BEARDED DEVIL

Monsters, Horror, Gaming

Page 2 of 6

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

IMG_20160514_201934854IMG_20160514_201142230

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.”

5th edition Hex campaign

I’ve started a new 5th edition D&D game in a setting I’ve been working on, set in the city of Hex – a magical university town built atop the ruins of the much older archive-city built by the sinister and long-departed Librarians. Influences here include China Miéville’s Bas-Lag novels, Jeff Vandermeer’s Ambergris, Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard Sequence, K.J. Bishop’s The Etched City, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, and (naturally) H.P. Lovecraft: it’s a big, greasy urban fantasy with a vein of eldritch horror.

Hex Close UpMap Screenshot III

Here’s an overview:

Endless shelves filled with hieroglyph-graven tablets of primeval metal stretch for miles beneath the earth, down aeons-old tunnels that curve and twist in ways that make the mind ache, plunging into cavernous archive-chambers and coiling in upon themselves like some impossible stone snake. Within this lightless immensity the knowledge of the inscrutable Librarians – visitors to this world, now departed or dead – is meticulously recorded, written in gleaming books and upon monoliths of incomprehensible size, arranged according to a system so alien and maddeningly complex that none have ever deciphered it fully. This the First Library, the Old City which drew explorers and scholarly spelunkers from many lands, daring the uncanny and dangerous depths where tenebrous things now lair, seeking for the secrets buried deep in the incalculably ancient labyrinth.

Many centuries have passed since those first sojourns underground, and now a new city thrives atop the old: Hex, the Inkstained City, the City of Secrets. A six-sided sprawl, this centre of magical learning is home to some of the world’s finest institutions of arcane education: 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. Magi, wizards, sorcerers, warlocks, and witches can be found in the winding streets, flocking to the source of esoteric lore with which reality itself can be reshaped.

Vast libraries containing translations and interpretations of the alien glyphs of the Old City fill the towers of the city. Hex came into being slowly. With the first influx of the wise and wealthy came others: librarians and archivists, of course, but also scribes and scriveners, porters and couriers, mercenaries and bodyguards, concubines and cooks, and other servants – and then, later, book-sellers, parchment-makers, ink-dealers, quill-cutters, vintners, and ale-brewers. These were followed, of course, by dockworkers and grooms and tailors and victuallers and masons, and later by craftsmen and labourers and merchants of every sort. Soon what had begun as a few remote camps and archeological digs became a fully-fledged campus that later fractured and flourished and overgrew its boundaries, till one day the seething, scribbling enormity of Hex came into being.

Now Hex is a modern metropolis, a frenzied urban imbroglio teeming with traders and cutthroats and decadents. Gaslight, buzzing electric lamps, and glimmering magical crystals bathe faces both beautiful and vile in their variegated glow. The universities have become vast – huge, ornate, and unthinkably wealthy, their spires stab at a sky now criss-crossed by flitting familirs and hot air balloons and skycabs drawn by hippogriffs, manticores, or dock-tailed wyverns. Trade bustles along the banks of the Radula River while alchemists culture homunculi in their cauldrons and necromancers reanimate the corpses of the poor to labour in the city’s churning factories. Temples to a hundred deities burn sacrifices and fill the air with weird chants, prayers to strange and sometimes malformed gods inspired by the primordial gods of the Librarians. Above them all the wizards still scribble in their spellbooks, while deep below adventurers plumb the twisted darkness in search of yet more secrets…

Map Screenshot IVMap Screenshot IMap Screenshot II

I’m going to be posting a campaign diary here along with excerpts from the background material I’ve prepared for the game.

My format for this campaign is a little unusual for me. I now have a large gaming group – about 10 regulars, plus a few occasional players – so instead of trying to get everyone together regularly I’m attempting a more open, West Marches style game where players come and go. As it happens, about half of my players are actual real-life librarians, so it should be interesting to see them descending into the massive megadungeon that is the Old City.

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.

Fever in the Blood: The Belle de Nuit Plantation

 The Belle de Nuit Plantation

Belle De Nuit

The descriptions below generally presume that the characters are exploring the plantation at night, but they may wait for the day, in which case any Vampires of Vampire Spawn will be resting rather than active; adjust descriptions accordingly.-

The plantation should be treated essentially as an outdoor dungeon, the various buildings functioning much like rooms.

Soundtrack

The Green Maiden

A steamboat – or what remains of one – lies beached on the bank of the bayou. The vessel has been reduced to a charred skeleton of a craft, its beams blackened, its pilothouse an incinerated stump. It looks like anything of value that might have been found in the boat has been stripped. Detritus and a few partially burnt bodies bob in the water around the vessel. Beneath the soot and burn-marks you can just make out the name of the boat – The Green Maiden.

Perception DC 20 to notice several other steamboats that have been sunk to the bottom of the bayou.

OutbuildingsViewofLouisiana

Slave Quarters

Soundtrack

The slave quarters are now used as a kind of prison, run by the Vampiric overseer. Passengers snatched from steamboats or even bred on the plantation can be found here was well as in some of the animal pens in other parts of the plantation. A number of Vampire Spawn and other creatures also lair in this area.

Slave’s Cabins

The former slave cabins are grouped in a kind of village here. They’re small wooden houses, little more than shacks; many have had their doors and windows boarded up. You can hear noises coming from several of them. There are roughly two dozen cabins in all. Gaunt, shadowy figures shamble between the cabins as if patrolling.

The shambling figures are 10 Juju Zombies created by the former slave, now Vampire Dorothea, who lives in the plantation house. Being attacked by one of these undead guards provokes a Sanity check (1/1d6). The Zombies can still function in sunlight and thus ensure that the prisoners in the cabins do not escape.

All cabin doors are locked (Disable Device DC 25 to pick, Strength DC 22 to force). Those containing human prisoners are also usually boarded up, requiring an addition Strength check (DC 22) to remove the boards, unless the characters use weapons. The overseer’s key opens the doors. Most cabins have roughly the following properties:

The cabin has a rough dirt floor. Its walls are lined with mouldering bunks, and a tiny, rusted stove sits in one corner. There’s a strong smell of rot.

There are 26 cabins total. Their inhabitants and other contents are shown below:

1 – 4 Vampire Spawn slumber here during the day, but at night they can be found in the kitchen yard and elsewhere in the grounds.

2 – 6 human prisoners are crammed into the filthy room of this cabin – survivors of the Green Maiden. Unlike many, they’re not infected with marsh fever.

3 – 5 human prisoners are quartered here, all of them sick with marsh fever and hallucinating violently. A sixth has been cannibalized, her blood spattering the walls and floor, gnawed bones scattered everywhere (Sanity check 1/1d4+1).

4 – 4 human prisoners are crammed in here, not afflicted with fever badly malnourished. Two corpses moulder in the corner, but the prisoners have not brought themselves to touch them. The smell is atrocious as the cadavers begin to rot.

5 – 3 Vampire Spawn slumber here during the day, but at night they can be found working in the plantation house.

6 – 4 human corpses lie in this room, all dead from fever. An appalling stench requires a Fortitude save of DC 15; otherwise, those in the room are Sickened for 1 hour.

7 – 5 human prisoners are quartered here, 3 of them near-death from exsanguination.

8 – 3 human corpses lie here, all of them bloodless. After sundown, 2 rise as Vampire Spawn and will begin battering at the door to get out.

9 – This cabin is empty, the floor and walls crusted with old bloodstains. Till recently there were prisoners here, but they died and have been moved to the charnel house in the cemetery.

10 – This cabin is used for storage purposes; heaps of old clothes, some partially rotted, are kept here, along with piles of cheap jewellery (worth a total of 50 gp if gathered up), all of it taken from steamboat passengers.

11 – A solitary Ghoul lives in this room, which is spattered with gore from the creature’s victims – it was a passenger who resorted to cannibalizing its fellows before dying and revivifying in Ghoul form. The sight of it crouched amidst a mass of bones provokes a Sanity check (1/1d6). Unlike the Ghouls in the cemetery it has not yet been let loose.

12 – This cabin has lost its roof and part of its wall; it’s uninhabited.

13 – 2 drugged, unconscious human prisoners (former passengers) are kept here, both covered in leeches from the cistern (see below).

14 – A dying human woman and two corpses can be found here; the woman is bruised and bleeding from a pair of ugly bite-marks in her neck, and the corpses both have been staked with bits of snapped-off furniture. The woman has been severely traumatized by having to kill the two Vampire Spawn (her sisters) who attempted to drain her after revivifying.

15 – 3 swamp-folk have been taken prisoner here; they may be helpful allies against the Vampires, but are currently unarmed. None are infected by fever.

16 – The doctor Terrence Merrick is kept here, along with 2 other prisoners and 1 corpse from the Green Maiden. Though afflicted with fever the doctor may be of use against the Vampires, or in treating the infected.

17 – This damp, empty cabin has been given over to brown mold.

18 – There’s a hole in the roof of this cabin, which contains 3 charred skeletons – Vampire Spawn, newly revivified, who were killed by sunlight.

19 – 6 human prisoners are crammed into the filthy room of this cabin – survivors of the Green Maiden. 3 are infected with marsh fever and beginning to lose it; 3 are still uninfected, for now.

20 – A large hole in the floor here leads down for 20 ft. into the Nest. Otherwise, the cabin is uninhabited. Unlike the disused tunnel in the springhouse, this entrance is frequently utilized by the plantation owners and their minions in addition to the entrance in the cellars of the plantation house.

21 – 4 human prisoners from an older steamboat are imprisoned here, quite mad but otherwise reasonably healthy. They will perceive any rescuers as Undead and likely attack them or cower in fear.

22 – A swarm of rats afflicted with marsh fever instead of filth fever feasts on five human corpses here, several little more than skeletons. The rats live in the rotting walls and roof of the cabin. Being attacked by the swarm provokes a Sanity check (0/1d4).

23 – This cabin is used for storage purposes – heaps of cutlery, plates, pots, and dozens of bottles of wine, brandy, ale, absinthe, and other liquor. The cutlery isn’t especially valuable, but there are seventeen bottles of fine wine (10 gp each) in amongst the heap of bottles. The bottles could be used as makeshift grenades or as a means of starting a large fire (say, burning down the plantation house).

24 – 5 human prisoners are crammed in here, including the former captain of the Green Maiden, Mortimer Oldstone (a foreigner, as it happens, from Mordent), who wants revenge against the Vampires. 2 are suffering from marsh fever.

25 – 3 Ghouls and a Ghast feast on the jaundiced bodies of several dead prisoners here. If discovered by Vampire Spawn they will be driven off – they killed these prisoners without prior permission.

26 – 2 Vampire Spawn children dwell here during the day. At night they can be found by the animal pens, “playing.”

slave cabins

Slaves’ Infirmary

A wooden building somewhat larger than the slave cabins moulders at the edge of the slave quarters here, its roof decaying, its windows boarded up.

Inside:

This looks to be an infirmary: there are a number of beds, as well as some rusted-looking medical equipment scattered about the counter of a large glass cabinet storing numerous bottles and jars, as well as bandages and similar supplies. Footprints through the thick layer of grime suggest that this place does occasionally see use.

There’s a masterwork healer’s kit here, along with 10 phials of antiplague, 6 phials of antitoxin, 12 doses of smelling salts, 6 doses of stillgut, 4 doses of soul stimulant, 3 doses of vitus flask, 4 potions of Delay Poison, and 6 potions of Restoration. There are various other reagents, here, but they are not especially useful on their own.

Overseer’s House

A small house only a little larger than the slave cabins sits at the edge of the slave’s quarters. It’s in slightly better repair than some of the other structures here, but fungus still mottles the wooden walls, and the chimney has collapsed. The windows have all been boarded up.

The overseer’s house is always locked – Disable Device DC 25 to pick, Strength DC 25 to force.

Inside are two rooms – the front room and bedroom.

Front room:

You enter the parlour or front room of the house, a small, cluttered chamber with a ragged but rich-looking rug on the floor and faded landscapes on the walls. Old books and records are stacked haphazardly here. There’s also a few chairs, a hearth, and a cabinet of duty crockery. Cobwebs shroud the ceiling, and there’s a strong smell of mildew. A door, slightly ajar, leads to the next room.

Bedroom:

The bedroom contains not a bed but a wooden coffin overflowing with rancid-smelling grave-dirt. Empty bottles smeared blackish-red are scattered about the room like a drunkard’s leavings. A stained, round table stands to one side, a coiled whip upon it. A heavy wooden chest sits at the foot of the bed.

During the day, the overseer slumbers in the coffin; during the night he drinks blood at the table. The overseer:

The overseer of the plantation is a corpulent, bloodless creature with red-smeared lips. At his belt a ring of keys jangles; in one bloated hand he holds a mostly-emptied bottle of half-clotted blood. His tatterdemalion clothes are stiff from old bloodstains.

This horror provokes a Sanity check (1/1d6). Statistics are supplied in the Appendix.

If a fight breaks out at night in the slave quarters he will likely come and investigate instead of remaining in the house. His keys can be used to open any of the doors in the slave quarters.

The chest (locked – Disable Device DC 30 to open) contains 123 gp

outbuildings

Kitchen Yard

Soundtrack

The kitchen yard is a large courtyard enclosed by a low stone wall, just behind the plantation house. Eight buildings can be found here. Overgrown with weeds and grass, the kitchen yard is nonetheless one of the more active parts of the plantation, as evinced by the well-trod paths that lead to and from several buildings and up to the back door of the house.

At any given time there’s a 50% chance that a group of 1d4 Vampire Spawn are roaming here on some errand or other, provided it’s at night. Sounds of fighting have a 25% chance of attracting a pack of 6+1d6 Ghouls from the cemetery.

Cookhouse

The cookhouse – a detached kitchen – stands not far from the main plantation house here, and unlike most of the outbuildings it hasn’t yet reached complete dilapidation, though ivy and moss grow on its brick walls and obscure its windows. The building is long and low, with two entrances, one boarded shut. You can hear movement from within, followed by chilling screams!

Inside:

A scene of horror assails you as you enter – a young man, pale and haggard-looking but still alive – is being prepared for a meal, here, as a yellow-eyed man in blood-spattered chef’s whites extracts the screaming victim’s entrails. The man has been pinned to the table with metal cooking skewers.

“Quit yer yammering and hold still,” the gruesome cook instructs irritably. “Chitterlings ain’t gonna stew themselves ya know!”

Two other pallid, shuffling figures lurk in the background, busying themselves with grimy pots and pans by the large stove. A third grinds sausage in the corner. Cabinets full of more cookware and preserved herbs line the walls.

This macabre cookery-in-progress provokes a Sanity check (1/1d4+1). There are four Vampire Spawn here who attack immediately if disturbed, provoking a second Sanity check (1/1d6). The head cook has a copy of the servant’s key.

Though salt is absolutely never used in food preparation here, four large sacks of the stuff can be found in one of the cabinets. They’ve lain here for the better part of a century: the cooks can’t touch the stuff. The salt can be used to create a safe place to rest even in the heart of the plantation.

Washhouse

The old laundry or washhouse of the plantation is badly decayed, a long wooden building with broken windows and a roof riddled with bird’s nests and moss. The door stands open.

Inside:

Despite the decrepitude of the building the washhouse looks to be one of the plantation outbuildings still in use: clothes hang from several lines stretched across the room, and there are basins and tubs for washing. Though several are full of dirty, stagnant water, another with cleaner water is being used by a bloodless, yellow-eyed woman in rags, washing a fine shirt.

This former slave is now a Vampire Spawn. If she attacks a Sanity check (1/1d6) is required. She has a copy of the servant’s key.

Milkhouse

A dilapidated wooden shack with peeling white paint and a shingle roof now mostly rotten, letters over the door indicate that this was the milkhouse. The windows have been boarded up.

Inside:

Shelves with old milk bottles line the walls of this room, filled not with milk but with semi-coagulated blood, thinned to keep it liquescent. A butter churn with a wooden plunger sits in one corner, though it looks to have been used to churn organs and cruor rather than butter. Almost every surface has been spattered with blood.

The gruesome milkhouse provokes a mild Sanity check (0/1d3). The bottles of blood can be used to throw Vampires off the scent and to distract Vampire Spawn for 1d4 rounds if broken – the Spawn stops to lap up the blood, although they will defend themselves if attacked. Full-fledged Vampires are not so easily distracted.

Smokehouse

The smokehouse is a small building with a sloped roof, now riddled with moss and lichens. The walls are of crumbling, discoloured brick. There are no windows, and only a single entrance. A firebox half-buried in the earth stands to one side.

Inside:

Within the smokehouse, dismembered human limbs and decapitated heads dangle from where hams might once have dried. Smoke has preserved these gruesome morsels, piped in from a hole in the floor, though currently the firebox outside is unlit. Despite the preservation flies buzz about the body parts, and some writhe with maggots.

Sight of the meat provokes a Sanity check (1/1d4+1). Though there is no treasure here, the human body parts can be used to distract Ghouls or other flesh-eating Undead, as well as animals. Throwing the meat will buy characters 1d4 rounds while a Ghoul or other creature devours the morsel (obviously, Ghouls will still defend themselves if attacked while feeding).

Pigeonaire

pigeonaire

A two-storey octagonal tower of stone, the pigeonaire has a steeply angled roof. Masses of black ivy strangle the tower and obscure the solitary entrance. Small holes in the side of the building would allow pigeons to enter or exit.

The ivy must be hacked aside to gain access to the pigeonaire; the door is also swollen shut, requiring a DC 20 Strength check to open, and locked, openable with a servant’s key.

Inside:

The pigeon holes piercing the sides of the tower admit slender shafts of light here. The bloodless husks of birds, and small rodents cover the floor, along with hundreds of tiny, crunching bones. Small, leathery shapes roost in some of the pigeon-holes, and you can see a number of eggs in nests of twigs and bones as well.

During the night, the swarm of stirges that dwells in this building are out mostly out hunting – only 1d12 will be encountered here at any given time, these half-full (they will only drain 2 Con before being sated). During the day, all 36 of them roost here, and will attack any characters who disturb their nest. Like her pet mimic and many of the Undead kept in the barn, the stirges are the result of Damienne’s strange experiments. All of them carry marsh fever. The swarm will pursue characters from the pigeonaire if disturbed. If any of the stirges are killed at night their shrill keening will attract others of their ilk, and within a minute another 5+1d12 of them will arrive at the pigeonaire to defend the nest.

The only way to deter the stirges is to offer them blood – a large quantity of it can be found in the milkhouse, and there are also animals in the pens. If sufficient blood is spilled, the stirges will drink it instead of attacking, and, once sated, will ignore intruders.

Attack by the stirges provokes a Sanity check (0/1d4).

Chicken House

chicken house

While most of the animal pens are outside the kitchen yard, a derelict chicken house moulders in the shadow of the pigeonaire, here. A fenced outdoor coop lined with etiolated straw sprawls beside the chicken house itself. The coop is strewn with scraps of some translucent, scaly substance. There’s no sign of any chickens, but you can sense something moving inside…

Inside:

Within the low-ceilinged chicken house are rows of perches and nesting areas for chickens. Instead of birds, however, the house has a different occupant: a massive, coiled snake. It moves sluggishly, its eyes gleaming with an unearthly light; you can see that its body is putrescent and partially decomposed, patches of missing scales and flesh exposing rotten muscle and innards. Hissing, the undead snake slithers slowly towards you, tasting the air with its forked tongue!

This zombie constrictor (see Appendix for statistics) is one of Damienne’s experiments; she keeps it here as a pet, feeding it scraps from the kitchen. Seeing the creature provokes a Sanity check (1/1d6).

Cistern

You approach a round, brick building with a rotten wooden door and a domed roof. Mildew mottles the decaying brickwork.

Inside:

This building is a cistern, a central depression in the floor holding a large quantity of water. Buckets are piled near the rim of the depression.

Three leech swarms lurk in the water, here – Stealth is +16 in the (relatively) clean water, assuming adequate light or vision. The Vampires are breeding them in the cistern; they occasionally have a prisoner thrown into the water and drained. Their corpse is then hauled out and the leeches removed. The Vampires can then feed on the leeches, cutting them open to get at the blood within. This is somewhat easier than bringing a prisoner into the plantation house. Other times thralls will cut the leech open and drain it of blood, to be bottled and stored in the milkhouse.

Being attacked by the leech swarms provokes a Sanity check (0/1d4).

Springhouse

A half-buried wooden structure protrudes from a mound of dirt here. The door is shut.

The door is swollen shut and requires a DC 20 Strength check to open.

Inside:

Foodstuffs might once have been kept in this cool, gloomy spring house, which has become infested with mould and mildew, puffballs of fungus riddling the walls and yellowish mould covering almost every surface, filling the air with spores and a sour pungency. There’s an old well here, leading down into darkness.

The well now connects with the Nest below the Plantation House. This entrance is not used by the Vampires or Elders and has largely been forgotten about. Perception DC 25 to hear soft footsteps padding down below, and the faint echo of a moan…

The fungus riddling the walls is dangerous yellow mould that bursts forth spores if the room is explored at all.

Well

An old, crumbling well sits in the middle of the kitchen yard; the shaft descends down into blackness.

The well leads directly to the Summoning Pool, but it’s tricky to enter this way – Climb DC 30. Falling, however, is not especially dangerous in and of itself, since the Pool lies below. Of course, anyone who falls in will have to face several Elders…

Ancillary Buildings

creepy farmhouse

Soundtrack

Carriage House

Two rather handsome coaches stand in the carriage house here, the rotten doors hanging off the building’s hinges to reveal the vehicles within. The large carriages are black, with heavily shrouded windows; anyone inside would be safe from the sun, with the curtains drawn. Four horses would be required to draw the heavy carriages.

The carriages are fully useable. Each carriage can hold up to 6 passengers in the cab.

Stables

A repellent, rotten odour wafts from the decrepit stables, their roof weighed down by moss and hideous fungal growths. Something whickers from within…

Inside:

The horses stabled here are grey, dull-eyed things covered in necromantic glyphs. A few near the back have decomposed – putrescent, hoofed horrors, their near-fleshless equine skulls gleaming. There are twelve in all. The hay here is matted, filthy, and brittle.

The horses attack any non-undead who approaches them, provoking a Sanity check (1/1d6).

Blacksmith’s Workshop

Little remains of the former blacksmith’s workshop but a few scattered tools and loose timbers.

A set of blacksmith’s tools can be scavenged here.

Schoolhouse

This small building might once have been a schoolhouse. A small, dark hand-print stains the front door…

At night, young voices can be heard inside, and giggling.

Inside:

Small desks fill most of this room, which has a large chalkboard on the far wall and piles of dirty books around the periphery. Old blood stains the walls, as if a group of children have been finger-painting. The chalkboard is covered in Aklo letters.

At night, several undead children and a teacher will be present – naturally, some Vampire Spawn created from passengers are children. Statistics are included in the Appendix.

Half a dozen young children – all of them pallid and well-dressed – sit in the desks, watching a lesson from a gaunt, white-skinned woman; she appears to be instructing them in some sort of religious matter, leading them in a hideous chant.

Cemetery Grounds

Graveyard_in_Black_and_White

This area is mostly shunned by the Vampires, since the church itself is consecrated ground. While they dump bodies in the Charnel House, they rarely come here. However, the entire area has been overrun with Ghouls and Ghasts – mostly former prisoners who cannibalized one another and then rose from the dead due to the necromantic energy emanating from the White Leech. These feral creatures are not under the control of the Vampires, but maintain a largely peaceable relationship. However, they tend to resent the Vampires’ control of the plantation – after all, they’re former prisoners – and may prove useful allies if carefully negotiated with. Their leader, Susana Gautreau, now known as Madame Yellow-Teeth, can be found in the mausoleum.

Cemetery

The cemetery is a muddy, overgrown expanse, the grass nearly waist height. Dozens of rotting wooden grave-markers protrude from the damp earth, along with a handful of stone slabs, mostly hidden by vegetation. Many of the graves have been disturbed, some dug up, others clawed open. Splinters of coffins and gnawed bones are scattered about the desecrated graveyard. A dilapidated chapel stands nearby, as well as a long, low building from which an awful stench emanates. Perched on a low hill at one end of the cemetery is a stone mausoleum, its stern, graven doors violated.

At night, somewhere 20+1d20 Ghouls and 3d4 Ghasts roam the cemetery – Perception DC 15 to hear rustling in the grass. They do not necessarily attack on sight, but neither are they friendly to the characters:

Scuttling forms emerge from the high grass, crawling on all fours like beasts. Emaciated and spindly-limbed, these creeping horrors bare grotesque fangs, their pale eyes glowing in the mist. You can smell their reeking breath, a putrescent miasma that makes you gag. The things do not seem to be Vampires or their Spawn – they are too feral, too animalistic. They seem to be very numerous. Circling you and watching you carefully, they make hissing sounds and lick their scabrous lips with grey, swollen tongues.

The pack provoke a Sanity check (1/1d8).

Chapel

The rickety old clapboard chapel looks thoroughly disused, the paint peeled, windows dusty and cobwebbed. Despite its decrepitude the chapel is strangely peaceful.

The chapel is a place of refuge. The Vampires and their Spawn cannot enter it and even the Ghouls and Ghasts are uncomfortable near it.

Inside:

A thick layer of dust covers the floor and pews of the chapel. At the far end hangs a rusted shield with the image of an inverted silver sword and a sprig of belladonna adorning it. Scattered about are a number of musty books and scraps of parchment, presumably scriptures, as well as several holy icons in the shape of an inverted sword. One such tome stands on a lectern near the shield.

Any non-Evil character taking refuse of the chapel heals 1d4 Sanity points immediately (this only occurs once).

The book is the First Book of Ezra; it is open to the following page:

In the time before, in a land cloaked in Mists, there was a woman, and She was Ezra.

Ezra was a healer of the sick and protector of the weak. Such was Her lot in life. Such was Her role in the grand scheme. Ezra took pride in the role Fate had given Her. Her duty was Her joy.

For many years, Ezra healed the lame and watched over Her people. Yet as time went on, Ezra began to see the Hollow. From the Mists of Death came horrors of the night. They were the drinker of blood and the stealer of breath and the beast that rends. Many were their legions. Many were the roles played by darkness in the Grand Scheme.

Ezra knew that Death would come for Her, as it comes to all in time. When Ezra entered the Gray Land, there would be no guardian to fill Her role. There would be no one to stand between Her people and the Legions of the Night.

Ezra set forth on a quest to find a guardian for Her people. She sought the One Pure Heart who would assume Her role. Ezra sought for the One Pure Heart in many lands, but ever did She seek in vain.

In time, Her quest brought Ezra to the end of all things. Behind Ezra stretched all the lands of the world. Before Ezra rose only the Mists of Death.

Ezra spoke to the Mists. Asked She, “The world is yours. You set its shape. Why do you allow its people to wander, lost and afraid?” But the Mists did not answer.

Again Ezra spoke. “Why have you filled your world with the Legions of the Night?” Yet the Mists would not answer.

A third time did Ezra speak. “All things have their role in the Grand Scheme. The Legions of the Night have their place, but Guardians and Guides have their roles in turn.” Still the Mists offered no reply.

Ezra spoke once more. “I have searched all the vastness of your lands, but I have found no Guardians for My people. I have found no Guides for the lost.” Again the Mists were silent.

For the last time did Ezra speak. “You have failed the Grand Scheme. You have created a Hollow that must be filled. If you will not watch over your people, then that task falls to me.” Upon the fifth entreaty did the Mists of Death reply.

From the Mists came a Voice, and the Voice spoke, saying, “Turn back, Mortal. You know nothing of the Grand Scheme. You know nothing of the Mists. You have reached the end of Your world. Continue and You shall find only Your destruction, nothing more.”

Yet Ezra held fast against the Mists, saying, “You cannot bid Me enter, yet I cannot turn away. I offer Myself to you so that you may know the suffering of My People. If I must be destroyed for them, then that is what must be.” The Mists of Death fell silent.

Then the Voice spoke once more. “Enter the Mists if You must, Mortal, but not as You are. Your kind has no place here. To enter the Mists, You must become as one with the Mists. Never again shall You leave them. Will You forever sacrifice Yourself to watch over these few mortals?”

Spoke Ezra, “Such is My role in the Grand Scheme. So must it be.” And with these words did Ezra become Our Guardian in the Mists.”

These aren’t especially relevant to the scenario, but they do provide some interesting insight into the lore of Ravenloft.

The shield on the wall has been imbued by Ezra with holy significance. It functions as a +1 Heavy Steel Shield; once per day it can be used much like an Elysian Shield to release a wave of positive energy that panics undead, as the Turn Undead feat (Will DC 20 negates).

A thorough search of the scattered parchments or a DC 30 Perception roll on a general search reveals a single Scroll of Sunburst (Caster Level 15th).

There are also 8 holy symbols scattered about here – usefully for repelling Vampires.

Charnel House

This fungus-riddled building might be some sort of charnel house. A cloying, putrid reek curdles the air.

Inside:

A hideous mass of bloodless and jaundiced corpses is piled up within the confines of the charnel house – dozens and dozens of corpses stacked haphazardly, writhing with maggots, their flesh riddled with circular bites. Dragging several of these bodies out of the pile are half a dozen hunched, gruesome creatures scuttling on all fours.

6 Ghouls harvest bodies here; this is essentially their larder. The sight of this appalling heap provokes a Sanity check (1/1d10). Occasionally some of these bodies rise as Spawn and must contend with the Ghouls to survive.

The bodies have been thoroughly looted of valuables.

Mausoleum

The mausoleum is quite large and ornate, though overgrown with writhing creepers. Its doors have been forced open, and a vile reek emanates from within…

Within the mausoleum are rows of violated sarcophagi; a black pit gapes at the far end. Squatting amidst the heaps of gnawed bones is a corpulent Ghast or grotesque size, attended by half a dozen Ghouls. The monstrous queen feasts on a human arm with long, yellow fangs. Heaped in a corner are numerous valuables – gold and silver jewellery, fine clothes, and similar items.

This is Madame Yellow-Teeth, the gluttonous Ghast matriarch (Sanity 1/1d6). She is voraciously hungry at all times and will send her minions to fetch the characters as a snack – unless they convince her otherwise. If they persuade her that getting rid of the Vampires would somehow help them, she might become allies with the party, but this is a tough sell: though marginalized, the Ghouls survive on the leavings of the Vampires, and the arrangement is mostly equitable.

The heap of valuables are scavenged grave goods totalling 3500gp (total weight is around 150 lbs).

Agricultural Buildings

plantationSugar Mill

This run-down building has clearly not been used in years. A large chimney juts from the decaying roof.

Inside:

Rusting machinery fills most of the building’s interior; the air smells of corroded metal. There’s a huge wheel and a series of cranks and levers. Heaped in one corner in mouldy burlap sacks is a large quantity of raw sugar; in another, masses of rotten sugar cane are strewn. Rats swarm throughout the building, some gnawing on the sugarcane.

There’s a pack of 3 rat swarms here.

Loom House

This rather nondescript building has a sagging roof and walls riddled with moss. Its windows have all been broken and the door has rotted off its hinges.

Inside:

Weaving equipment, including several large wooden looms, fills this space, along with masses of rat-gnawed yarn.

Granary

An old granary stands here; unlike many of the the buildings on the plantation it’s quite well preserved, a stout building of wood and brick.

Inside:

Perhaps surprisingly, the granary is filled with actual grain. Some of it is mouldy and stale, but much of it would still be edible.

The grain is used to help feed prisoners.

Pens

These animal pens have been surrounded by sharpened stakes and brambles. A few lean-looking animals – pigs and goats – wander about within.

The animals are alive, and used to feed prisoners. Animal blood can also be used to temporarily distract Spawn or stirges.

Tobacco Barn

barn

This old, derelict barn – which smells faintly of tobacco – has been boarded up, its doors barred and reinforced, the holes in the walls covered. You can hear something large shuffling around within, occasionally bumping loudly against the walls…

Inside:

The shadows of the tobacco barn are black, obfuscating the thing that lurks near the far wall, but a carrion stench assails your nostrils as you enter. Then the creature moves, hauling itself from the darkness with too many limbs. Unfinished, the legless horror sprouts half a dozen arms, some terminating in blades or tools. Four heads loll haphazardly from the overlarge, stitched-together torso, patchwork scraps of flesh adorned with Aklo glyphs. The horror moans in what might be pain or hunger and begins dragging its bulk towards you!

The Failed Experiment requires a Sanity check (1/1d6).

It has statistics similar to this Golem but with the “Unholy Flesh Golem” rules.

Cotton Barn

This large barn has been firmly locked, the doors chained shut, the holes in the roof patched. Something within scrabbles and scratches at the walls as if with long fingernails.

Inside:

The fleshless horrors that scuttle along the walls and floor of this barn are the stuff of nightmares – flensed corpses infused with horrible unlife, digging long talons into the earth and wood. There are three in all, some partially dissected – one has a gaping chest cavity, another has its belly slit open, and the third is decapitated.

The Dissected provoke a Sanity check (1/1d6).

Corn Barn

This barn is abandoned and badly rotted, one wall having entirely collapsed, the roof mostly disintegrated. Mould and lichens infest the ruins.

Unlike the other barns there’s little here, though the barn might be a good place to hide temporarily.

Fever in the Blood: Events

independence_startofthesantafetrail1842_johnstobart1250x719

These events can be interspersed throughout the journey. Modify and improvise as required.

First Case

Perception DC 15 in a hallway or promenade:

You notice that one of the passengers seems somewhat pallid, with a sallow cast to his skin. He’s sweating heavily and shivering, stumbling along in a daze.

The marsh fever is a virulent illness. This passenger – a cabin passenger, seduced by Francois, though without memory of the encounter – is named Bertrand Isnard. He was on his way to Port d’Elhour to take a job as a clerk. A successful Diplomacy check to Gather Information (DC 20) or speaking closely to the bartender reveals the following about him:

“He’s been aboard two days now. Was drinking last night with that fellow Francois Suzeneau; the two seemed pretty friendly. I’m not one to pry, but my suspicion is that old Bertrand wasn’t much one for the ladies, if you catch my drift. I saw Francois slip into his cabin later that night.”

Of course, the characters may not discover this information at all. If asked about Bertrand and their encounter, Francois says the following:

“He seemed a decent fellow; excellent company,” the dark-featured man says. “He was good enough to invite me for a night-cap in his cabin. If you’re implying that anything indecent went on, I’d ask you to mind your manners.”

If Bertrand’s disease is disclosed:

“As you can see, I am quite well. I thank you for your concern, but I feel perfectly healthy.”

Naturally, Sense Motive checks will shed further light on such things.

Close examination of Bertrand’s body reveals a leech-shaped bite-mark on his left wrist.

If Doctor Lafitte is summoned he will inspect the patient in Bertrand’s cabin:

Doctor Lafitte examines the patient carefully, checking vitals, listening to his chest with a wooden tube, peering into his eyes, measuring his temperature, and asking a series of questions about symptoms, which the patient discloses as headache, pain in the joints, and sudden coldness. After concluding the examination the doctor looks grave.

“It may be simply an autumn ague, but I fear the worst,” he says in a quiet tone. “I suspect this man has contracted some variety of malaria, commonly known as marsh fever. I will begin treatment at once – quinine and frequent leeching – but in the meantime someone must fetch the captain.”

This is a good job for the PCs, of course. If they can actually reach Captain Leathers he’ll begrudgingly come and speak with the doctor and the characters, plus the first mate, Pierre:

“We must keep this situation quiet,” the captain says. “There’s no sense in causing a panic. Doctor, any expenses incurred by this man’s treatment will be paid by me in full, in addition to one hundred silver dollars for your discretion.”

“I would advise that you burn the patient’s clothing,” the doctor suggests. “It may be contagious. Medical experts are currently divided as to whether marsh fever is caused by bad air, as wisdom has long held. I subscribe to a somewhat more unorthodox theory. I believe that certain parasitic organisms, too small to be seen by the naked eye, may be responsible for the disease, though I am not entirely certain how such parasites are transmitted. By burning the clothing we may prevent a spread of the ailment through the laundry.”

“I’ll see to it,” the first mate says. “Sir, you’ll be reimbursed for the expense,” he adds to Bertrand.

If the characters manage to get Evangline Pardoe, the clairvoyant, to use her hypnosis to Recall Bertrand’s memories, he will lie about the incident, ashamed of his encounter (Bluff is +1). He will only divulge the truth under duress, but will reveal the following before snapping out of the hypnotic trance:

“Francois… came to my room. Had us a night-cap. Nice fellah… mouth like a woman’s. But all those teeth! He came towards me, put his lips to my wrist…” He shakes himself, coming out of the trance. “Get this witch away from me!” he snarls. “She’s making me spout lies and blasphemies!”

Although the vampires usually kill their victims before the marsh fever can, in Bertrand’s case the fever takes him in the night, and by morning he will be dead. Because he has been fed on and died in part from blood loss he will rise as a Vampire Spawn – sometime during the next night.

The characters will be summoned to his cabin.

Bertrand lies sprawled on the bed, deathly pale, his body contorted into an expression of anguish. He’s clearly dead, his eyes wide and staring. The doctor stands with the captain nearby, looking down at the corpse.

“Close the door,” the captain urges.

“As you can see, the patient expired,” the doctor says. “He was raving madly towards the end, gibbering and hallucinating. He seemed to believe he’d been the victim of some monster, and kept demanding drink. He became violent and had to be sedated. Shortly after, death took him.”

“We will need to get rid of the body,” the captain says, rubbing his eyes. “And we will need to do it surreptitiously. If the body is seen it may incite a panic.”

“My suggestion is to burn the body,” the doctor says. “Throwing it in the river may contaminate the water. But if he were taken ashore and cremated, there would be no risk of spreading the infection.”

“You’ve already been exposed,” the captain says to you. “And you seem men and women of substance. If you assist me in disposing of the cadaver, I would consider you my guests aboard this vessel, and the fees for your passage and meals would be reimbursed.”

If the characters agree…

“We are due to stop to refuel at a small woodyard tonight,” the captain says. “That would be an opportune time to go ashore. The passengers will mostly be asleep.”

If the characters go through with this plan, Bertrand will reanimate before being cremated:

As you lay the body out on the swampy earth, its limbs suddenly twitch. Jaundiced eyes flutter open, swivelling towards you, as the cadaver groans, opening a mouth filled with new-grown fangs, hundreds of tiny teeth crowding the inside of his cheeks, giving his gaping rictus the appearance of a lamprey’s maw. Crooking his hands into claws, the undead Bertrand rises, hissing with bloodthirst!

Sight of the creature provokes a Sanity check (1/1d6).

Disappearance

antebellum geek girlThis is good to spring on characters after they’ve been introduced to the First Case but before they cremate Bertrand.

A dark-haired young woman approaches you, a worried look on her face. She’s well-dressed and wears gold-rimmed spectacles.

“Please, have you seen this man?” She holds out a locket containing a small painting of a handsome, dark-haired young man in a pale suit. “He’s my brother, Martin. I can’t find him anywhere aboard; he seems to have gone missing.”

The siblings are Martin and Lisa Favre, travelling to Port d’Elhour to sell some of the town properties of their dead father. Martin was seduced by the beautiful Angelique, but she was over-eager in her feeding and killed him accidentally. He’s currently stowed in the bathtub, in the locked bathroom of Angelique’s suite (the lock is DC 25 to pick), the top-right suite on the Cabin Deck (Suite D):

The corpse of a young man lies sprawled in the bathtub, bloodless and inert, eyes staring blankly at the ceiling. He’s naked, and his body is covered in small, round bite-marks, like those of a leech – particularly around his neck.

Martin will reanimate as a Vampire Spawn under Angelique’s control within 24 hours, so the disappearance will eventually be “solved” – Martin will claim to have been wandering the ship, gone ashore during a stopover, etc. Lisa will be relieved but still a little unnerved. Of course, she’ll be next – Martin will Dominate her and lead her to Angelique.

If asked about Martin before he reanimates, Lisa has this to say:

“I saw him last night, in the Saloon. I’d gone to bed – I’d been feeling a trifle light-headed – but he was drinking with some of the other passengers. This morning, I knocked at his cabin door, but there was no response. I haven’t seen him since.”

If Martin’s cabin is entered, all that characters will ascertain is that his bed was not slept in. Speaking to the chambermaids will confirm that his bed was unused. Lisa last saw Martin speaking with the traders (Gustave, Renault, etc). Renault will confirm this, but adds some more details:

“Ah, the dandy-boy? Yes, he drank with us for a time, but then he became somewhat distracted by a young woman, one of the beauties aboard this boat… the blonde, young one, I forget her name. He began speaking with her, and they seemed to be quite merry. After that I confess my memory gets a bit fuzzy! I had been imbibing a good deal myself…”

If asked about Martin, Angelique has this to say:

“The handsome young man? Yes, we spoke last night. When I retired for sleep he was still in the Saloon.”

Sense Motive vs. Bluff to discern the lie.

The Scream

 Soundtrack

This is a good event to spring on the characters if they seem at loose ends or unsure of how to proceed. It is ideally placed in a somewhat out-of-the-way location on the ship (i.e. not the Grand Saloon), at night.

Perception DC 15:

Over the hubbub of the boat and its passengers you hear the unmistakable sound of a scream, somewhere up ahead. The shriek is cut off, as if someone muffled it.

Racing ahead reveals the following:

A thin, red-headed woman lurches from the shadows, her dress rumpled. She looks pale and confused. Her garments are stained with blood – her own. A wound at her wrist drips onto the deck. She stumbles towards you, shaking her head.

“How…” she begins, as if unsure of herself. “How did I get here…?”

The woman is Charlotte Soileau, a deck passenger. She has no memory of what occurred to her. Close inspection of the wound reveals what looks like a leech-bite.

Henri lurks in the shadows – his Stealth is +17. A successful Perception check reveals his silhouette just before he assumes his gaseous form:

A wisp of fog lingers near the deck here, bilious and yellow in hue, like a patch of curdled air.

If Evangeline hypnotizes Charlotte at the behest of the characters (using her Recall ability), she can retrieve the following:

“There was… there was a creature. A thing, it looked like a man – handsome, well-dressed – but its mouth was all wrong, filled with hundreds of tiny teeth. I remember he came toward me, gliding out of the shadows, and suddenly it was like I couldn’t move, couldn’t look away. He bit me, and for a moment I broke the spell, managed a scream, before he clamped his hand over my mouth. He was strong, stronger than anyone I’d ever met, and his touch was cold, clammy and moist.” She shudders.

Of course, Charlotte has been infected by marsh fever. She will begin showing symptoms after a day, but by then things will have gotten considerably worse aboard the Somnambulist.

The Race

race

This event should take place on the first day of the journey.

The horn of the steamboat blows, and you can hear whistling steam as the Somnambulist begins to speed up. Passengers and crew alike rush out onto the promenade to see what’s going on. A second steamboat – slightly smaller than the Somnambulist but still sizable – is pulling up alongside it: the Nightjar. Painted in darker colours than the Somnambulist, the Nightjar is also a sidewheeler, sleeker and lower, with three decks instead of four.

Both ships sound their horns again, and suddenly fire and white smoke burst from the Somnambulist’s smokestacks, and the vessel begins rapidly accelerating. The Nightjar sounds her horn once more and likewise speeds up – it looks like the two boats are going to race. Money begins changing hands amongst the spectators.

This is a good chance for the characters to make some cash, but it also means that the interior of the boat is basically abandoned, giving them a chance to search rooms or cabins if they wish. Only the conspicuously absent vampires are still in their suites.

Those that want to observe the race can observe the following:

The two steamboats round a bend in the river, the Somnambulist a little ahead of the Nightjar. Another bend is imminent, forcing the steamboats to turn rapidly. On the Nightjar’s decks you can see crew and passengers cheering for their own boat.

Perception DC 25 to notice:

Through the trees obscuring the river round the next bend you can see a third steamboat – it seems to have ran aground! If either the Nightjar or the Somnambulist take the corner at the wrong angle they could plough into this vessel!

The characters may want to try and warn the pilots, in which case the Somnambulist will steam ahead and win the race. Otherwise, the boat will graze the steamboat run aground and lose, while also being hampered itself:

The Somnambulist turns the corner only to face a third steamboat, run aground on the riverbank! It’s too late to stop and the vessel continues on, smashing into one corner of the other vessel. It slows to a stop with a grating of gears – something must be wrong with the engines.

The smaller vessel, called the Gypsy Moth has been wrecked, smashed nearly to pieces. It was a snug sternwheeler, built for cargo rather than passengers. Curiously, there’s no sign of the crew…

This delays things considerably. The vampires had nothing to do with this incident, however – rather, it was the swamp-folk. They attacked this vessel and took the crew captive, dragging them into the swamp, as a Survival check of DC 12 will show:

The soft earth discloses several sets of footprints leading both to and from the steamboat wreck. You also note several bloodstains, not yet fully dried, on the deck of the grounded steamboat, as well as a number of bullet-holes riddling the wood and nearby trees.

If the characters want to take the time, they can track the footprints deep into the marsh to find the swamp-folk camp – about a dozen swamp-folk dwelling in four crude shacks, half-eaten human and animal remains strewn about their cooking-fire. Numerous bear-traps and spiked pits will be found en route. 4 of the crew can be found still alive, kept in a deep pit (30 ft.) outside the camp with thorns and sharpened stakes around its edges; while alive, their hamstrings are cut.

The Séance

Tables_tournantes_1853

The observation lounge has been shrouded in thick curtains and lit with bubbling lamps. A small crowd has gathered – it looks like a good number of the cabin passengers are in attendance, though notably the preacher is absent. The genteel men and women you saw in the saloon earlier are all here, as well as a small number of the crew. The medium sits at a large table at one end of the room.

“Greetings, ladies and gentlemen,” the clairvoyant says theatrically. “Welcome. I am Mademoiselle Evangeline Pardoe, spiritualist and clairvoyant extraordinaire. Tonight, we will make contact with the Spirit World! As the steamboat passes down the river, we may encounter the shades of those that met their end upon it, or the ghosts of lost relatives or friends, drawn through the Veil… but first, let me warn you. No matter what occurs – no matter what manifestation may appear – do not approach me. For your own safety I urge you to keep a healthy distance.”

The spiritualist closes her eyes, palms upturned. She speaks in a low voice.

“Spirits! I call you from beyond the Veil. Speak to me now, if you would commune with the living!”

The characters will be able to recognize many of their fellow cabin passengers – including Damienne Suzeneau and several of her relations – in attendance.

You may wish to improvise or prepare scenes specific to the characters. However, several results of the channeling will not vary. The following constitutes a list of spirits that Evangeline channels:

The Good Father: The clairvoyant opens her eyes, her irises glowing with a pale light. Her expression changes drastically – it’s almost as if the flesh of her face was rearranging itself – and she assumes a stern glare. Standing from the chair she assails the audience with a thunderous, booming voice, mostly certainly not her own.

“The pit of fire and the gnashing of teeth!” the spiritualist declares. “All sinners will burn in the lake of brimstone! Punishment eternal awaits those of you who dare to disobey the laws of god and nature… thieves and liars, murderers and violators, adulterers and deviants… all will be consumed in the flames come the end-times. This sickness, this sickness is a sign, I tell you! A sign from the heavens that the end of all things is nigh!”

Ghostly blue flames flicker from the woman’s fingertips as she points at the audience, gesturing imperiously.

This is the spirit of the priest from the Green Maiden; he doesn’t realize he’s dead. If convinced of his own ghostly nature he becomes very distraught that he’s not in the promised paradise and will attempt to burn up Evangeline. She will suppress him but will come out of the channelling singed and smoking.

Claude: Again the clairvoyant’s eyes open, and again an unearthly luminescence shines forth.

“Where… where am?” a voice says. “Am I… am I in Souragne? Is this the vessel known as the Green Maiden?”

This is Claude, one of the Green Maiden’s passengers. His memory of his time aboard the vessel is garbled, and he can only communicate fragments – mist, fire, blood, screams and laughter, mad dancing, the feeling of breath on his neck. However, upon seeing Damienne Suzeneau he begins to recollect a few things:

“You…” the man says, looking towards Damienne Suzeneau. “Madame, are we acquainted? I could swear I have met you before.”

Damienne raises an eyebrow. “It is possible, sir. I have met many people on my travels, though I have never taken passage on this Green Maiden. Perhaps we met on some other vessel?”

Sense Motive vs. Bluff (+20) to notice that Damienne seems amused, as if in on some joke.

Madame Roslyn: Once again the clairvoyant opens her eyes, a soft blue glow shimmering from her irises. She looks around curiously.

“Ah,” she says in a pleased, knowing tone. “A séance. How appropriate… I had sometimes imagined that, one day, I might converse from the other side of the Veil.”

Unlike many of the other spirits, Madame Roslyn can communicate a few more concrete details. If asked about the circumstances of her death she can provide the following information:

“My death was quite sudden, I believe. I was on a steamboat, much like this one. There was some sort of sickness aboard, some variety of fever. Quite ghastly. It seemed to be driving the passengers mad. I had locked myself in my cabin, listening to the commotion outside… but then the insects began creeping in, buzzing and crawling. I remember them quite distinctly – a veritable swarm of mosquitoes. They seemed to seep like a cloud of black mist beneath by door and then to buzz all around me. Quite understandably I was alarmed, and began waving my arms to bat them away, but they formed a kind of dense cloud, like to the figure of a man, almost solid. The cloud embraced me, and I could hear the buzzing of thousands of wings… and then I remember nothing else, till I had passed the Veil and entered upon the Spirit World.”

Madman: Yet again the clairvoyant closes her eyes only to open them again, but this time the light shining from within is red, not blue. Her body contorts and twists, hunching over, her muscles tensing, the veins in her neck standing out. The audience gasps.

“It is coming!” she says. “The Thousand-Suckered-One, who dwells in the City of Black Liquid! The Thirsting Sire who spawned the Pallid Brood! Beware his harbinger, the White Leech from the Mists of Time! Beware the Squirming Man! Iä! Iä! They are here! The Afflicted Ones! Beware their yellow breath, their crimson lips, their eyes like pits of night unending!”

The characters can ask questions of the spirits, which they may or may not answer. They may also request that Evangeline contact a certain spirit. If they know the name of the spirit, and especially if they have something of their body, or a personal possession, contact becomes more likely. Each attempt to contact a spirit requires a Concentration check on Evangeline’s part (+10). The DC for contact is 15+1 per year the character has been dead.

Dissidence

Goya_Dona_IsabelThis event needs to be triggered carefully, if at all. It might need to be sped up if the characters are moving quickly (discovering who the Vampires are, making plans against them)… or, alternatively, excised altogether. Consider it an option. The story plays out perfectly well without it, but it can provide a stronger bridge to the plantation portion.

The vampiress Isabelle does not agree with Damienne and her coterie. She wants to break free of the Elders and believes the vampires should abandon the plantation and move to Port d’Elhour or another city; she’s tired of the rural lifestyle and believes the devotion of the other vampires to the White Leech and the Thousand-Suckered-One a doomed fanaticism. If approached carefully, she will be willing to betray the vampires, to lead the characters to the plantation, and to provide them with useful information.

However, it should be clear that Isabelle is no saint. This is not a vampire with a soul – she’s just as bloodthirsty as the others. It’s merely that she’s a decadent, and her hedonistic ways clash with the values of the others.

Here’s a physical description:

One of the women seems aloof from the rest of the group – though just as finely dressed and elegant as her compatriots, she speaks little, sipping periodically from a glass of dark wine and casting bored-looking glances around the room. She wears a black dress perhaps a trifle more risque than those favoured by those around her. Long crimson tresses fall past her white shoulders.

She can reveal some details of the ceremony to summon the Thousand-Suckered-One, and how it might be averted:

“The night of the ceremony draws near; the time of Alignment approaches. It will be marked by the appearance of a red moon in the sky – the result of an eclipse, the earth caught betwixt sun and moon. At this time the Elders will awaken, stirring in the Nest. My kindred will prepare the sacrifices for slaughter, shepherding prisoners down into the darkness. These will be bled into a vast pool in a cavern deep beneath the plantation house of Belle de Nuit; cauldrons of blood will be overturned till the pool turns red. The Elders will bite their own wrists and add their own blood to the Summoning Pool as they chant the Aklo words of the Crimson Rite. Red moonlight shed through a narrow shaft in the ceiling will shine upon the Pool, transforming it into a portal, a wound between worlds. From out of that rupture the Thousand-Suckered-One will emerge, to slake its thirst and wreak red terror on all that stand in its path. It will devour everything, leave the land empty and desolate.

“My kindred have deluded themselves into believing the coming of the Thousand-Suckered-One will usher in an era of vampiric domination, a paradise for our kind, when all will be subjugated to our rule… but I see the truth. The Thousand-Suckered-One is an elemental thing – an incarnation of the Thirst. It has no intellect, no taste, no refinement. It exists only to consume. My kin call mortals cattle, animals, but they do not see the irony in their own judgement; the Thousand-Suckered-One is little better than an animal, a great verminous parasite, a mewling, idiot god. Why would I want the mortals enslaved when I can already bend them to my will as I please? Why would I want their civilization destroyed when it provides me with endless pleasures?”

Sabotage

explosion

This should likely take place 2-3 days into the journey, after the characters have settled in a bit.

There’s a tremendous grinding, shearing sound from the lower deck, followed by a wrenching sound and a series of colossally loud bangs. The Somnambulist shakes violently, and the engines stop.

The Somnambulist is now dead in the water, stranded on the river. If the characters investigate on the main deck they’ll discover the following:

The boiler room is in a state of chaos – a significant section of the boiler machinery has blown, and it looks like a small fire was only barely suppressed. Burst pipes leak steam and moisture throughout the room, and a badly scalded crewman writhes in pain on the floor, while other deckhands desperately tend to the ruptured workings of the boat. It doesn’t take an engineer to confirm that without repairs to the boilers and associated pipework, the Somnambulist is not going anywhere.

Search for the spare parts that would normally have been used to conduct repairs reveals that they’re missing; in fact, they’re hidden in the cabin of Narcisse and Phillipe.

The Sickness and the Atrocity

The sickness and the atrocity happen after the sabotage, with the latter taking place about 2-3 days after the former, but you should play fast and loose with the timeline when required. Details on these events can be found in the Somnambulist notes. The sickness progresses gradually, so you may want to introduce it bit by bit. The atrocity happens much more rapidly, when the vampires decide to commit to their slaughter. Both can be averted or mitigated with clever thinking – in no sense should they be considered inevitabilities.

Following the atrocity, the vampires steer the Somnambulist back to the Belle de Nuit plantation…

Page 2 of 6

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén