BEARDED DEVIL

Monsters, Horror, Gaming

Tag: dungeon crawls (Page 1 of 2)

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

The characters in this session were:

  • Vespidae, a waspkin bard/cleric – a sacred dancer with a deathwish, shunned by the waspkin community for complicated ritualistic reasons, and a devoted follower of the Queen in Yellow.
  • Garvin Otherwise, a human rogue and burglar of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild, with a very, very peculiar past and a zoog pet, Lenore.
  • Cephalus T. Murkwater, a dagonian barrister and monk, specializing in martial arts and magical labour law.
  • Armand Percival Reginald Francois Eustace de la Marche III, a suspiciously pale, apparently human noble and sorcerer, and certainly not a ghoul (how dare such a thing be suggested).
  • An ancient and enigmatic Lengian cleric of the Mother of Spiders, name unknown. She wears bulky ecclesiastical garments covering an uncertain number of limbs and goes by “Sister.”

XP Awarded: 650 XP.

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

Faunsweald

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

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

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

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

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

Vespidae indicated the affirmative.

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t long before the hallucinations started.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The woman looked at the group with mad eyes.

“Who are you?” Vespidae asked.

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

“The Feaster from Afar. We killed it.”

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

“Years?”

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

“Then why not return to the surface?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sime-29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vespidae buzzed forwards.

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

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

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

Vespidae nodded. “Yes, my Queen!”

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

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

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

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

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

The characters in this session were:

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

XP Awarded: 700 XP.

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

*See the Ultimate Contagion Part 2.

cobweb-cliffs

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

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

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

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

The party agreed to abide by these restrictions.

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

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

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

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

Maps below are from Sprigley’s player.

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

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

Cobweb Cliffs 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cobweb Cliffs 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cobweb Cliffs 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

The characters in this session were:

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

XP Awarded: 400 XP.

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

Mainspring

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

clockwork city

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

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

Tinker1

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

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

Yam made a non-committal noise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

automaton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sound fair?” Wanda asks.

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

cable car

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

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

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

crystal-cave-fantasy-wallpaper-3

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

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

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

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

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

Digger

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

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

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

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

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

gnome

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

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

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

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

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

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

800px-Clock_Cogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

*See Hex Session II: “The Ultimate Contagion”

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

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

The characters in this session were:

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

XP Awarded: 200 XP.

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

Fungoid 001

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

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

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

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

demonstration

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

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

Rakes Progress

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

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

“I might have an idea,” Vespidae volunteered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

safe cracking

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

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

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

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

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

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

At this point, all Hell broke loose.

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

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

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

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

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.

St. Severine’s Skull: Hexenburg Castle – Gatehouse Dungeons

Dungeons

Soundtrack

This series of chambers connects to the catacombs, cistern, and barrow.  Grugnar uses them as his “workshop.”

GD1 – Trapped Passage

Down the stairs, you find a grimy stone hall that runs ahead for some distance into the subterranean gloom.  The spell of spoiled meat is very strong here.

Fortitude save DC 10 or be Sickened by the stench (-2 penalty on attack rolls, weapon damage rolls, saving throws, skill checks, and ability checks) while remaining in the gatehouse dungeon (new save required upon re-entry).

Grugnar has set a vicious trap here for those trying to descend into his lair.  A gut tripwire is suspended across the corridor.  If tripped, a sharpened battering ram on the ceiling swings down to hit characters.  Perception DC 20, Disable Device 20, Attack +15 (2d6+4/x4).

GD2 – Anteroom

A disgusting mass of tattered, rotting skins, broken bones, mutilated organs, and other castoff bits and pieces is heaped high in this room, attracting swarms of flies.  A few rats nibble on the putrescent remains.

GD 3 – Dining Room

A large table and a chair made out of whittled human bones and lashed together with intestines can be found here.  Both are sized for a very large creature – the table is quite high, and the chair large enough to seat someone at least eight feet tall.

GD 4 – Mask Chamber

This might once have been a cellar or storage chamber for the gatehouse, but it’s been converted into some kind of grotesque display room.  Covering the walls of the room are masks – dozens of them – made from flayed humanoid faces.  The skins have been heavily stretched and even patched with other pieces of skin to make them larger.  Heaped in a corner of the chamber is a greasy pile of humanoid hair.  Looking closer, you see it is actually a pile of humanoid scalps sewn together with the hair still on – crude wigs.

GD5 – Tannery Room

An extensive series of vats and racks are arrayed here – it looks like tanning equipment, used to turn hides into leather.  Knives used to scrape hair from flesh are scattered about on the floor.

Anyone who wants these used tools can get a tanner’s kit.

GD6 – Flensing Room

This room is some kind of filthy workshop.  Crates and tables have been arrayed here as makeshift work-surfaces, and a vast array of blood-stained knives, bone-saws, pincers, tongs, hatchets, and other bladed tools are evident.  On one table rests a partially flayed corpse, that of a human man.  Judging from the brands on his un-flensed palms and his split nose, the man was a criminal of some kind.

Any of the surgical tools could be used as a weapon equivalent to a dagger or short sword.

GD7 – Wardrobe

This chamber must once have been a storage room for salted meat or the like, judging from the rusted meat-hooks which dangle from the ceiling.  Instead of cured pork, however, the meat-hooks are now hung with monstrous garments made out of human skin.  Judging from the differing pigmentations evident on these patchwork suits, each was made from multiple people.  The garments are very large, as if made for someone much bigger than a normal humanoid.

GD8 – Trapped Passage

This passage reeks of mildew and stagnant water, and you can hear a dripping sound up ahead.

It’s also trapped with a rusty iron portcullis, part of the original fort to help block off any enemy miners, which Grugnar has converted into a makeshift trap.

GD9 – Cell Block

A long hall lined with rotting wooden doors stretches before you.  Metal slats on the doors allow a gaolor to look into the cells beyond.

GD10 – Cell

Dungeon

You can hear muffled moans from inside the adjoining chamber.

The door to this room is locked (DC 20 to pick, DC 22 to force).  Grugnar’s key opens it.

Chained to the far wall of this small, dirty cell is a young man in a monk’s habit, his head tonsured into a double crown, his robes filthy and streaked with blood.  He is praying loudly, but as he sees you, his eyes widen.

“My prayers have been answered!” he proclaims.  “I knew I would be delivered from this hell…”

This is Brother Ambrose a young priest-in-training who, along with his master, Father Umberto, and a Knight, Sir Albrecht, came to the Castle after hearing of its chapel and the holy club, known as the Hammer of Redemption, said to be interred within – a weapon said to have been wielded by the crusader Sir Arngrim, who reputedly used it to slay a hundred heathens in the Winter Crusade.

“We came to Hexenburg in search of the Hammer of Redemption, the Holy Cudgel – Father Umberto and I, and Sir Albrecht.  Before we could reach the chapel the Goblins and their demon-wolf leapt out at us, dragged Sir Albrecht back to their den.  The Father and I fled, but then that thing – that fiend that clothes itself in human skin – hit me over the head.  I’ve been here ever since.  I think it’s fattening me up – it keeps trying to feed me.”

Brother Ambrose will join the party to try and find Father Umberto and Sir Albrecht.

GD11 – Empty Cell

This small, square chamber is empty.  Some manacles dangle from chains attached to one wall, suggesting this is a cell.  Old bloodstains cover the floor, and there’s a small drain at its center.

There’s a secret door here, leading to the Barrow.

GD12 – Tapestry Room

Someone has draped the walls and floors of this disused storage chamber with disgusting wall-hangings and carpets made from poorly tanned human hides, some of them stitched together into revolting patchworks.

GD13 – Wine Cellar

This large cellar-chamber is stacked high with old barrels, though by now any wine they contain will be hopelessly sour.

A purely empty room, although a great place to hide.

GD14 – Collapsed Tunnel

This tunnel ends in a collapse – the ceiling has caved in, blocking the path.  There’s a narrow aperture near the base of the collapse where a child or small humanoid might squeeze themselves through to the other side.

Small creatures can squeeze through the cave-in, but it takes a DC 20 Escape Artist check to get unstuck at one point.  The perfect point for Grugnar to attack…

GD15 – Trapped Passage

The stones of this passage have changed in quality – where before the tunnels were of dressed stone, now they are simply hewn from the rock, perhaps suggesting that the dungeons ahead are older than the ones you just explored.

There’s another tripwire here, again DC 20 to spot and 20 to disable.  It releases two mace-heads on chains that have been smeared with centipede poison: +10 to hit each, 1d8+2 damage each, plus poison (Fort DC 11, 1 Dex damage, 1/round for 4 rounds, 1 save cures).

GD16 – Forsaken Shrine

A pair of stern stone doors graven with images of winged figures stand here.

The stone doors are shut (DC 25 to force open) but can be opened with the Winged Key.

A thick layer of dust carpets this cavernous, pillared hall, its walls and floor graven with thousands of tiny sigils, mostly obscured by the dust.  Halfway across the floor there’s a groove that bisects the chamber into two halves.  At the far end of the hall looms a massive stone statue in the shape of a prodigious bat-like horror, a monstrous, quasi-humanoid idol with tenebrous wings spread from wall to wall, its toothy maw gaping blackly.  Empty braziers and torch sconces are evident, and there’s a cobwebbed altar at the bat-god’s clawed feet.

This old Imperial shrine – dedicated to the bat-god Ikellus, a deity of nightmares, prophetic visions, transformation, and blindness – Knowledge (religion) DC 20 to recognize this obscure deity.  There is nothing of value here, but there is in the hidden chamber at the back of the hall (Perception DC 20 to locate – a torch-sconce, when adjusted, opens the door).

Anyone who brings any of the contents of the hidden chamber across the ominous line bisecting the temple activates a magical trap (DC 30 to discover or disable):

A horrible, high-pitched shrieking sound fills the chamber, echoing off the walls and pillars, emanating from the stone jaws of the bat idol.  The black mouth of that twisted statue vomits forth a shadowy torrent, a fluttering swarm of leathery bodies – bats by the hundreds, swirling out of the idol’s maw and flitting towards you!

The idol spawns a Bat Swarm once per round until the character who stole the item returns across the line or until the thief is dead.  Swarms linger if the objects are returned but return to the idol’s maw if the thief is killed.  The shrine can hold a maximum of 12 swarms, but if a swarm is killed a new one spawns in its place the next round.  Short of destroying the idol the only way to escape is to seal the bats inside the room by shutting fast the stone doors.

GD17 – Hidden Chamber

Beyond the secret door lies a small vault where holy objects sacred to the shrine are stored; these artefacts must have lain undisturbed for centuries.  Most are nothing more than ceramic ewers and cups painted with glyphs or symbolic figures, but some of the goblets are of silver, inset with onyx gems.  There’s also an ornate ritual mask, metal, forged in the semblance of a bat’s twisted visage.

There are 6 silver cups set with onyx gems, worth 100 gp each.  The Mask of the Bat, when worn, causes its wearer to become Blind grants its wearer Blindsight for 40 ft. as if they were under the effects of an Echolocation spell.  It also allows its wearer to use the spell Ear-Piercing Scream once per day with a caster level equal to their level.  It is worth 3500 gp.

St. Severine’s Skull: Hexenburg Castle – Catacombs

A-Procession-in-the-Catacomb-of-Callistus

Soundtrack

As you descend the stair to the catacombs, you feel a wave of unease ripple through you.  The tunnels here are of hewn stone and ancient brick, carved with unfamiliar characters – probably a remnant of the original Imperial fortress.  A thick layer of dust covers everything, disturbed only by the Father’s footprints.

Perception DC 10:

Somewhere in the catacombs you can hear what sounds like a dull heartbeat, echoing through the winding passages.

The catacombs contain dozens and dozens of skeletons, but while Saint Severine’s heart beats within its sepulchre, they cannot rise.  The moment the heart is destroyed or removed, the skeletons will animate en masse.  However, even if the heart is not destroyed, there are several monsters here – dire rats, a cluster of gricks, vermin, an ooze, and similar creatures.

If the heart is destroyed or removed from the catacombs, very bad things happen.  There are opportunities along the way to mitigate these things, like lighting candelabra and chandeliers in the ossuaries, or covering the floors with embalming fluid and anointing oil to form make-shift fire traps.  Still, destroying the heart could result in the whole party being overwhelmed if they are not careful.

Random Encounters

The catacombs are a dangerous area, somewhat beyond the abilities of a 1st or 2nd level party; low-level characters may not be able to effectively “clear out” the space fully.  To help reflect this, random encounters in the crypts can be a bit more frequent than in other parts of the dungeons.  Note that apart from the Huecava there actually aren’t any undead here unless the Heart of St. Severine has been removed or destroyed.

Roll d10 Result
1 Slime Mould.
2 1d6 Dire Rats.
3 1d4 Slime Crawler Larvae.
4 Giant Centipede.
5 1d4 Stirges.
6  Giant Stirge.
7  1d2 Gricks.
8  1d3 Slime crawlers.
9 Spider Swarm from the Archives.
10 Otyugh.

Level 1

Catacombs Level 1

C1 – Embalming Chamber

A pair of stone slabs are evident here, mottled with old stains.  An array of tools – knives, scalpels, saws, and other implements – are arranged neatly on a stone shelf to one side.  The air here smells lingeringly of spices, preservatives, and decomposition.  Curiously, there are some strange skins on the floor, squamous and translucent, like the moulting of some large reptile.

C2 – Embalming Supplies

The door to this room is locked (DC 20 to pick, DC 20 to force) and can be opened with the silver key.

Dozens of jars of embalming fluid are stored on wooden shelves here, along with a great quantity of bandages, herbs, dyes, and other preservatives.  Funerary shrouds and other cerements, sewing needles, thread, cups, and anointing oils are also stored here for the consecration of the dead.

Though the players may not realize it, the contents of this room are incredibly valuable.  Each jar of embalming fluid is worth 50 gp, though it weighs 10 lbs, so if they somehow managed to transport all 50 jars of it out of here they’ll be 2500 gp richer.  There are also 20 jars of anointing oil here (25 gp each).  Both oil and fluid are also extremely flammable, making them very useful in a fight against the undead.  They don’t burn quite as well as alchemist’s fire, but if lit they deal 1d4 fire damage per round to anyone standing in them.

C3 – Defaced Shrine

A small shrine, presumably for the blessing of the dead before their internment, is evident here, but like the chapel upstairs it has been defiled.  The statue of an unidentifiable saint that presided over the shrine has been decapitated and otherwise defaced, its marble body smeared with old bloodstains, eerie runes daubed on the walls.  Black candles are scattered about the altar, upon which is stretched a small, burnt skeleton, likely that of a Halfling, Gnome, or human child.  The murals on the walls have been subtly defaced – the beatific figures, angels, and prophets they depict are all weeping blood or bear expressions of maniacal rage or lust.  Nailed to one wall are the remains of a large bird.

The Aklo runes here read “Praise be to the Carrion Queen” (Linguistics DC 20 to decipher).  Anyone who reads them out loud accidentally invokes a Bane spell, Will DC 15 to resist.

C4 – Ossuary

A huge number of bones has been stored in the walls of this cavernous ossuary, sorted by type: skulls, femurs, finger bones, ribs, spines, and every other sort of bone.  A chandelier made from human bones is suspended from the ceiling of the round chamber.  This place is truly vast – there must be hundreds of dead buried here.

If the heart is destroyed, treat the mass of bones reanimated here as 2d20 unarmed Skeletons.

Anyone taking the effort to light the chandelier will prevent the dead from rising even if the heart is destroyed.  If they are later blown out, the bones will reanimate.

C5 – Ossuary of Skulls

This round ossuary consists on shelf after shelf of skulls – hundreds, perhaps thousands of them.  None of them are marked in any fashion.  A central pillar made from human skulls and other bones holds up the vaulted ceiling, and bony candelabra are scattered about the room.

If the heart is destroyed, a Skull Swarm appears here.

Anyone taking the effort to light the candelabra will prevent the dead from rising even if the heart is destroyed.  If they are later blown out, the bones will reanimate.

skull shelves

C6 – Damaged Ossuary

This circular ossuary has been thoroughly despoiled, its cadaverous candelabra smashed, its shelves of skulls toppled, its racks of bones scattered and broken.  A hideous, vaguely serpentine thing is bent over one skeletal heap; it uses the four tentacles that snake from its stub-like head to pick up bones and crack them in two, devouring the marrow with its beaked, squid-like maw.

A Grick lurks here.  If even remotely wounded the Grick quickly retreats into the grick lair in Ossuary 6 (C9).

If the heart is destroyed, treat the mass of bones reanimated here as 2d20 unarmed Skeletons at half hp.

Since the candelabra here have been smashed, they cannot be lit to prevent the dead from rising.

C7 – Children’s Ossuary

This large, round ossuary looks to contain the remains of children – the bones here range in size, but all of them are very small.  Many have been affixed to the walls and ceiling to form sacred designs.  A small shrine with unlit candles and bowl for proffered coins sits in the center of the room.

Lighting the candles and leaving at least 1sp in the bowl prevents 2d20 Small Skeletons from spawning here if the heart is destroyed.

C8 – Tableau

This rectangular ossuary is extremely elaborate, with multiple corpses dressed in the now-tattered robes of monks, presiding over a macabre shrine made entirely of bones, complete with a bone altar and bone icons affixed to the walls and ceiling, and a bone rack with dozens of candles.

As usual, if the candles are lit here, then it prevents 2d20 unarmed Skeletons at half hp from rising if the heart is destroyed.

C9 – Grick Nest

A heady animal musk fills the air of this desecrated ossuary, which is covered in moulted reptilian skins.  The shelves of neatly sorted bones that would once have lined the walls have been thoroughly plundered, formed enormous charnel heaps of gnawed human remains.  A great heap of enormous, sallow eggs is secured to one wall with a sticky mucilaginous slime.

Two gricks are hiding in the bone-piles – Stealth +14.  They attack anyone who interferes with the eggs or lingers in this chamber.

Dem Bones
C10 – Tomb of St. Helga’s Font

The stone door to this tomb is locked (DC 25 or silver key to open, DC 25 to force).

This small, square tomb is lined with carved niches, each containing a human skeleton wrapped in rotting cerements.  Large black rats scurry to and fro, squeaking and chittering.  Along one wall of the tomb is a small alcove with a statue of Saint Helga the Fair, a protector of the dead and patron saint of the murdered and mutilated.  In her hands she holds a small basin that looks like it might once have held water.  Unlike the other statues you’ve seen in the catacombs, this one has not been defaced.

Placing holy water in the basin sanctifies the corridor, preventing 12 skeletons from rising if the heart is destroyed.  A Cleric who prays at the shrine receives a Blessing of Fervour (this is useable once per day)

The dead here do have a few odds and ends – a thorough looting turns up 4 copper rings (2 gp each), 3 silver rings (5 gp each), and a Charm Bracelet with only a Loving Heart charm remaining.  Looting the dead, however, ensures they will rise.

C11 – Tomb of the Blasphemous Book

The stone door to this tomb is locked (DC 25 or silver key to open, DC 25 to force).

This square tomb has carved niches along the walls containing dozens of skulls, which all bear decorative paintings of religious scenes, though age and the depredations of rats and other vermin has caused some of their paint to peel.  At the far end of the tomb stands a lectern upon which a book sits open.  Two unlit braziers flank it.

If the heart is destroyed, a Skull Swarm appears here, unless both braziers are lit.

The book is quite strange:

On the surface this book appears to be a very standard holy text, a collection of scriptures with ornate illuminated illustrations.  However, closer inspection reveals that the text seems to have been changed.  The illustrations are subtly wrong – figures who should be heroes and saints are depicted with strange deformities, and many scenes are hideously transformed so that the holy men and women depicted are engaged in acts of extreme depravity or violence.  Moreover, key words in the text have been altered or unusual endings tacked on to parables so that the wrong lesson is taught, the forces of Light and virtue ridiculed, and those of sin and excess lauded.

If studied for 48 hours or more over at least 6 days, the Blasphemous Book plagues any Good character who reads it with nightmares that prevent them from sleeping properly, waking up fatigued, for 1 week.  Evil characters, however, find the book’s subject-matter invigorating and receive a permanent +1 inherent bonus to an Ability score of their choice.  This text is worth 10,000 gp, but almost no one save heretical cults and the like would buy it – selling it could be an adventure in itself.  If the players wish to appease the Cult of the Withered Hand, who will be arriving at Hexenburg shortly, the book may be helpful.

C12 – Warrior’s Tomb

This long hall has many carved niches holding skeletons garbed in mail and clutching rusted swords.  A crumbling stair leads down into darkness.

Perception DC 15 to spot the Grey Ooze on the floor – it looks like a glistening patch of stone.

There are 12 skeletons with rusted longswords garbed in splint mail (AC 21) who rise if the heart is destroyed.

C13 – Dire Rat Nest

The stone door of this tomb has been smashed open and the chamber has been invaded by rats; the carved niches along the walls have been emptied of their skeletons and now form a series of nests.  Several abnormally large black rats scurry around, gnawing bones.  Rat-holes riddle the walls wherever the stonework has decayed.

Investigating the rat-nests yields 44 gp, 56 sp, and 134 cp.  There is also a small Idol of Crom Mogg here, a verdigris-encrusted statuette resembling a deformed humanoid with a dozen rat tails and four rat-like heads.  The disgusting idol allows any who prays to it and sacrifices before it to reroll all failed saves vs. disease or poison for one day, though they must accept the second result.  However, use of the idol warps the supplicant subtly, and they begin to give off a foul odour (-4 Charisma).  Ceasing use of the Idol allows the smell to disperse after three days.

There are 12 dire rats in this room; 3 will attack each character if anyone lingers here or starts searching the nests, and more will begin assailing the adventurers if they continue to loot the nests.

C14 – The Wyrmwife’s Tomb

The stone door to this tomb is locked (DC 25 or silver key to open, DC 25 to force).

A sarcophagus with the effigy of a grim but beautiful woman stands at the center of this chamber.  The walls are adorned with somewhat sinister paintings of a beautiful woman – possibly the same one interred here – falling in love with a mysterious figure who eventually reveals himself as a monstrous white wyrm in disguise.  The dragon is eventually slain by a knightly figure, and the woman is shown throwing herself from a cliff to join her paramour in death.

This is the tomb of Lady Lys, called the Wyrmwife, whose story can be known with a DC 20 Knowledge (nobility) check.  Lady Lys became betrothed to an enigmatic nobleman, Sir Pyotr, who was eventually revealed, as the murals depict, as a dragon.  He sired a child on Lady Lys, the bastard known as the Wyrmchild, who went on to perform deeds of great valour.  However, he was slain by Lady Lys’ jealous cousin, Sir Rudolf, and Lady Lys subsequently killed herself out of grief.

Getting a sarcophagus open requires a DC 20 Strength check or a crowbar.  Within lie Lady Lys’ remains garbed in a beautiful and well-preserved gown (120 gp) and adorned with a golden wedding ring (25 gp).  Pressed to her breast is a token of her dead dragon-lover, a single fang, hung on a golden chain around her neck and clasped to her bosom in her cold hands.  If worn, the Fang of the White Wyrm allows its bearer to speak Draconic and gain Cold Resistance 5.  It is worth 8000 gp.

If the heart is destroyed, Lady Lys rises as a Wight.

C15 – The Sepulchre of the Cudgel of Redemption

The stone door to this tomb is locked (DC 25 or silver key to open, DC 25 to force).  Upon it is a graven image of Sir Arngrim, a bearded, armoured knight with bare head, wielding the Hammer of Redemption.  The door is also trapped with a Glyph of Warding (DC 28 to find or disable – dispel is more likely) with a Terrible Remorse spell keyed to it (Will DC 17).

This large burial vault has but a single sarcophagus bearing the effigy of a stern, bearded warrior carrying a huge club carved with passages of scripture.  The walls here are adorned with dusty murals depicting the same warrior fighting hordes of tattooed, savage-looking warriors in a variety of settings.

Opening the sarcophagus requires a DC 20 Strength check or a crowbar.  Within, the skeleton of a knight dedicated to Sir Arngrim can be found, armoured in masterwork splint mail and bearing the Cudgel of Redemption, a +1 Holy Greatclub.  Against Evil Clerics and Blackguards, the weapon is even more effective, essentially acquiring the Bane ability (+2d6 additional damage) against such foes.  The Cudgel is worth 20000 gp.

If the heart is destroyed, the skeleton rises from the dead (as an undead creature, he doesn’t suffer from negative levels, so he can still wield the Cudgel) as a Wight, though armoured in masterwork splint mail (AC 21).

Level 2

Catacombs

Cataombs Level 2

C16 – Looted Servants’ Crypt

The door to this series of crypts has been broken down.  A dozen wooden coffins are placed in this long, vaulted chamber, though they are badly rotten and infested with vermin.  Flies buzz about the room and rats scurry everywhere; some of them seem to have made their nests in the decaying coffins or in the walls.

There’s really not much to loot here – the servants weren’t buried with any jewellery.  If the heart is destroyed, 12 Zombies at half hp rise from the dead.

C17 – Infested Servants’ Crypt

A disgusting, vaguely slug-like creature with a clutch of slimy tentacles and a pair of insectoid mandibles gorges itself on the flesh of an embalmed corpse in this room, which contains a dozen plain wooden coffins.  Some of the others have likewise been broken into, but most of the coffins here are relatively intact, though starting to decompose.  The large slug-thing seems very busy eating, rapidly devouring the corpse.

A Slime Crawler lurks here.  Nothing of value here, but 8 Zombies rise from the dead here if the heart is destroyed.

C18 – Undefiled Servants’ Crypt

The stone door to this tomb is locked (DC 25 or silver key to open, DC 25 to force).

A dozen finely wrought wooden coffins are placed in niches in this chamber or laid on low pedestals throughout the room.  They don’t look like they’ve been disturbed.  At the far end of the chamber is a small, rather plain font, long gone stagnant.

Nothing to loot here, though 12 Zombies rise if the heart is destroyed.  If someone casts Purify Food and Water on the font, the dead don’t rise in this room.

Casket

C19 – Scholar’s Crypt

The stone door to this tomb is locked (DC 25 or silver key to open, DC 25 to force).

This small crypt bears a number of stone sarcophagi carved with images of robed men – perhaps priests or scholars.  Their expressions are beatific and wise; one has an impressive beard.  The walls are adorned with finely carved passages of holy scripture.

The 6 scholars buried here rise as Zombies if the heart is destroyed.  The tales on the walls recount various parables of the seven virtues (chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, humility).

Getting a sarcophagus open requires a DC 20 Strength check or a crowbar.  Within, the scholars have a few objects of value, but the bearded scholar has a masterwork quarterstaff.

C20 – The “Dining” Room

This chamber has been set up in a macabre tableau.  A dozen skeletons dressed in decaying finery have been arrayed around a massive table made of bones and preserved human skin, all of them seated in bone chairs.  Hanging on the walls are tapestries bearing a wolf’s head symbol, sometimes quartered with other heraldic sigils – trees, moons, stars, a bear’s paw.  The table has been set with fine silverware, and the skeleton of a monstrous boar sits in the middle of table, surrounded by the skeletons of fowl, rabbits, and other beasts.  The scene comes complete with a skeletal jester with a bell-cap and motley, poised near the head of the table where a lordly skeleton raises a cup set with black jewels in a toast.

The 12 Dinner Guests rise as skeletons if the heart is destroyed, attacking with silver cutlery (treat as daggers).  The cursed jewelled cup is called the Cup of Desiccation.  Anyone who drinks from the cup becomes horribly desiccated, taking 5d6 points of non-lethal damage and becoming fatigued unless they pass a DC 20 Fortitude save.  In addition, the character cannot slake their thirst for 1d3 days after drinking from the cup, even if they pass their save.

C21 – Knight’s Crypt

The stone door to this tomb is locked (DC 25 or silver key to open, DC 25 to force).

Three stone sarcophagi bearing the effigies of armoured knights clasping swords to their chests stand at the center of this chamber.  Adorning the walls are dozens of shields, helms, swords, and spears, somewhat rusted but otherwise intact; some of them look exceptionally well made.

There are 3 masterwork longspears and 6 regular longspears, 3 masterwork longswords and 10 regular longswords, 2 masterwork bastard swords and 3 regular bastard swords, and 6 masterwork heavy steel shields and 12 regular heavy steel shields here.  The dead in the sarcophagi rise as Skeleton Champions.

skulls

C22 – Chamber of the Gargoyle Lamp

A large, ornate lamp is set in an alcove halfway along the wall of this dusty hall.  The lamp is forged to resemble a grimacing gargoyle, its mouth vomiting light.

The lamp is a Gargoyle Lamp.  When lit and used to illuminate a statue that statue becomes temporarily lively enough to answer simple questions posed to it about what it may have seen over the years (provided the statue has a mouth).  Statues enlivened in this way can lie if they wish – they are not compelled to answer truthfully.  Each use of the Lamp rapidly burns a pint of lamp oil.  The Lamp is worth 7000 gp.

The niche containing the Gargoyle Lamp is trapped with a pressure plate (Perception DC 20 to notice, Disable Device DC 20 to disable).  Anyone who removes it without disabling the trap first activates a poisoned arrow trap concealed in the wall opposite the Lamp.

C23 – Defiled Noble’s Crypt

This richly appointed crypt has been defiled, one of its six marble sarcophagus broken open, the sculpted effigy on its lid shattered.  Feasting on the embalmed remains within the broken sarcophagus is a black rat the size of a small dog, tearing through the corpse’s cerements with razor-like incisors.  Whoever broke into the sarcophagus probably already looted the body.

The remains rise as a Zombie with half hp; the remaining 5 rise as Zombies with full health.

There’s also a dire rat here.

C24 – Wulfheim Noble’s Crypt

The stone door to this tomb is locked (DC 25 or silver key to open, DC 25 to force).

Half a dozen marble sarcophagi fill this chamber, each bearing the sculpted, marble likeness of a man or woman in rich attire.  Hung on the walls are faded hangings depicting a heraldic symbol of a black wolf’s head with red eyes and gleaming white teeth.

The noblemen here rise as 6 Zombies if the heart is destroyed.  Each is garbed in a noble outfit (75 gp) and bears a signet ring of the House of Wulfheim (5 gp each).  One of the women also has a bloodstone necklace (100 gp).  Getting a sarcophagus open requires a DC 20 Strength check or a crowbar.

C25 – Slimy Noble’s Crypt

This crypt contains six marble sarcophagi, but the marble effigies on their lids have been badly disfigured, pockmarked and eaten away.  Covering the ceiling and three of the walls of this expansive crypt is a glistening green slime.  Across the only wall not covered in slime is a huge, peeling mural depicting a battle between a group of armoured knights whose shields all bear a wolf’s head symbol and a ragged band of barbaric-looking warriors clad in furs.  The two forces meet in a snow-swept valley, the rocks spattered with blood from their vicious combat.

Green slime coats the walls.

The sarcophagi are Strength DC 20 (or crowbar) to open.  Inside are six embalmed dead (they rise as Zombies if the heart is destroyed) wearing noble outfits and signet rings.  One is also buried with a silver circlet worth 50 gp.

C26 – Collapsed Noble’s Crypt

The stone door to this tomb is locked (DC 25 or silver key to open, DC 25 to force).

Part of this hall has collapsed, burying some of the stone sarcophagi here and smashing others open to expose the embalmed, richly attired dead within.

There are 3 intact bodies, which will rise as Zombies if the heart is destroyed (they wear noble outfits and have signet rings).  Knowledge (engineering) or Stonecunning Perception DC 10 to tell that the room is definitely prone to further collapse.

C27 – Crypt of the False Sarcophagus

Tomb raiders or other looters have defiled the three ornate sarcophagi in this chamber and stripped it of valuables.  Scattered bones – what’s left of the occupants – and a few rusted shields and swords are all that remains here.

There aren’t any valuables here, but there is an undiscovered secret door – Perception DC 20 to discover it.  It’s actually a sarcophagus – one of the eyes of the cherubim on the sarcophagus opens the false bottom.  The tunnel beneath leads into the Laboratories (beneath the Black Tower).

C28 – The Door of Teeth

A pair of baroquely forged iron doors looms out of the darkness here, bearing the uncanny resemblance of a snarling wolf with bared fangs.

These doors are locked (DC 30 or use the silver key).  Any who enters who is not of the blood of Wulfheim must pass a DC 20 Will save or be stricken by the Curse of Teeth.  This horrific curse causes the teeth of the accursed to grow into twisted, disfiguring fangs that impair their speech (imposing a -6 penalty on any skill checks involving speech) and deal 1 point of Con damage as they grow in.  Each day, the curse continues to wreak havoc, teeth sprouting first from the character’s neck and face, then their back and shoulders, then spreading across their body, dealing 1d3 Dex and Con damage per day until the accursed dies or the curse is removed.  Accursed characters do gain a Bite attack (1d3 damage) as a natural attack.

C29 – The Sepulchre of the Wolf’s Fang

Within this ornate burial vault is a baroque sarcophagus set with an effigy of a cruel-featured nobleman.  Murals on the walls depict images of slavering black wolves with red eyes, staring at you hungrily, their fangs slavering.

The sarcophagus has a Greater Glyph of Warding on it (DC 31 to find or disable) keyed to a summoning spell causing a Hell Hound to manifest:

As you open the sarcophagus’ lid, a bloodcurdling howl echoes through the room, and a huge creature pads from the shadows at the rear of the chamber, as if spawned from the darkness itself – a massive black wolf, flame curling from its maw

Within the Sepulchre is the ancient Count Damien von Wulfheim.  He is garbed in the equivalent of a royal outfit (200gp), bears a signet ring (5 gp), and clasps the Wolf’s Fang, a +1 Wounding Bastard Sword with a pommel shaped like a wolf’s head with rubies for eyes.  He also wears the Frost Crown, a powerful magic item which possesses the following abilities:

The Frost Crown is an ancient possession of the House of Wulfheim, said to have originally been wrested from the head of a Hexenlander chieftain.  It occupies a Head magic item slot and confers a number of powers on its wearer.  First, it allows them to Speak with Animals at will, so long as those animals are wolves or kin to wolves (such as Worgs or Winter Wolves).  Secondly, it confers Cold Resistance 5 on the wearer.  Thirdly and finally, once per week the Crown can be used to cast the spell Control Weather, though you may only summon a blizzard, frigid cold, or hurricane force winds.  Anyone wearing the Crown undergoes a number of subtle physical and mental transformations.  Their eyes become colder and paler, gradually turning into a frosty ice-blue.  Their hair slowly turns silver and then white, and their teeth become curiously sharp.  Finally, they become increasingly haughty, aloof, and ruthless, and must make a DC 20 Will save every week or have their Alignment shift one step towards Lawful Evil.

The Frost Crown is worth 13000 gp.

If the heart is destroyed, the Count rises as a Mummy, equipped with Wolf’s Fang (this weapon doesn’t spread mummy rot, mercifully) if he still has it.

C30 – The Sepulchre of St. Severine’s Heart

This hexagonal crypt has few actual corpses – only a few carved niches with some mouldering skeletons in them.  However, at its very center lies a huge, gilded reliquary, opened to display a red, beating heart on a plush cushion.  The heart seeps a seemingly unending supply of blood that trickles down the reliquary and drains into small holes on the floor.  The sound of its rhythmic beat fills the chamber.

If Father Leopold/“Umberto” is with them:

The priest points his finger at the disembodied heart.  “It must be destroyed!  Cleanse this place of evil!”

If Brother Ambrose is with them, he will totally attempt to do this if the players don’t step up.  If they try to stop him, make sure to roll initiative in plain sight.  If Ambrose gets the drop on them and manages to destroy the heart – or if the players foolishly do so – this occurs:

The heart ceases to beat as the blade plunges into it and gouts of blood spew everywhere, a ceaseless sanguineous torrent gushing from the organ’s exposed orifices.  There is a sound reminiscent of a woman screaming, and a wave of utter despair ripples through you.

Father Umberto cackles, and suddenly the priest begins to change, his flesh sloughing off to reveal a ghoulish, cadaverous visage beneath, eyes glowing with an infernal light.

“You fool!” he declares.  “You have done what I could not.  Now that the heart is destroyed the dead can wake from their slumber!”

As he speaks, the bones in the crypt begin to stir, and half a dozen skeleton step down from their alcoves!

So, six skeletons here.  And a lot of undead elsewhere!  Anywhere that’s been sealed (sarcophagi, sealed tombs) takes the undead a little while to get through, but most of them will eventually find their way free.

Soundtrack

The Heart of Saint Severine is a powerful relic.  Anyone who carries it with them becomes Immune to Fear and gains a +4 bonus to saving throws against Death Effects and Energy Drain attacks.  In addition, Undead approaching within 10 ft. the Heart must make a DC 10 Will save or flee as if panicked (precisely as if they were just turned).  An Undead creature that makes its save cannot be affected by the Heart for 24 hours, but can be turned by those with the ability; however, Undead cannot touch the Heart, recoiling from it.  Any spell that creates Undead (Animate Dead, Create Undead, etc) fails to function if the Heart’s beat is audible (thus, a Silence spell negates this ability).  The Heart has an AC of 18 and 5 hp.  While in its gilded adamantine reliquary it has an AC of 24 and DR 2/-.  The Heart cannot be easily sold, but if presented to the Cathedral of St. Severine they will pay the characters 10000 gp.

Revenant

The Badhill Lads & Lasses

Black Hobbit

Soundtrack

The Badhill Lads & Lasses are a group of unscrupulous Halflings, originally from the Greyfarthing.  They’re a ragtag, unpleasant band of brothers, sisters, cousins, second-cousins-twice-removed, and other relatives, somewhat inbred from long years of cousin-marriage in the tunnels of Badhill, and they’ve acquired an unsavoury reputation over the years as thieves, thugs, poachers, and bandits.  The current group have come to Hexenburg following rumours of gold and other treasures in the crypts.  They’re led by the vicious Foxglove Twins, Trahald and Smygel (statistics can be found in the Appendix), and consist of six toughs armed with knives and clubs.  They form two groups of four – one Twin and three Lads or Lasses each – and begin combing the catacombs in search of treasure.  If they encounter the adventurers they will not hesitate to slit their throats and steal everything they’re carrying down to their last stitch of clothingThey might also be bartered with or intimidated, but any alliance formed with them is temporary at best.

If the Badhill Lads & Lasses attack, they will do so stealthily, avoiding direct confrontation, as described below (for example):

A knife twirls out of the darkness towards you, followed closely by a pair of shifty-looking Halflings in battered leather armour, their hair greasy and wild, their faces scarred and mean-looking.  The pair have a slightly inbred look, with exaggerated facial features and widely spaced eyes – in fact, you might have mistaken them for a pair of Goblins if it weren’t for their unshod, furry feet!  The pair both brandish cruel-looking knives.

Two will attack from the front while one of the Foxglove Twins and a third tough flank.  Badhill Halflings run away if injured for more than 5 hp – they’re total cowards.  But they regroup quickly and attack in numbers if required, and they’re certainly not above setting ambushes and fighting dirty…

St. Severine’s Skull: Hexenburg Castle – Chapel and Rectory

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Soundtrack

The chapel’s main bulk is a squat, round structure with a domed roof and a small, pillared entrance.  The building looks extremely old, but the small bell tower attached near the entrance and the rectory near the back are obviously much more recent additions.  The place exudes an eerie, horripilating feeling, making the hair on the back of your neck rise.

The Chapel is one of the most important parts of Hexenburg for characters to visit, as it contains many valuable items that will assist them greatly against the creatures elsewhere in the Castle, including some potent magical weapons and valuable scrolls, some of them considerably more potent than those usually available to 1st level characters.  However, it is far from a “safe” area for characters.  Its catacombs are currently devoid of undead, but the hundreds of bodies within will rise if the Mummified Heart of Saint Severine is destroyed, and a Huecava, Father Leopold, lurks in the chapel itself.  This crafty creature uses its Disguise Self ability to appear as Father Umberto, the priest who came here with Brother Ambrose and Sir Albrecht.  It killed the real priest (his body can be found hidden in the wardrobe in CH 8), and will try and lure characters down into the catacombs to destroy the Heart.

During the night, when its true form is revealed, the Huecava retreats to the catacombs and evades characters if possible.

For more details on Father Leopold, see CH3.

Chapel

CH1 – Narthex

The narthex of Hexenburg’s chapel is a shadowy antechamber covered in sacred murals depicting scenes from the life of Saint Malus, a warrior saint, including an image of the knight battling a demonic sea serpent and converting a community of Trolls.  These murals are now peeling and cracked, and some of the figures have been deliberately defaced.  A doorway to the left opens onto a stair, presumably leading up to the belfry.  Up ahead, a pair of double doors leads into the church itself.

CH2 – Belfry

The bell at the top of this belfry is cracked and badly tarnished, and the entire belfry is slick with guano.  Looking out from the bell-tower you can see over the walls of Hexenburg into the dark, snowy forest beyond.

Perception DC 10 to note the dozens of bats roosting here, if it’s the day.  If at all disturbed they become a bat swarm which will harass and attack characters until they descend the bell tower again.

CH3 – Church

Duomo

The church consists of an expansive dome supported by a series of columns, with a few broken, rotting pew scattered about the floor.  The place is windowless and very dark.  A fresco depicting the horrors of Hell on one side and the glories of Heaven on the other is visible overhead.  The celestial half of the image is swathed in cobwebs and dust, the faces of angels made grey and dim, with age, giving them the appearance of winged corpses, grime darkening the clouds and marring the empyrean purity of the sky.  Curiously, the infernal side of the fresco seems remarkably untouched, the grimacing demons and tortured souls still terrifyingly vivid.  There is an altar here, and a number of statues of Saints, but they seem out of place amongst the ancient stone columns and heathen darkness of the temple.  Several of the statues have been decapitated or otherwise disfigured, and the altar itself has been thoroughly defiled: sitting upon it in a pool of dried blood is a decaying human head, and a disturbing, antlered idol formed from wicker, human bones, and the skull of an enormous stag presides over the desecrated shrine.  Two arched doorways lead to other chambers of the desecrated chapel, and a third leads onto a stair winding down into the earth.  A small wooden door is marked “Rectory.”

Resting here is a very bad idea.  The place is Unhallowed and permanently Desecrated.

There is some treasure here: inside the altar in a locked compartment (DC 25 to pick, or use the silver key), within which is stored 4 flasks of holy water, a holy text, and a consecrated masterwork dagger.

If it is still daylight, Father Leopold will rush up the stairs from the catacombs, disguised as Father Umberto:

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Suddenly, a bedraggled-looking figure rushes up the stairs from the depths below, bringing with him a reek of the grave; he is so haggard that for a moment you take him for some undead monstrosity, but then you see he is alive.  The man is garbed in torn ecclesiastical robes and has tonsured hair.  His eyes are wide and frightened, his face contorted into an expression of horror.  He stumbles into the church.

“Thank the Light!” he exclaims.  “I did not think I would ever see another living soul again.”  He pants, recovering his breath.  “My name is Father Umberto,” he says.  “And I must beseech you, in the name of all that is holy, to come with me.  I have found the source of the corruption that plagues this castle – an undead heart, reanimated by some vile necromancer.  I would have destroyed it by my own hand, but the place is haunted by evil spirits – I barely managed to escape their clutches.  We must destroy the heart, and cleanse this place of evil once and for all!”

“Father Umberto” will insist on leading the characters down into the catacombs.  He grows very nervous and agitated if the characters wish to rest.  Play him as an utterly earnest and desperate character who seems to sincerely believe the heart is evil.  He possesses the silver key.

The father may have to make several Bluff checks (he has +8 to this skill, having lost 6 ranks from Stealth – Stealth is +6).  If the players want to roll a Sense Motive check, it’s DC 20 to catch a strange gleam in his eyes or feel that there’s something not quite right here.

If the party has Brother Ambrose with them, he’ll be convinced this is the real Father Umberto, and will urge the party to follow him.

Father Leopold will try and get the characters away from the rectory and other rooms, and if they start messing around with his old bedchamber or study he gets very agitated indeed.

CH4 – Baptistery

A baptismal font stands at the centre of this octagonal chamber.  The walls of the baptistery are adorned with murals depicting scenes from the crusades – images of heretics and heathens being slain by crusaders, hundreds of them impaled on stakes or decapitated, their heads piled high.  The gruesomeness of these murals is unusual, and, curiously, these murals look quite clean and intact compared to those in the narthex.  The font itself is ornate, crusted with sculpted images of cherubim, though in the gloom their faces look strangely cruel rather than beatific.  There is water within.

The baptismal font has been desecrated as well; it now produces unholy water.  In addition, anyone drinking from the water must make a DC 15 Will save or shift to an Evil alignment for 1 hour of real/player time.  Hand the player a note with this change (do not announce it out loud).  The character becomes filled with violent impulses and the desire to sacrifice his or her companions to the forces of darkness.  While under the effects of the water, the character will not be attacked by undead in the chapel or catacombs.

If a scroll of Consecrate or Bless Water is used on the font, it is restored to its prior state and will contain holy water instead of unholy water.

CH5 – Sacristy

This looks like a sacristy, where holy vessels are kept, with many prayer candles, linens, a huge, golden chalice set with rubies, incense censers, a thick book, and phials of anointing oil.  Unlike the main chamber of the chapel, this room looks undisturbed.

12 phials of anointing oil, a Hallowed Chalice worth 600 gold pieces, and a Tome of Hymns.  A Bard who studies the Tome, which takes 48 hours over at least 6 days, adds the spells Bless, Bless Weapon, and Bless Water to his or her spell list.

CH6 – Reception Room

Soundtrack

This small but well-appointed reception room might once have been quite comfortable, but now the hearth is cold, the chairs and divans are rotting, the thick rugs mouldy, the wall hangings in tatters.

CH7 – Vestry

This cloakroom is filled with the rotting remnants of robes and other holy vestments, held on pegs lining one wall.  Spiders have infested the robes, and their webs shroud the ceiling.

A spider swarm lurks in the robes.  There is little of value here save for a pair of Healer’s Gloves tucked in the pockets of one robe.  There are lots of ecclesiastical outfits, but they’re in very poor condition.

CH8 – Chapel Library

old books

This door is swollen shut – DC 20 Strength to force.

This large, square chamber is lined with shelves containing a variety of mouldering texts.  Many of them look like nothing more than chapel archives, but others are books of scripture and Apocrypha.  Some portions of the shelves contain stacks of old vellum scrolls instead of bound books.  There’s a small work-table here with an unlit candle.  A high window admits light, and a ladder allows access to the higher tomes.

Make Perception checks (stirges have +16) to notice the colony of 4 stirges roosting on the ceiling.  Otherwise the creatures will attack if the books are disturbed:

There is a fluttering, squeaking sound as four grotesque bat-like creatures with insectoid heads and juddering proboscises swoop towards you!

There are a lot of valuable objects here.  First, the following scrolls can be found:

4 Scrolls of Hide from Undead (1st level)

6 Scrolls of Protection from Evil (10th level)

3 Scrolls of Consecrate (3rd level)

3 Scrolls of Dispel Magic (5th level)

2 Scrolls of Speak with Dead (5th level)

2 Scrolls of Remove Disease (5th level)

2 Scrolls of Remove Curse (5th level)

2 Scrolls of Dismissal (10th level)

1 Scroll of Dispel Evil (10th level)

1 Scroll of Hallow (10th level)

1 Scroll of Raise Dead (10th level)

1 Scrolls of Cure Moderate Wounds, Mass (11th level)

The library also contains several books that may be of interest.  The first is a book on demonology, the Daemonomicon, which grants characters referring to it a +4 bonus to Knowledge (planes) check to identify evil outsiders (it also allows them to make such checks untrained).  Another is the Book of Martyrs, a text describing the lives and martyrdoms of many Saints, including Saint Severine.  If a character spends 8 hours studying this text, they acquire all of the knowledge normally gleaned from a Knowledge (religion) check concerning the Saint, as outlined at the start of the adventure (this includes the fact that her heart reputedly still lives!).

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There are also about a dozen holy texts here that are still mostly intact, each worth about 10 gp.

CH9 – Priest’s Chamber

The iron-bound door to this room is locked (DC 25 to pick, DC 25 to force, or use the silver key).

This small but well-appointed room includes a four-poster bed, and a tall, oak wardrobe.  Unlike most of the furnishings in the chapel and rectory, those here are still fairly intact.  In one corner, someone has built a small, macabre shrine with an improvised altar-stone upon which is lain the corpse of a rat, set before a kind of fetish or totem, a crude figrue made from fur and bones.

Perception DC 10 to notice the still-wet blood seeping from the wardrobe.  Within is the corpse of the real Father Umberto, and half a dozen ecclesiastical outfits.

The shrine is dedicated to a dark power of vermin and pestilence, the Prince of Decay, Crom Mogg.

CH10 – Priest’s Study

The iron-bound door to this room is locked (DC 25 to pick, DC 25 to force, or use the silver key).

This room appears to be a study, with a bookshelf and a writing desk.  On one wall is a portrait of a stern man in priestly robes, with piercing black eyes.  An inscription on the frame reads “Father Leopold.”  There are a few scattered papers strewn across the desk; most are badly decomposed, but some might be legible…

There’s a page here from Father Leopold’s Diary:

Chapel Document

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