Monday, April 3, 2017

Lands of Enzada: Huldreth, the Cursed City

The ongoing center of the current Enzada campaign is Huldreth, the Haunted City which started as completely normal location a few years ago and was changed forever by a curse of the Grasping Claw unleashed during that campaign. The current campaign arc in my games involves an attempt by the Sabhanu Sidanan to save the city.....but whether this will come to pass remains to be seen. More on that campaign in some future post. 

Huldreth and Satiin
   Once, a mere two years ago, Huldreth was a thriving seaport and the center of trade and commerce from Arkoskin to the lands of Dasam and beyond. It was prosperous under the rule of the Kishatrya Gormask, and his beloved daughter Sabhanu Sidanan. 

   Then….everything changed.

   For reasons unknown to most, there was a dark evil creeping beneath the city, gaining a slow foothold. Cults of the enigmatic Grasping Claw gained control of the underworld, and planted their shrines and temples in the catacombs and ancient drainage/sewer networks underground. The cult captured the immortal gorgon Sytaria and found a way to confuse the immortal minotaur Ayadis Kharasos. The high priest, Sardar Amanshan Taer, found an ally in the form of the dreaded harpy queen Skat’ramorda, who sent her best general Castrea, to aid him.

   Sardar hatched a diabolical plan to bring back the greatness of Yamash’Hatal, the dreaded Grasping Claw. He intended to use the sacrifice of the immortal gorgon to imbue a chosen body with the immortal blood of the child-oracle of Elinzada, but instead something much stranger happened: during the sacred ritual of transfer in the capitol Uralhat, the demons Sardar summoned manifested from the Outer Darkness and killed the old oracle. The spirit of Elinzada entered a wayward child named Sinmir, and later again it entered a sellsword when the boy was struck down. On the journey to the temple of Elinzada on Syrhaba, something terrible happened: the sacred pool of Elinzada’s temple was corrupted by the dark essence of the Grasping Claw, who gained an unexpected foothold into the world. Whether it was the demon god himself or his infernal essence is unknown, but a black cloud of evil swept out of the temple and called to the harpy armies of Syrhaba. They took flight, devastating coastl towns as they did, then arcing across the water in a great mass, driven mad by the cloud.

   The dark cloud descended upon Huldreth, filling the streets with a foul miasma which raised the dead and sickened and killed the living. Bestial felgaunts ran amok, and armies of the dead attacked all who did not succumb to the miasma. The harpies then arrived, and a vicious battle of escape began as the forces of general Wabaram Cathotis fought to protect the exodus of the city’s people, ultimately finding themselves in a vicious defensive posture protecting the royal palace, which was situated on a great hill overlooking the city, somehow protected from the miasma.

   The royal family and guard escaped through hidden tunnels, along with most who sought the protection of the castle. Twenty miles north along the city shore the once modest fishing town of Satiin suddenly became the hub of thousands of refugees from the monster-filled city.

   That was two years ago. Since then, Satiin, funded by the nobles and wealthy merchants who lost all in the miasma of the city, has grown quickly to fill the void Huldreth held. It is still in growth, and it will be decades before it is the size and complexity of its southern cousin. The locals are not happy…..the influx of sudden wealth and city life has been a boon and bane all at once. Governor Pre’Kadias has relinquished primary control to the kishatrya. Meanwhile, the Sabhanu Sidanan has voyaged away, seeking out stories of a mythical giant cauldron in the north which is believed to contain the secret to extinguishing the miasma and freeing her city of the curse that labors over it.

   Huldreth was about one quarter the size of Uralhat, but that still maked it large with a local population of over 60,000. Now residing in Satiin, close to 40,000 people have spread out in the region, at least of those who did not migrate elsewhere or succumb to the miasma and become one of the ten thousand undead inhabiting the city. In Satiin there is a strong mix of daharesh, uthitin, duwende, and even dev, as well as many other humanoid races. The cosmopolitan nature of this region makes it a favored stopping point for many merchants from the northern and eastern kingdoms, even with the smaller bay and as yet undeveloped port at Satiin.

   Huldreth and now Satiin is protected by general  Wabaram Cathotis, a warlord of great reputation who is a veritable culture hero, said to have once even retrieved the Water of Life from a conch shell after entering the Celestial Kingdoms, specifically to court the former regent of Selindar (Ymaes Trelyr) for one night with her. Wabaram’s charisma is great enough that the people of the city rally around every decree and proclamation he makes.

Adventure Seed: The Temple of Umbras
   About thirty miles north of Satiin along a lengthy stretch of rocky, abandoned coast there is rumored to be a great waterfall, near which is hidden an old temple to a forgotten god called Umbras. Local tribes claim that new cultists have appeared, and seek to awaken the lost god with fresh sacrifices! Representatives of the local tribes, fearful of what has awakened within the lost temple, will come to Satiin looking for heroes or mercenaries willing to aid them. The kishatrya, mortified at the prospect of another god of the Outer Darkness awakening to slip between the cracks of the In-Between, will willingly pay heroes to deal with this threat.

Voorn and the Cult of the Grasping Claw
   This cult is headed by the Sardar Amanshan Taer, a great noble well known for his generous donations to the old Huldreth Temple district and the poor. He ran a profitable shipping business and imports and exported  across the world….and still is, by some accounts; rumor is true dedicates to Yamash’Hatal are immune to the miasma’s plague effects. Sardar is also, secretly, a necromancer who once performed a ritual that opened a pathway into the Shadow Realm of the Grasping Claw’s dominion. The dark entity reached out and plucked the nobleman’s heart from his chest, capturing it to manipulate him in the mortal plane thereafter.

   Taer founded a front business that is very successful, but he recruited from hidden sources for his secret business as the cult lord of the Grasping Claw. Relying on the serpentine assassins of the vishkanya he managed to forge an impressive reputation as the cloaked and masked leader of the cult known only as Voorn, a terrifying visage who carried out the mysterious whims of his master. After the city fell, Sardar fully embraced his role f Voorn and refused to be called by hiw own name.

   Not long before the city fell, the cult of the Grasping Claw had set its sights on the Sahbanu Da’Hishana. Her presence in disguise within the city became known thanks to certain contacts the vishkanya assassins have with Uralhat’s underworld, and an attempt was made to take both her and the princess Sidanan. They failed.

   The Cult is an evil agency of a vile god, but there is a local Baba wise man named Khuridath, now living in Satiin’s muddy temple row, who is also a priest of the Grasping Claw. Unlike the cultists, he is a true priest, who fears and wards himself against the terrors of this dark god. Seeking him out will reveal that the true, rare priests of the god are actually not servants seeking power but agents dedicated to thwarting the entity at all costs. They both revere and fear the power of the Grasping Claw, but the thousand-year-old clerical order of this deity have sworn long ago to insure that the Grasping Claw is never allowed to break out of the Outer Darkness and into the mortal realm.

“He is always hungry,” Baba Khuridath will explain. “He can never stop eating. In his realm he serves a purpose, but his appetite is too great. It is our job to insure he never leaves, that the living remain safe from his depredations.”

   Khuridath is currently representative of the efforts to quell or eliminate the miasma which has overtaken Huldreth. He has a power to ward the miasma away from his person and those around him, and he has mounted several expeditions with agents of the kishatrya, including general Cathotis. So far they have not found the source of the foul emanation, and the kishatrya has offered a princely sum, title and land to the one who saves the city from this curse.

The Immortals of Huldreth
   Huldreth serves as home to two immortals: Sytaria, the gorgon and Ayadis Kharasos, the first minotaur.

   Selindari history tells of a time when the immortals, each men and women changed forever by the spirits and gods into monstrous and unkillable beings meddled in the affairs of men. When these humans angered the gods they were punished with the change to monstrous form. In Huldreth two such beings arose: Sytaria, who was said to have been a priestess of Etyri who lost her way and grew too ambitious, and Ayadis Kharasos, a great warlord who protected Selindar but with such ambition that he also did great hard to his people and ultimately challenged Navasar himself for the right of greatest combatant in the world.
   Each of these immortals had an effect on the city such that great measures had to be taken to contain them. Sytaria sought revenge for her transformation and raised an army of Sarnathan orcs to gain control of Selindar. Her army was vanquished, and she fell in love with the kishatrya Aman’hatur who defeated her, a Navasar-dedicate who learned to fight even though he was blind. He placed her in captivity, and ultimately took her as a consort (though both were forbidden from proper marriage) and Sytaria was eventually tamed, dwelling in her corner of the city for many centuries to come. This happiness would only recently be destroyed when she was kidnapped by the cult of the Grasping Claw, which intended to use her and her once powerful mirror of vanity (The Obsidian Mirror) to open a portal to the Outer Darkness, that they might summon forth the Grasping Claw to imbue the god-spirit into the flesh of the princess Sidanan. As it turns out, they were thwarted, and yet at the same time they succeeded….and Sytaria was beheaded. Like all immortals, however, she eventually restored herself….the curse and gift of the “first monsters” insured her return. Sytaria now dwells in the opulent but abandoned Palace of the Kishatrya atop the high hill of Huldreth, where she has called upon a menagerie of beasts from the Underlands to guard her new fortress against the monsters of the Grasping Claw.

   Ayadis Kharasos came two centuries later, about nine centuries ago, when he rose to power as an ambitious warlord who fought off barbarian invaders from Mazadran and saved Selindar. He grew too ambitious, however, and conquered Selindar itself, deposing the rule of the high council of Uralhat and even taking the regent priestess of Natyne for his wife. When he challenged Navasar himself to a duel to prove he was greatest warrior of all, it was the last straw. The gods saw fit to transform him into the first minotaur, and the change drove him mad.
   The high priestess Erimana built a fantastic maze beneath Huldreth into which hundreds of brave warriors sacrificed themselves in order to lure the minotaur, that he would be trapped. There, to appease him, a ritual sacrifrice of virgin women began, to keep the beast quelled. Periodic blood sacrifice in the form of prisoners and willing warriors was given to sate the minotaur’s bloodlust. When the beast subsided, Ayadis took some of the women as wives instead, and the race of minotaurs was born. The first such children were slain as abominations, but Ayadis escaped and slew almost all of the priests that were his captors; to calm the beast Erimana promised that his children would go free after that.

   As much as it was a curse on the warlord, it was also a curse on all Selindar and Huldreth in particular; the Selindari spent a generation working on reforming their political system at the time to what it is today to avoid the anger of the gods by avoiding a concentration of power.
   Centuries later and after many periods of reform, social and civil upheaval, wars and more the maze beneath Huldreth was delegated to a special appointment of priests who oversaw the imprisonment of the minotaur. When this priesthood eventually perished it was delegated to a small order of sarnathans, and at last in the present era no one even remembered the tales as more than legends until a recent rediscovery of the massive underground complexes beneath the plateau of the Huldreth palace.

   Today the minotaur is tempered by age and meditation, haunted by the ghosts of the many women who were sacrificed to him as wives and later killed when his temper flared up, and he is entertained by a small handful of like-minded souls who seek refuge from above, including the Sarnathan orc Mosarus, a professional book-keeper and scholar. He also collects cats, primarily to ward away the ghosts of his dead wives. Because of his nature as an immortal, Ayadis is immune to the miasma of the Grasping Claw. He now regularly wanders the subterranean realms of the city destroying undead and demons as he finds them.

   The minotaur’s maze is but one corner of a much larger underworld beneath Huldreth.

Exploring the Ruins of Huldreth

Fort Adaskar – the throne of power for the old militia, now overrun with hundreds of undead and harpies. It is rumored that the harpy queen Skat’Ramorda and her general Castea have taken up residence with their vast flock here.

Temple Row- the great old Temple district was truly one to rival Uralhat’s vast temple quarter of Ten Thousand Gods, though perhaps a bit fewer here. It has suffered greatly as the temples are defaced and overrun with the monsters formed of the miasma of Yemash’Hatal. The Temple of Elinzada is said to have been brutally defaced and repurposed as a temple to the Grasping Claw, and is the seat of power for Voorn and his cultists, who all seem to be immune to the transformative and necrotic effects of the miasma.

The Grand Docks – the once great docks still operate, and seem to be unaffected by the miasma in certain areas. Scoundrels and villains of all sorts who are willing to pledge their souls to the Grasping Claw are allowed a place here, as the cult prospers from illicit trade across the Vanzarek Ocean.

The Palace of the Kishatrya – Sytaria the gorgon and her small army of monsters have taken up residence here. Though Voorn despises her presence in the city, he retains control of her Obsidian Mirror and threatens to destroy it if she does not comply with his wishes. It is believed that he is in fact using her mirror to summon more demons to possess and transform unwilling victims captured by cultist raiders.

The Catacombs and Sewers – The vast network of subterranean catacombs, old ruins, sewage and drainage tunnels remains as dangerous as ever, but there is now a slowly growing network of thieves, assassins and murders headed by a cartel of vishkanya called the Servants of the Red Eye, who are working for the cult and Voorn above. The denizens of the lower deeps have migrated up, seeking trade routes close to the surface. Meanwhile, the catacombs of the minotaur are wide open, and Ayadis Kharasos has called upon his sons and daughters to aid him in his efforts to purge the city of its squatters.

Exploring the Streets of Satiin

The Golden Harbor – this was once a wide lagoon and bay in which fishing vessels cluttered the area on their daily quest for a fine haul. Now it is rife with ships dropping anchor and bringing goods in through Satiin for overland passage into the Hub.

The Palace of the Governor – the villa where governor Pre’Kadias maintains a semblance of local rule, despite the nearby presence of the great New Palace under construction.

The New Palace Sidanan – in honor of his absent daughter, the Kishatrya has dubbed the new palace under construction overlooking the high bluff over the harbor after the sabhanu. It will be several years before the palace is complete, as much of the stone he requires must be imported overland, and is in the hands of several recruited tribes of duwende known as the Stone Cutter tribes.

Fort Cathotis – named after the general (much to his personal shame) the new fort is currently more of a stockade, but it harbors several thousand active militia who are busy taming the jungle and doing public works in the name of the people of Huldreth to repopulate this region with housing and a place for business.

The Old Town – what was once the thriving fishing town that Satiin harbored has become a overgrown mess of impromptu huts, shanties, tent houses and new construction on top of the old fishing houses. The vast webwork of unchecked growth by the refugees of Huldreth has left the much smaller local population out of luck, but a few have turned to other forms of profit, while more have simply left and made their way further north along the coast to seek better land and fishing. 

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