Once more into the Weft —
A trifold labyrinth

September 17, 2020 at 5:22 pm

“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”

– J.K. Rowling

 

We have spent the last couple of posts (here and here) sketching out an area within our Almeri setting as a location for a mega-dungeon known as the Weft-warrens. Technically, the entire location is the mega-dungeon, as the ancient wizard Kain and his acolytes carved out more than the Ebonthorn and the entire cavern is riddled with caves and tunnels.

This gave us the opportunity to explore another project we have been working on — the trifold labyrinth. Expanding a bit on the highly successful postcard dungeons the Fantasy Trip, The trifold layout lets us build a complete short adventure with multiple encounters, unique adversaries, and even new items and spells all on one sheet of paper.

Beyond the Night's BridgeThe first of these is ‘Beyond the Night’s Bridge’ and it is set in the Weft. Here you will find a mysterious bridge leading into a sealed underground tower, greedy goblins atop gigantic spiders, and shadowy folk from realms beyond our own. It is open-ended by design and probably asks more questions than it answers, leading your group to deeper adventures.

We invite you to download the adventure and take a look for yourself. Run it at your table, or loot it for ideas. Or, just look it over. We’d love to hear your feedback. And keep an eye for more Heroic Expeditions.

Download Beyond the Night’s Bridge trifold labyrinth.

 

 

A special shout-out to artist Dean Spencer whose inspirational work graces the front of our first trifold.

 

 

Part II–
At home in the Weft: Life underground

September 2, 2020 at 11:43 pm

“Fear has many eyes and can see things underground.”

– Miguel de Cervantes

Living in the Weft, or even a prolonged visit, is not for the faint. There is no day or night, just the ever-present glow of the lava flow into the Crucible. The air is sulfurous, dry, and hot. The population is secretive, dangerous, and often not completely human. It has the air of a boomtown always on the brink of disaster. Not surprisingly, a large portion of the population are goblins, and a selection of humans, dwarfs, elves, and other forms can all be found.

Water is not common in the Weft, and is brought in by Travelers or through Gates to the elemental plane. Cleanliness is not well-practiced, and the dirty, physical work of much of the populace leads to quite a stench in close quarters. Food is less scarce, but might not be eagerly accepted by surface-dwellers. Most meals are made from fungus, moss, and rumbler — a colloquial term for the yard-long earthworms cultivated here. In fact, rumbler is quite versatile and has a meaty consistency and mild flavor. But many never quite get the taste for it. A local beverage called sharab, made from fermenting mushrooms, flows freely and helps lubricate the social life of the city.

Work is also difficult to come by. Most are drawn here to explore the warrens, so adventuring and exploiting adventurers are its two main industries. Guides, brokers, appraisers, gamblers, hustlers, escorts, and thieves pack the taverns and pleasure-houses. Furtive wizards and dealers in antiquities are always eager to ‘sponsor’ excursions into the warrens. Currency is highly variable considering the origin of its inhabitants, and coinage value is usually based on weight. Barter is also quite common in the Weft.

There is no true government in the Kain’s Crucible, or anywhere in the Weft. Powerful wizards and thieving gangs try to maintain order around their enclaves, but they are too often embroiled in fighting one another to establish order. The only true enforcement is the Sentries — seven-foot copper automatons that patrol the Weft and enforce the laws as Kain saw fit. The Sentries do not speak or attempt to justify their actions, they simply apprehend their quarry and banish them through a Gate in the Central square. Most often those apprehended are returned to the worlds from which they came, but tales abound of far grislier destinations for those who commit serious crimes. While open bloodshed and theft will alert the Sentries, there are no complete listings of Kain’s code of justice, and one can never be sure what actions might draw their attention. There are 100 sentries in the Weft, and if one is destroyed another will appear to take its place. No one has ever seen where these enforcers arrive from.

New creature: Weft-warren Sentries

ST30 / DX12 / IQ0 / MA10 or 16 / AD 4 / D2d+2 / Power: –2 to enter HTH combat

Bulky, copper-sheathed automatons that relentlessly enforce the laws as set by the wizard Kain, Their primary combat goal is to engage a target in HTH combat, neutralize them, and carry them to the sally port in the central square. They are immune to illusions and command magic

Crucible’s Hot Spots

Cracked Slab. A local landmark, and many newcomers first sight in the Weft, is the raucous barroom at the ’Slab. That is because a large mirror set above the hearth is the exit point of many trapped Gates throughout the Shards. It is said that Kain himself scattered the Gates to provide workforce recruits when he ruled the Weft. Now it provides comic relief when a hapless soul tumbles out onto the flagstones of the tavern. The Cracked Slab is owned Malldus Bayle — a tall cadaverous man of few words. He came the Weft years back for his own reasons and never left. He rarely speaks, but seems to be listening to everything that goes on in his establishment. By contrast, his dwarf cook is the boisterous ‘Pepper’ Jax Moorsten. Pepper is a master at preparing the local rumblers and accents his cooking with surface vegetables grown under alchemical lamps. He can be found drinking in the common room nearly as often as working in the kitchen. The Slab — whose sign is a broken sarcophagus lid — has many rooms on lower levels from barracks to lavish suites. Malldus has been known to extend credit or even indenture newcomers who are not prepared to pay.

The Cloister of Keys. This low-walled compound with a bell tower seems incongruous to the rowdy streets around it, as do the serene, pale-robed denizens within. These are members of a philosophic order that believe that Gates are a manifestation of the connectedness of life, and seek a deeper understanding of the Weft. Their leader is Malis Ossi, a strange figure with six eyes and pearlescent skin. The Mendicants call themselves the Shackled, and wear ritual manacles and keys about their necks, are one of the few who offer charity to strangers, and will provide services in exchange for information about the Gates. There are more than a few wizards among the Shackled, but most are merely scholars or scribes.

Crucible Craeft. A seeming impossible jetty leads from the shore out into the Crucible’s lava pool itself, with a low building at its end. While scalding and unpleasant, it is not deadly to walk upon. At the end is the workshop and showroom of a group salamanders (ST20 / DX13 / IQ12 / MA10 / D fireball / ITL p. 87) who are expert metal-smiths and jewelry-makers. They are very formal and refuse to barter or negotiate, but their workmanship is of the highest caliber. While there must be more than one, they seem to have some shared consciousness and all go by the title master.

Ebonthorn. The well-worn trail rises from the shore of lava pool to the base of the cliff where the lowest bastions of this tower stand. But there is no door, nor windows, or visible means of entry. The legends tell that the tower was once home to the wizard Kain and housed his disciples, but no evidence remains of that today. But treasure-seekers from around the Shards are drawn to this place in hopes of cracking the mystery and reaping the rewards of what lay inside. With so many Gates and portals to be found within the Weft, perhaps the entry can be found within the warrens that surround the place. Or at least that is the hope that fuels those who continually delve here.

Keeper Akyllo. This goblin wizard maintains a stronghold in an old tower that appears to have been melted a long time ago. But it is rumored that several subterranean layers exist beneath the ruined structure. Akylllo has been searching for an ivory termite den that is believed to exist in the Weft. These are supposed to be both delicious and a powerful magical ingredient. Akyllo’s obscure appetites are well-known in the community, and she is known to pay well for delicacies.

Ruffin Ready Dry Goods. In a place of incongruities, this might be the most incongruous yet. The Ruffins’ business is a brightly colored wagon that roams the cramped streets. The Ruffins themselves — brother Matty and sister Patti — are equally colorful flame-haired halflings who love a good story. More than just their appearance, the Ruffins are notable for the breadth and quality of their wares. They seem to carry stock well beyond the capacity of the cart, and have a knack for finding difficult to retrieve items. They seem almost eager to extend credit to wayward customers, and to underwrite missions for a cause. Those that fail to live up to the terms of these contracts seem to end up badly, and it is quietly thought that the Ruffins may be in league with some dark power.

Part I– Welcome to the Weft, the space between here and there

August 25, 2020 at 5:03 pm

“We may move in different circles, but we all dance the same dance on the music of the spheres”

― Wald Wassermann

 

Most of the world-building posts here have been about our world of Almeri and its various ecologies, the skies above it and the depths below. But what about the space between, where the strange magicks that control Gates connect to the multitude of shards and places even further afield? What if there was a place where these paths crossed and those that traverse the ways could gather? And what would they do in such a place?

We have talked in the past about the Keepers — strange wizards who control Gates to wield power over the Shards. But there is little formal organization to their order, and their thirst for power and petty vengeances keep their numbers low. But the Cidrian Shards are a vast realm and there is information that can be gained, and mysteries to be experienced, if one knows where to look. One of these places is known as the Weft, and it can be a place of wonder — or the ultimate pit of madness. The Keepers are not the only ones with the means to access the Weft, but they are the most common. And they control the few widely-known Gates that lead into this realm. Other creatures such as demons, elementals, and other even stranger entities have their own methods of travel but are less likely to share.

 

The middle of nowhere

It is said that the Weft was discovered by the wizard Kain in ages past. It is not known exactly where the Weft is located, or even if it exists in the physical world, but it is a nearly mile-wide opening deep in some volcanic cavern. It is on a natural convergence of magical forces, and Gates form spontaneously on occasion. Also, mis-used and trapped Gates have been known to be deposit unwary travelers within the Weft. The northern end (if compasses can be trusted in such a place) is dominated by a burning lava flow seeping hundreds of feet down the wall of the cavern and pooling in a lake of fire known as Kain’s Crucible. Amazingly, a small community of travelers and trapped souls has grown up around the lake and shares its name. Nearly 1,000 creatures from across the Cidrian Shards call this place home, with nearly half that number of visitors at any given time.

Once Kain found this place, he carved a haven out of a volcanic spire that split the lava stream and provided a commanding view of the Weft. This featureless black tower (now called the Ebonthorn) has no known doors or windows, and only its wide, crenelated roof and sculpture garden are accessible. It was said to be a place of marvels, and Kain and his disciples worked great magic and plumbed the depths of the Weft trying to uncover its many secrets. This may have even been the founding location of the Keepers, but the records of that secretive organization are not shared.

The terrain is rough and rocky, with deep chasms and soaring pillars breaking up the landscape. The ceiling of the cavern climbs thousands of feet in some places and looms just a few dozen in others. It is roughly egg-shaped with the Ebonthorn at the peak. The irregular walls of the Weft are riddled with caves, passages, and worked excavations. Volcanic activity is common and lava pools and stifling fumes rise from cracks in the earth. In cooler areas, huge crystal structures break through the crust and mushrooms rise like trees. Many of these are edible are provide sustenance for the strange wildlife — mostly oversized insects and worms — that live in the Weft.

 

How the Weft was won

For centuries, Kain and the fledgling Keepers held sway over the Weft, drawing strange creatures from many worlds and working many wonders. And then Kain vanished. If anyone knows why or to where they are not sharing, but the mighty wizard was gone. And his followers — like wizards are wont to do — turned on each grasping for their master’s power. These wars lasted further centuries, and in the end, no one wizard gained mastery. The Weft was largely abandoned to those trapped here and the few passing through.

But wherever mysteries lie, there will be those dauntless few who will seek them out. For the past few decades, fortune-hunters have been delving into the cliffs and deep caves of the Weft and unearthing treasures unseen for generations. A few of the Keepers have occupied strongholds here as well, looking for the secrets of the past. And where there is wealth to be had, clever merchants arrive to serve these explorers and separate them from their gains.

The narrow plane between the base of the Ebonthorn and the lava shores of the Crucible on either side of the Red Channel is a hodgepodge of buildings of many different constructions and styles. Taverns, rooming houses, and gaming halls crowd in among sages, assayers, and dealers in rare antiquities. Most establishments have levels below the surface away from the crowds and the stench. There seems to be little planning

Beyond the cramped streets of the Crucible are a seemingly endless complex of caves and excavations filled with dangers, treasures, and portals to places throughout the Shards and planes beyond. These are the Weft-warrens; a world between worlds. Out here the glow of the Crucible fades and the population thins. Here you will find towers of reclusive wizards, rumbler ranches, new excavations, and abandoned ruins of the past. While not numerous, many bands of ghouls prowl this shadowy country in hopes of easy prey.

This murky space is also home to colonies of gate spiders (ITL, p. 94) that seem to congregate about places where connections are strongest and spin webs to lure prey from other realms. Local goblin tribes have domesticated some of the larger spiders (the size of large dogs, roughly ST8) to seek out these places of power and set ambushes for wayward travelers.

Next time: Life between worlds and notable locations.

 

On top of the world: the Almeri north country

June 15, 2020 at 9:01 pm

“Nothing burns like the cold.”

― George R.R. Martin

 

Beyond the storms and the endless gray swells of the Middlesea, those who venture north will eventually be greeted by the sheer cliffs and pine-topped ridges of the Einnen coast. It is a harsh and foreboding landscape, but there are those that call it home. With their communities seemingly carved out of the coastal cliff walls, the Einnen are equally at home on land or sea. They range across the rocky shores and narrow inlets of the Einen fjords in their high-prowed ships with skill and daring.

But in the end, these rovers unerring return to their ports. Because of the limited resources of their harsh clime, the Einnen do not build cities, but instead gather in smaller communities united by blood or other loyalties. Usually no more than 1,000 Einnen are attached to any one Cotte, and of that may be ranging at any time. Most decisions are made by the elders within a community, but when they come together to make group decisions ship captains wield outsized authority. These choices are made by the popular vote of all adults, and those who disagree must either accept or leave the Cotte.

The Einnen are a dark people — in contrast to their icy landscape — with thick hair that ranges from middle brown to blue-black. They regard the sexes equally, and have an open concept of bonded relationships that southerners can find disturbing.

Frozen winters and long sea voyages give the average Einna a fair amount of down-time, and craftsmanship is highly-honored among these people. They may not bright jewels or rich fabrics, but the prosperity of an Einnen is shown in the quality of their gear.

One of the most prized crafts of the Einnen is the carving of whalebone or ivory into scrimshaw. From combs and buttons to ship mastheads, these intricate carvings enrich the life of the Einnen. This has seeped into their magical culture. A Wizard with the Master Woodcarver skill and the Augment Carving Spell (below) can create a magical device capable of holding the energy of a spell that can be released on the holder’s command

New IQ Spell: Augment Carving (S): Lets wizard create an enchanted carving. The wizard must know both the Augment Carving spell and the spell to be written on the scroll. ST cost: None. Writing a scroll requires a wizard’s whole effort for as many days as the IQ required for the spell; they must make his DX roll once on each of those days or their knife slips and it ruins the scroll. Therefore, ST cost is inapplicable; it just takes days of work. A scroll cannot be made for any spell that creates a magic item.

The more complex the magic, the more elaborate the carving must be. And since any figure may try and activate a scrimshaw, it costs twice as much to create an enchanted carving.

 

[su_column size=”1/2″ su_column align=”left”][su_box title=”Cost for Storing Spells in Scrimshaw” box_color=”#7d0c23″ radius=”0″] [table id=20 /]

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Self-powered scrimshaw can be carved with the ST held within the carving, with the typical 10 times the cost and time invested.

Beyond the shoreline of the fjords, the icy tundra and deep forests of the Einnen show little signs of civilization. In the forests the cave bears (ITL, p. 91) and giant wolverines (ITL, p. 92) reign supreme. Einnen hunting parties and foraging groups can sometimes be found, but there are few permanent settlements inland.

Until you reach the slopes of the Krunnarangs that ring the northern wilds of the Almeri shard. There you can find the delving and forges of the Kivilim dwarves. While not numerous, their tunnels range wide through the mountains and the smoke of their forges and tracks of their chain wagons can easily be spotted in this desolate country. Frost giants are known to roam the forests and low hills before the mountains. They are not as huge as some of their kind (ST30-35), but are much more clever (IQ9-13), and are capable of forging their own armor and weapons. These giants are proud and quick to offense, and feel superior to their brutish southern cousins.

The Kivilim are known to have the secret of steel, and their armor and weapons are famed throughout the world. The raw material for these works is usually the sky iron found only in this northern region. High in the northern sky, far from the shimmering band of the Scintillant is the fiery molten shard know as Surtor, who throws burning chunks of itself down on Almeri. The dwarves (and their competitors the frost giants) claim these fragments and forge them into the sharpest and strongest of tools. Steel weapons break as if they were magical and do an additional hit of damage. Steel armor can be made much lighter than iron or bronze, and has -1 less DX penalty when worn. The dwarves are happy to sell their works when the price is right, but divulging the secrets of its making is a mortal offense.

Some of the splinters of Surtor that reach Almeri continue to smolder and can be used as fuel for the great dwarves forges. They also build mighty engines that drive the chain wagons that move about the Kivilim delvings. These are heavy, wheeled carts mounted on long tracks, with chains that pull them along. These are used to haul heavy ore, bulk materials, and even passengers great distances throughout the dwarven lands. The engines that drive them are massive and complex, and it takes both the Chemist and Mechanist talents to manage one. The wagons themselves are quite simple, with only a brake and a clamp to grip the chain, and can be maneuvered without checks by a figure with the Drive (chain wagon) Talent. A Mechanist unfamiliar with the setup could figure out its functions with a successful 3/IQ test.

Each Kivilim hold is controlled by a heredity leader, and they in turn swear fealty to through family ties up to the High King at Keinenhold. Dwarves do not bear children as easily or as often as other races, so these bloodlines are often convoluted connections to cousins, half-siblings, and adopted heirs. The right to rule is passed on to the oldest hero regardless of whether they are male or female.

Making waves: beyond Almeri’s coasts

June 2, 2020 at 2:33 pm

“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.”

― Werner Herzog

Traveling north from Falcon’s Reach, the Tien river delta has one last outpost of civilization at Storr’s Haven. Here the Venettine garrison oversees the final stage of boarding the mighty Hartwood logs for transport down the coast, and launches patrols to protect the shipping that hugs the shoreline.

What lies beyond the sight of its rocky cliffs and lush green hills is not known to many who call this land home. The Thessalan Expanse — known commonly as the MIddlesea — circles the globe with little land to slow the wind or break the storms that lash the open waters. It is only the brave or the foolhardy who leave the site of land behind to ply these waters for trade or conquest.

The wind and weather patterns usually move from West to East, as does typical sea travel. The storms will often form far from the shorelines only to build in intensity and crash down on unsuspecting coastal communities. These storms are much more frequent in the winter months (the season of the shark) and can last for days before dissipating or moving on. At sea, they tend to move quickly and are difficult to avoid.

The largest group of ocean-going people are the Einen who dwell on the northern shores of the Middlesea. These are fierce dark-skinned mariners whose tall, narrow-hulled ships take on the waves, the winds, and all the dangers of the deep to lie claim over the Expanse. Perhaps taking a lesson from the builders of Sky Ships, the Einen fuse the skeletons of the great whales to the hulls of their ships, which seems to give them the flexibility and strength to withstand the crush of the seas.

The most prized of these are the skeletons of the gale Whales — massive magical creatures who can sometimes be seen nearly flying in a breach, crackling with electrical. Their bodies generate a sort of lightning that arcs between the barbs that run along their backs, and add another level of danger to their hunting.

 

New creature: Gale whale

ST100 / DX12 / IQ5 / MA12 or 16 / AD 4 / D4d (swallow) or 1d+2 electric shock / Size 14-hex

Massive kings of the ocean depths, the gale whales can sometimes be seen breaching the surface and brightening the horizon the electrical sparks. Their dark gray forms are mottled with bright blue stripes that follow rows of bright, horny barbs that run along the backs of the whales, Their magical nature is pronounced when they crest above the surface and sail through the air for up to three rounds before returning to the sea. Normally not aggressive, but if injured or harassed they will strike back and have been known to break hulls and sink the ships of those who hunt them.

Like many whales, the gale whales travel in pods of up to 2d ranging far in their annual migration.

While most of the Einen are fishermen or traders, a few have chosen the life of a raider. Known as the Vikarr (‘horned’ in their tongue), they use the barbs of gale whales to ornament their helms, shields, and even as jewelry. It is said that Vikarr wizards can use these barbs to fuel elemental magics.

 

Outside of man, one of the few creatures that prey on the gale whales are the gargantuan megalodons (ST50 / DX14 / IQ4 / MA16 / AD 2 / D3d / Size 10-hex long) that roam the deeps. Rarely are more than 1-2 megalodons seen together, but there are often smaller white sharks following in their wake (ST20 / DX12 / IQ4 / MA16 / AD 1 / D2d / Size 4-6 hexes long). The Einen believe that all sharks are avatars of the sea god Khark and would only attack one in self-defense.

Nearly as numerous, but not as daring, are the seaman of the wide shallow bay of Sycorax. Somewhat protected from the raging storms of the open seas, the Sycorans ply their waters on round-bellied cogs or rowed galleons. Even barges and trading canoes criss-cross the waterlines of the godless realm connecting the shore communities to the many low islands in the bay. The greatest danger here is running afoul of the karkinid crab-men who scavenge coastal waters. The wizards of the Grey Ring offer bounties on the karkinids, and host feasts after successful hunts where the beasts are boiled and served with great ceremony. While it is true that Sycorax has become more aggressive in its interests, it do not seem to have any kind of centralized navy. Yet.

Between the shores of Almeri and the steep fjords that the Einen call home, there are few land masses larger than a few bare rocks and a few foreboding volcanic spires. One location that does stand out is a shallow maze of rocky reefs and stone pillars known as the Lethren Stacks. The story goes that Lethrie was once a mighty island empire that defied the will of Khark, who brought his storms down and shattered its towers and drowned the land and people. The area is believed to be cursed and few risk its treacherous waters.

While this may be true, it is certain that the Stacks are home to several octopus enclaves that prey on coastal shipping. Some have even coaxed kraken (ITL, p.97) into aiding them, using the huge beasts to pull ships down to the depths. This region may also be the origin of the octopi that have seized the Venettine throne and cowed the great capital with their hard-shelled shock troops.

While this only a few of the peoples and locations on or within Almeri’s Middlesea, it is certain that there are more secrets lurking below its surface.

In Plain View:
Taking a look at Almeri’s grasslands

May 5, 2020 at 7:32 pm

“Give me for my friends and neighbors wild men, not tame ones. The wildness of the savage is but a faint symbol of the awful ferity with which good men and lovers meet.”

– Henry David Thoreau

Beyond the Rollers and to the east of the mighty Arástavar, the lands flatten and become arid, leaving the woods and hills behind and opening to the vast grasslands of the Sea of Blades. This wide swath of country is dominated by the sharp-edged dagger-grass and is home to only the hardiest forms of life. Herds of hardy beasts roam the planes eternally hunted by wily predators, and over it all lurk carrion birds in the sky.

The Sea of Blades is not all grass. Shrubs and trees dot the land, from the spreading acacias to the towering baobabs. It is said these mighty trees grow upside down, with their roots reaching to the skies for sustenance. That may not be true, but these trees provide shade and shelter for many of the creatures of the savanna, as well as fruit, edible leaves and even water for those clever enough to extract it from their vast trunks. However, the largest are also home to nests of harpies — cruel, human-faced, vulture bodied predators ever on the lookout for the weak or isolated.

New Creature: Harpies

ST13 / DX14 / IQ8 / MA8 or 16 / AD 1 / D1d

These monstrous carrion-eaters appear as oversized vultures with humanoid upper bodies and twisted human-like faces. They lurk in the trees or circling in darkened skies to drop on weakened or unwitting prey. If a happy can ambush an enemy this way, they can get two attacks from their vicious claws in a surprise round as they drop. Harpies rarely have the heart for a stand-up fight and will usually flee from prey that fights back hard, only to stalk them and attack again from unawares.

Another strange danger on the savanna are the swarming piranhakeets that huddle in shady areas. Even worse, during the dry months, the swarm will create shallow burrows under the soil only to burst our en masse when disturbed.

Harpies are as foul-smelling as they are foul-tempered, and rarely can more than 3-4 nest together. They are smarter than they appear and can speak the common tongue, and often hoard valuable objects in their putrid treetop nests.

The major civilizing factor throughout the length of the Sea of Blades is the Shagga, a breed of nomadic halflings that hunt and herd this harsh country. The Shagga are a far cry from the common halfling burghers or even the wily river folk. They are as hard as their land and always ready to stand up to a challenge.

The Shagga are bulkier than their brethren but slower, with a starting ST of 6 and DX of 10. They do retain the Thrown Weapons talent. The Shagga are also leaner and more sinewy, with thick shocks of hair (and even occasional beards!) that spreads to their shoulders and back as well as their feet.

They hunt the beasts of the savanna along with herding the slow, shaggy water buffalo of the region known as bubbles. They make clever use of these creatures, weaving their thick fur into cloth, tanning their hides, harvesting them for meat and milk and using their horns and thick hooves for utensils and vessels. Even their waste fuels the Shagga cookeries. It is said nothing goes into a bubalu that does not come out as value to the Shagga.

Aiding them and providing swift transport across the open land are domesticated diatryma — or terror birds — of the halflings. These fierce creatures can move at great speed and their claws and beaks can face off against even the largest predators in the region. The terror birds can be handled with a variant of the Horseman and Expert Horseman talent. These beasts are ornery and carnivorous, so that only a select warrior is chosen to learn to ride, and their mounts are kept away from the bulk of encamped tribe.

For the largest portion of the year, each tribe of Shagga is on the move, following grazing pastures and fresh water. But when the rains come in the mid-summer they gather in the great burrows of the southern steppes to trade news, trade goods, and form alliances. In these times the normally taciturn Shagga become quite boisterous; feasting, singing and courting.

Each tribe has a chief, but this title is largely ceremonial. As the men range widely after the flocks or on hunts, most daily decisions fall to the women of the tribe. So, the women of each tribe elect a ‘wife’ for their chief who is responsible for the guidance of the group. Any other wifely duties she may engage in is at the discretion of the wife. The chief has no say over these decisions.

In general, the male Shagga have embraced this idea and revel in their warrior pride. Status and glory are paramount to the males and they are prone to great boasts. They also take insult quickly, and duels are not uncommon. A typical Shagga duel involves blades coated with the poison of the death-blossom spider of the baobab trees. Any hit requires a 4/ST or it causes instant paralysis. If untended, a paralyzed victim will die in 1d minutes, A 3/ST test can stave off death for one minute. While these sex roles are commonplace, they are universal. There are many proud female warriors, and more than a few male among those who do not stray far from camp.

Most Shagga believe that magic is the working of natural spirits, and wizards command, cajole, or bargain with these invisible powers to perform wonders. Their wizards — whether they believe this or not — do not dispute this believe. If a stranger flaunts these beliefs, or argues against them, they risk being put to death to appease these spirits.

While by far the common folk encountered on the Sea of Blades, the Shagga are not the only ones to ever brave the grassy expanse. While there are no proper roads, you will find the occasional wagon train carrying goods to trade with the miners of the far southern Frostspur Range, or a slim elven sky ship flitting across a cloudless sky.

Into the woods: Exploring the Arástavar

April 4, 2020 at 7:25 pm

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

― John Muir

Following the Tien up-river from Falcon’s Reach through the wooded hill country, the tree cover gets denser and denser until you find yourself in the mightiest forest in all of Almeri — the Arástavar. Home of the cloud-touching hartwood trees and the secretive Arást elves, the forest holds vast resources and deep mysteries coveted throughout the Cidrian Shards.

The country between the Reach and the forest itself is a lightly populated rising land of low hills and wooded copses known locally as the Rollers, and to Venitine empire as the Verden Protectorate. The empire has paid even less attention to this region than to its typical holdings (other than ensuring the continued flow of hartwood), and when they do post a governor they are most likely corrupt or exiled. The once-mighty river fortress of Verden is now little more than a trading post and night-time stopover for loggers.

Even the few Venetine forces posted in this hinterland know that their authority does not extend into the deeper forest. Only the elves hold sway there, and the few gargoyles that defy their power. The hardy loggers who work the tall timbers do so at the pleasure of the elves — and few range far from their camps.

Elves in the Arástavar

There are not many who have deep knowledge of the Arást elves, and even fewer who have seen more than a few of their settlements. They believe that they have been chosen to shepherd and protect the forest, and only allow outsiders within their domain to further this goal.

In truth, the elves are only slightly more forgiving within their communities than to those without. Most elven villages hold no more than a dozen or two family groups and those are spread loosely throughout the treetops to lessen the impact of their presence. In terms of our previous race card blog, they would be more akin to the wild elves than any other group.

Each village is given sway over a region of the Arástavar through a byzantine set of relations that leads to the Speaker — the one who holds the bond to the forest and is the final authority among the elves. The title of Speaker is granted for one year at a secret midsummer ceremony among the leaders of the scattered communities. Very few Speakers publicly admit their status.

These villages are usually made up of loosely connected family groups, or by shared philosophies and interests. They are most often built high in the canopy and building clusters joined by flying bridges and ratlines. There is little centralized power, but occasionally speaking groups of the eldest and wisest come together to make joint decisions. Few outsiders ever live long among the elves.

The Speaker also controls the Privileges that allow loggers to harvest the Hartwood trees. Individual trees are chosen within a region and outsiders are given permission to enter the Arástavar for this work. Workers at the logging camps are given little latitude to move about the forest and poaching is subject to death. Elvish craftsmen have the skills to build sky-ships and ornithopters (see details here) but their use is limited close to the ground.

They have also built working relationships with the wild gryphons that perch high atop the mighty trees. More a partnership than a rider/mount situation, a gryphon and its rider work together to achieve their goals. The gryphons are more intelligent than an average mount, and extremely proud, and might not always follow their rider’s command.

New IQ 11 Skill: Gryphon Handler (3). This talent allows a figure to climb atop and ride a willing gryphon without making a DX test. They may also fight while mounted at –1DX, rather than the normal 3. Untrained figures must make a DX test (determined by the GM) each round to stay aboard a flying gryphon.

New IQ 13 Skill: Gryphon Trainer (2). Prerequisite: Gryphon handler. A gryphon expert can soothe wild gryphons, make them docile, and convince them to be ridden as mounts. If a gryphons reaction is not hostile, they may make 3/IQ test to earn the creature’s trust and begin to train the beast. Figures with Animal Handler talent only pay 1 for this talent.

Timber is treasure

Between the dangers of the forest and the work itself, the ever-watching eyes of the elves, and the nature of rough men away from civilizing influences, the logging camps are not warm and inviting places. But the rewards for pulling down these mighty trees and bringing them to market are great, and there is no shortage of those willing to take the risk.

The massive trunks and timbers of these trees are simultaneously strong and quite lightweight, perfect for use in sky-ships and slender towers that crown Almeri’s great capitols. Weapons and tools made of the wood only break on 1-3 of 1d if attacked by a spell or broken in combat, and if enchanted only on a 1. Hartwood shields can be used with one less DX penalty. It requires a master craftsmen to work with the difficult material, and items made from it cost 10 time the normal amount

Red skies

The one group that refuses to bow the elves’ rule is the timberland gargoyles. The treetops are their natural habitat, and are not eager to relinquish their domain. Normally the tribes try to avoid attracting the attention of the elves and their fliers, but occasionally the skies run with blood. Without the magic or the craft of the elves, the gargoyle tribes rarely fair well in pitched battle. So they seek whatever support and allies they can. They work with hardwood poachers and others who would exploit the Arástavar, and its rumored that they have made even darker alliances.

Beyond the great forest the land rises even higher to the ice-capped peaks of the Yaavurii. It is said that this land is also ruled by elves, but even more reclusive and secretive than the Arástavar elves, But that is a story for another time.

Death dealing — Expanding necromancy in the Fantasy Trip

March 25, 2020 at 6:06 pm

“None can use black magic without straining the soul to the uttermost—and staining it into the bargain. Only a strong man, leather-handed, in whom hate and evil are very powerful, can wield them, and he only for a space.”

― Fritz Leiber, Swords and Deviltry

Grimm Hassel pulled his cloak tight against the chill of the crypt. Water dripped from somewhere and racks of skulls leered at him in the pale glow of his alchemical light. Dust swirled in a shallow niche covered in carved symbols and runes. A vaguely humanoid figure seemingly made from shadow and dust began to realize in the center of the niche.

“You should not have come here”, came a voice from the depths of the shadow.

“Perhaps not”, responded Hassel, “but you have something I need. And I will have it.”

For most of us, death is a sealed passage, that you only get access to once and will never learn what lies beyond. But for others that border is more porous, getting glimpses of the next world and being aware of those who have not completely passed over. Some people are merely sensitive to spirits, but those who seek answers from forbidden sources and wish to command the dead are known as necromancers.

New IQ12 Talent: Spiritualist (2) Those who are knowledgeable and aware of the spirit world are often known as mediums. They can sense the presence of ghosts, wraiths and other spirits before they manifest (like Alert figures can notice an ambush) and can recognize their type on a successful 3/IQ test. If an identified spirit has not attacked anyone in the spiritualist’s group, they can make a Reaction test at +1. If the result is Neutrality or better, the spirit will not harm them unless they violate its trust. With a result of Great Friendliness or more, the spirit may offer information or a single piece of advice. This talent costs the same for both heroes and wizards.

Not all spirits are powerful permanent manifestations. Some are merely the echoes of the recently passed that have not left our world completely. These spirits can sometimes be reached and made to provide information.

New IQ12 Spell: Channel Spirit (1) This spell allows the spirit of the dead to speak through the caster and answer questions. The spirit contacted must have a connection to the wizard — either the physical body or grave, or items that were of great importance to the spirit in life. The GM may adjust the casting difficulty based on the power of the connection. Spirits fade quickly as well, so the casting test is made at -1 for each day the spirit has been dead. If successful, the spirit can speak through the spell caster. It must communicate, but is not compelled to be truthful (although it could be, see below) for 12 rounds.

Spiritualists are often benign (if slightly disreputable) personalities. True necromancers walk a much darker path. The pinnacle of the necromantic arts are the Zombie spell as well as Revive, as a necromancer strives for mastery over life and death. Along the way they gain control over the physical attributes (via Clumsiness, Confusion, and Drain Strength), and some necromancers pose as healers to hide their grave pursuits. Most necromancers scoff at illusions and creation spells as lesser forms of magic.

If a necromancer wishes and the spirit is willing, they may converse and share information. But the spirits are often unwilling to engage with mortals on this level. If not, it might be possible to force the spirit to oblige.

New IQ13 Spell: Compel Spirit (1) When in the presence of an undead spirit, the wizard can try to force it to answer questions even do their budding. The spirit gets an immediate IQ saving test, and if it fails it will answer one question each round the spell is maintained (up to the wizard’s IQ). Alternately, the caster can compel the spirit to act on their command. In this case, the spirit gets a save every round the Compulsion continues. While this spell is commonly used to question ghosts and other incorporeal entities, it can be used to command ghouls, wights, and even vampires, but these creatures tend to turn on the necromancer as soon as the spell is completed.

Most spirits do not wish to remain on this side of the veil. A necromancer can help them pass on to the next world. In most cases this is a benign act, but if a spirit is freed before it can finish a task it was bound to, it will reform in 24 hours.

New IQ16 Spell: Exorcise Spirit (1) This spell breaks the bond that holds a spirit to physical world, allowing them to cross over. Any manifesting spirit like a ghost, wraith, night-gaunt will be instantly banished from this realm. The GM may rule that some extremely powerful spirits like revenants or night-gaunt magi get a saving test form this spell. The ST cost of this casting is 10.

Commonly, spirits of the dead are isolated and bound to specific locations. But some places (like graveyards, battlefields and the legendary kingdom of the ghouls) attract spirits in larger numbers. These places are also known to contain secrets coveted by necromancers. A few have found ways to pass among the dead and even be seen as one of them.

New IQ10 Spell: Death Mask (1) Use of this spell fools the undead into thinking the caster is a spirit as well. Most manifesting spirits will ignore them, and must succeed on a 3d/IQ test to notice the deception even ion they interact with them. Physical undead like ghouls will ignore the subject as well unless roused, while more intelligent entities like vampires will be more suspicious and get an automatic save test. The spell costs 2ST to cast and 1/round to maintain.

Spells in Spaaaaace!

March 13, 2020 at 10:44 pm

“A little magic can take you a long way.”

— Roald Dahl

Wherever a sentient species explores, wherever it plants its flags, it carries its culture and traditions with it. And if your traditions include magic, it won’t be long until magic is applied to making this exploration more successful.

This is as true in the Scintillant Sea as anywhere else. Wizards are common among the crew among the skyships and fearsome assets when battle breaks out. One of the most valuable contributions a wizard can make, is aiding their allies against the ST-draining thinness of the air in the Scintillance.

New IQ12 Spell: Airbubble (T). This spell provides a figure with a small pocket of atmosphere around their heads to offset the risks of long-term exposure in the Scintillant. The spell costs 3ST to cast and lasts for 24 hours. Terrestrially, the spell will allow a figure to breathe underwater, but slows their swimming MA by 2.

Several other spells are staples of a skyship wizard. Far vision gives a lookout the ability to spot enemies at a much greater distance, and explosive gems add punch to catapult bursts. Once ships close, battlefield control spells like multi-hex Fires and Slippery Floors come into their own.

 

Super-size it

Even more than most battle magic, being able to affect an entire vessel with magic is critical. But this kind of spellcraft is not simple, nor does it come without a price. One method is ceremonial magic, which is detailed in a fine blog post here. First, it requires the wizards actively involved in the casting (as opposed to those who simply add ST by Aid) to cast the Ceremonial Magic spell.

New IQ 15 Spell: CEREMONIAL MAGIC: (S) [inthelabyrinth.org] Allows groups of wizards to cast larger spells, on subjects locally or far away. The spell involves using strict ceremonies, including candles, special ingredients, chanting, etc. to focus the wizards’ minds and expand the working of the spell.

ST cost to perform this spell: 5. The time to cast the spell is 10 times the normal casting time. If spells are directed at enemy vessels, the casting difficulty is -4adjDX for each tactical hex beyond the first.

Second, the energy cost of the spell is calculated by multiplying the cost of the spell by the radius of hexes it will ultimately affect. Note that for a spell designed for a single subject to affect an entire hex, would add one to the radius So, if you wished to cats Reverse Missiles on a sloop (1 to cover a complete hex plus the ship’s 4-hex radius) it would cost 10 ST (2 ST x 5) for the first round (plus the cost of Ceremonial Magic spell), and 5 ST for each additional round. Note that this radius is roughly spherical and is always calculated as such regardless of the deck configuration of any given vessel.

The extended casting time of typical ceremonial magic spells is problematic in combat situations, however. Clever wizards have solved this problem by crafting vessels with magical conduits built directly into the ship. These channels are all centered on a Locus Arcane which allows ceremonial magic to be achieved with only two rounds of ritual.

A locus arcane can be added to a skyship for $10,000 per megahex of the ship in materials and time. It requires $100/month to maintain. For each month a locus is not maintained, the risk of catastrophic spell failure increases by 1.

 

These are just a few ways to bring magic into combat in the skies and beyond. Do you have interesting ideas on how you could apply spells to ships on seas and skies in y9our campaigns? Let us know.

Battle Beyond the Shards —
Air combat over Almeri

February 6, 2020 at 4:40 pm

“I wish to have no Connection with any Ship that does not Sail fast, for I intend to go in harm’s way.”

– Captain John Paul Jones

 

This is a continuation of the Airship rules from the previous post. To start from the beginning click here.

While much of the time on a voyage is quiet and lonely, there are threats in the Scintillance. Pirates, raiders, and other enemies might hope to catch a trader unaware or strike a blow for an opposing power. The weapons in common use, however, are not usually enough to destroy an enemy ship unless it is wildly outclassed. Battles are usually decided by closing, boarding, and paying a bloody price for victory.

When two ships come in contact in the skies, it is usually at some distance. Unless there is an element of ambush or subterfuge, ships would spot each other at fairly long range.

When two ships come in contact, roll 1d.

[table id=15 /]

These Tactical Hexes (THex) are roughly 10 megahexes across and represent the relative distance between the two vessels.

Each round they are in contact, their two captains have three choices: close, track, or withdraw. If the choices are opposing, they would make a contested (Captain) check. If there are more than one ship on one side, that captain gain +2 on their skill per additional ship. The winner can move up to two tactical hexes more than the difference of their speed. If a ship moves more than 10 hexes away from an enemy it has escaped the conflict, and must be sighted again before combat renews.

Tactical combat rounds are handled in three phases.
1.    Opposed checks and tactical movement
2.    Maneuvers, including speed changes
3.    Fire weapons and attempt boarding

If a ship comes into range of its enemy, it may fire on its opponent. Most weapons have a single firing arc, and the captain may need to come about to fire all of its weapons. Even if a weapon has range to reach the opponent, the test is –1 for each hex beyond the first between them. Note also that catapults firing arcs prevent them from attacking ships in the same hex.

[table id=17 /]

* One member of a petard crew must have the Guns or Mechanician Talent.
** If a fire launcher strikes sails or rudders, they may catch fire as a figure.

New IQ9 Talent: Siege weaponry (1) The ability to aim and fair siege weaponry like scorpions, ballista, catapults, and trebuchet. The test for a siege engine attack is IQ-based. These skills are all included in the Engineer talent, and an Engineer is usually in command of a siege engine crew.

[table id=18 /]

Ship system hits can affect the performance of the vessel. If the sails are damaged, its Speed drops equal to the percentage of sails lost, so an MA4 ship with 4 hexes of sail will lose 1MA per hex lost. Weapons hits can destroy individual weapons. If a manned weapon is struck, its crew takes half damage. Rudders are small articulated sails that maneuver the ship. There is one rudder hex for every 2 Size category. If destroyed, the vessel loses Handling in equal percentage to the loss. A ship with functioning sales will always have a handling of at least 1.

Ship systems can be targeted directly by an enemy. Sails can be struck at –3, and weapons and rudders are targeted at –6.

 

Boarding

If two ships are in the same hex they are in point-blank range, and can be become engaged. An attacking ship can send boarders on ornithopters, or can try to attach grapnels. Ornithopter pilots must make a single pilot check to reach the opponents’ ship, and succeed on a 3/DX to land cleanly. An attacking ship must be quite close for grapnels to land, and the attacking captain must succeed on a 4d test to come aside. A 17+ on this test is a collision on both ships take 3d for each speed category they are traveling. If the attacker gains two grapnels per size category for a full round, the ships are considered engaged. The two ships are bound together and neither ship can maneuver until the engagement is broken. Rammed ships are automatically engaged.

New IQ10 Talent: Gliding (1)  This is the skill to pilot single-occupant flying machines. Simply flying in an ornithopter requires no check, but complicated maneuvers like landing on a moving ship or aerial combat may require a DX test. A figure without his talent must make 3/DX test each round to make progress gliding, and would fall to the ground in normal gravity.

 

Tactical Combat Sample

Captain Abella of the sky galley Redolent is patrolling the Scintillance in search of pirates when she comes upon ‘Dark’ Derrick’s sloop Manta Ray with its sails furled. The GM rolls a 2 and two ships are 10 tactical hexes apart. The Redolent is currently moving at 2, while the Manta Ray was at anchor.

Abella chooses to close and Derrick will try to withdraw. Abella (IQ12) wins the contested roll against Derrick, and closes 4 hexes to 6 (their speed of 2+2 for advantage. Abella increases her speed by 2 (with +2 to the check due to the two unused maneuvers) to 4. Derrick lets out his sails and accelerates times to 3. The Manta Ray has extended rudders giving it Handling 3. Neither ship can bring weapons to bear at this range.

Abella wins the second round as well, and closes to 3 hexes. Derrick tries to Evade 3 times and succeeds twice. Abella’s gunners fire two scorpions against their IQ12, with -2 for the evasions and -2 for range (-1 for each hex beyond the first) and +2 for the sloop’s size for a total of -2adjIQ. One hits for 12 damage to the hull. Derrick’s only weapon is a fire projector which is out of range.

Abella keeps advantage for the third round and closes to 1 hex. Her ship must come about to fire its other two scorpions. Derrick evades twice and rolls to protect his sails. With a 5 and 7, both weapons hit. A lucky 6, followed by a 2 on the hit location chart has the second scorpion strike sails for 17 damage, taking one out and lowering the ship to MA2. The other did 12 more to the hull. Since it rolled, the Manta Ray may not use its weapons.

Derrick wins advantage this round, but since their speed (2) is 2 less than the enemy (4) they are still one hex apart. Derrick successfully accelerates to 3, evades, and rolls again. Abella slows to 3, comes about and fires, but both scorpions miss.

The contested roll is a tie, so there is no advantage. Since the Redolent is moving faster, it closes to engage. Abella tries to position for boarding, but fails the Captain check with a 15. Derrick’s crew unleashes their fire projector, but miss.

Derrick wins advantage and manages get slip away three hexes. They try and fail to roll, but successfully evade. Abella comes about to fire and both scorpions strike home, doing 14 and 11 to hull. Derrick’s fire projector is out of range again.

This round the the advantage goes back to Abella, who closes to 0 again. She drops speed to 2. Her positioning check of 8 is successful and she comes alongside the sloop. Six marines launch grapnels and four land. This is 2 per Size category of the smaller vessel and the two ships are lashed together.

Next round the marines will pour over the deck and the battle for the Manta Ray will get personal.