BEARDED DEVIL

Monsters, Horror, Gaming

Category: uncategorized

Hex Session XI – 5th Edition Actual Play – “The Yellow Sign Pt. 2”

The characters in this session were:

  • Caulis, a homunculus warlock liberated from its master; has made a pact with certain Faerie Powers.
  • 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.
  • 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, also a disciple of the mysterious Archdemon known as the Engine.

XP Awarded: 700 XP

Vespidae’s hive has been developing recently, and ever since she acquired the Yellow Sign, she has been noticing something subtly different about her pheromones – something almost intangible, but growing in intensity. It reminded her of the scent of the Queen in Yellow, but blended with her own. One thing was certain: she no longer smell simply like a “dead drone,” the pariah-scent her exile had infused her with.

For weeks now, she had been converting the puppet factory of the Marionettist – now cleared of zombies and Crowsbeak thieves – into a new home, moving in her automaton and sculpted duplicates, like the drones of her own nest. Rooms were set aside to make room for a shrine to the Queen in Yellow, while Vespidae boarded up the windows and doors, ensuring the only way in was from above, through the roof.

She’d also been noticing something else. Waspkin had been buzzing by her new home with increasing frequently. They’d been perching on nearby roofs, watching her. Many of these waspkin smelled strange – some were the hiveless waspkin of Suckletown, others mutilated or outcast, lacking limbs or antennae, marked with the pheromones of exile. But some smelled of the hives of Stingsworth. Loyalists to the Queens of that district… yet drawn here, for reasons that remained unclear.

One day, Vespidae left her home to discover that left on the roof was a strange gift, like a tribute: a portion of Royal Jelly, the alchemical substance consumed by waspkin drones to transform them into Queens. Vesdpiae eyed the substance warily, not consuming it, but not throwing it out.

However, other matters were afoot. Having retrieved the script for the play The Tragical History of Robin Redcap, the adventurers had secured themselves invitations to the premiere of the bloody play by its writer, Vittoria Wolfsheart. They had also been asked by the playwright to keep an eye out for the play’s namesake, the sinister Robin Redcap, who they had last seen raging furiously in Faerie, having barely escaped with their lives after stealing back the play from his ruinous, otherworldly keep.

Faunsweald

At night, the district of Faunsweald bustled with activity. Banners advertising the many plays being staged in the theatrical quarter fluttered in the night breeze, illuminated by gaslamps and magical lights that shift in colour. Occasional illusions cast by apprentice stage-wizards offered “previews” of the performances within. These included a number of prominent advertisements for Edwin Fouchard’s latest offering, The Deadliest Marriage, a violent satire of romantic comedy which seemed to involve a lot of blood-spattered wedding guests. Occasional glimpses of The Tragical History of Robin Redcap could also be seen. To the east, the gaudy songs and laughter of Groanwell could be heard, the nightly debauchery of the pleasure-district.

The play-goers – Vespidae, Garvin, Armand, Caulis, and Sprigley – met at Cruor Row. Sprigley seemed oddly changed, having acquired what looked to be a clockwork arm and even more ritualistic tattoos. The fighter, unhinged by his time in the Old City, seemed to have taken to worshiping one of the Cthonic Gods, an entity he called the Engine. He still possessed Robin Redcap’s pike. Cruor Row led from the streets of Stumpridge into Faunsweald, and connecteds several major theatres, including the Prism, the Fates, and the Chiaroscuro. Of the three the Chiaroscuro was the largest and newest, an opulent theatre and opera house, currently decked out with banners and signs proclaiming the premiere of Vittoria Wolfsheart’s latest tragedy.

baroque

As the group prepared to make their entrance, several heard a buzzing sound from nearby, as shapes appeared in the night sky, descending rapidly. Warily they watched the shapes draw closer: a dozen waspkin, some clutching javelins, others stiletto blades that gleamed with poison. A heady pheromone stink suffused the street. Vespidae recognized the scent immediately as that of the Royal Guard of the Queens of Stingsworth, the waspkin matriarchs of Hex.

“Traitor!” one of the waspkin chittered to Vespidae in Vespine.

“Abomination!” another proclaimed.

waspkin

While the Guards berated Vespidae, Garvin slunk into the shadows and picked the lock of a nearby printing house, creating an escape route.

“Usurper!”

“Rebel!”

“Unclean!”

“Drone, you stand accused of conspiring to supplant the rightful rule of the Twelve Queens of Stingsworth!”

“You would corrupt us with your devotion to Blasphemous Idols!”

“Your punishment has been decreed.”

“Your wings, limbs, and antennae will be removed, but you will be kept alive. Your life will be lengthened, and you will be imprisoned in darkness, unable to fly, to walk, to dance, or to spread your evil through the city.”

“Submit to justice and your rebel followers will be spared.”

“Resist and you will all be slaughtered!”

“I meant no offense,” Vespidae insisted. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Your falsehoods will not save you,” one of the Royal Guards warned. “We have watched you, gathering your followers. The speak of the Thirteenth Queen. Your insurrection will not be tolerated.”

While others of the group tried to protest, the Guards moved in. The resulting fight was fast and brutal; Sprigley sustained a wound but cut down one of the Guards, while Garvin, firing from the shadows, dispatched another. Vespidae used burning hands to scorch her foes while Armand used fire bolt to incinerate another. The fight continued, the Guards swarming, jabbing with their poisoned weapons. A crowd swiftly gathered, but they assumed the battle to be a staged spectacle, half illusion and half acting, put on in anticipation of some new play. Applause filled the air as the last of the Royal Guards fled, only to be skewered by a javelin from Vespidae. Not quite knowing how to react to the applause, the group bowed and concealed the bodies in the nearby printing shop that Garvin had broken into, then moved on to the playhouse as if nothing had occurred.

The theatre itself was a huge structure of at least five storeys with a massive, bulbous dome at its centre. Perched at the four corners of the marble monstrosity were stone statues depicting allegorical representations of comedy, tragedy, history, and spectacle. The foyer of the Chiaroscuro was sumptuously carpeted and adorned with baroque, intricately ornamented architecture. A huge, crystalline chandelier dangled overhead, while on the walls, enchanted paintings of actors and actresses in famous roles looked down at the well-dressed men and women who lingered here, availing themselves of the well-stocked bar. Some of these characters included a representation of the mad mage Zachariah Soulswell, who briefly seized control of the city and erected Delirium Castle, as well as the vampiric aristocrat known as the Countess of Carnage, a fictitious noblewoman from the distant undead metropolis of Erubescence.

Balconies

The stage had been set with various props and painted backdrops that had been enchanted to appear more realistic. The backdrop here depicted a dour landscape with a stern-looking keep in the background – quite similar to the actual Castle of the Bloody Vale. Trees and other vegetation are evident in the foreground. A small conjured stormcloud overhead periodically rumbled, its thunderous foreshadowing occasionally warning theatre-goers that the play would begin in half an hour.

There were hundreds of seats in the Chiaroscuro, most of them in the pit, but many more filling the numerous balcony levels that rose on three sides of the grand, impossibly ornate room. Many audience members were already taking their seats. Of particular note was a large box in which were ensconced a party of obviously foreign travelers garbed in the costume of the southern plains and deserts. Foremost among this group was a large domestic cat placed in a special divan, afforded the finest view in the house; the cat spoke with various retainers and servants quite normally, and was obviously an individual of some considerable importance.

The many balcony seats were stacked atop one another in four levels, with stairways and small elevators leading from one level to the next. Near the stage there were also private boxes thrust out from the main balcony to afford the rich occupants a finer view. Servants and ushers milled about bearing refreshments to those in the balconies and showing patrons to their seats.

The playwright Vittoria Wolfsheart awaited the party in her private box, given a privileged view of the stage. She wore a dark purple gown that set off her porcelain white complexion, and had pinned her hair to further emphasize her horns.

“I’m glad you could attend,” she said, greeting you with a curtsy.

“A charming production, from the look of it,” Armand said, with a haughty sniff.

“So far there have been no signs of the real Robin Redcap. But perhaps it might be of benefit for you to have a look around the theatre, just in case.”

“Hmm, I think I’ll take up position in the rafters,” Garvin said, eyeing the catwalk above.”

“Let’s check backstage,” Caulis said to Vespidae and Sprigley. “Then maybe we’ll join you here, Vittoria.”

Backstage at the Chiaroscruo, actors practiced their lines while the stage-wizards wove illusions to grant their costumes additional verisimilitude. The actor playing Robin Redcap could be seen, looking strikingly similar to the thin-limbed, white-bearded Fair Folk, as could the muscular Duke Gothmord. Peasants were having dirt and blood smeared on their faces. More props could also be seen here, including various fake grimoires, torture instruments, candles, “magical” crystals, tools, and fake weapons. The director, costumers, carpenters, and other stage-hands were bustling about, getting everything ready for the play. Vespidae, enthused with the artistic spectacle, spoke for awhile with the stage-illusionists and actors, until the director shooed them back to the main room of the theatre.

The party began their preparations. While most of the group stayed in the private box, Garvin had carefully scaled the rafters, talking his way past the stagehands lighting the production, so that he could get a good view of things from above. Caulis, summoning their pseudodragon familiar, sent the creature to patrol the theatre and report anything unusual. Armand and Caulis briefly visited with Nahotep, the cat-prince from New Ulthar. The creature – one of a race of familiars who overthrew their wizardly masters and became rulers of their kingdom – was charming and debonair, visiting Hex on a kind of grand tour, consulting with some of the city’s necromancers on arcane matters, and generally soaking in the sights. Nahotep seemed sympathetic to Caulis, a liberated homunculus, and lamented the fact that so many of the mandrake-root-folk were still slaves to their creators. Armand, ever the silver-tongued sophisticate, invited Nahotep to dine and stay at his townhouse for a time, an invitation which was politely accepted.

A few minutes later, the curtain rose, and the play began…

Stage

The play began as expected, but Vittoria’s revisions – based on Robin’s scribbled suggestions – quickly became evident. In this new version, Robin is not an innocent spirit corrupted by Duke Gothmord, but a malignant sprite who warps the heroic, armour-clad ruler into a bloodthirsty maniac. In the opening scene, Gothmord rescues several peasants from the marauding Redcap, and binds the fairy to his will. The scene, at the edge of the Tangle, is given atmosphere and verisimilitude through the use of painted backdrops and elaborate magical illusions.

It was at this point in the play that Caulis’ familiar became aware of something: a pallid figure had appeared in a box opposite Vittoria’s watching the play intently. The homunculus informed their companions, and they confirmed that the figure appeared to be none other than Robin Redcap himself.

The play progressed, Duke Gothmord becoming increasingly depraved, warped by Redcap, abusing and even kidnapping his serfs. As the intermission approached, the scene shifted to a dungeon in which a local woman was imprisoned – the witch unknowingly captured by the Duke. It seemed a torture scene would soon commence, to judge from the instruments arrayed onstage. At this moment, though, Robin seemed deeply bored; they could see him yawn from across the theatre. Vespidae, worried that the fairy would launch himself into a bloodthirsty rampage if not entertained, held up her Yellow Sign, invoking the goddess of art to intervene, to infuse the play with vividness and inspiration. The Sign gleamed in the darkness, and a numinous chill fell upon everyone in the theatre, gooseflesh breaking out across everyone’s skill as the drama on stage became suddenly intensified.

Instantly – but, somehow, without anyone noticing the moment it happened – the actress playing the witch was replaced with none other than Magdalena, the sculptress who had been left marooned in Carcosa. Duke Gothmord picked up a glowing iron, preparing for some gruesome, sadistic torture, suddenly gleaming with what looked like real heat. He approached the surprised and genuinely terrified Magdalena. The crowd craned their necks, and even Robin had sat up, suddenly transfixed.

Vespidae, alarmed by the effect her invocation to the Queen in Yellow had had, flitted to the rafters to confer with Garvin. The Ravenswing thief and arcane trickster cast mage hand to deflect the branding iron, while Vespidae cast silent image to make it look as if the iron had struck, producing a horrific burn. Magdalena was screaming now, though more from disorientation than pain. Robin seemed pleased by the gruesomeness of this display.

Sprigley, noticing Magdalena, realized that something alarming was afoot. As Duke Gothmord approached with a new torture implement, the mercenary fired a shot from his pistol at the seemingly psychotic actor, wounding him in the shoulder. He leapt from the box and ran through the crowd towards backstage, amidst whoops and screams and confusion from those around him. The audience, thinking this some experimental contrivance of the play, applauded uproariously as the scene ended and the curtain fell. Intermission began.

play

At intermission, Armand slipped quietly into Robin’s box and, stealthily, slipped poison purchased at the Venom Mart of Cobweb Cliffs, into the fairy’s wine. In addition, he attempted to cats a charm over the fey, to further endear him to the performance, but this failed to penetrate his resistance to such magic. Fortunately, Robin did not notice.

Backstage, Magdalena was untied by Sprigley, while the wounds of the actor were treated, and Sprigley managed to convince him that the bullet was supposed to be a blank. Meanwhile, up in the rafters, Garvin and Caulis’ familiar could hear what sounded like approaching buzzing – like a swarm of wasps approaching the theatre. Moments later a group of ragtag waspkin – some missing limbs or eyes or antennae, others garbed in rags – appeared at the rear entrance. Vespidae, backstage, greeted them.

“We have come, Thirteenth Queen,” one said.

“The Royalists approach. They mean to kill your Grace. But we shall not allow it!”

Vespidae, mind reeling, nodded, and sent out a pheromone mist in response. Thrust into this unexpected role, she decided to play her part as best she could.

“We’ll fight here,” she said. “Stage-illusionists… could you disguise these waspkin? They’re, ah, extras for the big battle. They’re supposed to look like evil fairies.”

The grumbling stage-wizards complained about the sudden change, but given the close relationship between Vittoria and the party, consented to these alterations.

The intermission buzzed in more than one way, as audience-members gossiped, remarking on the bloodiness and horror of the torture scene and the boldness of Sprigley’s “experimental” intervention.

The curtain rose on the finale of the play, beginning with the scene of Robin Redcap’s liberation. Scheming with the witch – played now by the original actress – the Robin character finds a way to wriggle free of his magical servitude, wreaking vengeance on the Duke. As the final scene of bloodletting began – in which Robin was supposed to rampage through the keep in fury – the waspkin Royalists burst into the theatre from the foyer, having swarmed in the front door. At this moment, stage illusionists bewitched the attackers to resemble “good” or “Seelie” fairies, all gossamer wings and light. Meanwhile Vesdpidae, lurking backstage with her motley band of followers similarly ensorceled to appear as “evil” fairies, rushed forwards, and the battle was joined.

The ensuing combat was bloody and spectacular, equal parts battle-dance and genuine battle, illusion-clad waspkin falling left and right, javelins flying. Sprigley, back onstage, joined the brutal melee. The real Robin Redcap, gleeful, watched the carnage with obvious satisfaction, while his stage double snarled commands to the fairy troops. The audience, impressed with what they believed to be special effects, went wild. Garvin sniped from the rafters, picking off waspkin Royalists… but then, with a final charge, the Royalists swarmed Vespidae, thrusting javelins through the drone’s body. She quivered and fell still, a look of absolute peace on her face, her deathwish finally satisfied, her last performance complete, her longed-for sacrifice at last consummated. In the frenzy the real Robin Redcap stormed onstage, leaping in a single bound, setting about him with vicious claws, tearing waspking apart left and right.

At this moment, Garvin acted, unwilling to let his companion die. Using a pocketwatch snatched from the cabinet of curiosities of the Van Lurken house which he had later learned had the power to modify time, he rewound the time-stream by a few moments and, just before the Royalists descended on Vespidae, fired a magical bolt into the stage-floor. Arcane darkness blossomed from the bolt, obscuring everything in shadow.

The darkness cleared like tenebrous mist. Bodies lay in pools of waspkin blood… but Vespidae was nowhere to be seen. If she was dead, her body had vanished – or, perhaps, some other fate had befallen her, for several of her rebels were missing as well. The audience went wild with applause and horrified delight, and Robin, clapping maniacally, vanished from the box, leaving behind a smell of carrion and black roses. The surviving Royalists, unable to locate their quarry, fled into the night.

The stage-hands would later report that they were too confused in the slaughter to notice if Vespidae and some of her forces had slipped away. Was she dead, or had she disappeared, to take up the mantle of the Thirteenth Queen?

Only time would tell…

Hex Session X – 5th Edition Actual Play – “The Yellow Sign Pt. 1”

The characters in this session were:

  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.”

XP Awarded: 650 XP.

In order to become a full hierophant of the Queen in Yellow, an initiate must claim the Yellow Sign – but to do so they must undergo a unique ceremony at the Temple of the Queen in Yellow, in Faunsweald. Vespidae, having adopted the Queen in Yellow as her new goddess after being banished from her home-nest – having inadvertently survived a ceremonial death-dance and thus been declared a pariah by other waspkin – now sought to become such an hierophant, and to this end, gathered her companions together at the Queen’s Fane.

Faunsweald

The district of Faunsweald was sleepy during the day and raucous at night, when the many theatres open their doors and the taverns open their taps. Theatre designs varied – from the older theatres of wood and plaster, open to the air, to newer closed theatres of stone and marble, most prominently including the resplendent Chiaroscuro and Fates theatres. There were a number of posters plastered about town advertising an upcoming performance of The Tragical History of Robin Redcap by renowned playwright Vittoria Wolfsheart. The play was further advertised by a man dressed in red and carrying a scythe, comically menacing passersby and cajoling them to attend the play, with threats of gruesome dismemberment and magical pranks if they refuse to purchase tickets.

The Temple of the Queen was Yellow is an extrusion of the Old City from below – a Librarian structure, alien and eerily organic, erupting from the cobblestone streets like some weird tumour. Unlike temples like that of the Mother of Spiders, the main sanctum of the Queen’s temple was open to all. Hierophants in sallow robes passed in and out of its eerie depths. As the group assembled at the temple entrance, a small gnome gyropter flapped through the air and descended into the nearby square, the gnome tinkerers Wanda and Edgar Cogswright appearing. Moments later a carriage arrived to disgorge the resplendently dressed Vittoria Wolfsheart, followed closely by an animated clay horse on which rode the arcane sculptress Magdalena Rotterthorpe – it seemed Vespidae had invited half the town to her initiation ceremony! She was, after all, now attended by a small retinue of clockwork and animated duplicates of herself: waspkin statuettes and automata, crafted by Magdalena and the Cogswrights, purchased dearly by Vespidae using her share of the adventuring funds.

suitors

The Temple of the Queen is Yellow was an extrusion of the Old City from below – a Librarian structure, alien and eerily organic, erupting from the cobblestone streets like some weird tumour. Unlike temples like that of the Mother of Spiders, the main sanctum of the Queen’s temple was open to all. Hierophants in sallow robes passed in and out of its eerie depths. Inside, the temple resembled a surreal art studio as much as a church. Massive, nightmarish murals, paintings, and tapestries covered the walls, and bizarre, abstract sculptures like demented angels loomed over everything. Despite the vastness of the interior – indeed, the temple seems larger on the inside – the main sanctum felt cluttered and cramped, thousands of strange artworks crowding against one another. Many were enchanted to move, speak, and change forms. Hierophants of the Queen in Yellow wander the chamber, some singing or dancing, others reciting sermons somewhere between religious chants and lunatic poetry. The space was disorderly, chaotic, and creative, lit with floating magical fires in a thousand colours, many of them indescribable.

A thin man with blue-black hair approaches, clad in the garb of the Queen in Yellow – Ambrose Vasseur, the poet-hierophant the party encountered back in the caverns of the spiderfolk.

“Ah, Vespidae,” Ambrose said, bowing. “I have been selected to instruct you in your initiation. Are you prepared?”

Vespidae indicated the affirmative.

“Good. The process of initiation involves what is known as the Carcosan Rite,” Ambrose said. “This ritual must be carried out in the catacombs beneath the Temple of the Queen in Yellow – a part of the Old City. You must descend into the depths of the Temple’s lower levels, the Catacombs of Hyperreality, passing through several tests along the way. Go warily, for sometimes malignant things creep into the tunnels form elsewhere. Beware the Feaster from Afar, and also those of the Lost – failed initiates driven mad by the Rite. You will find a chamber of masks – all those who will participate in the ritual should don one of these Pallid Masks.  Deeper below, you will find a certain chamber, within which is an artwork of fantastic subtlety and ancient power. It is here that the Carcosan Rite itself will take place. The celebrant who wishes to achieve the Yellow Sign must recite a prayer to the Queen in Yellow while sacrificing a work of art within the sacred space. This will activate the Librarian Masterpiece, and the final test will be initiated. I can tell you nothing more of the substance of the Rite – you must discover it for yourself.”

Ambrose looked over the group. “Celebrants are welcome to attend to the ceremony and aid Vespidae in her induction… but be warned. The Catacombs of Hyperreality are not without their dangers.” With this, Ambrose handed Vesdpiae a yellow robe – made for the waspkin’s many-limbed body – and led the celebrants to the back of the Temple and through a narrow doorway into a winding tunnel that zigzagged back and forth in a convoluted tangle – it was difficult to follow its meandering, but Vespidae got the feeling it should have doubled back on itself at several points. Here and there another corridor branched off the main tunnel, sometimes opening into other chambers where hierophants worked on art projects ranging from massive sculptures to colossal murals. The group had not descended below the surface, confirming that the interior of the Temple of the Yellow Queen must be much, much larger within than it appeared outside.

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Eventually they reached a spiral ramp winding down into darkness in a large antechamber, its purplish stone contours eerily organic, giving it the appearance of an open mouth or some other orifice. A subtle music emanated from below, faint but unmistakable. The gnomes, Edgar and Wanda, decided to remain above, but both Magdalena and Vittoria continued with the rest of the party as they made their descent.

What followed was a shifting, seemingly infinitely branching series of tunnels and paths, winding in a crazed profusion through the earth in ways that seemed to defy all rational order. Vespidae led the group onwards, following the music emanating from below. Before long the group had wandered down a tunnel infested with a vibrant yellowish moss, filling the air with pungent spores. Even a slight inhalation of these spores instantly caused colours to become more vibrant and sounds more intense; the haunting music throughout the tunnels here became somehow stranger and more unnervingly beautiful.

It wasn’t long before the hallucinations started.

Cephalus was convinced his hands were fish. Garvin scampered about, yelling and chirruping, in the belief that he had become his zoog pet, Lenore, while Lenore had become him. In the resulting chaos the party delved deeper and deeper into the infinite gloom of the Catacombs of Hyperreality, till eventually the spores wore off. Something, now, seemed to be following them; they could hear wet fluttering noises from behind in the dark. They stumbled across the corpses of two twisted, only vaguely-humanoid creatures sprawingl in the middle of a tunnel, crusted black blood-stains beneath their crumpled, deformed cadavers. Judging from their rodent-like and pseudo-canine features the things were ghouls of a particularly degenerate breed. Both had had the tops of their heads neatly removed as if by a saw or some incredibly sharp blade. Their brains were missing, the inside of their skulls caked in more dried blood. Both were dressed in the shredded, mouldering remnants of yellow robes.

“The Feaster from Afar?” Armand speculated, listening again for the moist sucking sounds in the darkness behind them.

They hurried on through a bewildering series of rooms, lingering briefly over an ancient dais seemingly with the ability to distort time. Eventually they stumbled into a chamber with a huge pool of perfectly reflective liquid like a vast mirror. Vespidae peered within and looked upon her reflection, which looked back with obvious terror, twisting around to look behind her.

“It’s coming!” the reflection said fearfully. “Let me out!” It reached out, but Vespidae ignored the vision. Still, the sucking sounds had returned, and the party hurried on, deeper and deeper, still haunted by the occasional hallucination. They stumbled through a looted archive, long divested of ancient texts, in which a kind of den had been created, with some of the niches and shelves padded with detritus to form makeshift bedding. Gnawed, cracked bones were scattered on the blood-stained floor. Seeing ghouls stirring in the darkness they fled yet deeper, passing aseries of hideous carvings adorning the walls; though of obviously Librarian design, they were of humanoid appearance, resembling a group of masked revelers engaged in an orgiastic bacchanal. As the party walked down the passage the carvings animated, wrenching themselves from the wall, beseeching the celebrants to join the revel, but Sister’s use of calm emotions temporarily quieted their desires.

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Next the party came to a chamber with a number of pedestals fashioned from the same dark, purplish stone as the rest of the tunnels – seven of them. Upon each rests a pallid metal mask that perfectly fit the visage of one of the seven people in the room.

“These must be meant for us,” Cephalus mused.

“I suppose we should put them on, then…” Armand said, with characteristic detachment.

As they donned the masks, the horror behind them once again grew loud, and the group decided to see what was chasing them. Armand summoned a minor illusion of the group while the real celebrants ducked down a side passage and the thing drifted into view: a black, sac-like thing, which to the learned eyes of the sorcerer was obviously not native to this plane. It possessed a bewildering array of shriveled tendrils tipped with dripping razor-like claws, and its very appearance further strained the already-frayed sanity of those present. It seemed to sniff the air as its derangement spread, trying to scent the reek of madness like some psychic bloodhound, but then the trap was sprung, a conjured cloud of daggers viciously tearing at its flesh, javelins and crossbow bolts from Vespidae and Garvin striking its black, oozing flesh. Cephalus leapt forwards with a flurry of blows, and the thing squealed and sent a blast of psychic energy towards the celebrants, inducing crushing headaches and cranial bleeding, blood spurting from nostrils, eyes, and ears as they thing’s horrific, ab-real wail rent space, time, and thought. Its tentacles flickered out, attempting to caress Cephalus’ squamous flesh, but the dagonian struck again, and the thing was at last dispatched, deflating like some monstrous balloon of shadows and otherworldly slime.

Bloodied but alive, the group pressed on, when a woman in filthy, tattered yellow robes lurched into view. She wore a ghastly, uncanny mask made of some pale, unknown substance. In one hand she carried a paintbrush dripping with blood; in the other, the severed, quasi-canine head of a monstrous ghoul. She used the brush to paint the walls of the tunnel with curious symbols.

The woman looked at the group with mad eyes.

“Who are you?” Vespidae asked.

“Jeanette,” she replied, tilting her head strangely. “That blood…” she said, eyeing Cephalus.

“The Feaster from Afar. We killed it.”

Jeanette whooped for joy, spraying blood throughout the passage. “You have slain it! It has hunted me for years, now…”

“Years?”

“Yes. I sought the Yellow Sign, but never attained it. I… I lost my sacrifice. My artwork.”

“Then why not return to the surface?”

“The Catacombs of Hyperreality do not permit it. Once a celebrant undertakes the Rite, it must be completed.” She giggled, unnervingly. Sister and Garvin exchanged glances, Garvin fingering his hand crossbow.

“Well, you should come with us!” Vespidae said. “Do you know where the entrance to Carcosa is?”

Jeanette nodded, pointing down a tunnel with her bloody paintbrush. “This way. I will show you.” She led on, Vespidae following while the others shared wary looks.

Once again the party heard footsteps behind them. Garvin, putting a finger to his lips, slipped back into the shadows and backtracked, discovering a band of feral-looking, sinewy creatures with greyish-yellow, scabrous skin prowling in the gloom. Hunched and quasi-humanoid, they had grotesque faces resembling those of bats and dogs and tails like those of monstrous rats. Their skins had been ritually scarified and some carried jagged bone weapons. Their mouths, crowded with fangs, dripped with slaver. These, two, were garbed in filthy yellowish robes – perhaps the descendants of initiates long lost in the Catacombs of Hyperreality.

Garvin returned, and Vespidae conjured an illusion of the Feaster from Afar, sending the phantasm back along the hall, while Sister added wet sucking sounds. There was a chittering of fear and the warped things retreated, fleeing from the illusion.

Jeanette, meanwhile, led on into a vast chamber whose walls had been painted with an incredibly elaborate scene which utterly surrounded all who stepped within. The scene was that of another world, marked by the twin suns, pitch black in colour, sinking below the horizon of a vast lake swathed in mist. There were a plethora of malformed moons overhead. The sky was the colour of bone and dotted with ebon stars. The scene was that of an endless waste, a desolate plain of dead grass. Perched on the shore of the lake, rising from the eerie mist, was a resplendent city – a series of spires and domes, ornate and ominous, like and yet unlike the Old City of the Librarians. The architecture seemed less alien, somehow, and yet more unnerving for its slight familiarity. It was like a city half-remembered from a fever dream. On the floor of the chamber was inscribed the glyph of the Yellow Sign.

Vespidae and Jeanette both prayed, reciting the Carcosan Rite. Abruptly, the celebrants found that the walls of the chamber were no longer there – the landscape merely extended around them, seemingly quite real. They had somehow entered the Masterpiece. Black water lapped at the shores of Lake Hali and the shadows lengthened as the twin suns set and the group pressed on towards the city – Carcosa.

Near the edge of the shore was a sinister black object fashioned from what might be obsidian. Though no one actually saw the statue change shape it seemed to have assumed a new form each time it was looked at – an abstract arch or twisted column, or other forms – misshapen creatures of unknown varieties with aspects vaguely reminiscent of fungi, jellyfish, sponge, worm, and anemones. The group circled the statue warily, but Magdalena became utterly fascinated and took out a sketchbook.

“Please, go on without me,” the sculptress said. “I can’t give up this opportunity…” She began sketching wildly. Vittoria, her former paramour, smirked wryly. Everyone else shrugged and continued towards the city.

sime-29

Overheard they could see several winged shapes flitting amongst the clouds – things somewhere between bat, bird, and insect. They circled above, clearly scanning the ground for prey, until one of the creatures broke from the flock and began to descend. It was only through Sister’s timely use of thaumaturgy that the Byakhee was spooked, shrieking in alarm at the conjured chittering of some massive spider-thing and scattering its fellows. The party hurried onwards, into the city of Carcosa.

The streets of the alien city of Carcosa lay empty as night fell. Vespidae could not shake the feeling that she had been here before. The haunting music all of the group had heard since entering the Catacombs of Hyperreality seemed to emanate from a huge palace at the centre of the city. There were suggestions, here and there, that some catastrophe has recently befallen Carcosa; many doors were engraved with mysterious glyphs, perhaps indicating some sort of curse or plague or other calamity. The windows were dim. The only building where anything seemed to stir is the Palace.

A pair of masked guards – human in appearance, though with a disquietingly alien quality to their movements – presided over the doors of the Palace. Seeing those approaching to be suitably masked, the guards relaxed, and Vespidae swiftly explained her mission, describing the other party-members as her trusted companions and guests. Suitably persuaded, the guards relented and opened the Palace doors, revealing a vast space beyond.

the-mask-of-the-red-death

Within the palace the party found themselves in a huge, opulent chamber of several levels, teeming with masked men and women of the same ilk as the guards at the gate. They were attired in splendid but alien costumes, dripping with gemstones of unthinkable colours and perfumed with unfathomable scents. Most were engaged in feasting, dancing, and drinking; the food consists of meats and fruit of unknown origin, while much of the drink is some sort of pale, greenish wine. A huge ebon clock presided over the carousing masses, counting down to the thirteenth hour.

The group set about exploring the chambers of the Palace. In each room they found a new gallery, all packed with revelers. The walls were crammed with paintings, uncountable thousands of them – although among them, Vespidae spotted some of the paintings burned at the Van Lurken House. Those parts of the floor not filled with party-goers were taken up by statues and fountains and similar artworks. All of the art ever sacrificed to the Queen in Yellow seemed to have rematerialized here.

ball

Sister, Armand, and Cephalus were all being drawn into the crowd, while Vespidae flitted nimbly above, oblivious to the temptations of the guests. Offered food, the party-members wisely refused, but Sister became drawn into the strange, rhythmic dance of the party-goers. Cephalus force his way through the crowd to the Lengian, who was being swept along by several masked and merry dancers, barely managing to extricate the priestess of the Spider Goddess before she was subsumed in the churning crowd of the otherworldly revelers.

As the thirteenth hour approached, murmurs of the Queen begin to circulate. The hands of the clock at last ticked over, and as the clock chimed thirteen a figure descended from a grand stair. Clad in a voluminously tattered yellow gown and wearing a pale mask, the Queen in Yellow took her seat to preside over the masquerade.

“There is one here who would swear themselves to my service,” a voice says from behind the mask. “Approach, hierophant.”

Vespidae buzzed forwards.

“What do you offer for my gallery?” the Queen asked.

“A dance,” Vespidae said, and began her most elaborate ritual dance, a dance inspired by the ceremonial dances of the waspkin, yet unfettered by their strictures and dogmas, a dance of passion and inspiration rather than mechanical repetition. The crowd had grown hushed as all watched the would-be hierophant flit and whirl, surrounded by the statuettes and automata. The dance climaxed in the ritual destruction of these simulacra, incorporating burning hands to lend their sacrifice an incandescent flair. The Queen sat silent for a second, then gently applauded; moments later her party-guests burst into uproarious applause. All quietened as the goddess – or whatever avatar of her they saw before them – spoke again.

yellow

“I make few demands of my subjects,” the Queen in Yellow declared. “But this I require: all those who would serve me must endeavour to shape their lives into a work of art, to pursue Beauty in its multitudinous forms, without cheapening themselves with the sullied tawdriness of morality, justice, or reason. Are you willing to reshape yourself into a Living Symbol?”

Vespidae nodded. “Yes, my Queen!”

The Queen in Yellow nodded. Jeanette now came forwards and fell to her knees. “I have nothing to offer,” she said. “But I wish to remain here, and serve you.”

The Queen nodded again. “So it shall be, celebrant.” She raised her hand, and in that moment the scene seemed to dissolve, and now the party were in a chamber with exquisitely painted walls, a rendering of the scene they had just left. There was no sign of Magdalena, or Jeanette; both, it seemed, had been left behind in the artwork, and, indeed, a tiny figure which would be Magdalena could be glimpsed through a window, still studying the statue on the shore of Lake Hali, while Jeanette knelt before her goddess. Around Vespidae’s neck dangled the eldritch holy symbol she had come seeking: The Yellow Sign.

A single exit led up a spiraling flight of stairs, which brought them immediately back to the surface into the Fane of the Queen in Yellow in the city above. Ambrose greeted them.

“Welcome, hierophant, to the Order of the Queen in Yellow.”

Hex Session IX – 5th Edition Actual Play – “The Nightmare of Cobweb Cliffs”

The characters in this session were:

  • 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: 700 XP.

The Sisters of the Nunnery of the Mother of Spiders were in a state of crisis. Something had escaped from the depths of their mysterious temple into the labyrinthine caverns within Cobweb Cliffs, the Lengian District of Hex. Sister, a member of the order currently on a kind of “sabbatical” from her ecclesiastical duties, was called in to assist the spidery nuns. She brought with her the waspkin Vespidae, the sorcerer Armand, and the mercenary Sprigley, who, having recovered from his bout with insanity after his last trip to the Old City, had become devoted to a strange, demonic entity, his body inscribed with diabolic tattoos. Bringing with her the sheep known as “Cosmo,”* the group headed to Cobweb Cliffs.

*See the Ultimate Contagion Part 2.

cobweb-cliffs

Like Stingsworth or Croakmarsh, the district of Cobweb Cliffs is like another world. Lengians and their arachnid pets and servants make up almost all of the population here, moving between the eight distinct layers of the district. Everything here is coated with webs, with the thickest wefts of spidersilk supporting entire buildings. The architecture here is as alien as the beings who dwell in the district, all weird angles and eerie decorations, giving the place a crazed, oneiric illogic. To Lengians, of course, Cobweb Cliffs simply feels like home.

The group headed swiftly for the Temple of the Mother of Spiders at the top of the district, on the Street-Not-To-Be-Described. We shall refrain, in honour of the holy edicts of the Mother of Spiders, from speaking the Street-Not-To-Be-Described, since even by saying this much we flirt with blasphemy. Let us instead speak of the things which can be seen from the streets web-swathed vantage: the seven lower tiers of Cobweb Cliffs spread out steeply below, the lowest swathed in midst, and beyond, the districts of Mainspring and Little Pandemonium, the Dreamer’s Quarter, and Gloomway, the Feypark to the north, and to the west, the brooding eaves of the Tangle, past the city wall which bisects the Cliffs. The Radula can be glimpsed to the south, a great green-brown tendril of polluted water, swarming with boats and spanned by the glittering, statue-encrusted length of the Bridge of Sins. The temples of other faiths can be seen below, the Infernal Basilica of the Chthonic Gods and the gleaming glass-and-metal pyramid of the Magistra’s Cathedral. While such buildings may be larger than the Lengian Temple – at least on the surface – now in the city stand higher.

Casting its long shadow over the rest of Cobweb Cliffs was the Temple of the Mother of Spiders, deity of dreams, schemes, poison, sleep, and death. All but the outermost chambers of this imposing , tiered structure were forbidden save to Lengians, guarded by several of the multi-limbed warrior nuns of the order. Inside, the architecture was swathed with cobwebs, for spiders scurried everywhere, spinning their webs between the huge columns that supported the ceiling, half-obscuring the intricate geometric designs that decorated the walls and floor – though the temple’s inconsistent gravity often made this distinction unclear. The Reverend Mother Yaan Tsang emerged from a nearby doorway in one “wall” and walked down towards the party after being alerted of their arrival. She was a statuesque, pale Lengian with six well-muscled arms, her head partially swathed in the habit of the order. As one of the highest ranking members of the Nunnery, one of the eight members of the Conclave of Matriarchs, she was also one of the most powerful Lengians in Hex, the spiderfolk being an intensely religious, even theocratic people.

“Ah, you have come,” she said sternly, looking you up and down with her many eyes. “There is little time to waste, so I will be brief. But first, we must find somewhere more private to speak. Come.” She gestured with several hands to a doorway on another wall, indicating for the group to follow. They stepped inside a room with walls elaborately padded with spidersilk, beneath which could be glimpsed intricate Lengian sigils. “Secrets spoken in this room cannot be divulged aloud save through powerful magic,” the Reverend Mother said, closing and locking the door. “Anyone who breaks this enchantment will be subject to a terrible curse – understood?”

The party agreed to abide by these restrictions.

“Very well then,” she continued. “First, some background is necessary for those unfamiliar with our faith. Part of the initiation into Mother of Spiders’ worship involves a pilgrimage throughout Leng, in the Dreamlands. The pilgrimage is not conducted bodily but rather through lucid dreaming, here in the depths of the temple. Initiates are bound in a cocoon of spidersilk and given a dose of a powerful sedative poison, putting them into a coma for many weeks and allowing them to visit the Dreamlands for an extended period. At the end of this quest, they awaken having visited some of the most holy sites of the Mother of Spiders, glimpsing her Great Web.

“Unfortunately, some do not pass this test, and remain comatose forever. In rarer cases yet, the sleeper who awakens is not the one who fell asleep in the first place. One of our initiates, Sho-Ramsara, slept for half a year, before awakening quite suddenly. At first she seemed to behave normally, but then other initiates began to go missing. Certain signs implicated Sho-Ramsara, and when we confronted her the thing inhabiting her body revealed itself, striking several of our initiates and escaping the Temple. A being of nightmare from the darkest depths of the Dreamlands has possessed her, and now haunts the waking world wearing her flesh. Already there have been reports of disappearances in Cobweb Cliffs – we fear the thing is hunting, using the caverns beneath the Cliffs as its lair.

“We are unsure the extent of the monstrosity’s powers or its exact nature, but like many beings of nightmare it can warp reality to some degree, and wields the power of fear. Ideally, Sho-Ramsara should be kept alive – there may yet be a chance of saving her and sending the creature back where it came from, if you can bring her back to the temple. As a last resort, however, you may need to kill her to prevent the nightmare from wreaking more destruction. If you do so, we will reduce the payment by half. Are these terms acceptable?”

Again, the party agreed to this arrangement. Sister spent some time in the nunnery’s libraries seeking scrolls of calm emotions and other spells, and then the group set out, heading for the nearest entrance to the tunnels within the cliffs.

Maps below are from Sprigley’s player.

Cobweb Cliffs 1Their first stop was a cavern used as a spider farm, with countless thousands of the creatures spinning their webs throughout the room, clusters of eggs scattered throughout. Mesh structures, trellises, stalagmites, and stalactites were all covered with webs. Some of the bigger spiders were kept in spacious (but tight-barred) cages. Lengian spider-farmers clambered throughout the complex, feeding their charges insects, collecting silk, and milking venom from some of the larger arachnids. A few small outbuildings had been built on the ground or along the walls of the farm. There was also a pen in which a number of pallid hogs can be seen. The desiccated, bloodless husks of a number of piglets  were evident in a few of the giant spider cages.

Upon questioning the farmers, the party discovered this was the Tsothoth Spider Farm, a family business that produced a great deal of silk both for the weavers on the Street of Weavers and the nearby Venom Mart. The folk here seemed distrustful of outsiders but warmed to Sister, as a traveling cleric. On asking about any sign of trouble, they discovered that several of their hogs had recently been snatched. The farmers believed that those responsible might be members of the so-called “Funnel Web Gang,” a group of bandits lairing somewhere deep below the Cliffs.

Cobweb Cliffs 2

The party began making their way deeper into the tunnels. They soon came acrosstTwo Lengians clad all in spidersilk uniforms, who had cornered a thin, human man with blue-black hair, garbed in yellow robes and wearing a Yellow Sign round his neck; he looked battered and beleaguered. The masked, armoured Lengians had an authoritative stance and made no effort to conceal their activities as they advanced upon him with clearly violent intentions. Sister recognized the Lengians as members of the Ebon Web, the theocratic police force of Cobweb Cliffs

“Please! I’ve done nothing wrong! They’re going to kill me!” the man exclaimed.

Investigation revealed the man to be Ambrose Vasseur, a poet and hieorophant of the Queen in Yellow, performing his work in public in the Cliffs. Under the law of the Ebon Web this activity had been interpreted as proselytizing, a prohibited action in the Cliffs. Vespidae, seeing a fellow worshiper of the Queen in Yellow, felt compelled to intervene. Fortunately Sister was able to use her clout with the Temple to dissuade the Ebon Web officers, who slunk off into the tunnels. Ambrose gratefully thanked the party and advised Vespidae to find him at the Fane of the Queen in Yellow.

Lengian

The party pressed on, stopping briefly at the Venom Mart – a dim cavern lit by a few dull, greenish lamps, containing a bustling market crowded with numerous stalls and the customers perusing them. While the merchants in this luridly lit bazaar were almost all Lengian, the buyers were more diverse, with several humans, cambions, ghouls, dagonians, and trollbloods amongst them. They could see a fair number of gang and guild insignia here, displayed with an openness usually reserved for Corvid Commons. The goods here took a variety of forms – powders, vials of liquid, and even globes of gas could all be seen. The Mart, Sister explained, was an open secret in Cobweb Cliffs, operating beyond the control of the City Watch. The party bought several poisons here to induce unconsciousness, hoping that they would prove useful in subduing their quarry.

Delving yet deeper, the group entered the lower tunnels of the Cliffs. Continuing their explorations, the party next discovered the corpse of a Lengian sprawling against one wall of a dank cavern, limbs limp. The cadaver bore an expression of absolute terror on her face, her several eyes frozen wide in fright. There were no obviously fatal injuries; however, the wall behind her body was bizarrely changed: a cluster of roving, many-coloured eyes, blinking and rolling, some watching them intently, grows from the rock like a lichen. Armand used the spell detect thoughts on the eyes and was assailed by a million million thoughts, a slurry of surreal images, lusts, fears, anxieties, nightmarish monsters and moans of ecstasies – like tapping into the collective unconscious, a stream of dream-energy sluicing through his mind. Still benumbed by reading The Book of the Void, Armand was able to cling to sanity, but nearly lost himself in the primal welter of oneiric puissance.

Close inspection of the corpse revealed it had a mysterious Aklo tattoo, which Sister identified as signifying affiliation with the Funnel-Web Gang. Further on, the party discovered a cavern whose walls seemed mottled with some sort of fungus. Drawing closer, though, they realized the strange growths extruded from the rock were actually a series of mouths from various species, some toothless and ancient, others monstrously fanged. The mouths whispered and spoke to one another in a babbling torrent of languages, some speaking quasi-intelligible snatches of conversation, others curses softly, or singing nonsense verse. They had not ventured much further when a group of eight Lengian cutthroats emerged from web-swathed nooks and similar vantage points and then sprang to attack, hurling nets and blowing darts to try and subdue the party. After a brief scuffle in which several of the cutthroats and party-members were injured, Sister convinced them to desist, claiming that they could protect the Funnel-Web Gang  from the creature hunting them.Cobweb Cliffs 3

The Funnel-Web cutthroats led the party through a hidden path concealed by a thick cobweb. Down a short tunnel and down a web-swathed trapdoor they found a series of small caves, the walls covered in more webs. A few bunks, tables, and other furnishings were scattered about, as were racks of weapons: short swords, knives, blowguns, darts, and nets. Here they met the leader of the Funnel-Web Gang – a mysterious Lengian man, Shenzirr, swathed in dark purple clothes and spidersilk armour. Conferral with the wary Lengian gang-leader revealed much about the band of criminals, as much religious dissidents and undercity scum – a group striving against the dogmatic control of the Temple of the Mother of Spiders, gathering strength in a guerilla war against the authorities of Cobweb Cliffs. They had encountered Sho-Ramsara several times, and, it proved, could lead the party to the possessed Spider-Nun’s lair – deep in the Old City, below the cavernous tunnels of the Cliffs. Shenzirr dispatched a guide to aid the group in their journey below.

After recovering their strength, the party and their guide set out, the Lengian thief leading them deep into the earth. They passed the corpse of a leathery-winged, thin-limbed creature with curved horns, approximately humanoid but lacking any vestige of a face, which lay crumpled on the tunnel floor, its stiff limbs upraised. One its arms was broken and its wings were badly torn, but it was killed from a slash to its throat. A peculiar, eerie music with no identifiable source lingered in the air around the corpse.

“A Nightgaunt,” the Funnel-Web gangster said. “A being from the Dreamlands – a manifestation of childhood nightmares. They’ve been breeding down here, in the dark, brought through somehow to the waking world. They stray up into our territory sometimes…”

The walls of the narrow tunnel beyond sprouted dozens of grasping, clawing hands, grabbing and groping at the air. They weren’t form of rock but of flesh, erupting out of the wall in horrible profusion. Sister eyed the hands and then produced one of her scrolls of calm emotions. Casting the spell on the arms, they became abruptly slack and inactive.

Cobweb Cliffs 4

“Let’s hurry,” she urged. As Cosmo the sheep passed, on a whim Sister decided to cast the spell again, this time on the sheep. A strange shiver passed through the being, the stars and nebulae roiling within its body twinkling strangely.

“What did you feel?” Sister asked, curious.

“A strange sensation. Countless trillions of souls… all, for a moment, at peace.”

It seemed that if indeed Cosmo was now the host to other realities, spells cast on it could effect such realities. The enormity of this possibility was too much to take in for the time being, and the party pressed on, lowering themselves via spidersilk rope down a narrow chute and into a deeper level of the caves. At the bottom, they realized they had left Cosmo above… but then the sheep nudged Sister’s foot, having somehow appeared below with them.

A deep chasm gaped ahead, bereft of the helpful web bridges that elsewhere provided a means across such rifts. Bones could be glimpsed at the bottom. Vespidae simply flew across, planting pitons in the roof so that others could use more rope to shimmy their way across the chasm. Veering left at the next tunnel, the party entered a huge cavern; roosting on the ceiling like bats were dozens of leathery shapes – winged, spindly creatures, identical to the dead nightgaunt they’d seen before. Stealthily the group crept past, careful not to disturb the creatures. Cosmo simply levitated its way across the room, quite silent.

A huge doorway gaped ahead, perhaps fifty feet high, leading into a smooth-walled hall of stone beyond. The walls were carved with the glyphs of the Librarians, and the ceiling held up by titanic, tentacular statues, creatures somewhere between apes and octopi.

“An entrance to the Old City,” Sprigley noted, with a shudder from his last fateful venture into the Librarian tunnels.

Cobweb Cliffs 5

Beginning their explorations, the party first examined a stone door, using their knowledge of arcane Librarian glyphs to gain entrance to the room beyond. In the middle of this ovoid chamber was a kind of rounded pod that brought to mind a sarcophagus, with machinery and masses of convoluted conduits emerging from its sides. The pod had a door on its top which was currently open, revealing a large, empty space within. If this lid were closed, someone placed inside the pod would be in darkness. None knew what function the pod might serve. Sister volunteered to enter. At first, all was dark – but then the door opened, and Sister watched herself climbing out of the pod, moving backwards out of the chamber, everything seeming to flow in reverse. The party walked backwards out of the chamber, the door closed behind them, and they began to leave the Old City… Filled with a feeling of weightlessness, Sister “jumped” back into her body, having traveled backwards through time. She explained to her companions what had just occurred. A useful device indeed…

This mystery resolved, the party pressed on, deeper into the Old City. The walls of the next chamber dripped and oozed with a disgusting viscous slime, out of which temporarily resolved faces, mouths, hands, eyes, claws, tentacles, and other amorphous shapes. Hideous squelching sounds mingled with the cries, murmurs, and babbling of the many mouths. Moments later, as if responding to the presence of intruders, some of this abominable secretion glopped down off the wall and congealed into a gibbering, shapeless mass of metamorphic horror. The living nightmare slithered and scuttled and pulls itself forward, mewling and whining incoherently. Armand, quick with a frost-spell, slowed the creature long enough for the group to hurry into the next room.

A shattered portal stood at the centre of this chamber, which dripped with more of the repulsive slime. A Lengian – one of the gang of Funnel-Web cutthroats, judging from their garb – was trapped here, embedded waist-deep in the slime. Looming over the weakly struggling figure was a second Lengian, this one in the tattered remnants of a nun’s habit. As her prey whimpered and struggled she seems to be drawing some sort of energy from his mind, pressing two of her six hands to his temples. Though still recognizably Lengian her form was monstrously distorted, her limbs elongated, her features twisted into a ghastly expression of thirst. Strange movements could be seen beneath her robes, and something moved beneath her skin.

The fight was a frenzy of spells, bullets, and flickering limbs. Sister used calm emotions to free the cutthroat from the slime, the spell causing the nightmare-sludge to dissipate, while Vespidae, poisoned javelin in hand, flitted up to the Dream-Demon. The possessed nun launched herself at Sprigley, catching the warrior across the chest with her claws, even as she spoke words of fell magic, attempting to put some of her attackers to sleep. Bleeding and backing off from the flailing spider-monster, Sprigley fired a bullet from his enchanted pistol, the Verdant Gun, trapping Sho-Ramsara with suddenly interweaving vines and giving Vespidae time to administer the sleeping-poison purchased in the Venom Mart. Sho-Ramsara shuddered and was still, though the dream-demon within still thrashed and boiled within her flesh, quieted only temporarily through another scroll of calm emotions. Their quarry for the moment dispatched, the party retreated back into the previous room, only to find more of the squelching horrors had spawned. They hurried on, Armand launching fire spells to burn the nightmare-things, Sprigley firing off more rounds from his Verdant Gun to trap the horrors in place. With Sho-Ramsara secured they headed back to the surface.

Coming again to the cavern of the night-gaunts the group found the nest were awakened – and agitated. They rushed through, slashing with weapons, Vespidae hurling javelins, picking the creatures off, but there were dozens of the bat-like things, swarming in pursuit. Then Cosmo, turning in seeming irritation, let out a bleat of power. The ceiling of the night-gaunts’ cavern collapsed, crushing the leathery creatures with a terrible crash that made the very ground quake. Awed at this display from the eldritch sheep, the party hastened back towards the surface and to their promised reward.

Twenty Quick Questions for Hex

For Jeff Rient’s twenty quick questions for your campaign setting.

What is the deal with my cleric’s religion?

Your cleric probably worships an Unspeakable One, an Archfiend, a Spider-Goddess, or the Magistra, a deity of machines and reason, but there are also about a thousand other gods being worshiped in the Cultist’s Quarter at any given time.

Where can we go to buy standard equipment?

St. Monstrum’s is probably the biggest market in the city. If you’re a thief, check out the Midnight Market in Corvid Commons for thief’s tools and stuff.

Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?

Definitely head to Wyrmsborough, where the smiths have dragon-fire forges. Also Mainspring, where the gnome tinkers live, could probably customize some platemail for you. Also, most people will look at you a little oddly for wearing platemail, though the “monster” will be fine.

Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?

Master Melchior, a brain in a jar, founder of a school of thaumaturgy and enchantment.

Who is the greatest warrior in the land?

Probably the guy in Hex you’d least like to get in a tousle with is Badrask the Limbtaker of Trollhome.

Who is the richest person in the land?

Barnabas Grimgrove, homunculus-manufacturer and alchemist.

Where can we go to get some magical healing?

Caulchurch is the physician’s quarter. Of course, the cures sometimes have side-effects. You might come away with your wounds healed but with a second head, or purple skin, or the ability to taste sounds.

Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?

Stop in at any of Hex’s major temples – the Cathedral of the Magistra, the Infernal Basilica, or one of the fanes of the Unspeakable Ones.

Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?

Not just a guild, but eight: the Académie Macabre, Fiend’s College, Umbral University, the Institute of Omens, the Warders’ Lyceum, the Citadel of the Perpetual Storm, the Metamorphic Scholarium, and Master Melchior’s School of Thaumaturgy & Enchantment.

Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?

Where can’t you find one? Go to the nearest pub, and you’ll probably find a partially drunk sage or three.

Where can I hire mercenaries?

Trollhome will get you Trollblood thugs, Corvid Commons has Crowsbeak rogues for hire, and the Zymotic Ward will get you fungus-addled hitmen.

Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?

It’s probably not a good idea to go around Fanghill heavily armed.

Which way to the nearest tavern?

Almost every district in Hex has a drinking hole, or twenty. The best drinks are in Groanwell.

What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?

There have been disappearances and missing caravans up on Mount Shudder. Something or someone is behind them. Alternatively, there are any number of horrible things down in the Old City you could test your mettle against – like Abjectus, or the Vermihydra, or the Putrescemental, or the Thanatosphinx…

Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?

Erubescence is always fighting its neighbours, so you could head up there to vampire country.

How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?

Oh, we’ve got you covered. There are lots of little fighting pits in Corvid Commons in places like The Rat & Roach, but there’s also a huge gladiatorial arena down in Behemoth Bend – the Hellpits. You don’t mind fighting otherworldly horrors summoned from unplumbed space, do you?

Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?

Plenty of them. Like the Wormbrethren or the Antinomian Cult or the Funnel-Web Gang or the Society for the Abolition of Demonic & Infernal Servitude & Maltreatment.

What is there to eat around here?

It’s a big city, so quite a bit. In particular Hex is known for its freshwater shellfish such as mussels, oysters, and crabs, as well as snails, eels, and fish. The surrounding countryside is good farmland. In particular, pork is a very common dish, prepared in a wide variety of styles. Mushrooms and truffles are widespread, grown in the city or harvested from the Tangle, a forest nearby. Many foods in Hex are flavoured and altered using magic.

Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?

The city is built on a megadungeon full of lost treasure, so yes!

Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?

The dragon of Mount Shudder is dead, but some of its treasure is still said to lie in the treacherous caverns of its lair. However, mostly you don’t need to look further than the ground beneath your feet. The Librarians hoarded unfathomable riches in their time.

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 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.

It Follows

My, this place is looking dusty!

I will hopefully be doing a bit more posting here soon, as I’m hopefully going to DMing a 5th edition game sometime in the not-too-distant future.

For now, check out this blog post I wrote on It Follows for the International Gothic Association.

Townsfolk Story

I wrote a story for Bronwyn McIvor’s brilliant Townsfolk Project. You can read it here.

Podcast Halloween Episode

I’ve been featured on S.S. Librarianship once again, in Episode 9.  This time I talk about horror and its aesthetics as well as some of my favorite horror films and games.

Podcast

I recently got to participate in a podcast, Episode 3 of the S.S. Librarianship (“We Sacrifice 3 Goats a Week, at Least…”), where I talk about Alignment, its weird history, and its often-problematic utility as a roleplaying tool.

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