BEARDED DEVIL

Monsters, Horror, Gaming

Hex Session VIII – 5th Edition Actual Play – “Arcady”

The characters in this session were:

  • Caulis, a homunculus warlock liberated from its master; has made a pact with certain Faerie Powers.
  • Yam, an eccentric gnome illusionist and local graduate student at Umbral University. Yam cares little for money. Yam is curious. Yam is Yam.
  • Vespidae, a waspkin bard/cleric – a sacred dancer with a deathwish, shunned by the waspkin community for complicated ritualistic reasons, and a devoted follower of the Queen in Yellow.
  • Garvin Otherwise, a human rogue and burglar of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild, with a very, very peculiar past and a zoog pet, Lenore.
  • Cephalus T. Murkwater, a dagonian barrister and monk, specializing in martial arts and magical labour law.

XP Awarded: 420 XP.

Caulis and Yam both found themselves invited to the same event – a meeting of the exclusive Order of the Auriferous Twilight. Caulis had long been masquerading as a human member of the research collective, submitting research by mail under the pseudonym “Octavius Flasgatherer.” Yam’s research supervisor, Sebastian Eldridge, was also a member, and had requested the gnome’s presence for part of an experiment. The Order had informed Caulis that it was testing out a new invention, the Vitreodimensional Resonator, which could reveal a “hitherto hidden layer of our reality.” Yam, somewhat vexed by the increasingly dangerous assignments their supervisor had requested, asked Cephalus to accompany them as legal representation. Vespidae, meanwhile, was convinced by Caulis to come along as a “research subject.”

As usual, Caulchurch swirled with caulchurcharcane vapours and miasmas, though near to the Metamorphic Scholarium the fumes were somewhat less intense than further south towards Goatsbridge.  Most of the people in the street here were alchemists and their servants – automata, familiars, and homunculi on errands for their masters. Many of those susceptible to the gases of the district wore protective masks and goggles to ward off any ill effects. Some of the strange creatures bred in the cauldrons and vats of the Alchemist’s Quarter could also be seen in the street – one carriage was drawn by a two-headed badger the size of a horse, while a wizard walked a miniature sphinx down the street. A number of gnomes and cambions from the neighbouring districts of Mainspring and Little Pandemonium could be seen around the western edge of Caulchurch as well. The group made their way to the main campus of the Scholarium at the intersection of the Street of Limbs and the Street of Hearts. Caulis made a point to stop in the district to procure a potion to polymorph it into a shape resembling that of a human mage, thus assuming the persona of Octavius Flasgatherer.

The Scholarium itself was a bizarre architectural conglomeration that changes on an almost daily basis, spells woven into the very walls of the university triggering changes in style and substance so that a slender spire that one day might be built of stone or gleaming metal might the next become an imposing crystalline monolith or an elaborate wooden pagoda. Students and faculty could be seen entering and exiting the myriad doors of the strange school, homunculi carrying spellbooks and laboratory equipment. The would-be experimenters proceeded to the Balthazar Voss Laboratory – memorializing the alchemist Balthazar Voss, former president of the Scholarium who died in the explosion that created the Midden – which was currently fashioned from a kind of nacreous substance like mother-of-pearl. Inside the eerily glistening structure was assembled a group of wizards, sorcerers, warlocks, and other spellcasters, the arcanists of the Order of the Auriferous Twilight. At the centre of the hall was a huge mirror framed by complex machines that resembled Librarian designs, though of obviously more recent construction.

The party mingled with those in the hall. These included such characters as Iganatius the Unchanging a senior alchemist at the Metamorphic Scholarium. He earned the moniker “Everchanging” after a polymorphing accident: he fell into a vat of experimental polymorphic potion, and now, as a result, he was continuously altering his shape, one moment appearing as a wizened old man, the next a beautiful young woman, or a stubbled youth, or a barrel-chested man, or a child of six, or stranger forms – a bear-like humanoid, a horned, demonic being, a pale creature with a single eye, an owl-headed beast. Ignatius wore specially glamered clothes that shift to accommodate his myriad forms. Despite the kaleidoscopic, chimerical changes he undergoes every few moments, Ignatius conversed quite calmly with fellow members of the Order, quite accustomed to his periodic shifts in height, weight, and form. Other notables in the Order included Giselle Gnostus, of the Citadel of the Perpetual Storm, Hex’s school of Evocation. While most lycanthropes in Hex wee doomed to incarceration in Catch-All, an exception was made for gnomish weremoles. Weremoleism ran in certain elite gnome families and was seen as a great blessing, and care was taken to ensure that lycanthropes marry one another to perpetuate the ability through blood; equal care was taken to ensure it was not passed to those undeserving of the “earth’s gift.” Giselle Gnostus was one such weremole. She was currently in hybrid form, somewhere between a mole and a gnome. An earth-shaper of terrific skill, she was a professor of great distinction at the Citadel of the Perpetual Storm, akawats accompanied by her familiar, a giant beetle the size of a small dog, which scuttled along beside her.https://dinodung.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/brain-in-a-jar.jpg

By the far the most renowned of those gathered in the laboratory, however, was Master Melchior – one of the founders of the Order of Auriferous Twilight and also one of Hex’s oldest and most famous wizards. Though in his heyday Melchior had a fleshly body, now he was a preserved brain kept alive through powerful necromantic spells, alchemical preservatives, and transmutation magic. This brain was housed in a spidery automaton with a pair of humanoid forelimbs and a voice-box for speech, Melchior’s brain clearly visible in a glass jar at the automaton’s centre.

Melchior crept toward “Octavius” – that is, Caulis – and spoke to the disguised homunculus using his voice-box.

“Greetings, Ocatavius,” the brain said. “Or, should I say, Caulis?” After intimating that he had been following Caulis’ researches for some time, Melchior suggested that the homunculus and its companions speak to him at a later date about a job – something to do with one of the books the party had come across during their adventure. Further conversation was interrupted, however, as the experiment began.

“And now, the reason we have convened this meeting: the Vitreodimensional Resonator,” Ignatius said, currently in the form of a towering purple woman with four arms. “It’s based on certain technologies salvaged from the Old City through explorations undertaken by Cogsworth & Associates.” He had shifted in form to the body of a thin, heavily bearded man with ink-black skin. “Professor Tawnish built and calibrated the Resonator. I’ll let her explain further.”

“Thank you Ignatius,” Viola Tawnish said, stepping forward – a conjuror from Fiend’s College, renowned for her theories on the nature of transplanar time and chronomancy. She first calculated the shifting temporal differentials between the Underworld and the mortal plane and is said to have twice visited Hell. Dressed in the Diabolique style, she had short-cropped red hair and soft mauve skin suggesting some form of non-human parentage.. “The Librarians are known to have developed a network of portals to travel through physical space on this plane, as well as between different planes. Indeed, it may be through such a portal that they first arrived in our world. The vast majority of these portals are now inactive or destroyed, and while we have managed to create temporary gates between planes and to call beings from one world to another, we have not succeeded in duplicating a Librarian portal. Until now.” She smiles. “Using certain applications of mirror magic suggested by Professor Eldridge, I have created what I think may be a functional portal-like device, the Vitreodimensional Resonator. When activated, the mirror should become a gateway. On the other side – another world.”

“And which plane do you propose to visit?” Master Melchior asked, his robotic voice croaked through his automaton body.

“We aren’t sure which plane the Resonator will lead to,” Ignatius said. “In fact, that’s part of the experiment. The results of this journey may tell us a great deal about the cosmological makeup of the multiverse.”

“Yes,” Professor Tawnish said. “I am sure you are all familiar with some of the most common theories. Some believe that our world is but one iteration of the Magistra’s arcane formula, our reality a program formed out of magical code; other planes are similarly programmed, but with different rules and formulae. Others believe that universes are actually super-organisms, capable of breeding with one another to produce new worlds, or of splitting in two via fission with every choice we make, or every tiny, chaotic fluctuation. There are some who argue that our entire existence is an elaborate illusion, a shadow thrown by some elemental light at the heart of creation., and that other worlds are similar shadows cast by the same flame. And then there are those who think there is only a single universe, and that what seem like other planes of existence are in fact distant planets – that Hell and Faerie and the Dreamlands and even Anathema are but different, vastly disparate regions of the same plane.

“The explorers who venture through into whatever world the Vitreodimensional Resonator reveals must take care to note everything they can about its nature. There may be clues as to the nature of our multiverse which may be uncovered. Those who step foot into whatever strange new world the Resonator reveals should approach it as natural philosophers, cataloguing flora and fauna, noting the presence of any sentient inhabitants, their customs and laws, and also any strange physical laws which this plane might possess…”

With a few invocations, the Vitreodimensional Resonator powered up. The party braced themselves and stepped through the swirling vortex of magical energy into another world…

pastoral

Emerging through the portal, Yam, Cephalus, Caulis, and Vespidae stepped into a copse of trees just  beyond a well-ploughed field, not far from a small farmhouse with a barn and pens for livestock. It felt like they’d entered a pastoral painting, complete with grazing sheep, a blue sky dotted with clouds, and cheerful farmhands tending to the fields.

Other farms could be seen nearby, flanking a road that led down to a broad, clear river. Having looked out over the murky, oily, filth-clotted Radula River of Hex these many days, the sight of such clean, blue water was almost shocking. At the end of the road was a village, built on the riverbank. The village was surrounded by a low stone wall; cheerful-looking plumes of smoke drifted up from thatched roofs. The place looked antiquated, the architectural style reminiscent of buildings one might associate with a feudal past. A small keep presided over the tiny town. To the east a large island could be seen rising from the middle of the river, with swamplands dominating the surrounding banks. To the north a huge forest brooded, and to the west rose a distinctive craggy mountain. South looks to be hilly farmland.

Cautiously the group set out, heading for the farmhouse and the workers in the field.https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f3/Edward_Charles_Williams00.jpg

Meanwhile, some time earlier…

One moment Garvin was walking through Corvid Commons on his way to Rosemary’s Receiving. The next, he was standing in the middle of a very different street. Buildings rose about him; though a few wouldn’t be too out of place in Hex, many wee glassy, glittering structures, and distantly he could make out some tall spires that might rival those of the Librarians in Engima Heap for height, as well as some sort of bulky metal dome or sphere. Trains on raised tracks rattled nearby, speeding off to some other quarter of the strange but eerily familiar city.

The street Garvin was in wasn’t filled with people but with some kind of boxy automata, mechanical carriages. A shrill sound filled the air as one of these machines barrels towards him. He tried to avoid it, but was knocked prone. Soon a crowd of people had gathered around him, pointing strange devices at him that clicked and flashed, and gibbering in a half-forgotten tongue. Panicking, Garvin muttered a quick spell and blinked to a nearby alley, leaving the crowd of people astonished.

“I’m not sure where we are, Lenore…” he said to the zoog still on his shoulder. “But I think I’ve been here before…”

Fashioning a quick disguise for himself as best he could using his disguise kit, Garvin set off into the city. Using a minor spell he managed to procure on of the small, rectangular devices everyone seemed to carry in this world. Locating what looked like a bookstore, he ducked inside and located what he guessed could be a dictionary or similar tome, hoping that it might help him make sense of the maddeningly familiar language of the people here. After skillfully shoplifting these, he headed for what looked like a coffeehouse and settled himself in a corner…

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…only to appear quite suddenly seated on a stump, in the very copse of trees shared by his companions, drawn once more between worlds. Surprised but not displeased by the sudden reappearance of their companion, the party continued towards the farm, approaching one of the farmhands: a dark-haired, hale youth that several of the party members seemed to half-recognized. He identified himself as Jasper Van Lurken, and noted that the farm was owned by his parents, Leopold and Nicolet. The village nearby, he said, was called Blessing.

It was at this points that it clicked: the party was in a world eerily similar to their own, geographically at least. The craggy mountain was none other than Mount Shudder; the river was the Radula, albeit unpolluted. The village of Blessing stood where Hex should have been, or a part of it. But there was no sign of any Librarian structures, none of the alien spires of the Old City, nor the Elder Trees.

They were in a universe in which the Librarians never arrived.

Cephalus, meanwhile, had noticed a nearby gravestone not far from the farm. He used some of the ghostdust he’d secured back at the Puppeteer’s lair and, peering into the Ethereal plane, he saw the spectre of a young woman with dark hair, who identified herself as Annette Van Lurken. Having not encountered the Van Lurkens of Hex, he did not recognize her, but was able to discover that she died of some sort of sickness. It sounded as if magical medicine was considerably more primitive in this timeline.

Taking their leave of Jasper, the party headed toward Blessing. The village wall looked like it had seen better days, moss eating away at its crumbling length. Here and there a wooden fence had been erected to patch a gap or extend the extremely modest fortifications. The gate was of stout wood and stands open, guarded by a solitary man in chainmail armour leaning on a pike.

The guard, Roderick, asked a few minor questions about the party’s business in Blessing; they identified themselves as a troupe of actors. Roderick was alarmed at the sight of Vespidae, believing the waspkin to be a fairy from the Tangle – evidently that forest existed here as well. He was also perturbed by Cephalus, identifying him as one of the “merfolk” from the swamps. With some fast-talking, the party was able to pass them off as foreigners from a distant part of the world. Asking a few questions, they quickly got a lay of the land, learning that the town was ruled by a woman named Lady Goodblood, that it included several shops and inns, and that it was also the site of a large temple. Curious to learn more, they passed through the gate and into Blessing.

blessing

The village of Blessing was so modest that it scarcely possessed true streets, but rather a series of winding paths between the picturesque thatched-roof buildings. The town brought the words “wholesome” and “quaint” to mind; it was like something out of a child’s storybook. It was also curiously homogeneous; the people here were almost all human. A few gnomes could also be seen, as well as a handful of stocky, almost universally bearded creatures like oversized gnomes or short humans. Many eyes the party, some with wariness or suspicion but most with curiosity and welcoming smiles. Yam and Caulis were able to identify the bearded creatures as “dwarves” – a species long gone from their own world, sometimes thought to be ancestors of gnomes, and reputedly hunted to extinction by the Librarians during the primeval past.

The group’s first stop was the Troll & Tankard inn, a large establishment with an attached stables. A stone stair led up to the door of the common room, from which music and laughter emanated. The skull of a monstrous troll was hung above the bar, which was tended by a broad-shouldered man with an eyepatch who polished a mug and chats with various patrons, most of whom looked to be cut from roughly the same rural cloth as the rest of the townsfolk. The exception here was a fellow who wouldn’t be too out of place in Hex: a man dressed in blue robes and a pointed hat, with large spectacles and crazed hair. He sat in a corner booth drinking from a mug of ale and leafing through the first book the explorers had seen in Blessing. Several of the party realized abruptly that the man was the virtual double of the alchemist Valdemar Sluice!

https://www.chinaoilpaintinggallery.com/image/oilpainting/jan-steen/peasants-before-an-inn.jpg

Caulis idly peered over “Valdemar’s” shoulder and scanned the pages. There were real arcane formulae there, but mixed in with superstition and arcane nonsense. Noticing the party, Valdemar was delighted to observe Vespidae, and immediately launched into a series of questions, taking the waspkin for a fairy. The party began conversing, asking about the town. It seemed that this version of Valdemar was traveling from elsewhere and had been drawn to Blessing by some unusual rumours about magical happenings nearby. Meanwhile, Garvin and Cephalus noticed that the party was being watched with some alarm by an ill-favoured fellow in the tavern, who quickly left. They slipped out in pursuit and caught up with the man, Cephalus quickly subduing him. He identified himself as Brett, and claimed to have been heading to the local temple to speak to someone called Father Roland, warning the priest of the presence of “demons and spirits” in the town. With some suitably fast talking, he was persuaded that the party were an acting troupe in costume, come to perform a play for the entertainment of Blessing.

Of course, this meant that the party had to either get out of town… or put on a play.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/93/Carl_Friedrich_Lessing_(3)Forest_Chapel.JPG

Pondering this problem, the group headed to the local temple. Blessing seemed to have just one temple – a church dedicated to someone called “St. Melchior.” The name, of course, was familiar, though Master Melchior of Hex has certainly never been considered a saint. Though probably the most ornate building in Blessing, the church was rather ordinary-looking by the baroque and fanciful standards of Hex, built of plain, grey stone with modest decorations. Despite its lack of grandeur there was something decidedly welcoming and comforting about it – perhaps because it wasn’t dedicated to a slavering tentacle entity from beyond space and time, or a primeval demon-lord…

Inside, the church retained its relative plainness, though there were a number of murals painted on the walls depicting the life, miracles, and apparent martyrdom of St. Melchior, as well as statues in his name. He was mostly depicted as a bald, clever-looking man of middle years with a neat beard. He appeared to have been killed while trying to convert a tribe of trolls or similar creatures. A few clerics tended to the church, garbed in loose grey robes without adornment. Those learned in the history of Hex quickly recognized Master Melchior himself – or, rather a version of him – as he looked before he became a brain in a vat. They quickly found Father Roland, a stooped and aged man whose bent exterior was belied by the fierce zealotry burning in his eyes. The Father seemed ready to condemn the group and their activities, but with smooth talking from Garvin and Caulis he was convinced that the party’s play would in fact emphasize the dangers of temptation and of dabbling with dark powers. The party was careful not to disclose that they came from another plane. They found out a bit more about the local religion, which had a number of unusual features, revering only a single, simplistic deity and denouncing others as false idols.

The party next meandered down towards Pistons & Powders, as Yam was curious about this reputedly gnome-run establishment. This ramshackle-looking building wouldn’t have been too out of place in Mainspring, with its small doors and windows, large boiler, haphazard architecture, and plethora of hissing chimneys, though even this structure looked far less intricate than the gnomish buildings of Hex. Inside, a small tinker’s workshop could be be found. Though a few crude mechanical oddments were scattered about, it looked like the place mostly deals in basic repairs for pots, pans, and tools. A handful of simple firearms were sold here as well, though they were far more primitive than the complex wheellocks of Hex. A handful of gnomes worked here, mending metal goods.

Yam cheerfully bustled in, only to bump into a gnome. The tinker turned around – and stared into their own face. The gnome at Pistons & Powders was Yam, albeit dressed in oily mechanist’s clothes.

“Yam!” Yam said.

“Yam!” Yam responded. “You’re not some kind of shapeshifter are you?”

“I’m you from another dimension,” Yam disclosed with nonchalance. “Want to come hang out?”

“Sure!” Yam agreed, taking off their apron with a minimum of fuss. They turned their head to yell: “I’m on break!”

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c4/1590_Mostaert_Dorfkirmes_anagoria.JPG

The party next headed to the market square at the southeast end of Blessing, near to the small town’s docks. Here they began planning for the performance they had now promised to put on, deciding to tell a version of the story of Robin Redcap. The two Yams and Caulis provided special effects while other members of the party, disguised through magic or cosmetics, assumed the guises of Duke Gothmord, Robin Redcap, and other persons. A crowd had soon gathered as word circulated of the performance, and as sun set the party began their impromptu tale, Vespidae using her dancing to enthrall the assembled commoners, while the “troupe’s” spellcasters used illusions to lend the performance an air of strange mystery. Hastily written and quasi-improvised dialogue might have ruined the play, but the magical effects bedazzled the bucolic onlookers. As the play concluded to great applause, however, the church bell tolled, and a town crier appeared, screaming: “Goblins at the Mountain Gate! Fear! Fire! Foes!”

The party rushed to the gates, grabbing up their weapons, to discover a band of the hunched, malformed goblins setting fire to buildings and terrorizing townsfolk. In the land of Hex such creatures had been exterminated or placed on reservations, to keep them from mischief, but in this land it seemed they ran amok! Some rode great spiders, apparently denizens of the Tangle, and they carried clubs and crude swords. Cephalus rushed forth, limbs flying, to dispatch the leader, while Yam conjured a cloud of daggers, eviscerating several of the goblins. The battle was brief, and though a few injuries were had, Garvin managed to put a bolt through the skull of a final, fleeing goblin, leaving them all dead. The few remaining townsfolk nearby rejoiced, hailing the group as heroes, though most had fled the battle… but time was growing short, the day long, and the group was eager to return from whence they had come. Yam’s double insisted on following them – as did a local girl from the town, who, having seen their power, asked to join them. Impressing upon both that they might not soon return, the party hurried back to the portal at Van Lurken farm and slipped through the dwindling vortex between worlds, back into the Metamorphic Scholarium’s laboratory in Caulchurch, with quite a few findings to report…

Images: Brain in a Jar from “Open Graves: Secrets of the Undead.”

Hex Session VII – 5th Edition Actual Play – “The Puppet Factory”

The characters in this session were:

  • Yam, an eccentric gnome illusionist and local graduate student at Umbral University. Yam cares little for money. Yam is curious. Yam is Yam.
  • Vespidae, a waspkin bard/cleric – a sacred dancer with a deathwish, shunned by the waspkin community for complicated ritualistic reasons, and a devoted follower of the Queen in Yellow.
  • Armand Percival Reginald Francois Eustace de la Marche III, a suspiciously pale, apparently human noble and sorcerer, and certainly not a ghoul (how dare such a thing be suggested).
  • Garvin Otherwise, a human rogue and burglar of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild, with a very, very peculiar past and a zoog pet, Lenore.
  • Cephalus T. Murkwater, a dagonian barrister and monk, specializing in martial arts and magical labour law.

XP Awarded: 500 XP.

The recent zombie escapes from the Deadstock Pens following the Shambleside Riots over the use of reanimated labour – the lead up to which the party briefly witnessed en route to capture Nettie Toadlung – have had significant fallout. Due to a ruling in Golemsgate, rioters were being held financially responsible for the damage dealt by the zombies, and for the costs of any missing reanimated dead. The zombies in Shambleside had all been recaptured, but a number were still missing, having wandered into the neighbouring districts of Corvid Commons. The Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild, concerned about the reanimated, dispatched Garvin to investigate: they suspected unscrupulous Reanimators employed by the rival Crowsbeak Guild were stealing the zombies and using them as troops in their ongoing turf war to consolidate their control over Corvid Commons and the criminal underworld of Hex. The zombies were likely being “re-programmed” at a Crowsbeak hideout somewhere in the Commons.

cephalus

As Garvin explained this mission to his adventuring companions Armand and Vespidae in the sweet-smelling Green Star tavern, a curious individual approached: a dagonian, one of the amphibious river-dwellers of the district of Croakmarsh. This one was somewhat unusually well-dressed, albeit on a budget, and carried a long walking stick. The dagonian – currently male, it seemed – introduced himself as Cephalus T. Murkwater, a barrister working for the labourers being sued by the Reanimators and deadstock-owners seeking to locate the stolen property to ameliorate the damages. He offered his services, but the party initially scoffed, Armand asking what skills Cephalus could possibly bring to the table. The dagonian responded by performing an impressive trick involving a cup and his “walking stick” – in fact a well-balanced quarterstaff. Suitably mollified the party set out, making first for the district of Shambleside to see if they could pick up on any rumours as to the whereabouts of the reanimated thralls.

Shambleisde, Grey Hook, & Corvid Commons

The party began their investigations at the Memento Mori tavern, a converted mausoleum at the border of Grey Hook, location of the Académie Macabre, the more academic and theoretical of Hex’s two institutions of necromancy. Working-class Reanimators and students at the Académie rubbed shoulders in the gloomy depths of the bar, whose tables were modified sarcophagi and whose waitresses were uniformly undead. After buying a few undergraduates and other locals drinks, the party ascertained a few tidbits of recent gossip in the necromantic community. Though no one had any good guesses about where the reanimated thralls might be, one student had heard some rumours about the recent return of a necromancer called the Marionettist – once a faculty member at the Académie, he was denied tenure and left Hex to wander the world. A few drinks later and some flirting from the ever-charming Armand revealed that this Marionettist was disgraced after it was discovered he was putting the reanimated to “uses unbefitting a member of the Académie.” Rumour has that he spent time studying with golemists and dark enchanters, and that he dwelt for a time in the Porcelain Kingdoms of the distant west, apprenticing with the Dollmasters. Still wanted by the City Watch for illegal spellcasting, the Marionettist was said to have come back to Hex for his own reasons. Theorizing that the Marionettist, being a criminal, might have fallen in with the Crowsbeak Thieves’ Guild, the party struck out for Grey Hook to see what they could learn of the elusive figure.

bloodborne key art and concept art video game on playstation

Dominated by the campus of the Académie Macabre, Grey Hook is a dour district of grey stone and pale faces. In addition to the Académie, Grey Hook contains seven separate graveyards, which function much like small parks in other parts of the city, as well as the Gilded Graveyard, the most prestigious cemetery in Hex.

Reanimated corpses – the servants of professors at the Académie, clad in beautiful livery, with exquisitely embalmed flesh and intricate glyphs of ownership – walked the streets alongside the living here, going about countless errands for their wizardly masters. The party made their way to Reaper’s Square the Department of Necrontology, the Marionettist’s reputed specialty. Consulting records here and talking with more of the students and faculty, they discovered that the Marionettist – Professor Clovis – had been a specialist in modifying revenants with clockwork additions, often using gnomish technology.

NecrontologyTracking down his publications at the ornate library of the Académie Macabre, they learned of the unwholesome fusions of machine and undead flesh Clovis had tried to create. This made Vespidae – who had fought several heavily modified revenants back at the Rat & Roach – speculate that perhaps the Marionettist was behind some of the undead gladiators sparring in the Crowsbeak Casino. That meant he had access to bodies even before the Deadstock Riots. Their researches also revealed that the Marionettist had a still-living sister dwelling in Shambleside. They hastened to Coffin Court, where those wealthy enough to purchase a casket could do so – the servants of such wealthy individuals could be seen haggling with the coffin-makers here. It seemed that Professor Clovis’ family had been undertakers, or so they learned. While his relatives had not been in contact with him they learned of his childhood obsessions with dead bodies, and with dolls glimpsed in the gnomish toy stores that had once operated in the Commons, before the last of the gnomish population left for Mainspring.

Commons 5

Armed with this knowledge, the party set out into Corvid Commons. Garvin leading the way. They had a suspect, but they needed to uncover his hideout. The thief began by leading the group to the Witching Hour Alehouse on the rain-soaked Street of Rooks, a street crowded with rag-and-bones men hawking their scavenged wares, oddments and baubles dredged from the sewers by toshers; food-vendors selling eels and lampreys fresh from the Radula; prostitutes united not by species or sex but by their cheapness; drug-peddlers pushing Throwback and diluted Sap. The Alehouse itself, an institution in the Commons and something of a neutral meeting-ground for thieves throughout the city, was the largest building on the street, its rambling enormity matched by its decrepitude; the huge, old place was falling apart, its roof sagging and overgrown with black moss. Despite the decay mottling its graffiti-covered walls the place exuded a strange sense of welcome, its windows yellow with lamplight, its crooked chimneys belching smoke from many hearths.

Within, the Witching Hour was crowded with rogues of every stripe – cutthroats, second-storey men, pickpockets, fences, thugs, assassins, con-men, swindlers, and every other manner of criminal imaginable. Many sported tattoos proclaiming gang and guild affiliations, often from rival organizations, but there was surprisingly little tension here. A few men and women ducked through a doorway in the back into a shadowy space beyond. The barman, Mortimer Croak, kept his one remaining eye on the patrons. Garvin started asking around, trying to discover any rumours of the Marionettist or possible movements of illegal goods – or bodies – that might point to his hideout. Mortimer suggested the party ask Rosemary Badwhisker, who sold stolen goods out of a shop on the Street of Magpies, Rosemary’s Receiving. She had been apparently dealing with a variety of “necromantic types” of recent, selling tools and spellbooks liberated from the Reanimators’ College and the Académie Macabre. This would be the party’s next stop.

Commons 6

Operating alongside and in conjunction with the Midnight Market, the shops along the Street of Magpies move many of the stolen goods in Hex. The prices here tend to be higher for buyers and significantly lower for sellers, but the shopkeepers along the street frequently deal with freelancers and smaller gangs.

Pawnshops buying and selling various goods – many of them stolen at one time or another – lined the Street of Magpies. The cloaked and ill-favoured figures who drifted between sported Thief’s Marks and guild insignia, some ostentatious displayed, others cagily concealed. Many of these establishments had signs bearing symbols informing thieves of the allegiances of those within or of current prices and inventory. As the party headed for Rosemary’s Receiving, something truly bizarre happened: Garvin Otherwise abruptly vanished into thin air, without so much as a word. Baffled, the party cast around for a moment to try and locate some sign of the thief, but to absolutely no avail. Uncertain, they entered Rosemary’s Receiving anyway, hoping that Garvin would turn up soon.

Commons 3

One of the larger pawnshops on the Street of Magpies Rosemary’s Receiving clearly specialized in the sale of arcane objects – most of them likely stolen. In the window of the shop a reanimated head dangled from its hair, muttering to itself, next to a cage in which a clockwork scorpion scuttled, a hat changed its shape every few moments, and a garrotte which a small signs proclaimed to be “possessed” was visible. Inside an even more bewildering array of oddities could be found – amorphous keys, enchanted duplicating slugs, ensorcelled pistols, an analytic engine, spellbooks and scrolls, magical stones and jewels, aquae vitae, grimacing idols, and a hundred other strange objects, as numerous and variegated as those in any gentleman’s cabinet of curiosities (such as that of Leopold Van Lurken). The shopkeeper was an elderly woman with masses of long, white hair and tattooed arms, attended by a small horde of albino rat familiars who seemed to inhabit her hair. She was currently locked in conversation with none other than Yam, the gnome illusionist, on an errand for their supervisor, Sebastian Eldridge, who procured certain rare reagents from the woman. Intrigued by their companions’ rambling investigation and by Garvin’s sudden disappearance, Yam decided to join the group.

Commons 1

Speaking with Rosemary revealed that the Marionettist had indeed been by the shop, but that she did not know his address. However, she could disclose that he was buying large quantities of clockwork parts. After hearing of the Marionettist’s fascination with gnomish clockwork and toy-shops, Yam volunteered to ask around in Mainspring to see if anyone had any advice as to where to look for a former gnomish shop – exactly the sort of place the Marionettist might hold up in. Cephalus, meanwhile, headed to Golemsgate to try and find any legal information about the necromancer. He discovered that the Watch still had a bounty of five hundred guineas posted for the renegade wizard. Yam, meanwhile, learned that a number of gnomish toy-shops used to be located in the southeast corner of Corvid Commons. The party regrouped and headed back into the labyrinth of streets, somewhat ill at ease without Garvin, who had still failed to reappear. After some wandering they found their way to Scarecrow Street, a rather desolate street that had been mostly abandoned; derelict buildings slowly decayed on either side, now the haunt of vagrants, squatters, and fungoids. The largest of these was an abandoned toy-maker’s shop, All Wound Up.

“This could be our place,” Yam said.

“Let’s see about a back-door…” Armand suggested.

Cephalus, meanwhile, seemed to be stretching himself in preparation for an altercation. Vespidae was appraising the place with a curious look. Unbeknownst to most of the group, the waspkin had no fixed abode but squatted in derelict buildings much like this one. Perhaps the shop, if cleared of its criminal denizens, would make a good home?

Commons 4

The abandoned toy-maker’s shop All Wound Up had its windows boarded up, obscuring the interior. The walls, now faded and peeling, showed a series of whimsical murals depicting an antiquated kingdom, a whimsical place of knights, fairies, princesses, and dragons. Avoiding the front door, the group went round the side into a filthy alley, but successfully located a back door. Cephalus managed to force the lock with little effort. Inside, some old crates and chests were stacked, some open to reveal doll parts, the vacuous, glassy eyes of the lifeless things glinting in the darkness. Further investigation of the crates revealed quantities of the drug known as ghostdust, a silvery-green powder formed from processed ectoplasm. Other reagents were also stored here. Cephalus, curious, tried out some of the ghostdust, rubbing it on his gills. He became slightly insubstantial, and became aware of a silvery-grey reality superimposed on his own – he could see into the Ethereal Plane. Two ghostly gnomes appeared before him: the former owners of the shop.

“What are you doing, traipsing through my store like this?” one demanded in heavily accented Common. “First thieves and necromancers, now this?!”

“Necromancer?” Cephalus asked. “Can you tell me where he is?”

“That lousy bum? Yeah he’s through there,” the gnome indicated. “The creep’s set up his little operation here. If I could get my hands on him!” The gnome continued to rant and rave about the Marionettist and his depredations as the party pressed forward.

FRANCE - JANUARY 01: Paris. Doll Factory. Preparing For Christmas (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

After looting some more ghostdust, the party moved through towards the front of the shop. Strung up like puppets along the walls and dangling from the ceiling of the next chamber were puppets – puppets made from reanimated corpses, many grafted and modified, some dressed in rags, others in stolen clothes, others unclothed. Though inert their eyes followed the group eerily. Any attempt to move through them would result in the adventurers being snared. Fortunately, as Yam proved, crawling beneath the zombies proved viable. One of the things managed to cut its own strings and staggered toward the group, but between them they swiftly dispatched it before it could do any harm. The commotion, however, seemed to have altered someone in the next room; the party swiftly hid themselves, with several cramming themselves into a small supply-closet with a sewer access grate, dragging the corpse in with them. A tall, incredibly thin man who moves his stick-like limbs like some monstrous insect, a man who could only be the Marionettist entered the room: he carried with him two control bars of the sort used for puppets, though these seem to lack strings. Fortunately he seemed to find nothing wrong and returned to the other room. Still adopting stealth, the party followed him.

arms

In the next room, mechanist’s tools filled the shelves along the walls, as well as boxes full of coils, springs, and other bits of clockwork. The corpses sprawled on the work-tables had their skulls opened up and their brains exposed, with clockwork additions grafted crudely on. Tinkering with their reprogrammed clockwork brains with a devious, smug expression on his gaunt and pointed face was the Marionettist who, surprised by the sudden attack of the adventurers, was swiftly pummeled by Cephalus’ webbed fists and swinging quarterstaff. He snarled an order and three of the clockwork-driven zombie puppets staggered to their feet, lurching towards the adventurers. While Armand and Yam cast combat spells into the fray, Vespidae hurled javelins and performed a sacred battle-dance, urging her comrades on. Cephalus, meanwhile, pressed his attack on the Marionettist. The wizard snapped an incantation, trying to force his way into Cephalus’ mind, but the iron-willed dagonian barrister repelled him and continued to beat him to a pulp, lashing out with his staff and other weapons. He knocked the necromancer unconscious, but one of the zombies rushed forwards, battering him with a vicious blow to the ribs. There was an ugly snapping sound and the dagonian fell to the ground, blood seeping from his gills. Vespidae flitted forwards to heal the fallen martial artist while the rest of the party finished off the zombies.

Mannequin_People

As Cephalus recovered, healed by the holy power of Vespidae’s new patron, the Queen in Yellow, sounds could be heard at the door – presumably more foes. Barricading the door swiftly, the group retreated, Yam picking up the Marionettist’s paddles. After some experimentation Yam discovered that the paddles were “keyed” to the zombies and could control them. The gnome used this power to make the undead groan and moan loudly, hoping to rattle the incoming enemies, also directing the reanimated thralls to free themsleves from their strings. In the meantime, the Crowsbeak thugs also stationed in the rookery had found another way into the workshop – black-swathed men and women displaying the Crowsbeak guild mark. Vespidae again flew forwards, weaving the spell burning hands and casting it directly in the crowded doorway. The thieves were engulfed in flames and fell to the floor, shrieking and smoking, several already dead. Cephalus and Armand managed to dispatch those who survived with a minimum of fuss.

The rookery cleared, the party set about herding the stolen zombies back to Shambleside. Cephalus, rubbing his ghostdust-dusted gills, discretely had the reanimated thralls move the crates of the drug to his offices, while Vespidae, buzzing to herself, set about cleaning up what would soon be her new “hive”…

Images: Thor Polukoshko’s “Cephalus T. Murkwater,” Bloodborne Concept Art, Thief Concept Art, Keystone-France, Getty Image, Kurt Hutton/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Image,  FPG/Getty Image, Condemned: Criminal Origins Concept Art

Hex Session VI – 5th Edition Actual Play – “Asylum”

The characters in this session were:

  • Yam, an eccentric gnome illusionist and local graduate student at Umbral University. Yam cares little for money. Yam is curious. Yam is Yam.
  • An ancient and enigmatic Lengian cleric of the Mother of Spiders, name unknown. She wears bulky ecclesiastical garments covering an uncertain number of limbs and goes by “Sister.”
  • Vespidae, a waspkin bard – a sacred dancer with a deathwish, shunned by the waspkin community for complicated ritualistic reasons. Now a devoted follower of the Queen in Yellow.
  • Armand Percival Reginald Francois Eustace de la Marche III, a suspiciously pale, apparently human noble and sorcerer, and certainly not a ghoul (how dare such a thing be suggested).
  • Sprigley Gilette, a hardboiled, cigar-chomping human mercenary and veteran of several brutal wars, and a relatively new arrival in Hex.

XP Awarded: 400 XP.

At their usual haunt, The Green Star, the party convened at the request of Yam, who had received word from some of their gnomish brethren in the district of Mainspring that a company of mechanists, Cogswright & Associates, who seemed to have developed what they called an “issue” with their automata. The gnomes were looking for those with strong skills in problem-solving and “robot fighting” to assist them. After stocking up on a few provisions the party set out for the whirring clockwork ghetto of the gnomes.

Mainspring

Stepping into Mainspring was like stepping into another world – a place of churning gears and hissing steam-valves and hammering pistons, where all the doors were made for people under four feet tall. Gnomes make up almost all of the population in the district, and could be seen flitting to and fro across streets, up and down elevators, across bridges, and along moving walkways. It would have been maddeningly difficult not only to navigate the twisted, ever-changing machine that is Mainspring but to even discern the function of a particular building, many of which seem to be multi-use, were it not for Yam, who grew up in the mechanical labyrinth. Amidst the shifting morass of pistons, gears, steam-valves, chimneys, and whirring clocks, it was difficult to tell where one street ends and another began, but with Yam’s guidance they found your way to Coil Street: a meandering street shadowed by an enormous conglomeration of buildings of bewildering size and complexity. A churning street-sweeping automaton rolled by, followed by a mass of smaller litter-collection drones spearing bits of trash with their mechanical spikes and then depositing them in the lumbering, cauldron-shaped incinerator automaton that trailed the robotic train. After a quick visit to Yam’s mother, an artificer of some skill directing construction of a new part of the unfathomable mega-machine that is Mainspring, the party made their way to Cogswright & Associates on Coil Street.

clockwork city

The rusty metal spire of Cogswright & Associates was so interconnected with the surrounding machinery it was hard to tell where it ended and its neighbours begin. Its entrance advertised the company as a “maker of fine automata,” and displayed several samples in a glass window. These included an automaton flamingo that delicately stalked back and forth across the display, an automaton ballerina who occasionally demonstrated its dancing with a twirl, and a hulking clockwork ettin, its two heads swivelling from side to side, appraising passersby. Inside, the party were met by a ten-foot-tall automaton of gleaming brass, armed with a massive halberd. It looks a bit like an oversized gnome. “Welcome, visitors,” the automaton’s voicebox croaked. “Please state your business.”

“Here about the robot fighting,” Yam said, and the robot ushered them inside a large workshop where thousands of automaton components were scattered madly – from coils and springs and gears to chassis parts and painted faces – two gnomes are tinkering. They looked remarkably like one another, though one looks male and the other female.

Tinker1

“Ah, hi Yam,” the female gnome said. “Hello, everyone. I’m Wanda Cogswright.”

“And I’m Edgar Cogswright – owners of Cogswright & Associates,” the male said, wiping a gloved hand on his apron. “Good to see you Yam. Dissertation coming well?”

Yam made a non-committal noise.

“Thank you for coming on such short notice,” Wanda said. “Can we offer you any refreshments? Tea perhaps?”

Eustace gladly accepted, and a scuttling teapot automaton poured them tea.

“You fix the scalding issue?” Yam asked, eyeing the automaton.

“Ah. We’re working on it,” Wanda said.

“You’re adventurers in Hex, so I take it at least some of you have been down in the Old City,” Edgar said, moving on to more pertinent matters. “Most of the upper tunnels have been thoroughly looted already, and it can be very difficult to reach some of the lower chambers. The Librarians put all sorts of traps and protections round the entrances.”

“So we thought, why not circumvent those protections?” Wanda put in. “We gnomes have been making tunnels for centuries. We’re really, really good at it. We don’t need to jump through the Librarians’ hoops. We can just tunnel into the lower levels.”

“Even the most conservative estimates suggest we’ve barely scratched the surface of the Old City,” Edgar went on. “There are miles of tunnels down there, almost all of it totally unexplored. The city up here, big as it seems, is tiny compared to what lies below.”

“So, we did what gnomes do,” Wanda said. “We built automata. Automaton drills to punch through layers of earth and stone and demolitions automata to blast or cut through what can’t be drilled. Automaton protectors to guard our expeditions against the unpleasant things that lurk in the depths of the Old City.”

automaton

“We drilled and delved and drilled and delved, and mostly we just found earth and boring, empty chambers,” Edgar continued. “But then we struck proverbial paydirt. A sector of the Old City hitherto unexplored, deep, deep below Hex, full of everything we’d hoped – books and artefacts and strange machines, all of the wonders of the First Library. Our plan had worked.”

“Unfortunately there’s been something of a snag,” Wanda explained. “We don’t know how it happened, but something down there started messing with out automata. At first just minor malfunctions – bots that wouldn’t take orders properly, or that started doing things on their own. But then…”

“Then things got ugly,” Edgar interjected. “Really ugly. The automata turned on us, started attacking. We lost some of our expedition. More are still down there, possibly trapped or on the run from our constructs.”

“We’ve spent a lot of time and gold on this excavation,” Wanda said. “And we want to know what went wrong. We want you to go down there and see if you can find out what made the automata go haywire – and, if you can, reverse it.”

“Don’t worry about damaging any constructs you encounter,” Edgar said. “Do whatever you need to. We can always use mending to repair them. And, of course, if you come across any of our expedition while you’re down there, do what you can to take them to safety.”

“If you can’t figure out what’s causing the automata to behave like this, there’s sort of a Plan B,” Wanda added. “Well, more like a Plan Z, really, we’ve really worked our way through a lot of plans recently. If there doesn’t seem to be any way to reverse the process we want you to blow the tunnel, seal everything back up. Eventually the automata will wind down on their own, and we can go back in and see if we can make sense of what happened. But if the tunnel remains open, the constructs might come back up… and we definitely don’t want that.”

“In either case, your reward is simple,” Edgar said. “Anything you find down there is yours. If you manage to deactivate the automata or undo whatever has happened to them, we’ll throw in a bonus of five hundred guineas each.”

“Sound fair?” Wanda asks.

The party agreed and were duly equipped with a quantity of explosives before being escorted down a flight of stairs and into a series of tunnels below the workshop, where a cable car awaited them to lead them deeper underground.

cable car

Two metal cables snaked along the ceiling in the tunnel, which descended deep into the earth. Hooked to the cables was a rickety-looking, rusted cable car equipped with a sputtering light, either magical or electric. Complex gear-driven mechanisms were connected to the cables, so that the car can be propelled along them. A lever was set within arm’s reach of the car. Armand, with a flick of the wrist, cast a light spell to arrest the flickering light, and the group piled in, Yam yanking the lever.

With a lurch, the cable car began to move, swaying vertiginously. At first it moved slowly as it approached the shaft plunging down into darkness, but then it began to gather speed before finally hurtling into the chthonic gloom at breakneck speed, the flickering light briefly illuminating the rock walls as the car whizzed downwards, spiraling deeper and deeper, occasionally dropping almost vertically. Occasional side-tunnels and branching passages could be briefly glimpsed during the descent, before the car leveled off, suspended now above a vast, dark cavern below. Stalagmites and the broken stubs of ancient monoliths rose from below, barely visible in the darkness. The car careened back into a tunnel, winding ever downwards, before emerging again into an echoing cave, this one filled with phosphorescent fungi; the party caught a glimpse of a subterranean stream flowing through the inky blackness, and then the car was swallowed once more by a narrow tunnel, bored into the rock.

At last the cable car came to a half at the end of the long, meandering tunnel, within a natural cavern studded here and there with lumps of glimmering crystal. Another tunnel bored by the same great drill that fashioned the shaft leading up to the surface stretched ahead.

crystal-cave-fantasy-wallpaper-3

Beyond a short tunnel lay another natural cavern, this one with walls not of rock but of softly glowing crystal, changing in colour from pale mauve to cerulean blue to bright crimson to gleaming white. Two passages, both obviously artificial, led deeper into the caves. Sister carefully removed some of the crystals here before the party pressed onward, coming now to a sluggish river of lava, quite broad, with occasional lumps of un-melted rock floated on its glowing orange surface. Sister tested one of the crystals here, throwing it at the lava and producing a blinding flash of light that left her eyes stinging. Armand, ignoring this, quickly cast several rays of frost to harden the lava for a few moments, allowing the party to quickly cross the river before the rock-bridge melted once more.

Next the party came to a branch in the path, and decided to head to the left, following the sound of a whirring machine, which became deafening as the party approached their source. At the end of a winding tunnel a huge clockwork machine rammed itself repeatedly into a wall of rock, slowly boring its way further with the massive drill on its front. A mass of churning gears and metal plates, the enormous automaton had six leg-like appendages, the better to navigate difficult terrain, and resembles a gigantic clockwork beetle. There was something disturbing in its aimlessness. In between its assaults on the rock a mechanical voice occasionally spoke in the gnomish language: “MUST GET OUT! MUST ESCAPE!”

Yam distracted the automaton, telling it to “Out is that way! and leading it toward the lava river while the rest of the group got out of the way. The berserk drill swiveled and barreled after Yam, their companions following; as the automaton arrived at the lava river, Yam cast thunderwave, pushing the robot into the river of molten rock. Yam’s companions arrived, Armand and Vespidae leaping on to the machine to try and wrest free its ticking analytical engine.

“MUST GET OUT OF THE ASYLUM!” the machine shrieked madly.

As the drill sunk into the lava it screamed horribly, its metal turning to white-hot sludge, and the pair managed to rip the clockwork brain free, Sprigley grabbing Armand and pulling him back to solid ground. As they did so Sister felt a strange ripple in the air, as if a spirit had passed through her. Upon examination the party determined that the mechanism had been tampered with somehow, though there were no signs of physical force such as tool-marks.

Digger

The party pressed on past the tunnel where the drill had been boring. The smooth, round tunnel broke through at last into a space beyond – a chamber with walls of ancient stone, black as midnight save for the glimmer of weird glyphs that here and there adorn its vast, polyhedral columns. An electric frisson passed through the body upon entering this primeval place, where once dwelt beings of unthinkable knowledge and power. First the party turned left; protruding from the ceiling of the vaguely cylindrical chamber they entered was a huge, complex machine of iridescent metal, terminating in a node suspended directly above a large dais – anyone standing on the dais would be directly beneath the node. To one side of the dais was a console glimmering with the arcane glyphs of the Librarians. Though Yam was eager to experiment the party cautioned against it. Sister removed a mug from her pack and placed on the dais before activating the machine. There was a loud series of unearthly sounds and a beam of light shot from the node to the mug. The mug vanished without a trace – no shards, no smudge marks, it was simply gone. Reasoning it was either a vaporizer or a teleporter the party pressed on, making a note of the machine in case they needed to return to it later. They followed the tunnel to the right to a heptagonal chamber with honeycomb-like shelves in which were piled a number of scrolls. Seemingly trapped within was a roughly humanoid automaton eight feet in height. Its eyes were fashioned from rubies that flash with red light. The berserk automaton occasionally used these gemstone eyes to try and burn its way out of the room with a searing red beam. Detecting magic, the party ascertained that some sort of illusion was keeping the automaton penned in and decided to leave it be for the time being.

Yam's MapYam’s map of the first level.

Continuing their exploration, the party pressed on, encountering a large, cylindrical chamber with walls adorned with the glyphs of the Librarians. The floor, which at first appeared to be solid stone, became transparent upon entrance, revealing a dark shaft below, while the ceiling likewise became transparent and showed that the shaft also extended upwards. Deep down, what looked like a light could be glimpsed, possibly coming from an exit from the shaft. Puzzled, they left the chamber only to become snared in a trap-corridor which seemed to have two dead ends – the moment they turned around they found the way they had come blocked and utterly impassible. By closing their eyes they found themselves capable of defeating the trap: the wall was only present when perceived. Next the came to a trapezoid hall – some form of shrine, dedicated to an almost indescribable idol of cyclopean size that loomed near the far wall, fashioned of the same night-black stone as the rest of this part of the Old City. The being had a complicated series of many-jointed limbs dangling down from an enormous mass suggestive of a gigantic, angular, and thoroughly inhuman head, but lacking any trace of eye sockets – where eyes might be in a human head there was only smooth stone. The thing’s mouthparts were vaguely lamprey-like or cephalopodan. The overall impression was that some monstrous spider of octopus had crawled into an eyeless skull. Sister identified the deity as the Eyeless Watcher, one of the Unspeakable Ones revered by the Librarians and by some in Hex, renowned for its total omniscience and powers of foresight.

Continuing their survey the party next came to a wall of shimmering energy blocking progress forwards . There was a console to one side with a series of glowing glyph markings on it. Armand and Yam managed to decipher these runes, and after some experimentation they caused the wall to dissipate. Beyond were two rooms of note. In the first, a heptagonal chamber, were seven opalescent pods, emerging from the floor. These pods could be opened and climbed into, though this had no noticeable effect; one also seemed dim and grey. The second chamber, rhomboid in shape, looked to be an arsenal or vault with a number of unusual items. These included some kind of band, fitted for a tentacle but wearable as a bracer; a round plate of glass is set in a glyph-graven frame; a prismatic stone; an impressive-looking weapon somewhat reminiscent of a blunderbuss or short rifle, though fantastically complex and sophisticated;  polyhedral puzzle-box; and a glyph-graven wand of iridescent metal. The party looted the chamber thoroughly.

Yam took the lens. Peering through it, he discovered he could see what looked like a gnome, shouting and waving wildly! The gnome, only visible through the lens, could not be heard or otherwise interacted with; indeed, he could even be walked-through with ease. Yam urged the party to follow the supersensible gnome, who led them back through the Old City to the room with the huge machine. The gnome gestured to the dais and Yam climbed on, handing the lens to Sister and indicating that the party should activate the machine. Light shot from the beam and irradiated Yam, who found themself quite suddenly in a grey, silvery version of the same room – the Ethereal plane. The gnome, however, was suddenly audible. Yam also noticed a mug at their feet – the same mug they’d placed on the dais before.

gnome

“Oh, thank the Magistra,” the gnome exclaimed. “You must be here to get us out of this mess. I’m Isaac.”

“Yam,” Yam responded. It seemed the gnome, one of the explorers who’d delved into the Old City, had fled after the automata attacked, shortly after they’d used some explosives to enter a room on the second floor. Isaac explained that the mysterious cylindrical room with the transparent floor was a mentally-controlled elevator. He fled to this level, pursued by the automaton with cutting eye-beams, and turned himself Ethereal in order to evade it. Isaac was able to explain several other features of this part of the Old City, including the white pods, which he described as “pods of rebirth” capable of returning the dead to life.

Yam, followed by the rest of the party using the lens, proceeded to explore the rest of the same level. Yam first stopped at the room with the automaton trapped inside it, and noted something bizarre: a creature somewhere between a spider, a malevolent squid, and a throbbing brain controlling the automaton like a marionette, its limbs intertwined with the robot’s, its tendrils plunging into its clockwork innards. Next, Yam returned to the arsenal and discovered another prismatic stone identical to the one Sister took, but in the Ethereal plane. Some experimenting soon revealed that the two stones were linked, allowing sounds whispered through one stone to be heard through the other. This allowed Yam to relay everything he’d learned to the rest of the party, who now hastened to the second level, using mental commands to control the telepathic elevator.

Yam's Map 2Yam’s map of the second level.

Pressing on, the party entered an oblong chamber with a throne-like seat at its far end, though the angles suggest it was made for a non-humanoid shape. Complex machinery radiates from the throne, with several spindly metal appendages inert near the top. At the far end of the hall was a console glimmering with arcane sigils. Yam, in the Ethereal plane, noted a peculiar, blade like implement, scalpel-like, made of the same strange metal as many Librarian artefacts. Yam pocketed this and the group moved on, while Isaac speculated about the possible uses of the machine for psychosurgery. The gnome explained that he suspected this section of the Old City to be an asylum, made by the Librarians for those driven mad by the secrets they’d uncovered.

Next the group came across a series of small, hexagonal chambers along a single corridor. Investigating one, Vespidae discovered five niches, one for each wall without a door.  Approaching each niche in turn, the waspkin realized that they could materialize objects: one niche createda small sphere of bland but nutritious whitish sustenance, another materialized a crystal phial of water, a third created a small, chalky tablet, a fourth a vibrantly coloured pill, and the fifth and final niche a set of plain, white garments tailored to her waspkin form. Evidently the room was psychic to some degree. Meanwhile, Armand stopped the door from closing automatically. Intuiting that some additional effect might take place with the door closed, Sprigley volunteered to experiment, telling Armand to release him after five minutes.

800px-Clock_Cogs

The minutes passed, but when Armand opened the door, the Sprigley that emerged was not the Sprigley they’d seen enter – this Sprigley had five months of beard, seemed strangely euphoric, was dressed in white clothes, and seemed reluctant to leave the chamber. When pressed he described his time in the cell, revealed that the door had been locked from the inside. From Sprigley’s point of view, months had passed, with no sign of rescue, and so he had consumed the sustenance provided, including the chalky tablet and vividly coloured pill – one of which proved to be a sleeping tablet, the other which caused intensely pleasurable dreams. The hardened mercenary had spent the last five months of subjective time sleeping, eating, and meditating in the cell, and despite some initial attempts to force his way out, he had eventually lost the will to leave. Somewhat horrified by the evident time-shift effect of the cells, the party hastened onwards, eager to avoid any more temporal accidents.

Pressing on, the party encountered several gnomes more gnomes, but as they approached it becomes obvious they were undead creatures – from the look of things they were variously crushed or shot through by beams of energy, with clean, charred holes riddling their bodies. Yam, viewing them in the Ethereal Plane, could see that each gnome zombie was being controlled by a monstrous polyp-like creature riding upon their back or shoulders. They varied in exact appearance but combined unappealing aspects of jellyfish, cephalopod, and brain. As the zombies lurched towards them the party attacked with spells and weapons, a still-spaced Sprigley shooting one zombie dead, Armand and Sister wielding spells of arcane and divine might, Vespidae hurling javelins. Yam, on the Ethereal, attacked one the strange beings and forced it to relinquish its hold on a gnome corpse; it scuttled away down the hall, Yam in pursuit. The gnome passed through a pair of massive doors made from glistening metal, been blown open and partially melted. In the chamber beyond was a hall with numerous shelves, containing a handful of small, multi-hued orbs like huge jewels that glimmer softly. Covering the floor were innumerable glittering shards. Some were large enough to recognize as the shattered remnants of orbs like the ones on the shelves. In the middle of the room was a slab of strangely reflective metal, a hand-like clamp at one end. A console and a kind of receptacle containing a black orb like the ones on the shelves stood to one side of the device. Yam was reminded of the Consciousness Extractor the group had encountered on a previous expedition to the Old City.*

Hovering above the broken glass and strange machine, swirling in the centre of the room in the Ethereal, was a roiling, amorphous mass of limbs, tentacles, and brain-matter – a coalescence of disembodied spirits, unable to find hosts. The Librarian Yam had injured scuttled up the wall and launched its at the conglomeration, rejoining the mass. Yam’s eyes widened and they beat a quick retreat, back to where the party had dispatched the remaining zombies. Sister, thinking quickly and noting the presence of the Librarian essences, had conjured an image of the Eyeless Watcher to terrify them, chasing them toward the time-shifted cell-block. Speaking through the prism, Yam described the disembodied spirits they’d seen in the huge hall. The party theorized that when the gnomes blew open the door they must have shattered the crystals containing the consciousnesses or essences or souls of the entities incarcerated in the “asylum.”

Grell3e

They carried the corpses back to the first level, to revive them using the pods of rebirth; en route they encountered an extremely elderly gnome wandering the halls, apparently another inmate of the time-shifted cells who’d been released when a Librarian was ushered inside on the Ethereal plane. The gnome, Anaximander, must have been in the cells for a few days of objective time and thus many decades of subjective time. Dazed, he could only distantly recall the details of the original expedition, but greeted Isaac as a long-lost friend. Together the group put the bodies of the dead gnomes in the resurrection-pods, restoring them to life. The grateful gnomes – Sophia, Cornelius, and Zeb – discussed possible strategies with the rest of the party to deal with the situation. While Sophia suggested use of a room called the “Emergency Time Reversal Chamber,” the party had another plan: phase the explosives they’d been given into the Ethereal plane, then use them to destroy the spirits swirling about below.

While Isaac was rematerialized using the Ethereal-Material Convertor, the party then transferred the explosives to the Ethereal, along with Sophia, the gnome expedition’s demolitions expert.They set off again for the lower level. Meanwhile, Sophia and Vespidae returned to the archive-room with the trapped automaton, pilfering a few of the scrolls contained within and using the spell protection from evil on the automaton to temporarily release it from the insane Librarian controlling it. Exiting the room using the same strategy they’d used to defeat the “dead-end” they’d encountered earlier, they managed to trap the Librarian spirit in the chamber, returning to the corridor outside with the now-obedient automaton in tow.

Down below, Yam and Sophia returned to the hall and began setting up explosives. As they did so several of the Librarians swirling above detached from the conglomeration and attacked, squealing horribly. Yam used colour spray and acid splash to deter several of the creatures while Sophia finished configuring the explosives. The timer ticked down as the two Ethereal gnomes beat a hasty retreat. The explosion was defeaning in the Ethereal but, of course, did not damage in the Material plane. Librarian body parts were strewn about the chamber, the walls painted with their Ethereal ichor, but Yam and Sophia returned quickly to the first level and rematerialized. With everyone back in the Material plane the party hastily retreated from the Old City, once again employing spells to cross the river of lava. Though secrets still remained below, the party had managed to release several of the automata from their immaterial puppeteers, returned the lost gnome expedition-members to life, and looted the complex for several artefacts of doubtless considerably value. Not bad for an afternoon’s work in Hex…

*See Hex Session II: “The Ultimate Contagion”

Images: “Steampunk Wallpaper,” “Tinkerer” from Talisman Miniatures, Skyrim concept art, Fable 3 wallpaper, “Crystal Cave 2” by firedudewraith, screenshot from Atlantis: The Lost Empire, “Rock Gnome” for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons by Chris Seaman, Clockwork at the Liverpool World Museum by SomeDriftwood, “Grell” from 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons MM.

Hex Session V – 5th Edition Actual Play – “The Van Lurken House”

The characters in this session were:

  • Yam, an eccentric gnome illusionist and local graduate student at Umbral University. Yam cares little for money. Yam is curious. Yam is Yam.
  • Garvin Otherwise, a human rogue and burglar of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild, with a very, very peculiar past and a zoog pet, Lenore.
  • Vespidae, a waspkin bard – a sacred dancer with a deathwish, shunned by the waspkin community for complicated ritualistic reasons. Now a follower of the Queen in Yellow.
  • Armand Percival Reginald Francois Eustace de la Marche III, a suspiciously pale, apparently human noble and sorcerer, and certainly not a ghoul (how dare such a thing be suggested).

XP Awarded: 600 XP.

Two things brought the party to the house of the wealthy Van Lurken family, one of the elite merchant dynasties of Fanghill. Yam, on instructions from Umbral University, was to investigate the whereabouts of a promising young illusionist, Annette Van Lurken, who had not appeared for orientation. Garvin, on the other hand, was responding to information from the Ravenswing Thieves Guild. It seemed that the Van Lurken House had been abandoned, or so it looked from the outside, and the Guild wanted an enterprising young Fledgling like Garvin to see what valuables he could make off with – and it so happened that the Guild had both a map of the house and a set of keys to the doors within.

Thief Concept Art

Garvin met his contact, Veronika Foxstalker, at the Witching Hour Alehouse. The gloomy interior of the tavern  is familiar to every Guild-registered thief in Hex, as the place serves as the secret backdoor to the Midnight Market (at least it does currently; the door to the Market has shifted over the years). The barkeep, Mortimer Croak, was a grey, one-eyed presence behind the bar – an ex-thief who’s somehow managed to stay on the good side of every guild and gang in town. The grizzled old burglar was missing an alarming number of body parts, including his left foot, the pinky on his right hand, and his right eye, but he’d managed what few thieves in Hex pull off – comfortable retirement from crime. Garvin made his way to Veronika, a wiry woman with prematurely white hair – rumour claims it turned that way after a job-gone-wrong in Grey Hook. She slid over a map of the Van Lurken place – or at least its upper floors – as well as the key ring.

“This is what we’ve managed to get our hands on,” she said. “And it came dearly purchased. In fact, there’s a little more to the mission than we’d previously let on. You see, a while back we sent a team in to the Van Lurken place: three men, good thieves all of them. Only one came out, and he wasn’t right in the head. Shaking, raving about things ‘rustling in the walls’ and the ‘Unclean Chair,’ whatever that means. He wouldn’t speak about what he’d seen in there, but he had this map and key-ring with him. He… he stank, as well, smelled simply awful, and nothing we could do seemed to be able to get the reek out. A few days later he fell badly ill. We tried both magic and medicine but it didn’t take. When we found him dead… gods, I’ll never forget the stink, or the way he looked. It was like he’d been dead for weeks, he was so rotten. We burnt the remains.

“But that means there are two men unaccounted for, still inside. They’re most likely dead, but on the off chance they’re not, obviously you should try to get them out of there. And if they are dead, try to find their bodies – not to bury, but because they were carrying some valuable Ravenswing items with them. One had the gloves of thief’s sight, which lets the wearer glimpse what lies behind walls and doors. The other wore the boots of wall-walking, which let the wearer traverse walls and ceilings. The Guild would like both of these returned and will pay one thousand gold pieces for each.”

Garvin nodded, mulling the information over. “Is there any kind of automated security inside?”

“There may be a few automata, and the Van Lurkens did employ a house guard,” Veronika said. “But they haven’t been seen either. The servants are missing as well.”

After discussing a few more particulars Garvin took his leave and went to meet some of his companions at the Green Star to convey what he’d learned. The party then set out for Fanghill in the early evening.

fancy street

The richest residential district in Hex is Fanghill, a place of gated mansions and opulent museums and well-tended parks. The district is built on the slopes of a great hill whose top commands an impressive view of the city. The Eyes patrolled the streets heavily, and many private guards could be seen as well at gates and walls, protecting the well-heeled nobles, scholars, merchants, and professionals who make their homes here.  Unlike many parts of the city it remained well-lit at all times of day or night courtesy of magical lamps glowing with a soft effulgence.

The party quickly located the Van Lurken place. In contrast with some of the more fanciful houses in Fanghill – houses made to look like gigantic heads, mansions of Murkstone that shift and reshape themselves, and buildings whose dimensions should be impossible but which magic has granted a tenuous stability – the Van Lurken house was incredibly mundane: a three-storey house of solid construction, baroquely adorned but otherwise quite normal-looking.

van lurken

The place was certainly dilapidated, though, the garden shriveled and dead, the paint faded. The windows were dark and shrouded with curtains, obscuring the interior. Armand and Yam both noted that the decay the house exhibited seemed preternaturally advanced. While Garvin investigated the servant’s entrance and the others kept watch, Armand briefly questioned a servant doing the washing next door, who confirmed that the house had been abandoned for some time, describing the occasional muffled and uncertain noise from within and noting that none of the guards or other servants had been seen leaving. She also noted that Jasper Van Lurken, a young man and heir to the Van Lurken fortune, had recently returned from a business trip.

VanLurken0001

Entering through the side door using the key supplied by the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild, the party began their explorations in the servant’s quarters of the house. These were quite empty, though there were signs of struggle or hasty departure, perhaps interrupted – chests emptied, clothes and blankets strewn across the floor. Bloodstains mottled a wall in one of the chambers, though there were no sign of any bodies. A thorough search, however, turned up a loose floorboard under which was stashed an impressive quantity of jewellery, including a silver necklace set with obsidian, a sapphire ring, a bloodstone-encrusted hand mirror, and a pair of exquisite ruby earrings.

More evidence of violence could be found in the laundry room, which contained various buckets, presses, and other equipment for cleaning garments, including a mangle that had been put to a horrid use, evinced by the bloodstains and shards of bone clogging its rollers. Quantities of soap and other cleaning agents were stored here. More bloodstains marred the walls, including one curious stain which began on the ceiling and then wrapped around to the wall and out of the room. Puzzled and formulating theories, the party also checked the butler’s pantry, a dusty but untouched room full of expensive silverware, before heading into the front hall – eerily quiet save for the occasional mysterious rustling from within the walls. Apart from some confused footprints in the dust, there was no sign that anyone had been there for quite some time. Cobwebs shrouded the ceiling, and the walls were grimy and blotched with mould, filling the air with a musty stink.

A huge grandfather clock stood to one side, also swathed in cobwebs. Across from the clock was a large painting of the city of Hex, obviously painted from the vantage of Fanghill. In the foreground was a park scene with a picnicking family. Close inspection of the painting revealed a small, black cloud on the horizon made of small dots, like a swarm of insects. Yam noticed that this blotch seemed to be getting slowly larger while no one was looking. Leaving the painting for now, the party next moved to the kitchen. This room now absolutely swarmed with creeping vermin – maggots, flies, centipedes, cockroaches, and other bugs. The place was in disarray, pots and pans scattered everywhere, wood from the hearth strewn across the floor. There was a stairway in one corner, leading down into darkness. Erring on the side of caution, the party opted to leave the room undisturbed and proceeded into the dining room.

glutton feast

The dining room was laid out with gorgeous silverware and crystal. This fine cutlery was wasted on a spoiled feast – it looked like the pantry was emptied, but all the food was rotten, covered in mould and flies. Mixed in with the decomposing food were what looks like human body parts. At the head of the table was a macabre chair fashioned entirely from bones. Seated upon it, presiding over the table like a patriarch at a family meal, was a grotesquely swollen maggot-like creature with thin, vestigial arms and legs dangling from its bloated, pale body, shoveling morsels of carrion and decaying fruit into its mouth. The thing did not look up but continued to listlessly gorge itself with putrid sustenance.

Garvin noted a bowl on the table that did not seem to be tainted by the corruption. Angling themselves around the maggot-horror, the party debated a course of action. Vespidae, acting with typical insectile directness, attacked the creature with a javelin ad it instantly leapt up, scattering plates and body parts as it surged towards the waspkin, who took to the air. Horrified and disgusted, Armand and Yam engaged the creature with spells, pelting it with balls of fire. Garvin retreated, avoiding the thing’s blows, and it turned, launching itself at Armand. Between them, however, the party was able to destroy the creature, engulfing it in arcane flames. Armand made sure to destroy the osseous chair completely while Garvin and Yam investigated the bowl, discovering that it bore a glyph from the city of Nornhold, a monastery-city of silent ascetics. Food touching the bowl seemed to be restored to ripe purity. Experimentally, Yam took the bowl back to the front hall, carefully cut the still-growing insect-swarm from it, and placed the scrap in the bowl. Magically, the dark blots on the painted canvas disappeared. At this moment, something could be heard, moving around upstairs. Tracking footprints in the dust, the party ascended to the next level.

amnesia 2

They first investigated a large games room decorated with the heads of beasts hunted in the nearby Tangle: hippogriffs, owlbears, wild boar, and even a wyvern. A large musket also hangs on one wall, a heavy crossbow on another, and a spear on a third. Also on one wall was a huge painting of a hunting scene in the Tangle, depicting several of the Van Lurken ancestors and their hounds. The painter had included several clever details, including some small fairies hiding in the underbrush and twisted tree-branches, and an enchanted pool reflecting some of the mortal hunters as otherworldly, elfin figures.

In the middle of the room was a billiards table spattered with blood: a corpse sprawled on the table amidst the billiard balls, his neck ripped open. His stiff fingers still clutched a broken pool cue, which was curious, since he was also armed with a short sword and hand crossbow. Judging from his dark clothing and half-mask he was a burglar of some description. Close inspection of the corpse revealed a Thief’s Mark and a Ravenswing broach, as well as the gloves of thief’s sight, which Garvin carefully took. These could be used to look through walls and doors to see what lay beyond, enabling the thief to scout the next chambers.

Noting the pool cue, Yam immediately surmised the possibility of vampires and took the pool cue.

Next the party went to the music room, a beautifully furnished, baroquely decorated chamber filled with instruments – a flute, dulcian, chalumeau, violin, bass viol, viola pomposa, hurdy gurdy, sackbut, and harpsichord. The instruments were beautifully enamelled and made from precious metals and exotic wood. The party helped themselves to several, but avoided the macabre-looking instrumments placed amongst them: a flute fashioned from a human femur covered in abstract etchings, and a set of drums made from two bisected human skulls whose open tops are covered in flayed human skin. Armand, disgusted and alarmed by these objects, broke them apart and burnt them with fire bolts.

VanLurken0002

Yam’s player’s annotations.

Garvin used his newly acquired gloves to investigate the portrait gallery, but recoiled from a scene of dismemberment and death.

“Let’s just avoid that room,” he said, and moved on to the study, noting its  large window, ornate writing desk strewn with papers, and numerous bookshelves.

On one wall was a map of the city of Hex, while on the other sprawled a map of the known world, including the nearby lands of New Ulthar, Nornhold, Sempiternia, Teratopolis, Tetractys, Verdigris, and Erubescence, and other places more distant: the city-states and kingdoms such as the Vassen Empire, Blodvinter, Purulence, Ganglion, Finchport, and Xell. The map even included more mysterious realms such as the distant continent to the east across the Blushing Sea and the Entropic Wastes to the south.

The study also included a large bust of Master Melchior, famed enchanter, archmage, founder and still-living president of Master Melchior’s School of Thaumaturgy & Enchantment, and another bust of Keziah Elderwold, founder of the Metamorphic Scholarium and Mother of Modern Alchemy. The two busts stared at one another from either side of the room.

The party first investigated the papers on the desk, which proved to be the diary of Leopold Van Lurken.

Mazeday, 10th of the Month of Crones

Jasper set out for Erubescence today. Nicolet is fretting, of course, but the boy is old enough to begin taking an active hand in the business, and now that things have settled down between Hex and the Crimson Lands the time is ripe for trade. The Sanguine Lords and Ladies have skill in necromancy to rival the finest of the Académie Macabre, but they lack technological know-how – they’ve relied so long on undead labour they’re centuries behind the things gnomes are building now in Hex. Between that and the Sap we should make a fortune. I’m sure Jasper is fit for the job, and besides, there’ll be plenty of more experienced men with him.

Here at home, Annette has sent off her application to Umbral University. She’s tried her hand at a few cantrips to great effect. She’s make a skilled illusionist, even if I would have preferred if she’d chosen Master Melchior’s School of Thaumaturgy & Enchantment or the Metamorphic Scholarium, even Fiend’s College… something useful. Illusion is just so frivolous! I suppose it makes a good school for a daughter on the marriage market, however – not that we’re in any urgent need of a match. I expect that every penniless noble for leagues will be battering down our door soon enough in hopes of getting their manicured fingers on our money.

Goatday, 16th of the Month of Snails

Jasper returned today after some weeks in Erubescence, and is full of strange tales: of the Bone Giants and the Tower of Teeth, of the Nurseries and the Grey Matrons, of the Blood Church and its great rival, the Cult of the Pallid Worm, who finds some small favour here in the guise of Mordiggia, the Charnel Goddess. He has brought back with him much gold, and contracts for further trade signed with various nobles and merchants in the Crimson Lands, and objects also, for sale here in Hex. These include a number of mysterious crates which he has insisted we store in our own cellars – Jasper claims the contents are far too valuable to leave in our warehouse in the Swelter.

The boy seems invigorated by his journey and full of an almost feverish excitement, though truth be told he is somewhat pale and thin of cheek; this is, perhaps, no surprise given the shroud of darkness that prevails over much of Erubescence, conjured by the Sanguine Lords and Ladies so they may walk freely even at noon, when their kind would normally be turned to ash. Still, I dislike the wild look in his eyes, or the curious, twitchy way he has taken to fidgeting…

Meanwhile, a pair of Nicolet’s earrings seem to have gone missing. She suspects the maid, Miranda, claiming to have found her once in the midst of trying on a necklace. Miranda claimed to have simply been cleaning the piece. I have had Geoffrey search the house, including the servant’s quarters, but he has turned up nothing. If Miranda did steal the earrings she must have already sold them, but without evidence I cannot bring myself to dismiss her.

Scaleday, 22nd of the Month of Snails

I fear for poor Jasper’s health! The boy seems averse to sunlight and has acquired an unhealthy pallor. Were he not quite free of bite-marks, happy to eat garlic, and perfectly visible in mirrors I would think him stricken with vampirism, courtesy of some Erubescent un-dead. He now spends all of his hours either cooped up in his room or else down in the basement gazing on the artefacts he has amassed, most particularly a large and singularly hideous stone idol dedicated to the Pallid Worm. I do quite understand his obsession with the outré and bizarre: after all, I myself possess a cabinet of curiosities filled with treasures from half a hundred lands, gleaned through years of meticulous collection, and have spent hours gazing on such oddities as the Instant Maze or the skeleton of a zoog, or speaking with the curious stone-elemental Gabbro, who walked the earth as a giant many aeons past and now, through the slow action of wind and rain, has dwindled to the size of a pebble. I’m sure, one day, he will have his own collection of such items. But still, it is unhealthy to spend so much time in the damp and dark – mould will get into his lungs and only worsen the queer hacking cough he seems to have developed.

Annette has been accepted to Umbral University and has already begun experimenting with more advanced spells – she even ensorcelled the mirror in her room, so that it could change your reflection, making it wear different clothes or altering your hair. And I dared think illusion-magic frivolous! Can you imagine what blushing young ladies and vain dandies would pay for such an object?! There are more than enough such folk in Fanghill. We could make our fortune over again, selling such things.

On the domestic front, Nicolet is concerned that the house has developed an infestation of some sort – perhaps some animal has died in the walls?  The cook found an alarming number of cockroaches in the pantry, and only this evening I discovered a maggot in my mutton! I quite lost my appetite.

Mossday, 3rd of the Month of Blushes

The physiker, the alchemist, and a priestess of the Magistra have all been by the house, but none can do anything for poor Jasper, and Nicolet is starting to panic. Neither spell nor prayer nor vigorous leeching nor medicinal potion has had any effect on him, and he retains an increasingly ghastly pallor – he looks like one of those horrible, degenerate ghouls one sees lurking in Shambleside, and his skin has a slick, slimy texture, as from a fever. He babbles strangely, keeping us wake late and night with gibberish chants, and often refuses to open his eyes, but bumbles about the house with them closed, his hands wrapped about his body. It is most strange. His room has taken on a rank stench, even with frequent cleaning, and seems infested even more thickly with the vermin that now plague the house in distressing numbers. And, of course, we still find him sneaking down to the cellars, despite having locked the door – he must be stealing the key. I must make arrangements to remove the thing from the house.

I fear some strange madness has taken him, a sickness contracted in the Crimson Lands. If he does not improve soon the authorities may well come knocking, to put the boy in Catch-All! I would not let such a fate befall him, for even the thought of that pestilential slum makes my skin crawl with horror, but to escape the Plague District he may need to be smuggled out of the city – perhaps sent to one of the sanitaria in the mountains, or some quiet place in the country.

The whole house has taken on a horrid gloominess in light of Jasper’s condition – the shadows denser, the light dimmer. Mildew and mould seem to be spreading up from the basement. Paintings that once were bright now seem grim, the faces of portraits ill-favoured. Even the grandfather clock, chiming in the front hall, seems to groan with an unhealthy sound, as if the mechanism itself were taken ill. There is a queer rustling sound in the walls. Even Annette seems subdued. I only pray she has not contracted whatever sickness plagues my eldest son. More than once Jasper has been found out of bed, lingering at his sister’s door in a way that is most disquieting, his eyelids squeezed shut, his clammy hands pawing at the door.

Starday, 12th of the Month of Blushes

Gods preserve me… I have locked myself here in the study, but fear I will not live out the night – or if I do, I shall not be unchanged. There are things which creep under the door, even now. There is no escape, unless perhaps I risk leaping from the window. I can hear the servants screaming elsewhere on this floor, as Jasper and Annette wreak their blood havoc. I scarce recognized her, nor Jasper either – for what stood before me, smeared in blood, was not my son, but some awful white eyeless thing, spewing blasphemous prayers to an unclean goddess. Whatever he touched began to decay, maggots bursting forth from furnishings and floorboards at his touch. Great tides of writhing worms and beetles and flies swarmed through the halls and filled the mouths and bodies of the servants, making them into grotesque puppets.

There are chittering sounds coming from outside the door, and somewhere a flute is playing a shrill and malignant tune. I pray only that Nicolet is spared, and that when the corruption that has taken this place is discovered it will be rooted out and expunged. Should anyone find this journal, I plead with you – kill whatever it is that I have become, and my children as well, and burn this house to the ground. Whatever evil has seized this place, it must not spread!

Next the group began investigating the bookshelves and busts in search of a trigger for the secret door implied by the map, eventually discovering that the eyes of the two busts were buttons which could be depressed. When Melchior and Keziah seemed to be winking at one another, a bookshelf swung open, revealing the cabinet of wonders beyond.

cabinet

Behind the secret door lay a small room in which all manner of strange objects were jammed. These ranged from the merely odd to the fabulously strange, even by the standards of Hex. These objects includde:

  • A stuffed wyvern hatchling.
  • A medusa’s death-mask.
  • A perfectly reproduced miniature model of Hex that had been enchanted to include illusions of tiny little people moving about in the streets and in and out of buildings.
  • A Lengian skull.
  • A zoog skeleton.
  • A puzzle box engraved with maze-like symbols.
  • A small painting of a Vegetable Lamb.
  • A gnomish automaton soldier approximately 1 foot tall.
  • A gnomish automaton angel approximately 1 foot tall that, when wound up, offers patronizing sermons in the name of the Magistra.
  • A bottle of greyish-green liquid, the bubbles of which contain weird, surreal visions of strange landscapes, as well as scenes of everyday life.
  • Six eyeballs of indeterminate species floating in liquid.
  • A minotaur horn.
  • A beautifully realistic child’s doll of ambiguous sex. The doll had a minor enchantment: when the drawstring on its back is pulled it temporarily assumed the semblance of a real child.
  • A dark blue rhomboid stone.
  • A shrunken cat’s head.
  • A letter of some kind.
  • An orchid made entirely out of pink crystal.
  • A potion of gaseous form.
  • A flask of endless coffee.
  • A miniature shovel large enough for a gnome or a small child.
  • A tiny cosmological model made of intricate clockwork showing speculative locations of the Dreamlands, the Underworld, Faerie, Anathema, and the mortal plane.
  • A tiny potted plant that produces small, multi-coloured berries
  • A small, green fish in a glass bowl.
  • A Librarian Voidcraft in a bottle modeled on the vessel glimpsed through powerful telescopes at the edge of the solar system.
  • A gently snoring stone which is in fact a minor earth elemental, as the party discovered, called Gabbro.
  • A porcelain mask.
  • An ornate pocket-watch engraved with the letter “A” on the back.

Manfredo_Settala_-_Cabinet_of_curiosities

After rifling greedily through these riches and plundering the cabinet thoroughly the party heard something approaching from down below – an eerie skittering, slithering noise. Garvin crept quickly and stealthily through the corridors while the rest of the party remained near the study. The thief was first to spy the source of the noise: a flushed, fleshy creature creeping up the stairs out of the gloom on limbs that seemed inadequate for its corpulent, worm-like bulk. Bloated and blotched with pink, the monstrosity was clad in the tattered remnants of what might have been a finely-tailored dress, twisted round its sinuous body. Its neckless face had vestigial features, though its mouth remains rather horribly humanoid, with full, red, womanly lips and pointed white fangs. A few patches of long, dark hair sprouted from the creature’s scalp. The thing seemed mostly blind but remained cognizant of the world around it. The remains of the snapped-off pool cue protruded from its body.

vampire mouth

Still concealed, Garvin crept through the corridors of the house and fired at the horror, but his bolt embedded itself in the thing’s bulk to little noticeable effect. The monstrosuty surged towards the rest of the party and a fierce battle ensued, Vespidae hurling javelins and performing waspkin battle-dances while Yam and Armand desperately assailed the monster with acid and fire spells, the latter of which proved highly effective. Garvin, firing more bolts, was scratched by one of the monstrosity’s clawed appendages, a terrible wound that tore through leather and flesh. Blood pouring from this great tear, he slipped into unconsciousness while Vespidae, in desperation, cast dissonant whispers, causing the worm-like creature to flee – not down the passage but by burrowing down through the sagging, rotten floorboards. It dropped nimbly to the floor of the front hall below, where Armand and Yam continued their arcane bombardment from above. Engulfed in flame, the creature shrieked and withered, shrinking and shrivelling to assume the form of a young woman, scorched and unconscious. Yam, surmising that this was likely Annette Van Lurken, hurried down to the front hall and thrust the remains of pool cue through her heart. Annette vomited up copious quantities of blood and lay still. At Yam’s urging she was locked in the butler’s pantry, the gnome reasoning that she might be revived later by Umbral University, and perhaps even restored to life.

“We should burn this place down,” Armand said. “Like the diary said.” The effete sorcerer was clearly perturbed by the house.

“Not yet,” Garvin said. “There’s still the other thief. Let’s try the third floor.”

Exploration of the third floor was brief, preceded by careful scouting using the gloves of thief’s sight to look through the ceiling. The party quickly located a man who might be the thief in question, seemingly suspended from the ceiling in the guest room. Ignoring the nursery, the group briefly ventured into Annette’s room, a bedchamber with a large makeup table and several boxes containing jewellery – necklaces, earrings, and other adornments. There was also a wardrobe, open, revealing many beautiful dresses, a resplendent four-poster bed with silk sheets, and a large mirror, which the party very wisely avoided looking into. Seizing a few oddments of jewellery and a wand lying on the makeup table, the party next entered the guest chamber, a simple room with modest decorations. Seemingly suspended from the ceiling was a man in dark, bloodstained clothing and cloak, which somehow was not dangling towards the floor but remained swathed around him. The man stood stock-still and deathly pale, but his eyes were open and his breathing shallow. His neck had been savaged nastily and was scabbed with dozens of ugly puncture-wounds. There was one window here, but a glyph was scrawled upon it in blood, indicating an arcane lock.

After supplying the thief with a potion of healing and helping him down, the party learned his name was Felix Stonemouth, and that he ahd been imprisoned in the chamber for some days or perhaps weeks, being slowly drained dry by Annette.

Fire_interior

As the party prepared to leave the house, a buzzing became audible from the master bedchamber – a horrible whining, droning sound, as of some monstrous insect. Hastening down the stairs, the adventurers glimpsed a single dainty, hairy leg pick its way out of the bedchamber doors. With a shudder the party hurried onwards, withdrawing down the stairs and through the front hall, out into the cold, starless night, Yam making sure to retrieve the comatose, staked body of Annette Van Lurken. Once safely outside Armand lit the house ablaze with a series of fire bolts. As the place burned, Vespidae took to the sky and uttered a prayer to the Queen in Yellow, asking that the goddess receive the artworks consumed in the conflagration as a sacrifice. Whatever lay below in the still-unexplored cellar would be trapped beneath the burnt wreckage of the house…

Images: Thief concept art, Jacques Rigaud‘s View of the Chapel at Versailles, screenshots and concept art from Amnesia, Domenico RempsA Cabinet of Curiosity, Manfredo Settala’s cabinet of curiosities, from “Museo o Galeria,” Ben Templesmith’s 30 Days of Night cover, still from Dark Shadows.

Hex Session IV – 5th Edition Actual Play – “Rolling the Bones”

The characters in this session were:

  • Garvin Otherwise, a human rogue and burglar of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild, with a very, very peculiar past and a zoog pet, Lenore.
  • Caulis, a homunculus warlock liberated from its master; has made a pact with certain Faerie Powers.
  • Vespidae, a waspkin bard – a sacred dancer with a deathwish, shunned by the waspkin community for complicated ritualistic reasons. Now a follower of the Queen in Yellow and accompanied by two animated statuettes created by Magdalena Rotterthorpe.
  • Armand Percival Reginald Francois Eustace de la Marche III, a suspiciously pale, apparently human noble and sorcerer, and certainly not a ghoul (how dare such a thing be suggested).
  • Sprigley Gilette, a hardboiled, cigar-chomping human mercenary and veteran of several brutal wars, and a relatively new arrival in Hex.

XP Awarded: 200 XP.

The party met in the Green Star, a tavern in Mooncross filled with plants of various kinds, halfway between bar and greenhouse. The bartender was a fungoid who sometimes added herbs and other ingredients harvested from the indoor-garden to various drinks. After ordering various beverages (absinthe, nectar, a Cacodemon Ale) they set about deciding what venture they might next undertake.

Fungoid 001

After some discussion party eventually resolved to apprehend the ghoulish gangster known as Nettie “Ossifrage” Toadlung, leader of the Starveling gang of Shambleside. They had spotted wanted posters in Corvid Commons during previous activities in the area. Additionally, Garvin was aware that the Starvelings were potentially forming an alliance with the Crowsbeak Thieves’ Guild, sworn rivals of his own Guild, the Ravenswing. For this reason, putting a stop to Nettie’s operations would be beneficial. During his investigations, Garvin learned that Nettie was in fact the operator of the Rat & Roach, a subterannean casino in the understreets below Shambleside. The place reputedly had a number of quasi-legal and downright illegal activities available for the distinguishing patron, including unlicensed zombie cage-fighting. It was also said to have a large vault full of cash for the casino above, as well as various items stolen by the Starvelings.

Nettie0001

After equipping themselves, the party set out for the reanimators’ district. While trying to be discrete, several were stopped by a patrol of Eyes, the police of Hex, who informed them that travel into the district was being temporarily suspended to “keep the peace,” due to a “still-developing situation.” However, the party was able to talk their way past the watchmen, Armand and Caulis claiming to be on an important errand and to have no interest in whatever troubles were brewing. Reluctantly, the Eyes let them past.

The air was thick with the smell of spice and embalming fluid and leather, and beneath it all the stench of rot. From the gruesome deadstock pens to the Moaning Market where the reanimated are auctioned off, Shambleside is stepped in the macabre. Ghouls live here in great numbers, lurking in the shadows, avoiding sunlight whenever possible.

There seemed to be some kind of protest brewing not from the Charnel Gate –a number of armed City Watchmen were clustering around impromptu barricades, where a gathering crowd holds signs and jeers. Investigating more closely, the party found the source of the disturbance to which the watch patrols alluded: an angry mob of protestors were facing down a cordon of Eyes near the deadstock pens. The protestors were a variegated bunch, a mix of humans, ghouls, cambions, dagonians, gnomes, and even a handful of waspkin and Lengians. They were united by their demands: their signs bore variations of “A Living Wage for the Living,” “Against Exploitation, Against Reanimation,” and “We Want Bread, Not Undead.” Things looked tense, but apart from the occasional bit of shoving or shouting they hadn’t turned violent. Taking advantage of the disturbance, the party found a quiet side street and descended into the sunken streets below, paved over many years’ past.

demonstration

Finding their way to the Rat & Roach proved relatively simple, and after some additional scouting the party discovered a passage leading to a back entrance. Garvin searched the passage and discovered it was booby-trapped with a gnomish sliver-mine, which he disarmed and kept for himself. The passage terminated at a door guarded by a single Starveling – a ghoul clad in tattered waistcoat and bowlder hat, smoking and guarding the passage leading into the casino. With the aid of charm person, Caulis was able to circumvent the guard, claiming to be on a special errand to speak with Nettie personally on obviously guild-related business. The bewitched guard allowed the party entrance, and they entered the casino without having their weapons confiscated or their true purposes known.

The main room of the Rat & Roach was a sprawling, filthy bar and casino-room filled with ghouls, cambions, trollbloods, and humans, all drinking, gambling, and carousing. Rotgut, blood, fungus ale, Blackbeak Brew, shadetea, and various other substances were all for sale. The patrons played games of Hexchess, Ruff & Honours, Blind Idiot, and Leper’s Dice, among other games. An elevator leading up to the Phantom Queen, another tavern on the surface, was evident in one corner, while a pair of doors leading  to a series of other chambers and backrooms frequented by high rollers and those with connections could be seen as well. The evening’s entertainment consisted of a ghoul singer, her highly canine face belying her beautiful if rasping voice. She was backed up by a chorus line of reanimated dancers, mechanically moving and kicking in perfect time, their skirts flouncing, their eyes dead.

Rakes Progress

Surreptitiously, Garvin investigated one of the backroom doors and discovered a brewery room staffed with reanimated workers under the direction of a single ghoul brewmaster barking orders to the undead thralls as they tended to the huge vats. A stair lead down to a cellar on the next level. Returning to the main chamber, Garvin described what he’d seen.

“I bet the vault is on the bottom floor,” he said. “If we had some sort of distraction maybe we could go through the cellars.”

“I might have an idea,” Vespidae volunteered.

After a brief talk with the management, Vespidae convinces them to let her try her hand at some entertainment. She was ushered backstage into an area with several small dressing rooms. Half a dozen reanimated dancing girls stood here, still and inert as manikins save for the gentle rasp of their breath. After waiting for the current act to end, Vespidae tentatively walked out on stage.

Accompanied by her Unseen Servant and two animated statuettes – duplicates of herself fashioned by the arcane sculptress Magdalena Rotterthrope – Vespidae began an intricate, utterly absorbing dance, partly on stage, partly in the air. The crowd, at first sceptical and angry at being deprived their normal entertainment, gradually became enraptured by the hypnotic performance, which including intricate, dramatic in-air moves and complex patterns.

“Hey, you gotta see this!” one of the bouncers yelled to the ghoul brewmaster, who lumbered out of the brewery. While the brewmaster was absent the rest of the party slipped into the brewery. Ignored by zombies still lethargically tending to the equipment – some now spilling good ale and leaving valves open without the brewmaster’s supervision – the party began by investigating several adjoining backrooms.

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Garvis first picked the lock to the door of a small room filled with filing cabinets stuffed with papers. Sprigley plundered this records room for incriminating documents, turning up a number that showed what looked like evidence of an illicit drug-smuggling operation. Next they entered a grimy, ill-lit room with a chair set up beneath a glaring light. A badly beaten man was chained to the chair, gagged and bloody. Hesitating only a moment, the party freed the man, who identified himself as Dirk Brillspar, and confessed to having been caught cheating at cards. He feared himself soon to be killed and given to “Abjectus,” a creature in the tunnels with some kind of pact with the Starvelings.

After arming Dirk, the party hastily returned to the brewery and clambered down a ladder into a cellar below. Huge kegs filled this gloomy chamber, which reeked of cheap alcohol. There were crates and racks of wine here, as well as stronger spirits such as absinthe and whiskey. Rats teemed in great numbers here.20160606095503_1

After helping themselves to a few choice bottles of wine, the party slipped out of the cellar into the passages on the second level of the casino. Glancing down one hallway they glimpsed what looked like the vault door – to judge by its prominent combination lock. Hearing an approaching guard, they forewent further investigation and quickly ducked down another corridor and through a door. Here they found a cavernous sewer tunnel bobbing with filth. Moored to the catwalk overlooking the tunnel was a small boat laden with crates. The party looked inside, discovering large quantities of the Sap, the arcane drug harvested from the Elder Tree in Ambery, the last in Hex. Taking several phials of the valuable drug, they were debating what to do with the remainder when footsteps became audible coming down the corridor. They attempted to hide; the door opened, and a Starveling emerged, peering round the chamber. He located Caulis and Armand, who attempted to talk their way out of the situation, feigning disorientation and having “gotten lost” on their way from the gaming tables. The guard was unconvinced by this obvious ruse, but in the meantime Garvin and Sprigley leapt into action and quickly subdued the guard, knocking him unconscious. They concealed his comatose form in the boat and crept back into the tunnels.

Omphalotus_olearius_33857

Continuing to explore the lower level, the group entered a chamber which looked to be an enlarged natural cavern. Slowly developing in this moist, dripping cave were a number of fungoids, still in the nacesent stages of growth where they appear somewhere between puffballs and squalling infants. Various tools for feeding and harvesting these still-growing creatures were evident. Caulis, observing the fungoids, inhaled a blast of spores, and then –

A woman walks through a snowy landscape, carrying a bundled, still child. She clambers down into a dark, sheltered hollow in the hills, sweeps a large flat stone clear of snow, and lays the child on it. She draws a blade and makes long cuts along her arms, then uses the blood to draw sigils around the stone and child. Losing blood, she begins to weaken and stagger. Where the blood has begun to congeal on the cold stone, it now gathers into animate forms, lurching and roiling towards the child. The child jerks, its features twisting subtly, and it sits up, and smiles.

– Caulis jerked back, reeling. An ancestral memory? A hallucination?

Somewhat disturbed, the party continued into an adjoining chamber to0 discover a large iron pen, as for cattle. Inside milled a dozen fungoids – the sporious humanoids indigenous to the Old City of Hex, as well as the Zymotic Ward. These particular fungoids had a peculiar purplish cast. An array of tools hung on a rack on the wall, including man-catchers, lassos, claw-grips on the end of poles, scrapers, shears, and the like. Stairs climbed back up to the first level.

Ignoring the fungoid prisoners for now, the party continued exploring the lower level and eventually located Nettie’s office – but not before Sprigley, blundering forward, tripped a hidden wire. A mechanism clicked, spraying him with a mist of vapour before lighting this flammable gas with a spark. The resulting blast of flame engulfed the warrior, horribly burning him; he flailed backwards and slumped against a wall. Sprigley’s companions managed to put him out and rescue him from the brink of death with a hasty healing potion. Shaken but alive, Sprigley got to his feet and the party approached the office.

Garvin proved unable to pick the lock to Nettie’s office, so an alternative solution was employed. Using an enchanted bolt of silence, Garvin created a bubble around the door in which no sound could be heard. Then Sprigley kicked the door off its hinges. The group entered a small, grimy room with a grotty desk, a mouldering chair, and a handful of old cabinets. A thorough search turned up quantities of cash, a hand crossbow, poisoned bolts, and a spare vial of poison. Sprigley, search especially thoroughly uncovered a hidden compartment in one of the desk drawers, in which a piece of parchment could be found. The parchment had three numbers scrawled on it: 13, 9, 17.

safe cracking

The party now hastened back to the vault, though Armand – swayed, perhaps, by a pang of conscience, or perhaps deciding to create a distraction to cover a potential escape – stopped to carefully open the pen of the fungoid prisoners. Sprigley decided to hang back with Dirk, guarding the path to the boat – now the group’s intended escape route. Wary of additional traps the party began searching for tripwires. Garvin, unfortunately, managed to blunder into one in the course of the search and accidentally set it off, resulting in a jet of poisonous vapour which he inhaled fully. Gasping, his face and veins blackening, he slumped to the ground in terrible pain. Swift application of a healing potion spared him from death. Using the combination 13, 9, 17, the party managed to open the vault. Inside were shelves piled with coin-rolls and bags of coin, as well as several objects which the party hastily grabbed: a painting of Arabella Sickle, Infernal Archbishop of Hex, a mysterious deck of cards, a scroll, a verdigris-encrusted gun, and a mysterious book with a black cover.

Meanwhile, upstairs, Vespidae had finished her performance spectacularly, destroying her statuette-duplicates in a crescendo of violence using her javelings, to the utter delight of the crowd. Tips poured in for the dancer, who was now euphoric with success. Impressed by Vespidae’s prowess, the casino’s management offered the waspkin a chance to test herself in the backroom. Seeing no sign of her companions, Vespidae agreed and was led into a crowded chamber adjoining the main room where two reanimated corpses fought in a brutal contest within a cage. Both had been extensively modified by their Reanimators. One bore a morningstar where its hand should be, its wrist wrapped with an iron chain nailed and sutured to its dead flesh, while its head was studded with brutal spikes like a mace, in mimicry of the ball swinging from its forearm; if its opponent were to headbutt it, they would be impaled. It carried a shield in its other hand. The other gladiator was even more ostentatious. Its head was that of a reanimated ghoul, complete with tearing canine teeth, but its body had a writhing mass of limbs, those of a Lengian. How the necromancer secured a spiderfolk cadaver is anyone’s guess; usually Lengians send their dead to the Temple of the Mother of Spiders in Cobweb Cliffs. The hybrid horror was armed with a multitude of knives.

jericho

While the two zombies circle one another and intermittently attacked, fed arcane instructions by their handlers, a crowd cheered and placesd frenzied bets.  The melee was brutal, but the mace-headed zombie triumphed, pummeling its opponent into submission. To the whoops of the crowd, Vespidae was placed in the cage. The waspkin managed to land several crippling blows on the reanimated gladiator with her javelins, but a lucky head-butt from the zombie brought the waspkin to the brink of death. Only the intervention of management managed to spare her life, though she was still paid for her time and invited to remain in the backrooms, even to attend to the high-rollers’ table if she wished.

Shaken, still injured, and now clueless as to her companions’ whereabouts, Vespidae decided to remain in the backrooms. She first wandered into room filled with decaying couches and armchairs,a drug den with several individuals strung out on shadetea, their eyes black as the void between stars. One girl was hopped up on thrum, an arcane stimulant made from the displacement gland of phasebats. She blurred, flickering in and out of reality, her flesh creeping and quivering, one moment present, another absent. Several ghouls also smoked a large pipe filled with some sort of purple-grey gas. One mildew-eaten room over, lit with a glimmering red lamp, junkies were sprawled on rotting furniture having consumed some form of psychoactive toadstools, more of which could be seen on a table in the room’s centre. A dozen more bleary-eyed men and women sprawled on pallets and mouldy mattresses, their eyes wide and staring, pallid faces streaked with sweat. Dispassionately moving on, Vespidae came to the high rollers’ room – a private room with walls of dark wood and a finely carved table that looked like it was liberated from a more salubrious district of the city. There were even some paintings on the walls, though these were mostly pornographic in nature. Given the go-ahead by a guard, she entered. A group of individuals sat around the table playing an intense game of he Cursed River, a complex magical card game in which players curse one another with their cards, making play more difficult. One fellow was slowly turning to stone, his feet and legs first. A few more curses and he’d be a statue. Another player could speak only in rhymes, and had to rehearse each sentence perfectly. Nettie Toadlung herself presided over the game, winning big, though blind in one eye from a curse.

downwind

Vespidae entered the game to the amusement of several players and proceeded to clean up, winning hand after hand as her opponents became increasingly curse-riddled; Nettie herself was becoming increasingly translucent as she bled coins to Vespidae. The secret to the waspkin’s success was smell – she could smell the pheramone levels exuded by various players, and judge hands accordingly. Waspkin, not usually a gambling folk, had cleared missed their calling.

Impressed by Vespidae’s skill and taken out of the game herself, Nettie invited the waspkin down to her office to sign a contract, becoming a regular performer at the Rat & Roach. By this point Vespidae was so flushed with success she barely remembered why she’d come to the casino in the first place. She agreed to Nettie’s offer and the two descended to the second floor, passing through a guard-room on the way.

At this point, all Hell broke loose.

Nettie arrived to find the passage to her office scorched, her door hanging off its hinges, and her desk drawers ripped out. Moments later Sprigley appeared from the shadows, pointing a gun at her and telling her to divest herself of weapons. Attacking with a hand crossbow, Nettie received a gunshot to the kneecap in return.

Hearing the gunshot, the rest of the party at the vault came running – as did the Starvelings from the guard room. The two groups intersected just as a group of bumbling fungoids emerged from their pen.

The resulting chaos was too confused to recount in detail – a blur of gunshots, screams, spores, and spells. Eventually, Garvin used his Hand of Glory, an embalmed hand clutching a candle, to paralyze several of the guards. Caulis summoned an Unseen Servant to dustract Nettie. Vespidae, confused and barely recognizing her companions, including a horribly burnt Sprigley, prayed to the Queen in Yellow for guidance. The Queen appeared to Vespidae in a vision, telling the waspkin to “make the situation even more of a farce.” Vespidae cast longstrider on Nettie, and the Starevling gang leader, suddenly very fast, was sent flying as the Unseen Servant tripped her. She cracked her skull against a wall, giving Sprigley a few precious seconds to grab her. Caulis beat her over the head with its great-club and the party hastily made their way to the boat to make their escape, leaving a bleeding Dirk and a still-perplexed Vespidae behind.

Images: Chartist demonstration, Kennington Common, 1848; William Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress; screenshots from Dishonored, Thief, Jericho, and Thief: The Dark Project; Noah Siegel’s “Omphalotus oleraius.”

Witiko Falls game

A friend of mine over at thecbg.org is running an online game set in a version of my Witiko Falls setting.

Check out their beautifully put-together version of the setting over on the Obsidian Portal..

Griffin McElroy’s Crystal Kingdom OST

Those looking for game table music should have a gander at Griffin McElroy’s Crystal Kingdom OST, a soundtrack he created for his brilliant 5E D&D/comedy podcast The Adventure Zone.

The Adventure Zone often comes off as (intentionally) silly in a Pythonesque, surreal sort of way, but like Python its silliness is partly deceptive, intermingled with big ideas that can suprise you – like a gigantic jellyfish entity that can espistemically quarantine objects and information from the collective memories of everyone who hasn’t drunk of its weird juices. His game reminds me a lot of Zelda, in a good way – there’s a kind of adventure-game quality with a lot of magical puzzles.There’s a very well worked-out backstory and setting operating under the surface of pop culture references and goofiness. The soundtrack definitely reflects this well.

Hex, Session III – 5th Edition Actual Play – “Blood and Ink”

The characters in this session were:

  • Yam, an eccentric gnome illusionist and local graduate student at Umbral University. Yam cares little for money. Yam is curious. Yam is Yam.
  • An ancient and enigmatic Lengian cleric of the Mother of Spiders, name unknown. She wears bulky ecclesiastical garments covering an uncertain number of limbs and goes by “Sister.”
  • Vespidae, a waspkin bard – a sacred dancer with a deathwish, shunned by the waspkin community for complicated ritualistic reasons. As of this session, a possible new devotee of the Queen in Yellow…
  • Armand Percival Reginald Francois Eustace de la Marche III, a suspiciously pale, apparently human noble and sorcerer, and certainly not a ghoul (how dare such a thing be suggested).
  • Sprigley Gilette, a hardboiled, cigar-chomping human mercenary and veteran of several brutal wars, and a relatively new arrival in Hex. He was part of Yam & Sister’s expedition and was thought lost in the Whorl, but has emerged bleery and disoriented but alive.

XP Awarded: 350 XP.

On the recommendation of their previous employer, Professor Valdemar Sluice, the party has been contacted by one of Hex’s foremost playwrights, the cambion Vittoria Wolfsheart.

On their way, Vespidae discovered something unusual in his bag: a mysterious book he couldn’t remember seeing, The Cuckoo’s Egg.

Little Pandemonium smelled of incense, wax, and oil, though the reek of the Radula and the persistent scent of brimstone were discernible as well. This district was one of opulence, its buildings of the ornate Infernalist style, somewhere between palaces and monuments of the Underworld. Walls were carved with screaming faces in the semblance of damned souls, and gargoyles encrusted many buildings – not just the temples and shrines to the Chthonic Gods that riddled the district, but homes and shops as well. Those objects for sale here were mostly religious: votive candles of black wax, demoniac charms, and garments mimicking the fashions of Hell.

Little Pandemonium 2

The people of Little Pandemonium were mostly a mix of humans and cambions, though the distinction was sometimes a subtle one, with many sporting only small horns, flickering red irises, or hooved feet indicating their otherworldly heritage. They made a strange mix – fashionable decadents clad in the outré chains, lace, and leather of the Diabolique style rubbed shoulders with priests in the robes of Astaroth, Malthous, Oroboas, and dozens of others. Many citizens walked hellhounds or other demons, leashed with glyph-graven collars and chains of silver to keep them safely bound, while bat-winged imps shared airspace with waspkin, flitting from spire to spire.

The party’s client, renowned playwright Vittoria Wolfsheart, directed them to her house on Grimoire Way, just north and east of the Bridge of Sins which spanned the river. The street was mostly a commercial one, lined with book-sellers stocking the latest occult tomes, religious texts, and even fiction – mostly novels of the so-called Fiendish Romance genre. Students and scholars from Fiend’s College across the Radula could be found here, ruminating over spellbooks and theoretical tracts. Vittoria’s house was near the end of the street.

Leading the way, Sister was confronted by a cambion with curling goat-like horns and a forked tongue, who was handing out pamphlets on the street-corner. He swaggered up aggressively to the Lengian cleric and shoved one of the pamphlets into her face.

“Summoning is subjugation!” he proclaimed, his voice a hircine bray. Sister glanced through the pamphlet with mild interest before leading the party to Vittoria’s house.

pamphlet 001

Papmhlet 001

Vittoria’s home was a well-appointed townhouse of four storeys. The building was painted red and black, with numerous gargoyles perched on the wrought iron balconies.

A handsome footman – human, from the look of him – opened the door. Inside was a small but well-appointed foyer with a floor of black marble and a spiralling stair of black iron. Numerous paintings on the wall depicted an array of unusual figures. Natives of Hex noticed that these were all paintings of actors and actresses playing some of Vittoria’s better-known characters – the Flayed Man, the Gibbous Prince, Jacqueline Chandler, the Double-Faced Duchess, the Great Pig, Red Philippa, the Dandler, Morgana the Sorceress, and the Mismatched Maid, to name a handful. The footman, Thaddeus, directed the adventurers to the study on the second floor.

The study of the townhouse had a window facing out over Grimoire Way. Shelves filled with books cover the walls. By the window there was a huge desk made from striking white wood, strewn with papers. A thin woman with coal-black hair and bone-white, heavily tattooed skin sat in a crimson dressing gown at the desk, drinking coffee and scribbling with an owl-feather quill. Curved horns erupted from her head.

“The bold investigators appear,” Vittoria said, laying down her quill. “Let’s speak in the parlour, shall we?”

The parlour was sumptuously decorated with ornate lamps and plush furniture of red leather, with floors of black wood. The room adjoined a terrace looking out over the street below. From the look of things, a party was held there recently – there were still plates, empty glasses, and bottles strewn about, along with askew cushions and other signs of detritus. A servant was in the midst of tidying the chamber.

Vittoria indicated that the adventurers should sit on a nearby sofa and seated herself in a large armchair.

“As I said when I contacted you, I need assistance in acquiring a certain item stolen from me,” she said. “Although I suspect it may already have been destroyed. The item in question is a script – my most recent play, The Tragical History of Robin Redcap. The script was on the top floor, in a small shrine I keep to the Queen in Yellow. Last night, I had a small party in celebration of the script’s completion. It’s a major milestone in my career – my first play to be performed at the Chiaroscuro theatre. Most of my work has been at the smaller and cheaper theatres; while writing for such stages has served me well, this play would represent my breakthrough into high society.

“When I went to bed last night after the party’s completion I went to briefly pray at the shrine. I had left the script there so that the Queen in Yellow could bless the endeavour and ensure its success. But I discovered that the script was gone.

“I believe that the play must have been stolen by one of my guests. I can attempt to rewrite it, of course. I know many of its passages well. But there were times when I wrote in a poetic trance, seized by the spirit of creativity, that might be impossible to replicate. Times when I wrote late into the night and met the sunrise bathed in the feverish sweat of creation. I fear that if I rewrite the play from memory it will be but a pale shadow of the original.

“I was to send the script off to Stumpridge in a week’s time for copies to be made for the players. If the script is not recovered soon, I must delay rehearsals and rewrite it as best I can. For my own reasons, I prefer not to go to the City Watch; for one thing, I strongly doubt they have the manpower to find it in time for my deadline.”

“Do you have any suspects?” Armand asked.

“Yes,” Vittoria said, producing a piece of parchment. “Several people in attendance at my soiree might have had motives to steal the play. I’ve underlined some of those I suspect most…”

Guest List

The annotations are from my players – I encourage them to really use & mark up the handouts I give them.

The group then asked Victoria questions about the various guests. Her suspicions were of essentially three tyoes – personal, professional, and political.

The party began by asking whether Vittoria had any obvious enemies – those who might not want the play performed. She drew their attention to Samuel Dwoemerkamp. “No doubt you are aware of a brewing protest against the maltreatment of summoned demons in Hex. I am known to have some sympathies with those who argue for the emancipation of Hellkind, and though I do not write my plays as polemics or propaganda, I will not deny that the spirit of freedom and anarchy courses through my speeches, and that my protagonists, often as not, are heroic revolutionaries, noble regicides, rebel princes, and others who reject tyranny. There are some who have called my plays seditious and immoral, claiming they incite violence and ill-feeling. Perhaps chief among these is a Professor at Fiend’s College, a man of letters known as Samuel Dweomerkamp, who teaches Infernal Philosophy and Literature. He has penned many an article denouncing my , claiming that I deny what he calls the ‘primal lust for power’ or ‘will-to-dominate’ and endorse what he terms ‘herd-morality.’ I invited him mostly out of pique, and to avoid a deliberate snub. It could be, I suppose, that he so loathes my writing that he might make off with the play… he is known also to be close to some in positions of power who might dislike seeing my work on so prominent a stage. The play itself does contain themes he might find objectionable. He and I had a brief quarrel last night, where he reiterated some of the points he had previously made in print.”

They next asked about the other suspects. “Perhaps the most obvious suspect is Edwin Fouchard, my biggest rival at the moment on the theatrical scene,” she said. “For reasons beyond my fathoming Edwin has long been the darling of the critics, his plays put on at the grandest theatres in Hex, but his latest work, The Wicked Widow, proved something of a flop, while my own play was soon to appear on stage at the Chiaroscuro, bringing me the attention that Edwin has long enjoyed. Edwin’s style is quite at odds with my own. I seek to capture the sublimity of life – its awe and majesty – to shatter preconceptions – to open great wounds and fill the audience with horror and wonder. Edwin limits himself to the drawing room and the country home. His plays are like the little dollhouses one sees well-born girls playing with: quite exquisite in their construction, but contemptibly domestic, a tool merely for the continued oppression of women, for the dissemination of the ruling ideology… ah, but I am getting away from myself. Suffice to say, we two are at odds. I had hoped to make some amends by inviting Edwin, but he proved disagreeable and insulting, insinuating that my tastes were vulgar and lower-class. He left in a sullen fury; I would not be at all surprised if he stole the manuscript on his way out. Edwin lives in Goatsbridge, towards the north end, but he can more often be found in Faunsweald, rehearsing with the Warlock’s Men at the Dancing Satyr Theatre.”

Finally they asked about Magdalena Rotterthorpe. “Magdalena is my former lover. She and I parted ways half a year ago, and I had hoped to renew our friendship, if not our romance. She, too, proved somewhat less than amiable last evening. While she was all outward smiles and reconciliation to me, I overheard her speaking uncharitably of me to several other guests. She clearly holds a bitter grudge and wishes me only ill fortune; it could be she stole the play out of pure spite. Magdalena is a sculptor by trade, and lives at her studio down in Mooncross, at the corner of Opalescent and Full Street.”

The adventurers then split up. Vespidae and Armand decided to investigate the shrine, while Sprigley and Sister interrogated the servants, Henrietta and Thaddeus, about what they saw. Yam curled up in a large armchair and went to sleep, waking to discover a large up of hot chocolate and a book, Tales of the Tangle.

Sister and Sprigley spoke to the servants and learned several things of note. They discovered that Samuel was something of a bore, spent a great deal of time in the library, and left early; that Magdalena became drunk and at one point was seen heading upstairs; that Edwin was a terrible lecher and harassed Magdalena and several other women throughout the night; that one of the guests rudely refused to remove his hat;  that Sabine Gomfrey, an octagenarian, had to be levitated up the stairs; that a glass was broken on the terrace but no one was obviously injured. They checked much of this information with Vittoria. She was puzzled by Henrietta’s description of the rude guest, saying she couldn’t remember such a thing, but confirmed that Magdalena had become exceedingly drunk, and that, naturally, she knew her way to the attic.

Meanwhile, Vespidae and Armand looked for any physical clues. The small shrine to the Queen in Yellow filled what might once have been a spare bedroom. An idol to the strange deity loomed in the middle of the chamber, yellow robes flapping, an ivory mask at once monstrous and beautiful obscuring the face of the Queen. Her crown was made from jags of bone, like antlers, which bore numerous candles, more of which were scattered throughout the room, currently unlit. The Queen’s long-fingered hands were spread, as if they might hold something, but they were currently empty.

Upon the altar of the shrine there was a painting, which seemed to have been badly burned. It looked like it was once a phantasmagoric landscape. A religious text bound in yellow leather layon a lectern nearby. Also evident were significant quantities of a yellowish moss which Vespidae and Armand identified as the dubiously legal hallucinogen sallowmoss, harvested from the Old City and declared restricted after several users suffered psychotic breaks and committed what became known as the Saffron Murders. The book, upon investigation, described several rituals of the Queen in Yellow. These included a ritual involving the sacrifice of an artwork, burning it on the altar of the Queen in Yellow in order to induce imaginative and creative mania. A thorough investigation produced several possible items of evidence: a single drop of blood, a dent in the floorboards, a blonde hair, and a red petal.

Yam had been sleeping this whole time, but waking up, he began leafing through the book and discovered a bookmark on an interesting page. The book seemed to be source material for Vittoria’s play. One of its many tales told of a nobleman and magus, Duke Gothmord, who acquired a castle on the slopes of Mount Shudder, near to the border of the Tangle, the great wood just beyond Hex. A cruel and perverse man, he began conducting dark rituals in his fortress, the Castle of Blood Vale. One day while hunting in the forest he came across a fairy called Robin Red Cap, a hobgoblin of sorts. He decided to enslave Robin and captured him, binding him with spells. He forced the fairy to commit many dire deeds with him, including the torture and murder of travellers in the area. One day Robin helped his master kidnap a young woman, who turned out to be a witch. With the aid of this captive Robin Red Cap was able to break free of the Duke’s spell. He exacted a terrible vengeance, killing the Duke and his retainers and painting the walls crimson. In this moment, the Castle of Blood Vale and surrounds were swallowed up into Faerie, departing from the mortal plane forever…

Yam yawned, shutting the book as their companions prepared to set out for Behemoth Bend – their first stop, Samuel Dweomerkamp’s house.

Behemoth Bend

Behemoth Bend lies to the extreme west of Hex, where the Radula rushes into the city and towards the sea. Various Hellish languages are spoken commonly here, and as in Little Pandemonium cambions are commonplace.

The adventurers headed to Envy Street, to the address provided by Vittoria for Samuel Dweomerkamp. An ornate district of spires, domes, and demonic statues, the Bend was filled with scholars and students hastening to and fro between the various dormitories, lecture-halls, quadrangles, and libraries of Fiend’s College, whose baroque campus sprawled through much of the district. Envy Street was mostly residential, with a series of beautiful if sometimes grotesque townhouses. Dweomerkamp’s townhouse was one of several ostentatious, narrow homes here that formed part of the extended Fiend’s College campus. The door was of black wood carved with geotic sigils, with a leering demon’s head for a knocker. After convincing the magical knocker of their good intentions, they were admitted to the house and instructed that Samuel was on the third floor.

The foyer of the house was long and narrow, the floor covered in dark stone tiles, each moulded to look like a screaming face. At the far end of the foyer where a stair lead up to the next level, two figures stood stock-still – at first they might’ve been taken for statues, but a moment’s further inspection revealed them as beautifully embalmed corpses. They wore leather doublets and hose and carried elaborate polearms, but did not stir as the party moved upstars.

Vespidae used the opportunity to have a look around while the rest of the party hurried upstairs to speak with Professor Dweomerkamp. She looked in on a small study bathed in a ghastly crimson light, shed by the single window at its far wall. The window – framed with black wood carved with glowing red glyphs – did not show a view of Hex, but of some other land. There was no sky, only a vast darkness from which drooled terrible stalactites like monstrous teeth, and below coil a series of fiery rivers. Ruinous cities of incomprehensible size rose from a landscape of ash and obsidian. Distantly she could see huge shapes moving over the tortured wasteland, and winged shapes flitting through the air. There were things like huge worms and trembling forests that writhed like beasts in pain and hungry pits like gaping mouths and other horrors innumerable. Flying briefly outside from a terrace on the second floor, Vespidae confirmed that this window seemed perfectly normal from the outside of the building. The waspkin also briefly investigated a conjury on the third floor. A series of glyphs had been carefully carved into the floorboards of this windowless garret chamber. Standing within the circle, illuminated by a series of flickering black candles, was a spindly creature covered in tiny barbs and spines, which hissed angrily from within its prison. A second circle, smaller, was inscribed near the floor. Cautious amongst such wonders, Vespidae decided not to touch or interfere with them.

Meanwhile, the waspkin’s companions had found Professor Dweomerkamp in his laboratory. On a slab in this chamber, horrifically vivisected, lay an imp, its wings and limbs pinned. Paralyzed by magic, its innards still pulsated with life. An array of tools – scalpels, bonesaws, and other instruments – were evident on a tray to one side of the slab. Shelves on the walls were filled with jars in which were suspended demoniac body parts ranging from severed heads to individual organs, many with no humanoid cognates. While Yam pulled grotsque faces at the heads, the rest of the party conversed with Samuel Dweomerkamp, a plump, pallid man with a bald head and a short, well-trimmed goatee.

When pressed about details or oddities from the night, he confessed that he “seemed to remember someone staring daggers at Vittoria all night… a blonde woman, wearing a red flower in her hair,” who he  saw “skulking up the stairs, just as I was leaving.”

The conversation veered towards the political, a subject which the demonologist warmed to with pleasure. “Oh, don’t start with this ‘demon’s rights’ nonsense that the fools bandy about in the street!” he chided, when it was pointed out that his views clashed with those of Ms. Wolfsheart. “Do you know what a demon is? It is a manifestation of pure will, stripped of all empathy, all compassion, all guilt. A demon doesn’t understand concepts like pity or mercy. It has no use for such things. It is a being of lust and passion and power, ruled by its drives, its whims, unfettered by the crude niceties that lesser minds call ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ The demon lives only to dominate and to inflict its will on those beneath it. When we dominate a demon in turn, we do only what it wishes it could do to us. And do you realize what can be done with the powers a demon possesses? Great and terrible things, things at which even the Librarians might have shirked. We can use them, use them to build a better world. Do they suffer under us? Yes, but no more than they do under one another – indeed, probably a good deal less. Hell is an unending war of demon against demon, in which the strong subjugate the weak, using them to gratify their desires as they please. We at least need not misuse demonkind unnecessarily. What suffering we do impose is a concomitant, not an end in itself.”

Professor Dweomerkamp also described a game of “illusions” played at the party in which spellcasters attempted to conjure the most inventive creatures. Yam attempted to demonstrate their own skills and produced a fearsome undead dragon-horror. The imp on the table promptly expired from fright at the sight of the monstrous thing, to Samuel’s intense irritation.

Despite this setback, the investigators were able to coax Samuel into confessing that he enjoyed Vittoria’s plays more than his blistering critiques might suggest and that he considered her a powerful playwright, albeit a misguided one. “I merely believe she is far too political in her writing, and, wittingly or no, endorses the contemptible morality of the herd, of the slave or chattel,” he insisted. “Her heroes are all adolescent archetypes who do not truly understand power, but wield it for such empty causes. But her grasp of image and spectacle… her evocation of atmosphere, her beautiful speeches… I have often been struck by the sublime power of her work. I am merely disappointed by the supposed ethics that seems to run beneath the gorgeous surface she creates. I hope that by making her aware of the inanity of herd-morality and of the comparative righteousness of the will-to-power I improve her plays.”

Still suspicious, Sister utilized a charm spell to see if she could learn anything further. So influenced Dweomerkamp added that he’d also seen another peculiarity: “An older fellow, white of hair. He walked with a cane, I remember, but seemed quite sprightly. He seemed incredibly ill-mannered – if I recall correctly, he didn’t even take off his hat! I spoke to him briefly, and he seemed amiable enough, but he made a number of unwholesome jests betraying a rather crude sense of humour, so I made an excuse and extricated myself. I think he was still there when I left.”

Convinced that Samuel Dweomerkamp was probably not the most likely suspect (and also that he was terribly creepy…) the party next headed to Mooncross to speak to Magdalena.

Mooncross

The district of Mooncross has none of Behemoth Bend’s affluence or baroque grandeur. A shabby neighbourhood on the waterfront only a stonesthrow from the shanty of Trollhome at the south end of Goatsbridge, Mooncross is a place for dreamers, artists, and freethinkers, those who reject the orthodox academic institutions of Hex. Witches, sorcerers, poets, scribblers, and conspiracy theorists live here, hanging crude charms from strings and babbling about unlikely apocalypses. For all its shabbiness, however, the district is full of life and laughter, with colourful coffeehouses and taverns where its inhabitants while away many an hour. The buildings are rickety and overgrown with vines and mosses that some of the inhabitants seem to be actively encouraging to grow. Rooftop mushroom-gardens are common, as are rings of chanting people and street musicians of varying quality.

After stowing the “cosmic sheep” (which hitherto had been accompanying them on a leash) at Yam’s apartment in this distrcit, the party headed down Gibbous Street, a quieter part of the district where a rougher sort lurked – off-duty labourers smoking and occasionally catcalling passersby, to the disgust of the locals. Just down the street was the drawbridge to Nullworth, Hex’s antimagic island where wizardly prisoners are incarcerated. They eventually turned down Full Street, which ran from the river to the Withered Tree of Suckletown. It was mostly lined with residences, the most notable of which was a large, fenced off place with a massive garden that seemed to be some kind of all-female commune, judging from the numerous women visible tending to the plants with tools and spells.

Magdalena’s studio, they discovered, was located on the top floor of a large, tottering building connected to a host of other structures with a narrow bridge. Two small clay statuettes guarded the door; these had been animated and endowed with sentience.

“Who’s there then?” one statuette, a squat, pot-bellied goblin-like creature demanded, squinting up at those on the doorstep.

“What’d you want with Magdalena?” the other put in, this one a serpent with the face of a beautiful woman.

The investigators explained their purpose and the guardians grudgingly allowed them entrance. Inside they found a large space filled with marble dust, windows letting in shafts of light that made the tiny fragments of rock glitter. Save for a small sleeping nook and bathroom the entire apartment was taken up by the studio, which was filled with statues both half-finished and complete – though telling the difference could be difficult, since the statues were nightmarish, misshapen things. Some were recognizable beasts, such as sphinxes and wyverns, but others were bizarre hybrids of machine, animal, human, and otherwise, all curves and angles that made the eyes water. Though not without a certain alien beauty, the statues were also highly disturbing. Those few spots not taken up with statues wee filled by potted plants, mostly colourful flowers whose blooms perfumed the air with a heady miasma of pollen. Amidst the statues, working on a particularly strange amalgam of clock, cockatrice, and cockroach, was a blond, statuesque woman with a flower in her hair. She worked at times with a hammer and chisel, and at others with incantations, speaking to the stone and shaping it to her direction with arcane force.

Their interrogation of Magdalena was somewhat brisker. Confronting her with evidence of her presence in the shrine, Magdalena admitted having entered it to admire her own handiwork once again – the idol in the attic was her sculpture. Yam, meanwhile, curled up atop a kind of spider-bear statue, which proved to be animated and chuckled as Yam’s climbing fingers tickled it.

““Oh, yes. I went to the shrine – but not to steal the play!” she said “I didn’t even know Vittoria was keeping it in there, and I didn’t see it while I was in there. I just needed to get away, recover my wits a bit. I knew Vittoria kept a shrine on the fourth floor – I sculpted the idol she keeps there, as it happens – and I thought it’d be a good place to catch my breath. That cad Fouchard had been bothering me all night.”

She also noted that she had noticed something off in the shrine. “There was something on the floor – still wet – that looked an awful lot like blood. I thought maybe Vittoria had been performing some new kind of sacrifice. She’s always been much more into that whole religious inspiration thing than I’ve been. Don’t get me wrong, people can believe what they want, but I’ve never been much for ritual…”

When asked about the presence of a mysterious figure who would not remove his hat, or who walked with a cane, she noted that she did remember “a thin man with a red hat he didn’t take off.”

Vespidae was so impressed with Magdalena’s work that she commisioned her to sculpt a statue of herself.

At this point, the party was developing a working theory – that perhaps the thief was not on the guest list at all but might have been Robin Redcap himself, or some simulacrum of him created through the ritual of the Queen in Yellow. Yam declared this line of thinking “incredibly obvious.”

Armand decided to pay a visit to the diviners of the Isle of Entrails to see if he could procure a spell to track down whoever’s blood was spilled on the attic floor. Meanwhile, the rest of the party decided to pay the third suspect, Edwin Fouchard, a brief visit at his home in Goatsbridge, reasoning that a hung-over Fouchard might not be at rehearsals yet.

Goatsbridge3

Goatsbridge is easily the longest bridge in Hex, and a district in its own right, along with the ugly riverside neighbourhood of Trollhome that clings like a parasite to its southern underside. A long span of ancient, glyph-graven stone, the vast bridge is encrusted with buildings along either side so that the Radula River is often barely visible. Towards the south end the buildings are run-down and crumbling, the haunt of trollbloods and ruffians; towards the north end they are more ostentatious and in better repair. Most towards the north end are residential, though there is also a small shrine to the Magistra. Towards the south there are several shops and taverns, including a place called The Eel and Ettin, a shop called Grimir’s Gris-Gris advertising shrunken heads and bone charms, and several shops selling freshly caught fish, mussels, and lampreys.

Edwin Fouchard’s elegant home, painted in subdued lavender tones, rose on the western end of the bridge, next door to the church of the Magistra. The party found the playwright lounging about at home and bemoaning his excesses the night before. Fouchard denied having anything to do with the play’s disappearance. When asked about the mysterious uninvited guest, he did recall some interesting details.

“Yes, that peculiar chap… he wasn’t an actor or a writer I knew, but there was something flamboyant about him, theatrical. He had magnificent silver hair and carried a cane, and wore this absurd hat. He was more like a character in a play than an actor. Anyway, I remember he was speaking to some of the guests, and it was as if Vittoria couldn’t even see him! She nearly walked right through him…”

At this point, the party felt confirmed in their suspicions. As Armand returned with the spell from the Isle of Entrails, Vespidae suggested that they cross town to the Feypark, where the boundary between the mortal world and Faerie grows thin. If the real Robin Redcap did pay Vittoria a visit, he almost certainly would have entered through the park.

Feypark

The edges of the Feypark were relatively manicured, with fountains, statues, and well-kept gardens. Neat little paths wound through the park, past benches and rows of blooming flowers. But a little ways into the park, things became considerably wilder. The trees became shaggy and brooding, mushrooms and moss replace the carefully planted plots, and the paths became crazed and zigzagging, leading into dense arboreal darkness.

The innermost parts of the park were so wild and overgrown they were more like a forest than a park at all. Densely clustered trees seemed to whisper to one another, confiding ancient and unfathomable secrets. The air smelled of rich loam, grass, and mushrooms.

“The trees can talk here,” Vespidae noted. “Perhaps we should find one?”

“Very well,” Sprigley answered, and setting off, rapped soundly on the trunk of an oak tree looking suitably ancient.

“Are you friends of that ghastly fellow in the hat?” the tree demanded. “The litterer?”

The tree will informed the party that a silver-haired fellow with a cane was strolling through the wood in a kind of fury. He stopped and scribbled something on a piece of paper “using my trunk as a writing surface! What cheek!” The tree said that this individual then seemed to head deeper into the park, “but not before littering!” and stabbed a branch towards what the party discovered to be a piece of stray parchment. This proved to be the first page of Vittoria’s play.

At this time, the party discovered someone else, out for a stroll in the Feypark: Angus Loamson, the eccentric sixth and most recently appointed member of the Hexad Council, the ruling council of the city. Rumoured to be a vagrant who lived in the Feypark for many years, Angus was swept into office by a powerful voting block of Druids, Fungoids, and Homunculi – while many stayed suspiciously home, suddenly drowsy. Rumours have dogged the environmentalist ever since.

edge-of-the-forest-1884Approaching the Councillor, the party requested the aged, bushy-bearded Druid cast the scroll that Armand had procured from the Isle of Entrails, the better to track Robin Redcap. Enraged that someone had defaced his precious Feypark, Angus agreed. Using blood scraped from the floorboards as a focus he cast the spell, revealing a glimmering path through the woods. The party, thanking the Councillor, pressed on into the woods, now following the arcane pathway.

The path led first to a huge tree, gnarled and twisted. The tree had borne fruit – huge, juicy, succulent-looking plums with dark crimson flesh. The fruit were enticingly swollen, and exuded a delicious scent.

“Hmm. Danger-plums,” Yam mused, thoughtfully plucking several of the mysterious fruit. Several otehr party members did the same, though none dared taste of the likely Faerie fruit.

tangle

Pressing on deeper into the wood, the group next came to a wall of brambles, their thorns glistening with dark liquid. The nettles occasionally rustled and twitched, as if possessed of a strange animacy. Armand froze several with a ray of frost, but this only withered a small number. Sister considered fire, but was reluctant lest the forest around spark. Yam, eyeing the brambles, yelped an incantation to produce a thunderwave. With a great sonic boom the force of the spell parted the wall of brambles, allowing those of small size, such as Yam and Vespidae, to pass through unharmed. The larger party-members were forced to walk sidelong, but squeezed through without being pricked – though Sprigley’s clothes were snagged at one point.

As the adventurers passed through the brambles and left the darkness of the forest a wide realm bathed in strange starlight appeared before them – a land of brooding hills and soaring peaks and windswept moors. In the distant, cresting a dour crag overlooking the vale, was a black, ruinous keep. Even from here the party could see a distant light twinkle near the topmost floor.

“Oh. The castle from the story!” Sprigley said.

“Uh. Yeah,” Yam said, rolling their eyes.

The group approached the castle with caution. It had been decimated by time overgrown husks of the kitchens, smithy, and other buildings mouldering within the crumbling remnants of the walls. The front doors of the keep were of dark wood.  Above, the keep itself rose: a dour stone edifice now covered in withered, black creepers, with narrow windows overlooking the courtyard below.  The windows were dark, peering at those below like a hundred beady eyes, save for one near the top of the keep.

Castle

Entering the keep, the party discovered a dusty, foreboding hall, now mostly empty.  A few rats chewed on the mottled tatters of the tapestries which once hung in the hall, and on the shredded remains of the carpet covering the flagstone floor.  Iron shields bearing the symbol of a bloody fist rusted slowly on the walls, in-between a dozen stuffed wolf’s heads whose fearsome visages glowered at those below. Lying on the ground, forlorn and solitary, was a single, surprisingly clean-looking page of parchment – another page from Vittoria’s play.

Upon stepping into the hall, the adventurers were alarmed as the stuffed wolf-heads began snuffling and snorting, then raising their snouts in bloodcurdling howls. Thinking quickly, Sister conjured the sound of a thunderclap to drown out the wolf-howls, preventing the alarm from alerting those nearby. While the adventurers could hear movement in nearby chambers, they hastened through a nearby door and up a flight of stairs to the second level of the keep.

Next the party came across three child-sized skeletons dressed in tiny rags in a broad hall, two of them mock-dueling with a pair of ceremonial swords stolen from the suits of armour that stand to attention, while a third officiated.  The swords were far too big for the little skeletons to handle, and as a result the duel was a clumsy affair in which the participants frequently over-balanced and fell over, sometimes shattering into pieces before picking themselves back up.  A pair of impressive double doors stood slightly ajar beyond.

Sprigley approached the child-skeletons, who ceased their game and rushed forward, tottering beneath the weight of their swords.

“Who goes their?” one demanded in a voice somewhere between a child’s squeal and the sound of a sour wind soughing through the bones of one long dead.

“Be you friend or foe?!” another demanded in a voice uncannily like a young boy’s, though simultaneously redolent of a hideous death-rattle.

“Uh… friend?” Sprigley ventured.

“We don’t believe you!” the child-skeletons yelped. “En garde!”

At this point, Yam stepped forward and began singing a nursery rhyme about the castle and Robin Redcap, gleaned from Tales of the Tangle. The child-skeletons, delighted at the sound of this bloody singsong, abandoned their swords and began dancing madly round, joining in on the abominable fairytale tune.

dance_de

Meanwhile, Armand peaked in the next chamber. The remains of a gruesome feast were laid out on the huge banquet tables of the great hall beyond the door.  A slovenly mess of dirty plates, glasses, chalices, mouldy trenchers, and rusted cutlery, the dinner settings were rife with gruesome scraps culled from both animals and humanoids.  On one table, an entire human corpse – trussed and served on a platter – was being feasted upon. Twelve skeletons were seated at this table tearing at the entrails of the corpse, stuffing their bony mouths with handfuls of bloody intestines, which then passed into their empty ribcages to plop disgustingly to the floor, slick with masticated gore. On the table with the macabre feast, brimming with blood, was a beautiful cup of silver set with shimmering gemstones which seemed to change from ruby to emerald to sapphire when no one was looking. Encircling the room about twenty feet above were galleries where troubadours or other performers might once have played.

Spotting another page of the play on the floor, Armand stealthily picked it up, then hastily snuck back to the party, undetected by the macabre feasters within.

Continuing their exploration the party continued collecting pages and hurried up towards the top floor, eager to leave Faerie as quickly as possible. Climbing another stair they came to an antechamber spattered with old bloodstains; the once-rich rug on the floor had been thoroughly saturated with blood and was now a mouldering, half-rotten mess. A page of the play lay upon it.

Armand snatched up the page, and the rug sprang forward, suddenly animate and attempting to envelop him, but Armand staggered back. Sprigley lept to the fore and discharged his pistol into the carpet, blowing a hole in it. The murderous rug wrapped itself round the warrior, but he wrestled it off. Yam conjured an acid splash, eating away at the rug, while Sister hefted her mace, whacking the rug as if cleaning it. Dust flew and the rug was beaten back as if “winded,” pressing itself pitifully against the wall and doing its best to pretend to be a tapestry. Savagely the Lengian cleric beat it again, bashing it to inert tatters.

Continuing on, the party came to a chamber where a hunchbacked skeleton with a twisted spine amused itself by whittling human bones .  The ugly results of its previous labours wee strewn across a round table at the room’s center. The ugly bone statuettes depicted beasts, goblins, barghests, trolls, and other creatures.  Among the crude statuettes whittled by the skeleton was a statuette of an Angel of Death, complete with bony wings and a horrific grin upon a gaunt, near-fleshless visage. Shuddering, the party began to creep past.

“Hey, what are you lot doing here?” the skeleton demanded, looking up from its work.

“Don’t worry about it,” Yam said. “We’re guests of Robin…”

The twisted old skeleton turned back to its work with a grumble.

Keep

Following the trail of parchment, the party at last traced the thief to his lair. Judging from the huge four-posted bed, private hearth, decorative woodwork, and rich carpets, the party had come to the keep’s solar, the bedroom and living quarters of the its lord.  Heraldic wall hangings of the a bloody fist and tapestries depicting ancient battles hung on the walls.  Though the room would once have been luxurious, now the place was a tattered mess.  The wall-hangings and furniture was broken, the curtains have been torn down, blood spattered the walls and carpet, and gnawed, bloody bones were strewn everywhere.

Seated in a chair by the crackling fire sat a gaunt, spindly-limbed creature dressed all in crimson garments, including an impressive red hat that glistened strangely. An iron cane lay nearby, and his feet were shod in iron. He was scribbling madly on a piece of paper with a quill pen, then tossing the pages aside. They were strewn across the floor haphazardly.

“Uh, Robin Redcap?” Sprigley asked tentatively.

The fairy seemed distracted.

“She’s got half the facts wrong, did you know?” he ranted. “I mean, for example, she makes me out as some namby-pamby innocent little sprite who turned to evil after my misuse by that fool Duke Gothmord. If anything it was the opposite. The poor Duke wasn’t anywhere near as bloodthirsty as he became under my tutelage. Yes, he bound me as his servant, but only as punishment for torturing a few of his peasants to death. He only acquired his reputation later, once I had shown him the error of his ways, so to speak.”

He grinned. Led by the eloquent and charismatic Armand, the party set about convincing the deranged fey to return the play.

“Perhaps if we promise Vittoria will look at your additions?” Armand offered, speaking carefully.

“Hmm. Perhaps, I suppose,” Robin mused. “I had planned to have some of my own subjects perform it, but then again, skeletons make poor actors. They can never get the expressions right…”

“Well, just finish your revisions and then perhaps we can take them back…”

“I’ll want a private box as well,” the creature demanded. “To watch the play.”

“You can use ours.”

At this point, it seemed almost as if an agreement could be made, but then Vespidae spoke.

“You live here?” she asked. “This is your home?”

“Yes…” Robin said, eyes narrowing.

“But, it’s all bloody and dirty…” the waspkin said, pointing out the obvious.

“You dare insult my home?!” Robin Redcap demanded, standing up, his temper snapping in an instant. He began to grow and swell, towering now at seven or eight feet, now nine – becoming impossibly tall and spindly, like some grotesque arachnid. His beard, previously well-groomed, bristled and writhed from his chin, his eyes grew wild and bloodthrsity, and for the first time the party got a sense of his true age – he was impossibly old, wizened to the point of hideousness. Discarding the remaining pages of the play, he snatched up his iron cane, which was suddenly a huge, rusted pike. This he swing at Vespidae, but the waspkin dodged aside with a chitter of alarm.

Armand madly grabbed at the pages on the ground. Vespidae, panicking, conjured up the only thing she could think of – an illusion in the semblance of Duke Gothmord. Sister, also scrambling and unsure of what to do, used her powers to grant herself flashing, terrible eyes and assumed the demeanour of a Fairy Queen, declaring herself Titania and telling Robin Redcap to cease his attack. The mad fairy snarled, temporarily confused and distracted. He swiped at the illusion of Duke Gothmord, lashing out madly with a cry of “BEGONE SPIRIT!” but tripped on one of the remaining pages. His pike flew from his grasp. Sprigley, thinking quickly, seized the pike, jerking out of the way as Robin clawed the air with his overgrown nails.

“RUN!” Yam yelled before conjuring a cloud of fog, plunging the solar into murky confusion. Sister used a command spell, drawing on the power of her goddess to force the Redcap to retreat into the adjoining wardrobe-chamber in a flurry of twisted, overlong limbs.

The party stumbled out of the fog-drenched solar in a rush, clutching pages of the play, and slammed the door behind them before pelting helter-skelter back through the keep, ducking skeletal guards. They took one wrong turn and found themselves in an armoury, staying long enough for Sister to snatch a large, blood-stained axe before finding their way back outside. They could hear enraged shrieks and rapid footsteps in the castle as they hurried up the path and back into the woods.

dark-forest-1890

Once again the party had to squeeze through the gap Yam had created in the wall of thorns. Everyone made it through except for Sister, bringing up the rear, who was pricked by a single thorn. Instantly the Lengian was crippled by the poison, her veins turning black. She collapsed, spasming, and lapsed into unconsciousness. Sprigley leapt back to help her up, avoiding the thorns himself. As he helped the aged Spider-priestess up he caught sight of a figure moving towards them from the keep, its legs grown incredibly long so that it could cross the landscape in a few short strides. Eyes widening, he carried Sister through the thorns, where Armand provided her with a potion to heal her wounds. She regained consciounsess blearily and the party hurried onwards through the woods, Robin Redcap still in pursuit.

Hastening down the paths they at least emerged back in the Feypark of Hex. Night had fallen. Behind them, the shadowy paths that led to Faerie were black and still. Not wishing to tempt fate, they made their way south to Little Pandemonium and Vittoria Wolfsheart’s townhouse, the play retrieved.

Game Table Pictures

We had an excellent session today. I think my cat really wanted to play. Or possibly just wanted bacon.

DnD2

DnD

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Hex, Session II – 5th Edition Actual Play – “The Ultimate Contagion Pt. 2”

The characters in this session were:

  • Yam, an eccentric gnome illusionist and local graduate student at Umbral University.
  • An enigmatic Lengian cleric of the Mother of Spiders, name unknown. She goes by “Sister.”
  • Vespidae, a waspkin bard – a sacred dancer with a deathwish, shunned by the waspkin community for complicated ritualistic reasons.
  • Garvin Otherwise, a human rogue and burglar of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild, with a very, very peculiar past and a zoog pet, Lenore.
  • Caulis, a homunculus warlock liberated from its master; has made a pact with certain Faerie Powers.
  • Armand Percival Reginald Francois Eustace de la Marche III, a suspiciously pale, apparently human noble and sorcerer, and certainly not a ghoul (how dare such a thing be suggested).

XP Awarded: 200 XP.

expedition 2

Yam and the Lengian priestess of the spider goddess had been down in the Whorl for some time, and half of their group seemed to have disappeared – perhaps claimed by the strange, chittering presence that haunts the twisted, endless spiral. Sent by Professor Valdemar Sluice to retrieve the Viridescent Tablet after his last expedition mysteriously vanished, the pair are the last of their party. Only after long study of the glyphs on the walls was the pair able to apprehend a means of egress. Focusing doggedly on not-escaping, the gnome and the Lengian exited the Whorl – only to bump almost immediately into another party, consisting of a waspkin, homunculus, and two humans. The two groups conferred and quickly realized that they shared an employer, that one expedition had followed the other, and due to the temporal distortions of the Whorl the two had arrived in the Old City almost simultaneously despite setting out a week apart.

The two parties, briefly confused, agreed to join forces; after all, Vespidae, Garvin, Caulis, and Armand seemed to be down two members of their own expedition. Vespidae, waspkin senses unaccustomed to distinguishing between individuals with much particularity, became momentarily bewildered by Yam.

“We’re down two gnomes,” Caulis said.

“No, one gnome!” Vespidae insisted, pointing to Yam. “See? One gnome left.” It fell to the creature’s companions to enlighten the waspkin as to the mistake.

“Have you found the Tablet yet?” Yam demanded single-mindedly. “Yam would like to find the Tablet now.”

Piranesi_Carcere_XIV_Prisons_The Gothic Arch

United at least for the time being, the expedition surveyed their surroundings: a vast, cyclopean space of unfathomable age, resonant with unnerving echoes. The ceiling soared high overhead, lost in darkness. A complex network of platforms atop pillars, connected by sinuous ramps and bridges, filled the chamber. Below yawned an impenetrably black void: there was no telling how far down it goes. At various locations throughout the chamber the bridges led to doorways. Armand bewitched a stone with a glimmer of light and cast it into the abyss, but the stone was quickly lost in the unmplumbed blackness, and none could hear it hit the bottom.

The party unfurled the partial map provided them by Professor Sluice and noted that while several bridges were broken or damaged, the sketch was essentially accurate.

Inner Space

They began their exploration methodically, beginning at the passage directly opposite the exit of the Whorl. Walking the bridges was an eerie experience, with the void below gaping endlessly. Something fluttered off in the darkness to the west – bats, perhaps, or something else with leathery wings?

nature

The passage to the north led to a kind of specimen chamber, filled with a series of titanic crystalline cylinders holding the bodies of various life-forms. Though the creatures were quite still, as if trapped in amber, they looked healthy, with no signs of decomposition. Each cylinder had a small, glyph-graven control panel. The creatures included some sort of bony-plated lizard, a gigantic sloth, a sabre-toothed tiger, a six-armed insectoid thing with a clutch of tendrils sprouting from its neck round a many-fanged maw, a shaggy proto-human woman, a being like a fleshy barrel with a dozen tentacular arms, an enormous snail, a giant alligator, a winged crustacean with a multitude of eyes, an albino penguin, and a tentacled worm of unfathomable colour. Caulis and Yam investigated the controls and figured out how to thaw out the specimens, but decided against it.

Crystal Palace Megatherium

The twelfth specimen-container was shattered into many pieces, as if something had escaped. The console here was broken into many pieces. Whatever escaped seemed to have a gastropodal lower body but a vertebrate upper half. Investigation turned up some ancient, crusted stains on the floor – some old mucilaginous trail, left by the escapee long ago.

The party began exploring adjacent chambers and corridors, first finding a passage blocked entirely by stone. Next they wandered into a vast, nonagonal chambe in which a complicated machine of gleaming, iridescent metal sprawled complexly resembling nothing so much as a gigantic, sinister loom. There were two booth-like receptacles at the base of the elaborate machine. Arm-like mechanisms hovered over both receptacles, as if awaiting something.

Experimentation with this machine produced bizarre but fascinating results. Inorganic material placed in the intake booth was ignored. Garvin, curious, placed some of his own hair in the intake booth. The device went quickly to work, taking samples of the hair, cutting it up, removing fragments of skin, only to begin weaving hair… and then sinew and blood-vessels, bone and meat and pulsing organs, membranes of skin. What appeared in the other booth was a naked, identical copy of Garvin, slack-jawed and vacant-eyed. Garvin, mildly horrified but intrigued, helped his duplicate from the booth. The man seemed unconscious, though he had a pulse and seemed to be in good condition, though missing scars and tattoos Garvin possessed. The duplicate was unable to walk on its own; they laid the comatose form down on the ground.

While Lengian silk confused the Flesh Loom – perhaps it was unable to process dream-matter – a weft of wool placed in the intake booth produced a dull-eyed sheep, as comatose as the Garvin.

sheep

Pressing on methodically to what they had decided was the “south” of the Old City – not that such directions meant much in the dimensionally fraught passages – the expedition next passed into a long hall filled with unsettling light of indescribable hue, emitted by a swirling ball of light and heat that hovered near the apex of the ceiling like some monstrous lamp. Below it, seemingly nourished by its rays, were weird vegetal growths like creeping vines that ensnared a series of glyph-graven protrusions of stone forming a complex lattice-like structure not dissimilar to a garden trellis. Globe-like clusters like succulent grapes clung to the vines. A thin mist suffused the room.

Drawing on her arcane knowledge, Sister observed that the light seemed to be a miniature star, and that lingering beneath its rays might be hazardous. Closer examination of the “grapes” proved unnerving. On closer inspection, the clusters were revealed to be tiny spheres in which were contained glittering swirls of light, almost exactly like stars. Looking into one was like looking into the sky on a clear night. The swirls of light moved and shimmered within the strange fruit. A thin membrane covered each fragile globe.

growths

Caulis, fascinated by this weird vegetation, carefully cut one of the vines free and then grafted it to its homnucular body with the aid of a spell. The vine took quickly, almost eagerly, merging with the living root.

Curiosity getting the better of her, Sister fed one of the grapes to the newly-cloned sheep, which seemed to possess enough instinct to move its mouth and chew, with help. The adventurers watched as stars began to spread from the sheep’s mouth and through its face, suffusing its skin and then its wool…

Unbeknowst to his new companions, the amnesiac Alexander casually ate half a dozen of the grapes.

Annoyed at the tardiness of their compatriots, Yam decided to venture down a passage to the north. Yam’s feet crunched on the bones of what looked like bones and babies. With a yelp of “nope!” the gnome retreated, but Sister and Vespidae had already followed the illusionist into the chamber, at the centre of which lay a great and filthy nest made from the pages of countless books – torn, shredded, and soiled, their crabbed glyphs obscured by spit and muck. The discarded metal husks of the books lay to one side.

As they investigated the nest, something stirred in the shadows, unseen by the party. Then came an insectile shriek as something pierced straight through Vespidae’s arm – a hideous organic barb connected to a sinuous tendril! The thing on the ceiling hissed and began retractiung the tentacle, slowly reeling the waspkin bard upwards towards the ceiling. Alarmed, the party directed their lights to the ceiling to discover the thing which had escaped from the specimen chamber, a beast from out of time: a thing somewhere between a reptile and a carnivorous slug with a long, essentially boneless lower body like that of a gastropod, save with reptilian scales.  Its upper body had a lizard-like head and forelimbs. Bristling from its abdomen near where the lizard-half of the creature met the slug half – not that the being really had such incongruent parts – were a series of slimy, tentacular feelers, one of which had extruded the chitinous love-dart now impaling Vespidae. The horror adhered to the ceiling by means of a sticky mucus.

love dart

Alerted by Vespidae’s shriek, the rest of the party crowded into the being’s nest. Garvin, skulking in the shadows, sent a quarrel towards it, but the bolt ricocheted off the ceiling. Vespidae managed to squirm free of the hideous dart and flapped weakly to the floor, bleeding profusely. The slug-lizard monster squealed in frustration and extruded half a dozen additional tentacular love-darts like grotesque harpoons.

Thinking quickly, Yam conjured an illusion of a gnome (closely resembling Yam) to run out towards the creature, taunting it. The slug-thing sent its tendrils towards the illusion and they passed through it, but with careful modulation of the illusion Yam managed to make it appear as if the illusion had actually been harpooned. Meanwhile, Sister healed the faint Vespidae with a swift prayer to the Spider Goddess, sealing the wound with a holy webbing.

Caulis and Armand now attacked the beast from out of time directly, searing it with spells of fire and acid. The slug-thing hissed in pain but continued to reel in the illusory Yam. Thinking quickly, Sister added her own touch to the illusion, causing the bleeding “gnome” skewered by the tendrils to begin chanting in a low voice, eyes turning red, staring up at the horror. As more spells pelted its squamous hide, the horror relinquished its “grip” on Yam’s illusion and withdrew, squirming along the ceiling into a dark corner of its lair. The party rapidly retreated, Garvin covering their escape with his hand crossbow.

pillars

Renewing their exploration, the party next made their way further south into a circular room filled with shelves upon which rested thousands of delicate crystals, some of them glowing softly with light of various hues, some dull and dark. There were at least one hundred shelves encircling the entire room and extending upwards to the high, domed ceiling.

In the middle of the room was another complicated machine made of gleaming, iridescent metal, untouched by rust. The machine extruded from a sort of slab upon which lay a withered, near-skeletal corpse clad in rotten shreds of clothing. The corpse was held in place by a series of restraints. A kind of clamp eerily reminiscent of a long-fingered hand cradled the skull of the cadaver.

Investigation of the corpse revealed a scroll clutched in its fist, upon which was ritten some kind of mytsic chant or incantation.

The party began experimenting with the machine, operated this time by Yam, whose gnomish mind seemed to graps its intricacies intuitively. Hypothesizing, the adventurers first removed the corpse, then strapped in the comatose sheep. Activating the machine, they watched as the crystal flared and then dimmed. The sheep’s eyes opened wide and it began bleating wildly, seemingly panicked, and thrashed in its restraints. The party swiftly reversed the process, and the sheep fell slack once more, the crystal glowing again. Stars were still spreading through its coarse wool.

448px-Clarke-TellTaleHeart

Next the adventurers retrieved the body of Garvin’s duplicate from the chamber of the Flesh Loom, alert lest the wounded beast from out time assail them again. Returning with the comatose clone, they strapped it into the machine and again the crystal dimmed. “Garvin” stirred, opening his eyes.

“Where am I?” he asked, looking around. “Please, let me free… I have been confined for too long… wait… is that Alexander?”

Questioning the man, the adventurers realized he was Xavier, another member of the doomed expedition of Alexander. Somewhat distressed at being placed in a new body – not to mention at the sight of his own corpse – Xavier was nonetheless grateful to be alive and awake once more. He described a sense of time passing in the crystal, though he was dull and insensate during this time, without any means of apprehending his surroundings.

Thinking quickly, the party noted that they might be able to put Xavier back in his body after all. Taking a sample of the corpse’s tissues, they hastened back to the Flesh Loom yet again and placed some of his dead flesh in the intake booth. The Loom whirred to life, producing another clone – this one of a thin, aging but handsome man. Garbing the man in a robe of spidersilk spun swiftly and discretely by Sister’s spinnarets, the expedition returned and transferred the consciousness of Xavier from Garvin’s duplicate back into the crystal, and then into the body of the Xavier-clone.

Returned to his former body with relief, Xavier described much of his expedition, including further details of the “Reality Garden,” the “Pestilence Archive,” and other chambers within this part of the Old City. He and the rest of the adventurers emerged once more into the vast chamber at the centre of this part of the First Library, continuing to explore.

Meanwhile, the sheep was beginning to move its mouth, almost as if speaking, and seemed increasingly able to walk on its own…

city

The expedition next came to a chamber with a round gateway in its middle, showing a bleak landscape of piceous stone, with rivers of black tar that seem eerily animate and, in the distance, a series of impossibly high spires stabbing at a clouded black sky. Lying on the ground just on the other side of the portal was some sort of machine that lookeda bit like a rifle, but far more intricate and adorned with weird glyphs. The object lay near a pool of the same black, tarry substance elsewhere visible. Vespidae directed his Unseen Servant to pick the object up. Instantly, the pool of slime writhed and gibbered in an alien tongue from a multitude of gelatinous orifices and lashed out at the Servant with pseodopods, engulfing it utterly. The rifle-like object fell to the ground and the party cautiously retreated.

The party’s explorations next took them to an irregular chamber centred around a central statue or monolith – a weird polyhedral mass of unlikely projections and brain-aching angles. The overall impression was of a vastness of unfathomable wings. The massive object exuded a palpable sense of numinous dread. The thing was made from some kind of shimmering crystalline substance that for brief moments looks almost organic – when looked at from the corner of the eye it seemed to move or throb subtly. A basin or depression was evident before the idol.

expedition

Sister, drawing on her theological knowledge, identified this as a manifestation of the Many-Angled Angel, who was worshipped by the Librarians for its ability to pervert the laws of time and space. She knew nothing of the being’s liturgy or rituals and the so the party again pressed on.

This time they entered a high-ceilinged chamber containing numerous shelves bearing hundreds of books – the great treasures of the Librarians. These ancient tomes were bound in delicate metal and had pages of an incorruptible vellum-like membrane able to endure the long millennia without rot. The books here would each take months or years to translate fully. The party seached through several of the shelves, with Caulis taking some spellbooks. Garvin discovered a particularly large tome with a sinister glyph on its cover and carefully stowed it without opening it.

The next chamber proved somewhat unusual. The characters immediately entered… and then found themselves leaving it, as if no time had passed. Except that Garvin now bore a strange, glyphic tattoo, Sister was injured, Armand had a hideous boil on his forehead (that eventually turned out to be a third eye growing beneath his flesh), and other characters had either lost or gained small items.

Curious, the party sent the sheep into the anti-memory chamber and took a short rest in the musty darkness of the Old City. The sheep came trotting out several hours later, its wool now utterly suffused with stars and nebulae and swirling vortices of light and darkness. It bleated strangely with what sounded like countless tiny voices. Alexander was also developing subcutaneous stars, though his were less developed.

GuestsoftheGreatRace

Next the characters wandered into an incredibly long, nonagonal hall decorated with hundreds of monstrous statues, each unique, each more grotesque than the last. The beings these statues depicted came in a myriad of shapes mingling aspects of cephalopod, worm, crocodile, crustacean, jellyfish, bat, spider, starfish, lamprey, and toad. One horror, for example, rested on a squirming mass of suckered tentacles, had a chitin-plated body sprouting hundreds of pincer-tipped limbs, and had half a dozen many-eyed heads somewhere between those of an insect and a monstrous lizard. The statues were arranged in no discernable pattern.

Scholars amongst the party identified these as statues of the Nine Hundred Progeny of the Plenitudinous One, also called Carcethotep, the Fecund Chaos, and the Cancroid Progenitor. Rather than tempting fate ande eager to find the Tablet, however, the expedition pressed on without investigating further. They came next to a long, heptagonal chamber whose walls were riddled with thousands of small holes which made them think of mouths, though they certainly did not resemble the mouths of any humanoid being. Vespidae investigated closely and detected a musty smell and a low, barely audible chant emanating from the mouths. Xavier warned that the mouths were a protective measure and urged the party to recite the chant he had discovered. The party began to do so, and the mouths gradually closed as they approached. Garvin noticed that they also closed whenever he neared them, curiously. Spreading out and still reciting the hastily-copied chant, the party managed to close all of them mouths at once, at which point they remained closed permanently.

They proceeded through the doorway at the end of the hall and into a vast, octagonal chamber hat proved incredibly cold; icicles drooled from the entrance, and breath plumed visibly in the air. Stone shelves lined the walls, filled with hundreds of glass phials containing liquids of many colours. A zigzagging spiral ramp allowed access to the lower shelves and disappears into the floor. Xavier identified this as the Pestilence Archive, where the Librarians catalogued various diseases. Taking care not to touch any of the phials, the adventurers proceeded down the ramp into the room below.

haeckelcovers3

At the middle of this chamber could be seen a plinth, upon which is sat a metal tablet, gleaming in the musty darkness. Carpeting every inch of the hall save the plinth itself was a strange, gently pulsating purplish-red lichen. This layer of liver-hued growth glistened wetly and exuded a damp, slightly acrid reek. Throughout the chamber were half a dozen curious mounds of lichen between three and six feet in height. Unlike many of the chambers in the Old City this hall was quite low, with a ceiling only twelve feet or so above.

Not wishing contact with the lichen, Armand began using a ray of frost to freeze it, destroying it in small patches in order to clear a path to the Viridescent Tablet. However, one of the rays struck a mound of lichen. With a dull, inhuman moan, one the mounds oshivered, spraying bits of damp lichen everywhere. The thing wrenched itself from the surrounding lichen and raises what the adventurers realized were arms, covered in the revolting, throbbing lichen. It moved towards them as if to embrace them, mewling pathetically from a black pit of a mouth, blinding groping.

Bloater

The party leapt quickly into action, with Garvin sending a crossbow quarrel directly into its “face,” where its eye might be. Sister conjured a sacred flame to incinerate the creature while Caulis, Yam, and Armand attacked with spells of their own. The thing was too slow to close the gap and was quickly destroyed. Armand resumed his careful clearing of the lichen and managed to clear a path to the plinth. The plinth itself seemed to be free of any obvious traps.

At this point, Yam produced from a bulging pack a curious item – a piratical flag. Waving off quizzical entreaties Yam draped the flag over the Tablet. Armand, having got a quick glance at the runes on the Tablet, began bleeding from the nose. He picked the Tablet up and the party made haste to leave, even while the remaining mounds in the room stirred, alerted by the loss of the Tablet. With the lichenous shamblers slowly pursuing them, the party hurriedly left the chamber and made their way back to the Whorl.

The trip back to the sewers proved easier than the descent, although Garvin, shaken by his experiences, was momentarily tormented by what sounded like the voices of the party themselves only a few hours ago, heading down the passage towards them. Ignoring these echoes, the party ascended and returned to the sewers.

Dunwall_sewers_1

On the way back to the surface the party briefly encountered a group of toshers – child sewer-scavengers led by an ancient gnome, Sly Rufus. After purchasing a key to the Reanimator’s Guildhouse from the wily scavenger, the party heard him describe how many of his scavengers were being kidnapped by the sewer witch known as Wicked Peggy. Rufus offered rewards for the hag’s death. Too exhausted from their expedition to take the man up on the matter at the moment, they requested a guide to lead them back to the streets safely, which Rufus provided at a small fee.

The party returned to Caulchurch by boat, the Tablet carried by the surprisingly strong Armand. After some small disputes with a nonetheless delighted Professor Valdemar Sluice over payment, the adventurers big one another good evening, agreeing to work together in future should the opportunity present itself.

Images: Édouard Riou‘s illustrations for Voyage au centre de la Terre, Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s Carceri, Ernst Haeckel’s sketches, engraving of Megatherium, Don Pedro’s engraving of a sheep, SEM image from Joris M. Koene and Hinrich Schulenburg, “Shooting darts: co-evolution and counter-adaptation in hermaphroditic snails,” Harry Clarke’s “Silence” and “The Tell Tale Heart,” Howard V. Brown’s illustrations for At the Mountains of Madness and The Shadow Out of Time, screenshots from The Last of Us and Dishonored.

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