Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Slaves Of The Angel

Fallen Forever

The fallen angel Aszottiel has spent millennia plotting to return to heaven. Not the heaven associated with your campaign world's deities. No, that's small potatoes. Aszottiel wishes to return to the domain of the Unmoved Mover, whose divine service it betrayed. To effect this return, it has carefully cultivated power and influence with the cold calculus that only an inhuman immortal can muster.

Below are some of its more handy servants.

The Slaves Of The Angel

Vile Cherubs

When the mighty fall, they really fall. The vile cherubs are a swarm of fat, leprous children, buzzing about on improbably small insect wings. They're like flying pustules, drooling green bile from scabbed lips. Their arrows and bite inflicts a curse of selfishness that prevents assisting others for 1d4, preventing things like healing others. Resisting the effect should be a long-shot, perhaps a Will save with 20 DC. These poor creatures believe Aszottiel will help them return to heaven, and are willing to do anything for that. Hint: not gonna happen.

The Hermit

The hermit Vittirmech is a talented, half-mad priest of no god in particular who believes that he has been chosen by the gods to join their ranks, so long as he passes their many tests. Sadly, the tests are actually tasks decided on by Aszottiel, who can whisper into his ear or cause him speak in tongues from any distance. The angel is constantly aware of anything transpiring in Vittirmech's presence. Vittirmech does cleric stuff like building golems, summoning walls of swords, healing himself, striking his foes blind, and summoning dire bears to attack his foes. He can also travel rapidly via kefitzat haderech. Vittirmech is one of the angel's most useful servants.

The Esoteric Brotherhood

Jakob Luria is the Supreme Nighthawk of the so-called Esoteric Brotherhood Of Magicks Angelica, a hoary circle of upper-crust wizards with endless titles, initiations, and symbolic actions. Though they count more than a few duelists amongst their number, their chief utility lies in flexing their social capital (they are rich and have agents everywhere) and in performing days-long ritual spells that do things like give entire nations cultural amnesia, modify climate, and manipulate stochastic fields.

Stuff they might do at the angel's behest:

  • Kidnap a person to baptize them in the Font Infernal, which permanently charms victims toward the angel and the head of the brotherhood. Hundreds of critical people are under its influence.
  • Enact a play designed to generate nationalist fervor, in preparation for that country warring with a neighbor. The chaos of the war is necessary to facilitate the theft of a powerful magical artifact, perhaps the Eye Of Omnipitos.
  • Perform magical rituals that hasten the inevitable, regardless of time and distance. For example, their spells can make an avalanche in a snowy pass thousands of miles away, cause an elderly political rival to die of heart failure, or provoke a race war in an already tense political climate.

Only the highest ranks of the order know that the purpose of the order is to serve Aszottiel, or have any inkling of its true nature.

The Aerial Hunter

An aerial spirit of great age and power, the Hunter is a sort of top-tier predator from the elemental plane of air. It is essentially a five-mile diameter bank of sentient fog that roams the world looking for invisible stalkers (they're delicious). Aszottiel knows it's true name and can command it to unerringly hunt particular creatures.

Its method of attack is to drift onto the players (or whatever) then precipitate droplets of milky white to fall. These drops leach color from anything they contact, inflict permanent blindness, and can kill small animals and children. The Hunter will do this for 1d6 hours, then wander off for a few days. The players can't really harm the Hunter. It's of a higher order of being than them. I suppose it would not be able to penetrate a protection from evil spell or a hermetically sealed building, though that's little consolation to anybody else that happens to be around.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Roll20 Characters

I'm getting ready to run a game for some of friends on roll20. I know, I know. Still, it's free.

Because I never do things the easy way, I've made different classes along late-medieval themes and modified the d20 ruleset down to the barest bones possible. I doubt that will interest any randos that stumble across my blog, though.

Class Abilities

Anyway, here are the classes. They have strong, thematic capabilities. These assume you agree with the objectively correct, morally superior position of death to ability scores. They also assume that you receive two feats at first level and rely on them for all of your player-driven character customization. So feats have to be pretty chunky, more like 5e feats than 4e or buy-in 3e. Lastly and perhaps most objectionably, they assume that you don't receive more hit points as you increase in level. If you want that so much, take a feat.

A slow, dangerous melee class.
A defensive melee class. 
A standard-fare ranged caster. I'll probably post their Dark Gift table later, after I de-plagiarize it.

"Let's not fight," you say as you discreetly reach for your sword.
"Ze healing is not as revarding as ze hurting." A non-clerical healing class. I know plague doctors are done to death.
Never stop firing. Also, never stop moving.

Sit in the back row and gank people.

A momentum-based class.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Lord Of All Fragments

Vhalkana, his hammer, and his... arm-spikes?

Vhalkana, The Smith-God

Vhalkana was manufactured by the previous smith-god, Cobannos, in an attempt to correct what that deity perceived to be his own weaknesses. Cobannos used all of the best parts of himself as ingredients and died as a result. He omitted various flawed qualities from the new god. Stuff like empathy for mortals, interest in non-smith-related activities, et ceteras. The result is a very hands-on deity.

Vhalkana likes dragooning random mortals to fetch raw materials for him, and not just his worshippers. He sees mortals as a naturally occurring resource much like a lode of mineral ore or a stand of trees. If he needs something they can provide, he will take it.

A typical interaction with Vhalkana might involve him dropping a four-faced angel into the players' vicinity, followed by the angel imperiously ordering the party to retrieve an unusual crafting material from their proximity. Or else. The angel will wait.

Stuff Vhalkana Wants

Things Vhalkana might plausibly demand players fetch:

The Devoted

A priest of the smith-god is known as a "pyraethi", which means fire-keeper. They must be devoid of birth defects, proficient in metalworking, and ideally are descended from another pyraethi. Supposedly, most pyraethi are descended from Vhalkana or Cobannos. After death, they can expect to have their soul collected by their deity, converted to soulsteel or another substance (the better a craftsman the pyraethi was in life, the more rarified a material his soul becomes in death), and incorporated into Vhalkana's next project. For a pyraethi, there can be no greater reward.

The smith-god grants prayers relating to the creation of objects (magical or otherwise), the manipulation and refinement of materials, and protection from destruction or calamity.

Every shrine to the smith-god houses a sacred kiln that contains fire from one of Vhalkana's forges. If it doesn't have a sacred kiln, it isn't a shrine. The fire is continually fed and maintained. Many such fires have burned continuously for hundreds of years or more.

Summoning a wall of shields always helps.

Prayers Of Metal And Making

Create Facsimile (1st-level)

You fabricate a copy of a single common magical item touched. The item is identical in all ways except that it vanishes at the end of the day. You cannot copy the same item more than once on any given day, regardless of how many times you memorize this spell, nor can you copy expendable or charge-based items. [1]

Recharge (1st-level)

This spell attempts to recharge a rod, staff, or wand that has at least 1 charge left. It requires 50 gold in semi-precious stones and rare earth powders. Roll 1d6+1. If you roll a natural 1, your working is flawed and you destroy the object in question. Otherwise you restore the that amount in charges to the item (though not above its inherent maximum, if applicable).

Wall Of Swords (2nd-level)

You conjure a 5x1 wall of spinning blades within short range. The wall blocks line of sight. Each turn, the wall inflicts 1d8 damage to creatures that start their turn within it or enter at least one space of its area. It will not inflict this damage to a given creature more than once, per turn. This wall counts as a friendly creature for the purposes of determining flanking, both for players and enemies.

Wall Of Shields (2nd-level)

You conjure a wall of hovering shields into a 4x4 area within medium range. The zone blocks line of sight to creatures within or past it, imparts +1 AC and AOE resist (half damage) to creatures within it, and counts as a creature for the purposes of determining flanking for both you and your enemies.

Greater Facsimile (3rd-level)

As create facsimile, but for a single uncommon magical item touched. You cannot cast this spell more than once, per day. [2]

Sacred Holocaust (3rd-level)

With a touch, you envelop a foe in agonizing flames. A target touched suffers 4d6 fire damage, Fort half. This is a fire and pain-based effect. On a failed save, they are weak (inflict half damage) until the end of their next turn. On a successful save, this spell is not expended from your memory.

Glassteel (4th-level)

Obviously, the pyraethi can cast glassteel. For them it's probably a 4th-level level spell. I don't know why anybody would think it should be 8th level.

[1] I think the price point for a common item should probably be about 1500gp or less. In Pathfinder, anyways. Basically, the spell should let you clone a +1 weapon or armor.
[2] 4000gp or less.

Notable Pyraethi

Pyraethi Faerzin is the most highly regarded of his order, essentially acting as high priest. He has a dozen four-faced angels working for him and occasionally borrows Vhalkana's forge hammer for personal projects.

Per the direct orders of her deity, Pyraethi Xenia has infiltrated the Yellowcake-Priests. They possess sacred scientific knowledge that mankind is not yet ready to use and are obsessed with destroying the world. Since the world is Vhalkana's -or rather Cobannos'- greatest creation, Xenia is commanded to destroy them. She has forged a marvelous helmet that allows her to eavesdrop on their communications with the star that they serve, permitting her to pretend to be one of their number and to infiltrate their ridiculous floating pyramid. She feels like she is operating on borrowed time and will escape as soon as conveniently possible.

Though not the most powerful of spellcasters, Pyraethi Jasparo has bred a sacred goose that lays eggs of the purest iron ore. He guards it like one in the throes of a deeply insane paranoia. Unbeknownst to Jasparo, the goose also exhales fumes of concentrated mercury.

Several pyraethi cooperate at Yesh Barit, the sacred foundry. All manner of projects are carried out here under the direct supervision of Vhalkana's angels. Their chief task is refining orichalcum, used for divine armaments such as thunderbolts, and panchaloha, a chameleonic idol-metal sometimes used by the gods in the manufacture of living creatures.

The Fire Caravan

Now that is a cool-ass mineral. It's moldavite, found exclusively at meteor impact sites.
The Fire Caravan is a troupe of ten or so pyraethi that wander the world in search of thokcha, also known as meteoric iron. They pay top-dollar for documentation of recent meteor activity or stories about meteor fields. They eventually turn all of their findings over to Vhalkana, but will also perform their own experiments prior to that. They probably have all manner of void-kissed substances.

Stuff like:

  • Armaments glazed with void-rust scrapings. They are forbidden from using the void-kissed meteoric iron, itself, but surely the forge-god will not begrudge his followers a little bit of rust. The priests are getting quite clever at working with it.
  • Spun objects of ultra-frozen primum frigidum that will never melt. Useful for, uh, well. Maybe they're unbreakable? I could see laminating some sort of ice-themed armor with it, or alloying it with an igneous mineral to make some sort of fire/ice super sword.
  • Superconductive wands (superconductive to electricity, magic, or emotion, depending).
  • Metals that convert into dangerous organic matter when contacted with water. They could probably use this to grow you a new limb or organ. Assuming you didn't mind it being hideous and unrecognizably alien.
  • A portal stone that permits instantaneous travel between worlds. The sender is waiting for somebody to activate it so they can come through. This would probably lead to undesirable outcomes.
  • An Eye of the Star-thing. Whatever it is, it grew uncountable millions of extra eyes, attached each to a stone capable of surviving atmospheric entry, and hurled them at an unfathomable number of worlds. This is probably one of those "when you gaze into the darkness, it gazes also into you" situations, so I wouldn't get too cozy with the eye. Maybe it could give you a bonus when casting contact other plane.
  • More moldavite than you can shake a fist at. I'm sure it possesses amazing properties for magic or spellcraft. Maybe allow it to reduce the price of crafting plausible magic items?
This is basically what I think an Eye Of The Star-Thing should look like.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Tias: Soulbound Gems As Magical Keepsakes

tldr; there are dozens of magical gemstones, each with a soul-bound princess trapped inside of them. Each conveys a small bonus, while collecting several conveys a cumulative set bonus.

The Ishnindah is not one of history's actors. She lurks in the background, plying her trade with the stoic fools of each era. Her footprints stretch across millennia, backwards and forwards.

Though she has lately preferred body parts as payment, there was a time when she preferred maidens of royal extraction. Want a spell that causes an enemy to only gain nutrition from cannibalism? Turn over a princess. The Internal Struggles of three centuries ago were largely an arms race of purchasing death-hexes from the Ishnindah. The royal families of the great cities mined their extended family trees for suitable candidates, turning them over by the dozen. Much magical lore was accrued from these transactions (the Ishnindah's well of magic does not run dry), though it was largely destroyed later, when the faith of the Idolatrous Lords waxed supreme.

The Witching Ways
The Ishnindah confounds analysis. But we know very well what happened to the princesses given over to her: their soul were trapped in gemstones, used to power their magics. There are at least fifty of them, each made by the Ishnindah and traded away. Over the centuries they have fallen into the hands of many adventurers and monster troves. In my game there is a flat 5% chance per incidence of treasure that a tia is among them.

The gemstones are called "tias". Keeping them in your possession only counts as one magical item, total. I use a trinket slot. If you use the absurdly granular Pathfinder 17+ item slot system, please stop. If you persist, maybe use the amulet slot.

The Tia Stones

Each tia stone conveys a small magical bonus, while the total number of tias equipped by a character conveys a cumulative "set bonus".

Set Bonuses (total mumber of tias: bonus)
  • 3: You have resistance (half damage) against acid and poison.
  • 5: You have +1 to all of your saving throws.
  • 10: Your spells inflict +1 damage.
  • 20: +2 to all saving throws.
  • 35: Your spells inflict +2 damage. 
  • 50: You cease aging, gain +3 to all saving throws, and can infallibly detect lies and detect magic as per those spells.
Individual Stones

I really dug deep for these t-named gemstones. You should come up with your own, too.
  • Tia Topaz: You heal 1d6 hit points from healing spells of 1st-level or higher.
  • Tia Tigerseye: You have a +4 bonus to Sense Motive checks.
  • Tia Turitella: You are immune to slow and similar effects.
  • Tia Tanzanite: You have resistance (half damage) against electricity.
  • Tia Tourmaline: You can cast cure light wounds twice per day.
  • Tia Titanite: You can cast a weak version of dimension door, once per day. It functions as the normal spell, but with a range of only 100 feet.
  • Tia Tektite: You ignore the first incidence of ability score damage, each day. If that doesn't match your rules set, it instead makes the player immune to the first debuff to affect them, each day.
  • Tia Tortoiseshell: You have +1 AC.
  • Tia Turquoise: Outsiders and spirits have disadvantage when attacking you.
  • Tia Tsavorite: You have resistance (half damage) against attacks of opportunity.
  • Tia Thomsonite: You have +3 initiative.
  • Tia Tugtupite: You are immune to bleeding effects. You have +5 max hp.
  • Tia Taaffeite: You can cast meld into stone once per day.
  • Tia Tinaksite: You are immune to damage and suffocation from non-magical heat and fire. For the purposes of this tia, magma and other geothermic heat is magical.
  • Tia Tyuyamunite: You shed a ghostly green light within a short radius. You are immune to blindness, magical or otherwise. If, for example, your eyes were gouged out, you could still see so long as you had this tia.
  • Tia Tsumebite: You can see through barriers of 1 inch thickness or less, including fog and many doors. You can't see through lead or other unusually dense materials, though.
  • Tia Tsumcorite: You are immune to color spray, prismatic spray, and any other "color-based" spell. You have +2 speed.
  • Tia Trona: Your fire spells inflict +1d6 damage.
  • Tia Triphylite: You cannot be knocked prone.
  • Tia Tridymite: You do not suffer any ill effects from excessive atmospheric pressure or the lack thereof. You are immune to decompression sickness. You can also hold your breath for up to a week.
  • Tia Tremolite: You have fire resistance (half damage).

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Koros

A Koros bird-lancer.
The Koros are a race of barbarous, nomadic bird-riders. They reside in great numbers at the grasslands of Arhelia, where they and their vast herds of bird-horses live, fight, and reproduce. The lands of the Koros are vast and their internal struggles significant, but when a powerful leader emerges the Koros are willing to gather in great hordes and ride against the degenerate cities-states of their region of the world.

The Koros are polygamists. Koros men are expected to have at least three wives, each of whom will birth as many children as possible. There is also a well-established tradition allowing for women that are successful warriors to be treated similarly to men, including retaining numerous wives.

Portrait Of A Bird-Lancer

A Koros warrior typically owns two well-trained bird-horses, a steel-tipped riding spear, a bronze sword for close-quarters fighting, a quiver of filth-smeared javelins, a suit of reinforced leather armor (perhaps incorporating a breastplate if they are wealthy), a pouch of antiseptic salts, decorative bones taken from slain foes or lovers, and feathers from long-dead mounts. Though not an especially inventive people, their bird-horse kit includes stirrups (an innovation other cultures have yet to value).

Successful warriors are rewarded by ritually inscribed tattoos that protect them from various harms. They may include any or all of the following:

  • Whorl Against Witchcraft: The Koros has advantage when saving against spells of all kinds. This is the most commonly found tattoo.
  • Whorl Against Disaster: The warrior never accidentally drops or breaks their spear. They cannot botch.
  • Whorl Against Cowardice: The warrior is immune to fear and being slowed, and their mount has +2 speed.
  • Whorl Against Weakness: The Koros inflicts an extra +1d6 damage with a charge attack. They are also immune to most diseases.
Some Koros also procure flasks of blessed water, to be sprinkled over a troop of cavalry and imparting resistance (half damage) against ranged and AOE attacks for an hour or so.

Riding Birds

Every Koros bird-knight can use their mount to leap over 20 feet in a single bound, aiming their lance with the full weight of their mount behind it. Such an attack is devastating, probably inflicting double damage.

The bird-horses are quite dangerous on their own. Their claws can disembowel an armored man. A pecking bird-horse can easily crush a man's skull or rip the flesh off a limb. Skilled riders will incorporate their bird's natural talents into their combat routine.

The Taboos Of The Bird-Tribes

They have many taboos. The most important:
  1. Bodies must be brought to the gates of the afterlife. The gate is located in the ruins of an ancient temple in the center of Arhelia. To die and not be sent through the gates is to consign your soul to inflict grief upon your descendants. As I discuss elsewhere, this particular belief eventually results in a great deal of trouble.
  2. Digging in the soil is what farmers do. Do you want to be a slave to the land? I didn't think so. Do not ever dig in the soil. For that matter, most work unrelated to bird husbandry is beneath a proper Koros.
  3. The word for magic that is not bird-shaman magic is witchcraft. Witches must be killed.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Motes Of Unlight

A nearly full gloom lamp, used to harvest unlight.
Unlight is a poisonous, bewildering form of mostly-undiscovered energy that permeates our reality. The metaphysical properties of this energy are poorly understood. Indeed, many a careful wizard has ruined their experiment with unexpected (and violent!) interactions with minute amounts of unlight. Like an ant frying under a magnifying glass, the wizard wouldn't have any idea what went wrong.

You can't see unlight under normal circumstances. It just isn't concentrated enough for the eye to detect it. Most adventurers only see it when somebody casts a darkness spell. Even that involves only a minute amount of unlight, just enough to repel the photons in the area affected. More concentrated motes of unlight will drift about like water in zero gravity, unaffected by wind, breaking apart into wisps of inky darkness. Any solid matter that touches unlight is stained black and oxidated, resulting in the destruction or at least ruin of most nonmagical objects.

Sources Of Unlight

Unlight seems to exist nearly everywhere, at least in very small amounts. The few intrepid wizards that know about the energy have detected the strange emanations under every circumstance imaginable. Some suspect that unlight is an unknown form of the negative energy that provides motive force to undead, or at least related to it. No experiment has yet proven this.

The more concentrated forms of unlight are occasionally found in nature: adult phase spider venom contains a high concentration. Certain wraiths seem to leave a trail of it and emit a particularly large when slain. I suppose a sufficiently dedicated wizard could farm wraiths by feeding people to them (wraiths usually transform their victims into more of the same). I can't imagine that having a happy ending.

If your campaign has some sort of primordial creature from the outer darkness that existed before creation, it's likely suffused with or even the source of unlight. It may have left behind nodes of the stuff in temples or forgotten places.

If you talk to the right djinn, it can explain how to make a a lead-lined "gloom lamp" that will slowly accumulate unlight over time. A night hag could probably sell you a canister of the stuff, as could the Ishnindah.

A drear clock keeps perfect time.
Of Strange Utility

Okay, there's this weird energy that's kind of everywhere. But what can you do with it? Aside from transform fungal or arachnid creatures into true horrors. Well, there's always magic items.

Night-Stained Armor

If you bathe a suit of armor (leather, metal, whatever) in unlight enough times (alternated with mending spells to keep the suit from being destroyed), it will become the color of squid ink and feel noticeably chilled to the touch. Such armor renders the wearer invisible (as the spell) to creatures more than 30 feet away so long as one remains motionless.

Noculator Zombie

If you can stabilize liquescent unlight (not too difficult for a spellcaster of 5th level or higher), it is possible to transfuse it into the inert circulatory system of a zombie. Such a zombie has resistance against fire (half damage), +2 to their speed, and is invisible when more than 30 feet away from a creature. The zombie will dissolve after a month or two.

Drear Clock

One can craft a remarkably accurate clock powered by a leaden chamber full of unlight. Such a clock keeps perfect time (rare in a medieval society) and only needs refueling once a century. For reasons that are unclear, the clock enrages any good-aligned outsiders that notice it. Such a creature must succeed at a Will save or immediately seek to destroy it. The clock doesn't radiate evil or anything, the outsiders seemingly can't help or explain themselves. More usefully, divination is difficult near the clock. Divination spells of 5th level or lower cast within 100 feet of the clock or targeting within that vicinity simply fail to function.


A suitable refractory stone (spinels work well) that bathes in the interior of a gloom lamp for a few days will transform into a glittery black stone that seems to shimmer constantly. It's difficult to look at and trying for too long will give you a headache. Aside from jewelry, wizards like to crush gloomstones into gloom dust and snort it. It doubles the range of all darkness-related and shadow-related spells. Spinels are kind of expensive (they are probably considered rubies in your game world), so it probably consumes about 50gp of dust per casting, assuming you already have access to unlight.

Inherent Risk

Any or all of the issues below might affect characters handling or exposed to unlight.

•Creatures that are exposed to unlight lose a day off their natural lifespan per day exposed to the stuff. In essence, you age twice as fast. Their bodies do not visible age, they just stop early.

•Overfull gloom lamps have a nasty habit of going critical. If you forget to empty one for more than three weeks, it will sit there fuming out little tendrils of darkness until somebody actually touches it. Then it will explode, sending shards of lamp everywhere (3d6 damage, Reflex half), 2d6 cold damage, and causing them to suffer the effects of a nightmare spell as though it were cast on them each night, for 1d8 nights. During this period, the player also ceases healing naturally.

•A creature foolish enough to consume unlight will die a terrible death. The immediate effects will include terrible chills radiating throughout their circulatory system and blindness (the eyes turn entirely black, and may dissolve completely). After a day or two, the body will boil off into strands of cobweb.

•Touching concentrated unlight will stain skin for a year and a day. If wizards were more involved in the criminal justice system, I could see this being a decent way to mark criminals.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Void-Soaked Mummies Of The Broken Dome

An advanced Arha noble from the postclassic era of their culture.
A City Amongst The Stars

Once upon a time, there was a civilization of wizards so powerful that they could hang their cities amongst the stars. Well, not really amongst the stars. More like amongst the Lagrange points in upper orbit around their world (your campaign world).

They encased their orbital cities in domes of glassteel on captured asteroids, locked them tidally, set up self-contained ecosystems with magically generated gravity, and devised permanent teleportation circles to allow easy passage to and from their manmade paradises. It worked quite well for several hundred years. Any time the orbital cities were threatened, they would simply roll a stone imbued with anti-magic over their end of the teleportation circle and wait it out. No teleportation circle meant no access to the city. It was an uncrossable moat.

Their problems were internal in nature. Bathed as they were in cosmic radiation, most children born in Arha exhibited deformities or mutation. In time, these mutations came to be highly prized by the inhabitants. Only the more normal-seeming Arha would interact with the people of the planet below, while the most inhuman Arha would remain in their city as its rulers.

Another significant issue would prove to be the city's undoing: the loss of magical expertise over time. The Arha retained great troves of their ancestors' knowledge, including how to make and repair the city's glassteel dome, but their warped physiologies became steadily less equipped to make use of it. Still, so long as they controlled the teleportation circle, nothing could threaten them from below.

A Soft Civilization Meets Hard Vacuum

Eventually, one of the orbital cities pissed off the wrong wizard. Maybe he was exiled from their midst for his lack of mutation and consequently had a better than usual understanding of the location of his city. Maybe he was just really smart. In any case, he devised and successfully prosecuted a method of piercing the glassteel dome surrounding the city known as Arha: he summoned a byakhee, rode it up to the city, managed with some difficulty to match its velocity and land, and thence disintegrated a significant swath of the dome.

The end came quickly: the atmosphere rushed out before most inhabitants could react. A few managed to escape through the teleportation sphere or by other means. Though the city boasted many precautions against this very event, including hermetically sealable buildings and so forth, most were long forgotten or in general disrepair. In any case, the magical acumen necessary to create glassteel was no longer present and repairing the dome without that would be impossible. The city went quiet and dark, a floating tomb.

A Koros bird-lancer scans the horizon for foes.
Enter The Koros

Eventually, knowledge of Arha was lost to the surface-dwellers and largely forgotten by the other orbital cities (who by now had their own problems to contend with). The Koros, a race of barbarous bird-riders, came to dominate the area around the planet-end of the portal.

The magic of the teleportation circle was quite beyond their limited arcane understanding. They knew only that anything that entered the area of the circle disappeared, never to be seen again. Eventually, the circle was incorporated into their religion. Bodies were lavishly prepared, festooned with such modest finery as their people could afford, and ritually placed into the circle.

As a nomadic, non-agricultural people already disinclined to sow seeds or waste wood on a funeral pyre, the ritual casting of corpses into the circle allowed them to totalize their taboo against digging in the soil. After nearly three centuries, the only acceptable means of corpse disposal is to deposit it into the circle.

Meanwhile, the bodies piled up in Arha. The same magical precautions taken to prevent teleporters from superimposing their bodies over air molecules also prevented the corpses from occupying the same space. New corpses landed atop a vast pyramid of vacuum-desiccated cadavers.

A little bit about the Koros: each man of the Koros takes at least three wives. Each of these wives can expect to have five or six children, of whom perhaps half will survive to adulthood. All of these that leave recognizable remains will be taken to the teleportation circle and deposited within. By the current century, there were hundreds of thousands of cadavers up there, lying quiescent and perfectly preserved by exposure to hard vacuum, just waiting for somebody to find them.

Welcome, Necromancer

Eventually, the Necromancer came. The Koros tried to kill the obvious witch with their spears, as is proper in their culture. Their herbal tinctures that normally proved so effective at warding off magic did little against his swarm of animastrictor skelesnakes. It took him less than a month to killed everybody who might object to him declaring himself god-king of the Koros. He was the right person at the right time.

One big thing the Necromancer noticed very quickly is that there were not any graveyards or even particularized pyre-ash around. He's very in tune with these things, and would notice if they were there.  Eventually, he got around to asking about it. The Koros explained. The Necromancer found the circle, sent a ghoul through the circle and back, and eventually figured out that the other side lacked pressure or atmosphere.

Natural physics are not usually in the Necromancer's wheelhouse, but he still managed to devise and construct a primitive bathysphere. With his zombies carrying it about, he has explored the ruined city of Arha. What a magnificent discovery! What a wonder! What a necromantic tinderbox just waiting for a negative energy spark!

The circle led to the perfectly preserved corpses of two whole cultures: the relatively small number of Arha and the vast heap of Koros. Animating them would become the Necromancer's magnum opus.

A Koros mummy that has soaked in cosmic energy.
Things From The Broken Dome

The mutant corpses of the dead Arha possess many characteristics that make for powerful undead: extra limbs, maws in their torsos that whisper unspeakable secrets even in death, gravimetric muscles that allow limited telekinesis, and so forth.

Nor are the Koros mummies entirely devoid of interest: bathing in cosmic radiation for centuries has imbued many of them with a smattering of strange qualities: polychromatic auras that becloud the mind, achrononistic ways of interacting with time that allow them to blink in and out of existence, claws dripping with void-ichor, and so forth.

Nor is the dome solely a necromantic treasure. The Arha were a wealthy people, their coffers filled from selling maps and intelligence gleaned from telescopes and their orbital vista. They also possessed a goodly number of magical objects inherited from their ancestors. There are batteries containing raw sunstuff, rings that allow soaring through the air, and more.

There is also the Nullification Stone, a 3-foot sphere of stone that nullifies magic (as an anti-magic field) in a 5-foot radius. According to my math, a 3-foot sphere of granite weights over 19,000 pounds. I have no idea how the Necromancer would use this or what kind of special undead creature he might design to house and wield it, but I'm sure you can come up with something.

Other trinkets include "exo-bracelets" that allow survival in a vacuum (lying forgotten in a vault), ioun stones that reduce your need to consume food by an order of magnitude, and damier-print cloaks that halve damage from projectiles via inertia manipulation. There are also scrolls detailing astrophysics and primitive spelljammer ship deck plans.

Perhaps most perilously, the Arha libraries include well-encoded books describing the rituals necessary to snare a large asteroid and maneuver it into proximity with your campaign world. The ritual poses an existential threat to humanity should it ever fall into incompetent or malicious hands. The Necromancer doesn't need it and might just sell it (perhaps to the Ishnindah).

A Dark Future

Conquering the world seems so plebeian, but that's mostly because nobody ever manages to do it. Actually conquering the world or even just a significant portion of it seems pretty appealing, particularly if you have the means to achieve it. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. An undead army numbering in the hundreds of thousands will probably suffice for at least a continent.

The Necromancer has the Koros, too, who are largely immune to magic (though not to summoned or animated creatures). Their bird-horses make for agile, deadly cavalry, leaping into the air for twenty feet at a time and crashing down onto enemy troop formations. The Koros have decided that the Necromancer is the sacred representative of the afterlife. After all, he has completely mastered the power of the teleportation circle that leads there. He is even capable of returning things from the other side!

Really, the only plausible force for stopping the Necromancer's army would be some kind of crusader order capable of dealing with diverse undead menaces. Which is where the Koros come in: if the Necromancer gets even a whiff of paladins, he'll dispatch a hundred bird-lancers to take care of the problem. Or a thousand. Or ten thousand (there are a lot of Koros). This meshes pretty well with their values, they've always wanted to conquer and destroy the decadent soil-cultivating cultures that sprawl across the world, but largely lacked the means. Until now.

I'm sure you can take it from here. Good luck with all that, player-characters.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Vṛtra's Saliva (An Alchemical Process Involving A Series Of Crystal Spheres)

A sphere begins to fill with moon drops.

Shrendek, Chapter Seven

If you are a magus in possession of a copy of the Shrendek Manuscript, you would be well-advised to avoid chapter seven. It describes a simple process to procure pure droplets of moonlight, a supernatural substance possessed of many wondrous properties. The ritual is easy enough: after an inexpensive ceremony invoking aerial spirits, a series of hermetically sealed glass spheres fills with a mysterious fluid, milky and luminescent. The fluid boils down to a few so-called moon drops. This would not in and of itself be problematic, except that the moon drops are actually the reality-corroding saliva of an otherwordly obscenity.

The Unfortunate Truth

Though their invocation is unfamiliar enough to fool most wizards, the aerials invoked in the first part of this spell do not exist. If a second party has a detect magic spell active, they will note that nothing supernatural is occurring during the process. The second portion is more strange: it seems to be a naturally occurring para-scientific process for a series of hermetically sealed glass spheres to fill with this liquid. Any time correctly-designed glass spheres are arranged correctly, they will eventually produce moon drops, ritual or no.

Moon Drops

This strange substance has all manner of applications: it dissolves most non-living materials (alchemically treated glass seems to be the exception, though if concentrated it will also dissolve that), it reduces the spiritual damage caused by revivifying spells (half XP loss, perhaps), consuming a highly diluted portion of it allows a limited form of prescience, and it is useful in the manufacture of magical armaments. Most interestingly, the drops prolong the natural lifespans of toads and other amphibians by a seemingly indefinite duration. Given some time and effort, a bright wizard might modify the drops (or even themselves) to achieve a sort of immortality. Alas, wizards who investigate that possibility tend to meet their end rather soon.

The Poisonous Multiverse

We live in one universe amidst a multiplicity of possible universes, wending this way and that. Most of those universes are filled entirely with moon drops. The drops drip down the sides of all possible universes seeking the tiniest of cracks. Slowly, slowly, the drops fill that reality, dissolving bits here and there before boiling off.

If an enterprising wizard creates more than a gallon or so of the stuff is in one place, though, something strange happens: the droplets will collapse into a single point, creating a puncture wound in the continuity of the universe. This puncture manifests as a slowly expanding pinprick-sized portal, called a lacuna, that emits a constant stream of more powerfully concentrated moon drops. These drops will dissolve even the treated glass that can normally be used to contain the drops. Indeed, they will dissolve anything.

The lacuna doubles in size, each day, streaming corrosive moon drops with in a steadily increasing stream. After approximately thirty days of unchecked expansion, the portal will be sufficiently sizable for a Fang of Vṛtra to enter.

Like this but with a thousand limbs.

A Critical Mass

The Fang is terrible. It resembles a toad with a hundred limbs, topped by a great maw that spews great geysers of moon drops. It is fast, can perceive everything that occurs within a mile of it, and is capable of puissant probability manipulation. It grows rapidly, eventually approaching the size of a castle. The creature squeezes through the lacuna, awash in moon drops and rabidly destructive.

A Fang can usually kill tens of thousands of people and desolate the surface of a small kingdom before it is eventually worn down and destroyed by the waves of adventurers and servants of the gods sent against it. Even disposing of the corpse is a difficult task: it must be mixed with thousands of pounds of salt, consecrated, and burned. Otherwise, it will return to life within a day or two.

A month or so after the first Fang enters the universe, another emerges. The next in just a two weeks, with the time lapse halving after each further emergence. Eventually, a Fang will emerge from the lacuna every few seconds. For all practical purposes Vṛtra has an infinite number of Fangs.

Closing The Hole

No known process can close the lacuna. If a clever spellcaster were able to somehow craft a concentric series of orichalcum-glazed glass around it despite its continual acidic emission, it would considerably slow down the speed of expansion, making the emergence of the first Fang something that will happen in a decade rather than month. The gods and their servants seem unable to close it, perhaps because even a god cannot affect universes other than that in which they reside. Wishes might allow one to travel through time and prevent the lacuna from opening, but cannot themselves close a lacuna.

Dealing With It

Necessarily, moon drops do not dissolve the Fang or it's bodily materials. It is therefore possible to use the materials of the Fang's hide to fashion equipment capable of withstanding the exposure. It's not entirely impossible to make off with one of the creature's limbs while it is distracted, to treat the skin with a wash of magma or other extreme heat, and return to the creature capable of withstanding it's venom. That ought to make killing them easier and buy the players some leeway.

The Fang-hide can also be used to handle newly created moon drops. I suppose it is possible that the players could devise some sort of hidebound pipe to stretch from the lacuna to a portal to still another world, though I doubt that world would thank them. In any event, this merely delays a symptom of the true problem.

Terminal Velocity

The lacuna will not stop expanding. Eventually, the mass of moondrops will exceed that of the planet where it is located. If any of the planet even remains by that point. The actual moon will be drawn into the drops, dissolving in a rush of foaming rock. Some time after this, the drops themselves will begin congealing into more Fangs of Vṛtra, adding to those still streaming endlessly through the lacuna.

Given still more time, long past the point where intelligent life is possible, the moon drops will fill the entirety of creation's space, swelling it like a pustule, swarming with an impossibly large number of Fangs, ready to bleed over into the next reality. Indeed, this is what is encountered if some enterprising soul devises and implements a plan to enter the lacuna to investigate the far side: an endless, universe-sized ocean of universal solvent, swarmed by Fangs of Vṛtra.

Hit It And Quit

Really, the only hope your players have is planar evacuation. They certainly can't kill Vṛtra, whose unspeakable bulk stretches across an uncountable number universes, leaving no room even for the laws of physics to function there.

Well, I hear the outer planes are lovely this time of year.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Jek

A marrow river runs through these Jek hills.
The Jek inhabited this land when it was young. Identifiably Jek objects show up in the deepest mines of every country on this continent. Their ancient trinkets wash ashore on beaches and the shores of the deepest lakes. When Karanok, the great mountain, erupted and concealed the sun for a year, fire-impervious Jek statues were carried up amidst the pyroclastic flow. In short, we know that the Jek have existed for a long, long time. But they are absent from recorded history. Why?

According to the priests (who asked the gods) the Jek were driven beneath the earth by a storm that did not end for a thousand years. The priests do not say what happened in the deep tunnels. But the wizards do: the Jek found and paid obeisance to strange spirits: Cave Owl, Moon Centipede, and others. Perhaps they worshipped these spirits before they were driven below, and the gods sent the never-ending storm to punish them for it. Perhaps not. Did the spirits make the Jek mad and evil, or was it the other way around?
Jek initiates perform an unknown ritual.
The Jek revere their shamans. Without the shamans, the Jek would starve. At some point during their time below, a spirit taught the Jek shamans to vomit a vast, roiling pool of edible putrescence. The Jek subsisted on this for thousands of years. Now, they cannot digest anything else. When a shaman announces that the feast is immanent, it is a cause for great celebration: entire tribes will organize their receptacles to catch the revolting spew, dancing and singing with gladness.

Entire rivers of a similarly emitted (though less nutritious) substance course over the Jek lands, most resembling oily eddies of pale, liquescent bone marrow.

As a people, the Jek appear to be disfigured albinos. Their skins are covered with sores.  Many Jek lack fully-formed faces. Their shamans always wear masks. Beneath these masks, the shamans have no discernible features at all. Despite this, they are capable of respiring, speech, devouring the bodies of deceased humans or their own shamanic potions (but never anything else), and expelling the questionable foodstuff mentioned above.

Most Jek live in shallow caves or in the trunks of great trees, though there are a few Jek cities. These cities are mobile: every structure in them is carried or dragged by either the Jek or some sort of creature cultivated by them. Their greatest city, Tlel Washke, is built atop a vast stone slab that is chained to the towering reanimated corpse of Washke, who once styled himself to be the king of giants. Tlel Washke is dragged across the ground by this festering ex-king, following a nonlinear path according to the Jeks' inscrutable wishes.

The Jek do not have much in the way of appreciable metallurgy. They weave baskets and clothes, carve statues and render them indestructible, make amulets, and build strange dwellings from wood and stone and cloth.  The shamans produce a certain number of finishing goods by devouring humans and then regurgitating that material in a new form. For example, Jek swords consist of impossibly intricate human scrimshaw. A tribe preparing for war will feed dozens of prisoners to their shamans, each day, while those shamans laboriously vomit up sword after sword with seemingly no limit to the amount of material they can store inside their person. The Jek do not possess a written language, nor do they seem capable of learning one.

Near Jek, things are not as they should be. Their presence causes dreams to superimpose over reality. Large groups of Jek often appear to have the same face. Water droplets rain upwards from pools and rivers into the yawning sky. Birds cry out dire warnings in diverse languages.

A Jek emissary might appear as your best friend, you, a deceased pet from your childhood, or a horrid shimmering image in your dreams. The message relayed will not make sense. However, the Jek's intent will be obvious: hostility.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Four-Faced Angels

Quadriphonsical antagonist or condescending passerby? You decide. Either way, the self-proclaimed forge god wants his piece. He also probably wants to replace humanity with these things, but doesn't have the divine clout.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Random Magical Breakthrough Table

A bleary-eyed Xag-Ya emerges from a set of catoptromantic mirrors that your
wizard invented by accident.
A wizard in your game is researching spells or trying to make a magical item. Or, I dunno, researching some aspect of the Dreams Of Ruin. They fail at whatever they were attempting, but as the DM you want them to have discovered something. "Nothing" is the most boring result possible from any game mechanic.

Polish off that d8 and give the players something to chew on:
  1. A simple recipe for spontaneous generation. The animal should be something like a toad or a lagomorph, and the ingredients should involve stuff like bundles of rotten reeds, salt, and moonlight. The recipes only require 1d4 hours per batch of 2d20 varmints.
  2. A simple method for condensing 1 hit die skeletons into the shape of an oversized bone arrow. The process costs about 10 gold, but it produces an arrow that will unfold into a very angry skeleton. Could it be helpful for sieges? Probably not!
  3. A weird variation of a spell that the player already has. Ad hoc choose what you perceive to be the player's favorite damage spell, then change the damage type (this version does electric damage) and tell the player that every time they cast it, they teleport 10 feet in addition to the usual effects.
  4. The wizard invents a musical note that shatters wood. If they are a plausible vocalist, they can shatter a single board with their voice. With a specially designed dungchen they could probably bust down a door.
  5. Hurray! The wizard discovers a questionable application of the third homeopathic principle. They can now dilute a 1d8+5 healing potion into two 1d6+1 healing potions. I assume your potions heal different amounts than that in my campaign, so you'll probably have to tweak the numbers. Remember that it's only kind of an innovation, so the gains should be marginal.
  6. The wizard designs schematics for a set of catoptromantic mirrors. They would cost about 300 gold pieces in my game, and be useful for increasing the range of divination spells. An interesting and definitely unintended feature of these mirrors is that a xag-ya will emerge from them every 1d4 days and wander around for a bit before zipping back into the mirrors. A xag-ya might have some application with magic item creation (who wouldn't want a sword with one of these trapped in it) or powering an improbable wizard project of some sort (they are basically sentient batteries). An interested wizard with these schematics could probably spend a few weeks designing a set of obsidian mirrors that would produce xag-yi instead of xag-ya.
  7. The wizard discovers a better way to cast an existing spell. Arbitrarily choose a spell that you think i too high level for what it does, and tell the wizard they can memorize it as though it were a level lower. For example, based on my reading the tiny hut spell (a 3rd-level spell) is much, much worse than rope trick (a 2nd-level spell). I might tell the wizard that they have discovered a way to cast tiny hut as a 1st-level spell.
  8. Birds are very receptive to sympathetic magic. The wizard realizes that if they cast their spells just so, a number of game birds equal to the spell level expended will be summoned.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Shadow of the Torturer

“I was sitting there, as I said, and had been for several watches, when it came to me that I was reading no longer. For some time I was hard put to say what I had been doing. When I tried, I could only think of certain odors and textures and colors that seemed to have no connection with anything discussed in the volume I held. At last I realized that instead of reading it, I had been observing it as a physical object. The red I recalled came from the ribbon sewn to the headband so that I might mark my place. The texture that tickled my fingers still was that of the paper in which the book was printed. The smell in my nostrils was old leather, still wearing the traces of birch oil. It was only then, when I saw the books themselves, when I began to understand their care.”

His grip on my shoulder tightened. “We have books here bound in the hides of echidnes, krakens, and beasts so long extinct that those whose studies they are, are for the most part of the opinion that no trace of them survives unfossilized. We have books bound wholly in metals of unknown alloy, and books whose bindings are covered with the thickest gems. We have books cased in perfumed woods shipped across the inconceivable gulf between creations—books doubly precious because no one on Urth can read them.”

“We have books whose papers are matted of plants from which spring curious alkaloids, so that the reader, in turning their pages, is taken unaware by bizarre fantasies and chimeric dreams. Books whose pages are not paper at all, but delicate wafers of white jade, ivory, and shell; books too whose leaves are the desiccated leaves of unknown plants. Books we have also that are not books at all to the eye: scrolls and tablets and recordings on a hundred different substances. There is a cube of crystal here—though I can no longer tell you where—no larger than the ball of your thumb that contains more books than the library itself does. Though a harlot might dangle it from one ear for an ornament, there are not volumes enough in the world to counterweight the other.”

― Gene Wolfe, The Shadow of the Torturer

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Sun Devourers

Click for a larger version, friend!
I really, really like these guys. It's just a basic feature of Aztec mythology that the progenitors of mankind were also skeletal star demons that want to eat people and end the world. I used them in an earlier post as one of the things that will go wrong if you lock up the wrong archangel for too long. Don't lock up archangels or you'll regret it!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

What The Star Whispered

Athor Appears In A Vision
Athor, The Star That Speaks

Whereas most stars capable of communication seem ambivalent or casually destructive toward humanity, there exists a small (and yet, numberless) set of malicious stars that seem very, very interested in destroying humanity, your planet, and everything on it.

You can't really talk to stars with low-level spells, but they can talk to you. One of the most outspoken stars is named Athor.

Athor despises the writhing organics that infest the surface of your planet, and of any planet. It finds life to be a dignity-destroying debasement of the universe's natural chaos and beauty, and a departure from the sacred plan devised by the Creator. To Athor, the creation of life was an accident, and also the original sin. Fortunately, the sin can be expiated. Just get rid of all these crude carbon-based patterns that are infesting everything.

The Debased Adherents

It takes a special kind of crazy to even hear a star like Athor. It can only communicate effectively on moonless, cloudless nights, when there isn't much wind, and the sky seems so huge and empty that you could fall up into it. So you have some hapless crazy guy out in the middle of nowhere who notices that a star is whispering to him about how life is a terrible mistake and should be destroyed. If the guy seems into it, the star will start teaching him spells.

To be honest, a lot of the guys Athor gets to work for him aren't the cream of the crop. He has no idea if any of his plans are going to work, but empowering the kind of people willing to listen to obviously malicious dots of light in the sky is probably not going to help life on this planet thrive. So what the hell, Athor will give it a shot.

Their Abhorrent Inspirations

The cultists don't just want to end organic life. They want to eliminate the possibility of life. Some goals:
  • A cultist might devise and enact convoluted rituals to redirect meteor swarms toward your players' game world. Thus far, humans haven't achieved the mastery of spellcraft necessary to provoke an extinction-level event. The snake-men that used to live on this planet were much better at magic, and Athor regrets not getting them to do something a little more permanent. He thought the meteor would finish the job, but marsupial worms evolved into people and he's back in the same boat.
  • Maybe there's some deity that is in charge of ensuring the survival of the planet. Athor's cultists will spend a lot of time trying to sabotage their temples and kill their priests. Athor doesn't pay attention to anthropomorphic deities or their creation myths. He's been around a long time. The snake-men had snake-man deities, too, and look where that got them. Still, killing priests of the Sun God has proven a satisfactory diversion for Athor.
  • Athor tries to explain quantum entanglement to his cultists, but they only kind of get it. They build little reactor-shrines to try and simultaneously reverse the spin of every atom on the planet. So far, no luck. One has figured out how to entangle some of the atoms of an iron bell with the skeletal system of a sun priest, though. The cultist has some of his acolytes wailing on the bell on the regular. Bones break, blood gets everywhere, and the poor guy has no idea what's wrong and or why clerical magic can't seem to help.
  • Some of Athor's cultists are preoccupied with the idea of triggering a grey goo scenario. They set up weird laboratories full of things like black puddings and other, weirder oozes. The goal is to get them to absorb inorganic matter and reproduce so quickly that nobody can stop them from destroying the planet. So far, they've figured out how to induce fission and have at least one black pudding with volume equal to an olympic swimming pool. Athor hates oozes as much as any form of life, though, so this would only be a marginal improvement.
Donning Star-Flesh

The star has a lot of trouble imparting power to it's followers. They can't channel much magical energy at all! Anything more than a droplet of cosmic power causes immediate immolation. Which is fine, but Athor would prefer it if they could immolate some other stuff, first.

Here are some ways that Athor modifies his followers:

  • Their fire or electricity spells are changed to plasma. Whenever a creature suffers plasma damage, it is considered either fire or electricity, whichever would inflict more damage.
  • Heart Of Star-Stuff: When this cultist dies, they burst into a wash of plasma that scorches anything within 2 spaces. Creatures within that area suffer 5d6 plasma damage, Reflex half.
  • Athor's Eye: Instead of a face, this cultist has a hole full of plasma. It suffices perfectly well for most normal face functions, like seeing or eating (the cultist just shoves stuff into the crackling field of energy). It also allows them to fire a blast of otherworldly energy like that guy in the Hot Chip music video. They can use it on a target within close range, who suffers 4d6 plasma damage, Fort half. On a failed save, they are blind for the rest of the day.
  • Twinkling Body: Strange patches of twinkling black matter cover wide swath of the cultist's body. They have +20 to their maximum hit points and suffer half damage from ranged or AOE attacks, portions of which are absorbed harmlessly into the weird star-tumors.
Hey Johnny Adventure, how you even gonna
 try messing with the yellowcake-priests?
The Cult Notorious

There are several groups of cultists that warrant interest:

The Yellowcake-Priests of the Vapid Desert dwell in a hovering, inverted pyramid and are probably the most scientifically advanced organization on the planet. They mine preternatural coal (uranium-infused dinosaur bones) and refine them in undead-powered centrifuges over hundreds of years. They are building a time rattleback that they are confident will cause an entire geographical region to reverse its direction of travel in time, instead heading backwards. Their experiments are so successful that they are starting to attract negative attention from beings charged with maintaining reality in good working order.

Meschiane is a wandering prophet. His schtick is pretending to be priests of other deities (Athor keeps those deities from noticing), publicly foretelling the end of the world, and then committing vile crimes. His face changes every 7 days, uncontrollably.

The Esdras Cabal is chiefly concerned with processes that reduce the stability of the fabric of reality and space. They've gotten reasonably good at allowing dreams to superimpose themselves over reality, Lathe Of Heaven style. The city they live in is becoming more horrible and otherworldly, each night. Every member of this cabal can cast dimension door at will, which makes them a total pain in the ass to catch or fight.

The Ekiq Brethren are building a "gravity engine" that will either pull the moon down into the planet or else push it off into space. They aren't having much luck even with Athor's help.

What The Star Whispered: Spells From On High

Cosmometry (1st)
You briefly perceive the relative speed, mass, and positioning of every object in your solar system. If this does not drive you insane (unlikely) and you can retain any of the information (still less likely) it is a pretty good way to find esoteric spell components.

Energon Walk (1st)
You transform into a being of pure energy (appearing as a silhouette of St. Elmo's fire) and haunt a location (a town, a dungeon, et ceteras) every night for 3d20 days. When done, you have a reasonably complete map of the place. You are completely invulnerable and tamper-proof to anything less than 7th level spells during this spell's effects. People just have to deal with one or more weird energy ghosts wandering around their hallways for a few weeks.

His Malevolent Breath (2nd)
You exhale a blast of strange energy in your immediate vicinity. Nameless NPCs within close range (or just those with 3 hit dice or less) have their bone marrow cells killed, becoming "walking ghosts" and eventually dying. Creatures with more hit dice just suffer 1d6 poison damage, no save.

Pluck From Orbit  (4th)
This spell is exactly like minute meteors except that the range is 1 mile and it can only be cast under the open sky. If your players learn this, please convey my sincere hope they enjoy its use.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Trebithene Blade

Art source.
The Trebithene Blade is the Stradivarius of swords, forged nearly three hundred years ago by Ganar of Grösh, the greatest weaponsmith of the age. Though Ganar created over a dozen magical weapons at the height of his craft, the Trebithene Blade is by far the finest. Her metal is alloyed with ore stolen from the smith-god's forge. The runes etched into her blade promise death in the language of the underworld. Most puissantly, Ganar trapped an archangel in the pommel. During combat, the angel sings terrifying hymns (everybody can hear this). The rest of the time it pleads to be set free (only the wielder can hear this).

It is called Trebithene because the blade was commissioned by the Duke of Trebithene, who used the blade in his city's struggle for independence. During the post-war period known as The Lenient Reprisals, the blade was stolen by an assassin and removed from the city. From there, the blade pops up in history every dozen years or so, always in the hands of a great fighter.

Hooks And Problems

Most people have heard of the Trebithene Blade, and definitely every fighter has. It's still on the Trebithene flag! If you are seen or known to possess it, a fighter of your level will eventually appear to challenge you to a duel to the death for it. This reoccurs every 1d4 weeks in nature, or 1d4 days in a city or large town. If you ever conduct yourself dishonorably in such a duel and word gets out, future challengers will stop relying on honorable combat and attempt to ambush you while your party is busy fighting other monsters, or else use ransom and theft. It's not that the sword is cursed, it's just so famous that people can't help but take their shot.

Your players probably find the sword in the hoard of some big dragon-style creature, still clutched in the now-skeletal hands of the last guy to own it.

Without Ambriel around, the tzitzimimeh that are normally stuck in the 
mesosphere can come down to eat people whenever they want. (Source)
The Angel In The Pommel

The archangel in the pommel is named Ambriel. Her sacred task is to protect humans from malicious stellar entities. Like, if your campaign world has an evil star that whispers recipes for destroying the planet, it's Ambriel's job to stop that. She also tries to minimize the madness that can be caused by evil astrological influences. Things have gotten really ugly during the three centuries that she has been stuck in this stupid sword.

For example, the tzitzimimeh are a swarm of impossibly evil, vaguely astrological creatures that infest the regions between stars. They spend millennia swimming the void in search of inhabited worlds from which to feed. Since Ambriel has left the picture, more and more of them are showing up.

Another problem is the madness inflicted by unlucky stars. In the normal course of events, Ambriel will wander the world, invisibly curing or warding off zodiacal inflictions of this nature, or even killing people born under particularly evil signs. For most of history, she has kept things running smoothly, but she has been gone so long that there are entire cults of star-worshippers working all kinds of unseemly magic. For example, Ambriel senses that the yellowcake-priests of the Vapid Desert have almost built a working Time Rattleback with the help of The Star That Speaks.

Ambriel is acutely aware of the problems resulting from her absence. She'll try to explain the situation to the players and beg them to free her and destroy the sword. The blade's indestructibility will prove problematic even if a player is unusually willing to listen to a suicidal talking sword. Maybe the Frog-God's obliterating gullet could dissolve it. The caustic tears of the Vornish Pope would likely suffice to corrode it, but good luck getting that guy to cry. I'm sure your players will have their own ideas.

Four-faced murder angel, comin' atcha.
The smith-god's angels don't fuck around.
The Smith-God's Metal

Three centuries is nothing to Vhalkana. Never the most social or emotionally intelligent of gods, he can nurse a grudge for literally forever. He wants the sword back because it has his ore in it, because he's curious what the mortals did with it, and because he's angry that the sword is so tacky looking to his rarified, apollonian tastes. He is also secretly afraid that it might be superior to some of his work. The quicker it is removed from mortal hands, the better.

The master thief that snuck into his godsmithy and filched the ore is long dead, his soul well-hidden. Ganar Of Grösh died of respiratory disease at an advanced age, and Vhalkana has placed his soul in the hottest part of his forge, but that is insufficient to diminish the anger of a divine being. He has worked out an arrangement with the other gods so that he receives the soul of anybody who ever wields the sword, whose souls are then smelted down and used in Vhalkana's many projects.

Stuff the divine blacksmith might do:

  • Send the sword-holder dreams in which a titanic figure places them on an anvil and demands that the sword be brought to their temple. The temple is somewhere really inconvenient, like it's called The Lightning Caldera, and in addition to being a mostly-dormant volcano it also is the place struck most often by lightning on the planet. When Vhalkana is in residence he uses the lightning to superheat his forge.
  • Curse the sword-bearer to be unable to make anything. No item crafting, obviously, but also unable to make so much as a sandwich.
  • Curse the player so that any nonmagical objects they possess break at the slightest provocation. 
  • When he has time, Vhalkhana will sometimes make some angels and send them to retrieve the sword. The forge-angels have four faces. One of the heads chants blessings and heals. Another has a breath weapon that expectorates exquisitely formed, high-velocity swords and daggers. A third head curses foes with vertigo and palsies. The fourth head has a significant bonus to diplomacy checks but can't ever get the other heads to let it talk before attacking.