Thursday, December 31, 2015

Death Bat's Top Five Tabletop RPGs for 2015

Now for the paper, pencil and dice side of the equation! In keeping with the computer gaming awards I'll give categories to each of the five.

#5. Best OSR Game: Beyond the Wall and Other Tales

I wrote about it already, and concede this game has been around longer than 2015, so I'll just point to the Further Afield source book and say it's enough justification. Beyond the Wall is like only a handful of other OSR RPGs on the market, of which I include Dungeon Crawl Classics and some source books like a Red and Pleasant Land: these are brilliant, unique tomes that take the core of classic D&D and spin it in directions you really want to play. Beyond the Wall does this by modeling the fictional realms of Lloyd Alexander, Ursula K. Le Guin and other young fantasy authors to recapture a feel and style I had all but forgotten I loved, then codified it in the unique playbook and scenario pack mechanics which make gaming on the fly easier than ever, and also provides a technique for teaching GMs (old and new) how to run improvisational games using the scenario packs. Fantastic books, get both the core book and Further Afield.

Runner Up: Everything publish to date by New Big Dragon Games.

#4. Best Fantasy RPG: Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls is the definitive, fantastic "ultimate edition" to the second RPG to come out after the original D&D. Now with tons of extra content, rules options and world details...yet still compatible with older editions. A must have if regular gaming is hard for you to find, thanks to T&T's long line of solo adventures, or want to learn about Troll World, or just want the best pickup-and-play beer-and-pretzels RPG to exist, period.

Runner Up: Luther Arkwright is an amazing multi-dimensional modern fantasy setting (with sci fi trappings) for Runequest 6 (alias the Design Mechanism Engine) and is well worth checking out. Based on a series of graphic novels it gives you all the tools you need to engage in modern gaming with the RQ6 engine.

#3. Best Horror RPG: Chill 3rd Edition

If you missed the days when Chill was a thing, now's your chance to experience it again, in a modern format with what is very much still the same core rules and setting intact, a rarity for so many games these days. Chill is about monster hunting, exploration and stopping great evil as an agent of S.A.V.E. which works to protect mankind from ancient horrors. The newest edition has the right lineage of design and does a great job of bringing Chill back to life. My suggestion is to splurge for the deluxe premium color POD edition.

Runner Up: I was really impressed with Silent Legions from Sine Nomine, which includes a unique sort of "create your own mythos" mechanic.

#2. Best Science Fiction RPG: The Last Parsec for Savage Worlds

Written for use with the Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion (which I went gaga for last year), the Last Parsec is a multi-tome setting and campaign aimed squarely at big-concept SF in the modern tradition of the fiction and films which inspired it. If you get the four core books you'll have enough immediate scenario content to run several years without exhausting what has been provided. The writing, imagination and graphics are all top-notch.

Thanks to my wife who recently ran a Last Parsec scenario which I got to play in!!!

Runner Up: Retrostar, the RPG of 70's era science fiction. This amazing book precisely captures the style of SF in the delicate years of 1970-1979, a time when SF was experiencing a revolution in interest and imagination, limited only by the crappy budgets most TV series labored under.

#1. RPG Book of the Year: Fantasy AGE

Green Ronin finally released the AGE System as a stand-alone rule set, immediately creating a unique contestant for the otherwise crowded fantasy game corner of the market. Fantasy AGE introduces mechanics which put it in direct competition with both D&D and Runequest, while retaining its own unique style of play that focuses on the epic story and quest over the more mundane. It only has one sourcebook out there right now (Titansgrave), but I'm crossing my fingers and hoping Fantasy AGE gets a lot of new content for 2016.

Runner Up: Out of the Abyss for D&D 5E. This is not only a cool module but the first one they devised which I feel is relatively easy to adapt to other world settings, and adds themes and elements distinct in flavor that set it apart from the last two years of official adventures. Fans of the Underdark must check this one out.

Honorable Mention

I'd like to point out that a lot of good RPGs came out this year, and a few worth investigating that I didn't mention include:

White Star: takes the core conceit of the Swords & Wizardry Whitebox edition and applies it to SF (EDIT: given how much fun I am having with this one in 2016, I think it will be my 2016 OSR game of the year....unless someone comes along with something even more impressive....)

Class Compendium: Barrel Rider Games' compendium of classes for classic-era B/X style D&D is an invaluable resource to old school gaming.

Cypher System: possibly the best new multigenre RPG out there the only reason it didn't make my top five list somewhere is that it's got a set of core mechanics that are taking my brain a bit of time to adjust to. The book itself is presented as a robust toolkit and well worth investigating, especially if you like Monte Cook's other titles.

Peril on the Purple Planet: this boxed set is the first truly distinct setting/module set for Dungeon Crawl Classics to emphasize the weird settings that the game is most suited for.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Death Bat's Stinker Awards for 2015: Computer Gaming

There were a few computer games I feel worth mentioning not for how amazing they are but because of what amazing bombs they ended up being. In no particular order they are:

1. Biggest Isometric Flop and Abuse of License: Sword Coast Legends

It could have been better, and it could have tried harder to understand what it was up against: no D&D game has fully survived the post Neverwinter Nights era, a golden age when you could play robust, mechanically accurate D&D games and even (if you had the time) figure out how to make your own. Sword Coast Legends pales in comparison, and even fails to stand up to more immediate competition such as Divinity: Original Sin and Pillars of Eternity, which both blew it away in terms of scope, playability and quality.

Sword Coast Legends could redeem itself by restructuring its character generation to model or at least look more like actual D&D 5E mechanics, and by putting more effort into making its multiplayer experience something more creative and actually "D&D like" in terms of options. What we have now is just another so-so CRPG abusing a licensed IP.

2. Shortest Roller Coaster Ride Ever: The Order: 1886

This was a fantastic game, it really was. The attention to detail was impeccable, and if there's ever a sequel I will play it. But all that effort spent on modeling items in the environment you could grab and look at in every direction would have been better spent making more actual game to play, and more story. As it stands, The Order: 1886 feels like a prologue to a much better game that is somehow missing....where most good titles this year started, The Order: 1886 ended.

3. Biggest Conversion from "Virtual Storefront" to "Bargain Bin": Steam and the other online stores

If 2014 saw it happening 2015 can amply demonstrate that this was the year most digital retailers went from being the cool place to find new and interesting games to instead being the place where buyer beware was commonplace. Steam implemented a refund feature for games you owned but hadn't played more than 2 hours on, and I tested it to great success this summer....but the truth is, subsequent sales have left me flat; I have never seen so many garbage games out there that even with a refund system in place I am unwilling to test drive. In terms of the overall marketplace right now we are saturated with crap, and Steam and other digital stores with a low bar of entry for product are turning in to cesspools of derivative, half-assed shovel-ware.

4. Biggest Franchise Implosion: Asassin's Creed

I'm dying to see what happens next year to the Assassin's Creed franchise. I didn't bother buying Syndicate this time around, and doubt many people did....Unity burned too many people too quickly. On top of that the game itself is going creatively brankrupt, as yearly releases (sometimes even twice a year) are giving even fans like myself serious fatigue. It doesn't help that I am still trying to plow through Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, which midway through started to grate on me with what I could only describe as "forced game play mechanics"....weird artifacts of trying to tell a certain kind of story using tools that work better for a slightly different kind of story. So if I was feeling the creative fatigue three games ago (pre-Unity, Rogue and Syndicate) that's pretty telling.

5. Most Annoying Change in Gameplay: Transformers: Devastation

I'm a big Transformers fan, but not the kind that can't reconcile the "Bayverse" Transformers with the original Transformers Generation One, or all the other bizarre iterations in between. Still, when the Transformers: Devastation game was announced I was keen to see what a "televised" edition of Transformers might look like. Rumor was it was built on the same engine as War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron....could it be truly as good? Another rumor was it was a Bayonetta style game....but what did that mean? Optimus is nude except for a hair suit? Hmmm.

As it turns out: no, at least not for me. It's a fun game in many regards, but it's an arcade brawler in which you occasionally travel through a cityscape ripped from an early eighties cartoon, and doesn't offer a whole lot beyond a mix of nostalgia and some basic fighting techniques. A shame, really....a Fall of Cybertron style sequel set on Earth could be amazing. If you've played either of the aforementioned titles then T:D will feel very, very off.

...I might do a tabletop list like this, but hard to say. The problem with tabletop is I am generally pretty good at avoiding garbage, and rarely end up finding disappointment in the hobby as a result. Still...I'll probably have some good and bad on the subject to speak of in next week's "year in review."

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Death Bat's Top Five Computer Games of 2015

As always this is the list culled from what I played and enjoyed, and not necessarily suggestive of ALL that was worth playing and enjoying. This year I'll go by category:

#5. Best Shooter: Star Wars: Battlefront

I would not have called this one two months ago, and in fact was expecting to be all Halo 5 all the time in this slot. Instead, I am an enormous number of hours in to playing what is the most rewarding and compelling multiplayer experience in the Star Wars universe I've played in ages, and the only shooter I can actually play with my family, thanks to the fact that it provides the cleanest play environment out there of any shooter, period. Tight game play, a progression system that works well for my needs (even if it has been criticized by the hardcore for not emulating the other shooters out there) and a variety of maps that remain fresh, with a ton of unique, emergent gameplay that encourages even the most solo-minded players to try and coordinate actions in the game make for my favorite shooter experience of 2015.

Runner Up: Destiny: The Taken King which moved the series in a new direction, brought back old fans, kept the new, and provided a dramatic improvement in the boss encounters.

#4. Best MMORPG: The Elder Scrolls Online

There really weren't any new MMORPGs of note this year, but in terms of existing games with new support and expansions there's no contest. This was the year Elder Scrolls moved first to free to play and then appeared on consoles. It subsequently introduced The Imperial City and Orsinium expansions. The real money transaction store remains full of cosmetic stuff, pets and mounts, while generally shying away from game-affecting purchases other than boosts. Having been playing since almost day one I, and many others, feel that the game today is remarkably more fun than it was a year ago, and continues to show effort at polish. It remains one of the few MMORPGs on the market today that appeals to gamers looking for more of the "RPG" side of the equation while appreciating the "MMO" part should they so desire to explore it. I am incredibly slow in this game, and still have yet to reach level cap on my dozen-odd characters, but once they introduced controller support for the game I found my enjoyment increasing a great deal over just sticking with the keyboard.

Runner Up: Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns, which has sucked me back in and has some clean, innovative improvements that have made the game more enjoyable for me.

#3. Best Open-World Sandbox Game: Batman: Arkham Knight

Outside of the tank levels which some have found tedious, Batman: Arkham Knight was a fantastic finale for the series and remains a genuinely fun experience. I did not expect to like it as much as I did, but I guess the Batman fan in me was really craving a chance to drive, glide and swing around Gotham for hours on end. Still playing it, and the only other negative I can say is that yes, some of the DLC isn't worth paying for, but luckily I didn't buy the season pass and have been picking and choosing only the good stuff. Still, the core game is robust and well worth playing even if you ignore the season pass. Get it on console, as they never did seem to get the PC release right.

Runner Up: Mad Max, an impressive sandbox experience built (I am told) from the same engine used for the Arkham games and Shadows of Mordor, but now with 100% more apocalyptic car madness. Only failed to get top billing because the overall story is not quite as long.

#2. Best CRPG: Fallout 4

Fallout 4 annoys me a little bit because it doesn't quite feel like it's predecessors (Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas), and it gave me the "cool stuff" way too early on, all while still delivering on the atmosphere and exploratory fun that made me such a dedicate to the series in Bethesda's hands. It adds a lot of additional content to the mix that I haven't even bothered exploring in depth, especially the crafting and settlement building which is all very cool and tells me I'll have many more months to enjoy the game; it's mechanical process is incredibly tight, and the Fallout 4 universe is as rich and interesting to wander in as ever....and the graphics (while not up to PC Master Race standard) are worlds better than Bethesda fans are used to. Thanks to Star Wars: The Force Awakens the never-ending hype cycle of people playing Fallout 4 and blogging/promoting it was lost in the Star Wars madness, which means it's safe now to get into the game without having too many spoilers randomly popping up online.*

Runner Up: Pillars of Eternity, which is an isometric RPG of the finest form, and also got it's first major DLC expansion, The White March, just recently. Some of the isometric CRPGs out there are hit-or-miss, but Pillars of Eternity is very much the game we wanted to see following in Baldur's Gates' footsteps.

#1. Best Overall Game of 2015: Metal Gear Solid V

So how to talk about this's a bat-shit crazy tale told through a menagerie of very, very damaged soldiers and their victims/support/compatriots and enemies. It fits into a weird corner of the Metal Gear history, which if you try to comprehend will force you to make Sanity checks. The true hardcore fans of Metal Gear Solid have issues with MGSV and it's revisionist canon, but if you've only experienced portions of the story like I have and have never really been able to follow the series in it's entirety, then you'll be very impressed with this game: it's story is dramatic and well-told (even if incomprehensible at times). But the thing that is most amazing is how incredibly fun it is to play, with open-world missions that let you tackle them any way you like, with a ridiculous number of weird tools and allies at your disposal. When I'm not playing Star Wars: Battlefront I am playing MGSV...and then there's all the other games I just mentioned.

Runner Up: Star Wars Battlefront was a close second, although throughout the list I really felt like I needed to put Destiny: The Taken King in somewhere.....but I just couldn't justify it. Destiny's second year is full of improvements, but it's still at core the same game I played last year, but now with more missions and less Peter Dinklage.

Honrable Mentions:

Best CGI Cutscenes: Halo 5 Guardians because seriously this game's cutscenes are amazing. Also, Halo 5 is a great deal of fun, just not innovative enough to claim any special honors.

Best Revamp: Destiny: The Taken King which kept the old fans, mended wounds with others, and brought in new thanks to some very clear efforts to bring story to the fore.

Best Effort at Reviving an Aging Franchise: Look no further than Call of Duty: Black Ops III which really does bring some interesting new elements to the game, but I fear a bit too late. CoD's only hope feels to me like it needs to find a source of players who want this sort of game yet inexlicably haven't already been saturated by the market...even I, a guy who has played every CoD since Modern Warfare came out, feels it is getting old and stale, despite their best efforts.

Best Henchman: Chumbucket from Mad Max. Nuff Said!!!!!

NOTE: I might have included The Witcher III: The Wild Hunt on this list but only recently purchased it on the Xbox One during  a Black Friday sale and STILL haven't had time to even start it. So keep that in mind....this list is based on what I played, not everything actually out there.

*Sometimes it sounds like damning with faint praise, and Bethesda fans can be like that, but it's because these games are so good and we spend so much time with them that they are scrutinized. I mean....imagine if you didn't play, say, Witcher 3 because you saw one of the levitating horse videos on Youtube. It's a smart thing if you need an excuse to keep you from spending precious cash you don't have, or time you don't have....but if you've got both, and you love good (modern) RPGs, then you'd be a pernicious fool not to play Witcher 3 or Fallout 4.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Lands of Pergerron: Vothrace of the Silver coast Region

See the collected Pergerron articles here to lead up to this entry!


From the coastal regions west of the Silver coast all the way north to the edge of the Anansis River’s southern shores and Mt. Gol is a vast an untamed land identified as Vothrace. While most look to the nomads of Vothrace as a single culture of barbaric tribesmen who revere primitive spirits and and ancestors, the truth is more complex. Vothrace contains the remnants of two once great kingdoms: Thassar, which dominated much of the south for centuries before falling to Anansic invasions, and Astumar, which fell five centuries ago to a plague which decimated the people of the kingdom and left the cities and castles of a once thriving land entirely barren; only a handful of survivors who fled the cities survived, and to this day the ruins of old Astumar are regarded as dangerous, plague-tainted remnants of a bygone era.

The kingdom of Thassar is detailed in its history along the Silver Coast, but it’s old territories included much of southern Vothrace.

Astumar, according to legend, held strong as a regional contender against the early Anansic invasions, and may have thrived but for the plague which wiped out the land, at least until the last century and a half when the great rivers which poured out of the western mountains dried up; the draught hit the nomads of the region hard, and would surely have ended Astumar had it survived to the present.

The nomads of Vothrace today are a mixture of clans with histories dating back to old Thassar settlements, Astumari descendant and Anansic settlers. There is some Galitath and even a bit of Mesutin in their language as well, suggesting a real mixing pot of relations.

Unlike many other nomadic groups in the Anansis region, the Vathrace have retained a fairly sophisticated culture and language, and pass this down from one generation to the next. A very ritualized process of ancestor worship has grown up among the Vothrace, as well as a heavy reliance on spirits from the Outland as a source of their divine lore and understanding. Priests in Vothace pay equal reverence to the spirits and ancestral ghosts, and often wear physical ornamentation of old ancestors; the very skin and bone of an ancestor may turn into a priestly vestment, and the heads of old relatives of great import (especially if they knew magic) are decorated slavishly with gold, silver and jewels an imbued with powerful divination magic to serve as oracles for the clan.

Spirit priests of the Vothrace are effectively shamans. They revere the spirits as perfect beings which exist outside of the mortal realm of creation, entities which will speak truth when the so called “gods” won’t. The Vothrace do not revere the Enkanneth or Primordials, and some occult scholars of the clans contend that the only real truth lies in the cosmic power of the Old Ones, which they say will inevitably destroy all of the world in its desire for consumption.

Vothrace clans are always on the move, and they have dozens of “meeting grounds” where several clans can converge each year for trade and commerce. Some Vothrace range as far as Galitath and Anansis, parking outside friendly cities and towns for trade and commerce. Not all Vothrace are welcome in all locations, however; the habit of wearing the skin and bones of dead relatives is considered highly taboo among Anansics who are very superstitious of the undead and see ancestor worship as bordering on dark necromancy.  Curiously the fortress-city of Thassar, last bastion of the old empire, welcomes all clans of Vothrace to its gates.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Strange Metal Edifices of Daryl Horn

Merry XMAS!!!!! Fnord.

The Strange Metal Edifices of Daryl Horn
A Call of Cthulhu Now Tale

Daryl Horn is a noted entrepreneur and artist who works in metal. Inspired by many sources, his welded constructs have impressed for decades, and his multi-acre proper in the Tri-Cities area of Kennewick, Washington has stood out for those who take the time to find it. Covered in enormous and multifaceted cubical and disk-like structures, his ranch is noted for being the epicenter of eccentricity. Daryl himself dislikes visitors, however, and has put much effort into keeping people at bay; his sculptures are for the viewing eyes of guests and prospective clients only.

Recently Daryl Horn has become something of a sensation as his sculptures became the unwanted center of attention when a murder was committed on his property, a local high school student Amanda Hayes. Amanda was missing for three days before her body was identified and called in by Horn, who admitted to the police that he had not discovered here until some time had passed; the body had been on his property for all three days. While being held as a suspect the police grudgingly admitted that they could find no evidence of wrongdoing on Hayes’ part, and the angle of the odd disk-like sculpture of metal was at such an angle that it was impossible to see the body without a step-ladder, or approaching from a distance. It was while navigating his property line that Horn spotted Amanda’s body at a distance, or so he claims.

The police have investigated Amanda’s murder so far with few results. A coroner’s autopsy performed by Dr. Jeremy Allston reveals that she experienced some form of severe electrical shock which damaged her nervous system and likely rendered her unconscious, but the cause of death is elusive. Precisely what transpired remains a mystery; no evidence of physical assault can be found, nor can evidence be found of how she was placed on the sculpture. No DNA evidence is evident, either, although the coroner concedes that she had two unusual elements which he could not explain: severely elevated serotonin levels in the blood suggesting carcinoid syndrome (he notes evidence of several minor tumors to support the elevated levels). The other oddity was even harder to explain: trace amounts of several unusual gasses in the lungs and tissue, including a disproportionate amount of methane, ethane, acetylene and diacetylene, with evidence of lung damage from exposure to the gasses, though not enough to suggest cause of death.  Dr. Allston is leaning to a “little bit of everything” theory of her death: that she may have been electrocuted, and then suffocated while unconscious and exposed to a mix of chemicals.

Two days after his autopsy release, a leak to the press leads to the “New Mad Gasser” nickname for the murderer. Meanwhile, Horn remains a prime suspect even if they can’t pin it to him, and Horn’s good friend and attorney Anton Wells decides to intervene. He contacts some known associates (the PCs) to look into the case and try to find evidence to help exonerate his friend Daryl Horn.

Anton Wells has used the PCs for other investigative work with different clients in the past….nothing “weird” though. When he brings them in, he explains his theory about the incident: it’s either a cult thing, or a local hazing gone wrong. He suggests that they start by trying to dig up info on Amanda Hayes and “discredit her” in the eyes of the public and law enforcement.

The Daryl Horn Story
Daryl Horn, aside from having become independently wealthy in the 90’s due to a large inheritance is an artist by trade who specializes in large metal sculptures, and he favors working with a wide variety of metals. He is locally famous for his private works, which he tries to keep private, but he also made a fantastic unique cubic array in front of the Hanford Research Center where physics research is still ongoing and the administrative side of maintenance at the Hanford site continues.

Daryl’s quiet and not prone to talking, a man of middle years and a haunted aspect to him. He’ll let the investigators look around as long as Anton Wells is supervising their investigation. They can find out the following info on the ranch and talking to Horn:

Horn contends he never even knew the girl, and really doesn’t know many people in town at all. He orders his scrap metal from out of state and has it shipped in. He usually flies out to events at the private air strip. He even has arrangements with the local grocer for home delivery of food. He is a true recluse.

His sculptures, including the large quasi-pyramid and the eight “disks” on top of which Amanda was found on one are part of a sculpture he claims is a symbol of the unifying nuclear force, a larger work inspired by the design he did for the Hanford Research Center. He explains it’s a work in progress, and not yet done, though what’s missing he won’t elaborate on.

Anyone snooping around will notice that many of Horn’s older works are more elaborate and involved; his latest work is the simplest, although the etching on the disks is phenomenal and apparently done by laser. He has older works such as the Mona Lisa, Venus on the half-Shell, and “Aphrodite,”--all  very different from his later stuff. His style changed about two years ago, from the looks of it. His first “new” sculpture was of a strange cubical cluster resting on three leg-like appendages.

His ranch is solar-powered. His vehicle is electric, and Horn seems to be off the grid, as his ranch appears to be in a strange blind spot. He has no television access, and all of his orders are done by land line.

Amanda Hayes and Her Story
Amanda is a 17 year old high school student at Kennewick High, and rather popular. On the surface she’s regarded as a team player, a popular and attractive blonde girl with everything going for her, a position on both the women’s softball team and (surprisingly) a prestigious award for the Science of Youth Program sponsored by wealthy businessmen in the Puget Sound. Her acumen is in physics, something atypical for a girl her age and appearance….

Digging a bit deeper reveals a woman who has changed, but only recently. Her studies clearly kept her occupied, but her community work and dedication to local civic duty was outstanding until about six weeks ago, when she stopped most external activities and developed an unhealthy fascination for promiscuous sex. Her trail of change leads to the Red Baron, a local biker bar which is frequented by tourists and out-of-town bikers who make this a frequent pit stop. The bartender knows her, and admits he figured she’d just gotten tired of being the local town goodie-two-shoes. He says she was most well known for her frequent almost daily affair with a man named Thomas Hodge, a researcher working for for a cleanup and maintenance contactor on the Hanford Nuclear Facility.

Aside from Hodge, it looks like Amanda had a regular relationship with a local boy named Steven James, a football player (of course) and up-and-coming future sports star according to those who know him. James, it turns out, has been sliding in his classes and generally going downhill. When the investigators look into him they discover he’s been missing for two days, and friends say he was hit hard by Amanda’s death. One of his friends will joke that they should go look for him under the bridge west of Snoqualmie Pass “where he might have jumped.”

Looking into Amanda’s story, someone investigating her at school with regards to her “science angle” will discover that she was working on a new project for the Fair this year, and investigating the bits and pieces in the garage of the Hayes’ household will reveal that she’s using working parts for a functional nuclear reactor….parts that could only have come from a place like Hanford. The device is a bit unusual, though, containing what appears to be a strange, cylindrical object with eight disks inside. An astute investigator will notice that the curious shapes and swirls of the disks look exactly like stacked miniature versions of the massive sculptures on Horn’s property… fact the similarities are too much to ignore; an aerial view of Horn’s ranch will look alarmingly like a close up of the device Amanda is working on, except this one also includes active fuel rods and hazardous radioactive waste materials percolating around a strange metal cube, presumably the source of the radioactivity itself.

(If investigators ignore the family for long enough then they should hear of the Hayes’ residence coming down sick and subsequent reports that stolen radioactive materials were found on site, with Hanford clean-up crews arriving to remove the materials, followed by a government investigation).

The Thomas Hodge Story
Thomas Hodge is a physicist and researcher working for the Hanford Reserve as a cleanup and monitoring specialist. He’s largely incidental to the story except for two issues: he was enamored with Amanda Hayes and stole radioactive materials for her, though he has a hard time explaining why he did it, and although he has no memory of it, he’s been meeting with Daryl Horn late at night for two years now, assisting him in the dead of night on unusual projects on the ranch. This info is not something he knows….he doesn’t even think he knows Daryl, in fact….but surveillance of the ranch at night will reveal the meet-ups.

Thomas under pressure or otherwise will break and admit that he doesn’t know what he’s doing anymore, that he’s always tired and worn out, and that he thought Amanda was his one ray of hope in the world. She approached him, and he just caved, an emotional wreck of a man ready to be manipulated. When he heard of her death he grew terrified it was his fault somehow, though he couldn’t tell anyone why. He continued his routine, but suspicious his fatigue was caused by night-time blackouts he decided to install a security cam in his residence. To his surprise, he has recorded days of his nighttime somnambulistic wanderings, and he’s grown insanely paranoid as a result, unsure of what it all means.

Investigators who approach him with aggression will provoke him into flight, fearing he will be accused of Amanda’s murder. He has little else to offer other than the fact that on the night she was killed he has no memory of what happened that evening, but knows he was at the Red Baron bar meeting her…after which he blacked out.

As an aside, investigators at the Red Baron will find out it has security cams in the parking lot. One cam does capture him arriving (and her as well). It also shows her leaving with Hodge, as well as an unnamed mystery man, and Horn!

Steven James’ Story
Steven is a victim in much of this, but not entirely so. Investigators who look to track him down will need to head to Snoqualmie Pass at the famous Suicide Bridge a few miles to the west, where they will find his abandoned car, with an impound notice, to be fulfilled any time now. In the snow (it’s almost always snowing up there) they will find evidence of tracks, apparently his, as well as what appear to be a multitude of strange circular imprints in the snow with a weird swirling pattern that appears to be very precise, almost machine-tooled.

Tracking James in the snow will eventually lead to a grizzly sight: James, frozen to death, his body covered in eviscerating burn lines. Anyone who’s gotten a chance to investigate Amanda’s corpse will recognize the same burn lines from her autopsy. In addition, there’s a faint yellowish residue on the snow, a weird and unpleasant stain that smells vaguely of mustard oil.

Clutched in James’ hand is a cell phone, battery drained. Charging the cell phone reveals a severe amount of distortion on the digital video, but the sounds of James’ fearful voice is unmistakable:

James’ Face is distorted, fearful: “I don’t know who they are, or why they’re chasing me. The thing…I don’t know what it is….it killed Amanda and now it wants me, and I don’t know why! I don’t know how… how it can move so fast…how it found me. I was going to end it all, kill myself, but I couldn’t do it. Then it showed up. I…I think I’m going to die. Out here. Or if it finds me. I don’t know where to go now. No one will believe me.”

The video cuts to a snow bank as he jolts in shock. A hideous noise like grinding metal that almost sounds like words reverberates. “I god….!” James begin coughing and seconds later there’s a shocking sound of a crack like lightning. He falls back, camera held up very still, and for a moment it seems to catch something, strangely like a cluster of stacked cubes moving on three long cylindrical legs, a cluster of elongated cilia stretching up from a central point on the cube cluster waving about with a charge of blue lighting flickering about. It is surrounded by a dull yellowish haze, seemingly emitting from holes in the cubes.

The camera remains on for a long time even as this “thing” bounds into the darkness of the woods with shocking speed, another hideous metallic grinding noise echoing at its retreat. If the investigators leave the video running for a few more minutes a strange “rustling” noise followed by the beating of insectoid wings reverberates, and the camera image sputters. The investigators will hear three voices speaking furiously in quiet whispers, but the words are incomprehensible….then a strange, delicate claw-like tube becomes visible for just a moment before they see it slide down to turn the camera off.

(Viewing the body requires a SAN check and a loss of 0/1D2 SAN on a failure; viewing the camera leads to another check and a SAN loss of 0/1D8 for seeing the L’gh’yx assassin on the recording and the partial evidence of a shan nearby; 2/1D8 if the investigator in question realizes it’s a fully animated version of the same statue from Horn’s ranch!)

Whether the investigators take this tale to the cops or leave the body there is a matter for conjecture….but the police will want to know a few questions if they come into play. Such as: why were they looking for James? Who are they, and how are they connected to the Hayes murder? The murder here crossed county lines, and a Special Investigator Richard Morton will be called in from Seattle to head up the investigation. If the “Hayes house radiation incident” has happened yet the FBI investigators will already be involved as well.

Ultimately if Steve James’ body is autopsied it will reveal the same electrical damage to the nerves and evidence of the same gas damage to the lungs as as found in Amanda. Like before, the cause of death at first seems uncertain…..but this time there’s one other bit of evidence different from Amanda: Steve’s cranium shows evidence of severe hemmoraghing and electrical damage. An autopsy reveals his brain has been turned into a muchy soup, but there appears to be some sort of web of a sticky, semi-solid substance running throughout his skull, something investigators have never seen before which looks like some sort of silicate material. The doctor performing the autopsy will conclude it is an unusual side effect of the electrocution, but a close examination reveals what appears to be an exosekeletal mass in the shape of some sort of ten-legged chitinous “thing” lodged in the brain, effectively fused with it. Exposure to the air causes the exoskeletal mass to decompose and evaporate.

Enter the Shan
Horn, Hayes, James and Hodge each have one thing in common: they are enslaved hosts being puppeteered by the insectoid shan.  The shan are an ancient race trapped on earth, devout worshippers of the blind idiot nuclear god Azathoth, dancing his mad dance beyond the edge of the universe. The shan, trapped on earth, have become wallowing deviant hedonists who exploit their puppet bodies by night and let their slaves wander about by day. In the Tri-Cities area however there is a bit of a conflict going on….a religious disagreement, if you will.

There’s a bit of a rebellion going on in the shan community. Horn is possessed by an elder shan that is determined to leave this world, to restore the greatness of its trapped species. It has dissolved all connections with the greater hive of its people, and migrated to this region, to be near the Hanford facility while it begins constructing a monument to Azathoth that just possibly might be the foundation of a new temple-ship to the chaos god. He is accompanied by two followers: one shan who is in possession of Thomas Hodge and another in possession of the shadoy Mr. Winters, who has remained in the shadows so far, an unknown variable.

Accompanying Horn’s shan is its own special bodyguard: a Neptunian L’gh’yx assassin which actually spends most of its time disguising itself as a statue on horn’s ranch. By night the statue moves to the semi-pyramid and enters, to resume oversight on the construction going on beneath the surface….

The “pyramid” is actually the tip of a much vaster construct. The shan’s plan is well underway, and he is using a nanotech conversion program to harvest local precious metal resources and stolen nuclear materials from Hanford to power his machines of creation. The interior of the pyramid is vast and deep, and contains a massive spherical projector which is currently trying to harvest an aspect or manifestation of Azathoth himself to serve as the ship’s core. Even seeing this vestige will lead to the madness of witnessing Azathoth himself.

Meanwhile, the shan collective is determine to find their rogue and either reel him in or destroy him. His efforts are seen as an abomination, destined for failure. The shan collective sent two of its best agents in to the region once they learned of the possible hiding spot of the rogue shan in Horn….something impossible to disguise once the “Collector” showing the projection of Azathoth’s danzing vestige came online.

The two shan took host forms that they found most interesting on arrival, seemingly innocuous enough to start investigation: Amanda Hayes and Steven James. By night the shan began investigating, doing what they knew best: seeking out the depraved, hedonistic corners of the local community. Amanda was easy to manipulate, but the James shan found its host resistant.

The rogue element was the shan possessing Thomas Hodge, who had been having second thoughts about the process. When he saw what sort of abomination was being pulled in to the new temple-ship, he realized it as somehow impure, a bastard child of Azathoth and not a true reflection of the deity. When the Amanda-shan approached him they reveled in their hedonistic excess and began their plans. Her goal: to get him to give her the secret code to the pyramid, to allow her to gain access to it. To do this she decided to pose as a supplicant, wanting to join the flock.

As it turned out, Hodge was playing both sides, and revealed in a moment of doubt to Horn-shan that he had been approached by her. Horn in his paranoia rightly concluded she was an agent and was furious that the collective had found him, but had Hodge arrange to lure her to the ranch, where he planned to interrogate her and then extract the shan from her mind.

As with all troublesome plans, it went awry. Amanda’s shan escaped, but not before Horn-shan’s pet assassin ravaged her body in an effort at torture. Placed on the center dial of the nuclear panel which he disguised as art, one of the summoning disks to project the image of Azathoth in the pyramid below, the shan fled Amanda’s body, causing an embolism as it did so.

Horn’s shan fled its host for the first time in years, seeking out the enemy shan to avoid being reported, but to no avail….he was certain it hadn’t gone far, though, as it was injured; perhaps it was healing in another local host. After giving up the chase he returned to his host body, although in doing so he found that the body had been reported, the old attorney friend called in, and the investigators sitting on his doorstep….

During the night the L’gh’yx assassin continued to patrol looking for the enemy shan. It investigated Steven James and began hunting him, leading to his death. After Steven died, the shan which fled Amanda arrived, realized what had happened, tried and failed to destroy the L’gh’yx and then moved on….it has now taken host in Detective Richard Morton if he is called in, or another special investigator if not.

If the investigators show the image of Amanda’s nuclear device (or the aerial of Horn’s property) to any shan host during the day when they have cognizant control (even Winters) they will almost immediately recognize it and say, “Shaggai es ‘sin’deg’hrga” before collapsing and blacking out. The devices trigger a primal “implanted” memory of the shan homeworld Shaggai, for the object symbolizes the eight worlds of Shaggai, surrounding the might of Azathoth.

Mr. Winters’ Story
Mr. Winters is an enigma: a willing host, he learned of the shan long ago and gave himself over to the aliens during a visit to Sussex, England. He has been a loyalist, and his waking mind is in tune with the thoughts and wishes of his shan counterpart. This gives him a unique edge over his brethren, who cannot sense or control their hosts during daylight hours.

Mr. Winters, however, is also quite eccentric as a result of this unique union between slave and puppet master. He doesn’t “think right” and is known locally as the town crazy, often found wandering the local streets speaking in tongues until the sheriff takes him in to sleep it off. Usually his shan will just “slip out” and get the deputy on duty to let Mr. Winters loose, then rejoin his beloved slave.

Anyone who meets Mr. Winters by happenstance or intent and who saw the parking lot video of the bar will recognize him as the mysterious third person accompanying Amanda.  Anyone who talks with local bums and homeless will learn that Mr. Winters has a reputation not only for being crazy, but also cruel. No one likes him, it seems.

Other local townsfolk will admit to seeing him visit Mr. Horn on occasion, but only rarely. Some suggest that Mr. Horn takes pity on him. One man says that Horn’s art style went “a bit stranger” after he made Mr. Winters’ acquaintance.

One bum, a man named Horace, remembers vividly one night when Winters was accosted by two local bullies. He remembers something emerging like a “gossamer angel, but with too many legs” from his head, and how it entered one bully’s head as if it were made of smoke. The one man then beat the other to death while Winters laughed hysterically. Horace flees whenever he sees Winters now.

Local police have a file on him. His full name is Richard Winters, a once brilliant inventor and head of the Winters-Alderstein Development Group, a astronautics research firm with big government contracts. He was said to have personally designed a new type of radio telescope with a much greater efficiency than prior models, and considerably smaller. His last great contribution to any research was a paper on the “Great Attractor,” a cosmic phenomenon which held his interest greatly, before he took off for a walkabout in Europe. He disappeared in Sussex and was not seen again until arriving in the Tri-Cities area two years ago.

Some Curious Local News Items
While all the investigation is underway, a few random new items will pop up on occasion:

“Local townsfolk out of Richland complain of sink hole on property; accuse county of not repairing water main leak” (The machines being used to build the temple caused the sinkhole in their subterranean plundering)

“Local man attacked at restaurant by homeless man,” (Mr. Winters up to no good; interviews with people at the restaurant reveal the man tried to grab Winters after he confronted his wife, but on grabbing Winters he says he “blacked out.” Wife says she can’t remember the incident…turns out she can’t, she say the shan emerge and blanked it out in terror.)

“Six dead in Snoqualmie crash, traffic backed up for hours.” (A family sedan was deliberately driven off course by the Amanda-Shan in an attempt to hit the escaping L’gh’yx; an investigation of the scene shows that the van seemed to deliberately careen into a ravine….but a thorough search of the area will reveal the strange cylindrical tracks.)

“Latest blackout in Tri-Cities leaves tens of thousands without power for six hours, authorities still won’t comment on the failure of the electrical plant during this cold winter season.” (As the temple-ship grows the needs of the vessel grow larger, reaching out to the local power sources. Talking to people near the power plant reveals that a nearby couple claimed they saw a giant projection like a swirling star-shaped vortex manifested over the power plant for thirteen seconds before disappearing. The guard on duty has been missing since, his phone found smashed; his body will be dredged up from the Snake River a day later).

First the investigators begin poking around. Then they start drawing the attention of the otherworldly forces at work here. Each of the shan in this operation have an agenda, and their plan of action is as follows:

Horn-Shan Eliminates the Competition
Horn needs more time to manifest the Azathoth image in full. He will use his assassin to eliminate anyone he grows suspicious of, including the investigators. He will get tired of his attorney Anton Wells three days in….the attorney will be found dead of an apparent suicide after a few days have passed. Wells will (unless the investigators find a way to stop him) be killed by either Mr. Winters or the assassin….or Horn if necessary. His death will be gruesome and excessive despite being a suicide, suggesting he was not in his right mind (i.e. breaks into drug store, takes all pills. Or drives into power main….or breaks into pawn shop, then shows up at police station firing pistol….all “suicide by shan” examples; any could happen to any foes of Horn-shan).

The One Week Invasion
Horn knows he needs to find the missing shan that was in Amanda. If he fails to do so, then he knows she will be able to call in reinforcements know that she knows his location. He has one week before this happens (give or take a day for dramatic purposes as needed). Assuming Amanda is able to make her escape (into the detective) the shan will head to a high point in the mountains the following night (anyone looking for or following the detective might see this), where she will construct an elaborate wire-frame device built from parts at the local Radio Shack (another clue the investigators could learn of, a detective buying off electronic parts). This device will broadcast to the shan collective the location of the rogue. During the broadcast the L’gh’yx assassin will appear, and seek to slay the shan for good.  If the investigators are present this is their chance to intervene, assuming they can tolerate the sight and presence of the creature.

When the invasion force arrives, it is in a manner most unsettling: overnight the city of Kennewick will be blanketed with hundreds of shan from the collective, who will take local hosts and begin moving en masse on the ranch. Their intent it so shut the operation down entirely. The event will be spearheaded by a group of shan equipped with potent binding spells; they seek to bind the traitor so that they may execute him, and then they intend to summon a mass of Xictotl which will tear the complex down, and destroy the reactor summoning the image/vestige of Azathoth.

To their surprise, either Horn, Winters or the assassin will insure that Azathoth…..the real Azathoth, bursts forth and destroys the invasion of shan-possessed attackers. It will inevitably destroy the complex and devour the subterranean temple as well. Naturally, any sorry investigators caught in the middle of this risk destruction or severe sanity loss….

Alternative Events
If the shan in the detective (Amanda’s shan) is somehow stopped or destroyed and fails to summon the collective to destroy the heretic, then after a week the Horn-shan will attempt one final heist, using his available allies to break into the Hanford site and collect the last of the nuclear material he needs to empower his projector. He will on the following night, with host bodies now riddled with radiation damage, fire it up and complete the manifestation of Azathoth within the temple. The complex will erupt from the ground and take off, leaving a smoldering crater a quarter-mile deep where it once rested, and the Feds will close in with a total lockdown shortly thereafter.

Default Timeline
It is possible the investigators just do not catch on…wander about cluelessly, don’t investigate the likely leads, and just generally end up flopping on this. The following events will happen in order regardless of what the investigators do:

Day 1:    murder discovered, attorney called in
Day 2:    investigators arrive
                Report of sinkhole
Day 3:    investigators may or may not find nuclear material in Hayes home
                Report of assault by Mr.Winters
Day 3-4: investigators may or may not find James’ body off Snoqualmie. Will be found by a state patrol officer if they do not investigate
                Car crash reported
Day 5:    Contaminated “project” found in Hayes home when parents visit doctor with radiation sickness (unless discovered sooner)
Day 6:    shan in detective will broadcast to collective for backup
Day 7 or 8: shan arrive for big showdown; Azathoth eats it all (or alternate: shan do not show, pyramid takes off)

Side Bits: the Neptunian Assassin
The odd chemical stains and contamination found with corpses killed by the L’gh’yx assassin is a byproduct of its emissions, which curiously reflect the composition of Neptune’s atmosphere precisely.

The burnt nerves of the victims of the assassin are caused by its neural whip.

Merry Xmas Everyone, remember to stay indoors, arm yourselves and await Santa's Purge....

Thanks to Daniel Stack for finding this!

...And the two T-Rexes are stopping over their table saw fight just long enough to observe the great K-T asteroid before it impacts.

Merry XMas everyone!!!!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Review: Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures

I can stop looking for the OSR game I will run. I might use Basic Fantasy to fill in gaps and corners in Beyond the Wall (the two have enough in common for this to work) but I am completely smitten with how Beyond the Wall takes the concept of the playbook and makes it the most engaging and creative experience I've had in D&D in a long, long time. I want playbooks in 5E now, damnit!*

I'll provide some more detail as we go, but for those who are curious here's a bit about what Beyond the Wall does: it provides a very stripped-down, easy to use version of the classic D&D rules and focuses on a simpler, more fundamental fantasy setting derived from the works of Ursula K. Le Guin and Lloyd Alexander (using the two key examples provided by the author). The setting isn't so much defined as it is implied and enforced through fill in your own world, but use the framework of a land in which a village, that the heroes all grew up in, is the centerpiece of their heroic journey to become great defenders, protectors and explorers of the land. It exudes an interesting mythic resonance, and the game focuses heavily on making that feeling a reality in play.

The core rules provide a basic quick character creation system and all the rules you'll need to do your own thing if you so desire. Then it moves into the playbooks. The first supplement, Further Afield, expands the concept to include various style of sandbox play as well as more general ideas on how to GM open-ended campaigns.

The playbooks are basically lifepath generators (think RTG's Interlock system for a close example) with a different lifepath for each character concept: so you have things like the witch's apprentice and the would-be knight, the self trained wizard and the village hero. Conceptually these occupy the same space as the backgrounds that D&D 5E uses, but they are specifically aimed at building your character's history, not merely your personality. The D&D 5E approach is really is....but when you start a Beyond the Wall playbook you end up a few minutes later with a complete character, ready to go, with a full history that ties them in to the other characters at the table. Cool stuff.

Beyond the Wall also dares to mess around with D&D magic. At first I was expecting to read yet another OSR system that faithfully tries to replicate an older edition magic system using the D20 SRD. Instead, I got a strong, flavorful variant on D20 magic that takes everything familiar and skews it toward theme, style and feel of the story, creating a system of cantrips, true spells and rituals that is so cool it almost pains me to think of doing D&D magic any other way now.

The GM has his own set of tools as well: scenario packs and playbooks for threats, which let you quickly construct a scenario and send adventurers off that is both unique and reusable. The scenario packs aren't just aimed at a generic adventure generator, either; each one is specifically tailored to create a variety of unique themes for the specific topic of the scenario, such as "The Angered Fae" and the "Hidden Cult" in the main rule book. You can use this to create more than one such scenario for even the same's a simple bit of genius. Threats are equally interesting, letting you create random or custom major foes/villains for the overall story arc. All of this is designed to be quick, too: it will require a GM who's comfortable with a bit of improv, but I wouldn't say it requires an experienced fact, this method of play will make life easier for old vets like myself while simultaneously teaching new GMs how to run games in this style. It's an incredibly well executed idea that I think other games ought to learn from.

Beyond the Wall is doing something that only a handful of OSR games have dared to do, and that is make it's own unique flavor, strongly enforced by the game itself and its modifications to an otherwise familiar rule set. This is some incredible stuff, seriously....and it's a delight to read; this book was made to both be read and played.

Beyond the Wall didn't come out this year (it looks like the first tome dates from 2012-2014 in origins although it's first supplement "Futher Afield" was just released), but I did discover it in 2015, thanks initially to a Bundle of Holding that led me to the very nice quality color hard cover copies on rpgnow. As with most things in life for me, what was new in 2015 isn't necessarily what's got my attention, so my plan to put this on my top five games of the year list is my way of telling you that you need to get this game, now.

Ten Interesting Things About Beyond the Wall:
10. it has a freeform skill system
9. ascending AC
8. classes are not tied to race but races also get unique classes
7. the core mechanics make conversion to other OD&D and B/X D&D based systems simple
6. warriors get more useful stuff than in typical classic-D&D systems
5. The spell system's cantrips, true spells and rituals are compelling
4. there's a mythic resonance that exudes from every line written in this book
3. the playbooks are incredibly fun to roll through
2. the playbooks encourage relations with all PCs at the table; no more meeting in a bar unless the playbook pushes you there...
1. The GM's scenario packs and threat sheets are incredibly cool for facilitating quick play, overcoming lack of prep time and teaching new GMs how to run improvised games on the fly

*Playbooks differ from backgrounds in that they integrate character creation into the process. When you make a 5E character the background is usually the last thing you add on. When you start a playbook you end up with a complete character that makes contextual sense in terms of your life path rolls.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Chirak: The Serpent Caldera

Southern Mercurios: The Serpent Caldera


Sulfur Lake
   This miles-wide and long lake is at the heart of the great caldera that marks the centerpoint of the Southern Kasarak Mountains. The lake water is often tainted by sulfurous emissions releasing from volcanic vents below, and little lives in the lake beyond some hardy fish and algae.

Lizard Man Territory
The lizard men of Serpent Caldera are a hearty group of expatriates who disagreed with the Hashykarystyr militarization of recent decades, and so broke off and migrated south to remain apart from it. Their dedication to the Ancentral Cult of Hossor, a prophet of great legend among the Hshykarystyr is what they are dedicated to. The Chieftain of the tribes is Shakat Haldaran, a fair but sometimes cruel leader who strives for neutrality with the neighbors in the region. They are only at odds with the orcs of Gozad and the kobold tribes, while staying neutral with the humans of Serimore. They avoid the soldiers of Fort Axeron, who are dedicated to enslaving them as curiosities for the arena, and they also avoid the territory of Sen’Samir whee the Kulaidoriin elves despise lizard folk of all types.

Kobold Territory
The kobolds inhabit numerous caves formed from lava tubes, creating long, winding hives. They are mostly nestled along the entrance to the caldera, a lengthy rise down which the Great River emerges from. The kobolds were until recently led by the winged urd named Mang Drog who was murdered, and the shaman Vosokos has taken over temporarily. They live a life of banditry and theft and are a plague on all other denizens in the region.

This is the southern Hsahykarystyr fortress led by general Kavoriss, a female lizard woman of great repute in the region. Goval was originally founded to defend against Kasark incursions a century ago when the barbarians, like men everywhere, reacted violently to the manifestation of a lizard man kingdom in their midst. Goval is one of the Basilisk Towers, and on its highest tower is mounted one of the dreaded Reflecting Mirrors, powered by the ancient basilisk eyes that the Hashykarystyr have used to enforce their borders against Kasark and Mercurious. No one knows what dire magics they used to create these artifacts.

The town of Serimore has been here for two centuries and its hunters have learned to live with the basilisks, hunting them carefully and avoiding their petrifying gaze. Natives have, in fact, displayed a curious resistance to the basilisk gaze (gaining advantage) though none know why. In time, the town grew to 400 strong; there are another 300 or so who live in remote outlying communities in the area. There is also a small local dwarven population and the mayor of the town is a dwarf named Vax Durggen. The story is that the local dwarves came from Syrgia long ago to prospect for mithril in the mountains, but never succeeded and eventually settled down to stay.

The town was thrown into chaos one year ago when the Cult of the Night Serpent arrived, led by the medusa Goz  Semilta, who turned several threatening townsfolk to stone before they left her and the cult alone. In the last year the cult has grown hundreds strong and built an impressive earthen pyramid entrance to the eastern mountain cave once known as the breeding cave of the basilisks and now dubbed the Temple of the Night Serpent.

Temple of the Night Serpent
Once this was a cave where the basilisks descended every year to breed, lay eggs and let their next generation hatch and grow, usually with a matriarch basilisk overlooking the younglings. Now it is the entrance to an impressive temple to the Night Serpent of the new cult which claims to be pureblood descended serpent men of old, led by a high priestess medusa. The interior of this complex will detailed more later, but the exterior includes a shantytown of crude huts and tents which holds the ever growing population of pilgrims who believe they have the blood of the serpent god within them.

The Old Road
This ancient road winds its way through the eastern Kasarak Mountains, and remains in surprisingly good shape considering no one seems to maintain it. Passage on this road can take one all the way to the mountain city of Arus, and from there the Old Road skirts close to Castle Dorn before exiting in the southern merge of the Dryssyrian and Kasark ranges along the river that leads to Knovyskus. The Kasark barbarians use it as a principle “safe route” through the mountains.

The town of Olegast was a thriving lake town before the first settlers ever came to Serimore. It was a major city in the days of the Pellucid Empire, but was sieged and destroyed by the Kasdalani forces four centuries ago. Olegast bounced back but never recovered as a city, remaining a smaller township for nearly a century and a half before it was destroyed by unknown forces. Decades later the first settlers at Serimore found only ruins and undead in Olegast, and decided the ground was cursed, so they settled northward. No one has ever discovered who or what sealed the town’s final fate.

The Tainted Lands
Some of the freshest lava flows can be found here, laid down only a century and a half back when Mount Uridon erupted to the west and great burning flows of lava covered the land and filled out the deep valleys. Stories say that there was an elven city here once, but that it is now completely submerged beneath the lava flows. Stories suggest that you can run into elven ghosts in the Tainted Lands. The name comes from the observation that nothing grows in the area anymore.

The citadel of Sen’Samir was founded long ago, and it’s architecture is clearly elven. It is one of the reasons people suggest the Tainted Lands may have once held an elven city before the lava covered it all up. The citadel is dangerously close to the twin volcanic mountains of Uridon and Seridon, named after the two Elohim brothers and warrior-templars of Akquinarios that fell to the earth during the Final War twenty six hundred years ago.

Sen’Samir was unoccupied for centuries, but about eighty years ago a tribe of Kulaidoriin ascetics and spiritualists settled in the area, gradually purging the tower of old denizens and traps and converting it to a new home for their order. Ever since the dark elves of the south have called the citadel their home, and other Kulaidoriin have since joined them, creating a rather impressive town. The waters of Lake Perast along which the citadel resides are surpisingly pure despite being nestled against the southern slopes of Mt. Seridon. The elves seem to think they are a protecting force; the mystical beliefs of the local cult are that the purity of their belief insures the volcanoes will not erupt.

The cult at Sen’Samir seems to be a form of ancentral worship on the surface, but it’s actually a bit more complex. The leader of the cult, the Kulaidor woman named Saatha Verunis, had a profound experience once when she discovered her ability to commune with the dead. She developed a fascination for ghosts and their lore, and learned that through ghosts one could learn of avenues to the afterworld that would allow guided elven spirits to at last seek true peace. The cult believes that it is doing a great service to their kind by seeking out elven spirits to aid them in finding a place of rest in the afterlife. The unnaturally regular encounters with elven ghosts in the region suggests that are at least partially on to something…

Saggaros’ Crown
The great wall known as Saggaros’s Crown is a stretch of mountains to the southwest noted for an impressive drop from their height, as the mountains look like a great tidal wave with several crown-like points jutting at the top. Scaling the great cliffs of this mountain is near impossible, but at the base of the mountain are several caves which open up into a vast series of cavern complexes.

The caverns of Saggaros’s Crown are dominated by the Orcs of Gaar, a tribe led by the warlord Magnathor and his queen Aitsu. There are two main orcish complexes/cities, one at Gozad where the warlord rules, and the other at Valdur where his main forces build relentlessly, engaging in regular raids against Kasarak tribelands and Kasdalani territory to the south.

The wall gets its name from the Demon King Saggaros, said to have been the Lord of Xylom, also the one who slew the Elohim warrior twins Uridon and Seridon. The orcs nominally pay homage to him, but what little worship they actually engage in is reserved for Shaligon.

The Secret Hut of Paask Venar
Paask Venar is a stout agent of the Durnitari gnomes of the growing Empire of Epinfael, which now encompasses territory from Balenorn, Knoviskus and Selgarde. The gnomes of Epinfael are on the move, and they are driven by the magnetic personality of their leader, the once famous swashbuckler and privateer now turned king Seramis Den’dator. Paask venar is a distant cousin of the king and part of the First Recon Advanced Corps of Engineers (FRACE) which has been methodically scouting out enemy territory and stealing valuable magic. Paask Venar stumbled across the machinations of the cult of the Night Serpent and realized that they had found a powerful artifact, the Orb of Serpent Kind, an relic of the old war. He’s recruited the trolls used as guards and seeks a way of stealing it…most recently the plan being to do so after the coronation of a new high priest, in the dawn hours when the cult is drunk and unconscious following a celebratory orgy. He’s gotten the trolls to secure the ingredients to six potions of petrification resistance (granting advantage on such saves for 24 hours). He will, if met, pass himself off as a dedicated supporter of King Dukas in Mercurious.

Despite some suspicions that the Night Serpent Cult is a product of the Kasdalani, that’s actually all the work of Paask Venar, who is diligently trying to sew the seeds of dissention among the two nations, so that if Mercurios and Kasdalan go to war, they will be sufficiently weakened that Epinfael will be able to take full advantage of both lands.

Fort Axeron
Axeron was founded a century ago as a northern outpost for the protection of caravans of Kasdalani origin, but in fact it is much more obviously a listening post for possible danger from Mercurios, and likely could serve as a staging ground for war should the two nations ever come to blows again. It is currently being run by Commander Partanos and the sorceress Sera Takhanis, both of whom have been taking a keen interest in what is going on to the north.

The soldiers of Axeron are known for their love of combat sport, and two arenas provide daily entertainment. A beastmaster named Haggaran Daile came to serve the fort a decade ago, and brought with him the skill necessary to tame manticores. He has since aided the fortress in finding the local Kasarak breed of manticores and aided in turning the beasts into useful war machines as well as arena sport.

Shae is the closest full Kasarak community in the region. Chieftain Sondor Magharas dwells here, as does his daughter Brigihita, the once great warrior who served with Mardieur Mardieux during his travels through the mountains a decade ago. Brigihita has since settled and founded a family but can still fight with the best of them, as can her husband Varagos.

The tribe considers itself responsible for what goes on in the tumultuous caldera, and as such keep a vigilant watch on Fort Axeron and Serimore. The cult has concerned them greatly, but also done nothing against the tribe, even going so far as to offer medicinal made by the pilgrims in exchange for skins and food harvested by the tribe. At one point the yuan-ti pureblood named Proxis Sarne offered to divine if any of the tribesmen were of “true bloodlines” but the chieftain put his foot down to such nonsense an drove them off.

Current Plot Notes:

Patron: Lord Athun, cousin to Seneschal Mortan, needs potions made from basilisk parts to cure his brother-in-law Antonares, who during the wedding in Niudan of Athun and his new wife Serena was turned to stone by Goz Semilta. Not known why she broke in to the wedding, or what she was after.

Goz Semilta was actually getting revenge on Antonares, because he was the one who found the secret of the ancient Mythric City in the depths of the mountain and uncovered the Orb of Serpent Kind. She knew he was going to betray her and struck before he could take his information to a greater and more lucrative source.

Goz Semilta, gorgon of the Night Serpent and dedicate to Dendar. She feels she has been ordained with the divine purpose of restoring the lost power of the Yuan-Ti, an ancient race that was a great threat in the old era of the Mythrics.

Proxis Sarne – the yuan-ti abomination which has allied himself with Semilta and seeks to restore his people. He believes that the heart of the old Yuan-Ti empire of Khos ran from the Kasaraks all the way into Nubirion, and it was destroyed three thousand years ago in a war with the Mythric Empire.