonhumans there are tend to be the weird, pulpy stuff like the aforementioned naga, ghuls, and then add in deep ones, lizard men and serpent men and such.

2. To do this, I think I'll do some revision/rewriting (followed immediately by a reposting) of the material to reflect this shift, including for the scenario I published. I might group it all together in one big post/download. I might make it available for those interested in a print version, too. And finaly make some maps for this world.

3.  I think I'll stick to one system, which will be Legend for now (with possible plans to annex it for Runequest 6 when that arrives in print).

4. The goal here is to focus exclusively on non-Tolkienesque fantasy elements and see how it goes. There's nothing wrong with elves, dwarves and halflings, sure....but really, I'm just getting so tired of them creeping into every fantasy game whether I want them or not. I recently snagged a copy of Dragon's Dogma for the Xbox 360 (alas no PC version) and I love that game, absolutely love it. I was impressed at how it pulled off an organic, fully realized world (despite being made by Capcom and not Bethesda) and the closest you get to a nonhuman character are your "pawn" myrmidon allies, derived loosely from the mythology of the legendary myrmidons, "created warriors." It's a brilliant concept, but the game does a fantastic job of conveying a deeply mythic world that is still entirely humanocentric.

So....any thoughts? I'll probably start work on this "reimagining" of Sarvaelen next week, beginning with the excision of halflings and dwarves in favor of good human culture analogs, and an "altering" of the dark fae/leprechaun concept to something more suited to the genre and setting intent. I also have an idea about making dragons more noticeably cthonic, primordial, and maybe direct servitors of the Old Gods rather than "camp followers." I think this could work, and would serve as a more distinct and interesting setting than one laden with the geriatric leavings of poor old Tolkien.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Holy Zombie Jezus it's the Kirby Guy - Wandering Monster Night At Home

This and this is happening in my living room right now. My wife is excited because she got a free cleaning of the living room carpet, but the sales pitch (and the length) is interminable, and I have no intention of shelling out thousands of dollars for a vacuum cleaner unless it comes with a metric ton of dice and games as well...I kid! I have no intention of shelling out money for anything with "vac" in the title unless it ends in "-suit" and can sustain a hit from a laser rifle.

Anyway, I knew about the Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, LDS and the desperate kids with magazine sales....but this takes the cake!

Curious if I need to resort to the "stinking drunk maniac husband" routine to get them out before bedtime tonight, or if I should just stay sequestered away here and let my wife continue to baffle them with crazy talk until they realize we're not exactly going to shell out any money (I hope...)



UPDATE: they left around 10 PM. Holy crap. The "manager" of the duo finally caught on that I was no newb to sales tactics. Entertaining talk about his life as a drug dealer before he got Jesus and reformed, becoming a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. Fascinating....not sure if I had somehow managed to turn the conversation around to where he was divulging his life's story, or if it was his last ditch "honesty about bad boy turned good in the name of Jesus" ploy at closing the deal...but they did, finally, pack up and get out.

This was a high price in personal time to pay for a clean living room carpet. Not as high a price as they paid for no closed sale after three hours. I sort of felt like career councelling them about making better time/earning ratio choices in employment.....then again, maybe the door-to-door vacuum sales business is just booming, and they simply had the misfortune to choose the house with two eclectic loons instead of the one next door with a kindly old lady, a chihuahua and a desperate need to deal with dog hair.
My wife does want one of these things though....!!!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Reading DCC



I've been reading Dungeon Crawl Classics and I have to say its a very enjoyable book. I am trying really hard to buy into the intentional retro-design decisions (such as with class-as-race, something that rankled me when I was a kid and still annoys me now) with the recognition that unlike B/X D&D where such a design choice had more to do with keeping it simpler as an introductory game, the intent here is very specifically to treat classes as specific archetypes. It's also a bit weirdly incongruous with the flavor and intent of the book's implied setting, which I guess can be summed up as a not-unwarranted feverish worship of the Appendix N section of the 1E DMG. If the game was truly embracing the concept of "classic pulp fantasy fiction and its many distinct tropes" then I would probably be happier to see a Melnibonean analog somewhere, maybe a lizard man or serpent man, an ape-like race or two, possibly even some four armed Tharks....but not quite. DCC could definitely sustain a sourcebook or two introducing such, however, and I would welcome it. I think a few 3PP are planning books along this theme, though.

DCC's spell system is elaborate and detailed, and seems to be designed to insure that sooner or later weird and unpleasant things can and will happen to spellcasters. It's a great idea, albeit with an execution that takes up a large volume of book space. I want to run this game to see how it plays out. These days I think just about any magic system that is not another D20 OGL cut-and-paste will be satisfying to me, as I think I'm reaching critical mass on D&D-likes and the infinity of clones. I think I can tolerate this for C&C (as my lone choice of D&D clone) but if I have to play one more game where all the usual D&D spells come into play in all the usual ways....ugh, I think I've got burnout! DCC seems to run with a traditional take on D&D magic and then jumps off the deep end with it, which I like.

Anyway, I have to say that DCC does a surprisingly good job of taking "D&D circa 1974" and reinvents it in a way that manages to feel both like a retro homage and a modern design. I may be getting burned out on D&D/Pathfinder right now, but DCC doesn't really "fit" in there. It's definitely in its own weird world.







Monday, June 18, 2012

Kasdalan: The Qlippothic Menace

Source! Neat site, check it out

This particular plot thread started in a different context, with the intent being to create a zombie apocalypse scenario in fantasyland. It eventually migrated into Kasdalan, a suitable home for such a threat:

Adventure Seed: The Qlippothic Menace

This adventure takes place as a side effect and consequence of the events outlined above in “The Lurking Shadows of Kasdalan.” The characters of this adventure might be the same, or entirely unrelated.
The adventurers are hired by Lord Osterman of Castle Mordren (along the northern Darkwood) to negotiate a peace with the vicious Kasarak barbarian warlord Gamhar of the fortress of Chaz’Godar. The Kasarak fortress sprang up during the previous winter and has been harrying the province ever since. Lord Osterman was gravely wounded in the last excursion, but word has it that the warlord also suffered a crippling blow. He has asked the adventurers to escort his seneschal Tanenbray and his daughter Nestymere to the fortress, to sue for peace.

Journey

Along the way the PCs pass through the battlefield of the recent conflict where bodies still riddle the landscape, and only a handful of harried peasants and soldiers remain for clean-up. Further on is the old graveyard of Algent’s Last Respite, where a nearby crossroads has cages for criminals. In one cage is the prisoner Yaelden, a male necromancer of some ill repute who was accused of practicing necromancy, grave robbing and raising the dead for cheap labor; in the cage beside him is the merchantman Talbor, who was also accused of purchasing the necromancer’s undead agents to serve as free labor in his mines. Yaelden will warn the PCs that he can sense “something coming,” and that he can hear them scratching up through the earth even now. He doesn’t know what it is, exactly; just that it is a wondrous thing, like a great blanket of darkness which has enveloped the land.

Arrival

It takes three days (and 80 miles) to arrive at Chaz’Godar, where there appears to be some consternation on the part of the barbarians, among whom the elder berserker named Madrak will charge out and accuse the arrivals of witchcraft. Assuming they survive an encounter with Madrak, the warlord’s right-hand man and son Andrel will meet with them, and admit that they will concede to peace if they can help Gamhar.

Gamhar, unknown to the superstitious Kasarak, suffered mortal wounds and has perished, to be possessed by one of the first of the Qlippothic demons. He is presently strapped down, speaking in tongues (what the Qlippoths call the Lost Language, though only one who has studied the language of the Ancient Mythrics would suspect it) and frothing at the mouth, seeking a means of escape. Indeed that escape will come if Madrak was fought and slain in the courtyard of the fortress earlier!

A study by any average adventurer will reveal that the man is out of his mind and probably delirious, but a knowledgeable healer will know something is wrong, that the man’s body shows the many signs of death. It will become painfully apparent that the warlord Gamhar is somehow a wight.

By nightfall, the fortress will take on a strange solitude. Outside, moving in the darkness, assemble a large army of the dead, dragging themselves from the graves and barrows of the land, from the murder pits filled with the massacred villagers of the province, and more. They gather to the call of Gamhar, who is filled with the Qlippothic spirit called the Reaver.

So begins the first chapter.

Part 2. Escape from Chaz’Godar

The adventurers are trapped with the Kasarak in a fortress surrounded by a vast army of the risen dead. Somehow they need to escape, bring Nestymere to safety and make haste to warn Castle Mordren. The situation looks grimmer and grimmer as each fallen Kasarak raider rises within moments, a member of the invading undead.

Andrel can help, though. The fortress was not built without contingencies. There is a hidden passage that leads to a cave system, in which they found a number of old dwarven signaling gems. These gems lead the way to safety, he explains. When it becomes clear escape or destruction of the undead is improbable he will reveal this secret passage.

Fighting to the passage and using it to escape are tasks enough, but once in the caverns it becomes clear that this plague of undead is affecting everything. A group of dwarven prospectors led by the dwarf Darius Zern is trying to make a fast escape, for a number of their own as well as a motley assortment of monstrous beings have risen from the dead and now clamor for their blood. It grows worse, for the orcish war tribe called the Zothesk led by the Battle Maiden Chirosca are also seeking to escape, but appear less than happy about the dwarves getting in their way.

Part 3. The Isles of Wintermist Lake

The dwarven escape route ultimately exits in to the ruins of another castle: Greymist, a near-famous ruin in the region reported to have been a great city of fabled Trelithane. Trelithane rests on the edge of Lake Astrahar, and many of the old ruins are centered on a trio of islands just along the shore. Here the adventurers will discover that villagers from the village of Darnesh are traveling to seek refuge from the undead attacks, and are following an old witch named Ygartha, who says that the dead cannot cross the water, which is untrue; anyone who makes a DC 15 knowledge (dungeoneering or religion) check will know this.

Still, at this point the adventurers are just ten miles from Castle Mordren, and the undead seem sparse in this region. It becomes clear from talking to the peasants that the army of the dead was not unique to the region around Chaz’Godar; they are rising everywhere!

New problems arise: the people seeking refuge on the Three Isles of the lake Astrahar are waiting for their scouts to return, to verify the safety of the isles, but the men have yet to come back. They will seek the aid of the adventurers, begging them to investigate or lead them to safety.

The isles are actually under the protection of an old wyrm, the white dragon known as Glimmerwing and her small cult of draconian followers. They might be willing to share the island, but would require much persuasion, for hidden deep beneath the ruins is Glimmerwing’s cache of treasure, as well as a shrine to the spirit Caedra, mistress of beauty. Flattery, ultimately, is Glimmerwing’s weakness, though her elder acolyte, the elder draconian Magastus, will seek to dissuade her from offering shelter to the humans.

Glimmerwing is also lustful, and she presently holds the elvish xernethian knight Elasmus in custody, seeking to persuade him to bed her with her polymorphed elvish charms. He has resisted so far, but will seek to bargain for his freedom with the arrival of the adventurers.

In the end, though, it is only the might of the dragonkin that will save the humans, for the undead are not in the least deterred by the waters of the lake.



Part 4. The Return to Castle Mordren

Mordren has been assaulted mercilessly by the undead, but in the midst of these attacks there is a lone spark of hope. The imprisoned necromancer Yaelden will have either spoken to the adventurers or possibly have gained control of at least one undead being to relay a message: he can save the city, but he demands three things: he is pardoned of all his crimes, he is granted the legal right to practice necromancy in Kasdalan, and he wants lady Nestymere’s hand in marriage!

The city remains under siege in the interim from a horde of immense size, dedicated to the undead Qlippothic lord called the Reaver. Though the city holds firm so far, it is only a matter of time before it falls; it can withstand ten weeks under siege, but the foes in this case can last a lifetime, and their numbers seem to gradually increase over time, for there is no shortage of the dead.

If the form of Gamhar had been previously destroyed, then the Reaver will be here in a new, dark form, having gained control of the body of the ancient fallen hero Licorius. Wearing the fabled azure armor of Licorius the Slayer, the Reaver will lead the dark armies against the city mercilessly day and night, his undead horde clamoring for the flesh of the living.

Getting in to the city is a major feat in itself, should the adventurers seek to do so. With several thousand undead between them and the city the castle may as well be a thousand miles distant. There is a known passage underground, which a close relative or direct agent of Lord Osterman might be familiar with, but this passage if revealed could also lead the undead in to destroy the castle from within if it is discovered. The passage is a long narrow tunnel dug through as a means of escape for the castle lord and his clan if all else fails, and has several small stock rooms of equipment and goods in case of emergency; it’s exterior entrance is located beneath a nondescript barn two miles distant in the village of Hawksmoor.

There are a few options when it comes to resolving the siege on Mordren. Saving the noble family is one option, if the adventurers get wind of the dire intentions of the Reaver; they know that there will soon be a much larger force arriving from the north once the army of undead from Chaz’Godar arrives here. At this point it should be reasonable for the adventurers to assume that other cities, including the regional capitol Tursos to the south-west are probably under siege as well. Running from the problem will not solve it.

Part 5. The Necromancer

Turning to Yaelden reveals a different solution: the necromancer will have likely escaped custody and returned to his own residence, a remote ruined keep located at the height of the Taradys Mountains to the south and east. Mordren is nestled in a deep low valley of these mountains. The exact location of his keep is unknown, but it is said that Yaelden grew up in the village of Tarnish, a logging and mining community in the mountains proper, and there might be a clue as to his location from there. Alternatively, he may have sent an undead minion to the Mordren with his message and to serve as a scout or guide for those who would seek to petition him for aid.

Yaelden is young as necromancers go, just reaching forty years of age, but he has learned much, having pilfered from the subterranean study of his predecessor, the ancient necromancer Yoth’gol, who built the keep two centuries ago. Yoth’gol learned the secret of undead immortality too late in life, and perished of an unknown malady.

When the party seeks out Yaelden, they will find the necromancer is under siege in his own keep, for the body of Yoth’gol has returned to life, and with its vast necromantic energies within the Qlippothic lord known as Stigmata has sought to cement his own power by trying to gain control or possession of the necromancer. So far it has been a game of cat and mouse, and both have given up on the use of too many undead minions, for one could easily trump the other in gaining control over such.

Yaelden will seek to get the adventurers to eliminate his new unexpected rival, then promise to use his undead wards to protect the city itself. He has secured the mystical runes of Death and Repose, and has a potent sorcerous ritual that will insure the castle and region around it remains safe. He has failed to use such a ward on his own domain precisely because he would force out his own studies of undeath.

If sufficiently convinced Yaelden will concede his aid without requiring Lady Nestymere’s hand in marriage, but he will still demand he be exonerated for all wrong-doings. He will also hint that he has some insight on this mysterious threat of the undead. In truth, he mostly has sensations of what is going on and few hard facts, but he has determined the following:

1. These undead speak a dead language that seems reminiscent of the language translated from the ruins of the ancients

2. These undead are possessing ghosts or spirits, and are reanimating bodies that were never their own

3. The day the dead began to rise he sensed a strange magical “darkness” overlay the land, something which occluded the ley lines of magic. Its presence is almost intoxicating. The source is difficult to pinpoint, but is definitely somewhere deep southeast.

Yaelden, if ever slain, will be immediately possessed by a Qlippothic spirit that calls itself the Irredeemable. The Irredeemable will use the memories of its host to tap into deep necromantic magic and lore and begin forging its own army to go against the Reaver and Stigmata. The PCs might be clued in to this event (or from talking to Stigmata if Yaelden remains alive) that there are distinct forces at play among these possessing spirits, and that certain key figures, these “Qlippothics,” seem to see each other as rivals to be destroyed or subjugated.

If Yaelden is ever slain, he will likely have imparted or left enough clues for the heroes to figure out that the large contraption in the middle of his hidden laboratory is the key to protecting Mordren. The device is called the “Resonator of Malin’ithaer” and it is allegedly able to create a dampening field that drives away or disables the undead by siphoning the vestige energy of this lost god of the ancients. The device has a complicated ritual to activate, but once activated it requires no further action to work. An unknown side effect is that it does summon the vestige of Malin’ithaer, who will begin to pull people in from the Beyond to his strange nether-realm of Dericantus to toy with before devouring their souls, but this is an event which happens slowly and can be negated if a scholar-mage of the vestiges should ever be consulted about how to ward this new threat.

Part 6. The Defense of Mordren

By the time the adventurers make it back to Mordren the city is in dire straits. The easiest way (if it remains available) to transport the machine is by the secret passage, but a direct path can be hewn through as well; Osterman will send out the best cavalry and knights of the castle to cut a hole through the army of the undead, but the Reaver himself will manifest, his form polymorphed in to a demonic guise, to seek to stop the heroes from entering Mordren and saving the city.

If the heroes survive and the device is activated then the undead drop in their tracks, almost immediately; the Resonator actually forces out possessing spirits, and any and all beings with such Qlippothic entities will have the invaders expunged and forced out of the device’s radius, which is approximately ten miles, though it gets progressively weaker towards the edge of its coverage. With this device in action the region is now safe and the defenders can set about to destroying the bodies of the dead, lest they get a chance to rise again.

Conclusion
Osterman will commend and even knight the heroes for their deeds. He will then declare that word must reach the capital of the Northern Province in Tursos, and that it must be determined if the kingdom of Nazdranar at large is in danger, and if so how best Osterman and his knights can help. He tasks squads of armed knights to seek out the capitol and other cities on the region, including Drenaem, the grand capitol of the kingdom along the southern coast where King Charathain himself rules. It is Osterman’s intention to travel to the capitol (though some convincing that he should stay and protect his kingdom while his knights do the journeying could happen) while he sends the heroes to Tursos to seek out governess Tyrenias-Naelinor Poe.

In the meantime, if Yaelden is alive he will seek a way to replicate the Resonator of Malin’ithaer or something like it, though he admits he doubts he can recreate such a singularly unique device. He knows wards against the undead, but they are considerably weaker than what the machine can accomplish. He suggests that there may be one who knows enough about the mysteries of the ancients, the ancient wizard Calim Darithas, founder of the Society of Antiquarians. Of all the students of lost lore, Calim might know what it takes to create such machines, or where to find them.

At this point, PCs can convince Osterman to let them accompany him to see the king, take orders and journey to the regional capital, or venture off to locate this Calim Darithas (who may be at the capitol of Kasdalan, although rumors abound that he actually dwells in the Isles of Mezesor these days). Either way, the threat of the Qlippothic invasion has only just begun…


 
And with this article concludes my Kasdalan special. More to come soon!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Dungeon Crawling, Classic Style



I finally have DCC deluxe in my grasp, along with modules 66.5 (stuck in the big black book), 67 and 68. This is one of those rare tomes that evokes a sense of "game manual as art" aesthetic in me....something that rarely has happened before (Nobilis might be the last time I felt a game book truly qualified as art). It is also extremely well written and engaging. It's not often I start on page one and then proceed from there like a "real book"....for the first read-through anyway, I find I don't want to jump around randomly like with most RPGs, I want to absorb this thing sequentially.

I may phase Pathfinder out on one of the nights. Right now Wednesdays are all Pathfinder but we're moving in a week or two to a Pathfinder/4E split, rotating between the two so each has an ongoing bi-weekly campaign. On saturday the split right now is 4E/C&C. I may either boot Pathfinder on Wednesday night or 4E on Saturday night (but give it a few sessions for a nice mini-campaign, first) and then slam them with DCC.....this is a game that demands to be played.

The Curse of Emparas


As I mentioned last week I designed a module for use with the D&D Next Playtest. Here's what I worked up for those interested. It can work just fine, obviously, for any edition of D&D with a tiny bit of  adjustment. Note that I have redacted stat blocks, per the playtest agreement.

The map for this module is actually something I used from 0ones Blueprints, which are some fantastic generic old-school maps designs. The specific map I used is part of the "Hill of Many Dungeons" map set, specifically the tomb map (Dungeon 1) in that set. You can find this map set at rpgnow.com right here. It's only $1.65 and well worth it, 0one does great stuff. If you can't get it for any reason, you can always key the module to any decent dungeon.

The module as I ran it was modified a bit due to time constraints; I compressed much of the ending into one final chamber event that included the wight, orc, some cultists and the gray ooze. The PCs lost one character (the fighter) in that fight but otherwise triumphed. I haven't altered the module otherwise; I think the original works fine without a time constraint.
This adventure is set in my Enzada setting, which is getting a lot of love in game play this year. It was fun seeing it briefly in the playtest....but Pathfinder remains a better home for it. That said, here's the module:

The Curse of Emparas

Plot

In the free city of Washaran, where the Selindari expatriate Afras Siddaram rules with his Waladari wife Unestra, trouble is brewing. The city is small and depends on mercenaries and a small volunteer militia for defense. It is a center of much trade activity for the sarnathan orcs of the Urthon Mountains, the Chirikatha aboriginals, Waladari merchants and Selindari traders.

Recently, a contingent of the sarnathan clan Veraghost arrived, bearing their mortally wounded elder warlord, Nerask. He requested an audience with the kishatrya in the public debate square. There, before all, including the adventurers, he states that he has been betrayed by his brother, Kaash, who was seduced by the siren song of the Jainist Emparas, once a great priest and religious leader of lost fabled Drath. According to him, while treasure hunting Kaash and his band of mercenaries, in the service of the antiquarian and explorer Maretan Skane (a Dasamite) stumbled across the entrance to a lost tomb. It turned out this tomb was the burial place of the the ancient Jainist Emparas, or so Kaash claimed when he returned to the village. There he told all that the Jainist had seen the true way, and that his immortal ascendance was a ruse, that he was not destined to the form of pure spirituality; instead, the end of the tunnel lay in the eternal walk of the undead! At this Kaash stole the life force of his brother, leaving him an ancient shell and fled, bearing the scepter of the clan.

Nerask pledges 10,000 gold pieces to the warrior or warriors who seek out his brother, return the Scepter of Veraghost to him, along with the head of his brother and this mad, undead jainist of old. He pledges it on the spot, stating that one must travel north, to the outskirts of the ruins of Drath, in the Barrow Lands. Seek out the entrance to the lost tomb, and bring him his victory.

A DC 12 Charisma check while talking to the orcs in the contingent can reveal that this is a last resort; over thirty orcish warriors have already plunged into the barrow lands of Drath and none have returned, though some claim to have seen their kin wandering in patrols. A slight bribe (5 GP) or better charisma check (DC 15) can coerce the orc into giving details on where those patrols and the proper barrow mound can be found…

The Journey to the Barrow Tomb of Emparas

En route, adventurers will be accosted by gnolls of the Wildermane tribe, seeking to cause disruption among those who would aid the orcs. There are nine gnolls and one pack lord in the raiding group, and they will take advantage of cover of night to attack travelers on the plains. To determine if their prey is worthwhile, during the day a kobold named Mekarlek and his six kobold gang members will be tasked with crossing paths with the PCs, with his burro of goods (he has six large packs on the burro; each contains a kobold). Mekarlek will engage in trade and based on the perceived wealth of the PCs he will report to the gnolls whether they are worthy of attention. If Mekarlek thinks the PCs are especially vulnerable and wealthy he may try attacking them with the gang instead of reporting on them to the gnolls.

Makarlek the kobold and his gang of 6

Gnolls (between 1 and 9), Gnoll Pack Lord Fumarsh

Travel Time

It will take three days to traverse 100 miles of rough desert terrain, of 2 days if they stick to the road and branch off when it becomes necessary.

Arrival

The tomb is now guarded by orcs who have been ensorcelled into the servitude of the undead jainist. Unlike Kaash, the orcs who came later were not all slain, some were charmed. However, many were killed and then raised. Emparas is careful about who he makes a wight, however, and so only Kaash is a wight at this time.

Patrolling the area around the Barrow Tomb entrance are three groups of six zombies apiece:

Zombie patrol (6)

Key to the Barrow Tomb:

1. The entrance hall is long and dusty, clear evidence of excavation can be found. Blood stains and bits of bone and flesh show a recent fight, but curiously less evidence of slaughter than one might expect.

2. Getting into this faux-tomb requires bypassing the hidden spiked pits (DC 12 to notice, they’ve been triggered and reset so dust is disturbed; falling damage 2D6) The sarcophagus within appears pristine but opened, its seal broken. Within is a mummy (genuinely dead) dressed in elaborate robes holding an ancient gold scepter with a ruby gem in its face. The gem is paste and the scepter is fools gold.

3. This corridor to the inner complex passes by ancient gates leading to the catacombs of the jainist mendicants. A lore check on religion (DC 15) will reveal that this wasn’t always a tomb, it was once where they journeyed to purge their bodies through rigorous fasting and medication prior to ascendancy. The jainists would perish, usually while in a lotus position, and would then be placed on display for all to see, as a sign of their successful devotion to purity.

4. Here are old crates and barrels of votive offerings and incense, now mostly dessicated or dry. A careful search does reveal one crate which contains 50 GP in a pouch along with a ring worth 125 GP someone hid within. Two other crates contain two dead men! One is clearly Selindari, his ally is a uthitin Halfling. Both were stabbed to death and then stuffed in the crates (by the skeletons below).

Along a north wing someone has broken into this chamber from a hidden passage beyond. Careful study (and stonecunning) can reveal that in fact someone appeared to have discovered a hidden passage in the wall, but could not open it so they hacked it down. The picks to do so lie nearby, shattered.

Two secret doors (DC 14 to find) open up to two compartments, each containing 5 bejwelled, golden skeletons armed with scimitars. The extra metallic covering gives them AC 14 and if scraped or melted off is worth raw gold material worth 15X1D4 GP apiece. The jewels are fire agates, ten in all worth 20 GP each. The skeletons will come to life if the secret doors are breached or someone opens a crate in area 4, or steps on the hidden sensor plate in front of the bashed wall.

5. The Hall of Transcendence. It may look like a corridor to a prison or tomb, but it was once the passage to ascendancy for the jainists. Rooms 11-17 contain the meditation chambers where they went to die. Rooms 6-10 contain the prepatory chambers, where successful ascetics who passed on were taxidermied and prepped for passage around ancient Drast as evidence of their spiritual power. Beyond those chambers like the burial rooms, where the “failed” ascetics were placed, their bodies interred in simple wooden coffins and then taken to the Lower Deeps (area 30) for disposal.

In each of rooms 6-10 there is a 20% chance that 1D6 skeletons lurk in the coffins, waiting to awaken to the sounds of living beings.

In each of the chambers 11 through 17, there is a 40% chance of a jainist corpse in meditative pose waiting patiently for preparation. These jainists will eerily appear not to have aged a single day. There is a 5% chance one of them unexpectedly reanimates! If so, roll a D20: 1-16: he is a zombie, 17-19: a wight, 20: spontaneous resurrection!!!

18. trash heap. Here in this descending pit the old temple disposed of waste. A gelatinous cube has lurked here for ages; anyone entering the chamber will see what initially appears to be a large solid dull stone, like an idol, surrounded by rusted metal and debris. The debris included 77 gold pieces and 253 silver pieces (and 1,111 copper pieces but who’s counting). The gelatinous cube has been in hibernation and has become covered in a thick coat of dust, thus its initial “disguise.” It will move as soon as it senses life within 15 feet of it.

19. This chamber has no exit, and another hidden spiked pit trap (2D6 damage). There is evidence of a simple meditation matt, and it looks as if an ascetic may have spirited away to this spot for private fasting and ascendency, though the body appears to be gone. Tracks (DC 11) indicate someone has been in and out of here recently. The booted tracks lead to the north wall secret door, which requires a “leap of faith” to open….simply stepping through the illusory wall, which is an old spell.

20. Emparas’s personal quarters. Here is where Emparas dwelt in life, and now also in death. The wight can be found here, or in area 21, communing with his new dark gods, the dreaded spirit Zaag Sal, the real reason he returned from the dead (though he has not yet figured this out). Zaag Sal is the dark lord of the outer darkness, and it’s dreadful mote of darkness summoned into being in area 21 seeks to use the wight to gain a foothold in the mortal plane.

Emparas the Wight: he has a +1 magical longsword.

If the PCs attack him in his chamber he will flee to meet his cultists in room 21. This chamber contains a chest with a lock and poison needle trap (DC 13 dex to unlock, DC 15 wis to spot needle; DC 13 dex to disarm; all of this needs lockpicks). The needle deals 2D10+4 poison damage to the unwary. The chest contains +1 platemail, +1 greatsword, 255 gold pieces, 13 platinum pieces, 3 potions of healing, a gold necklace worth 25 GP and a folio of 20 prayer scrolls that each grant advantage on attacks against the undead if read as a standard action for one attack (declared by the attacker).

21. This ancient temple of Zaag Sal was the reason for the jainist’s corruption. Unknown to Kaash he had two lieutenants who were servants of this dark god, who were using the mercenary to unlock the depths of the abyss to unleash the dark mote of Zaag Sal into this chamber. So far they have brought forth only one of the more wretched of the demon god’s agents, a gray ooze. The ooze has been led to chamber 29 for now.

Dark Acolytes (4), Dark Adepts (2), Each cultists has a gold talisman worth 10 GP but it depicts Zaag Sal, so sort of evil.

22. Ancient Chamber. This chamber contains nothing unusual, but after 1D4 minutes a pack of stirges on the roof will awaken and attack (2D6 stirges)

23, 24, 25, 26, 27: These chambers are all otherwise abandoned save for wildlife. Each chamber has a 25% chance of an encounter:

D20:
1-4 1D6 giant centipedes
5-7 1D6 fire beetles
8-10 1 owlbear
11-15 2D6 dire rats
16-20 3D6 cave rats

28. There are half a dozen orc prisoners kept in this chamber, behind crude iron bars. They are periodically dragged by the cultists to be fed to the gray ooze in room 29. The orcs will plead for freedom, and even offer to take up arms if weapons are available.

29. Chamber of the gray ooze. Here is where Zaag Sal’s first emissary appeared, a mindless and evil gray ooze. It has since budded and there are now 1D3 of them within. The pool where it lurks in the center is filled with the bodies of recent sacrificial victims, including the remains of the orcs that were fed to it.

30. This myserious passage descends into the Lower Deeps, and can lead to further adventures….alternatively; it ends in a shelf along a deep pit, where bodies are tossed into an unknown abyss.

31. Here can be found four shallow graves where the moldering bodies of recent victims that were “accepted” by Zaag Sal now fruit and ferment, turning into aberrant trolls in his servitude. The wight Kaash has been assigned to oversee their passage. When the PCs discover them, one of the bodies will “awaken” (more if it seems appropriate) and the newborn troll will “spout” from the corpse and attack, along with Kaash. Kaash has the scepter of his clan.

Searching each body in this chamber reveals a fist-sized gem of turquoise placed in each chest, worth 50 GP apiece. Kaash himself has a potion of invisibility (2), and a wand of binding.