Wednesday, April 25, 2018

One Page Dungeon Contest

Wasn't going to do it but managed to eek it out in the end. It's a lot a bit cluttered than I'd like but we had fun with it in our current campaign. Hope you like it.





Monday, February 26, 2018

Hello Again, part 2

Hello Again is a campaign story that started in 2014 involving a carousel of players and a roller coaster of arcs all taking place in the town of Kine. At this point, it's starting to look like a bottle episode but I promise it takes a left turn.

So here's where we left off:

Eckehard wakes from a dream in which millions of eyes surround and constantly watch him. The struggle to regain consciousness leaves him weary and confused. He is in the pitch dark surrounded by damp walls and bars, and there’s something more, the itch in the back of his mind, the ever-present craving, a yearning for living flesh grows ever-steadily until any and all sensations are consumed by one, hunger.

Camilla and Coco find themselves in a fog, riding in a wagon. When Camilla looks to her left, she recognizes the wagon driver. It is Mert. This snaps her back to reality, as if waking from a coma, she very bluntly proclaims, “I saw you die.”

More here: part 1

Ernst Fuchs
Eckehard wakes in a dank mud hole of a cell. Barely conscious, he is suddenly consumed with an overwhelming urge to feed. Unable to control himself, a sound of movement comes from the dark sending him lurching towards it. Groping in mad fury he finds the adjacent cell. Drawing close to the bars, he lunges through and grasps the frail frame of a woman then wrenches her to his mouth. In seconds he's devoured the arteries in her neck. Like an animal, he snarls but even satiated the hunger continues to gnaw at his thoughts. The act of draining blood now drives him to utter madness. Movement from deep in the dark drives him on. He begins throwing his weight at the bars. They are stuck deep in the mud and into stone but the bars give slightly with each strike. As his body hits the bars, he's vaguely aware of the rats watching him. They are sitting in a neat line on the other side of the bars like an audience. He's also vaguely aware that the sound of squishing footsteps are making their way to his cell. 

The sound of steps stops and a figure stops in front of his cell, while Eckehard continues bashing the bars. His mania hasn't let up, but it's strange, the rats are gone and he has no urge to wrench at the figure- just to escape and feed. The bars have moved two inches since he began throwing himself at them.

"Ahh, you are awake. You've been unconscious for some time." A tall, strange looking man stood in front of the cell. His voice is high pitched and sounded a bit like a whistle. "If you'll stop, I'll open up the cell."

Oddly his voice immediately snaps him out of his lust for blood and that's when it hits him, the person before him has an off smell, like formaldehyde.  

"Good. You were unconscious for some time even before I was called to help. I apologize for the accommodations. I realize it is no place for a person of your stature, but we are limited by what's available here... and the situation."

This conversation continues for some time. It turns out the person's name is Nylor and apparently, the Silvers had hired him to combat the Red Plague. He is strange though. When he raises an eery yellow lantern you realize you killed an emaciated Nala, wife of Brill the innkeeper. At the rising horror and regret you feel for your actions, Nylor simply tsk-tsks and continues on, explaining that you are in a makeshift underground lab that interconnects with the old tunnels beneath Kine. As Eckehard walks with him they pass some of Nylor's helpers. The strange creatures are only about three feet tall. You'd guess that he employs only midgets, except these shrouded creatures, have bright yellow eyes- or at least he thinks they do, he only caught a quick glimpse.  

Nylor explains that Jorg Silver had summoned him here to cure the plague in his son. After a while you realize that the son Nylor is speaking of is not Roderick (whom you met and is indeed infected with the plague), but a young boy. 

Pieces are falling into place. The players suspect that this is the boy in Brill's keeping and probably why Nala was in a cell next to you. But you don't have to guess for much longer. As Nylor talks about his son he once again leads you downwards. This time the chambers change, but not from mud to stone, instead stone to something else. The long narrow room seems to throb as if it were a digestive tract. There is a large mirror on the wall but it doesn't reflect anything.

Then you notice the boy. Facing away from the entrance is a slanted table and the boy. He has been dissected, body flayed open and a long glowing worm intertwined with what was left of his still working innards. At this point, Eckehard realizes Nylor has left the room. At that same moment, the throbbing room seems to coincide with a growing headache and nausea, also the worm untethers from the boy. Seconds later it lurches towards Eckehard who collapses. Then the worm is on him, burrowing. He barely grasps its end, while the rest is plunged under his skin, preventing it from disappearing inside him.

He overcomes the agony, manages to pull it from his arm, stumble through the hall and eventually up into the stone part of the structure. The worm doesn't follow. Eckehard is left with a deep fear of this place but also anger. He manages to make it outside and begins the search for his companions.

******

Camilla and Coco are in the wagon, riding towards Kine. When Camilla says to Mert, "I saw you die." She is met with a look of confusion, then horror. A moment later Mert runs off into the woods screaming. Out of the fog, Coco and Camilla continue on and realize there are two others with them, a tall man named Trafalgalard and a young woman named Alia. They also seem thoroughly confused. The familiar features of the town are revealed. It is still cold, nearly vacant, but Gaunt the guard is no longer at his post and now a strange tower overlooks the town. That's when they notice a familiar man on a tall horse riding from the tower, Eckehard.

Where were there other companions? Where was Jorg? Roderick? Brill? The town seemed sterile. No one was about, almost like it was a model of Kine rather than Kine itself. After sharing his experience with Nylor the companions make their way to the Church of the Green Lady, the last place they remember being before all this. The church inside is abandoned but the altar opens into the underground just as it did before. The answers they hoped, would be found inside.

Immediately, they notice that the underground is different. A mold seems to grow everywhere and there are cracks in the ground. The cracks are filled with a black metallic substance. It almost looks like an infection spreading throughout the underground. As they explore the tunnels it is not long before they encounter the first living being- if you can call it that. The creature walks on two legs but it has no face and arms. At first sight, it charges at them. After a scuffle the creature is dead but Coco, Eckehard, and Camilla are suddenly filled with a sense that the creature was someone they knew, an old companion in fact. They resolve not to harm any of the other strange creatures they encounter underground- and encounter they do. It was a resolution that is hard to keep. 

They find many strange creatures, each different from the other, all with impossible evolutions like no mouth or trailing intestines. They race through the underground until they finally come to its terminus, a circular room with a tall jet black crystal bursting from the center. It appears this is the origin of the cracks. Coco being the curious person she is touched the crystal and disappears. 

She finds herself in a room. She can see her companions distorted within the crystal as if they are mere reflections. At first, the room seems identical, except that when she walks rather than her moving, the room moves around her instead. On one end of the room, she finds tatters and blood, also a letter like the ones they had found before. It is the mere ravings of a man that'd been trapped in a place for too long except for one thing, it was signed Finn Silver. The long missing nephew. Has he been here the whole time? Behind the rags are loose bricks.

At this point, the others have touched the crystal as well. They are all in the room now, pulling at the loose bricks. As the bricks give way, that area of the wall collapses revealing a starry night. 

That's not quite right. Not a starry night. A blackness. A void. They see endless nothingness and a few pinpricks of light like stars, and before them is a sprawling structure like a mold of an ant colony, and below is a room with an identical break in its wall. After some discussion, the group rigs a rope bridge to the other room.

This room appears a lot like the circular room they just left before touching the crystal, but for three portals. Each portal is opaque but bears a distinct color.

So without going into incredible detail, this complex ended up being a micro-universe where Nylor kept subjects to study and experiment on. Our adventure took us into and out of peril in dramatic fashion. For those curious, the playthrough of the conclusion is here: A Fitting End.

******

For now, I'll stick with the story points so we can get to present day. Nylor, this alien's simulation of a man was indeed summoned by Jorg, but it was his undoing. The Silver's have a long history directly entwined with the Masters, the old rulers of the kingdoms of man and still very much powerful entities. Their relationship with them directly resulted in the Red Death and the rebirth of Erasmus Silver in each generation. Jorg wanted to break the cycle so he enlisted the help of an outsider. But the outsider's investigation ended the same way as it does for most experimental subjects. Nylor infected his lessers with disease and facsimiles, experimented, and recording the results.

The party put an end to this, but the tear in time and space that resulted afterward was enough to change something within Camilla, the porcelain robot-like character with no past. After acting very strangely she seemed to flee the party in abject confusion and being tireless, the others were hard pressed to follow.

Part 3: Camilla flees to the forest while her companions pursue. The others feel as if they are being watched. Eckehard is captured and forced to return to Kine.

Ernst Fuchs

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Start of a New Adventure (and campaign book)


It’s been forty years since I’ve come to this place. Fifty since the war broke my people and made them slaves. I’ve grown numb living here. I’ve even taken a human name. I cannot adequately describe the shame I feel for having survived that war. I saw century long friends die at the hands of beings that towered over us. Cut through like a thousand stocks of corn. The fear I felt then is a taste that will never leave my mouth.

When I fled, I was convinced it was because I would not face an unbeatable enemy at the behest of well-to-do men that didn’t deserve it, but even then I was lying to myself. I knew there would be no next battle. We were broken. In truth, the rumor that my people were being made slave soldiers was already spreading. Even as we made our way home, the tension was palpable. I was a coward.

I should have died a hundred times already. If not for you, Oswin, I would have fallen on my sword decades ago. This business with the murders was too much. A week in the dungeons has reminded me so keenly where I stand. I will always be an outsider here. I am thankful for the friends I have made, few that there are, but it is time to return home.

Do not fear for me, I will not go alone. Antak will join me. My only regret is not having your company. Damn the short lives of your people. We will have to meet again in the Halls of Waiting, my friend. Perhaps you will be reborn a Thrymm and we will battle side by side in the next life. Take care of yourself.

Forever your friend,
Kirantukh (Magnar)

PS. Hazel, this note is for you. I will not see your grandfather again in this life but if your travels ever take you east, know that you will always have a friend there.

Hazel read out loud to Oswin and was barely able to finish. Choking back tears, Oswin reached for the letter but instead took her hands and gently patted. “Shhh, shh, now. I always knew he would go back. Be glad Antak is going with him.”

Oswin groped the objects on the table until he found the mug of coffee and lifted it to his lips. “Stop crying, dear. Here, do something to take your mind off of it, go to my room and look in the closet.” He waited a few minutes and listened for Hazel to put down the letter and leave the study. “Do you have it open?”

“Yes, grandpa. What am I looking for?”

“Knock on the floorboards,” answered Oswin.

“What?” Hazel replied as she dropped onto her knees, but she didn’t wait for an answer and began knocking on each plank of wood.

Without a word, Oswin waited for Hazel to find the hidden compartment. It wasn’t long before she exclaimed, “What is this?” There was a sound of wood knocking together and soon Hazel returned to the fire lit room with a long box. “What is this grandpa?”

“Open it,” he replied.

For a few moments Hazel stared at Oswin. He was up to something. Emotional turmoil turned to eager curiosity. Hazel put the wooden box on the floor, undid the latches, and lifted the lid. Inside was a sword, shining as if recently polished. “It’s a sword. Why do you have a sword? And who’s is it?”

 “It is an old family heirloom. The Goddards come from a long line of warriors. Your strange old grandfather decided he liked books more than swords and ruined it.” Oswin chuckled as he spoke, “That is Anmod. It was my father’s sword. I once let Magnar use it. He enjoyed it so much that when he finished with it he immediately gave it back to me and said to never lend it to him again or he wouldn’t be able to give it up.”

Hazel picked up the blade and looked closely at it. “It’s enchanted.”

“Ha!” Oswin exclaimed, “You’re sharp girl! Yes, it is, but it’s not for you.”

She turned the priceless weapon in her hand all the while her eyes never left the blade, “I didn’t think it was grandpa. I’m no warrior.”

“Oh, but you are. You just don’t fight with swords and spears.” Oswin was beaming now. The old man leaned back in his chair and sipped his coffee again. “Now I’m going to say this only once. Are you ready?” Hazel nodded. “Go find Magnar and give him that sword. He is forever emotionally connected to it. You can track him with it easily. I trust you can take care of yourself, too.” Hazel started to protest. “No. No. I can feel it. I know you want to go. I may be blind but I know you care for him and he cares for you too.”

“I can’t possibly leave. Who would take care of you?”

“You don’t think I can take care of myself?” Oswin snapped his fingers and a plate of stew flew to his outstretched hands. “What is there for you in Westhaven? I will not have my granddaughter throwaway years of her life watching me waste away of old age. Go pack your bags. You leave in the morning.”

“But grandfather?!” Hazel was indignant but couldn’t help the excitement from creeping into her voice. She knew once her grandpa decided on something nothing would dissuade him.

“You will leave or I won’t eat. You got that?” Oswin replied crossly.

When Hazel eventually gave in, Oswin leaned back comfortably again. “Now that we got that out of the way, here’s something for you.” Oswin snapped his fingers and a black wooden staff floated over to Hazel from the corner of the study. “This is Daron. Daron protected me on all my adventures, now he will protect you.”

An hour later they finished dinner and Oswin went off to bed. Hazel sat in the study with the two priceless artifacts and looked around the room, spying things she would miss. She was excited, scared, and sad all at once. What will the future hold? Will she ever be back? And would she be ready?” 
With those thoughts running through her head she dozed by the fireside dreaming of adventure.


Arthur Rackham
 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Hello Again part 1

A couple years back we had one of those games where we just couldn’t keep a consistent group together.  A roulette of six different players, two at a time stepped in and out after two or three sessions. We nearly gave up, but the mystery our GM dreamed up was just too damn good, even the restarts were interesting. So finally after a whole year, we managed to nail down two players and make it through the story. Now, I didn’t run the first two parts of the game, so I can only tell you what happened from my perspective, and then pick up where our old characters left off, so here it goes:

Ernst Fuchs

Part 1


Eckehard the ‘half-aelf’ is sitting, legs crossed and resting on a stool when a burly man in maille struts into the lonely hostel. The only spattering of buildings on the forest road for miles, everyone in the common room is a traveler. Still, Eckehard stands out. His inhuman features always attract the attention of xenophobes and bullies in this part of the world. Mert, the armored brute that just entered took immediate notice- too bad for him. Mert got only one insult out of his mouth before realizing his mistake. Eckehard moved like a snake. His strikes were without mercy and vicious. In seconds Mert was dead. In the ensuing chaos a curiosity- er rather, a bizarre scene unfolded. A woman but not a woman, a moving porcelain doll the size of a woman with an expressionless face, as if it were a permanent plaster mold, entered the bar. Dumbfounded, Eckehard and the three tavern patrons that had stood up to help him (though unnecessary) somehow joined together and make their way to place called Kine on a wagon with a strange box just long enough to house the parties strange new porcelain friend.

Presented straight off with this mystery, it wasn’t long after that a new one unfolded. This woman (a PC) named Camilla had no memories (neither did the player). She was obviously not human and had all the emotions of a broom. That said, she could speak and reason, she took suggestions literally, and she carried on tirelessly. Joining us was an old magician, a poor knight, and a little woman named Coco. Coco carried nothing with her yet seemed to have whatever was needed whatever the situation (a small mystery to the other PCs).

Map of Kine. Any old town will work, but we used this one by Dyson: https://rpgcharacters.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/tuesday-map-the-thorp-at-appletree-pond/

Upon arriving, the PCs discovered the town had been struck with the plague, a disease the residents called the Red Death. The town was sparse and few people were ever about. An impressive castle loomed over the town, owned by one Lord Silver. Apparently, he had not been seen for many weeks. The only other remarkable feature in the town was a very old looking church at its center.

After a small confrontation with the lone town guard (who demanded the visitors leave their weapons with him, but settled on allowing Lord Eckehard, a noble, to keep their weapons), the PCs made their way to an inn. Once entered they met Brill, the Innkeeper, a well-to-do entrepreneur with a knowledge of local nobility and a collector. This is where the mystery begins. It’s discovered that Mert works for Brill and Brill works for Lord Silver. Camilla was destined for delivery to this very tavern. What’s more, there is a strange painting in Mert’s wagon. Upon close inspection, a note is found in the wagon and another within the painting. The first says

Mert, you are late. Time is growing short. I require my merchandise delivered to Kine immediately. Bring it to the usual location by mid-fall and I will consider forgiving your delay.

The second says


…I awoke in my sleep again but this time the cellar was filled with offerings. The way was clear and I entered the city of my Lady.

This peaks the PCs curiosity. Especially when they realize there is another painting in the tavern that was clearly painted by the same hand. When they get a chance the PCs remove the backing of that painting and find another note.


…so I knew she called for me and me alone. Why else would she let me into her city? I opened the door with their blood. Fed the rats in the walls. Soon the rats will be sated. The rats. May the rats eat your eyes. Eat my offerings…

Thoroughly creeped out the PCs retire to their rooms but not after noting that Brill and his wife Nala, a couple well into their middle years, are fostering a young son that they suspect is not related to them. They seem overly protective of him.

With the memory of the notes fresh in their minds, scratches and growls coming through the walls in the night were needless to say, unsettling. So much so that two of the party left that night. In the morning, when the three remaining members commiserated over their miserable nights spent awake, they were joined by two others that were also staying at Brill’s Tavern (new PCs). These newcomers seemed curious as well. So when the PCs made their way to the church at the center of town the others joined.

The church was an ancient temple to the Green Lady, a cult that exists only on the fringe of the Free Realm. Their stop at the church revealed only the symptoms of the Red Death and that Lord Silver was indeed missing. It didn’t seem they would get any answers there, so they moved on to Lord Silver’s castle.

Now at this point, why stay? Why not leave at the first mention of the plague? Here's why, unbeknownst to the rest of the party, Eckehard is not a half-aelf, not at all (in fact that’s impossible, no one is a half-aelf but it's an often used lie). His blood is tainted with the blood of Nobles, something that burns hot within his veins, like a rash, always itching, driving him mad. His one solace is a second obsession. He seeks the Lady in Black, one of the long dead Masters now worshiped as a god. His search for her led him to Kine and now the notes seem to confirm it. Coco is a mercenary and Camilla follows orders. They seem useful to him so he feigns lordly interest in the matters of the Silvers, all the while probing for a path to his prize, the Lady in Black.

The PCs gain entrance to Lord Silver’s castle and find a sick and horribly drunk Roderick Silver, son of Jorg, the missing lord. He coughs blood like all the other plague victims except he is mostly lucid and intensely angry. He is outraged at any mention of his father but is prone to ramblings whenever he is mentioned. He raves about his Uncle, a man named Erasmus and his fathers leaving to find him. In the main hall, there are paintings of his father and a rather severe-looking man, whom the party assumed is Erasmus. By Roderick’s third outburst Eckehard has had enough, he surprises everyone in the party with a spell, putting young Roderick asleep and giving them time to explore the castle.

The explorers sneak upstairs where they find the study and a great oak desk. On it, they find an unfinished letter.


Brill, I have word that one of my uncle’s paintings was sold years ago to a collector in the east. It is imperative that I reacquire it. Have your contacts

They also find a note in the pile of papers, written in frantic letters, in the same pen as before but as if written quickly and with an unsteady hand.

RATS I HEAR THEM IN THE ATTIC THEY NEED MORE MEAT STRIP THE FLESH

At this point the group begins worrying that Roderick will soon wake, so quickly they move to through the other rooms. Much of the upstairs seemed mundane if not strangely undisturbed except for a set of large doors. With some fiddling the party realizes it is closed by an iron bar on the opposite side. The doors are wide set but the crack between them is dark (despite the fact that there should be plenty of windows in this room). Coco makes a quick attempt to get through the door but the sudden shouts from below alert them that Roderick is now awake. The party quickly makes their way to a set of stairs. As they descend they realize it doesn’t lead to a back entrance. In fact, it leads to an underground labyrinth.

There was a lot to explore in the tunnels, murals of a shrouded woman, sometimes depicted with another very similar woman or spiders, ghost walls, booby-trapped steps… but we’re going to fast forward to an underground chamber with a lever. When pulled, the ceiling pulls away and a path into a spacious room is revealed. The adventurers quickly realized they must be in the church at the center of town. It’s not long before two wandering monks discover them. A young man named Brother Maynard is nice enough when he finds them considering they were four strangers snooping around the chapel at midnight through a tunnel entrance he never knew existed. He calls for the grandmaster, the forgetful but venerated head of the church, and pretty soon there is a small gathering of monks. The players do their best to talk their way out of the situation but they’re shown the door. On their way out they recognize one of the monks as they pass him in the cloisters- Jorg Silver, the missing lord of Kine. Eckehard calls to Lord Silver. Without warning Eckehard collapses. Jorg disappears. Fade to black.

**End Part 1**

Part 2: Eckehard wakes from a dream in which millions of eyes surround and constantly watch him. The struggle to regain consciousness leaves him weary and confused. He is in the pitch dark surrounded by damp walls and bars, and there’s something more, the itch in the back of his mind, the ever present craving, a yearning for living flesh grows ever-steadly until any and all sensations are consumed by one, hunger.

Camilla and Coco find themselves in a fog, riding in a wagon. When Camilla looks to her left, she recognizes the wagon driver. It is Mert. This snaps her back to reality, as if waking from a coma, she very bluntly proclaims, “I saw you die.”

Ernst Fuchs

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Grey

The Grey (or Harian, as they call themselves) are tall and incredibly slender, graceful, fleet-footed, and sharp. There is little to distinguish males from females, both are much taller than the average human.  They tend have dark hair, jet-black irises, and lack facial and bodily hair. Their skin has an ever so slight blue-grey tinge otherwise they are very pale. They are beautiful, if strange, with elongated features and limbs in perfect symmetry.

The Harian are ageless. And yet in each clan, there are scarce few beyond three hundred years. This is in large part due to the practice of lesmair. When the eldest of the Grey become disinterested with life they go dormant. Some wander into the forest in search of a comfortable resting place, while others simply sit down and never get up again. Even the most driven of them rarely stay active beyond four hundred years. A Grey can, of course, become active again. They are aware of everything around them, but after seeing virtually everything in their long lives, there isn’t much to peak their interest. While dormant, the Grey do not need to eat or drink, but this disinterest with life becomes so strong that it supersedes a sense of self-preservation. Some even perish in seasonal floods while others fall prey to wild animals. Greywood is filled with thousands upon thousands of dormant Harian.

Lesmair shows up in many Harian traditions. Dormant Grey are included in story circles and festivities, left offerings when clans leave for nhymor (an intermittent migration) and incorporated into fables, jokes, customs, even phrases such as ‘bored into lesmair.’

Still, the Grey are born with vivaciousness for life. They have many offspring, limited only by choice (becoming fertile when both Grey desire a child). They maintain an active sex life (and usually polygamous, often not confined to just other Grey). Parents usually live hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles apart, meaning only the mother or father raises their offspring and it could be decades before it meets its other parent.

The Grey delight in giving names. They are named at birth. As they accomplish more in life they take on more names, adding to their existing designations. When shortened, a Grey may be called by any number of derivatives of their existing name. Curiously, though the Grey have many names, none know what they were named at birth. Their parents and their parents alone know their birth name. It is an old tradition originally meant to protect the Grey’s true name, but it is also a facet of the Lwydgalon gerontocracy. The Grey have multiple names for places and things as well. They do not have family names as such but bear a name that is added to depending on their age, accomplishments, personality or who is addressing them. A name could be a description of their personality, appearance, occupation, father, mother, or place of origin.

John Bauer
 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Rise of the Seithran

The Rise of the Seithran can be played as part of the Bone King adventure path or as a stand-alone, but before we get started, here are a couple things from the Bone King campaign that ended up being pretty important for our playgroup.

The Bone King's Ruby Eyes and Iron Ring (see description in the Bone King)

The Cup: Discovered in what seems like years ago, this silver cup was borne out of the shadow keep of a once powerful noble. Since found, it has already changed two of our number that dared to drink from it. Once in the Material World, the cup changes into a gold goblet encrusted with sapphires and emeralds. Our two adventurers that drunk from the cup were brought closer to the Shadow Realm. They now see in the dark and figments of their companions thoughts and fleeting images of their dreams. On this leg of the adventure, the cup has new surprises. You might end up in the Aether, where the cup can take on any number of shapes depending on the realm it's brought into. In the Halls of the Dead, it manifests into a blaze of white fire. Of course one of our foolhardy adventurers decided to fill it with wine and drink from it. What would ever cause a sane person to put a ball of fire to their lips, who knows (not their GM!), but it happened and she was consumed with incredible burning pain. After a few moments of pain that felt much, much longer, she was changed. Her spirit fused to her body, erasing her previous self and making her a planar creature. This has made innumerable changes to her not the least of which allows her to use the reflection in the cup to see images of things she concentrates on.
Magdalena Zwierzchowska

The sea spray greets you like an old friend as the prow of the ship dips down the chop and back up again. At the top of the next wave, the city of Torvald crests the horizon and almost at the same time the sun peaks out of the east. Suddenly it feels two degrees warmer.

Then out of the coastal waves, a ship and then another and another. Three rectangular sails, red striped and decorated with a black ring across the the center, the ships quickly close the distance between you. "Who is that?" You shout to the old captain over the surf. "They are the Seggring," replies Ask, "Leaving for the raids."

Soon the ships are passing and Ask shouts something in Skald at them while raising a shield from the railing and you gawk at the ships full of tall muscular women working the ropes.

The Setting: Torvald is huge for a town in Nord Fyel. In fact, the Vann consider it a city. The streets aren't paved and most buildings are single story long houses that shelter multiple families. There is little else as far as structures, but the docks are something to behold with many dozens of ships at rest on the beach and each at the base of a 50 ft. tall wooden sculpture carved with many faces, some like animals or monsters and painted with blacks, reds, greens, and sometimes blues. There's another such wooden pillar or totem at the center of town, but it stands well over a 100 ft. with a base at least ten feet wide at the bottom.

Making your way through Torvald you'll find many people toiling about but little in way of a market- or really any place to sell goods. In fact, it seems most residents are very self-sufficient (at least in the view of an outsider) and what they can't get they buy from their neighbors. It seems local knowledge will be necessary for navigating the ins and outs of Torvald, especially for acquiring food and hawking goods. Just the same, the subtle wealth of the Vann is apparent in the well-fed populace. There is plenty of drying fish, kelp, and squid hanging on racks outside, also fine fishing nets, dyed furs, and steelwork.

At the center of Torvald is the largest of the longhouses. It is incredibly large for a single story wooden structure. Its walls are lined with doors, now open to the elements, and its roof reaches at least sixty feet tall. From a long way off you see a crowd assembled inside.

The Scene: Once near the structure, you see a short black haired woman dressed in travel-wear, fur, and a woven cedar cape, addressing a much taller women clothed in many furs dyed red and black. The woman, named Hilde is recounting the story of her search for her lost son, only to return to her home to find the rest of the family had disappeared. After searching frantically for some hours, she found only these unusual spheres. Then she holds out one of the four transparent globes. The woman in furs, named Torunn is the Jarl of Torvald. She takes one sphere. It seems like glass, but extremely light and durable. She passes the globe to a strange looking man covered in tattoos and wearing antlers on his head. This is Leif, the town Verndari or druid. He sets the globe down and asks how many she found. She procures 3 others and postulates there is one for each of her children and husband. Next to him another strange looking man, he is thin and short and dressed in only a cedar skirt and an elk-skin cape. This is Knut, an excentric but good-natured witch.

The Spheres: Each sphere is indeed the remains of Hilde's husband, two children, and Hilde as well. In fact, the woman claiming her name is Hilde, is actually a woman named Gudrun- but we'll return to that later. Leif and Knut are unable to discern the spheres' nature, but while experimenting Knut may accidentally open a portal to the Halls of the Dead as that is where they come from. Each sphere once held the spirit of a living being, but they are spent. They were created by the warrior spirits named Valkyrja, but without exploring the other side of the portal it is impossible to discern anything except that they were formed from the chaos of the Aether.

Halls of the Dead: The Halls are immense, mindbendingly so. You can walk for what seems like miles and still be standing at its center. The hall is flanked by statues of women warriors, seemingly made from marble and silver, and standing miles upon miles tall. Adding to the strangeness of the place, the hall has no windows, but it is filled light, so much so that you have absolutely no shadow.

Heading in the direction of the statues will eventually lead to what you thought was a hall but is in fact, an endless number of passageways stretching away from the main hall. Going down any one of them will lead you to an identical great hall, except this one is filled with innumerable rows of men and women in maille and furs drinking and eating. They are being served by lithe silver clad women identical to the statued pillars of the hall. They stand well over ten feet tall and seem to serve no function other than refilling cups of wine and carrying trays of food, despite their full armor and many worn weapons. Scanning the room, your eye is drawn to the "end" of the hall, which when you concentrate seems to actually be the center of the hall. An even taller woman, also clad in silver sits on a throne, her black hair sticks out from under her helm and she sits at the center of the only dark part of the room, an immense black blot on the cobbled floor.

The hall is filled with the raucous of a million warriors. You may approach unhindered. All the silver-clad warrior women ignore you as long as you are unthreatening and the undecipherable buzz of voices continues for as long as you stand in the room. Once you sit at any of the tables, the talking turns from white noise to coherent chatter. The warriors are warm company. They will regale you with stories, including the story of each of their deaths. They know why they are there, though none seem to know to what end (though they have stories for that too). The woman at the center of the hall is Alfhildr, goddess of war.

The Plot: Alfhildr is an oft revered deity that serves as the protagonist in many tales. She is also described as a ruthless slaver that wears the gilded teeth of the previous Alfhildr around her neck. Regardless, she like most beings in the Aether are far removed from materiality. Why they would be involved in this mystery is befuddling to say the least, so bear with me. A once-prominent and now persecuted political faction named the Seithren is making a gambit for the seat at Torvald, attempting to overthrow centuries of democratic tradition to establish an oligarchy and also push out the Verndari (druids) as the spiritual leaders of the Vann.

To achieve their ends, this small but powerful group of wilders has enlisted the help of Magnhildr, sister and rival of Alfhildr. In exchange for the sacrifice of four of her sister slaves, the Valkyrja, she will aid them. A difficult task to be sure, but now organized the seithran are resourceful. They summoned four Valkyrja and with the souls of Hilde and her family they dispelled the enchantments that force the Valkyrja to obey, knowing they would attempt to kill Alfhildr and take her place on the throne. Now, the Seithren need only wait for the freed Valkyrjas' likely deaths.

When the adventurers play through Torvald to the Hall, they are likely to discover the spheres once housed the souls of Hilde and her family, but they were spent. It is possible to discover the identity associated with each sphere. Likewise, it is possible to use the spheres to return home (but a word of warning, each time a portal is created, a sphere is destroyed) They are also likely to witness the four Valkyrja attack Alfhildr and die in the process. Their blood will be added to the ever-growing dark blot on the floor.


Arthur Rackham
When you return to Torvald, a startled Knut is in the middle of making stew when you spring from his cooking pot. Once the confusion passes you'll realize you've been gone for weeks (or at least much longer than you suppose). Immediately you make your way to Torunn to tell her what you discovered.

You learn from Torunn that Leif left for a village called Kimbr to better study Hilde's home, but he has not returned. Torunn introduces you to a man covered from head to toe in tattoos. Despite the chill of fall, he is almost naked. His name is Hakon, a painted warrior and tracker. He is as blunt as he is skilled. She was just about to send him to Kimbr to track down some thieves stealing sheep from the counties around Torvald. She seems unconcerned about Leif's absence because apparently the Verndari are outside her control and frequently gather for meetings, but since the trouble with Kimbr and the apparent thievery in the same area, she would like you to accompany Hakon on the two-day trek to find him.

Kimbr: A small village with friendly people. When you arrive, Hakon leaves to track the stolen sheep. The villagers point you to Hilde's home at the edge of town and also confirm that Hilde had three children, not two (exactly as she claimed but curious if you discovered the identities of the orbs). Also strange, the villagers are unable to talk about the youngest of the children. Whenever a villager mentions the child they begin to contradict themselves. Curiously the villagers seem to be aware that what they are saying doesn't make sense, but they can't help it. In fact, once they start contradicting themselves about the child they start contradicting themselves about the whole family, eventually resulting in a splitting migraine and confused mumbling. Something else, they become confused about the whereabouts of Leif. Not only that, but the whereabouts of any Verndari. There should be at least one in each county and all the villagers should know the identity of the local Verndari.

Each of the villagers is marked, though they don't know it. The Seithran have enchanted all the townsfolk to obey their commands and avoid certain topics, all without them ever knowing the Seithran were ever there, despite the fact that the Seithran's main gathering point is the vale only ten miles up the forest path.

One thing the villagers do know is a woman named Gudrun. Gudrun was ostracized from Kimbr as a child (for being a Seithren or wilder). She was long thought dead, but some of the local farmers recognized a woman in the forest that resembled her (now a woman in her late teens).

The Vale: Having found only a dead farmer, and tracks of sheep leading into the forest, Hakon comes to find you. Hakon, blunt as he is, wants to track them into the forest but with night falling seems to want some backup. The mood of the town and the wanton nature of the farmer's death has him a little spooked. Making your way through the forest, you come to a point where there is a light flickering through the cedars ahead. After a mile or more, you come upon an incredible scene.

An inferno casts long shadows across the cliffs. There are more than twenty women sitting around a huge bonfire. Behind them are the men. An equal amount of men are split into two groups and between them is a group of children. From the protection of boulders, you can make out provisions, wagons, and two squatted forms beside what looks like bears. One of the women stand up and come near the fire, so close that it should burn her. Suddenly she thrusts a hand into the flames and opens it. The fire erupts to the heights of the cliffs and morphs into the shape of a tall bird, perhaps an egret or crane, and then into the shape of a woman- a familiar silver clad warrior woman. Staring down at the woman now clutching her burnt arm, a voice fills the camp, "You have done well," spoke the fire woman, "Your reward." And she holds out a hand. Quickly, each of the women stand up and one at a time approach the proffered hand. It's difficult to see, but each returns with a gold ring and a blackened hand. When the twentieth ring is given, the fire dies to mere embers, and the short woman that first thrust her hand in the fire turns to her followers and presents her ringed finger, "Our labor," she says,"Sleep well tonight my brothers and sisters. Tomorrow the Eldring recaptures Torvald."

What Comes After: Hakon recognizes the seithren for what they are and is eager to make for Torvald tonight. He will want to warn Torunn and muster all the warriors in Torvald. If you wish to head back (Hakon may elect to leave you immediately so as to get the word to Torunn faster), you will find the city abuzz. Palisades are being erected around Torvald. It seems the whole city has answered the muster.

The Seithren and their Plan: Twice a seithran warrior raised an army and conquered Nord Fyel. The seithran, Alfarr the Great ruled Nord Fyel as king for nearly 80 years. In this short time, seithren were accepted members of society. At the height of Alfarr’s reign, the council of seithren, called the Eldring, rose to power. In only a short time the Eldring displaced the Verndari as the spiritual leaders of the Vann. But once Alfarr passed, the Eldring became corrupt and fraught with infighting. Not long after, the jarls returned to power. A decade later, Hjalmar the Fierce seized control of the Eldring and led the surviving seithren once again to power and glory, reconquering Nord Fyel in a bloody war, and after many years, Hjalmar claimed the throne at Torvald. The night of his coronation, he was poisoned and the Eldring that remained were slaughtered in their sleep. Since his fall, the seithren were branded anathema. In most places, the seithren are now reviled and feared. They are known as forath or monsters, and once discovered many are ostracized or killed. In some places the seithren are pitied. They are hidden, shunned, or left to die. There are, however, a few remote villages where the seithren are respected and honored. The seithren are born with an innate ability to spellcraft. They are gifted or tainted with this power at birth. Roughly one in ten thousand Vann folk are born seithren (the seithren are wilders).

The Eldring is long gone but the seithren are not. Left for dead, Gudrun, the black-haired young woman posing as Hilde, wandered the forests around Kimbr surviving two frigid winters before meeting Astrid, the short woman that thrust her hand in the fire to summon Magnhildr. Astrid is five years her elder and had been wandering the forests for a decade before meeting Gudrun. Astrid, ambitious and embittered by the trials she was forced to overcome, gathered other ostracized children. Astrid delved deep into the Shadow Realm to learn the intricacies of demon magic and mentored Gudrun. Upon meeting a demon named Turel, Astrid learned about the realms within Aether and a way to contact the "gods" for aid. With Magnhildr's gift, the seithran plan to catch Torvald at unawares. Gudrun's visit to the city set the plans in motion, setting the orbs as a trigger for the Valkyrja to attack and starting a countdown for the infiltrators that have taken up residence in the city. Now that all the Verndari in the counties are dead, there is no one skilled in casting spells to stand against them, but they are trusting in more than just brute strength. Their attack will take two forms, within the city and at its flanks. The plan has many risks. They are vastly outnumbered, but Astrid has put all bets on the table. It's all or nothing.

The Gold Rings:
It says a lot about the character of a wilder that manages to survive past childhood, but adulthood does not signal the end of danger. Pouring even a moderate amount of power into casting spells creates unpredictable and sometimes lethal side effects for wilders. Magnhildr's gift prevents this (negating the identical dice effect). It also ramps up the amplitude of the spell (always roll 4 dice when casting spells and resisting them). Each of the seithren women was gifted a ring. The ring is tied to the seithrans' will. With time, each seithran with a ring will be utterly destroyed- another sacrifice to Magnhildr.



Arthur Rackham

Friday, December 8, 2017

Scars

Arthur Rackham


Oh, man, it feels good to be thinking about tabletop again. It's been crunch time for the past few months as my wife and I get ready to open up our new restaurant (and later bar!), so tabletop's been on the backburner for a bit.

I have managed, however, to keep the Bone King adventure running every other week (will update soon) and as the campaign played out we noticed some trends. Since the Northern Realm went level-less there are fewer tangible means of 'progressing' outside of accumulating special items or becoming cursed, etc. And yet in the campaign, I couldn't really deny the players the opportunity to learn new things. It seemed only reasonable to add a soft rule for learning new skills and spells, so it was added. But we noticed there were still some big changes in the characters. As they interacted with powerful artifacts, other planes, and alien creatures they became physically changed by the experience. This isn't a new concept at many tables, but since there are no levels and it was such a poignant thing in our current campaign, I thought I'd codify it. So here it is, the Scar mechanic:

Taking part in a story as it unfolds is a reward in and of itself, but for an adventure to be truly immersive, players need to feel like their characters are developing along with it. Scars are tools for adding tangible character and plot development.

Scars are dramatic changes in the makeup of a character. They are also permanent or at least made to feel permanent. When developing story arcs GMs should include moments or things that can radically alter a character. This change should have a real impact and unexpected consequences. For example, while across the veil in the Shadow Realm, Ravenna found a dull silver cup. When she returned to the Material Realm the cup underwent a transformation into a brilliant gold and jewel-encrusted goblet. Now, the GM intends this goblet to play an important role in the story but also to present an opportunity for the characters. If used to drink, Ravenna will become closer to the Shadow Realm, granting her the ability to see invisible things and to randomly slip through dark cracks to spaces beyond. This effect can aid Ravenna as much as it can get her into trouble, as she could randomly slip into a dungeon with no reliable way of coming back and there are also the invisible things that once stole past unnoticed, now visible and very much aware that she can see them.

This illustrates the first aspect of all scars:

1.     Radical change brought on by the story, leading to the second:

2.     A scar is brought on by a character’s actions. A scar should never be forced on a character. That doesn’t mean that players can refuse one when it happens, it just means that a scar must be bought with a measure of known risk. Ravenna drinking from the cup, for example, it’s a strange cup with obvious magical properties. If Ravenna chooses to drink from it then she must accept the consequences. The same goes for entering battle, consulting beings with powers greater than her own, or putting on a ring once worn by a powerful undead king.

3.     Last, a scar should cut both ways. If it would aid more than hinder, then it should have some small aspect with a drawback. Likewise, one that most often hinders should have an aspect that sometimes aids. There are of course exceptions, namely afflictions such as curses and injuries, but keep in mind there should be some avenue to overcoming them (even if it’s just temporary).

As a good rule of thumb, every story arc should include one scar. GMs should prepare an item, creature, place, or moment that could scar at least one character in addition to the random chance characters will become scarred from an injury or encounter.