Monsters, Horror, Gaming

Author: Bearded-Devil Page 1 of 9

How I Run a Citycrawl Campaign

There’s been some interest recently expressed on Discord and Google+ (before its demise – may it rest in peace) as to how I run this campaign. This is the first of a series of posts on how I approach an urban D&D game. It is, of course, not the only way to run this sort of thing – indeed, I suspect I rely rather less on a lot of common conventions for urban adventuring, most notably by eschewing procedural content-generation methods. I’m going to start by describing the kind of game I aim to run, and then I’ll talk about the procedures and techniques I use as a DM to create and sustain that game.

Urban Sandbox

Sandbox adventures frequently involve sprawling wilderness landscapes, hexcrawls, and similar structures. My goal is to take the feel of openness, freedom, and agency associated with typical sandbox play, but largely confined within the space of a single city. While some adventures have taken the characters outside of Hex (the main city in this game) to places like the wintry wastes of Troll Country, the Gothic province of Varoigne, the guts of the gigantic whale Genial Jack, and the depths of Faerie, the game is centred in and around Hex. In this sense, I am simultaneously adopting and inverting the approach of a West Marches campaign, which aims to cultivate an overarching environment, but also warns against the perils of “town adventures.” Hex is nearly all town adventure, but the town has been transformed into an adventure-worthy space.

I also DM for a large group – currently I have 10 semi-regular players. Because players come and go, skipping some sessions and attending others, the “plot lines” of the campaign are incredibly loose. There have been significant, ongoing events happening in the campaign world: Erubescence’s ambitions, the machinations of the Griefbringer, Hex’s ongoing labour struggles, a conspiracy quietly unfolding in the background which my players are now unraveling. And, likewise, there is a very rough “main quest” which the party dips into: their search for the mysterious volumes that comprise the Organon of Magic, ostensibly for the ancient archwizard and brain-in-a-jar, Master Melchior, whom much of the party actively distrust. Mostly, though, the game is a patchwork of disjointed episodes, a picaresque series of heists, vendettas, delves, and personal quests. This disjointedness is a feature, not a bug; while the players will sometimes pull on a plot thread and see where it leads, we never follow one storyline too long or too doggedly. They drive the “story” such as it is, choosing where to go, what to do, and what interests them most.

The closest literary analogues for this sort of game are Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, as well as Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, where a cast of recurring characters are swept up in a series of adventures only loosely connected to one another. Hex has other fictional forebears – Sigil, Cörpathium, New Crobuzon, Camorr, Ashamoil – but structurally, Lankhmar and Ankh-Morpork loom largest. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories also have something of this – London in Doyle’s writing sprawls Gothic and gaslit, a labyrinth of mysteries and fog which the protagonists wander, embroiled in a disconnected sequence of macabre incidents and misadventures.

In designing Hex, I made sure to have the city open onto various other worlds and nested structures. Setting it atop an ancient, gigantic city, I made it adjacent/continuous with a megadungeon that serves as a convenient adventuring location; that dungeon is thick with nested, impossible spaces, pocket dimensions, and portals. The idea is to present such a smorgasboard of possibilities that the players never get bored and always have a host of options as to where to go next. I want to evoke a sense of rich, infinite adventure.

Baroque DMing and Urban Space

At one point someone on Google+ (I think it was Patrick Stuart?) described what I was doing as a kind of counterrevolution. While I run a 5th edition game, philosophically I borrow a lot from old-school D&D – my game features the potential for fairly high lethality (in practice, death is pretty rare because my players are cautious), open-ended challenges, creative problem-solving, an emphasis on an immersive setting, and a prioritization of exploration and emergent storytelling over “narrative.” I prefer puzzles to “balanced” combat, out-of-the-box thinking to skill rolls, rulings to an excess of rules. The one old-school standby which I tend to eschew is procedural generation. I’m not oppposed to random tables inherently, and I do use some occasionally both of my own devising and otherwise, but I far prefer to have prepared as much as possible beforehand. The template I’m looking back to here is City State of the Invincible Overlord, where the city is entirely mapped and keyed.

In navigating the city, I want my players to feel as if nothing is being invented on the spot – the setting should feel as if it exists independently of them, and they are exploring its secrets. It should be suffused with interesting details and a sense of grandeur and verisimilitude. My goal is to produce a feeling of absorption and fascination, an experience of actually navigating a real-feeling, mind-independent space.

This is, in large part, why I wanted a physical, detailed map of the space, so that the players could see the city sprawling before them. It’s a common dictum that this is the wrong way to run cities, the idea being that maps constrain the imagination and pin down what could be a fantastic space too much. In drawing the map, I tried to create a visually appealing and chaotic space that enhances rather than undermines a sense of mystery. Yes, we can all see the Tower of Whispers on the map, but what could be inside such a bizarre spire in the middle of the city? Why is there a giant crater in the middle of the southern half and why haven’t people rebuilt over it? Is that a gigantic dragon statue broken into peices in the lower left-hand corner? And what is with the giant trees? I want players to look at the map and feel excited to explore. And, of course, there’s a hidden space as well – the Old City below, the massive sprawl of tunnels, sewers, caves, and ruins that the PCs have only partially explored.

The aesthetic I’m going for, then, is explicitly a maximalist one – in some ways, “the Baroque” is a good descriptor for what I’m attempting.

The Baroque celebrates excess, as this Jordaens painting, “ As the Old Sang the Young Play Pipes ,” illustrates.

Historically, the Baroque was aligned with a Catholic counterrevolution against Protestant austerity and simplicity; Baroque aesthetics strove to evoke a sense of awe and extravagence, with plentiful, ornate detail, complexity, sensuousness, emotion, and drama, in contrast to the dour severity that often characterized the Reformation. My goal in DMing is to create something of this vertiginous rush of complexity and detail, while still making the experience intelligible and player-driven. Indeed, player agency here is absolutely key: it’s vital that the players feel they can explore wherever they wish and find something engaging to interact with. Otherwise, the setting would end up feeling like a very pretty but ultimately flat series of backdrops that the PCs roll by on their way to and from pre-scripted plot points. To ensure this doesn’t happen, it’s important to distinguish between prepping and planning. The former is about providing a detailed, thought-through environment for players to explore and inhabit; the latter is about aiming for a specific narrative arc or set of story beats. I do a ton of the former and almost none of the latter.

A picture taken before a game…
Things get a bit more complicated during a game!

During play, I keep the Hex map itself spread out in front of players at all times, so they can see where they are and how locations relate to one another spatially. I don’t always go street-by-street in describing everything as they move around the city – this would make the game very slow – but I do “zoom in” to a district level, street-by-street, once the party arrives in a given neighbourhood. I think of it a bit like how Planescape: Torment (a huge influence) handles city movement: there’s a map with districts, you click on one, and then you “zoom in” to that particular district’s individual streets.

Zoomed-out map from Planescape: Torment.
Zoomed-in map.

If the party decides to “zoom in” on a specific location, I always have something ready – I’m not suddenly grasping for details that aren’t present, and forced to make something up or generate something randomly that wouldn’t be as interesting as something I thought up ahead of time. I’ll have descriptions of each street, NPCs worked out, encounter tables when appropriate, and often some oddity or other the party could choose to interact with, like a weird homunculus wandering about outside a condemned building or a wandering spellcaster painting magical murals on a wall.

When players enter a district for a specific purpose, we “zoom in” to a subsection of the map and switch from general descriptions to street-by-street descriptions.

Consequently, I rely on what I think qualifies as extremely heavy preparation – again, prepping, not planning. What I’m aiming for here is what Joseph Manola over at Against the Wicked City identifies as the essential quality for good roleplaying books: “the contents need to be something better than you could come up with, unaided, simply by following cliches and/or random madlibbing and/or coming up with irrelevant filler.” Whenever I write something down, it needs to be better than something I could come up with on the spot at the table, better than a cliche, and not irrelevant filler. There is no Powered by the Apocaylpse-style collaborative setting-building here: the PCs do have backstories and I do incorporate those into the texture of the world, but I don’t ask them for details about a scene or give them opportunities to shape the world outside of the actions of their characters. Those actions are consequential, sometimes massively so, but they are bound by an in-universe logic and constraints. Similarly, I don’t rely on random die-rolls or other procedural heuristics or techniques to generate street-maps, encounters, or NPCs. It must all get planned exhaustively, so that when the players stray from the beaten track the spaces feel lived-in and authentic and just as interesting as the parts I expected them to visit. This means drawing a crazy-detailed city map with every street and major landmark indicated, and producing extensive notes for every likely adventure location – I’m currently sitting at about 270,000 words for a total of 38 sessions so far (yes, I’m behind on recaps).

Obviously this means a lot of writing and drawing. But, as the DM, this is to me a huge part of the fun: I don’t think of writing adventure notes or drawing maps as work. I have other hobbies and leisure activities and things to do, of course, and a job that takes up a lot of my time, and I do occasionally take hiatuses when things get too busy to keep up with the campaign, but I find the act of creation and then sharing that creation with a group of people incredibly rewarding – so this preparation really isn’t a chore. All that said, I do use certain procedures to make this easier on myself.

Pre- and post-play Procedures

I organize the campaign using, a wonderful email group service with a lightweight, easy-to-use interface and the ability to quickly and painlessly distribute polls to those within a group. Before every session, I post two polls: the first is a scheduling poll to see who can play when, and the second is a poll of broadly defined adventure possibilities, usually picking up on things the characters did in the previous session, or sometimes reflecting events that have transpired in the setting. Some of these are ongoing, so if the party neglects them, they’ll change: for example, the endless winter caused by the Harrowgast in some of last year’s sessions was something the players ignored in the polls, until rioting in the streets and famine made them take notice. Genial Jack’s nightmares are another example – the players heard rumours that Jack’s sleep was disturbed, but it took them a couple of sessions to look into it, and if they hadn’t, things would have gotten worse and worse.

The polls function a bit like a quest log or journal in a computer roleplaying game, but many of the available threads are generated by the actions of the players, rather than simply representing “available jobs” (though there are some of these too). In a recent session, for example (one not yet posted to the blog), we picked up on the backstory of Caulis the homunculus, whose dead creator had saddled the character with a demonic debt – something the player had included in their back-story since character creation. In another, Comet’s player had mentioned the waspkin was hanging about in the Feypark to avoid harassment by the Crowsbeak Thieves’ Guild, and was getting to know the plants and animals there; this led directly to a fun little adventure where the character shrunk down to rodent-size for some Redwall-style medieval animal hijinx. In the two-part Château de la Marche adventure the party explored a character’s familial estate and faced off against a villain they’d failed to kill in an earlier adventure. In our most recent session, Yam’s player had a clever idea for keeping the reality-warping Book of Chaos safe, and so I wrote an adventure planned around the idea. The idea here is to avoid making the characters passive, but to view them as active agents in a world that reacts to them; the poll, which players themselves can comment on or add to, simply lets me see which direction they’re headed.

Polls indicating a rough plan for future sessions let me prepare adventures and areas for exploration more extensively. In this case, a detail I’d improvised in the previous session led to option 6, which tied for the most popular option. In discussion below, we decided to go for option 6 over option 1…
The map above was prepared in response to the vote and discussion above. I hadn’t planned for the party to visit Shudderland as part of a pre-determined plot thread – but once it became clear that’s where they were headed, I mapped it and wrote notes for the surrounding countryside.

Of course, once we arrive at the table, the party is free to go anywhere. But having a broad direction discussed and decided ahead of time not only lets me prep the areas we’re going to play in more extensively, it keeps a big group of players on track and avoids having to recap every single thread of the unfolding game every time we sit down to play. There’s no railroad, and no pre-scripted story, and no invisible walls that keep players stuck in a single area, but there is a consensus going into each session of what the party would like to accomplish. It also means that players who can only come every few sessions – or even those who stop by once or twice a year! – can jump into a session easily without being paralyzed with too many choices.

After each session, we use an extensive Google spreadsheet to track experience, which also shows how much XP each character needs to level. This, along with the session recaps I post here (massively facilitated by the notes my players take), helps a big group to maintain a sense of cohesion. Those who’ve missed sessions can read the recaps to catch up on what they’ve missed and make sure character sheets are up to date.

Adventure Hooks

While it’s always up to the players where they want to go and what they want to do, and I try to plan sessions in reaction to what the players have done previously, I do have some stand-bys for common adventure hooks. These include:

  • Adventures related to a PC’s faction. Most of the PCs are members of an arcane university (there are eight: Fiend’s College, Umbral University, the Académie Macabre, the Citadel of the Perptual Storm, the Institute of Omens, the Warders’ Lyceum, the Metamorphic Scholarium, and Master Melchior’s School of Thaumaturgy & Enchantment), a thieves’ guild (the big ones are the Crowsbeak and Ravenswing guilds), religious organizations (the chief gods of Hex being the Archdemons, the Unspeakable Ones, the Mother of Spiders, the Magistra, the Charnel Goddess, the Elder Trees, and the Antinomian), and other factions, like the Faerie courts or wizardly cabals.
  • Adventures related to a PC’s backstory. Most of my players wrote brief backstories with little adventure seeds scattered throughout them, providing plenty of opportunities for adventures.
  • The “main quest” items they’ve been hired to recover all have adventures associated with them.
  • Calamities and other events invite PC participation. The endless winter, Jack’s nightmares, looming war.
The two-part adventure at Armand’s ancestral estate was inspired by the character’s backstory and previous encounters the PCs had with NPCs.

Running the Game

During an actual session, I more or less proceed as follows:

  • Players arrive. Drinks are poured, food is ordered, socializing commences until everyone is present.
  • The game starts. I start a playlist I’ve prepped beforehand on my Google Home, usually consisting of various ambient/videogame soundtracks.
  • I go around the table and ask each player what their character has been doing between sessions. Because we play a very episodic game, it is relatively unusual for the group to pause “mid-adventure.” Each player takes 3-5 minutes to respond, so this usually takes beteen 15 minutes and half an hour. For example, Armand’s player has a series of strange botanical/alchemical experiments the character is undertaking.
  • We segue into what I think of as the “preparation phase” of the game. At this point I will remind the players gently about the objective they voted on before the session. Then I step back and let them play out a quick scene, usually in a tavern or in one of the houses of the characters, as they plan whatever venture they’re undertaking, be it a dungeon crawl, a heist, a political meeting, a wilderness journey, an auction, a trip into the nightmare-haunted mind of a gigantic primeval whale, etc. This usually takes a few minutes, sometimes longer if there is substantial disagreement among the party members about how to proceed.
  • After the preparation phase is complete, we launch into the “main phase” of the game – however the players want to tackle it. Generally this wraps up by the session’s end, but new adventure seeds will be uncovered, ideas had, conspiracies unmasked, etc. Sometimes the party needs to pause midway through, but this is rare. I’ve become fairly adept at judging how long it takes for a given adventure to be completed. During this phase, I periodically try to check in with everyone – with a big group, its easy to sink into silence and let others take the lead.
  • The session concludes, and we often briefly discuss what we might do next.
  • I use to notify players of XP, update the spreadsheet, and post polls for the next session time and objective. Players discuss any possibilities and hash out a rough plan of what to do next session, ask questions about gear, leveling, etc.

Further Notes

There’s a partially justified objection, both in some OSR circles and in indie/narrativist/story-game circles, of a very prep-heavy style of play, and most versions go something like this: if you prep too much you get precious about your setting and/or your story and will inevitably railroad players, and prep-heavy DMs are usually “frustrated novelist” types who really wish they were authors telling their own story rather than referees of a game. There’s real wisdom here – this is why people dislike Pathfinder adventure paths and bloated AD&D adventures and all that kind of thing.

However, again, heavy prep does not necessarily entail pre-scripting or planning a plot. Indeed, by extensively preparing locations and NPC, I find myself feeling reassured at the table. I am also never gripped by panic of a blank space on the map – if the players decide to go somewhere I hadn’t envisioned, odds are I have at least some notes for what’s there, and enough modular material (encounters, adventure seeds, weird happenings) that I can make the area feel interesting enough that it doesn’t become obvious when the players are leaving the rough path I envisioned for them.

None of this makes good improvisational skills superfluous. I make things up all the time, improvise almost all NPC dialogue, and of course embellish my notes with invented details. Inevitably, the players will do things I don’t expect and come up with plans and ideas I never would have imagined. Having a wealth of setting information on hand lets me roll with the punches. Prepping locations and NPCs rather than plots means that there’s no “script” to deviate from and thus no “wrong” way for the players to proceed.

Sometimes, players blow bits of your setting up; this is to be encouraged. Illustration by Bronwyn McIvor.

There’s also a long list of things that I gloss over or just plain don’t care about when I’m actively DMing a session:

  • Precise timekeeping. If the players ask, I tell them a time, and when it’s relevant to the adventure, I keep a loose sense of what time it is in a session, but otherwise I just don’t care.
  • Precise book-keeping. If we were playing a gritty wilderness survival game or a pure horror game I’d care much more about this, but since the party is in a rich metropolis, I always assume they are well fed and have access to supplies. They still need to buy specific equipment, and sometimes we will roleplay shopping, but a lot of this gets done between sessions. If someone forgot to buy arrows for their bow and would really like to be able to shoot things, whatever, we’ll retcon that they bought them. With a group of 6-7 players per session, it just doesn’t make sense to spend time roleplaying merchant encounters excessively or fussing over exactly how many days of rations they have left.
Sorry Gary, no strict time records for my group…
  • Rules discussions and minutiae. I and my players are very much “rulings not rules” people. They trust me to make fair decisions. Combat in the game is common but not the main activity most of the time, and I play fast and loose with 5th edition’s fairly flexible rules system, interpreting PC intentions and actions generously, and making quick calls when needed. I can’t remember the last time there was a rules dispute at the table, but if someone discovers a rule that got ignored which might have benefited them or something, I’ll give out Inspiration as recompense.
  • Balance. I regularly give the players access to magic items that are pretty powerful tools for characters who are at this point mostly 4th-6th level (like the Head of Granny Midnight, the Portal Chalk, or the Rod of Mind-Swap). I also regularly throw monsters at them that are way above their recommended CR. They’ve played enough with me to know when to run and how to play intelligently without getting killed. This is a pretty standard principle of sandbox play generally, but it’s one I try to lean into.

So, there you have it – the procedures and philosophy underpinning my Hex campaign. Let me know if there’s anything you’re curious about – I’d be happy to answer any questions. I plan on writing more posts like this in the future fleshing out additional details both of how I DM and how I design dungeons, cities, and adventures.

Hex Session XXX – 5th Edition Actual Play – In the Dreams of the God-Whale

  • Alabastor Quan, a gnome rogue-turned-warlock and failed circus ringmaster; wielder of a cursed dagger and member of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild.
  • Caulis, a homunculus warlock liberated from its master; has made a pact with certain Faerie Powers.
  • Miri, trollblood wizard, plucked from Mount Shudder and raised amongst Hex’s arcane elites. A recent graduate of Fiend’s College.
  • An ancient and enigmatic Lengian cleric of the Mother of Spiders, name unknown. She wears bulky ecclesiastical garments covering an uncertain number of limbs and goes by “Sister.”
  • Yam, an eccentric gnome illusionist and local graduate student at Umbral University. Yam cares little for money. Yam is curious. Yam is Yam.

XP Awarded: 1000 XP

Yam had stopped by their apartment in Mooncross, checking in on the magical sheep Cosmo and the Book of Chaos, stolen from Delirium Castle and stowed there with the formidible caprine guardian. They discovered that the Book seemed to be altering their chambers, creating new doors and corridors within the building, undetectable from the outside: a room made entirely of candy and gingerbread, a walk-in closet filled with animated clothes, a tropical greenhouse, even a gallery filled with portraits – all of Yam.

“Like what I’ve done with the place?” The Anarchonomicon asked Yam.

“Uh… I mean, it’s cool and all, but uh… is there any way you could keep this from getting out of hand?”

“That’s not really in my nature, now is it?” The Book of Chaos responded, its pages flipping glibly.

Yam made a note to tell their companions about the tome, then hurried off to the docks to catch a ferry to Genial Jack – an invitation had arrived, from the party for a celebratory soiree in Jackburg.

The party was celebrating the recovery of their treasure from the Cuttlethieves, and the successful auction for many of said items in the Queen of Lost Souls. Flush with funds – most would be used to begin construction of a spacecraft, to travel amongst the spheres – the party headed to the Coils: a district at the bottom of Jack’s forestomach, named after the skeletal remains of a gigantic sea serpent that Jack swallowed many centuries ago, now colonized by Jackburg’s inhabitants and transformed into the city’s pleasure district. Fully legal brothels catering to all species and genders could be found here, along with drug dens, taverns, casinos, and other establishments dedicated to every indulgence. Famous establishments include the Fortunate Fangs (built within the serpent’s mouth), the Cage (within its ribs), and Jack’s Own Luck. The famous rival bordellos Cecaelia’s – featuring various merfolk performers and courtesans – and the Yaghotep’s Cathouse – run by a renegade cat from New Ulthar –  could also be found in the Coils, as well as taverns such as the Drunken Louse, the Klabautermann’s Cap, Fata Morgana, and Aspidochelone.

The group settled in at the Fortunate Fangs; amidst the yellowed teeth of the sea serpent, the Casino was a crowded confusion of light, laughter, and beleaguered groans, principally staffed by humans, goblins, and ratfolk. The crowd was more diverse: polypoids and jellyfolk and glamorous octopoids, cambions and gnomes and trollbloods from Hex and even one or two mysterious figures who might be Fair Folk, dhampir and ophidians and stranger folk – slugkin, shimmering ghostbreed, orchid-women, glass golems, a talking bear. The bar flowed with exotic drink: wines from across the Blushing Sea, melon liqueurs, ectoplasmic cocktails, drinks served in floating, animated glasses that hovered beside their drinkers.

Shark Race. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.

Comet tried his hand at several cage-fights, winning several and surprising the crowd greatly; Sister won a round of Leper’s Dice, coming away with an extra pincered limb, won from a karkinoi gambler. The group then turned to the exciting shark-races, held in tubes of sea-water winding through the Coils. They placed bets on sharks like Gnasher, Beauty Queen, Mister Smush, Blue Lightning, Bloodlord, and Her Eminence – as well as a mysterious shark, “Carl,” entered by Yam, in fact a subtle illusion the mischievous gnome wizard was conjuring. Bets made, a tiny automated submersible was placed in the tube, leaking blood; the sharks, gnashing their teeth, were off. Yam’s illusory shark won the race handily, earning the gnome an impressive number of dubloons, Jackburg’s currency. The race-attendants began inspecting this mysterious new shark, but the party was saved by a sudden tremor, the “ground shaking,” glasses shattering, cards and chips flying from tables. It was as if all of Jack were quaking, an a monstrous groan was audible, the whale himself crying out in the night.

When the group had picked themselves up, Sister sought out Parthenia Quell, the Navigator who was celebrating with the Variegated Company, and daughter of Sister’s former lover, Adam Quell.

“What in the name of the Mother of Spiders was that?” she asked.

“Another of the nightmares,” Parthenia replied, her tone sombre. “Damn! I thought they had passed for good. For the past few weeks, he’s been suffering from them. We Navigators… we can reach into Jack’s mind, communicate with him in a fashion. But nothing we’ve been able to do can banish them. We thought they’d stopped but now…” Her face pales. “Outside, I am sure there will be significant damage. Possibly deaths. We will have much work to do, to convince Jack he is not responsible. But if we can’t find a way to quiet Jack’s mind, we will have to leave Hex earlier than anticipated.”

Sister pondered. “My group has had some experience with dreams,” she said, thinking back to their sojourn to the Egregor Vaults and Caverns of Fear beneath the Dreamer’s Quarter in Hex. “And I am a Lengian, a creature of the Dreamlands, after all. Perhaps we could be of some assistance.”

Parthenia nodded. “Hmm… you have communed with Jack before, on his last visit here… I will speak to my fellow High Navigators. Come to Melonward tomorrow, the the Inner Sanctum of the Cathedral.”

“We’ll be there,” Sister replied.

The party spent the rest of the night perusing the Borborygmus Bazaar. The group was delighted a gnome woman with mismatched eyes, one red and one sapphire blue, advertising a menagerie of automaton animals, including a wind-up ostrich, a gear-driven hellhound puppy that spat real fire, and a clockwork sphinx that flew around while reciting curious riddles. A polypoid merchant watered bonsai trees each with their own miniature dryad. The dryads didn’t mind if the trees were sold but pruned the trees themselves into elaborate shapes (animals, fanciful cities, monsters, faces, etc); Armand made sure to purchase one, though the sorcerer confessed a weariness from the day’s events and planned to rest the next day. A man from Teratopolis – marked as such by his mask, his twisted left arm, and his slug-like lower body, mutations caused by the alchemical poisons Hex introduced to the water of that city during one of its many wars – sold a variety of salves and oils, including medicinal tinctures; Yam purchased some “salve of sentience,” which animated any object it was rubbed upon, like furniture polish.

Octopoid Tattoist. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.

The party spent the night at the Fata Morgana in silk hammocks, the traditional bedding of Inner Jackburg. When dawn came, they made a brief sojourn back into Hex, stopping at the Bird & Key City Bank to retrieve the carefully protected tome known as the Oneironomicon or “Book of Dreams,” procured at great risk from the Egregor Vaults deep beneath Hex, at a place in the Old City where the borders between waking and dreaming grew thin. While in Hex they observed some of the damage last night’s events had caused: waves from Jack’s thrashing had destroyed some of the docklands and damaged several ancient dagonian buildings in Croakmarsh, and reputedly the Hexad Council was highly alarmed, entreating the Whaleguard and the High Navigators to move Jack from the harbour lest further devastation occur. Sister studied the Book of Dreams carefully and purchased a few key spell components before the party made haste back to Jack, heading this time to Outer Jackburg and the Cathedral.

Deep within the Cathedral of Melonward, in the heart of the glittering edifice of glass and steel, the High Navigators convened at the Inner Sanctum, a circular chamber beneath a glass dome. The floor here was bare, composed not of stone or metal or wood but of Jack’s own flesh. Parethenia greeted the group with a look of deep concern.

They discussed possible causes for the nightmares, including the presence of certain parasites in Jack’s intestines, but Sister assured Parthenia that she could deduce the cause. “We need to enter one of Jack’s dreams outselves,” the Lengian priestess explained. “There is a ritual here that I can use; it will not harm Jack, but it will let my companions and I slip into his mind.”

Parthenia spoke to the other High Navigators at length; after much discussion, they agreed to try the ritual.

“Anything to stop these nightmares,” said High Navigator Netch Vicissitude, an elderly ratfolk woman.

“Do you have any idea what we might expect?” Armand asked.

“It is difficult to say. Jack does not remember everything in the dreams. We’ve received only flashes – images of pain and death. Some seem to be from his past, from disasters or struggles that Jackburg went through – the storming of the Flukefort, the Doppelganger Plague of 1492, the drownings during the Rising Tide when the undines rose up to demand their freedom.”

The ritual was complex. First, the party waited for Jack to drowse. Each member of the Variegated Company present consumed a quantity of Dreamdew, a soporific drug Sister had purchsed in Cobweb Cliffs. Sister than performed a series of incantations and drew a sigil upon the forehead of each individual, marking them with an Archetype, giving them form within the Dream. Alabastor would be the Shadow, the repository of the fearful, repressed, irrational, and unconscious, able to reveal what is hidden; Miri would be the Sage, representing wisdom, conscience, memory, and knowledge, capable of unraveling memories within the dream; Yam would be the Demiurge, representiong creative instincts, imagination, energy, and willpower, capable of reshaping the reality of the dream; Caulis would be the Innocent, representing idealism, courage, vulnerability, and youth, capable of purifying the dream of nightmares; and Sister herself would take the form of the Trickster, a mischievous figure representing self-destructive and transgressive instincts, a rule-breaker and a manipulator who also stands for freedom and self-realization.

These archetypes decided, each member of the group then whispered their greatest desire to the person on their right, and their greatest regret to the person on their left. Sister spoke a final incantation as the sleeping-drugs took hold, and touched the bare flesh of Jack, inscribing a final sigil upon his skin to mark the Dreamer whose dream they would enter.

They slipped into unconsciousness…

…and appeared in Jack’s dream, in a version of the Main Stomach, a fire blazing. The Gutgardens burned, pools of stomach acid boiling, cilia waving frantically. The Borborygmus Bazaar had kindled, the stalls and shops billowing with smoke, crimson flame lapping at the foundations of the structures above. Smoke was rapidly filling the stomach. The folk of Jackburg scrambled to try and put the fire out, dousing it with water pumped from emergency valves, but it was spreading faster than they could douse the conflagration. Burning bodies raced through the streets, screams filling the air.

The party surveyed their new forms, shapes determined by the Archetypes in the ritual. Alabastor flexed limbs stuffed with straw, button eyes swivelling in a scarecrow face; Sister flapped raven wings.

Archetypes. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.

Miri, the Sage, recognized the memory instantly – the Great Fire of Inner Jackburg, a conflagration caused by the release of a clutch of wyrmlings, accidentally hatched in the marketplace. The wyrmlings were eventually charmed by a group of visiting enchanters from Tetractys, but the death toll was in the hundreds. She quickly explained this to the party, even as swooping shapes flitted through the fire and smoke – the wyrmlings, recreated in Jack’s dream, spreading fire everywhere.

“There are the enchanters,” Alabastor indicated, pointing to a group of robed figures high above, in Queens’ Corners. As they watched, however, a crossbow bolt whizzed through the air and struck one of the enchanters; he toppled from the boat he was on, falling hundreds of feet to the blazing Gutgardens below.

Wyrmling. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.

The party leapt into action, Sister flapping her wings and taking to the air in search of the assassin firing at the enchanters. The wyrmlings hurled fire, scorching Miri, who counterattacked with magic missiles. Yam, as the Demiurge, manifested a chain around one of the wyrmlings as it swept by, andmanaged to subdue it; Caulis cast a spell to charm one of the beasts, while Alabastor used a phantasmal force to subdue another.

The assassin, meanwhile, picked off another enchanter. Sister caught sight of him – a Lengian with several arms, swathed in a dark cloak and perched on a high bridge near the top of the Main Stomach. She swooped towards him on raven wings, but he hissed and rolled aside, firing a bolt that struck home. Poison began working its way into Sister’s oneiric body, and she woozily flapped her wings before plummeting to the ground.

Sister’s Fall. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.

The party rushed over to help Sister; their disguises were slipping, as the Trickster’s magic was what let them sustain the image of their Archetypal forms. Yam, meanwhile, leaped atop the charmed wyrmling.

“I’m calling you Flipper,” the gnome declared. “Now, up!”

The dream-wyrmling complied, flyng through the smoke with Yam on its back, and they chased after the Lengian assassin. He opened a door down a seemingly random alleyway within the dream, revealing a strange vista beyond: Mawtown stood abandoned, Jack’s mouth open. The air  on the other side of the door was frigid; beyond stretched not the ocean but a cold, rocky beach, partially covered with snow, with ice beyond. The chateaus dangling from the roof of Jack’s mouth looked derelict, and several had crashed to the floor, chains rusted through. The wharves and jetties to either side of Jack’s tongue wee rotten and shattered, warehouses broken and looted.

It seemed a nightmare not of things past, but of those Jack feared might yet come – of Jack, beached and forlorn, unable to return to the ocean. In the distance, Yam could see ominous figures of immense size crossing the beach towards Jack, massive harpoons in hand.

“Not so fast,” Yam said, directing the wyrmling to snatch the assassin before he could escape into another dreamscale. Claws closed round the Lengian, and the wyrmling flew the captive assassin back to the party, where Sister was reviving. Yam conjured more chains to keep the assassin subdued. He was garbed in diaphanous garments of spidersilk and carried a crossbow and short blades; a cloth was placed over his mouth, and intricate tattoos snaked over his exposed flesh. Alabastor yanked down the Lengian’s mouth-cloth while Sister conjured a zone of truth. Miri, looming over the Lengian, started asking the questions.

“You’re not going anywhere,” the trollblood wizard said. “So. Let’s start with a name.”

“Dolus,” the assassin snarled.

“And who are you? Are you part of this dream?”

“No.” The Lengian struggled against the effects of the truth-magic. “I’m an intruder here, like you.”

“What are you doing here?”

The Lengian remained silent.

“We can leave you trapped here,” Alabastor said, scarecrow visage thrust at the Lengian’s face. “Trapped in Jack’s mind, while your body rots.”

The Lengian ignored Alabastor, holding back words. Sister examined his tattoos, hissed.

“He’s a member of the Order of Icelus,” she whispered. She drew the other party members aside, described Icelus to her companions – a dark, primordial god, forbidden to Lengians, and said to be older even than the Mother of Spiders. Ancient and sinister scriptures, restricted from common view, held that he dwelt in the void of night before the Many-Limbed Mother spun out the great web of the dream-world. “They’re said to be dreamwalkers – can slip from mind to mind. That could explain how he’s here.”

“Hmm, I have an idea,” said Alabastor. Summoning the power of the Shadow archetype, he manifested a dark, terrifyng worm, all wings and tendrils of tenebrous energy.


The Shadow’s powers worked; the assassin’s eyes went wide, irrational fear seizing him.

“I was hired by someone. I don’t know who… a shadowy figure, concealed by magic. She called herself ‘S.’ I say ‘she’ – the voice sounded feminine, but her stature was great.”

“Icelus.” Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.

“Can you make this stop?” Sister gestured to the conflagration.

Dolus looked to “Icelus.”


“Destroy this form, and the dream will cease,” Dolus said.

“WHERE IS YOUR WAKING FORM?” Aabastor asked.

“Cobweb Cliffs,” he admitted. “13 Chelicerae Street. At the back of a sword shop.”

“I think we have everything we need,” Miri said. “Yes?”

With the party’s assent, she dispatched the assassin. The dream shifted, the fires dissipating, buildings repairing themselves; burned bodies revivied, their wounds healing; the scene of horror and pain was replaced by one of celebration, a happy dream of contentment and revelry. And with that, they woke.

Back in the Inner Sanctum, awake once more, the party rushed to explain the situation.

“We can lend you an airship,” Parthenia Quell said. “It can take you to Cobweb Cliffs! Hurry!”

The party rushed out to Melonward, where the High Navigators hastily prepared a dirigible. They hurried aboard, the vessel hastening for Cobweb Cliffs, the web-swathed Lengian district in western Hex.

They touched down on Chelicerae street and hurried to door 13; Alabastor picked the lock, then ducked a poisoned crossbow-bolt rigged to hit whoever opened the door.

They found Dolus’s chambers at the back of the empty shop: a spare, simple room with a small bed and a huge host of alchemical concoctions on one wall. Tehse proved to be variants of sleeping-draughts for different times and intensities; the party helped themselves to the collection. There wasalso a tiny shrine to Icelus, represented as a dark, winged figure with tentacles emerging from beneath a robe, face shrouded by a hood.

There was no sign of Dolus himself; thorough search, however, turned up a note:


Continue tormenting Jack while he remains in the city. Aim for maximum distress but do not use lethal force unless directed. Only terminate the target on my signal.

– S

“‘S'”? Alabastor asked.

“Wait…” Caulis said. “The note! Back in Troll Country. Someone who used the letter ‘S’ as an identifier was corresponding with the Griefbringer. The homunculus took out the older note, snatched from a messenger-raven many months ago:


All goes according to plan here in the City. The people clamour for bread, for fuel, for heat. Soon they will die by the thousands and our forces will take what remains of Hex. Our agents still search the Catacombs for the Pneuomanomicon, but even if they fail in their search, necromancers shall raise those fallen from famine and overrun the gates. It will be your job to direct the Harrowgast to take down the Citadel of the Perpetual Storm. Should your timing be compromised, contact me using the usual channels.


Could this be the same “S” behind the fell winter that had brought the city nearly to its knees?

Hex Session XXIX – 5th Edition Actual Play – The Cuttlethieves

The characters in this session were:

  • Alabastor Quan, a gnome rogue-turned-illusionist and failed circus ringmaster; wielder of a cursed dagger and member of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild.
  • 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).
  • Caulis, a homunculus warlock liberated from its master; has made a pact with certain Faerie Powers.
  • Cephalus T. Murkwater, a dagonian barrister and monk, specializing in martial arts and magical labour law.
  • Comet the Unlucky, waspkin ranger, a dreamer and an idealist, longing for the restoration of the Elder Trees and the liberation of his people. Loathes the Harvester’s Guild, parasites and destroyers.
  • 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: 1200 XP

As the last sepia vapour cleared, the coughing, flabbergasted party realized they had been well and truly robbed. The precious obejcts they’d auctioned off at the Queen of Lost Souls were gone – stolen, according to Captain Nodus, by the “Cuttlethieves.”

Both Miri and Garvin had been poisoned, knocked unconscious by darts used by the thieves before they made their escape.

Cephalus, meanwhile, had tackled one of the thieves, subduing him. The thief – a wiry young man clad in shifting, chameleonic armour made from some sort of squid-skin, was partially transfroming, his limbs spasming into tentacles, eyes bloating into cephalopodic orbs before receding.

“Don’t struggle,” Cephalus urged, tightening his grip. “Your surrounded.”

The thief thrashed a moment longer, then was still. The conscious party-members, dazed by uninjured, gathered round the captive burglar. Guests, meanwhile, were picking themselves up and making demands for the items they’d purchased. Alabastor calmly reassured them the items would be recovered, darting nervous glances back at the party.

“Where have you taken our belongings?” Armand demanded imperiously, staring down at the captive burglar.

The thief remained stubbornly silent.

“I don’t have time for this nonesense,” Armand proclaimed. “Hold him down.”

Cephalus obliged, and Armand uncapped a mysterious phial of liquid – some alchemical extraction from the sorcerer’s greenhouse. As the dagonian held open the thief’s mouth, Armand poured the contents in. The thief spluttered and coughed, and suddenly his ear swelled up to three times its normal size.

“Gods above and below!” the man shrieked. “What have you done to me?”

“Ear-swelling is the first symptom of a very fatal poison,” Armand lied. “Cooperate, and I will give you the antidote.” He nodded to Sister, who quietly invoked a Zone of Truth.

“Fine! Fine!” the thief blubbered. “I’ll help you, damn you.”

“Your name?” Sister asked.

“Wickham,” the thief replied. “Of the Cuttlethieves. Fry rank – I’m a new initiate.”

“Once again,” Armand repeated. “Where are our belongings?”

“I can take you to your stuff… it’ll be at the headquarters. It’s hidden in Finfolkaheem.”

Captain John “Deathtail” Winters, one of the auctioneers, hissed. “That den of horrors?” the ratfolk Captain chirped. “An ill-favouered labyrinth, infested with scum of the vilest sort.”

“Why, what’s wrong with this place?” Caulis asked.

“Finfolkaheem is all that remains of the underwater homeland of the finfolk,” Nodus explained. “Swallowed by Genial Jack to end their slaving depredations.”

“The Whaleguard have raided Finfolkaheem on multiple occasions,” Deathtail proclaimed. “The finfolk have their flippers in everything – illegal smuggling, humanoid-trafficking operations, murder-for-hire. No surprise they’d harbour the Cuttlethieves.”

“Perhaps you’d care to join us?” Alabastor suggested to the ratfolk privateer. “You serve Jack – you could help us rid him of these brigands.”

“It would be my honour,” Deathtail chittered.

“Should we just wait for the Whaleguard?” Sister asked.

“Your belongings will be gone by then,” Wickham said, still under magical compulsion and threat of death. “We have a fence lined up. If you want them back… we’d best go now.”

“Captain Nodus, I trust you will alert the Whaleguard of this information,” Deathtail said. “I shall accompany the party to the hideout and retrieve the stolen goods.”

Nodus assented, and the party made haste; Comet noticed a trail of blood from one of the burglars, struck by one of Miri’s magic missiles, and followed this surreptitiously, to make sure that Wickham was leading them truthfully. After Sister scrawled a door using Portal Chalk, the group hurried through several of Jack’s smaller stomachs before arriving at Finfolkaheem.

Entering the pyloric stomach, the air changed, becoming colder, sharper. The smell of ancient dust and a strong waft of stomach acid rose to meet the party. The district was built atop and around a series of pallid stone monoliths that loomed like many-eyes ghosts staring up from below, twisting ramps and walkways linking them. The newer structures accreted to these cyclopean towers were made from the same flotsam and jetsam as the rest of Inner Jackburg, but here something about their construction was different, the angles subtly off, the bridges too crooked, the doors and windows askew. Therewere snarls of shantytown that the adventurers’ eyes slide off, making them dizzy.

“This way,” Wickham indicated, clutching his ear.

“So who are you Cuttlethieves, anyway?” Alabastor asked, using theives’ cant to communicate surreptitiously.

“We’re the elite of the elite here in Jackburg,” Wickham said, pride creeping into his voice. “Not like the Mischief or the Pincers or the Entrail Gangs. We steal only prized objects for discerning collectors.”

“What’s with the squid stuff?”

“When we’re initiated we’re… injected,” Wickham explained, using a series of subtle hand gestures. “Weremollusc blood. It manifests differently for each person. The Soft One has many forms…”

“Soft One?” Alabastor made the signs carefully.

“The Progenitor. An ancient god – some say the eldest god. A god of secrets and origins. All living things are its descendents.”

“Interesting… I’m also a member of a thieves’ guild, as you might imagine from the cant…”

“Is there no honour among thieves? Perhaps some arrangement can be made…”

“We’ll see. No promises. Stick with us for now and I’ll speak to my companions.”

The party came to what seemed a dead-end alleyway, lined with gigantic barnacles.

“It’s there,” Wickham said, pointing to one of the barnacles. Cephalus jumped up to it, prying open the scuta to reveal a passage beyond. As the party prepared to enter the tunnel, noise at the alley’s mouth made them turn.

A cluster of scaly, serpentine creatures like monstrous eels blocked the alley’s exit, their puckered mouths drooling, piscine eyes wide and hungry.

“Finfolk!” Deathtail snarled. “Back, you scoundrels. I am a privateer in the service of the Whaleguard, authorized to wield deadly force in Jackburg’s defense.”

The hissing, slithering things made a rasping sound like a wet chuckle and advanced, hefting nets and tridents.

“These fools look like they have strong backs,” one of the finfolk hissed in the Aklo tongue. “They will command a hgh price.”

“I think not,” Armand asserted, freeing his hands from his sleeves.

Captain Deathtail. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.

Cephalus, meanwhile, was already moving, Captain Deathtail beside him with sword drawn. The two warriors struck with fists, staff, and rapier at the finfolk, driving them back; Alabastor hurled an agonizing blast, producing a chorus of anguished hissing. The finfolk counterattacked, prodding those at the front lines with javelins and trindents, their barbs glistening with poison; the two warriors fell unconscious as the powerful poison began its work, and nets were hurled atop the pair. Comet set his dancing sword, possessed by Mademoiselle Sanguinaire, upon the eel-creatures, and it slashed a bloody swathe. Sister, stepping forward, spoke a prayer to the Mother of Spiders and struck with an open hand, touching one of the finfolk. Instantly the creature began dissolving, spider venom liquefying its flesh and organs to leave behind a fishy-smelling stain. Caulis, rifling through its pack, produced a runic stone from Troll Country, containing a bound thunder elemental. This the homunculus called upon, and the entity manifested with a rumbling groan, making dust shift and eardrums bleed. The finfolk, terrified, scattered in panic as the being of sound and puissance tore into them, crumpling skulls and pulverizing brains.

Sister’s Strike. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.

Battered but alive, the party took stock, Sister quickly administering healing spiders from her sleeves to sew up the party’s wounds. It was only after they had recovered that they realized Wickham had fled in the chaos.

“Damn. There goes our guide,” Cephalus muttered as a curative spider sewed up a cut on his forehead, courtesy of a finfolk trident.

Crawling through the secret door in the hollowed-out barnacle, the party entered the hideout of the Cuttlethieves.

A long stone corridor stretched ahead, its walls bristling with spiky masses of coral like vibrant pink and purple antlers. Part way along the corridor the tunnel appeared to be flooded, a sheer wall of water blocking the path forward.

“Most intriguing,” Armand said, eyeing the water. “I suspect it’s an undine – a water elemental. Bound to service as a kind of guardian.”

“I have an idea,” Cephalus said, thinking to his weeks of study at the underwater monastery at the river-bottom along the banks of Croakmarsh, where squamous martial artists taught him methods of manipulating water in all its forms. The dagonian barrister-monk stepped forwards, and the water flowed to meet him; with a muscular gesture and a focusing of his energy, Cephalus lashed out, and instantly the animate wave was frozen, crystallizing into the semblance of a shark.

Ice Shark. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.

The outer defense disarmed, the party carefully threaded their way past the shark-sculpture – the undine, frozen, seemed to eye them angrily – and the coral spikes, passing into a chamber beyond.

The entire floor of the room was covered in an ancient-looking mosaic depicting a many-tentacled sea-monster somewhat resembling a cuttlefish, though monstrous and twisted, dwarfing a representation of an underwater city whose towers were snared in some of its tendrils. On the walls, ornate sculpted tentacles held orbs containing luminous jellyfish. Several doors adjoined the room.

Armand looked suspiciously at the floor, and took a tentative step. Instantly, the mosaic began to move, the image shifting, the sea-monster reaching out with a tentacle towards Armand’s shadow. The sorcerer hastily retreated.

“I know what to do!” Caulis said excitedly, and cast a cantrip to create the image of a painted chef on the mural, as gigantic as the sea-monster, followed by the spell Marjorie’s Marvelous Mural, learned from the hedge-witch and artist outside Delirium Castle. Instantly, the chef came alive, and began menacing the sea-monster with his cleaver, hacking at the tentacles as if to prepare calimari; the painted horror thrashed and darted deeper into the “sea,” releasing a cloud of black ink that covered the mosaic with darkness.

Chef’s Special. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.

“That takes care of that,” the homunculus said. The party proceeded to carefully check the various rooms, moving stealthily to avoid alerting the thieves of their infiltration. They first found a storeroom of equipment: thieves’ tools, caltrops, rope, grappling hooks, and, perhaps most intriguingly, a series of grenade-like orbs filled with sepia vapour. These they absconded with, next discovering an arsenal jam-packed with blowguns, darts, hand-crossbows, and whips. Caulis also found a multi-thonged whip, the Tentacular Scourge, with suckered tendrils for thongs; this magical weapon could restrain those it attacked. Another chamber proved to be an armoury containing colour-shifting Chromatophore Cloaks to avoid detection, which the party donned.

At a momentary loss as to where to go next, they returned to the anteroom. Alabastor searched the room carefully and discovered that one of the sculpted tentacles containing light-orbs also functioned as a lever. Instantly, the room began moving – it was an elevator, conveying them to a deeper level of the complex. As they descended, the mosiac altered, as if they were getting deeper into the sea. At the bottom, they discovered the wounded sea-monster, huddled in a corner, quite terrified. Passing through a door, the party found a plain stone corridor with a pit halfway along its length. This Comet swiftly circumvented with flight – only to discover, on attempting to land on the other side, that the pit was an illusion, and that a true pit lay concealed by a second illusion on the other side of the false pit, a monstrous sea-slug at its bottom prowling hungrily. The clever trap discerned, the party passed over the true pit with blink or misty step; Cephalus, ever the acrobat, simply leapt across.

At the end of the hall, the party discovered an alcove with numerous rags. Puzzled, they peered into the next room, and saw that its walls, floors, and ceiling were all of polished nacre, forming a shimmering mother-of-pearl mirror. 

“Hmm. I have a suspicion…” Alabastor said, and blindfolded himself with one of the rags. He entered the room and then, for a brief moment, slipped the blindfold down to look at his reflection. Distorted by the twisted mirror, he saw himself made crooked and bent, contorted unnaturally; instantly he was filled with terrible pain as his bones and flesh began to strain, reconfiguring themselves to fit the terrible mirror image. Gritting his teeth, the gnome slipped the blindfold back on and returned; Sister healed him carefully.

The party heard a noise, and ducked out of sight while a Cuttlethief, blindfolded, crossed the nacre-mirrored room with practiced ease.

“We need to find our stuff,” Sister said. “Alabastor, how about that dowsing rod of yours?”

“Good idea,” the gnome replied, taking out the magical object he’d found back in the Caverns of Fear. This directed them downwards and ahead. Taking precautions, the party crossed the nacreous chamber to a door on the other side, Chromatophore Cloaks donned.

A small shrine occupied this chamber, adorned with statuettes to various sea-gods – the Sharkfather, Dagon, Jörmungandr, Tiamat, the Queen of Crabs, and many others. The largest of these idols was an unfamiliar being like a gigantic molluscoid hybrid, a grotesque combination of snail, oyster, cephalopod, and benthic sea-worm. The idol was tumoured with clumps of seaweed, barnacles, and mussels. An engraving in Aklo was set at the gastropod foot of the idol, next to a deep, black pool of water.

The engraving read: “The Soft One demands something Secret and something Stolen.”

Next to the engraving is an inkwell, quills, and parchment.

Sister, eager to try out her Gargoyle Lamp, shone the magical lantern on the statue. It stirred and shifted, animated by the lamplight.

“Who comes before me?” it rasped, its voice ancient and stony. Did the statue think itself a god?

“We are, ah, new initiates…” Sister fibbed. “What is this ritual for, exactly?”

“Write a secret upon the parchment,” the Soft One statue intoned. “Wrap a stolen object in the parchment, and place both in the pool. Then the way to the inner sanctum will be opened…”

“Seems simple enough,” Armand said.

The party hastily began scribbling down various secrets and placing objects looted from the Cuttlethieves’ own arsenal into the pool. Each time one of them performed this ritual, they saw the pool shimmer and seem to become a tunnel leading downwards, while those who had not performed it still perceived only a pool. As they finished the ritual, the door to the shrine opened, and several Cuttlethieves entered, half-transformed into their weremollusc shapes, their arms tentacular, heads those of vampire squid. One strained under the weight of a huge shell.

“Shit!” Alabastor said, firing off an agonizing blast as the party hastily began retreating down the secret shaft. Caulis hastily whipped out the runestone again, once more conjuring the thunder elemental. It growled and crackled, deafening the Cuttlethieves as the party made their escape, Armand taking care to knock the parchment and ink into the pool to slow any pursuit.

“Alright, we better move,” Alabastor said after they had descended a long ladder to a deeper tunnel. Comet went first, and soon found yet another pit trap, this one leading down a  slippery chute to an oubliette filled with bones; the waspkin, fortunately, could simply fly back out. The party hopped over the triggered pit and entered an antechamber with walls lined with thick, mucilaginous slime. This Armand froze with spells, and the party swiftly investigated several doors adjoining the room. One was a map room containing a huge map of Genial Jack, along with maps of various structures within Jackburg, including the four Queens, the Mysterium Tremendum, the Fomorian Palace, the Finfolk Dungeons, several mansions in Mawtown, and, additionally, maps of Hex, Erubescence, Verdigris, Tetractys, Teratopolis, Nornhold, Hypogeum, New Ulthar, Xell, and Skein. These maps were either displayed on the walls or carefully rolled and stored in cubbyholes. Finally, there were two maps spread on a table, displaying Hex’s Museum of Magical Arts and Master Melchior’s School of Thaumaturgy & Enchantment.

With little time to spare, Alabastor again used his dowsing rod, which led them to a hatch in the floor, leading to a vertical shaft filled with water. Sister hastily cast Water Breathing on the party, furnishing them with gills (save for the already-amphibious Cephalus) – a spell courtesy of her temporary patronage of Genial Jack himself. They climbed into the shaft and began their descent, illuminating the way by magical light. At the bottom, glimmering phosphorescently in the dark, a spined, zanily coloured nudibranch squirmed, massive in size.

File:Okenia elegans.png

Comet, approaching the beast cautiously, managed to temporarily distract it while the party swam past to a chamber below. The waspkin dodged round the poisonous creature and into the chamber – an airlock.

They hurriedly activated the chamber and entered the room beyond: the Cuttlethief treasury, piled high with coins from a thousand realms and multifarious treasures, including all of the objects stolen from the party.

As the party began recovering these treasures, Sister scrawled another Portal Chalk door on the wall, and they began transporting the auctioned goods back into the Queen of Lost Souls, to the amazement and delight of those still lingering in the auction house. Meanwhile, Comet, in a desperate dash back through the previous corridors, circumvented the nudibranch once more and returned stealthily to the shrine, where he found the crumpled, broken forms of the Cuttlethieves, slain by the thunder elemental. This he returned to its runestone before returning to the treasury.

The treasures secured, the party stepped through back into the Queen of Lost Souls and erased the door behind them. The robbers had been robbed, and the party surveyed its new treasures: a deck of cards producing illusions, a wand that could detect secret doors, a trident capable of controlling fish, a cloak made from manta hide enabling tranformation into a manta ray, a snake which, when worn about the neck like a necklace, hissed translations of unknown languages into the ear of the wearer, and – as they learned upon magical examination and consultation with one of the artefact specialists at the auction house – the legendary head of Granny Midnight, a powerful item which, if a name was whispered into its ear, would utter whatever words that person was speaking, even if they were many leagues hence.

Not bad for an evening’s work.

Zymotic Ward Rookery

Hex Session XXVIII – 5th Edition Actual Play – Genial Jack

The characters in this session were:

  • 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).
  • Comet the Unlucky, waspkin ranger, a dreamer and an idealist, longing for the restoration of the Elder Trees and the liberation of his people. Loathes the Harvester’s Guild, parasites and destroyers.
  • Garvin Otherwise, a human rogue and burglar of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild, with a very, very peculiar past and a zoog pet, Lenore.
  • Miri, trollblood wizard, plucked from Mount Shudder and raised amongst Hex’s arcane elites. A recent graduate of Fiend’s College.
  • 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: 300 XP

The day had come. Genial Jack was arriving.

The city had turned out to see him in vast numbers, flocking to Croakmarsh and the Isle of Entrails and the docklands of the Swelter. Thousands more had camped along the banks of Sawtooth Sound, or clambered to Stumpridge, Cobweb Cliffs, or even the forever-torrential Downpour Heights, hoping to spy his arrival using looking glasses. The richest had hired hot air balloons or magically floating platforms to gaze upon him, or watched from the balconies of Fanghill.

The Variegated Company – flush from their recent exploits – viewed the giant whale’s arrival from one such airship.

“Sister, you’ve met Jack before, isn’t that right?” Garvin asked.

“Yes. Twenty years ago,” Sister said, a slightly wistful look entering her several eyes. “I spoke with him, actually.”

“Really?” Miri seemed suprirsed. “I thought only the Navigators had that privilege.”

“I was… close with one of them. Adam Quell. He’ll look older now. Folk of this plane age so rapidly.”

“So, we are agreed, then?” Armand asked. “We will sell the items acquired at Delirium Castle in one of the auction-houses in Jackburg.”

“Is it true the city’s actually inside him?” Comet asked.

“Inside and outside,” Sister explained. “Outer Jackburg can be sealed when he submerges. The inner city is made up of flotsam and jetsam, cobbled together into a makeshift town. The more who’ve come to dwell in Jack, the more he grows, fed on their faith.”

“So they worship him? Like a god?” Comet continued, glancing at the Elder Trees he worshipped – the living tree in Ambery, and the dead trees in the Boil, Stumpridge, and Suckletown.

“He is a god. Or as good as one. His Navigators channel his power as surely as I channel that of the Mother of Spiders. Their minds are trained from birth to make contact with his. His mind can be overwhelming – alien. He is ancient, inhuman… but kind, impossibly kind.”

Conversation dwindled as a vast murmur spread throughout the city, turning to excited cheers as Jack, at last, came into view.

His approach was slow and gentle, so as not to drown the city in a tidal wave, but even so the riverbanks and bridges were buffeted by spray as he surfaced, and a great cheer went up as he appeared, first a rising shadow, and then a breaching enormity, a thing bigger than the mind should hold. Though the friendliness and benevolence and tremendous care of Genial Jack was central to his mythic identity and vital to his interaction with his many ports of call, there was still terror mixed in with the awe, delight, and wonder his bulk inspired. Were he to have plowed into Hex, to beach upon the city, he would l have leveled most of it in an instant, killing countless thousands. Fortunately, Jack’s beneficence was legendary.

He was like something scaled differently than the rest of the world. A mountain of flesh clad in a second skin of gleaming metal and stone, the submersible city he carried on his back. Eyes the size of cathedral domes gazed out at the stupefied onlookers to either side. A great burst of spray erupted from his blowhole, touching off more cheers and applause.

Then his great jaws opened, water rushing in, and a fleet of ships rushed out, flags flying in the wind, ships of every type and nation, flying alongside the cetacean flag of Jackburg: galleons and triremes and whirring submarines, corpseships from Erubescence, dolphin-drawn chariots, puffing steamships, hovercraft from Verdigris, living boat-things from Teratopolis, amorphous amoeba-vessels from beyond the Entropic Wastes, chitin barqentines from across the Blushing Sea. Behind them, in the great beast’s mouth and through into his stomach, the lights of Jackburg twinkled.

The party descended and made for the Swelter, hiring one of the numerous ferries ready to take eager Hexians to Jackburg. The boat drew close to the vast beast. The Company decided to begin their visit to Jackburg in Melonward, hoping to speak with Sister’s Navigator friend, Adam Quell. On their way they saw some of the Whaleguard vessels, carefully watching over the first ships to enter Jack’s maw. Some were not boats but Watchturtles – gigantic sea-turtles upon which had been constructed Whaleguard outposts, complete with periscopes, harpoons, and cannons.

The religious district, Melonward was centred around the Cathedral of Genial Jack, a temple built atop its god, where the Navigators communed with their vessel and deity. The party docked along Jack’s flank and took a winding series of walkways up to the top of his head. The people who walked the streets of Melonward were generally uniformed, either in the stylized captain’s garb – complete with tricorn hats – that marked the Navigators, or in the sea-green military uniforms of the Whaleguard.

The party made their way to the Cathedral, entering a long hall lined with statues – former High Navigators and others fallen in defending Jackburg. Sister’s breath caught as she passed one of these statues, the stone semblance of a tall, powerfully built man in Navigator’s robes, a naval sabre in one hand and a flintlock pistol in the other. The man stood atop a heap of bodies, while a swarm of gelatinous creatures like humanoid jellyfish were sculpted assailing him. At the statue’s base was an inscription: “Adam Quell, 1723-1780. Died defending Jackburg against the Gelatinous Empire in the Battle of the Gilded Sea.”

Sister stood for a moment in quiet contemplation, the party respectfully silent. Then a voice broke the silence.

“Sister? Is that you?”

A young, olive-skinned woman with a confidence and poise greater than her years suggested stood in a frock coat so long and ornate it was closer to a robe. Perched on her head was the lovechild of a priestly mitre and a tricorne hat. Scars that look like claw-marks were visible on one cheek.

“Do we know one another?” Sister said.

“Parthenia Quell,” the woman said, extending a gloved hand. “I remember you, a little, from when I was young, and my father told me so many stories about you.” She nodded towards his statue.

“I’m sorry to hear of his passing,” Sister said.

“He died nobly,” Parthenia said. “And his memory lives forever in Jack’s mind.” She smiled. “You know what that means, of course, better than most – if my father is to be believed, you’re one of the few outsiders with a mind capable of communing with Jack.”

“It was only a brief contact. But quite an experience.”

Parethenia nodded. “Well, I am glad to see you again. In fact, there might be something you could do to help us… but we can speak of that later. Is there anything you wish to see on your visit here to Jackburg?”

“We’re trying to set up an auction,” Comet interjected. “We have some stuff to sell.”

“An auction? I’d recommend the Queen of Lost Souls in Queen’s Corner – the best gallery in Jackburg. In fact, I might be interested in attending. With my father’s passing, I’ve inherited his position as one of the High Navigators; we’re always on the lookout for useful artefacts, and Hex’s treasures are legendary.”

“Thanks for the advice,” Sister said. “I hope to see more of you during our visit.”

“Certainly. Send along an invitation once the auction is arranged.” She nodded. “I’m afraid I must leave you now – I’m on my way to a meeting with the Captains’ Conclave.”

Sister nodded in return as Parthenia departed. They lingered for a time in the Cathedral. Sister lit a votive candle for Adam and prayed at the shrine of Jack. As she knelt before his altar, she felt a glimmer of his mind, reaching out to glance against hers, and a surge of divine power filled her – the God Whale recognizing a former friend of his servant.

Respects paid, the party descended to Jack’s huge, still-open mouth. His huge eye rolled in its socket to glance at them, and Sister once again felt a flicker of familiarity.

The bizarre mansions of Mawtown dangled from chains suspended from the roof of Genial Jack’s massive mouth, glittering like lanterns against the darkness of his gullet. Accessible only via private elevators lowered from the foyers of these luxurious palaces, these mansions were partially sheltered from water by Joe’s huge baleen, but like the Outer Town they were built to be watertight, sealed against flooding. Mawtown’s real estate was considered especially valuable, and only the richest men, women, and other entities in Jackburg had enough wealth to afford homes in the mouth of the whale.

A tram led from Mawtown down Jack’s trachea and into the forestomach. Along the sides of Jack’s cheeks were a series of docks, boathouses, and warehouses, the lower half of Mawtown, where submersibles and ships in the vast Jackburg fleet were stored when Jack was on the move. These docks made for a colourful scene. On a wharf near the warehouses, two women with cutlasses were fighting one another before a gathered crowd, busily taking bets, while an official Whaleguard judge carefully adjudicated the legal duel. Meanwhile, several guides advertised their services on a pier where vessels from Hex were docking. These included a calico-furred ratfolk woman, a chitinous karkinoi missing one of his pincers, with a map of the city carved into his carapace, a handsome selkie man with a thickly braided beard and intricate glyph tattoos, and a red-haired human woman with a peg leg and a two-headed parrot on her shoulder. A ratfolk moneychanger exchanged Hexian talents and guineas for the gold dubloons and pieces of eight used by Jackburg.

After swapping their change, the party made for the guides, approaching the crusty karkinoi.

“Ah, you want guide?” the crab-man asked. “Phorcys will guide you! I know every twist and turn, outside and in! Just five dubloons a day.”

“Not a bad idea to get a guide,” Miri said. “I’ve heard Inner Jackburg can be confusing.”

“You’re hired, my good crab,” Armand declared.

“So, where should we visit next?” Miri asked, looking around. “Should we go straight to Queen’s Corner, or…?”

“Let me try something,” Sister said. She reached out a hand and touched the inside of Jack’s cheek, then muttered a brief incantation, pointing to each of her companions in turn. Instantly, each felt a tiny flash of pain as gills opened on their necks. “Thanks Jack,” Sister said. “Now we can breathe underwater, if we want to explore the Grooves.”

“The Grooves, eh?” Garvin said. “I’ve heard tell some of Jackburg’s, ah, less savoury individuals can be found there.”

“You’ve heard right, my friend,” Phorcys said. “The Grooves’re home for us karkinoi, and other water-dwellers too, but there are some rough types around! A working crab’s district, the Grooves. I show you – come, come.”

The karkinoi dived, legs wriggling. Armand quckly wove a spell to keep the party’s clothes dry, and the group submerged, following Phorcys underwater.

Those of Jackburg who prefered the open sea to the Inner Town but who lacked the funds to dwell in Melonward or Blowhole Row generally opted for the Grooves, a series of narrow folds along Jack’s underside. The structures here, unlike the sealed, watertight buildings atop the whale, were open to the sea; only in conditions of war or extreme pressure would the denizens of this district evacuate to a sealed location. Due to its aqueous, almost constantly submerged nature, all of the folk here were of the merfolk races:  karkinoi, polypoids, down-on-their-luck octopoids, and otherwise houseless undines.

Phorcys led the party to an underwater tavern, the Sea Slug, where merfolk drank from specially engineered conch-shells equipped with intricate straws and played games with cards of wood and metal. The party caroused briefly, enjoying the novelty of the underwater setting. Garvin listened in on a few conversations surreptitiously.

“Snag wants that product moved fast,” he heard one karkinoi saying to a polypoid – a being like a humanoid coral.

The creature nodded. “We have contacts with this group here called the Crowsbeak Guild. Pay big money for ambergris.”

“You’d better move fast. I’m sure the Mischief and the Cuttlethieves are trying to shore up their own bargains.”

Intrigued, Garvin made his retreat before he was noticed.

Their exploration of the Grooves completed, the party decided to enter Inner Jackburg. They returned to Mawtown and took the tram down Jack’s throat, passing briefly through the forestomach and the district of Flotsamville.

Although not the oldest part of Jackburg – that honour lay with the ancient ruins in Jack’s intestines – Flotsamville was the first settlement in the modern iteration of the town, a rickety mass of swaying rope bridges and buildings designed to oscillate gently to the peristaltic pressures of the forestomach. Largely vertical in nature, Flotsamville was formed out of the wreckage of ships, refashioned into homes and shops circling the walls of the forestomach, a criss-crossed web of bridges between, steps and elevators leading up and down. Flags from a thousand countries hung like banners or tapestries from posts, while the figureheads of countless ships decorated every building, worshipped as minor household gods. Still Jackburg’s densest residential district, Flotsamville also had numerous fish-markets, along with warehouses full of supplies for long journeys. Down below, gleaming in the dark, the party could see the lights of the Coils, glittering amongst the pale bones of the dead sea serpent that gives that sultry district its name.

“What’s down there?” Comet asked Phorcys.

“Oh, those’re the Coils,” the karkinoi replied. “See, this one time, Jack accidentally swallowed this sea serpent. It was a whole thing. Came thrashing into the forestomach. We had to kill it – huge battle down here, gave Jack terrible indigestion. But we slew the beast. And then, you know. Built a bunch of casinos.”

The party resolved to experience these chance-houses at a later time, but for now passed to Bellyborough in the Main Stomach.

The craftsman’s district of Bellyborough included guildhalls, workshops, and factories, furnishing Jackburg with all of the artisan goods it needed. Apart from the smiths of Bezoar Crook and the ship-builders of Barnaclebank in the Outer Town, all of Jackburg’s craftsmen congregated here, dedicating streets (horizontal and vertical) to their individual pursuits: brewing, butchering, joining, locksmithing, tailoring, haberdashery,  weaving, ropemaking, tanning, potting,  parchment-making, and every other craft imaginable. While many finished goods were sold in Borborygmus Bazaar, some artisans sold their goods directly to the public.

The party noted a huge crowd filling a cramped square between several large breweries. They appeared to be feasting upon a corpse – that of an urchin-headed humanoid – being served by other urchin-headed humanoids, who doled out pieces of quivering, tender flesh, raw and lightly seasoned with sea salt.

“What in the name of the Magistra?” Garvin asked. Miri watched with curiosity.

“Ah, an urchin funeral,” Phorcys explained. “The urchins, see, they don’t like to work. Beg for food, for coins. But when you give it to them, Jack is happy. You get a little blessing from the god in exchange. And the urchins, they keep track of who gives. Dunno how – they just know. When one of em dies, everyone who gave money or food gets a piece of the urchin. I ate one once – delicious, the best thing I ever ate. It’s an honour to be invited.”

Intrigued, the party pressed on, now descending into the sprawling hub of the Inner Town, Borborygmus Bazaar. The market fills the centre of Jack’s main stomach, bordering Bellyborough, Queen’s Corner, and the Gutgardens. One of the world’s most famous marketplaces, it was a colourful confusion of tents, stalls, and market halls, selling everything imaginable – and many things quite beyond imagination. Whirring clockwork devices manufactured by the artificers of Verdigris, spices and hieroglyphic scrolls from New Ulthar, ancient texts scavenged from the library-undercity of Hex, reanimated thralls dredged from the corpse-factories of Erubescence, Contingency Stones extracted from the paradoxical mines of the Entropic Wastes, spellswords forged in the mystic smithies of Folded Realm, masks such as those worn in far-off Xell, baubles of shapeshifting glass from across the Blushing Sea, and thousands of other oddities, curios, artefacts, and wonders – all were for sale in the Bazaar, a treasure-trove of marvels from every corner of the world. Many of these items are illegal in other ports of call: poisons, dangerous magical drugs, forbidden spells, and similar items.

The party made several purchases. Sister bought a Gargoyle Lamp from a clever-faced goblin: when lit and used to illuminate a statue that statue became temporarily lively enough to answer simple questions posed to it about what it may have seen over the years. Armand bought a “Suit for Any Occasion” from a human merchant in colourful silks – a set of animated clothes that sensed the social occasion and polymorphed accordingly, becoming a fine suit or gown, work-clothes, or even full plate armour. The party also found themselves near-victims of a ratfolk pickpocket, who they gently deterred.

After some other brief explorations – a brief peek at the ruins in Bezoar Crook, a stroll through the Gutgardens – the party went to Queen’s Corner. Four ships gave Queen’s Corner its name: the Queen Raphaella’s Vengeance, the Queen of Carnage, the Tenebrous Queen, and the Queen of Lost Souls. These four ships, respectively, had been repurposed as a courthouse, a grand hotel, a theatre, and an auction house and art gallery. Suspended high above the bustle of Borborygmus Bazaar below, the four Queens were some of the oldest and most intact of the many wrecks of Genial Jack, and were a centre of the city’s artistic, financial, and legal life. They also frequently drew large crowds, as Queen Raphaella’s Vengeance had a duelling piste used to settle many legal disputes according to the libertine laws of Jackburg.

The party made for the Queen of Lost Souls: an opulent craft, once a legendary battleship, its ornate but unloaded cannons carefully polished and kept on display. Up above the ship supported studios for sculpture, painting, and the like; through portholes the party could see artists at work, many of them the sentient coral-folk known as polypoids. Below decks, past guards in the ancient naval uniform of the vessel, the hold had been converted into a vast art gallery and auction house.

Morphic landscapes that twisted and changed, family portraits magically entangled with their subjects to show dynasties shift, painted masks from Xell, living paintings from Tetractys that wave and speak to passersby, pallid bone-statues from Blodvinter, automaton artworks from Verdigris like clockwork gladiators who fight an endless duel on a dais, a Lengian cobweb tapestry, and hundreds of other treasures could be found within the ship – artworks saved from shipwrecks, claimed by Jackburg by the ancient law of salvage.

The party spoke to the owner, Captain and Curator Nodus VIII, a polypoid himself – dapper, debonair, and exquisitely mannered, eighth of his line, some fifteen-hundred years old, with the finest taste on the high seas After Sister casually dropped Parthenia Quell’s name and they showed the Captain a sample of the goods they intended to auction, he gladly put on an auction for the adventurers in the Auction Hall. This was a glorious hall on the bottom of the boat, where the floor had been partially replaced with panes of reinforced glass, allowing attendants to look down at the vertiginous layers of Jackburg below – the teeming bustle of the Borborygmus Bazaar, and below the glass domes and swaying seaweed forests of the Gutgardens.

A few days later, the party returned to the Auction House, the artefacts they’d looted from Delirium Castle on display. A sizeable crowd had gathered, and more of the Variegated Company were in attendance. They surveyed the crowd before the auction began, eyeing the wealthy individuals who would soon be bidding on the various magical objects they’d decided to part with.

Alabastor and Garvin approach the sinister Duke of Bees: a thin, slender man with skin the colour of pale honey, standing beside a hulking warrior carrying his own head in his hands. The thin man was distinguished by the tiny holes in his bald head, honeycomb-like, from which crawl buzzing bees.

“I wonder how many bee-stings it would take to kill that man over there?” the Duke muttered. “Oh, sorry, hello there. My apologies.” He eyed Alabastor carefully, then looked to Garvin. “Impressive selection of items on display here.” His voice changed strangely in tone, pitch, and volume, like bees buzzing.

“Thank you. Do you plan to bid on any in particular?”

“There are several that have excited my attention,” the Duke replied. “That said… there is another matter I would speak of. It has become known to me that you possess certain talents that may be of use to Her Majesty, Queen Mab,” he said. “Would you be interested in some light employment during your time here?”

The two Ravenswing thieves exchanged a swfit hand gesture of agreement.

“Certainly,” Alabstor said – conscious that this creature was an emissary of his own secret patron, the Faerie Queen Mab.

“Excellent,” the Duke continued, lowering his voice to a whisper and moving to a more secluded corner of the ship, the better to communicarte privately. “Here in Jackburg dwell a lost tribe of giants, the Fomorians, exiled from Faerie many centuries past for high crimes against Her Majesty. Their leader, King Balor, led a rebellion against Queen Mab’s rule, and was cast onto this mortal sphere with his misbegotten people as a result of his transgression. When Genial Jack swallowed up the sinking remnants of Hy-Brasil, the island of the Fomorions, he saved them from watery death. Chunks of that broken realm now form the place known as Bezoar Bend, where the giants dwell still.

“Here, then, is your task. Within the caves of the Fomorians, deep in the reaches of the Bezoar, lies the ancient throne-room of Balor, where the giant king still slumbers, waking but rarely. Here, in the throne room, the Queen would ask you to plant… this.” He opens a hand. Within it is a black seed. “Simply place it in the earthen floor of the hall. In exchange for this service, one of my bees will lead you to a secret treasure of the Fomorians, which you may claim as reward – and, in addition, I have been authorized to provide you with one hundred Elfmarks of Faerie gold.”

“An interesting job,” Garvin said. “We will consider it. We may take cabins here on Jack – we hear he is bound for Erubescence, and we have business in the vampire city.”

“Of course, of course,” the Duke said. “Do be in touch.”

Comet, meanwhile, was conversing with none other than Pieter “Wormbeard” Sluk: a hulking, amorphous creature with a body seemingly made out of semi-solid sludge that squelched through the room, although thankfully he did not leave a trail of slime – the mud seemed to be part of his body. A huge beard of fat, writhing earthworms the size of a forearm wriggled on his massive chin.

“I have heard of you, little one,” the mud elemental said, its voice deep and glutinous. “I attended your trial. A gross miscarriage of justice.”

“Oh, ah, thank you?” Comet said. “The Harvesters are… well. I don’t want to use impolite language in such, ah, fancy company.”

The mud elemental laughed. “I have also heard that you and your companions are skilled at the arts of stealth – as these objects clearly attest.” Wrombeard waved a gloopy hand. “I wonder if you might have time for a little side-venture, of interest to the Unfettered.”

“Uh, possibly,” the waspkin said. “What’s the job?”

“I know your feelings concerning the Harvesters,” he said. “You may be less familiar with the finfolk of Jackburg. They are an ancient and unwholesome people. It is said that Genial Jack snared them in his great jaws to free the world from their depredations, for they were once kidnappers, enslaving those they snatched in their underwater halls. Jack ate up their city of Finfolkaheem, but being a kind and generous beast, offered them a home in his innards. And so they dwell here still, lurking in their eerie stone monoliths, and the shifting maze of a town that sprawls about them. Even the Whaleguard stay out of Finfolkaheem.

“Slavery is illegal here in Jackburg, as in Hex, but the finfolk have found loopholes, just as our own city has. They buy up the indenture contracts of those they come across in Jack’s travels, a form of servitude still legal under the city’s constitution. They are also known to trade in conjured beings – illegal here in Jackburg, but legal in Hex, as you know.”

Wormbeard gurgled. “The Unfettered have learned of an agreement, negotiated in advance of Jack’s arrival. They plan to trade the finfolk a large quantity of sap, in exchange for a collection of teeth – seemingly the fangs of some beast. These objects seem innocuous, but in fact, the teeth are carved with sigils trapping jinni within them, obtained from the markets of Marainein, the City of the Wasting God. The Harvesters will use these spirits in their endless pursuit of wealth, putting them to use in the extraction of sap from the remaining Elder Tree.

“The Unfettered cannot stop this exchange ourselves. But, if someone were to steal the teeth from the finfolk before the trade could be made – or, alternatively, to steal them from the Harvesters after the trade – we have ways of freeing the jinni from their dental prisons and getting them to safety. And, of course, we would show our appreciation for any daring soul willing to perform such a rescue.”

Comet nodded. “I’ll talk to my group. We may be able to help!”

With that, the auction began, and the party began the lucrative but strangely painful process of parting with some of their hard-won treasures. The bids flew fast and high, and soon the party had amassed a fortune – more than enough to construct the vessel they desired.

As the auction wrapped up, Nodus banging the gavel a final time, a muffled grunt was audible. A guard went flying down the stairs, hitting the floor hard, blood trickling from his temple. Someone screamed, and then dense, dark vapour began rapidly flooding the room: gas like sepia ink.

The party caught brief glimpses of tentacles or beaks; Miri, swearing loudly, whipped out her wands and fired off several magic missiles. There was an inhuman squeal of pain, and something whistled through the darkness: a dart, hitting the trollblood in the neck. Another struck Garvin. Both slumped to the floor, poisoned and unconscious.

Cephalus, meanwhile, tackled one of the shapes, bearing it to the ground.

When the smoke cleared, the items sold at the auction – as well as numerous artworks from the gallery above – were gone. A hole had been cut in the glass floor, a rope tied up to a beam nearby.

“The Cuttlethieves!” Nodus raged. “Weremollusc burglars! We’ve been robbed!”

Hex Session XXVII – 5th Edition Actual Play – Chainbreaker

The characters in this session were:

Waspkin 3Miri Draft 2Yam

  • Caulis, a homunculus warlock liberated from its master; has made a pact with certain Faerie Powers.
  • Cephalus T. Murkwater, a dagonian barrister and monk, specializing in martial arts and magical labour law.
  • Comet the Unlucky, waspkin ranger, a dreamer and an idealist, longing for the restoration of the Elder Trees and the liberation of his people. Loathes the Harvester’s Guild, parasites and destroyers.
  • Miri, trollblood wizard, plucked from Mount Shudder and raised amongst Hex’s arcane elites. A recent graduate of Fiend’s College.
  • Yam, an eccentric gnome illusionist and local graduate student at Umbral University. Yam cares little for money. Yam is curious. Yam is Yam.

XP Awarded: 500 XP

The Book of Chaos was safely stowed – Yam had entrusted it to Cosmo, the eldritch sheep, who was currently living in his chambers – but the party had unfinished business in Delirium Castle.

Miri had retrieved the Sanguineus Scripture, a tome only readable when blood was spilled on its pages; however, her employer at Fiend’s College, Samuel Dweomerkamp, noted that the volume retrieved was but one of three.

Cephalus the dagonian monk and lawyer was convinced to join the party on their sojourn, in case any legal disputes arose in their discussion with the demon.

After regrouping at the Green Star – Comet the waspkin now sporting an impressive scar from his encounter with the apex chimera – the party returned to the Outer Bailey of Delirium Castle. Sister was away on religious business, and so the party lacked the painted characters she previously comandeered from the magical Marjorie’s painting. Fortunately, Caulis was able to procure another handful, as Marjorie was painting over her previous mural; Caulis procured several balloon-duellists from the apocaylpse of pigment Marjorie indifferently inflicted upon her animate creations. These two-dimensional helpers rescued on a piece of parchment, the party approached the gate.

“Ah, you again!” the gate said. “Back for more?”

“I suppose so…” Yam said. “We’ve got some sort of deal with a demon, I guess.”

“Mmm. Best not to renege on one of thosem eh? Well, here’s your riddle.” The gate coughed, then spoke: “Two goblins sat down for a drink after a long day of happy work in the service of the glorious Emperor Soulswell. Both loyal servants elected to drink iced mead from a great pitcher between them. One goblin swiftly drank five cups of the mead. The other drank but a single cup. The first goblin fell into a drunken stupor. When he awoke, he found his dining companion dead, face blackened with poison. Yet he had drank five times the mead as his companion. All of the mead was poisoned. How did the first goblin survive while the second died?”

Several minutes of discussion proceeded until Comet produced the answer: “Ah, it was the ice that was poisoned. The goblin who drank fast didn’t consume as much because the ice didn’t melt.”

“Correct again!” the gate said, opening itself and admitting the party to the Castle. Here, Greengrin once again greeted them, and they entered the Inner Bailey – Yam pausing briefly to hand a group of terrified-looking goblin servants some pamphlets on the evils of enforced magical labour.

The party stealthily made their way through the Castle to the precarious bulk of the Armoury Tower, stern and grey, a brooding presence. The door was unlocked; several windows were evident above. Caulis sent its familiar, Eleyin, to observe, and the pseododragon heard a strange hissing sound from within. As she circled, a swarm of arrows and bolts flew out of the windows, flocking like birds, magically flying through the air in search of their prey. Eleyin dived to safety, retreating from the swarm to Caulis’ shoulder, and the arrows returned to their roost.

The party entered the tower cautiously, Comet leading the group. Within, a spiral staircase swept around the edge of a massive domed room, leading up to the level above and down to the dungeons below. The walls were dour grey. Hunched in the middle of the room was a mass of rust and gleaming metal, chains snaking from it to the walls. As the group entered, the mass shifted, uncoiling, and they realized it was a Troll, some thirteen feet tall, shackled in place. The Troll’s body was covered in weapons that had been fused into his body, as if they became wedged there and then grew to become part of him: swords, axes, broken spears, halberds and pikes, and hundreds of arrows. The party eyed this creature carefully.

“Are you… some kind of prisoner?” Miri asked.

“I am Jack-in-Irons,” the Troll intoned. “Bound by these fetters and by the magic of the Castle to guard this tower for Emperor Soulswell.”

“Uh-huh,” Yam said. “Anyway you could… not?”

The Troll grunted. “I am magically bound.”

“Ugh,” Yam said, and cast fog cloud, filling the chamber with mist. Comet, flitting above, hurled caltrops around Jack-in-Irons, and the party made a run for it, dashing as stealtily as they could through the fog to the stairs, avoiding the creature’s wild swings as it stumbled about the chamber, caltrops sticking into its flesh. The group scampered up the steps, Caulis dislodging a broken flagstone but managing to dodge out of an errant sword-swing.

Nettle. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.

The next level of the Armoury Tower contained beautifully painted shields of every shape, size, and style. The party quickly set to work looting the room – only to find that the shields themselves had something to say about their new owners. One, a shield of living oak, carved with an elfin face, thorns and vines growing out of the wood, eagerly greeted Caulis, introducing herself as Nettle, a shield capable of lashing out with its magical vines; a shield with numerous marks on “his” surface and a figure resembling a beautiful man tied to a stake painted upon it urged Comet to shoot it. Comet obliged, and the shield- who named himself Severein – sighed with what seemed like obscene pleasure, and the waspkin, somewhat reluctantly, picked up the masochistic arrow-catching shields. Another shield, snarling and growling its name – “Chompy!” – drooled on the floor.

These shields in tow, the party very stealthily began creeping to the next level, where the arrow-swarm nested. Dead rats and birds littered the ground. And a gnome lay on the floor, riddled with arrows and badly decomposed. He had thieves’ tools, a Crowsbeak amulet, studded leather armour, a map of the Armoury Tower with scribbled guesses about different levels, and a key with a sword-like bow. The arrows were here, roosting in quivers, their feathers rustling as they snoozed.

Comet, at first, tried to coax the arrows from their quivers like frightened birds, to reassure them he meant them no harm.

“Don’t you want to be free from this terrible place?” he asked them cajolingly. Suddenly the Castle groaned and shook; something moved down below.

“Ah! The Castle thinks you’ve insulted it!” Miri exclaimed.

The arrows, meanwhile, were shaken from their torpor by the tremor, and began flocking in the air, preparing to attack.

Yam used cantrips to conjure an illusory flame in the quivers. Instantly the arrows flew into action, swirling in a panic, fleeing into corners. Comet rushed forwards, Severin brandished, Cephalus behind him, while the rest of the party rushed to the next level. The arrows swirled and began attacking, many hitting Severin, filling the air with the shield’s sighs. A few grazed the waspkin and other party members.

Meanwhile, Cephalus was busy, snapping arrows and catching them by the handful, destroying them by the dozen. The pair quickly depleted the supply, destroying hundreds of arrows in a few minutes, sustaining only a handful of minor wounds before following the rest of the party up to the next level.

A mass of armour was strewn about this room – chainmail, helmets, plate armour, all disassembled, along with a mess of weapons, mostly longswords and pikes. As the party entered, suits of armour assembled themselves, one for each party member, grabbing weapons and menacing their counterparts; some were small, suitable for gnomes or waspkin or homunculi. The party leapt into action, Cephalus sparring with his suit, Comet and Miri attacking their own, and Yam… dancing with theirs. The suits responded in kind. While Caulis used misty step to bypass the chamber, the party fighting their suits battered their opponents into submission. Yam meanwhile, danced with sufficient elegance and energy to charm their suit – which, in delight, attached itself to the gnome. It seemed the illusionist had made a new friend.

The party hurried upwards, to the room marked “Chainbreaker” on their map. Comet used the sword-bowed key found on the gnome’s corpse to open the door. Thick dust carpeted the floor. The magical warhammer Chainbreaker restsed on a plinth in the middle of this room – a dusty old thing, more like a tool than a weapon, with a few crude symbols carved into its handle. Comet conjured an unseen servant to grab the hammer. Meanwhile, the party could hear something groaning below them, making its way up the stairs – whatever horror Comet’s insult had conjured.


“Uh… sure,” Comet said. “Sounds like an agenda I can get behind.” He turned to the party. “Wait here… I’m going to go check out whatever is coming up behind us.”

The ranger flitted out a window, hammer in hand, and peeked into the floors below. He bristled as he saw the thing coming to destroy them. Jaws smeared with vicious spikes. Eyes that spurted flame. A torso riddled with holes, spraying poisonous needles. One arm terminated in a massive hammer, the other a vicious buzz-saw. It moved on a rolling stone ball that crushes everything in its path.

Thinking quickly, Comet flew down to the first floor, re-entering the chamber with Jack-in-Irons.

“You are back!” the giant said.

“Hey, I’m here to get you out!” Comet said. “I’ve got a hammer that can break your bonds. But if I do, could you help us? There’s a big golem coming up the stairs.”

“Ah, the deathtrap golem.” Jack said.”Hurry, then, but take care! My bonds compel me to attack you until they are sundered!”

The waspkin rushed forwards, dodging under a sweep of the Troll’s blade, and, with a blow from Chainbreaker, struck his chains. Instantly the bonds binding the Troll burst, sending metal linsk everywhere. Jack-in-Irons groaned in relief, suddenly unburdened. Comet led the Troll to the golem, which turned and began assailing Jack, spattering him with poisonous needles and pounding him with its hammer and saw, flame spitting from its eyes. The Troll was true to its word, hammering the deathtrap golem with his sword. He sustained many blows, but between the pair of them – Comet hitting the automaton with arrows – they were able to reduce the killer-machine to slag. Comet returned to his companions, having bade adieu to the Troll, who was bound now for the gates and freedom.

Caulis attempted to open the door to the room marked “The Mace of Madness,” but was struck by a symbol of insanity and fled, gibbering. Miri tackled the homunculus and held it down until it regained its wits. Instead of returning to the mace-room, the party now approached the door marked “Mademoiselle Sanguinaire” on the map.

Mademoiselle Sanguinaire. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.

The floor here was carpeted with bones, along with the badly decayed corpse of a cambion man clutching a rusted sabre. Dancing through the air, twirling back and forth, was a slender rapier.

“Aha! New combatants!” the sabre said, a female figure coalescing out of the air – a flamboyant swashbuckler, clad in high boots, black house, and a loose tunic. “Dare any of you face the indomitable Mademoiselle Sanguinare?!?”

There seemed to be no takers, but then Comet, declaring himself on a roll, stepped forward, weapon in hand. A duel commenced, in which Comet was nearly slain several times, the ghost-possessed rapier wounding him severely, but eventually Comet triumphed, swatting the blade to the floor.

“A worthy duelist indeed!” Mademoiselle Sanguinaire declared. “My blade is yours to command, swordsman!”

Comet – proving himself more valuable by the minute – took the sword in victory.

The final chamber now awaited. Yam managed to open the door, ignoring the effects of the symbol; perhaps the gnome’s mind was too eccentric for the magical lunacy to affect them. Within the chamber, a mace whose spikes were all of different lengths was held in a stone fist rising from the floor. Mad laughter echoeed within the chamber, and upon entering the room, Yam began to perceive uncanny movement from the corner of their eye. Very delicately, Yam plucked the mace from the hand, managing to sneak it from the stone fingers just in time before they closed into a fist, swiping madly at the gnome. The Mace of Madness in hand, they prepared to make their descent.

The party lingered in the turret containing the Sword of the First Queen, which contained an ancient bronze sword, huge, engraved with glyphs in a tongue from the first age of humanity. It rested on a stone slab. Painted on one wall of the turret, between two windows, was a fearsome sphinx with the head of a woman, grinning unnervingly, her paws wet with blood. Miri grabbed the weapon, and the sphinx’s grin widened even further; Yam drew a dragon on the wall and used Marjorie’s spell to awaken it, but the dragon was terrified of the sphinx and tried to “flee,” the animated mural preparing to pounce. Caulis rescued it just in time, letting it flap to the parchment with the other refugee paintings.

The party left, but became aware that the sphinx was now following them along the walls… a disturbing development. They made their descent and exited the Armoury Tower, making hurriedly for the Library Tower. Miri spoke Beleth’s name, summoning the Reference Demon with whom they had made a contract. Instantly, the party was teleported to the demon, somewhere in the depths of the tower!

“You could have come down!” Miri declared.

“Mmm… but I didn’t,” Beleth replied. “Are you here to fulfill your end of the bargain?”

“Yes,” Comet said, hefting Chainbreaker. With the hammer in hand, he could see the magical tether binding Beleth to the Castle, a glowing metaphysical chain. A single blow broke the contract. “You’re free!” The waspkin said.

“Ah, my thanks,” Beleth replied… and promptly vanished, leaving the party abandoned in the Library.

Lost, the party passed from the chamber they were in to the next. Immediately they were assailed by a monstrous sight. Slender, massively tall, with chitinous limbs, enormous moth-wings sprouting from its shoulder-blades, the thing that loomed before them vaguely resembled a skeletal, insectoid angel – a gaunt, pallid monsters, busy stitching shut the lips of a ritually scarified man. The creature turned, one impossibly long, clawed finger to its liplers mouth…

In horror, the party fled, shutting the door behind them.

“Shit!” Miri whispered. “I think that was one of those things Greengrin warned us about last time. The Silent Ones. Must be the mature form of those dire bookworms everywhere!”

“Could we use the chalk to get out?” Cephalus asked.

“Let’s use it to get back to the other part of the Castle,” Caulis said. “We still have one end of the portal there.”

Agreeing, the party hastily scrawled a portal and stepped through, just as the Silent One’s bony fingers eased through the cracked door behind them. They closed the portal and looked around them, back in the hall of statues, all depicting Xavier Soulswell.

Picking a chamber they had not previously entered. Here they found a large alchemical laboratory: a forest of glassware, none of it currently in use. A small collection of pre-made potions could be found on a low shelf. Three massive cauldrons dominated the room: one of brass, one of iron, and one of silver. The party investigated, finding and identifying various potions: Diminution, Flattening, Invisibility, Longevity, Reverse Gravity, Tongues, Water Breathing. They experimented with the cauldrons, discovering that the brass cauldron had something to do with life and death, and was capable of reviving dead matter. The iron cauldron appeared to have a replication effect – a blueberry placed within it duplicated itself rapidly, overflowing its lip. The silver cauldron, finally, had a metamorphic effect, and seemed to able to transform one creature into another.

This room thoroughly investigated, they passed to the next. A bullseye lantern flickered in this chamber, hung from a chain on the ceiling. Its sickly greenish light illuminated a skeleton seated on a chair of black metal. A small shelf to one side contained four spare candles, alongside a tinderbox. The walls of this chamber weare fashioned from obsidian, or a substance which resembles it.

Cephalus grabbed the lamp, and the light shifted. Instantly, the skeleton moved, muscle and organs rapidly growing, flesh appearing on its bones. Soon a tall, thin humanoid of indeterminate gender stood before them; they possessed a narrow skull, skin of a soft mauve colour intricately patterned with small, crabbed sigils in silver ink, and eyes with black sclera and jale irises. The lantern, it seemed, had an entropic effect – its light decomposed anything it touched, but the effect reversed when the light was removed.

The figure – after spells were used to translate its speech – introduced itself:

“I am Xeb Wraeth Jennai, of the Dusk People, of the city of New Ys; a magus of no little skill, though sadly deprived of my apparatus or familiars.”

The party introduced themselves in turn, and learned that Xeb had been imprisoned by Soulswell long ago. They were one of the Dusk People, who Xeb claimed to be descended of the Twilight Folk who dwelt on the western shores of the Final Continent. “Doubtless some of you are my distant ancestors,” Xeb said. “Though I could not trace the twisted braids of evolution that might connect out bloodlines. I am from New Ys, the greatest of the Final Cities that will precede the Everlasting Midnight. I am a visitor from what you perceive as this world’ far future, or rather, one version of that future, many millions of years hence, by your reckoning. I elected to flee here during the Temporal Exodus. My people, you see, have retired throughout time, escaping the doom of Everlasting Midnight, when the sun itself is extinguished. We gathered in the Plaza of Manifold Shadows and flung ourselves to the far reaches of history, in a diaspora across innumerable centuries. To my knowledge I am the only one of my fellow Time Travellers to seek this rude millennium, for most preferred more familiar epochs – the perfumed reign of the Pink Emperor, or the Time of Many Heads, or the age of the Hearth Culture. I was seeking company among those conversant in the arcane arts, and journeyed to this accursed city in hopes of scholarly conversation. When Xavier learned of my presence, he had me arrested and, using their Lantern of Entropy, imprisoned me in skeletal form. A fine jest, which I shall repay in kind once I have recovered those materials the upstart took from me.”

Fascinated by this strange being, the party prepared to leave Delirum Castle once again – though they lacked convenient means of escape. Climbing a flight of stairs they discovered a solid wall of water. Several eroded, barnacled statues seemed to flee a huge knight clad entirely in plate armour that had completely fused by rust. The knight was unmoving. In his gauntleted hands he bore a massive sword. This Cephalus – capable of breathing water – procured from his grasp, before returning to the party. The party made an about-face and continued looking for a way out. This time they found one: a hidden corridor, used by several duster-goblins as a servant’s exit. This led them into the Outer Bailey, and they realized they had been within the Imperial Keep. From here it was a brief sojourn to the Gates, and out once more into the city, their packs burdened with loot from another successful delve into Delirium Castle’s mysterious depths.

The Variegated Company

For the Hex campaign, our group uses a rotating cast of characters and something of an “urban West Marches” model. We’ve had a total of 15 players, some who’ve played only a session as “guest” characters, some who attend almost every session. Sessions are scheduled in a relatively imprompu manner, and prospective members vote on a rough direction to take the game before each session, giving me a leg up when it comes to prep. As in West Marches there is no overarching story, just an overarching environment, although there are a handful of plot threads the party can pull on when they feel like it.

Here’s a list of the player characters we’ve had so far.

Alabastor Quan, a gnome rogue-turned-warlock and failed circus ringmaster; wielder of a cursed dagger and member of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild.Alabastor’s emerged as a very crafty and conflicted individual. He keeps his allegiances hidden and has an inclination to paranoia, but he also wrestles with moral questions in a way some of the other characters don’t. His signature magic item at this point is an incredibly creepy sack he stole from the manifestation of one of his nightmares, a kind of bag of holding that traps creatures inside it.

Highlights: Scamming magical rats  for the Oneironomicon in “The Book of Dreams,” and refusing to assassinate a Troll chieftain in “Troll Country.”

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). Armand is one of the most experienced adventurers in the group, and also the richest. Over the course of the campaign he’s accumulated a huge collection of magical plants which he does alchemical experiments on – he’s always got some sort of eldritch crabapple or enchanted tincture up his sleeve. He’s also the guardian of a large country estate the party cleansed of monsters last year.

Bjorn, a gnome bard, a former industrial worker in the Boiling and a somewhat deranged inventor of clockwork instruments; in posession of demoniac bagpipes. Bjorn has the honour of being the only character so far to die, killed by the numinous centipede-monster in the Whorl known as the Dweller, in the very outing of the company. He seems like he could have been a very memorable adventurer, but alas, sometimes the dice of fate fall cruelly.

Highlight: Blind panic in “The Ultimate Contagion, Pt. 1.”

Caulis, a homunculus warlock liberated from its master; has made a pact with certain Faerie Powers. Caulis has a kind of quiet genius to it – like one might expect from a former servant, Caulis often hangs in the background, only to produce a solution to whatever problem the party is facing. Caulis uses its familiar, the pseudodragon Eleyin, to excellent effect as a scout and spy. It’s also responsible for a pretty big change in the geography of the setting, growing a gigantic forest to the north in the name of its Faerie patron.

Highlight: Sneaking an entire Faerie forest into Troll Country in “Harrowgast.”

Cephalus T. Murkwater, a dagonian barrister and monk, specializing in martial arts and magical labour law. Cephalus is a wonderful blend of opposites – probably the brawniest adventurer apart from Hurogg, but also a professional and intellectual. His addiction to ghostdust, procured from the Marionettist’s lair, has produced some hilarious interactions. His “fish-out-of-water” approach to the setting – a dagonian struggling to integrate into Hexian society – has been compelling to watch.

Comet the Unlucky, waspkin ranger, a dreamer and an idealist, longing for the restoration of the Elder Trees and the liberation of his people. Loathes the Harvester’s Guild, parasites and destroyers. Comet’s a fairly new character, but he’s proved himself extremely useful, especially for solving puzzles and handling ornery animals. One of the more explicitly political adventurers, he’s grown attached to a magical hammer, Chainbreaker (which the next log will see him acquire), which shares his desire to smash the unjust hierarchies and organizations that govern the city and oppress its marginalized citizens.

Highlight: Freeing Jack-in-Irons from servitude in Delirium Castle in “Chainbreaker” and coaxing a Philosopher’s Worm in “The Book of Chaos.”

Garvin Otherwise, a human rogue and burglar of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild, with a very, very peculiar past and a zoog pet, Lenore. Garvin’s intriguing back-story implies he may originally hail from our own world – and possibly that all of Hex may be a hallucination, simulation, or other mirage. As a character, Garvin is often a highly cautious, deliberate, and tactical in his decision-making. Garvin keeps meticulous records of every Librarian artefact, portal, and feature found in the Old City, and now has an impressive array of thieves’ tools, allowing him to walk on walls, see through doors, and similar feats.

Highlight: Rewinding time in an attempt to save Vespidae’s life in “The Yellow Sign, Pt. 2” and taking care of an intruder in “Sewers & Spiders.”

Viridian “Grove” Greengrove, changeling druid, exile from his former druidic circle for unknown transgressions. Grove has joined the party on a handful of adventures so far, and has proved to be something of a wildcard, with a highly flexible moral compass. He’s an inventive, outside-the-box thinker with perhaps a tinge of megalomania. His penchant for transforming into bizarre, monstrous beasts ensures his presence in the group is always memorable. In many ways, Grove subverts expectations for a druid, his mismatched eyes fixed on worlds beyond  the natural.

Highlight: Transforming into a zoog during a carriage heist in “The Angel’s Eye.”

Hurogg, a (vaguely) human barbarian of staggering size but seemingly dim wit. Hurogg has only joined the party briefly, but may return in future. Even in the short time he was present, hints of a strange past involving an alchemical accident have been uncovered. Hopefully the party will see Hurogg again; he has been glimpsed at times in Cephalus’ office and in other situations involving the dagonian barrister.

Miri, trollblood wizard, plucked from Mount Shudder and raised amongst Hex’s arcane elites; a recent graduate of Fiend’s College. Liek Comet, Miri is another fairly new addition to the party, but she’s demonstrated considerable resourcefulness and ambition. Her upbringing and university education ensure that she finds the outside world both wondrous and horrifying where other party-members are unimpressed. Her considerable physical bulk and quick draw with a wand have made her an asset in combat, and she has a tendency to cut through intractable situations by blowing holes in things.

Insidia “Sid” Thorn, a cambion graduate student and illusionist at Umbral University; Yam’s office-mate. Like Hurogg and Bjorn, Sid has only had one outing with the Variegated Company, albeit a memorable one trapped within a Librarian artefact. There were hints that Sid has a highly exalted demonic heritage – that she can trace her bloodline back to an Archdemon, perhaps one of the six patron Archdemons of Hex.

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.” Despite a highly developed sense of mischief and a tendency to take risks (in a “fuck it, I’m old, gotta go out sometime!” manner), Sister has in many ways emerged as the de facto leader of the Variegated Company. Along with Armand, Yam, Alabastor, and Caulis, she is one of the most experienced members of the group, and her unorthodox – some would say heretical – religious convictions balance power with compassion.

Sprigley Gilette, a hardboiled, cigar-chomping human mercenary and veteran of several brutal wars, and a relatively new arrival in Hex. After a series of adventures with the Variegated Company, Sprigley has retired, giving up the adventuring life in favour of a monastic one, as the former gunslinger became obsessed with a biomechanical Cthonic God being assembled in the Underworld. This strange religious turn took place after a series of sanity-shredding experiences in the Old City, perhaps most notably an incident with a time-shifted cell in the Librarian Asylum.

Highlight: Mentally unraveling while penned up in “Asylum.”

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. Of all the Variegated Company, Vespidae has had the greatest impact on Hex as a whole, her mysterious disappearance in Faunsweald and the subsequent development of a waspkin hive in Corvid Commons leading to rumours she has become the “Thirteenth Queen,” a renegade waspkin ruler. Vespidae’s discovery of the Queen in Yellow and her pilgrimage to Carcosa to retrieve a Yellow Sign constitue a particularly memorable episode of the company’s adventures.

Yam, an eccentric gnome illusionist and local graduate student at Umbral University. Yam’s antics and penchant for troublemaking and pranks often land the party in hot water (who can forget the infamous Helmet Incident?), and their extreme forthrightness can prove irksome to the party’s enemies and allies alike, and yet, everyone who meets Yam cannot help but find them charming. Yam isn’t happy unless they’re messing with something or someone, but remains lovable nonetheless. A skilled illusionist, Yam’s spellcraft has got the party out of more than one nasty scrape.

Highlight: Patting snow into the remains of Gorgongas victims in the Caustic Wastes in “Harrowgast.”

Zhulaz, a trollblood barbarian, exile of the Twocrown tribe, freed from thralldom. Though Zhulaz only joined the party for a brief period during their expedition to Troll Country, the barbarian was both a terrifying combatant and a helpful guide. His infamy among the other troll tribes put the Variegated Company in a tough spot, but he proved a potent ally in their struggle against the Griefbringer and her Skintaker insurgents.

Hex Session XXVI – 5th Edition Actual Play – The Book of Chaos

The characters in this session were:

AlabastorArmandWaspkin 3Miri Draft 2SisterYam

  • Alabastor Quan, a gnome rogue-turned-warlock and failed circus ringmaster; wielder of a cursed dagger and member of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild.
  • 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).
  • Comet the Unlucky, waspkin ranger, a dreamer and an idealist, longing for the restoration of the Elder Trees and the liberation of his people. Loathes the Harvester’s Guild, parasites and destroyers.
  • Miri, trollblood wizard, plucked from Mount Shudder and raised amongst Hex’s arcane elites. A recent graduate of Fiend’s College.
  • An ancient and enigmatic Lengian cleric of the Mother of Spiders, name unknown. She wears bulky ecclesiastical garments covering an uncertain number of limbs and goes by “Sister.”
  • Yam, an eccentric gnome illusionist and local graduate student at Umbral University. Yam cares little for money. Yam is curious. Yam is Yam.

XP Awarded: 1100 XP

The Variegated Company had been busy. Armand was renovating his familial estate, seeking a means of installing a teleportation node between his townhouse and the country manor. Sister had been carefully studying Cosmo, the strange sheep which might contain a pocket universe. Yam had acquired a new supervisor, Millicent Decrestor, who urged them to develop their thesis.

The party met at their usual haunt, the Green Star in Mooncross, to plot their plundering of Delirium Castle, the sprawling ruin in southern Hex. Sister had surveiled the fortress thoroughly using magic. The fungoid bartender Eramus Grole – “Pungent Elmo” – brought them a round of drinks as they planned their approach, sharing what they knew of the Castle, its history, and defenses.

Delirium Castle looms above the worst parts of Hex: the rotten tenements of Corvid Commons to the east, the eldritch desolation of the Midden and the mildewed slums of the Zymotic Ward to the west, the stinking corpse-markets of Shambleside to the south. A sprawling edifice of ancient stone, the Castle occasionally rearranges itself overnight, sometimes sprouting new spires, turrets mottling its walls and towers like tumours, entire wings spasming into existence in a viral bloom of teratomatous architecture.

The Castle was constructed seven centuries ago by the mad dictator Xavier Soulswell, a wizard of tremendous power gleaned from his time in the Old City. Soulswell magically mind-controlled many of those in high positions of office and gradually assumed control of the city, eventually proclaiming himself Emperor, using his arcane prowess and artefacts to maintain his brutal reign. During this period, Soulswell dominated many of Hex’s neighbours, gathered additional artefacts of great power, and enforced a series of bizarre, nonsensical edicts – for example, insisting that all sentences be spoken and written backwards on Stardays, or banning the eating of eggs.

His vicious rule lasted for thirteen years, during which time many of Hex’s other powerful wizards lived in exile. They would eventually return to Hex with an army of mortal mercenaries and conjured troops, the latter purchased through a deal with the Chthonic Gods promising them the damned souls of Hex – a deal which would also lead to the construction of the Infernal Basilica. The Hexian Civil War would culminate in a siege of Delirium Castle which has technically never ended: the invading army forced Soulswell into a retreat, but found taking the Castle too difficult. The result has been a seven-hundred-year stalemate. Soulswell’s crazed laughter still echoes over the city on certain nights, and lights are often glimpsed in the ruinous Castle’s variegated spires.

Overhearing this conversation was a young waspkin – fresh-faced, long-haired, and a tad scruffy, with an idealistic glint in his dark, insectile eyes. He buzzed around to their table.

“Uh… are you, ah, the Variegated Company?” he asked a bit shyly.

“That’s us,” Alabastor said. “Who are you?”

“Do we have a groupie?” Yam muttered to Sister.

“Ah, I’m Comet. Comet the Unlucky. I, ah, heard you talking about Delirium Castle? I go by that place all the time. I could help you get in, if you’re looking for help…”

Sister shrugged. “Why not?”

Armand drained his glass. “I suppose it’s fine. We plan to leave tomorrow morn. Meet us by the Castle then.”

The party reassembled the next day, Comet now in tow, and approach Delirium Castle carefuly. They had placed a chalk portal in he hive of the Thirteenth Queen, in case they needed a swift escape.

The Outer Bailey of Castle Delirium was once extensive, but had long ago been reduced to rubble, the broken walls and shattered tower scarred with the marks of catapults and spells. A series of crude dwellings clustered neat the gatehouse: tents, lean-tos, the odd shack fashioned from loose stone and other materials scavenged from the nearby Midden, Hex’s waste-tip. Fires crackled amidst the ramshackle camp, and a handful of figures drifted about near the flames. These include a heavy-set human, male, with shoulders like an ox, sharpening an enormous battle-axe and staring morosely into the flames, bandages round his waist stiff with blood. His huge beard and long hair spilled down from his head, nearly touching the ground; his dark eyes were filled with flame and sorrow. Next to him, a ghoul in flamboyant rags, grubby finery pieced together into a tatterdemalion suit, presided over a court of rats from atop a throne of rubbish, a yellowing femur for a sceptre, a crown of gold leaf and crow’s feathers atop his head. The rats watched him carefully, and periodically he chittered something and threw them a lump of meat or cheese fished from the depths of his elaborate patchwork frock coat. Over to one side, a cambion woman with huge curling ram’s horns turned half a dozen pigeons spitted on a short spear over an open fire. She wore leather armour made from various dead animals’ hides, a patchwork of fur and scales and bare flesh. Finally, a towering trollblood woman sat on a lump of rubble, dressed in the robes of a Fiend’s College graduate, a spellbook open in her lap. She eyed the party as they approached.

“Are you heading into the Castle?” she asked.

“That’s the plan,” Alabastor said, perhaps over-eagerly compensating for his past troll prejudices. “Are you heading inside as well? We could help each other out.”

“I’m Miri, and I’m looking for a book, the Sanguineous Scripture,” she said. “If you’re heading to the Library Tower, we might as well stick together.”

Near the gate, a woman with untamed hair – human in appearance save for her pale green skin – slowly painted a mural on one of the Outer Bailey’s broken walls. A homunculus followed her about, its branch-like hair laden with pails of paint. She appeared to be painting over an even earlier mural, its colours now faded. As she worked, she whispered incantations, and whatever she painted began to move. The current section depicteds a chivalric tournament between a lizard and a mouse riding a bird and a bat, respectively all of them costumed in knightly armour and barding, while a crowd of animals cheer in hot air balloons. Everything was quite silent. She was painting this scene over a pastoral landscape filled with farmers and sheep. As she painted, the livestock and farmers became extremely agitated, fleeing the colourful destruction of her brush, the farmer’s wife weeping as the mage painted over the barn and then the farmhouse.

Seeing this unfolding artistic catastrophe, Sister experimentally placed a piece of parchment against the wall. To her delight, the painted farmers rushed to the safety of the parchment, huddling in its blank spaces with relief as their painted farm disappeared.

Yam approached the painter. “Interesting spell,” they said.

“Ah, thank you,” she responded. “I call it Marjorie’s marvelous mural – a spell of my own devising. It animates any painting. Here, have a sample scroll.”

“Thanks.” Yam made a note to add the spell to their spellbook later.

The party approached the gate of Delirium Castle, sculpted into the semblance of a monstrous visage that glowered down at those who approach, the doors themselves set deep within the grotesque face’s mouth. As the gate was neared, the face abruptly moved, stone eyes rolling in their sockets. Its lips contorted, and the door yawned and spoke:

“Who approaches Delirium Castle, abode of Emperor Soulswell, first of his name, Lord of Hex, Master of Chaos, Wielder of the Mace of Madness, Keeper of the Anarchonomicon?”

“The Variegated Company,” Sister replied.

“Hmm, more adventurers, eh? Well, good luck in there. To let you in, I need to ask you a riddle. Sorry, it’s a requirement.”

“That’s… alright. Go ahead.”

The gate cleared its “throat” and spoke the riddle:

“A thief is condemned to die for stealing from the halls of Emperor Soulswell. In his endless mercy, the Emperor allows the thief a choice of execution between three rooms. In the first, a water elemental surges, the bones of its victims floating in its deadly waters. In the second, a pack of vicious owlbears haven’t eaten in years. In the third, a golem of brass clenches and unclenches its mighty fists. Which room should the thief choose?”

The party chewed on this for a moment before Miri provided the answer: “Uh, door number two. The owlbears are dead.”

“Yup! In you go!” The gates opened, and the party entered the inner bailey of Delirium Castle – a courtyard of grey stone spreading between pockmarked towers like the carious teeth of a buried behemoth. The black pits of their windows stared down at those below, their emptinesses filled with a nebulous curiosity and cruelty. Apart from the grim spires of the Castle, the visitors were greeted by a series of mutilated, mostly-decomposed corpses, some dangling from dead trees, others pinned to walls or simply left sprawled on the ground, their broken limbs spelling out warnings to other trespassers.

“Yikes,” Comet said, seeing the corpses.

“Oh, look out!” a voice said nearby. “Hide, if you don’t want to get spotted!” The party quickly assumed stealthy positions as a group of goblins stamped across the courtyard – hunched, ugly little creatures, moving towards the kitchens. They periodically snorted fire from their nostrils, clearly augmented magically in some fashion.

“Whew, that was close,” the voice said again, and the paryt looked up to see a cheerful stone face: a gargoyle, peering down at them from a nearby tower. The statue resembled a broad, ugly, vaguely humanoid face, expression contorted into a slightly unnerving grin, its teeth and features half-obscured by moss.

Greengrin. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.

“Who are you?” Yam asked.

“Me? I’m Greengrin!” the head replied. “Something of a greeter here. Need any directions?”

“This Castle seems… friendlier than I imagined,” Alabastor said.

“You’ll find a lot of us don’t exactly, ah, adore working here,” Greengrin said. “Don’t want to badmouth the boss, but…”

“Gotcha,” Sister said. “Say, can you give us any advice about the Library Tower?”

“Hmm, Library Tower eh? I’ve heard a few things. So, first thing to remember here, is that everything is alive. Stones, doors, windows, cutlery… it’s all filled with the magic of the Castle to some extent. So watch out. Also, everything is dangerous. Even me.” Greengrin snapped his teeth together in a mock-baleful bite. “But only if you piss it off. So, be polite. Learn the rules. That’s general advice for the Castle as a whole. As for the Library Tower itself, I’ve heard a lot of adventurers coming out of there talking about the Silent Ones. I don’t know much about them, but based on the way they talked about them, I’d steer clear if I were you.”

“That was genuinely helpful, thank you,” Miri said.

“Hey, anything to relieve the unendurable boredom of being a stone statue stuck to a tower,” Greengrin said with sincere good-natured mirth.

The party made their way through the Castle’s courtyards to the Library Tower. Alabastor noted a shadowy figure on a high balcony; it retreated into the tower.

After checking the front door of the tower for traps, the party entered a foyer and immediately found themselves in a labyrinthine space – stairways, doors, trapdoors, and passageways branching deeper into the library, much larger than the bounds of the Library Tower should have been able to hold. They noticed a shape in the corner of the foyer; closer inspection revealed it to be a corpse, presumably that of a prior adventurer judging from its rotting armour and rusted sword and pistol. The man’s nose and mouth had been stitched shut, and his stomach grotesquely distended. He also had an ornate key with a worm-like bell, pocketed by the adventurers.

Backing quickly away, the party began their exploration of the impossible library, making their way through a series of chambers filled with books on a variety of topics: one room was filled entirely with tragic dramas, the next with theological tomes, the next mathematical treatises. Metaphysics, medicine, law, magical theory – many topics were covered, with little rhyme or reason dictating an overal organizational scheme. Self-kindling lamps and candles lit themselves upon the party’s arrival at each room. Several discoveries were made as the adventurers pressed their way deeper and deeper into the extradimensional space. Yam discovered a tome known as The Ultimate Tragedy which seemed to be a different tragic play for each person who read it – the saddest play imaginable, for that individual. Comet found a book describing the contents of the Armoury Tower, including the legendary warhammer known as Chainbreaker, supposedly capable of destroying any bond or fetter. Alabastor and Sister discovered a book called the Persuasive Polemic: a largely blank tome, some pages dedicated to extremely persuasive religious or political arguments. Writing in the text would guide a writer’s hand, such that their rhetoric would always be maximally persuasive. The party encountered corpses riddled with some sort of mould, rune-trapped doors, and a flock of animate books flapping round another corpse covered in paper cuts – books terrified by an illusory fire Yam conjured, forcing them into a corner while the party hurried past.

The party entered a new chamber, this one occupied by a massive wooden figure, its torso fashioned from an enormous card catalogue, its limbs articulated joints like that of a massive doll.

“It’s a catalogue golem!” Miri said excitedly.

“Do you require assistance in locating a book?” the golem asked helpfully.

The party requested information on two books: the Anarchonomicon, and the Sanguineuous Scripture. The golem provided a reference card for both, but instead of some specific location, the cards seemed to provide directions: “up and south” for Miri’s tome, “up and southeast” for the Book of Chaos. As the party traveled deeper into the lilbrary, they found the letters on these bewitched cards changed according to their location, in a kind of game of “hotter or colder,” recalibrating in response to a shifting position. Before leaving the group also requested the location of a book about the Silent Ones, “up and east.”

Resuming their expedition, the party discovered a staircase, protected by a crude tripwire rigged to a hidden net. They avoided this curious trap – suprisingly primitive given the rest of the library – and pressed on. Something squelched and oozed up ahead: Comet flitted in front of the party to discover a reeking, slimy, blackish mass of mould, shaped only vaguely like humanoid figures, slithering through the Library Tower, spreading mould wherever it moved. Alabastor attempted to distract the mould-spawn with an alluring illusion of a fellow fungal creature, while the party took up positions of ambush. As the thing shambled towards the illusion the group assailed it with spells and missile weapons, quickly eradicating it in a burst of black spores.

Exploration continued. A book on the Soulswell’s bizarre laws was found, as were a group of shelver-goblins: a unique breed, custom-spawned by Soulswell, with extendable arms to reach the tallest shelves. The goblins squeaked in fear, but Yam approached and offered them some of the pamphlets from the Society for the Abolition of Demonic and Infernalism Subjugation and Mistreatment. The goblins took them with confusion and curiosity, and in exchange directed them to a chamber with a magical circle – a teleportation symbol, which transported the party to a different chamber closer to the books in question. The party pressed on, discovering a secret door, which led them into a library of political philosophy texts.

A translucent, floating humanoid of indeterminate sex, with a mass of prehensile, tentacular hair perused the stacks, humming to itself.

“Ah, visitors to the Library,” the creature said. “I’m one of the Reference Demons. If you’re searching for a book, I can assist you… for a price.”

Tense negotiations proceeded, a complex back-and-forth. Eventually, the Demon agreed to teleport the players to the location of the Anarchonomicon if they promised to release it from its bondage to Soulswell using the weapon Chainbreaker. As collateral, Armand was able to barter one of his most valuable botanical concoctions, promising a moment of pure ecstasy. The demon gave them its name – Beleth – as a means to summon it to repay their debt.

Instantly, the party was transported to the chamber of the Anarchonomicon. The book spewed out a shifting, coruscating madness of transmutation – books becoming colourful rats becoming iridescent pigeons becoming stones becoming bonsai trees, bookshelves transmuting into massive faces or mosaics or walls of ice, the floor transmuting to mud or crystal or waist-deep jam. Sister searched for traps magically, and confirmed that none were present. Yam, bravely leaping forward, resisted the metamorphic influence of the tome and opened it. Instantly, the book transformed into a doorway.

“Ah, guests at the Castle! I’ve been so bored! Come now, plaaaaay with meeee!” the book proclaimed.

Hesitantly, the group passed through the doorway.

The party found themselves on an island in a brightly glowing greenish sea, swarming with eel-like horrors. Upon the island, two giants – one pink and one yellow – guarded two massive doors. Graven on the ground before the giants was the following text:


– A”

The pink giant said: “My door leads to the treasure you seek.”

The yellow giant said: “No, my door leads to the treasure you seek.”

The pink giant responded: “My yellow friend here is an inveterate liar. Only I speak the truth.”

“Ugh,” Yam said.

“I know this one!” Comet said. “We ask one of them what the other would say.” The waspkin asked the yellow giant: “Which door would your pink friend tell us to go through if we asked him which was the right door?”

“He would tell you to go through my door, the yellow door.”

“Then we have to go through the pink giant’s door,” Comet said. “If the yellow giant is telling the truth, then pink is the liar, and we should go through the pink door. But if yellow is lying, then pink is telling the truth, and he’d tell us to go through the pink door.”

Accepting this logic – and suitably impressed with their new companion – the party passed through the pink door.

Through the pink door, the characters reached a desolate plain with a bleak orange sky. Rising from the middle of the plain wa a small plateau, on which stood another door. A handful of green, two-headed rabbits grazed on dry grass, while purple cacti muttered to one another.

Each time one of the party moved closer to the plateau, it grew taller. But as some of the adventurers drew further away, it became closer. Armand, bored with the endeavour, cast blink and sped to the top. Using a mixture of spells, ropes, and clever clambering, the party surmounted the ever-growing plateau. They passed through the door into yet another space.

Here was an endless darkness, with a light illuminating a series of tiles, on which were letters spelling:


Adrift in this void, the characters puzzled and rearranged the tiles, eventually spelling: “NEW DOOR.”

Instantly, a trapdoor opened beneath the party… dropping them back into the library. The book closed itself, and the chaos around it ceased. Stowing the tome, the party made haste in search of Miri’s tome after a brief rest.

The next chamber was infested with a gigantic, inching grub, gorging itself on books. Disgusted, the party slew the creature with a few well-placed clouds of magical daggers and agonizing blasts.

“Like a giant bookworm…” Alabastor said.

The next door was blocked; a skilfull thunder wave broke it open. Miri’s card now indicated that her book was directly below them. The trollblood wizard proceeded to break through the floorboards, prying them up and breaking through the ceiling below to create a path to the chamber beneath. Flinging down a rope, the party entered the chamber, and Miri found the Sanguineous Scripture: a thick tome, bound in dark red leather, with page edges the gleamed like metal, it appeared blank save for a single word on the cover page – “BLEED.”

Her treasure safe, the party continued their exploration, looking now for a way out. A helpful animated memento mori was able to provide directions, and the party pressed on towards the exit. Along the way, Armand discovered an unusual book that looked like instructions for some sort of puzzle box.

The party passed through a room heaped with bloated corpses – human, goblin, cambion, gnome – along with massive quantities of books, piled up in a kind of nest around the dead bodies. All of the corpses were swollen, their mouths and nostrils sewn shut.

“Gods, this is horrifying,” Miri said, and lit the corpse-pile on fire with a spell before the party passed on, out through a door and onto a balcony, high above the bailey below.

Out of the Library Tower, the party began making their way back to the entrance. They passed through the southwest watchtower, in which they found a room with twelve humanoid skulls. Under each was written a short phrase in Goblin.

  • Shot outside the Gate.
  • Eaten by Bloodhound Slugs.
  • Shot attempting to scale the walls.
  • Killed by feral books in the Library Tower.
  • Jumped out of the Haunted Tower.
  • Spiked Pit.
  • Fell in the Broken Tower.
  • Found in the Caves, Cause Unknown.
  • Poison Needles.
  • Slain by the Wolf-Headed Knight.
  • Slept with Succubi in the Tower of Dusk.
  • Pecked to death in the Rookery Tower.

Past this room, they found their way to the West Twin, entering a chamber containing six jars of lantern oil, nails and carpenter’s tools, a dozen torches, linen, and a significant quantity of spare timber.  There were also some bandages and other healing supplies. After looting this room, they pressed on to the East Twin. Another garogyle-face greeted them: a waterspout named Gargle.

“Oooh, you’ve got quite the haul there, adventurers,” the face said. “Best watch yourselves or one of the Castle’s guardians will be after you soon.”

“Guardians? Like what?” Alabastor asked.

“Oh, the Jester, the Deathtrap Golem. One of the Apex Chimeras. Hurry on now, if you want to get out alive!”

The entered the East Twin. Painted onto one wall of an otherwise empty room was an ornate wooden door with a purple door-frame, guarded by two painted suits of armour. There was a bucket of slowly coagulating paint on the floor. Sister took the parchment with the painted farmers she’d rescued from Marjorie outside, and pressed it against the mural. They tugged at the door, opening it, even as the amoured guards began to move. Before the guards could subdue them, however, the door opened and the painted farmers leapt back to the parchment. The door, now open, became a real door, allowing access to a corridor beyond…

The party passed through a long corridor, one larger than the East Twin should have accomodated. They entered a long hall lined with half a dozen towering stone statues, being cleaned by goblins with long arms for dusting and broom-like tails. All six of the statues depicted Soulswell himself, in a variety of heroic poses. Here he was represented as a clever-faced, handsome man, human, dressing in a variety of ostentatious robes. As the party entered the goblins fled, stirring up a cloud of dust with their tails to cover their escape.

One of the statues suddenly spoke, stone features contorting to stare at the adventurers

“Greetings and welcome, intrepid adventurers. I applaud your efforts thus far. Tell me, how are you enjoying my Catle?”

“Hmm,” Armand said, detached as always. “I’ve seen better.”

“Oh you have, have you?” Soulswell said. “Not finding it sufficiently challenging? Well, we’ll just have to remedy that immediately.” The statue whistled, and then abruptly became inert stone again. Somewhere in the Castle, a strange triple-growl was audible.

“Armand, seriously?” Alabastor said.

“Come on, let’s see what we can find here and get out before whatever that thing is finds us,” Sister said.

The party ducked into one of the several chambers off the hall. In the middle of this room was a steel cage; within is coiled a gigantic, writhing worm, thick as a tree trunk, its mouth gnashing with teeth like a buzz-saw. The creature’s segmented hide had natural markings that appeared to be alchemical symbols. Gleaming in a corner on the floor of the cage wee hundreds of lumps of gold. The worm whined piteously and raises up, pressing its maw to the hatch in obvious hunger.

The cage had a door and a small feeding-hatch. Heaped on the floor below the hatch was a pile of metal scrap – bent swords, rusted shields, dented helmets, twisted gears, and other metal oddments.

Miri attempted an experiment, feeding the worm one of the bits of metal. It devoured the oddment, and then moments later excreted a small lump of gold. Yam used mage hand to fetch the lump.

“Yep, it’s gold,” they announced.”

“It eats scrap metal and shits gold?!” Comet said.

“A… philosopher’s worm,” Armand observed.

“We have to take this thing with us,” Alabastor said. “I have an idea… someone who’s good with animals, coax it in here.” The gnome ringmaster got out his Snatcher’s Sack, liberated from the Dreamlands bogyeman back in the Egregor Vaults. Using the worm-key taken from the corpse in the Library Tower, they unlocked the gate, and Comet carefully led the worm into the Sack, gingerly luring it with a bit of metal. Alabastor cinched the Sack shut, and the worm was theirs’. The party quickly looted the floor of the room of gold, then returned to the prior hall.

Ducking into another chamber, the party spied what looked like a massive clockwork knight guarding a doorway. Rather fatigued, they opted not to approach, and returned to the hall… just as the beast entered the room.

The thing was the quintessence of predation – a splice of tiger, crocodile, and shark, with the body of a vast bear. It slavered with too many teeth, its breath stinking with the blood of a thousand meals. Unsubtle, but terrifying, a gaudy reimagining of the chimera.

The thing barreled forwards, and the party scattered to avoid it, firing off spells. It snapped at Sister, injuring the Lengian and hurling her to one side, and swatted at Miri and Alabastor.

“Here!” Armand said to Comet. “Get one of these in its mouth. Er, one of them!” He tossed the waspkin a mysterious phial – one of his many alchemical concotions.

“On it!” Comet said, buzzing towards the chimera. He unstoppered the phial and shook a few drops into the tiger head. Meanwhile, the shark head snapped and caught him in midair in a spurt of blood. It chewed and gnashed, Comet struggling to get free, stabbing at it, and the head hurled him away; he hit the wall with a sickening splat, falling to the ground like a bloody rag.

The potion, meanwhile, had taken full effect. While Alabastor, Miri, and Yam continued to hit the chimera with spells, the poisoned tiger head snarled and tore viciously at the head to one side, the crocodile head. With a fearsome flash of teeth the tiger ripped out the scaly throat of the crocodile, and the head went limp, the thing’s life’s blood spewing out from the chimera in a vast spurt that incarnadined half the hall.

Sister hurried to Comet, conjured medicinal spiders creeping from her sleeves to sew up wounds and administer healing serum from beneficent fangs. The Lengian cleric scrawled a chalk portal and urged the party through before some other horror could find them.

So ended the first half of the party’ expedition to Delirium Castle. But their contract with the Reference Demon remained unfulfilled – though they had procured the Anarchonomicon, their business at Soulswell’s fortress was far from concluded.

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

The characters in this session were:

AlabastorCaulis 2Garvin Draft 3SisterYam

  • Alabastor Quan, a gnome rogue-turned-illusionist and failed circus ringmaster; wielder of a cursed dagger and member of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild.
  • Caulis, a homunculus warlock liberated from its master; has made a pact with certain Faerie Powers.
  • Garvin Otherwise, a human rogue and burglar of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild, with a very, very peculiar past and a zoog pet, Lenore.
  • An ancient and enigmatic Lengian cleric of the Mother of Spiders, name unknown. She wears bulky ecclesiastical garments covering an uncertain number of limbs and goes by “Sister.”
  • Yam, an eccentric gnome illusionist and local graduate student at Umbral University. Yam cares little for money. Yam is curious. Yam is Yam

XP Awarded: 350 XP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Flibbertigibbet,” the homunculus panted.

“And what’s going on?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stenographer. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.

Silas’ questions came first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At this, Valentina Nettlecrave perked up. Silas continued.

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

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

“Very well. Arabella, proceed.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The party looked slowly to Caulis.

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


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

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

“I’m afraid not.”

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

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

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

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

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

The party described the rough boundaries of the forest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They’re at rest,” Yam added.

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

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

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

The party thanked the Council and hastily left.

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

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

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

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

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

“Ominous,” Garvin said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hex Session XXIV – 5th Edition Actual Play – “The False Queen”

The characters in this session were:

  • 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).
  • Caulis, a homunculus warlock liberated from its master; has made a pact with certain Faerie Powers.
  • Viridian “Grove” Greengrove, changeling druid, exile from his former druidic circle for unknown transgressions.
  • 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/cleric, devoted servant of the Queen in Yellow and possibly the Thirteenth Queen reborn, her daughter, or her avatar.

XP Awarded: 550 XP

Something was happening to the waspkin of Suckletown – they were going missing, acting strangely, and sometimes turning up dead having suffered from strange mutilations. The Queens of Stingsworth care nothing for those outcast waspkin of the Withered Tree. But the Thirteenth Queen had taken the broken and the lame beneath her diaphanous wings. She would not abide their mutilation…

Downpour Heights

Meanwhile, the party had returned from their sojourn in the country, and now planned their next move – the next book of magic on Master Melchior’s list. Sister, eager for adventure in speheres beyond mortal reckoning, suggested they begin researching the Book of Stars. Had anyone ever attempted a journey to the luminiferous aether?

Caulis and Armand began researching, and Caulis found references that its creator had attended some sort of failed spacecraft-launch. Further investigation led them to the Citadel of the Perpetual Storm and their acquaitance, Vanessa Greyleaf, who provided further details.

“About ten years ago, a wizard named Gideon Bottlescrew got it into his head that he could build a vessel to sail the aether between the planets,” she explained. “He claimed to have found some Librarian schematic, based his design off that. Somehow, he managed to scrape enough gold together to build the damn thing. He had to do it in secret – the Citadel never approved his research, and there are rumours he got involved in some shady business to fund it. But when launch day came, he invited half the mages in Hex out to see his marvelous invention.” She shook her head. “I was young at the time, but my mother brought me, and, well… I’ll never forget the mess. The ship had a Librarian artefact powering it. It was supposed to generate an anti-gravity effect, like the one we use to keep the Citadel flying. But… it didn’t work as planned. Maybe he miscalibrated it, maybe it was just broken, but the engine malfunctioned. Gravity went all strange. Many of us watching were levitated off the ground. His test pilots though – students, mostly – didn’t fare so well. The gravity in and around the craft was so intense, and so contradictory, the ship tore itself apart, and everyone inside it as well. Then something volatile combusted, and there was an explosion. Several onlookers died.

“Gideon was stripped of his professorship and kicked out of the Citadel. Criminal charges got laid. Most think he got off light. His tongue got cut out so he can no longer perform verbal incantations, and he was given a curse: the touch of earth pains him.”

“What happened to him?” Sister asked.

“Last I heard, he’d set up some sort of workshop in Suckletown, living out his forced retirement in the branches of the Withered Tree. They say he’s spent the last ten years trying to figure out where he went wrong.”

“Sounds promising,” Caulis said. “Worth investigating.”

The ever-adventurous Vanessa perked up. “Hey, if you manage to actually get something to work… I mean, if you actually build a craft that can travel to the outer spheres, and you happen to need a security officer…” she trailed off with a grin.

“We’ll keep you in mind,” Armand said.

Several party-members gathered – Armand, Caulis, Viridian, and Sister – and headed south. The streets were paved with broken glass and lichen, strewn with trash, half-flooded with rainwater and raw sewage. Suckletown sprawled before thm: the broken heart of Hex’s once-prosperous industrial district, decimated by economic ruin, alchemical explosion, and the decline and death of the Elder Tree whose vast shadow darkened the streets, its gnarled branches leafless now for centuries.


There was a time when the Tree and the neighbouring Alchemist’s Quarter made this one of the busiest parts of Hex, a centre of commerce and manufacturing. Now the only people were squatters, indigents, and other vagabonds: castoff waspkin from Stingsworth, stray fungoids from the Zymotic Ward, outcast trollbloods from Trollhome, and freelance criminals of every species, unworthy even of Thieves’ Marks.

The folk here eyed the party darkly from the gaps in boarded-up windows or the doorways of moss-eaten factories, or from the glimmering barrel-fires around which they gathered to eat mutant rats hunted in the Midden. Several were obvious addicts, ravaged by opium, thrum, and shadowmilk. One, however, stood out: a waspkin, clad in gleaming armour, seemingly identical to the party’s long-lost companion Vespidae, rumoured to have ascended to become the enigmatic Thirteenth Queen.

“Ah… Vespidae, is that you?” Sister asked, approaching. The waspkin eyed the Lengian indifferently.

“Your name is fitting,” the waspkin said inscrutably. “You are known to us.”

“Where have you been?” Caulis asked. “We heard rumours, but…”

“I am here to investigate a series of disappearances,” Vespidae said – if indeed it was Vespidae, for none seemed sure if this was the same waspkin, or another that merely resembled her. “What brings you to the Withered Tree?”

“We’re here looking for some crackpot scientist, Gideon Bottlescrew,” Grove chimed in.

“Our goals are not incompatible,” Vespidae asserted. “Perhaps we should cooperate. You are known allies.”

“Aww Vespidae, we missed you,” Sister said affectionately.

Bad Light“Indeed. We are fond of you also.” Vespidae now led the way towards the Withered Tree, javelin in hand. The street called Badroot coiled around the Withered Tree, a street of husks both human and architectural. The emptied warehouses and eviscerated factories that lined the street were spattered with gang insignia and other graffiti, proclaiming the names of the clannish criminal factions like heraldry: the Parasites, the Dead Moles, the Whipstitchers, the Filthy Fingers, and the Graveyard Girls.

The Withered Tree itself was an etiolated god, riddled with the reddened remnants of the vampire-machines that killed it, the rust livid as blood against bark as white as  bone, turned to stone in an accelerated petrification that took hold of the ancient thing after the Harvester’s Guild finally killed it with their greed.

In addition to the dangling metal leeches that still clung to its trunk, the tree was now festooned with ramshackle additions of wood and scrap, cannibalized from the nearby slums and junkyards and refashioned into flophouses and taverns, drug-dens and brothels. Swaying rope bridges led between these additions, while tunnels dug into the depths of the tree gaped blackly like knotholes.

A pair of Graveyard Girls – an all-female gang with faces and skin painted to resemble corpses, clad in repurposed funerary finery – accosted the party at the door set amidst the roots of the tree. They twirled vicious knives.

“Oi, there’s a two-guinea toll for entrance,” one said. “Got to keep up the nieghbourhood, you know?”

“Outrageous,” Armand said, gritting his teeth. The sorcerer’s fuse seemed to have been esepcially short ever since the events at his familial home. “I’m not paying such a fee.”

“Then I’m afraid there’s going to be trouble,” one of the Girls said, knife flickering.

“Armand, don’t worry so much,” Sister said. “I’ll pay your fee.”

The Graveyard Girls placated, the party passed through the doors and into the hollowed-out cavern within the fossilized interior of the Withered Tree. Dozens of shacks and small lean-tos had been erected within, and a second level was accessible via a wooden walkway. The poor folk who made their homes in the Withered Tree were truly destitute – humans, many of them criminals to judge by their curse-brands, but also a handful of wretched dagonians, cambions, ghouls, and gnomes. A pair of crude wooden doors are set in one wall, the words “PARASITE TERRITORY” scrawled on them. A tunnel was visible near the roof, erachabkle via a series of ladders and walkways. Though most of the people were sleeping, cooking, eating, smoking, or drinking – several were also clearly in a drug-induced haze – a few also sold charms, gewgaws, or crudely distilled beverages, including some sort of fungal beer.

The party began investigating the tunnels on the lower level, eventually finding their way into a chamber filled with the corroded remnants of machinery once used to suck arcane sap from the Elder Tree fill. Scavengers had long ago stripped the machines of everything truly valuable, leaving only the corroded skeletons of the sap extractors and a scintilla of broken glass. Horribly, however, the room was not totally empty. The mangled corpse of a waspkin was caught up in some of the machinery, spattered with dried blood. Although badly bloodied, it was evident that the waspkin was wearing the yellow robes of the Thirteenth Queen.

“A missionary,” Vespidae said, inspecting the corpse. “Someone left her here as a message. We must find out who.”

“We have our own errands,” Armand pointed out.

“Vespidae’s helped us out of plenty of scraps,” Caulis interjected. “We can do both.”

Careful inspection of the room also revealed a broken-down elevator, boarded up.

“Vespidae, take this,” Sister said, handing the waspkin the Portal Chalk after carefully scrawling a portal on one wall. “Head up the shaft and draw a rectangle on the wall, then draw this sigil.” She showed the waspkin, who nodded in seeming comprehension and, casting light to illuminbate the shaft, ascended several levels, emerging in a shack that might once have been inhabited, perched in the upper boughs of the Withered Tree. The shack had long been abandoned, save by a roost of monstrous bat-like things hanging from the ceiling, sleeping. The floor was slick with their iridescent guano. Though leathery-winged and furry-bodied as normal bats, these creatures flickered in and out of reality: phasebats, inter-dimensional creatures mutated in the depths of the Old City. Vespidae carefully drew the portal, and the party followed into the room.

“Be very, very careful,” Viridian whispered. “We don’t want to wake those things up.”

Cautiously, the party made for the nearest exit… only for Armand, usually elegant in the extreme, to slip and fall into the guano with a stifled grunt. Instantly, phasebats burst from the ceiling, flocking and swirling, spitting strange substances from their quasi-real maws.

“Miscalculation.” Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.


Speaking an invocation to the Queen in Yellow, Vespidae conjured a blast of arcane fire. Unfortunately, the guano covering the floor of the shack was highyl flammable. There was a terrible searing heat, a flash of light, and the party scrambled to safety, making for a tunnel in the wall of the shack as it burnt down around them, breaking free from the Withered Tree to plummet to the ground below. The phasebats blinked into some other dimension, fleeing the explosion.

The Withered Tree - Modified

Once safe, Sister used her powers to cast a prayer of healing, conjured spiders spinning webs to seal wounds shut.

“Well, that was close,” Viridian said, eyebrow cocked. Pressing on into the tree, they came to a hall with a tripwire strung across it, spotted by Vespidae. The waspkin inspected the trap.

“Pheromones,” she said. “It triggers a mist. An attack-chemical. There is something… strange, about it. Familiar, but wrong.”

They crept down the corridor, and entered a chamber whose walls were covered with the papery nests of waspkin, slumbering within the honeycombed cells. Vespidae sniffed tentatively.

“These aren’t drones,” she whispered. “They’re royal guards. Soldiers. Dormant now. They’ve been fed something… some kind of substance to increase their strength.”

Stealhtily, they passed into an adjacent room; here a rusted cylinder once used as a silo for sap and embedded into the Withered Tree had been converted into an alchemical laboratory. Half a dozen waspkin – all ill-fed, their eyes glazed – attended to the complex array of sputtering glassware and acrid substances being processed here. Dozens of phials were stored in crates along the walls.

“Thrum,” Sister said, eyeing the vials. “I’ve seen people using this stuff, during my work with the poor – addicts juddering in and out of reality, hopped-up and half-phased…”

“Made with phasebat glands,” Caulis remarked. “They must have some sort of operation going here.”

“But who?” Sister asked. “Not one of the Queens…”

“No, someone else,” Vespidae said. “We’re going to find out.”

Continuing their explorations, the group exited the structure and found themselves high avove the ground ona  raised platform, a rickety bridge leading to another building nestled high in the Withered Tree’s branches. Employing stealth augmented with a spell from Sister, the group entered this room.

A thin woman with close-cropped black hair and skin pale as milk sprawled on a massive, throne-like chair in the chamber within, furnished with second-hand finery and tarnished furnishings, the spoils of pawn-shops and derelict manors. Half a dozen waspkin armed with crude firearms guarded her closely, their eyes black and listless, their wings buzzing idly. She toyed with a perfume bottle; Vespidae sniffed. Pheromones – royal pheromones. Somehow this woman had made herself an alchemical queen.

Stepping from the shadows before anyone could stop her, Vespidae approached the woman.

“And who is this? How did you get in here, little one?” she asked.

“Who are you?” Vespidae retorted. “And why do you smell like a waspkin queen?” She tried to avoid inhaling, conscious that the pheromones were having an effect on her.

“The name is Hecuba, my dear,” she said. “Formerly of Master Melchior’s little school, but lately, ah, self-employed. An independent scholar, you might say.” She grinned sharkishly. “What are you doing, nosing about my operation? Who are you, anyway?”

“Vespidae,” Vespidae responded with a shrug.

“Well, no matter. Come here, Vespidae, and bow before your Queen.” Hecuba sprizted herself with alchemicla pheromones.

Vespidae stepped back, dizzy, resisting the thrall. “No. I will not be so easily controlled.”

Hecuba sighed theatrically. “Ugh. Very well then, if you’re going to make this difficult. Guards! Seize this waspkin!”

Immediately, the guards snapped to attention, and began flying towards Vespidae. Twisting, the waspkin flitted out of a nearby window, followed by the honour guard, even as the rest of the party leapt into motion. Sister cast blink to teleport next to Hecuba, dropping from the shadows like a spider on a string; with a prayer to the her goddess, the Lengian struck out with a hand, and where she touched, flesh boiled and rotted, swelling as from some horrific spider-bite. Hecuba screamed and thrashed, and the perfume-bottle went flying, rolling along the floor. Eleyin, Caulis’ psuedodragon familiar, swooped down to pluck the bottle up, while Armand, flicking his wrist contemptuously, sent a firebolt towards Hecuba, scorching the drug-dealing enchantress.

Hecuba snarled, and spat a vicious spell, striking Caulis. A hideous blight overtook the homunculus, leaving its leaves wilted and its bark rotting. Sister leapt forwards, working her magic to keep the homunculus alive. Recovering partially from the blight, Caulis hurled a spell of its own, crippling with Hecuba with a blast of faerie-force.

Grove, rushing to the window, summoned a magical web to slow down the guards outside, while Vespidae contended with them, hurling a javelin while dodging shots from their pistols, weaving a magical pattern in the air taht caused several to flee in terror. Armand cast ray of frost, freezing one of the guards as they entered and debilitating him severely.

Caulis stepped forward, and with a second agonizing blast of fey force, spattered Hecuba’s brains across the floor of the hall. Instantly, the royal guards outside shook their heads, fighting a sudden nausea and confusion. Vespidae drew close, comforting the bewildered waspkin.

“It’s alright. The pretender is dead,” she said. “Come with me. You are safe now, no longer under her control.”

“She… she was in my head,” one of the guards said. “How did she do that?”

“I think I have an idea,” Vespidae said, eyeing a curious structure off to one side, accessible via another rickety bridge. Using an iron key found on Hecuba’s corpse, they opened the door to the building.

Within was a gigantic waspkin – or, rather, what remained of a waspkin, for it appeared to be undead, flesh tattooed with necromantic sigils. The being’s body was interpenetrated with a twisted mass of mechanical devices – syringes, hydraulic pumps, and other mechanisms. These seemed to be extracting some sort of substance from the reanimated cadaver. Tubes conveyed this substance to another large machine, which looked to have once been part of the elaborate industrial harvest used to extract sap from the Elder Tree. This machine seemed to be processing the substances collected from the undead waspkin. Several phials of fluid were evident on a low table next to the machine, and more were being filled by a steady drip from the machine itself.

Now Vespidae knew where she had smelled the pheromones before. This had been her Queen once, the Queen whose death Vespidae had commemorated in a ritualistic dance of death – one that Vespidae, an intended funerary sacrifice, had inadvertantly survived, to her shame, a crime for which she had been exiled. Hecuba must have dug the Queen’s corpse from the ground, and used necromancy and alchemy to revive it.

“Destroy it,” Vespidae intoned, and Armand gladly complied, burning the body and the structure till all within blazed to the ground.

Vespidae’s task now complete, the party rested briefly in Hecuba’s former laboratory, then continued their search for Gideon Bottlescrew. It didn’t take them long to discover his workshop, perched high in the Withered Tree and reachable via a slender wooden bridge – a rickety tower made of wood and scrap metal, its chimneys spewing smoke. A large telescope also protruded from the roof.

They could hear the sound of machines whirring inside. Guarding the entrance to the workshop was a golem, fashioned entirely from trash: rusted scrap metal, rotting wood, chains, wire, and organic matter as well – reanimated bits and pieces of stray animals, integrated grotesquely into the thing’s form. It looked at the party with one eye fashioned from a cracked lens, the other stolen from a dead dog, and spoke from the beak of a bird.

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

Trash Golem“Who goes there, squawk, who goes there?” the golem demanded.

“We’re here to see Gideon Bottlescrew,” Sister said. “We have an offer for him. We want to take him to the stars.”

The bird-thing considered carefully. “Squawk, alright then, alright,” it chirped. “Go on in.” It hopped to one side, allowing the party to pass.

Within, they found a massive space full of objects swirling through the air. The bookshelves along the walls were suspended both magically and mechanically throughout the chamber, covered in complicated models, mechanical devices, and even bubbling alchemical equipment. Containers of everything from food to gunpowder hung from ropes from the ceiling. There were also several magical spheres of force containing everything from miniature explosions to gigantic fireflies. At the very top of the chamber near the ceiling was a bed, wardrobe, and similar accoutrements, suspended via chains, as well as the viewing lens of a gigantic telescope. Fireplaces were located at several points along the walls, fed by animated, flying logs of kindling, and dozens of candles were suspended in space, deftly weaving to avoid lighting anything on fire.

There were also dozens of birds in cages suspended from the ceiling. The room smells of vellum, chalk, smoke, bird shit, candlewax, and ink.

Despite the incredible density of objects, the workshop had a kind of ingenious order to it, like some massive orrery. In the middle of this madness was a man with long, silver hair growing from one half of his head. As he turned, they saw why the other is hairless – he had been horribly burned along his other half, his skin a mass of scar tissue. He was dressed in threadbare waistcoat and trousers, and was frantically scribbling on a chalkboard – one of six that rotated slowing around him. A large and beautiful cockatoo was perched on his shoulder. Some sort of mechanical device had been inserted into its head.

“Hello,” the cockatoo said. Gideon does not turn , but continued writing complex mathematical formulae on the board. “Forgive my unorthodox means of communication. The bird you see before you speaks with my voice.” The cockatoo flutters from his shoulder and alights on a nearby stack of books.

“We heard you built a spaceship,” Sister said. “But then blew it up.”

“Ah, yes…” the cockatoo said, sadly. “The accident was… extremely regrettable. The greatest setback of my life, and my deepest regret. I was too eager, too intent on proving everyone at the Citadel wrong. They all said it couldn’t be done, that travel amongst the spheres was centuries away. I am still convinced they are wrong. I have spent the last ten years perfecting my plans. I now know the source of my error – the program I fend into the aetheric engine was fundamentally flawed. And I believe I am close to remedying that mistake. Of course, my only hope now is to bequeath my notes to future generations… My dreams of travel to the stars are quite dead.”

“We’re here to revive them,” Sister said. “We need something from the Vessel, and we want to build a ship to do it.”

At last, Gideon turned, but then his eyes curiously widened. Sunlight gleamed through the windows, glinting off the Yellow Sign round Vespidae’s neck. Suddenly, Gideon turned back and, moving rapidly, levitated towards a door in one wall of the tower.

“Wait, where are you going?” Grove demanded. The cockatoo was curiously silent. The door was closing. Vespidae flitted over, keeping the door open, and the party hurried through, pursuing this eccentric man, the cockatoo now following them. They noticed the frame of the door looked old, ancient even, and crafted of iridescent metal…

They passed down a corridor that should have led outside, but instead led into a vast chamber with a glass ceiling. The walls were of ancient stone, carved with what appeared to be Librarian symbols. Many doors were arrayed around the edges of the room, interspersed with grotesque statues; each had a curious symbol over it. And through the glass of the ceiling, they looked up and saw, suspended amidst a field of black stars, a small, blue-green orb, swirling with clouds.

It took them a moment for realization to set in.

“We’re on…” Grove began.

“We’re on the moon,” Sister confirmed. “A Librarian outpost on the moon!”

Gideon, wide-eyed and frantic, backed up, but Sister was too quick. She inscribed a zone of truth, enchanting the space against falsehoods.

“What is this place?” she said. “How did you find it?”

“As you said,” Gideon replied through the cockatoo. “A Librarian outpost. An extension of the Old City, really. Time and space didn’t mean the same things to the Librarians.” He was shaking, nervous, but excited as well. “I’ve kept it secret, all these years. I discovered the portal during my expedition to retrieve the Aetheric Engine, and had it brought up here at great expense. Well.” He chuckled. “Brought down there.” He gestured to the world below.

“So… why did you bring us here?”

“To show you this,” Gideon replied, beckoning. They passed into another room, accessible through one of the doors – seemingly wrenched from its frame. The room was filled with assorted junk – technological detritus, along with the bones of some former explorer, now long dead. But on the walls were engravings, intricate, detailed.

“A schematic,” Sister said, staring up at the designs with many awed eyes.

“Yes,” Gideon said, quietly. “A schematic for a Librarian ship. One that can sail amongst the stars.”

HexMoon02sLunar Symbol by Matthew Murray.

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