BEARDED DEVIL

Monsters, Horror, Gaming

Month: May 2016

Witiko Falls game

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

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

Griffin McElroy’s Crystal Kingdom OST

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

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

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

The characters in this session were:

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

XP Awarded: 350 XP.

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

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

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

Little Pandemonium 2

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

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

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

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

pamphlet 001

Papmhlet 001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you have any suspects?” Armand asked.

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

Guest List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behemoth Bend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mooncross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goatsbridge3

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

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

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

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

Feypark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tangle

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

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

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

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

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

Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Uh… friend?” Sprigley ventured.

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

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

dance_de

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep

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

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

“Uh, Robin Redcap?” Sprigley asked tentatively.

The fairy seemed distracted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You can use ours.”

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

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

“Yes…” Robin said, eyes narrowing.

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

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

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

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

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

dark-forest-1890

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

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

Game Table Pictures

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

DnD2

DnD

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

The characters in this session were:

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

XP Awarded: 200 XP.

expedition 2

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

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

“We’re down two gnomes,” Caulis said.

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

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

Piranesi_Carcere_XIV_Prisons_The Gothic Arch

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

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

Inner Space

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

nature

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

Crystal Palace Megatherium

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

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

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

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

sheep

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

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

growths

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

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

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

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

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

love dart

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

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

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

pillars

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

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

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

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

448px-Clarke-TellTaleHeart

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

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

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

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

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

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

city

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

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

expedition

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

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

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

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

GuestsoftheGreatRace

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

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

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

haeckelcovers3

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

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

Bloater

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

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

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

Dunwall_sewers_1

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

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

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

Hex, Session I – 5th Edition Actual Play – “The Ultimate Contagion Pt. 1”

The characters in this session were:

  • Bjorn, a gnome bard, a former industrial worker in the Boiling and a somewhat deranged inventor of clockwork instruments; in posession of demoniac bagpipes.
  • Vespidae, a waspkin bard – a sacred dancer with a deathwish, shunned by the waspkin community for complicated ritualistic reasons.
  • Alabastor Quan, a gnome rogue and failed circus ringmaster; wielder of a cursed dagger and member of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild.
  • Garvin Otherwise, a human rogue and burglar, also of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild, with a very, very peculiar past and a zoog pet, Lenore.
  • Caulis, a homunculus warlock liberated from its master; has made a pact with certain Faerie Powers.
  • Armand Percival Reginald Francois Eustace de la Marche III, a suspiciously pale, apparently human noble and sorcerer, and certainly not a ghoul (how dare such a thing be suggested).

XP Awarded: 100 XP.

The party was hired by the eccentric alchemist Professor Valdemar Sluice of the Metamorphic Scholarium in Caulchurch to retrieve an object called the Viridescent Tablet from the Old City: a text of fantastic power said to disclose certain secrets of decay, disease, and time which Sluice believes he can use to concoct the Panchrest, a form of alchemical cure-all. Sluice gifted the party with healing potions (which turned out to have some unusual side-effects) as well as some rough maps of the area in question. He told them that the Tablet is held somewhere in the Old City tunnels deep beneath Shambleside, one of the city’s necromantic districts, and that it is protected by something called the “Whorl,” a kind of “psychic lock.”

After purchasing some gasmasks to protect themselves from sewer-miasmas the party set out, taking a water taxi across the Radula to Stumpridge and making their way south to Corvid Commons – a crime-ridden slum in the southeast of Hex.

Drury Lane

Crabbed roofs jutted overhead; drunkenly leaning walls of crumbling stone and rotting wood and lichen-infested brick crowded close. Most of these were rambling tenements or tiny, wretched bars with unwholesome names like the Clock & Cleaver, the Flayed Gnome, the Bloated Flea, and the Lady with the Bloodstained Fan.

These filthy little drinking holes were interspersed with a handful of shadetea houses and other drug-dens perfuming the streets with their narcotic smoke, as well as the odd pawnshop or knife-vendor. The buildings were stacked madly atop one another, held together with chipping plaster and broken planks. In places they enclose the streets entirely, forming gloomy tunnels.

Faded posters and chaotic graffiti mottled every surface: gang signs, territorial markers, wanted posters, threats, pornography, subversive political slogans. Narrow streets and twisted alleyways wound into fetid darkness in such fecund profusion they seem like living things, coiling and breeding in the grimy depths of the district, spawning fresh litters of side-streets.

Shambleisde, Grey Hook, & Corvid Commons

Though Garvin, Vespidae, and Alabastor were stealthy enough to slink through the district surreptitiously, the well-dressed popinjay Armand attracted the attention of a group of toughs affiliated with the Crowsbeak Thieves’ Guild who accosted the party-members demanding valuables. Skillful haggling and a silvered tongue managed to reduce the “toll” by a sizeable amount and the party continued to Gloaming Street. After scrutinizing their map and asking around about the best way into the sewers they settled on the Phantom Queen tavern, which, they learned, is built atop a casino in the undercity, the Rat & Roach, and provides access to the tunnels below. Vespidae managed to smuggle the party’s weapons into the tavern by flying to an open window, aided by an Unseen Servant carrying parts of the arsenal, while Alabastor distracted the bouncers with showmanship and legedermain. The rest of the party entered and discretely retrieved their weapons from the sly waspkin. Here they discovered the reason for the tavern’s name.

Inside, a mixed crowd of humans, ghouls, and a few other species caroused in a room smelling of blood, rotgut, and sweat. More than a few of the patrons sported tattoos telling of criminal affiliations. The furnishings were crafted from bones, and some of the servers are reanimated skeletons or shuffling revenants. The barkeep proved to be a huge, jolly woman with a crude crown sitting lopsided on her head, her ectoplasmic flesh translucent – a ghost, haunting the bar she tends.

After heading down a rickety elevator into the Rat & Roach –  those with Thieves’ Marks were able to enter freely, while others either forged the mark or posed as retainers – the party made their way through a series of subterannean streets. Here they found a community of ghouls and scavengers eking out a filthy, troglodytic existence, subsiting on the effluvial provender of the sewers.

Sewers 001

The party then set out into the sewers, donning their gasmasks. Lenore, Garvin’s zoog, used its luminous eyes to light the way, sparing the party the need to kindle flames – with so many flammable gases around, torches would be perilous. Armand also provided magical light. Hoping to avoid “Wicked Peggy’s Domain” – some of the party had heard rumours of the cannibal hag and bogeywoman of Shambleside, Wicked Peggy – the party made their way south through the tunnels, eventually disovering a flooded tunnel that, according to their map, should lead to the Old City. They also discovered a body floating in the canal, with two puncture marks in its neck.Sewers

Searching for a means of draining the tunnel, the party made their way deeper into the fetid darkness, coming to an area beneath the gruesome reanimation factories above. Here they discovered a series of shafts in which rejected corpses are hurled from above.

A dirty, slanting shaft in the ceiling gaped above a pile of rotting corpses heaped before the party, all of them malformed in some way: corpses badly mangled or dismembered, burnt or broken-boned, or simply misshapen. The cadaverous heap swarmed with maggots, flies, and rats. A few of the corpses were partially tattooed with glyphs, though some look as if the tattooist made a mistake of some kind.

A rumbling sound from above could be heard when the party neared the shaft, and another body slid down to join its decomposing fellows below with a sickening smack. This one seemed to have been abandoned part-way through the reanimation process, its skin still slick with eldritch ink. It moaned dully in vacuous confusion and twitched a single working arm…

bodies

Hastening on from this macabre heap the party investigated the various store-rooms and maintenance chambers. They discovered some embalming fluid, to which they helped themselves, but were disturbed to find a quantity of thread and several sets of rusting scissors.

As they at last turned the valve to drain the tunnel in question of sewage, they heard the unmistakable sound of something moving nearby – and the eerie metallic rasp of scissors, opening and closing. Alarmed by this sound, they rapidly made their way towards the previously flooded tunnel, Alabastor casting a minor illusion to distract whatever was closing in as the party made their way down the now-drained shaft.

drain

At the end of the tunnel the party discovered a sealed entrance to the Old City, which through arcane insight the homuncular warlock Caulis was able to open. After perusing several thoroughly looted archive chambers within the echoing enormity of the Library the party located the Whorl, a seemingly endless spiral passage winding perpetually and impossibly in on itself. Attempting to leave the way they came proved fruitless: the Whorl extended in all directions, trapping them in its endlessness. The party also tried walking backwards, again to no effect. Experiments with rope, slung between characters, proved more confusing than conclusive.

Passage

Caulis, with the aid of Armand and several others, began studying the ancient glyphs inscribed on the walls. The glyphs turened out to be a kind of metaphysical treatise insisting that time and space do not exist as differentiated concepts and events do not occur in a sequence. But because of consciousness, we perceive reality as animals existing at a finite point in space and time, a kind of subjective illusion. The author ultimately seemed to resist pure solipsism, claiming that the world-in-itself cannot be fathomed by material intelligences. Puzzled and annoyed by this crypticism, they continued their search, discovering a series of spirals scrawled on the walls, then a skeleton – judging from the bullet hole in its skull and the pistol clutched in its bony hand, a suicide. Vespidae decided to take the pistol for herself.

Searching the body produced a diary, the mouldering pages of which the party examined with mounting horror. The diary detailed a doomed expedition that became lost in the Whorl; its members seemed to include Alexander, a youth of good birth who became obssessed with the spiral shape of the Whorl, and Xavier, who disappeared during the journey.

“Mossday, 3rd of the Month of Murmurs

The date above is based only on the revolutions of my pocketwatch, which I no longer trust. Such fickle concepts as time no longer seem reliable in this wretched place. It would be one thing if we were trapped in a maze, but this is infinitely worse – there is simply no way out. We have tried walking forwards, backwards, tried separating and walking in different directions… nothing. Ever inwards the spiral twists, but we grow no closer to the center! It defies all laws of physics & paraphysics of which I am aware.

I am worried about Xavier. A steady diet of this strange lichen has left him weak and somewhat crazed-looking. Alexander seems more robust physically, being a boy of but two-and-twenty, but he fiddles queerly with that signet ring of his, and I have caught him drawing spirals in the dust when we camp and he thinks no one is looking.

I am not a claustrophobic man by nature, but this place is unbearable. I wake and sleep and wake and see the same walls, the same unwholesome markings, the same eerie grey & tasteless lichen, hear only the drip of water and the panicked heartbeats of my companions. I think, sometimes, that we must have left the Old City altogether and stumbled into some diabolical circle of Hell, that our souls are trapped here for eternity as punishment for our sins.

Magistra preserve us… I must not think such things, or I will lose what meagre shreds of sanity I still possess.

Scaleday, 7th of the Month of Murmurs

Our condition worsens. Alexander has given up all pretence and now scratches spirals on the walls with his little dagger, and stares at us quite disconcertingly if we object, saying nothing. Xavier has become increasingly close-mouthed. He goes for hours without speaking, and sometimes, when walking, I see him closing his eyes, wandering with one hand touching the wall, to keep his balance. It is as if he is trying to live a second life in his mind. I refuse to give in to such fancies.

We spent a good portion of the previous day simply studying the glyphs. They seem to mix arcane formulae with metaphysical speculation, from what we can translate; the dialect is unusual, and there is some cipher or code obfuscating portions of the text. What we have managed to “interpret” is sheer madness – a vision of the world as one single totality, a kind of throbbing, absolute unity that makes a mockery of our individual minds. I am forced to conclude that the Librarians included the glyphs as part of the torturous nature of this place – an evil jest.

Whether or not there have been previous explorers in this wretched prison, I believe we are not alone down here. In the darkness when we rest I have heard something moving, far off down the passage – though not far enough. It scrapes and scuttles, and once I swear I heard a hiss of indrawn breath. What manner of horror stalks these endlessly circling halls?

Goatday, 11th of the Month of Thorns

Xavier has vanished! One minute we were walking along together, puzzling over the glyphs – Alexander is intent upon transcribing them, believing they must tell the secret of escaping this place – and the next he had sprinted ahead round the bend. Alexander and I rushed to catch up with him, but we found no trace. There were some confused footprints in the dust, then nothing… Either he found some way of escaping, or something ill has befallen him. We lingered for some time where he seemed to have disappeared, seeking for some hidden passage or egress, but to no avail.

Something else disturbing has occured. When we made camp this night I discovered a series of spirals scratched on the wall, just like the ones Alexander has been making. Unless some other inmate of this desolate spiral has done the same, we are somehow circling back on ourselves.

When I woke this morning (morning! Ha! As if the term had any meaning, anymore…) I felt it, lurking over us, though I could not see it in the dark. I felt it move past us as Alexander scratched his spirals in the walls and crooned to himself. He paid it no heed, just kept scratching, murmuring to himself. I smelled it, smelled its rancid stench. Heard its legs skittering, skittering…

Starday? Some point in the Month of Owls, or Dust

Ink is running out, but it matters not. I will soon be quit of this place. I have discovered the secret, the secret of escape. Alexander would not believe me, he obsesses over the glyphs, will not listen.

This is all an illusion. A dream-world into which the Old City has enveloped us. There is only one way out – death. A quick bullet to the brain and I will awake, return to the real world, and end this nightmare.

The skittering comes. I can hear the Dweller nearing. I must make haste!”

Unnerved, the party pressed onward, studying the glyphs carefully. At this time, Armand intuited – through some mysterious subterannean sense of direction in no way related to a hidden ghoulish heritage (how dare it be suggested!) – that they were not moving. Caulis, with the aid of other party members, speculated that perhaps the key to defeating the Whorl was a frame of mind – to move forward without focusing on escaping. Emptying their minds, the party began again, and this time Armand did perceive movement forwards; the Whorl even began sloping downwards. Like a finger-trap, the Whorl releases its prisoners when they cease struggling.

But the party’s trials were not yet over. They discovered a second skeleton – this one seemingly belonging to Garvin Otherwise! The rogue’s exact equipment seemed to have been duplicated. The living Garvin, experimentally, counted thirteen coins in his pursue, dropped one, then checked the purse of his skeletal double – which had twelve coins. Retrieving the thirteenth coin with a chuckle, Garvin reasoned he had proven the Whorl was not “predicting” his destiny in some fashion.

As the party began looting the corpse of their companion’s temporal duplicate, they heard footsteps from around a bend in the Whorl, and a haggard figure, heavily bearded and clad in rags, stumbled into view, a dagger in hand, a green ring on his finger. Vespidae, either out of panic or instinct, fired the pistol at the approaching figure, shooting off the man’s ear in a spray of blood. Screaming, the man began chanting the syllables of a spell, but the intervention of Alabastor and Armand managed to convince the madman to cease his hostility.

Crazed II

The party provided the wounded man with one of the  healing potions provided by Professor Sluice, which turned out to be tainted with alchemical residues – inflicting amnesia on the poor man! Fortunately, this actually seemed to relieve some of bearded lunatic’s distress. He identified himself as Alexander and claimed to be on an expedition to retrieve the Viridescent Tablet himself.

Continuing down the Whorl – Alexander now in tow – the party began to feel uneasy, as skittering sounds could be heard behind them, drawing closer. As the Whorl sloped ever steeper, the skittering became louder and louder, along with a hideous chittering noise. While Bjorn panicked and ran down the corridor, the rest of the party kept a level head and continued on placidly, not focusing on escape.

Moments later, they emerged from the Whorl, quite safe, the skittering behind them suddenly gone…

Images: Gustave Doré‘s “Drury Lane,” screenshots from Outlast and Riven, Mervyn Peake’s “Ancient Mariner.”

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