BEARDED DEVIL

Monsters, Horror, Gaming

Tag: art

Hex Session XXV – 5th Edition Actual Play – “The Hexad Council”

The characters in this session were:

AlabastorCaulis 2Garvin Draft 3SisterYam

  • Alabastor Quan, a gnome rogue-turned-illusionist and failed circus ringmaster; wielder of a cursed dagger and member of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild.
  • Caulis, a homunculus warlock liberated from its master; has made a pact with certain Faerie Powers.
  • Garvin Otherwise, a human rogue and burglar of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild, with a very, very peculiar past and a zoog pet, Lenore.
  • 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.”
  • Yam, an eccentric gnome illusionist and local graduate student at Umbral University. Yam cares little for money. Yam is curious. Yam is Yam

XP Awarded: 350 XP

The party relaxed in the fragrant recesses of the Green Star, planning their next move. To construct the spacecraft they would need to voyage among the Outer Spheres, they had learned from Gideon Bottlescrew, they would need two things: an Aetheric Engine, a piece of Librarian technology, one of which was said to be locked in the depths of the Citadel of the Perpetual Storm, and approximately 50,000 guineas.

The group debated which goal to pursue first, when something fluttered into the tavern and landed on their table: an imp, wearing a sigil-graved collar and clutching a scroll bearing the seal of the Hexad Council, the executive branch of Hex’s government, consisting of six officials elected by the magic-wielding populace of the city.

“Council summons!” the imp declared, depositing the scroll on the table before disappearing in a puff of brimstone.

Garvin eyed the scroll suspiciously, but Sister broke the seal and unfurled the message, reading carefully.

“Sounds like the Council wants to talk to us. Tonight,” she said. “In connection with our activities in Troll Country.”

“Is that a good idea?” Caulis said, a little nervous.

“Disobeying Council summons seems like a bad idea,” Alabastor said, mopping his forehead with a handkerchief.

“We might as well go,” Garvin said, looking pale. “It’ll be trouble if we don’t.”

As they talked, another newcomer burst into the tavern – a sailor, by the look of him, reeling a bit, his cheeks ruddy and his eyes flashing.

“Genial Jack!” he proclaimed. “Genial Jack is coming!”

Hex is a city benumbed to miracles and magic, jaded after so many marvels. The citizens daily see the dead walk, hear machines speak, smell the winds of Faerie blowing in from the Tangle. But the prospect of seeing Genial Jack thaws the cold and cynical hearts of even the most deeply disenchanted.

Genial Jack: Jack the Generous, Jack the Gentle, Jack the Gigantic. A living wonder of the world, a creature who many believe to be the oldest living organism on the planet, who may remember the Librarians themselves. He is a whale, a whale the size of a mountain, who for centuries now has been the host to the teeming town of Jackburg, a place of swallowed ships and lost sailors from countless different lands. The first, they say, he ate by accident, but they survived on the fish that daily poured into his belly, and made new homes in his forestomach, a ramshackle village made from the detritus of broken boats. It was years later that they realized they were not the first to do so, finding older structures deeper in Jack’s endless innards, ruins of some primeval predecessor Jackburg from aeons ago. In time, Jackburg expanded, colonizing his mouth, his skin, his other three stomachs. Mansions dangle from the roof of his maw, ironclad watchtowers bristle from round his blowhole, a temple tops his head, while in his belly, built to withstand the peristaltic forces of the muscular forestomach, thrives a small city, formed from the scavenged hulks of ships from every corner of the ocean.

Jackburg is a city of traders and priests, for the Navigators – mystics descended from ancient captains – commune with the beast, using their prayers and sacrifices to direct Jack from city to city. A fleet of trading ships and naval vessels now accompany him everywhere, and fortresses cling to his barnacled flanks, cannons swiveling alongside his fins. Their travels take them around the planet, and they bring with them the treasures and stories and languages and knowledge of distant places, from realms across the Blushing Sea and past the Frontiers of Chaos, and even from the frozen expanse of the Inscrutable Lands in the far south of the world. And wherever they land, Genial Jack opens his great jaws, and the folk of Jackburg pour forth to trade and revel with all those they meet.

The sailor spoke on, telling of the sighting. Jack would be in the city in a month’s time. Sister smiled, remembering her previous experiences with the generous whale; Yam, filled with excitement, lamented that they would have to wait a month to visit Genial Jack’s metropolitan innards.

Excited about Genial Jack’s approach but burdened by their pressing obligation at the Hexad Council, the party paid their bill and set out for Enigma Heap.

Of all the myriad districts of Hex, none is stranger than Enigma Heap, the ruinous heart of the city, a place where the Old City of the Librarians bursts forth from the earth to claw at the sky with impossible spires. The architecture here is in fact a mixture of the ancient stonework and iridescent metal of the Old City and newer constructions mimicking this style, along with churches and government buildings in the Tentacular Baroque style, gilded monstrosities of marble resembling masses of cephalopod flesh.

The people here were dwarfed by the primeval alien immensities surrounding them. Most were civic functionaries of priests of the Unspeakable Ones: agents of power both secular and sacred. Though they had become desensitized to the disorienting qualities of the architecture, the party had not: the buildings here caused a series of almost-instant nosebleeds, and indeed, several enterprising street-urchins sold tissues and nose-plugs at the border of the Heap for a silver piece, which the adventurers quickly availed themselves of. The structures were impossible, disobedient of every principle of design and physics. Corridors and walls collapsed into one another in dizzying snarls of complexity; gravity was, in places, reversed, inverted, subverted, perverted; prismatic slabs of cyclopean masonry unfolded themselves like intricate paper sculptures, spreading into dimensions that made the head ache and eyes blur.

The most impressive of these buildings were, of course, the Tower of Whispers – a vast, many-levelled spire, treacherous and legendary, whose long shadow serves cross Hex like that of some gigantic sundial – the Temple of the Thousand-Suckered One – rivalled only by the Infernal Basilica and the Cathedral of the Magistra as Hex’s biggest church – and the Hall of the Hexad Council itself, whose six-sided bulk inspired the shape of the city walls. It was a tremendous slab of unknown material which even the most rigorous scientific and arcane analysis founders upon, a substance which at times seemed to act as a metal, at other times like organic tissue. Strange growths somewhere between tumours and turrets erupted from its scarred, ambiguous sides, while great openings like wounds revealed masses of intermeshing machinery.

None are sure of the Hall’s original purpose, and, indeed, not all of it has been explored, even these many centuries later, for there are doors within its endless entrails which no key, spell, or explosive have opened, and a million hidden passageways spiralling down into the Old City. And yet, as if defying the unfathomable structure, this is where Hex’s parliament convenes.

The part turned down the Avenue of Aeons, stetching from the southern edges of Enigma Heap – where the laboratories of Caulchurch smouldered – to the Hall of the Hexad Council itself, terminating before the doors of the Hall and a spiral staircase that descended seemingly forever, the so-called Infinite Stair, whose bottom has never been found. They could see pilgrims of the Unspeakable Ones making their slow way down the Stair, into the numinous darkness where they would meditate, trying to commune with their unthinkable divinities. To the east sprawled the weird opulence of the Statue Garden, where dozens of ever-changing gargoyles presided.

Caulis noticed something off to one side – a homunculus, pacing and looking fretful in the shadows of a nearby structure.

“Everything alright?” Caaulis said to the fellow homunculus.

“What? No! No, everything is not alright!” the homunculus said. “Please, can you help me?”

“Slow down,” Caulis said. “What’s your name?”

“Flibbertigibbet,” the homunculus panted.

“And what’s going on?”

“My mistress,” the homunculus said. “Doctor Lilyclock… one of Hex’s foremost cartographers, Professor of Perspective at Umbral University… she was mapping the district, told me to wait out here, and went into that building. But she never came out. And when I went in… well… it’s just a dead end! There’s nothing there!”

Yam scratched their chin. Lilyclock? They couldn’t remember meeting the professor… but, then Umbral University was a big place.

Alabastor eyed the building curiously. He caught the eye of a street urchin selling handkerchiefs, the better to staunch the nosebleeds endemic to the district. Handing the waif a coin, he inquired as to the structure the homunculus stood before.

“That old hulk?” the urchin said. “No one goes in there. Been marked by the Council as unfit for habitation. Dangerous.” He pointed out a glyph on the side of the building, indicating the place was unsafe.

“Good to know,” Alabastor said, returning to the party. They resolved to hurry on to their appointment, but to revisit the homunculus afterwards, and help it if it were still there.

Past the grand doors of the Hall, two gargantuan golems resembling huge stone statues in the style of the monstrous beings in the Statue Garden stood guard within a vast foyer, its walls adorned with millions of lines of arcane formulae. Numerous passages branched off from this room into other parts of the structure, while another set of huge doors leads into the Council Chamber.

“Who comes before the Hexad Council?” the hideous golems asked.

 

Golem Guard. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.

“The, ah, Variegated Company is here, to see the Hexad Council!” Alabastor Quan declared, doffing his hat with a flourish, his old carnival-ringmaster showmanship manifesting. “We have, as you can see, an invitation!” he flourished and produced the summons with a sleight of hand.

“Very well; you may enter,” the golem replied. A little awed, the group passed through the vast doors and into the centre of the building, the thief Garvin nervously shadowing his face with his hood, Yam cracking jokes, Sister quite unflappable, Caulis intrigued, and Alabastor leading the way like a flamboyant herald.

Within was huge six-sided chamber at the heart of the building. The walls hadbeen hung with bewitched tapestries depicting the history of Hex: the exploration of the ruins, the coming of the Lengians, the War of Miscreation, the Incarnadine Wars, the Brimstone Wars, the subjugation of Troll Country, the Taming of the Tangle, the petrification of the Wyrm, the binding of the Plasmic Woe, the revelations of Saint Monstrum, the building of Mainspring, and many other events of note.

Six men and women watched the party closely as they entered, their names and faces known to all in Hex:

Silas Thamiel, arch-Diablomancer, former Chancellor of Fiend’s College: a powerfully built man, human, of middle years, with jade green eyes that watched everything closely, hair black as midnight, and a bronze complexion covered in numerous arcane tattoos. He is known for his grim pragmatism, stern approach to law and order, military acumen, and conservatism.

  Arabella Sickle, a tall, voluptuous cambion woman, somewhat unfamiliar in the purple robes of the Council rather than the black and red regalia she wears as Hex’s Infernal Archbishop. Her huge horns gleamed in the magical light suspended above the six, and she worean expression of disdain. She is known for her ambition, her appetites, and her interest in aggressively expanding Hex’s power, influence, and colonial holdings. Perhaps most notable – her attempts to establish a Penal Colony in Hell, a measure repeatedly failed when it came to a vote.

Iris Skewstone, also human, a surprisingly young-looking woman with hair that shifted colour every few seconds. She wore a pin of Umbral University on her robes. Iris is known for her radicalism, and her efforts – thwarted as surely as Her Unholiness’ desire for Hellish colonies – to extend suffrage to the non-magical citizens of Hex. She is attacked regularly in some corners of the press, alternatively as a manipulator, firebrand, extremist, or megalomaniac, but enjoys widespread support among Hex’s growing middle class.

Barnabas Grimgrove, the richest man in Hex, and one of the richest individuals in the world: an alchemist and entrepreneur of great skill and economic savvy, who built his fortune mass-marketing potions and homunculi to the rich of Hex and beyond. He is a rotund, jovial gnome whose skin is discoloured from numerous alchemical burns. Though spectacularly rich, he is beloved by those of the city’s working class capable of voting, and by many of the elite as well. His policies favour economic growth above all else. He is pro-trade, and averse to war save when profit can be made.

Angus Loamson, reputedly a changeling, undoubtedly an eccentric, a former vagrant who wandered in from the Feypark. Angus – wild-bearded, crazed of eye, and smelling of the woods – insists that he speaks for all vegetal life. He pursues environmental policies with single-minded devotion and is a sworn enemy of the industries Barnabas. While widely dismissed as a crackpot, he was swept into office on the votes of homunculi and fungoids, amidst rumours of voting manipulation via magical slumber.

Finally: Valentina Nettlecrave, a woman who looks even younger than the fresh-faced Iris, but whose porcelain perfection belies her true age. It is an open secret that Valentina is a lich, mummified and sustained by necromancy – easy to believe given her skull-pin of the Académie Macabre, indicative of her high rank at that sinister institution. Despite her likely illusory appearance as a doll-like girl barely beyond adolescence, she is renowned for her extraordinary wisdom and arcane knowledge. She is a wildcard, voting unpredictably, siding with various members of the Council at different times.

“Welcome to the Hexad Council,” Silas said, his voice silky but strong. “We understand you aided the Citadel of the Perpetual Storm in ending the fell winter that gripped our city. We wish to ask a few questions about this matter. We have already spoken extensively with Vanessa and Octavia Greyleaf of the Weather-Witches and with Sergeant Phineas Hookwood of the Stormguard, and have received Master Melchior’s recorded testimony as well, but we would like to hear your perspective. We shall each take a turn. Arabella, if you would?”

Arabella Sickle nodded, and spoke a brief incantation. There was a small rupture in space-time, a sound like a thousand screams of the damned, and a brief sulphurous stench as a demonic scribe materialized in one corner, next to a desk with a typewriter: a thin creature whose hands bore dozens of fingers. Immediately, sigil-graven restraints bind the creature to the desk. It sighed and flexed its fingers over the keys.

Stenographer. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.

Silas’ questions came first.

“First, we would have you summarize your actions in Troll Country in detail.”

Moving through the group, the party explained their actions – the disruption of the Harrowgast ritual, and the rejuventation of the land – keeping to themselves certain key details – Caulis being especially careful not to note Queen Titania’s involvement.

“It is the task of this Council to determine whether further military action need be taken against Troll Country,” Silas continued. “What is your estimation of the Griefbringer’s forces?”

“Scattered and depleted,” Garvin said hurriedly. “I don’t think a military intervention would be needed.”

“Yeah, the other trolls really didn’t like her,” Yam added.

“Invasion, at this point, would only alienate potential allies,” Sister insisted.

“I see. And could this magical winter or ‘Harrowgast’ be revived?”

“Unlikely, perhaps impossible,” Caulis said. “We convinced the ancestral spirits of the land to turn against the Griefbringer.”

At this, Valentina Nettlecrave perked up. Silas continued.

“The other Troll tribes – the Blackhorns, Twocrowns, Stoneclaws, Bonegrinders, and Goreteeth – how do they seem to regard the Skintakers?”

“The Goreteeth, Blackhorns, and Stoneclaws didn’t seem like big fans, from what we could tell,” Alabastor said. “Some of the others seemed to be working with them, or more tolerant of them…”

“Very well. Arabella, proceed.”

“Thank you, Silas,” Arabella said. “Now, on to my own questions. First. Who are you, precisely? What are your goals, your agenda?”

“We’re the Variegated Company,” Alabastor replied. “Freelance adventuring group. Retrieving artefacts, righting wrongs, that sort of thing.”

“I see,” she said, disdainfully. “And who was it exactly who hired you for this mission?”

“Uh, as I remember… no one hired us,” Yam said, looking to their companions for confirmation. “We just, ah, wanted to help.”

“We talked to the people in the Citadel of the Perpetual Storm,” Sister added. “They had their hands full keeping the weather under control, but they seemed eager for the help.”

“Yes, we have discussed this with the Greyleafs extensively,” Arabella said. “Now, what is your connection with Master Melchior? Why do you enjoy the Archmage’s favour?”

“We helped clear out some Spellmould from the archives,” Alabastor said, truthfully enough.

“And we’ve been helping Master Melchior with some research,” Sister added. “Ancient history.”

“Mhm,” Arabella said, her eyes narrow. “Who authorized you to negotiate with the Goretooth Tribe on behalf of Hex?”

“We certainly weren’t negotiating on behalf of Hex,” Garvin said. “And, in fact, we didn’t come to any formal arrangements with the Goretooth tribe. We spoke to them, and they provided us with some limited assistance -”

“Your actions have fundamentally reshaped the political and physical landscape of Troll Country for years to come, without permission of this Council or the people of Hex,” Arabella interjected. “Some might consider such actions reckless, perhaps even treasonous. How would you defend yourselves against such charges?”

“We saved the city!” Sister said, incredulous. “The winter was literally killing people!”

“I am inclined to agree with the Lengian,” Iris Skewstone added. “This group’s actions may not have been formally sanctioned, but Hex owes them a great deal. To consider their actions treasonous is ridiculous. If you pursue this, Arabella, I will hire their lawyers myself.”

“Hmph,” Arabella said, relenting. “Very well. I maintain that this ‘Variegated Company’ have set a dangerous precedent. But formal charges may be inappropriate at this juncture. Go on then, Iris, ask whatever you want.”

“Thank you,” Iris said, smiling tautly. She turned back to the party. “What is the current state of the Sickened Land?”

“Um… cured,” Sister said. “There’s a huge forest, healthy, where there used to be disease and death.”

“So we have heard. How exactly did you manage this extraordinary feat? Surely this would require incredibly powerful magic.”

The party looked slowly to Caulis.

“Ah… I found a, ah… a scroll. Several scrolls.”

“Scrolls?”

“Yes, scrolls. A spell. In my master’s library.” The homunculus shifted uncomfortably.

“I see. And you don’t have any other copies of this spell?”

“I’m afraid not.”

Iris sighed. “Very well. If you unearth anything further, I would appreciate you letting this Council know.” She pressed on. “You have seen the suffering of Troll Country firsthand, in a fashion few in Hex have witnessed. It is my belief that we owe a terrible debt to the inhabitants of this land, but I am aware that further meddling from Hex may be unwelcome. How do you believe offers of humanitarian aid would be received?”

“I’d be careful,” Garvin said. “Things are… pretty fragile, right now.”

 “There’s a lot of distrust for Hex,” Sister said. “I think that could change. But it’s going to take work. Barging in too quickly could be a mistake.”

“Thank you for your candour,” Iris said. “Baranabas, the floor is yours.”

“Thank you, my dear,” Barnabas Grimgrove grumbled. “Troll Country is a region long written off as a broken wasteland, too dangerous to mine and too barren to produce anything of value. But it seems your efforts may have reversed, or at least mitigated, some of these concerns. How large would you estimate the extent of these new-grown forests is?”

The party described the rough boundaries of the forest.

“Did you think the Trollbloods you encountered would be amenable to employment in the mining, lumber, or fur trade?”

“Possibly,” Alabastor said. “But like Sister said, things are fragile. I would wait for things to calm down. They seem to have their own way of doing things.”

“What about agriculture? These restored lands – might they be converted into farmland?”

“Too cold,” Caulis said. “Small scale farming, sure. But Troll Country’s never going to be a breadbasket.”

“I am also interested in these stone-circles. Tell me more about the power these primitive structures channeled.”

“We managed to convince the ancestor-spirits of the heargs to relent,” Sister said. “With difficulty. I would let sleeping ghosts lie.”

“Hmph. Very well. Some investments take time to mature. Angus, I suppose you have some questions about shrubberies or something?”

“Indeed, Grimgrove,” Angus Loamson said. “Are any of you servants of the Faerie Queens or Kings? Which ones?”

“I have a contract with Queen Titania of the fairies,” Caulis said, truthfully enough.

The other party members indicated in the negative. Alabastor swallowed and lied through his teeth, concealing his allegiance to Queen Mab.

“What are the properties of the woodland?” Angus asked. “Are there any magical qualities associated with it?”

 “There seem to be healing properties associated with water in the woods,” Caulis said. “There may be other enchantments as well.”

“Intriguing. I commend you on spreading greenery and life through a desolate region, and undoing some of the horror this city has wrought in its inglorious past. Valentina, the floor is yours.”

The tiny undead woman cleared her ancient throat with a demure cough. “Yes, excellent,” she squeaked, eerily girlish. “These spirits, conjured at the hearg. Describe them.”

“Spooky ghosts,” Yam said. “Uhhh… like troll-ghosts. A lot of them. They went into the land when they died, but the Skintakers pissed them off. We convinced them to stop being jerks.”

“Were the spirits individuals? Did they seem to retain their autonomy, their psychology? Or were they a collective, acting as one?”

“Yes,” Garvin said. “They were individuals.”

“There was a fight,” Sister said. “A duel, between two of them.”

“I see. Fascinating. We know so little of troll necromancy. Ands what occurred to these spirits after the harrowgast dispersed?”

“They seemed to go back into the land,” Alabastor said. “Calmed… content even.”

“They’re at rest,” Yam added.

“My questions are complete,” the likely-lich intoned.

“Very well,” Silas said. “Variegated Company, you are released from this meeting. As a reward for your service to the city, we have agreed to grant you five hundred guineas each.”

“A final offer, before you leave,” Iris Skewstone said. “Should you wish to make your status as servants of Hex more official, we would like to offer the Variegated Company employment as a contracted mercenary company of the city, with a fifty guinea salary, and additional payments for specific tasks. Please, bring this offer back to the rest of your Company and think it over carefully.”

The party thanked the Council and hastily left.

“Well, that wasn’t so terrible,” Sister said.

“I think we managed to stop them from invading Troll Country, anyway,” Alabastor said.

Released from their duties, the party decided to return to Flibbertigibbet and its tale of woe.

“Ah, thank the Magistra you have returned!” the homunculus chirped.

Resolving to investigate, the party cautiously entered the condemned structure. A narrow tunnel snaked into the building, broadening into a vast hall, its roof supported by vaguely eel-like statues with insectile heads. There were numerous bas-relief carvings on the walls. They showed a series of abstract figures – perhaps Librarians – excavating some sort of gemstone from the earth. The carvings showed the gemstone breaking, and a curious vapour emerging and coalescing into a malevolent-looking figure, spidery and sinister. This being was then shown stalking the streets of the Old City, killing Librarians and their servants, before being apprehended and bound in a cage-like device in a seven-sided room.

“Ominous,” Garvin said.

“I DON’T LIKE IT,” Yam declared, eyes wide at the spidery figure.

“There’s a door over here,” Alabstor said, indicating a triangular opening. The party continued onwards, Garvin searching carefully for any traps or wards.

They entered a seven-sided room dominated by a device that resembled an intricate mechanical cage, identical to the one depicted in the mural. Bound within the cage was a human woman clad in the silvery robes of Umbral University, with short greying hair and large turquoise eyes.

On the floor were the remnants of what looks like map-making equipment, strewn about: parchment, quill and ink, measuring devices, and the like.

“Magistra be praised!” the woman said. “My name is Deirdre Lilyclock, and I’ve been trapped here for some time. I was mapping these tunnels when I came across the machine. As I examined it, the cage closed around me, and now I’m stuck! I can’t even use spells to get away, there’s some kind of anti-magic dampening field. Please, I think there’s a control panel.” She points. “I’m sure the right combination could release me! Then maybe we could find a way out of here together…”

“A, Mistress Lilyclock!” the homunculus said, rushing up to the cage. “We’ll get you out of here!”

Smelling a rat, Sister surreptitiously cast Zone of Truth on the cage.

“Ah, I didn’t quite catch that,” the Lengian cleric said, craftily. “How was it you were stuck here?”

“I was… I stumbled… I was mapping… damn you!” Deirdre Lilyclock cursed, choking on the lies as they tumbled from her lips.

“So much for an anti-magic field,” Garvin muttered.

Suddenly, Flibbertigibbet was gone, and in the place of Deirdre Lilyclock towered a spindly, inhuman figure with nine flickering limbs and a tenebrous body somewhere between shadow and flesh. “I am Mephitis,” the creature snarled. “And you are about to die.”

“Your name is My Fetus?” Yam said. “That’s weird!”

The tenebral hissed, conjuring a phantasmal killer to assail Yam’s mind, but the skilled illusionist fought off the assailant easily.

“I’ve been studying hard. You’ll have to do better than that,” Yam said, and conjured a cloud of daggers to assail Mephitis. The being shrieked as the magical blades plunged into its shadowy skin.

Caulis, grinning, conjured a series of looming images, abstract renditions of the Librarians. They rose to all sides, closing in on Mephitis. The creaure cowered, exposing itself to Alabastor’s eldritch blast and deft Hex.

Garvin, dancing around the creature, flicked out his Wand of Fireballs and sent a bead of flame towards the cage, which blossomed into a brilliant greenish conflagration. Mephitis whimpered, relenting its psychic attacks.

“Gah! You have bested me! Let me be! Let me be!”

“Why did you lure us here?” Alabastor demanded.

“The Librarians captured me,” Mephitis said. “I have languished here many centuries… until explorers unsealed this room. I can cast my mind beyond the chamber, conjure illusions in your heads. I hunger, you see – I feed on consciousness. I am starving… it has been years since I tasted thoughts. Lilyclock was my last meal.” It waved an arm, and an illusion flickered and lifted, revealing a dusty skeleton in one corner of the chamber.

Alabastor investigated the bones, discovering a map of Enigma Heap and its undercity, a cloak of scintillating colours, along with a scroll of Haullucinatory Terrain.

Mephitis began pleading with the party to release it from bondage, explaining its cruel fate, its centuries of imprisonment. The party considered releasing it under certain conditions, but eventually left it in its cage, making vague and likely untrue promises to return.

Back at the Green Star, the party discussed their next steps, and resolved that funds would be their first priority. As they talked, a potential source of funds was repeated several times – Delirium Castle. The ruinous old fortress was infamous in Hex, known for its dangers and traps, but perhaps the Variegated Company would succeed where others had failed…

Maps

I made a big map for my D&D game and turned it into a poster for use during the game. It’s easily the most detailed thing I’ve ever drawn; it took me about a year working on and off on it in my spare time, mostly as a break from my dissertation or as a way to wind down in the evening. It’s entirely hand-drawn except for the lettering; I scanned a lot of 8-1/2″x11″ pages together, then edited them.

Here it is:

Hex_Poster Hex Big Map Hex Central East Hex Central West Hex East Hex NortheastHex NorthwestHex Southeast Hex Southwest Hex West

As you can see, it’s pretty detailed:

Downpour Heights Weftmart Warded Ward Infernal Basilica

If Symbolist/Decadent Artists Ran D&D Campaigns

In homage to Joseph Manola’s brilliant post, “If Romantic-Era Artists Ran D&D Campaigns” over at Against the Wicked City:

Gustave Moreau (1826-1898): Gloomy, melancholy, eccentric sort of guy runs a distinctly Biblical-feeling OSR game when he’s not reading Schopenhauer. Insists on running only OD&D because the “old masters” knew best. His worlds can best be described as “the Old Testament on LSD.”

Roll 1d6 Random Encounter
1  Prehistoric dire tortoise lumbers across the landscape
2  Rapacious sphinx demands answers to riddles lest it devour the characters
3  Disembodied head sings maddening song
4  Wandering Cleric (level 1d10) will prophesy characters’ futures
5  Hydra
6  Vengeful angel attacks the most morally corrupt character

moreau1 moreau2 moreau3 moreau4

Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901): Runs dark, classically-themed hexcrawls full of bizarre interpretations of Greek mythology. There is a sense of exploring a vast, eerie dreamscape filled with vague, mythological figures. Starts with Mazes and Minotaurs, but he eventually switches to Fate and runs very narrative-heavy games with strong allegorical overtones.

Roll 1d6 Random Encounter
1 3d6 rowdy centaurs have a boisterous brawl that threatens to draw characters in; at the end, everyone still alive gets drunk and has a wonderful party
2 2d6 sirens tempt party to suicide
3 Pirate vessel crewed by 10+1d20 pirates attempts to take characters hostage
4 1d4 cyclopes decide to eat the characters
5 Beautiful maiden or youth chained to a rock as a sacrifice for a coming sea-monster
6 Medusa

bocklin1 bocklin2 bocklin3 Bocklin4bocklin6bocklin7

Félicien Rops (1833-1898): Exemplifies the style of D&D that horrified Christian parents imagined in their most febrile nightmares during the 1980s Satanic moral panic. All but requires his players to create characters with Evil and/or Chaotic alignments. Runs creepy horror games, Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Has a tendency to make players uncomfortable with explicit descriptions.

Roll 1d6 Random Encounter
1 A coven of 2d6 depraved witches conducting unspeakable Black Mass
2 1d4 Succubi and/or Incubi, tempt characters into sordid acts of debauchery
3 Wandering Cleric (level 1d10) dedicated to a profane god and 1d6 cultist followers, probably in the midst of an unpleasant ritual
4 Vampiric sybarite seeking new blood-donors
5 Death
6 Satan

3d36421244d8118ccbaecc43cd51748e

Félicien Rops (1833-1898), 'Messe Noire' (Black Mass), 1877

Rops2 Rops4 Rops

Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach (1851-1913): Originally one of Böcklin’s players. An authoritative DM, he gets really angry when anyone uses violence to solve problems. Most NPCs are druids or ghosts or druidic ghosts, usually naked, usually telling you about your alienation from God, or the nature of injustice. His games are rich tapestries of ideas, where you get experience points for getting closer to cosmic harmony. There’s never any treasure worth taking, and no one is interested in money, anyway. He started with some version of D&D but has house-ruled it beyond all recognition.

Roll 1d6 Random Encounter
1 2d20 frolicking water elementals urge characters to cast their clothes and worldly possessions into the water
2 Stern vegetarian ghost lectures characters about the evils of eating “lumps of animal flesh”
3 Alluring druids demonstrate the artificiality of monogamy, invite characters to join
4 Elder earth elemental brings forth a bounty of organic vegetables from its body, providing magical healing
5 A sphinx asks riddles with answers like “peace” and “nature,” alternatively sermonizes about the destructiveness of organized religion
6 Enigmatic stag crosses your path, stares at characters soulfully

deifenbach1deifenbach4 deifenbach3diefenbach5diefenbach6

Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898): Runs two games: an Oriental Adventures game that’s vivid and richly realized but borderline-offensive in its depiction of a monster-haunted mythological Japan, and a very dark Pendragon game where everyone is a fallen knight or a scheming princess or a demented fairy or something and the chivalric code barely conceals our violent, transgressive passions. All treasure dispensed in jewel or clothing form. Develops intricate house-ruled subsystems for disease progression, seduction, and disguising yourself, but ignores or handwaves most of the rules-as-written in the actual books.

Roll 1d6 Random Encounter
1 Sophisticated ghoul lectures characters about art and tries to convince them to let it eat them
2 Demented magic-user (level 1d10) casts beguiling spells and phantasms
3 1d6 diseased revelers, masked, intoxicated
4 2d6 sinister fauns play creepy music and follow characters around, serenading them; refuse to stop
5 Sinister knight/samurai blocks the path, demanding answering to macabre riddle
6 Coldly furious female fighter (level 1d10) seeks vengeance, utterly destroys anyone impeding her

beardsley 2 beardsley 3 beardsley1

beardsley5beardlsey4

Harry Clarke (1889-1931): Sets all of his games in Ravenloft. Constructs excessive, horrifying deathtrap and funhouse dungeons, usually designed by psychopathic wizards/vampires or reclusive weirdos. In any given session there is a high probability of ending up dismembered or buried alive or mind-controlled or just insane. TPKs commonplace.

Roll 1d6 Random Encounter
1 Every surface in the room sprouts poisoned saw-blades
2 2d6 diseased zombies, former victims, shamble forth from a crumbling wall
3 Rug-covered pit trap leads to oubliette, currently occupied by 1d3 ravenous cannibal prisoners
4 Hallucinatory gas-trap leads to paranoia and amorphous horror
5 The door to the room seals behind characters, and dirt begins filling the room
6 Insane vampiric warlock (level 1d10) broods over his library, attended by a demonic servant

clarke7 clarke8 clarke2 clarke9clarke3faust

St. Severine’s Skull – Character Portraits

These character portraits were drawn by the talented Bronwyn McIvor (of Beemonster Illustration), who plays Wynflaeth.  This is the party I’ve been taking through the St. Severine’s Skull Megadungeon.  They’re currently on the second level of the Dungeons below the Keep in the Inner Bailey, way ahead of the material I’ve posted here (they’ve been through the Gatehouse, Chapel, Catacombs, Library, Archives, Black Tower, Laboratories, Cellars, and the 1st level of the Dungeons so far).  They’re a pretty balanced party and have been playing well, with no deaths – they mostly consist of new players who don’t have bad habits and so actually run away when things seem dire or too hot to handle.  They’re getting close to the Skull but they’re running very low on food and spells at the moment; at the end of the last session they locked themselves in a forgotten treasure vault in hopes of deterring the Goblin tribe inhabiting the Keep from feasting on their flesh.

Wynflaeth

Wynflaeth (Half-Elf Cleric) and Biff the War-Pony.

Simsa

Simsa, Gnome Ranger – a possibly deranged xenophobe and nature-lover.

Tully

Tully, a definitely deranged fire-worshipping Dwarf Barbarian with a zeal for the destruction of Undead, preferably by cleansing flame.

AndroAndro, an Aasimar Rogue in the service of the Church.

 

Sigil’s Most Wanted

I recently made a bunch of wanted posters for my players as handouts – the law has finally caught up with them after a year and a half of hijinx in the City of Doors.

Wanted Pandemonium Six

The original party met in the Howling Land of Pandemonium; due to their exploits the Sigilian authorities have dubbed them the “Pandemonium Six.”

Wanted Alfgrimr

Alfgrimr was a character made by a Planescape veteran who, unfortunately, has now left the campaign (due to graduating from library school).  Alfgrimr was a very, very odd character – a water genasi Cipher of the Transcendent Order (which meant that if his player said he took an action, even in jest, he had to take that action), he was obsessed with achieving immortality and thus was always collecting odd bits and pieces along his journeys in the hope that they would extend his lifespan.  He was also crazily ruthless and disturbingly creative.  For a period another character possessed a Helm of Telepathy – which, at our table, is now represented by a paper crown worn by the player whose character is wearing the helm – and Alfgrimr’s player would periodically pass the telepath unsettling notes, the “ambient thoughts” rolling around in Alfgrmir’s twisted consciousness.  He also died a lot, and eventually became a proxy of the Norse god Baldr.

Wanted Kets

A catfolk Rogue and former street urchin, Pockets has a history that feels a bit like something out of a Dickens novel crossed with Selina Kyle and Garrett from the Thief series.  The abandoned daughter of the former Cat Lord of the Beastlands, “Kets” is a hardened, embittered seventeen-year old pickpocket turned upscale burglar who usually is about as jaded as they come.  She fights with a rapier and a winxy pistol, an ensorceled firearm she picked up in a Demiplane modeled on Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland.  She’s defiantly True Neutral.

Wanted Gwendolyn

Gwendolyn is the animal-lover of the group and one of the two Good characters.  Along with Belric, below, she helped create a giant, green super-intelligent hog monster that grows bigger the more it eats and is now housed in an extradimensional warehouse in the Sigil’s slums, hence her moniker “Swine-Mother,” bestowed on her by a group of Xoasitects.  She’s a half-elf Ranger/Druid and so serves as the party’s main healer.  She often tends to spend a healthy portion of a given sessional wild-shaped into some sort of bird.  She’s also slightly deranged from wearing a Helm of Telepathy for a bit too long.  Oh yeah, and she’s wearing a symbiotic Corset now…

Wanted Klaira

Klaira is the party’s Bard/Gunslinger and the only other Good character, so she’s forced into the role of “group conscience” pretty frequently.  She’s also on the run from Unseelie bounty hunters who want to return her to a twisted fey aristocrat who previously kept her around as an enslaved storyteller, Scheherazade-style.  During the Savour of Madness adventure in Ravenloft she got grafted with a reptillian tail remeniscent of a chameleon’s.

Wanted Belric

Belric is a Halfling… and also the child of an Olympian demigod from Arborea.  He’s a Sorcerer who specializes in lightning spells, a former Athar turned Sensate, and easily the whackiest character in the party – he’s got all the appetite of a Hobbit and a taste in mind-altering (and body-altering) substances that would match William Borroughs.  He eats and drinks everything: mysterious chaos-cheese from Limbo, age-reversing potion, Alignment-altering liquor, animal petitioners on the Beastlands, and dozens of other morsels and tinctures.  Chaotic Neutral to the core.  He was reincarnated as a Kobold for awhile.  He’s also bedded fallen celestials, fairies, and probably a few things I’ve forgotten about…

Wanted Achaia

Achaia is a Fetchling Rogue/Shadowdancer with a Stealth bonus so high I often don’t even call for Stealth checks anymore.  She can shapeshift and hide in plain sight, and steals pretty much anything that isn’t nailed down, which all goes into a capacious bag of holding.  She’s usually pretty self-serving but seems to have a soft spot for children and simialrly vulnerable types, going out of her way to aid the downtrodden and neglected.  The hat was filched from the Mad Hatter’s felinoid house.  She’s also got a nice little time-manipulating stopwatch a Paladin polymorphed into Goblin form gave her after an escapade on Acheron.

Wanted RulgaRulga was a character made by a player who unfortunately had to leave the campaign, but she was great while we had her.  A Dwarf Monk and member of the exacted Fated – who are something like Planescape’s Objectivists and Nietzscheans – she served as a major voice of reason (she was also the only Lawful character in a party full of Chaotic types).  She eventually met Arthur Pendragon in Avalon on Elysium – he was waiting to be recalled to Albion on the Prime Material Plane, but the party somehow convinced him to join them, and over time the two had an extremely strange off-kilter romance that survived several reincarnations.

Sewerscape: Starsnouts

Star-Nosed Mutant

The Effulgence brought many gifts to the folk of the sewerscape.  The blind creatures known as Starsnouts were given one of the greatest gifts of all – a second sight, which they call the Mindscent.  Powerful psychics and prognosticators, these Molekin are also amongst the most dangerous denizens of the tunnels.  The mass of slimy tentacles sprouting from about their nostrils are not only physically powerful, able to wrench a Ratkin’s head from his neck with the twist of a tendril, they contain psionic receptors giving the Starsnouts the ability to literally smell the minds of others and, through concentration, the power to manipulate and mutilate them.  As a result, Starsnouts are usually served by a caste of psychically dominated thralls, who perform virtually all manual labour in Starsnout settlements.  The Starsnouts themselves dedicate themselves principally to mystic matters.  Indeed, most Starsnout tribes resemble religious cults, dedicated to ancient idols dredged from the muck, particularly revering ancient machines that exude powerful vibrations: rusted jukeboxes, washing machines, autopianos, stereos, and other devices the Starsnouts are able to psychically power (such machine-deities effectively run on “prayer” – through the collective mental adoration of their worshippers).  Being blind, Starsnouts usually eschew guns and similar weapons favoured by other tribes.  They have few laws save prohibitions against blasphemy and similar malfeasances; heretics, smelled out by Starsnout inquisitors, are punished by having their nasal tentacles severed, leaving them powerless and blind.

Sewerscape: Mouldwights

mouldwight

There are hundreds of different Mouldkin strains in the sewerscape, but none more common than the insidious Mouldwight.  Shambolic husks reanimated by the fungi that infest them, Mouldwights appear as near-skeletal corpses covered in fruiting bodies, their skulls often crowned by a prodigious mushroom-cap or cluster of puffballs (depending on subspecies).  Displaying rudimentary intelligence and an alien, predatory cunning, Mouldwights roam the tunnels below in search of additional carcasses to colonize.  If they come across living beings they do not hesitate to attack, breathing clouds of toxic spores which, if inhaled, infect a host and slowly eat away at them from the inside-out, necrotizing their organs and spreading beneath their flesh, finally bursting through their skin in a horrific profusion of caps, stalks, and toadstools.  Many Mouldwights also possess lash-like, cankerous tendrils they use to pull victims towards them in order to administer their corruptive exhalations.  Mouldwights rapidly decompose their host bodies, however, and eventually the decayed remnants of their hosts simply collapse.  The Mouldwight fungi linger for a short while before withering and dying, unless a new host wanders by in the meantime.  Because Mouldwights can reproduce quickly they frequently form packs, coordinating their efforts to trap would-be prey – presumably the creatures communicate using spores since, unlike some Mouldkin, Mouldwights do not speak.  They are highly vulnerable to fire, sunlight, and fungicides, and prefer the dampest, darkest areas of the tunnels – fortunately for them, such areas are common in the mildewed labyrinth of the sewerscape.

Sewerscape: Vermigorgons

Medusa

Some believe Vermigorgons are mutated humans, warped into their current form by the Effulgence.  Others claim they were birthed in bygone days by the Biowitches of yore as living weapons, experiments that escaped into the sewers and thus survived the conflagration above.  Physically, they resemble human females (indeed, their bodies are closer to pre-Effulgence humans than most Trampkin) but with a mass of writhing, giant earthworms sprouting from their scalps instead of hair.  Through some quantum psychokinesis, a Vermigorgon can use her powers of observation to radically affect the molecular makeup of her surroundings, transmuting almost any known substance into mud simply by looking at it.  In this manner Vermigorgons can dig tunnels through the sewerscape and deliquesce predators and enemies, making them extremely dangerous foes.  The power is activated through the use of a specialized nictating membrane a Vermigorgon can almost instantly draw across her eyes; normally this membrane is drawn back into a Vermigorgon’s face.  Vermigorgons seem to dislike one another and rarely congregate in numbers.  Gatorkin, Frogkin, and other creatures are sometimes adopted by Vermigorgons as bodyguards, consorts, and servants; their lairs are usually labyrinthine mud-warrens with many mud pools where minions frequently lurk.  The motivations of Vermigorgons are frequently inscrutable and highly individualistic.  Certain members of the species have been known to collect large libraries, obsessing over matters of ancient history or mystic lore, while others lead hedonistic lives of debauchery and decadence.  Few seem to aspire to positions of real power, however – something which other denizens of the sewerscape are thankful for.

Sewerscape

Some time ago I ran an intense but short-lived forum game called Underdeep, a play-by-post strategic roleplaying game where the players adopted the role of subterranean rulers warring for control of an underground realm.  Underdeep featured a pretty typical fantasy world – deliberately vanilla (Orcs, Goblins, Dwarves, Dark Elves, etc) – but while running it I found myself wondering about alternate possibilities for underground worlds…

Sewerscape

Star-Nosed Mutant 2 CatkinGatorkin

The Great Effulgence burnt the world above to a cinder, and now only Blindghasts and gibbering Glowghosts dwell in the Lambent Lands above, lingering in the poisonous, glimmering wreckage of the megacities that once spanned the globe.  But down below, in the vast, interlinked sewer systems of those incinerated metropolises, life survived and thrived.  In the irradiated entrails of the earth, a seemingly endless labyrinth of pipes, passages, shafts, and tunnels, new societies have arisen, tribes of animals and people twisted by the same corruptive energies that desolated the world above.

The Ratkin are the most common – scabrous, plague-ridden scavengers and raiders who roam the tunnels in murderous Mischiefs, plundering and stealing, hoarding treasure in their feculent Middens.  The various Molekin tribes dwell deeper, extending the sewerscape with fresh excavations.  Perhaps most formidable of the Molekin societies are the Naked Queendoms, militant hive-realms dedicated to conquest and empire, though individually the dreaded psionic monstrosities known as the Starsnouts are more dangerous, telepathic abominations who delight in violating the minds and bodies of their enemies with their psionic powers and writhing nasal tentacles.  Then of course there are the Gatorkin, a pack of depraved, inbred, albino lizard-people with an insatiable longing for raw flesh, the nigh-unkillable, survivalist Roachkin, the conniving Batkin, the revolting, carrion-feeding Flykin, the rabid Racoonkin, and the pallid, mewling Trampkin, warped descendants of the tunnel-dwelling homeless.

Yet these creatures are not the only denizens of the sewerscape.  In the lower tunnels stranger beings stir.  The seething horror known as the Wormhost squirms through the lowermost bowels of the world while the protoplasmic Filth Elementals self-assemble out of coagulate effluvia made animate by the puissant rays that scoured the surface.  Deranged machines wander the deep places, pining for their former masters, while in certain ancient caverns of primordial origin the Wizened Ones groan in their dotage…

Inspirations

A handful: Necromunda, Redwall, Gamma World, Fallout, Metro 2033, Railsea.

Systems

I’ll be writing this as systems-neutral, but good systems would include hacked-up versions of Savage Worlds, Mutant Future, Omega World/Gamma World, d20 Modern, and probably lots of other systems.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén